Ezra Azra

Copyright 2022 by Ezra Azra

Photo courtesy of Daniel Adeyelu at Pexels.
Photo courtesy of Daniel Adeyelu at Pexels.

Seridha was a teenage girl whose family had taken her out of school permanently after she had learnt to count and read and write. This was the norm for girls in our village in the 1940s. All teens, girls and boys were most valuable to their families as foragers for fruit and other edibles in the jungle all around.

At the time, I had not reached my teen years when the events I write about here, happened. Most of this account is what I heard from others, at the time and in years afterwards.

Our village, like many other villages in that part of the country, had jungle all around. There were many kinds of wild animals around. In every village, every day there were confrontations with predator animals. Most of the times it was a simple matter of yelling and chasing, for the animals to retreat.

Most of us were exclusively vegetarians if only because killing or trapping small animals were risky because predators were always around to challenge us for the prize. A hungry predator could be suicidally aggressive when the prize was an already trapped or killed animal. If the killed prize had blood on it, and a predator appeared, the human hunter was wise to retreat, emptyhanded.

One of the prizes we vegetarians searched for in the jungle was a plant we villagers knew as kotrajym.

Kotrajym is a wild plant that is knee-high when full grown. It has an herbaceous stem and numerous tiny branches, and huge soft leaves. Everything about is green: branches, stem, leaves, flowers. Its seeds are microscopically small. Every part of it is edible when cooked; roots, too. Sweet as sugar cane, when cooked. When cooked, it is a spinach look-a-like.

In its raw state kotrajym is corrosive to human skin. Gloves have to be worn when the plant is plucked. There were more than a few instances of it causing permanent unsightly blistering disfigurement. When we walked through the jungle we took care to walk extra cautiously where there was kotrajym.

And, too, there was the poisonous snake factor. Snakes loved to live entwined around kotrajyms. The harvester had to be extra careful. Corrosive juice and poisonous snakes are the two facts that guaranteed kotrajym was never in danger of being harvested into extinction; they were, as well, the reasons no villager bothered to grow kotrajym in a garden.

Curiously, potted-plant growing was unknown in the villages. Growing kotrajym in transportable containers would have eliminated the snake danger.

The symbiotic plant-snake benefit in the wild, was obvious in the plant's case; herbivores give kotrajym a wide berth.

The benefit to the snake was ever a mystery. My guess was in the fact that quite often the discarded moulted skin of a snake would be found entwined along most if not the entire length of the adult plant.

However, one obvious reason this can be a mere guess is that snakes are most vulnerable, helpless, when they are moulting, a process that can last up to two weeks. A snake could best shed its skin in complete safety high up a tall tree. Why choose a knee-high plant?

Another welcome fact about kotrajym is that if the upper plant is taken and the roots are left intact, the plant grows back.

Crime in our village was virtually non-existent; a priceless result of poverty, I think. I lived there for the first twenty-nine years of my life. I never heard of villagers engaged in a robbery, mugging, break-in, assault against villagers.

There was crime; committed by persons coming in vehicles from far away beyond the village. All villages suffered this kind of crime, more-or-less, sooner-or-later.

The criminals came to have their orgies and drug-smoking celebrations in one of the numerous vacant weed-overrun spaces. They brought their own portable lighting.

There was no electricity in our village; nor in most other villages. The intruders knew they were safe from Law Enforcement; there was no police presence in our village.

When those criminals were around, we villages were grateful for our darkness. We blew out all our candles and oil lamps. Occasionally, those out-of-towners would sleep over, and leave the next day. We always were careful to make sure none was still around, before we went about our business the next day.

One day, early afternoon, Seridha and others were roaming the jungle in search of whatever they might find. This was a normal village pastime.

Seridha, like most, was a seasoned kotrajym hunter. She wore gloves. She had a spacious basket. She had a large iron scissors. She knew every trick a poisonous snake could try against her to protect its kotrajym.

She had a basket nearly full to capacity with kotrajym that afternoon when she stepped out of the jungle onto the road, on her way home. Three young city women attacked her.

They were what we villagers regarded as overdressed: high boots, blouses, jackets, fancy-decorated long dungarees. Their motive for attacking a lone poor female villager at an isolated jungle site, certainly could not have been robbery.

Their violence was not co-ordinated. Mostly, it was clumsy, as if they were intoxicated. They grabbed the basket, in obvious ignorance of its contents. They threw the kotrajym to the ground, and some at Seridha. They were not wearing gloves. Seridha overturned the basket on the head of one of her attackers, and poked another one with her scissors. That one stumbled against the third. Seridha fled into the jungle, with her scissors and her gloves. She left her empty basket behind.

When Seridha told her family, their only immediate concern was the possibility of Seridha suffering kotrajym burns. Everyone was most thankful she had completely escaped. They hid her until night and then took her that night to live with family far away in another village.

Villagers, as a rule, did not travel at night through jungle pathways. But being attacked by wild animals at night in a jungle was just a gamble, whereas a visit by angry police persons in the near future, was a certainty.

A family member went to the site later that night. He found the empty basket at the roadside. He did not care to try to retrieve even some of the kotrajym in the dark.

A few days later uniformed police in cars arrived at the village. First time ever. We were in awe. Accompanying them in her own vehicle was that third attacker. We learnt that one of the attackers had died of poisonous stings. The police stated the lethal poison had been used by a female villager. Another attacker had serious permanent facial and hand disfigurement.

It gradually became obvious that the third attacker had reported Seridha's assault, but had not been truthful about the facts. The few family members to whom Seridha had related the attack, did not dare to offer Seridha's account to the police. Especially not since all of us denied knowing any villager who would have the gall to dare attack out-of-towners.

The police lined up as many female village teens as were available for that third attacker to look at. She gave up after a dozen-or-so because she claimed so many looked alike. Most of the teens, female and male, had hid in the jungle.

Seridha never returned to our village. The riffraff interlopers did, though; over and over.

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