Flash fiction: Running to the Karoo
Suddenly and unexpectedly even to me, I swing on the steering wheel, peeling into a small lay-by that boasts a dirtied bench and table and one scrawny, dust-covered tree.
I pull up harshly on the handbrake, turn off the engine, remove the key, put my hand on the door handle – and then pause. A forty-ton truck barrels past, causing my car to rock, then there is silence. The powerful, marrow-reaching silence of the desert. I let go of the door and drop my head against the steering wheel. Shoulders sink forward and I allow the already fast-falling tears to land wherever. I start to hear the horrid little gaspy noises that my body makes when it is truly venting.
The tears are hardly new – they have become a way of life. They were the threat that caused me to leave Durban early that morning, so early that I missed the hadidas’ coarse wake-up call. That was almost a thousand kilometres ago, but even with windows down for some of the way my emotions managed to keep pace and it is clear that nothing has been left behind on the road. The heartache, the fear – they are still with me in the car. They have dogged me devotedly for months. But then, how can anyone be so pathetic as to think you can outrun them? We all know I could travel to the farthest place on the planet – please, I could travel to the moon – but I would take them – I would take me – with me. There is no escape. Only the reality, more real now than ever in the silence, that I will have to work through every wrenching thought, withstand every fresh wave of pain, and sit it out. For however long it takes. There are no shortcuts in anything, and one must let life play itself out.
Enervating Karoo air is seeping in now the air conditioning is turned off. What am I even doing here? I swore I’d never travel this road again. But a broken heart changes things – things you knew deep down you would never think or do are the things you now say and do. At times you watch yourself move though life like an impassive spectator, curious to see what will happen next.
Last night I woke up around 2am and lay staring at the ceiling, a strip of light from the crack in the curtains illumining a line of nothing. My soul screamed out against it, and in the austerity of deep night time I felt myself thrashing against the cruel confines of my story …. I told myself that I refused to lie there again fighting the void. I would react – I would do something unconsidered, something incited. So I had climbed into my car, and headed cross country.
Before true wakefulness arrived, and before I began to feel feeble with hunger and fatigue, I topped the escarpment and saw my first kopje. Clinging to my overwrought desire to express my situation, I pressed down further with my foot, willing my 1.4 litre capsule to blast past the gentle willows and pretty cosmos and enter into the waste of the Greater Karoo. When I finally reached it, a blessed leadenness set in for a couple of hours. The whirr of rushing car was all that filled my ears. But eventually the flatness wore off, as I knew it would, and the mirages on the sun-soaked tar began to look especially real through a fresh wash of tears.
By and by I stop crying. I look up and around, squinting into the hurtful light. The potholed earth of my lay-by looks scorched and the stones intolerant, as though they themselves have endured too much to know any sympathy. An empty can and a few chip packets crowd around the base of the tree. It is an exhausting scene. But the mundaneness of the Fanta logo sobers me a little.
Right, I tell myself, time to wipe your face and get out of the desert. The drama must end.
Still, I step out of the car. The heat is everywhere, instantly; a month ago I would have railed against the air for pressing itself all over my battered existence, but I no longer have energy for poetic pain. My face quickly feels tight with evaporated tears. I walk to the edge of the scrub, where I stand quietly, hands loose at my sides, and look out over an emptiness I understand.
If you enjoyed reading this, I’ve written some other flash fiction: