The Guardian Demon

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The Family Business

An expensive car drives through a dirt road in a forest. The vehicle hits a puddle and splashes brown dirty water. The woman in the passenger side seat glances anxiously at the driver.

“So, you are sure that this witch doctor isn’t a fake?” Her worried voice barely carries over the roar of the vehicle.

“Believe me, he’s the real deal, I was only able to get a job through his help and a couple of my friends who I have referred to him all have great praise for his results,” the man in the driver’s seat says as he tries to manoeuvre around an eternal stream of potholes.

“What if he bewitched you and your friends so that you would always have problems to take to him?”

“If that’s true then it means that he actually has powers, doesn’t it?” he retorts.

“But that doesn’t mean you go to him every time you have a problem.”

“Because all those countless doctor appointments and prayers we’ve been doing for the past five years don’t count as trying other things first?”

“But I’m Christian, I don’t want anything to do with these demonic things.”

“How many times do I have to tell you, no demons are involved, it’s the power of the gods of our ancestors, or you think they spent millennia worshipping something useless! We have already tried everything. If you have a suggestion that we have not already exhausted, then be my guest.” he says, barely able to hide his vexation. “We’re here,” he then declares.

He stops the car at a place where there is nothing around them but trees concealing even more trees. He turns to the woman.

“Do you want a child as much as I do?”

" ...Yes,” she reluctantly answers.

“And do you trust me?”

“You know I do,” she affirms.

“Then please, try this for me, I’m not asking you to believe in the witch doctor, I’m asking you to believe in me,” his eyes twinkle and dance.

She looks daggers at him, “Fine, but we’re going straight to church after this.”

He takes the compromise, “If it’s going to make you feel better then it’s okay.”

They get out of the car and start trudging through the deep woods.

“How does anyone know he’s here with so many trees in the way?” She says pushing an overhanging branch away from her head.

The man’s head turns sharply to his wife. The witchdoctor had definitely heard her.

"Chema chajiuza, kibaya chajitembeza! (Swahili, the value of good things is easily seen, while bad things have to show themselves off.)” A voice booms through the perpetual green.

The woman and the man hold each other as their eyes clear a path in the trees towards the direction of the voice. They see a witch doctor in full regalia: white face paint, loin skin, an encompassing cape made of skin and a headdress made of feathers. He is sitting in a three-walled enclosure also made of animal skin whose floor is covered with a mat woven from reeds.

“Welcome,” the white of the witch’s face squishes and stretches as he utters the word.

The woman makes an inquisitive glance at the man. He nods.

“Thank you,” the man manages to say through his parched throat.

They inch closer to the small opening and sit on some stools at the outer edge of the enclosure, the man closer to the witch doctor.

"Shikamoo babu…(Swahili greeting offered by young people to their elders)” his greeting fades into the air ignored, “I don’t think you can remember me-”

"Ndukahuthithie kuririkana gwakwa (Kikuyu, Don’t underestimate my memory.),” he says in a dialect the man recognises as Kikuyu.

“I don’t understand…”

“Mr Kyalo just say what has brought you here,” the witch doctor says impatiently.

Mr Kyalo eases at this recognition.

“We want to have a child.”

The witch doctor picks up a stick and starts fiddling with some beads and bones on the mat. “Is this your first attempt to get one outside of the usual way.”

“I know how you operate babu, we have tried everything. We’ve seen a million doctors, IVF, performance enhancers, hormone supplements, prayers... for five years we’ve been trying to no avail. You’re our last hope. If this fails, we are going to have to consider adopting.”

“And what’s wrong with adoption?”

“There’s nothing wrong with adoption. We just did not want to give up hope on having our own child from our own flesh and blood.”

“So you think it makes a difference whether the child is biologically yours or not.”

“Well… I…”

“Is there a difference between these two statements, we want a child and we want to become parents?” The witch doctor asks, looking the confused man dead in his eyes.

“I… I don’t… think so…”

“There is…” the woman comes to the aid of her stuttering husband.

“Which?” He transfers his brick gaze to her.

“One is selfish, the other is selfless.”

A bird cries out to its mate. A breeze jostles through the trees rustling the leaves.

*If the child is not what you expected, will you abandon it? This decision had not been harder for anyone as it had been for my father.

“He’s right, we’ve been thinking about this all wrong,” she muses.

Mr Kyalo looks at the ground in contemplation for a moment and returns, “It seems we have.”

They get up as if to leave.

“What’s the problem,” The witch doctor’s voice asks.

They look back.

“Why can’t you conceive?” He asks.

“I’m sterile,” the man divulges.

“Sit.”

He and his wife sit back down. The witch doctor hands the man a circular piece of wood. He inspects it and sees wavy shapes, winding like a lizard’s body, drawn on its four cardinal points.

“I thought you were telling us to stop being selfish,” the man says after being satisfied with his inspection.

“The fact that you understood and were willing to adopt a child means that you understand what it means to become a parent, so I might as well give you one. Plus, I have a child of my own and he can’t eat wisdom.”

The Kyalos hold each other’s hands and exchange joyous glances.

“But I hope you haven’t forgotten that I’m a witch doctor.”

Their joy morphs to suspicion as they turn their faces towards him.

“You can close your eyes if you want, what’s about to happen scares many people.”

“I want to see,” declares the man.

“Me... too… ” braves the woman.

A small smile flickers on the witch doctor’s face. He looks off into the woods and yells:

OKA!(Kikuyu, come)”

There is a rustling of leaves off in the distance. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Footsteps. They sound quite close but there is nothing there. Wait, there’s a shadow, no... Water? No, it’s transparent without an edge, like how the air above the ground seems to dance on a hot day. Suddenly, a crash.

The Kyalos jump, so does the witch doctor but the sound and the spectre keep approaching.

“I warned you, didn’t I?” Teases the witch doctor.

The Kyalos can feel each other’s heartbeat in their tight, almost painful grasps, their eyes fixed on this ethereal thing approaching them. This was a bad idea, they both think. The figure approaches the witch doctor and disappears behind his cape.

“Mr Kyalo, give me your hand.”

He is motionless, so is his wife.

“Do you want to become parents?”

Mr Kyalo looks at him for a moment and then nods slowly.

“Then give me your hand, and don’t let go of the thing that I gave you.”

Mr Kyalo glares at the piece of wood in his hand and then closes his fingers tightly around it as if coming to a decision. He slowly stretches out his other hand towards the witch doctor. His wife grabs his arm, pulls it back and shakes her head vigorously. He looks at her and sees his reflection in her eyes. He wears the same face as hers, terror.

She looks at the witch doctor. His eyes are ice. If you don’t want to do this, then don’t, but someone else will, and they will get what they want, they seem to say. She looks at her husband. He just stares back at her, no suggestion, no direction, he just waits to see what she will do, it even seems like he wants her to stop him. She thinks for a moment. They have come too far. It’s now or never. I want this child too. She lets go of his arm. The man keeps his eyes on her hoping for a change of heart that doesn’t happen. His hand almost regretfully continues its journey towards the witch doctor.

The witch doctor grabs and holds his hand firmly, then suddenly, his eyes shine like the moon. Mr Kyalo’s eyes also start glowing. The woman’s body bursts into a pulse of petrified reflex. She falls off her stool.

“It’s okay, I’m okay,” comforts the man.

A green flash of light envelopes Mr Kyalo closely following his form, like a billion tiny hairs simultaneously sprouting all over his body. It lasts for less than a second but to Mrs Kyalo it seemed, although she could’ve been mistaken, like it formed a giant green translucent lizard.


The Kyalos drive off in their expensive car.

The transparent spectre emerges from behind the witch doctor, follows the car for a distance and then comes back.

“They’re gone,” it says.

“Then you can turn it off,” the witch doctor says and smiles.

“Oh yeah, you can’t see me,” it replies.

Brilliant glowing white eyes and line patterns slowly fade into sight on the upper part of the clear wavy figure, bright and defiant like the morning star. A similar glow is seen coming from its midsection. The glowing eyes and patterns seem to release something into the transparent purity, something brown, like chocolate, like skin. Skin! Skin materializes around the eyes and patterns and flows creating the contours and structures of a face, a young face, a boy’s face. The process continues around the face and downwards revealing a head, a neck, a t-shirt, a rectangular piece of wood, a pair of arms, a pair of shorts, a pair of legs and feet in sandals. It’s a boy. A boy of around eleven years old. The piece of wood on his chest also has line patterns on it, curving and spiralling like a chameleon. The glowing on his face and on the plank starts to fade, dimming more every next moment until it ceases to exist, as if it never existed, leaving only a boy smiling at his father.

The witch doctor reaches to remove some dry grass debris from the boy’s head.

“Did you fall?” he asks.

“Yeah, I was tripped by that rock over there,” his son points to a rock sticking out of the ground.

“I almost had a heart attack. If the chameleon rune had fallen off, they would have thought we were conning them,” jokes the man with the white face.

“I had tied it around my neck, but if it had fallen off, I think that’s when they would have been even more scared. They would’ve probably thought that a child’s spirit had come to possess them so that they could get one.”

Their laughter animates the dense but empty forest.

“Are we done? I want to go play with Brayo and Julia,” the boy says after a while.

“You can go,” the boy starts running. “Matthew!”

The boy stops and looks back.

“You should probably leave the chameleon rune with me!”

The boy rushes back, removes the piece of wood hanging around his neck and places it onto his father’s hands.

“Make sure you are home by six,” the witch doctor says.

“How am I supposed to know what time it is when you won’t buy me a watch. I don’t have the power of time-sense,” the boy pouts.

“You don’t need time-sense or a watch when Brian could just as easily tell you what time it is from his.”

The boy pouts and runs off.

“Slow down, you might fall again!”

*Looking back, my father was always worried about me.

The witch-doctor looks at his son’s fleeing form. Deep furrows form on his forehead.

*His son had been born with the powers of the gods of his ancestors, powers now considered originating from the devil.

The boy’s face beams in childish excitement.

*I don’t know whether using my powers to gain money was him understanding that they were a part of me.

The witch doctor starts packing up his things. His phone vibrates.

*Or the only option for a skill-less man in a harsh country.

The witch doctor takes out his phone. There’s a bank message showing he has received 500,000 shillings.

*But he did his best to give me a normal childhood until he couldn’t anymore.

The boy approaches two children, a boy and a girl of around the same age as him.

*A hero of the past becomes a villain in the present. I am an anachronism, a relic. I am the last of the generations past or the first of the new. I am the only one of my kind in a world full of imposters. My name is Matthew Mugo, and I am a witch doctor.

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