Next time you’re at an international airport, look around. Not just glance or peer or peek: really LOOK at the people milling this way and that. Gertruida says that when you realise there is no bigger collection of secrets anywhere else in the world. Airports, she says, are the warehouses of the world when it comes to harbouring mysteries and secrets. Every one of the people bustling past you, has a thought, an opinion or a memory nobody else knows anything about. Check it out…it’s true.
Take – for instance – the young lady over there. The one with the slightly prominent middle. She’s been crying, you can see that. Or the frowning old man over there, clutching the battered briefcase. He’s a con artist, waiting for the gullible but rich young man on the next flight. Or what about the chap in the dark suit? The one with the dog collar? Did you know he has a cupboard filled with leather clothes and whips in the flat he rents a mile from his home?
Everyone has a secret.
He’s got his wallet and passport safely tucked into the pocket of his floral shirt, feeling a bit odd in the Bermuda’s and floppy sandals. It is cold outside, but where he’s going, the weather will be balmy and the company hot. At least, he hopes so. Kneehigh suggested much more than casual conversation, after all. Admittedly, he was a bit confused when she suggested they take a holiday. Who does that, anyway? To go to a romantic tropical island with somebody, is something he never even dreamt of. Yet, here he is, waiting at the airport…
Kneehigh not only suggested the trip, she supplied the tickets, the bookings…everything. What was a man to do? Say no thank you? Refused to slip away into the most erotic fantasy he’d ever have and forever be sorry that he didn’t? And all that, while Kneehigh had her hand so softly – so seductively – on his thigh and her magical eyes saw the need deep inside his mind?
One cannot blame a man such as Diksarel for surrendering to those eyes. Not if you knew his secret…
You see, Diksarel can be described as a social runt. Physically, there is nothing wrong with him. He has the standard two arms and two legs and all the rest. But deep inside him, he carries the underdeveloped ability to be part of the in-crowd. Ever since he was a toddler, he has been a loner, an outcast, the little boy who wasn’t invited to the birthday party.
It wasn’t his fault.
His father, you see, was a spy. No, not like in James Bond or one of Le Carrè’s characters – nothing as dramatic or adventurous like that. He may be better described as one of the many Bureau of State Security’s ears on the ground. These men and women were everywhere. White people accepted them as part of the surreal life they led back in the 70’s and 80’s, It was believed that such ‘agents’ were necessary to combat the danger of communism. And, as it was believed at the time, the threat lived and grew stronger in the black townships on the outskirts of every town in the country.
So far, so good. If Diksarel’s father was instrumental in keeping South Africa safe, he should be a hero, not so? Well, maybe for a time he might have been seen in such a flattering light…but then an intimate little fact became known. He had a secret girlfriend. An affair. And in this case, his Delilah wasn’t white…
So Diksarel’s mother left, his father took to the bottle, and Diksarel became a recluse. As young as he was, he understood that his Pappa had done something so terrible, so unacceptably horrible, that even he, the small boy, had to bear the burden of his father’s unthinkable actions.
It’s funny (not in a humorous way – let’s rather settle on weird) how such a stigma can outlast the scandal. Now, so many long years after his father succumbed to the effects of the excessive volumes of alcohol he insisted on pouring down his throat, Diksarel is still the outcast. Maybe it is the way all societies work, or maybe Upingon is blessed with a particularly good memory, but to this day people whisper behind his back. This may be entirely due to the unforgiving nature of the human mind, but one may add that Diksarel’s shame refused to fade as the years rolled by. If your father had to endure the grim rejection following such a scandal, the effects might just last a lifetime. Times and governments may change, policies may dictate a more just community – but it’ll never rid society of prejudice and gossip.
That’s why Diksarel lives alone in the house he inherited from his mother. She, in turn, inherited it from his father, but she never returned to Upington. She knew…and she stayed away. The House of Shame, it was called back then – nowadays it’s Diksarel’s house. The name changed but the implied shame didn’t.
Oh, one can understand Diksarel’s joy, his anticipation, his expectation. Kneehigh is, after all, the first woman – ever – to talk to him in the way women talk to men they like. You know: the eyes. The mirrors of the soul. They say more than words ever can. And when she talked to Diksarel, her eyes promised a paradise all men dream of. And he felt himself drawn in by those eyes and his whole world changed.
So we find Diksarel in his floral shirt and his Bermuda shorts and his sandals on this cold day at the airport, waiting for the woman who told him such wonderful things while she looked into his soul.
But look: over there are two men. The ones with the short hair and the strong jaws and the determined looks. They’re scanning the faces, comparing them with the photograph the taller one is holding in his right hand. You won’t think they’re taxi drivers or agents for a local hotel or spa. No sir. Their almost-military bearing says something about their background. In fact, you’d notice them standing there simply because they are obviously not tourists, but two men on a mission.
You’d wonder about that. Who are they looking for? Why?
But you know about Diksarel and that invoice. The one he destroyed after chatting to the voluptuously beautiful Kneehigh. So do those two men from the Revenue Services.
Yes, Gertruida is right – as usual. An airport is where you find secrets. And as you rush towards the customs officials, you seldom have the time to consider the hidden tragedies – and hopes – of your fellow passengers.
It’s a pity.
Travelling would be so much more interesting if you did.