The rain lashes at an angle seemingly chosen to get under the hood of my anorak and pour torrents of cold water down my chest. My hands are not faring all that well either. When the rain started I pushed them into the pockets of my anorak but some despicable design oversight results in the pockets filling up with icy water that does not seem to warm, just suck the warmth out of my hands. A drop of water runs down my nose and sways precariously on the tip, almost as if it is deciding if it too can join the torrent running down my chest. What had started out as a pleasant walk up to our favourite rock shelter on Saturday after rugby had was rapidly turning into a disaster. The only thing moving one foot in front of the other was the thought of the rock shelter, warm drink and my sleeping bag, which I trusted was not soaking wet. I am just shaking the drop of ice water off my nose when I collide with Johnny who is in front of me. From the dark muttering ahead, I gather that Johnny had collided with Paul who with his almost unnatural feel for the mountains was leading.
"Shit." Paul is staring at the stream that we normally step over without really noticing. It is a raging torrent and from the looks of it at least knee deep and far to wide to jump, let alone step across. Johnny, impulsive as ever makes to cross the river by wading through it but I grab him, pull him back and we nearly fall over.
"What the fuck are you up to? We cannot stand here and admire the sodding view, we will freeze. Or at least I will."
"Wait." I say. I push my walking stick into the stream and hold it there. Within seconds there is loud thump and the stick is almost knocked from my hands.
"Rocks rolling down the river. Break your bloody ankle if you try to cross."
"What now?" Paul looks at me. They defer to me because I introduced them to hiking.
"We cannot go back. I dunno about you, but I am cold, tired and hungry. Incipient hypothermia." I realise that he isn't kidding and that what he says for himself is true for me and for Johnny. None of us had eaten before leaving and now had a bad calorie deficiency.
"We find another shelter."
"Yes? And where might that shelter be?" Paul sounds impatient and not a little panicked.
"That new shelter that the Prof and his bunch found last month. He said it was this side of the stream and I reckon we are standing on the path that goes there."
Paul peers at the ground.
"Could be," he mutters "A long shot though. Maybe we should just turn around and slog it out to the foresters hut."
Johnny looks at him and then at me.
"I don't think I will make it all the way back. Its darn near 10 km, that is 2 hours on a good day, on a bad day 3 and I am finished."
We stare at each other for a while, Paul shrugs and heads off down the narrow winding path that follows the bank of the river. We walk and walk, Paul going slowly, scanning ahead and to the sides. Nothing, no path, no cairn, no tell-tale sign.
Then Paul stops. We crowd around him and realise we are on the edge of the kloof, somewhere back there we missed the turn. Going down is not possible and our only hope is to turn back and brave it out.
I am now starting to wonder if we should not try to make a shelter in the bush next to the river, but a sudden surge of wind nearly blows me off my feet and I realise that no shelter would last an hour, let alone a whole night. And to make matters worse, it is getting rapidly darker.
We haven't walked more than 100 metres when we hear a whistle off to our right, I look around and see a strange looking figure in the semi dark, waving his arms, beckoning, running a few steps away, stopping, coming back, beckoning. I look at my friends, tired, exhausted, cold, and decide that however mad the character over there is he may just save our live so I turn and start walking toward him.
I hear Paul and Johnny mutter and then follow me. The strange figure who seems to be a man dressed in a karos keeps looking back, beckoning, hastening us on. As we get closer to him we can hear his speech which is the words, the whistles and click of a Khoi language. I recognise it although I have no idea what he is saying. The click seem to be the most audible sound and soon we are following the wild figure across the veld listening all the while to the double click of a word he repeats over and over.
We almost catch up with him at a large white promontory, he waits for us, gestures down and to the right and scurries off before we can reach him. The click click of his encouragement often our only guide. Suddenly he is gone and we are standing on a path that heads off to the right, back toward the stream we were following. We follow the path, hearing the water from the stream falling down a sharp cliff and splashing somewhere ahead of us. Of our guide there is no sign.
I keep on walking, following the narrow footpath, fearfully aware of the drop to my left and the horror of falling down the 1000 m drop.
Then I am standing in the entrance to a shelter. Not a small shelter but a big one. Definitely not the small shelter the Prof had been talking about. This has to be something else/
I get a firm push in the back,
"Get inside! I am not going to freeze to death while you stand and stare amazed."
I stagger forward, closely followed by Johnny and Paul. Out of the rain and wind I almost immediately feel a bit warmer, the wind chill factor having been remove along with the pelting rain.
"Where is ClickClick?" asks Paul. He shines his water proof torch around. The place is empty except for us, some shiny red rodent eyes in a corner and the vague movement of bats on the roof. Paul’s torch illuminates the back wall of the shelter and we stare in wonder at the hundreds upon hundreds of painting that decorate the wall. Hunting scenes, animal, people walking, running dancing, carrying prey. A panoply of Khoi life.
We stand in awe.
"I don't think it is polite to call the person who has just saved your sorry arse from drowning ClickClick." Johnny says after a while.
"It may not be polite, but until he appears and introduces himself I am going to call him that. And when he does appear, I am gonna share my bottle of rum with him." Which for Paul is a major concession.
"Until he does come,may I suggest we get ourselves settle and warm?" I say and put action to words.
The discipline of a hiking camp takes over and in short order we have changed our wet clothes for warm dry clothes, we have a fire going from a small wood pile that we found in the back of the shelter and food is heating in a billy next to the fire.
We wait for an hour for ClickClick to arrive, but he doesn't appear and exhaustion takes control and we climb into thankfully dry sleeping bags. Soon the shelter is quiet and dark.
I have been asleep for a while when there is an almighty flash of lightning and an almost instantaneous crash of thunder which lifts me into a sitting position. I look across the shelter and see that the fire has once again burst into flame.
Around the fire two figures dance, slowly unsteadily. A woman and ClickClick. ClickClicks legs start to falter and he falls to the ground. I watch the woman try to raise him and fail. She rises to her feet and then drags him slowly past us and into the narrowest part of the cave, wraps his karos around him, kisses his cheek and the piles stones on top of him.
I try to speak but find I am mute. I try to rise but find I am frozen in place. It slowly dawns on me that I am dreaming.
The woman turns and walks to the exit of the shelter, steps out into sunlight, looks back once and is gone. Darkness descends and I remember no more.
I awake to sunlight reflecting and sparkling off the waterfall that falls in front of the rock shelter. Paul is awake and sitting on a rock looking out across the kloof. It is beautiful day, the birds are singing, the river is running and the sky is blue. I am still confused, distressed and just plain lost as I join him on the rock.
We sit still for a while. I look at Paul, his face is drawn, his eyes distant, sad. He looks as if he has been crying.
"You dreamt too?" I ask. "Of ClickClick?"
He nods, slowly and we sit there waiting for Johnny to wake and cheer us up but Johnny is quiet, silent, almost mourning.
"I dreamt," he starts, but we both nod.
"Shall we go look see?"
"Is that respectful?"
"I suspect we were all given that dream and he expects us to look."
Paul is the most sensitive of us. He gets up and we walk slowly, reluctantly to the heap of stones in the corner. Paul lifts the stone where ClickClicks head had been and there was a skull. Johnny whimpers quietly, Paul sighs and me? I am frozen. I can scarcely breath. Paul removes the shark tooth necklace he always wore around his neck and places it gently on ClickClicks neck.
"Thank you, ClickClick. Sleep well." He gently replaces the stone and we retreat to the sunlight.
It is a very subdued threesome that head back to the foresters hut later that day. As we arrive at the parking lot, the Prof and his phalanx of undergrads arrives. Archaeologists all, trowels, spades, cameras and all the paraphernalia.
"How was the hike guys?" the Prof asks "Find me my aggregation shelter? It has got to be there. The local tribes had have a large shelter and a shaman in this area. All we find is outlying shelters." Johnny opens his mouth to speak and gets a sharp elbow in the ribs.
"Nothing seen I am afraid. Too wet yesterday to do any exploring. We dried out, had a leisurely breakfast and came home." The lies come easily to me. I was not going to allow those people to disturb our rescuer. Not a a damn.
I look at Johnny warningly, but he is nodding. "Nothing seen. We will tell you the moment we find anything."
The Prof nods and he and his team take off up the path.
In that car park we swore that we would protect ClickClicks grave from the archaeologists.
A week later we are back, find the shelter, build an even more sturdy cover for our rescuer and made sure that the path is not obvious.
The years pass, the Prof never finds the shelter and we move on in our lives.
Nearly a decade haw passed when the world gets shook up. An earthquake rattles windows, knocks down houses and generally disturbs the world.
That night ClickClick comes to my dreams. He beckons, not in authority but in entreaty. "Come come. Click Click" He slowly fades and is gone.
The next morning I am just about to leave for work when my phone rings, Paul.
"I dreamt last night. He was calling us. He may have been exposed. We must go."
I phone Johnny. "Did you dream?"
"Yes, he was calling me."
"All of us."
We meet at the foresters hut at 10:30. I called in sick. I am not sure what the others told their respective employers. We move fast. 50 m run, 50 m walk alternating.
By 1 we are there, surveying the damage. The shelter had been destroyed but by some fluke of nature, ClickClick has been exposed, Paul's shark tooth is still at his neck however.
For the next two hours we work, building a fitting cairn for him. At long last, hands scraped and bleeding, bodies aching and battered we stand back and look at the cairn. Natural enough to not attract attention but suitable for a good man.
"One good turn." Paul says as we turn to go home. We return once a year just to make sure our friend is safe and comfortable.Back to Stories