Category Archives: smalltown short stories

Trusting Liar (#10)

Liar's Meteorite

Liar’s Meteorite

Once the helicopter disappeared over the dunes, the group finally stops laughing.

“Oh, Liar, you are sooo convincing! Damn! I started believing you when you threw out that bit about the radioactive Boron. And then you…you…you added the bit about manhood! Shew! I almost burst out laughing right then.” Gertruida slaps Liar’s back as she starts giggling again.

Liar’s indignant response is immediate. “And what, Gertruida, do you think, do they use to accelerate electrons and bits of atoms in Switzerland? Or do you imagine that I’d be roving around here for my entire life, looking for lost diamonds?”

“Oh, stop it, Klasie! You’re killing us!” Vetfaan wipes the tears from his eyes as he succumbs to another bout of laughter.

Servaas gets serious all of a sudden. “You are looking for diamonds, aren’t you? Walter Kempf and the Wolf’s Tears? All that you told us? It’s true, isn’t it?”

Klasie Louw, known as Liar, scoops up a handful of sand and lefts it sift through his fingers. “There are many stories buried in the sands of the Kalahari, my friend. Legends and myths and tales that are more marvellous than anything you’ve ever heard. Here you’ll find the ghosts of the Dorsland-trekkers who tried to escape to an illusive Utopia. Amongst these dunes the history of the Bushmen, the Koranna and the lost civilisation of the gold-miners of Zimbabwe are whispered in the night breezes. Once this was an inland lake bearing boats filled with riches – then the climate changed and the earth moved…and now only the sand remains. This, Servaas, is a magical place. A place were everything is possible.”

“But that doesn’t answer the question, Klasie. I just want to know whether your story is true? We did pick up that diamond, didn’t we?” Getruida points to Liar’s pocket, remembering how he had snatched it away from her.

It is Liar’s turn to smirk. “Ah yes…the aeroplane wreck! Come, I’ll show you. It’s about an hour from here.”

***

lancaster_desert_500Sure enough, after tramping trough the loose sand in the valley between the two dunes, they arrive at a little plain – an open space with the dunes forming a natural amphitheatre around it. Off to one side, the wreckage is clearly visible.

“This was Walter’s plane. And this is the direction the flood washed his treasure away.” He points towards the south. “And over there,” pointing again, “is the rocky outcrop. I wouldn’t suggest you go near it.”

***

“I’m still not sure,” Servaas says. They’re gathered at the counter in Boggel’s Place, relieved to be back in Rolbos. “I mean, can we really believe everything he said?”

“Well, all I can tell you is that Boron is an extremely rare element in the universe. Scientists don’t believe it is natural to our planet, and that most of the Boron found on earth is due to cosmic dust and possibly meteorites. There is, indeed, radioactive Boron and it may very well be used in reactors – although the rarity of the substance makes its common use impossible. If that rocky outcrop of Liar’s is pure Boron, it could very well be the remains of an ancient meteorite and as such be a unique find.” Gertruida shrugs. “Who knows? Anyway, I made a few discreet enquiries: our friend Klasie Louw is a multi-multimillionaire. The story of the Reserve Bank taking notice of his activities may be true…”

“And the men? The helicopter and the search?”

“Oh, read the papers, Servaas! There are so many scandals in our country, it’s hard to pick the most likely one. But….I like my theory about somebody wanting to buy silence. Suppose you bribed South Africa into hosting the World Cup in 2010 and now people are starting to ask questions. You have the FBI, CIA, Fifa and even Morocco breathing down your neck. If the story is proved and evidence confirms the corruption, it won’t just impact on one single person. It’d mean that the government, the local organising committee and especially the governing party will be left with more egg on their faces than they can clean off. People will have to resign, and some will go to jail. It’d be a diplomatic catastrophe of massive proportions. International credibility – already at a low point – will fly out of the window.

“You see, Servaas, for some of the officials – from president down to the ticket-sellers – the outcome of an intensive investigation will mean the end of their careers. The money-barrel will run dry. The authorities involved with drugs, smuggling and money laundering will be forced to face the wrath of not only the local populace, but the international community as well. Can you imagine the fall-out?

“So…it is entirely possible that certain men and women will want to buy their way out of trouble – and that’s going to involve massive payments to the investigating forces. Just like FIFA bought Ireland’s silence and avoided legal action, so it may be possible to influence the reports of investigators. For that, not only would billions be required, but there cannot be any paper trail. No Banks, no transfers, no documentation. The answer: diamonds…”

“Ja,” Vetfaan signals for another beer, “desperate times. Desperate measures…”

Servaas shrugs. “Be that all as it may. I still don’t know whether I can believe Klasie Louw…”

l15 copy_edited-1“We’ll never know,” Getruida says as she puts down  her glass. “But he has a good story. Maybe we should trust Liar for a change…”

Below the counter, Vrede thumps his tail on the wooden floor. He sniffed around the wreck and the strange rock out there in the desert. He knows exactly what the facts are. But, even though he’d like to tell them about the weathered shoebox he found under the one Nara-bush, he’d rather keep the secret. It’s much more fun this way.

The End.

Trusting Liar (#7)

lancaster_desert_500Klasie (liar) Louw remembers the fights, the blows, and the screams all too vividly. Herman would return from yet another trip into the Kalahari in the most foul of moods, empty-handed. He blamed Nikolaas. He blamed Mattie. He scolded young Klasie, often adding a hiding for good measure. He liked to shout at them, telling them they ruined his life.

***

“Then, just after my eleventh birthday, it happened again. Mom stood her ground for a while, but Herman wouldn’t let up. He called her names…horrible names. Then he felled her with a vicious uppercut, straight to the chin, She fell backwards, hitting her head on the sorting table. I knew then that he had killed her.”

Liar is sobbing now, reliving the most horrible moments of his life.

“I was hiding under the bed at the time. Walter’s pistol – the one he had used to kill the snake – was under Mom’s pillow. I don’t remember much of what happened. When I came to my senses, Herman was down, flat on the ground, bleeding from his chest. In his last breath he cursed me, saying I’m a bastard and a low-life scum.”

***

The boy didn’t know what to do. His mother was dead and he had just killed his stepfather. He was still sitting there when a trader stopped by, like he did once a month. The trader – Harry Isaacs – took one look at the scene and rushed off to Upington to report the incident to the police. 

A constable was dispatched to investigate. His report:

I, Constable Abel Malherbe, arrived at the claim of Herman Louw at 3 pm on the 3rd of August 1954. On my arrival I found a boy – Nikolaas Louw (called Klasie) sitting on a camp bed in the hut on the premises. He wasn’t able to speak and I assume he was born deaf and dumb. I also found the bodies of Mr and Mrs Louw. Mrs Louw appears to have died from a blow to her head, although she had multiple other bruises. Mr Louw had a gunshot wound to his chest. A pistol was on the floor between the two bodies.

My conclusion merely states the obvious. Mr Louw is a known felon with multiple convictions, including assault. It appears that he was attacking Mrs Louw when she fired the pistol in self-defence. There was nothing on the scene to suggest any other explanation. 

The boy is clearly incapable of comprehensible speech and unable to assist any further investigation. He’ll need to be taken to a foster home. My superior officer suggested the facility in Worcester.

Signed:

A. Malherbe.

***

School for the deaf, Worcester.

School for the deaf, Worcester.

“And so I was sent to the School for the Deaf in Worcester. For a while it suited me just fine. For the first time in my life, I had a warm bed, clean linen and three proper meals a day. I didn’t have to dig up the banks of the Orange River and I wasn’t afraid that Herman would rock up and beat me. All I had to do, was act deaf and dumb. 

“That’s where my lying really took off. I had them all fooled for three long years – the best years of my life. Then, one day, I overheard the teachers discussing me. They were concerned, they said, that I might have more hearing than I gave out to have. That I might be pretending because I was an orphan. That they’d get a special doctor to come and test me, just to make sure…

louw“That night I ran away. I returned to the only place I know: my stepfather’s claim. I was only fourteen, but big and strong. I managed to convince the local magistrate that I was the legal heir to Herman’s claim and that he had been a known prospector in the Kalahari. He checked the records, found Constable Malherbe’s report, and took pity on me. How he did it, I’m not sure – but in the end he handed me a piece of paper that gave me the right to ‘investigate and prospect mineral possibilities in the region’. He even paid the fee…”

“But didn’t he ask you where you had been all that time?”

“He did, Servaas. I told him I had been taken care of by an aunt in Cape Town, but that she had passed away. Without the licence, I said, I would have no income and no means to support myself. He asked about inheritance, and for once I told the truth: my ‘aunt’ had left me nothing.” A wry smile lightened his features for a second. “The rest were – just like you’ve become accustomed to me – pure lies.”

Servaas scratches his head, overawed by the tale of woe. “So you’ve been looking for the wreck all these years – almost six decades of searching?”

“Oh, I found the wreck, all right. It’s not far from here.” He points up the valley between the two large dunes. “But there was a flood in 1956. One of those rare thunderstorms that turned this valley into a mass of swirling water. It washed over the wreck and almost buried it. It took me some time, but eventually I uncovered enough to examine the wreckage. The boxes were gone. For a while I thought my stepfather had found it, but then I discovered a diamond some distance off. Then another.

“What happened was that the flood washed away the boxes, scattering the stones down the ‘river’ it had formed.” He sighs. “And that’s why I’ve been busy here all my life – searching, searching, searching for the lost treasure of Walter Kempf amongst these dunes…”

“And finding diamonds here and there?”

“Yes. I’ve found two hundred and thirty-six stones so far. It’d fill one small box. There must be much more still…”

“But who are the people in the plane and the chopper?” Vetfaan lets his eyes roam the empty skies. “Why…?”

“It’s some government men. Bad ones. Once they know where to look, they’ll probably kill me.”

“But…how did they know?”

“SARS…the revenue people. They got onto my trail after the last packet I sent to London. When I went to the bank in Upington to check on the payment, they were waiting for me outside the bank. They said they wanted to make me an offer I can’t refuse.”

“And….?

“I refused.”

(to be continued)

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…”

Trusting Liar (#4)

The Gloster AS.31

The Gloster AS.31

“A…a diamond?” Vetfaan squints at the stone, marvelling at the way the son reflected from within.

“Yes…” Gertruida frowns, her puzzled expression lifting her brow towards her hairline. “And not just any old diamond!”

“Wha…?”

“It’s a polished stone, Vetfaan. A very strange and unique stone. See the imperfection in the middle?”

adThe diamond is the size of a rather large pea, brilliantly polished, but in its center the yellow-brown immediately draws attention. “It looks like an eye…” Vetfaan says.

The helicopter makes another pass, but now too far away to worry the group.

“A flawed diamond?”

Gertruida remains silent for a long time while she turns the stone around between her fingers. The she whispers a single word…

“What? What did you say, Gertruida?” Kleinpiet holds a hand behind his ear, his eyes full of question marks.

Hitler…” She looks up suddenly, remembering the history she studied many years ago. “The Tears of the Wolf…” Then, hesitantly and in a hushed voice, she tells them the most amazing story.

***

images (13)In 1934 South Africa was proud of their new boxing wonder. Robbie Leibrandt won gold at the Commonwealth Games to become a national hero. In 1936 he was part of the Olympic team to compete against the rest of the world in Berlin.

“Apparently he met Adolf Hitler while he was there and was fascinated by the man. He returned to Germany in 1938 to study at the Reich Academy for Gymnastics. When the war broke out, he joined the German army and was trained to fly and use a parachute. Most of his training involved sabotage techniques, however – his German commanders had a very special project in mind.”

Operation Weisshorn involved dropping Leibrandt on the Namaqualand coast (using a confiscated French yacht), after which he set up a rebel movement, aimed at destabilising the government led by Jan Smuts. His plans almost succeeded, but he was betrayed and caught by the police.

“But,” Gertruida continues, “there was a bizarre twist to the story. Leibrandt was assisted by a man with strangely similar features, one Walter Kempf. Even their commanding officer could not always tell them apart. This is presumably why “Leibrandt” was often seen at two places at the same time, adding to the confusion of the authorities trying to catch him.  Anyway, their efforts in South Africa were funded by gold coins and diamonds the Third Reich provided.

“Once Robey was imprisoned, Walter fled with the loot. He managed to bribe his way into the airforce base near Pretoria, where he stole a rather dilapidated Gloster plane used for aerial photography. Apparently his aim was to flee to South West Africa (Namibia), where he hoped to link up with German sympathisers. The aeroplane never made it to Windhoek and the lost gold and diamonds were never found.”

***

“Thanks for the history lesson, Gertruida.” Servaas pulls up his shoulders to spread his arms wide. “But what the Dickens does that have to do with this diamond?”

“This diamond, Servaas, may very well be the one that the Fuhrer, himself, gave to Leibrandt on the eve of his departure from Germany. It was supposed to be a good luck charm, one of Hitler’s favourites. Hitler often likened himself to a wolf, and these diamonds was named after him. Legend has it that a small collection of these stones came from one of the pyramids and that they were amongst the valuables the Nazi’s ‘collected’ during their campaigns. If I remember correctly, there was quite a lot of excitement lately amongst fortune seekers in the town of Mittenwald in Austria, where some of the treasure might still be hidden.”

“So…are you sure this diamond is part of Leibrandt’s treasure?”

“I’m assuming it, Servaas. Think about it: an unique, expertly polished diamond with the exact characteristics, appearing in the desert where an aeroplane might have crashed almost eighty years ago….it sounds more plausible than anything else I can come up with. Unless you have a better explanation…?”

Servaas shakes his head. He knows better than to argue with Gertruida – who knows everything, anyway.

“But I still don’t get it.” Vetfaan stares at the horizon. The sound of the helicopter has faded away, leaving them in the vast silence of the desert. “How does this tie up with Liar? He can’t possibly be involved with all this history?”

Even Gertruida has to shake her head. She’s fairly sure about the diamond – the unique stone was described in fine detail in a report she had read during her training as an agent for National Intelligence. The history of spying in South Africa provided many lessons for new agents and (back then) the study of erstwhile projects and agents had been mandatory. But…tying up the diamond with Liar just doesn’t make sense. Could it be that they have stumbled across the diamond in one of the strangest coincidences of all time? Or…not?

She’s still thinking about this when they hear the distinct clack! of a rifle bolt ramming the bullet into the chamber behind them.

“Okay folks! Turn around. Slowly. Hands where I can see them. And no funny business, thank you.”

They all freeze as they recognise the voice…

Trusting Liar (#3)

begin 2004 207Everybody knows about Vredethe town-dog that absconded from the police force. Couldn’t take the corruption anymore. After he exposed the commissioner, he had no choice: either he had to  create his own witness protection plan, or they’d dispatch him to doggy heaven.(1)  Vrede isn’t just any old dog or even the town’s mascot – he’s a survivor in the chaos of the New South Africa; a rare example of having enough courage of your conviction to bark loudly at the farce politics have turned out to be.

Gertruida said (only yesterday) that Vrede would have solved the entire FIFA fiasco by sniffing out the bribes everybody is talking about. The group at the bar laughed at that while the radio played ‘Jordan, we are going down…’  Boggel then slipped a piece of biltong to Vrede, who took his time gnawing through a sinewy bit. But that was before Liar arrived to start a brand new adventure that made them forget all about yet another scandal developing in the country.

Now, with the eastern sky tinged in red and orange, Vrede has his nose to the ground while he follows the scent. Yes, Liar had been here, and yes, he stepped here…and there…and there…

***

modThe Kalahari Desert is like no other. Large parts of the region are covered by sparse bushes and grass. The dunes occurring in such regions are stable and remain static for centuries. However, in some areas the arid ground can sustain no plants; so the dunes have nothing to hold them down when the wind starts howling over the mounds of sand. In some parts of the Namib, dunes move more than 2 metres per year. In the Kalahari, however, dune movement varies far too much to try to put a figure to it. Suffice to say that some dunes move more than others.

Fortunately  for Vrede’s quest to find Liar, the night’s wind has been gentle and the rocks still carried the strong scent of the feet of the fleeing man. Vrede adopts his professional attitude: no howling, yelping or barking: he is a silent tracker on the spoor of his quarry. The same cannot be said for the Rolbossers panting heavily behind Vrede. The speed of the dog is quite astounding, leaving the group grunting and sweating in their efforts to keep up.

Vetfaan puts two fingers to his lips to produce a piercing whistle.

“Stop, Vrede! For goodness’ sakes, dog, do you want to kill us all? Slow down! We can’t run like you do.!”

60nara1[1]Vrede skids to a halt and looks back at the struggling followers. That’s what you get from sitting around, drinking beer every day. He lets his tongue hang out in a doggy smile. If he could laugh, he would have. While he waits for them to catch up, he flops down in the shade of one of the bushes scattered between the dunes.

“That’s strange,” Gertruida says as she sits down next to Vrede. “A Nara bush! I thought they only occurred near Sossus Vlei in Namibia. That means there must be some water below the surface.”

“Huh?” Vetfaan gasps as he stands bent forward, his hands on his knees.

“Water, Vetfaan. And the fruits of the bush are very nutritious. This could at least partly explain how Liar survives in this part of the Kalahari.”

Vrede isn’t keen on resting. He gives the humans a minute or so before resuming his task. He does, however, proceed more slowly.

***

It is way past midday when Vrede stops again: this time looking up at the sky. A minute later, they hear the thump-thump-thump of rotor blades. A helicopter? Here?

“They’ve narrowed the search,” Vetfaan says grimly. “That Cessna must have spotted something and now they’re using a helicopter. We must hurry.” He closes his eyes to get rid of the memories of the search-and-rescue operations during the Border War when a patrol landed itself in trouble.

begin 2004 130“I…I think we should hide,” Kleinpiet doesn’t like it either. “Whatever Liar is up to, I don’t fancy being caught in the middle – or in the open. See those dead trees? Let’s go!”

A minute later a helicopter appears momentarily some distance away on their left, heading north. The group remains where they are, each of them leaning against the withered trunk of a stunted tree. Sure enough, a few minutes later, the helicopter returns, flying south – nearer this time.

“They’ve not found him. Maybe they’ve narrowed the search, but that helicopter is flying a search pattern. A grid. On the next leg, he’ll be to our right.”

“Would anybody mind telling me what we’re doing here?” Servaas wipes the crusted sweat from his brow. What seemed like a good idea yesterday, has turned out to be an exhausting trek through thick sand. He is not impressed.

The rest of the group remains silent, some nodding, others suppressing a smile. When Servaas gets kantankerous, laughter can be extremely dangerous.

Then…

Gertruida gasps as she bends down to pick up a pebble. A very shiny pebble, which she holds up for all to see.

“This,” she says, “this is what it’s all about.”

***

(1) Much more of Vrede’s history is told in Rolbos, the book.

South Africa’s FIFA song…

Trusting Liar (#2)

1The thing about Liar is what Vetfaan calls the “double-reverse chicken gambit”, the only thing in Rolbos that manages to confuse Gertruida. Vetfaan explains that you have to believe the unbelievable before discarding it as nonsense. Or vice versa. The trick is the ‘gambit’ – when to attack or withdraw. For instance: it’s like exonerating the presidency for all blame for Nkandla before finding them all guilty.

“It’s the same with Liar. It’s wrong to say his stories are untrue. He might apply some factual gymnastics to his tales, but they’re not necessarily lies – unless you don’t believe him.” This concept, he explains, makes it easy to understand why more than 60% of the voters chose the governing party during the last election. “But,” he hastens to add, “this is about to change. The second reverse of the double reverse is a slower phenomenon, it’ll only occur once the government starts telling the truth.”

This, of course, doesn’t help to explain why they all jumped on to the Land Rover as the ancient engine spluttered clouds of blue smoke down Voortrekker Weg. Maybe they were just bored, sitting around in Boggel’s Place all day long. Or perhaps they really cared about what happened to Liar. Probably they did the second reverse…?

“When last did he find a diamond?” Kleinpiet has to shout to be heard above the clatter of the straining engine.

“Oh, last year. He showed it to me.” Gertruida puts on her superior look. How she loves knowing things the others don’t! “A blue-white, this big.” She uses her fingers to indicate a large, marble-sized stone. “The purest I’ve ever seen. And several yellows, slightly larger but not as nice.”

“But having an uncut diamond in your possession is a crime! He can’t sell it? They’ll pop him into jail.”

neumap6“Not Liar, Vetfaan. He has a prospecting permit dating back to his father’s time. The old man used to prospect near the Orange River near Grootdrink, but somehow Liar convinced the authorities that he not only inherited the licence, but that it applies to the Kalahari as well. You know him: he probably lied his way to success. Point is: he’s a legit diamond prospector and so he has the right to sell his uncut diamonds to any of the world’s bourses that buy such stones. Apparently he sends over a packet once a year to Antwerp, using the contacts his father had built up after WW ll. The old man served in Egypt, where he met some chaps from the Netherlands. One thing led to another….old comrades, that sort of thing.”

“But then Liar must be a rich man?”

“Depends on whether you can believe him.” Gertruida shrugs and smiles quietly. “If he’s so rich, why is he still tramping the dunes?”

“Greed.” Boggel shouts above the noise, using his handkerchief to wipe the dust from his eyes. “It’s a disease: once diamond-fever gets you, it doesn’t let go. Liar will go on searching for diamonds until the end. He won’t – can’t – stop. There’ll always be the big one just around the corner – just like the gamblers in Oasis Casino.”

Vetfaan drives slowly, picking out Liar’s tracks in the loose sand. The Cessna is flying ahead, sometimes disappearing over the horizon before circling back.

“Liar has done it again,” Vetfaan says grimly as he watches the aeroplane flying to and fro. “He simply disappears…”

A few years ago, after Liar had bragged about a particularly large stone in Boggel’s Place, Sersant Dreyer tried to follow his tracks. They led straight into the desert for several miles – and then disappeared completely. Vetfaan remarked at the time that Liar must be an expert at anti-tracking, which made Dreyer blush under his deep tan, saying nobody can fool him that easily. Still: the fact remains that Liar’s secrets remained intact, allowing the group at the bar many hours of speculating about his whereabouts.

“This is it,” Dreyer points at the dry riverbed. “He leaves the sand, hops from boulder to boulder, and gets away without leaving a spoor.”

The group gets out stiffly, stretching legs as they watch the Cessna disappear towards Upington.

“The end of the road, chaps.” Kleinpiet sighs loudly. “We might as well give up.”

Gertruida goes harrumph!. It’s an ominous sign. She hates unanswered questions.

“Look, it’s late anyway. We’re not equipped to spend the night out here. I suggest we return to Rolbos and gear up for a proper expedition, then we can follow this man to wherever he is. Who’s in?”

“Follow his where, Gertruida? We have no idea where he might be! It’s useless…”

“Ah….you’ve stopped thinking again as usual, Vetfaan. Whether you join me or not, I’ll be back here tomorrow at first light….with Vrede.”

Of course! Vrede! Their very own town-dog with the superb nose!

***

The eastern sky has the faintest tinge of orange above the black horizon when the group gathers at the rocky riverbed. Vrede loves it out here – he’s done all the wheels on the ‘Rover, four bushes and one rock.

“Now, Vrede!” Boggel sits down next to the excited dog. “You remember Liar? That sweaty, stinky man that walked out this way? Well….you got to find him.” The dag lifts one ear as he listens to Boggel explaining the mission. “Oh…and if you find him, you’ll have a month’s worth of biltong waiting for you.”

Some people scoff at the thought that dogs understand humans. Boggel isn’t one of those. He knows Vrede would have picked up on ‘stinky man’ and ‘biltong’. He’s right, of course. The dog wags his tail, licks Boggel’s cheek and starts sniffing around. Not even a minute later, he gives an excited yelp.

 

Trusting Liar (#1)

aa“I mean…escaping in a python? Really…?”

They’ve been discussing the technical details of Liar Louw’s latest tale. Liar (originally ‘Klasie’, but nobody calls him that behind his back) is an infrequent but most welcome visitor in Boggel’s Place. As the only diamond prospector in the Kalahari, Liar has a way of popping up unexpectedly, especially in winter when the nights can force the Mercury down to far below zero.

“Pythons,” Gertruida says because she knows everything, “are capable of swallowing antelopes – surprisingly large ones, too.”

“But then the antelope doesn’t escape again by using a Swiss Army knife. That bit was hard to swallow.” Servaas shakes his head. “Also the way he says he rubbed gravy-flavoured Vaseline all over himself to make it impossible for the snake to ignore him.”

“Well, he said he was in a hurry. The terrorists had surrounded him on that isolated hill…and it the thunder storm was on its way. I just loved the little detail he added: hiding from the rain because he didn’t have a rain coat. Quite ingenious.”

“We have to give him credit.” Vetfaan signals for another beer. “Liar’s stories aren’t one-dimensional. There he was, trying to lead the entire Cuban force away from the covert camp in Angola, outnumbered and outgunned. Then he got the snake to swallow him – not only because he had to use whatever camouflage available, but because he didn’t fancy getting his uniform wet!”

“….and so he smears goo all over himself? Gimme a break!” Boggel smiles at the way Liar had them all at the edges of their seats. “Still, he tells a good story. When the terries left, he slit open the stomach, climbed out and stitched up the wound. I liked that bit – not killing the poor snake, I mean.”

“Ja, he loves happy endings, Liar does.” Like the rest of them, Kleinpiet has a soft spot for the crazy prospector. The old man (impossible to guess his age) has a way of looking at you with his piercingly blue eyes and a frown that furrows his tanned forehead – and you’d think he is incapable of bending the truth. “The nice thing is: I think he actually believes his own stories.”

“Maybe the war blew out a few fuses in his head. It happened, you know? Some chaps came back as complete strangers to their families.” Precilla glances over at Vetfaan – she knows how the war had an influence on the burly farmer. “And look at the way he lives: he’s a nomad, walking the dunes in search of diamonds! Who lives like that? A backpack, a sieve, a few essentials…”

“…and a Swiss Army knife.” Servaas adds, hooting with laughter.

“And now he tells us the government is spying on him – using an aeroplane! He paranoid, I tell you.” Most of Liar’s stories are almost believable when taken with several pinches of salt, but the allegation that a spy-plane was tracking him, left them all unconvinced. Who cared what an off-beat character like Liar was doing in the desert? Surely Zuma’s problems with Escom, the railways, SAA, healthcare, the police service, Nkandla, nation-wide protests and Fifa were more pressing than worrying about somebody like Liar?

“Unless they want him to join the ANC,” Kleinpiet says, downing his beer. “They sure could use better liars than they’ve got now. At least our Liar is entertaining, which is more than you can say about our minister of police…”

The drone of an engine interrupts Kleinpiet’s sentence.

“An aeroplane? Here?” Gertruida’s brow shoots up in surprise.

They all rush out to the street, where they watch the Cessna fly overhead, heading in the direction Liar had taken.

“Well, I’ll be…” Vetfaan sits down heavily on the steps leading to Boggel’s veranda. “Does this mean…?”

“Yes, Vetfaan. Somebody is up to something. I have a bad feeling about this.” And, because she knows everything, the little crowd around Gertruida turns to Gertruida for an explanation. “We’ll have to help him.”

“You serious?” Incredulous, Vetfaan turns back to see the plane dip lower.

“When last did we see an aeroplane here, Vetfaan? And now Liar tells us a story and barely an hour later we have one – apparently following his tracks? What are the chances? No, I tell you, somebody is after Liar and there’d be a good reason for that. If there’s something I can’t live with, it’s an unexplained mystery. I want to know…”

Even while she’s talking, Gertruida is heading for Vetfaan’s old Land Rover.” Are you coming, or not?”

(To be continued…)

The Prince of Words

Miguel de Cervantes

Miguel de Cervantes

“So they found him at last,” Gertruida says with a satisfied smile. “He can now be buried properly, monument and all.”

“Who? The president?” Servaas looks up sharply – it sounds like good news.

“No, you dummy, Miguel Cervantes.”

“He the new president?”

Gertruida rolls her eyes. Such ignorance! “Cervantes, Servaas, was one of the greatest writers Spain ever produced. He was born a long time ago, in 1547, the same year Edward VI banned execution by boiling in England.”

“And they say we are backward?”

“The point is – if you’ll stop interrupting me – that Miguel Cervantes created Don Quixote, an erant knight with high ideals. Despite his blustering stupidity, he was an extremely wise man.”

“Now that, Gertruida, makes a whole heap of sense. Just like our parliament.”

“Well, I’ll have you know he could have written a speech for the country, seeing the vote of no confidence in the president was defeated by the ruling party’s inability to see the wood for the trees. Listen to what he wrote in 1605: Don Quixote was addressing his faithful squire, Sancho Panza at the time, after suffering severe setbacks.”

Bear in mind, Sancho, that one man is no more than the other, unless he does more than the other. All these tempests that fall upon us are signs that fair weather is coming shortly, and that things will go well with us; for it is impossible for good or evil to last forever. Hence it follows that the evil having lasted so long, the good must now be nigh at hand. So you must not distress thyself at the misfortunes which happen to me, since you had no share in them.

Servaas doesn’t know much about knights, old-time chivalry or squires, but he understands the bit that evil can’t possibly last forever. In his mind, parliament has degenerated into a circus: good enough for entertainment but not really huge in the problem-solving department.

“And, whats more, Servaas, he wrote something else that comes to  mind…”

I do not deny that what happened to us is a thing worth laughing at. But it is not worth telling, for not everyone is sufficiently intelligent to be able to see things from the right point of view.

“Wow! He should have been our president, Gertruida.”

“You wish. But still, even though he died a poor man, at least he’ll be honoured by a monument. People from all over the world will come to pay homage to his genius.”

Servaas thinks about this. Cervantes, dead but honoured for his honest wisdom. The president, alive, and scorned for his devious ways.

“We live in a crazy country, Gertruida.”

“Indeed, Sancho.”

“My name is Servaas.”

“Oh…but you sound like him.”

Boggel’s Competition

b2Boggel’s Place has been the only option for many years. It’s the place to be. This is where you sit down with a cold beer to talk about the drought and the president’s wives – important enough to note, but way beyond anybody to influence. When the storm clouds gather on the horizon, these things will develop as they must – and watching them with a beer in hand is so much more sensible than wasting a lot of adrenalin in getting excited about it.

Then the rumour started. Ronnie – that famous, intrepid entrepreneur was considering opening a branch in Rolbos. Why? Because, like the restaurant and pub he established in the middle of nowhere, Rolbos also had nothing going for it. Snatching success from the jaws of failure has been Ronnie’s secret, and Rolbos provides the perfect backdrop for a venture that is sure to flounder.

Gertruida had to explain who and what Ronnie represents:

Of course, this news leads to a lively debate, increasing Boggel’s turnover with a considerable margin. Ronnie is, after all, a national figure of great importance. Although his bar was never designed or planned as a house of ill repute, the very name of the place ruffled many a conservative feather. Amongst the narrow-minded puritans, the place conjured up visions of carnal adventures and represented the gateway to the dark and tormented underworld made famous in a thousand sermons every Sunday. Of course, these intellectual giants have never (and would never, either)  even think of visiting the bar to enjoy one of Ronnie’s famous rose-water milkshakes. When such a person has no option than to take the R62 route, the children in the vehicle are told to inspect the carpet of the footwell until they are safely past the object of so much scorn.

Gertruida tells them about Ronnie, his long silver-grey ponytail and his establishment set in the dusty veld of the Klein Karoo.

“Originally he had a farm stall there, selling fresh produce and a few cooldrinks. Business was slow. And then one day, his friends added the dreaded ‘S’ word next to his name, and everybody stopped for a drink. It became a lovely, humorous joke –  a tongue-in-the-cheek place to stop for something cool in the heat of the Karoo. Ronnie has never looked back.”

“But then Boggel will have no chance. If Ronnie opens the Kalahari Sex Shop, even Oudoom will have to visit there to be one with his flock. You know how he feels about these things. He says it’s of little value to preach in the church  – everybody who goes there, tithes already. He maintains that the way the expand his congregation (the electrical wiring has to be fixed, after all) is to spread his message to the ‘other’ folk – you know, people who don’t attend church. And if Oudoom goes there, we’d have no choice but to follow suit. Talk about a bull in a china shop…”

“Ja, he’ll drink the place dry to show he’s one of the boys.” Kleinpiet eyes Servaas, who’s showing signs of severe agitation. “Even Servaas will be obliged to go.”

“Me? Never! A head elder in a place like that? I’ll be the laughing stock of Upington, man! Won’t ever be able to show my face in public again.”

“It’s just a name, Servaas! Nothing much ever happens there  – at least nothing more than in Boggel’s Place. And Ronnie also provides meals – which is more than we can say about Boggel’s. The name of his cafe is a bit misleading, but his hamburgers are delicious.”

b1

“So we’ll just allow Boggel’s Place to become a deserted ruin?” The very thought causes a shudder down Vetfaan’s spine.

“No. If Ronnie wants to expand his business, we’ll have to convince him that he can make more money elsewhere. I’ll simply write him a letter.” Gertruida frowns while concentrating hard. “Yes, that’s it! China! Millions of people, lots of thirsty throats and an expanding economy. He can even introduce them to Boeremusiek.”

***

And so it came to pass that Boggel still has the monopoly in Rolbos. Ronnie’s  性别 Shop could be the biggest cultural revolution to hit China since Mao Zedong proclaimed the People’s Republic of China in 1949. The peculiar penchant of the Chinese for Boeremusiek could be the start of a massive Chinese exodus out of Africa, back to where they belong.

Rolbos University to Offer Postgrad Degrees

edukacja_1“They should be more careful.” Vetfaan points at the photo of our ambassador to Japan and grunts. “I mean: why claim you’re a doctor when it’s so much more impressive to say you’re a professor? The problem with our politicians – as I see it – is that they lack ambition. If you have to lie about your academic achievements, lie big. Tell the world you were the rector of some university, don’t settle for a mere PhD.”

“But that’s the problem, Vetfaan. To make it stick, you have to have a legit university. Putting a fake degree or a fake university on your CV is stupid. Ellen Tshabalala, Pallo Jordan, Carl Niehaus, Tembakazi Mnyaka,  Mninwa Mahlangu and Mohau Pheko have all tried hard to hoodwink people into believing they were cleverer than they are, just to expose their lack of insight when their claims were investigated.”Gertruida adjusts her glasses like the president does to emphasise her point.”Mind you, it shouldn’t be that difficult….” She allows the unfinished sentence to hang in the air.

“What?’

“How difficult can it be? Why can’t a group of individuals get together, establish a university, and dish out certificates. Instead of our politicians having to send out thousands of dollars to some fake institution overseas, we can make it so easy: keep the money in the country, issue the degree in one of the eleven official languages and create new degrees. No politician worth his salt will be able to withstand a degree in Culinary Sciences – they have to know how to make KFC in the office. Think about the time saved if they don’t have to stand in a queue at McDonalds? ”

Kleinpiet’s suggestion that he be appointed as Senior Lecturer in the Dept of Sport raises a few eyebrows until he explains. “Stretching the Truth 101 should be an obligatory course before being allowed in parliament. Jumping the Queue will be popular too, as will Slight of Hand as an advanced course. Running for President, Shooting the Breeze and a Certificate in Nepotistic Relay will surely draw many students.”

“I still think the way to a politicians heart is through his stomach. A PhD in Advanced Sushi will see you right to the top.”

“Even better,” Boggel adds, “will be a legal faculty to issue degrees in Parole Law, Advanced Dossier Misplacement and Legitimate Corruption.”

“No, you guys. This is wrong in so many ways. Shame on you for joining our leaders in their quest for dishonesty.” Oudoom seems genuinely upset. “Any form of fraud is a crime, you should know that by now.”

“But that’s the point, Oudoom. Instead of tempting our esteemed politicians to lie about fake degrees, we are going to help them stay on the straight and narrow by offering them a honest alternative. We’ll offer nice certificates” They all crane their necks to see Precilla’s drawing.

stanton_degree copy_edited-2 copy

In the end, they all agree that this is, after all, a good idea. If all the fraudulent degrees originated from a central source, the government would save millions by not having to pay agencies to do background checks on ambassadors, senior officials and other political appointees. One simple telephone call would be all that is necessary. Servaas even suggested that they be made the official fake university, which earned him a round on the house.

“Look, we advertise it the way it is: a discombobulate faculty for incongruity. That way, everybody will know what it’s about.”

Oudoom grudgingly accepted the proposal on the condition that they replace the words ‘Rolbos University’ with something more academic, like ‘The African School of Learning’.

They are still arguing about it…