(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
This contribution is part of a series:-
1. The Most Frightening Thing In The World (15-Dec-2010)
2. Fun And Games (10-Jan-2011)
| ||Given the right circumstances, love can be the most frightening thing of all.|
3. Malaka (13-Feb-2011)
| ||Why are children the best soldiers one can imagine? This is Part Two of the Bisaria Quartet, and follows 'The Most Frightening Thing In The World.'|
4. The General (15-May-2011)
| ||A girl wanders alone through a land ravaged by civil war.|
| ||The General made a mistake when he spared the woman, and a worse mistake when he let her bear his child. This is the concluding part of the Bisaria Quartet.|
General came out of the witch doctorís house and stretched. The sun felt good
on his skin, after the damp darkness of the hut. He touched the blood the witch
doctor had daubed on his face and arms, painting symbols of power. The blood
belonged to the goat the General had brought as a present for the witch
doctor.† It was already drying, and sticky, and he breathed deep when he
thought of the power that was in him now.
The Toyota pick-up truck was waiting, under the shade of the
trees across the road. His men were sprawled on the grass around it, playing
cards and passing a bottle of beer back and forth. When they saw him they got
up, slapped the dust from their clothes, and climbed into the bed of the truck.
With their automatic rifles, bandoliers and rocket launchers they looked like
brigands more than soldiers. That was quite all right with everyone.
The Generalís driver, Shona, grinned and flicked a cigarette
butt out of the window. "All fine, I hope?"
"All fine." The General looked back at the witch doctorís
house as Shona put the truck in gear. He decided that one day soon he would
have to kill the witch doctor, because he had far too much knowledge of the
Generalís personal power, and could destroy his aura just as easily as he had
just enhanced it. He would have done it already, but he feared the old manís
juju. "We will come back next month," he said, "at the full moon."
Shona nodded. "Where we go now?" An ethnic Kudu, his Karibu
was far from perfect. His round face shone with perspiration. He was always
sweating, and the smell of stale sweat hung over him at all times. The General
had almost stopped noticing it. Shona was an excellent driver and mechanic.
The General nodded. "Mine. And after that, back to the
As the truck drove over the potholed road, the General took
off his cap and leaned his head against the window, which he had rolled up
because of the dust. If he pressed his head against the window, the jolting
didnít disturb him too badly. He closed his eyes and tried to relax, but the
nervous tension inside him was rising steadily, like a rubber band being
stretched towards breaking point. It was a familiar sensation, and he knew he
would soon have to find a way to release it.
He felt Shona change gears and slow down for the turn off.
The road up to the mine was narrow and winding, rutted heavily with the wheels
of the trucks that carried loads of ore down to the railhead for sending on to
NíTiloap. The pick-up rattled and bounced, and he pressed his hand down on the
seat to keep himself braced against the window. "Careful," he muttered. "Donít
let anybody fall off."
Then, suddenly, the Toyota slowed and stopped. The General
opened his eyes, but couldnít see anything outside because of the drifting dust
cloud. "What happened? Why did you stop?"
"Accident," said Shona, pointing forward through the
windscreen. The dust had begun to settle, and the General saw the big lorry
that had toppled over, mostly blocking the road. A heap of ore had spilled from
the vehicle and closed off what the truckís body didnít. "Canít get through."
"Damn." The General got out and stomped angrily over to the
wreck. The cause of the accident was clear; the lorry had been loaded far
beyond safe limits and had toppled when the cargo shifted. There was nobody
around Ė the crew had vanished, probably fearing retribution. The accident was
very recent; he could feel the heat coming off the engine. He felt the rubber
band stretch tighter and tighter, and thought that this time it must surely
He came back to his truck. "We canít get past," he snapped.
"You and you," he said, pointing at two of the six men in the back of the
pick-up, "get round this and walk up to the mine and tell them. Get somebody to
come down and help shift this and clear the road." He waited until the two men
had climbed over the pile of ore and disappeared up the road. "Letís get back
to town," he said.
The road was so narrow that Shona had to reverse a good part
of the way before turning. Sensing the Generalís mood, he drove in silence,
occasionally glancing at him out of the corner of his eye. When they had
reached the main road he turned towards the town.
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