Changu ran through Manda Hill mall, her torn blouse hanging loosely on her like shredded pieces of the Zambian national flag vandalised by a discontented political activist. She ran until she got on the main road and stopped by a bus stop to catch her breath. Commuters waiting for buses regarded her with suspicion. Her hair stood on edge as if she had been tortured by the Chinese with electric shocks. Some religious people at the bus stop made the sign of the cross and muttered silent prayers for her. The superstitious among them scurried away from her as if her insanity was a contagious disease. A small crowd began to gather around her as she started talking to herself oblivious to the people around her. She turned in different directions and spoke nonsense to the audience.
What are you looking at, a woman asked her husband who was attempting to move to the front of the crowd to get a better view of the woman. She grabbed his right hand and pulled him away. The man followed her reluctantly, looking back to catch a glimpse of the woman with the torn blouse.
The woman at the centre of the crowd stopped talking to herself and began to move her feet as if a thousand soldier ants were bitting at her heels. She staggered like a drunken sailor before kicking off the shoe on her right leg. It flew into the crowd like a bird which had lost its sense of direction. She tried kicking off the shoe on her left leg but it refused to come off. She raised her leg, yanked off the uncooperative shoe and threw it narrowly missing an oncoming car.
My feet…my feet….are burning. They are burning, she sang in a discordant tone filled with pain. She stamped her legs on the ground several times in an attempt to put out the imaginary fire which engulfed it.
A strange wind of silence blew over the crowd as it watched the half naked woman.
A short man made his way through to the front of the crowd. He stood watching the woman with a curious expression on his face. He brought out a string of beads from his pocket and ran it through his fingers. He muttered to himself, looked around the crowd and muttered again.
This is muti gone bad, he said as he caressed the beads with his fingers. Muti gone bad, he repeated.
He returned the beads to his pocket then started clapping for the woman, giving rhythm to the madness of her feet. A fat woman standing next to him dropped the basket of mangoes which she carried on her head. She took a moment to tie her wrapper properly then she joined him in clapping. Another woman joined her, then a man joined them, then the clapping spread through the gathering like wild fires burning through the Mazabuka sugar plantations in dry season. More commuters stopped and joined the gathering and the crowd grew.
Changu began jumping from one foot to another in wild frenzy like a hyena in mating season. She tore off the remaining pieces of her blouse that hung on her like a curse and threw it into the crowd. The crowd parted for the blouse to pass through and it fell on the ground. Changu began to move with mysterious dance steps only she could understand. Her strange dance steps threw the gathering into a clapping frenzy.
The short man at the front of the crowd walked around the gathering like the high priest of a deviant white garment cult, encouraging the onlookers to clap harder for the insane woman . The fat woman who stood beside him was caught up in the euphoria of the moment, forgot her basket of mangoes on the ground and followed the man around like a deranged prophetess.
This is what will happen to your enemies who try to put a curse of madness on you, the man shouted like an evangelist over the loud clapping of the crowd. An uncanny energy enveloped the crowd and their eyes followed the man as he moved around, making meaningless hand gestures and talking gibberish. But the crowd didn’t seem to notice.
Sweat dripped from Changu’s face joining the wetness that spread all over her dark skin as she danced under the punitive gaze of the sun. There was a strange determination on her face, like a mediocre student trying to solve a difficult maths puzzle and meeting with failure. Spittle dripped from the left side of her mouth like an invalid and poured down her chest. Her breasts swung in tandem with her gyrations, holding the eyes of the men in the crowd captive as if in a trance. She reached for her skirt and with one move of total abandonment ripped the garment to reveal her under garment. The torn fabric hung from her waist, scrapping the dusty ground, a worthless piece of rag following her around the circle as she danced.
A police patrol car stopped by the crowd. An officer peered out of the car trying to make sense of what was going on. He got out of the car, made his way to the front of the crowd and stood watching Changu swing her waist in a seductive dance. He returned to the car.
What is going on, the driver asked.
Just a mad woman entertaining the crowd. Such a waste, he said and spat out of the window in disgust.
What do we do, the driver asked.
We do nothing. No laws have been broken here. We should leave, the man said.
Shouldn’t we take her to a hospital, the driver asked.
The officer gave him a bad look. You want me to take a mad woman to the hospital while criminals run free in Lusaka? How do you intend that we make some money today if we don’t catch some people breaking the law?
The driver said nothing.
Let’s get out of here, the officer said.
Mulenga arrived at the gathering as the police car drove away. There in the middle of the crowd he found his wife naked and dancing.
The lust filled eyes of the crowd fed greedily on her nakedness as they clapped for her to dance.
Somebody help me, he pleaded with the onlookers.
Nobody seemed to hear him.
Nobody paid him any attention. Nobody made a move to help him. The crowd kept clapping for the woman, their eyes open in wonder, in a self induced trance. Their eyes were on the woman with the torn skirt.
Somebody help me, Mulenga shouted again.
Some people stopped clapping and looked around them as if coming out of a spell.
Let us take her to a pastor to exorcize her of her demons, a lanky man in a suit suggested.
All these pastors are deceivers, another man said. They don’t have any power. There is a powerful ng’anga in George’s compound. He will cure her within an hour, another said with confidence.
God forbid, a woman interjected. I would rather die than put my life in the hands of a witch doctor. As long as I have my breath in me I will put my trust in God, she said.
Mulenga made an attempt to hold his wife but she threw violent punches at him hitting him on the mouth, drawing blood from his lips.
I will confess, Changu said.
Confess to what, Mulenga asked his wife.
He told me that the broom will tie you down to me and you will never look at another woman. He promised that you will be mine…mine forever. She laughed in stark, raving madness and continued dancing.
Mulenga grabbed his wife but the woman struggled to get away from him, her eyes sunken and lost. The tempo of the clapping began to decrease. As he held on to his wife, her struggles became feeble.The crowd realising what was happening began to lose interest in the couple. The clapping faded down to one weak clap, and another, then a soulless clap finally ended the frenzy. The woman hung limp in her husband’s arms like a broken doll.
Somebody help me, he shouted again and shook the woman in his hands.
The fat woman picked up her basket of mangoes, placed it on her head and walked away. Like insects scurrying away after feasting on a dead cockroach, the gathering began to disperse in different directions as if they suddenly remembered that they had urgent matters to attend to. The short man was the last to leave. He had a look of disappointment on his face as he observed Mulenga talking to his unresponsive wife, trying to restore her back to sanity.
Mama stirred in her sleep, muttered some words and opened her eyes. Her head felt like it was weighed down by an anvil in a welder’s workshop. She moved her head slowly and saw Lucy her daughter’s friend standing by her bedside.
Thank God you are awake, Lucy said with some relief in her voice.
What happened, why am I lying in bed at this hour of the day, mama asked.
You had a terrible fall in the kitchen and passed out. Thank God I came by when I did or it could have been a tragedy, Lucy said.
Mama sat up in bed. What are you doing here, she asked.
Lucy sat beside her on the bed. I came by to check up on you and I found you lying on the kitchen floor, Lucy said.
I made you some tea, Lucy said and handed mama a cup. Mama took the cup from her.
Lucy watched as her friend’s mother drank the tea and laid back on the bed.
I feel so tired, mama said and shut her eyes.
Lucy waited until she started snoring softly. She entered the kitchen, opened the refrigerator to get a bottle of water. As she drank the water she smelt something burning outside the window. She dropped the glass of water on the table and went out of the back door of the kitchen to investigate what was burning.
She found a broom burning in a brazier full of hot coals. She bent down, rescued the charred remains of the broom from the hot coals and threw it on the ground. She returned to the living room, picked up her bag and walked to the front door. Suddenly she stopped, hesitated then turned around and looked in the direction of the kitchen. She contemplated for a few seconds then she returned to the spot where she had thrown the broom. She picked it up and regarded it in her hands. Then a smile broke out on her face.
©Praise George 2016.