Generous Reprieve

You can listen to the voice narrative or read through the text below.


Our camp was dry and grumpy and listless. We had walked all day in the arid heat with dry and sticky mouths and throats screaming for more than the few mouthfuls of water we allowed ourselves, and we never saw a single animal or even a fresh sign.

But then, the sun crept out below the clouds, and for one last time exploded the dullness into riots of colour and light. I dropped what I was doing and poured out the little wine left and went and sat with my back propped against a fallen tree. It had perhaps been pushed over by an elephant at a long-forgotten time of depravation, or perhaps just because he could, like the rush of the storm wind could…

By now the sun had bleached its trunk white as bone and the rays made it glow in generous orange. The heat was starting to leave the veld and things that were hard and thorny were turning gentle and mysterious. I held each sip on my palate and sucked at the flavours as I let the grand splendour envelop me.

After a while the murmur of night creatures and the flutter of the fire and the hushed shuffling and droning of my African companions started to fill the small circle of firelight. A few times the even simmer of night beyond was ruptured by the wail of a jackal, and then the mournful bellow of a hyena and once, so faint that I had to tilt my head and hold my breath to hear, the deep hoot of a spotted eagle owl. I just sat and let my mind go quiet, not caring about the puzzled looks from my African companions at my unusual remoteness. I nodded to myself and muttered, “This is magic.”

Later, I wrote in my diary:

I can feel the stories wanting to bubble out from inside me, but my companions are withdrawn tonight, and I understand: it is not the time of the stories. So, let me free my thoughts so that they can play around in my head. Allow them to even go far back to times on Pas lap with my ear against the vibration of his breastbone, listening to his wonderful tales of Greek heroes and San hunters.

The great Leonidas, betrayed, but standing proud with his few remaining warriors, facing the arrows and swords of hordes of the Immortals; Hector, alone in front of the walls, knowing the inevitable result, but bravely coming forth to fight the mighty Achilles; the lone San hunters long search through the scorching days, his careful stalk, his mirthless grin as he hears the thuck” of the bone tip striking true at the elands flank, then his barefoot run on the spoor through the hot hours of the morning, till he finds it, past midday, standing with spread legs and head low, breathing in hoarse gasps past a tongue swollen with exhaustion and the poison.

I imagined the minds of these men at their task, how they had to transcend the normal, move into a mental space where they became the ultimate embodiment of their creed, above fatigue and fear and pain. Can one, without having been there,  form an idea? I think, only if you have felt the coldness of staring right into the face of mortal danger, or have felt the hopelessness and desperation of being at the very end of your strength, then yes, you could.


  1. Written with such incredible detail! The reader embarks on a wonderful journey and it is the closest thing to being there as many will ever have.
    What a gifted writer! Thank you.

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