The Tokoloshe

 

Tokaloshe

Auntie Rose was the first to notice something amiss that morning. She’d taken the first tray of spice-fragrant samosas from the oven and set them down to cool. She’d just returned to the stove when she heard a crash. She turned, cloth in hand, to find the tray up-ended and freshly-baked samosas strewn across the floor. Albertina came running from the stoep where she’d been sweeping, still holding the broom.

“What happened Auntie Rose? Did you drop the tray?”

“No, I put it on the table. I don’t understand how it could have fallen.” She bent down awkwardly to pick up the spilled samosas.

“Wait, Auntie Rose, let me.” Albertina crouched down and swiftly replaced the little savouries on the tray. She stood up. “No one will ever know,” she smiled at Auntie Rose. “The floor’s clean.”

Auntie Rose grinned toothlessly (she wasn’t one to wear out her false teeth by using them). “Cleaner that the people’s hands, anyway.” She looked at the tray. “That’s strange.” She stared around at the floor. “Did you get them all up?”

“I think so, why?

“Six are missing. Someone came in here while my back was turned.”

Albertina pulled a puzzled face. “But how did they get in? I was at the front sweeping the stoep, Auntie Grace is in the back room doing her knitting, and the window’s much too small for anyone to climb through.”

Just then they heard shouting coming from the road outside. Albertina snatched up her broom and hurried out followed by Auntie Rose; behind them came Auntie Grace, clutching her knitting.

Abdul was staring down the road in the direction of the harbour. The display table outside his shop had been overturned and all the pots and pans and gadgets and gizmos had spilled across the ground. A big blue football lolled in the road.

Albertina picked up the ball. “What happened?” she asked handing to Abdul.

“I only caught a glimpse of it,” Abdul said, retrieving a stack of brightly coloured plastic bowls from the floor. ‘Some kind of animal, about this high; he indicated a height just above his knee. Brown and very hairy.” Abdul shook his head. “I thought I heard it mumbling something though.” He shrugged his shoulders.

Abdul glanced down the road. There was nobody in sight, but there was a trail of footprints; small and wide with huge toes. Albertina’s hand went to her mouth; the other hand gripped the broom tightly. “Tokoloshe!” she exclaimed. She dropped the broom and ran past the aunties and through the house to her little room in the back yard.

Abdul looked questioningly from Auntie Rose to Auntie Grace as he walked over to them. “What did she say?”

Auntie Grace snorted. “Tokoloshe. There’s no such thing. A creature made up to scare naughty children. It’s more likely a young baboon.”

“Well, something stole my samosas,” said Auntie Rose walking into the road and looking down at the footprints. She pointed at the tracks. “Look, crumbs as well. That was my thief.”

Abdul and the two aunties stood contemplating the line of strange footprints. Moments later Albertina re-appeared. “I’m going for bricks,” she announced as she picked up the broom, brandishing it in front of her like a battle standard, and marched down the road in her bright pink pumps and second best wig.

“Bricks?” said Abdul frowning.

“To make the beds higher so the Tokoloshe can’t get you in the night… so they say,” Auntie Rose explained to the baffled Abdul.

“They’re short and they can’t climb,” added Auntie Grace. “Like us,” she glanced at her sister and giggled.

Abdul shook his head. He’d led a very sheltered life growing up as he had in Cape Town’s District Six.

Nearing the harbour, Albertina noticed more signs of the Tokoloshe’s passage. Overturned baskets and fruit lay scattered across the road; grimy hand prints were smeared across shop windows and ransacked dirt bins had spilled their contents. Dogs were barking everywhere and people were scratching their heads and surveying the mess. As she passed Andreas’s café, she was almost knocked over by the wiry café owner and three other men, one of whom she recognised as the man called Johannes who habitually sat by the harbour and had greeted her so nicely when she’d first arrived in the town.

“My dear, just the thing!” the man behind Johannes exclaimed, looking at the broom in Albertina’s hand. He put his hand on the broom. “May I?”

Albertina snatched it away, frowning crossly at him.

“My dear, I simply want to borrow it. It will help us catch the creature that I, the Professor,” he put a hand to his chest and bowed his head slightly, “so unwisely unleashed.”

“You mean it was you? You made a Tokoloshe?” Albertina said warily, looking up at the large, red-faced man.

“Tokoloshe..? No, my dear, I don’t think it’s…”

A hairy brown shape appeared from the side of the building,

“That’s him!” the Professor pointed.

Johannes reacted swiftly, running towards the creature, arms outstretched, forcing it towards the lean-to at the side of the building, while calling to his friend Sam to do the same. Sam who, Albertina noticed, smelt rather strongly of fish, ran across to block its escape. Albertina advanced with her broom. The creature glared back at them, trapped in a corner.

“Now what do we do?” asked Andreas.

“I need gold! Give me gold!” the creature chanted.

The Professor took a step towards it. “I don’t think you’re in a position to make demands.”

The creature stuck out its tongue. Then it let out a wild shriek. It tried to dodge past Sam, but Albertina was too quick. She shoved the broom in the creature’s chest, pinning it to the floor where it thrashed about.

“That’s what it said this morning, when I stupidly prized open this old chest I’d bought the other day. I didn’t know there was anything in it, but I was curious. I didn’t have a key you see and…”

The creature continued to struggle, grinding its teeth unpleasantly.

“Do something!” Albertina shouted. “I can’t stand here forever.”

Sam reached into his pocket and carefully drew out a small object, wrapped in a piece of oily rag. He opened the rag and held it out in front of the creature. “Here now, this is gold.”

“A real gold coin?” Albertina whispered, glancing at Sam in awe.

“Gold!” The creature groped the air with its long, grimy fingers. “Give me.”

Sam tossed the coin toward the creature. It caught it in its hand and started to laugh, but the laugh became a scream. The creature suddenly went limp. Albertina pulled the broom away gingerly. The creature’s body started to fade until all that remained of the creature was a dark stain on the floor.

Albertina crouched down, searching the floor. “Where’s the coin?”

But that too had disappeared.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

In case you were wondering about the tokoloshe: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tikoloshe

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Treasure you can’t touch #1

Md Mahdi on Unsplash
Photo by Md Mahdi on Unsplash

Johannes was sitting in his usual seat by the edge of the harbour. He reached out to pet a scruffy little dog as it trotted up to him. The little dog didn’t seem to have an owner or a home, but all the same it seemed to do all right. The dog sat down in front of Johannes and raised one paw, looking up at him. Johannes smiled, reaching into his pockets and turning them inside out to reveal nothing but holes. “Sorry for you, my little brother,” he said to the dog. “I have nothing for you today.” The dog put its head on one side, continuing to look up at Johannes, then it stood up, shook itself, and gave a little bark before trotting away. Johannes watched the little dog’s progress, snuffling here and there along the edge of the harbour buildings.

A door opened to reveal a slim, grey-haired man in a red shirt. Andreas nodded in Johannes’s direction and raised a hand in greeting before turning his attention to the little dog. Andreas muttered something, then disappeared back inside the building. The little dog sat patiently by the open door until Andreas returned with a small plate of scraps which he set down on the ground; he gave the little dog’s head an affectionate rub as it bent to devour the food.

Johannes chuckled to himself and returned his gaze to the waterfront. The fishing boats had already returned to sea, but there was a big old cargo boat which was still undergoing repairs in the dry dock. The sound of drilling and hammering rattled around the buildings.

Just as Johannes was wondering what had happened to his young friend Sam for the second morning running, he heard the unmistakable putt-putt sound of Porcupine’s engine as Sam’s little fishing boat rounded the harbour wall. He rose from his seat and strolled over to meet the little boat. Porcupine slowed, then gently nudged the harbour wall. Sam cut the engine and threw the stern rope to Johannes who slipped it through the mooring ring before tossing it back to him. Sam jumped onto the quayside holding the other rope which he quickly tied off.

Johannes noticed the troubled look on Sam’s face. “What’s the matter with you, Sam?”

Sam raised his eyebrows and gestured for Johannes to follow him back onto Porcupine. Once on board, Sam opened the door to the little cabin. “Come,” he said flapping his hand over his shoulder to his friend. The two men crowded inside the tiny room. Sam shut the cabin door and crouched down to pull a large plastic bucket from under his narrow bunk-bed. He took the edge of the old blanket which was covering the bucket and pulled it back theatrically, revealing what was inside.

Johannes’s brown eyes widened and his mouth formed a big round ‘O’. After a moment’s silence, he let out a long, low whistle. “What have we here?” He squatted down in front of the bucket. “A pot of gold,” he said, admiring the mountain of gold coins which glowed in the dim light of the cabin. He reached out to take one. Sam grabbed his hand, snatching it away from the bucket and almost knocking Johannes over. Johannes stared up at him. “Wha…”

“Careful!” Sam held his right hand out to Johannes. “Look.” Johannes saw the imprint of a coin which marked Sam’s thumb and first two fingers like an angry burn. Gingerly Johannes reached towards the edge of one of the coins touching it lightly with his forefinger. As soon as he made contact with the coin, he jumped up, pulling his hand away. A blister was already beginning to form on his calloused digit.

Sam put his head on one side. “It’s a fortune, but you can’t touch it with your bare hands.” He shook his head and reached up to the shelf above his bunk, taking down a folded rag. He laid it on the blanket and opened carefully, revealing one of the coins. “So what can we do, my friend? I’ll gladly share all of this with you, if we can find a way to spend the treasure you can’t touch.”

Johannes leant on the cabin wall and rubbed his chin. “There must be a way, my brother.” He stared down at the coins. “But where did you find all of this? It didn’t just appear in your fishing bucket did it?”

“Would you believe me if I said it did?”

Johannes shrugged. “I didn’t believe something I saw with my very own eyes yesterday morning,” he said. “I tell you Sam, there are some strange things happening in this town, and no mistake.” He put his hands on his hips. “We’ll find a way, Sam.” He nodded slowly. “Yes, we’ll find a way.”

©2019 Chris Hall


In case you missed it:
– how the gold got into Sam’s fishing bucket
– what Johannes saw yesterday

Syzygy (the alignment)

Kofiyah by Solly Gutman
Korfiyah by Solly Gutman

The bell over the shop door jingles as Abdul pushes it open wide and sniffs the salty air of the pre-dawn morning. Despite the early hour, the two aunties who live in the tiny whitewashed stone building opposite are already busy on their stoep, sitting at their wide wooden table peeling a small mountain of vegetables. The aunties are always busy: knitting or sewing, mending and altering; or making rotis and other goodies to sell by the harbour. That’s how they manage.

Abdul manages too. He sells all sorts of Useful Things. Indeed, that is what his shop is called. It might be a pot or a pan, a fishing net, or a rod and line. Or maybe something more exotic, like an oyster knife or an implement for getting stones out of horses’ hooves. If you can’t find it anywhere else, then Abdul is sure to have it. You only have to ask.

He steps outside and looks up. He grins. It’s an auspicious day. A sliver of a new moon, Venus and Jupiter form a precise alignment in the eastern sky: bringing love, happiness and maybe wealth and adventure, he thinks. And something more. Abdul hurries across the dusty road to greet the two aunties.

Auntie Grace looks up from her peeling. “Have you been consulting with your heavenly bodies, Abdul?” she says with a twinkle in her eye. Auntie Grace is over ninety, the brown skin of her face is still smooth though, and she loves to tease.

Abdul inclines his head.

“And what are they telling us?”

Abdul repeats his thoughts to them.

Auntie Rose holds up a long strand of potato peeling triumphantly. “There. All in one go. We will have good luck.” She grins up at Abdul toothlessly. Her face is nut-brown and deeply wrinkled although she’s some ten years her sister’s junior.

“Most certainly, in that case,” replies Abdul. “Did you buy your lottery ticket this week?”

“Of course.” Auntie Grace reaches inside her capacious bosom and draws out the ticket.

Auntie Rose chuckles and reaches inside her pocket. “A day to put my teeth in then,” she gurns, before slipping in her dentures.

Abdul smiles, puts his two hands together and bows his head to the Aunties, before hurrying back to the shop to arrange the display on the table in front of his shop window. The other shopkeepers are opening up now and everyone nods and waves to each other. It’s a friendly little community.

The day goes well for Abdul. He’s sold an entire dinner service by eleven o’clock, and someone else is coming back later with the money for a small mahogany table which Abdul has lovingly polished every day for a month.

Later in the afternoon a tall woman, carrying two bulging holdalls comes into the shop. She’s looking for an oil lamp. ‘Something which doesn’t need electric,’ she says. ‘Not a candle,’ she adds emphatically. The woman is about Abdul’s age, he guesses; neither young nor old. She wears a long skirt and a rather obvious wig, he notices. He hasn’t seen her before. He wonders if she’s new to the town, but he’s too shy to ask. He thinks for a moment then finds exactly the lamp she’s looking for. He throws in a small container of kerosene for free and her face lights up. She stuffs her purchases into one of her bags. Abdul hold the shop door for her and watches as she slowly walks away, her head held high.

Now he’s eager for the working day to end. He has something to do and this is the very day on which he must do it. He saw the syzygy, the particular alignment, in the early morning sky. Abdul’s eyes stray to a large, cracked leather-bound volume which stands on his highest shelf, partly concealed behind a bulbous copper kettle.

It had been the aunties who had given him the book more than a year ago. Written as it was in Arabic, they’d had no use for it. It had just been taking up space, Auntie Rose had said. But it had come with a stern warning from Auntie Grace. She’d recalled mention in their family of some strange ‘happening’ when her grandfather had read it aloud in his room one night during a full moon. Abdul had smiled and shaken his head. His Arabic wasn’t so good, he’d said. And it hadn’t been until he’d begun to try to read the book.

Now he’s pretty much fluent.

As soon as he’s locked up the shop at precisely five o’clock, Abdul carefully lifts the book down from the shelf and disappears into his little private room and the back of the shop. All goes quiet. Nobody notices when much later that evening a strange curl of reddish smoke rises from the back of the shop, or a peculiar, over-sweet odour wafts away on the strengthening estuary breeze.

Across the road, the aunties are jumping up and down like spring chickens, having netted a nice little lottery win. Not life-changing, but certainly life-improving, they say to each other. Rose puts her dentures back in to celebrate with a toothy grin.

Neither of them sees the fish eagle as it flies in a graceful arc, up over their little house to the harbour, curving round across the estuary mouth to head down the river towards the salt flats where it wheels again and flies over the marina and out to sea, hugging the coast, looking down at the fishing boats in the coves along the coast. The bird alights briefly on the headland opposite the harbour then, as if satisfied, returns to whence it came, disappearing behind the workshops and warehouses which line the harbour.

Abdul doesn’t see the aunties until they return from church the following day. They stand beaming outside his shop, peering in until he comes to the door. He pokes his head out, but unusually, he doesn’t step outside, expressing his congratulations on their news from his side of the door.

Auntie Rose takes a step forward and reaches up. She plucks a feather from his beard and holds it out to her sister. Auntie Grace peers round the door and notices something odd about the way Abdul is standing. She glances down. She nudges her sister and nods at Abdul’s feet which are mostly hidden by his long white shirt and matching trousers. He shuffles his feet awkwardly.

“What’s the matter with your toes?” says Auntie Rose. Abdul looks at her, then down at his feet. The claws which poke out from his sandals are unmistakable.

“The book?” asks Auntie Grace.

Abdul nods.


Inspired by ‘Korfiyah’ by Cape Town artist, Solly Gutman – visit his website for more of his wonderful artwork

Whale Song

00 whale migration by atey ghailan
Whale Migration by Atey Ghailan

Johannes stretched out his legs and breathed in the warm sea air which mingled with the smell of freshly-landed fish and diesel. He smiled to himself. This is the life, he thought, far away from all his cares and responsibilities. It had been a stroke of luck that Robert, his brother, who had landed a two month contract working up-country, had asked him if he would like to come and mind his little house on the coast while he was away. Robert, a long-time widower, lived alone now that his family had grown up and moved to Cape Town, and he didn’t want to leave his house unoccupied. People were for the most part honest, but with such high unemployment and poverty, no-one’s property was safe for long.

Johannes had his own problems back home. Much as he loved his extended family, it was all becoming too much. What with his own grown up children, their children and assorted aunties, nephews and nieces who were constantly calling upon him for help, he’d really had enough. It wasn’t as if they couldn’t manage without him. It would be good for them, especially his four sons, to stand on their own two feet for a change. He’d even gone to the extent of switching his cell phone off.

He cast his eyes over the small harbour, looking out for Sam in his little fishing boat, Porcupine, which he’d helped him repair over a week or two when he first arrived. Johannes liked to keep busy, and was pleased to be able to use the skills he’d gained during his fifteen years at sea. But there was no sign of Sam or little Porcupine. Perhaps they’d gone further up the coast for a while. There were other harbours on the West Coast where Sam might turn a better profit for his catch.

Johannes chuckled to himself and closed his eyes, remembering the past. He’d run away to sea with his friend when they were just twelve years old. Carrying a little bag of warm clothes, he’d snuck out of his mother’s shack while she was sleeping and met his older sister up by the highway. She had a job in a bar next to Cape Town harbour, and she knew an officer on one of the deep sea fishing boats who would help them once they were on board. Johannes recalled standing in the almost pitch black on the quayside, his body swaying, thinking it was the ground under him which was moving, when in fact it was the looming steel hull of the ship in front of him. And oh, they had been so sick once the ship was underway…

Shouts and running feet jolted Johannes back to the present. The harbour master, jamming his peaked cap on his head, rushed past Johannes towards the southern end of the harbour where a small group of people had gathered. Johannes stood up and shook himself, then hurried after the harbour master to join the gathering crowd, jumping up onto the harbour wall to get a better view of what had caught their interest.

A tall, slender woman in long skirts was standing on the edge of the headland across the estuary. Her arms were held out in a welcoming gesture as dozens of whales were breaking the surface of the waves before her. She lifted her head skywards, spreading her arms out widely, in a pose which reminded Johannes of the statue of he’d so admired long ago in Rio de Janeiro.

The woman opened her mouth and a loud, ululating song resonated across the ocean. Suddenly the whales took to the air; wave upon wave of them. Johannes blinked and shook his head. What was going on? The woman’s song grew louder. The whales were flying! Johannes pinched himself.

The sky darkened, filled with the huge creatures. Then the song stopped.

A close up of the woman’s face appeared before Johannes’s eyes. She smiled, revealing a row of pointed teeth. A selkie! He’d seen one before when his ship had been in far northern waters. Johannes felt the harbour wall ripple beneath his feet.

Her face disappeared and back on the headland he watched her dive into the ocean. Her silver seal tail flapped once above the waves, and then she was gone.

Johannes looked around. He was alone on the harbour wall. Behind him, people were going about their business as usual. He sat down and rubbed his eyes. The headland was deserted. Far out in the ocean he saw a solitary whale breaching.

©2019 Chris Hall


This little story was inspired partly by many conversations I’ve had over the years with my friend Johannes, and partly by the photo of the artwork above posted earlier this week by Jason H Abbott, the Aetheral Engineer. It also links another story of mine from a couple of weeks ago. I hope you enjoy!

 

Gone Fishin’

laaiplek
© Rivertides Guesthouse, Laaiplek

Sam cast off from the jetty in his little fishing boat, Porcupine. The last orange and gold sunset slivers disappeared behind the blue-grey hills on the far horizon as his pushed the throttle forward and eased little Porcupine out into the broad Breede river.

Gulls wheeled noisily overhead, their keening cries eerie in the twilight. The twin lighthouses blinked on either side of the bay. Sam pushed the throttle forward another notch against the growing sea swell. He ran his work-roughened hands around the little boat’s steering wheel and set his course along the coast, inhaling the sharp sea air.

Sam had grown up in Manenberg on the Cape Flats. Life had been hard there; it still was. But he’d escaped. He’d had to. On the run from members of an opposing gang, he’d got on the road and hitched up the West Coast. He’d slept rough; got work, casual stuff; then things started to look up. He’d found a broken-down little boat one day when he was exploring the shoreline for salvage. Slowly he’d fixed it up with the help of a retired engineer called Johannes, who spent his days giving advice and watching the activity in Laaiplek harbour.

Sam and Porcupine made a great team. He’d brought the little boat back to life and now she gave him safe shelter and a means to make a living from the bounty of the ocean. Tonight he was fishing for octopus, which is best done at night with a lamp and a little can of vegetable oil to make a window in the waves. He rounded the coast to his favourite cove and dropped anchor.

Night came quickly, and within half an hour Sam had two good-sized octopuses in his bucket. He shifted a little on the makeshift perch of his old sleeping blanket, propping his back against the wheelhouse. Sam had been busy helping out in the harbour all day and he was tired. Lulled by the bobbing boat, he slipped away into a glorious slumber.

Sam was startled by the sound of voices. Someone was on the boat.

‘Concentrate,’ said the first.

‘I am concentrating,’ said the second.

Sam held up the lamp. ‘Who’s there?’ He turned around sharply. He walked around the deck, peering out into the inky ocean. He heard them again.

‘Over he-re,’ the voice said in a sing-song voice.

‘Over he-re,’ joined in the second voice in a deeper tone.

Sam spun around. Where were the voices coming from?

‘Coo-e,” the first voice called out.

Suddenly a jet of water spurted out of the bucket wetting Sam’s feet. A tentacle waved at him. ‘Coo-e.’ It waved again.

Sam crouched down by the bucket. The two octopus heads bobbed up, their eyes fastened upon his. ‘What the…?’ Each of them winked at him. ‘No!” Sam stood up and took a step backwards. More tentacles appeared, waving at him. Sam shook his head.

‘Let us go!’

‘Please, mister fisherman!’

Sam approached the bucket again. He squatted down. ‘No man. Fish don’t talk.’

‘We’re not fish,’ said the first voice indignantly.

‘We’re cephalopods.’

Sam rubbed his eyes; he pinched himself.

‘You’re not dreaming, you know.’ A tentacle extended towards Sam’s arm and prodded him gently.

‘Tip us out and let us go,’ sang the first voice.

‘And lots of treasure you will know,’ sang the second.

Very slowly Sam picked up the bucket and stepped over to the side of the boat. As the two octopuses slid into the sea, a huge wave broke over the boat, knocking Sam flat on the deck. The bucket landed next to him with a clatter. Porcupine bobbed about like a cork, and suddenly dozens of octopuses appeared above the waves. As Sam tried to find his feet, a vast tentacle reached onto the deck and grabbed the bucket, swiping Sam across the head and knocking him out cold.

When Sam awoke the sun was shining. His head ached. Gingerly he felt the back of his skull. He’d obviously had a nasty knock, but what had happened? He sat up slowly, trying to remember. He’d heard voices; someone on the boat? Sam’s brow furrowed. Something glinting in the sunlight caught his eye.

His fishing bucket was full of shiny objects. He reached out and dragged it over towards him. The bucket was brimming over with gold coins like a hoard of pirate treasure.

©2019 Chris Hall


This happy little tale was partly prompted by two of Teresa’s 3TC’s

https://thehauntedwordsmith.wordpress.com/2019/01/03/three-things-challenge-2019-3/
river, sunset, safe

https://thehauntedwordsmith.wordpress.com/2019/01/04/three-things-challenge-2019-4/
pirate, night, porcupine

…and partly from my recent trip up the coast to Laaiplek.

And if you were wondering about the plural of octopus: https://www.grammarly.com/blog/octopi-octopuses/

Hope you enjoyed that. I rather like Sam and Porcupine. Maybe they should have some more adventures?