By Lawrence Kadzitche
For the past ten years, Primo Phiri, the houseboy they called PP had worked faithfully for John Tsetekani, owner of the biggest store at Kamwendo Trading Centre in Mchinji. And every night of the last of those ten years, he had watched the box churn out money for Tsetekani.
A year ago, due to Tsetekani’s failing health; PP was made to sleep in the shop as extra security apart from the guards outside. That is when PP first saw the box. Made of dark brown wood, it was small, with coiled snakes engraved on the sides.
It was the strange sound that he heard every night from an adjacent room that led him to the box. The room was always locked and nobody went in except Tsetekani. The sound, which was barely audible, was like that of a drone of bees in flight.
At first he ignored the sound. It was not his business to poke his nose into the private affairs of his employer. But as time went on, his curiosity began to grow. It grew and grew up to a point where he decided to find out.
There was a crack on top of the wall of the room. One night, when the sound started, he took a chair, climbed on it and peered into the room through the crack.
Although PP did not know what to expect, he was not prepared for what he saw. Sitting on a stool, still as a statute, his eyes glued on a box, was his employer. And out of the box, money was rolling out. It was gushing out like water out of a fountain, littering the floor like leaves during the dry season.
PP stared and stared at the money, transfixed like Tsetekani. After what seemed like eternity, Tsetekani raised his hand and the muffled trail of sound stopped as the box halted coughing out the money. It was only then that PP managed to take his eyes off the money.
From that night, every other night, the houseboy watched as the box made money for his master. When he went to bed, sleep would elude him as he tossed on his mat, his mind working overtime imagining how rich he would become if he ever owned that box.
He sometimes thought of stealing the box but somehow never got the strength to do it. So for a year, every night, he stared at the box with an aching heart, tossing in bed with increasing frustration.
Towards the end of the year, Tsetekani’s health grew worse. PP was alarmed. If Tsetekani died, the box would obviously go to his heirs. Once that happened, the box would definitely be out of his reach. He needed to act now if he wanted it. He had to steal it before it was too late.
He was still planning how to steal the box when Tsetekani suddenly died. PP could no longer steal the box as mourners had already flooded the house.
PP wept bitterly. Not for his employer of ten years. But for the opportunity he had wasted for the past year.
When he was viewing the body, he was surprised to see the box in the coffin. At first he could not believe his eyes. Why were his eyes playing such a cruel trick on him? No one in his right mind would bury such a priceless box. His eyes were definitely deceiving him.
He should have been staring at the box for too long for someone nudged him to move on. Satisfied that the box was indeed in the coffin, he walked away, his heart beating fast with excitement. But what was the money making box was doing in the coffin?
Discreetly, he found out that it was Tsetekani’s death wish that he be buried together with the box. And his relatives were simply carrying out his wishes.
The houseboy’s spirits rose. So providence had decreed that he should take possession of the box. Obviously no one else knew the value of the box otherwise they would never have accepted to bury such a valuable item.
As the coffin was being lowered into the grave, PP felt buoyant. For Tsetekani, this was the end. Dust to dust. Ash to ash. To him, it was the beginning of a great life. He would soon be as rich as his employer had been. He could already see himself behind the counter of a big shop, watching his shop assistants serve customers.
Come midnight, PP went back to the graveyard. Using a shovel and hoe, he began opening the grave. Although the full moon and cool night made working easier, PP soon realized what a difficult task unearthing a grave was. But greed urged him on, giving him strength to work indefatigably.
His shovel scraped against wood. He had reached the coffin. He took a small torch out of the back pocket and turned it on. Quickly removing the screws, he opened the coffin using the shovel as a lever.
The box was exactly where he had seen it that afternoon. He picked it carefully the way one does with an infant and hugged it reverently. He was now rich. The idea of owning a store was no longer a dream but a reality. All those girls that had looked down upon him would now be chasing after him eager to be the wife of a rich shopkeeper. He actually allowed himself the pleasure of letting out a wet chuckle.
The houseboy climbed out of the grave. He hesitated, wondering whether he should close the grave out of respect to his former employer. That’s when he heard the unearthly shriek right behind him.
PP whirled and came face to face with a figure in black. Its fleshless face gleamed in the moonlight. Then he saw something else; the raised knife in the apparition’s hands.
Fear choked him, making his heart stop and start racing. He shrieked as the knife was driven into his chest and then collapsed to the ground still clutching the box. The last thing he sensed before he died was the attacker’s hand picking his body and letting the blood spew into the box.
The strange figure, dressed in animal skins, let go of PP’s lifeless body. Then it removed its skull looking like mask to reveal an evil looking wrinkled face.
“He’s dead. You can come, madam,” the man’s voice grated.
A middle-aged woman dressed in mourning garb appeared. “Was this really necessary, ng’anga?” she asked in a shrill voice.
“Absolutely, Mrs. Tsetekani,” the witchdoctor said. “The relic needs nourishment if it is to continue making money. This has been very convenient. It has saved us the trouble of having to look for a person to sacrifice.”
“Will the box need another sacrifice when I die?” Mrs. Tsetekani asked softly.
“The box must be fed with human blood every time it changes hands to rejuvenate it,” said the witchdoctor, a ghastly smile on his face. “Blood is life, you know.”
Mrs. Tsetekani stared at PP’s body. “He was a good boy. I’ll make sure he gets a decent burial when people discover his body tomorrow. He should’ve loved his master so much to come to the point of committing suicide at his grave.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll leave the corpse in such a way that that shall be the only plausible explanation,” said the witchdoctor.