THE SACRIFICE by Chenjerai Hove

The prison officer stares at me. I fear to answer his persistent questions. He wears this horrid, wrinkled face of the man of law, solid, unfeeling. But sometimes I think he feels. He keeps asking me the same question every time he has a chance to talk to me, only when there is no other guard nearby, alone with me, as if for the sole purpose of torturing me.


'Did you really do it?' he wants to know.


'Yes, I did,' I answer.

I don't want to express any feelings on this story. It happened, and I did it. I know he expects me to be full of remorse. Maybe he wants to feel sorry for me, have me melt before him, shed sorrowful tears. But that is not what I really feel. I am just not the type to be involved in things like that.


Even during the trial, the religious court was in stunned silence when I told them I had to do it. They could not understand my deep, dark feelings which I had carried for many years. My mother only sobbed in silence. I felt sorry for her. I had killed her husband, my father.


Mother does not forget the day the body was discovered by the river. One stab wound on the chest, blood all over his skin cloth. The body lying helplessly on the blood-red sand, puddles of clotted blood mixed with tiny grains. I stood there and pointed at the body, feeling the final victory was mine. She gazed at me in fear, as if she thought I would kill her too.


But no. I loved her so much. I felt her motherly voice inside me, singing to me as I slept in my baby-years. She always lulled me to sleep with her songs and little stories about how a little boy once got lost in the vineyards by the river. Poor boy, he sat amongst the grapes, plucking some, eating bits and throwing the rest away, not knowing where to go. Soon, the sun would set, and the boy would sleep without his mother to sing to him. And the birds too would stop singing in their half-sleep, waiting for the sun to come and take them into the sky.


Every time mother thought I was asleep, she would cover my face with the skin blanket. I pushed the blanket away, shouting in fear: 'What happened to the boy in the vineyards? Did he sleep alone, far away from his mother?' And mother whispers to me how she would tell me the end of the story if I went to sleep. The devil swallows boys who refuse to sleep, she would whisper, right into the depth of my ear. Then I would be so frightened of the devil. Maybe I will be the new sacrifice to him if I do not sleep, a thought went round and round in my head. Until I only found that mother was waking me up in the morning.


I love my mother. I loved my father too, before I killed him.


'I cannot understand how a young man like you could lift his dagger, with his own hands, to stab a father to death?' the prison guard continued.


At the funeral, the judge allowed me to be taken to see the last of my father's face as they buried him. Priests prayed and hoped that God would forgive me if I was repentant. But I was not. I just stood there with chains binding my feet and wrists. Escape? No, it did not come to my mind. After all, it was me who had offered myself to the police. At first they thought I had worms in my head, mad. They talked among themselves, ignoring me as if I were a dry leaf floating in the wind.


'What do you mean you killed your father?' asked the commandant.


'Yes, that is why I am here to tell you. I can show you where the corpse is. On the red sand. It is there. My father's body', I said. The policemen shook their heads. Was it some kind of evil joke? they wanted to know. 'No, it is true. I killed my father, this afternoon. He had just finished taking his bath in the river water. I held my dagger high and stabbed him right in the chest. I did it, with my own hands. Do not look for anyone else. I am the murderer,' I pleaded.


Then I led them to the river, walking among the palm trees, not afraid. They walked in silence as if they wanted only to see how this silly joke would end. I only wished no one had stolen the corpse. I honestly did. If the corpse was not there, then I knew I would be in trouble. I felt my heart pounding inside me, exploding, anxious. I walked faster, overflowing with fear that maybe some shepherd had found the corpse and buried it. That would be the end of me.


'Over there,' I pointed at the corpse, visible from a short distance on the river bank. 'That is the body, my father's body,' I said, feeling triumphant. At least the body was there. The second victory. The killing was the first victory. Then the body is still there, not stolen. No more of that.


'Is this your father's dagger? Did you yourself use it or someone killed your father and paid you to claim the murder?' the commandant wanted to know. It was like an order, a command. He had never imagined that a murderer could lead the police to the scene of the crime, voluntarily. Murders had happened many times before. The murderer usually ran away, and the police had to hunt for the fugitive. It took time. But not this, a murderer presenting himself to the police, and then taking the commandant to the corpse, leading the police by the hand. That was something the whole Mount Moria district had never imagined. It had never happened, so the story-tellers searched their memories in an attempt to console themselves. And they found nothing like this murder in all their reserves of memory.


After they lowered the stone on top of my father's grave, the police dragged me back to the prison, walking slowly, with the chains binding my feet. Painful, but I could endure it. I did not mind a little pain.


'I don't understand,' says the prison guard, shaking his head in disbelief, as if it was his own father who had been murdered.


Then I remember how the blood had spurted out from my father's chest, like a spring sprouting from the earth. My hands covered with fresh, warm blood, like one who has slaughtered a lamb. Like a lamb too, my father had only growled something which I could not understand. And he died, just like that, silent like a lamb.


The trial had taken only a short time. I told the judge I had killed my father, that was it. There was nothing to discuss. Why did you do it? Have you killed someone before? All sorts of questions. I remained stone silent, like a lamb. As they asked their questions, my mind was far away, listening to voices and their echoes, from the caves in the mountain. Voices from the mountain, deep voices with vibrating echoes. I was more afraid of the voices than the judge or the police, or prison. The voices were haunting with their echoes inflicting on me a deep pain in the head. Needles of pain, pricking me, scratching and pinching me inside. The pain. I could not remove those pins from deep in my head. That was the pain with its echoes. A new pain with its echoes, real pain and real painful echoes reverberating in my head, in the clouds, everywhere, among the trees, in the vineyards where I had walked with my father as we harvested the grapes.




From the day father and I went up the mountain without a sacrificial lamb, that cold morning, I had grown a deep, silent fear of him. I still see his face on top of the mountain, sweating as he lit the huge fire. He seemed to talk to an invisible being, whispering, his lips moving with tension. He mumbled something which I could not discern. I dared not ask him, or say anything to him. His mind seemed to wander far away from this fire whose flames were climbing higher and higher into the morning air. The smell of fresh wood, the feel of the smoke as it crawled on my skin, everything seeming bizarre.


'But...., but, father, we have the wood and now the fire is ready, where is the lamb?' I had asked.


'The Lord will provide,' father had lied to me. He did not want to look me in the eyes. He just spoke as if he was talking to the wind, the air filled with dark smoke and hungry flames.


Tension grew inside me, wondering if my father was still in his right mind. 'The Lord will provide', I heard the echoes of his words deep inside my mind. Painful echoes that would haunt me the rest of my life. 'The Lord will provide,' the echoes of the words got louder and louder, more piercingly painful.


I gazed at his dagger in its scabbard, hanging loosely from the cloth round his waist. I was afraid, somehow, although I did not know what I was afraid of. The fear just welled up in me like a new kind of thirst. I felt myself shivering inside my body, helpless, without anything to clutch at. I was drowning within myself.


In an instant, he pulled the dagger out of the scabbard, and like a shadow, lifted it into the smoky air, moved closer to me and blinked, casting his eyes away from mine. He seemed frozen in that infinite gesture. Many voices echoed in my heart. I felt blood was bursting out of my veins. Pure blood! Fear gripped me like a fever, so intense. Pure, red blood, pulsating inside me, wanting to burst out of my veins.


'Abraham, do not harm the child! Look to your right and you will see a lamb tied to a tree. Take it and make the sacrifice. I now know your deep faith in me, your Lord God!' a voice came from the clouds, the caves, everywhere.


As my father killed the sacrificial lamb, the pain in me continued to haunt my heart, my everything. I felt helpless, like a feather caught in a whirlwind, powerless, floating to a destiny I could not name. To think that I was the sacrifice, the lamb. To think that it was my blood that would have burnt in the sacrificial fire, to think.........




As we walked home, the thought of being sacrificed like a lamb continued to haunt me. My father would have killed me had the voices from the caves not intervened! The only son, a sacrifice, I thought. The pain grew with me as I grew up to become a man, always smelling the fire and the smoke in the forest, my own blood. Death of a new sacrificial lamb, me.


I grew up with this whirlwind of pain inside me, always pushing me, pulsating like the blood in my veins. The fear, too, grew with me every day. I did not know anymore if my father loved me. Maybe he would kill me another time, another day of a sacrifice without voices from the mountain caves.




'Lie down on the cross,' the hangman says to me. 'Lie down! You will know what it is to kill a father,' the stern-looking man shouted as four muscular men pinned me to the wooden cross.


I lay down on the cross. The strong man, with sinewy arms, took the huge nails so he could start his final ritual, my death.


I was helpless, resigned to my death. If only it had been a dagger. Maybe it would be fast. But the cross, the nails, the pain of a slow death, life slowly seeping out of me as I hang up there on the cross by the hillside.




My father rushes into my bed room. He snatches the blanket that covers my sweaty body. Sweat pours out of my skin, like blood bursting out of the lamb's veins that day on Mount Moria.


'What is it? What is it?' my father demands. 'Are you sick? Did anyone attack you?' he panics.


'A bad dream, a nightmare,' I breath a heavy sigh, feeling helpless, powerless, weakened by this dream of killing my father. 'I dreamt I had killed you, and they were nailing me on a cross to die. They were killing me,' I say, my voice faint like a distant echo.


Father stands there, powerless too, remembering how he had stood there, stretching his sinewy arms to sacrifice me.


'It will heal, with time,' father whispered, patting me on the head. 'The Lord will heal it, with time,' he says, his voice faint like an echo. 'You can imagine the pain I also felt then, losing you, sacrificing you. I understand your pain,' he whispers into my right ear as if to sooth my heart and soul to sleep.



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