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The hut smells of smoke and long dead things. I look in the shaman’s eyes and I only see darkness and danger. I look over to Charles, who sits beside me on the goat hide mat. His face is scrunched like a toddler observing one of life’s many intricacies for the first time. How determined he was, and still is. Why did I allow him to rope me into this?
“We’ll be rich,” he told me.
“An overnight success.”
The best kind isn’t it? You sacrifice nothing except your soul.
He apparently knew a guy, who knew a guy who had acquired tremendous wealth after visiting this shaman, the famous Chiripi.
“One visit is all it will take,” he stressed with eyes ready to somersault out of their sockets.
“One visit which will change the rest of our lives forever.”
His excitement was infectious. I couldn’t help but succumb. I had never seen him more passionate about anything before. Who would blame him? We work dead end jobs as regional truck drivers. This week it’s Zambia, the next South Africa, and another Mozambique. We “sleep” on the road most times. No wonder rumours are rife about most of us employing goblins to drive for us whilst we sleep.
But what he was suggesting was more than that – seeing a powerful shaman in Chipinge, hundreds of kilometres from our homes in Harare. It would be a weekend trip, and we would sleep there. Even as we approached Chiripi’s residence, I could feel arachnids crawling all over my skin. The thought of spending the night didn’t thrill me.
But Charles was like a Nazi holding a nuclear bomb. As we were dropped off by the bus and walked toward the residence, he could barely contain his excitement – something that was betrayed by the spring in his step.
“Are you sure you want to do this?”
Chiripi’s beady eyes roll from Charles to me. His face is downcast like he can’t lift it any higher, only adding to his devious visage.
I wonder how such a weather beaten old man could claim to hold the keys to wealth. From all appearances, life seems to have knocked him down a couple of pegs. He lives a rural life in the middle of nowhere. He is thin and dark, probably from labouring on some measly crops. His cheeks are hollow, and his skin clings to his face like melting shrink wrap.
“We are,” Charles responds for the both of us, and with an unmatched fervency.
I got this far with him. Who am I to back down now?
The old man gets up and goes to the back of the hut. There are all kinds of strange artefact back there – gourds, clay pots, horns and animal bones. He grabs two clay pots and returns to his position. He places the pots between us.
They have bulbous bases and narrow openings. I can’t tell what exactly is inside – looks like dried twigs and herbs. In the little light provided by the paraffin lamp, the contents blend in with the dark interior. On the outside, the pots are decorated with alternating red and black triangles. They look beautiful, but I doubt their aesthetics match their purpose.
“Pick one,” he instructs us.
Charles doesn’t hesitate, leaving me with the last pot. But he doesn’t remove his eyes from the shaman – his saviour. I could have laughed if the whole situation didn’t unnerve me.
Chiripi gets up and heads for the open door. Like two famished dogs eyeing a steak, our gazes follow him. When he has disappeared into the night, Charles and I just look at each other.
“Come,” his scratchy voice pierces the silence.
We scramble up like two pre-schoolers at the mercy of our teacher. I immediately decide I will never put myself in a similar situation.
“Bring your clay pots.”
The moon gleams like a big floodlight in the sky. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing. What dark creatures will it reveal? We both follow behind Chiripi, the patter of our feet the only sound from us. The shaman is also eerily quiet. Where is he taking us?
We go through the gate of the property and continue in silence. I look around to the obscure trees and grass. I feel like I need to memorise the way back.
“This business requires guts.”
He doesn’t even look back at us.
“If you’re not strong, you will fall.”
Guts to do what? What does it mean to fall? I glance at Charles, who only looks forward. Of course he does. He has always been one to hatch one get rich quick scheme after another. Kadoma gold, Chiadzwa diamonds, black market forex trading – high stake ventures are his calling card. He has had some success here and there; probably less than his boasting speaks, otherwise, why is he still a truck driver?
This time, I allowed him to suck me into his latest scheme. I wouldn’t remain on the side-lines anymore, I told myself. Nobody ever got anywhere by being safe, I convinced myself. We would pay a few hundred dollars, and be set for life – that was the promise I fell for. At least we wouldn’t be dodging bullets. But now as I hold the clay pot, my hand only wishes to let it slip and shatter on the ground.
I see a graveyard up ahead, one of the unkempt types of rural cemeteries. There isn’t even a fence around it – just a couple of tomb stones jutting out of the ground, like sparse, broken teeth staring out of a giant’s gaping mouth.
I have heard of ghosts appearing in the night as balls of fire. I hope we don’t run into one.
“This is where you will sleep tonight.”
I have to look at Chiripi’s face to make sure he’s joking. He has stopped now. He looks at the cemetery, and serious by all indications. I turn my gaze to Charles, who too appears unfazed. Am I the only one who thinks any of this is crazy?
Chiripi grabs the clay pot from my hand, and then from Charles’s. He walks amongst the tombstones, placing the pots on carefully selected graves. I now shiver, though the summer night is warm. I nudge Charles.
“Are we sure about this,” I whisper.
But in the silence, my voice echoes like the boom from a cannon. I hope Chiripi didn’t hear me. It may be too late to back out now. What do I know of these rituals?
“Yes,” Charles hisses.
He glares at me.
“Don’t be such a wimp,” he snaps.
This has obviously gone beyond just me. He is so close. He wouldn’t want me to ruin things. I take in a forced breath, and my body stiffens. I agreed to go on this stupid trip – I might as well toughen it up. Wimp, he says. I’ll just have to show him.
“I’ll come call you in the morning.”
Chiripi is back from his grave selection exercise.
“Be glad there are two of you,” he says sternly, with his gaze firmly fixed on me.
I must look petrified.
And then he just leaves. I look at him disappear into the night, back the way we came. I now long for a place I loathed only a few minutes ago. When the dark swallows him, I look back at the graves. So we’re just supposed to get comfortable in a cemetery? This is unheard off. This is the territory of night stalking witches. What have I chosen to become?
Charles however just walks into the graveyard, seemingly unperturbed.
“You heard what the shaman said – this business needs guts.”
He finds a free spot on the ground and lies down, using his arm as a pillow. Did he know all along?
“You knew about this.”
I hope the moonlight conveys my piercing glare.
“Did you think it would be easy? You come here, and he just hands you the key to riches.”
He shakes his head.
“Why do you think only a few men decide to do this?”
Because most men are sane, and they don’t allow their ambitions to get the better of them.
“Stop acting like a child, and pick a spot. It’s been a long journey. I’m tired.”
He actually closes his eyes, like he sleeps in a cemetery once a week. Maybe he has the right idea. My fear has brought me this far, maybe my resolve can get me through the rest.
I also look for a free spot. It’s not easy, with the grave stones and concrete pads. I also lie down, but on my back. I feel every pebble on my back like a massage from hell. But I’ll have to get used to it if I’m to have even a second of sleep. I stare up into the sky. I didn’t realize the stars were so clustered. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever star gazed. It’s oddly peaceful, comforting. Maybe I can do this after-all.
“Charles,” I whisper, looking over to him.
He seems fast asleep. I can scarcely see the rise and fall of his chest. No bother. What was I going to say to him anyway? But sleep refuses to come. I don’t remember ever sleeping on my back.
I lie on my side and rest my head on my arm. The ground is still unforgiving, but the position is a little more comfortable. Still in search of sleep, I catch something else instead – one of the clay pots, deliberately placed on top of a grave.
An old memory comes back to me. My father once said that goblins use dead people’s souls to enrich their owners. You are given all the money that person could have made, had they reached a full life. The younger and higher success potential the dead person had, the better. You would have essentially robbed the dead person’s family of their rightfully deserved blessings. You would have stolen their inheritance.
The idea was deep, even poetic. But now I see the truth of it. I look at the clay pot again, just sitting innocently atop someone’s bones. My heart begins a sprint, and I shiver from my sweat drenched body. Whose soul am I going to steal? Whose inheritance am I going to take? What will be the consequences? If Charles was awake, he would surely hear me panting like a dog.
I should stop being a wimp. I decided to do this, and I will. I can’t turn back now. I recite these words until I feel tired, and maybe enough to find sleep.
When I open my eyes, I see that Charles is up. He is dancing? I only hear grunts from him. It’s still dark. I rub my eyes. The more my vision sharpens, the faster the drum that is my heart beats. I feel paralysed, only my heaving chest able to move.
A large snake is coiled around his entire body. It’s all he can do to keep its teeth from sinking into his face. He holds it by the neck, fangs bared out like it lives for the final strike. This is unnatural. Is this what the shaman meant by guts? Will I have to battle some dark creature tonight?
I frantically twist my neck, though I don’t wish to see anything come for me. I must get out. I can’t do this. I leap off the ground and run.