On a Friday morning, against everyone’s advice, Teopista picked an oluderu, a tray of woven soft branches of wood, smeared with cow dung and placed it next to the granary for Odwori to fill with stalks of finger millet.
She had dreamt that her husband wanted her to brew malwa for his friends. She carried the oluderu to the grinding stone behind her mother-in-law’s house, knelt before it and began to grind the millet into flour.
Odwori took the goats to graze near the stream. Aserena went to the market to buy magadi, raw soda ash, for spicing her latest craving, ekhubi, cow pea leaves, boiled without salt.
Her mother-in-law having forgotten completely about her went behind her house to ease the two metallic mugs of mugumu, the milk and sugarless tea she had drunk in the morning, out. As she lifted her skirt to do the needful, she heard the sound of a woman’s groan. Teopista was lying on the grinding stone, her clothes wet with after-birth, dry-eyed, cuddling an infant who was struggling to take her first breath. She abandoned her business, snatched the child and hung her upside down.
At that moment it coughed and shrieked.
When he heard, he forgot all about the goats, ran back as fast as his legs would carry him.
The goats went on roaming in people’s cassava gardens wrecking havoc. They all forgave him when they heard the reason for his recklessness.
He was not allowed to move near his wife and child. The midwife had come in time with the assumption that such a young girl was obviously not in the know, on matters concerning childbirth.
She praised Teopista for her bravery. Cases like hers, were few but not entirely abnormal.
“Our great grand mothers would disappear in the house and half an hour later, emerge with the goods.” The midwife said. “This is a real Samia woman.”
By the time they allowed him to hold his daughter, it looked as if someone had intimated to it a few things about the world.
Not making a fuss about all the attention it was getting, coiling and uncoiling in different directions.
You would think it detested the thick warm clothing it was enclosed in. It wanted to feel the sunshine and the wind, and the things that make life bearable.
Seeing this, he swelled from inside, like a giant edible mushroom. He felt like jumping up and down like the child that he should really be but then; he had to take this first proper lesson like a man.
To pretend as if nothing extraordinary had taken place.
He came to understand that all those herbs that she had squatted over as they boiled their strong-scented steam into her insides and the strenuous work that she had engaged herself in till the last moment had made it easy for her when it mattered.
He began to fret over the two of them, insisting on milking the cows himself, making sure that two kilograms of cow bones were available daily all through the first week of her obwibo, the post-natal period, for her soup to drink. He even woke up at night to check on them.
As Teopista was struggling with Christian names to call the baby, he was almost without doubt that this child was going to be the one to remove his father, Wafula from the grave.
A few weeks after the birth, Teopista dreamt that her father-in-law came to their house and asked for drinking water, looking very familiar “like someone who I have met only yesterday.”
There was no doubt over whose enguliho it should be when the naming ceremony came. Odwori’s Uncle, stood in front of his later father’s house and chanted thrice, calling on his brother to come back home.
He threw a white cock on the roof and called his name. It perched comfortably near the esisuli, the peak of the roof, after fluttering briefly and settled on the house.
The reincarnation of Wafula in the newborn baby was completed. She came to be known as Wafula Catalina.
Amidst the ululation, someone shouted “Snake” and in the early evening darkness, the silvery patched skin of a huge python was seen slithering its way into Odwori’s house where the baby was sleeping, to the horror of bystanders.
Aserena collapsed when on close inspection the reptile was seen gliding onto the low bed onto which she lay. It lay aside her, raising its head in search of something, coiling leisurely around her for a moment.
The reptile then slithered away from the child and headed quietly for the door.
As soon as it was out, Teopista rushed and snatched the child from the bed.
She hugged it tightly. A pandemonium broke out as women took off with their dresses held up above their thighs. The young men picked objects to hurl at the snake but were restrained by a call from Odwori’s uncle.
“Leave it.” He shouted in his creaking voice. “It is not a usual snake. Let it go”