A child soldier leads Father Angelo to speak with the devil in the African bushby Damon Galgut / September 18, 2006 / Leave a comment
The knock came in the small hours, as Father Angelo knew it would. But it wasn’t the sort of knock he had expected. He had been waiting for a blow, a prelude to the breaking of wood, the violent inrushing of feet. This was a soft sound, interrogative, gentle. The knock of a timid neighbour.
The face outside was a boy’s face. Fifteen or sixteen, eyes downcast. He looked like one of the congregation, arriving for confession. But he was one of them.
“Somebody wants to speak to you,” he said, whispering.
Father Angelo hesitated. The boy was alone. This was more like an invitation than a demand; he could refuse.
“Just let me get dressed,” he said.
He followed the boy through the dark streets. Nobody else was around, but soldiers were always a possibility. The boy kept to the shadows, away from the light, and Father Angelo stayed close behind. It occurred to him that he was behaving like one of them.
The priest lived near the edge of town; not far ahead the bush began. The others—because there would be others—would be waiting out there. The boy had no gun; there was still time to turn around.
He said, “What is your name?”
The boy seemed startled to be spoken to. In the dark his eyes flashed white as he looked back at the priest. “Sam,” he said.
Both of them were whispering.
“How old are you, Sam?”
The boy shrugged. There was anger in the gesture.
They went on. The African night was warm, heavy with the smell of dust and vegetation. There was a shrilling of crickets from all around, but a tiny moat of silence enclosed them, moving along as they did.
They came to the edge of town. The lights and houses fell away; they were among fields. Then the bush rose up in a dark wave. The boy walked carefully now, picking his way, listening. There was a soft sound—a whistle, a hiss—from somewhere close by. They went towards it.
The others were waiting. Three of them. It was too…