Chapter 30: Awakening
Pan’s sister couldn’t have skipped her fingers over a flute as softly and sensuously as those which danced back and forth along the stretch of my excitement.
Touching, teasing, tripling over scintillating streams, she was splashing her melody over everything with waves of wonder.
On the blankets spread beneath the inky canopy of a star sprinkled sky, in long silence we gazed up at the heavens.
Like slumber is oft heralded by a gentle dream, it began with a whisper. Perhaps it started earlier, when the two fingers touched the back of my hand. Or maybe it began when I didn’t move it away. I don’t remember.
“So big boy”, the whisper was so quiet it was barely audible, “what about your promise of those other stars?”
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.
Her digits rose from the knuckles of my hand. Slowly, delicately, they finger walked up my forearm. In the darkness only their light touch indicating their movement. Was it 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. They retraced up my thigh, until they held motionless before the loose opening of my bush leggings.
“So big boy! Are you as bad as you are big?”
“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”.
Iinflection points are those moments in life when, due to profound, seemingly innocuous choices, one finds oneself ending in completely different circumstances. If I had risen and left then and there, things would have been different. But I didn’t. So those fingers slowly and surreptitiously crept further into my tunnel, urged on by her lovely naughtiness.
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, burrowing under the fabric, were beginning to fan the embers of my fire.
“Touch me there!” She commanded.
The Garden of Eden with its tree of intoxicating bounty, whose petals I felt had spread like the wings of a night moth, had the nub and nuzzle of it.
At the same time her fingers moved over me with the dexterity of that flute playing nymph. Tantalizing, caressing to the brink of mindless euphoria.
“But you are a dog, she hissed as I delved. “You want it all on your terms.
“If I am a dog,” I countered, “you are a bitch, a lovely bitch.”
“Thank you!” she giggled softly, “I will take that as a compliment. But now we must make music.”
Later, afterwards, lost to time , the Milky Way, like a giant astral wedding sprinkled its star dust over our delight.
It was the dew soaking through the woolen weave of the blanket which woke me. Instead of fluffy comfort, it drooped its damp chill onto my bare limbs. But as yet my refuge had not yet been disturbed by its annoyance. My reluctance to rouse was a tribute to the primitive comfort of the tufted grass on which our blankets were spread. It had kept us cradled for hours. The chill of the dew was cushioned in my sleepy awareness by the jumbled recollections of last night, mixed with the gentle reassurance of her breathing next to me. These were augmented by the sounds from the grass, the trees and River beyond.
My sporadic blinks up at the dawn sky revealed how its stardust was slowly swept west by the bristles of morning maiden’s broom. Gradually those blinks revealed that once she had completed her sweeping, she polish the darkness with successive patinas, initially a deep orange blush on the eastern cheeks of the sky, then slowly she rubbed through the rainbow on its way to daybreak’s blue.
Somewhere along that progression my attention was drawn to measured footsteps. Too regular to be those of a grazing hippo, it didn’t take long for the source to be resolved. Tucking my head backwards flipping the world upside down, out of the predawn glimmer it was the figure of precious approaching.
A 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. Squatting down in the way of Africa, with outstretched arms loosely clasped and her elbows resting on her knees, with her quiet voice matching the morning, she greeted me.
“Dedi, 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,. Blinking wide-eyedely she 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 stood on the table covered by a cloth decorated with a colorful ethnic motif. The rest of the daybreak fare was on its way, lemon cream biscuits, or maybe diminutive pancakes next to a jar of honey. There was a box of Corn-flakes beside a basket bearing toast. The slices were wrapped in a serviette to keep them warm. Complimenting them was a jar of jam, and of course the milk, sugar, tea or instant coffee, and 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 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 superfluous effort. I suspected the current lady guests had long ago forgotten their needs to be engage manually for anything. 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 at the fire pit as I went back to my tent to shave and wash my face, and don a light sweater to ward off the faint chill left behind by the damp blanket.
Returning later, seeing her standing next to the fire waiting for me, I didn’t 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. Now with only me, not a guest, there was no need for their presence. It was obvious she didn’t want them in earshot.
Precious and I were alone again.
Cradling her cup, she moved to sit on one of the wooden chairs beside me. Her braided cobra coils were wrapped loosely around her head.
Like a charcoal crown, the end of one of them dropped free to sway onto her shoulder with its tassle licking the air like the tongue of a snake. Why was it when the talk of witchcraft was in the offing her hair was arranged so symbolically?
“Dedi,” she looked up at me as she blew a breath to disperse the steam rising from her cup. “There is bad witchcraft in the village.”
“What do you mean by bad witchcraft?”
“It is much feared. It is rare. But when it appears, it involves powerful Muti. It scares the people badle… 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.
“Dedi, 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, swilling it to stir its contents .
“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. “
I lookedup to see one of the other girls approaching. Precious waved her away without a word.
“Recently 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 the leader of the scouts you deployed to the Lunga area. 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. 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, down river at Leopard camp. People are getting scared. They are beginning to say that there is powerful muti being used in this area. They will be too afraid to work here!”
Precious rose and placed her cup on the table.
“If that feeling becomes widespread, this whole place will shut down.”
(8th edit – 03/06/2021)