GRANDPA

It’s pretty late, maybe 5, 6. Starting to get cold, there’s a wind coming from the ‘varsity side. Sarah says the wind from that side always means rain’s coming. Feels like it. 

I’m sitting on the top of the back stairs. The kitchen’s behind me, and  I can hear the kettle starting to heat up, soon I’ll get up, make some Milo, take it through to Sarah. She’s sitting in the lounge, watching some show on Netflix. 

I’ll bet Nandi’s on the couch, taking up my space, but I’ll deal with her later. Maus is here, she’s next to me. This is kinda our thing. I like to sit here because you can see over the valley. All the way from the road, over all the bushes, the Avo tree, the Pine on the border of ours and Grace’s, and then it’s clear all the way down, through the valley, ‘til you get that beautiful, old house with the wide balcony and the red roof all the way on that side, with the ‘Varsity behind it. 

It’s easy to imagine the river. It flows all the way across the bottom, then down, heads off to the Harbour. Sometimes you can see the harbour from here, not often, but sometimes. 

But here, top of the stairs, it’s just beautiful. You can see all the trees, they roughly hide most of the houses, so it’s this long stretch of trees. And at times like this, when the wind’s blowing from that side, it’s nice to watch all the different colours of the trees moving. 

I like to look at it, feel the breeze as it moves up the valley. But Maus sits next to me, she leans into my ribs, I’ll have my arm around her, and she closes her eyes, lifts her head, and you can just see her nose twitching. It’s easy to imagine all the smells coming up, being carried along. And sometimes we’ll stay like that for a hour, maybe two, and then Nandi will come along, and push in between us.

I like these moments. Sometimes the 2 pairs of fish eagles from the reserve will fly over, and they’ll just circle, almost just outside the kitchen window, just above Grace’s, and you can see they’re riding in that breeze coming up, and then they’ll glide away, circling higher and higher.

I haven’t done the mugs yet, I’m not even sure there is Milo, there should be some.

My grandfather had a dog growing up. From the way I remember him describing it, it must have been pretty similar to Maus, with the thin light brown fur, and the white patch on her paw. He would talk about it often, he’d laugh at how Uncle Mike would try to bribe it with sweets and bits of meat to come play with him, but it always stayed next to him. I can’t remember its name though, it was something strange, like Oscar, something like that, I think.

It’s really crazy. I mean he would have been born close to the beginning of the last century, i mean, I’m old, like I’m 44, my dad had me in his thirties, and I know Grandpa only had dad after he left the farm, so that would have been when he was in his twenties, you know, it’s crazy when you look at things like that, I mean, just in my life, things have changed so much, so back then, it must have been so different.

I don’t really remember much of him. I was at Boarding school, and dad was working down the South Coast, so we didn’t really see him very much. I only really got to know him when he moved in with us.

He moved in when Uncle Mike died. It was just us really. Mom didn’t want him to go to some retirement home.

He’d made the chair he sat on every day. My mother told me that. She told me that he’d chopped down a tree on the old farm and had made the legs, back and everything from this one tree. She said he’d done it when Grand Uncle Simon had sold the farm.

He’d sit on it every day. It was hard, but the parts where he sat were smooth and shiny. He never used a cushion, either. Even when there people around, he would sit in his chair, and keep quiet, he’d just smoke these horrible cigarettes he’d roll himself. Most nights he’d have some whiskey, in his special glass that no one else would use. My father would get angry with him for smoking, but my mom would always calm him down. She was his youngest granddaughter. The only child left. He’d been living with Grandma Bess, but she’d died, and so he’s come to live with us. My father used to complain and say he should go to Grand Uncle Simon and live with him, but then he died too, so now it was just him and us.

I often would just ignore him, like a wall, or a rock. Those days I’d play in the garden, or in the neighbour’s gardens. We lived in a complex, close to town, close to where my father worked. It was nice, everyone was close, everyone was just a couple of steps away. 

The monkeys changed everything, though.

A troop of small monkeys started raiding the rubbish bins or sneaking through open windows. They’d pinch fruit of the small trees, and generally just annoy everyone. I started bugging my father for a pellet gun, so I could protect the house, and one Christmas he gave me one.

It was only a couple of weeks later, that I broke it. The cheap thing’s bolt or trigger jammed, and I was going to throw it away when my grandfather told me to bring the gun to him.

He didn’t really speak to me. He didn’t really speak to anyone. But when he did, he had a deep, rough voice. Dad said it was because of all the cigarettes he smoked. He was also dark, his skin looked like the leather belt my father gave me, and some parts, like his hands, were like dried mud. My mother said it was because when he was young, he’d be outside the whole day, and never wore any sun cream.

When he looked at my gun, he’d laughed. He moved something and a pellet came out. It was bent and he said that because it was soft, a part of it had got caught and stuck and had jammed the gun. When he gave it back to me, he told me that when he was young, and when they’d lived on the farm, they’d used much bigger guns and had hunted baboons and buck, and all kinds of wild animals.

I didn’t believe him. I had never seen most of the animals he was telling me about, and when he started talking about buffalo that were taller than the gate, and rhino bigger than the car, I told him he was joking. He told me that when he was young, he and Grand Uncle Simon had to go out into the bush and hunt animals. He told me that they’d hunt small buck, and rabbits, and wild guinea fowl.

I didn’t believe him and went to ask my mother if the stories were true. 

Then she said they were. She said her grandfather, and his father had lived on a huge farm by the Drakensberg. She’d only lived there for a couple of years before they’d sold the farm. But she said it was huge, and it was full of wild animals, and she said that Grandpa would bring animals that he’d shot, and she’d help Grandma Bess take the skin off and cut the meat, and make fresh steaks, and biltong. She said she could remember her grandfather had killed a wild buffalo that was as big as the bathroom wall, and how big the skull and horns were that they’d put over the fireplace. She started crying then, and my dad told me to go do my homework. 

My grandfather started telling me more stories after that. He taught me how to make knots in ropes, and polish my boots. He told me how to keep knives sharp by scraping them on special stones.  He taught me all these cool things, like how to fix things and carve wood. He even gave me an old knife that he had kept since he was young like me. 

I started spending more time with him. I wouldn’t go to my friend’s house after school, I’d go home, do my homework and then I’d sit on the floor, while he would sit on his chair. We’d eat biltong, and we’d carve statues and faces out of pieces of wood. He’d tell me all these amazing stories of when the family had lived on the farm.

He’d always tell me how big it was, how he and Grand Uncle Simon could just ride their horses all day and they’d never reach the fence. 

He told that the one-day, Grand Uncle Simon had slipped on a rock, and Grandpa had had to carry him the whole way back to the house because there was no one anywhere that they could get help from, and that they had to learn how to do everything themselves.

He told me about his horse, and he actually cried when he told me about how it died after a puff adder bit it. He said he’d killed the snake and made a strap out the skin. He also cried when he told me about his dog. He said that when he was even younger than me, his father had given him a dog. He said it was brown like fudge, and had a white patch on his paw. He said that his dog would be next to him all the time. Wherever he went the dog would never be further than his hand away from his knee. Grand Uncle Simon was jealous of how special Klip was, and always tried to make Klip like him by giving him sweets and biltong but it never worked. Klip would always be right next my grandfather wherever he went. 

He told me that there used to be a group of baboons that lived on the mountains. Sometimes they’d come to the houses and steal things. He told me how scary the baboons were. There were bigger than the small fridge in the lounge. And they had big teeth and claws and would bark and bite you. He said that one night he was sleeping and suddenly there was this huge noise outside, and when they all ran out they saw that Klip was fighting with this huge baboon by this big thorn tree. He said that his dad wanted to just shoot them, but Grandpa was scared that Klip would get shot, so they’d started making lots of noises and the baboon ran away. Grandpa said that he’d spent two days sitting with Klip in front of the fire, looking after the stitches his mom had done, and wiping the blood off and stroking him, and then Klip had got better but his leg was all stiff and he couldn’t run very fast after that. He actually cried when he told me about how Klip died. He said that every night Klip used to sleep in front of the fire, and the one morning he just didn’t wake up.

My grandpa really cried a lot when he told me that.

My mom would bring us sandwiches and cool drinks when I’d sit with Grandpa. The one time I saw her looking at us through the kitchen window. I think she was also crying, but I couldn’t really see because of the curtain.

Grandpa would always tell me how every night he and Grand Uncle Simon would lie on the grass and just look at the sky. He said that it wasn’t like the sky at night now, then it was so dark it was like a black blanket lying over you, and there were so many more stars than I can imagine. He said it was just so beautiful, and how much space there was, and how big everything was.

When I told him that I was going to ask Sarah, this girl from school to the movies, he laughed, and said that he had met Grandma Bess at church, and they had to wait for a year before he could ask her to a dance, and even then the whole family was there. But he said that if Sarah was even one hundredth as special as Grandma Bess, I’d be the luckiest person in my school. He said Grandma Bess was the most beautiful lady he ever saw, and that even though they were married for over seventy years, every day was special. That’s when he really cried a lot, and I felt embarrassed and pretended I needed to go to the toilet.

He once let me try one of his cigarettes, but it was so strong and horrible, that I’ve never smoked a cigarette since. He also let me have a sip of his whiskey. It burned my throat, but now I quite like it.

He died when I was at boarding school. By the time I got home, it was his funeral, and everything was pretty much over. We took his ashes to the farm where he grew up, and the owner let us bury the urn at the top of this hill where you could see the whole valley during the day, and my mother said that at night the sky would lie over it. I know what she meant. All of us were crying, even my dad.

I remember thinking the next day, as my mother was driving back to school, that now it was just us. That we were the only two people were actually knew these stories, and what happened to Grandpa and all of the family. We were the only two people in the whole world.  

This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is purely coincidental.

The author

Nick Miles is a Durban based writer, with a zany and distinctive writing style.

He lives with his partner Sarah and their two dogs, Nandi, Maus and Ginger cat.