The Baobab Tree (2)
The quarter moon, hiding behind the thin and twisted limbs of a tall acacia tree, cast its hesitant light onto the surface of a slow, swirling river. A tall boatman, wearing a long silk robe which shimmered in the moon's glow, was poling a narrow dugout across the river's glistening surface. The prow of the boat rose as the boatman pushed it forward; silver folds of moonlight lifted from the water and rushed along the boats rough-hewn edges before returning quietly into the inky depths.
Busisiwe lay unconscious on the floor of the boat. The dull, hollow plop of something pushing its way through the surface of deep water and the slap of hands on wood awakened her. As she tried to sit up, the vessel shot forward and she was thrown onto her back.
“Forgive me Sangoma, but I have to move the canoe speedily along the river. There are sometimes creatures here that would be more than happy to have a boatman and a medicine woman for supper.”
Busisiwe sat quickly up and turned to see who had spoken. The melodic bass voice had come from the depths of a dark cowl high on the shoulders of the tallest human being she had ever seen.
“Where am I? How did I get here?”
“Your body is fast asleep and sitting with your arms wrapped around a great baobab tree. I am taking your spirit along this very deep and extremely dangerous waterway.”
“It is true then. The tree is the portal?”
“The tree is the focus Sangoma, you are the portal”
“Who are you?”
“I am Thulani; I wait for those who enter here, whether they come for a short time, or for eternity.”
“I did it; I made it into Izwe Lemimoya, the spirit world. Khanyisile my dear old teacher, you taught me well.”
She turned excitedly to the boatman and began to stand while asking...
“Thulani, can you take me to the N’ganga? I have to speak to them. There are so many sick in my village. I have tried all I know to cure them of their afflictions, but nothing I have done has helped.”
As her weight shifted in the thin dugout, it began to rock. She bent down and gripped the sides to maintain both her balance and that of the boat. In her panic, she shook the canoe even more. The water thrashed and the gunnels of the boat dipped into the water. She panicked and threw herself onto the floor.
Suddenly the surface of the water began to bulge and roar, it parted, and a huge open mouth, dripping water, and filled with rows of jagged teeth, broke through. A monstrous black crocodile towered above the small boat. Two muscular feet with long, vicious, and razor sharp claws grabbed the side of the dugout. The huge belly of the beast slowly began to roll forward into the boat. The fragile canoe’s side dipped below the surface and the water rushed in.
“Sangoma! You must stop this. Send the Ingwenya away. It is you who have called it.”
Busisiwe was crouched in the boat with her hands over her eyes and her knees at her chest. Her feet were pounding on the floor of the dugout as she screamed in terror. The boatman, realizing the medicine woman was too terrified to communicate, lifted his pole and turned to face the beast.
Thulani raised the pole above his head and holding it in both hands he made it spin. A low humming noise filled the air. The crocodile roared and thrashed its tail sending more water splashing into the now nearly submerged canoe. bending forward the beast thrust its long tooth-filled mouth below the spinning disc and snapped its huge jaws at Thulani’s head, he shifted slightly to the right. The vicious mouth closed with a loud snap as it bit the air beside his left ear. The boatman began to spin the rod faster and faster. The pole became a flashing silver whirlpool above his head. Maintaining a constant speed he took one step forward bringing the wood into contact with the crocodile.He yelled,
As the silver disc of the spinning pole touched the animal, there was a bright flash and the crocodile disappeared.
Thulani laid the pole on the floor of the canoe and turned to the still screaming woman.
“Sangoma,Sangoma, you must listen to me.”
The woman, still screaming, couldn’t hear him. Taking her head gently in his hands, he spoke in a whisper.
“Hush now, Sangoma Busisiwe. I have banished the crocodile; he can no longer hurt you. I have sealed your thoughts from this place; you can no longer manifest your fears. Be still Busisiwe, nothing here can harm you. I will not allow it.”
With his confident and assured ‘ I will not allow it,’ Busisiwe lowered her hands and looked into the dark cowl in front of her. Thulani’s sparklingly blue eyes were all she could see in the darkness there, they were the most trusting and caring eyes she had ever seen, her fears began to subside.
Thulani stood, his shoulders began to shake, he clapped his hands hard together, his robe shone in the moonlight as he turned away from her. When he turned back and pointed towards her, he was laughing.
“Busisiwe, I said I have sealed your mind from manifesting any horrors in this place, but you have defeated me. Who has put this head on your shoulders, Sangoma? Who has brought this fierce and ugly devil into my canoe?”
Busisiwe laughed. The paint had spread all over her hands and face, even for a practiced medicine woman who had painted a demon face-mask to frighten the old Baobab. Her tears and the water from the river had created a more terrifying monster.
Thulani picked up his pole and still smiling, he took up his position. He placed his feet on both gunnels and began again to pole the boat along the river.
Busisiwe took a cloth from her belt and began to unfold it. She looked back at Thulani while holding the cloth over the side of the canoe, he nodded. She dipped the cloth into the river and began to banish the demon from her face. Looking up again at the boatman she asked.
“How do you know my name Thulani? I don’t remember telling you.”
“When I sealed your mind from this place Sangoma; I could see all. I know how much your people mean to you, and I know how hard you have tried to save them from their illness. I hope the N’ganga can help you. They hold the knowledge of many generations Busisiwe. We will be there soon.”
They travelled along for another mile. The river began to widen and boats could be seen tied to a low platform at the riverside. Singing could be heard and there was the inviting smell of meat cooking on the air. Light flickered in the trees beyond the river bank and smoke drifted up to create the only clouds in the sky.
Thulani steered his boat alongside the pontoon and grabbed one of the wooden supports. He stepped onto the platform and offered his hand to the medicine woman.
“Sangoma, we are here. You will have to continue on your own. I must stay by the river.”
Busisiwe lifted her digging stick and placed her free hand in his. His skin was soft but firm and she could sense power in his gentle grip. She pulled herself up beside him, and put her hand on his chest. His body was strong and hard, feigning dizziness she rested her head against his body and inhaled deeply; the clean, strong man smell was overpowering.
Thulani gently eased her from him.
“You are here Busisiwe.”
He pointed toward a wide pathway lined with white stones which lead up towards the fires and into the trees.
“Follow the path Sangoma; it will take you where you want to go. When you are ready to go home, I will be waiting.”
Busisiwe reluctantly left her protector's side and headed up the banking towards the trees.
To be continued.