My Short Stories

10.

South Africa in Winter.                             Charlie Dimech.

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The first problem was disease, inherent in the dilapidated rat infested port town since its desertion. But this we had all been innoculated against to some degree. Cholera did strike against some younger members, that is, children however and they were severely affected for a number of weeks and had to be quarantined. There was no other port on the island capable of providing  disembarkation for us and our cargo with such facilitation or indeed any degree of facilitation what-so-ever.
Hence we set ourselves the task of cleaning from one end to the other this port town to the best of our ability ie. to the extent of our resources. This was no easy task as the population of the town was around two and a half to three thousand before it was evacuated and we were a mere 200. This problem was surmountable however and when it had been thoroughly discussed and exhaustively investigated it was decided to allocate our limited resources to the development of this town rather than the building of another settlement. In this way the docking facility which would be useful and not easily replicated without considerable expense elsewhere in time and effort would kickstart the new colony.
 
Much of the huts and other surrounding buildings particularly in the dockyard area area had to be razed as the only method of eliminating disease. These were the older and more dilapidated buildings and due to their condition structurally it would have been necessary anyway. Eighty per cent of the buildings were destroyed in this way and so too was the disease.
Much of the remaining buildings were in the central district yet away from the dock, and outlying houses.
 
What remained was sufficient for our needs at the time and no new buildings were begun for a while. All our energy was put into renovating and repairing existing buildings and removing all unwanted ones. This we were not afraid of for even if the original inhabitants decided to return the buildings that were demolished would have been worthless for any kind of human habitation or warehousing or business transaction. They had indeed outlived their lifespan and were crumbling.
 
The sewerage  system was intact and well preserved. There was no treatment works however and it flowed into the harbour but near to the mouth and it quickly dissipated.
 
There were orange and coconut groves on the outskirts of the town which were to provide us with an abundance of fresh fruit and many kinds of vegetables were found to be growing wild and scattered over a wide area.
 
Roads into the interior and length of the island provided us with a feast for our eyes of wild fruit, sugar cane, tobacco, corn and wheat. Wild vegetables grew everywhere. Huts and larger mud brick homes dotted the landscape.
The eeriness of the scene, too, was not lost on us. Its stillness a portent of the time that lay ahead and an omen of things to come.
 
The rivers and streams of the island were clear and clean and showed no dangerous levels of radioactivity.
Within time we were all to select a homestead which had been abandoned and lived there most of the time in a subsistence fashion but with extra crops which were traded. Sheep and cattle were prized possessions and were built up slightly during our stay but provided adequately for our needs. There were, as expected, wild goats and pigs, sheep and cattle as well. All members of the islands new population were adequately provided for and none had a want of anything.
 
There were thirty families with one hundred and thirty-eight members when we arrived and sixty-two single people of which there were forty males and twenty-two females. This number grew by another  thirty-two by the time we had left. Of the eighteen deaths on the island six were from misadventure and twelve from disease.
 
We settled in a white brick modest house of three rooms plus the kitchen, an outhouse and a well.
 
As well there was a small stream on the property which fed a beautiful natural pool, ten feet deep and about 18 feet in diameter. It was crystal clear. The house was surrounded on four sides by coconut trees and situated at the rear of a perfectly flat area some hundred metres square. It nestled beneath a rocky cliff which housed a spring which fed a waterfall and this then became the creek, and swimming hole.
 
Cherrinne's underwater skills had by now been perfected and she could dive to a depth of twenty feet to thirty feet. However due to the radioactive readings we were getting in the surrounding seas this had to be terminated on the island. The ocean fish were also found to be over the limit and could not be used although the island itself contained some fish which could be built up with good fish farming techniques.
 
The place was not politically manipulated and controlled.
The only rules were the ones we brought with us for ourselves and although these were different for different individuals and families there were no arguments or divisions. Each had his own space and we were given more than our share through the simple goodness of these people. I made a return of their goodness by working a full day until the port town was cleaned, as did the others and the buildings which housed our supplies were repaired and restored  using the materials that we, meaning they, brought with us.
 
There was no drydock on the island and this had to be constructed using earth fill into a shallow creek that ran into the harbour, to form a slipway. The ship was then hauled out using massive winces and  rollers brought out from the expeditions  inventory. The ships hull could then be painted and repaired. This operation alone took several months of painstaking work but needed to be looked at as there was no opportunity for doing so before the beginning of the trip and as the ship was a bargain that did give some cause for concern.
 
 
It was Cherrinne's birthday  and as we gathered in town together with some friends. The day passed peacefully enough and we were all having a merry  time. We set up a long table in one of the squares which was covered from end to end in a feast  of  fruit, vegetables dishes and cakes of all kinds.Wine was laid on the table and punch... by late afternoon we were all quite drunk but still in a very merry frame of mind. Someone produced a book of old Irish folk songs, someone else a guitar and we laughed as we tried to sing along
 
"They may sing of their roses which by other names
Would smell just as sweetly they sat
But I  know that my Rose would never consent
To have that sweet name taken away
Her glances are shy when e'er I pass by
The bower where my true love grows
And my one wish had been that some day I may win
the heart of my wild Irish Rose."
 
We danced into the night brightly lit by a setting sun around 8.30 pm and a full moon, but as we were getting up to return to our homes in the village someone produced a generator and the party went on throughout the night lit by several lights stretched out across the plaza.
 
The sun ochre colour of the dawn was greeted by the strains of " Sheheresade" on guitar. The song travelling across the stillness of the harbour to the fishermen camped by the harbour's edge with their contaminated catch.They had not wanted to be part of our community right from scratch and we tolerated each other fairly well. They had a peacefulness about them grown through the years in bedded layers and were in a sense like us on the fringes of mainstream society.
 
They were an external focal point in a sense and gave a counterbalance to our lives reminding us of the tiny place in the world our little community occupied.
 
I moved over to Cherrine who had been sleeping on the green grass.
"Penny for  your dreaming?" I asked.
She awoke and I hugged her to myself for what seemed like an eternity. An eternity of love was in that hug which stretched before us and ran between us and which no power  on earth or in heaven could erase.
 
This became the only reality on that island, love. It united us to the island and gradually and in time to each other and no one ever dragged the chain. No one ever evaded his fair share of work. We counted our blessings constantly without ever seeing an end to them and no one ever expressed a want for anything he did not have. We lived simply and we tried to live unselfishly. No one has a right to ask more than that.
A world apart, apart from the bullshit which had come to characterize mainstream society in these last days of evil. "Men's hearts had grown cold" a coldness that made bodily cold - the coldness of death, a spiritual reality. Physical and spiritual abandonment was preferable in my eyes and its longsuffering had eventually borne fruit.
 
 
 

11.


"Happy birthday to you!"