They’re shocked to see what the sun has done to !Ka’s face. He couldn’t have lain there for a long time, but the exposure to the merciless rays has caused the lips to crack already. His eyes are swollen shut. He is breathing – but only just – the dry air rasps past the thick tonge protruding from the half-open mouth.
Vetfaan picks up the small man to lay him down in the shade next to the pickup. Like all farmers in the area, he always has a container with water for emergencies; things happen. Radiators leak. An engine stalls. Fan belts break… Wetting a cloth with some of it, he wipes the parched face before dripping the water into !Ka’s mouth. Giving too fast, or too much, will result in vomiting which will only aggravate the situation.
Fanny gets busy with the leg. While !Ka is unconscious, it is easy to examine the painful fracture. She doesn’t know a lot about broken bones, but she’s confident that elevating the leg will ease the swelling. Then there is the question of immobilising the leg. How to do that? They left Rolbos in such a hurry that they didn’t bring anything extra along. The back of the pickup is like most farmer’s vehicles. A small assortment of tools, an old bag, the spare wheel. The bag will have to do.
Making a heap of sand under the broken leg, she wraps the bag around the fractured bones. Now, she needs something to secure it with. Rope? Anything?
Vetfaan’s belt! He’s so busy dripping water into !Ka that he only nods when she asks if she can have his belt. She reaches around his sturdy body to loosen the buckle in front – and despite the circumstances, feels a tingle of sensuality as she does so. She slides the belt off and starts wrapping it around the ankle – not too tight, but enough to give it at least a degree of support and immobilisation.
“Look behind the seat, Fanny. I always have an emergency supply there. Beans, bully beef. I’ll continue feeding him water, but it’s been a long day. Maybe you can have a bit to eat so long, and then take over from me?”
She’s quite surprised at Vetfaan’s cache of stuff behind the backrest of the seat. Three tins of bully beef, four of beans. And, thank goodness, six beers! It is not customary to have bully beef and warm beer as a mid-afternoon snack, but it sure hits the spot. Feeling much refreshed, she takes over from Vetfaan.
As she cradles the head of her patient to start dripping water into his already much-improved mouth, something strange happens. It is so sudden and so unexpected, that she almost lets out a yelp. The moment she wipes the sunburnt face with the damp cloth, she experiences a sharp stab of pain near her left ankle. It throbs so much that she glances down to see if anything is wrong – but no. Everything looks fine. The pain subsides to a bearable level as realisation dawns: she is feeling his pain. Somehow they have connected on a subconscious level – inexplicable, impossible, yet…
Without realising the significance of it, she starts talking to !Ka. She tells him he’ll be alright, that they’ve come for him. About Vrede and the eagle. That they’ll take him to a hospital. First, he must get some fluids into his body, she tells him, so he’ll be strong enough. !Ka’s eyes flicker open for a second, stares at her, closes again. Is that a faint smile on the parched lips?
Rocking him like one would an injured child, she hums a soft song; the words coming back to her as the melody unfolds. Something that suddenly popped up in her head – Hush now, don’t cry, it’s just a lullaby.
And as the song presents itself to her, in the quiet of the desert, the Valley of the Buried Wagon appears in her mind. The old woman is there, and eagle sitting nearby. The old woman is lying down, apparently very tired. She’s singing a song, something soft, to the sand. Fanny can see the sand rippling as the old woman’s breath forms the words a few millimetres away from the surface. Fanny shuts her eyes to enjoy the picture, feeling a strange sensation of…what?…strength? welling up inside her mind. It is almost like wanting to faint, she thinks: a swirling, turning feeling; as if a lot of thoughts are playing musical chairs – but with just enough chairs. Racing thoughts, coming from here, settling there. It’s a trance-like feeling, unsettling and reassuring at the same time.
After a while, the sensation stops. When she opens her eyes, she can see !Ka watching her. He’s awake!
“Thank you…” His voice is a rasp of sounds, but audible. “You know now…”
“What, !Ka? What do I know?”
!K sits up – with some difficulty – to rest against the wheel of the pickup. He holds out a hand for the wet rag, thanks her again, and starts sucking at the moisture. But now Vetfaan has joined them and sits down next to Fanny.
“You know,” !Ka’s talking is interrupted by frequent sucking, “what you always had to. You were given the gift. It is rare. You saw !Tung. I saw !Tung. We must go there. Now. You can put me on the back here. I’ll lie down. The valley is over there.” He points. “And then we can complete this.”
“Complete what, !Ka?” Vetfaan’s gentle voice can’t hide his confusion.
“Destiny, mister Vetfaan. What must be. Come, help me up. We don’t have a lot of time.”
The sun is already dipping towards the red horizon when Vetfaan goads the old pickup towards the Valley of the Buried Wagon. Fanny is on the back, forming a cushion for !Ka’s head with her lap.
Vrede, feeling he has done enough for the day, sleeps quietly next to them..
Hush now, don’t cry
It’s just a lullaby
I won’t leave you
Til you close your eyes
Hush now don’t cry
It’s just a lullaby
I’ll tell you sweet lies
I won’t leave your side