“You’re going ahead with the townhouses?” Miriam asks. She lifts her nose to the faint taint of decay in the air, closing her eyes as if to brace herself.
“The City has approved the plans. If I don’t build here, someone else will,” Antonie Dirkser says. The wheat- and winelands below and the remnant renosterveld around them are reflected in his aviator sunglasses; the sun glints off the metal segments of his watch.
Miriam struggles for a hold in her mindscape. The bullet that was meant to kill her had left furrows of vagueness in her memory, and ended her career. What she remembers is as wide as a scattering of seeds after an uncontrolled burn in the Cape southeaster.
The heat shimmering off the white-grey rocks directs her thoughts to the event that had awakened in her a fascination with the plants and their pollinators of the fynbos region of the Western Cape and propelled her towards heading the Threatened Species Programme.
It was the day her brother had pinned her against a granite outcrop and held the Starfish Iris under her nose. Her father had explained the rarity of the plants in the reserve and forbade them any destruction, but by some involuntary compulsion her brother just had to pluck a flower.
“If you tell on me, I’ll put this carrion flower under your pillow and the insects will come,” her brother had said, waving the flower under her nose. “And they’ll crawl up your nose and into your brain and lay eggs.”
The flowers of the Starfish Iris last only for one day, she later found out, and it smells of death, as she found out that day. Stinking is a decidedly inelegant but necessary function for the flower, its subdued colours and frilly frocks not enough to attract a brisk trade in pollination.
At this one clear memory, Miriam automatically searches for any sign of plant or insect life around her. She crouches and carefully tips a rock to see if she can spot a rare beetle.
“I suppose nothing I say can change your mind …” she says.
“Construction starts in two months,” Antonie says. “The investors want results asap. No-one can stop it now.” His voice rings cold in the simmering sun.
Corridors of realization open to connect memories in Miriam’s mind. The hijacker. The balaclava. The gun. That voice. She feels sweat prickling her neck and the sharp edges of the rock in her hand, and she comes up swinging. She hears the keening of cicadas as his skull cracks.
Miriam surveys the granite tips of the surviving renosterveld sticking out of the turned fields like calcified teats. The ploughed lines surround the hilltops so clinically that they resemble a Zen garden; the undulating sand raked bare of all natural growth.
“If it smells like death, the insects will come,” she says. “You said so yourself.”
© Sara P. Dias
June 2012 (Word count: 487)