There is a betting shop on every corner. Every single advertising segment has at least one betting ad in it and there’s a yung slot machine at almost every pub. I stay imminently bewildered at the gambling culture that seems be on every strata of the United Kingdom. Which is not to say nothing of the kind existed in South Africa, but it is certainly not as obvious. On one of my more explorative ventures into the city, I saw an old man with one of those grey, plastic, government issue type walking sticks with three little legs on the bottom struggle his way into the darkened interior of a William Hill. Hot on his heels was a coated up youth, one pocket jingling with coins. It seemed so part of their day to day that I couldn’t even really find some kind of rationale for how jarring it was to me. Before I left, a couple of people had a bunch to say about culture shocks, which is not a phrase I like. Still, this feels like one of those moments when the sheer difference and unfamiliarity of how people do things leaves one feeling overwhelmed and a bit gobsmacked.
So what happened was: I watched COSMOS and everything changed. Throughout my life, I had been peripherally interested in astronomy, insofar as I was a massive science-fiction nerd and fully believed that one day, giant ships would descend out of the sky and our horizons would be broadened by lightyears. (I still believe that, by the way.) COSMOS took all of that and morphed it into a full blown addiction. It opened my eyes to a world that I had seldom explored further than its incredible mythology and, somehow, by the end of it all, left me moved rather closer to tears than I ever expected or anticipated science could, or would. And even though I slept through the ending of one or two of them (I’m that kind of awful person that falls asleep on the couch more or less every evening), I still felt like my world had been dramatically altered. Of course, once it was finished, more was absolutely required.
Not long ago, my husband did a quick calculation and announced that we had only 56 days left in South Africa.
I haven’t counted how many days have passed since then.
My travel history, here at the ripe old age of twenty-nine, is not extensive, though the trips I have been on are memorable (up to and including that one time years ago, when my family drove to Johannesburg and I dabbled before climbing in the back of a bakkie with my grandmother), laughable (cooking whole rolls of boerewors on a dirt road in Botswana, with only a tiny pot, a mini gas stove and a fork for tools) and just plain enjoyable (camping around a lamp in a small dorpie in the middle of the Karoo very much like the one that characterises Lantern Waste in Narnia). The one and only safari I have ever taken was spent with my nose buried between the pages of a book — a move I do not regret to this day, since every word of THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST makes ploughing through the previous two novels absolutely worth it.
The final amount came in at just under R120k.
It had taken me about four days to do all the necessary tallies: the bank loans, deathly interest and all; the credit card totals; the independent amounts of money I had loaned from friends and family; and the money my husband gave me two days before, which stopped my phone ringing ten to fifteen times a day like it had been for months.
It was the beginning of February 2016. I had just broken a 12 month trend of lying, faking and detachment by confessing to my nearest and dearest that I was badly, devastatingly, potentially almost criminally in debt. Then I turned in the direction of some kind of redemption, drew up a budget and started making plans to pay it all back, as quickly and as painlessly as I could manage.