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SA Partridge

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

The Tourist

Issue 8 of Itch featured my short story, The Tourist, about a group of spoiled young royals marooned at a remote Cape Town resort during a veld fire.

Chapman's peak by Orkomedix

A soft rumbling breaks the eerie silence. Reg looks down at his stomach and frowns.

He’s been sitting in the same position on the hotel suite’s velvet sofa for over an hour. I shift my gaze back to the breathtaking view of the ocean outside the window, a limitless stretch of blue framed by the twinkling lights of Hout Bay in the distance. I try to ignore the sound of Reg’s empty stomach, and concentrate on the ebb and flow of the water, but soon my own body starts screaming for attention.

“I can’t believe they closed the bloody road,” complains my brother Archie, who’s also taken up residence in my suite. At his side, Isabel sighs heavily and turns another page in the magazine on her lap. It’s a Hello magazine from home, which she requested specially, in all likelihood to see if she’s in it. She’s totally at ease, oblivious to the threat surrounding us. She’s wearing a Stella McCartney sundress, fresh off the rails of the latest summer collection. It took her an hour to pick out what to wear this morning, while the rest of us were huddled in my room, waiting to be rescued.

I help myself to another G&T from the minibar.

“Slow down, Dorothy, it’s only ten.”

“Shut up, Archie,” says Isabel, snapping the magazine shut. “Dotty, make that two. Is there any lemon left?”

“Reg had the last for breakfast,” I reply, stirring two cocktails in champagne glasses with a teaspoon.

“This is ridiculous. How long are we supposed to wait here for?”

I fight the urge to remind her that it’s her fault we’re in this mess, but I don’t want to risk a fight with my brother. Archie always sticks up for his pampered princess, even if she’s in the wrong. He probably thinks it makes him chivalrous. That’s male logic for you.
When the fire broke out yesterday morning, most of the staff were evacuated. The manager said he’d send another car for us, but that was before they closed off Chapman’s Peak Drive. Of course, we should have been rescued first, but Isabel insisted on going back for her luggage, and locked herself in her suite while she packed.

“Calm down, Izzy,” he croons, stroking her milky white arm.

I stare at my own limbs, which a week ago, were similarly lily white. Too quickly my skin blossomed to English Rose and finally blazing red Hibiscus. Cape Town’s sunny beaches were too much of a temptation and sadly, no amount of SPF 50 could save my sensitive British skin. If the water had been warmer it might have been worth it.
I jump in fright as Reg leaps off the sofa. “There must be food around here somewhere.”We watch in silence as he pulls a vintage waistcoat over his white stripy vest, and slips his feet into a pair of leather loafers.

“Where are you going?” asks Isabel.

“To the kitchen.”

“But the kitchen staff are all gone,” I try to reason.

“Then we’ll cook for ourselves,” he says.

There’s a manic look in his eye. Archie and I exchange a quick glance. We’ve seen that look before.

Reg stands expectantly by the door, one hand on the Thai wood handle. “Well I’m going, who’s coming with me?”

“I’ll come,” I blurt out before I can stop myself. I don’t trust my cousin not to hurt himself.

“We’ll all come,” says Archie.
The lodge is located at the foot of Chapman’s Peak, right on the shoreline. There are no other buildings for miles. Little did we know that the exclusivity would come back to bite us in the ass.It’s eerie without the staff. The elegant dining room is sparse and empty, the only sound coming from the wild waves of the Atlantic crashing against the rocks outside the windows. It’s also much colder without a crackling fire to keep us warm.

The kitchen is state-of-the-art, with stainless steel surfaces and giant chrome ovens and fridges. It’s also completely alien. My mother is a Duchess. I’ve never had to lift a finger for myself since I was born. Not that I’m in any way lazy, I’ve just never had the chance to look after myself.

My poor cousin looks just as lost as me. He’s the eleventh in line to the British throne. The only time he’s ever had to look after himself was the three months he spent in the army.

“What do you suppose this is?” he asks, poking a steel contraption with his index finger. Archie sidles up to take a closer look. Mr Gizmo himself.

“It’s a coffee machine, idiot.”

“How the hell do you know?”

He points to a label on the base. “It says so right here.”

Isabel appears next to me, still sipping her G&T. I made them strong. Fortifying. The hunger pains in my stomach have long disappeared.

“Let’s go explore the cupboards?”

Izzy shrugs indifferently into her drink and moves away.

We’ve never got on. I keep waiting for Archie to lose interest and move on to someone else, but for some reason he’s besotted with the self-absorbed bitch.

I open a cupboard filled entirely with tea. Thankfully, some kind soul packed the teapots on the shelf below.
I’m English. We know tea.

There’s a large stainless steel cylinder with a faucet poking out the bottom. Grabbing a cup from the shelf, I turn the gauge experimentally and almost jump back as boiling water gushes into my cup.

I open a box and my heart sinks. It’s full of small, paper thin squares. It doesn’t resemble tea at all. I take an experimental whiff and pull back as the strong herbal smell assaults my nose.

I turn the box around in my hands and find a few lines of instructions.

I drop a teabag into my cup and wait, watching the water change into a bloody brown. I take another sniff. This time it’s not unpleasant.

“I’ve made tea!” I announce happily.

“Well done, pet,” says Reg, who’s now sweating profusely. He’s managed to pull the front panel off the coffee machine, revealing a mess of wires.

I hold the cup triumphantly, the teabag still bouncing up and down in the water like a solitary buoy. I feel like I’ve accomplished something important.

My victory is short-lived as a scream echoes across the room. Archie and Reg both abandon their task and rush to Isabel’s side, her face contorted in fear.

“Is it the fire?” I ask, holding the cup so close that tea soaks into my Calvin Klein tee.

“No, it’s animals,” says Reg from the window.

Outside on the rocky shore, a line of baboons are picking their way through the rocks, moving towards us. A large baboon in the front, with a baby attached to its back, looks up to meet my gaze, but turns away as the troop moves on. Behind them, tufts of thick grey smoke blow towards the ocean and disappear.

“They look like refugees,” I say.

No one replies. We watch the baboons make their way across the shore until they’re completely out of sight. The top of the mountain is tinged in pink.

We’re all surprised when Isobel emerges from the kitchen, her arms full of apples, bread and jam.

“No one bothered to look in the fridge,” she says haughtily.

Reg tosses me an apple, which I catch with both hands.

“When I told my father I was joining you lot on holiday in South Africa he gave me two instructions,” he says, “Don’t eat the apples and don’t drink the wine. Well I’ve been drinking nothing but wine since we got here and haven’t keeled over yet.”

He takes a bite out of a large red apple.

“S’good,” he says as juice dribbles down his chin.

We eat in silence, watching the sky.

Continue reading here.

 

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