Like a pair of rabbits startled by a loud clap of the hands, the two kitchen helper girls had scuttled away as soon as Melody had begun to address me.
Geverton had also quickly moved out of the way. He proceeded to busy himself shuffling things around in the dimness of the pantry storage room at the far end of the kitchen.
But as Melody walked out of the doorway I turned to look directly at Idaa to seek his reaction. It seemed he too, at least virtually, was also ducking out of the way. He was avoiding my incredulous stare. With his back to me, and a wash-cloth in his hand, he was slowly and deliberately cleaning the surface of the counter top next to the stove where some sugar and coffee had spilled.
‘Idaa, I exclaimed, ‘what do you make of all that?’
He looked around for a second and gave a slight shrug of his shoulders and lifted his eyebrows together with a pinched twinge of his lips as if to signal, I don’t know.
‘Idaa, something weird is going on. For some reason nobody wants to speak about it.’
I paused to give emphasis to my words, ‘And that ‘Includes you!’
I stood in tense silence as I stared at the back of his head.
‘I asked you a few days ago about that mystery man who appeared out of nowhere when Eddie was attacked by the crocodile. You know that something strange went on there. Something unusual that Melody was involved in, and you avoided my questions.’
As I leaned back against the cutting table in the middle of the kitchen, I rested one elbow on its surface while I took a few sips of the strong dark coffee in my mug. I watched as Idaa finished his wife’s of the stove surface, and then crossed over to the sink.
I continued to direct my words to his back as he rinsed out the dish cloth. ‘Melody told me that she confronted the ‘mystery man’ because she is betrothed to Eddie. But the way she behaves and reacts it does not seem, to me, that she is really interested in him!’
With growing exasperation I reiterated, ‘There is something else going on. Why is nobody willing to speak about any of this strangeness?’
Idaa, slowly turned and with a tired almost trance like gaze, lifted his eyes up from the floor and across the room to focus on where I stood.
‘Yes Gidi, there are whispers. You know how it is in the Bush, there is always the influence of the sangoma’s muti.
It is like with the reaction of a troop of baboons in the trees at night, when they sense that a leopard is on the prowl. They will all keep very still. They will not make a sound, because they are all afraid that if they do, it will attract the attention of the leopard.
Everyone in the district, especially here at the Lodge, knows that there is a strange unknown sangoma on the move. They say he is a very powerful witch-doctor. Nobody is sure if he is here to do good or evil. But the people know that he is prowling around looking for something. Everyone is nervous that if they react, that it will attract the attention of the spirits and bad things may happen to them. ‘
Idaa, walked back across the kitchen. Picking up his mug, he returned to the sink and flicked the dregs into it before he rinsed it clean. Then folding his arms across his chest in a gesture that seemed to restore and bolster his authority, he continued to speak.
‘All the people, we all know who the sangomas are in this district. We know their names and where they live, all of them, all the way from Mumbwa to Kasempa, and even beyond to Solwezi. But this one, nobody knows where he is from.
Gidi, as you yourself saw when Eddie was attacked, he appears out of nowhere, and then disappears again.
They say that he flies around on the back of a hyena. Only the most powerful sangomas have the power and skill to tame the hyenas, and have them eat the special potions that allow them to fly.’
As I listened to Idaa’s explanations, I mused over my never ending wonder at how deeply entrenched in so much of African culture the belief in witchcraft is. This is true from the lowest rungs of society right up to the highest. Here I could see that Idaa, even in his position as a professionally trained, efficient and effective manager of a high-end Taurus operation, was obviously influenced to some degree or other by this current phenomenon of witchcraft.
And after a brief silent pause he again dispelled my musings with his words.
‘There are very few people who have grown up in the African culture, including you, who do not know that the power of the medicine man is real. There are only two types of people in the bush when it comes to muti, those that think that the sangomas muti works directly, and those who believe it takes as long as is necessary, and may take different indirect forms, that are hard to identify.’
Idaa was looking up at the thatch of the roof as he spoke, but he cast a quick glance at my face with a wry pursing of his lips before looking back up and continuing.
‘The people know that some muti has been spread by this strange sangoma. We saw that when Eddie was caught. We had been expecting something. But after that it was apparent that this sangoma was here to do mischief.
However, it was not clear if this was to be the price of the mischief or its appeasmet.
Everyone hoped, and believed that it would have ended there, with Eddie being sacrificed. ‘
Idaa, dropped his gaze again and stared at me for a while.
‘But that is when things went wrong, and why people are very afraid. Because you interfered.
You got in the way of the ritual as it was happening, despite the ssangoma arriving to claim his sacrifice, and telling you not to meddle.
Now, like the behavior of the baboons hiding in the thickest leaves at the very top of the trees, not moving and not making a sound, the people are waiting and watching to see what happens next. They are scared. They do not want to get caught in the sangomas revenge.
But because you interfered, and stole the crocodile sacrifice, and so far nothing has happened, the people are saying it is because you must also have strong muti! Very strong muti.
They know that you are a Mzungu, however they also know that you grew up in our culture, and according to the stories they tell, you have survived where others could not. So even before this event with Eddie, there was some mystery whispered about you, about some penga, some maddness. Now, after Eddie, there are more than whispers about your power and muti.
That is the reason the people are nervous of speaking to you. They are afraid, not just of the sangoma, but of you as well. It is bad enough when a baboon feels that there is a stalking leopard below in the darkness, but what is even worse is when it senses that there are two stalkers.
Gidi, the people suspect that you are a second stalker, and they do not want to get caught in the middle of so much strong muti.’
Idaa stopped speaking and looked at me for a while. His normally lively broad round face was fixed with a look of steady in tractability. This was a look that only the African can exhibit with perfection. It seems to be filled with the echo’s of resigned acceptance of a fate meted out by the spirits and the mediums as they bridge between the other worlds and our everyday.
More than ever I felt that I needed Moses to be with me, to act as an intermediary. But where was he? It’ had been a couple of weeks since I spoke to father Xavier. I had not heard from anybody.
I was in a very strange position. Instead of people clamming up and things being hidden from me because I was an mzungu outsider, it was the exact opposite. My insight status was preventing me from being privy to the background chatter and consensus opinion of events.
In some ways it was an honor. It meant that there were aspects of my being which meshed with their culture sufficiently for the Africans to accept that I was so immersed in their beliefs, that I was, despite my Mzungu skinb, in many ways one of them. I realized that unknowing ly and unwittingly I was an actr on their stage. I was not sitting in the audience. As such it appeared that I could, and had, tipped over the beer gourd at the center of this unlikely pantomime.
Staring at Idaa I found myself on the budding horns of a dilemma.
Seeing as the language of this performance was one of witchcraft, should I agreed to speak that language and thus take a more raucous role, and run the risk of being caught up even deeper in the plot, with the danger of finding myself cast as the villain.
After all I had no belief in their witchcraft, or did I.
According to what Idaa had just told me, everyone already assumed that I had muti, which is why the mystery sangoma had not been able to eliminate, or at least neutralize me, yet.
Maybe I should at least outwardly display some tangible evidence of strong muti, even if it had not been given to me by one of the local sangoma’s.
Having had to motivate soldiers to put their lives on the line so many times, I was intimately familiar with the power of symbolism, when it came to leadership and its consequence in the outcome of events.
I suddenly remembered the string of river snails on the leather thong that Melody had given me a few days ago. It was still in my pocket. I reached my hand into it and gently fingered the delicate spirals of the threaded shells.
With my mug still in hand, I walked back out into the early morning sunshine.
I could hear Geverton come out of the pantry and begin to fuss around the kitchen.
Standing there, looking out at the big brick bread and pizza oven, with the office and the river behind it in the background, I noticed the other two girls coming back in to the kitchen. I heard the clink as Idaa obviously placed his mug on the concrete slab of the sink. He came out and walked past me to the office.
‘Hmm, I thought to myself, ‘the stalker has gone, and the creatures can move again.’
Despite my checked urgency to begin the tracking of the mystery man I stood and mulled over all this new information.
I thought to myself that if I was to continue the metaphor of the stage, I was like a dyslectic actor who could not read his lines. With this sort of impediment, I would have to wing my performance by improvising and responding to events in such a way as to make it look as if it was all part of this current script, which I could not read.
As I thought back on things, some of the staff’s reticence to interact with me was now understandable. But what was still an enigma, was Melody’s behavior and interaction with me. She had provided an explanation for why she had accosted the mystery man. But I could not help having a niggling doubt as to the sincerity of her concern for her fiancé, with him being sufficient reason for her ulalating, shrieking confrontation with the crocodile sangoma.
If the popular belief was that I possessed some magical powers which counted those of the sangoma’s, why would she also risk confiding in me, initially clandestinely, and as of this morning, openly in front of the others, and thereby potentially invoke the vengeful wrath of the sangoma.
I could not help having the impression that she was playing for higher stakes, and in some ways I was a porn in her game.
She was the only one who had not been afraid to warn me that witchcraft was involved. I could not help feeling that her demure subservience when she was in her tribal role in front of the others was a ruse. I suspected that she was far more comfortable hanging the cloak of a barely hidden brazen sophistication, which came with her display of a modern western insistence on being treated with gender equality, even superiority, when she had accosted me with her exquisite dress and rebuke in the evening. Actually, it went even further, her prodding, almost taunting directives for me to take the initiative and go after the sangoma with his spirits.
After all, to the others in the staff, she was concerned for the safety of her future husband, but in reality I knew that she had made no effort to visit him during his convalescence, or even find out the state of his recovery. Any of my attempts to coax her into speaking about him were met with dismissive indifference.
I walked over to the outdoor scullery to place my tin mug on the drying rack. From there I followed Idaa to the office to ask a few more questions.
I poked my head through the doorway and asked if he had a few more moments to speak to me. I could see that he had just downloaded a few emails from the satellite link. What a difference I thought from even 10 years ago, when everything had to be relayed via VHF radio to Lusaka, with coms scheduled only once a day.
‘Idaa, something else is bothering me,’ I stated, ‘Why if everybody is scared to speak about the mystery man, does Melody not worry about it? You heard her. She is almost commanding me to go after them!’
Idaa pushed back from his desk, and turned his chair to face mine.
He asked, ‘Do you know anything about Adamson Mushala?’
‘Of course I do!’ I retorted with surprise, ‘Anybody who is interested in the early history of Zambia knows about Mushala. He was the rebel Robin Hood who is purported to have had magical powers. He terrorized whole swathes of Western Zambia, acting against officialdom and helping the poor, after being shunned by government in the years following independence.’
I continued speaking, ‘I can remember when I first came here in 1997 with my friend to look this place over. We were guided here by Kings. It was as we were cooking dinner in the only viable building in the old camp, which is today the fuel shed, that Kings told us the story of how Mushala was finally killed. How he had been betrayed by one of his mistresses, to four soldiers, who then were given very strong muti, which made them invisible. How the soldiers crept naked into his secret hideout, where they lay in ambush.
Then when Mushala returned, his powers enabled him to discover that he was being ambushed. But, unfortunately for him, he had made a mistake of leaving his weapon and most powerful muti in his hideout. How he dashed in at full speed to try to get past the ambush, to get to his weapon and elixir’s, but as he flashed past, the soldiers managed to squeeze off a few rounds. I can remember Kings giving a graffic description of where Mushala was hit.
I took a breath, ‘Incidentaly, the story of Mushala is still legend in Zambia, I was speaking to one of our scouts a month ago, who told me that after his death, it was common knowledge that Mushala liked to torment president Kenneth Kaunda, who had ordered Mushala’s death, when he sat for dinner at statehouse. Every now and again, Mushala’s spirit would swap KK’s knives and forks around, placing the knives on the left and forks the right, because everybody knew that Mushala was left-handed. Mushala’s ghost would set a place for himself at statehouse dinners.’
Idaa listend to my tale and nodded.
‘Yes, I have also heard that story, and many more!’
Idaa looked down at his lap and the pen he was fidgeting with in his fingers.
‘Gidi. Do you know anything about Melody’s family? I know that she talks to you, did she tell you anything about it.’
‘No I know nothing about a family.’
‘Well,’ said Ida, ‘she has a very strong-willed mother. She has a mother who did not care about taking risks and who went against the advice of her parent’s, right from the time that she was a young girl.
You see,’ Idaa said in a low voice, ‘Melody’s mother was a teenager when she ran away from home. She was very beautiful, and had a man with a rich family, just like Eddie has a wealthy father. The man was paying her father a big lobola. She abandoned the lobola man. But he could not do anything about it, becaause he was scared.
That was because Melody’s mother ran away to be with her lover.
She ran away to be with Adamson Mushala!
… She was his favorite mistress, his most faithful and trusted mistress.
She was not the traitorous one, who died not long after Mushala was killed. Some people say it was Mushala’s sprit, and others say it was Melody’s mother who put the muti on the traitor.’
Idaa paused, ‘So you see Gidi, Melody is Mushala’s granddaughter.
She has everything of the wild independent spirit of her mother and grandfather. It is all combined into one person.
And Gidi, it is said that she has her grandfather’s magical powers, it is just that mostly she leaves them dormant. But they are always bubbling just under the surface of her skin. Which is why even the local sangoma’s do not want to meddle with her.
So Gidi, if she tells you to follow the crocodile you should do so.
If she tells you to watch and find out their secret weaknesses, you would be wise to do as she suggests!’
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