I’ve been following Daily Prompt with that gut-churning feeling, a bit like the 11-year-old version of me sitting on the highest diving board at our local swimming pool. I did eventually dive in, surfacing with a feeling of triumph, and water burning in the back of my throat. Only to go straight up the ladder again for the next dive.
I just couldn’t pass today’s dangling carrot: “Tell us about a journey”.
There are so many. Even my daily commute is a journey. I can easily do it in total silence, because in my head I’m somewhere else, perhaps an open plain, in the middle of the night, with the motionless air heavy and full of promise, the stars within picking distance.
So I picked my journey home from school. My parents lived in Oshakati, northern Namibia, and from the age of 12 I attended boarding school in Malmesbury, Western Cape. They drove down to South Africa during the longer school holidays, and I had to get up home during the shorter breaks. So from about the age 12 to 16 I made that journey twice a year.
The first year I took the overnight coach from Paarl to Windhoek. It trundled up the nearly 1500 km in around 20 hours, with only 2 comfort stops, no toilets on board. The driver had only one tape on the cassette player which blared out all night. It was Abba, and up to this day the song “Fernando”, will transport me right back to the front left seat of the old school bus, my first experience of purgatory. My dad collected me in his pickup truck, and we set off on the next leg home, another 716 km. That bit was great, with the thick aroma of autumn savannah pouring into the cab, me and my dad stopping halfway for lunch. I felt so grown up.
The return leg of the journey 10 days later was memorable for another reason. I think our first pit stop was at Keetmanshoop. It was near midnight, fairly chilly, and I didn’t take long to get back into the bus to claim my seat. Something just didn’t feel right. You know that awful feeling when you realise you’re in the wrong bus? They were filling up with diesel, and our bus had moved to make room for the other one at the pump. How to get up calmly, grateful for the darkness and nonchalantly saunter out to your own bus, just as the engines fired up.
This was the night when between stops the urge to “go” was getting so overwhelming that it was physical agony. When we finally pulled up at the next garage the queue at the toilets snaked endlessly into the distance. And when it was finally my turn I was overcome with “stage fright” at the crib, with big boys shuffling impatiently behind me. How do you turn on a rusty old tap which had been overtightened for half a century?
Well that journey stays with me, and all others are measured by it. The following year I took a domestic flight from Cape Town to Windhoek, and then had the privilege to fly in a single prop Beechcraft to Ondangwa, passing over the Etosha pans.
But that story is for another day.