Author: David Barber

“Drugs. Alcohol. Sex.” The missionary was praising the tolerance of the Jirt. She leaned forwards. “They don’t care.”

Francisco shuffled awkwardly on the bench. A woman like her saying sex. His grandfather placed a heavy hand on the lad’s shoulder without taking his gaze from the missionary.

She turned to the old man. “You remember how it was. I saw a Jirt once, being asked about the Ten Commandments, and it just did that eye-cleaning thing with its front legs – you know, like a shrug. No, the important thing is the Rolling.”

“Then she did that circle with her hand,” fumed Francisco later.

“Yes,” murmured his grandfather. “I was there.”

Francisco did a creditable impersonation.“They just did that eye-rolling thing.” The lad rolled his eyes. “You know, like we do when someone mentions holy rollers. No, the important thing is the bullsh…”


The Policia had come knocking after his grandfather took Francisco out of school. A school run by Holy Rollers now.

Sheriff Pérez and Eduardo Balcázar had grown up in the same village, where Eduardo’s mother had been known as a brujo, a witch. The sheriff’s gaze kept sidling away, glancing round the room.

“Can’t risk it,” he repeated. “Look at Rome. Look at what happened in Utah. Look…”

What happened in Utah, Francisco wanted to know.

“They wouldn’t let Roller missionaries in; wanted nothing to do with the Jirt.”

“Yes, but what happened?”

“Don’t you teach him nothing Eduardo? Is why I got to bring you both in. Can’t risk it.”

Francisco watched the man’s hand coming to rest on his gun butt, then taking off again, like a wasp shooed away from something sweet.

“All gone. Just white ash.”

Their instrucción started next morning; half a dozen folk waiting uneasily. One of the teachers was the missionary from yesterday. She held the door open for a man rolling a chest-high dung ball.

Even amongst the Jirt there were differences in interpretation, she explained, different factions. Only the ultra-orthodox rolled dung wherever they went. She kept her own ball of dung safe at home, and rolled it of an evening.

The man interrupted en mal español. “We are humbled by a superior race. They tell us our God is nonsense; how their insect ancestors rolled balls of dung; that it is the correct response to an indifferent universe.”

He glared from face to face. “Who are you to question them? This is your last chance to convert.”

An old fellow stood up. “You think at my age I will join in this madness?”

He limped out the door, giving the parked dung ball a kick.

That afternoon they were two less. Francisco watched the Policia take the old fellow and his wife away. Waiting for the Holy Roller, the woman missionary sat down amongst them. “There is no choice,” she said sadly. “Jirt don’t tolerate choice. Get a ball of dung. Roll it sometimes. It is all they demand.”

The yanqui came in, preceded by his dung ball. In its travels, it had acquired a wispy halo of leaves and straw.

The woman stood and smoothed down her robe. “We were just saying, cow dung is fine, and loses its smell when dried.”

Afterward, Francisco tried to get his grandfather’s attention.

His grandfather’s gaze was very far away. He still held the handout, Caring For Your Dung Ball.

“First the Catholic priests,” he said. “Now the Jirt.”

Francisco chattered anxiously. “Perhaps we should keep one in the barn. Just roll it into town on Sundays. Is that what we should do, grandfather?”