Beneath the Lake

by Teddy Kimathi
“What in the name of our ancestors is this?!” Otieno asked himself. The clouds were dark gray in color, expectant with rain and stormy, but with no signs of clouds in his village. The sky above the village looked blue, with sun rays piercing through the banana plantains.
As he tried to figure out the sense in what he was witnessing with his naked eyes, his boat started to wobble. Stretching his neck like a hen observing an eagle, he scanned around his boat, only to see nothing.
“Wooosh!” a sound came from the lake’s surface. It sounded like an oar that was moving at lightning speed! No sooner had he turned round to follow another sound, than when a giant tentacle wrapped around his legs and waist!
“Nyasaye! Nyasaye!” he cried out. “My wife and son need me!”
Luckily for him, his prayers had been answered. His experience at the lake was just a dream. He awoke with sweat flowing on his face and chest, with a look of a man who had seen so many ghosts. A sigh of relief came when he saw his wife lying next to him, on their matrimonial bed. Asunta was a jewel that he always cherished deep within his soul.
Otieno’s face turned to grief when he remembered that a son or daughter with his blood and name hadn’t been born yet. The couple had been married for six years, without any success of getting a child.
His wife was deeply convinced that their household had been cursed. Vivid memories of an evil sorceress being burnt at the stake still haunted her.
“Your village will be damned with barrenness and death!” were the sorceress last words, before the flames engulfed her.
His wife wasn’t the only one who believed that their village had been cursed. Most villagers had doubts about their lake; the lake that gave them food and water.
After thirteen sunsets since the burning of the sorceress, fish harvest had been greatly reduced. This forced the fishermen to go farther into the lake, where the water depth was a surety for getting abundant fish. It is from that moment that news about missing boats and missing fishermen started to be heard around the village. “The lake has turned against us!” fishermen mourned.
In one night of the full moon, the village elders met around a bonfire, to search for a solution. They also had a seer in their midst. She carried a gourd filled with sour porridge, and bowl of crystalline water. The porridge was offered to their ancestors so as to appease them, in the form of libation. It was also believed that the rays of the moonlight cleansed a seer’s water, making her to see the future on the water’s skin, as long as the water was still.
“What do you see?” one of the elders asked the seer.
“I see a shadow deep inside the lake. Evil lurks in the shadow….”
Her lips were trembling, and her hands shaking, as she uttered those words. The elders then realized that they were not dealing with a simple problem, by the look on the seer’s face. She looked as though she had seen a demon.
To get the answers to her elders’ questions, she took a gourd filled with sour porridge, poured half of it on the ground, and drank some. She then closed her eyes, and started chant a spirit awakening spell. At that moment, she started to levitate!
“Our ancestors say that only the purest sacrifice can chase away the evil spirit, back to the abyss” the seer said. She was still levitating as she heard her ancestors!
As it was expected of the Luo tradition, the elders organized a sacrifice ceremony, where they would offer the fattest ram to their god, Nyasaye. The ceremony was to be done after a fortnight.
A man was pushing a boat from the shores to the deeper part of the lake. His wife was behind him, crying hysterically. “The lake has chosen my lover to be her husband. They will be together forever….” she thought.
Otieno was determined to know what spirit existed in the deepest part of the lake; an evil spirit that wasn’t frightened by Nyasaye! It seemed as though their god was asleep, or had cast a blind eye to their village’s problems.
“I will find out the truth!” Otieno said. His heart pumping faster with determination, he moved his oars forward with a powerful thrust. As he went farther away from the shores, he could see his wife kneeling on the on the ground, as she wished him journey mercies. Asunta was not only afraid of becoming a widow, but also losing someone who understood her very well.
It was night, but the moon and stars made the lake slightly visible with the sparkling light tides. Otieno was seated in his boat, as he held a torch. He was deep in thoughts, trying to decipher what might have made thousands of fish to disappear within days.
“Wooosh!” a sound emanated from the lake, not far from his boat. The next thing that followed was the wobbling of his boat. What he was experiencing then reminded him of his dream, where he dreamt being caught by a giant tentacle.
“I will not be devoured by any animal or spirit!” he said to himself. Around his neck he wore a good luck charm that he had been given by his grandfather, before he died two years ago. As a man who followed reason, he perceived the charm as an ordinary necklace with a lion’s tooth. Since he had made a promise to his grandfather, to always have the charm around his neck, he found it noble not to go against his wishes.
The charm’s strength was tested when a giant tentacle suddenly wrapped around his waist, only to pull him back into the lake! The torch was left unattended in the boat, hence starting a fire. The boat looked like a gigantic, floating fireball from afar.
“Kill him!” “Burn him!” he heard.
His mind was clouded then. He couldn’t get a clear picture of who was to be killed or burnt. His eyes only saw blurry images of people forming a circle around him. He was lying on the ground, near the meeting place of the lake and land.
As he slowly regained full consciousness, he realized that he was the one to be killed. As he tried to stand, people repelled away. This reaction made him feel as though he had become an outcast overnight.
He could hear the voice of Asunta, as she cried bitterly. “I should have gone with you, we die together,” she said as she cried.
The village elders were busy calming the crowd, to stop them from killing Otieno. “Why are the villagers angry at me?” Otieno asked the elders. “They claim that you mysteriously appeared on this shore. It is only a messenger of the evil lake spirit, who can manage such a feat!” one of the elders replied.
Otieno was so astonished that he couldn’t move a muscle. For the first time in his life he believed in the supernatural. He was certain his grandfather’s charm had saved him from the belly of a rogue monster.
The charm’s strength had another force testing it; the rage of a hundred villagers! A stake was being prepared meticulously by a group of youth a hundred steps away. Death was all his eyes read at that moment.
“I will die for him!” his wife screamed. “I have lived for six good years without conceiving a child. That is more painful than death; more painful than burning at the stake. Take me!”
Suddenly the spirit of silence filled the air. The villagers wondered why someone would die for someone else. Death was feared in equal measure, by all mortals.
It did not take long for fate to come up with a way for breaking the silence. One of the villagers shouted “Burn them both! They are part of this together!” As expected of any enraged crowd, the rest of the villagers started shouting the same message as they carried the couple to the stake. The elders were powerless and clueless.
They were firmly tied against a wooden post, and their bodies covered with dry Napier grass. Children and youth were dancing around the couple.
“Evil will cease to exist!” a man shouted. He lit a torch, and carried it to the stake. No sooner had he reached halfway, than when a lightning bolt hit the torch to smithereens!
Closely behind the couple was the seer. A vision had previously showed her that love was the purest sacrifice that Nyasaye wanted. “Tie them loose!” she shouted. “Nyasaye wants them alive! Love is the only sacrifice that Nyasaye accepts from then henceforth!”
After the lightning bolt, no one wanted to be the next in line to be hit. The couple was quickly tied loose by a young boy. They embraced each other in tears, as though they hadn’t seen each other for decades. The crowd’s rage turned to remorse. Some people were moved to tears.
She could see the monster disappearing into the deepest part of the lake, with the help of her bowl, filled halfway with crystalline water.
From then on, the villagers enjoyed navigating and fishing into the deepest parts of the lake once more, as they always did. After nine months, Asunta got a bouncing baby boy! The sorceress’ curse was lifted forever.
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