“‘Yeeesss! Of course!’ Girl shouts and jumps. She is very excited.” Tonderai’s voice layers upwards like icing on a cake. “Girl runs quickly to tell Uncle her plans. He nods and smiles. Then she runs to tell the Women. At first they are worried. Then they go to see Uncle, and he tells them how careful he will be. He tells them that Grandpa will not even notice.”
Tonderai pauses, then begins again, slow and quiet, the words flattening like a rolling pin.
“Uncle says his work will go slowly, slowly. The Women frown. They are frightened of this plan, but they are too tired to stop it. Besides they know it will never work. They shuffle away. Their shoes broken. Their legs tired. They cannot help for they are not strong enough. But they will not tell. They are used to the shadows. It is where they feel safest. Where they buy and sell and try to survive. And they feel sure that Girl herself, will not tell Grandpa that they too know of the plan. And they are very busy. And they are too tired …”
Tonderai drags the last phrase across the floor. He leaves it there, then turns, slopes his shoulders forward, and begins to creep towards Simi. He lifts his knees, high and careful, one after the other. And as he does so, he whispers, his voice like a knife through a swarm of bees.
“But there is someone who will tell, and that is Snake. Girl is very, very frightened of Snake.”
Simi stiffens, hypnotised by Tonderai as he approaches. Then, with a sudden splash, he spins around. Still crouched low, he retraces his steps to the fire basket, and then on beyond to the other edge of the billiard table. As the dark cloaks around him, Simi can see only glimpses of his mackintosh, but she can still hear every word, soft and clear.
“Everyone is frightened of Snake for he is the guard at the foot of Grandpa’s Table. He is insidious.” The word whistles out through Tonderai’s teeth, once and then twice, as he looks around at his audience. “Snake is insidious. That is a good word for Snake. A very good word. That word is mine, not from Precious, not from ‘bus stop gogo’. Snake is insidious, and silent. So silent that even the shadows do not see him coming.”
As Tonderai circles the table, Simi hears each boot splash. When he reaches the furthest point from her, he raises his voice, for now the door has started to fret again.
“Girl hopes, and the Ancestors before her hope, that Snake will not see the work she and Uncle do. That he will not even consider that it might be possible. She has to hope this for Girl knows that if Snake sees them, she and Uncle will be ‘disappeared’. Last week they took Itai, and now he is gone. Yesterday they took Kudzai, and all fear that she too will be lost, or returned with her tongue tied to her feet. Just their names makes Girl shiver.”
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023