Nola met Kersia twice, and the two of them established an immediate rapport. I’d known Kersia for several years, and she and her husband Keith and I were good friends, the sort who don’t see one another often, but have no problem picking up the threads of friendship as though last year had been yesterday.
I’d introduced a group of photographers to Gwahumbe Nursery, home and business to Keith and Kers, and we’d spent a hot but happy day keeping our cameras busy in the valley that is the nursery. Keith hadn’t been there that day, and Kers did the honours, showing us their “Chubstones” restaurant and then loading us all onto the back of a Land Cruiser for a rough but fascinating trip to the river and the Lodge deep down on the floor of the valley. What a special place it is, and we all came away gushing with compliments for the entire establishment. We’d seen an array of indigenous plants and trees that probably has no equal in South Africa, and the restaurant is a beguiling place, worthy of a blog post on its own.
Nola and I went to Gwahumbe once more, this time Nola meeting Keith for the first time, and cementing her new friendship with Kers. Keith spent a few hours with us in the nursery, and with the aloes in full flower Nola and I loaded up on scenes of mind-numbing colour, our cameras almost groaning aloud at the onslaught of the beauty. Keith kindly filled my mind with technical matters of aloes, things that I’d never known, and fascinated me. Time ran out on us, and when we left Nola and Kers hugged and said goodbye as sisters might have done.
Being of advanced years as I am, one of the columns I give fleeting attention to in the Witness newspaper each morning is the “Death Notices,” to keep track of which of my ancient acquaintances had departed this world. About a week later, with deep shock I read “Bales, Kers.” It wasn’t possible. She’d been hale and hearty just a few days previously as Nola and I said goodbye. I came closer to tears than I had in all the years since my early schooldays. I phoned Nola, knowing how shocked she’d be. The new friendship had run its course.
That Friday afternoon we stood in the grounds of the little church just outside the hamlet of Mid-Illovo, in the hot sunshine that persuaded most of us to discard layers of clothing. Cars filled the churchyard and were double-parked along the main road, and I found parking on the edge of a canefield. The building was full to bursting, and the farming community members almost jostled for space in the yard. The service taking place inside the church was relayed to us by a set of booming loudspeakers, and apart from the speakers, the silence was complete. A contingent of nursery employees, all clad in pristine-clean overalls and gumboots, stood quietly around us. They probably didn’t understand too much of the service, but soon afterward moved forward to perform a dignified and solemn requiem to the lady they’d served and lost. Nola and I didn’t stay for the tea as we knew no-one there but Keith, but before we left Nola promised Keith that she’d return to talk to him, wiping away his tears in one of the most tender acts I’ve ever seen.
Almost two weeks had passed, and yesterday Nola and I went to see our friend. It was a good meeting where my role was that of driver, and we found that Chubby was managing to deal with the situation at least as well as we’d expected. It was so good to see him again as he struggled to make time to get into the nursery again and favoured us with some of that time, in the process kindly giving Nola the aloes she’d been wanting for her garden in Hilton.
How does one put a value on a friendship? I’d been so rewarded by my association with Kers and Keith, and Nola had found someone she liked deeply. These things become memories, but stay with us.
And so, with my greatest respect to Keith, and to honour my memory of Kersia, a small tribute. I don’t even need to ask Nola if she shares it. I know she does. Thank you both for the friendship.