Mary Mitchell swallows hard before being able to continue her story. To bare her soul before the group in the bar is the hardest thing she’s ever done…and yet it seems the most natural thing to do. Here, in Rolbos, honesty lives at a lower level of society – in fact, it is the foundation these people build on. Unlike life in the cities where she has lived – where you create an image, a mirage, of the you, you want people to see – the Rolbossers care about the real you, the you hiding behind the facade. And somehow it’s so right, so proper to grant them the honesty they deserve – even if it meant their scorn and disapproval in the end. That, at least, would be real, too.
“One pill! One, lousy, stupid pill…and I was hooked. When I woke up that Sunday morning, I had no idea what happened. Brutus laughed at that, told me I simply dozed off – but I knew that wasn’t true. I had bruises and aches…my body told me something horrible had happened. We had a fight then, Brutus and I, and I dressed and stormed out. I finally found my little flat and slept for the rest of the day. The next morning – Monday – I tried to do my job at Dr Hartslief’s, but I was jittery. Couldn’t concentrate. Made mistakes with the bookings.
“I asked for the week off and went home. And there I….I knew I had to return to Brutus. I had to get something to make me feel better. I had to talk to him. Oh! I told myself a thousand reasons why I should go back to that horrible man, but the real reason was this craving…the desperate need…for release. Something inside me wanted another of those pills. Just one – because the one thing I remembered about that Saturday night, was that I felt good about myself. Whatever happened after I had passed out didn’t matter so much. I wanted that feeling again..
“Brutus was waiting for me. Can you believe the nerve? And he was sooo friendly and nice again, asking me how I felt and whether I was all right and so on. And I…I hated myself, despised myself…but I begged him for another pill.
“I won’t bore you with details. Those pills gave me the strength to go on. After the third one, I didn’t pass out anymore. I felt good and strong and righteous. I could return to work and get things done. At night Brutus would entertain me in his penthouse, we’d have some pills – I knew then that it was Ecstasy – and later he had…friends…come over. Just to liven things up, Brutus said. The things we did…”
Of all the people in the bar, only Gertruida has a very good idea of what Mary was telling them. Reading between the lines is one of her gifts, and she feels an icy hand squeezing at her heart as the story unfolds. The poor, poor woman….
“He – that’s Brutus – had this irregular heartbeat. I only learnt later that Dr Hartslief was his cardiologist and that was where he first saw me. I was one of the receptionists, see? Brutus told me one night that, when he saw me there for the first time, he knew we’d be ‘doing business together’, as he put it. The following day I peeked in his file, and saw that Dr Hartslief diagnosed an irregular rhythm due to cocaine use. That’s when I realised how deep in trouble I was…
“Things went seriously wrong after that. I had to have more and more of the Ecstasy. Brutus said it wasn’t a free ride, I had to help him. I…I was beyond caring. Sure, I said, anything. That’s when the real parties started.”
Brutus explained that he had some very influential friends he had to entertain: government ministers, senior police officers, politicians.
“At that stage I couldn’t care anymore. I didn’t even resign my job – I just stopped going to work. At night I was the plaything for these important men and for my…services…I was paid handsomely…and got pills. My mind went into a shut-down mode – I simply stopped thinking. And, as I started needing more and more pills, Brutus demanded more and more of me. I…” Mary lifts her chin, defying the group to say anything. “I slept with them all. I can name them, those important men, all of them. You think your ministers are upright citizens? Bah! If I told you what happened in that penthouse, you’d be nauseated…”
“Come, dear, sit down.” Gertruida leads the distraught woman to a chair. “Servaas, bring a glass of water. Oudoom, stop looking so pious and holy. Go fetch a blanket. Can’t you see she’s shivering? And you, Vetfaan? You can light the fire in the hearth. It’s getting chilly outside.”
Outside, night has indeed settled over the barren wastes of the Kalahari, followed – as usual – by the chill the darkness always brings. Still, the cold inside the bar isn’t just due to the temperature dropping outside – it was more – much more – than that. Everybody in the bar experienced the fear, the loathing, the horror of the story Mary has been telling them. And they knew: there wasn’t a fire big enough to fight off the chill that reality brought to the humble village of Rolbos that night.
“And that’s what you knew and what Brutus tried to silence?”
Mary ignores Sersant Dreyer’s question.
“So I went to those places quite willingly, knowing exactly what the score was. I also knew that Brutus would kill me if I didn’t cooperate or if I breathed a word about his activities. When they apprehended me in Rio, I was almost relieved.
“Prison? It was hell. It was also a blessing. They don’t dish out drugs in prison. Not at all. I had to go cold turkey – suddenly and terribly so. I went through it all – the sweats, the nausea, the cramps – everything. It was the purest form of hell imaginable. But somehow I made it. The other inmates were convinced that I was mad – and maybe I was, for a time. Over the weeks and months the cravings became less and less, and I started feeling human again. I changed from a jabbering idiot into a model prisoner, teaching the other women things I know, like crocheting and knitting and such. I even started a choir and taught them some Afrikaans songs!” For the first time this evening, Mary manages a real smile. “I think my conduct contributed to my early release. The mad witch became Pollyanna.”
It is quite possible that only Gertruida connected the dots to understand that Mary refers to Eleanor Potter’s story, but the group is so involved in Mary’s tale that she doesn’t interrupt.
“And that’s why Brutus came here. During my ‘introduction stage’, when I was plied with Ecstasy, Brutus wanted to know everything about me. At the time I thought he was genuinely interested in me, but of course he was doing a background check. When he learnt that I had no family, no close friends and no attachments, he must have been overjoyed. But the one name that cropped up all too often, was your’s, Boggel.” A soft sob ends the sentence.
Gertruida escorts the crying Mary back to Precilla’s bungalow behind the little pharmacy. After Mary’s telling of her life with Brutus and the drugs, Mary is exhausted, empty, drained of all emotion except for the incredible sadness that now has settled in her mind. What she now needs, Gertruida knows, is silence – and time to accept that finally her secrets are shared and the burden of guilt has shifted somewhat. She says a silent prayer that Mary will now accept her past, forgive herself and move on.
What Gertruida doesn’t understand, is the way Boggel – and even Smartryk – kept their distance during the time Mary was telling them everything she had lived through. She did, however, notice the two men exchanging glances and worried looks. And that Sersant Dreyer! Towards the end of Mary’s confession, he had the gall to get up and leave the bar! So, so unkind! Shaking her head at the men’s lack of insight, she puts on the kettle. A cup of tea before putting Mary to bed is a good idea.
She looks up, startled, when there is a knock at the door.
“Mary? I have to talk to you.” It’s a man’s voice, muffled by the closed door. Not sure who it might be, Gertruida reaches for the door handle…