The Shrine

First published on December 20, 2021

So, hmm.. this village is showing me things! The other day the village ATM swallowed my debit card. I beat it, pap-pap, it refused to spit it out. It seems it was angry that I took money from it.

The security guard for the ATM kiosk was eating mangoes over there near the hardware fundi. She could see me fighting with the machine through the glass door. She cleaned out the last drop of juice from the mango seed and walked over.

I tell her- The ATM has swallowed my card. She says- That is what it does. You did not take it quickly when it stuck out its tongue.

It is true. I was busy on the phone and counting my money.

I look lost. The guard squints at me looking lost.

She says- Now here, it is gone.

I say- Ai! It is gone how? I must get it.

She says (and I can see she lives for these moments)- You just take my number. 0722… I write down her name and number. She instructs- Now call me. I call her while she’s standing right there. Her phone rings. She says- Now I have your number. I will call you.

I do not bother to ask why she didn’t just take my number. She is the god of the ATM shrine. She dictates the ritual and she collects the sacrifices swallowed by the machine. That’s her job. I understood her power perfectly. I almost walked backwards with my face bowed when I was leaving.

She called me two days later when the guys from the big town came to feed the machine and retrieve swallowed cards, instructed me to go to the bank where it was being transported, and assured me it was very safe. I must go there and prove that I’m its owner. I thanked her sincerely.

I thought about the spree of ATM burglaries that I just left in Baltimore, with trucks driven with brute force into ATM stalls. I’m told no one ever stole from this village ATM. It has its stall door open 27-4 and the guard watches it with the eyes on her forehead from the butchery, or the mango stall, or the matatu corner, or the tailor’s shop. No one takes from the shrine. It contains people’s sacred sweat and toil.


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