No such thing as I can’t

My brother had imbibed three glasses of red wine and two joints over lunch, or perhaps it was two glasses of red wine and three joints – nobody could remember – but he was striding purposefully up and down a potential plot he wanted to purchase in Riebeek-Kasteel.  Some distance from us a rugbygroup of young schoolboys played barefoot rugby.  ‘Vat hom,’ shouted a keen onlooker. His voice carried far in the still mindless heat of mid-afternoon.

I went to go sit under a scraggly tree to draw, tracking figures in the dead leaves and dry soil with my finger. ‘Where you going?’ I said to Greg. He was also striding off purposefully, but in the opposite direction to my brother.

‘The graveyard. Nineteenth century.’ He pointed a short distance away next to a church, just behind the plot.

I remembered suddenly sitting with this degree of listlessness in the heat when I was in Sub B and the tennisette teacher, Mrs Runtsch, had sent me away as a punishment. We’d been asked to perform some complicated ball exercise. A quick predictor of failure, I’d blurted out, ‘I can’t.’

She’d turned on me. ‘I don’t want to hear that. Go sit over there, away from us. There no such thing as I can’t.

In a fit of rage and shame and remorse, I had sat where she pointed while pretending to be engrossed by drawing five-legged elephants on the rough court. If she didn’t want me, I certainly didn’t want her either. (It’s a good life lesson that I’ve always tried to maintain.)

‘You know what’s interesting about that graveyard?’ said Greg. He’d returned. The kids were following behind like ducklings.


‘Nobody lived very long. Lots of children. The oldest person was only 72.’ He seemed to be taking a scholarly pleasure at this discovery.

‘You think I should buy here?’ my brother was shouting, shielding his eyes against the glare. I shrugged. I didn’t have the energy to answer him. It seemed like a massive project, to start with an empty tract of land and then somehow to inhabit it.

‘Kry hom,’ shouted another dad. The boys were running hard. The heat didn’t seem to affect them.