Keeri who loved humans

Keeri who loved humans
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Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Walking the Woman

This morning, I am getting the collar and harness on our Jack Russell puppy, whom we have named Lily, (Who said she couldn't be a Lily, though I am told it is not a dog's name.') when I realise how clumsy I am. The animal is contemptuous. 

   I am reminded of the two dogs in Nelspruit then. (Well, actually, Nelspruit is now called Mbombela. Lost all its Afrikaner associations.  Not too dissimilar from Bombay becoming Mumbai and Madras, Chennai. But I just keep on calling them by their old names, the ones I have an association with, pre-independence.):

   Cody was the young brown male, pavement special breed, my friend Dorothy said. Joey the old, tired female had significant bits of Jack Russell in her and a very pretty face. When Cody got bored, he tried to persuade Joey to go out with him. They lived in this huge mansion with much garden space and the whole veld outside their front door.

   If you opened the impressive roll-back gate in front of the compound and stepped out, the path went left to the end of the housing estate and right towards Nelspruit town. Me and the dogs always walked left. No collars, no harnesses. There were no humans to be seen for miles and no traffic to worry about. No paraphernalia to carry around either.

   I did not have to take poo-bags with me. I did not have to hold a leash. The dogs ran happily in front of me. Well, Cody ran, but Joey hobbled along. They wandered off into the bush now and then and unfailingly did their deposits. They always returned to me when I called them.

   That fortnight in Nelspruit was a hot one. Dorothy gasped for breath and I broke out in a heat-rash on my face. Something I mind admitting, born and bred South Indian that I am. I think living in England has destroyed my heat defences and sucked all my D vitamin away.

   Joey sensibly, found her cot in that kind of weather or slept under a tree. Behind the living room curtains was also a favourite place. Cody could be found by mid-day under the living room fan, proudly displaying his masculinity.

A puff adder appeared from nowhere near the edge of the swimming pool and lay there, absolutely motionless until Cody found her and mayhem broke loose. It had crawled on to the edge of the swimming pool and had to be rescued and liberated by Sarah, Dorothy's daughter.

   England's test cricketers toiled in the heat and won two matches, but lost the series. After the first two matches, which we won, South Africa asserted itself and we also lost the plot. And the matches.

   Gradually, Cody got the message. I could be coaxed out if she hung around me and wagged her tiny tail. I got the impression she loved walking the old woman. I loved it as well.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Nelspruit

At Tambo airport, Johannesburg, the immigration man asks me, ‘How are you?’
   ‘Good,’ I say. But he shakes his head. ‘You don’t look good,’ he insists. I am back in Africa, I think. No white lies for me.
  

 The young girl in charge of my wheelchair does a great deal more for me than she’s paid to do. She peels off my old-woman pressure socks and helps me put away my cold-weather stuff, two cardigans, two pairs of woolly socks, shoes and shawl, in my suitcase. The cabin in the plane was freezing. My toes are slowly recovering from blue to something close to lavender.
   

I don’t need warm clothes for the short hop to Nelspruit. I put my Indian sandals on and feel immediately more human. This is where I belong, I think, sometimes even more than in India where I was born. I have spent half my adult life on this continent, working or hibernating after retirement. Unlike the UK, this is a good place to be when you’re old, if you don’t expect too much by way of resuscitation, if your lungs give up on you. In a way that is good too from where I stand.
   

 ‘You’re very kind,’ I say to the girl.
   ‘May be you also very kind to me.’ She smiles. This is a language I understand
 I make a mental note to find some extra change for her

'Pounds or Rand? I ask.  

‘Pounds,’ she answers without hesitation. The Rand is slipping fast. The last time I was here, in 2011, it was sixteen to the Pound. Today it is twenty-three.

  When eventually, I get to Nelspruit, forty-five minutes away, it is boiling hot. The Strelitzia, (named after Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George, the third, of Mecklesberg, Strelitzia) or the Bird- of -Paradise as the plebs like me call them, are holding their bird-like pink-and-blue heads up proudly along the short walk-way to the airport. A surfeit of elegance! I wonder, was Queen Charlotte elegant too?
            
Strelitzia reginae (Dwarf) - Exotic Seed Collection - 1 packet (4 strelitzia seeds)    I walk slowly to the concourse, enjoying the brief moment in that no-man’s land between one sector of a journey and another, to yet another wheel-chair assistant, and another inefficient search in my disorganised hand-bag for tipping change

.   It’s hot here – hotter than I expected, hotter than ever before.  But this is one of the things I came for, I remind myself, running away as I was from the February chill in England, which in the end, never quite arrived.
                

 In a moment I am surrounded by my friends; it feels like home.