Welcome to South Africa

 

Table Mountain, Cape Town, South AfricaMy legs burn like ovens, and I sit, drinking in the view, ignoring the pain. Two hours of plodding up Table Mountain, up the stone stairway for giants, my knees rising to my chin, my hands scrambling; fit, young fathers with babies in backpacks striding past me; me striding past chubby teenagers and middle-aged hippies stooped over their knees and straining air through their teeth like steam-engines.

I sit on the table top and pull off my Blundstones–seven bucks from a second-hand store in Adelaide six years ago–and peel off my stinky socks. The cool air is a healing balm, and my toes wiggle a happy dance. I shiver with the mucky chill of cooling sweat. The wind tosses my hair like a tease, and I pull my cap on to stop my hair from lashing my face.
The white roofs of Cape Town are like snowflakes, and beyond, the turquoise sea impossibly clear, the flashes of waves like glitter in the sun. And then the mighty Atlantic draws my eyes to foreverness lost in the salty haze.

The descent compounds the agony, but I move differently now, sideways, like a long-legged crab. Tumbling down, keeping my legs straight when the topography allows it to lessen the screaming in my hamstrings and quadriceps. I don’t stop. I zip past the puffing, panting climbers yearning for oxygen, and when I reach the flat and glide down the sidewalk like a skater who moves with minimal effort, the pain is not so bad. I am on air.

The houses are high-walled and brick, strung with barbed-wire or pressed with broken glass, tiny deadly razors arranged like mountain ranges. There is no wind, the sun burns the sides of my neck, and I shiver, but not with cold. I glance nervously at the wall beside me and the line of razor wire that runs along the top, trusting that if an edgy homeowner is lurking in the garden with a shot-gun, my color will save me–at least in this part of town.

My feet are roasting. The ball of my left foot falls into a hole, but when I look down, I see a strip of rubber flapping from the sole of my boot, and I stop to consider the chunk of black two steps behind me. My boots are melting.

I walk like a stick-insect with boots flapping as if a shag is stuck to my foot with bubble gum. The sun tears at the exposed skin of my forearms and legs, and I hope I am wearing enough sunscreen to stop me from burning and blistering. My throat is dry, and I swish the last of the water around my mouth before swallowing, and then tuck the empty bottle back into my daypack.

I imagine my sister in the air-conditioned hotel, mixing with other academics, discussing her thesis; networking. She will be in work mode for another few days yet, doing what people do at conferences, and then our adventure will begin. We will hire a car and drive to Namibia. Just like that. That is the plan.
The sun creeps around the edges of my cap and nips at the side of my neck, just above the line of my t-shirt. The steaming pavement slices another strip of rubber from the soles of my boots.

Table Mountain looms over me now, the flattop cutting a magnificent line across the blue as a pedestal to heaven. At last, a hint of a breeze picks up. Soundlessly, it taunts me and my silly, flapping footwear, but if I listen carefully, I can hear the promise of wonder in days to come.
Welcome to Africa.

About the Author: E. M. Eastick worked as an environmental professional in Australia, Europe, and the Middle East before embarking on the writer’s journey. She currently lives in Guam.

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