Born on Botswana's Independence Day, Benjamin Mokento was considered a lucky child. As a boy, he became a cattle herder, counting and watching over many fine cattle for Rra Lepodise, an important man who was also a government worker in Gaborone. In the evenings, he would play with his brothers and sisters and run through the tall grasses. He was a handsome boy, with a sharp mind and wide smile, and many of his family said that someday, he might own cattle himself, or even travel to Gaborone.
But then the fever came. He broke out into a sweat first, not uncommon in the dry season when everyone prays for rain. But then he began to feel very hot, and his stride broke, and he fell. Had he made it to his home, he would, perhaps, have been all right. His family might have taken him to town, or to Mma Lepodise, who would have seen to it that he was seen by a doctor. But instead, he was discovered by Rra Lepodise's foreman, a superstitious man who loaded Benjamin into his truck and took him to see a witch doctor.
The witch doctor failed to help Benjamin. If anything, his attempts made Benjamin worse. By the time the night was through, with his frantic family finally brought to his side, Benjamin had lost the use of his legs. Benjamin's father was furious at the foreman and at the witch doctor. He threatened to break their legs and leave them for the lions. Cowering before him, the witch doctor offered something--a rare magical charm that he told them would allow Benjamin to walk again. The charm was a precious object, he told them, with powerful magic. He would part with it, as a special favor, for a price. He named a figure--many, many pula. But when Benjamin's father, massively muscled from years of field work, grabbed him by the throat, he relented, handing the charm over, muttering under his breath.
The charm--a necklace--scratched against Benjamin's chest. It was made of tiny bones, and dried pieces of skin. An ostrich feather dangled from the center of it, and it had been dipped in something brown like old blood. That first night, he struggled to sleep, terrified that he would still be unable to walk in the morning, the charm scraping against his chest. It felt warm to the touch, hotter even than his fever. Though it was loose around his neck, he found it difficult to breathe, and when he did drift off, he dreamed it it was choking him. In the morning, though, he found himself able to walk.
Life was different for Benjamin after that. He had to wear the charm wherever he went. It seemed foolish, but he was convinced that if he removed it, his legs would collapse under him. He hated the charm, loathed its touch, but he knew that it was working its magic on him. Benjamin's disposition grew more serious, his thoughts darker. But his mind was still keen, and an uncle eventually took him on as an apprentice at his automotive shop in Gaborone.
Exposure to the big city was a huge awakening for Benjamin. He discovered book stores and cultural events and a museum. Walking the city streets after long hours at his uncle's shop, the charm scratching at his chest, he explored every aspect of the city he could, eating strange foods, reading voraciously, talking to everyone from government workers like Rra Lepodise to visitors from other nations. And he began to see things. Shadows darting to and fro. Strange lights hovering over people on the street. Animals' faces hidden inside men's. His dreams tore at him. They were filled with darkness and death.
Drawn to the museum, to knowledge, he began to study, to learn more about the history of Botswana, of Africa. Trying to understand the odd things he was seeing, the scratching and tearing of the charm against his chest, he began to study the occult. What he learned frightened him. The darker the things he read about, the darker his own thoughts became, and the more he felt his hand reaching to the charm, fondling it with his fingers, and the more he felt the shadows staring back at him.
He was 25 before he summoned the courage to do what he'd known for years he must--truly apply the knowledge he'd been gaining, the things he'd read about in books and seen in museums, to the charm, to see what it really was. The bones, he learned, were those of small children. The skin was taken from at least two elderly victims, perhaps more. The charm stank of evil, yet still he could not bring himself to remove it.
He sought out the witch doctor, but the man had disappeared, perhaps heading into Zimbabwe. Benjamin stood on a precipice. His own thoughts were like a dark cotton veil wrapping his eyes. He saw death and pain and evil and--if he admitted it to himself--oppportunity wherever he looked. He was convinced that was the charm indeed a powerful artifact. It allowed him to walk despite the damage the childhood fever had wrought upon him. It helped him to see things others didn't--the greed in another man's heart, a secret fear in a woman's eyes, a destiny written upon a child's brow. Things he could take advantage of, were he so inclined. And he was sorely tempted.
Benjamin had been a happy, glowing child, with bright possibilities. There was still something of that boy inside him, despite the whisper of the charm. Standing on a Gaborone street in the darkness, contemplating what he would do, he saw a boy eating a doughnut caked in sugar. Gray flickers swirled around the boy's head, and Benjamin saw that the boy represented opportunity. He was carrying money, Benjamin could feel, for an important man. Many pula. The boy and Benjamin were alone on the street. If Benjamin strode forward, he could take the money from the boy. He could feel, as he thought about this, the best places to grab the boy's neck to snap it. The charm grew warm in excited anticipation.
With a low moan of torment, Benjamin tore the charm from his own neck. He hurled it to the ground and raised his boot to stomp on it, to crumble the victims' bones to dust. His boot never made it to the charm. His legs seized up on him and he toppled backward, arms clutching at the air, and fell to the ground, his head striking the pavement.
Benjamin awoke at Gaborone's Princess Marina Hospital, his head bandaged and his legs numb. For the first time in nearly two decades, his chest did not itch from the charm, though he would later learn that his chest and neck were mottled with scars.
Over the next few years, his life changed again. He learned to use a wheelchair to get around. His uncle kept him as an apprentice at the auto shop, but it was more difficult for him to perform the tasks he needed to there, and he found the work unsatisfying. He searched in vain for any word of what had become of the charm. He had broken it when he'd pulled it off his neck, but felt it hadn't been irreperably harmed. Someone, somewhere, he felt, might well be wearing it, someone less resistant to its temptations than Benjamin had been.
He still saw glimpses of odd things sometimes. A book in an old store seemed to glow to him. A man on the street seemed to have a lion's head superimposed on his own. It was magic, he thought, that he could see now. The visions of darkness, however, the opportunities, the nightmares of the future--those were gone with the charm and he considered himself well rid of them.
Benjamin joined the University of Botswana, first as a student while still working at his uncle's shop, and later as a faculty member. He focused on African history, but his real specialty was the occult. With the university's resources, he was able to learn much more about magical items such as the charm that had so affected his life. In time, he grew to be an expert on artifacts, particularly African ones.
The hunt for magical artifacts is a specialized one, often touching or crossing gray areas of the law. Despite his casual demeanor, despite the wheelchair, Benjamin proved to be uncannily good at finding artifacts, at negotiating with fences, at recovering stolen treasures of Africa.
Benjamin's knowledge of history and esoteric topics, as well as his skill at recovering lost treasures and protecting the ones under his care, eventually brought him to London, where he is currently representing the University of Botswana as curator and local guest lecturer for an exhibit of African history and artifacts at the British Museum. Meanwhile, he looks around for additional artifacts, always keeping an ear open for word of the witch doctor who affected his life, and the charm that he fears might have cursed someone else.