He arrived with the spicy purple of the sunset, at the end of a long, hot, dusty day. They sat on the cool veranda and watched him walk up the side of the road into town.
“Where’s he from?” asked Mma Boago the owner of Mable’s Takeaway, a takeaway that had never known a woman by the name of Mable.
“Don’t know. What’s that he’s carrying?” Johnny-Boy, Mma Boago’s perpetual customer and occasional bed-mate, asked, squinting his eyes to get a better look.
“Looks like a guitar. Dirty long dreadlocks and a guitar. He’s not bringing anything we need around here, that’s for damn sure.” Mma Boago turned and went back inside; she had magwinya in the deep fryer and couldn’t waste time keeping track of unwanted strangers.
Warona was dragging her daughter, Kelapile, to the clinic when she spotted him. She wasn’t one to believe in love at first sight and fairy tales with happy endings, having witnessed Kelapile’s father’s profession of undying love just before he slipped into bed with the neighbour. It was more than being heart sore: Warona’s heart had been pulled out, knocked around for twelve rounds, then placed back into her chest to perform only the bare minimum required to keep her moving. Some days she wished it would give up on that, too.
“Hurry! They’ll fire me if I’m not back in an hour.” Kelapile’s legs could only go so fast, decided by their three-year-old length. Warona bent down and pulled the child up onto her back. When she looked up again, there he was.
“Do you know where I can find the guest house?”
Practical Warona didn’t mention to anyone the way that her eyes went a bit funny the first time she saw him. She didn’t mention the golden light that surrounded this odd stranger. It made her feel warm, and a barely held memory flooded over her, a remembered feeling, one that she had flung away deep into the folds and creases of the grey matter of her brain to be forgotten forever. It was joy; she felt a warm, orange joy.
“Are you okay?” he asked. His full lips and kind dark eyes twisted with concern.
“I’m fine, thanks. The guest house? Come with me, I’ll show you. It’s near the clinic where I’m going.”
As Kelapile fell asleep on her back, Warona, with each step, fell in love with this stranger. It was reckless and without sense, but irresistible. It was a curious, spooky magic, but she welcomed it.
“I’m Silas,” he said.
That was the beginning. The village looked on with jealous eyes as the pair flew high up to the clouds floating lazily in the silky blue sky, while the villagers stayed stuck to earth with their leaded minds and chained hearts. Resentment built against the couple and leaked out in words whispered in hidden corners and small actions made in public.
“Nothing good can come of that,” Mma Boago cautioned.
Johnny-Boy nodded in agreement. They knew only that love defined by the limits of a stingy life. Status gaining love. Money grubbing love. Security seeking love. It had been so long since pure love had moved among them all they could see was an outsider, an enemy.
Days passed. Silas played music while Warona hung bits of forest-green glass in the sunny window to create emerald patches of light that flicked around the one-roomed house. Kelapile danced. It was like that every day as they tried to circumnavigate the tricky path they’d set out on.
Silas was happy where they were, but he spoke of other places where he’d travelled, of the world out there where every step brought a new surprise and a new way to think about things. Aquamarine seas with whip cream waves. Brown and gold beaches. Magenta mountains. Warona would lie in his arms and listen about those magical places and Silas would rub her head opening her mind to make space for all of the pictures he created.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. The hovering gossip filtered through their shell of private dreams, and Warona was affected. She wondered if the rumours were true. When she slipped into the villagers’ way of thinking, she fought against Silas.
“Stop it!” she’d shout. “What do you want from me? Go back where you came from; you know you will one day!” Tears flowed and she pushed her mind to make her heart a block of cold white ice.
Silas was not troubled by this. He knew words backed down when you faced up to them and told it like it was. He would slowly reel Warona back in, pour warm love over her ice heart, and set her back on the course they were travelling.
Then one grey day, they disappeared. All three of them. Mma Boago was cutting off chicken heads when Johnny-Boy came rushing in. He ran this way and that, his eyes wild with excitement. “I saw it myself.”
“Saw what?” Mma Boago said as the cleaver came down with a thud, separating surprised body from instantly dead head.
“Warona, the baby, and the stranger. They walked down the road, back into the sun from where he came. Walked and then just … they were suddenly gone.”
“Better. People were getting ideas. We don’t need that kind of thing around here.” MmaBoago raised the cleaver and slammed it down hard into the wood of the chopping block.
Johnny-Boy pulled out a beer from the under-counter fridge took a big gulp and nodded his head. Like always, Mma Boago was right.
(This story is included in the collection of stories set in Botswana: In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata and Other Stories)