The Gcwi, the Samaritan
THEY WERE NAKED apart from small aprons of worked hide and they were the colour of the sand at dusk. They had a trick of staying so still that they assumed the aspect of rocks or irregularities of the earth and so rendered themselves quite invisible. As they had to Hob while he waited for his father to come up from his ducking. The boy, since his arrival at the tanker, had seen no human besides Jack Delfan and he stared at the Gcwi like a witness to a miracle. Which wonder was but a yellow wrinkled crone as old as Gondwanaland and three men and a girl. They squatted on their haunches in the sand, the Gcwi, and they stared at Hob and Hob stared at them.
A silence attended that meeting in the lee of the rusted hulk. At the hearth where three logs smouldered. In the shade of the rapture tree. No breath of air moved and Hob did not know if he was awake in the world or bewitched by a story but he hoped that it was the former.
The eldest of the Gcwi men lifted a slow and deliberate arm to point at Jack Delfan.
Hoooooo, he said. Hooooooooooooooo.
It was a marvel of mimicry, exact down to finest nuances and tonal qualities, for it had been the habit of the Gcwi, over millennia, to study and imitate the sounds of the living world.
Hooooo, said the man, and he looked at his companions. They were entirely alert and their eyes rested on him and then they flicked back to Jack Delfan. Who turned gingerly onto his stomach, arguments with his offspring all forgotten. The Gcwi man stood and grasped an imaginary companion to his breast and shouted at him and then he allowed himself to topple back on the sand. He lay there wide-eyed and open-mouth and he stared at the sky with crossed eyes.
Hooooooooo, he said.
His companions commenced to laugh. They slapped their thighs and they rolled about and you would think that never in all their lives had they been so entirely surprised and entertained.
The girl laughing still as she turns onto her stomach and rises to sit back on slim calves folded beneath her. The softness of her rear indented by the company of her heels. She appears to Hob’s wondering eyes like a vision from the book, the virgin, perhaps, who came to David when he gat no heat. She is slim as a reed to grace a lake of cool clear water. Her incipient breasts dance as she laughs and her yellow eyes dance also and then she feels Hob’s gaze upon her and she becomes grave. The senior man likewise. He squats on his haunches in the sand and he lifts a hand with open palm to touch upon his chest.
Gcumm, he says, and he touches his chest again. Gcumm.
The others nod, and then the crone says, hooooooooooo, and they commence to laugh once more and Hob laughs also.
Jack Delfan carefully reassuming a vertical aspect, checking the articulation of ribs and limbs.
I thought I made it clear to you years ago, he says. Bugger off. In perpetuity.
The Gcwi as still as rocks. With lowered gaze.
I said, go!
Shut your mouth, Hobblet. This be man’s business. And to the Gcwi, roaring, be gone!
Twelve eyes entirely aware of Jack Delfan in their peripheral vision. They know better than to offer a direct and wide-eyed gaze to a predator. Swift of glimpse they are and can look and look away before you know that they have looked. And yet you will sense from their demeanour that they have learnt something about you. Seen through those eyes, Jack Delfan is a ghastly figure. The sand adhering to the sweat of his brow, clinging to the blood on his chin. A filthy monster on the desert. A hirsute and battered primate, pointing to the west.
Get your burnt hides back into the wilderness from whence you came.
Gcumm looking up carefully at Delfan. Putting his hands to his belly. Lifting them to gesture to his mouth as though drinking.
Go, says Jack Delfan.
They are thirsty, says Hob.
Go, roars the prophet.
Gcumm miming the movements of eating.
They are hungry.
The book, says Hob, speaks of the Samaritan. Who helps the traveller.
Not now, boy.
It speaks of the Samaritan. You have read me of it. How many times have you read me of it?
There is a time for the book and this is not it.
The book says they stay.
I built this domain from sand and wreckage, boy.
And so did I.
You were nothing. I fed you. I scrubbed your tiny arse.
I gave all. I found the water.
And they smelt it.
The strangers stay.
Delfan the patriarch drawing back a fist and launching it into the son’s face. Hob staggering backwards with blood streaming. Wiping the back of his hand across his mouth. Looking down at the red and then up again at his father. Stubborn as stone.
The travellers stay.
Delfan’s fist swinging like a club, coming down on the boy’s face so that he falls to his knees. To look up bleeding at his father. And speak his dogged words again.
The book says they stay.The Gcwi unmoving, attentive. Observers of the natural world. Jack Delfan slumping like a man exhausted by disappointments in love. Turning slow and tired towards the lift. Stepping onto the platform. Flicking the crude switch to engage the motor. The Gcwi aghast at the great clanking of the chains. Delfan ascending slowly with back turned so that he does not see Hob rise and go to the drum at the trunk of the tree and dip in an old enamel bowl and offer it to the travellers. Who come forward in order of seniority. The crone, the Knowledge, taking the bowl first and drinking deep before offering it to Gcumm.