“Don’t let your brothers come home by the new road, Nino,” her mother-in-law begged in the morning. The night before, Nino’s brother and a kinsman had come to her house very late, too drunk to walk the rest of the way home. Her mother-in-law was visiting them for the weekend. She was a quiet woman, not the interfering sort at all. So Nino was alarmed when she made her request.
“Why Mother?” she asked, “Why not the new road? As you know it is shorter, and it is broader so when they are so drunk, they are surely safer on that road.”
“It is not a good road, Nino.”
“Why Mother? Won’t you tell why? Is it a spirit thing?
Nino knew the only way to get anything out of the old woman was to badger her about it.
“Yes, that is it. But don’t ask me more.”
“But they will want to know why. They won’t just accept it if I tell them they are not to go by the new road.”
“Alright then, I will tell you but mind you don’t let the children know about this.”
“Oh Mother, don’t you trust me?”
“The first night they came home late I was so troubled, and I could not sleep at all. There were spirits of the road that had followed them home and they troubled me the whole night. You remember I left a little before dawn? Well, there were several of them and some were winged. Those were the most troublesome. I was exhausted from trying to chase them away and I dozed off. Still they kept brushing my face with their wings, wings light as a moth’s, soft and fuzzy. I woke every time and pushed them away but they kept coming back. They do that to the ones who know them. But last night was very different. Your brothers must have drunk a great deal because the spirits were drunk too, and they were not harmless as spirits of the house are. The spirits of the new road that followed them home were mean and malicious. I am sure they are the new breed of spirits that people have been talking about.”
“Did you not hear them knock over the water pitcher? Did you think that was the cat? In my village, a man ran into them and he died horribly. He was found the next morning, he had been bleeding from his nose and his mouth, dead by the village gate. We couldn’t bury him in the village, you know, because that kind of death is considered abominable, and we always bury such people beyond the village gate. That is what happened to that man. And last night I heard the vicious talk of those same spirits. I stayed very quiet and after some time, they left when your brother’s friend opened the door to answer the call of nature.”
“You would not know that people in the village never open their doors at night after nine, would you? You live in the town and have forgotten the ways of the village. But the spirits never forget, they are the same whether they are in the village or in the town. If you are late going home, they follow behind you, and when the door is opened to you, they enter the house with you. And then they plague you the whole night. Don’t you recall sometimes being woken from deep slumber by the sound of a pot falling to the wooden floor with a loud clang? That is the work of spirits. They wake you, and when you go to the kitchen you find that there is nothing there. Nothing is on the floor and you wonder if you really heard it.”
“Some other times they wake you but you feel too lazy to get up and see, and you think maybe it was the cat, and you turn over and go to sleep again only to hear another loud clang from the kitchen like people coming to work in the house and you wonder if it is morning yet, and you look out the window but it is still night. That is what it is, Nino, if you open your door they follow you inside. The most dangerous spirits are the river spirits, and I have wondered if they had brought one home last night. I dozed and I saw a very beautiful woman in the room. She was so beautiful I could not find words to describe her. And whilst I gazed on her, I felt a cold breath on my cheek and I woke suddenly! The air in the room was so moist as though someone had splashed river water into it. And I smelt the river mud smell of the river spirits long after the cold had gone from the room. You must warn them not to come by the new road again.”
Nino knew her mother-in-law was not lying because she was a strange soul, Kezha’s mother. People said she had the gift, meaning she could see spirits and even communicate with them.
Later that night she heard her brother’s voice hissing her name. It was late, very,very late, much later than the previous night. She pulled her quilt over her head and would not go to the door.
“Nino, open up please,” he was whispering loudly and knocking on the window. Nino struggled to quell her feelings of pity for her brother. After five minutes, she heard them talking.
“Guess she’s sleeping too heavily tonight,” said the first voice.
“Let’s go to Akru’s then,” said the second voice. She heard a heavy shuffling of feet on her porch and her heart turned over within her, but she could not risk the children being harmed. Her brother and his friend were too irresponsible. Let itgo, she thought to herself, tomorrow when they have slept off their drunkenness I will tell them.
The village headman found them the next morning. The two men were lying side by side, their eyes wide open and no longer seeing, the petrified looks on their faces testifying to the fury of the spirits of the new road. They were both buried beyond the village gate because it was a spirit induced death. No one wanted to invite the same fate upon themselves by bringing the luckless pair inside the gate.
“There were hundreds of spear marks on their bodies,” said the headman. “It is the work of the spirits of the road, they are known to kill in this manner.” Everyone agreed with him. But Nino was inconsolable. “If only I had opened the door, none of this would have happened,” she cried over and over.
“Hush daughter, hush,” her mother-in-law cautioned. “What if you had opened the door and they had taken the children as well? If grown men could not withstand the fury of the spirits, how could the children hope to escape?”