Pressing the cabled handle of the quad bike sent the bike soaring in the air. Matinga was sent spiralling in the air, he somersaulted in the air, did a couple of loops and landed with a thud on the grass. The quad bike went a different tangent, continued on in a straight line and headed straight to the barriers, it crashed through the barriers and landed on the open field where, Edem was searching his garden for snails.
Snails have always been a delicacy in Greenfields. Because of the rich vegetation of the land, snails flourished in the fields, farmlands and ranges. It was always a popular sight to see children early in the morning with lanterns, in the woods, picking snails, nkoriko* and mushrooms. They would finish picking the landed creatures on time, get ready and go to school.
Greenfield was a land that, despite urbanization and all the deforestation that had happened, was still pure, until the Briars arrived. The farming system practiced here, was the type that would see some plots of land farmed in a particular season and after harvesting the crops, it was left to lie fallow for a particular length of time to allow, the soil to regenerate, enriching itself and naturally revitalizing itself for the next planting season. This way, there wasn’t any need to add fertilizers to the ground, as the ground had enough nutrients to sustain any planting season that came naturally to it.
Then came the Briars. The Briars had lived in the city all their life. They acquired wealth, and brought this wealth back to Greenfield. The Briars, is a term that was used to denote the Greenfielders who lived outside Greenfield. They were born in the city, they grew up in the city, they lived a fast paced life and made money only to realize that the only thing they had was money. They did not have a good quality life; they did not know what it meant to plant a field only for your needs. They didn’t know the word contentment. They knew the words accumulate, stockpile, return on investment, me, I, my, and commerce. These Briars acted like robots. Right from when they wake up in the morning, they are like automated machines, they only go home to sleep. Why would one build a home only to sleep in it?
Edem, a rural Greenfielder went one time to the city to visit his uncle, Harry. Edem was on school holidays. He didn’t last a week in the big city. He couldn’t stand his cousins. They were emotionless. They didn’t know what life meant. Everybody was doing their own thing. He had a room to himself. He wondered why he had a room to himself when he could sleep in his cousin’s room. He was told, there wasn’t a spare bed in his cousin’s room. He said he would sleep on the mat. They said, they don’t have a mat. What did they have then? They had beds, fridges and refrigerators, microwaves, big TV screens on the wall, Xbox, Ybox, Zbox, yet they didn’t have a simple mat. Uncle Harry and Aunty Stephanie burst into laughter. They told Edem that he wasn’t back in Greenfield, that here in the city, people were civilized and do not necessarily share things like that. “If they did not share things, what did they share?” Edem questioned. “Isn’t life meant to be shared?” Edem at thirteen years old knew that this was not life.
In the morning, people had breakfast at different times. Was this what they called life, he thought? He had cereals which tasted very sugary. He drank milk from a bottle. He thought about his cow Muna at home, which he would go to every morning and milk. He remembered the frothing milk from Muna and how he would drink it fresh. He remembered the mushrooms he would pluck from the woods and use it for breakfast. He remembered how he would wander into the orchard and pick ripe mangoes and eat them. He remembered that people didn’t store food items unnecessarily because the orchard was always there to pluck the fruits from. The farm was always there to get fresh farm produce from. In Greenfield, people didn’t use microwave to warm food or cook food, people didn’t eat from tins and cans, people rarely visited the hospitals because people were strong. Everybody walked to the farm, a journey of sometimes up to three miles. People left for the farm at the first cock’s crow. People returned from farm at sunset. People came back from the farm with fresh produce on their heads. People went to the stream to swim and fetch water. People socialized on their way to the streams. People helped each other and looked out for each other. People held hands and walked the slippery slope during the rainy season. As a rule, you don’t leave your brother behind. Who was a brother? – A member of the community. Until the Briars came and things changed.
Edem announced to his uncle that he was going back to the village of Greenfield.
“Why? Have we offended you?”
“Are you not enjoying yourself?”
“I want to go back before I die. I am dying. I feel like I am in a prison. I only talk to machines and gadgets. I am not used to this. I am used to plenty laughter. I am used to playing in the open fields. I miss my freshly plucked mangoes. I miss my swim in the stream. In the stream we jump into the river naked. In the stream we swim across the tide. I miss talking to people. I want to go back to Greenfield”.
Edem swore never to go back to the big city. Then the Briars came to Greenfield. They started buying off the farm produce, they bought off entire plantations. Life began to change. People started fencing their orchards. People started telling people to stay off their fruits. People started monetizing everything.
Then Greenfield changed.
The Briars came and bought lands. They built houses and fenced it around. They also built storey buildings. Land became expensive, housing became expensive. They employed the locals to do house chores for them. Then competition set in. Brothers started fighting, sister’s quarelled over a man. Greed set in. The society got divided. Strata started forming and right before Edem’s eyes, he saw his native Greenfield, begin to be like uncle Harry’s city. He wept. He called his friends and told them, what has happened to Greenfield, is not good. He warned them, that they have to do something about it. He sounded the alarm to his friends. He sounded the alarm to his community. The town crier went forth, screaming, shouting and calling for a meeting in the village square. They converged at the square and discussed what Edem described as ‘the impending doom.’
“They will take our happiness. They will take our communality; they will take away our way of life. They will turn us into robots. They will make us talk to machines instead of talking to human beings. We will start to compete against one another and become lonely.”
His voice was drowned by, “but we get paid to work for them. We now have money. We can get big cars and live comfy lives like them.”
“This is not a good sign” Edem cried.
“What was wrong with the way we lived our lives. We were happy. We enjoyed life. We lived beautiful. We ate good food, we enjoyed nature, our community was not polluted” Edem continued preaching.
“But we are going to be reckoned in the comity of cities. Development is coming into our community. Factories, roads, hospitals, schools, leisure centres, name them”, he was countered.
“But my point is we don’t need them. We have everything already in its natural state. What do we need hospitals for? We hardly get sick anyways. If we do, we know the right herbs to take. We don’t need swimming pools, we have the rivers where we swim from, don’t we?”
“But the river is dirty, we cannot swim in lanes in the river, we cannot compete with other cities if we don’t have the pools” another voice argued with him.
“That’s a lie, we have been told. Is it not the same river we have been swimming in? Did our fathers and grandfathers and great grandfathers not swim and drink from this same river? Has it not served our people well. Don’t we have our wells and water purification system? Let me sound it loud and clear to you all, twenty years from now, we will realize in full scale, the damage we have let the Briars do to our land, by allowing the Briars to come into our community and take over our way of life. This action is irreversible.”
Greenfield blossomed. Greenfield grew in its new found state. Soon Greenfield became a commercial centre. Lands were taken, buildings were erected. Rivers were diverted, hospitals were built and Greenfield turned to be like the city where uncle Harry and Aunty Stephanie lived.
Edem refused to sell his homestead to the Briars. Through legislation, they took his family lands and estate. He lived on the house his father built. He farmed on his land and continued to eat from his land. He was a loner. Greenfielders were now driving big cars, making money and not even having the time to enjoy their money. They bought a lie of the Briars and when it dawned on the people what had befallen them, they went to Edem and on his dying bed, they told him “we never saw what you saw, if only we knew then…”
Edem died on his homestead and the city council converted his house to a memorial home to show what life once looked like in Greenfield and the danger of refusing to heed the voice of preservation.
In the Dark Cave in Kuala Lumpur, there is a bench that stands as a reminder of what it is like not to preserve what one has. The cave was vandalized. Graffiti was on the walls and life on the cave was destabilized until the government took a firm stand and tried to restore the cave back to its original condition, so does Edem’s house stand as a memorial to people of what it is like not to preserve what one has.
*nkoriko – smaller version of snail
Uwem Mbot Umana©2020