WRITTEN BY TESS NILAND KIMBER
Their South African safari was the holiday of a lifetime, but Cora began to worry that Toby wanted more…
“It’s too early!” Cora groaned, rolling over and hugging into her pillow. “We’re supposed to be on holiday.”
“Exactly why we need to get up.” Toby laughed, pushing his hands through his tangle of Poldark-esque hair. “Come on, I’ve already showered.”
“You’re a masochist.” She smiled.
“No, just keen. It’s not every day we get to go on safari.”
Cora yawned. “No, I suppose not.”
As she sat up, she took in her surroundings. Through the floor-to-ceiling window the sunrise was beginning to lighten the grey skies. Had they really slept in a tree house, with the soundtrack of laughing baboons swinging through the baobab trees and the glug-glug of the coucal bird? Toby was right. It was magical – but at five in the morning it was hard to be enthusiastic.
“Let’s go to South Africa,” he’d said all those months ago when they’d been planning a holiday.
“I’ve always wanted to see the country. It sounds fantastic. Beautiful scenery, all those animals in their natural habitat, eating food at a braai.”
As they’d pored over websites, she too had fallen in love with the magical coastline, stunning landscape and the promise of photographing so many native animals on the excitement of a safari.
Booking flights and accommodation had turned the dream into a reality…
Over the months leading to their departure, Toby had spent hours researching the country. He’d studied the areas they hoped to visit and devised an itinerary.
Initially she was thrilled he was so keen but as time went on and he cancelled several dates to concentrate on planning their trip, an alarm bell tinkled that perhaps he was becoming a little obsessed.
Had he put this much effort into their last holidays to Spain and Italy? No, all he’d done then was to check out a few bars and restaurants on TripAdvisor.
Yet once they stepped off the plane in Cape Town, she could see why he’d become so enthralled. The place was simply stunning. After travelling along the famous Garden route, they’d stayed at this wonderful reserve where they could experience a safari. She stepped into the wood-clad shower as Toby made coffee.
“Better wear layers. It will be a cold start but when the sun comes up…” he said when she emerged.
“It’ll be sweltering, I know.” She laughed, towelling her long blonde hair as Toby packed a rucksack with binoculars, camera, water bottles and sunblock.
After dressing in a neutral beige T-shirt and a pair of trousers that zipped off at the knees to convert into shorts, they made their way to reception. Waiting with the other guests for the Jeeps to arrive, they ate a small breakfast as they couldn’t take food with them on the safari.
Toby jumped up, handing her sun hat to her. “Come on, the Jeeps are here!”
When Cora realised they’d be travelling in an open Jeep, she was filled with apprehension.
“It’s so we can take better photos,” Toby explained, reaching for her hand.
“I think I’d prefer a few misty pictures and feeling safe,” she whispered, squeezing his fingers.
“We’ll be fine,” he smiled, pulling her to him. “It’s part of the adventure.”
But when the guides warned them not to make loud or sudden noises, she felt even more alarmed.
The convoy of Jeeps began to drive through the magical African landscape, and it wasn’t long before they saw their first giraffe nibbling at the leaves of an acacia tree. With the mesmerising sight, her fear disappeared.
As Toby took numerous shots with his camera, Cora reached for her mobile. Mum, Dad and her brother Joe would love to see this, she thought.
Suddenly the guide asked the group, “Do you smell that?”
Cora took a deep sniff and said, puzzled, “It’s like… popcorn.”
“That is right,” the guide whispered. “It is the smell that tells us a leopard is near.”
Wide-eyed, Cora whispered to Toby, “I don’t think eating popcorn at the flicks will ever be the same again now.”
They waited until the most beautiful sleek leopard wandered from the bush.
“I can’t believe it,” Cora breathed.
As the Jeeps wound through the scrubland, they saw so many animals including the Big Five.
“This is amazing. Imagine living here with all this on your doorstep,” Toby said, focusing his lens on an elephant shading under an umbrella thorn tree.
Cora frowned. There was something in his tone that worried her. Surely, he only meant that as an observation, the way everyone does when they enjoy a holiday?
“Wow! That was amazing,” Toby enthused as they arrived back at their treetop lodge.
“I can’t believe we were so close to a lion. Wait ’til I tell Mum,” Cora said, selecting the best shots to send over WhatsApp.
“It was the best experience and all the more special sharing it with you,” Toby said, pulling her in for a kiss. “Tonight, we’ll eat under the stars by candlelight and then tomorrow we’ll drive further along the Garden Route.”
“I love the views!” Cora said, snuggling into him. “The coast here is to die for. Where are we headed?”
“Frankschoek. I want to stop at a vineyard along the way.”
Cora smiled. Toby worked for a wine merchant and was looking forward to visiting a South African vineyard. He really rated their wines, especially Pinotage.
“Great – I can’t wait to share more photos with the family back home.”
“Photos are great, but being here is something else. Imagine living here. Wouldn’t it be fantastic?”
“Um… yes, it would,” she said, again feeling that tingle of apprehension.
It was a gorgeous country, but the idea of emigrating – either here or to any other country – filled Cora with dread. She loved her family, and their flat in Brighton was close to her family home.
They were always popping in to see each other and when she’d a day off, she invariably spend it with her mum. They were super close.
Was Toby planning on emigrating? And if he did, could she bear to lose him?
The meal under the stars was delicious but Cora could only worry about whether Toby was planning to emigrate. She loved him, but she also loved her family. How could she choose?
“Enjoying your duck?” Toby asked, eating another forkful of his chakalaka.
“Oh… um, yes. Sorry just thinking…”
“I know, I’m the same. Keep remembering all we’ve seen today. Lions, hippos, giraffes. It’s been amazing.”
Cora smiled in the candlelight. He obviously thought she was thinking about their experiences, and she was. She just worried that those experiences would mean she’d lose the man she loved…
“Look at that view!” Cora said for the umpteeth time as Toby drove along the winding coastal road.
“It’s perfect, isn’t it,” he smiled, the wind tangling his dark hair.
As they rounded a bend, they laughed as they had to stop to allow a family of pigs to cross the road.
“I’ve seen it all now,” he grinned as they pulled away.
After a few more kilometres, they found the vineyard. Rickety Wood Winery was very rustic, which only added to its charm.
“I won’t taste anything as I’m driving,” Toby said. “But I’ll buy a couple of bottles to have with dinner tonight.”
Cora felt disappointed for Toby and offered to drive, but he said he was more interested in viewing the vineyard from a business perspective. Yet again she felt that tingle of fear. It was beginning to feel as though he was here more on a fact-finding tour than a holiday.
Still, her worries faded as they were shown around the fields with rows and rows of grapes followed by a tour of the spotlessly clean production area before spending time in the tasting room where they were offered the most delicious cheese, cold meats and home-baked bread with the wine samples.
“Isn’t this just the best…”
“…place to live? Yes, I know,” Cora finished for him.
Toby smiled, unaware of how worried he was making her feel.
“No trip to South Africa is complete without a trip to Table Mountain,” Toby declared as they stepped into the cable car. The weather was fantastic and as it rose, Cora could see for miles.
“Isn’t that Cape Town in the distance?” she asked, pointing as the floor rotated and both the Indian and Atlantic Oceans came into view.
“Yes, it is. What a glorious day.” Toby sighed. “Although I read the weather can change so quickly, you can have all four seasons in one day up here.”
She nodded. Every time he told her more about the country, she now felt he was preparing her for his announcement that he wanted to emigrate.
At the top of the mountain, they wandered hand in hand through the pretty walkways. She cooed at the dassies, which looked like cute guinea pigs.
“I wouldn’t stroke them,” Toby warned. “They can be quite aggressive.”
Although a trail of mist made it look like they were literally in the clouds, it was a clear day. They could see Cape Town spread below cradled by the dazzling blue water of Camps Bay.
Cora felt she could stand forever and take in the view…
“Shall we have a drink and a burger?” Toby suggested, pointing to the café. “I want to talk to you about something.”
Cora swallowed. “Oh-kaaay.”
Oh no! He was going to ask her to think about emigrating. Sitting at a table under a parasol, she watched him enter the sweet little stone-built café.
She was still lost in thought when Toby joined her, carrying their drinks and food.
“Stunning, isn’t it?” he said.
“Yes, it is,” she said. “I can see why you’d want to live here.”
He frowned. “Live here?”
“Yes, that’s what you want to talk about, isn’t it?”
Well, I’d love to live here, and this holiday has given me lots of ideas. Like our visit yesterday to the vineyard.
Cora felt so sad. They’d had the best time and their love had deepened during the holiday, but she’d miss her family too much to ever contemplate emigrating.
“I know it’s a great country and there’s Skype and social media to keep in touch but…” she tailed off.
“Yeah, probably.” Toby frowned.
Now she was puzzled.
“That’s what you want to talk to me about, isn’t it? Emigrating?”
“Well, it’s a great idea of yours, but I’m sorry – I’d miss my brothers and parents too much. No, I wanted to ask what you thought about starting a business together when we get back to the UK.”
“Yes, I’ve been thinking about it for ages but visiting the vineyard yesterday really gave me the idea. Where we live, the ground – the climate – is perfect for grape growing. I’d love to produce my own wine. What do you think?”
Sipping her chilled water, she breathed.
“So, you don’t want to emigrate?”
“Er, no. Although if we make a success of the new business, we can eventually afford more holidays like this. But there’s no place like home.”
Cora was stunned. She’d totally misunderstood him. He loved South Africa, loved their holiday, but he wanted to live in the UK. Just like she did.
“Producing our own wine?” She mulled it over. “Well, I’ll certainly drink to that!”
And as they laughed in the hot South African sunshine, she thought she’d never loved him more.
Our My Weekly Favourites series of feel-good fiction from our archives continues on Mondays and Thursdays. Look out for the next one.
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