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Vol. 3, No. 3

The Leopard Gang
by George Makana Clark

~

The branches of the sacred tree now support an epilogue to this story—chimes made from broken rifle sights, silver wedding rings, and broken bits of a ceramic coffee mug, a sign, perhaps, that Madota refused to drink from Granma's cup. The caretaker of the empty convent bought the chimes, she recalled, at a musika, before the police shut down the native market and scattered the vendors, from a woman who carried on her hip a colored child with ginger hair. I received my call-up notice on the second anniversary of the Leopard Gang's attack on the sisters, and was given two weeks to report for induction into the Rhodesian Security Forces.
      My father, worried that the underbrush might provide the terrs with cover, hired a bulldozer to level the ground between the bungalow and the security fence. Some nights, I crossed the floodlit area between the sandbagged walls of our house and the mesh fence, past the Ridgeback that patrolled the broken ground, the stump of its docked tail stiff and unwagging, and through the surrounding tangle of new growth and deadfall to the place where the Leopard Gang had once sat and planned around my mother's hope chest, the shed now dark and the roof collapsed. The crepuscular moonflowers still opened their white petals, though, and the wind continued to gather hollow notes from the chimes, and these were reasons enough to draw me there.
      The Portuguese had lost Mozambique, and the new government there welcomed the boys of the hondo to operate from behind the closed frontier that bordered the eastern highlands of Rhodesia. From their new base camps, the terrs could easily cross the free-fire zone into Manicaland on foot, or even come to us in the night, crowded onto the running boards and bonnets of jeeps.
      The sound of their engines woke me, and I heard them shoot our security dog, and still I didn't leave my bed. The eleven doors in our bungalow offered only illusory escape routes—our only exit was through the heavy front door, spotlighted with security lamps.
      Neither my father nor mother registered any shock at the sight of the hooded rebels who had crowded their dreams since they landed together in Africa. The terrs set fire to the bungalow and we all fell back before its heat. My father would go to his death ahead of us, neither courageous nor cringing, but resigned, as if he hadn't any place in this new world where it was no longer a good thing to be white. My mother followed him passively—perhaps her pistol had clattered to the floor when she reached for it, and they found her scrabbling on her knees in the darkness. Or she had placed the barrel in her mouth but could not make herself pull the trigger. Regardless, the pistol was useful only to ward away night fears, like the Ridgeback that lay motionless beside the burning house, its tongue lolling.
      They shepherded us away from the house and made us lie down on broken soil where they would bring us to still waters. This was the path of righteousness, and though we lay in the shadow of the valley of the Vumba Mountains, I feared no evil, for Granma stood there before us, terrible and deathless, with his walking stick and his Chinese assault rifle, and I took such comfort as I could in his presence.
      Granma stood above my father, the barrel of his rifle pointed dead-center mass, and he retreated a step to avoid the backsplash of gore. My mother took my father's hand and he squeezed back, the only sign of affection between them I would ever witness. At least they would have this, the dying together. My father bounced as the bullets thupped into his back, and my mother wailed as she fully realized for the first time since my birth that she was in Africa, a rending ululation that resonated even after Granma took her death upon himself.
      I buried my face in my arms as Granma's uneven footsteps grew closer, and I shuddered at the touch of his rifle against the back of my head. A breath of wind filled the hollows of the valley like pan pipes, and from somewhere within the foliage outside the security fence, Madota's bric-a-brac chimed like bells for a wedding, There was once a girl, and I wanted to marry her and hold our daughter in our arms, there was once a girl, and my story no longer belonged to me, any more than the ancient sisters of Saint Agnes could lay claim to the tales I'd invented of their Shona lovers and smothered children.
      Certainly there followed the staccato of automatic gunfire, but only muted sounds penetrate such moments and register on the memory. The soft tangle of music from Madota's wind chimes, let's go to Zinjanja! The crackle of flames that burned away the covers of the sandbags, melting their contents into walls of opaque glass. Granma broke training and pushed his rifle against my head, hard enough to make the barrel slide at an oblique angle, and the first bullet turned my skull without penetrating it, as he always warned us might happen if we didn't fire dead-center mass, and the rest streamed harmlessly into the ground. My shoulder settled against my father's, and my mother's dead fingers touched the wetness of my anointed head as I fell into darkness, and now that the rebels had finally come, we were a family, my father, my mother, and I.
      At this point, a Shona storyteller might conclude simply with "Day breaks"; or a child with the rote "The end"; or, in the psalmody of the sisters of Saint Agnes, "Amen." But endings sometimes go and come without the story taking notice. Granma's story, I suppose, is still alive with atrocities committed so others will be spared, and Madota's story flows with her breast milk into our daughter, while the story of my father and mother continues along a path this earthbound narrative cannot follow. My own story invariably circles round to the night when Granma spared me to answer my call-up notice and become a soldier on the other side of the same fight, his disciple in the new war, a storybook of fresh offenses open before me.

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