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Karomenya

There was on the farm a little boy of nine named Karomenya who was deaf and dumb. He could give out a sound, a sort of short, raw roar, but it was very rare and he did not like it himself, but always stopped it at once, panting a few times. The other children were afraid of him and complained that he beat them. I first made Karomenyas acquaintance when his playfellows had knocked him on the head with the branch of a tree, so that his right cheek was thick, and festering with splinters that had to be dug out with a needle. This was not such a martyrdom to Karomenya as one would have thought; if it did hurt him, it also brought him into contact with people.

Karomenya was very dark, with fine moist black eyes and thick eyelashes; he had an earnest grave expression and hardly ever a smile on his face, and altogether much of the look of a small black Native bull-calf. He was an active, positive creature, and as he was cut off from communicating with the world by speech, fighting to him had become the manifestation of his being. He was also very good at throwing stones, and could place them where he wanted with great accuracy. At one time Karomenya had a bow and arrow, but it did not work well with him, as if an ear for the ring of the bowstring were, by necessity, part of the archers craft. Karomenya was sturdily built and very strong for his age. He would probably not have exchanged these advantages over the other boys for their faculty of speech and hearing, for which, I felt, he had no particular admiration.

Karomenya, in spite of his fighting spirit, was no unfriendly person. If he realized that you were addressing him, his face at once lightened up, not in a smile but in a prompt resolute alacrity. Karomenya was a thief, and took sugar and cigarettes when he saw his chance, but he immediately gave away the stolen goods to the other children. I once came upon him as he was dealing out sugar to a circle of boys, himself in the centre, he did not see me, and that is the only time when I have seen him come near to laughing.

I tried, for a time, to give Karomenya a job in the kitchen or in the house, but he failed in the offices, and was himself, after a while, bored with the work. What he liked, was to move heavy things about, and to drag them from one place to another. I had a row of white-washed stones along my drive, and, with his assistance, I one day moved one of them and rolled it all the way up to the house, to make the drive symmetrical. The next day, while I was out, Karomenya had taken up all the stones and had rolled them up to the house in a great heap, and I could never have believed that a person of his size would have been capable of that. It must have cost him a terrible effort. It was as if Karomenya knew his place in the world and stuck to it. He was deaf and dumb, but he was very strong.

Karomenya, most of all things in the world, wanted a knife, but I dared not give him one, for I thought that he might easily, in his striving for contact with other people, have killed one or more of the other children on the farm with it. He will have got one, though, later in life; his desire was so vehement, and God knows what use he has made of it.

The deepest impression I made on Karomenya was when I gave him a whistle. I had myself used it for some time to call in the dogs. When I showed it to him he took very little interest in it; then, as on my instruction he put it to his mouth and blew it, and the dogs, from both sides, came rushing at him, it gave him a great shock, his face darkened with surprise. He tried it once more, found the effect to be the same, and looked at me. A severe bright glance. When he got more used to the whistle, he wanted to know how it worked. He did not, to this purpose, look at the whistle itself, but when he had whistled for the dogs and they came, he scrutinized them with knit brows as if to find out where they had been hit. After this time Karomenya took a great liking to the dogs, and often, so to say, had the loan of them, taking them out for a walk. I used, when he walked off with them on a lead, to point to the place in the Western sky where the sun should be standing by the time that he must be back, and he pointed to the same place, and was always very punctual.

One day, as I was out riding, I saw Karomenya and the dogs a long way away from my house, in the Masai Reserve. He did not see me, but thought that he was all on his own and unobserved. Here he let the dogs have a run, and then whistled them in, and he repeated the performance three or four times, while I watched him from my horse. Out on the plain, where he thought that nobody knew, he gave himself up to a new idea and aspect of life.

He carried his whistle on a string round his neck, but one day he had not got it. I asked him by pantomime what had become of it, and he answered by pantomime that it was gone,lost. He never asked me for another whistle. Either he thought that a second whistle was not to be had, or else he meant, now, to keep away altogether from something in life that was not really his affair. I am not even sure that he had not thrown away the whistle himself, unable to reconcile it with his other ideas of existence.

In five or six years, Karomenya is either to go through much suffering, or he will suddenly be lifted into heaven.


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