Cynthia Mac Pherson

Now this is a pleasure I wasn’t expecting

clouds scudding rolling darkening, leaden on my shoulders
dark regrets – mistakes I cannot forgive myself

The fear. The worry. The horror of my husband’s death.

many faces of the mountain, many faces of me
moods filter across my face like clouds

The smell of aromatic wood crackling in this remote place. The river murmuring and hippos grunting in the reeds. This warm blanket around my shoulders in the cool evening by the fire, which reflects on round, shining, golden brown faces of the women around me. Dark eyes soft watch the flames lick golden, turning the logs to glowing embers and a bubbling black pot of spicy stew. Now I hold to my lips the communal clay pot of frothy beer, yeasty, gritty but delicious and later I sleep. This is a pleasure I wasn’t expecting.

like a queen protea, I lift my leathery arms
and join my palms to salute the mountain

In the bright morning sun, peeping over the mountain, is a verdant field of vegetables. I pluck a green leaf of morogo, tangy, refreshing, sharp as rocket. on my early morning tongue, furry from last night’s beer drink.

mist  rises in lace carpets round my feet
many faces of the mountain, many faces of me

The woman, Thea, takes my hand.  ‘You are welcome my sister,’ she says. ‘ Come with me.’
We walk to the swift flowing water of the mighty African river, dark beneath the trees, not yet lit by the rising sun. And here in a pool is a wonder of water lilies.

‘They are edible. The water is our goddess,’  Thea says.

bright morning lights sandstone, wet with night rain
mountain’s veld cover is green after winter brown and black of fire

‘Tell me your story,’ she says.

‘I left his body in the river.  Oh why did we  come on this adventure? We set off a week ago. We paddled each day and slept overnight on different islands.

‘ “Scatter my ashes here, one day,” Greg told me.

‘At the most remote part of the river, before the waterfall drops into the pools below, Greg and I sat silent our canoe drifting with the current, thorn trees on the shore moving slowly past. The heat was intense. I sat in front with him at the back, steering, and then he grunted and I turned. His face was ashen. Clutching his chest and gasping, he collapsed forward. I moved clumsily to the stern to lay him down and I saw his paddle floating away in our wake.

‘I knelt down, both hands on his heart, pumping and breathing with the kiss of life. Oh God help us! Make him breathe. I was sweating and panting, trying to keep panic from affecting my breathing. I gave up when he didn’t respond. In the bush cicadas shrilled. The hippos had disappeared under the
water and the canoe was drifting sideways to the bank.  I sat motionless with the paddle across my sunburnt knees, feeling the sun searing into my neck. On shore a lone elephant grazed. The bank was steep, where the canoe nudged, and bright crimson bee eaters were busy on the sandy cliff high above me.

‘A bird called, “Too late. Too late. Too late.”

‘In the shallow water, a carcass lay stripped clean by vultures. Small fish surfaced, open-mouthed, and flies were settling on Greg’s eyes and mouth. What do I do? I prayed.

‘I had to use all my weight and strength to lean the canoe over on its side. Finally I rolled his inert body off. I left him there in the shallows. Pushing away from the bank with my paddle, I drifted on and on.

Thea encloses me in her arms. ‘You are welcome, my sister.’

I look across the veld at the wakening village. Women in the morning mist pulling close their blankets and children, round cheeked with glowing skins and strong bodies.

Clouds scudding rolling darkening, were leaden on my shoulders
dark regrets – mistakes I could not forgive myself.

The fear. The worry. The horror  –  fall  from my body.

cool wind off the river chases hot air and
my black mood of sorrow and anger

He lies in the river that he loved.

like a queen protea, I lift my leathery arms
and join my palms to salute the mountain


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