Gertruida – who knows everything – often has to tell the patrons at the bar to stop shouting at the TV screen during rugby matches. It doesn’t help and it leaves you so hoarse you have to order Bells at the end of the match – to soothe the sore throat. And that, she says, is an expensive way of expressing an unwanted opinion. It’s like people insisting that Oscar Pistorius be jailed or not: everybody knows Judge Thokozile Masipa is going to make up her own mind. And, just like the crowd at a rugby match, half of them will blame the ref for wrong decisions while the other 50% will applaud their team. In contrast to the game of rugby, there is no such thing as a draw in a court of law.
The people in the two vehicles following the jogging Bushman realise something of this as they draw nearer to what must be the end of their search. Boggel is going to be fine…or not. The outcome is unpredictable…and unavoidable. After a few days in the desert, with no obvious means of support, both Boggel and his kidnapper must be near the end of their endurance. But, whatever will be, will be. If they’re too late, then there’s nothing they can do about it. They time for shouting is over. Oudoom tells them so and bows his head in silent prayer.
About an hour after Dawid Loper found the tracks, he finds a place where the two men rested in the shade of a stunted bush.The signs where they sat down, the pool of almost congealed blood and a discarded – empty – water bottle tell the tale.
Around them, a vast empty plain stretches to the horizon.
“Zosi Plain,” Gertruida whispers. Dawid nods, yes they are here…
“This must be where the English soldiers caught up with the Afrikaner rebels in 1914. I read that a skirmish followed and that most of the rebels were killed here, somewhere.” She allows her gaze to travel the full circle of the empty horizon. “A godforsaken spot to die for a lost cause…”
“Let’s hope history doesn’t repeat itself here,” Servaas places a hand above his brow as he, too, stares into the distance. “We don’t need more deaths.”
“Mister Boggel isn’t dead. The other man is.” The statement by the bushman is so unexpected, so surprising, that nobody reacts for a few seconds.
“Come again, Dawid?”
“Mister Vetfaan, I can still feel Boggel, but only him. I can’t feel the other man anymore.”
“Which way?” This isn’t the time for arguments of explanations – Vetfaan feels an urgency building up inside him. They have to find Boggel…now!
The bushman squints against the glare of the sun, looks down at the fresh tracks, and points. “That way. Hurry…”
They find Boggel a few hundred yards later. Well, what’s left of Boggel, in a manner of speaking.
“Oh. My. Word!” Precilla is the first to jump down from the police van as she rushes to the prostrate figure.
Boggel is barely recognisable. His clothes have been torn to tatters, his left shoulder caked in dried blood and his lips blistered and torn by dehydration and the sun. He doesn’t move when the vehicles stop.
“Is he breathing?” Gertruida now kneels down next to him, leaning over with her ear next to the parched lips. “Quick, get water!” She reaches for – and gets – a water bottle.
“Slow, Miss Gertruida, slow. Not fast. Wet a cloth and hold it to his mouth. Mister Kleinpiet? There’s enough water in the pickup. We must wet some sand and cover Mister Boggel.” Dawid Loper suddenly isn’t a simple aborigine any longer. His normally soft voice now has the authority of an expert. He’s seen this before – many times – and knows exactly what to do. His quiet assurance galvanises everybody into action. Dreyer finds an umbrella; Gertruida scratches in her overnight bag to produce a tin of Zambuk ointment which she applies to Boggels blistered face, while Kleinpiet and Servaas fill a bucket with water to wet the sand.
“Here, let me…?” Dawid takes the wet cloth from Gertruida and holds it to Boggel’s lips. After moisturising the area, he wrings the cloth gently to allow a few drops to drip into Boggel’s gaping mouth.
While the others busy themselves around the unconscious figure, Mary stands to one side, covering her mouth with a trembling hand.
“I did this,” she whispers over and over again.When Smartryk wlaks over to her, she shoo’s him away. “It’s my fault,” she says softly. “It’s my fault…”
“We’ll have to get him to a hospital.” Servaas looks down at the now-buried Boggel under the damp sand – only his head is visible where it rests on a makeshift pillow made from Precilla’s sleeping bag – and shakes his head. “This Bushman trick isn’t enough.”
Suddenly the meek and humble Dawid is on his feet, his nose only an inch from Servaas’s. “Mister Boggel will die if we put him on the pickup. First we must get water into him – sweet water with sugar and a bit of salt – and get him better. Your hospital is two days away…and it’s hot.” The fire in the Bushman’s eyes makes Servaas back down.
“Well said, Dawid,” The approval – and admiration – in Gertruida’s voice is unmistakable. “Once we’ve rehydrated Boggel a bit, we can move. Until then…” She doesn’t have to finish the sentence. She’s already examined the bent little barman, and noted the gash on the shoulder which she cleaned and bandaged. “He’s exhausted and dry – those are the main problems. The wound isn’t so bad – it looks as if he has a huge bruise with a ragged gash in the middle on his shoulder. Must have happened when the Cessna crashed, I think.”
“Will he be alright?” Mary’s timid question reaches the group crowding around Boggel and everybody ends up looking at Dawid and Gertruida in turn.
“Yes, Mary, he will be fine, don’t you worry.”
Surprisingly, the reassurance doesn’t come from Getruida. Mary’s question is answered by Smartryk, who now puts a protective arm around her shaking shoulders.
Gertruida is about to say something, when a shot rings out. One vicious, sudden crack of sound. Unexpected. Frightening. Shocking. Startling.
For a moment they all stand frozen.
Then Smartryk sinks to his knees, clutching his chest where a red stain seeps through his shirt. A puzzled glance toward Mary; a brief, questioning look…and then a feeling of devastating loneliness enfolds him before he falls – face down – into the sand.