I must tell you about Angus. I could tell you about the time I stopped my car to listen to him playing his bagpipes, dressed in full kilted regalia, under a grove of trees darkened by the thick mist that held onto the sound. I could tell you about him meeting me in the pub, ruddy-faced, with grass in his hair and stinking of buffalo and sweat. That was the Angus I came to know.
If there was a time before Angus it has disappeared in a haze of growing up, having fun and not caring about the future. That time before Angus wasn’t really without Angus because he was always there. It was merely a time of not-knowing-Angus.
Well, of course everyone ‘knew’ Angus at university. You couldn’t miss him, surrounded as he was by an entourage of expectant, gorgeous-looking girls and young men who hung onto his every word. I wasn’t among them. He once gave me a lift to town in his bakkie that was always either covered with mud or dust, depending on the season.
I once volunteered to be an usher at a series of graduation ceremonies, telling myself it would be good to keep myself busy and be useful during the vacation that was too short for me to go home. At the end of those exhausting ceremonies I had to admit it had been worth the satisfaction of seeing Angus striding confidently across the stage to receive his Master’s degree. Was I in love, you ask. How could I be? I didn’t really ‘know’ Angus then, although I was drawn to his cheery laugh whenever I heard it on campus. We never met.
Perhaps we did. With time one forgets the process of meeting, of becoming familiar, of feeling free to greet in passing without any obligation. I will always remember his laugh: he seemed driven to enjoy himself. He wore his hair in a long, thick ponytail then, which seemed at odds with the clothes he wore and the vehicle he drove.
I noticed once that his ponytail had reached his waist. He had his back to me in the pub, where I was having a drink with two male colleagues. He saw me as he was leaving and waved in my direction. He wasn’t smiling, yet his eyes lit up as they brushed over me. Then he was gone.
Angus sat next to me at a folksong evening. The air was thick with smoke from braai fires on the periphery. A duo were singing on the dimly lit stage below the tiered seating set up on a school sports field. At first I was on my own, envying the couples holding hands, leaning into each other, or chatting quietly, even though my heart ached for no-one in particular. I had come for the music. The empty space next to me yawned and sighed until out of the gathering gloom Angus appeared: short-cropped, clean-shaven and confident about claiming the space.
We swayed in our seats to the rhythm of the music. As the evening wore on he put his arm around me in the casual way that good friends do. During the final song he lifted my hand and touched it to his lips. He lightly brushed my cheek with his fingers – and was swallowed by the darkness.
I must tell you about Angus because he is here, yet he is somewhere else. I once fed him soup with a teaspoon when he was very ill and shrunken-looking in my bed. He changed my tyre once in the road outside the supermarket. I held his hand at his father’s funeral. He comforted me when my mother died.
Angus and I. Me and Angus. We. Us. We met occasionally, loved, made love, dined together, and spent evenings reading together. I went to his game farm for weekends and holidays. He taught me to shoot; we counted game together; we watched sunsets together. We were us. That was the ‘here’ Angus, the tangible Angus, the Angus who loved with passion.
Then Angus would leave. Sometimes he would be away for weeks at a time, attending wildlife and hunting expos in Europe and the United States. His silence was thick and dark. Angus would return without warning, having driven past his farm to sit in my kitchen; to stretch his legs and comb his fingers through my hair.
That wonderfully rich laughter disappeared for a long time after his father’s death. The furrow on his brow deepened: taking full responsibility for the game farm put paid to his PhD. It ended his freedom to choose. It turned him inside himself – except when he was with me.
I must tell you about Angus. He is not who you think he is. You have thought he takes life lightly. You have wondered at his success. You have spoken about silver spoons, but you have never seen the strain that threatened to pull his face apart. You do not know of the weariness that turned his muscles to lead. Only I can tell you about the hidden Angus.
The Angus who lived in a dark world; who went to battle every day as he learned and failed, and tried again. The Angus who entered my flat in the early hours of one morning and kissed me on my cheek. He smelled of days and nights spent in the veld. He smelt of fear and of weariness. He showered and, as he snuggled next to me, said “Marry me Judith. Marry me” and fell asleep before I could reply.
You ask me why, after all these years, do I want to tell you about Angus. About the man who has lived his life to the full; who always cared about the land and all that derives succour from it. About the man who has devoted his life to creating a better future for his family.
I have chosen to tell you about the Angus who was, who might have been, and the Angus who became the man I have loved most in the world; the man who has loved and protected me even more fiercely than you can imagine. I have chosen to tell you about Angus because tomorrow we would have been married for fifty years. Although he has gone, he would have been very proud of you, my son.