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NAMBA

*

Behind and down a bit was the men’s area. He hovered, uncertain, at the natural demarcation point, wavered at the brink. Dogster felt he should have knocked, but there was nothing to knock on so he squatted down on the exposed roots and waited. Feathers and Beads were languishing in each other’s arms amidst a pile of small children and older men. Others sat on fallen tree trunks smoking strange, large cigarettes listening to the wizened old chief talk. He chattered on to nobody in particular, a stream of consciousness lecture of grunt and giggle, a nonsense language that flowed over the assembled men. Doster saw their looks of boredom, felt their embarrassment as a stranger watched, but was impelled to sit there. He didn’t know what else to do.

*

After a while Beads disentangled himself and went over to that cardboard box stashed in long grass nearby. He carried it up to his tourist friend, gave it to him to hold and gently propelled the confused newcomer into the centre of the group, towards the raving man. The Chief stopped his gibber immediately and focused on the stranger. He stared hard into the white man’s eyes and Doster felt a voice echo deep inside his heart.

‘Who are you?’ it said. ‘What have you brought me?’ Everybody went quiet. Doster knew what to do.

The chief had been easy to pick. The whole group radiated out from him. He was the oldest man there, a sinewy, shriveled patriarch and was clearly quite insane. Doster opened the box and solemnly gave him the contents one by one just as Michael had told him to do. There were tins of Spam and a twist of tobacco, seven blank sheets of writing paper for rolling cigarettes, two strange looking fish and a box of matches.

Each gift was inspected impartially, looked at top, sides and bottom, put down and promptly ignored. He sat looking at the white man for a moment then grunted something Doster couldn’t understand. At once the tension eased, there was a palpable change in the air. There was laughter and the conversations started again. Beads leapt to his feet and clasped the stranger round the shoulders. This young man was to be his guide until Steven arrived, but first he had to be dressed.

*

The hut was dark and dim light hid Doster’s ever diminishing dick as he removed his clothes. Beads was fingering the empty namba and Feathers was keeping watch at the door. This was part of the bargain. ‘If you want to spend time in our village, then you must dress as we do.’ Doster didn’t mind the idea of this at all, in principle. This immediate reality was a bit more confronting. Once he was naked Beads handed him the namba, showed him how to fold his willy into it, laughed wild laughter as his fumbling hands failed, stood behind him and, like another pair of arms, took his penis and the namba and expertly combined the two, took a pace back and tied the string round his waist. Then he turned Doster round to face him and collapsed on the dirt floor in helpless laughter. Feathers was doubled up, too, heaving shoulders betraying his efforts at solemnity. The Englishman was purple with embarrassment, goose-bumped with excitement at this strange sensation when another ten little faces appeared in the door.

Renewed shrieking. News of his costume change had spread like wildfire through the village and now, in a great semicircle outside the hut the entire clan had gathered. Ten little boys scattered in all directions screeching his imminence, rolling in the dirt with high pitched hilarity. He walked out to greet his hosts.

No pop star could have wished for a better reception. As he stepped gingerly out into open air he was met with such a howl of ecstasy that he hesitated for an instant, then took the moment and emerged triumphant again to renewed applause. The women were particularly convulsed, but only by degree. People were bent double, helpless with laughter. The noise was incredible, high pitched banshee screams of merriment echoing around the jungle. Doster held out his arms, turned full circle to show-off his cadaverous bottom, sashayed seductively over to the loudest of the elderly women, winked luridly to wild applause and jolly screams from this perfect Bloody Mary, all empty gum and smile. Someone shouted out from the crowd and there was another roar of glee. Doster turned to see Beads holding his thumb and forefinger about an inch apart and knew what the question had been.

Steven was there too, standing among the hilarious crowd, laughing kindly and waving hello. He was naked, save for his namba and a belt of grass and beads round his waist. He stepped forward and offered Doster his hand, took him into the crowd and began the introductions. Doster was a honoured guest now, noble savage for a night.

Steven showed him off to the village like a long-lost relative. His pride in his guest was obvious as he led Doster around each family group, watching him shake hands gravely, chuckling at his formality, the stiffness of his body, the tentative moves he made. Steven thought back to the beach that morning and smiled an even wider smile.

Doster must have shaken a hundred hands, heard a hundred names by the end of those introductions. The brown hands came at him, strong firm ones from the young men, limp women’s handshakes, tiny grubby paws from the children, all thrust at him with a smile, a glint in their eye. His was a happy celebrity watched over by an equally happy Steven. It was obvious he was enjoying himself hugely, gaining status as the man who brought the white men home.

*

Dogster saw him first, diagonally opposite, at the far side of the open space, a distant shock of dusty hair. The surprise on my face turned heads towards this little intruder. There was no way I could explain what he was doing here, tell them the reason for this traveling pilgrimage – Joshua hadn’t given up, after all – still here, doggedly carrying out his mission, doubtless too scared to go home without his task accomplished. I felt guilty and cruel.

The men peeled away from him and stood silently facing the boy. They all shuffled half-way across the square and Feathers moved closer to talk to him. There was a gap of about five meters between them but the conversation was shouted so that everyone could hear. The boy was standing his ground, despite what must have a formidable sight; the entire village arrayed silently in front of him, staring hostility at this unwanted intrusion. This child from another world was clearly breaking all the visiting rules.

The conversation went on. I guessed the content. The boy spoke out hesitantly at first, then with more confidence. It seemed like a prepared speech he had been sent to deliver, the same one as at the resort. There was a murmur from the men, an international gerrumph and hmmrrggh of disapproval like an amateur theatre chorus, then a shout.

Steven stepped forward and gave the shrinking child a piece of his mind, let forth what seemed to be a torrent of local obscenities, heaped scorn at the albino, turned away. When he turned again he clearly expected to see the retreating back of the messenger, instead what he got was a defiant stare. He shouted an instruction to Feathers and that handsome young man took his bow and arrows from his shoulders, stretched one sharpened stick from string to bow, pulled back, aimed and calmly let fly.

The child vibrated, jumped sideways and dodged the arrow but it was a signal to the rest. Little boys ran in every direction seeking stones, the women retreated to the rear dragging small girls behind them. The chief stayed motionless in the middle of the square as a hail of missiles rained down on that empty spot where the boy had stood just seconds before. He was gone, into the undergrowth, pursued by a military mission of small boys hurling stones. I saw the glance of rock on his cheek, heard his cry as he disappeared, felt somehow responsible. Steven bellowed out a single word and puffing pint-size warriors appeared back in the clearing, breathless from the chase.

Abruptly it was all over. Everybody seemed in extreme good spirits, as if a mortal enemy had been repulsed. There was boasting and laughter and a little spontaneous dance, back-slapping and bravado. The old man began to sing. Dogster couldn’t quite see the victory in seventy against one, couldn’t rid his mind of that slash of blood on a little boy’s cheek, couldn’t stop his legs from shaking, but had to confess unexpected feelings of relief as they rid him of his little island penance, his ghostly trailing messenger from John Frum.

*

WILD MAGIC

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