Old 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…