Table of Contents
Also by Henning Mankell
The Dogs of Riga
The White Lioness
The Fifth Woman
One Step Behind
The Return of the Dancing Master
Jonestown, November 1978
His thoughts were like a shower of red-hot glowing needles, causing an almost unbearable pain. He tried desperately to remain calm, to think clearly. The worst thing was fear. The fear that Jim would unleash his dogs and hunt him down, like the terrified beast of prey he had become. Jim's dogs: they were what he was most afraid of. All through that long night of November 18, when he had run until he was exhausted and taken shelter among the decomposing roots of an upturned tree, he imagined he could hear them closing in.
Jim never lets anyone escape,
He seemed to be filled by an endless and divine source of love, but the man I have followed has turned out to be someone quite different. Unnoticed by us, he changed places with his shadow or with the devil, whom he was always warning us about. The devil of selfishness, who keeps us from serving God with obedience and submission. What appeared to be love turned into hate. I should have seen it earlier. Jim himself warned us about it time and time again. He gave us the truth, but not all at once. It came slowly, a creeping realization. But neither I nor anyone else wanted to hear itâthe truth buried between the words. It was my own fault, because I didn't want to see it. In his sermons and in all his teachings he didn't just talk about the spiritual preparations we needed to undergo to ready ourselves for the Judgment Day ahead. He was also always telling us we had to be ready to die.
He interrupted his thoughts and listened. Wasn't that the dogs barking? No, it was still only a sound inside of him, generated by his fear. He went back in his confused and terrified mind to the apocalyptic events in Jonestown. He needed to understand what
had happenedâJim was their leader, shepherd, and pastor. They had followed him in the exodus from California when they could no longer stand persecution from the media and government authorities. In Guyana, they were going to realize their dreams of a life of peaceful coexistence with nature and one another in God. And at first they had experienced something very close to that. But then it changed. Could they have been as threatened here in Guyana as in California? Would they be safe anywhere? Perhaps it was only in death that they would find the kind of shelter they needed to construct the community they strove for. “I have seen far in my mind,” Jim said. “I have seen much farther than before. The Day of Judgment is near at hand, and if we are not to perish in that terrible maelstrom we have to be ready to die. Only through physical death will we survive.”
Suicide was the only answer. When Jim stood in the pulpit and mentioned it for the first time, there was nothing frightening about his words. First, parents were to give drinks laced with cyanide to their children, cyanide that Jim had stockpiled in plastic containers in a locked room at the back of his house. Then the adults would take the poison. Those who were overcome with doubt in the final moments would be assisted by Jim and his closest associates. If they ran out of poison, they had guns. Jim would make sure everyone was taken care of before he put the muzzle to his own head.
He lay under the tree, panting in the tropical heat. His ears strained to catch any sound of Jim's dogs, those huge red-eyed monsters that had inspired fear in all of them. Jim had told them that everyone in his congregation, everyone who had chosen to follow his path and come to Guyana, had no choice but to continue on the path laid out by God. The path that James Warren Jones had decided was the right one.
It had sounded so comforting
No one else would have been able to make words like
death, suicide, cyanide,
sound so beautiful and soothing.
Jim has walked around and inspected the dead,
He knows I'm missing and he's going to send the dogs after me.
The thought clawed its way out of his mind:
. Tears began to
run down his face. For the first time he took in the enormity of what had happened: Maria and the girl were dead, everyone was dead. But he did not want to believe it. Maria and he had talked about this in the small hours: Jim was no longer the same man they had once been drawn to, the one who promised them salvation and a meaningful life if they joined the People's Temple. Maria was the one who put her finger on it: “Jim's eyes have changed. He doesn't see us now. He looks past us and his eyes are cold, as if he wants nothing more to do with any of us.”
They talked about running away together, but every morning they agreed that they couldn't abandon the path they had chosen. Jim would become his old self again. He was suffering some kind of crisis and it would soon be over; he was stronger than all of them. And without him they would never have had this brief experience of what seemed to them like heaven on earth.
There was one memory that stood out more clearly than any other. It was from that time when the drugs, alcohol, and guilt about leaving his little daughter had brought him close to ending it all. He wanted to throw himself in front of a truck or train and then it would be over and no one would miss him. During one of those last meandering walks through town, when he was saying goodbye to all the people who didn't care one way or another if he lived or died, he happened to pass by the People's Temple. “It was God's plan,” Jim said later. “He had already decided that you would be among the chosen, one of the few to experience His mercy.” He didn't know what had made him walk up those steps and enter the building that looked nothing like a church. He still didn't know what it was, even now as he lay among the roots of a tree waiting for Jim's dogs to find him and tear him limb from limb.
He knew he should be making good his escape, but he did not leave his hiding place. He had abandoned one child already; he was not going to abandon another. Maria and the girl were still back there with the others.
What had really happened? They had gotten up as usual that morning and gathered outside Jim's door. It remained closed, as it often had in the last days. They had therefore prayed without him, all 912 adults and 320 children. Then they had left for their various
jobs. He would never have survived had he not been part of a team with the task of finding two runaway cows. When he said goodbye to Maria and her daughter, he had no inkling of the terror to come. It was only when he and the other men reached the far side of the ravine that he knew that something was terribly wrong.
They had stopped dead in their tracks at the first sound of gunshots and thought they heard human screams mingled with the chatter of the birds. They had looked at each other and then run back down toward the colony. He had become separated from the other men on the way backâpossibly they had decided to flee rather than return. When he emerged from the shady forest and climbed the fence to the fruit orchards, everything was silent. Too silent. No one was there picking fruit. No one was to be seen. He ran toward the houses, sure that something disastrous had occurred. Jim must have come out of his house this day with hate, not love, blazing from his eyes.
He had a cramp in his side and slowly shifted position, straining not to make any noise.
What conclusion had Jim come to?
As he ran through the fruit orchards, he tried to do what Jim had always taught them: to put his life in God's hands. He prayed as he ran.
Please, God, let Maria and the child be safe.
But God had chosen not to hear him. In his desperation he started to believe that the shots he had heard from the ravine were the sounds of God and Jim taking aim at each other.
When he came rushing onto the dusty main street of Jonestown he half expected to catch the two of them in their duel. But God was nowhere to be seen. Jim Jones was there, the dogs barked like crazy in their cages, and there were bodies everywhere. He could see at once that they were all dead. It was as if they had been struck down by a giant fist from the sky. Jim Jones and the six brothers who were his personal assistants and bodyguards must have gone around and shot children trying to crawl away from their parents' corpses. He ran around among the dead looking for Maria and the child, but without success.
It was when he shouted Maria's name that he heard Jim calling him. He turned around and saw his pastor cocking a pistol at
him. They were about twenty meters apart, and between them, outstretched on the burned brown earth, were the bodies of his friends, contorted in their death throes. Jim pulled the trigger, but missed. Before Jim had the chance to shoot again, he ran. He heard many shots being fired and he heard Jim roar in rage, but he had not been hit and he made his stumbling way across the bodies and kept running until it was dark. He didn't know if he was the only survivor. Where were Maria and the girl? Why was he the only one who was safe? Could one person escape the Day of Judgment? He didn't know, he only knew it was no dream. This was all too real.
At dawn, the heat began to rise like steam from the trees. That was when he finally realized that no dogs were coming. He crawled out from under the tree, shook his aching limbs, and stood up. He started back toward the colony. He was exhausted and extremely thirsty. Everything was still very quiet.
The dogs are dead,
Jim must have meant it when he said no one would escape judgment. Not even the dogs.
He climbed over the fence and started to run. The first bodies he saw were those who had tried to escape. They had been shot in the back.
Then he stopped by the corpse of a familiar-looking man. Shaking, he turned the body face up. It was Jim.
His gaze has finally softened,
And he's looking me straight in the eyes.
He had a sudden impulse to hit Jim, to kick him in the face. But he quelled this urge for violence and stood up. He was the only living soul among these dead, and he would not rest until he found Maria and the girl.