As the sun sets in the west, the little crowd at the thorn tree gets a bit restless. They’re all there, of course, even old mister Featherbosom, who flew over from London for the occasion. Sally, who has finished editing her adocumentary, sulks away in the shadows – she hates the desert. When Boggel asked him what happened during their prolonged stay in the Kalahari, Platnees laughed and said it’s still too early to tell the story. He says some stories are like red wine – it must mature first.
Boggel has set up a bar under the wide branches, and is doing brisk business.
“It’s been three months,” Vetfaan wipes a drop of sweat from his forehead, “and it’s full moon tonight. !Ka promised…”
“Stop fretting, Vetfaan. !Ka is a man of his word.” Changing the subject, he adds: “My, how the time flew! It’s like yesterday you told us she went walkabout with the Bushmen.”
Maybe it flew for you, Boggel, Vetfaan thinks, but this has been the longest three months of my life. I counted every second, every minute, as they dragged by. He doesn’t say it, though, while his eyes scan the gloom for any sign of her return. They’ve been waiting all day. Fortunately, Sammie saw Fanny’s return as a business opportunity, and has been braaing all day. Of them all, he seems to be the happiest.
Featherbosom crooks a finger, calling Vetfaan over to his chair next to the fire.
“You sure about this? I only agreed because you gave me your word. And now the day is almost gone and my daughter is missing.” The accusation in his voice is unmistakable. “If anything happened to her…”
“…I’d never forgive myself, sir. I’m as worried as you are, but I’m sure !Ka won’t break his promise. They should be here soon.” Even as he said it, he realised how hard it must be for the Londoner to believe him. Following Boggel’s example by changing the subject, he prods the old man on the adocumentaries. “Well, at least Sally did a sterling job, don’t you think? I like the one with the porcupines.”
“Haw! That’s in your face. I like the hyena better. It’s much more subtle. People will talk about that one, for sure. They’ll get the message in the end: don’t be afraid – wear clothing that tells the world you’re not shy to be a man or a woman. The baggy, unisex thing deprives people of their pride and self-image: it takes away individuality,.. And the Rhino? Priceless!”
“And you’re going to insist on these animal-messages being added to all advertisements you handle? World-wide?”
“Oh yes. Sally has produced over a hundred so far, with messages of individual rights, social respect, cultural diversity. The hard ones hit out at xenophobia, rape, crime and murder. Once the big brands realise the value of healthy societies, they’ll jump at the opportunity. After all – happy people spend more money on luxuries and less on guns and electronic alarms – especially if these messages permeate through to the masses. And then there’s the full length film on the fragile eco-system in the Kalahari. Quite superb, I must say. Sally doesn’t know it yet, but she’s going to spend the next five years doing similar films in the various nature reserves of Southern Africa. I’ve already sold the idea to National Geographic – they’re quite excited about the project.”
Full moon in the Kalahari is a magnificent sight. The last rays of sunlight still colour the evening sky in an amazing red hue, making the yellow orb stand out in all it’s splendour. An eerie silence falls on the group as they watch it rise ever so slowly.
“It is time,” Vetfaan whispers as he crosses his fingers. “Please, !Ka, it is time…”
At the precise moment the moon clears the horizon, they hear the singing. Softly at first, but growing stronger by the minute, the melody wafts toward them on the soft breeze. And then, in the bright moonlight, they see the shadowy figures approaching.
Vetfaan recognises old !Ka leading the way. Behind him a group of women and children follow in an irregular pattern, dancing to the tune; with the traditional shakers made of antelope ears around their ankles providing the tempo for the song. His desperate eyes flit this way and that, seeking the bulky frame of Fanny amongst the dancers.
When they are about ten paces away, !Ka holds up his hand. The feet and the melody stop.
“Where’s my daughter! What have you done to my little girl?” Featherbosom’s anguished cry splits the night.
!Ka ignores the rude greeting and walks over to Vetfaan.
“I am here,” he says.
“I see you,” Vetfaan answers in the accepted custom.
“Miss Fanny is well,” !Ka says.
“I trusted you. I know you looked after her well.” Bushman culture demands respect for both parties.
“Where. Is. My. Daughter?” Featherbosom can’t stand it any more.
!Ka allows a small smile to wrinkle his the lines of his face. Then, bowing slightly to Feaherbosom, he turns back to his people.
And then a woman steps forward. She moves with natural grace as her lithe body floats across the sand. Only when she enters the circle of light around the fire, can Vetfaan make out the way she is dressed. Her skirt is made of rabbit skins, kneaded to perfect softness; the jacket of springbuck hide, the sandals a perfect pair of duiker skins. The ostrich-shell necklace shines almost-too white in the light of the flames, contrasting perfectly with the deeply tanned skin.
And then, the most beautiful woman Vetfaan has ever seen, smiles at her father, and says two simple words – Hello, Daddy.
And then, she turns to Vetfaan. Their eyes meet. And then, for a moment, time stands still. The other people disappear. There is no fire, no tree.
Only a man. A woman.
And the moon…
(To be continued…)