My characters are tugging at my sleeve… again

‘Another new book? I say, Ms Hall, that is admirable.’ Connor raises his whisky glass in my direction and takes a long pull. ‘And you’re already onto the follow up novel. You’re becoming almost as prolific as The Poet!’ He strikes a dramatic pose from his position by the fireplace.

I smile politely as my eyes travel around Cynthia’s sitting room. Cynthia is lounging languidly on the battered silk chaise-longue. Her eyes are shining over the large glass of red wine she’s sipping. ‘Song of the Sea Goddess; it’s a lovely title,’ she smiles at me encouragingly. ‘Do you have a copy for us?’

I’m still waiting for them to ship from the printers. ‘Next time,’ I promise.

Gina is sitting in the armchair opposite her. Her left hand rests on her knee and the light is catching the diamond in her ring. She sees me looking at it.

‘We decided to put the wedding off for a bit.’

‘I hope you weren’t waiting for me to…’ I stop in mid-sentence, feeling awkward.

Gina laughs. ‘Only Ma and Auntie Marie are bothered. You know what they’re like!’ She shakes her head. ‘No, I’m concentrating on my career.’

‘Good for you,’ I say, raising my glass and taking a sip. The pleasant taste of the cheap Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon takes me straight back to the early 1980s. A sudden thought occurs to me. ‘Where’s Gary?’

‘Oh, he and Bob have gone to the match, nursing their New Year hangovers.’ She grins. ‘Fingers has become quite a celebratory at Anfield.’

‘I can imagine,’ I say, smiling back.

Gina’s expression darkens. ‘Your new book’s set in South Africa, isn’t it? She raises a disapproving eyebrow. ‘You do know we’re boycotting everything South African*.’

Connor clears his throat but says nothing and Cynthia shifts awkwardly on the chaise-longue.

‘Yes, I know. I did the same.’ I reply, remembering short supermarket dilemmas. ‘But things have changed. The country celebrated 25 years of democracy last year. Apartheid is over. Nelson Mandela became the first president.’

‘Well I never.’ Connor stares thoughtfully into his glass. ‘But I suppose we’re part of history now.’

‘I’m afraid so.’ Strange as it still seems, the 1980s are history. It feels to me like only yesterday.

‘Oh, but Ms Hall, you bring us to life.’ Cynthia casts a theatrical gesture in my direction.

‘Which is what’s happening to us now,’ says Gina determinedly. She shifts in her seat and pulls a crumpled postcard out of the back pocket of her jeans. ‘This came from Lucy last week. She and Pierre are working on a cruise ship now. He’s a DJ and she’s a croupier in the casino.’

That makes perfect sense.

Connor interrupts my thoughts. ‘As a fellow writer, I understand you have to go where the muse takes you, as it were.’ He strides over to the sideboard to top up his glass. ‘But I thought there might be at least one more historical fiction book in you.’

Our sequel?’ Gina waves the postcard at me.

I glance down and see my notebook has fallen open on my lap. I look up at their expectant faces. I guess there’s no harm in jotting down a few more notes…

*For a long time, Nelson Mandela and the issue of South Africa under the Nationalist apartheid regime weren’t widely discussed in the UK. When this song hit the UK charts in 1984 more people started asking questions, which contributed to the issue rising to national prominence. The rest, as they say, is history.

Side Note: I vividly remember my flat-mate, who makes a tiny cameo appearance in ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone, dancing round our kitchen singing this!


Many of you will know that the characters from You’ll Never Walk Alone are frequently tugging at my sleeve. One day, I will give them their wish and write their longed for sequel. They’ve certainly come up with a few good ideas to start to shape the plot. Meanwhile, my new novel, Song of the Sea Goddess, is coming very soon.

And finally, a Happy New Year
to one and all.
Keep safe, keep sane, and let’s hope for a better 2021!

Only Suffer in Silence

Look at her
a face illuminated by street lamps, by passing cars
she watches, she waits
the expression on her face is one of… nothingness.

Look at her
dark circles under her eyes, a bruise on her cheek
hidden by her hair
the look in her eyes is one of… emptiness.

Look at her
what did he do? what do you do? while she’s
beaten and broken
one woman, one of many, living in… hopelessness.

Society sleepwalks, liberals shake their heads
say wise but empty words, while behind closed doors
this never ends.

A woman is killed every three hours in South Africa, according to police statistics – a rate five times the world average. Half are murdered by men with whom they had a close relationship.


Written in response to Sadjes What Do You See #56 photo prompt.
Image credit: Phmaxiestevez @ Pixabay
(The image shows a young woman looking out the glass pane of a partially open door, with an indecipherable expression).

Summoning the rain

Capturing the rain animal by Chris Hall lunasonline

/…previously

High on the koppie the old woman tends the fire again. Throwing the final fistful of grey-green herbs over the unfurling flames, she melts into the silence of the pre-dawn shadows.

The once-maiden draws her lover close. He sleeps and she rises again, the child of the new dawn.

She stands gazing over the veld to where the smudge-blue mountains melt into the velvet-black of the burgeoning storm. Earth tremors ripple over the veld, rousing her waiting feet. She grows taller, a giantess, who strides across the yellowed grasses towards the beckoning finger of lightning.

The rain-bull kneels. In a single fluid movement, the San Man straddles the great beast’s back. The rain-bull rises. Thunder erupts from his nostrils and he charges down the mountain-side, scattering huge boulders before him. The men stagger in his wake as the storm clouds unleash their fury. Flood water surges down the slopes and blankets of rain sweep the over the veld to greet the distant sea.

The storm seethes on and the parched earth groans and shudders under its weight. The two men are gathered up in the deluge, spinning in a howling whirlpool across the veld and coming to rest on the cloud-cloaked koppie.

Later, the men awake to find their companion staring into the dying fire. They rouse themselves from their herb-induced dream-time and trudge down from the koppie.

They know that soon the once-maiden will return leading a long-legged rain-cow to bring soft raindrops which will last a whole season.

bushman rock art

This has been the story of the San Man

Raising the Rain-bull

Capturing the rain animal by Chris Hall lunasonline

/… previously

Bright moonlight reflects off the rain-bull’s back, casting a myriad of shadows across the barren landscape. His body strains against invisible shackles. At last, pulling free of his bonds, he throws his head back and roars.

The two men watch as the San Man raises the point of his spear-stick skyward, lifting his face to the still-clear sky where Orion with his belt of three she-tortoises guards the night and shooting stars carve graceful arcs across the heavens, measuring out the width of the veld below.

The rain-bull bellows again and the mountains ripple beneath the watchers’ feet. The great beast paws at the rock, displacing an avalanche of stones which trickle down the drought-cursed ravines. Dark clouds gather, veiling the silver moon. The two men stand silent at the San Man’s side, streams of pebbles cascading past their planted feet.

Back on the koppie the young man stands hand-in-hand with the once-maiden. Already there is a quickening in her belly. They raise their glowing faces towards the mountains.

The rain-bull roars again. Thunder rolls around the wide bowl of the veld. The San Man casts his spear-stick in a slow arc around his head. Thunder booms. The mountains roll and pitch under the heavy footfalls of the great beast.

The rain-bull is almost upon them. The two men cower, but the San Man stands firm. The rain-bull pauses and the San Man raises his spear-stick once more. Lightning issues from its point and the rain-bull lowers his great head.

/… to be continued

The Quickening

Capturing the rain animal by Chris Hall lunasonline
Source

/…previously

Evening swells across the veld. Invigorated by its welcome sustenance, the two men rise to follow the San Man. Beneath their feet the dusty soil gives way to barren rock as they silently traverse the wide and empty landscape. With the last of the daylight, the breeze quickens. Gusts of scorched sun-baked air swirl down from the smudge-blue mountains and roll away across the veld towards the faraway koppie.

The ground is steeper now. Step after step the San Man leads them onwards. Walking among the ghostly moonbeams, their feet trace the tracks of long-ago water-carved pathways. Memories of gushing streams and bubbling springs are gouged into the parched rock. The foothills are aching for the water’s soft caress.

Back on the koppie the mountain breeze plays over the mouth of the cave. The maiden lifts her head and breathes the scent of the returning soul. The young man stirs, eyelid fluttering, his mind bursting with the memory of his long flight home.

He raises his head as the maiden kneels at his side. She offers herself to him and under the eyes of the ancestors they become one.

The maiden cries out, her triumphant ululation echoes across the empty veld; high up, among the lonely peaks of smudge-blue mountains, a force awakens. A rock splits, then another. Fragments fall, spilling and spiralling downwards. The San Man raises his spear-stick in salute and the rain-bull, glimmering in the moon-bright night, rises from his slumber and lifts his great head heavenward.

/…to be continued

Dream Time

Capturing the rain animal by Chris Hall lunasonline

/…previously

The breeze-caressed veld sways, sending parched waves to break on a distant shore. The two men sleep on. Under the gaze of their eagle totem, they dream of the great herds of springbok, eland and kudu which once stalked the land; and of the zebra and wildebeest, hunted by prides and tribes.

Back on the koppie, strong arms carry the young man’s trance-cast body into the cool darkness of the cave, where the ancestor paintings will watch over him. The new maiden emerges to stand on the threshold, proud and tall in that powerful place between hearth and wilderness.

Everywhere between, the veld bakes. Shimmers of hot air rise above the rocks and whirlwind dust-devils dance over bare earth, rising up to be scorched into stillness.

Later, as the tendril fingers of the thorn-tree’s shadow reach out towards the smudge-blue mountains, the San Man appears out of the jagged heat haze. A hide pouch is slung across his bony barrel chest; he carries the carcass of a small, furred animal. At his approach, the two men stir. The eagle bows, locking its keen eye with that of the returned hunter, before taking flight on strong, silent wings which will carry him back to the beckoning maiden who stands on the threshold of the night.

Still entranced by the dream-world of the ancestors, the two men look on as the San Man conjures fire. As the thin flames crackle, he offers them water which is cool, sweet and laced with magic.

/…to be continued

The Flight of the Eagle

flight of the eagle by chris hall san man lunasonline
Source

/… previously

Never before has he experienced such freedom!

The curve of his beak parts the dawn sky as he spirals upwards from where his man-body lies inert on the koppie. A wisp of fragrant smoke from the flickering embers of the camp fire floats upwards in his wake. Then the last remaining log splits asunder and explodes in a shower of pin-prick scarlet sparks.

He soars on the thermals; the warm air fills his wings and transports him over the purple veld. He flies east, as the new day’s pink-gold sun emerges and spills over the purple mountains. Below him, he watches his own shadow running beside a long ribbon of eland as they follow-my-leader across the parched earth.

His keen eye discerns the path his companions have taken and he smells their scent which lingers in the breeze.

The song of the San Man reaches out to him across the sapphire sky.

Soon he alights on a branch of the solitary thorn tree. His companions are resting in the still-silence; neither awake nor asleep, drifting in the half-light of the awakening veld. Now, with his arrival, they let go and he watches over them as they sleep.

The San Man picks up his spear-stick and walks silently off into the veld.

Back on the koppie a slender figure emerges from the cave. She kneels down by the man who lies by the dying fire. He stirs, staring up at her with unseeing eyes. She shakes her head. He sleeps on.

/… to be continued

Into the Veld

Thorns - Sunset in the Lowveld by Nigel Whitehead
‘In the Lowveld’ photograph by Nigel Whitehead

/… previously

The San Man unties a small skin bag from the beaded thong which he wears around his waist. He shakes the contents onto the fire which sputters and sends up a shower of silver sparks. Scented smoke descends. The younger man slumbers on, his eyes moving restlessly under sleep-closed lids.

The San Man turns around. He leads the waiting men down the narrow path into the veld where the blue-black landscape is alive with the sound of night-time creatures. The three walk on, following the moon-bright swathe cut into the pungent African night. Up ahead, a long ribbon of eland trek across the land, curving away to be swallowed up by the night.

The grass sings and the men walk, one foot in front of the other, a rhythm like a heartbeat, walking on through the night-time veld.

A sliver of sunlight breaks free from the purple mountains, but still they walk on.

Back on the koppie, the young man lies motionless. Free of his body, he soars towards the summit of the heavens on dawn-warmed wings, flexing his cruel curved talons as, keen-eyed, he scours the waking veld below.

A solitary thorn tree reaches out long shadow-fingers, drawing the heartbeat walkers closer. They plough on, footfall after footfall, their footprints erased behind them by the gentle berg breeze.

The sun climbs and the veld bakes, but now the men rest silently in its shade. An eagle wheels high above. The San Man beckons and slowly it begins its descent.

/… to be continued

Earth Song

Earth Song by Chris Hall lunasonline

/… previously

Air, thick with cicada-song, rises from the veld.  The three men recline on the sun-heated rocks, staring into the fire. Herb-scented smoke hangs heavily in the purple dusk. They are the tiniest specks in the timeless universe, each smaller than a newly-hatched mantis, in this, the place of the ancient ones.

Darkness closes in and the great African she-moon rises; pin-prick stars stab the violet-thick night. Still no one speaks. The older brown-skinned man carefully feeds the fire which crackles in the desiccated air.

A night-bird shrieks and, on the other side of the koppie, a hyena cackles. The young man, still fresh from the sprawling city, stares around warily. His companion turns from the fire: ‘Be still, my brother.’ The young man settles back.

The night wears on. Trance-like they stare into the fire. The young man’s eyes are heavy; he closes his eyes and tries to imagine an ancestor he’s never known.

A shadow appears on the far side of the fire. The two older men sit up, their faces bright in the firelight. The San Man has come. He lays his stick aside and squats by the fire, resting his chin on his folded hands, staring onto the flames. Still without acknowledging them, he starts to hum. The sound swells, its vibration filling the air.

Abruptly it stops.

The figure stands, takes up his stick, and beckons to them. They try to rouse their young companion, but he sleeps on.

The San Man motions them to follow.

/… to be continued

Parched Earth

 

Parched Earth by chris hall lunasonline

‘You must call the San Man,’ she whispers. ‘Only he can bring the rain bull.’

‘But how?’

‘You must go to the cave which watches over the veld. Go at dusk, light a fire.’ She reaches into the pouch she has beside her and holds out a handful of grey-green herbs. ‘Burn a little of this; and then watch and wait.’

He raises his eyebrows at his two companions.

The old woman holds up a finger. ‘He may not come the first night,’ she shakes her head slowly. ‘He may not come at all.’ She stares intently at each of them. ‘Now go.’

The three men depart.

‘I guess it’s worth a try,’ says the first. He is a tall, robust white man, dressed in shorts and sandals; the hint of an overseas accent.

‘Another winter with no rain; we must do something,’ agrees the second, a brown-skinned man, whose features echo the ancient people that once inhabited this corner of Africa.

The third man, by far the youngest of the three is silent. He too is brown-skinned, a son of the Rainbow Nation, where a multitude of peoples have planted their seeds.

Later, the three trudge silently up to the koppie where the ancient cave paintings are. The air is hot and parched like the veld. The sky turns liquid orange as the sun is swallowed up by the smudge-blue mountains. They light the fire and sprinkle herbs onto the flames. The three settle down to watch and wait.

/…to be continued


Today is a public holiday in South Africa. The Day of Reconciliation came into effect in 1995 after the end of apartheid, with the intention of fostering reconciliation and national unity for the country.

The characters in this new story represent (some of) the different groups in this country and the story has its roots in some earlier pieces I wrote about the rain animal my mythical, mystical San Man. There is more to tell of the story.

The struggle for water is a perennial and worsening challenge in many parts of the world. It was starkly brought home to us last year when Capetonians faced ‘Day Zero’, the day when the taps would run dry. The crisis was averted, but we still cannot waste a drop and must search for other ways to bring water to the thirsty land.