The Sorcerers’ Watch
JLeahy memoir series – opening chapter/short story
We buried him this afternoon. He had died a week ago. There were a few hours left before the sorcerers would come for his remains. That’s what his father said. We needed to get to his grave before dusk and guard the grave until dawn. His father, mother and I left for Karogo’s graveyard after the last of the gathered family members left.
My aching joints gave me small comfort as I forced them to help me walk quickly up the main road, away from Saroa Village. We were near Rigo, Central Province, Papua New Guinea and in this region, witchcraft and sorcery were rife. We walked inland, headed for the small hill where Karogo and some of his deceased family members had been buried. Other villagers buried their dead in their backyard, gardens and other special places; something I was not used to. In my village, we had one cemetery for everyone.
The heavy rain and dense humidity kept the soil on the road, wet and slippery. The red clay had been washed frequently down the hills by the torrential rains leaving earthy red lines meandering through rough patches of grey and black gravel. I placed my feet carefully away from the soft red mud and in between the milky puddles. I wore thongs and these flipped a backsplash of sand and muddy water onto the dress. My clothes and looks were the last things on my mind.
For a few minutes, I stepped off the main road and I walked along the greyish clay roadside track. The muddy track was imprinted with hundreds of footprints from local traffic. I passed a few thongs left stuck in the mud and this made me want to smile. A pair of thongs was a priceless footwear. Obviously the toe parts of these pairs came apart so the thongs had been abandoned. Karogo’s father was ahead and his mother was walking behind me. I knew the couple had planned to be in this position, to protect me.
I walked as quickly as I could because it was getting dark very quickly. The moon was still rising but night creatures were already on the scene, I could hear them.
Today had flown by quickly like each day in the past week. The funeral only ‘formalized’ the death certificate. Karogo was long gone and this absence was so stark in this strange village. This place was an hour’s flight and several hours on the road, south from my home town. Apart from his immediate family, I did not know anyone. That did not bother me. I wasn’t afraid to spend the night in the graveyard. I knew I was a stranger and as his father told me, “you are a target, so you must follow everything I say”.
“Ok” I said. My own family had taught me how to handle any kind of situation with sorcery. It was always best to follow local rules as grandma would say. I had really wanted to go to the graveyard. That may have sounded crazy, as it sounded to me, but I needed to know what the sorcery-watch was about and I wanted to see Karogo again. Fear was not my issue. I could face the sorcerers or anyone from the dead.
It was not fear, as I had said, it was my anger. Karogo’s death made me very angry. This anger was so strong, that I felt cold and hardened inside. I started to feel older and stronger than my 17 years. I had insisted to his parents to take me to the grave tonight.
The torch slipped out of my tired hands and dropped into the mud almost tripping me.
“Shit!” I cursed and picked it up quickly. I quickened my pace to reach Solomon, Karogo’s father. As I caught up, my mind went back to the funeral again. My eyes salted and I wiped them quickly.
This morning about 9am, while the pastor was preaching, trying to cover his eulogy and bring closure to Karogo’s 18 years of living, I had felt every vein in my heart burst into tatters. Our past three years together were a mixture of child-play and maturing into adulthood together. Then, there were the mysteries in his life that I now could never ask anyone about, ever. He was beautiful inside and out, but he had secrets.
In the front pew, among strangers today, I felt I had been thrown off a plane into a strange place where no one understood my language or me. People were just staring at me, even in church, while the pastor was preaching. To find comfort amongst the staring pitiful eyes, I had looked down at the bright red roses on my black polyester dress. The hem had come apart but the dress kept together. My “Gypsy dress”, Karogo had called it. We were together when I bought this Gypsy dress at the second-hand store in Lae. I was on two weeks mid-year holiday from Year 12. The dress cost me 50 cents. It was strange to feel at ease for a moment while looking at the red roses on the Gypsy dress. I wanted to see Karogo alive in my memories about the dress but only briefly I saw him before my eyes moved and focused on the coffin. The roses in the wreath on his coffin were alive. Karogo wasn’t. He laid there, just like he could have been on the day-bed at his father’s house. His eyes were shut, but he wasn’t sleeping in the opened, beautiful, rosewood coffin.
My dress was the only item that connected us briefly and at that moment in the village church. I sat amongst hundreds of strangers. Mourners, children and adults, dressed in white, kept sneaking glances at me, probably feeling sorry for the young widowed girlfriend. I had cried inside and begged for my heart to stop right then. Yet, above the haunting Perovetta hymn at the funeral service, I could hear my heart still beating while I tried to understand why death could come to a life so young and promising.
“Joyce!’ someone had called me in the church. I remember, I did not even turn. Perhaps it was someone else with the same name. I didn’t know. I was in a daze. My thoughts were too far-gone. I had wanted to know why my chest kept moving, expanding, and contracting. I was breathing air and life, which I did not want, into me. I had wanted to stop breathing.
“Joyce!” Solomon called.
I turned my head quickly to him. I paused. He was a large, tall man with a large Afro. He combed it out neatly and sweat combined with water from his wet hair was coming down his face. He pointed a few metres ahead of me. The physical and emotional pain returned to my body once more as I stepped in the slippery, pale mud towards him.
“Come this way”, Solomon directed and I walked closer to him.
“Are you ok?” he asked, searching my face when I stopped and looked at him. We were both sweating from the walk. His wife caught up and wiped her flushed, sweaty face. She also looked at me concerned.
“Yes”, I tried to smile.
“Let’s go”, Solomon said.
We turned away from the main road and reached a small, slow flowing creek, about ankle-deep. The stones in the creek were all covered in green and black algae. We crossed the creek as the day’s shadows dissolved, forcing us to use artificial light. Solomon lit the Chinese kerosene lantern and gave me the large torch. His wife held the smaller torch. We climbed. In a few minutes, we will be at Karogo’s graveyard.