Author Archives: Amos van der Merwe

About Amos van der Merwe

Writer

Weekly Photo Challenge: The colours of the rainbow..

Colour defines Africa. Across the world, people assume it’s a  Black/White thing, with colonialism and politics dominating the conversation at the mention of Africa’s hues. But over here, we revel in the true colours of the continent and it’s cultures.
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There are the red Himba people, proud traditionalists and fiercely independent. Red ochre, herbs and fat help to enhance the natural beauty of the women.

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And yes, there are green forests – plenty of them. The most beautiful green in the whole wide world, however, is found next to unexpected little streams in the desert.
breekyster 2010 140aBlue is for the sky. No Telephone poles, no power lines, no sign of man’s invasion. Africa’s blue heaven is a statement of her unblemished purity – a haven of peace when you leave the cities and the townships behind.

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It’s not that man doesn’t add colour to the environment. In the remote bush pubs tourists and lorry drivers leave mementos to spice up the scene.

IMG_3001Yet. nothing beats the colours of a real rainbow, like this permanent one at Victoria Falls. The symbolism is there for all to see: despite the raging torrent, the cascade and the noise, the rainbow hovers quietly to assure us that beauty can be found if you view anything from the right angle.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Off Season…

When the rains have gone and the waterlevel drops, Life becomes harsh.

420The veld loses it’s vitality as the small pools dry up.
Trip 2012 305 The fishermen give up hope. The boats will wait patiently for their return.

begin 2004 114a

The elephants are the last to leave. They know the way to a hidden spring.

begin 2004 130aAt last the veld is empty. Silent. Waiting…

103_0319aBecause Nature knows: the winter will pass. The rains will come and the animals return.There is – indeed – a time for every season under heaven.

Stoney Steenkamp’s Dream Factory (#3)

IMG_2578“It’s simple, really.” Stoney finally caved in and agreed to share his secret – but only after Gertruida swore she’d never breathe a word.

“Look at what’s happening in the country. All day, every day, we are bombarded with bad news. Corruption. Bribery. Farm murders. ESCOM. Strikes. Social unrests and protests. Police brutality. Municipalities going bankrupt due to inefficiency. E-tolls. Petrol prices going through the roof because the Rand is worth peanuts. Education and nursing. It’s almost as if the fabric of our society has unravelled and we are a lost nation.”

Gertruida nods. “So….?”

“What do we do about it?” He waits a second before answering his own question. “Nothing. We do nothing. We belong to a section of society that has been rendered powerless by history. No matter what you or I say, it’ll be labelled as ‘racist’ or blamed on Apartheid. And what do we do? We accept it. Why? Because we’ve been conditioned into accepting the blame for other’s mistakes. We have accepted our fate as a lost generation, just like a springbok stops running once the lion has its neck in his jaws. It’s still alive, but it knows what’ll happen next.”

“Thanks for the psychoanalysis, Stoney, but how does this tie in with your dream factory?”

“Look, there are two major opposing emotions at play here. Fear…and ecstasy. Poles apart, the outer borders of being an intelligent being. Add to that the power of suggestion.”

0 (1)Gertruida knows a lot about suggestion. Subliminal suggestion is why we follow – mindlessly so – the adverts we are bombarded with in the media every day. We get sensitised to believe certain products, and we get desensitised about other aspects of life. The trick is, she knows, to convey a message confidently and repeatedly – eventually the individual will follow the lead of whoever expresses a certain view. Advertising agencies and governments take full advantage of this simple fact and lulls the populace into buying certain products or accepting certain policies. The more aggressive the proponent and the less questioning the audience…and the more the message will be driven home with devastating accuracy.

“So, every time before you went to sleep, we had a good chat about what you could expect. Suggestion. Your brain now gears itself to think along those lines and it helps you to dream specific stuff. But that’s only the add-on. The real stuff is in the chocolate.”

By now, Gertruida cannot contain herself any longer. “Ye-e-e-s…?”

“Look, I’ve had a lot of time to look after my sheep. If they graze near the river, the flock is restless at night. However, when they feed on the stunted bushes near the hill, they are as content as our president when the Speaker silences the opposition. Now, that set me thinking. There must be something they eat that controls their moods.”

“So you found new herbs?”

Stoney smiles wryly. “No, Gertruida. I tried everything. Twigs, leaves, roots, branches. Mashed them, chewed them, cooked them…and nothing. Got diarrhoea once or twice, but that’s all. There’s something that happens in the sheep that doesn’t happen in humans. And that’s when it struck me: whatever happens, happens inside the sheep’s digestive tract…that’s where the answer lies. And whatever happens there, gets absorbed, affecting the sheep’s mood. And….some of it would be present whenever the sheep gets rid of whatever is left in its tummy.”

“Oh. My. Word!”

“Ja, Gertruida. Chocolate-coated droppings. Marvellously simple, eh? I thought it out all by myself.”

He waits until Gertruida stops gagging before offering her a double peach brandy.

“From then on, it was easy. I had the two opposing emotions: happy and scared. It’s just a question of getting the mix right. The river…er…product produced horrible nightmares. Called it Devil Drops. The hillside stuff gave the ultimate happy dream – which turns out to be rather erotic quite often. Those are Happy Crappies. More of the one and less of the other gave me a spectrum of possibilities.” He goes ‘ping’ and imitates a little lightbulb above his head. “Genius, right?”

“But, for goodness sakes, you can’t go about selling sheep droppings to people? It’s unethical, to say the very least.”

“Of course I don’t. I grind it up in a paste, boil it to get rid of parasites, en then roll it into little balls before coating it with chocolate. It’s a wonderfully simple process.” Gertruida’s horrified face makes him pause. “What…?”

“Listen, Stoney, you’re on thin ice here. If the Medical Council finds out what you’re doing – or any other authority you can think of – they’ll slap you in jail for so long, you’ll never see a single sheep again for the rest of your life. If I were you, I’d approach a pharmaceutical company and let them do some proper research. That’s the only way…”

***

Gertruida often remarks about how we live in a strange society. We have laws prescribing what food and medicine we are allowed to ingest – and even more laws prohibiting other products. But, she says, we have no laws protecting us from the bulldust we have to hear and see in the media every day. It’s not okay to take sheep droppings coated with chocolate, but political offal is fed to us without even a sugar coating.

She reckons Stoney is onto something, though. Imagine a parliament full of Happy Crappies?

She really gets angry at this from time to time. That’s when she locks her front door to take one of her precious but dwindling supply of sleepy-chocolates (as she calls them). The Rolbossers know the signs – especially when she arrives at Boggel’s Place wearing a brilliant – if tired – smile the next day…

Stoney Steenkamp’s Dream Factory (#2)

e 1Gerttruida is running as fas as she can. She hears the wind roar past her ears as her legs move at maximum speed, her feet constantly slipping on the oily surface of the smooth cement. As far as she can make out, she’s in an underground passage, stretching away ahead of her. The overhead halogen lights are flickering, almost in Morse-code, as if warning her to go yet faster and faster.

She can hear the breathing behind her: untroubled, regular, calm. A total contrast to her rasping, burning gasps as she attempts to get away, away, away

Moments before, she was sitting at the desk of Neil Barnard…or was it Jacob Zuma? Or were they both there, morphed into a single person with an ominous smile and unreadable eyes? Cold eyes, calculating eyes, fixed on the big red clock against the shimmering wall with its both hands on the 12.

“You can’t get away, Gertruida. It’s too late. The clock has stopped, your time is up.” The accent is a strange combination of African and Afrikaans; the words uttered in an unearthly growl.

She doesn’t know what was too late, nor does she know why, but she knows with unwavering certainty that there is no more time. It’s finished. If she didn’t escape, she’d be devoured by the monster.

Aaah…a light! She must get to the light! Only then does she notice the firing squad kneeling behind the spotlights: men in camouflaged uniforms aiming automatic weapons straight at her face. When she skids to a halt, a million spiders descend on her, crawl up her legs and poke their long legs into her nostrils and mouth. Frozen by fear, she isn’t able to move at all. Behind her the monster closes in, folding a hairy arm around her waist. She prays for the firing squad to end it all…

“GERTRUIDA!”

Stoney’s voice is loud in her ear, and she wakes up with a start.

“Wha…”

“You asked for a nightmare, so that’s what you got. Are you convinced now?”

She shakes her head to clear the cobwebs. “Dammit, Stoney! You could have killed me!”

“Ja, these dreams are extremely graphic, aren’t they? Seems all too real. But, in the end, they remain just that: dreams. The terror-dreams  are the best. It’s like you can’t escape. Mine is a lion with huge teeth.” He uses his fingers to show how long. “And I can feel his hot breath on my back as I scramble through the bush. Can even feel the thorns on the branches tearing at my skin. It’s so real, I’ve considered going to sleep with my shotgun next to me.”

“But….how do you do it?”

She arrived at Onkruidbult the previous afternoon to see what Stoney is up to. He entertained her with his stories of funny dreams, sad dreams, nightmares and happy dreams, before they sat down at his new dining table to a scrumptious dinner of leg of lamb and pumpkin cakes. Stoney avoided all her questions until at last he asked her what type of dream she’d like to have that night. She didn’t hesitate: not known as a frightened woman, she insisted on a nightmare.

Now, with dawn only minutes away, she sits up to stare bleary-eyed at Stoney. “I’ve never been so scared  in my life! Wow! It was terrible…”

“You took a long time to get to your dream, Gertruida. I sat here all night waiting for some sign that you’re dreaming, and it only started a few minutes ago. Some individuals scream and shout, but you just panted. I must say, it is very rare for somebody to request a nightmare. Mostly they want happy dreams…some even of a …er…sexual nature. Those dreams are so popular I can’t keep up with the demand. The politicians usually want victorious dreams, while artists commonly want dreams of inspiration. Those are much easier to supply.”

“But how do you do it, Stoney? This is phenomenal! Didn’t you drug me, or something? You gave me that little chocolate after dinner…”

He laughs heartily. “No, no drugs, Gertruida. You’ve seen my house – I don’t have a laboratory or anything like that. Only a kitchen. Yes, it’s the chocolate, but that’s as much as I can tell you. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in my life, it is that you can’t trust anybody. Once you’ve told a secret to one individual, it’s not a secret any longer. And the next thing you know, the grannies are talking about it at the bridge club. No, I’m not telling. But tonight I’ll give you something more…delectable. You’ll enjoy it…”

They spend a lazy day on the veranda in front of the house. Gertruida still feels a little unsettled, but she brought along a stack of National Geographics. Stoney seems content to sit and doze in the sun.  When dusk arrived, Stoney cooked some chops on the fire, adding a pot-bread he prepared that afternoon. Once again he regaled her with stories of the type of dream she might encounter.

This time, the carefully wrapped chocolate was followed by a rich brew of coffee and a promise that she wouldn’t like to wake up.

In the months to follow, Gertruida will wish she could have another dream like that. She was young, voluptuous and ever so slightly drunk when the yacht dropped anchor near the deserted island. The pristine beach, the swaying palm trees and the fragrance of frangipani created an alluring invitation to swim to the shore and explore. It didn’t worry her that she was alone on the yacht – it was a minor technicality of no consequence. She didn’t guess…she knew that he would be waiting for her.

He was the nameless hunk she had dreamed about when she was sixteen. Tanned, ripped muscles, sparkling eyes and an irresistible smile. Body sculptured to perfection and a mind to match. He, the childhood (and childish) imaginary companion with the strong arms and the soft voice.

She was right, of course. He waited behind the ferns in the long grass next to the waterfall. Ahhh…he was magnificent…

This time, Stoney was kind enough not to wake her when she moaned softly. He just sat there, dozing quietly next to her bed. When she woke up at last, he left her to savour the afterglow of the experience…

“I have to know, Stoney…I have to! How do you do it?”

Stoney Steenkamp’s Dream Factory (#1)

sunrise“He did it!”. Kleinpiet points at the advert in the Upington Post. “I always thought he was a bit mad, but now…”

The small advertisement under “Personal Services” is almost unremarkable between the others offering body massages, willing-to-travel-girls and the prominent one of Hot Naught who promises ‘exquisite joy and release of tension‘. Kleinpiet hastily explains that he saw the advert ‘quite by chance‘ while he was searching for a new carburettor for his pickup. Still, the little insert on the back page is responsible for a pregnant silence after the group read it.

Dreams available at bargain prices. No previous experience required. Completely organic. Contact Stoney Steenkamp, Onkruidbult.

“That man! I remember the first time he started experimenting with that crazy idea.” Gertruida adopts her lecturer-mode, which means you cannot even think of interrupting her. “But it is a known fact that certain foods have an influence on tryptophan and serotonin  – as well as other neurotransmitters in the brain. Cheese, chillies, and especially red meat are the prime foodstuffs that may influence the brain’s function during sleep, often causing lucid dreams in the process.

“Now, Stoney had this theory about dreams. He reckoned that something in the meat triggered the brain to conjure up certain images. That’s what his research was all about. Maybe he made a breakthrough?”

“Nah…” Vetfaan empties his glass and signals for another beer. “His ‘research’ was way too crude. Imagine! If you eat lamb, you’ll dream of green pastures and rustling brooks. And if you eat springbok, you’ll be the only man in a herd of lovely ladies – what a nightmare! I mean…that is pure bulldust, man! I tried it and it doesn’t work. Anyway, I can’t remember my dreams after I wake up…”

“Maybe that’s his secret?” Joining them at the counter, Servaas sits down with a sigh. “When you wake up, Stoney tells you what you dreamed. That way he’ll have a 100% accurate result on his prediction and you can’t prove him wrong.”

Stoney Steenkamp is one of those strange hermits you tend to find in the Northern Cape. Living alone on his farm, he turned to science to combat boredom. It is entirely true that this arid and sprawling landscape has been the source of many of South Africa’s most creative minds; a fact Gertruida ascribes to the many idle hours spent alone. People here – like in other isolated regions of the planet –  are forced to use their minds to escape the monotonous days and nights during which nothing happens. Walter Battiss, Eli Louw, Olive Schreiner, authors, songwriters and numerous clergymen attest to the creative instinct that prevented men and women  from talking to themselves all day long.

Stoney’s tendency to fall asleep while watching his sheep made him curious about the only entertainment he had – his dreams. He started keeping a dream-diary, noting what he dreamed and when. Then he tried to correlate the type of dream with environmental influences. For instance: during the cold winter nights, his imagination conjured up images of igloos and polar bears. Or when he slept through an occasional thunderstorm, he’d be storming up Amajuba to shoot at the Brits. Should the wind pick up, Stoney would be standing at the helm of a schooner, chasing a pirate across the ocean.

Of course Stoney couldn’t keep these scientific findings to himself. Whenever he arrived in Rolbos to buy sheep dip from Sammie’s Shop, he’d inform the group at the bar about his latest observations. In one of his sarcastic moods, Servaas once suggested that Stoney’s research was truly unique and that his findings should be published in one of the scientific journals or even the Huisgenoot, which only served to encourage Stoney to be more enthusiastic about his research. His need for more  information resulted in a need for more sleep, which of course had a negative impact on the size of his flock.

The last time he visited Rolbos, Gertruida told him to take note of what he ate before dropping off in yet another slumber, as this may also influence dreams. Stoney tried it the same night. The next morning he announced that peach brandy was a dream-killer. Gertruida had to tell the poor man that alcohol should not be part of his research, explaining that alcohol dissolves fat, and that fat is a major component of the brain. Stoney wrote that down in his journal, as well.

“How can he advertise dreams on demand and then have the gall to charge money for it? It’s a ridiculous idea.” Servaas knits his brows together while he concentrates to keep his bushy moustache from sinking into the froth as he downs his beer.”He should do something constructive with his time, like advising ESCOM or something. They need a few big dreams, if you asked me,”

Like with so many foolhardy ideas hatched in an around Rolbos, it would have been entirely normal for the group at the bar to have a good old laugh at such silliness before forgetting about it completely. And they would have….if Stoney didn’t rock up a week or two later to say he needed to buy some sheep to replenish his flock – with cash! 

“My dream-business has taken off! You won’t believe the orders I get, specially from politicians, artists and people in the advertising community. I’ve pushed up my price, but that doesn’t deter them…the orders just keep on flooding in.”

Now…we all know Gertruida. She hates a mystery. No-one was surprised when she announced her intention to visit Onkruidbult.This is in keeping with her natural curiosity, after all. What they didn’t expect, was her reaction on what she experienced there….

(To be continued…)

Trusting Liar (#10)

Liar's Meteorite

Liar’s Meteorite

Once the helicopter disappeared over the dunes, the group finally stops laughing.

“Oh, Liar, you are sooo convincing! Damn! I started believing you when you threw out that bit about the radioactive Boron. And then you…you…you added the bit about manhood! Shew! I almost burst out laughing right then.” Gertruida slaps Liar’s back as she starts giggling again.

Liar’s indignant response is immediate. “And what, Gertruida, do you think, do they use to accelerate electrons and bits of atoms in Switzerland? Or do you imagine that I’d be roving around here for my entire life, looking for lost diamonds?”

“Oh, stop it, Klasie! You’re killing us!” Vetfaan wipes the tears from his eyes as he succumbs to another bout of laughter.

Servaas gets serious all of a sudden. “You are looking for diamonds, aren’t you? Walter Kempf and the Wolf’s Tears? All that you told us? It’s true, isn’t it?”

Klasie Louw, known as Liar, scoops up a handful of sand and lefts it sift through his fingers. “There are many stories buried in the sands of the Kalahari, my friend. Legends and myths and tales that are more marvellous than anything you’ve ever heard. Here you’ll find the ghosts of the Dorsland-trekkers who tried to escape to an illusive Utopia. Amongst these dunes the history of the Bushmen, the Koranna and the lost civilisation of the gold-miners of Zimbabwe are whispered in the night breezes. Once this was an inland lake bearing boats filled with riches – then the climate changed and the earth moved…and now only the sand remains. This, Servaas, is a magical place. A place were everything is possible.”

“But that doesn’t answer the question, Klasie. I just want to know whether your story is true? We did pick up that diamond, didn’t we?” Getruida points to Liar’s pocket, remembering how he had snatched it away from her.

It is Liar’s turn to smirk. “Ah yes…the aeroplane wreck! Come, I’ll show you. It’s about an hour from here.”

***

lancaster_desert_500Sure enough, after tramping trough the loose sand in the valley between the two dunes, they arrive at a little plain – an open space with the dunes forming a natural amphitheatre around it. Off to one side, the wreckage is clearly visible.

“This was Walter’s plane. And this is the direction the flood washed his treasure away.” He points towards the south. “And over there,” pointing again, “is the rocky outcrop. I wouldn’t suggest you go near it.”

***

“I’m still not sure,” Servaas says. They’re gathered at the counter in Boggel’s Place, relieved to be back in Rolbos. “I mean, can we really believe everything he said?”

“Well, all I can tell you is that Boron is an extremely rare element in the universe. Scientists don’t believe it is natural to our planet, and that most of the Boron found on earth is due to cosmic dust and possibly meteorites. There is, indeed, radioactive Boron and it may very well be used in reactors – although the rarity of the substance makes its common use impossible. If that rocky outcrop of Liar’s is pure Boron, it could very well be the remains of an ancient meteorite and as such be a unique find.” Gertruida shrugs. “Who knows? Anyway, I made a few discreet enquiries: our friend Klasie Louw is a multi-multimillionaire. The story of the Reserve Bank taking notice of his activities may be true…”

“And the men? The helicopter and the search?”

“Oh, read the papers, Servaas! There are so many scandals in our country, it’s hard to pick the most likely one. But….I like my theory about somebody wanting to buy silence. Suppose you bribed South Africa into hosting the World Cup in 2010 and now people are starting to ask questions. You have the FBI, CIA, Fifa and even Morocco breathing down your neck. If the story is proved and evidence confirms the corruption, it won’t just impact on one single person. It’d mean that the government, the local organising committee and especially the governing party will be left with more egg on their faces than they can clean off. People will have to resign, and some will go to jail. It’d be a diplomatic catastrophe of massive proportions. International credibility – already at a low point – will fly out of the window.

“You see, Servaas, for some of the officials – from president down to the ticket-sellers – the outcome of an intensive investigation will mean the end of their careers. The money-barrel will run dry. The authorities involved with drugs, smuggling and money laundering will be forced to face the wrath of not only the local populace, but the international community as well. Can you imagine the fall-out?

“So…it is entirely possible that certain men and women will want to buy their way out of trouble – and that’s going to involve massive payments to the investigating forces. Just like FIFA bought Ireland’s silence and avoided legal action, so it may be possible to influence the reports of investigators. For that, not only would billions be required, but there cannot be any paper trail. No Banks, no transfers, no documentation. The answer: diamonds…”

“Ja,” Vetfaan signals for another beer, “desperate times. Desperate measures…”

Servaas shrugs. “Be that all as it may. I still don’t know whether I can believe Klasie Louw…”

l15 copy_edited-1“We’ll never know,” Getruida says as she puts down  her glass. “But he has a good story. Maybe we should trust Liar for a change…”

Below the counter, Vrede thumps his tail on the wooden floor. He sniffed around the wreck and the strange rock out there in the desert. He knows exactly what the facts are. But, even though he’d like to tell them about the weathered shoebox he found under the one Nara-bush, he’d rather keep the secret. It’s much more fun this way.

The End.

Trusting Liar (#9)

Robinson R66 small 1“Don’t get up,” Gertruida hisses. “Just sit where we are and let’s see what happens. If they land, I’ll handle it.”

Gertruida is one of those rare persons that relish awkward situations. During her time at National Intelligence, she was the one to bring calm to the negotiations in Dakar and London. Whenever a discussion threatened to get out of hand, she was the voice of reason, placating the flaring tempers by sheer logic. Now, she realises, she might be facing one of the most challenging scenarios of her life. She is sure Liar’s adversaries have some government connection – especially after Liar mentioned that they said something about  ‘Pretoria’. Who…? She’s mulling the thought in her mind when the helicopter approaches the group, hovers some distance off, and then lands.

“It’s a Robinson R66, five-seater, but only this one only carries the pilot and two passengers.” Vetfaans whisper sounds strained after the rotors stop turning. He remembers seeing one at  the recent agricultural show in Upington, where it was on exhibit as part of a game lodge’s display. He also remembers the R10-million price tag.

The two passengers alighting from the craft could not be more dissimilar. The one man striding purposefully to them seems to have been built out of circles: round body and face stuck on podgy legs. Number Two, panting a few yards behind, is tall, reedy and his face looks like it’s been flattened by a sudden stop against a solid object.

Roundface stops a few yards away, surveys the group and lets his gaze rest on Liar.

“You failed to keep your appointment, Mister Louw. I’m disappointed.”

Liar doesn’t bat an eyelid. “I lied,” he says quietly.

Gertruida wants to say something but Flatface shuts her up. “Nobody interrupts the Boss, understand?” He whips out a snub-nosed .38 to emphasise his point. Gertruida closes her mouth with an audible click of her teeth.

“Why, Mister Louw? Why force me to go to the expense of hiring this chopper and searching for you?  It is so childish to play games with us – in fact, it’s downright stupid!”

“Excuse me, sir, but who are you?” Boggel flinches as Flatface swivels to point the gun at him.

“Who I am, is of no consequence. Who I represent, is important.” Roundface ponders the question for a second before going on. “It doesn’t matter, anyway. As soon as Mister Louw has shown us the location of his mine, our problem is solved. So….Mister Louw…?”

Liar shrugs. “No mine, sorry. Not out here.”

“You have been sending diamonds worth millions to Antwerp, receiving the money from a bank in London.  We know that. And you’re the only one doing that from this region. We have contacts with the Reserve Bank, Mister Louw, you can’t fool us.”

“Ag! Diamonds? You think I dig for diamonds? Boy, are you guys confused! Who sends out diamonds in lead-lined boxes, huh?”  Liar’s honest and incredulous stare seems to upset Roundface. “In fact, I’ve got the manufacturer of those boxes right here. Ask him, his name is Servaas.”

“What…?” Roundface glares at Servaas.

Servaas has never worked with lead, let alone built boxes with the material. The old man now crosses his fingers as he nods. “Sure, been making those boxes for years now. And you know what, L…Klasie never pays me. Always promises, promises. Last time I told him it’s the last time. That’s why I’m here, to demand payment – he owes me ….let me see…just over two thousand rand. It’s a lot of money.”

“Lead boxes?”

“Yessir!” Liar is in his stride now, quite comfortable in the talent he’s developed over the years. “Radioactive Boron. Very rare. There’s an outcrop not far from where we are right now. Highly radioactive, a rare El-Ac material.”

“El-Ac…what the hell is that?”

Liar rolls his eyes at the stupidity of the round man. “Electron-Accelerator material. sir.” Seeing the big man still gaping at him, he continues. “When an El-Ac substance is brought into contact with one of the halogen gasses, like Chlorine for instance, it speeds up the electrons. It’s just one of those strange phenomenons of Nature. Now – and this is important – there are scientists that are very interested in doing such things…speeding up electrons…in Switzerland somewhere….”

Higgs at CERN

Higgs at CERN

“The place is CERN, where they’re trying to find the Higgs-boson.” Gertruida interrupts. By now their two visitors are clearly off balance. “That’s the particle that holds the key to how energy is turned into mass.”

“But there is a problem,” Liar continues, eyeing the men carefully. “The radioactive Boron has certain….effects on the male physiology. Bad effects. If you come into contact with it, it’ll…er…change you.”

Roundface has lost his threatening demeanour.  All he had to do was to find the source of some diamonds, and now…? “Change? Change? What change?”

“Um…you know?”Liar shoots an apologetic glance towards Gertruida. “Er…let me put it this way. Here I am, working all alone. Never been interested in a woman all my life. Isn’t that strange?”

“”It takes away your…manhood?”

Liar nods cheerfully. “Never missed it. Just as if it never existed, you know? It’s a wonderful freedom.”

Roundface turns to his companion and an urgent, whispered conversation follows.

“I think we’ve been misinformed,” he says at last. “The reports mentioned diamonds…”

“Oh, please! Sending over legit diamonds with a trusted courier doesn’t raise eyebrows. But…have you ever tried to mark such a parcel as “Radioactive Material”? Nobody would touch it.” Liar’s contempt at their ignorance drips from the words.

Gertruida tries again. “So, who sent you, anyway?”

A thoroughly deflated Roundface sits down heavily. “I can’t tell you that. All I can say is that a very important man is interested in acquiring a lot of money, and get it quickly. We work for him. He needs the money urgently.”

“Why? Because of some recent developments?” A glimmer of understanding appears in Gertruida’s eyes.

“Yes. Some men need to be paid off. To keep quiet. There’s nothing money can’t buy, see? So our boss…well, he has a friend in the Reserve Bank, Asked him about individuals who receive large amounts of money from overseas, especially if such individuals seemed to be working alone and if they  might be persuaded to share their income. He – the Boss – doesn’t want to send out money from South Africa; the exchange regulations are just too strict for the large amounts needed in these transactions. Diamonds are easy to transport and can be exchanged for currency anywhere in the world – it’ll solve a lot of problems.  Mister Louw came up trumps – diamonds, no family, working alone…understand? But diamonds…yes! This radioactive stuff? No!”

“That’s a hare-brained scheme, Sir.”  Gertruida goes tut-tut.This man, your boss, wouldn’t be associated with some sport, would he? Like soccer, for instance?”

Roundface doesn’t answer. He gets up slowly to plod back to the helicopter, motioning his companion to follow.

The group on the ground waits for the helicopter to lift off before collapsing in laughter.

(To be continued…)

Trusting Liar (#8)

Sieve used on Herman's claim to separate gravel and sand.

Sieve used on Herman’s claim to separate gravel and sand.

Liar tells the story with agitated gestures and a worried frown.

“When I walked out of the bank, these three guys waited on the sidewalk. Smart suits, dark glasses, expensive watches. They told me they know all about me and that I’ve been selling diamonds to an overseas buyer. This, they said, was highly illegal and that I should be jailed for my crimes.

“I asked them what they were talking about and showed them my prospector’s licence. The one guy laughed so much he had to wipe tears from his eyes. Said they were from the Revenue Service and they’ve been going through prominent client’s accounts at the bank. Mine, he said, was so incriminating that Pretoria sent the three of them to investigate.”

“Sure sounds funny to me,” Gertruida mumbles.

“Anyway, he said, if I revealed the source of the diamonds and cut a deal with them, they’d make the problem disappear. Either I do it their way, or face years in jail.” Liar shrugs. “What could I do? I told them I’d meet them at their hotel the next morning and bring them here. They said that would be fine. And then I got my bag, hitched a lift with Kalahari Vervoer, and that’s when I rocked up at Boggel’s Place – where you saw me a few days ago. There was no way I’d tell them about this.” He spread his arms wide to encompass the region. “This is mine. Mine!. I’ve paid for it with my life.”

“Klasie, those men were trying to con you.” Gertruida’s tone is firm. “SARS would never act the way they did. And the part of cutting a deal with you if you showed them the source of the diamonds? It smacks of old-fashioned thievery. I’ll tell you what happened: somebody at the bank noticed the payments coming from London. Large amounts. A discreet question here and there, and it would have been easy to tell that the payments were for packets of diamonds. Now – there are no longer any prospectors in the region, as you well know. Only you disappear for months and then the bank gets rather large amounts deposited into your account. Seeing the way you live, that balance must be quite spectacular now…?

“Twenty-five…” Liar stares at his boots.

“Thousand? That’s impossible!”

“No, Gertruida. Million…”

Vetfaan lets out a low whistle while Servaas gasps.

“And that’s only in that bank. I’ve got a few other accounts as well.” Liar adds before saying something about eggs in one basket, but the group doesn’t pay attention. Nobody has that much money! Maybe the president, but he didn’t work for it, did he?

“Okay.” Gertruida sums it up. “A clerk in the bank tells somebody, who tells somebody else. They add up two and two. Then they wait for your next visit and confronts you with a bluff, hoping you’d be gullible enough to fall for their story. Then you disappear and they start looking for you with an aeroplane and a chopper. Mmmm…” Gertruida’s mind works at top speed to piece the puzzle together. “That means these guys have access to money – lots of it – to fund such a search party. And…those guys? They’re just frontmen for somebody else. Someone with a lot of clout is behind all this, I’m sure.”

“A businessman?” Servaas gathers his bushy brows high on his forehead.

“No, Servaas. This smells like somebody in government. A minister possibly. Even a general. Gangsters wouldn’t be so subtle and true businessmen won’t be so crude. But somebody who imagines himself untouchable…well, that’d be my bet.”

“But why keep on looking, Klasie? You won’t be able to spend all that money in your lifetime?”

IMG_2958Liar looks up, a pained expression clouding his face. “And then do what, Servaas? Sit in a retirement home, with sunset the high point of excitement every day? Play Bingo for peanuts? Think out more lies about who I am and what I did with my life? Wait for the police to arrest me for the murder of my stepfather?” He flashes a sad smile before continuing. “No, here I have a purpose. It’s not about the money. It’s about Walter – my real father. He believed in something and gave his life for that purpose. Maybe you look back at history and think about how misguided he was. Or how wrong. That’s history. But I believe in the man…the person. He had a good heart. He wanted to find these diamonds and then marry Mom. This,” he says as he looks out over the dunes, “is his legacy, his memory. It’s all I’ve got of him. This is where I belong.”

A sad silence follows his words as the group tries to get to grips with Liar’s lifetime of searching for lost diamonds – and the father he never knew.

Then the distinct sound of a helicopter approaching makes them all look up.

Trusting Liar (#7)

lancaster_desert_500Klasie (liar) Louw remembers the fights, the blows, and the screams all too vividly. Herman would return from yet another trip into the Kalahari in the most foul of moods, empty-handed. He blamed Nikolaas. He blamed Mattie. He scolded young Klasie, often adding a hiding for good measure. He liked to shout at them, telling them they ruined his life.

***

“Then, just after my eleventh birthday, it happened again. Mom stood her ground for a while, but Herman wouldn’t let up. He called her names…horrible names. Then he felled her with a vicious uppercut, straight to the chin, She fell backwards, hitting her head on the sorting table. I knew then that he had killed her.”

Liar is sobbing now, reliving the most horrible moments of his life.

“I was hiding under the bed at the time. Walter’s pistol – the one he had used to kill the snake – was under Mom’s pillow. I don’t remember much of what happened. When I came to my senses, Herman was down, flat on the ground, bleeding from his chest. In his last breath he cursed me, saying I’m a bastard and a low-life scum.”

***

The boy didn’t know what to do. His mother was dead and he had just killed his stepfather. He was still sitting there when a trader stopped by, like he did once a month. The trader – Harry Isaacs – took one look at the scene and rushed off to Upington to report the incident to the police. 

A constable was dispatched to investigate. His report:

I, Constable Abel Malherbe, arrived at the claim of Herman Louw at 3 pm on the 3rd of August 1954. On my arrival I found a boy – Nikolaas Louw (called Klasie) sitting on a camp bed in the hut on the premises. He wasn’t able to speak and I assume he was born deaf and dumb. I also found the bodies of Mr and Mrs Louw. Mrs Louw appears to have died from a blow to her head, although she had multiple other bruises. Mr Louw had a gunshot wound to his chest. A pistol was on the floor between the two bodies.

My conclusion merely states the obvious. Mr Louw is a known felon with multiple convictions, including assault. It appears that he was attacking Mrs Louw when she fired the pistol in self-defence. There was nothing on the scene to suggest any other explanation. 

The boy is clearly incapable of comprehensible speech and unable to assist any further investigation. He’ll need to be taken to a foster home. My superior officer suggested the facility in Worcester.

Signed:

A. Malherbe.

***

School for the deaf, Worcester.

School for the deaf, Worcester.

“And so I was sent to the School for the Deaf in Worcester. For a while it suited me just fine. For the first time in my life, I had a warm bed, clean linen and three proper meals a day. I didn’t have to dig up the banks of the Orange River and I wasn’t afraid that Herman would rock up and beat me. All I had to do, was act deaf and dumb. 

“That’s where my lying really took off. I had them all fooled for three long years – the best years of my life. Then, one day, I overheard the teachers discussing me. They were concerned, they said, that I might have more hearing than I gave out to have. That I might be pretending because I was an orphan. That they’d get a special doctor to come and test me, just to make sure…

louw“That night I ran away. I returned to the only place I know: my stepfather’s claim. I was only fourteen, but big and strong. I managed to convince the local magistrate that I was the legal heir to Herman’s claim and that he had been a known prospector in the Kalahari. He checked the records, found Constable Malherbe’s report, and took pity on me. How he did it, I’m not sure – but in the end he handed me a piece of paper that gave me the right to ‘investigate and prospect mineral possibilities in the region’. He even paid the fee…”

“But didn’t he ask you where you had been all that time?”

“He did, Servaas. I told him I had been taken care of by an aunt in Cape Town, but that she had passed away. Without the licence, I said, I would have no income and no means to support myself. He asked about inheritance, and for once I told the truth: my ‘aunt’ had left me nothing.” A wry smile lightened his features for a second. “The rest were – just like you’ve become accustomed to me – pure lies.”

Servaas scratches his head, overawed by the tale of woe. “So you’ve been looking for the wreck all these years – almost six decades of searching?”

“Oh, I found the wreck, all right. It’s not far from here.” He points up the valley between the two large dunes. “But there was a flood in 1956. One of those rare thunderstorms that turned this valley into a mass of swirling water. It washed over the wreck and almost buried it. It took me some time, but eventually I uncovered enough to examine the wreckage. The boxes were gone. For a while I thought my stepfather had found it, but then I discovered a diamond some distance off. Then another.

“What happened was that the flood washed away the boxes, scattering the stones down the ‘river’ it had formed.” He sighs. “And that’s why I’ve been busy here all my life – searching, searching, searching for the lost treasure of Walter Kempf amongst these dunes…”

“And finding diamonds here and there?”

“Yes. I’ve found two hundred and thirty-six stones so far. It’d fill one small box. There must be much more still…”

“But who are the people in the plane and the chopper?” Vetfaan lets his eyes roam the empty skies. “Why…?”

“It’s some government men. Bad ones. Once they know where to look, they’ll probably kill me.”

“But…how did they know?”

“SARS…the revenue people. They got onto my trail after the last packet I sent to London. When I went to the bank in Upington to check on the payment, they were waiting for me outside the bank. They said they wanted to make me an offer I can’t refuse.”

“And….?

“I refused.”

(to be continued)

Trusting Liar (#6)

Farmhouse, Breekyster

Farmhouse, Breekyster

Gertruida gasps. “You’re…you’re Walter Kempf’s son?”

Liar, still staring at the endless horizon, nods. “The one and only.”

“But your surname is Louw – where did that come from?”

***

Mattie was devastated. With Walter dead, her hopes for the future had turned to ashes. Oom Nikolaas initially did what all fathers do when confronted with his daughter’s pregnancy: he exploded. A heated argument followed. He accused her of being too forward, while she blamed their poverty on Nikolaas’s inability to farm properly. She even told him her mother’s death was due to the old man’s negligence. The wordy skirmish didn’t last long – they both ended up in tears, apologising for hurting each other so much.

Oom Nikolaas considered the problem of his daughter’s pregnancy very carefully. He was getting on in years and would not be able to assist Mattie in bringing up the child. A man had to be found, but how? Who? And why would a man marry a woman pregnant with another man’s baby? Then he had a brilliant idea.

Somewhere, out in the desert, an aeroplane wreck contained two shoeboxes full of diamonds. Surely that would be enough to entice some gentleman to search for it, find it, and become fabulously rich? Such a man might – with a bit of luck – be willing to marry his daughter in exchange for information leading to the treasure hidden in the dunes? Oom Nikolaas would have preferred to search for the wreck himself, but at his age it would have been suicide. No, he’ll find someone…

But…such a man had to be somebody with enough knowledge of the desert, know something about diamonds, and be able to dispose of his find in a legal way. That, oom Nikolaas decided, narrowed the possibilities down to the few prospectors next to the Orange River. Those men, he knew, barely made a living with the few diamonds they found, so surely they would jump at the chance of acquiring the treasure in the wreck? Although these prospectors had a reputation for hard living and sometimes unscrupulous behavior, oom Nikolaas felt sure he’d be able to find the best of them all. Desperate times called for desperate measures…

Mattie didn’t like the idea. She had fallen in love with Walter and just couldn’t imagine being with another man. Another argument followed. What, oom Nikolaas asked, would happen to Mattie and the infant once he (Nikolaas) died? How would she – an unmarried mother with an illegitimate child –  survive? Surely the infant should have a better chance in life than the two of them had? No, he said, Mattie had no choice. A man had to be found, and quickly. If his plan worked out, they could still be married in church and the baby would be accepted as her new husband’s. She would have a home, a caring man to look after her, and a child with a future. No more arguments, case closed. 

Orange River mouth - rich source of diamonds

Orange River mouth – rich source of diamonds

Despite his failing health, oom Nikolaas set out to find a husband for his daughter. He trekked along the banks of the Orange River, looking for the prospectors he had heard about. What he found, disappointed him. Most of the men were unschooled. They all drank too much. Some were too old. Some, too young. And there weren’t nearly as many as he had hoped to find – the war had seen to that. When he eventually shuffled towards a shabby hut next to a digging at the water’s edge, oom Nikolaas had all but given up hope.

***

“And so oom Nikolaas bought a husband for my mother. Marriage in exchange for information about a lost treasure. Herman Jacobus Louw jumped at the chance. He was…more or less…presentable. What oom Nikolaas didn’t know, was that this same H.J. Louw was a fugitive from the law. He had a string of convictions, ranging from theft to assault. He could be as charming as a prince and change to a ball of fury at the drop of a hat. When oom Nikolaas met him, my future stepfather was in his charming mode. He seemed the nicest guy on earth. But that….changed…afterwards.

“Anyway, the deal was struck. Mattie got a husband in exchange for a vague description of where the plane went down. The very modest wedding ceremony followed within a week.

“Mattie told me it wasn’t so bad in the beginning. Herman left the morning after the marriage to start looking for the plane. He came back a month later in the worst possible mood and got into a heated argument with Nikolaas. Said the old man had tricked him. Blows followed. Nikolaas died a week later – and was buried on the farm. Nobody could prove that the fight had anything to do with his death, but to this day I’m convinced it did. Mattie told me how bruised and battered her father had been after the assault…

“Well, Herman didn’t give up. He moved Mattie to his claim and left her there to do the digging while he went on trip after trip to look for Walter’s diamonds. I was born there; Mattie somehow managed the delivery herself while Herman was on one of his expeditions.”

“What,” Gertruida asks, “happened? With Herman, I mean? Did he find the aircraft?'”

Liar wipes away a tear before answering. “He never found it. I killed him…when I was eleven…”