Daises by the roadside 2/3

By Drum Digital
10 January 2014

You can’t talk to a ghost. Or can you?

“Hello.” No response.

“Hello!” I was more insistent this time.

Slowly she turned her head. She nodded toward the flowers. “I tend them for Johannes. He likes African daisies.”

“Yes, they’re lovely,” I agreed. “Where’s Johannes?”

“Oh, he’s coming any time now. I’m just waiting for him.”

“Is Johannes your husband?”

“He’s my sweetheart. We’re going to be married.”

She turned back to the flowers, pulling the longer grass from between the orange and yellow splashes and putting some small rocks in a protective circle around them.

Humming under her breath, she worked slowly, now and again touching the flowers with something akin to reverence.

“You love gardening, don’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am, I do, especially tending the daisies for Johannes.”

“Funny place for a flower garden.”

“No, ma’am, it’s the right place for Johannes’ daisies. Right here so he can

see them.”

“Oh.” Obviously he was a truck driver hauling goods from Joburg to Kroonstad and beyond and he drove past this spot every day. Imagine loving a man so much that you would plant a patch of flowers for his driving pleasure. There was still romance in the world, I thought.

“It’s starting to get dark now and I’ve still got more than a hundred kilometres to drive. Are you sure Johannes is coming?

Can I give you a lift up the road?”

“No, ma’am, I’m just fine sitting here.

Johannes is coming just now.”

I shivered. The sun was just setting but the air suddenly felt chilly. It must be the breeze blowing from across the veld, I thought. I walked a bit faster toward my car. Opening the door, I slid into the seat and jammed the key into the ignition. The doors locked automatically.

I glanced back in the rear-view mirror but the woman was invisible in the shadow cast by the car. Strange, I thought, but so romantic.

I didn’t think about the woman again for months, not until I was asked to speak at a conference in Bloemfontein. On the way back, I pulled into the Kroonstad Ultra City for petrol and a cup of coffee.

A thunderstorm was brewing and just as I walked into Steers, the clouds unleashed rain in torrents. Scores of drivers opted to pull off the highway to wait out the storm and every time one of them entered a cold gust of wind blew in the door.

We all thought it would blow over soon but it seemed to simply circle the area. In the two hours it took the storm to subside, I chatted to a friendly waitress who kept the coffee coming.

“You from Bloemfontein? I got cousins living there.”

“No, I live in Joburg.”

“You travel this way often?” she asked.

“Once or twice a year, usually,” I said, suddenly remembering the woman at the side of the road when I returned from my festive season trip to Port Elizabeth.

“I came through in early January and stopped here for petrol and coffee.”

She pretended to wipe the counter just to the left of me when she saw the manager eyeing her.

“I hit a pothole about 30 kilometres toward Joburg and burst a tyre. I had to stop to change it. After I’d changed the tyre, I spoke to a woman who was tending flowers along the road.”

“Don’t say! Was she wearing a black dress?”

“Yes. Do you know her?”

“Not exactly . . . What did you say to her?”

“I asked her if she enjoyed gardening. She told me about her fiancé, Johannes, and how he loves orange and yellow daisies. She said he was coming to get her so I left her there waiting at the side of the road. I didn’t like doing that since it was getting dark, but she was certain Johannes was coming to get her.”

The waitress stood stock still. She looked at me as if I were a ghost.

“She answered you?”

“Well, sure. Why wouldn’t she answer me?”

“Because . . . because she’s . . .”

“She’s what?” By now I was exasperated.

The storm had abated and the rain fell softly. I wanted to hit the road again.

“She’s dead.”

“She’s dead?” I repeated her words like a parrot. The meaning didn’t register immediately. Dead. She was dead. That was impossible.

To be continued...

-by Pamela Moeng

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