Amanda's Circus

Edith’s Story

In 1949, near the Kimberley diamond mines in South Africa, Edith is involved in an abusive marriage to Henny. Excluded from the community, she isolates herself in an attic overlooking the veldt where she becomes obsessed with crafting exquisite wooden boxes. But as Henny’s behaviour becomes increasingly intolerable, Edith finds she has very little to lose and is surprised to discover that she is prepared to risk everything.

The Cherrywood Box

a novel

by Amanda Oosthuizen

Chapter 2


Edith, South Africa, 1949

I had no idea how frightening it is to be alone on the veldt. Grassland stretches for miles in every direction. I watch Josephine walk towards the horizon and although I glance away for barely a second, when I look back, she’s disappeared. All that’s left are the waves of heat crumpling the air and turning the surface of the track to glass where, a minute before, she’d been walking. The silence too is vast, and along with the heat, it wraps me up, I can barely breathe. The crack of a twig, the croak of a grasshopper, a movement in the waving grass, it makes my skin shiver and tingle. It’s love and hate. All the time, I think I can hear a dust storm coming, humming like locusts in the distance.

I’m here only because of a snippet of conversation I overheard at Mrs Armitage’s housewife’s education meeting. Gossip and rumour is at the crux of it all. My single sensible action has been the arrangement to pay off Mrs Armitage’s maid, Leticia. But I still have to go to Carmington to meet the maid’s uncle. Only then will he tell me the whereabouts of the woman.

Carmington is a further two hours. I pull a scarf over my head and put on dark glasses to protect my eyes from the dust and drive as fast as I can along the track, in the opposite direction to Josephine, without causing the jeep to turn over in the ruts.

It’s mid afternoon when I arrive. I park in a yard at the edge of town as arranged. The veldt stretches for miles behind me. The maid’s uncle is supposed to be waiting for me outside a shack. I watch from the jeep, the windows wound down, the roof off. I breathe in the hot air and sneeze. Someone has lit a fire and smoke drifts in, filling the cab with the smell of burning wood. Through the smoke I can see a man standing barefoot in a doorway picking his teeth with a matchstick.  He’s wearing a grubby, white vest and tattered trousers tied with rope. He doesn’t move but from his frowning, locked-in gaze I can tell he’s seen me. I shiver. Chickens peck the ground underneath a thorn tree. An axe is jammed into a log. I don’t like the look of that.

I wait and stare. He’s watching me, waiting for me to act. He’s the lion. I’m the springbok. But even so, in the end, I have to make the first move. I step confidently out of the jeep and walk up to him, unable to smile because I know that in my pencil creased tan slacks and neatly pressed white blouse, I’m out of place. I take off my sunglasses and pull off the scarf. shaking my hair loose. He says nothing but turns and I follow him inside.

It’s a simple home with an earth floor with a strong smell of wood smoke. A box of cooking utensils stands by the firebox and he’s arranged wooden crates for chairs and a plank across two oil drums for a table. Once inside, he looks through the doorway for a while and then closes it. I don’t like a closed door. My heart races. I fumble in my bag for the money.

He pulls an old checked shirt over his vest and frowns at me. I give him the twenty pounds, still without a word. He examines the notes, checking each side whilst simultaneously turning the matchstick in his mouth then quickly stuffs the money into his trousers.

I want to leave so badly but only now do I realise that I’ve idiotically given away the money without getting any information from him. I should have done that first. How ridiculous! What a fool I am! I feel in my pocket for the dagger I use for trimming wood. I run my finger along the blade. He must know I’m still in possession of the money to pay for the diamonds. It would take hardly any effort for him to grab the axe and finish me off. If he buried my remains out here under the thorn tree where the chickens peck, no one in the world would be any wiser

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