Every day Obby sat under the ledge of the giant rock waiting for Ollie to come running up the hill at great speed to greet him with a lick on the face before tearing off to join his owner- a young boy.Come rain or shine Ollie and his owner were out walking every day.
One morning Obby woke up feeling too sick to go out and wait for for him . He looked forward to his morning kisses and the look of happiness on his face as he greeted him.He felt very alone as he lay there too weak to move and it felt that his head and cheeks were on fire. He knew that if his friends were there they would look after him but they had all gone to the whale festival.
They looked forward to it every year with great excitement and their fathers would plan which route they should take from high up in the Fernkloof Nature Reserve to the Old Harbour; they would argue which was the quickest or safest way but in the end they would go the same route as they always did.
For the rest of the year they would speak about it in great detail and tell Obby about their cousins that lived near the water and thought that they were so sophisticated because they saw local and international celebrities and had been photographed hundreds of times posing on the rocks for them. They spoke about art and sculpture and who the local artists were and who had exhibited their art at the annual arts festival and whose sculpture they had climbed on when nobody was looking -unlike their rural cousins that lived in the mountains.
Every year they asked him to go with them and every year he really wanted to but he knew that it was impossible- he would steal the show from both the whales and them, not only because he knew he would be super photogenic, cute as a button but that he was the last remaining mountain boy, and didn’t want everyone to know.
Toby loved his early morning walks with his dog.Ollie would walk with his nose close to the ground, sniffing every scent he picked up before charging off in the same direction every day running up the slope of the mountain and disappearing for a short time before returning with a happy bounce.
One day Ollie returned looking very sad waking with his head down and just stayed close to Toby.
The next morning,Ollie returned but this time he was barking and barking and wouldn’t walk. Toby was very puzzled by his behaviour and knelt down and whilst stroking him asked him what was wrong. Ollie started tugging at his jeans wanting him to follow him.
It was a steep climb and the path was getting more rocky the higher up they went, Ollie finally stopped by lots of huge rocks and what looked like an entrance of a cave. Toby could see the whole of Hermanus as well as the ocean from where he stood. Ollie gave him a look as if to say it isn’t the time now to take in the view as he disappeared into the entrance of the cave. Toby just stood there until Ollie came out again and pulled him by his jeans for him to follow him. Oh no ,thought Toby feeling a bit nervous as he ducked making his way after Ollie. He expected it to be pitch dark but to his surprise there was lots of light as he looked up and saw light shining from little crevices in the overhead rocks.Although he was feeling nervous following his trusted friend deep into the cave, he also felt excited and curious as where Ollie was taking him.
He stopped suddenly as he walked into what seemed like a big room, he had never seen anything like this before,a little wooden table and chairs, hand drawn pictures on the walls. Who on earth lives here, he wondered to himself, feeling like they shouldn’t be in someone’s home without their permission.
Out the corner of his eye he could see Ollie tugging a blanket and trying to cover something.
“Come Ollie”, he shouted, we must get out of here and turned to walk out the room, but Ollie was not interested in following his owner and Toby was certainly not going to leave him on his own and he stepped closer to see what on earth Ollie was up to.
It was then that Toby met the gaze of two almond shaped eyes looking at him with flushed cheeks, lots of black spiky hair wet with perspiration. He looked like a little mountain boy, he rubbed his eyes to make sure he was seeing properly as Ollie was licking the little boy’s face as if to cool it and tell him it was going to be alright.Eventually Ollie got frustrated with Toby just standing there and whacked his tail on Toby’s leg to get him out of his trance and do to something to help his sick friend who lay there like a befallen warrior with his slingshot still strapped across his shoulder.
Toby bent down and felt his forehead and realised that he was very hot and quickly picked him up and started running at great speed out of the cave; Ollie running ahead clearing a path through the fynbos as they charged down the mountain side , skidding and sliding, taking every shortcut they knew, running through the mountain streams and Toby holding onto Obby with all his might.They ran like the wind and as they got nearer home Ollie started barking loudly and Toby started shouting,” Uncle Yitzhak, Uncle Yitzhak come quickly.”
The old man came out of the house wondering what was going on, then he looked down into Toby’s arms and he was at loss for words- so his late wife was right, there was a mountain boy living on the mountain after all.
It took a little while for Obby to realise where he was when he opened his eyes as he felt something furry next to him and turned to see Ollie looking bright eyed at him and then suddenly licking him all over his face. “Ugh”, said Obby using the back of his hand to wipe his face.He looked around until his eyes spotted a jar on the top shelf with biscuits in it , too high for him to reach he took out his slingshot and aimed.
Toby woke up when he heard a mighty crash and jumping out of bed still half asleep he ran to the kitchen to see Obby sitting on the kitchen floor eating the biscuits and the jar smashed to pieces and Ollie lying in the corner pretending to be asleep.
“Good morning,” said Obby with a mouthful of biscuit.
Toby just looked at him totally speechless, his eyes as wide as saucers.
“You can talk?” said Toby.
” Of course I can talk,” he answered.
“What’s your name?” asked Toby now looking at him with suspicion.
“It’s Obby,” he got up and bowed playfully with a naughty grin on his face.
” I know your name,” he continued.
“So what is my name then?” Toby asked expecting him to just make it up.
“It’s Toby,” he said.
“So how do you know my name because I’ve never met you before ? ”
Ollie pricked up his ears, this was getting very interesting.
“I heard Mrs Sidebottom telling Mrs Levy that Yitzhak had adopted a refugee boy and his name was Toby.”
“How do you know Mrs Sidebottom and Mrs Levy?” he asked.
“They belong to the botanical society,” he replied.
” And I suppose you belong to it as well?” Toby said.
“Yes, I am an honorary member in fact”, he said proudly,”But they never told me, in fact I overheard them talking about you.”
“So you were listening to other people’s conversation ,that’s rude?”Toby said.
“I can’t help it if they talk loudly because Mrs Levy refuses to wear her hearing aid,” he replied, “Anyway, Mrs Levy told Miliswa, that Yitzhak had adopted a boy from a foreign country, and then Miliswa told her son Thabo, that the old professor who lives in the old big house had adopted a refugee boy, called Toby and Thabo said he knew that already because they are in the same class at school. Then she said, ” I hope you are friends’ And Thabo said, “Yes”.
Toby didn’t tell Obby that him and Thabo weren’t friends, in fact Thabo didn’t have many friends either.
” So where you from ?” Obby asked.
” From far away,” he said.
” How did you get here?” Obby asked.
” It’s a long story,” he said.
” I got all the time in the world,” said Obby, ” I’m not in a hurry”.
Toby and Ollie could see that- he had made himself quite at home.
Toby tells Obby about how he and his mother and father had to leave their village because of all the fighting in his country and that they walked for three days until they got to a small little fishing village, where his father bought a small fishing boat so they could escape by sea. He tells him he only remembers a big storm and the sound of his mother’s voice singing gently as they waves grew bigger and bigger, and then he found himself waking up on a big cargo ship without his family.
Obby had stopped eating and was listening to every word.
He told him that they were at sea for weeks and weeks because the cargo was heavy and the ship moved slowly and then one morning he looked out from the deck and saw lots of other big ships all waiting to go into the harbour.
“Was it bigger than our New Harbour here?” Obby asked.
“Much much bigger,maybe even bigger than the whole of Hermanus,” Toby said.
He told Obby how a special pilot was dropped on board from a helicopter so he could help with steering the ship into the harbour and that there were lots and lots of cranes everywhere and it was very noisy.And then when the gangplank was lowered, men in uniform came aboard and started searching the ship and he knew he had to hide and how he ran as fast as he could into the ship’s engine room and crawled under one of the huge pipes. He lay there and listened to every sound, and then out the corner of his eye he saw black shiny shoes and held his breath as the shoes came closer and closer and, ” I was beginning to think that my lungs were going to explode,” Toby said.
Obby was holding his breath too.
Eventually the man walked away and when he thought it was safe enough he crawled out. He knew that he had to get off the ship as soon as possible and that nobody must see him.He ran to where the containers were stacked and hid among them. He could see the crane above him picking one up at a time and soon the man in the crane would see him, ” Luckily, I saw a piece of rope and tied it to a chain on one of the containers and slowly, lowered myself down the side of the ship and into the water and then I held my breath and swam under water until I got to one of the hanging tyres,and just when I thought it was safe to climb out the water I saw a fisherman looking down at me.
“Oh no,” said Obby, “You got caught?”
“No, he gave me his hand and pulled me up,” Toby said.
Obby breathed out loudly.
“He then drove me in his old van to a place where there were lots of huge trucks, gave me all the money in his pockets and drove off”.
He tells Obby that he got a lift on one of the huge trucks and that they drove through the night and when the driver got to the small town of ‘Riviersonderend’ he stopped, went into the bakery, bought him a pie and coke, and waived him good-bye.
“I walked the whole day,through fields and bush, staying away from all roads. I could feel that I was getting very tired and thirsty, and I was walking slower and slower.It was starting to get dark and in the distance I could see a farm house.
There was a tap in the garden so I could fill my water bottle,then I crept to the kitchen window and on the wooden table I could see bananas, so I unlatched the window and climbed in and took three, but as I was about to climb out the window again I felt something hooking my pants and turned around to see an old lady using her walking stick to grab me by my belt loop.As I tried to tug myself free she tugged even harder until I feel backwards onto the floor”.
“A little old lady was stronger than you,” Obby yelped in delight.
He told Obby how eventually she removed her walking stick from his ribs as he lay on the floor, and pulled out a chair for him to sit and made him a sandwich and a cup of tea and after that she told him to have a bath because she was certain he hadn’t bathed for ages and after that he must go to bed.
When he woke up the next morning there was an old man in the kitchen talking to the old lady, and when they saw him they gave him a pencil and paper and he realised that they wanted him to draw where he was from, so he drew a picture of his village and then his mother ,father and him walking, a fishing boat with his mother holding him, a big wave and then a picture of him alone on a big ship. He remembers the old lady wiping his tears away as he hugged him,he doesn’t tell Obby that.
The next day the old man came back to the farm with a small phone and it was like magic, because,’ As I spoke into it it translated what I was saying into English, and then from English into my language,’ Toby said.
“It was the first time in weeks and weeks I had spoken to someone who could understand what I was saying, and it was the best feeling in the world. I was then able to tell them my story of how I ended up at the farm house and that my name was Toti, but the old man heard it wrong and told the old lady my name was Toby and he was so excited when he told her that I decided that I would be Toby”.
Obby listened with great interest before he commented, ” I suppose it must have been a phone app made for translating,” he spoke as if he had great knowledge about technology.
“Who was the old man and old lady then?” Obby asked.
“The old lady’s name is Mrs Sidebottom and the old man’s name is Uncle Yitzhak,” he told Obby.
Obby looked totally confused and scratched his head,” I don’t understand,” he said, ” I also know Mrs Sidebottom and she has never told me about you”.
“And she has never told me about you either,” Toby said.
Both boys looked confused now,plus Ollie.
” So how do you know Mrs Sidebottom,” Toby asks Obby.
He tells him that it was in the secret garden where they had first met and he remembers that Saturday morning very well because he got up early so he could meet Cyril on the rocks by the tidal pool.
He had stopped to have a drink under a waterfall when heard someone crying-he quietly crept to where the sound was coming from and saw an elderly lady sitting on a rock sobbing with her face in her hands.” I felt so sad,”he said.
He watched her through the bushes, hoping that she would stop crying but when she did stop for awhile she seemed to start all over again but much louder.
He told him that he came out from the bush he was hiding, and put his hand on her shoulder and she jumped with such a fright he thought she was going to fall off the rock,” She just stared at me and said,” It’s true, you are real, I though Yitzhak’s wife had made it up”.
It was from that day they had become friends.
Mrs Sidebottom arrived as promised to Yitzhak. She would look after the boys until he got back from his conference.
She was pleased to see that Obby was better- the doctor had said he must have eaten something he shouldn’t have. She had told him many times that he can’t eat what his friends eat-maybe this time he will listen!
As she watched them eating and playing her mind turned back to the time when they had come into her life unexpectedly, yet at the perfect time.Now she cannot imagine her life without them.
She thinks of Toby as her Brave-heart, a young boy whose determination will see him through life, facing whatever challenges comes his way, with no fuss. He loves his Uncle Yitzhak and wants to be a scientist like him.
Mrs Sidebottom smiles to herself, as she does not quite understand what Yitzhak actually does- something to do with green energy , all she knows is she likes green plants and trees. But getting back to Toby she has no doubts he will achieve what he sets out to achieve, and the teachers speak very highly of him, and call him a fine young man.
Toby has brought joy into Yitzhak’s life. His late wife, Margaret and him didn’t have any children so when Toby needed a home it was no surprise that Yitzhak became his legal guardian, and as he put it in a few words , “This is what Margaret would have wanted,” and that was all that was said on the matter.
Changes took place in her own life, she sold the farm and moved in a retirement centre and it took her a while to get used to her new life and sometimes she would go and sit in the gardens of Fernkloof and cry and then out of the blue, a little hand gently touched her shoulder, she looked around to see a small mountain boy and it was at that very moment her heart felt joy again.
She looked at Obby playing with Toby and Ollie, she smiled, typically he was the one doing most of the talking, and wanting to try out everything all at once. He certainly did not lack confidence and no task of trying anything seemed to worry him. And on most subjects he had an opinion, even if he didn’t quite understand.He brought out the youthfulness in her, her sense of adventure again and she smiled at how he had encouraged her to get a mobility scooter so she could get around town, and laughed when people told her they had seen her at the drive thu,on the cliff path,taking a short cut across the golf course, on the back of a 4×4 going wine tasting, riding through the township pulling children in their carts, at the open air church, at the taxi rank trying to arrange a bigger battery for the scooter as well as a spoiler and new tyres.
The ladies at the botanical society and the residents at the retirement home said she looked refreshed for someone who was so active, and they loved her selection of hats and capes. They gave her a wink. She smiled.
Obby was all about living life to the full, there was no stopping him despite him having lost his family in a huge bush fire.He told her that they ran way one and he ran another and that was the last time he had seen them.
As Mrs Sidebottom looked at the boys playing, her mind wondered to the mysteries and journeys of life, the kindness of strangers and beautiful friendships.