KHAYELITSHA, SOUTH AFRICA – 1981.
It stalks through the long, brittle grass. When it is motionless, the cheetah is a fuzzy outline of yellow against the yellow grass. When it moves, it gives the impression of being only angular shoulders pointing at the arcing sun, and the twitching club of a long tail tipped with white.
Round ears rotate. They twitch, listening to the children playing a game at the water pump (whoever is pumping when the first drop emerges wins); they twitch again to eavesdrop on the women gossiping by the broken adobe huts at the edge of town, in the shadow of the square-sided gambling house.
‘—Found his son,’ says the tall one in Xhosa. It is her second language. ‘They took him to the hospital in the city but they weren’t quick enough.’
‘Awful,’ says the smaller one, and then something else in Afrikaans that sounds like ‘Eck voel naah
,’ and clutches her stomach.
‘Spots all up his arms,’ says the tall one.
The cheetah sniffs. His black point of a nose draws in the odours of the women, one who smells strongly of sweat and one who smells unwell and like old blood. His bulbous tail flicks idly in the grass, causing a faint rustle. The cheetah’s mouth hangs open, lower lip drooping down at the sides to reveal dark gums and sharp yellowish teeth. His tongue pulses up and down.
He ducks his head and slips through the long ...
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