White Dog Fell from the Sky - By Eleanor Morse


The hearse pulled onto a scrubby track, traveled several hundred feet, and stopped. The passenger door opened, followed by the driver’s door. Two men stepped out. They walked to the rear door, and together the men slid out a coffin and laid it carefully on the ground. They returned to the car, struggled with something inside, and dragged out a limp body. It was so covered with road dust, its face was gone.

The driver splashed a bucket of water over it, nudged it with a toe. Rivulets ran down the side of one cheek, water etching through dust to walnut-colored skin.

“He’s late, no more in this world,” the passenger said.

The eyelids fluttered, and the driver said, “See, you are wrong.” They stood a moment and watched the man on the ground. Then they loaded the coffin back into the hearse and fled. There would be trouble when the man came to. Or if he didn’t, there would also be trouble.

The sun was risen above the first line of scrub when Isaac opened an eye. The light hurt. The hearse was gone, and with it the small cardboard suitcase his brother Nthusi had given him. A wind blew close to the ground, kicking up a fine dust, covering over the tracks. The dust would cover him too, he thought without interest, if he lay there long enough.

A thin white dog sat next to him, like a ghost. It frightened him when he turned his head and saw her. He was not expecting a dog, especially not a dog of that sort. Normally he would have chased a strange dog away. But there was no strength in his body. He could only lie on the ground. I am already dead, he thought, and this is my companion. When you die, you are given a brother or a sister for your journey, and this creature is white so it can be seen in the land of the dead. The white dog’s nose pointed away from him. From time to time, her eyes looked sideways in his direction and looked away. Her ears were back, her paws folded one over the other. She was a stately dog, a proper-acting dog.

A cigarette wrapper tumbled across the ground, stopped a moment, and blew on. A cream soda can lay under a stunted acacia, its orange label faded almost to white. Seeing those things, he thought, I am not dead. You would not be finding trash in the realm of the dead.

He heard a voice nearby, a woman calling to a child, scolding. He sat up. No part of his body was unbruised. Which country was he in? Had he made it over the border?

He called to the woman, but she didn’t appear to hear him. She stood with a child near a makeshift dwelling made of cardboard, propped up with a couple of wooden posts, with a roof of rusted iron and blue plastic sheeting. She gripped her child tight around his upper arm, and with the other hand splashed water from a large coffee tin. Her boy struggled and broke free, running so fast that tiny droplets of water fell out behind him. “Moemedi!” she cried.

“Dumela, mma,” Isaac said in greeting, getting to his feet and wobbling toward her.

She eyed him. Clouds of dust rose as he struck his pants with his hands. “Where am I? Which country am I in?”

She didn’t answer.

He stood silently, and then said, “Please, mma, am I in Botswana?”

“Ee, rra.” Yes, sir.

His palm traveled down the length of his face, as though opening a curtain. His eyes filled with relief and with the fear of the kilometers between him and his mother and brothers and sisters and all he’d known and understood and embraced and finally escaped.

The woman must have seen the boy inside the man, lost like a young goat in the desert. “Where is your mother?” she asked.


“Your father?”


“What are you doing here?”

He was unable to speak.

“Do you want tea?”

“Ee, mma.” He took a step toward her and fell backward onto the dog. As he was going down, his eye caught the soda can in the bushes. The sky had been blue, the dog white, but now the dog was blue and the sky white.

“You are drunk.”

“No, mma, I’ve had nothing to drink.”

“My husband is a jealous man. You cannot stay here,” she said. Her body was already bent, even though her boy was young, running, running with his friends among thorns and discarded tin cans. She disappeared into