The Smiling Mask-an African Short Story ch 6
Jennifer meets David
When she arrived at the Oliver Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, Jennifer was relieved to find John and his attractive 20 something year old daughter, Mary, waiting for her at arrivals. Did he have any news for her? What did he find out about the possible origin of the mask? Was she searching for the proverbial needle in a hay stack? The flight from Atlanta across the Atlantic Ocean to South Africa had given her a lot of time to think and that had not really helped all that much as what she was doing seemed to come from her heart and not her mind. This was strange in it's self as she was a person who was controlled by common sense rather than emotions. That fact had made it even more difficult for her husband to come to terms with what she was doing
John calmed her racing mind with some good news. After speaking to Jimmy in East London and then travelling to Johannesburg, they had found the person who probably had brought the mask from Mozambique. “His name is David Jacobs and he does a monthly trip to Mozambique to buy various articles for selling in Johannesburg” he told her. “We have a lunch appointment to meet him in the Nelson Mandela Restaurant in Vilikazi Street near his house.”
For Jennifer, travelling into Soweto was a revelation. She did not know what to expect but was amazed at the vibrant, lively urban suburb where locals and overseas visitors mixed in a relaxed atmosphere. David was on time and over a lunch of traditional South African food he examined the mask and felt that he had a good idea of the area in Northern Mozambique from where it probably came. He bought similar masks from several artists/carvers in the small town of Cala just south of the Zambezi. There, in the Sofala Province, the trees were suitable for this type of mask and he was certain that a woman from a nearby village always had about 20 such masks of a good quality to sell.
Did he recognize the small fish on the mask? Was this typical and could it lead to finding the carver? Unfortunately he had no idea and did not know much about the significance or meaning of the masks. He was just a business man trying to make a living. He had never noticed such a design before but perhaps it was used by a particular carver.
Would he mind listing his stops so that they could try and find the person? At first he seemed rather reluctant as this was his only income and why was it so important for them to find this person. This was a difficult thing for them to explain, as John and Mary really had no idea and Jennifer not much more. Her explanation however, seemed to find a place in David’s mind and so he listed the 10 stops along the way, but was pretty certain that they needed to start looking in Cala.
Could they collect a canvas bag of masks at the market places like Cala for him as he did not know if he would be able to do the trip at the end of the month? He explained his situation and John agreed to help him as they had some space in their 4x4 Double Cab Toyota and if not inside then on top. He began to explain who his contacts were and how they would get the goods through customs in Komatipoort when Jennifer suddenly had an idea. Could he come with them to help? Would that be okay with John and Mary? She would pay expenses and a daily allowance.
It was an unlikely group of four who started the trip along the N4 towards Mozambique early the next morning. An American tourist, a tour guide and his daughter and a business man from Soweto who would now be missing the match at Soccer City on Sunday between his football club and their big Pretoria rivals.
While it would be fair to suggest that they knew exactly where they were going it was also equally fair to suggest that no-one was certain why. If only they could have looked into a crystal ball they may have had a better idea, but someone had forgotten to bring it along. (To be continued)