Read time: 11 mins

The Goat

by Jean Pierre Nikuze
2 July 2024


The day after her baby boy was stolen from the maternity ward, Achan was featured on the evening news. Kindly conceal my identity, she begged the TV crew inside her house. At least three times during the interview she pleaded, please help me get my child back.

Achan’s husband, Kolanei, was already gone by the time the news crew arrived. A man’s name means nothing without a son to carry it on, he said in response to Achan calling and begging him to stay amidst her tears. He left behind the billy goat he’d bought not even 48 hours earlier, which, according to tradition, was his son’s first gift.

Two months after the loss and in desperation, Achan realised no help was forthcoming. It seemed she had pleaded into a void. The once-trending news item was now forgotten in public memory, and gossip from a trusted source had reached her about Kolanei: your husband is now husband to many. Achan decided to move on as well, first quelling her trauma.

She would do this by transferring her negative emotions to someone else, someone she would find at the hospital where her boy was stolen. She already knew the location of the maternity wards, the billing office, the various nurses’ sections and other details. I need to know everything, she told herself. Which mothers brought their infants in to get inoculated, the times they did, the kinds of shots the infants got and so on.

So, for four months she disguised herself and made the long trip down to the hospital, intent on finding the perfect replacement—a mother whose boy was born around the same time as her stolen son.

In the end, she chose a single mother who seemed in her late teens, who always went to the hospital unaccompanied. She stalked the chosen young mother, traced her baby’s journey since month-two when he got his first doses of polio and rotavirus. At last, the baby was going to receive his third doses of the same. Afterwards, Achan would take him, thereby bringing an end to the trauma of a half-year.


The previous night, anxious about execution of her plan, Achan puked up her supper. And in the morning, she fed the leftovers to the goat. Moreover, the whole meal was cheap, and the fuel used to make it, little.

During the cold season, night temperatures were so brutal it had become routine for her to use up more charcoal keeping warm than she used for cooking. Though it wasn’t until Kolanei left their marriage that she took up this new way of keeping herself warm.

But even in agreeable weather, a quiet home was to Achan an uninhabitable place. That’s why she had taken to leaving the radio in her living room on during the day, opening the doors wide while she worked at the sewing machine in the bedroom so the voices of strangers singing might replace the quiet. She took no chances: to these strangers’ voices she added her own humming. The creaking of the open doors as the wind swept her rooms was a welcome sound, as were the subsequent bangs.

Whenever she relieved herself in the outhouse, beyond the radio’s reach and past the bang of doors, she relied on the buzz of toilet flies and the dull sound of her urine or feces landing down there to stuff the silence. And when she carried her basin of warm water through to the bathroom, the water splashing against the walls and the floor while she bathed was a welcome sound too.


A braying came to her while she worked at her sewing in her bedroom. It was the goat, secured with a rope made of colourful scraps of kitenge, tied to the metal pole of the clothesline in front of the house. She had come to expect the goat to complain only out of necessity, usually too busy munching on the broad banana leaves and assorted greens she fed it from time to time. In this, it reminded her of the son she had lost and the maternal experiences denied her. She pushed back her chair to go and cater to the goat’s needs, but the braying stopped before she got out of the bedroom. She looked out of her front door and saw a figure bent over the goat. A figure in a burgundy suit; it was her Scotland-educated pastor, Joseph-Mark. She got closer, and everything became clear to her.

The goat had wound itself around a nearby shrub many times over, the rope tied to one of its forelegs shortening so much it could not get free. This was nothing new. What surprised her was the frequency with which the goat repeated this error, almost as if it did it on purpose. Again, in this, she was reminded of her child and of experiences denied.

The pastor lifted the goat like a guitar and proceeded to free it from the shrub. Round and round he went, the rope growing in length in his wake, like a tall tree falling. At the end of it, Joseph-Mark was out of breath, for he and the goat were both well-fed. He looked up to find her waiting for him with an appreciative smile.

Thank you, Pastor, she said. This is the fourth time this morning it has done that. Joseph-Mark approached her, his bald head glistening with sweat from the exertion. A face mask covered his lower lip and chin.

It is in the nature of mbuzi to repeat mistakes, he said, just as it is in our nature. He extended his hand to her, closed in a fist. They bumped fists. Then he looked back at the goat and lowered his mask all the way down, exposing his jowl. We can learn a lot about our relationship with our father in heaven by watching animals like mbuzi, he said.

The pastor took out a handkerchief and wiped his head and face. Achan had already learnt about her relationship with her stolen son by observing the goat and was keen to learn more.

If you remove the rope, Joseph-Mark continued, and let the mbuzi roam free as a bird, it won’t trap itself on the shrub like you say it’s been doing. Achan pondered this for a moment, before asking, you mean give it freedom as if it were part of a flock? Joseph-Mark nodded. Exactly, he said. This is how our Lord, the good shepherd, treats us. He doesn’t limit our actions, doesn’t tie us up even when we repeat the same mistake again and again. He just watches over us from a distance, leaves us at the whims of our free will.

Later, they sat face to face, under the shade of a sizable avocado tree in season. They each perched on a wooden stool, and placed on top of a third were a sugar container and a flask. Achan had made sturungi, and they drank it without any accompaniment, for there was no food in the house. As she was wont to do, Achan put multiple sugars into his cup, only one spoonful in hers, and poured the tea for them.

How are you doing, my sister? Joseph-Mark asked.

Achan felt discomfort as the tea landed in her empty stomach. She was also self-conscious hosting the pastor, given what she had planned to do later.

It is now half a year since you came to church, Joseph-Mark said. We have really missed your powerful prayers; I can’t say this enough.

My family has a long history of dying of what you may call harmless illnesses. I’m just being cautious about coronavirus, Achan said. The pastor stirred then sipped his tea before he responded. As I said last week and on all my very many visits, he chuckled, we have been putting in place measures to ensure the safety of the congregation. So far, the windows stay open; a distance of a metre separates worshipers; hand-washing stations are set up at the main entrance and, as of last month, our ushers sanitise the hands of believers after the offerings—

I’ll come back when the infection rates go down nationwide, Achan interrupted. I’ll feel safer then. I’ll also be able to serve better. My sister, he said, it is the Lord who protects us from the virus. Not doctors, not ourselves. Only the Lord. Your absence has robbed us of a gifted intercessor.

Achan looked past Joseph-Mark to the goat, on its hind legs, attempting to reach the low-hanging leaves of a young croton tree. It failed, tried again, failed again, tried—

Pastor, Achan said, I have a question. Joseph-Mark smiled in anticipation. She paused for a moment to blow in her cup then said, at what point does God get involved in our situations?

Joseph-Mark took a deep breath. Do you mean like when will God save his children from the plague of Covid? No. Not coronavirus, not something affecting the whole world as a pandemic, she said. I mean, when does he get involved in our individual situations? He is always on watch, watching us throughout. Which means he must know our struggles, all of them. So, when does he decide to stop spectating like other humans and lend his child a helping hand? The pitch in her cracking voice surprised them both.

Joseph-Mark sipped from his cup. You could tell from his face that he was avoiding her eye. Finally, he said, my sister, I know you have been through much pain over these last few months. I could never understand what it feels like to lose a child in the manner you did. Not even in the depths of my imagination. You are going through a season in hell. It’s easy to get lost down there. But take heart in this, dada. Know that even Mary, the mother of our saviour, lost a son.

Take even our own little church, Joseph-Mark went on. It is home to mothers who have lost children. To sickness, accidents, birth complications. Some while newly born, like yours. The latest loss was a month ago. A three-year-old. She got run over by a boda boda while running to her grandmother. Just imagine! By God’s grace I managed to convince these grieving mothers to join together. They now have a support group. I urge you to—

Pastor, Achan interrupted again. You have not answered my question. How long?

With much effort, Joseph-Mark adjusted the stool he sat on using his free hand. God has given us families, friends and others, he said. He has given us the body of believers called the church. And so, you see, we don’t have to struggle alone. All these options are there for us to use. But you, my sister, my fellow traveller. You are just so isolated. For months now you have been blind to what God has placed before you. I beg you, he said, end this quarantine. End it, and I promise you will realise that God is with you. That he has been intervening in your situation all this time. In ways, amazing ways you can’t fathom.

When the pastor’s visit came to an end Achan offered him some avocados. He was against her climbing the avocado tree, but she assured him all the avocados he had previously received from her home were picked in that same manner. A little uneasy, he went to check on the goat, leaving her to comb through the tree’s leaves for fruit. Perhaps to feel useful, he told her when she climbed down that the goat’s water vessel was in need of a refill.

After seeing the pastor off, Achan hobbled halfway up the hill to the small town centre nearest to her house. There she bought a packet of milk and a loaf of brown bread. The milk reminded her of her stolen son. She had ceased lactating months ago, her body responding to the absence of a baby to feed. She took this as her own body shaming her for the loss. As she held a sandwich of avocado and brown bread in her hands, she felt the pain of loss as incisively as the first time she heard that her baby had gone missing. The feeling in her stomach reminded her of the week-long fasts she and Kolanei had undertaken for years, at the beginning of each month, praying for a child, drinking only water and Lucozade Boost for energy. Intense anxiety filled her spirit, and her heart beat faster.

Achan’s hands trembled, releasing the food she was holding to the floor. She, too, suddenly feeling an urge to lay on the ground, slipped to the floor. Her back against a kitchen wall stained with smoke and cooking vapours, she wept. She wept and screamed so that the radio was no longer of any use, and if the doors had banged for the wind, she would have missed it.


An hour later she raised her wrist to a beam of light in the kitchen and read the time on her watch. Achan got to her knees first, before standing up. She was still in good time. A gust of wind rushed through her rooms and banged the doors, startling her. She cursed, walked to the back of the house, broke off a little twig from a particular tree and brushed her teeth with it.

When she was ready, Achan put on the nurse’s dress she’d sewn on her machine, a replica of what was worn by the nurses in the maternity ward. She had a matching face mask, which she wore over her chin for the time being. She then wrapped a heavy shawl around her shoulders, folded a second one and placed it neatly inside a large handbag, the kind owned by well-to-do mothers. Her stomach ached with hunger or anticipation or maybe both.

She recalled, when she was ready to leave, that Joseph-Mark had said the goat’s water vessel needed refilling. So she unwrapped the shawl from her shoulders, went to the kitchen and got the old Blue Band container inside which she stored salt. Salt helped the goat drink. Sometimes she gave it the leftover water after cooking a pot of beans on the jiko.

Achan couldn’t see the goat from the front door, although it was usually visible from there. She edged closer, but still there was no sight of it. About half the length of rope remained. One end was tied to the clothesline pole, but the other, showing signs of tear, held nothing.

Her heart rate picked up again. The salt container felt heavy then dropped to the ground. Only this time, she did not follow it.

Goat, Achan said under her breath. Goat! She called louder. She dashed across the compound. She sifted through the shrubs with her hands, though they were sparse enough to see through. She looked up the croton, the avocado and the other trees in the front yard.

Achan raced to the back of the house, calling, Goat! Goat! Teary now, she exited her property by way of the narrow earthen path, ran halfway up the hill towards the town centre and then back down, all the while calling, Goat! Goat!

Achan climbed up the hill again, all the way up, and called as if from a bullhorn, Goat! Goat! She had not even had a chance to name him.

About the Author

Jean Pierre Nikuze

Jean Pierre Nikuze is a Rwandan who grew up in Kenya, and is currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, where he is attending graduate school at Regent College. A writer of stories, poems, and essays, Nikuze’s work has appeared in CalibanOnline, The Nonconformist Magazine, Agbowo, Hobart, Africasacountry, and elsewhere.