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Part Two - No Glory in War

There were no scenes of violence. Television crews and reporters have sent footage and shots of smiling voters in lengthy but jovial queues, under the watchful eyes of our multi-national mentors, all round the world.

So here we are, sitting together as a family on our sunlit patio at the end of a day spent in limbo. Dad is even more morose than he was at the end of last week. He’s scowling at the droplets of condensation trickling down the outside of his beer glass. No-one’s spoken for a good twenty minutes, not even Rosie. She’s reading, rather than trying to talk over me and Mum about her day at school and Alicia’s party next week and Heather’s dreadful new haircut and Rob’s latest, tight fitting polo shirt. I can’t think of anything to say about anything and Mum’s intent on mending the hem of her grey skirt. We all know what’s going to happen – we just don’t know precisely how it will happen.


27th March 1976 to 10th October 1976

In virtually the same breath she’s tossed me two feel-good destroyers with no notion of what she’s done. It’s not just her who will be gone from this, my second home. Nathan’s fast approaching the end of his school career. He’ll go too. The dreaded call-up.

Life without Gill, conscription, a closing net, curfews and political blackmail.


Saturday 27th March 1976


     Halt, make Induna stand for several seconds, tell him he’s a good darling. Don’t look at the gate.

     I love you, Indie. You’re so willing and you always give me your all. So I wanted to add a third jump to the grid for you to do, but not now. Not now I’m all flustered and self-conscious, because I’ll mess something up for sure. I’ll make an idiot of myself. In front of him.

     Okay, just walk on and slip the reins. I do look at the gate, although I’m still telling myself not to. Can’t resist it. He’s watching me, caressing High Time’s nose as she stands with her chin on his shoulder. One of us is going to have to say something.

     “Do you want to use the ménage? I’ve finished. He’s going well. I’ll come back and dismantle the jumps for you.”

     My voice sounds well-controlled, which isn’t how I feel. I want to disappear, show off and ask his opinion of my beautiful pony all at the same time, but I know I won’t do any of these things.

     He yanks the gate bolt with a screech of metal on metal and says, “Okay. It’s all right. Leave them, thanks. I’ll use them too,” from behind his impenetrable mask.

     Dismounting, I ask, “How’s Hightie?”

     There was no need to ask that question. I’m getting like my mother, just saying things for the sake of it now. I run up the stirrups, watch him out of the corner of my eye.

     “Oh fine.” He swings into the saddle. Mounting in the conventional way, but with an agility that’s almost liquid.

     As conversations with Nathan tend to have abrupt endings, I’m prepared to let it go at that and cluck my tongue to encourage Induna to follow me to the gate, but this time he hasn’t finished.

     “I’m really getting too big for her now. Uncle Charles has bought me a new horse. He’s coming next month.”

     That pricks up my ears. I turn back to face him, causing Induna to check his stride and eye me expectantly. Nathan is tightening the girth, one leg hitched up over the front of the saddle. Without looking at me, he tells me that the horse is a six year old gelding and that after a tricky start he’s rapidly gaining dressage points and has recently won a C Grade jumping class.

     “What’s his name?” I ask, wondering, have I heard of him?

     “Oh something complex and ridiculous as usual,” he replies dismissively. “It’s Red Lane whatsit-whatsit-whatsit. Er, Red Lane Stud’s Garden Party. Bloody silly name.”

     With a slight movement from his seat and hands he persuades High Time to drop softly onto the bit and shift into a perfect square halt. He’s watching her ears, which are turned slightly back towards him and it’s one of those rare moments when his mask dissolves. All I can see in his face is, undeniably, love.

     Then it’s gone and he looks over at me, making me flick my fascinated eyes away and pretend I’m not really that interested.

     “I shall call him Bravo.”

     That’s so cool. I should tell him. Flick back again.

     “Perfect! Much better.”

     It’s lame, but the almost-smile tweaks his lips for a second. He doesn’t reply. He just gives High Time the minutest of squeezes and walks her onto the track.

     The temperature’s soaring now it’s nearing lunchtime. I’ve got some serious hunger pangs that are telling me I had no breakfast and I need a shower. Indie’s rubbing his muzzle up and down my back, pushing me against the gate and through it so now I’ll have greenish horse-slobber streaks on my T-shirt. Nathan will see them, but hey, he must empathise with that. If he even notices me go.

     I must tell George to oil this bolt.


     Funny how I’d never even heard of a rice salad before Moira asked me if I’d ever made one.

     Mum’s salads consist of paper-thin slivers of tomato and cucumber hidden in piles of Cos lettuce, unvarying and boring as hell. Everyone else’s mother is capable of producing multi-coloured and multi-textured concoctions containing interesting things. Potatoes and eggs, capsicums, fruit, pasta, seeds, nuts, an endless variety of tasty dressings and, unbelievably, bacon chunks. Take Moira’s recipe here, with cooked brown rice, spring onions, walnuts, pine nuts, celery, apple and avocado slices, all tossed in walnut oil and vinaigrette. The only purpose the beastly tomatoes serve is as a garnish. Presumably Charles brought the walnut oil back from Jo’burg last month. I didn’t like to ask.

     She thinks I should write out the recipe and take it home to Mum, but I know all I’ll get will be the usual excuse that it’s no good her buying all that stuff and then finding she doesn’t like it. No sense of adventure.

     It tastes amazing, even if I say so myself. I use the spoon to smooth over the dent I’ve made, pause and munch and stare out of the window in front of me. The back garden’s so green, lush and glowing under a mild March sun and the rockery’s overflowing with leafy plants that only appear at this time of year. It’s how I imagine the Hanging Gardens of Babylon must have looked. I picture that every time we climb up there to sit on the Lion Rock and drink orange juice and eat Amai’s delectable shortbread and talk. It’ll still be too hot up there today. Best in winter, when it’s the warmest place after the sun has slid around towards the north, leaving the front garden in shadow.

     I swallow my mouthful and turn to her.

     “Nathan told me he’s getting a new horse. Sounds lovely.”

     Her eyebrows shoot upwards. “He told you that, did he? Well, well, well. He’s not said much about it. Yes, that’s right. It’s got quite a few issues but I’m sure he can do something with it. Bloody nice horse. It’s a belated birthday present and also Daddy’s incentive to try and get him to work hard for his O Levels this year, and to be honest he’s been a little miffed that Nathan hasn’t been displaying much in the way of enthusiasm. Well, nothing new that he keeps himself to himself I guess. Typical going-it-alone. Probably working out a training regime though, if I know him.”

     “Nathan’s birthday was in January, yeah? What date? He never has a party, does he?”

     “No. Not interested and the folks gave up trying. It was on the fifteenth. Turned sixteen this year. I can’t believe it – him doing O Levels already. And getting his driving licence.”

     She leans her left hip against the edge of the worktop and folds her arms, staring through the window into the garden. “God how the years fly by. He’s not had the easiest time as you know and getting him to take an interest in anything he does, not just birthdays, has been hit and miss. Got no self esteem, but maybe at the back of his mind somewhere he’s still the same kid he was before. One that still respects himself after all. I’d like to think he’ll go on and get his M Levels next year too before he has to go into the army. At least then he’s set up for getting a good job. Listen to me, Tessa! I sound like I’m his mother. He’ll end up working in Dad’s company I’m sure.”

     “He honestly did sound like he was pleased to be getting his new horse. At least I thought so.”

     She’s moved on though, shifted to another track. She puts the basket down again and snaps her middle finger and thumb together in my direction.

     “Hey, you know I was talking ages ago about enrolling on a British Horse Society course in England? Well, I got a reply from a training yard this morning. They’ve granted me a place! I’m going over in three months’ time. Just three months! It sounds super, Tess. It’s at a BHS approved riding school in Surrey and I’ll be a student there, a live-in student, and I’ll get paid for doing work in the yard alongside my studies. I’ll get to compete on their horses and I’ll be over there for just over a year.”

     She’s leaning on the worktop now, propped on her elbows, chin on her clasped hands. Her eyes are dancing right in front of me.

     I’d forgotten all about that. Assumed she had too. For her, this is my cue to get all enthusiastic, excited to find out more, but the world, seconds ago normal and sunny and horsey and congenial, has fallen flat on its face, sending my belly sliding around with that same sense of disquiet I discovered when she first told me. The opportunities she’ll get overseas could, for all I know, be so good as to convince her to stay in England for ever.

     And this winter we won’t be sitting together on the Lion Rock drinking juice and eating shortbread and swapping stories, will we? She’ll be there and I’ll be here. I might never see her again. And not just her. In virtually the same breath she’s tossed me two feel-good destroyers with no notion of what she’s done. It’s not just her who will be gone from this, my second home. Nathan’s fast approaching the end of his school career. He’ll go too. The dreaded call-up.

     A chilling mixture of emotions.

     “But soldiers are always, like, grown men,” I protest, aloud, unintentionally.

     “What?” She cocks her head on one side, smiling, unable to follow my train of thought.

     I flick a hand in the air to fan away the last few minutes like braai smoke, search for the necessary words and fail to find them.


     At least try to sound enthusiastic, Tessa. Ask a few questions. Will she meet any of the famous riders we follow in the magazines – Harvey Smith, David Broome, Lucinda Prior-Palmer? Will Lucinda know who she is? Will she go fox hunting?

     She laughs, tells me she doubts it, says no, they’ll never have heard of Gill Owen from Darkest Africa. And yes, she possibly will end up doing some hunting.

     But I’m not paying much attention to her answers. I’ve gone back in time to some day last year and a conversation we had in this very kitchen, mentally scrolling through the names of some of the boys in my own year at school as though they’re credits on the cinema screen; Timothy Dunn, Alan Marchwood, Richard Hall, Mark Hainsworth, Leon Tanner, Mike Groenewald. Seeing Timothy, wanting his piece of the action, his chance to fight. And, maybe his chance to die and get his name on the Honour Roll. Has he thought about that?

     Isn’t it better to just stay a kid? Peter Pan wanted to. I do. But they won’t let us. It’s no wonder the boys are already thinking of getting out of school. We’re barely three months into the first year of senior school and they’ve started us on special lessons about how to study for and pass public exams and next term Mrs Parks says she’ll be giving us career advice sessions. Career advice? We’ve only just started on this path and they’re prepping us for what’s going to happen at the end. Like, this is it guys – you can’t be kids anymore.

     It’s a bit of a shame my last memory of junior school is of that interminable Speech Night back in December. They got the name right okay. Sitting on a hard chair in a hot, stuffy hall all evening while Mr Westfield rambled on and on about how well we’d all done and how much the cake sales and the jumble sales raised and what the money’d been used for and how our teams won this and that and, gosh, we’d got two new Governors in one year and then those two Governors followed suit and made more ramblings about….what? I haven’t a clue. I’d stopped listening by then. The whole evening was, literally, one monumental pain in the nether regions.

     Then the prize-giving. We were right at the end of course, us Standard Fives. Any sense of pride I might’ve had about winning awards had long gone by the time I got to be passed across the stage from hand to hand, from Mr Westfield to a Mr Thingy with a pompous goatee beard and then to a Mrs Something-hyphen-Something Else with a plum in her mouth.

     Like the scrolling names, I’m watching memories of the evening rolling across my mental vision. Jess, dropping an elegant curtsey to the Headmaster as he placed the sash over her head and making the audience laugh, such a long way from the shy, timid girl who cried in the toilets when bullies like Lauren and Karen teased her about her mouth brace and her glasses. Jess, with her hands full of certificates and tokens and badges, collecting the First Prize for Academic Achievement for the third year in a row and the School Colours for swimming and diving. My Rosie, bouncing onto the stage to receive the Most Improved Tennis Trophy, vivacious and vibrant, her unruly dark hair trapped into two curly bunches by strong elastic and wide ribbons. Monty Papadopoulos, tripping on the top step and ending up on his knees and going so bright red he looked like one of the tomatoes on my salad. Mum, watching me exiting stage left, dabbing at her eyes with a square of pink tissue.

     I guess she’s got issues about this growing up thing too, hey? Probably why she was acting so emotional. She might have also been seeing a string of images running through her head in double-time, like an old movie. Her first baby, then me as a toddler, then a second baby, then growing children turning into gawky teenagers. Flashes of me and Rosie, her and Dad, living our lives. Her, busy raising us and us busy being us. All mothers must do this, surely, and wonder what on earth their kids are going to come up with next, or achieve in five years’ time. Was she also thinking, though, that added into this recipe for nostalgia and pride and speculation is the fact that the future of this country seems to be sliding into a wobbling dive? That any hopes she has for a secure life for us are on shaky ground?

     Was it last week, when Moira reminded me about the curfew? Must have been last Sunday, when I took Indie for that long hack and got back here just after six. She’s never, ever, told me off for anything before. I need to get used to remembering that the limits of the curfew area are only five kays away, because that’s nothing to me and Indie.

     It’s yet another thing that’s changing our lives, like how we can’t go to Beira for holidays anymore. Jess’s been to there every year for the last five. Beaches, seafood, all the stuff we don’t have here, and cheaper than South Africa, but now the border’s closed. Charles reckons we’ll never get those railway engines back and on top of that, South Africa’s now our only trade outlet. All our eggs in one basket, he says. Alone, cut off, condemned. Conducting cross-border raids on military camps in Mozambique and taking out civilians in the process isn’t helping our case, is it?

     Dad says it’s too bad. All is fair in war.



Saturday 26th June 1976


     Outside everything’s sparkling with sunshine and the frost has nearly all gone, so the only crusty bits of lawn are those still in the shadows of the hedges. We sit in Gill’s room, face to face, cross legged on the dark rose pink carpet, and try to predict how her year will go. We started off near the window, but we’ve moved four times to keep in the squares of sunlight.

     Gill is as upbeat and sparkly as the day outside. I’m listening, going along with it, adding questions here and there, but I want to tell her to stop it. Stop being cheery and happy and excited. You can’t make me be the same, contribute to the jokes, be normal. Not today.

     I can’t keep my eyes from the suitcase and duffle bag parked in the corner by the door. She’s going. Life at Makuti Park without her is unimaginable. I sure as hell don’t wish to listen to what she’s going to get to get up to in England. I am trying, honest, but I’m not succeeding. No way.

     So when she says, “Wow, I can’t believe this time tomorrow I’ll be in Surrey. D’you know, it might even be warmer there than it is here right now? The days will be long and we’ll be able to ride out until, like, I don’t know, ten o’clock? I’m kind of looking forward to that. It will be so different, don’t you think?” I give up the pretence and blurt out what I’m really thinking.

     “You will actually come home next year won’t you?”

     She blinks at me, then takes me by the shoulders and studies my face with those doll-blue eyes.

     “Oh Tessa, don’t cry please. Of course I’ll come back. This is my home and I don’t want to leave it. I’m excited about Star Point’s future anyway. I want to ride him again for sure. I need to get this qualification though. You do understand that, don’t you?”

     I nod, turn away. I’m not crying, but I will if I keep looking at her.

     She slips her arms around behind me, squeezes, and rocks me gently in them. “You – we need to think about your riding career too. You should consider putting Induna into the Novice class at the horse trials in Umwindsidale in, when is it – October?”

     “What? Without you?” I wriggle out of her grip, shaking my head. No. Absolutely not. What on earth’s made her think I’d enter horse trials for the first time while she’s not here?

     “I need your advice and support at my first go, Gill!”

     She thinks that’s funny.

     “Have you forgotten that my parents exist? That it was them who encouraged me the first time I entered any sort of competition? Who’ve helped me all these years? Come on Tess. Mum and Dad will pull you through it. Induna will do a good dressage test and you know all about the show jumping now. Get Mum to talk you through the cross country phase. She can take you over to Turnpike to practice cross country jumps. Remember how you and Indie did so well the last time we went there? Mum’s brilliant with that sort of thing and she’ll love it and she’ll use you as a kind of substitute daughter while I’m gone. You’re family now anyway. I do feel like I have a sister and a brother.”

     Her whole face is glowing at me. “And you and Nathan are neither!”

     That’s done it. It hits me like a tidal wave and almost knocks me out of breath and I give this odd little howl that I certainly didn’t intend to come out. Gill is leaving, which is bad enough, but what really clouts me is the realisation that I love her family quite as much as my own – and am loved back. Here I am, seeking more advice and help from the Owens than from my own parents. I want their advice and their help. What sort of disloyal daughter does this make me?

     “Whatever’s the matter?”

     Gill gasps, frowns, smiles and frowns again, but I can’t tell her. I just sob.

     “I will come back, honest, my love. Come on.”

     She rolls up onto her feet and pulls several tissues from the frilly white box on her bedside table. She wipes my face with one of them and pushes the others into my hand.

     “Blow your nose. There, that’s better. Now let’s go out to the yard. We’ll tack up Induna and start teaching you some cross country tactics. Tammy’s coming at half ten and she might be bringing her little sister over. You can always talk to her about competition too you know. She’s especially good with dressage stuff. Have you met Sherrie, her sister? Pretty little thing.”

     I allow myself to be led outside.

     Nathan’s riding Bravo in the ménage. He’s a glossy liver chestnut with faint dapple markings, an ochre mane and tail and no white marks – a drop-dead gorgeous sort of horse. An aloof sort of horse. I tried to make friends with him over the stable door last week but although he didn’t act like he was going to bite me, he put his ears back and dodged my caresses and my attempts to blow into his nose, then moved to the back of his box and stood there watching me. At least when he did that he pricked his ears forward again. He even keeps a little apart from his companions in the paddock as if he scorns any existing hierarchy and has no desire to be part of it. It’s fascinating, because other new horses have invariably just fitted in with what Cactus Dan wants. Dan’s been boss for ages and he has issues with Bravo, who’s not behaving like he’s supposed to. He wastes a whole lot of energy displaying his displeasure, but Bravo watches him with that kind of Do-I-Look-Like-I-Care air about him, and the way the rest of the herd ignores Bravo and Bravo ignores them actually has a kind of harmony about it. It’s noticeable now that when Dan tries any of his habitual bullying tactics, the victim hurries over to graze somewhere near Bravo and Dan backs off.

     I have this ridiculous notion that if Nathan was to be reincarnated as a horse, he would be Bravo.

     Gill rides him well, of course, but he’s seventeen hands and with her slight figure she looks a little lost on his back. When Nathan sits on him, however, horse and rider do really become one single animal and Bravo assumes an almost supernatural aura. I’m being whimsical, I know. Bravo has a light, rhythmical cadence to all his paces, as if his limbs were made of elastic rather than of bones, ligaments and tendons, and he has big strides that eat up the ground, and yet he never appears to be moving fast. He has that magical, indefinable quality all my books call ‘presence’. There isn’t any other way to say it.

     They execute a half-pass in trot across the school. The ache of wanting to ride that horse is real and physical, but I’m being over-ambitious here. His type of movement is way beyond any of my experience. I wouldn’t dare ask, but if I did I know exactly what Gill would say: “He’s too much horse for you Tessa. Maybe one day.”

     One day…….One day.

     Nathan is still the same dead-pan, distant ghost flitting into view and then dissolving in a blink, but he must be nearly as tall as Charles now and his sinewy arms and legs have grown hard-edged muscles. His voice reminds me of Charles too, in a way. If Charles were to stand up in front of an audience and read the telephone directory, people would stay just to keep listening.

     I keep out of Nathan’s way even more than I did before, except when I’m watching him ride, which is when he sticks around the longest. It’s like the difference in our ages, not something I’ve ever thought much about, has, instead of always being constant, suddenly got a whole lot bigger. With Gill in the mix, I’m comfortable, but once she’s left the buffer will be gone and it will be just me and him in any of our rare encounters.

     I want to like him, but you don’t get to like someone really, truly, unless you can get into the sort of twisting, turning conversations that help you find out what makes that person tick, like I do with Gill and Jess. He’s too complicated with all those issues and I could quite easily say the wrong thing to him, even though I don’t know what the wrong thing is.

     Now this is a hard one to figure out: Gill sees him as a brother and now me as a sister and I want Gill to be my sister, but then what will Nathan be to me?



Saturday 25th September 1976


     “So what did your folks think of last night’s broadcast?”

     Charles springs this on me about ten seconds after Moira’s finished running through our lesson plan for tomorrow’s cross country schooling. Like he’s been itching to do it ever since we arrived in the kitchen.

     No need to clarify. ‘Last night’s broadcast’ has been ‘The Speech’ in our house all yesterday evening and all this morning. Capital T, capital S. Dad sat kind of glum and silent in front of the television last night for a long, long time. I don’t think he really knew what came after, although he seemed to be watching it.

     I don’t particularly want to talk about it but he’s expecting an answer.

     “My father said, ‘Bloody South Africans have got us snookered and they know it. Smithy knows it. We all know it.’” I tell him. “I’ve heard of snooker, but I had to ask my mother what he meant by that. I didn’t dare ask him. We left him alone.”


     Um, can I get this right now?

     “She said…. She said, like, when two guys are playing snooker, um, one of them can, like, um, get a ball to go…. well, actually place a ball right in the way of where the other one wants to take a shot to get, um, another ball, like, another colour thing, ball, into one of the holes. ‘Cause you have to get all the balls in the holes, don’t you? So if you can stop someone from doing that, you….”

     He’s going to laugh. His face is fighting it. Well, it was a rubbish description. I don’t care. I’m not desperate to learn more about the silly game.

     Moira’s got her serious face on, nodding, but she looks a little too serious. Trying too hard.

     “Quite right. That’s exactly it. So what your Dad was really saying is, that whatever he tries now, Smith can’t win. Vorster’s forced him into a corner.”

     I guess so. South Africa’s going to cut all ties with us unless we get majority rule because if we do that it might take the pressure off them and their apartheid system. Mr Vorster’s effectively forcing Mr Smith to give in by threatening to cut off his assistance. Like blackmail. That’s what Mum said. And she called them just that: Mr Smith and Mr Vorster. She’s always said we should be respectful to adults, who are older and wiser and know better.

     The Owens call them Smith and Vorster, and sometimes Charles says “that man Smith” and “bloody Vorster”. I have a feeling he doesn’t think either of them are very wise at all. They’re certainly messing up our lives at the moment. Nobody seems to know what’s going to happen next. Actually, that’s not quite right. They seem to know now what’s going to happen next, but not what’ll happen after that or whether they’re going to like it.

     “Have some more shortbread Tess,” Charles offers, thrusting the plate under my nose. How can I resist that?

     “Kissinger and Vorster hatched the plot when they met in West Germany, didn’t they? The Western world must work together to stop the Communists in southern Africa, etc, etc, etc. Achieve an equitable formula in Rhodesia, etc, etc, etc. And bless them, they’re prepared to fork out cash for resettlement of all us whites who might want to get out rather than face majority rule. So good of them. And I believe it was Vorster who was quite vociferous about that. Has to be seen to be trying to help us, his mates, doesn’t he? Only out for himself of course.”

     “He doesn’t want an intensified war here any more than we do,” Moira says. “Deep down, he supports the Smith government – same ideals, after all – but Kissinger’s forced him into a corner as well.”

     So everyone’s snookering everyone else? I’ve got nothing to contribute so I just watch him while he munches his shortbread and stares into space. Eventually, he sighs.

     “That’s the thing about politics, Tessa – nobody can really trust anyone else. And Ian Bloody Smith just continues to believe in Gentlemen’s Honour. Kissinger makes promises – that sanctions will be lifted, foreign capital will flood in, the economy will boom, we’ll rejoin the world in a sense – and our dear Smithy believes him, honestly believes him, and thinks the confidence of all his white voters will be restored. He says that Kissinger was – how did he put it? – ‘decent’. He hasn’t backtracked on his call for tougher military commitments though, has he, while still reassuring us that all this intensified terrorist activity is only a minor hitch and that a military victory is both possible and probable?”

     But my parents do have confidence in him. This guy, Henry Kissinger, is blazing round Africa like some sort of fairytale knight trying to find a settlement for us. Dad says he thinks he can please everyone but how often has Charles said you can’t please all of the people all of the time? So the compromise is that we’ll get a transitional government, which means there’ll be two ministers – one black and one white – in all posts. And, there’ll be a ceasefire.

     “He quoted Winston Churchill,” I venture, hoping I’ve remembered what Mum said correctly.

     “He did indeed. ‘Now is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.’”

     “And what do you think?”

     He says nothing for a while. Quite a while. Then, “I’m not sure Tessa. I need to think about it. A lot of people are not impressed though. Did you hear? Not an hour after the speech ended, someone – or some people even – took the Rhodesian flag down from its pole in Cecil Square and put up a home-made white one at half-mast. And then nicked a Give Way sign from a junction somewhere and propped it against the base of the flagpole.”

     And after another pause, “I am sort of optimistic. Or at least I’m trying to be optimistic. Smith’s trouble, as I said, is that he accepts a man’s word as his honour, which is why he experiences such uncomprehending hurt when others, in the nature of humans everywhere, let him down. He and his supporters don’t seem to realise we can’t have it all our own way. Kissinger has promised the earth to us, but remember that his agenda is to get Smith out. And Vorster’s wheedling along with it all, making out he’s so happy for everyone.”

     God, the politicians talk and talk. They even held a complete conference on the bridge over the gorge at Victoria Falls, didn’t they? Because it’s classed as No Man’s Land.

     Moira thinks that’s funny. “South Africa taking responsibility for resolving the Rhodesian problem? That place is hardly a leading light on the march for African freedom. Vorster thinks he’s the saviour with all this détente, which, my girl, is really just an impressive word to describe the act of going round in ever decreasing circles. What he’s actually trying to do is take the spotlight off apartheid. Idiot.”

     Maybe it will be okay. Mum and Dad think the whole problem will go away and Charles thinks this solution to the problem might work.

     Three more kids in my class have gone in the last two months. Helen Edwards to England and James Percival and Karen van Driel to Australia. Helen said her folks are not going to hang around and let her brother, Roger, fight in a war we can never win. Roger is only eighteen months older than us, so, once again, I say – how long is this supposed to last for? How long will it take to lose, if we can’t win?

     James just said, “Ian Smith will have a lot to answer for.”


     I haven’t told Mum or Dad about the conversation in the Owens’ kitchen this morning. I won’t tell Rosie either, when she gets home from tennis, because she’d tell them for me.

     They’re stuck in such a deep rut that they’re unable to change direction or even see what anyone else is thinking up top. They maintain their convictions. Only the whites can rule the country properly, only the whites can maintain law and order and the high standard of efficiency we enjoy, only the whites can maintain the upright morals that we alone manage to have in this depraved world. Yes, it’s good that the war will end and that the economy will improve, but no, we can’t have majority rule.



Wednesday 6th October 1976


     She’ll come with me. It’ll be a laugh. Maybe not for the dressage – she won’t get that at all – but the cross country and show jumping’re easy to follow. She can cheer me on, can’t she? Be one of my team.

     So I tell her, “I’m riding at horse trials in Umwinsidale both days this weekend. Why don’t you come on the Sunday and watch the cross country and show jumping phases perhaps? I know you don’t like horses much, but you don’t have to come too close. It’s really exciting and festive and if you wear shorts you’ll get a good tan.”

     Jess hesitates, flicks her eyes around a bit, looks positively shifty.

     “I can’t,” she says.

     Oh, right. Well.

     This is our weekend planning session, like always. Is she really turning me down? Since when does she refuse a chance to have a laugh and get out in the summer sun?

     “You really don’t have to go near any horses. Why not?”

     “Well, Clive Kenning in Form Two has asked me out. We’re going to the cinema with his brother and a couple of their friends.”


     My happy, horsey train of thought fizzles out, grinds to a halt. I do a kind of mental shake up. Of all the unexpected activities Jess could’ve chosen to do on a Sunday, going to the cinema with a boy would’ve been my last guess. This can’t be right.

     My voice is very reluctant to come out so I end up mumbling, “Oh. All right then.”

     She’s being irritatingly smug.

     “Aren’t you going to ask what he’s like? Never mind, Tess. I’ll take a good look at some of these friends and suss out the talent for you!”

     Clive Kenning? Never heard the name. He must be new, or come from another junior school. How does she even know him?

     I become deaf to whatever she says next, take the sheets I did yesterday’s homework on out of my maths file, then put them back in again with a snap of the ring clasps. Junior school and childish exercise books are part of a past life now, although I still haven’t got used to this moving around to different classrooms all day. We’ve got double maths first thing this morning followed by double English and then double science after break. Wednesdays are not good days.

     So. Clive. Clive, whom I don’t know from Adam, has entered my life and mucked up my weekend with my best friend. We’ve always been Jess-and-Tess – and I’ve never minded being second in the name – but how much longer will it be our name? Does that all change when you go to high school? When one of you finds a boyfriend?

     But Jess? My friend, Jess? That’s not to say I didn’t think she’d ever get a boyfriend, or that I think she’s unattractive or anything. Just not yet.

     First Rosie, now her. Rosie, my little sister, had no fewer than three dancing partners at Angela Walters’s party last Saturday, and then she goes and says to me, on the way home, “I can’t decide which one I’ll marry. What do you think? Who are you going to marry?”

     She’s eleven, so where’s this come from? Planning marriage hasn’t yet entered my radar field, but maybe it should. Jess has gone quiet and is gazing absently into nothing with her elbows resting on her school case, so she’s probably contemplating it and all.

     Is it abnormal to put more of your mental energy into planning your horse’s competitions than deciding how and when to get married and who to marry? Have I missed something? I guess I’ve always kind of assumed it will happen to me at some stage, but……

     Jess’s brought herself back to reality and is peering into my face.

     “Don’t worry, Tess. It’s just a date and I want to go and I’m sorry I can’t come with you to your horsey….. jumping….. thing.”

     Horse trials. Has she learned nothing from me?

     Then she laughs. “I won’t get pregnant from it and have to leave school so I’ll still be here. Still haven’t started my periods yet anyway.”

     She sounds almost annoyed, but, believe me, the longer I have to wait for that to happen to me, the better.

     “My mother only gave me the obligatory mother-to-daughter facts-of-life lecture about a month ago,” I tell her. “She cornered me in my bedroom, sat me down on the bed, put her arm around me and told me she had something to explain. Something I might find disturbing. You are growing up, Tessa, she said. Very shortly, I think, you will find things are going to happen to you that you won’t understand and I want to tell you about it.”

     Jess snorts.

     “Exactly. I nearly laughed, but Jess, her eyes were so serious and searching. What was I supposed to do? She’s obviously forgotten what girls talk about at school. She honestly thought I had no idea.”

     I’ve been in touch with the idea since Gill enlightened me five years ago, even though Lauren’s ‘illness’ and behaviour at Mushandike escaped me at the time. I’ll never admit to that. But she was the first one in our class.

     “So what did you say?” demands Jess.

     “I thought I’d better reassure her. So I said, ‘Oh, I know what you’re going to say, Mum. Is it about periods? It’s all right. I know what they are and why I’ll get them.’ She went all disappointed, like I’d stopped her from fulfilling her role.”

     She’s grinning at me. “Have you never told her about your visits to those stud farms with Gill and her mom then?”

     “Well yes. But not all the detail. This was her first attempt at sex education, Jess. In her mind I’ve got no right to know anything prior to getting periods. I’ll bet she thinks I still believe in storks. I was diplomatic. Wait till she tries it with Rosie.”

      “You never mentioned that book then, either?”

     “Are you mad?”

     I have no idea who brought ‘that book’ to school and can’t for the life of me remember what it was called or who wrote it. I do recall that the protagonists were called Candy and Sherman and that up till then I’d had no clue that any of what they got up to was even possible. Stallions and mares are pretty straightforward animals.

     “You could come round mine this arvy and we can play records?” Jess suggests.

     So she does feel guilty for turning down my offer. Well, too late for that.

     “No, I can’t. I’ve got a training session with Moira. In fact I have one every afternoon this week. Sorry. Perhaps Clive could spend the afternoons with you instead.”

     She gives me the most pointedly rolled-eyes a person can.



Sunday 10th October 1976


     The cross country phase is something they’ll understand a little better than dressage. I think Dad was the most disappointed of all of them to watch me trotting and cantering in – as he put it – random circles, especially as he’s had to miss a golfing session with Uncle Dudley and use some of his precious petrol coupons.

     He did ask, “So what on earth do all those letters mean?” but to be perfectly honest I don’t know who dreamed them up, or why, in the first place. I’m sure Gill does. But she’s not here.

     I told him to wait for the jumping bits because he’ll get that.

     So now he’s cheering as I take off from the start box like a bullet from a gun. Induna’s flying, and after the first three obstacles we thunder into the woods, then we’ll go over the hill and down into the next valley, so none of them will be able to see us until the finish. I’ve told them all where to go and stand – I’m sure Moira will shepherd them.

     By the time we get halfway round the course I have no breath left. The jumps for the Junior Novice class are only tiny, but the adrenaline surge and the tension and the fact that I’m constantly shouting good boy, oh, what a good boy, hup, whoa, left here, left, left, oh good boy has left me with no air in my lungs. Maybe I need to be fitter.

     Moira’s there at the finish with her stopwatch and she clicks it with a flourish as we storm past her. I see Mum’s, Dad’s and Rosie’s faces blurred, then we’re careering away from them and I’m standing in the stirrups trying to pull up with arms that have far less energy than my horse has. I reckon he could go round again.

     “Great time!” she yells after me as I circle round several times. Induna thinks even this is part of the fun.

     “You didn’t have a stop at the water?”

     We finally make it to a standstill, Induna blows and acts surprised that we’ve stopped, and I’m unable to speak. I shake my head, dismount by sliding down the saddle and fumble with the girth buckles. Moira’s holding Induna’s head and speaking to Dad.

     “There’s always one bogey fence, isn’t there?”

     She’s smiling at him, expecting a reply.

     “Oh, er, yes,” he agrees, frowning. “Always. Bogey. A bogey fence.”

     Mum hugs me from behind and then recoils ever so slightly from my sweaty T-shirt and number bib.

     “You were going so fast! I didn’t think you’d ride your horse so fast. Really galloping!”

     Is she impressed or is she telling me off? I take a few deep breaths and find my voice again.

     “That wasn’t fast, Mum. It was only a canter. Racehorses gallop.”

     The results board shows I had no faults across country. I’m in sixth place, on my dressage score.

     Show jumping, I let myself get a little too excited by the thought of collecting a rosette and interfere with Induna’s stride in the middle of the double combination. He tries to ignore me, but flattens and takes the top pole off the second element. None of those above me get any faults.

     I’m irritated with myself that I’ve ended up seventh, just outside the prizes. Annoyed with myself, adoring my horse, and on such a crazy high. I’ve done it. I’m an event rider like Gill.


     Helping Moira and George and the other grooms settle all the horses for the night took longer than I’d anticipated. I never took my bike lights with me and now it’s almost completely dark. I’m bloody lucky they haven’t extended the curfew zone any further. They wouldn’t shoot me anyway. Would they?

     Fortunately, Rosie’s new tennis coach has just pulled up in the drive, there are shouted greetings going on, the parents are both scurrying about on the patio putting out chair cushions and his Mazda has blazing headlights. I sneak around the back of it and rush my bike off to the shed before anyone can notice I have no lights.

     He’s wearing his camouflage fatigues and boots and one of those camo forage caps with the neck-protecting flap that folds up at the back.

     “Hi Tessa,” he calls out as he slams the driver’s door. “Your dad says he’s going to pay me some money. Not an opportunity to miss, hey?”

     Rosie’s waiting for him, also on the patio, and she’s waving frantically, jumping around like she’s barefoot on an army of ants. Funny, that, after she threatened to give up tennis when her old coach emigrated to South Africa. Since Rob Craddock took over her tuition she’s doubled up her lessons and persuaded Dad to buy her a new tennis dress. A shorter one.

     He’s South African, and is, I think, twenty six years old. He’s a Phys-Ed instructor at St George’s College and in the school holidays he inflicts his rigorous physical training on new army recruits. Rosie was in such a foul mood that first evening he turned up at our house, to introduce himself and discuss lesson arrangements. He was dressed pretty much as he is now, all camo-clad and dusty and – yes – pretty good looking, with his epaulettes flashing in the dying sunlight, and it was the night she’s convinced she fell in love.

     I remember her staring down the hill long after his car had disappeared and pushing up the sleeves of her jumper. She sighed. She said, “Isn’t he divine?

     I was incredulous.

     “Go on! It’s the uniform. You didn’t even want to meet him. He’s more than twice your age, for Heaven’s sake!”

     But she was – still is – completely smitten. She recalls every single word he says to her and she preens herself for an inordinate length of time before each lesson.

     He doesn’t stay long tonight. By the time I’ve filled up my bath and am carrying my pyjamas and my book into the bathroom, he’s gone and Rosie is wafting dreamily down the corridor to her room.

     “Don’t worry. You’ll survive until the next time you see him.”

     She pouts and slams her door.

     Rob is quite handsome, I have to admit. I reckon I’m unlikely to develop a crush on him, but I’ve been eyeing up his camouflage forage cap with its back flap because it would be cool to have one to wear at the stables or in the garden. Only trouble is, Dad says civilians are not allowed to wear any item of Rhodesian army uniform so I guess I can’t ask Rob to get me one.  Maybe I’ll mention it to Charles.

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