Travelling with Boys (part 5)

September 2008, Richtersveld.

We’re driving the immortal Geel Bliksem (1978 Landcruiser) through this dry, desert nature reserve. The boys are sitting on top of the roof rack, singing and shouting and having a ball. Moonman is driving. I’m clinging to the Jesus bar with both hands. We hit some very fine sand and the Bliksem rocks and rolls through it in a cloud of white dust.

“Skootle, we have to get a picture of this!”

We stop and I get out, taking Moonman’s camera. They turn around and come barrelling back towards me. I press the button. Nothing happens. I press harder, still nothing happens. Too late. The moment has passed, they’ve come right past me. They turn around. I check the camera – green light, it’s ready. I signal GO. They come bouncing and sliding through the sand again. I press the button. Nothing happens! No matter what I do, nothing!

“Skootle, really, how hard can it be? All you have to do is press the button!”

“I. AM. PRESSING. THE. STUPID. BUTTON. What kind of dumb camera is this anyway?”

“Well, I’m turning around again. This time just press the button.”

Take three. The Geel Bliksem is rumbling like  thunder, clouds of dust are billowing around it like smoke and the boys hang on for dear life. They are charging straight at me, an angry yellow buffalo. Miraculously, this time the camera goes “CLICK!” and I get the best shot of my life.

The Legendary Geel Bliksem

I would have liked to submit the picture to a 4×4 magazine, but I’m afraid of getting the Team into trouble for having allowed kids on the roof rack. My opportunity for fame as a photographer passes.

Back at base camp, Moonman says, “I’m going for a pee.”

He strides off into the bush. I’m snoozing in the shade, so at first I don’t notice that he’s taking quite a long time. Then I start worrying, as Earthling females do in such circumstances. But I already know what has happened:

As he is answering the call of nature, he sees a nice looking rock. “Interesting geology,” he would no doubt be thinking to himself. He goes to inspect it close up. Next to the rock is a pretty little cactus. And just over there is a strange pattern in the sand. One thing leads to another. The Moonman, like Aborigine men in the Australian outback, has gone walkabout. Despite warnings not to, he has been seduced by sandstone, feldspars and weathering patterns. And tiny plants surviving in the harshest climate imaginable. This place is like a moon landscape – Moonman feels right at home here.

Surfer Dude and I start patrolling down the road in the direction we last saw him. We shout, we whistle. It’s been about two hours since his disappearance. What if he’s fallen on his head? What if he tried to befriend a snake and got bitten? What if he’s broken his leg? There’s no cellphone signal out here in the desert, no rescue teams, nothing. Typically female, the worries start escalating into a drama of “I shouldn’t be alive” proportions. I tell a passing ranger if he should see a bearded man who looks like a Voortrekker, wandering aimlessly in the desert or wounded or unconscious somewhere – he belongs to us. The man nods sympathetically. He promises to keep a look out.

We keep looking. The sun starts to sink towards the horizon. Our fellow campers are pouring pre-dinner drinks. My stomach is in a knot. Out of the blue, the Moonman strides back into camp, as if he’s just been gone for five minutes. I am almost faint with relief. And then I get angry. Men just DO NOT get this.

“Where have you beeeeeen?!” I wail, rather embarrassingly, I admit. “You said you were going for a wee – it’s been three hours! We’ve been calling and looking for you, we’ve been worried sick!”

“Really? Skootle, man, you mustn’t worry. I just walked around a bit. I saw these beautiful little plants, I saw a snake, and the most interesting geology. You should have seen it!… Now, Skootley, come, I’m desperate for a cup of tea!”

*

When travelling with boys, there are the inevitable dares. You know the type:

“Five bucks if you put that worm in your mouth!”

“Ten bucks if you dance naked on the balcony!”

“Hundred and twenty bucks if you lick that goose dropping!”

“I’ll do it,” announces Dynamo Boy.

A long pink tongue slowly stretches towards the patch of dried guano on a tree stump. A quick touch, and Moonman has to pay up. Dynamo Boy runs around in circles, shouting and laughing like a maniac.

*

Sunday afternoon. Surfer Dude is on the computer, experimenting with Virtual DJ.

“That sounds like alien music,” says Moonman. “Maybe the aliens will come and get him… We’ll just find this blackened hole in the ceiling and a little note saying ‘We’ve abducted this boy to be part of a breeding program between our race and human beings.’”

“Oh yeah!” says Dynamo Boy, face lighting up, imagining his elder brother being whipped off into space.

“He can start a whole new race… the Timothians**! And they shall rule the universe with their great knowledge!” warbles the Moonman in a melodramatic voice.

With the boys now aged 12 and 14, the stunts are cranked up a notch or two. One afternoon, Moonman teaches the boys how to ride a scooter. They have a great time, taking pictures of each other, zooming up and down the (very quiet) street. When I arrive later, they wax lyrical as they tell me all about it – how well they rode, how much fun they had, how cool a scooter is…

I listen with interest. I let them go on, not interrupting.

“Oh wait…” says one of them after a while. “It’s YOUR scooter…”

“Oops.”

I do have to hand it to them. They certainly know how to squeeze a whole lot of living into life. No guts, no glory.

 

* Tarentaal = Guinea fowl

** Surfer Dude is known to some as Timothy

Erica Neser (c) 2011

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