Herbert wants to come home

By the time Muramba got back to the city, the mad rush home was underway. It was the madness of the morning recreated, with perhaps a greater urgency this week than most evenings, presumably because of the international soccer matches. Muramba was not sure when Zambia was playing Zimbabwe, but it was sometime this week.

Masimba Musodza
Masimba Musodza

Or, it could simply be because there were even more vehicles off the road tonight, because of the fuel shortages and the increasing shortage of spare parts that had arisen at the turn of the century and now characterised the country. Whatever the reason, it was dark and desperate out there, groups of people surging towards what few public transport vehicles there were left, knowing that in a few hours, they would start the whole ordeal again as they returned the city to work.

The luxury 4x4s of the elite drove past, aloof, uncaring, and resplendent.

Detective James Muramba had preconceived ideas about what a cleric of the Romanian Orthodox Church ought to look like. He was not familiar with the Romanian Orthodox Church itself as such; in Zimbabwe, the most visible of the Orthodox denominations were the Egyptian Coptic and the Armenian Orthodox, but these were of the Oriental branch, whereas the Romanian Church was of the Eastern branch. The Murambas were traditionally Church of England, and his mother had been Catholic, but he had studied Theology at school and was familiar with the different streams of Christian practice around the world.

He had always thought of an Orthodox priest as heavily bearded, robed, with a stiff skufiya or even an epanokailimavkion on a close-cropped head, and an ornate cross in one hand. He always imagined that an Orthodox priest would speak in a sort of whisper, slowly and with the great effort required to expound recondite spiritual matters to ordinary people. The only alternative to this image that came to Muramba’s mind was that of Ra-Ra-Rasputin, lover of the Russian Dream, complete with members of Boney-M slinkering around him in bodysuits and gaudy feather headdress.

The man who waited in his office and rose to greet Muramba as he entered was neither. Father Alexandru Antonesecu was a young man in his mid-30s, with a strong, smooth chin and a thin moustache, and short brown hair. He was attired in a black and brown denim suit-style jacket, a grey T-shirt and jeans. He could easily have been an academic or a writer, and Muramba suspected that he was more of the latter than someone who administered the Church’s sacraments.

“Detective Muramba,” said Fr Antonescu, stretching out a rather smooth-looking hand. Yet the grip was firm. “Thank you so much for agreeing to see me at such short notice.”

“I am a public servant, Father,” said Muramba. “My door is always open.”

“Yes, I could not help noticing the motto of the Zimbabwe Republic Police,” said Fr Antonescu, resuming his seat as Muramba circumnavigated the desk to sit down. “Pro Patria Pro Populii”.

Of course he would, Muramba thought to himself. Romania was in eastern Europe, but the people spoke a language akin to Latin, therefore related to French, Italian, Spanish and other languages of western Europe. That explained why his accent was not that one heard in all those American Cold-War era movies.

“I was not aware that we had a Romanian Church in Zimbabwe,” said Muramba.

“We don’t,” said Father Antonescu. “I have come in this morning from my country as a missionary.”

Muramba smiled indulgently. “Not wishing to discourage you, Father, but we Zimbabweans are not big on Orthodoxy. We prefer more the charismatic preachers of the Prosperity Gospel.”

“I am aware of the religious predilections of contemporary Zimbabwean,” said the cleric, returning the smile. “Detective Muramba, I am sure you have sized me up in the few minutes that I have been in your presence. You don’t think I am here to start a church, although I will if I have to, if it is necessary for my mission. I have been given the necessary authority and consecration to do so, if there are Zimbabweans who wish to be baptised in to the Orthodox Church.”

“Okay, so you are not here to bring the light of Christ to the poor heathen natives,” said Muramba. “What are you here for, and how can a police detective be of any help to you?”

Fr Antonescu seemed to be gathering his thoughts. He was obviously not ready to tell all just yet. “Detective, I was wondering if you could help me keep tabs on missing people in and around town.”

Muramba leaned forward, frowning. “What do you mean keep tabs on missing people?”

“If someone goes missing, I want to know about it,” said Fr Antonescu. He held out the large khaki envelope he had nestled in his lap. “There is a letter from your Minister of Home Affairs allowing me access to your missing persons files.”

Muramba looked taken aback. He did not take the offered envelope. His mind was dealing with the implications of having a Cabinet minister authorise a Romanian priest to access police records. It was not as if the Missing Persons Investigations Unit actually had Top Secret Files or anything like that, but there was something really strange about all this.

“Sir, time is what we do not have,” said Fr Antonescu, taking back his envelope. “Have there been any people reported missing in the last few days? I am particularly interested in anyone concerned with the arrival from the UK of the body of a man….”

He broke off as the colour drained from Muramba’s face. “Detective?”

Muramba sank back in his chair, his brain racing. A part of him wanted to ask what was going on at International Bereavement Services. But the memories of his visit to that place, barely an hour ago, that feeling of being watched, and the….terror.

“Detective?” Fr Antonescu tried to regain his attention. “I can see that my coming here has not been a wasted trip. I need you to tell me everything.”

In a torrent, Muramba told him about Mrs Baloyi’s visit and his own trip to International Bereavement Services. Fr Antonescu had placed his mobile phone on the desk, a Voice Recorder app turned on. Even as he talked, Muramba was still the detective. He noted the Romanian priest’s interest in the name Mutsepe, the name of the deceased whose body waited at IBS to be claimed by relatives living in Zimbabwe.

He did not talk about his feeling of being watched. But he had the feeling that there was no need. This Romanian priest knew, that was clear. He knew a lot more.

“Detective, I must leave you now,” he said, rising. He scooped up his mobile from the desk. “You have been a great help. I hope that the information you have supplied me will lead to a speedy resolution to this matter.”

Muramba nodded, absently.

Fr Antonescu looked at him. “Sir, you may be a little upset that I marched in here and ordered you to give me information, yet I am reluctant to share mine. But I can assure you, Detective Muramba, that it is better that you do not know any more at this stage. And, by God’s help, I can resolve this matter tonight, it is better that you forget all about it.”

Muramba believed him. He nodded, slowly.

“A word of advice.” Fr Antonescu looked grave as he edged closer. “Until we meet again, or even if we never meet, Detective; if anyone knocks on your window or door at night, do not tell them to come in! During the day is fine, but when it is dark, do not let anyone in! Especially if it is someone you did not see earlier that same day when the sun was up.”

“Why during the day….?”

“They do not come during the day!” said Fr Antonescu, vehemently. He sighed, regaining his composure. “I will pray for you.”

With that, he walked out.

About the Author

An extract from the latest novel by Musodza – a screenwriter, essayist and novelist, author of MunaHacha Maive Ne?, the first science-fiction novel in ChiShona, for which he won the ZIMAA Writer of the Year Award in 2011.

His short-story, “Chishamiso” has been made into a short film by Zimbabwean director, Angeline Dimingo.

He lives in the UK and is currently reading for a BA (Hons) Degree in English with Creative Writing at Teesside University.

This story is a blend of two mythologies, two fears; the African fear of an ancestral spirit aggrieved at being shut out of the family home…and the European fear of deceased kin who rise as vampires and knock on doors, demanding, pleading to be allowed in.

When Herbert Mutsepe suddenly dies of anaemia in the United Kingdom, his family have his body brought back to his native Zimbabwe for burial. A year later, they gather from the four corners of the globe to conduct the kurova guva ceremony-evoking his spirit to return home to the family homestead to join the pantheon of vadzimu, the family ancestral guiding spirits. This, despite the influence of Christianity, is at the heart of the beliefs of a large number of southern African peoples.

James Muramba, a homicide detective investigating the presumed death of a customs officer at Harare International Airport who vanished the day Mutsepe’s body was brought in is beginning to see a dark and disturbing picture. It seems that all is not well with Herbert’s soul, and perhaps it would not be a good thing at all to let him come home. He suspects, nay, fears, that Mutsepe is no longer the person he was, that exile has mutated him into a monster.

Read it now on JukePop Serials http://www.jukepopserials.com/home/read/1074/

Post published in: Arts

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