Rudd, Tonderai and Innocence stand in the entrance to the lodge. Shoulder to shoulder they look out in silence, their torches picking over the mud-filled chaos beyond. They find rocks, branches, damaged cars, tangled wires, and gate posts.
Rudd feels sick. It’s Tonderai who speaks first, his head shaking slowly from side to side.
“Eish! The gomo … we are lucky, very lucky.”
“Maiwe!” whispers Innocence.
“Digging too much. Always clearing, cutting. These young trees, they don’t hold the soil.” Tonderai’s anger tails away.
“Umhmm,” Innocence nods.
Rudd’s failing torch reaches as far as it can. “The kopje is gone?” It’s a question but his eyes already know the answer.
“Yes.” Tonderai swings his light across the carpark again. “It is here. In front of us. We were very lucky … the kitchen … the garage …”
Rudd circles his torch slowly over the debris. Large rocks are tumbled together, and even larger ones have bounced further. Amongst them two tree trunks stand snapped and sharp, with their branches like nets on the ground, soil piling against them and through them.
A long, high whistle slips through Rudd’s teeth, but it is barely out before it is snatched away by a sudden gust of wind that slams the lodge door closed behind them, shaking them all from their shock. He swings around, and his eye is caught instantly by a yellow gleam. He lifts his torch beam towards it.
Somehow the hat, tight into the corner by the front door, still clings to its post on the head of the wooden giraffe, the one Rudd’s godfather gave him when he was five. The flare of yellow draws him towards it. He walks over, unable to resist, not noticing that Tonderai and Innocence have headed off in the opposite direction.
He lifts the hat off the giraffe and memories fall out of its thick oilskin. He sees his uncle, just back from his sailing trip around Norway, presenting it to his brother. He remembers his father laughing, properly happy, when he tried it on – his new ‘lucky’ hat. Rudd loved the hat for making his father laugh. Now here it was. Still surviving. Standing in the spot he’d taken it back to when he returned. The place where the hat and the giraffe had been when he’d last seen them as a child.
Years ago now. He’d been kneeling up on the truck seat, peering through the back window as they lurched out over the culverts and away from the lodge, his father in one of his violent, unpredictable rages. He’d slammed the lodge door and flung the hat on to the giraffe in the corner, and then dragged the heartbroken Rudd away from them both and into the truck. Rudd remembers his tears. Hot. Silent. Private. He’d cried until the lodge had disappeared behind their dustcloud, and he’d promised he’d come back. He’d promised. And he had. And when he did, he’d found the hat and the giraffe in a cupboard, and he’d moved them straight back to the entrance. Markers to a promise kept.
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023