N’anga an excerpt
“The God Mother”
How far back did he need to go to come to terms with everything that had come to pass?
He could go back as far as the 20th Century when the commoditization of magic took root on two major strongholds on the African continent. In the West, Nigeria and its neighboring countries fell under the umbrella of a cartel. Despite Nigeria not having the strongest magical influence or practitioners, its organization was able to capitalize on the other countries and make use of their connection to darker arts much more economically than anyone else. Positioning themselves as the regional heads.
In the south of the continent, Malawi became the heartbeat for the flow of magic intertwining seamlessly with the less-than-legal business operations that had cannibalized entire governments from the ground up. Something more akin to a mafia.
Their organization also spilled over into the neighboring countries, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and even parts of South Africa. When you really think about it, magic being out in the open is a dangerous thing. People instinctively know not to get involved with you at any level when you are associated with "the family."
But to get associated, to get an in, to get that handshake, to get that business card. It would cost you more than your life.
Years before the bloodied man would find himself cornered with just a lighter in hand when he was still small and innocent, his family was living in the city of Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, one of the countries southward of Malawi. They struggled. His father stone-skipped through small jobs to keep food on the table, just barely. His mother's job was stable but was just enough to keep the lights on. When they spoke of earning a living, this is what they meant, you have earned enough to live. Anything beyond that was a luxury. This meant at the ripe old age of nine he wasn't in school, nor was he able to help bring money home. Anything worth the money would be a violation of child labor laws.
A useless sack of flesh that needed to be fed. That's how he knew himself and his position in the house. A young mind wasted on the utilitarian misgivings of society's gutter. "Earn your keep", a guilt-driven mantra that had been tattooed on his bones. Not even able to gain new skills because there was no money to send him to schools of any kind.
He felt like a waste.
His father's stone-skipping had come to a halt several months earlier. He resigned himself to drink away what scraps of money had remained. Even after the palm-deep well of savings had run dry, his father continued to come home drunk from the local bars. It always bothered the young boy how people, men, his father, could go to the bar with no money and still come home blisteringly drunk.
The innocence of youth had been quickly snatched away from him when he discovered what the word "debt" meant.
Having a cost deferred to the future. But at some point, somehow, some way, someone was going to pay for that cost. Although alcoholism was one of the many things that had become a thorn in their household. The bigger problem was accumulating debt.
Though his father had failed at getting another job, his wants had somehow outgrown the rationale of poverty.
"I just don't understand Fungai, where are you getting the money for all of this?" his mother, Precious pleaded in confused desperation.
"Do you understand how much I've sacrificed for this family?" Fungai staved off his wife's interrogation, "You can't expect me to sit around here when you and Tinashe demand meals the way you do!"
Scoffing so loudly Precious parried back at him, "Demand?"
"You think it's demanding when your eight-year-old son needs to eat?" she questioned him. He replied facetiously,
"And that means what exactly?!" she asked bitterly.
"Means he needs to start fending for himse-" he was cut off.
"-enough of this!" she ended.
Their arguments were long and meandering through so many unrelated topics and personal attacks it was hard to see what it was even about anymore. Their son was rolled up in the fetal position on his portion of the bed and listened through the nights and weeks of bickering, absorbing it all as he listened to reason itself be gutted and stripped of its principal organs. He chimed in mentally to point out the flaws of their arguments and began to see a path to navigating human conversation.
But none of that mattered.
What mattered was that Tinashe's father had borrowed. He had borrowed money from someone important. And then he wasn't able to pay it back. Suddenly the din of quarreling voices was replaced by a worrisome ring of deafening concern in a home of silence. He and his mother sat up night after night waiting for Fungai to drunkenly stumble home. They both never spoke of it but they grew together in praying for him to just come home. It didn't matter how.
At first, it wasn't anything new, people would always come over looking for Fungai to get their money back. It was always another local drunk or someone he had gambled with, even someone he had managed to con barking at the house to claim what was now theirs. He stayed away from the house for a few days, sleeping God knows where. They had always just lied about his whereabouts or were straight and said that they didn't know where he was.
But this was different.
Months had passed, worse, so men in suits had stopped by the house every few weeks to ask about him. They didn't have any answers, and they couldn't tell them why they were looking for him or where they were from.
The late afternoon of June 1 was the day that life had coordinated to change Tinashe's life forever. The sound of a car in the distance stalking the uneven and dilapidated roads of the area had made its familiar tracks known. Tinashe and his mother knew that the men were coming back. They routinely crept up from their bed and waited in the tiny strip of driveway that separated their house from the outside walls.
The pitch-black car stopped in its slow approach a few meters away from them on the open road. The sleek design was more than a marriage of aerodynamism and finesse, it pulsed with a distracting intensity. One couldn't help but avert their gaze as if meeting eyes with someone intimidating. The curves and edges of the entire machine were like a tight-lipped smile sentenced to secrecy. It was hard to distinguish its features individually at first, but after the first few visits, the car revealed itself more and more. The hood and all the skin of the vehicle looked like they were dripping with an irresistible black oil finish. The surface of the glass was scribbled over in its entirety with glyphs, symbols, sigils, runes and abstract imagery to the point that the marking coalesced into a faint glare. To say that the engine stopped with a purr would be an insult to the dominance that flowed from its hide.
Like all the visits before, the two men in suits stepped from outside the front of the car in a rehearsed unison. The men were different each time but they all had the same sync about them that made it feel like you were always talking to the same person in two bodies. Their suits had a polished finish to them, neither quite waxed nor shiny, but closer to an ecstatic glow that made them seem invincible as they hugged the bodies of the people wearing them.
The man from the passenger's side was built like a small thick wall meant to keep animals out on farmlands. He wasn't tall, but there was an imposing weight about the trophy case of muscles that he had collected and displayed with a reserved sense of accomplishment. The suit clung to him like a dust cloth to conceal the details of each prize he mounted on his chest but gave just enough away that you were dying to know more, be it out of envy or indulgence. He unconsciously rubbed the dark bands of flesh on his fingers, almost instinctively, to remind him of the hard-earned memories that he had lost.
The driver whose height battled with his weight in a perfectly tied tug of war had the enviable girth of his wealth, his meaty fingers wrapped on the car's door frame with a soft set of clinks as the set of rings he wore clasped down to anchor him before he stepped into full view. The rolls of his body swelled out like waves on a rocky rapid river. His suit captured the waves as they crashed, neatly tucking in all the right places. His figure was both menacing and welcoming, capped with a bearded chubby face. His eyes were hidden in the shadow of his brow. Even the large swell of his stomach pronounced itself with dignity sewn methodically with reverence.
Tinashe and his mother didn't have much time to register the new set of visitors before the taller man motioned to his partner with a tip of his head, in the direction of the backseat doors. The stocky partner walked with deliberate steps towards the rear of the car before announcing, "May I humbly introduce you to, Mother, it is such a rare honour for her to make anyone's acquaintance." His brow furrowed with intensity before he continued, "So please, remember where your manners are."
With a subtle turn of his wrist, he pried open the door where "Mother" sat. The way he said mother had hurt Tinashe's ears in a way he hadn't the time to register to understand. Two thoughts began to form: the first was that it was entirely possible that all the men in suits that he and his mother had come in contact with at this point would refer to this person as Mother, even if none of them looked alike or were even related. The second thought was more tactile, watching the second man's mouth contort as he spoke the word "mother" hadn't matched the sound. He had heard what he was meant to hear.
Before any more thoughts could solidify, the pressure from the backdoor overwhelmed the brightness of the sun. Tinashe's vision seemed to dim and blur, startling back like a young animal, he found balance in fastening the grip of both his hands on his mother's left arm where instinctively he would find comfort. He latched onto her trembling body. She too was struck by the lightning crude wash of fear.
The black oiled leather of her first heel slyly escaped into view like hardening mist. The sound of its stiff contact with the road was like a muffled echo stretched out in time. The second time it echoed as both feet came into view, the sound was the same, yet the terror behind it reverberated with an unknown heaviness.
The two accompanying men were unflinching to the unearthly deity that was descending upon humanity like a herald of the end of the world.
Behind the veil of the door, the tip of an umbrella pierced up and perched midair for the briefest moment before bursting open like blood-lusting bat's wings kicking up the dust around the dirty street at an exact distance away from its epicenter. The ground around the car in a perfect circle remained settled and frozen by the creature's declaration.
The umbrella shifted to one side before rising once again, the woman beneath it rose to stand at her full height growing to halfway between the heights of her two escorts. Her mahogany skin was undeniably aged by the wrinkles that lined the topography of her face; her expression was stern with the weight of leadership, not simply the passage of time. A thin deep scar invaded the contours of her face with a rose pink reminder, a reminder that cleaved from her right cheek across the bridge of her nose disappearing under the eye patch of her left eye. Telling a story in of itself no matter how concealed the scar's path from the world. The strands of her hair were like an ice-white bird's nest of brilliant architectural chaos, it was a messiness that was both in her design and in the pride she held for her hair. Each fiber kinked and knotted itself where it wished like a silver crown on her scalp. Rouge threads of her hair cascaded down her face to match her thinning eyebrows with the same frigid elegance. The contrast of white on white was met with her flair of cloudy white eyelashes, her eye was hidden in a patient ferocity. Although it was lacquered in greying age, they couldn't hide the murderous glare that had made contact with Tinashe, her eye had begun a delicate carpentry of his bones so that the feeling of a near-death experience was knitted on his being for the remainder of his waking life.
Stepping forward into full view, she was dressed in similar attire to the suited men, the varying difference being that she was wearing a skirt that reached below her knees, and the remaining length of her legs were wrapped in stockings. The stocking's dual layers were separated into the base sheaf with a velvety finish and the layer above that branching veins of overlapping threads in linking spiral patterns, collectively displayed black flower designs. The black bumpy vines that crept up her legs were glossed with that hum of life.
She walked closer to Tinashe and his mother with a heavy mournful gait, the sounds of her footsteps still coughing into nothingness, she stopped and stood right in front of them. In morbid contrast with her graveyard appeal, she raised her black-gloved hand which was equipped with the same double-layered design as her stockings and rested it gently on her chest, the rings she wore on each hand were beautifully bejeweled but eclipsed wholly by the tender voice that escaped her lips to speak one word.
Tinashe felt his mother's trembling shift in tempo as she clenched her whole body to try and keep standing from the blow of the word that meant: You have my condolences.
Precious held out for a few painful seconds before the grief swelled completely inside her and tears began to flow. Her face scrunched up into an involuntary ugly cry, she tried her best to cover her face with her free hand before anyone saw the anguish that had struck her. She could feel the strength leave her knees and her entire body began to fold.
Mother stepped forward to catch Precious in as warm of an embrace as humanly possible. She held Precious under her arms and rubbed her back to console her through the loud sobs and wailing she wasn't able to hold back. Tinashe had let go of his mother's hand to give her room to be weak for herself. He knew she couldn't be strong for him at that moment. It was hard to separate being a mother and a wife. She had known his father long before they fell in love. She was losing more than just a spouse.
Tinashe silently resolved that it was his turn to be strong for her.
In the seconds after making this decision, Tinashe caught a glimpse of the umbrella that Mother had let go of in midair. It remained there, suspended and pensive. It glared at him with a feral intensity that made him avert his eyes. He had never felt intimidated by inanimate objects, and this feeling that made his gut heavy gave him the impression it wouldn't be the last time.
The embrace lasted several long moments, the sobbing began tapering into sharp gasps as Precious tried to collect herself. Strong women are rarely afforded moments of weakness, even from themselves.
As Precious rose to stand by herself, Mother lowered her arms to give her room, Mother fiddled her fingers as if she was sneaking two notes on an invisible instrument. An immediate response came from the air-perched umbrella, breaking from its suspension to swing into Mother's grip. The rings that seduced her fingers made hollow taps on the wooden handle just as she pressed the tip to the ground meeting with a similar drowned-out clack on the outside surface. The wings of the umbrella folded in a soundless spiral draining into nothing but a thin black coat of ink to what was now a walking cane.
With her free arm Mother hooked back into Precious' embrace, now standing side by side before
she tilted her head in Tinashe's lower direction and once again spoke in that soft tone, "Shall we take this inside?"
Tinashe realized that she wasn't addressing him when she asked by the movement he had just noticed from the corner of his vision. The two escorts had sauntered past him, despite their large bodies being some steps away near the car, they were now behind him walking towards the house at a casual pace. His young mind was trying to balance out the facts of what he was seeing with what he knew to be normal, though he was accepting of it, it frightened him with curiosity.
The shorter man placed his palm flat against the house with a long pause, his gaze turned to his larger partner who was facing Mother and the family and received the message he nodded to Mother in response. She began walking with her cane slowly, together with her who was withholding distraught. Tinashe followed suit on their coattails, trying to stay out of the direct line of sight of the two men as they all entered the small house.
The smell of damp dust greeted them as they entered the building. The fragrance spoke of a leak that hadn't been addressed, so much so that the sound of water sneaking through the house when it rained became as important to the structure as a fifth load-bearing wall. The table that was the centerpiece of the main room was dressed with a stained cloth, the image on it had faded beyond recognition. One of the table legs was damaged and propped up by a small stack of books. The floor was a collection of uneven bricks that were smoothed from use over the years. The thin film of dust gave them all a uniform expired champagne tint. The peeling paint on the walls gave the room an unwelcoming personality though it was hidden by the best efforts of the new additions to the room. Before Fungai passed and his unknown income stream gave him money to throw around, he furnished the small abode with new black leather couches that came as a set of two long and two short. The couches matched the large flat-screen television set that collectively felt out of place.
One of the windows was broken and in its place was a makeshift clear plastic bag and some strategically placed tape. The thin grey curtain that had long since given up its charade of being white linen hung in front of it shuffled ever so slightly from the invading air. A large sheet partitioned part of this room into a body-wide sleeping area that was trying to convince itself it was a bedroom. Next to this was the open kitchen that was enough to fit a tall upstanding fridge, a sink and a two-plate gas oven-stove set. The bathroom was out of sight and annexed the building from outside.
Mother walked in without skipping a beat, unbothered by all the poverty-enriched details of the house as Tinashe came to expect, even by the people who lived in their neighborhood. If he had been disarmed before by the inexplicable, this was dismantling his expectations of people as a whole.
Tinashe and Precious sat on one of the long leather couches while Mother sat on the other across from them. The three let an unspoken air sit comfortably. Tinashe held his mother's hand and felt that she had swallowed her pain for the time being because he couldn't feel her trembling anymore. Looking up at her face, he saw her wearing a stone wall for an expression, something grim was about to happen and she was prepared. Turning to look at Mother at the other side of the room whose face was inviting and peaceful in contrast, it almost fooled him. So Tinashe sat up and readied himself for that which his mother was ready to receive.
"So, shall we begin?"