• A dying child strays into a man's home. Next thing he knows, her family is in the news
• The encounter is revisited in ongoing series reimagining how the cult swept Kenya
Morning. Dawn, even. Behind the mud and iron-sheet shack. Sunrays beam above the old baobab canopy. The birds of here are celebrating a new day. A promise. Food may happen. Their tiny ones chirp their best out of nests above the compound. The silver slime near my feet bespeak of snails with shells that inhabit the thicket beyond. Their slow motion now only evident as the trail of snails heading into the thick foliage of the thicket all around us.
Suddenly. There is a commotion. The niece who dwells with me this week comes running right into me at breakneck speed. Her eyes are owlian. She is sweating and it is dawn. Her heart I can hear beating through her pullover. She is speechless. Her index finger points in the direction she came from. Horror is what has shackled her. It is written silently in clear words on the parchment of her eyes.
I shoo her into the hut and pick up my machete. Walking briskly, I confront the forest. It is not long before I stop in my tracks. Ahead of me on the dewy trail from our habitat to the distant village out there, stands the source of terror. Instinctively, I raise my machete hand, left and outward. My spine arcs and my feet are pushed wider for more firmness, feeling the sandy soil.
I am ready for attack. But as the creature comes forward closer without care, I abandon the dense tense poise, though my heart beats even faster. Right before my eyes is a human. It is not adult. It is small and skinny. It is dishevelled and lost, for the eyes are finally locked with mine. It is not afraid of me or the silver blade sharp and raised. It moves forward in a zigzag manner, it is not well.
Presently, I peer above and behind the moving kid. Eyes search for movement in the trees around. A trained hunter of fish and forest fowls, I am one of the finest hereby. Seeing none else but this sole apparition in the vast forest of Shakahola, I confront it. It falls into me. I carry it to the compound. The fever it has tears into my skin through its own.
It has a cracked eyelid. It has a cracked upper lip. It has a cracked nostril caked with mucous with dots of blood. It has protruding ribs forming spikes around and above its sunken belly button. It has broken nails. It has broken hair to the left above the broken ear. It has no words. It has no tears. Yet it is crying. Yes.
I call out to the niece inside. She stands at the door of the hut but within it. She comes closer after I beckon. She stares at the kid on the ground and asks who it is. I say we shall soon find out. Water. Water is brought in an aluminium sufuria with a black bottom. The sick kid opens its mouth a crack. I hesitate. It drinks: it dies. I think. I pour the water slowly in droplets like rain. I pour it from its head to its toes. It shivers and quakes violently. Foam oozes out of its estranged embodiment of frailty. Blackout.
When the hunger-shackled men from the deep forest arrived staggering at dusk, I knew who they were minus questions or exclamation or conversation. I had been ready for them the whole day. They found me sitting on a three-legged stool near the gate, forming a new pole for my niece jembe from a trunk of a cashew tree. My machete caused rays upon their faces as I chopped away. The lead man shielded his sunken eyes with his elbow. He was a spitting image of the ill kid on the mat being fed mabuyu gruel by my niece.
The conversation was short and to the point. I adjusted my Muslim prayer beads around my neck. The other man adjusted his worn-out bible to his other hand. They said the child had strayed a long way. The child still spoke no words by mouth. Water, they refused. Food, they refused. Sitting down, they turned down and kept repeating their fast, their faith and the incoming night.
Now that it is all in the news. I remember the lost child of Shakahola. I remember the mother on radio, who hails from Shamakhokho. I wonder where that place is. She had come all the way to Malindi from there. So it exists somewhere just as the two men and the kid they carried left here for somewhere. She sought her husband and their deaf and dumb kid who had come to Shakahola for healing. Here she had heard from her husband dwelt a prophet who made the blind see and the dumb to speak. She said so on radio. I really remember.
I also remember the parting shot of the man with the torn Bible. He spoke the words facing me at the gate as they left with the child who wept without tears, but his eyes locked with those of my unafraid niece:
You two shall pass...
Inside the hearth of darkness in Shakahola
What was it like for a mother of twins watching life ebb away?
Imagine the last moments of Shakahola cult followers
The scenes conjure an image of hapless faithful in the throes of death
Why people seek a fresh start and how to do it safely
The lure of new beginnings drove masses to Shakahola cult