112 The Locusts Came

By Peter Fraenkel

And suddenly the world turned dark. One of the plagues of the bible? But father’s laundry workers were cheering. They grew maize on spare patches of soil near our house? Why did they cheer the destruction of crops they had been hoping to reap??

“Nyama” they shouted, “meat!” They had grabbed brooms and planks and were beating the insects out of the dark sky. The insects fell and they gathered them into paper bags.  Seeing my puzzlement they explained: “Meat, Good meat!”

They seemed to value meat more than the filling starchy maize they were losing.

And the other nine plagues? Would they, too, descend on us and would they, too, be cheered?

No. No others descended on us.

I could recite the plagues in Hebrew – Dom, S’fardea, Kinnijm. – (or was that Aramaic?) Blood; frogs, insects … I faltered after the third plague. They chanted that list every Passover, dipping a finger into a glass of wine and shaking off the drops, as if to ward off the curse. The climax came at the very end — the most terrible of the plagues – the dying of the Firstborn… the firstborn of domestic animals and the firstborn human infants.

Our African workers had lit a little fire and hammered a piece of corrugated iron flat. Locusts were roasted on that. They offered a spoonful to me, but for me it was too unfamiliar to be appetising. Branches were bobbing up and down There was a crunchy noise all around us. The trees were heavy with thousands, maybe tens of thousands of locusts, bobbing up and down.  Within minutes – as if on a command – the swarm rose – all thousands of them. They had stripped the trees bare –every leaf devoured. As they rose high they blocked the sunlight for a few moments.  And a moment later they had gone, stripping trees further down the valley.  Sun shone on the grotesque, denuded trees. Would these trees ever come back to life?