My Short Stories

4.

South Africa in Winter.                  Charlie Dimech 

Home | "Interior Communications with God." | ESSAYS. | COFFEE CLUB | Thought for the day. | ancient australia-2

 
We were about six thousand miles from our previous homeland, on a coast which stretched thousands of miles in a northerly direction and hundreds of miles south. Our nearest known neighbours werre two hundred miles inland.
We were on a deserted stretch of coast cut off to the north and south by swamplands. The country which we now inhabited had been wiped out in a military, including nuclear war which had left only  outlying uncivilized areas, inhabited only by forest dwellers. These who had been there since time immemorial had very little if any contact with modern civilization. Our knowledge of them was scant. Hence we were not at all keen to come in contact with them. But they did pass this way we knew, though rarely, to get access to the sea and we knew we shoud be prepared. For this reason we had an emergency evacuation scenario drawn up in our minds to each of the two hidden vine covered oak trees which included if time permitted all moveable traces of our campsites of which there were three. They travelled in small groups and with this in mind we knew the odds of a chance meeting were largely in our favour. Hence we decided our fates would be forever alone in this world, all alone beneath the mists and in summer basked in warmth and light, but together, provided we were not stricken by fatal accident, disease, radio-active fallout or loss of all of our food supply.
 
But we wouldn't be alone. There would surely be children which we would willingly bring into the world and rear with all the resources, including love, at our disposal and a ringing in my ear, that they would be deprived of every necessity of civilization and every want of a true existence, and every necessary vocational, cultural, spiritual and social necessity for the 'raison d'etre' of their life, caused no fear in me. It was lies. Somehow I knew and I was at peace.
 
Cherrinne began to fashion ankle and neck laces from the beautiful shells which were washed up on the shore and fine twine.
 
Her hair grew, and was now down to the middle of her lower back but she often tied it in a bun especially when hunting through the forest. She never gained much weight but was very agile and full of stamina and quite strong for her small frame.
 
When she moved she towered over the trees, the sun, the sky and the clouds; she outdid the birds and the fish, and mocked the waves and the sand; for beauty, for grace, and when she shot a glance in its direction, a glance which revealed a love, immense and unfathomable, mysterious and courageous, all of nature worshiped her.
 
As I worked harder and harder at securing a living in this place I tried to find plants
which were edible, rather than just fruit and berries. Eventually while out shooting, a bird I had shot fell to the ground or rather onto a cluster of plants resembling spinach. I tasted a sample and it tasted OK  and from then on we had spinach soup quite often and we begun to feel better. Maybe it contained some vitamins we were missing in our diet. Whatever it was we were grateful for this new addition to our diet and we cultivated it carefully.
 
The time had come to put down roots. It was not a game we were playing. It was life. We were far from the land of our birth but it was no longer our home and we were partially, at least 50% here by choice. This was our life. I had faced that a while ago. Regardless of our conversation on the topic I wasn't sure Cherrinne had.
 
We had carefully avoided pregnancy using the rythmn method and we had not actually discussed in detail what would happen if she did fall pregnant. I knew she would want to keep the baby and she was surprised and ashamed at the question. "Why do you think I am here?" she simply said.
 
We knew that since we had secured our food supply to a certain point we would face the most wonderful challenge yet in bringing up a child, but as yet we did not change our plans and avoided those days of the month when conception could take place. Nothing was certain however, as her periods were often irregular.
 
While looking up at the moon it seemed hard to conceive that orb as having something to do with pregnancy as some claimed, yet at the same time on a full moonlit night there seemed nothing more beautiful than the very concept.
 
She became pregnant. Just like an irregular giant wave, unexpected, beyond control, and hence it was something special, something given to us, something we had not planned, but something planned for us. Charlie was born in a hut. It was in summer. The nights were warm and the days sunny. He wore a smile just like his mother and I felt kind of proud. He was fed on milk and was as sweet as honey.
 
I spent most of the time of Cherinne's pregnancy ensuring that the child would be  provided for. I cultivated more crops, made new spears, more nets and clothing in which to wrap the child and little blankets to keep him warm. Although there were sufficient nets I made more and hid them in various places. I built a new hut out of mud bricks, ensuring it was free from draughts.  I made grass covered wooden shutters, secured with vines and similarly with the two doors, which second served as a safety precaution, as these things had to be taken into account especially when a child was involved.

I also drew up plans for a large house built of logs with four rooms sealed with mud and covered in skins on the inside and floor. It would be near the creek and away from the coastline and hence hidden from view to all but the closest observers. It would contain a chimney made from mud bricks and many other plans were made as I searched the forest for new materials. But I delayed working on the construction till after the baby was born, to alleviate Cherrinne from any unnecessary worries which might arise due to its construction, and any danger that might arise in her efforts to help in  what would be a difficult  task at times.
 We both agreed on this and we thought about not what we lacked, but what we would do for the child.

We were pleased when we looked at the range of potential  which might be discovered, and which we had already discovered, but as yet had failed to make use of.
 
These thoughts took me beyond the forest, on a two day journey, which began at the bay we had named Crayfish Bay.
 
I discovered a small river, but much larger than our creek, which contained wild game; ducks, sea fowl and other birds. It eventually left the forest where it opened out onto a wide plain which contained wild deer and other  creatures which were new to me. I had no hope of catching the deer but managed to spear one of these creatures which looked like a cross between a badger and a mongoose, and the meat was good, lighting a fire and roasting it whole. I returned at first light carrying slices of meat in my sack which I fastened to my back and shoulders for these long trips.
 
Charlie's brother's name was James. He lived a short time after he was born but we cannot erase his memory. He was born two hours after Charlie and brought us more joy even than the first and we buried him beneath an oak tree but we did not mark his grave as we did not want to draw any attention to it.
 
After the birth of the child Cherrinne changed a little.  Her brazen independent individualism was exchanged for a more motherly orientation, which was to be expected.. She was a perfect mother to her child.

By mutual consent she did not hunt and stayed relatively close to camp.
 
This was thus the picture that greeted them when one day five people strode into camp dressed as we were and in similar physical shape. They were amazed, they, including Cherrinne, and  I when I returned a short time later to the camp. 
 
We told each other our story.
 They were five people who had landed in two stages together, having been deported - first two together, then three. The two groups met up in the woods, about twenty miles from our camp. they had seen our smoke and we had seen their's but had supposed they were natives.
 
There was a husband and wife, two single men and a woman.

We laughed and joked much which comforted all, and after entertaining them for three days they returned to their camp, with the promise to keep in touch. They showed us the way they had come and we would be guided also by the smoke, which we were already quite familiar with. 
We did not surprisingly, talk about merging, and felt most comfortable the way things were. However the trips and the visits became weekly affairs and were also the opportunity for hunting and studying the forest to see what it could provide and to appreciate its harmony.
 
The house was constructed in this time but we had reduced the size from four to two rooms and many more herbs were gathered and cultivated in our  garden.
 
I made a musical instrument from stretched vine and selected timbers. It resembled a banjo, and a set of bongo drums with skins and turtle shells.
Cherrinne  sometimes danced to my simple playing. We also sang songs to their accompanyment.

One day a volcano erupted.

5.


"Oh happy days....!"