Everyone said that Kaku was a witch. They said it primarily because she was old, so old that she had outlived her husband by over twenty years. He died when I was a baby, before I could build any memories with him. His death by itself wouldn’t have been enough to condemn her; there are many widows. However, few widows have also outlived children, and after my grandfather died, Kaku lost three kids.
That was wrong, people said. It started as community gossip, and eventually, other members of the family started to believe it, too. Nieces and great-grandchildren began to look at her differently. Kaku must have done something, they whispered, made a twisted deal to be here for so long, they said. When she walked through the neighborhood, children pointed at her. Sometimes, they even threw stones. Eventually, she gave up leaving the family compound for anything but church. The congregation always stared.
“Ah! Don’t worry, hein,” Kebedi, my cousin, told her. He interacted with Kaku the most in the compound, after myself. She often sent us out on errands. We would pick up things for her at the market, or deliver messages to her few remaining friends. Lately, though, he hadn’t been running as many errands, and could rarely be found in the compound. He had taken to spending his days exploring the nearby forest, searching for stones and interesting natural artifacts. As a result, I had been bumping into Kebedi most often at the market while on my errands for Kaku, only to find him hawking items for himself. Today, though, the two of us were home, and Kaku was having a moment of melancholy over her negative reputation.
“People,” Kebedi continued, “Are stupid. Witches, elles n’existent pas.”
She wasn’t soothed.
“Kebedi,” I began. I wanted to laugh, but knew it would only upset Kaku more. “It doesn’t matter if they’re real or not. People think they are, and they think she’s one of them. Her problems won’t stop, just because of logic.”
“Bof,” was his only reply.
What I never told either of them was that, secretly, I agreed with the others. Somewhat. I didn’t think that Kaku was bad, or to be feared. To survive for so long, to create such a large family and keep the majority of it running – I thought there was power in that! I revered Kaku, for whatever she was. It was why I spent so much time with her in the compound, when I wasn’t running her errands. I learned the daily songs she crooned to her chickens, memorized the ingredients she mixed up in her lotions and salves, and wrote down every story she told. Stories, and Kaku, were my greatest sources of knowledge as I grew up.