People don’t believe how your usual, innocent-looking man can harbour all manner of untoward thoughts and ideas, but sometimes you will hear them laugh when nobody else is listening. They say he who laughs, lasts – and maybe it’s true. Take, for instance, the case with Charlie Cutthroat. It started when his car slewed to a halt next to the only tree next to the road (if it can be called such) to Grootdrink. Charles Cutthroat – called CC by those who know him well enough – climbed out to inspect the shredded tyre, shaking his bald and egg-like head. Having a flat that morning was definitely not part of his carefully planned schedule.
CC is a meticulous man. He is one of those people who leave nothing to chance – that’s why he is so successful in his line of business. If you need extra cash (buying supplies, erecting a new fence or drilling for water), he’s your man. The cash gets handed over in an envelope and you’re on your way.
Then the fun starts. His usual arrangement is that you pay him back over six months, with the 50% interest accumulated over the period of time, of course. Should there be a default of any magnitude, CC will pay you a visit to give you a fair chance at correcting your mistake. These visits are friendly and he’ll usually bring along a bottle of brandy, explain the consequences of the problem and offer an extension of another six months; not forgetting to add the interest, of course. If this arrangement fails, CC will start carting away anything of value he fancies. Anything. This he does quite openly, arriving with a team of ‘workers’ and a lorry. He might take a few sheep, the newly-erected wind pump, your dining table or your car – depending on the owed amount.
Now, in Rolbos everybody knows that Sammie has been borrowing from CC to expand his little shop. The small room at the back now houses the new fridge, one of those flat ones where the shoppers can see the array of goods for sale. This modern arrangement was welcomed by one and all in Rolbos; to actually be able to buy reasonably fresh vegetables and fruit is an unknown privilege and a tremendous leap into modern shopping. The nearest alternative was the Checkers in Upington – and trying to get back to Rolbos without your veggies wilting away to limp and unappetising lumps of merchandise is just about impossible.
Not surprisingly, the recession has found its way to Rolbos as well. The inhabitants have a choice: support Boggel’s Place or spend their meagre finances at Sammie’s. It’s a no-brainer. The result was that CC was on his way with his bottle of brandy and a carefully worked out speech to deliver to poor Sammie, who’ll never be able to come up with the cash, anyway. Rumour had it that the shop will soon be know as CC’s Cash and Carry.
But now of course the blown tyre has, in a manner of speaking, thrown a spanner into the works. Being a particularly stingy man and one never to spend money on unnecessary extras, CC is driving the old Chev he took from Sly Viljee after financing his debt at the casino. And Sly, being so deep in debt and all that, has sold anything he could to be able to tackle that slot machine again. “That machine is warm, man. It’ll pay out any minute now.” Hence: Sly’s Chev (technically speaking, of course) became CC’ Chev, devoid the spare wheel that financed his last few spins in his failed attempt to line the 7’s up..
CC sits down on the running board of the old vehicle. His only hope is that some farmer will pass by – in any direction – to give him a lift back to civilisation. At least he has the brandy…
Three warm and uncomfortable hours later, Kleinpiet passes the stranded Chev next to the road. In a place like the Kalahari, news about people’s lives has a way of spreading from farm to farm – sometimes at surprising speeds. The story of Sly and his hot slot machine – and the subsequent loss of his Chev – is old news already. The impending visit by CC to Sammie is the leading news of the day.
The other thing about Kalahari people is that they are slow thinkers and fast decision makers. When Kleinpiet approached the stranded vehicle, he thought slowly. And when he saw the inebriated CC slouching against the Chev, he made up his mind quickly. That’s why he drew his hat down a degree, flattened the petrol pedal, and sped past the hapless CC who waved a drunken finger at the disappearing bakkie.
At Boggel’s Place, the news of CC’s misfortune earns a animated discussion. Boggel is in a good mood. If the tormentor of his good friend Sammie is stranded next to the road, it calls for a celebration. Beers are handed out on the house – a rare occurrence in Boggel’s – and the discussion turns to what, if anything, they should do to the stranded CC.
“I say let him rot. He’s a vulture, man! When we’re in trouble, he’s quick to hand out cash. But when things are tight on our side, he simply helps himself. And remember – charging 50% interest is against the law, anyway. No, let him suffer for a few days. Maybe old Sly can get his Chev back.” Vetfaan has no sympathy for the loan shark. He remembers all to clearly the day CC carted his prize ram away.
“Hey, we can’t do that!” Precilla is in one of her benevolent moods after her third beer. “Maybe we don’t like him that much, but he’s still a person you know? A stranded person in the middle of the Kalahari. Whatever we may think of him, we can’t just leave him there.”
Sammie never drinks. It’s against his religion, he says. Look what happened to Noah and Samson. He’s your conventional Coke-and-lemonade guy, so he rarely visits Boggel’s. He waited for CC for an hour or so, then he ambled over to Boggel’s to see if anybody knew anything about his whereabouts. He found, to his surprise, a very happy group of people, discussing the merits of various types of torture.
“String him up and make a small fire beneath his feet.”
“No man, that’ll mean we have to sit around for hours, feeding twigs into the fire. I think we should just take his shoes and make him walk here.”
“I heard that the best way to humiliate somebody, is to leave his shoes and take his clothes.”
“What happened to horse-whipping, anyway?”
It doesn’t take long before Sammie hears the whole story. He tells them he doesn’t want to be part of such violence and that paying debts is a matter of honour. He’ll just have to renegotiate with CC and that’s the end of it. Looking morose and dejected, he leaves them to come to their own decision as to how to help/not help the man with the broken-down vehicle.
When the old Datsun appears in a cloud of smoke, CC runs to the middle of the road on unsteady legs. There is no way he’s going to allow another vehicle to pass without stopping. To his drunken surprise, he recognises the vehicle as Sammie’s old bakkie, with Sammie behind the wheel. The vehicle stops about twenty yards from him and sits there, not moving, in the middle of the road.
“Sammie! My friend! I desperately need a lift, man! My Chev…”
Before he can finish his sentence, the bakkie reverses a few yards.
“Hey, Sammie! Come here, man! I really need to get a lift. You see how that tyre looks? I’m stranded here, man.”
The bakkie reverses another yard or so. CC is getting desperate.
“I’ve got no water here and the brandy is finished, Sammie. I’ve got nothing. I’ll die if you don’t help me.”
Around them the heat waves shimmer away in the midday sun. A solitary gust of hot wind blows a dust devil across the road. CC stumbles towards the Datsun only to see it reverse further.
“Noooo! Please, Sammie. I need you to help me. I’ll do anything! I swear! Anything!”
Only now, at last, does Sammy allow his ancient bakkie to roll forward.
Of course they discussed terms and conditions before the lift is offered. CC would forfeit all interest. Sammie will take him back to Upington, get a spare wheel, and then take CC back to his Chev, provided a new settlement gets offered to Sly.
When they return, Sammie offers to change the wheel – and CC gladly accepts. Sammie tells him the ruined tyre is worthless, and buys it as scrap for the halfjack of cheap brandy he happened to have in the Datsun.
Now, some people may think this story is a bit farfetched and that it was just too much of a coincidence that CC had the blow-out there; while on his way to Rolbos to talk serious business with Sammie, who couldn’t pay the interest on his loan. Or that Sammie should have allowed the Rolbossers to take revenge on the man that squeezed so much money out of them.
But that – like the uninitiated often do in the Kalahari – would be to take everything at face value. You had to be there that night, when Platnees parked his bicycle next to Sammie’s shop. You’d have seen the two men talking and Sammie handing over the packet of fresh tomatoes, lettuce and carrots to his thankful ally. If you looked carefully, you might have seen Platnees handing back the envelope with the rest of the six-inch nails to Sammie.
And, if you weren’t drinking like the rest of the town did in Boggel’s Place, you’d have heard Sammie laughing heartily when he locked up his shop that night. Like those guys in the A-Team, he loves it when a plan comes together.