Story postcard – I’m only doing this for you (4)

Simi tries to catch the jokes being pushed around the room. They come in snatches blown apart by the weather, some batted back by Tim and Jacobus. None of it makes any sense to her.

You know, I can’t understand this lot. Why’m I even here? Could be down Goldhawk Road right now. Picking fabrics. Chit chatting. I don’t need this. Even mad Soapy and his opera next door. I’ll take that. Anything. Just not this.

“Tim … Hansie and the lion,” Sal calls.

 “Oh … not that …”

Laughter rocks the room, then drowns beneath a fresh tip of rain and wind.

 “Hey …” Tim shouts, ” … gonna leave it … Hansie … this … is all over.”

Hansie holds both thumbs up, and Tim and Jacobus splash down from the table. As they return to their seats, Simi lets the fire draw her eyes into its shifting dance. When she next looks up she sees Marybelle approaching, so she holds the blanket wide, inviting her friend to join her.

“Thanks,” says Marybelle, drawing the blanket close. She smiles at Simi, lifting her chin to speak into her ear. “At least we got a bit of the speeches.”

Simi nods. “Don’t understand this farm thing,” she says, bending close to Marybelle, narrowing the space for the wind to tear the words apart.

Marybelle laughs. “Agh, it’s all politics now. You scratch my back, and I’ll let you plough my land. Don’t even think about it Simi.”

Simi nods, and asks one more question. “Are Bernard and Fred war vets?”

“In a way,” Marybelle says. “But those two were in Malaya. For you.”

“For me? I mean for who? For the UK?”

“I think so,” says Marybelle shrugging.

“Why? What is this Malaya thing?”

“Don’t ask me. I don’t know. I think the UK needed soldiers for some war somewhere so took them. Ask them.”

Malaya? Never heard of any war there. Probably not even born anyway.

Simi’s relieved when Father Norman shouts a question across the room.

“Marybelle, any storytellers here?”

“Storyteller?” Marybelle shouts back. “Any storytellers?”

The high cry from Marybelle, sounds like that of a gull riding the wind. But there’s no response from the room, so she tries again. But this time, she has barely begun when her question is swamped by a great wash of rain. Heavy and loud on the roof, it pins them all to silence. They wait, watching the sparks as Tonderai throws another log on the fire. At last the downpour passes and Marybelle tries again.

“Anyone know any stories?” she shouts.

“Stories? No way,” rumbles Jacobus. “We’ve got enough problems without stories.”

“Jacobus! That’s ridiculous,” Marybelle scolds. “I love stories. Doesn’t anyone know any?”

“No speeches?” someone asks.

“No way. We’ve done our bit,” Tim shouts.

 “Anyone? If not, I could give you a sermon.”

“Oh no …” someone groans. “Spare us Father Norman. Please spare us.”

“Story please!” urges Marybelle.

Simi looks around at the lack of voices.

Surely? Surely they’re stories here? I’m in Africa? I thought stories began in Africa. I think I’m going mad. London’s packed with stories. In fact … maybe there’s more Africa in London, than here? Please? Somebody? Give us a story. This rain is doing my head in.

Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023

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