!Tung reaches the Place of the Buried Wagon first. She sits down quietly, paying her respect for those that died here. She never knew their names, of course, they died before she was born; but honouring the dead is as important to her as being kind to the living. This place, a place for death and dying, deserves the respect she is obliged to give.
She knows !Ka will come – he’s not far away, she’s sure. She closes her eyes to try and imagine where he is; but the only vision she receives is of the endless sands of the Kalahari. He’s out there, somewhere, in trouble under the scorching sun. When she looks up, it is to see a single eagle soaring in the sky above.
Go, Eagle, find !Ka…I don’t have a lot of time…
Vetfaan reaches the spot from where they walked the last time. Cutting across the veld and not detouring past the farm – like before – has brought them here much faster than he expected. Well, it is a long walk from here, they’ll have to hurry. As they get out, Vrede stops suddenly, fixing on the big bird swooping down on them.
These great eagles carry off rabbits, lambs, small antelope…and dogs. When Vetfaan sees the approaching bird, he starts running towards Vrede, knowing he’d never make it. He’s still ten yards away when the eagle flashes past Vrede, claws still tucked under the tail feathers. Vrede swirls around to watch it fly off.
Then he starts barking. And gets back into the pickup while he keeps an eye on the huge bird.
“He wants us to follow the bird, Fanie. I’m sure of it.” Fanny holds a hand above her brow to see the eagle more clearly. “Look, it’s flying that way…”
“Ag, come on Fanny? I know it was crazy to follow Vrede here – but now we have an eagle to guide us? I can tell you – this verges on being ridiculous.”
“Don’t waste time, Fanie! Get in the vehicle. Lets go… please? I have the strangest feeling about this.”
Vetfaan stares at her for a minute. She came to Rolbos as a shy, introverted, rather overweight woman. Then she spent time with the Bushmen in the desert, and came back a completely different person. Look at her now, he thinks, self-assured, trim, confident. As if something in her mind clicked into the slot it was meant to be. Shrugging, he hurries over to the pickup.
!Ka realises he won’t make it. The swelling is getting worse and it is slowing him down. He’s got no water – there isn’t even a buried ostrich egg shell nearby. He crawls on doggedly, still aiming for the Valley of the Buried Wagon, knowing it’s of no use. Even if he can manage to fashion a crutch there, dehydration is going to have the final say.
There are many realities in living in the desert. Survival depends on protection, fluid and nutrition. It also requires skill and a bit of good luck. Now, with all the skills he’s acquired over the years, !Ka knows it is not enough. The thick tongue and dry mouth is but the start. Sucking small pebbles isn’t helping anymore. The plants with the thirst-quenching roots don’t grow nearby, either. Next will come the muscle cramps, the absolute weakness, the disorientation…and then the long sleep.
!Ka grits his teeth. Yes, he is quite prepared for death, for is it not the gateway to the spirit-world? Has !Tung not told him about the journey all people have to undertake – the journey ending in being with all those that have gone before? She said it is a joyous occasion. The newcomer is welcomed to the vast place filled with green and game and lots of waters. She said there would be no trekking from place to place in the eternal quest for survival. Vetfaan had told him about his faith as well; he’s even attended one of Oudoom’s sermons. Maybe, he thinks, we all believe the same thing, only in a different way.
He’ll lie down to rest a while. Just for a minute. Then he’ll try to go on again. But now, now it’s time to rest.
The old pickup heads down the low dune. Vetfaan reckons they are about a kilometre or two north of the buried wagon, and here the desert is more flat, allowing the old Ford to make steady progress across the sand.
He’s about to pick up speed for the next dune, when Fanny points.
“The eagle is circling, Fanie. Look, it stays in one place now.”
Vrede gives an uncertain growl as he watches the big bird.
Then Vetfaan slams on the brakes.
“There’s a man over there!” He points. “He’s over there, on his back! Oh my…look at that leg… And… No!… It’s !ka!”