Old man Mulandi son of Mwimbi had completed a hard working week as a night watchman for a clothing factory in Nairobi. He looked forward to his four off-days at his rural home in Mbitini some two hundred and ten kilometres northeast of Nairobi, in the semi-arid plateau.
To reach his rural home he would have to board the overnight bus that went through the closest trading centre. He was then obliged to walk for eight or so kilometres to reach his ancestral village. That Friday evening, as he had done countless times before, he rode the night bus home. He disembarked at the trading centre at about three in the wee hours of the morning. He hoisted his worn out bag and braced himself against the chilly air that hovered over the plateau as a thick blanket. It was wise, he thought, to drink something warm, maybe a mug of coffee, before he walked into the night. His fellow kinsman had a rackety kiosk located within the centre. It was a place he would get news about home. He would be also able to request his kinsman for bulls to plough his land before the rains arrived. As he noisily sipped his coffee, his kinsman was able to bring him up to date on a number of issues. The Chief’s daughter had eloped with a school teacher. The chief was so furious that he razed down the teacher’s house. Pastor Samuel’s wife had finally succumbed to the illness that had her bedridden for years. And so on and so forth. As he finished his coffee and prepared to leave, a look of alarm spread over his kinsman’s face.
“You are not planning on going home now?” He asked.
“Why not?” old man Mwimbi asked.
“You can’t,” his kinsman said most emphatically rising onto his feet to stress the point. “You must wait until it is daylight.
“But I always go home at this time” protested Mulandi. “The bus arrives and I walk home. I always do. It is only a short distance away”.
His kinsman was frantically shaking his head. “Mulandi wa Mwimbi, You mean you do not know? Have you not heard?” He asked.
“About what?” The old man asked perplexed.
“Ndekuisa!”. His kinsman uttered this name with much trepidation.
Mulandi wa Mwimbi was totally at a loss. His kinsman started explaining to old man Mulandi about the fiendish monster that the villagers called Ndekuisa that had been marauding the surrounding homesteads. His tone was sombre, and portended the danger and evil that had befallen them:”We do not kn ow what type of animal it is. We know it is evil because it devours everything of its prey, hide and all. That is why we call it Ndekuisa or `the total devourer’. It has sharp claws. Some say it has a shaven human-like head and bloody beady eyes. The teeth are long and razor-sharp. It rises on its hind legs which make a scratchy sound as it moves- Kwacha, Kwacha, Kwacha. The beast attacks by flashing its sharp claws on its victims’ face. We think it lives in the rocky gorges between here and your home and strikes at the early hours of the morning, dragging away goats and sheep. This is why I insist you stay here until it is daylight”.
Mulandi was not going to be cowered by some incredulous mumbo-jumbo. This was a grandmother’s tale for uncircumcised children and not for a man such as he. If anything, it was probably some robbers who had been stealing livestock and who continued to spread the myth of the beast. After all he was armed with a sword and carried a flashlight. What would his wife think if he were to arrive long after sunrise and say he had been hiding at the trading centre?
“I will sleep in my house,” Mulandi insisted.
“But the animal lives within those woody dark ravines that you must cross on your way home,” His kinsman pleaded.
“There is nothing out there I tell you. Our people have lived in these parts year after year without any such occurrences. If it is robbers, I will deal with them!” concluded Mulandi. Nothing his kinsman said could dissuade him from going. He watched helplessly as Mulandi walked off into the darkness.
Mulandi strode into the dark African night. His movement was accompanied by the night shrieks of bats and other night flying birds, as the high pitched stridulations of crickets and the deep throaty croaks of frogs. In the distance was the unmistakable laugh of a hyena. These sounds mattered not to old man Mulandi. He was home among his people and at peace with this natural world amidst which he had been brought up. He walked down the first ravine and up out again. He walked past a stream, through thickets, down valleys and up ridges. He had almost covered three quarters of his way home. He went down the last ravine, past its dry river bed and up the rocky sides when suddenly the ground before him exploded with all manner of shrieks and scratchy noises. Hairy bodies and rapid movements were all about him. His heart leapt in fright as the lifelike images of what his kinsman had described flashed before his eyes. In a desperate reflex he swung the sword down, the metallic blade clanging on the hard rock, the impact of which made him lose his balance and he rolled down through the thorny thickets into the dry river bed below. He crouched awaiting the final blow from the beast as he desperately covered his face from the sharp claws of Ndekuisa.
After a while he realised the noises had abated and he was all alone. Some distance away was his flashlight, its streaky light pointing into the thickets above. He slowly extricated himself from his thorny enclave and retrieved his torch. His sword was nowhere to be found. He hastily climbed out of the ravine, and with his heart pounding, made his way home. He was full of fear and often would glance back and start at any sound. On reaching the edge of the village he went to the nearest homestead and pounded at the door.
“Who is it?” A voice called from within.
“Open up, its me, Mulandi wa Mwimbi”. He could hardly recognize his own voice. “Mulandi? Where are you from at this hour?”
“Nairobi” He answered and quickly added: “Open up. Quick. Something terrible has happened” Doors opened here and there and curious neighbors milled around Mulandi. Lanterns were lit and held up high to reveal a shivering Mulandi with deep scratches all-over. His clothes had been reduced into tatters.
“What happened son of Mwimbi?” A villager asked.
” I fought him” Mulandi replied. The pain of the deep scratches and the impact of his fall had began to filter through.
“Who?” Someone else asked.
“Ndekuisa” Mulandi said.
There was a gasp. He recounted to them how he had been ambushed by the fearful creature on his way home. The villagers were astounded. A man had confronted Ndekuisa and lived to tell! Mulandi asked for a place to rest before dawn when he would conduct them to the scene of the encounter.
Early next morning, he led a team of armed men to the spot. They looked both sides of the ravine and down the river bed. They recovered his sword some metres away and followed the path of his fall clearly marked by shredded clothing attached to the thorny thickets. They could see no signs of the fearful beast. As the sun came up, the air sudden filled with high pitched screeches.
“There it is” shouted Mulandi.
The men leapt, bows and arrows at the ready, spears raised, swords gleaming in the early morning sunlight. Then someone laughed:
“Mulandi wa Mwimbi, where is Ndekuisa. You must have been scared by these nocturnal squirrels and monitor lizards. There is no beast here”
The villagers joined in the laughter. Mulandi tried to argue to save his face, but the villagers laughed the more, chiding him for living in the city for too long. He took his sword in a huff and walked home filled with feelings he could not describe. Though he felt vilified, he was now more sure than ever that there was no such a monster. He had been right all along.
Some months passed. The villagers had stopped speaking about the incident. Old man Mulandi was returning one evening from fencing his piece of land in order to protect his cultivation of pigeon peas from wandering goats. On his shoulders, he carried his farming implements, a hoe and a panga. He stopped at the homestead of a well known brewer of traditional liquor made from honey and fermented maize flour. He met a number of his agemates and joined them in drinking. He was captured in the joy of praise singing and narrations of old folklore and hardly noticed as the time crept by. It was well past midnight when he resumed his way home. The brew had filled his mind and his heart was light, and so he sung as he trudged home. Through one gorge and up the next. The air was thick and misty.
As he began to enter the next gorge, a shadowy figure emerged in front of him. He called out in salutation. The figure answered in a growl. “Who are you” Mulandi called out. The figure growled back. Mulandi’s sixth sense penetrated the drunken cloud and he realised he was in some danger. This must be a night time robber that awaits to waylay night walkers, he thought. He shouted out to him ” I don’t care whether you are a robber, I will not part with my money” and then courageously added “If you attempt to attack me, I will show you that I have lived in the dangerous city of Nairobi for a long time and that I am quite capable of defending myself. There is no fighting trick that I do not know!”
In a flash and with a growl, the figure lunged at him. Mulandi was ready. His panga slashed out. The figure howled in pain. With a fierce growl the figure attacked again. Mulandi lashed out once more and the figure howled in pain as the panga made contact with bone. Mulandi’s fighting spirit was aflame. He victoriously called out: “I will teach you not to ambush innocent people” His hand swung the panga repeatedly and the figure retreated into the bush howling in pain. Mulandi climbed out of the gorge and made his way home.
Early the next morning he appeared before the Chief to report that he had been waylaid by a robber and that he had fought back and suspected that he had fatally injured him. The Chief, accompanied by two armed guards accompanied old man Mulandi to the spot. They followed a bloody trail into a thicket. The two armed guards dragged the dead body into view. Everyone recoiled in horror. What was before them was a sight none of them was likely to forget in their entire lives. For before them lay not the body of a robber, but that of a beast like none other. Before their eyes lay the monstrous body of Ndekuisa. The rapidly swelling crowds were astonished and congratulated Mulandi wa Mwimbi for the immense courage.
Mulandi himself was speechless. His bones were cold as he silently recalled the night’s deadly encounter. He could hardly believe it was him that had killed this monstrosity. As the body was hauled into a jeep, Mulandi’s eye caught that of his kinsman who had joined the crowds.
You now believe that Ndekuisa lived?” his kinsman asked.
“I believe” Mulandi nodded, his mind attempting to adjust from a state of unbelief to the reality that had just unfolded before him.