Eva turned scarlet. She ran her fingers nervously up the stem of her wineglass -- and abruptly stopped, realizing that the gesture might seem provocative. "Rapulana -- " God, even saying his name felt like a sexual act. "Thank you. You've -- well, you've given me quite a welcome!"
She finished her wine and scooted off the barstool.
"I like you, Eva, but you need to pay your bill."
"Oh, my God, I'm so sorry!"
She fumbled with her wallet and pulled out a one-hundred-rand note. When he walked to the register at the other end of the bar she fled, leaving him a generous tip.
Back in her room she was pacing. Would she have been so flustered if a black American had come on to her? Of course not. It was being back in the country where, just a decade ago, a black man would never have flirted with her that had shaken her confidence. She opened the blinds and stared at three planes parked on a distant runway. Swissair with its comforting red cross and two others, obviously from an African country, cheetahs in full stride painted on the fuselages below rows of tiny windows. She had a Visa card, escape was still a possibility. But it wouldn't be once she called Johanna. Her stomach turned over.
The cheetah planes glided toward the terminal. Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, the names of African countries -- countries that Eva could not place on a map -- came to mind. She looked at her watch -- it was nine-thirty -- and picked up the phone. God knows what Johanna thought of her, wicked Eva abandoning her father when he needed her so. She dialed the number.
"You've come home. Liewe Here -- " Johanna sobbed.
"Yes, I'm in Johannesburg."
Johanna blew her nose and wheezed. "Eva?"
"Yes, I'm here." A deep sucking sound followed, and Eva knew her aunt had reached for her inhaler.
"But you are sounding like an American," Johanna said, and then, as if it were quite possible that an American was playing a horrible trick on her, she demanded, "Eva? Are you sure that's you?"
Eva grinned. She piled two pillows together and lay on the bed, relaxing into the asthmatic gullibility of her aunt. "Johanna, I swear, it's me."
They chatted about the flight, Johanna wanting to know about the food onboard and whether the plane had managed to fly the whole way without stopping for petrol.
"Yes, we didn't run out of fuel. So, how is he doing?"
Another trumpeting nose blow. "Oh, skat, I think he had another stroke while he was incinerated in the hospital -- "
"Incarcerated, but that's not -- "
"What's that, Eva?"
"Nothing...never mind. Go on."
"Well, it's terrible. He doesn't recognize anyone. He just lies there and cries."
Eva's smile faded. The thought of her father in tears rankled her, and she sat up and told her aunt she'd be in Louis Trichardt late the following afternoon. Johanna gave her a brief lecture on how she must not give any blacks a lift, "even the old women who carry all their belongings in a bundle on their heads. A person just can't tell these days."
She hung up the phone, the image of her weeping father still vexing her, and switched on the TV in time to watch the news. Fist-clenching black workers picketing the Pepsi bottling plant, a white game warden detailing the efforts to track a rogue lion that had killed several head of cattle belonging to a tribe contesting the borders of Kruger National Park. And the Truth and Reconciliation Commission had wrapped up its hearings in Pietermaritzburg with testimony from a distraught African woman who spoke of gathering pieces of her husband after police firebombed their house. In two weeks the commission would reconvene in the Northern Province.
Copyright © 2006 by Lisa Fugard. reproduced by permission of the publisher, Scribner.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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