4. The Wandering Jew

By Peter Fraenkel

Katz walked. He walked alone. Every day and all day long he paced around the little African town.  What was he seeking? No one knew. Did he know it himself? His murdered family, perhaps?  Once, only once, he did say to Mrs Salomon “I should never have left without them.” She knew what he meant. He had been released from that concentration camp on condition that he left Germany immediately. His wife and son were to follow. But war had broken out and their escape route had snapped shut.

“But what could you have done, Mr Katz?  What could anyone have done against — them?”  He did not reply.

The African servants at the Imp puzzled over his nervous tick. Why were his shoulders shooting up every other minute? Had he been bewitched? 

The Poles referred to him as the Wandering Jew.

Every day he stalked around the few streets that made up down-town Akasul:  Up and down King George’s Avenue he went. It boasted two dozen shops facing the railway station. Each shop was fronted by a stretch of pavement shaded by its own corrugated iron roof.  Gaps remained – plots that the municipality had long been trying to sell, even at discounted prices.

Katz walked along a stretch of shaded pavement, stepped down a foot or so to the bare earth of Africa, walked a few more steps, mounted a foot to the pavement of the next shop and its blessed patch of shade. Parallel to King George Avenue was Lugard Avenue. Here fewer plots had been taken up so shade was sparser. There was also a third road named after a long forgotten governor but so far only one single Greek had built a shop there. These roads were connected by side streets, untarred and unpaved but named after great empire builders.

Then the bush started – tall grass with only a few twisted trees – empty of habitation except for one lone building a mile further west: the town abattoir.

“Only good thing about this dump”, said one of the drinkers in the Corner Bar. “The sunsets!”

And indeed, the colours could be magnificent: deep red clouds shading slowly into orange and then to a pale grey as the sun went down.

“Beautiful sunsets,” they agreed.

“Oh?” queried Zbyszek, the Pole, “But isn’t yours the empire on which the sun never sets?”

Katz often walked west to watch these sun sets. If there was to be a full moon he might even linger. He found it pleasant to stroll in the cool after a hot day.

One moonlit night, however, he was perturbed to find a pack of dogs circling him. But were they dogs? Or could they be hyenas? He threw a stone at them but they only seemed to laugh.  Were they mocking him … laughing at his suffering?

In the half-dark they reminded Katz of the Alsatians that the SS guards had held on short leashes. Katz gave up walking west.