She rises early and backs, as the ocean breathes out, and she skips over ripples on the bay. She hitches her skirt as she crosses the village and waves from the grass on her way up the hill. She tinkles the chime at a door and dillies a while. There is no answer. Down, down and over the veld, she teases the trees and they shake with mirth at the tales she tells. They wave goodbye to the wind; she hurries past huts and ramshackle houses, with her collar up and kicking dust, she whistles mo-o-ody music. She stops once again at a door to a room, someone is praying, she is nosy, needs to see, “Who’s there?”
Rashida and her mother Ethel, rent a single room and access to an outside privy, in a dormitory township of Dassie Bay. A two mile wide no-mans-land of bush-denuded veld holds the township a generous arm’s length from the closest white settlement. It’s a long walk for the girl to make, she steps it often and ‘rutted track’ is a generous description for the path that she takes. For a mile it erodes on the edge of a donga, threatens to carry her down to the spill of sewage that soils its way to the sea. Even now in September, at ten in the morning, the temperature spikes and a stench from the trench is disturbed. It rises and mutters: “Bellicose oaths!” This stink, and the tinnitic ring of beetles, are familiar hitch hikers, slouched at the side of the road, and she barely acknowledges them, hurrying past. As she picks her way across the veld, she skips in time to a chant, a prayer that repeats in her heart: “Werk vandag asseblief Here werk vandag asseblief. Werk vandag asseblief here werk vandag asseblief.” Miskien praat die Here Engels?” It is not a rhetorical question, and for the next mile, her steps are measured with a different meter,: “Work Lord Please Lord Work Lord Please Lord…”
The sun is reaching high in the sky when she reaches the place where the rut joins the road, and the hot tar burns her bare feet. Dainty gazelle hops, and she rests on a strip of cool white paint. Hop, skip, jump, and she is across. From here, it is not far to the marina and to Meneer Roberts’ office, and she keeps to the cooler shaded pathways. As she approaches, Rashida can see him huddled behind his desk, paying frowning attention to papers in front of him. She rattles the door with a knock and the pane threatens to drop from its frame. Griffin looks up as she pushes door and the idle mat blows rings at her feet. She stands shyly in front of the desk and in a soft voice greets him. “Middag meneer?” She has no experience to connect the feelings, but she is as nervous as she might be in front of a head-master. Vowels hustle one another as they bustle from her lips. “Meneer het gese ek moet vandag kom meneer?” Heavy shakes of salt and pepper season his eyebrows. His intention is not to look menacing, but to Rashida he does. She misses the kindness that crinkles his eyes; she stares at the floor. It is thick in his voice and his heart as he answers her: “Ja kind, .”
Griffin doesn’t make much mess; he is a bachelor and a tidy one. But when his charter-boats are used, he uses Rashida to clean the sticky smears and soiled sheets that the guests leave behind, and he is glad to. He wishes that he had more work to pass on to the girl, prays that this will work out for her. “Luister kind. Go to the last boat past the caffey. There is somebody living there now. He needs help” The girl drops a shy curtsey as her heart surges high and a silent prayer is released like a dove, “Dankie Here,” and “thank you Lord!” Just in case. It is not far from Griffin’s office to “the last boat past the caffey”, and soon the girl approaches a man directing a hosepipe with one hand and in the other; a beer sweats in the sun. Joshua watches the slim barefoot waif take hesitant steps down the jetty. “Middag meneer.” She waits for the man to acknowledge her. “Hi., “and he wonders what she is searching for. “Meneer Roberts het my gestuur meneer.” Joshua’s Afrikaans is rusty, it takes him seconds to translate and still he doesn’t understand. Rashida continues; “Werk meneer of wasgoed.” The penny drops, “the help!” Joshua turns the hosepipe off and replaces the cap that was peeping from his pocket on the tank that he was filling. “So you’re looking for work then?” he asks. “Ja meneer enige werk ek werk goed meneer vra vir Meneer Roberts hy weet.” Joshua understands the gist of the words that tumble in a rush from her mouth, and he smiles at the solemnity in someone so young and there is something special reflecting in the girl’s huge eyes. He recognizes it, necks the rest of his beer, looks at her again, and says “Come.”
The eighty-five litres of his backpack are dedicated to dirty clothes, but he needs more help than that. The inherited mess than he now possesses needs to be sorted, and a yacht is a demanding mistress in many ways. Joshua looks forward to having a char, someone who will clean up behind him, he also looks forward to having somebody’s help with the boring details of maintenance. Help comes in many guises, and Rashida’s seemed miscast and exotic, not quite arranged for work or labour. “Too delicate!” Her light frame lies, and Joshua wonders where the eyes are from. Molten green, and brimming; these over-sized saucers pool in coffee coloured skin, and try to hide beneath thick jet curls and longer lashes, an impossible feat to achieve. And she is coltish, awkward, seems to fold herself up, so as not to take up too much space, or be too noticeable. Joshua invites her to sit, and she stands. “What’s your name?”
“Rashida meneer,” she talks to the floor at her feet.
“O.K. then Rashida, what do you charge to do laundry?”
“Hang af meneer hoeveel wasgoed?”
“Wag net ‘n bietjie, ek kom,” and he manhandles the backpack through his cabin door. “O.K. How much for this?” The girl looks at the bag “Net dertig rand meneer dertig vir die sak.” That’s not bad Joshua thinks to himself. “And when will I get it back?”
“Dis een uur meneer ek kan more terug,” and she keeps her eyes cast downward.
“O.K. sorted.” Joshua holds out his hand, the girl barely takes it, they shake on a deal and it’s done. Joshua helps her get the pack off the boat and onto the jetty, and as she struggles away with her load, he smiles at her comic and plaintive figure. “Shot Rashida, see you tomorrow. There’s more where that came from.”
Her next thousand paces were nothing; grains in the sand she kicks up, and the thousands thereafter are nothing too. The girl and her mother have followed the verge of a long tired road to Dassie Baai, and it was uphill all the way. The landscape they have stained with their steps and their stops is bleak and austere, either too hot or too cold. Here they have made a home, for a while, but there is a feeling inside Rashida that this will be the last one, for Ethel anyway. Her dreads are light and she shakes them, she is grateful, they will eat, and she keeps time to her steps with her prayers. And so it is as Rashida hurries home, that both Concern and Gratitude are helping her with her heavy load.