Echoes in the gaping hole of loss
The night is heavy and still. Time suspended. A defiantly radiant moon has risen high, darkly outlining the silhouette of the Hottentots-Holland mountain range in the distance. Up here on our mountain the world is gloriously at peace. The night sings its own summer song.
Below stretches a shimmering vastness of city lights, evidence of humanity busy with issues of life. The shadows on the pale deck deepen as the moon climbs higher. Water in the pool winks invitingly, an extraterrestrial glow, light years of travel arriving from far-far away.
Morning has arrived. Books and papers collected, the scorching air belies the early time of day. Winding down the mountainside, I ease the car into the slow-moving morning traffic. The meetings go on and on. Then back on the road, to get going with a new workload. Yet, happy. A new client added to the portfolio. Life is good.
The small phone energetically vibrates on the seat next to me. I reach for it. Is it possible that four words can forever change your entire life? Four words. That’s all it takes.
I feel like hooting, shouting out at cars around me. Move. Make way. Can’t you see my life is over! Unfeelingly the traffic slithers on as I drive at speed towards Constantia Neck. A left turn into Belair Drive. I can go no further.
Strangers mill around in the smoke. Other people’s houses are burning! Sirens cut to the nerve. Coming in low, a helicopter thunders directly overhead. Then another. In a daze I find parking. Feeling small, thirsty and lost I head up the road into smoke and the mountain. I want to go home.
A policeman materializes and tells me to go back. ‘It’s unsafe’.
‘But I live here!’ Nobody hears me – as the thrill of the fire sweeps the crowd along. Silently I stand with them as my life burns away. Alone. All it takes – four words. Our house is burning.
I need to get away from voices and people milling around me. From my parked car I look at the dark billowing smoke. High flames lick through the dense cloud. The fire has a loud voice. I look up at our house. I see nothing but smoke and the occasional bright tongue of flame. It is unspeakably hot. I do not blink. My eyes are dry.
The crowd thins. The sun slithers into the veil of smoke, glowing, a menacing bruised red. The shadows lengthen. This day will also be over. As darkness falls my partner finds me. There are no words as we hold each other. A few people that we know come over to speak to us. Their lips move but I have no idea what they are saying. Nightfall is near, and plans have to be made.
After a night best forgotten, wearing the same and only clothes we possess we drive from Camps Bay along the sea into the Constantia valley. We head into the mountain to our home.
Stark evidence of the fire is everywhere. We see it’s aftermath. How fire jumps! Across huge spaces. Even across thatched roofs. Now the trees are burnt. Black stumps, where before, pittasporum and giant pines lushly interspersed with fynbos covered the mountain. There are also the fire scavengers. They come at night to take what the fire did not destroy.
And this fire has been thorough. Nothing left but the stone chimney. It stands upright like the warning finger of God. The hot air does not stir. The birdlife is gone. Long fingers of smoke curl lazily into the still air where something is warmly holding on. The landscape is covered in fine grey powder. An eerie silence has invaded our mountain.
No longer framed in shades of green, the city lies below us, enfolded in a pall of smoke. The soft hum of life’s unconcerned flow rises from below. Our silence! Our fire! Our problem. Just the two of us wordless in this nightmare. No shred of tangible evidence of lives lived here. Just grey powdery whorls of dust. The great heat turned even our most mundane life-signs into soft, polluting powder.
The grey landscape silently holds the secrets of terror close. So do we.
Constantia: Seven years later
From our oak- rimmed garden I look up to the mountain to where we used to live. My partner built that home of wood and glass with the help of his father thirty years ago. His love of this special property was all consuming. Yet, he uncomplainingly moved on. I could sense his pain but he bravely replanned our life.
And I? What have I learnt from this? Nothing. No-thing matters. Things can be replaced. And if not? You do without.
Seven years on. My hair and eyelashes are now beginning to grow back. Having sealed the shutters of my soul, I know that certain things in life can never be shared. Each person must hold their pain close and deal with it in the way they can. I also know that possessions are just soft puffs of grey powder that can blow away in the slightest wisp of wind.
No-thing really matters. This is my truth. I have earned it.