The Book of Gideon
(copyright sections 01-41)
01: Old Africa
Somewhere in Central Africa….
The driver of the safari vehicle helped the old man lift his bicycle down from where it had been squeezed between the seats.
Taking his bike the old man thanked him for the lift. “It is a long way to ride to here.” He said, “Especially in this heat with all the tsetse flies chasing me.” He chuckled happily. He felt fortunate that the driver had stopped to offer him the ride.
Tying a bundle of belongings onto the bicycles carrier he waited for the vehicle and a motor-bike to drive off the pontoon and continue north.
It was as he followed them off that the old man realized there was something different this time from the countless homecomings he had made at this spot over the decades.
From the top of the grass and shrub covered riverbank people were peering down at him. Not just one or two, but tens, twenties, thirties…even hundreds.
He smiled up at them.
But why were these people so quiet?
The pontoon crew busied themselves as if nothing was happening, but they surely knew. They’d crossed from this bank to the other to pick up the vehicle, motor bike and old man.
Reaching the crest of the slope cut in the riverbank he greeted the crowd with a tentatively expansive “Hello” addressed to everyone, accompanied by a wide gesture of his arm.
A wisp of anxiety caused him to hesitate when his greeting was answered with a low murmuring of the crowd, like the sound of the wind in the rushes.
Gathering his resolve, the old man pushed on. If you ignored them, they didn’t exist.
It was a woman who first stepped into his path. He knew her well. He recognized them all. They were from his village.
The first rock hit the old man in the stomach, causing him to double over and gasp with pain.
Shock and incredulity flashed across his wide-eyed face. His disbelief was even more profound when he recognized his neighbor’s wife as the stone thrower.
He had assumed that she had approached to greet him. Instead, she shrieked, “Kill the witch!”
Her scream unleashed the silent menace in the crowd.
It howled like a pack of dogs as they hurled their stones at the old man.
Turning to run back towards the river he let go of his bicycle, which clattered to the ground.
He managed no more than a few strides before a rain of stones hit his body. Two found the back of his head, pitching him face forward into the gravel of the road.
He was probably unconscious before hitting the ground, because he made no effort to cushion his fall.
Rushing after him the crowd encircled his shriveled figure. It was clad in long grey pants and white shirt whose vintage matched the shoes worn for so long that if anyone cared to look past their frenzy, they would have seen how the heels were worn away on the outside.
But the crowd didn’t care about his shoes, nor anything else. It did not even care that he had lived amongst them for over sixty years, and that as a school master he had dressed in the same grey pants, white shirt and scuffed shoes during the four decades he had stood before them in the classroom teaching them the rudiments of arithmetic.
Now all they saw was a witch.
The prone figure spasmed and twitched as its devil spirit was beaten away by the rain of rocks smashing down at it.
It was the only way to get rid of the evil pointed at by the trancing pall bearers at yesterday’s funeral. They had tow-toed jogged to the doorway of the old man’s shack, possessed by ‘mumone’.
Everyone knew that those who carried the coffin were driven by the divining spirit who would root out the devil behind the recent spate of deaths in the area.
Then it was over.
As if to draw its breath the crowd fell silent, pausing momentarily to take in the result of their frenzy.
With a collective sigh, everyone began to gabble in excited relief as the tension oozed away like the brains and blood from the heap of the broken body. The face which had smiled in happiness at the driver only minutes before was now crushed beyond recognition.
Amongst some of the crowd there was now a certain subdued shame. But there was nothing they could do about it, because such things are the ways of the spirit world in the old Africa.