KANAC Digital Anthology Series 2021 Edition: Who Knows Inkanyamba? and other stories

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WhoKnowsInkanyamba? andotherstories KANACDigitalAnthologySeries2020 VolumeOne i

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Copyright © 2022byKANACDigitalPublishingSeries.

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Foreword

TheKANACDigitalAnthologyseriesaimsatshowcasingthecreativeworksofbuddingcreativewriters,who,notonlyparticipatedintheannualKANACCreativeWritingcompetitionbut whoseworkswereshortlistedforthevariousphasesofthescreeningexercises,whichwereusuallyundertakentowardsdeterminingtheoverallwinnerineachroundofthecompetition.

Thethemeforthe2020roundoftheKANACCreativeWritingcompetitionwas“Survival.”Asusual,severalentriesinthe shortstorycategorywerereceived.Attheendofthenumerous screeningexercises,thefewworksinthisanthologymadethe finalshortlist.Theentrythatwontheoverallprizefor2020is entitled“WhoknowsInkanyamba?”Thewinner,DrTomSewe fromKenya,receivedthecashprizeofTwohundredthousand NigerianNaira.Attheendoftheawardceremony,alltheworks thatmadetheshortlistreceivedthorougheditorialreviewswith theassistanceoftheKANACmentorsandeditors.Theseservices,whicharefree,areinlinewithKANAC’svisionofusing theannualcreativewritingcompetitionasaplatformforidentifyingandnurturingbuddingcreativetalentsfromvariousparts oftheglobe.

Itisattheendofseveralrigorousreviewsandeditingservices thatthisvolumeoftheanthology,entitled“WhoknowsInkanyamba? andotherShortStories”hasemerged.Alltheshortstoriesinthis anthologyofferdeepreflectionsontheideaofsurvivalofhumanityfromvariousformsofthreats,ailments,andconditions.

Inall,theshortstoriescelebratetheruggedspiritthathasenabledhumanitytoovercomeseveraladversities,includingthe COVID-19pandemic.Asacollection,theshortstoriesareatributetoourcommonhumanity.

KANACEditors

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Contents 1 WHOKNOWSINKANYAMBA? 1 2 INOUREYESONLY 16 3 MYFIRE 27 iv

TomSeweisamedicaldoctorpracticinginNairobi,Kenya.He iscurrentlypursuingaMasterofMedicineinFamilyMedicine attheUniversityofNicosia,Cyprus.Aformergraduateofthe CreativeWritingdistanceprogramattheWesleyanUniversity inConnecticut,USA,heisalsoapublishednovelist(“ABlood Odyssey”)andanessayist.Hishobbiesincludeplayingtheviolin andlisteningtooperamusic.“WhoKnowsInkanyamba?”ishis debutshortstory.

1.WHOKNOWSINKANYAMBA?
1 TomSewe

InourgodforsakenvillageofAgogogo,therainhadsimplyrefusedtofall.Itseemedasthoughthesunrainedandtherain merelyshone.Thedewbecamethetearsofacat.Evenifit wouldhaverained,I’mreadytoswearthatthere’snochancethe fieldswouldhaveeverbeengreenagain.Thesununforgivingly parchedthelandandseemeddeterminedtoensurenobladeof grasssurvivedabovetheheightofthesmalltoe.Ifgiventhecontract,Iimagine,thesunwouldhaveagreedtoworkevenatnight.

Reducedtoskinandbones,thescrawnyanimalsbrowsedthrough thedearthoftheearth.Theyforagedfarandwide,strivingtoeat orelsebeeatenbythedrought.

Otoyotherainmakerhadlosttherespectofourpeoplewhenhe failedtoconjureevenaspitofrain.Theelderssaidthedrought hadbeencausedbytheerrantcourseofourpeople,fortheyhad departedfromthewaysofourancestors.Theworldhadsimply gonemad.Theboyshadtossedawaytheirloinclothsandhad begunwearingslacks,whilethegirlswerenowcakingtheirfaces anddrawingtheireyebrows.

Themouthofaneldermaystink,itistrue,butoutofitoften comeswisdom,andsowefoundnoreasontodisbelievethem. ManywerethegoatsthatwesacrificedatthefootofGotHill—for onedoesnotvisittheancestorsempty-handed—butdoyouthink theproudgodscouldbeappeased?Well,whoknowsInkanyamba? OnlyGod.

Inabidtoreturnthepeopletotheoldenways,theeldersestablishedearlymorningvillagemeetings.There,Amuyunzuthe chiefelderwouldspeakasshrewdpeopledo,advisingthewomen andthechildren.ListeningtoAmuyunzu’sspeeches,onewould neverhaveimaginedthatheoncesuckledathismother’sbreasts. Wisewashiswords,andabonelesstonguewashis.Onlytheelderlyandtheinfirmwereexemptedfromthemeetings.Otoyo therainmaker,havingattainedbothqualifications,wasnaturally excused.Sinceitisimpolitetodiscusspeople’sinfirmityincom-

WHOKNOWSINKANYAMBA?
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monsociety,letmeonlymentioninpassingthatNyang’the reveredcrocodilehadrelievedhimofhalfofhispairofbuttocks oncewhilebathingattheriver.Itwasregrettablethatforlack ofprey,thecrocodileshadtakentoscathingpeople’sbuttocksto survivethedrought.

Agogogobusybodieswilldeceiveyouthattoavoidacrocodile attackwhilebathing,onesimplyneedstoturnone’sbuttocks againstthereptile.Donotbelieveit.AskOtoyo.Butonthe brightside,thosestubbornbuttockshavenowlearnedsomewisdom.

Afterthemorningjamboree,likethebatthatknowssheisugly andthereforeonlyfliesoutatnight,theuglywomenflewback totheirmothers’houses.Theretheyperchedontheirstoolsand spenttheirdaycakingtheirfacesanddrawingtheireyebrows, arguingaboutwhichofthemwasthemostbelovedbyVuyanzi themuscular,villagewarrior.Alas,thebatbathedandaskedher childrenwhethershehadbecomebeautiful,buttheytoldher thattodayshewasuglierthanever.

Thebeautifulwomen,however,frolickedtowardsthewelltodraw watertopreparenyuka(porridge)forthevillagers.Later,asthe menslurpedtheirsteamingporridgefromtheiragwata(calabash), theydevelopedlongeyesightforthewomen.Theteenageboys, ontheirpart,grewlongeyelidsendowedwithasenseoftouch, especiallywheneverAnyinglikeagiraffegallopedby.Watching theoldmenviewiththeyoungmenforAnying’sattention,I wonderedwhatsometimespossessesthebaldvulturetoplaitits hair.

IfweweretodescribeAnying,asisthecustominstories,her beautymighthavebeendescribedassevere.Herfeatureswere irreproachable.InAnying,itseemedasthoughnaturehaddone itsjobwithinfallibleworkmanship.Justastheeveningsunpeeks behinddroopingpalmtreefronds,sodidAnying’seyespeekbehindhersilkeneyelashes.Asregardshercurlyhair...well,it wouldhavebeenbettertotouchitfirstbeforesayingaword.

Agogogopeople,doyouknow,believedthatagirlwhoatechicken gizzardswouldhavebigbreasts.Ican’tsayhowmanychicken

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gizzardsAnyingateeveryday,Ileavetheestimationtothereader’s discretion,hopingthathe’sofgoodmodesty.Theyoungerwomen whocarriedlemon-sizedbreastswerealwaysenviousofher,though theynevershowedit.Smallbreasts,notI,butsomepeoplesay, areatelltalesignofanenviouswoman.

EventhoughAnyingwasverybeautiful,itwasawell-knownsecretthathercookingwasnogood.Ifshehadn’tburnttheporridge,shemusthaveoversaltedtheSukuma(kales).Andwhenevershewasasked,shealwayssaidthatthatwasthethingshe wantedtoeat.

Thefull-belliedmenwouldthentaketheseriousdogstohunt, whileKokothecrazydogwouldbeleftbehind,barkingforhours atthefootoftheirokotree.I’mnotspeakingoftheirokotree atthesouthernendofAgogogo,buttheonethatstoodnearthe well—theonewiththebuttressroots.Whencomingfromthe granary,afterpassingOtoyo’shut,ifyouturntoyourright,you can’tmissit.

TwowordsnowaboutKokothecrazydog.Hedidnothavepredatorylookingfeatures,andsonobodytookhisbarkingseriously.Those whostrodebyusedtohurldrybonesathim,saying“PoorKoko, heisalwayshungry.”IfonlyKokowouldspeak,hewouldhave toldthesillyhumansthatdogsdon’tpreferbonestomeat,it’s justthatnobodygivesthemmeat.Despiteallthisinjustice,asall dogsbelieve,thecasebetweenthemandhumanswillnotendon earth,theywilllitigateinheaven.

Tosurvive,Kokoresortedtoeatingcactusplantsalongthehedges. Whyitissaidthateventhelioneatsgrasswhenitcannotget meat.Innature,therearenoruleswhenitcomestosurvival.

Onceallthemenhadgirdedtheirloinswithbowsandarrowsand hadleftthevillagewiththeirdogs,Otoyotherainmakerwould emergefromhishut.Hispendulousbelly,asamatterofcourse, alwaysexitedthehutaminutebeforetherestofhisbodyfollowed.Standingatthethresholdofhisshelterhewouldwatch theorange,risingsunasitfloodedthesky.Afteramoment’s passing,hewouldspitoutandshout:“Tho!Mayitrisewell!” ThosewerethewordswithwhichOtoyobeganhiseverymorn-

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ing.

HisfirstorderofbusinessforeachdaywastosilenceKokothe crazydog,who,asamatterofcourse,wouldbebarkingaway atthefootoftheirokotreebynow.“Stupiddog!Damnation takeyou!Plaguetakeyou!”hewoulddoleoutthesamecurses eachtime,hurlingathimthesamedrybonehehadrejectedthe previousday.AfterKokohadfledfordearlife,Otoyowouldlimp awaymuttering,“Whatthegoatseesandissilentabout,thecrazy dogseesandbarksuntildaybreak.”WhathadKokoseen?Indeed, whoknowsInkanyamba?OnlyGod.

Sittingundertheirokotreeonhisthree-leggedstool,Otoyowould whileawaythehourssmokinghispipe.Howhebalancedupon onesurvivingbuttockonathree-leggedstool,Ican’texplain,and Iasktobeexcusedfromaccountingforthemechanics.Thuslyhe wouldspendhisday,puffingawayandlookingatthings—which isnotaneasyoccupation,incidentally,foreventhesheepsay thatlookingatthingsiswork.Suchwasthemorningroutineat Agogogothosedays.

Otoyo’srain-makingpowersgrewweakerandweaker.Theonly relicofhisoldsuccesswashisgreat,whitebeard,intowhich,it waswhispered,beetleshadnestedandhadraisedtheiryoung.

Hisdwindlingprowessattractedthescornofthevillagers.Sometimeshewouldheartheyoungboysmockinghim,saying:“If beardssignifiedintelligence,thegoatwouldhavebeenagenius.” Howtheywouldlaughaway,rollingonthegroundwhileslappingtheirthighs.

ButevenwhenOtoyowasnottheobjectoftheirlaughter,he alwayssuspectedthatpeoplewerealwayslaughingathim,just liketheoldwomanwhobecomesuneasywheneverdrybones arementionedinaproverb.

Nowtheoldman’sfortunequicklyfritteredaway.Hisonlyremainingpossessionwashisleopard-skinovercoat,whoseseams hesharedwithafewwidowedroaches.Buthewasproudofthe garment,foreventhetortoiselooksathisshellandsaysthathis familydidwelltodresshiminagarmentofiron.

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Dayafterdaythedisgracedrainmakerponderedoverhowhe couldreinventhimselftosurvivethehardshipbroughtabout bythefamine.Herememberedwithmelancholyhisoldendays ofopulence.Howheusedtosummonrainshitherandunleash thunderstormsthither.Heattemptedtoplyhistradeasamedicine manbutmetwithnosuccess.Laterheeventriedtogainhislivingasanexorcist,butonlyfellintodeeperdisgrace.

Onemorning,ashockingthinghappenedinAgogogo.Justaftereveryonehadfinishedslurpinguptheirporridge,weheard thedreadfulscreamsofawoman.“Uuuuuwi!”Criedthewoman. Whenweranout,wefoundAnyingdartingacrosstheyard,a childdanglinginherhands.Thechildwaspossessedbyterrible seizures.Shebecameverysick.Anyinglaidherinashadeunder thegreatiroko.Onebyone,allthefamedherbalistsandhealers werecalledandtheytriedtocureher,buttheyweredefeated.

Thevillagerssurroundedthechildandwatchedhelplesslyasthe seizurescontortedherlittlebodyandrolledhereyes.Somepeoplethoughtitwasbrainfever,otherssworeitwasawormtakingcontrolofhermind.ThecouncilofeldersoverruledeveryoneanddeclaredthatitwasInkanyamba.Butwhoknows Inkanyamba?OnlyGod.

Onthefollowingdayafterporridgetime,whileAnying’schild wasstillconvalescing,anothershrillcrypenetratedtheyard.When wedashedout,wefoundUzomaholdinganothergirlwhowas grippedbyseizuresevenworsethanthefirst.Theseizuresclenched herjaws,threwherhands,andfoamedthecornersofhermouth.

Alltheleadingmedicinemenweresummonedonceagain,butas before,theyweredefeated.Theelderssuggestedthattheexorcistsbecalledupon,buttheirfailurewasevenmorespectacular. Nocurefortheterriblediseasewastobefoundinalltheland.

Themotherstriedtokeeptheirchildrenawake,forawoman whofearsthatherchildmaydiedoesnotpermithertosleepfor toolong.Thetwochildrenfinallyfellasleepandwokeupdead, havingbeengatheredtotheirpeople.

Theirmothersdustedthemselveswithashesandbeattheirchests, weepingforthegirlswhohaddiedbeforetheyhadevengrown

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breasts.Theirfatherstoreofftheirhidesandhowledthemselves intolongmouths,mourningthechildrenthathadcomeoutof theirthighs.EvenVuyanzithevillagewarrior,whoseeyeballs wethoughthadlongdriedup,criedriversenoughtopoisonthe landwithsalt.Asuddenevent,itissaid,istoomuchforastrong man.

Thechildren’sdeathssaddenedeveryoneinourvillage.Onthe dayofthefuneral,themournersweregivenbucketstoprove theirlovebyfillingthemwithtears.Moreteardropsfellinthat funeralthantheraindropsthatfellinAgogogothatwholeyear. Eventhoughmostofthemournerscried,afewwereunableto shedevenatear.Carryingthecorpseofanotherperson’schild, somepeoplesay,islikecarryingabundleoffirewood.

Formanynightsafterthefuneral,Vuyanziledthewarriorsof Agogogoinkeepingvigilaroundthevillage.Amuyunzuand thecouncilofeldersboundtheirheadstogetherandspentlong nightswhisperingaboutmanythings—thingsaboutwhichthe moonmustnothear.Buttherewasoneyoungelderamongthem calledMiyawa,who,wheninvitedtospeak,notknowingwhatto say,alwaysremarkedthathiscompanionshadalreadysaideverythinghehadwantedtosay.

Themysteryatetheelders’heads.Likecuriousturtlestheycraned theirwrinklednecksandofferedmanysuggestions,inflictingtheir oppressivebreathsoneachother’sfaces.Intheend,justastoo muchdiscussionleadstoaquarrel,theeldersarguedanddismissedthemeetingswithnoagreement.

Nightafternight,eachnewmeetingbroughtmoreconfusion thanthelast,andtheelderswouldretirewithadejectedspirit. Walkingwithhandsbehindtheirbackslikepensivemaraboustocks, theywouldretreat,eachonetohishut.Whatdiseasewaseating Agogogo’schildren?WhoknowsInkanyamba?OnlyGod.

WhenthediabolicseizuresrevisitedAgogogoforthethirdtime, oldOtoyojusthappenedtobelimpingacrossthechildren’splayfield.Seeingoneofthechildrenthrowntothegroundandgripped bytheconvulsions,Otoyocriedout:“Jowaa!Bringtheboytome, andIwillhealhim!”

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Thevillagersatfirstwerehesitant,fortheformerrainmaker’s powerswerebelievedtohavelefthim.TheyconsultedAmuyunzu thechiefelder,butevenhewasreluctanttoletOtoyotryhis hand.Seeingastheseizuresweregettingworsebytheminute andalloptionshadbeenexhausted,theotherelderseventually prevaileduponAmuyunzutogiveOtoyoachance.

“Otoyomightnotknowhowtomakerain,”saidoneoftheelders, “buthewhodoesnotknowonethingprobablyknowsanother.”

“That’sexactlywhatIwantedtosay,”saidMiyawa,theyoungelder.

Indeed,”concludedAmuyunzu.“Iftwowisemenalwaysagree, thenthereisnoneedforoneofthem.Tryyourluck,Otoyo!” Otoyoatoncewenttowork.Squattinglikeatoad,heretrieved abundleofgreenleavesfromhishaunchesbeneathhisleopard skin.Aftercrushingtheleavesbetweenapairofflatstones,he spatintothepowdertoformapaste.Hethenrubbedthemixture acrossthewrithingboy’steeth,forhisclenchedjawswouldn’t open.

Forafullmoment,thebystanderswatchedinanticipatorybreathlessness.Toeveryone’ssurprise,theconvulsionsceasedwithina shorttime.Theboywascured!Heroseandskippedawayjustas adeerdoes,andwenttoplaywiththeotherchildren.That’sthe strangethingabouthearts,theyalwayswanttokeepbeating.

Thewomenwereinawe.TheyliftedOtoyoshoulder-highand sanginhispraise.“Otoyo,Otoyo,conquerorofInkanyamba,” theychanted.ThelongmouthsofAgogogoturnedintowide smiles.

TheybroughtOtoyogiftsofgroundnuts,barley,andcassava. Tryingtoplaymodestly,heatfirstrefusedthegifts,saying:“The uprightmandoesagooddeedandthrowsitintothesea.”Butit isdifficultforthetortoisetorunawayfromhisshell.Andsoit wasnottoolongbeforehebeganacceptingthegifts.

AfewdaysafterOtoyohadcuredtheboy,theseizuresbefellanotherchildofAgogogo.Thistime,however,thevillagerswere

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notworried.Therunnerswerequicklydispatchedtogoandcall Otoyofromhishut.Hearrivedatthesceneasfastashecould limp,hissecretantidotetuckedunderhisleopardskin.Justas before,Otoyocuredthechild.

NeighboringvillagesheardoftheworksofOtoyotheGreat.They broughtsickchildrenfromdistantlandstobegivenmedicine, andOtoyoadministeredtothemhissecretconcoction.Some business-mindedrivalstriedtoinquirefromhimwhathismedicine wasmadeof,andOtoyoreadilytoldthemitwasmadeofthe heartofanant.Toothers,hesaiditwasmadeofthehornof adog.Heevenofferedtopaythemlargesumsiftheysupplied himwiththeseparts.

Whenhisjealousrivalscouldnotfindtheprizedingredients, theybeganclaimingthatcuringseizureswas,afterall,notadifficultthing.Itisjustastheysayifanenemykillsaleopard,itis saidhekilledasleepingone.

ButOtoyotauntedthem,saying:“Ifurinationisnotdifficult,let thechickendoit.”

Otoyokepthisconcoctionaclosely-guardedsecret.Heincreasinglyperformedhisritualswithgreatceremony.Hebegandonningapeacock’stail-featherinhishair.Withinaweekhestarted insistingthathisspecialremedybepartakenofonlywhilefacingtherisingsunintheeast.Inanotherweekhechangedthe rules,stipulatingthatablackchickenbebroughttohimbefore anyriteswereperformed.Eventually,hebegandemandingno lessthanayoungram.Soon,theyoungramshadtobetwins.

Foreignvisitorsandtravelingmerchantslinedupathisdoorwith twinrams,giftsofspices,porcupinequills,pangolinscales,and otherexoticthingsfromfar-awaylands.OldmanOtoyobecame verywealthy.Hegotaccustomedtogoodliving.Soonhishutwas toosmalltohouseallthegifts.Hebecamethehenthatgathered plentyofwealthbuthadnohandstoamassit.

Onedayfatedecidedtoarrangethingsdifferently.Vuyanzithe villagewarriorsecretlyremainedbehindasthevillagersattended themorninggathering.LongbeforeoldmanOtoyohadcome

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outofhishut,Vuyanziclimbedupthetallirokotree,sothathe hadavantagepointofthewholevillage.Knowingwellthatone doesnotrecognizeablackgoatatnight,hewaitedfordaybreak toseethedarkspiritsthatwerebedevilingAgogogo.

Vuyanzithevillagewarrior,forthosewhodidnotknowhim,had yamsimplantedinhisbicepsandcassavainhiscalves.Healways usedtogrindhisteeth,sothatpeoplethoughthewasconstantly chewinggroundnuts.Itwasalwaysasighttobehold—thetwo largepistonspoppinginandoutofVuyanzi’smassivetemplesat synchronousintervals,asmandiblemetmandible.

Whenyounger,hewasmadthathismotherhadnamedhim Vuyanzi,forhisname,whenlooselytranslatedfromourlanguage,means“hewhoseheadisshapedlikeakolanut.”This shapewasmoldedbythegreatforcesoftheearth,havingbeen droppedtoomanytimesasababy.Noonethoughthewouldsurvivetohisfifthbirthday.I’mpleasedtoannouncethatVuyanzi surprisedeveryonebyoutlivingeventhevegetarians.

I’mnotatallimplyingthatVuyanziwasugly,forthegirlswere ofteninfeversforhim.Butevenifheweretobeugly,ugliness withagoodcharacterisbetterthanbeauty.Hecouldhavegatheredarmfulsofgirlsifhewished,buthechosenotto.Inall events,hewasagoodspecimenofashrewdwarrior.

Upintheirokotree,Vuyanziremainedconcealedamongthe leaves.Likeagreensnakeingreengrass,hecouldseebutcould notbeseen.Quietlyhewaitedtospotthetwo-tailedlizardthat hadkeptslayingAgogogo’schildren.Alllizardslieontheirstomachs,butitissaidwecannevertellwhichonehasastomachache. Andifthetwo-tailedlizardisnotkilled,onewiththreetailswill come.

Hourspassed,butnothinghappened.Vuyanzi’sbicepyamssoon begantotrembleandhiscassavacalvesbegantocramp.However,heenduredliketheelephantwhodoesnotlimpwhenwalkingonthorns.Heknewthatitissurvival,notbravery,thatcompelsamantoclimbathornytree.Clenchinghismassivejaws,he hangson,rememberingthewisewordsofAmuyunzu:“Ifyou donothavepatienceyoucannotmakebeer.”Patiently,Vuyanzi

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madehisbeer.

Justasthefirstraysoftherisingsunburstthroughtheskies, aman’svoicewasheardexclaiming:“Tho!Mayitrisewell.” VuyanzithenheardthemancurseKokothedog,yelling“Devil takeyou!”whilethrowingobjectsatit.Amovementflashedatthe cornerofVuyanzi’slefteye.Next,alongshadowwascastacross theground,followedbytheclearapparitionofOtoyohimself.

Likeahippopotamuspushedoutofthewaterbyhunger,Otoyo wasagitatinghiswalkingstickwithsuchvigor,youwouldthink hewaskneadingugali(maizemeal)outoftheearth.WhenVuyanzi sawtheoldmanhurriedlylimpacrosstheyard,itoccurredto himatoncethatthetoaddoesnotrunintheafternoonfornothing.

OtoyoslowlyapproachedthefootoftheirokotreeinwhichVuyanzi washiding.Afterthrowingfleetinglooksbehindhisshoulders, theoldtoadsquattedandthrusthisarthritichandintoacrevice betweenthebuttressroots—theveryspotatwhichKokothecrazy dogbarkedeverymorning.Itisjustasthewiseeldersusedtosay; ashortpersonhangshisbagwherehishandcanreach.Otoyo gropedforashortwhilebeforeretrievingabundleofredleaves outofthecrevice.

Glancingbehindhimasecondtime,heproceededtocrushthe redleavesbetweenapairofflatstones.Hethengatheredthe powderintohispalms,spatitintohistremblinghands,andproceededtokneadthemixture.Allthewhile,Vuyanziheldhis breathandobservedinsilencefromabove,knowing,perhaps, thataroaringlionkillsnoprey.

WhenOtoyowasdonewithhisalchemy,hereachedhishands intotheoppositecornerofthecrevice.Thistimeheretrieved abundleofgreenleaves,whichheimmediatelystashedunder hisleopardskin.Theredpoisonheputonhisleftsideandthe greenantidoteonhisright.

Ashearosefromhissquattingposition,Vuyanzicouldhearthe oldman’sbonescrackinglikeabundleofdryfirewood.“Wololo yayeeee,onding’a!”Otoyogroanedunderhisbreath,bemoaning

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hisbackofmanyyears.Supportinghisbackwithonehand,he agitatedhiswalkingstickwiththeotherashelimpedtowardthe well.

Uponreachingthenearbywell,andafterlookingaskancetomake surenobodywaswatching,hereachedintohisleftpocketand tossedthemysteriousredmixtureintothewaterydepths.Like thehenthatpecksandwipesitsbeak,Otoyothendustedhis handsandturnedaroundtoleave.

BeforeOtoyocouldmaketwosteps,Vuyanzi,likeapanther,leaped frombranchtobranchandpouncedontheoldman.“Amaki! Janeko!”(Ihavefoundyou,murderer!)Heutteredotherunprintablethings,whichIsuspectmightviolatemyreader’shonor,and whichI,therefore,hadbetterleaveuntranslated.

“Allheadsarethesame,butnotallthoughtsarethesame,”Vuyanzi saidashegavetheoldmanoneinthebellyandanotherinthe throat.Kokothecrazydog,Iimagine,mighthavebeenkilledby suchblows.ButOtoyowasaleathery,oldmanwithtoughmeat. Someevenusedtojoke,sayingNyang’thecrocodilemusthave hadahardtimechewingOtoyo’smeat.

Onedoesnotseethechicken’sanusuntilwhenthewindblows. Thewindhasfinallyrevealedyournakedness,”saidVuyanzi,holdinghimbythescruffofhisneck,likealionessholdsoneofher naughtycubs.

“Ng’wonnayawa!Jachienjamriambo!”(Forgiveme,please!The evilonehasbeguiledme!)Otoyopleaded,butthewarriorwould hearnoneofit.Vuyanziconfiscatedboththepoisonandtheantidoteandthrustthemintohispocket.Seizingtheoldmanbyhis beetle-infestedbeard,hehauledhimtowardsthevillagemeeting asthepairyelledmanythingswhichIcan’tnowclearlyremember.

Aftermuchstruggle,thetwoarrivedatthemeetinggroundsjust asthecouncilofelderswasabouttodismissthemorninggathering.Inthefullviewofthevillagers,Vuyanzidroppedtheold manatthecenteroftheclearinglikeastackofbonesinthe skin.Hethenraisedhisrighthandandannounced:“Peopleof

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Agogogo,listen.Ifadeceitfulpersonburieshimself,oneofhis armswillstickout.TodayIsawthedeathfularmsofInkanyamba! Mytwoeyeshavewitnessedthetwo-tailedlizardthathasbeen killingourchildren.OldmanOtoyohasbeenpoisoningthe well.”

“Ayayayaya!”criedthewomen,holdingthebackoftheirheads. ButOtoyotwistedhismouthandspokeupinself-defense:“My people.You’rewellawareofmyknowledgeofherbalmedicine. Iwasonlydisinfectingthewell.Buthere,astubbornchildwho doesnotknowmedicinecallsitpoison.”

“Onewhocausesothersmisfortunealsoteachesthemwisdom,” saidVuyanzi.“Fromourmisfortunes,wehavebecomewiser.”

Hethenrelatedtothevillagershowhehadwaitedatoptheiroko treeandwitnessedOtoyomixaredpoisonandtossitintothe well.Inallthis,however,Vuyanzididn’tsayawordaboutthe confiscatedherbs,whichwerestillinhispocket.

“Holdon,Vuyanzi,”saidAmuyunzuthechiefelder.“Hotsoup shouldbedrunkslowly.DoyoumeantosaythisOtoyothatwe seehasbeenpoisoningourwater?”

“Youhearmecorrectly,”repliedVuyanzi.

“Mayooooo!”thewomenexclaimedagain.Oneofthemshouted: “Theherbalistwhosemedicinecauseddysentery—doeshethink hisbuttockswillbesparedfromdiarrhea?”

ButOtoyosaid:“Ifsomeoneyouhatehasasmallrash,youcall itleprosy.Donotexaggeratematters,mypeople.Iamarespectableoldman.Youhaveknownmefordecades.Ibegyou nottobemisledbymaliciousslanderers.”

“PeopleofAgogogo,”saidVuyanzi,“aren’twelikethekinsmen ofamadmanwhofeelshameyetthemadmanhimselfdoesnot feelit.”

Thecouncilofelderslistenedinsilenceasthepeopledeliberated.Seeingbutnotspeakingisacharacteristicofelders,andso thewisemenusedtheireyestodividethemeatthatwasinthe

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soup.Whenallhadbeensaidandbothsideshadbeenheard,the eldersretreatedintoaprivatehearingtodecidetheverdict.As usual,theyboxedeachother’snoseswiththeirfoulbreaths.

“Otoyoisguilty.Heoughttobeforcefullyfedonthesamepoison heusedtokillourchildren,”saidthefirstelder.

“IsayOtoyooughttobefedtoNyang’thecrocodileasapunishment,sothatthereptilemayfinishthemealithadbegun,”said thesecondelder.

“BecauseOtoyohaskilled,shallwekillhimtoo?”disagreedthe thirdelder.“Suchapunishmentwouldbeworsethanthecrime itself.Judgmentrenderedshouldneverbemoreevilthanthe transgression.”

“Ifyouseeanoldwomaneatingchickendroppings,”saidthe fourthelder,“youtakeherawayfromthembecauseiftheygive heracoughitwillspreadtoeveryone.Otoyohaseatenchicken droppingsandhasbecomesick.Ifwedon’ttakehimawayfrom Agogogo,hewillkillallourchildren.”

ButMiyawatheyoungelder,asalways,havingnothingtosay, saidthathiscolleagueshadalreadysaideverythinghewanted tosay,andonlyaddedthattheyoungtortoiseshadgrownalot lately.

Aftermuchcontemplation,thecouncilofeldersreachedadecision.Amuyunzuaroseandwenttoannouncetothevillagers: “Friendsaftertheflyingtermitefinishesflyingabout,itfallsand iseatenbythetoad.Otoyohasshamedourvillage.ThedecisionisherebymadetobanishhimfromAgogogoandtoban himfromeversettingfootinourvillageagain.Onlyhislife,and nothingelse,ishetocarryawaywithhim.”

Agoodword,theysay,hasnoanswer.

Theneighboringvillagesheardaboutthemischievousactsof Otoyo.Therichmerchantsstoppedcomingtopayanhomage tohim.Theywereliketheboywho,eversincehelookedup andsawthewinetapper’shemorrhoidswhileatoptheraffiapalm tree,becamenolongerinterestedinwhatwasbeingtapped.

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AfterOtoyowasexiledfromthevillage,everythingwasgradually restoredtonormalcy.Theseizuresnolongerafflictedthechildren.Thevillagersreturnedtothegood,oldwaysoftheirancestors.Therainsbegantofall,andthecropssprouted.Inkanyamba hadfinallybeenappeased.

Anyingbecameheavywithanotherchild.Asbefore,thebeautifulwomenwenttodrawwatertomakeporridgeforthevillagers everymorning.Theuglywomenstillhidlikebatsintheirmothers’darkhouses.Boththeuglyandthebeautiful,allthesame, wereashappyaskings.Kokothecrazydognolongerbarked atthefootoftheirokotree.Anemptysilencelayintheshade whereOtoyousedtosit,lookingatthings.

Onemorning,Kokobegantobarkatthesamespotagain.That sameday,rightafterporridgetime,thepiercingcryofamother washeard.Inherhands,ayoungchildwassufferingseizures. TherewasnoOtoyotocall.Somevillagerssaidtheoldman’s spirithadreturnedtohauntthem.

“Icancurethechild,”saidVuyanzi,withlarge,roundeyes,astwo largepistonspoppedinandoutofhismassivetemples.Vuyanzi knelt,pulledoutabundleofgreenleavesandproceededtowhittleamixture,andcuredthechild.Whilehewasrisingfromhis position,abundleofredleavesaccidentallyfellfromhisgarment.ButwhoknowsInkanyamba?OnlyGod.

15

MarcusAlex-IvanHowardcurrentlyresidesatMosselBay,South Africa.HeisSoftwaredeveloperanddataengineer.

2.INOUREYESONLY
16 MarcusAlex-IvanHoward

INOUREYESONLY

Thesilencewasheavy.Youthfulvoicesfromplayingchildren andthelazygroansfromgrazingcattlefilledthedistantair;an affablebreezesoftlybrushedthroughthemid-morningleavesof thevillagetreesandplayedbrieftunesonwindchimeshereand there;busyfingerswhisperedintheshadeofthearbourasthey skillfullysmearedcolourontovirginclay.Butthesilencebetweenthetwowomenwasheavy.Itwasheavywiththetearsthat itwasholdingback,heavywiththepainoflossthatitwassuppressing.Yet,ifArmawere,tobehonest,itwasn’tquiteenough.

Asshesatwithhermotherpaintingtheirnewclaydishes,she wishedthattheseeverydaysoundstoowouldjustdisappearfor awhile.Intruth,shewishedshecouldknowwhatthesilenceof absolutenon-existencewouldbelike.

“Arma,”hermotherstarted,“yourheartisheavy,Icantell.” Armadidnotreply.

“That’sthesecondbowlnowthatyouarepaintingonlyblack,” hermothercontinuedafterawhile.

Still,Armadidnotreply.

“Arma,talktome.Whatisitthatistroublingyourmind?”

ReluctantlyArmaresponded:“WhycanInotpaintallthepots blackifIwantedto,Mother?”sheasked,avoidinghermother’s question,andhopingtoextinguishanyfurtherconversation.

“Ifyouaregoingtopaintallofthemblack,youmightaswellnot paintthematall.”

Armafinishedthebowlinherhandsandputitdownonthesoil withalightthud.

“Wellthen,Mother,ifyouwillexcuseme,Ishallrathergoand busymyselfwithsomethingelse.”

Armagotupandstartedwalkingoutfromunderneaththeshade towardsherhut.

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“Arma!”hermothercalledafterher.“Comebackandsitdown.”

Armastopped.Shewasn’tinthemoodforarguingwithhermother andknewbetternottoanyway.Shegaveasigh,returned,andsat downonhergrassmatagain.

“Youhavethreemorecrockstopaint,”hermotherremarked. Armaknewfullwellthatthatmeanthermotherwasn’tgoingto letherleavebeforeallthecrockswerepainted.Motionlesslyshe satforawhile,claspingherkneestoherchest;then,withanother sigh,pickeduponeoftheremainingunpaintedpotsandbent overtoreachfortheblackpaint.Buthermotherquicklypushed theblackpaintasideandshovedthebowlwithredpaintinfront ofherhand.

“Mother...”Armaprotested,castinganannoyedglancetowards theolderlady.

“Youcannothaveonlyblackdishesinyourhut,”theoldladyexplained.

“Theyareonlypotsandbowls,Mother.Soonenoughtheywill breaktoo,andwe’llhavetodothisalloveragain.Whywastethe timedecoratingthem?Itwon’tmakethechildrenwhoeatfrom themanystronger.”

“Ah,”hermothersaidwithaknowingtoneinheragedvoice, makingitcleartoArmathatshehadjustrevealedmoreabout herdespondencythanshehadintendedto.

Sheinstinctivelycasthereyesaway.

“Itwon’t,Isuppose,butitwillmaketheirlivesalittlebrighter, don’tyouthink?”Arma’seyebrowsraisedindefence.

“Willit?”sheasked,hertonedrippingwithsarcasm.“Itwon’t bringbacktheirfather.”

Howcouldhermothernotunderstand,Armawondered?Here shewas,stillearlyinherchildbearingyearsandalreadywidowed.Herfirstchildwasameretwoyearsold,andshewasfour monthspregnantwithhersecond.Notsolongagoshewasstill lookingforwardtoraisingalargefamilywithherhusband–her

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bestfriend,herchildhoodlove–andnowshewaswishingthat hersecondchildwouldneverbeborn.Thethoughtofhaving birthedonechildintothisworldofsufferingwasterribleenough; thethoughtofbirthingasecondwasalmostunbearable.Forthe child’sownsakeshewishedtheuniversewouldletthemslipinto theblissofdeathbeforetheyeventooktheirfirstbreath.Theold lady’svoicedrewhermindbacktothepresent.

“Iknowyouarestillinalotofpain,Arma,butyouhavetotry andseepastthepaintothebeautythatstillliesahead.”

Anacidicgruntofdisagreementandannoyanceslippedfrom Arma’sthroatbeforeshecouldeventrytoquellit.

“Beauty,”shemurmured,“Ican’tthinkofany‘beauty’thatwill outweightheirsuffering.”Sheavoidedlookingathermother, keepinghereyesontheyet-unpaintedpotinherlap.

Afewmomentslatersheheardthethudofearthenwarebeing putdown,thenthefamiliarswooshoffeetaboutagrassmatas theoldladyunfoldedherlegsandraisedherselfwithasignificanteffortfromhersittingposition,accompaniedbythetell-tale moansofoldage.Armasmirked.SeewhatImean,Mother?How canyoutellmeabout“beauty”thatstillliesaheadwhenyourown lifethesedaysisnothingbutachesandpains,stiffbonesandpoor sight?Shewaitedforhermother’sfootstepstodisappearintothe hut,thencastaquickglancebackwardstoconfirmtoherselfthat shewasfinallyalone.

Asighleftherchest.Shefeltguiltyandrelievedatthesametime. Hadshebeentoorudetohermother?Sheknewtheoldwoman wasonlytryingtohelp,but...HermindslippedbacktoArjen beforeshecouldfinishhertrainofthought,andtearsinstantly welledupinhereyes.Shethoughtaboutthelastlookhegave herashelefttheirhutinarushtojointheotherwarriors:his eyeswerefilledwithfear,anguish,love,withpain.Aknifecut throughhersoulforthehundredthtimeasthememoryplayed out.Thenherthoughtsjumpedaheadtothenightshewokeina coldsweatandcouldn’tgobacktosleepagain;twodayslaterthe warriorsreturned,severelywoundedandonlyhalfinnumber. Arjenwasnotamongthem.“Beauty,”shemurmuredagainto

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herselfsarcastically,andimpulsivelyswitchedtheredpaintfor theblack.

Thesweetsmellofhotorangeblossomteatrickledthroughthe doorofhermother’shutandwassoonfollowedbytheoldlady herself,carryingawoodenservingdishwithasteamingpouring bowlandtwosmallerdrinkingbowls.

“It’stimefortea,”hermotherannouncedasifitweren’talready evident.

Armawatchedfromthecornersofhereyesasthepairofold, worn,swollenfeetshuffledacrossthegroundandcametoahalt justshortofhergrassmat.Herhandsstoppedsmearingpaint anddroppedintoherlap,cradlingthepotshewasbusywith. Shefeltaneedtoapologiseforherearlierrudeness,butcouldn’t pushtheapologypastthelumpinherthroat.Thensheputthe potdownandobedientlyrosetotakethedishfromhermother’s handsandplaceitonthefloorbetweentheirmats.Relievedfrom thedish,theoldladytooktothearduoustaskofsettingherself downagain.Armawatchedinsilenceandthenreturnedtoher matoncehermotherwassettled.

Thehotteamadeanoddlycomfortingsoundashermotherpoured itfromthelargerbowlintothetwodrinkingbowls.Despiteher earlierneedforabsolutesilence,thissoundwasonethatshe couldbear,ifnotwelcomed.Perhapsitwasthesweetsmellthat accompaniedit?Perhapssomethingelse?Armathoughtaboutit foramomentbutthendecidedthatshedidn’tcaretounderstand itfurther.

“Arma,”theoldlady’svoicestartedagainoncebothsheandher daughterhadawarmbowloffreshteaintheirhands.“Doyou rememberwhenwestartedusingthispouringbowlandthese drinkingbowls?”

Armagavethebowlsacloserlook.Shehadknownthemforyears now–oratleastthepatternsthatdecoratedthem–andhadnot thoughtabouttheirhistoryinquitesometime.Shenowrecalled withouttrouble,though,thattheystartedusingthemwhenher fathersuccumbedtotheGreatFeversomesevenyearsago.Eigh-

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teenmembersoftheirtribe–mothers,fathersandchildren–weretakenbytheFeverthatyear.WhentheFeverhadpassed, thechiefcalledaceremonytobeheldonthefirstnewmoonof thespring.Thenewmoonceremonywasawell-establishedtraditionoftheirtribeandwasheldwhenevertherewasalossoflife –whetherthetribehadlostonlyasinglememberormultiple. Duringsuchaceremonythebereavedfamilieswouldcrushtheir oldcrocksandreplacethemwithnewones.Tomorrownight theyweregoingtohavesuchaceremonyagaintogrievetheir fallenwarriors,amongwhomherdearArjen.

Thepatternonhermother’sbowlsconsistedofsquares,circles andlinesmeticulouslydrawnwitheightdifferentcolours.Repeatingcolumnsofthreesquareswereinterspersedwithrepeatingcolumnsoftwocircles.Thethreesquareswerepaintedwith differentshadesofgreenandthetwocircleswithdifferentshades oforange.Twolines,onesolidbluelineandonedottedredline crisscrossedthealternatingcolumnsofsquaresandcircles.On thatspringnight,sevenyearsago,whenshe,hersister,herthree brothersandhermothersharedtheirfirstbowlofteafromthe newdishes,theyweresittingtogetherlikesheandhermother weresittingnow.Hermotherexplainedtothemthatnightthat thethreegreensquaresrepresentedherthreebrothers,thetwo orangecirclesrepresentedherandhersister,andthetwolines crisscrossingthemrepresentedtheirmotherandfather–the solidblueoneforhermother,thedottedred-onefortheirdepartedfather.

“Iremember,Mother,”Armasaid,“Irememberclearly.Westarted usingthemafterFatherwastakenbytheGreatFever.”

Theoldlady’sheadnoddedinaffirmation,buthereyesremained fixedonthepouringbowl.Armasensedthathermother’sheart hadnowbecomeheavytoo.

“DoyouknowwhyArma?”hermothercontinued.

Amomentofsilencepassedbetweenthewomen.

“Doyouknowwhyfamiliesinourtribecastawayouroldcrocks andtakeupnewoneswhentheyhavelostsomeone?”Arma’s

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mindflippedthroughherrecollectionsofthatspringnightseven yearsago,butcouldn’tfindamemoryofhermotherexplaining thatpartoftheritualtothem.

“Toacknowledgedeath?”shefinallyguessed.

“Notonlydeath,mychild,”theoldladyresponded,“butalsolife.” Armafrowned,andhermother’seyesmethers.

“Whenwebreakthebowlsandpotsthatweatefromwiththedeparted,weacknowledgethatwewillneveragaineatofamealthat thedepartedhascontributedto,butaswetakeupournewdishes weacknowledgethatthosewhoremainmustcontinueeating.”

Arma’seyeswelledupwithtearsanew.How?Howcouldlifefor herandherchildrengoonwithoutArjen?Howcouldthesufferingthathispassinghasalreadybroughtthem–andisboundto bringthemstill–everbeworthwhile?

“Why,Mother?Why?Whyshouldthosewhoremaincontinue whentheirsufferingwillbesogreat?Woulditnotbebetterfor themtodieaswellandsoputanendtothesuffering?Tobefrank, allofhumanlifeseemsfilledwithsuffering–frombeginningto end!Wecandoourbesttoavoidit,butwecannotpreventit. Sickness,age,war,greed,jealousy,droughts,fireandfloodsall reaplivesandsowsufferinginabundance–seasonafterseason. Woulditnotbebetterifallofthehumankindceasedtoexist?”

BynowthetearswererollingdownArma’scheeksinwaves,and hermother’seyeswerenotablymoisttoo.Agushofwindpassed throughthevillageandchasedanoisyflockofbirdsfromthe trees.Theoldwoman’swordscamethroughslowly:

“Weareindeedtheonesofthisworldwhofeelhersufferingmost deeplyand,tobefair,wecauseagreatdealofittoo.Yet,arewe notalsotheoneswhoappreciateherbeautymostdeeplyandthe artiststhroughwhomherbeautyismultiplied?”

Mychild,haveyoueverseenaliondecoratehislairoratigress wearingalei?Haveyoueverfoundthecattlegazinginwonder atthenightskyorthemonkeysarrangingthestarsintobedtime

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legendsfortheiryoung?Haveyoueverheardanelephantcomposingmusiconasitarorwitnessedalocustgiftingflowertoits mate?Mychild,doyounotsee?Humansdonotsimplysurvive –welive.Inusandthroughusthisworldchangesfrom‘being’ to‘beingbeautiful’.Wecanappreciateitforwhatitisinitself–notmerelyforhowitcanfeedorprotectus.Thewolflooksat thesheepandseesonlyfood;thesheeplooksatthewolfandsees onlydanger,butthehumancanlookatbothandbeamazedby thebeautyofeach.Whatatragedy–thegreatestofalltragedies –itwouldbeifhumansweretodisappearandthisworldwas tobecomeaflowerthatbuds,bloomsandwitherswithoutever beingmarvelledatagain!”

Anothergustsweptinundertheshade.Afewleavesrustledonto theirmats.TheearlierlumpinArma’sthroathadreturnedand shefounditdifficulttospeak.

“ButwhyshouldIcontinue?”Armaaskedinalmostawhisper, staringattheintrudingleavesasawelcomeexcusenottomake eyecontactwithhermother.“Thereareenoughotherpeopleto appreciatethisworld.”

Arma’smotherlookedupintothedistanceandthoughtabout thequestionforawhile.Theskywasgraduallygrowingdarker asthickcloudspaintedthepromiseofrain.Thunderrumbled somewherefaroff.

“That,mydearArma,”shefinallysaid,“isthewrongquestionto ask.Theanswertoyour‘why’willcomebyintime,aslongasyou focusonthe‘how’.Yousee,lifeislikethecycleofdayandnight. Westartoutinthelightofthesun,anditallowsustoseethe worldclearly.Itgivesuswarmthandenergy.Weeat,welaugh, welove,weplay,wework.Wedonotaskwhy.Then,inevitably, thesunsets.Wecannolongersee,andtheworldgrowscold. Faminestrikes,sicknessfalls,warserupt.Welosethesunwhich wehadheldsodearlyandthinkthereisnoreasonforustocontinue.But,ifyoudaretostayawake,youreyeswillhealfromthe blindinglightofthesun,andyouwilldiscovertheequallypreciouslightofthemoonandthestars,thebeautythatwashidden bythelightofday.Youwillgettoheartheowl’scallandthe

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crickets’choir.Youcouldlistentothesongsofthefrogsandserenadethemoonflowersastheyopenup.Youmayevengettosee ashootingstar!Ifyoujustdaretoletit,thebeautyofthenight willenchantyouandwillcarryyouthroughuntilthedawn.

So,mychild,howdoyoumoveonfromthisterriblelossthatyou havesuffered?Youwilfullyseekthebeautyinthisnightuntilthe sunrisesbyitselfagain.”

Asifsensingthesilentfallsoftearsstreamingdownhisyoung mother’sface,Arma’sbabyboywokefromhissleepintheirhut andutteredalong,loudwail.Sheputtheundrunkbowloftea downonthemat,gotupandhurriedhomewordlessly....As duskfell,thechief’smenlitthefire,andthetribestartedgathering.Thechiefinitiatedtheceremonywithaspeech.Eightwarriorshadfallen;eightfamiliesthatnightweretocastawaytheir oldpotsandbowlsandtakeupnewones.Thespeechwasfollowedbyadramaticre-enactmentofscenesfromthebattleby thewarriorswhohadreturned,accompaniedbymuchsinging andcryingonthepartoftheaudience.Then,onebyone,the bereavedfamilieswentuptothefire,discardedtheiroldcrocks, andreturnedtothecrowd.

Armaandhersonwerethefifthfamiliestogoforward.Sheheld hersonbyonehand,andtheywalkedslowly,theyoungonestill largelyunsteadyonhisfeet.Theiroldcrockswerestackedin herotherarm.Theyoungoneinspectedhissurroundingswith large,anxiouseyesandoneforefingerhookedoverhiswhimperinglowerlip.Hismother’sfacewasemptyandexpressionless.

Whentheywerecloseenoughtothefire,Armastopped.Slowly shekneltandputtheearthenwaredowninfrontofherandher son.Afewmomentspassedinsilence.Armadidn’tmove.She sat,frozen,staringattheiroldcrockslikeshehadbecomeaslifelessanobjectastheywere,desperatelytryingtoengravethepatternsonthemintohermemoryforever.

Thenshetookadeepbreath,closedhereyes,andreopenedthem towardsthefire.Herhandtookthefirstdishoffthetopofthe stack,pulleditintoherlapbriefly,andthentosseditintothe flames.Armalookedondetachedly–asifitweresomeoneelse’s

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hand,someoneelse’scrock,someoneelse’sfire.

Asthecrockshatteredtoitsfateamongtheothershards,aprofoundstillnessdescendeduponArma.Thesputteringofthefire fadeduntilshehearditnolongeratall.Theweepingofthe crowdfadeduntilshenolongerheardthematall.Thesoundsof thenight,thewind,themoansofthechildbesideher–allfaded intooblivionuntilthestillnesswassocompletethatArmafound herselfseparatedfromdeathitselfonlybythemutedbeatingof herownheartagainsthereardrums.

Armawatchedasherhandtooktheseconddishandtosseditinto thefiretoo.Onceagainthecrockmetitsfatewithaloudshattering,butArmadidnothear;thistimeitwasthesoilbeneathher, carryingthethumpoftheheavybowlbacktoher,thatinformed herittoohadreacheditsdestination.

Inthewakeofthevibration,Armabecameawareofatideof angerrisingfromdeepinsideher.Itgrewandgrew;witheveryheartbeat,itgrew.Itgrewuntilitpulsedthroughherveins likebloodandsummonedherbacktolife.Sheheardthethirsty, cracklingflamesagain;sheheardthedesperatecryingofthe childbesideher;sheheardtheweepingtribearoundher;she evenheardawolfhowlingsomewhereinthedistance.

Inasinglemove,Armalockedherhandsaroundtheremaining dishespiledontheground,rosetoherfeetandhurledthecrocks intotheflames.Asthedishesleftherhandsanagonisingcry leftherchest.Herbodyconvulsedintoviolentsobs,andgravity pulledherbackontoherknees.Shegraspedthelittleboybyher sideandwrappedherselfaroundhimasifsheneverintendedto lethimgoagain....Whenthelastofthebereavedfamilieshad returnedtothecrowd,thechiefledwiththefirstlineofachant, andtherestofthetribejoinedin.Thedancingglowoftheflames betrayedtheirmoist,tear-stainedcheeks.Asthetribechanted, someoftheelderscamearoundwithlargejarsofhotwaterthat wereheatedbythefireandfilledthenewpouringbowlsofthe bereavedfamilies.

Slowlythefragranceoforangeblossomtea-infusedtheair.When theirswereready,Armafilledthreenewdrinkingbowls–one

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forher,oneforhersonandoneforheryet-unbornchild.Reflectionsoftheflamesplayedonthesurfaceoftheliquidinthe bowls.Shetookonebowlandgentlyraiseditbetweenherand herson.Thebowlwasallblack–exceptforfour,thin,intertwininglinesthatranarounditsmiddle.

“Myson,”shesaid,lookingintohisround,weteyes,“youmay notunderstandnow,butknowthattheredlineonthisbowlis foryou;theyellowoneisforthesisterorbrotherthatyouwill soonhave;theorangeoneisforMama,andthisbrownlinehere –theonethatlookslikeit’sbroken–isforPapa.”

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3.MYFIRE KelseyHuntisaSouthAfrican.ShecurrentlylivesinEdinburgh Scotland.SheiscompletingherZoologydegreeattheUniversity ofStAndrews.Shesaysthat“alongsidemystudies,Irunasmall businesssellinghandmadeaccessories.” 27 KelseyHunt

MYFIRE

Iwokeupinthemiddleofthenightfromahauntingnightmare. Drenchedinsweat,andwithmychestheavingupanddown,my mindreplayedtheviciouseventsfrommysubconsciousstate. Darkness.

Itwasinkymalicethathadprowledthroughmydreams,stealing, hurting,andbreakingmymindapart.Ineversawanythingbut thelurkingdarkness,yetnothinghasterrifiedmemore.Islowly satup,clutchingasweatypalmtomyforehead,andgroaning undermybreathatthepainthatlingeredbeneathmyskull.With adeepsigh,Isurveyedmysurroundings–thesameroomthat wastherebeforeIdriftedtosleep,andthesameroomthatwould remainwhenIeventuallywokeupinthemorning.However,my hearthadstillnotstoppedracing.Icouldalmostheartheblood circulatingthroughmybodyatarapidpace.Takingafewslow, deepbreaths,Itriedtocalmmyheartintodancingatitsregular rhythm.

Butstill:doofdoofdoof.

Iglancedbackaroundmyroomoncemore,thesame–yetso different.ThatiswhenIsawthedarknesspouringthroughthe doorsandthewindows.Itquicklyfloodedmyfloorandbeganto crawlupmybed.Ifrozeinfear,grippingmyarmspainfullyasI washopingIwasstillstuckinmynightmare–thatthisdarkness wasnottryingtocatchme.Theshadowsbegancrawlingupmy legs,overmyarmsandbeforeIcouldevencryoutforhelp:the darknessoverwhelmedme.BeforeIopenedmyeyes,Ifeltthe painthatwascleavedinmyhead.Apoundingheadachethatfelt

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asifmyeyeswerebeingrippedfrommyskull.SlowlyItoremy eyesopentosee...Nothing.Isawnothingbutsolidblackness. Itriedtomakesenseofmysurroundings,desperatelysearching forasliceoflightpouringinfrombeneathadoor.Isquinted intothedarktryingtolocateacornerintheroom,oreventhe ceiling.

Nothing.

IcouldnotevenfeelwhatIwassittingon–butIcouldfeelsomething.Likethedarknessitselfhadapresenceorsomemind.I clawedoutaroundme,kickingoutagainstthedarkbut–Nothing.

Suddenly,anominouslaughfloatedaroundtheroom,adeep andgutturalchuckle,asifthedarknesswerefindingamusement inmydesperation.“Please,”Ifoundmyselfwhispering,“Please tellmethisisallapartofthatnightmare.”Thelaughwentoff again,thistimesoundingcloserasifsomeonewasbesideme.I flinched,jumpingsidewaysandpeeringintothethickdarkness.

“Youcankeeplooking,butyouwon’tseeme,”Thevoicelaughed again.

Itfeltsoclose,likeitwaswhisperingintomyear.

“W-Whoareyou?”Iaskednervously,scowlingatthethoughtof talkingtoadisembodiedvoice.

“WhyamIhere?”Ilookedaroundwildly,reachingouttosee,to feelsomething.

“ItmattersnotwhoIam,butwhatI’mgoingtodotoyou.”The deepvoicerattledthroughtheroom,almostgrowlingatme.

Iliftedmychin,tryingmybesttoseemstronginthepresence ofthismonster,

“Whatisityouplantodowithmethen?”Idrawled,looking aroundtryingtocatchaglimmerofsomemovement.

“LovelyAdara,”thevoicepurredrightbymyear.

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IshiveredasIfeltsomethingrunacrossmyneck,goosebumps ripplingacrossmyskin,

“I’mgoingtoripyourheartout.”

BeforeIcouldevenregisterthethreat,aheavinessblanketedme andIfellbackintotherealmofsleep.WhenIheardthethreat,I thoughtthevoicemeantthatitwouldphysicallyreachthrough mychestandripoutmyheart.Butitmeantsomethingdifferent –andIhonestlywouldhavepreferredthefirstoption.Thenext timeIwasbroughtoutofmyunconsciousstate,Isawnothingbut emptinessagain.However,Ifeltit,themonster.Itsrichvoice pouredintomyearlikehoney,askingmequestionsaboutthe thingsIloved:myhobbies,myfriends,myfamily.Inadifferent circumstance,theconversationmighthavebeendeemedpleasant.Thevoicespatoutasarcasticthankyoubeforethehands ofunconsciousnessdraggedmebelowintotheheavinessonce more.

WhenIopenedmyeyesagain,Ifeltmyheartleapoutofmy chest.Isawsomething.Infrontofmesatapileofletters–mylettersfromfriendsandfamilythatIleftbehind.Storiesof theiradventures,dreams,andheartachesweresprawledacross theagedpaperinaspotofdarkink.Painflickeredthroughmy chestasIreachedouttograbthem,toreadthem.Istupidly thoughtthatthevoicefeltbadformeafterourconversation.I waswrong.

AsIreachedfortheletters,theywerewhiskedfrommygraspby that,thatthinginthedark.

“Howsweet,”itchuckled,“Thesemustmeanalottoyou,being sofarfromyourlovedones.”

Itswordsweredrippinginwickedness,andmyheartbeganpoundingloudlyagainstmychest.

“Please,pleasemayIhavethoseletters,”Ibegged,thepounding ofmyheartechoingthroughmyears.

Myfriends.Myfamily.Ireachedoutagain,andthevoicesnarled oncemore:

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“HaveyouforgottenalreadyAdara?IsaidI’mgoingtotearyour heartout,”thevoicewasclose.

Ifeltitspresencerightbymyface.

“Ijustdidnotsayhow.”

Flamesstartedengulfingmyletters.Brightshadesoforangeand reddevouredthem,whilethatgruesomevoicereadtheprecious sentencesastheyburnedtoash.Ifeltaripinmyheart,asmall holestretchingopeninmychest.AllIcoulddowassobasIstared atthepileofashesonthefloorthatwastheremainsofthose pricelesswords.Openingmyeyes,Iwasonceagainsurrounded bythesuffocatingemptydarkness.

Isatupslowly,hotpainslashingthroughme.Icriedoutin pain,clutchingmychest.Myeyesscannedtheroomwildly,still searchingforahopethatIwouldbeabletoleavethemalignant dark.Thevoicebegantospeak,butthistimeitwasnottheusual darkwordsthatwerecoatedinmalice.Itwasmymother’ssoft voice,spittingharshwordsatme.“YouarenothingbutadisappointmentAdara,”shesnarledatme.

“HowcouldyoueverthinkyourfatherandIcouldbeproudof you?”

Iflinchedatthewords,clutchingmyhandstomyears.Ishook myheadwildly.

“Thisisnotyourmother,”Irepeatedoutloudtomyselfoverand overtodrownoutthesharpwords.

“Youweresupposedtobesuchabrilliantchild.Someonewitha brightfuture,”mymother’svoiceechoedaroundtheroomloudly, “butyourfutureisfarfrombright.YourfutureisdarknessIno longerwanttobearound.”

Thewordsslicedthroughme,painrippingthroughmychest, andhowlsofpainpouredoutmymouth.Thiswentonforhours, thevoiceofmymotheraffirmingmygreatestfears.Isobbed andsobbed,crawlingintoaballontheflooruntilthedarkness gracefullydrownedouthervoice.Thisperformancewentonfor days,butalwaysadifferentperson.Peoplewhomeanttheworld

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tome–peopleIlongedtomakeproud.Theyspathatefulwords atme,andforthefirstfewtimes,theyslicedthroughmychest, rippingthatholewiderandwideruntilIfeltnothingatall.

Mychestbecamearemnantofthedarknesssurroundingme. Nothingbutavesselforwhatmyheartusedtobe.Isatthere whilemyfriendsthrewhorrifyingwordsatme,astheyflung statementsthatcouldriptheworldapart.AndIfeltnothing.

Aftertheheavinessrescuedmefromthevoicesoncemore,I prayed.IprayedthatIwouldnotwakeupagain.Akindvoice heardmyprayersbutwhisperedtomeabouthowhebelieved inmyfire,andthenmyeyesflungopentostareatthedarkness oncemore.

“Adara,Adara,Adara,”thedarkvoicetaunted,circlingme,“you thoughtyoucouldescape?”

Adarkchucklesurroundedme.

“IsaidIwasgoingtoripyourheartout.I’mnotfinishedyet.”It drawled.

Inoticedafigureinthecorneroftheroomslowlyadvancetowardme.Itwaslimping.Thefigurewaswhimperinginpain. Asitcamecloser,aflickerofpainwentthroughmychest–my sister.Mysisterwasstandinginfrontofme.Tearsflowedfrom myeyesasIstaredather.

“Isthisreal?”Ibegged.

“Areyoureal?”IaskedherasItriedtoscrambleforher.

Shenodded,eyeswideandfulloftears.Shewasreal.

“Thevoicesdidnotseemtobreakyouentirely,”thedarkvoice whisperedintomyear.

“Almost,butdidn’tquitefinishthejob,”Itgrowleddarklyinmy ear.

Afirestartedatmysister’sfeet,fearandpanicspreadingoverher faceassherealisedwhatwashappening.

“Let’sseehowburningyoursisteraffectsyou.”

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Iscreamed,thrashingmyarmstograbher,tostopthefire–to throwmyselfinitswayinstead.ButIcouldnotmove–asifthe darknesswereholdingmeback,forcingmetowatchthefire’s destruction.MychestemptiedasIfeltthelastbitofpainrip outofmychestasIstaredatthatfire.Eventhetearsstopped completelyasIfeltthedeepchasminmychest.Myheartwas gone,andIfeltnumb.

Butthen,aspark.Aglimmeroflightinmyhands.Istaredatit, tryingtoplacewhyasparkfeltsofamiliartome.Ifrownedat mypalm,tryingtolookcloserasitsparkedagain.Aflame?My fire.Thatvoicethatansweredmyprayersaidmyfire.Itfeltlike me,aglimmerofthepersonIwasbefore–apersonofpassion andpride,oflightandlove.Ifeltsomethingflickerinmychest–intheplacemyheartshouldhavebeen.Flamesstartedcrawling outwardsfrommyheart,inchingdownmyarmsandintothe darkness.Thoseflamesburnedawayattheemptinessthatwas suffocatingme,burningawayatthatdarkvoicethathauntedme. Iheardthevoicescreamasmyflamesdevouredit.

Itsscreamwasstillringinginmyearsasmyeyesflungopen, wildlytakinginmybrightsurroundings,-astarkcontrasttothe darknessIwaslivingin.Isatup,myheart–myheartpounding heavilyagainstmychest.IlookedaroundtheroomIwasin,my handpressedagainstmychesttofeelitsheartbeat.Itwasabright hospitalroom,withflowerslitteredaroundmybed.

“What?”IbreathedasItookinthelightthatwassurroundingme.

Footstepsclatteredalongthehalloutsidemydoorandafigure flungthemselvesintotheroom–thesamepersonwhothedark wasburning.

“Maya!”Iscreamedscramblingupfromthebedtogettoher,my headpoundingunrelentlessly.Istumbledtowardsher,pulling herintoatighthug.

“Whathappened?Areyouokay?Didthefirehurtyou?”Iquestionedher,touchingherface,justtocheckshewasreal.

Confusionflickeredacrosshereyesasshesatedownonthebed.

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“Fire?”sheasked,hereyebrowspushingtogetherinmildconcern.

Inoddedquickly.

“Yes,thedarkness–he,it–itwastryingtoburnyou.”Iblurted, scanninghereyescarefully.

Mayasmiledsoftly,buthereyeswerefullofpain.

“Youmusthavebeendreaming,”shewhispered,thesoundofher holdingbacktearsevidentinhershakingvoice.

Ishookmyhead,clutchingmychest.

“No–thedark,itwantedtoripmyheartout.Ittriedtohurtyou andburnedmyletters.”Icriedout,tearsflowingfrommyeyes.

Sheshookherheadslowly,brushingapieceofherdarkhairbehindherear.

“Adara.Youtriedtoleaveus,”shesaidquietly,asofttearrolling downhercheek.

Igapedather,shockfreezingmybody.

“Leave?”Isaidslowly.

“Ihadleftalready.”Isaid,tiltingmyheadinconfusion.

Tearswerestreamingheavilydownherfacenow.

“NoAdara.Youtriedtoleavebecausethedarknessinyourhead wastoomuch.You,youtried–“

Ididnotneedhertofinishthesentenceasmymemoriescame floodingin.Anightofpainandtears,thennumbnessasIstood staringatthedarknightskyfromahighbridge.Smiletuggedon mylips,andIlookedatmysister.

“Ididn’tletitwin,”Iwhispered,“Myfire–myfireburnedaway thedark.

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