Rudd listens to the calls for storytellers.
Maybe … doubt it though. Storyteller? The priest? But this lot? They’re going to be a tough crowd.
He looks around the room at the faces, all doubtful, until he comes to Simi.
Eish she’s keen. Really keen.
“Come on! We need a storyteller …” Marybelle insists, turning to look towards him, and then beyond him to Jacobus.
“Don’t look at me,” Rudd says.
“No ways Marybelle. Not me,” says Jacobus, arms folded across his chest, stubborn as stone. Above him rain surges down on the roof again. It lasts a few minutes, then pulls back, and as it does Simi puts in her request.
“Tonderai, have you got a story for us?”
Rudd sits up.
Of course. He’s the one. He’s the storyteller.
He watches Tonderai – his half-smile, the slow shake of his head, his frame straight and still on the bench opposite the fire drum. Rudd’s never listened to Tonderai’s stories. Never wanted to, but now he does.
“Tonderai,” he calls. “You know those stories you tell the guys … have you got one for us? One for our guests from London?”
“Please,” Simi appeals. “Just to take our minds off this. I’m going crazy.”
Tonderai nods, eyes still on the fire. When he replies, his voice is soft.
“In my family, at work, for sure we have stories. All the time. But we know those who listen. That is my problem here.”
For a few seconds there is quiet. Just the sound of logs collapsing in the fire, and rain dripping from edges outside. Occasionally the door taps, as the wind shifts in through the gap.
“Tonderai,” the priest calls, “stories are born to travel. Your one, this one, will find its audience.”
Tonderai looks at Father Norman. “You have a story for us?” he asks.
“Maybe. Maybe one for later. But you have the one for all of us. Not me. But … I am a good listener. Try me, and the others can listen if they want.”
“I’ll listen,” prompts Marybelle.
Then a voice comes out of the shadows.
“Tonderai, soldiers know stories. But we are not strong. Please.”
Rudd peers down the bench. He’d forgotten Fred. Had him down as barely alive.
“Yes,” says Bernard. “A story would take us away. We need warmth back in our bones.”
Tonderai smiles, shakes his head, defers to the older man, and then invites him to take the stage. But Bernard dismisses the request.
Another pause follows, swirled with a fresh smudge of smoke that hangs in a veil above the drum, pierced here and there with torchlight. Then the wind gathers its strength again, and forces its way back through the broken door, flinging the smoke aside, and slapping the door against the cast iron side of the old stove. When its tantrum is done Tonderai rises smoothly to his feet.
“Okay. There is one story, and I shall tell this for our visitors and for our elders.”
“Excellent,” says Marybelle, clapping her hands.
Outside the wind gives another kick, rattling debris. When all is still, Tonderai begins.
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023