Amanda was woken by the sound of clattering and chattering passengers. She gently shook Aelin, who had fallen asleep with her glasses on, and her book in her lap. “Chomi vuka,” Amanda whispered.
Aelin woke and opened her eyes lazily. “What’s happening?” she asked. “Are we in Jozi already?”.
They looked out and saw a green road sign with giant white letters bearing the words: ‘Welcome to JB Marks Municipality’. “Outside Potchefstroom! ”Aelin sighed in annoyance and took a sip from a bottle of flavoured water she had brought for the trip.
“I don’t think so!” Amanda responded hastily. “I just saw people getting off, but now I see police lights, and a few police officers outside.”
She was uneasy about this whole scene. Her breathing began to bounce off at uneven rates. “Shucks!” she cursed under her breath as she struggled to get her breath back to normal.
“Then we better find out,” Aelin said, fixing her slightly skewed spectacles as she got up. “Askies mama,” she said to a woman with a baby on her back. “Kwentekani?”
The woman turned slightly and looked in Aelin’s direction. “Bathi yiroad block. There has been a car accident.”
Aelin and Amanda both sighed in defeat as they got up to exit the bus, hurriedly putting their jackets on.
All Amanda wanted was to get home and make the best of her break. It had been a very long semester after all, and she had almost not made it through, with all the work that they were giving them. And now this wretched roadblock was going to delay them at least another hour or so.
Amanda and Aelin were ushered along with the rest of the passengers out of the bus as it stood parked on the side of the road, its engine humming gently in the cold morning air. They realized something was very wrong when they saw that all the people already outside stood looking uneasy.
Other vehicles lined up in front of them, beside them, and as far as they could see behind them.
An ambulance arrived and the scene lit up in colors of red and blue. But that did not lighten up the grim atmosphere. Everybody was standing about looking around nervously, as the crash was attended to by emergency workers. There was a yellow truck on its side, and a white Quantum combi alongside it. Both vehicles looked completely wrecked.
“Well,” Aelin joked “Even a master mechanic is not fixing that.” She laughed nervously under her breath.
“You shouldn’t make jokes like that!” retorted a petrified Amanda, gripping her friend’s hand even tighter.
Aelin wiped the nervous smile off her face and flinched when she thought of the state the people inside must have been in, after all this. It was no secret that everybody was spooked. Even the emergency workers who tended to the injured motorists from the wreck looked tense and uneasy.
“The road has been closed!” shouted a man from inside one of the police patrol cars. Loud sighs, cursing, and disgruntled muttering rose among the crowd of passengers and drivers. They continued to mutter but opened up some space between their cars so the patrol car could pass. The vehicle continued towards the back of the traffic, the cop shouting the same message over and over again. The sounds of anger and dissatisfaction kept rising like a chorus and then going quiet as he passed.
Everybody from Amanda’s bus was called together for an announcement. She and Aelin joined the rest of them just before the bus driver announced that they should return to their seats and prepare for a change in plan. Some of the passengers exclaimed and cursed under their breath. Others took off their hats and mumbled soft prayers with their heads slightly bowed, as one of the ambulances passed their bus, its siren wailing loudly.
“Baba ng’cel ukubuza,” Aelin said, patting the bus driver on the shoulder. The man turned around to look at her. “Where are you taking us?”
“The road has been closed ntombazana,” the man said in a calm, bold voice. “And there is no other suitable route for the bus. So we are putting all of you in a nearby guest house for the night. They estimate the road will not be cleared for many hours.
“But we need to get home!” said blurted out Amanda, from Aelin’s side. “Our parents are waiting for us. And we don’t have money to pay for a guest house,” she added.
“Don’t worry girls,” the driver said, calming them. “You will have time to call home and tell them what has happened. In the meantime, the company will pay for your stay tonight.”
Amanda cursed quietly under her breath when the driver returned to his seat, turning around to address the whole bus. He told them to call their loved ones. The white and orange Intercape bus eased back into the road, and turned round, guided by one police van flashing its lights just behind it.
Tension rose inside the bus, and the air became stale as the passengers called their loved ones, parents, children and lovers, informing them that they were not going to arrive when they had said they would. One woman in a floral dress started praying loudly.
Amanda wondered if the woman’s prayers were going to serve her any good. She had read on the news that a coronavirus had killed thousands of people in Italy. Perhaps that is what the woman should be redirecting her prayers to. (Aelin had joked that ‘possible global pandemic’ was just the politicians’ watered down version of ‘we’re all doomed’. They had burst out laughing about it back at res.)
As the bus drove into the guest house compound, the girls looked out of the window to see the high walls of the buildings rising into the sky. They saw lights inside people’s rooms on some of the top floors. Some were just dark. They wondered where their occupants were so late in the night.
The guest house compound sat on the outskirts of the city. It was quiet and the streets deserted. The only thing to see was woodland, but if you looked carefully you could see the traffic from the highway stretch off into the CBD. It was in the distance, lit up and bright from all the buildings and streetlights.
‘Welcome to Riverside Lodge’ read big letters on either side of the gate as the bus made its way inside. A group of staff members was already waiting on standby in the parking lot. They walked casually towards the bus as its engine gently hummed and then went quiet as the driver took out the keys. The men and women wore magnificent uniforms of red and gold that looked smart, even in poor light at night.
Amanda and Aelin followed the crowd of people making their way into reception. All of them clutched their bags and plastics with snacks for the road. Amanda looked around to see one old man in a black suit drink Emahewu from a cardboard box. The man reminded her of her own grandmother – she liked emahewu.
“Welcome to Riverside Lodge ladies and gentleman,” a voice said from the front desk. Amanda looked up in shock as she heard it continue. “We are going to register all your details here. If you have not called your loved ones there is a phone at the other end of the room.”
The young man who addressed them wore the red and gold uniform too, with a black coat – and a smile she could not forget. It was still hard to see his face, what with the people in front of her shielding all his handsome features. But Amanda could see him clearly in her mind. How could she forget that soothing voice of his, or his hypnotizing eyes?
“My name is Sipho Nkosi,” the young man at the reception said, breaking to take a sip of water from a tiny bottle he was holding. “And I will be taking care of you for the duration of your stay here. Please register your details on this form and then we’ll show you to your rooms.”
Amanda clutched Aelin’s arm to steady herself, slightly digging into her flesh with her nails. Her knees were shaking, and her face had turned a ghostly pale.
She was unsure whether her eyes were fooling her, or if she had really just seen the ghost of her one million fantasies!
Tell us: What do you think Sipho’s reaction will be when he recognizes Amanda?