Monday, May 21, 2012

Death in a Mat Part IV

Grace was a plump, large woman who loved to laugh as much as she loved flowery dresses and hair weaves. Whenever she laughed, her big round eyes shone brightly and her body shook like jelly. She was often in the company of her friend Njeri with whom they shared every naughty secret, from bedroom secrets, the double entendres and other naughty expressions about the men they interacted with and their fears and insecurities.
As her body shook on that day, it was shaking in pain, not joy. What racked her huge frame was not mirth but deep anguish. She sat alone at a table in Oasis restaurant as she sobbed her pain away. She had just caught her husband of thirteen years in bed with another woman. She had suspected him for quite a while and had set up a trap, which, against her hopes, worked and confirmed her worst fears. She had confronted her husband Mike as the mistress scampered away half naked and Mike had slapped her so hard that she felt the left side of her face was on fire. Seeing her beloved Mike in that enraged state, and having him lay his hands on her like that hurt her so deeply, she remained lying on the veranda outside her house for hours crying herself into oblivion. Her puddle of tears mixed with her drooling saliva and smeared make up made her a pitiful sight. After her husband had left in a huff, the neighbors helped her into her house where she wept in privacy. They tried to comfort her but she was inconsolable. Between the sobs she swore to take her life.
It was not the beating that hurt her. She was tough. She could take a slap, even a blow. In fact, in a fair fight, she could wipe the floor with Mike. It was what Mike had told her that ripped her insides apart.
He told her that she was fat and was not taking care of herself and he was no longer attracted to her. ‘Wasn’t it Mike who married me when I was size eight?’ she wept as she repeated her unanswered questions. ‘Isn’t this body the one that has given Mike three children?’ She said as she slapped her body and tore at her clothes and pulled her hair out and rolled on the floor. Distraught neighbors could only watch. She finally collected herself and called her friend Njeri, who told her to meet her at Oasis after she had narrated tearfully about what had transpired.
‘Hi Sis’ Njeri greeted her as she hugged her friend, her face set in a frown. Seeing her friend in that state saddened Njeri so much that she wiped away some teardrops herself as she commiserated her.
Grace hugged her silently and as she did so, she gushed out a new torrent of tears. After Njeri had calmed her down, she took Grace after some days to a friend who she said could help. The friend could not help with weight loss as Grace had expected. But she offered to help fix Graces’ marriage.
‘Through counseling?’ Grace asked.
‘No, not counseling only but there is some counseling involved. Except, it will ensure that your husband never cheats again and will remain forever devoted to you’ Njeri’s friend had explained with a cheeky glint in her eye.
Grace was a devout Catholic and did not like where the conversation was going. She was not going to participate in black magic. Her breathing and pulse quickened at the thought.
Seeing her friend’s body language, Njeri asked to be excused and pulled Grace aside.
‘My friend has helped many people with similar problems. Give it a chance’ Njeri started hesitatingly.
‘Give what a chance?’ Grace asked defensively. ‘Is this witchcraft you want me to do?’ she asked witheringly.
‘It is just…well, it is like witchcraft, but what is important is to save your marriage’ Njeri said then added, ‘Don’t you want to save your marriage? Many people have done it and it works’
After some persuasion, Grace had agreed and Njeri’s friend had taken some ten thousand shillings from Grace and set up a meeting for Grace to meet the ‘herbalist.’
The herbalist lived in a ramshackle house in the middle of a vast slum in Nairobi. He was a clear-shaven, middle-aged man in cracked spectacles who wore a dirty loincloth and sat on a dusty floor surrounded by jugs and covered clay pots and a huge bag that he placed by his side. He welcomed Grace and Njeri to some low stools. As he stared pointedly at them to explain their presence, Grace averted her eyes from his bare-chest that was dotted with greying hair. As she looked away, she met a pair of eyes in the dark space next to the ‘herbalist’.
Njeri explained that Grace’s husband had found another woman and wanted to leave Grace and this is why they had come for his help.
‘Is this true?’ The herbalist enquired sedately, looking at Grace over the rim of his spectacles. Grace could not find her voice and managed a small croak and a nod for an answer.
The small room was dark and Grace did not like cats. As her eyes adjusted to the dark, she realized that there were two black cats sitting next to the herbalist. One of them made a point of licking its nose and staring through Grace as if it could see her soul. Her skin crawled when she found some cobwebs just above her head. Her ample hips were also not suited for sitting on these small wooden stools which were like tree stumps and she had to make an effort to balance herself on top of her stool. Something alive moved in a sack on the right of the herbalist. Grace wanted to get out of that house. Plus, what was that smell, she wondered as her nose wrinkled in distaste as a fetid smell assaulted her nostrils. She looked around desperately for refuge, her large eyes not masking her fright and discomfort.
‘Don’t worry my girl’ the herbalist said helpfully. ‘I have the solution to your problem’ he added as he reached for the sack on his right. Njeri placed a restraining hand on Grace’s trembling shoulder. The two women stared in trepidation at the sack and the concealed hand in it.
After taking a satisfied glance at them, the herbalist pulled out a light brown snake which he carefully placed on the dusty floor in front of him. It was about twenty inches long and two inches thick. Both Njeri and Grace jumped to their feet and he told them to sit down lest they upset the snake and mess his job.
‘Slowly!’ He snapped.
They sat down very, very slowly, their eyes glued on the snake. Then he scattered some sea shells on the floor, followed by some roots and dried tree barks and he listlessly scrutinized them as the snake slowly slithered around them. Even the cats were staring at the snake in rapt attention, their ears pointing sharply upwards. He took a deep breath as he finalized surveying the assorted objects on the floor then hissed out as if in resignation. Female eyes shifted from the snake to his face which was now an impenetrable mask. His eyes were now coals of fire as he placed them with finality on the two trembling figures in front of him.
‘It’s the snake that lied to Adam on the garden of Eden’ he said thoughtfully as he blinked as if recalling some old memory. ‘And it is the snake that tempts married men to the whims of other women just like it lied to Adam through eve….’ He rested his eyes on Grace. ‘And it is the snake that tells me what lies the woman has been telling your husband, and how to free him’
Grace was looking at him in puzzlement and struggling to understand what the herbalist was saying.
‘Are you…’ she started but he held up a restraining hand and looked away as if the interruption bothered him deeply.
‘That woman has bewitched your husband and we need to break her spell by killing a live snake. Bring a live black mamba and a piece of your husbands underwear and you will never see that woman again and your husband will forever be loyal to you’
He paused and observed Graces demeanour to see how what he said sank into he mind. Her face was a crumbling mask of horror and confusion.
‘Bring twenty thousand for now. That will be all’ He said dismissively and he tenderly picked the snake from the floor and placed it back in the sack.
‘Twenty thousand…’Grace muttered.
‘Just give him’ Njeri whispered, turning toward Grace. ‘It is Ok’ she added reassuringly.
Grace fumbled with her handbag and after a while, retrieved a wad of a thousand shillings notes. Njeri’s friend had told them what the herbalist’s consultation fee amounted to. With an exaggerated sense of decorum, the herbalist told her to place it on the floor, pointing at the spot where the snake had coiled with a stick as if the money were unclean. Grace did so hesitatingly, with a trembling hand, afraid that the snake would emerge and bite her. Nausea racked her body and she abruptly shot up and staggered outside as her the contents of bowels rushed through her mouth in a distasteful gush.
After throwing up and inhaling a lungful of semi-fresh air outside the herbalists house, Njeri helped her out of the slum and they once again jumped over puddles of sewage water and navigated their ways across garbage heaps and marauding dogs out of the slum.
After weeks of searching, they finally found a farmer who gave Grace a snake in a bag and Grace had placed it in her handbag and boarded a matatu to go see the herbalist as she could not dare keep the snake. She had paid thirty thousand to the farmer for the snake after he had sworn it was a black mamba. Njeri had traveled upcountry and could not accompany her to the herbalist. So Grace had to make the trip alone. Luckily for her, the herbalist agreed to see her on the same day. Relieved, she quickly dressed and packed some money and boarded a matatu.
She placed her handbag at her feet in the matatu and had a lot on her mind as the matatu headed towards the city centre. Was this herbalist really going to give her back her Mike? What if he was only going to fleece her of her money and not help her? Was she really that fat and ugly? She sat between the driver and a man who had a weather-beaten face and had a permanent expression of distaste below his threadbare cap. She took one look at him and thought, ‘creep.’
Grace was feeling hot as she sat between the two men and she looped an arm around the passenger’s seat on her left to air her armpits and after a while, she fell asleep. Meanwhile, in her bag, the snake was feeling cramped and hot and writhed itself in the bag seeking an exit. As the matatu weaved in the traffic and jerked from one side to the other Grace’s handbag kept moving and at some point the snake’s head found an opening and it slithered out into open daylight and found itself at the floor of the driver’s seat, near the break and the accelerator. It coiled itself as it flickered its tongue and took in its new surrounding. The driver’s foot kept coming down near its head as he accelerated and braked, almost crashing it. Again and again. Gradually, the snake got upset and its poison glands were filled with venom. It hissed to warn its attacker. But the feet continued slamming closer to its head. There was a commotion at the back of the matatu and the driver heard one of the passengers shout that they were being carjacked and that he was a policeman. At that very moment, the snake flicked its tongue and sensed the heat at the drivers feet and it struck.
The driver glanced at his feet when he felt a sharp pain and could not take his widening eyes off the unblinking serpentine horror that was coiled at his feet. That split second when he took his eyes off the road, the matatu veered off the road and went crashing into a banking hall and threw Grace headfirst through the windscreen. She landed unconscious on the polished floor of the roadside bank.
When she came to, she was being wheeled into an ambulance and after she regained her senses, she asked for her handbag. One of the paramedics gave her a handbag and asked her whether it was the one. She took it as a searing pain jolted through her chest and made her lie back on the bed with tears flowing from her eyes. Then she carefully opened the bag. She looked at every end of it and the terrible realization sank in: her snake was gone!
As she struggled to sit up, the paramedics told her she had suffered a broken rib and should lie still. They gave her an injection through her arm. As the sedative took effect, she got sucked into the mist of unconsciousness with the expressionless face of the herbalist staring at her, bereft of his broken spectacles with his snake coiled around his skinny neck and her husband’s voice saying she was fat, fat, fat,… ugly.

**To be know**

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