Monthly Archives: September 2013

Bianca (# 6)

2674928-256-k384998The two men move silently to the annexe next to Boggel’s Place; tracker and hunter, closing in on the prey. The tracker is a brilliant detective; the hunter, an assassin without morals. They are a formidable team…

You won’t find Twilight Partners  in the Yellow Pages. If you were to stumble across the name in official documents, you’ll be led to believe that it’s a debt-collecting agency, used by the Presidency to recoup monies lost to corrupt officials. You may even think that this is a wonderful initiative by government to recover bribes received by officials and that these funds are then allocated to various charitable NGO’s. It is a front that has fooled everybody – until now.

Tracker points at the annexe and waits for Assassin to nod. Yes, that’s where the woman is. I understand. I’ll get her. Checking that the safety is off on the silenced 38, he moves towards the room on silent feet.

***

Old Servaas isn’t the man he used to be any more. Gone are the days when he was a spry young man, the best shot in the district and the object of many a young maiden’s desire. Despite his age and appearance, he still imagines himself to be relatively fit and agile for his age.

Using the shadows for cover, he slowly tiptoes to the edge of the veranda, which is adjacent to the newly-built annexe. Should any intruder try to get near that room, Servaas would be ready for him – or them. He has a gun, a dog and a lot of resolve. Nobody – but nobody – must harm Bianca. For a moment he considers calling in the others, but that would mean giving away his position and  (which is worse) deserting his post.

Ah yes! There’s a movement. Something darker than the shadows is moving slowly and silently towards the annexe. The man – Servaas assumes it to be a male because of the large bulk – is moving, back against the wall…and now the glint of moonlight on something held in a hand draws his attention. A knife? A gun?

Servaas brings the shotgun to his shoulder. If that man reaches for the doorknob…

Suddenly, Vrede’s frantic barking shatters the silence. At the end of Voortrekker Weg, the tracker tries to ward off the storming dog, but Vrede won’t be denied. With an almighty growl, he launches himself into the air, flying in a perfect trajectory that ends on the right wrist of the stalker. Despite the experience of many campaigns and years of working under cover, the man lets out a terrified scream.

At the same time, Servaas acts.

“Stop where you are! Stop right there…or I’ll shoot!”

The assassin swirls around, identifies where the shout came from, and lets off a shot in one fluid movement.

In a single second, the operation to eliminate Bianca fades away in the confused shouts that follows the shot and growling. While the rest of Rolbos switches on every available light, it is Bianca who rips open her door.

“Oh no!” She’s shouting for help as she sees Sevaas staggering off the veranda to fall in the dust of the sidewalk next to Voortrekker Weg. “Help! Servaas has been shot.”

***

The next few seconds witness the Rolbossers trying to make sense of the chaos in their main street. Vetfaan storms towards the growling Vrede, only to discover a very agitated man screaming for help. Precilla and Fanny run instinctively towards Bianca’s shouts and Boggel’s Place. It is Gertruida who understands what Bianca is saying, so she turns around, reenters her house, and then storms out with a first-aid kit.

Kleinpiet joins Vetfaan and together they convince Vrede to let go of the man’s bleeding wrist. Despite his whimpering protestations, the tracker gets tied up securely without any sympathy from the two men. Then, with Vrede keeping a tail-wagging eye on the little procession, they frog-march the man towards the bar.

Servaas is bleeding copiously from a wound in his shoulder. He’s trying to sit up, ashen-faced, when the women kneel next to him.

“Take him inside, we need light.” To everyone’s surprise, Bianca takes control over the situation. “We have to stop the bleeding immediately.”

***

  The bullet passed through the fleshy part of Servaas’s shoulder, severing a small artery on its way. When they get him on to the counter in Boggel’s Place, he  is short of breath with a barely palpable pulse.

“Get me a cloth. A towel. a shirt. Anything! Now!” Bianca presses down on the spurting wound, but it is clear that Servaas is in a bad way. Gertruida wastes no time. With a mighty heave, she tears Kleinpiet’s shirt right from his back and hands it to Bianca.

“Have you got a doctor in town?” Bianca seems calmer now as she forces the remains of the shirt against the wound. “A nurse? Anything?”

“No. The nearest medical help is in Upington.”

“‘Cilla, you have a little pharmacy – I think you said that when we were introduced?”

“Yes, but…”

“Have you any intravenous fluids in stock? Saline? Ringer’s? Dextrose? Anything?”

“Yes, well, I have a vaculitre of Dextrose. I ordered it when Judge was here – he was a diabetic and…”

“Get it. Get it now. And an infusion set and a needle. Any bloody needle. Now!”

Gertruida watches the unfolding drama. Bianca is not acting like a common harlot at all – she suddenly assumed responsibility for Servaas; and she’s done it in a decidedly authoritative way. This woman, she decides, has seen much more action than just bed-time gymnastics. She’s acting like a well-trained…soldier?

Servaas groans and tries to sit up.

“Shhh, my darling. It’s going to be allright. Relax now. Lie still.”

Theses are the most beautiful words Servaas has ever heard. He slumps back on the counter with a silly grin.

“They…they didn’t get you? Good…” With that, he closes his eyes, whispering: “I’m so glad…”

When Precilla returns with the drip, Bianca gets busy setting up the infusion. Within a minute, she’s got the clear fluid running into a vein.

“Boil some water. Two litres. Add three spoons of salt and a quarter cup sugar. Let it simmer for five minutes….Can somebody please do it immediately?” Fanny rushes off, shouting Okay, I’m on it!.

For a while the little crowd watches the old man on the counter. He’s showing no sign of response; his breathing is still slow and irregular.

“Will he make it?” Timid, from Mevrou. She’s standing towards one side, barefoot and without a gown.

“Let us pray,” Oudoom says and closes his eyes. Servaas is only dimly aware of the prayer – he remembers a song Siena loved so much. Smiling, he feels Bianca’s fingers on his pulse. With the greatest of efforts, he manages to twist his hand to find hers. Heaven, he thinks, must be something like this.

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Bianca (# 5)

Credit: picship.com

Credit: picship.com

Servaas looks up at the stars. It’s a crystal-clear night with a halfmoon slowly making it’s way to the horizon. Next to him, Vrede snores softly, dreaming doggy-dreams about chasing rabbits. He still finds it difficult to digest everything Gertruida has told them. Bianca…involved in all that?

***

“There has always been an insatiable demand for ivory and rhino horn in the East.” Gertruida, using her lecture-voice, addressed the patrons in Boggel’s Place that afternoon after Bianca left so suddenly. “Back in the Eighties, these commodities were untraceable once they reached the buyer. Where did it come from? How?  It didn’t matter.”

She’s just read up on the actions of the poaching done by the previous government, and telling their story isn’t so easy. She falters, but goes on…

“The fact of the matter is: South Africa needed money and arms to continue the fight against communism. Due to Apartheid, the international community had clamped down on trade, sport and culture, isolating us in an effort to force the government to accept majority rule. The generals had to find the means to raise the capital to keep the soldiers in the field – or give up and allow the divided society of South Africa to destroy itself.

“That’s when they created the South West African Import and Export Company, based in, amongst other places, Walvis Bay. This was a company set up by the army, but run by civilians unconnected to any state department – much like the CIA uses private companies as a front worldwide.

“The plan was diabolically simple. In the south of Angola, Jonas Savimbi ordered his troops to start killing every elephant, every rhino they could find. Later, the operation was extended to Zambia and Mozambique. The contraband was delivered to the front company, who then transported it by various means to the East. To do this without being caught out, the drivers of lorries were issued with official documentation that stated the load as ‘secret’ and prevented the searching of the cargo at roadblocks. The ivory and horn was then taken on board the fishing vessels of various Eastern countries, while Pretoria  got paid in cash and arms.

“Large-scale poaching decimated the elephant and rhino population in Angola, Mozambique and Zambia, where South Africa supported resistance groups in order to destabilise the enemies of the National government. They did the poaching, Pretoria – through the front company – exported the products of the bloody harvest, and huge amounts of money exchanged hands. In turn, these resistance groups – like RENAMO and UNITA – received arms, training and other equipment via the South African Defence Force.”

The import and export company in Walvis Bay played a pivotal role. But, Gertruida said, that wasn’t all they did.

“The men running the organisation, were above the law. They could transport anything, sell anything, with impunity. Soon, they were harvesting pristine forests. Diamonds and Mandrax formed part of their trade. Operations expanded to Botswana and Zimbabwe. The whole of Southern Africa became part of a massive Mafia-type operation, carefully run and manipulated from Pretoria. The directors of the South West Africa Import and Export Company , being less than honest to the core, became fabulously rich by adding their own contraband to these cargoes.”

Gertruida paused here to allow her words to sink in. The scale of the crime is almost too large to imagine.

“Now…this is important: today we get upset about the rhino situation. We complain about poachers and point fingers at the Eastern countries. The country is riddled with illegal drugs….but who, do I ask you, is to blame for these markets? Who created the wealthy empires that control this trade? Who opened up the channels to the underworld?

“We, my friends, are looking at a situation that was created by a corrupt government. We may well tell the world that the current ANC government is run by a bunch of crooks – but sadly, they only took over the reins left by the previous regime.”

And this, Gertruida said, is why she was so worried about Bianca being there. “This woman must have been deeply involved with this company. And let me tell you: she’s on the run. If you’re running away from something so large and so evil, you can be sure they’ll hunt you down. That’s why she chose Rolbos; hoping we are so far away from everything that they won’t find her here…but they will.” She signalled for another beer and rested her chin on her upturned palm. “Who’s going to get caught in the cross-fire? Us. We’re going to pay a price for her being here.”

***

Bianca sobs quietly, pushing her face into the new pillow on the bed. She’s read the note over and over again – not that it’s necessary, it’s just one single sentence – and now she knows she’s reached the end of the line.

You can run, but you can’t hide… One simple statement on the piece of paper she found on the floor this morning. They had been there during the night, traced her to this quiet little hovel where she thought she’d be safe for a while.

Tiny’s words when they first met. You can run, but you can’t hide.Tiny, who at that stage worked for a boss. Who…who was the boss then? Is he still alive?

They can’t afford to let her get away, that’s true. She knows too much. If she told her story, and if the world believed her, many heads would roll. Two big ifs... But the organisation wouldn’t take such a risk – they’d rather get rid of her. Eliminate…the word they like so much.

***

Servaas looks down at Vrede when the dog suddenly lifts his head, ears cocked, to stare at the dark end of Voortrekker Weg. Getting up slowly, the old man moves back into the shadows of the veranda. If Bianca is in danger, it’s up to him to protect her.

According to Gertruida, Bianca is involved with some heinous crimes. Or, to be more accurate, might be  involved. Well, he doesn’t care. She’s a beautiful woman, young (in comparison!) and he feels he’s got a connection with her.Why? He’s not sure – but something sparked between the two of them when he first laid eyes on her. And…she makes him feel like a man again.

Vrede lets out a soft growl. The hair on his neck bristles when he detects that scent again – the same deodorant he picked up last night. But there’s something more – en new smell. Old sweat. Oily. No…oil – like men use on guns. That’s it! Now…wait…yes, there are two of them. Two men. And a gun.

Vrede nudges Servaas with his nose. Stay here, Servaas, I’m going to have a look.

Then, padding softly and moving with surprising speed, Vrede is gone. Servaas tightens his grip on the gun, suddenly forgetting his age. He’s young again, a soldier, fighting for justice and peace.

And love…

Bianca (# 4)

jeansAs usual, the night in Rolbos is a quiet one. With everybody tucked in warmly, it is only Vrede, the town-dog, who notices the shadow move at the end of Voortrekker Weg. Something told him not to bark – whoever it is, is there with evil intent.

You can’t teach an old police dog any new tricks – he knows them all. That’s why Vrede slinks away under the veranda in front of Boggel’s Place, from where he hopes to see what this is all about. As he watches the shadow draw nearer, the light in Servaas’s bathroom suddenly comes on. Vrede knows it’s about time for the old man’s prostate to chase him up, but the shadow doesn’t. When at last Servaas’s house is dark once more, the shadow is gone.

Vrede waits a while, then ambles over to the area where he detected the movement. Faint footprints are visible in the early-morning dew – and there is a scent that lingers. Where did he smell this before?

It’s a deodorant; but since nobody in Rolbos spends money on such luxuries (and they’re not trying to impress each other, either), Vrede has lost his touch with such fineries. He’ll just have to see if he picks it up again in the future.

***

After breakfast, everybody converges on the bar to take a seat. As usual, they’re thirsty but today they hope that Bianca will continue with her story. She arrives last, looking rather tired. Even the white tank top, tight red jeans, heels and sunglasses can’t dispel the feeling that she looks exhausted.

“Didn’t you sleep well?” Servaas gets up to pull out a chair.

“On and off. New bed. New room. Couldn’t really settle down.”

“I was up, too, last night,” Servaas says truthfully. Gertruida snorts. Of course he was. He has to, every night…

Boggel pushes one of his special coffees over the counter, using the move to take a peek at the top. Sighing happily, he returns to his crate.

“Want to go on with your story?” Even Kleinpiet is curious.

Bianca sips her coffee, smiles and tells Boggel it’s very good. He beams back at her, feeling how he blushes when she meets his eye.

“Oh, where was I…?”

***

2While she was with Tiny, she had a wonderful time. The giant of a man was putty in her hands and she respected him for being there for her. In a strange way, he reminded her of her father – before he started drinking. And although Tiny kept on using steroids, he never touched alcohol or any other drugs. It was 1987 and Bianca turned twenty-one in one of the grandest parties ever held in the old Malibu Hotel. Everybody who was anybody in the organisation, the right-wing or involved with the illegal purchasing of arms for the embargoed South Africa government, was there.

“Tiny really wanted the boys to see me and to envy him. At that stage he was forty-two. He also wanted to announce our engagement that night. Halfway through the evening, the police pounced.”

At that stage the National Party knew the writing was on the wall. The war on the borders could not continue and the international pressure on Pretoria was immense. The country was basically being run by the generals of the police and army – and it were them that decided to clamp down on Tiny’s organisation. Not only would that stem the inflow of illegal weapons into the country (which ended up all to frequently with the ANC’s armed wing, MK), but it would also show the world that South Africa is determined to get rid of radical movements that aimed to destabilise the country. Tiny and his colleagues, who so often helped Pretoria procure weapons, were sacrificed for the greater good of the country. Smoke and mirrors…

Bianca escaped. The police had no evidence against her and allowed her to slip out while the arrests were made.

“Look,” a uniformed man with a lot of stars on his epaulettes said, “get out. You’re innocent, we know that. We’ll be in contact later. Stay in the flat and wait there.”

Bianca sighs. “I was scared. I was young. I did what I was told.”

“So what happened?” Gertruida, with her background in National Intelligence, detects something ominous here – something she’d rather not recognise.

“That night the same man came to the flat. I almost didn’t recognise him in jeans and a T-shirt. He told me I was in big trouble: they could implicate me in trafficking in drugs and arms, that I was an accessory and that I withheld strategic information from the government.

“I think I tried crying again, but it didn’t help. He said I was in too deep to back out. But, he said, there was a way out.”

It seemed too simple to be true. There was a company, the man said, that operated out of Walvis Bay. The South West African Import and Export Company. They handled exports of timber – teak and such – to the East. This necessitated a lot of negotiations, especially with men from Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, Japan and China. They needed a young lady who knew how to handle men, to act as an ‘interpreter’. Actually, linguistic skills had nothing to do with it.  It was about keeping these foreigners comfortable and happy.

“We need a companion for these visitors, you see. Somebody who knows how to handle tough men. Somebody like you…”

“What could I do? Tiny was in jail and I had no-one to turn to. And here the man was offering me a job – and an extremely generous salary. He said I had to say, there and then, whether they must take me in to custody, or I accept the job.

“So I did. I went to Walvis Bay, worked for the company. I met Charles there. Charles Petersen. We got married. It went sour. I divorced the man, and now I am here. The end.”

Gertruida sits back with that look. Boggel knows that look, he’s seen it before. It says: ‘ you’re lying‘.

“There’s more.” Gertruida says it with a finality that brooks no argument.

“That’s all.” Bianca’s tone is final. “That’s what happened. That’s why I am here. Now – stop prying for goodness’ sakes! I’m not feeling well.” Getting up, she thanks Boggel, gives Servaas a hug, and walks out.

The group in the bar shares a stunned silence. Gertruida shakes her head:

“After the elaborate story, stretching from the middle sixties to the end of the eighties she suddenly leaves a blank of more than twenty years? It doesn’t make sense.”

,Bianca ended it so unexpectedly, so suddenly, that they all agree with Gertruida. There should have been more. 

The day peters out in aimless conversation. No-one, with the possible exception of Gertruida, has the faintest idea of what happened in Walvis Bay – and even she doesn’t scratch the surface.

“This woman is dangerous,” Gertruida repeats herself, “and we have to be careful. Mark my words: this story is far from finished. I won’t be surprised if we get visitors – she’s on the run from something. And if I’m even vaguely right: we have no idea what she’s landed us in. Keep your eyes peeled, guys, keep them peeled.”

When they ask her to explain, the men agree to watch the road from Grootdrink…very carefully. “It’s the connection with that import and export company that worries me. I have to go and check that up…it rings an ominous bell somewhere in my head.”

She returns a half and hour later – and that’s when they draw up a roster to keep watch over the town. Gertruida’s news upset them all…

Servaas  tells them all to relax: she just a woman with a troubled past. All she needs now is kindness and understanding. Gertruida, he says with a tremor of doubt n his voice, is overreacting… Still, when it’s his turn to be on the lookout, he sits down on Boggel’s veranda. It’s one o’clock in the morning. Vrede sleeps at his feet. And the safety catch on the shotgun is in the ‘off’ position. . .

Bianca (# 3)

Credit: Sodahead.com

Credit: Sodahead.com

“You became a…a…street-woman at fourteen?” Precilla just can’t get herself to say ‘whore’.

Bianca leans against Servaas, who doesn’t listen any more. He’s off on his own imaginary pink cloud, drifting off in the type of dream no elder of the church should have. “Well, if you put it that way, it sounds terrible. I prefer to think I was an escort. You know, a companion? I looked way older than I was, and in Brakpan there were a few very rich and very lonely old men. Most of them were so old, they weren’t up to anything at all. So I played cards, listened to music, paged through family albums – that sort of thing.

“It started very innocently, understand? I was on my way home, when this old toppie stopped his Mercedes next to me. He said he’d give me pocket money if I had coffee with him. And you know? That’s all that happened. He had lost his wife a few months ago and he was lonely. After that, we had a once-a-week date. He told some of his friends and they taught me how to play bridge. My, how those old men enjoyed those afternoons! Eventually I was booked for most afternoons, earning enough to keep me and Dad going. But those old men – they just wanted company.

“I was surprised. If I dressed nicely and said the right things, I made more money – tax free -than my father did when he’s sober.”

“But it didn’t stay with innocent little afternoons, did it?” Gertruida sneers her disgust.

“Aunty Gerty! I was…am still…a girl with morals! In those days I always carried my ID with me. Back then statutory rape  was punishable with death, remember? It’s not like now, where rape is the most common crime in the country – because the politicians have gone soft on it. So if a man got frisky, I’d remind him about the consequences.

“It was only later the game changed…”

***

When Bianca was eighteen, her father died. The doctors said his liver just couldn’t cope with his addiction.

“Somehow, his being around – even when he was drunk – kept me on the straight and narrow. I respected him, despite everything. He really, really loved me, see? I was Daddy’s girl, even when he was stumbling around in the house. I was the only, single good thing in his life – that’s what he always said. And I knew his drinking was partly due to his inability to look after me properly. I felt guilty about that. Strange, isn’t it? I felt it was my fault that his life didn’t work out.

“A day after the funeral, a man arrived at the house. He wanted money; said my father owed him ten grand. He…he was the first one to overstep the line. It was horrible. He said he’d be back…”

She didn’t know what to do. Frightened by the experience, she fled to Durban, where she booked in to a dingy hotel. The next morning she met Tiny Visagie.

images (47)“Tiny was a huge man. Arms like tree trunks. Barrel chest. Shoulders so broad, they almost didn’t make it through the door. Well, he said I mustn’t think I’m so clever at all. I can run, he said, but I can’t hide.

“Tiny was part of a syndicate that smuggled arms into the country. The man my father owed money to, was his boss. I was to learn that they had an extensive network right through the country and that they had spies everywhere. They had a prominent right-wing organisation as a front – this kept National Intelligence busy. But behind the scenes, their only object was to make money…and they made lots of it.”

Tiny told her to return to Brakpan and face the music. She cried, begging the big man to have mercy.

“Funny thing, that. If a beautiful young girl sheds a few tears and tells a big, burly man he is her only hope, testosterone kicks in. The dominant ape will outwit the others. Superman to the rescue. You Jane, me Tarzan. So me and Tiny, we became friends. He housed me in his flat and I cooked. He never told his boss he had found me.

“And then I found out why he was so big and strong – he had used massive doses of steroids. Testosterone, cortisone, you name it. And…” Bianca suppresses a snigger, “that had an …effect on him. He wasn’t much of a man any more, understand? He couldn’t. The steroids shrivelled everything up. Two raisins and a dangling match stick – that’s all he had.  And because I accidentally walked into the bathroom one morning, I discovered his secret: the big man was a fake. Not a man at all. Then, instead of Tiny holding all the cards, I had a trump up my sleeve. I could shatter his image in the organisation.”

“Why is it that some men think like that?”  Precilla is so caught up in the story, she forgets she doesn’t like the woman.

“All men think like that, ‘Cilla. They’re wired to be the biggest, strongest, cleverest, best baboon in the troop. Why? I’ll tell you: they can’t help it. It’s a factory fault, and the guarantee has expired.”

Bianca told Tiny not to worry, she’s just glad to feel safe and have a roof over her head. A month or two later, the organisation had a major setback when the police swooped on a Brakpan home and arrested the boss.

“Tiny became the number one man then. He was the new boss. And I was the trophy-wife that told all the other men what a man he was. It worked for both of us. Suddenly, I didn’t have to hide in his flat any more. I could move about as a respected member of society, where men left me alone because Tiny had a terrible reputation when it came to fights and things like that. How I shopped in those days! Money was never a problem…

“Sometimes I think that was the happiest time of my life. The common-law wife of an impotent gangster.” She pulls a face. “What a farce.”

Bianca slumps forward, resting her chin on her folded arms. “I’m so tired – so very tired of life…”

“You poor, poor thing,” Servaas, clearly moved by the story, finishes his drink and yawns. “It’s late. Maybe I should escort you to your room?”

“Yes, I’m tired too, ‘Vaasie. And thank you, but Aunty Gerty has shown me where it is. I think I’m calling it a night and now I’m off to bed. Nighty-night, everybody. See you tomorrow.”

***

Servaas doesn’t wait for the conversation to start up after she’s left. Humming softly to himself, he waltzes out into the night, leaving the others in a startled silence.

“He’s lost his marbles.” Kleinpiet states it as a fact, not as a start of a discussion.

“I think he’s found them,” Precilla giggles at the thought. Servaas? Marbles? No way!.

“You’re all crazy.” Gertruida gets up, glares at them, and stomps out.  At the door she stops and turns to address them all. “There’s something wrong with that woman, I tell you. Something seriously wrong. And you know what? I’ll find out. You’ll see…”

The night swallows her as she leaves a deafening silence in the bar.

Bianca (# 2)

aaaaa“I hate all men…” Bianca whispers sweetly as she toys with Servaas’s left ear. She’s been sitting next to him for the past ten minutes, listening to the townsfolk discussing the drought.

Servaas’s smile can’t be any wider. He’s having a ball…

 ***

After Bianca’s arrival, Gertruida remembered the principles of business (despite her initial reaction) and showed her to the newly built room. Her smile was strained, but she kept up appearances. Sammie had been of great help with the interior decorating, and even Mevrou thought the room looked gorgeous. The new linen, curtains and furniture still had that factory-fresh-smell that reminded of pristine cleanliness and luxury.

“This is marvellous,” Bianca breathed, “much more than I expected.”

Gertruida relaxed a little. Maybe first impressions weren’t always right? Maybe this woman wasn’t the hussy she seemed to be.

Afterwards, later. in Boggel’s Place, Gertruida decided that one shouldn’t be so generous with benefit-of-the-doubt thoughts. Gut instinct is there for a reason…

“Sooo…what’s happeining in your town?” Bianca asked when she sat down.

“We farm,” Kleinpiet said enthusiastically.

“And we talk,” Vetfaan added. “Mostly, we sit around in Boggel’s Place, supporting his business. It’s our civil duty, you see? We care.”

“And we appreciate kindness…and beauty,” was Servaas’s contribution.

“You seem a very happy community,” Bianca said, addressing the men, “happy and content. I’ll guess you all spoil your wives.”

“Uh,” Vetfaan said.

“I’m not married,” Servaas quipped as he tried to draw in his paunch, smiling innocently. “Been alone for more than a decade. It gets lonely, you know?” He put on his puppy-dog face, which made Precilla cough loudly before saying ‘wharrajerk’  (it’s a Rolbos word), under her breath.

“Well, neither are Sammie or Boggel, for that matter. Married, I mean.” Vetfaan interjected, shooting the old man a warning look. “I suppose that makes three confirmed, happy bachelors. Quite content, too…just like Cliff Richard sang, if you ask me.” He hummed a few notes to show he knew the song.

“Oh wow! Aren’t you a defensive lot?” Bianca rolled her eyes theatrically. “Can’t a girl ask a simple question? I was just curious, that’s all. It’s a woman thing.”

Boggel served a round of beers. He liked to look at Bianca – and she had a lot to look at, as well. The tight blouse and the short skirt screamed ‘woman!’, while her almost-husky voice was impossible to ignore.

“Sooo, why did you choose Rolbos, Bianca? Why here?” Gertruida tried to steer the conversation to safer waters.

“Small town. Far away from everything. Quiet… I had to get away, see? Somewhere, where nobody would look for me. I’ve had a torrid time…” She blinked away a tear. “This is my chance to regain my freedom – I want to savour it.”

Can she cry on demand? Gertruida’s misgivings grew faster that a corrupt politician’s bank account.

“You want to tell us about it?”

“Ag, I don’t want to bore you with the story of my life. You won’t be interested…”

Now, that isn’t something you say to Gertruida. Five minutes later, Bianca relented, drew a big breath, and said okay then, if they insisted. So she told them…

That’s where the trouble started. The more she told them, the closer old Servaas moved his chair to hers; eventually laying a hand on her shoulder – to comfort, as he later explained.

 ***

Bianca Buurman, at the age of twenty-two, already had a reputation. She was the daughter of Herman Buurman, the best diesel mechanic in Brakpan – when he was sober. When he was younger, he was employed by one of the mining houses, lived in a comfortable mine house, and had a dream of opening his own workshop one day.

Hester, her mother, came from a completely different background. She was the daughter of Minister Hendrik Groenewald, the parliamentarian in charge of the country’s finances. She was also used to the best of everything.

The two of them met after the mining company held its annual Christmas party in 1966. Herman was dressed in his church suit, and kept mostly to himself. Later, when he joined some colleagues at the bar, he was persuaded to have a few beers. This is where he heard about Hester for the first time.

“Man, that chick will drive me crazy. Have you guys seen that dress?” Spanners Swanepoel pointed. “Now there’s a tune-up I’d like to do.”

“Stand in the queue, my mate. I saw her first.” Sparks Botha finished his beer. “I can blow a fuse or two there, myself.”

“She revs up my hydraulic system, I can tell you. Never knew I could build up such pressure.” Vark Venter ran his hand over his oily hair, making suggestive thrusts with his hips.

“You lot disgust me. How can you talk like that? She’s a minister’s daughter, for crying out loud. She’s got class.” Herman was upset. To talk a bout a woman like that…it’s not right.

“Class, my ass.” Vark said. “I betcha I can take that filly for a ride.”

“No man. That’s plain vulgar. You should be ashamed…”

Some Christmas parties are nice. That’s when people sing carols, exchange presents and try to say only kind words. But some – especially those given by large organisations – tend to be stiff, with most of the guests attending because they have to. They spend the evening wishing they were somewhere else, and find escape in the eggnog. These are the occasions where alcohol can have a devastating effect – after consuming enough punch, some men and women feel compelled to tell each other why they don’t get along so well.

That’s why Vark told Herman what a pompous, ignorant, stupid and self-righteous fool he was – and shoved him off his chair. And Herman, unaccustomed to alcohol, felt naturally that was a bit much got up and shoved Vark right back.

That was the Christmas party that people still talk about in Brakpan. A free-for-all developed, which ended when the ambulances started arriving – minutes after the police rocked up.

In those days there were no secrets in South Africa. The minister ordered a discreet little enquiry into the fracas, wanting to know whether there had been any political reason why a party he had attended ended so badly. Upon hearing that somebody had defended his daughter’s honour, he invited that person over to dinner at his mansion in Waterkloof.

***

“Who can explain attraction? Is there a reason for love?” Bianca is so convincing in her narrative, that the men all sit there, staring at her and shaking their heads in silent agreement: no, love is utterly confounding. Yes. Indeed. Ne’er a truer word… “So, that’s how Mom and Dad met. They got married…secretly, of course. Grandpa Minister objected heavily, but I was born seven months after the wedding. Very, very prematurely, they said.”

“We love stories in this bar,” Gertruida tries to sound reasonable, “and this is certainly fascinating. But what – on earth – has this to do with the reason you are here? That’s ancient history.”

“Oooh, aren’t you the impatient one, Aunty Gerty?” She ignores the deep frown between the older woman’s eyes. “Well…tell you the truth, it has a lot to do with it. Mom left Dad after a year – walked out on me and him. Back to the high life and her politician father. And father…he was devastated. He started drinking. Over the years he got worse and worse and then he lost his job. I was fourteen.

“That’s when…when I had to start generating an income. I…I loved my father, see? He tried his best. but it never was quite good enough. He knew all about diesel engines, but when Mom left, he lost his confidence. He was ridiculed at work – Vark Venter saw to that. So it was a downward spiral from there on: drinking, selling furniture, borrowing money he could never repay.”

Servaas leans over to dab a tear from her cheek. She rewards him by mouthing thank you with those red-red lips.

She draws a deep breath. “That’s when I started earning money. To keep us afloat, see? It was the only way…”

Bianca (# 1)

Part of the old Sillimanite mine at Bokkop

Part of the old Sillimanite mine at Bokkop

“Boggel?” Gertruida leans across the counter, smiling coyly. “I’ve been wondering…”

Now…any experienced man will tell you that you must be very careful when a woman starts wondering. Vetfaan – with the new-found experience of the recently married – says it’s like the puzzled look a lion has when he’s caught a springbuck: which part to eat first is always a difficult decision.

The point, he says, is that the damage has already been done.  It is therefore not surprising that Boggel gets on his crate with slightly distant but politely curious look.

Sillimanite

Sillimanite

“If I added a bit of building next to the bar, we can have a guest house. You know? A bed-and-breakfast setup. I’ll do the breakfast and in the evenings the guests can have a few snorts here. And then we can market Kalahari tours: Vetfaan can take tourists to his farm or Kleinpiet can show them the old mine at Bokkop. And on Sundays Oudoom can expect more people in his church, which will increase the offering. And Sammie…”

“Whoa!” It’s all too clear that Gertruida has done more than just a bit of wondering. “I get it. I suppose you have the building plans all drawn up and approved already.” He’s being sarcastic, of course, which isn’t something you do to Gertruida. Vetfaan says that’s intellectual suicide.

“Of course, Boggel, you know I never do things half-heartedly. Look: this is what it’ll look like.” She produces a plan from her rather large handbag, spreading it open on the counter.

“But who will want to visit us? We’re so far off the beaten track.” Precilla has that frown that makes her look vulnerable. “And the economy being in the state it is…” She doesn’t bother to finish the sentence.

Oudoom smiles quietly. “If you will build it, they will come…”

***

  Most animals will stand still once the lion has grabbed onto it – there’s just no sense in fighting the inevitable. Boggel knew that, of course. You don’t climb Everest in flip-flops, so Gertruida’s annexe to Boggel’s Place got built in record time. The building inspector from Upington tried to do his job, but he never got past the counter at the bar. He was also the first (unplanned and unpaying) guest in Gertruida’s guest house. He tried to sign off the building the next day, but decided the official rubber stamp would have to do. Holding the pen the right way up, was too difficult.

***

“What a nice man,” Gertruida says as she watches the zig-zagging vehicle negotiate its slow way down Voortrekker Weg. “To think he had no objections to our building techniques. I was a bit worried, you know?”

“Blame it on Boggel and the Cactus, Gertruida.” Servaas tries to smile, but even he has a hangover this morning. “I thought he was a bit strange, especially later last night when he told us how he inspected Nkandla. He was rather convincing, telling us he needed two weeks just to inspect the bathrooms.”

“Ja, that’s before he did the pole dance with the bar stool. He became quite thirsty after that.” Vetfaan lets out a guffaw. “But now we have to think of a name for the place, so we can advertise in the Upinton Post and Farmer’s Weekly. Any suggestions?”

792“Well, Rolbos Guest House is out. That nice place in Calvinia has already taken that. We’ll have to think of something else.”

“Just stick to Gertruida’s B+B. Booze and Bed, The inspector showed us how to do it.” Servaas swallows two Disprins to prove the point. “Then you don’t even have to serve breakfast.”

***

In the week after the adverts ran, the whole town gathered in Boggel’s Place to watch the telephone. They wanted to be there when the first booking was made. Nothing happened…

“Do you think anybody saw the advert, Gertruida? Maybe we should have put in a photo of Precilla reclining on a bed.” Kleinpiet ducks in time to avoid being hit and smiles apologetically at his wife. “You know I  was only joking, sweetie.”

Lionesse hunt in packs. Everybody knows that. Kleinpiet should have ducked again, didn’t, and that’s why he got a not-so-playful playful slap from Fanny.

Then…the telephone rang.

***

“We’ve got our first guest.” Gertruida smiles triumphantly. “She sounds rather nice. Mrs Bianca Smuts. Says she’s just got divorced, and now needs peace and quiet. She doesn’t know how long she’ll stay, and she’s paying cash. Now that’s what I call good business.”

“How old is she?” Servaas is tries to look innocent.

“Servaas, we all know that behind your holier-than-thou look, you’re a lecherous old man.” It’s difficult to judge whether Gertruida is joking. “But, sadly, I didn’t ask her age. She sounds youngish, I’d say. Forty or so. Maybe a tad older. Whatever you may be thinking, she’s far too young for you.”

Servaas tries to look hurt.

“Oh, my, Servaas!” This time Precilla chips in. “Are you available again? You’ve been single for long enough – what’s it? Twelve years?”

Servaas tries to look innocent and hurt.

***

The arrival of Bianca Smuts in Rolbos, is something the men – especially – will talk about in hushed tones (when the women aren’t near) for a long time. They’ll have arguments about where, exactly, you start to describe the woman.

“Look, I saw her eyes first.” Kleinpiet will say.  “They’ve got that dark-chocolate colour that turn more yellow at the center. And they are never still, either. She’s like a predator, a hunter, a spy – she observes everything as if she’s constantly on the lookout for something. Alert. Intelligent. Tantalising.”

“No man. Didn’t you see the shape of her face? Those high cheekbones with the Julia Roberts mouth? Gee, whizz! And the perfectly-formed nose below that suggestion of a wrinkle between the eyes? Captivating.!” Boggel, who’s studied faces ever since he was a child, reckons she has a face that’ll put Mona Lisa to shame, especially when she smiles – which she does often.

“Oh, no, you guys.” Vetfaan will glance over his shoulder before giving his opinion. “Did you see those legs? Oh man! And she’s not shy to show them off, either. Not with that short skirt. Not a dimple in those thighs, and as smooth as a shot glass. Not a suggestion of stubble. I hate stubble.” It’s well known that Fanny sometimes lets a week go before sorting out the coarse growth she’s blessed with ; which is why the remark always elicits a laugh.

“Well, I harboured no such carnal thoughts.” Even Oudoom will join the conversation. “Some ladies just know how to dress. She loves combining red and white. Red for passion, white for innocence. Enticing, I’d say, in the broadest sense of the word. Nothing to do with knowledge of the flesh, mind you. Not me. I don’t look at women that way.”

This too, will result in a subdued guffaw or two.

“She’s got wild hair.” Sergeant Dreyer, a confirmed bachelor, will remark. “I wonder what it’ll look like all tussled up? And whether she’s a natural blonde? One of you chaps must find out.” This will always result in looks of utter amazement – how dare any man think things like that? But, because Sergeant Dreyer has this rather-slow-Tom-Cruise look, they won’t pursue the point.

“I like women who are not too short, and not too tall.” Servaas will hasten to add, trying to make light of it all. “Otherwise you can’t get in the shower with them.” His remark will result in a few wolf-whistles and a good-ol’-buddy slap on the back.

***

Understandably, the women of Rolbos won’t share the men’s high regard for Bianca Smuts. Gertruida will sum it up:

“That woman is a lioness. She’s dangerous…”

The Bullet – Epilogue

10Rolbos has never aimed at being controversial. It’s a blog about goodness, kindness and love. It’s about forgiving and getting on with Life.

That’s why the response to The Bullet Series was a bit surprising. It was read across a broad spectrum of society, which (I believe) included most races, religions and cultures. The comments on the blog are there for everyone to see, but on Facebook, and in my inbox and e-mail I received other comments worth noting.

  • Generally, most readers had sympathy for Ben while some thought he was the architect of his own demise.
  • Some found his locked up state hard to understand
  • Some expats wrote to tell me I’m a liberal sh*t, and I must stop living in cloud cuckoo land
  • Others found the idea of a honourable Himba far-fetched.
  • Most favourable comment came from guys who were conscripted in the war. These ex-troops remember the hardship and the danger. They also remember the difficulty of re-entering ‘normal’ society.
  • One lady said she never knew men had such feelings (Ben, the Himba, Sakkie)
  • Several readers queried the authenticity of the story – thinking it to be a factual account of real people and events.

The comments with overt racial and political overtones upset me, as it always does. Are we living in a world where ego is more important than getting on with the people we share Life with? Will we forever emphasise differences, ignoring the simple fact that we’ll only survive when we reach out to each other?

That we are a diverse society, is a fact. We don’t all think the same. We have cultural, religious, social differences…and that’s okay. But to become so self-centered that we absolutely refuse the sun to shine on others, is the beginning of xenophobia and even genocide.

That’s why Rolbos won’t buckle under the criticism of being tagged as ‘liberal’. These stories will continue to attempt to build bridges. Gertruida and company live in these fictional stories to remind us all how important communication is – in Life as well as in Love. The feeling in Boggel’s Place is that the world will only change once we insist on bringing kindness back in our words and actions.

So, to all those who felt uncomfortable with Ben &Co, I raise my hat. It means that you thought about the story – and not only browsed through it. As for the rest of the regular readers, those who ‘get’ what Rolbos is all about: come on in, Boggel is serving a round on the House as a big thank you for following the antics of his patrons. He just loves a good debate and actually said the critics are welcome to join, provided they do so with an open mind.

After all – without readers, Rolbos has no meaning, no message. Let’s keep the flag flying…

The Bullet (# 8)

hourGertruida will tell you Einstein was right. Everything should be viewed relative to everything else. Take time, for instance. Not all seconds are of equal length, irrespective of which atomic clock you use.  The perception of time is relative to the conditions prevailing at the moment. She tried to explain that once in Boggel’s Place, but Servaas objected, saying she’s busy with some New Age theory.

But now, outside Oom Sakkie Liebenberg’s humble house, Gertruida is proved to be right (as she usually is). In the moments after the old man exhaled and steadied his gun, the sands of time stopped trickling through the hourglass,

Like it happens in that microsecond before the speeding bus hits your car, the senses in the men and women on the Liebenberg farm intensified, focussed and became so heightened, that they would remember every detail of what happened.

Old Oom Liebenberg will remember drawing a bead on the black man approaching his farmhouse. The Himba man, so used to observing detail in the veld, notices the gun barrel protruding from behind the shabby curtain of the open window. Vetfaan feels ice running down his back as he recognises the danger.

And Servaas, the garrulous old man with the pious self-righteousness of an elder of the church, curses loudly, shouting that they are friends and they want to help.

Too late.

Almost too late.

Oom Liebenberg hears the shout and it distracts him enough to lift the barrel of the gun a fraction as he pulls the trigger. The booming crash of the gun, the smoke from the barrel, and the frightened shrieks of the women seem to remain frozen – almost like a rehearsed act on stage – for an eternity.

The Himba man falls to the ground, unhurt, his eyes wide in surprise.

“Stop! Don’t shoot! It’s us, Oom Sakkie.” Kleinpiet stands rooted to the spot, his voice strained but loud enough to echo from the barn fifty yards away. “Don’t shoot, you bloody old fool.” The last bit almost whispered in a plea.

The old man lowers his gun, baffled by the shouts. His eyesight is so bad – and his fear so great – that he has to concentrate to notice and recognise the other people approaching the house cautiously. He puts down the gun with trembling hands before pushing the curtain aside.

“Wha…what? What’s happening.” The old man stares myopically at the group, completely confused and utterly uncertain.

“We come in peace,” Oudoom says. Gertruida thinks this is something Tonto would have said and starts giggling uncontrollably. Even Oudoom’s stern stare can’t stop her.

“Who’s this man?”

***

Ben Liebenberg heard his father move away after he had tried to speak to him through the locked door. He doesn’t care – just can’t care – about the world out there. Too much had been taken from him, too many heartaches had been his fate, and finally he’d withdrawn in the dark interior of his lost world. Only here, in the darkened bungalow, did he find peace and safety. Out there, more pain waited…

Then the shot went off…

***

Gertruida says it happens like that sometimes. After severe emotional trauma – which may take years to fester and build up – a person may experience a condition similar to a Locked In Syndrome – or LIS for short. While true LIS is a feature of brain stem injury and severe paralysis, the emotional LIS is a form of psychosis – or even hysteria. In these cases, the sudden change in circumstances may (very rarely) be the trigger to unleash the bonds of depression, fear and self-pity.

It’s the gunshot that does it.

After years of silence (except for his father’s pleading voice), the gunshot is totally unexpected. Benjamin Liebenberg, the pitiful, dirty, unshaven wreck of a man, jumps up in alarm. Danger! The old battle-fear hits him with such a force that he is left breathless for a second. Then, acting on instinct, he storms the door and tries to yank it open.

It’s locked.

Key! He must find the key to get out. Now! Key! Where is it?

Under your mattress, Sergeant Ben. You put it under the bed, remember?

Who said it? Something in his mind? A rebooted hard drive following the correct circuit again?

He finds the key. Unlocks the door. storms outside. Many people there. Too many. Who…?

***

“Sergeant Ben?” The incredulous Himba man stares at the caricature storming from the bungalow. Ben’s hair hangs over his shoulders, tussled and unwashed, uncombed for years. The beard creates an unflattering and unkempt Moses-look. He’s lost weight, causing the torn jeans to sag around his middle. Dirty feet skid to a halt at the sound of his name.

The dull eyes turn slowly to gaze at the Himba.

“I brought back your bullet.” The Himba dangles the chain from his fingers, allowing the bullet to swing to and fro. He hesitates before adding a single word: “Father.”

“You?” Benjamin Liebenberg gapes at the Himba. “You? Really?”

His vocal chords, unused for so many years, cause his voice to be high-pitched and almost inaudible.

“Yes, my father. I heard you were sick. I came.”

Silence. With all eyes trained on him, Ben stands gaping at the group. Then the weight of his past bears down on him; the thoughts and the fears and the nightmares buckle his knees as his thin legs refuse to carry his burden one single step more.

“You…came?”

“Yes my father. This is the bullet that saved your life. It must do so once more.”

As if in supplication, Ben holds out both trembling hands to receive the dangling brass bullet.

And then the emotional dam inside his head is – at last – no longer able to contain the pent-up demons kept captive there for so many years. When he falls forward, face in the sand and clutching the bullet to his forehead, he starts sobbing uncontrollably.

“Leave him,” Gertruida whispers, “it’s all got to come out.” She shepherds the rest into the house, leaving the Himba man and Ben to themselves.

***

Three days later, the Himba man gets into the lorry of Kalahari Vervoer. He leans out of the window to wave at the little crowd. Between him and the driver, the now-cleaned-up Ben stares stoically through the windscreen. Off to one side, Oom Liebenberg stands next to Gertruida.

“Will he be allright?”

She nods slowly. “His healing will be a journey in itself. Somewhere along the road, your son got lost. The best thing now is to go back to the beginning – to where he felt wanted, and alive…and loved. That’s where he’ll find his old self again.”

“But I’m his father!” Frustration creeps into his voice. “Why couldn’t I do it?”

“He’s your son. That’s different. You care, he receives. But with the Himba man, he’s the one that once cared. Still does, as you can see. He gives, the Himba receives. And that’s why, Oom Sakkie, he’ll recover. Nobody snaps out of depression because they are pitied by others – that makes it worse. But when you find that fountain of caring inside…that’s when the mind decides that it is worthwhile to face the future.”

Back in Boggel’s Place after the lorry left, the atmosphere is almost sombre. The events of the last few days have touched them all deeply, leaving a sad sweetness in its wake.

“Quite a remarkable chap, that Himba man,” Vetfaan says to break the silence.

“Yeah.” Kleinpiet draws a Himba hut with his beer’s foam on the counter top. Then he looks up as a thought strikes him. “You know, I never asked his name…”

Gertruida has the answer, as she always does.

“It’s Ben, Kleinpiet. Back then the troops called him Little Ben. Now, it’s just Ben.”

On the road to Upington, a white man sits quietly between the driver and the Himba man. Around his neck, a copper-coloured bullet hangs from a chain. He’s going to fight his own war without a gun and only with a spent bullet.

That, and the man next to him, the one who calls him ‘Father’.

For the first time in many years, his lips curl upwards in what could be a smile.

The Bullet (# 7)

psalm23Old Oom Sakkie Liebenberg closes his Bible with a sigh and puts down the magnifying glass. He’s just read his favourite Psalm: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want… Reading is getting more and more difficult these days. He’ll have to see somebody about it. Today he’s not praying about his eyes, however.

“Lord, I’m trying. Really. For seven years I’ve hung onto these words, and for seven years I have tried to believe them.

“But you know, Lord, it’s been seven years since Benjamin locked himself in that bungalow outside. At first it was the alcohol, then the drugs. You saw how depressed he had become, Lord, and still You allowed him to sink deeper and deeper into that dark hole of hopelessness.

“And somehow, I blame You, Lord. The landmine that killed his family. The war. The nightmares afterwards. Benjamin isn’t a bad man, Dear Father; he loved life…he loved You. But after that time in the sanatorium, he came back with a bag full of pills and locked himself up. You saw that. You heard him say his life is worthless. You heard him turn the key that day.

“And now, today, it’s seven years of silence. Of darkness. Of…nothing.

“Where is my child, Lord? Why won’t You give him back to me?” He lets his face sink into his hands in shame. “I didn’t mean to shout, Lord. I didn’t. I’m sorry…

Not knowing what else to say, he adds a hasty ‘Amen’.

He walks over to the old Dover stove, fills two mugs with coffee, and goes outside. He’ll just put the one mug on the windowsill of the bungalow as usual, before sitting down in the rickety chair outside the door. Then he’ll do what he does every day: talk to his son inside – and listen to the silence.

The war. That’s what did it. Not immediately, though…later. It was as if the loss of his wife and family grew bigger after the fighting stopped. Maybe, Oom Sakkie thinks, the war provided an outlet for the pent-up emotions in Benjamin’s mind. Pulling a trigger must have provided some relief to his pain. That, and that Himba boy. Fighting released his anger; the boy rekindled love and caring. Then the war ended and the damage began.

“You know, Benjamin,” Oom Sakkie tells the closed door, “I can’t do this much longer. The farm is going to the dogs, I’m getting older and my eyes… And since your mother died, it’s just the two of us. I’m thinking of selling the farm.”

There’s no answer – only the scrape of the tin mug taken from the sill.

***

Inside the darkened bungalow, Sergeant Ben sips the coffee. He feels no pity for his father, sitting outside in the sun. What’s the point of pity? Of feeling? It only hurts. that’s all. It doesn’t fix anything.

Anyway, his life is over. Worthless. Useless. Empty. Dark. If only he was brave enough to end it all.

Putting down the mug, he presses the palms of his hands against his eyes – hard, so that little spots of light flash in the darkness. What is left? He’s lost everything, everything, due to the war – and politics. For a while after 1994, he was hopeful that the sacrifices added up to something. But then, over the years, it became all to evident that so many young lives were ruined on the altar of politics. At first there was Apartheid – and now there is Apartheid again; only the other way around. Farmers get killed, women get raped, the police are progressively getting to be as corrupt as the politicians…there is no light. No light at all.

He told the doctors so, of course. They gave pills. It didn’t help. They gave him electric shocks. It made him feel worse. More pills.

Alcohol helped. It made him forget and allowed sleep. But then they took it away. His father – his own father – made sure there was no alcohol around to allow him to escape his thoughts. Dark thoughts. Thoughts filled with broken young bodies and blood and screams. His own father denied him the oblivion that took the thoughts away.

Fine. If that’s the way it has to be, then he’ll have no further part in the Life Outside. The Life Outside is a madhouse of power-hungry egomaniacs. What’s the use of playing their game? Look at what has happened after the war: has things improved? Of course not… It is far better to sit out life in darkness than to live a pretend-life out there, where values are false. Politicians are false. Even the people are false. There’s nothing to live for, nothing to dream about. It’s all so useless…

If his father cared, he would have helped him. A real father would have, wouldn’t he? He, Benjamin Jakobus Liebenberg, will beg no more. He doesn’t care any more. Life, he knows, is a four-letter word, nothing more…

Benjamin  Liebenberg, unkempt, unclean, depressed and lonely, doesn’t cry any more. His tears have left him after the electric shocks; but the limitless melancholy of his pointless existence bears down on him so heavily, that he lies down on the floor, holding the pillow to his face so that his father won’t hear his sobs.

***

Oom Sakkie is about to return to the kitchen, when he sees the line of cars approaching. People? Coming here? Why…?

There’s been a lot of talk about farm attacks lately. Just the other day, an entire family was killed near Keimoes – for two cellphones and a few Rand. Four people dead, and the police have yet to open the docket. That’s what the newspaper said, anyway.

The old man shuffles over to the cupboard next to his bed to get the loaded shotgun. If those vermin want to rob him, he’ll be ready for them. Oh yes, they’ll get it! The damn country has taken his son and his daughter-in-law and his grandson. There are talks about land reform and nationalisation. His savings are worth half of what it was before the politicians started buggering up everything.

Taking position behind the threadbare curtain, he raises the gun.

Do they want to attack a defenceless old man who still has to look after the remains of what his son once was? No way! He’ll teach them!

He squints to make out the handsome black man gets out of the first car to stop. The man seems to be unsure, then, glancing around, he approaches the house.

Oom Sakkie Liebenberg doesn’t see the other people alighting. He focusses on the black man who wants to steal his meagre possessions. He takes a deep breath, exhales, and aims.

Then, like a good shot should, he slowly curls his index finger to apply pressure to the trigger. The Lord may be the shepherd, but this farm belongs to the Liebenbergs. He’s not going to let anybody take it away…

Weekly Photo Challenge: From Lines to Patterns

We’re used to straight lines, neatly drawn on white paper, exactly the right length, absolutely correct. Our cars, our homes, our offices started out as such precise lines. Somehow, we expect our lives to follow straight lines as well.

136But Life somehow surprises each of us – all too often – by derailing our dreams, simply because in Life, there is no such thing as a straight line. Once-tempting dreams rust away quietly in the desert of reality.

239We shouldn’t be surprised: Nature does not believe in straight lines. Like Life, Nature’s lines tend to twist and turn unexpectedly.

15

Like the Zebra stripes on a mountain, or the pattern in a rock, we discover beauty is hidden in the unexpected. The wonder of Life is not the simplicity of a straight line from cradle to grave, but  only revealed when we submit to the awesome pattern mapped out for each of us.

28

86

Lines? Yes, Life and Love follow lines.

Only: don’t expect them to be straight – like the edges of your desk..