Romaine Hill

Knowing and seeing

The woman grey-haired, alert, head up, bird-like, moved out across the shore. Behind her lay the dark strip of the mountains, separating the Helderberg plain from the wheatfields and the orchards above and beyond, and the sea towns reaching back along the father shore. Before her stretched the bay, ‘False’ they’d called it centuries ago when man had first arrived in ships from Europe and run aground. She could see the mountain shapes on the far horizon, where the Table arose to the left, meeting the sky and blending with the grey-white cloud. Moving south, the mountain ridge ascended and descended several times, until finally it dropped steeply into the ocean at the point called ‘Cape’.  These were phenomena daunting to her spirit, even now, after her long journey overland from the north, where she had left behind the graves of her most recent forebears, Afrikaans, Scots and Cornish. Before her, the open sea moved crystalline in the morning light out to the far horizon, way beyond which was the reach of the cold Antarctic. She knew – her intuition she trusted – she would find what she had come for, but where, she had yet to find out.

Around her waist was a slim leather belt, earth brown, on which hung the wooden amulet, an object both sacred to the hearth and prophetic. She had found it deep in the inner pouch of her grandmother’s travelling bag. On the reverse, carved into the wood, was the image of a simple dwelling, a table in front, shaded by a large tree.  It was this known place she journeyed to find. Would it be here, she wondered, where the concrete blocks of the encroaching city shed their long, dark shadows. Further she might have to go, on past the high mountains and along the line of the west coast. But first she must stop, on the high dune, and rest a while. So thinking, she settled her pack under her head, threw her indigo shade cloth, edged with carmen, over her body, and lulled by the sound of the sea, fell into a deep sleep.

…  it was then that the child came to her, skipping up over the dune, a little girl child, carrying two golden oranges. Close to the woman’s sleeping body, she crept, knelt down beside her and lifted the oaken amulet on its thong, scanning both sides, as if to find something familiar. Then, searching the weathered face for a further clue, she knelt quickly and began to peel the first of the juicy fruits. Its scent, as she broke it out of the peel, was sharp and fragrant, and the sleeping woman stirred in her dream, sensing something desirable, known.  The child saw the woman’s eyes flicker – open, close and open again. And then the sleeper, stirring, waking, saw the little girl.  Her dream, could it have become reality itself?

… there the child knelt, proffering the segments she had placed in a perfect round bowl, white and orange that she had curled from the peel of the fruit.  Who was this child, and how had the dream so sharp turned into reality so sweet? The features, were they those of her own mother, her beloved grandmother, or of herself?  What she knew was that this child was of her very being.  Had she come to aid her in her search?

‘Child,’ she said, ‘I know you as if you were my own. Your gift of a golden orange is life to me. But what do you know of the dwelling I seek, the one you have seen on the amulet I wear?’

‘You are rested now,’ said the child, smiling, ‘and since you know me rightly for your own, I will lead you to the hearth which is your journey’s end. Come.’ Springing to her feet, she took up the two small bowls she had shaped and breaking off bits of the bright, pungent flesh, one after the other, she skipped back up over the dune, laying a golden trail for the grey-haired woman, who took up her pack and her dark cloth and moved quickly after the trail-laying child. Crossing a wide road and three smaller intersections, she saw they were moving up along a row of little white houses, each set about by a garden, adorned with trees and plants. Turning now away from the direction from which she had come, still following the golden trail, she found herself on a rise of grass above a narrow, fast-flowing river.  A heron stood quiet, intent among the reeds, its one foot in the water, while a flock of Egyptian geese circled overhead, called and flew off in the direction of the lower slopes of the Helderberg that rose discrete against the blue sky. Looking over her shoulder, she saw the child perched on a large step that led into a simple, white dwelling, the exact replica of the one she had journeyed to find. There, on the stoep, shaded by a giant old coral tree, was a weathered wooden table and two chairs. Here she would lay down her pack, light the fire in the hearth, take down the kettle from the hook, a book from the shelf and here, she knew, she would wait out her days, till the child, who was neither mother nor grandmother beloved, nor herself – but something of all of these and known to her – and whose presence lingered now only in the scent of the oranges in the deep blue bowl on the table within, came again to lead her over and beyond, into the world where dream is reality and reality little more than a deep dream, indigo bordered with carmen, of ever-present knowing and seeing.

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