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Vengeance of the Gods
Beatrice Lamwaka

"Now that she is dead, I must deal with her spirit so that my children and I will not be affected by that butter-wouldn't-melt-in-thy-mouth witch," muttered Lalobo as she looked around to make sure nobody was watching. She had to slide the feather from the middle of her thighs in such a way that no one would guess what she was doing.

She slouched towards the newly cemented grave of her co-wife, Min Okello (mother of Okello). "She thought she deserved everything, and I, like a dog, was to just watch," she said loudly to herself, scratching her kinky hair. "I have children, too, but they have deserted me." She sniffed and added with a sneer, "Her children buried her like a princess, a lavish funeral. Let's see who wins, if not I, mother of them all."

She glanced at Otto, who was too drunk to even tell his hands from his legs, let alone realise that he had defecated on himself. Lalobo turned away in disgust and hissed, "I had to destroy him: he spoke too much. I am not sorry about it." She let out an ear-piercing demonic laugh and added, "He ate it in his food, that bull! I, Lalobo, waste no time on people who stand in my way."

Not bothered by a soul, Lalobo parted her legs to remove the Malibu stork feather. The medicine woman had instructed her to keep it in between her thighs till the afternoon of the eve of Min Okello's last funeral rites. She pulled it out easily, since she wore no knickers, and buried it in the mound of soil next to where the deceased's head was supposed to be facing. Just like the medicine woman, Acen, had instructed her.

Min Okello had died of the swelling of the stomach, coupled with a strange ailment called two rec believed to have come from Sudan. This disease normally left its victim with a scaly skin and a mouth producing rotten substance resembling dead maggots. Her children, who lived in the capital city, Kampala, took her to all the hospitals there but the doctors could not diagnose her disease. Even Doctor Smith Clarke, the white specialist in strange African diseases, shook his head in defeat and referred them to the local medicine men. They at last found a medicine man who seemed to know the disease and how to treat it. But Lalobo's intrusion and supervision made him leave an irritated man. Efforts to bring him back were futile.

Lalobo flattened the earth carefully to hide the feather, which was to put Min Okello' s spirit at rest. This was to stop her from taking revenge from the other world. Contented that the last ritual was complete, Lalobo decided to visit Acen on her way to the spring. Lalobo had no friend in the village; Acen was the only person she could confide in. Most women hated her. It was rumoured in the village that she had got her husband, Latim, through witchcraft.

Acen was a frail looking woman in her thirties. Her ears were enormous like a rabbit's. She had given birth to four boys who had all died at barely the age of one. What perturbed people was that her husband did not chase her away, neither did he hurl insults or derogatory remarks at her. He instead resorted to getting more wives. Poor Acen could not complain, for she had no children of her own.

Acen was now seated under a tree. As Lalobo approached, she could see that Acen had just shaven the sides of her head, leaving just enough room for two rows that stood majestically in the middle of her small head. This was a new hairstyle for sure.

"What do you want now from me, you wretched woman? Haven't you killed enough people already?" Acen asked Lalobo jokingly, as she walked towards her.

"Enough is never enough," Lalobo said and laughed.

"Then you have come for more killer charms, eeeeeh?" Acen asked.

"Nooooooo," replied Lalobo. "I have come to share my happiness with you. Don't you know what our people say, that one hand does not open the vagina? Ha ha ha," they both laughed like young girls.

"You woman and your dirty mind," Acen said. "Is that the best saying you could have used?"

"I am not the composer of proverbs," Lalobo said.

"I see. So if you want me to share your happiness, where is the cock?"

"Next time," Lalobo answered, looking at the mat. Acen got the signal and like a good mannered child, she moved away a bit to allow Lalobo room to sit. A worried look appeared on Lalobo's face. "Are you sure that I am a free woman? Without vengeance to worry about?" she asked.

"Have I ever promised you air, tell me, have I?" retorted Acen.

"You know I killed Min Okello out of jealousy. She was a good woman. Even if she had sons and I, on the other hand, was cursed with girls whose bastards fill my house, that was no reason to kill her, you know," Lalobo said, worried. "My worry, my friend Acen, is that the gods may turn against me."

"You see, that is what I was worried about. Why? Why?"

"Why what?" Lalobo asked, opening her palms.

"You have reported yourself to the gods. When you commit a crime like you have, you never say it aloud because the gods are always listening. Now they know you are a killer."

"Oh god Lagooro of my forefathers, what am I going to do?"

"Don't worry, my dear friend, we can also deal with the gods. But this time you have to bleed money, because we need a virgin bull, a white goat, water from the middle of the lake, a root of the kituba tree, a...

"Please do not continue," Lalobo interrupted. "Where in the world do you expect me to find a virgin bull and all that? You will soon tell me to bring a fresh head."

"You must finish what you began. Water does not flow backwards."

"You said the feather wouId be the last. Now where are all these virgin bulls, white goats, tree roots and whatever else going to come from?"

"Woman, you never finish with these things."

"But..."

"No buts; just do as I say."

"I cannot afford it."

"It is not about what you can afford. Just do as I say in two days. You never know what these scorned gods are capable of doing."

"I came here to celebrate, not..."

''Celebrate after killing an innocent woman! What do you expect after you and your big mouth couldn't keep quiet about your deeds."

"I am confused, are you against me?"

"lt is not about taking sides. It is about what you have done. You killed an innocent woman and I helped... oh no! I didn't say it. Listen carefully, Lalobo, do as I have told you and within two days. Excreta is dealt with while it is still fresh."

"Fine. I thought you we were supposed to side with mortals, not spirits. But I was wrong, very wrong."

"Just do as told."

"Let me leave your sight before you add a yellow sheep, a blue hen or a wingless eagle to the list." She stalked away angrily and left wondering where on earth she would find all those things.

Lalobo was now faced with a dilemma and needed to be alone. She knew that back home, guests for Min Okello's last funeral rites must have begun arriving. She tried to hurry to the spring to get the water she should have got hours ago but her legs felt as if heavy logs were tied around them.

At home, the relatives had started arriving. Min Okello's children came in cars with loads of things as if it was a party, Lalobo thought resentfully. She glanced at her stepdaughter Adong, who was a replica of her mother Min Okello. Adongo ran towards her stepmother and hugged her passionately. She loved her very much, though Lalobo treated her coolly, making her feel like a child caught licking sugar. But that did not bother Adong in the least: Lalobo would always be her mother.

"Mother, I am happy to see you! How are you?" Adong greeted Lalobo.

"I am fine. You no longer come to see us," Lalobo complained.

"I have been busy, mother."

"Don't worry, my daughter, we will survive."

"I will come and see you again, I promise."

"My daughter, I have a big problem. I don't have any money. I tried to brew local beer but it was too dilute and nobody bought even a tot. I need money desperately."

"Don't worry, mother, we will arrange everything."

No, I need something for the pocket."

"Don't worry. Everything is under control."

Seeing that her daughter was determined not to give her money, Lalobo walked away. She had to get another prey, but wherever she went, everyone turned her down. This sent the villagers talking. Lalobo was the kind of person who would not even beg for salt from the neighbours. "Perhaps something is amiss," they conjectured. One woman even said, "Lalobo is not herself these days." Sometimes she made a mistake and asked the same person twice for money, giving a different reason each time.

That night, Lalobo was awakened by a terrible dream. She dreamt that she was being bitten by babies who said the gods had sent them as their agents and told her the worst was yet to come. Lalobo quickly got out of bed. She had to get money this time by all means.

"Morning, mother," Adong greeted her.

Bad omen, Lalobo said to herself silently. Then loudly, "Morning." Why does she have to look like her dead mother!

Lalobo walked towards the villagers who were flocking in. Most of them came for the food and the local brew, arege. The young girls were doing most of the work. Bored, Lalobo had nothing to do but greet the villagers and watch what was going on. The compound was extremely busy. People were fetching water, bringing firewood, others bringing all sorts of food.

The elders were seated outside on low stools. They drank beer from gourds and spoke in low voices as they waited for the medicine man, Chan, who would fetch the spirit of Min Okello from the unknown place to be questioned about her welfare.

Chan arrived late in the afternoon with a group of assistants, all dressed in brown cow skins and bomo, a creeping plant. He wore a hat made of feathers and adorned with beads, cowry shells, claws of birds and snakeskins. On reaching Min Okello's hut, he trembled like an aspen in the wind. This was an indication that her sprit was disturbed.

Lalobo was frightened but remembering what measures she had taken against such an eventuality, she felt calm again. In her mind, she even had hatched a plan to distract Chan if anything went wrong. Inside the hut, a stool was given to Chan to sit on, while the assistants rattled the gourds to the family members and the elders who had joined them. Then Chan began a familiar song to which everybody chorused a response as they clapped their hands. Chan danced, throwing his legs here and there, rapping, cursing, appealing to the unknown. Suddenly, Chan began speaking in Min Okello's voice.

"I am chained, set my spirit free." Min Okello's voice spoke.

"By who?" the elders asked.

"She," the voice spoke again.

"Who?"

"Lalobo, my co-wife."

Chen trembled, sent a cataloguing gaze around while everyone stared at Lalobo. She sniffed, got up but was shoved down by the assistants. Chan got up, walking in the same springy way Min Okello used to, prancing from one corner to the other. Lalobo, scared that Chan, now possessed by Min Okello, was aiming at her, fled from the hut. People got out and scrambled after her, leaving Chan and his assistants.

"She killed Min Okello. Get her!" somebody screamed. Everybody ran after Lalobo, hitting her with stones, saucepans and potatoes as she ran. Complete anarchy had taken over.

Lalobo fell down heavily but people were still coming after her. They had cassava sticks in their hands that they had uprooted from a nearby garden. Some strong men carried big stones all of which came crashing down upon her body.

"Spare me! Spare me! Let me explain," Lalobo cried out.

But nobody could hear her now. They were all thirsty for blood and blood was what they would settle for. "Kill the sorceress, kill the sorceress," they chanted. Children, too, joined in the stoning and chanting as if it was a game of dodge the ball. Soon, the stoning and chanting died down. What was left of Lalobo was a horrifying sight of blood, weapons and flesh mixed in one messy heap. Everybody turned away. Nobody said a word. Their faces reflected the horror of what was left of Lalobo.

Beatrice Lamwaka, a member of Femrite, writes short stories, poems, and articles for New Era magazine. She is currently working on her first novel.