Story postcard – Katania is not happy (1)

Rudd rolls his sleeping bag out on to the narrow bed in the medical room. He looks around, grateful that the small space has a window at least.

He places his veldskoens under the stool, takes off his uniform, turns off the light, and lies down, his body half in and half out of the sleeping bag. The single, thin curtain over the window flares in the wind, and then sinks inwards again.

Rudd thinks back over the evening, the guests’ faces blurring through his mind, then pausing on Marybelle. And Simi. Not shy that lady. Seemed happy the pair of them, he thinks, and rolls on to his side.

The plastic-coated mattress, reminds him of his ‘bedwetter’ years, of soggy nights. He tries to shift the memory, but it clings, like wet sheets in the dark. The shouting outside his bedroom. The fright. The damp. His father’s anger in the morning. His mockery.

Rudd rolls on to his back and folds his hands behind his head. Shouldn’t have had that glass of wine.

He stares up at the ceiling. The window rattles in the breeze, jumping his thoughts from wind, to rain, to storm.

No man. We do not need that. That report had better be wrong.

He turns on to his other side. Behind his head the door bounces in its frame. He stretches his toes to the end of the sleeping-bag, and closes his eyes. The wind puffs in and out. He can hear noises, bush noises … a laugh …


It is Innocence who wakes him. Rudd hears him greeting the security guard. Hears the laughter, the big front door pulling wide, a cockerel crowing in the distance. He lies for a few minutes more in the early cool, relieved that the curtain is still. From the kitchen the clatter of trays gets louder.

That’ll be morning tea for the birdwalkers. He sighs. Better see them off.

He unzips his sleeping-bag, and fumbles for fresh clothes. He is unsettled by the change of room, and decides to shave later, once the walkers have gone.

By the time he gets outside, a few of them are making their way up towards the verandah. It’s easy to pick out the enthusiasts, with their binoculars searching the treetops for birds. He’s pleased for them. The early morning light is clear, and the birds are in full song.

He walks over to join those clumped around the serving table, already holding mugs of tea. On the edge of the group he sees Tim, rubbing his glasses clean on a corner of his shirt.

 “Morning, Tim. All well in the squash courts?”

“Morning, morning. Yup, far as I can tell, all well in the dormitory. That lot over there might know better. I’ll ask. Hello – squash court crew, did you have a comfortable night?”



“Tim, how long until we head off?” a voice calls.

Rudd looks at his watch. “About ten minutes,” he answers.

Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023

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

Story postcard – under a night sky (2)

“Hello,” Simi says, greeting the old man.

“Enjoy your meal?” he asks.

Simi tries to place the accent. It’s neither Jacobus, nor Rudd. It’s almost English.

“Delicious,” she replies. “And you?”


Age-wise, Simi settles on a few years younger than eighty, and wonders why he is sitting alone.

“Are you waiting for someone?” she asks.

The man points to the furthest umbrella. Simi follows his gaze along the edge of the pool, to where two upright shapes are smudged together.

“My niece said to meet here.” The man looks at Simi, and winks. “I may have to wait a while.”

Simi laughs.

“Do you want to join me?” he asks. “My apologies, but I can’t stand up. It will take a night’s rest to get my spine straight after that drive.”

“I know the feeling,” Simi says, pulling up a chair. “I’m Simi. From London.”

“Saw you at supper. Pleased to meet you. I’m Fred Owens, an ancient relative of the bride’s.”

“I’m a city girl, taking a break. Coming to a place like this is a first for me.”

“Good for you,” Fred says. “It’s a long way from London. If there weren’t so many clouds, I could show you stars like you’ve never seen.”

“I glimpsed them earlier. What I love is the sound of the wind in the trees. Not much of that where I’m from.”

“Huh! We take all this for granted, forget to notice sometimes. Get tangled up in problems instead, and there’s no shortage of those, that’s for sure.”

Simi sits quietly, saying nothing. She can hear the card players arguing. Fred shifts in his chair.

“You know our worst problem? We love this place too much. Spoil it like a child. When it starts to run amok, we just indulge it.”

Simi is about to try a response, but changes her mind. Fred senses her discomfort.

“Sorry. Don’t mean to get gloomy. It’s just seeing all these youngsters.” He waves towards the swimming-pool. “I don’t want their lives wasted.”

He leans back, his thoughts lost somewhere in the dark.

It’s like a confessional, Simi thinks, studying the cropped, thick white-grey of his hair, and the valleys and sunscars of his face. Looks cheerful. As if reading her thoughts Fred turns to her with a big grin.

“Ever smelt the air here?”

“Well … I suppose so. But not as in an official air-tasting ceremony.”

Fred laughs.

“Might as well do one now.”

He lifts his chin, closes his eyes, and heaves his chest dramatically upwards. Simi hears the air squeezing into his lungs. Then he does it again.

“Excuse the wheezing,” he says, eyes open. “Used to be a smoker. You try.”

Simi tips her chin up, flares her nostrils, and pulls in the air. It rushes deep inside her, thick as velvet and soft with scent. She breathes in again.

“Can you smell the rain?”

“Not sure. Faint metallic something out there? And green, lots of green.”

“That’s it. That’s the rain, and the earth getting ready for it.”

Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023