Story postcard – when hope turns sideways (3)

Tonderai swings the final chairs into place, each half-moon now complete with bright white plastic seating. He steps back to count them.

“Looks great,” says Rudd, turning at the sound of voices behind them. He sees a pair of sun-hatted birdwatchers, strolling across the golf course, heading back up to the lodge. As he watches, more come into view.

“Tonderai, who’s cooking breakfast?” he asks, suddenly worried.

“Number two chef, Witness. He’s young. Not bothered by this rain story. No wives. No children. A young man – he lives forever.”

Rudd smiles. “Good. We need everyone to stay calm. I think we’d better go up to check all is well, shut away any stuff we don’t need just in case this storm does come.”

They slip in behind the last of the bird-spotters as they wander slowly across the green.

Rudd listens to the burble of chat, the talk of breakfast, the laughter, all untroubled by the weight in the air. He wonders where Simi is. As far as he can tell she is not in the group, and he knows she would be easy to spot if she was. He wants to ask Tonderai, but already his tall stride, neatly creased in khaki, has carried him too far ahead to hear him. Rudd walks a bit faster, legs stretching, and the sight of his own shorts reminding him that he should put on trousers for the service. He knows he has to make an effort to look the part – the manager. The white manager. He laughs to himself.

Tonderai could do this facing backwards. But … if the owners want to pay me, I’m not complaining. Anyway, they’re old guys, old school. They still think white skin is incorruptible. Maybe. Once upon a time. At least they know me. Always gripped tight to any rails I can find.

He lengthens his stride, trying not to jog.

Up ahead, Tonderai pauses and turns to ask him a question. “Have you told the guests? About the cyclone?”

Rudd catches up, and clears his throat. He is about to say something, then changes his mind. He rubs a hand around the back of his neck, and carries on walking. A few yards on, he calls back.

“One guy asked me this morning, before I saw those reports. So … no. I haven’t told them yet. Anyway, they’re up here to switch off.”

Tonderai does not answer, but Rudd sees his shadow on the grass, starting to overtake him. He walks a little faster.

“Tonderai, I’ve learned you have to feed these guys, before giving them bad news. Maybe I’ll tell them after breakfast.”

“Yes,” says Tonderai, now by his shoulder. “I told the staff after their early tea this morning. It will be good to tell the guests after breakfast. They should be told. It is our duty.”

 “Yes. After breakfast,” Rudd agrees, as they reach the grassy steps to the lodge. He looks up ahead, and notices that the sky behind the trees has a haziness to it. He can’t remember whether that’s normal or not.

Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023

Story postcard – when hope turns sideways (2)

Tonderai does not respond immediately. Rudd waits as his assistant manager walks past him in silence, with a chair in each hand. He watches him stop to place the two precisely, one beside the other, into a half-filled row. Then he straightens up, and turns to face Rudd, his eyes sombre.

“It’s a problem. A big problem. Our chief was right. There is too much rain.” He pauses, his gaze sinking into the grass. “Our chief says this is a problem for God now, and that we must pray.”

Not sure what to say, and aware that Tonderai is watching him, Rudd begins to arrange his own pile of chairs. Once done, he walks slowly along the line, the fingers of one hand trailing lightly along their backs.

“Who knows if the storm will come,” Rudd says finally, with a shrug, and glancing quickly at the older man.

 “God knows,” Tonderai replies with quiet certainty.

Rudd gives a slight nod.

At least the man is calm. Course he is. Hopeless odds nothing new to him.

“What about your family, Tonderai?” he asks.

“Last evening I put them on the bus to go to stay with my wife’s brother in Mutare.”

“And Innocence?”

“His wife took the bus to Harare this morning. That is where her sister is. We took care of that. God may be too busy in Beira right now.” One corner of Tonderai’s mouth lifts, in a shadow of a smile.

Properly not taking chances. I suppose he’s right. Most of their houses won’t have a hope.

“And the others? What do they think?” Rudd calls after Tonderai as he heads off to get more chairs.

“They asked about Beira. When I saw those reports this morning I told them. I could not find you to talk about this first. I told them it is bad, and it is coming here. So chef Samere, and gardener James, they have gone home to bring their wives up here. The lodge is strong.” Tonderai stops, and waits for Rudd to reach him.

“How many will come?” Rudd asks.

“The chef has two children. They can stay in the kitchen with us. One is a baby, on his mother’s back, and the other is small too. James is newly married. No children yet.”

“What about everyone else? Their families?”

“Eish,” Tonderai shakes his head. “They will not come. They do not want to. They have nowhere to go. Some are too close to the river, but they do not know cyclones. They think their houses – new houses, brick houses – are strong. They do not know. They do not read what I read.”

Tonderai goes to pick up the last few chairs.

“And the others? All the casual staff?” Rudd asks, following him.

“Most of them, those workers, they come from Mutare. They are not worried.”

“Will we have enough help for the wedding?”

“For sure. Everyone. They will come by lunchtime. They need the money too much.”

“We need them, that’s for sure,” says Rudd.

Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023

Story postcard – when hope turns sideways (1)

Rudd’s ten-minute online search leaves him feeling sick. The reports show Beira drowning. He’s never seen anything like it. Now it is every map that shows the storm whirling inland from the Mozambique coast towards the border with Zimbabwe, and then on up into the Eastern Highlands.

Up to here. Right here. Rudd chews the edge of his thumb, heart accelerating. He checks the timings. This evening. It will hit this evening. He runs his hands through his hair. Don’t even think about it. Keep going. Just keep going.

He switches off the computer, pushes back the chair, and sits, hands gripped to the edge of table, fingers drumming.

Some of these guys will have seen this. Tonderai for sure. Who else? No comms up here. But no WiFi needed. This kind of news travels like smoke. Can’t stop it. So when they find out, will they care? These guys? Not a chance. Stop anything? Because of forecasts? Because of the weather? No way. Do they know how bad it is? That Steve guy will. Somehow. No wonder his brother’s not going to make it here.

Rudd stands up abruptly, and kicks the chair back in towards the desk.

These guys are gonna want to keep things going. So let’s do it. Make a plan when it comes. I’m not stopping this.

He pulls open the door and steps outside. He is almost convinced, but not quite. The news from Beira is still shaking in his head.

Those flooded villages. Whole families clinging to trees. Buildings flattened. Rooves ripped. Water stretching in every direction.

He steps out into the daylight and the door shuts with a thud behind him. Solid. Rudd notes its strength, and pockets the knowledge that the old core of the lodge should stand if the cyclone hits. He is not so sure about the new additions – the covered walkway, the roof over the dance floor. Vulnerable he thinks. Feeble.

Too bad. Just got to make a plan … if we need a plan. Just got to keep going. Better catch Tonderai. I think he said he’d be doing the seating.

Rudd steps from the verandah on to the grass. The day feels warm to him, slow and sulky. With a hand raised to shield the sun from his eyes, he scans the golf course below and sees Tonderai, arms full of chairs, under the palm trees on the edge of the green.

 “Hi, how’s it going?” Rudd calls, as he walks down the steps to joins him.

Tonderai turns around. “Okay. We have enough chairs. Do you think this Father Norman will do the service?”

“I think so. He’d said he’d come over to find out more.”

 “That’s good,” says Tonderai.

Rudd goes to the high stacks of seats to pick up a pile of his own. “How many of these in each row?”

“Ten, with a break in the middle for the aisle,” says Tonderai.

Rudd sets their white plastic down in a fresh arc, and then goes back to collect more. “The weather reports don’t look so good,” he says casually to Tonderai as he passes.

Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023