I return to the cave behind the koppie one last time. I’m alone. My story-teller has finished his story now. Still I am drawn to this place where the veld stretches out to the smudge-blue mountains. It is late afternoon, when the sun’s red-orange afterglow becomes a purple-haze dusk; when the air is alive with spirits.
Inside the cave, my hand traces the outlines of the eland and the hunter who stands, bow and arrow poised, taking aim at the beast. A shadow moves across the scene and I turn to see the figure of a man outlined against the burning sunset. For a moment I think it’s the story-teller. But no, this is someone else.
He’s dressed in a long blanket; a string of beads decorates his head. He carries a long, stout stick which he lays against the cave entrance before stepping silently into the cave.
The San man.
He points at the eland and at the hunter. He turns to me and our eyes meet. His are the colour of the early morning sky. They tell me that he was that hunter and this was the first eland he ever killed. Killing an eland made him a man.
He beckons me over to another drawing. A lion and a man stand next to a bush which has strips of meat hanging from its branches. The man doesn’t fear the lion, because they are friends. The man shares his meat with the lion and the lion does the same with his kill. They belong to the land and the land belongs to them.
Together we walk to the cave entrance and stand looking out across the veld as the sky darkens; two tiny figures in a vast universe.
My storyteller falls silent, staring at the distant smudge-blue mountains. Sitting on the still-warm rocks, he is a ‘there-not there’ presence beside me.
The sun sets quickly here. Now the great African moon, reclining serenely on her back, casts a soft glow over the darkening veld.
All is still.
Soon the broad African sky is star-pricked velvet. Orion, the hunter, with his belt of three she-tortoises hanging on a stick, stalks across the western sky. The frothy plume of the Milky Way is a handful of ashes, cast into the sky by a Bushman girl to light the way for her people to return home.
Long, long ago was that past-time when the great herds roamed the plains: springbok in their multitudes, steenbok, kudu, eland and wildebeest. Then there were lions and elephants in the veld; and jackals, wild dogs and hyenas; great giraffes and rhino, small hares and porcupines. Now only their ghosts remain, painted on the cave walls behind me.
A huge 4×4, lights ablaze, erupts across the highway below, shattering the silence. My storyteller shakes himself and stands. He turns to me, nods and walks away.
The bell over the shop door jingles as Abdul pushes it open wide and sniffs the salty air of the pre-dawn morning. Despite the early hour, the two aunties who live in the tiny whitewashed stone building opposite are already busy on their stoep, sitting at their wide wooden table peeling a small mountain of vegetables. The aunties are always busy: knitting or sewing, mending and altering; or making rotis and other goodies to sell by the harbour. That’s how they manage.
Abdul manages too. He sells all sorts of Useful Things. Indeed, that is what his shop is called. It might be a pot or a pan, a fishing net, or a rod and line. Or maybe something more exotic, like an oyster knife or an implement for getting stones out of horses’ hooves. If you can’t find it anywhere else, then Abdul is sure to have it. You only have to ask.
He steps outside and looks up. He grins. It’s an auspicious day. A sliver of a new moon, Venus and Jupiter form a precise alignment in the eastern sky: bringing love, happiness and maybe wealth and adventure, he thinks. And something more. Abdul hurries across the dusty road to greet the two aunties.
Auntie Grace looks up from her peeling. “Have you been consulting with your heavenly bodies, Abdul?” she says with a twinkle in her eye. Auntie Grace is over ninety, the brown skin of her face is still smooth though, and she loves to tease.
Abdul inclines his head.
“And what are they telling us?”
Abdul repeats his thoughts to them.
Auntie Rose holds up a long strand of potato peeling triumphantly. “There. All in one go. We will have good luck.” She grins up at Abdul toothlessly. Her face is nut-brown and deeply wrinkled although she’s some ten years her sister’s junior.
“Most certainly, in that case,” replies Abdul. “Did you buy your lottery ticket this week?”
“Of course.” Auntie Grace reaches inside her capacious bosom and draws out the ticket.
Auntie Rose chuckles and reaches inside her pocket. “A day to put my teeth in then,” she gurns, before slipping in her dentures.
Abdul smiles, puts his two hands together and bows his head to the Aunties, before hurrying back to the shop to arrange the display on the table in front of his shop window. The other shopkeepers are opening up now and everyone nods and waves to each other. It’s a friendly little community.
The day goes well for Abdul. He’s sold an entire dinner service by eleven o’clock, and someone else is coming back later with the money for a small mahogany table which Abdul has lovingly polished every day for a month.
Later in the afternoon a tall woman, carrying two bulging holdalls comes into the shop. She’s looking for an oil lamp. ‘Something which doesn’t need electric,’ she says. ‘Not a candle,’ she adds emphatically. The woman is about Abdul’s age, he guesses; neither young nor old. She wears a long skirt and a rather obvious wig, he notices. He hasn’t seen her before. He wonders if she’s new to the town, but he’s too shy to ask. He thinks for a moment then finds exactly the lamp she’s looking for. He throws in a small container of kerosene for free and her face lights up. She stuffs her purchases into one of her bags. Abdul hold the shop door for her and watches as she slowly walks away, her head held high.
Now he’s eager for the working day to end. He has something to do and this is the very day on which he must do it. He saw the syzygy, the particular alignment, in the early morning sky. Abdul’s eyes stray to a large, cracked leather-bound volume which stands on his highest shelf, partly concealed behind a bulbous copper kettle.
It had been the aunties who had given him the book more than a year ago. Written as it was in Arabic, they’d had no use for it. It had just been taking up space, Auntie Rose had said. But it had come with a stern warning from Auntie Grace. She’d recalled mention in their family of some strange ‘happening’ when her grandfather had read it aloud in his room one night during a full moon. Abdul had smiled and shaken his head. His Arabic wasn’t so good, he’d said. And it hadn’t been until he’d begun to try to read the book.
Now he’s pretty much fluent.
As soon as he’s locked up the shop at precisely five o’clock, Abdul carefully lifts the book down from the shelf and disappears into his little private room and the back of the shop. All goes quiet. Nobody notices when much later that evening a strange curl of reddish smoke rises from the back of the shop, or a peculiar, over-sweet odour wafts away on the strengthening estuary breeze.
Across the road, the aunties are jumping up and down like spring chickens, having netted a nice little lottery win. Not life-changing, but certainly life-improving, they say to each other. Rose puts her dentures back in to celebrate with a toothy grin.
Neither of them sees the fish eagle as it flies in a graceful arc, up over their little house to the harbour, curving round across the estuary mouth to head down the river towards the salt flats where it wheels again and flies over the marina and out to sea, hugging the coast, looking down at the fishing boats in the coves along the coast. The bird alights briefly on the headland opposite the harbour then, as if satisfied, returns to whence it came, disappearing behind the workshops and warehouses which line the harbour.
Abdul doesn’t see the aunties until they return from church the following day. They stand beaming outside his shop, peering in until he comes to the door. He pokes his head out, but unusually, he doesn’t step outside, expressing his congratulations on their news from his side of the door.
Auntie Rose takes a step forward and reaches up. She plucks a feather from his beard and holds it out to her sister. Auntie Grace peers round the door and notices something odd about the way Abdul is standing. She glances down. She nudges her sister and nods at Abdul’s feet which are mostly hidden by his long white shirt and matching trousers. He shuffles his feet awkwardly.
“What’s the matter with your toes?” says Auntie Rose. Abdul looks at her, then down at his feet. The claws which poke out from his sandals are unmistakable.
“The book?” asks Auntie Grace.
Inspired by ‘Korfiyah’ by Cape Town artist, Solly Gutman – visit his website for more of his wonderful artwork
Albertina throws the remains of her black coffee onto the dusty ground outside the door and stuffs her little tin mug into the top of a bulging holdall which stands by a similarly stuffed canvas bag next to the open door. As she finishes chewing the crust of bread she’s saved for her breakfast, she adjusts her second best wig and looks around the sparse shack which has been her home for the past few months: Time to move on.
Albertina snatches up the two heavy bags, which contain all her worldly goods, and strides out into the early morning. She holds her head up and sticking her nose in the air, walks past the people busy with their cooking fires and washing bowls. She will not miss them and she will not miss the location, with its noise and dust and people fighting and drinking long into the night. Her son is settled in a farm school and he has a roof over his head. He’s with people who’ll take better care of him that she can, far away from the temptations of drugs and alcohol, underage sex and communicable diseases which are all that life has to offer young people in the location.
Fifteen minutes of steady walking bring Albertina to the edge of the freeway. She is aware of the weight of the bags that she’s carrying, but she’s used to it, used to carrying all her belongings with her; you can’t risk leaving anything unattended for long in a shack. The traffic is heavy and the hot dirty wind from the road tugs at her long skirts. Albertina trudges on as far as the service station where she stops near the exit to the parking area. Here she will get her first lift. She takes out a tightly folded twenty rand note from where is has been tucked inside her clothing and flattens it out, smoothing over the creases. She holds it out ready to each passing vehicle.
It’s not long before a large blue truck pulls up beside her. Its air-brakes hiss loudly. The driver leans over and extends a thick brown arm to open the passenger door for her. Albertina looks up at him. For a moment they scrutinize each other. He looks okay, she thinks, but she’s still wary. She tries to read his face. The driver breaks into a gap-toothed grin and asks her where she’s going.
Albertina shrugs. ‘Just onwards,’ she smiles cautiously.
‘I’m going up the coast,’ he replies.
Albertina nods. One direction is as good as another. The coast sounds nice: fresh. Why not? Something will turn up. She hefts her bags into the foot-well and, gathering up her skirts, climbs nimbly into the cab. The driver indicates the seat belt and reaches over to help her. His hand brushes briefly against her left breast. She looks at him sharply but his attention is already focused on the road as he pulls away.
He eases the heavy vehicle out onto the busy highway, turning the radio up loudly. Albertina is grateful for the music; she doesn’t like to chat. She looks out of the window watching the sprawl of scruffy shacks give way to a patch of open land, then more buildings: huge, bland industrial buildings. She briefly wonders what goes on inside. The truck driver taps on the steering wheel along with the music, apart from when he’s jabbing at the horn or muttering an obscenity at some other road user. She winces inwardly at the words.
The truck turns off the freeway and onto the west coast highway. The traffic is calmer and there is only bush and scrub beyond the edge of the tarmac. Albertina gazes out across the open country; the ocean is faintly discernible, a clear azure strip below the wide African sky. She winds down her window a little. The driver turns to her – they haven’t so much as exchanged names – and suggests they stop for a break. He needs to stretch his legs. Albertina nods and leans forward to reach inside the pocket of her holdall.
There is a rest stop a kilometre ahead: three sets of concrete tables with concrete stools surrounding them, set back from the road under a stand of shady trees. They have the place to themselves. The driver parks up and jumps out of the cab. He strides round the front and opens the passenger door for Albertina. He offers her a hand to help her down, which she takes. Albertina’s bright pink pumps hit the ground lightly; the driver keeps hold of her hand and pulls her gently sideways, away from the door. Their eyes meet as he takes a step towards her. She takes a step back. He smiles pleasantly. ‘Come now,’ he says, ‘a little something for my trouble.’ He closes in and Albertina is caught between him and the side of the truck.
Quick as a flash she whips out her little steel knife and holds the point against the side of his neck. The man’s eyes widen. He steps back, holding up his hands out in surprise. It is now Albertina’s turn to advance. She sets her face in a steely glare and, although inside her heart is fluttering with fear, she takes a step forward and stops within striking distance, knife raised. The man remains still. A long minute passes. A couple of cars go by; a bird shrieks in the tree above them. Then all is quiet.
Loud music breaks the silence heralding the arrival of a bright red sports car. It draws up sharply behind the truck raising a cloud of dust. The man looks around but Albertina’s gaze remains fixed on him. Car doors open and the music blares out even more loudly. High female voices call out to each other. Paying no attention to the truck or the two people beside it they unload a cooler box from the car and dump it on the nearest table.
The driver holds out his hands, palms upward. ‘Sorry, sorry,’ he says quickly. Albertina glances towards the noisy group of girls. She lowers the knife.
‘I’m getting your bags,’ the man says firmly. Albertina nods. Moments later he bags are on the ground and the truck is starting up. Albertina watches calmly as he drives away. She picks them up and goes to sit at the table behind her. She looks across at the four long-limbed blonde-headed girls who are sipping from cans of cool drink.
‘Hey!’ One of the girls gets up and walks over to Albertina. ‘Ag, no! Did that guy just leave you here?’ She looks round at her friends and back at Albertina. ‘Shame, man!’ Another girl approaches and asks where she’s going. Albertina gestures vaguely up the road.
Albertina now becomes the centre of attention. The skimpily-clad young women gather round and one of them fetches a cool drink for her; they all mutter darkly about the skelm driver. Albertina is a little overwhelmed, but happily accepts the offer of a lift. They can’t take her to where they’re staying, of course, but the nearest town will surely be fine. Albertina nods. It will surely be fine.
And so, after a whirlwind of a drive in the noisy little sports car, with its loud music and louder girls, and the howling wind which forced her to remove her second best wig, so as not to lose it out of the open window, Albertina finds herself back on foot, carrying her two bulging bags into a busy little coastal town. By late afternoon, she’s found her way down to the harbour. She sets her bags down and stares out across the ocean. She breathes in the sharp, salty air and looks around; she has a good feeling about the place. Something will turn up, she thinks.
I was nominated for this award byVickleawho has been very supportive of my writing since I started posting at the start of this year. I’m very pleased because it’s given me an opportunity to share an example of how some people help each other in my adopted country, South Africa.
South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world. We have the very, very rich (a small number) and the very, very poor (sadly many more). We may think we’re somewhere in the middle, but the vast majority of the population live on very little.
We are fortunate enough to be able to afford to employ a housekeeper, Joyce, and a gardener / handyman, Johannes, a couple of days a week. This sounds quite grand, or at least it seemed to me to be so when we first came over here. We don’t necessarily need the help, although it’s nice to have someone to do the housework and look after the garden. It also gives us an excuse to help them to support their families.
However, this is not about us in our privileged position and what we do, rather I want to share something which Joyce did for one of the kids in her neighbourhood last week.
Joyce was standing by the gate to her little rented house having just seen her youngest child Joshua and her grandchild, Lesego, off to school. She was watching some of the other children make their way to school when she noticed a little boy of about Joshua’s age struggling to walk in gum boots which were much too big for him. She could see by how he was dressed that he came from a family who must have very little to spend on clothes and shoes. She called him over and saw that he was crying. He said it was because the gum boots hurt his feet and made it hard for him to walk.
Joyce told him to wait by the gate. She fetched a pair of Joshua’s shoes. The shoes were in good condition and still fit Joshua, but he did have his school shoes and a pair of trainers as well and Joyce decided that she must give them to the little boy who was struggling. He tried them on and they fit. He was over the moon! Joyce gave him a plastic bag for the gum boots and off he ran to school so as not to be late. On his way back that afternoon, he came and thanked Joyce again.
When she told me, I could see how happy she was to have been in a position to help the little boy, even though she herself manages on a very modest budget as a single mum, with a grown up daughter and son, another son who’s studying civil engineering and the two little ones.
All through life we encounter people who for no particular reason help someone out, or extend a hand when needed. Some do it directly and some do it indirectly. 1- copy or paste image for reward on your post. 2- Write about a random act of kindness, either you saw, was given to you, or you have done. It is okay to spread the love people. You don’t have to name specific names or whatever but tell us about it. 3- Share this award and link to original post or tag the person who nominated you. 4- If you should want to do this then you can leave an open ended invitation, or personally tag others. 5- Pictures are a good share to, if you have pictures to share a random act of kindness, that is great!
I’m leaving this Award open to anyone who might read this and like to share something good. There’s too much bad stuff in the world.