Write down the first words that comes to mind when we
say . . . home. . . soil. . . rain. Use those words in the title of
Our minds work in mysterious ways…
This prompt immediately took me back to my primary school days: afternoons in my gran’s garden between the fruit trees and vegetables, listening to the neighbor calling his homing pigeons back; then to my mom and I establishing a flower bed in the most horrendous circumstances; then to my carefully manicured garden in Durbanville before it all went up in smoke; then to the garden I have now and how much care I need to take to gather water for my plants; then to the severity of the drought – farmers committing suicide and the total hopelessness that prevails as family estates go to ruin; then (from out of nowhere and for the first time in ages!!) to this – complete fiction. I hope you enjoy the read (even though it’s sad, but hope always remains)
“Why, Lord, why? What do you want from me?” Gertrude’s thermos cup makes a thud on the barren red soil as she drops it on the ground. The last bit of fight she had in her seeps away as the hot coffee turns the dust to a dark splatter of blood; the ground crying out for water. She had no more tears left and sat completely broken next to, what used to be, their oasis, willing the skies to fill with clouds and restore this place to its once crowning glory. Memories washing over her as the last rays of sunlight disappears over horizon turning the now defunct windmill into a dark skeleton on the top of the hill, the Karoo skies open and clear. Day 1680 without rain had come to an end
“Let’s go away” Cobus had said to her on that evening 10 years ago. They were busy clearing the dishes after, yet another, successfully hosted lunch celebrating NatGro’s latest major contract. Their guests had gone on and on about the perfectly cooked shank paired with a beautiful Franciacorta, an Italian Pinot Noir they brought back from their last visit. They both smiled dutifully and made small talk as they willed the evening to an end. They were tired. Tired to the bone and their souls carried an insatiable hunger for more. Corporate life had taken its toll, not only on the them but their marriage too. The glamour couple wanted out. They longed for the careless days of reading a book, doing a crossword together or going for a walk on the beach; the beach they always dreamed of and eventually bought. Gertrude turned to Cobus, his reflection a perfect silhouette against the setting sun, waves gently lapping at the shore behind him and suddenly she couldn’t remember the last time they had set foot on that beach.
“What do you mean? We’ve just come from France and Germany is 2 weeks away”
“Everything. Let’s get away from everything. I love you and I miss you and I’m done with the rat race to signing the next contract and the next one and the next one. I want my life back. It never ends!” The crystal shattered in a million directions as the wine drew a new picture over the painting he bought on auction not even 6 weeks ago.
For a moment of stunned silence Gertrude stared at him, shocked at this sudden show of anger and intrigued by the urgency in voice. A light flickered in her eye as a spark of excitement flared up within her core. Getting away from it all has been her biggest desire for a very long time, but he was doing so well, how could she possibly expect him to give it all up because her spirit longed for home. The small Karoo town where she was born have always been home to her. Their house was perfect, built to match her every dream, but it was never home. The more they traveled and the busier they became, the more her soul longed to go home.
“I thought you were happy here? Where would we go? What would we do?”
Cobus took her by the hand, a bottle of wine and two glasses in the other hand and walked her down the pier. They sat in silence and watched the ocean turn from blue to orange to silver. He pulled a box from Brown’s out of his pocket and handed it to her. “I bought you this to celebrate, but I couldn’t remember your favorite color. Then I realized that there’s a lot I don’t remember. I don’t remember the smell of your hair as you come out of the shower. I don’t remember the blush on your cheeks when you are excited. I don’t remember the last time we had pancakes on the veranda as we read the Sunday paper. What are we doing? I see you everyday, we go to bed, we wake up, we talk and eat and travel, but when last did we see into each others soul?”
She tried to speak, the words silenced by his lips as he draws her closer. The salt of her tears mingled with the smokey white pepper of the wine on his lips. They sat their and talked as they hadn’t done for ages. The sky turned black and the milky way shone bright. When they eventually made their way back to the house, his jacket draped over her shoulders, the full moon lit the way and Gertrude was at peace once more, she knew it was all going to be OK.
5 Weeks later it was all done. Cobus’ share in the business transferred to his partners, the house sold furniture and all, her SLK and his X5 traded for a WildTrack… all they had in front of them was the 6 hour drive to their new home “La Tranquillita”. When Cobus first mentioned it, she thought he had gone mad. A game lodge in the Karoo?! He was adamant and had already signed the deed of sale. She was going home!
The next 6 years was spent in bliss. Cobus spared no expense as the run-down lodge was turned into the most popular place to say outside of the Karoo National Park. Their days were spent taking tourists on game drives, their evenings next to the fire as he pointed out the constellations she could never remember. Sundays was her favorite though. They would take the day off and spend it next to the dam, reading and eating and drinking wine and making love under the willow tree. They were madly in love and didn’t want for anything.
The harsh “kak-kak-kak” of a Lanner Falcon rips her from the memories. She’s surprised to still see one in this area. The animals and birds which had not died had all migrated by now. Their oasis lay bare before her. To think of how it looked…. That was 4 years ago before the rain stopped.
El Nino they had called it and everyone said it wouldn’t last long. But they were wrong. At first tourism slowed down as more and more animals died and water restrictions were put in place. Homes put up for the sale in the first year still found new owners, but the empty skeletons that litter the town now are testimony of lives that were once lived there, of people moving on and starting afresh somewhere else. Year after year now the farmers had to watch as their sheep die of thirst, how the last bit of greenery disappeared into dust. Her own vegetable garden turned to nothing more than a highway for tumble-weed, her chicken coop dilapidated and falling apart.
This morning over coffee, exactly 10 years after Cobus declared they had to get away, he looked up from his paper and again said those words.
“We have to get away from here. Our savings are running out, it’s never going to rain here again.” The defeated look in his eyes told her what she had already known. “Mark made me an offer. I can go back. We can start over.”
She fled and came here, looking for answers, looking for a way out. Deep down, however, she knew they had no other choice. The rat race had won. They had to go back.
“It won’t be the same, I promise you that, as God is my witness in this barren land, it won’t be the same” Cobus’ voice jarred her from thought as his arms wrapped around her.
He gently kissed her on the head “This time will be better, going back will not be the same”