RICE is back! Along with his friends: Jimmy, Grace, and Britt – in an international road trip that takes them from Washington DC to Paris and finally to darkest Africa.
AN EXCERPT FROM ON THE BLACK: AFRICA
Wisdom’s truck plummeted down the double-track dirt road like an avenging angel, the battered Toyota Hilux bucking and diving over the ruts, soldiers behind him hanging on in the truck bed, one hand on the blistered roof, the other clutching their new AK47’s.
A meter or so behind him, crashing through the jungle, were five more trucks, bumper to bumper, engines screaming.
Ahead in a clearing, the small village of Bandundu lay in the early morning light, a pall of wood smoke still hanging in the air from fires lit the night before.
Wisdom saw one villager, an old man with what looked like a walking stick, standing by a tree, already raising his hands in surrender. He knew what was coming. The troops would ignore him for now; he didn’t look like he was capable of much work, therefore useless to them — and a waste of a good bullet.
Let the lions in the Nyungwe Forest take care of him after they burned his village.
Before the truck came to a full stop, two young soldiers no more than ten years old, Yoma and N’go, were already on the ground running in their bare feet, their guns at the ready, eyeing the first huts at the edge of the clearing.
Wisdom hammered the brakes and leaped out of the truck, not wanting to miss any of the action. He tore into the second hut, yelling “Infidels. Wake up.” On the floor mat, two young girls opened their eyes. Their mother next to them screamed and reached out for the closest. The father snapped his eyes open and rolled toward the intruder.
“It was a shame,” thought Wisdom, “That we cannot shoot the women.” With only his right hand on the gun, he pulled back his finger on the trigger and felt the semi-automatic lurch, spitting out bullets in a curved path across the man’s legs and up into the chest of his wife. She cried out.
A mistake, thought Wisdom. But these things happen. He mumbled a small prayer of forgiveness and pointed the muzzle at the two girls.
“You come with me now or you will die too.” They cried hysterically; one falling onto her mother, the other hunched over in the corner, cowering. He grabbed the older girl’s arm and pulled her toward the hut’s entrance.
Wisdom screamed, his neck muscles stretched out like rubber cords. “Now! Or I’ll just shoot you right here.”
Wisdom heard brief bursts of automatic fire coming from the other huts. And grunting, the sound grown men made when the bullets tear into them. Always the high-pitched voices of children crying out. Over the wailing he could hear his friends shouting out the familiar slogans.
“In praise of Allah.”
“No more false teaching.”
Commander Kentassa could be heard in the village center, his rumbling voice directing the boys.
“Bring them here. All of them.”
There were thirty raiders in the party this sun-up. Six trucks full of the faithful.
Wisdom pushed the two girls ahead of him, across the pounded red earth to the gathering by the well. Villagers clung to each other. Many crying, some already in a state of surrender, their eyes lifeless. They had heard the stories. They knew what came next.
General Kentassa stood in front of them in his newly pressed uniform, his hands calmly by his side. His role was now to decide who would live and be taken hostage and who would die.
Wisdom sensed a beautiful power in death. The difficult ones, and you could tell who they were almost immediately, grew more vacant with every shot fired. They sunk into themselves. Soon they were like cattle, passive and looking defeated.
One of the captains, a young boy from Golanga, only twelve, stepped up to the gathered residents of the town. Without hesitation, he pushed his stainless-steel Mamba pistol into the belly of one of the elders and fired off two shots to a chorus of wails.
An older woman pushed her way to the front of the anxious group and fell on the older man who was lying on the ground, his dark eyes unfocused, staring up into the mahogany trees.
“Does anyone wish to run?” growled Kentassa. He looked from villager to villager. “I thought not. But we only have room for twenty-five. Young men to work; young girls to be future brides of our bravest warriors. The rest of you …” he shook his head slowly. “God has a plan for you. Yes. You will be a sign to others that there is only one true supreme father. Allah. Who agrees with me?”
One man, tall and muscled raised his hand.
“Son, come here. You wish to join?” The young man nodded his head.
“Then we have a task for you. Ceylon, give this man a machete.”
The captain pulled a machete from his belt and handed the crude blade to the villager, his eyes wide.
“Is your father here?” asked Kentassa.
“No. He died last spring.”
“Your mother?” The man stared at Kentassa, saying nothing.”Your mother is here. I can tell. I can see it in your sweat. Look at you. You run wet like the Inga Falls. Be careful or you will drown.”
Kentassa pulled his handgun from his belt holster and pushed the barrel roughly into the man’s forehead. “What’s your name?”
“Mother of Olawe! You have five seconds to claim your son or I will put a bullet in his obstinate brain.”
All Wisdom could hear was the Tinkerbirds hooting in the trees. No one spoke.
“Then I will count. Five. Four. Three.”
“No!” came a voice from somewhere in the huddle of villagers. “In the name of God, spare him.”
“Which God?” smiled Kentassa.
The woman reluctantly separated herself from the crowd. Two of the soldiers grabbed her arms and dragged her in front of the General.
“Mbote na yo, Mama,” smiled the General. Greetings old woman. “This is a fine son you have raised. And he will solve a problem for us. The Quran is very clear. We cannot kill women. But infidels can. Olawe, I order you to take the machete and kill the old woman now.”
Olawe shook his head in such distress you’d think a Congo snake had landed on his neck.
“Then we will kill the entire village and that will be on your shoulders. You kill this one woman— this non-believer — and you have my word that we will release everyone here and go on our way. One scrawny life for many.”
Olawe almost fell to the ground, his knees giving out, but he pulled himself up before striking the dirt.
“Then the whole village will die,” said the General. “While you watch. And we will lay you on top of the burning pile last.”
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