Squalls of rain and galeforce winds — driving through the veld we saw Brahmin cattle standing with bowed heads in a field of low grey scrub. Farm dams rocked with choppy waves, black and indigo. The Breede River had burst its banks and the dark waves were rising and falling through tree branches and shrubs. Roads closed, birds flung like black paper wrappers across the skyline. The mountains coming and going like chimeras on the horizon, eerie sentinels obscured by cloud and rain.
I had forgotten this wildness, this feeling of being out alone on the edge of the known world. When we reached the restaurant and dashed indoors for cover, the valley below us was black and only just visible through the rain and fog. Grey trees with leafless branches cracking and tearing away. Ditches swimming with half-drowned white arum lilies. Pink blosson scattered like celebratory confetti from the orchards of almond trees.
It was exhilarating, and my sadness took a back seat. Springbok carpaccio and hot baked breads, lamb and bobotie: country food, unimaginative but warming. Tomatoes that taste of tomato. A large fire in the hearth at my back, well-lit tables by the window. Grape juice and bitter coffee.
Driving back, we stopped to buy a small bag of waterblommetjies, a Cape delicacy of bredieor stew made from the flower buds of a water plant that grows in icy dams and ponds, only flowering in spring. The vendor had his stained woollen cap pulled down low over his ears and his hands were shaking with cold. He had been standing there by the roadside without rainjacket or shelter, in wet clothes, since dawn and he will wait hopefully until the sun goes down tonight. Drenched and frozen and choiceless.
South Africa drives me a little crazy. I feel helpless in the face of the destitution and desperation, and racked with that helplessness so much of the time.
And at last we were through the mountains, hail bouncing off the bonnet of the car. Low slopes of blackened vines in rows, dull yellow reeds thick by the rivers and streams. A few oaks just coming into leaf. A mongoose darting across the road. Both of us laughing and talking together quite easily, the semblance of an old friendship observed. Unpacking vegetables and groceries together in the kitchen, missing the dogs who used to greet our arrival with such excitement.
Something in me that is not resigned to this return. And something in me broken. But I will find a way to go on, finding a place for myself in this wild impossible country.