"I've gone to see the sing'anga, and whoever ate that gum will soon be sorry." The sing'anga was the witch doctor.
I'd swallowed the gum long before. Now the sweet, lingering memory of it soured into poison on my tongue. I began to sweat; my heart was beating fast. Without anyone seeing, I ran into the blue gum grove behind my house, leaned against a tree, and tried to make myself clean. I spit and hocked, shoved my finger into my throat, anything to rid my body of the curse. I came up dry. A bit of saliva colored the leaves at my feet, so I covered them with dirt.
But then, as if a dark cloud had passed over the sun, I felt the great eye of the wizard watching me through the trees. I'd eaten his juju and now his darkness owned me. That night, the witches would come for me in my bed. They'd take me aboard their planes and force me to fight, leaving me for dead along the magic battlefields. And as my soul drifted alone and forsaken above the clouds, my body would be cold by morning. A fear of death swept over me like a fever.
I began crying so hard I couldn't move my legs. The tears ran hot down my face, and as they did, the smell of poison filled my nose. It was everywhere inside me. I fled the forest as fast as possible, trying to get away from the giant magic eye. I ran all the way home to where my father sat against the house, plucking a pile of maize. I wanted to throw my body under his, so he could protect me from the devil.
"It was me," I said, the tears drowning my words. "I ate the stolen gum. I don't want to die, Papa. Don't let them take me!"
My father looked at me for a second, then shook his head.
"It was you, eh?" he said, then kind of smiled.
Didn't he realize I was done for?
"Well," he said, and rose from the chair. His knees popped whenever he stood. My father was a big man. "Don't worry. I'll find this trader and explain. I'm sure we can work out something."
That afternoon, my father walked eight kilometers to a place called Masaka where the trader lived. He told the man what had happened, about the herd boys coming by and giving me the stolen gum. Then without question, my father paid the man for his entire bag, which amounted to a full week's pay.
That evening after supper, my life having been saved, I asked my father about the curse, and if he'd truly believed I was finished. He straightened his face and became very serious. "Oh yes, we were just in time," he said, then started laughing in that way that made me so happy, his big chest heaving and causing the wooden chair to squeal. "William, who knows what was in store for you?"
My father was strong and feared no magic, but he knew all the stories. On nights when there was no moon, we'd light a lamp and gather in our living room. My sisters and I would sit at my father's feet, and he'd explain the ways of the world, how magic had been with us from the beginning.
In a land of poor farmers, there were too many troubles for God and man alone. To compensate for this imbalance, he said, magic existed as a third and powerful force. Magic wasn't something you could see, like a tree, or a woman carrying water. Instead, it was a force invisible and strong like the wind, or a spider's web spun across the trail. Magic existed in story, and one of our favorites was of Chief Mwase and the Battle of Kasungu. In the early nineteenth century, and even today, the Chewa people were the rulers of the central plains. We'd fled there many generations before from the highlands of southern Congo during a time of great war and sickness, and settled where the soil was reddish black and fertile as the days were long.
Excerpted from The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba. Copyright © 2009 by William Kamkwamba. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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