Category Archives: adventure

Happy Wind #13

Wound healing complications associated with lower limb amputation ‘The journey to the Northern Cape  was long and painful. CJ’s leg stump throbbed and the glands in his groin were swollen and tender. Near Upington he started sweating – when Francina placed a hand on his brow she glanced over at Geel. They both knew…’

Gertruida doesn’t have to tell them about the dangers. Molly (Loser’s wife) died of puerperal sepsis, didn’t she? ‘Blood poisoning’, the old folks called it – rather aptly, when one considers the pathology. ‘Geel reached over to the driver – another member of the Kruiper clan – and told him to step on it.’

***

Pure Cast Iron 3 legged Potjie size #2 Dutch Oven, Cauldron ... By the time they got to Oupa’s village, it was dark. Despite this, Oupa was waiting with a huge fire in the clearing in the middle of the circle of huts. A three-legged pot was steaming over some coals next to it. And next to Oupa, a grizzled old man – more wrinkles than anything else – was sitting on a magnificent Eland skin.

CJ Jnr stood behind Oupa. He had been prepared as well as Oupa could, but still the sight of his critically sick father was almost too much to bear. He fought to keep his emotions under control, straightened up and hugged his parents. Francina wept with joy – and with grief. How big her son had grown in just the few months! How tanned and healthy he seemed! And now, in the light of the fire, how terrible the sight of her husband; the deterioration over the last few hours had been dramatic and frightful.

Once a semblance of order had descended over the reunited family (Geel hadn’t seen Oupa for many months, as well) Oupa cleared his throat.

‘This here is !Garuksab, but we call him Andries. He is from the Original People, the parents of the Kruiper family.’ Geel translated smoothly. Oupa nodded his approval. ‘He had a dream, so he came here. He knew he’d be needed.’

***

‘Nobody knows how the San-people do this. Some call these clairvoyant members of the tribe shamans or witch doctors, but that is not correct.’ Gertruida, who likes to think she knows everything, tries to explain. ‘These people live near nature. In fact, if there is anybody on earth who understands the way of Time, of the seasons and of human nature, it will be found in the San culture. These ‘wise men’ as they are called, are able to imagine (or travel) different times – future or past. They are the keepers of oral history and the prophets of the future.

‘Westerners are skeptical of this, of course. It is because we’ve confused the term ‘modern’. We think smart cellphones and Space-X are modern. But…to really come to an understanding of Life and Nature and Time – now that is really modern. I’m afraid we, the Western civilisation, have lost the desire to explore the most important aspect of the Universe: the reason for time, for humans  – and for our relationship with Nature. Exploration shouldn’t be out there,’ she says, pointing, ‘but in here, where you feel the regular pulse of your heart.’  She places a hand on her chest, smiling sadly.

***

!Garuksab, also known as Andries, had ordered his two apprentices (nameless young men who have been with Andries for a few seasons) to lay CJ down in one of the huts. He lit a precious candle and told the older apprentice to remove the bandage on the stump. As layer after layer of bandage was removed, the cause of CJ’s deterioration became clear. Green pus stained the bandages. The remainder of the leg was grossly swollen and red. The stench made the younger apprentice gag – something which drew a hiss of disapproval from old Andries. He said a few words in a rapid sequence of clicks.

”Andries says there is bad blood under the skin. It needs to come out, he says. And tomorrow they will hunt for an Eland. It is a holy animal, but it is necessary to save a life.’

The Eland in San Rock Art PaintingsBy this time, little CJ Jnr had learnt not to question the older members of the tribe, but Francina had not. ‘How will an Eland save my husband? We need to get to a hospital. Can’t you see he’s dying?’

Andries smiled. He put a withered hand in to the pouch the younger apprentice carried. Took out what looked like a piece of root. He held this out to Francine. Clicked a few words.

‘Andries, he say, you must chew.’

Francina only woke up the next day, when the men were slaughtering the huge bull Eland.

To be continued…

 

 

Happy Wind #8

Riemvasmaak Accommodation, Business & Tourism Portal‘Imagine the scene, guys.’ Gertruida closes her eyes to see the picture in her mind. ‘Oupa’s village was situated near a fountain, not too far from where Riemvasmaak is today. That area, like you know, had been home to the Khomani people for as long as they can remember. Of course, they preferred to be called Riemvasmakers, because of the history. Originally the group moved there from South West Africa, so in reality they weren’t necessarily San people, but more like the Damara lineage.’

***

Way back, in the early 1900’s, some of the people living near the fountain lived through a period of drought. The only way to feed the group, was to steal some cattle – which was exactly what they did. Unfortunately they were caught and, well, severely reprimanded. In the end they were tied to some rocks with rieme – strips of animal hide, like thongs. The next day, when the rest of the group came looking for the thieves, they only found the thongs. Ever since then, the group was known as the ‘people that were tied by thongs’ – Riemvasmakers.

***

of BechuanalandFor once, Gertruida wasn’t one hundred percent right. The Riemvasmakers were a diverse group – a minor rainbow nation, comprised of Khomani, Nama, Xhosa, Coloured and Herero people, as well as the Damaras. Although they called themselves Riemvasmakers as a collective term, the individual groups retained their cultures and oral histories. Oupa’s group was a minority. The Khomani once lived in scattered groups in the Northern Cape, South West Africa and Bechuanaland Protectorate. Quite a number of them settled in the Mier area, where their culture was preserved to some degree.

Oupa knew all this, of course. During little CJ’s sojourn amongst Oupa’s people, he heard the stories of the hardships the tribe had lived through. Their escape from German oppression in South West Africa to the Northern Cape was followed by more disruption when the Kalahari Gemsbokpark was established in 1935.

‘It’s the story of Africa,’ Geel translated. ‘People moved, settled, were displaced. Maybe it’s the story of the world, as well. The Vikings and the Romans and the Israelites – I cannot think of a single nation that wasn’t – at some stage or other – involved in a territorial dispute. My father says it was hard to move this way and that. For a while he was angry. But then he had to make a very important decision: was his life in the hands of the past, or of the future? If he chose to allow the past to dominate his future, his future was doomed. Because nobody can change the past, the past is cast in stone. The future, however, is yours to change at will – be it for good or evil’

CJ Jnr  listened and learned. The village took good care of him and took time to teach the boy about nature. Trips to a nearby waterhole became classrooms of the veld. Reading spoor, understanding the habits of birds and other animals and learning about the very delicate balance between nature and human behavior were only a few things CJ gained in the months he spent in the Kalahari.

It changed his life forever.

***

Meanwhile, Francina was forced to work as a gardener in the prison grounds. While her sentence included the dreaded term of ‘hard labour‘ then head of the prison, Konrad Geldenhuys, took pity on the kind-hearted prisoner. It was also known that CJ Snr was MIA in North Africa.

Francina also knew what had happened to her son. The bush telegraph of messengers, delivery men, cleaners and other workers associated with the prison and the warders, brought weekly updates about the boy in the Kalahari. Francina’s anger still burned white-hot, though. She would never forgive the government for the death of her husband.

When at last she received news that CJ Snr was alive and being treated in England, she was overcome by emotion. A few days later, a letter arrived at the prison. It broke her heart.

To be continued…

 

 

Happy Wind #6

OssewaBrandwagWapen.png ‘Nobody, especially the colonial power of England, ever managed to subdue the Afrikaners, you know.’ Gertruida – who knows everything – frowns. ‘Not the English, especially, after the way they treated women and children during the Anglo-Boer War. South Africans have a very long memory, understand – all of us – and we nourish and care for our personal grudges with great compassion.

‘So, during WW II, many Afrikaners objected to fighting for England. They formed the Ossewabrandwag and a paramilitary force called the Stormjaers and made their objections very clear.

‘Well, initially, Francina didn’t care much for these groups. She concentrated on her work at the hospital and cared for CJ Jnr. But then CJ, the father of her son, disappeared in the Sahara conflict. The last she had heard of him, was a postcard from a place she never had heard of – El-Alemein. And then she heard about the big fight there on the radio…and CJ disappeared. Now,  if you really, really wanted to upset an Afrikaner woman, you disrupt the harmony in her house. You want trouble, you do that. It was bad enough that CJ was sent to North Africa, but fearing him to be dead made her mad.’

***

For a while – the first two months after CJ’s disappearance – Francina went about her daily tasks in a fog of automated actions. She nursed without passion. At night she put little CJ Jnr to bed without a bedtime story or a prayer. She hardly slept, fearing somebody would come with news and she’s miss the knock on the door. The matron at the hospital called her in, sympathised, but told her to stay at home. Patients were complaining she said. Francina just nodded, and like the automation she had become, went home to sit in front of the radio.

It is there she heard the news bulletin.

‘Prime Minister Smuts once again urged the Ossewabrandwag and their leader, Mister Johannes van Rensburg, the erstwhile Secretary of Justice, to refrain from any anti-government actions. He called on the movement to stop dividing the country along pro- and anti-colonial lines. Smuts also reiterated that the full force of the state would be directed against the Stormjaers, which again cut the telephone lines between Johannesburg and Cape Town last night.’

Joining these forces would not bring CJ  back, that much Francina knew. The objective in her mind then was to hurt the hand that snatched her husband from her side.

***

‘It was quite easy to slot in with the Ossewabrandwag. The secret organisation wasn’t such a big secret amongst the Afrikaners. Somebody knew somebody else who had a contact and soon Francina was visited by a man and a woman. They talked. They listened. And they approved her joining the fight against the English. Francina’s anger suited the Ossewabrandwag well. They needed trustworthy footsoldiers. After the top echelons were consulted, Francina was inducted in the Stormjaers with the oath: ‘If I retreat, shoot me. If I die, avenge me. If I advance, follow me’.

‘Her first mission was to observe the blowing up of a power line outside Boksburg. This was to have been her initiation and the start of more serious missions. To dynamite a pylon in the middle of the veld, under the cover of complete darkness, should have been an easy mission.’ Gertruida snorts. ‘But, the best laid plans of mice and men…’

The police were waiting for them they were all caught. The next day a very brief appearance in court resulted in a verdict of guilty. Francina and her comrades were sentenced to six months in prison, with hard labour. It could have been worse. Had they blown up that pylon, they might have been hanged for treason.

‘But what about the boy, little CJ?’ Precilla wipes away a tear. “What about the poor little boy?”

To be continued…

Happy Wind #3

images (2).jpg

Geel

‘CJ was one of the first to start coughing in September 1918. At first he thought it was the usual cold or flu he was prone to, running around in the wind and rain while doing his errands like he did. But then he got sick. Really, really sick. It was the best thing that ever happened to him.’

When Gertruida tells a story like this, Boggel always arranges with Precilla to bring in snacks – meat pies, sandwiches and biltong. It is good for business. The whole town is there to listen and they like to drink something while eating and listening. Gertruida – who knows everything – knows she will be served free of charge. Boggel says it’s her commission.

Anyway, the Rolbossers had nowhere to go. Upington and Grootdrink were still in lockdown, so there was no sense in leaving the town. Boggel has a well-stocked store-room. Why leave? Especially when there is such a good story to share.

***

CJ never considered going to hospital. When he got sick, the big wave of Spanish Flu cases hadn’t hit South Africa yet. In fact, very few people knew anything at that stage about the flu that would terminate the lives of half-a-million South Africans. He was also fortunate that he got the earlier, milder form of the disease. It was the later mutation that was so lethal. With so many mouths to feed and so many street children to look after, his errand business – a primitive courier service – did not allow for any luxuries. If you got sick, you got in to bed and waited for the fever to go.

But this flu was different. It didn’t want to go. CJ got sicker by the day and started coughing up green phlegm. That’s when the little yellow child, the one they called Geel, offered to help. He was one of the fasted runners CJ had, a reliable young teenager with lively eyes and a ready smile.

Johannesburg Market Square. Martin Plaut collection | South ...

Market Square, early 1900

Geel could speak enough English to get by, but his first choice was the language of the Khomani people. His father was from the Kalahari from where he had traveled, much like Loser, first to Kimberley and then to Johannesburg. Geel never mentioned his mother, who apparently stayed behind. His father, Tsung (actually !Kung), worked as a helper for a butcher on Market Square.

‘You need father’s help. He know sickness.’

CJ scoffed. ‘Your father? The meat-man? What – is he a doctor now?’

‘No. No doc-ter. Father will help.’

CJ remained skeptical. The discussion went nowhere. Geel did not understand why CJ was speaking about a white man’s shaman. Why, was he not offering the wisdom of his very own father? Why would CJ be so disrespectful to his family?

‘Forget I speak of father. You go doc-ter. I don’t see you no more.’ Geel left CJ lying in a pool of sweat and left in a huff. Two days later CJ sent a message, pleading with Geel to fetch his father.

Tsung was maybe 40 years old, but looked to be 80. He was shrivelled, wrinkled, bent and arthritic. He arrived at CJ’s shanty after work, just as the sun was setting in the west. He did not introduce himself as he sat down – on the floor – next to the bed. He sat there for a long time, just looking at the sick white man and listening to his breathing. He never touched him at all, nor did he say anything. After what seemed an eternity, he got up quietly and left. CJ would have laughed if he wasn’t so ill.

The next morning Geel arrived with a small pouch filled with a rather pungent powder. He was so short of breath and weak that he only managed a weak ‘What?

‘Father sent, He say you may die. Maybe. Perhaps. This is help. You make so.’ Geel imitated the action of somebody taking snuff, taking an imaginary pinch and sniffing the powder. CJ tried it. He almost passed out coughing.

***

‘The story goes that he first almost died coughing before he coughed himself back to health.’ Gertruida is obviously enjoying the story as much as her audience. ‘But, two days later the fever broke and the next day he started feeling better. There was no doubt about it, the powder did magic. He sent Geel to fetch his father, thinking to thank him. Geel would have none of it. He said if you wanted to thank somebody, you went to him. It was rude to summon somebody who helped you.

‘Well, CJ got up, walked to market square and apologised to Tsung. He said he was doing things the white man’s way, which may certainly seem rude. But, more than just saying sorry, he also expressed his thanks. Tsung smiled and nodded. Yes, he said that’s allright.

‘Then CJ did the smartest thing in all his life. He asked Tsung what was in that powder. That one question changed his life. Forever.’

To be continued…

 

‘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.”

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.