The group at the bar listens to the news on the radio in shocked silence. They have been admirers of the athlete for a long time, and now find it hard to believe he has done something as horrible as this.
“Wasn’t he involved in a drunken boating accident some time ago? Lots of questions, and then suddenly the whole issue disappeared and nobody reported on it any more?” Sevaas looks over at Gertruida for help.
“There have been rumours…”. Gertruida holds up a cautionary finger, “..but I don’t think we should go there.”
“There’s the story of the jackal,” Kleinpiet suggests. “Come on, Gertruida, you tell it so well?”
On the day of his birth, the jackal’s mother swore she’d make things right for him. Baby Jackal, you see, was born without a tail. Everybody knows a jackal should have a tail. A tail-less jackal will not get anywhere in life.
So Mama Jackal went to all her family members and begged a few tail hairs from each. She spent hours and hours braiding these hairs into the most beautiful, most stunning jackal tail ever seen. When Baby was old enough, she taught him to put on the tail himself. At night Baby would comb and preen his tail before hitting all the hotspots where the girly Jackals hung out.
Baby became the darling of the jackals. Nobody had a tail quite as magnificent, quite as startlingly beautiful as his. Girl jackals swooned. Boy jackals lowered their eyes when he walked past. Baby only had to swish his tail to attract the attention of all the animals in the forest.
But one day Bragging Baby (as he became known) met the girl-jackal that saw right through him. She said he was all tail and no heart. She told him life is not just a matter of parading around with a beautiful tail; and that being kind was more important than being pretty.
Of course, Baby Jackal didn’t like this, and snarled at her. She complained to the jackal elders, who agreed Baby did wrong. For his punishment, he had to hand in his tail for a year. Now Baby had to walk around without his tail, he soon discovered life wasn’t so easy. The parties dried up. The girly jackals no longer swooned. The boy jackals sniggered when he walked by. And so Baby, the tail-less jackal, found out his tail had been his life, and his life had been his tail.
“But that’s an incredibly sad story, Gertruida.” Precilla snifs loudly. “The poor jackal! To think he had to find out he needed his false tail to be somebody. What happened to him?”
“The story of the jackal ends there, Precilla. But there’s another moral: we can’t end up blaming Baby for everything. He only became popular because the other jackals were so impressed by his tail. Sure, it went to his head, but part of the blame rested on the other animals who made such a fuss about him. Without their adoration, he would have learnt to cope with life the hard way – like we all do. All societies need to have heroes. All too often, they have feet of clay. Or no feet at all.”
“Like Lance Armstrong? Or Hansie Cronje?”
“Exactly. But there’s one more factor to consider. As much as we like building up idols and elevating them to be gods – we also have a tendency to be cruel when they make mistakes. The newspapers and the magazines will now dig away furiously to find more fingers to point at the man. It is as if we actually enjoy seeing people fall from grace. As if we can’t wait for them to strike the hard concrete block we call justice, with a sickening thud. It makes us accomplices; primitive, sad cannibals waiting for the feast.”
“Well, all I can say is I feel sorry. Sorry for that poor girl’s family. Sorry for a man who has accomplished so much, and now has to realise that medals are only little pieces of metal in different colours.” Vetfaan sighs heavily. “And I feel sorry for Mama Jackal. She only tried to help, after all.”
“Yes, Vetfaan. But mostly I feel sorry for us because we keep on putting people on the pedestals to make them more than they actually are. We elevate them to fame and then stamp them to trash. And that, my friend, points a very dirty finger at us..”