I was away long enough for the familiar landscape of the potholes to have changed. Now I am having to follow the lead of the drivers in front of me. 

A disarmament had happened in me and I wasn’t ready for a return to the wild ride that is this complex, fabulous country. A tiny island in the middle of the Indian Ocean is of course an unfair comparison. The faint smell of incense drifting off the beach at sunrise on the morning that we left, women wearing shimmering saris setting up little shrines offering fruit, flowers, coins. Modest dreams. 

The temperate breeze and the eye-watering blues were fresh in my mind as the traffic came to a dead halt on the four-lane South African freeway because of a violent cash-in-transit heist. No assistance, just hundreds of vehicles trying to worm their way out of the jam, parked at odd angles like one of those car park puzzle games, everyone believing that they could find the best route through, making plans, finding gaps. It’s what we do here. 

The rest of the trip home felt crowded with contradictions, my attention wrestled away from the heart-breakingly beautiful landscape by adrenaline-fuelled speeding, the wild-eyed car guard brandishing a whip. We were travelling in a full minibus taxi and everyone had an opinion. Entitlement matched ignorance, silence spoke loudly. I pulled my jacket over my head and watched an episode of The Crown - a strange balm, like pale pink chamomile ointment on a blue bottle sting.

Finally home, I sank into the couch on the deck, drinking in the dense forest while my brain tried to make sense of it all. But there is no making sense. The Wood Owl called, clearing the air. The bushbabies became curious and crept down the fig tree to peer at me, before heading out into the night to forage. Early the next morning I limped to the garage to revive my neglected car. Before inflating the tyres, Mduduzi looked me in the eye “How was your night last night, was your sleep peaceful?” He may not know how much that meant to me.