They hadn’t driven even two kilometres when Forest stopped. “Whoa,” he said.

River began clapping her hands while Ntando tried to peer through the windscreen from the backseat.

There, at the edge of the road, was a man with wild hair. He sat on a folding chair and was playing a cello. Forest popped open his door and the music flowed in along with the chilly air. The low tones pulled at Ntando’s bones, beckoning her out of the 4×4.

“Caw!” cried the raven. He flew out of the vehicle, landing on the man’s shoulders. But the man didn’t miss a beat; he kept playing that sorrowful, deep melody that dug under the skin.

River, Forest and Ntando stood around the man and listened in silence. Memories swam before Ntando. She saw her mother kissing a skinned knee better. Another of her auntie telling her stories while braiding her hair. She heard her father laughing. An uncle singing a song. And she saw Vuyisa dancing. Sweet Vuyisa, moving to the cello’s blues, smooth as water, as light as falling snow.

Ntando blinked back tears, as the man played one final note. It hummed its way to her heart, making her gasp.

The man set aside his bow and stood up. He looked Ntando in the eye. “I’ve been waiting for you.”

Forest held out his hand, “Hey Al, nice to see you. This is our friend Ntando and–”

“I know why she’s here,” Al said.

“We thought we could get her in to AfrikaBurn,” River said. “With the weather playing up, we thought there would be a lot of cancellations, so–”

“She doesn’t need to go there,” Al said.

“Where do you think I need to be going?” Ntando asked.

Al pointed. “Sutherland Mountains is where you need to be.”

“Oh,” Forest said, rubbing the back of his neck. “I guess we could–”

“Poe and I will take her,” Al said.

“Poe?” Ntando said.

“Why, he’s my good friend, right here.” Al turned and kissed the raven on the beak.

“Ah,” Ntando said.

Al nodded, and pointed to a dusty and battered jeep. “Don’t worry about her age, she’s still strong. Made her some snow chains a few months back. Caught wind that I’d been needing them, if you know what I mean.”

Not really, Ntando thought. But then again, maybe she did. Between the dreams and the raven, there were stranger things going on than a man making snow chains for weather nobody had predicted.

“I will miss you,” River said, swooping Ntando into a tight hug.

“Yeah, me too,” Forest said, as Ntando stepped out of River’s embrace and straight into his.

“Thank you,” Ntando said, once she was free. She reached for her bag of chocolates. “Here,” she said, pushing them into River’s hands. “Please, have these.”

Forest reached up and lifted something out from under his jacket. “Here,” he said, revealing a beautiful, flat, polished green stone fastened with a leather thong. “Take it,” and he placed it over Ntando’s head. It slid down and hung around her neck.

Al nodded. “Malachite. Excellent choice. Put it under your shirt, next to your skin, and it will serve you better.”

Serve me how? Ntando wondered.


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