Fiction: The Mystery Child Trilogy

March 18, 2016 Fiction , POETRY / FICTION

By

Nixon Mateulah

All three parts of this magical trilogy compiled in Tuck Magazine

 

 

Mystery Child

 

 

In the remote village of Chidedza, on the periphery of Nambumba Trading Centre in Dowa district to be precise; one good morning was awakened to startling and intriguing news that an old woman in her seventies had given birth to a grey haired, talking and walking baby.

The news had travelled very fast like lightning and reached the bustling Nambuma Trading Centre. Being Tuesday, the market day, many people in and around neighbouring villages: Kwa Filipo, Mzoole, Chimundi, Chimbalu and as far as Chisepo who had gathered in the market, abandoned their articles of sale and instead rushed down to Chidedza village to witness the mysterious news.

It is said that on the day of the child’s birth a lot of weird things happened, namely: cattle refused to go out of the kraals, cocks did not crow that day, many married people had assented to their inability to reach orgasm during their nocturnal sexual exploits and it had rained cats and dogs the whole night, but come next morning the ground was as dry as the previous day.

People were scared and wanted answers quickly.

The moment the shock waves of the news hit Chief Chidedza, who was sitting on his chieftain seat under a huge mango tree enjoying his kaliwo, fell down violently as if struck by lightning. Whilst struggling to get up, he ordered one of his many Indunas to fetch the baby immediately to his court and sent for all the famous Inyangas to come and examine the baby with their herbs and old wisdom to establish whether the baby was a true human being or a devil. The Induna who had gone to fetch the baby had found the baby eating nsima by himself, and the moment it saw the Induna approaching, quickly got up and walked backwards to him. The Induna incapacitated by bafflement ran away. By this time, the chief’s impatience was running amok, he got up like a headless chicken and raced out of the compound and only to bump into a panting Induna outside whom he had ordered to fetch the baby; who was palpitating and sweating profusely as though he had just crossed the finishing line in an Old Mutual marathon race.

 

‘What’s the matter?’ cried the chief angrily.

‘The baby is so dangerous,’ he said gasping for breath.

‘I don’t believe this, how can a newly baby born be dangerous, young man?’ roared the chief.

‘It is not an ordinary baby you and me know. This baby is eating, talking already, walking backwards, not as we walk,’ said the Induna who went by the name Ipundi.

‘Are you serious?’ asked the chief awestricken.

‘Yes!’

‘I say, go! And grab it firmly and bring it to me immediately!’ thundered the chief as he pushed Ipundi with his walking-stick.

Ipundi succumbed by the chief’s push flew metres away and, abruptly like a car run out of petrol, stopped.

‘Hey! Go!’ yelled the chief, pointing his walking-stick at him.

 

Ipundi disinterestedly walked away with a forlorn look, and every time had to turn back to see whether the chief was following him or not. When he arrived at the child’s house for the second time, he found the child sitting in a lotus position, his mother placidly watching him with her head in her hands. As Ipundi walked over to the child, the child abruptly got up and stood with one leg off the ground and beckoned him to come nearer. Ipundi was amazed and transfixed by the weird manners of the child. He was shaking as though he had confronted a lion in a Kalahari Desert. It took him almost five minutes before he could regain his usual self.

‘Run away!’ a voice in his head commanded him, but feared the wrath of the chief if he returned empty handed. Nonetheless, at long last he mustered the courage and stepped forward, walking slowly like a chameleon towards the child. The child intuitively knew of Ipundi’s mission that he had come to fetch him. Then he lowered the leg that was in the air and stooped low facing the other side, his buttocks to Ipundi. The mother had recognised the Induna and got up to greet him. Ipundi explained everything to the mother about the chief’s intentions. The mother did not complain and readily succumbed to the chief’s wishes and explained to the Induna that the mysterious baby did everything in opposite: he ate with his left hand, spoke in riddles, laughed when angry, cried when he is happy and walked backwards. So, she ordered him to carry the child on his back facing backwards, otherwise the child would disappear.

By this time, people of all walks of life had gathered at the chief’s playground, their glum faces shining against a friendly sun that hung high in the sky and unleashed agreeable sunlight upon the earth. People were very scared and feared for their lives, and others believed that the world was coming to an end.

When the child was finally presented to the Inyangas; there was a scuffle amongst the Inyangas as who would be the first to examine the child. The chief had to intervene and chose one Inyanga, famous for exorcising demons from afflicted people. Aphwisila, as he was popularly known, got up quietly amidst a great round of applause from the people. He was dressed in his usual trademark attire of a leopard dotted vest and white pair of shorts, a leopard hide band round his head and walked with the assistance of a white walking-stick and carried a small bag laden with bones and a small folded reed mat under his armpit. He wobbled to the centre of the ground much to the amazement of the people. He sat down and unrolled his mat and sprayed out his bones and supa. The child was just watching him seated on Ipundi’s lap who held him firmly tight with his hand like a vice grip.

Then all of a sudden, a pandemonium arose among the people. Only a few people expressed their joy at the birth of the child as they believed that the child was a gift from God; dissenters expressed their fear and opted for the child’s death before calamity descended upon them.

Aphwisila got up; he beat the air with his magic white stick in all four directions and ordered the child to come forward. Ipundi let go of the child. The child galloped backwards and quickly snatched the magic stick from Aphwisila’s hand and threw it up in the air; the stick stood suspended in mid air. Everyone was frozen with fear and disbelief. Many awestricken people stepped back, shaking their heads in awe. One brave Inyanga got up and tried to pull the stick down but failed, instead the stick threw him away and returned to its former position like an elastic rubber band stretched and then released.

 

‘Can someone explain the meaning of this, please?’ cried the chief, his voice imbued with seismic shock.

Unexpectedly, the child somersaulted and stood on his head and pulled down the stick, and sat down in a lotus position.

‘Can someone explain this please?’ repeated the chief, shaking visibly.

 

The leader of the Inyangas got up and tried to greet the child with the back of his palm. The child who was clad in an improvised nappy of a piece of cloth likewise received the Inyanga’s hand with the back of his palm and pulled his hand which succumbed to his efforts and abruptly let go; the Inyanga flew away like a stone shot from a catapult.

A profound quietness descended upon the bewildered people. Then suddenly, the baby cried out: ‘All of you!’ Pointing with a stick at the Inyangas, ‘are liars! I have come to correct the wrong!’

Out of the blue, appeared the child’s mother coming from a distance walking slowly as though she had all the time in the world. The mother had initially dreaded the safety of her child. The chief got up and sternly looked at the mother as she approached. She curtseyed and greeted the chief with respect and humility. The child got up and walked in backwards fashion to his mother. The mother picked her child up by lifting him by the head and put the child on her back, the child facing backwards and walked away.

‘She is a witch! A broad day witch!’ cried the chief angrily. The poor Inyangas got up and lined themselves up before the chief with sallow faces and sunken eyes, knowing they had failed in their duty to subdue the child. The leader of the Inyangas, Chembwerembwesu moved forward. There was total silence, no one stirred. The moment of truth had arrived for the Inyangas to explain to the chief and the people what would happen if the child continued to live among them. The leader of the Inyangas stood with his hands clasped and looked at the petrified and bewildered people, and then back to the chief. He explained to them why it was impossible to tame the child with their herbs. He told the people that the child was so powerful that no one could overpower him. The child was powered with magic and their nyangas could not work on someone who had extraordinary powers beyond this world.

 

‘What does the supa say? Are we going to see another day?’ cried the chief angrily.

‘I see darkness, the sun killing the crops, rivers running dry…famine…calamity coming upon this land.’

‘What shall we do?’ cried the chief.

‘I see there was an abomination that you facilitated a year ago – I see your hand in it.’

The people murmured and hissed.

‘What shall we do?’ repeated the chief angrily.

‘I see no solution to this, the bones says nothing! We’re out of here!’

 

The child was abominably conceived indeed. When the chief had ordered him to substantiate his allegations, he called the chief aside and whispered something into his ears. He reminded the chief about the incident that happened a year ago. The child’s father died a year ago, and during the time of washing his body, his manhood had abruptly shot up, stiff and strong. The washers had to run away to the chief to inform him about the miracle. The chief had to summon his Indunas to his court to try to find a solution. In the end the chief ordered one of his Indunas to fetch the deceased’s wife and forced her to sleep with the body. This was the secret which the chief had warned all the people involved to guard against from leaking to outside world. The woman conceived and hid her pregnancy until her time of delivery.

The chief was very angry and dispersed the crowd and ordered his Indunas to chase the mother and her child out of the village immediately. The mother and the child did not complain, they left on their own, on foot without any possession following the sunset.

 

As the night was closing in and no sign of a village looming in the distance, the mother stopped and sat down under the baobab tree. She was very tired; sweat was coursing down her blouse that had clung to her body like paper on the wall. She kneaded her fingers and toes. The child picked up a baobab shell and tried to break it with his heel. Then the moon fully burst out, blazing and the entire atmosphere glowed; the moonlight was as clear as street light. The woman looked up and hissed in wonder at the magnificence of the moon.

‘The chief has banished me from the village, but failed to deprive me of this magnificent gift of nature: moonlight,’ thought the mother bitterly. Then something stirred in the thicket, the long grass bowed down paving the way for that something. In fear the woman hurriedly picked up her child and held him firmly against her chest, trembling. Then a big lion appeared, walking slowly towards her, looking ravenously at the child. She jumped back and darted around the baobab tree, crying endlessly like a baby; the lion followed her around.

Suddenly, the child slipped from her hands and walked backwards to the lion. The mother was terrified and completely froze with fear. She started crying begging the lion not eat them. Then the child walked backwards and whispered something into his mother’s ears and the mother stopped crying immediately. And when the lion and the child had met midway, the lion lowered itself on his haunches and kissed the child. The mother cried: ‘No…no…no…no…!’ The voice reverberated through the stillness of the night. The lion and the child walked to the mother, she ran away, around the tree, fearing for her life. The child walked alone to his mother and whispered something into her ears and together they walked back to the lion. The lion was sitting quietly on his haunches and grunted something into the ear of the child. The child giggled as he wobbled to his mother and said: ‘He says he will protect us and provide something for us to eat.’

Abruptly the lion got up violently when he heard something trotting in the thicket and ran after it. In the intervening silence, the mother breathed hard and gasped with fear. She ran to a small stream nearby and drank a few draughts of water, returning feeling a little calmer. She prayed that the lion should go for good, but in the jungle, as he was the king and promised them his protection and provisions, she knew the lion would come back. It did not take long before the lion rattled out from the undergrowth, a giant rabbit dangling from his mouth. He put it down before the mother, with its sharp teeth had cut into pieces. The mother with a modicum of trust of the animal took the meat and made a fire. She roasted it and ate together with the lion. The lion roared in appreciation for the nice roasted meat he had never eaten before.

The next morning, accompanying the lion, the mother and the child went to the stream to wash themselves. The mother and the child splattered playfully in the cool water of the stream under the watchful eyes of the lion. After bathing, the mother and the child ate baobab fruits and then resumed their journey, the lion leading the way. When they had walked for an hour, the mother was very tired and sank down, her legs refusing to carry her further. The lion came to her rescue and carried them on his back.

An hour later, they found themselves in a field of maize, sugarcane and mangoes. The mother and child who had fallen asleep all the way were awoken by the sumptuous aroma of ripe mangos and sugarcane. The mother made a fire. She roasted some green maize and plucked some mangos from the tree. They ate the maize and mangos, and the mother took some and tied them in a piece of cloth.

It was now noon, the lion had eaten nothing since morning and he was very hungry. He roared something to the child; the child ran quickly backwards as usual and put his ear on the lion’s mouth. The lion whispered something into the ear of the child. Then the child informed his mother that the lion would leave them for a while as he went about hunting. The lion walked over to the mother and shook his head, and the mother likewise shook her head and the lion immediately trotted into the thicket.

The mother and child after eating their food retired under the shade of the tree. The mother fell asleep quickly but the child lay awake and watched over his sleeping mother by his side whose arms clasped together and placed under her head, supporting it like a pillow.

An hour later, a hullabaloo of noise was heard from the distance. The child startled, nudged his mother. She got up violently as though she had stepped on a sharp object.

 

‘Where is the noise coming from?’ asked the mother, yawning. Then the noise was heard much nearer and louder to the ear.

‘Can you hear Mamma? It’s a crowd of people and judging by their noise, they must be armed.’

‘What are we going to do then?’ She was crying. The child was half smiling and half crying mockingly at the staccato similar to his mother’s weeping tempo.

 

Abruptly, the huge crowd of people swooped on them brandishing spears and arrows. They were wearing skirts made from grass; their faces painted white and black and wore nothing from the waist up. The child stared at them for a while as they hummed an incoherent monotonous song. The child flung himself up and stood suspended in mid air; the crowd moved back and fell down in awe and fear. Then slowly he descended and sat down quietly. The crowd got up and moved back: trembling, hiding their spears and arrows behind their backs.

Then all of a sudden, a soft treading of paws upon the grass was heard approaching. The crowd paralysed with shock and panic retreated back and stood some metres away. The treading noise grew nearer and nearer, the men lifting their weapons in readiness for anything. Five lions burst out from the undergrowth and roared angrily; the crowd of men running away as fast as their legs could carry them. The lion who was the child’s friend walked to the child who was sitting on his mother’s lap and whispered something into his ear. The child’s mother who had now befriended the lion and trusted him immensely did not cower when she saw the other lions and lionesses. Then the lions gathered together and conversed in their usual roaring usual fashion and kissing each other. The mother felt some goose bumps of uncertainty at the lions’ deliberation. She had worried that the lions might be conspiring to kill them in the end. The child looking sternly at his mother had seen some lines of uncertainty and trepidation knitted on her brow, but assured his mother that the lions would do no harm to them; they were as harmless as sheep. Then the leader of the lion detached himself from the group and whispered something into the ear of the child: ‘We can leave now,’ which he translated to his mother.

 

By this time, the skyline was getting greyish with the quick advancement of the sun. It was late in the afternoon, the distant hills could not be clearly seen, they appeared bluish and the dark shadow they cast unrolled upon the entire countryside. Birds above their heads, high up in the sky, flew in groups and fast like arrows, crisscrossing each other with precision without a slight touch of each other’s feathers. It was a marvel to watch.

The lion and his friends led the way. They were walking towards the distant hills, the child was as usual slung on his mother’s back with his brushing with his mother’s as he faced the other way like dogs interlocked in mating. The lion had earlier communicated to the child about the prosperous kingdom that was located behind the hills. The kingdom had fertile soil and its people were mainly farmers with few people working in government sectors. The hills served as an international boundary; the other side belonged to the famous Kingdom of Gotham. The ruler of this kingdom was a young woman who had never been touched by a man, but many people doubted her chastity owing to a large predominantly male entourage that went about with her. Others said she was an onanist, who had satisfied herself when sexual cravings had tortured her. Nevertheless, she had always promulgated and boasted of her celibacy during her reign.

Queen Sophy 1 as she was popularly known was a woman of very mysterious birth and upbringing. She was born talking and walking and refused to wear women’s garments. In her fifth year she started to go to school, and embarrassed teachers with her wisdom. She could read people’s minds and tell a person what she or he was thinking just by looking in his or her eyes or in their palms. So in class she used to humiliate teachers, and the headmaster had to expel her from school. She became queen when her father died when she was only fifteen years of age and steered the kingdom to prosperity, out of her father’s inhuman leadership. She advocated for justice and equality; people were well treated and generously paid in their endeavours. All this information was revealed to the child by the lion.

When they were high up in the hills, the animals stopped and quenched their thirst in the cool stream that ran winding down to the foot of the hill. The water was very cool and pure coming from the rocks. The mother scooped up some water with her cupped hands and gave some to her child. The child drank the water with the thirst of a post marathon runner. After drinking, the animals took a cool bath by splattering and plunging themselves playfully in the water. The mother and child sat on the rock and watched the animals somersaulting in the water. They started clapping their hands, encouraging the animals to perform their antics in the water. The animals found the clapping so encouraging and jumped high in the air and descended, turning in the air before hitting the water with a huge boom and spray. When they had finally finished playing, they shook off the water from their skins.

 

It was another day in the late afternoon; the sun could not be clearly seen under the canopy of trees and grass. After walking about a hundred metres, they reached a spot where they could see and feel the warmth of the sun. They stopped and took a thrilling sunbath; the animals slept on their backs and turned only when they had had enough of the sun.

After the sunbath, the leader of the animals had a final farewell message to the child and mother. ‘We’ll be leaving you now, but I would like you to do one favour for me,’ said the lion and took a long protracted pause before he continued, ‘the other side of the hills, there’s a beautiful and intelligent queen whom men have not touched and I would like you to bring that woman for me!’ The child and mother looked at each other in silence, the child swallowed his saliva in apprehension and amazement at the proposal put before him and his replies were short and plaintive.

 

‘How will I manage to bring the woman to you?’ asked the child.

‘I will give you this,’ said the lion taking out his amulet from his leg and gave the child.

‘What am I going to do with this?’ asked the child ruefully.

‘This amulet will charm the queen, she will like you so much and you would be greatly received and installed in her palace,’ said the lion playfully, sucking his lips with glee.

‘What else can this amulet do?’ asked the child as he tried it on his wrist. The other lions clapped their paws and wagged their tails fondly on the child.

‘It will charm the entire people, and they would voice out their wish to have you installed as the king,’ said the lion smiling from ear to ear.

‘How will that be possible, since she is the queen of the kingdom?’ asked the child.

‘It will happen my dear friend; you will bring her to me, we also need a leader of her calibre among us. Should you fail on this task we shall come to terrorise and eat up all the people in the kingdom and ever after!’ roared the lion to the animated applause by the other lions.

‘I will try my best, Sir,’ said the child.

‘It is not a matter of trying, but doing!’

‘But I am still a child,’ complained the child.

‘You are not!’ said the lion, his face beaming with energy and excitement, ‘but don’t lose the amulet, the consequence would be a disaster to you and everyone near you.

‘When will these things happen?’ asked the child.

‘When you are twenty years old; we will come at this place, on the first day of the rainy season to receive her, do you hear me?’ roared the lion with finality in his tone.

 

The child shook his head in ratification.

The child and mother were left alone to enter into the Kingdom of Gotham just a few miles away. From where they were standing the kingdom’s castle perched on higher ground could be clearly seen below.

 

 

 

 

 

The Mystery Beast

 

 

Barely a week later, after the Mystery Child and his mother were banished by the chief, the village was invaded by a mysterious wild beast. In Chidedza village three people were killed: two women and a three year old baby died when the beast crushed their skull and ate their intestines and private parts, and sixteen people were injured. People feared for their lives and some of them moved out of their homes and camped near the chief’s house. The chief tried to persuade the people to return to their homes but were adamant that until the chief had found a means to kill the animal only then would they move back.

One starry night, about midnight, a strange sound of an animal reverberated from the mountains. People in their makeshift huts got out and woke up the chief to listen to the strange sound of the beast. Its cry was guttural and hollow like a hyena in its tempo. The chief ordered the people to go back to sleep, he said it was the hyena and not the strange beast. Towards the morning at around three, the sound of the animal was heard very close to the people’s huts. The people took out their pangas, adzes and bows and arrows ready to kill the animal.

All of a sudden, the animal swooped on the people running viciously attacking and maiming the people. There was crying and panic as the people tried to run into their huts. It tore down the doors and threw them away jumped and rampaged around in raving madness. Within a few minutes the animal galloped away into the mountains leaving almost twenty people with sustained appalling injuries. Others were completely maimed and disfigured.

The following day, the chief and his Indunas sat down to put their heads together as to how they could kill the animal.

 

‘I think the best way would be to ask the government to send game rangers to help us kill the animal,’ said one Induna in glasses.

‘That would be unnecessary!’ refuted another Induna who kept on shaking his legs.

‘Why,’ asked the chief, massaging his long grey beard with his right hand.

‘This is not the wild animal we all know. This is a mysterious beast.’

‘Why you say so?’ asked the chief.

‘The wild animal cannot kill and terrorise the entire village without being cornered and killed.’

The chief was shaking his head.

‘If it is a hyena or a lion, why does it not kill the goats, sheep and cattle? Why it kills people?’

There was a long silence as people ruminated on the words.

‘This animal cannot be killed by an ordinary man and ordinary weapon,’ said another Induna who sat next to the chief.

There was a long pause.

‘We need a very powerful medicine man to help us kill this beast.’

‘Aphwisila?’ suggested the chief.

‘No, no, no, he failed to examine and tame the Mystery Child,’ said another Induna whose hair was long and black but his beard was white.

‘We must be very fast, before this beast kills one of us,’ said the woman, the only woman among the Indunas, who was chosen recently after the women complained that they were being sidelined and discriminated and unrepresented in the affairs of the village.

 

At noon the meeting was adjourned and the chief and his Indunas reconvened to recommence at 2 pm after a long deliberation over the matter at hand.

At exactly 2 pm all the Indunas sat on their respective chairs according to their ranks and waited for the chief to announce his findings and a solution to the problem. It was very hot; the air in the room was thick and stuffy and immobile. The chief emerged with his two assistants fanning him with their improvised fans over his head. The Indunas got up and respectfully bowed and greeted the chief. The chief walked solemnly to his chair and sat down. The Indunas sat down after the chief had comfortably sat down. He made a few coughs and looked at his Indunas.

 

‘Indeed our village and the entire district, people are living in fear of this wild beast. We don’t know when it will strike again,’ said chief, ‘even though, it is quiet now; there is no guarantee that the animal will not come back and attack us.’

He paused.

‘I’ve heard all your opinions and people’s concern outside. I have consulted my conscience and I declared a state of emergency from today!’ There was clapping of hands.

‘I will send two Indunas to Ntchisi district to look for the powerful medicine man there – Dr Baba Rah to come and kill this animal.’

There was a great round of applause and ululation.

‘To my knowledge this is not an ordinary wild beast. This is a curse upon this land! Gwedule and Ipundi go home and pack your bags now and bid goodbye to your wives and children. I am sending you to Ntchisi,’ said the chief as he picked up a full glass of water and quickly gulped it finish.

 

A deathly silence hovered over the room. Ipundi and Gwedule looked at each other and seemed to communicate telepathically under their worried looks imprinted on their faces. The other Indunas felt very happy to have not been chosen and feared for the lives of their colleagues.

Ipundi who had a long chin and one half closed eye owing to the curse he received after being caught red handed furtively watching women bathing at the river, was the first to get up and excused himself, and walked out of the room followed by Gwedule – once a champion village wrestler walked with a slight limp from the injury he sustained after a crocodile had attacked him when he was fishing in the river. He had fought with the animal and managed to free his leg which was vice gripped by the beast’s mouth.

A few minutes later, they returned with their hand bags and sat down on their respective seats.

 

‘I have chosen you Ipundi for your fearless valour and you Gwedule for your outstanding physique and strength, and you’re both still young in your forties. The journey is long and dangerous but you are not cowards and we know you will make it to Ntchisi and bring us the medicine man.’

 

They shook their heads in ratification.

Out of the blue, two women stormed the room crying whilst their hands clasped behind their heads. Everyone was startled; they walked over to the chief and threw themselves at the feet of the chief begging him not to send their husbands to Ntchisi. The women were: Mai Ipundi who was six months pregnant and Mai Gwedule, a very beautiful young woman in her twenties who had given birth to a bouncing baby boy three months ago.

 

‘Please, chief I am pregnant, I cannot afford to lose my husband from that beast,’ said Mai Ipundi weeping.

‘Our baby is just three months old, please chief don’t send my husband,’ cried Mai Gwedule.

‘Guards!’ cried the chief loudly saliva from his mouth showering out like showers of rain, ‘take these women away!’

 

Two muscular built guards rushed into the room and drove the crying women out of the room, their eyes turned and glued solemnly on their husbands. When the women were taken out, the chief continued haranguing: ‘The people of Chidedza now depend on you. I know you shall make it to Ntchisi. You shall sleep here in my house, no one sleeps with a woman on a journey like this one and early morning before the cock crow you shall depart, my two bodyguards – Dojo and Nyima shall see you off,’ said the chief looking intently at the two.

 

‘Are you fully prepared? This is a very dangerous journey, we know you will encounter a lot of challenges along the way but we are all behind you and you are capable of defeating whatever challenge comes your way,’ said the chief with finality.

 

The chief got up and walked to his chamber, the Indunas conversing in undertones walked out. There were mixed feelings amongst the Indunas – some doubted of Ipundi and Gwedule of making it to Ntchisi whilst others believed beyond reasonable doubt that they would make it. Indeed the journey was long and dangerous through the mountains and dense forest with tall grass and trees. It was always so dark there that one could hardly see the sun and the intense silence couple with chirping of strange birds and movement of wild animals in the thicket augmented its eeriness.

Just three days after Ipundi and Gwedule had left for Ntchisi, the wild beast ran rampage through the village attacking and maiming people. At least 400 people fled from four villages and sought refuge at the chief’s headquarters community hall. Out of the 400, two hundred people were from Chidedza village. The people of Chidedza started to lose hope on the chief and many people wished he was deposed and installed his son, who worked in Lilongwe city. They thought he could use his modern thinking and bring the game rangers to kill the animal. However, the chief believed that his men: Ipundi and Gwedule would bring the powerful medicine man, Baba Rah from Ntchisi who would catch the animal in full view of the people.

A week passed, Ipundi and Gwedule had not returned. Women sympathized with Mai Ipundi and Mai Gwedule whose husbands many believed were eaten by the wild beast. Mai Ipundi and Mai Gwedule accused the chief of killing their husbands. His chieftaincy was attacked and many people aired out their disappointment in the narrow mindedness of their chief who had failed the people in time of need. It was a common knowledge that the emissaries were either killed or lost their way in the evil mountains. Ordinarily on average a person travels two days to Ntchisi and another two days back home.

On the second week, one bright morning a green Toyota Land Cruiser ploughed into the chief’s yard. Two game rangers bearing rifles jumped off the car and briskly walked over to the chief’s house. The people who were camping outside the chief’s house in their makeshifts hut spilled out of their huts and watched helplessly at the two armed rangers. Many people thought the rangers had brought the exhausted Ipundi and Gwedule. Mai Ipundi and Mai Gwedule ran to the car and peeped inside believing that their husband had been brought home. There was no one in the car; they returned to their huts weeping loudly.

An hour later, people learnt that the rangers were sent from the district headquarters to corner and kill the animal. In the afternoon as the sun rays were petering out, the two rangers strolled around the village pompously in their leaf green uniform, bowler hats, highly polished boots carrying their rifles. They made enquiries from the people who were attacked by the beast about how the animal looked like. Many people said the animal looked like a rabid hyena others said it looked like a bear. Others said it had a head of a man and a body of a lion.

With the game rangers around people felt very safe and went to bed early that day for the first time since the wild beast started attacking the people. The two rangers had erected their tent next to the chief’s house. At night as game rangers were sitting outside warming themselves from the fire they had built and vigilantly on the guard, a strange sound of animal was heard from the distance. It was the wild beast. Two elderly men got out of their hut and alerted the rangers that the sound they were hearing was that of the mysterious beast. The rangers got up violently and picked their rifles and pranced around the village. After the animal had stopped crying there was a long silence punctuated by cries of crickets and an owl far off in the mountains. After walking around the village for an hour the rangers returned to their tent.

Thirty minutes later, the wild beast caught the rangers off guard. It pounced on one ranger; the other ranger got his rifle as the animal was fighting with the other ranger but failed to shoot. The animal jumped on them and started maiming them and cut off an arm of one ranger and ran into the bush. The other ranger picked up his friend and bundled him up into the car and raced to the hospital.

The next day people were very appalled not to see the rangers around. When they had learnt that the animal had attacked one of the rangers, some people could not believe that the rangers had failed to kill the animal.

In the afternoon, the people gathered at the chief’s house. The chief and his Indunas had selected five strong men to look for Ipundi and Gwedule.

‘My people!’ cried the chief, ‘you have seen that the wild beast cannot be killed by the white man’s weapon, one ranger has lost his arm.’

He paused.

‘I still believe Ipundi and Gwedule would bring Baba Rah, the medicine man.’

‘Ipundi and Gwedule are dead!’ cried out one madala in a bowler hat.

‘My ancestors appeared in my dream and told me they are alive!’ cried the chief.

Mai Ipundi and Mai Gwedule waded through the crowd crying and slumped in front of the chief.

‘Get up women!’

 

In the distance two men were coming towards the chief’s house.

‘Who are those people?’ asked the chief pointing at the two people approaching with his walking-stick. The people turned their eyes to the distant men. When they were near, one man recognized them and ran to them crying: ‘It’s Ipundi and Gwedule!’ The crowd rushed to them. Two strong men carried them on their shoulders and triumphantly transported them to the chief. There was singing and dancing. Mai Ipundi and Mai Gwedule wiped their tears and were silently stunned, could not believe that their husbands had finally returned home safe and sound. They rejoiced but the chief was not moved, he sat still in his chair as if nothing had happened. When they were dropped down by the chief’s side, people sat down and waited for the chief to speak to the returning men.

 

‘My people, what did I say?’ cried the chief jumping up and down in great joy.

‘What did I say?’ he repeated, smiling ear to ear.

‘They are alive,’ chorused the people cheerfully.

‘Ancestors never lie but you and I can lie.’

Ipundi looking haggard and wanly got up and solemnly faced the people.

‘Our chief,’ he said turning to the chief, his hands clasped behind his back like a soccer coach at a touch line.

‘Where is the medicine man?’ cried the people.

‘Our chief, the medicine man says,’ he paused, ‘the solution to this problem is in your hands.’ The chief turned up his hands and looked intently at them as a student in an examination room ponders over a difficult question.

‘He says,’ continued Ipundi, ‘the animal is the father of the Mystery Child resurrected from the dead and metamorphosed into a wild beast seeking to avenge for banishment of his Mystery Child and his wife. We must search for them, bring them back home and apologise to them then we shall find peace again in this village.’

 

Ipundi sat down.

 

 

 

 

 

 In Search of a Mystery Child

 

 

It had now been three weeks, the chief had not dispatched his emissaries to search for the Mystery Child, and the wild beast had taken a holiday – no incidents of its savage attacks were heard. However, most of the villagers did not buy the chief’s assertion that the animal might have gone where it came from for good. The villagers who camped at the chief’s house were divided in their opinion: half returned to their homes but the hard to please remained behind and were vigilant and wary of the wild beast. They believed that the beast would strike again.

However, one morning, three women came running to the chief’s house. The two Indunas who were sitting on the veranda of the chief’s house had to stop them from entering into the house.

 

‘What is the problem?’ asked the one Induna who was eating matowo.

The women huffing and puffing exclaimed: ‘We have found two bodies at the river, without their intestines and private parts.’

‘What?’ asked the other Induna mouth agape.

‘The wild beast is still at large,’ said one woman whose hair was curled not by modern hair treatment products but by traditional means – running a hot stone through her hair, it curled down her nape.

‘We beg the chief to go and look for the Mystery Child before this animal wipes out the entire village, please,’ pleaded one woman kneeling down with one knee.

‘Alright go home, we will speak to the chief,’ said one Induna who had been eating matowo.

‘We would like to tell him ourselves; from the horse’s own mouth, please,’ said the woman with curled hair.

‘We will tell him, go home!’ cried one Induna.

‘We won’t!’ said the other woman firmly, her feet planted on the ground with a look of ‘am not going anywhere.’ Until the chief heard the altercation and emerged out of the house.

‘What is the matter?’  the chief enquired throwing his eyes at them like a net over a shoal of fish.

Upon seeing the chief the women sprawled down at the chief’s feet in respect.

‘Get up women,’ ordered the chief.

‘What brings you here so early in the morning?’

‘We have found two bodies at the river with intestines and private parts missing,’ said the woman with curled hair.

The chief paced up and down the breadth and length of the veranda shaking his head.

‘Is the wild beast still at large?’

‘It is chief,’ they chorused in a sing song.

‘Go home, I will look into the matter,’ said the chief.

‘You must go and search for the Mystery Child as the medicine man had said,’ said the woman with a nose ring.

 

A week later, the chief with the help of Indunas selected three strong men to accompany Ipundi and Gwedule to look for the Mystery Child. The chief had previously learnt from a traveller that the Mystery Child and his mother were in Gotham – a kingdom behind the mysterious Mount Sapita. Stories are told that people got lost in that mountain and are never found; but the most fortunate ones had come back and lived to tell their stories.

Three strong men led by Ipundi and Gwedule stayed at the chief’s house for duration of a week with the medicine man, Aphwisila, who cooked them with herbs in a big steaming earthly vessel – to immunize their bodies against the evil spirit’s spell and ward off fear and implanted bravery in them throughout the journey. And thereafter were told to fast and sleep for three days in the graveyard. After completing the exercise under rigorous supervision by Aphwisila, the three strong men – Bofe, Magedo and Madengu, and Ipundi and Gwedule were told to bid their families goodbye.

On the day of departure, amidst cries of the Magnificent Five’s wives, as they were now being called, Aphwisila had final words to say to them.

‘When you see something strange don’t talk about it until you have reached the other side of the mountain. If you see food don’t say a word, keep on going. If you want to eat just eat and don’t take it,’ warned Aphwisila.  The cries of women reverberated and filled the entire air and these forced the guards to send the women away, but were as adamant as a stupid, stubborn goat which had been beaten for eating maize stalks and yet return each time to continue eating.

When it was time for the men to depart, their family members were told to escort them as far as the foot of the mountain and return home. They would depart at exactly at sunrise and wear their clothes from inside out. When the sun had burst out from the east nourishing and drying away the dews; they embarked on the long, dangerous journey escorted by their crying wives and children like a coffin being taken to the graveyard. Efforts by the Magnificent Fives to stop their families from crying for them augmented their cries like fuel was being added on a burning log.

Arriving at the foot of the mountain, the Magnificent Five ordered their families to return home but were adamant to follow them. Then a strange chanting from the mountain startled them:

 

                                    Hi!…ha!…ha!…hi!…ha!

                                    Hoi!…hoi!…hoi!…hoi!…ha!

                                    Hi!…ha!…ha!…hi!…ha!

                                    Hoi!…hoi!…hoi!…hoi!…haaa!

 

The family members immediately turned back and ran home leaving the Magnificent Five alone to enter the mountain – the land of spirits. The Magnificent Five turned their back and in a single file entered the mountain walking backwards. An echo of laughter reverberated in the mountain, the trees and tall grass shook but the Magnificent Five transfixed stood rooted to the ground as still as an electric pole.

In a flash thunder and lightning stroke across the sky and strange light glowed over the mountain and the Magnificent Five vanished in thin air. And it started to rain.

Abruptly the rain had stopped as it started and the Magnificent Five found themselves dry and standing on a path bordered by trees and tall grass. The howling and rushing wind swirled around them, Bofe, Magedo and Madengu were separated from Ipundi and Gwedule. Ipundi and Gwedule like headless chicken ran straight following the open path.

Bofe, Magedo and Madengu were carried away by the howling wind and usher them into spiritual realm’s court. They found the court packed to capacity. Women were dressed in white robes from the breasts down to their ankles their faces ashen painted and each bore a skull of a skeleton in her hand. Men were seated in front row dressed in black robes. There was a huge fire in the centre and their king sat on a high chair, on each shoulder perched an owl. Bofe, Magedo and Madengu emerged behind the row of women and were presented to the king by his aide – the dwarf clad in an improvised grass napkin. Deathly silence hovered over the court as the dwarf walked to the king and whispered something into his ear. The dwarf picked the gourd at the foot of the chair of the king and gave it to the captives to drink.

‘Drink!’ ordered the King. The owl on the right shoulder of the king cried: huh huh huh huh and the other one responded: ke- aaa! Ke-aaa! 

‘Now you’re welcome to our world! Get up! Take them away and give them uniform to wear!’ cried the King to the dwarf.

The next day was very cold, Gwedule and Ipundi got up from improvised bed of tree branches shivering. Cold drops of dew dripped from the trees soaking their clothes and making their bodies cold. Bofe, Magedo and Madengu were still missing. Ipundi leading the way, they came to an intersection – three trails branched off from the main trail.

 

Looking at each other in awe, Ipundi shaking his head asked: ‘Which trail should we take?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Gwedule shrugging his shoulders.

‘What about this one to the left?’ said Ipundi.

‘I am not sure,’ said Gwedule shaking his head.

‘Okay this one to the right,’ said Ipundi.

‘Let us just take centre one, we are just wasting our time,’ said Gwedule.

‘But they are three,’ argued Ipundi.

‘Look up there!’ cried Gwedule.

‘What is it?’

‘Can’t you see two jackets hanging on the tree branch?’ asked Gwedule walking to the jackets.

‘Stop!’ cried Ipundi.

Gwedule as if a car whose CV joint had popped out of the gear box stopped and looked at Ipundi for a while.

‘What is your problem?’ asked Gwedule.

‘Don’t go near the jackets and let alone touch them!’ screamed Ipundi.

‘It could be bait,’ suggested Gwedule.

‘Bait?’

‘A bait to catch us like they did with our friends,’ said Gwedule.

‘But they look like ordinary jackets that some stupid people forgot…may be after going into the bush to answer to nature’s call,’ said Ipundi firmly.

‘We can’t trust a damn thing in this weird mountain,’ said Gwedule.

‘Okay, let’s go don’t look back,’ said Ipundi.

 

Just as they were about to leave the place, with swiftness of an arrow, they jackets snatched off from the tree and fitted them. They tried to shake them off but the jackets were glued to their bodies. In a snap the buttons of the jackets fastened themselves. Ipundi tried to unbutton Gwedule’s jacket but failed. In fear they started running, crying until they reached a stream and the weak ray of the sun could be seen. They sat on the rock to rest.

 

‘How are we going to take them off?’ asked Ipundi gasping for breath.

‘Take them off now!’ cried a strange voice.

 

Terrified and in frenzy they tried to take them off, the buttons unbuttoned themselves, with a swooshing sound the jackets vanished in thin air. In delirium Gwedule fell down.

‘Get up Gwedule! Let us get out of here, we’re very luck and this is a big warning.’

Gwedule got up his head racing, he staggered and leaned against the tree. After regaining his balance they ran away. The sun rays sifted through the tree branches and the birds chirped melodiously from the trees.

Bofe, Magedo and Madengu were taken to the barracks of the spiritual world to train and prepare them to become spiritual soldiers so they could also capture people from the ordinary world. There was a huge bonfire in the centre of the training ground. The soldiers in their black robes and ashen faces stood around the fire each holding a spear in his hand. They were encircled by a fence of sticks on which stood skulls spitting out fire. The diminutive commander, ordered them to dance. They danced circling the fire throwing up their spears and catching them and chanting:

 

                        Ha! He! Hi! Ho! Hu!

                        Hu! Ho! Hi! He! Ha!

                        Ha! He! Hi! Ho! Hu!

                        Hu! Ho! Hi! He! Ha!

 

After a while, the commander stopped the dance and all the soldiers stood still and planted their spears in front of them. The dwarf picked up a bowl with a red steam and gave it to the captives to drink (Bofe, Magedo and Madengu). Subsequently, the dwarf ordered them to jump over the fire ten times. The dwarf then snatched off their spears from their hands and threw them up in the air and the spears suspended in mid- air.

 

‘Take your spear!’ cried the dwarf.

The captives wrestled with their spears but failed to pull them off and suddenly the spears threw them fifty metres away.

‘Ha, ha, ha, ha!’ laughed the dwarf.

‘Up! Up! Up! Get up, come and take your spears.’

This time around,without difficulty the captives picked up their spears.

‘You can do anything with your spear: you can vanish, transform into anything using your spear. Look here!’ cried the commander making an X sign with his sword and vanished into thin air but his voice could be heard loud and clear.

‘Can you see me?’

‘No!’ hollered the captives.

Out of the blue, the dwarf appeared and an owl perched on his head.

‘From today on, you shall use your spears to defend yourself, cast spell on anything. Ordinary people cannot see you, can only hear you. So, everyone vamoose! ordered the dwarf.

 

They dispersed in different directions. Bofe made a U-turn and hurried towards a soldier whose physical bearing had caught his fancy. The soldier, a tall muscular built man lifted up his spear in combatant; they parried their spears, a sign of goodwill and friendship.

 

‘I am Bofe,’ he said smiling.

‘I am Khumalo,’ responded the other soldier.

‘You must be from South Africa,’ said Bofe.

‘Yes!’ said Khumalo.

‘How come are you here?’

‘I am a student of Orology from University of Johannesburg.’

‘What is orology?’

‘It is scientific study of mountains.’

‘How many mountains have you studied so far?’

‘Table Mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Everest, Kanchenjunga and Lhotse.’

‘So, will you be able to return home to South Africa?’

‘I don’t know, I’ve tried to talk to the commander that I am from South Africa not from this country but has refused to let me go,’ said Khumalo wistfully.

‘How long have you been in this mountain?’

‘It is a year now. People at home are hurting and many believe that I am dead. This is the only mountain in the world that ‘eats up’ people. Nevertheless, some people do return home,’ said Khumalo patting Bofe on the back.

‘Can you hear that?’ said Bofe.

‘Clashes of spears and pangas,’ said Khumalo.

‘Let us leave this place,’ said Bofe wading through the thicket, Khumalo following him.

 

It was a month now, people expected the Magnificent Five to be back by then. Families of the Magnificent Five were hurting. Luckily, the animal had not attacked anyone since the Magnificent Five left in search of Mystery Child. The chief ordered the families of the Magnificent Five to collect their food ration at his house until the arrival of their husbands. Now they were into the second month but nothing had been heard about the Magnificent Five.

Another month elapsed; the Magnificent Five were still missing. Long time ago people used to go over the mountain to the other side in two days and another two days to return back home. With a number of people gone missing in the mountain, people believed that the Magnificent Five were taken away by the spirits and they would never see them again.

Mai Ipundi and Mai Gwedule and the families of Bofe, Magedo and Madengu told the chief that they would go and camp at the foot of Sapita Mountain waiting for their husbands.

 

‘It is dangerous out there, the animal might strike again. Don’t do that,’ said the chief.

‘Let the animal eat us, if it has eaten our husbands; it must eat us as well,’ said Mai Gwedule tearfully.

The chief shook his head side to side as if trying to empty a foreign body from his ear.

 

The night sky was clear and the moon seemed to hang low for the moonlight was as bright as fluorescent lights. The families of the Magnificent Five had camped at the foot of the mountain. In the dead of the night, the strange singing aroused the people. The singing echoed from far and near, an owl hooted thrice followed by sound of rushing rain and chanting:

 

                        Ha! He! Hi! Ho! Hu!

                        Hu! Ho! Hi!He! Ha!

                        Ho! Hi! He! Ha! Hu!

                        Hoi! Hoi! Hoi! Hoi! Ha!

 

The chanting mixed with the sound of rushing rain drew near; the people picked up their children and ran away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nixon Mateulah

Nixon Mateulah was born in Lilongwe, Malawi. He moved to South Africa in 1996. His short stories have appeared in Storymoja, Jungle Jim Magazine and many of his poems have appeared in Munyori, Aerodrome, Kalahari Review, Stanzas Magazine under the pen name, Chichichapatile Mangochi. His debut novel, A Test of Time will be out sometime this year. His play, The Beggars Forum was longlisted for 2013 SCrIBE Scriptwriting Competition and is currently working on his second novel, The Death of the Sun, hopefully to be completed by end of this year.

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