by Levi Keidel
I Kill a Soldier
There were two things that I desired above all else: to show the white man that I was equal with him; and to fulfill the expectations of my worshippers so that they would continue to support me. I had already learned that if a person shows his bravery by doing something no one else has done, people will honor him. I figured out in my thinking something I could do which no one else had ever done, and which would also show my equality with my superiors. I would imitate the white man. If I did all the things he did, in the end he would have to accept that I was his equal; and at the same time, my followers would support me with hearts of fire.
And so, like the white man, I began to go where I chose. I drank what I wanted and as much as I wanted. I began to smoke; as I'd seen with many white men, a stick of tobacco hung from my mouth most of the time. I refused to cut my hair. I bought medicine that, rubbed into it, would straighten it, like a white man's. It grew to stand out almost the width of my shoulders. I dressed like the white man. I bought hard-bottomed shoes with pieces of iron on their heels. I wore them to work. I clacked them loudly when walking, strutting like a white chief. When talking with others, I placed my hands on my hips. In a few weeks, everybody knew me. My friends smiled with admiration; white people gnashed their teeth with contempt.
Sometimes when I lay awake at night, my mind wanted to argue with my heart. "Where will this matter end? Do you really feel you will become one in tallness with the white man? You may as well try cutting a tree trunk with your teeth. Where are the teachings of your childhood? Don't you remember the proverb: 'A long-tailed animal should never try to jump across a fire'? If you don't quit this path, what your heart covets most will be the death of you."
But I knew the white man's thinking about us was false. Why should I be content for men to have faith in falsehood, and thereby find happiness in tormenting us and our progeny forever? I was exposing their twisted thinking. I might compel some to abandon it. I owed a debt not only to my tribe, but to my race. If I laid down my life for this, would it be for nothing? And so pride, like a boa constrictor, allured me by its beauty, and began to wrap me tightly.
One day I was looking for something new to do. I drank too much and became insolent. I went to church to take Holy Communion. My only desire in doing this was to mock the priest who was a white man, and to show arrogance that would catch the eyes of people watching me. I sat on the steps in front of the church waiting. People entered. The priest preached his words, me listening. Then he called people to come kneel at the altar to receive the Holy Food. At that time I rose, entered the church, and walked its length, striking my hard shoes on the floor, shaking my hair, and strutting like a white chief. I knelt at the altar with the others, closed my eyes, opened my mouth, and received the Holy Food.
For some weeks, this custom of mine startled my followers. Then the time came for me to do something new. Once upon leaving the church from taking Communion, I asked my friends to follow me. We returned to the work camp and went to the house of a woman who made wine of fire to sell to the people. Only one cup of it, and I was drunk. My friends, eight young men and two young women, sat around the long table. I bought a fried pastry and a large cup of fire wine. I stood at the head of the table.
"Do you want to have the strength of Maweja Mazungu?" I asked them, holding the pastry in my hand. "Eat this, each of you; it is my body."
I passed to them the pastry. Each of them broke off a piece and ate it.
"Do you want the courage of Maweja Mazungu?" I asked, holding the wine cup in my hand. "Drink this, each of you; it is my blood. I'm not going to be with you much longer. The day is coming when you will see me return in the clouds of the sky."
These words were stupid. In a manner I was not expecting, some of them were fulfilled very soon.
We finished our meeting about three o'clock in the afternoon. My legs led me to the house of a harlot I preferred above others. She saw me approaching. Her face frowned with disgust.
"Maweja, why are you drunk again? Scolding you has wearied me. Have you not yet understood that wine makes you become like an animal?"
"I will do what my heart desires. Is it your affair?"
"If you want to call me your woman, it is my affair. I will not have you. I loathe you."
Anger began burning like fire.
"You say you loathe me? You say you will not have me? No, it is not thus. You will do what I say."
I seized her. She resisted. We fought. She tore my shirt. I released her.
"You, a woman, have torn my clothes. For this I will not kill you. I will only maim you. I will break your arm. Then, even if you flee me, you will always look at your crooked arm and remember, 'That's what I got for refusing Maweja Mazungu.'"
She fastened her eyes to me until she understood that I was not lying. Fear caught her. She screamed. She ran into her house and locked the door. I pounded the door with my fists. It was iron and would not open. I ran around to one side of the house to a wooden window. I struck it and smashed it. When the woman saw this she opened the door and fled. When I returned to the front of the house, she was gone.
People were coming from everywhere to learn what the noise was about. They were telling one another, "This man has gone crazy. He's starting a fight." Then a white man arrived in a car. He was the overseer of the workmen's camp. He got out, put his hands on his hips, and watched me. He did not touch me.
"Because you wanted to start a fight in my camp, would you get into the car? We will go see the government man."
I did not refuse. I told myself that if where we were going they wanted to harm me, I would fight them.
We went to the house of the white Belgian government man, who was Chief of Police. We got out of the car, went and stood on the veranda. The overseer told him about me. Then he gave an order.
"Police, take this man to prison. Let him stay there tonight. We will look into his affair tomorrow."
They came and circled around me. They looked at me from my hair to my shoes, then at my face. They did not touch me.
"Let's go," I said. "I'll follow you to prison."
The prison was a high fence made of brown bricks. Its sides were longer than its opposite ends. They opened the big door on its end; I entered; they closed the door. Against the long wall on either side was a row of rooms, covered with a narrow roof. Black soldiers were doing the work of prison guards. I saw some of them bringing ropes. A sergeant cried out.
"Don't touch me. Before you tie me, I'll kill twenty of you; if need be, I'll die with number twenty-one."
They watched me, stepping this way and that, as if plotting to seize a cornered lion. I was trapped. A power seized me that I could not master. I wanted to warn them of my feelings inside. I saw a wooden door near me. I struck the door hard with my fist, and split it.
"Be careful with that man," one soldier said. "See how anger has inflamed his eyes? We'd better not touch him now."
"That one person is stronger than this many men?" cried the sergeant. "Tie him up."
"Let no hand touch me," I warned.
They slowly moved toward me. My anger would not be restrained. Heat shot into my arms and fingers. I saw a wooden axe handle at my feet. I seized it, raised it high, struck a soldier, crushed his skull, and killed him. It was July 1, 1944. On that day, as a child tosses a twig into a rushing river, my deed threw me into torment.
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