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Vol. 4, No. 4

The Voice in the Desert
by George Makana Clark

CHARACTERS
WIM, proprietor of Wim's Public House, an overland stop in Rhodesia for black lorry drivers
!KOBO, a San lorry driver, barely five feet, slender build, coppery complexion; he sports an American cowboy hat, khaki shorts, and cowboy boots, and his forearms have been scarified with black, swirling designs.
BOY, a white runaway
OLIPAH, a Shona turnboy, or driver's helper, in his middle teens
POLICEMAN, an Ndebele police sergeant

Scene One


Wim's Public House. WIM idly casts small bones across a table littered with empty bottles and jars as !KOBO looks on. WIM takes a pull from a handmade cigarette, scoops the bones up without looking, then casts them again. Outside the wind howls faintly. A lightbulb glints through a perforated aluminum can fastened to the ceiling above the table. Otherwise, the stage is completely black. The lights are brought up slowly as the scene progresses, as if the audience's eyes are adjusting to the dark.

!KOBO: [staring at the bones] What do they say?

WIM: Let's see. [He takes a final pull on the cigarette and throws it, still burning, to the floor.] The bones say "You are going on a long journey." [Laughs.]

[!KOBO spits on the floor.]

!KOBO: Come on, my brother. I've been driving since yesterday night. I'm in no mood for your foolishness. Will I have a lucky trip?

WIM: How can you have luck with such cargo?

!KOBO: Just filling a need. There's talk of a riot in Bulawayo.

WIM: There's always talk. Still, the police might set up checkpoints on the roads. You'll need the proper travel documents.

!KOBO: Travel documents! [Spits.] I can remember when the San people came and went as they pleased, never mind documents, my brother!

WIM: Do I look like your brother? I don't even know you, man. [suspiciously] How do you get about without papers?

!KOBO: [Laughs.] Magic.

WIM: [shaking head] Do you even have ID? [WIM retrieves his identification card from his back pocket, shows it to !KOBO.] If you're not white and you don't have one of these, you don't exist.

!KOBO: No worries then. They can't touch me if I don't exist. Now tell me what the bones say.

WIM: I tell you, man, these bones spoke only to my mother.

!KOBO: You're her sib. The bones passed to you when she died.

WIM: The magic's in the reader, not the bones.

[At this point, the lights are bright enough for the audience to make out the interior of Wim's. Notices are posted in festive colors: NO MOOCHING. NO KNIVES. NO GLUE. NO GAMBLING. Other than the table, the only furnishings are a sink, an open refrigerator filled with jars of brandy and two-liter bottles of beer, an empty shelf, an iron bed, and a toolbox. An adolescent white BOY wearing a rucksack stands near the door with his back to the audience, watching with them.]

!KOBO: Come on, brother, have another try.

WIM: Okay, okay. [casting the bones] The bones say--[Pause.] "You will not grow any taller." [Dissolves into laughter.]

[!KOBO spits on the floor.]

BOY: [Steps forward tentatively.] Excuse me.

[WIM and !KOBO turn and stare at the BOY.]

WIM: What is it you want, then?

BOY: I'm looking for a ride south.

!KOBO: [Looks keenly at the BOY.] You're going south?

WIM: There are no drivers here for runaway Rhodie boys. Why don't you go to the British Petroleum station, ask one of the white lorry drivers to take you? [The BOY looks down at his feet. WIM pounds the table, shaking the jars and bottles, startling the BOY.] Because they'll call the authorities to come take you back to your family, that's why! We don't need problems with the police.

!KOBO: [alarmed] Police?

BOY: Please. I won't cause any problems.

[!KOBO exits furtively, and the wind slams the door behind him. WIM looks up, realizes !KOBO is gone.]

WIM: Super. You drive off my only customer. Go away! Make trouble for someone else.

BOY: Can't I wait here for another driver?

WIM: So you can chase him out also? Gap it, or I'll call the police! [WIM rolls another cigarette, lights it. The BOY makes no move to leave.] You think I'm afraid to call?

BOY: You haven't even got a telephone.

WIM: [shaking his head, laughing softly to himself] Cheek. [Outside a lorry engine fires up.] Tell the truth, I'm glad that bushman's gone. Sorcerers, every one of them.

BOY: He didn't seem so bad.

WIM: Sure, they don't at first. All jolly fun and best mates, till you drop your guard. They aren't like you and me. Too much desert and too much God, my mother used to say.

[The sound of the wind rises as the door opens. !KOBO rushes in carrying his turnboy, OLIPAH, cradled in his arms. The turnboy stares at the ceiling in rapture.]

!KOBO: Help me! I drove my lorry over Olipah.

[!KOBO stretches out OLIPAH's limp body on the table.]

WIM:How did you run over your own turnboy?

!KOBO: An accident, my brother. Even over the noise of the engine, I could hear his legs break. [Shudders.] They made a sound like sticks snapping.

WIM: Shut up and help me. [WIM retrieves a pair of tin shears from the toolbox and cuts away OLIPAH's trousers. The turnboy's crushed limbs look like cased sausages.] His legs are filling with blood.

[OLIPAH shivers uncontrollably. !KOBO strokes his turnboy's head.]

!KOBO: Sus! A sight like that, my brother, I need more brandy.

WIM: You've had too much already. Didn't you look under your wheels?

!KOBO: If you would put lights out there, a man could see. Olipah was sleeping under the motor to keep warm. I swear, that's the up and down and straight on it. I'm blameless. [Holds forehead with both hands.] Your brandy's turned my blood to tree sap.

OLIPAH: [smiling beatifically, his entire body quivering] Just before the lorry drove over my legs, God spoke into my ear.

!KOBO: [to OLIPAH] You're done for proper, my brother. [!KOBO squeezes his hand.] Everything, it's all right.

OLIPAH: He spoke to me in a whisper. When I heard the engine start, I couldn't move.

WIM: Here take some of this. [He offers the turnboy a jar of brandy from the refrigerator.] It'll help with your legs.

OLIPAH: No. Let me keep the pain. This way I know it isn't just dreaming that God spoke to me.

BOY: [leaning over OLIPAH] What did God say?

OLIPAH:[Looks up at him, still beaming.] He expressed his gratitude.

BOY: For what?

!KOBO: Oh, my head. I feel a powerful babalass already coming on.

WIM: Sod your bleeding hangover. Help me clean up before we fetch the police. [WIM takes the bottles and jars from the open refrigerator and begins pouring them into the sink. OLIPAH slips into unconsciousness.] They'll say it was my fault you became drunk.

!KOBO: I'll tell them I made you give me more brandy.

[!KOBO places his head on OLIPAH's chest and listens.]

WIM: They won't listen.

!KOBO: [lifting his head] Ow! There's no heartbeat here!

WIM: Bugger, bugger, bugger! They'll take my place. Your driving license also, if you ever had one.

[WIM, !KOBO, and the BOY sit at the table around OLIPAH's corpse.]

!KOBO: [to WIM] You can think of something. Tell me what to do, my brother.

WIM: Stop calling me that, bushman. My father was an Afrikaner.

!KOBO: [looking him over] You must take after your mother.

WIM: Go back to the bush, little man.

!KOBO: Your father doesn't make you superior to me. It just means your mother liked to spread her legs for white men.

WIM: [also standing] She warned me against you bushmen and the bad luck you bring. You come in here, I never see you before, acting like we grew up together, talking to me about magic, taking my mother's casting bones down from their shelf. And now I have all these troubles.

[WIM crosses the room to the bed, lies down, stares at the ceiling.]

!KOBO: [chanting, eyes heavenward] The doors to the next world are closed to us. [to the BOY] Say "Closed are the doors."

BOY: Closed are the doors.

[WIM raises his head from the pillow.]

!KOBO: The spirits of the dead throng together, like mosquitoes that swarm in the evening. Say "Like mosquitoes, swarming."

BOY: Like mosquitoes swarming.

WIM: What in hell are you doing?

!KOBO: [to WIM] Quiet! I'm praying before the dead body. [He gazes toward heaven again.] Like swarms of mosquitoes dancing in the night, when the world has turned black.

[!KOBO turns expectantly to the BOY.]

BOY: [enthusiastically, as if taking part in a game] Entirely black.

[WIM shakes his head in disbelief.]

!KOBO: When the night has turned black, the mosquitoes swarm, they swarm like whirling leaves.

BOY: Like dead leaves in the wind.

!KOBO: [staring hard at the BOY]Not "dead leaves." Not "wind." I said "whirling leaves." How can they whirl about without wind? Why have they fallen from the tree if not dead? One oughtn't waste words when one talks to God. [The BOY looks down at his feet. !KOBO's gaze returns to the ceiling as he resumes his prayer.] The dead spirits wait for the One who will arrive to say "Come" to this one, and "Go" to another. And God will be with his children.

WIM: Jesus bloody Christ!

BOY: And God will be with his children.

WIM: [to the BOY] It isn't your Christian God he's speaking on, you know. Bushmen have strange ideas on that subject.

!KOBO: [looking down on the corpse of OLIPAH] Poor sod. [Long pause.] We might take him into the bush. Outside behind the toilets, hey?

[WIM sits up in his bed, considering the possibility.]

WIM: We could bury him in one of your coffins.

!KOBO: No, no. Leave Olipah to the hyenas. That way there's nothing for the police to dig up.

[WIM brightens for a moment, then slumps back in the bed.]

WIM: No, man. The boy's seen everything. Come, let's get this over with. Drive me to the British Petroleum station. We'll call the police from there.

!KOBO: Hold! The boy wants to go south. I'm going south. And I need a new turnboy.

[WIM steps back and considers !KOBO and the BOY.]

WIM: Fill your lorry with petrol and drive far away as you can without stopping. Never come back, understand, bushman?

!KOBO: Call me bushman again, [spitting] I kill you, Bantu.I am San. You know what that means? The real people.

WIM: Okay, you're San. Now help me get your turnboy out of here.

[The BOY holds the door. Leaves swirl in across the floor. WIM lifts OLIPAH from the table, exits. !KOBO pauses at the door before exiting and looks thoughtfully at the BOY.]

!KOBO: A white turnboy! [shaking his head] Now there's trouble for you!

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