Today, Twitter and Facebook are filled with pictures of boiling sheets of flame and a post-apocalyptic world that used to be a town I’ve known my entire life: Knysna. It’s hard to believe that so much of this lovely place of lagoons and forests (and, yes, nightmarish crowds and traffic over December) has been reduced to ashes and soot.
To see this happen in Knysna of all places is especially hard because of my personal connection to the town. Some of my earliest childhood memories involve shopping with my grandfather along the main road. It was in December 2013 that Kanthan invited me to lunch with friends at Thesen Island when I happened to be staying at Hope Villa with my friend Laura. It was there that I returned in January this year to introduce RaRa to Tessa and Friedel, our hosts there.
Hope Villa still stands, but many homes have been destroyed. Not just holiday homes occupied in high season, but spaces where lives have been built up over time, where the years have laid down layers of meaning like sediment. Places of furniture and photographs, books and paintings and memories.
Looking at videos of blackened remnants of walls and windows like eye sockets in skulls, I found myself wondering today what I would do if my home was about to be lost and I had to leave. What would I try to save?
And it struck me that apart from the obvious – family members, RaRa and her car seat, the animals, my glasses (so I could see to drive), my phone and a charger, my wallet and perhaps my medication – I’d leave all my things to burn. No paintings, no clothing, no photographs, no books. Not even my laptop. Everything can be replaced, and if that weren’t possible, it would have to live on in my memory.
If I had time, I’d rush back to grab RaRa’s vaccination card and my passport, because I keep them together, and my Flip File filled with the kind of documents that would involve a lot of queuing and sighing and cursing to replace.
It’s a liberating thought, in a way, not being so attached to things that their loss would cause me anguish. I remember a time when I would have found leaving my stuff behind very hard. Now, it’s easier, because all of the things that really matter are in my memories, in my arms and in my heart.