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Chimurenga

Part One - Land of Hope

I need to treasure those memories, because Mushandike’s a thing of the past now. We met a hippo and some eland, a family of warthogs and some jackals and we learned how to track animals and about ecosystems. We climbed a rockface near the dam wall and we ate our dinner and sang songs around a campfire in the middle of nowhere. We watched a sheep being dissected and measured the length of its small intestine, and Elizabeth threw up. We imagined ourselves to be a band of Mashona escaping the marauding Matabele by using that natural rock tunnel hidden in a hillside, crouching and scuttling along it in the dark. We just had such a good time. And then, yesterday, it was over. The birdsong woke us early and the dawn was all pink and misty and we ate bacon and eggs around the revived campfire while the sun gradually rose up over the tops of the trees and its light crept down towards the ground. Then we had to go. None of us wanted to leave, just like, I’ll bet, so many other school children over the years, but we had to go home. We left a bush school and soon it will be just an army barracks. Maybe Barry will stay there, in the dormitory where Jess and I were. Maybe Nathan will get to go back.

I guess hope is a thing of the past too. This is real, isn’t it? There really is a proper war and it’s just arrived on my doorstep.

 

10th August 1975 to 17th August 1975

1975. The last year of junior school and the end of an era. Some believe in military advantage and the capacity to overcome economic sanctions but others know the truth is not so rosy. The war has arrived and it’s going to drain the country of many things. 

 

    

Sunday 10th August 1975

 

     The warden – what’s his name? – Mr Marsden? He’s done this before. This pause for effect after saying, “And lastly, just before you go to your dormitories and unpack your katunda, there’s one thing I must warn you about. All of you. That includes your teachers. A serious warning.”

     We all know. Whether he knows we know or not I can’t say, but we do. I’ve been wondering when he’ll come up with it and I won’t be the only one. He was losing us at one point with his agenda for the week. I’m sure all these lessons will be interesting enough when we get to them, but we’ve had a long journey.    Even Mr Barrie was gazing out across the lake and Mrs King was picking at something under one of her fingernails.

     Here he goes.

     “We have a hippo in this part of the dam.”

     Pause. We all react suitably by coming alive again. He goes on.

     “She’s quite young and she wanders up onto the shore at night to graze so I want you all to be extremely cautious. She’s never caused any trouble, but hippo can react very aggressively if disturbed. If you want to visit the loos at night, take a good look around before you go across. There are torches in all the dormitories. If you see her, wait for her to move away and whatever you do, don’t get between her and the water because that will make her very nervous and a nervous hippo is a dangerous one. Do you all understand? Don’t be frightened. Just be sensible and treat any wild animal with the greatest respect.”

     The hippo – Nathan’s hippo. He’s learned these things. He wrote a caption under his photos of her, “Never, EVER get between a hippo and the water!

     “Oh, and by the way…… Don’t be tempted to swim in the lake just here. There are a few crocs.”

     I can’t recall Nathan mentioning the crocs.

     The dormitory’s a simple building, long and narrow, just a single large room with a smaller staff bedroom and its own shower room and WC at the end. Mrs King’s moved in there and I’m pretty certain it’s the same room where the hairy baboon spider was found in Nathan’s year.

     The long sides of the dormitory are lined with beds and white wooden chests of drawers. Halfway down each side is a pair of French doors, the north facing set opening towards the washroom blocks and the south facing ones giving access to a grassy slope that leads to the dam’s edge.

     Jess and I choose adjacent beds against the north wall. I’ve never slept in a dormitory with sixteen other girls before.

     “It’s be like being a boarder, isn’t it? At school, from a farm out somewhere in the bush.”

     Jess is stuffing garments into every last measure of space in the drawers.

     “God, why did Mother insist that I bring all this? I took some of it out, you know. She must have put it back in again.”

     She shakes out a silver and black glittery halter-neck top.

     “I’m hardly going to wear this out roughing it in the bundu, now am I? And I can’t believe there’s going to be a disco anywhere around here.”

     “Perhaps your mum thinks you might find a boyfriend if you wear your pretty party clothes.”

     I can’t help eyeing the top with some envy. My mother would never’ve bought me something as daring as that. I don’t think you can wear a bra with it. Jess snorts.

     “What? One of those creeps in our class? You’ve got to be joking. Maybe that younger warden though….”

     “So stop telling me to show an interest in Timothy then! Speaking of Timothy – look, there he is with his muckers. They’re going down to the lake.”

     Jess drops her top onto her bed. “We can do this later. Let’s go exploring.”

     The shore of the lake is rocky and forms a shallow arc around the bush school complex. The surface of the water beyond the haphazardly piled rocks is a deep blue, almost indigo in colour. Tiny waves lap against the jumbled boulders and leave faint traces of foam before retreating. A narrow arm of the dam reaches out to the west beyond the school and the opposite bank is only a few hundred metres away, rising to form a series of low hills. Broader away to the east, the lake waters heave with a lazy swell and across here the far shore is only a hazy purple line. The sun is nearly at the top of the hills to the west, the shadows are long and the temperature’s dropping quite rapidly. We’re not quite out of winter yet.

     “Nathan told me he wished he could have brought High Time – his pony,” I tell Jess just as we reach the others. Timothy’s leading, of course, and there’s about ten of us in tow. “It sounds like there’s fantastic places to ride out here.”

     She gives me a funny look. “Ride? I sincerely hope not. We can do canoeing, though. On the lake. Who’s Nathan?”

     I’d wanted to tell him my turn to do Mushandike Week had come at last, but I haven’t seen him in at least a month.

     I think Dad was quite relieved to drop me off at school this morning. He told me to go and get Mushandike out of my system. To be fair, I’ve probably been a pain in the neck recently. I even drove Rosie to the point where she wouldn’t speak to me. She was huddled in a corner of the back seat when we got there, as far away from me as possible and wearing the mother of all sulks. The coach was waiting and I must have had my nose pressed against the window because Dad said, “Don’t you make my glass smeary. I only polished it yesterday.”

     I was just thinking how cool it was that I was going to get to ride in that huge coach, all shiny black and white and silver, when Mum squeaked, “Doesn’t it look splendid, Tessa?”

     I impressed myself no end by managing to be both scornful and unconcerned at the same time.

     “Splendid? What a silly word to use. It’s only a coach, Mum.”

     Actually, it reminded me a bit of a queen termite, surrounded by swarms of ant-kids. There were piles of luggage on the paved car park surround next to it; a haphazard assortment of suitcases, duffel bags, rucksacks, sleeping bag rolls, wicker baskets and supermarket carrier bags.

     Dad took just forever to unload my stuff and gave me another lesson on how to set the light meter on the camera while I was hopping up and down. Rosie still wouldn’t speak to me, even when I said, “Don’t worry. You’ll get to go in a couple of years.” She alternately pouted and looked Bored and then bolted when she spotted a few of her classmates with a transistor radio blasting out one of those songs from Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat on the square of winter browned turf near the flagpole.

     Jess wanted us to get the front seats, but Mr Barrie wasn’t having any of that. Turns out Jess and I weren’t the only ones making a bid for them.

     “The front seats are for Mrs King and me,” he told us, while ticking our names off his list.

     Someone in the crowd whined, “But there are four front seats!” but he just said, “Well we’ve got two each then. Aren’t we lucky?”

     I’ll bet they wished they were sitting on the roof when we started singing “Wo! We’re going to Barbados!” as we left the car park, but none of us knew all the words so it petered out pretty quick.

     I’m brought out of the past by Alan. He’s highly worked up about something.

     “There! What’s that? In the water!”

     The little wavelets are lapping the edge of the flat boulder we’re standing on. About five metres out, between two rocks, I can see a long dark shape just under the water. It’s completely still and unidentifiable.

     “It’s another rock, idiot,” says Timothy.

     It might be a log or something. It’s not moving.

     Then it does. It surfaces. It’s flat and there are two protruding lumps on each end.

     We gasp collectively.

     “It’s a croc!” Jess snatches at my sleeve. She’s right. Two of the lumps are eyes for sure, and the other two will be nostrils.

     Before any of us can react, Timothy’s stooped, picked up a fist-sized stone and has pitched it at the head, shouting, “Ya! Flat dog!”

     Not one of us waits to see what the crocodile is going to do or even whether the stone has landed anywhere near its mark. We take flight as one, and so swiftly that I’m sure the faint ghost images of ten children are left behind on the rock for several seconds. Timothy runs only halfway back to the dormitories with us before slowing to a walk and calling after us, “What a load of yellow bellied cowards you lot are!”

*****************************************************************

     The six of us link arms and jostle together to keep on the paved path. Penny has the torch.

     “Don’t just shine it on the path,” Elizabeth hisses. “Move it from side to side so we can see if there’s anything around. No, not just down there. Out! Outwards!”

     I wander around in our garden at night without a torch often and I’ve never felt this heart-pumping, hair-prickling, leg-twitching urge to sprint like I have now. Never felt this urge to dive through a doorway into the light. It’s Mr Marsden’s fault. It was all very well telling us after-dinner stories but he should’ve left out the one about how crocodiles drown, dismember and then store their prey underwater to rot and get nice and soft enough to eat. Ugh.

 

 

Friday 15th August 1975

 

     We make our camp around a dwala near a river that feeds the dam, in a valley within the gently hilly terrain of the Park. The slope down to the water is punctuated by rocky outcrops and the ground is generally stony underfoot. I notice these things because I’m always imagining myself riding Induna, so I think things like That would be a nice log to jump or If only I could go for a gallop up that grassy slope or I’d love to ride along that track into those woods to see where it goes or The ground’s a bit stony here for too much trotting and cantering. It’s stony everywhere round this park. On the way over here earlier this afternoon, when we met that other National Parks vehicle coming in the opposite direction and the drivers of our three Land Rovers had to pull the nearside wheels off the tarmac strips to make way, the barrage of stones from the gravel shoulder rattling against the underside was so loud I couldn’t hear what Jess was saying to me. We left clouds of pinkish dust billowing behind us long after we got back onto both strips. I’m glad I was in the front vehicle – those in the one following had to eat our dust, and the last one – well…..

     It’s a bit – uncivilised. The wardens brought tanks of fresh water to drink straight or use to make hot drinks and wash our hands and faces but there are no loos. I’m not very good at going in the bushes. Too exposed. If someone else comes along you can’t move very fast with your knickers round your ankles and how do you keep them out of the way, for Christ’s sake? Do you have to take them right off? Jess’ll laugh at me and tell me I’m a virgin at this. And so I am.

     “What are you grinning at?” she says.

     “Just wondering how I’m going to break the news to my darling little sister that we had to pee in the bushes. I think suddenly she won’t be so keen to come.”

     “Well it’s a good thing Lauren opted not to come out with us for the sleep-out. I don’t think any of us would’ve wanted that now, would we? Messy.”

     She nods wisely and I agree, “Yes, good thing. Poor Lauren.”

     I still have no idea what’s wrong with Lauren but there’s no doubt everyone else does. How come, if she’s so ill she’s had to stay at the dorm with Mike’s wife, no-one’s sent for an ambulance or even a doctor? Got to be enteritis or something, surely? Messy. Possibly contagious, even. But no-one’s worried. Mr Barrie’s oblivious and Mrs King’s calm as you like about it after what looked like an initial panic when Lauren went to the toilet in the middle of the ecosystems lecture and didn’t come out for half an hour.

     “She was so looking forward to tonight. So unlike her to miss out on outdoors stuff,” I venture. Come on Jess, say something that’ll give me a clue.

     “Yeah.” Jess shrugs and starts out back to where Mr Barrie and Mike and Dave are piling up firewood.

     I give up and follow her.

     “Don’t you reckon these adults of ours are far more relaxed – well, more human actually – now it’s nearly the end of the week?” she asks.

     She’s stopped and is watching the wardens, Mr Barrie and the cooks unloading packs of steak and boerewors from the cooler boxes onto the centre of the dwala where it dips a bit into a natural, shallow bowl.

     “I mean, Mike and Dave are pretty chilled anyway but take our dear Mr Barrie. Simon. He’s turned out to be way more interesting than he ever was in class. He’s nice, but he’s kind of grey. No personality. And yet, this week, it’s like he’s come alive. And our Fiona King….. well in her checked shirts and her shorts she’s really pretty. I hope Mrs Barrie’s okay with her hubby spending a week in Fiona’s company. And likewise I wonder what Mr King thinks? There, look at him. Now Tess, I ask you again, what do you think of the rugby muscles?”

     I had no idea Mr Barrie played rugby before Jess pointed this out to me last Sunday. Now I find myself measuring the tightness of each of his T-shirts and watching his thigh muscles tauten as he climbs into and out of the Land Rovers. I don’t tell her though. I’m kind of surprised and a bit embarrassed to find it’s actually quite a pleasant pastime, but I’m not going to admit to it.

     It’ll be dark soon. The flat dining rock is filling up now that most of us have selected our sleeping spots and had a bit of an explore. Only the singing group’s still down by the river; the discordant refrains of Yellow River are making Mrs King wince. That’s another thing I’ve found out about her this week – she plays the guitar and is a not-at-all-bad singer.

     Good thing Joseph and Sebastian have got the fire going in the lowest point of the natural bowl – it’s noticeable how jumpers and jackets are starting to make an appearance and how everyone’s edging ever closer to the flames. Good thing it’s nearly time to eat. I’m starving.

*****************************************************************

     Joseph hauls another sack of logs up to the fire and we make way for him to circle it while he inserts four more of the logs into its base. He dumps the sack next to the pile of plastic plates, cooking pots and the frying pans and hunkers down again between Mike and Sebastian.

     “Singalong, people,” Mike announces, clapping his hands. “A cappella. Come along – what shall we start with?”

     A cap....what? We’re up for it, anyway. Classic round-the-fire numbers like Ten Green Bottles and One Man went to Mow, moving on to Two Little Boys and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden and Yellow River again and some other pop stuff and then Mike and Dave sing a few ditties none of us have ever heard, but which have repetitive choruses we can learn and join in on. The lyrics are dodgy at best but who cares? Mrs King’s got over her initial reluctance and has joined in now, leading some of the choruses. Mr Barrie doesn’t seem to care very much. He started off drinking a bottle of Castle every time Mike had one but after a while he slowed down and now I think Mike’s had at least four more. But Mike’s voice is clear and his eyes are still in focus, while I’m not sure Mr Barrie’s seeing anything very well and he’s got some serious problems with word pronunciation. That said, each time there’s a pause, he insists on trying to explain the lyrics to anyone who’ll listen.

     “Do you get it? Do you understand?” he quizzes Sebastian, who’s managing to be a picture of politeness even though he’d really rather be sitting somewhere else. “It’s about a… ahem, a… a…..guy who…. a skydiver, yes, a skydiver, whose parachute doesn’t open.”

     I’m sure Sebastian’s got that, but he nods and replies, “Oh yes?”

     Mr Barrie takes advantage of the current lull to start up again, bellowing, waving his arms as if he’s conducting a maniac orchestra:

     “Glory, glory, what a helluvaway to die!

     Glory, glory, what a helluvaway to die!

     Glory, glory, what a helluvaway to die,

     And he ain’t gonna jump no more!”

     He’ll have no idea how silly he looks. But hey, who’s worried? Ah yes, Elizabeth is, of course. She’s still wearing the same frigid expression she had on when she chanted, Glory, Glory, HALLELUJAH!, with her hands clasped together in front of her face.

     It’s all winding down now anyway.

     “C’mon.” Jess nudges me in the ribs. We creep away to our little hollow and cocoon ourselves in our sleeping bags, pillows touching together on the small, flat rock, reliving the day in whispers while others rustle and shuffle and giggle around us in their own little dens. There are other sounds – strange sounds – animal noises I can’t identify. But I’m not bothered. We’ve got Mike, Dave, Joe and Sebastian to look after us, and although they tried very hard to hide them, I saw the guns. I’m sure we won’t get eaten by anything.

 

 

Sunday 17th August 1975

 

     Amai places a rack of fresh toast and the butter dish on the table.

     “You want me to bring the strawberry jam or the marmalade, baas?”

     “Ooh, marmalade I think, please. You’re a star.”

     Charles gestures to me with a sweep of his hand. “Help yourself Tess. Here, take a knife.”

     “And a plate,” adds Moira. “There you go.”

     I rock up here at eight in the morning and no-one bats an eyelid. They place breakfast before me and involve me in their family time like I’ve every right to be a part of it. They do know me inside out though and they know I haven’t seen my horse for a week.

     I’m eyeing up the creamy-yellow brick of butter on the table in front of me.

     “We got butter at Mushandike. Real butter, just like you have. Mum won’t buy it. She says not only is it expensive, but she wants us to get these poly-un-something-or-others that they put in Sunflower. She says butter is unhealthy.”

     Charles grins at me and carves off a large slice from the top of the pat, lays it on his toast and starts to work it in with his knife.

     “Everything in moderation, my girl. People have been eating butter for centuries and the human race has prevailed thus far. Tell you what, I’d rather eat and drink a bit of whatever I want and die happy than live a couple more miserable years on lettuce and water, thanks. So. How was your week at Mushandike?”

     “How long have you got? I gave my folks a minute by minute account yesterday afternoon which I don’t think was fully appreciated, although Mum gasped in all the right places. Dad heard most of it, probably. My sister disappeared after the first word. She’s furious I got a week off school essentially and she didn’t.”

     “Oh, she’ll get her turn,” Gill says, laughing. “It’s the only reason anyone wants to be in Standard Five. What year is she in now?”

     “Standard Three. Well here’s the thing though – Mr Barrie reckons there might not be any more school trips to Mushandike. Ever.”

     She blinks at me, her head cocked to the left. Moira flicks her eyes up, brows arched.

     “What? Why?”

     “How come?”

     Gill and Moira are confused by my surprise news. Charles isn’t. His eyes tell me he's already come up with the right answer. His buttery knife is poised over the marmalade jar.

     “Mr Barrie said the wardens told him the whole Fort Victoria area’s pretty much classified as hot. It’s not going to be safe for bunches of school children on a jolly. They’re saying they’re going to close the conservation school and turn the dormitories into barracks. Soon. So Rosie will never get to go.”

     Any time spent with the Owens at their kitchen table is never anything other than companionable and comfortable, even when there’s a lull in conversation. There’s one of those now but it’s a long way from comfortable and it has an undertone that almost makes it into a sound. Even Amai has paused her watery clunking in the sink as if she’s sensed the altered atmosphere; as if any minute sound she makes might shatter the air. Charles’s face, as he lays his knife down across his plate, is for once as unreadable as Nathan’s usually is.

     “Well, if I’m going to be honest, I’m not surprised. Last week there were three terrorist attacks on lone vehicles along the Fort Victoria to Beitbridge road. That’s one of the reasons why the government’s in the process of making plans with the Security Forces to provide armed convoys to escort civilians on that route. There’s talk of creating several new operational areas that cover the whole country, rather than concentrating on the north and north-east. Now that Mozambique’s gone, well……”

     Gill sighs. “Fort Vic's where Barry’s been stationed lately. They were patrolling out somewhere near Lake Kyle.”

     Moira snorts and the tension breaks slightly. Amai resumes her washing up.

     “When he got himself arrested?”

     “Stupid boy!” chortles Charles. “A gallon of booze and suddenly kifing a road sign is a good idea. And God knows where they got hold of the tools to do it.”

     “You can’t blame the troopies for going on benders when they get back into town, Dad. I know he was being a pratt, but heck, he got into three ugly contacts out there. When you don’t know when your number’s gonna be up you’re bound to go a bit mad when you get a weekend pass. And get married ridiculously young. It’s happened in every war in history, let’s face it.”

     I wish I hadn’t said anything. I’ve only met Barry the once but he’s a part of this family, which makes him a part of my world, and there are no life-threatening situations in my world. It’s not right.

     Ugly contacts. I know what that means. I’ve heard the communiqués. Seen Mum and Dad listening to them after the News every night, shushing us if we try to speak while they’re on, wearing their serious faces, having muted discussions in their bedroom. But then, when we come home from school with war stories (and there’s usually one every other day now – So-and-So’s uncle attacked while driving on a lonely road, Whatsisname’s brother wounded in a contact or Thingummy’s cousins’ farmstead revved) we get don’t-worry-it-won’t-last-long and our-army-is-the-best-in-the-world. That’s what they say, but it’s not what I’m starting to hear in this house. Or at school. We are – and am I admitting this to myself for the first time, or have I known along? – in the middle of a war.

     I mean, just last week, at Mushandike, Timothy told us, “The kaffirs want to take over the country. My Dad says we’ve got to fight them off down to the last woman and child. I’ve decided I’m going to join the army soon. As soon as I leave school.”

     We’re twelve years old. That would mean this’ll have to go on for at least another six years. And he can’t decide to join the army, or not, because it’s compulsory. But it won’t last that long. It can’t.

     Charles has been talking all this time and some of his words are touching the periphery of my reverie. Hot areas. A war that can’t be won by anyone. More fruitless negotiations between the Rhodesian Front, the Nationalists, Frontline states and the British government. More tantrums, more stalemates. Bloody Smith won’t allow the Nationalists into the country to talk terms. You have to give a little if you want to take a little. We need to at least listen to them or we’re never going to get anywhere. At least he's had the sense to free the detainees.

     He's already explained to me that Robert Mugabe, Joshua Nkomo and Ndabaningi Sithole got set free so we could make a settlement with them, but in the end no-one can agree on how to do this.

     Dad calls Mr Sithole, “Ndaba-Nincompoop”. He would disagree about this talking lark though, wouldn’t he? He would say things like, “You can’t talk to these people. They just bang on about majority rule right now. They can’t rule the place. It won’t happen. Our Smithy knows what’s what. Talking’s useless. Look what happened when they sent those South African Police to parley with a bunch of gooks. Violence is the only language these bastards understand.”

     The South African policemen went in unarmed and got gunned down. Timothy told us. No negotiations. Not even a battle. Just, well, murder, I guess.

     Dad's convinced we'll win the war in no time at all and Mr Smith will be Prime Minister for ever and we’ll never hand over the country to anyone. He whinges that the two new black members of his golf club will bring the standards down and it’s all doom and gloom and then in the next breath tells us that the economy is booming and the future hasn’t looked so good in a long time. I come over here and Charles tells me that the attitude of the whites has to change, move on, and that the foreign currency and import cuts have affected his business pretty badly, and that the rising cost of defence will cripple the economy.

     I believe Charles. It’s a weird thing to say, but the person I am deep, deep inside my head, and also my body, my core, tells me that his version of the current situation, of the past and of the future, is the one that is. I am meant to be a product of my parents. I am meant to be what they want me to be. They have unshakable confidence that I’ll believe what they believe, and I’ll know without doubt that what they say is true. They trust me to know that they’re guiding me through life. And what right have I got to dispute this? But what they don’t explain fully enough is that other people have other opinions. That other people believe in their own opinions.

    They would say they know this, of course. They’re not unreasonable people. But what would puzzle them – disappoint them? – is the idea that I should listen to, take note of and consider believing those other points of view. Rather than theirs.

     He startles me by scraping back his chair, standing up, announcing, “Right. I need to go to the Farmers’ Co-op. You girls coming?”

     Everyone’s getting up now, taking crockery and cutlery to the sink. Gill’s telling Amai not to worry, to go and sort out the laundry stuff; she – Gill – will wash up the breakfast plates.

     Then over her shoulder, “No thanks Dad. We can’t, because I’m going to give Tess here a lesson. And she needs to commune with her horse. He’s missed her.”

     Moira’s saying that’s sweet and that I must take a large carrot from the veggie rack down to the yard for Induna, and then the Nowhere Boy appears in the kitchen. I didn’t even know he was in the house.

     He refuses an offer of the last piece of toast from Moira.

     “Thanks all the same. It’s already gone cold. I like the butter to soak into it when it’s warm. I’ll just grab some coffee and then take High Time out for a hack.”

     That’s exactly how I like my toast.

     “You’re back,” he says to me, taking a mug from the plastic basket next to the sink and shaking some drops of water off it. “Did you see the hippo?”

     I nod. Manage a smile. “Hannah? Hannah the hippo? Yes, she was there.”

     “See ya later,” calls Charles, exiting, tossing his car keys in his hand and bending down to kiss Gill on the cheek while she’s pulling on her jodhpur boots at the back door. She beckons to me, laughter all over her face.

     “Hannah the hippo? Classic! Come on Tess. Let’s go get tacked up.”

     He’s not looking at me. He’s wiping a tea towel over the mug, so I start edging towards Gill and the door and then turn away. Behind me, he asks, “And the eland? Huge, aren’t they? Did you hear the way the tendons in their legs click when they walk?”

     I did indeed. I remember the day Mike told us to listen to them walking, calling out to us as we stood up in the open Land Rovers, watching the herd watching us. Huge, buff coloured antelope. Not as graceful as some, but magnificent, massive, curious and unafraid. Earlier, Charles wanted me to tell him about my week, and there are so many stories I could recount, especially to Nathan because he’s been there too. We could put together a book, couldn’t we? Tales From Mushandike. But the moment’s gone and it’s too late to revive it.

     I need to treasure those memories, because Mushandike’s a thing of the past now. We met a hippo and some eland, a family of warthogs and some jackals and we learned how to track animals and about ecosystems. We climbed a rockface near the dam wall and we ate our dinner and sang songs around a campfire in the middle of nowhere. We watched a sheep being dissected and measured the length of its small intestine, and Elizabeth threw up. We imagined ourselves to be a band of Mashona escaping the marauding Matabele by using that natural rock tunnel hidden in a hillside, crouching and scuttling along it in the dark. We just had such a good time. And then, yesterday, it was over. The birdsong woke us early and the dawn was all pink and misty and we ate bacon and eggs around the revived campfire while the sun gradually rose up over the tops of the trees and its light crept down towards the ground. Then we had to go. None of us wanted to leave, just like, I’ll bet, so many other school children over the years, but we had to go home. We left a bush school and soon it will be just an army barracks. Maybe Barry will stay there, in the dormitory where Jess and I were. Maybe Nathan will get to go back.

     I guess hope is a thing of the past too. This is real, isn’t it? There really is a proper war and it’s just arrived on my doorstep.

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