“The original sin,” Oudoom tells the group at the bar, “wasn’t something stupid like eating an apple.” He waits until Servaas stops shaking his head before going on. “It was defiance. There were rules and the First Man, Number One, decided to challenge them. That, my friends was the start of all sin: the intent to break the rules. It began when Number One thought those laws applied to everybody else – but not him.”
The patrons in Boggel’s Place shift around uncomfortably. Oudoom is right, of course…it’s the implication of what he’s saying that worries them. Thoughts are private things, after all, and do they not – all of them – sometimes think thoughts they are not proud of? Gertruida is quick to change the subject.
“There’s a legend about the apes that used to live in the Kalahari, It’s an old story, but it ties in with Oudoom’s statement. And it says something about the result of sin as well…”
A long, long time ago, in a cave near an oasis in the desert, a group of apes lived happily together. They’d share food, groom each other, and watch the children play. They lived a simple life, never quarrelled and slept soundly at night.
One day, because it was winter and the cold wind forced them to remain in the cave, they were faced with a problem. The small ones were hungry while the adults huddled close. At last – not being able to listen to the whimpering of the hungry children any longer – one ape stood up and said they had to do something about it.
“Look,” he said, “we can’t listen to this wailing all day. One of us must go to fetch some roots and berries for the children to eat.”
“Who are you to tell us such a thing?” One of the females scowled at the One Who Had Spoken First. “If one of us must go, we all must go.”
“Think about it,” the One Who Had Spoken First said, “the rest of us will remain warm in here while only one will suffer a bit. We can, of course, reward the one who fetches the food with an extra portion. That way, it will be worthwhile to face the cold and everybody will be happy.”
“Then you should go. It was your idea.”
“No, I can’t.” He held up a perfectly healthy foot. “I sprained my ankle, see? One of you will have to go.”
They all knew he was lying, of course. But, because they didn’t want to confront him with the lie, they all remained silent.
“Then we’ll have to choose one to go,” the female said eventually. Even in those times, they thought elections were the way to solve issues. Somehow this idea still persists to this day, even though everybody knows it only causes more problems.
And that’s how the first elections took place. Yes, they all agreed, the One Who Had Spoken First should go. He grumbled, declared they were all unfair, and sulked in the corner. The rest of the tribe wouldn’t have any of that and said they’d all go out .
“We’ll gather enough food for all of us and come back. But…you won’t get anything. If you don’t want to share in the work, you can’t expect us to feed you.”
And so it happened that the shivering troupe of apes went out in the freezing wind to fetch food for the little ones and for themselves. During their search, they came upon another cave, a bigger one, much better protected and warmer than their old home.
“I’ll go fetch the children,” the Female Who Had Answered the One Who Had Spoken First said. “We’ll stay here. It is nearer to the water and there is enough berries around to feed us all through the winter.”
And this she did. When she got to their old cave, the One Who Had Spoken First was glad to get rid of the wailing children. He also thought it was a trick to get him working as well, and refused to go along. He stayed behind in their old cave.
“Now, one must be very careful with good fortune. There’s no such thing as a free lunch – we all know that.” Gertruida sighs. “But those apes didn’t. They couldn’t believe their good luck. They moved into that new cave, without The One Who Had Spoken First , celebrating with the berries they had found.”
However, there was a very good reason why that cave was uninhabited – or at least seemed empty. Far back in the dark recesses of the cave lived a huge python. It was his cave, And any traveller or animal that sought shelter there, was sure to end up as the python’s next meal.
The python couldn’t believe his good luck. He was also very clever. No, he decided. he won’t eat them all at the same time. He’d slither out of his hiding place late at night, and swallow one of the apes every time the moon turns dark. The apes were upset, but they never realised what – exactly – was happening. All they knew, was that every so often, one of them would disappear.
Then, one day when there were only a few left, the apes decided to return to their old cave. They discussed moving the next morning, not realising the python was listening to everything they said. So, that evening, the python set about swallowing the rest of the apes. One by one he’d slither up to a sleeping figure and do what he did best – first strangulating his victim before gorging himself.
“Well, you can imagine the scene: slowly, relentlessly, that snake devoured every single member of that clan. By the time he reached the last ape, the python was so full, he could hardly move. His movements became sluggish and slow. Exhausted by his efforts, the snake tried to wrap himself around the last ape’s neck.”
Gertruida’s story has them all hanging onto every word. Here and there a hand went up to a throat, while an involuntary shiver ran down quite a few spines.
The remaining ape woke up with a start. He saw the snake. He looked around. And he screamed like no ape had done ever before. The python, however, would not be denied, and although he was very slow about it, he eventually silenced the ape by swallowing him as well.
The One Who Had Spoken First, heard those terrible screams during the night. Not daring to venture out in the dark, he waited until dawn to investigate. He came upon that cave where the huge python lay with the massively bloated stomach. His fright at finding that such a horrible thing had happened, was complete. Regret about his selfishness and unwillingness to help his family, mixed with the realisation that he was responsible for the demise of the clan, made him stand there, mouth agape, unable to move.
“He’s still there, on the other side of Bokkop, if you cared to look, you’ll find the place where he’s still standing. Over the years he has turned to stone as a reminder of the terrible destruction one causes when the intention to lie becomes a way of life. Anyway, that’s why we have no apes here in Rolbos.” Gertruida finishes her story so suddenly, that the group in the bar lets out a collective groan.
“Magtag, Gertruida! That’s a terrible story.” Servaas pulls at the collar of his black suit. “Whatever has that to do with Oudoom’s statement. You know? The fact that the original sin wasn’t eating the apple, but the intention to do so?”
“You should have a look at that boulder, Servaas. It is both ape and rock. It’s a hybrid, you see? Just like we are hybrids: we mix lies and truth. We love and we hate. We have the capacity to laugh and to cry. In the end, we’re composites of quite a number of conflicting abilities and emotions. Most of all, we manage to mingle good and evil into our daily lives so delicately, we don’t even notice it any more.
“Think about the ape who spoke first – he was just lazy. Then he told a little lie about his foot. and that, my friend, caused the destruction of the whole clan. One individual, their Number One, wasn’t truthful about a small thing. What happened?” Gertruida pauses a while, letting her words sink in. “Number One destroyed their happy way of life, that’s what. That stone on Bokkop is a monument of the horror he had caused by his intention to make the others do all the work.”
Oudoom shrugs. “Ja, Gertruida. Our Number One will do the same. Already we have many monuments to attest to his intentions. Schools without books. Hospitals with no back-up generators. Corruption. Crime. Rape. Murder. Our beloved country is a hybrid of beauty and horror.The python is swallowing the country, while we sleep on blissfully.” He leans over to pat Servaas’ slumped shoulders. “Maybe that’s our biggest sin…”
“You mean, it’s goodbye Paradise for us, Dominee?”
“We left Paradise a long time ago, Servaas, when we became hybrids. A very long time ago, when lies stole our purity and we got swallowed by the python called politics…”