As was the case every night since it happened, Andrew’s mind wandered back to that fateful day six years before. The images flashed into memory, dragging and pulling, until he was sucked into never ending darkness.
“Quick Sipho, come!”
Sipho forced his eyes open and stared at Andrew’s frantic face.
“The council has made their ruling. Philemon is guilty, Sipho! Guilty!”
Sipho’s head jerked up, and he tumbled out of his makeshift bed before grabbing a shirt and his trusty panga. With the large knife in hand, he ran out of the one room shack he built with his own hands.
“This is big news. News that would almost certainly divide the township,” he gasped the words as his feet pummelled the ground. “But, I know whose side I’m on. There’s no way Philemon did this thing—no way!”
They pushed their legs to breaking point as they sped past deserted shacks and shops without noticing their eerie emptiness. The local Shebeen, usually packed full of drunk punters, stood empty, bottles of abandoned homebrew lining the tables. Next to Sipho, Andrew kept pace, clutching his camera to his chest.
In the distance the faint smell of smoke and petrol carried in the wind. Sipho scowled before slowing to a dead stop.
“It’s a necklacing!” he shook his head in disbelief. When Andrew stared at him in confusion he added, “I’ve only seen it once before, when I was very little. The sight has never left my sleep.”
Andrew assumed he meant it caused him to have nightmares, and he excitedly followed close behind his guide.
They arrived at the scene in time to see the inDuna push Philemon into the public square. The town’s people stood separated into two distinct groups. Andrew immediately started snapping photos, his camera clicking in a frenzy to cement the moment. After a while he felt Sipho’s eyes on him, and turned to meet his gaze.
“Was taking photos of a man being murdered part of your assignment to capture Africa?” he asked, his voice trembling. “You must get out of here, Hamba hamba! Go.” He waved his hands, attempting to shoo Andrew away.
“Are you kidding? I would never be able to experience something like this again. A close encounter with the public outcry against a murder accused.”
“This will not be an outcry, Andrew. By the end of today, Philemon will be dead.”
Andrew flashed an incredulous smile. “Come one. This is the 21st century. Public executions have long been a thing of the past.”
Sipho grabbed his arm and dragged him to the side. “Get your head out of the camera! You see that?” he pointed to a group of young men drenching a car tire in gasoline. “They’re getting ready to kill him.”
“But he’s innocent. He was with you on the night of the murder,” Andrew smirked.
Sipho took a step back and fixed his gaze on Andrew. “When this crowd ignites, you better find some place to hide.”
Andrew stared at the young man in front of him. He had only known him for a few weeks, but had grown to trust him. He’d been Andrew’s guide through tumultuous Africa. In another week, Andrew’s photographic assignment on the continent would be over—he couldn’t pass up an opportunity like this.
“Look Sipho, my friend. I’ve been to Afghanistan, Iran. Heck, I’ve even travelled to Alaska to snap baby seals getting clubbed. This is what I do!” He placed a comforting hand on his guide’s shoulder. “Whatever happens here today, I promise you, I’ve seen worse.”
Those were the last words he said to Sipho, and they were a lie. Now, six years later, he could still feel the fire on his skin, smell the smoke as it infiltrated his nostrils and caused him to choke and heave.
Since that day, Andrew had spent countless hours trying to forget. But, the screaming was scorched into his brain. The glazed eyes forever imprinted on his memory. After all, it is not often one comes face to face with the devil. To have the misfortune of staring into his darkness while he takes over people’s minds and hearts. That’s how he explained what he saw, unable to reconcile the cruelty of that day with human behaviour.
He had never been back to Africa, or Afghanistan, or Iran, and had stopped trying to convince others that he saw a people possessed. In silence he struggles with the nightmares that haunt him, and pray that he never falls prey to the darkness he now knew lurked within us all.
- Necklacing is a brutal execution style that seems to have originated in the Cape area in South Africa in the 1980’s.
- This story is an adaptation of a tale relayed to me by an old African lady I met many years ago.