the present

Cara Meintjes, soos Zapiro, hou partykeer blogvakansie en dan post sy ‘n rerun!

The Present

Silence is not when the sounds of people reside, but when the land around the people is quiet – when trees do not rustle, wind does not blow and no birds sing.

There were no trees here, nor any birds. The wind, though not affected by all that had happened, was also quiet today.

The silence that descended upon the small caravan of military tents gave rise to a collective self-consciousness. Some were talking, chiefly about short-term things like food and the following day’s traveling plans. But their voices did not give the slighest echo as there were no mountains – the emptiness of the plains gulped their words as if they were water, quenching the parched earth.

Some children were playing in the hard sand. Were they battling the eeriness of the morning, or did they not sense it, as did Johnathan?

They sang a song that Johnathan had taught them: “Hey Jude, don’t make it bad, take a sad song and make it better…”

The girls drew a few blocks in the sand. As they sang they jumped from square to square, sometimes with both feet in a square, sometimes balancing only on one leg. They lifted the ragged dresses to their knees as their friends demanded in order to make sure that they did not cheat.

Johnathan watched them from a distance and sipped the soup Miranda and the other women had made for the group. Apparently Miranda had dug up some edible roots. She boiled them in some seawater that they carried in their flasks and then added some precious fresh water. The sea minerals provided some extra supplement as a varying diet was not always possible.

Johnathan remembered when he could say “Pass the salt, please.” Laura at the dinner table. Oh, God… Back then, he thought planning a summer holiday was difficult. Laura had been looking forward to summer. But it became the summer during which the whole world was changed and during which she died.

How could they have been so stupid? he wondered for the millionth time. He had followed this path of thought so many times that he could anticipate the emotions that came with each idea, but he followed the path nonetheless. Amid the children’s 1960’s song, the thoughts – concise but laden with a wandering sense of loss – mingled with fresh nostalgia.

They had been able to ignore the facts because it had not touched their lives until it was too late, he reasoned. The problems – cold wars that were gaining momentum daily, the economic upheavals, the religious battles… nothing had a very direct influence on the US. The price of petrol rose at most, when workers went on strike yet again.

He remembered the suddenness with which the Third World War started. One day he was a citizen who prided himself on his nationality and the principles that his country upheld throughout the world. The following, he was a fugitive, taking the fastest road out of Washington, DC. And not a moment too soon. The bomb blast could be seen in his rearview mirror, or so Laura had told him. She had found the strength to look.

The children had tired of their song now. They gathered around Johnathan, hoping for another story of the olden days. “Don’t you have a different song for us?” One girl asked, one almost old enough to start helping to prepare food and make clothes.

“But I’ve already taught you so many!” he protested laughingly. “If you’re not careful, I’ll exhaust my supply!”

They begged again and he gave in. “All right! All right. But what kind of a song?”

Some of the ladies were looking at him, interested. “What could I teach them?” he asked Miranda. The sun had rendered her hair light and her face dark. “How about a nursery rhyme?” she suggested. “But which one?”

She thought for a moment and then grinned. “I bet they haven’t heard Little Miss Muffet!”

The children burst into chorus instantly, and she laughed at their proud faces. “I don’t know, Nathan. It seems we’ve taught them all the songs there were.”

She was attractive when she laughed; even more when she was thoughtful. She caught his eye and he tried to hold her gaze; tried to find some hint of how her loss might resemble his. She smiled a sheepish smile in an effort to relieve the sudden tension. Attractive.

The words sprang to his mind suddenly.

“Hey, diddle diddle…” he began, then stopped. Would she join in? Her face lit up and she smiled again, this time warmly. “The cat and the fiddle,” she answered.

A warm, dry wind came up and Johnathan forgot how silent it had been. He was singing with Miranda. “The cow jumped over the moon… the little dog laughed with all his heart and the dish ran away with the spoon.”

“What’s a fiddle?”

“Did dishes and spoons have legs back then? Could they run?”

“Wow! Did they put the cow in a spaceship?”

Johnathan and Miranda grinned. She came to sit next to him and together they explained – as the wind began to blow in earnest – that the past might resemble the present more than we imagine.


2 responses to “the present

  1. zapiro het ‘n blog? (obviously..mar waar is dit?)

  2. Cara Meintjes

    Nee hy het nie ‘n blog nie… dis eintlik verrassend moeilik om sy spotprente op die internet te kry! Maar hy hou soms vakansie, dan se die online koerante “Zapiro is on leave. This is a classic rerun.”

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