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Vol. 4, No. 4

The Voice in the Desert
by George Makana Clark

Scene Two

!KOBO and the BOY are seated in the cab of a moving lorry. The instrument lights illuminate theirfaces, !KOBO's scarred forearms on the steering wheel. Outside the cab, two headlamps cut into the darkness.

!KOBO: That was a terrible thing back there. Poor Olipah. [!KOBO pushes his cowboy hat back on his head, spits out the window.] Listen. If you're my new turnboy, there's things you need to know. This lorry is called The-Voice-in-the-Desert. It's one of the names my people use to call God. She's a five-tonner, fought in World War Two.

BOY: [confused] God?

!KOBO: [Laughs.] No, the lorry, of course. [!KOBO reaches across the BOY to open the glovebox. He removes a jar of brandy, unscrews the lid, and drinks deeply, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.] Let me tell you the duties of a turnboy. Be sharp always. Make certain our cargo doesn't shift back there, and don't allow the ropes to become slack. Does it bother you that we carry coffins? [The BOY shakes his head.] Good! We take them to Bulawayo, receive top dollar after the riots. Keep the glass clear of dead insects--a dirty windscreen hurts my eyes. You climb out on the running boards for this. There's no time for stopping to clean windscreens. Do you know how to fill the tank? [The BOY nods.] How to repair a puncture? [The BOY shakes his head.] No worries. I'll show you this. Be certain The-Voice-in-the-Desert is never hungry for oil. The belts become noisy, put some soap on them--it helps with the squeaking. That's enough for the moment. [!KOBO shifts uncomfortably in his seat.] One more thing, my little brother. We come to a checkpoint, tell the police I'm your father's employee and you're training me to drive the lorry.

[The BOY nods.]

BOY: Will anyone miss Olipah?

!KOBO: [laughing] Will anyone miss you? Rhodesia's a big country, it swallows boys up whole. Tab!

BOY: Pardon?

!KOBO: Tab! That's Africa, baby! [Pause.] Why you want to go south, little brother? [The BOY shrugs.] Forgive me for asking. I fully know why boys leave their parents--to become men.

[The BOY stares at !KOBO's scarred forearms on the steering wheel.]

BOY: How did you get those?

!KOBO: These? Initiation scars, one for each animal I hunted.

BOY: [awestruck] You killed that many animals?

!KOBO: More. There's not always time to make these marks after a kill.

BOY: Your father teach you?

!KOBO: No, no. I was the youngest of six children. You have to understand, children are born to a San woman only one every five years. A child must be strong enough to walk all day on its own before its mother brings another into the world to carry. Imagine! Five years apart! When the time came for my first buck ceremony, my father was so old, he had become a child again. I taught myself to make these marks from a television program I saw one time in a store window. Do you know that before the Bantu peoples and the European peoples arrived, there were only San? Not just in the desert, little brother, but in all of southern Africa!

BOY: How many animals do you kill to complete an initiation?

!KOBO: Even Olipah never asked so many questions all at once! I don't know. This television program didn't say.

BOY: Wasn't there anyone else in your family who could tell you?

[!KOBO leans out the window, spits, looks up at the stars.]

!KOBO: My mother told me there were sixty people in our family when she was a girl. I took my name--!Kobo, with a click at the beginning--from the part of the desert we walked in from the beginning of time. But how can one hunt with all these fences you put up? We kept no crops or goats. Our kinsmen left in ones and twos and threes. Some died. Some pushed into Botswana to find work in mines or to serve as slaves in the households of the Botswana chieftains. One day I woke up, there was only me and my childish father. [!KOBO sits up quickly.] Be sharp! Here's a checkpoint.

[A squeak of brakes and, after a series of downshifts, the engine slows to idle. The headlamps shine on two black policemen. One trains his rifle on the lorry while the other approaches and shines his torch into the cab.]

!KOBO: Good evening, my brother.

POLICEMAN: [to the BOY] You shouldn't be out so late at night, baas. There's been trouble on this road.

BOY: It's all right. I was teaching our man to drive.

POLICEMAN: [looking into the cab suspiciously] At half past midnight?

!KOBO: The motor quit on us and we had trouble starting it again.

POLICEMAN: [still speaking to the BOY] You want me to radio ahead to your parents? They must be frightened for you.

BOY: No worries. We're almost home.

POLICEMAN: [waving them on] Go well, baas.

[!KOBO starts the engine and works through the gears, laughing softly to himself.]

!KOBO: It's a wondrous thing to be invisible. They see only the blinding whiteness of your face, my little brother. It's lucky God brought me a white turnboy. Remember when Wim asked me how I would get to Bulawayo without travel documents? Magic, hey?

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