A Dusty Smile

When I was at Varsity in Cape Town, my parents came to visit and we decided to travel up the West Coast of South Africa. There are basically two roads to choose from when travelling in this part of the world, the main tar road which is slightly inland and a dirt road, which hugs the cool Atlantic coast to the left, and has the semi-arid desert to the right. This, of course was the road we chose.
We all piled into my dinky student car which rarely had a full tank of gas, as a student budget had hardly allowed such an indulgence and I had no idea how far a tank of petrol would get us. It was a last minute road trip, fortunately we had a radio, but no aircon, armed only with a map book and the open road our adventure began.
It had been many years since my dad had travelled this part of the world and we had no formal reservations for accommodation or how long the trip would take. The first part of the trip was scenic as we popped into the little sea side towns that dot the map as you travel up the west coast of the cape. It was so hot that my brother and I even braved a swim in the freezing Atlantic which, averages on a chilly 11 degrees Celsius. But soon the drive on the dirt road became slow and tedious.
The West coast is rather flat and the scenery is drab as the natural fynbos of the cape gives way to flat dusty open sparseness of arid desert-scapes. The only other vehicle we came across that day was a large quarry truck with a load of workers hitching a ride in the back. All our necks strained at this unusual site as we drove past them, wondering where in this deserted part of the world they would be heading. The heat was unrelenting and eventually I dozed off, only to be awoken by a sudden jolt as the car swerved from side to side on the gravel road, eventually coming to halt.
A tyre had burst, but luckily we had a spare and two able men to do the repair. It was a welcomed opportunity to get out the car and stretch our legs. The late afternoon sun beat down; it must have been about 40 degrees by then, with no breeze offering a reprieve from the searing heat. All around us the horizon danced in a mirage of heat waves. The three girls sat huddling on the side of the road seeking what little shade we could get from the rain umbrella I kept in my trunk usually used as protection against the fierce Cape winter storms that rage for three months from July to September.
The men huffed and grunted in frustration, hardly exchanging a word as they worked, dust and stones sticky to their sweaty bodies as they persevered in the heat at least they were making progress. In the suffocating stillness of the hot afternoon, we could hear a roar approaching along the road. It was the truck we had passed earlier. More accurately it was a dust cloud in the open desert, bearing down towards us. They slowed down as they approached us, all the hitch hikers in the back, waving eagerly as they passed. Helpless on the side of the road, we all tried to protect ourselves against the cloud of dust that followed the rambling noise of the passing truck.
I took one last gulp of fresh air, put my head between my legs and wished I was back at the beach, diving beneath the cool azure waves of the Atlantic. The dust eventually settled, the car was finally fixed and we were back on the road, windows open, wind bellowing through the car, drowning out the music coming from the radio. Again, the car slowed as we approached something in the road, it was the truck we had passed earlier, that had then passed us, leaving us ducking for cover from its dust cloud. The passengers littered the side of the road all staring helplessly as a few men laboured to repair a flat tyre. We all waved as we drove past, strangers that had never met, but who had somehow shared the same experience, stuck in a place that none of us wanted to be in.

K Letcher

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