Rudd chews the edge of his lip. His mind is not on the road, and he knows it should be. He takes the next corner without thinking, and by the time he sees the cow it is almost too late for all of them.
He forces the truck on to the verge, wrenching the steering wheel hard right. The cab lurches to one side then back again. Beside him, Simi screams. He brakes, corrects, and then swings the tyres back up on to the tar.
“OH MY GOD! You trying to kill us.”
Rudd feels his heart thumping. He’s not sure if it’s with her fright or his. He glances across at her.
“Are you alright?”
She has one hand flat against the door, and the other planted like a steel rod on the dashboard. Twisted half-round to face him, her eyes are wide, her earrings swinging.
“Oh my God! What was that?”
“A cow,” he replies.
“I know it’s a cow, but what’s it doing there? In the middle of the road. A proper road. A main road.”
Simi’s alarm makes Rudd want to laugh. He looks away, fixing his eyes on the rearview mirror. It was only a cow. It looks smaller now, but is still exactly where it was when he first saw it. Not bothered.
He feels the seat next to him dip, and sees that Simi has turned to look through the back windscreen. The bright orange and purple of her kaftan is stretched tight across her shoulders. He is about to look away when her eyes catch him.
“Is this the only way to the lodge?” she demands.
“Sorry. That was a bit close,” he says.
“A bit close,” she whispers, an eyebrow raised.
“Ja, even for me, hey.”
“What do you mean? Even for me?” Her voice rises.
Rudd’s explanation falters. He knows there’s nothing funny about what’s just happened, but it, or something like it, happens so often, that it feels normal.
“Well … just …”
He looks away, and clears his throat, hating the red flush that he knows is creeping up his neck. He scrunches up the words ‘old’ ‘female’ and ‘English’, and swallows them. Could have been a joke, he thinks, with someone else, a Zimbabwean, but not with her. Not with someone he’s only just met.
“Just what?” Simi repeats the question, rounding out the what.
“It’s just that I live here. I’m used to it,” he says, the words jarring as the truck thumps into a pothole.
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023