This is the second story told to me by the children of the Santa Famillie open center in Kinshasa. We have Honore to thank for this one – so thank you, Honore. I hope you’ve had a chance to get back with your family now and that your life on the streets is at an end.
The Bag of Mosquitoes
One Sunday mooring, a mother went to work in the fields. She did this despite the fact that Sunday is a day of rest, because she was so poor, and had a large family, and because her hungry children were more important to her than God. She had six children to bring up all on her own, as her husband had died a few months before. The five eldest stayed behind at home – the older ones could look after the younger ones perfectly well – but she took the new baby with her, because she felt that he still needed a mother’s love and attention
She worked all day with the baby tied to her back until it was time to eat. She went to get some shelter under the trees and bushes that grew all around, but as she ducked under some low branches, one of them caught the baby and knocked it off her back. By the time she picked it up, it was already too late. The baby was dead.
The Mother was heartbroken. For a while, all she could do was weep. When she had recovered a little, she picked up the still little body and carried it back to the village, to tell everyone what had happened and to prepare for the funeral.
Now, it so happened that the headman of her village was known for his special powers. In fact, he was a fetish man, who knew all about the spirits of the forest. She decided to go to him and ask for help. She took the body of her dead son along to him, told him what had happened.
“There’s nothing I can do for you or your baby, unless you do exactly as I say,” he told her. “Now listen. You must go about your life in the ordinary way – but keep your eyes out and your ears sharp for the things I tell you about.
“If you see some clothes standing in front of you, just like a man but with nothing inside them, don’t touch them, don’t talk to them. Don’t take any notice of them at all.
“It you see a bag full of diamonds coming towards you, don’t take any notice of that either. Just leave it. Pretend it doesn’t even exist.
“But if you see a bag of mosquitoes, you must pick up that bag and take it home here in the village with you and open it up. Only if you do this, is there any chance that you will get back your lost baby.”
The woman was scared when she hear this kind of talk. Whoever heard of clothes standing up on their own? Or bags of diamonds that wandered about? But she loved her little baby boy and wanted him back desperately, so she resolved to do exactly as the head of the village had told her.
Over the next few days she kept her eyes and ears open, hoping that a miracle would happen. But nothing did. The funeral took place as usual, the Mother sadly buried her baby and tried to get on with her life.
A few days later, as she was working in the gardens, she heard someone coming through the forest towards her. She looked up and saw a shape standing in the shadows, watching her.
“Who’s there?” she called, but there was no answer. She went closer and saw to her horror that it was just as the headman said – a set of clothes stood there in the shadows, watching her work. It looked exactly as if there was a man inside them – but they were empty of any living thing. What was inside those clothes, she could only guess. Some sort of spirit, perhaps – but what sort of spirit, good or bad, she had no idea. All she wanted to do was run for her life – but she remembered what the headman had told her, to pretend it didn’t exist if she wanted to get her baby back. So, with a shudder, she turned round and walked back to the patch she was working on, and got on with her weeding. Behind her, she could hear the clothes following behind her. It made her hair stand on end!
As she worked, the clothes just stood there, always facing towards her, just as if someone was watching her. Sometimes they stepped out of the shadows as if to get a better look at her, sometimes they hid deeper among the trees. When she moved from one patch to another the clothes followed her, and resumed their post – always watching, watching, watching.
Soon some other women came to join her at work. The Mother, who was watching the clothes out of the corner of her eye the whole time, didn’t dare ask them if they could see them too. But no one said anything, so she knew that they were only there for her.
The empty clothes stood there all day watching her. When she left, the clothes followed her back home, sometimes walking by her side, sometimes a little in front. Again, no one else seemed to be able to see them, but she didn’t dare say anything about it, in case she made them angry or lost her chance to get her baby back. When she ate her evening meal, the clothes sat on the floor next to her. She thought about offering them some food, but she remembered the headman’s words and didn’t even flinch when they shuffled up closer to her. When she lay down to sleep, the clothes sat up, cross-legged on the floor, facing right towards her; and when she woke up in the mooring, there they still were, leaning against a wall, watching her as if she as the most fascinating thing in the world.
She prepared breakfast for herself and her children, who all wanted to know why she was so quiet and scared looking. Then she went to work in the fields as usual. The clothes walked behind her, but by she time she arrived, they had gone. She looked all around her and in among the bushes, but there was no sign of them.
The Mother was so relived – despite her calm face she had been in terror at the whole time. She left at once and went straight to the river to wash herself and to try to get that terrible clammy, dirty feeling of fear off her skin.
On the way back, she kept her ears and her eyes sharp, and sure enough, as she got close to the river she saw a glint in the weeds at the side of the path. Her heart beat fast, because she already knew what it was. She took no notice, though and walked on. As she got closer there was a rattle, and the bag of diamonds rolled out of the bushes and stood there in the path in front of her. The top of the bag was slightly open and she could se the sunlight shining on the diamonds inside it – huge, fat diamonds, as big as your thumb, sparking and glinting in the sunshine. That Mother couldn’t help thinking how much better life would be for her and her children if she only had those diamonds. She had the five children at home, all of them hungry, all of them with no decent clothes or shoes. But she took no notice and just walked past. even when the bag of diamonds started to roll towards, rattling and clinking temptingly, she took no notice – she just stepped over it, as if it was clod of earth in the road. Behind her called out to her ..
“Woman! I am yours. Pick me up, sell me, spend me.” It made her skin crawl, but she didn’t reply. She just carried on her way
By the time she got to the river, the bag of diamonds had gone. She washed herself, and let herself have a little cry, because what she was doing was scary and very hard. Then she got out of the water to dry herself, and as she stood there, wringing out her hair and shaking her arms to get he water off, she heard a great, loud whining buzzing noise.
There it was! – on the bank next to her clothes. A bag of mosquitos.
The bag was totally surrounded by mosquitos. There must have been thousands – no, millions – of hungry, buzzing mosquitos. She’d never seen so many. You could have grabbed them by the handful and baked them in a pie, there were that many.
The woman got close and tried to pick the bag up, and as soon as she got near, the mosquitos flew at her and started sucking up her blood as fast as they could. She tried to take no notice, and pushed her way through the storm of insects. When she did finally manage to pick it up, the bag was plump and heavy with a billion mosquitos, and of course she disturbed them more than ever by carrying them. Out they flew, more and more and more of them, and pretty soon she was covered from head to foot, over her clothes and under her clothes and even through her clothes, with greedy, whining, bloodsucking mosquitos, sucking and sucking at her blood, until she was certain she had barely a drop left.
But she held tight to the bag and hurried back homes. What a sight she made! There were so many on her and buzzing around she could hardly see where she was going, and all anyone could see of her was a cloud of mosquitos, whinging and buzzing away as loud as an engine, staggering along the street, banging into thing and stumbling and falling over. People screamed and yelled at her to go away. She kept calling out her name, but none of them believed it was really her. They thought she it some kind of mosquito spirit, and to make things even worse, started to throw sticks and stones at her to try and chase her away.
Despite all this the woman forced her way back to her house and staggered inside. When her five children saw that gigantic hoard of mosquitos coming in the door, they all jumped up and ran out, but she took no notice. She sat down with the bag between her feet, opened it up – and at once all the mosquitos vanished. Instead, lying there in the bag, was her own baby, fat and smiling, with his arms held out to her, and a smile on his face, gurgling with happiness at being back in the world – as full of life as he had ever been before.
With a cry of joy she ran out into the village holding the baby high in the air.
“Look everyone! I ignored the clothes and I left the diamonds, and I suffered the mosquitos – and now I have my own pride and joy back in my arms!”
There was a great deal of celebrating in that house, and in the whole village – although it did take that mother a long time to recover from all those mosquito bites. Of course, the story went right around the village and far beyond, and it wasn’t long before a neighbour of hers heard all about what had had happened. This Mother too had a little baby son, about as old as the first Mother’s, and she decided that there was a chance here for her to help herself and her family.
What she did was this; she went into the fields to work with her baby tied to her back, and while no one was looking, she lifted the baby up held it high up over her head …
“Now, baby, this won’t be very nice, but it’ll all over quickly. You’ll be back with us very soon, and when you do, we’ll all be rich” she said.
Then she dropped her baby down to the groud . When she bet down to pick it up, the baby was already dead.
Just like the first woman, she went to headman and told him that her baby had fallen off her back and died. The headman looked at her sadly, and sighed; then he told her exactly the same thing he had said to the first woman – that she must ignore the standing clothes if she saw them; she must ignore the bag of diamonds; and she must only pick up the bag of mosquitos.
“Soon I shall be rich, and me and family will never want again,” the woman thought.
Only a few days after the baby’s funeral, she was working in the fields, and she heard a noise in the buses. She looked up and there, sure enough was a set of clothes standing upright with no one in them. It just stood here as if it was looking at her. It made her hair stand on end to see it, but she remembered what the headman had said, and what her neighbour had done. She didn’t flinch or run away, she just carried on on calmly working as if nothing had happened. Just as before, the clothes stood by her all day, followed her home, sat by her as she ate, watched her as she slept. And the following morning, when she got to the fields, it was gone.
“Great,” she thought. “Now for the diamonds!”
She went straight off to the river to bathe – and sure enough, as she walked along, there was a glint in the path ahead, and she got close a huge bag of enormous diamonds rolled out into the road.
Well, this Mother didn’t need anyone to tell her to take those diamonds – she was on them like a cat on a mouse. She grabbed the bag and ran off into the bushes to open it up and stuff those diamonds into her headscarf. But when she unwrapped the bag, there were no diamonds inside – there was only her baby, still and cold and stiff and dead, with the earth of the grave still on him.
With a wail the woman ran out of the bushes, cradling the baby in her arms, all the way back to the village where she begged the headman to help her.
“There is only one chance for this kind of magic,” the headman said. “You should have left the bag of diamonds alone, as I told her. Now you baby is gone for ever.”
The woman crept home, heartbroken. And that was not the end of her troubles. She had clearly offended someone – or something – because from that day on, her family fell ill and died, one after the other, until last she was left alone, an unhappy old woman, with no one to call her own.
Many thanks to Honore for this great tale – homage to a mother’s love from a child of the streets.
Honore has done her part, now perhaps you’d be willingto help save the Children help girls like her. Paying her a few pounds for her story can helps change lives. Donate now at Save the Children