Shamiso’s recovery came like a torrent, but Mr and Mrs Mudhoshi thought that their daughter was dying. They were, however, ready to face the inevitable, having done everything within their power to save their daughter’s life. They tried to subdue her as she stormed around her bedroom, but her incredible energy overwhelmed them.
They watched her helplessly as she endlessly rammed her body into the brick walls of her bedroom. For an hour she exercised her body with the energy of the biblical Legion until she finally collapsed and let out a piercing scream. She lay horizontally on the floor, breathing spasmodically, her clothes sucking the sweat from her exhausted body.
Within five minutes, her breath had normalised. Her mother felt various parts of her body with the back of her hand, the forehead; the cheeks; the abdomen and the soles of her feet.
“Her body is just warm,” Mrs Mudhoshi told her husband.
Husband and wife watched their daughter as she stood up, paced towards the window and picked up a piece of bath soap from the windowsill. Shamiso took a towel from the arm of her bedside chair and walked out into the passage, going to the bathroom.
“Where are you going, Shami?” Mr and Mrs Mudhoshi asked in one breath.
“Do you really have to ask?” Shamiso responded calmly as her parents followed her into the passage, towards the bathroom.
“I will bathe you Shami,” Mrs Mudhoshi said as her daughter stopped in front of her, her hand on the bathroom door handle.
“You will make a baby of me one of these days,” Shamiso said, a pallid smile rising from her lips and spreading up her fleshless face until it touched her sunken eyes.
“You can leave her alone,” Mudhoshi told his wife, who watched her daughter through the keyhole as she took her bath.
Shamiso’s father walked into the sitting room, slumped on a sofa and started agonising on the events of the recent past, especially his daughter’s illness. None of his children had gone through such a life-threatening experience. It had been a walk through hell for Shamiso.
Shamiso was Mudhoshi’s youngest child. All her siblings had successfully completed their University programmes except Tinashe, Shamiso’s immediate senior who was studying at Africa University. Her illness had driven her father to the edge of his sanity. Now that his daughter’s disturbing condition seemed to have gone, he thanked the LORD for her miraculous recovery.
Mudhoshi’s cellphone rang. He extracted the device from his breast pocket and pressed the dial function.
“Hello, this is Taru Mudhoshi,” he shouted into the phone.
“Gerald Uta on the line. I wish to tell you that Tsvange Bottle Store and Restaurant has been destroyed by fire. Police are still trying to establish the cause of the fire.”
“Terrible! When did this happen?”
“The fire began about an hour ago. Fire Brigade has doused the flames, but not before the whole building had been reduced to rubble and everything in it turned to ash. Fortunately, there were no casualties.”
Mysterious! Mudhoshi thought. Tsvange Bottle Store and Restaurant was where his daughter had been employed before Tsvange granted her indefinite sick leave when a strange illness threatened both her sanity and her life.
Shamiso had not divulged to her parents or anyone the secret that had led to her strange illness. Tsvange had sternly charged her not to share her secret with anyone or else face the consequences.
Why had Shamiso’s violent recovery coincided with the destruction of Tsvange’s business premises? Mudhoshi wondered.
When Shamiso’s condition drastically deteriorated, Mrs Mudhoshi had begged her husband to consult a diviner, but Mudhoshi, a born again Christian, had dismissed the idea.
Shamiso’s body was virtually lifeless when Tsvange came to surrender her to her parents’ care. She was stone cold, and only an occasional gasp assured her parents that there was still a soul within her tormented body. Her condition traumatised the couple.
As her physical state continued to decline, she lost appetite for food of any kind. The little she could swallow always rushed back, gushing violently out through her mouth and nose. She became terribly emaciated. Her eyes retreated into her skull. Her body had become skin and bone.
Mudhoshi and his wife had taken her to every clinic and hospital within their reach, but the medical practitioners found her condition irredeemable. They surrendered her to home-based care.
Nightmares visited Shamiso every night. Repeatedly, she would let out a scream at the sight of a colossal human skull, gigantic as a twenty-litre clay pot, yet white as cotton wool, grinning menacingly at her as if to tell her that she would not be silent about her repeated encounters with it anymore.
Sometimes the skull came in its normal size, then its size would increase as if someone was inflating it from the back, the holes on its face growing larger and rounder, its teeth growing to the size of hand hoes before her scream would send it dissolving in the darkness.
It was the human skull she had encountered one morning in one of Tsvange’s refrigerators. He had instructed her to give him a pint of clear beer from the refrigerator. When she opened it, the sight of a human skull greeted her eyes. It was a clean human skull, hairless, skinless, with gaping holes where its eyes used to be. Shamiso did not scream; she did not drop in a faint, neither did she close the refrigerator.
She called out to Tsvange instead.
“How dare you shout my name? You should have used the phone,” he fumed as he enters the bottle store.
“I knew you would hear me. See what is in your fridge,” Shamiso said.
Tsvange appeared unperturbed as he peered into the refrigerator, his eyes resting on the fleshless human head that sat harmlessly on top of the brown bottles. He then closed the refrigerator and looked frigidly at Shamiso.
“See that you say nothing to anybody or else you will face the consequences,” he said.
Shamiso nodded her consent, the gravity of her situation settling all over her. How could Tsvange expect a young woman like her to keep such a terrible secret?
That day Tsvange closed shop, allowed his workers a day’s rest, and drove to an undisclosed destination.
Walking back to her aunt’s homestead where she stayed, Shamiso wondered how she had not fainted with fear when the sight of a lizard or a scorpion or a crab would make her jump. She dismissed her thoughts about what had not happened and busied her mind with how to convince her aunt in manner, action and speech that nothing was wrong.
“I will have to try,” she assured herself.
When she went to bed, her head was pounding. Sometimes her body would shake violently and slowly regain its normal calmness.
Shamiso’s experience with the skull began to slowly take its toll. The changes in Shamiso’s behaviour flabbergasted Mrs Chinoparira, her aunt. She was growing increasingly reticent. Her confidence in anything she said or did seemed to be diminishing. The girl Mrs Chinoparira had envied for her outspokenness and forthrightness seemed to retreat slowly into the dark confines of her inner self, but in her sleep, she would utter a curse or two, then fall silent again.
When her unintelligible courses finally transformed into screams, it alarmed Mrs Chinoparira. She asked Shamiso to exchange bedrooms with her daughter without offering an explanation.
Shamiso continued going to work despite the discernible instability of her mental health. Then she became inexorably feverish. Anti-malaria drugs had no effect on her implacable condition. Finally, she stopped going to work.
Mrs Chinoparira visited Tsvange at the growth point and asked him to drive Shamiso to her parents’ home in Mutare. Gerald Uta, who was also a business owner at Hauna Growth Point and friend to Tsvange accompanied Tsvange, Shamiso and Mrs Chinoparira to Mutare as his presence would make matters easier for Tsvange when he encountered Mr Mudhoshi.
On seeing his daughter’s state, Mudhoshi regretted having allowed her to go to work. He had thought that it would be good for her to enjoy a breath of rural freshness before going to University and had sent her to stay with her aunt at Hauna Growth Point. It was when she was in Aunt Chinoparira’s custody that she learnt that there was a vacancy at Tsvange Investments. She returned home to seek her father’s permission to take up the post.
Mudhoshi had initially frowned on the idea, but his wife had supported their daughter fanatically.
“She is over eighteen,” Mrs Mudhoshi had concluded her argument. “Give her the chance to enjoy a position of responsibility before it is too late.”
“I will not stand in your way,” Mudhoshi had given in, “but remember to overcome the temptations that come with the task on your hands.”
When he realised that his daughter might not survive, it devastated him. He had cherished his youngest child more than anything else in his life. He was prepared to part with everything to nurture her back to health.
Then came her violent recovery and the sudden zeal to be herself again. Mudhoshi and his wife were too mystified to rejoice, too confused to believe that Shamiso would walk and talk, bathe and feed herself.
On her return from the bathroom, Shamiso put on her favourite clothes. She felt very light and something seemed to tell her she had suffered a memory lapse. She did not allow that feeling to bother her, but the shock that stared back at her when she stood in front of her wardrobe mirror nearly drove her into convulsions. “Mother!” she shouted. Mrs Mudhoshi raced into Shamiso’s bedroom. “Tell me. Is this me?”
Mrs Mudhoshi was speechless for a while as she was appalled by the substantial difference between the two reflections in the silver pool. Shamiso’s pale skin, her shrivelled eyelids and skeletal condition brought tears to her eyes. Mrs Mudhoshi turned away from the mirror and embraced her daughter, sobbing convulsively.
“Come after me to the sitting room. Your father will help me explain everything.”
The couple took turns to explain to Shamiso what she had gone through. Mudhoshi included in his account the destruction by fire of Tsvange’s Bottle Store and Restaurant that had occurred that morning.
The events of the past came flooding back in Shamiso’s mind, including Tsvange’s threat, “See that you say nothing to anyone about this, or else you will face the consequences.” Shamiso felt the urge to divulge the dreadful secret. After all, why would she allow another person’s secret to torment her? Nothing worse than what she had gone through would happen to her. She had indeed walked through hell and survived. So she relieved her bosom of the most cursed secret anyone would ever keep. Mr and Mrs Mudhoshi were dumbfounded.
“I wish Tsvange had perished in the conflagration,” Mudhoshi finally said after a protracted silence.
“I think it is fitting that he has survived the blaze,” Mrs Mudhoshi said. “He must live to feel the consequences of his evil deeds.”
This is purely a work of fiction written by Nhamo Muchagumisa. He’s a poet and an acclaimed essayist.