Story postcard – when hope turns sideways (2)

Tonderai does not respond immediately. Rudd waits as his assistant manager walks past him in silence, with a chair in each hand. He watches him stop to place the two precisely, one beside the other, into a half-filled row. Then he straightens up, and turns to face Rudd, his eyes sombre.

“It’s a problem. A big problem. Our chief was right. There is too much rain.” He pauses, his gaze sinking into the grass. “Our chief says this is a problem for God now, and that we must pray.”

Not sure what to say, and aware that Tonderai is watching him, Rudd begins to arrange his own pile of chairs. Once done, he walks slowly along the line, the fingers of one hand trailing lightly along their backs.

“Who knows if the storm will come,” Rudd says finally, with a shrug, and glancing quickly at the older man.

 “God knows,” Tonderai replies with quiet certainty.

Rudd gives a slight nod.

At least the man is calm. Course he is. Hopeless odds nothing new to him.

“What about your family, Tonderai?” he asks.

“Last evening I put them on the bus to go to stay with my wife’s brother in Mutare.”

“And Innocence?”

“His wife took the bus to Harare this morning. That is where her sister is. We took care of that. God may be too busy in Beira right now.” One corner of Tonderai’s mouth lifts, in a shadow of a smile.

Properly not taking chances. I suppose he’s right. Most of their houses won’t have a hope.

“And the others? What do they think?” Rudd calls after Tonderai as he heads off to get more chairs.

“They asked about Beira. When I saw those reports this morning I told them. I could not find you to talk about this first. I told them it is bad, and it is coming here. So chef Samere, and gardener James, they have gone home to bring their wives up here. The lodge is strong.” Tonderai stops, and waits for Rudd to reach him.

“How many will come?” Rudd asks.

“The chef has two children. They can stay in the kitchen with us. One is a baby, on his mother’s back, and the other is small too. James is newly married. No children yet.”

“What about everyone else? Their families?”

“Eish,” Tonderai shakes his head. “They will not come. They do not want to. They have nowhere to go. Some are too close to the river, but they do not know cyclones. They think their houses – new houses, brick houses – are strong. They do not know. They do not read what I read.”

Tonderai goes to pick up the last few chairs.

“And the others? All the casual staff?” Rudd asks, following him.

“Most of them, those workers, they come from Mutare. They are not worried.”

“Will we have enough help for the wedding?”

“For sure. Everyone. They will come by lunchtime. They need the money too much.”

“We need them, that’s for sure,” says Rudd.

Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023

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