They watch the helicopter taking off, dipping in a slow curve over the wide waters of the Okavango as it sets of for Angola.
“I still don’t understand how you did it, Gertruida.” Servaas points at the helicopter. “What’s happening, is impossible.”
“Oh no, my dear Servaas. Pinch yourself. Look around. Here we all are on the luscious green lawn of Ngepi Camp, waving off a helicopter full of hopes and dreams. It is happening, my friend, it is happening.” She seems terribly pleased with herself.
When Gertruida left the bar in the middle of the brigadier’s story, she wasn’t being rude. The half-formed plan in her head simply gelled when she heard General Modise was involved.
Modise. Sipho Modise, battle name: Dagger. MK soldier, trained in Russia; a keen Marxist and a very able soldier. Commander of a small but very effective group in the South of Angola towards the end of the war. Rumoured to have executed civilians in small towns to get the local villager’s cooperation. It was all there, stored in the archives of the mind of Gertruida, previously employed by National Intelligence.
It had to be the same man.
The telephone call to the general’s office took some time to be patched through. The general is busy. The general does not take calls from civilians. The general is in a meeting. In the end she phoned one of her old National Intelligence colleagues who still has some influence. The general phoned her back immediately. .
“What do you want?” No greeting.
“Oh, good morning, General. How kind of you to return my call! Thank you.” She bubbled with enthusiasm.
“Cut the crap. I heard you wanted to blackmail me.”
“Oh no, my General, not at all. That would be highly irregular, wouldn’t it? You being such an important man and all that.” She waited a second, allowing her words to sink in. ” No, I have a simple request, that’s all. Wouldn’t be any trouble for you, I’m sure.”
“You see, General, we – well, I – am talking to you from Rolbos, near Upington. We need a helicopter to take us to Ngepi – that’s near Mohembo – and then to fly on to a village in Angola. You have helicopters stationed at Upington, don’t you, and…”
“You are out of your mind!”
“Oh nooo, General, I can assure you that isn’t the case. I do think you remember Caramuti, don’t you? They used to have such a delightful mayor. A charming man, loved by all. And then he died so tragically. I think you know about that, don’t you.”
Silence. Then: “What do you know about Caramuti?”
Gertruida told him everything. The unit of soldiers that marched into town, the demand to use the church as an armoury, the shooting of the mayor.
“People have long memories, General. If somebody were to identify the man who shot an innocent mayor, it could impact rather negatively on his career, don’t you think? Even after all these years it’ll be bad if CNN or BBC picked up on the story. And it’s election year next year, isn’t it? Surely the ruling party would like to avoid a scandal?”
The entire population of Rolbos watched, completely overwhelmed, when the helicopter landed next to the church. The pilot had a list of all their names, and loaded them into the cargo bay of the Super Lynx 300 – Boggel, Servaas, Precilla, Kleinpiet, Vetfaan, the brigadier and Gertruida – of course. Fanny, in the later stages of her pregnancy, elected to stay at home.
Gertruida knows this is actually a helicopter used for martime use, and secretly smiled at the amount of favours the general must have had to call in to make the flight possible – without any paper work or passports needed to convey the passengers. While everything is possible in Africa, this must rate as amongst the most exceptional. They refuelled at Maun and had a wonderful flight over the Okavango Delta – a first for everybody, and even Gertruida was amazed at the beauty of the swamps.
The brigadier was quiet for most of the flight, his face betraying the anxiety of the moment. First he allowed Gertruida to talk him into telling his story, and now this…? What was waiting at their destination? Another disappointment, another death of a dream?
The other passengers felt his uncertainty, but the excitement of the trip overshadowed any doubts they harboured. Boggel, always a progressive thinker, brought along enough ‘refreshments’ to keep them in good spirits all the way.
When they landed at Ngepi, a contingent of Namibian soldiers and a tanker-van stood by to refuel the helicopter.
“You must have been very convincing, Gertruida. How did you do it?” Precilla was sipping a G+T, using the upside-down old mokorro that served as a table. She thoroughly enjoyed the trip – it was such a change from the drab Kalahari she was so used to.
“Oh, it was nothing. I asked a general to help, and he was kind enough to do so,” she said with her enigmatic smile. “In fact, he insisted on helping the brigadier. Sounded as if he really wanted the man out of the country. Now it’s up to the brigadier. Let’s toast his good luck!”
No such optimism and good cheer exists in the helicopter, however. The pilot flew low over the trees, below the radar-detection height, en route to Caramuti. In a way he enjoyed the challenge set to him: deliver the man to the village, wait and hour, and return. Avoid detection. This is a top secret mission, understand? It is of national importance.
While the pilot negotiates his way expertly, filled with pride that he is doing something for his country (it didn’t matter if he didn’t know the detail – it was a nice break from training), his passenger is the one with dampened spirits.
What if…? There are too many what if’s.
She may be married. She may be dead. She may have moved. She may have forgotten him. She may…
“There we are, sir,” the pilot points at the village, “we’ll be on the ground in five minutes.”
The brigadier closes his eyes in a silent prayer. As if in an answer, he remembers her eyes – those eyes – the wise and caring eyes – and he knows: whatever happens in the next hour…he had to do this. He has to know.
He straightens up, squares his shoulders: he’ll face the biggest challenge of his life like a man. This isn’t a war. This is – at last – the recognition of destiny.
Of reality of what Love demands.
It is not, not, not for the faint-hearted.