“Fire! Fire! Fire!” Matsa shouted hysterically. His audience was bewildered, yet he could not only smell the dense smoke but could also hear the roaring noise of the flames from which the smoke emanated. A deluge of sweat-drenched his clothes.
“Fire! Fire! Please help!” he shouted frantically before collapsing in a faint.
He had been addressing a board meeting when suddenly the smell of smoke appalled him. The roaring anger of violent flames shook his eardrums, then he could see the red flames, encircling him like monstrous petals of doom. Those who had been in the meeting could only suspect that he was hallucinating from drug abuse. With urgency, they carried him out of the boardroom to his car. His driver drove the business executive to Mutare Provincial Hospital. Although he had regained his consciousness on arrival at the hospital, he was physically spent and could not tell where he was or what had happened.
Having thoroughly investigated his problem, the medical staff at the referral hospital sent him to the Psychiatric Unit. They assured his subordinates that he would be all right.
Matsa had had scary dreams about the fire before, but nothing had been as terrifying as the waking nightmare that had landed him in hospital.
He had, however, sensed it coming because sometimes as he sat alone in his office, the smell of burning thatch, goatskins, bones and charms would choke the spacious room and he would go out for a breath of fresh air or drive into town on a “business errand”.
Was it fate’s vindictive hand that was haunting him? His problems probably had nothing to do with Speed, but as the violent flames began to take the larger portion of his nocturnal space, he found it impossible to dissociate Muvhuti’s daughter from his nightmares. He had had an illicit love affair with Speed when she was fifteen and he was thirty-three. On their discovery of the clandestine intimate affair, the Muvhutis had not taken the matter to court. A lengthy custodial sentence for Matsa would not benefit them in any way; he would have to fend for Speed’s intellectual welfare for as long as she stayed in school.
“You have abused our daughter and nothing can possibly repair the damage you have inflicted on her,“ Muvhuti had said to Matsa in a meeting held at his rural homestead. His wife, sister and elder brother were part of the quorum.
Matsa was asked to sign the document Muvhuti, with the assistance of his brother, had drafted.
“We have decided not to take the matter to court, provided you are willing to cooperate, but you cannot marry her now. The law does not allow that,” Muvhuti said.
“You may marry her later if she doesn’t change her mind.” Muvhuti continued.
“I hear you,” said Matsa penitently, as if he could not sense the blackmail. The humiliation he was going through was, however, a fairer choice than rotting in prison for the next fifteen or more years.
“I really wish to marry her when she completes her tertiary education,” Matsa said, not seriously considering the implications of such a statement of will.
“Then, that takes us to the next subject,“ said Speed’s uncle calmly. “The funding of her education is now in your hands from today onwards. You have to see her through secondary school and college or university.”
“I’m sure you can afford that,“ said Speed’s father, staring emphatically at Matsa, who lowered his head to look at the carpet.
Turning to Speed, Muvhuti said, “If you elope with another man, which I hope you will not do, you would have breeched your side of the contract and you will forfeit your benefits. I think I cannot sound clearer than this.”
Speed simply nodded her consent. She lacked the audacity to resist this enslavement. She had been an embarrassment to her family and the result was this disempowerment. She could not cry for help, after all, nobody would hear her. She had not cried for help when Matsa had driven her to Mouse Guard Lodge at Chimanimani Junction where she had spent her first night in bed with him. Now she could not cry for help as her family bonded her to Matsa for an indefinite period of time.
Sitting on the carpet, in the middle of the sitting room, Speed wished the concrete floor would open and swallow her. She raised her face for the first time since the commencement of the meeting and looked around her. The embellished walls, the furniture, and even the roof seemed to be part of the conspiracy against her.
Speed was doing lower sixth when she walked out of the classroom to marry Alfred Zani, a young University graduate teaching at a neighbouring school. A chance to break the contract with Matsa had presented itself so she seized it with tentacled determination. Matsa was obviously not amused. He had approached Muvhuti, seething with fury, but Muvhuti’s response did not help matters.
“That means you will have to stop paying for her education; her husband will take over,“ said Muvhuti as if he did not know about the emotional side of the matter.
“But I really wanted to take her for my second wife.”
“I had also given her to you, but now that she has made her own choice, I cannot stop her,“ the father said, as if enjoying the other man’s predicament.
Matsa would not take this lying down. He drove to a faraway place, to visit a traditional medicine man, whose charms would destroy Alfred’s male performance. Speed would definitely leave Alfred and return to him.
Four months passed, and Speed had not sought reconciliation with Matsa. He visited another medicine man in the neighbourhood of his rural home, at the foot of Rimiti Mountain. This one was definitely going to solve his problem. He had avoided him at first, for fear of the gossip that might result from his visit, especially as the Muvhutis were part of the Rimiti Community. Now he cared nothing about gossip: he just wanted Alfred’s manhood to be scorched.
Nighttime was the best time to visit the medicine man. He carried with him a small satchel stashed with cash to pay for the anticipated job.
When he arrived at the medicine man’s homestead which comprised only two grass-thatched huts, he saw Speed leaving the place. He recognised her despite the darkness. He wanted to follow her but restrained himself.
As his foot found the entrance into the surgery, he came face to face with a tall handsome, young man.
“Alfred?” he asked
“Yes,” responded Alfred, “Who needs to know?”
A heavy blow from Matsa’s clenched fist drove Alfred a few steps back into the hut. Matsa advanced and locked arms with Alfred, trying to arm-twist him, but Alfred was slippery enough to break free from his assailant’s vice grip and bolt out of the hut.
Then Matsa confronted the medicine man.
“What prescription have you given him?” he fumed.
“I have given him medicine to repair his manhood,” the medicine man said.
“But he stole my wife!” Matsa shouted.
“But you were very cruel, locking his manhood. He…”
Matsa leapt at the old man and clawed at his neck. The medicine man was incredibly strong. As the two men struggled with each other, Matsa’s foot overturned the paraffin lamp that illuminated the hut and its contents spilt on the goatskin mat that caught fire at once.
The flames spread rapidly and Matsa and the medicine man started choking. They let go of each other too late. The medicine man’s cloths, skins, charms and bones were all on fire. Matsa and the medicine man hopped out of the surgery to escape being trapped in the conflagration.
The medicine man’s hut had a low roof and there was an explosion of orange flames at its summit, as soon as the two men were out of the hut. The roof caved in and Matsa thought he heard the voice of a young woman crying for help in the burning hut.
After his discharge from hospital, Matsa, accompanied by his wife, visited another medicine man, at Chakohwa, fourteen kilometres south of Rimiti. The diviner said;
“Your problems will definitely come to an end, but on condition that you get back what you left at the healer’s place.”
Matsa remembered his satchel. How could he recover it? The spiritual healer’s place had fallen to ruin and maybe one lucky person had picked up the satchel.
“I think the satchel was burnt together with the spiritual healer’s paraphernalia.”
“Do you want my help?” the spiritual healer asked sternly. “If you want my help go and get it and bring it here.”
Matsa tried to think about how he could possibly recover a small satchel lost five years before. As his mind started searching the deceased healer’s weed-grown yard, the smell of burning thatch, skins, cloths, bones and charms made him cough and splutter. The irritation of thick smoke caused his eyes to water. How could he see his way to the departed spiritual healer’s place?
This is purely a work of fiction written by Nhamo Muchagumisa, poet and an acclaimed essayist. He has been published in the Parade, Trends, Writers Scroll, The Sunday Mail, The Sunday News, The Manica Post, #enthuse and Digital Sunday Express.