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Vol. 4, No. 4

The Voice in the Desert
by George Makana Clark

Scene Three

Daylight. !KOBO stands before a campfire, holding a knife. The-Voice-in-the-Desert is parked on the shoulder of a desolate stretch of highway. The BOY looks on. The bonnet is propped open with a stick, an open toolbox on her running board. A radiator hose hisses steam. In the background, an expanse of rocky hill country with only sparse vegetation.

!KOBO: [Sighs.] We might have been in Bulawayo by now. [He finds a rubber patch and a knife in the toolbox, heats the knife over the fire.] Watch. [!KOBO stands over the engine with the heated knife, places the rubber tire patch on the leak, and melts it over the hole in the hose. The hissing stops. The BOY looks at !KOBO's repair job doubtfully.] We need to let her rest before we put more water in her.

BOY: How long?

!KOBO: Who can say? Sunset maybe, please God. [He spits, pulls the cowboy hat down to better shade his eyes. The BOY removes a small book from his rucksack. !KOBO paces before The-Voice-in-the-Desert.] This is really the bhundu, baby! It's even worse farther south and west in the Matopos Hills where my kinsmen lived--nothing but rocks and thorns. [The BOY looks up at the landscape without interest, then begins to read the book.] What story is that?

BOY: Captains Courageous.

!KOBO: Read it to me.

BOY: I'm already in chapter five.

!KOBO: No worries. A good story begins anywhere.

BOY: [reading from the book] "Since he was a boy, and very busy, he did not bother his head with too much thinking."

!KOBO: Ho! That's true. I've large experience with boys and never known one who thinks too much! [The BOY looks up from his book.] Read on.

BOY: [reading] "He was exceedingly sorry for his mother, and often longed to see her and above all tell her of this wonderful new life--"

!KOBO: Why is he separated from his mother?

BOY: He fell off a ship.

!KOBO: In the ocean? And he didn't drown?

BOY: A fishing boat saved him. He's working now as a fisherman.

!KOBO: Do you miss your mother?

BOY: Do you want me to read this?

!KOBO: Beg pardon. Continue.

BOY: "He was exceedingly sorry for his mother, and often longed to see her and above all tell her of this wonderful new life, and how brilliantly he was acquitting himself in it."

!KOBO: How can he be brilliant when a moment earlier the story says he does not bother his head with thoughts? [The BOY closes the book.] This is a stupid story. [!KOBO snatches the book from the BOY's lap and throws it on the fire. The BOY jumps up, tries unsuccessfully to save the book from the flames.] I have a better story. Let me tell it to you. [He squats.] It's written in the ground at your feet. Come see! [The BOY reluctantly obeys. !KOBO points down at the sand.] A man's footprints. These swirls here, a beetle. See where their two paths meet? If the swirls made by the beetle fall inside the footprint, it means the man came first. But the swirls disappear at the footprint and continue on the other side, just so. The beetle first! The wind is light and would blow the beetle marks away in an hour, maybe two, so surely the man walked by not long before we came, hey?

BOY: [excited] Who is it way out here? One of your people?

!KOBO: No. The print's too big for a San. It's not a European, either. Rather, someone unaccustomed to shoes--you can tell by the thickness of the callouses on the sole behind the toes and on the heel--a Bantu man, probably Ndebele this far south.

BOY: Why is he walking out here?

!KOBO: Who can say? Somebody's always walking on this continent somewhere. Tab! [!KOBO walks several paces and squats again.] Now look over here. A steenbok. The short stride and deep print says the animal is ill. Or pregnant maybe. Time for hunting. [He rummages in the cab behind the driver's seat, retrieving a small throwing spear that folds at the center, and a jar containing a yellowish liquid. He immerses the tip of the spear into the liquid.] This poison makes it so the animal's muscles will no longer work. The animal lies still while I whisper into its ears.

BOY: [thoughtfully] What do you whisper?

!KOBO: My gratitude, of course, [The BOY stiffens, stares at !KOBO.] for giving up its life to me, for helping me on my way to become a man. [The BOY continues to stare.] What's wrong?

BOY: [looking away] Nothing.

!KOBO: [picking up the water jug and threading the handle through his belt] I'll try not to drink it all. We need some for the radiator.

BOY: Let me come with you.

!KOBO: Someday, maybe. It's a hard thing, I know--I was once a turnboy. Mind you stay here with the lorry. Sleep in the shade beneath The-Voice-in-the-Desert. I'm off.

[!KOBO pulls his cowboy hat firmly over his head, exits trotting with the assegai held at shoulder height.]

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