Gertruida has a way of pausing the story. She once told Boggel one shouldn’t tell Job’s story all at once, it would be like swallowing a frozen prickly pear without savouring the sweetness of it. Just like that fruit of the cactus, you must first skin a story, cool it down a bit, and then enjoy the delicious flavour of it’s taste. So she’ll stop talking about Nelis Viljoen and his dastardly plan for promotion, and go back to Job being chained to the tree.
It is true to say that man wasn’t made to be chained – not to a tree, his past, or even circumstances. In Job’s case, the tree was the obvious obstacle, but of course he was also hobbled by his inherent aversion to authority. He didn’t like his life, he didn’t get on with his mother and he hated school. Rules were made to break, that’s all.
It is entirely possible that Hybie’s remark about his ungodliness stuck in the congregation’s mind (and Job’s), labelling the poor infant as a failure even before he crawled. Or, as some may think, the fact that he was an unwanted child of a single mother (who refused to disclose the identity of the father), might also have contributed. Is it not so, these people say, that an unhappy mother will have an unhappy child? Considering the background, Job may have had no choice in the way he turned out to be – he was bricked in by society and there was no escaping that prison.
In the three years Bull kept him captive, Job broke through that wall. Or maybe he simply gave up running into it. Slowly, ever so slowly, his resolve to get even with Bull melted into a quiet resignation of his fate. He was a loser, a drop-out, a freak – everybody said so, so it had to be be true. No matter how hard he tugged at the chains of his past and his present, he just couldn’t imagine himself as a normal person in a normal life. At first the skin on his ankle bled from his rebellion, later it formed a thick scar to cover his pain – he accepted his fate. Such was his life…
But then Digger came along, and love and caring became part of his existence for the first time. Those three days – spent in total helplessness and exhaustion, during which Digger fed and cared for him – tipped the scales. And, remembering the tears they shared, Job finally came to the conclusion that yes, maybe, there is more to life than hate and anger.
Nelis Viljoen sat up straight in his saddle that day he rode into Christiana with the two men following his horse. Horsemen ride like that after winning the show-jumping at the agricultural show in Kimberley, or when they want to tell the neighbours about a first-born son. Even the horse seemed pleased that its master served his country so well, snorting proudly as he ignored the only stop sign in town.
Old Digger and Job didn’t share these victorious thoughts – they knew the way the law worked. That constable will say he found an unrecorded – and therefore illegal – diamond in their possession, and that will be that. The men even admitted it didn’t come from their claim – so they must have bought it, which made the offence even worse. The court would not doubt the word of a policeman on duty; why should it, when two scruffy and uneducated men tried to plead their innocence? Digger and Job were chained to label-tree society planted for them and this time there wasn’t anything thy could use to free themselves..
The two men were locked up in the tiny jail and could do nothing more than wait for the magistrate, who’d only be in town to hear cases in two week’s time.
“Magistrate Tiny Olivier, you must know, wasn’t known for his forgiving nature,” Gertruida will tell you. “He believed in harsh punishment. His philosophy was that criminals only stopped doing what they did when they realised there is an easier alternative. He presided over his courts like a hungry lion watching some fat impalas – waiting to pounce and devour his victims.
“There’s a reason for this, of course; Olivier had a Small-Man-Syndrome. Just over five foot tall and slightly built, he had been the target of every bully during his school years. The target of endless pranks and jokes, he promised himself that one day – one day – he’d get even. When he was appointed as magistrate, that one day arrived with a bang. He meted out such harsh punishment that he almost lost the job because the cases became less and less – criminals took note and fled to other parts of the country, leaving almost nothing for the magistrate to do.
“This didn’t bother him. Instead of hearing five cases and sentencing them to five years each, he found great satisfaction in hearing one case to then deliver a sentence for twenty-five years.”
Gertruida secretly admires the magistrate, but she’ll never tell you that. She thinks the country is crime-ridden because jails aren’t what they used to be, and sentences get commuted too often, parole bandied about as a personal right, and the president pardoning too many convicts.
“And that’s why Nelis Viljoen desperately wanted to make an arrest – two were a huge bonus. If he, Constable Nelis Viljoen, could get this case to be heard by the unforgiving magistrate, he’d improve his chances for promotion.”
This is the point where Gertruida will heave a sigh and wait for you to notice her empty glass.
“Of course,” she’ll say as a prompt, “nobody could have guessed what would happen during the hearing. How could they? It turned out to be quite a shock to everybody involved…”
When Magistrate Tiny Olivier rode into Christiana in the shiny Buick, he was in such a bad mood that he even ignored the admiring glances his vehicle got from the people on the sidewalks. The car was a statement of his status; yes, even his masculinity; but on that day he was in no state to enjoy the jealousy of the onlookers.
It so happened that he was recovering from a bad case of injustice – at least, that was his take on the matter of Lipshitz vs The State.
Solomon Lipshitz had been defrauding the tax man for ages. Everybody knew that. Olivier had already prepared his verdict and was adding years to the sentence while the prosecution stated its case. Then, totally unexpectedly, this fancy advocate from Johannesburg arrived to announce that he’d be taking over the defence of the upstanding member of society, that pillar of prudent honesty, Mister S. Lipshitz. who was so wrongly accused of unspeakable dishonesty.
Magistrate Olivier had never seen anything like that. The advocate, calmly and with quiet deliberation, destroyed the prosecution’s case. Argument after argument saw the State’s case collapse until at last the damned advocate sat down with a victorious grin.
Well, he couldn’t do anything else but acquit the man, could he? But then the insult! The advocate gets to his feet to announce that his client, the now-unproven-to-be-dishonest Mister Lipshitz will proceed to sue the State for defamation of character, loss of income, legal costs incurred and psycological abuse and stress. In fact, the advocate reasoned, it was quite possible that Mister Lipshitz won’t ever be able to work again (him suffering a loss of self-confidence as a result of the claims brought against him by the State), and therefore the loss of all and any future income would be included in their claim.
Tiny Olivier stomped into the courthouse on his raised shoes, sat down behind the bench, and banged his hammer – hard – twice, before announcing the court is in session.
“What have we got on the roll today,” he growled at the clerk.
“Only one case, your honour. Two delvers with an illegal diamond. Quite a big one, I must add.”
This cheered Olivier up immensely. Yes! Two twenty-fivers coming up!
“Well, get on with it, then. I haven’t got all day…”
Of course Gertruida hesitates here. She’ll tell you that it is quite normal for listeners to conjure up the picture of the diminutive and angry judge, the austere and dusty court room and the dirty and worried two prisoners being led to the accused box. She’d like it if you add the excited and neatly dressed Nelis Viljoen, as well as the rest of the people of Christiana who packed the court that day.
She wants you to see – in your mind’s eye, that is – how Olivier leans forward to call Viljoen to lead his evidence.
And then she’ll wait a while, just to allow you a few seconds to wonder what’ll happen. She says a story is as good as the ending, and that everything that happened along the way, pales into insignificance as long as the final chapter shocks you just a little.
So she’ll just sit there with a sly smile and her empty glass while Boggel – who knows the routine – waits for your nod so he can fill it up again. And then she’ll tell you about Job’s surprise when his mother, the one-and-only Dolly van Niekerk, walked into the court room that day. And how, in a single second, Job wished he could have his childhood over again and be the son his mother tried so hard to raise.
But she’ll do it slowly, gradually, so you can savour the moment…