The Man in the Mirror

(The final episode)

Credit: itbdigital.com

Credit: itbdigital.com

Gertruida says mirrors changed the way we look at ourselves – in fact, mirrors changed society. Of course, this statement may seem superficial and childishly logical, but as usual the truth cuts deeper than one would think. She says the cosmetic industry would never have developed without mirrors. Fashion houses wouldn’t exist. Nobody would have opened a beauty salon and  King C. Gillette wouldn’t have patented the first safety razor in 1904. Mirrors, Gertruida says, are responsible for us taking ourselves so seriously these days. Without them, life would have been much simpler. Admittedly, she does concede that mirrors don’t lie and that a good look in the mirror helps us to be honest with ourselves.

These thoughts aren’t cruising around in Diksarel’s mind when he stares at the mirror in the luxurious bathroom in Minister Vilakazi’s home. He’s just listened to the most remarkable little speech Miriam had made – a speech that will change his life…

***

“I have to say something,” Miriam Plaatjies said, as Maxwell Mogale turned to go. The ferret of a man hesitated, turned around and raised an eyebrow.

Miriam told the story of her father and Meneer Labuschagne. All of it, without wasting words.

“You see, Mister Maxwell, I find it strange that we – the children of our forefathers – have been made to meet like this. I ask myself: why? Why would fate cause Diksarel to come here? Is the reason maybe that we should make the future worse than the past? Or is there a chance that something good may come from all this? I mean, let’s look at it carefully.”

Then, ticking off the facts on her fingers, she mentions the invoice, Kneehigh’s invovement, Diksarel being abandoned on the airport, the two revenue agents, the wild taxi-ride, and the role Mama Sarah played.

“What, Mister Maxwell, are the chances of a white man arriving at Mama Sarah’s? And then Mama listened to him and directed him to the one man who knows my story so well: Reverend Joseph, And it’s me who called the minister and he in turn, called you. It’s me who brought Diksarel here and that’s why you know the story.” Almost out of breath, Miriam paused a second. “Don’t you think, Mister Maxwell, that there’s a bigger picture here? isn’t it wonderful that Diksarel finally knows the truth about his father? That Jason and him could come to terms with each other? That through this set of…coincidences, you are presented with an opportunity like you’ve never had before?

“And, Mister Maxwell…do you really think Diksarel is a criminal? Would a thief have done what he did? No, sir, I don’t think so. I think Diksarel was coerced into a position to fit in with the real criminals’ plans. RD+P took a bribe, They needed a scapegoat. They framed an innocent man by using the oldest trick in the book – using a sexy lady. He shouldn’t have destroyed that invoice, that’s true. But to punish him and let the real criminals walk free, isn’t what I call justice.”

Then she proceeded to tell Maxwell why she felt so strongly about this.

“I had a dream a few weeks ago, Mister Maxwell. My father was sitting in his old chair and he called me over. He showed me our old home – the one in Upington. I could see it’s run-down and dilapidated. Then he gave me some paint and a very small brush. That’s when I woke up.

“And now I understand. If we wanted to restore our spiritual homes, our very souls, we can only do so by small acts. Little things. Like listening to a stranger and then discovering how much you have in common. Like speaking up in defence of the innocent. By refusing to remain silent in the face of injustice. By reaching out to others in their hours of need – or by stopping to blame the past. I think he tried to show me how all of us can live in peace if we just do those small things that come our way. There’s plenty of paint – but each of us only has a little brush.

“A small brush, Mister Maxwell, is all I have. My father told me to renovate our family’s home – the spiritual one – and that’s what I’m doing. I think he wanted to help Meneer Labuschagne and to help us all understand each other better. In fact, I think he was telling me the past…is past. The only way we can fix our house – our country – is by doing little things for each other. He didn’t give me a new house or a new life or a new past. He gave me a small brush…”

By the time she finished speaking, Maxwell Mogale had sat down again, waving the hovering butler away. He then stared at Diksarel – a long and penetrating look with those ferrety eyes.  Slow seconds ticked by in the complete silence that followed.

“A small brush…,” he breathed after a while, “is all that we all have…”

***

Diksarel turns from the mirror. He’s tired (when last did he sleep?) but still elated by the surprise of it all. Does fate organise such extraordinary events? Does God sometimes reach down from heaven to touch the life of a lonely recluse, a man without hope? And does He use ordinary men and women to work His miracles? Taxi drivers, shebeen owners, reverends and ministers?

Shaking his head, he walks out to get into Maxwell Mogale’s car.

“I’m ready,” he says as he settles in the seat.

***

Over the next few months, the newspapers had a field day reporting on the court case. Maxwell Mogale was brilliant. Bit by bit he convinced the judge about the way RD+P defrauded the government of millions of Rands. His evidence – stretching back fifteen years – revealed bribery and corruption on an unprecedented scale, involving a multitude of government officials, ministers and even a president. One set of evidence fitted into another, and another, and another, to finally paint a picture the public could only gasp at.

The star of the case, some papers agreed, was the state’s major witness – a seemingly unremarkable clerk who used to work in a dusty little office and who discovered an invoice that led to it all.

***

The sun shines brightly when they emerge from the imposing building Diksarel came to know so well in the time he had to spend there. It is, he hopes, the last time he’ll have to be near the High Court in Cape Town.

“You’re a free man now.” The ferrety man flashes a rare smile. “What will you do now?”

“I’m not sure. Mister Shewell has retired and a new man bought his business. I’ve heard he appointed a new clerk, so technically I’m unemployed. I suppose I’ll have to look for a new job.”

“You could help Miriam with her book, you know? Minister Vilakazi told me about it. The two of you could really put something very special together, if you want?”

Diksarel gives it some thought. Yes, that would have been nice.

“I have to live, Maxwell. I have to make some money. Writing books isn’t a lucrative job, you know.”

This time Maxwell is the one who hesitates.

“Diksarel?”

“Yes?”

“Let me paint a hypothetical situation for you. Let’s imagine…” He pauses dramatically. At the foot of the stairs, a black BMW is waiting impatiently for him. Diksarel sees a traffic warden approaching the vehicle with a determined look. ” Let’s imagine some thieves try to frame a man – using a lot of stolen money to make it look real. They deposit that money into their victim’s account. Things don’t work out the way they planned. They go to jail. The state is overjoyed at getting rid of so many corrupt officials. Justice has been served.”

Below them, the driver and the traffic cop are involved in a heated argument. The driver keeps pointing at Maxwell.

“Now. suppose that money remains in the intended victim’s account. Just say, for instance, that the powers-that-be considers it as an apt payment for a brave man. Would you not say that is the most wonderful way to close this case? Hypothetically, I mean.”

By now, the traffic warden has started climbing the stairs towards them, obviously furious at the situation.

“Anyway, I have to go. Can’t stand around here chatting to you all day. That cop is going to give me a ticket if I hang around much longer. Goodbye, Mister Labuschagne.”

***

A year later…

Diksarel stares at the mirror in his hotel room. He’ll have to have a haircut. The book launch is tomorrow. Like Miriam, he’ll want to look his best.

The Man and the Chimney

(The story starts here)

chimneyBefore chimneys, Gertruida once said, mankind could not develop beyond just making fire. According to her, caves and huts and shelters filled with smoke would have rendered mankind useless – with sinusitis, rhinitis, conjunctivitis and asthma. But once they discovered chimneys, they started making progress and the wheel was invented. That, and swords and spears and knives and other things they used to kill each other with. Progress, she says, always has a price.

She says the same thing happens in our minds. If we don’t find an outlet for the results of anger or frustration or guilt, the fumes of resentment makes us blind and suffocates clear thinking.  It threatens our lives. And as usual, the little crowd in Boggel’s Place nodded happily, hoping she’d pay for the next round. Did they understand? Of course not…they just didn’t get the picture.

But, in Diksarel’s current frame of mind, he’d paint a picture of a home with smoke billowing out beneath the closed door.The fires of guilt, fear and uncertainty inside his head are so overwhelming, he doesn’t even notice the tray laden with snacks the butler brings in. What is the minister up to? How is he, Diksarel, ever going to get out of this mess? Yet, despite these worrying thoughts, there is the relief of knowing the truth about his father. Maybe even a long jail sentence is worth it all…

A long hour drags by before Minister Vilakazi returns. He’s talking rapidly into his cellphone – saying yes yes, I know, but something urgent has come up, as he ushers a ferret-faced short man into the room. Diksarel cringes: he recognises trouble when he sees it. This short man with his eyes set too far apart on the narrow face, with his claw-like hands and the peaked chin, seems the unforgiving type, When he’s introduced as Maxwell Mogale, Diksarel feels like running away.

Maxwell is a household name all over the country. A fearless fighter for justice, his appointment as the Head of the National Prosecuting Authority surprised many. His reputation rests on the fact that, despite his looks (or maybe because of it), he has had unprecedented success at prosecuting and convicting several government officials for bribery, corruption and various other crimes. He was responsible, for instance, for getting rid of the National Commissioner of Police. But he didn’t spend his time with government officials only; he’s prosecuted mine bosses, trade union leaders, tax evaders, drug lords… Nobody is immune to his scrutiny.

Maxwell, like the minister, doesn’t waste time. Diksarel has to tell his story all over again. This time, Maxwell takes notes and asks questions. Diksarel feels drained when, at last, the questions stop.

“Mmmm…” Maxwell scratches a patch of skull behind the pointed ears. “Yesss….”

“I’m sorry. Really, I am. I shouldn’t have…”

“Oh shut up!” The fire in Maxwell’s two small eyes makes Diksarel swallow the rest of the sentence. “You have destroyed evidence. You colluded with another person to defraud the the department of Internal Revenue. You agreed, for a certain payment, to transgress the basic rules of auditing. You were prepared to supply the authorities with a false report. And then you planned to flee the country.” The eyes swivel upwards, as if these things are just too much to contemplate. “You know what? I know about this case. I know about everything. And I know about RD+P.” He sighs. “In fact, they have contacted my office about you. Watertight case of a young clerk trying to pull a fast one. Makes a wrong inscription, diddles the figures, withdraws a large sum…”

“But I didn’t! I never withdrew money!”

“That’s not what they say, my friend.” The last word is hissed, devoid of any sense of kindness. “They have proof. A series of forged cheques. Signed, according to their handwriting analyst, by you. Twenty-odd million Rands over the last six months.”

Suddenly, it is so simple to understand. Of course! RD+P is in the process of framing him! The excess money in their account – the bribe they took to drop the case of the defective housing in Upington – disappeared from their books. And who better to blame than the man who discovered the fraud in the first instance? So, fabricate some evidence, get some smart-ass lawyer to lead this evidence in court, and he, Diksarel, will have no chance. Kneehigh will have her own version of what transpired, sealing his fate.

Diksarel flops down on one of the minister’s plush chairs, head in his hands. “That’s not true…,” he sobs.

“Maybe. Maybe not.” For the first time Maxwell’s tone softens. “In my line of work, I have to be extremely circumspect. All cases have two sides, and often they have more. But I do have a responsibility. A complaint has been lodged against you. That means I have to act. I can’t ignore the fact that I have here – you – a fugitive who was planning to leave the country after stealing millions from a reputable law firm…”

“I didn’t! I didn’t! I never touched money from any client. I swear!”

“That’s what they all say.” The steely note is back in Maxwell’s voice. “But your bank account shows a balance no auditing clerk should have. More than twenty million? Where, my friend, did you get the money?”

“Wha…?” Diksarel feels faint. Of course! To make the case against him, RD+P transferred money to his account, making him the obvious thief!

“The way I see it, there’s not much to discuss.I came here because I respect Vilakazi’s judgement. But now…I think it’s time for you to accompany me to the nearest police station.”

***

Gertruida’s chimney-theory is true. Anybody who has been so wrongfully accused (and some who were not), will tell you the worst moment is that instant when you know the game is up. The whistle blew, The penalty shoot-out is over and the scoreline stands. Nothing will change it now.

Diksarel sits, sobbing, as Vilakazi gets up to call the huge butler over. The small, ferrety man isn’t going to carry this burly clerk to his vehicle. No sir. The butler will have to do it.

The fire inside Diksarel’s mind flares up, causing the smoke to blind and suffocate him. Framed. Guilty. No way out. Jail…

This is when Mama Sarah gets up. “Wait,” she says softy as the butler bends to pick up the crying man. “I want to say something…”

The Man at the Soccer Game

 

Credit: pageresource.com

Credit: pageresource.com

(This story starts here...)

Gertruida says men can be so childish. Diksarel and Jason had this stupid little altercation to prove to each other that they’re proud of their past – despite the many shortcomings. After all, how much responsibility can you take for the mistakes of previous generations? Yet, despite the stupidity of it all, they both needed a gesture, a symbol, of the anger they have felt about what had transpired so many years ago. Shame has no sell-by-date, neither has guilt. No matter how we try to camouflage those feelings, they remain there – lurking – in the subconscious.

Now, each with a beer in the hand, they smile sheepishly at each other. Jason knows that Diksarel is as responsible for his family’s plight, as he is to their’s.

“You’ll have to do something about that Katie Leggings – Kneehigh, as you call her – to get out of this mess.” Mama Sarah says again. “Once the Revenue Service is looking for you, they won’t stop.”

Diksarel nods. It was that woman who started it all with the invoice she added to the pile of documents Diksarel received from RD+P…by mistake. After that came the cover-up and the promise of a holiday in the Maldives…and then the real chaos started. Sure, he was glad to learn the truth behind his father’s actions and saddened to realise how much the old man must have suffered – but his current situation begged some sort of solution. He can’t hide for the rest of his life, like his father did.

“My friend, the economist!” Mirriam sits up abruptly. “He’ll know what to do.” She looks up at Mama Sarah, who nods approvingly. “I’ll phone him.”

***

When you play stone-scissors-paper, you may find that the stone is always superior. It blunts the scissors every time. Mostly, when you want to see a minister, you can’t cut through the red tape. If, however, you added loyalty to the game, you’ll end up winning every time. It is better than stones, scissors or any paper you’d like to mention.

Miriam’s friend turns out to be the minister of finance, an old friend of the Plaatjies family. When her father left Upington in disgrace, he was the only person who supported the shamed family. More than most, he understood the nefarious ways of the Bureau of State Security. He hated the agency after they sent him a letter-bomb to his address in London. it was opened by his nephew…

“That Labuschagne’s son? The one you mentioned in that book you wanted to publish? Really?” Diksarel hears the incredulous note in the man’s voice after Miriam switched on the speaker-phone. “Sure. Come on over. I’m watching the soccer. You at Mama Sarah’s? I’ll send my driver.”

Diksarel shakes his head. Can this day become even more bizarre? Two beers later, still amazed, he watches as the new BMW stops in the potholed street.

“Come,” Miriam orders, “we’ll all go.”

***

The mansion in Bishop’s Court is unlike anything Diksarel has ever seen. The imposing gate. The rolling green lawns. The manicured rose garden. The heavy oak front door. Even a butler who shooed away the security guard…

“Doctor is waiting for you,” the giant in a tux tells them, “in the media room.”

Doctor Andrew Vilakazi barely glances at them when they enter the cinema-like room with the massive big-screen television dominating the decor. Plush seats and curtained walls create the impression of a modern-day theatre, while the commentary on the game emits from state-of-the-art speakers.

“We’ll talk later. The second half has only started. Can you believe the score? 5 – 0! It’s unheard of.” Vilakazi doesn’t get up to greet them. He’s absorbed in the game. Last night’s meetings prevented him from watching the game live and he couldn’t believe the headlines this morning. This is one game he simply has to see for himself. Diksarel notices how a tear streaks down the doctor’s cheek to fall on his yellow Brazil T-shirt. “Damn!, I don’t believe it.”

Soccer, Gertruida says, is like that stone-paper-scissors game. If you can outguess your opponent you’re home free. But, she adds, luck and skill often are more important than guessing what the opponents will do. And then, according to Gertruida, one must understand that psychology plays a major role. Once the mountain becomes to steep to climb, the spirit starts staggering around because there isn’t enough oxygen. When she says these things, the patrons in Boggel’s Place nod sagely simply because they have no idea what she’s talking about.

They sit quietly through the second half, watching Brazil being demolished in the most clinical fashion. The goal at the end brings out a wintery smile on Vilakazi’s face. At last the final whistle puts a stop to the carnage and the doctor switches the set off with a sigh.

“Damn!” Vilakazi is obviously upset.Then, composing himself quickly, he turns to his guests. “I have to be at my office – told them I had a family crisis to watch this game.” His smile broadens, lighting up his face. “Now, what is it all about. Keep it short, please.”

Somehow, Diksarel finds it easy to talk to this man. At about sixty, his eyes are alert and he nods from time to time to indicate he understands. Vilakazi, he realises, is one of those rare men who doesn’t have to open his mouth to seem clever. And he is an excellent listener, concentrating on every word.

Only when Diksarel gets to the end of his tale of woe, Vilakazi allows his eyes to wander over to Miriam and Mama Sarah.

“This is true?”

The two women nod in unison.

“And we restored honour to our families,” Jason adds proudly.

“Well, it’s a mess.” Vilakazi doesn’t waste words in his response. “I’m not sure what I can do, but I have to leave now. Make yourselves comfortable, I’ll get back to you.”

It is strange – and unfair – that people have this idea that African politicians never suffer from insomnia during meetings. Or, that they aspire to positions where they don’t have to do anything. Doctor Vilakazi is a case in point. He might be a fan of the greatest team to suffer such humiliation – ever – but, like the rest of us, he loves sport because it brings out the best in us. Win or lose, the result is something that should encourage us to rise above our disappointments and victories. Reality, in the end, teaches us about humility…and ambition.

That’s why Vilakazi leaves the room in deep thought. Life, he thinks, is a soccer game. You enjoy the spectacular moments of victory, but then – sometimes – you have to swallow the bitterness of defeat. Miriam’s family had to accept a shameful scoreline for so long, as had the Labuschagnes. To help them win their game would be difficult – if not impossible, But like that brave young man, Oscar, never gave up and scored Brazil’s only goal late in the game (knowing even this effort won’t make a difference), so too, Life expects us to keep on playing until the final whistle blows.

He barks an address at his driver.

“But, sir, the meeting? Your office called…”

“Later. This is important.”

Inside the mansion, the four settle down in the easy chairs, wondering what their host is planning; while on the pitch, the players line up after the penalty kick is awarded. One last chance. Just one…

The Man, Breathless…

Credit: gettyimages.com

Credit: gettyimages.com

(Follows on the previous posts)

People react to fright (and guilty consciences) in different ways, Gertruida is fond of saying. Mostly, their first thought is about their own safety. That is normal, she says. Once preservation of the self is ensured, attention to others become a reality.

Maybe Reverend Joseph should have thought about that. Or perhaps it’s just as well he didn’t. But when Miriam’s son appears in the doorway, Joseph has no idea of what is about to happen.

“Yes, what about the grudge?”

The three of them (Miriam, Joseph and an even more surprised – if emotional – Diksarel) turn to the door of the church, where a young man hissed the words. Despite not being quite himself, Diksarel recognises the youth as the one who brought him here from the sheneen. An alarm bell goes off in his mind – did Reverend Joseph not say he is dangerous…or something?

“You,” the newcomer points an accusing finger at Diksarel, “have ruined my family. You caused my grandfather and my mother – and me – untold misery…”

“Wait son!” Miriam is now the one pleading. “You cannot hold this white man responsible for what his father had done. Please…”

“No, Mom. Sorry. It is a matter of honour. His father, my grandfather.” He takes a deep breath, obviously trying to calm down. “Listen, White Man, if you don’t have a sense of heritage, or a sense of pride…well, that’s your bloody problem, isn’t it? But let me tell you: the Plaatjies family – all of us – aren’t like that. We are proud of who we are. Of what we are. It’s not about you and me, it’s about being a Plaatjies or being a Labuschagne. It’s our blood, White Man, crying out for justice.”

While Miriam’s son speaks, he walks down the narrow aisle slowly, ending up chest-to chest with Diksarel, who has retreated back to the little platform. He now has nowhere to go but stand and face his adversary.

“Stop it, Jason. This is a church.” Joseph’s remark is ignored.

“So.” The young man – Jason, Miriam’s son – takes off his jacket. “We’ll settle it here. Now. Let the Labuschagnes of the world know: we, the Plaatjies family, aren’t trash.”

The blow to Diksarel’s middle is unexpected, despite the preceding threatening words. He doubles up, gasping for breath.

“NOOO!” Miriam jumps forward to stop her son, but he brushes her off.

“This is somethng I wanted to do for a long time, Mom. For years and years I had to hear how one man wrecked our name. How this man – a white man – made my grandfather leave the church. And how your good name got dragged through the mud. You can’t expect me to take that lying down, for heaven’s sake!”

Diksarel fights to get his breath back. Now – almost back on his knees again – he holds up a hand.

“You….bastard! You think…only about…yourself.” Diksarel gasps for breath while he speaks. A white-hot anger is raging inside him – it is as if the decades’ worth of humiliation and being gossiped about, has burnt through the wall that has kept it at bay for all these years. “You life? Your family?” He coughs, straightening up. “You have no idea – not even vaguely – what I had to live through. And why? I’ll tell you why – your family. Your dear grandfather. Your mother.”

Diksarel feels the fear leaving him. Feels how the humiliation and rejection he had to endure all his life, rise from the ashes of his self-respect, Damn it! If this…this…Jason wanted a showdown, then bring it on! He, Diksarel Labsuchagne, has had enough. If this has to be the last chapter of his life, then let him have the courage to face it honourably. He raises his fists, ready to take on the younger man.

Conflict, Gertruida always says, is a useless exercise. She says it’s okay to have a clash of interests or a difference of opinion, but in the end conflict doesn’t settle anything. That’s how grudges are created and thoughts of revenge surface. The mightiest weapon in any conflict, she maintains, is a sense of humour.

Jason has never met Gertruida, but his reaction would have pleased her. Suddenly his scowl of anger is replaced by a brilliant smile.

“There. My family’s honour is restored. Now it’s your turn. Hit me.”

Reverend Joseph bursts out laughing in relief. Miriam sits down with a thump on the creaking pew. Diksarel stares at Jason in disbelief. What the hell…?

“Come on, White Man! Your family caused disaster in mine. I took revenge. My family wreaked havoc in yours. Now…be a man!”

Slowly, gingerly, Diksarel raises his fist. Jason doesn’t flinch. Then, when his hand is shoulder-high, he opens his fist, and lays the softest of slaps on Jason’s cheek.

“That all?” Jason is still smiling.

“Yeah. I’m not angry at you. Or your mother. Or your grandfather. I’m angry at society…and I can’t hit them all, can I?”

Yet, despite his words, Diksarel experiences a sense of relief. Here he is, at the source of the burden he has had to carry all these years, and yes…he feels a strange sense of relief at facing it. This meeting and this confrontation was necessary to get the whole picture into perspective.

“Then we can all go to Mama Sarah’s again. The beer is on me.” Jason steps aside to allow his mother to lead the way. “When honour is restored, friends should have a drink together.”

Revenge, Gertruida sometimes quotes, is a dish best served cold. Even better, is getting rid of the leftovers of anger and bake a conciliation cake.

Mama Sarah is overjoyed when the four of them sit down in her shebeen. She won’t accept payment for the four Black Labels she puts down in front of them. Apparently she already knows exactly what transpired in the church. There are no secrets in a township…

“Um…,” she says, getting their attention.  When they look up at her, she beams back. “And now there’s the little question of little Miss Kneehigh, isn’t there…?”

It hits Diksarel harder than Jason did.

The Man with the Grudge

Credit: johnnyafrica.com

Credit: johnnyafrica.com

(follows on the previous posts)

Right then, just when Reverend Joseph stops talking, a woman appears in the doorway. Diksarel follows Joseph’s eyes to stare at her. Straight-backed, she stops to take a long, hard look at the two men at the front of the little church.

Gertruida says one shouldn’t feed a grudge. It keeps on growing, she says, until it devours the person filling the feeding trough. No matter how honourable or righteous the cause, the grudge will end up in a bigger catastrophe than the original wrong.

Diksarel experiences something like this when he recognises the face of the woman. She’s older – much older – of course. The lines on the face have multiplied and her hair is now speckled with grey – but her eyes remained the same. Sharp, penetrating eyes, unwavering in their stare, unashamed of who they belong to.

“You….?” Diksarel doesn’t know how to continue – the many words he wants to say seem to rush through his mind at the same time. This is, he realises, Miriam; the woman who led his father astray. Oh, everybody knew about her back then. Younger, more shapely, white teeth and the full lips. The one who didn’t dare come to town…afterwards…

“Careful what you say, White Man. You might regret it…” Joseph’s quiet words are lost on Diksarel.

The dam bursts. “Regret? Regret? You bring Miriam here, this…damn woman who crushed my life as if it were nothing? Who took away my mother and killed my father? Who…sucked the very life out of my youth to make me an outcast? What the hell will I regret?”

Reverend Joseph holds up a hand. “Slow down, will you?” When Diksarel opens his mouth to say more, Joseph tells him to shut up. “Stop it! How dare you condemn this woman? I’ve known her for years, and the only thing she talks about, is that…incident…back in Upington. Now the good Lord has delivered you here in this godforsaken township – and He’s done it with a purpose. And, oh yes! I know her story by heart by now. Word for word I can repeat it. But you? You know nothing. You think you now, but you don’t. Now shut up and listen.”

The rebuke leaves Diksarel speechless for a while, allowing Miriam to approach him.

“You dear boy.” Three words. Diksarel gapes at her. Dear boy…? “I need to speak to you…”

***

They all knew about Meneer Labuschagne, the white man who visited Pastor Plaatjies so often. At first it was assumed that this was one of those rare friendships between men of different colour (back then it didn’t happen so often), but soon the idea took hold: this man was a spy for one of the Apartheid organisations.  Plaatjies wasn’t a man to shy away from issues: his fiery sermons attest to that fact. So he confronted Meneer Labuschagne and everything came out.

“You see, ” her face crinkles in a smile, “your father wasn’t stupid. He knew the Nationalists were wrong. He understood the plight of my people. But he worked for an organisation which dictated his way of thinking – and although he didn’t like it, he couldn’t afford to disappoint his employers. Back then, you fitted in or were labelled as a traitor. And believe me: once you’ve gone against the government, your life was over.” She hesitates for a second. “Just like today, I suppose.”

“Well, he and Plaatjies talked and talked. About the past. About the present. About the future. About how Meneer Labuschagne couldn’t see a future in the policies of the day. About the bloodshed that was sure to follow. About so many things – and most of them were stone walls that stood n the way of a peaceful solution to the country’s tomorrows.”

By now, Miriam is seated next to Diksarel, who has fallen quiet.

“In the end, it was your father who supplied information to Pastor Plaatjies. He said he felt he had no choice. If he wanted to help the country, he couldn’t keep on destroying the little chance for success that still existed.”

“But the Natinalists had people everywhere. Even in the locations. And they learnt about your father’s actions and they made a plan.”

If ever there were people who ‘could make a plan’, then the agents of BOSS would be in the top ten of all times. From being instrumental in building South Africa’s atom bombs, to eliminating ‘undesired elements’, they had ways and means to manage a variety of problems.

Meneer Labuschagne was an embarrassment. That was the bottom line. When they recruited him, he seemed like an agent with a bright future. But, over time, he supplied less and less information – some of it obviously false. Add to that the secretly recorded telephone conversation in which Meneer Labuschagne warned Pastor Plaatjies about a police raid on the township, and the case against the white traitor was sealed. He had to go. They had several choices: get rid of him permanently…or simply destroy his career and his future.

“Killing him would have been merciful – and that is one thing those men didn’t do. Mercy wasn’t big in their thinking back then. So, what did they do? They conjured up an affair with Pastor Plaatjies’ daughter – me. Clever, hey? Meneer Labuschagne and a black political activist destroyed by one bit of misinformation. Bang! Just like that. All that was necessary, was to spread the gossip around a bit. A word here in a bar, there in a shebeen. And the next thing you know – everybody talks about it.”

Diksarel’s father didn’t deny it. In fact, he said nothing. To protest would have been useless, anyway. And, since he couldn’t admit to his double role – something that was even worse than having an affair – he remained silent. Plaatjies, too, couldn’t say much. Who’d listen to him, come to think about it? Knowing his telephone was tapped and the location crawled with informants, he tried – for a while – to continue being a pastor in his church.

“But it couldn’t work. As much as the news of the affair broke up your family, so it did for us. My father had to move to Soekmekaar, where he was employed as a social worker. His career in the church was over. He was powerless against the might of BOSS, you see? One more wrong move…and who knows what would have happened?” Miriam Plaatjies sighs. “They might as well have killed us too. Maybe they did…”

“So, my father…and you…? Didn’t do it? Have an affair?”

The laugh-crinkles around her eyes deepen. “No, White Man, we didn’t. Your father was check-mated into silence, forced to endure the gossip, even to the point of wrecking his marriage and your life. Pretty much the same happened to me. I could have denied it, of course. I even tried to, once or twice. But in those days the scent of the scandal was just too strong, too juicy, and the white community lapped it up. The power of BOSS…” She lets the unfinished sentence hang in the air.

“But my father told my mother about you…”

“Your mother. Hermiena Labuschagne. Née Botha. Daugther of the minister. Staunch supporter of the government of the day. Left Upington to stay in Cape Town. Met a man there, a government man, and settled in Mowbray. She said he had admitted it. I won’t ever know if that wasn’t just another lie. You won’t either, now both of them are dead.”

“How…how do you know all these things?”

Again the smile – more sympathetic now. “I did some research. You see, after 1994 I started writing a book. It wasn’t very good, but one of my father’s friends read it. He’s in government now, that friend. Economics and things like that. He said it was a story that needed to be told, but I had to tell both sides. I knew he had a point, of course, but I never wanted to see Upington again. Never! So I settled here and tried to help the community wherever I can. I met Reverend Joseph, here.” She leans over to give the clergyman a hug. “And now you’re here…”

Diksarel finds it difficult to swallow. After all these years… Suddenly, after all these years of feeding that animal inside him, he feels…free.

“About that grudge…?”

Diksarel acknowledges Joseph’s prompt with a nod. Then he shakes his head. Not now. He can’t speak now…

The Man in a Church

Credit: nj.com

Credit: nj.com

(Follows on the five previous posts)

Churches, Gerttruida is fond of saying, are often misunderstood. People go there to hear their sins are forgiven, and so often that is the only message they want to hear. And the pastors and reverends and priests have to keep an eye on the donations, so they have to get their flocks to keep on returning to hear the good news. That, Gertruida maintains, is the biggest blessing and the biggest curse of the modern-day church. If you don’t preach what your congregation wants to hear, you will have to return your brand-new BMW to the dealership. It’s become a game of numbers: a full church is a successful business.

Gertruida says that’s okay, and not a problem in itself. The issue is the message. Salvation is freely available, provided it is preceded by honest repentance and sorrow. It is in these few words many churches fail. Salvation isn’t a freeby the pastor hands out – it follows on a change of heart. People don’t want to hear that. They want to continue just the way they are, and get forgiveness every Sunday…

Admittedly, these thoughts doesn’t occupy Diksarel’s mind as he sits down in a front pew.  In fact, he’s a very worried man. Added to his previous woes, he now finds himself in a completely foreign environment.

Mama Sarah unsettled Diksarel with her questions. She wanted to know everything about him, his family, his work…and his problem. Then she left and he sat there, contemplating his impossible situation, until a dapper young man opened the door and asked (ordered) him to accompany him. Diksarel didn’t know whether to laugh or to pray when he asked, and the man told him they’re going to church.

It was a short walk through the township. The tin shacks, dilapidated wooden structures and cardboard homes flanked the dirty street where several mongrel dogs sniffed at him suspiciously. The people didn’t seem to pay attention, but Diksarel imagined a thousand eyes peering at him from hidden doorways and windows. Listless chickens squawked at him as he followed his guide, while a black cat scampered across the road, right in front of him. He tried to ignore the cat..

The ‘church’ was another surprise. Somehow Diksarel imagined a building with arched doorways and tinted windows. Instead, he was taken to a shed-like structure, no bigger than a lean-to, something you could park two small cars in. The front pew is a regulation church seat, but the rest of the space is occupied by a variety of chairs, boxes and crates which do duty as pews. In front – on a little platform – is a grandish, red chair and a small table. Diksarel can see some stars through the holes in the corrugated iron roof while his feet rest on the bare ground that serve as a floor.

Why did they bring him here? For some macabre ceremony, where they sacrificed sinners? If Diksarel wasn’t so scared, he would have cried… He ended up praying softly.

“Tell me again what you told Sister Sarah.” The booming voice stops Diksarel’s reverie. Surprised, Diksarel turns around to see who it belongs to.

The man is about his height, but twice his size. Like Mama Sarah, his face is round, making his nose and eyes appear too small and insignificant in the flat landscape between hairline and chin. The black coat barely makes it around the ample stomach, something the white shirt has given up on.

“W-w-who are you?”

“I’m the Right Reverend Joseph Mogatshe. Call me Joe. I’m the local preacher.” Apparently Reverend Joseph finds this funny as he punctuates his introduction with a guffaw. The coat holds up, despite the strain on its seams. “And you can talk to me, I’m harmless. Not like that young  man who brought you here. Not at all. I’d be very careful around him.” More laughter. “So tell me?” His eyes are suddenly steely-cold as he sits down heavily on the chair on the platform.

In for a penny…. Diksarel recounts the whole episode involving his fraud and Kneehigh’s involvement.

“No, not that part. The part about your father.” The folded fingers across the prominent middle drum out an impatient beat.

Ashamed, Diksarel has to tell it all again.

“So, your father was Philippus Johannes Labuschagne?”

The question catches Diksarel completely off-guard. At no point did anybody ask him his surname, and how the dickens did this man know his father’s names?

“I’m sorry.” For a second the steely eyes almost seem apologetic. “We went through your luggage. Found your ID in there, but not your passport – which I see you have in your top pocket. Of course, when I heard the story, I couldn’t believe it. But now…”

“I-I don’t understand?”

“Maybe you do. Maybe you don’t. That is almost of no consequence.” The tiny eyes peer at Diksarel through the slits between the round cheeks and smooth forehead. “But, you know, the Bible tells us a lot about the sins of the fathers. And your father, my friend, was a very active man on that front. He went to a lot of trouble to make life difficult for a lot of people.”

“B-but that’s not my fault?” By now Diksarel is convinced something horrible is about to happen. His father was an agent for the Bureau of State Security…and heaven knows: those men and women have a lot to answer for. Perhaps – in the era gone by – their actions could be justified as ways to secure a stable society; but in hindsight much of what they did was indefensible. “I mean, I was a small boy back then. Society punished us – the whole family – for what my father did. And to this day, I’m still suffering the results of his infidelity. I’m so ashamed…” He’s almost pleading now.

“HAH! You white folk with your strange ideas! You talk about your suffering as if it happened to you alone! Have you any inkling, just the vaguest impression, of what we had to go through? And your father, the uptight, upright upholder of Apartheid, he was part of it! And now you plead your shame? What about us?”

Diksarel can only shake his head How do you answer to this?

“I’m sorry…” It sounds lame.

“So am I. So are a lot of people. Well, so be it. It’s time for you to meet somebody. Somebody who has a very specific reason to come to terms with the past.” The smile on Joseph’s face is humourless. “Let the past meet the present…”

Gertruida is right (again). Salvation isn’t automatic. It requires a lot of soul-searching and even more honesty. Diksarel is about to discover both…

 

The Man in the Shebeen

Credit: ethesis.net

Credit: ethesis.net

(follows on the previous four posts)

Gertruida maintains – and she’s absolutely convinced she is right – that South Africa’s lasting contribution to the world of culture, is the magic you only find in our shebeens. Here you’ll find pantsula, kwaito, jazz and fistfights. Orators sweep up the population here, affairs are born (and die) in these bars. Singers and musicians take their first steps to fame under these corrugated iron roofs. Take Madison Garden, West End and Caesar’s Palace, roll them in one, and you have a shebeen. Yes, we do gamble here as well. And drink. A lot…

When the taxi shudders to a stop in front of Mama Sarah’s, Diksarel isn’t in the mood to contemplate the wisdom of Gertruida’s words. He is in a state of panic. The place looks…threatening.

He has a lot on his mind. The fraud Kneehigh seduced him into. The cancelled trip to his wildest fantasy. The disappointment of Kneehigh’s treachery. A massive guilty conscience. And now, on top of it all, the wild ride in the taxi and the prospect of more catastrophe to come as he gets out of the rickety vehicle to enter the tin shack housing the shebeen run by Mama Sarah.

“Go in.” Is there a commanding note to the taxi driver’s voice? Almost like the officer ordering the men to take aim at the blindfolded man against the wall? A shiver runs down Diksarel’s spine.

The shebeen is packed. When Diksarel steps – hesitantly and oh, so afraid – into the shack, the music and the drone of conversation ceases immediately. Many pairs of eyes (most of them bleary and bloodshot) turn to him. A white man? Here? Dressed like that?

But then Mama Sarah – a huge woman with a moon-face and an absolutely charming smile – comes to his rescue.

“And who did you bring today?” She asks the taxi driver.

“Eish, Mama, this man is in trouble. Money. Police. I thought you might want to talk to him. You know? With my usual commission at the end, of course.”

Mama Sarah finds this so funny, she has to sit down while she laughs.

By this time, Diksarel knows: he is being punished for his dishonesty. Sin begets sin. Wrong will create more wrong. And he, Diksarel, can only blame himself. These men and women are going to make him pay. Already his little suitcase seems to be missing…

“Come, White Man, let’s go somewhere quiet. Let me hear your story.” Mama Sarah wipes the tears from her eyes while still chuckling. Then she leads him to the back, where she has a tiny office. As she closes the door, Diksarel hears the music and the hum of voices resuming in the shebeen. The customers have a lot to talk about.

***

Mama Sarah wants to know it all. If Diksarel was more aware of her technique, he would have said she’s an expert interrogator. But, naturally, his mind is in such a turmoil that he simply cannot think of anything else than simply getting out of there. Almost without him realising it, he tells Mama Sarah everything.

Everything.

His youth. His mother leaving the house after his father’s affair in the location. The boring job at Mister Shewell’s, the fraud of RD+P and, of course, the story of the beautiful Kneehigh – the girl who led him so willingly astray.

“Interesting.” Mama Sarah stares at Diksarel for a long minute. “Now, tell me about your father again?”

Damn! Did he have to tell her about his father, the agent of the Bureau of State Security? Why did he do it? If Mama Sarah heard about how his father was an Apartheid agent, he can forget about surviving this ordeal.

“I…I’d rather not, Mama.” He seems to shrink in the wobbly chair she’d given him. Eventually, forcing his eyes upwards, he looks straight at her. “I’m ashamed.”

That much is true. His father’s affair – and his job – have ruined his life. At first it was the shame of the white-man-black-woman situation. Back then, society frowned upon such a union with such severity, that Diksarel was included in their rejection. Later, when the New South Africa dawned, people suddenly distanced themselves from anybody who had anything to do with BOSS or any of the other organs of the Nationalist’s regime. On both counts, Diksarel was cast out of society with a finality that made him the recluse he has turned into.

“It’s okay, boy.” It’s the first time a woman of colour called him ‘boy’. and Diksarel finds himself smiling despite the circumstances. “But tell me. I’m interested. It’s important.”

So Diksarel tells her. All of it. The way his father disappeared at night. The rumours of his visits to the location. The terrible confrontation between his mother and father after the gossip of his affair could not be ignored any longer. His mother leaving. His father’s escape to alcohol and his eventual death as a frail and demented skeleton.

“You telling me the truth, boy?”

“Yes.” Defeated, he stares at his sandals. He was supposed to walk on pearly white beaches with these sandals. Him…and Kneehigh.

“You wait here.” Mama Sarah gets up slowly, obviously deep in thought. At the door, she turns. “I want you to tell your story to somebody. It’ll take time. I’ll send in some food.” A thought strikes her. “Oh, and don’t try to leave. It’s not safe out there.”

Out there? Out where? Diksarel has no idea of where he is. He’s lost his suitcase. In his pocket he still has an aeroplane ticket for a flight that has long since departed.

“I’m screwed,” he tells the closed door…

The (White) Man in a (Black) Taxi

 

Credit: satransport.com

Credit: satransport.com

(Following on the three previous posts)

According to Gertruida, affordable travel always involves compromises. Forget about reclining seats and scrumptious snacks if you are on a budget tour. And you won’t find shapely stewardesses offering you drinks when your fare barely pays the petrol.

A case in point, she always says, is the South African taxi industry. Sure, you can order a stretch limo and pay for it with a wad of bills – but that’s not how it works over here. If you stand next to the road with a hand pointing upwards, you’ll hear the screeching of worn brake pads and the rattle of an ancient (if overloaded) minibus.

And then, my friend, you’re in for the ride of your life. Cheap (at a few Rands or so), that taxi will ignore red traffic lights, speed over railway crossings and ignore other vehicles until you are dropped, breathless, at your destination.

One day the F1 fraternity will stop looking at Germany or England for their next champion. We have thousands of taxi operators who are willing to push vehicles way beyond their abilities for a fraction of what they’re paying Lewis Hamilton. And believe me, our drivers will leave the so-called professionals gasping for breath. 

To get back to Diksarel…

With the bus tearing down on him, he froze for a second. Only a second. Then he jumped back to the safety of the sidewalk. The bus driver shouted something nasty. Diksarel did the same, raising his fingers in a rude gesture,

And a taxi stopped right next to him.

“Get in,” the man behind the wheel shouted, obviously in a hurry. Of all things you’d find in the New South Africa, only the taxi industry gets things done in a rush. They put the rest of the country to shame with their efficiency. So, mistaking Diksarel’s raised fist as an indication of his desire to be transported – correctly as it turned out – the driver didn’t want to waste time doing nothing. Time is money…

By this time, Diksarels mind was in overdrive. His guilty conscience, the disappointment of Kneehigh not showing up (or worse: possibly betraying him), and the ominous two men chasing him through the airport – these things scrambled his ability of logical thought. That’s why he didn’t hesitate – he got into that taxi.

‘Getting in’ – in this instance – involves squeezing his bulky frame into a vehicle carrying twenty people. Under usual circumstances, it shouldn’t carry more than eight. Maybe ten. At a stretch, twelve. But Diksarel, in whose head figures and numbers are so prominent – works out that he is the twenty-first person on board. 

This doesn’t seem to worry the other passengers at all. The driver’s helper – the one with the money bag – quickly relieved Diksarel of fifteen Rand, and directed him to the back seat (‘The best seat in the house, my Lanie’), where two well-endowed ladies shifted their ample bottoms a fraction to provide a little space for him. What follows will be the source of many a nightmare for the rest of Diksarel’s life.

He had an opportunity to glance backwards as the taxi roared off (no exhaust), to see Botha and Sithole stumble from the building to look around in confusion. They didn’t see him. That was, arguably, the only really great thing about his taxi-experience. 

The driver is something else. He is speaking on a cellphone all the time, whispering sweet nothings to some far-off mistress. At the same time he’s adjusting the volume on the CD-player and waving at other taxi drivers in the opposite lane. Changing gears required a deft of hand seldom seen outside Las Vegas, while he counted the money his helper handed over.

That’s when Diksarel closes his eyes. Does the man – at any time – touch the steering wheel? He doesn’t want to know.

“Where to?” The helper is shouting at him, and he has to open his eyes. Trying not to notice the crazy way the driver is weaving through the traffic, Diksarel shakes his head.

“Where are you going?” He asks timidly.

The helper finds this very funny. “Abie, here” he points at a white-painted face in front, “is going to do his mime-thing at the Waterfront. Suzie,” a thin, good-looking girl, “wants to be dropped at the Mount Nelson. She’s meeting a German client. And over there is Fingers, our pickpocket. He works in Green Market Square. We, my Lanie, go everywhere. What about you?”

Twenty faces turn to him, including the driver’s. He’ll have to answer fast to avoid a massive pile-up. Honesty, he thinks, is maybe the best policy. No time to think up some plausible lie…

“I’m not sure. Er… I’m running away from some men.” Heightened interest in the faces staring at him. “Um…you see…they think I’ve done something wrong.”

Suddenly he’s surrounded by nodding heads. Yes, they know what it’s like.

“A lot of money involved?” The helper seems genuinely interested.

“Um…yes. But not mine, you see? It’s all a mistake.”

“It always is,” the driver remarks sympathetically. “And you need a place to hide, so those men can’t find you?”

“Er…I really don’t know. Maybe I must go to the police…?”

This statement is met by a loud chorus of “No’ in various languages. 

“Eish, my Lanie, if you want trouble, that’s the route to take. The police will lock you up. Or…,” for a moment there is uncertainty in the helper’s eyes, “are you a member of the Numbers?

“What?”

“A gangmember. A 28 or a 27? You have tattoos?”

Diksarel has absolutely no idea of what the man is asking. He shakes his head.

“Then no police for you, my friend. I’ll take you to Mama Sarah’s. She’ll know what to do.”

Most road-users in South Africa take a dim view of the driving habits of our taxi drivers. They are mostly seen as unskilled, reckless and are often described as incompetent. That isn’t quite true. These men drive their vehicles day in and day out, ferrying thousands of passengers to all kinds of destinations. With so much exposure to men and women of all walks of life – and in all forms of the human condition – they become extremely knowledgeable about the mindset of their passengers. They’ll encourage the woman about to give birth on her way to the hospital. They’ll console the bereaved en route to the funeral. And they’ll laugh with the kids when they drop them off at the circus. In their own way, they understand psychology much better than many post-graduate students.

That’s why the nameless driver summed Diksarel’s situation up in a flash. A white man, rushing from the airport, pursued by others, because of money…. Yes, he thinks, here are possibilities that need to be explored…

The Man on the Escalator

Credit: gifbin.com

(follows on the two previous posts)

Gertruida says escalators are the great levellers of this world. They go up at one speed. Down the same way. And everybody is forced to travel at the same speed. Presidents don’t get to the next level any faster than the shack-dweller. Sinner or priest – we all progress at the same rate.

Occasionally you’ll find some dumbass somebody in a real hurry, trying to barge his way up or down an escalator. These people carry worried frowns and rarely smile as they do so. They also disregard the others on the electric stairway and never say sorry when they bump into your heavily-laden shopping bag, shattering the eggs. It is safe to assume such individuals are so desperate to hurry, they forget their manners.

One should always avoid them.

Diksarel doesn’t know much about escalators. They are rare in the Kalahari. But today, he finds out they are rather handy when you hurry.

You see, Diksarel isn’t stupid. As a bookkeeping clerk, he knows about balancing things. Column A must have the same number at the bottom as Column B – that sort of thing. He likes figures –  they don’t lie. Every inscription, every cent is important. The secret of a balance sheet lies in the accuracy of your reasoning: which figure belongs where? Logical thinking – that’s the bottom line of Diksarel’s line of work.

So, when he realises that Kneehigh might just not be around; that she of the beautiful body and heavenly eyes might have lied about meeting him here at the airport; he started thinking about what that might imply. Did she have an accident? Possible. But she would have phoned, wouldn’t she? Catching an international flight isn’t something you play around with.

Or…heaven forbid…did she lie on purpose? But then again…why would she give him a legitimate ticket on a real aeroplane to a fancy hotel on a tropical island? If something is too good to be true, it usually is, isn’t it? Life, Diksarel knows all too well, distributes lemons, not strawberries and cream.

He wonders about this. If she wanted him out of the way, why choose such an exotic destination? Surely the Maldives are a bit over the top, not so? Or did she want to implicate him as a corroborator in a tax scandal – something akin to what his father did so many years ago. Only, his father had an affair with a black lady, and now he’s involved in an even more sordid story with a white one. Colour, Diksarel decides, doesn’t determine the outcome…it’s the intention behind the action that counts.

So: Column A and Column B doesn’t match. Why…?

***

Not far away from him, the two men – Botha and Sithole – are watching faces, acting on a tip-off from their head office. They have a photo and a name. The man they’re looking for (so they were told) is involved in tax evasion and has brought the good name of RD+P into disrepute. Mister Radebe, himself, phoned the Revenue Service to lay a complaint against the unscrupulous clerk who wanted to defraud the law firm by stealing money – and now he wants to flee the country.

“Watch the passengers boarding the flight toe the Maldives. We have it on good grounds that he’ll be boarding that aeroplane. If you hang around there, you’ll get your man.”

Lawyers, like we all know, are good and solid, law-abiding citizens. They never lie. And no law firm like RD+P would try to pull a fast one: if they alleged that Diksarel was planning to skip the country after committing a felony, then the Revenue Service should surely act. And they did. That’s why they’re here…

Radebe’s reasoning is simple: Diksarel knows too much. If he started poking around and found out about the huge bribe the firm had taken to drop the case against the State, there’d be egg on many prominent faces. So…fabricate a bit of evidence! Film the man while he meets Kneehigh, document his willingness to tamper with legal documents and catch him as he leaves the country. Sure…afterwards Diksarel will tell his story, but how easy would that be for a clever lawyer to handle in court? To convince the judge that Diksarel is just trying to lie his way out of trouble, will be a piece of cake!

***

By now, Diksarel is convinced that something terrible is wrong. He’s on the airport. Kneehigh didn’t pitch. Is he to leave for the Maldives …alone? Of course not! The object of the trip was to get closer to the gorgeous curves of kneehigh, first and foremost. Had she suggested a remote cabin on the Skeleton Coast, he’d have agreed equally willingly.

No…he won’t go alone. As he gets up to see if, somehow, Kneehigh is around somewhere – a last chance gesture, despite the certainty in his mind that she isn’t – Botha and Sithole find their man at last. Shouting at Diksarel to remain where he is, they make their way towards him, fighting off the throng of tourists waiting to board.

Column A and Column B are now so utterly imbalanced, that Diksarel adds two and two together in a microsecond. Two men. Shouting at him. Kneehigh not there. Ticket in his pocket. That invoice…! Noooo!

The power of a guilty conscience! Knowing he had broken the basic rules of bookkeeping, Diksarel realises that those two men are here for no other reason than to question him about his actions.

Diksarel gathers his little suitcase (swimming trunks, spare shorts and shirt, toothbrush and the blue pills) and starts running. He doesn’t know where to go, but he doesn’t want to stay where he is and talk to the two strange men shouting his name. He might not be an expert on human relationships, but these men aren’t here to wish him a carefree trip, that’s for sure.  Their scowls and angry voices tell him as much.

Running blindly, he meets the first escalator he’s ever seen.

Ever tried running up an escalator coming down? It’s not fun. The people coming down don’t appreciate your athletic ability at all. In Diksarel’s case, one particularly large lady has ample reason to be upset.

Molly Malgas works at the Wimpy restaurant on the next level. She has five children to look after and struggles to make ends meet. She has a secret, too.

Every day, in the middle of her shift, she excuses herself to, er, powder her nose. What the obliging manager doesn’t know, is that Molly then takes a dozen eggs (stolen from the fridge), puts them in a shopping bag (with some stolen buns) and sneaks down to the lower level. Here she’ll meet Solly, her oldest son, who’ll take the food home to the hungry family.

Every day, without fail.

And it is here, on the escalator, while looking furtively over her shoulder to see if the manager paid any attention to her, that Diksarel barges into her. The shopping bag gets crushed. So do the eggs…

Now Diksarel has two sets of voices screaming at him. Molly – with the yolk dripping from the ripped bag – vents her anger with a huge backhand. Diksarel ducks. The man next to him gets the blow right between the eyes. It’s Botha, who staggers back on Sithole. They tumble back, allowing the escalator to carry them down at a faster rate than the rest of the people using the stairs.

Except Diksarel. Fright has given him more wings than any legal energising drink on the market. He’s squeezed past Molly and now runs up the down escalator in a record time. He doesn’t pause at the top. Still running in no particular direction, he ignores the hubbub behind him. Away. He must get away!

Perhaps Gertruida is right about escalators being the great equaliser. It has given the unfortunate bookkeeper a fighting chance against uneven odds. But now Diksarel needs to get away, fast, or face the wrath of the two bruised men making their way up the escalator. Not knowing where to go, he rushes down a set of ordinary stairs to find himself outside the building.

The howling hooter of the bus stops him in his tracks, He turns, just in time to see the double-decker bearing down on him.

The Man at the Airport

airport_in_cape_town_680_453_80_s-390x259(following on the previous post) 

Next time you’re at an international airport, look around. Not just glance or peer or peek: really LOOK at the people milling this way and that. Gertruida says that when you realise there is no bigger collection of secrets anywhere else in the world. Airports, she says, are the warehouses of the world when it comes to harbouring mysteries and secrets. Every one of the people bustling past you, has a thought, an opinion or a memory nobody else knows anything about. Check it out…it’s true.

Take – for instance – the young lady over there. The one with the slightly prominent middle. She’s been crying, you can see that. Or the frowning old man over there, clutching the battered briefcase. He’s a con artist, waiting for the gullible but rich young man on the next flight. Or what about the chap in the dark suit? The one with the dog collar? Did you know he has a cupboard filled with leather clothes and whips in the flat he rents a mile from his home?

Everyone has a secret.

Diksarel, too,

He’s got his wallet and passport safely tucked into the pocket of his floral shirt, feeling a bit odd in the Bermuda’s and floppy sandals. It is cold outside, but where he’s going, the weather will be balmy and the company hot. At least, he hopes so. Kneehigh suggested much more than casual conversation, after all. Admittedly, he was a bit confused when she suggested they take a holiday. Who does that, anyway? To go to a romantic tropical island with somebody, is something he never even dreamt of. Yet, here he is, waiting at the airport…

Kneehigh not only suggested the trip, she supplied the tickets, the bookings…everything. What was a man to do? Say no thank you? Refused to slip away into the most erotic fantasy he’d ever have and forever be sorry that he didn’t? And all that, while Kneehigh had her hand so softly – so seductively – on his thigh and her magical eyes saw the need deep inside his mind?

One cannot blame a man such as Diksarel for surrendering to those eyes. Not if you knew his secret…

You see, Diksarel can be described as a social runt. Physically, there is nothing wrong with him. He has the standard two arms and two legs and all the rest. But deep inside him, he carries the underdeveloped ability to be part of the in-crowd. Ever since he was a toddler, he has been a loner, an outcast, the little boy who wasn’t invited to the birthday party.

It wasn’t his fault.

His father, you see, was a spy. No, not like in James Bond or one of Le Carrè’s characters – nothing as dramatic or adventurous like that. He may be better described as one of the many Bureau of State Security’s ears on the ground. These men and women were everywhere. White people accepted them as part of the surreal life they led back in the 70’s and 80’s, It was believed that such ‘agents’ were necessary to combat the danger of communism. And, as it was believed at the time, the threat lived and grew stronger in the black townships on the outskirts of every town in the country.

So far, so good. If Diksarel’s father was instrumental in keeping South Africa safe, he should be a hero, not so? Well, maybe for a time he might have been seen in such a flattering light…but then an intimate little fact became known. He had a secret girlfriend. An affair. And in this case, his Delilah wasn’t white…

So Diksarel’s mother left, his father took to the bottle, and Diksarel became a recluse. As young as he was, he understood that his Pappa had done something so terrible, so unacceptably horrible, that even he, the small boy, had to bear the burden of his father’s unthinkable actions.

It’s funny (not in a humorous way – let’s rather settle on weird) how such a stigma can outlast the scandal. Now, so many long years after his father succumbed to the effects of the excessive volumes of alcohol he insisted on pouring down his throat, Diksarel is still the outcast. Maybe it is the way all societies work, or maybe Upingon is blessed with a particularly good memory, but to this day people whisper behind his back. This may be entirely due to the unforgiving nature of the human mind, but one may add that Diksarel’s shame refused to fade as the years rolled by.  If your father had to endure the grim rejection following such a scandal, the effects might just last a lifetime. Times and governments may change, policies may dictate a more just community – but it’ll never rid society of prejudice and gossip.

That’s why Diksarel lives alone in the house he inherited from his mother. She, in turn, inherited it from his father, but she never returned to Upington. She knew…and she stayed away. The House of Shame, it was called back then – nowadays it’s Diksarel’s house. The name changed but the implied shame didn’t.

Oh, one can understand Diksarel’s joy, his anticipation, his expectation. Kneehigh is, after all, the first woman – ever – to talk to him in the way women talk to men they like. You know: the eyes. The mirrors of the soul. They say more than words ever can. And when she talked to Diksarel, her eyes promised a paradise all men dream of. And he felt himself drawn in by those eyes and his whole world changed.

So we find Diksarel in his floral shirt and his Bermuda shorts and his sandals on this cold day at the airport, waiting for the woman who told him such wonderful things while she looked into his soul.

But look: over there are two men. The ones with the short hair and the strong jaws and the determined looks. They’re scanning the faces, comparing them with the photograph the taller one is holding in his right hand. You won’t think they’re taxi drivers or agents for a local hotel or spa. No sir. Their almost-military bearing says something about their background. In fact, you’d notice them standing there simply because they are obviously not tourists, but two men on a mission.

You’d wonder about that. Who are they looking for? Why?

But you know about Diksarel and that invoice. The one he destroyed after chatting to the voluptuously beautiful Kneehigh. So do those two men from the Revenue Services.

Yes, Gertruida is right – as usual. An airport is where you find secrets. And as you rush towards the customs officials, you seldom have the time to consider the hidden tragedies – and hopes – of your fellow passengers.

It’s a pity.

Travelling would be so much more interesting if you did.