We had a flat tyre. Uncle was struggling with a jack,
trying to lever off the punctured wheel. It was
clearly a sweaty struggle. The road was flinty now.
Dust span in the air, it was unbelievably hot. There
were just a few withered bushes, and open infinite
space. I wondered how much water we had.
Because we’d never get rescued out here. William
was grizzling. There’d be no lions now. Our
excursions certainly seemed blighted. Moshe
hung his perspiring head and kicked the dirt. I felt
immensely sorry for him.
To think that Mr Steinberg’s other sons were so
close. Surely I could cast a healing spell across
all their lives. I tried not to fret. It was better to
soak up the holiday atmosphere. Today was
lions. There was a safari park just outside the city.
Moshe proposed a late breakfast, followed by a
leisurely drive into the wilds. Mr Steinberg had
slept like a proverbial log, he said, and was much
refreshed. He couldn’t wait to chatter with his
grandson. As we wound out of the city, up onto
the grassy veldt, I felt the immensity of this
country. It scared me. Moshe drove like a man
inspired by the majesty around him. William dozed,
nuzzling my arm. Sleepiness descended on me
too. I asked how far. Another hour.
The mountain never divulged her secrets. A little
deflated, Moshe took us home. He asked if I swam,
because the apartment had an Olympic-sized pool.
I didn’t want to admit a doggy-paddle was probably
beyond my abilities. But William’s ears pricked. He
excitedly asked if there was a wave pool. Moshe
didn’t think so. We were dropped at the main gates,
with a promise of more sightseeing in the morning.
My mind turned to dinner. There was ample food
in the fridge to cook up a storm. I wondered what
exotic ingredients I might discover. There was a
dark stick of meat I immediately distrusted. It was
called Biltong. The stuff looked entirely inedible,
like some fatty dog chew. Uncle told me it was a
national delicacy. I rummaged around and found
some cheddar cheese and pasta. We would
remain on safe culinary ground.
The mountain remained elusive. She hid her head
completely in cotton-candy clouds. Moshe kept
promising a spectacular view around the next
bend, but there was only a solid swathe of mist.
I watched out for the rock baboons. But they had
also slunk away, and remained hidden. William
complained that he felt car-sick. The outing was
a failure. But Mr Steinberg didn’t care a jot. He had
charmed his grandson out of his shell and they
now nattered happily together. Angelique and
Uncle were locked in banter. Moshe proposed
we halt for coffee and wait for evening. At dusk,
he said, the skies could achieve unrivalled clarity.
It would be worthwhile, to see such a majestic
scene unveiled. We drank coffee from ornately-
painted cups. By the second slurp, I just knew
we’d get our view.
Angelique was a woman of colour. She embraced
us all warmly. I was mildly surprised. Mr Steinberg,
however, was clearly in shock. Moshe’s tiny son
hid behind his Mother’s skirts. Nobody could coax
him out, or extract a single word from him. There
was plentiful spicy food. I let the adults talk while I
satisfied my embarrassing appetite. Moshe’s home
was relatively modest. There were African carvings
placed cunningly around the room. The black
elongated faces gave me shivers. Mr Steinberg
began to relax and chortle at his daughter-in-law’s
jokes. Angelique was a real hoot. Even William
looked up from his food to smile. Once lunch was
over, we would go to the mountain. I went up to the
bathroom to splash my face. Fatigue clawed at my
eyes. When I came out, our augmented party was
ready. Something about the solemn mood told me
we were making a significant spiritual excursion.
As if to underscore this, Moshe had booked a big
We stood and chatted in the kitchen. It glittered
like an enamel palace. The apartment was airy,
spacious and freshly-painted. Mr Steinberg said
he’d never seen such luxury. I couldn’t help thinking
of our London shack and what Moshe must have
thought. All this glitz was out of our league. I threw
on a clean tank top, and brushed my hair. There
was an impressive view from my bedroom. The
clouds still lingered, obscuring the mountain top.
When the skies eventually cleared, I knew we’d be
in for a treat. My stomach growled. Hunger
gnawed at me. I went back into the kitchen and
opened the fridge. It was stocked to the gunnels.
In the vegetable bin, I spied an appealing stick of
celery. I plucked it out and crunched. Like this was
a signal, Uncle appeared. We would leave now, and
head to Moshe’s house.
Moshe would ferry us to the apartment first.
There we could freshen up and dump our bags,
before meeting his wife and son. I was inordinately
tired. As Moshe enthused about his town, I’m
ashamed to admit I shut my eyes. When I woke,
William was nestling into my shoulder. We were
hurtling along an expressway. The mountain was
cowled in cloud. My tummy grumbled. I hoped
Moshe’s wife had prepared something vegetarian
to wolf down. We took an exit, and slowed at some
lights. Moshe announced we were near. The
apartment was a mere twenty minute ride from
his place. It all seemed adroitly planned. I looked
about me. The neighbourhood was privileged.
Fenced compounds, modern apartment buildings
hiding probable swimming pools. This was
glamourous suburbia. We slowed again, and drove
into a gated driveway. This, Moshe said smirking,
A huge elephant of a woman scrutinized my
passport. She glared at me through a thick glass
panel. My skin crawled. I felt like a major felon.
The officer questioned me about the purpose of
my visit. I stammered out something about visiting
relatives. Suddenly she was wielding a heavy
stamp. It crashed down onto my passport. I was
welcomed to the country. Blood surged into my
face. It was time to find the baggage carousel.
Uncle led us, guiding Mr Steinberg like a blind man.
William mumbled that he was hungry. Everyone
ignored him. The crowd swelled as we approached
the arrivals hall. Where I spied Moshe slouching
beside a pillar, with a broad smile on his face.
I slept sporadically. Eventually the main lights
came up. The cabin crew were busying themselves
at the front of the plane. Passengers were
stretching their cramped limbs, queueing for the
toilet. Breakfast would soon be served. I glanced
at the big screen showing our aircraft’s progress
across Africa. We had reached the southern end
of the continent. My geography was lame, but
surely this meant Cape Town was close now.
Beside me, Mr Steinberg was fishing in his pockets,
searching for his morning medicines. William
watched eagerly as the cabin crew worked down
the aisles, delivering breakfast trays. It was cold
scrambled eggs. I raised my hand in a negative,
when I was offered coffee. A sign suddenly
appeared, asking us to secure our seat belts.
There was turbulence. Mr Steinberg clung onto
my arm. I felt my ears pop. We were descending.
Uncle said the flight attendants were harridans.
I figured this was something bad. William had ear
ache and Mr Steinberg clutched his arm rest
anxiously. After an hour I was bored. Our dinner
was served. It was plasticky-looking mush a pig
would have declined. Uncle commented that the
glamour of flying was long deceased. The
cramped seat bit into my backside. After our
meal, coffee was served. The aroma of the instant
powder made me nauseous. I eyed the sick bag
beside my knees. The cabin lights were dimmed.
Uncle began to snore. It promised to be a gruelling