Sheís quiet. Her father talks. She laughs again, saying, French on Monday.
oko oko kkkkk ok ok
Weíve been in the car for six hours, Linda, driving the Mercedes, Mvuyo, who sings haunting Zulu hymns, and me. Weíre travelling to Wits Rural, on the border of the Kruger Park. The light is falling over the dense thorn trees and my earlier panic returns.
Today my ex drove her to Pietermaritzburg, to find a boarding school. A place where sheíll be safe, heíd said. A place away from me. I hope she hates the city, that she wonít get a place. But maybe sheís already romping through a lacrosse game with Enid Blyton, sharing a tuck box with Harry Potter.
Iím fantasising revenge on my return. Do I have the nerve to run my keys along his paintwork? Might I bribe the petrol joggie to Ďaccidentallyí put petrol in his diesel tank? Black mambas exist in this area. How hard is it to catch one? Could I turn a poisonous snake loose in his car boot one weekend when Kateís with me?
I ask Linda to stop by an abandoned farm stall. It rises, rusted ochre tin and broken glass, beside the road. I say Iím carsick, but itís not that. Itís hate churning. I wish I could vomit my evil fantasies out. I want to unsay what I said last night when a helicopter wound overhead above our house, round and round. I said, I hope that helicopter is searching for the man that just murdered your father. I want to stop wounding my child. I want to stop feeling like a mouse dangling in the claws of an owl.
We pass a welcome sign: Jesus Loves You, Hoedspruit Ministeries. My tongue slithers over the ugly words forming in my mouth. I should swallow them back, but I spit them out: Heís everywhere, isnít he? As soon as itís said, Iím ashamed, wishing it unsaid.
After arriving in the campsite, Iím taken to my bungalow. Mvuyo points out the gap below the door. Heís been here before. He says, Roll up a towel to wedge against the door. Tomorrow I'll show you the leopard spoor.
We eat in the rondavel. Afterwards I check my teeth for lentil and spinach and, finding none, poke the black bubble on my gum between my lower front teeth. Pamela, our camp co-ordinator, cooks Sunshine Tart in the dark communal kitchen. Whatís in it, I ask. The table is sticky. I wish I had wine. Secret family recipe, she says.
Itís delicious, even though it tastes strongly of paprika, turmeric and mother-in-lawís tongue, our only three spices. The kitchen has mosquito nets for windows and we cook in turns. Everybody uses the same three spices for each meal. Iíll be glad when I can cook in my own kitchen again. My table is properly clean; my kitchen cloths are washed and ironed. My own dishes sparkle because the sink hasnít got a permanently scuzzy ring about it.
At supper I was glad of the dim globes hanging from the thatched roof because I couldnít rightly see what was beetle and what was sunshine in the pie. The fridge lists dangerously to one side, its door no longer closing properly. A notice taped on the freezer section warns residents: KEEP DOORS AND WINDOWS CLOSED. MONKEYS AND TREE SQUIRRELS STEAL FOOD.
If I had wine, Iíd worry less about the mouse that ripped open the mieliemeal or the dead snake I saw on the road outside my bungalow. Perhaps its mate will be back to find it.
Another notice informs residents that this is a low-risk malaria area. Itís the cool season now, rainy and humid, but not hot. I canít take the anti-malaria medicine. It makes me woozy and nauseous and I canít think straight for weeks.
The Dutch medical student, who is treating AIDS patients at the hospital in Acornhoek, tells me itís probably safe. She says Ďdayí for Ďtheyí and Ďdatí for Ďthatí. Her voice swoops and bounces like the buck that scamper for cover when disturbed. I want to listen to her talk forever, but when we hear the hoo-whoop hoo-whoop of the hyena, everyone falls silent, listening in awe.
Per Contra Summer 2007