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Here In Africa: The Hill

Barbara Durlacher's story tells of a beating and a terrible secret.

The children spent the afternoon on their bikes whooping with pleasure as they swooped down the sharp hill, the wind ruffling their hair. Over and over again they pedaled laboriously back up to the top of the hill, then, pigtails flying, accelerated sharply until they were swooping down once again.

‘Watch,’ John screamed, as he took his hands off the handlebars and feet off the pedals. One by one, the others followed him, whooping with excitement and delight as they got to the bottom.

Dust motes drifted slowly down through the surrounding stillness, and a low whistle from a tired gardener on his way home underscored the stillness of the afternoon. After a few hours the gang was tired, ready for supper, homework and bed. One by one, they turned for home. Alice gathered her jersey and exercise book, waved goodbye to her friends and turned for home.

“Where have you been?” her furious father shouted the moment she opened the gate.

“Don’t you know it’s nearly six o’clock? Your mother told you to be home not later than 5:30pm! Come. Come with me. I’ll teach you to be late!”

Dragging her into his bedroom he unlocked the dark cupboard which housed his clothes; a bag of toffees sparingly awarded on the infrequent occasions when she had pleased him, and a bottle of Chateau brandy. From the back he took out a sjambok, and pushing the girl face down onto his bed, began to whip her.

Her fingers clenched convulsively as, again and again, the whip rose and fell. Again and again the child gasped as the rough rawhide cut into her tender young flesh. But she would not give the sadistic man the pleasure of seeing her wince or cry. It was her first serious beating; the first time she had committed a misdemeanor serious enough to warrant such a thrashing.

Days later after hot tempers had cooled, he apologized to them both.

“Your mother and I were terrified that something had happened to you. An assault. A broken bone. Neither of us knew were you were, or what you were doing. You scared us half to death! My temper got the better of me. I love you so much my darling daughter.”

Then, he turned away as if to hide the tears in his eyes, which he pretended to wipe with the silk handkerchief from his top pocket, but reality was to hide the swelling in his trousers.

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