At three in the morning Eva's eyes snapped open. She fumbled for the switch on the bedside light, uncertain of where she was. Two paintings hung on the wall opposite her, one of pale-skinned young women with pastel head scarves sitting in the shade of an oasis. In the other, haggard men with white beards were leading a string of camels down a sand dune. Ah, yes, Johanna's house. She remembered her aunt talking about the diaries, so she wriggled out of the tightly tucked-in blankets to search for them.
In the corner of the room she spied a thick crocheted blanket folded on top of a cardboard box marked castle lager. She tossed the blanket onto the bed, lifted the flaps, and saw the familiar pebbly grain on the black leather covers of her mother's diaries. A small envelope rested on top of them. She withdrew a single sheet of paper and recognized the spidery, childlike handwriting.
For Eva. From your father.
Goose bumps rippled across her forearms. She'd had no contact with him for a decade; because of his stutter Martin had never befriended words, spoken or written, and it was through letters from Hendrik and Johanna, letters she reluctantly opened, that Eva learned about her father's decline.
She read the two short sentences again, then closed her eyes as she guessed at what remained unwritten.
Angrily, she crumpled the sheet of paper and tossed it to one side. She knelt beside the box and carefully removed the diaries, arranging them on the floor in three rows in chronological order. The first was a composition book, the kind Eva had used at school, and on the cover Lorraine had written 1974. The last diary -- she noted this with a twist in her stomach -- was for 1984.
She scooted a few feet away from them as if to get an overview. They're nothing more than daily entries about life on the farm, she told herself. Still, the notion of what her mother might have discovered unsettled her.
Eva stood up abruptly and moved back to the bed. She would not read them. There was no need to. She knew all there was to know about the farm. And her father knew, and why the hell had he asked Johanna to pass these on? She didn't have one jot of sympathy for the ruin of a man that her aunt had described, almost destitute in his own house.
Yet when she was a child she'd always been curious about those diaries, wondering how her mother saw her and her father and their life on the farm. A quick look, that was all she'd need now. She scooped up the composition book and turned to the first entry of 1974.
We have a home! Not a farm that we are managing but our very own. Skinner's Drift! It is roughly three thousand hectare with the most extraordinary red sandstone rock formations marking the eastern border. The interior is harsh with a few baobabs and lots of stunted mopane trees, but we are living close to the Limpopo in a run-down double-story farmhouse with a red tile roof and iron grillwork on the windows. We walked the river this afternoon. It's dry, but that happens for a few months each year. And the floodplain is rich and perfect for crops. Martin carried Eva on his shoulders and I've never seen him so happy. Eva kept asking questions and insisted on answering them herself. Later we found a puff adder coiled behind the toilet. Martin shot it and in the process cracked the cistern. So much to do and I should go to sleep but I'm so excited! As I write this, Eva is sleeping on a camp bed in our room and Tosha is at my feet, wondering what to make of the sound of a hyena calling. As am I!!!
Eva could see the river winding through the trees beyond the farmhouse like a deserted highway. The sand was the color of milk and honey in the lazy light of late afternoon, the silence broken by the mewling cries of the gray louries.
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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