Pursuing the Cattle
Thieves In the short story “The Green Leaves,” the main character, Nyagar, wakes up from what he thinks is a dream but is actually voices and footsteps approaching. He turns toward his wife, but she is not in bed next to him, so he throws off his blanket and goes to the door. Finding the door unbolted, he wonders where Nyamundhe (his wife) is and is angered by her carelessness. Hearing the voices again, he puts a sheet around him, grabs his spear and club, and goes outside. He opens the gate to his yard and hides by the fence as a small group of people followed by a larger group run past him. One yells out that the small group has stolen his cattle.
Nyagar follows the larger group of villagers, listening to the men speak to each other as they pursue the cattle thieves. The cattle thieves take the wrong turn, missing the bridge that separates the Masala from the Mirogi people. They attempt to cross the river, but the large group gains ground and eventually overcomes them, beating them with their clubs. The cattle thieves cry in pain to no avail. During this commotion, one of the men sights a thief crawling off behind a bush. Three men pursue him and beat the bush, but there is no sound. The thief has escaped. Another thief knifes one of the villagers in the shoulder blade and then runs into the river, crossing it despite the fast-moving water. Nyagar takes the knife out of Omoro’s shoulder and attempts to stop his friend’s wound from bleeding.
One thief is lying on the ground, wounded. The villagers come upon him and beat him until the man no longer moves. Seeing that the man is nearly dead, Omoro claims that it is bad luck to witness the thief’s death and that they should return to their huts before this happens. The villagers then cover the dying man in green leaves and agree to bury him tomorrow at dawn. The men walk back to the village in the dark. Nyagar helps Omoro, although his shoulder no longer bleeds. Omoro tells Nyagar before he turns in that they should meet early in the morning before the women go down to the river where the dead thief is located.
Nyagar goes back to his hut. The village is quiet, although the women are awake. They will wait until morning to hear what happened. Nyagar takes out a container and scoops some ash from it, placing it in his mouth. He then places some on his palm and blows it toward the gate. He is about to go to bed when he changes his mind. Then he gets up and leaves his hut, closing the door quietly behind him. He looks back to make sure that he has closed the gate.
Nyagar thinks that the thief lying beneath the green leaves must have money on him, and he is determined to get it. Dawn is approaching as he makes his way to where the thief’s body is. Nyagar thinks that someone is following, but it is the echo of his own footsteps. As he gets closer to the body, he thinks that the other thieves may have returned for him but then dismisses the idea. Finally, he sees the bunch of green leaves and is nearly paralyzed with fright, but he continues on.
Everything is exactly as it looked when everyone left a few hours earlier. Looking around him first, Nyagar then approaches the dead body. However, his mind is in turmoil as he considers what he is doing. He does not need the money and has many wives and children as well as cattle. Still, Nyagar is determined to take the money since he has come this far. He bends over the dead man and begins to take off the leaves. Surprisingly, the dead man’s body is still warm, but this does not stop Nyagar. He looks through his pockets but finds nothing; then he remembers that cattle traders often carry money around their necks. He finds a bag around the man’s neck, and he smiles. As he takes the bag from around the man’s neck, a blow hits him straight in the eye. He staggers back and falls to the ground unconscious. The thief had just woken up from his deep sleep and now has killed Nyagar. He then covers Nyagar in the leaves and takes off across the bridge.
The Discovery of Nyagar’s Body
At dawn the next day, the clan leader Olielo sounds the funeral drum, and about one hundred people assemble at the Opok tree to hear what he has to say. Olielo tells them what had happened the night before. Because it is the dead body of a thief, it is not really a murder because the killer has rid society of an evil person. But due to the white man’s presence and his rules that are different in regard to murder, Olielo says that a group of men must go to the white man and tell him that the thief was killed by a group of people. Thus, no one would suffer sole blame for the thief’s death. Everyone agrees to this idea, and a group of men leave to tell the white man what has happened.
In the meantime, other people have gathered at the tree, including the wives of Nyagar. Whereas Nyamundhe looks for her husband, her co-wife does not seem to be that interested. The group begins to walk towards the river where the thief is buried. As they walk, Nyamundhe notices how wet the grass is and then comments to the co-wife that a black cat crossed their path earlier. Two trucks show up carrying a European policeman, several African policemen, and the men who had walked from the village. They drive up to the mound of green leaves. The white officer asks for the clan elder and demands to know the story behind the murder of the thief. Olielo explains everything to him through a translator. A discussion ensues between the two leaders about the nature of the crime, with the white officer accusing the clansmen of being savages. Olielo stands by his argument that the village killed the thief and that they should all be arrested.
The police officer goes up to where the body is covered with leaves, and the crowd follows him. Because it is the white man’s rule to take the body and do an autopsy to discover the cause of death, the crowd surrounds the mound of leaves to get a look before he is whisked away. The African police officer takes off the leaves and Olielo stares at the body in amazement. The body of his cousin, Nyagar, is lying there with a stake through his eye. Nyamundhe runs up to her husband’s body and weeps over it. She asks the crowd where the thief is. The crowd is stunned by the new development. The women wail, and the men who killed the thief stare at each other in disbelief. Olielo, visibly upset, appeals to the villagers, telling them that, despite the evil spirit that has descended on the village, Nyagar’s spirit is among them.
However, Nyamundhe does not take these comforting words to heart; instead, she struggles with the police as they take Nyagar’s body to the back of the truck. One officer tries to comfort her, but Nyamundhe tells him that it does not matter because her husband is not alive. She then strips to the waist and raises her hands over her head, weeping and chanting. The story ends with a traditional song of mourning that she sings.
Carol Ullmann (Editor) Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 15, Grace Ogot, Published by Gale, 2002.