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The Smiling Mask-an African Short Story ch 8

Updated on September 10, 2020

The Smiling Mask - Chapter8: Arriving in Cala; what will they find?

The question that suddenly popped up in Jennifer’s mind was that if someone in the spirit world had sent her a message by means of the mask she bought in East London, was it a good or an evil spirit? David with his absolute belief in spirits who are capable of communicating, also believed that they can be evil or good.

Her research into the use of masks in Africa confirmed this fact; many who used masks in ceremonies also believed not only in spirits but also in their source. It was dangerous to make the spirits angry and sometimes they even acted simply out of spite! An uneasy mood seemed to overpower her as she wondered about the pull that she had felt to go and find the person who had carved the mask.

Three theories had been advanced on this long trip between Johannesburg and Cala about the possible meaning of the fish. One was that it represented a believer in Christ. In early times a fish had been used as a symbol to identify the Christian faith. The second was that in areas of great poverty, the doctrine of teaching someone to fish is better than giving them a fish, had been propagated by aid organizations. A third theory was that if the person doing the carving lived near the Zambezi River, then supper had been on his or her mind.

At this stage it seemed fruitless to speculate and so the four travelers commented on what they saw from the windows of the Toyota as it travelled along the seemingly never ending road through village after village on its way north. This was not new country for David, who had done this trip many times. He was always amazed at the contrast of life here in this part of Africa and that in Soweto where he grew up and lived. The people here had so little and yet they had such big smiles on their faces. They seemed to be, in some strange way, more connected with their world. At the same time any one of them would have swopped in an instant with him, given the opportunity. He tried to explain this to John, Mary and Jennifer. John posed the question that had often been on David’s mind, “would you swop with them?’ The answer was left hanging in the air.

Jennifer, who had often seen people living in this kind of world on National Geographic and other TV channels, also wondered about life in rural Mozambique. She had read about the Aids epidemic and how a whole generation was likely to be wiped out, leaving the young and old behind. Was this in fact a reality? What about life in these villages? What was it really like?

Mary having also brought people on holiday trips to this area had her own thoughts. As a young person growing up in South Africa she worried about her future there. Many of her friends and even relatives had moved to other countries like England, Australia or New Zealand to find a better future. With the emphasis on Black Empowerment in the work place in South Africa, most jobs were not available to whites. She had often thought that Mozambique or Swaziland might be the answer for her. At the same time her family were in South Africa and the prospect of starting anew in another country seemed just too big a challenge. Possibly things would work out in South Africa and after all she had the job of tour guide that kept the wolf from the door. When she compared her life to that of someone like David it seemed to be so good. Yet what was actually a good life? Travelling this long road through Mozambique gave her a lot of time to think. But at the same time the quest of her new American friend was another puzzle that she had to sort out.

As they approached the town of Cala in the late afternoon their minds turned to the question of how they were going to find the person who had carved the mask. This was not a holiday resort area and so where were they going to find accommodation? Suddenly they realized how dependent they were on David who had been here before and knew the situation. He also, though, had no answer as he had never stayed over here before, having previously only stopped to buy goods. When they saw the town of Cala in the distance they realized that they did not really have any idea about what was going to happen. This was a strange journey indeed! (to be continued)


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