Silence, in Boggel’s Place, is unusual and unwanted. People gather here to relax, to laugh, to forget for a while. But the banter and the smiles became progressively less over the past few days as news of murder, rape and unrest filtered through from the rest of the country
“Nothing makes sense anymore.” Vetfaan is building little umbrellas with paper clips for Boggel. It keeps him busy and makes him feel he’s useful. “It’s as if society lost the plot, man. And not just here…did you see the Upington Post? They’re stealing diamonds all over the show. Abductions, kidnappings, strikes and mayhem. To top it all, the poor British are having a hard time chewing through the horse meat in their lasagne.”
“Well it looks as if our police force made a nice bugger-up of their case against Pistorius. Their presentation of the case to the court makes it difficult to believe everything we heard on the radio. For the past 6 days everybody was baying for revenge. Now, people are starting to be critical. I mean – absurd though it might sound – suppose it was an accident? ” Precilla has always admired Oscar, and is keen to grab at any good news. “Sure, his actions led to her death. Call it any word you like, she’s dead. Nothing can change that. But the photograph on the front page of the Post upsets me every time I look at it. The poor man seems completely broken. What if he made a horrible mistake?”
“No Precilla. The Bible teaches us about an eye for an eye. He killed her, he must pay.” Servaas, once again in his black suit, is in his dark mood again. “No mercy. Finished en klaar.”
“But what about motor car accidents? Or aircrafts crashing in mid-air? I mean, real accidents. Surely we don’t put everybody in jail for life because they made a mistake? If you cause death accidentally, you get charged with manslaughter, sure, but that doesn’t make you an out-and-out murderer. I think there is a difference.”
Servaas is quiet all of a sudden. Many years ago the brakes on his car failed… The child survived, but it could have been so much different.
“Look,” Gertruida says, because she knows everything, “you guys are starting the gossip-thing again. The facts are simply that we don’t know what happened. It could be this. It could be that. And what does it matter? The girl is dead. The man’s life is ruined. Two families are devastated. Gossiping and all the hype and drama, the second-guessing and thousands of photographs…does it change anything?
“Why are we so fascinated by tragedy? Is it because we are born with the natural tendency too finger-point, judge, and reject? Or do we revel in the misery of others? Is our curiosity born out of a secret lust to see others suffer? We’re back in the Colosseum, chaps. We want to see others bleed while we stuff our faces with popcorn in front of the telly. We say the perpetrator is sick. I say society is extremely unwell. Remember the photograph with the hungry child and the vulture? It won prizes, for goodness sakes! And the photographer snapped the shot and left things as they were. Where’s the compassion? You know, if you look at the photographs, they’re exactly the same.”
“If I remember correctly, the photographer committed suicide afterwards.” Kleinpiet folds his napkin into a coffin shape. “Such a pity…”
“And that, Kleinpiet, is what is happening to society. Our morbid interest in suffering is a bad sign. We love movies with blood and gore. Reality must be graphic, or they get bad reviews. What happened to Polyanna?” Gertruida laughs cynically. “You make a goody-goody movie today, and it’ll flop at the box office.”
“So what’s the answer, Gertruida? Surely we can’t go on like this. Society, as you so nicely put it, is on the road to self-destruction. Morals are gone – you can tick that off. Respect is non-existent – look at the way people interact on a New York street, or in Jo’burg, when a handbag is snatched. Valuing others died in Marikana. Peaceful debate got killed by violent strikes and destruction of property. I think it’s a one-way street to … well … nothing?”
“It is, Vetfaan. It is.” Gertruida sniffs loudly, sips her beer and takes a deep breath. “But there is one thing. The only trump we have. A final chance. And it’s called forgiveness. You can’t forgive, if you haven’t judged something to be wrong. Neither can you forgive by not distancing yourself from a situation. Forgiveness does not mean something didn’t happen and now everything is hunky-dory. It simply means you have decided something is wrong and that you no longer associate with it. It means you get it out of your system and refuse to drag it along with you any longer. It also means you hold no grudge.
“People think forgiveness is the same thing as condoning or accepting are forgetting. That’s wrong. There are three processes to consider here: a legal process which must take care of the laws of the land. That means you can sit back and let it run it’s course. There’s also a psychological process, in which you free yourself from whoever did wrong. And then there’s a religious process, where you know you are not going to be the final judge in the matter.
“And it’s hard. It’s an art to forgive somebody. It’s something you have to work on to get forgiveness-fit. And it’s the only way we as a society, will be able to start building respect and morals and values again.”
“Ja Gertruida.” Vetfaan signals for another beer. “But then everybody has to do it. Otherwise it won’t work.”
“A journey of a thousand miles, Vetfaan, starts with the decision to take the first step. It’s up to you. If you won’t do it, why expect others to try?”
Silence reclaims the upper hand in Boggel’s Place after Gertruida’s speech. It’s an uncomfortable silence – one that is felt in every home, every office and on every street corner – right across the world.
And in that silence, quietly, confidently, the vulture waits.