My research has taken me to some strange places, but none more so than the old colonial Llewelyn Library in Rhodesia. I boarded a ship from London that rounded the Cape and dropped me off in a tropical Durban. From there I caught a lift up to a dusty Johannesburg and across the border to the outskirts of hot Harare in north-east Rhodesia.
The Llewelyn Library claimed it held original scrolls from the Library of Alexandria. I was studying ancient fertility rites and–if authentic–some of these scrolls were of great interest to me. Such ancient papyrus scrolls would be too fragile to travel and so I set out to travel to them.
I arrived at the doorstep of the Llewelyn Library as night fell. It was a dark, imposing building with the dramatic air of a wartime monument rather than that of a library. The Head Librarian was waiting for me outside and, after a few pleasantries, ushered me inside. She was an old, wispy South African woman and seemed to always talk in loud whispers. My research quarters were set up, I unpacked my gear and was left to my own devices that first night.
I was too exhausted to do much else other than climb into bed, yet I struggled to fall asleep. I awoke in the pale light of morning with fleeting memories of a soon-forgotten dream. I shook off the sleep, had a cup of tea, and began what I had travelled so far to do: my work.
The Chief Librarian showed me to the entrance to Llewelyn Library’s vaults. She also assigned to me a young, native girl; in heavily accented English, the helper introduced herself as ‘Tanaka‘. I could not help noticing that she was quite beautiful with dark eyes and generous proportions.
The vaults were cavernous and packed with countless weird and wonderful African artefacts. Numerous painted rocks, masks, spears and other bizarre items littering the bowels of Llewelyn Library with many barely-discovered mysteries tucked into every nook and cranny down there. The collection seemed to have been gathered from all corners of the Dark Continent. Dust covered most things down there and the soft, flickering central light cast deep shadows everywhere.
While Tanaka went off to locate the fertility scrolls, my gaze was drawn to a collection of knee-high fertility statues carved out of an intense black rock of some sort. As far as I could see, there a number of female ones with large bosoms, round buttocks and accentuated feminine curves, and only one male one with a large, erect phallus. I reached out and touched the male statue. Its stone was cool to the touch. When I pulled my hand back, I was surprised to see that it was clean. Everything else in that vault was covered with thick layer of dust.
Tanaka arrived with the fragile fertility scrolls and I put the strange statues out of my mind. The rest of the day I spent delicately deciphering the ancient scrolls while Tanaka patiently sat at my side, answering the odd question and occasionally fetching me more tea and biscuits.
The scrolls did indeed appear genuine and, in my excitement, I lost track of time. Tanaka eventually told me how late it was and I conceded that it was time to retire. On the way back, we passed the collection of fertility statues and I was surprised to see that there was, in fact, no male statue in their midst. I definitely remembered seeing a male statue with an erect phallus, and I asked Tanaka about it. She dismissed it in broken English. She said it was too late to be working this hard, and she picked up her pace to walk me to my chambers.
That night I recalled broken snippets of lustful dreams that made me blush. It was a dream involving a dark room full of naked, lustful native girls that tore at me, kissing and laughing, their soft skin touching mine in loving, primal embraces… The next morning I awoke tired, almost as if I had not slept a wink.
Later that morning, after we had descended into the vault, Tanaka popped off to fetch the scrolls for our day’s work. During this pause, I glanced at the black rock fertility statues. Something made me get up and take a closer look. There were twelve individual female statues carved in some pure black stone. I now noticed that one of them appeared pregnant.
When Tanaka returned with the scrolls, I again asked her about the statues. And, again, she mumbled something indistinct and avoided my gaze. She placed the scrolls in front of me and my attention was diverted. I decided that it was not important and I sank deep into my reverent study of the rare scrolls for the rest of the day and into the early evening.
That evening, heading back to my quarters in the Library, I ran into the Head Librarian. I asked her about the statues in the vault, but she said she did not know about them. She said that it was a large vault and an old collection that pre-dated her, but that she would dig into the records and get back to me.
The lustful dream came again that night, but it was far more vivid. I remember walking from my quarters through an absolutely silent library. It was dark and very late, but I knew where I was going. I was being called by a longing deep inside me. I went down the spiral staircases into the shadowy gloom of the vault. As I walked entered the place, thirteen naked, native ladies of generous proportions gently tore off my clothes and embraced me again and again…
The next morning, I awoke in bed naked. It was strange because I did not recall going to sleep naked. I did so occasionally when it was hot–and Africa is almost always so!–and, thus, it was also not the strangest thing to awake like this. What bothered me was that I could not remember stripping.
I skipped breakfast–except for the tea–and headed straight to the Head Librarian’s office to enquire about the statues. The Head Librarian was not there, but I ran into Tanaka on the way. I had never noticed it before, but Tanaka had the soft roundness of an early pregnancy and I commented on it. She flashed a smile at me, but said nothing and carried on walking to the vault.
I inspected the black rock fertility statues again while Tanaka went off to retrieve the scrolls. It might have been the shadows and half-light that made me miss it the first time, but it seemed that one of the statues was not pregnant. Rather, all of the statues appeared that way, with soft roundness in the lower-central belly indicating a child. Off to the side was a male statue; its erect phallus almost comical in size and girth. I reached out and touch its head. The stone was surprisingly warm to the touch and I suddenly thought of the embarrassingly primal dream that I had had the night before; all flesh and sensual desires made earthly.
It was at this point that the Head Librarian poked her head into the vault and asked if I would come with her. I could not locate Tanaka, so I wrote her a note–assuming she could read English–and followed the wispy form of the Head Librarian back to her office.
She was silent the whole walk back, but the moment the door closed and she sat down in her old, red leather chair, she began to talk. She told how late one night Tanaka had turned up on the Library’s doorsteps and, given human decency and her grasp of the ancient local dialects, the Head Librarian–a man at the time–had taken her in. She had also brought with her the ancient fertility statues from her hometown that she had donated to the Library, or so the previous Head Librarian had noted in the ledgers.
The previous Head Librarian, though, had subsequently disappeared, thus leading to the eventual hiring of the present Head Librarian. She had then simply kept the same staff contingent–including Tanaka–in the employ of the Library.
“Now,” I recall the Head Librarian explaining in her characteristically loud whisper, “I have found a more detailed listing of the statues you asked about and there are discrepancies. Not only have none gone missing, but it was logged by my predecessor as only being twelve female fertility statues. There is no mention of a male one, and twelve, not thirteen is listed. Despite being a bit of a nasty drunk and pervert to the native girls, my predecessor was thorough and quite pedantic as to detail in these records. Besides, the risk around here is always for relics to be smuggled out and into our vaults.”
At this point, a scream rang out in the Library and we rushed off to find its source. We ended up in the vault, where Tanaka was softly weeping over the shattered remains of the male statue. Somehow, it had fallen and shattered to splintered pieces. I knelt down and picked up one of the pieces and was surprised to find the inside of the stone a dark red colour.
The Head Librarian tried comforting Tanaka, but to little avail. She was terribly shaken by the destruction of this statue. I took my leave then and retired for the day back to my quarters. There, after a quiet day of reading my books and sipping on the sherry they had provided for the room, I slipped into a troubled sleep.
Later that night, I jolted awake and sat upright in my bed. Somehow I knew I had to be somewhere else. I put on my dressing gown and wandered out of my quarters. I did not wander to the vault. Rather, I felt myself being drawn to the front door of the Llewelyn Library.
Approaching the front door, despite the time of the night, I saw that it was slightly ajar. I slipped out into the cool night with the quiet town flickering around me and the looming presence of the Library behind me.
At the foot of the stairs there stood Tanaka, surrounded by a number of other native girls. Many of them babies in their hands. They were all standing there looking up at me, so I began to walk down to them. As I descended, I counted twelve girls in total and Tanaka.
It was eerily silent as I stepped off the last Library step. My foot crunched softly on the gravel of the road, and I stood before this strange huddle of beautiful native girls.
“Mubatani, oneka,” said Tanaka, leaning forward and kissing me gently on my cheek. I caught plenty of very friendly looks from the other native girls around us, and then they all turned around and walked off into the night leaving me standing there flabbergasted.
The next morning, the Head Librarian would alert me to the fact that Tanaka had left during the night. Her fertility statues were also gone, save the single shattered male one. Despite a pang missing her, I would struggle on and finish my research in a matter of weeks. But I would also never again be visited by the strange dreams of earlier nights.
Only when I was packed to go and saying my farewells to the Head Librarian, did I ask her about the other girls that I had seen with Tanaka and what she had said to me.
“Other girls?” the Head Librarian had replied, “No, it was just Tanaka that had been employed here and just Tanaka that left. The English translation for what she said was simply ‘goodbye, sir‘, though the more direct translation is where ‘mubatani‘ is ‘man‘ or–forgive me here–it can also literally mean ‘mate’.”