Mask of Mano

“The mask made me do it,” said the young Liberian. He was tall for his age, slouching his sweat-glazed head to his chest as he stood in the musky odor of the hut. Incense and blood tickled his nose.

The boy shuffled forward, his barefeet padding softly against the arid soil which served as a living room carpet. Smoke clouded the hut, obscuring the boy’s visibility. His toes knew the way, and they carried him across the dirt “living room”, past the “kitchenette”, and into the family’s ceremonial space. On a gnarled wooden table (next to several small chairs and a goat’s carcass), sat the family’s ceremonial mask. A weak flame from a nearby brazier flickered in the shadows. The mask came into detail.

It was carved from a single piece of wood, smoothed to a shine. Gonlekpei, that was its name. Luogon, the barefooted boy, liked that name for the mask—“Man under the Hut”, it meant. He thought it fitting, Gonlekpei’s high cheekbones, elongated nose, and coarse beard reminded Luogon of his Colonel.

Luogon bent over and picked up the mask, a small wedge of hashish escaped his pocket. Gonlekpei glared into Luogon’s dilated eyes, bloodshot and vacant. A woman’s scream erupted somewhere behind Luogon. His eyes never left those of Gonlekpei’s.

“My boy!” screamed the woman’s voice, shrill and quivering with grief. “What did you do?!”

Luogon searched for an answer in Gonlekpei’s empty sockets.

“Too old…” whispered old man Gonlekpei. “Bullets…”

Luogon returned Gonlekpei to his throne on the altar. Then he found his kalash and shot the woman six times. He went to investigate the body. His foot struck against the wedge of hashish, which had dropped from his pocket moments before. He smiled at his good fortune, retrieved his treasure, and gently secured it back into his pocket.

On his way out of the pungent tent, ripe with decay, Luogon almost forgot to check if the woman still drew breath. The Colonel always rewarded due diligence.

“She’s dead,” Luogon thought to himself.

One of his rounds had struck her just below the left eye. Her lifeless body had collapsed into a heap on the dirt, her arms draped over the skinny frame of her eldest son—his skin porous with bullet-holes. Among the gore and spent cartridges, Luogon almost didn’t recognize the faces of his mother and older brother.

He smiled. “The mask made me do it.”
(Luogon can be translated as “boy born after the death of a sibling”.)

 

 

By Austin Treat

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