Sokiri was dressed in a red shirt and a pair of green trousers. His eyes were bloodshot and weary. His hair was sparse and unkempt. On his feet was a pair of tyre-sandals locally made in Konyokonyo market. He had never imagined he would wear those out of date things again but for some desperate petty thief who had broken into his hut, about three days earlier, and had stolen the only pair of shoes he had.
Sokiri was almost the only living creature moving along the road, may be it was because many of his people had migrated to Northern Sudan. His legs kept on carrying him from one side of the road to the other as he trudged on from the direction of Hai Game market. Red dust rose and settled wherever he stepped on the gravel road. He shook his head bitterly.
“Wallai (1),” swore Sokiri. “These Amni Sudan (2) boys…roaming all over Juba on their motor bikes…” he continued, “they have just messed up my day, by ordering the old woman to close her andaya (3) that it is becoming a centre for political talk for the common people. But could not people have breathing space?” He still wanted to continue drinking. Now he could not make it to another andaya: he was not sure if those other women would also allow drinking on credit. “How could I go back home so early, with still two hours or so for the sun to set? How could young boys force a man to go home so early to a nagging wife? And…and…the on and off bombardment of Juba town… Wallai, how could a man run around and cower like a child, let alone shake like a leaf? These rebels…who claim to be fighting for a New Sudan, for the liberation of their people in Southern Sudan...Where do these Junubeen (4) want to take us? First it was the Anya-Nya civil war (5); now it is the SPLM…(6) Sokiri paused, only briefly, as he scratched his rough goatee and then sent a jet of saliva sideways.
“Fighting. Fighting. Fighting. No peace. How could they torture us like that? Khartoum is very far and peaceful. People who have been to that place have talked of life flourishing there, as if there is no civil war in the country! Business! Business! Business! The Northerners – the Arabs – are doing very well in that. Then the new and modern buildings springing up almost everywhere in Khartoum. New and modern houses…and I’m here sleeping in a grass-thatched hut in Juba, wasting my whole life…”
He shook his head once more from side to side.
“How can some people in Juba live in better houses and others like me in mere huts? All my life, I’ve never slept under a corrugated iron roof…Never: only huts, huts, huts... grass-thatched roof, with mud walls and mud floors…Imagine I’ve never even climbed up any stairs! Not even those ones of wazarat (7). The world is changing and progressing and some people like me are still sleeping in those filthy dwellings - garbage - fit for animals.”
He moved on, unsteadily along the road, raising more dust.
“The civil war…the rebels…are spoiling my dream of becoming a rich businessman like Mahmoud. Now they’ve even made Mahmoud go back to Khartoum.” He had worked with Mahmoud, managing his grinding mill at Hai Atlabara, a suburb in Juba, for almost two years, but now things had changed...“Now the man has left Juba and was gone for good...all because of their shelling of the town. SPLA! (8) Curse on them.”
For about six months now, Sokiri had no job, and the little money he had saved all along was no more. “I’ll have to go to Khartoum. Who will stop me?” His cousin, Loro, who was a Major in the Sudanese Army, had assured him about two days earlier that things would be all right. Was it not that things were easy for an army man since this was a military government? According to Major Loro, Sokiri’s name was already on the list with the man in charge of Sudan Airways Cargo, at Juba Airport; it was a matter of less than two weeks…Of course, the only means possible to travel between Juba and Khartoum was by air…“But these free things also…let me hope I won’t take six months waiting like my sister the previous year. What else is there apart from hoping and hoping…? But that hard-headed wife of mine… She doesn’t want to go with me to a better place? Okay. I’ll leave her behind and we’ll see who will win. I may even get married to a beautiful Mundukuru (9) girl in Khartoum. She thought I was a simple man? She was joking with life…And that stupid friend of hers, Korofo…it was all because of her.”
Korofo came back from Khartoum after barely a month. Life in Khartoum was hard for Junubeen. Areas on the outskirts of the capital city, which were previously unoccupied and no one would perhaps imagine living on, where the displaced people had settled earlier and erected make-shift houses were being razed to the ground, and Northerners were rushing in to claim the land from the government - claiming, but buying. Southerners were being dumped in camps in a remote desert called Jebel Aulia, more than forty kilometers south of Khartoum to start building from nothing, if nothing means empty sacks of relief grains, pieces of cartons, unwanted iron sheets, vehicle parts…etc…etc…That those who could afford rent in the city, well and good, but still the figure was raised and kept high, when the Northerner saw that a Southerner was interested in one of his property. Those circumstances had changed the few relatives living prosperously in the city: they would not accommodate one with a good heart, as was the custom or culture of the people. That the Christian-based, as well as other non-governmental, relief organizations that rushed in to support the displaced Southerners had to channel their supplies through an Islamic relief agency of the government…and if one had a Muslim name, or was willing to accept Islam, things would flow smoothly in the camps.
“Korofo…Korofo…Korofo with her stories…” Sokiri was refuting the facts. “Nonsense. These are people who just blame their laziness and failures in life on the Arabs. I’ve worked with Mahmoud, a Mundukuru, for about two years; we had been very close and good friends. Northerners are very generous and generally brotherly. Now Mahmoud has gone back to Northern Sudan. Women. Women. Women. What does Koforo know?”
He shook his head yet again as he wobbled on.
“Women. Women. What does a woman know, sincerely, apart from gossip and her work in the kitchen? Ehh… I’ll fit in Khartoum; simple: I’ll convert to Islam; as simple as that! I’ve been calling myself a Christian, but I cannot even remember the last time I prayed to God or entered a church; it makes no difference whether I’m a Christian or a Muslim."
"Aaaghrrrr”: he gave off a prolonged belch, pausing for a few seconds only.
“I’ll manage life in Khartoum…Junubeen don’t understand…they just rush into conclusions. And...and...the old man…He wanted me to go back to the village after all those seven or so years in Juba? Ha.” He smiled at himself. “Going back to the village to dig instead of going ‘ahead’ to Khartoum – a laughing stock? Never!” He would not do that. He would not go back to the village to struggle with the soil: it was old fashioned - primitive! He, Sokiri, was already forty-something and would soon grow old but he had had no good of his life. How could he go back to the village?
“I’ll not even join the SPLA. SPLA? Nonsense.” That would be the last thing he would do, or better, that would never happen. How could he join people who were bombing him in his beautiful hometown? How could he mix with the Nilotics – who were so many in the SPLA – cattle rearers, with their cattle mentality? How he detested them…He would rather mix with the Mundukuru than with the Nilotics…How could he live in a bush as a rebel when he hated sleeping in a hut in a town?
Sokiri never noticed a lorry coming from down the road, behind him; the lorry went on: peeep, peeep, peeeeeep as it approached him; it narrowly missed him, showering him with red dust and black smoke. The smoke choked him, provoking a cough. He stood still, momentarily. “Dyeken na nguuti!” (10) He cursed at the lorry in Bari and continued zigzagging along his route, murmuring a tune from old Congolese records remembered.
“Ehu!” He shouted. “Ehu!” He repeated the noise, smiling at himself for creating a disturbance.
David L. Lukudu comes from South Sudan, a country that just gained independence from the Sudan in July 2011 – after more than two decades of bitter north-south conflict. During the civil war period, he lived in Uganda and Kenya for about fifteen years, and went to Makerere University in Kampala (Uganda), where he studied Medicine. Recently, he earned a Master of Science degree in Tropical Medicine and International Health, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of London, in the UK. He started writing in his late teens and won a third place prize for a short story at a writing competition held at the British Council, Khartoum in 1993. He has published short fiction with the BBC Focus on Africa magazine in 2001 and has since 2004 been a contributor with the online Cook Communication magazine, AuthorMe. While pursuing his Masters degree in the UK, he took a short course in Creative Writing at the London School of Journalism. Currently, he is based in Juba, South Sudan, where he works with a humanitarian, non-governmental organization.
(1) Wallai: Wallai (in Juba-Arabic) or Wallahi (in classical Arabic) is a term used when swearing in God’s name.
(2) Andaya: local bar
(3) Amni Sudan: Sudan Security
(4) Junubeen: Arabic term for ‘southerners’; was used to refer to South Sudanese.
(5) Anya-Nya: A Southern Sudanese rebel group that fought the Sudanese government between 1955 and 1972.
(6) SPLM: Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement; a Southern Sudanese rebel movement that fought successive Sudanese regimes between 1983 and 2005.
(7) Wazarat: the government ministries in Juba.
(8) SPLA: Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army; the military wing of the SPLM.
(9) Mundukuru: a slang commonly used in Southern Sudan, meaning Arab.
(10) Dyeken na nguuti: This is an insult in the Bari language of South Sudan; literally: your mother’s vagina.
(11) belila: boiled beans and maize grains
(12) sharamuta: Arabic term for whore
(13) wo wo ngote dyeken: insult in the Bari language of South Sudan, literally: mother of vaginas.