“Hello,” Simi says, greeting the old man.
“Enjoy your meal?” he asks.
Simi tries to place the accent. It’s neither Jacobus, nor Rudd. It’s almost English.
“Delicious,” she replies. “And you?”
Age-wise, Simi settles on a few years younger than eighty, and wonders why he is sitting alone.
“Are you waiting for someone?” she asks.
The man points to the furthest umbrella. Simi follows his gaze along the edge of the pool, to where two upright shapes are smudged together.
“My niece said to meet here.” The man looks at Simi, and winks. “I may have to wait a while.”
“Do you want to join me?” he asks. “My apologies, but I can’t stand up. It will take a night’s rest to get my spine straight after that drive.”
“I know the feeling,” Simi says, pulling up a chair. “I’m Simi. From London.”
“Saw you at supper. Pleased to meet you. I’m Fred Owens, an ancient relative of the bride’s.”
“I’m a city girl, taking a break. Coming to a place like this is a first for me.”
“Good for you,” Fred says. “It’s a long way from London. If there weren’t so many clouds, I could show you stars like you’ve never seen.”
“I glimpsed them earlier. What I love is the sound of the wind in the trees. Not much of that where I’m from.”
“Huh! We take all this for granted, forget to notice sometimes. Get tangled up in problems instead, and there’s no shortage of those, that’s for sure.”
Simi sits quietly, saying nothing. She can hear the card players arguing. Fred shifts in his chair.
“You know our worst problem? We love this place too much. Spoil it like a child. When it starts to run amok, we just indulge it.”
Simi is about to try a response, but changes her mind. Fred senses her discomfort.
“Sorry. Don’t mean to get gloomy. It’s just seeing all these youngsters.” He waves towards the swimming-pool. “I don’t want their lives wasted.”
He leans back, his thoughts lost somewhere in the dark.
It’s like a confessional, Simi thinks, studying the cropped, thick white-grey of his hair, and the valleys and sunscars of his face. Looks cheerful. As if reading her thoughts Fred turns to her with a big grin.
“Ever smelt the air here?”
“Well … I suppose so. But not as in an official air-tasting ceremony.”
“Might as well do one now.”
He lifts his chin, closes his eyes, and heaves his chest dramatically upwards. Simi hears the air squeezing into his lungs. Then he does it again.
“Excuse the wheezing,” he says, eyes open. “Used to be a smoker. You try.”
Simi tips her chin up, flares her nostrils, and pulls in the air. It rushes deep inside her, thick as velvet and soft with scent. She breathes in again.
“Can you smell the rain?”
“Not sure. Faint metallic something out there? And green, lots of green.”
“That’s it. That’s the rain, and the earth getting ready for it.”
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023