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Vol. 4, No. 4

The Voice in the Desert
by George Makana Clark

Scene Four

Same scene at night. Galaxies fill the sky. The BOY is asleep under the lorry, his rucksack for a pillow. !KOBO, bare-chested, stands over him for several seconds, as if trying to make a decision. He's wearing combat boots instead of his cowboy boots and holds a bundle wrapped in his T-shirt, the throwing spear under one arm, the jug still strung through his belt. The liquid in the jug is dark. Finally he shakes the BOY.

!KOBO: Wake up, little brother!

BOY: [stirring] Uh. How did the hunt go, !Kobo? Where's the kill?

!KOBO: [sitting] He was too large to carry. [The BOY sits beside him. !KOBO holds up the bundle.] I brought only this. [!KOBO stretches his legs out to the campfire and raises one of his feet, showing off his combat boots.] Nice, eh? I traded my cowboy boots to the man who made the footprints. These are more comfortable for walking and hunting.

BOY: You saw him, then.

!KOBO: Yes. He was wearing a soldier's uniform.

BOY: What was he doing out here?

!KOBO: It would be impolite to ask. Perhaps he deserted, or he was a terrorist, who can say? All soldiers look alike to me. He carried these boots--it makes it harder for the security forces to track him that way. Bare feet can belong to anybody.

[!KOBO unwraps the T-shirt to reveal a heart and some strips of fat.]

BOY: Will you cook and eat that?

!KOBO: Cook it, no. Eat it, yes. [He bites into the heart, then offers the organ to the BOY.] Share some. You haven't eaten since before we met. [The BOY hesitates, then accepts the heart. He looks at it, then at !KOBO, who nods at him encouragingly. The BOY bites into it.] Good, good!

[The boy passes the heart back to !KOBO.] You are brilliantly acquitting yourself in this wonderful new life! [Laughs.] Do you long to tell your mother? [He unstrings the jug from his belt, drinks deeply, then passes it to the BOY.] Here, take some of this. The water's gone.

BOY: What is it?

!KOBO: In !gaa, the dry season, you take liquids wherever you find them. [The BOY drinks. A trickle of blood runs down his chin and he wipes at it with the back of his hand, smearing it across his cheek.] Not too much.

[!KOBO takes the jug from the BOY, rises. He carries it over to The-Voice-in-the Desert and drips some of the coagulating blood into the radiator.]

BOY: I don't think that's a good idea.

!KOBO: The Voice-in-the-Desert must have its share. [!KOBO places the nearly empty jug on the ground, sits down next to the BOY.] Okay, now watch. [!KOBO spits on the point of his assegai and wipes it carefully on his shorts.] I don't want to get any poison inside me. [He makes a swirling cut on his forearm with the assegai, then moistens ash from the edge of the fire with the fat from the kill and rubs the mixture into the wound. He shows the fresh scar to the BOY.] There are probably words to say, but there's no one left to remember them.

[!KOBO stretches his legs before him, leans back on his elbows.]

BOY: [excited] We could make up our own words.

!KOBO: No, little brother. The words we need were passed down from the beginning of man. Have I told you about the n!osimasi--the ancient people? [The BOY shakes his head.] They lived in the long ago when God still walked the earth. There were different groups of people, The Jackals, The Zebras, The Porcupines, and so on. All animals were n!osimasi, but over time most took on the appearance and habits of the creatures whose names they now bear. Except for a very few, who still look like people. Look above us. [He waves his hand in a sweeping movement that encompasses the sky.] Even the moon and the stars, like the animals, are said to have once been people of this early race, the n!osimasi. If they're helpless to change the course God sets for them, how then can you or I?

BOY: How do we know our course?

!KOBO: Sometimes God whispers it in your ear. [Laughs hollowly.] Like Olipah.

[They stare at the stars.]

BOY: !Kobo?

!KOBO: Yes, my little brother.

BOY: [Sits up.] Did you whisper your gratitude to the steenbok you just killed?

!KOBO: Of course.

BOY: Like Olipah's god.

!KOBO: Just so. Can't you simply enjoy our sky for a moment?

[Pause.]

BOY: Was it you who whispered into Olipah's ear?

!KOBO: If Olipah said it was God, who can argue?

BOY: [stealthily reaches for the assegai] He couldn't move when the engine started because of your muscle poison.

!KOBO: You're talking nonsense. [!KOBO sits up and tries to place a hand on the BOY's shoulder. The BOY stands and moves away. !KOBO rises to his feet.] You should be more like that boy in the book and not bother your head with too much thinking.

BOY: [shrinking back from !KOBO] Did God tell Olipah you needed a white turnboy to get you through the checkpoints?

!KOBO: [Freezes.] Be still! Listen. [The wind sweeps across the stage, softly rippling their clothing. The BOY shudders.] Perhaps God simply expressed his gratitude.

[The BOY stares at the blood on the back of his own hand.]

BOY: Where did you get this blood?

[!KOBO kicks at the fire, scattering sparks in the BOY's direction.]

!KOBO: What difference does it make? Didn't you hear my story? Africa is full of animals of all sorts.

[The BOY brandishes the assegai.]

BOY: Leave me alone!

!KOBO: Let's not row like this. We're both n!osimasi, lions who never took their animal shape. [Both remain motionless. Long pause. !KOBO spits, slams the lorry's bonnet shut, and climbs into the cab.] Come, my little brother, one cannot remain a boy all his life. Africa is full of animals of all sorts. [He pushes his cowboy hat back on his forehead, takes the brandy from the glovebox, fires the engine.] Get in and let's be off. These coffins are needed in Bulawayo.

BOY: [shaking the assegai at !KOBO] I'll kill you if I have to.

[!KOBO glares at the BOY for a moment, spits, then laughs. He toasts the BOY with the brandy jar, drinks.]

!KOBO: Go well. To hunt you would be like killing myself. Tab!

[!KOBO puts the lorry in gear, turns on headlamps, and drives toward the BOY and the audience. The highbeams produce a searing flash of white light, momentarily blinding the audience. By the time their eyes readjust to the darkness, !KOBO and the lorry are gone. The BOY holds the assegai in the faint light of the dying fire, alone beneath the stars. The engine noise fades until The-Voice-in-the-Desert can no longer be heard. The BOY looks down on the remaining blood in the jug, picks it up and threads it through his belt. The lights are brought down as the BOY begins to trot into the desert, and darkness swallows him.]

Curtain

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