Story postcard – Simi and the story (4)

Tonderai speaks, drumming his words into the dark.

“These days Grandpa wears bright shirts. Shirts with his picture on them, many, many times, so that the People may see him from wherever they stand. Or fall. Of course, all the Favourites at the Table wear the selfie-shirts too. Now all anyone can see is Grandpa.”

Then Tonderai lowers his chin, and the drum beat softens.

“So that is how it goes. Every day, high at the Table, Grandpa sits and fills the window. Every day he is in his shirts that are full of his crocodile eyes. And every day, down below, Girl writes more stories. Every day she flies them up and out into the world, up so high that even she cannot see where they travel.

But these stories are only writing.

Now Girl does something different.”

The story pauses and Tonderai begins to pace, hands behind his back. When he speaks again his tone is quieter.

“Now Girl tells new stories, and these are not written down. These are stories that Girl tells in a loud voice to entertain the People. The stories are of brave adventures against horrible monsters. They are thrilling stories that nobody wants to miss. Not even Snake … for that is how Girl has planned it.

On the first day only one or two come to listen, but soon the news spreads. The People hear that Girl’s stories are of such excitement that all should be present.

On day three, Snake sends his Wife to see if this is true, to tell him if these tales are as excellent as the Women say.

On day four, Girl sees Snake’s Wife at the back of the crowd and she calls out to her. ‘Come closer Wife of Snake. You are an important lady and should be near the front.’

Girl sees Wife of Snake smirk. She sees her push past the Women and the Workers, to come closer. No one is happy, for it is Wife of Snake who scolds them when they cannot find cooking oil. It is Wife of Snake who chases them when they wail too loud if their children die. The Women do not like Wife of Snake one bit. Nor do they like Snake.

Girl hears the Women and the Workers grumble, but she does not mind, for she knows that this must be done if her plan is to work.

So every night Girl tells stories of magic and danger, and after each night every listener knows that they must come again to hear who wins or loses. They must be there to learn who will be champion. Who will live to fight on. And so they come, again and again, and Snake too comes every night when the moon rises. He too listens, and while he listens Uncle quietly, quietly does his work. Uncle, who nobody notices, is getting things done.

So that is what happens.”

Now Tonderai walks his gumboot walk into the far corner of the billiard room. All Simi can see of him is his dark height. But she can hear him clearly for his voice is loud, and the wind has vanished.

Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023

Story postcard – Simi and the story (3)

Simi sits straight. All are silent and waiting. Only the door fidgets as Tonderai circles back towards them. He steps into the firelight and she sees his eyes reaching first one person, and then the next. He stops in front of Marybelle, and her big eyes glue anxiously on to his.

“Girl knows she has to be veeery careful,” he says as though speaking to Marybelle alone. “Uncle will do what he has to with his tools, but she must arrange it so the others do not see. Slowly, slowly is the way, for every day Snake lies under the big, high Table, and waits and watches. But each new morning Girl and Uncle grow their cunning, and their plan.”

Tonderai turns to the fire. Now Simi cannot see his face, and if he were to speak she would not hear him, for the door ups its fidget to a battering. As the wind gusts it smashes away any chance of story, and forces Tonderai back to his seat.

Simi tries to block out the wind. She stares at the fire, her mind full of Snake and Girl and Grandpa. Grandpa, old, greedy and feasting. She imagines his feasts, his food, and feels her own hunger for a hot meal.

A takeaway. Pizza perhaps. Plenty of mozarella. Something on Netflix. Anything. Strictly. Yes Strictly.

Finally, at last, she does not know after how long, the door quietens and Tonderai gets to his feet. He throws the last of the wood into the fire basket and turns to face them. He clears his throat.

“Girl’s plan is this. Now, instead of reading, reading, she will become the one who writes the stories. A Storyteller. One who looks in on the world, and out at the world. Then she will fly her stories through the windows on the pages of old notebooks. On pages that are not quite finished. Pages that she will fill, and then fold into paper aeroplanes to fly out to find readers.”

Tonderai raises his hand, and launches an aeroplane up into the air above Simi’s head. She watches the small plane lift away, her mind travelling each swoop as it sees the little craft arrow towards the outside.

“Girl is fortunate,” Tonderai continues, his eyes still fixed on the distance, “because these days Grandpa likes to open the windows, to allow the people outside his House of Stone to see him in full view. To hear him when he says that he is a most excellent ruler. To see that when he says these things, the Favourites at his Table nod their heads so hard that they almost off. That they shout so loud that the whole world must wonder at his brilliance. This is good. This makes Grandpa proud. So that is why he asks for the windows to be kept wide so that all may see him at his Table.”

Tonderai pulls his shoulders back, pushes his chest forward, and thrusts his chin up into the darkness. Then he turns slowly from side to side as though admiring himself in a mirror.

Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023

Story postcard – Simi and the story (2)

“‘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