The Gunny Sack

Free The Gunny Sack by M.G. Vassanji

Book: The Gunny Sack by M.G. Vassanji Read Free Book Online
Authors: M.G. Vassanji
dukawallahs of Tanganyika was that of uncertainty; of being alien subjects in a time of war. India, Zanzibarand Mombasa had become out of bounds, and families were not heard from. Cash and jewellery were at hand and ready to be moved; the rest was hidden away.
    The closest German farm was that of Bwana Wasi. This gentleman had now lived in the area for twenty-seven years. One day he had gone north to the Usambara region, to the German town called Wilhelmstahl, and brought back with him a wife. Bibi Wasi was a schoolteacher, a laughing redhead in long skirts, with two pigtails and brown eyes. As soon as she arrived her husband set aside a banda and they opened a German school. Early every morning a file of boys in kanzus, ranging in age from eight to fifteen, snaked its way in and among the bushes outside Matamu to the school of Bibi Wasi. Bringing up the rear were Gulam’s brothers Nasser and Abdulla. For several years Bwana Wasi had done business at the store of Dhanji Govindji. An order was left punctually on the first and fifteenth of every month, which was then forwarded to Sheth Samji. When the goods arrived they were carried by porters to the farm; and Bwana Wasi who had previously paid only in produce now paid in cash.
    A few weeks after the
Konigsberg
was destroyed the stocky German came to the store with his retainer Kasoro Mbili. The retainer, as the German would explain, was born in 1903 and technically was still a slave. Slaves born after 1905 had been declared free under German rule; Kasoro Mbili’s loss of freedom by two years was reflected in his cumbersome name, which he bore stoically along with his status. To the villagers he was simply Kasoro, or Mtumwa: slave.
    “Karibu, Bwana Wasi,” one of Ji Bai’s sons greeted him as he entered and shook the dust and mud from his boots. Bwana Wasi still carried a rifle when he came to town. “Thank you,” he replied, and taking off his sunhat sat on a three-legged stool, wiping his face and neck with a handkerchief. Kasoro Mbili had also come in and sat on the floor.
    “Call Bwana Gulam,” commanded the German.
    After much whispered discussion inside, and several peeks through the curtain, Gulam appeared in his best obsequious manner wiping his hands on his shirt: “Welcome, Bwana Wasi. Welcome. You do me an honour. Was the last order all right? Nothing missing? Nothing damaged?” Abdulla came scurrying from inside, bearing a rattling cup and saucer slopping over with tea.
    “No,” said Bwana Wasi, holding up his hand as if to push the boy back. “No tea at this time. Bring me water, in a clean glass.” The boy turned back.
    “Bwana Gulam,” said Bwana Wasi. “This is going to be a fierce war.”
    “So we hear, Bwana.”
    “The British surround us from the land and the sea.”
    Gulam was all attention. Not only was Bwana Wasi a white man and a valued customer, he was also the Government representative in the area. His words had to be sifted for all possible meanings like those of a mystic.
    “I am giving you advice, Bwana Gulam. Take your family a few kilometres inland, move to some town there until the war is over, or danger from the sea is past.”
    “Will the British manuari attack Matamu?”
    “They could attack Matamu from the sea, or they could land troops here and march to Dar es Salaam. Tell the other Indians what I have said. If the British attack, the Africans can run to the bushes, but where will you run?”
    “Thank you, Bwana Wasi. I will talk to the others. But what about you?”
    “I am going to fight for my King. Tomorrow Bibi Wasi goes to Dar es Salaam to live with her family. The day after I travel to Iringa to join the troops.”
    “We are sorry to hear this, Bwana. And the boys will miss your teacher-wife.”
    “Yes. My watchman has agreed to join me as an askari in the army, and my two servants will come as porters.And this mtumwa, Kasoro Mbili—stand up!—I want you to have him.”
    The boy obediently stood up. Gulam

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