“Servaas, you are particularly cantankerous these days.”Gertruida sits down next to the old man, rubbing the small of his back with a soft hand. “I think you should talk about it. Something is brewing in that grey head, and I think it must come out. You can’t go on like this.”
Servaas looks up at Gertruida’s face to see the kindness and concern there. Suddenly, tears well up. He sniffs loudly.
“It’s nothing, thank you. Something that happened a long time ago. 30 years ago, to be exact. Long gone, not important any more.”
“You know better than that, Servaas. Sometimes those thoughts are the most dangerous of all. They sit there, festering away below the surface, destroying the little happiness you might still have left in you.” She pauses to do a little mental arithmetic. “Thirty years? That was 1982. The country was at war in Angola…”
“Operation Super. March 1982.”
Gertruida’s face lights up. “Of course! Servaasie!” She lowers her voice as Servaas’ shoulders start shaking, “He was in a support group, wasn’t he? And a landmine got his vehicle?” When Servaas nods, Gertruida tells him she’s so sorry.
“Yeah. He died, and I failed…”
When the telegram arrived to announce the death of his only son, Servaas locked himself in his room. He came out once, to attend the funeral. For three days and three nights he even ignored Siena’s pleas to come out, saying he was busy struggling with God. That was not true: he was fighting with God, accusing Him of being an unfeeling and unjust deity, unworthy of worship.
“How can you say you failed? You didn’t. You gave the best to Servaasie and the war wasn’t your doing, anyway. You’re being unreasonable, Servaas.”
On the fourth day, he opened the door and told Siena he’d be away for a while. She saw the terrible determination in his eyes and didn’t ask. He took a bag and his old hunting rifle, loaded it into the pickup, and drove off. Now it was Siena’s turn to spend her days on her knees, pleading God to protect her husband.
He drove up the long, tarred road from Vioolsdrift to Grootfontein, only stopping for petrol and stale meat pies along the way. Three days later he stood on the banks of the Kunene River, gazing at Angola with blood-shot eyes. Camouflaging his vehicle, he stretched out on the back, and slept for a full day. Then, after a meal of bully beef and beans, he took his rifle and started looking for a way to cross the river.
His intention was clear: they took his son. He’d take one of theirs. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. When the evening came, he found a wide, shallow stretch of river where he waded through.
“Servaas? A one-man expedition against a trained army? What were you thinking?”
He lived off the veld, trapping small animals and drinking whenever he found water. The area was rather inhospitable, so he trekked more-or-less up along the river so as not to lose contact with the only reliable source of water.
And then, one night, he heard voices. Clear, singing voices. Voices joined together to sing a hymn – like only the people from Africa can. Multi-tiered singing, combining bass and soprano in alternating verses, praising God.
Servaas never found out who did that singing.
He returned home.
“You did the right thing, Servaas. How can you say you failed?”
“I failed God, for a while. I got angry and turned my back on Him. I was quite prepared to kill anybody I met in Angola: man, woman, child, soldier, civilian. Anybody. Just to feel I took some sort of revenge.”
“Remember the ten plagues, Servaas, and how the first Passover came into being? It was the blood of the lamb that was the sign. Those with the sign, survived. The others didn’t. The same thing happened to you. The hymn was the sign, that’s all. It’s actually a beautiful story.
“You passed them over – whoever they were – just like the plague did the Jews in Egypt all those years ago. And now, with Passover upon us, you should celebrate it, not sit and mope about it.”
“But I never got my revenge, Gertruida!” The old man’s face contorts in a picture of regret. “Now I live with this emptiness inside me. I wanted to fill it, but couldn’t.”
“You know, Servaas, the biggest, worst, most horrible form of revenge is … forgiveness. You cannot fight hate with hate. Hate can only succumb to one force; and that’s the force of love. If we were to be punished for every sinful thought, every sinful action, life on earth would have been impossible. We all may live in hope, because of Passover. It is given to everybody, but it’ll cost you. Not everybody is humble enough to accept it; the proud ones refuse to reach out – and continue hating, continue seeking revenge and justification.”
“Are you telling me I’ve been missing the message of Passover all these years, Gertruida?” A new sorrow has found it’s way to the wrinkled face as the eyebrows shoot up in surprise.
“Passover. Forgiveness. Redemption. And all those rest on Love. They’re all the same, my friend. There’s only one trick: reach out and make it your own.”
Tonight, Servaas will go home with a smile. The empty space inside his mind has been filled. By being passed over, he has been passed up, in a manner of speaking. Up: like in nearer to the wisdom of the Throne, not like in forgotten. Quite the opposite, in fact. It is quite an exhilarating freedom, something quite new to him.
Anyway, like Gertruida says; make sure you’re passed over and passed up before you pass on.