“They’re here!” she leaped from her bed, awoken by the crying of The Children.
“Already? It’s too soon. I’m not ready”, she cut a glance at the children wailing, wailing, wailing. A gut-wrenching cry unleashed from deep within the marrow. Bone-chilling, blood-curdling howls of “Freedom, freedom — where are you?”
“They are not ready.” The Children, who were not hers but hers at the same time, abruptly stopped their crying and forlornly stared back. “Where is The Man?” she wondered to no one in particular.
The Beasts must be fed. The time has come. But which of these sad cherubs would be sacrificed first? Would the others look on in bewilderment as they watched, not realising the intertwined nature of their grizzly fate? The voices in her mind started to speak.
“Ndiyacamagusha, ndiyanqula!” she fell to her knees, almost prostrating herself. Head bent at an angle in submission. “Ndiyacamagusha kaloku, ndiyanqula! Ndiyacamagusha kwizinyaya zam …” she invoked the names of her People — the names of fathers, by which they were known. The names of vanquishing and vanquished kings, with queens erased from memory.
The Beasts winced as the prayers stung at the place where a soul had once resided. The growling grew louder. More menacing.
“Give us your boys,” one of The Beasts snarled in the language of The People. “You can keep the girls and the ‘others’.” But she knew what they would do. They would keep some of the boy children alive long enough to reach maturity, and they would use others as their scouts and playthings until they grew tired of them. And then The Beasts would use them as a snack instead. Gnashing bones and dribbling blood down their chins. Those lucky enough to escape would struggle to survive alone in the wilderness. Those luckier than the others would find other survivors who spoke of a prophesied day of reckoning. A dream that none could imagine the reality of.
Her prayer became more earnest. She was alone. Where was The Man? Had he not told her tales of how he parlayed with The Beasts for his survival and outsmarted them more times than he cared to count? Where was he now in her hour of need?
“Ndiyacamagusha kaloku, kuzo zonke izihlwele ezinelungu egazini lam,” she said and called the names of any and all people she had encountered in her more than three decades of life — passing from The Troubles as a little girl, into the time of The Great Illusion wherein she slept soundly, secure in the false knowledge of a people saved. The voices of izihlwele grew louder in her mind. She heard heated discussions from another realm. The people whose names she had called, she could hear them clearly. Questions, accusations and supplications which all happened at once.
And then, from the distance she heard the soft din of The People’s voices, barely perceptible above the cries of The Children and the guttural bare-fanged cajoling from The Beasts. Just as she started to make out the words they were singing “bafaz’balelali/ mama balele/ balele (the women of this village are sleeping)”, the song changed suddenly.
“Futsek! Fokof!” The People sang in a melange of sopranos, altos, contraltos, falsettos and baritones, as they came closer and rounded in on The Beasts. More voices had joined. Survivors from previous feedings of The Beasts had heard the song and rose from their own long slumber.
“Futsek! Fokof!” they sang into the night. The older children giggled at the profanities. The younger ones used the opportunity to exercise their voices to learn the language of The People. “Fusek! Fokof!” they mimicked with their underdeveloped hard palates.
When the singers got closer, some of The Men heard their singing and sought them out. Some ignored them completely. The growing band of singers encountered scouts along the way, the abducted boy children of The People, taken a long time ago. “Futsek! Fokof!” The People and survivors sang at their loudest in the faces of the scouts, daring them to react. And some scouts scampered and scurried away like the children they still were.
The Beasts grew desperate and started scratching at the woman’s door.
“They’re still too far,” she said as she leapt to her feet.
The scratching grew louder and The Beasts were steadfast in their mission.
She scurried hither and thither, willing the singing and singers to get closer. The singers, however, were distracted. There were too many scouts to get rid of.
Finally, when the singers made visual contact with The Beasts, some of them were immediately intimidated by The Beasts’ ferocious appearance that they began to sing softer and softer, until eventually not a sound was heard. She could hear them whimper and fall back. Her heart sank.
“Why aren’t they singing? What do they see?” she wondered.
With hope all but lost, she made a last ditch attempt at freedom. She yanked the door open from the clawed paws of The Beasts and lurched in between them and bellowed: “NDIM LO! (HERE I AM!)”
The Beasts were taken aback. She grabbed one of them and was immediately shocked. Instead of a corporeal flesh-and-bone touch, the decrepit thing felt hollow. Her grip firmed and she felt the thing crumble under her hand. “What kind of sorcery is this? How could we have feared so empty a thing? I must tell everyone.”
Before she could, one of the scouts snuck up behind her and stabbed her between the shoulder blades, piercing her heart from behind with a long blade that pushed past her lungs like they were foam.
She fell. And everything went quiet.