Motorola Mazibuku lay silently behind the thorn bush, hardly daring to breathe, alone in the dark velvet African night. Apart from the small rustling sounds of mice, insects and birds in the undergrowth, all was quiet outside the farmhouse.
There were no other signs of life, and as the moon rose, trees lit up by its silvery light cast black shadows across the yard. Overhead the stars sparkled in the black sky, cold, distant and unblinking, like the accusing eyes of his ancestors.
He knew he was doing wrong, and that his parents would beat him if he was caught. He would bring shame on the family, but his need was overpowering; he was desperate for a little money, so he must do what was necessary. He had an image, and respect, to maintain, and his old Nike trainers were a serious embarrassment, not to mention a hindrance in his romantic pursuit of Precious
Makela, the sweetest girl in school.
Motorola was basically a good boy, brought up in the fear of the Lord, and in greater fear of the stick wielded, it seemed, by every adult in his village. His name, like many of his generation, was a tribute to the all-pervading mobile phones, which like fashionable trainers were status symbols out here in the townships around Johannesburg.
The farm where he now hid belonged to a white man, Dan Roodt, an old Afrikaner who was said by the local Zulus to practise witchcraft. Dark, gaunt, and with a stooped, crablike gait, he said little, worked less, and glared furiously at everyone who came near. Visitors were few indeed. He was usually armed, too, which sent a cold thrill of fear through Motorola as he imagined the consequences of discovery. Despite the cool night air, sweat trickled down his face, and he wiped it away with a swipe of his trembling hand.
Arriving at dusk, Motorola hid and waited for the old man, whose bicycle he coveted. An easy item to dispose of, it promised a quick return on his night's work. Sure enough, Roodt had cycled slowly up to his front stoep, dismounted, and leant the bike against the verandah rail. He then glared round, but seeing nothing, went inside. Motorola heard the bolt slide home, and the key turn in the front door lock.
It was now 10pm, and old Roodt had turned off the lights an hour ago; it was time to move. Motorola rose and crept softly across the farmyard, his anxious eyes swivelling this way and that, alert for danger. As he reached the stoep, he saw the shiny black bicycle leaning against the guard rail. It was a man's bike, with a woven basket over the front wheel, a large, comfortable leather saddle, and three-speed Sturmey-Archer hub gears. A very fine bicycle indeed! This would fetch 50 Rand from old Mbopo, the local 'fence', who bought and sold anything and everything. No questions would be asked.
Why would Roodt leave it there at night, unprotected? Anyone could steal it. Something was wrong here, and Motorola stopped in his tracks, still as a statue, looking furtively around and thinking furiously. Just then he spotted the small, ugly figure in the bike basket, and knew why Dan Roodt needed no lock or chain. It was a voodoo doll. Carved roughly from a billet of dark wood, it had a bundle of feathers atop a grimacing face, with one big black and blue glass bead to ward off 'the evil eye'. Something terrible would happen to anyone who interfered with this bicycle; it carried the threat of nameless evil and a wise man would run.
Motorola swallowed hard; this was make or break time, and filled with dread, he told himself he was a modern man, and didn't believe in foolishness like voodoo. That was for the old ones. No, he would take the bike, voodoo doll and all. He would show his friends what he, Motorola Mazibuku, was made of. Precious would be impressed by his boldness, too, and so in a foolish instant, his mind was made up.
He gently took the handlebars and wheeled the bike across the yard into the shelter of the trees. When he was 20 yards clear of the farmhouse, he mounted and rode away down the dusty road his heart pounding, but with a huge grin on his shining face. Ha! That would show them! Next stop Mbopo's corrugated tin hut, a few miles down the road on the edge of the township.
Rusty Hallam and his mate were at a loose end. "Fancy a bit of fun?" said Rusty, as they sat idly sipping cold Cokes by the pool.
"Yeah, why not? " said Paul van der Hoedt, his best friend. "What you got in mind, man?"
" How about a bit of snake charming?" said Rusty, "It'll frighten the life out of some farm boy."
" Snake charming? " said Paul, "what do you mean?"
"I tell you man, the kaffirs are all terrified of snakes!" said Rusty.
"They run a bleddy mile if they see one!"
"Oh yeah?" said Paul, "Go on then!"
"OK" said Rusty, " Come on, let's have some fun!"
With that they jumped onto their bikes and raced off into the gloom, Rusty leading the way. A few minutes later they arrived at the 'main road', a dusty, unmetalled track, leading to the nearby township. Hiding their bikes, they crouched down behind a large bush by the roadside.
"What now?" Said Paul.
"Watch this" said Rusty, "it never fails!"
He took from his pocket a three-foot length of black rubber bicycle inner-tube, which flopped and wobbled about. To one end he attached a twenty-foot length of thin nylon fishing line. At the other end of the fishing line was a large fish hook.
Crouching silently, they waited. Several pedestrians walked by on their way home; bulky women in bright clothes with huge bundles on their heads, a few labourers, all of whom were ignored. Eventually, when the road seemed deserted for the night, a lone figure on a bicycle came into view, pedalling steadily along, with a big smile on his face. His white teeth gleamed in the cold
moonlight, and he looked as happy as could be.
As the cyclist came abreast of the bush concealing Rusty and Paul, Rusty deftly swung the fishing line and threw the hook at the back wheel, where it caught in the spokes. Then they lay flat to watch the results.
Motorola, blithely unaware of all this activity, suddenly heard a rustling sound behind him. Glancing over his shoulder he saw a long, dark, wriggling form approaching, kicking up the dust as it closed rapidly on him. His heart leaped in horror! It was a snake ! He moaned weakly in terror, and began to pedal faster, trying to outrun the vengeful 'voodoo snake'. As the fishing line was tangled in the rear wheel, the inner tube was drawn inexorably closer, and the faster Motorola went, the quicker the line shortened.
The voodoo doll's glassy eye glittered from the basket, and Motorola's insides turned to jelly. With a moan, he flung it into the bushes at the roadside, but still the 'snake' bore down on him, silent and remorseless.
Pumping the pedals like a madman, he hurtled down the road into the night, issuing a long, quivering sob of terror as Rusty and Paul watched, helpless with laughter.
There was a loud crash, and a bellow of pain as Motorola and the bike parted company in the embrace of a thorn bush. Weeping and snivelling, blood issuing from a hundred punctures from the wicked thorns, Motorola fled, leaving Rusty and Paul to their merriment.
"Point taken, man" said Paul, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes, "that's snake charming all right. Never saw a kaffir move so fast!"
He and Rusty casually cycled home, oblivious to the distant and receding wails of pain echoing through the still night. That was the best fun they'd had in ages.
Motorola never stole again, and although he had a healthy respect for the Christian commandments, he now had a lot more respect for the old voodoo magic.
Mike Biggs, 20/10/2014