Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Chapter Two - Pearl Niemand, Kirk Venter, Sirius

Don't forget to use the Book Chapter Directory on the right to read the Chapters in sequence. 
The following events are all true. Names and location have been changed.

Part 1: Love in a Harsh Landscape
Chapter Two - Pearl Niemand, Kirk Venter, Sirius

1910 Africa

The cool water tumbled from the rusted tap, as Pearl pushed and pulled the pump handle to get the fresh bore water flowing. She tucked a strand of curly hair behind her ear and reached into her bodice to take a hold of the white handkerchief tucked away inside. She stood and arched her back, her hands behind her hips stretching her lower back. She grimaced and wiped her forehead and upper lip with the white cloth, heaving a big sigh.
She allowed her dark brown eyes to wander along the farm track to the far distant gate. It had been the driest year and all of the grass was brown and withered – desperate. Somewhere beyond sight, a small fire blazed in one of the fallow fields lending a blue grey haze to the horizon. Pearl smiled. She loved the smell of this place, a mixture of dirt, fynbos, animal hide and bush smoke. It was the smell of Africa.

A sound from deep inside the cool dark portico’d house caused her to quickly return to pumping, pushing until the pail was almost full. She stood again and wiped her brow once more, the January heat was unbearable these days… Clicking her tongue, she called out, “Xa! Kiewie! Kom!” a large goat wandered closer, strapped into a small cart just big enough for the large water pail. Pearl smiled again, her Kirk was so clever. He had noticed that another older goat named Konstable, loved being near her ‘at all times’ and had fashioned this small cart for her, to help her carry the heavy milk and water pails every day. Kiewie was the third-generation goat to do this duty, and Kiewie loved it. Pearl was grateful. She stopped a while as her thoughts wandered to hazy distant memories of her friend Kirk.

Another sound from the house.
Pearl sped up, leading the goat forward she crossed to the house and heaved the pail up the four steps and onto the deep porch. Lifting it carefully she stepped over the threshold and into the house, walking gingerly along the wooden floor boards she called out “I am here!” she bumped open the front door with her ample bottom and walked in backwards, struggling with the weight of the pail, “I have the water… Ma!”

Far away, Kirk Venter sat on the train. His eyes flicked back and forth as he focused on one moving object after another. The motion of the train had lulled him into a deep restful state. The sun warmed his skin through his brown collared shirt. He looked down at his hands folded in his lap. Rough and hardened from years of good clean work and from some fighting in the war as well. He smiled at himself. Pa Venter was going to be so happy. Six years away with not many letters in that time, it was going to be good being home again, this time as a man and not as a boy.

A knock on the carriage door, and a stranger poked their bespectacled head inside the small cabin,
“Oh sorry ol’chap, didn’t know anyone was in here.” They wrinkled their nose, and left.
The one good thing about being a ‘Venter’ was that he was not a ‘friend of choice’ wherever an Englishman was concerned. It made him smile once more; then again he had never been conventional. He lifted his cap and placed it on his head and pulled it down over his tired eyes. He pushed it back into the seat, tilted his head and drifted off to sleep, to dream of Hermandskraal and all who lived there.

Pearl knocked on the kitchen door and heard a shuffle from within; her mother opened the door in a flurry of stress and intense heat.
“Pearly! Jong! Why did you take so long? The soup is going to be ruined now my girl, you took too long!…” She grabbed the pail from the struggling Pearl, and walked with ease over to the stove, scooping out a cupful of water and adding one cup after another until the soup was just right.
“Your father will be home soon and you know how he gets if his soup isn’t ready for him!” Hester was hot, she was tired, and she was anxious for her husband Aardt to be home from the stock sale.
“There’s a fire somewhere in the fields, Ma” Pearl said, wiping her hands on a cloth that lay on the sill, “I hope it doesn’t come here, it must stay where it is…” She sighed and walked a few steps, looking out of the window at the long drive again, “When is Pa meant to be home?”
“Soon, he said he would be home after mid day.” Hester looked out of the window as well, furiously wiping a soup bowl with a slightly damp cloth.  She fussed with her white cap, tucking her curled hair under the lip of the frilly lace border. Her brown skin shone from exertion and her dark eyes were watchful, worried, wanting to know that Aardt was alright. Times were changing, and if anything happened to Aardt…

“He’s here!” Pearl stepped away from the window and started to lay the table, a heavy wooden kitchen table with four rounded stools placed around it. She wiped the surface, and then laid down four pretty placemats. She placed four mugs onto the right hand corner of each mat, fetched a jug of drinking water, and finally placed a bowl of chutney, salt, pepper, some grated dry cheese and some soft churned butter in the middle of the table.  She stood back to admire her work as the porch creaked with the weight of her father’s boot steps. Her precious father, home safely.
“Ooh no! We forgot the bread Ma!”

The door opened and let the heat of the summer sun into the cool house,
“How are my gorgeous lilies?” Aardt Niemand was a tall man, with blue eyes and pure white hair, he was a handsome man. Caring and kind to his family, and intensely disliked by his community.
“We are fine my darling man…” Hester bustled forward out of the kitchen and hugged her husband tightly, “I was worried about you…”
“As usual. You will never learn Herstertjie. I am always just fine. Just fine. No one bothers me.” He drew her away from him and turned to look at his beautiful daughter.
“And you miss Pearltjie. You are lovelier than I remember my girl…” with a big smile he folded her into his arms for a fatherly hug. They made their way into the kitchen for lunch.

Kirk woke with a start as the train stopped. He stood unsteadily on his feet and collected his small luggage from the overhead storage. Making his way down the hot narrow passageway he stepped out onto the landing and started the long journey to Hermandskraal. He found a mail cart that was headed there and hitched a ride, sharing his lunch with the driver, an African gentleman named Sirius. 

They camped overnight in a donga, a shallow grassy area below a bank or ridge, they found a good water source there and the horses drank while Kirk and Sirius set up a sleeping place. Sirius started to make a fire, the crackling of the wood as it set fire was mesmerizing. Kirk sat quietly watching the white blue light that surrounded the edges of the dark wood as the flames grew stronger. He marveled to himself, a fire was a fire, but even the flames were not all the same. Some flames were white; some light yellow some a fierce light blue. The fire and the wood worked together, ubuntu. They worked as a unit to provide heat and warmth and light. He sighed, but at the end of the day the wood was spent and the fire died as well. Leaving what? Ashes and death. He looked away from the fire trying to clear these morbid thoughts from his mind.

Sirius returned from the darkness with something in his hands, a small duiker.
“You are good at this Sirius!” Kirk was genuinely impressed. Sirius smiled a big white shining smile.
“I’ve done this for a long time sir.”
“Yes I am sure Sirius, and please… call me Kirk. There is no one here to look at us.” Sirius started to skin the tiny buck, and prepare the meat. He had pockets full of salt, dried coriander, garlic, pepper and spices that he rubbed into the meat to flavour it.
“Sir, if I call you by ‘Kirk’. What will happen to me huh?” Sirius stopped and looked directly into Kirk’s eyes, “What will happen to a black man who calls a white man by his christian name?” He didn’t stop working, Kirk stared at him long and hard. He could see the intelligence in Sirius, the wisdom and understanding. He also saw the hurt, and yes, he saw the anger as well.
“Why do people have to act like that, towards one another Sirius?” Kirk held a piece of grass between his fingers, rolling it while he spoke.
“My life has been long and hard, sir. I have lost many people that I have loved, I have lost many, many jobs as well. Because I talk ‘straight’ and because I am honest as well. White men don’t like an honest Black man.” Sirius laid the prepared meat cuts out, and started to spear them onto a long narrow metal rod. Kirk watched him, fascinated.
“Let’s enjoy our evening Sirius, out here we are equals and we don’t have to limit ourselves to the same mindset as everyone else… please, call me Kirk. Out here. Call me Kirk.”
Sirius stopped and looked at him with a serious expression on his face, he saw before him a young man disillusioned and unsure. Suddenly he broke out into the brightest smile, lit up by the fire he looked almost comical, “Kirk it is then. But only when we are alone. I’m not going to get sjambok for you sir!” he pointed a bloodied finger at Kirk, laughing, “No, no sjambok, no! Ha ha!” They laughed, but inside their laughter was shades of blue. Times were surely changing. People were changing.

At the Niemand farm the sun was setting, the distant calls of birds preparing for night, the soft ‘hoe-hoe’ of an owl. Pearl sat near to the fire and worked on her needlepoint, she was stitching a row of fine flowers onto a new pillow case for her Mother’s bed. Hester sat knitting a cream coloured jersey, and Aardt sat staring into the fireplace while he smoked a long wooden pipe. Theirs was a contented family. Hardly ever any arguments or fights, necessity made them a tight unit. Being the only ‘mixed’ race family in Hermandskraal was not an easy thing to bear. Aardt was Dutch, he had come to South Africa during one of the many wars between the Afrikaners and the English. He had met Hester, a coloured woman, in town one day and had fallen in love instantly. They had fled their home town near the cape, and had settled in Hermandskraal. A year after they married, Pearl was born, and they had no other children. Aardt was a subsistence farmer, he farmed exactly what they needed to survive and they had no need of anything else. Once a quarter he would go into the town to buy supplies and seed, stock and fabrics – but other than that, they kept to themselves. The farm they had built and maintained was too far from the town for any visitors, so it was a quiet life. 

Aardt sometimes worried about Pearl, she was a beautiful young woman. She was just nineteen years old and starting to feel restless, he could see that. He took a deep drag from his pipe as he thought in earnest about what was going to happen to her. She couldn’t marry. The local tribesmen were too wild for his tastes, and the local white men Afrikaner and English alike would never ‘stoop’ to marry a coloured girl.  This thought made his skin flush and he grunted and shook his head, like a dog shaking off water. Shaking off anger at the injustices they’d faced. She had made a friend once, a young boy, when she was only thirteen. A ‘crush’ he’d called it. He had pinned his hopes on this young man but, like so many of the young men, he had ventured off and been gone almost five…no, six years now, with no sign of returning. Sometimes he would catch Pearl staring out of the window, looking at the long dusty driveway. He knew she was watching for her friend.

The sun rose early in summer, and the heat of the day started well before the light of day touched the dry parched ground. Having left before sunrise, Sirius and Kirk made their way into Hermandskraal as the sun rose slowly. They spoke of a great deal, they shared common ground, common ideals. When they arrived outside the town Post Office Kirk thanked Sirius warmly, saying,
“Sirius if you ever need work, call me, you know where my farm is now. I could use a real friend and someone that I can trust out here.” Sirius nodded curtly in the serious manner of his people, winked at Kirk secretly when he ducked his head, and without a salute or farewell he rode off to make his deliveries.

In the shadows of the Post Office, a young African child stood alone. Melting into the darkness, she was watching the Gallery across the road. When the sunlight touched her face her eyes were a metallic silver, almost opalescent. As she saw the Gallery door opening and a middle-aged woman exiting the building, with a brown paper wrapped painting in her hands, a low growl rippled her throat. Revealing a sharp, white, fang.