Dreaming of a place where water flows

2011-10-24 00:00

NICOLAAS has pictures of superheroes stuck to the wallpaper above his bunk bed. They are held on by fragile stickers, as we could not find the Prestik on the day that he needed to pin them up.

I don't mind him messing up the wallpaper, partly because it is old and needs to be replaced anyway, but also because I know that children come to us and then they grow bigger.

While growing, they spill out all over the house leaving their toys on top of the flour tin in the kitchen where we forget to move them and where they stay for months.

When challenged to find a special place to put away the boxing gloves so that they don't clutter up the room, they choose a spot right there on top of the TV where they can look at them all day everyday. They write their names experimentally and surreptitiously in permanent ink on the freshly painted window sill, hoping we will never notice. Children take over.

And although I hope it is not true, I have been told that one day they will leave. And then we will be free to redecorate without superhero posters.

In the meanwhile, I think about what I know lies underneath the floral wallpaper in what is now the children's room, but which used to be the formal lounge of the house.

I have never seen it myself, but Herman tells me there is a four-metre by seven-metre blow- up almost lifesize photo of a waterfall cascading into a deep dark green pool. The sides of the waterfall are flanked with gigantic ferns, the likes of which are found in river-lush kranses, in other parts of this country.

Herman's ouma, who comes from Hartswater, had the waterfall motif pasted into the parlour in the fifties. Her daughter persuaded her to remove it in the seventies. Having lived here for two winters, I understand why she needed it. I have only ever been to Hartswater once, and my flashing impression of the place was of endless canals of rushing water cutting up the town like a jigsaw puzzle. It's not a town as much as an irrigation scheme.

From Hartswater to our town, you need some blow-up reminders that water does exist.

I imagine that Ouma San would have retreated into her home in the winter months, and found solace sitting in her parlour where she would sip her tea from her Paragon fine bone China cup and gaze at the waterfall, frozen and silent in its cascade on the wall. A wishful reminder of another meteorolo-gical world.

The winters are so dry, bone dry, that unless you were born and bred in the vicinity, you would not be blamed for forgetting that the grass is ever green and that the rain ever comes again. I am one of those people whose faith wears thin in the winter months.

And then, unbelievably, after months of this still-dying and still-death state, things do start to change.

At first it's almost imperceptible — the frost just lessens and if you pull aside the long yellow veld grass, you see a shadow of green appearing around the roots. The leaves on the thorn trees hatch brightly. Ha! Hope leads me on, and I start watering the dead garden with ambition. Plants that I thought would become next year's compost, surprisingly, come back to life. The cannas, the irises, the arum lillies start to bloom.

And then one day, as happened this year on September 13, on Nicolaas's sixth birthday it switches. First five of the 14 little boys, amazed at the first flush of spring flowers in the garden, on their own instigation cut posies to take home to their mothers. As I wrapped the bunches in wet tissue paper and tinfoil I thought of how children take over gardens as they do wallpaper, and I felt bizarrely privileged to have my spring garden so annihilated by so much love.

Then, in the late afternoon an eerie wind sprung up, blowing the jumping castle over. It was only three o'clock but the sky turned black and gigantic grey clouds swelled up kilometres high.

They clashed like Titans and the long forgotten sound of thunder exploded around us.

It rained.

For just three minutes. And in just that brief time it broke a hopelessness in me that I did not even know had been building up.

And I was free once again to worship.

• Catherine Smetherham is rediscovering herself and South Africa from a platteland perspective. She lives in Strydpoort, North West Province. Contact her at Catherine@holtzhausen.com

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