Reeva had not been the only one from her village. Others too, including her best friend, Shelda, and the boy, Yond, who stared at her across the meeting hall, had also joined.
After that night in the meeting hall when the preacher spoke, many of the young – and some not so young – had crowded together in an excited, chattering group. The others from the village had looked on, growing ever more fearful.
There had been arguments, fights, stern warnings and threats. Still the words of the preacher had turned out to be stronger than everything else, including the love of family. The preacher’s words had proved so strong for those of a certain age. The age when love of family is subsumed underneath the need to find a personal identity of one’s own. It was those of teenage years mainly, but with some younger and some older, who heard and responded to the preacher’s message.
Reeva’s mother had cried and her father had yelled, threatened, pleaded and – in the end- cried too. Reeva couldn’t explain to them why she wanted to go. Why she needed to follow the preacher was as much of a mystery to her as it was to them. All she knew was that his words had crept deep inside her and wormed their way deep into her heart and her mind.
She had to go. She had to follow the preacher. She had to head for the new land, the new life, he’d promised her, and promised every one of the youngsters from the village who’d heard him that night.
After the meeting, some of the adults wanted to drive the preacher away from the village. Some wanted to hang him, some wanted to drown him and some wanted to stone him to death.
Most though were scared.
They knew about preachers, about the powers they were supposed to possess, about the magic that came from the gods. They’d all heard the stories about the travelling preachers who came to the villages to take the young ones. They’d heard the tales about what happened to those who tried to stop the preachers, stand in their way, or tried to prevent their children from following.
For the days following the youngsters, caught in that awkward stage between childhood and adulthood, prepared themselves and said what goodbyes they could.
The preacher visited each and every family. There were arguments, discussions, and hard bargains. The preachers would only ever take one child from each family, between the ages of fifteen and twenty, unmarried and unbetrothed, with no children of their own.
For a while, Reeva had worried that her brother Samett would be chosen over her. But she saw the way the preacher looked at him and how her mother held the fifteen-year-old boy tight against her apron. Then Reeva knew she would be the one.
Like the others, she stood on the road out of the village – for only the second time in her life – and looked back, knowing she would never see the village again. It had been all she’d ever known until now.
Then the preacher called softly from the head of the column of youngsters.
They walked off in search of the new land the preacher had promised them.
It was the last she saw of home and the last day that Reeva would ever again believe a single word any preacher told her.