Derek is waking up with a start. He immediately tries to sit up but falls back against the thin pillow again. His head hurts and spins, but he can breathe more freely than before and it’s a beginning.
‘Mzungu is awake! Come quick!’
He turns his head towards the voice shouting in a strange language and sees a dark young boy around ten with short, curly hair agitating his arms to someone outside. He can hear people approaching, excitedly chattering in a language he doesn’t understand.
Africa? How come he’s in Africa? He was on his way somewhere…
His head hurts from the strain of trying to remember. He needs to concentrate but the chattering grows more insistent and suddenly a little group of people are standing in the doorway, staring wide-eyed at him. He tries an awkward smile and the young woman immediately makes a sign in the air and looks down at her feet. An old woman dressed in a colorful dress takes a step forward. She’s holding a baby in her arms and her posture and the way the others let her pass tells him she must be important.
‘Let me in! I can’t see anything! Let me in!’ Chiku whines in Buntu and jumps up and down, trying to catch a glimpse of what is happening from her position behind everyone.
When the family’s dog tries to squirm its way into the room, she takes advantage of her father sidestepping to hinder it to make herself small and sneak past on the other side but her mother grabs her arm and holds her back.
‘But Elewisa is in there-’
‘He is the one who saw mzungu waken.’
‘But I am the one who woke him up! Let me in! Please?’
‘Shht. If I let go of your arm, will you behave?’
Chiku just nods. As soon as her mother lets go, she gets down on all four and peeks into the dimly lit room.
Mzungu is leaning on his arm, looking warily up at Jina.
‘Where are my clothes?’ he croaks.
‘Ask his name, Elewisa!’ The little girl shouts from her vantage point on the floor. ‘Why doesn’t he answer, nyenya?’
The old woman looks at him with a huge smile lighting up her dark face and pronounces carefully, ‘What is your name?’
‘You speak English? Thank God… What happened? Where am I?’
‘Yes. I speak Kingeresa very well. What is your name?’ The old woman repeats patiently.
He closes his eyes briefly. ‘Err… I don’t know… Err… Bran? No, Derek… I think…’ He tastes the name and it has some meaning to him, but doesn’t feel quite right. Whatever. His name is not the issue here. ‘Where am I? Where are my clothes?’
He rolls over onto the side and starts sitting up.
‘Karibu – Welcome to kijiji kilichofichwa – the hidden village. I am Jina Madi and this is my grandchild, Elewisa.’
‘Oh, no.’ Chiku feels her eyes burn with angry tears. Elwisa will get all the credit and he’ll boast to all the other children about how he woke mzungu.
Jina gestures behind her to a tall man with his arms crossed on his chest. ‘And this is my son, Hami, and his wife, Kesi and-’
‘Chiku! I’m Chiku! Welcome Errbranderek! I woke you up with my magic voodoo stick!’ Chiku shouts in Buntu from her vantage point on the floor.
‘Chiku! Stop screaming like that. Behave!’ Her mother shushes her to no avail. ‘What will mzungu think of us?’
Derek grabs the sheet and wraps it around him as he staggers up. He almost faints in his haste and grabs around him for balance, scaring poor Elewisa who screaming in fright rushes towards the adults.
‘Mama!’ What if his mother had been right all along? ‘Mzungu just tried to catch me!’
‘Elwisa!’ Kesi grabs his arm and pulls him out of the room, backing away. ‘I told you – mzungu is emibi imimoya! He tried to catch our son!’
‘Don’t be silly,’ Hami says. ‘The poor man lost his balance, is all.’
Kesi looks doubtful, but at least she doesn’t add anything.
‘I have to leave… I… I…’ Derek touches his forehead and staggers backwards. His legs touch the bed and unfold, making him slump backwards onto the thin mattress.
‘Mzungu is not strong enough yet,’ Jina says. The baby starts wailing and she hands it to her daughter in law behind her. ‘No stand up!’ she says to Derek in her broken English and tut-tuts. ‘Mzungu need food to make strong. Much food and rest. Now sleep.’
‘I’m not tired…’ Derek protests halfheartedly. He’ll just lie down and as soon as they leave, he’ll find his clothes and get out of here. Wherever “here” is…
He is too exhausted to stay awake, and only a few moments later, he is deeply asleep.
In his dreams he is back in Bigwood Falls with his brother. He is pushed by a strange urgency, pedaling through the dense forest on his bike but being slowed down by Teddy. He knows he has to hurry to the Cove, but doesn’t know why. When he finally gets there, the old wooden house is on fire and he can see a dark silhouette against the soaring flames in an upper floor window. A pointy hat is shadowing the face, but he knows her. She’s a witch. His subconscious grasps for the knowledge and the old woman transforms into a raven-haired young girl reaching out through the window. If he doesn’t get to her quick, she’ll be condemned to burn alive, like a medieval witch on the stake. He’s the only one who can save her, so why isn’t he moving? He looks down at his feet. They are glued to the ground, imprisoned by gnarling roots winding their way up his legs. He struggles in wane, watching the flames overtake the roof with a terrifying roar and he can feel his whole being dying with the girl.
He wakes up in a cold sweat, her terrified screams still ringing in his ears and the sense of urgency hammering in his chest. Stairs flash through his mind, and a little garden.
He had fallen. Yeah, that’s it. He fell down some stairs. That would explain the bandages, and the cast on his leg. Taïga… She had been there. Or was it just an illusion?
He has to get home. He reaches for the jug next to his bed and frowns at the bitter smell of the water but he is too thirsty to be picky and quickly drains the content.
Jina stops a few feet from the bed. She watches mzungu lying drooling on his stomach, his left arm brushing the floor next to the knife she had left on the table. She tut-tuts over her own carelessness. He must have gotten up from bed again. Luckily he seems to have drunk the medicine she administers him since a few days back and that has, so far, kept him in a drug induced sleep.
She puts some incotho root in her mouth and starts chewing. When her mouth is feeling numb, she quickly spits it over his bare back and massages it into the taught skin.
If he starts wakening up regularly, they must come to a decision about what to do with him. Maybe a sacrifice will be called for and she must prepare what to answer the elders’ thirst for blood… Meanwhile, she’ll just increase the quantity of incotho root. So far it has worked well, even keeping the glowing eyes in check.
Jina is braiding Chiku’s hair but the energetic girl has trouble staying still during the long process.
‘If you just sat still, I’d already be done.’ Jina pulls hard at her hair, swiftly braiding.
‘Mzungu… When is he going to get up?’
‘When he is strong enough.’
‘I think he is strong enough now. He is eating and sleeping, so why doesn’t he get out of bed?’
‘When the time is right…’
Chiku sighs. She wants a concrete answer but she knows her grandmother. There is no way to make her grandmother speak clearly if she has her mind set on being cryptic.
‘Can I at least help feeding him?’
‘La. It is not suitable for a young girl-’ Jina stops herself. ‘But you can sit with us. Learn some Kingeresa. Bring your book.’ Jina finishes the last thin braid and leans back to better appreciate her artwork.
‘Thank you, nyanya.’ Chiku hugs her grandmother and sets off in search of the English book.
Hami waits for his daughter to vanish before he approaches his mother.
‘Mama. I come from the village and the elder council is uniting tonight to settle mzungu’s fate.’
‘So be it,’ Jina states flatly. She gathers her skirt and vanishes inside the hut. ‘Ask Kamili for a white goat.’
Hami nods and sets off towards the village with a spring to his step. Jina is preparing for a sacrifice, but it also means a feast for the family later tonight.
Jina spends the rest of afternoon praying the ancestors to accept her offering, an immaculate white goat, courtesy of Kamili Balala, the village’s rich merchant who is aspiring to become part of the Elder Council. Jina will certainly not vote for the self-important man, but she won’t refuse an offering neither. Especially as no one ever comes to check on her proceedings, so she gets to keep the meat.
She lights four candles on the little altar, being careful not to touch the statue of the goddess Ala. The ancestors appreciate gifts, so she has brought some flowers and fruit to appease them. The goat will be the ultimate sacrifice to Ala, the Earth goddess.
‘Ala, Earth Goddess who rules over the underworld and holds the deceased ancestors in your womb, accept my offering and share it with your husband, the great Amadioha, God of the skies. Hear my request…’
While the rest of the household is resting in the afternoon, Chiku sneaks away to mzungu’s hut, as usual. She hides behind the chair next to his bed. It feels safer to keep a kind of shield between herself and those blazing blue eyes, even though she is almost sure they are harmless. At least to her, a future priestess.
He’s completely out anyway. Snoring and drooling. Gross…
‘I can see you, you know.’
Chiku almost falls backwards. Did mzungu just speak? She peeks at him from behind the chair. She knows she should call for help, or at least get her parents, but what if he is just talking in his sleep? They’ll call her a liar and she’ll be punished again. She rolls her eyes. She will certainly not give her brother the satisfaction of teasing her in front of their friends. Oh, no. No way will she-
‘What’s your name?’
She stares at mzungu and holds her breath.
He is lying on the side, looking at her with piercing blue eyes. She is usually very articulate but now her mind is empty as a dried out Kola nut shell. She can’t even remember mzungu’s name.
‘Jina lakonani?’ She croaks but mzungu just looks clueless. Maybe he doesn’t understand. She points to herself. ‘Jina langu ni Chiku. Chiku.’ Then she points to him, repeating ‘Jina lakonani?’
‘My name? You want to know my name?’ Derek asks with a croaky voice. ‘Derek.’ He points to himself, then at the little girl. ‘I am Derek. Derek. You are Chiku?’
‘Ndio! Chiku! Euh-bran-de-rek!’
‘Err… it’s Derek. Just Derek. Derek,’ he insists and Chiku nods eagerly with a huge smile plastered on her dark little face.
‘Could I have some water?’ He repeats “water” simulating drinking and Chiku reaches for the jug on the table.
Derek shakes his head and grimaces. ‘Just plain water. Preferably fresh.’
Chiku looks into the jug. It smells a little stale. She looks back at mzungu.
‘Do you want water from the well? I’ll get you some. Just wait here,’ she says in Buntu and shakes her head at her own silliness. Of course he’ll wait.
She’s back a few minutes later with a pitcher sloshing over with cool water. She babbles on about something as he drinks and then asks for more so he can clean up a little.
When she comes back with a bowl and a second jug, he’s sitting up against the pillows. He feels a little better after drinking and washing his face, but his head is still feeling foggy and his body aches.
Chiku stands at the foot of the bed, watching him and repeating his words. Derek pretty soon gets the vocabulary for food, hungry and thirsty. At least he thinks they are the words she has taught him. He asks her repeatedly for the old woman, but Chiku doesn’t understand what he wants and after a while he gets too tired to insist.
Mzungu is sleeping again, but Chiku is excited about their brief conversation. Well, not exactly a conversation, but they did talk and they understood each other. She sighs contentedly. Kingereza is really easy. She takes up position outside the hut with her English book, afraid to miss the opportunity her grandmother had promised.
But there was no need to worry, Jina is soon arriving with a steaming bowl and they both enter the hut. Chiku doesn’t tell her grandmother about her exchange with mzungu, she just hopes he won’t either.
‘Kula.’ Jina approaches the spoon with some grey gunk on it and Derek turns his head away. But the old woman insists. ‘Kula. Eat. Palm nut soup will make you strong.’
‘I understand why he doesn’t want to eat, nyanya. It’s not good without fufu!’ Chiku says in their dialect.
Her grandmother chuckles. ‘His stomach is not yet ready for fufu.’
Jina helps him raise his head and suddenly the spoon is in his mouth. It doesn’t taste very good, but not bad either. When she holds up his head the next time he opens his mouth and obediently swallows. The food makes his stomach churn.
‘See? You hungry. Stomach says so.’ Jina nods to herself with satisfaction.
‘Look, nyanya! Simba!’ Chiku shows some bright images of African animals in her book.
‘And the kingereza word is..?’
‘Siyo – not so. Laijon.’
‘But it’s written leeon here, with an “i”.’
‘Ndio – Yes. In kingeresa, that letter is pronounced “ai”.’
‘Oh… I prefer the turtle anyway! It beats all its enemies with its patience and strong will!’ Her grandmother nods at the cleverness of her grandchild, who boldly continues, ‘But mzungu prefers the jackal or the dog!’
‘Why do think so?’
‘Because he has got a tattoo on his-’
Jina steers the conversation away. ‘Is it you have drawn that line in the schoolbook?’
‘Hapana – No…’
‘I prefer. It is the propriety of our community school. Other children will use it and…’
Chiku tunes out her grandmother’s ranting and peeks at the stranger over the rim of the book. He’s laying back with closed eyes. Maybe he is sleeping again. He is so boring. Just sleeping, sleeping, sleeping…
Part II – End of Chapter 48