There’ll be more rain tonight. It’ll be heavy, the clouds dark, low. Kerry and kids are walking ahead. They’re walking down towards the main road. It comes down off the pass, runs straight through town, then curls alongside the river. The old rail bridge is just a bit further. It’s old bricks are yellowed now. Most things round are yellowed.
It gets hot here. So hot, there’s a shimmer coming over the river bed. You can see the heat rising over the vlei from just behind here, up on the hill, from Wendy’s house. It looks over the whole town. The old church tower’s the only thing higher than Johan’s warehouse, the needle reaching high, the warehouse squatting, like an old hippo.
You don’t see them any more in the vlei. They were here once. There’s an old skin hanging in Petrus’s Butchery. It’s dry, the leather stiff, cracking almost. But it’s big, wider than the counter in the corner of his shop. The wooden one that was made from old wagon beams.
He’s still got his wife’s preserves, her pickles, the old jams she used to make. It’s more a shrine now, it’s more a reminder. She died last year, she had the same cough Petrus has, the same heavy, thick, rough cough. She wasn’t as strong as him, couldn’t last like he has.
Maybe that’s why he keeps the jams, the old pickled onions in the glass jars now sitting on that table. There’s not many of us as strong as Petrus, certainly not in this village. He’s been slaughtering the thick cattle round here his whole life.
When I was young we’d watch him and his father taking the carcasses off the trucks, we’d watch them hang them, watch he and his brothers cut the meat off. Annelie would let us help her stuff sausages, help her make spice mixes to rub into the cuts. Annelie would always give us kids some bones for our dogs.
I liked her.
She stitched my hand when Hein’s ugly dog bit it when I brought them the milk once. She teased me about making a sweet little flower, like she’d do in her clothes. She never told anyone I cried though, she told my mom, right in the church yard how strong I’d been, hadn’t shed a tear, how strong I’d been the whole time. She’d said that right before church, as we were waiting for Pastor Richard to open the gates.
Hein, and Jannie, and Jamie all heard her say it. Jannie said he’d told Dirk, and then Dirk told his sister, and that’s what made her notice me. But I don’t believe him. Dirk’s family always sat in the same row as my family at church. That’s when I first saw her, when they moved to town after her uncle in the city died, and they moved in with her grandparents.
That’s when I saw her for the first time. In the church.
Kerry’s in front of me, she’s holding Neil’s hand, I can see from here that he’s got his finger stuck deep in his nose. At least he’s not crying. Neil’s teeth are rising. We didn’t get much sleep last night, last couple of nights.
I’m standing here at the crossroads. There’s the road running across this old stone one, this road leading up the hill behind me and down to the road. It’s a mud road. The tyres from the workers leaving for the fields are still fresh. Still deep in the mud. You can see them coming from the township on the left, then there’s the cattle tracks, going off on the other side, towards the fields above the town. The herd’s are blessed this year. The rain’s brought up thick grass, the prints are deep, wide, you can see they’ve been walking slowly, too heavy with calves to run.
The road are empty now though. The only people on any of the roads I can see are us. And soon we’ll cross the road, then it’s through the peach trees, then we’ll be at the cemetery.
This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is purely coincidental.
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.