Anulka descended the hill from the mine manager’s bungalow shaking her head in disbelief. She was trying to walk sedately, to show herself off as the young woman with poise and maturity that she was. But all she actually wanted to do was to skip all the way down the hill, to run headlong from Cameron’s office all the way down to Granni’s shack in the township. She was now a little more financially secure; and she couldn’t wait to give Granni the news.
Not an hour before she had been summonsed to appear before the Makulu Baas; and when the men came to find her she hadn’t the faintest idea what it was all about. For a fleeting moment she hoped they would tell her that her father had been found alive and well. But that was madness. The explosion had been all of three months ago. How could he possibly be alive now; and anyway hadn’t the lady, Elizabeth Smith, who had come to Ochatingi, told her that her father was dead? He had died in the mine and her brother had been with him at the time. Anulka scolded herself for clutching at a dream.
So what was it that Cameron had wanted to see her about?
She asked the men; but they said they didn’t know. They had only been told to come down in a company truck and fetch her – a Zulu who did the driving and a young Afrikaaner who was, she guessed, a management trainee. For him, she felt sorry: There wasn’t much to learn about managing now that the mine was no longer. The poor boy was reduced to running errands.
Both were very polite, the young trainee letting her sit in the cab for the journey up to the compound, whilst he jumped in the back. When she asked the driver how they found her, he could only say that a white woman had been to see Masser Cameron and she had told him where Anulka might be found. She guessed that had been Mrs Smith; but she hadn’t the slightest idea what her visit to Cameron had to do with her.
Ayee! Sometimes when life seems at its most harsh, like a flash of bright light, a good thing comes from somewhere, charging the body and the soul, filling them with a new energy and new life…
She had knocked diffidently on the door to which the men ushered her; and when there was no reply she knocked again, harder this time. There was still no reply so she pushed her way in and saw that she was an office of sorts – although everything in it appeared to be in a right old mess. There was a desk and an electric typewriter with what she knew to be a dictation transcribing machine. But there was no secretary – just piles of paperwork. It lay around waiting for someone to action it, but there was nobody there to do so. The administration of the mine seemed to have ground to a stupefying inactivity.
Idly she wondered if there could be a job for her here. She didn’t want to leave Mrs. N’dela but the wage would surly be better; and she and Granni McOobo could keep things ticking over and pay the rent – at least until a decision was reached on the future of the mine. She only typed with one finger of each hand; but she had been doing all Mrs. N’dela’s letters and government returns nearly for ever; and now she was pretty quick and dead accurate. She could work part time and she would come cheap – cheaper than a qualified stenographer would have done.
Musing on this she became aware that an inner door opened. Cameron, hearing her, had come out of an inner office to greet her. Anulka looked at him fiercely, the way she always did when she was not feeling quite sure of herself…
Yes, it was wowee alright. The Manager obviously had no difficulties with shaking hands with a black person and, greeting her, he pumped her hand energetically, telling her to sit, before he walked round the other side of the desk, where the secretary who wasn’t would normally sit. He began by apologising for the disorder in the office; and then he asked her all sorts of questions – mostly about her father. It occurred to Anulka that he was checking up on her, making sure that he had the right person in front of him.
“We had a job to find you. You moved from your father’s house?” he asked her, his manner suggesting that he already knew the answer but was still probing. It took only a few words to explain that, with her father gone, she hadn’t been able to afford the rent, and she and her son had been dispossessed by their landlord.
“I am with the family of a friend of my father,” she told him. “Your men told me that the sister of the man who was with my father in the mine told you where I could be found.”
At that, Cameron seemed satisfied. He told her: “I am sorry, Ms Longfellow, that times are difficult for you now. Mrs Smith, the lady who came to see you, told me of your situation. Please also know that I am sorry that your father and so many others died in the explosion.”
The Manager bit on his nails; and Anulka thought he blamed himself that the accident had happened.
“But it is not all bad news,” Cameron said…
Then he told her that Mrs. Smith’s brother, Don Steiger, had pledged to pay a monthly sum to her, through the offices of the Company, to help her make ends meet!
She wasn’t exactly and heiress, but at least this small allowance would prevent Tom and herself being dispossessed again. With the other bits and pieces they had, Granni would be able to pay off the rent arrears and they wouldn’t be thrown onto the street.
Ten rand a month! That’s what Mrs Smith’s brother had promised to provide for her. It was as much as she earned from her job at the mission school and she could collect it from Cameron’s office every fourth payday, when the few still on the company payroll mustered in front of him to pick up their wages.
Anulka burst into the shack, impatient to tell Granni the good news. But when she ducked under the lintel and her eyes had got accustomed to the gloom, she found that Granni had news of her own and was far too excited to listen to anything Anulka had to say.
Granni, barefooted, was dancing about inside the shack waving a letter in her hand – a letter that she couldn’t read but which she was sure had come from her missing husband, Timmi.
“Read it to me,” she implored Anulka, thrusting the pages into Anulka’s hands.
The two grubby sheets could well have been government surplus lavatory paper had they not been ruled up for writing on. Anulka took them over to the door to get better light.
Timmi McOobo couldn’t tell them where he was hiding: That wouldn’t be safe – it wouldn’t be safe for him or for them either. Telling Granni that he had been severely beaten up by the police he assured her that he was recovering and was lying low in a safe house somewhere; and he added that, although he didn’t know his whereabouts, he had been informed that Piet was well, too – was also in hiding at a secret camp with other guerrillas. He ended the note with instructions that Granni should burn it once its contents had been absorbed. Anulka read the note to her, not once, not twice but more like five times before Granni reluctantly agreed to commit the two tatty sheets of paper to the flame. She kissed them first and then, just in case she was holding the pages upside down, she turned them round and kissed them again. Taking Timmi’s imitation Ronson lighter from by the fire she lit it and she watched the flame, yellow and blue, reducing the letter to pieces of charred black paper.
“Be careful not to set the house alight!” Anulka cautioned her.
Granni’s prayers had been answered. It had been nearly three months since they had taken Timmi away and during that time all she had learned of her husband’s wellbeing was that he was imprisoned in Modderbee awaiting trial. She had wondered what the Ancestors were playing at in response to her supplications: Allowing the breadwinner of the household – even if Timmi was out of work – to be taken off to prison seemed a strange answer to a request for financial support. For a time she had given serious thought to giving up on the Ancestors and the old religions and becoming a Christian instead. But now she knew that Timmi was not only alive but free. It was rumoured that it had been her son, Piet, who had sprung him. If so, her naughty little guerrilla was suddenly her hero. It didn’t matter where they were: they were safe; and perhaps the Ancestors had done a good job after all.
“What did he say about there being money for us?” she asked Anulka, as she went over the letter in her mind.
“He is saying that the ANC have voted every family two rand and fifty cents a month for each breadwinner who is in prison or in hiding as a result of acts done in the cause of Black South Africa.”
Anulka considered. “I suppose it could mean that, between Timmi and Piet, you might expect to receive a sum of five rand every month.”
Granni asked, “You mean that’s because I have two heroes in my household…
“How much rent do we owe now?”
Anulka did some mental arithmetic before telling Granni that they owed over fifty rand. That to Granni that seemed an impossible debt to pay off.
“But as I’ve been trying to tell you, I’m an heiress now!” Anulka said. Granni knew that Anulka had said something about a man and about some money. She hadn’t really taken it in, so she asked her to tell it again; and even then Anulka wasn’t sure that Granni had understood.
“It’s hardly a fortune but together with the ANC money and the small sum I bring home from the mission school, we should be able to start paying off our arrears.”
At the news that they wouldn’t be turned out of the shack, Granni attempted a little skip and dance, singing as she did so a Venda lullaby to Tom, who repaid her with a contented chortle.
Anulka, cooking an omelette over the primus stove in the middle of the shack, was confused and feeling a number of differing emotions at the same time. She was touched that a man she had never met had been generous enough to make provision for her. She wondered what he was like, this man. The lady, Elizabeth Smith, had been very nice – so perhaps he was nice too? When Mrs Smith had told her that the explosion that blinded her father, she also said that the blast had badly smashed her brother’s leg and that as a result he was in hospital. She tried to close her eyes and picture this man, a man who believed he was indebted her father – but all she could see was a large fair haired Afrikaaner. As nearly all Afrikaaners were large and fair haired, that didn’t help.
She wondered how bad his injuries were; and she had even once or twice dreamed of paying him back by nursing him back to health – but the dream always got jumbled, which was not surprising when she couldn’t even begin to imagine the man let alone know the extent of the injuries. It was all so very confusing.