At her age, you will think it is the age of awareness. But not Rosa. At 12, she is not about to start taking risks that might take a few seconds to accumulate and months and money to do away with. She eyed the black cat that just emerged from the left side of the underbrushes heading towards the right with trepidation.
She turned around and walked back about 20 percent of the route she had come, holding a book borrowed from a classmate two days ago. After mustering courage and repeating to herself aloud to the chagrin of a home-going middle-aged woman carrying a pan and machete that prevention is always better than cure which drew a scrutinizing gaze from the woman. She was even contemplating postponing her journey for the next day for there Is no wisdom in taking preventable risks.
“why me?” ta that rhetorical question was after a hurried Hail Mary and crossing herself for the third time. She hurried to be just home-going home going lady right at the spot the cat had emerged. She heard that bad luck only follows the person that crossed the spot first after the appearance of the black cat. About three feet away from the woman, so he stopped once more and eyed the lady well wondering exactly the spot she had seen the lady for the first time. She was taken a comprehensive record of what the woman is wearing. None was black so she can't the cat.
Meanwhile, the gap between her and the woman was increasing, she hurried to close the gap while making sure she was just behind the lady until they crosses the spot the cat had emerged.
The sound of her running feet drew the woman’s attention who turned around to eye her once more from head to toe after assuring herself that all is well with the kid she was wondering where she had seen the face before, she stopped and asked: “What is the matter with you, why are you behaving like a lost soul?”
“ How do you mean lost soul?”
“ Why are you running like a person being pursued by spirits?”
“ When had it become a sin for one to exercise herself in this town?”
“ don't answer me in that tune or I will start my own exercise on you now?”
“ Are you threatening me?- you crazy?”
“ Alright, pass and be in front. I don’t like mad people doing exercise behind me whether they are carrying books or weapon”
That utterance made Rosa fear of the woman to return. She eyed the lady again, searching her memory on all the stories she have heard about black cats and witches from her grandmother and teachers to know if when cats turned into human, they wear different color of dress from the color of the cat.
Her grandmother has two white cats herself, she had told her one day when she had enquired to know why she has two white cats and not brown or black color. The story that followed from her grandmother on her innocent query had embedded itself into her memory for five years now. She told her about what happened in the neighboring village when she was about her age.
Mrs. chike a woman of about 45 years had married with four kids. She had lived with her husband happily in the small house they call theirs for about 15 years until a black cat came into their lives one Saturday morning to start what will late terminate the lives of the couple. The woman was accused of possessing magical powers to turn into black cats to harm and kill people and to bring bad lucks.
How she had acquired the wicked powers when asked by the villagers, she refused to confess. She maintained that she was surprised by the questions she was being asked. She claimed not even to be aware that such powers exist in this world. There had been many deaths attributed to hunger and other diseases all over the town until that cat incident and all those deaths and more were added to the sin of the woman. The mysterious black cat will appear at times near her house in the evenings mostly and after she had fed it, the cat will turn around and head back to wherever it was it came from.
Mrs. Chike seems to have known when it will come and usually wait for the cat to show up and never failed to keep food for it no matter how little. To think that that year was a bad one in terms of poor harvest and food being too scarce that many were dying of hunger. To be worried about the cat was what made many suspects that the story behind the witch tale might be true.
“ Imagine that act. How should she be feeding cats when humans are dying of hunger every minute?”
That was like most gossip following that period. They did not fail to noticed from her husband’s tale that at times the woman would serve the cat first before attending to her husband. The husband doesn’t even know where the cats usually comes from. Their life had continued for months without hitch until her husband fall sick and story started.
The man had told those that came to see him that he suspected his illness to be witchcraft attack. The villagers had summons the woman to explain her part in the illness. According to the man, his suspicion was aroused one evening when he had returned from burial with some foods shared there. His wife had been in the kitchen when the cat came into the compound as usual. He had innocently cut some of the food he returned with and given to the cat.
When a wife came out and saw the cat eating from the ground, her reaction surprised the husband. “never for any reason place food on the bare floor for the cat and never, never feed it from the food gotten from any burial. Do I make myself clear?”
The husband had been moping at her with mouth open and filing away that outburst. Months later when he fall sick, he concluded that it was the wife behind it. “I suspect that she was the one behind the deaths of those people she never wanted that cat to be fed from the foods that came from there”
He told the villagers that he was healthy until he came out to ease himself one evening and there was the same cat at the door eyeing him like a human. He had ignored it. A few hours later, his illness started. He said he had asked the wife where and who the owner of the cat was and all he got from her was: The Poor Wild Cat. Most elders and the youths picked the matter up from there and those that lost their loved ones even years before hunger and the cat added the names of their lost ones to the witchcraft list.
The woman had told them that their accusations were funny to her ears. She claimed that her actions towards the poor wild cat were just pity and nothing more. The villagers had laid an ambush for the cat and killed it while waiting for their actions to manifest in the woman. After waiting for half a month without results, they went for the lady again.
Questions and answers started again. The elders added bad harvest, and miscarriages to her sins, and the lady were burnt alive. After four days after her death, her husband that had made a significant recovery died after being visited by some elders. Both were buried together. They believed that the man is carrying a curse and needed to join his wife.
Rosa recalled too that her teacher had come with the opposite of the tale her grandmother had told her. “ why are the people of this town don’t allow black cats in the town at this age?” she had queried them after being refused to enter the town with her black cat.
She eyed the farm woman again and turned back to return home. When the lady continued her homeward journey, she turned once more rushing to close the gap. And when they had crossed the exact spot she saw the cat, she took off and overtake the woman.
She was telling her classsmate about the cat and woman ordeal and how she is sure both are the same when the compound gate opened and the same farm woman entered. On seeing her, Rosa jumped on top of her friend holding her with death-like was a screaming witch, witch at the top of her voice. The woman was surprised too to see the mad girl in her compound with her daughter. She smiled as she put two and two together.