The Smiling Mask - an African Short Story Ch 7
The Smiling Mask chapter 7
While they travelled through Mpumalanga past Mbombela and then on along the N4 toward the Komatipoort Border post and past the entrances to the Kruger National Park, first at Malelane and then Crocodile River, they spoke about this great game reserve that John and Mary knew so well and loved so much. Jennifer made a mental note that she needed to return here one day, perhaps with her confused husband. Then the conversation changed as they neared the Mozambique Border to include the significance of the fish figure on the mask and also the meaning of masks in the minds of the African people in general. David, as the only black African, did not add much to the conversation as he had grown up in Soweto and did not know much about these things. This, in spite of the fact that he made his living, at least partially, from buying and selling them. He had inherited the business from a friend who had died of an aids related illness and who he had helped out during the final year of his life. Before that he had driven a Taxi, but that had ended when he had been involved in an accident and he was uninsured.
John and Mary knew somewhat more, as they had both done the mandatory tour guide courses and as a part of that had studied African Customs. It was surprising though that Jennifer made the biggest contribution. With easy access to information on the internet, she had spent many hours researching the subject after what she called her “close encounter with the mask.” The idea of a smiling mask was strange, as the mask she had bought did not have a smiling face. Typical of the masks from Northern Mozambique it had an open mouth that could in no way be described as smiling. In her mind however, she was certain that at times it seemed to smile at her.
This brought the discussion into the area of the mystic and spiritual. Here David was on more certain ground than the others. Even growing up in a modern environment like Soweto he believed strongly in the spirit world. Communication with the forefathers was a vital part of life in Africa and messages could be sent through the medium of this spirit world. He had listened carefully to Jennifer’s explanation and felt that someone was trying to communicate with her and did in fact succeed. “Why me?” Jennifer asked, and David could only shake his head and say “I don’t know, but there must be a reason. Perhaps we can find a Sangoma in Mozambique who can help you”, he suggested politely.
Again during the night in their hotel in Maputo, the first stop in Mozambique, Jennifer had nightmares about children being swept away in floods and parents crying. These were perhaps brought on by the accounts she had read of the massive flooding that had taken place in 2007 in the area to which they were heading. A huge Tropical Storm had devastated large areas of the coast with many lives lost and great damage caused to villages and towns on the flood plain.
Mozambique was again a big surprise to Jennifer. Maputo, like Soweto, was a bustling urban complex mixing the old and new like many other African cities. Evidence of the Portuguese colonial area remained, but the 21st Century had made its impact. Around the city were the usual informal settlements where people from tribal areas lived as they tried to make the transition from tribal or rural, to urban. Hoping to find a job, many dreamt of opening new doors of opportunity. There was evidence of industry and a growing harbour like the one that, in earlier times, had been a main route from the Witwatersrand to Europe.
The coastline, as they travelled north, was spectacular with the small tribal villages dotting the landscape and the luxury up market lodges and resorts claiming the seashore. The road was not as busy as it would be during the December summer holidays, but taxis and busses transported people and goods up and down the coast. Occasionally a luxury 4x4 carrying a group or a family from South Africa would be seen, or a small plane heard passing overhead to deliver guests at the hotels and resorts. As they travelled further north towards the area where David was certain the mysterious mask came from, the area became more tribal.
Next to the road they saw occasional abandoned brick and mortar houses that now lay in semi-ruin. Mary informed them that this was evidence of the fighting that took place in these areas after Portugal withdrew from the area. Opposing political groups had been engaged in a war to control the country. Even now there was times that rebel groups caused outbreaks of conflict. Although a peace existed in the country as Frelimo ruled, in many rural areas there was still strong support for Renamo.
The mood in the Toyota also became more somber as everyone seemed to be deep in thought. (to be continued)