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Jo'Burg Days: Tim

Barbara Durlacher’s story concerns a hitchhiker who is in danger of outstaying his welcome.

For more of Barbara’s words please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/joburg_days/

His red and white neckerchief gave him a rakish air, which, together with the cowlick of dark hair on his forehead added spice to his slightly childish good looks. Standing at the traffic circle with his thumb raised he was irresistible.

“Want a lift?” she called out of the window, slowing down to take the corner.

“Depends where you’re going,” the young man replied.

“Over Piggs Peak to Barberton and then on to White River, if that’s any use. But hurry up. I’ll stop just over there.”

Within seconds he was clambering into the car, smiling shyly at the two youngsters in the back before saying, “My name’s Tim, Tim Waterson. Nice to meet you all.”

“Well, Tim, it’s nice to meet you too. Is that the only luggage you’ve got? OK then, fasten your seat belt and we’ll be on our way.”

Spectacular scenery, a heavy film of dust covering the shrubs close to the road, hazardous blind corners and distant blue mountains all overlooked by the swinging coco-pans carrying the rocks from the nearby asbestos mine to the crusher was the only way to describe the road from Mbabane to Barberton thirty years ago. It was mid-afternoon when they reached the little town, site of the first big discovery which triggered the Witwatersrand gold rush some years later.

As she threaded her way through the busy streets beads of perspiration were running down her neck in the heat. It was not until she reached the tarred road to White River and the car cooled down a little that she made better time. Late afternoon shadows were lengthening when she drew up with a flurry in front of the small country hotel. Heavy Lowveld air pressed down on them, red-blossomed flamboyants lined the streets, and African music blared from the “blacks only” bar on the corner. It was overpoweringly hot.

Glancing back she could see the children’s heads slumped in sleep as Tim stirred, yawned and stretched before opening the door to get more air.

“You lot wait here while I pop inside and get the room organised,” she instructed, “then you can bring the luggage to the veranda and they’ll show us where to go. Close the windows and lock the car when you’re finished and then give me the keys.”

Ten minutes later, they were walking through the lush garden, skirting the delicious green depths of the swimming pool and entering the cool darkness of their room. To her surprise, Tim had followed from the reception to their bedroom like a nicely behaved older son, seeming only too eager to give a hand where needed and making no mention of moving on.

“What are your plans in White River, Tim?” she enquired, thinking it was time she made it clear that now he was on his own.

“Oh, nothing special,” came his airy reply, “I’m planning to go on to Kruger of course, and I’ve got an introduction to a family on one of the large fruit farms in the area. I’ll pop in to see them sometime, but there’s no hurry.”

Good Lord, she thought, what’s wrong with this kid? He’s got a cultivated accent and good manners, has obviously had a good education and appears to come from a decent family. How could it be that he doesn’t seem to have the slightest idea that it’s time he was on his way? I casually offered him a lift from Mbabane to White River, there was never at any time any indication that anything else was involved, least of all any sexual innuendo on my side. But somehow he seems to have assumed that he’s invited to stay with us for as long as he likes. Well, no point in making an issue of it, but I’m certainly not taking a room for him or buying him dinner. Perhaps he’ll get the message when he realises that there’s nothing more forthcoming.

Opening the suitcases, she took out swimsuits for herself and the girls, and after changing in the bathroom, they walked quickly to the pool. To her amazement, within minutes Tim had joined them, obviously prepared to push his luck as long as he could. Diving, holding his breath as he swam lengths underwater and playing with the girls, his enjoyment was infectious and her irritation evaporated.

“Tidy up quickly girls. We don’t want to be late for dinner,” she instructed, managing not to glance in Tim’s direction or give any indication that he was included. Taking their cue from her manner, it was only minutes before they were ready and sitting at the table. Thankfully Tim seemed to have got the silent message that he was not invited, and the three of them settled down to order from the excellent menu. But still the young man’s presence nagged at them, and before they left the table, they had all secreted treats into their napkins for the unwanted guest. Strangely, they felt almost shamefaced as they presented him with the spoils. As a mother she had felt she could not ignore him, knowing he would be ravenous and the girls just felt sorry for him.

But now it seemed it was up to her to jolly him along and get rid of him.

“Tim, after you’ve eaten, I want you to leave, please,” she said, determined to make it clear he’d overstayed his welcome. To her amazement, he came back with the following remark.

“While you were having your dinner I popped into the bar and had a beer with a chap I met. He’s invited me to spend a couple of weeks on his farm and he’s picking me up here tomorrow. So, I’ll just kip down here on the floor between the beds for the night. Give me a couple of blankets, it’s far too hot for them, and I’ll be gone after breakfast tomorrow.”

Not a word of thanks or apology. Just the calm assumption that he was welcome anywhere.

Turning her back on him, she angrily ripped the blankets off her bed and slammed into the bathroom. “Let him sort himself out!” she fumed, as she and the girls washed and got ready for bed, before she snapped off the light and plunged the room into darkness.

Her mood had improved by next morning, and after Tim had joined them and devoured a hearty breakfast which included sausage, bacon, two eggs, fried tomato, seven slices of toast and marmalade and three cups of excellent coffee, she watched as he picked up his rucksack and walked out of the hotel without a backward glance or a word of goodbye.

“Well, that beats everything,” she said with admiration, “that kid really showed me how to hustle!”

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