“When is the last time you saw Solomon?” Maya continued quickly, sensing that their window was closing. When the father shook his head, Maya pressed on and inquired whether they had a way of getting to Zomba. The mother then abruptly got up and went inside. The father leaned sharply backward into the doorway after her, nearly dissolving into the darkness. He glanced over at the adults who had joined moments before. Aman then looked, and counted over forty.
Over forty people holding rocks of various sizes in their fists. Suddenly he knew. The files hadn’t been mixed up.
“We have to get out of here,” he whispered loudly. But before Maya or Mwembe could respond, a leathery woman appeared on the eastern slope. The crowd grew silent.
Her blood-shot eyes, which peered out from dreads of bone-white hair, found Aman and Maya. Staff in hand, she descended steadily toward them.
“You have no right to approach my people without my permission,” she said thickly. This was the village chief, Mwembe in a shallow tone explained. Appalled, Maya profusely apologized for their ignorance. Aman stumbled over his words to explain. Both looked in wonderment at Mwembe.
Without a word, she drifted by them and toward the villagers. Before disappearing into their mass, however, she veered right and looked back at Maya and Aman before heading down the same path that had led them there. Aman momentarily shut his eyes, and then started toward her. Maya and Mwembe followed not far behind.
The last of the sun had fallen beneath the horizon, and ashen clouds were quickening twilight. A strong gust whipped through the parched cornstalks, and Aman told himself that it was the wind he heard faintly whispering. He peered between the rows of corn to his left and to his right, unsure how closely to follow her. Suddenly a rock launched from somewhere behind them, whizzing by Maya’s ear and into Aman’s path, causing him to stumble palms down into a pit still muddy from the rains. Mwembe and Maya reached out, but he jerked free and scurried forward to close the gap ahead of him.
Suddenly, from over Aman’s shoulder about 100 yards ahead, Maya saw the white van appear through an opening in the corn. And then it flashed before her: the disjointed limbs, toes, an ear—the flesh lightly charred save a few supple, raw fragments, which slowly released the drops of blood that soaked their burlap sack cocoon. Solomon’s crime was not of this earth.
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