Phlegm of the Witches

By Babji


The shadows become longer and longer as time goes by. Soon, the shadow of the main house shall cover the old ladies who have all along been moving away from it. They can move no more, so they just sit down. Down with their frail legs stretched, and their walking sticks lay beside them. Some have lesos spread across their legs. Behind them is the hedge, a thorny kei apple hedge and if one decided to lean just a little, a thorn will pierce through her aged back. So they all sit straight, with their arms folded across their chests, hugging their breasts. Small pieces of sticks, freshly cut from trees are dangling from their mouths, brushing their teeth. Often spitting out large volumes of saliva. There is very minimal talking and those who talk do so in hushed tones.
    “Ati his feet were facing where his head should?” one whispers. “Eeh, and he had saliva dripping down through his mouth”, another responds. Silence reigns. Some more ladies are coming this way. They are almost full, each with a downcast face. The rest watch, like they can tell a witch by her walking style. They are almost all here. All the women of Nyakerekere village. But one conspicuous figure is missing. Where is Nelliah? Everybody knows nelliah. They say she was given the witchery by her father. She was his favorite, papa’s son. Her witchery is so strong, that she successfully made all the children in the village academic dwarfs, but her kids are all learned. Isn’t there a rumour that she is the one who sacrificed her firstborn son, Joseph? The one who was a pilot in Mombasa? And, don’t people say that he refused to receive the witch-powers from her hence she sacrificed him? She has not arrived. Word has it that she travelled to Mombasan the other day and isn’t back yet.  She has no relative in Mombasa, maybe she went to buy more jinns. Or maybe she did it, but doesn’t want to appear for the spitting.

So all ladies look around whether they can catch her glimpse. “I hear these night-runners use hyenas to run across the world”, a voice asks loudly, they all turn to look at her. They know what she means, that even in her absence, Nelliah could have done it. But they just clear their throats, and look straight forward. Saying nothing. The village elder should be here by now. The sun is just looking behind over it’s shoulders before it finally goes down, they should be underway. The village elder is late, very late. But they understand him. He had a busy day. Throughout the day he has been going around the footpaths on the hill, his walking stick on his left hand and a whistle on the right. He whistled and spoke.

That’s what he always did when talking to the village. If somebody’s cow was sick or broke it’s limb and therefore the owner was planning to slaughter it since cows can’t live without a single leg, the old man would take his whistle, climb the hill and announce, “Prrrr, Ontune Ontune! Prrrr, Ontune ontune, today at Nyamongo’s place” and people would rush there for the meat, exchanging it with a few tins of Wimbi or even sorghum. So today he has been with his whistle again.
“Prrrrr, abanto baminto (our people) Let’s meet today at Yona’s homestead. Prrrrr, this evening everyone gather at Yona’s homestead everyone in Nyakerekere…. Prrrrr, Yona’s son was taken out by nightrunner’s last night, Prrrr……” the whole day under the scorching sun.

Not that he was just speaking, he was shouting for all to hear. He’s a strong man, that village elder. With three wives, and his eldest wife is expecting the seventh kid soon. He’s a strong man, widely respected. But he’s late, if the sun sets before they begin spitting, then they will have to postpone it up to the following day. Or maybe he’s with the old men just beside the gate.

The grannies are growing restless. The silence dies down and soon, the murmurs increase. They should be milking their cows by now. Their husbands are outside the gate, they should come in. A hawk flies above them at an angle, it might snatch a hen from their homesteads, but they can’t leave, lest they’re confirmed the night runner.
   “Prrrrrr…..” the whistle goes. He is here, the village elder. Tired like a dog. Still having his brown overcoat on, the bottom tip of his walking stick as dusty as his limbs, sweat trickling down his nose, he looks tired. They all gather and he does not waste any minute.
   “I want to believe all of you are well. Is anybody missing?” He asks. Silence. He then goes on. “You all heard what brought us here. Yona’s son, the lastborn who is sitting for his KCPE examinations this year was taken out last night.” He pauses a bit and looks round, as if to confirm their attendance. He then coughs and goes on.
   “The boy was found this morning sleeping in the opposite manner with his feet facing where the head should. He had saliva dripping out from his mouth and he could not talk.” There are hisses. Some people hold their breaths while some few old men whistle rhythmically in flabbergast. Everybody imagines what it is like to accompany night runners in their operations the whole night. A picture comes to their mind, of themselves carrying a corpse in a coffin for the witches, at least that is how the story has always been told, though none has experienced it first-hand. Nobody wishes to experience it at all. There is silence.

    “As it stands now, there is only one way with which we can know the culprit. We burned witches the year before last year; it seems we did not finish them all.  The boy is at the window facing the maize plantation. We shall go one after the other, spit into the boy’s mouth then see what happens.” He finishes and slumps into a chair that has been brought behind him. The first lady stands, strolls into the far right where the window is. There is the boy, in his room standing at the window looking outside. When she arrives there, he opens his mouth wide and she spits into it, saying the words, “Onye ninche nakorogete, kwana. (If I am the one who bewitched you, then talk). He swallows the saliva, and she moves away. A man rises, follows the same route and does similarly. This thing goes on. On and on. The boy swallows all types of saliva, and phlegm. Yellowish milky thick phlegm from sick villagers. Black phlegm from the smoking old men of the village. Blood-stained phlegm, all of them spit any kind of dirt that their mouths can successfully eject. The number of people keeps reducing. Thirty, Twenty-six, Thirteen, Now they are remaining seven.

An old man rises. He is pot-bellied. Some hair misses form part of his head. He has a walking stick that has a metal bolt at the tip. His shoes, slightly torn safari boots with no laces, seem oversize and make noise with each step he makes. He is Yonah’s neighbor, one who they always quarrel. The other day they quarreled over Yona’s chicken eating his vegetables. Before then, a tree had fallen into yona’s maize plantation and it had been a replica of the US Russia war. Now recently, the Yona’s had accused the old man of being a witch, poor old widower. He walks up to the window, peeps in and the young boy has swallowed the previous person’s saliva. He has closed his eyes and opened his mouth so that the old man spits.

He raises his walking stick, then brings it down with all the strength his old hand can manage. The bolt at the tip of the walking stick lands squarely on the young man’s forehead. “Whaaack!” He raises it to strike again but the boy holds onto it, shouting for help, “Uuuuih, ananimalizaa…. Nakure( He’ll kill me!). And the people run to help. They want to see whose phlegm did this. But they see blood. Blood oozing from the young man’s forehead. And the young men who had been hiding in the maize plantation so that they burn whoever spits just before the boy speaks come out of the plantation squatting. Clicking. The old man walks away, he beat them at their own game, ten nil.

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3 thoughts on “Phlegm of the Witches

  1. Okay. I come from an area that is filled with such stories. I however have never come across such a case. Nobody has told me he or she came across one. We all hear. So and so is a witch…..


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