Everybody has a You (#13)

Ecstacy pills

Ecstacy pills

Neither Smartryk nor Boggel remebers much about the trip back to Rolbos. Smartryk, after the dose of painkillers and a herbal tea from Dawid Loper – and Boggel due to sheer fatigue – dozed, slept and rested during the long ride home. Sersant Dreyer took them on a detour to pick op Kleinpiet’s bakkie, which they refuelled. Then, with Dawid acting as guide, they drove through the night. When at last they stopped in front of Boggel’s Place, it was difficult to distinguish between the injured and the rest – they were all completely exhausted.

Gertruida got hold of Oudok, who examined the two men. Boggel – he said – only needed rest and liquids. Smartryk surprised the old doctor: when the bandages were removed, the wound was well on it’s way to complete healing. Dawid Loper nodded happily: it was exactly what he expected.

Now, after a good nights rest, the townsfolk gather in the shade of Boggel’s verandah, with Servaas doing duty as barman. They wait until noon before they send Kleinpiet to see how the patients are doing…

***

However, Bioggel and Smartryk have been awake since dawn. They shared Gertruida’s spare room, where she accommodated them in style – or whatever would pass as such in Rolbos. Two mattresses on the floor, clean linen and a huge jug of orange juice far surpassed their needs for the night. When dawn streaked the eastern sky with orange and red, Gertruida started serving strong, sweet tea, a huge platter with scrambled eggs and bacon and followed that with a Thermos filled with the strongest coffee possible.

What more could a man ask?

“Boggel?” Smartryk burped softly after finishing his breakfast. “We have to talk…”

“About Mary?”

“Yes…”

And talked they did. About Mary, about life…and about love. Smartryk described the strange emotion he discovered after meeting and spending time with Mary. He talked about serendipity, coincidence, chance and divine intervention. “Boggel, for all my life I knew there had to be more. And now…well, now I think I’ve found it.”

But, Smartryk said, he also understood that Mary came to Rolbos to see Boggel. He had been the compass that directed her journey back to her roots and to the Kalahari. And he, Smartryk, understood now why Mary had such a deep-rooted respect for the hunchbacked barman. “You saved her life…again, Boggel. You were prepared to perish in the wilderness to save Mary. I know of no other man that would have led Brutus into the desert like you did, knowing that his death would allow Mary to live. And that, Boggel, tells me her trust in you is not only justified, it runs far deeper than even she would admit.”

Boggel waited and listened patiently. Although he had a very good idea where all this was leading up to, he allowed Smartryk the opportunity to transform his deepest feeling from thoughts to words. This is, of course, something that is often required from barmen all over the world, and Boggel has plenty experience of this. Smartryk rambled, lost track, stumbled, gathered his wits time and again and eventually fell silent.

“Okay.” Boggel finished the last of the coffee with a sigh. “You think you love Mary. And you want my blessing.” He waited for Smartryk to nod before going on. “Well, it’s not up to me, Smartryk. It’s up to Mary. She’s the one to choose which which horse she wants to saddle up. I’d suggest you talk to her, not to me.”

***

One of the most important lessons in Barman 101 concerns the requirement to listen to problems and then to offer simple advice. For this, you don’t need an IQ of more than 160 at all. No sir. Most problems dispensers of drinks are faced with, involve the intricate and complicated relationships between men and women – and lately even the gender-tag has faded away, so that one may safely condense that statement to simply refer to ‘relationships’.

Boggel’s remark – about Mary having the last say – must therefore not be seen as abundantly chivalrous or altruistic, not at all. After all, does the nearness of Mary not cause his heart to skip a beat, and does something not melt inside his heart whenever he looks at her? But, like he sometimes has to tell a teary customer: you cannot force Love. If Love is meant to be, it’ll find a way. There is no force known to man that will stamp out the glowing embers of affection once that fire starts blazing, bringing light to the darkness we call loneliness.

Some may think that Boggel’s handling of Smartryk’s declaration of intent was short-sighted and stupid. Others – more wise and bearing the scars to prove it – will understand the depth of his wisdom when he encouraged Smartryk to follow his heart. It’s the old story about setting Love free to fly…and then waiting patiently to see if it returns to the safety of its origin.

***

It’s late afternoon when the two patients sit down in Boggel’s Place. The rest of Rolbos is there to welcome them with a hearty dose of peach brandy – which, for once, doesn’t have to be smallowed with one grimacing gulp. The talk – of course – is about the last few day’s adventure. Smartryk reminds them that he still has to complete his report on the Cessna’s crash.

“That’s easy, Smartryk. You attribute the accident to pilot error. Then Sersant Dreyer adds his statement that the unknown pilot seems to have disappeared. Yes, his tracks led to Kleinpiet’s farm and yes, he apparently stole a vehicle. The said vehicle was found in the desert after an exhaustive search, but the exact whereabouts of the pilot is still uncertain at this point in time…”

“Ja, he could be in heaven…or in hell. Who knows?” Vetfaan is on his fourth drink and seems to think he’s just made an extremely funny remark. The rest of the patrons ignore him.

“I have something to say.” Mary’s voice – soft and uncertain – makes them all turn to her. “I…I must confess, I suppose.”

“About what, Mary?” Smartryk puts his hand on her shoulder, concern written over his face.

“I… Oh hell! How do I do this?” Mary shakes off the hand, gets up, and walks to the door. There, framed by the doorway, she turns to address them.

“I’ve only told you half the story…I’m sorry. You see, this is all my fault. Yes, I wanted to see Boggel, and yes, I wanted to hide here and hope to start a new life. But, you see…” She stifles a sob, squares her shoulders. “I wasn’t the naive courier I made out to be. That trip was my third, not my first. Once I went to Hong Kong, and once to Bangkok. Every time the same – documents and cash.

“Did I love Brutus? The answer is an emphatic ‘No!’. But….when I met him, my life was in shambles. I did work at Dr Hartslief, the cardiologist, that’s true. But that was during the daytime. At night…I went to clubs. It was my way of escaping from the small flat I rented. I so desperately wanted company, but in a big city you can live between hordes of people, and still be lonely. It’s not like here…

“Anyway, one night some guy got fresh with me. I had a few drinks too many, and didn’t see it coming. Then, suddenly, the man started steering me to the door, saying we must go to his place. I didn’t want to go. The man insisted. And then Brutus stepped in and told the guy to bugger off. That’s how we met.” She shakes her head. “Swallowed by my own stupidity… It had all been a setup! Brutus was always on the lookout for lonely girls like me – and he had this way of picking them up, see? He gets one of his men to harass the girl, then he steps in as the hero. Anyway, how was I to know? So one thing led to the other and we ended up drinking far too much. He was good, I’ll give him that. At the end of the evening I thought he was the nicest man I’ve ever met.

b98f4057-a575-4ef5-99a2-6ebbd7bf1790“We started seeing each other. That Saturday evening we had dinner and then he took me to his penthouse in the Waterfront. His place blew me away! I’ve never seen so much opulence in my life! The carpets! The furniture! It was like a dream come true…” She sighs, remembering her wide-eyed wonder. “He offered me a pill after we had a few drinks. I remember it was white, with a dove imprinted on it. Said it was something innocent to prevent a hangover. Said he took it all the time, himself. And I…I didn’t want to look as if I didn’t trust him. I really wanted to believe…

“So I took the pill. And I woke up the next morning and my nightmare started…”

(To be continued…)

Everybody has a You (#12)

randall 002aDespite the dry mouth, the almost unquenchable thirst and still feeling dizzy, Boggel manages to stumble through the events leading up to his friends finding him. He has to pause frequently to sip water from the canteen Sersant Dreyer offers from time to time. Even the wounded Smartryk seems a bit better, sitting next to Precilla. If Boggel noticed them holding hands, he doesn’t remark on it.

He was closing the bar that night, he tells them, when the huge bulk of Brutus was framed in the doorway. The man seemed friendly…but he had a problem. Would Boggel please help him? His aeroplane had developed an uncommon splutter – something the man said he had noticed while on his way to Upington. To err of the safe side, he landed not far from town on an even patch of veld. He thought it’s the carburettor, but needed a specific spanner to get to it. A number 15, he said.

“Well, you all had left and there I was, talking to this guy. I didn’t want to wake anybody and I had just such a spanner in my toolbox. So, naturally, I agreed to help. That’s what we do in these parts, isn’t it? But when we got to the aircraft, the lights went out.”

Boggel says he was near the Cessna when he felt a tremendous blow to the back of his head.  “Must have been that spanner, I think. The next thing I knew, I woke up to the roar of the engine. I was strapped in one of the back seats, and I thought I saw somebody outside, waving.”

“That was me,” Sersant Drayer remarks. I thought I recognised you…”

Boggel nods before continuing. “Yes, that makes sense. Anyway, I took a particularly dim view of the situation, and whacked the pilot a proper one on his head with my fist. He let out a yelp of surprise – must have thought I was still out cold – and turned to belt me back. I must say: if I had known we were in the air at the time, I might have reconsidered my attack. Still, that’s what I did, and that’s what he did. To get to me, he had to let go of the controls, of course, which isn’t a nice thing for a pilot to do.

“But this man – Brutus? He has a nasty temper, as I was to find out later. Or maybe I already found that out when he turned to strike me. Once he gets angry, he retaliates immediately. Not clever, not clever at all. Especially not under those circumstances. He immediately realised his dilemma, of course. When the Cessna slewed to one side, he turned back to the controls, but by then it was too late.

“I suppose one must give the devil his due: he is – was – a great pilot. How he managed to belly-land that Cessna is a pure miracle. I gashed my shoulder during the landing and he banged his head on the control panel – but that was all. We could have…should have been killed.”

Despite Brutus’s injury, he remained a formidable, strong, giant of a man. Boggel tried to escape, but Brutus simply felled him with an almighty blow to the head.

“I had no chance, no idea what was going on, and no way to escape. He pinned me to the ground and told me to take him to the nearest vehicle.” Boggel shoots a guilty glance towards Kleinpiet. “I knew Kleinpiet always leaves the keys in the ignition and that we were somewhere near his homestead. With Brutus frogmarching me along, I had no choice but to lead him there.” He pauses, smiling shyly. “I’m sorry, Kleinpiet.”

“I would have done the same, Boggel. Don’t worry.”

Boggel bobs his head. “Thanks. Anyway, the man said we were going to Upington. He asked directions. And I thought: bugger you, laddie. Whatever you’re up to, I’m certainly not going to help you. And, because it was still quite dark, I had him drive towards the desert. It’s a shortcut, I said. He believed me – must have thought I was sufficiently scared to tell the truth all the time.”

With Boggel promising that they’d reach the tarred road any minute now, Brutus drove on through the desert…until the petrol ran out.

“Man, you should have seen him then! He was beside himself! I told him he should have let me know, and I would have filled up the tank properly, but he didn’t think it was funny. But then, my friends, the tables were turned. He knew I was his only hope to get him back to civilisation. He calmed down and then, ever so friendly-like told me to lead the way. I said no way, not until he told me what this was all about.

“We had a heated debate about that, as you can imagine. But I sat down on the sand, refusing to budge. He ranted and raved, but I knew I had him. He tried to lie initially – and later when I found out that he was a lawyer, I understood why. Still, after while, I told him to tell the truth or be prepared to die in the desert. That made him blanche. He told me not to say such things. Death, he said, is the only thing he was afraid of.”

Boggel shrugs,. The man’s sudden change from being the self-assured aggressor to confessing his fear of mortality shook the small barman. Brutus sank down on the sand next to him, suddenly all friendly and coy.

“He’s a psychopath,” Gertruida says. “Anything to manipulate you. No remorse, no conscience. At first he tried to scare you to do his will, then he swung around, trying to gain your confidence through pity. Typical.”

“Sure. That’s what I thought as well. He started telling me about his irregular heartbeat, his visits to the cardiologist and goodness knows what else. I thought he was mad. Didn’t believe a word he said, even after he told me he needed to get to his pills as soon as possible. That, I thought, was a blatant lie. A big guy like that, dependant of cardiac medication? So I said I was sorry to hear about his troubles, but what was the idea behind him abducting me in the way he did?

“And he said – I remember the words – there is a woman he needed to talk to. What woman, I asked? And he said Mary Mitchell.” Boggel closes his eyes. “The bottom fell out of my world, right then, right there. After a while, I managed to ask why? And he said she knew stuff about him, he’d rather keep to himself. I was the key, he said. If Mary knew I was with him, she’d come immediately.

“That’s when I decided to walk him to death. A man who is prepared to use me as bait to get to Mary,” and here he allows his gaze to rest on her, “must be crazy. I will do no such thing. By then I had serious doubts about his sanity…but no doubt at all about his violent tendencies. No, I thought, let me play along for a while, lead his deeper and deeper into the desert, and get us both completely lost. We had one water bottle – courtesy of Kleinpiet’s pickup – how long can we last?

“So we walked. On and on and on. Eventually – the next day or the next – I lost track of time – we rested under a bush like we so often had to. I woke up to find him gone. You know what? I couldn’t care anymore. I thought – so be it. There was no way he’d get much farther and I wasn’t up to much, either. So I closed my eyes. The next thing I know, you guys buried me and here I am…”

Gertruida fixes the bent little barman with a knowing look. She knows he’s left out a lot. The two days walking under the scorching sun, the freezing nights, the arguments along the way… Typical of Boggel, she thinks, to avoid telling them about the hardships along the way.

“It’s all my fault…” Mary’s eyes brim with tears. “Oh, Boggel, I’m the poison, the bane of your life. I’m so terribly sorry.”

Boggel shrugs. “I would have done the same for Gertruida, or Sersant, or…even for Servaas.” He smiles his lopsided smile again, takes a swig from the bottle, and sighs. “Life is never fair, Mary. You and I were dealt a hand of cards when we were born. Some people get winning hands, some don’t. We have no choice, really. Play with what we have is what we must do.”

“But…” Mary wants to protest, but Smartryk holds up a hand.

“Boggel, you’ve been incredibly brave…and unbelievably lucky. There’s a lot we have to talk about…a lot. But, seeing the sun is burning us all to a crisp, I suggest we prepare to get back to Rolbos. Maybe there, after cleaning up and with something cool to drink, the two of us can have a chat. Man to man…if you know what I mean.”

And Boggel, with the look you find on the face of a sad Basset, finds himself nodding. Yes, that’s what they must do. Mano a mano. He also realises that the hardships of the past days may fade in comparison with what lies ahead.

Everybody has a You (#11)

558“Is he…”

“Yes.” Sersant Dreyer drops the lifeless hand back in the sand. Getting up slowly, he walks to his van, where he gets into the cab and shuts the door. He needs time to think.

“I…I killed him… His heart…” Mary Mitchell stares down at the body of Brutus, the man she once thought loved her. The man who sent her on the mission that saw her spend time in that cesspool of a prison in Rio. The man who betrayed her, belittled her, disrespected her, The man who…used her. And she closes her eyes for a second, deep in thought, marvelling at the fact that she feels no remorse.

“Aaargh…..” Boggel opens his eyes, stares at the group with uncomprehending and unfocussed eyes. “Wha….?”

Servaas, still rubbing his head after his heroic storming of Brutus’s Bastille (or whatever you want to call the man’s reason d’etre) , bends down to smile at the barman: “Like a Cactus?”

He’s rewarded by a weak twist of the chapped lips – a feeble but honest effort to return the smile. Boggel tries to move, finds himself buried, and starts wriggling out of the sand.

“I’m not dead yet, you guys. Can’t you wait with the funeral?” His voice is hoarse and cracked, but everybody gives a little cheer. Boggel is back! Weak, barely able to sit up, but still…

“When you lot have stopped fussing over Boggel,” Gertruida pauses while they turn to her, “I might remind you that we have to get a pressure bandage on Smartryk’s wound. Now, if you don’t mind, I need some help.” She’s still bent over her patient, applying pressure to the rupture artery.

“Here.” Dawid, who has stood quietly watching, while rubbing his neck where Brutus’s fingers bruised the tissue, holds out the small pouch he always carries on the piece of leather that holds his loincloth in place. “Press this leaf on the bleeding.”

Gertruida stares at the leaf for a moment. It’s a leaf – a nondescript, common, everyday leaf. The type of leaf you’d see on the ground and never think twice about it. Heart-shaped and small, it looks like a thousand others one would find on the stunted bushes in the Kalahari. Still, when she sees the imploring eyes of the Bushman, she shrugs and places the leaf on the spurting artery.

The bleeding stops immediately.

“Now put this on the wound,” Dawid says, “before you put on a bandage. It’ll help healing.” This time he pours an ash-like powder from an even smaller bag  in the pouch.

Gertruida needs no convincing. Using a bandage from Precilla’s first-aid kit, she binds up the wound. Smartryk, who has been silent for the whole time, now sits up, looks over to Boggel, and waves a fluttering hand in the barman’s direction. “You must be Boggel?”

“The same,” Boggel’s voice has improved to beyond the croaking stage. “Will somebody please tell what is going on here? I thought I was going to die…”

While Gertruida tries to put the Rolbosser’s reaction to Boggel’s disappearance and Mary’s visit into some perspective, Mary plops down on the sand. Drawing her knees to her chest and resting her chin on her folded arms, she now stares at Boggel and Smartryk in turn. She, too, has to organise her thoughts. Sure, the reason for her coming to Rolbos, was to see Boggel. And yes, she is glad to see him…or is she? Was he not, just a few moments ago, one of the reasons why she kicked that despicable man? And wasn’t it silly to hope that he – Boggel – would await her with open arms and that they could pick up where they left off, all those years ago? A sudden flurry of doubt creases her brow.

And Smartryk? Well, now there’s a question, isn’t there? After all, she hardly knows the man… Travelling with a stranger for two days is hardly a foundation for a long-term relationship. What she needs, is security – not only financially, but especially emotionally. Smartryk seems nice enough, but…

Her thoughts and Gertruida’s lecture are interrupted when Sersant Dreyer gets out of the van, slamming the door.

“I’ve got it,” he says triumphantly. “Come, let’s bury this piece of scum.And we have to talk…”

***

“Let’s just think for a minute. If we involved the authorities, we’ll have to explain why Boggel is in the state he’s in, what happened to Smartryk…and that.” He jerks his thumb towards Brutus. “I don’t have to tell you: there’d be questions – a million of them – and investigations and interviews and goodness knows what else. Brutus’s affairs will be under a microscope, end there’d be the issue of manslaughter…or murder.”

Smartryk nods weakly. The last thing he’d want is to see Mary go through a protracted – even a sensational – court case. He has sensed her vulnarability over the past two days – and her pent-up fury of a few minutes ago underscored her utter fragility.

“So here’s what I think. First, we make sure that Smartryk and Boggel are fit to travel – that is, after we’ve buried that corpse. Then we take the two patients to Oudok, and get them fixed up. Like Dawid said: it may involve a two-day trip, but that’s what we’ve got to do. Once we’re all safely back in Rolbos, we simply continue with life as we know it.” He flashes a rare, but disarming smile. “Brilliant, isn’t it?”

Complete silence.

“But then…what…what about….this?” Oudoom makes a vague gesture to encompass them all, the area, and Brutus.

“It never happened, Oudoom. This incident didn’t occur. We’re not here.”

“But we can’t…”

“Oh yes, we can!” Gertruida’s emphatic statement swivels all the eyes in her direction. “Sersant Dreyer is right. The only thing that’d come from making this public, is a pack of investigators, followed closely by a court case, television crews and the Huisgenoot. And what will happen? Mary has a criminal record and could quite possibly end up in jail for manslaughter. You know how the legal system works – I don’t have to explain that to you. Even if Mary is acquitted, there might be a reaction from the drug cartel Brutus was involved with. In the end she’d be a target – either by the law – or the…others. If we go home quietly, the world will keep on turning. Cops will hunt robbers, politicians will lie and lovers will love.

“Look at the hullabaloo surrounding the Oscar Pistorius case. How many millions were spent by the news channels of the world and how many millions of people wasted days – weeks – following the trial? And what did it change? Nothing, that’s what. Reeva is dead, Oscar’s career is in tatters and the state spent 15 million Rands on the case for the prosecution. That, my friends, could have supplied water and electricity to quite a number of households.

“Justice…” Gertruida says the word slowly, almost dreamily. “What is justice – especially for the victim? Is it not to give him or her the life back…the life once lived, carefree and happy?”

It is, everybody agrees, one of Gertruida’s better speeches, earning her a number of nodding heads.

“Before we take the law in our own hands,” Servaas says, “I think we should hear Boggel’s story.”

This puts a lid on Gertruida’s plea for the time being. The group now turns to Boggel, who is still sitting up on his heap of damp sand.

“Okay, then,” the barman sighs. “It’s only fair. Let me tell you…”

‘Everybody wants to be understood
Well, I can hear you
Everybody wants to be loved
Don’t give up because you are loved…’

Everybody has a You (#10)

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????In the strange, inexplicable way time slows down during times of catastrophe, a lot may happen in the shortest little period of time. For instance: in that second after Smartryk was shot, a multitude of actions took place simultaneously; yet it remains difficult to describe – let alone explain -how the hapless group of Rolbossers managed to get it all done in such a short time.

***

Boggel, of course, is the only one not to react. Well ensconced in his unconscious state, he remains exactly where he is – hidden under his heap of wetted sand. The same cannot be said for the rest of the group.

Kleinpiet and Vetfaan recognises the sound of the shot immediately. The instinct (rather than discipline), so rudely formed during their days as army conscripts during the Border War, kicks in immediately as they fling themselves to the ground. Oudoom, bewildered and never having  been under fire before, starts running away from the sound as fast as his ample frames allows movement; while Precilla and Gertruida does the sensible thing to cower down behind the bulky frame of Vetfaan. The overburdened Mary, panicked beyond measure, does an even more sensible thing: she falls down in a dead faint. And Sersant Dreyer? He scrambles for cover behind the police van, like a good policeman should.

Servaas stands rooted to the spot for a microsecond – but galvanises into action when he sees Dawid running. Despite his age, he does a sterling job of catching up with the Bushman. Did he – at that stage – know what he was getting himself into? Probably not. But still, his action will raise a few glasses in the days and months to come: the patrons in Boggel’s Place owe him that, at least..

Dawid’s reaction may be understood if you knew the history of the Bushmen. Centuries of persecution and scorn have driven these men and women into the most inhospitable parts of Africa. They chose to hide here rather than fight against overwhelming odds of civilisation and gunpowder. The sand and the dunes formed their fortress against these formidable enemies of their way of life. Now, as one of the last of the remnants of a once-great culture, Dawid lives in this barren and desolate area, the last refuge available to him and his kin. He’s no coward, though. He’ll face a lion – or a leopard – with dignity: not with the aim of killing such a beast, but to reassure the animal that he, Dawid, respects the animal’s right to hunt where and when it pleases. And, he’ll tell the ignorant westerner, it’s due to this reciprocal respect that man and animal may find the way to peaceful coexistence.

But…being shot at does not in any way fit in with his concepts of respect and coexistence. Being shot at implies the possibility that you may be hurt – killed, even – and that is the most profound form of disrespect shown to any man.  Also bear in mind that he found himself on Zosi Plain – a flat and empty space. There simply isn’t anywhere to hide. So Dawid did what he did, because there wasn’t anything else to do.

With the acute hearing Bushmen have, Dawid not only discerned where the shot came from, but also how far away the shooter should be. And then, instinctively or not, he ran, crouching all the way, straight in that direction, not knowing that Servaas was right behind him.

***

Under different circumstances he would have hesitated when he saw the man holding the pistol. After all, you don’t take on a giant of a man if you only weighed about 50 kg and could barely reach his shoulder. But the man had a gun and Bushmen know all they need to know about guns: they kill. What Brutus Malherbe thought at that stage, will never be known. Most probably he registered surprise or even disbelief at the small man storming at him. He did, however, manage a guffaw – but whether that was due to his natural feeling of superiority or simply an incredulous outing of astonished contempt, we’ll never know. When Dawid dived at him, Brutus stepped aside, caught him by the scruff of his neck and hoisted him high. He needed both hands to do this –  dropping the pistol in the process.

Gertruida later said Brutus had the look of a madman at that moment. He, too, was covered in dried blood – some fresh bleeding was still evident from a long gash over his forehead. With his clothes in no better state than Boggel’s and his skin and face similarly affected by heat and thirst, he seemed completely out of control. While one may speculate about his sanity at that moment, there could be no doubt what he was trying to do: his huge hands were wrapped around the thin neck of his dangling and helpless attacker…

***

Servaas doesn’t think. For a while he might have thought that Dawid was leading him to safety (something he’ll emphatically deny afterwards), but when he sees Brutus and the way he looks at the pathetically squirming man in his grasp, Servaas managed to find another gear to power his aging legs. He lowered his head, and – bull-like – bellowed as he rammed his bald cranium into Brutus’s middle. Or, at least, where he thought Brutus’s middle might be. Suffice to say that a bent-down Servaas might just reach the height of Brutus’s hips – or thereabouts…

Take any man – big or small, old or young – and take a swing at the core of the nuclear power station. Remember the axiom of aiming an unstoppable force at an immovable object? Well, If that force should connect the immovable object right on the male main switch, the power goes off and the lights go out. The circuit blows. Elvis leaves the building. The fat lady sings. It’s simple physics.

True, Servaas was stunned a little by the impact, and Dawid dropped like a sack of corn next to him, but the real damage was done to Brutus while the others – cowering as they did – let out a protracted ‘…ooooooo...!’. Even the astute Gertruida winched.

***

“Quick, Mister Vetfaan, tie him up!” Dawid is the first to recover. He scoops up the pistol and hands it to Sersant Dreyer, who has  left his hiding place behind the police van. The three of them – Dreyer, Vetfaan and Dawid – get busy unlacing the boots of their adversary and tying his huge wrists. A belt suffices for the ankles.

“Help! Somebody please help Ryk. He’s bleeding…” Mary’s anguished cry cuts through the mayhem of the moment. Getruida rushes over, takes a look at Smartryk, and takes a deep breath.

Gertruida doesn’t panic. Well, not usually. Now, however, she feels faint at the sight of so much blood. Gingerly, with trembling hands, she undoes the buttons of the soaked shirt. Then, folding back the flaps of the shirt, she inspects the damage.

“Let’s see…” Her voice is as unsteady as her hands, but she presses on regardless.

A long, cut-like wound courses across Smartryk’s chest. Apparently Smartryk was standing side-on to the shooter and the bullet raced across his chest from right to left, cleaving the skin and flesh open to the bone. In the middle of the wound a severed artery spurts a little fountain of red.

breast_artery_2“It’s the Thoracoacromial,” she announces in a much relieved tone. “One of the arteries to the chest wall.” Applying a delicate thumb to the bleeding artery, she presses down gently. The bleeding stops immediately. “The shock of the bullet hitting the ribs must have caused a faint. See – he’s already moving.” Making soothing noises, she tells Smartryk to lie still.

***

Take a moment here. Forget the tied-up Brutus, the unconscious Boggel and the wounded Smartryk. Push aside thoughts of anger and pity, and don’t – for the moment – worry about how the group is going to get back to civilisation. Most of all, don’t contemplate the delicate situation with Brutus’s heart – remember his cardiac condition? No, ignore all these issues for a moment and consider the turmoil in Mary’s mind.

Look at her now – there where she’s standing motionless on trembling legs, with Brutus a few yards away, Boggel under the damp sand and Smartryk being attended to by Gertruida and Precilla. Scattered around her you see the fragments of her past, her present and – what she hoped for – her future. Yet now it doesn’t make sense, not at all, as her anger at men – all men – boils down to a reduction of white-hot rage. Damn Brutus for causing all this! Damn Boggel for not pursuing their friendship back then, when they had so much time and so much innocence! Damn Smartryk for getting hurt and…and…being so bloody nice, for goodness’ sakes!

Gertruida says all people experience at least short periods of insanity from time to time. It’s quite normal to feel control slipping and then to do something totally irrational: like commenting on a speeding ticket you got a minute ago, or laughing at our president, or falling in love. Some things, she says, just aren’t rational and some actions simply cannot be explained in a logical way.

So, go on, just accept that Mary cannot be held responsible for what she felt and did at that moment. The years and years of struggle, of being abused and misused, of being deceived and disappointed, of hoping and then seeing her dreams shattered… Well, all these emotions burst into an all-consuming blaze in her overloaded mind; white-hot and with an anger so intense that it made her vision shrink to fade out everybody…except for Brutus, who started screaming obscenities at that moment.

Mary Mitchell lost control…maybe that’s the way one should look at it. She rushed over to the tied-up brute of a man who now became the focus of her wrath. In her helpless bitterness, she kicked at Brutus. She kicked hard, venting the years of pent-up resentment in the force of that kick. In the moment before her boot struck the broad chest of Brutus Malherbe, she let out a primeval scream, causing the man to turn his head away from her, as if he saw the madness he had caused in the once-pretty girl. Then, with her face screwed up in a paroxysm of hatred, her heavy boot thudded against the ribs.

And Brutus – the strong, invincible, ruthless, abusive, crooked lawyer – felt his heartbeat skip, take, skip…and stop.

Everybody has a You (#9)

footprints in sandGertruida – who knows everything – often has to tell the patrons at the bar to stop shouting at the TV screen during rugby matches. It doesn’t help and it leaves you so hoarse you have to order Bells at the end of the match – to soothe the sore throat. And that, she says, is an expensive way of expressing an unwanted opinion. It’s like people insisting that Oscar Pistorius be jailed or not: everybody knows Judge Thokozile Masipa is going to make up her own mind. And, just like the crowd at a rugby match, half of them will blame the ref for wrong decisions while the other 50% will applaud their team. In contrast to the game of rugby, there is no such thing as a draw in a court of law.

The people in the two vehicles following the jogging Bushman realise something of this as they draw nearer to what must be the end of their search. Boggel is going to be fine…or not. The outcome is unpredictable…and unavoidable. After a few days in the desert, with no obvious means of support, both Boggel and his kidnapper must be near the end of their endurance. But, whatever will be, will be. If they’re too late, then there’s nothing they can do about it. They time for shouting is over. Oudoom tells them so and bows his head in silent prayer.

About an hour after Dawid Loper found the tracks, he finds a place where the two men rested in the shade of a stunted bush.The signs where they sat down, the pool of almost congealed blood and a discarded – empty – water bottle tell the tale.

Around them, a vast empty plain stretches to the horizon.

“Zosi Plain,” Gertruida whispers. Dawid nods, yes they are here…

“This must be where the English soldiers caught up with the Afrikaner rebels in 1914. I read that a skirmish followed and that most of the rebels were killed here, somewhere.” She allows her gaze to travel the full circle of the empty horizon. “A godforsaken spot to die for a lost cause…”

“Let’s hope history doesn’t repeat itself here,” Servaas places a hand above his brow as he, too, stares into the distance. “We don’t need more deaths.”

“Mister Boggel isn’t dead. The other man is.” The statement by the bushman is so unexpected, so surprising, that nobody reacts for a few seconds.

“Come again, Dawid?”

“Mister Vetfaan, I can still feel Boggel, but only him. I can’t feel the other man anymore.”

“Which way?” This isn’t the time for arguments of explanations – Vetfaan feels an urgency building up inside him. They have to find Boggel…now!

The bushman squints against the glare of the sun, looks down at the fresh tracks, and points. “That way. Hurry…”

They find Boggel a few hundred yards later. Well, what’s left of Boggel, in a manner of speaking.

“Oh. My. Word!” Precilla is the first to jump down from the police van as she rushes to the prostrate figure.

Boggel is barely recognisable. His clothes have been torn to tatters, his left shoulder caked in dried blood and his lips blistered and torn by dehydration and the sun. He doesn’t move when the vehicles stop.

“Is he breathing?” Gertruida now kneels down next to him, leaning over with her ear next to the parched lips. “Quick, get water!” She reaches for – and gets – a water bottle.

“Slow, Miss Gertruida, slow. Not fast. Wet a cloth and hold it to his mouth. Mister Kleinpiet? There’s enough water in the pickup. We must wet some sand and cover Mister Boggel.” Dawid Loper suddenly isn’t a simple aborigine any longer. His normally soft voice now has the authority of an expert. He’s seen this before – many times – and knows exactly what to do. His quiet assurance galvanises everybody into action. Dreyer finds an umbrella; Gertruida scratches in her overnight bag to produce a tin of Zambuk ointment which she applies to Boggels blistered face, while Kleinpiet and Servaas fill a bucket with water to wet the sand.

“Here, let me…?” Dawid takes the wet cloth from Gertruida and holds it to Boggel’s lips. After moisturising the area, he wrings the cloth gently to allow a few drops to drip into Boggel’s gaping mouth.

While the others busy themselves around the unconscious figure, Mary stands to one side, covering her mouth with a trembling hand.

“I did this,” she whispers over and over again.When Smartryk wlaks over to her, she shoo’s him away. “It’s my fault,” she says softly. “It’s my fault…”

***

“We’ll have to get him to a hospital.” Servaas  looks down at the now-buried Boggel under the damp sand – only his head is visible where it rests on a makeshift pillow made from Precilla’s sleeping bag – and shakes his head. “This Bushman trick isn’t enough.”

Suddenly the meek and humble Dawid is on his feet, his nose only an inch from Servaas’s. “Mister Boggel will die if we put him on the pickup. First  we must get water into him – sweet water with sugar and a bit of salt – and get him better. Your hospital is two days away…and it’s hot.” The fire in the Bushman’s eyes makes Servaas back down.

“Well said, Dawid,” The approval – and admiration – in Gertruida’s voice is unmistakable. “Once we’ve rehydrated Boggel a bit, we can move. Until then…” She doesn’t have to finish the sentence. She’s already examined the bent little barman, and noted the gash on the shoulder which she cleaned and bandaged. “He’s exhausted and dry – those are the main problems. The wound isn’t so bad – it looks as if he has a huge bruise with a ragged gash in the middle on his shoulder. Must have happened when the Cessna crashed, I think.”

“Will he be alright?” Mary’s timid question reaches the group crowding around Boggel and everybody ends up looking at Dawid and Gertruida  in turn.

“Yes, Mary, he will be fine, don’t you worry.”

Surprisingly, the reassurance doesn’t come from Getruida. Mary’s question is answered by Smartryk, who now puts a protective arm around her shaking shoulders.

Gertruida is about to say something, when a shot rings out. One vicious, sudden crack of sound. Unexpected. Frightening. Shocking. Startling.

For a moment they all stand frozen.

Then Smartryk sinks to his knees, clutching his chest where a red stain seeps through his shirt. A puzzled glance toward Mary; a brief, questioning look…and then a feeling of devastating loneliness enfolds him before he falls – face down – into the sand.

Everybody has a You (#8)

IMG_2598Nobody sleeps much that night. The discomfort of sleeping on the sand (it isn’t soft after ten minutes anymore), the cool of the night (which progresses to the chattering-teeth stage later) and the worry about Boggel keeps them all awake – or at most, only allow a very superficial slumber. When the predawn sky begins to fade from black to the promise of orange, they huddle around the fire with steaming mugs of coffee to warm the freezing hands.

Only Dawid loper, with his attire of a simple loincloth and a handmade jackal-tail cap, seems unaffected by the cold and the circumstances. His almost impassive face contrasts with the worried looks of his companions; he appears – Gertruida remarks on it – quite confident and at ease. Happy, even.

DSC_0828“You see, Miss Gertruida, I had a dream.   An eland ran over the plain while overhead an eagle watched. The eland ran and ran, but the eagle only held its wings out and soared on the wind. And then, Miss Gertruida, the eagle saw a lion, waiting quietly behind a bush, right in the eland’s path. And the eagle cried out, loudly, altogether frightened and angry at the same time. But then the eland lowered his head, bending his back like this,” he used his two hands to indicate how severely the eland did this, “and ran right through that bush. When it got to the other side, the lion was stuck to the eland’s horns. Now, Miss Gertruida, an eland doesn’t have long horns, not like the kudu or the gemsbok. No, it’s horns are short and stubby, so they don’t kill by penetrating like those other antelopes do.

“You see, Miss Gertruida, in my dream the lion had all the wind knocked from his body, and it had no power left to fight or attack. That’s what I dreamt.”

Gertruida stares at the old man, trying to work out what it all means.

“And…”

“The eagle saw it all, Miss Gertruida. We,” and here the Bushman’s hand sweeps over the group, “are the eagle. We’ll see it.” And with those words, Dawid Loper turns on his heel, scouts the sand around them, and starts jogging. “Come, we have to hurry!”

***

Bumping along on the back of Vetfaan’s pickup, Mary finds herself staring at Smartryk – or simply Ryk, as she has started thinking of him. He’s unlike most men she had met in the past decade or so. In fact, he seems lost in his own world most of the time, quite content to share silence rather than chatting her up.

This morning, when she washed her face and brushed her teeth using the small basin of water Ryk had brought to her side, she felt a rush of strange emotion when their fingers touched. Had he been aware of it too? Or was she being silly, looking for something as real as the mirages that play on the horizon of this desert? After all, she hardly knows the man: a loner, a pilot and an investigator of crashes. She smiled at this despite herself, thinking that the biggest crash she’d like him to investigate was her own. Her life has lurched from catastrophe to crisis ever since she’d left the orphanage in Grootdrink where she and Boggel grew up. And now, in her search for security (and love, to be honest) she meets somebody by sheer chance – and somehow feels a bond with him? Unlikely, strange…weird…and yet…

Her thoughts stray back to the prison in Rio and the man responsible for involving her in an international drug smuggling racket. How stupid she had been! How naive!  But – she defends herself – loneliness drives people to such strange relationships. And how desperately she wanted to believe that Brutus was the real thing! She had made the conscious decision to do everything she could to make the relationship work and would have walked through fire for the man. Come to think about it: she had done just that.

The thought of the injustice and the humiliation causes a tear to streak down her cheek. She’s almost not surprised when Ryk leans over to offer his handkerchief.

***

Sersant Dreyer, in the leading vehicle, slews to a stop in the loose sand. Dawid Loper is bending down on the sand, apparently studying some tracks. Vetfaan gets out to hear what the story is.

6262557776_e9dc9c2d54“Look, Mister Vetfaan, a porcupine walked here this morning early. They walk at night. And here,” he points to an indistinct depression a few yards away, “here the porcupine walked over the spoor of a man. There’s another. Two men. Yes. Look at the way the night wind disturbed the porcupine’s tracks and also look at the boot’s imprint. That means those men walked here late last night.”

“Two men, walking together?”

“No, Mister Vetfaan. The one man walks with a limp. Look, you can see the right boot makes a deeper track than the left. He’s also walking in front, because the other boots sometimes cover his tracks. But…the man at the back is bleeding – look, here’s a drop. His steps aren’t regular either – sometimes they’re farther apart and sometimes not.”

“What does the spoor tell you, Dawid?”

“Mister Boggel has a limp because of his back. There’s a man behind him, a wounded man who staggers. They aren’t making good progress at all. They’re near.”

“But they stole Kleinpiet’s pickup. What happened to the vehicle?”

The bushman shakes his head. No he doesn’t know. He explains that he felt the tapping inside his chest, telling him about Zosi Plain – and that’s why they came here. He says that he only cut across the tracks a few minutes ago.

“What happened back there,” he jerks a thumb over his shoulder, “happened back there. I don’t know. But they’re on foot and we’re on the right track. Maybe we’ll find them soon.”

With the two vehicles following, Dawid sets off on the spoor again with the characteristic gait of the Bushman. Smartryk meets Mary’s worried look with a lopsided smile. His eyes tell her that everything will be alright, but her heart feels heavy in her chest. What if they find Boggel? What if they don’t? Is he injured? Why is this man forcing Boggel to stumble along blindly in the desert? What happened to Kleinpiet’s pickup? And, once they find the two men…will there be any danger?

Mary sighs. Must life be such a Greek tragedy? Always a twist in the tale – especially just when you think you’re in smooth waters? She feels Ryk’s eyes on her and meets his gaze.

Yes, she thinks with a wry smile, a twist indeed.

Everybody has a You (#7)

thescientistThe events leading up to Dawid Loper’s visit to Vetfaan must be seen as one of those strange, inexplicable situations we all experience from time to time. If one tried to arrange these happenings in a logical fashion, it all seems to sound so farfetched and illogical – causing the sceptic to walk away with that superior smile that says one should not be so gullible and stupid: coincidences happen all the time, don’t they?

But in the Kalahari the people have long learnt to keep the doors of scepticism firmly closed. Oh, like Vladimir Nabokov, they retain a sense of humour when it comes to such things, and laugh at Gertruida when she quotes the great author when he writes: “A certain man once lost a diamond cuff-link in the wide blue sea, and twenty years later, on the exact day, a Friday apparently, he was eating a large fish – but there was no diamond inside. That’s what I like about coincidence.” But they also subscribe to Albert Einstein’s famous words: “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” Boggel says both these men grasped the deeper truth behind a coincidence: sometimes Life mixes up laughter and tears to make us realise we will never be able to explain everything. Sometimes, Oudoom says, Boggel has the uncanny and surprising ability to condense complicated issues like Faith into a single sentence.

When Dawid wioke up three mornings ago in his simple hut in the dunes, he watched an eagle flying high overhead. And he felt the tapping in his chest – that strange unease, telling him about somebody who needs help. Who it was, and where, he wasn’t certain at first, but later when he saw the spoor of an eland leading off to the east, the tapping became more intense. He followed those tracks to the rise on the small hill on Vetfaan’s farm, where he immediately understood: this was where he had to be.

Now, just after the group in the bar has fallen silent – he opens the door to Boggel’s Place.

“I heard,” he said, looking at Vetfaan.

Tsamma melons (Citrullus ecirrhosus). Sesriem. Namibia.In Western society it is considered rude to be eavesdropping. Not so with the Bushman tribes. To survive, you have to gather as much information about your circumstances as possible. Wind, weather, spoor and veld provide clues to where the next meal might be found. That, and what other’s say. A family member might mention the field of tsamma plants in a deserted valley, or talk about a water source a grandfather mentioned a long time ago. Knowledge ensures survival as much in the Kalahari as in the stock exchanges all over the world.

The major difference between the so-called modern world and the Busman? The latter have retained the ability to listen – really listen – to nature, to their surroundings and to other people. The art of shutting up and paying attention was lost when Man invented the telephone – an instrument invented because we needed technology to force others to listen. Of course, poor Mister Bell meant well, but it only made matters worse: the telephone in reality created a platform to mostly broadcast one’s desires. And just when we thought our ego-driven society had reached the bottom rung, along came Facebook. We talk, we want others to see and listen…but it’s generally a one-way street.

The small, yellow people of the Kalahari avoided this downward spiral in communication. They actually use their ears – under all circumstances. Even under the window of Boggel’s Place.

“You were listening at the window?”

Dawid nods – a little shyly, because he knows the strange ways of the white people: they have this obsession with privacy.

“Good, then I won’t have to explain.”

“I felt him, mister Vetfaan, felt him here.” He taps a stubby finger against the creased skin of his chest. “I didn’t know who, but the spoor led to your farm.So…I came.”

“And now, Dawid, do you ‘feel’ Boggel? Please help us, man?”

The Bushman slowly sits down on the floor, resting his head on his hands. The people in the bar remain completely silent while they watch the man as he starts rocking to and fro. At first inaudible, they later hear the monotonous tune he hums. Vetfaan holds a finger to his lips while he watches – he’s seen this before when Dawid helped him find the lost ram.

It seems to take a long time. After the excitement of Mary and Smartryk’s arrival and the terrible realisation that Boggel may be in mortal danger, it is almost impossible to sit quietly while watching the shrivelled old man. But they have to – and they do. Servaas and Oudoom exchange glances:  their way of thinking shies away from the mystical and unexplained…yet this may very well be their only hope of finding Boggel again. This, they realise, is not the time to voice their concerns.

Eventually – after what seemed like an eternity – Dawid starts tapping his chest. Slow, deep, thudding taps. His eyes are closed when he starts talking.

“Yes, I feel him. Mister Boggel. He is…far. And I think he is injured. And…he needs help.”

“Where is he, Dawid? Can you help us?”

Again the old man is silent for a few long minutes.

“Yes. We must go.” The tapping stops. He looks up. “Immediately.”

The would-be rescuers assemble everything they need in record time. Blankets, sleeping bags, Precilla’s first-aid kit, tinned food, water and – of course – a solid supply of Cactus Jack. This gets loaded into Vetfaan’s pickup and Sersant Dreyer’s police van. Somehow, they all squeeze into the vehicles and are set to go within an hour.

“Where to, Dawid?”

“”Beyond the dunes, Mister Vetfaan. Near the dry river bed, I know the place. – we call it Zosi Plain.”

Gertruida feels a pang of panic rising in her chest. As the only Rolbosser to understand some of the San language, she knows ‘Zosi’ means ‘those without hooves‘. In other words, dangerous people, like predators. The Bushmen, she knows, associate themselves closely with the animal kingdom, where the eland reigns supreme. And, if a man ‘has no hooves’, it implies that he – unlike the Bushmen – is coupled with hunting animal with paws and nails and canines.

“Tell me about Zosi Plain,” she prompts the old man gently.

“Many summers ago, Miss Gertruida, there were men with guns. Many guns. They were hunting other men. Some of my family got shot there.”

This, Gertruida thinks, must have been during the 1914 Rebellion, when some South Africans refused to fight in WW I. They remembered the Anglo-Boer war, the burnt farms and the 26,000 women and  children who died in the concentration camps – and refused to battle alongside their former enemy, the British. Some of the rebels fled to the Kalahari,but were pursued and hunted down before they reached German West Africa – the country we know today as Namibia.

“And what did you see – or feel – about this plain, Dawid?”

Dawid Loper stares at the horizon, where the shimmering heatwaves cause heaven and earth to mix in a hazy line where it is impossible to say where the one ends and the other starts.

“Mister Boggel is weak, Miss Gertruida. He is alone. But he has a Zosi following him. We must hurry.”

Although Vertfaan and Sersant Dreyer have a lot of  experience about driving in the deep, loose sand of the Kalahari, their progress is slow. When at last they stop for the night, Dawid tells them they have only gone as far as the hips – his way of estimating halfway. Despite the urgency, the group realises the futility of attempting to cross the dunes at night.

“First thing in the morning,” Vertfaan says, “we’ll be off. According to Dawid, we should be at the plain at about midday. That’s the best we can do.”

Smartryk nods. He’s seen the Kalahari from the air while flying, and realises how dangerous the place is.

“Mary,” he now says, “tomorrow we’ll find your Boggel, don’t you worry.”

And Mary Mitchell, the woman scorned for so long by men and life alike, looks up to the kind eyes of this strange man she’s just met. She’s aware of a weird feeling welling up inside her – a warm, comfortable sensation she can’t define accurately – and finds herself smiling. Here she is, in the middle of nowhere, with somebody she hardly knows. And yet…he’s been there all day, sitting quietly next to her. Just his presence, it seems, made it possible to face the last two days. He doesn’t speak much…but even his silence was enough, made her stronger.

“You’re such a sweet man, Ryk,” she says, choosing to omit the first part of his name. ‘Grief’, she reckons, should not be part of the way she thinks of him. She toys with the name, coming up with ‘Liefryk’, blushes at the silly thought, and looks away. “I really do appreciate…”

“Shhh.” He interrupts her gently by laying a finger on her lips. “Rest now. Tomorrow will be a long day…”

Rolbos – The Book

Finally!

Rolbos-eng

Click picture to go to Amazon.com

Due to international demand Because I enjoyed sharing Rolbos with so many readers, my ego drove me  it seemed only natural to give Rolbos wings. And so, after exhaustive writing, editing, and months of effort…the book is available. Marinda Ehlers did a sterling job of compiling, correcting and coercing the text into a readable format – and I thank her for that.

The dream of an Afrikaans version will have to wait, though. (I personally think it is far superior slightly better than almost as good as the English version. Who knows what the future will bring? )

So, there you are. The story of Everybody has a You will continue tomorrow.

Everybody has a You (#6)

bots-bush-sc-06_screen“Wha…what do you mean?” If at all possible, Mary’s face seems even more drained than before.

“There has to be something…something Brutus wants from you. I mean, if I’m right, he removed Boggel from Rolbos – let’s call a spade a spade and mention the word kidnapping – and one is left with the obvious: some demand or ransom.” She lets out a sarcastic guffaw. “And anybody who demands a ransom from us Rolbossers, must be crazy. We may be happy, but we’re not rich. Soo…it can’t be about money, can it?”

“But…but why do all this?” Mary sweeps a trembling hand toward the door, as if Brutus and Boggel were standing there. “Why not just contact me?”

“Ha! And after he was the cause for you spending time as guest of the Brazilian government? He set you up, you know it…and you probably hate the guy. Credit the man with some intelligence, will you? He knew the chances that you’d welcome any contact with him, were zero. He had to find a way to get your cooperation – and that’s why Boggel was abducted.”

All eyes now bore into Mary as a tear streaks over her pale cheek.

“Come on, Mary.” Precilla fishes out a Kleenex from her purse. “Didn’t Brutus give you something before you left for Rio? A box, an envelope, some other documents…anything?”

“N…no.”  Glancing up when Servaas approaches with a steaming mug of bush tea, she manages a thankful smile. “Oh…he gave me presents, yes. Personal stuff. Flowers and lingerie and some costume jewellery – but nothing that would warrant…this.” Again her hand flutters aimlessly in the air. “I…I don’t understand.”

“There must be something,” Gertruida won’t let up.

Mary holds the mug with both trembling hands as she brings the hot, sweet liquid to her lips. Then she looks up suddenly. “Maybe he wants to…get rid of me.” She ignores the surprised looks. “Yes, that could be it…”

During the months she spent with Brutus, they became what is socially known as an item. They were seen in all the right places – theatres, restaurants, parties, even church. And they visited friends…lots of friends.

“Jail gave me plenty of time to think – there wasn’t anything else to do, after all. After realising that I had been only a convenient link in a drug smuggling chain, I naturally wondered where Brutus got his supplies from, what he did with the drugs  and who the other people in this…business…might be. So I played this mental game, see? I tried to recall the people he introduced me to, where we went and who he met there. Who, I wondered, might be his contacts?

“And then I remembered a very specific man, an extremely rich guy, living in Hout Bay in one of the biggest mansions I’d ever seen. Amongst everybody I met in that time, he stand out by a mile. We visited him at least once a week – sometimes for supper, on weekends for a picnic in the huge garden, and sometimes just to have a drink. That man! I remembered the Dom Perignon, the caviar, the massive parties  – and the yacht.” She closes her eyes, calling up the images from an apparently carefree era. “And I remembered how I wondered about his wealth. How did he get so stinking rich? That’s when I started thinking this man must be the big boss. the kingpin.Then there was a man that often phoned – late at night. Never knew who he was, but Brutus always gave him legal advice…or so Brutus said. He once remarked – Brutus did – how politicians can be so ignorant. But…those two came to mind when I sat in that prison – and that’s all I can think of. Brutus, I realised, had been very careful not to make me suspicious while he was dating me.”

Credit: Beeld

Sheryl Cwele. Credit: Beeld

“That’s a possibility,” Gertruida says quietly. “You remember that Beetge woman: the one who was locked up in Brazil as well? Your time there must have overlapped with hers. And she, I may tell you, had been a drug mule for Sheryl Cwele, the former Director of Health and Community Services. Used to be married to nobody else than the Minister of State Security, Siyabonga Cwele.

“Now, I’ve always held the opinion that she was only the tip of the iceberg – the rot in our government runs deeper than one individual. It is entirely possible that some people might want to wipe out any traces of wrongdoing – especially involving dealings with Brutus – by eliminating those involved with your trip to Rio.”

Gertruida sighs – the possibilities have suddenly increased dramatically! Brutus seemed a logical choice for the kidnapper, but now Mary has opened a huge can of worms. But, she thinks, her theory still holds water. Boggel was abducted as bait. Mary has something – or  possibly some knowledge – which somebody considers dangerous. And yes, if she knew who Brutus’s contacts were, that knowledge might quite conceivably put her life in grave danger.

“O-o-o-kay then,” she says slowly, “then we simply must find them. Only…we can turn the tables when it comes to baiting. If we can get Brutus to know that Mary is here…?”

Vetfaan gets up suddenly, his face shining with excitement.

“We’ll use the bushman-telegraph! That’s how we’ll find them.”

***

One of the unexplained phenomena of the Kalahari, is the extraordinary way in which one Bushman clan will know what is happening in other families. It’s uncanny, to say the least. Bleek and Lloyd, in their famous book (Specimens of Bushman Folklore, George Allen and Co, London, 1911), describe the apparent extrasensory perception in the San people. Laurens van der Post expands on this idea in The Heart of the HunterAlthough the people of the Kalahari rarely talk about this (who can explain it, anyway?) it is something they are very much aware of. Last year for instance, when Vetfaan discovered his prize ram missing, he called on Dawid Loper, the Bushman he had once helped when a child developed an illness the herbs won’t cure. Oudok removed a very sick appendix from the infant, thus causing a bond between Dawid and Vetfaan. To cut a long story short, Dawid ‘felt’ the ram at a specific spot – and that’s exactly where Vetfaan found the animal.

Oh, there are many myths about the San people of the Kalahari. Can they really change into animals? Is the ‘tapping’ which Van der Post so vividly describes, not just romanticising the abilities of these men and women we like to view as primitive? Do the men ‘feel’ the babies inside their wives, and do they really grieve even before the tidings of death arrive at their circle of simple huts? The answer isn’t easy. If you live in Cape Town or New York, it is all too easy to scoff; but here, in the Kalahari, there is a deep-rooted respect for the small, yellow men and women who manage to survive where even animals cannot.

***

“Is Dawid Loper around?” Gertruida looks up sharply. This is one possibility she has overlooked.

“He actually arrived at my farm yesterday night, Gertruida.” Vetfaan shakes his head: another coincidence? “I thought he just came to see if he could beg some sugar or meat…but now I understand…”

Mary allows her head to sink onto her hands. When she starts sobbing again, it is Smartryk – and not Boggel – who lays a soft hand on her shoulder.

Amapola
My pretty little poppy
You’re like that lovely flower, so sweet and heavenly
Since I found you
My heart is wrapped around you
And loving you it seems to beat a rhapsody
Amapola
The pretty little poppy
Must copy its endearing charm from you
Amapola, Amapola
How I long to hear you say, “I love you.”

Everybody has a You (#5)

SadWomanThe arrival of Mary Mitchell and Smartryk Genade in Rolbos might just go down in the town’s history as one of the strangest the inhabitants have ever experienced. Of course the patrons at the bar all knew  about Mary – she’s visited Rolbos before - but they have to look twice to recognise the once-vivacious girl they’ve met before.

“I don’t believe it,” Precilla breathes as Mary gets out of the Golf. “Is it who I think it is?”

“Yes, it is, Precilla. And I think a lot of water has run into the sea since last we saw her.” Gertruida takes in the mousy hair, the unkempt appearance and the wrinkled brow. “Whatever she’s done during the last few years hasn’t done her any good, I’d say.”

Still, when the two travellers walk into the bar, Smartryk hardly gets the opportunity to introduce himself. In rural South Africa there is an unwritten law regarding such events: you first act overjoyed – saying how well the years treated the new arrival – then you offer something to drink while making small talk, and only then is one permitted to ask questions. Today, however, that rule is completely ignored as Mary shuts them all up, to ask about Boggel.

Silence.

They don’t know.

“Maybe…,” Mary draws a deep breath, “I should tell you my story.

“You see, I only landed in Cape Town a few days ago – and that same night you guys get an aeroplane landing in Rolbos and Boggel disappears. That – to me – is just too much of a coincidence. I fear it has something to do with my return.” She proceeds to tell them everything she told Smartryk the previous evening. The townsfolk listen in complete silence, exchanging worried looks while she’s talking. When she finishes at last, nobody says a word either.

“Mmmmm….” Gertruida has that look. “Servaas, pour me a double, I need to think.”

While the others converge around the two new arrivals, Gertruida takes her drink to sit outside on the veranda. She knows about the drug scene in Rio and have read about Fernandinho, but he’s still in jail, isn’t he? Now, that Brutus Malherbe….he stood trial, got sentenced, and was released on grounds of a medical condition. Even if he wasn’t locked up any more, he still had to comply with his parole restrictions, hadn’t he?

“Sersant! Dreyer…come here.”

A few minutes later, Dreyer trots off to his office to make a phone call. Gertruida rubs the frown between her eyes, sighs, and returns to the bar for a refill.

“Look, all we know is that  whoever flew that plane, took Boggel along. We have no proof of abduction, no letter of demand , to know that Boggel went against his will. The frightened face Dreyer saw? Well, we all know Boggel hates flying, anyway. The aircraft crashes for whatever unknown reason… and then we know they raced off towards Grootdrink, but they never got here. We all drove that road, and we know there hadn’t been an accident to explain why they never got to the roadblock. Deduction? They veered off into the Kalahari and are lying low.

“Who was the pilot? Person unknown, as far as I’m concerned at this stage, but… He – let’s assume it’s a man – could logically have something to do with Mary…or not. Boggel doesn’t have any enemies. So let’s go with Mary’s suggestion that her presence in the country could have something to do with this fiasco. Now that, my friends, opens another set of questions. Who knew about Mary’s involvement with Boggel? Who connected those dots?  And, assuming somebody did so, why abduct Boggel? What possible value could our Boggel have in this situation?

“I’ll give you a hypothesis…” Everybody stares at Gertruida while she waits for Servaas to fill her glass. They know she just loves to parade her superior intellect about and that it won’t help to rush her along.

“I’ll tell you what I think. Somebody – and it could be the pilot – knows a heck of a lot about Mary. Intimately so, I might add. This somebody knew she was back in the country. He had no way of knowing what her movements here would be…unless he guessed that she would want to come to Rolbos – which is farfetched. But he knew about the loyalty between Boggel and Mary, so he kidnaps Boggel to use as bait. He wants to lay his hands on Mary, see? If he wanted Mary to come to him, he only had to make it known hat Boggel was in his care.

“Now why would a person do that?” She pauses dramatically, a cynical smile hovering on her lips. “Why land an aeroplane here – at night – take all the risks, and steal our Boggel? Only to get Mary to come to him for a chat? Noooo, my friends. It’s because he needs something from Mary, that’s why. This man is so desperate to talk to Mary, that he hatches an evil, criminal plan to get her to come to him. Using Boggel is as brilliant as it is stupid. Brilliant, because the police would never have connected the disappearance of our barman with the return of a criminal from Rio. Stupid…because he obviously planned in haste – hence the aeroplane and the risks. This man knew about Mary, but didn’t know about her return until the last minute.

“We have two men she told us about. Fernandinho – as far as we know – is still locked up in Rio. And anyway, he would have known about her release. Didn’t she tell us that he took care of her in prison? No, he kept tabs on her and would have known.

“But Brutus? Now there’s a possibility. He got her involved in the first instance, didn’t he? He spent months dating her  – softening her up to be a courier – and I’m sure he knew as much about her as anybody ever did. He would, I’d guess, have known about Boggel…”

“Oh. My. Word.” Mary sits down heavily, ashen-faced and distraught. “Yes… I…I told him everything…”

They all start talking together when Dreyer storms in.

“You’re right, Gertruida! Brutus Malherbe has skipped. His parole officer reported him missing last night: he last visited Malherbe a week ago. And…that aeroplane, the Cessna? It was stolen from Lanseria the same day Mary landed in Cape Town. Malherbe’s home is five kilometres away from that airport…”

“Okay then.” Gertruida sits down next to Mary. “Suppose you tell us what Malherbe wants from you? What have you got that he wants so desperately? Come on, Mary, Boggel’s life may very well depend on you being honest with us?”

At this point Mary starts crying uncontrollably. Her life is a mess – always has been, always will be. And now she quite possibly have ruined Boggel’s life – if not all the people of this little town…