“Ben! Ben! Where are you?” Fiona slammed the door of her vehicle and raced across the farmyard, still calling her husband. She found him fixing a tractor in the shed.
“What’s up?” Ben looked up as she ran towards him.
“Ben, the cows …” She paused to catch her breath. “The cows have got out onto the road. They’re everywhere!”
Ben gently placed the carburettor on the workbench and wiped his hands on his already grimy shorts. “Armand!” He picked up the keys of his truck. “Was the gate open?”
“No, I opened it with the remote.” Fiona was still panting from her exertion and the sense of urgency of the situation.
“This could be tricky.” Ben called again, “Armand!” then turned to her. “We’ll need your help – drive down to Land 2 and ask Siseko to bring the men up to the road on the trailer. Then I want you stationed at one end of the cows on the road with your hazard lights on.” He touched her arm lightly, leaving a splodge of oil on her skin.
Armand approached the truck at a jog. “The cattle are out,” he panted.
“I know. Hop in. There must be a hole in the fence.”
Fiona watched the two men drive off in a cloud of dust before she made her way through the maize lands to find Siseko.
It was early evening before Ben joined Fiona on the front veranda of their farm house. He sipped his cold beer appreciatively and reached for a slice of the cheese and bacon quiche Fiona had made. “The fence was cut in two places,” he said as if they had simply paused their conversation.
“There’s been a lot of that further down the valley. I’ve informed the Stock Theft Unit, but there’s not much they can do. We’ve got them all back, fixed the fence and Vuyo has organised a rotation of guards for the night.” He picked up another slice of quiche. “Thanks for your help Fi – your haircut looks nice by the way.”
She felt pleased. “I’m surprised you noticed it in the midst of today’s upheavals. Thank you. I’m going to fetch the fruit salad. Shall I bring you another beer?”
He shook his head. “Fruit salad will be fine. I just want some peace – now who is this?” He broke off to retrieve his cell phone from his trouser pocket.
Fiona returned from the kitchen to find Ben looking angry. “Problem?” she asked tentatively.
“Nic called to say a herd of kudu are being a nuisance among his pumpkins. He wants to shoot the lot.”
“Surely yes. Sorry Fiona, but I’m going to help him drive them off.” He left his bowl of fruit salad untouched and disappeared into the gloom.
The following morning Fiona was surprised to see two horsemen approaching the area where she was hanging up the laundry. She squinted up against the sun. “Hello Paul, what brings you here on horseback?”
“Ian and I are doing perimeter fence patrols. I hear your cows were in the main road yesterday.”
“Our fence was cut.”
Paul patted his horse’s neck. “A brazen thing to do in broad daylight. Tell Ben we’re around if you see him. We’re going to ride along the Hanegraaf’s fence. Look after yourself, Fiona. Keep a lookout for strangers in the area.”
Fiona felt inclined to weep as she pegged the towels in a rising wind. Andrew and Taryn would be home from university soon and she didn’t want them to get caught up in the tensions that were becoming an increasingly integral part of farm life.
“Mom, I’m not coming home for the vac. Luke and I want to spend the week visiting the Drakensberg.” Fiona felt disappointment squeeze the breath out of her.
“I don’t think you have told us about Luke,” she responded evenly.
“We just ‘clicked’ at the Spring Ball. Are you okay with this, Mom?”
“Sure. Of course Dad will also be disappointed that you’re not coming home. Have fun my darling and let us know how you are.” Fiona wept into the pillowcases she had been taking to Tarryn’s room.
“Dad, Luke is gutless, yet manipulative. He’s stealing Tarryn’s money too.” Andrew was walking around the farm with his father. “Don’t tell Mom, but Tarryn’s paying for the fuel and accommodation for this jaunt of theirs.”
“Mom? Do you think you could deposit some money into my account?” Fiona was struck by the unusual tremor in her daughter’s voice. “It’s just that we hadn’t bargained for the increase in the price of fuel.”
“Is Luke with you Tarryn?” Fiona’s protection antennae bristled at the sound of raucous laughter and music in the background.
“Are you in a pub?” Fiona couldn’t make out the muffled sound which seemed to be close to her daughter.
“Yes, but … Mom, I really need the money. Please don’t tell Dad.” It was the slight whine in Tarryn’s voice that put Fiona on high alert. She found out where Tarryn and Luke were overnighting. Glimpsing her menfolk returning from their walk, she spoke with grim determination. “Tarryn, listen to me. I’m coming to fetch you. If I set off now I should reach you by sunrise. Don’t argue and don’t leave until I get there!”
She laid her cards on the table. “She is in trouble, Ben. I just know that.”
“Don’t be daft Fiona. You can’t drive alone through the night!”
“Dad, I think Tarryn needs to come home.” Andrew turned to his mother. “Give me five minutes and I’ll come with you, Mom.” Andrew punched his father’s shoulder and winked at him.
“What are those marks on your arms, Tarryn?” Fiona had been observing her daughter closely while they breakfasted at a roadside padstal. Her hair was limp and her eyes still bore traces of crying.
“Insect bites,” came the mumbled reply.
“Fresh round ones.” Ben pushed up his sister’s sleeve. “More like cigarette burns I’d say.” He looked meaningfully at his mother.
“Well, Luke did try to stop the itching.” Tarryn pulled her sleeve down and clutched at the cuffs of her loose jersey.
“With a cigarette?” Fiona could feel anger coursing through her. Luke had apparently still been sleeping when they had met Tarryn outside the motel before sunrise. “Since when could that be regarded as an anaesthetic?”
They drove home in silence, broken only by the periodic sobbing from Tarryn who was huddled under a blanket on the back seat. “Let’s make a stop in town before we go home, Andrew.” Fiona turned to face her daughter. “We’ll stop at the next picnic site so that you can splash your face and change your top and jersey. I’ll make an appointment with my hairdresser.”
“I’m not having you arrive home looking the way you are, Tarryn. Dad has enough on his plate without having to worry about the welfare of his daughter.” She patted Tarryn’s knee. “We’ll work something out, perhaps even postpone your return for a few days until you at least look well again.”
Once in town, she gave Andrew a hastily compiled list of groceries to purchase while she waited for Tarryn at the hairdresser. “Oh, and get some burn ointment from the pharmacy too please,” she called after her son.
“Tarryn my love, you look gorgeous.” Ben winked at Andrew over her head. “You got tired of your boyfriend did you?”
Tarryn pulled away. “Dad, he’s not my boyfriend!” Then she hugged her father. “Actually, he’s my big mistake.”
A week later Fiona scanned her e-mails to find the quotation for the milking machines she was expecting. To her surprise there was a message from Tarryn: I don’t think I have ever told you and Dad how much I love you. You guys are the best!
Ben smiled when he read it after locking the workshop door. “She’s lost a fortune to that knucklehead, you know.”
“He burned her because I didn’t deposit the money immediately. I just sensed there was something wrong.”
Ben put his arm around his wife’s shoulders as they walked towards the house. “Farm life is gripping and tense at times. I wouldn’t manage it without you. You are like the stakes that support the tomatoes through each season – only, you are forever.”