Credit: Leon Schuster
Catastrophe has a way of finding you, no matter how far you go to avoid trouble. History records many such instances: from people drowning in a tsunami of molasses in Boston (1919), to the B-52 that crashed into the Empire State Building in 1945 (an accident, but chillingly similar to the events of 9-11). Since biblical times mankind has never been fast enough to escape the long and surprisingly sticky fingers of fate.
And Servaas – having left the nudist camp only that morning – wasn’t even going fast on the old Enfield. In fact, he was riding along at a sedate speed when the traffic cop suddenly appeared from behind the bush, one white-gloved hand held high while the other tried to button his fly
Philip Petrus de Lange had suffered from a weak bladder since childhood, causing much embarrassment and resulting in him being ridiculed in school. His initials did not improve his lot at all, either. This sad state of affairs caused Philip to avoid social contact and he grew up to be a morose individual with a huge chip on his shoulder. When he had to choose a career, he narrowed it down to either being a traffic cop or working at the local funeral parlour. Quite logically, he assumed that harassing living individuals would be much more satisfactory than burying his erstwhile tormentors (who obviously wouldn’t be aware of his actions), so he chose the former. Another factor in his decision was that he didn’t want to wait so long before having his revenge – he wanted to get even…soon!
And so Officer PP de Lange spent his days alongside the roads of the district, becoming an important source of income for the local municipality and the bane of everyone who used public roads in the area.
Servaas stopped, killed the engine, and took off his hat after making sure the kudu tail was still neatly in place.
PP wasn’t one to waste time. Revenge might well be a dish best served cold, but in his case he liked to pounce, strike hard and leave his victims fuming. Being courteous wasn’t part of his default personality.
Servaas, feeling slightly guilty about enjoying his recent experience so much, shook his head. Perhaps, he thought, the encounter with a traffic cop (here in the middle of nowhere), was an apt punishment for his actions. Best to be honest and get it over with.
“No, I don’t have one.”
PP’s eyes lit up with unmitigated pleasure. A real catch! He’d simply throw the book at this old man – it’s been a quiet day, but this one will satisfy his daily need to get even with society.
“Then you are under arrest for driving without the necessary documentation. No license, hey? Isn’t that nice? Who do you think you are? Get in my car…now!”
Despite Servaas’s protestations, PP led the old man to the well-hidden vehicle, made him get into the back after checking the child locks, and drove off. The Enfield, PP informed him, would be Exhibit A in court and be fetched later.
The jail in town was as much a surprise as his arrest had been, only marginally more unpleasant. The little shed behind the municipal building – itself not a grand affair – housed a fire extinguisher, a few spades and a drum of tar. Servaas sat down on the extinguisher after the rusted door banged shut. This was, he decided, a real catastrophe.
Still, he considered his options. He could bang down the door with the extinguisher. Or dig his way out. Or light the tar and start a fire… But no! He must face his punishment with dignity. While it was true that he had no license to operate a two-wheeled motorized vehicle, it was also true that the time in the nudist camp had been most…entertaining. If he had to get punished for that, then he’d just have to face the wrath of the law and get it over with. Servaas knew about rights and wrongs – his years as elder in Oudoom’s church saw to that.
He spent a miserable night in that shed, thinking about the nudist camp, begging for forgiveness and promising that – if he could get out of jail – he’d never, ever, visit people who didn’t dress properly again. He closed his eyes, but before he drifted off to sleep, he considered the double disaster he had landed himself in. He’d lose his bike. He’d go to jail. Just before he drifted off to an uneasy slumber, the word ‘jeopardy’ lodged itself in his mind. Indeed, he thought.
The next morning Officer PP – dressed in his finest uniform, complete with the shiny buttons and the peaked cap – escorted his prisoner to the mayor’s office. Servaas was, understandably, a sight for sore eyes. Or his sight would have caused sore eyes, if one wanted to play with words. Hungry, dishevelled and dusty, he looked like a homeless vagabond.
Mayor Struwig was the town’s only lawyer, a man who made quite a decent living buying out farmers who couldn’t service their debts, holding on to the property for a year or so, and then selling it to the rich Gauteng yuppies who thought farming would supply a much-needed tax break. Of course, a year or so later, the same yuppie would beg the Honourable Mayor to find a willing buyer again. It was a game he couldn’t lose.
Struwig was a ferrety man with pointed ears and a receding jaw. Completely bald, his squint didn’t add to his appearance. Like Officer PP, he wasn’t exactly a social butterfly and used his job to inflate his ego. He was also the local magistrate. In this capacity he then faced the bedraggled old man from behind his polished desk.
Miss Agatha Droogsloot (called thus because of her little farm outside town) took the notes.
Struwig: “How do you plead?”
Servaas, hesitant: “Plead to what…sir?”
Struwig, impatient: “Driving a motorised two-wheeled vehicle without a license?”
Servaas, (pause), brightening: “Not guilty, your honour.”
Struwig, angry: “What?”
Servaas:”I have a question, your honour.”
Struwig, frustrated: “What”
Servaas, “What’s the story with double jeopardy?”
Struwig, quoting from memory: “Double jeopardy is a procedural defence that forbids a defendant from being tried again on the same (or similar) charges following a legitimate acquittal or conviction.”
Servaas, smiling: “Then I want the charge against me on record, your honour.”
Struwig: “It is on record, you fool!”
Servaas: “If it pleases your honour, then read it again, so I can justify my plea.”
Struwig, clearly irritated: “That you drove a motorised two-wheeled vehicle without license.”
Servaas: “That all?”
Struwig: “Dammit! Yes!!”
Servaas: “Then may I hold it to the court that driving is something you do with motor cars and lorries, even cattle. Or you can drive people to distraction. But motorcycles? You ride them, your honour. Ride. That’s what I did. Not drive. That’s why you should dismiss the case. I’m innocent of the charge against me – I never drove a motor cycle.”
Struwig, foaming: “I’ll. Simply. Change. The. Wording. You. Old. *&%#!”
Servaas, shaking his head: “You can’t do that. First you must find me not guilty as charged, then you have to change the charge, and then – your honour – you get to that little bit of the definition you just read; which says something about the same or similar charges being brought against an innocent man.”
Officer PP de Lange watched as Servaas – still without a license – pushed the old Enfield out of town. He’ll follow that old man to the ends of the world, but he wasn’t going to let him get away! Getting into his patrol car, he followed the slow progress Servaas made, anticipating the glee of arresting him again – only this time, he’ll get the wording of his charge right. So maybe the old man could play the double jeopardy card again, but he’ll get him for speeding, or loitering, or something.
An hour later, his old problem acted up again. He stopped and was doing what he had to do when he heard the motor cycle roar to life.
Now, ask any man who is halfway through the process of answering a call of nature – especially when it is urgent. Stopping, buttoning up and getting back to the vehicle takes a minute or two.
By then, Servaas had taken a sharp left along a footpath, crossed the dry bed of a creek, and was heading towards some far-off hills – the kudu tail bobbing gaily up and down as he negotiated the uneven terrain.
Officer PP resigned the same day. He told Mayor Struwig that he’d prefer to work with dead people. They didn’t run away while he attended to his problem, he said. And, he added, they can’t come up with some lame defence – there’s no such thing as double jeopardy in a funeral parlour.