2010 Doris Gooderson – First Place

New Life by John Samson

He waited. The morning heat floated lazily down the dusty road while a cicada clicked out the daily news in competition to the brittle-thin voice on the battery operated radio. Neither bore good news. The beetle spoke of a long, hot day ahead while the voice that floated through the airwaves from a distance capital spoke of economic crises.

Old Man Maloi brushed away an irksome fly with a lazy hand and shuffled into the stifling warmth of his shop. The crises of which the voice spoke had slowed his step and hunched his shoulders but he refused to give in. He would see this through, like he had the last time. He just needed to wait.

Scooping up a few brightly wrapped sweets, he moved outside again. Nothing stirred.

‘Umfana,’ young boy, he called to the small figure that sat in the shade of a large tree across the road. A half formed rhinoceros peeked out of the branch that the boy held in one hand. He made a quick move of his knife, sending another curled shaving to the floor then jumped up and ran over. He knew what Old Man Maloi wanted and that there would be sweets on offer. He could not afford many these days. Few tourists passed by and this year none of those that did stop seemed to have anything spare to buy one of his magic carvings.

With the sweet juice of the chewing gum colouring his mouth, he scurried off to fill a tin can from the water pump at the end of the street. He passed a stooped figure making her slow way towards the shop.

‘Sawubona Ugogo,’ Good day grandmother, he greeted her politely then continued on his way.

The woman stopped in the middle of the road and smiled, her features momentarily brushed by youth, then she struggled onwards.

The can of water was already in Old Man Maloi’s hand when she reached the shade outside the shop. He grinned as he guided her onto a wicker stool where she leaned back and, taking a clean white handkerchief from under her bra strap, wiped the beads of perspiration from her forehead.

‘Hello Miriam, can I get you a drink?’

She nodded and he disappeared into the shop. The youngster stood a few paces off, his eyes squinting in the sun. Eventually he plucked up the courage.

‘Why have you come Ugogo?’ his voice soft.

‘I have come to wait.’ she replied.

‘Wait? For what?’ His voice was stronger now that no rebuke had come from his initial enquiry.

‘You will see. Like me you just have to wait.’ Old Man Maloi handed her the drink and she clasped it in her hands, hands that were older than her face. The man on the radio spoke of banks collapsing.

After a while, the heat became too much for the youngster and he returned to his carving in the shade.

The young woman was the next to come and wait. She moved gracefully up the road gliding on gently swaying hips, her straight back supporting the load on her head. She was followed by the middle aged business man, his suit jacket slung carelessly over an arm. He seemed to be dragging a world of cares behind him as he struggled toward the shop.

The rhinoceros slowly emerged from its branch womb as the youngster continued his work. Two more arrived, a mother with her young daughter. When they reached the shade of the veranda the mother shoo-ed her child off to sit with the young boy.

‘Why are you here?’ he asked.

The girl shrugged her shoulders. ‘My mother said we had to come to Old Man Maloi’s to wait.’

‘For what?’ He did not look up from his carving.

The girl shrugged again and settled down to wait. The voice from the box talked of unemployment.

More people arrived. A tall, young man came to wait in the shade at the side of the shop; a large woman in gay colours fanned herself as she sat on a crate. The crate creaked to say it did not want the weight, but was too polite to break. It became too hot even for the shadows and they too joined the crowd under the shop’s awning.

The young carver lost interest in the waiting people as the rhinoceros entered the final stages of birth. He hunched over his work and whittled quickly with hands more mature than his mind. The radio voice warned of plummeting share prices.

At last the rhinoceros was complete and he put it down on the dusty ground watching it take its first few wobbly steps. He looked across at Old Man Maloi’s shop. The small veranda was crowded and people overflowed onto the street around the shop. No one spoke, they were all waiting, but now there was an air of excitement that crackled between them in soundless static. It was darker, cooler. The time was near.

The young boy stood and walked into the road. He wanted to join the excitement. Suddenly he felt it, wet and delicious on his naked shoulder. Another thudded onto the road in an explosion of red dust. Then another, and another. He lifted his face to the heavens, his mouth wide open to receive the large drops that fell.

The people rose as one and leapt into the street dancing and singing, their hot bodies drinking in the coolness of the rain. The radio remained on the counter in the shop and it spoke of tough times ahead, but no one listened. Even Old Man Maloi shook off the dust of age and hopped gleefully around the small building, his white shirt clinging to his body like a second skin.

The earth drank thirstily till it had had its fill and then the rain withdrew, leaving a fresh, damp smell. The people looked to the sky, their faces aglow, their clothes slick on their bodies and the sun began to shine again. Slowly they moved away till only Old Man Maloi and the young boy remained in the street.

‘Something very special has happened today,’ Old Man Maloi told the boy. ‘The rains have started. We will be able to grow corn, the cows will have grass to eat and we will live again.’

The man on radio took umbrage at this and responded by talking about foreclosures on people’s homes. Old Man Maloi looked at the radio and laughed, then walked over and turned the voice off.

The sun began to melt into the horizon, spreading its warm orange wax across the sky. Old Man Maloi locked up the shop and offered his hand to the young boy. The two then moved slowly down road towards their home.

They turned a corner and were out of sight. Apart from the tin roof of the shop that crackled as the night air began to descend it was silent. Then from under the tree came a grunt and a loud snuffling. A baby rhinoceros emerged from the foliage. It blinked at its surroundings for a moment before it hurried off into the bushes.