Friday, 13 December 2013
Her steady swim had left her disjointed and weightless, able only to lie prone on the sun-bed secured under the glass sky. She felt as clean as a dish-washed cup, unstained inside and out.
Even in their frenzied search for salt moisture and hot meat, the Dream Beasts could not penetrate the Swimming Pool building to tear her apart. The sharp echo of voices in high hard spaces exerted a force field that prevented them from entering. Heavy with soft damp in her bathrobe, anchored by exhaustion, she could stop running. The seamless walls and changeless climate of the Health Suite were unassailable. Her towel turban cushioned her ears against the baying of police cars and the yelp of fire engines as they circled among the surrounding catch-nets of particulate smog and traffic.
The soundless trees outside were late-sun yellow. Leaves fell without a whisper of regret. Last spring, she had been startled in the burrow of her bedclothes, by the foetid smell of piss and mouldy earth. A sticky brown ooze seeped from between her legs. She had felt her nipples tugged, the sting of milk in her breasts, the shove of paws at her flank. She had seen teeth and eyes glitter in the dark.
She had not slept since.
In the Steam Room, heads vanished in soft fierce clouds as bodies dissolved. Heat seared the flesh off cheekbones and exposed eyeballs while burning air scorched the inside of throats, wrinkling windpipes into pink plastic hoses. The woman could barely see her legs stretched out before her. They were slick with moisture, smooth as pearled shells.
Showering after the sauna, she scrubbed at the thought of moss matting her hair, recoiled at the memory of a ridged scar the length of her thigh. All summer she had prickled with electric fur, her senses interactive. All autumn she had felt with her eyes, smelt with her ears, seen with her nose, heard with her skin. All year she had been desperate to hide and desperate to run. Ecstasy and terror had combined in a fatal high.
Now in the bubbling Jacuzzi she floats free of the earth. A neutral space in a tepid, hygienic bath of chemical daylight. She is as safe as laundry. She no longer slinks through the secret night with blood on her tongue or searches the shadows for mysteries without answers. She no longer dances up hills, a forest in every breath, a meadow under each pad, alive to the sound of shrieks and howling. Her dark red heart no longer beats to the rhythm of hoof and horn, claw and fang. She is no longer huntress or hunted.
In the Meditation Space where synthesised ghost birds cry unanswered and water runs uphill, she rests empty as a winter nest. On the sun-bed afterwards, she lies down in a doze as deep as Astro turf. Her eyes are opaque as mirror glass, her soul an air-conditioned room. She no longer wanders in the wild moonlight. There is no wilderness. There is no death. She need not run hunting for life. The Dream Beasts sneaked up in the lift with sachets of decaffeinated coffee and sweeteners of Prozac and caught her off guard.
“Birth’s not hygienic.” they whispered as they surgically removed her womb.
“Kindness has no wrinkles.” they smiled as they glossed her new face.
“Death is defeated.” they nodded, pumping centrifuged plasma into her pale heart.
“Then there'll be no need for dreaming.” the Green Woman said and at last she slept.
Saturday, 7 December 2013
I wrote this story for older children but also for people learning to read. I wanted a magical story with a positive portrayal of a girl and a boy who are heroes, comrades and friends. I wanted it to be informative about the environment and the importance of trees.
I would welcome any corrections or input and also suggestions about links to good nature sites so that the story can be interactive.
Thank you Guida Bell-Cross for your input.
Thank you Guida Bell-Cross for your input.
THE STORY OF THE DROUGHT WITCH
THE FARM IN THE GREEN VALLEY
Deep in the heart of Africa, in a green fertile valley lived a strong hard-working farmer called Simon and his kind and sensible wife, Dorcas.
Simon and Dorcas had a son called Adam and a daughter called Constance. Adam helped Simon herd his sleek cattle and Constance helped Dorcas weed her maize and vegetable garden. The children were good friends and would go together to fetch water from the river or hunt for firewood in the forest.
One day after the first rain of summer had fallen the whole family went to the fields to prepare the earth for their crops of millet and tobacco. Before Simon could hitch his two best oxen to the plough there was a noise like the rushing and crackling of a bush-fire and a huge, dusty whirlwind swept down the valley towards them. Simon and Dorcas told the children to run for shelter but Adam and Constance hid by the Ilala palm to watch the wind blow grass and leaves high into the sky. They laughed as the whirlwind passed because it snatched a piece of red Chitenge cloth from the Boma fence where it was hung out to dry.
Suddenly they saw an evil witch riding in the centre of the storm among the dust and debris. She was all bones and lizard skins with the glowing eyes of an owl. Constance and Adam were shocked and frightened but before they could do anything the witch blew sand in their faces so that they could not see what she did or where she went.
THE DROUGHT WITCH
When Adam and Constance managed to open their eyes again they saw that their parents were entertaining a lovely young woman. The children were surprised because they were not expecting visitors that day but they went politely to greet the new guest.
‘My name is Kambili.’ the young woman said. Her round eyes blinked fast as she turned her head to stare at the children. They noticed that she was wearing a single red Chitenge around her body and it was damp as if it had just been washed.
‘‘Kambili’ means ‘whirlwind’!’ whispered Constance to Adam in fear.
‘She must be the witch we saw in the dust storm pretending to be a young woman!’ replied Adam.
Adam and Constance tried to warn Simon that Kambili was a witch in disguise but Kambili had cast a spell on their father and he would not listen to them or to Dorcas.
Each day that Simon remained under Kambili's spell the sun grew hotter and the rain refused to fall; the crops withered and the cattle grew thin. Soon the grain store was nearly empty. Simon did nothing but sit under the Tamarind tree and drink the Kachasu beer that Kambili made for him from sticks and dead rats.
When Kambili realised that Adam and Constance knew her wicked secret, she decided she turn them into mice so she could catch them in a trap. She planned to cook the children and make Simon and Dorcas eat them for supper.
THE START OF THE JOURNEY.
Dorcas was a sensible woman and a skilled herbalist. When she saw that Kambili’s eyes shone in the dark she knew that Kambili was the Witch who had brought the drought to the Valley. One day she called her children to her secretly.
‘Here is some food and a gourd of herbs.’ She said, ‘Go and find the Wise Woman of the Garden. Her name is Makemba. Only she can break Kambili's spell and save us all. You will find her in the Rainforest at the source of the Great River.’
That night brave Adam and Constance ran away and waited by the Baobab tree. In the morning an old Charcoal lorry bumped and rattled up to them.
‘Please give us a lift to the Big City.’ the children begged.
The Charcoal Burner was kind enough to let the children ride on top of his hard, knobbly load of sacks of Charcoal. They had a long uncomfortable journey without any sleep while the lorry climbed slowly out of the Valley. By the time it reached the main road the old engine was so hot that it exploded scattering bits of burning metal over the Saka-saka bush.
‘I shall never be able to fix my lorry.’ said the Charcoal Burner and he sat down to wait for his brother to come to his rescue in a few weeks’ time.
‘What can we do?’ asked Adam
‘I’m so tired!’ said Constance.
It was not long before a new and expensive car with a silver star on the bonnet drove up and stopped. The owner was a well-fed smiling man called Mr Mabenzi. Hidden in his car were the ivory tusks of poached elephants and the horns of poached rhinos.
‘Children.’ he asked. ‘Would you like a lift to the Big City?’
PRISONERS IN THE CITY
The Charcoal Burner shook his head at the children in warning but Adam and Constance did not stop to think why such a rich man was being kind to them. They climbed into the air-conditioned car and fell asleep at once. They were so tired that they did not wake up until they reached the Big City hundreds of miles away. When they arrived they found themselves locked inside the car in the middle of a busy market.
Mr Mabenzi was sitting in the shade of a Mango tree talking to huge ugly woman called Tindi Richwoman and a shifty-looking man called Kota Badman.
‘I will exchange my elephant tusks and rhino horn for your drugs." Mr Mabenzi said.
‘We want the children for slaves as well.’ said Kota Badman.
Adam and Constance were terrified when they realised that they were prisoners but it was too late to run away. Constance was put to work at once cooking meat in Tindi Richwoman's tavern. Poor Adam was locked into a dark storeroom without food until a witch decided to buy him.
Constance was brave and did not despair. She remembered the gourd of Dorcas’s herbs and when no one was looking, she put them in the food she was cooking. Tindi Richwoman and Kota Badman ate greedily shouting for more. After a while they seemed to go crazy. They ran outside and began to shout and scream and threaten the people in the market. None of the marketers liked Tindi or Kota at all. They called the police who arrested the angry couple and marched them off to the city prison for the weekend.
ESCAPE IN A MINIBUS
Without wasting a moment, Constance let Adam out of the storeroom and the two children ran as fast as they could to the bus station. There they found a minibus that was going part of the way towards the Rainforest.
The minibus passengers were generous to the children and helped them with food and advice.
"This minibus driver is speeding too much!’ they complained. ‘The potholes in the road are getting too bad!’
Finally, as they feared, the minibus lurched out of control and crashed into a Sausage Tree. Fortunately no one was hurt though everyone shouted at the minibus driver.
‘Now we have no transport to take us to our destination.’ they said.
‘We’ll never reach the Rainforest!’ cried Constance in despair.
At that moment a battered pick-up truck stopped and the driver, Miss Rosie Beetle, got out to see if anyone needed a lift.
‘I’m going across the Wide Flood Plains to the edge of the Rainforest to study birds and butterflies.’ she said
‘Thank you. No.’ said the other passengers. ‘We want to get to the next town’ but Constance and Adam said ‘Yes please!’ together.
Miss Rosie Beetle was very friendly and talked all the time without stopping. At last they came to the end of the road. It turned into a narrow track then into the mud of the Wide Flood Plains.
Miss Rosie Beetle and the children had supper and made a camp for the night but Miss Rosie Beetle carried on talking even after the children had fallen asleep.
In the morning she gave them two presents to help them on their journey.
‘Here’s a plastic water bottle for you Constance, and a strong penknife for you Adam.’ she said.
THE WIDE FLOOD PLAIN
‘Goodbye and thank you!’ called the children.
They started to walk across the muddy, treeless plain in the hot sun. At nightfall, tired out, they reached a village of reed huts on the banks of a winding river. The headman, Ikabonga made the children welcome. His five wives gave them a delicious supper of fish and maize meal. After supper they played games with Ikabonga’s forty children.
Ikabonga was famous for his herd of giant cattle with horns like spreading trees. Next day Ikabonga spoke to Constance and Adam.
‘Climb onto the back of my big black bull, Imbolondo. He will carry you safely across the Wide Flood Plains to the Rainforest. No wild animals or lions will dare attack you on top of Imbolondo’s back!’
As promised, Imbolondo carried the children through herds of wild antelope, past dangerous lions and cheetahs. The children saw many different kinds of birds in huge flocks flying over the grassy plains. After many days and nights they came first to small bushes and then to the tall trees at the edge of the Rainforest.
‘I must turn back.’ explained Imbolondo. ‘There is no more grass for me to eat here.’
‘Thank you for your friendship and your strong safe back.’ said Constance and Adam.
It was cool and pleasant in the Rainforest after the hot plain. The children were tired of dried fish and pleased to find plenty of fruit to eat but there were no paths among the trees. As they wandered in the shade they forgot that they had to find the Source of the Great River and the Wise Woman, Makemba.
Soon Adam and Constance were completely lost.
THE WISE WOMAN OF THE SOURCE OF THE GREAT RIVER.
Adam and Constance might have been lost forever but they heard the bubbling song of the Rainbird and remembered that their parents were still under the spell of the Drought Witch. As soon as they stopped to listen and think, a Honey Guide called to them from a Rain Tree.
‘Follow me!’ he sang. ‘I will show you the way to the Source of the Great River.’
So Constance and Adam followed the bird on and on deeper into the Rainforest until they smelt honey and heard bees buzzing around a honeycomb high in a tree.
Even as they looked up, they saw it was not a tree, but a tall handsome woman wearing a skirt of bark-cloth and necklaces of seeds and pods. At her feet was a spring of clear water, the source of the Great River Zambezi.
Adam and Constance had found Makemba, the Wise Woman of the Garden.
Makemba welcomed the children. ‘Come and bathe in the spring. I will feed you honey and fruit and let you rest until you grow strong again.’
‘Please Makemba!’ begged Adam and Constance. ‘Break the Drought Witch's spell.’
‘It is not in my power to do so.’ explained Makemba. ‘The Drought Witch gets her power from the greedy, careless behaviour of people who do not look after their land and their trees.’
‘If you stay with me awhile I will teach you how to be good farmers. First you must learn what it is that plants need to grow strong and healthy then perhaps you can destroy the Drought Witch yourselves.’
THE DEEP CHASM
Adam and Constance spent a long time at the Source of the Great River helping Makemba look after her garden under her giant Fig Tree. When they were ready to return home Makemba a filled Constance's bottle with water from her spring and gave Adam a bag of seeds.
‘To break the spell of the Drought Witch,’ she said. ‘You must plant and water the seeds in the Once-Green-but-now-Dry-Valley on your way home.’
‘Be very careful.’ she warned. ‘Save the last drops of water to throw at the Witch to destroy her. Now go to the banks of the Great River and find Mokoro the Fisherman. He will take you some of your way home. You will recognise him by his sharp pointed teeth.’
Mokoro the Fisherman did have sharp teeth but he also had a kind smile. He was as long and thin and quiet as the pole he used to steer his dugout canoe. Mokoro made the children comfortable in the canoe and they set off down the Great River.
After they had canoed down the river for many weeks they found their way blocked by a wall of mist and spray that reached up to the clouds. With a deafening roar the Great River plunged into a vast Chasm that was so wide and so deep that the river turned to smoke and thunder as it fell.
‘What can we do now?’ Constance and Adam asked Mokoro.
Mokoro uttered some harsh, birdlike cries and threw his fishing net out onto the water. At once a flock of pelicans appeared in the sky. The pelicans picked up the fishing net with the canoe, Mokoro and the children suspended inside it and carried them all over the Chasm to the Deep Lake beyond.
THE GREAT RIVER
Mokoro paddled the canoe across the Deep Lake through fierce storms until they found the Great River again. Adam and Constance took turns fishing for their food. At night they made camp under Winter-thorn or Water-berry Trees or on rocky islands or sandy beaches. While the children slept, Mokoro stood on one leg like a heron and watched with one eye till the sun rose.
They faced many dangers and difficulties. Monkeys tried to steal the bag of seeds and baboons tried to steal the bottle of water. Often hippos tried to overturn the canoe and every day the crocodiles lay hidden, waiting to eat them all. However the Great River and its banks were very beautiful. There were so many wonderful and unusual plants, insects, birds, animals and fish that Adam and Constance were happy and interested all the time.
After many days and nights they reached the place where the Big River from the Once-Green-Now-Dry-Valley joined the Great River. The drought was by now very bad indeed and the Big River had become a river of sand with a little water in it. Here Mokoro turned his canoe against the current and paddled more slowly towards the children's home.
Soon there was not enough water for Mokoro's canoe so he silently took his leave of the children and Adam and Constance went on by foot alone.
SEEDS AND WATER
Now began the hardest part of the journey for Adam and Constance.
The sun was scorching and bright and the Mupane trees were burnt and leafless. Most of the birds and animals were dead and the children only found white bones and grey sticks. There was no water in the river only hot round stones. Adam and Constance were hungry and thirsty all the time. The children walked on and on, day after day, following the sandy banks of the river. The only sound they heard was the crackle of dry leaves underfoot.
Every night they had to keep watch for hyenas and every night before they rested they had to plant and water Makemba’s seeds. Adam made holes in the ground with his penknife, and then Constance carefully put in some seeds and a few drops of water. Makemba had told them that if they destroyed the Drought Witch then all the seeds they planted would grow into trees to replace those that had died in the Drought.
Last of all Adam and Constance had a few sips of water each. They tried not to think how afraid they were of the evil Drought Witch and how hard it would be to get close enough to kill her with a splash of water.
Every day they got a little nearer to their home. Every day they became more exhausted and fearful. Constance began to get more and more tired and ill. At last she could not go one step further and lay down on the ground.
‘I think I am going to die Adam.’ she whispered.
THE END OF THE DROUGHT WITCH
Adam decided to help his brave sister though he knew there would not be one drop of water left to destroy the Drought Witch if he gave her a drink. Gently he lifted Constance in his arms and laid her in a small patch of shade under a bare Mulunguti tree. With great care he dripped the last drops of water into Constance’s mouth.
As he did so, there was a terrible commotion. Adam saw Kambili hurrying towards him in a great fury. Kambili had grown so enormous from feeding on the drought in the valley that she had to be pulled on a sledge by magic Goats made from skeletons.
In her rage, Kambili grabbed Adam in her overgrown fists and began to squeeze the life out of him.
At the sound of Kambili's shouts and Adam s screams, Constance struggled to her feet. With the last remains of her strength, Constance spat the water straight from her mouth into Kambili's face.
With a hideous shriek, Kambili the Drought Witch exploded in a storm of dust, dried skin and bones and was blown away by a sudden, unexpected breeze from the Rainforest.
THE FAMILY MEAL
As soon as the Drought Witch was gone and her spell was broken, Adam and Constance felt strong enough to begin to search for their parents. Kambili had imprisoned Simon and Dorcas inside the empty grain store and set an army of termites to build an earth castle around them.
‘The earth of the termite mound is too hard for my penknife.’ said Adam trying to cut his parents free. ‘I don’t know what to do.’
‘Listen!’ cried Constance. ‘I can hear the sound of thunder!’
The same wind that had blown Kambili away had brought thunderclouds from the Rainforest in the North-west. Soon it was raining hard and the termite mound dissolved into soft mud. Simon and Dorcas climbed down from the grain store and took their courageous children in their arms.
‘How happy we are!’ laughed Simon. ‘The drought is over! The rainy season will be good. The river will be full, the cattle fat and the garden full of maize and vegetables again! It is because of our brave children, Adam and Constance!’
‘Come and tell us about your adventures Adam and Constance.’ Dorcas said. ‘I have made a fire even though we have no food to eat.’
Now that the termites had stopped obeying Kambili they could once again grow wings and fly away to make new homes. Makemba, the Wise Woman of the Garden had not finished her good work however, while the family talked and laughed together, she made sure that some termites flew straight into the cooking pot and there they made a most delicious Inswa Stew for supper.
This story is for my grandson, Stephen Kupakweshe but also for the children of Zambia.
My thanks to Dr Bradford Strickland for his advice on names.
The children's journey takes place in Zambia. They journey from the Luangwa Valley in the east through the central city of Lusaka, across the western Barotse Plains to the Rainforest of North-Western Province, then back down the Zambezi River past the Mosi-O-Tunya (the Smoke that Thunders) and Kariba Lake to the Luangwa River and home again.
I have altered the names to try and make the story a little more universal and to keep pronunciation simpler.
Mabenzi is the term for people who own a Mercedes Benz.
Ikabonga is a common name for a chief in Barotseland and Imbolondo is a common name for his black bull.
A Mokoro is a dugout canoe.
Inswa is the name for the termites that people love to eat.
Makemba is a Congolese goddess...
All the trees in the story are in their right place and have their uses for the people of Zambia.
SYNOPSIS OF THE DROUGHT WITCH WITH NOTES ON THE TREES.
- THE FARM IN THE GREEN VALLEY
In Africa the earth is baked so hard during the dry season that farmers have to wait for the first rain to soften the ground before they can plough the earth with their light hand-held ploughs pulled by a team of oxen. Farmers often plant a cash crop like tobacco to sell and a food crop like maize to store for themselves to eat.
Whirlwinds and dust devils are common at the end of the dry season. People believe that evil spirits ride inside them and think it is bad luck to get in the way of one.
In order to fly through the air, witches must wear no clothes.
The most common and useful garment worn by women is a two-metre length of fabric known as a Chitenge. It can be wrapped around the body. It is also used to carry a baby or hold a bundle of other possessions.
The enclosure inside which people live is called a Boma.
The Ilala Palm or Vegetable Ivory (Hyphaene natalensis) is common in the Luangwa Valley. The fruit has a hard white kernel like an ivory ball that children like to play with.
- THE DROUGHT WITCH
At the end of the dry season when there is little food and farmers are burning grass to prepare the ground for crops people sometimes set traps for mice in order to roast and eat them.
A dangerously strong alcoholic drink called Kachasu is occasionally distilled in the villages. All kinds of unpleasant ingredients may be added to it to make it ferment quickly.
The Tamarind Tree (Tamarindus indica.) is a very beautiful tree that grows on anthills. Elephants love to eat the pods and they have a sharp refreshing taste that is good for quenching thirst. They are also used to flavour food.
- THE START OF THE JOURNEY
The Baobab (Adansonia digitata) is a very large and bulky tree. People in the country identify routes and locations by distinctive trees nearby that can be seen from a distance. The Baobab has greenish pods with a white seed that tastes like cream of tartar and is thirst-quenching and pleasant to suck.
The most common fuel in Zambia is charcoal made from the non-replenishable source of forest trees. Charcoal is very heavy and bulky to transport and the lorries that carry it over bad roads are over-loaded and frequently break down.
- PRISONERS IN THE CITY
The trees most often planted in the city and shanty-towns are mangoes, cassava and bananas. They are regarded as the common property of all residents in the vicinity. Dorcas would have provided Constance with various herbs or muti from the leaves, bark or seeds of trees or shrubs. Those that Constance put into the food must have been hallucinogenic like Datura or Cannabis Sativa.
- ESCAPE IN A MINIBUS
The Sausage Tree (Kigelia africana) gets its name from the huge heavy sausage-shaped fruit that grows on it. Hippo and rhino and elephant like to eat the fruit and ointment from it is reputed to cure skin ailments. The large purple flowers are eaten by monkeys and fruit-bats. Legend has it that your breasts and genitals will become pendulous if you sleep under a Sausage Tree. You will certainly be hurt if a fruit falls onto your head.
- THE WIDE FLOOD PLAIN
The Flood Plain is treeless but its grasses provide food for huge herds of antelope like Puku, Impala, and Lechwe, as well as Wildebeest, and Zebra. Predators like lion and leopard and cheetah hunt the antelope and the meandering rivers and pans attract great numbers of birds. Hippo, crocodile and fish abound.
The people who live on the Flood Plain have to make low houses from reeds and grass as there is no wood to frame larger structures.
- THE WISE WOMAN OF THE SOURCE OF THE GREAT RIVER
The Fig Tree. There are many different varieties of Ficus in the forests of Zambia. Ficus sycomorus has a sweet and juicy fruit that people, birds, insects and animals love.
Makemba is wearing a skirt made by flattening and beating the bark of the Raffia Palm () until it is as soft and flexible as cotton fabric.
The Rainbird (Centropus superciliosus) calls in the rainy season before a rainstorm.
The Honey Guide (Indicator indicator) will lead humans to beehives knowing that they will break them open for the honey allowing the bird to help itself to the bee grubs and wax comb.
- THE DEEP CHASM
The children and Mokoro come to the impassable Victoria Falls or the ‘Mosi-o-Tunya’ the ‘Smoke-that-thunders’. Mokoro has a dugout canoe or makoro made by burning and carving out the hollow trunk of a single tree. He uses a pole to punt it down shallow stretches of river and a paddle to go over deep water.
Flocks of Pelicans (Pelecanus onocrotalus) in flight are a most beautiful sight.
- THE GREAT RIVER
The children sleep under Water-berry trees (Syzygium cordatum) along the river banks and under Winter-thorn trees (Acacia albida) on the flood plains of the middle Zambezi. The water-berry has a small juicy fruit that children and monkeys like. The winter-thorn has a curly pink pod that baboons and cattle eat.
- SEEDS AND WATER
The Mopani (Colophospermum mopane) is the most common tree is this part of Africa. It is drought resistant and its butterfly shaped leaves close up and give very little shade. Elephants love to eat it. The wood smells of cedar when it burns.
- THE END OF THE DROUGHT WITCH
The thorny Mulunguti tree (Erythina abysinica) has red flower spikes and its pretty scarlet and black seeds can be made into necklaces.
- THE FAMILY MEAL
There are many different kinds of Termites but Macrotermes michaelseni is one of the largest and most common sub-species. Thousands of young queens and males fly away from the termite mounds at the start of the rainy season to begin new colonies. Because they are weak flyers, they are easy to catch and people collect baskets of them for food.