A cool breeze compensated for the intense heat reflected from the river sands in waves that distorted our vision, above us a go-away bird settled in the tree high up, we could just make it out in the thick tiny leaved foliage and spiked thorns in the shaded light, moving its crown in a flurry back and forth and fidgeting nervously as it let out it’s familiar cry. All around the constant whining of the crickets and twitting of the river birds gave us a kind of assurance that all was well.
Jasper the school dog was lying in the shade panting with his huge tongue surging in and out of his canine lined jaws and his eyes closed happy for once that there were no flies to annoy him. Colourful Bishop birds were busy repairing their nests as they quarreled for territory and in the clear sky above we saw a flock of white tick birds with their high pitched clicks circled before descending on the opposite bank near some huge smooth ancient granite rocks.
Christopher shrieked loudly, “Look Phillo, I caught a saradine!” he had used his vest to net the wriggling silver little fish and earlier a slimy ‘plumplumoose’ and some shiny sparkling stones.
We giggled as the web footed frog slipped out of my grasping hands back into the water and glided away.
Time slipped by as we played in the dappling waters of the crystal clear pond so quickly we didn't notice the sun’s sinking rays, rising shadows and the cooling heat of the day, we were so engrossed, still chattering and prodding our plastic yellow ducklings with crooked little sticks that we failed to notice the silence around us. It was only when Jasper rose up from where he was lying abruptly and gave a gentle ‘woof’ indicating he wanted to go that we suddenly looked about and saw that.......everyone had gone.
“Where’s everyone!?” Chris shouted half crying, “Phillo, do you know the way back? I looked up and down the river and both ways seemed right, I turned around in a complete circle but nothing seemed familiar.
“We’re lost!” I shouted and indeed we were lost, we had no idea where we were, for we had just followed the crowd down to the river and worse had wandered off to search for a pond. We knew well there were wild animals around and also we feared the wild man semi naked, Mackay especially with the sun sinking at an alarming rate that its golden dimming rays were flickering through the bushes indicating its imminent departure and the dread of darkness loomed. Mackay was a local naturally dread-locked vagrant who wandered about the mission bush dressed in rags with his ‘bad thing’ hanging prominently out of the opened front of his trousers and a permanent grin on his face. It was reputedly rumoured that he went mad smoking mbanje whatever that was and also that he ate small boys which he poked with those long sharp sticks he carried about with him all the time. There was the tale about a small white boy who disappeared from nearby Falcon College, some said Mackay roasted him and ate even his bones.
Suddenly every shadow about us looked like Mackay lurking and the haunting trees bloomed above us ominously. Chris started screaming uncontrollably, and running on one spot, there was a lot of snot but a few tears as he panicked. This sent me also into a panic and I also began to howl maniacally. Jasper sprinted off into the bush and somehow the way he wagged his tail as he ran spoke to me........follow me.........follow me. Then I realized that Jasper of course knew the way home and so it was logical to follow him.
“Let’s follow Jasper!” I lisped still daunted by the thought of being lost. Chris ran off in the other direction, I almost followed him, but reason got the better of me and my faith in Jasper was complete. Off I dashed after him, keeping my eye on his swift movements through the grasses. Suddenly I heard a terrible screaming emerging from the thick bush and whizzing past me was Chris.
“Don’t leave me Phillo, please don’t leave me!” He dashed off and I was barely able to keep up with him.
Soon we came to a barbed wire fence Jasper easily bounded over, we climbed through and parting the long grass saw we were on the road just opposite the dairy. The familiar orchard laden with juicy fruit was a deep enduring consolation that we were safe. Both of us breathed a sigh of relieve and smiled in gratitude at dear old Jasper. Slowly and hesitantly we walked up the road dreading the inevitable thrashing our clothes wet so much so that we wondered whether it was better to have stayed lost. In the far distance we saw the familiar cross and the final glint of the fading sunlight on the windows and zinc lined asbestos roof of the church and convent.
There assembled near the church was a crowd of nuns, boys and girls and teachers watching as we slowly meandered towards them. They had just started forming a search party when they watched us come up the road, a veiled silence cast about them and an amazed looks as they watched Jasper leading us home. Several people including my eldest brother William had been crying but now these were tears of joy at the unfolding miracle. Sister Benedictis gave a massive sigh and then surged forward; picking us both up she hugged us heartily her smile of gratitude at answered prayers beaming at all around her.
IN LOVING MEMORY OF JASPER