Bendigo is a boy with albinism who is being chased by a witchdoctor who wants to kill him to use his body to make a medicine (this is a practice that happens in Africa). The story takes place in Bristol, England. The follwoing scene introduces the voice of Afolabi, the witchdoctor for the first time:
The man, known by different names, and right then as Afolabi, kicked at the grit on the road. One month ago, dressed in his skins, feathers and beads, he’d beaten on his drums, fallen into a trance and called upon his ancestors. They’d told him the whereabouts of this boy through a dream: he lives in a cold land, near a river, in a tall building. And Afolabi had tracked him down to Bristol.
In Africa, he stole boys like this one all the time, and he hadn’t expected the chase to prove so difficult: the day had started well but he’d lost the boy amongst the throngs of parents and children as they’d poured out of school. Patience, he reminded himself, is all that’s needed. But it was hard to be uncomplaining when he missed his collection of magical objects, his wooden staff, his wife and child and the warmth of the African sun. Lots of little things he took for granted, like hot tea, came into his mind. When he got home, he’d remember to be more appreciative; he didn’t take to life on the road.
Would his ancestors help him find the boy again? he wondered.
He stepped inside an empty bus shelter and set about turning it into a sacred space: an imsam. First, he placed a drop of infused herbs upon the tip of his tongue, then he chanted under his breath in a language handed down through generations of his family, and finally he sprinkled a handful of the imphepho plant around his feet which he ground with the toes of his shoes. Using a piece of chalk, he drew a circle and dropped a handful of goat bones upon the ground. He smiled; it made him happy to practice his skills. The message came speedily through the formation of the bones – three in the shape of a ladder, two on top of one another, and a single – The boy is near. Look upward. The wind helped too for it swirled about Afolabi’s head and gave him encouragement to do the task.
Then he saw him: a white human shape at the third floor window of the tower block.
At last, just when he was beginning to think he’d lost his touch, he’d found the ghost boy.
Afolabi remembered how once, many years ago, he’d almost snatched this very boy on a dirt track close to his home. The boy would have been about four years old. It was the boy’s grandmother who’d saved him. She’d come running from her village, hands flailing, and scratched at Afolabi’s cheeks until finally, desperately, she’d grappled the boy free. The shame of that failure still haunted him.
With that thought, the chattering and drumming noises inside his head grew louder and he told himself he would not lose the boy again. This time it would go well. There was no other way.
He mimed the words of a song – All of the lights – and wished he could put in his earphones to listen to some energising music, like Kanye West, for company. From his childhood years, he knew no good came from solitude. But there’d be no music; his ears must be used for listening.
Then the boy was on the street. Afolbai took a second to compose himself before he pounced. Once he had hold of the boy, he spoke to tell only his name and his purpose. Slippery and determined, the boy somehow broke free. But Afolabi was fast and grabbed him again. This time his arms encircled the boy, tighter, tighter. The eyes of a passing man bore into him, but one look from Afolabi seemed to scare him away. A woman, who knew better, crossed to the other side of the road. Either a driver hoped to frighten him off by sounding his horn or else he intended to get out of his car. While Afolabi focussed only on keeping the boy in his grip, the driver had done enough to distract him. With a sudden movement the boy wrenched away. He must have known what he was doing for he quickly disappeared.
Then everything inside Afolabi’s head began to tell him he was useless. Soon, very soon, he heard the voices say, he would lose the trust of his ancestors. He must do better. His eyes darted about but he knew it was hopeless. The boy had definitely vanished. He couldn’t be sure, but he guessed he’d most likely gone back inside his tower block. There was the option of breaking in but this might draw the wrong sort of attention. The last thing he needed was to be accused of burglary when he was a visitor in a foreign country. No, it was best to wait for another chance. For surely one would come soon.
Afolabi headed for a bus shelter on the opposite side of the road and with fingers as cold as death huddled inside to watch and wait. Quiet, absorbed, he let the minutes tick on. What would the boy do? If he didn’t show in the next half an hour, he decided, then he’d risk a break-in after all.
The time was almost up when the boy stepped outside, carrying a bag like he was going away. Thankful for his lithe body, Afolabi made hardly a sound as he followed after him. One wrong turn took him down a blind alley. Mistakes, more mistakes. Using every last bit of his instinct, he turned left and caught sight of the boy again.
Perfect! He’d stopped at an empty house. Such solitude suited Afolabi’s purpose well.
All the tension lifted as he drew in his breath and crept up on the boy.
It was only a few steps along a broken path way but Afolabi became distracted by the smell of dust and decay along with the stench of … cat! He closed his eyes, hoping he was wrong, but when he opened them again the animal was staring straight at him. He felt the burning sensation in his eyes before the cat had even moved. He was concerned, but not too disabled that he couldn’t twist the boy’s arms behind his back. He knew this area and it wouldn’t take him long to march the boy to where he needed him to be. But he was sweating from every pore, struggling to breath.
Then pain. Claws. Blood.