After Cleveland, the stretch of motorway to Marondera was clear of traffic and Abby felt that he had it all to himself at last. With an exultant chuckle, he really put his foot down on the pedal and felt the Land Cruiser shudder as it went in to Warp 9. On the vehicle's mp3 player, some new local act was chanting a mindless ditty in the vernacular, to the tune of a popular American RnB hit, Abby couldn't remember which. Outside, to the right, the lights of distant Chitungwiza shone like candles held by thousands of adoring fans at a rock concert.
'Hey, you're going too fast!'
Abby frowned, and decided he was going to ignore the girl sitting beside him. Who the bloody hell did she think she was, telling him he was going too fast? She was in this car, her perfume making up much of the air, but she was nobody. Not his girlfriend, nothing.
He tried to recall the name she had given him and it came through a haze of booze and marijuana like a prompt from the spirit realm in a seance; Winnie. Abby had picked her up at a bar in the city. Chose her out of the hundreds just like her in age, appearance and enthusiasm for business for two simple reasons; he badly needed to screw someone and his girlfriend wasn't allowed out of the house after 7pm and because she wasn't a prostitute. Not in the regular sense, at any rate. She was not some school drop-out, some unemployable miserable wretch, her four brute-faced bastards lying still under the bed while she detached her mind and soul from the act and suffered some pot-bellied HIV+ truck-driver to literally use her, someone who had known the way it would be at the age of ten when she slept with the village herd boy for a packet of custard creams.
Winnie was cut from a different cloth, she was a university student. Her parents' combined income had shrunk over the past decade to the equivalent of US$1 a month. If she had any hopes of getting out of the mess the whole country was in, she had to finish her degree. Then she could get a job in South Africa or Botswana with one of the finance houses.
But, in the meantime, she had no choice but have sex with men for all the things she needed as a student. There were loads of girls like that nowadays. It made you almost wish for the days when many families seriously believed there was no point in educating girls. It made...
'I said you're going too fast!' she cried.
'Haven't you been in a fast car before?' he drawled.
'Plus you're drunk,' she added, assertively.
'Thanks for pointing that out,' he snarled unkindly. 'I'm sure there are other reasons why I would pick up girls from the street!'
He smirked when he sensed her slump back in her seat peevishly. But she was right, he was going too fast. Dark shapes blurred against the windscreen, like icing melting on a wedding cake left to the mercy of an afternoon sun. Exhilarating that he could be going so fast, yet at the same time... scary. Abby contemplated the fear rising from the depth of his soul like damp in a solid wall. With it would come the rot. With it would come....
He heard the thud through Winnie's sharp scream. There was another scream, from outside the vehicle. Abby slammed on the brakes, and heard the tyres screech long and hard. Then, both of them were jolted forward and back in to their seats.
When Abby turned his gaze to her, Winnie had her hands to her head as if to shut the whole world out. The first thought was that it was a rabbit he had hit. A rabbit and this silly goose of a girl was all worked up about a rabbit.
But as he stepped out in to the cool moonlit night, Abby knew that it wasn't a rabbit he had hit. Some nocturnal creature maybe, but not a rabbit. Rabbits do not cover their faces with their paws when a car slams in to them.
It lay full in the glare of the dipped headlamps, the way Mr Bean lay in the beam that brought him to our world in the TV series. A tiny, hominid form- the word troll came to Abby's mind. But the trolls pictured in those books he read as a child were cute even if grotesque, but this thing was more than grotesque. It was naked, its skin was like the hide of a baboon, and its disproportionately large penis lay between its dwarf legs like a third, club-footed extremity.
The sound of a door slamming brought him back to the present tense. Winnie was walking towards him. 'Get back in the car!'
'Wh-What is it?' Winnie demanded, her own fear prompted by the rising pitch in his tone.
'Get back in the car, girl, or I will leave you with here with it!' he hissed.
She got back in the vehicle. That smirk returned to Abby's lips as he turned to face the stricken form on the ground.
Then it vanished, replaced by an open mouth and laboured breathing. He edged closer, and crouched over it. A hand stretched gingerly towards the covered face, and pushed away a paw. The face was hideously inhuman, squashed, tiny squinting eyes, flared nostrils below a flat bridge, mouth set in a menacing grimace. But there was also pain in those features.
Abby rose, and stared at the shadows of the forest that stretched from the road. The full realisation of what he had before him hit him.
He, Abiathar Mangwiro, an illegal foreign currency dealer, of Old Mabvuku, had just hit a chidhoma or tokoloshe. They were called by different names throughout Africa; goblin was the best the White man had come up with in his language. Made from human body parts, animal hides and imbued with a human soul taken from a deceased baby, they were used in times of yore as instruments of war against enemies or for hunting, a bit like the golem of Jewish lore.
'You little bastards can die too!' Abby whispered. A cold laugh rose from his belly as he thought of the millions Africans spent on witchdoctors and Pentecostal pastors to ward off the chidhoma when all you needed was a 4x4, an open stretch of road and road rage.
'Where's your witch mistress?'
He glanced in to the gloom and realised with a cold shudder that he did not want to meet the owner of this chidhoma. In fact, he wanted to get the hell away from here. But what about his new little friend?
Abby whipped out his mobile. Brightwell would know what to do. He always did.
Brightwell got off his motorbike, walked over to where Abby had been waiting for him. 'Right, what the hell is going on here? This-'
There was a moment of silence, as Brightwell's eyes bulged. Then, his breath rose. With a sharp cry, he turned away as though the chidhoma would vanish if its existence was denied utterly. He sank to his knees, and raised his hands. Abby approached him slowly.
'In the meantime do thou, our merciful Mother, the
supreme comforter of the afflicted, accept this our act
of reparation which we offer thee for ourselves and for
all our families, as well as for all who impiously
blaspheme thee, not knowing what they say. Do thou obtain
for them from Almighty God the grace of conversion, and
thus render more manifest and more glorious thy
Abby realised that Brightwell was reciting the Acts of Reparation to the Virgin Mary from their student days at a missionary boarding school. He sank beside his friend, and he too began to recite the Catholic prayer in harsh, desperate whisper. By the time he had finished, and crossed himself as best as he could remember how, Brightwell was standing over the chidhoma's corpse, a hand on his chin.
'What are we going to do?' Abby enquired.
Brightwell looked at him in surprise. 'Do with it?' he spluttered. 'Take it home.'
He was already walking towards his bike.
'Take it home?' Abby called after him.
Brightwell stopped and returned. 'How many times have you heard of people knocking down a chidhoma?' he asked. 'In fact, for all the fear they evoke, is there a documented case of an actual chidhoma?'
He did not wait for an answer. 'How much would people pay to even look at this?' he speculated to the clear sky. When he looked at his friend, he was pleased to note that Abiathar had finally caught on. 'For a dealer, you can be slow to see an opportunity!' he chided him. 'Now help me put Tula here in to the boot.'
For a being no bigger than an average 2-year old, the chidhoma was heavy to lift.
Brightwell said it was the huge penis, bigger than the one he had seen on Lex the Impaler and ManDingo. Abby demanded to know who Lex the Impaler and ManDingo were. Brightwell grunted that they were not the sort of talent that made it to Nollywood.
'There's a girl in your car,' he observed as Abby locked the boot.
Abby shrugged. Brightwell shook his head reprovingly. 'Friends normally don't judge,' he said, slowly.
'She has something I need, I have something she needs,' Abby returned.
'She saw nothing,' Abby assured him. 'I will tell her it was an antelope.'
'Yeah, but she will have your registration plates and all,' Brightwell pointed out.
'She's a prostitute!' Abby reminded him. 'She wouldn't want the attention; her whole set-up relies on anonymity.'
Brightwell shrugged. 'Well, I'll call you tomorrow.'
Abby woke up with a start, and the memory of the previous night returned like a page left open before a computer restarted. But that wasn't what had woken him.
He sat up in bed, and the tapping on his window resumed. Who the hell would want him so early in the morning? The landlady would have directed the visitor to his window, which meant that she would have plenty to say about visitors who come in at odd hours.
Abby clambered out of bed. Winnie moaned beside him, and turned to face the other way. He tripped over a shoe, crunched over a couple of CD's and kicked over a half-full glass of something as he made his way to the window. He pulled the curtain open, and then rushed to shield his face from the glare with the same hand.
It was the police. Two stern looking young men in crisp uniform. They did not look like the sort that would approve of prostitutes or untidy rooms.
'I'm coming,' he mouthed, drawing the curtain. He dressed quickly. As he stepped out of the room, he remembered that his wallet was in the trousers he had worn the previous evening. It would not do to leave it alone with her. She had been paid already.
In the corridor, the landlady's nosey 9-year old imp of a daughter had crept out of her room and looked set to follow him outside. He glared at her and she retreated with a squeal.
'Morning officers, is it beautiful?' The transliteration of the vernacular greeting to strangers to prompt them to state their business was meant to be humorous.
But the officers still looked like they would never approve of prostitutes or untidy rooms. Abby decided they had brought him news of a relative's demise. It wouldn't be someone who was ill; otherwise a family member would have done that by phone. Whoever it was, it wasn't a close member, his parents and all his siblings lived abroad now. No, this would be news of someone getting killed in an accident. Abby braced himself and wondered how best to come across as shocked and filled with grief.
'Mr. Abiathar Mangwiro?' one of the policemen asked, gravely.
'Yes, although most people say it with a bit more joy!'
The two cops looked at each other for a moment.
'So, you're a comedian as well as a child-killer?' the first cop asked.
Abby's grin faded. 'Child-killer?'
'Yes, child-killer!' the second-cop accused. 'What did you think you knocked down with your car yesterday? A chidhoma?'
Abby's mouth quivered like Whitney Houston's as she sang I will always love you. The urge to void his bowels and bladder was compelling, and the blood surged in his ears like a torrent.
'You don't deny, then that you....'
'It was a chidhoma!' he cried, clamming up as he realised that the neighbours were standing at the fence. He offered a desperate look at the policemen. 'I will show you. It was a chidhoma I hit last night, and I have the body in my car right now.'
He brushed past them, and marched towards the car. The policemen rushed after him. 'Are you sure you want to do this here, Mr. Mangwiro?' the second cop demanded. 'Seems a large crowd is gathering, and members of the public tend to take child-killings very seriously. We will not be able to protect you from a mob.'
Mob? He would show the mob, he would hold up the creature that they all lived in terror of but had never seen. He would....
A gasp rose from the crowd at the gate. Abby swung his head to look at them, then returned his gaze to the being he held by one leg.
It was a baby. Naked, still, with a tiny grub of a penis. Its face was badly swollen and bruised.
'Mr. Mwangwiro, I think we have seen enough.' The policeman raised his voice above the rattling of the gate.
Mai Choto, Abby's landlady waddled out. She saw the baby, and screamed long and loud. The second policeman was calling for back-up.
'It was a chidhoma!' Abby cried, his eyes wild and darting. 'I saw the creature! I have witnesses....'
He trailed off as he realised that the girl had seen nothing. Then, he remembered-
'Brightwell!' he roared, clutching the astonished policeman's lapels with clawed hands.
'My friend Brightwell, he was with me....'
The other cop put his radio down. 'Brightwell?' he said to his colleague. 'Isn't that the name of the fellow who rode his bike in to an army truck last night? I wonder if he will live, but Chambati said his ribs bust and punctured his lungs.'
He looked at Abby. 'I'm no lawyer, but I would advise you to go for an insanity plea. Now give me that baby.'
He took the corpse from Abby. 'Hmm, I bet this baby's parents are not Christians. Look at all those beads. And is that baboon skin in your boot?'
Framed was written by Masimba Musodza.
Copyright Masimba Musodza 2008.
I was born in 1976, as independence and all it offered to an erstwhile disenfranchised Black majority dawned on the country now known as Zimbabwe. I was educated at Avondale Primary School, Harare, and St Mary Magdalene's High School in Nyanga. Then I went to Film School, majoring in Screenwriting and Directing. So, while I am only just emerging in the literary world, I have been a writer for film and television for a while now.
I am the author of The Man who turned into a Rastafarian, an anthology of short-stories. A novel is due to published before the end of the year. I am now working on a ChiShona language novel that I think will push and redefine the boundaries of the genre. I also write essays of interest to adherents of the Rastafarian Faith.