Gail Bohle

The survivors

Agatha shrugged off a shiver. She dusted off her backpack, looked around at the other survivors and went into rescue mode.  She opened her backpack and rummaged in it for her tiny gas stove, her kettle and her tea-strainer.  Then she poured the last of her water into the kettle, found her matches in the pocket of her jacket and got the gas stove working.  The tea leaves, neatly tucked away in a sealed packet, were brought out of the depths and soon a nice pot of tea was ready for any needy survivors. But her hands were cold, and she fumbled, dropping her travelling mug.  

As the tin cup clanged against the side of the overturned bus, St John stepped forward. He picked it up and handed it to the stocky little woman.  He kept the smile off his face but the twinkle in his eye gave him away.  He tapped the tea maker on her shoulder and held out the cup.  She took it from him and frowned slightly, then turned her back on him and busied herself with the kettle.  St John looked around at the other survivors. Some of them were shivering in the last rays of the winter sun.  It would soon be dark and there was no sign of any rescue.  He turned back to the prickly woman and said, “Let me help you, at least.”

Agatha dug her hand into the pocket of her jeans and pulled out a crumpled cigarette.  She allowed him to light it for her, but did not meet his gaze.  She hated these irritating macho males who always wanted women to flatter and pander to their masculinity.  He didn’t need to be in her space and she didn’t want to acknowledge him.  Why didn’t he do something useful, instead of hovering over her and getting in her way?  Why is it that men always want women to notice them?  Well, she certainly wasn’t going to!

St John picked up the kettle and poured the steaming tea into the tin cup.  Then he took it over to a shivering old woman a few steps away.  She looked up at him with gratitude and smiled.  He returned her smile and then turned back to the tea lady.  She’d sent him a firm message, but he decided to taunt her a little more.  Sooner or later, she’d drop the pose.  Why wouldn’t she?  Women like her – stubborn, aggressive – amused him immensely. They were always so arrogant, determined to be manly, efficient, more macho than the nearest macho male. 

He stifled a laugh, stepped towards her and touched her elbow. She drew back sharply and shot him a withering look.  He withdrew his hand slowly, but stood his ground.  She didn’t frighten him and he was damned if he was going to be intimidated by her.

  “I’m just trying to help,” he said politely.

 “Well I don’t need your help!” she retorted. 

They faced each other, neither one backing off nor stepping forward.  Agatha glared at St John, hoping to force him to turn away.  His eyes twinkled at her.  He looked relaxed, in control, waiting … She bristled, tense as a stalking cat, ready to attack, on guard. 

Sofia tiptoed across the stones and pushed her candle into the space between Agatha and St John.  She weazled her tiny body into the widening gap and asked Agatha to light her candle.  Sofia wanted to provide a little light for the cold, scared children, sitting in a huddle under the tree.  Agatha breathed out reluctantly and St John stepped forward to light it. The circle widened a little more Sofia’s gentle entrance dissipating the tension between the two of them. St John, warming to this little bird immediately, walked off with her. Agatha retreated into her angry world to lick her wounds.

Lightness crept into the circle, quietly but certainly….    

The survivors 

She shrugged off the icy cold shiver,
she dusted her backpack and jeans. 
She rummaged for light, stove and kettle
and cooked up some mielies and beans.

The cup clanged against the bus side
St John stooped to pick it up.
He handed it over firmly, politely.
She frowned and took the cup.

Agatha turned her back to him.
His smile went swiftly away,
but the twinkle remained, in his eyes like stars
and she wished that he wouldn’t stay!

The sun was descending, orange and red
“Let me help you,” he tried once again.
The darkness set in, a chill swept the air
but she shook her golden brown mane.

Agatha dug for a match, cig and fire. 
She allowed him to hold it for light. 
She hated his smile, his pose and his power
and puffed herself up for a fight!

John advanced and took her arm and hand.
She gave him a warning growl!
Eyes twinkled and danced and she stamped her foot.
He stifled a rising howl.  

Sofia tiptoed across the stones.
She weazled in small and fast.  
The strangers breathed out and the light came in
and the spell was broken at last!

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