Public Key (Liv)

The washing machines were located in a narrow hallway. There was barely enough room to walk past them. I managed to fold my laundry down there. I went outside to fold the sheet, but finding the ground still damp, and not trusting my folding skills, I brought it upstairs into the lodge’s main room.

I was brought up short as I walked in the back door. Oakley was there, behind his desk. Across from it was someone else. A stranger.

I had to physically force myself to lift one foot, then the other, and so continue into the room.

Oakley turned and nodded at me. The stranger leaned around him and smiled a big smile. She was in her mid twenties – my age, I corrected myself – and wore a windbreaker and a wide-brimmed hat.

She said something to me that sounded like English played backwards.

I cocked my head stupidly.

English? she asked.

I nodded.

She grinned at me.

Oh, ah – yes, I said. English.

You’re dragging your sheet, she said.

I swallowed, forced myself to look down. Oh. Thanks.

I lifted it up, began folding it.

To my abject horror the woman came over to me, took one end of the sheet and pulled it tight between us.

Fold, she said. And again, when the time was right.

She walked forward and pressed her corners of the sheet into my hands. I looked down to where her hands touched mine. Then snapped my eyes back up to hers. And found her grinning at me, like I was just a big kid.

Good luck, she said, and went back

Thanks, I said to her back. She signed a piece of paper, shook Oakley’s hand, smiled at me, and left.

As the front door closed I could see a guy in a matching windbreaker standing by an Escalade. He looked confident and in control. I wanted to look for a rock to hide under. And die.

The door closed. I was back under my rock.

I saw Oakley looking at me. Check that: flat-out staring at me.

Uhh… laundry day, I said.

Staring.

She seemed nice? I tried.

Bucky, he said, you haven’t seen a girl in a very long time.

I laughed. It came out kind of squeaky. Yeah, it’s been a while.

You sure you’re doing right by yourself, camped out all by your lonesome?

My head spun.

Yes, I said. Very sure.

Suit yourself, mate.

No, I said, realizing I’d been rude. I mean-

No, it’s none of my business.

I’m having a great time here, really. It’s just what I-

Shut up, he said. Cuppa tea?

I… fuck. Yeah, sure.

Good. Go put the billy up.

I stood there cross-eyed until context worked its magic. I found the hot-plate, turned it on, and before I could count a hundred there was water boiling.

Compared to a campfire it seemed almost magical. And absolutely boring. Thoroughly dull. My campfire may have been no more magical. But it was a different kind of magic, and one I was quickly coming to prefer.

I poured us tea. I begged off to go fetch my laptop and the rest of my laundry. By the time I got back upstairs he was taking out the teabags. He’d also produced a box of cookies.

Straight from BrizVegas, he said. My mother sends me a care package every now and again.

Briz… Brisbane?

He nodded. Never been?

No, ah… one continent at a time.

Yeah. Hey, this is the only place I’ve ever been outside of Queensland. Haven’t even been to Durban more than a few times.

Yeah, me, ah, me neither.

I had a girl in Lady for a while. But she didn’t like me spending the night, and the pass closes at four-

Speaking of girls, I said, wanna shut up and eat cookies?

Oh yeah.

He gave me one, took one for himself, then put the box away. Sorry, he said. Not gonna get any more for a while now.

Of course, I said. And I felt guilty.

Oh, eat your fucking biscuit

It was shortbread. It was tasty. And I said so.

First year I was here I didn’t have a stove rigged up. No fridge, nothing. Porridge and potato soup. I let myself have a biscuit once a week. On Sundays. Fuck of a lot better than church.

Amen to that, I said, and drained my tea.

So you finding everything alright?

Yeah, it’s really great. I’ve only just started exploring.

Not much to see. River in three directions.

What about the fourth direciton?

About half a mile of land. Then a little river – that one you fell in, I think. Then about two miles, a little sorghum planted, and the river again. At the bottom of a rockslide.

And beyond that?

One of the bush towns. Then the river again.

Old man river really gets around.

Yeah, too right.

What’s the difference between a bush town and a camptown? I asked.

Camptown’s the capital of the district. Means there’s something there. Stores, churches, place to hang your hat. And most of the towns along the main road, they know the score, they know how to deal with tourists and such. But get a town that’s ten miles from the main road and you’re really in the nowhere. No power, no plumbing, just shepherds and goats. Some of the hilltowns are pretty backwards. They’re kinda scary.

Course, he said, I’m a big scaredycat.

There are worse things, I said, and finished my tea.

But Mokhotlong’s not a bad town, he said. There’s not much AIDS around here, which really helps things. The churches aren’t too bad and the people are great. Specially when it gets warmer out. I should really get into town more.

Why don’t you?

He shrugged. Why don’t you?

I shrugged. And smiled.

He finished his tea, seemed to ponder for a moment. Then he reached into a pocket on his pant-legs and pulled out a green nugget and pack of rolling papers.

Want to smoke some weed?

Oh. Uh. No, but thank you.

He looked up, surprised. Really?

Yeah. Gave it up.

He only looked at me like I was mildly insane.

Then he shrugged. Suit yourself. I, uh, I mean, you mind if I-

Mind if I keep you company?

Sure. Yeah, please. You, ah, want another biscuit?

No. Thanks though.

He rolled an expert joint – with a filter, I noticed – then dumped the excess pot in his pocket. He was more cavalier with his weed than with his biscuits. Maybe it was common in Lesotho.

He went out the back of the hut. I followed him. He smoked the joint down over about five minutes. He didn’t seem much the worse for wear.

It smelled like someone was roasting a whole skunk, rubbed with oregano and braised with Champagne.

Smells like good stuff, I said.

He shrugged.

 

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~ by davekov on 25 February 2011.

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