The news spread around the village like the wailing after a man who had just died, beginning appropriately after his body had been clothed and straightened and his eyelids shut. Hundreds of rumors flew around in low contagious whispers
“A wizard’s blood runs through the woman’s veins. I tell you. This witchcraft is beyond words.”
On the morning after the bizarre happenings, Teopista woke up with a terrible stomach-ache. The medical clinic at the catholic mission could not find the sickness, nor did their aspirin help.
It was thus concluded that it was esikhokho. Someone who came for the naming ceremony must have stared hard at her and put things into her stomach.
The local medicine man asked for a black goat with white spots and ten thousand shillings and indeed, rotting bones of healthy Nile perch and dirty broken pieces of Coca-Cola were pulled out of her stomach. She yelled in pain during the ‘operation’ which left not a scar or even a drop of blood.
It gave Teopista a reprieve from her pain. Odwori slept peacefully for the first time in three days. The python, this time talking, in his dreams returned to torment him.
“How can you give away my child to strangers?” it said.
When he woke up, he looked at his sleeping child and wife and wondered what had come of his life.
For the first time, he felt the loneliness of a man who is supposed to care for his family in times of danger without even knowing what kind of danger he was facing.
He sat on a folding chair and sobbed quietly, like a lost child who did not know he had lost his parents at the crowded Monday afternoon market.
He wished that his father had not died so young. He had been trained at the government agricultural school in Teso to help peasants to make more money from their coffee and cotton.
On one of his farm visits, a huge caterpillar had fallen from a jack fruit tree onto his shoulder, close to his neck. Unaware of the cause of the irritation, he bent his head to flip off whatever was the inconvenience.
The sharp furs of the caterpillar had sunk deeply into his neck and disappeared within him. Two days later he was dead and buried.
He wished that his father would come back, at least in his dreams, to guide and warn him about what was threatening his family.
He turned to look at Teopista. There she was staring back at him, tears rolling down her cheeks, disappearing momentarily in the holes of her dimples, before sliding off, onto the earth floor.
The sight of her, crying silently, spoke many words. “I am fully with you through this one. For the sake of our child, we will stick together.
You know this. Do not lose heart…”
She looked beautiful to him, more than ever, the melancholic beauty which bonded people, and the uncertain future lying ahead.
This marriage and the way it happened, she thought was made somewhere else, not on this earth. In that same place, a way out will be found.
To her he looked calm, just like he had on that day during the dance, with tears drying onto his cheeks.
During that supernatural transfer of thoughts, of silent communication between but beyond man and wife, something dropped in the middle of it, like an old precious pot breaking into hundreds of tiny pieces, signalling new dangerous possibilities, like a bad omen.
It stayed and lingered around the circle of their thoughts and at that moment they knew that whatever they were fighting was going to win.
The child started to cry. She came to him and held him close as if she was going to lose him. She left the child to bawl, as if she had lost her sense of hearing. It felt like the last time he would hold her.
They did not want to let go of this new intimacy, forged on mutual fears of the unknown. They had silently thought they were going to lose the child during the python saga, but it had come to pass.
He rocked her, like a mother would rock a baby to sleep. She sobbed and sobbed more hopelessly until he let go of her, not wanting to be drawn into her emotional powerlessness.
She appeared weak for the first time since he married her. A man to cry at times of trouble was cowardly. His father would not have approved of it.
That evening when Odwori came home from the butcher, he heard people wailing the familiar way. He threw down the bicycle together with its load of two kilos of well prepared offals he had been craving for, on the road. He ran all the way to his house.
Aserena was rolling in a puddle of mud like a dog playing, shouting and scratching at her hair wildly.
His mother was holding Wafula in her arms, sited on a boulder, facing away from the crowd, totally taken up by the child, oblivious of the chaos around her, calm.
A brief strong gush of wind had carried off the roof of his hut and thrown it a few meters away, almost intact expect for one long piece of wood that held the esisuli, at the peak of the thatching to the middle of the hut.
It had gone straight through Teopista chest. When he saw her, he did not cry. He just sat down and stared. He was relieved that at least he knew the calamity that had been waiting to happen, had finally come about.
(To be continued)