The disappearance of Mrs Mwaraseni sounded like a folktale to the officers at Muromo Rural Police Post as the chief witness – Lulu, her daughter-in-law – narrated the story fluently. She had finally regained her composure following the initial shock of seeing her mother-in-law stone dead in her bedroom hut after her (Lulu’s) encounter with a hyena. The whole village had accompanied her to the police post and everybody was eager to confirm what she had said as the utmost truth.
There had been absolutely no time to waste for Lulu. The nocturnal creature had charged at her with a rabid swiftness, intending to cut her to pieces, but she had raised her axe above her head with like swiftness and delivered a blow that saw the blade sink fifteen centimetres into the animal’s skull. The animal had instantly collapsed and as its body hit the ground, the smell of hyena blood filled the night air. Lulu withdrew the weapon, raised it above her head again and brought it down once more with all her might. This time the cutting edge sank into the scavenger’s spinal bulb.
As she withdrew her weapon again, she thought she heard a screaming voice in her mother-in-law’s sleeping room. She raced back to her own bedroom hut, the horror of her encounter with the carnivore all over her. As she approached the shelter, she fervently hoped that it was but a terrible dream and she would wake to realise that she had not at all gone outside that night.
She had been awakened by the commotion in her goat pen. Her goats were bleating hysterically, an indication that their sanctuary had been invaded by a predator. Lulu had groped for her axe and rushed out to check what was wrong. She was ready to face the creature that had robbed her of four goats in two weeks. When the four-legged animal heard the noisy tread of her feet, it turned away from the goat pen and charged at the interloper, but Lulu had outsmarted it.
Now, back in her bedroom, she could hear mysterious sounds in her mother-in-law’s hut. She was discharging the groans of someone in mortal agony. Lulu desperately wanted to crawl out of bed once more, to find out what was wrong with her, but she was afraid of meeting another hyena. The death of the hyena she had so courageously dispatched had somehow taken away all the courage she needed to get out of her hut and walk a few metres towards her mother-in-law’s.
Meanwhile, the smell of hyena blood was a torture to her nostrils, conveying an aching sensation in her lungs. She ran the palm of her hand across her bulging tummy, wondering whether her horrendous experience would not affect the new life growing in there. She wished Misha had taken her with him to Mutare, where he worked, but he had stubbornly argued that his mother needed a helper as if he had married her for that purpose.
The young woman listened for her mother-in-law’s groans, straining her ears as the groans grew fainter and fainter until she could hear them no more.
An eerie quietness settled all over Lulu. She lay blinking in the darkness of her hut, the intensity of the darkness seemingly increasing with every moment that sailed her towards a new day. Dawn, however, seemed to be retreating ahead of her instead of approaching. Why had she not roused her mother-in-law when she had gone out to face the killer of the night?
“When will I wake from this dream?” she muttered to herself.
Lulu had fallen out of favour with her widowed mother-in-law for failing to bless her with a grandchild. “Time seems to be running out for you and Misha,” she had once said. “You should have been nursing my third grandchild now.”
“I’m sorry mum. It’s not my choice. I do not know what is wrong with my womb,” Lulu had responded helplessly.
“Wrong with my womb!” Mrs Mwaraseni had mimicked amusedly. “Your people must know how to correct what’s wrong with you. Misha should send you back to your parents. Your recurring miscarriages have become a pain in the neck for me.”
“I wish it was that easy mother.”
“You will be wiser when Misha brings home a more fertile wife.” Mrs Mwaraseni gloated.
Lulu did not need to respond to such imponderables. When she conceived for the fourth time, echoes of her mother-in-law’s indelicate words stifled any little hope that would have allowed her to sleep her nights through. As if her worries were not enough, a nocturnal animal had started visiting her goat pen at close intervals, devouring the little that she called hers.
She was completely muddled as to why the carnivorous creature favoured her goat pen alone, yet it was only a couple of metres away from her mother-in-law’s. Now that she had liquidated the creature, she hoped that life would give her another chance to reflock and enjoy the fruits of her own ingenuity.
The night finally succumbed to the approach of dawn, until it was bright enough for Lulu to go out and check on the dead animal outside.
There was no sign of a dead animal at the spot where she had performed the heroic act. Maybe the two blows had not killed it. It had probably risen and walked its way back to its lair, but there were no paw marks on the ground; neither was there a trail of blood.
When she returned to her hut, she scrutinised the blade of her axe. It was gory red, and once again the smell of hyena blood jetted into her lungs.
She rushed to her mother-in-law’s hut and rapped at the door. There was no response. She shoved the door inwards and it gave in. The old woman was stone dead. Lulu felt her heart and pulse, hoping that there could still be some life left in her body, but her efforts only confirmed what her eyes had seen.
She exited the old woman’s hut and raised the alarm and in a short while a few neighbours trickled into Mrs Mwaraseni’s yard. She led a few senior women into Mrs Mwaraseni’s hut, telling them about her untimely death. She nearly collapsed when she realised that there was no corpse in the hut.
One of the elderly women said, “You should have been dreaming my daughter. She has already woken up, and most probably she has gone to the well.”
“I touched her corpse, felt her heart and pulse and nothing seemed to suggest that she could be alive,” Lulu told her.
Mrs Mwaraseni never resurfaced. Nobody, not even Lulu, knows what happened to her. She only hopes she will be able to tell her daughter about her encounter with the hyena and her mother-in-law’s subsequent disappearance.
[This is purely a work of fiction]