Henry’s earliest memory was from when he was four years old. Whether it was a pure memory or a compilation of reconstituted experiences moulded together through frequent recollection he could not say. But in his mind it felt like one event. He had been playing by the stream next to the dilapidated old mill that stood in the poplar grove behind the farmhouse. The stream, which had once turned the millwheel, was at its deepest there. The millwheel itself had long since been dismantled and removed, and all that remained of the mill were four stone walls in various stages of collapse. The images that suddenly and inexplicably came rushing back to him now were of him picking up small stones from the mill’s ruins and then dropping them into the stream. It was a game of no apparent consequence. Although, to his younger self, there must have been something thrilling about watching the stones disappearing, seemingly without trace, below the rippled surface of the water.
It was not uncommon for him to play on his own when he was growing up. He was a shy child, whose energies had mostly been trained inwards. Even when there were opportunities for him to play with other children his own age he tended to wander off to entertain himself, as he found that the games they played were too competitive or else were dominated by the biggest or loudest child. It was a running joke in his family that whenever his mother took him to play with a child or children on a neighbouring farm she would have to call for Henry to emerge, on his own, from the neighbour’s garden or attic or shed when it was time to go.
At some stage he must have grown bored with dropping stones into the water. He next remembered pushing and rolling rocks into a narrow part of the stream, where it meandered slightly before flowing down a modest waterfall and then passing beside the mill. Eventually there were enough rocks to stem the flow of the stream. At least that is what Henry recalled. But looking back on the memory now he found it slightly implausible that a four-year-old could have single-handedly moved enough rocks to block up a stream. Nevertheless, he remembered a distinct feeling of fear when the stream breeched its banks as it searched for a way around the blockage. He climbed into the stream and desperately tried to remove some of the rocks. But by now they were submerged and the water was up over his knees. There was nothing he could do except watch as the defiant stream altered its course and headed downhill. In that moment Henry was utterly convinced that his family was going to be swept away and drowned because of him.
He was about to flee, to get as far from the scene of the crime as possible, when he saw his brother David stepping into the stream and lifting out the rocks. Dark-haired, lean and tall for his twelve years, David was practically a fully grown man in Henry’s eyes. Seconds later the stream was unblocked and flowing normally again. It was not the last time that David would come to his rescue.
This memory of his brother hauling rocks out of the stream was playing in Henry’s mind as he looked at Marian standing in the doorway to the lounge. Kabelo reacted first. He was quickly on his feet, grinning and looking slightly uncomfortable, as some men do when confronted with an obviously pregnant woman.
‘Why didn’t you tell me your wife was pregnant?’ he asked Henry with mock outrage. ‘We’re sitting in here sipping tea and you’re left out in the car and the heat . . .’
‘Kabelo, Marian. Marian, this is Kabelo.’
Marian and Kabelo shook hands and greeted one another.
‘Please,’ said Kabelo, ‘come and sit down, I’ll get some more hot water for the tea.’
‘Actually just a glass of cold water would be great, thank you. Would you mind if I used your loo?’
‘Of course not, I’ll show you the way, or have you been here before too?’
Marian laughed. ‘No, it’s my first time.’ She looked over at Henry, gave him a wink, and then mouthed the words ‘I’m fine’ before following Kabelo down the passage.
Henry was left alone to pack away his memories and prepare himself for whatever the present still had in store for him. Kabelo returned shortly and suggested that he and Henry take a walk outside while Marian had some refreshments. Henry agreed, but he first wanted to hear from Marian what her gynaecologist had advised.
‘Let me chat to Marian,’ he said to Kabelo, ‘we might not have time to resolve everything now.’
‘But do you think what I said is worth considering?’
‘Yes, it is.’
Dieter brought in a silver tray laden with a jug of chilled water, a bowl of ice, a glass and a side plate of lemon slices and fresh mint leaves. He placed it down on a coffee table and then removed the tea tray and the untouched scones.
‘Thank you, Dieter,’ said Kabelo, ‘you can go off now. I’ll see you first thing Monday, OK?’
Dieter smiled and nodded at Kabelo and Henry before exiting the room.
‘You’re giving him the weekend off? Aren’t you fully booked?’ Henry asked.
Kabelo scratched his chin and cleared his throat. ‘I wasn’t entirely honest with you earlier. We don’t actually have any guests this weekend. There’s a small problem that needs to be taken care of.’
Kabelo was sitting down again. Henry took a seat opposite him.
‘The sheep on this farm are not mine, as you probably know. They belong to a neighbour. He rents the land from me for extra grazing. The lucerne is his too.’
‘Which neighbour is this?’
Henry remembered the Bowkers: a jovial, ruddy-faced family that was somehow predisposed to random misfortune and bad decisions. Henry’s parents used to joke that it was good to have neighbours who made you feel better about your own situation. But, of course, it was the Bowkers who eventually had the last laugh.
‘And what’s the problem?’ Henry asked.
‘Over the last six months he’s lost quite a few sheep to jackals. I’ve had all kinds of people here trying to sort them out with dogs and gin traps, but they’re too clever, these jackals. Now Bowker says he’ll stop renting my land if I don’t get rid of them. I won’t lie to you: we need the extra income here. It’s a big problem.’