Happy 9th Birthday
Muoki was from Ukambani and famous for casting and removing spells, destroying evil spirits, bringing fortune and foretelling the future. Most people believed the fearsome witch doctor of the Akamba tribe was a legend. Years spent in the Congo had enabled this tribal warrior to use spirits and elixirs in the form of fire and spells to unleash terror upon souls and demons. So immense were his powers he was able to call upon the spirits of the past to strike fear and horror in his adversaries. He was even able to reanimate the dead in both human and inhuman bodies to command. While technically never doing much of the actual fighting himself, Muoki was a formidable foe against the demons that had invaded his Ukambani home with the spiritual aid of masters from the underworld.
Kabura had seen him in battle with her own eyes when he removed spirits from Meshack’s son, Wakihuri. Until then, Wakihuri used to be a market madman stationed at Ndathia. Today he was a matatu tout in Nyeri.
The following morning before sunrise, before the cocks crowed, Karo and her mother began a relatively uneventful journey to Ukambani that lasted several long hours. The bus left them at a remote town on the fringes of a vast dry land, which was the farthest it could go. From there, they were to make the remaining part of the journey on foot. They traveled out into the open plains for some time until they stumbled upon their first sign of civilization, a wide dirt road covered with ruts from carts and hoofed imprints from livestock. This they followed for some length of time for every road led someplace and they had no idea where they were going. Muoki was hard to locate. His name was never mentioned here. Many people they met denied his existence either due to the tribe’s reclusiveness or morbid fear of invoking the fearsome witchdoctor’s wrath.
The road, scarcely more than a winding narrow path at times, was their only companion. They saw no one the rest of that day. When the sun had set and their feet had grown weary, they bedded some way off the road under a boulder and curled into a restful sleep. Having been alone during the day, they had assumed they would be so throughout the night. They were wrong, then and often after. Karo had been plagued with that peculiar tendency to assume all will work out for them best with Nyawira warding off evils spirits of the night in this barren land and even now she couldn’t say to what degree this inclination had proved a blessing or a curse.
Kabura woke her, and it was still dark. They were alert and in anticipation in seconds, for the tone of the voices they heard spoke volumes. They did not wait long. The silence in the night air seemed to thicken. And then they were aware that they were not alone. They were surrounded by other people, many of them, men, women and children.
The confusion didn’t last long. Cordial greeting were exchanged and introductions were made. These people were also on their way to see Muoki to have their futures foretold, spells cast, incurable illnesses healed, money problems sorted, jobs secured, business failures stopped, their fertility problems sorted, their enemies vanquished and a whole baggage of more. A man calling himself Mwema was the official guide because he knew the way to Muoki’s home which was ninety or a hundred kilometers away, perched on a hill. There were women, some pregnant, young able-bodied men, weak and sickly looking men and children, and at least five witchdoctors. ‘Witch doctors?’ Kabura asked. Yes. Through ritualistic and sacrificial ceremonies, the other smaller or less powerful witchdoctors came to the land of Muoki where they accessed their gods in this unformed land. Mwema informed Kabura and Karo that taking them to Muoki’s home was a risky business for him. He risked death if anyone he was taking to Muoki was possessed by abhorrent spirits who sapped away his powers. Each person in the group had paid him one thousand shillings in advance and Kabura and Karo were expected to do the same. Then he knelt down, sprinkled white ash on his face and chanted out some strange words. He had magadi soda, garlic, salt and other funny stuff which he would use to detect if any of the visitors were possessed by the kind of spirits Muoki didn’t want to encounter.
Mwema then told the small group that Muoki was very traditional and liked things done traditionally, purposely to evoke awe and fear in the people. Weak-hearted ones would perish under Muoki’s dark magic. Muoki was capable of turning himself into a tortoise, a very beautiful young woman, a dog, a wild animal or even a tree. You knew that he was there because the noise of the tribal drums banging was heard for miles around. Without that, you were to cut short your journey, return to the market centre and start again the next day.
They set off at sunrise with Mwema singing a tribal song under his breath, sometimes whistling. Drought, hunger, death and desolation defined this land. The land was flat, with no vegetation or trees in sight. The only trees in the entire area were on the banks of the Mbilile River, about one mile north of their current location. This river flowed in a southeast direction and soon entered the Tana River. When they looked in the southwest direction they could see one perfect, beautiful hill far in the distance. This could have been as far away as fifty kilometers, and the beginnings of the hills atop which Muoki resided.
The noonday sun was out, the sky was azure blue. The journey was long and tiring. It soon turned into a long, painful march in the sun. Mwema’s song soon died. Vultures accumulated overhead, gliding in concentric circles around towers of convection rising from the plateau. Karo licked at a mucous oozing down her upper lip from her nose, finding scarcely enough water to moisten her lips and tongue. Gritty and metallic, it failed to quench her thirst. She was tired and itchy. On the steep side of the plateau below was a trough channeled runoff and loose rocks disturbed by the party fell to the bottom of the gorge where the Mbilile River, withered by drought, gurgled unseen in a bed clogged with boulders. Everybody longed for rest to cure their tired feet. They encountered lizards, gigantic rodents and huge snakes basking on rocks. The dark cleft of skin concealing them absorbed the heat it had stolen from the sun, burning like heat from a furnace. Overhead in the hazy skies, the vultures continued to circle around and accompanied them on the arduous trek.
Mwema stopped abruptly.
It seemed to be on the apex curvature of a single lane mountain-like road. Big boulders and sparse trees could be seen on the opposite side of the wild area. The thing shifted on the fringes of Mwema’s perception, slipping around a bluff before he could get a clear look. Needles pricked the skins of everyone who saw it. Mwema honed his gaze on an open patch of road at the end of the overpass. A woman appeared, leading a donkey loaded with gunias. She traveled alone.
As woman and donkey moved on towards them, tension drained from Karo like wine from a split skin. She slumped against a boulder, watching the shadows fill the gorge like a rising flood. Her mother held her. Nyawira’s machinery seized. The hours and daylight had eroded Nyawira’s vigilance, but now Karo felt power within her rise. She opened her eyes; she wedged herself deeper, conforming her flesh to the smooth stone.
Her eyelids sagged as the woman and the donkey drew closer. She barred her teeth at Karo and growled curses in her language, tugging furiously at the cords that bound her to the donkey. Then she shot up and came charging at Karo, screaming in a strange voice.
Then they could all hear the words. ‘Stop her, she’s going to kill Muoki, she must be stopped!’
But before she could deliver the blow, she was rapidly electrocuted as she came charging. Everyone in the group watched bewildered as the slayer’s eyes bulged and her body shook uncontrollably. When the electricity stopped cruising through her body, she stood there for a few moments, paralyzed in place before tumbling over like a falling tree. She hit the ground face first like a giant oak, smoldering smoke emitting from the remains of her charred body. The donkey reared and trotted down the valley braying and leaving a cloud of dust behind it.
People looked around curiously, wondering where the lucky strike of electricity came from. ‘Karo...?’ Kabura called, seeing the last flickers of static sparking from around her daughter’s outstretched fingertips. Karo looked shocked (surprised) as she turned her hands around to her face, then she looked at her mother. She turned, looking at the others as if she’d never seen them before.
‘H...how did I...?’ she asked, unable to understand how she conjured the electricity. ‘It’s… it’s… Nyawira.’ Murmur arose from the crowd.
‘You saved our lives!’ said Mwema, bringing Karo out of her trance as he extended his hand to Karo and lifted her from the rocky ground. Karo followed him as he cautiously approached the fallen woman.
‘Is she dead...?’ asked Kabura hopefully, as she watched Mwema kicking at the slayer’s lifeless hand.
A young woman came to the front and wailed, ‘She’s my grandmother, and how did she get here?’
The young woman fell on the ground and made to crawl at the body of her grandmother, but Mwema stopped her. ‘You can’t touch her, she’s evil, leave her to the birds.’ He pointed at the vultures.
‘But she’s my grandmother, I cannot leave her here.’
‘It’s the body of your grandmother. Her spirit is evil. We must leave her and continue with the journey before nightfall, before hyenas come.’
Karo chomped on her mother’s hand to keep them open. She only had to hang on a bit longer.
After the woman had cried her heart to the last calming sobs, she and Mwema had some people in the group covered the body with stones. She didn’t want to vultures eating her, she preferred the hyenas.
They started walking. The sun was falling. Soon night would fall. The sky was blood-red, lit to flames of orange at the horizon as the somber sun which was shrouded in dust as it attempted to force the last rays of the day through. The warped barren landscape stretched out beneath some twenty or so figures as they made their way. At the top of a small cliff, a man watched them, his blood-red eyes narrowed as he lifted his hat from his head to scowl across the blasted plain below. He was one of Muoki’s spiritual aides; he counted out the small party as they approached: twenty five.
Karo had a strong feeling Nyawira was going to rise tonight. She explained this to her mother who told Mwema that the spirit troubling her daughter was active at night.
Senses fogged by fatigue, Mwema assured them they will make it by twilight. He assured them they were close. He focused on the point where the road passed between an isolated stone pillar and the sheer wall of the gorge, the farthest stretch of pathway was observable from the ledges. Successive ridges, rumpled like wrinkles in the skin of the land, shoved against the unyielding spine of the hills. Mwema had been instructed by one of Muoki’s spiritual aides to halt below the next crest.
It was the last rise screening them from the witchdoctor’s hilltop home, whose thundering drums relayed messages only Mwema and the other witchdoctors in the group could unravel. Cold air licked the walls; a stench unknown hung lifeless in the forlorn air; moss on the craggy walls of the mountain stretched out tendrils to increase its size if only a millimeter at a time every so often. The home of the great healer sat atop the great mystic mountain filled with superstition—and stench. Below the climb lay a shroud of every rolling fog. Around the rise lay the bones of those who had not made the transition.
The climb was long and torturous.
The drums pounded just as twilight fell. They were approaching the great witchdoctor’s home at last. Drums began to pound, and men and women dressed in animal skins chanted and shuffled around the large compound in welcoming dances. They threw their arms to the sky, brought them down to beat their chests, and then continued the chanting and shuffling, moving faster and faster.
They parted the stalks of the tall reeds that grew at the edge of the village and peered through them, apparently intrigued by the arrival of the visitors.
The excitement was reaching crescendo level when the chief of the party, a pot bellied short man wearing a monkey shin, realized the newcomers had not been welcomed. Muoki, in a white dress with his only accoutrement being a small deer skin apron tied with some other animal tail and with his bags of muti swinging off, emerged from a large hut and his stool bearer placed the stool down on a lion skin carpet for him to sit, and; thereafter, handed him a fly whisk. From the moment he arrived there was a deathly hush. He became furious and shouted at some pale-skinned weak-looking beings, waving his feathered staff of authority and power, and declaring that the ceremony be stopped and Mwema and his team be accommodated first. That was until a witchdoctor of smaller ranking leaned over and whispered into his ear, pointing to Karo. The great witchdoctor Muoki placed his eyes on Karo, and he began to tremble.
‘Take that girl away from me,’ he shouted, ‘She has come to kill me!’
Nobody believed him.
Nyawira spoke inside Karo’s head. ‘Kill him.’
Karo lifted her arms and stretched them out against her will. She braced herself. Then she unleashed. Muoki got the full impact of the jolting electricity, his heart missed two beats and stopped short, his stomachs announced its return of stasis with an emphatic compression that rebounded off his ribcage and wobbled his innards. The fog nibbling at the edges of his vision (before they burned off into total eternal darkness) let him bask in the ghastly glory of an ugly vision of Nyawira’s angry face. In fleeting split second, he recognized it as the bad spirit he had been warned about thirty years ago, before, just at that moment before chaos ruled the clouds above him and attacked the threshold of his powers. Beneath the rumpled and silvered sheets of his spiritual stronghold, darker shreds flew like ravens or bats to a feast. In the high peaks of his legendary powers, a thunderhead burgeoned and grumbled, probing black fingers down ravines of the underworld where souls of the damned dwelt, and his soul dashed away from his body. Sunlight sifted through fleeting breaks to glaze the waterlogged landscape of his life as it whisked past the eyes of his soul in a breathtaking panorama, and his spirit joined millions of other souls on the journey towards the gates of hell.
The body fell to the ground with a crash that shook the whole Ukambani.
The great fearsome witchdoctor of Ukambani was dead.
Still nobody believed.
The pale men and women, the ghosts he had bred to unleash terror on his enemies, refused and turned to leave, one going so far as to apparently stuff his hands into the dead witchdoctor’s sides and whistle a tune nonchalantly.
A powerful wind whooshed down and brought with it havoc and the scariest sounds ever heard. The doors in the walls of houses were blown open and hung at a crazy angle, permitting many of the spirits of men and creatures trapped in them freedom if they so chose to leave.
The village was in shambles and chaos.
Huts were knocked over, walls caved in and roofs were torn free.
Bodies were squashed, trampled on or bitten in two.
The people wailed and beat their breasts, and ran helter-skelter around their village.
Mwema was taken by one the pale-skinned ones. Nobody had any idea how that had come about. They were so tiny, and he was so huge. And yet the fact remained: like Muoki, he was gone. And from time to time the ground would shake. Then after a long time, the first rain to fall in that land in thirty years came cascading from the sky in a torrent of drops intermingled with the red dust of this once barren world.
It was like a god shedding tears of blood.
Novella, 95 pages