It occurred to me at 3am last Tuesday that I might have made a mistake. I was prowling around an empty wasteland, four kms from the closest human, in flip flops and a skinny nightie. There were shapes shifting and grunting in the dark – unreached by the light of my tiny emergency lamp but disturbed by my presence. My voice, calling for my dog, sounded small against the enormousness of the sky above me.
I wondered if I had chosen the wrong place to take my holiday as soon as I arrived: because, uncharacteristically, everything in me wanted to turn back immediately. To begin again the exhausting 8 hour drive during which my dog had whined and grumbled non-stop. I was tired and irritable, but my body was telling me to just get back in the car and go. I didn’t listen – I am a prevailer. Besides I had paid in advance, I would make this work
The cottage was decorated sweetly. There was even a little plunge pool outside – filled for me with spring water. But that “something extra” was missing – there was no exhale, no aah, no ‘collapse here and relax oh weary traveller – we will catch you’. No soft sofa to lie on, magazine and g’n’t in hand. No comfy bench outside from which to watch the stars. But I had driven half way to Namibia to be isolated, to explore a glacial pavement, to hike an ancient track to a waterfall. To swim in rock pools fed by pure springs. I wanted to float in timeless waters and think about the future. I wanted to watch the night sky, listen to the Milky Way, reconnect my soul with the beat of the world. So, while the cottage wasn’t perfect, the nature was – and I would make it work.
Jack, however, had other ideas.
That night he just wouldn’t settle. Startling at every noise. prowling up and down the doors to the cottage growling softly, jumping onto the bed and immediately back off, staring at me. Eventually I offered him some more supper – hoping it would calm him down. No dice. In desperation I opened the door to the courtyard around our cottage … maybe a pee and a sniff around would help him to feel more at home.
Fifteen minutes later he wasn’t back and I started to worry. I headed into the dark – those stars were magnificent – and I checked every creak and crevice under their light. My voice whispered back at me over the dry karoo landscape. But I couldn’t find Jack. I grabbed the emergency lamp next to my bed and I headed further into the bush – maybe he had lost his way. As I walked I had the sense that time was standing still and I was the only one moving through a frozen scene. After 20 minutes I started to get cold, and I realised I needed more light, so I headed back to cottage for sturdier shoes, a kerosene lamp and a cardigan. <aking all kinds of deals with God and the Universe as I stumbled over pushes and fell into rabbit holes.
Suddenly I caught a hint of movement under my car, parked under some bushes about 50 meters away. I bent double to check and two flat black gunmetal eyes reflected back at me. The animal – whatever it was – was motionless. I went closer, moving cautiously – keeping an escape route open for us both. I put my lantern down and bent slowly into the wheel well, keeping my breath shallow inside my hammering chest: and there he was, my small dog. Wedged tight against the front tyre, shaking.
I picked him up and he curled hard into my neck, wimpering. I carried him inside and put him straight into my bed, not bothering to wipe off the dust and dirt, I would deal with that in the morning. I left that lamp burning and pulled the duvet over us both, cuddling Jack into my shoulder. He didn’t move for the rest of the night, his nose pressed against the pulse in my throat.
Neither of us slept.
In the morning we ate our breakfast – the beauty of the desert outside as flat and dry as we felt. Jack refused to leave the room – curling into tight ball on the bed, his little back to me. His feelings were clear: “What in hell are we doing here?”
I had to agree. Forty minutes later we were packed and driving back to the farm house. Our hostess was sanguine – “I should have warned you the farm is full of dangerous animals at night, there are foxes and karakal and jackal ….you should never have let him out.” Five minutes after that we were on the road pointed at McGregor: and eight hours later we drove into town.
For the first time all day Jack jumped up and put his paws against the window – tail wagging hard. He looked over his shoulder at me, his tongue lolling and making little kekekek sounds: his message unmistakable “Look lunatic, there’s sky and water and hikes and stars here too. We’re home.”