I often visit mythical lands, make merry with fictional people and come back to Earth to write their fantastical tales on my blog; THE WORDS OF A DYING FLAME.
That night, the two were sent to bed at around 8, given that they would be travelling early in the morning. Mike could still remember how the other children laughed at him and Jayden, calling them names like ‘Cerelac babies’.
“Kwani, how late do they sleep around here?” Jayden asked as he climbed into the bed.
“I don’t know. Probably late, given their only entertainment are crickets,” Mike quipped, tossing the cover over himself furiously.
“Wow. They got to you, didn’t they?”
“I don’t get it,” Mike said, sitting up, “we try to be nice to them, but they’re nothing but rude to us, and people let them get away with it.”
“And when we’re even a bit mean to them…”
“No more video games for a week, no TV. It isn’t fair. Are we the ones who chose to live in the city?”
“Ai, bro. Relax man, don’t take it to heart.”
“It isn’t fair, Jayden. I swear I’m never coming back here again,” he said as he lay down, leaving his cousin to take the paraffin lamp outside before they slept. He tried going online to meet his pals, but the phone was as dead as a doornail, so he tried forcing himself to sleep, but the drumming outside kept him awake for two more hours. Mike, however, dozed off as soon as his head hit the pillow and being the heavy sleeper he was, he couldn’t be bothered by what was going on outside.
Mike’s nasal snoring or the revelry outside? The option basically chose itself. He put on his slippers and tiptoed outside, worried that his dad might hear him. As he opened the door, the sight of a large bonfire with people dancing around it excited him for a moment, so much so that he almost joined in the celebrations.
“Wow,” was all he managed to say as he saw his peers, both boys and girls immerse themselves fully in the night.
“Disco matanga!” he heard one squeal as she ran across him to her friends. On his right, where his uncle’s house stood were other boys playing some form of a game, right ahead of him were the dancers in tune with the flames, and on his right were other children chatting the night away. He then considered himself, standing on the verandah in his pajamas while his peers let loose.
‘Maybe there’s something here after all,’ he thought as he walked onto the grass. He stood before the tongues of fire reaching up to the sky above him, admiring its orange fury for a while. He then saw some boys poke it and chase one another with flaming sticks, pretending that they were weapons. They were actually dangerous, but still; it must be nice.
He then trudged past them and went to his grandfather’s house, where they were from viewing the bodies. The elders were engrossed in their discussions, so they didn’t notice him enter the hut, where a lady sat at the right corner next to the window in silence and solitude, rocking her chair.
“Sorry,” he said as he proceeded to walk out, but something stopped him. A strange feeling in his gut. He turned to the room and noticed the other body was missing. In fact, she seemed to be the only one in that room.
“Excuse me, madam?” he asked, though the gut feeling kept telling him to go back to bed. The lady didn’t answer and kept rocking her chair, humming to an unknown tune.
“Madam?” he asked again, slowly approaching her. The orange glow from outside faded as he got nearer, being replaced by the silvery touch of the clear moon outside, highlighting the lady in her chair, crossing her wrinkled hands, her white dress brighter as he neared her. The sounds outside were drowned by her creaking chair, louder and louder with each back and forth movement.
“Madam?” his curiosity asked. His heart rapped in his chest as the feeling churned his insides, now screaming two words at him: get out!
Slowly, the rocking stopped. She leaned forward into the moonlight, a maniacal smile forming on her pale visage. He gasped inn horror as he realized who he was looking at, and before he could get a chance to run, she stretched out her hands to embrace him…
The nightmare was all too real for Mike. He woke up in shock, his sheets soaked in sweat and his lungs struggling to breathe.
“Phew! Just a dream,” he said to himself, “Jayden, are you awake?”
No answer from his cousin. He got out of bed to shake him awake, but realized that he wasn’t there.
“Jayden?” he asked again, “are you in the bathroom?”
He gulped, then tapped his chest as he readied himself to go out.
‘The lamp is right there,’ he thought. He counted to three and rushed out the door to grab the lamp.
“Phew,” he said again, firmly securing it in his hand. His short-lived relief came to a halt when he heard sobbing in the adjacent living room.
“Who’s there?” he loudly asked, trying to mask his fear.
“Mike, it’s me,” he heard his father say. He sighed again and walked there, the sight of the children around the fire not of concern to him as was the one of his old man lying down on the couch.
“Dad, are you crying?” he asked, shaking his head at his obvious question. Duh!
“Are you sad about Kuka and Kukhu?”
“I had no other choice,” he said, sitting up.
“What do you mean? Their death had nothing to do with you…” Mike spoke, but his father went on.
“It happened to me when I was his age. My father insisted that I know our people’s culture, our traditions. I refused.”
“Dad? What are you…”
“I tried running away, but was caught, and the transfer was still done.”
“Transfer?” Mike asked, his interest fully piqued.
“The only way to keep the heart of the tribe is to keep its soul,” his father said ominously, looking at his son.
“Dad, you’re kind of scaring me,” Mike said, taking a step back. His father gently squeezed his hand and pulled him back for a hug.
“It’s okay. Everything will be okay, son.”
“I’m sorry you lost your parents, Dad. I am,” Mike said, hugging his father tighter.
“I’m sorry too. For bringing you here. You shouldn’t have come.”
“Yes!” Mike shrieked as he pulled away, “So you admit it?”
“I hope you can forgive me,” his father said somberly as he stood, instructing him:
“Your cousin is in your grandfather’s house. Go to him.”
Mike sprinted out of the house, all too eager to share what he heard with Jayden. The children were now seated around the fire, which had reached over 10 feet high now. He too stopped to admire its size, but remembered his cousin.
“Jayden, you won’t believe what Dad has said,” he started as he walked into the hut, stopping abruptly when he saw a man seated at the left corner, smoking a pipe in silence, enjoying the solitude. Just then, two men came from his left, carrying his grandmother’s body to the coffin at the entrance, on his right. They then went around him and opened up the one behind him, on the other side of the door, then stood still, looking at the man in the corner.
Mike glanced at them, then back at the smoking man, and sensed something was amiss.
“I’ll come back later,” he said, turning to leave.
“Mike,” he heard Jayden’s voice. He turned back to see his cousin holding a lamp, a serious look on his face.
“Jayden?” he asked, the excitement of his Dad’s confession now gone.
“Mike, it’s good you’re here. I’m glad your father agreed to this.”
“Your father? Why are you talking like this? And who is that smoking? Isn’t that Kuka’s pipe?” Mike inquired. He turned to see one of the men stand guard at the door and some children gather around the windows; something was very wrong here.
“Jayden? We should go. Dad is waiting for us,” Mike said, pulling his cousin’s hand. The boy pulled away, smiling eerily as he said.
“It should have happened when you were younger, but he hid you in the city. It’s a shame we had to threaten to come there for him to agree.”
His voice was monotone, yet his words sounded so familiar, almost as if:
“Why are you talking like Kukhu?” he finally asked as Jayden nodded.
“Smart boy. Let us begin,” he said, taking a step back.
“Begin what?” Mike asked, tense. He peered back to the man standing at the door, looking down at him, then at the other at the empty coffin, then to the children looking through the windows, and finally to Jayden, who smiled at him before turning to the man smoking.
Slowly, the man put the pipe down and stood, his bones creaking as he straightened up. He adjusted his wide-brimmed hat, exhaled, then looked at a panic-stricken Mike, who finally recognized him.
“Oh my God, Kuka!” was the last thing that came out of his mouth before his grandfather briskly walked towards him and wrapped his bony hands around his mouth and neck, being helped by the men to carry him to a room next to the hut, where a group of robed men and women waited in a circle.
“Stop! STOP!” Mike managed to scream as he pulled Kuka’s cold hands from his mouth. He was placed on the floor in the centre and tied down, and before he could scream again, one of the robed people raised her hand and he felt his mouth forced shut.
Then, another stood and chanted some words, and he felt his body go numb. He saw his grandfather also being fastened to the floor next to him, right before the robed people stood up and began chanting:
“The heart of the tribe is the soul of its people.”
Over and over they did so, as two of them knelt next to Mike. One pulled out a large, serrated knife that gleamed in the orange glow of the flames, sharpening it as the other one tore his pyjamas to reveal his chest. Then, Mike watched in horror, muffling screams as the knife slowly descended into his chest, groaning in agony as the blade cut his skin.
“No! He’s in pain,” the one cutting him said, withdrawing the knife to give Mike some reprieve. He thought the nightmare was over before he heard the other say:
“Pain will make him panic. The body might shut down. Quickly! Numb him more and keep him alive!”
One of them chanted louder, arms raised to the thatched roof as Mike felt himself go limp. Then, he watched in wide-eyed terror as the knife sliced through him like butter, carving him open as blood spurted out. The same lady waved a hand, and the blood ceased flowing out and every drop found its way back into his body. The man reached into his tiny chest, fumbling for a bit before he carefully pulled out his beating heart.
“Young and strong. Brave and truthful. He’ll defend our tribe to his death,” the other one next to him said as two more people presented another one.
“Old and full of wisdom passed down over generations. The merger of these will be stronger than before,” the other people say. Mike’s eyes bulged out in awe as the two hearts levitated and fused into one bigger heart, amidst louder chanting. The man who took his out then held it gently, placing it into his open chest, whispering in his ear:
“You’ll be one of our best.”
Then, the one who forced his mouth shut waved her hands at him again, sewing his body back together to near perfection, save for the vertical scar that ran down his chest, crossed seven times by the man horizontally across it.
“The seventh generation has received the heart of the first,” he said as the chanting stopped and the celebration started. The two men who carried him in unfastened his grandfather, who had a gaping hole in his chest, and carried him out; meanwhile, the two who operated on him slowly unshackled him, their eyes revering his small body. Yet, his mind flooded with memories he never knew he had.
“The heart of the tribe…” he started as they all recited.
“…is the soul of its people.”
“Good. Thank you for keeping this custom alive,” he addressed them. Jayden joined him, held his hand, and walked out to the screaming children, some of whom he now recognized from centuries ago.
“It’s good to see you all again, friends,” Jayden said as they cheered.
“With the help of our loyal practitioners, we are united in a new era,” Mike went on, hands behind his back, “as we celebrate, let us not forget why we are here: to keep our heritage alive, safe from the influence of any foreigners. They may not invade with violence, but they do so now with ideology. They write our books and teach our children, but they’ll never have our souls. Once more: the heart of the tribe…”
With one voice, they shouted to the heavens:
“….IS THE SOUL OF THE PEOPLE!”
Amongst certain groups of the Luhya community of Western Kenya (The Bukusu), it was customary to bury the revered and respected people of their tribe in a seated position.