Story postcard – under a night sky (3)

“It’s beautiful to savour the air like that. It’s nothing like London. Earth and rain here. Cooking and diesel there. “

“Huh,” says Fred. “At least it means you’ve got food and fuel.”

Simi looks at the old man.

“No food and fuel?”

“Not always, but nights like this make up for it.”

“You don’t mind running out of things?”

“We do, but what are the options? I could go back to the UK but I’d be lost. Like one of those elephants they send to zoos. Miserable.”

Simi lies back in her chair, and closes her eyes. She lets her mind float between the pool and the stars, with Fred’s voice, sad as the sound track to an old film she can’t quite see. She knows he’s talking to himself now, more than her.

“Maybe I should get into diamond smuggling. Or gold …” His voice, bitter as dark coffee, drops names like curses. Then suddenly the soundtrack cuts.

Simi opens her eyes, and sees Fred’s attention fixed on the pool area where two figures are emerging from beneath the far umbrella.

“These young people should get out of here,” Fred says softly, “but what can we do? We’re all greedy for Africa, and the way she makes us feel alive.”

“Uncle Fred?” A voice calls from the dark. “Are you talking to yourself?”

A young woman walks around the swimming-pool, while a taller figure heads off towards the squash courts.

Fred waves to the woman. “No. Not this time,” he laughs. “I’m with Simi, the lady from London.”

The woman comes up the steps to join them, and Simi is about to stand up and introduce herself, when she feels Fred’s hand on her arm.

“Thanks for your company,” he says. “I hope I didn’t bore you. It’s the stars, the youngsters, and the mess we’re in. Sleep well. It’ll be sunny in the morning.”

He begins to push himself upright on the arms of the chair, and both Simi and the young woman move to help him.

“Hi. I’m Sal,” the young woman turns briefly to Simi, before bending low over the old man.

“Good to meet you,” says Simi, standing aside, while the pair straighten, and turn to face her, their arms linked.

“Thanks for keeping Uncle Fred company.”

“My pleasure.”

“Promised I’d escort him down to his room,” says Sal, starting to turn Fred towards the stairs.

“Finally!” Fred winks at Simi.

“Hope you’ll like your stay here,” Sal calls, over her shoulder.

 “I’ll do my best. Good night.”

“Good night.” They answer as a pair, one voice husky with age, the other still afloat on poolside happiness.

Simi stands a while longer, enjoying the night, and the cheerful chat from the group in the corner, then she hitches up her kaftan and walks down the stairs to her room.

She feels tired, and suddenly worried that the six-o’clock rendezvous for the birdwalk is far too soon.

Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023

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