“Why does Sammie close his shop on the 5th December every year? He told me once that was the day he arrived in Rolbos, and it’s a day of remembrance. In my book, he should be celebrating – not hiding.”
“Maybe he’s just thankful for the many years his shop endured, Vetfaan.” Even Gertruida isn’t sure. “If he came here in ’87, that’s twenty-five years ago. It means he survived the worst droughts, all the elections and the recession. He’s tough, that man.”
“Ja, I remember ’87. That’s the year that Whitney woman sang … what was it called again?” Vetfaan furrows his brow in concentration.
“Didn’t we almost have it all, Vetfaan. That was her hit that year.” In Gertruida’s mind, the little secretary doing the filing is extremely efficient. “It’s the same year Chris deBurgh did Lady in Red.”
“That’s right! And that was the year our Boeing went down near Mauritius, wasn’t it?”
The little secretary scampers off to the file marked ‘Arms Smuggling” and ‘Cover-up’. “The Helderberg. SA-295. 159 innocent lives lost – followed by one of the biggest cover-ups in history. Allegations of rocket fuel and other arms on board a civilian flight. Possibility exists that the CIA sabotaged the plane to prevent the strategically important freight reaching South Africa.” She sighs happily as the little filing clerk delivers the information. “But, like Sammie, the story won’t go away. At least Sammie wasn’t involved with that war.”
“Well, I was. During those years it was considered treason if you didn’t obey your call-up to the army. The politicians were clever: they told us we were the last bastion to stand against Communism. What a joke! Now the government is run by the Communist Party. I don’t know how Sammie managed to stay out of that war, but I no longer think of him as a traitor – I think he is a hero. By refusing to don the uniform, he must have known what the consequences would be if they found him.”
“Sure, Vetfaan. And now all of us – those that fought and those who fooled the system – all of us can ask the same question: was it worth it? We are all passengers on a modern-day Helderberg. We’re ferrying the most dangerous cargo ever: a mixture of arrogant politicians, ambitious worker’s unions and blatantly corrupt officials. And, like with that aeroplane, there are forces working actively to make sure this cargo ignites in mid-flight. Look at Marikana, for instance. Or the Western Cape. Do you think those workers sat down one day to decide what form their protest will be? Of course not! Some ponytail in a glass-walled office presented the idea to a clever politician who saw this as an opportunity to get at the mine bosses and the farmers; while retaining power as well.
“It’s such a simple strategy, people don’t see it at all. Demand higher wages in an economy that’s already staggering under inflation and recession. Sure, the bosses say, but then we have to increase production or lay some people off. Not possible, the unions say.The money has to come from somewhere, right? The strikers who retain their jobs are out of pocket for the duration of the strike. The small companies close their doors. More people lose jobs. What happens? I’ll tell you. They have mouths to feed. Hence…crime.
“It’s the old war all over again, Vetfaan. Only this time: the troops don’t wear uniforms and the battle isn’t won by guns. Smoke and mirrors, my friend. It’s all an illusion. The war is against a strong economy. By keeping the economy floundering, you keep the poor people poor. Poor people look at the government for support, which it gladly provides in the form of grants. Old age. Infirm. Child grants encouraging the poor girls to make more babies for bigger hand-outs. Aids sufferers who don’t take their medications, for if their tests are too promising, the grant stops. Jobless people getting money for doing nothing. No government has done more to keep people from working than our current parliament Result? The rich get richer. The poor get poorer. Government stays in power, just like in Zimbabwe.”
By the time Gertruida finishes her lecture, Vetfaan has cupped his face in his huge hands.
“We’re all on the Helderberg?”
“Yes Vetfaan. As long as we’re being piloted by somebody who has little respect for innocent lives, we’re going to go down in a ball of fire.”
“But can’t we do what Sammie did? Can’t we simply opt out? Refuse to go on stage when the bell rings?”
“It’s out of our hands this time. The guys pulling the strings have found a brand-new set of puppets. They don’t ask questions. As passengers on this plane, we don’t even have parachutes. The little blow-up device under the seat is as useless as the Mickey Mouse oxygen mask.”
In the cottage behind the shop, Sammie pages through his diary, the one with the family photo on the inside cover. He allows his finger to trace the faces of his mother, his father … and the smiling Jeremiah.
Jeremiah’s last letter is pasted to the next page.
Army isn’t so bad. Once you get used to little corporals screaming at you, sergeants barking orders and shining the fuzzy-faced captain’s boots, then you simply let these things roll off your back. Roll with the punches. Ignore the stupidity of it all.
Well, I’ve completed basic training, and that is a blessing. They made us run from morning to night. I can assemble my rifle in the dark. My bed has right-angle edges. I can even iron my uniform. I guess that makes me a soldier, right?
We’re being flown out tomorrow. I’m not allowed to say (even if I knew), but apparently we’re going up north somewhere. They’ll probably censor it out, but the guys think we’re off to
xxxxxxxxxxx It sounds xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Please don’t worry about me. Although I have a feeling , xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx but I guess that’s just because I’m so new to all this.
Today they made us all stand in a long line to fill out pre-printed wills. Can you believe that? There you are, eighteen years old and you have to say what must happen to your stuff if you don’t make it back alive. The chaplain said it’s simply routine, but we couldn’t help feeling this is all so surreal. Anyway, I stipulated that you can get my stack of comics. Ha ha. I don’t have much else, have I?
So, Jess, that’s all for now. We have to get
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx before tomorrow, so we can be prepared for anything. I hope to be home for xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Look after yourself and hug Mom and Dad too, will you.
PS: If Nadia enquires, explain decently? Your pretty remarkable agility, yesterday, encourages replay. I may alter Friday’s reply, after intense debate.
The PS says it all. Despite the jaunty trend of the letter, Jeremiah used their old code to conclude the letter. Using the first letters of the words, he said I need your prayers. I’m afraid. The overworked censors never picked it up. Did he know he was going to be part of a major battle? Or suspect he won’t be coming home? Did he think his sacrifice was worth his brother’s freedom?
But they were always like that. Close.
Now Sammie, who used to be Jesse, has a censored letter and a diary. Even the letter is censored, like their lives were, back then. Incomplete. Hidden behind the dark line of deceit and propaganda. There was no way to peep out from behind the black ink. Only the code escaped. A senseless sentence, crying out at the injustice of it all; telling him of a young man’s fear.
Sammie looks up. Outside the street is quiet and the few faces in Boggel’s window seem to be sombre. At least he has them. In Rolbos there are no outsiders, no censors, no black pens. They’re a neat little group, thrown together by chance and fate.
Just like passengers on a plane, he thinks. The world is a plane, and we’re sharing a nice row with window seats overlooking the wings.Yes, he thinks, that’s a great way of looking at it. Some get on. Some get off. Some just never arrive..