“The view is striking. She can’t believe she has never come before. From where they sit (trying not to tumble slowly down the dune) the whole of the bay stretches before them. Jagged rocks, foaming white breakers and a watery orange path leading out across the sea towards the setting sun. The picnic is distinctly British, which makes her ache. She thinks about her grandparents and drinking Ribena in Kew gardens; feeding the ducks and catching the train into Victoria. That he has British roots means the world and she smiles thinking how her mum would love the Hula Hoops. The sun is warm, but she shivers. They sip wine and turn around to face up the dune. A runner jogs over the horizon and starts as he sees them. Sorry, he laughs, and they laugh and tell him not to worry. He turns to face her, suddenly serious, eyes fixed. Behind thick lenses his eyes speak of adventure, dreams fulfilled and possibility. She waits. Will you be my girlfriend? The question is asked and the reply is a given. Letters scrawled on architects paper, dinners and a moment on a different beach weeks before have led to this day. It is new year’s eve and anything is possible. The sun is dipping and there is a sudden chill. The voices of the other picnicers have quietened. They pack up and make their way up the dune. She is barefoot and runs slightly ahead, laughing. He catches her at the top, basket bumping, They have never held hands.
Just ahead their shortcut cuts across a mountain trail. The trail winds down out of the mountain and two men are on it. She notices them first. As they meet the first man walks right by and for a moment everything is still ordinary. Then he turns around sharply and is holding a knife. There are two knives, blunt and short, but big enough to be frightening. She notices the other man is holding a nylon rope, the kind with colourful strips mixed into white. The rope man seems to be in charge and demands money, wallet, cellphone. He is standing in front of her, holding up his hands in a gesture of surrender. You can have everything, he says, and starts to take off his watch. The men pull them apart. She is with The Younger, the less experienced. He is with the Rope Man, who snatches Raybans and wallet. She has left everything in the car. The Younger searches her body roughly with his hands, pulling pockets inside out, probing and rubbing. She looks down, remembering it is better not to make eye contact. He holds her arm tightly. She stiffens, and considers for the first time what might lie ahead. The picnic lies sprawled. Everything has been taken, but the men hesitate and speak in Xhosa.
The Younger is holding her tightly now. No one is talking. Rope Man begins to tie up her boyfriend, who is kneeling. She wonders briefly why they would tie him up, perhaps they think he would chase them? With an explosion of adrenaline, she realises. She feels numb, strangely calm. Their eyes meet. They’re only tying you up, she says. She repeats it, desperately. The boyfriend freezes, realising. Immediately he turns to Rope Man. Leave us together. Please, just leave us together. He is begging, now. A reply in Xhosa from Rope Man, who continues looping nylon around the boyfriend’s wrists. An eternity passes. He looks up and whispers at her. Make a run for it, I’ll be fine, you go. If you can. The grip on her arm has loosened slightly and without a sound she yanks free and runs a few steps before The Younger rips her backward, pulling her clean off her feet and into his chest. The situation erupts. The boyfriend lurches onto his feet towards them and Rope Man, struggling to hold him, swipes with his knife. There is a scuffle and the boyfriend bends in an arch like dancer. She can’t see what is happening. He is stabbed, surely? They continue to struggle and she realises the swipe didn’t connect. Relief. In a flash she sees them him stabbed almost to death, left bleeding. She sees herself, stabbed and running to the houses which can’t be further than twenty metres away, asking for help. She lifts her eyes and asks God to be with them. That there is daylight makes everything seem surreal.
The men pull the couple towards the dune. In the distance the sea sparkles and a gull soars on a current. They push them both to the ground and force them together. It’s the closest they have ever been to one another, bodies curling, his around hers. Rope Man has taken the boyfriend’s belt and ties it around his legs. The nylon rope is long enough to be used to bind them both and their feet are tangled together. Tightly. Rope Man is finishing now, pulling her arms behind her head and securing them so tightly that her blood pounds against them. As he works, she has a thought and speaks to him in Xhosa. uXolo. It is the only word she can think of, and it means peace. For the first time, rope man looks at her and their eyes meet. Uxolo, she says again, everything is going to be okay. We understand. He pauses, and replies in English. We’re just doing this because we’re hungry. He had stopped for a moment but continues, knotting the rope ends beyond reach. The boyfriend is praying softly into the nape of her neck. The words flood into her ears and over her. Rope Man starts to walk away. Make it quick, he says over his shoulder to Younger Man. The footsteps grow fainter, crunching aways down the trail. Younger Man stands behind them, out of sight. He is drinking Coke and the world is so quiet they hear it fizz behind his lips. Then he is gone.
They strain to hear any sound of a return. And then the boyfriend springs to life. He twists his arms but the knots on his arms are too tight. I’m going to chew through the rope on your arms, he tells her. She winces as he bites on the strands. The rope is cutting into her arms now. She worries about his teeth, breaking in the attempt at freedom. He succeeds and she pulls her arms free. The marks on her wrist will remain for days, an eerie reminder. She free his hands and they quickly slip free. The possibility that the man could return any moment is like smoke around them. They are both covered in sand. She wants to run but he stops to pick up the picnic basket. Then they are running. Down the shortcut, across soft sand to the car.
They car key is the only thing the men don’t take. The boyfriend has it in his hand and as they reach the car he clicks the central locking. Grains of sand have invaded the mechanic of the remote and the button won’t release the key to start the ignition. They sit in the car and he presses and presses. Eventually it pops out. As they drive down the hill and away from the dune they pass Younger Man, who swigs sips of Coke as he ambles. As they pass him the boyfriend looks sharply at him. Just keep driving, she says.”
An account of being mugged with my then boyfriend, Chris, on a dune in Hout Bay, South Africa on New Year’s Eve, 2011.