It happened on an ordinary day, in an ordinary town, in an ordinary province, in ordinary South Africa. The day had started out like most winter mornings: cold, misty, and miserable. I was late for work, as usual, except the day didn’t end as usual. For the first time in my life I was fired, without as much as a warning – verbal or otherwise. As such, I hadn’t quite known what to do with myself. Was I supposed to just go home? Cry like a baby and wait for life to get better? Instead I found myself in an empty park in the slightly less bad part of town. The mist and cold matched my state of mind perfectly, and for once I felt justified in feeling blue. Blue was such a lovely colour, in anyways.
The park, with its rusted playground, reminded me of simpler days, of simpler times, when I hadn’t needed to worry about whether I was going to eat that day or not. Of a carefree time, of playing with friends back when I still knew what that word meant. I remember clambering up trees to impossible heights, while my mother shrieked at me to come down right then or so help her God.
A cat scuttled over my feet and I almost fell off the battered, rotten bench. The stray cat paused. Its dirty fur was mangled, and it seemed mean as it studied me. It appeared to turn its head in pity, flick its tail up with haughty pride, and strutted away before too long.
Even the cat could sense my state of failure.
I tried to distract myself by further studying the park. The pair of tyre swings swung in the slight breeze, and I imagined a kid swinging with laughter bouldering from his chest. The next moment I saw the kid on the ground, his neck twisted in a grotesque manner while his friends screamed in horror. The intrusive thought sickened me and I tried to think happy things, like the fact that there is a small pond in the corner of the park, filled with some koi fish and hopefully not too polluted. I was half afraid to go there; what if it really were polluted? Would I remove that tiny piece of hope from this dark day?
I thought about the nearby Table Mountain and its impressive beauty. I thought about the Cape wine lands, the nearby ocean, the wine farms and estates. I thought about the recent spate of fires and devastation, possibly even deaths. Nobody ever mentioned the animals, did they?
I had just been getting used to the oppressive silence when she appeared, as if by magic. One moment I was alone, ready to do myself in (or worse), and the next there was a crying woman sat just a few metres away. Her sudden appearance left me bewildered and admittedly irritated. What happened to wallowing in relative isolation?
The new quiet startled me.
“I’m lost,” she eventually explained, her voice barely above a whisper. She gazed out at the park before us. Her gaze appeared pained. “I don’t know how I got here, or where here is. I don’t know anything, really.”
Her explanation was uninvited but not unwelcome. A frown marred her unique face. Her features were all sharp, almost like running a finger along her jawline would cut me. Her hair seemed thick and lush, curled in a non-frizzy way that usually cost an insane amount of money. The colour was strange, almost the colour of dried blood. It didn’t seem like dye, but how was that possible?
I felt rude for studying her so unabashedly, so I averted my gaze. I was not used to having such a handsome woman in my company, and I was finding it hard to adapt.
“We’re in the Cape,” I murmured, and grabbed at the grass by my feet. It was dry and a single strand pricked my skin. I worried at the irritated skin as I awaited her reply. None came.
I watched as the sun began to lower in the sky. The air seemed to grow colder as the shadows grew longer. A slight breeze rustled through the bare branches and tall grass. A single ant crawled over my leg. I followed its journey across my limbs.
“It’s not that bad, you know. Being here, I mean.”
The young woman’s brows pulled together and she worried her bottom lip between her teeth. I’m unsure why I was trying to console her, when I myself was in dire need of comfort.
“A few hours ago I was in my bed, back in He-, well, back home.”
I noticed her hesitance to admit her hometown, and while it bothered me the slightest bit, I could understand. Stranger danger was very real, and her fear was understandable. Her accent, however, was not quite. I couldn’t place it. The frustration was plain on my face, at least judging by her dejected appearance. Or was that because she was lost? I was unsure.
“Now that you are here, what do you think of the Cape?”
Her reply took a while, but when it came it brought a deep-filled sadness with it. “I’d prefer to go home,” she confessed in a low, sorrow filled tone. “But right now it seems impossible.”
She offered me guilty look. She was afraid, she’d said, and that the people here weren’t friendly in the slightest. Their weapons – pangas, I revealed – looked ready to remove her limbs simply for being different than them.
Her cryptic way of speaking intrigued me. I found myself wanting to get to know her better, to learn each and every one of her secrets. I wanted to learn her habits and her mannerisms. I wanted to find out the different ways she would react in certain situations. But alas, this woman was in distress. My intrigue was out of place and inappropriate.
“We’re nothing more than strangers, but I can offer you a place to rest. If you are willing to trust a stranger, I mean.”
She contemplated for a few seconds. “My name is Romana, and it is lovely to meet you.”