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The Journey

Thandi Brewer

It was after noticing the fifth etched in claw marks on the wall by the computer, that her love suggested, hovering nervously by the door (she had a fully loaded coffeecup in her hand, and stains on the floor stood testimony to the shortness of her temper, and the lethalness of her aim at the moment) that she might wish to go away -- ALONE -- for a while. For the sanity of her family, if not her own.

           She concurred.

           Wet with relief, her child packed her bags, her love stood by the car door with keys in hand, and she watched them in the rear view mirror, waving cheerfully as she drove away---

(Note : objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are)

           Mind in neutral

           Foot flat on pedal

           Destination known and unknown

           She chanted the traffic signs

           as she disobeyed them all.

           ("Stop" --They must be kidding!)

           ("Dangerous curves ahead" --of course that was why she was going.)

           ("Reduce speed" -- Now? With Meatloaf on the CD, and the speedometer inching up into the late 100s. Ha!)

           Traffic cops ducked as she passed -- Having no traps for low-flying objects they let her go, shaking their heads and muttering "Woman driver" once the sonic boom faded.

           On. Chanting the litany of city names as they passed. Middelburg. Belfst. Origstad. Gemaaks. (What? What mentality could name a town nestling between sky and green something that sounds like an eighty-three-year old with emphysema coughing?) Pause for reflection but keep foot flat on the pedal.

           On. And On. Now she's moved to Bach on the CD and in perfect harmony, a polyphony of greens and ochre's, the mountains suddenly raise themselves. The music cascading and swirling itself around her, for the first time, she slows. Deep breath. In front of her a fruit laden van chugs gently along. Recognising the Gaüteng numberplates they swerve in front of her every time she tries to overtake. Around her, mountains scraping the sky raw with their purity and beauty. So she checks directions instead. SHIT! With no lover to keep her on track, she has, as is her wont, left her filofax behind. Never mind. Never mind. Maybe she'll remember. And if she doesn't -- the car is stuffed with petrol for a change, and the road goes on-and-on -- she can follow it -- and maybe end up with the person she was a long time ago: the traveler with no family, no emotional baggage, no expectations, no home to return to.

           On again. And a certain familiarity tugging at the mind. This road, yes, this turn, this valley, those sentinels at the side, black kids holding out bags of nuts, waving down unwary tourists. This turn. This dust road. This house. Yes.

           And there, the welcoming committee -- Spotted dog, delirious with joy, tail whirling to welcome another sucker to feed and love it. Man in khaki and a smile, looking like a Marketing Man's wet dream. Not the man from the Camel ads, but his younger brother, and behind him, The Guide, tall, black-and-silver haired, with cheekbones that a top model would kill for, and an accent straight from "Out of Africa"

           There is a resonating clang as her ovaries hit the floor, and rebound, as she notes the neon lit sign saying "Taken" above their heads. Never mind. She came here to commune with nature. And to shoot rapids. That too. (And once you've shot a rapid, how do you know that it's dead?)

           Swimming in rock pool; the shadow of leaves shrapnelling her body, the white sounds of cicados around, for the first time, she feels the tension creeping out of her muscles. ("Breath Deeply. And hold this moment in your mind and mouth, like a flower")

           Dawn call. Staggering to bakkie, trying to pretend that, yes, she knows what's going on, and no, scared? Her? Terrified? Her? Ha! It's just a river -- just another river to cross, right? (And the birds high over head -- nameless, and unknown calling to each other against the diamond-bright day)

           In the water -- the boats bob, clumsy, plastic, fragile, man-made -- struggling against the current. Like her. In convoy they move off.

           Ahead, Bwana Gold, (her silent nickname for the cheek-boned guide) leads them through the shoals and crannies ; making love to the river with every stroke of his paddle. Behind her, a certain security, in knowing that the Camel Man and cohorts have done this before, or so they say. ("Oh shit, ohshitohshitohshit -- that one coming up looks scary --there's bloody rocks and the river's pounding, and my heart's going boombadaboom, and can I go home now please?") Bwana gold points his paddle and says "Take the left line" ("Left?!! -- I can't even remember my right from my left on DRY land, with a watch on, and he wants me to go left, on a fucking over-sized lilo???? Through rocks?????!!! And whirlpools??????!!!" ) She goes left. Into the eye of the whirlpool;. Panic, swirl, water everywhere, rush of blood, adrenalin-pump, water in face, on eye, in mouth. Exhilaration. Joy. Dear God, it's almost as good as sex. Almost. Where's the next one?

           And the next?

           And so the day goes. Mountains around, swirling down a river no one has been allowed on before. Unchartered territory. Frightening. Exhilarating. Addictive. Whirled between rocks, giving over control, riding unknown currents, and always the birds, trading eight's over he head, calling, named now, but still unknown, and the trees sending down gnarled fingers into the water, the endless African sky, clouds maneuvering like battleships for position, and the mountains, framing it all.

           Omrit -- the hour of honey -- when Day and Night meet. The hour of the flowers ; they pull into camp, beyond the last rapid. Muscles should be aching -- but they're not. Mind, like the rapids, should be turbulent ; but it's not. Her thoughts drop slowly, petal by petal, a stilled pool (But still waters run deep, don't they?)

           Supper round a rock fire. The men piling into a mound of meat and deep fried chips that make her arteries slam shut in self-defense just looking at it. Slow conversation, and a swollen moon, ringed in cloud, peering down through the leaves around them. Monkeys squabbling close, crunch of leaves underfoot, a cough .. "Leopard with smoker's cough" says the Camel man. She hastily puts out her cigarette, and dreams of environmentally friendly tobacco. And then the frogs and birds start a slow chorale in counterpoint. The wine slipping down her throat, she listens. "Just another shit day in Africa" says one. Silence falls

           With the silence of the sleepers around her, she crouches silent beneath the trees, on her knees, earth underfoot, underhand, wind on body, and listens. A storm is coming.

           It breaks. Around her. Drop as heavy, as heady, as hard as honey. They should bruise, but don't. Lightning --and within the tent -- a lit cigarette. Damn political correctness.

           They return the next day. Slow, wet, and silent. Drifting amongst the waterfalls and overcast sky to hot, sweet coffee and scalding baths.

           Driving back, Meatloaf pounding through her head and the car, she hurtles through the mist. You have to go away to return.

About the Author (click here) © 1998 Thandi Brewer, all rights reserved
 appears here by permission

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