#64 – cunning and clever

He kept crawling, for he knew that the moment he stopped they would be upon him. He was burning with
fever and pain and his body was flayed by the hot sand. And still, he could not give up, not as long as Van
der Merwe was unpunished—not as long as Van der Merwe was alive.
He lost all awareness of time. He guessed that he had traveled a mile. In truth, he had moved less than ten
yards, crawling in a circle. He could not see where he had been or where he was going. He focused his
mind on only one thing: Salomon van der Merwe.
He slipped into unconsciousness and was awakened by a shrieking agony beyond bearing. Someone was
stabbing at his leg, and it took Jamie a second to remember where he was and what was happening. He
pulled one swollen eye open. An enormous hooded black vulture was attacking his leg, savagely tearing at
his flesh, eating him alive with its sharp beak. Jamie saw its beady eyes and the dirty ruff around its neck.
He smelled the foul odor of the bird as it sat on his body. Jamie tried to scream, but no sound came out.
Frantically he jerked himself forward, and felt the warm flow of blood pouring from his leg. He could see the
shadows of the giant birds all around him, moving in for the kill. He knew that the next time he lost
consciousness would
be the last time. The instant he stopped, the carrion birds would be at his flesh again. He kept crawling. His
mind began to wander into delirium. He heard the loud flapping wings of the birds as they moved closer,
forming a circle around him. He was too weak now to fight them off; he had no strength left to resist. He
stopped moving and lay still on the burning sand. The giant birds closed in for their feast.
Saturday was market day in Cape Town and the streets were crowded with shoppers looking for bargains,
meeting friends and lovers. Boers and Frenchmen, soldiers in colorful uniforms and English ladies in
flounced skirts and ruffled blouses mingled in front of the bazaars set up in the town squares at Braameonstein
and Park Town and Burgersdorp. Everything was for sale: furniture, horses and carriages and fresh
fruit. One could purchase dresses and chessboards, or meat or books in a dozen different languages. On
Saturdays, Cape Town was a noisy, bustling fair.
Banda walked along slowly through the crowd, careful not to make eye contact with the whites. It was too
dangerous. The streets were filled with blacks, Indians and coloreds, but the white minority ruled. Banda
hated them. This was his land, and the whites were the uitlanders. There were many tribes in southern
Africa: the Basutos, Zulus, Bechuanas, the Matabele—all of them Bantu. The very word bantu came from
abantu—the people. But the Barolongs—Banda’s tribe—were the aristocracy. Banda remembered the tales
his grandmother told him of the great black kingdom that had once ruled South Africa. Their
kingdom, their country. And now they were enslaved by a handful of white jackals. The whites had pushed
them into smaller and smaller territories, until their freedom had been eroded. Now, the only way a black
could exist was by slim, subservient on the surface, but cunning and clever beneath.


Copyright © 1982 by Sheldon Literary Trust

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