38 – The Book of Gideon (home)

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“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 boat’s speed 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 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 cataract clouded eyes I’ve ever seen.

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

“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.” His voice had a deep gravelly tone. “My brother was with you at that cave. The Mlimo knew you were searching for them. They sent him to meet you. They listened to your soul. The Mlimo considered your petition. They said you were looking for me.”

I was nonplussed at the memory of that meeting.

“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’Komo’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 beside him. He scratched some dirt over the spit

 as he momentarily withdrew into himself like a tortoise its head into

its sshell before coming out and 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 back down into the sand at his feet, “but I will not work with the others.”

He 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 guarded by the spirit of her father. 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. I played tricks and tested him, 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. They have said you belong here, 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 Inanke 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.”

No longer looking at us, he made a dismissive motion with his head.

“I must go 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.

We walked away single file in silence. Moses leading the way, with me to the rear and Precious between us so that I could see the sway of her hips as she walked.

 Mushala’s daughter! An embodiment of African spirituality,. Her shape as beautiful and mysterious as that of a guardian muse standing at the corner of Tutenkhamen’s tomb, with spread arms shielding the king from evil.

A rejoicing of the female role in the ancient witchcraft world, as ancient as Africa itself.

The dislodged gravel beneath our steps trickle-down the slope like my silent thoughts.

Home?

That is what the old man said.

For the first time there it was, an affirmation.

A representative of that other world said I had come home to my Africa.

Despite my unbelieving heretic ways, I couldn’t help embracing the spiritual context of those words. .

Was this where I belonged? Had I really finally come home.

Like a lollipop I couldn’t stop sucking on a sentence that echoed in my mind, Father Xaavier’s last words to me as we parted weeks before.

“The Lord works in mysterious ways.”

 (8th edite – 03/17/2021)

(9th edit, 06/03/2021)

(edited 11/18/2021)