msafiri fiction 136 gloomy without overhead lighting. Two hamburger patties, part- cooked, lay abandoned on the flat steel plate of the griller, and a basket of chips sat in a vat of opaque oil. To the right was a back door with a broad metal pushbar. She shoved it. The door swung open on to a sudden patch of domesticity: three or four black bins, a metal skip, sunlight, some scruffy bluegums and an old two- wire fence with wooden posts holding back the veld. A shed with a tilted corrugated- iron roof leaned up against the back wall. The change in scale and atmosphere was startling. Lynn had not imagined that these big franchised petrol stations hid modest homesteads. She'd had the vague sense that they were modular, shipped out in sections, everything in company colours. Extraneous elements – employees – were presumably spirited away somewhere convenient and invisible at the end of their shifts. But this was clearly somebody's backyard. It smelt of smoke and sweat and dishwater, overlaying the burnt grease of the kitchen. Through the doorway of the shed she could see the end of an iron bed and mattress. On the ground was a red plastic tub of the kind used to wash dishes or babies. Two plastic garden chairs, one missing a leg. A rusted car on bricks. Lynn laughed out loud. Her car! Her own car, twenty years on: the same model blue Toyota, but reduced to a shell. The remaining patches of crackled paint had faded to the colour of a long- ago summer sky. The roof had rusted clean through in places, and the bottom edges of the doors were rotten with corrosion. Old carpeting was piled on the back seat and all the doors were open. Seeing the smooth finish gone scabrous and raw gave Lynn a twinge at the back of her teeth. She walked past the car. There was a stringy cow on the other side of the fence, its pelt like mud daubed over the muscles. A goat came avidly up to the wire, watching her with its slotted eyes, and she put her arm through and scratched between its horns. The cow also mooched over in an interested way. Smelling its grassy breath, Lynn felt a tremor of adventure. She could be here for days. She felt no fear at the prospect: nobody else was here, nobody for miles around ( although briefly she saw again: the hand sliding across the throat …). Out back here, the sky looked completely clear, as if the petrol station marked the limit of the zone of contamination. She shot her fingers at the goat and snapped them like the taxi- man, and spun round in a circle, humming. She breathed in sharply, stepping back hard against the wire. ' Jesus Christ.' Someone was in the car. The pile of rugs had reconstituted itself into an old lady, sitting on the backseat as if waiting to be chauffeured away. Lynn coughed out a laugh, slapping her chest. " Oh, god, sorry," she said. " You surprised me."
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