I didn’t see Kwezi after school for the whole week, until Friday, the day of the school outing. My dad and I had arranged to pick him up to go climbing on the mountain with our class. Because my dad worked from home my teacher always asked if he could come along, and he was always available. Usually it was great to have him with us – he made us all laugh. Today though, we were silent in the car. For the first time I wished I had a dad like Kwezi, busy at work till late, coming home in his comfortable car after we had eaten. Not a dad always hanging around, driving around in his old bakkie, telling his war stories.
It was after our picnic lunch when it happened. We had decided to come down the mountain instead of going all the way to the top, as the mist was swirling in. Kwezi, disappointed at the change, was boulder hopping around us. My dad had just said, “be careful, these rocks aren’t stable,” when we heard a thud, a scream. Kwezi was sihouetted against the grey sky one moment, and gone the next. My dad jumped up faster than anybody and went to the place Kwezi had been. I rushed up to join him, only now noticing just how big the boulders were, how their round curves rushed steeply to the ground.
When I looked over the edge where he had disappeared, my stomach clenched. It was a sheer drop of about fifty metres. And there, on a tiny little outcrop, was Kwezi. At first I thought he was dead – he was crumpled up, lying down. Then I heard him whimper. ‘Are you alright?” my dad shouted to him.
“My leg!” Kwezi squawked. “My leg!” We saw his body jerk in pain as he tried to get up.
“I’ll have to go down to him”, my dad said. By then Mrs September was with us.
“It’s too dangerous,’ she said. You could both be killed. I’ve phoned the Mountain Rescue. They said they would send people out soon.”
“We’re coming to you, Kwezi,” I said.
“Phone my dad,” he called.
Mrs September looked worried. “I’ve phoned him,” she told my father. “He’s on his way, but it will take him a while.” Her face was pinched and grey, and her hands were shaking.
My dad looked around. “Give me your jerseys,” he said. Wordlessly we gave him jackets and jerseys. He stuffed them into his little backpack. Then he started climbing down. What had seemed a sheer drop to me now offered a few narrow handholds, little ledges for him to use. I couldn’t watch him as he inched down, but I couldn’t bear to look anywhere else. If he slipped once, he would die. I knew that. I wished I had touched him before he had started. But now he was small, a dark head bobbing below me. I remember now the gasps and sounds the class made behind me each time he stepped out and down. I think I was silent. After an age and a moment, he actually got to Kwezi, who seemed to start crying. My dad squeezed next to him and gently lifted his leg. Kwezi gave a moan we could hear. My dad rested his leg on his knee and awkwardly bound it onto the stick, using our jerseys as ties. Then he slowly lowered it down and used other jerseys to make Kwezi comfortable. Finally he sat next to his head, and stroked it. I could see from where I was that my dad was talking, and Kwezi had stopped crying. Kwezi lifted one hand and caught my dad’s hand, and held on to it.
“I can make a plan to bring him up,’ my dad called to Mrs September. And I had no doubt that he could. But he didn’t need to because Mrs September shouted down to him that the Rescue team was on its way. We sat there waiting, on the cold misty mountain, bare-armed, our teeth chattering. But inside I felt light. I knew now that my dad and Kwezi would be fine.
The Rescue team did arrive. They threw harnesses and ropes down to my dad. He trussed up Kwezi, and they painstakingly pulled him up. My dad put on a rope and climbed up himself. Two members of the rescue team put Kwezi on a stretcher, and took him down the mountain. The third man stayed with my father. “It’s good to work with someone who knows what he’s doing,” the man said. “He’s lucky you were here.”
Mrs September was crying, and thanking my father. “I didn’t really do anything,’ he said awkwardly. “It was the team that rescued him.” But she carried on thanking him intermittently until we got to our cars.
The next night, there was a knock at the door. I opened it and saw, as if a movie re-run, the figures of John, Sarah and Kwezi. But Kwezi had a white leg, and Sarah was carrying flowers. “Go and play a bit,” said John to us. “I want to see your dad.”
Kwezi and I went to my room. I autographed his leg, graffiti style, and we started playing chess. My mom brought us hot chocolate.
“I’m coming back just now,” I said to Kwezi, and I crept out past our mothers in the lounge to the back yard where the men sat smoking. They weren’t really talking to each other, but they weren’t arguing either. John stood up. “We’ll fetch Kwezi in an hour or two,” he said. He shook my dad’s hand and went inside. My dad saw me as he followed John in. He ruffled my hair, pulled me towards him, and hugged me. It felt good to feel his arms around me.
I went back to Kwezi. “You know, I don’t think our dads will ever really be good friends,” he said to me cautiously.
“I know,” I said. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t be.”
“I’ll drink to that,” he grinned. We picked up our hot chocolate mugs and clinked them. Then we took such big sips that we both got brown moustaches. For some reason, that was the funniest thing we had ever seen. We had to put our mugs down as we shook with uncontrollable laughter.