“Caleb and I agree.” The old nun glances at Dorkas, then looks back to the Kgosi. “You must have your people move with them.” She speaks loudly, so other ears will hear. “Whether they join us, or we join them – we are all in this together.”
“My people – ”
“Will follow the crook of your finger.” Caleb is now standing on the other side of the Kgosi. “That’s what Dorkas told me, and I see she is right.”
“Am I now to trust the wild animals?”
“They are here.” Caleb points. “One must assume they are trusting us.”
“It seems to me.” Dorkas speaks softly. “Their leap of faith is greater than ours.”
“I will do as the white witch tells me.”
“No.” Dorkas puts a hand on his arm. “You must overcome your human limitations. You must act with the conviction of these other animals. This is not an order for me to give.”
“Talks With Devils wants a lot from me.”
“And I plan to get it.” Her grip becomes so fierce she pulls the Kgosi toward her. “And I plan to get it here, from this second forward.”
Letsolathebe looks around the tight circle of faces. He does not see fear or hesitation, and he regains his confidence.
“You seem ready to walk into Hell.”
“It’s an easy walk.” Mother Ursula smiles.
“Is it an easy walk back?”
“Jesus did it with alacrity.”
“I am not the God woman’s God.” Letsolathebe wonders at the comment. “To say that puts a great burden on me.”
“Our Lord was also a human being.” The old nun chuckles. “And looked a lot more like you than me. It is as a man we know Him, and through His trials as a man that we more fully understand God.”
“Didn’t He die first, before He entered Hell?”
“There are drawbacks,” admits Mother Ursula.
“I can not tell my people that death is merely a drawback.”
“Perhaps we tell them too much as it is.” Caleb raises his voice, and Shona does likewise. “Perhaps it is time we listen.” He turns a slow arc to address their silent followers. “Listen to the other animals.”
“Listen?” asks Letsolathebe.
“And smell, and use all our senses.” Mother Ursula answers. “To become like them, so we can more truly become ourselves.”
A sigh of intense interest spreads to the furthest reaches of the assembly, then quietly ceases without question or comment. They all stop to listen to the animals. The other animals.
As the sounds of the people become just breath and heartbeat, the other animals keep their silence, and keep to their waiting, but their tension eases. Their erratic pawing of the ground, which had sounded so loud on the rough, hard earth, stops altogether. They no longer search for predators, or flex their legs for immediate flight.
After a long period of time, the other animals begin to move.
They move in unison, with tentative steps of invitation. Each and every person present is startled by the slow and careful approach of one of the other animals. They no longer mingle in a random way – they are choosing partners. The people stand silent and tense, and some shiver when an erratic flip of a tail catches them by surprise.
“Jesus,” whispers Shona.
The other animals sniff their way, hunting for scents which are compatible. They rarely hesitate, although the ones which have their young are more cautious, with many a backward glance. But the young follow their parents without deviation.
The presence of young animals makes the people less cautious. They feel no threat from these small animals – if anything, they have the desire to protect them, and save their future. The people began to regret they have not brought their own children, even though they realize their offspring are far more defenceless than any of these active cubs and kids. Their children can in no way fend for themselves.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Letsolathebe marches forward without another glance, barely noticing that the child’s hand has slipped into his own. They hold onto each other for dear life and expected death, as they race toward the flickering flame held high by Mother Ursula.
“Oh boy.” Caleb sighs.
“Do we follow?” asks Shona.
“Follow?” Dorkas shakes her head. “We join them. We match them. We become one with them.” She looks at Caleb.
“Mother Ursula may be right.” He smiles. “When is the last time we had Satan on the run?”
“Now or never,” says Dorkas. “It’s as easy as death.”
Caleb makes a slight bow to Dorkas, and to Shona, and then speaks loudly so she will translate with the same force.
“It seems to me this is the perfect time for Talks With Devils to have her say face-to-face.”
And as the three begin to race headlong into the darkest part of this darkest night, the thousands of their brethren and the thousands of the other animals are right at their heels.
And that beast.
That beast of time and terror.
That beast attached to life like a nodule of cancer.
That beast as strong as any lust.
That beast spread so deeply across the expanse of the Makgadikgadi Salt Pan.
That beast, recognizing in its fetid mouth the taste of defeat, lingers on the periphery of one glowing candle.
“You will never win.” Mother Ursula speaks softly. “In spite of all your victories, we are still able to care for each other.”
And that beast, afrighted by the light, and sacrifice, and the raw power of life, moves elsewhere.
“God woman.” Sekgoma tears across the rough ground and throws his arms around her. “Mother is safe?”
“This is a madness you have brought us I don’t wish to see again,” chides Letsolathebe. But he too puts an arm around the old nun’s shoulders.
“None of us can promise that.” Dorkas is breathless.
“Talks With Devils is always so strict.”
Letsolathebe takes both her hands, and leans forward to kiss her on the forehead. And then he does the same with Caleb.
“I am the Kgosi, and I tell you this. Tomorrow night we will dance, and drink, and feast.”
His gaze sweeps over his people and the thousands of the other animals.
“But no roasted flesh.”