About The Author
Chris Barnard is a major figure in Afrikaans literature, whose work has been translated into over ten languages.
He was born in Nelspruit in 1939. He worked as a journalist for seventeen years and the as a script writer and film producer between for another sixteen. He hashas published thirty books, encompassing novels, plays for stage and radio, short stories, film scripts and childrens books. He is the 2011 recipient of the Department of Arts and Culture's South African Literary Awards (SALA) for lifetime achievement. He currently lives on a farm next to the Hartebeespoort Dam, cultivating oranges and macadamia nuts.
His latest novel is Bundu, translated from Afrikaans by Michiel Heyns. In April 2013, it was shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.
In a place near Mozambique where no one knows the boundary, drought is changing everything. Tens then hundreds of people seek refuge in a forgotten outpost where a clinic is run by lonely souls of uncertain training, nuns staunchly determined to serve. But the inundation soon becomes too much for them, and there is no help from outside. Within the small community of outsiders a plan takes shape that is as outrageous as it is inspired, when Brand de la Rey, an ecologist who is researching the local baboons, organizes a desperate mission for more supplies, using a damaged aeroplane that is unfit for purpose.
The extract below is taken from the beginning of Chapter One.
It was five o'clock in the afternoon and the yard a sweltering hollow in the forest. I was shaving; the first time in many days. It was painful because the blade was worn and the water lukewarm. There was a glass of wine in front of me on the windowsill and after every fifth or sixth razor stroke I would dab more soap on my chin and sip at the wine and the wine wasn't up to much but it was wine and it was cold. I made sure, each time, to replace the glass precisely on its little wet ring. And to take my mind off the business of shaving I tried to remember when last I'd seen a human being. Normally Vusi would be somewhere in the vicinity from early to late, but without him the house and the yard and the forest presented a lonesome aspect. Was it de Gaspri, the previous Friday, when he'd brought provisions? Or had Strydom been here after him? Before I could remember, I realized suddenly that the glass of wine had disappeared. I wasn't holding it in my hand; I hadn't placed it in another spot; I'd certainly not been imagining it. The neat little circle of damp was still clearly visible on the windowsill. But the glass of wine was gone.
I replaced the razor carefully in the basin and leant out of the window. It must have toppled over and out. But there wasn't a glass on the ground outside. The yard was dead quiet. There wasn't the slightest sign of life anywhere. I looked all around me on the floor.
My almost-full not-up-to-much ice-cold wine had disappeared without a trace.
In the previous few days food had disappeared from the house several times. The five strips of half-dry meat from the screen cupboard on the back stoep; the three last stale crusts from the bread tin; a basket of wilted beetroot and carrots from the pantry; the last bottle of preserved peaches that I'd schlepped with me from camp to camp for how many years and had been too stingy to open.
At first I thought it was the baboons. We were in our third successive dry summer and there was no food left in the veld. The baboons came close to the yard every now and again and Vusi had had to chase them from the stoep several times. Even shy forest birds had come into the kitchen looking for crumbs.
The wine gave me pause. Could it really be baboons?
In the kitchen, on my way out to the yard, I suddenly got the sharp smell of sweat. And the screen door was open. The screen door that I always kept latched to keep snakes out, was wide open.
But there was nobody in the yard. And there was no sign of my wine glass.
After dinner, when I went looking for my torch in the bedroom, I discovered that both my blankets had disappeared from my bed.
That night I got no sleep. At one o'clock the distant drone of Jock Mills's motorbike was of some consolation to me - a sign of human propinquity. Perhaps because the night was so dead quiet, perhaps because my ears were constantly pricked up, I could hear the Harley Davidson approaching from five minutes away, closer and closer, gradually closer. In my mind's eye I could see the bike making its way through the dark kloof, kilometre by kilometre, its dirty-white beam vibrating through the tunnels of wild orange and brushwood, the dry ridges of grey palm, the long corridors of tambookie, the rising flurries of beetles and mosquitoes constantly vanishing before the beam as if dissolving in the dark. I lay listening to Mills passing by behind the yard and gradually disappearing up the slopes, round the back of Dumisane's hills, and at last fading away over the black crest of the plateau.
At some point after three o'clock, for the first time that I could remember, I went to remove the key from the bakkie and at long last fell asleep with my gun next to me.
I was on the other side of the Bápe near the baboon ravines when Vukile called me the next morning just after sunrise. Reception was poor, but in between the scratching and crackling of the little loudspeaker I could hear that it was Vukile and that he was talking about Vusi. It was a short distance down the valley and across the river to the Mbabala mission station and I got there just after seven. Or almost there. Because Gwaja's procession of skinny goats was making its way to the grazing and it took me a good ten minutes to negotiate the last two hundred metres between the avenue of banana trees up to the whitewashed thatched building that everybody for a thousand square kilometres around liked to refer to as the mission hospital. We generally spoke of the station or the clinic for short.
It had started life as a small Catholic school that on Sundays doubled as a church. In the first few years there had been a dedicated priest, Father Mundt, who during the week taught in the morning and ministered to souls in the afternoon. He started with four pupils and no parishioners. After five years there were more than a hundred pupils, two nuns, an extensive congregation and a clinic on Fridays that was run by Ursula Frisch, a sixty-year-old nurse from Richards Bay with a motorbike and leggings, an unshakeable faith in castor oil and a story that as a young nurse in Kenya she had declined a marriage proposal from Ernest Hemingway. Nobody knew exactly which way the wind was blowing, but there were stories that she sometimes spent the weekend at Mbabala, reputedly mainly because she and Father Mundt were equally besotted with bridge. But three months after her death in a motorcycle accident Father Mundt returned to Germany to be treated for depression. Dr Vukile Khumalo came to start a clinic. But after almost five years there was, with the exception of Father Holm who had lasted only a few months, nobody who felt up to taking over Father Mundt's congregation.