“Mister Faan, you must come and help.” !Ka has run all the way to town, but despite the heat, he’s not even sweating. “The man is sleeping.”
The group at the bar turns around to face the Bushman. !Ka? Here? And what’s he talking about?
Vetfaan, however, notices the urgency in !Ka’s voice. For the little man to burst in here, without the traditional greeting, announcing himself and asking permission to enter ‘their space’, is extremely unusual.
They’ve just settled the two women and Servaas in comfortable chairs and Boggel is admiinistering the oldest medicine in the world, wine, to his customers. It is, after all, too late for coffee and too early for stronger stuff.
“Good afternoon, !Ka. I trust you are well.” Vetfaan sticks to the common formalities. “Come in, sit down. Are you thirsty?”
“No Mister Faan. You must come quick. The man will wake up shortly. He’s got a gun. A big one. You must come. Now!”
The urgency in the little man’s voice leaves them no choice.
The assassin is a tall, well-built man. When the grpoup reaches him, he’s still out cold.
“What did you shoot him with, !Ka?”
“An arrow, Mister Faan.” Bushmen rarely allow humour to wander far off. Then he frowns and continues. “A very small drop of the Milkbush sap, and some herbs.” He watches the prostrate man. “When he wakes up, that wound will burn like fire. And he’ll have a big headache. And he’ll want the toilet all the time.” He pauses. “Did I do right, Mister Faan?”
“You’ve saved us all, !kA. You did a man’s job here, I’m proud of you. When this is all over, you can come and choose the fattest sheep on my farm as a reward. Only…not the champion ram.”
Boggel has seen this before. The poison is effective against most voluntary muscles and causes a short coma-like condition. The entry wound gets transformed into a massive red swelling, which only subsides after a week. To mix the poison correctly – causing incapacity but not death – is a skill only a few Bushmen possess. He walks over to !Ka to express his admiration.
“We had better get this guy tied up as well.” Sergeant Dreyer picks up the gun, ejects the cartridge and hands the bolt to Vetfaan. “I want no more shooting around here today,” he explains as he gives the gun to Oudoom, “and until we are in town, you two stay away from each other,”
Half-an-hour later, they are back in Boggel’s Place, where !Ka is the guest of honour. He’s sipping a Coke, relishing the sweetness of the drink. Precilla and Bianca seem to have recovered, although old Servaas still emits a plaintive ‘Ow‘ every now and then.
“What now, Sergeant? We have the two men safely tied up and locked up in the store room, Kleinpiet managed to drive his Land Rover back into town and the girls seem okay. What’s the course of action now?”
Sergeant Dreyer sighs as he sits down. “Listen, I’m not sure. Somehow, my superiors seem less than interested. But…” he holds up a finger, “we have the answer right here.” He allows his eyes to rove over the little crowd before he allows them to rest on Bianca.
“I know you’ve had a rough day, Bianca, but I think you have something to tell us. Maybe, once we have heard your story, we can start making sense of this all.”
“Yes.” She shifts uncomfortably. “I guess I owe you that.
“I said I came here to hide, get away from it all. That much is true. And I didn’t tell you about my work or my marriage…” She proceeds to give an outline of her life, ending with her stints in Afghanistan and Uganda.
“Then I came home. I was sick and tired of bloodshed and war. I needed to rest and recuperate. I settled down in Windhoek, where I stayed with Matron Delport – she knew my story, of course. A week after I arrived there, Charles phoned me. How he knew I was back, is beyond me. Maybe the old network still works… Anyway, he said he had to see me, urgently. He’d be in Windhoek the next day, he said. And he said he’d phone me to set up a meeting. Then he said something strange. Watch your post If I don’t make it. There are some people after me.
“I didn’t really want to see him again. I mean, the marriage was a sham and I didn’t feel I owed him anything. But…I didn’t know how to refuse him. Despite his criminal background, he always treated me like a lady. Never a harsh word. And I…well, I said okay and that was the end of the conversation.”
!Ka waits for her to pause before he slaps the empty Coke bottle with his palm, looking over to Boggel with pleading eyes. If there was an equivalent in Bushman language for making hay while the sun shines, he would have smiled at the thought. Maybe grabbing an egg while the ostrich feeds elsewhere is close enough.
“Charles never phoned me again. I don’t know what happened to him, but I have a bad feeling.
“Three days later a letter arrived. It was from Charles.” Her lips tremble, but she soldiers on. “He said…he said he wanted to apologise. He was wrong about many things in his life and he wanted to make it right. He wrote to tell me he wanted to live an honest life and asked if we could try again.
“There were another two pages in the envelope. The one had a list of names, with dates next to them ranging from 1978 to 1994. The other list simply had the heading 2013. There were names I recognised. Business people, politicians, conservationists. And there were names I’ve never heard before. I recall Wang and Ho, but there were others that sounded Chinese or at least, Asian. On the back of the second page he wrote: Theses men are after me. I’m not sure which ones, but I’m being tailed. They are bad men. If I don’t make it to Windhoek, I want you to send these lists – anonymously – to a newspaper, indicating that the large-scale poaching of Rhinos were – and are – controlled by these people. I can’t live with the thought that this just goes on and on. Back in the 80’s, I thought we were fighting communism, and anything went. Now it’s only about greed and money. They smuggle abalone, drugs, people.
I’ve always loved you. You are the only person I can trust.”
Bianca is crying now. Copiously, without restraint. Gertruida knows… She knows the tears some women cry when they look back at the mistakes, the lost chances, the loves lost and the life that turned out to be so different to their childhood dreams. These tears, she realises, wait for too many little girls who still believe in fairytale relationships and uncomplicated love. And she knows – deep in her heart – that no woman will grow old without them.
Swallowing hard, she opens her mouth to say something reassuring, but the howl of an approaching siren interrupts her. Just like she understands the heartaches of life, she knows this howl doesn’t herald good news.