Fire pit

It was an annual tradition; one that none of the group ever wanted to let go of.

Fifty years ago, ten young people graduated from one of England’s most prestigious universities – which one isn’t important – they all had excellent degrees and bright futures ahead of them. To celebrate their success, they flew to South Africa to spend three months doing voluntary work with wildlife. That was the plan, anyway. Halfway through their stay, four of their number; Tom, Mary, Henry and Marcia; were ambushed in their vehicle by men armed with machetes. When they hadn’t return three hours after they were expected, the alarm was raised and search parties went out looking for them. Four bodies, barely recognisable as human, were found in the wilderness and, not without difficulty, identified as the missing graduates. The vehicle was never located.

Naturally, the remaining six cut short their stay, leaving for home as soon as the local police released them from their investigation. On the flight back to England they made a solemn vow that they would meet at the camp every year on the date their colleagues met their end; this as an act of remembrance and solidarity.

Back at home they all found jobs and life partners, started families and led full, normal lives; something that was denied to Tom, Mary, Henry and Marcia.

Two of the group, Jonathan and Louise, married and started a travel consultancy that would prove to be of great value to the group. They had two boys whom they named Thomas and Henry.

Peter and John eventually became partners in a law firm, married within the profession and raised families of their own. Kate and Emily, always close throughout their academic careers, shared a passion for charitable works and a commitment to women’s issues. They created Mary and Marcy’s Safe Place: a shelter for women and children who had become victims of domestic violence. Outwardly, they were close friends and no more – at least until the law and public attitudes became less antagonistic to their true relationship.

Each year, on the weekend closest to the anniversary of their friends’ demise, the six got together for their pilgrimage. They flew down on Friday and back on Sunday. Saturday was their day of homage and remembrance, culminating in a barbecue around the fire pit adjacent to the accommodation huts.

Jonathan and Louise closed their office for the weekend and, until they were old enough to be left on their own for a few days, left their boys in the capable hands of their grandparents; Kate and Emily couldn’t close the refuge, but for those few days each year they were happy for the duty house manager to assume the reins. Peter and John travelled alone, leaving their families behind. 

For fully forty years, not one of them missed a single reunion. They couldn’t. It was a duty they owed – as deeply settled in their psyches as was a pilgrimage to a devoutly religious person. 

One by one, though, their numbers started to fall. Forty-two years in, Jonathan lost his fight against cancer and died at the age of sixty-five. Louise took his loss badly and was unable to join the group again. 

Over the years that followed, first Peter then John fell prey to the ravages of the years. Neither made it to their seventieth birthday.

Since then, only Kate and Emily made the trip. Both over seventy years old, they never considered stopping the practice.

Until last year.

Two years ago, Emily was diagnosed with Alzheimers. By last year’s reunion day, the disease was too far advanced to allow her to travel. Kate came alone.

Kate was due a couple of hours ago. I do hope she’s okay.

This was written in response to Kreative Kue 284 published on this site.

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