“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.
“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.