Mustafa and Sangoma walked to a dirt road that led to the airport. Mustafa kneeled and ran his hand along the cracked soil of the African safari. Dust dissipated through his dark fingers, as he peered above the reddening horizon at the speckled clouds drifting in the breeze. The formation hadn’t changed in six months.
Sangoma shuffled to the shade of a tree and removed his white hat. Graying curls outlined his leathery black face. Fine lines revealed seventy years of wisdom. He sat cross-legged and inscribed a circle with his slender fingers in the parched ground. A haze drifted yonder.
Mustafa sat across from him and smiled. White teeth juxtaposed a black face, dark curly hair and deep brown eyes. Thick muscular arms, attached to broad shoulders, extended to strong callused hands. Mustafa placed his palms together just below his nose and inhaled deeply.
Sangoma nodded and removed some bones from a pouch. He tossed them in the circle and chanted in an ancient dialect, which Mustafa didn’t understand. Faint clouds of dust danced like specters in the breeze. Sangoma waited until the visions vanished before outlining five bones.
“What do you see?” Mustafa asked.
“I see confusion, deceit, and lies… But the question is… What do you see Mustafa? You are our leader.”
“I see an old man sitting on the ground and bones begging for life.”
Sangoma nodded. Mustafa laughed and stood up. He was born in a generation that solved problems with modern technology. People were forgetting and ridiculing the ancient ways of survival. Too often, the incantations failed to reap a reward. Thus, Mustafa had requested aid from the ghosts that flew in the sky.
Sangoma and Mustafa stood. A rumbling cloud of dust was zooming toward them. Two yellow eyes illuminated the darkening road. The modern elephant screeched to a halt. Sangoma and Mustafa coughed.
The van’s passenger window rolled down. A white face, with blue eyes and rosy cheeks emerged. A glossy white smile greeted. Eyes sparkled in the twilight. A silver chain and crucifix dangled over a pristine white shirt.
The man held a video camera and spoke with an accent that wasn’t English, American, or Canadian, but a mixture of enunciation’s derived from missionary travels around the globe.
“Good evening. My name is Tom. I’m here on missionary work to spread the word of Jesus and bring help to the underprivileged. I’m looking for Mustafa.”
“That is I, we’ve been expecting you. My village is three miles east of here. Drive to the glowing lights.”
“I’d offer you a ride, but we’re all full here.”
“That’s alright. We’re enjoying the evening stroll.”
“The supplies will be arriving shortly. They might have room. I’ll radio ahead and let them know. I want to get settled before dark.”
“The villagers are expecting you. Your accommodations are waiting,” Sangoma replied.
Mustafa and Sangoma pointed to the village. Lamps and candles sparkled like the sky’s constellations. The van rumbled over the dry terrain and vanished in a haze of dust. Mustafa and Sangoma strolled behind along the darkening prairie.
“Our culture is being lost,” Sangoma said.
“We have no choice. We have to keep pace with modern technology.”
“It’s the principles and ethics of our society I’m worried about.”
“I’m at their mercy for without help the village will perish.”
A rumbling herd approached, in a cloud of dust, from the rear. Multiple glowing eyes illuminated the foreground. Specters of the gray hulk plodded onward. Shouting solicited direction. Mustafa pointed to the village. Four cargo trucks turned east toward the glowing lights. The first truck stopped at Mustafa’s side. The driver spoke.
“Climb aboard. I’ve got room.”
“I’m carrying supplies for the new Christian community.”
Mustafa and Sangoma sat on the crates in the cab and mulled over the decision to invite the strangers to the village. Malnutrition, dehydration and disease were devastating the population. The villagers had long forgotten the traditional knowledge of survival. The practices and principles of the New World were needed. Making use of the local resources would increase the chances of survival and growth.
Mustafa and Sangoma arrived to a boisterous village of people. Men were pounding Drums. Feet were dancing around a bonfire. White faces were offering gifts. Children were cherishing sweets, from a distant land. Wooden crucifixes dangled from the black necks of the villagers.
The missionaries were handing gifts of linen and toys to the families. Exuberance was casting traditional garb into red flames. Smiles were glossy white. Pupils were large and black. Red streaked through the sclera. Jubilation was the majority. Shouts, hugs and tears ran, as a woman played guitar and sang Christian hymns.
Mustafa approached like a lion hunting prey. The guitarist sensed his presence. Her eyes elevated from the height of the frolicking children and glanced back and forth. She rose from a crouched position and stood upright. Then she stopped playing and darted through the crowd. Children followed closely behind. Mustafa glanced right.
Tom was leaning against a tree filming the celebration. He motioned for Mustafa and Sangoma to join him. Mustafa was hoping to meet Tom in the middle by finding an agreement where both parties gained from the communion. However, Tom was strolling farther away, luring Mustafa to follow like a fish chasing a lure.
“I won’t be needed any longer. I’m off to bed,” Sangoma said.
“I’m going to speak to Tom about this.”
“I’ll talk to you in the morning.”
Mustafa followed Tom, through the festivities, toward a tent while staring into the eyes of his people. Their spiritual trance was unwavering. His presence went unnoticed. Tom held the cloth door open and invited Mustafa inside. Mustafa was hesitant about entering the foreign structure. He felt like a stranger. The change of allegiance was occurring faster than anticipated.
“Are the accommodations unsatisfactory?” Mustafa asked.
“I prefer my own sleeping quarters. Come inside. I need to speak with you.”
The tent contained a double bed, a small desk and eating area. Two lamps illuminated the room. Tom motioned for Mustafa to sit on the bed.
“You must be careful with those lamps. They can catch fire.”
“They’re battery operated. Please sit on the edge of the bed. I have much to tell you.” Mustafa sat with feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. However, he wanted to express the value in preserving his culture and the morals preached by Sangoma. “You look worried.”
“I’m concerned about the sudden exhilaration. My people have had little to celebrate. Sangoma hasn’t had much luck recently.” Tom raised both hands to his mouth and exhaled.
“I understand… That’s why I’m here. I wish Sangoma had joined us. My church has great plans for your village, but your people need to convert to Christianity before things get underway. Tonight is just a taste of God’s offerings.”
“But we already have a religion.”
“Without the teachings of Jesus your people will never prosper.
“Sangoma has done a fine job instilling…”
“Do you understand the amount of money and resources I have at my disposal?”
“But that is the only part of our culture that has remained intact! We just need the knowledge of your people to teach us the…”
“Your people need to be taught the ways of Jesus!” Tom grasped his crucifix and stood. “Or they will remain savages in the eyes of God!”
Mustafa stood. Bleeding eyes peered down at Tom’s holy fist. Drumming muffled hostility.
“My people are not savages!” Wind whisked, in a spray of phlegm, from blackness through the white picket fence. His holiness elevated. Tom glared, as flames shone from the wavering door and reflected blinding
light off the relic into Mustafa’s eyes. Mustafa stumbled backward. Prey entered unannounced and became the predator. Tom’s voice softened.
“Sit down. Sit down. This is exactly what I’ve been talking about.”
“What’s going on in here?” the guitarist asked.
“It’s alright. I’m in the process of conversion. Have a seat Debbie.”
Mustafa slammed the gate on the white picket fence and glared. Liquid dripped from darkness to the ground. He looked at Debbie and breathed deeply. Frown lines formed along his forehead. Anxiety manifested in moisture under his vest. “Please sit down.” Mustafa was compliant but his limbs were twitching. “I’m filming a documentary and I’d like you to be part of it.” Mustafa’s gaze rose from the floor. “Would that be
“Yes… that would be fine,” Mustafa replied.
“It’s partially scripted, but I’d like you to speak as though the words were your own.”
“Alright. I can do that.”
Tom shuffled through a folder of papers while Mustafa glanced at Debbie.
“I can’t seem to find it here. Why don’t you entertain Mustafa with the guitar? It must be in my other bag. I left it in the van.”
“I don’t really feel like playing,” Debbie replied.
“It won’t take me long. Music helps tame the…”
“Tom!” Mustafa grit his teeth and clenched his fists. Tom strode to the exit.
“I’ll only be a minute.”
Debbie nodded and picked up the guitar. She placed it across her knee. Classical picking and a sharp voice shrilled the ears in a haunting hymn of Jesus’ final days. Mustafa listened, but his desire was to leave. Yet, his mind felt constrained like an animal pacing in a cage.
Could a religion with such a violent nature bring peace and harmony to his people? Was the sacrifice for a greater good? Tears welled, as Mustafa contemplated the decision to forgo his religious beliefs for the betterment of his people. He wiped his anguish on his sleeve. Tom stormed in, as the last chord was struck.
“I see it’s having an effect already.” Debbie put the guitar down and frowned. “Alright I want you to read this. It’s a waver granting me the right to use this footage in a documentary if I so choose.”
“Do we have to do this?” Debbie asked.
“Yes, it will only take a moment. Debbie and I are going to step outside. Start reading whenever you’re ready.” Tom turned on the camera.
Mustafa gazed at the white paper. Tears dripped and ran blackened with ink along the parchment.
“I, Mustafa, relinquish all my rights to this video and grant Tom the right to use this video, as he sees fit, for as long as he wishes.”
Tom returned with a warm smile and turned off the camera.
“You read very well Mustafa. You should consider acting.” Mustafa ran his hand along his forehead and exhaled. “Debbie is going to play the other part.”
“I’m not an actor.”
“Just do the best you can. It’s more of a documentary. I want your natural emotions.” Tom turned the camera on and walked out the door.
Debbie entered with an inviting smile and sat on the bed across from Mustafa.
“So what do you want to do?” Debbie asked.
Mustafa’s flush-ness was masked by dark skin, but moisture was forming along his forehead. He wiped his brow with a cloth. Rhythmic drumming raced his fluttering heart, as anxiety crept up his spine.
“Well it’s getting late. I suppose I should…” Mustafa shifted on the air mattress. Debbie slid closer from the shift in weight. She laughed. Mustafa smiled.
“Here.” Debbie handed Mustafa a piece of paper and smiled. Her glare was demanding. Mustafa read the words silently. Kiss me. Then he pushed toward Debbie.
The scream silenced the festivities in a moment’s horror. Mustafa turned to the Cyclops. His jaw dropped in stupefaction, as he froze like gazelle about to be shot. Anguish tore through his heart. Debbie stood and glared. Tom stormed in with two white security guards.
“What’s going on in here!” Tom asked
“Keep your hands off me!” Debbie said. Mustafa place his hand over his eyes and stared at the floor.
“This is why you need to learn the ways of Jesus! You must learn to control your urges!” Mustafa looked up from the floor.
“I have a wife and child,” Mustafa said.
“I suggest you go home to them.” Tom walked over to the camera. “I want your complete co-operation.” Tom held the camera up. “I will use this if I have to.” Tom smiled arrogantly. “Do you understand me?”
“Yes I understand.”
“This is my wife, Debbie.”
“Yes my wife. She told me you had been eying her earlier this evening.”
“That’s not why I was watching her.”
“I’ll show your wife this video if you give me anymore trouble.” Mustafa felt adrenaline seeping into his veins. He clenched his teeth to withhold anger, but the strangers had invoked concern for the safety of his family. He looked at Debbie, as blood reddened his sclera. “You’re doing it again… You can’t keep your eyes off her. You need…”
“That is not a woman!”
“How dare you say such a thing. She has always been a woman.” Tom motioned for security to come forward. “I’ll show this video of you trying to rape my wife to every man, woman, and child in this village! Do you understand me!” Security stepped forward.
“I understand what you’ve said! But I don’t understand how that can be your wife!”
“You’re not listening to me!”
“I am listening!”
“I’ll use this if I have to! Do you understand!” Tom removed the evidence from the camera and placed it on the desk.
“Point him in the direction of his home!” Mustafa’s head sank to his chest. “I’ll teach you how to repent in the morning.”
Mustafa stepped past security, through the canvass doorway and moped around the entranced villagers to his house. Fading drum rolls resounded inside his troubled mind, as he stepped through the entrance into the kitchen. Mustafa lit a lamp and walked to the doorway of his son’s room. The bed was empty.
Mustafa walked to the doorway of his bedroom. His wife Tapiwa was resting on the bed. A white crucifix hung from her neck and a new gown adorned her physique. She winced and turned away.
“Did I wake you?”
“Where’ s our son Ike?”
“I thought he was with you.”
“He must be at the festivities.”
“Where were you?”
“I was talking to Tom.”
“Yes I heard. That’s why I left.”
“What did he tell you?”
“Turn off the light. I want to sleep.”
Mustafa extinguished the lamp and stared into darkness. Tapiwa slept at his side. Drum-rolls resounded, as the night’s events troubled his soul. Is one faith any different than another? Has he disgraced his wife’s honor during a state of confusion? Will he lose his leadership? Can loyalty be bought? Is his accusation of Debbie’s sex correct?
Then footsteps crept into the house. Mustafa rose and lit the lamp. Ike was in the hallway skulking toward his room. A white crucifix hung from his neck. New clothing fashioned his persona. Mustafa bit his lip and walked toward the eleven-year-old.
“Who gave you these?”
“Have a good sleep.” Ike walked into his room. A red stain streaked from the buttock of his pants and down one leg. “What happened to you tonight?” Ike hunched over. “What’s on your pants?”
“Take them off and let me have a look.”
“Let me see.” Mustafa forcefully removed his son’s pants. Ike struggled and yelped, as Mustafa examined where the blood had come from. Stomping resounded.
“What are you doing Mustafa!” Tapiwa asked.
“I did not do this!”
“What happened here?
Mustafa stormed out of his house. Firelight illuminated his path. The drum’s rhythm steadily increased, as he approached the tent. Thoughts of vengeance plagued his infuriated mind, but concerns of the video churned in his stomach. Should he steal the evidence and destroy it? Who raped his son?
Mustafa opened the door on the tent and peered inside. Lamplight shone onto the desk and revealed the video. A red dot blinked in the upper corner of the tent. Mustafa’s heart raced faster than the drum’s roll. He crept inside. Tom and Debbie lay motionless on the bed. Mustafa grabbed the video and turned to leave. Something fell and clanked.
“What do you think you’re doing!” Tom yelled.
Mustafa ran out the door into a group of frenzied villagers. White crucifixes dangled from their necks. Tapiwa was leading. Her eyes were glazed over in confusion. Mustafa ripped the tape into pieces. Tom stepped from the tent wielding his crucifix and camera. The drum silenced.
“What is going on!” Tom shouted.
“Our children have been raped!” Tapiwa said.
“We have a thief amongst us.”
“I am not a thief,” Mustafa said.
“I have the theft on video tape and footage of you trying to rape my wife.”
“That is a lie!”
“Let us see it!” Tapiwa demanded.
“You have left me no other choice Mustafa!” Tom said.
Two large African men wearing crucifixes approached. Debbie emerged from the tent carrying the lies and deceit. She glared at Mustafa and placed the evidence into the camera. Mustafa felt like an animal captured in a cage, as each villager peered through the eye of the oracle. Guilty, of theft and rape, was the verdict.
The villagers swarmed Mustafa and sliced off his hands, feet and genitalia. Sangoma hobbled forward chanting in an ancient language. The villagers backed away. Sangoma knelt by the fallen leader and prayed.