Category Archives: depression

Happy Wind #12

Travel | Chopstix & the City‘Of course you can guess what had happened.’ Gertruida smiles broadly. ‘First of all: the Bothma couple realised that they were being used as puppets. The government had welcomed them back as if CJ had won El-Alamein all by himself  – which was very obviously devoid any truth. And Francina’s release from prison, the new dress and the hordes of newspapermen were all just window-dressing, a sham, a vulgar piece of propaganda to make the government look good. At the same time, the major thrust behind the reception CJ got, was to make it very difficult for the injured soldier to critisise the government in future. It was to keep him away from the opposition, see? You can’t bask in the government’s sun of glory the one day and then join the resistance movement the next.

‘So, once that was established, the two were trying to figure out what to do when the door to their suite opened quietly…’

***

Geel, the man with the soft eyes and the gentle demeanor, held a finger to his lips. Francina was overjoyed to see him, as she knew how Geel and Oupa’s family had been looking after their son. It was CJ’s reaction to Geel’s appearance in the doorway, that would be a warning of things to come.

CJ pulled up the sheets to cover most of his face. His fear-filled eyes darted this way and that, while his left hand gripped Francina’s arm. A low moan escaped from his lips, sounding ever so much as a long, drwan-out ‘Noooooo!’ 

Francina reached over to hold her man to her chest. ‘It’s OK, CJ, it’s Geel, remember? He’s a friend.’

***

‘The war, his injuries and the long, slow recovery ad taken its toll on the once-strong CJ. Imagine the horror of losing a leg and the function of an arm. And remember the letter from the ship’s captain, mentioning the frightful nightmares? CJ was most probably suffering from a condition which was poorly understood back then – Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Today we know it can present in many ways and that it may burden a patient for the rest of his life – but back then doctors simply accepted it as a form of psychological incompetence or madness. Amongst soldiers, it was seen as a weakness. Real men stepped up to the line, got a grip on things and soldiered on – such a stupid approach.

‘Francina’s presence calmed CJ down soon enough and then Geel explained his presence.’

***

It was the staff of CJ’s courier business – the boys on the bicycles and the men driving the vehicles – who had an ear on the ground. The manager CJ had appointed, a certain Mister Gibson, had been very successful in expanding the business in CJ’s absence. They now had daily deliveries in Johannesburg and Pretoria, with weekly visits to Kimberley, Cape Town and Durban. Gibson had regular interviews with the staff, collecting news and gossip. It helped him anticipate the need for the business to adapt to circumstances, but it also supplied him with information most people were unaware of.

Simon Kruiper was the courier who delivered the dress to the prison after it was altered to fit Francina. He chatted to a warder, who told him about her imminent release and CJ’s return. Kruiper reported it to Gibson. Gibson told Geel, who informed Oupa.

An that was the reason for Geel’s late-night visit to the Mount Nelson.

***

‘Come, come quickly. I have a van parked outside. We have a bed for Mister CJ and some food and water. If we leave now, nobody will know.’

Geel helped to get CJ in the wheelchair. The stench emanating from the bandaged stump of the amputated leg was almost overwhelming.

‘They said the doctors will see him tomorrow,’ Francina said. ‘Maybe we must wait. That leg obviously need attention. They even mentioned another operation.’

Geel shook his head. ‘Mister CJ just came from England. They couldn’t fix it, so how can our doctors do anything? No, we’ll take care of it, Miss Francina. There are ways…’

Francina still wasn’t sure. Then she looked down at her husband. She saw the fear in his eyes. His major injury, she grasped, was not the physical damage caused by the landmine. It was much worse. CJ needed rest. He needed a friendly atmosphere. He didn’t need interviews and more of the games the government was p[laying with him.

He needed the Kalahari.

Francina looked up into Geel’s trusting eyes. ‘Lets go,’ she said.

They wheeled CJ out through the almost-deserted reception area. Platvoet Kruiper, taking care of the desk in the small hours of the night, winked at Geel as the little group made for the door.

Once a Kalahari-man, always a Kalahari-man. Platvoet’s borther, Simon, would report the ‘unexplained disappearance of the Bothma couple’ the next day to a delighted Mister Gibson.

Happy Wind #4

Tsung – with the click in the beginning (!Kung), which the Western tongue finds so difficult – turned out to be a fountain of knowledge. When CJ asked him about his flu remedy, the old man (he was only 40, but seemed far older than that) was reluctant to speak about it.

‘Look, Oupa,’ CJ sat down with a sigh, ‘you can spend your life here on Market Square. If you like chopping up chickens and sheep, that’s fine with me. But there is an alternative, you know?’

He talked. Tsung (now called Oupa) listened. Geel sat nearby and helped to translate the bits his father didn’t understand. They looked around. There were several people browsing around in the market and quite a number of them sniffed or sneezed or coughed. One or two of these shoppers seemed feverish.

‘I hear people in Natal are suffering from some sort of cold or flu. Obviously it’s coming here. If we sold them your remedy, we can make some money. How about it?’

And so, without knowing how severe the impact of the 1918 flu would be, an agreement was reached. It was the start. African Natural Chemicals would only be formalised a few years later, but in the beginning it was merely an effort by Oupa, Geel and CJ to make ends meet. It was a spectacular success. Initially, Oupa managed to get the willow bark, buchu, thyme, and some tubers and roots from local sources (friends, ‘smouse’ – pedlers of wares – and other African herbalists) ; but soon the demand was so high that he had to send Geel back home to act as a procurement agent. His recipe for ‘sickness medicine’ (as he called it) had been in his family since they ‘came from the north’ – at term he was unable to explain.

The network of street urchins continued the errand business, but now they also acted as agents. They sold the powder at a shilling a pouch, of which they earned a penny commission each time.

When the big wave of Spanish Flu hit Johannesburg, Oupa’s Powder (as it became known) was sold on every street corner. The shillings rolled in. The street boys made a packet! Back home, Geel and his village were amazed at the amount of money they were making. It was the worst of times. It was the best of times.

***

‘That was the start of CJ’s second little empire – African Natural Chemicals and the courier business. With Oupa as an equal partner, the ANC became famous for not only the flu remedy back then, but today their profit is driven by another two remedies.’ When Gertruida tells a story, she’ll sometimes stop – almost at mid-sentence – to frustrate her audience. She says that’s the most effective way of emphasising a point. Once she is sure everybody is anxious to hear what the remedies are, she continues. ‘The one mixture of herbs is an excellent appetite suppressant. People simply stop eating – it’s really amazing.

‘But it’s the other remedy which brought them fame. It’s a laxative. Oh boy, does it work!! They use it for colon prep in hospitals, but if it’s available, you can be sure nobody is constipated. A single sachet is enough for an entire household. Yep, the African Natural Colon Exerciser – sold as ANC-exec – has no equal in the production of faecal matter anywhere in the world.’

Nobody laughed. It was just too near the truth to be funny. Gertruida seemed a bit disappointed, but soldiered on.

The first general hospital in Johannesburg ‘The other good thing that happened during the flu epidemic, was Francina Malan, a young nurse who had heard of Oupa’s Powders. Unlike most of the Johannesburg Hospital staff, she wasn’t a nun. If I have to guess, she might not even have been a qualified nurse, and maybe just a sort-of helper, a nursing assistant of sorts. All we know today, is that she worked in the Barney Bernato wing of the hospital, where a lot of flu patients died.

Barney Barnato Ward ‘Anyway,  most probably out of sheer desperation, she bought some of Oupa’s Powders from one of the street vendors and mixed it into a patient’s soup. The patient made a wonderful recovery. She then wanted to know more about the remedy and, following the trail back to Oupa, she met CJ.’

‘It wasn’t love at first sight. Francina wasn’t beautiful. She wasn’t slim and trim and didn’t look sexy in her starched nurse’s uniform. Her teeth were skew. The most beautifully alluring aspect of Francina was her generous and caring heart. Once CJ noticed that, their fairy tale started. He, too, had grown up with a distaste for the effects of wealth, He. too, knew happiness was impossible if you didn’t care about people- and things.’

Gertruida says it works like that sometimes. If you don’t want something, it’ll sniff you out and and grace you with its presence. And, depending on what was that you avoided.  this life-tendency could be a curse or a blessing. She often urges the Rolbossers to face their demons, telling them that ignorance is never bliss – it always comes at a price.

‘One would wish they lived happily after, but it wasn’t to be. CJ and his little troupe of streetchildren, Oupa and the village in the Kalahari became comfortably independent through the sale of Oupa’s remedies. Despite her looks, the photographs of Francina and CJ’s wedding remains as a testimony that beauty is rarely a physical thing. Francina became the mother of two beautiful boys, the boisterous CJ Junior and little Frans, the boy born with a weak heart. I suppose he had a congenital defect which would have been operated if they had lived today. Poor little Frans only lived for six years. He died at the beginning of the Great Depression, which wiped out wealth faster than the Spanish Flu.

‘CJ and his businesses made it through the depression – just. Because money was never a big thing in their lives, they could scale down their standard of living easily. And they had their savings, of course. CJ didn’t trust banks – or maybe it was because he was so ashamed at being illiterate – so his money was stored in the form of Kruger pounds. Gold was the thing, you see. After all, they lived in Johannesburg, on top of the worlds riches gold deposits.

‘Well, they managed the hardships of the Great Depression – and then the world war broke out. 1939 saw their fortunes change – radically. It was such a pity…at first the war seemed like a great adventure. It surely wasn’t, was it?’

 

Dismal Wind

Wind - Wolwedans - NamibRand - Namibia Gertruida – who knows everything – will tell you, you get many types of winds. You get sandy winds that drive the Kalahari sand so hard it takes the paint off your vehicle. Sometimes you get a wet wind with a few scattered raindrops between the dust particles. And there is the cold wind that chills the very life out of everything.

But, she says, it is the Dismal Wind that gets her down. That’s the worst, she reckons.

This Self-Filling Water Bottle Mimics a Desert Beetle | WIREDA Dismal Wind blows in from the west, from the Namibian coast where the cold Benguela sea stream courses northward. Here the wind picks up moisture to form a fog that feeds the sparse succulent plants in the desert and the occasional desert beetle collects on its surface. (They stand on their heads to drink, incidentally.)

But that is where the promise in the wind stops. Beyond the Namib, it continues as a disillusioned, empty breeze which – at best – may cool you down on a hot summer’s day. It’s like a sterile relationship of empty promises, she says; it may bring clouds, but it never rains.

Yesterday just such a wind drove dust devils down the aptly named, irony laced and wrongly printed Voortrekkker Weg in Rolbos. It frogmarched a tumbleweed down the rutted road as if to make fun of the weeds on the sidewalk. It skirted around the few buildings lining the street, raising the occasional subdued howl as it found little holes in the rusted roofs and window frames. And it brought with it the mood which gave it a name, so many years ago.

***

Gertruida says that Pottie Visasie used to be a handsome, sought-after bachelor in the district, managing game on the family farm. That’s before he was drafted in to the army. The Rolbossers know the story well: the troop-carrier triggered a landmine and he was the last to be rescued from the flaming wreck. He spent more than a year in various hospitals before returning to the farm. He was the original self-isolator, long before a virus forced the world to close its doors.

Before he left for basic training at Voortrekkerhoogte, everybody expected him to marry Bettie Odendaal, Mooibettie, who’s father was one of the original directors of the Oranje River Cellars. Oubaas Odendaal used to be famous for the columbard grapes he cultivated, pressed and fermented on his huge farm next to the river. Odendaal’s Rus, the sweet dessert wine from the deep alluvial soil of the region, was a favourite in the majestic mansions in Monaco and French Reviera. These two markets alone made him a multimillionaire.

Mooibettie and Pottie had promised each other eternal loyalty and commitment on the evening before the train left for Pretoria. During the tough weeks of basic training, Pottie wrote a letter each day,

And then he was sent to the border, to Caprivi, where, on the second after he landed in Katima Mulilo, his luck ran out and he had to be airlifted back to Voortrekkerhoogte in a critical condition. Three weeks later he regained consciousness. Four weeks later he asked, for the first time, for a mirror.

He never wrote to Mooibettie again.

***

‘Well, he eventually made it back to the farm, and he then steadfastly refused to leave his house. The foreman, Klaas Geel, had looked after the farm while he was gone, and he simply continued doing so after Pottie’s return. Pottie was the shadow behind the curtain, the man who signed papers, the owner who was owned by the farm.’ Gertruida sits back to signal for another round. ‘And that was too much for Mooibettie.’

Mooibettie was, indeed, beautiful. Or, more correctly, she used to be. When all her Ashburton Guardianattempts to contact Pottie failed, she took to writing letters. Long, forgiving love letters, which she wedged between the locked farm gate and the post of the two-spoor road leading to Potties farm. There they remained stuck while she added more and more letters every week – for months.

‘Mooibettie was such a lovely girl – not only in looks, but in spirit as well. She hoped, prayed, remained loyal. Pottie, however, just couldn’t face her – or himself, for that matter. He knew about the letters. Klaas had told him, but Pottie would have none of it.  He ordered Klaas to leave those letters just where they were, hoping Mooibettie would get the message.’ Gertruida sighs – such a waste! ‘And she did … eventually. Married Gerbrand van Wyk, late Tannie Cathy’s old husband.’

Why, nobody knows. Mooibettie Odendaal became Elizabeth van Wyk. The newlyweds settled in the new house Oom Gerrie built on his farm. Her room had a nice view of the Kalahari landscape, with the red sand contrasting with the old Camel-thorn tree next to the farm dam. According to Ai Siena, who takes care of the kitchen on the farm, Elizabeth van Wyk just sits at her window, staring at the tree in the desert.

‘Pottie heard about the wedding through Klaas. Telling Pottie about the new Mrs van Wyk was a sort-of revenge for the frustration Klaas endured every time he drove past the bunch of letters stuck to the gate.

‘Pottie’s reaction almost broke Klaas’s heart. He says it looked as if Pottie was back in that burning troop carrier. The livid scar that used to be a handsome face distorted and reddened and looked as if the fragile bits of normal skin would tear apart. He howled like a trapped jackal. Klaas says he was afraid  the man would drop dead, right there, at his feet.’

But he didn’t. He ran out of the house, screaming as he did. And his feet found their way down the two-spoor road to the gate.

‘It was a really windy day. One of those West-winds that threatens to blow everything apart.  The letters were no longer there.’

***

Pottie never returned to the house. Gertruida says he is still out there in the veld, searching and searching for the letters the Dismal Wind had strewn all over the Kalahari. Klaas puts down food and water next to the gate post – it disappears every second or third night.

‘It’s a sad story of missed opportunities, bad luck and grief. When the Dismal Wind blows through the rusted roofs and small holes in the window sills, you can hear them both. Mooibettie and Pottie, yearning for each other, but lost in Life with no way back.’

Gertruida – who knows everything – says most people understand the way of the Dismal Wind. It’s there, inside us, looking for the small holes in our rusted window frames and roofs.

Vrede’s Lump

Boggel is unusually quiet this morning. While the Rolbossers wait for the bar to open, he settles down on his cushion beneath the counter. He needs time to think and sort out his problem.

It all started a few days ago when Vrede, the town’s dog, chased a tumbleweed across the road. In itself, that chase was not unusual. Dogs do crazy stuff all the time. After all, Vrede is known to bed down on smelly things and to chase after the lonely gecko living next to the doorway. The run after the tumbleweed, however,  was different. Vrede seemed slower than usual and when Boggel whistled him back, he limped ever so slightly.

Funny how things sneak up on people. Time has a way of camouflaging details, masking changes and wrinkles and grey hairs…and the suddenly! One day we look and realise how much we haven’t noticed for the longest of times.

CHARLES LAUGHTON in THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME ... And that’s how Boggel recognised  not only the limp, but also the lump on the back of the dog. A tumour? Now, if anybody in Rolbos understands spinal anatomy, it is Boggel, (read about Boggel’s father here; and his own history – in several episodes, here). His severe scoliosis has been a burden since birth, and, not unlike the tragedy surrounding Viktor Hugo’s famous character, has had a profound effect of his life. He simply could not bear thinking about Vrede with a spinal abnormality. People struggle to cope with it – how much more would a dog suffer? If you can’t ex[plain the situation or take regular medications, how does one cope?

Of course, in an old dog, the option of surgery may not be the best solution. What then? Euthanasia? Ask Oudok to send him on his final journey? No! Not that… Boggel feels the tears welling up. Having lost so much in his lifetime, there is no way he can imagine losing Vrede.

The loud banging on the door wakes up Vrede, who has been sleeping quietly at Boggel’s feet. His loud barking tells Vetfaan to stop making such a lot of noise. Boggel sighs: well, it’s time to face the day. Open the door, smile at the usual crowd, serve drinks and beam at his customers. Being a barman is one of the most demanding acting jobs there is.

Vetfaan,  as usual, is first through the door and first with his order.

‘Hi Boggel, a beer for me and a stiff Chivas for Doc.’ Boggel has been so preoccupied with Vrede’s dilemma that he only now notices Vetfaan’s companion. ‘Doc, this is Boggel. Boggel, meet Doc Wiener. He’s here to try to get my cow pregnant. If you serve that beer quickly, I’ll spare you the details.’

It is well known that there is no such thing as a coincidence. There is the dog, lump on his back. Here is the executioner. Add two and two together, and you get a canine funeral.

Boggel shakes his head. ‘Beer, you can have, Vetfaan. Your…friend…can wait outside.’I’m not serving nothing to a dog-killer.’

It takes time, of course. Doc Wiener is a large man with a short temper. Boggel is a short man with (when the planets get  their alignment wrong) a large temper. The shouting match lasted several minutes before Vetfaan slammed his huge fist so hard on the counter that the ice bucket fell over.

‘For goodness’ sakes, stop it you two! Boggel! What in heaven’s name are you upset about?’

Half an hour later, the three of them sat staring at Vrede.

‘It’s a lipoma, Boggel. Harmless and innocent little lump of fat. And look, you can see the little cut in the pad of that hind foot. Lump and limp has nothing to do with each other. Vrede might be getting older, but he’s as fit as can be.’

***

Gertruida – who knows everything – often says we are our own worst enemies. We anticipate the worst even if we say we hope for the best. ‘Have a little faith,’ she says, ‘and plan for the best. Some crazy pessimist may take pleasure in being right, but that’s sort of sick, isn’t it? Optimists do get disappointed at times – that much is true – but at least they smile more often.’

***

Vrede couldn’t care less;  but he has learnt something: whenever he wants a snack, he’ll limp up to Boggel. He’s an optimist, depending of Boggel’s pessimism.

 

A Soldier Worthy of a Salute

Captain Sir Tom Moore knighted as Queen comes out of lockdown ...It is not often that Rolbos rolls out the red carpet to bestow The Freedom of Rolbos on an individual. In fact, it was almost four years ago we honoured a special lady with our gratitude. Now we turn to England to salute Captain Sir Tom Moore.

Sir, at the age of one hundred, you are an example to all of us. When we locked down and your country struggled with the Covid onslaught, you embarked on the most memorable campaign of your military career. You showed us that we are so prone to finding fault and complaining, that we neglect the spirit of hope we used to have. You proved that age is no barrier for innovation and enthusiasm. And you did it all by yourself without any help. The more than £32,000,000 you collected to help your country through the crisis pales in comparison with the upwelling of goodness and kindness you rekindled in a battle-weary nation. Indeed, you are an example we should all follow. Remembering that small gestures may initiate a butterfly-effect, might just encourage us to look at Mandela Day with new eyes.

It is in great humility we offer you the Freedom of Rolbos.

You certainly deserve it, Sir.

Trusting Liar (#5)

as31-iGertruida is the first to recover. “Klasie…?”

“Ag drop the pretence, Gertruida. You all call me ‘Liar’ behind my back, so why stop now? Might as well be on the same page, yes?” Liar’s face is flushed with anger; the muscles in his thin neck prominently bulging. “That diamond belongs to me. Hand it over.”

“What are you doing? Put away the gun…”

“No! This…,” Liar sweeps his one hand towards the horizon, “…is my place. Mine!  I earned it! And you…you have no right to be here!”

“Listen, Liar, we’re not the enemy. Whoever is looking for you with the aeroplane and the chopper….well, it isn’t us. In fact, we were worried about you and that’s why we followed you. We’re here to help, man!” Vetfaan’s voice is pleading as he takes a step closer to the distraught man. “Now, put down the gun and let’s chat about all this.”

Liar hesitates, taken aback after clearly being convinced that the group  had hostile intentions. “I…I’m not sure I believe you…”

“And we’re never sure whether we can believe you, either.” Servaas’s remark lessens the tension as a few suppressed guffaws escape. Even Liar has to smile.

“Here, here’s the diamond.” Getruida holds it out to Liar. “You take it and put down the gun. We need to talk.”

Liar seemed to deflate the moment he realised the group didn’t represent a threat of any kind. He took the diamond, stuck it in his pocket, and sat down next to his rifle. Gertruida carefully detailed their quest  to warn Liar about the  Cessna –  and to help if they could. It takes a long time to convince Liar, but such are Gertruida’s skills that he eventually apologized for his behaviour.

“I…I suppose you deserve an explanation,” Liar sighs – then he tells them a story they’ll never forget.

***

After Robey Leibrandt was arrested, Walter Kempf gained access to the only aircraft available and took off, heading for Windhoek. He left in a considerable hurry, of course, and had didn’t have the time or opportunity to plan the trip. As soon as he had the plane cruising at about 2,000 feet, he took stock of his situation. In the bulky suitcase rammed into the hold, was a number of gold coins and two shoeboxes filled with diamonds. While he was confident that he would be able to bribe his way into South West Africa to get past the officials in Windhoek, his immediate problem was fuel. The Gloster was (at that time) quite famous as a survey plane but Walter had no idea how far he could fly with the two full tanks.

He switched off the left tank and flew only on the right-side fuel supply, reckoning that would give him an idea of range. Figuring out that he might make Kimberley, he headed west. It was late afternoon when he landed near the city of diamonds, where he used some gold coins to convince a lone attendant to fill up his tanks. Not wanting to stay too long, he took off almost immediately. The police interviewed the attendant the next day, documenting the last official sighting of the Gloster.

The modern runway at Upington

The modern runway at Upington

Walter knew that flying at night would be dangerous, but fortunately the skies were clear and the moon almost full. His plan was to follow the Orange River to Upington, where he hoped to refuel again. However, when he estimated that he was about a hundred miles from Upington, the oil-pressure gauge started dropping. Peering from the open cockpit, he could see smoke from the left engine. He knew then: he was in deep trouble.

He no longer had the luxury of time to follow the bends in the river below him; now he had to plot and guess the shortest way to Upington. He veered off to the north, which was a mistake. Had he gone south, he would have picked up the road to Upington, which would have at least offered him a chance to land. Soon, however, he only had the expanse of desert beneath his wings as he switched off the overheated engine. The aircraft was still maintaining altitude, but flying the cumbersome craft under the power of the single remaining engine was beyond the capabilities of Walter Kempf. He had to find somewhere safe to land…

Walter later described his landing as a miracle. He found a straight, narrow passage between two dunes and managed to make an almost perfect touchdown. Almost. An unseen mound of sand snapped off the left wheel, causing the craft to slew around and wedge itself into a dune. With the wheel off and the propellers bent, the aircraft’s flying days were over.

The exhausted pilot surveyed the damage, correctly decided that he was marooned in the desert, and decided to wait for sunrise. Curling up in the hold behind the pilot’s seats, he slept until he was awakened by the hushed voices of three Bushmen who stood talking around the crashed plane.

***

“So there he was, surrounded by Bushmen in the middle of the desert, fleeing for his life.” Liar pauses as another thought strikes him. “You know that Robey Leibrandt was sentenced to death, yes?”

Only Gertruida nods – she knows the history. Jan Smuts eventually commuted the sentence to life imprisonment; but when DF Malan became Prime Minister, Leibrandt was released from jail.

“I still don’t see how you tie up with all this, Klasie…I mean Liar?”

Servaas gets a weak smile from the man. “Ag , you can call me anything. Truth be told, my entire life had been a lie, so I don’t object to being called what I am.” He falls silent for a moment before continuing. “You see, those Bushmen helped Walter to get back to civilisation. He only took a few gold coins with him, leaving the rest of the treasure in the hold of the plane – he thought he’d go back sometime. Anyway, after three days of heavy walking, they reached a farm, called Breekyster. The farmer and his wife took good care of Walter and he stayed there for more than a month.

“Also on the farm was an old man – a bywoner – and his daughter: Nikolaas Cronje and Mathilda, or Mattie as everybody called her. They were common, poor labourers on the farm, a struggling father-and-daughter family impoverished by the recent Great Depression and the subsequent droughts. Oom Nikolaas, I was told, used to farm with sheep near Loxton, in the Karoo, before he lost everything. His wife died from pneumonia while they trekked from farm to farm, looking for work. Eventually they found refuge on Breekyster, where they were allowed to stay in the barn. The farmhouse was a modest affair and Walter shared accommodation with the Cronje’s.

“Walter told the old man – he had been a rebel in 1914, objecting against the government’s plans to fight the same Germans who helped the Afrikaners during the Anglo-Boer War – the whole story. Everything. As a Nazi sympathizer, the old man was overjoyed to lend a hand. He helped Walter to get ready to return to the earoplane – and he left one morning early with a backpack, a pistol and a compass.

aa3“Walter was never seen alive again. His body was found ten days later, a day’s walk from the farm. The desert had been too treacherous, too wild for him. A sidewinder snake was found nearby with a bullet hole through it’s neck. Surprisingly, both escaped being ravaged by scavengers.

“Needless to say, nobody reported the issue. Walter Kempf simply disappeared as far as the authorities were concerned.

“Old oom Nikolaas was saddened by the passing of his new friend – but not as much as the grieving Mattie, who realised she was pregnant on the very same day Walter was found. In fact, she almost miscarried… ” Liar sighs, staring at the diamond. “Maybe it would have been better if she did – I would have been spared a lifetime of misery…”

Fly Away (#6)

2134-Despite the remarkable progress of the day –  or maybe because of it – Gertruida can’t relax. Sure, they’ve managed to get Annatjie to peek out from behind her high walls of denial, but three things still had to happen. One: she had to be reunited with her father. Two: the letter…must she read it? And, worst of all, Number Three: what about the report she got back from Colonel Gericke? This last issue weighs heavily on Gertruida’s conscience – should it be made known at all?

Annatjie sips her tea while she asks Servaas to tell her again about Siena. This is the third time the old man has to relate his history and this time she reaches out to lay a hand on the old man’s shoulder when he gets to the part where the two of them had to say their final goodbyes.

“You were lucky,” she says when he falls silent.

“Lucky? Maybe. But it was hard work, too. We never allowed an issue to be unresolved. If something bothered either os uf, we talked our way out of it. Communication…that’s why our love grew over the years.”

“W-What must I do, Oom Servaas?”

Another step forward! Gertruida almost manages to hide a wry smile. Her soft, psychologically correct approach didn’t make the slightest dent in the armour of Annatjie’s depressed mind – while Servaas simply blundered his way through. Shows you, she thinks, books and professors only go so far – sometimes the wrong approach can be the right one.

“You’ll have to do what you can, Annatjie.” Servaas’s tone is surprisingly caring. “You had two major losses in your life: Hennie and your daddy. For a while you stayed with Mevrou Meintjies, thinking it’d fill a void. I’m sure you two women helped each other survive. Then she, too, died and left you here on this godforsaken piece of ground. Hennie is dead. Your father, however, is still alive. When last he visited here, you blamed him for Hennie’s death – that hurt him a lot. Maybe, if you could consider seeing him now, you can repair that damage, don’t you think? After all, he’s the only living relative and the only link you still have with Hennie…?”

The group watches, spellbound, as Annatjie slowly nods.

***

Gertruida can’t help worrying about Gericke’s report. She can almost recall – word for word – what the old man had said.

“This is a tricky one, Gertruida. That young man flew through his basic training. The reports on him paint a glowing picture of a natural leader, which is why he was promoted to lance corporal even before they finished the initial phase at Voortrekkerhoogte. He came from the Kalahari – as you know – and knew a lot about survival skills and tracking. As soon as they’d  finished basic training, he was sent to a base in the Caprivi Strip. 

“It seems as if he lost it up there. Initially he was the perfect soldier, but then they started having contact with the terrorists. Something must have happened, because he avoided the enemy at all costs after a while. I have one report here that describes how he made a massive detour to prevent his patrol from running into the other side. When asked about it afterwards, he said he was saving lives. His commanding officer was in the process of transferring him to Grootfontein when the…incident…happened. 

“Anyway, he left on an unscheduled flight, late in November 1975. Him, two others and a pilot. The plane headed across the border, apparently aiming straight at Luanda. An emergency meeting was held. A Mirage was scrambled to follow them. When it became clear that their destination was indeed to fly to Luanda, the Mirage pilot tried repeatedly to contact them on the radio. No response. He even tried to herd them back, flying close and cutting them off. Still no effect. So, acting on orders from HQ, the Mirage brought him down.”

“You mean….we shot down our own plane? With our own men on board?”

“Yes, Gertruida, that’s exactly what the report states. Officially, the loss of the plane was blamed on the Cubans, but that’s not what happened.”

Gertruida closes her eyes. Oh Lord, give me the wisdom to handle this one correctly…

***

Precilla and Gertruida help Annatjie clean up for the visit to her father. Once Annatjie agreed to the meeting, they jumped into action. There was no time to waste: nobody was sure what she’d be like the next day, so it was an easy decision to get her ready immediately. After a quick trip to Rolbos, Precilla returned with the necessities.

Now, with her hair neatly brushed back in a elegant bun, some makeup and the dress Precilla brought, Annatjie is almost unrecognisable. Gone is the forlorn and sad look. Even the lines on her face seem less. When she emerged from her bedroom, flanked by the two other women, Kleinpiet let  a soft wolf-wistle – earning him a look of mock jealousy from Precilla.

“Shall we go, my dear?” Servaas offers her an inviting elbow.

Annatjie stops dead in her tracks. Staring at the excited faces of the Rolbossers, she suddenly hesitates, uncertainty once again clouding her mind.

“I can’t…” With the skin on her chin wrinkling up with emotion, she shakes her head. “I can’t do this… Not alone. Not without…”

She turns, rushes back to the bedroom. Returns with the box of letters.

“Hennie will help me,” she says softly. “He’d want me to be brave…like he was…”

***

The trip to the retirement village takes an eternity. Annatjie seems to have disappeared behind her walls again, stoically staring out of the window with a withdrawn and distant expression.

Boggel tried to get her to talk about the farm, got no reaction, and gave up. Precilla, on the other hand, is tremendously pleased with the result of their efforts. Annatjie must have been a real beauty when she was younger. It’s amazing what a little care and cosmetics can do. She wonders if – when this is all over – it is possible that Annatjie will be able to escape the attentions of the few widowers in the district. The thought makes her smile.

But it is in Gertruida’s mind that anxiety reaches a boiling point. How will Mister Blum handle the situation? The time spent with Annatjie went by in such a rush, there was no time to contact the old man to warn him of his daughter’s visit. And – oh Lord! – what about the report? And the letter?

Gertruida – the woman who knows everything – closes her eyes in a silent prayer. She simply does not have the answers to all the questions.

(To be continued…)

Fly Away (#2)

credit: scn.ru

Similar to the Cessna Hendrik Meintjies died in. credit: scn.ru

“He died, you know? Crashed in an aeroplane.”

It’s Gertruida’s third weekly visit to Annatjie; visits spent listening to John Denver, very little conversation, and drinking the iced tea Gertruida brings along. By now, their relationship has progressed to the point where Annatjie had given Gertruida the key to the padlock on the gate.

“Who did? Hennie?”

The ancient eyes of Annatjie cloud over for a second, as if she wants to blank out the words.

“No, Henry John Deutschendorf. He loved flying.”

Gertruida nods. Yes, John Denver’s tragic accident in October 1997 shook the world.

“A lot of them went in plane disasters. Ricky Nelson, Patsy Cline, Otis Redding, Buddy Holly, Jim Croce, Jim Reeves. Funny, that. Up in the air one second, dead the next. Fame to ashes.”

By now, Gertruida is used to the rambling way Annatjie stumbles through her thoughts. Sometimes she just sits there, listening to her old records (mostly John Denver); but then she’d suddenly say something which at first seems completely random. However, the thread of death and dying runs through most of these apparently non-related sentences. The best way to field them, Gertruida decided, was to nod in agreement. Maybe, with enough encouragement, she can get Annatjie to talk…?

Gertruida told Boggel that she wasn’t sure where these visits were leading them, but that she felt strangely compelled to keep on visiting the lonely woman. Boggel agreed, saying that getting Annatjie to tell her story, might be the only way to unlock her mental prison.

“And there are Dag Hammarskjöld, rugby teams, soccer teams, even Hansie Cronje. People die in aeroplanes all the time.” A complacent smile as Annatjie makes an obvious attempt to rationalise Hennie’s death.

“Only recently, there’s been another Indonesian crash,” Gertruida says, hoping to egg her on.

Annatjie looks up in surprise. “Oh… Really? Didn’t know…”

This doesn’t surprise Gertruida, of course. Annatjie hasn’t got a radio or a TV in the house.

“You’ve been living a rather isolated life.” It is a question and a statement rolled into one.

Annatjie stares out of the window, seemingly lost in her own world. Then: “Yes, I have. Me and the letters. And the records, of course. I play them all the time. Love Denver…”

“Letters?” It’s the first time Annatjie has offered something of her personal life, and Gertruida is keen to follow it up.

“Of course. Hennie wrote such beautiful letters. I kept them…”

“Oh?” Taking a chance, Gertruida hesitates before asking: “You have them still? That’s wonderful. I’d really like to have a look at them.” She gets a startled look from the other woman, and rushes to add: “Only if it’s okay with you. I don’t want to intrude, but…”

“What?”

“Well, a burden shared is a burden lessened, you know…?”

***

And so, by bits and pieces, Gertruida sets about breaking down the walls Annatjie has built up over the years. Why did Annatjie allow her to read her personal mail? Gertruida would wonder about that in the years to come, but most probably the years of solitude and grief had become too much for the frail old lady. Although only in her fifties, Annatjie had the demeanor and the mindset of a much older, exhausted and beaten woman – a woman simply unable to bear her isolation any longer.

***

My dearest Annie,

I hope you got the record I left at your father’s office? It’s  Denver’s new one with such beautiful songs. 

I’m writing this on the train to Pretoria – we’ve just passed through De Aar. My word! Soldiers everywhere!  I’m quickly learning about ranks and things. Being in the army is such a drag. You’ve got to know who to salute and who not. It’s confusing. If you get it wrong, you get shouted at in the most foul language! 

Anyway, I’ll post this at the first opportunity to do so. But I wanted to apologise for my dad’s behaviour. He can be such an ass! I mean, he knows we love each other. Why he insists on politicizing our relationship is beyond he. If your father’s ideas are different to his – why. that is no reason to punish us, is that? 

I told him so in no uncertain terms. That didn’t go down well, I’m afraid. Now we’ll have to wait until my time in the Army is over. If he still persists in being a dumb fool, we’ll simply go it alone – you and I. We’ll get married in Upington. I spoke to your father and he said he’d arrange it with a judge or something.

So, here I go. Off to war. When it’s over, we’ll start our new life together. This, my dear, will keep me going, no matter what they throw at me.

Love,

Hennie.

***

“That’s so sweet.” Gertruida dabs an eye. “Soo…oh, we all were there at some or other stage, weren’t we? That flame of love can burn so high when you’re young…”

“Remember Helderberg? 1987. 157 people died in that crash.” Annatjie has slipped into her own world again – a world where dying in an aircraft disaster seems to be the norm. Gertruida nods and hands back the letter.

“Here’s the last one.” The withered hands hold up a sealed letter.

“You haven’t opened it yet?” Is it possible? Gertruida shakes her head. Surely not? Has she sealed it again?

“No.” Her voice is uncommonly stern as she replaces the letter in the box with the others.

“And the others?”

“Oh, I read them all. Every one. Know them by heart. But not that one…”

“Why…?”

“Because he’s still alive in there. If I tear open the envelope, he’ll escape. Can’t do that.” Eyes suddenly clear, she glances at Gertruida. “Don’t you see? Those were his last words to me. Once I’ve read them, he’s gone. Forever. But now…now he still hasn’t told me what he said way back then. That keeps him alive, doesn’t it?”

Gertruida nods , grasping the convoluted logic behind her new friend’s sentiment. Keeping that envelope sealed is Annatjie’s way of keeping Hennie alive in her mind. He still has something to say – he can’t be dead then, can he?

“The rest of those letters must tell you a lot about his time in the army?”

Annatjie starts rocking to and fro on her chair, eyes closed. “The SAA Comet that crashed in 1958 killed 21. And there was the Boeing crash near WIndhoek in 1968, where 123 people died…” She’s gone to her safe place again. Here, she’s not alone in her loss…

Gertruida gets up. It’s time to go. She hugs the fragile woman, turns up the volume of the record player, and closes the door softly as she leaves. Next time…next time she’ll learn more..

 

Fly Away

IMG_9860On impulse, Gertruida stops at the turnoff to Verlatenheid, the farm halfway between Grootdrink and Rolbos. She has been shopping in Upington and finished earlier than planned. With a bit of time on her hands, she contemplates the unthinkable. Nobody ever visits here…

***

Everybody knows the history of Verlatenheid, the once-prosperous farm where old Oom Meintjies once produced some of the finest wool in the country. Representing the fourth generation of his family on the farm, Oom Meintjies brought in Romney rams to complement his Merino flock, resulting in (at the time) a unique curly-haired wool, used by some of Europe’s most famous fashion houses.

Oom Meintjies and his wife, Hestertjie, had a son, the obvious heir and future owner of Verlatenheid. Hendrik (Hennie to his many friends) turned out to be a handsome, popular and quiet-spoken young man. One of those youths with natural leadership skills, he was the senior prefect in Prieska’s High School before being drafted to the army. At that time every white boy in the country expected this inevitability – there was no way to avoid conscription. Hennie knew this and begged his father’s permission to marry his sweetheart, the pretty Annatjie Blum, before his draft was due. She, however, was daughter of the town’s liberal lawyer.

Oom Meintjies refused. Hennie was too young to know about love, he said. And…the Blums were known for their anti-government stance and labelled as left-winged communists by the population. But, because he was the only lawyer in town, people set their prejudices aside when property was transferred or a contract had to be signed. Also…Mister Blum rendered his services much cheaper than the bigshot legal practitioners in Upington. The importance of politics – then, like today – was  inversely proportional to the size of the wallet…

And so, after a furious argument with his father, Hennie boarded the train to do his basic training in Voortrekkerhoogte. He didn’t write home. Hestertjie, his mother, sent regular letters to his unit. He didn’t reply.

Five months later a chaplain visited Verlatenheid to sympathise with the family. Hennie had been killed when the Cessna carrying him crashed near the Angolan border.

Oom Meintjies was absolutely devastated by the news. His son – his only son, sacrificed for the beliefs he held so strongly? As a staunch Nationalist, he truly believed that the party would work out a practical way of power-sharing in South Africa and that this process was being hampered by communist terrorists. Surely this was a just cause? Why, then, would God take away his only heir? In the days he and Hestertjie waited for his son’s body to be returned to them, he neither ate nor spoke. He withdrew into a dark world of rebellion – against the communists, the government…and God. When Dominee van As came to see him about the service, he refused to talk to the clergyman. Hestertjie’s attempts to comfort him was waved away with an angry hand.

After the funeral he drove over to the Blum’s home, spoke to the lawyer, waited for the papers to be typed, signed them – and drove off in the direction of his farm. Even today, the community is unsure whether the old man had an accident or committed suicide.

And so, as was stipulated in his will, Annatjie Blum became the owner of Verlatenheid. In one of those strange twists of the human condition, Annatjie and Hestertjie – both widely known by their diminutive names – forged a friendship based on their communal loss. It was an invisible and unspoken bond that grew with the years. As the older woman slowly slipped into decrepit senility, Annatjie took care of her to the last. And when she died, Annatjie sold the sheep, paid off the labourers, and stayed on alone on Verlatenheid. She locked the gate and set up the sign.

***

Gertruida knows Annatjie never allows visitors. The sign on the gate leaves no doubt: Keep Out. No visitors. Strictly Private. Yet, today, she contemplates opening that gate while she listens to the engine ticking over. She eyes the sturdy padlock on the chain keeping the gate closed, knowing that it’d be impossible to drive to the homestead – a sprawling old house only faintly visible on the arid horizon. Should she go? Or drive off…?

 What is this thing we call impulse? Is it only a random thought – albeit a convincing one – that forces us to do something we didn’t consider before? Or is there a connectivity between people; a deeper form of communication; we don’t understand? Why does one look up if somebody stares at you from across the room? Or why do we instantly like somebody you’ve just met – or hate them from the moment you lay eyes on them? Gertruida will quote from Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, the book that explains this instinct, if you were to ask her.

Be that as it may: Gertruida can’t stop herself. She has to climb through the fence and walk down the overgrown track to the house. The impulse is simply too strong to ignore. She can’t help feeling a bit apprehensive – what will Annatjie’s reaction be? And what is she going to tell her – why is she visiting? The nearer she gets to the house, the more uncertain she becomes.

At the foot on the dusty stairs leading up to the wide veranda, Gertruida stops. Music? Yes…there it is! Faint but clear, she hears the sound of the ’75 hit. Despite the circumstances, she smiles at the memories the song brings back. Yes, those were the days…

“He’s dead, you know?”

The sound of the voice shocks Gertruida back to the present.

“Died, like the rest of them.”

Only now can Gertruida make out the silhouette of somebody standing behind the chintz curtains. It must be Annatjie? She greets with a hesitant ‘Hello’ and apologises for intruding like this.

“All of my days have gone soft and cloudy, all of my dreams have gone dry…”

“Huh?”

“I’m looking for lovers and children playing, I’m looking for signs of the spring. I listen for laughter and sounds of dancing, I listen for any old thing.”

Gertruida goes Aaaah! when she realises that Annatjie is using the words of the song… to communicate, or is she simply singing along?  Gertruida recalls some of the words and uses them as a question.  “And…all of your nights have gone sad and shady…?”

The music stops. Feet shuffles to the door and a loud crunching sound announces the key being turned.

The two woman stare at each other for a long moment. Gertruida manages to keep her expression neutral, but can’t stop an internal shiver. Annatjie is….so old! The long, black dress contrasts with the almost-white and unkempt mop of hair. No makeup. Lines and wrinkles criss-cross the once beautiful face. The full figure has shrunk to mere skin and bones.

“You okay?” Gertruida manages at last.

“There’s nowhere to go and there’s nowhere that I’d rather be.”

***

They sit listening to the song for maybe half-an-hour. Annatjie has started the turntable again, playing the record over and over again. In some places the groove in the vinyl has worn away, causing the needle to jump ahead to the next verse.

“All of my nights have gone sad and shady,” Annatjie sings every time the old record skips the words.

“I’ll have to go,” Gertruida announces. “Still have a bit to drive. To Rolbos. It’s not that far, but…”

“Where are my days?” Annatjie switches off the record player, addressing the question with sudden clarity.

Gertruida gets up to hug the woman. The ribs under the dress feels brittle and cold.

“In there, Annatjie.” She runs a soft hand over the white hair. “With Hennie.”

For a moment it seems as if Annatjie would cry, but then she gets up to walk to the door.

“Will you come again?”

“Yes, Annatjie. I shall. I’ll bring Annie’s Song, if you like?”

***

Gertruida will tell you about war. After all, she had been involved in one, she should know. But, she warns, the list of casualties don’t stop when the peace accord is signed. She’ll tell you that is only the beginning. The real injuries only follow in the years afterwards.

“Fly Away” by John Denver

Saving Sersant Dreyer

begin 2004 018(This story is based on an event that took place a few decades ago. Names and places were changed to protect the identity of the hapless traveller, but – for once – this story isn’t a figment of imagination.)

“You found him, Gertruida? That’s excellent news.” Vetfaan lifts his glass in a silent salute. “He did overdo it a bit on last night, though. Told him not to drive but you know Dreyer. Once he gets to that stage, the only thing he’ll allow is for you to empty the magazine of his .38. Other than that, he won’t listen to any advice.”

Kleinpiet nods. Sersant Dreyer is arguably the most sober, upstanding member of the community. Quiet, keeping to himself and rarely part of the party-crowd, Dreyer lives some distance outside Rolbos in a cottage next to a dry riverbed.

Mind you, calling it a riverbed might create the wrong impression…one shouldn’t think green willow trees and a sprawling lawn. Not at all. The Kalahari has many of these dry courses where – once in a few decades or so – water will cascade down to the Orange River in a flash flood. For the rest of the time these ‘rivers’ are mere sandy tracts through the barren desert. They do, however, make excellent roads. In contrast to the hard-baked uneven surfaces around them, they provide a soft if sandy drive into the desert. Like many other inhabitants of the Kalahari, Dreyer makes use of this unnamed ‘river’ to get to his cottage.

Sersant Dreyer is, by all accounts, a bit of a hermit. By day he mans the small office on Voortrekker Weg which serves as the Rolbos police station. A relic of the time when sillimanite was mined near Bokkop (many, many years ago), this police outpost most probably remains in town because the clerks in Headquarters  don’t ask questions and the generals just couldn’t be bothered. And Dreyer isn’t going to rock the boat. With a sad history of his own, he likes it here just fine, thank you.

But…once in a while Sersant Dreyer shuffles into Boggel’s Place with that look. Picture a still-handsome and almost in shape middle-aged man with slumped shoulders and a Basset face.  The patrons in the bar all know that look. It means Dreyer’s past has caught up with him again.

Gertruida says our histories are like shadows. Memories fade when Life’s sun is directly above us; but just after dawn and before sunset, memories cast long shadows we simply can’t ignore. Vetfaan doesn’t agree – he says memories hide in the last half-inch of the peach brandy bottle. Sometimes, they are both correct and that’s when the clouds of melancholy roll in on the What if? winds…

“He was in a particularly somber mood last night. Getting him to smile was impossible.”

“Ja, Kleinpiet. People talk about depression during the festive season, and I suppose it’s true. Christmas and New Year’s Eve are sentimental days and one tends to think back on the past year. But then….January arrives and forces you to look ahead. Poor Dreyer always gets the January Blues – every year. I think he contemplates the year ahead, realises it’l be no different to the last, and then wonders why he prefers to remain stuck in his one-man police station. It’s the answer to that question that gets to him every January.”

“But why? He’s not stupid. He’s not ugly. Workwise he could have made Brigadier – if he had a deeper tan, that is. And surely there must be some more fish in the sea?”

Gertruida shakes her head. “No Kleinpiet. You forget the minor detail called Human Nature. The brain is a magnificent piece of engineering. Everything you hear and see – all experiences – are stored up there. Everything. Oh, you can blank out bits and pieces here and there, but don’t be fooled! Those shadows lurk in there, waiting for the right moment to surface. That’s why, sometimes, you end up feeling bad and you can’t put your finger on it. That’s when the subconscious mind mull over unpleasant past incidents without allowing those thoughts to surface. It’s complex. I feel sorry for Dreyer..”

“Ja, well, no, fine. In the brain is such a wonderful machine, why can’t it decide to leave the past in the past –  and move on?” Servaas is his old, cynical self. “If I go through a bad patch, my mind sets up camp right there and I can’t seem to be able to pull up those tent pegs for days…weeks, even.”

“Human nature, Servaas, human nature. You can’t format that hard disk between your ears. You may be able to add programs and even remove the odd virus, but the circuits are there. Dormant, maybe…but present. Waiting for the right, unguarded moment. Like a file stored on an external drive, you may not use it every day – but hit the right button…” She allows the sentence to drift off.

Of course the others hate it when Gertruida goes into computer-talk. It simply doesn’t make sense to them, so they stare at their beers. Time to change the subject.

“So, where did you find Dreyer? I was worried, man! He mumbled something about fetching some peach brandy and then he simply didn’t come back.”

“Oh, he intended to do just that, Kleinpiet. You saw him – he was at the point where the brakes failed in his mind. He wanted to drink more. Remember how he said something about drowning the demons inside? That’s what he wanted to do.

“Well, we all called it a night after a while and you guys went home. But I was worried about Dreyer.” She tries not to sound too accusing, softening the impact with an anxious smile. “After all, he promised to come back and you know how Dreyer is about promises. He’ll go to the ends of the earth to keep his word….”

“And he almost did?”

Gertruida ignores the interruption.

“…so I drove out to his cottage. Found him about a hundred yards from the turn-off, in the sandy patch where the river forms a pool after heavy rains. Low range, 4X4, first gear. His Landy got stuck and he engaged everything he could. Not a grain of sand touched those wheels when I arrived there – the vehicle rested squarely on its chassis while the wheels spun round and round.

“Well…what does one do under such circumstances? I didn’t want to wake him up – was afraid he’d not only have the fright of his life, but that he would still want to fetch that peach brandy he hoped would erase some memories.

“So I walked up to the vehicle, reached in, and removed his foot from the accelerator. Ever so gently, see, so as not to wake him. The revs fell, but the humming of the engine continued so his mind told him he was still on his way to his home.”

Vetfaan lets out a low whistle. “He was that far gone?”

“Way over the edge, my friend. I left him there and fetched the jerry can he keeps in his garage for people who run out of petrol in the desert. Went back, lit a fire some distance from where he sat sleeping, and waited…”

The rest, she tells them, was easy. Just before dawn, the engine sputtered, hiccuped, wheezed…and stopped. The fuel tank was empty.

“Dreyer woke up with a start! Looked around. Saw me sitting next to the fire. He had absolutely no idea what had happened. Then, in a husky, hoarse voice, he asked me  – quite politely – whether I was Gertruida or Gabriel. His relief when he realised it was me, shocked him into sobriety again! It was so funny…”

***

The Saving of Sersant Dreyer, as the incident will be remembered in Boggel’s Place, will be the source of many a jibe in the months to come. Dreyer will smile sheepishly every time and endure the jokes in his mild, abstract way. Yet, somehow, something fell into place in his mind that morning when he woke up in the vehicle that was bogged down in the sand. Gertruida explained it so nicely.

“Look, Dreyer, you were on your way home. You weren’t thinking straight. Despite knowing this road so well, you got stuck in the sandy patch you so often negotiated in the past. Too little speed, to little momentum, wrong gear…and bingo! you couldn’t move on. Getting stuck is okay – we all do that from time to time. But…last night you discovered something: you should have made a bypass past that sandy patch a long time ago.

“And Dreyer…? It’s the same with memories. Sometimes it serves a good purpose to remember exactly what had transpired in the past. But sometimes…you have to make a bypass. The memories are still there, but you create an escape route of something better to build your future on.”

Dreyer helped Gertruida to refuel the Landy, went home, and cried for the first time in many years.

It was the start of the breeze that’s blowing his dark cloud away, allowing the sun to shorten the shadow…