Monthly Archives: October 2012

To: The President, USA.

While the hurricane laboriously wrecks lives in America; determined on destruction and resolute in causing as much damage as possible; the people in Boggel’s Place are discussing ways of sympathising with the people in America. Destruction by water and snow and wind is something so far removed from their frame of reference, that they feel they should do something.

“We could send a telegram,” Servaas offers, “to tell them we are sorry they suffer so much.”

“And to whom do you send it? Do you know somebody over there?? As far as I know, you have to address it to a specific person.”  Vetfaan shakes his head. “No, we’ll have to think of something else.”

“But, if we don’t know anybody in New York, shouldn’t we just send it to the mayor?”

“New York is bigger than Upington, Servaas. They most probably have more than one mayor. Maybe we should send it to the President of the United States. At least we know they only have one.”

“Sure. And next week they have elections and then they get a new one. This telegram will take a long time to get there – my last one to Prieska took a day. A telegram to America will take at least a week, maybe more.” Vetfaan tries to sound well-informed; he looked America up in his old school atlas.

“We’ll send a letter then,” Boggel decides, “addressed to The Current President, USA. But we’ll have to be careful how we word it: they might have a Mormon as the next president.”

“That isn’t so bad – we’ve got one too.”

“There’s a difference between a Mormon and a moron, Vetfaan. Mormons are deeply religious people. But if Obama wins, we can simply write the way we feel, without worrying about big words and such.”

***

The aide in the Oval Office dumps the box with letters on the mousy secretary’s desk.  She has a small office at the end of the corridor and it is her task to sift through the masses of letters the president receives from all over the world. Most of these – especially lately – are letters of sympathy (about Sandy) or encouragement (with the elections).

She sighs. When she was offered a job at the White House, she had dreams of becoming the Presidential Spokesperson; somebody regularly seen on CNN and adored by an appreciating audience. Maybe, she fantasised, some oil-rich handsome man would arrive with flowers to whisk her away to his Dallas-style ranch.

That was twenty years ago. Presidents have come and gone, and she’s still the same mousy girl sorting out stupid letters the president would never see. Then, with the letters neatly organised in the Sympathy or Congratulations piles, she’d answer each and every one before printing them on the paper with the presidential signature and seal at the bottom of the page.

Letters from Cairo, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Mali … today’s pile is impressive. A gentleman in Nigeria is offering to sort out the USA’s debts with the massive funds he has discovered in one of their minister’s secret accounts. A woman in Vietnam tells the president that the recent storms in her country destroyed her chicken coop, and would the President be so kind as to send funds to help her rebuild it? There’s a letter from an Eskimo complaining about global warming, and what is the President going to do about the decreasing numbers of bears in his hunting ground?

It’s all so routine, ever so boring.

The brown envelope is the last in the pile. Addressed to: The Current President, USA in carefully hand-printed letters, it seems to have come from somewhere in Africa.

Dear Mr (or Mrs) President,

We write to you from a small village in the Kalahari. If you look carefully at the map of Africa, you’ll find us between Namibia and Botswana. It’s towards the South. We don’t have much water here and it gets a bit dusty when the wind blows.

We heard about the storm you call Sandy. Despite its name, it brought you rain and snow, two things we hardly ever hear about down here. However, we do know a lot about power failures, fire-engines that are too late and schools that close for all kinds of reasons. The hospital in Upington too, has to get by without electricity from time to time.

So we understand the hardship you must be enduring. That’s why we wrote. To say we’re sorry.

But we also have good news. You can drive on roads filled with potholes. If the schools don’t work, the kids can study at home – ours have to, often. All fires burn out eventually, even without a fire-engine nearby. And when the candles run out, you can collect firewood and have a braai. In fact, people seem to live quite comfortably if the government is busy with other things. Over here we are quite used to it.

So, Mr (or Mrs) President: take heart. We hope the storm is over by now and that you can once again concern yourself with the important things a president should do – like playing golf and talking to people about making money or even building a new mansion for your extended family.

Kind regards

The People of Rolbos.

She picks up the phone to contact Richard Quest , her contact at CNN.

“Where’s Rolbos?”

The line is silent for a while. “I dunno. Nowhere?”

Putting down the receiver, she crumbles the letter into the wastepaper basket.

“Some cranks,” she hisses.

Then she sets about writing an elaborate reply to the Nigerian gentleman. You never know…

Flashfiction: Sandy

“They’ve got a hurricane in America,” Gertruida says, because she knows everything, “called Sandy. They say it is a Frankenstorm.”

“Do they have deserts over there?” Vetfaan tries not to gape. “I thought the Kalahari is the only one.”

“That hurricane has nothing to do with sand, Vetfaan. It’s about winds, rain and snow.” She’s really trying to be patient.

“Then why call it Sandy? Shouldn’t it be Rainy, or Windy?”

“Hurricanes get girl-names, silly. You don’t get girls called Windy – they’ll never make it past high school with a name like that.” Gertruida sniggers at the thought. “Imagine introducing her to your parents: ‘Hi mom and dad, this is my new girlfriend. She’s Windy.’  It just won’t go down all that well.”

“I can’t understand the hype. What makes Sandy so special?” Lucinda is used to Mediterranean storms, but this one seems worse.

“It’s the warming of the Caribbean Sea, Lucinda. It is where tropical storms get born. But if it meets the unstable cold jet stream from the melting North Pole, it causes a situation where winds from the North and South crash into each other. The one is warm, the other cold.  And the energy released, is beyond comprehension. That’s Sandy.”

“Okay, I get it.” Vetfaan sits back with a satisfied grin. “It’s like Malema and Zuma. A lot of hot air gets met with a mass of cold-hearted political ambition. The result: a hurricane that disrupts lives, causes electrical shortages and drives people to leave the security of their homes. Schools get closed down, the economy suffers and people don’t work.”

Gertruida rolls her eyes. Sometimes she has to let go of the belief that her countrymen still hope for a better future.

“Vetfaan, we should think – and pray – for those folks in America. They’re facing Sandy. It’s real, you know?”

“And we’re facing our own hurricane, Gertruida. It’s called Bloody. Tell me: do they care?”

Kleinpiet’s Tree

Settling a new relationship in an old house can be quite a challenge. Where once Kleinpiet ruled his own roost with the faded photographs against the walls and the threadbare curtains in front of the dusty windows, he now discovers the value (and the torture) af a new broom sweeping out the old junk.

“I’ve asked Sammie to order material for curtains, Kleinpiet. You’ll like it. It’s got flowers and clouds on – just the right thing to liven up the bedroom.” He suppressed a groan – there was nothing wrong with the brownish chintz his grandmother had hung there. “And I’m getting new cutlery. That stuff in the drawer is ancient. I’d be ashamed to use the rusted teaspoons if we get visitors.” Those too, were his grandmother’s, and they worked perfectly to stir sugar in your coffee. Kleinpiet bit his tongue and forced a smile. “The new carpet…” It seemed as if nothing was good enough anymore: Kleinpiet considered suggesting building a new house, but because he knew she’d jump at the idea, he didn’t.

***

Jock, the old sheep dog, is well aware of the renewal taking place. He got a new bowl and real dog food for meals; something he despises. After a lifetime of eating the leftovers from the stews Nkosasana made every day, he finds the nutritious pellets rather tasteless, dry and hard to swallow. He finds Kleinpiet sitting on the back porch and presents his left ear to be scratched.

“Ja, Jock. It used to be the two of us, hey? Now a new wind is blowing and we’ll just have to ajust.”

Jock grunts his satisfaction as the lazy fingers work on the spot behind his ear. Then he sets off to relieve himself against the old orange tree.

“You have to make a doggy toilet, Kleinpiet.” Precilla pauses as she weeps the dust from below the stove. “We can’t have dog pee all over our garden.”

Kleinpiet sighs. “Yes dear. But that old tree never blossoms, so I suppose we’ll be okay. And Jock never does that over the tomatoes or the spinach. But I’ll talk to him; he’s a very sensible dog – I’m sure he’ll understand.”

“Th tree never blossoms? What good is it then? Shouldn’t you plant something that bears fruit every year? Having a barren orange tree is like having a tractor that doesn’t run – it’s not of much use, is it?”

“That tree was planted by my grandfather. He said he got a twig from old Mister Collins – the guy that ‘discovered’ the Kakamas Peach on the banks of the Orange River in the early 30’s. It gave a good harvest of peaches every year, but when my mother died, it stopped. My father said it was the shock of her death that caused it. With nobody to stew and can the peaches, the tree didn’t want to yield fruit any more. You know how old people are – they have an explanation for everything.”

“So you’re going to dig it up and replace it with a new one? Please, Kleinpiet? It’ll be nice to have fruit on the farm.”

Kleinpiet sighs. “Yes dear.”

***

In human terms, the tree is extremely old. The bark is gnarled and warped into rough patterns while the more superficial roots coarse (half-submerged in the ground) across the yard in the search for moisture. From the humble, original shoot, it has grown into a shady tree with long branches. Next to the trunk, a rusted chair has provided rest for several generations of men who needed to escape the hardship of domestic life. Now, Kleinpiet sags down on the seat as he looks up at the wide-spreading branches.

“You’ll have to go,” he tells the tree, “just like the photos in the hall and the old chairs on the stoep. I’m sorry.”

The wind rustles the green leafs, causing the smaller branches to sway sadly. I’ve been here much longer than you have. I’ve celebrated births and grieved with funerals. Young people courted under me – old men and women reflected on their lives beneath my branches. And now, after a lifetime of providing shelter and comfort, you want to kill me?

“I don’t suppose you’ll understand. It’s Precilla, you see? She’s even talking about revamping the bathroom. I mean – what’s wrong with the bathroom, for goodness’ sakes! It’s got a jug, a basin and the old galvanised bath – and it’s not rusted half as bad as she says. As for the outhouse – it’s perfectly functional, if you ask me. But no. Suddenly everything must go. And who must do it? I’ll tell you: me! Kleinpiet do this. Kleinpiet do that. It’s like being in the army again.”

Listen. The tree has heard enough. This is the life you chose. You asked her to marry. You wanted her to come here. You should have known things would have to change. I’ve seen it all – when a man brings a woman to this place, things change. But me – I didn’t choose this place. I was brought here, made to grow here. Nobody asked me whether I liked it here. And when last did you prune or water me, anyway? You simply accepted me as part of the farm and left me to my own devices. Your grandfather…now that man was different. He cut away all the dead and unnecessary branches every year. He was also the last one to fertilise the ground around me…and he watered my roots regularly, Did you do it? No! You never cared as long as you had shade. You … neglected me.

“Life is funny, isn’t it?” Kleinpiet’s thoughts stray in all kinds of directions as he sits in the shade, completely oblivious of the tree. “You get used to stuff. I mean, I’ve lived in this house all my life, and never even noticed the carpets or the blankets or the curtains or whatever. They were there, and that was good enough. Now suddenly, everything looks old and worn. When did that happen? How does it happen?”

One day at a time, that’s how. You become conditioned to accept things the way they are. Over time, you lose perspective. I’ve seen it happen to children, to cars, to relationships. Humans don’t pay much attention to detail once they’ve become used to things.  Now we trees, well, we shed our leaves once a year, then we start all over again. Every season is a new season, and we have to adapt to those. Humans don’t do it. They get born and then they die. Two big seasons: life and death. And in between, you simply ignore changes. It’s sad. Then, when somebody dies, the rest of you wake up for a while, promising yourselves that you’d pay more attention to life. Of course, it never lasts.

“Now look at this tree.” Kleinpiet looks up at the branches. “Once upon a time it bore fruit. Then it stopped. Maybe love is like that as well. Young love blossoms and seems so pretty. After a while, the wonder stops. The branches are bare. Where there was once an abundance of fruit, nothing is left.”

Just like me. Nobody cared any more. My blossoms dried up. My fruit is gone.

“Kleinpiet! What are you doing out there, all by yourself?” Precilla crinkles her brow in mock anger. “Come in here, I’ve made you some coffee.”

He gets up obediently to shuffle his way to the kitchen.

There you go. Chastened into a new life of senselessness. You’ll stop feeling, get used to the new order, and accept that as the new definition of happiness. Then you’ll stop bearing fruit and then they chop you off. Happily ever after? Not if you go gently down the slope towards oblivion.

Kleinpiet stops to stare at the tree.  Why does he suddenly think of a forgotten poem – learnt in school – so many years ago? Dylan Thomas it was: Do not go gentle into the night… and Rage, rage against the dying of the light….

“Precilla, I’m not going to cut down that tree,” he says with sudden clarity. “I’ll plant others. We’ll have an orchard. But that tree stays.”

“But…”

“No. Some things are worth keeping.  I love you. But … that tree is part of who I am. I grew up under that tree. I played there. My mother rocked me to sleep under it. I cannot just axe it down. I’ll put a new bench under it and plant a few flowers – you’ll see: it’ll be lovely once more.”

***

They fix up the house within a week. The new curtains, carpets, furniture – it all makes the house look rather new and attractive. Kleinpiet has to admit that his wife brought in a breath of fresh air into the old home as they sip a well-deserved Cactus at the end of the day.

“You’ll never become used to me, will you, Kleinpiet? I mean, lose the fascination? It’ll be so sad if you do.” Precilla rests her head against his shoulder. Being married is great, but what if…? She remembers the heartbreaks of her youth, the break-ups, the loneliness. This time, she has decided, she’ll have to be much more aware, much more careful, in the relationship. She’s seen the way Kleinpiet sulks lately and she’s worried about it. “I do so much want to make you happy…”

Kleinpiet hugs her with a smile. “Love is enjoying the shade without expecting the fruit,” he says.”And … I found a few blossoms on the old peach tree today. I think it is trying to tell us something.”

 

Shades of Forgiveness

Editorial, Upington Post.

The emotional scenes outside court this week, spoke volumes. As the two convicted men were taken to prison, the crowd outside the courthouse displayed a spectrum of reactions.

“They deserve to be hanged,” a bereaved old man shouted. His son was one of the victims. “They murdered my son and killed my faith. I have nothing to live for anymore.”

A woman who refused to be identified, sat on the pavement, crying softly. “The tall one is the father of my son. I never thought he was involved with something like this. My life is ruined – I have nothing left.”

Off to one side, a jeering group of youths chanted the old ANC slogan, One settler, one bullet, cheering as the bewildered two men got into the police van. Not far away from them, a television crew filmed their performance for the SABC. The producer urged the cameraman nearer, but was horrified when a youth grabbed the camera and ran off with it.

The two men however, remained silent. During the hearing, both pleaded not guilty, blaming their crimes as a legacy of Apartheid. During cross-examination, it was evident that – although they claimed a political motive for their attacks – neither man could explain why a policy that became extinct twenty years ago, should be the motive for their murders.

As the van drove off, the lawyers for the state and the defence were seen heading to the Oasis Casino, after shaking hands.

In The Upington Post’s opinion, justice was served. Sadly, that is all that happened during the trial. The huge rifts in our society will need much more than a court case to heal. The crime was punished but the question remains: how to you reprove the polarisation in our community?

Oudoom’s sermon.

“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us. You all know the verse, and we all pray it at times. Yet, while we expect God to forgive us, we are rather reluctant to keep our part of the bargain. Have we not all sinned?

“Yet, John teaches us that He is true: if we confess our sins, He will forgive us.

“And that, my Brothers and Sisters, is the key. Confessing. If you don’t acknowledge our wrongs, He can’t forgive us. And confessing without remorse is not confessing – you have to admit your transgression … and be sorry about it.  Once you’ve  told yourself and those you’ve harmed that you’re truly, truly sorry, you may hope for forgiveness.

“So forgiveness starts with you, not with God. It’s not something you can demand. It’s not there for the asking or the taking. We can’t go on strike until God relents and tells us its okay, we are forgiven. We have to admit first, showing true repentance, before His grace will cover our sins.

“And that is true for our everyday transgressions.  Nobody will forgive you if you don’t have the courage to tell them you’re sorry. Think about it: if you feel you are wronged and the perpetrator simply laughs at you – won’t you feel cheated? Won’t you feel hatred? And won’t you want revenge? But if that person comes to you with genuine regret in his heart – won’t that start the healing process we call forgiveness?”

Boggel’s Place

“I’m sorry for those family members. Did you see the old man who lost his son? He wept through the entire case. He’s a broken man, I can tell you.” Sammie attended the proceedings in Upington and kept Rolbos informed about the case. “And there were others – mothers, wives, sons and daughters. Something like this will leave a permanent scar in anybody’s life. It can’t heal.”

“You’re right – and you’re wrong,” Gertruida pats him on the back to show she doesn’t want an argument. “The scar will remain – but healing will follow. People talk about closure, and they attain that in different ways. Some will feel that justice took its course and they must now close the book. Others will seek solace in faith and religion, believing in Divine justice – that God will sort the perpetrators out in some way. Some individuals will blame politics and direct their anger and sorrow at the government – allowing themselves an outlet for their emotion. Whatever they do – these men and women will find a way to distance themselves from the crimes they have suffered with. And with that distance between you and your suffering, you allow your immediate circumstances to dominate your thoughts. That’s called healing – or closure.

“People think forgiveness means you embrace the wrong that was done to you; that in the act of forgiving, you somehow tell everybody it’s okay. That’s wrong. You can never condone sin. You can’t convince yourself that the murder of your wife or child is okay. What you can do, is to reject the crime in no uncertain terms – but you still have to live with yourself afterwards. You cannot carry the burden of hate for the rest of your life.

“Forgiving doesn’t mean you forget. You can never forget. But you have to get closure. You have to experience healing.  You can be kind enough towards yourself and tell yourself that you are not going to carry the smouldering wrath of hate with you for the rest of your life. You can tell the criminal he’s not important enough to occupy your mind all the time. You can accept that something horrible happened but that it’s not going to rule your thoughts.

“The ultimate form of revenge is forgiveness. That is closure. That is healing.”

Upington Prison

“Hai, Bru, we’re going to be here a long time.” The taller one stares at the small window of the cell. “We’re going to be old men when we get out of here.”

“Oh, shut up!” The smaller Bru is angry. Spending a lifetime in jail was not what he planned for. “I saw that other guy in here – the one we teamed up with for that farm near Vosburg. He’s planning an escape. He wants us to join him.”

“No, Bru. Don’t talk like that. We did wrong. We got punished. I want a new start – even if it’ll only happen when I’m an old man. I don’t want to be on the run for the rest of my life.”

Upington Post.

In a dramatic attempt to escape, two prisoners were killed when they crashed the police van they stole. The men apparently bribed a warden to get to the vehicle, after which they smashed through the security barriers at the prison. However, they lost control of the vehicle on the gravel road to Prieska when they tried to outrun the chasing vehicles. Both men were killed instantly when a tyre burst.

The police spokesman denied that the police shot at the wheels of the fleeing vehicle.

Upington Prison

“Hai, Pastor, thank you for coming. I need to talk to you.”

Oudoom seems uncomfortable in the confined space of the visitor’s room. Is this what this man has to live with for the next two decades? Looking into the pleading eyes of the tall man, he tries to relax. “It’s okay. Take your time. Lord knows, that’s all you’ve got.”

(Something to try: Replace the word “Pretend” with “Forgive” and “Pretending” with “Forgiving” (especially later in the song), and see what the song does for you..)

Crime and Forgiveness (Part 4)

“I don’t want a traditional wedding.” Precilla drops the bombshell after the third Cactus. “I know Oudoom will be upset, but the ceremony puts me off. I mean – why have a ceremony at all? And it’s not as if signing a register puts a seal on anything.”

Kleinpiet gapes at her. She can be quite strange if she wants to.

“Look, if one wants to be analytical: more than two-thirds of people who solemnly promise to be partners till death, eventually end up with a lawyer writing a letter to the spouse. That’s incredibly sad. So, my point is – getting married in church doesn’t guarantee a happy marriage. That’s why people all over the world draw up fancy contracts before they get married – in case it doesn’t work out. Now who, in their right minds, stands in front of a pulpit to swear about undying love – while there is a prenup in the drawer at home, in case somebody is lying? It doesn’t make sense.”

Kleinpiet takes a huge gulp of Cactus before saying anything. He’s already phoned Skelmsarel Swanepoel about a prenuptial agreement, and was waiting for the opportunity to arise to discuss it with Precilla. After all, his farm is worth a considerable amount of money – and she doesn’t have much to her name.

“Soo…what did you have in mind, Sweetie?”

“I thought we’d exchange vows in the desert – out there on your farm. Just the two of us. We can say what we feel in our hearts, promise whatever we feel is right, and declare ourselves to be married.”

“That’s not quite legal,” Gertruida says. “There’s got to be an officiating minister or magistrate – and witnesses. And it’s got to be recorded in Pretoria. Simply telling everybody you’re married doesn’t count. Even the President has to go though an elaborate ceremony every time he takes fancy to a new maiden. It’s the law.”

“That’s the point, Gertruida. People have made marriages cheap – worthless. And why? Because we’ve bogged weddings down in red tape. The more legislation you need to enforce something, the bigger the chance of failure. Every law leaves loopholes; and every loophole will find somebody and supply them with an excuse. No – I suppose its okay to legislate what marriage means, but you can’t legislate happiness. That’s something only you can decide: to be happy – or not. And if you really, really love somebody, you’ll aim for happiness.”

“This is so romantic, isn’t it, Boggle?” Lucinda pats Boggel’s hump. “To think you love somebody so much that you don’t need a ceremony to put on a show. In fact – you don’t need a show. You only need two people who love each other dearly.”

“Somebody will have to tell Oudoom. He’s been brushing up on the wedding ceremony – it’s been years since he married anybody. He can recite the funeral-thing without even glancing at the book; but he says he forgotten the marriage-story.” Vetfaan smiles wryly. “I often wonder how much value one can attach to a recited set of words. I mean – even at funerals – Oudoom just says the words. Bla-bla-fishpaste and let’s remember the dearly loved departed.  It’s just a silly set of words to tell everybody the Church recognises somebody isn’t going to tithe any more. For what? You’re right, Lucinda. It’s all a show.”

“Well, God knows if you love somebody. Or if you’re dead. I’m sure He doesn’t need a recitation to convince Him you’re married or stopped breathing. But … we need those ceremonies to make things official. You’re married. You’re dead. That sort of thing.” Judge signals for another beer. “Society needs these ceremonies to mark important events. In fact, without them, we’d be an extremely disorganised bunch of people. So, as far as I’m concerned, such ceremonies are more for the benefit of what we call civilised living, than anything else. We need State and Church to partner in these events, otherwise we’d have chaos.”

Precilla isn’t convinced. “Then what about people who have no state or church? There are millions living in deserts, forests, ice-bound countries and far-off places who live isolated lives. Life goes on without all the stuff we insist on. Babies get born and old people get buried and couples come together – without a priest or a magistrate in sight. You’re saying somebody can’t be dead if you don’t have papers to prove it. I’m saying it doesn’t matter what the documents say.”

 

***

On that Saturday, at dawn, Kleinpiet and Precilla walk to the crest of the low hill behind his cottage. He’s dressed in his everyday-clothes – the way she’ll see him every day as he works on the farm, or visits Boggel’s Place. She’s wearing her customary jeans and blouse, but she did compromise with some flowers in her hair.

They keep it simple. Kneeling in the soft sand – still cool from the night’s chill – each asks the same question. Do you promise? Three words, in an open-ended question. And, when both answered Yes, they kiss and watch the sun rise over the veld.

Kleinpiet is amazed at the emotion that wells up inside him. Sure, a church service with all the friends would have been great; and yes, it would have been wonderful to hear a blessing from Oudoom … but this – this – is so much more, so very sacred, so special. Closing his eyes, he feels a unity he’s never experienced before – Precilla, the veld, peace – it all seems to seep into his being to become one within his mind.

She doesn’t want the moment to end. She wants Kleinpiet at her side; just like this; forever. This is exactly what she wanted: a silent vow to spend the rest of her life in harmony with the man she loves.

The sound of a straining motor disturbs their reverie. Then, like a creature rising from the deep, the lorry from Kalahari Vervoer appears from below the hill, grinding and gnashing over the uneven surface towards them.

“What the….” But before Kleinpiet can figure it out, the lorry stops and Lucinda hops out. She rushes to the back, where she opens the huge doors.

They’re all there. Oudoom and Servaas and Gertruida and old Marco and Vetfaan and Sammie and Judge and even Vrede. Beaming broadly, Desmond Kruiper and his family follows – bringing little Nelson with them.

And there, in the early morning sun and surrounded by happy faces, Precilla and Kleinpiet fill in the register Oudoom has brought along. The townsfolk carry wood and coolboxes from the lorry to start the fire for the braai, while Boggel makes sure everybody has a glass of ice-cold Cactus in hand.

“We thought we’d have a quiet little ceremony…” Kleinpiet smiles his protest, but he knows it’s hopeless. Their wedding isn’t just an occasion for the two of them –  it’s something for the entire town.

Precilla holds a finger in front of her lips. “No, Kleinpiet, it’s exactly right. We get married and they celebrate – it’s a massive compliment.”

And so they discover that marriage isn’t just an exchange of words between two people – it’s a statement to society; a declaration of joy and beauty – one that should be celebrated in style.

And that, they did.

Later, much later, Precilla whispers: “I don’t have to go home.”

And Kleinpiet says the three words that mean everything: “You are home.”

Crime and Forgiveness (Part 3)

 In the months leading up to the trial, Precilla and Kleinpiet find that adoption isn’t as easy as it sounds. Sersant Dreyer gave them a clearance certificate from the police without any hassle, but the process of having to go for psychometric tests, the appearance before a panel of social workers and the visit by the authorities to inspect Kleinpiet’s home seemed to take ages.

BabyNelson, during this time at least, was completely unaware of proceedings. His grandmother welcomed the visit by Kleinpiet and Precilla after the telephone call and tried to put on a brave face when they arrived at her shack.

“I have six children to look after,” she complained, “and only my old-age pension to buy food with. My daughter, Precious, lost her job at the Wimpy because they retrenched some staff and she wasn’t needed any more – she went to Keimoes to work on a farm there. And the no-good man she wanted to marry – he’s in jail awaiting trial; I hear he was involved in a number of farm attacks.

“Now Precious – that one has only given me trouble. Always with the wrong man, always drinking and promising me money – which never comes. Hai! I am an old woman. Do I deserve this?”

Kleinpiet explained why they are there. At first her reaction was that he must have been joking. No, he told her, they’re serious. See, Precilla was shot…and he told her the sad tale of the loss Precilla must live with. Now we can’t have children of our own, understand? And when the baby’s father was caught – sleeping in the house – was that not a sign? Why would a couple who’d love children, have their path crossed by a baby with no future? Is it not the right thing to do, to see the circumstances for what they are? Was it not fate that brought them together? How else would they have known to come to her, the grandmother, had the father not stolen the bottle of peach brandy? Surely that was the reason?

The old woman asked them to come back a week later. This time they were met by a whole delegation of older people, all crammed into the tiny square formed by the cardboard walls of the shack.

“I am Desmond Kruiper. I am the oldest relative, the grandfather of the mother,” and ancient talking skeleton informed them. “I know you, Mister Kleinpiet. I knew your father as well. The Kalahari has no secrets for us – we know who lives here. We know who loves this world as much as we do. We know who treats the Kalahari well – and who does not.” He allowed the words to sink in before continuing. “And you, Mister Kleinpiet, have been good to us. You provide work. You pay salaries. And you’re fair – which is more than I can say about a few farmers in the district. So – we’ve decided to say yes. If you want to take little Nelson and help him grow to be a man, we can not hold him back.”

Precilla started crying at that point. Kleinpiet put a protective arm around her shoulders and gave her a hug. The woman in the shack – despite the cramped space – started ululating. The sound was deafening.

“But …” Desmond held up a restraining hand and waited for silence. “Nelson must keep his name. Kruiper. He will be Nelson Kruiper and not get other names. And he must be brought up with our values in mind. Too many children today grow up with all these new things. They sit in front of the television. They play with gadgets we don’t understand. They don’t listen to old stories and don’t care about their tradition. That is a problem.

“How can you become a man if you don’t stand on the shoulders of your forefathers? If you don’t know who you are? Or if you despise your past? I see the children in Upington; they wear strange clothes and sit and type in their phones all day – as if they are a new generation. That’s wrong – you’re an extension of the older generation, that’s what. If you want to be a new generation, you throw away your heritage and your culture. And culture, your own, unique culture, is who you are.

“So, mister Kleinpiet, we welcome the offer to help little Nelson. Only: he may never forget that he is San, he is Bushman, he belongs in the Kalahari.”

Kleinpiet stood up and formally thanked them for being there, and expressed his gratitude for their consent. Then: “…but we shall need help. I am a white man, with a white heritage and white stories. How can I tell Bushman stories if I know so few? How can I teach Nelson to dance, to track, to understand the veld like you do? I’ll need help.”

Desmond Kruiper sat back as a huge Cheshire-smile spread across his wrinkled face. “I knew you were the right man. Let me tell you a story.

“Mantis, the Moon, is the man who incurs the wrath of the Sun. Every day – every day – the Sun’s rays strike away bits of Mantis, and it grows smaller and smaller. [i] Eventually, when there is almost nothing left, nothing we can see, it implores the Sun to spare it – for his children’s sake. That’s when the Sun relents, and the Moon gradually grows to be Full again, to be a father to his children in the Kalahari.

“Mantis did nothing wrong to deserve the wrath of the Sun – yet the Sun tried to kill Mantis. And it was only mercy and pity that allowed Mantis to be a father to his children again. This is what is happening here. We Bushmen lived peacefully in the veld, until people came and slowly killed us all, until almost nothing is left. Now little Nelson has a chance to grow. He may become big. He may become strong. He will be the one who brings us little bits together to be whole again.”

Kleinpiet knew enough of the Bushman way of explaining things to understand exactly what Desmond was telling him.

“But you’ll help us, won’t you? Come to the farm when Nelson is big enough –  to teach him your ways?”

And Desmond saw the bits of the scattered tribe slowly merging to be Full again, and he nodded happily.

***

Rolbos celebrated the homecoming of Nelson. Boggel had set up a small crib next to his cushion below the counter, and here Vrede met the new addition to the town. Gertruida knitted socks; Judge gave a soft, woollen blanket; Servaas found a teddy bear somewhere and Mevrou added an embroidered cushion to the heap of presents. Pete and Frans[ii] asked to be godparents. Ben Bitterbrak even donated a lamb for the festivities.

Oudoom sat down next to Kleinpiet with a sigh. “Now you two have a child, I suppose you’re going to get married?”

And Precilla, remembering the bits of Mantis coming together to be Full again, saw how little fragments of her – so scattered by the blows she had taken in life – started to merge together again. And she laughed and held Kleinpiet’s hand while he said yes, he supposed it was time.

That’s why Part 1 stated there are two types of criminals – both of them bad. But … the one type is associated with kalappenings, the other not. Like Gertruida explained – kalappenings[iii] have a way of working out for the better. It is a rare, rare phenomenon…


[i] From Specimens of Bushman Folklore, written by WHI Bleek and LC Lloyd. Publishedby George Allen & Co, London, 1911.

[iii] Kalappening (n). An event starting out as a calamity, ending in something good. Only in the Kalahari. Not commonly used because of most people accept tragedy as final and unable to bring peace or joy. One of Gertruida’s inventions.

Crime and Forgiveness (Part 2)

The two men are held in the little storage room behind the small police station. Well, it used to be a storage area, but nowadays – with nothing to store – it simply is a windowless room with empty shelves. When Sersant Dreyer opens the door, the men cower against the back wall. They know what they’ve done in the past and expect the worst.

Kleinpiet forces his way to the front, tries to remain calm and swallows hard before asking: “Why?”

A single word. It’ll take a lifetime to answer. It’s Gertruida who pushes him back and sits down in front of the two frightened men.

“My name is Gertruida. Listen – we don’t want to punish you; the law will do that. But; I understand that you two have done a few horrible things. I also understand you are now on your way to Upington, where they’ll compare your fingerprints with previous crime scenes. Then I also understand that justice will take its course and that the court will decide on your fate.” She allows the words to sink in. “We’re not here to convict you or force you to say anything – but we understand the evidence against the two of you is piling up.

“Whatever you’ve done in the past, is not for us to judge. We simply want you to tell us why you broke into Kleinpiet’s house…”

“The door was open…,” the bigger one interrupts, but Gertruida holds up a hand.

“Listen, we’re not that backward. We’re worried about our safety. About 10% of all white farmers in our country have been killed since 1994. That’s more than 3000! You had a gun.” This time it’s Vetfaan’s turn to interrupt. “If you guys are starting to target the isolated farms in the Kalahari, we want to know all about it. So that’s why we have to know what you were doing in Kleinpiet’s house.”

“We’re not talking.” The smaller one tries to sound defiant. “We have rights.”

“Yes you do.” They all turn around to stare in surprise at Judge. Is he defending them? “But you still have to get to Upington. Quite a lot can happen along the way. Accidents on these roads are not uncommon. Snakes can find their way into small, dark rooms. A puncture can cause unforeseen stops.”

For the sake of brevity, it can be stated that the snakes did it. When at last the men realised they were in no danger as long as they stuck to the truth, their story began to unfold.

Slowly at first, but later with progressive confidence, the men tell their story. It’s almost as if they’re glad to have an audience that is willing to listen. Gertruida’s placatory tone, coupled with her expert prompting, guide them through their confession. Sersant Dreyer tells them this discussion will have no bearing on their court case, no notes are kept and that (officially) nobody said nothing. The men smile at this – it’s the language of the underworld, and they understand it well.

Precilla brings coffee as they talk about the unbearable poverty in Zimbabwe that caused them to flee their home country. They talk about hijacking, trafficking, climbing the crime ladder as their reputations grew. Eventually they meet the men-behind-the-scenes and get recruited to be a hit squad that targets farms.

“But why?” Kleinpiet still struggles to get to terms with what he’s hearing. “Why chase farmers from their land? They’re providing food, housing, work … and you murder them?”

No, they don’t know. They talk about land distribution, blaming it all on Apartheid. “It’s a legacy of the past,” the bigger one says.

“And what is the legacy we leave for the future? Mismanaged politics, empty farms, famine? People losing jobs, families deprived of loved ones? You think that’s the answer for something that disappeared 20 years ago?”

The smaller one breaks down at this point, saying they’re only doing what they were told to do. “We’re just surviving, that’s all. Maybe my son will have a better life…”

“You have a son?” This is the first time he mentioned it.

Yes, he tells them. A two-month old boy, in Upington. The mother used to work at the same Wimpy where he found work for a few months while they gathered information about farms in the area.. “We would have married, but I didn’t have the lobola. I thought – if I could get enough money…” By this time the man choked up and was unable to continue.

***

“Oudoom was right – you feel better if you forgive the bastards.” Kleinpiet sits down at the counter as Sersant Dreyer’s police van leaves a trail of dust on the road towards Grootdrink.

“At least they said they’re sorry. That makes a difference, as well.” Vetfaan orders a round of drinks. “And we only lost a bottle of peach brandy. Can you imagine what those guys are carrying with them? A lifetime of crime – taking what isn’t yours. And then the knowledge you killed innocent men, women and children. Lord knows, the law is going to come down on them with a thump.”

“It won’t help,” Servaas says in a sad voice. “They’re not the only criminals involved. There are bigger fish behind their actions – and those guys will never be caught or punished. These guys are only the foot soldiers; the generals use them as disposable instruments.”

A little later, Precilla sits down next to Kleinpiet. “Bru gave me this number. This is where his baby stays – with the grandmother. He asked that I must phone.” Small-girl voice again, pleading the unasked question.

Kleinpiet sits back to look at Precilla as the fragments of conversations over the weekend falls into place. I can’t have children… If we get married, we’ll adopt, won’t we?… Are you sure it’s all right Kleinpiet – I mean, I can’t… I love you so much, Kleinpiet. So much…

Suddenly, clear as a bell, he hears the real question, sees the desire in her eyes.

Well, won’t that be quite something to shake up the community!

“No! You’re not going to phone.” He watches her lips begin to tremble, before taking her into his arms. “We will.”

Crime and Forgiveness (Part 1)

In South Africa there are two types of criminals. Both of them are bad. The two men waiting for Kleinpiet in the old homestead planned his murder to perfection –and they represent the one type.

As soon as he walked into the house, they’d overpower him, bind him with the cable ties they always bring along, and convince him to tell them where the keys to the safe are. They’ve done it many times before – and it always worked.

But, things always sound easier when you plan ahead next to a fire in the veld. There’s something about the flickering flame and the crackle of small twigs catching fire that seems to smooth over the rough spots, especially if you’re tired and desperate. And then there’s the unforeseen – those tiny and seemingly insignificant factors that have a way of sinking even the Titanic. Gertruida calls them kalappenings – something between a calamity and a happening you only get out here in the Kalahari. When, for instance, Vetfaan tripped over Vrede, sprained his ankle but still managed not to spill his beer, Gertruida said that was a perfect example: bad things don’t necessarily only have bad results.

So Kleinpiet could not have foreseen that his life would be saved by the bottles of peach brandy he and Vetfaan exchange every Christmas. It’s the last two bottles of the original stock brewed by the legendary Kalahari Mac – a man who wrote several books in the early 1900’s about life and times in the Northern Cape. These two bottles are priceless – a tangible connection to the wild pioneering days that began all of this.

This year, Kleinpiet got the unlabeled bottle, while Vetfaan has the privilege of exhibiting the one with the quaint picture of a Gemsbok on. At Christmas time, they’d wrap them carefully, exchange bottles, and talk about the day they will uncork the ancient brew – knowing they’d never do it, anyway.

Kleinpiet, as usual, put the bottle on the mantelpiece where it rests until the next exchange. This is where the two men found it after they pushed open the front door. And this is where Kleinpiet found them after he returned from Rolbos. Not even the harsh lives the two men had led could have prepared them for this: the ultimate in pre-terminal intoxication by the century-old brandy made from yellow cling-peaches and honey. Completely oblivious and definitely scoring high on the Glascow Coma Chart, Kleinpiet had absolutely no difficulty in tying them up with their own cable ties before fetching Sersant Dreyer.

Of course the whole town came. Breaking and Entering may be considered a minor crime, but the loss of the peach brandy was unforgivable.

***

“They’ve woken up this morning,” Sersant Dreyer informs the group in Boggel’s Place. “If punishment must fit the crime, I’d think they had enough, already. Even after last year’s wool-cheque party, I’ve never seen eyes as bloodshot or heads so visibly throbbing from a hangover.”

Servaas shakes his head: the mere thought of that hangover still makes him want to take another Grand-pa.

“Now, don’t you go all soft on them! Not only did they gobble down the most precious of brandies in the Northern Cape; now I have to actually go out and buy a present for Vetfaan this year. And what about the ID documents you found in their bag? Or the gun they had?”

Dreyer holds up a hand, like a traffic cop would. “No, don’t you worry. I’ve sent all the information to Upington, and they’re checking. It seems these two might be part of a gang that terrorises isolated farms. Some of the ID’s are connected to various attacks, and the gun was stolen last year in Gauteng. The chaps at HQ are quite interested – they want me to take them through to Upington. If all the evidence tie up, these two men are in some serious trouble.”

“I still can’t believe you almost gave them a lift o town.” Precilla points an angry finger at Kleinpiet. “You must be more careful, Kleinpiet. You can’t trust everybody these days.”

“Ja, I know. I hate to think what could have happened – but I felt sorry for them, sitting out there in the middle of nowhere. It seems so wrong to distrust everybody; it’s not the way we live out here. Remember old Jim Reeves: He sang A stranger’s just a friend you do not know… That’s how I grew up. I don’t think I want to change that.”

“Oudoom is going to see them today,” Gertruida informs them – because she knows everything. “A bit of religion will do them the world of good. And he says we must forgive those that trespass against us.”

“I think we must bring them here. I want them to look us in the eye and tell us why they do these things. Sure, Oudoom says we must forgive those that do wrong – but how can you do that if you don’t know them or understand them? If you forgive a deed, then you’re condoning sin. But if you forgive the person, then you can reject the deed without rejecting the person. That, I think, is what forgiveness is all about.” Servaas is in elder-mode again.

“Ja, isn’t that Biblical? If a man confesses his sins, you can forgive him without praising what he did. What do you think, Sersant? We don’t want to have a kangaroo court; we simply want to give them the opportunity to tell us why. Legal justice isn’t our job, it belongs n the court. But…closure isn’t something we’d get by reading what the judge said in Johannesburg, it’s about what we carry in our hearts. And remember, it was a very old brandy – it’s not just any old plonk they drank out.” Vetfaan is still upset about the loss.

“That’s true.” They look up in surprise as Judge walks in. He’s been writing his memoirs lately, and doesn’t visit Boggel’s Place as often as he did in the beginning. “I’ve been going through my notes and realised that legal justice doesn’t correlate with moral justice. Oh, I’ve handed down many, many sentences in my life; you know how common murder is in our country. Still, I always felt for the families of the victims. A life-long jail sentence for the criminal doesn’t make it easier for those who have lost a father or a mother – or any family for that matter. On one or two occasions, the murderer had the guts to talk to the family and ask for their forgiveness. These families, in my opinion, still had the loss and the grief to deal with, but they found it easier once they faced the criminal and heard the two most important words: I’m sorry.”

Sersant Dreyer shifts his feet uncomfortably. “I’m not sure. I mean, they are in custody and haven’t been tried yet. Legally they’re not criminals…yet. And to drag them over here against their will, may only jeopardise the State’s case. You know how these human rights guys carry on these days. They’ll say it infringes on the rights of these men.”

“Listen,” Kleinpiet is suddenly at Dreyer’s side, “let me tell you about rights. I had a bottle of brandy. That was my right. I also have the right to share that brandy with whoever I choose. Don’t forget: I handed them to you, unharmed. I could have taken them out into the desert, and nobody would have known. I considered that, you know? Only…then I would have had to tell everybody I drank the peach brandy to explain what happened to the bottle, and Vetfaan would have been in his right to kill me. Now that part – the lying and my sudden demise – didn’t sound right to me. So, as the victim of the crime, I think those men should talk to us. “

“Well, legally they are in the care of the state now, and nobody has the right to interfere with the course of justice. The only way they are allowed out – in whatever way – may be on humanitarian grounds, and then it has to be under supervision and strict surveillance. So. Dreyer is right. You have no right to see them, talk to them, make them confess to anything…or say I’m sorry. They’re innocent until proven guilty, remember? How can they apologise if they’re found innocent, anyway?”

“But, dammit Judge, I found them in my house. They drank the peach brandy…”

“Purely circumstantial, my dear Watson. They may have sought shelter. The bottle was empty, but can you prove they drank it? Maybe they had some cheap wine on the way, and simply passed out? Maybe somebody else drank the peach brandy, realised the danger of being caught, and ran away? And can you prove, beyond any doubt, that the bottle was full when they entered the house? These are questions for the court to answer; we’re simply allowing the course of justice. They’ll have their day in court and only then will it be settled. We can’t take justice in our own hands.”

“Maybe not. But anybody can see they’re guilty as sin.”

“Not is South Africa, my friend. Here criminals have more rights than honest citizens. Tell me: if you’re sick, is it the State’s responsibility to look after you and pay your bill? Or when you have specific dietary preferences, say on religious grounds, does the State deliver Halaal or Kosher to your doorstep? No man, you’re the State’s source of income, nothing more. Your taxes are used to make the life of criminals more comfortable – and the crooks have no obligation to you.

“Who, I may ask you, gets punished when a man gets sent to jail for 25 years? Sure, he sits there for the time, but society; after having been robbed, raped and murdered; have to pay for his upkeep. Double whammy – the criminal gets you to pay twice: first by taking what is yours, and later by your forced contribution to his upkeep.

“And remember: they can study in jail. Their votes count just as much as ordinary, law-abiding men and women’s votes. They have sport, craft, apprenticeships, school – you name it, and they have it. And all those privileges cost money – your money. No – we send a man to prison – and we are the ones getting punished.”

Gertruida nods. “Okay, we get the picture.” She’s silent for a while, hesitates, then goes on: “They’re allowed visitors, aren’t they? I mean, before you take them to Upington.”

“Well…yes.” Dreyer is cautious – Gertruida is cooking up some plan, he can see it. “Lawyers, pastors – there’s no problem with that.”

“Then we’ll go and have a chat about faith with them. Right now. Come on, guys, we have to hurry if Sersant still wants to take the men to Upington.”

(To be continued…)

And the World looks on…

The two men have no names. Not real names, that is, like you do. Addressing each other simply as ‘Bru’ – which serves them quite nicely – they’ve long given up hope to be somebody; individuals with dreams of a future. Whenever they need a name, they use the first one that comes to mind, like Phillip or Lucky or Charles. Surnames, too, are disposable items. Today it may be Modise, tomorrow: Jacobs, and the day after…

Of course, this nameless existence is not of their own choosing. In fact, they know nothing else – and find it strange that some people have the luxury of a specific name that belongs to them. Even more fascinating is the ID Document that the Named Ones carry: it has a unique number and a personal photograph. Oh, they have several of these, of course, and it comes in handy when you look for a temporary job at the Wimpy in Kimberley of Upington. The original owners have no further interest in these papers, simply because ID documents serve only the living.

No, their journey through the Southern tip of Africa started long before they were born. While the Matabeles and the Shonas and the Whites and the Colonialists and the Communists and the Terrorists and the Freedom Fighters squared up for control of Rhodesia, the self-righteous folk of the world agreed on a democracy. It’s only fair, they said, that each man had an equal vote. How else, did they ask, can you ever have peace?

But in Africa, you don’t choose a headman. Much like the family Windsor, you come to power because your family is of royal blood. And what the chief says, you do. Full stop. Unless you kill him, that is, then you’re in charge; unless again somebody sneaks up on you on some deserted footpath one dark and stormy night. So despite the world’s delight at the arrival of democracy in Africa, Africa still does what the chieftain – or leader says. It’s a tradition, you see? Part on the way things are done over here.

Canaan Banana got to reign in Zimbabwe as the first president in 1980. He was a religious man, a minister in his Church, married to one lady and had four children. The world sighed with satisfaction. See, they told themselves, it works just as well over there as in the UK or the USA. Put a competent man in charge and forget about the problem of inequality. One must remember that in America, the problem with Martin Luther King and Malcolm X was handled quite differently. Mugabe took over his ceremonial role and sidetracked the able politician to be a diplomat to the African Union and a theologian of note..

In 1997 charges of sodomy was brought against this statesman. House staff, former soldiers, even members of sport teams (he was a referee, as well) testified against him and he was found guilty. His wife refused to believe the accusations, believing them to be politically motivated. Defrocked and humiliated, he died in 2003. Mugabe – who welcomed his jail sentence – said at his funeral he was a “rare gift to the nation”.

Without the moral voice of Canaan, Zimbabwe was doomed to follow the whims of it’s leader. The old chief was gone, the new one ruled. Not Mbeki, nor Zuma, dared to oppose him. Africa returned to it’s old laws.

The role of Mugabe need not be analysed here to fully understand the mindset of the two nameless men around the little fire in the lee of Bokkop. The situation in Zimbabwe is well-know (and astutely ignored) by the world at large. What does one do when the work dries up? When there is no home to return to? When you have to pay billions of worthless Dollars to buy a bread on the rare occasion it is available? When crime is rife and walking to your shelter at night is more dangerous than crossing the border to South Africa (even though you have to traverse the Kruger National Park with it’s predators and carnivores; not to mention the army and police patrolling the borders)?

South Africa is, after all, the land of milk and honey. They dig for gold there. Unimaginable wealth awaits in the diamond mines, the platinum mines, even – if you’re desperate – in the coal mines’

But once safely through the barriers of animals and law-enforcers; the dream became a nightmare. Nobody told the two men about the xenophobia, the almost-60% jobless population, the rampant corruption, the sky-high AIDS figures and the massive wave of crime and murder that rolls from the one coast of South Africa to the other. Instead of chasing their dream, they became fugitives from reality.

They started small, like most do. Snatching a bread from a street vendor is relatively safe. Running drugs for the Nigerians pays much more. Hijacking vehicles on deserted farm roads was next. Attacking isolated farms can be lucrative. Once you have a weapon, the world is your oyster.

“Bru,” the smaller one says, “one day we will be caught. They’ll send us back.”

Slowly turning the chicken once more, his companion smiles. “Sure. We’ve got no papers – they don’t know where we are from. In fact, what will they do? Charge us with armed robbery or murder? Well, then, so be it. There’s no corporal punishment, no death penalty over here. If they send us back, we’ll be heroes – we’ll tell Mugabe we acted against the land-grabbing colonialists. If they jail us…so what? We’ll have three square meals, medical care, a bed and a roof. We can even study and become lawyers. Some social service will listen to our tales of woe, and see to it we get Christmas presents.”

The smaller man guffaws. “Bru, you make it sound good. Let’s go to that little town and give ourselves up.” He gets a stern look from his mate.

“And you are going to tell those cadres in Gauteng we defected? They’ll kill us, man! They specifically told us to come here and now we can report back. Those guys hold all the cards, you know that. Eventually we’ll have no colonialists out of here, and the land will belong to Africa once more. Then – they promised this, remember – we’ll have houses and ground of our own. No – we have no choice. We’ll go on as long as they send us to find out what’s happening in the rural areas. And remember – except for stealing stuff here and there – we’re not doing anything wrong. The murders they’ll never pin on us.  It’s the guys they send after us that do the dirty work.”

They look up in alarm as they see a bakkie approaching the hill.

***

“Look, there’s smoke over there!” Precilla points. “Maybe you should have a look?”

They are returning to Rolbos after a quite pleasant weekend. After the Springbok stampede, Kleinpiet made a breakfast of scrambled eggs (complaining that one chicken must have been taken by a lynx during the night). After that they spent a lazy day on the stoep, talking about relationships, trust and respect.

Kleinpiet stops the vehicle and walks over to the thin line of smoke against Bokkop. Finding the two men there, he stops at a respectful distance to greet them.

“I’m going into town,” he says, “if you guys need a lift.”

“No.” The bigger man gets up uncomfortably. “We’ll walk. Grootdrink is still far.”

Kleinpiet shrugs and walks back to the bakkie.

“Who are they?” Precilla is still uneasy after the scare of the stampede.

“Vagrants. Guys looking for work. There are a lot of them these days.”

***

Back at the fire, the men finish the chicken.

“This is too easy,” the bigger one sniggers.

His companion throws sand on the remaining embers. “Come,” he orders, “we have work to do.”

The chief, according to Africa’s rules, has to be followed.

Kleinpiet’s Dilemma

“You could have told me it was only a herd of antelope,” Precilla fixes Kleinpiet with an accusing stare, “and stopped me from worrying so much. Anything could have happened out there.”

Kleinpiet doesn’t know whether he must feel guilty or proud. Sure, he did leave in a rush; but he thought she was sleeping soundly. Then again: if she worries about him that means she does care. It’s a comforting thought.

“I’m sorry. I really thought you were sleeping and didn’t want to disturb you…”

“That’s why you blew away half your ammunition to scare the living daylights out of me and poor Jock? That’s clever, Kleinpiet. Real clever.”

Some people react like that if they get a fright. The scare triggers an Angry Button somewhere in the brain and unleashes the pent-up emotions. It’s a healthy reaction to the scaree, but hugely uncomfortable for the scarer. Kleinpiet shuffles his feet and mumbles he’s sorry. He cuts such a pathetic figure that the Angry Button flips to ‘off’ and the Laughing Circuit activates.

“But I did appreciate Jock’s presense, I can tell you. He’s really a lovable dog – saw that I was scared and upset and simply kept me company. Sometimes that’s all a girl needs. That, and a good lock on the front door. This open-house situation doesn’t work for me.”

Ten minutes later Kleinpiet makes a piece of wood fit into the hooks he screwed into the door. “See: a real old-fashioned bolt. Now nobody can come in.”

Precilla isn’t impressed. “So how do you lock – or unlock – it from the outside? Say you’re going to town or something. This contraption only works from the inside; that’s not good enough.”

Kleinpiet sighs. That door hasn’t been locked since the house was built by his grandfather.

“The times have changed, Kleinpiet,” using a softer tone, she tries to make him understand. “In your grandfather’s time crime was rare. They still hanged rapists and murderers – and let’s not debate that one, either. Nowadays about 10% of criminals get caught, and only a fraction of them end up in jail. Dockets get lost, lawyers probe into the cracks of the fine detail of laws, and some laws are even so badly written, it’s a joke. Not so long ago they found a child molester guilty of abuse, but then the court suddenly realised that the law was well written – but there was no punishment stipulated. The message to the masses is clear: go ahead and plunder. Even if you get caught, the chances are that the prosecuting authority will slip up somewhere and you’ll go free.

“And then there were reports that the average investigator has to deal with between 90 and 150 murder dockets, in person! Now, how on earth can one man investigate 100 murder dockets at a time?

“No, Kleinpiet, farmers like you have to be more careful. Get proper security, please?” She’s pleading now. “A gun, an old dog and a radio isn’t going to help much if you get targeted. Farmers are an easy target; like in Zimbabwe people tend to view land-grabs and farm attacks differently to, say, an attack on the Libyan embassy.  The world turns a blind eye.

“Please, Kleinpiet…?”*

***

Precilla’s plea is much more than a request to make the home safe. Bolting it from the inside is only part of the solution – of course. It’s got to be opened from the outside as well. Maybe it’s a subconscious wish, or maybe she’s just being practical – but she actually gave him the recipe for success for their relationship. Try to lock it in, isn’t the answer. Making it safe – and accessible – is. It’s a delicate balance few people manage to get right… Some people deserve the right to enter into the safe environment of the friendship (or love); while others have no right to violate that harmony.

Kleinpiet’s easiest task will be his front door. How to manage the rest, will be his biggest challenge. Times have changed: the threat to relationships is much bigger (and more intense) than when Grandpa Piet built that house. Then you got married and lived happily ever after. Nowadays you have to be able to lock the door…from both sides. On the inside the bolt is made from trust. The outer latch works with respect…