The Only Way, Ekene Eziagulu

Img Source: Steven Goethals

[box type=”info” align=”aligncenter” ]This is one of the stories that came out of the  Writivism 2014, a  project of the Centre for African Cultural Excellence, with the assistance of several partner organisations, which identifies, trains and engages readers and writers in public discourse through literature. As part of this years activities, they will have The Writivism Festival from 18 – 22nd June 2014. Like the Facebook page for more updates

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The Only Way

Every night in Kwacha, Malinta put up a spectacle in the village square. She invited everyone to join in her game with her friends: friends no one other than Malinta could see. Malinta’s father, Tishugabe, was a high chief. As a result of her episodic displays, he’d earned the nickname ‘Tutuli’– father of the scourged – while her mother endured disparaging asides in the market place.

Clarrick, the British missionary, told Tishugabe that Malinta was suffering delusions, but concerned relatives and friends forced an initiative to seek the intervention of the gods. One night, several sturdy young men encircled Malinta so the celestial inquiry could take place.

Malinta, in a state of half undress, wailed:Why are you all running so fast today? Please wait for me. Let us run together!” As Malinta made a dash to join her invisible friends, strong arms restrained her.

 “Oh, they are leaving me behind,” she sobbed, struggling to break free. “Please tell them to wait for me. Tell them to waaait…”

A group of women joined Malinta’s distraught mother, holding their bosoms as they sang dirges to the deities. Not too far from the wailing group, Tishugabe paced about; head bowed, shoulder’s slouched, hands interlocked behind his back.

“The time has come to hear from the mouth of the ancients,” a voice boomed, halting all activity including Malinta’s. Once he had their attention, the chief priest continued.

“The beads of life will show us the way,” he tossed them to the ground. The gathered crowd gasped and stepped backwards. Slowly, the chief priest began to dance – his head swayed from side to side, his arms flayed in the air, his legs kicked up a cloud of dust.

“Those names – Kwechu, Twicha, Nbagi, Fonah – are the messengers of the gods. Yes Malinta sees them, but they are not happy. They bring death and destruction to this land and to other lands, far away and close by,” the chief priest chanted. His voice rose, his eyes rolled back.

Murmurs from the crowd grew in intensity. What would befall Kwacha? The aides of the chief priest signaled the crowd to quiet down.

“Malinta’s blood pleases the gods and her body must bare the death meant for all. We will perform the Haikulu on her, three nights from now,” the chief priest concluded as he fell to the ground, limbs twitching. He closed his eyes and finally he was still.

Malinta’s mother and her army of sympathizers threw themselves to the earth and called upon the gods to change their verdict while Tishugabe stood holding his arms akimbo as if pleading with the sky. The other villagers of Kwacha shook their heads in pity as Malinta was led away. The gods had spoken.

In the time leading to the Haikulu, Malinta was held in a small cubicle. She snarled and snapped at all who came to pay their last respects. On the eve of the Haikulu, Tishugabe visited her. He walked in with a studied disposition but upon sighting Malinta, fettered by chains, unwashed and fiery, his resolve to remain detached broke. She groveled at his feet, digging in the sand with her hands. She growled at him, but Tishugabe thought he saw a spark of familiarity in her eyes, a glimmer of recognition. He recalled the times when she was young and would keep a vigil at the window for his return when he worked late; the times she stroked his thick beard whilst they both laughed. He hoped that these memories were the reason her eyes lit up when she saw him, but as he picked up a little dust to flay in the air, as was the tradition, Malinta put a similar quantity of earth into her mouth and chewed, grinning.

Tishugabe backed away from the creature his daughter had become. But, as he reached the door she cried out.

“Babu, I want to go home.”

Tishugabe spun around. He saw again that spark in her eyes that he recognised as Malinta, his daughter. He wanted to hug her, to tell her that all would be well and that she could go home with him.

“ Babu, please take me home. Please.”

But Tishugabe could do nothing. Malinta was to become atonement for the gods and no one could overturn the judgment of a deity. He wiped the tears from his eyes as he took his leave.

On the appointed night, a large crowd gathered to watch the Haikulu. The council of chiefs, including Tishugabe, were seated, and Malinta was tied to the stake. The chief priest, clad in elaborate beads and ornaments, raised his whip into the air.

“The gods demand a thousand cuts and the slow drip of blood as living atonement,” he called out. Dry leather met flesh and Malinta let out a low howl. Someone in the crowd began to hum the song of death and others followed suit. In between the whip cutting into Malinta’s back and the humming, a small child began to cry.

As the chief priest’s whip descended to mete further punishment, gunshots rent the night, sending the crowd scampering. The chief priest and his aides determined to stand their ground, but when they were fired upon again, they fled. Tishugabe sprang to his feet and headed to his daughter. As he cut her loose, he whispered into her ear: “Yes, my dearest. I will take you home.”

Clarrick emerged from the shadows, his rifle held high, followed by the homestead of Tishugabe.

“Your highness, the boat is ready,” he said.

Tishugabe nodded. Carrying a whimpering Malinta, he led his family from their land and the life they had known. For he cared, and this was the only way.

*End*

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