Wednesday, 14 February 2007

A Valentine Story…Part I

The girl was nine when they first met, a precocious, difficult child whose whole world had just fallen apart. All her life had been spent in the gentle realm of the small Cape estate belonging to her Grandparents but now the old couple could no longer cope and the three of them were refugees on a Highveld farm.

Dressed in old-fashioned clothes, gawky, shy and awkward with a “pudding-bowl” haircut, she stood on the veranda of her Aunt’s old farmhouse and listened as her Gran explained why they were there. All her short life, she had believed herself to be the youngest of her Gran’s three daughters, but in a few words, one sister became her mother and one sister became her Aunt and suddenly she was an only child. Now her Grandparents were going to live in a cottage on her Aunt’s farm where they would be looked after and she was going to her mother in America. But before she could go to her new home, she was going to have to learn how to be a modern child and she had six months to do it in.

Having never gone to school or had friends because her Grandmother was afraid she would somehow be damaged, she had a lot to catch up with before she would be ready to join her mother. She found herself in the constant company of people under the age of fifty for the first time. A tutor was hired and lessons began, and although she had known how to read from the age of five, she had to learn geography, how to write and do basic maths. Then there were many new friends, children of local farmers, who were around her age; she learnt to play and swim and get on with other youngsters, although the tendency to behave like a spoiled brat stayed with her for years. In the days and weeks that followed, the sense of betrayal was gradually numbed by this bewildering new world she suddenly found herself part of.

A few days after lessons began, she was taken to the farm next door where her friends' older brother was going to teach the two of them to ride. The fairytale she had been living in since arriving at her Aunt’s was confirmed when she saw the figure on the big horse. He was fifteen but already grown-up, tall for his age, blond and blue-eyed, on his black stallion he looked, to the dazzled child, like some blue-jeaned prince riding out to secure his kingdom. Unlike a lot of boys his age, he was also very kind, patiently giving up his holidays to teach the two girls to ride and taking them out to practice, although she later found out that he escaped many of his holiday chores by looking after them. All through the summer the three of them rode over the two big farms, exploring the Koppies (small rocky outcrops) where the Dassies (similar to a Groundhog) lived and riding through fields of Khakibos and Cosmos. In the sunshine and the space she began to feel that maybe the fairytale would never end, but of course it did and the time came when she had to leave. Those few short months were etched on her memory and in all the dark and lonely times in the years that followed, she would reflect back and promise herself that one day she would return...

Part II is here and Part III is here

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