Category Archives: adventure

‘Survivor’ in the Kalahari?

survivor-logo.jpg“We need tourism.”

Gertruida’s remark makes them all sit up. While they are used to her coming up with some very strange ideas, this one strikes them as particularly odd. When Servaas – rather cautiously – reminds her that they have chosen to live in Rolbos especially, to escape the madness other people accept as ‘civilisation’ (at the same time reminding her of the dangers posed by foreigners like ISIS and Trump), Gertruida simply shrugged.

“Look, it’s a question of economics. We need a new borehole and the potholes in Voortrekker Weg needs filling. We have two choices: either we slash away at our budgets for sitting around in Boggel’s Place, or we get other people to pay for our amenities. I don’t know about you, Servaas, but I’d prefer the second option.”

Of course, this makes a huge lot of sense to the group at the bar. Why fork out good money when visitors would not only solve their problems with the infrastructure, but also boost Boggel’s profit…which in turn would reduce the cost per glass? Simple mathematics. They all nod.

“But how? We have a dusty little town in the middle of nowhere. Sure, we have plenty of sand and a lot of sunshine, but that would not draw tourists – for that they go to Etosha and Kgalagadi, where people get to see animals and lodge in luxury. We can’t compete with that.” Vetfaan shrugs. “Unless they want to see sheep, that is.”

“That’d only draw people from New Zealand, Vetfaan. We don’t want that after the game on Saturday.”

“No, we have to create an event. Something that’d catch the attention of people. And if we get TV-coverage, that’d generate a lot of money.” Boggel likes the idea. “Maybe a literary festival or a music show or something.”

“Yeah right! People are going to drive all the way from Prieska to read a book in Boggel’s Place? Or do you want them to listen to some old records? I’ve got one of Jim Reeves…”

“Nope. Don’t be cynical, Servaas. Boggel has the right idea, though. People plus TV equals income. More of either multiplies the result. The hottest thing on TV these days, is a reality show – something scary or gaudy or quite abnormal – like the American presidential debates or Survivor.”

Of course she has to explain the Survivor concept to the patrons in Boggel’s Place. The outlandish idea of exposing teams or perfectly normal people to completely insane conditions makes no sense to Kleinpiet.

“So – you ask people to pay money to participate, then you get them to pay for accommodation and food, then you make them suffer beyond human endurance, then the TV companies show it to some overweight couch potatoes sipping beer….and then you get paid millions?”

“Exactly, Kleinpiet. All we have to do is to write a proposal and get BBC of CNN interested. The rest is up to them. We sit back and count the money…”

Like most ideas generated after a few beers in Boggel’s Place, this one gets analysed with great care. Yes, they all agree, this is a sure thing – provided they come up with a novel concept. Their final proposal gets drafted that same evening.

“So, there we are. A nice little list of items with enough endurance and fear to make millions want to watch.” Gertruida glares – somewhat bleary-eyed – at the paper.

1. Sheep Dog Imitation: the team has to round up a flock of scattered sheep and chase the flock through a gate.

2. The Ostrich Race: grabbing eggs from the roosting ostrich on Kleinpiet’s farm.

3. The Kudu Relay Run: team loaded on Vetfaan’s Land Rover, with one runner chasing a kudu. When the runner tires, he gets on the Landy while another runner takes his place. Judging will involve both distance and time to catch up with the antelope.

4 The Great Lion Escape – this item still needs refining.

“I think it is a great proposal, but item 5 is just too scary to include, guys.We cannot really expect even the strongest of the strongest to endure so much pain. I think it’s inhumane.” She glances up to see if they all agree.

“No, I think this is the item that’ll draw the audience.” Servaas manages not to slur his words. “Look, we need to be real and convincing – viewers have to identify with, and understand what the contestants are going through. This one will make them want to cry, puke and bash their heads against any available wall. It’ll make them extremely angry and inconsolably sad. I think it’s a winner.”

“Shees, Servaas – you are not only a true cynic, you are the reincarnation of Machiavelli! Okay then, we’ll keep it.”

***

Two months goes by without a response from the TV moguls.

“I told you: it’s much too painful. We should have stuck to the first four items.” Gertruida smiles sadly. “But…we gave it a good try. In the meantime we’ll just have to swerve around the potholes.”

“Ja.” Vetfaan sighs. “Item 5: making the contestants sit through the South Africa – New Zealand game to see who can suffer through the entire match? Truth be told. I couldn’t. I don’t think anybody should live through it again. It’s like harakiri with a blunt saw.”

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The Horizon Hunter #4

download (8).jpg“Life in Atlantis was okay, I guess. The neighbours all knew our story and warned us many times whenever the inspectors were checking up on people’s ID’s. However, my mother refused to send me to school – the danger of exposure loomed too large. Anyway, I was an unregistered child, remember? Basically – as far as the officials were concerned, I didn’t exist.”

***

Mo’s mother found work as a waitress in Cape Town itself, which involved a lengthy train trip to a fro every day. Mo stayed at home, under the care of Achmad, her brother, for a while. Achmad was the main middleman in the supply of dagga (hashish) to the local community. A friend of a friend had a hidden plantation in the Transkei and he had several distributors who acted as agents in the Cape area. In the days before drug lords, Achmad was the king of Atlantis.

Dealing in illicit drugs  was (and still is) a nefarious and dangerous business. Achmad could not survive without a network of dealers and informers. A lot of people depended on him for an income and quite a few were deeply indebted to him in more ways than one. One of them was the lovable Aunty Florrie.

Florrie was a remarkable woman. She used to be a social worker and even helped out at the small local school for a while, but the slippery slope of alcoholism deposited her squarely in the cul de sac of addiction. She was one of Achmad’s runners and – despite her sales – could never quite get out of debt with her supplier. Achad made her an offer she could not refuse: if she housed Maria and her child, her past transgressions would be forgiven. No more debt. A new start.

Florrie grabbed the opportunity and not only provided a roof over the poor mother’s head, but also started teaching the child the basics of reading and writing. Mo proved to be a fast learner.

At the time, Mo’s identity remained a huge problem. Achad suggested that he’d arrange with ‘some people he knew’ to register the child in his name. A sympathetic Methodist pastor agreed – rather enthusiastically – to baptise little Mohammed Sulliman, clearly a convert to Christianity from a Muslim home. Now, with documents from the church and Achmad’s ID papers, the Department of Home Affairs had to be convinced that the child’s birth simply wasn’t registered due to an oversight by the Sulliman family. Money changed hands. Mo Sulliman became a real, official person.

Aunty Florrie continued her home schooling simply because it kept Achmad off her back. No, she didn’t think formal schooling would bring out the best in the child – not at all. He was far too clever to be immersed in the second-rate teaching the government provided (she said) and she provided individual teaching, didn’t she? The other side of the coin also deserves mentioning: so profound was M0’s influence on Florrie’s life that she almost stopped using drugs. Almost. Not quite.

Initially Aunty Florrie guided Mo through the basics of learning quite successfully, but when the boy was about nine years old, her addiction flared up again. Achmad was dismayed and then had to face the problem of an almost-ten years old boy who never had formal schooling. A government school was out of the question – but what to do with a ten-year old kid with nothing to do? The solution: recruit Mo as a runner to make deliveries to the agents. images (22).jpgThis was a brilliant move. While his other distributors were adults, mostly convicts and generally known to the police, the little boy could fool them all. The only problem was his rather white skin – which was solved by generous applications of Coppertone and plenty of sun.

And so, gradually over the next two years, Mo became familiar with the underbelly of the Cape’s drug world. In turn, people accepted the little runner as one of their own, while his reputation of always managing to avoid the long arm of the law eventually earned him the respect of  a number of ex-convicts and other individuals surviving in the world of petty crime and other illicit activities.

At the time, the Anti-Apartheid Resistance Movement was gaining ground amongst the Coloured people of Atlantis. The community was ripe for rebellion – after their forced move from District Six, the mood in the community was distinctly anti-government. AARM needed informers and made a deal with Achmad: they’ll smuggle the new drug, LSD, to him, in exchange for information. Achmad’s network fitted their requirements like a glove: his distributors and users worked in the affluent houses of Cape Town and some were cleaners in government departments. A few even were employed as officials and clerks. And they all could be trusted to be true to the cause as long as the supply of drugs was guaranteed.

Mo became the trusted runner with stolen documents, secret messages and  drugs – a heady mix of danger and adventure for the youth who understood the necessity of secrecy all too well. But, in the end, even this elusive runner became the focus of police activity, for the officials also had their own network of informers. A reward was posted and Mo was caught.

What followed is not something Mo wants to talk about. His interrogation was merciless and involved the usual methods used on other so-called terrorists. Solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, beatings, water – these and other ways of making him talk were all used. However, young Mo stubbornly refused to answer any question, repeating over and over again that he knew nothing. He was a street child, homeless, with no real family. Yes, he knew Achmad Sulliman, he was an uncle. And yes, Achmad had adopted him, but that was a long time ago. No he didn’t know where his mother was. He survived by scavenging on the streets – go on, ask anybody in Atlantis: they’ll all confirm that he was seen here and there, doing odd jobs and living off scraps. His interrogators redoubled their efforts. Mo remained unbroken.

The one thing Mo still remembers, is a visit from Aunty Florrie.

“I only heard – later – that she had died a week before. I didn’t know that.  But one night, while I was shivering from being cold and wet and hungry – suddenly, as if by magic – Aunty was there at my side. I was so disorientated and confused, I didn’t question her presence or how she got there.

1990-02-03.jpg“Well, she held me in her arms and made soothing noises. It was wonderful. Then she told me I had to be strong, everything would change soon. I would be free again, she said. She said I must remember the date: it was Thursday, the 1st of February, 1990.”

Then, as suddenly as she had appeared, Aunty Florrie was gone. The next day, on the 2nd of February, President F.W. de Klerk announced the release of Nelson Mandela and the unbanning of the resistance movements.

 ***

Mo sat back, his characteristic smile replacing the scowl of recounting his experiences during those terrible days.

“I thought that would be the end of it all. You know – Mandela was freed, there were talks about a negotiated settlement and even free elections for all. And…you won’t believe it…my interrogators arrived on the Monday after De Klerk’s speech with new clothes and a hamburger. They said it didn’t matter anymore and that I’d be freed that Wednesday. A doctor came and examined me. They even sent a pastor to give me a lecture on forgiveness!

“Me? I didn’t care. All that mattered was that I’d be set free and that the beatings stopped. I was old enough to understand that everything had changed, but too young to be cynical about it. So, on that Wednesday, I was ushered to a back door in my new clothes, given ten rand and told to bugger off.”

Mo sioghed. “You know, I really thought that was the end of my troubles.” He shook his head. “Had I but known…”

To be continued…

The Diary (#5)

Credit: multiverses.wikia.com

Credit: multiverses.wikia.com

I had a dream last night. A very vivid one, the details of which remain imprinted on my mind as if I had lived through every moment of it.

I felt that I was a spectator of the first moment of time. Initially there was only darkness, but then a spectacular array of light – green, yellow, blue, red – exploded and millions and millions  fragments of light scattered into the darkness. One of these fragments enlarged and became the Earth, And then it, in turn, exploded and formed many Earths. I couldn’t count them, but they sort of drifted away from each other before merging again.

Well, ‘merging’ isn’t the right word. Those worlds came together, but stayed apart. I don’t know how to explain it… It was like a herd of Springboks – while they move as one, graze together and basically act as a single group, they still remain individuals forming a larger whole. Something like that happened when the different Earths came together. There were many different Earths, but they formed one single entity. And then the dream drew me closer and I was standing on Kubu Island. In  my dream I looked out at the salt pan, and it ceased to be a barren place: it became a sea….a sea of faces, and all of them were mine. 

I couldn’t understand, so I asked the sea why all the faces were me? And then the different faces – all of them me – they all answered…and the answers were different for every face.

When I woke up, I was covered in sweat. I felt more confused than ever. And then I remembered the three Kubu Islands the old man drew in the sand. And it clicked.

We live on Earth. Our Earth. But out there, or in here, there are many other Earths. And each of them are made up of everybody and anybody that lives or ever lived. On this Earth, I am me. On the other Earths, there are many more of me. It doesn’t make sense, does it? But like there are many Kubus, there are many Earths and each Earth has a me, and everybody else.

The reason, I realised, why the old man wiped out Kubu in one of his drawings, is that things are different on the different Earths. Why? Obviously Nature is a relatively constant phenomenon. Weather patterns follow an unwritten set of rules. The Earth’s crust is subjected to changes which have scientific bases. So the way the Earth develops, is maybe similar on all the Earths.

But people, now… There are no rules for people, are there? Even small decisions or seemingly insignificant discoveries may change the world a lot. If, for instance, antibiotics had been discovered a hundred years before that doctor did tests on the piece of rotting bread, then thousands – if not millions – of people would have lived longer and contributed to society’s progress or downfall. What would have happened if Hitler lived in the 1700’s? Or if Lincoln died as a baby?

Sooo…if there are more than one Earth, there’d be as many histories as there are human whims…

Despite the terrible fatigue, I called the old man over. I drew his pictures in the sand, wiped out one, and nodded to show him I understand. He smiled. Then he redrew the Kubu I wiped out and pointed at me. He proceeded to take the little bag of herbs from his quiver, looked at me in a questioning way and spoke at length. Of course I couldn’t understand. He took to his drawings again, and sketched two stick-men in the sand. He pointed at them and pointed at the two of us. Yes, I got that: the two men on the sand represented the two of us. He drew the herb’s bag, then made the one stick-man hand it to the other. He then wiped out one, leaving a solitary stick-man in the sand. He pointed at this one, then pointed at himself.

I felt strange at that point. Strange and tired and excited all at once. The old man wanted me to take the last dose of herbs, but obviously something will happen to me. This time, his drawing was telling me, I wasn’t coming back. Why would I do that? 

Right then, the young woman joined us on the sand. Her eyes were bright and she spoke in an excited tone with the old man. His replies were calm and soothing, but he obviously agreed to something she asked. Without another word, she led me to their shelter. 

***

multiverse2“Gosh!” Gertruida takes a deep breath. “This is about parallel universes, the multiverse and other dimensions. Even time travel. Most astounding, I’d say.”

“Most deranged, I you asked me.” Vetfaan slugged back some peach brandy. “Mad people can be very convincing, you know? And they experience stuff – completely irrational stuff – as real. They sort of create their own reality and will be so convinced about it, that they’d be absolutely sure the rest of the world is crazy for not believing it. I don’t for one moment think he was normal when he wrote this.”

Gertruida puts on a Mona Lisa smile when she lays the diary on the counter. “Maybe you’re right, Vetfaan. But you remember how this diary was found, don’t you?”

“Of course. Some warden found it.”

“So we were told by the man that brought the diary here. So, I checked.” Her lips now form a thin, straight line. “There are no wardens at Kubu, Vetfaan. Only a type of overseer-caretaker from the local community. and he knows absolutely nothing about a book being found there.”

“But the guy who brought the book?”

“Yes. Him. The chap who initialled the receipt J.V. Oldish guy, grey hair, weatherbeaten face. With the same initials as Jakobus Visagie, known as Koos or, otherwise, Spook…”

“Oh, hogwash, Gertruida! You think it was Spook, himself? Not even a fertile brain such as yours can explain why he brought it to us, then!”

“If I’m right, Vetfaan, it’ll be in the diary. And then you’ll owe me an apology.” With a withering glance at Vetfaan , she silenced the burly farmer before taking up the book again.

(To be continued….)

Go Back In Time

While I’m busy with another project, it is virtually impossible to add new stories to Rolbos. This has drawn some criticism from some of my loyal readers, who accused me of abandoning them. Since quite a number of new followers were added in 2014, it mat be a solution for some to have a peek at some previous stories.

672There is, for instance, a series with The Bogenfels as a theme. For those unfamiliar with this natural wonder, it is a massive rock arch in wild and uninhabted beach of the Atlantic  in southern Namibia. The Curse of the Bogenfels  introduces //Xuiram, the Bushman, tells about Otjikoto Lake and some very mysterious events in the Sperrgebiet.

Where to find the story, you ask? Simply click on the picture. At the bottom of each episode there will be a little arrow directing you to the next segment of the story. It’s on the right, just above ‘Comments’.

And then depart on an adventure that left even Gertruida breathless.

Everybody has a You (#14)

Credit: nationalgeographic.com

Credit: nationalgeographic.com

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.

251005_det“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…

Everybody has a You (#12)

randall 002aDespite the dry mouth, the almost unquenchable thirst and still feeling dizzy, Boggel manages to stumble through the events leading up to his friends finding him. He has to pause frequently to sip water from the canteen Sersant Dreyer offers from time to time. Even the wounded Smartryk seems a bit better, sitting next to Precilla. If Boggel noticed them holding hands, he doesn’t remark on it.

He was closing the bar that night, he tells them, when the huge bulk of Brutus was framed in the doorway. The man seemed friendly…but he had a problem. Would Boggel please help him? His aeroplane had developed an uncommon splutter – something the man said he had noticed while on his way to Upington. To err of the safe side, he landed not far from town on an even patch of veld. He thought it’s the carburettor, but needed a specific spanner to get to it. A number 15, he said.

“Well, you all had left and there I was, talking to this guy. I didn’t want to wake anybody and I had just such a spanner in my toolbox. So, naturally, I agreed to help. That’s what we do in these parts, isn’t it? But when we got to the aircraft, the lights went out.”

Boggel says he was near the Cessna when he felt a tremendous blow to the back of his head.  “Must have been that spanner, I think. The next thing I knew, I woke up to the roar of the engine. I was strapped in one of the back seats, and I thought I saw somebody outside, waving.”

“That was me,” Sersant Drayer remarks. I thought I recognised you…”

Boggel nods before continuing. “Yes, that makes sense. Anyway, I took a particularly dim view of the situation, and whacked the pilot a proper one on his head with my fist. He let out a yelp of surprise – must have thought I was still out cold – and turned to belt me back. I must say: if I had known we were in the air at the time, I might have reconsidered my attack. Still, that’s what I did, and that’s what he did. To get to me, he had to let go of the controls, of course, which isn’t a nice thing for a pilot to do.

“But this man – Brutus? He has a nasty temper, as I was to find out later. Or maybe I already found that out when he turned to strike me. Once he gets angry, he retaliates immediately. Not clever, not clever at all. Especially not under those circumstances. He immediately realised his dilemma, of course. When the Cessna slewed to one side, he turned back to the controls, but by then it was too late.

“I suppose one must give the devil his due: he is – was – a great pilot. How he managed to belly-land that Cessna is a pure miracle. I gashed my shoulder during the landing and he banged his head on the control panel – but that was all. We could have…should have been killed.”

Despite Brutus’s injury, he remained a formidable, strong, giant of a man. Boggel tried to escape, but Brutus simply felled him with an almighty blow to the head.

“I had no chance, no idea what was going on, and no way to escape. He pinned me to the ground and told me to take him to the nearest vehicle.” Boggel shoots a guilty glance towards Kleinpiet. “I knew Kleinpiet always leaves the keys in the ignition and that we were somewhere near his homestead. With Brutus frogmarching me along, I had no choice but to lead him there.” He pauses, smiling shyly. “I’m sorry, Kleinpiet.”

“I would have done the same, Boggel. Don’t worry.”

Boggel bobs his head. “Thanks. Anyway, the man said we were going to Upington. He asked directions. And I thought: bugger you, laddie. Whatever you’re up to, I’m certainly not going to help you. And, because it was still quite dark, I had him drive towards the desert. It’s a shortcut, I said. He believed me – must have thought I was sufficiently scared to tell the truth all the time.”

With Boggel promising that they’d reach the tarred road any minute now, Brutus drove on through the desert…until the petrol ran out.

“Man, you should have seen him then! He was beside himself! I told him he should have let me know, and I would have filled up the tank properly, but he didn’t think it was funny. But then, my friends, the tables were turned. He knew I was his only hope to get him back to civilisation. He calmed down and then, ever so friendly-like told me to lead the way. I said no way, not until he told me what this was all about.

“We had a heated debate about that, as you can imagine. But I sat down on the sand, refusing to budge. He ranted and raved, but I knew I had him. He tried to lie initially – and later when I found out that he was a lawyer, I understood why. Still, after while, I told him to tell the truth or be prepared to die in the desert. That made him blanche. He told me not to say such things. Death, he said, is the only thing he was afraid of.”

Boggel shrugs,. The man’s sudden change from being the self-assured aggressor to confessing his fear of mortality shook the small barman. Brutus sank down on the sand next to him, suddenly all friendly and coy.

“He’s a psychopath,” Gertruida says. “Anything to manipulate you. No remorse, no conscience. At first he tried to scare you to do his will, then he swung around, trying to gain your confidence through pity. Typical.”

“Sure. That’s what I thought as well. He started telling me about his irregular heartbeat, his visits to the cardiologist and goodness knows what else. I thought he was mad. Didn’t believe a word he said, even after he told me he needed to get to his pills as soon as possible. That, I thought, was a blatant lie. A big guy like that, dependant of cardiac medication? So I said I was sorry to hear about his troubles, but what was the idea behind him abducting me in the way he did?

“And he said – I remember the words – there is a woman he needed to talk to. What woman, I asked? And he said Mary Mitchell.” Boggel closes his eyes. “The bottom fell out of my world, right then, right there. After a while, I managed to ask why? And he said she knew stuff about him, he’d rather keep to himself. I was the key, he said. If Mary knew I was with him, she’d come immediately.

“That’s when I decided to walk him to death. A man who is prepared to use me as bait to get to Mary,” and here he allows his gaze to rest on her, “must be crazy. I will do no such thing. By then I had serious doubts about his sanity…but no doubt at all about his violent tendencies. No, I thought, let me play along for a while, lead his deeper and deeper into the desert, and get us both completely lost. We had one water bottle – courtesy of Kleinpiet’s pickup – how long can we last?

“So we walked. On and on and on. Eventually – the next day or the next – I lost track of time – we rested under a bush like we so often had to. I woke up to find him gone. You know what? I couldn’t care anymore. I thought – so be it. There was no way he’d get much farther and I wasn’t up to much, either. So I closed my eyes. The next thing I know, you guys buried me and here I am…”

Gertruida fixes the bent little barman with a knowing look. She knows he’s left out a lot. The two days walking under the scorching sun, the freezing nights, the arguments along the way… Typical of Boggel, she thinks, to avoid telling them about the hardships along the way.

“It’s all my fault…” Mary’s eyes brim with tears. “Oh, Boggel, I’m the poison, the bane of your life. I’m so terribly sorry.”

Boggel shrugs. “I would have done the same for Gertruida, or Sersant, or…even for Servaas.” He smiles his lopsided smile again, takes a swig from the bottle, and sighs. “Life is never fair, Mary. You and I were dealt a hand of cards when we were born. Some people get winning hands, some don’t. We have no choice, really. Play with what we have is what we must do.”

“But…” Mary wants to protest, but Smartryk holds up a hand.

“Boggel, you’ve been incredibly brave…and unbelievably lucky. There’s a lot we have to talk about…a lot. But, seeing the sun is burning us all to a crisp, I suggest we prepare to get back to Rolbos. Maybe there, after cleaning up and with something cool to drink, the two of us can have a chat. Man to man…if you know what I mean.”

And Boggel, with the look you find on the face of a sad Basset, finds himself nodding. Yes, that’s what they must do. Mano a mano. He also realises that the hardships of the past days may fade in comparison with what lies ahead.

Everybody has a You (#11)

558“Is he…”

“Yes.” Sersant Dreyer drops the lifeless hand back in the sand. Getting up slowly, he walks to his van, where he gets into the cab and shuts the door. He needs time to think.

“I…I killed him… His heart…” Mary Mitchell stares down at the body of Brutus, the man she once thought loved her. The man who sent her on the mission that saw her spend time in that cesspool of a prison in Rio. The man who betrayed her, belittled her, disrespected her, The man who…used her. And she closes her eyes for a second, deep in thought, marvelling at the fact that she feels no remorse.

“Aaargh…..” Boggel opens his eyes, stares at the group with uncomprehending and unfocussed eyes. “Wha….?”

Servaas, still rubbing his head after his heroic storming of Brutus’s Bastille (or whatever you want to call the man’s reason d’etre) , bends down to smile at the barman: “Like a Cactus?”

He’s rewarded by a weak twist of the chapped lips – a feeble but honest effort to return the smile. Boggel tries to move, finds himself buried, and starts wriggling out of the sand.

“I’m not dead yet, you guys. Can’t you wait with the funeral?” His voice is hoarse and cracked, but everybody gives a little cheer. Boggel is back! Weak, barely able to sit up, but still…

“When you lot have stopped fussing over Boggel,” Gertruida pauses while they turn to her, “I might remind you that we have to get a pressure bandage on Smartryk’s wound. Now, if you don’t mind, I need some help.” She’s still bent over her patient, applying pressure to the rupture artery.

“Here.” Dawid, who has stood quietly watching, while rubbing his neck where Brutus’s fingers bruised the tissue, holds out the small pouch he always carries on the piece of leather that holds his loincloth in place. “Press this leaf on the bleeding.”

Gertruida stares at the leaf for a moment. It’s a leaf – a nondescript, common, everyday leaf. The type of leaf you’d see on the ground and never think twice about it. Heart-shaped and small, it looks like a thousand others one would find on the stunted bushes in the Kalahari. Still, when she sees the imploring eyes of the Bushman, she shrugs and places the leaf on the spurting artery.

The bleeding stops immediately.

“Now put this on the wound,” Dawid says, “before you put on a bandage. It’ll help healing.” This time he pours an ash-like powder from an even smaller bag  in the pouch.

Gertruida needs no convincing. Using a bandage from Precilla’s first-aid kit, she binds up the wound. Smartryk, who has been silent for the whole time, now sits up, looks over to Boggel, and waves a fluttering hand in the barman’s direction. “You must be Boggel?”

“The same,” Boggel’s voice has improved to beyond the croaking stage. “Will somebody please tell what is going on here? I thought I was going to die…”

While Gertruida tries to put the Rolbosser’s reaction to Boggel’s disappearance and Mary’s visit into some perspective, Mary plops down on the sand. Drawing her knees to her chest and resting her chin on her folded arms, she now stares at Boggel and Smartryk in turn. She, too, has to organise her thoughts. Sure, the reason for her coming to Rolbos, was to see Boggel. And yes, she is glad to see him…or is she? Was he not, just a few moments ago, one of the reasons why she kicked that despicable man? And wasn’t it silly to hope that he – Boggel – would await her with open arms and that they could pick up where they left off, all those years ago? A sudden flurry of doubt creases her brow.

And Smartryk? Well, now there’s a question, isn’t there? After all, she hardly knows the man… Travelling with a stranger for two days is hardly a foundation for a long-term relationship. What she needs, is security – not only financially, but especially emotionally. Smartryk seems nice enough, but…

Her thoughts and Gertruida’s lecture are interrupted when Sersant Dreyer gets out of the van, slamming the door.

“I’ve got it,” he says triumphantly. “Come, let’s bury this piece of scum.And we have to talk…”

***

“Let’s just think for a minute. If we involved the authorities, we’ll have to explain why Boggel is in the state he’s in, what happened to Smartryk…and that.” He jerks his thumb towards Brutus. “I don’t have to tell you: there’d be questions – a million of them – and investigations and interviews and goodness knows what else. Brutus’s affairs will be under a microscope, end there’d be the issue of manslaughter…or murder.”

Smartryk nods weakly. The last thing he’d want is to see Mary go through a protracted – even a sensational – court case. He has sensed her vulnarability over the past two days – and her pent-up fury of a few minutes ago underscored her utter fragility.

“So here’s what I think. First, we make sure that Smartryk and Boggel are fit to travel – that is, after we’ve buried that corpse. Then we take the two patients to Oudok, and get them fixed up. Like Dawid said: it may involve a two-day trip, but that’s what we’ve got to do. Once we’re all safely back in Rolbos, we simply continue with life as we know it.” He flashes a rare, but disarming smile. “Brilliant, isn’t it?”

Complete silence.

“But then…what…what about….this?” Oudoom makes a vague gesture to encompass them all, the area, and Brutus.

“It never happened, Oudoom. This incident didn’t occur. We’re not here.”

“But we can’t…”

“Oh yes, we can!” Gertruida’s emphatic statement swivels all the eyes in her direction. “Sersant Dreyer is right. The only thing that’d come from making this public, is a pack of investigators, followed closely by a court case, television crews and the Huisgenoot. And what will happen? Mary has a criminal record and could quite possibly end up in jail for manslaughter. You know how the legal system works – I don’t have to explain that to you. Even if Mary is acquitted, there might be a reaction from the drug cartel Brutus was involved with. In the end she’d be a target – either by the law – or the…others. If we go home quietly, the world will keep on turning. Cops will hunt robbers, politicians will lie and lovers will love.

“Look at the hullabaloo surrounding the Oscar Pistorius case. How many millions were spent by the news channels of the world and how many millions of people wasted days – weeks – following the trial? And what did it change? Nothing, that’s what. Reeva is dead, Oscar’s career is in tatters and the state spent 15 million Rands on the case for the prosecution. That, my friends, could have supplied water and electricity to quite a number of households.

“Justice…” Gertruida says the word slowly, almost dreamily. “What is justice – especially for the victim? Is it not to give him or her the life back…the life once lived, carefree and happy?”

It is, everybody agrees, one of Gertruida’s better speeches, earning her a number of nodding heads.

“Before we take the law in our own hands,” Servaas says, “I think we should hear Boggel’s story.”

This puts a lid on Gertruida’s plea for the time being. The group now turns to Boggel, who is still sitting up on his heap of damp sand.

“Okay, then,” the barman sighs. “It’s only fair. Let me tell you…”

‘Everybody wants to be understood
Well, I can hear you
Everybody wants to be loved
Don’t give up because you are loved…’

Everybody has a You (#10)

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????In the strange, inexplicable way time slows down during times of catastrophe, a lot may happen in the shortest little period of time. For instance: in that second after Smartryk was shot, a multitude of actions took place simultaneously; yet it remains difficult to describe – let alone explain -how the hapless group of Rolbossers managed to get it all done in such a short time.

***

Boggel, of course, is the only one not to react. Well ensconced in his unconscious state, he remains exactly where he is – hidden under his heap of wetted sand. The same cannot be said for the rest of the group.

Kleinpiet and Vetfaan recognises the sound of the shot immediately. The instinct (rather than discipline), so rudely formed during their days as army conscripts during the Border War, kicks in immediately as they fling themselves to the ground. Oudoom, bewildered and never having  been under fire before, starts running away from the sound as fast as his ample frames allows movement; while Precilla and Gertruida does the sensible thing to cower down behind the bulky frame of Vetfaan. The overburdened Mary, panicked beyond measure, does an even more sensible thing: she falls down in a dead faint. And Sersant Dreyer? He scrambles for cover behind the police van, like a good policeman should.

Servaas stands rooted to the spot for a microsecond – but galvanises into action when he sees Dawid running. Despite his age, he does a sterling job of catching up with the Bushman. Did he – at that stage – know what he was getting himself into? Probably not. But still, his action will raise a few glasses in the days and months to come: the patrons in Boggel’s Place owe him that, at least..

Dawid’s reaction may be understood if you knew the history of the Bushmen. Centuries of persecution and scorn have driven these men and women into the most inhospitable parts of Africa. They chose to hide here rather than fight against overwhelming odds of civilisation and gunpowder. The sand and the dunes formed their fortress against these formidable enemies of their way of life. Now, as one of the last of the remnants of a once-great culture, Dawid lives in this barren and desolate area, the last refuge available to him and his kin. He’s no coward, though. He’ll face a lion – or a leopard – with dignity: not with the aim of killing such a beast, but to reassure the animal that he, Dawid, respects the animal’s right to hunt where and when it pleases. And, he’ll tell the ignorant westerner, it’s due to this reciprocal respect that man and animal may find the way to peaceful coexistence.

But…being shot at does not in any way fit in with his concepts of respect and coexistence. Being shot at implies the possibility that you may be hurt – killed, even – and that is the most profound form of disrespect shown to any man.  Also bear in mind that he found himself on Zosi Plain – a flat and empty space. There simply isn’t anywhere to hide. So Dawid did what he did, because there wasn’t anything else to do.

With the acute hearing Bushmen have, Dawid not only discerned where the shot came from, but also how far away the shooter should be. And then, instinctively or not, he ran, crouching all the way, straight in that direction, not knowing that Servaas was right behind him.

***

Under different circumstances he would have hesitated when he saw the man holding the pistol. After all, you don’t take on a giant of a man if you only weighed about 50 kg and could barely reach his shoulder. But the man had a gun and Bushmen know all they need to know about guns: they kill. What Brutus Malherbe thought at that stage, will never be known. Most probably he registered surprise or even disbelief at the small man storming at him. He did, however, manage a guffaw – but whether that was due to his natural feeling of superiority or simply an incredulous outing of astonished contempt, we’ll never know. When Dawid dived at him, Brutus stepped aside, caught him by the scruff of his neck and hoisted him high. He needed both hands to do this –  dropping the pistol in the process.

Gertruida later said Brutus had the look of a madman at that moment. He, too, was covered in dried blood – some fresh bleeding was still evident from a long gash over his forehead. With his clothes in no better state than Boggel’s and his skin and face similarly affected by heat and thirst, he seemed completely out of control. While one may speculate about his sanity at that moment, there could be no doubt what he was trying to do: his huge hands were wrapped around the thin neck of his dangling and helpless attacker…

***

Servaas doesn’t think. For a while he might have thought that Dawid was leading him to safety (something he’ll emphatically deny afterwards), but when he sees Brutus and the way he looks at the pathetically squirming man in his grasp, Servaas managed to find another gear to power his aging legs. He lowered his head, and – bull-like – bellowed as he rammed his bald cranium into Brutus’s middle. Or, at least, where he thought Brutus’s middle might be. Suffice to say that a bent-down Servaas might just reach the height of Brutus’s hips – or thereabouts…

Take any man – big or small, old or young – and take a swing at the core of the nuclear power station. Remember the axiom of aiming an unstoppable force at an immovable object? Well, If that force should connect the immovable object right on the male main switch, the power goes off and the lights go out. The circuit blows. Elvis leaves the building. The fat lady sings. It’s simple physics.

True, Servaas was stunned a little by the impact, and Dawid dropped like a sack of corn next to him, but the real damage was done to Brutus while the others – cowering as they did – let out a protracted ‘…ooooooo...!’. Even the astute Gertruida winched.

***

“Quick, Mister Vetfaan, tie him up!” Dawid is the first to recover. He scoops up the pistol and hands it to Sersant Dreyer, who has  left his hiding place behind the police van. The three of them – Dreyer, Vetfaan and Dawid – get busy unlacing the boots of their adversary and tying his huge wrists. A belt suffices for the ankles.

“Help! Somebody please help Ryk. He’s bleeding…” Mary’s anguished cry cuts through the mayhem of the moment. Getruida rushes over, takes a look at Smartryk, and takes a deep breath.

Gertruida doesn’t panic. Well, not usually. Now, however, she feels faint at the sight of so much blood. Gingerly, with trembling hands, she undoes the buttons of the soaked shirt. Then, folding back the flaps of the shirt, she inspects the damage.

“Let’s see…” Her voice is as unsteady as her hands, but she presses on regardless.

A long, cut-like wound courses across Smartryk’s chest. Apparently Smartryk was standing side-on to the shooter and the bullet raced across his chest from right to left, cleaving the skin and flesh open to the bone. In the middle of the wound a severed artery spurts a little fountain of red.

breast_artery_2“It’s the Thoracoacromial,” she announces in a much relieved tone. “One of the arteries to the chest wall.” Applying a delicate thumb to the bleeding artery, she presses down gently. The bleeding stops immediately. “The shock of the bullet hitting the ribs must have caused a faint. See – he’s already moving.” Making soothing noises, she tells Smartryk to lie still.

***

Take a moment here. Forget the tied-up Brutus, the unconscious Boggel and the wounded Smartryk. Push aside thoughts of anger and pity, and don’t – for the moment – worry about how the group is going to get back to civilisation. Most of all, don’t contemplate the delicate situation with Brutus’s heart – remember his cardiac condition? No, ignore all these issues for a moment and consider the turmoil in Mary’s mind.

Look at her now – there where she’s standing motionless on trembling legs, with Brutus a few yards away, Boggel under the damp sand and Smartryk being attended to by Gertruida and Precilla. Scattered around her you see the fragments of her past, her present and – what she hoped for – her future. Yet now it doesn’t make sense, not at all, as her anger at men – all men – boils down to a reduction of white-hot rage. Damn Brutus for causing all this! Damn Boggel for not pursuing their friendship back then, when they had so much time and so much innocence! Damn Smartryk for getting hurt and…and…being so bloody nice, for goodness’ sakes!

Gertruida says all people experience at least short periods of insanity from time to time. It’s quite normal to feel control slipping and then to do something totally irrational: like commenting on a speeding ticket you got a minute ago, or laughing at our president, or falling in love. Some things, she says, just aren’t rational and some actions simply cannot be explained in a logical way.

So, go on, just accept that Mary cannot be held responsible for what she felt and did at that moment. The years and years of struggle, of being abused and misused, of being deceived and disappointed, of hoping and then seeing her dreams shattered… Well, all these emotions burst into an all-consuming blaze in her overloaded mind; white-hot and with an anger so intense that it made her vision shrink to fade out everybody…except for Brutus, who started screaming obscenities at that moment.

Mary Mitchell lost control…maybe that’s the way one should look at it. She rushed over to the tied-up brute of a man who now became the focus of her wrath. In her helpless bitterness, she kicked at Brutus. She kicked hard, venting the years of pent-up resentment in the force of that kick. In the moment before her boot struck the broad chest of Brutus Malherbe, she let out a primeval scream, causing the man to turn his head away from her, as if he saw the madness he had caused in the once-pretty girl. Then, with her face screwed up in a paroxysm of hatred, her heavy boot thudded against the ribs.

And Brutus – the strong, invincible, ruthless, abusive, crooked lawyer – felt his heartbeat skip, take, skip…and stop.

Everybody has a You (#9)

footprints in sandGertruida – 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.

Everybody has a You (#8)

IMG_2598Nobody sleeps much that night. The discomfort of sleeping on the sand (it isn’t soft after ten minutes anymore), the cool of the night (which progresses to the chattering-teeth stage later) and the worry about Boggel keeps them all awake – or at most, only allow a very superficial slumber. When the predawn sky begins to fade from black to the promise of orange, they huddle around the fire with steaming mugs of coffee to warm the freezing hands.

Only Dawid loper, with his attire of a simple loincloth and a handmade jackal-tail cap, seems unaffected by the cold and the circumstances. His almost impassive face contrasts with the worried looks of his companions; he appears – Gertruida remarks on it – quite confident and at ease. Happy, even.

DSC_0828“You see, Miss Gertruida, I had a dream.   An eland ran over the plain while overhead an eagle watched. The eland ran and ran, but the eagle only held its wings out and soared on the wind. And then, Miss Gertruida, the eagle saw a lion, waiting quietly behind a bush, right in the eland’s path. And the eagle cried out, loudly, altogether frightened and angry at the same time. But then the eland lowered his head, bending his back like this,” he used his two hands to indicate how severely the eland did this, “and ran right through that bush. When it got to the other side, the lion was stuck to the eland’s horns. Now, Miss Gertruida, an eland doesn’t have long horns, not like the kudu or the gemsbok. No, it’s horns are short and stubby, so they don’t kill by penetrating like those other antelopes do.

“You see, Miss Gertruida, in my dream the lion had all the wind knocked from his body, and it had no power left to fight or attack. That’s what I dreamt.”

Gertruida stares at the old man, trying to work out what it all means.

“And…”

“The eagle saw it all, Miss Gertruida. We,” and here the Bushman’s hand sweeps over the group, “are the eagle. We’ll see it.” And with those words, Dawid Loper turns on his heel, scouts the sand around them, and starts jogging. “Come, we have to hurry!”

***

Bumping along on the back of Vetfaan’s pickup, Mary finds herself staring at Smartryk – or simply Ryk, as she has started thinking of him. He’s unlike most men she had met in the past decade or so. In fact, he seems lost in his own world most of the time, quite content to share silence rather than chatting her up.

This morning, when she washed her face and brushed her teeth using the small basin of water Ryk had brought to her side, she felt a rush of strange emotion when their fingers touched. Had he been aware of it too? Or was she being silly, looking for something as real as the mirages that play on the horizon of this desert? After all, she hardly knows the man: a loner, a pilot and an investigator of crashes. She smiled at this despite herself, thinking that the biggest crash she’d like him to investigate was her own. Her life has lurched from catastrophe to crisis ever since she’d left the orphanage in Grootdrink where she and Boggel grew up. And now, in her search for security (and love, to be honest) she meets somebody by sheer chance – and somehow feels a bond with him? Unlikely, strange…weird…and yet…

Her thoughts stray back to the prison in Rio and the man responsible for involving her in an international drug smuggling racket. How stupid she had been! How naive!  But – she defends herself – loneliness drives people to such strange relationships. And how desperately she wanted to believe that Brutus was the real thing! She had made the conscious decision to do everything she could to make the relationship work and would have walked through fire for the man. Come to think about it: she had done just that.

The thought of the injustice and the humiliation causes a tear to streak down her cheek. She’s almost not surprised when Ryk leans over to offer his handkerchief.

***

Sersant Dreyer, in the leading vehicle, slews to a stop in the loose sand. Dawid Loper is bending down on the sand, apparently studying some tracks. Vetfaan gets out to hear what the story is.

6262557776_e9dc9c2d54“Look, Mister Vetfaan, a porcupine walked here this morning early. They walk at night. And here,” he points to an indistinct depression a few yards away, “here the porcupine walked over the spoor of a man. There’s another. Two men. Yes. Look at the way the night wind disturbed the porcupine’s tracks and also look at the boot’s imprint. That means those men walked here late last night.”

“Two men, walking together?”

“No, Mister Vetfaan. The one man walks with a limp. Look, you can see the right boot makes a deeper track than the left. He’s also walking in front, because the other boots sometimes cover his tracks. But…the man at the back is bleeding – look, here’s a drop. His steps aren’t regular either – sometimes they’re farther apart and sometimes not.”

“What does the spoor tell you, Dawid?”

“Mister Boggel has a limp because of his back. There’s a man behind him, a wounded man who staggers. They aren’t making good progress at all. They’re near.”

“But they stole Kleinpiet’s pickup. What happened to the vehicle?”

The bushman shakes his head. No he doesn’t know. He explains that he felt the tapping inside his chest, telling him about Zosi Plain – and that’s why they came here. He says that he only cut across the tracks a few minutes ago.

“What happened back there,” he jerks a thumb over his shoulder, “happened back there. I don’t know. But they’re on foot and we’re on the right track. Maybe we’ll find them soon.”

With the two vehicles following, Dawid sets off on the spoor again with the characteristic gait of the Bushman. Smartryk meets Mary’s worried look with a lopsided smile. His eyes tell her that everything will be alright, but her heart feels heavy in her chest. What if they find Boggel? What if they don’t? Is he injured? Why is this man forcing Boggel to stumble along blindly in the desert? What happened to Kleinpiet’s pickup? And, once they find the two men…will there be any danger?

Mary sighs. Must life be such a Greek tragedy? Always a twist in the tale – especially just when you think you’re in smooth waters? She feels Ryk’s eyes on her and meets his gaze.

Yes, she thinks with a wry smile, a twist indeed.