Saturday, December 28, 2030

#3: Veldrift to Dwarskersbos

I walked for a short while, perhaps twenty minutes, moving it in the heat, wanting to get gone.  I passed a school playground.  It was break time so the place was swarming.  I watched one boy sitting up alone in the corner of the long fence that went all around the school.  
I tried to take a photo of him on my cellphone, surrounded by open veld and open sky, but he jumped down before I was ready.  Instead I recorded the sound of the placethe screaming of the kids and the silence, the blowing wind and the gravel crunching underfoot.  
I was passing a big, empty housing development. This is the new West Coast.  They are to be found everywhere.  Invisible towns complete with streets and lines and driveways, but no houses, save the sales office at the entrance flanked by massive signage.
The road ahead was hazy.  One or two cars passed and then it happened again.  A white Bantam.  It screamed past at 160, then suddenly it slowed, bonnet tilting forward over its little black wheels, engine dropping down fast, breaklights bright red.  I ran, bobbing left and right, kind of moon hopping with the padded  weight of the rucksack.  A Bantam is a smaller bakkie, a single cab.  I saw this on my approach so I prepared by pulling the rucksack off and getting it into my hand, ready to swing it into my lap as I swung down into the car. 
This man was in his early fifties and definitely Afrikaans.  Short, graying hair, muscular, sunburnt face.  Crows feet at the eyes, hairy and hardy.  He was washed clean but no doubt an outdoorsman, a peering at the weather man.  We began with silence.  Me not knowing, he not knowing. I watched the coastline pass, the holiday complexes slowly emerging from the bush, sand and sun.
Suddenly, surprising me because I had thought that silence would be it, he told me that the temperature outside has come down from 34 to 24, from Piketberg to here.  He was pointing at the digital thermometer on the dash.  I realised he wanted to talk. 
'It didn't feel 24 outside,' I say.
'Thats because you were walking,' he points out. 
'You're right,' I reply.  'What do you do for a living?'
'I'm an architect.  I've got my own business.  I've just been finishing a job in Piketberg.  It's the boring part.  Just checking the finishings.'            
He shrugs and laughs.  I'm not sure I understood what he said.
'Where do you live?'
'In Dwarskersbos.'
He points forward, the next little town coming up to meet us.  They have a caravan park there.  I spent a New Years as a teenager there, once.
'Do you want to leave South Africa?'            
'Leave?  Leave here?'  'Yes.'            
'No.  No.  No other country would want me.'
I nod.  He drives.  The Bantam is fast.            
'I keep to myself.  I don't want any partners in the business, I don't open it up.  I just take the work that comes along.  It's enough to keep me busy.  So I'm okay.'  
I nod.          
'But my wife isn't so happy.  She's a psychologist for the schools around here.  The browns and blacks don't want to work.  They make it difficult for her to do her job, to love her job and to do it well.'            
'My girlfriend is a teacher,' I say, 'she just started at a government school, not far from here.   She's been there three months and still has no contract and has not been paid her full salary.'  
He nods.  We drive.  Its a very short distance.  In no time he's slowing. 


A little later I'm sitting on the side of the same road, in a bit of shade while I write these notes.  I'm thinking.  The dynamics of hitching are endlessly mesmerising.  There's the initial awkwardness, as the beginning of any time with a stranger, but that time is far less, over much more quickly, because we, the hiker and driver, are already complicit.  We've both already made a commitment.  The commitment isn't to journey together, to simply cover ground together, it's to share together.  This is the unspoken agreement:  We will talk, and we will go where that talk takes us.  A hike is a gift, an unpredictable adventure.  A sharing.            
Behind me there's a house with an aviary in the back garden, against the other side of the fence I'm sitting against.  In the heat, the dry, West Coast heat, there's all manner of jungle-bird sound.  That's what I mean.  Nothing is expected, nothing is predictable.  People are the same.  They'll tell you what you expected them to say, what you would have guessed they'd tell you, but in the moment it'll get you every time.  The telling is real.  The telling is a feeling.  It flows.  It fills, and the detail is incredible.             
I look out at the road.  This is officially the furthest I've travelled on this particular route.  Ahead of me is the unknown.  I know I'm going up to the border.  The jungle birds sing.  The heat is hot.  I'm glad I'm not sitting in my box.    

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