Ghost Child by Berendsje Westra

The sky glows grey and night clouds drift high over Femi’s head, allowing her a sliver of moonlight. The air is dry and warmth rises from the soil, but occasionally a gust of chilly wind will wrap itself around her emaciated body causing goose bumps to set on her nakedness.

Leaned against the rugged bark of an ancient Baobab tree, she clasps her hands tightly and presses them against her budding breasts. In a moment of lucidity and spurred on by a fresh surge of hope, she decides to call unto her Saviour. One last time.

“See me, see me down here,” she will beg of Him. “Notice me and be there for me. Please.” But when she tries to open her mouth she finds that her brain refuses to comply. The rock of pure grief lodged in her throat has disabled her vocal chords. Her chin is like slack porridge, and her cracked lips stick together like wretched flies to the bulbous tip of a chameleon’s tongue.

She produces a wail, then listens to the nocturnal insects embroiled in feverish locomotion all around her. Are they speaking to her? Is He speaking through them?

Exhausted, she digs her toes into the moist earth. The tree scrapes her bare back and her knees crack as she carefully lowers herself to a kneeling position. When she tries to sit, she winces with pain. The throngs of villagers who so frenziedly ejaculated inside of her, convinced the assault would cure their HIV, have left her vagina torn and dripping with a bloody discharge.

Leaning on flat palms, she carefully shifts her bodyweight to her right buttock. A hot tear stings in the corner of her eye and slides down her pink cheek. In this half-seated position, surrounded by the soothing mantras spouted by crickets, she hangs her head and tries to rest.

Her respite is short-lived.

All at once, their scarred, rage-contorted faces, flash before her eyes again.

“No, no, please,” she whimpers, pounding her forehead with a fist.

But her mind has a mind of its own and reels off the scene for its own pleasure.

“Zeru, zeru” (ghost) they growl at her, as she cowers behind her mother. Their eyes spew hatred as they wield their machetes. Egging each other on, they begin to strike her mother on the head. One of them holds Femi down and forces her to watch her mama crumple to the clay floor, before they douse her with a liquid so pungent it sears the lining of Femi’s throat and nostrils.

Snickering, they set mama alight. Her love. Her rock. But to them nothing but a meaningless human being.

Femi is too numb to kick and scream when they drag her away from her Tabora shack, her mother’s raw screams and moans as the flames devoured her flesh, still echoing around in her head.

Her eyes are wide open now.

Daylight is starting to set in and a final burst of vocality arises from her nightly companions.

She listens intently. The creatures, they are speaking to her.

But when she’s distracted by a nasty prickly sensation she wavers: could they be speaking to the ants that have ruthlessly begun to enter her through every orifice at their disposal?

She slaps at them with a feeble gesture.

“The crickets are my friends,” she warns the ants. “You have to stop biting me, or else they will come for you.” She shivers, and rising slowly to her feet she mumbles, “Yes, that is what they’re saying.”

But the ants are legion and won’t leave her alone.

Her back sinks into the Baobab tree. She pretends it is God, wrapping His strong arms around her body.

“Come to Me My child,” He whispers in her ear. “You are loved. I am here for you.”

She scratches at the putrid mixture of soil, puss and semen caked to her inner thighs in an attempt to cleanse herself for Him.

She stoops sideways. Legion crawls all over her hand as she reaches down to where the rope is strung around her leg. A sticky fluid oozes from it.

The mganga, the witch doctor, who plans to dismember her body and examine her bones for traces of gold before brewing a magic potion from the rest of her remains, has tied her to the carcass of a giant stag.

For days it’s been lying there, flipped on its back, its stiff legs pointing skywards while flies and maggots feast on the eyes.

The stench of blood and decaying meat confronts Femi with her own impending doom. She limply tugs at the rope that runs between her bloodied calf and the animal’s decomposing nose like an umbilical cord. The life energy has long left the stag, and Femi feels her Self leaving too.

Berendsje Westra lives in the Netherlands with her husband and two daughters. She graduated from Groningen University with an MA in Literary Studies and wrote her dissertation on Flannery O'Connor's fiction in cultural context. She's currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. She's working on the second draft of her first novel (women's fiction) Coffee Spills & Songs.