They call it Speculative fiction, magical realism and even phantasy or science fiction. We just call it Indaba. Siyazixoxela nje: This one is called Newness Unlocks Time aka NUT
Newness Unlocks Time
The eighth floor of The Meikles Hotel does not feel like it is eight stories up. Somehow, it seems much lower, compared to the buildings around it. Neith has finally forced herself up from the immense bed, Queen sized, is her educated guess. When she looks across from the balcony, all the buildings heave back and forth like grey pines in the August wind.
The stars, her garment, are a dirty swirl. She squeezes her eyes shut and takes seven calculated deep breaths. Maybe it is the jetlag, or it could be last-nights cocktails. She had not drunk in aeons, until recently. She does not remember too much about last-night though and that is extremely concerning.
How could she? Harare was still abuzz with the jubilation from yesterday morning’s announcements. The national broadcaster Zim-Zim FM had confirmed the capture of the arsonists as well as, perhaps more importantly, the infamous fugitive poachers.
The acting President Mkhandawire gushed polemically, “Our Great Zimbabwe has finally shorn off the head of the pestilential scourge which sought to devour all our wild live, even us too in its centuries long wake. Let us celebrate the return of our sacred totems; The Ngwenya, the Rhino, the Elephant, the Black River Serpent and the Fish Eagle and Mwari knows what else.” No one had anticipated it.
Not even She, as well versed in covert operations as she was. All she could remember now as the nearest skyscrapers stopped wobbling and the stars resumed their normalcy, was a deep male voice with its classy Oxford accent, explaining the meanings of Her name. She also remembered how She had pretended to not care.
Her mind had been completely occupied with the skull. Then, as if suddenly struck by a stark realization, she remembered who and when She was. What was she doing at a hotel in the Southern parts of this largely corroded continent?
“The Head.” Neith exclaimed to herself as she stepped back into the dimly lit room. “I hope these white jackals haven’t stolen the Chiefs Head.” Rummaging deep into the drawer next to the bed, she retrieved a large, oblong speaker-box with M.E.L.T. 2000 engraved on both sides of its wooded surface. “Ah Bhambada!”, She intoned gleefully before inspecting its contents. Someone outside her door walked past playing music.
It sounded like Dendera, or something with Mbira. She remembered the first time she and her ex-husband Geba had attended a Thomas Mapfumo concert at some Chicagoan day-club. The noisome affair had lasted a whole three hours. The only things she cherished from the performance was the spritely sounds of the Mbiras, but there was also something about the language.
The lanky dreadlocked man sang in a tongue that reminded her of her most ancient past-lives. The music passed. Neith could tell that it was incredibly early morning, perhaps 3.30am although it was difficult to remember what the faithful stars had confirmed.
Before opening the box, Neith recites some Heka. The mantra of the recently deceased. The sound of this coded music brought back memories of her most cherished sister Seshat. Old Mama Seshat of the multi-syllable magical mantras. Seshat of the building blocks of sacral language itself. Oh, but for the multi-millennial plagiarisms of men and their manmade gods.
When she finished her prayer she opened the speaker-box dexterously with her nails. Revealing another box, time worn and inscribed with the once secret runes of the Ngoni people. Once again, Neith remembered why it was she who had been assigned to Zimbabwe. There are absolutely no coincidences.
It was AmaThongo, the divine beings enshrined in her DNA that had painstakingly coordinated Her presence here, this moment is no coincidence. Now that the embalmed head of the legendary Chief of the Zondi rested in her palms, “Justice -” she thought. “Ma’at can once again be restored on this beleaguered land.
It had to begin here near the Great Zimbabwe walls.” After examining the severed head of the Ngoni rebel warrior. She was about to place it back in the box when she heard stampeding feet. The sudden din seemed to be coming from both outside the door as well as from the looming mobs outside.
Perhaps overnight, the celebrations through the city had turned into a riot. She turned on the television and behind the bold red letters screaming BREAKING NEWS, scenes of hooded youths wrestling with army officers and night-time burning, and looting filled the screen.
People have been warned to stay indoors for at least 24 hours. The voice of the bullet proof clad young man reporting was almost totally drowned by the mayhem ensuing behind him. All she could pick up was something about Fake News and a massive Prison Break.
Neith was not too concerned about the rioting or the fake news part. She had to get to Azania as soon as possible. The Sanusi 4tet needed the Head before nightfall. It was a matter of many lives and many averted deaths.
What worried her sick was the part about the prison breakouts. The one person who she had to evade by all possible means may very much be at large and searching for the Chief’s head. She did not bother with bathing and putting on henna and make-up. After securing the head back into the boxes, she loaded it into the duffel bag and threw on her star-studded Panther tracksuit.
Last-night’s high-hills would not serve in this situation. She had to make a quick exit, she donned her aerodynamic All-Stars, slung the bag on her back and mumbled a prayer as she headed for the door. Soon as she reached for the handle, she thought She heard the music player walking nearby her door again. She froze in her tracks. Tightened her grip on the bag and listened pensively.
This time, whoever it was out there with the music, possibly from a cell-phone was walking eerily slow. As if waiting. Baiting. She recognised the song, The Reason Why or Hat Dzemurara by Baba Harare. The jiti beat was a typical KaRaNga dance style. The BaKaRaNga, the fabled Souls from the Sun, still kept their own memories alive through music.
This was someone who knew Her. She peered through the peephole but saw nothing. Left and right as far as she could see. There was nobody there, but the beat persisted even though the steps had fallen silent.
Her heart skipped, she made sure that the door was locked before turning around to look for an alternate exit. There was nowhere else but the balcony. The sliding wind-doors were wide opened and the noise from outside seemed to animate the bellowing lace curtains.
Aside from recalling Her father who was an archaeologist and an investigative journalist, she had a nagging feeling that there was something else amiss. Perhaps some untapped power? Besides being part Zulu and part Dogon, her father was also a world-renowned illusionist. “What would Baba do in a situation like this?”
Her lingering thought was interrupted by an abrupt knock on the door. By that time, she was already clambering over the concrete balcony to care who was knocking. The knock became more urgent, but so did the ruckus below. She could not shake the thought that this could be infinitely easily done. No need to go through all this physical trouble. But how? Eight floors up were not so low after all.
Neith considered whether she should clamber up the drainpipes towards the roof, or else join the throngs down there. While the roof was closer, the thought of having to devise another escape route toward the backstreets dissuaded Her.
Not allowing that limbo to collude with the urgency of the moment, she decided to climb sideways and look for an opened window among her neighbours. Three windows rightward a curtain was billowing welcomingly. She made for it. For a man whose body was allegedly found maimed and beheaded on the banks of the Mome River’s stream more than a century ago, Bhambada’s head sure was heavy.
Perhaps it was the added boxes or else it was the oils and years of congealed incense used during and after its embalming. Why was the top of the skull left to calcify though?
The Dogon monks who had ‘stolen’ it from the English Kabbalists so many years ago knew why. She did not have a full grasp of the whole Redemptive Plan, but surely hoped to find out once she had crossed over to Botswana and finally to Azania. Anticipation was a gross understatement. But making it out of this city was priority number two. Off the walls of The Meikles was priority number one.
As soon as she stepped onto the balcony with the wafting curtains, she turned back and saw the head of a tall, silver haired figure looking menacingly at Her. He wove a glowing cellular phone at Her, smiling grimly before dashing back into the room. For some reason, Neith had not expected anyone to be in the room, but as Her luck would have it. The two European men who She had been drinking with last night sat at their respective small tables, staring at Her fretfully as if they had seen a ghost. She was quite an apparition standing there in her Black hooded tracksuit with stars gleaming from head to feet.
The first one who stood up was the one who had been telling Her the meaning and variations of the name Nwt. He was now standing there exposed except for his beltless black pants. Lord Scranton was his name. She now recalled everything, including Her refusal to engage in more drinks and his suggested erotic tryst last night.
Too anxious about the silver haired man outside to waste any time. The first thing that entered Her mind was to turn on more lights and initiate a conversation. But first She had to show them that she was in danger and had no time for small talk, at least until Sunrise.
This She did while the two men scrambled for their vests and T-shirts. Then without much procrastination, Neith explained that She was being pursued by an extremely dangerous character and why She had to be in South Africa before the close of day.
Then while securing the door yet without fully knowing why, she asked the men what they knew about String Theory; how weaving matter in two or more ways could be used in practical situations.
“Well, to begin with, an act of perception changes waves into particles.” Gushed one of the men, now fully clothed. “Yes, but how does that get someone out of a tight situation?” Exasperated by the perplexed expressions on both men’s faces.
She shouted. “You”. Pointing a now gloved hand at the one who had mansplained to Her last night. “You called me NUT and NET after I told you many times that my name was Neith. It’s Greek. You said that I should know some kind of magik and that in my hands lay the lay lines of All Signs and All Possible Worlds. Could you kindly remind me how to use all that knowledge – practically?”
The man was visibly perplexed. Pausing before continuing to put on his shirt and then his shoes. Neith continued. “Right now, all I know how to do is pray and chant what often sounds to me like gibberish. I learned these prayers from my father.” The man stepped towards Her as if examining Her suit. Neith moved back, protecting the prized possession behind Her.
But the man did not seem interested in that. He was marvelling at what or whom he thought he was seeing right before him, in the flesh. Could it really be?
When he read Egyptology those many years ago, it was merely a fascination triggered by his obsession with etymology and numerology. It never crossed his mind that any of the characters he was informed are deities would have any human parallels. Surely it was part of the mysterious African superstitions. Mysticism, or folklore at best. Or was it?
“Of course. Of course, that is it exactly. You said you were born in Washington DC? And your Mother was part Zulu and part South American. And your father, was, what? Nubian or some other ancient race?” Before Neith could reply that She had not mentioned any Zuluness but had specifically said Ngoni, or that She had said South Mexican, not just South American. They were interrupted by a loud banging on the door.
Her first instinct was to simply jump out of the window. But the stocky European, who had been silent all along, firmly grabbed her forearm. Noticing the panic in Her eyes. “Well, then. Pray. Pray for us all and not just for yourself. If my partner here is not hallucinating. You must be Nut. Named after the Great Goddess who covers the whole Earth with Her garment of stars. Surely Some One will answer Your prayers.”
With that said, he loosened his grip on Her arm. “We Westerners have long ceased believing in prayers. We have literally cast our fates upon the wind. Fate might not even be the right word. We have become lesser beings that the Greeks or even our Druid forefathers were. All we have is are these cold buildings, fickle economies and even fickler science. But you. Your kind may still save us all. Look outside.
You can hear that this world is falling apart. But you have something that the world’s destroyers really want. Do pray for us. In fact, no. Forget the outside. Perhaps we can help you to look inside.” The knocker was now banging incessantly, it sounded as if he was now kicking the door.
Neith made a swift move towards the balcony. Mumbling some invocation in what sounded like a mixture of the Zulu, Karanga and Badarian languages. The thought of jumping eight floors into a rebellious throng made her shiver. She continued intoning the prayer as everything became silent, the men were talking to her furtively but all she could see was their mouths moving. The room began to wobble and the more she spoke, everything became hazy like an out of focus camera. Yet she remained calm. While she chanted;
Anuk Wsr Anu ki Ma’Nuti
Un Nefer Ausaru Mwari WeZanusi
Manje dala indlela!
The door to the lobby bursts open and the man who was pursuing her could only make two lunging steps into the room, before grabbing his eyes bawling. The room had become suffused with a terrible light. Piercing shards of light beamed from Neith’s body as if her whole being was the centre of megavolts of blinding shimmer. The two men in the room were now kneeling before her in stupefied reverie. They were unable to move but she found herself not just able to float, but she became translucent, her skin becoming a darker shade of blue blackness.
When She looked at the silver haired man’s eyes, a cold trepidation gripped her, but she stilled Herself from panicking. Lest the spell be broken.
His name was Ap-hep.At least the humanoid version of the great primordial serpent. What could he possibly want from the head of a slain Zulu warrior, and how could someone as powerful as Him ever be imprisoned. By whom? This was no time for speculation. The intonation of the last heka, the magical formula which she had always thought was mere prayer – Mwari Dala Indlela – sucked her and the two kneeling figures out of the room through a mirror like watery vortex.
She found herself in the shade of tall jacaranda trees surrounded by recently harvested maizefields. While she was still stunned by her surroundings, the first thing she did was stretch her arm behind her and feel for the box inside the bag. Thank Goddess it was still there. But where was here?
Neith or was it now Nwt or Neter Nut, had been teleported to a 600-hectare farm just outside of Mashonaland West. While still trying to adjust her eyes to the now dazzling midday Sun and to the new environment, she heard the barking of what sounded like many dogs barking. Before succumbing to panic, she took seven deep breaths and straightened herself up to listen carefully.
All else was utterly silent except for the dogs. But in hind-hear, they were not approaching. They seemed to be barking at something or someone else in just beyond the stretch of no more than forty-two trees. She was on the north eastern edge and the sound was coming from the west.
Should she approach it to find out what or who it was? Or should she find her orientation and make her way towards the airport? After all, she was not here for sightseeing and now that she had rediscovered her space and time weaving powers, couldn’t she just quantum leap to her choice destination?
Another idea sprang into her teeming mind. Perhaps she was translated here for a good reason. So why attempt to mess with the program? She decided to take her chances with the West. Walking briskly yet careful not to crunch too loudly the leaves beneath her feet, she reached the fringe of the jacarandas and looked northwards before emerging fully into the khaki coloured cornfield.
One of the Labradors that she could still hear yelping and growling stood just outside a thicket seemingly unsure whether to join the others or not. Neith recalled that she too had once had a dog named Sirius in her childhood. What is the worst that could happen if she attempted to win the trust of this nervous one?
Surely it was no puppy but aren’t canines meant to be man’s best friends? She decides to risk it. Stepping out into the open, she walks toward the mutt with her hands stretched out towards it. She is whistling an old Dogon hunters tune.
As the dog turns to regard her curiously, the rest stop barking and all four of them leap out of the bushy patch and charge towards her but stop immediately along the dusty path to run around in circles in front of her. She too is perplexed by this. When she stops whistling they charge again. When she resumes, they whimper and continue chasing each other’s tails again.
Their movement reminds her of the ouroboros symbol. The snake that appears to swallow its own tail. While the black and tan Labradors continue their spellbound dance. Two figures emerge from the thicket. It is the two Europeans men and they are still on their knees.
Perhaps it was the whistling that made them not get up and run in the opposite direction. But why are they still kneeling, with the same expressions as they had at the hotel? She stoops on one knee before the dogs and pets the first one on the neck before she stops whistling. “Hlala phansi. Hlalani phansi.” She finds herself saying. And surely the dogs all stop whirling and sit down on their hindlegs. Smiling in relief, she begins petting all of them one by one and they all sit all the way down. The men get up and scurry around the dogs towards her, careful not to offend the friendly beasts. ‘What on earth happened at the hotel?” Gushes the one.
“And where the hell are we?” Asks the stockier one as he looks around only to see hectares upon hectares of maize field. The only green patch being the trees next to them, casting slanting shade over the path. “I can merely assume we are somewhere on the North Eastern farms of what Zimbabweans call Mashonaland.” Offers Neith, observing the way of the shadows. “Mashonaland East?” The etymologist taps his stubbly chin thoughtfully.
“This might be the land that was also previously owned the owner of several buildings in the Harare CBD, including the hotel we were in.” “Well the mobs are the current owners right now. And by the looks of this place, it’s the dogs that now own this one.” Says Neith, getting up to brush off the chaff from her track-pants. “Ah, ownership. What a fatally foolish notion.
Whoever came up with it had to be one of us. The know-it-all European folk of obsolete traditions from the previous generations.” “Well, it’s too late now anyway. Regret can never right the wrongs. That is the work of bitter-sweet Justice.” Neith states this matter-of-factly as if to halt this conversation before it goes out of hand. They must find a way out. At least she must. She has no time to consider what the agenda of these uninvited guests is. Show me a woman who knows what men want and I will show you a liar.
The dogs became a little restless, the Europeans became visibly nervous, hiding behind her like little boys, and out of sheer irritation, she had to stop herself from whistling again. The dogs suddenly got up and started past her. Running along the path and behind the trees as if someone was summoning them.
Cumulous clouds begun gathering around and past the Sun, casting swiftly moving shadows on everything. Although the fist instinctive reflex told her to start praying again, Neith stopped herself and simply started running in the same direction as the five dogs. Humanity’s best friends cannot be wrong, she figured.
The Europeans also followed suit. What lay beyond this farm had to be better than this desolation or the anarchy in the city. Isn’t the old alchemical adage that ‘Out of chaos comes order’?
‘Vula okuvaliwe, Ndiphe Izimpendulo.” She repeated that part of her previous chant as if it was a key mantra. “Open want is closed. Grant me the answers.” To whom were these words addressed, and who granted the much sought after answers? How she needed the wisdom of both her parents right now.
As they turned towards the direction where the dogs went, she felt a deep foreboding pang in the pit of her stomach. The clouds had almost completely covered the Sun now and it was becoming dark very quickly. At a short distance beyond the field, some trees took the form of hollowed out skyscrapers. She felt that she had to lose her unwelcomed accomplices.
Of what use were they? They had not helped her one bit. Or was there really something to her name? As she ran, she remembered her mother reading a poetry book to her during her early teens. “There is magic in a Zulu name.” Those were the only words she could remember. But her name was not Zulu. She was no longer sure that it was Greek either. “Magic in a Zulu name, huh?”
What could it mean? And how can a European stranger be the one who reminds me of the significance of my own name?” Perhaps she need not get rid of them yet. Back at the hotel, they had suggested that they could help her look within.
Had they already done so or was there still more? Just when they could see the dogs still running at a distance of a few paces, she made out a reptilian figure on the hillock right next to the hollowed buildings. She stopped dead on her tracks when she realised who it was. She immediately regretted following the dogs.
Between the silver haired reptilian faced man who stood as if just waiting for her at the dimly lit horizon, a tree appeared to be growing on an impossibly green meadow. Everything around it was changing and becoming darker, only it grew greener and it almost obscured the menacing figure beyond it. But he also appeared to be approaching now. They were moving towards each other, or at least towards the mysterious tree.
The dogs had now vanished, and she looked behind her to ascertain if the Europeans could also see what she was seeing. They only seemed to be focussed on her. Should she leave the duffel bag with them while she confronted the beastly man near the tree or was that too risky?
She was not sure. But she stopped running. They too stopped on their tracks, exasperated. In the now oppressive darkness, she asked them what they knew about Chief Bhambada from the twice great Zulu nation. She needed answers fast and she also wanted to know what their business was in Zimbabwe? Was there even time for such questions?
Realising that she had to act fast. Neith took a deep breath and threw the black duffel bag into a yawning gap between a cluster of young jacarandas. Just far enough so she could still see it protruding. The men simply looked at it once without much apprehension and continued staring at her.
She realized that they were not at all interested in the bag, so she turned to look towards the tree and beyond that to the gradually approaching threat. The first man to speak was the Etymologist. “We are traders now.
We haven’t known each other that long though, we only met at a conference held a few Months ago at the Hotel Cassiopeia in Lilongwe. Although we are both from Greater Britain, we have mutual business interest in the Southern African extractive industries. The Lilongwe conference whetted our appetite for prospecting, diamond mining to be specific. What better place then Zimbabwe, the city of discreet Embassies, and of course, the many ancient abandoned mines?”
Neith had listened cautiously even though her attention was also divided. She asked the two man to remain where they stood. It was a test, but also a way for her to mark the location of the bag.
Between her realization that what she had thought were abandoned apartment blocks from afar were rather reconstructed silos, and the men’s stereotypical yet feasible story. She decided to trust them. At least for now. “So, this place used to be a maize and wheat farm.” She thought. But where was the farm house and who had transformed all those silos into living spaces then abandoned them?
When she had walked about fifty paces towards the tree, she paused. What did she really plan to do or say to this man, did she even know whether he sought her life or simply her precious possession? “I will know what to do when we are face to face.” She muttered to the breeze. It was as if the wind had carried her whisper to the tree-leaves, because they shook as if something had quickened the branches.
Before she stepped onto the meadow where the tree stood luminously, she could already smell its musky scent. It reminded her of jasmine, but it did not appear to bear any flowers. Just a crystalline, deep green foliage. “Zodiac!”
She could have sworn that the voice had come from that tree. She told herself she was merely hallucinating or perhaps it was the reptilian man who had spoken, because he too had stepped into the lush grass of the meadow where the solitary tree stood, as if fully sentient. How can a tree be aware of our presence? Besides, trees do not speak. That is the stuff of fairy tales and religious mumbo jumbo.
But as that thought coursed through her mind, she looked back only to see the men talking to each other and looking at her. “These suckers see something in me. Something I can only barely perceive. If I ever needed an omen, I sure do need it now.” Right then, Neith got down on her haunches. Her mind reeled back to the hotel, before she met the men at the bar, before she had ordered the drinks and back to when she had arrived by taxi-cab to The Meikles.
The man was now standing right in front of her kneeling self, but her eyes were sealed, yet it was as if he suddenly could not see her. Yet behind her eyelids, she saw his searching eyes. The pitch-black elongated face, “Be careful of those Horoscopes.”, She now remembered the taxi driver telling her just before she got off the taxi. She had been reading the astrological charts from the Inflight magazine. “They are not of God.” The driver had said this so casually.
She was not a religious person. Her prayers had only been mantras she had used to deal with her bouts of anxiety. But they were also more. An uncanny inheritance from a life she could barely remember. Her parents who were neither religious, traditionalists nor atheists had always told her to use her head wisely.
But she had just thrown away a head entrusted to her. A head she had been assigned to return to those responsible for rewriting the fortunes of this unsettled land. Had she succumbed to fear, using her instincts instead of her head?
When she opened her eyes, the reptilian had passed her, and he was now heading straight for the two white men. Could they not see him? Why were they not running and how was he unable to see her crouching right there before the tree?
Perhaps she was not meant to reach Azania? A land she had only heard and read about but has never really seen. So, what about the head of Bhambada kaMancinza? There was just so much she did not know, but at least she had started on a journey to know herself. She stood up and approached the tree. Leaning with both hands on its luminous trunk. She felt invincible. Something about the permanence of this tree reminded her of the faithful yet evanescent beauty of the stars. When she heard the European men screaming behind her. She awoke, still looking out at the Gardened City of Harare, from the patio of The Meikles hotel. The screams and the music she had heard were just people downstairs, still celebrating yet another day of co-dependency.