He waves us to a seat in the corner, and continues ministering to a dazed-looking young woman reclining on a mattress on the floor. Hisdori explains in a whisper that she's affected by a shetani that has paralysed her hands and arms. She's been to a hospital but they found nothing wrong with her, so she's come to seek the help of Mzee Kongo. He strokes her palms and fingers with an action that looks gentle enough, but she writhes and shrieks in pain, complaining in a strange, high-pitched voice. Mzee Kongo nods with satisfaction and breaks off to fondle a charm suspended from a leather strap around his ear. The shetani is coming out, but it's stubborn and is putting up a fight. He pats her head and she sinks back down, exhausted. Hisdori touches my shoulder and we rise to go. Mzee Kongo is affable as ever. Come back soon, he says, maybe he can show us a shetani in person.
Hisdori and I pick our way back over the crumbling walls onto the narrow street. Murmured greetings come out of the dark from the unseen figures of Maasai watchmen, crouched half asleep in vast doorways. The crackle and blue glow of an ancient TV set emanates from a half-built house, ten or twenty people gathered around the screen. Back in Stone Town, light from windows slants oddly across the street, shadows flicker in side alleyways, and I get that familiar uneasy, prickly feeling on the back of my neck. Footsteps, fast and urgent, come from behind us and I turn wildly, ridiculously, heart pounding in panic. Two drunken Italian tourists, flushed and sweating, emerge into the light and pound past, laughing shrilly. Hisdori and I grin ruefully at each other and move a little closer as we swing onwards through the hot night towards the safety of home.
Copyright © Gemma Pitcher 2004