Rodric Anthony is a writer of fiction and nonfiction. Creating new stories and seeing where they take him is his passion.
Woza Moya Nqcwele, Xhosa for Come Holy Spirit. In the previous chapter 4, Hiram and Mahogany see each other in a flashback. A kiss from the past helps bring the memory. Hib, his brother across the ocean reflects on the letter Hiram sent using a mobile app. What follows...
Moms always know these types of things. It’s a gift from God, he hopes.
Dim light from the glare of a paraffin lamp casts shadowy figures dancing in the glow around the room as soft thumps of rainfall filter in through the slightly raised window. Elder Smarts quietly meditates in his bed, trying to digest unwelcomed emotions, grieving. Ever since postage arrived from home a few weeks ago from Hiram about that girl at the lake, sometimes pond
“That strange girl,” he thinks. “Why can’t I get her off of my mind? Why do I feel… Sad?”
Elder Nkosi, his missionary companion, stirs from the bed across. It’s 6 a.m. Heavy rains through the night killed the electrical grid in the township leaving the view out of the window a void of darkness, with no sunshine in today’s forecast. Restless. Rainy weather brings overcast feelings, perplexions, quanderings... Grievings? Regrets?
Hiram’s nameless woman inhabits tiny... in the back of the mind thoughts. Ghostly? Ghastly? Unsettling thoughts... peripheral. Front and center thoughts are of his mother, Beverly Smarts. Today, she stays on his heart-- not in a homesick way. Homesickness ended months ago. No, not that. These emotions are a puzzle. Are they sad? He cannot quite figure out what way.
“I wonder if the sun is not shining because of bad news,” he whispers to avoid waking Elder Nkosi, wanting to call home sorely, or even email! In his spirit, he feels troubling news. Regret? Something’s a-brewing.
Sighing, not able to shake these thoughts that woke him early, he curses the restrictions against emailing and phoning the mission president put in place because of use abuse by other missionaries.
Once a month email checks limit him! No, not the fact that in the township he lives there’s barely any phone reception. No, what limits him does not have anything to do with the hardly passable electricity for sustainable periods, no more than four hours during the rainy seasons sometimes. No, the fact that mobile phones and computers serve no need where Elder Nkosi and Elder Smarts live. Those email restrictions… Not decidedly those restrictions, but thinking this way gives him something, a distraction away from the feeling of… grief? Regret?
Computers and phones work in the cities like Umtata and East London, not here. They do not need them, nor can they use them for the work they do. Most of the people in Nqadu Township have no computers and live in shanties or government houses made of cinder blocks. The shanties seem more liveable too.
I miss you, Mom, Elder Smarts imagines, prayerfully aching across the ocean to a biological mom-fi he assumes must exist. Moms always know these types of things. It’s a gift from God, he hopes. Encouraging words, he misses. ...soft touch and kind voice. Hiding his mischievous acts of violence towards Hiram from her, he misses, and getting away with them!
Reading will take his mind in the right direction, the same direction this last year has taken him: to work! As he lifts his analog hardcopy of the Scriptures to read by the dim paraffin lamp, rings from the phone snap him into the moment!
Computers and phones work in the cities like Umtata and East London, not here.
Call From the President
Quickly, he glances over at the clock. “It’s 6:25 am! Who could be calling,” he yawns to Elder Nkosi, who nimbly leaps out of bed to answer the phone from a snoring--gently snoring--sleep.
“Hello, I am Elder Nkosi,” chipper and fresh as if he had not just resurrected from slumber. Elder Smarts loves his missionary companion’s ability to bring sunshine with his voice. Always a smile on his face and a kind word to speak. Elder Nkosi is possibly the most loving person he’d met since leaving home!
Elder Nkosi pauses for a moment, the smile fleeing his face before he responds, “Yes President, he is awake. I will give him the phone.”
Covering the receiver with long thin fingers, an overly expressive face shows the alarm of an invading army, “What did you do? The mission president wants to speak to you, now!”
Sudden trepidation passes through Elder Smarts, answering his missionary companion’s query with a head shake. “Okay,” he manages, asking more as a question than a statement of understanding before taking the phone. “Good morning President Montgomery.”
“Good morning, Elder Smarts. I apologize for calling so early, but I wanted to catch you before you left your boarding.” President Montgomery’s voice sounds like a baritone’s song, one of those people who sings each word with his thick Afrikaaner accent speaking beautiful English. Soothing.
“Not at all, President, what can I do for you,” voices Elder Smarts, fake confidence glowing into the phone receiver as he closes his eyes unsure of what’s coming.
“I need you and Elder Nkosi to fly to East London today. I have some very important news for you from your Bishop and an assignment for the two of you.”
“Is my father okay,” concern thick in his voice, not hiding, contemplating the foreboding feelings vexing his heart this morning--images of his mother smiling at him appearing. Regret? Yes, regret that he woke up feeling this way this morning?
“Bishop Smarts instructed me to address him as your bishop for this call,” avoiding the missionary’s apprehencious question. “He’ll speak to you later today. Where he is now, as you know, it’s a little past midnight. A flight has been scheduled for both you and Elder Nkosi.”
“What,” came his frit reaction, sending Elder Nkosi on the alert! “I mean, uh… now?”
“Pack all of your belongings and report to the Airport in Umtata by 9:30 am,” President Montgomery continues, never acknowledging the hysterics of his listener, soothing voice. Elder Nkosi puts his ear near the phone trying to hear what his companion, the normally even-tone and stoic, worries about. “Inform the elders in your zone that you and Elder Nkosi are leaving.” Elder Smart swallows hard enough he’s sure President Montgomery had to hear it. He had to hear all of this excitability!
“Also,” the president continues, “you and Elder Nkosi choose one of the District Leaders to act with his companion as Zone Leaders until Elders Jarys and Simunye arrive in Umtata to head down to Nqadu in two weeks.
“President,” says Elder Smarts, “I am not a person that questions often, and I don’t mean to sound skeptical of your assignments, but why the sudden change? Is my family well?” Mom images again... Missing her.
“This much I will tell you, Elder,” came the melodious baritone assuring formality of President Montgomery’s voice. “God has made the assignment change. It so happens that Bishop Smarts called around the same time. I will tell you more once you arrive. Trust, Elder. No mistake is being made.”
“Yes, President. You should know that I don’t want to leave, but I won't give you a hard time about it.”
“Good,” comes his swift reply with a caution. “I won’t give you a hard time about the last touch rugby game you attempted to turn into tackle American football either.”
Elder Smarts gives a nervous chuckle ending the call. A few more moments, Elder Nkosi would have stroked with anticipation!
Elder Nkosi pauses for a moment, the smile fleeing his face before he responds...
Nqadu Great Place
“That was so strange,” says Elder Smarts, temporarily shielded from his puzzling, vexing, [foreboding?] morning mood.
“What did he say, Elder,” queries Elder Nkosi as if he’d waited patiently the entire time.
“No, not what he said, but who he spoke to,” sits the elder in the chair next to the telephone table, exhausted emotionally. “He hardly ever talks to me when he calls about missionary work, only to you.” It’s true. Elder Nkosi is the more senior of the two and served in Nqadu the longest, the most familiar with the people of the township, its customs, its language preference of Xhosa, the king.
“What did he say, Elder,” voice slightly elevated and a tad eager walking towards him carrying the paraffin lamp.
“I mean, I’ve been up since five…” he trails off trying to annoy the chipper missionary, a Zulu by ancestry, monarchal blood from the Durban area, unsuccessfully.
“Elder Smarts! What did he say.”
“We are leaving for East London from Mthatha in like, 2 hours.” On buzzes electricity, allowing the yellow glow of the overhanging incandescent light Elder Smarts flipped on earlier checking if power returned. There’re three days of prepaid electricity left on the meter before the deposit starts to get used.
“What,” came the unabashed surprise of Elder Nkosi extinguishing the paraffin lamp! “President Montgomery is surprising. Did he tell you why?”
“No,” surprise radiating and glinting in dismay. “He said he would say more when we got there. He wants us to decide who would be good leaders to hold down the zone until Elder Jarys and Elder Simunye could fly down.”
Seconds of frowning by both elders, It’s never good news when missionaries have to leave an area in a rush. Usually, things like this happen if the missionaries do something stupid or criminals extort, even kidnap missionaries. That hasn’t happened in Nqadu for a while--years. The king of the AmaXhosa people has made sure of it, besides.
Zones, districts, and areas in Nqadu are where missionaries work. The president has the whole area divided up so that the missionaries can work and keep track of who they contact with the Gospel message. In their mission, headquartered in East London, there are a minimum of eight missionaries to a zone, four to a district, and two to an area. Nqadu is one of Elders Smarts and Nkosi’s areas for missionary work.
King Sigcawu gave ceremonious free access to his people thanks to Elder Nkosi. He is not a figure in the government, but to teach the AmaXhosa, formalities, and culture need respect.
"What can you and this church of yours offer my people other churches cannot that I should support you," King Sigcawu asked.
Elder Nkosi, acting as an unofficial emissary for the Zulu Royal family seeking support on behalf of the Church, offered, "We offer more of the same, a people who will thrive if they will listen to our teachings and accept them as their own. If you support our efforts going about the community with no harm coming to us, the teachings we offer make bad men good and good men better."
"Ewe. Abathunywa, I will support your work among my people. Because you are of the Zulu Royal family, I will trust you. So many of my people already attend your church. You are good people, loyal. You respect tradition."
Umhlobo or abahlobo, what missionaries here call the people who agree to listen to their lessons about the Gospel--friend or friends. The elders worry their abahlobo will wonder why they have not contacted them after a while when they go. It’s still dangerous for White people living in some parts, with some being mugged or kidnapped, especially foreign ones in the recent past. Honor for the AmaXhosa royal family has changed such things. Will their friends think King Sigcawu changed his mind about protecting the missionaries and some thug kidnapped them? Elder Nkosi doesn’t offer information about having Zulu Royal family blood. He does mention he’s from Durban. If people knew, though...
Mde Umntu Omhlophe Onemisipha
Tall White Muscle Man
“He told us to be to the airport to catch a 9:30 am,” continues Elder Smarts. “I don’t think we will be able to organize the area files the way we want to and still make it to the airport.”
“Right,” responds Elder Nkosi, adjusting to the idea of leaving too quickly for Elder Smarts’ comfort. “We can discuss district leaders quickly and their strengths and decide on the best ones and pray about it right now.”
“Okay, let’s get started,” comes the less than enthusiastic reply of Elder Smarts. “The closest district leaders to our area might work the best, but you’re right. Let’s discuss and pray.”
Elder Nkosi calls up two missionaries to apprise them of their new temporary assignment as Elder Smarts checks to make sure all of the paperwork they have on the friends currently speaking with them is perfectly in order. With new elders coming to town, he’d hate to think some of the people they’re leaving never hear from missionaries.
“I see you, Elder Smarts. Elders Mhayi and Loren will do fine with our friends until the older elders arrive here. You are the township Indoda Enkulu Emhlophe,” Elder Nkosi mocks harmlessly, referring to what some of the kids call Elder Smarts when he and Elder Nkosi walk through the neighborhoods--a giant white man. “You are too tall to let things on the ground worry you.”
“I know, right,” flexes Elder Smarts joshing a little to let Elder Nkosi know he catches the sentiment. “It’s not just that, though.”
Elder Nkosi senses the elder grates at something, having a sixth sense about such things called the Holy Ghost in missionary circles.
“What’s up, mfowethu? I have not seen you in such a quandary before,” prompts Elder Nkosi calling him 'brother' in Zulu sitting on the bed next to Elder Smarts’ chair. “Let us talk about it before we go.”
Staring at a painting of Jesus Christ gifted to the missionaries by the young men and women at the local congregation, the Nqadu Branch, Elder Smarts, Heber, Hib sighs.
Friends/abahlobo, brothers/bazalwana... The two of them aren't simply missionary companions anymore waiting for the next assignment. There’s no rush to six-week transfers like the other missionaries in their zone who converse unapologetically at zone meetings, wondering who’d they be paired with next. None of that with them, just brothers, (Xhosa) bazalwana...
Elder Smarts, football star, muscular giant, the “large man” should not fear anything in the eyes of everybody in the community. No one thought to try and mug them or even hinted at disrespecting them due to Elder Smarts’ size--gladiator-like. Not just the size, his smile--the most sincere and friendliest of smiles--overly aggressive playing touch football, though. At least he’d pick up a few players in the adrenaline rush instead of knocking them down--by “mistake.”
Elder Smart takes a while to respond, “I am afraid of the news that I will get from my dad, the Bishop.” He turns, facing Elder Nkosi. “I’ve had some really freaky thoughts lately about my family--about something bad happening while I’m away. I’m scared this talk with Dad may be a something-bad-happened talk. I mean, I know...”
“I suppose I cannot say very much that will make you feel fine, I can offer you only a blessing from the priesthood and encouragement. I think we will be together for a long time. Ndiyakuthanda mhlobo wam."
The two of them aren't simply missionary companions anymore waiting for the next assignment.
Prince Zethulele InamandlaZulu Nkosi
Data. Elder Nkosi reminds Elder Smarts of the Data character on Star Trek: The Next Generation reruns his dad and he used to watch, bonding time.
Elder Nkosi speaks, reads, and writes perfect Elizibean English, French, Xhosa, Afrikaans, and Zulu; understands at least nine other languages with the ability to speak them recognizably; and is an encyclopedia of knowledge on a wealth of things, but he does not use contractions when speaking.
Data could not use contractions either. A smile inches across Elder Smarts’ face thinking of Elder Nkosi with Data’s inability to use contractions by design.
“Why’d you say that we’ll be together for a long time? Why’d you say that?” he asks, trying to use as many contractions as possible to see if Elder Nkosi notices.
“I feel that we are going to receive an assignment that will make it so,” concludes Elder Nkosi, knowing the elder finds his contraction exclusion amusing and refusing to acknowledge deflections from the valetudinarious queries. “Do not ask me how I know other than the Spirit. We will support each other.”
“I gotta be honest,” Elder Smarts rejoins his feelings. “The last time I felt this emotional about something in a negative way is when I could not decide if I wanted to come here as a missionary or go to FSU for school. I feel like such a complainer after what you went through.”
“When my sister passed away...” Elder Nkosi’s eyes moisten a little, raw still from the loss. “You blessed me and bore your testimony of the Lord. How He will strengthen me as one of His servants. He did. I stayed on mission, and intend to finish.” Placing his hand on Elder Smarts’ hand, he adds, “I will be there for you, bhuthi.”
Slightly apprehensive about what will happen in the next moments with Elder Nkosi’s affection, Elder Smarts expects an empathetic embrace, an attack!
He should be used to this man’s affectionate nature by now believing it’s Zulu culture but has met Zulu who are as cold as the Arctic--with him, anyway. It is assuredly Xhosa culture for men to hold hands. AmaXhosa do not shy away from expressions of love or hate--neither do Zulu.
The first week they met, Elder Nkosi took Elder Smarts by the hand as they walked along in a crowd of people in downtown Mthatha on business before driving to the township.
“Come with me,” he said. “I must show you something before we go.” Elder Smarts jerks away with alarm, disgust, and intimidating aggression startling several passersby who stare unapologetically at the giant umlungiu (White man), including other abantu abamhlophe (White people) to see what will happen next!
“What is the matter?” yells the equally alarmed Elder Nkosi looking frantically around to see if someone’s attacking his missionary companion!
“You grabbed my hand,” yells the giant trying to avoid a scene unsuccessfully in the square. “What do you mean what’s the matter?”
“Yes, I know. I want to lead you to this place. You are getting lost in the crowd of people.”
“Well, that’s just weird. I don’t hold guys’ hands.”
“Why not,” Elder Nkosi puzzles.
Tempering his posture to strike the smaller man precipitously, he realizes it’s possibly a cultural misunderstanding. So he offers, “In my culture, it’s considered different when a man holds another man’s hand.”
“Oh,” Elder Nkosi thoughtfully renders as passers-by continue on their way seeing nothing further of the incident will occur. “President told me about that. Holding your hand does not mean I am homosexual. The English people here have the same disdain for men holding hands. I forgot. Follow me.”
Walking a few steps as people gawk at his missionary companion’s height, slowly separating them, Elder Nkosi pauses, causing Elder Smarts to bump into his back nearly knocking the smaller man over
“Sorry about that,” the giant smiles. “I should’ve been looking where I was going.”
Frustration seldomly arising, in the public square Elder Nkosi acknowledges, “I still do not understand! Why? My Father still takes my hand and he received an education in England and the States at BYU. What? Does it make you feel less than a man?”
Elder Smarts responds, “Honestly, it has nothing to do with me feeling less than a man or LGBTQ and all. It has everything to do with what other people think is going on. They’re already taking pictures of me for standing head and shoulders above everybody!”
“Elder Smarts, you are in my country now. We live by my cultural norms. Grown men holding hands here is a sign of friendship. Besides, I don’t want you to get lost in the crowd.”
“Seriously? There is no way you can lose me in this crowd. I stand out like a beacon.”
“I do not stand out. I am brown and short like most AmaXhosa. You can lose me and not find me. Also, maybe the people will leave you alone if you stop saying ‘Sorry about that,’ and walk forward. You are not so tall that you will step on anyone, are you?”
“Uh..” Elder Smarts wants to laugh at the perfect American accent Elder Nkosi mimics. Unsure of what to do, he regretfully examines his companion, daring not to apologize again or smile in case it insults his culture to do so in this situation.
“Take my hand,” snatches Elder Nkosi at the larger hand of Elder Smarts. This time, he allows the small man to lead him to go take care of business to start their missionary work.
Blessings of the Priesthood
The rain drizzles outside and sharp rays of sunlight perforate the clouds of gray sky. As the two scan the structure for the last time from the sitting positions, inspecting the furnishings for the new elders. There's enough power on the meter for the deposit to cover the two weeks the dwelling is empty so that all the food in the fridge will not spoil. Surely the acting zone leaders will help themselves to what's there before it spoils.
“You are the most caring person I know. Elder,” says Elder Smarts patting Elder Nkosi’s hand with his free one before standing in the house, now empty of their personal belongings.
“Why do you say that? Why do you say I am caring? Did I do an anti-English culture thing again,” Elder Nkosi asks, kneeling by the door to say a prayer before leaving?
“Yeah, but I haven’t hit you yet,” Elder Smart taps him on the shoulder kneeling in front of him. “So, I must be getting used to it.”
“You thought I would embrace you? I would have,” he admits. “I am learning. It makes you uncomfortable. We give and take in my culture, not so much, though.” That American accent again...
“Seriously, though, I’m still a bit out of it. The dread is real for me right now. I keep having this feeling of… I don’t know. Is it regret? Sorrow? Will you give me a blessing after the prayer before we go? If anything, I regret having to leave this place. I hope King Sigcawu continues to honor his agreement.”
“Mfowethu, I would be honored to bless you. And yes, the king will honor the agreement because so many of his people go to Church. You did not hesitate to bring me comfort when I needed guidance..." eyes of the small man moisten.
"If you hug me Elder Nkosi, I cannot be held.." He hugs him. The giant umlungu hugs him back. Only two months have passed since his sister died. He's been even more emotional since then! "I can only take so much."
"Ngiyakuthanda, bhuti omkhulu."
"I love you too. little brother."
"Good," snaps Elder Nkosi moving back into position to pray, surprising his missionary companion a little. "You say the prayer--in Xhosa!”
"Alright. I need the practice," he concedes feeling the lingering feelings of regret for something. What? He does not know for sure. Something's off. "Bawo Osezulwini, siyabulela kuwe..."
All cultural references to Zulu and AmaXhosa culture I give firsthand experience having lived in South Africa for two years as a missionary for almost two years and serving with and around AmsXhosa, Zulu, and other ethnicities. Other people also have written about their experiences with the beautiful cultures of Africa. Check out the link below.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Rodric Anthony Johnson
Rodric Anthony Johnson (author) from Surprise, Arizona on July 09, 2021:
Thanks for telling me that, Brenda. I think John Hansen helped out.
BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on July 09, 2021:
I wanted to leave my comment.
In order for me to do that you need to select author's view from statistics page.
Then type in a comment at the end where it says comment.
Rodric Anthony Johnson (author) from Surprise, Arizona on July 09, 2021:
Brenda, I hope this helps. I am sore at the feed right now.
BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on July 09, 2021:
Please repost the one you wrote for Regret onto the news feed again
Rodric Anthony Johnson (author) from Surprise, Arizona on July 09, 2021:
Pamela, thanks for reading. I have an idea of how things will play out, but my muse will lead the way. I hope I can keep you interested. I love feedback about the stories. I planned at one time to publish a book with this story, but never finished past the second chapter. I decided after reading one of Bill Holland's Mailbags to pick up that old story and put it on Hubpages. I owe a lot of my inspiration and recent writing development to Bill and Brenda Arledge.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on July 07, 2021:
This is an interesting story, Rodric. I wonder where it will lead next. I also like the easy you started this chapter as it gave us such a good visual image. Good work, Rodric.
Rodric Anthony Johnson (author) from Surprise, Arizona on July 07, 2021:
Bill, thanks for the compliment. I am trying. The word prompt article by Brenda really got me thinking about how I put words together and living in the moment. I am doing this 12-week course in mindfulness to help with stress and depressive modes. It, plus Brenda's word prompt 'regret' and the advice she gave in it helped me write this, long, long, article. I should have diced it up into small doses. I still could, but no. Ce la vie.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 07, 2021:
"Dim light from the glare of a paraffin lamp casts shadowy figures dancing in the glow around the room as soft thumps of rainfall filter in through the slightly raised window. Elder Smarts quietly meditates in his bed, trying to digest unwelcomed emotions, grieving."
An excellent opening...one of your best...bravo!