Elna is a former transport safety researcher. She is a consultant for social projects and works mainly in South Africa and SADC countries.
English lessons in return for firewood
It was misty all day. It rained softly and she did not go out. In the morning she cooked some maize porridge, which she shared with the dogs, mixing in some of the last dog pellets left over with their food. She herself finished the meal off with a whole avocado and a handful of pecan nuts.
Her young friend from the small housing enclosure near the farmhouse did not come today for his daily English lesson and she missed his amused presence. He laughed easily and at everything.
In return for his English lesson he volunteered his services, even though nothing was expected of him in return. He would surprise her with a load of black wattle branches (declared invaders in this nature conservation area) that he would chop up for firewood. A shopping bag of shelled pecan nuts, a container of goat’s milk - and sometimes just his silent conversation as they sat on the stoep, watching the valley.
Agricultural operations have all but stopped in the area, and all the farms were sold to the state nature conservation department. Most of the people who were living and worked on the avocado farms have moved away a few kilometers lower down the mountain. There was a larger settlement next to the Mohlapitse River. Only a few women and children still lived up here.
There is a very small farm school but Magic, for that is the name he has shared with her, has outgrown the school which only goes up to Grade 7 and will probably gradually stop altogether. He is 14 years old.
The day she had arrived to squat in the empty farmhouse he came up to the house and just watched her unpack the VW Beetle: a suitcase, a yellow-wood kist with some blankets, pots and pans, a guitar and treble recorder, a few books, a rolled up topographic map of the area, a Minolta Camera, a small typing machine and groceries for a month (rice, maize meal, dog pellets). The dogs peeled out of the car, relieved to stretch their cramped legs after the arduous trip up the mountain.
Apart from 1 bed and a gas stove, the house was totally empty. He must have thought that she was a crazy person.
Dreams and the last day
She watches from the window as the mist slowly lift from the valley, revealing an orchard of avocado trees, miles and miles of yellow grass and a forest of indigenous trees. By now she knew some of the secrets of the forest: paths hardly walked by anyone anymore, huge statue-like stones and old trees creating small protective spaces. The enigmatic Purple‐crested Turaco moving so softly through the branches that you feel singled out and special if it lets you catch a glimpse of the its red under-wing.
She contemplated her conversation with Magic the previous day, when he tried to convince her that there was no word in SeSotho for the colour red. Of course that can’t be so, but he must have his reasons for not sharing the word with her. He was sitting on the floor, studying the topographic map and explaining a shortcut to reach Ga-Mampa, the village further down where most of his family have moved to. He showed her where she would find a cave, and where the baboons normally kept. At that he let out his usual giggle. He always found the baboons and their antics funny and would double up with laughter if they came across a troupe of these animals.
Just then she wondered what would happen to this boy. He, who told her that he was teaching himself mathematics from a high-school maths book left by an older cousin. Sitting there interpreting a topographic map as if that is the most normal thing to do for a 14 year old boy who had never before laid eyes on such material before.
He suddenly looked up at her.
“I dreamt of your friend last night. The one with the beard”
She waited for him to explain more.
“Tomorrow we are all moving down to Ga-Mampa” He was silent then. Touched the heads of the dogs and was gone. He left her with a pile of wood.
She heard the feint drone of a vehicle labouring up the mountain – then a long silence – then the rattling sound of car bodywork shaking uneasily in the uneven path to the house. The door of a car slammed and she knew that her friend would be putting bags of groceries on the kitchen table shortly.
The boy named Magic had the gift of dreaming the future.