My mother said, “Come and slaughter this thing.”
Like a clanging church bell, her voice followed me as I left our compound and stood outside the gate. Disobeying my mother felt like pulling a bone from my flesh, I started feeling uneasy. I walked back into the house and stood in front of her, the flame of her anger rising.
“Come and slaughter this thing,” she repeated, “or the land will grow over you!”
I took the knife from her but remained rooted in place.
My refusal infuriated her, and I couldn’t give her a reason for not wanting to kill the cock. It wasn’t as if it was my first time. In fact, there had been a time when killing cocks was as easy as putting them in my mouth and chewing them. I could slaughter six without rising up from my bow as my brother delivered them to me. Because of my skill and efficiency, I’d come to occupy a special position in my neighborhood. I knew the Islamic teachings about slaughter – where to position the cock, what to say before the weapon penetrated it, and the spot where the knife should be placed on the animal’s neck – and because of this, during ‘Eid celebrations, I served as my community’s slaughterer.
From my room, I’d hear neighbors call out to my mother, “Where’s Amobi? We want him to kill our chicken!”
Now, something unnamable had shifted. I no longer wanted to do this work.
“What’s wrong?” my mother asked.
The hand that held the knife trembled.
“What’s wrong? Are you okay?”
Maybe she thought blood had gotten in my eyes. Or that my back hurt.
After the cock had stopped breathing, I bent down to clean it. Tears welled in my eyes. I avoided my mother’s gaze. I didn’t want her to see me crying over everyday slaughter.
There had been a day when I placed what I believed was a dead cocks with others I had killed. As I turned to take the next cock from my younger brother, the one I had just cut flew out of the bowl. With its neck dangling, the cock staggered. I couldn’t breathe.
“Subhanallah,” was the utterance that escaped my mouth.
My brother laughed. I waited for the cock to keel over and then went to pick it up. Its suffering was my fault. I hadn’t cut hard enough. My grip had softened and as blood gushed out, I stopped moving the knife.
My horror had worsened around the pigs.
I had come upon them while walking through my neighborhood one sunny afternoon as I was headed to Oluyori, the T-junction that led to our road. Past the bridge is a house with a pigsty behind it, and I would see two young men sitting in front of the house, a blue scale resting on a table before them. A banner read: “Pigs are sold here.”
I’d never seen them sell a pig. I did see nylon bags piled on the table with the scale. Pigs are among the animals forbidden to Muslims, and so I kept my distance from the house near the bridge.
That afternoon, I saw it as the men brought out a pig. I had thought that they sold whole animals until I realized that they also sold butchered parts. That’s what was in the nylon bags. One of the men held a short but sturdy stick and used it to bang the pig’s head. Each time I try to describe this sight, words fail me. The pig’s legs scratched at the ground. Its body rolled in the sand and the cry it let out with each whack terrified me.
I wanted to yell, “Stop killing the pig like that!”
I had heard that some animals are difficult to kill, but I hadn’t known that it would involve so much pain. The man kept beating the pig’s head until the animal stopped struggling. He wore a bored expression. Slaughtering pigs was an everyday event for him.
My older brother once told me that he had killed a cat. When I asked him why, he answered, “The cat wandered into our compound”.
I asked, “So, you killed a cat because it wandered into our compound? But it could have been shooed out.”
“I threw it inside a sack, tied the sack up at the top and beat it till the mad thing stopped moving.”
As my brother described the cat’s death, exhilaration lit up his face.
It would have made some sense if he had killed the animal to eat it but nobody was going to eat that cat.
Many humans relate to animals as things. Mere things.
Sometimes, I wonder if I am being irrational when I relate to them differently. Philosophers have written that “despite their differences from humans, animals are conscious individuals with their own welfare, [and so they do] matter in themselves.” Speaking about his book, Beyond Words: How Animals Think and Feel, ecologist Carl Safina argues that animals have thought processes, emotions, and social connections that are as important to them as those shared characteristics are to us.
My mother knew I loved rearing livestock, chickens especially. When I was young, she bought a goat for me. Three days after we brought it home, the animal died.
“Your nature might not align with the goat,” she said.
“Does that mean I can’t rear any livestock?” Sadness encroached.
“Don’t worry. Let’s try a hen.”
The hen that I received produced more than ten hens and cocks from a single egg lay. Despite being my hen, my mother owned all that it produced. Still, this didn’t bother me. Owning a hen was a pride I cherished.
I now become terrified anytime an animal is killed near me. When I was summoned to slaughter by my neighbors, I looked for any means to avoid holding the knife. I preferred to give excuses rather than to admit my fears. They might find it hard to believe that even the thought of an animal dying was too much for me. That they might disbelieve me also terrified me. I spoke to a therapist about these concerns. They assured me that my sentiments are normal.
Last ‘Eid, I watched my elder brothers place the knife against the throats of our sacrificial rams. They gently cut their necks as blood leaked, spattered, and dripped. I was standing some steps away from them, my arms wrapped around a pole. I asked myself, “What if that was me? What if that was us? How do knives feel on the necks of these animals? They cry but we don’t hear them. They shout for help but they won’t get it. They feel what it means to be dead like us, away from their bodies, existing in and between spaces.”
“Good bye,” I said to the memory of the ram that could no longer hear me, that would not understand my language if he could hear it.
Ahmad Adedimeji Amobi is a creative writer and journalist from Nigeria.