Tuesday, April 28, 2009

It was a dark and misty night

Being the perceptive readers you are, you will understand that if I now begin to spin tales of What Went Wrong, this is no reflection of me as a person somewhat prone to the half empty school of life. Nor is it proof that I have an obsessive tendency to hark back on regret and imperfection. Oh no. It is merely evidence of the fact that a good story is all about What Went Wrong. No one (really) needs hear the endless oohs and ahs of how wonderful it all was.

Truly, it was all splendid, and all was as it should be. But drama is not built on those details. Drama is about expectations thwarted, old schoolfriends biting down on old bitternesses, perfect plans being lanced by the fierce needle of, well, life, really. Drama is about the fly in the ointment, winking at you as it flaps its last oily flap. Drama is about breaking down a quarter of the way up the mountain on twos-day night and there's not a thing you can do about it. And lets face it, its drama you want, right?

You see, there was no margin for error. My to-dos seemed to bulk out and bristle at me every time I ticked one of them off. They'd just re-assemble themselves, multiplying, grinning, grasping at me. I'd slay one, and they'd breed. My notebook was full. The excel sheet long since abandoned. My house full of well meaning relatives who really wanted to help, if only I had time to sit for five minutes and think of a task for them. Or somehow, download the contents of my head into a verbal form that someone outside my head could understand.

And then I got a very bad hangover. Ha. I make it sound like someone mailed it to me in the post. Truly, my Pakistani Malawian Bridesmaid schoolfriend who now lives in the genteel countryside of Great Britain somewhere did a fabulous job of organising me a fine hen night. (I know. Apparently that's what it is called.) All was as it should be. Guffaw inducing gifts, my dear mates around one table, too much Cava. It was good. And like so many before us, we thought that More would make it Better. And it didn't. It made me lose my phone in my friend's couch and not know where it was the next day. It made me thirsty and barely able to concentrate for my very early hair appointment the next morning. It made me lose a day. That was Wednesday. Threesday. In the later part of that day, I fetched my mother-in-law-to-be from the airport. After dry retching in a toilet in Newtown, waiting for T to get to work (late) so that I could get my phone from her (do you have any idea how important your phone is on Threesday?), after remembering with faint horror that I had smoked a cigarette last night. After sitting in the bank for hours because I realised I had actually left my bank card in the machine the day before and, miraculously, someone had handed it in. I still got to the airport. I also fetched the wonderful P, a friend from Cape Town who was to be one of several wonderful wedding elves.

So on Thursday, the pressure was not only on it was unfeasible. The Plan was that on Thursday, mother and sister were to travel ahead in the slow Pajero, and we (bridesmaid and P and I) were to follow behind, leave my non 4x4 vehicle in Dullstroom and proceed together up the hill, with luggage and wine and mattresses and other very important bits and pieces. So that on Friday we would have the luxury of waking early, setting up the lanterns, picking some wild flowers, transferring the final playlists from computer to ipod, and just generally soaking up the marvels of the place we chose as our nuptual spot. Well.

A midday leaving would have been (just) feasible. But due to the lost Wednesday, and the fact that I still had ridiculous amounts of last minute emails to send, and B and I still had a last minute meeting with lawyer that morning, Thursday just didn't manage to make herself long enough for us. She tried. We actually were on the road before the bad traffic hour. But that didn't matter, because a truck had lost its load on the outskirts of town, and we waited. and waited. and waited. Tearing at my clutch in static traffic. And I won't tell you how fast I drove to get to Dullstroom because my mom is reading this, but when we finally got to her, in her patient Paj, it was late. Dark, late. No time for five intrepid women to be heading up a dark hill on a rocky road with a heavy load. But hey. Stubbornness is what we are made of, us Carr girls, and there were three of us. So off we went. In the valiant Paj.

We got over the railway tracks. Up the first bit of rutted nastiness. Up onto the stony section. And the Paj she coughed once, stalled and - that was it. Alternator. An old illness.

About 9, the moon is still high and perky. I phone Jacob the farm manager to see if he can bring the tractor down to tow us. Fine, in theory. But he is currently at the bottom of the hill and must walk up, to get the tractor to bring to us. This will add two hours. So we do the sensible thing - find the duvets, the bedding, the screw-top wine bottles. Its cold. we sip. we sleep.

Jacob arrives, in a tractor with no lights. The once-perky moon is slipping away and the hills are exhaling a soft, icy breath. The tractor can tow us, a bit. Slowly. I walk next to it with the torch, and easily keep apace. Its going to be slow work. Mom's windows are all misted up, she has to trust the pool of light that is my torch. But then there's a steep bit of road and big loose rocks, and just no way that the tractor will do it. We're too heavy. Jacob can't help. We must walk.

So, we grab the food we can - a couple of shopping packets in front of the car.. We can only find one torch, because everything was so hastily packed. Off we go.

Its 9km from the bottom of the hill to the farm, but in the dark and after the sleep, I have no sense of how far we are. We are a patient, strong lot of girls, really we are. My Ma, who's developing a bit of a nasty cough, my 6-month pregnant sister, my bridesmaid with bad shoes, and the silent stoic P, who recently did the Rwenzoris and doesn't have a complaint in her body. Except, did I mention that we are all pretty hungry, coz we ate badly that day, it being the day it was...

I don't know what time it was when we set out. But I do remember the moment we couldn't see the moon any more, when it sank below the last gleaming hill and the deep silence got dark. And we had our cellphones and a torch. And we trudged.

And trudged.

And at some point I thought of Xerxes and his crazy campaigns of war, pouring endless resources into a no-win ego-hole... we shall overcome. And I thought of British grit. And I thought of my grandfather, the walker. And I thought what on earth for?

But mostly we didn't think much, except (everynowandthen) about a Nice Cup of Tea and a crackling fire. Well, I did.

And then, as we reached the top, the part where the road splits and the one you have to take is the less travelled one, and its hard to spot - the mist came up. Like when you're a kid and they blindfold you and spin you around, and then you suddenly have no idea which way is left, right, up, down. The world just throws a cloth over your head and you have no idea which way to turn. And you're on a mountain and there's no moon and you know there are cliffs that you could tumble down...

It was 2 am when Tonglen opened her warm crackling loins for us (yip, that's what it felt like). And the aga was lit, and we had tea and we made heated up tinned sweetcorn and chickpeas and tomato salsa and I realised that the heavy item in the packet I had been carrying was not rice as I had thought but sugar. and we hadn't brought the bread.

And we slept soooo well.


Miranda said...

Oh this is fabulousness distilled. Love it! The post I've been waiting for (trying to write myself actually but you did a muuuuch better job!)
Gonna go read it again now.

Shiny said...

Oh wow, what fabulous stories you have to tell! More, more! Please x

Lori ann said...

Tam, you are such a brilliant writer. Sounds so romantic and a perfect beginning to this new adventure you've started on as Mr.& Mrs., AND it sure makes for a good story.
♥ lori

Anonymous said...

A good story and so well told - so glad it was wonderful and so glad there was the right balance of ups and downs they make it memorable.

I hope there's more....

Reya Mellicker said...

If there's no drama, it won't "take."

You're so brave and determined. And beautiful, the way you think and the way you live.

All I can say is WOW.

tam said...

Miranda, hard to capture the extreme exhaustion and the brave good sporting spirit of you lasses, but, well, an attempt.
Shiny, this was kind of the defining one, but yes, there are more. Just not sure about how to represent all of it honestly without, well, you know.
Lori - romantic was far from our minds. Tired, hungry. But, yes, those hills are extraordinary.
Rob, there is more, but alas my schedule has exploded and i can only dish in small infrequent dollops.
Reya, I guess it always looks more interesting from far away...

Chimera said...

Oh hon, I love it! Your sister says it 'fabulousness distilled'! Absoltuely! I can feel it all through your writing. More!!!
T xx
And more congratulations!