The Gods Want What They Want by Busamoya Phodiso Modirwa

The Gods Want What They Want

The night after Basekulu Moendambeli’s burial, his homestead burnt down to the ground. When the fire started, Florence, the old man’s five-year-old granddaughter, is said to have sleepwalked from her mother’s hut to the cattle kraal outside. As if controlled by some being more powerful than her, she pulled a goat by its tail all the way back to the old man’s shrine by the compound’s gate.

She does not remember holding a blade to the goat’s neck, nor lifting its body onto the altar. She only remembers the whole thing coming ablaze like a nightmare. When she opened her eyes fully, her mother was screaming bloody murder for her to come out of the shrine. She ran back to her arms crying, “What is happening mama! What is happening?” Matume’s only comfort was to hold her daughter tightly in her arms. When she opened her eyes again, the fire from the altar was spreading to the only three huts in the compound. Realizing how ravenous the fire was, Matume quickly picked up Florence and ran out of the compound.

They say the fire raged for three whole days despite the fire department’s trucks offloading truck after truck of water into its hungry flames. For three days, people from the village surrounded the burning compound like a burning bush without a Moses. Chanting scriptures and incantations alike, most out of fear, others out of desperate need to not be found as just spectators. Lest they be the next thing that catches fire. The old man’s gods were known to be senile vindictive deities who could render anyone crippled for staring at their shrine too long. Basekulu Moendambeli had built the shrine for his worship and sacrifices to the gods. The gathering crowd continued with their prayers and chants, in allegiance to the gods or another god thought more powerful than they. Some people built their own shrines made of river reeds and rods from the forest, some made wooden crucifixes and held them up high praying in unknown tongues.

“Do you think it’s ever going to stop Ma?” Florence asked her mother, anxiously twisting her skirt with her hand. It was an old skirt that Basekulu Moendambeli had brought for her from Francistown on his many trips to buy diesel for his tractor. A skirt she refused to change since the old man’s passing. 

“I don’t know Flore,” she lied. “No one knows anything anymore.” 

She lied because she knew that this meant that the gods had chosen her little Florence as their next priestess. Basekulu Moendambeli had told her many years ago about how he came to be a healer; how in his boyhood years, after his grandfather’s burial, he sleepwalked to his shrine and only came to his senses when a tongue of fire licked their homestead gone. 

They could never live there anymore. The gods had chosen a home for them away from that end of the village, which is how they came to live here. 

“We’re going to have a new home my child, let us go,” Matume said as she held Florence by the hand. She fought through the crowd to find a path for them to leave and as they begun to walk away, a small wind started blowing. Instead of fanning the flames, it extinguished them. Matume and her daughter kept walking despite the crowd hurling at them to come back. She knew they could not stay because the gods want what they want and at that moment, they wanted them to relocate. They were calling her daughter to be a healer somewhere else and she was going to be with her every step of the way. 

They walked half a day’s journey to another side of the village. When they sat to rest, across from them, a group of children splashed water around from the stream by the road. It was now a river of its own making, coming all the way from Basekulu Moendambeli’s compound.

Busamoya Phodiso Modirwa is a Motswana writer and poet with works published on The Kalahari Review, Jalada Africa, The Weight of Years: An Afroanthology of Creative Nonfiction and forthcoming in 20.35 Africa Anthology. She is a recipient of the Botswana President’s Award-Contemporary Poetry 2016 and recently completed her poetry residency at the Gaborone Art Residency Centre in Gaborone.

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Next: sleep sounds by Emily James

Previous: Uncle Who Lives Alone by Hannah Ling

Image (cropped): Sade Shoalani Manheru Ngewedi CC4.0

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