On the balcony stood Haji with lots of gratification and delight. Before his eyes was the view of the great Mzee Mwinyi’s mansion. To him, calling such a house a mansion was probably an understatement. To begin with, the house had not less than twenty-four bedrooms. A feat that was difficult to achieve in these parts of the coastal region. His eyes stretched far and wide in the plain coast with nothing but thickets and tall coconut trees gracing the air with their coconut fond swaying here and there every now and again amid their interaction with the wind. A little past these trees was the vast waters of the Indian ocean that stretched beyond his eyes and into the sky. It was as if it was endless. In fact, one would say it was the end of the dry lands. Guess the real question would have been where does the ocean waters end?

As a matter of fact, Haji was only here because of his comrade Juma’s birthday party. If not for such an occasion then its only true that he would have never set foot into such a gracious surrounding. When he received the invitation, Haji knew that one doesn’t decline an invite but only declines the purpose of the invite if need be, with this lingering upon his head, he accepted the invite and that’s why he’s here now. A decision that makes him very much proud at this moment and time. As much as these were new waters to him, he had never seen so much food and delicacies all at one time. All this because his friend had turned 25 years old and was celebrating. Apparently, people celebrate growing old.

At this point it was clear that Juma was from a very rich background given the fact that he was Mzee Mwinyi’s son. His father was renowned for his wealth and his fame was like a crust of cream of milk.

Its approximately two years now since Haji and his host together with all the other invitees were university students. Sampuli and Penina were the only female counterparts Haji, Juma and his other two male friends Aguko and Isa ever knew. They were part of the crew or at least that’s how it seemed. Those who saw them together counted days as they knew that it was just a sham that was based on individual benefits. Friends can never have been more different. After some time though, they came to be accepted as eternals just as they lead on. Theirs was more than just friendship. At this point it was fair to say that it was lingering more on the borders of family and brotherhood.

The air was filled with deafening music as the party elevated by the passing of each ding and every dong on the clock. As usual, Sampuli was outstanding with her snake like dance moves as this was her area of expertise. One would have said that she was boneless. She swayed her waist left and right with such prowess comparable only to a mermaid in the sea. She had moves. She would shake her butt up and down then up and down again then stop all over sudden. At this moment she would stare at the audience with great pride and joy then start from the beginning. All one could see was her exclusive bottle-shaped figure shaking and swaying in her yellow dress with lots of dignity and submission. The crowd went wild with whistles and hums to encourage her on. Aguko screamed his lungs out shouting her name while his friend Isa drooled with lust.

Haji stood by on the edges of the dance floor and was looking at some books on a bookshelf next to him. He was reading through the book covers. It was at this point that he noticed an old portrait on the wall. On a closer look, he noticed that it was a very beautiful woman with tears of blood oozing from her eyes. Behind this woman, were what appeared as dead bodies covered with blood. Further on the horizon were two hills with the setting sun just above them. The clouds were dark and yellowish at the far end with traces of red and dark blue. Below the portrait was a Latin phrase written lofska jabail monteroam kabal. It was at this moment that Haji came to and realized that he was shivering from fright. He went to seek his host Juma so that he could explain the origin of such a vivid portrait.

“What’s the story behind this picture?” Haji asked his friend with traces of terror in his voice.

“Not sure Haji, it belongs to my dad. He bought it from an old lady who claimed that it was an ancient piece of art during one of his many trips to the Arab nations.”, replied Juma with not so much concern over the same.

“Why is the woman shedding bloody tears? why all the dead bodies behind her and why is there blood in her hands as well? does this mean that she killed them or what?” Haji could not keep words out of his mouth. He kept on blubbering words about the picture without stopping.

“It’s just a piece of art Haji. Get over it”, replied Juma failing to see what the hubbub was all about.

“Now come on let’s have some drinks, we probably won’t eat for another couple of hours for my parents won’t be home till later. I told them I’ll be having some friends over. You know they probably wouldn’t have us drinking.”

“Okay fine then let’s go”, replied Haji awkwardly.

Even as he sat with his friends on the table, Haji couldn’t shake the portrait off his mind. He kept on staring at it every now and again feeling more and more scared of something he quite didn’t know yet. Imaginations started taking advantage of him and at some point, he could have sworn that the woman on the wall just called him. But what can he say, maybe it was just his thoughts?

Before him on the table were all kinds of delicacies. People eating whatever pleased them with food ranging from snacks, cake, drinks and dishes of fish stew, meat stew ranging from mutton to chevon, there were also all kinds of Swahili dishes. Appetites were high on the dining table as people ate to their fill. Aguko in particular stood out as this was his familiar territories.

“Dearly beloved”, stated Juma with an authoritative voice. “It is my delight to be with you here today. It feels like ages ago when we first met as freshmen in the university. You’ve been like my family over the years and it was therefore imminent that you be present on such a special day in my life. By midnight today, I will be a year older and its until then that we will resume our celebrations. For now, as we wait, I would like us to chat and interact. Thank you and enjoy.”

His friends cheered and whistled on as the music continued. Juma brought a crate of beer and they dived in except for Haji who wasn’t in a celebratory mood. He was rightfully stressed and paced on here and there. He filled his lungs with air and released it bit by bit to try and curb his fear. It was only Penina who appeared to have noticed the change in Haji’s behavior for he is never known to glee.

“Hey Haji, you seem worried. What’s going on?” she inquired.

“I am frightened by that portrait on the wall. It appears to be an extraordinary picture, I mean look at it, doesn’t it spook you a little?” he answered with worry written all over his face.

“Mmmh, looks normal to me. Come on let’s dance” she answered attempting to push him towards the dance floor.

“Come on Penny. What’s normal about a woman shedding bloody tears aah!” Haji insisted, his face appearing to be more pale than usual.

“Forget about the damn portrait Haji, let’s dance instead”. she said as she advanced to the dance floor.

Haji agreed to join the others and forget about the portrait. The dance continued until midnight when the birthday boy had to cut the cake. Then came the smearing of the cream on his face as young people like it. As you know youth is transient, disappearing like smoke. Once dissipated it can never be brought back. Then followed the birthday song led by Aguko.

Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday to you

Happy birthday dear Juma, Happy birthday to you

How old are you now?

Twenty-five”, Juma replied in between the song

Happy birthday to you.

“Ooh my God, what a terrible voice”, taunted Sampuli.

“That’s too bad since am the best you’ve got”, replied Aguko sarcastically.

“Which best yet that voice can’t even soothe a baby to sleep”, this time it was Penina taking a dig at her friend as she is used to.

Nobody dared to answer her as she was known for her abusive language. In fact, the others had named her the dictionary of insults.

After the song, they were served with pieces of the cake and a glass of juice each as they devoured the cake hungrily. Aguko in particular took the lead as he ate chomping and slurping every now and again. He would complement the cake while eating and ask asinine questions like do you believe in death? Upon answering him, he would immediately retaliate by another dim response saying he doesn’t believe that he will die at some point and leave all this food behind. In fact, he insists every now and again that upon his burial- if he dies at all, food is supposed to be laid beside his casket just in case he gets angry down there. Nobody likes to sit next to him during meals. These are the moments he’s most overwhelming.

During meals, he has a habit of belching really loudly while standing up then he would excuse himself saying he was going to create some more space. At this point you would all be left staring at his back as he disappears into thin air. After some while he would return without his belt and sit on the dining table. He would resume from where he left and eat like he had not eaten before. Haji is usually dumbfounded by him. How can one love food so much he wondered? After eating to his fill, the second time, he would remove a khaki bag from his pockets-like he does all the time- then stuff lots of chapatis and every other food available on the table. Then he would stalk a bottle of soda in his back pocket, a bottle of water on the other and another bottle of soda in his hands. At this point he would hit the road singing praises to God Almighty for creating food with so much grace.

Everyone had finished eating by now-Aguko being one of them. They sat on the luxurious coaches a create of beer right by the center. It was around 1 o’clock when Isa gazed upon the famous portrait and blabbered on abrupt how he has seen the woman in the portrait opening her mouth.

“Hey guys look over there by the wall”, said Isa drunkenly

“Yeah what is it pro, apart from the portrait I see nothing else”, replied the host alcohol written all over his voice.

By this time, they were all as drunk as a goose except for Haji of course who was still trying to find himself. Penina who is usually a tea-tattler, was not left behind either. This time she was also among those who tried the dreaded drink. All of them had had not less than three bottles each.

“Guys am almost certain that I saw the woman open her mouth” Isa repeated.

“Brush it off bro, that’s just alcohol talking”, answered Penina confidently.

Haji looked at the image again for the up-tenth time. But every time he looked at it, the fright was as fresh as he was seeing it for the first time.

“Whose photograph is it anyway”, inquired Aguko.

“It’s just an ancient portrait that my dad bought in one of his trips in the Arabic nations. Nobody knows who the woman is”, explained Juma.

Suddenly, a strong wind struck the house opening and closing doors and windows violently. Then followed a very bright lightning and the loudest thunder they have ever had.

Bright flashes of lightning could be seen outside the house striking the land and showing the vast waters of the ocean. This sudden change in the weather did not seem to affect those present in Mzee Mwinyi’s house except for the skeptical Haji.

“Why the sudden change in the weather guys?”, he wondered loudly.

“Come on man. Are you for real? It’s just rain. It’s normal to rain on earth. It’s a natural phenomenon remember?”, replied Penina with traces of anger on her voice.

“This is not normal. I was on the balcony earlier this evening and there were no signs whatsoever of it ever raining today. There wasn’t a single dark cloud upon the sky.” reassured Haji.

“Let me take a closer look at this picture guys”, said Isa as he dragged his drunk feet towards the wall where the picture was hung.

The weather outside was getting more violent by the minute. Isa swayed drunkenly like a toddler to the wall. Upon reaching closer to the picture he started talking loudly to the woman on the wall.

“Hey woman. I know you are interested in me. I can tell because you called on me. Am I right?”

His friends cried their eyes out from laughter as they cheered him on loudly. Haji was the only one who stayed quiet and was even afraid of what would follow. The change on the weather had given him cold feet.

“Well it’s your lucky day woman. I happen to be interested in you too. Come let us get married.” continued Isa in his drunken state.

Upon saying this, he stretched his arms towards the picture and behold, the frame mirror cracked and broke into tiny pieces leaving the picture without its protective glass.

Haji was quick to jump on his feet and raced towards Isa to demand an explanation on what he had done.

“I only stretched my arms towards it and then it cracked. I’ve told you this woman is interested in me. Can’t you see she’s trying to reach out to me”. His response made the others laugh even louder without showing any sense of alarm.

“Are you sure you didn’t touch it. It just broke on its own?” continued Haji, his voice shaking from fear.

“No I did not touch it. Now give me some space let me finish talking to my woman. We are getting married”, continued Isa showing disinterest on Haji’s fears.

Haji refrained back to his seat leaving Isa by the wall still fantasizing over the mysterious woman. He admired her beauty and lusted over her. Upon this scrutiny did he notice the phrase scribbled on the frame of the picture. He started reading the words out loudly.

lofska jabail monteroam kaba….al, what in the world does that mean’’

No sooner had he finished reading out the words hard the woman in the picture suddenly come to life. The woman’s face shone bright with a smile as she reached out to hug the young man before her. Isa upon seeing this went on to bend his head to try and reach the woman’s lips for a kiss. The woman kissed him on the lips and gave him a warm embrace.

It is at this time that Haji noticed the silence of the man in love and looked on the direction where Isa was only to see that he was not only there but the woman was with him as well. She was now present in flesh and blood. How she managed to do that, Haji could not comprehend. The fear that he had had all night come back to him tenfold. He tried screaming his lungs out but even his own body betrayed him. He just had to helplessly watch the remaining ordeal as it had now dawned on him.

Haji watched on as the woman, after kissing Isa for some time almost appearing as if to lure him in, reached out into Isa’s mouth with her bear hands and ripped off the entire oesophagus. She then reached into his stomach piercing his skin with her sharp claw like nails and dashing out his small intestines followed by the large intestines and headed for her wide-open mouth as she appeared to be enjoying her prey. She then popped his eyes out with her nails and chewed upon them like strawberries.

Her white robbed was now painted red from Isa’s blood. It was at this point that Aguko noticed Haji’s static gaze and turned to look at what could have been so appealing that even the great Haji could be so interested in. By this time the woman was just dropping Isa’s dead body in the floor. He couldn’t help it. He let out a hearty shriek bringing the others to his cause of distress.

As soon as they all grasped the reality of the situation, the alcohol was not as pleasant no more. They scattered all over the house everyone running for their dear life. There is no friendship in death. The grand mansion came in handy as there was plenty of room to hide in. Isa’s body now as cold as stone was left there unattended. He was killed by someone he thought might have been in love with him.

It was chaos all over again as Haji opened one room hurriedly and closed the door behind him sighing in relief. It was at this moment that he heard movements in the room and quickly turned to see who it was. It was another cause for panic as he realized that all his friends were in this very room.

“Guys I told you that there was something strange about that picture but you wouldn’t listen. Look at us now”, said Haji almost out of breath.

But to his surprise no one answered him this time. Everyone was trying to wrap their head around what had just happened. They all appeared to be strangers to one another as nobody spoke a word to his neighbor. The sudden blackout did not help the situation as they could not tell whether the person next to them was truly a person or the mysterious woman. The weather outside was also horrific and for the first time they could hear the wind from the ocean banging the windows breaking the panes one after the other.

Suddenly the door was knocked off its hinges throwing it across the room like a piece of paper. They all ran towards one corner of the room and clustered together. Sampuli in particular was so taken aback by these happenings that she accidentally wet her pants there and then. There was silence for a couple of minutes then voices of laughter that sounded like children filled the room. This disoriented them so much that they decided to make a run for the other room subconsciously. Sampuli being the most scared of the five, decided to make a run for it. No sooner had she let her head out of the room had she received such a heavy blow on the head from a blunt object, that her head burst open as she fell splashing her brains all over the room. She was dead.

The remaining four ran in a bundle like sheep without a shepherd into the next room. It is after entering the room that they noticed farm tools kept away in the room. Juma handed each of them a machete instructing them to use it to protect their lives. They stayed there in silence weapons in hand and light from their cellphones. Suddenly, a machete rose on its own from the floor without any physical contact and started heading towards them. They took a few steps back hoping to see who was wielding the machete. It is at this moment that the mysterious woman from the portrait appeared behind them. The room was filled with the roar from her laughter and blood all over her gown. They did not know whether to head towards the machete or towards the woman.

Haji took a leap of faith and threw a knife towards this woman as hard as he could. To his surprise, the woman vanished into thin air leaving behind a wicked laughter, letting the knife pass past her previous position into the wall. The machete however kept on coming to them leaving them with no choice but to run for their lives. They ran down the stairs to the ground floor. Upon reaching the ground, low and behold, the woman reappeared. She was right in front of Penina. She stabbed her with a knife and cut across her stomach letting out her intestines all over the floor. She then begun pulling her across the hall using her intestines. Penina cried in agony as life slipped from her breath each and every second. She watched helplessly as her three friends ran for their lives leaving her to die.

Juma, Aguko and Haji, were the only ones present in the kitchen. They were shaking like chicken who had been rained on after witnessing the agonizing death of their three friends. Juma took out his phone and tried to call the police.

“It’s useless Juma. Your call won’t go through. There is no service in this place. Believe me I have tried”. Haji contemplated

“What are you talking about? Bring the phone let me try” he took the phone and strained to raise it in the air in an attempt to try and find even a half a bar so as he could be able to call the cops. He opened the door in a desperate attempt to reach for service in the lawn by the trees.

After a short while, Aguko and Haji were startled by Juma’s cry for help. Before they could even move a muscle, Juma’s head came flying in through the window like a soccer ball. It fell right below their feet and they could see that his eyes were popped out. It was quite obvious that this woman fancied eating her victims’ eyes after every kill.

“What are we going to do Haji? It seems today is the day we all die” cried Aguko weeping like a baby.

“I can only think of one thing. Let us go back to that frame on the wall and try reading those words again. Maybe if we are lucky the woman will be pulled back in there. If not then we try burning the whole picture” replied Haji optimistically.

“let’s hope she burns man. what are we waiting for then? Let’s go” answered Aguko gaining courage.

They headed upstairs, machete in hand and Haji holding a matchbox in the other hand. They crept towards the stairs and across the hall way to the wall where the picture was.

Haji read the words out loud a couple of times but to no avail. Nothing happened. All of a sudden, the lights came back on and to their surprise, the woman was right beside them. She hit Haji so hard he went flying across the hall. She then turned to Aguko and started choking him with her hands. Haji tried to get back up but there were some invisible forces holding him back. After seeing his efforts fail, he tried one last time and threw the matchbox towards Aguko without the woman seeing and freed himself by rolling down the stairs. When the woman saw his attempt to escape, she used that very knife she had used earlier on Penina and stabbed Aguko right in the stomach and left him to die as she tried to chase after Haji.

Aguko saw his life slowly fading away and knew almost immediately that he had only one chance to try and make amends with God by doing one good deed. That’s when he saw the matchbox and reached for it painfully. He struggled to get on his feet by the help of the wall and torched the damn portrait. By this time Haji was already in the hands of his dreaded hunter who had a machete on her hands. She raised the machete ready to take a strike at Haji’s neck when the portrait started burning. There and then, she started screaming in pain as her whole body started burning wildly. It only took a few minutes for the whole body to turn into dust right besides Haji.

After seeing how easy it was to vanquish such terror, he headed back to his friend and removed the knife from his stomach. He smiled with his friend to show pride and happiness towards their victory.

“She burns man. She burns,” said Haji breathing a sigh of relief

It was around 5 in the morning when police reached Mzee Mwinyi’s house after receiving a distress call from Mzee Mwinyi’s son, who by now was out cold, dead and headless. Aguko was hastily rushed to the hospital his condition appearing more critical by the minute. Haji tried to explain all that had happened but no one believed him. How could they believe him when the so-called evil portrait that was supposedly burnt to dust was well placed on the wall with not even a scratch appearing on its glass cover.

He was therefore arrested and taken into police custody for further questioning.