The short story, A Killing in the Sun was shortlisted by the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in 2013. This is the title story of the debut collection by storyteller, Dilman Dila.
A Killing in the Sun: As a soldier faces the firing squad, a Sunday school lesson, and memories of his childhood, turn his execution into a horror.
The Killing in the Sun
The trial ended, but the firing squad could not proceed. The doctor was missing. After thirty minutes without word of his whereabouts, the sun became furious. It suspected the soldiers were only putting on a show and would release Mande when public interest in the case evaporated, so it tried to execute him.
In defiance to the sun, Mande did not sweat. Even after standing for three hours in the heat, the only sign that it troubled him was the frown on his face. You could mistake it for fear, especially when he eyed the prosecutor who stood directly opposite him.
He loathed the prosecutor’s uniform, that plain green shirt of educated officers. The symbol of girly soldiers who spoke English instead of Swahili. The mark of cowards who had no experience in battle. Of fools who returned from exile to assume powerful military positions. Idiots who owed their existence to the President’s insane plan of ‘professionalizing’ the army.
He liked the three judges. They sat to his right, at a desk borrowed from the primary school; the court martial was hosted on its playground. The three giant potbellied frogs squeezed into a tiny desk built for children. Still, they were real men. They were brave fighters. They brushed off the irritations of the terrible sun and appeared to be relaxed. Though they had sentenced him to death, Mande hoped they would let him go. They were true soldiers. Like he was. They wore battle gear, not plain shirts. They also hated the prosecutor and they despised their new roles as judges even more. Mande could see it on their faces, hear it in their voices, smell it in their sweat. Each minute that passed without sign of the doctor increased his hope that it was a trick to save him.
When the President launched his ‘professionalization’ campaign, he had made it clear that no execution should occur without the public present to witness the eradication of ‘bad soldiers.’ To prove to the skeptical civilians that it was not a charade, a doctor they trusted had to be present to verify the death of the condemned man.
In the beginning, the whole village would come to watch these court-martials. But when the situation did not improve, when army savagery seemed to increase rather than diminish, most people lost interest. Less than a hundred had turned up to witness Mande’s execution. They stood in a horseshoe enveloping the court, waiting for the doctor. But they would not endure the sun for long. A few wore straw hats. Two carried worn-out umbrellas. Mande could see that their patience was wearing out. They shifted about, uneasy, as though they did not know what to do with their feet. Another thirty minutes without the doctor and they would walk away to escape the heat, forcing the soldiers to call off the execution.
The prosecutor could not ask them to wait in the classrooms, for that would be tantamount to dismissing the court. He too lacked the stamina to wait in the sun. His uniform was already dark with sweat. He frequently removed his cap to wipe his forehead with a dirty and soaked hanky. Much sooner than Mande anticipated, he crumbled to the ground like a tree felled by an axe. He lay in the sand, facing the sky, fanning himself with his cap.
Mande’s hopes flared. The judges grinned in open contempt. The four soldiers who stood on guard behind Mande sniggered.
With the prosecutor down, the civilians let out an angry murmur. Some began to walk away. Behind them, four army jeeps crouched. The firing squad lay underneath these vehicles to escape the sun. Mande knew they too were not happy with the job. When they heard that the prosecutor had collapsed, they hurried into the jeeps, anxious to get away.
Mande watched his enemy the way a vulture eyes a starving child. He was a little dismayed when the prosecutor stood up again, but it refreshed his hope when he noticed that the officer’s knees wobbled like a blade of grass in a strong breeze. Something other than sweat shone on the man’s face as he scanned the horizon for the doctor. Something that Mande recognised as panic.
He followed his gaze, past the vehicles toward the school. The hospital lay somewhere behind the gaunt and abandoned classroom blocks. Even from this distance, the wounds of war were clear on the walls. The doctor had to come through these buildings. Being a Saturday, not a pupil was in sight. Neither was the doctor.
In frustration, the prosecutor cursed and lit it up a crumpled cigarette. He paced about, puffing, wiping sheets of sweat off his face. One by one the civilians began to leave. Soon, there would be no one left but the soldiers. And then, even if the doctor did show up, there would be no execution.
But just as Mande started to bask in the thought of cheating death, someone in the crowd shouted, “Daktari!”