‘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.