Chapter One – Bendigo
At first Bendigo didn’t notice him; the man at the bus stop. He might never have seen him except the man craned his neck and his gaze seemed to settle on Bendigo’s window. Even from a distance, he could tell the man was African; he had a way of knowing, an instinct he’d polished since a child. Bendigo told himself not to worry. The man was a nobody. There were no signs he was anything else – no robe, no bark necklace, no feathered hat. And yet …
Suddenly, Bristol vanished from his mind to be replaced by thoughts of his African childhood. Even the aerobatic display of a murder of crows outside seemed to mirror the dusty swirl of dark African earth. His head filled with the sound of his father shouting to his mother: this child will bring us bad luck, you’ve been unfaithful. He remembered how back in the days when she could still lift him, his mother had put him on her shoulders and they’d run for their lives, ending up in shelters in the city. Theirs had been a life of hiding from the sun and the daily threat.
He wasn’t homesick. How could he be?
Bendigo checked his watch. His mother was late. Usually he looked forward to this time. They’d talk about work and school, though he left out the nasty bits, until his mother’s eyes grew too tired to stay open. But that day he hoped she’d been offered a double shift and wouldn’t come home until the man had gone.
From behind the curtains, Bendigo peered around.
Good. His fear had come to nothing. The man was nowhere to be seen. Probably caught his bus and disappeared into the gloom. To prove he was no longer afraid, Bendigo took the stairs three at a time and ran onto the street. Although he wore his strongest glasses, his eyes darted about, pained from the weak sun and suddenly unable to focus. From behind a road sign a shape stepped out. Bendigo pulled back into the shadows of the tall buildings that surrounded him. ‘Who’s there?’ As his eyes adjusted, he recoiled. It was him, the man from the bus shelter. He didn’t need to look any closer to know he’d seen him before. His eyes, his expression, his long fingernails and most importantly his bracelet of yellow beads, these were all painfully familiar to Bendigo.
When two large hands came towards him, Bendigo felt panic rise in his throat. This was unreal, terrifying. His legs and arms felt like useless bits of flesh, unable to move him to safety. He stared at the passers-by, hoping someone would stop to help, but no one did. Were they afraid of the way he looked? Or was it that they had no idea this man was capable of murder? One stab of a knife, one poisonous arrow, one click of a gun, that’s all it would take for his life to be over. The next moment the hands closed over Bendigo’s mouth and his throat began to tighten.
‘They call me Afolabi.’ The man spat the words and Bendigo smelt something strange and pungent on his breath. ‘It means born in wealth and high status. This is the name you must remember at the moment of your death.’
With those words, Bendigo felt the last trace of hope he’d get out of this alive drain away.
The man continued, ‘You will come with me. I need your legs. Your eyes. Your skin. Your tongue. Your ears. Your blood. You are the magic one. The white one. An outcast. Born to die. The ancestral spirits have sent me to you and when the light of the moon fills the sky I will take what I need to make muti ‘
Muti! Bendigo had heard that word many times before: potion or medicine. He wanted to protest but pinched his lips together. He wanted to hit out but his anger was useless against a man like this. Sorcery, the occult. The danger he thought he’d left behind in Tanzania, in the remoteness of his village, had finally followed him to Bristol!
Chapter Two – Bendigo
At the sound of a car’s horn, the grip around Bendigo’s neck momentarily loosened. He seized his chance and pulled away. The man grabbed him again, saying, ‘You will need to run faster than a cheetah to out pace me.’ But Bendigo moved his feet in a sort of dance: spinning, skimming, side-stepping and stuttering. Confused, the man stumbled, and Bendigo crashed through the crowds.
With his ears ringing, he slammed the door to his flat and snatched up his phone. But when he went to dial the police, his finger wavered. If he alerted them, what would they do? They weren’t familiar with these kinds of crimes. The man would be slippery too. He’d find a way to finish what he’d set out to do. And if he couldn’t get to Bendigo, he’d go after his mother.
His mind raced: He’d need to hide. Wait for the man to grow weary of the chase.
Grabbing his Adidas holdall, Bendigo threw in some things: his eye drops, his tube of sunblock, a toothbrush and toothpaste, his bottles of pills, thick socks, a few clothes and bottles of water to tide him over. His hand hovered over his phone, but he knew he couldn’t take it with him. He made room for the lump of granite his grandmother had given him instead. It came from the shores of Lake Victoria and she swore it had once been blessed by an ancient king. It was Bendigo’s most precious possession. Then, using a special technique, he tugged at the broken zip of his bag.
A gust of wind rattled the window and Bendigo stopped, his arm mid air. Had the man scaled the building and come for him? Stop being such an idiot, he told himself. As he edged across the room, he knocked over a photograph. It was the one where he stood next to his grandmother outside her mud hut in their village of Karumo. Strange that he’d only just been thinking about her. In the picture, she posed in her floral wrap around skirt while he wore an oversized sun-hat. Although it had been many years ago, he could still remember the words she spoke before he left Africa