!Ka crawls to a nearby bush, dragging the useless and painful leg behind him. It’s his left leg, now deformed by the angled swelling just above the ankle. He tried getting up, of course, but that was completely impossible. Now, as he positions himself in the shade, his hands explore the swelling.
He’s seen skeletons before. Old ones, cleaned and dried by the wind and the sun; after the bugs, beetles, birds and beasts recycled all the flesh. White bones that used to be the framework that kept everything in it’s right place. He knows there are two bones above the ankle – and that both these bones have been snapped in his leg. Walking is out of the question. Crawling will never get him back to his people; dehydration will get him long before that.
A crutch! If he can find a suitable stick, he will fashion a crutch to use instead of his leg. It’ll have to be sturdy, twigs won’t help. Breathing deeply to calm down, he imagines what the surrounding area looks like. This is an essential tool for survival in the desert: the ability to draw on the maps in the mind. People in civilised societies used to use real maps – with roads and important places clearly marked. Nowadays cellphones and GPS make it even easier.
Bushmen, however, have a much more advanced system for navigation. They know the desert because every landmark gets stored in memory; and once there, the map-in-the-mind is updated continuously.
!Ka knows there are no trees nearby. Nowhere to find something to use as a cane or a crutch. Nowhere to find anything sturdy…
And then he remembers the old wagon. The buried one. The one made of timber and iron… The one he showed Vetfaan and that lady.
It’s some distance off, but he can make it there, he’s sure…
!Tung – despite her age – walks steadily in the direction the vision of !Ka directs her. She told the family she’s off on one of her wanderings; something she often does when she wants to be alone with her dreams and visions. They accepted her explanation immediately.
Now, with the sun burning down mercilessly, she follows her instinct, not sure what she’d find. !Ka is in some sort of difficulty; that much she is sure of. The face she saw was contorted in pain, but very much alive. She also realises, without knowing why, that the rest of the family must have no part in this journey.
Like !Ka, she knows the desert extremely well. In the direction she’s going, there can be only one destination.
“Where are we going, Fanie?”
Fanny sits back in the cab as Vetfaan follows Vrede. The dog is running steadily across the veld, seemingly oblivious of the pickup behind him.
“I’m not sure, Fanny. Vrede has never done anything like this before; but he’s definitely responding to something. Look at the way he’s running – he’s not sniffing or barking at anything around; he’s going somewhere, that’s for sure.”
Fanny glances at the rugged man next to her. The boyish uncertainty of a few minutes ago is gone – he’s in charge again. Here; in his old vehicle, surrounded by his beloved Kalahari; he is the man he was meant to be: rugged, tough, determined. She smiles at this: Men are strange beings. Give these Kalahari men impossible things to do, and they’re happy – but when confronted by romance, they become stuttering idiots. Must be something to do with the way they think about Life. Maybe harsh circumstances and continued hardship is so much part of their way of life, that they have less space for sensitive issues?
Maybe all men are the same, anyway. Take Henry, for instance: he’s such a genius with numbers, but he, too is a complete ignoramus when it comes to courting a lady. He knows all the right things to do, but he does them automatically, without thinking – emotionless, is the word.
Vetfaan glances over at her to notice the small smile hovering on her lips.
“You look happy.”
Surprised, she finds herself blushing.
“Yes, Fanie, I think I am. This is so different to London. I like it here.”
Vetfaan enjoys the comfortable silence as he watches Vrede. Where is the dog running to? He’s heading straight for the low line of dunes ahead. And there’s nothing out here, not so? Then it hits him…
“I think I know where he’s going. Remember our trip last time? The wagon? If we want to get there before night time, we’ll have to pick up speed.”
He stops next to Vrede, picks him up and places him on the seat between him and Fanny. Then he puts his foot down, revs up the old engine, and starts racing across the veld.
Men! Fanny gives Vrede a hug as she watches Vetfaan steer the pickup with remarkable ease over the terrain. If only they had the same dexterity with romance!
Vrede doesn’t even seem to notice her. He’s staring straight ahead, panting softly… They’re getting nearer – that’s all that matters now. The fact that Fanny will have to make a final decision about the men in her life, doesn’t concern him. Not at all. That’ll have to wait until later.