38 – The Book of Gideon (old man)

38          Old Man

“I’m being serious.” Precious glared at me, “would you please tell me what’s going on.”

I shrugged and was about to give her an explanation when Moses interrupted.

“Precious, I’m taking you somewhere. I will  show you something which will explain it better than any of us.”

“Where?” She pouted.

“Just sit quietly. It won’t be long now.”

I looked at him curiously. This was unexpected.

An hour later, looking back south west along the flow of the river, I saw a small twin engine aircraft rising away from us  into the sky.

Hopefully our terrible twins were aboard.

Now with the sun up over the tree line, Moses gingerly steered the boat through the rapids. It was easier this time. We could pick our channel, and there was more control over the speed of the boat as we powered against the current between the rocks.

Once past the rapids, Moses edged our path up stream to tuck under the eyes of the cliff as it balefully looked down on the confluence, with the dyke lifting its head and spreading its ridge back behind it like the hump of a hunchback.

Beyond this, where the ridges slope eased back down into the flats of the valley, Moses turned the boat into a little gap between some trees. He gestured for me to jump ashore and set the anchor.

Tilting the outboard engine out of the water, and standing up, he also motioned to Precious to disembark.

“Ti yenge,” he said. “Let’s go! I have something to show you.” After a short pause, “actually it is not something, it is someone.”

I looked at him carefully to figure out if he was joking. His air of secrecy was uncharacteristic.

“Don’t worry!” A slight smile appeared on his face, “very soon everything will be clear.”

He turned and began to lead the way, ducking under the outstretched branches of thorn bushes, around the sprawl of bigger shrub clumps, and under the spreading branches of some trees which grew big in the little gullies eroded into the slopes of the Dyke.

In  the steeper spots we had to watch our footing. It was where the Rocky gravel of the soil, loosened by the recent rains, slipped under the rubber of our bush boots.

I realized there was only one place he could be taking us. But why?

The cave is not very auspicious. Not being deep, and looking out upon a relatively non-descript vista, I wouldn’t have chosen it as a likely site for a nganga to practice his magic. But the topography was what nature provided.

Thus it was not so much the cave that filled me with surprise, rather it was the figure of the old grey haired man sitting in its recess. He was crouched flat footed on his haunches, with the crowns of his knees caught in the crooks of his elbows, giving the impression that his long thin body was bowed forward. His hunched shoulders dipped his head until the crane of his neck thrust out his chin to where, as he sat thus, it almost touched his crossed forearms.

As we approached I could see he wore the same old camouflage uniform as was his dress on our previous impromptu meetings. He hardly moved when we came to a stop a few meters to his fore. Only then did he deign to look up, more so with the lifting of languorous, almost disinterested eyes, than the raising of his head.

I opened my mouth to say something, but I felt the faintest restraining touch on the back of my hand from one of Moses’s fingers.

Precious nervously held back behind us.

The old man dropped his head back onto his arms, and with one arm outstretched made a gesture for us to be seated.

As they lifted to look at me I was transfixed by some of the deepest and most cataract clouded eyes I’ve ever seen.

“I have been expecting you.” He said,“ever since I got your message when you visited.”

“My message?” I’m sure he could detect the incredulity in my voice. “Old man, I don’t know you, and I have not sent any messages.”

“Ahhh, but you forget.” He said quietly in a deep gravelly voice. “My brother was with you at the Mlimo cave. The Mlimo knew you were searching for them. That is why they sent my brother to meet you. They listened to your heart. The Mlimo considered what to do. They said you were looking for me. I have followed their instructions.”

I was nonplussed as the memory of that meeting came back to me.

“Sit!” He ordered. We obliged him, sitting opposite and cross legged, Precious still behind us.

“Aaaahhh suwa.” The old man shook his head. “I have been watching you. Watching and seeing if you can be trusted.”

“Old man, Who are you to give me marks?” Once again I felt Moses’s cautionary finger press, this time on the side of my leg.

The old man ignored me.

“As you know, from my dress and what my brother told you, I came to these parts long ago. I was here to build the airfield for the Chimurenga. For N’Kome’s men. It was where they landed the supplies.

The old man looked at me, “Do you know where that airfield is?

I nodded, I knew of the old defunct, over grown landing zone.

The old man cleared his throat and spat into the dust at his side. He picked up a twig lying beside him. He scratched some dirt over his spit of saliva as he withdrew into himself for a few moments, before continuing.

“I met the Russian there. We have helped each other for many years.”

“Are you still working with him?” I asked.

The old man stopped scratching at the dirt and looked across at me. “Yes, and No.”

He looked down into the sand at his feet, “but I will not work with the Indian and his friends.”

He lifted his head and pointed with his chin up over my shoulder, to where Precious crouched behind us.

“They want to play with things they know nothing about. They want to mess with that woman that sits back there. The one who is being guarded by the spirit of her father. The spirit of Mushala. They want to steal his gift to her.”

He scratched the ground again and said, “I watched you and your man. I saw that you were genuine men of the Bush. I let your man follow me. So I could test him,. I played tricks with him, just like I tested you. Even though you are a zungu you have some spirits helping you. I don’t know why, or where they come from. The only thing they have said is that you have come home, that you will stay here forever.”

The message from the Mlimo, was that I was not to thwart the spirit of Mushala, or the spirit of the white-which, for hers was the most powerful spirit of them all, a good spirit.

The Mlimo said she had sent her son to sort out the issues here, and he would bring his mzungu helper.

It was better to trust them than the outsiders, the oracle at Inake told my brother.

We sat for some minutes saying nothing.

The old man lifted his head. Making a hacking sound, he sucked in his gaunt cheeks, and spat into the embers of the fire, so that his saliva hissed. A tendril of steam curled into the air like a question mark.

“You can go now.” He said, “I have work to do.”

Not looking at us, he made a dismissive motion with his head.

“I must go up to the village and undo the damage that those outsiders are trying to do with your scout.”

Moses stood and silently beckoned to Precious and I to follow.