Nobody sleeps much that night. The discomfort of sleeping on the sand (it isn’t soft after ten minutes anymore), the cool of the night (which progresses to the chattering-teeth stage later) and the worry about Boggel keeps them all awake – or at most, only allow a very superficial slumber. When the predawn sky begins to fade from black to the promise of orange, they huddle around the fire with steaming mugs of coffee to warm the freezing hands.
Only Dawid loper, with his attire of a simple loincloth and a handmade jackal-tail cap, seems unaffected by the cold and the circumstances. His almost impassive face contrasts with the worried looks of his companions; he appears – Gertruida remarks on it – quite confident and at ease. Happy, even.
“You see, Miss Gertruida, I had a dream. An eland ran over the plain while overhead an eagle watched. The eland ran and ran, but the eagle only held its wings out and soared on the wind. And then, Miss Gertruida, the eagle saw a lion, waiting quietly behind a bush, right in the eland’s path. And the eagle cried out, loudly, altogether frightened and angry at the same time. But then the eland lowered his head, bending his back like this,” he used his two hands to indicate how severely the eland did this, “and ran right through that bush. When it got to the other side, the lion was stuck to the eland’s horns. Now, Miss Gertruida, an eland doesn’t have long horns, not like the kudu or the gemsbok. No, it’s horns are short and stubby, so they don’t kill by penetrating like those other antelopes do.
“You see, Miss Gertruida, in my dream the lion had all the wind knocked from his body, and it had no power left to fight or attack. That’s what I dreamt.”
Gertruida stares at the old man, trying to work out what it all means.
“The eagle saw it all, Miss Gertruida. We,” and here the Bushman’s hand sweeps over the group, “are the eagle. We’ll see it.” And with those words, Dawid Loper turns on his heel, scouts the sand around them, and starts jogging. “Come, we have to hurry!”
Bumping along on the back of Vetfaan’s pickup, Mary finds herself staring at Smartryk – or simply Ryk, as she has started thinking of him. He’s unlike most men she had met in the past decade or so. In fact, he seems lost in his own world most of the time, quite content to share silence rather than chatting her up.
This morning, when she washed her face and brushed her teeth using the small basin of water Ryk had brought to her side, she felt a rush of strange emotion when their fingers touched. Had he been aware of it too? Or was she being silly, looking for something as real as the mirages that play on the horizon of this desert? After all, she hardly knows the man: a loner, a pilot and an investigator of crashes. She smiled at this despite herself, thinking that the biggest crash she’d like him to investigate was her own. Her life has lurched from catastrophe to crisis ever since she’d left the orphanage in Grootdrink where she and Boggel grew up. And now, in her search for security (and love, to be honest) she meets somebody by sheer chance – and somehow feels a bond with him? Unlikely, strange…weird…and yet…
Her thoughts stray back to the prison in Rio and the man responsible for involving her in an international drug smuggling racket. How stupid she had been! How naive! But – she defends herself – loneliness drives people to such strange relationships. And how desperately she wanted to believe that Brutus was the real thing! She had made the conscious decision to do everything she could to make the relationship work and would have walked through fire for the man. Come to think about it: she had done just that.
The thought of the injustice and the humiliation causes a tear to streak down her cheek. She’s almost not surprised when Ryk leans over to offer his handkerchief.
Sersant Dreyer, in the leading vehicle, slews to a stop in the loose sand. Dawid Loper is bending down on the sand, apparently studying some tracks. Vetfaan gets out to hear what the story is.
“Look, Mister Vetfaan, a porcupine walked here this morning early. They walk at night. And here,” he points to an indistinct depression a few yards away, “here the porcupine walked over the spoor of a man. There’s another. Two men. Yes. Look at the way the night wind disturbed the porcupine’s tracks and also look at the boot’s imprint. That means those men walked here late last night.”
“Two men, walking together?”
“No, Mister Vetfaan. The one man walks with a limp. Look, you can see the right boot makes a deeper track than the left. He’s also walking in front, because the other boots sometimes cover his tracks. But…the man at the back is bleeding – look, here’s a drop. His steps aren’t regular either – sometimes they’re farther apart and sometimes not.”
“What does the spoor tell you, Dawid?”
“Mister Boggel has a limp because of his back. There’s a man behind him, a wounded man who staggers. They aren’t making good progress at all. They’re near.”
“But they stole Kleinpiet’s pickup. What happened to the vehicle?”
The bushman shakes his head. No he doesn’t know. He explains that he felt the tapping inside his chest, telling him about Zosi Plain – and that’s why they came here. He says that he only cut across the tracks a few minutes ago.
“What happened back there,” he jerks a thumb over his shoulder, “happened back there. I don’t know. But they’re on foot and we’re on the right track. Maybe we’ll find them soon.”
With the two vehicles following, Dawid sets off on the spoor again with the characteristic gait of the Bushman. Smartryk meets Mary’s worried look with a lopsided smile. His eyes tell her that everything will be alright, but her heart feels heavy in her chest. What if they find Boggel? What if they don’t? Is he injured? Why is this man forcing Boggel to stumble along blindly in the desert? What happened to Kleinpiet’s pickup? And, once they find the two men…will there be any danger?
Mary sighs. Must life be such a Greek tragedy? Always a twist in the tale – especially just when you think you’re in smooth waters? She feels Ryk’s eyes on her and meets his gaze.
Yes, she thinks with a wry smile, a twist indeed.