Public Key (iL)

When I got back I asked Oakley where I could light a fire. He told me there was a firepit about ten feet to the left of my hut. I hadn’t noticed it. Not the first time that day I felt dumb. Probably wouldn’t be the last.

He said there was wood up at the lodge, kindling too. No charge so long as I didn’t take more than my fair share. He offered to drive me down by my hut, but I said, no, it’s fine. I could use the walk. I always needed more fresh air.

He said, how about I drive you to your hut and show you how to build a fire without burning down half the countryside.

I said, hey, what a lovely offer.

He unloaded his purchases – he’d bought dry-goods, traded empty jars for jars full of goat’s milk, bought meat wrapped in butcher-paper and a few bags of fertilizer – then we loaded the jeep with a few days’ worth of tinder and drove right down the peninsula to my hut.

I invited him in. He seemed surprised, but in he came. He took off his shoes before coming in. What a good idea. I went over to the door, and did the same.

He grabbed one of the cast-iron Dutch ovens. Those, apparently, were the potjies he’d referred to earlier.. We went out and, yep, there was a little camp-fire. It was a pile of gray ashes, ringed with a high wall of stones to break the wind. There were two stripped logs for sitting. He adjusted one so it was upwind from the fire, and sat his ass down.

There were four metal stakes in the ground near the fire, two on either side. They were very thin and ended in little hooks. He attached them to the handles of the potjie, two to one side, two to the other. The metal rods bent just a little. It suspended the pot about eighteen inches above the ground.

Got it? he asked.

Yeah. Thanks so much.

Don’t mention it.

He made a little pile of dry twigs. Over this he made a teepee of small branches. Around this, a larger tepee of logs.

This is one of those things that looks a lot easier than it is, isn’t it? I asked.

You’ll get the hang of it.

Or I’ll go hungry.

He smiled.

He took out a book of matches. He struck one, then used it to light the edge of the pack. Before the fire could hit the match-heads he stuck the whole pack into the center of the wigwam he’d built. Long story short, three minutes later and there was a fire, flames licking the bottom of the potjie.

That was cheating, I said.

Absolutely, mate. Absolutely.

I went back into my hut, got the two cheroots I’d bought. I offered him one. He smiled, then looked at it closer and sort of grinned. Sort of.

You were expecting maybe an Upmann?

Who knows, he said, taking the cheroot. Thanks, mate.

Thank you.

We leaned forward, lit them off the fire, pulled back with our remaining eyebrows and smoked. I hadn’t smoked an unfiltered cigarette since high school. Or any other kind of cigarette. Or anything else, for that matter.

They still tasted fucking great.

We sat there and smoked until the iron pot was starting to radiate heat. Want to stay for dinner? I asked.

Can’t, he said. Gotta man the front desk.

Sure, I said, a little disappointed, a little relieved.

Besides, he said, smiling at me, I’m no vegetarian.

Neither am I.

Coulda fooled me, mate.

He threw the butt of his cheroot into the fire, got in his jeep and drove away.


~ by davekov on 22 February 2011.

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