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Leisure, Reality

A Full Moon and a Couple of Asses

by Kimon de Greef / 25.06.2013

It was dusk; I was frustrated. I’d overeaten after lunch and spent too long peering down the bottomless funnel of social media. So I ejected myself from the house — an aunt’s, to be looked after while she and the rest of the extended family holidayed in Greece — and went for a walk.

The house is at the top of Tamboerskloof, next door to a diplomat’s residence with 24-hour security and a giant satellite dish on the lawn. I ascended a side road, nodding at the inscrutable guard, and began searching for a path onto Signal Hill.

As I walked the driveways became more ornate. The verandas grew bigger.

“STOP,” announced a laminated sign banged into the hillside. “This property is protected by motion sensors and laser beams.” The house was constructed mainly of glass and a middle-aged man was sitting on the ground floor, watching tennis. There was no fence.

I came to a gate with razor wire and a combination lock. A dirt path started up the hill on the other side. There was no way through so I retraced my steps and tried a different route. (The man watching television was gone.)

A short distance away I found what I was looking for.

The city lights became more prominent as I climbed. Table Mountain flared orange and then dimmed as the sun dragged away. The sky was a thick, aquatic purple with flat-bottomed clouds that threatened rain.

I was alone in a murky thicket of bluegums and picked up a rock the size of a cricket ball to ward off trouble. This is a precautionary habit I’ve had since about age fifteen; I’ve not had to test it yet.

A few months ago I was in Hawston, strolling in the adjacent nature reserve with a girlfriend, and we were discussing having a swim when a man we’d seen lurking in the carpark appeared behind a boulder.

“That guy’s here,” my girlfriend cut in, eyes clipped to a point above my shoulder. I spun and saw him duck out of sight.

“Fuck, now what?” she said. We’d locked our cellphones in the boot of the car. The reserve was empty.

“We can’t stay,” I answered, feeling stupid and afraid. I’d brought us in and, obligatory nods to gender neutrality aside, considered it my duty to keep us safe. “Pass me the water bottle and take a stone.”

We were standing on a pebble beach with giant strands of kelp putrefying in the sun. She handed me the glass bottle, which I emptied.

“We’re going to walk out,” I said, testing the words out as I said them. “If I ask for that stone, pass it to me — but throw it yourself if you’d rather.”

My plan, inasmuch as there was one, was to smash the bottle if the man appeared and fling rocks from a distance. I didn’t want to find out if I could use the bottle.

We started walking. He appeared behind a ridge.

“Faster,” I said. “He mustn’t think we’re scared.”

The man started running away. We reached the car park ten minutes later and tossed our stones in the sea.

A Full Moon and a Couple of Asses
Image © Stephan Iggy Bester

At the base of Signal Hill the bluegums gave way to a grassy field. A pair of flattened cardboard boxes was laid out under a low shrub, crumpled bits of newspaper and an empty bankie discarded nearby.

I heard a woman shout and stopped to listen. She jogged into view — young, with cropped brown hair — and slowed when she saw me. I thought, shit, I probably look dangerous. She was calling her dog.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Yeah. Which way to Military Road?”

“I don’t know.”

“Are you from here?” She’d halted fifteen meters back.

“From Cape Town. But I don’t know these paths.”

A milky-eyed Jack Russell trotted around the corner. I stepped back to let them pass.

My knee was hurting, which happens whenever I get angry with myself, and after climbing another ten minutes I sat to rest. The row of cars parked on Signal Hill Road reminded me it was full moon. A damp breeze lifted from the sea and cooled the sweat on my arms.

A blonde girl picked her way up a path I hadn’t noticed.

“Where does this lead?” I asked, feeling a need to appear friendly.

“To Military Road.” She had a Dutch accent and was holding an expensive camera. Her Alsatian wore a red bandana around its neck.

She began taking photographs, then stopped. Five coloured boys were marching down the hill. One uttered something unintelligible; the rest laughed viciously. She pushed her camera behind her back and crouched to grip the dog, which was straining towards them.

“Hi ma’am!” Called one as they sauntered by. They ignored me on my tree stump and returned to discussing soccer. Further down they picked up stones and began hurling them into the bushes.

The moon rose, apricot and impossibly huge, and somewhere on the hill a man hooted like a jackal. The city lights were shimmering. I watched the moon separate from the mountains and when it was a complete, bulging orb I started to walk back down.

I lost my way and ended up in a field at the edge of the Bo-Kaap, where I discovered three donkeys. The smaller two were skittish and wouldn’t let me touch them, but the third — I guessed it was a parent — allowed me to scratch its ears. I was scared it would kick me (I haven’t had much experience with donkeys) but it seemed peaceful. It sniffed my arm. I offered it a handful of grass, but it declined.

I said goodnight and continued along the path. A string of torch beams was wrapped around the contours of Lion’s Head. The wind shuffled through the bluegums and I paused to look back at the moon, which had disappeared behind a diaphanous web of cloud.

A shadow moved. One of the donkeys was trotting towards me.

“Hello,” I called out in my most soothing voice. “Hi, friend.”

It was the Dutch girl. She didn’t answer.

“Shit, sorry. I thought you were a donkey.”

She jogged past, whistling for the Alsatian.

“Look, did you see the donkeys back there?”

“Yes, I know those donkeys.” She didn’t stop.

“I really thought you were one of the donkeys!” I called after her.

“No no no,” she called back, a smudge against the trees. “I’m not a donkey.”

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