Story postcard – the experts predict (3)

Rudd opens the door wider, and waits. At last Tonderai speaks.

“I think this is serious,” he says.

“Really?” Rudd, tries to lift the word, to make it light and listening, but his efforts achieve nothing more than a silent nod, so he carries on. “Think about it, Tonderai. A cyclone has never reached here before, and … well, look at today … it’s beautiful. We’re here. We’re on the ground. We know the conditions. The guys who wrote this, they’re in some office somewhere, looking at screens all day. What do they know? And what have they ever got right about Zim before?”

“But I am worried. The weather changes too much. And our Chief has concerns.”

“The Chief?” Rudd sighs, his impatience mounting. “Okay, I respect the Chief. I do. We all do. He’s a good farmer, and he knows everything about everyone, but how is he going to know about this? I don’t think he’s even got a computer.”

“He has a radio,” says Tonderai, voice low. “His children have computers, and he has friends who work in Mutare, in the government office. He travels widely around the area. People come to see him. Important people.”

“Okay, but can he, can you, remember any huge storms here, like that report says might happen?”

Tonderai shakes his head slowly.

“And you’re what – sixty? My father’s in his fifties. He’s never mentioned a cyclone … well not one that did any real damage.”

“No. But maybe the Chief remembers. He is an old man.”

Rudd pauses. He looks at Tonderai, still as a rock, and wonders whether he is worried, or just testing him.

 “What does Innocence think?” he asks.

Tonderai shrugs, his shoulders saying that he knows, but doesn’t want to say. Rudd realises then, that he must persuade Tonderai urgently that there is no need for alarm or to alarm others, for if he does not Innocence will spread panic like peanut butter, sticking it everywhere.

“Tonderai,” he says, his tone less offhand, “it’s just you, me and Innocence who’ve seen this report?”

“And the Chief.”

“Not the other staff?”

“No. We waited. We want to know what you know.”

“Right. I heard nothing in Harare. Now, until we hear anything else, something from the government perhaps, we need to keep going. We can’t cancel this wedding, and we have a visitor from London. We must give them a good time. If you hear more, please talk to me first. Tell Innocence I shall tell him if we need to do anything.”

Tonderai nods, his agreement is slow and careful.

“Right. We need the money to pay the wages. So let’s go. If Ipsos comes, we make a plan.

Rudd holds Tonderai’s gaze. Neither man moves. They hear laughter, and the thud of a car door closing. Then Tonderai turns.

“Okay,” he says, as he walks out into the sunlight.

Rudd, with a deep feeling of unease, shuts the office, and follows him out to meet the new arrivals.

Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023

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