The fire

A pair of boys and another set of men gather around the bursting fire. They aren’t related, but they are because this is a village and more counts for family than blood. A black kettle, not unlike a witch’s caldron, sits atop of the flame cooking the group’s supper while the boys stick pieces of corn next to the thrashes of orange to flame broil their appetizer. My host father and his shepherd and herd boys have returned from their usual trip to the fields, looking after crops and livestock. This is their beer and TV time before bed.

I slyly turn off my headlamp to participate in their bonfire from a few yards away. Most nights I am cramped up in my rondaval with a book, but tonight I decide to sip tea and read outside. I hope the stars come out so I can gaze and just to be next to a fire, one that doesn’t consist of my trash. Enjoying the night is my attempt to savor the moment instead of wishing it would pass.

Despite the heavy thoughts ping ponging in my head, it had been a good day. I nearly out ran the sun as it climbed over the mountains. When I got home, two visitors were waiting and we cooked up breakfast burritos before they ventured on to their next stop. Bathed and halfway decent, I attended a village meeting that convinced me all the faith I’ve invested in the idea to do something good here might just pan out.

But my thought pattern has a remarkable way of taking me from the good in now and drudging up darker emotions. Doubt and self-abuse showed up and the passion from the morning was drained. I wanted to write, but it felt lifeless, these old friends an even greater advantage. I tried to busy myself with domestic work, my host sister’s baby, a novel and even meditation, but these feelings were too heavy to lift.

I knew the men would create the nightly fire, like cowboys moving from camp to camp, and thought immersing myself into the right now could help.

I sipped tea and listened to them chat in Sesotho. Here, the fire is a tool to cook, to sustain one’s self, but I’ve always regarded the open flame as a way to bring friends together, over summer stars and cold beer. Because I have little control over my thoughts, they left the moment and drifted to memories of fires of past and the potential for fires when I can again sit comfortably next to the warmth and share a conversation with the others present.

The stars refuse to come out this night. Instead, thick clouds have masked their beauty, threatening a fit. The wind picks up and embers are thrown into the men’s face. They find a large piece of metal to block the wind while their food continues to simmer.

As the men tend to their fire, I retreat to my house and tend to mine. There will be no stars or answers tonight, but sometimes I don’t always need them.

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