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Bush Chanting

Story by Cynthia Helen Beecher (Read author interview) June 26, 2009

art by Robinson Accola

At night, Nyati finished when the last dish was dried from the evening meal. He took a small, dim lantern to the edge of the bluff, his back to the house, and stretched his eyes across the plain below, listening. Usually by then, the baboons had settled into the wild fig tree next to the railroad, its top just below the bluff. Their murmurs and coughs made it seem that the tree might be inhabited by people. Just when they quieted for the night, one scream tore apart the peace; a single beam of light moved toward the fig tree in a rumble not unlike an approaching crowd. But it was merely the night train from Victoria Falls to Bulawayo gaining speed on the slight downhill, illuminating the simple black and white siding sign: Dibangombe. The vintage cars, engine, boiler, second and first class, sleeping, dining, luggage, caboose went by, drowning out the cries of the disturbed baboons. The engineer would blink the train light once in greeting to Nyati’s raised lantern, its yellow eye feeble, its motion unmistakable: one sway from the bluff meant, “No passengers to pick up; carry on.” Two swipes of his lantern across the night’s dark brow would cause the train to screech and shudder to a slow halt for the rare passenger embarking in such a place.

Nyati turned back from the bluff as the rumbling subsided and the baboons quieted, the lookouts barking a few last warnings to their predators. He reached his single room behind the railroad house, moving cautiously down a steep path on the backside of the bluff. His fire was smoldering. He tended it during the day to ensure that there was a layer of hot coals to get him through the cold nights. He brought out his bedroll; a woven mat, a woolen blanket to roll up in, a discarded towel to wrap his bald head for warmth.

Once settled, he looked to the sky and traced the pathways of the stars. His prayers, the prayers of his ancestors—to the moon, the sun, the stars, had dried up. Instead, in soft clicks, he recited his original name and the names of his family. He recited the seasonal circles they traveled to harvest the dry earth’s offerings. He murmured their hunting chants. As sleep came, Nyati fell off the edge of one world and into another, lingering until the morning train strained up the grade, its whistle scattering the baboons sunning on the tracks.

About the Author

Cynthia Helen Beecher spent nine years on the continent of Africa, beckoned there to witness original humanity. She is the author of The Rainmakers Dog, and has published non-fiction, poetry, and short stories. She will write until all the stories are told.

About the Artist

Robinson Accola creates artwork for SmokeLong Quarterly as needed.

This story appeared in Issue Twenty-Five of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Twenty-Five
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