This story is by Annerie Troskie and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Her breath held, she waits. Watching, listening for the slow-paced steps of her husband. It’s completely quiet on the outskirts of the farm. Her hands are clutched over the ever-expanding bump. Fearing for the life beating inside of her. The sound of people close by, makes her perk her ears. Pressing a hand over her mouth, she listens intently. By the tell-tale of the voices it’s not him, but rather baas’s men. One moment she’s still crouched down, the next she’s being pulled up to her feet. Being hauled up, she feels momentarily dizzy and ungrounded. She knows enough of the language to understand what they are saying.
‘Looks like we caught a nice fat one,’ someone jeers. A laughs.
‘Would you say that about your own wife?’
‘Let’s go report back,’ another voice chides.
They squabble all the way to the house. Through the maze of bush. She can smell the sharp, sweet scent of boegoe among some of the other fynbos. Here and there, orange candles of an aloe candelabra. A sunbird takes flight in a shimmer of emerald wings. The Cape Dutch house looms up in front of them in the hazy light of sunset. For a native of the land, she never liked going inside that house at night. It’s as though something is lurking around the dark corners, waiting. A shiver travels down her spine. Swallowing the unrest, she folds her hands protectively over her swollen abdomen. Her mind wanders to the unborn, whether it is able to feel her distress. One of the men step forward and knock on the heavy oak door.
In the light cast by the lamp, she looks down at him. A moment passes before he raises his head. Despite him being close to her in years, the middle aged Commander seems older. There are worry lines around his eyes that she hasn’t seen before. A sigh escapes him.
‘Weer, Again?’ She braves a deep breath.
‘Ja Meneer, Yes sir.’
His attention is diverted momentarily to one of his Kompanjie men. Nods curtly. The door opens and closes before his gaze rests on her. Offering her a faint smile, followed by a nod. That signals their time ended, dismissed for the evening.
She walks back home to her hut. It comes as no surprise that it’s dark and uninhabited. Her husband must have gotten drunk elsewhere, or… She relives that moment in Baas’s office. The look he shared with his man, nodding a silent command. What that was, she’s not sure. A strange sense of finality settles in her. Breathing over the still hot coals, she stokes the fire to prepare supper.
The sun is barely up as she’s on her way to the farm’s well. The morning air is chilly and ground cool from the dew. Her swollen ankles seem heavier, tender even as she’s carrying the buckets of water. A thin sheen of perspiration on her skin cools, collect and itch under the thin dress. Perhaps she should send Oldest to the well, since her time is getting closer. Back at the hut, Husband still hasn’t returned. Usually he is already awake and nursing his head. She never liked him working at the brewery. It has brought nothing but trouble, anger and pain to their family.
The child finds her sweeping the stoep to bring the tiding. Nobody has seen Husband since last night when he left the brewery. She grasps the broom, splinters embedding into skin. Leaning on the tool, she listens as he tells the story in angst. One of the farmworkers were collecting wood. During the search, she came upon the unmarked grave. At the far end of the wild peach orchard. The only thing that gave it away was the footprints. That and the signs of a struggle. It is silent for a moment as she processes the information.
‘Where exactly is the grave?’
The child beckons for her to follow. Leaving the broom resting against a wall, she keeps her eyes on him. All around, she can feel the eyes of the other workers. Sending their silent sympathies, keeping mum. She wants to scream at them. Yes, he’s gone. You’ve all known but done nothing to help. It’s all she can do to keep from doing so. Frustration chokes her up. Frustration at the other workers for never intervened. Frustration at Husband for leaving her behind. All the emotion builds up into a vice around her heart.
The child leaves her standing at the grave, before returning to his tasks. It’s cool under the tree. There’s a slight buzz in the otherwise quiet groove of trees. How ironic, she muses by herself. For him to be resting in the cool shade of his downfall. The same peaches that he used to work with cost him dearly. She crouches down, closes her eyes. Offering a prayer that he will have a safe passage into the next life. Scooping a bit of the ground into her hand, she gently blows it. A slight breeze picks up and carries the earth to the skies.
The call of a Hoephoep, stirs her from the stupor. Turning to look for the culprit, her eye catches another little bird. Scratching the dirt, in search of food. Quietly she watches as the bird frees something from the ground. Swallows it. She knows the bird is preparing food for its young. Per automatic reaction, she rests a hand on her bump. Only moving her eyes, she follows as the bird flies to its nest. In the quiet of the morning she can hear the shrill squeals of the chicks. A surprising sense of freedom washes over her. Free from the fear of Husband in a drunken state. Free from the hei noen, bad spirits coming with the wind. The hei noen that used to stir inside her, seems to have gone. A faint smile tugs at her mouth and her heart soars.