Francine Bawa knew what her son was going through. At heart he was a gentle person, and had always exhibited a great abhorrence for violence. Due to his father’s abusive nature, he had also grown up hating bullies, and always on the lookout for a wrong he could correct. It all boiled down to the cliché that to make an omelette you had to break eggs.
Uncle Chad’s death had affected him, and he had responded in the only way his nature permitted. He had come to realize, however, that taking a human life, in whatever form and under whatever circumstance, always left a bad taste in the mouth.
One of the Circle T carts were brought, and they mounted up. As soon as Chris gained his feet the applause came. The relieved citizens of Little Rock had been exposed to a violence they could not deal with. They were all aware of what could have happened if the Spencer gang had stayed in town. To them a hero had been born, and everybody wanted to be a part of him. They called out to him, and they reached out to touch him. It did not matter that their subject was as white as a ghost, and sat crumpled against his mother. To them he was larger than life, a mysterious saviour who had sprung up, out of nowhere, and saved a town.
They lined the street and kept applauding as the cart moved through slowly. Chris Bawa was a legend in Little Rock. His fight with the Spencer gang would be recounted time and again with pride, an epitome of the brave spirit of the people of Little Rock.
The showdown with his father was inevitable; it had only been a matter of ‘when’ after his fight with the Spencer Brothers. Chris tried his best to stay clear of his father when he realized that the man’s abrasive animosity had increased since the famous fight, and he developed an extra coolness just to prolong that moment of showdown, and if possible avoid it altogether. He did his best to keep out of the way of his father. He spent less and less time on the ranch. There was a new respect – and yes, fear – for him after the Spencer affair.
The men who had always looked at him with contempt now followed his movements with envy and a wary eye. The young men who had once tried hard to pick fights with him now gave him a wide berth. He saw stony expressions and stiff smiles wherever he went. Yes, people respected him, but they did not really want to be close to him. It took him a while to realize that he was slowly being pushed into the dreaded lonely life of the professional gunman.
Chris Bawa had now become a killer; in some circles, however, the word used was murderer. His visits to Elaine Boateng on the Slash B ranch became fewer and fewer. Although her parents and siblings always welcomed him, there was always a strained undercurrent that simply refused to go away. The sudden uneasy periods of silence that characterized most of their afternoon lunch began to become more frequent and lasted much longer. On more than one occasion he had caught furtive glances between members of the family, looks that were pregnant with meaning.
One night, under a very bright romantic moonlight, Elaine walked with him to his horse. Before he could mount up she reached out and laid an unsteady hand on his arm.
“Chris B, my dear, where’ve you been going to these days?” she asked, looking up at his florid face earnestly, her voice unsteady, as if she was under great duress. “You disappear from town for days, and no one knows where you go to.” He looked down at her and saw the worry lines on her pretty face. His half-smile was brief.
“Your family been giving you hell over me?” he asked, and his voice had lost some of its warm currents which he reserved only for her. “They’ve been mouthing off bad about me?” She began to shake her head, and then she sighed deeply, turning a desperate face to the skies and spreading her arms wide in exasperation.
“Not only them, Chris B,” she said in a rush. “The folks in town have been talking. They seem to blame you for a whole lot of things that are happening lately. Last week, for instance, when the stagecoach was stopped and robbed at New Mount, why, people said you could’ve had a hand in it.” The smile was off his face now. He stood quite still, and his gaze bore into her with sudden unnerving intensity.
“And you, Elaine, what do you think?” he asked softly. “Do you also believe I’m a thief?” She looked up at him, tried to speak, and then her eyes dropped. When the horse moved violently she looked up, and saw that with that uncanny speed of his he had mounted and turned the horse away.
“Chris!” she whispered, and when he looked down at her she was cut to the core by the expression on his face. In that instance she knew two things: he was not a thief, and somehow her moment of agonized distrust had caused her to lose the high pedestal he had placed her on, maybe quite irreparably.
“Chris B, I’m so sorry! Please, Chris!” He spun his horse away, and rode fast out of the yard, leaving the distraught lady sobbing behind him. His heart was beating with the pain she had given him. He was aware that his somehow frequent sojourns from town had begun to raise eyebrows. He did not care really. After the death of Uncle Chad, a cold block had formed somewhere deep in his gut which prohibited him from being concerned about what people thought of him. He had known that people who counted to him, his mother, sister and Elaine Boateng, believed in him. He knew they would never link him with that sordid assumption. That was all that mattered to him. To realize then that the girl he loved so dearly had thought bad of him, even if fleeting, was more than he could take, and more than he could understand. Maybe it had been wrong to take her total devotion for granted. It would have been so easy to tell her about his startling find in the town of New Mount.
Gold had once been discovered in New Mount. A drunken fool had found a huge nugget on the river bed, and had come to town to show it. It had attracted the usual gold rush. Lives had been lost and hearts had been broken over the gold fields. However, it had been a great hoax. The gold veins had run out after only a few strikes, and although people kept on prospecting for several months after that, all they came up with had been mud and fool’s gold.
After a few more years the gold site was abandoned, and become a haven for rats and skunks. After the fight with the Spencer Brothers, Chris had found it quite expedient to leave home once in a while if he wanted to avoid a direct collision course with his father. On more occasions he had only camped in the hills around Little Rock, exploring the wild side of life, finding peace and contentment in the solitary life, being a part of nature, experiencing the thrill of being alone in the exotic wild. One evening, whilst returning from a thrilling journey to Friar Valley, that evil town of delight, night had found him at the ghost town of New Mount. He made camp there, and at dawn he had waded deeper and deeper along the banks of the Mezac River, greatly enjoying the animal world, watching them come to life.
He had watched birds, the little animals and the wild predators rise to a glorious morning. Lying quietly and watching the animals drinking from the river, he had not been really surprised that he had wandered very far from his camp, and come to a point where the trees and weeds grew wild around the river…and as the sun came up he had seen the nuggets gleaming on the river bed. Intrigued, he had entered the river, and verified that they were indeed gold nuggets; three thumb-sized beauties that looked solid gold even in their unpolished state.
He had been excited, and had started prospecting for more gold on that part of the river. He had found enough abandoned tools in the town to work with. Luckily, after only a few days of prospecting, he had hit a small lode of gold. He had been careful about it, and continued to prospect. Soon he had enough gold to know he was a wealthy man. Thus his visits to New Mount had grown, although he was careful never to approach the place by the same route twice. He had been tempted to tell Elaine about it, but he knew it would not have stayed a secret for long. And then, as suddenly as it had appeared, the lode panned out, and Chris got nothing out of it more than fine mud.
By then however, he had a small fortune in the bank at Temple Town through careful deposits with the Manager of the bank, one Mike Crankson, who had been a childhood friend of his mother.
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Chris had bought a very beautiful engagement ring, and on the night he had intended to propose to Elaine and tell her everything, she had chosen that moment to doubt him. It seared his heart like a hot poker driven through him with brute force. It triggered a terrible feeling in his young heart, leaving him feeling spurned and dirty. Young love, in all its intensity and inadequacy, raged through his veins, and to have it so diluted with blatant distrust on the part of the woman he loved turned his heart into one boiling cauldron of depression and anger.
He gave the horse its head and it responded, racing through the night with the sure-footed gait of a devil. The wind lashed his face and neck, and the bright moon was a jewel glanced through the branches of the trees. The horse rode straight home. Maybe, just maybe, things might have turned out differently if he had ridden into town, or chosen that moment to go on one of his sojourns.
As it happened, his horse took him to a destiny intended for him, and that was the night he and his father finally clashed. True, it was bound to happen. It had been building up slowly, gathering momentum, ready to explode like a furious volcano. However, if Chris had not been so hurt that night, and if his young blood had not been boiling all the way to his very nerve ends, he could have controlled himself to some extent, and things might not have turned out as terribly as they did. But maybe it was bound to turn out that way anyway, and nothing could have stopped it. In an age where manhood was mostly measured by how brave a man was in facing his enemies physically and coming out victorious, many a father would have been pleased with the way Chris Bawa had dealt with the Spencer brothers. Ted Bawa, however, was not an ordinary father. He was a dense man who was totally unpredictable. His desire to instill discipline through fear and being the final authority in his home was like an obsession, and thus he could not accept the fact that his youngest son had suddenly become a man whom a whole town was talking about and respecting.
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To Ted Bawa, it represented a dent in the order of things, a terrible flaw that needed to be righted. Everything in its proper place, which was the way it was supposed to be. He was supposed to be the greatest man in the family, the one who took care of things, the big man in charge. Uncle Chad had been his employee, and he was supposed to have avenged the man’s death, and not that fat lazy son of his who was still dripping behind the ears. To him a wrong signal had been sent, an anomaly that could fester and become cancerous, affecting the line of authority on the ranch. He had sought for ways of putting the Chris down; his insults had become more scalding, more direct, aimed at drawing a response that would lead to a showdown, but the boy had not swallowed any of the baits. The reason was simple, and any other person could have told Ted Bawa this, but being so self-righteous, he failed to notice the obviouS, Chris Bawa did not care about what was said about him. The only way to get to Chris Bawa was through his mother or sister.
That fateful night, unknowingly, Ted Bawa discovered this one most sacred fact. It should be said that as much as Chris was depressed and keyed-up that night, his father was feeling twice these same feelings. If the father had not been so emotionally traumatized that night, maybe things might have taken a different turn too. Folks later described the events that led to that final showdown differently. In as much as the various accounts differed in beginnings and intervals, they did have one thing in common: an exactness of detail when it came to the point when the two of them finally faced each other, surrounded by frightened ranch hands and family.
Roy Sampson, the unfortunate man who served as the catalyst for that great collision, was middle-aged at the time. He was a big, good-natured man, a little too quiet, maybe, and liked his own company most of the time. He was a handsome man, and had been a cowboy all his life. Daddy Roy, as he was fondly called, was one of the first cowboys to work for the Circle T.
Roy Sampson had stayed in Little Rock and with the Circle T for the simple reason that he was in love with Mrs. Francine Bawa. Roy was a hardworking man, level-headed and quite fetching in a dark sort of way. Many a fine woman had wished they could have him for a life partner. None of them had ever totally convinced him that he could not live without them…until he met Francine Bawa. She had been six months pregnant with her first child when Roy first met her. He had just been accepted as a ranch hand, and had been introduced to the lady of the house. She had offered him a pitcher of water, and as he gazed into her clear eyes, he had known with a calm acceptance that here was the woman for him, but he was too late. He had not thrown tantrums over it; that wasn’t in his nature. He had acknowledged it, twisted it around for any possible way that could bring them together, and finally accepted the fact that she was the one woman his heart desired, and yet could not have.
By subtle actions Francine Bawa eventually came to know that Roy loved her, but she never encouraged him. On that fateful evening when things finally came to a head between father and son, Ted Bawa finally knew this truth too. In fact, he witnessed it, and it set off a terrible chain of events that finally ripped the Bawa home right through the middle.
It all started when Ted Bawa and his cowboys returned from a grueling cattle drive to Redbow Town earlier than expected. Everybody on the ranch and in Little Rock thus expected them to be back in not less than a four-week period. Ted’s absence meant that the people remaining on the ranch could have a few days of relaxed living. None liked these cattle drives more than the two women in Ted Bawa’s family. It meant they had a few days of not hearing the angry voice of their husband and father, and not having to feel his scathing attacks and violent physical abuses. The absence of his heavy tread on the ranch was a blissful haven that their tender hearts craved for more and more, but which was dished out in tiny morsels. None of them knew that Ted Bawa had taken a trip to Redbow, and that he would be back sooner than the drive to Orson normally took.
On the Circle T ranch, the cook and some inexperienced cowboys remained, together with Ruth and Francine. Roy Sampson, who never missed a drive, could not make it that year because his right ankle was badly sprained in a rabbit. His ankle became quite swollen, and it was evident that he could not make the drive. On the first few days that the owner of the ranch was away, Francine Bawa tended Roy’s foot and, after the first week when he could hobble a little with the aid of a makeshift crutch, invited him to dinner at the main house each evening. They usually shared a meal and a drink, and chatted together gently afterward. Both of them knew that there was a lot to talk about, but both steered pretty clear of the pitfalls.
To Francine, marriage vows were sacred, and meant to be kept till death. She had been startled the first time this gentle man had kissed her. It had lingered on in her memory because tenderness from her husband died a long time, just after the birth of their first son. Intimacy between them had decreased, and had become somewhat non-existent. She was aware that her husband usually sought tender moments with some ladies of questionable character in town. Apart from the first time that it seared through her heart when she learnt of it, she had become quite tolerant of her husband’s unfaithfulness. It really did not bother her that much though. If the truth were known, love and fondness for her husband had flown away somewhere after the birth of Chris, and it gave her great relief to know that he was getting his pleasures somewhere else because she had come to detest that particular act between them.
Once in a while Ted would come to her bed as a husband. There was never much tenderness expressed or returned during these sessions. He went about it in his usual hard and quick manner, never bothering to give any pleasure, only concentrating on slaking a thirst.
Francine understood this too. She never resisted, but each time she died a little bit more inside. Roy thus represented a refreshing change from a terrible nightmare. Seeing the love and adoration on his face, even though he fought hard to hide it, somehow served as a balm to an aching spot deep within her soul. She accepted the fact that she could have been so happy with a man like Sampson, even if they had lived in abject poverty. He was a man who would have put her first, and treated her like a jewel. She also accepted the fact that she could never return his love, not even fleetingly, as long as she was the wife of Ted Bawa.
For Roy, being close to her these brief moments was a period of sheer bliss. He would have sold his very soul for such an opportunity. He opened up to her, telling her everything about himself. She also told him things she had never breathed to another soul. They enjoyed each other’s company, and for a short time they both knew the warmth of a sunshine that had eluded them for a long time.
On that fateful evening, after having a delicious dinner, they retired to the porch at the back of the house with steaming mugs of coffee. They sat down on the long, comfortable, hard-backed bench Ted had erected. They sat quite close to each other. Their voices were muted, and their gentle laughter floated serenely in the air. It was quite natural that Roy’s arm would drape itself along the back of the bench. And it was quite natural that his arm would eventually drop across the slender shoulders of the woman he loved so much. They did not know that an enraged Ted Bawa had arrived, and was making his way through the house.
Ted was looking for his wife so that she could fix him something to eat. He was still muttering about his reduced profits. His disappointment had become a furious ball in the pit of his stomach.
Back on the back porch Roy said something funny, and the woman laughed in a genuinely happy way. This was the first salvo that exploded into Ted Bawa’s heart as he approached from the back. He heard this laughter and its sweet tones, filled with such refreshing gaiety, hit him with the force of mule’s kick. The last time he had heard her laugh like that had been years ago. What could make her laugh like that? More importantly, who could make her feel like that? He first saw the back of their heads sticking up against the back of the bench. His wife with another man? This was the second kick that almost took Ted’s heart away. His wife?
He made his way quickly toward them. Back on the porch Roy said something funny again, and she tilted back her head to laugh. Although he had sworn never to get physical with her, seeing her beautiful face turned toward his was too much for him. His throat constricted, blood rushed through his veins with the power of a million stampeding bulls, and his body trembled like the fiercest of earthquakes. His head came down and his lips covered hers. He felt her gasp, her body going rigid, and her fingers beat a gentle protest on his back. And as Roy kissed Mrs. Francine Bawa, neither of them knew that an enraged Ted Bawa was just a few steps away from them!
now you guess what happened