for RAIN GOD
It is lonely
at the lands where the people go to plough as the land of the vast bush and open wilderness are desolate and lonely too. Nearly all of the lands of the vast wilderness could be found within walking distance
from the village. In some parts of the vast bush where the underground water could be found nearer to the surface people made
camps for themselves and dug shallow wells for quenching their thirst while scurrying on journeys to their homelands. They’d
experience all kinds of things once they left the village. They’d rest at shady watering places filled with the tangled
trees and delicate shaded wild flowers that sprung up between the soft grasses and tender moss. Their children could be found
to hunt for wild figs or play in the trees while they looked for any wild berries that might be in season. But the best of
things are soon to be challenged as a seven-year drought fell upon the land as the watering places began to look dismal in
the dry open thorn-bush village country. Hardy shrubs began to look withered; as the open grasses appeared to be dry. Tuff
desert shrubs seemed to hardened and borrow under the shades of the tangled trees as the ground turned powdery because of
all the lack of rain. While the people said humorously to themselves that if you tried to catch the rain in a thimble it would
probably take forever to fill. So as it came to be toward the end of the seventh year that the drought turned to anguish as
the people tried to live through the best as they knew how. The air was so dry and the desert moisture-free that it seemed
to tier the spirit or burn the open sky as you walked by. No one knew what to do to escape the vast heat or open tragedy of
the air. At the beginning of that summer a number of men just went out of their minds and hung themselves to breaches of their
trees to avoid knowing what was happening. The majority of the people had lived from the fruitfulness of their crops but for
the past few years they had all returned from their lands with only rolled-up sleeves or blankets and cooking utensils. Only
the charlatans or enchanters and witch-doctors made any money during this time because the people were always turning to them
for talismans or herbs to rub on their ploughs; or in desperation for the crops to grow and the rain to fall.
The rains were late that year. They came in early November, with a promise of good things to come. But it wasn't the steady
downpour that might’ve been expected as in the years of good rain. But it was a thin or scanty kind of rain. It softened
the earth and allowed a rich growth of things to spring up everywhere for the animals to eat. People were called to the village
‘kgotla’ to hear the proclamation of the beginning of the planting season; they’d stirred themselves and
whole families as they moved to the lands to plough.
The family of Mokgobja “the old man” were amongst the first who left for the lands. They had a donkey cart which
they proceeded to pile onto it with Mokgobja, who was over seventy years old; two little girls “Neo and Boseyong”,
the mother Tiro; her unmarried sister Nesta; and the father of the family Ramadi who drove the donkey cart. In the rush of
the first hope of rain Ramadi and his two women cleared the land of bush and then proceeded to hedge the vast ploughed area
with this same thorn-bush to protect the crops from the goats they had brought along for milk. They deepened the old well
and cleared its pool of muddy water while the still and misty rain fell slightly on them, Ramadi harnessed the two oxen and
turned the earth over with a single plough that sweated the breath of land.
The land was ready and thoroughly ploughed, waiting for the crops. At night the earth was alive with insects rustling about
in search of any kind of disruption or mates of naught. But suddenly, by mid-November, the rain fled away; the rain-clouds
fled away, and left the sky bare. The sun danced dizzily in the sky, with an eerie intrigue and cruelty. Each day the land
was covered in a haze of mist as the sun sucked up the last drop of moisture from the sky. The family sat down in despair,
waiting and waiting. Their hopes had run so high; the goats had started producing milk, which they had eagerly poured upon
their porridge, now they ate plain porridge with no milk. It was impossible to plant the corn; maize or pumpkins in the dry
earth. They sat the whole day in the shadow of their huts waiting, waiting and thinking; and then they stopped thinking for
the rain had fled away. Only the children, Neo and Boseyong, were quite happy in their little make believe world. They carried
on with their game of making house like their mother and chattered to each other in light, soft tones. They made children
from sticks around which they tied rags and scolded them severely in an exact imitation of their own mother. Their voice could
he heard scolding the day long: "You stupid thing, when I send you to draw water, why do you spill half of it out of the bucket!"
"You stupid thing! Can't you mind the porridge-pot without letting the porridge burn!" And then they would beat the rag-dolls
on their bottoms with severe expressions.
The adults paid no attention to this; they did not even hear the funny chatter; they sat waiting for rain; their nerves were
stretched to the breaking-point; trying to will the rain to fall out of the sky each night. Nothing was important beyond all
doubt. All their animals were sold during the bad years to purchase food and of the herd only two goats were remaining. It
was the women who finally broke under the strain of all the waiting. It was the two women who caused the death of the little
girls. Each night they started a high-pitched wailing that began in a low, mournful note and then whipped up into a weird
frenzy. They’d stamp their feet and shout as though they had lost their heads. The men sat quietly in self-control;
as it was important for the men to maintain their self-control at all times but nerves were beginning to frail from every
point. They knew the women were haunted by the famine of the heat and starvation of the previous years.
Finally, an ancient memory stirred in the old man, Mokgobja. When he was very young and the customs of the ancestors still
remained he’d witnessed a rain-making ceremony. It had become alive in a single struggling to survive the details of
which were buried away for many years in some predawn conditioning. As soon as the mists cleared he’d began consulting
in whispers with his son, Ramadi. There was, he said, a certain rain god who accepted only the sacrifice of little children.
Then rain would fall and the crops would grow. As he explained the ritual to his son Mokgobja’s memory started to became
a conviction and he began to talk with unshakeable authority. Ramadi's nerves were smashed by the wailing of the women and
soon the two men began whispering with the two women. The children continued their game: "You stupid thing! How could you
have lost the money on the way to the shop! You must have been playing again!"
After it was all over and the bodies of the two little girls had been spread across the land, the rain did not fall. Instead,
there was a deathly silence at night and the devouring heat of the sun by day. A terror, extreme and deep, overwhelmed the
whole family. They packed, rolling up their skin blankets and pots, and fled back to the village.
People in the village soon noted the absence of the little girls. They had died at the lands and were buried there, the family
said. But people noted their ashen, terror- stricken faces and a murmur arose. What had killed the children, they wanted to
know? And the family replied that they had just died. And people said amongst themselves that it was strange that the two
deaths had occurred at the same time. And there was a feeling of great unease at the unnatural looks of the family. Soon the
police came around. The family told them the same story of death and burial at the lands. They did not know what the children
had died of. So the police asked to see the graves. At this, the mother of the children broke down and told everything.
Throughout that terrible summer, the story of the children hung like a dark cloud of sorrow over the village and the sorrow
was not assuaged when the old man and Ramadi were sentenced to death for murder. All they had on the statute books was that
tribal murder was against the law and must be stamped out with the death penalty. The subtle story of strain and starvation
and breakdown was inadmissible evidence at court; but all the people who lived off crops knew in their hearts that only a
hair's breadth had saved them from sharing a fate similar to that of the Mokgobja family. They could have killed something
to make the rain fall.