What did they think? That it was an African custom to launch into song whenever a plane touched down? A way of thanking the great spirit in the sky for bringing them safely back to earth? She looked out at the long, dry, once green grass and the exhausted blue of the mid-afternoon highveld sky. She doubted it would be an easy visit; hopefully it would be a short one.
Eva had left in 1987, a month after her mother's funeral. Lorraine had been cremated, which was an unusual occurrence in the Limpopo Valley. Farmers and their wives and their dogs were buried, resting in the earth being reward enough for years of toil. Lorraine's final act of rebellion had been to deprive the community of the grim satisfaction of watching Martin shovel earth onto his wife's coffin. Instead, Eva and her father stood in the shade of the marula tree beside the church while the mourners nervously paid their respects. God forbid Martin should open his mouth and subject them to the jaw and tremble and buck of his stutter. They needn't have worried; Eva held the fort beautifully. She clasped their hands in hers. Some expressed condolences in English, others Afrikaans, and she addressed each person in his or her language of choice. Within an hour it was over, no one left apart from two little African boys staring at them from beneath a thorn tree across the street and the dominee approaching to talk about how God's hand is present in even the most hideous of accidents. Eva wanted to scream.
"I'm going to drive back to Jo'burg," she said to her father without looking at him. She would not give him that, not even a glance at his hands to see if they were shaking, fingers of one hand worrying in the palm of the other.
She wept in the car. The goshawks perched on the telephone poles, the koppies rising out of the rock-strewn veld, the world that she loved seemed incapable of offering any solace, and Eva was grateful when darkness arrived and all she could see was the broken white line in the road, the signs announcing the kilometers to Johannesburg.
Weeks passed. Her uncle Hendrik, who worked as a stuntman in the South African film industry and who had secured her a job as a production assistant on a soap opera, paid her a visit. She'd been fired, her hair was unwashed, her flat filthy. Alarmed, he urged her to do something good for herself. Take a trip, he said and he gave her enough money for a ticket overseas. Eva chose a night flight to Amsterdam. The lights of Soweto and Johannesburg scattered beneath her like diamonds and rubies and tigers'-eyes when the plane took off. Darkness and stars for eight hours, then the impossible green and density of Europe, the somber civilized ocean beneath them as they flew into Schiphol Airport. She checked into a hostel, crawling out once a day for an apple pancake and a beer, unable to contemplate a future. Then one morning, a week after her arrival, she realized one certainty: that she would not return home before his death. She went out and bought a train ticket to Spain.
He will want to be buried, Eva thought as she waited with the other passengers in the line leading to passport control. And she knew where. The small cemetery outside Messina, where the plastic flowers beside the graves melted during the summer months. Damn him for dying. She handed over her South African passport, and an African man with an explosive smile stamped it and said, "Welcome home."
With the end of apartheid, Jan Smuts International Airport had become Johannesburg Airport. The Witwatersrand, the area encompassing Johannesburg, Randfontein, and a few other towns, and named after a cascade of white water that the early settlers had seen, was now part of Gauteng -- Eva had no idea what Gauteng meant -- and the conservative Transvaal, province of stoic farmers, sofa-size rugby players, and insatiable hunters, had been divided into the Northern Province and Mpumalanga. A new country, and she sensed it the minute she passed through customs.
Copyright © 2006 by Lisa Fugard. reproduced by permission of the publisher, Scribner.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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