The matron shifts in her chair to gaze at the stream of students leaving the dining hall. It has been seven years since she joined the school and the girls look up to her as a mother figure. Her cowl is the most recognizable outfit in the institution. The plain grey attire exhibits simplicity and is respected as a symbol of readiness to work. A silver rosary tucked in the hood speaks to her presence as the authority on spiritual matters. That, and her earnest, bright face, mark her as the most liked personality at Saint Benedict Girls School. In the absence of a priest she oversees the spiritual needs of the whole community. Although the school does admit students from other religions and Christian denominations, its Catholic policies are absolute.
The school is a centre of academic excellence. It is revered for its strict enclosure. The gentle silence surrounding it provides a suitable environment for both spiritual and academic exercise. Here, study is uninterrupted.
The school is located in what the students say is the middle of nowhere. It is in the heartland of the rising savannah which stretches past the horizon. It is accessible from the nearest town, forty kilometers away, by a dusty road which snakes across the plains. To the north it is bordered by a forest and to the west by hilly escarpments.
To the south, the Tsavo River carves its way, dragging spectral legends with it. Further upstream a wooden bridge is the only reminder that human encroachment had made it this far. Now decaying from the effects of weather, the bridge served its purpose when the slave caravans bound for Zanzibar made their way across the plains.
A story is told that when a caravan made it this far, the captives realized that they were never again going to be free men and resolved to die in their own land rather than suffer in captivity. The long file of chained men stalled and refused to move even when they were threatened with shooting after no amount of whipping budged them. They huddled together and dared their captors to kill them. The captors opened fire. The remaining captives dragged the corpses over the bridge and plunged into the river with them. The captors fired at them, the murky waters fast turning crimson. The gurgling of the river and mournful wailing of the captives drowned out the gunshots. Crocodiles made their way downstream.
It is often said that the souls of these young men never left the land. Their ghostly forms are said to be seen roaming the vast plains as they seek out their captors. People who are stranded in these parts say that they have heard disembodied voices or laughter or mumbling or footsteps.
The matron is well aware of the legend and such tales are of interest to her. As a young girl, she lived with her family in a house built on an old graveyard. At five years of age, she grew accustomed to sighting ethereal wanderings of women and children, images that remained with her until the day she turned eighteen and was sent to convent. She was yet to encounter the ghosts of Tsavo.
The bell rings to signal the end of the day’s activities and the students prepare to leave for the dormitories. Some congregate in one of the halls for a religious proceeding. The matron sits at her desk and listens to confessions and requests without so much as a twitch. After they pour out their hearts, she shifts in her chair and offers wise counsel, that all will be fulfilled, sorted out, pardoned, forgiven; His will come to pass.
Her cases are diverse:
Teacher: Please pray for me, my child is sick and my husband is leaving me.
Teacher: My students are rebellious; guess they are doing drugs.
Student: My parents hate me that’s why they brought me to this Godforsaken place.
Teacher: My colleague is going to get the promotion I think I was overlooked.
Student: I get bullied too much; the senior girls want to possess me.
Student: I see apparitions, ghosts lurking in the dark ready to pounce on me.
She fulfills her obligation, selflessly sacrificing her own soul, interceding on behalf of those who carry too much for themselves to bear. At times, she wishes she could self-flagellate and atone for the sinful ways of man that brought pain and misery. She reassures the confessors that all had been set free at Calvary, that all one has to do is reach out and touch the hallowed robes, and the bleeding from their hearts would cease, they would come down from the tree of Addiction, the Master would dine in their lives, and they would be set free from all that haunted them.
Walking around the institution at night is calming. All is still for mankind. Pieces of off-key sounds: the chirping cricket, the rustle in the bushes, the cuckoo’s call deep in the trees; the roaring waterfall, a consonant cutting through the entire void.
The matron walks to the end of the dormitory, and pauses, taking short breaths just outside the door which is inches open. The moonlight pours through the windows, bathing the occupants of the last cubicle. She reaches out with her hand and pushes the door a little wider, then moves to the area where light from the window doesn’t reach. She thinks about the sleepers as wind gusts outside, a window opens, and more light streams in. They lie snoring. There are two double-decker beds set against the walls, with a French window separating them at the wall opposite the door. The students’ metal boxes are stacked against the wall below the window.
The moon casts its path beyond the zenith; hours past midnight. Her body is calm and sensitive to her surroundings. The movement of air is heavy, misty, and it leaves her palms moist. Her eyes remained fixed with premonition.
Outside, the air swirls and bustles at the crevices. An intake of air is a snarl and, on an upper deck, night air rasps through the nose. A darkness descends in the room, holds the watcher, and stills or quickens the movements of the resting. An occupant tied up in sleep jerks and kicks in the sheets. A body turns, another sighs, and yet another is motionless. Somebody talks in her sleep. Somebody snorts. Somebody remains still.
The matron blinks and, now accustomed to the darkness, looks beyond the window to the moon now concealed behind clouds: a glow suspended in the vicinity where a ghostly heaviness lurks. Farther off, a bird circles where the moon is clearing the cloud.
The bushes outside rustle and a dog barks. The waterfall intensifies. The matron wants to move but is compelled to stay still. A jackal howls as it scurries through the field of maize. Deep in the trees a wild dog growls as it hunts, on a trail, alert for unfamiliar scents.
A body moans and is propelled out of inertia; other bodies struggle in their sleep. The matron’s eyes are wide open, her mind bound by a spell of surging shadows creeping in the humid air. Her body motionless, her limbs stiffen. Her blood chills and her fingers grow numb as shadows congregate and transfix the sleeping bodies. The bodies kick, their hands break free, and strike at the barely visible. The beds creak as their occupants tussle with shadows, and are uncovered as sheets float off. The shadows bind them fast.
The matron struggles with all her might to break free of the spell and succeeds in doing so as the beds rock dangerously. She is jolted back to consciousness, exhales, and her breath is visible. She struggles and her hand finds its way inside her hood. She retrieves her rosary and clutches at the crucifix with both of her hands. She tries to open her mouth; she summons great courage to keep herself from stammering,
Holy Mary Mother of God.
Almost convulsing, the matron braves the phenomena before her. Forces of darkness compelled by evil and floating in wild air bind humans and make wicked assaults upon them. Believed to syphon life from humans to keep themselves alive, the spirits prey on the living, paralyzing and seducing. The ordeal does not take long but the matron has to fight it even if with a recital.
Exorcisms te, omnis immundus spiritus
omnis satanica potestas, omnis incursio
infernalis adversarii, omnis legio,
omnis congregatio et secta diabolica.
The occupants, now exposed in their night gowns, shake their heads vigorously and wriggle their limbs, tightening their legs to defy the force which wants them apart. But only for a moment. The shadows pin them against the beds, cajoling them, tormenting their semi-consciousness, and then forcing their way in.
Ergo draco maledicte
et omnis legio diabolica
The sleepers fight the parting of their legs, the gap between them widening, until they suddenly become rigid. The gowns tear as bodies are caressed roughly. Their breasts form firm molds. The shadows suck at their necks, digging with dark fangs. The sleepers sigh and gasp for breath as the rocking gathers, descending lower in the body.
Cessa decipere humanas creaturas,
eisque aeternae Perditionis venenum propinare.
The struggle on the beds stops. The victims lie unmoving, breathing deeply, their hearts beating in shaken unison. The matron leaves, shuddering terribly, dragging her feet, her body soaked in sweat.
Zak Waweru (@thewriter_x) is a twenty six year old student of life from Nairobi. He prefers to write thoughts and mould together sense and story. He writes to keep his mind whole.