Like a house on fire

2014-09-10 00:00

DAD had said that she wouldn’t get it through the kitchen door. But Mom had been waiting a long time for that table. “That pine is so old-fashioned and tacky,” she would snarl at the old, round thing that was in the dining room, apologising for it every time we had visitors. So when the oak finally found its way up to our Drakensberg doorstep aboard the roof-racks of the Mazda 323, she was determined to get the table through the door. Between her and Mavis, she heaved and inched the new table from side to side until it angled its way through the door.

Mom’s bad back was sore for days after that, but she smiled every time she walked past the light wood, brushing her fingers over the fine grains; the victory was all the sweeter because it was hers. She loved reminding Dad what she had gone through to place her prize just where she wanted it. “Without any help from you,” she would grumble, but it was obvious that she preferred it that way.

I don’t know if it was the smell or the sounds that woke me up. It was winter, and I had an extra blanket over my duvet — the one with the little girl’s big, blue eyes on the swing and the pink frills. Sizzle, hiss, fizz. Snap, crackle, pop — it wasn’t Rice Krispies. The usually frigid Kamberg air seemed to be alive and livid tonight.

I blinked my sleepy eyes and moved the curtain aside. Orange fingers of fire as tall as the roof tickled the black sky. There were no stars, only smoke. I flicked the curtain back and slid quickly under the covers, convinced that I would soon be waking up from a nightmare. When I opened my eyes again I saw my sister in the bed next to mine, her duvet rising and falling slightly with her peaceful breathing. I could still hear and still smell the fire that was feeding furiously on the brown, dry hedge that bordered our garden.

A new sound: “Mayday, mayday! Mike 623 calling mayday!” Dad’s voice was urgent, but characteristically polite. He doesn’t like asking for anything, ever. All the way out here, there’s not much a fire station can do. Most farmers keep the radio near their bed, and I could hear ours sputtering with neighbours already lacing up their boots and coaxing their frozen bakkie engines into action.

“Girls, Shoo, Boody, wake up.” Mom spoke gently, using her nicknames for us, and I opened my eyes, pretending I was asleep before. “Put a jersey on, we need to go to the car because there’s a fire outside.” Kerryn’s sleep-heavy eyebrows crossed in confusion.

“Come girls, we need to go quickly,” Mom said more urgently. She had already buckled the Staffies onto their leads, and was trying to keep them under control as they panted and strained at the prospect of a midnight walkies.

“Where’s Dad?” Kerryn asked, now wide-eyed and on the verge of crying.

“He’s outside with the hose pipe. Don’t worry, he’s okay. Peter Muller is here, the game guards are here and Mr Campbell is on his way.”

Holding both dog leads in one hand and Kerryn’s hand in the other, Mom pointed to the stack of home videos on the kitchen table.

“Grab those, please Shea,” she said as she led us outside.

I was surprised how warm the haze around us was. As Mom and Kerryn hurried to the garage, I couldn’t help stopping and staring at the blaze, mesmerised as the dry wind licked the flames higher into the sky.


I unglued my eyes and feet and directed them to the car. We reversed out the gate and moved to a safe distance away from the fortress of fire marching closer to our standard-issue staff house. The building stood firmly in its foundations, stoically awaiting its fate. I thought of the time my class-mates were closing in from all sides trying to tickle me. “I’m not ticklish,” I said, standing stubbornly in the middle of them.

“What’s gonna happen to my toys?” Kerryn asked.

I was also wondering about this, but I thought I’d let her ask first. I also thought about Mom’s new oak table.

“What about your dining-room table?” I asked. I knew how pleased with it she was. Mom turned around in the driver’s seat, her face silhouetted against the burning orange behind her. She looked at all of us — dogs, children and home videos, and paused.

“Let it go up in smoke,” she said.

‘I couldn’t help stopping and staring at the blaze, mesmerised as the dry wind licked the flames higher into the sky.’

PHOTO: supplied


HAVING lived abroad and travelled a fair amount, I always love returning to my home province of KwaZulu-Natal, where I now live and work as a marketing co-ordinator. I love the outdoors — running, exploring, and trying my best to tan my Scandinavian skin. I don’t trust people who don’t like peanut butter or wear sunglasses indoors.

“She smiled every time she walked past the light wood, brushing her fingers over the fine grains.”

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