<The Murder of Grace> Chapter 11 (1989)
<The Murder of Grace> Chapter 11 (1989)
The Murder of Grace is a novel about the involvement of seven children in an apartheid government plot to infect anti-apartheid activists with Bovine Brucellosis - a zoonotic disease that causes a chronic debilitating depression in people - and the eventual murder of the children to hide the involvement of the government from the public. The protagonist Anne escapes being murdered, having her place taken by Grace, the daughter of the antagonist in the story. The story follows Anne’s memories and feelings of conflict at having survived to become a veterinarian involved in the epidemiology of Bovine Brucellosis twenty years after the murders took place.0
Crime / Suspense / Mystery / Thriller
Krpasha Govindasamy (South Africa)
Of course, the Dugout was our secret, the seven of us, but somehow Grace knew. I was the guilty one of course. I shrugged,
“Cool,” I said, “Let’s go.” I got off my bike and waited for Grace to walk up beside me. The boys said nothing. They were boys, and like it or not, Grace was beautiful. They would have followed her to the end of the world without asking a question. Brij asked her if he could carry the basket, but she refused. And so, as gallant gentlemen would, they each got off their bikes, and walked, leading their bikes, on the path behind us.
The path to the Dugout from the house was narrow but well used. We had already trampled over the ferns and rough grass that had grown into the crooked way. Even though we were so far from the coast, I could feel something of the coastal forest reach us even here. There were wild banana trees and succulent white lilies, scattered through the network of green. We navigated our way through the sweltering forest, the sun overhead, collapsing on fronds and tendrils, flowing over the vegetation to pool at our feet.
Finally, when we had all gathered in the spot where Grace and I had met only a few days before, we all paused to wipe away the sweat from our faces and hair, the way cats suddenly stop and have a bath. We gathered around the picnic basket. I didn’t know about the others, but the thought of cold Oros was so welcoming.
Grace bent over and opened the basket. She whipped out a straw mat that was all folded up and laid it down on the ground. We watched her, as curious as kittens. She then produced yellow plastic tumblers, a bottle of Oros, already mixed, and a pack of Baker’s Tennis Biscuits.
“Anna,” she said, not looking up.
“Oh, sorry, right.” I got up and helped her place the tumblers in a row, wedging them into the ground a bit so that it wouldn’t topple over as she poured the Oros in. Once she had poured it, I handed a cup to each of the boys, who sat ever so politely, saying “thank you” even more politely. I couldn’t help grinning. Boys were funny. It was hard to imagine that less than an hour ago, these same boys were jostling and joking and making rude sounds in my presence, while we were all making yoghurt with Dr Robert. They were obviously intimidated by Grace to no small extent.
Grace followed me around the circle with the pack of biscuits. I caught a glimpse of Momo, hands pressed together in humility and gratitude, as a servant would accept a piece of bread from his master. After handing out the juice, I sat down. Grace sat next to me. The taste of cold sweetness in my mouth was invigorating. I sucked at the sweetness, enjoying the gritty feel of the Oros swirl around in my mouth. I leaned back and looked up at the sky. Bright blue, without a cloud. I belonged to the sky. I belonged to my friends beneath the flawless expanse of the heavens. I belonged.
“Let’s play a game.” Grace chirped into the stillness.
We all turned to look at her.
“What game?” Ash asked, still nibbling on a biscuit.
“I don’t know… Like, an adventure game.”
Brij sat up. I could see the lights explode in him.
“Like what?” he asked, his eyes wide and his grin wider. He looked sort of like a ridiculous brown Cheshire cat staring at an Alice that just mentioned Wonderland. I too felt the stirring of a spell come over all of us, huddled in a clearing in an ordinary bush that was rapidly transforming into something potentially magical.
“Like…” Grace frowned as she constructed something in her imagination. “Okay, like, Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest. Only Robin Hood is free. All his men and his ladies,” she took my hand in hers, “are trapped in secret locations by the evil sheriff of Nottingham. Robin has to find a prisoner and together they must find the other prisoners one by one.”
“Yeah, cool. That’s really cool. Let’s play.” Simon said jumping up to his feet.
Wandile also jumped up, “Wow cool, can I be the Robin?” he asked Grace.
“Yeah, sure. The first one that you find, will be Robin the next round.” I could see she was making up the rules as she went along, but I didn’t mind. I had watched the Robin Hood movie not so long ago, and the notion that we could be in Sherwood Forest was absolutely a revelation to me. Grace grabbed my hand and yelled, “Close your eyes Robin, and count to twenty.” She pulled me up and whispered heavily, “you and I stick together.”
We scattered into the surrounding bushes, crushing the shrubbery and weeds as we ran in different directions. Grace yanked me along.
“I know the perfect spot.” She said, slightly out of breath, as she leapt across the narrow bit of the stream and raced halfway up the bank. Just when I thought she intended to go all the way up, she turned a sharp right and pulled me toward a clump of banana trees. We went round the back and for a second she stood looking at it. Then she moved a large, wide frond aside and I saw what she was meaning. There was a perfect hollow formed by the thick green trunks and boat-shaped leaves of the banana trees. She wiggled her way in and then crouched down in a corner. There really was only enough space for one person, but she squeezed herself into the space to make room for me.
“Come on, come on,” she wheezed with excitement.
My heart was thundering. Wandile had stopped counting a few seconds ago already. I didn’t want to be Robin. I didn’t want to have to look for my friends. The idea of being alone in Sherwood Forest with all of them hiding in their prisons, scared me half to death. I slipped into the coldness of the banana tree cave, and sat next to Grace. I could feel her breathing next to me and Grace breathing next to me, was comforting. I don’t think I would have wanted to be hiding alone either. I think Grace might have known that about me, before I did.
In the distance I could hear Wandile saying, “You are safe Simon of Sherwood Forest, we have to rescue the others before it is too late. Let’s split up. Yell, if you find one.”
The two boys called out the names of the other boys and myself, and I realized with embarrassment that I had not introduced them to Grace. They had accepted her without even knowing her name. Maybe that is why she hid with me after all, I thought. But the thought didn’t stay too long, because I could hear the crunch of footsteps come close to us. In that moment the most irrational fear took over me. What if it was the Sheriff? What if it really wasn’t Robin or one of the merry men of the Forest? What if it was a stranger? I shut my eyes and moaned aloud.
Two things happened simultaneously. Grace put an arm around me and pulled me close to her little body and Simon smashed into the little hollow. I screamed. Simon reached in and grabbed my hand, pulling me up toward him.
“I found the ladies, I found the ladies,” he yelled into the Forest. He was still holding my hand. Grace was holding the other hand. I felt like a flimsy piece of washing, held between the two of them.
“Anna, are you okay?” he asked me, searching my face.
“She’s okay,” Grace said, “We are going to go back to the Dugout to wait for you guys there.”
“Okay, great.” He looked at me again and then looked at Grace. “Thanks,” he said and then went stomping off.
Grace held my hand all the way back to the rock we had first sat on. She didn’t say anything to me as we sat there in the sun, watching the leaves of the bush shudder and tremble as the boys ran through it finding each other. Brij was found next. I heard him shout to the others,
“I’m going to go protect the ladies from the Sheriff!”
“Okay Brij of the Forest, keep them safe.” Wandile cried out dramatically.
I already felt a bit better from my scare. We were still part of the game. By the time Brij was prancing around us, I had already forgotten my fear and was giggling and as happy as any of the others. I didn’t even feel when Grace had let go of my hand.
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