The Plane Crash
By Luckson Msekandiana (Malawi)
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The feud between the two villages had no remedy. Once, they say, the love of a young man from Chibiphi village and the young woman from Mbendera village tried to unite the people, but they miserably and disastrously failed. To make matters worse the two lovers just stretched the enmity that had existed since the time no one remembered, for it had passed from generation to generation. Reluctantly, they tied the knot to the resentment of both villages. The two youths, ignorant of the bone of contention tried, and persisted in their quest to bring peace between the two warring villages by walking side by side.
But they soothed not a single soul with their forbidden union. The rivalry had survived rains, whirlwinds, and cold weather and had witnessed the mighty conquering civilization as primitives fell prostrate in defeat. Everyone predicted doom to the two minds. In that kind of dispute, men needed wisdom and no one considered the two as the wise men from the east. Old men with grey hair are wiser than youth with raging hormones, they believed, so they despised the effort of the two lovers. Finally, someone, and no one knows from which side, decided to do away with the two, and killed them. They were found in their house naked and dead. Finger pointing was the name of the game as everyone accused each other of the murder, which up to now remains unsolved.
The hatred could be heard in their songs during dances under the bright moon. Amenities in both villages such as dances were spoiled with the prevailing abhorrence for each other. Even a great philosopher could not figure out which was the wrong side. Precisely it was a battle of evil against evil. Several times the District Commissioner summoned the two chiefs but they discussed without success. And when the apostolic church built their institution on the borders between the two intransigent villages, it was difficult for the congregation to come up with a name for the church. The people from Chibiphi wanted it to be called Chibiphi Apostolic Holy Cross church while the other group wanted it to carry the name of their village. As a result, the pastor just called it Saint Centurion. On the map the church’s lantern and vestry were in Chibiphi but three quarters of the building was in Mbendera village while the toilet was exclusively in Mbendera. Many church members from Chibiphi mostly shunned the toilet and they preferred relieving themselves in the bushes close to the synagogue. Even heaven witnessed the aggravating, escalating, scintillating malice that had engulfed the two villages.
Suspicion was in the air the two villages breathed. Whenever anything unusual happened in the other village, even a natural occurrence such as drought, it was blamed on the other. Numerous times during the time of drought they had been fighting and it had taken the intervention of the government to educate them, but still they tried to offer sacrifices to the gods while accusing the other of irritating the god of rain.
At one time a dead dog was found in a well at Chibiphi village, so the whole infuriated village, men, women and children, carried weapons such as bows and arrows, spears, machetes, and knives to inveigh their neighboring village for they all believed that the dog in the source of their drinking water was the work of their sworn enemy, Mbendera village. They vowed to have revenge. It wasn’t long when their moment came. The government had just built a primary school in their village and they didn’t allow the children from Mbendera to enroll. So the kids had to continually face the west and walk three kilometers for their education.
So when a whirling, crashing sound was heard in Mbendera village, not a single person was surprised. After all, they knew the perpetrators and the culprits. In both villages there were courageous men who had volunteered, sworn to protect and fight for the village. Cunningly, each village had managed to crack and penetrate the intelligence of the other and knew the names of the agents. Nevertheless, the strange noise did wake the village but only the courageous selected men parted with their mat to confront the danger that had suddenly invaded their homes.
The time had passed midnight but it was a moonless darkness, with a chilling, cold weather that had wrapped the village instead of the usual bright harbinger of the morning. After the mighty fall was heard, dead silence had taken over. Night birds could not be heard, gone to their secret nests. Men, who looked like shadows due to darkness, were walking from all directions to the village square all but coupled with different weapons. According to their fighting abilities some had spears, and others carried bow and arrows, while machetes were also a common sight. Hunting dogs were also summoned for the search of the ultimate danger that had befallen the village.
Banda, the group leader, divided them into four groups of five each and they were dispersed to all four wind directions. Those who were located in the eastern direction, a group which comprised of the most daring and experienced fighters in the village, had to search up to the boundaries between the two warring communities. No one knew the exact line that separated them. Others had pointed at a small unattractive thorny tree as the margin. Still others said that where the foul feces smell began was the grid into the other area.
The search began. Twenty men in total combed the surroundings of the village and to no avail. The cell with Banda, the chief’s aide, went as far as the river but could not find anything bizarre. They all silently retreated.
“What do you think the noise came from?” Mwale asked while trying to suppress the quivering that was ostentatious. They all stood in silence, almost half of them with grey hair and those with black hair had visible marks of aging on their faces. Wrinkled faces twitched in the dark trying to think of the trick of their opponents. Some thought that there was indeed clashing of something but the debris had already been cleared.
“My fellow wise men, this is the work of witchcraft, for the battle now has turned supernatural,” Banda uttered with conviction in his voice. In that darkness, heads nodded and without seeing the gestures, he knew that everyone was beyond doubt about the witchcraft that Chibiphi people were waging against them. If they delayed acting they would lose their sons.
Before they began to debate on the topic, an old man, Nyakwawa, appeared and every one recognized him because of his limping movement, his walking style since birth, and silence loomed as they waited for what had brought him. He couldn’t just barge into a meeting without a good reason - otherwise the chief would fine him a chicken. He nudged Banda and asked if he could follow him behind the tree and talk in secret. Grabbing the hand of Banda he limped behind the big fruitless mango tree. Whispers behind them were heard and they chose to ignore them.
“I have seen the witches. I need five men and send one to call the witch doctor,” he whispered and directed the orders with urgency in his voice. Banda had never heard Nyakwawa so serious. He had joked a lot in the society so that most of his sayings were not taken seriously. However today, judging from the tone of his voice which had some fear blended with serenity, he had to believe him. He rushed to the band of spirited men and chose five old wise men and sent the youngest of them who was forty five years to run to the witch doctor, Mfiti idzafanso, and tell him to come as quickly as possible. The remaining men dispersed and, murmuring and muddled by the event, they all went back home.
“Tell the witch doctor to come immediately and to bring all his work paraphernalia,” he instructed as he ran for Nyakwawa who was limping, hobbling some meters away. The chosen men quickened their pace, trying to catch up with his running and the other man’s limping. Behind them the messenger was running to deliver the vital message to the witch doctor.
On the way Banda pressed Nyakwawa with questions to percolate the truth about the witches he had seen but he didn’t reply to even a single question. In silence they marched towards the setting of the sun to face the supernatural. They were united in the thought that the battle had ceased to be physical and now they were to fight against magic and voodoo. The thought of witchcraft had left them shuddering despite being old and wise and yet this climax had not surprised them at all. Striding across the field, the men were in a straight line as nobody was behind the other for fear of the black magic. No one talked and they could hear their own audible breathing as if they had just reached the finish line on a marathon mingled with the blowing of the wind. Nyakwawa signaled them to halt and in unison they did.
Nduna didn’t walk or slow down a bit but maintained his running speed for he knew the urgency of the errand he had been sent to do. Several times his feet tripped on stones and bumped into tree stumps but he dared not stop. He ran and stopped only when he stood parallel to the door of the house of the native doctor. Remembering the rules and regulation when in the compound of the witch doctor, he waited for any sign of life and indeed the dog appeared from the other corner of the round house and barked at him. It wasn’t the knocking that awakened Mfiti idzafanso, but the ceaseless barking of his dog. When the door cringed open, Nduna slouched himself in but in reverse movement and sat on a mat. While Nduna explained everything Mfiti idzafanso remained calm. He packed his paraphernalia, beads, calabash, gourd, and many roots of different trees neatly tied together. He had been famous with exorcising witchcraft. Nduna went out of the house backwards just the way he came in, and Mfiti’s hand clutched his bag as they began the marathon.
Mfiti’s real name was Simon, and he remembered the other times when he had been called to the chief’s house to conduct a search for witches in the village, an exercise that left three men and one woman dead. He emphatically exorcised the whole village of witchcraft. Since then he had been the chief’s right hand man when it came to the business of magic. In other words, he was a senior advisor to the chief on matters patterning to witchcraft and he also led the defense team of the village against any witchcraft attacks. It was believed that several times he had delivered the village from a fatal spell cast by the people of the neighboring village. Around the boundaries of the village, on chosen different spots, he had buried magic charms that repelled magic weapons that could be sent by the enemies. No wonder the people of Mbendera village were mesmerized by his clandestine activities and accorded him respect worthy of the chief himself. Before they arrived at the chief’s house Nduna stepped on a snake that did not harm him even though he jumped with fear while Simon just smiled.
“There’s danger ahead, evil sign,” he commented on the snake and that was the first conversation since the journey started. In the whole village it was believed that no snake could harm Simon and when any snake, even the vipers, sensed his presence they all bowed their heads. Whether this was out of respect or shame or in prayer, no one knows. Nduna was pretty sure that if he was alone, the snake would have mercilessly bitten him. He thanked the witch doctor but in silence.
Nyakwawa had imposed himself as the leader for the night since he was the one who had caught the magical insurgents. He majestically walked out to meet Simon, the witch doctor. Greeting him, he led him to the house. Disposed, Nduna sensed dismissal from the ignoring attitude of Nyakwawa and immediately turned back, off to his house but cursing for being sidelined.
When Simon entered the small room he saw the eyes of the four strange creatures he had never seen before. Their bodies were covered with mud and their clothes torn. For the first time his body trembled, and everyone in the room was looking at him. Since they rated him highly in the things of magic they failed to notice the minor quaking of his body. Nervously, he sprinkled a white powder on all the strange creatures. With the same powder he drew a circle around them. He pulled all his magic apparatus from the bag and placed them neatly on the ground floor. While humming his popular tune he placed a gourd in the left corner and a calabash with five lines of beads hanging and dangling on its mouth was left in the other corner. Then he took a hyena’s tail and hit every witchcraft suspect on the temple of the head, hitting them hard once more and mumbling some words while pointing to the rising and setting directions of the sun. Flaunting his capabilities, he advised everyone in the room to wash his face in a basin of water and black powder mix with pounded leaves. They all obeyed without question and their faces wore a greenish color which gave them a ghostly look. The dyed and wrinkled faces looked more evil than the four suspected witches who were quietly awaiting their fate. Simon knelt down and painted around the left eye of each witch with black soaked dust of burnt wood. In fact one of them was a female, a wizard, and they all muffled themselves with their arms.
Chief Mbendera took a walking stick and, strongly slicing the air with it, made a whipping sound that frightened the suspects. Then he hit the four on the back and they whimpered. Meanwhile, Nyakwawa was narrating how he found them and Simon suspended his mumbo jumbo activities to listen to the story. History of the situation was important to the witch doctor before prescribing the kind of treatment the witches could get. Among the other four elders one of them had powdered pepper in a small bottle and he splashed it in the eyes of the victims. One witch tried to close his eyes but they forced them open and placed the red hot pepper powder in them as he cried, but his voice couldn’t be heard for the witches were muffled with cloth in their mouths. One of them stopped the other as they proposed to deposit the pepper into their anuses, the well known punishment for witches in the village. Simon was occupied with the story as his fingers caressed the knife, sharp on both sides, and he placed it on the ground. His tongue was protruding and licking his lips, a gesture that sent shivers down the witches’ spine.
When the village defenders were meeting under the big tree, Nyakwawa, who was not among them, conducted his own search. After crossing the river he observed movement and approached the moving shadows. There he saw them wriggling with pain, bruises all over their bodies, their clothes torn. He did not scream for help. He knew that it was about time the village respected him. For so long he had been undermined. He had tried to squeeze himself into the brave men’s club but had been dismissed as a limping coward. This was his only chance to attract unforgettable attention as the valiant man who caught the witches. Silently he solitary hauled, pulled and rolled them across the river and tree stumps, one by one, to the house of the chief but he did not alert him until he had brought them all. He proudly presented them before the chief while the others, brave warriors of the village, had fruitlessly searched and given up. He had indeed become a hero.
Judging from the wounds the three men and one woman had sustained it was doubtless they had survived an African witchcraft plane crash. There are several things that could be used as a magic plane, like the broom, bamboo basin, some woman’s protruding buttocks and many more. The witch doctor now was asking about the whereabouts of the plane. He began interrogating them as Nyakwawa lit the fire in the room.
“Who are you?” he asked and nobody replied.
“What are your names?” He persisted in his questioning, and still no answer. Picking up the knife he asked vehemently,“Who are you?” No reply. He became irritated and began tattooing the suspects. With the knife he made an incision on the forehead and allowed their blood to ooze before he pasted a black powder on the cut. They languished with the excruciating pain that the powder imparted into their blood.
“We know who you are,” one of the elders said.
“You Morris Chabwera, I know you,” the other said while pointing at the young witch with silk long hair. As a matter of fact all of them had long silk hair but the young witch’s hair was longer than the rest. Hearing the name Morris the young man shook his head.
“Don’t deny it,” he jumped and slapped him and when the young witch began to speak. They couldn’t understand the language and others slapped while some kicked him with their old legs.
“My name is Dwight Lane,” he said between sobs. They all laughed because they couldn’t hear him and they gave each other a high five.
“Hear the language of witches,” chief Mbendera whispered amid the laughing. Silence invaded the room once more as Simon sprayed the men with foul smelling water from a small bottle with a cross inside for more protection from the occult. No one knew how the wooden cross had been placed into the small bottle.
“You, woman, what’s your name?” Nyakwawa asked while pointing at her with a machete. Audaciously she mentioned her name, Susan Kemp. Once more they laughed so hard that Nyakwawa had saliva go into the wrong pipe and he coughed and coughed.
“We know you, Falesi, the daughter of Jairos Kale. You think you can deceive old men like us?” Nyakwawa said and the others burst out laughing once more. All this time, when the witches were speaking strange language, Simon was meditating while gazing into a basin full of water. Throughout his career he had never seen witches with this kind of alien look. He pulled hair from the lady suspect and she groaned. Staring at their white skin he concluded that the other village had gone far with their witchcraft. The chief admired the long pointed noses of the witches; he stretched one and marveled at the power of transformation the villagers of Chibiphi had attained. However, he was put off when he thought of the fatal spell these people could cast.
One of the men poured cold water on the witches. Nevertheless the question still remained, where is their aero plane? There were two possibilities in the mind of the old men. Either their witchcraft plane had crashed due to the magic power of their witch doctor or they had been pushed out or fallen from the witchcraft plane for not following instruction.
The chief called a caucus outside the house. Light from the emerging sun was clearing the remaining stubborn darkness. They seriously debated the issue at hand. The fate of the witches was discussed at length. Others suggested that they just dispose of them, kill them, while others proposed burying them alive. However, Simon thought of returning them home as a sign of the supremacy of Mbendera.
“That will be a warning to other villages now and in the future.” Nyakwawa commented.
“Let’s just humiliate them in a painful way,” the chief finally said.
Simon the witch doctor left the group and went back to the house to see if the witches were turning to normal. When he entered the room he was stunned to find their appearance hadn’t changed in spite of the emerging sun. Methodically, he had applied the medicine he had been using for the past fifteen years to exorcise witchcraft , but they had rendered it useless. He had never failed at his work.
“What could I do to appease the gods?” he asked himself. He sprayed the final powder he had on hand and walked outside to join the village elders. Despite the humor that the limping old man was offering to the others, Simon did not laugh. The failure of his medicine had infected his mind and left him restless. He walked around musing. Returning to the room to check the progress of the process of turning normal, he found them still intact with no change at all. Simon fell prostrate. Beating himself on his chest he finally stood quiet until he realized the strangers were watching him. Approaching them, he pulled down the front part of his trousers and urinated on them as part of the exorcising exercise. Nothing changed and the urine just peeled the sticking mud away from the suspects’ skin; the white skin color, size of the long pointed nose, the silky long hair all remained the same. Simon was irritated with his failure. He walked out of the room with hope that his charm would work. Before he rejoined the group, the senate of the village returned to the room but still as a mockery to his magical capabilities the four witches wore on their mysterious bodies. He felt denigrated and found the situation preposterous not only to him but also the village elders who had trusted him for the past fifteen years.
News of the witchcraft plane crash had circulated through the village. The day breaking had been a sad one in the whole of Chibiphi village as they heard that their four friends were caught and still in the hands of their enemies. The rivalry between them had climaxed and reached a boiling point. Chief Chibiphi had already called for a meeting. The announcer of the meeting had also advised everyone to go to the chief’s court armed. Men, women, and children flocked to village square equipped with machetes, bows and arrows, clubs, stones and spears. They were ready to fight and rescue their dear brave friends. Indeed the chief had searched the whole village population and discovered that all four were missing.
“We have to go, fight and rescue our friends without fear,” the chief said boldly and the women ululated and men whistled. The noise flew to Mbendera village as it echoed and echoed. The belligerent battle cry alerted Mbendera and its people to mobilize as quickly as possible. Sunlight emerged to witness one of the worst civil wars the world has ever known as children as young as eight years took arms to fight. They began to march toward Mbendera village and their steps harmoniously echoed as one step of a giant. Songs with taunting and blasphemous words and phrases were sung. Mbendera people had to retaliate as quickly as possible. Otherwise they would be obliterated. So they lined up along the boundary of their village, armed.
The four suspects heard the approaching fearsome noise and remained in their forced knelt position facing the wall while muttering inaudible prayers. They were waiting for their fate. Simon was there facing them while the village elders were coming from mobilizing the people for the fierce village against village fight. Nyakwawa had just proposed killing the suspects but the idea didn’t receive a majority yes vote.
As expected, the tension between the two sides coherently built up and was at the verge of spilling blood. Men with pointed sharp knives and machetes were running poised to stab and hack the others who were in motion. The hundred meters was reducing to fifty, thirty and twenty but, as the distance between them narrowed, soldiers began falling from an army helicopter above. They all became still and lifted their heads, thinking that the gods had come to intervene. More helicopters were dropping more solders with their hands clutching loaded guns. At once they began to disperse in speed to their refuge, each group facing home to run for the dear life. Children fell, forgotten by their parents, and big feet stepped on them.
The chief and elders of the village panicked when they saw the soldiers coming towards the house. Nyakwawa began to run and one soldier shot into the air and the limping escapee stopped immediately. Simon was flabbergasted, asking himself what kind of witches had such protection. One soldier pointed a gun at him and he stood still in fear.
“Where are the four Europeans?” he asked militarily while pointing a gun at the witch doctor.
“I don’t know of any Europeans,” he answered back with a shaking voice.
“Who is in this room?” he asked as he pushed Simon, the once mighty witch doctor now denigrated with the presence of a gun. Kicking the door, the soldiers were met with the pitiful sight of the four Europeans.
“What have you done to them?” he asked.
“Oh my god, these are not witches, these are people from overseas. Do you know what you have just done? Ignorant people!” he moaned. Lieutenant Colonel Gona roared with anger as he eyed the chief who had covered his face with his two old hands.
“The three are students and the older one is the professor. They are here doing research and indeed they have survived a plane crash, but not a witchcraft plane. We received a message from the survey department of the plane crash down along the river. And we are a rescue team,” he explained to the surprised faces of the elders. They regretted what they had done as they explained to the colonel the controversy that had misled them to mistreat the victim of the plane crash.
When the chief lifted his eyes he met the red eyes of chief Chibiphi who had been dragged by the soldiers to his opponent’s headquarters. His eyes moved to see if the suspects indeed were his people but he just shook his head.