Gertruida always says you mustn’t underestimate the creativity of a desperate man. Look at our president, she says. Whenever he can’t answer questions, he simply laughs his way out of trouble. And when his inability to prepare a speech becomes too obvious, he tries to bamboozle his audience with his own interpretation of the numerical system. Gertruida reckons he’s the only man alive to revise the age-old custom of counting properly.
Now, if you looked carefully at the little crowd of people gathered in Boggel’s Place to celebrate Old Year’s Eve, you’d notice the stranger hanging on to the counter. That’s Fines Visagie, the notorious speedcop from Prieska. You’d find that odd; not only because he’s a sworn tee-totaller, but as the most unpopular figure next to the tarred road between Grootdrink and Upington, he’s the most unlikely guest in Rolbos.
The thing about Fines is that he’ll never turn a blind eye – and that Vetfaan’s old Land Rover is a source of infinite and obvious joy to him. He’ll stop Vetfaan every time the burly farmer goes to town – and every time…every time…he’ll find something amiss with the aging vehicle. He’ll start his meticulous inspection at the front bumper, checking whether Vetfaan fixed the rusting bolts keeping it attached to the corroded chassis. From there he’ll work his way backward, checking everything from tyre pressure to the battery terminals. Of course, the old vehicle has never had safety belts, which only adds to the figure of the fine every time.
This morning, as usual, Vetfaan was stopped once again by Fines, just outside Grootdrink. It’s been uncommonly hot in the Northern Cape lately and Fines was in no mood for idle chatter. Vetfaan, however, had different ideas.
He was desperate, you see?
As usual, no greetings were exchanged. Vetfaan sat, stony-faced, staring straight ahead. He did hiccup once or twice and fumbled quite a lot to get his licence from his wallet.
“But you saw my licenche last week, Finesh.”
This made the officer look up sharply.
“You been drinking?”
Fines didn’t answer.
“Nah..nevah touscha stuff. Ba…bad for your health.” (Hiccup)
Fines would have nothing of it. He made Vetfaan get out of the Landy and asked him to stand on one foot. Vetfaan fell over.
“You are drunk, man!” Fines seemed most pleased with the situation. “Have you been drinking and driving as well?”
Vetfaan focussed his eyes on a spot an inch above Fines’ head and shook his own, slowly. “Huh-uh.”
Fines looked into the cab and fished out a brandy bottle.
“And what, Vetfaan, is this?”
“Wa…wat…water.” Vetfaan finally got the word right.
An argument ensued as to the content of the bottle during which Vetfaan maintained it was only pure Orange River water. Fines looked at the swaying Vetfaan and told him to pull the other one.
“Well, then,” Vetfaan rocked back and forth while concentrating to talk. “Hava look yourshelf. Tashte it. You’ll shee.”
Fines looked that the bottle, sniffed at the top, and frowned. “Water? My foot! Look at the label! This is alcohol – pure and simple.. You can fuel Koeberg with this.”
Vetfaan shook his head. “Huh-uh. Wa…water. S’true.”
Fines unscrewed the top, sniffed, and put the bottle to his lips.
That’s when Kleinpiet took the photograph with his new cellphone. He had been waiting patiently below the tarpaulin over the back seat of the Landy for that exact moment.
Vetfaan, suddenly as sober as Oudoom on a Sunday morning, laughed out loud.
“Gotcha, you scoundrel. Drinking on duty. Wait till the Mminister of Transport sees this. We’ll send him the picture and then you’ll never stop any of our vehicles again for the rest of your life! Well done, Kleinpiet!”
“But…but it’s ….only water!” Fines stuttered. “I tasted it! Water!”
“I told you it was water, Fines. But will the minister listen to you? He’ll take one look at this photo and suspend you for life. Getting sloshed in uniform is ample reason to fire you, indeed.”
“No, wait, you guys. Please man. I’m only doing my job.”
“Your job is to keep our roads safe. Sure, this Landy is old, but I take good care of it. I serviced it myself last summer and the brakes are good. And have I ever caused an accident? But you? You ignore all the unroadworthy taxis shuddering by at tremendous speeds because you’re afraid of being called a racist. So now you target us farmers because you want to keep the record of the most profitable officer in the Kalahari.”
“Ja, you see, we emptied the brandy in to the water bottle here,” Kleinpiet holds up the plastic bottle, “and Vetfaan tricked you into raising the Klipdrift bottle to your lips. We know that. You know that…but the minister doesn’t.”
Fines pleaded desperately. To facilitate proceedings, Vetfaan suggested they had a nip rom the plastic bottle.
And now Fines is holding on to the counter, telling everybody what a good upschtanding citizhen Vetfaan is. Vetfaan takes a bow and asks him whether he’ll ever stop him again.
When Fines answers, he sounds uncommonly like our president – come to think about it.