The white sky meets the flatness of the plain, pressing down heavily all around. In front of the school nothing moves except the shimmer of heat. It is all distance: flat land, sky, and the slight trace of the river that runs slow and dun beside the graves toward the low, blue hills.
Looking out, so many years later, from the red-roofed buildings of our Dutch-gabled school across terraced lawns and veld toward the river and the wattle trees, we can no longer see the graves, but we can still hear the hum of the mosquitoes that swarm along the banks of the stagnant water. We can still smell the thick smoke of Miss G’s cigarette. In our minds’ eye we see Fiamma lying on the gray marble grave beneath the frangipani trees. Her slender hands are crossed on her chest, and the white irises that grow wild along the banks of the river cover her body like candles. A faint breeze stirs the hem of her earth-colored tunic. She seems asleep.
We stand on the veranda, clutching the parapet as if it is the railing of a tossing ship, and gaze at the faint trace of the river, beside which lie the graves of Sir George Harrow and his faithful bullterrier, Jock.
Our school, which was renowned for neither academic excellence nor illustrious alumnae, had once belonged to Sir George, a high commissioner and hero of the Boer War. He distinguished himself at Ladysmith and Kimberley. Even his bullterrier, Jock, was famous for bravery and fidelity. According to legend, he ran a great distance and traversed many dangers in the war-torn veld to summon help for his wounded master. The little lozenge of his grave lies beside Sir George’s.
The area around the graves was always out-of-bounds, but we ran there to escape the other girls and pick the purple and white irises, which grew wild by the river. There was a picnic hut with a red, beaten-clay floor and two latrines, which gave off an unholy odor. Vagrants sometimes sheltered there, and we would find their striped blankets and tin mugs under the benches. We would lie in the shade of the frangipanis on Sir George’s cool, gray marble grave and cover our bodies with the wild irises and fold our hands on our chests and play dead. We managed to move the heavy marble slab aside enough to gaze down through the crack at the illustrious bones that lay there, white as shells