Chapter 28: Awakening
If Pan had a sister, her impish fingers could not have skipped over the keys of her flute as softly and sensuously as those which danced back and forth along the stretch of my excitement.
Touching, teasing, tripling over scintillating streams. Splashing her melody over everything with waves of wonder.
We were still laying on the blankets spread on the cropped grass beneath the inky canopy of the star sprinkled sky, laying in long silence, gazing up at the heavens. .
It started as gently as a dream, slightly before the pace of my breathing assumed the even cadence of slumber. It came in the form of a very quiet, soft whisper, close to my ear. Or maybe it started earlier, when the two fingers touched the back of my hand. Or maybe it began when I did not move it away.
“So big boy”, the whisper was so quiet it was barely audible, “what about those other stars you promised?”
I was taken aback. Yes, I had picked up on her double entendre earlier, but everything about my suggestion had hinted at nothing more than flirtatious fun. Stars of the heavens, yes. Of the mind and body. No. Not yet. “Not here, not now.” I murmured.
I felt the two fingers rise up off the knuckles of my hand and slowly, delicately begin to finger walk up my forearm.
In the darkness all I had was their light touch to judge their progress. I could not decide if it could more accurately be described as spider, or insect like. It didn’t matter, their progress was deliberate and steady. Up my arm, over my shoulder. From there they inched down my chest, across the fabric of my shirt.
I felt her roll onto her side to extend the saunter of her step, by finger-step, down over my belly, onto my thigh, until her digits reached my knee. Here they paused, before slowly turning to retrace their path.
“So big boy! Are you as bad as you are big?”
The fingers crossed up my thigh again. I felt them pause, poised motionless..
“Probably not quite as bad as you.” I whispered.
“No, probably not!” she echoed, “I am a bad girl, a very bad girl”. She hesitated for effect. “I always have been. I love being bad to the bone”.
I knew of inflection points, those moments in life, when, due to profound, but seemingly innocuous choices, one eventually finds oneself ending in completely different circumstances. Maybe if I had risen and left right then and there, things would have turned out differently. But I did not, and because of this, her fingers slowly and surreptitiously crept further.
Her lips was so close I could feel the warmth of her breath in my ears, as she whispered her words, which together with her fingers were beginning to fan the embers of a fire.
The Garden of Eden having its special tree with an endless bounty of intoxicating knowledge, whose petals by now had spread like the wings of a night moth, had the nub and nuzzle of it.
Her fingers moved over me like those of a flute playing nymph. Tantalizing, caressing to the brink of mindless euphoria.
“But you are a dog, she slightly hissed. “You want it all on your terms.
“Well, if I am a dog, you are a bitch, a lovely bitch.”
“Thank you!” she giggled softly, “I will take that as a compliment.”
Afterwards we lay back, lost to time as the Milky Way sprinkled its astral confetti allover us like guests at a wedding.
It was the dew soaking through the woolen weave of the blanket which woke me.
Instead of fluffing its comfort, in certain spots it drooped its damp chill onto my bare limbs. But as yet my refuge had not yet been disturbed sufficiently by this annoying herald. My reluctance to rouse was also a tribute to the primitive comfort of the tufted grass on which our blankets were spread. It had kept us supinely cradled for hours. The tactile coolness of the dew was ameliorated in the sleepy recesses of my awareness by the contradicting jumbled recollections from last night, mixed with the gentle reassurance of the breathing next to me, and further augmented by the sounds from the long grass, and the trees and River beyond.
Sporadic blinks up at the dawn sky revealed how its stardust was being swept westwards by the fine bristles of morning maiden’s broom. Gradually my blinks revealed that once she had completed her initial sweeping, she began to polish the darkness overhead with successive patinas, initially a blush on the eastern cheeks of the sky with a deep orange, and then gradually rubbing through the rainbow on its way to daybreak’s blue.
Somewhere along that progression my attention was drawn to measured footsteps. They were too regular to be those of a grazing hippo returning to the river. It didn’t take long for the source to be resolved.
Tucking my head backwards so that the world flipped upside down, out of the predawn glimmer I could see the figure of precious approaching.
A momentary flash of shyness tugged at my emotions, I had been caught consorting with a guest, but this was immediately pushed aside as my pragmatic instincts reasserted themselves.
Precious walked up to where we lay. She squatted down in the way of Africa, with outstretched arms loosely clasped and her elbows resting on her knees. With a quiet voice matching the morning, she greeted me.
Dudu, before you leave for Mumbwa I need to talk to you urgently.”
Rolling onto my side I propped myself on an elbow, as Lauren roused, and still blinking answered Precious’s “Good Morning.”
“What is it about?”
“The word from the village is that one of the scouts on patrol with Moses has been identified as a witch.”
We looked at each other.
“They will kill him if he goes home. Like they did to Everett’s father.”
A flask of filtered coffee already stood on the table covered by a cloth decorated with a colorful motif. The rest of the daybreak fare was on its way, lemon cream biscuits, or maybe diminutive pancakes next to a jar of honey. Also a box of Corn-flakes next to a basket bearing toast wrapped in a serviette to keep them warm, a jar of jam, a pot of honey, and of course the milk and sugar, and jars of tea or instant coffee, complementing a jug of orange juice to complete the daybreak offering.
As I approached the fire pit, the air was so still I could hear the light chatter of the two waitresses in the distant kitchen, who would be busy laying out the serving trays.
When the platters was set on the bright zigzag colors of the table cloth, too bad that it would be mostly superfluous effort. I suspected the current women guests had long ago forgotten their days of manual service, with its share of preparation. In the absence of their male consorts to shake them awake, their only response to the sounds of dawn would be to wrap themselves tighter in the cocoon of their sheets, until the coffee was cold. Even Lauren had returned to her chalet.
Precious waited for me at the fire pit as I went back to my campsite to shave and wash my face, and don a light sweater to ward off the faint chill left behind by the damp blanket.
Seeing her standing next to the fire waiting for me, I did not feel guilty about helping myself to the bounty on the table, especially as it was Mustafa and ilk who were footing the bill.
“Can I make you a cup of coffee?” She asked.
“Yes, thank you very much.”
Hers was already half drained. She topped it up while preparing mine.
I stood behind her tall assertive outline, and listened to her directives to Nora and the other waitress, as they laid out the trays. I watched how effortlessly she assumed, and the others submitted to her unofficial authority. Mushala’s daughter!
She would handle the service she told them, if any of the guests showed up she would ask for their help, but seeing as there would probably only be me, not a guest, mind you, there was no need for their presence. It was obvious she didn’t want them in earshot.
Precious and I were alone again.
She sat opposite on one of the wooden chairs cradling her cup. Her braided cobra coils were wrapped loosely around her head, this time like a crown, with the end of one of them dropping free to sway onto her shoulder with its terminating tassel licking the air like the tongue of its snake. It had been a while since I last saw her thus coifed. Why was it when the talk of witchcraft was in the offing her hair was arranged so symbolically.
“Dudu,” she looked up at me across the rim of her cup. “There is some bad witchcraft happening in the village.”
“What do you mean by bad witchcraft?”
“It is something which is much feared. It happens very seldom. But when it does, it involves powerful Muti. It makes the people scared.”
We call it “Mumone.”
“What do you mean?” If she had deigned to catch me this early in the morning I needed to take her seriously.
“Dudu, in the villages when there is a funeral, the body of the dead person is taken from their hut to the place of burial in a coffin carried by the men.
Precious took another sip. She then looked down into the cup, swiveling it to stir its contents before going on.
“It is during this procession that the Mumone takes over.”
“Okay, what is it? And why is it so feared?”
“When Mumone happens the men who are carrying the coffin are possessed by spirits,. Instead of heading to the gravesite, they break into a trot and slowly jog, “toi-toi” fashion, towards a particular hut, which could be anywhere in the village. When they get there they stop at the door. At that point they wake up from the trance. If asked afterwards, they don’t know how they got there.”
“It is this pointing of the coffin at the door that is feared. It tells the people who is the one to blame for the death. Someone living in that hut has been possessed by a witch. They are now a devil. “
One of the other girls was approaching. Precious waved her away without saying anything.
“Some days ago a young village woman died under strange circumstances. Her funeral was yesterday. The men carrying the coffin were possessed by spirits. They stopped at the door of Museka. He is one of the scouts you deployed to the Lunga area two days ago. Such a Mumone has not happened in our village for many years. But, back then, like now, the person identified as a devil was not home at the time. But the villagers knew he would be back. So they waited. “
Precious took a sip of her coffee.
“As he walked off the pontoon, they stoned him to death… That is what will happen to Musika if he goes home.”
“Precious,” I queried, “ how are you sure about this?”
“I’m sure because, although it has not happened at our village for years, it happened recently in a village close to Kasempa. In that case it was also someone who worked in this area, up-river at the hunting camp.
People are getting scared. They are beginning to say that there is powerful muti being used in this area.
If that feeling becomes widespread, this whole place will shut down.
They will be too afraid to work here!”