Surely that rock must be somewhere close. There are many rocks along the brink of the Blyde River Canyon, but the one Justin was looking for, Colleen’s rock, held some special memories. It was here all those years ago—a different life time in reality—where he and Colleen had first kissed; where they had crossed the boundary between dating and becoming a couple. The landscape had changed since those happy times. The rutted track that used to run near the edge of the canyon was now an improved road. Many of the old landmarks were gone; the old foot paths obliterated. But as he continued his hike he became increasing confident that he was closing in on his destination. And suddenly there it was. He climbed up onto its flat surface and drank in the grandeur of the canyon below. He felt in his shirt pocket for the photo of Colleen that he always carried with him, but of course it was not there. He had had to leave it behind along with anything else that might provide a clue as to his true identity.
Thinking rationally, he knew that there was not the slightest chance that Colleen would be on this rock. And yet somewhere in the deepest and more desperate reaches of his consciousness he had hoped somehow, just somehow, that she might actually be there. But of course she was not. The feelings of utter loss and loneliness once more engulfed him, as so often they had during these past couple of years. He tried to push these feelings aside by filling his mind with memories of the day that they had met for the first time, and of the many happy hours that they had spent together subsequently. So many happy memories indeed, and yet that is all that they were now—just memories. They belonged to the past, not the future or present.
It was not the happy memories of the past, but the anxiety of the present that now flooded his mind. Had things gone according to plan, by now he would be back in England, safe in his secure but meaningless exile. Instead here he was sitting on the brink of the canyon wondering whether this foolhardy escapade would end in disaster. Why was he even here in South Africa, using a false name and passport? How had he been sucked into this foolhardy venture? What were the turning points in his life when he might have taken a different road? Why was he not the successful lawyer that he had once aspired to become rather than a lonely exile with no prospects? He began to examine the turning points in his life.
What if he had never gone to that meeting on education for Africans? It was not as if he had intended to do so. He was one of the few second year students who owned a car, albeit a beat up Volkswagen Beetle. Some of his friends had persuaded him to attend the seminar mainly because it would afford them a ride. As a result he became increasingly involved in the illegal endeavour of helping African students obtain an education—students who were politically active and refused to be part of Bantu Education.
What if he had avoided student politics as did many of his more career minded compatriots? In those days student politics were inextricably bound to protests against apartheid. But his involvement in African education seemed to lead seamlessly to participation in the national student protest movement.
What if he had never met Colleen? After their first date he had been surprised that a girl as beautiful and vivacious as her had even considered going out with someone like him. He was even more surprised when their dates blossomed into a love affair, which is how it came about that she was to become his Achilles’ Heel.
What if he had flown to Cape Town for that emergency meeting of the national student organisation instead of driving? Then Sipho and he would never have spent the time together on the way back from Cape Town to Johannesburg—time that inevitably dragged him deeper into the struggle.
Above all, what if he had refused to be persuaded to undertake this madcap mission by that shadowy stranger who had appeared out of the blue at his university office only a few days ago?
What-ifs can drive a person to madness, and so Justin decided to focus his attention on the surroundings.
The Blyde River Canyon is surely one of the great sights in the world. It is 16 km long and 800 metres deep. What sets it aside from other great canyons of the world is that is is known as a ‘green canyon’. Other than the vertical cliffs, it is covered in verdant vegetation. From his rock Justin gazed out over the magnificent vista. To the north were the rock formations known as the three rondavels, their domed heads iced in green and their sides stained with fiery orange lichen. Beyond them Mariepskop, one of the portals of the canyon, where the edge of the escarpment gives way to the mouth of the canyon. And beyond the canyon mouth the flat lowveld stretched away into the far horizon. To the south, but out of sight at the head of the canyon, lay Bourke’s Luck Potholes, a series of cylindrical wells and plunge pools carved out by the swirling waters at the confluence of the Blyde and Treur rivers. The river that mesmerized Justin as he watched the swirling water at the bottom of the canyon contained a mixture of these two rivers, the river of joy and the river of sorrow. Somehow this intermingling was apt to his mood as he contemplated both his past and present.
He wondered if tourists ever questioned how these two unusual names came about? Some time around the middle of the nineteenth century a voortrekker leader named Hendrik Potgieter made several attempts to forge a path to Delagoa Bay. On one of these excursions the expedition was on top of the escarpment looking for an easy route down to the lowveld. To expedite his quest, Potgieter took a few men and broke away from the main party to search for a route. When the men did not return from their trip on the expected date, the trekkers who had remained behind, which included all the women and children, expected the worst—that Potgieter and his men had not survived. And so they decided to move on. They appropriately named the river at which they were camped the Treur River, the River of Sorrow. However, a few days later, Potgieter and his men caught up with the trekkers unharmed, and there was much rejoicing. It was then decided to name the river along which they were now camped the Blyde River, the River of Joy.