I became I again, floating in the vast oceansky, then falling, sinking,
I landed on a web of love, every thread anchored at each end by an
invisible being, each strand a connection between them.
A beautiful spiderlady wrapped me in silk, spinning me till I became the
still-point axle around which the universe turned.
Infinity whirled by, and I was ageless.
Above me a spider, unmoving in the web she had stretched across the
oblique angle formed by the reed wall and the rough ‘thatch’ roof,
waiting. I couldn’t see her colour, only her silhouette against the
prickles of light that poked through the dusty bundles of dry leaves and
After watching her for a moment, I wondered where I was.
Ah. The hole, I remembered. And smoke. But that wasn’t a woven mat up
I tried to sit up, but my muscles were too feeble.
Another moment, and I realised that my muscles were just fine; the problem
was that I was wrapped snug from neck to toes in something that held me
cosy rather than tight, but allowed no movement at all.
“My old parachute,” said a voice, as if reading my unspoken question.
“Comes in handy, that’s a fact. Like this.”
Outjie’s face appeared above mine, close enough this time that I could see
crumbs and other less identifiable sticky bits in the tangle of his beard.
He smelled of fish, marijuana, and very old sweat, as well as something
moldy that made me almost gag. He was patting a battered gas mask that
hung around his neck.
I bucked my body, trying to sit up, and found that in addition to being
wrapped, I was also strapped down, and couldn’t even move enough to make
Outjie’s face split into a grin that showed his yellow teeth, all there,
none missing. “My old stretcher. Handy too. Everything made to last, in
How had he managed to immobilise me so completely? That smoke must have
knocked me out for an hour, at least. Now, I couldn’t remember anything in
between holding my t-shit over my mouth, and being here.
“So,” he said, without shifting his grin, “did you meet the Lady?”
“What lady?” even as I asked, somewhere inside me, I knew that I had, if I
could only remember.
“Everybody meets the Lady,” said Outjie. “But when you go too far, you
don’t remember. Shame. But I needed the time, that’s a fact. Ten minutes
was tight. You’re a big little bugger, and strong when you wriggle. And
Ten minutes? That smoke had knocked me out for ten minutes?
“What was it?” my throat felt gritty, and I could hear it in my voice.
There was a faint taste like ash in my mouth.
“Sweet lady Salvia,” he said. “The gentle Goddess. A wonderful mistress,
to be treated with great respect.”
I cleared my throat, and it made me cough. My tongue felt sticky. I sucked
in my lips, and got sand in my teeth for my trouble.
“Hang on,” said Outjie, and disappeared. Seconds later a half coconut
shell nudged my cheek. I turned my face toward it, but smelled nothing.
From the little I could see at the odd angle, it held plain water.
Realising that I couldn’t drink without a straw at that angle, he shoved
my head up with his other hand. Awkwardly, I drank. The water was warm and
tasted stale, and I prayed it wouldn’t give me the runs later, but I
forced myself to sloosh and swallow. It was a relief when the grit was all
gone from my mouth.
“Why are you doing this?” I asked as he disappeared again. I turned my
head, but couldn’t see anything but a tattered reed wall. I was in some
kind of storage space inside his hut, couldn’t see through to where he
was, but for the old flash of movement that showed through the tiny gaps
“No reason to make you suffer any extra, I’m not a monster,” he replied
from close by, but still out of view.
He must think I meant giving me water. “No,” I said, “why tie me up?” Why
sacrifice me, I wanted to ask, but part of me was hoping I might have
imagined that bit.
I could hear him busy nearby, sounded like he was tidying up, or packing
“Just survival, little fish, just survival.”
Whatever Salvia was, it had left me feeling very normal, for which I was
grateful. Just a bit disoriented, but I couldn’t say whether that was the
drug, or the weirdness of everything else. I was glad I was able to think,
not like the one time I’d been drunk, and hung over.
“But, I said I can help you,” I tried. “Even now, if you let me go, no
hard feelings,” I insisted.
Outjie’s face appeared above me again, further this time, he was standing,
so the smell was not as bad.
“Too late for that, little fish. If you had bought that teapot last month,
maybe, or even a week ago. Then maybe your bossman could have organised
something. But I’m no appie. I know it’s a long shot, the Truth and
Reconciliation thingie is loooong over. Even for a magazine, it’s old
news. Maybe they still want to know about Machel now, maybe they don’t
even care. Maybe they do, but it takes too long to organise. There’s only
two days left.”
Since almost nothing in that speech that made any sense to me, it was hard
to decide what was worth asking about.
Outjie stank of marijuana, but there was nothing wrong with his eyes, or
his brain. He giggled at the look on my face. “You got no clue what I’m on
about, do you little fish?”
I flushed. I was just confused, fair enough. He needn’t assume I was
stupid. “Two days left for what?” I asked, grabbing at the last thing in
“Before the tsunami.”
“Big wave, big flood, drown everyone. Wash this house down.”
“I know what a tsunami is,” I snapped, “but my mom’s boss gets a three day
weather report every night. There’s no storm warnings.”
Outjie threw back his head and laughed, tapering off to a giggle. “Is that
a fact!” he said. ‘The boss man knows everything. Well let me tell you,
little fish, when it comes to this, he knows nothing. Nobody does, poor
buggers. Just Ullu’ha. Ullu’ha knows this, and she tells me. Ullu’ha does
“My friend the hippo,” said Outjie, confirming my guess.
He looked at me, eyes narrowed, gauging my reaction to his claim that he
could understand what a hippo said. Clearly, he wasn’t insane enough to
think I’d accept that as normal.
“Just to get you clear right now,” he said, “a little proof, so they say,”
he leaned over me, bracing his hands on his knees to peer right down at
me, skinny jowls flopping above his beard and making his face even more
like a nightmare. “Ullu’ha says she saw you on the beach this morning. You
were lying on your stomach in the lagoon. You got such a fright when you
saw her, she smelled you pee in the water.”
First, I blushed. How could even a hippo know that? Then, I felt chilled.
How could Outjie know that, unless he really, truly could understand her?
“Salvia’s really some thing, that’s a fact” said Outjie. “It’s given me
gifts I couldn’t dream.”
I cleared my throat again, trying to stay focussed. “So the hippo says
there’s going to be a tsunami, and there isn’t much time to escape it.
What’s that got to do with taking me hostage?”
“Sacrifice, fishie. Sacrifice is what I said.”
The bile rose in my throat again. “So you give the hippo human sacrifices.
How is that going to stop a tsunami?”
Outjie looked puzzled “What makes you think I’m going to sacrifice you to
Ullu’ha? She eats grass, mainly.”
“On her skin.”
Outjie laughed that weird, squeaky, head-back laugh-into-giggle again.
“That’s just her sweat, little fish. Hippos sweat red. You didn’t know?
Well I guess you’re new to the bush. Ullu’ha tells me it’s a sort of
sunscreen, keeps her skin soft and happy. No, no. Ullu’ha doesn’t want
you. She’s not fussed about the tsunami. She knows what to do to survive
it, but me, she can’t guarantee to help. I’m the one with the problem.”
“And sacrificing me is supposed to help you how?”
“By preventing the tsunami. If I can give them a nice fresh, strong, white
tourist-boy like you, they can do what they need without sending the
‘They?’ He must mean gods, ancestors, spirits, or something like that. I
took a deep breath, and a big risk. “Mr Botha,” I said, carefully. “Do you
really believe in that kind of nonsense? Really, truly?”
Outjie looked back at me with no sign of offense at what I’d said. That
was good. But it also didn’t seem to have made any other impression on
him, which was not.
“It’s not a question of belief, little fish. It’s as simple as the man who
makes bread at the market, or your mom making your breakfast. It’s all
quite real, and makes sense once you have all the facts. The only thing
that makes it look crazy, is when you don’t know the half of it. They say
in the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king? Ha. The one-eyed
man gets called crazy.” Outjie paused, but I had nothing to say.
“The only crazy ones are the humans, little fish,” he continued, “because
they look all around them, but it doesn’t seem to help. They look at the
world, they look on the TV, they look in the mirror but they still can’t
see. The ones who want you, are perfectly real. You will go to them, under
Outjie paused, letting his words sink in. Then, he turned away.
I tried to let the words sink, in, from my side too. Problem is, that
didn’t make them any easier to make sense of. The chill inside was
deepening though. Under the sea? Death is death, I guess, but of every
kind of death, the most horrible to me, was to drown in the vast green
loneliness called the ocean.
“Can’t take you in broad daylight, though, no matter how urgent,” he said,
out of view, and by the sound of it, getting back to his packing.
“Only fair to tell you, you have just a few hours left, little fish.
You’ll be alive, at least as you, until tonight.”