They didn’t come quietly.
They never do; not in the townships where gangs need to impress, create fear, and rule without mercy. Being part of a gang will provide free drinks at the shebeen, the respect of everybody in the community and an unlimited supply of young girls. It also makes you untouchable – nobody will challenge you in anything. Gangs control everything from horse racing to drugs, making the strongest of the strong fabulously rich.
There is a price, of course: every member has to participate in the raids and fights that is part and parcel of the power struggles in gangland. This is where members have to prove their worth; the more ruthless the action, the higher they climb in the order of the group.
However, the ideal is to attack a defenceless individual. Here, the action is fast and furious and the results, atrocious.
Cathy’s father had been drinking again. He borrowed money from the men who used to provide loans for his racing bets, despite knowing that he won’t escape if he failed to pay back this time. Sadly, the more he drank, the less he cared…until it was too late. The debt – along with the exorbitant interest – eventually triggered the loan sharks to call in the help of Jack Okapi, the leader of Satan’s Knives.
During this time, Cathy tried everything she could to keep her father away from alcohol; but the devil in the bottle wouldn’t let the old man escape. The most devious of all animals is found amongst those in the claws of addiction: no lie is ever too big to ensure just one more dose of bottled amnesia.
Despite Cathy’s attempts – and maybe because she took on a second job to make ends meet – her father sank deeper into his pit of alcohol and debt. Jack Okapi rallied his troops to settle the score once and for all.
They didn’t bother to knock, either. The flimsy door broke free from it’s hinges as they stormed in. Neighbours heard the commotion at about eleven that night, and did what everybody does under these circumstances: they cowered down on the floor in the dark for fear of stray bullets. They needn’t have bothered: there would be no shooting. The gang had a much more ominous plan in mind.
Cathy was asleep in her bed, and flew up at the sound of the door crashing into their sparse furniture. Rough hands dragged her to the kitchen/living room area, while the others brought in her father. They made him watch.
He vomited when they tore her pyjamas off, cried when she was forced to the floor. They forced his eyelids open when he tried to close them. One after the other, they raped his daughter, in an animal-like display of vulgar lust and primitive behaviour. The grunts of sometimes-pretended satisfaction by the gang members were greeted with glee by the howling, cheering onlookers. One gang member couldn’t – his manhood failing at the sight of the spectacle of so much pain and suffering. He was punished the usual way: by being beaten unconscious.
Then, while the men laughed and bragged about how good they were, Jack Okapi slit the old man’s throat almost casually, before plunging the blade into the exposed and quivering abdomen of Cathy.
Cathy was left, bleeding, bruised, broken and barely conscious. When the gang left – dragging their unconscious soon-to-be-ex-member along, she had neither the strength nor the will to see whether her father was still alive. Maybe she realised it was useless to check, anyway. She lay, still spread-eagled, gasping and gagging, when at last a neighbour shone his torch into the mess that once was her home.
The neighbour covered her with a blanket while reciting the Lord’s Prayer..
Sersant Dreyer draws a line in the dust on the counter top. A straight, deliberate line.
“That’s when I stopped believing,” he tells himself. “When I walked into that shack, my mind refused to cooperate. I just could not understand what I saw. How could men – in these enlightened times – act like animals? Worse: not even like animals – like demons, devils, sick unthinking beasts?”
He still feels that he is partially to blame for what happened that night. Although his relationship with Cathy never really got off the ground, he should have been a better friend, He could have checked up on them regularly. Maybe he could have arranged for the patrols to keep an eye on the shack. Maybe…
Cathy was still on the floor, with the blanket over her shivering body. She said nothing at all, her eyes stared into empty space. When the ambulance men picked her up, she blinked once. She never looked at the grotesque figure of her father who still sat upright in the chair where Jack Okapi had left him. His head had slumped forward, almost as if he had been dozing off. The blood had run over his tacky night clothes, over his lap and formed a pool on the floor.
Dreyer followed the ambulance to the hospital and gave her details for admission. He spoke to the tired ER doctor afterwards.
We get them every day, Constable. Torn and broken and bleeding. We can stitch the ripped bits of flesh together, but that’s not where the damage is worst. She’ll never be the same, Constable Dreyer. The scars of the mind never heals.
And…there’s the question of AIDS to consider as well…
Cathy remained in hospital for a month, during which the surgeons reconstructed the pelvic organs as best they could. She refused to see visitors, and his cards and letters were returned unopened. On the day before her discharge, Dreyer sneaked into her room while the nurses were busy elsewhere.
“I had to see you,” he said lamely.
She turned her face to the wall.
“I can’t imagine what you must be feeling like, Cathy, but I do want to help. You can’t go back to the shack, anyway. I want you to come back to the flat, to stay with me…”
It took ages for her to turn back to face him. Her eyes were dark shadows of fear and anger, and he could barely make out the whispered words.
“I’m not me any more, Dreyer. I died that night, as dead as my father. They were kind to him – they cut his throat.” Her eyes reflected an incredible sadness. “But that’s where my life ended.” She turned back to the wall. “Go away now.”
On his way out, he stopped at the sister’s station to ask about Cathy.
“You’re the constable that brought her in?”
“I shouldn’t be telling you this…,” she hesitated, made up her mind, and continued, “but she’ll be discharged tomorrow. There’s a house they send these girls to – a place run by a church, Thembikosi. It means: Trust the Lord.”
“Oh…is it for psychological support?”
“No Constable. That’s where they treat the girls with the new virulent, progressive AIDS. Over the last few years these cases have become more and more frequent. Maybe it’s a new strain, or maybe the girls get exposed to a abnormally high initial viral load…but so far treatment doesn’t seem to make much of a difference.”
Dreyer left without greeting the woman.
Two hours later a passing patrol car found him sitting in his vehicle next to a lonely stretch of beach. By then, he had no more tears.