The Wife of a Dead God By Hagai Magai

Feb 13, 2024 | 2023 Competition, Main Prize, Short Story Competition | 1 comment

They have chosen a husband for me but he is already dead. His body is a pile of bones buried many a dark moon ago. Only his head remains in a dark room, preserved by ancient ways. So strange was the day when they came to tell me about it. Before the rooster crowed, a sound of sad drums began beating from across the veldt. I heard mother waking up with sobs. She had been morose for a while but revealed nothing to me.

“Oh, now that the sun has finally set. It is time, oh, cruel time for me this is,” I heard her say to papa. I did not understand what she meant. I think it’s not because I am young and naive, but because it was cryptic. She had been spewing salad speech the whole week like a possessed goat.

“You do not need to worry, the fruit only falls to the ground to bear more trees,” papa answered in a husky reassuring voice. I could hear commotion outside the compound. People were going out of their mud houses to see whatever it was there to see. It seemed to me that everyone knew what was going on except me.

I went outside, because everyone was going outside. There was a huge stream of people coming westward

From the Khulubvi shrine, carrying torches of fire. They were buzzing chants I had never heard of before – its tone a blend of sadness and joy. My mother, who had remained behind the house, came outside and called for me.

There were tears in her eyes. She had me held in a fixed embrace when the procession arrived. I was surprised to realize they were heading straight to our compound.

They were all dressed in black. The women were carrying baskets, except for a strange face I had never seen in the village, a fat old lady who was carrying a long string of beards in her hands. She was dressed in a black Chitenje that was tied loosely around her chest. The Chitenje was ending on the crease of her breasts which hang loose like plump pawpaws. They were pointy as those of a young maiden in her prime. She obviously had never seen the pains of childbirth.

They stopped in front of my house. The men were bearing torches, lighting the way.

“We welcome you with our hands and all our toes. Even our fowl, goats and the soil of our compound welcomes you, oh, venerable messengers of our god, to our compound. Our house is your house,” mother said. The fat woman appeared to be the leader of the procession. She stopped before my mother while the rest of the procession proceeded to lay various baskets woven from banana leaves on the verandah of our mud house.

It was a ceremony I had never witnessed in my life. All along, I had not noticed that the center of attention had shifted to me. The kinsmen had surrounded where I stood with mum.  Everyone but me, seemed aware of what was going on.

Mother had knelt down.

“May a thousand rains fall upon your roof and fields of rice. Thank you for the welcome, mother of the bride.”

The strange lot that was happening was like carving a boat to my brain. Jargon upon jargon and endless mysteries. We would as well have been speaking different languages.

Following my mother’s lead, I tried to kneel down. The strange woman stopped me.

“Oh, no, you are the mother of rains, my fingers are not worthy to plait your cornrows.”

I looked at her funny. A shred of my mind was telling me this was the high priestess, Mbona’s spiritual wife.

“How is that possible? You do look like Mbona’s wife to me.” The world had for a second frozen around me and her.

“Oh, no. I am only her doormat or something less,” she said with a smile, “There is a lot you are yet to understand, venerable one. It is now time for your first bath. The sun rises soon.”

“The bathroom is yonder,” mother said, pointing at the small open-roofed bathroom. I looked at the direction as if I did not know where it was. The sackcloth that was serving as its door flapped in the cold wind.

“Don’t worry child,” mother said while patting me on the back, “this is good, very good.” It was still parables to me. I think she had said it to assure me because I looked fraught like a soaked chicken. Her words fell upon a mind as unyielding as stone, unable to comprehend. I wondered if they were planning to do to me what they do when the chief dies, which is to sacrifice a young person to company the chief to the grave.

Three women took me into the bathroom. Amid chanting around the compound, they washed me with scented water for seven times back-to-back. I had never bathed as arduously in my life. They sponged my hair as if they were grinding sorghum. They even washed my teeth with salty water and ash and douched my lady cave with a goat’s blood. Perhaps I am too young, but tell me; why are all gods weird? Would not only a demented god be the one responsible for crafting such a bizarre purification ritual?

They told me I had to be pure before they exalted me, but now I understand that they meant before they presented me to my dead husband. The cock had crowed itself tired by the time they were done. I was soaked wet, but I swear I was still sweating from all their frenzy fingers.

They took me out to dry in the sun like a robe. Perhaps our god is averse to towels. By this time, the people appeared all mad to my eyes, doing some strange dances and chanting strange hymns. There were guards of Ntonjani going around. The ceremony had quickly become more boisterous than a chief’s coronation.

Amid all this I was afloat, weightless and tossed around like a leaf detached from its stalk. No freedom. Resigned to uncertain fate.

I was mad at mother for allowing the strangers to parade me naked before the whole village. My hands were covered around my groin trying to hold on unto the last bit of my dignity. It was cold, and I was shivering while wondering all along if the chief had died.

It was years before they took me into my mother’s house. There were women with beautiful cloths in their hands. I had never seen such tapestry.

“Has the chief died?” I asked, shivering. “Have I been chosen as a pillow?” The answer that came was the one that made me realize what was going on. Make

Mudzi, Mbona’s spiritual wife had died.

I was the chosen one. After five days of mourning, the priests and priestesses would come and escort me to Mbona, my dead husband.

I would not see sleep the next three nights. I tried to protest and reason with the elders, but all ears were clogged to my pleas. They locked me in a poorly lit house. I was not even allowed to go out to pee. Mother would bring me a gututu for my physical needs. The only times I could see proper sunlight was early mornings when they would come to give me the tediously boring ritual bath. All food was brought to me. I guess I was not the first bride of the dead god who would think of escaping the heavy fate.

Not that I would eat the food anyway. I would spend my day and night crying. My minutes were spent in wonder why the god of rain had chosen me of all souls. There were many ugly girls in the village who would gladly accept the seal of celibacy. It did not make sense for it to be me, whose pretty face would make troubled waters still.

I had my life planned intricately like a spider’s web and this was not the life for me. I should not lie that my major dream was that I could learn how to read and write and maybe become a teacher or a police woman. I just could not fathom going to the grave a maiden. Ever since my first drop of blood, there had been a raging storm within me to discover how a man test like. Here they were, condemning me to a life of purity. A beauty of the village like me, with thighs smooth and brown like a well-formed egg and breast that puts Sapitwa to shame.

“They will have to find someone else,” I told myself. “There is no way all this beauty, these thick black lips and half- drunk eyes are going to the grave, only to be food for worms.”

Quite inadvertently, I brought myself to a resolution about an idea I had now and then entertained. It was early morning of the third day that the scattered pallets formed a bridge across the crevasse of my mind. I do not know how I made it through the small window with only a minor bruise on the elbow – perhaps you could say the devil was aiding me.

I walked carefully across the tall grasses and Baobab trees that escort Shire down the plane. It was around midnight. It was to Jonasi that I decided to go, into whose muscular arms I wanted to throw myself. He was from a nearby farm. His skill at digging the largest sweet potato ridges was known among all clansmen. It was him I had dreamt the first night I had dreamt of a man.

I found him asleep and in the stupor of the previous night’s alcohol. He had never asked for my hand, but I had seen it in his eyes that his moon was shining for me. He was startled when he saw me.

“Jonasi, I do not want you to take this the wrong way, but I need your help. I want you to save me.”

At the sound of my voice, the sting of alcohol evaporated instantly from his face.

“What? I do not understand,” he said while rubbing his eyes. I believe he was trying to brush sleep off his eyes or to awaken himself from a dream. He looked like someone unsure whether he was in a dream or walking on a road in broad day light. But I was there. As real as the soil beneath his feet.

There was no time for playing shy. “I do not have time Jonasi,” I said, going closer and lying on his mat. “I want you to abolish my maidenhood,” I said with a dead cold voice. He remained still, looking through me and staring across the room. “I am not a harlot, Jonasi, I am Elube. I am just asking for you to save me from a life time of shackles. Please Jonasi, you must help me. This is the only way,” I begged of him.

He looked at me with disbelief. His eyes were laden with the fear that one would only be expected to express when passing by an old witch’s compound.

“Do you want to bring evil among our tribe? What will happen to me if I steal the bride of god?” Either his tongue was full in his mouth or my desires had clogged my ear. Only half of the words made it to my head. “Do you want to enkindle a family curse among my kins?” he added while I had let the rob fall from my shoulders. I was pressing my breasts against his chest. I was touching him and attempting to reach for his mouth. It did not take long before his walls crumbled at my plodding.

Some people do not believe in our gods. They say they never existed and that our beliefs were just borne out of human desire to find a savior in times of drought. I too was one of the disbelievers. The little education I had gone through had washed out all foundations of belief in the gods of my ancestors. In fact, it may be this same belief that had set me out of this path of rebellion. A strange god who had no worldly renown, only known by our small tribe and little described in books, was surely no god for whom to sacrifice one’s whole life.

Indeed, Mbona to me too, was just a dying figment of a myth until it happened, that is until Jonasi tried to find his way between my thighs. He searched and searched with his hands, but there was just no passage there. He jumped back in alarm. “Elube! You have no hole. I can’t find any hole here.”

At first, I thought it was either he was trying to find an excuse to bail out, or because unlike what I had thought of him, that he was a virgin too. But when I tried to touch myself, I felt no slit along my smooth shaven perineum.

Whatever magic had happened, the gods had protected their assets quite well.

My deviant plan had been foiled.

My eyes were filled with tears and hopelessness. “It must be those damn ugly old women. They have locked my womanhood,” I said, tears running down my checks.

An awkward moment ensued. I panicked and run away to this river. I will have a choice over my future regardless what those witches think. I do not care if my actions will result into a global drought as has never seen before. I will not spend my whole life trapped within the bounds of one compound, tethered like a goat. I will not marry a corpse. Jonasi has failed, and now this river will be my savior.

1 Comment

  1. Bertha

    You are a great write. The first thing which draw my attention is the headline of the story. It’s beautiful.
    1. The thing is animals can’t welcome anyone in the homes

    Note :I give you 9 out 10 on grammar. Goodluck


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