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