The horror on his wife’s face was evident the moment he came in from the field.
“What is it?”
She pointed to where their son squatted in the corner of their one-room hut. He appeared to be drawing with a stick on the dirt floor.
Randal’s blood turned cold. He knew—even before he looked over his son’s shoulder—he knew what he would see. It was a crude drawing, a mixture of curved and jagged lines, but the resemblance was obvious. The Tombola.
“It’s early this year,” he said without taking his eyes from the drawing. “Why’s it so early? I’ve barely got the crop in…” His voice trailed off.
She crossed the room and took his arm.
“We must go.”
They emerged from beneath the trees near the small village, other families alongside them with men still in clothes soiled by the sweat and dirt of the planting and women wearing bonnets and cooking aprons. Other children, he knew, had been scratching the same etchings as their son had into the dirt.
“It’s too early,” Randal said. “We shouldn’t be here.”
“We must,” she countered. “For the good of the community.”
He stared at her. The good of the community? Did she really believe that? Did anyone?
They joined the crowd at the town square, nearly a hundred other members of the community craning their necks to see the elders on the raised platform. No one spoke louder than a whisper. Families huddled close together.
“The Tombola is here,” began one of the elders.
“It’s too early!” someone shouted before he could continue.
The elder met the speaker’s eyes.
“The children have signaled it,” he said. “Can there be any doubt?”
No one challenged his statement.
“Okay, then. Line up and let’s begin the drawing.”
Randal followed his wife into the line that formed and slowly moved past the front of the platform. Few spoke, but the occasional shriek rose when a black stone was drawn.
Then it was his wife’s turn. She reached into the bucket and then withdrew her closed hand. Her eyes met his and then they both looked down as she opened her hand.
Relief flooded through them both.
Randal stepped up to the bucket and reached in. He felt the cool stones there and grasped one. He kept his eyes on his wife as he opened his fist. Her wail confirmed his luck.
He was bound, alone, to a post just beyond the edge of the community. Four had chosen black, one positioned at each cardinal direction from the village. He was west.
It was almost dark. He strained his eyes to see beneath the trees and listened. Would the Tombola choose him, all eyes and jagged teeth? Would he be chosen to protect the community?
From somewhere before him came the sound of a tree crashing down. He closed his eyes. He thought of his wife, his son, and the crops.”