This story came about while I was having a conversation with Stuart about a group of women in Malawi, who are believed to be possessed by evil spirits. They are taken to a camp where they are ‘cured’ and prayed for.
We lived at number eight President Road in a block of flats; there were eight apartments. All the kids in our block would play together. We did not stray too much from our block and play with other kids in our neighbourhood. We had everything we wanted in our compound. We would climb trees and play rounder’s after school in the red dusty earth.
Our flat was on the ground floor. Above us on the second floor, at number four, lived two old twin sisters. They had come to live in the flat about six years ago. They came from Malawi and only spoke Nyanja, which is very similar to Chichewa. They had greying hair which they kept in a short afro. They had no children or seemed to be married. But they lived well, it was believed. Although they were not identical twins, they usually wore matching chitenges. That was what we saw, on the rare occasion when they left their flat. They often kept to themselves. We were all scared of them and named them ‘ifiwa’, meaning ghosts. The grownups often talked about them as they fetched water from the communal tap, shaded by a big mango tree.
“They come from a healing camp in Malawi you know. I heard that they moved here after that. They used to have children and husbands but they all passed away. And no one knows where they get their money from.”
“Imwe hmm. Did you know, these Malawian women get possessed. I heard that they killed their children and husbands. They were sent to the camp because they were possessed and would carry their children upside down. I do not want my children to associate with people like that. They should just keep to themselves”
“Yes, and I have seen them come out at night to fetch water. Which is better. I do not want to speak to them or touch them. Who knows what kind of muti they have. How can they just live up there all day and not have jobs?”
“The stories must be true, they are witches. Bana Dala that is why they only come out at night”
Although the grownups did not want us to go up to their flat, we did. Dala, my best friend had been in their flat a few times. He always came out of their flat with treats. Once he even shared a donought with me that they had given him. If his mother knew she would really ‘give it to him’. Not only was he going up there and talking with them, he was eating their food as well. He said their house was filled with all sorts of plants and that they had a big television, and even a VCR.They asked him to do strange things when he went up there, but he never said what.
One Sunday afternoon, I was sitting in the yard watching a procession of ants carrying sugar. It was after church and everyone was inside watching the football. I hated football. I felt a shadow blocking the sun behind me and I looked up. One of the twins was standing behind me.
“Can you come up to my flat and help me with something?”
I was one of the few kids who had not been up to their flat. Even though I was scared by her request, I was curious to find out what their flat really looked like.
I followed her up. When we got there, I paused at the open door. Inside their corridor, that lead to rooms in the flat, was lined with large leafy plants.
I followed her in. She was a big woman so she had to squeeze through the narrow passageway. The flat was cooler inside. She led me to the living area. Here there were more plants. It looked like a green house. Some plants were hanging from the ceiling. Every available space in the room was littered with pot plants. The smell of geraniums was over powering.
Her sister was lying on a mat in the middle of the room on her back.
“Please can you walk on my sisters back.”
Her sisters looked up at me and smiled. I stared at her. She turned on to her stomach. I just stood there.
“You see she has a bad back. I cannot do it because I am too heavy and I could hurt her. You are small enough to do it. Please.”
“Ok sure. But what do I get for doing this?”
I found it strange that no one had mentioned that they simply had to help the sisters with their backs..
“A cold Fanta?” she smiled and pushed me forward.
I walked out of the flat a few moments later with an ice-cold Fanta.