Jacques and Harry sat there, waiting, for most of the night. They finished a bottle of Bombay Sapphire. Then had coffee. Eventually, when the barman could not keep his eyes open any more, he chased them off to bed.
It was half-past three. It was only at nine – the next morning – that Gert and Lettie finally appeared from her bungalow. She was radiant. He seemed pleased as punch. During the night (amongst many other things) they had sorted out the why’s and the how’s and the wherefores. It had been a night filled with explanations, exclamations and a few standing ovations. (Well, come on – the period of abstinence and uncertainty did have an effect – so just go with the way Gertruida tells the story!)
So, when they arrived at the breakfast buffet – all weary and happily doe-eyed – they found Harry and Jacques there. Gert was still wearing his uniform, but it had obviously been washed, The reporters were bleary-eyed too, but for a completely different reason…
Gertruida says adventure stories are different than erotic ones. In adventure stories, a good author will describe the colour of blood, the gasping desperation for breath, the jagged bits of bone thrusting painfully through the bruised skin. Now, she says, when it comes to describing a tender moment between two lovers, some authors descend to remarkable depths by trying to use graphic detail instead of subtle suggestion. This, she reminds her audience, is called a Peculiarly Obscene Record of Note – a completely senseless effort to sell words to illiterate readers. Intimacy – like in real life – needs to be handled with great care and soft lights. In fact she says, the shadow of Love is often more satisfying than stark focus.
You see, Gertruida says, there exists (even today) the steadfast few who believe in the beauty and kindness only found in those moments of sincere intimacy. She reckons these moments are so holy, that no author or storyteller should even consider describing in graphic detail the shared joy of true love. It’s like grace and forgiveness – no matter how many words you use, it just doesn’t really ever manage to express the complexity of the concept.
“You kids have a good night?” Jacques squinted in the general direction of Gert and Lettie when they sat down for breakfast. Harry, of course, smirked knowingly until Jacques shot him a disapproving look.
“Jacques, Harry – this is Gert Smit. Gert, meet the two gentlemen who took a chance in coming here.”
Lettie waits for the handshakes and murmured greetings before going on: “Gert told me what has happened in the last few weeks. Well,” she blushed, “some of it anyway.”
“Ja, we had a lot to talk about, see. Other things as well.” Gert seemed apologetic until Harry started giggling. That broke the ice…
“Okay.” Jacques held up a hand. “Maybe we should retire to the patio after breakfast. I’d feel better after a Bombay – hair of the dog and all that. Then, if Gert s up to it…,” here he was again interrupted by Harry’s giggle but chose to ignore it, “I’d like to chat with him about some rumours I’ve heard.”
“What!! Where? Damn it! Damn it to hell!” Major Gericke slammed down the phone. Of all things!
First his daughter went missing. Then he got a report that the two journalists were missing, too. Then he sent a telex to Voortrekkerhoogte about Gert Smit: missing in action, presumed killed in action. That was bad enough. But now…now one of the informers reported observing the three of them in Kasane!
Of course he was glad that Lettie was alright. Relieved. Happy. But: what was she doing in Kasane? And to make matters worse, she was with a deserter? And, insult to injury, in the presence of that lousy, snoopy, inquisitive, nuisance reporter…
He closed his eyes. That reporter won’t be so stupid to sell the story of the alleged plot to get rid of Savimbi to a local newspaper. No! The London Times. Washington Post. Mail and Guardian… The story would be a splash in the international media and South Africa’s already-tarnished reputation would get another coat of shame.
Even worse: he – Major Gericke – would be the central figure in this drama: his soldier, his base, his failure…and his daughter…
How the hell am I going to clear up this mess…? Gericke paced his small office for a full ten minutes before he sighed and sat down. Then he closed his eyes. Please God, forgive me. I have to do this…
Then, galvanised into action, Major Gericke stormed out of his office. shouting for the aide to get the Land Rover ready. He needed it for a trip. And yes, damnit! He was going alone!
“And, Corporal, get that mechanic here! Now! I want to know that vehicle is in top shape!”
“…and so I came sailing down the Chobe, avoiding the hippos and the police patrols and everything. They deposited me on the bank, where Lettie found me.” Gert Smit stole a shy glance at her. “That was the most wonderful, the most exquisite moment of my life. I reckoned I would have to beg and steal my way back to her. I thought she’d be mad at me for not writing. I even guessed she’d reject me for absconding from the army.” He sighed happily as he reached for her hand. “But no…there she was, so happy to see me. She was great…she is great. I loved her before. I love her even more now.”
Jacques wrote everything down in his own brand of shorthand. He’d just listened to the most fantastic story, filled with strange characters and almost-impossible events. Yet, he knew, this was as true to life as anything he’d ever heard. He also realised the story was packed with political dynamite. Once he’d published the story, it would be another nail in the Apartheid coffin. As an outspoken liberal, he couldn’t wait to get to his typewriter.
Harry took a few photographs of Gert, Gert and Lettie, Ger’s bare feet, Gert’s almost-empty rucksack.
“So…what now?” Lettie clung to Gert’s hand, her anxiety obvious.
“Easy.” Jacques leant back in his chair, waving his drink in salute. “We ferret the two of you to Cape Town. I’ve a friend who is the local correspondent for CNN. You, Lettie, we spruce up and make you a TV superstar. You know, the girl waiting for the soldier to come home. Faithful. Loyal. Believing in her man.
“But Gert? We make him look like last night. Dirty. Tired. Out on his feet. The soldier who dared question his superiors. The soldier sent on an impossible mission. The rebel.
“This, my friends, is award-winning stuff. It is powerful. And it’ll be worth every cent we’ve spent on gin in the last three days…”
“No bloody way!” They all looked up is shock as Major Gericke interrupted their conversation. Where did he come from? Here? Impossible. And yet, here he was, ramrod straight, dressed in full uniform, and there was no mistaking the anger in his voice. “And soldier…in the presence of a superior officer, you should have been standing to attention ten seconds ago!”
Lettie reacted first. “No, Daddy! Don’t do this!! Please…”