“She’s young – if I remember correctly, she’s twenty-five or six. My mother’s sister’s child, which makes her my niece-I-never-knew. But she wants to visit and I’d like to get to know her. Sooo…Gertruida…if it’s alright with you, I’d like her to book into the guest house.” Fanny beams at the older woman, knowing what the answer will be.
Katie’s letter arrived a little earlier in the day and by now everybody in Rolbos knows about the young woman’s intended visit.
“Of course, Fanny. I hear it’s her first visit to South Africa?”
“Well…first visit to Africa, in fact. Never been out of England. She’s a bit naive, I think – in her letter she asked a thousand questions about climate and clothing. She wanted to know how we live and whether we still have wild animals around. But…she’s wildly excited and so keen to come.”
Katie Malone has had a sheltered life in Framlingham, Suffolk. Here she attended the much-acclaimed Thomas Mills High School before she wrote her first novel. Set in Framlingham Castle the storyline involves the bravery of Mary Tudor in her defiance of Lady Jane Grey. Because she had woven fact and fiction in such a clever way that she wept the readers along in the story of war, love and hope, she became a bit of an overnight sensation – much to her own surprise.
“Well, if she wants a quiet place to write the sequel to her bestseller, she’s certainly made a wise choice. Nothing ever happens here – does it?” Boggel cynical smile isn’t lost on his audience: Bianca’s visit is all too fresh in their minds. “But it’ll be interesting to have her around. Maybe she’d be interested in a few of our stores – !Ka is a wonderful story-teller as well. I remember the first time you met the little Bushman, Fanny.”
“Oh, we have enough stories to tell her, that’s for sure. Remember the Himba man? Still, I think she’s got her own story in her head and now needs a bit of peace and quiet to write it down. I’m sure we can supply that…”
Most people will look at Katie without noticing her. At five-foot-five, the trim, bespectacled figure tends to melt away n the background. Although her face is, if you looked carefully, well-proportioned, Katie doesn’t care much for cosmetics. Her auburn hair is mostly swept back in a bun, making her appear much older that she is. As for dressing up…well, she just isn’t into the latest fashion at all.
The man at the Immigration desk takes her passport before studying her face.
“Purpose of your visit?”
Katie smiles nervously. “I-I want to write. A book, see? I’m a writer.”
“So you come from England to write in Cape Town?” The voice is disinterested, bored…but the sharp intake of breath suggests otherwise. It’s been a long shift and so far he hasn’t seen any suitable candidates so far. This one…? Maybe…
“Yes…. No… I’m on my way to some family. I’ll write there.”
“Where is the family?”
“Oh, Rolbos. It’s apparently near Upington. I’m catching a flight to Upington and they’ll get me there.”
He stamps the passport before watching her make her way to the exit. Then he takes out his cellphone to call Abdul Masbieker.
“Hey, it’s me. Check that woman coming through the exit now. Lone traveller, young, harmless. Short. One suitcase. Brown hair in a bun. She’s got a connecting flight to Upington, so she won’t have anybody waiting for her here.”
Smiling happily, he calls the next passenger.
The little cafeteria at Upington Airport is rather busy today. Some government officials are waiting for the flight back to Cape Town, and they’re using their expense accounts to order steaks, chips and several bottles of beer. They’re in a foul mood.
“What are we going to tell the minister? We can’t admit our land-reform policy isn’t working. That farm we inspected is a mess – even I could see that.”
“Eish, no, we can’t do that. We’ll have to be a bit creative, I think. We can always state that ten families live there….”
“Yeah? In those shacks? There’s no sanitation, no electricity. And did you see what they did to the original house?”
“You worry too much. It depends on your point of view. We’ll report that they are self-sufficient. That’s all they want to hear, anyway.”
Two tables away, Gertruida shakes her head. The question of the redistribution of land is a thorny one; but the way the government is doing it is simply making matters worse.
“90% of the farms government now gave to ‘previously disadvantaged’ people, have been run into the ground. I’m quite surprised that CNN or BBC haven’t reported it.”
“Do you really think anybody in Europe or America is interested?” Fanny shrugs and smiles sadly. “We’re in Africa, Gertruida. Africa. This is where Mugabe rules, xenophobia happens and corruption paves the way to the future. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, we’re the family member they don’t want to hear – or talk about. We live in a country where women and children are raped, farmers are murdered and crime has affected virtually every family.”
“You’re right, Fanny. Look at the international interest in the Mystery Girl they found in Greece. It’s all over the news…but I’ll bet not a single paper in the UK or USA reported on the Dieplsloot murders. It’s sad, to say the least.”
They get up to stand at the window when the flight from Cape Town is announced. They’re still standing there after the government officials have finished their meal and gone to the boarding gate.
“She wasn’t on the plane…”
“No, Fanny. She wasn’t. Something is wrong.”
Loki Rothman is a talented, Cape Town-based musical artist.