© Copyright 2019 by Gavin Mndawe
is a kingdom unbeknown to many. You could swear the buildings and
streets are golden, the way they sparkle and dazzle. Rumour has it
money is minted and printed down there. Many have mistaken this place
Most of you have been to this kingdom and don’t even know it. Others ‘clock in’ everyday and are not aware, this is no shock considering how quick it is to adapt down there.
Marina was lucky enough to learn of this kingdom, but not before it learnt of her. You see, Marina was dedicated at birth. Placed inside a disembowelled goat and trained in divination and potion production, she was to be a mighty subject in the kingdom.
She learnt a lot as an initiate under her mother; whose idea it was to have her dedicated. She was taught of the various spirits; the menacing monkey that hides your identity when you do wrong, the sensual snake that strikes down every counterpart in its path, the promiscuous dog that renders eye contact deadly. These were technologies Marina was to familiarise herself with. She learnt to identify them, to deal with them and to invite them. The monkey spirit for instance is inserted through incisions made by burnt monkey eyebrows.
Not only was she taught of spirits, she was educated in identifying the physical markers of a marine agent. Religiosity, skimpy clothing, ‘profane’ music, lack of manners, aggression etc. are all indications of allegiance to the sea. If they love attention, they belong to the sea. If they ‘zone out’ often, they belong to the sea. If they fail to look an anointed one in the eye, they belong to the sea. You may think they are sleeping or shy, not so, they are avoiding fire in their eyes.
Unless they result from recruitment, none of them has the same mission and yet there are some universal red flags. One of these red flags is ‘zoning out’. An agent would be talking to you and he’d ask you about something you’re passionate about. You would talk about your passion without realising no one is listening. It is only when you say something funny and pat the agent on the back that you’ll realise you’ve been talking to yourself. It is also at this point that the agent would have to leave whatever marine boardroom and return to the body while it’s still in the same position. A different position would spell death.
Another red flag is personality. A marine subject will change personalities when administering chaos. If it’s music, their voice will change when singing. If it’s fashion, they will be a different person in their Sunday best.
It is said ‘’there is nothing new under the sun’’. Whoever said that didn’t consider the oceanic threshold that exceeds the reach of sunshine. You see, where light fears to tread, lies thrive and mutations abound, resulting in the 'new'.
Marina never doubted the power of her will, not after possibly witnessing it kill someone. Her one true friend Orphilia wasn’t available suddenly. Who was she to share the wisdom with? Who would help her digest everything? Who was she to absorb from? The mother didn’t trust Orphilia’s siblings as much. She became demanding, always needing Orphilia to do something, to stick around the house or go some place. And so Marina purposed in her heart for Orphilia’s mother to die. At first she gawked at this malicious wish, later she grew accustomed to it, nursing it with every ‘’she’s not here’’ and ‘’I’ve sent her to town’’.
Marina and Orphilia shared a bond so strong that a day without contact was like a day without fresh air and sunshine. Marina became completely consumed by the strangling thought of Orphilia’s absence.
"Marina, write numbers one to ten for us, in order thank you’’ decrees Miss Ekans, handing her the chalk. Up bounces the young lady with her trousers tucked into her boots. It is worth noting that girls that do not wear pants, nor do they wear boots in school. As she writes on the board the class erupts in laughter.
"Does that look like a seven to you?" snarls Miss Ekans. Unsettled, she turns to the madam who by now is standing akimbo. '’If I stand this way I am Marina, If I turn the other way, am I not still Marina?’’ she challenges as her audience ejects a barrage of chuckles.
Her mother used to say ‘’peace implies war, power implies war and glory implies war". She could tell these were not her words because these words were stained with frustration. She was invested in indifference. Women and emotion are synonymous but a dragged life of disappointment left her callous. It didn’t help living in a land where the dams had dandruff, the function of rivers was reversed and the smell of rain was a distant memory. While kicking stones and mud cakes to and from her gig or what others call school, she would dip into the despair her mother wanted to feel.
There was a medicine woman in the village that Marina’s mother was an apprentice to. It is said that all rains from the past fifty years were the result of her sacred dance. At seventy-four, and without anyone trained in this art and science, the village was in jeopardy. Guerilla governments and mercenaries were closing in on this region and the rain and war goddess Aleeneh required appeasement. The rain dance was unlike any other. The shaman would have to camp on the bank of the river for five days. During these days the shaman would not eat or drink anything.
Candlelit dinners were the true reservoirs of knowledge for Marina. She often wore the tiara her mother received as Miss University, even at supper. ‘’Mama, why do we live in the desert?’’ asks Marina with feathery frustration.
live in the desert because we are poor; we are poor because Africa is
poor and Africa is poor because things come easy here. You don’t
need air conditioning, you can sit under a tree. You don’t need
heated floors. You don’t need to fertilize soil, you just plant
a seed. This land is cursed. I pray to Aleeneh, may this hell shed
its rancorous skin to reveal the lush splendour our Moorish
forefathers wrote about.’'
The ancestors have ways of calling the living into service. Marina's lack of attention at school wasn't due to her wanting attention. She was plagued by the sound of crashing water, visions of crystal crocodiles and the feeling she was not the only inhabitant of her body.
After vigorous evaluation, Marina took it upon herself to consult the old medicine lady to find out what the ancestors wanted. She arrived to a macabre display of freedom. Rare animal skins like that of leopards and pythons were draped on the walls as if to wean oneself off the wilderness. Elephant and hippo bones propped up the roof and were ignored by villagers, as if acknowledging some shamanistic immunity.
To enter a trance, the medicine woman had her assistant beat drums drunkenly as she eased into a limping dance. Incense smoke reminiscent of forest fog colonised the consultation room while the witchdoctor sought guidance from her bag of bones. A piece of broken mirror rolled out the bag as she discarded its contents. "Makhosi" she grunted as she launched into convulsions and clapped her hands to welcome the ancestors. "Young lady you must answer the call of the ancestors or they will sicken you to death" she said while pointing at the mirror. "You are the only hope this village has, perform the sacred dance. Know one thing however, you are replaceable." And she disappeared in a stinging storm of smoke before the assistant escorted Marina out.
Later that evening, Marina would set out for Lana River, carrying with her not a change of clothes nor food, but incense and other ceremonial devices. As she paused to stargaze, she saw an array of lights zipping by as if to celebrate her journey. Prayer and chanting were the order of the night as she braced herself for this adventure. Hoots and howls fluttered in the air as Marina noticed a fig tree. She had never seen one this big, the fruit itself beyond comparison. Marina wrestled the craving, deciding to camp by the tree until she convinced herself. And surely she did, a few hours into the night. Five days will begin tomorrow, she snuggled into the thought as she gorged herself on figs.
She awoke to an army of frogs encircling her. "What is this?"
"You are pregnant" proclaims a voice seemingly coming from within her.
"But I've never-" shudders Marina.
"With desire" added the voice. "Sometimes willing and waiting are enough." And a cascading reassurance came upon Marina as she watched the frogs leap into obscurity.