Matu peered into the dark gaps between the shacks as he made his way down the dirt road. It was late and the shanty town had quietened down for the night. The new moon offered little light.
As he passed a house something clattered on the corrugated roof. Matu stopped. The bucket of toilet waste he carried sloshed. Nothing else moved and after a moment he started walking again.
“You’re just jumping at shadows,” he whispered under his breath.
The sound of his voice offered some comfort. Then he heard a stone skittering and the fear returned. It had come from behind the row of shacks to his right. He decided to ignore it; probably just a wild dog. Head down he continued following the slope towards the sewer.
Suddenly there was a hand on his shoulder. Matu jump, nearly losing his grip on the handle of the bucket. He turned to see what it was.
“Scared you!” The beaming face of his friend Zarif looked back at him.
“No,” Matu steadied his voice. “No you didn’t. I knew it was you.”
“Did you think it was the Ahtog, come to drag you off to its den?”
Matu straightened his back and tried to force his heart to stop beating so loud in his chest. “Now you’re being stupid. Everyone knows the Ahtog is just a story. I’m not a child anymore. I’m a man now.”
His friend grinned and glanced down at the bucket. “Not man enough that your mother doesn’t make you take the shit out at night.”
Matu pointed to the bucket Zarif held. “You’re no different.”
“Yeah, well. It won’t be for long now. Soon I’ll be earning money in the city.” He stepped around Matu and started walking. “You coming or you going to stand there all night and wait for the Ahtog to get you?”
“Why do you still believe in that thing?” Matu asked as he caught up with his friend.
“’Cause it’s true. Didn’t you hear about that baby that got taken last week? That was the Ahtog.”
“Yeah, right.” Matu looked at the other boy. “Next you’ll be saying it killed that woman who went missing.”
“That was her boyfriend.” Matu was on safe ground now. He knew this fact for sure. “Kamau told me the other day. Apparently she’d been cheating on him.”
“That’s what they want you to think because they know you scare easily. Everyone knows that.”
Matu hoped that was not true. It had been years since he had woken from a nightmare. “No they don’t. There is no Ahtog but if you want to keep believing it ..”
He was interrupted by a loud bark from behind a hut. Both boys stopped and glanced around; their eyes wide. When nothing else followed they continued their walk. Neither of them said another word until they reached the open sewer that wound through the shanty town.
Zarif threw the contents of his bucket at the stream. There was a series of splashes. Matu chose to empty his more carefully.
“Hold on,” Matu told his friend. “I need to go.”
He placed the empty bucket on the ground in front of him and slid his shorts down. Zarif began poking through a pile of rubbish near the edge of the thick slow flowing stream. Neither boy spoke.
Matu finished and was about to stand up when something brushed against his skin. For a second he froze, then with a cry he leapt forward, pulling up his shorts as he ran. Zarif took flight as well.
A few meters up the road both boys stopped.
“What was it?” Zarif asked.
“Something .. Something touched me,” Matu struggled to get the words out. It felt like his heart was stuck in his throat. “Something reached out of the water.”
Zarif became suspicious. “Are you making it up, ‘cause I’m not scared.”
“No! There was something in there. It tried to grab me.” There was no doubting the sincerity in his voice.
“We should just go home then. Maybe the Ahtog is down there.”
“I … I can’t. I left the bucket.”
Slowly both boys turned back towards the sewer. In the faint light the surface glistened. Nothing else moved.
“Go get it then,” Zarif said.
Matu did not move.
“Okay, we’ll both go.” Zarif took a step forward and his friend followed.
The bucket was still sat where it had been left. There was nothing else to be seen. Matu took two quick steps and grabbed the handle. He was about to retreat when his friend stopped him.
“Look! There!” Zarif pointed at the flow of waste.
Something protruded out of the dark sludge. There was not enough light to see what it was. When it showed no sign of moving Zarif grabbed a bent metal pole from the rubbish pile and gingerly approached.
“Be careful,” Matu told him.
“It’s okay,” Zarif replied. “I think it’s dead.”
Matu could not see what his friend was doing, but after a moment the Zarif gave a bark of laughter.
“What is it?” Matu started to edge forward.
“Come look. If you’re not too scared that is.”
Matu gathered himself and went to stand next to his friend. Now that he was closer he could see what the thing was.
“Yeah. Not some creature come to get you while you were shitting.” Zarif gave the limb a nudge away from the bank with his pole and it moved off downstream. Then he stood up. “I said you scare easily.”
“I don’t,” Matu snapped back. “You ran as well.”
“Only ‘cause you were. I wasn’t the one scared by an arm.” He gave another short laugh and turned away. “I’m going to tell everyone tomorrow.”
“No you’re not, because I wasn’t scared of it.”
Both boys headed back up the slope, arguing with each other as their buckets swung by their sides.
20 November 2009
Thursday was World Toilet Day. Run by The World Toilet Organisation this event aims to raise the awareness of the lack of sanitation and the effect this can have on people’s lives.
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