Chelsi carefully lifted the fire covered lid from the cast iron pan. The scent of warm apples and cinnamon wafted by her nose. It was her favorite holiday of the year, Halloween. And while back in the States she would have decorated her house with colorful leaves and carved pumpkins, in Zambia it wasn’t yet pumpkin season and the only color of leaves to be found were green. Yet, as luck would have it, apples were available year round. And what better way to get a festive use out of them, than to make a cake! Chelsi thought, gentle replacing the lid.
Heat from the brazier warmed the house, cooled by a recent rain. She retook her seat in the stiff backed chair by the table. Just enough light streamed through the window for her to see the picture she had been working on, and she hummed along to the Prairie Home Companion Halloween special steaming out of her phone as she drew:
Whenever you see the hearse go by; And think to yourself that you’re gonna die
Be merry my friends, be merry
They’ll put you in a big white shirt; And cover you over with tons of dirt
Be merry my friends, be merry
They’ll put you in a long shaped box; And cover you over with tons of rocks
Be merry my friends, be merry…
In addition to missing all the trapping of fall in the Northern Hemisphere, it was harder for Chelsi to conjure the festive fun the holiday usually brings along. She couldn’t explain an American’s suspended disbelief in ghost, ghouls and goblins to her friends in the village because for them witches and spirits were really apart of daily life. Every chameleon she found stoned on the side of the road was the persecution of a witch. And just the other day Laura was telling me about a story she read in the newspaper, about a family found dead on the side of the highway through the Copperbelt. ‘The going theory on their cause of death,’ Laura said, ‘is that they were witches. They had shrunken themselves down to mount their flying bottle cap, which the father lost control of on their way to Lusaka.’ ‘In other words,’ Chelsi commented to clarify, ‘Death by flying bottle cap crash?’ ‘Yes…’ This year Chelsi would be satisfied with celebrating by herself.
As the sun sank past the horizon, Chelsi rose and collected to new white candles from their yellow storage basket, and two clean candle holders. She affixed them together in the usual fashion, setting on the table and the other on the back window sill. The aroma of apple cake now filled the house, a certain sign that it must be finished. Carefully again, she removed the charcoal covered lid of the cast iron pan. After depressing her forefinger into the cake it sprang back. Chelsi smiled, and removed the pan from the brazier to a towel on the counter. Cake safe, she deposited the coal from the lid into the brazier. Slipping through the propped open door, she brought out the remanence of her fire on to the front porch. She over turned the brazier in one corner and piled the coal neatly on the cement. Using a paint scraper, Chelsi removed the hardened ashes from the collection tray. Back inside she refilled the brazier with fresh charcoal. Just a sliver of the red sun could be seen on the horizon now, when she gazed through her back window. She struck a match, lighting first the candle the table, then the one on the window sill before dropping it on to the brazier.
The house darkened quickly, though the candles burned down. Chelsi watched as the little match raced towards its end. When through the door came a sharp wind that sent Chelsi staggering back. The candles flickered wildly and the fire jumped, from the match to the charcoal.