Copyright 2022 by Ezra Azra
Photo courtesy of Daniel Adeyelu at Pexels.
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.
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.
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.
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.
of the prizes we vegetarians searched for in the jungle was a plant
we villagers knew as 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
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.
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.
potted-plant growing was unknown in the villages. Growing kotrajym in
transportable containers would have eliminated the snake danger.
symbiotic plant-snake benefit in the wild, was obvious in the plant's
case; herbivores give kotrajym a wide berth.
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.
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?
welcome fact about kotrajym is that if the upper plant is taken and
the roots are left intact, the plant grows back.
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.
was crime; committed by persons coming in vehicles from far away
beyond the village. All villages suffered this kind of crime,
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.
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.
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.
day, early afternoon, Seridha and others were roaming the jungle in
search of whatever they might find. This was a normal village
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
never returned to our village. The riffraff interlopers did, though;
over and over.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
Story list and biography
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