The Great Papa Beans
As sundown approaches a rainbow of visible light shines on the wilderness here and there. Flocks, bats, and small land animals begin to wander about, followed by the cries from owls hanging somewhere in the dark, as if lying in wait for their prey. Such a pandemonium awakes Patt from the realm of unconsciousness.
She opens her eyes slowly, seeing a blurry figure across from where she’s lying on the ground. Once her vision comes to full acuity, Patt realizes it’s the same man who claimed to be named Papa Beans. Although he’s almost completely under the dark, she sees his face.
“Excuse, sir—huh, Papa Beans,” she tries to lift herself up. “Thank you for saving me from the fall. Do you know how I can get to Johannesburg—how I could find my friends?”
The man says nothing, throwing pieces of wood into a fire in front of him, as it continuously flares up every time he adds. Momentarily the fire made it clear for Patt to see him; he has curly hair and is manly built. Surprisingly, his body isn’t covered with the tar-like mud like the others she has encountered; it appears more like orange-color, muddy sand. His diaper-like underwear looks like a silky cloth.
Next to him, on the ground, is a medium-sized machete. The man’s eyes stare at Patt’s. He grabs a cloth-made pouch that Patt hasn’t noticed, unties it and grabs a handful of something.
“Eat,” the man finally speaks, “It’s rare cocoa beans only found in this southern part of Angola.”
“Angola?” Patt repeats in surprise. She doesn’t know how she’ll find the others and look for help. She examines the beans in his manly hand.
“I can’t eat this,” she says, “they look raw and hard. It’s inedible.”
“Use your teeth, it’ll make them stronger. These beans are rich in protein, good for muscle build-up.”
“Sorry, but I can’t afford to lose my teeth,” she says. The man smiles, genuinely. “You don’t look like an African native.”
The man remains silent for a while as he chews his beans.
“How could you tell I’m not a native?” he begins.
“Your English is pure American.” She says.
“I am—I mean, I used to be an American before the year 2008.”
“Used to be an American?” Patt reiterates the words. “I never thought someone could easily change a nationality. Anyhow, what do you mean before the year 2008?”
“I’m afraid I can’t tell,” he says, chewing his beans.
Silence resurfaces between them. Patt has so many questions to ask, but doesn’t know when to start. Instead, Papa Beans begins.
“What happened to you?”
“I was on my way to Johannesburg with my friends, but a terrible accident occurred—I still can’t understand why I’m alive.”
The man gives an uncertain look, as if wondering what she means. She continues.
“While we were flying in air the plane was probably struck by lightening, so it began to dissemble and I lost my friends, including the pilot. I was the only one left, but luckily I became unconscious before crash-landing. I woke up out of nowhere not knowing where my friends are.”
The man thinks about everything she’s saying.
“It must be fate,” he finally says.
“Fate? I don’t think so.”
“Life has a meaning, and fate is always on your shoulder.”
“Is that what you believe?”
“There’s no need to believe because it’s true.” Papa Beans returns the remaining of the cocoa beans inside his pouch. He crosses his legs and makes a hand-sign, as if meditating. Patt calls out his name, though he does not respond, as if receding from the real world.
Patt looks at the darkened sky as the sun almost falls completely below the horizon. She decides to keep quiet as she looks at the man from head to toe. Moments later he begins.
“Johannesburg is over 30,000 miles away. Fortunately, there’s a border patrol three miles from here—you can get help from the authorities.”
“You know so much about this area,” she says. “Are you a hunter?” Papa Beans looks at her.
“I’m a member of an indigenous tribe called Zoka,” he says.
“Is Papa Beans your real name?” she decides to throw the question even if it seems silly to her. The man wears a smile.
“I was honored with that name by my people because I’m adept at cultivating—and finding—all sorts of beans. The cocoa beans are our primary source of protein.”
Patt assumes the people he’s referring to must be actual members of Zoka.
“What is your name?” he asks.
“Patt. Patt Hornsberg.”
The man has a surprising look on his face as if the name brings him to the past.
“I heard about you from somewhere, but never gotten the chance to see your face. So you’re the billionaire who’s giving charity and stuff to the poor, huh?” She nods.
The man suddenly grabs his machete and rises from the ground.
“Miss Hornsberg, I’ll help you get to the border patrol and from there you’ll be on your own.”
“Right now? But it’s dark,” she protests.
“That’s the best thing for us now. We can get there on time without raising any suspicion among the Nuzu members.”
“You mean the four hunters who were after me?” she says. Papa Beans gives a questionable but serious look.
“Were they having black orcra on them?”
“Black orcra?” she repeats.
“Black mud,” he says. She nods. “Then they are of the Nuzu tribe.” Patt is perplexed after hearing the orcra thing and the two tribes, so she opts to follow his lead.
Papa Beans puts an end to the live fire by covering it with wet sand. He takes a moment looking around, as if waiting for a particular direction to speak to him—like intuition. He advances his steps and asks Patt to follow. The two emerge into the dense bushes. Papa Beans repeatedly slashes his way through a blockade of shrubs. The further they advance the more it becomes difficult for Patt to follow his movements, as the thick shadow gradually looms throughout the wilderness, swallowing everything in its path.
“Make sure you don’t lose the scent,” Papa Beans warns.
“What scent?” asks Patt.
“The scent of nutmeg,” he replies. “Haven’t you noticed yet?”
Indeed she does notice the powerful scent of nutmeg—in fact, she sensed it when Papa Beans rescued her from the fall. Patt thought the scent was misinterpreted by her sense of smell, so she ignored it then, only now to be dumbfounded.
It’s been a while since they keep walking through the bushes, silence acting as a barrier between the two. Even though Patt tried her first attempt at getting him to talk about his background—his real name—she remains reluctant to persuade him. Though after such long silence while walking, Papa Beans starts talking as he continues slashing the shrubs.
“My birth name is Christopher Thomson, and I used to live in America until 2008. I studied at Yale and got my degree in agriculture in 2003. Then, from a personal goal I had in mind, I attended college at Columbia University and studied anthropology. After graduation in June 2007, I travelled with a friend throughout the region of Africa.”
Patt loses the sight of Papa Beans, though she follows the aroma of nutmeg.
“Before the end of that year I—certainly by fate—stumbled upon a group of indigenous people, the Zokaians. I was alone, decided to wander when I didn’t realize I was almost outside of Angola. I spotted few of the hunters and followed them—they knew I was tailing them. I followed them to their home, inside a large, undiscovered cave. The culture and customs of the Zokaians astonished me that I made a shocking decision. I decided to work on my doctorate based on the Zoka tribe.”
“You wanted to study them, experience the reality these people are in,” Patt says. Even though it’s too dark she knew he’s nodding.
“Correct. The whole world has never heard or seen such tribe, as if nonexistent. I wanted to discover it and bring the world to appreciate the diverse group of people living in this time of life.”
“So you decided to live among them.”
“Correct. Adapting to their lifestyle was easier than I anticipated. The food, living style, laws, work, all of them I had to change completely—like giving up the American way. The language is straightforward but requires perfect pronunciation; I became fluent with the language less than a month. However some officials, including my supervisor, were tasked to contact me twice a month. Later in 2008, I felt a changed man; I felt I was a true Zokaian.”
“What relationship did you have with the Zokaians?”
“They thought of me as an asset to their family; I was given a crucial role, like the other men, to strengthen the group’s pride. But things started to boil up when I began to learn the Zoka tribe was in a conflict—war to say the least—with another tribe, Nuzu. Some of the Zokaians died, as did some of the Nuzuians. It was a matter of time that I got dragged into the war. But I felt it didn’t matter, everything seemed to me as normal, as if—like I said—I’m part of this.”
“You decided to abandon your own nationality, birth name, freedom, all just because of a feeling of attachment? But that is wrong.”
“Miss Hornsberg, maybe living with a small group of people in the wilderness may not sound lavishing, but I feel I’m finally in the right place—a place I belong.”
“So you left your work and decided to just live with them?” Patt speaks with an angry tone.
“Correct.” He says.
“But why, why leave everything so valuable behind and live like some hunter looking for beans, especially getting involved in a war you’re not even part of?”
“You still don’t get, Miss Hornse—“
“Please call me Patt,” she interrupts him.
“Apology, Patt. Life is a choice, and people make good and bad choices in their lifetime. Making a bad choice comes an outcome without benefits, but making a good choices comes an outcome with benefits, and most of the time we don’t make the choices even when fate has already decided what’s best for us—we just move on with our lives not minding what choices we make everyday. And by fate I don’t mean ‘destiny’ or ‘purpose’; I mean whatever happens to us in life happens, nothing else. Life is not something random.” Silence resurfaces again. Papa Beans continues the slashing.
“I made a lot of choices in my life, some good and some bad. Living with the Zokaians isn’t a choice I made; it just so happen to be what it’s meant to be. I feel happy and home whenever I’m with them—the feeling is so powerful I want to guard it with my life. In America I feel so controlled; laws and sanctions, bills, legal documents, unemployment, rights that are restricted under the public’s obliviousness, ongoing crimes, racism, sexism, prejudice, the list goes on and on. I’ve experienced all that. In here it’s neutral. I’m an asset who teaches young children to be better hunters, watches after my friends and family, looks for beans, maintains security on behalf of the tribe, and helps solidify the tribe’s pride and autonomy. My role depends on me only, nothing else, and I’m proud of that. It may seem it’s a choice, but I didn’t even need to decide what to do. It just happened.”
Before Patt could say a word the two realize they are out of the bushes, standing in the middle of a grass-less area. There’s illumination coming from a number of burned wooden sticks. Patt sees Papa Beans standing but does not turn around. Momentarily a man comes into view, then another, followed by two. They’re the ones who were chasing Patt. The woman stands as anxiety triggers fear. Then, Papa Beans starts talking in a language she couldn’t understand to the four men; he’s screaming at them, as if luring them into a battle. She remembers now: the Zoka tribe, including himself, is at war with the Nuzu tribe.
Papa Beans turns to Patt, forcing a smile, though something is different about him—he looks dark, menacing, and ready to kill. “Wait for me, Patt.”
One of the four men sprints toward Papa Beans as he charges his spear against him, but the powerful Zokaian dives on the side, stands up immediately, and slashes the man’s throat until his head and body are no longer connected—no longer in tandem. Another man charges his spear at Papa Beans, but again dodges it with a spiral spin, on the ground, and grabs the Nuzuian by the leg. He puts him on the ground, pins him until he gets leverage over him, and ends the man with a rapid, violent twitch of the neck. The remaining two attack at the same time; one has managed to thrust his spear through Papa Beans’ abdomen, whereas the unlucky one gets his face sliced in half from the bloody machete. The Zokaian throws a heavy punch at the little Nuzu. He pulls out the spear from his abdomen as if nothing but scratch, stands before the last one, and kicks the man in the head with his powerful leg. Two more, then three more, and more, until the man’s head looks like squash. Papa Beans stands tall, howling out loud as if gaining victory.
A powerful urge forces Patt to run for her life, but she doesn’t know whom she’s running from. Papa Beans walks toward her, tired, injured, blood drooping from his lower abdomen.
“Let’s go,” says the great Papa Beans.
The two are again in the bushes, walking for over an hour without speaking. Patt is horrified and at the same time worried for his well-being—she could hear droplets of blood hitting the ground. It’s dark, chilly, and quiet in the wilderness.
It’s been over two hours of walk, according to Patt, until the man begins.
“Patt, do you enjoy helping people?” he says. The question has her thinking.
“I think so,” she says. “I don’t know what to do with a lot of money.”
“But is helping people something you choose to do?” he presses on.
“I don’t know,” she says.
“Make a choice, either if you think it’s good or bad, or fate decides.”
“What about you, you could’ve died there.”
“It’s not my first time,” he says. “And I feel I must do what I must.”
The two finally come across a river. The full moon appears in the sky, casting a fair amount of light on them—though Patt could only see Papa Beans’ face.
“Follow the current and you’ll see a flashing green light; the light is where the border patrol is.” Patt says nothing. “It’s unfortunate for you to experience the accident, but expect no less, anything can happen. As for your friends, they too have fate on their shoulders—you’re not the only one in hell as of now. Take care.”
Patt says nothing after that. She wants to thank him, or at least treat his wound, but feels nothing is there to be done for Papa Beans. She notices a genuine smile on his face, turns around, and advances her steps. She would increase her pace every couple of seconds, turns around to look at the great man standing in the shadow. After a long run she turns one last time, but Papa Beans is no longer there.
Patt continues running, making sure not to lose the sight of the current, as it is too dark to see. Tears begin to fill her eyes, yet she couldn’t understand why. Deep down she knows what she really wants in life, but feels not prepared.
She keeps running nonstop, until a green light is notable afar. She stops crying and worrying about her friends. Patt decides to prepare herself for what’s to come next, as long as the words of Papa Beans remain in her.