(Follows on the previous posts)
People react to fright (and guilty consciences) in different ways, Gertruida is fond of saying. Mostly, their first thought is about their own safety. That is normal, she says. Once preservation of the self is ensured, attention to others become a reality.
Maybe Reverend Joseph should have thought about that. Or perhaps it’s just as well he didn’t. But when Miriam’s son appears in the doorway, Joseph has no idea of what is about to happen.
“Yes, what about the grudge?”
The three of them (Miriam, Joseph and an even more surprised – if emotional – Diksarel) turn to the door of the church, where a young man hissed the words. Despite not being quite himself, Diksarel recognises the youth as the one who brought him here from the sheneen. An alarm bell goes off in his mind – did Reverend Joseph not say he is dangerous…or something?
“You,” the newcomer points an accusing finger at Diksarel, “have ruined my family. You caused my grandfather and my mother – and me – untold misery…”
“Wait son!” Miriam is now the one pleading. “You cannot hold this white man responsible for what his father had done. Please…”
“No, Mom. Sorry. It is a matter of honour. His father, my grandfather.” He takes a deep breath, obviously trying to calm down. “Listen, White Man, if you don’t have a sense of heritage, or a sense of pride…well, that’s your bloody problem, isn’t it? But let me tell you: the Plaatjies family – all of us – aren’t like that. We are proud of who we are. Of what we are. It’s not about you and me, it’s about being a Plaatjies or being a Labuschagne. It’s our blood, White Man, crying out for justice.”
While Miriam’s son speaks, he walks down the narrow aisle slowly, ending up chest-to chest with Diksarel, who has retreated back to the little platform. He now has nowhere to go but stand and face his adversary.
“Stop it, Jason. This is a church.” Joseph’s remark is ignored.
“So.” The young man – Jason, Miriam’s son – takes off his jacket. “We’ll settle it here. Now. Let the Labuschagnes of the world know: we, the Plaatjies family, aren’t trash.”
The blow to Diksarel’s middle is unexpected, despite the preceding threatening words. He doubles up, gasping for breath.
“NOOO!” Miriam jumps forward to stop her son, but he brushes her off.
“This is somethng I wanted to do for a long time, Mom. For years and years I had to hear how one man wrecked our name. How this man – a white man – made my grandfather leave the church. And how your good name got dragged through the mud. You can’t expect me to take that lying down, for heaven’s sake!”
Diksarel fights to get his breath back. Now – almost back on his knees again – he holds up a hand.
“You….bastard! You think…only about…yourself.” Diksarel gasps for breath while he speaks. A white-hot anger is raging inside him – it is as if the decades’ worth of humiliation and being gossiped about, has burnt through the wall that has kept it at bay for all these years. “You life? Your family?” He coughs, straightening up. “You have no idea – not even vaguely – what I had to live through. And why? I’ll tell you why – your family. Your dear grandfather. Your mother.”
Diksarel feels the fear leaving him. Feels how the humiliation and rejection he had to endure all his life, rise from the ashes of his self-respect, Damn it! If this…this…Jason wanted a showdown, then bring it on! He, Diksarel Labsuchagne, has had enough. If this has to be the last chapter of his life, then let him have the courage to face it honourably. He raises his fists, ready to take on the younger man.
Conflict, Gertruida always says, is a useless exercise. She says it’s okay to have a clash of interests or a difference of opinion, but in the end conflict doesn’t settle anything. That’s how grudges are created and thoughts of revenge surface. The mightiest weapon in any conflict, she maintains, is a sense of humour.
Jason has never met Gertruida, but his reaction would have pleased her. Suddenly his scowl of anger is replaced by a brilliant smile.
“There. My family’s honour is restored. Now it’s your turn. Hit me.”
Reverend Joseph bursts out laughing in relief. Miriam sits down with a thump on the creaking pew. Diksarel stares at Jason in disbelief. What the hell…?
“Come on, White Man! Your family caused disaster in mine. I took revenge. My family wreaked havoc in yours. Now…be a man!”
Slowly, gingerly, Diksarel raises his fist. Jason doesn’t flinch. Then, when his hand is shoulder-high, he opens his fist, and lays the softest of slaps on Jason’s cheek.
“That all?” Jason is still smiling.
“Yeah. I’m not angry at you. Or your mother. Or your grandfather. I’m angry at society…and I can’t hit them all, can I?”
Yet, despite his words, Diksarel experiences a sense of relief. Here he is, at the source of the burden he has had to carry all these years, and yes…he feels a strange sense of relief at facing it. This meeting and this confrontation was necessary to get the whole picture into perspective.
“Then we can all go to Mama Sarah’s again. The beer is on me.” Jason steps aside to allow his mother to lead the way. “When honour is restored, friends should have a drink together.”
Revenge, Gertruida sometimes quotes, is a dish best served cold. Even better, is getting rid of the leftovers of anger and bake a conciliation cake.
Mama Sarah is overjoyed when the four of them sit down in her shebeen. She won’t accept payment for the four Black Labels she puts down in front of them. Apparently she already knows exactly what transpired in the church. There are no secrets in a township…
“Um…,” she says, getting their attention. When they look up at her, she beams back. “And now there’s the little question of little Miss Kneehigh, isn’t there…?”
It hits Diksarel harder than Jason did.