There is a paddock along the road that skirts our town where horses are kept.
The old man is there every afternoon at almost the same time. His white horse waits near the fence in anticipation of his arrival – always accompanied by his little dog. The man obviously brings food for his horse, which stands quietly nibbling at something on the ground. The white-haired old man frequently spends a late afternoon hour sitting on a low folding stool next to his horse, reading while his dog wanders around the veld or sits next to him.
On some afternoons the man takes a short walk before settling next to his horse. When the weather is inclement, he sits in his vehicle and reads while his horse either nibbles on the ground or stands patiently at the fence.
The day feels ‘right’ if the old man is in his place when I pass. I feel relieved if my timing is off and I see his distinctive vehicle approaching. So regular is this sighting that I feel a concern rising if the man and his horse are not at their post: I check the time, scan the passing traffic for his familiar vehicle in case he is late, and then wonder if all is well with him if I don’t see him.
It is a relief when he returns after a short absence: his presence has become part of the rhythm of driving along that section of the road. Who is he? What does he think about? For how long have he and his horse been together? Why does he visit his horse at this particular time of the day?
Then the dreaded pandemic arrived. It was months before we could venture out, during which time I couldn’t help wondering about the old man and his horse. How were they getting on? Once we could get out and about there was no sign of either the man or his horse for weeks. What had happened?
On the day I saw his familiar vehicle parked next to the fence again I felt relieved – all is well, I thought. He hasn’t been seen for a long time. Times are hard – anything could have happened. Then I chanced to drive behind him on the road leading out of town yesterday afternoon. Before I turned off for home, I watched his vehicle climb the hill – and I felt a sense of peace.