The kitchen door lock popped. Bob was lying on the floor and there was blood oozing from a nasty cut on her left temple and ear. I was going to hang up the phone. She looked dead.
Ronnie picked her up and checked her breathing. She’s okay, he nodded with tears streaming down his cheeks. The sun disappeared behind a cloud and there was a strange amber-like glow around their bodies. I hadn’t even had a puff of Thai stick yet.
“Yes, it’ me. You sound surprised to hear my voice.” Lucy said on the other side.
“I am. Look—”
“You phoned me.”
“I know! Pressed the wrong goddamn button. I’m trying to get an ambulance to Ronnie’s place. Bob’s down and there’s blood. Phone an ambulance and send them here now!”
“Are you all right, D?”
“Yes. No … no. Could you please phone an ambulance, Lucy?”
“Yes, I can. What’s Ronnie’s address?”
“Hold on— Ronnie, what’ your address?”
Ronnie shrugged. “I don’t know. We’re squatting.”
“What? “What’ the address, D?”
“He doesn’t have one. They’re squatting.”
Ronnie was cleaning Bob’s wound. It wasn’t as bad as it initially looked. The cut was small, but deep. She must’ve passed out and hit her head on the corner of kitchen table steel frame. There was a lot of blood — on the floor and in her hair. The congealed blood looked like tiny pieces of cherry bubble gum someone had stuck in her hair. She was regaining consciousness, which was a relief.
“What do you want me do, Dolorez?”
“Make a plan, Lucy. Make a plan. You know where Ronnie and Bob live. And phone Jesus Julie at Child Services. They took River. ”
“River. Ronnie’s daughter. God!”
“Look, don’t you get all pissy with me, sister. You phoned me—”
“If you say ‘you phoned me’ one more time, Lucy, I swea—”
“And I’m trying to help. I know who River is. Christ, I bought her a Bible. Who took her, D?”
“Sorry, Lucy. I’m sorry. My head’s spinning. I think I’m a little freaked out.”
“I can tell. Who. Took. Her.”
“I’m onto it.”
“Thank you, Lucy.”
“Don’t mention it. But I think we need to have a little talk when we meet for a drink at Bertie’s next Saturday.”
“I’m not here next Saturday. I’m going on a date with—”
“Well, you can cancel that. You’re going to Bertie’s for a drink with me and you’re paying. And bring something to smoke. We need to have a serious chat.” She hung up.
“How’s she doing, Ronnie?”
“Her breathing is steady. Lost a lot of blood, though. What did Lucy say?” Ronnie wiped Bob’s forehead with a damp kitchen cloth.
“She said I have to meet her for a drink at bloody Bertie’s. I hate that place, I swear. They serve fucking deep fried potato skins for bar snacks.”
Ronnie raised an eyebrow.
“Shit. Yeah. Right. Sorry. Sorry, Ronnie. The ambulance is on the way. We might have to wait a while longer. Lucy has to give them directions on how to get here. And she’s going to phone up her contact in Child Service. We’ll sort this out in no time.”
Turned out Jesus Julie had no record of Child Services taking a seven-year old from her house in Jonkershoek.
Ronnie and Bob never saw River again.
Ronnie’s health went from relatively okay to poor in no time. He had a stroke two years after River’s disappearance. Bob used to take him down to a stream at the foot of the valley where he’d sit all day and talk to the water, to River. That was until he had his second stroke at forty-six. Ronnie doesn’t come out of the house anymore.
Bob lost her Bob Marley smile and that sparkle of intensity in her eyes faded forever on the day ‘they’ took River. She never makes tea or banana bread anymore. She grows her own pot and ekes out an existence selling to students in Stellenbosch. I saw her the other day sitting outside the liquor store. She’d pissed herself and was smoking tobacco rolled in a piece of newspaper. Like a faithful black guard dog, an empty two-litre box of Drostdy-Hof Sauvignon Blanc sat by her side.
Moss-covered river pebbles. It was the first thing that came to mind when I looked into her eyes.
Moss-covered river pebbles.