She had long since given up on trying to decipher the difference between reality and the dream. At first she could always tell for even at 5 years of age, she knew that disembodied glowing red eyes were but fiction. The eyes, when they appeared, were always before her and she’d continue seeing them even when she closed her own. Her tiny hands would then snap up in fright and try to cover her eyes, for the logic in her childish mind told her that if she couldn’t see them, they couldn’t see her. As the years wore on however and the details of the eyes grew sharper, she found she could barely tell the difference between waking and dreaming anymore. The eyes were almost always watching.
Witchcraft, the villagers had called it, and so she’d been starved and run out of her village the moment she became a woman.
“Woman indeed,” she scoffed out loud, the memories plaguing her as they always had, leaving behind the bitter taste of what she’d come to know as hatred.
It had been a silly idea, she’d known, but after years of seeing the menace in those red eyes, she’d caved in fear and told her stepmother of the haunting she experienced. She’d never forget the beating that followed thereafter as her father had looked on impassively while his second wife had kicked and slapped a 10 year old child in an attempt to exorcise the witchcraft. The mercy of unconsciousness had finally saved her and the villagers from then on had treated her with fear. There was an underlying current of disdain however, for they starved her until her skin turned coarse and the hair fell from her scalp. Still, they couldn’t bring themselves to kill her or cast her out; she was but a child, after all.
She’d never been a good looking girl; that much she’d realised when the Local Councilman of their small village, a man to whom great respect was afforded, never looked her way. He had always invited 5 or so of the other young girls into his house weekly for as long as she could remember, but she was never requested, not even before they’d accused her of witchcraft. The girls always came out sobbing and she’d once heard her stepmother berate one of her sisters, insisting that it was a great honour to have been chosen. It wasn’t clear to her what he did with the girls but she knew that she’d been left out and so was jealous as a result. Perhaps she’d never truly be a woman.
It was six long years since that first beating when she was finally declared a woman and banished from her village. Six years of learning slowly that their hatred of her was something she could stomach, so long as they feared her more. Years of her finally learning to hate every single one of them and fearing nothing except those red eyes that visited her and gleamed with death.
When her first blood finally appeared in her sixteenth year, the relief on the villagers’ faces was quite evident. Without much ceremony, they walked her to the edge of the furthest matooke plantation and told her she could never return. Their gleeful manner bothered her much less than the glowing eyes she could suddenly see before her in that moment.
She could feel the aura of death emanating from those eyes; they promised all manner of horrors and that terrified her beyond anything else. She could feel the villagers’ eyes still on her and after an hour of walking away from the plantation and through the surrounding woods, she began to wonder if they were following her just to see where she went. Curious, she turned around to confirm her theory only to see nothing but trees surrounding her.
Her skin started to crawl. She still felt like she was being watched and with each passing second, the feeling that she was not alone increased.
Her voice reverberated through the woods, making her jerk in fright. It was not meant to be that quiet. The sounds of scurrying woodland creatures should have filled the air but there was just silence and even though the sun was high in the sky, she felt a shiver start from deep within. Yes, she was certain that she was going to die that day.
“H-hello,” she stuttered, pausing to hear if there was a reply. “Please, p-please. Don’t hurt me,” she continued when there was no response. There was someone, something out there; she could feel it.
She wrapped her hands around herself and tried to fight back the fear and the tears that threatened to come with it.
“What is it about me that makes everyone want to cry…” a gravelly voice spoke up but she couldn’t hear the rest of what was said as a startled scream tore from her throat while she turned around frantically, trying to find the source of voice.
Her eyes finally landed on a hooded figure dressed in browns and blacks, and those horrible red eyes set in its face. Unable to hold them back anymore, she burst into tears.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, what is wrong with you now?” the figure snapped in irritation and she stepped back in fear, trying to fight against the tears.
“Please…please…” she started, her voice thick with fear. “I don’t want to die. Please don’t kill me.”
The eyes narrowed and she stumbled back quickly in a futile attempt to increase her distance from them. She stumbled and fell, a dull pain going through her buttocks as they made impact with the ground. It was then that she realised she wasn’t dreaming this time and her fear increased as her heart felt like it was trying to escape her chest. Blood pounded in her ears, like local drums lending their rhythm to what would soon become her death march.
The figure before her started moving, closing the distance
between them without making a sound and her body gave up, releasing a stream of urine in terror.
She looked into those red eyes and closed her eyes, knowing the futility of her action. The urine mixed with the smell of her menstrual blood choked the air and her whimpering echoed throughout the woods.
“What’s your name, child?” the voice spoke again, its rasping seeming to claw at her very soul, making her open her eyes in fear.
Never give your name to Death for he’ll then have the power to reap you, a proverb said and she remembered it as she started trembling in fear.
“Speak, child,” the voice sounded again and she looked down at the ground, her eyes burning.
“N-nakintu Viola,” she whimpered
“Nakintu?” the voice spoke again, disdain clear in its tone. “No, I’ll call you Viola. I’m not going to kill you, child.”
Viola hiccupped in surprise and stared up at the figure, daring to hope that it spoke the truth.
“I have no reason to kill you yet, though judging from your state, that might soon change in the next week or so, I daresay.”
She looked down, listening to the voice of this creature that had haunted her for a decade and shuddered. The spark of hope that had appeared as its words traversed through her system, calming her down enough to realise that even if the figure wore a hooded shirt, its face didn’t look as monstrous as she’d feared.
In that moment, for a reason she couldn’t understand, a spark of anger rose and ignited every other emotion within her until she was practically trembling in rage. It could have been that she’d been drowning in anxiety for so long that her heart was now looking for any other emotion to escape into. Or it could be that her mind had already resigned itself to death and so was looking for any way to get there, including trying to anger the creature before her, as well. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t good enough to hold her from saying what she did next?
“If you’re not here to kill me, then what the hell do you want?” she spat.
There was barely any movement in response from the hooded figure except perhaps a subtle raising of an eyebrow, but she might have imagined that. It didn’t matter though for the anger pushed through her system, churning words out of her mouth before she had time to process them.
“You haunt me for years, years! I’ve been unable to get a decent night’s sleep in 10 years! I’ve been hated, punished, and cast out of my village because of you! My family…” she trailed off as her voice broke and a sliver of sorrow sliced its way through the anger, abating it a little.
“My family disowned me and I’ve suffered for years, waiting for your cruel eyes to finally lead me to death.” She’d started pointing. “And now, now you tell me it was all for nothing? I must continue to exist; continue to suffer? I’ve… I’ve soiled my clothes because of you! Is this what you want? Is this what pleases you? Are you enjoying this, you-”
The figure spoke, its tone no more than a whisper on the wind this time but it was enough to bring back the fear she thought she’d long since discarded. A petrifying chill settled deep within her and she looked up into those great, horrible eyes, suddenly realising that there were worse things than death.
“It is not for you to question me. Death is but a passage into my realm, are you that eager for my company?”
The figure’s eyes narrowed and Viola shuddered again.
“What… What do you want from me?”
Whatever fire had risen within her had been extinguished in mere seconds. She had no force of presence there; she was worthless and yet there stood a being with power, willing to engage her.
“That’s what I’m here to inquire from you.”
“What?” she asked, unable to process the information.
“Every child has visions of me in one form or another. Most forget them almost immediately but you…there’s something about you…” the figure trailed off, it’s head tilted slightly as if musing.
“What do you mean? What do you want from me?”
“You’re of Kintu but not like him. What would possess your parents to name you… Unless, unless it was my father’s attempt in trying to make you like Kintu. He must have known, that bastard.”
The figure had continued speaking as if she’d never asked her question, those eyes still holding her in place and the confusion added to the roiling anxiety within her made her nauseated.
“What do they teach you children these days?” the figure asked, exasperation clear in its tones. “All parents get inspirations for naming their children from my father. The names are always apt and that’s why they hold power.”
“Who is your father?”
Of all the questions she could have asked…
“Ggulu,” the figure responded.
She stared at the figure, half hoping that it was joke but at that point, she was turning into a quick believer. The myths she’d always heard told in bits and pieces played in her memory as she tried to remember what the legends specifically told.
“He must have known that who you are will call to me but why then would he name you such? Mark you with my brother-in-law’s name, as if it’s not enough that all of you are his children.”
Viola got the distinct feeling that the figure wasn’t talking to her anymore and her mind continued trying to remember the folktales and little myths she’d heard as she tried to figure out who this unusual being was.
“It would mean that he knew this day would come. That even if he gave me mastery over death and the afterlife, you are my way back to him. Finally, he has given me one of Kintu’s children!”
“Walumbe,” Viola whispered in shock as the realisation hit her like a freight train. “You’re-”
“Yes, Walumbe is the name given to me by my own father. Don’t call me that.”
“W-what do you want from me?”
She was stuttering again as the puzzle pieces slid into place. Ggulu was the creator of everything and Walumbe was one of his children. The same figure that had been taunting her almost all her life and was now looking at her with more disdain that she’d ever felt in her life. Walumbe, who’d tried to take for his own one of the first children ever born on earth and had consequently killed the child when he was denied. And he’d said that she’d called to him?
“I never called for you!” she denied, not really understanding what she was saying but knowing that she wanted nothing to do with the figure before her.
“You did. Your very being called to me. Your hatred for all of Kintu’s children resonated with mine.”
She paused, looking up at him and everything in her rebelled at the idea.
“I didn’t. I couldn’t… I am one of Kintu’s children!”
“You are but you’re not. Tell me, Viola, if you had a chance to end everyone who’d ever wronged you, would you?”
She didn’t answer; she didn’t have to. Viola knew the words she’d whispered to herself in the dark when the pain would become too much to bear; when the loneliness and loss would pervade her entire being and leave her a sobbing mess. She could vividly remember the lurid wishes and prayers she’d chanted over and over again until they sounded like curses.
She would end the entire world if given a chance.
“You called to me and now I’m here to ensure that you’re never alone again.”
“All this time… All this time you waited. You could have-”
“Could have what, child?” Walumbe spat, interrupting her. “I am disease and death personified; you’re a product of my sister and that fucker Kintu’s union. You were created by my bastard father no less. What makes you think I could touch you without his permission?”
Viola stared at him in surprise, hearing the vulnerability in his tone for the very first time.
“If you want someone to blame, blame Ggulu. This has nothing to do with me; all I ever did was love my sister and want her to do better but he’d-”
“You killed their child!” Viola accused, wondering for just a second what it was exactly that made her bold enough to talk back to Death.
“I am Death, child.”
She stared at him disbelievingly. Her life up to that point hadn’t been exactly normal but why exactly was she having a spat with Death himself. How, even?
“Will you join me?”
“What if this is your way of getting me to accept death; to kill me?”
Those red eyes studied her for a second before their owner responded.
“You will die, one day. You will exist in my realm for all eternity after your life is done, that’s not negotiable. Then you may confront my father and ask him why you are. Why he’d thrust you into the abyss of despair and loneliness without providing someone to pull you out of it. Perhaps I am that someone; I don’t care. I am only here to offer you some peace before that happens. Will you not drink of your enemies’ blood, Daughter of Kintu?”
Viola stared at the hand he offered her and took it, using it to lift herself from the ground and from her own urine and blood. What more could she possibly lose?
Then the woods were like they’d been before, as if not a single soul had passed through them in months.