Looming Death

The gentle rustling of leaves in the distance, the eerie hooting of the owl from nearby branch gave Verah goosebumps. Since she was a young girl she had been warned that when the Owl hooted that was a sign of death.

Verah’s family had been decimated by a mysterious illness, no one knew what to call it, the nickname it received was Chilo, dirt. It was a disease that not only put people back in the dirt that they came from, but also caused a mess. Victims’ skin would erupt in blotches of unusual colours and cause faces to look dirty, tongues would discolour and heavy sweating would stain clothes instantly.

No one knew what caused the disease. Even the so called Village MD had no idea how to cure it. Those who attempted to assist the afflicted would contract the disease and die. Now people simply died because everyone stayed away from them.

Verah had spent most of the moonlit night speaking to her ancestors as she stood at the graves of her parents and eight siblings. She was the only one alive. She was abandoned by the village and feared, villagers called her Mudho , as pitch dark as the night. But her darkness was her heart.

They never understood why a young girl nursing her entire family who contracted this unusual disease survived. They saw her as the cause. The earth was fresh over her father’s grave; he was the strongest of the lot, having fought the disease for 2 months. No one else was known to survive past 3 weeks. The mzee opted to dig his own grave and sleep in it to avoid anyone touching him when he died. He instructed Verah to cover him with earth as soon as he failed to ring his hourly bell. The bell was a reminder to feed him. At night, she tossed a blanket for him to cover himself.

Soon he was gone and Verah was all alone, isolated from the world. The numerous trees in the homestead swerved from side to side gently to a rhythm of despair and uncertainty. Verah didn’t know if she was next and if she was how would she go? Would she eventually contract the disease that plagued her family? Or was she going to live? And if she would, how would she survive in the hostile environment? She would probably starve to death.

As she thought through the possibilities of her existence, she heard the owl hoot again, everything fell silent and Verah burst in to tears.


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