“Isn’t that Francesco a work of art? Gee, since we’ve locked him up in that shed, he’s a changed man.” Kleinpiet is drawing weird little pictures on the counter top to as he speaks. “He even seems keen to stay on in Rolbos.”
“Fat chance!” Gertruida glances up from the book she’s reading. “We won’t let him. He belongs in Italy, that’s what.”
“True. And Oudoom is quite horrified about the things this guy does for a living. It’s after he sent Mevrou to talk to him, that the poor man wants to stay. Apparently he is quite ashamed of himself.” Vetfaan sips his beer, glad that he didn’t have to endure a lecture by Mevrou. “As soon as Lucinda arrives, we’ll arrange with Kalahari Vervoer to take him to Upington Station. Hopefully we’ll be able to close this chapter then – it’s been quite an experience.”
“It’s funny how life turns out for some people. I mean – we all get issued with the same sort of soul, don’t we? One soul isn’t a souped-up version with more attributes than the other, after all. But, in the genes we inherit and the way we are brought up, we turn out to be completely different to each other.” Vetfaan is on his fifth Cactus Jack – a time when he can get extremely philosophical. “Still, I find it difficult to think Francesco is all bad. Mevrou is right: he can still pull himself together. Maybe that’s what forgiveness is all about – trying to see the positive in everybody else.”
“The only positive is that man is going to leave Rolbos. Did you see the photo’s in his luggage? All those young boys! It’s disgusting.” A shiver runs down Precilla’s spine as she recalls the fear in the eyes of the youths. “I don’t think even the lecture by Mevrou will change that man. Sometimes people simply can’t find the way back, because they’ve strayed too far.”
An uncomfortable silence settles in Boggel’s Place. Francesco is arguably the most evil man they’ve ever had in their midst and it has had a huge effect on the all. Not only is he a murderer and a paedophile, they also found several bags of TIK in his baggage. When Mevrou asked him about it, he said it was what he used to get boys to like him. At first she thought it was castor sugar, but when Sersant Dreyer identified the substance, Mevrou broke down in tears.
Vetfaan, who kept watch on their conversation with his old Lee Enfield across his knees, told them about the incident. At first, Francesco laughed when Mevrou started crying, Then he looked uncomfortable. And then he took Mevrou in his arms to tell her how sorry he was. Oudoom said that was a miracle, but Mevrou shook her head. “No, he said he liked to shock people. It made them take notice of him, he said. But to him, shock and horror were the only ways he could make an impact on others. When he saw my sadness, it shook him to the core.”
Vetfaan said yes, that’s exactly what happened. Francesco discovered his shame in the tears of a stranger. Somebody who owed him nothing; somebody he didn’t even know – cared so much that she cried about his life. Francesco said this has never happened to him before; nobody really cared about him as long as he did what his brother told him to do. “Deep down, everybody hates me,” he said, “because of what I do. Hate and fear, my only two friends… And I’ve used them to impress others. People are scared of me. It’s better than nothing.”
And there, in the shed – with Vetfaan keeping guard – Mevrou talked and talked. The morning became an afternoon. The sun set. Oudoom came over to pray with them, but Francesco objected: he was a Catholic after all, and Oudoom a Protestant. Oudoom told him that, as far as he knew, there weren’t different services for different denominations in heaven. And when Mevrou walked out of that shed late that night, the brute the world knows as Francesco the Assassin, took the older woman in his arms to thank her.
This has split the town right down the middle. Some believed Francesco would repent and stop his evil ways; while the other half of the inhabitants thought it impossible for such an evil man to live an honest life. Servaas believes it’s all just a sham. He says a zebra can’t change it’s stripes.
Boggel, who knows the answer, asks the question to break the pause in the hum of voices. “So he’s still in the shed, waiting for Lucinda to arrive?” It’s one of those nonsensical things a barman does to keep his patrons comfortable. A quiet bar is an unhappy bar.
“Yes, all safely locked up. He promised not to try and escape.” Vetfaan downs his beer. “I’ll check when I go home.”
This draws a disparaging snort from Servaas, which in turn results in a disapproving glance from Gertruida.
“I like this book. It’s funny. I’ve just read The Namib Chocolate Factory, and it touches a nerve. It tells of an abused woman who eventually enlisted the help of two wayward youths to establish a successful business. The point of the story is that one can never assume anybody is just good or just bad. Given the right circumstances, good will triumph over evil. It’s as simple as that.”
“And given the wrong circumstances, evil will be the victor in the contest.” Servaas shakes his head. “I don’t believe…”
They all turn as the door bangs open. A dishevelled Francesco is framed by the doorway, the Lee Enfield in his hands and a grin twitching at his lips. This time, no superficial question by the barman will recharge the conversation. This time the silence is absolute.
The group at the counter follow an old herding instinct to huddle together in a pale and breathless collection of despair. They watch as the Italian steps inside to close the door behind him. Gertruida remembers the article in National Geographic about the psychopaths who’ve shot people at random in restaurants overseas. Despite his fear, Servaas finds himself nodding: he was right, after all… Precilla discovers her legs won’t support her anymore and sags slowly in Kleinpiet’s arms.
“Uh,” the assassin suddenly seems unsure, “the lock on the door wasn’t hard to pick. And I didn’t want to walk to town without some protection, so I borrowed this.” He lifts the gun a fraction. “But I did get lonely.” His laugh makes Servaas cringe.
“What do you want?’ Boggel tries to sound confident,
“Same as you guys. A drink?”
It turns out to be quite a party. Francesco thanks Vetfaan for the loan of the gun, sits down at the bar and asks Boggel for a beer. The surprised group watch from a distance as the Italian gulps down the beer, wipes his lips with the back of his hand and smiles.
“This is not bad! If you don’t mind, I’ll have another.” Seeing that the other patrons started shuffling towards the door, he holds up a hand. “No, you don’t have to go. I promised not to escape, and I won’t.” His smile, Gertruida will say later, is an apologetic one. “How can you know to trust me, if I stay behind the locked door? You’ll never believe me like that. Now you know.”
Later, Gertruida asks Kleinpiet about the strange pictures he drew on the counter top with his beer froth. He explained there are stones on his farm with these figures on them, and that he doesn’t know what they mean.
“Those are petroglyphs, Kleinpiet. Chiselled and scraped images created on rocks by the San people. Some are 10,000 years old. The Shamans believed humans can turn into animals and drew weird pictures of people emerging out of rocks. It is said humans can enter rocks to become purified – and when they come out, they exhibit extraordinary wisdom. They did this art in a trance-like state after they accessed a deeper, common consciousness. Today, of course, we don’t understand the geometric patterns and the images of animal-like humans, but there you are. You’ve got a living piece of history on your farm.”
“Creating human-like forms out of rock must be extremely hard. And to think they’re still there after all the millennia… “ Kleinpiet shakes his head in wonder.
“It’s rare, of course,” Gertruida says, “but it is arguably the most enduring art-form on earth. Those men getting out of the rocks will be there long after we’ve all gone.”
It is Vetfaan who stares at the big Italian while they’re discussing petroglyphs. Maybe, he thinks, just maybe the shamans were trying to tell us something. Men can emerge from rocks. They’ve seen it tonight.
He wonders whether our president can do the same…
“I’m changin’, arrangin’, I’m changin’
I’m changin’ everything, ah everything around me
The world is a bad place, a bad place
A terrible place to live, oh but I don’t wanna die..”