I know the general direction to Chiripi’s house. I just run. I pray nothing is following, though I dare not look back. When I see the gate up ahead, a little relief washes over me. But my chest will surely explode before I get there. What if some vile creature catches me before then? What if it’s waiting for the exact moment the gate slows me down? My world becomes that much smaller, and the air is sucked out of it.
I fumble through the gate, panting like a dog, and with my heart at my throat. When I reach Chiripi’s door, I knock frantically. I won’t be taken at salvation’s gate. I knock again. Only now do I look back. Did anything follow me?
When the door is abruptly open, my heart does somersaults, almost jumping out through my teeth. I turn to look into the shaman’s eyes, glinting in the lamp light. He’s actually smiling. I don’t know whether to punch him or hug him. My terror must be comical to him.
“You couldn’t do it, hey.”
His lips curl in amusement – two fat sausages which seem ready to leap off his face.
“It’s not in your blood. Your ancestors wouldn’t allow it.”
Sure, it had nothing to do with the horrors you had in store for me – for us. I stare back into the darkness. Charles is still out there. I had forgotten about him for a second. Is he, or will he be alright? I’m such a coward. I didn’t even think to help him. I look back at Chiripi.
“He will be ok. We will see him in the morning, success or failure.”
He peers over my shoulder.
“But that friend of yours appeared determined. Few men come here with that kind of resolve.”
His eyes roll back to me.
“Come inside. I’ll have to find you somewhere to sleep.”
I get inside and follow him. The light from the paraffin lamp affords me only glimpses of the house. We move from the living room and into a passage. My heart hasn’t quit its race. Am I safe under his roof? What other horrors does he keep in his house? Every breath comes at considerable effort. I could suffocate.
I almost bump into him as he stops. He opens a door.
“It was my son’s room.”
There is a bed at one end, a wardrobe on the other. He places the lamp on the floor.
“Try to find some sleep.”
He doesn’t even look me in the eye as he leaves. He referred to Charles’s determination with reverence. I guess I am the disappointment.
I look around the room. I’d rather not be surprised by something leaping out of any crack or cranny. I walk cautiously to the bed. The silence is unnerving. The sound of my breathing fills the room.
I sit on the bed and try to imagine myself home. There has been a power cut, and I’m sitting in candlelight. I close my eyes. It’s just another ordinary day. Except for Charles. Then I’m back in the cemetery. I immediately open my eyes. I will never forget what I saw. No matter what happens, I will never forget.
But Chiripi said he would be ok. I blow out the lamp, and decide to forget. I lie on the bed exhausted, but with little inclination to sleep.
When I open my eyes, I hear voices. The light shines through the thin curtains. Charles must be back. I get up and sit on the bed. What does he think of me now? I peel myself off the bed and reluctantly open the door. I get into the passage and go toward the voices. I remember seeing a living room when I got into the house. That’s where they must be.
I see them before I have gone far – just at the end of the short passage. They are sitting on old brown sofas. They both fall silent and look up at me.
“It appears that your friend found success,” Chiripi says with a grin, almost like he mocks me.
My bruised ego aside, I’m glad I couldn’t do it. Maybe he was right – my ancestors stopped me from making an evil mistake.
“Only he will move forward,” he says with eyes gleaming at Charles.
We are back in Chiripi’s office. Charles insisted I join him. His enthusiasm was so high, my previous failure forgotten, in fact, not even mentioned. I figured I owed him this, at least. I had run before – this time I’d stick it out.
“This process takes blood.”
Chiripi’s eyes are steel. There’s a small clay dish filled with water between us and him.
“The question is – whose blood?”
“Look into the water,” he instructs Charles.
He swiftly obeys. An image begins to take shape in the water. I have to look closely to make sure I’m not hallucinating. It is Charles’s brother, or his reflection, at least. I’ve seen him once or twice at work. I look at Charles, who doesn’t look equally shocked. Is this all just a test to him? I can’t believe the stories are true. And I know what will happen next. My heart beats at my ear.
Charles shakes his head sideways. The image swirls, and is replaced by another face. It is a boy this time, probably in his late teens. Again, Charles shakes his head. Next, a woman appears on the slideshow straight from Hades. She is past middle age, but not old yet. Charles nods.
“Good choice,” says the shaman.
“She has great potential still.”
He offers Charles a large needle.
“Pierce it,” he instructs, short of command it.
I can’t believe what I am about to see. The sweat trickles on my back like a spider crawls down my spine. I should not be here for this.
Charles slowly takes the needle. When he pieces the image in the water, the woman immediately collapses and the water turns red like the clay dish bleeds.
I take in a laboured breath. Have I just witnessed murder? Am I an accomplice? I could never have done this. I should never have come. But Charles is unmoved. Is this what ambition risks becoming – cold determination and ruthlessness?
As I sit in the bus back to Harare, I’m having trouble removing my eyes off Charles’s lap. A little old man stands on his thighs, seemingly staring into a void. It is unmoving, unchanging. I wonder if it is even alive. One could mistake it for a baby, if not for the decrepit face – wrinkled and worn out like the underbelly of an aged iguana.
Is that what a goblin looks like? But by all appearances, we are the only ones who can see it. The bus is full, but there isn’t as much as a glance our way. Ignorance truly is bliss. When Chiripi gave him the goblin, it was no more than an odd figurine, with beads and knotted cloths – something he had stuck in his backpack. But now it has taken its true form. I would run if I could. I have nowhere to go now – I’m now a part of it.
By the time we get to Harare, it’s so late, and I’m exhausted. Despite my better judgement, I agree to sleep over at Charles’s place in Mbare, within walking distance from the bus terminus. We ate on the road, plus I didn’t have much of an appetite. I just lie on the couch, and Charles goes to his bedroom.
I can hear him in his bedroom, moving things about. He must be building a shrine or something. Within less than an hour, my eyelids are heavy as lead.
When I open my eyes, I can hear Charles shouting. I almost jump off the couch, until my gaze lands on the floor. I rub my eyes. Am I dreaming?
I place my feet on the floor, and I hear the crunch of dollar bills like autumn leaves. The bills are everywhere. I can’t even see the dingy grey of the concrete floors. I pick one up – a twenty dollar bill, crisp like it just came out of the bank. I wade through the sea of money, still in disbelief. Charles still shouts like he just won the lottery, which he probably just did.
I see him in the kitchen, grinning like a fool, wads of cash in his hands, and tears rolling down his eyes. Then it finally hits me – did I make the right choice?