That afternoon a message was sent out to all school children that they were not to attend school the next day, because there were signs that severe weather was about to hit the Western Cape region.

The people of Knysna hoped for rain. Instead, in the middle of the night they received a gale – a very warm, very strong wind, of almost hurricane strength.

Now the winds had been blowing at gale force all day, during which time Mudira had come around to Bulelwa’s house to help her to look after her gogo. Bulelwa’s cousin had stayed away as soon as she had heard that Bulelwa would be home from school.

“She is lazy and good for nothing Mudira,” Bulelwa had said matter-of-factly that morning. They had been standing together, looking out at the lagoon, and Mudira had nodded distractedly because there, far away, across the waters of the lagoon, a fire had started on the slopes of the West Head.

“Those flames are huge,” Mudira said later, calling Bulelwa to come and look. Bulelwa had been carrying buckets of water from the rain tank next to the house. It was nearly empty, she was sure of it, but Bulelwa had kept up watering her gogo’s vegetable garden after she had become ill.

The garden still yielded cabbages and great big bunches of spinach. Bulelwa looked up at Mudira and called out that she would be along in a minute.

Standing next to Mudira, on a ridge just above the house, Bulelwa caught her breath. The fire had grown since she had last looked across at it. Mudira was standing with her hand over her mouth and she was frowning. She looked away and Bulelwa put her arm around Mudira’s shoulders and drew her close. Mudira sighed and moved closer. The two girls turned their faces towards one other, and looked into each other’s eyes.

“Don’t look so worried Mudira,” said Bulelwa gently. “Everything will be okay.”

“I know,” said Mudira, “but there is just so much smoke, and if only this wind would stop blowing!”

Mudira linked her arms around Bulelwa’s waist to steady herself against the very hot wind that was whipping at them violently, making them sway from side to side.

“It will be over soon,” said Bulelwa. “But Gogo did say that she heard on the radio that there are other fires that have started near Plettenberg Bay, and also all the way down to Brenton and Belvidere.”

Mudira nodded slowly. She knew those places, but they were still far away. A large expanse of water separated the burning land from where they stood together, still clinging to each other, being buffeted by the wind.

Bulelwa leant closer to Mudira, until their cheeks were touching. The smell of fire was filling the air, but, standing so close to Mudira all she could smell was the sweet fragrance of the Nivea cream she used on her soft brown skin. Bulelwa breathed it in.

“I wanted to ask you something actually Bulelwa,” said Mudira softly. “I spoke to my Mom about it last night and she supports me, but she is worried of course. She knows what the men around her are like, but I told her that lots of girls are doing it these days. I know she is afraid of so many things where I am concerned, but she also wants me to be able to be myself. The thing is Bulelwa, you know what men think … and how dangerous it can be to …”


Tell us what you think: In what ways can it be ‘dangerous’ for girls like Bulelwa and Mudira?