The jeep climbed higher, eating up altitude. The snowfall thickened, and Al had to turn on his wipers. Ntando found herself gripping the door so tightly her knuckles ached.

They’d had to pull over and put the chains on about five kilometres ago. Not an easy process, Ntando discovered. Because you had to lay them out just right, before rocking the jeep’s tyres over them, and then snap them up. Which sounded simple enough in theory, but the reality was harder than trying to change the nappy of a hyper toddler.

“Going to be letting you out, just over this rise,” Al said.

Ntando stiffened. She knew Al had already done more than enough. But it was cold out there, bleak and harsh, and she had no idea where she was going. She almost asked, ‘Could I take Poe?’ But not only would that sound whiny, Al had made it clear Poe went where he chose.

“You’re going to be OK,” Al said. “You’ve trusted your heart and dreams this far. They won’t let you down now.”

Then you know better than me, Ntando thought.

When he pulled over, Ntando felt herself begin to shrink. As she stepped out of the jeep, shivering in the cold, it was like she was five, waiting for a real adult to come and take charge.

Al reached into the back of the jeep and pulled something out. “Here,” he said. “I got this alpaca poncho in Peru. It will keep you snug as a bug.”

Ntando gratefully took it and slipped it over her head. It was soft and light, yet blessedly warm. “I don’t, I mean, I want, need – to thank you,” she stuttered.

“Now,” Al said with a wink, “what did I say about thank-yous?”

Ntando shook her head, then opened her arms. “I’m thanking you, anyway.”

Al stepped forward, opening his arms, and she gave him a hard hug. She, who hardly hugged even her closest family members, had now hugged three strangers in less than twenty-four hours!

Al pulled back. “You’re a good kid.”

With that, he got into his jeep and drove away, taking Poe with him.

“I’m all alone,” Ntando whispered.


Tell us: Do you think Ntando is being brave or foolish? How is she changing?