CHAPTER 1—MONKEY’S WEDDING
Southern Rhodesia, a British Protectorate
Friday August 7, 1953
The jackal tugged on the body it had uncovered behind the beer hall, its jaws locked around a bloody, dirt-encrusted forearm. A short distance away, a hyena lowered its head and edged forward.
The jackal stopped, eyed the hyena and howled a warning.
Two miles away on the Bradley sisal plantation, Elizabeth McKenzie, on her knees beside a muddy flowerbed, heard the howl and stopped digging. The only sound was the rustle of the sword-like leaves of the surrounding fields of sisal plants. Then the jackal howled again. She gave a shiver and glanced toward the house, taking comfort from the light in the kitchen, where their houseboy, Nelson, was already at work.
Nudging her long tangled hair away from her face with the back of one dirty hand, she gripped the business end of a wooden spoon with the other and dragged it down the length of the flowerbed. She sat back and eyed the results, then tore open the packet of sweet pea seeds she’d slipped from her mother’s gardening box and sprinkled them down the rut. A strip of chicken wire she’d molded to cover them and protect them from the chickens lay nearby.
She was still in her pajamas, although she was wearing a jersey against the early morning chill of the cold season. She had slipped from the house before anyone else was up. She rarely slept past dawn, afraid she might miss something. Even though there was never anything to miss. Still, these days there was another reason to get out of the house. Her mother was going to have a baby and it was making her more and more high-strung by the minute. And she still had two months to go. Elizabeth planned on surprising her by planting the sweet pea seeds, her favorite flower.
Pookie, Elizabeth’s pet bantam chicken, appeared from behind an overturned wheelbarrow a few yards away, pecking at the ground. A runt, Pookie had never grown all her feathers, except for those on her legs, which made it look like she was wearing little flared brown skirts. Pookie stopped mid-peck, eyed the sweet pea seeds then shot toward the flowerbed like a shuttlecock whacked across a badminton net.
“No!” Elizabeth jammed the protective cover over the seeds.
Pookie stared down through the wire for a moment, then shifted and took a stab at the seed packet. It crackled and she jumped, feather skirts quivering. Elizabeth laughed and stroked Pookie’s moth-eaten head and back. The bird held still for a moment and then, clucking nervously, pecked her way back toward the chicken coop.
Elizabeth sighed. She wished Pookie would allow a nice tight hug now and then, like a puppy would. In fact, she wished Pookie was a puppy. But every time she asked, her mother said no. Well, at least there was the baby coming. She couldn’t wait to play with him. And a him it would be. It had to be. Her mother couldn’t take another girl.
Angry voices burst from the house, and her stomach clenched. Her parents were arguing again. The back door burst open and her father, Mac, flew down the steps and hurried toward their Ford that looked like a black bathtub turned upside down.
She scrambled to her feet. “Daddy!” The slamming of the screen door drowned out her voice.
She watched helplessly as her father reversed down the rut of a driveway, swung left, and, in a cloud of red dust, tore down the dirt road toward the sisal curing sheds. Why was he headed to work on his day off? What about the breakfast they were supposed to share?
Elizabeth turned. “Turu!”
Houseboy Nelson’s son, Tururu, stood yawning and stretching in the doorway of the kiya—servant’s quarters—he shared with his father, his cast off shorts and shirt wrinkled with sleep.
“Shh!” He lifted his chin in the direction of the house. That’s right, Nelson might hear them and make Turu help him in the kitchen.
“I thought you’d already gone to your grandmother’s,” she whispered. Every Saturday he apprenticed with his witchdoctor grandmother. “So can you play, then?”
He shook his head. “Grandmother is waiting.”
She tried to hide her disappointment. It wasn’t a good idea to let the servants think you cared. It made them expect things and lose respect for you. Or so her mother always said.
“Will Karari be there?”
“But I thought you were going to be the next big witchdoctor?”
He gave a sharp shake of his head.
“Well, how am I supposed to know, what with all these lessons you’re taking? Anyway, you really shouldn’t be seen with him. My dad says he’s a troublemaker. Especially not now with this whole Federation fuss going on.” Britain’s law uniting Southern Rhodesia and its two neighboring countries was about to go into effect. The blacks hadn’t been given a vote, and a lot of them were upset over it.
He gave a half shrug.
“Everybody thinks you’re all going to riot, you know.”
She hoped he’d protest, tell her they would never do such a thing. Instead, he turned his head at the sound of a voice inside the kiya. His mother, Dakarai. This was one of the weekends she visited from their village, a couple of miles to the east near the beer hall. He disappeared for a moment.
The screen door squealed, and Nelson emerged from the house. He pulled a stompie, a blackened hand-rolled cigarette stub, from his top pocket and started down the back steps. Turu charged from the kiya and headed for the lane at the back of the yard. Elizabeth ducked behind the wheelbarrow and peered through a hole at Nelson. She didn’t like him. He was nasty and always whacking Turu behind the head for nothing.
Nelson stopped, stuck the stompie into his mouth, and, with a quick flick of a match against the bottom of his shoe, lit the end and inhaled.
“Picannin dona,” he called through a stream of smoke.
Elizabeth stayed put.
Rocking on his heels, Nelson blew smoke rings in the air. The damp cold of the ground seeped into Elizabeth’s bones and she shivered.
Enough of this. Pretending he wasn’t there, she strolled back toward the sweet pea bed.
“Eh, picannin dona, I call you.”
“What do you want?” she called over her shoulder.
He didn’t answer. She glanced back.
Nelson was staring up at a hawk eagle making lazy circles in the sky, its familiar black and white under-feathers a sharp contrast against the blue. She glanced around the yard for Pookie. She’d already lost one pet chicken to one of these birds. There was no sign of the bantam. In the coop, she hoped.
Nelson’s gaze shifted to the overgrown patch at the bottom of the yard.
“What are you looking at?” she asked, following his gaze.
He stared blankly at her for a moment. “Where is Medem’s spoon?”
He glared at her. “Medem’s spoon.”
Elizabeth hesitated just long enough to let him know he couldn’t boss her around, retrieved the spoon, and strolled back toward him. Nelson took one last draw of his stompie, pinched the lit end between thumb and forefinger, stuffed the remains into his pocket, and held out his hand.
Elizabeth gave a small shudder. Even though she’d been told Africans didn't feel pain like whites did, she just knew putting out a cigarette like that had to hurt. Holding out the spoon like she was in a relay race, she let him take it from her as she marched past.
He frowned at its muddy state. “Medem not like this.”
“She doesn’t mind, so there.” She skipped up the steps into the house.
Sounds of retching greeted her. Her mother, Annie, was at it again. Remembering she was still in her pajamas, she hurried toward her bedroom.
Her mother emerged from the bathroom, wiping her face with a wet washcloth. “Hold on right there. What have I told you about running around outside half naked?”
Elizabeth made a show of looking down at herself. “Half naked?”
“Don’t you get cheeky with me, Missi. I’ve told you before, it doesn’t take much to arouse these kaffirs. And with what’s been happening, well, I don’t want to even think about it.”
Elizabeth opened her mouth to argue but then closed it again.
“It’s just that I worry about you,” her mother continued, her voice quivering. “Girls are so vulnerable in this world, especially at your ---”
“I planted sweet peas for you.”
Her mother blew her nose on the washcloth. “That’s nice.”
Elizabeth sighed. So much for her big surprise. “Well, I’d better go get dressed then.”
“Wait a minute.” Reaching out her mother lifted a lock of Elizabeth’s hair. “When was the last time you brushed this bird’s nest? I mean really got stuck in, not just waved the brush over it.
“I don’t believe it. Get in there.” She nodded toward the master bedroom. “It’s time for a thorough combing.”
Elizabeth groaned. “I can do it, myself, honestly.”
“Not another word. Sit.”
Elizabeth slumped onto the padded kidney-shaped stool in front of her mother’s dressing table and scowled into the mirror. Her mother lifted a handful of Elizabeth’s long tawny hair and began to tug a comb through it.
“I should just cut it all off right now like a boy’s, and be done with the aggravation.”
Gritting her teeth, Elizabeth hunched over. After the first few knots were combed through, it didn’t hurt that much. A couple of times, her mother stopped, and with a wince, pressed a hand against her belly. The baby. Her eyes strayed to her mother’s stomach. To think an entire human being was lying in there, growing fingers and toes and elbows and knees and a heart and everything. And it got there because her parents had done ‘it.’ She colored at the thought.
Her mother stopped combing. “What on earth’s the matter with you?”
Elizabeth felt her face blaze anew. “Um, nothing.”
“You’re not getting sick are you?”
“Medem.” Nelson stood behind them, holding a tea tray.
Her mother gave a start and swung around. “We’ll take our tea in the kitchen, thank you Nelson.”
“Yes, Medem.” He turned and left the room.
“See what I mean?” her mother said in a low voice. “He didn’t even knock. Besides, he knows I don’t like him in here before I’m dressed. I’m telling you, they’re getting bolder by the minute.”
“He’s always nasty to Turu, you know.”
“That’s different. Hand me the brush.”
Bending to the task, her mother brushed Elizabeth’s hair until it gleamed and then plaited a thick single tress down her back.
“I wish you wouldn’t make it so tight.” Elizabeth clasped her head between both hands. “I can hardly see where I’m going when you’re done.”
“Nonsense.” Her mother weaved a yellow ribbon into the last few inches. “I want you to keep it braided from now on, you’ve got some nasty split ends. I’ll trim them next week. Oh, and before I forget, you need to try on that blue dress so I can finish it. I want you to wear it when Mr. Coetzee comes on Monday.”
“No lessons on Monday.” Elizabeth rubbed her temples where the hair stretched her skin. “It’s Federation Day, remember?”
“Wear it on Wednesday, then. The point is I want you to start dressing like a young lady.”
“I don’t want to get all dressed up just for Mr. Coetzee. He doesn’t care what I’m wearing.”
“With boarding school coming up, you need to get into the habit of wearing something other than shorts and a blouse.”
Boarding school. That whole nightmare. She slipped off the stool and started for the door, but then stopped. “Why did Daddy go to work today? He told me he didn’t have to.”
Her mother didn’t look up from combing hair from the brush. “He wanted to check on a machine that’s been acting up.”
“But what about driving Mrs. B. to the station—”
“Oh, I’m sure he’ll be back in time for that,” her mother said, a note of bitterness in her voice. She looked up and their eyes met in the mirror. “Listen, Bitty, when your little brother is born, you can help me change his diaper and bathe him. All right?”
Elizabeth grinned and nodded.
Shoveling a spoonful of porridge into her mouth, Elizabeth watched an ant carry a grain of sugar across the gingham-patterned oilcloth covering the old wooden kitchen table Mrs. Bradley gave them when she got her new Formica one. Nelson stood at the sink, scouring a pot.
“Nelson, why do they call them Matabele ants?”
He didn’t answer.
“Bwana Coetzee says that a long time ago, Chief Lobengula brought his people up here from South Africa. That’s how the Matabele tribe got here, you know, and actually the Shona too.” She grinned. “Anyway, why do you think they call them Matabele ants and not Shona ants?”
He kept working on the pot.
Nelson had no sense of humor at all. “Well?”
“Nelson not Matabele.”
“What’s that got to do with it?”
He turned and glared at her. “Finish porridge.”
“I’m almost finished, can’t you see?”
He poured milk into a glass, ambled over, and thumped it on the table in front of her. Milk splashed onto the oilcloth.
“That’s very disrespectful. I’m going to tell Madam!”
Whipping the dishtowel from his shoulder, he mopped the milk away with a hard swipe, all the while glaring at her.
“That cloth is only for drying dishes,” she said. “Honestly.”
Making a sharp dismissive clicking sound with his tongue, Nelson flicked the towel back over his shoulder and headed toward the back door.
Elizabeth drained her milk. The kitchen cabinet’s top compartment was open. It was usually locked to keep Elizabeth from swiping guests-only Ladyfinger biscuits, and also to prevent Nelson from helping himself to cigarettes and sugar. With a glance toward her mother’s bedroom, she hopped onto the cabinet’s wooden ledge and removed two biscuits. Stuffing them into her shorts’ pocket, she jumped down.
“What picannin dona doing?” Propped against the doorjamb, Nelson looked her up and down, a smirk on his face.
Elizabeth gave a start. “Nothing.”
Elizabeth turned and strolled toward her bedroom, but her heart was pounding. Her mom was right; they were getting bolder.
Tururu followed his grandmother, Anesu, Shona high priestess, to the great God Zane’s shrine in the ancient ruins of their people. Dogged by his usual nervousness at what they had to do, he lugged a basket filled with brushwood, dried herbs, and a small leather pouch containing powder. Red dust motes danced in the early morning sunlight pouring through the crumbling walls. This was where Grandmother cast her spell to rid the valley of the whites, the same magic her people used in ancient times to chase away their enemies.
She’d started the ritual right after bwana Bradley arrived, five years earlier. He stood for all the years when their land hadn’t been restored to them, even as they patiently waited. Tururu didn’t mind getting rid of the whites—well, except for Missi Elizabeth. But he had something else to worry about lately. Amai Vedu Africa, the Great Mother, had come to Grandmother in a vision and told her Tururu was to become n’anga, a maker of spells and healer to his people.
“B-but I am Tururu,” he’d said when Grandmother told him. His nickname wasn’t “mouse” for nothing. How could someone who wasn’t very brave, who sometimes stammered, be n’anga? He was much better suited to making toys out of wire scraps.
“Amai Vedu knows all,” she’d said, but she looked worried as well.
Well, at least he was not to become godobori. That took courage and cleverness. Grandmother had chosen Karari for that task. He had the makings of a powerful godobori, Grandmother said, clever in so many ways, cunning and incorruptible by the whites—an almost worthy successor to her. Despite his temper.
Grandmother stopped and lifted her chin like an antelope sniffing the air for predators. Her right eye shimmered, the one that had been clouded over since birth. She was gazing into the spirit world. “There is a dead body on the veld,” she whispered.
Tururu felt a twinge of alarm. Dead bodies showed up now and then on the veld, some victim of a drunken fight or someone with a grudge. But this one felt different. Even he could feel that.
Grandmother twisted her head this way and that as if to re-focus. Tururu drew closer in case she breathed a name, for she wouldn’t remember it later. Instead, she stopped and reached for her magic amulet, a small green soapstone bird she usually wore around her neck.
“Nadira back at the hut,” Tururu said. This is what he did best, kept track of Grandmother’s possessions. She could be absent-minded sometimes.
She frowned and stared off into the distance. And then as if coming to, she turned to him. “What are you waiting for?”
Tururu hurried through the entrance to the inner chamber and the circle of rocks in the center, dropped to his knees and began stacking the kindling. Gathering up her great skirts, Grandmother eased down onto her knees with a grunt. She closed her eyes and sat still as a rock, then lifted her chin and uttered an incantation.
The air vibrated.
Opening her eyes, she jabbed her forefinger toward the firewood. It crackled and burst into blue-tinged flames with hearts of brilliant orange. Ngozi. Fire beings from the center of the earth, children of Gurutu, Goddess of the Underworld. Tururu turned away from their mesmerizing brilliance.
It took a great godobori like Grandmother to call up and order about these fire spirits. For the weak or less experienced, the ngozi were the ones who took control. These beings kept the fire in front of Grandmother’s hut burning, day and night, providing heat for cooking and keeping her hut warm on cold winter nights. She also used their power in some of her magic ceremonies.
Grandmother reached for her magic pouch, withdrew a handful of black speckled powder and threw it on the blaze. The ngozi flared for a moment in a show of blue brilliance, but then murmuring and hissing, they settled back down again. In a voice as strong and deep as thunder, Grandmother spoke.
“Oh, great Gurutu, on this your day, Anesu comes to ask for your help to rid our land of the white jackals.”
She clapped her hands three times and uttered a stream of incantations. Sneaking a glance at the fire, Tururu wished he’d paid more attention to the meaning of the ancient words. As Grandmother spoke, the fire began to die, but not without a hiss and a luminous flare here and there as the ngozi fought to remain. Soon, all that was left was an unnatural glow in the center of the circle.
Grandmother let out a deep throaty hum. The earth vibrated around them as if to join in. Dirt showered down from the ancient walls. The Goddess had heard her.
Grandmother sat back with chin lifted and arms outstretched toward the heavens for a couple of moments before struggling to her feet.
Tururu gathered everything and replaced it in the basket. Now they had to hurry across the veld before the tokoloshi, those mischievous elemental dwellers of the underworld rose from beneath the earth, drawn by the strong magic. These small creatures could create terrible destruction, gouging out eyes, raping women, and biting off sleeping people’s toes. This is why everyone raised their beds with three feet of bricks. Grandmother wasn’t afraid of them, but they were always after Tururu.
Tururu let his grandmother lead the way again. He hadn’t gone ten yards beyond the temple entrance before a hairy claw reached up through the earth and tried to grab his foot. He shrieked and jumped back.
Grandmother whirled around and jabbed a stiffened finger toward it. Sparks flew from her finger, and the apparition curled up like a strip of bacon on a hot pan and disappeared back into the ground.
Tururu charged up beside her, almost tripping them both. “Aiyee.”
“Come come, Tururu,” Grandmother said. “What have I told you about being strong inside? Tokoloshi smell fear. Did you do the protection work I taught you?”
She clucked her tongue and continued walking. “Grandmother will not always be here to protect you.”
“Yes, G-grandmother.” He stayed as close to her as possible and glanced around for the small creatures.
“ Amai Vedu has chosen you to be n’anga, and she does not choose poorly. You have the power in your heart, but you must believe in yourself. And if you do not use the power in your heart, it will be hard. Very hard. You could become a bad n’anga. But Tururu is not a bad boy.”
“Tururu shall have ngozi eternal fire, like Grandmother.”
“Yes, yes. But first you must learn how to control the ngozi.”
Grandmother stopped and turned to face him, her eyes hard. “That I have eternal fire because I serve ngozi?”
“Uh . . .” He bit his lip. What possessed him to bring up his father? Why couldn’t he keep his thoughts to himself?
“What does your father say?”
“Um, he s-say tokoloshi---”
“That tokoloshi is husband to Grandmother?”
He studied his toes.
She clucked her tongue and took off at a fast clip for such a large woman. Tururu charged after her.
“What a stupid, stupid man,” she continued. “How could Dakarai have chosen such a fool? The only thing Nelson has done well is father you.”
She stopped as if she’d run into a wall and cocked her head. Tururu almost ran into her. “We have to go, quickly,” she said.
In the next moment she had him by the hand and was muttering an incantation. He knew what was coming and clutched the basket to his chest.
It was like being pulled through water and flying at the same time. It always made his ears pop and his insides swoop up into his mouth. And then he was standing inside the cool depths of Grandmother’s hut. Just like that. It never failed to surprise him how that happened. No landing. Just standing there on the hard-packed dirt floor, his hand still in Grandmother’s, and his head spinning a little.
He glanced around, wondering what had alerted her.
Karari! The man stood beside Grandmother’s trunk. Her magic soapstone bird dangled from his fingers, its milky eye glowing. How did he get past the protective magic ring around Grandmother’s hut?
Karari’s head snapped up and he dropped the box. It hit the dirt floor with a dull thud.
“You would dare touch nadira!” Grandmother snatched the amulet from his fingers with one hand and struck him across the face with the back of the other.
Karari spun around with the force of the blow and stumbled sideways. Tururu saw temper flare in his eyes, but then he seemed to compose himself. He drew himself up and turned to face Grandmother. “It is time for my own amulet.”
Tururu gaped. How could he be so bold? He glanced at his grandmother, expecting to see her lift her finger and blast him through the wall. Instead, she simply leveled a hard gaze at him.
Karari cleared his throat. “Anesu has no right to keep from me from what is mine. I’ve earned it.”
“You’ve earned nothing yet.”
The muscles in Karari’s jaw tightened. He jabbed an accusing finger at Tururu. “You gave him an amulet. A stupid beginner. For six years I have done what you tell me. I have learned everything there is to learn.”
Tururu shrank back at the venom in Karari’s eyes. Some kind of dark cloud was forming around him.
“You are not him.” Grandmother, too, was wary of Karari. She must be seeing this darkness, too. “You were not chosen by Amai Vedu like Tururu---”
“I am the chosen one. It is my time. Your old woman magic did not stop the Federation. My plan will at least show the whites that we will not take this lying down.”
“Killing only brings more killing.”
“The killing is here already. And it is our people who are dying.”
“It is not Amai Vedu’s way.”
“It is not your way. It is time for change, and I am the one to lead the way. The people will follow me. Praise me. Remember me.”
“You care nothing for our people. You only want power for yourself.”
“Your time is over!” Karari kicked Grandmother’s pouch across the floor. Tururu rushed to retrieve it.
“Leave it,” Karari cried. “Leave her. Come with me, and you will taste the life we are meant to live as rulers. I will teach you what you need to know.”
Tururu turned to his grandmother. Why didn’t she just teach him a lesson with her magic?
“Karari!” Grandmother said sharply.
He turned to face her, challenge in his eyes.
“Do not be lured by dark magic,” she said, speaking very carefully, the way she did to him when he was about to make a mistake in a spell. “Do not let pride or lust for power lead you down a path from which there is no return. You will regret it.”
He snorted and turned.
Her hand shot out and she grabbed him by the ear as she would an unruly child and yanked him toward the door. “You need to be taught a lesson.”
He tried to wriggle free. “I am no longer a child. You cannot treat me this way.”
But she was bigger than he was and had a grip of steel. Twisting his ear, she led him outside, next to the eternal fire burning in the half moon clearing in front of the hut. Karari stumbled along beside her, his face contorted with pain. Tururu followed, afraid of what might come but unable to not watch. The last time Grandmother did this was shortly after she took Karari on as an apprentice. Thrusting Karari toward the well beside the hut, Grandmother pointed to a basin lying nearby.
“Fill that with water and bring it back here.”
Finding his feet, Karari glared at her. “What for?”
“To get another chance. To learn humility. To learn what it truly means to be godobori.”
Conflicted feelings played across Karari’s face. The dark cloud around him began to lift, but then hovered above him, rising and falling with each breath he took. Then he strolled toward the well, pretending to be unconcerned. Grandmother watched him. And Tururu understood why she didn’t attack earlier. She seemed to be willing him to combat the darkness following him.
Smirking, Karari lowered the bucket into the well, filled the basin then returned to stand in front of her, water slopping over the edges of the basin.
“Tururu,” she called, even though he was right behind her. Her eyes were pinned on Karari. “Bring the ceremony stool.”
Tururu ran into the hut. What was Grandmother about to do? He hoped it didn’t involve him in any way. He found the stool, an intricately carved piece of teak that reached his midsection. Grunting under its weight, he staggered outside and set it in front of Grandmother and stepped back.
“Sit,” she said.
Tururu turned toward Karari.
“You, Tururu,” she said.
So he was to be part of this . . . whatever it was. Tururu backed away.
Grandmother glared at him.
With his insides doing flip-flops, he stood on tiptoe and slowly slid his bottom onto the stool. He hunched forward, trying to make himself as small as possible.
Grandmother pointed an imposing finger at Karari. “Wash Tururu’s feet.”
Tururu shrank down even further. Karari gaped at her. And then with a cry of rage, he swung the basin around and hurled it at Tururu, hitting him in the head.
Tururu toppled sideways off the stool. Before he hit the ground, he was already scrambling to his feet. He had to get out of the way. Any minute now, Grandmother would be sending Karari to the ancestors.
But Grandmother just stood there looking at Karari. Chest heaving, he glared back, the darkness settling over him like a blanket.
From the corner of his eye, Tururu saw the flames in the eternal fire swell, heard the familiar whispering and hissing of the ngozi. They were responding to Karari’s fury, drawn to it. Grandmother’s eyes flickered, but she kept them on Karari. It was almost as if she didn’t notice the disturbance in the ngozi.
Karari turned slowly to stare wide-eyed at the mounting blaze and took a step forward. Small blue-tipped flames danced up toward him, murmuring as they did. Like a sleepwalker, he lifted his arm.
The ngozi rose in a quivering luminous column and hung in front of him.
He gaped like a small child seeing fire for the first time and swayed from side to side. The fiery stream crackled and swayed in rhythm with him. He closed his eyes. His body tensed, tight as a hide drum, vibrating with some kind of power that made it look as if he might explode. The darkness around him swelled and expanded, until it rose into the air like black smoke from an oil-infused fire. The ngozi hummed and grew in size, becoming as tall as Karari himself, taking his shape.
Grandmother lifted her arm. “No, Karari!”
Karari opened his eyes. They glowed with an eerie black light. Drawing his hand back, he jabbed his forefinger at her.
With a whoosh and a hiss, the ngozi streamed toward Grandmother’s outstretched hand and enveloped it in a bright blue blaze.
She shrieked and staggered back. Tururu charged toward her, trying to remember the magic word to douse fire. Still screeching, Grandmother clutched her forearm and spun this way and that. A chorus of jackals and wild dogs yipped and howled in response to her cry.
Tururu chased her around, trying to remember the magic word.
Grandmother collapsed onto her knees, clutching her forearm.
“G-g . . . gasana!” Tururu cried. “That’s it!” He yelled the magic word over and over again, doubling over with the effort.
Grandmother continued to shriek.
Water. His shirt; it was still wet from the basin. Still shouting the magic word, he ripped it off and threw it over Grandmother’s hand.
She screamed even louder and flung it off.
Flapping his hands at his mistake, he tried to think of what else he could do.
A blue light sparked over Grandmother’s hand. With what seemed like superhuman effort, she lifted her head and closed her eyes. The only thing that moved were her lips with a gasped incantation. The blue light over her hand dimmed, and then like molten gold, the ngozi poured back into the fire pit with a hiss.
Karari stood on the other side of the fire, the darkness gone from him, his eyes no longer glowing with that dark eerie light. He looked as shocked and frightened as Tururu.
He began moving toward her. “I---”
“Do not speak!” Still clasping her forearm, she struggled to her feet. Her body shook with the effort. She lifted pain-filled eyes to him.
“I curse you!” Her chest heaved with effort it took to speak. “You will never know another moment’s peace. Your soul will burn forever in the other world as my hand does now in this one. The ancestors curse you. The Goddess Gurutu will send her creatures to plague you.” She swayed back and forth. “From this day on, you are no longer a disciple of Amai Vedu Africa, nor my apprentice. You are done.”
“But I-I didn’t mean . . .” Karari dropped to his knees, face twisted with remorse. “Please. Forgive me.”
Grandmother straightened with effort. Her words were slow and halting. “You made your choice. Go from this place.”
Karari slowly rose to his feet and stared at her. He seemed uncertain, but then as if prompted from something inside, he took a deep breath. His expression hardened.
“I will go. But only because I no longer need you. Nothing will happen to me because I am young and strong. Not old and weak like you.”
The fire rose again. Within moments it had increased tenfold. Karari glanced from the fire to Grandmother and then back again. Uncertainty played across his face. Tiny blue figures burst up and out, like spray from a fountain in a strong wind, landing every which way outside the fire pit.
Tururu jumped back. He’d never seen this kind of thing happen before. The ngozi were out of control. “Grandmother!”
But she didn’t seem to hear him. She just stood there like a rag doll, panting, as if it took everything to stay upright. He grabbed her good arm. She swayed toward him, eyes glazed with pain.
Tururu jabbed his finger toward the fire. “Ngozi!”
Grandmother jerked upright. “Amai Vedu!”
Keeping an eye on the flames, she pleaded with the mother to give her strength. And then she stopped, as if hearing some private sound and uttered a series of invocations. The ngozi hung in the air for a moment. Then, crackling and spitting embers, they shrank back down again.
Chest heaving, Grandmother took a shaky breath and sank to her knees.