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Open Features: Like An Apple In The Garden Of Eden

English girl Susan marries an Afrikaner aristocrat and goes to live in a grand old house near Cape Town in this story by John Carneson. But Susan's idyllic life is soon overwhelmed by South Africa's bitter history.

The signs of laughter were marked around Susan's brown eyes. Yet she was uneasy, a hidden doubt eating her from within. They had married in 1968 in an ancient market town, an hour from London. She was from the minor gentry settled around the town, most of them having been taxed off the land and into the more genteel professions. Dirk was an Afrikaner aristocrat whose family owned most of a valley near Cape Town.

They first met in London at a function to raise money for scholarships for black South Africans. Although Susan had little interest in politics, her family had always supported worthy causes. Dirk talked freely with some black students that were hanging around nervously. Something sparked between them and they went out to dinner.

Within a month she moved into his flat in Chelsea. He spent much of his time cultivating a growing circle of black acquaintances. They were closest to Tiny Langa, a rotund law student. She was fascinated by the way in which Dirk and Tiny were bound by ties of homesickness, and by a tension that ran through their relationship like stretched barbed wire.

They honeymooned in Cape Town. She was surprised by the house they were to live in, a present from her in-laws. It was very large, but they had paid little for it. They explained that the owner had been jailed for furthering the aims of communism.

The house was like a grand old lady, sitting under the granite sweep of Table Mountain. It had wooden shutters like gun ports on a galleon, and stoops skirted by ornate ironwork. Susan loved the tiled floors, so cool to the feet, and the spacious rooms that filled with honeyed light. You could see clear across the bay to Robben Island.

She slipped into a summery lifestyle, with its sweaty scrambles up mountains covered by aromatic shrubs and cool swims at spectacular beaches.

Dirk shed his cosmopolitan way with blacks as a snake sheds a skin. He had walked into a top government post. Military officers came around often, with smoother businessmen, academics and politicians. They dined around the polished table and then continued discussions, with the mood shifting as she left the room.

Dirk told her that his work involved coordinating efforts against terrorism and communism. He liked Tiny and the others, but it was terrible how black intellectuals could be misled by white liberals and communists.

When they visited his parents' farm she was overwhelmed by their gracious manners and the valley's deep, quiet beauty. She had only glimpses of the other side of his life, and Susan sometimes imagined herself in a kind of Eden. She feared that she might bite, unsuspecting, into the Apple of knowledge, forcing her to look at the skull grinning under the fragrant skin.

She saw Tiny's picture on the front page a newspaper. Died in detention while being interrogated. Allegations of torture. She drew in her breath and thought of Tiny, his passions, his gentleness and his sharp logic. Susan moved the paper out of sight so she could not betray her feelings to Dirk, not wanting to have this unspoken thing between them.

Then Susan found the box of documents. They were hidden in the shed behind the kitchen. She dropped a manuscript and some pamphlets into a bag. She saw Fatima, the cook, looking at her from a window, dark eyes expressionless.

Susan hid the material and read it when Dirk was away. Each time she felt a jolt of fear and could not help glancing over her shoulder. A gesture that felt alien and ugly. One pamphlet was about Mandela, Sisulu and other leaders on Robben Island and she knew that she could never look with simple abstraction across the bay again.

Susan devoured the manuscript. It was crisp and clear, but the humanity shone through. It provided Susan with points of reference so that she could finally get her bearings. She read of wars that had dispossessed whole peoples and the cold, deadly machinery of apartheid. With a shock she discovered that the author had owned the house she lived in.

Susan knew then that she could never again be at ease on the gracious farm in the mountains, or when watching Dirk give orders to servants. Or with herself, greeting the politicians and military types who dined with them.

Fatima helped her carry the box to the car. Susan checked the address written on an envelope. She felt Fatima's grip on her shoulder. "Please madam, you must burn the envelope later.''

She felt a physical pain as her love for Dirk welled up and twisted around like a dying foetus. Then came a great feeling of emptiness and sudden tears wet her cheeks. She put the car into gear.


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