Shorty de Lange nodded his thanks when nurse Botha brought in a chair. She had been listening at the door, her anger at Shorty for upsetting her patient slowly evaporating – to be replaced with understanding sympathy. She knew how hard it is to nurse able-bodied patients – this man must have gone through hell…
“My son, poor little Jacobus de Lange, died that night. Of course the hospital couldn’t reach me – ths all happened in the days before cellphones, remember? The effect of my sleepless night, my rebellion against God and the news that my son was dead combined in a white-hot anger. I ranted and raved so much that they had to sedate me.
“When I woke up, I was in the psychiatric ward. The doctors later told me they couldn’t decide whether I had an alcoholic dementia, suffered from post-traumatic stress, or simply – as they put it – ‘lost it’. They were sure about the diagnosis of depression, though.
“They allowed me to attend little Jacobus’s funeral, and the next day my case was taken over by doctor Heidi Harmse. She was excellent. Took me back to my youth, the army, the later years. Showed me how everything fitted in with each other – one bad choice giving momentum to the next. She made me take a long, hard look at myself and I didn’t like what I saw. During my younger years I was an egocentric chaser of superficial and instant gratification. When everything went sour, I blamed God and became a morose, egocentric self-made martyr. I demanded that everybody should feel sorry for me and fed on that sympathy the same way those frogs went for their feed three times a day. Like the frogs, I became a bloated, self pitying worthless blob.
“Dr Harmse made me take myself apart…and then made me reassemble the bits so that I realised I must choose what my future should hold. I’ll always appreciate that.”
With nowhere to go after his discharge, he shacked up with his nephew in Prieska.
“I hadn’t seen Berie de Lange since childhood, but he welcomed me with open arms. Now that man, Bertie, showed me a different way of living. He lived on a smallholding where he built electrical control boxes for an off-road camper company. You know, that box where the main power supply gets split to supply the electricity to various points in the camper? Well, he built those for Conqueror, arguable the best off-road camper on sale. Knew quite a bit about electricity, he did.
“Anyway, Bertie is a great believer in – what he calls – The Natural Order of Things. You make a choice, you have to live with the consequences…that type of thing. He says events follow a natural course with decisions determining what happens next. Basically, without knowing it, he echoed doctor Harmse’s advice. He believed in paying it forward, which is why he took me in. When you approach Life in humility, he said, you will reap the benefits, even if it takes years.
“One evening – with nothing else to do – we sat around chatting and for lack of anything else to talk about, I told him about my idea to tag frogs. Not that he had any frogs to tag, but because he knew so much about electrical circuits and things. Just idle chatter, wiling the evening away, see?
“Bertie’s reaction blew me away. Quite excited, he was. He had, he said, been working on a similar line of thought regarding wild animals…as a sort of hobby. He couldn’t believe that I actually entertained the same idea. We chatted right through the night.” Shorty smiled at the memory. “The next day we started working on a small device which housed a transponder and a little sending device. Theoretically, we’d be able to dart an animal an then trace it with our invention.
“Of course there are similar devices on the market, but the thing we came up with in the end was unique. Small, lightweight and accurate – but we lacked a delivery system. Despite it’s size, it was too big for a dart gun.
“Then we heard that the Department of Correctional Services was looking at electronic tagging for convicts on parole…”
And the rest, Shorty tells them, is history. After exhaustive meetings and negotiations, their prototype was demonstrated to a ministerial committee. Because of South Africa’s high crime rate, more than 10,000 parole violations occur annually, making it impossible for the Dept of Correctional Services to cope with their limited resources and manpower. The minister was delighted to announce the procurement of an initial 5000 units from Kalahari Advanced Tracking Systems.
“KATS have become quite a life-changer for Bertie and me. We now employ twenty workers and have to work in shifts to meet the demand. My life has finally turned a corner simply because I – for once – made the right choice. No longer Mister Egomaniac. No more vanity and pride and chasing instant gratification. I’ve learnt too many lessons and have sacrificed almost my entire life because of my stupidity.
“And that’s why, Servie, I have come here today. I need you to forgive me for being such an ass and being the worst friend you ever had. Our fallout has been weighing heavily on my mind lately, and I could not believe when Vetfaan rocked up at the factory to tell his story. It’s so weird, this coincidence.”
Nurse Botha wiped away a tear as the two men solemnly shook hands. Even Gertruida stood by the window, sniffing. It was Vetfaan who broke the spell.
“The list of coincidences in this situation is quite astounding. First we have Servaas as a young man, the same old pain in the butt we know today. He befriends Shorty on the rugby field, later meets him again in the army. They get leave together, go to a movie where Shorty meets this girl – who happens to have a particularly obnoxious father – purely by accident. I mean: what are the chance of the two of them sitting next to each other in Sterland? Then she falls pregnant by chance – just before a rather vicious fallout between Servaas and Shorty. Sadly, the baby isn’t normal, but they only find out about it after being forced into marriage. Incidentally, Hester doesn’t cope. To get rid of him, her father arranges a job which eventually leaves Shorty destitute…after conceiving an idea about electronic tagging. Quite by chance, the baby dies soon after he’s retrenched. And equally unpredictably Shorty ends up in Prieska, develops his idea with his long-lost nephew and finally becomes part of the human race again.
“Come on, you guys: what are the chances of such a chain of events? If you wrote a story like that, people will think it’s too farfetched to be believable.”
They all end up nodding like one of those silly plastic dogs people from Benoni place on their dashboards. Kleinpiet once said it’s the ultimate sign of sophistication. He had ordered one, but the rutted roads bounced it’s head off, leaving just the torso stuck above the speedometer. The head is still missing somewhere beneath the seat. Gertruida remarked that it was a pity that heads come off so easily, but it’s uncertain whether she referred to the accessory or typical male behaviour.
“There is,” nurse Botha ventured softly, angry indignation crystal clear in her tone, “still one bit I don’t understand. What about matron Alice Krotz? I mean, it’s nice to have everybody living happily ever after and all that, but what about matron? Huh?”
“Krotz? Alice Krotz? Matron? What…?” Shorty blanched and started breathing rapidly.
“Yes, what about me, you scumbag. We were engaged, remember? Engaged to be married! I was set to become Mevrou de Lange, and you sent this stupid telegram to tell me it’s off. No explanation, no nothing. You buggered up my life, you bloody parasite. Made me suffer because you were too much of a coward to commit to a loving relationship. No, you had to go and disappear to do your own damn thing, chasing some floozy with a short skirt! So help me if I don’t ever want to see you again. Get out! Get out!”
As if on a military parade, everybody turned to stare at the ample figure of matron Krotz in the doorway. Everybody, except Servaas, of course – he was already facing the right way. She must have arrived during Shorty’s long speech, but nobody knew how much she had heard.
“Oh. My. Lord.” Shorty whispers the three words separately as he gets up – slowly – from the chair…
“Get out, before I throw you out, Jacobus de Lange!!”
(to be continued)
“There is a road that you must follow
To the left or the right
One is wide but the other is hard and narrow
Take this one and you can call it your own
There will so many voices trying to turn you round
Take a moment just to listen then carry on…“