msafiri fiction 130 attending to their own emergency. One, a woman, bent her head into the cab of the taxi, addressing the driver in a low voice. The driver and the gaardjie were the only people who seemed relaxed; both were slouched low on the front seats, the driver with a baseball cap tilted down over his eyes. On the other side of the forecourt was a large Afrikaans family group that seemed to have been travelling in convoy: mother, father, a couple of substantial aunts and uncles, half a dozen blond kids of different sizes. They had set up camp, cooler bags and folding chairs gathered around them. On their skins, Lynn could see speckles of black grime; everybody coming out of the city had picked up a coating of foul stuff, but on the white people it showed up worse. A group of what looked like students – tattoos, dreadlocks – sat in a silent line along the concrete pad that supported the petrol pumps. One, a dark, barefoot girl with messy black hair down her back, kept springing to her feet and walking out into the road, swivelling this way and that with her hands clamped under her armpits, then striding back. She reminded Lynn a little of herself, ten years before. Skinny, impatient. A fit- looking man in a tracksuit hopped out of a huge shiny bakkie with Adil's IT Bonanza on its door and started pacing alertly back and forth. Eventually the man – Adil himself? – went over to the family group, squatted on his haunches and conferred. Lynn stood alone, leaning against the glass wall of the petrol- station shop. The sun stewed in a sulphurous haze. She checked her cellphone, but the service had been down since the day before. Overloaded. There wasn't really anyone she wanted to call. The man in the blue overalls kept staring at her. He had skin the colour and texture of damp clay, a thin, villain's moustache. She looked away. The black- haired girl jumped up yet again and dashed into the road. A small red car with only one occupant was speeding towards them out of the smoky distance. The others went running out to join their friend, stringing themselves out across the highway to block the car's path. By the time Lynn thought about joining them, it was already too late – the young people had piled in and the car was driving on, wallowing, every window crammed with hands and faces. The girl gave the crowd a thumbs- up as they passed. A group was clustering around one of the cars. Peering over a woman's shoulder, Lynn could see one of the burly uncles hunkered down in his shorts, expertly wielding a length of hose coming out of the fuel tank. His cheeks hollowed, then he whipped the hose away from his mouth with a practised jerk, stopped the spurt of petrol with his thumb, and plunged the other end of the hose into a jerry- can. He looked up with tense, pale eyes. " Any more?' he asked in an over- loud voice. Lynn shook her head. The group moved on to the next car. She went to sit inside, in the fried- egg smell of the cafeteria. The seats were red plastic, the table- tops marbled yellow, just as she remembered them from childhood road trips. Tomato sauce and mustard in squeezy plastic bottles crusted around the nozzle. She was alone in the gloom of the place. There were racks of chips over the counter, shelves of sweets, display fridges. She pulled down two packets of chips, helped herself to a Coke and made her way to a window booth. She wished strongly for a beer. The sun came through the tinted glass in an end- of- the- world shade of pewter, but that was nothing new; that had always been the colour of the light in places like this. Through the glass wall, she watched absently as the petrol scavengers filled up the tank of Adil's IT Bonanza. They'd taken the canopy off the gleaming bakkie to let more people climb on. The uncles and aunts sat around the edge, turning their broad backs on those left behind, with small children and bags piled in the middle and a couple of older children standing up, clinging to the cab. What she'd thought was a group had been split: part of the white family was left behind on the tar, revealing itself as a young couple with a single toddler, and one of the sweaty car- pushers was on board. The blue- overalled guy was up front, next to Adil. How wrong she'd been, then, in her reading of alliances. Perhaps she might have scored a berth, if she'd pushed. She sipped her Coke thoughtfully as the bakkie pulled away. Warm Coke: it seemed the electricity had gone too, now. Lynn started distractedly picking at the strip of aluminium that bound the edge of the table. It could be used for something. In an emergency. She opened a packet of cheese and onion chips, surprised by her hunger. Lynn realised she was feeling happy, in a secret, volatile way. It was like bunking school: sitting here where nobody knew who she was, where no one could find her, on a day cut out of the normal passage of days. Nothing was required of her except to wait. All she wanted to do was sit for another hour, and then another hour after that, at which point she might lie down on the sticky vinyl seat in the tainted sunlight and sleep. She hadn't eaten a packet of chips for years. They were excellent. Crunching them up, she felt the salt and fat repairing her headache. Lynn pushed off her heeled shoes, which were hurting, and untucked her fitted shirt. She hadn't dressed practically for mass evacuation. The female petrol attendant pushed open the glass door with a clang, then smacked through the wooden counter- flap to go behind the till. She was a plump, pretty young woman with complexly braided hair. Her skin, Lynn noticed, was clear brown, free from the soot that flecked the motorists. She took a small key on a chain from her bosom and opened the till, whacking the side of her fist against the drawer to jump it out. Flicking a glance across at Lynn, she pulled a handful of fifty- rand notes from the till, then hundreds. " Taxi's going," she said. " Really? With what petrol?" " He's got petrol. He was just waiting to fill the seats. We arranged a price – for you, too, if you want." " You're kidding. He was just waiting for people to pay? He could have taken us any time?" The woman shrugged, as if to say, taxi- drivers. She stroked a thumb across the edge of the wad of notes. " Are you coming?" Lynn shrugged back at her. " You don't want to come in a taxi?" " No, it's not that – it's just, where would we go? I'm sure someone A strange horizontal rain came with it, and reflexively she ducked. But the droplets were too big and distinct, and she realised they were in fact birds.