a Short Story by Kondwani Kamiyala
THE OCTOBER noon sun was high up the blue sky, and the boys could feel its scorching heat on the sandy soil beneath their feet.
Hoes perched on the shoulders, hunger, thirst and tiredness gripped the boys as they trod on the lonesome path linking Chatha Village and the maize fields. Since daybreak, they had been in the field tilling the land in preparations for the first rains.
Mabvuto and Zuze had taken heed of their widowed mother's advice to work hard in the field. With that heat, she had said, they should expect the first rains any time and they should never be caught sleeping.
As they approached the village, they noticed a group of villagers gathered in front of the house of the village's most feared person, Chikanga.
From what they could make out, Chikanga was in a rage of fury, as he was speaking with swift hand gestures. Saliva was coming out of his mouth, showering on those that were close to him.
"How dare you cross my path? Why have you taken my thing? Do you know how far I went to get it? You certainly don' know what shaved the guinea fowl bald, but you will know it pretty sooner than later," Chikanga said, addressing one of the villagers.
The villager, who was down on his knees, was asking Chikanga what thing he meant. Tears were evidently welling up in his eyes.
What that thing was, nobody knew but, apparently, it meant a lot for Chikanga, at least from the way he spoke and gesticulated.
That threat too was real. The villagers understood that for Chikanga, what shaved the guinea fowl bald was death. Death for his enemies.
The boys, like everyone else, had heard that threat more than once and it was always followed by a cruel, mysterious death on whoever it was issued.
It was rumoured in the village that Chikanga could turn himself into some dangerous nocturnal creatures and birds to unleash the tasks commissioned to him by the god of this world. Chatha villagers spent so many sleepless nights with the hooting and shrieking of those strange creatures.
Born some 50 years ago, Chikanga had been mysterious even from birth. His mother had died a little before he was born. She died of a very strange complication. His upper teeth grew first, a sign of a potential wizard. Had it been long ago, he could not have lived as the midwives could have thrown him at the waterfalls. He only had to thank luck for being born at a time when such a custom had become obsolete with the whiteman setting his foot on their land.
For Chikanga, black art could not be used to attain better ends than evil itself and no one could stop him. Traditional healers who were called to cleanse the village of witches and wizards always left without cleansing Chikanga. He was in a class of his own.
He became a symbol of dread and terror. When little children cried, their mothers would threaten to call Chikanga into the house, and the little ones would stop weeping and wipe their tears.
At his age, he had not yet taken a woman for a wife. He had always believe a woman would be a means to the end of his mysterious world, since she would obviously discuss the secrets of his four walls with her friends at the well.
Having poured out all his heart in a tirade of threats, Chikanga spat on the ground before making his way into the bush.
The crowd dispersed to their respective homes, talking in whispers. The boys learnt later that Chikanga had been howling at the other villager for 'tampering with one of his precious charms'.
The boys went into their mother's compound where they put the hoes under the empty silo before going into their gowelo where they knew their mother had left their lunch.
After the meal, they knew what to do next.
Zuze nodded to his younger brother, a signal that everything was ready. They left for their usual place on a rock in the jungle.
The older boy took out a matchbox from where he produced a twist of marijuana. From his other short's pocket, he got out a piece of cement wrapper.
With agile hands, he spread the hemp on the cement paper and rolled it into one big cigarette. It always felt better that way, the boys knew.
Zuze lit the forbidden cigarette and pulled from it. He in-haled, making sure smoke was lost in the wind. He did so four more times before passing it on to his younger brother.
Soon, the older boy started feeling his mouth go dry. He stared into the vacuum in front of him, feeling the smoke settle in the cloud up his head, his brain. Exchanging the cigarette a number of times, it got so small that the two boys could feel it burn their thumb and index fingers.
The smaller the cigarette got, the more blurred the real images became and the more the thoughts flooded into their minds. Each of them was entangled in his own jungle of thoughts and none of them was courageous enough to break the golden silence. No one could dare narrate those juicy but senseless stories that send them into fits of hilarious laughter after a joint.
The older boy got up and lit a local brand of cigarettes. He had often heard on the radio that they were planning to ban the fags that not only brought pleasure to his nerves but also provided employment for many people and brought foreign exchange for his impoverished country. That, however, mattered less for him on that particular day.
The lens of his mind was focused on the events of the day. The scene they had witnessed that morning was his focal point.
The more he thought about it, the more he was convinced something terrible was in the offing and he loathed it. Chikanga's reign of terror must be brought to an end sooner than later, he thought.
He racked his brains how he could stop the devil's envoy from taking away another innocent life but no solution seemed tangible enough.
Then, in a flash, the thought came into his mind. He jumped up, as if on refelx upon sitting on a burning charcoal stove.
"Quick Bvuto, let's follow Chikanga wherever he has gone. We have to stop that murderer from killing another innocent soul," Zuze said.
Chikanga was satisfied he had got all the supplements he needed for the 'operation'' that lay ahead of him.
When shall the villagers learn? He thought to himself. A child cannot play with fire twice. Not with the fire in him. Why then were the villagers pushing him this far?
For the past hour, he had been suppressing the urge, but he could not contain the heat in his stomach any longer. Nature's urgent call beckoned the man into the nearby bush.
Ten minutes later, he came out of the bush feeling lighter, having relieved himself of the load he had carried in his stomach for a day or two. He smiled enigmatically as he thought of the 'operation'.
The boys leapt out of their hiding place as soon as Chikanga was out of their sight. They had been following the man, and had hidden when the man went into a bush.
"Let's put these into a plastic paper. We have no time to lose," Zuze ordered his younger brother, pointing at the human waste on the ground.
Mabvuto knew his brother was going mad, but he complied, knowing insurbodination to an order from a lunatic would call for serious penalty. He was not ready for that.
They rushed back to the village, using a short cut. They had to arrive earlier than the wizard.
On arrival, they went straight to the dreaded man's house and began smearing the door with the contents of the plastic bag, his excrement. Children who were playing nearby stopped doing whatever they were doing to watch the two boys. Soon, adults started flocking to the scene. Within a minute, an awestricken crowd had gathered.
Their mother, who was passing by with a pail of water balanced on her head, rushed to the scene. With mouth agape and wide-open white eyes, she lost grip on the ndowa and it fell from her head.
"Zuze!! Mabvuto!! You have been on those forbidden cigarettes again! We have always told you chamba causes madness but you never listen. Look what has befallen you now, with you madness you bring calamity on my roof. Oh God spare me," she cried.
With that, she fainted, crashing head first into the pail. Blood oozed from the wound on her brow. Some women carried her home.
The boys knew she was always overprotective especially after the death of their father some two years earlier on. They did not care. No one could stop them, until the bag was empty.
As Chikanga arrived home, he was astonished to find multitudes of flies hovering over excrement smeared on his door.
"Whoever has done this shall pay dearly with his life. Will any of you monkeys ever learn? The bowels that ejected this will not be filled with tonight's supper for he will be dead by then," came the dreaded threat from the old man.
As soon as he was in the house, he clapped his hands twice: "Haja fo Saja! Haja fo Saja!" he cried the magical words, in a thunderous voice.
Obeying their master's call, nsupas, nyangas and his black art paraphernalia came rolling out of their caches all over the house. Chikanga rolled off his clothes to reveal his beaded waist and heavily tattooed back. The amulets on his wrists and ankles danced with every movement he made.
The devil incarnate started singing a monotonous and dreadful song in a language no one could understand.
Still continuing with his single tone song, Chikanga peeped into one nsupa, filled with a scarlet liquid, possibly human blood. From that nsupa, he always saw the person he was to revenge on.
That day, he could not properly see the face of the person in the nsupa but as the situation was urgent, he could not wait. He just pointed the dagger into the nsupa and stabbed. All the same, he would know the malefactor in a day or two when the villain died, he thought.
Chikanga continued his tune. He could see in his mind's eye his ancestors coming to avenge for him on the man whose faeces had been smeared on the door. That was the part he loved most in such an operation.
Everyone in the village had heard of wizards practising their art in the night. Witchcraft in broad daylight was unthought of but Chikanga always had surprises up his sleeve. Matters of urgency, he knew, had to be treated as such.
Then, everything happened too quickly for his comprehension. He felt awkwardly dizzy while an excruciating pain ran through his whole body. His belly felt like it was about to burst. It did.
The old man fell with a thud, lying dead on the floor.
It took some two days for the villagers to summon enough courage to break the old man's door. When they did so, they were greeted by a nude and horrid figure lying among objects of his art: nsupa, nyanga, animal tails and eyes, human parts, graveyard soil....
"With his malice, Chikanga has killed himself. He has committed suicide. Burn down the house and let him be burnt in here with his wares. Peace finally reigns in our village," the village headman told the number villagers.
As the villagers were at the point of razing down the accursed house to cinders, the two boys came running, singing strange tunes. They were naked. Everyone was convinced they were raving mad.
Had the forbidden cigarettes taken its toll on the boys, or was it the power of Chikanga, even in his death, that led the kids to madness?