It was a rather blustery night. The moon had not yet risen and in the pitch black dark all I could see was our front door ringed in an eerie orange light. The wind rattled the dry acacia fruits, the ragged grasses crackled and swayed, and the call of animals in the distance floated across the plains.
When it rained, which wasn’t often, I would collect water from a rainwater tank behind the dispensary. Rainwater is so precious. It lacks the salty, thirst un-quenching quality of borehole water and smells a whole lot better.
On this particular evening I set a jerry can to fill and wandered in the direction of a tin shack on the Western side of the old dispensary grounds. A bit of noise and the sight of a few dimly lit flashlights was coming from that direction.
Maasai seem quite adept at walking in the dark. Now I don’t mean sort of dark. I mean, it’s dark and you can’t see a damn thing. Occasionally you bump into something that orients you but otherwise, you have to operate on sheer memory, or in my case, bad luck.
As I approached the shed a commotion erupted inside. It sounded a bit like a fistfight, but more organized and with a low, muffled chorus in the background. This commotion lasted a few minutes before a bullhorn on the outside of the house was turned on. The sound was awful. Were they killing a cat?
I recoiled from the muffled screeching and stumbled back across the compound toward the house. The sound lasted a few more minutes and thankfully subsided, as the power source for the bullhorn seemed to die. Probably a poorly charged car battery.
I headed back to the house with my jerry can of water and generally forgot about the strange noises. Jennie and I had dinner and decided to read in bed. It was an early night.
I bolted upright in bed, hands gripping my gut. Shouldn’t have gone for that third roadside chapati. Or maybe it was the raw sugar cane I bought from the guy with a machete and stalks of cane in his wheelbarrow? Fuck me, I never learn.
I rip my way through the bed net and put on some shower sandals, a soon to be big mistake. I throw on a sweatshirt and grab the paper as I head double-time for the door. Outside the night air is cold but still. It’s as dark as ever and I didn’t bring a light. I stumble across the compound in search of the outhouse catching my toes on more than a couple of finish-nail size acacia thorns. The burning in my tummy is a bit more urgent though so I press on.
I locate the choo and walk inside, which isn’t really any different than outside since I don’t have a light. The choo has no door, so I am able to look outside, again at nothing, as I do my business.
Loud screeching pierces the darkness. I don’t even think. I just react on sleepy flight, not fight, instinct. At least one sandal goes down into the choo. I bounce off walls as I both attempt to run away and reposition clothes at the same time—a pretty useless endeavor since it’s dark.
I step on every sharp object between the choo and my house as I stumble, half-clothed, for the front door. My hoodie is over one of my eyes, a fact I realize as I reach the porch and run full on into a man in a three-piece suit.
He stumbles backward and grabs onto me for support. One hand finds my left elbow and the other finds the roll of toilet paper, which does nothing to stop him from falling awkwardly into the dust below.
He curses me, I’m sure of this even though I don’t speak his mother tongue. He addresses me in Kiswahili after righting himself and announces that we were to provide him a generator for the revival he is hosting, a not completely ridiculous request at this time of the morning and at this point I’m starting to put together exactly what those awful noises were.
I’m sure exorcism is just wonderful under daylight conditions, but when one is in a compromised position and only half awake, it’s easy to imagine the horror. And keep in mind; all broadcast full-volume over a momentarily revived bullhorn.
The men at my door had given up trying to get their PA system to work and had come to ask me for help when their batteries last bit of juice decided to broadcast the hairiest part of the service still going on inside.
“It was His hand” muses one of the men.
In the excitement I had ripped a fairly sizeable hole in my shorts. I only noticed this rather unfortunate fact upon lighting a candle and standing open-fronted for several minutes to ask what the men were up to—pun completely unintentional.