“You okay Rudd?” Marybelle shouts.
“Fine. And you two?”
“Oh, we’re great.” Marybelle’s voice lifts on the wind.
“Appreciate the singing. Helped with the wait for the tea. That water took forever to boil.”
Rudd leans forward on the bench, enjoying the occasional feathers of warmth that drift down from the fire. He looks around the room. There are deep shadows in some corners, with others held bright by torches. Jacobus’ torch is balanced on the billiard table, its beam angled towards the bench where Tim is persuading Fred and Bernard to take sip after sip of hot, sugared tea. Just beyond them, caught in the edge of the light, is Jambee, hands warming around a mug.
Over his other shoulder Rudd sees Jacobus, his body a dark square by the door. Rudd can’t see his face, but he can imagine it, and the big hands that helped to shift the old cast iron stove out from its corner, to act as door jam. Remembering the weight of the wet metal he folds his arms, and pushes his palms deep into his armpits, trying to smother the lingering pain. As he does so Tim’s torch does a quick circle of the room, checking faces. It finds the priest smoothing down his hair, beside Jambee.
Eish. So lucky to spot the priest. What did he say? Searching round by the bar? If he hadn’t come round that corner.
Then Tonderai emerges from the shadows to throw more wood on the fire. Rudd watches the sputter of sparks, and the way the smoke lingers now the door is closed. It hangs suspended, light as tissue, until fingers of wind squeeze in through the whistling cracks, and chase it out.
“Hey Tonderai. Any news on your family?” Jacobus shouts.
“I have none, but I am worried.”
“Where are they?” Jacobus asks, his voice loud in a sudden lull of wind.
“By the Nyahonde?” asks Bernard.
“Oh dear,” says Marybelle.
“What’s the Nyahonde?” Simi asks.
“A river,” Rudd answers.
“Are your family on high ground?” Jacobus asks.
“No. We’re in the valley. We have a new house, a brick house … but not strong like this. Plus, they are cutting the trees on the hills above us.”
“Are your family there now?” asks Marybelle.
“No. My wife Miriam, wife number two, she took my girls – Precious, 12 years, and Kudzai, five years – to stay with her mother in Mutare. My first wife, Beatrice, she has passed.”
Rudd smiles at the memory of Beatrice – large, kind. His nanny before they left.
“Are there still people in your village?” Jacobus asks.
“My sister is there. Her husband would not leave. She is wife number three. Four children. I am very worried for her.”
“Oh Tonderai, I hope they are okay,” says Marybelle, her voice stricken.
Tonderai looks at her. “Yes. They do not know cyclones. But the chief is worried.” Tonderai pulls his shoulders back, firelight slipping over the contours in his face. “But what can I do? I must work. They need my salary. Stopping is for rich people.”
Rudd looks down at the wet glisten on the floor, his palms burning.
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023