“There’s so much more to cricket than being able to connect bat to ball. All sorts of factors need to be taken into account.”
“Well, environmental factors for one: the outside temperature, the ground conditions, wind, humidity …”
“What about the health of the individual players?”
“That too. Time spent in the gym, muscle-to-fat ratio, and the ability to control nerves and breathing, eye-sight …”
Frank halted to listen to his slightly overweight colleague talking to two parents sitting on the worn wooden bench at the edge of the cricket pitch. Staff members had always been encouraged to ‘mingle with the parents’ at this expensive private school. The glassy-eyed responses made him wonder, however, for how long the conversation had been going.
“Pierre, you’re getting a bit heavy on the chest now my man.” Frank patted him on the shoulder. “It’s time we visited the refreshment station and let these people enjoy watching their lads play.” He nodded at the obviously relieved parents and led his colleague away. “A cold drink will do the trick, besides, have you seen Aletta yet?”
“Aletta? Is she here?” Pierre’s dark eyes lit up under his bushy eyebrows.
“I saw her having tea with the Sloan parents at the pavilion about half an hour ago. Are you two still mad at each other?”
Pierre shrugged and kicked a stone out of his path. “She still won’t tell me who that dark-haired man was that she hugged with such enthusiasm at her graduation last month. He followed her around, I tell you, but we were never introduced.”
“’Just a friend’, right?” Frank greeted the parents and boys they passed along the way. He loathed being ‘The Duty Officer’ as everyone called the teacher who ended up being in charge of the smooth-running of major events such as this one.
“Women! They are a different species!” Pierre selected a soft drink from the table and turned towards the Thursday morning crowd gathered to watch their sons playing their final cricket match before the half-term break. “There she is with Evelyn and Marjorie. What are my chances?”
“Forget about the ‘friend’ and be one for a change!” Frank laughed, thumped Pierre on the shoulder and moved towards the father of a boy in his Life Science class. “Hello Gert, enjoying the cricket?”
“Good to see you Frank!” The two men shook hands. “Joe hasn’t batted yet, still two to go before he does. The game is going well though.”
“Were you able to identify those spotted insects I e-mailed you?”
“The ones Richard de Villiers photographed in Nelspruit during the holidays.”
“Ah, yes. Didn’t Joe tell you? Sorry, I should have e-mailed you. You were quite right about them being moths – Zeller’s burnet.”
“Sir, would you photograph me with my mother?” Frank turned aside at the sound of young Gilmore’s voice. The lad’s mother had flown in from Hong Kong on a rare visit to the school. He held up the proffered cell phone camera and clicked several times.
“Will you be going anywhere exciting over the half-term break, Mrs. Gilmore?”
“I’m taking William to Port St. Johns.” She smiled down at her son. “I grew up in the area, you know, and would love him to see the Magwa Falls near the tea plantation at Mbotyi. I believe they’re looking impressive at the moment.”
Frank took his leave and crossed the narrow tarred road to the play area next to the swimming pool. Several young children were playing around the see-saws and two boys were jumping on the ground-level trampoline. He nodded at the three senior boys on duty. “All going well, lads?”
“Yes sir,” they chorused. “It’s thirsty work though, sir,” ventured one. “Kyle and his gang only take over in half an hour!”
“That’s okay.” Frank eyed the safety fence around the pool. Swimming was prohibited without the presence of parents, the temporary sign warned in addition to the hefty-looking padlock threaded through the gate. “One of you go and get cold drinks for all of us.”
“Mr. Johnson said we must stay in threes.”
“I know.” Frank smiled. “I’ll wait if you bring me one too.” He scanned the play area and noticed a group of boys and girls playing cricket in the corner near the swings; Katie was walking her mother’s dog across the park on the other side of the fence. Frank fondly remembered them lunching near the tidal pool at Mossel bay and walking the dog in a nearby park when they’d brought it up from Cape Town in January. Would she notice him?
Two cyclists approached her from behind, fanned out to miss her and continued along the path. Frank waved in her direction, but she had already moved out of sight behind a row of low bushes.
“You took your time, Fisher!” Frank accepted the canned soft drink offered by the boy.
“Sorry sir. James Jooste was telling me about the sable antelope his dad has bought for their farm in Namibia. That must be so cool. They’ve got leopards too!”
“I’m going deep-sea fishing tomorrow,” Alan offered.
“Well, I’m going to eat and eat, sir.” Deon lifted his can in a mock salute. “My mother makes the best pizza ever and her mealie bread is to die for.”
Turning away, Frank considered the portable freezer already packed in his 4×4. Hogsback was calling. A glance at his watch against the background of cheering and clapping caused him to quicken his pace towards the boarding house. The game was finally over and he would need to be present when the boys signed out for the half-term.
A flash of pink caught his eye as he wearily closed the signing-out register at last. Frank looked up to see Katie standing to one side near the door. “Katie!” A smile broke through the concerned creases on his face. His duty was over.
“I’ve booked a table for two at the Clay Pig, dropped the hound off at the kennels, and my bag is packed, ready and waiting.”
He slipped an arm around her shoulder. “Time to go,” he laughed happily, already feeling the burden of responsibility for the welfare of the boys lifting from his own shoulders. “Hogsback, here we come!”