Inside the hut the others had started to wake up. They were all a buzz with the events of the night before, which in reality was now two nights before. Lesedi was feeling very distracted. He was trying to work out how he was going to get away for a while without causing suspicion. Then there was the even more daunting task of getting to The Hills before the snake spat the ivory palm nut out. The ivory palm nut! What was so significant about this particular Nut? Well, maybe now his grandfather would tell him.
“Stop that!” He was trying to dress Thabo, who was struggling fiercely and beating him with his little fists.
“You are putting Tshiamo’s dress on him,” said Gloria, pushing him aside. “Why don’t you get yourself ready for Aunt Matilda? I’ll get the children dressed.”
Lesedi shrugged and walked outside.
“Hey! Where are you going?” she yelled after him. “Aunt Matilda is going to be here soon and she is going to be really mad if you look like that.”
Lesedi shrugged again, not bothering to answer her. Bossy woman! It would be nice to get away from her for a while. He needed to go and find his grandfather and see if he had any ideas about how they were going to get the Nut back. Maybe he could also help him with an excuse for being away.
Lesedi found Lorato getting The Donkey Cart ready. It looked like any other old donkey cart, green, wooden, square, with a couple of wooden benches inside it. However, it wasn’t like any other old donkey cart. This cart could take endless amounts of “stuff” and Lorato was busy loading it.
“Wow! That’s a lot of stuff,” exclaimed Lesedi as he watched his grandfather put blankets, food, pots, rope, herbs, and goodness knows what else into the little cart. He had pulled back the panel on the bottom of the cart and everything was disappearing inside. Lesedi knew this cart; he had been on root- and herb-finding expeditions with his grandfather and they had always come back with masses of stuff in an empty-looking cart. He still found it amazing though and couldn’t stop himself from looking underneath to see where everything was going.
“Well, we have a long, hard journey ahead of us and I don’t think there are going to be any supplies where we are going,” said Lorato, loading what looked like a rope ladder
“What are we going to need that for?” asked Lesedi. Ladders were not something anyone used much around there.
“Just preparing for all eventualities,” said Lorato, closing the panel. “Well, I think that’s just about it. Now, what about you, young man? Are you packed and ready?”
“No, not yet,” said Lesedi nervously. “I need a good excuse to be away for a while so I won’t get in too much trouble when I get back.”
“Well, there is a very obvious excuse if you think about it!” Lorato raised his eyebrows and looked at Lesedi expectantly. Lesedi thought hard but couldn’t think of anything.
“Everyone thinks Aunt Matilda is coming today so they won’t let me go anywhere,” Lesedi said in a small voice.
“Well?” said Lorato, sounding amused.
“Well, she isn’t going to come because she came yesterday…but they don’t know that…”
“So when she doesn’t come, you and I will go and look for her!”
“Wow!” exclaimed Lesedi. That was so simple—why hadn’t he thought of that? “That means I could go away for quite a few days…but…”
“But what?” Lorato was busy checking the cart to see that there was nothing loose or missing.
“What do we say when we come back and we haven’t found Aunt Matilda and I’m still here and not at school and what if she comes back while we’re gone and…”
“Stop it!” Lorato laughed. “You worry far too much. We’ll solve each problem as it comes up. No use trying to solve problems that haven’t even happened and may never happen. It’s just a waste of energy and right now we need lots of that.”
Lesedi looked at his grandfather with big eyes. He felt nervous but also very excited. “We’re going to The Hills?” he said. “Is it really far? How long will it take?”
“To tell you the truth I’m not sure,” said the old man. “Haven’t been there for years, in fact not since Bosula took up residence. Let’s get the map out and have a look.”
Lorato went into his hut and brought out a long roll of parchment, which he unrolled and laid on the ground. It was an old map, yellow and faded. There were squiggly lines all over it and a cross in the corner with N W S E at each point. Lesedi recognised some of the names on the map. There was Jao, which was his village. Then there was Seronga where his friend Abedile lived. He knew that that was a good few days away if you went by mokoro; then far over on the left side of the map were The Hills. Lesedi felt his heart sink. It would take forever to get there!
Lorato was talking softly to himself, using his finger to trace along the map.
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