VII

After two days of witnessing the horrible live cremation, Black, cowered with fear, took a stroll back to the square of the incident. The charred remains of the thief had been shovelled away, but the dark ground still revealed the evidence of the barbarous act that occurred two days earlier. That particular section of the floor was black, there were even the metallic rings that made up the tyre after the rubber had burned off. Fire had transformed the initial colour of the metallic element into orange, some parts of the rings were coated with grey sulphuric substances. Black stared at the dark floor for a long time, remembering the horrible cry of the thief that burned.
The usual activities of the square had continued, as if nothing spectacular had occurred two days ago. Black surmised that what had happened the two previous days was not the first of its kind; some other thieves, or criminals, must have been set ablaze prior the one Black witnessed. The suspicion of that fact momentarily set the boy’s heart racing, and that moment he wanted to leave the location, he wanted to stay away from here as far as possible, but he could not do that now, he had just discovered another uncompleted building that provided him shelter; the house was securely roofed and the windows were fixed, what was left to finish the building was the fixing of the doors and the plastering of the walls. Even the ceilings were already fixed. The house owner might return anytime to complete the house, but Black was sure that the building would shelter him for a few days, or months, before the owner would evict him. Besides the fact that he had found a shelter, he couldn’t leave the city because leaving would mean abandoning his mother. Even though his mother now had no grave, Black still consoled himself with the belief that he resided in an area where the soul of his mother roamed. Black thought his mother was with him now, watching him, following him around, But he couldn’t know if she was smiling or crying. All he could conjure in his tiny head was the image of his mother’s bloated corpse when he pushed her into the hole. He guessed she would be weeping, as he had once found her in one of his dreams. She would definitely be weeping at who he had become. But little Black consoled himself with the thought that all he was doing was only the bid to honour his mother’s request. She had asked him to take back their things from Chief Salami, Black knew no other way of achieving that other than first becoming who he had just become, a common thief. He didn’t feel guilty for being a thief, or for taking a property belonging to someone else; he had make sure to always take from only people who would not suffer much at the loss of their things. Black would never rob an old woman or a beggar; even thieves live by codes of honour.
However, his presence here now was far from larcenous intents; as a matter of fact, he. Had decided not to make any robbery in this neighbourhood; the inhabitants of this area had never boasted of treating thieves with kindness. And Black had no desire of hanging on their bad sides; there were still more than enough litres of petrol in the nearest filling station, the petty traders had never for once declined to sell matches to potential customers, and more vehicles would always shed their bad tyres. Black’s presence here was not to watch the part where the thief had burned alive two days earlier. He wondered where the soul of the thief would go. Would it stay in the realm of his mother’s? Black was sure his mother would not like the thief if they met in wherever dead people always went. Before her demise, Black’s mother had always had a strong disapproval of larceny; and she had hated Salami with passion for claiming the things that did not belong to him. She would not like to see her son joining the class of people she abhor. But Peter Black had no choice.
As Peter Black cast his face up, he saw something strange.
Life in the area had continued as usual; no one paid any interest to the small twelve-year-old black boy. Buyers and sellers negotiated over wares, skinny porters transported heavy goods on wheelbarrows, fat porters moved light loads with their heads, conductors hailed travellers to board their vehicles. The noise went on and on until a conductor and a driver began to argue over the money realised, and the argument soon escalated into a brawl that required the brandishment of jagged-edged bottle to threaten each other. No one attempted to stop the pugilists from displaying their boxing prowess; a small crowd gathered around them with the expectation of catching the sight of spilled blood, or at least the displacement of a tooth from its gum by the brutal effort behind an inflicted punch. But none of these sufficed and the spectators were gradually getting bored with the chicken fights, the fighters refused to use the weapons they held, all they were doing now was gracing each other’s personalities with series of abuses and curses, not much unlike what two quarrelling ladies would do. But because there was nothing else more exciting, and with the hope that something more interesting could be displayed, the crowd still feasted their eyes and ears with the foibles of the two obviously slow-witted transporters.
But it wasn’t this scenario that appeared strange to Black, although strangely ridiculous in its own way. What the boy saw hereafter was something as dangerous as it was cruel. At a far corner of the square was a blind old man standing bent; he was holding a long walking stick in his left hand, a small bowl in the right and saying prayers with his mouth. It was evident that the man was begging for alms; occasionally, he would say a prayer he had already said and back it up with a familiar dirge. He wasn’t prayer for himself, his prayers were meant for the kind people who would bestow a coin or something edible. Some few people would walk past and deposit some money into the bowl. Black recalled his father giving alms to beggars a number of times before his imprisonment.
Then as the beggar continued to pray, Black saw a boy creep towards the old man, the boy reached the bowl and deftly picked some coins from it. Black could not believe his eyes; he nursed an open-mouthed astonishment. Why would anyone stoop so low to rob a helpless beggar? He could not even imagine engaging in something as aweful, and dangerous. He was afraid for the boy, this was not a neighbourhood where you could steal and get away with it; the boy would be killed if he was caught. And because Black could not want to witness again what he had two days earlier, he ran towards the boy to stop him.
“Return it immediately!” He whispered nervously into the boy’s ear as he reached him from behind.
The startled thief sharply turned around with fright. He was scared that he had been caught. He wanted to take to his heels but stopped on discovering that it was only a young boy talking to him.

“Who are you?” The thief asked Black.
Black looked at the thief carefully; the boy was visibly older than him for he was taller and broader, Black judged that he would be about seventeen or eighteen years old, just about barely younger than the unfortunate thief of two days before. It was not only his body structure that seemed remarkable about the thief, he also had an alert, dangerous look, like a black cat that could smell a nest of newly-born mice. Something about the thief told Black that he should stay away from him. Unlike Black who was small and dark-skinned, the thief was big and light-skinned, and he possessed an equal pair of big strong hands.
“I said you should return the money you picked from that bowl, or would you rather I screamed?”
At the utterance of the threat, the thief poured the coins back into the blind man’s bowl. And the beggar, because he had lost his sights and was unaware of the activities before him, bowed in gratitude at hearing the sounds of coins dropping into his bowl, and he rained prayers on the thief who had just robbed him moments earlier.

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