Banished

My last night in the bush. Last bath in a tin tub, perched on a ledge, way above the plain. By day you might see zebras as you wash away the dust. By night you lie back, gazing on shooting stars – no sooner seen than gone, glorious but dead.

The water comes by hose from a railway siding on the line to Mozambique. It’s warmed in an oil drum over a wood fire stoked by Dudu, a young Swazi woman.  She’s working as a ‘maid’ but she’s really a teacher. A lightning bolt will strike her dead before she’s even thirty.

All too soon morning comes. It’s 5.30 am and chilly. No-one else is up yet, but there’s breakfast to make, fire to coax back into life. I trudge up to the bathing ledge, fill the kettle, stick my head under the hose and rub the night from my face. I forgot my soap and there’s none kicking around – the baboons steal it.

My cold hands clasp a tin mug of hot tea. Down on the plain impalas graze amid the acacias, bleached of colour by the lemon light.

The diggers depart and tears are shed. I wait. At last the old VW Combi with no second gear arrives. I climb aboard, en route to exile.

The yellow van rattles along the dirt road, struggles up the hills and dumps me on a pineapple farm in a place called Malkerns. All alone in a stranger’s empty house – I’m tense, tired and not a little frightened.

My host, let’s call her Fran, returns to find a cuckoo in her nest, but she’s not fazed. She’s seen it all before. Seems the great director has form with this banishing thing.

I’m set to work making lime jelly, then scooping out orange halves, a birthday treat for one of Fran’s sons. I make a hash of the oranges but she says nothing.

Night falls, wine is drunk and it’s time for bed. But I’m not sharing the house – a caravan at the edge of the nearest field’s my bedroom. ‘Be careful,’ warns Fran, ‘our night watchman was murdered not so long ago.’ She woke one night to find hands around her throat. Now she has bigger dogs.

I stumble across the rough ground. The door’s reluctant to lock. I face the night with fear, penknife in hand, and cry myself to a restless sleep. But morning dawns beautiful, with hills on the horizon under clear blue skies. I take coffee outside and sit beneath the thatched eaves of a roof where rats run.

Company arrives in a pick up truck. The mohair salesman studies me – the new creature in the zoo – smokes a cigarette, tells me about a barn with bricks stored in its false roof. Dope bricks. His plans for smuggling seem extraordinary and I wonder if it’s all talk. A few weeks later nothing seems extraordinary any more.

Next time: I’ll take you to the ‘Why Not’. Promise.

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