Tag Archives: abuse

Will the Honourable Cockroach please step forward?

Julius-Malema1“Politicians are a really crazy bunch of people. Imagine calling somebody a cockroach?” Precilla pulls a face, disgusted at the thought.

“Oh, I don’t know…” Obtuse as always, Gertruida jumps at the chance to differ. “Cockroaches have been around since forever, and they still will be – according to some – long after humanity finally manages to be stupid enough to start pushing little red buttons on firing consoles. They’re very resilient – able to withstand freezing, submerging and the lack of oxygen. While most people think of them as pests, one has to admire the way they survive under even the most inhospitable conditions.”

“You just love arguing, Gertruida.” Servaas bunches his bushy brows together in protest. “You don’t call anybody a cockroach in Africa. The Hutus did so with the Tutsis during the Rwandan genocide in ’94; completely dehumanising them. No, let’s face it: a cockroach is a pest, an unwanted, despicable insect nobody likes having in their homes. By comparing poor mister Malema to such a creature, is an insult.”

Boggel suppresses a snigger while he serves another round of beers. Poor mister Malema, indeed!  Servaas has been an outspoken critic of the EFF in previous weeks, but since they kept on insisting that the president must pay back the money,  Servaas has toned down his disapproval. He says a man must use what’s available. If you don’t have the right spanner, a monkey wrench will just have to do. It’s a variant of the old adage about my enemy’s enemy…

“Ag, drop the pose, Servaas!” Gertruida sees how the old man’s jaw sets and hurries to defuse the situation. “You’re right, although cockroaches aren’t just bad. All I’m saying is that it won’t do much harm to take a new look at one of the world’s most common insects. They actually have their place in folklore and literature.”

“You telling me somebody was deranged enough to write a story about a cockroach?” Precilla shivers at the thought.

150px-Metamorphosis“Well, many authors did. Maybe the story of Gregor Samsa by Franz Kafka is the most notable. In Metamorphosis, the travelling salesman is transformed into a giant, cockroach-like creature. He withdraws to his room after being paralysed by his father throwing an apple at him – and dies there eventually. It’s a poignant, sensitive, moving novella about acceptance and rejection – and what it means to be a family. It is, arguably, one of Kafka’s greatest works.

220px-TheRevoltOfTheCockroachPeople“More to the point, Revolt of the Cockroach People is a book about the downtrodden minorities in America in the previous century. Acosta’s protagonist, Buffalo Zeta Brown, rises in protest against an unfair society, even when he knows that he has no chance to win the battle against the laws and conditions of the time. Still, the book speaks of survival despite overwhelming odds.”

Precilla studies her shoes – she has no desire to hear how wonderful cockroaches are. They’re creepy, they’re horrible and they’re pests.

“Moreover,” Gertruida isn’t finished yet, “they have medicinal uses.”

Precilla’s face gets a green tinge as Gertruida continues with a smile.

“In olden days they treated diseases with cockroach tea – did you know that? Killed them, boiled them up, and added a bit of honey for flavour. And in northern China they extracted molecules from cockroaches that can be used to cure heart and liver diseases. Apparently those substances are great for treating burns and other wounds as well.”

wall-e3“Look, nobody’s going to give me a cockroach pill when my liver packs up.” Vetfaan runs his calloused hand over his tummy. “But I did enjoy the cockroach in Wall-E. A real little hero, that one. I remember he was called Hal, after the producer, Hal Roach. Har! Now there’s a movie I enjoyed; not the drivel the modern artists turn out.”

“Well, Madonna made a famous statement.” Oudoom almost bites his tongue – he doesn’t want the group at the bar to know about his secret fascination with the wild personality. Still, her quote is apt under the circumstances. “I am a survivor. I am like a cockroach, you just can’t get rid of me – her words, not mine. I think it implies a certain determination to ignore criticism.”

“Our clergyman have emerged from his dark and humid cupboard, guys!” Kleinpiet high-fives the reluctant reverend. “Like Gregor Samsa, he has to show his true colours!”

“Leave Oudoom be, Kleinpiet.” Gertruida’s scowl is enough to make his sit down again. “Do you know who the first mother in space was? Of course not. She was Nadezhda the cockroach, who mothered 33 babies in space. In Russian, her name means ‘Hope’ and she was returned to earth successfully with her offspring.”

When Gertruida falls silent (at last!), the group at the counter settles down in deep thought. As usual, Gertruida surprised them with her vast knowledge. Servaas says Gertruida should write a letter to Malema, explaining that being called a ‘cockroach’ is actually a compliment, but Vetfaan disagrees. He reckons the political waters in the country is muddled enough after the president jumbled up our history into an unrecognisable piece of fiction, forgetting the Xhosa-Zulu struggle completely and omitting the atrocities of Mzilikazi.

No, Vetfaan thinks as he watches a flat, black insect scurry across the floor, being called names isn’t the problem in the country. Maybe some of our public figures are comparable to the insect family regarding the degree of collective intelligence, but they differ considerably in the amount of legs possessed and the habit of self destruction. Some, however, are better at scavenging and – admittedly  –  live in the cracks only found in the convoluted world of politics.

He considers the trembling antennae of the insect before it disappears behind the counter. Cockroaches? He smiles. No, we won’t get rid of them…

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Our Fathers Broke the Rainbow…

x35Last Sunday – after Oudoom’s sermon on The Sins of the Fathers, Gertruida said that Life is an endless circle. What has been, will be again. Vetfaan said that’s true; he remembered Frikkie, the son of Fists Fourie, who also was jailed after his wife walked into the door once too often. Vetfaan reckons those men should have been much more circumspect in choosing their wives. And Kleinpiet agreed about the Sinning Father Syndrome, reminding them that Innocent Tshabalala became a lawyer, just like his dad..

Still, it was a sobering thought. Precilla said it isn’t fair that a great-grandson should bear the burden of punishment for somebody he didn’t even know, whereupon Servaas said we all suffer because of our president. And – he asked – who in town actually knew the man?  The fact that the president is still around while his sins are visited upon us, he said, must say something. “Maybe his wrongs are so great and so many, that waiting for a few generations is out of the question, hey?” Of course everybody laughed at that, but it wasn’t the laughing you’d usually hear in Boggel’s Place: it sounded too harsh, too hollow.

The sermon also had another effect on the townsfolk: they wanted to find out what their great-grandfathers did – hoping to discover pious and upright citizens of the first order (Servaas’s words). To their utter and collective dismay, this turned out to be a false hope. Gertruida knew, of course, that her family history contained a bootlegger, a diamond smuggler and a cattle thief. Vetfaan checked out the inscriptions on the first pages of the old family bible noting with concern the description of a forebear as ‘a rascal not worthy of our name‘. In Kleinpiet’s case the situation was even worse. In the carefully annotated diary his mother used to keep, she wrote about ‘Oupa Piet’, the candidate for the National Party in the fifties.

“Well, I have no such worries,” Boggel announced. “As an orphan I don’t have a family – hence I have nothing to worry about.”

“Oh no, Boggel. You can’t get off so easily. Unless you were hatched from an egg, you had a father, a grandfather and a great-grandfather.” Servaas ignored Kleinpiet’s remark that chickens had daddies too, and continued. “You’re just like us. We’ve all got to take what’s coming to us, I’m afraid.”

***

Of course Oudoom helped them to understand that it’s not so simple. If, he said, generations persist in sinning, it is only natural to think that the sins  – which originated earlier in the family – would be continuously punished. “If grandpa taught his children to do something wrong: why then, you can’t just punish grandpa, can you? Go read Ezekiel. He made it abundantly clear.”

“So you say that we can’t blame previous generations for the mess we’re in?”

“Don’t be simplistic, Servaas. But your remark does touch on an important issue: the ‘sins of the father’ does not necessarily imply a family connotation. ‘Fathers’ can also be seen as ‘Leaders’  and ‘children’ as ‘followers’. We talk about ‘the founding fathers’ and in Africa we use ‘father’ as a form of respect. So, as much as we apply the term to families, we may also use it to refer to society at large.”

“You’re talking about the National Party again?” It is well known that Oudoom frequently laments the decision of the Synod in 1957.

“Oh no, Servaas. Not at all. I’m looking ahead, not to the past. The past is history, we can’t do anything about that. But the future? It rests on the present. And when I look at the leadership in the country, I see problems. What have they done to strengthen the moral fibre in the land? They’re sooo big on human rights, children’s rights, women’s rights – you can go on and on. But what, I ask you, did they do to God’s rights? I mean, those are the most important of all, aren’t they?

“I’ll tell you: they legalised Satanism. Banned prayer in schools. Opened the parliament with an imbongi. When elections come about, they attend church services to get votes – but once the results are in, do we see the TV cameras focus on a politician  on any given Sunday?

“So, maybe we should consider our ‘fathers’ in South Africa very carefully. If you were to look down from heaven – would you have been proud?”

***

Boggel maintains it is sometimes better to be an orphan: being fatherless isn’t so bad when you are given a clean slate to start off with. Gertruida reckons that was the dream in 1994, but it all went horribly wrong afterwards.

“We talk about the Rainbow Nation because it’s such a nice term. But remember: the rainbow, according to the Bible, is a symbol of a covenant God made with mankind. In Revelations, it is said that a rainbow around the Throne. The rainbow, it seems, signifies peace and forgiveness.”

Gertruida sometimes says things that make people think. And occasionally, her knowledge of everything is quite astounding, like when she reminds them that the human eye can see no black, white or brown in the rainbow,

“But what has that to do with sinning fathers, Gertruida?”

“Everything, Servaas. We’re big on symbols and words, but small in action. To talk about peace and tolerance is one thing, to live it is quite a different matter. We need leaders whose aim is to guide the country to a honest, respectful place where life and property mean something. We need fathers who are true to the oldest guidelines we know. Ask Oudoom, he’ll tell you.”

And he does, by quoting two verses.

  • Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)
  • As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. (Psalm 103:13)

Oudoom says a true father to the nation should encourage compassionate discipline. According to him, that’s the way to add colours to the rainbow. And, he says, that’s the only way to repair that symbol we so love to talk about while it is disappearing from our skies…

Everybody has a You (#15)

Gertruida gasps in surprise when she opens the door to find Sersant Dreyer standing there, an uncertain smile hovering below his trimmed moustache.

“Oh…Gertruida?” He seems surprised to find her there. “I need to talk to Mary. About the dead man, understand? This is business, nothing personal.”

Gertruida wants to tell the policeman to go away, this isn’t the time – but Mary’s tired voice calls from the bedroom.

“Let him come in, Gertruida. After talking to you all tonight, I realise I must face my life as it is. Face the consequences and take my punishment. I simply can’t…can’t live a lie any more.” She sobs the last words out.

Sersant Dreyer squeezes past Gertruida to sit down on the old settee. Waiting patiently for Mary to emerge from the bedroom, he proceeds to stuff his short-stemmed briar before putting a match to the tobacco. When Mary finally shuffles into the room, she has the look of defeat written all over her face.

“Go on, Dreyer. Arrest me and be done with it.?”

Sersant Dreyer shakes his head. “No, Mary. There’ll be an inquest, but that’s all…”

He tells the two women that something Mary said, rang a bell and made him reconsider the way they handled Brutus’s death.  “You mentioned his irregular heartbeat, the cocaine, and heart medication. We know that Brutus and Boggel endured a lot during the time they stumbled through the desert. So, when I left you in the bar, I went to phone a colleague – Dr Strauss – one of the top forensic experts in the police service. We go back a long time, but that’s not the point.

“You see, I think Brutus was responsible for his own death. Sure, you kicked him…but it is possible that his heart was already in irreversible failure. The lack of medication, the obvious dehydration and the extreme physical demands of walking that distance almost killed Boggel – and I think it was the last straws for Brutus. Your kick, Mary, was incidental. At most one can think of is a complaint of assault – if the victim was around to lay a charge, that is.

“Dr Strauss is sending a team of experts to dig up the corpse. I’ll accompany them tomorrow to show them the spot. I explained that we’d have brought the body here, but that we had no proper means of transport. He actually agreed that – under the circumstances – we did the right thing to bury the body, otherwise the jackals would have had a feast. The postmortem will show the condition of the heart muscle and probably establish the cause of death due to myocardial arrest due to infarction. Apparently – and I don’t understand everything that Strauss said – cocaine use has many effects on the heart muscle which may be seen both clinically and under the microscope. Coupled with blood and tissue samples, it should be no problem to make the diagnosis of cocaine-related terminal cardiac failure.  In short – an unnatural death due to natural – if induced – factors.

“So, Mary…that’s my news. Brutus is now legally dead and the blame of his sudden demise rests completely on his own shoulders.” Sersant Dreyer gets up to leave. “I thought you’d like to know that.”

***

Back in the bar, Boggel and Smartryk remain seated after the rest of the customers had gone home. Although they are both dog-tired, Mary’s story upset them to such an extent that they prefer to have another drink before retiring.

“What do you think, Boggel?”

Boggel can – when he relaxes – have the most disarming smile. It’s as if his face relaxes, the eyes light up and the crow’s feet around the eyes wrinkle with a secret, inner amusement.

“It’s up to her, Smartryk, not us. You know my – our – history and I appreciate the way you respect that. I also saw the way she looked at you. There’s a hunger in her eyes, a desire, that I’ve never seen before. To be honest, I wish that she’d look at me that way, but she doesn’t. For me, there’s kindness. For you – so much more. I can offer her a life in Rolbos but you can make her start afresh.

“The issue , of course, is how you weigh her past. If that burden is too much, you’ll have to be honest with her. On the other hand – if you think the two of you have a fighting chance to make it work, you have my blessing.”

***

Precilla was so mad at the little barman that she didn’t talk to Boggel for a whole week. She said he should have done more, said more, showed more of his real feelings – and maybe she’s right. But Gertruida sought him out, one evening after Smartryk, Dreyer, Mary and the forensic team had left to complete the formalities surrounding the aircraft’s crash and Brutus’s death in Upington.

***

“Are you okay, Boggel?” The concern in Gertruida’s question is unmistakable.

“I suppose.” Boggel played with the Voortrekker Monument sugar bowl on the counter, absently thinking that he must fill it up with peanuts again. “C’est la vie. Mary needed more than I could give.”

“No, Boggel, she’d have given you less than you needed. Rolbos is too small for her, my friend.” Gertruida nods her thanks when he pushes a beer over the counter. “You see, when you upset a pail of water, you can’t dry the floor with a small sponge. You need a large rag to absorb all the moisture. It’s like that with Mary. No matter how much you love her, she needs to disappear in a larger society. Over here in Rolbos, she’d have a label – The Good Girl Gone Bad. Oh, we won’t think about her like that consciously, not at all. But the stigma will remain in her own mind and it’ll eat away at her very core. But, in a different place, amongst new friends and people, she can start all over again. That’s what she needs and that’s what Smartryk can supply.

“Add to that the spark between them – we were all aware of it, weren’t we? It is only right for them to explore the promise of a relationship. If it works…well, good for them. If it doesn’t, she’ll come back. You, Boggel, have given her a chance. It’s up to her – and Smartryk – to make it work.

“We all have a you, Boggel, but only a few end up with that person. Sometimes that ‘you’ will forever remain beyond your grasp…and that may very well remain the most beautiful love story of your life.”

Boggel is no fool. He knows Gertruida is trying to cheer him up. He also knows that it would have been wrong to force Mary to stay. So he nods his agreement, telling Gertruida that she’s very wise and that he appreciates her concern. Later, after she leaves, he locks up his bar.

Then he sits down on his cushion below the counter to rub Vrede’s back. The dogs stirs in his sleep, opens a lazy eye, and thumps his tail on the wooden floor.

“Ja, Vrede. Love…” Vrede settles his head on Boggel’s lap, understanding every word. “I think the best love stories have no ending. Saying ‘I love you‘ seems so easy…The ‘love’ part isn’t the problem: finding the right ‘you’, is. At least I have…you.” He smiles wryly at the play of words as he pats the faithful dog’s head. “Damn it all, Vrede, why can’t the chapters of that book be written in plain language? If only I could read the words…”

Thump! Thump! Thumpity…Thump...

The End…

Everybody has a You (#14)

Credit: nationalgeographic.com

Credit: nationalgeographic.com

Mary Mitchell swallows hard before being able to continue her story. To bare her soul before the group in the bar is the hardest thing she’s ever done…and yet it seems the most natural thing to do. Here, in Rolbos, honesty lives at a lower level of society – in fact, it is the foundation these people build on. Unlike life in the cities where she has lived – where you create an image, a mirage, of the you, you want people to see – the Rolbossers care about the real you, the you hiding behind the facade. And somehow it’s so right, so proper to grant them the honesty they deserve – even if it meant their scorn and disapproval in the end. That, at least, would be real, too.

“One pill! One, lousy, stupid pill…and I was hooked. When I woke up that Sunday morning, I had no idea what happened. Brutus laughed at that, told me I simply dozed off – but I knew that wasn’t true. I had bruises and aches…my body told me something horrible had happened. We had a fight then, Brutus and I, and I dressed and stormed out. I finally found my little flat and slept for the rest of the day. The next morning – Monday – I tried to do my job at Dr Hartslief’s, but I was jittery. Couldn’t concentrate. Made mistakes with the bookings.

“I asked for the week off and went home. And there I….I knew I had to return to Brutus. I had to get something to make me feel better. I had to talk to him.  Oh! I told myself a thousand reasons why I should go back to that horrible man, but the real reason was this craving…the desperate need…for release. Something inside me wanted another of those pills. Just one – because the one thing I remembered about that Saturday night, was that I felt good about myself. Whatever happened after I had passed out didn’t matter so much. I wanted that feeling again..

“Brutus was waiting for me. Can you believe the nerve? And he was sooo friendly and nice again, asking me how I felt and whether I was all right and so on. And I…I hated myself, despised myself…but I begged him for another pill.

“I won’t bore you with details. Those pills gave me the strength to go on. After the third one, I didn’t pass out anymore. I felt good and strong and righteous. I could return to work and get things done. At night Brutus would entertain me in his penthouse, we’d have some pills – I knew then that it was Ecstasy – and later he had…friends…come over. Just to liven things up, Brutus said. The things we did…”

Of all the people in the bar, only Gertruida has a very good idea of what Mary was telling them. Reading between the lines is one of her gifts, and she feels an icy hand squeezing at her heart as the story unfolds. The poor, poor woman….

“He – that’s Brutus – had this irregular heartbeat. I only learnt later that Dr Hartslief was his cardiologist and that was  where he first saw me. I was one of the receptionists, see? Brutus told me one night that, when he saw me there for the first time, he knew we’d be ‘doing business together’, as he put it. The following day I peeked in his file, and saw that Dr Hartslief diagnosed an irregular rhythm due to cocaine use. That’s when I realised how deep in trouble I was…

“Things went seriously wrong after that. I had to have more and more of the Ecstasy. Brutus said it wasn’t a free ride, I had to help him. I…I was beyond caring. Sure, I said, anything. That’s when the real parties started.”

Brutus explained that he had some very influential friends he had to entertain: government ministers, senior police officers, politicians.

“At that stage I couldn’t care anymore. I didn’t even resign my job – I just stopped going to work. At night I was the plaything for these important men and for my…services…I was paid handsomely…and got pills. My mind went into a shut-down mode – I simply stopped thinking. And, as I started needing more and more pills, Brutus demanded more and more of me. I…” Mary lifts her chin, defying the group to say anything. “I slept with them all. I can name them, those important men, all of them. You think your ministers are upright citizens? Bah! If I told you what happened in that penthouse, you’d be nauseated…”

“Come, dear, sit down.” Gertruida leads the distraught woman to a chair. “Servaas, bring a glass of water. Oudoom, stop looking so pious and holy. Go fetch a blanket. Can’t you see she’s shivering? And you, Vetfaan? You can light the fire in the hearth. It’s getting chilly outside.”

Outside, night has indeed settled over the barren wastes of the Kalahari, followed – as usual – by the chill the darkness always brings. Still, the cold inside the bar isn’t just due to the temperature dropping outside – it was more – much more – than that. Everybody in the bar experienced the fear, the loathing, the horror of the story Mary has been telling them. And they knew: there wasn’t a fire big enough to fight off the chill that reality brought to the humble village of Rolbos that night.

“And that’s what you knew and what Brutus tried to silence?”

Mary ignores Sersant Dreyer’s question.

“So I went to those places quite willingly, knowing exactly what the score was. I also knew that Brutus would kill me if I didn’t cooperate or if I breathed a word about his activities. When they apprehended me in Rio, I was almost relieved.

251005_det“Prison? It was hell. It was also a blessing. They don’t dish out drugs in prison. Not at all. I had to go cold turkey – suddenly and terribly so. I went through it all – the sweats, the nausea, the cramps – everything. It was the purest form of hell imaginable. But somehow I made it. The other inmates were convinced that I was mad – and maybe I was, for a time. Over the weeks and months the cravings became less and less, and I started feeling human again. I changed from a jabbering idiot into a model prisoner, teaching the other women things I know, like crocheting and knitting and such. I even started a choir and taught them some Afrikaans songs!” For the first time this evening, Mary manages a real smile. “I think my conduct contributed to my early release. The mad witch became Pollyanna.”

It is quite possible that only Gertruida connected the dots to understand that Mary refers to Eleanor Potter’s story, but the group is so involved in Mary’s tale that she doesn’t interrupt.

“And that’s why Brutus came here. During my ‘introduction stage’, when I was plied with Ecstasy, Brutus wanted to know everything about me. At the time I thought he was genuinely interested in me, but of course he was doing a background check. When he learnt that I had no family, no close friends and no attachments, he must have been overjoyed. But the one name that cropped up all too often, was your’s, Boggel.” A soft sob ends the sentence.

***

Gertruida escorts the crying Mary back to Precilla’s bungalow behind the little pharmacy. After Mary’s telling of her life with Brutus and the drugs, Mary is exhausted, empty, drained of all emotion except for the incredible sadness that now has settled in her mind. What she now needs, Gertruida knows, is silence – and time to accept that finally her secrets are shared and the burden of guilt has shifted somewhat. She says a silent prayer that Mary will now accept her past, forgive herself and move on.

What Gertruida doesn’t understand, is the way Boggel – and even Smartryk – kept their distance during the time Mary was telling them everything she had lived through. She did, however, notice the two men exchanging glances and worried looks. And that Sersant Dreyer! Towards the end of Mary’s confession, he had the gall to get up and leave the bar! So, so unkind! Shaking her head at the men’s lack of insight, she puts on the kettle. A  cup of tea before putting Mary to bed is a good idea.

She looks up, startled, when there is a knock at the door.

“Mary? I have to talk to you.” It’s a man’s voice, muffled by the closed door. Not sure who it might be, Gertruida reaches for the door handle…

Everybody has a You (#13)

Ecstacy pills

Ecstacy pills

Neither Smartryk nor Boggel remebers much about the trip back to Rolbos. Smartryk, after the dose of painkillers and a herbal tea from Dawid Loper – and Boggel due to sheer fatigue – dozed, slept and rested during the long ride home. Sersant Dreyer took them on a detour to pick op Kleinpiet’s bakkie, which they refuelled. Then, with Dawid acting as guide, they drove through the night. When at last they stopped in front of Boggel’s Place, it was difficult to distinguish between the injured and the rest – they were all completely exhausted.

Gertruida got hold of Oudok, who examined the two men. Boggel – he said – only needed rest and liquids. Smartryk surprised the old doctor: when the bandages were removed, the wound was well on it’s way to complete healing. Dawid Loper nodded happily: it was exactly what he expected.

Now, after a good nights rest, the townsfolk gather in the shade of Boggel’s verandah, with Servaas doing duty as barman. They wait until noon before they send Kleinpiet to see how the patients are doing…

***

However, Bioggel and Smartryk have been awake since dawn. They shared Gertruida’s spare room, where she accommodated them in style – or whatever would pass as such in Rolbos. Two mattresses on the floor, clean linen and a huge jug of orange juice far surpassed their needs for the night. When dawn streaked the eastern sky with orange and red, Gertruida started serving strong, sweet tea, a huge platter with scrambled eggs and bacon and followed that with a Thermos filled with the strongest coffee possible.

What more could a man ask?

“Boggel?” Smartryk burped softly after finishing his breakfast. “We have to talk…”

“About Mary?”

“Yes…”

And talked they did. About Mary, about life…and about love. Smartryk described the strange emotion he discovered after meeting and spending time with Mary. He talked about serendipity, coincidence, chance and divine intervention. “Boggel, for all my life I knew there had to be more. And now…well, now I think I’ve found it.”

But, Smartryk said, he also understood that Mary came to Rolbos to see Boggel. He had been the compass that directed her journey back to her roots and to the Kalahari. And he, Smartryk, understood now why Mary had such a deep-rooted respect for the hunchbacked barman. “You saved her life…again, Boggel. You were prepared to perish in the wilderness to save Mary. I know of no other man that would have led Brutus into the desert like you did, knowing that his death would allow Mary to live. And that, Boggel, tells me her trust in you is not only justified, it runs far deeper than even she would admit.”

Boggel waited and listened patiently. Although he had a very good idea where all this was leading up to, he allowed Smartryk the opportunity to transform his deepest feeling from thoughts to words. This is, of course, something that is often required from barmen all over the world, and Boggel has plenty experience of this. Smartryk rambled, lost track, stumbled, gathered his wits time and again and eventually fell silent.

“Okay.” Boggel finished the last of the coffee with a sigh. “You think you love Mary. And you want my blessing.” He waited for Smartryk to nod before going on. “Well, it’s not up to me, Smartryk. It’s up to Mary. She’s the one to choose which which horse she wants to saddle up. I’d suggest you talk to her, not to me.”

***

One of the most important lessons in Barman 101 concerns the requirement to listen to problems and then to offer simple advice. For this, you don’t need an IQ of more than 160 at all. No sir. Most problems dispensers of drinks are faced with, involve the intricate and complicated relationships between men and women – and lately even the gender-tag has faded away, so that one may safely condense that statement to simply refer to ‘relationships’.

Boggel’s remark – about Mary having the last say – must therefore not be seen as abundantly chivalrous or altruistic, not at all. After all, does the nearness of Mary not cause his heart to skip a beat, and does something not melt inside his heart whenever he looks at her? But, like he sometimes has to tell a teary customer: you cannot force Love. If Love is meant to be, it’ll find a way. There is no force known to man that will stamp out the glowing embers of affection once that fire starts blazing, bringing light to the darkness we call loneliness.

Some may think that Boggel’s handling of Smartryk’s declaration of intent was short-sighted and stupid. Others – more wise and bearing the scars to prove it – will understand the depth of his wisdom when he encouraged Smartryk to follow his heart. It’s the old story about setting Love free to fly…and then waiting patiently to see if it returns to the safety of its origin.

***

It’s late afternoon when the two patients sit down in Boggel’s Place. The rest of Rolbos is there to welcome them with a hearty dose of peach brandy – which, for once, doesn’t have to be smallowed with one grimacing gulp. The talk – of course – is about the last few day’s adventure. Smartryk reminds them that he still has to complete his report on the Cessna’s crash.

“That’s easy, Smartryk. You attribute the accident to pilot error. Then Sersant Dreyer adds his statement that the unknown pilot seems to have disappeared. Yes, his tracks led to Kleinpiet’s farm and yes, he apparently stole a vehicle. The said vehicle was found in the desert after an exhaustive search, but the exact whereabouts of the pilot is still uncertain at this point in time…”

“Ja, he could be in heaven…or in hell. Who knows?” Vetfaan is on his fourth drink and seems to think he’s just made an extremely funny remark. The rest of the patrons ignore him.

“I have something to say.” Mary’s voice – soft and uncertain – makes them all turn to her. “I…I must confess, I suppose.”

“About what, Mary?” Smartryk puts his hand on her shoulder, concern written over his face.

“I… Oh hell! How do I do this?” Mary shakes off the hand, gets up, and walks to the door. There, framed by the doorway, she turns to address them.

“I’ve only told you half the story…I’m sorry. You see, this is all my fault. Yes, I wanted to see Boggel, and yes, I wanted to hide here and hope to start a new life. But, you see…” She stifles a sob, squares her shoulders. “I wasn’t the naive courier I made out to be. That trip was my third, not my first. Once I went to Hong Kong, and once to Bangkok. Every time the same – documents and cash.

“Did I love Brutus? The answer is an emphatic ‘No!’. But….when I met him, my life was in shambles. I did work at Dr Hartslief, the cardiologist, that’s true. But that was during the daytime. At night…I went to clubs. It was my way of escaping from the small flat I rented. I so desperately wanted company, but in a big city you can live between hordes of people, and still be lonely. It’s not like here…

“Anyway, one night some guy got fresh with me. I had a few drinks too many, and didn’t see it coming. Then, suddenly, the man started steering me to the door, saying we must go to his place. I didn’t want to go. The man insisted. And then Brutus stepped in and told the guy to bugger off. That’s how we met.” She shakes her head. “Swallowed by my own stupidity… It had all been a setup! Brutus was always on the lookout for lonely girls like me – and he had this way of picking them up, see? He gets one of his men to harass the girl, then he steps in as the hero. Anyway, how was I to know? So one thing led to the other and we ended up drinking far too much. He was good, I’ll give him that. At the end of the evening I thought he was the nicest man I’ve ever met.

b98f4057-a575-4ef5-99a2-6ebbd7bf1790“We started seeing each other. That Saturday evening we had dinner and then he took me to his penthouse in the Waterfront. His place blew me away! I’ve never seen so much opulence in my life! The carpets! The furniture! It was like a dream come true…” She sighs, remembering her wide-eyed wonder. “He offered me a pill after we had a few drinks. I remember it was white, with a dove imprinted on it. Said it was something innocent to prevent a hangover. Said he took it all the time, himself. And I…I didn’t want to look as if I didn’t trust him. I really wanted to believe…

“So I took the pill. And I woke up the next morning and my nightmare started…”

(To be continued…)

Everybody has a You (#12)

randall 002aDespite the dry mouth, the almost unquenchable thirst and still feeling dizzy, Boggel manages to stumble through the events leading up to his friends finding him. He has to pause frequently to sip water from the canteen Sersant Dreyer offers from time to time. Even the wounded Smartryk seems a bit better, sitting next to Precilla. If Boggel noticed them holding hands, he doesn’t remark on it.

He was closing the bar that night, he tells them, when the huge bulk of Brutus was framed in the doorway. The man seemed friendly…but he had a problem. Would Boggel please help him? His aeroplane had developed an uncommon splutter – something the man said he had noticed while on his way to Upington. To err of the safe side, he landed not far from town on an even patch of veld. He thought it’s the carburettor, but needed a specific spanner to get to it. A number 15, he said.

“Well, you all had left and there I was, talking to this guy. I didn’t want to wake anybody and I had just such a spanner in my toolbox. So, naturally, I agreed to help. That’s what we do in these parts, isn’t it? But when we got to the aircraft, the lights went out.”

Boggel says he was near the Cessna when he felt a tremendous blow to the back of his head.  “Must have been that spanner, I think. The next thing I knew, I woke up to the roar of the engine. I was strapped in one of the back seats, and I thought I saw somebody outside, waving.”

“That was me,” Sersant Drayer remarks. I thought I recognised you…”

Boggel nods before continuing. “Yes, that makes sense. Anyway, I took a particularly dim view of the situation, and whacked the pilot a proper one on his head with my fist. He let out a yelp of surprise – must have thought I was still out cold – and turned to belt me back. I must say: if I had known we were in the air at the time, I might have reconsidered my attack. Still, that’s what I did, and that’s what he did. To get to me, he had to let go of the controls, of course, which isn’t a nice thing for a pilot to do.

“But this man – Brutus? He has a nasty temper, as I was to find out later. Or maybe I already found that out when he turned to strike me. Once he gets angry, he retaliates immediately. Not clever, not clever at all. Especially not under those circumstances. He immediately realised his dilemma, of course. When the Cessna slewed to one side, he turned back to the controls, but by then it was too late.

“I suppose one must give the devil his due: he is – was – a great pilot. How he managed to belly-land that Cessna is a pure miracle. I gashed my shoulder during the landing and he banged his head on the control panel – but that was all. We could have…should have been killed.”

Despite Brutus’s injury, he remained a formidable, strong, giant of a man. Boggel tried to escape, but Brutus simply felled him with an almighty blow to the head.

“I had no chance, no idea what was going on, and no way to escape. He pinned me to the ground and told me to take him to the nearest vehicle.” Boggel shoots a guilty glance towards Kleinpiet. “I knew Kleinpiet always leaves the keys in the ignition and that we were somewhere near his homestead. With Brutus frogmarching me along, I had no choice but to lead him there.” He pauses, smiling shyly. “I’m sorry, Kleinpiet.”

“I would have done the same, Boggel. Don’t worry.”

Boggel bobs his head. “Thanks. Anyway, the man said we were going to Upington. He asked directions. And I thought: bugger you, laddie. Whatever you’re up to, I’m certainly not going to help you. And, because it was still quite dark, I had him drive towards the desert. It’s a shortcut, I said. He believed me – must have thought I was sufficiently scared to tell the truth all the time.”

With Boggel promising that they’d reach the tarred road any minute now, Brutus drove on through the desert…until the petrol ran out.

“Man, you should have seen him then! He was beside himself! I told him he should have let me know, and I would have filled up the tank properly, but he didn’t think it was funny. But then, my friends, the tables were turned. He knew I was his only hope to get him back to civilisation. He calmed down and then, ever so friendly-like told me to lead the way. I said no way, not until he told me what this was all about.

“We had a heated debate about that, as you can imagine. But I sat down on the sand, refusing to budge. He ranted and raved, but I knew I had him. He tried to lie initially – and later when I found out that he was a lawyer, I understood why. Still, after while, I told him to tell the truth or be prepared to die in the desert. That made him blanche. He told me not to say such things. Death, he said, is the only thing he was afraid of.”

Boggel shrugs,. The man’s sudden change from being the self-assured aggressor to confessing his fear of mortality shook the small barman. Brutus sank down on the sand next to him, suddenly all friendly and coy.

“He’s a psychopath,” Gertruida says. “Anything to manipulate you. No remorse, no conscience. At first he tried to scare you to do his will, then he swung around, trying to gain your confidence through pity. Typical.”

“Sure. That’s what I thought as well. He started telling me about his irregular heartbeat, his visits to the cardiologist and goodness knows what else. I thought he was mad. Didn’t believe a word he said, even after he told me he needed to get to his pills as soon as possible. That, I thought, was a blatant lie. A big guy like that, dependant of cardiac medication? So I said I was sorry to hear about his troubles, but what was the idea behind him abducting me in the way he did?

“And he said – I remember the words – there is a woman he needed to talk to. What woman, I asked? And he said Mary Mitchell.” Boggel closes his eyes. “The bottom fell out of my world, right then, right there. After a while, I managed to ask why? And he said she knew stuff about him, he’d rather keep to himself. I was the key, he said. If Mary knew I was with him, she’d come immediately.

“That’s when I decided to walk him to death. A man who is prepared to use me as bait to get to Mary,” and here he allows his gaze to rest on her, “must be crazy. I will do no such thing. By then I had serious doubts about his sanity…but no doubt at all about his violent tendencies. No, I thought, let me play along for a while, lead his deeper and deeper into the desert, and get us both completely lost. We had one water bottle – courtesy of Kleinpiet’s pickup – how long can we last?

“So we walked. On and on and on. Eventually – the next day or the next – I lost track of time – we rested under a bush like we so often had to. I woke up to find him gone. You know what? I couldn’t care anymore. I thought – so be it. There was no way he’d get much farther and I wasn’t up to much, either. So I closed my eyes. The next thing I know, you guys buried me and here I am…”

Gertruida fixes the bent little barman with a knowing look. She knows he’s left out a lot. The two days walking under the scorching sun, the freezing nights, the arguments along the way… Typical of Boggel, she thinks, to avoid telling them about the hardships along the way.

“It’s all my fault…” Mary’s eyes brim with tears. “Oh, Boggel, I’m the poison, the bane of your life. I’m so terribly sorry.”

Boggel shrugs. “I would have done the same for Gertruida, or Sersant, or…even for Servaas.” He smiles his lopsided smile again, takes a swig from the bottle, and sighs. “Life is never fair, Mary. You and I were dealt a hand of cards when we were born. Some people get winning hands, some don’t. We have no choice, really. Play with what we have is what we must do.”

“But…” Mary wants to protest, but Smartryk holds up a hand.

“Boggel, you’ve been incredibly brave…and unbelievably lucky. There’s a lot we have to talk about…a lot. But, seeing the sun is burning us all to a crisp, I suggest we prepare to get back to Rolbos. Maybe there, after cleaning up and with something cool to drink, the two of us can have a chat. Man to man…if you know what I mean.”

And Boggel, with the look you find on the face of a sad Basset, finds himself nodding. Yes, that’s what they must do. Mano a mano. He also realises that the hardships of the past days may fade in comparison with what lies ahead.

Everybody has a You (#10)

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????In the strange, inexplicable way time slows down during times of catastrophe, a lot may happen in the shortest little period of time. For instance: in that second after Smartryk was shot, a multitude of actions took place simultaneously; yet it remains difficult to describe – let alone explain -how the hapless group of Rolbossers managed to get it all done in such a short time.

***

Boggel, of course, is the only one not to react. Well ensconced in his unconscious state, he remains exactly where he is – hidden under his heap of wetted sand. The same cannot be said for the rest of the group.

Kleinpiet and Vetfaan recognises the sound of the shot immediately. The instinct (rather than discipline), so rudely formed during their days as army conscripts during the Border War, kicks in immediately as they fling themselves to the ground. Oudoom, bewildered and never having  been under fire before, starts running away from the sound as fast as his ample frames allows movement; while Precilla and Gertruida does the sensible thing to cower down behind the bulky frame of Vetfaan. The overburdened Mary, panicked beyond measure, does an even more sensible thing: she falls down in a dead faint. And Sersant Dreyer? He scrambles for cover behind the police van, like a good policeman should.

Servaas stands rooted to the spot for a microsecond – but galvanises into action when he sees Dawid running. Despite his age, he does a sterling job of catching up with the Bushman. Did he – at that stage – know what he was getting himself into? Probably not. But still, his action will raise a few glasses in the days and months to come: the patrons in Boggel’s Place owe him that, at least..

Dawid’s reaction may be understood if you knew the history of the Bushmen. Centuries of persecution and scorn have driven these men and women into the most inhospitable parts of Africa. They chose to hide here rather than fight against overwhelming odds of civilisation and gunpowder. The sand and the dunes formed their fortress against these formidable enemies of their way of life. Now, as one of the last of the remnants of a once-great culture, Dawid lives in this barren and desolate area, the last refuge available to him and his kin. He’s no coward, though. He’ll face a lion – or a leopard – with dignity: not with the aim of killing such a beast, but to reassure the animal that he, Dawid, respects the animal’s right to hunt where and when it pleases. And, he’ll tell the ignorant westerner, it’s due to this reciprocal respect that man and animal may find the way to peaceful coexistence.

But…being shot at does not in any way fit in with his concepts of respect and coexistence. Being shot at implies the possibility that you may be hurt – killed, even – and that is the most profound form of disrespect shown to any man.  Also bear in mind that he found himself on Zosi Plain – a flat and empty space. There simply isn’t anywhere to hide. So Dawid did what he did, because there wasn’t anything else to do.

With the acute hearing Bushmen have, Dawid not only discerned where the shot came from, but also how far away the shooter should be. And then, instinctively or not, he ran, crouching all the way, straight in that direction, not knowing that Servaas was right behind him.

***

Under different circumstances he would have hesitated when he saw the man holding the pistol. After all, you don’t take on a giant of a man if you only weighed about 50 kg and could barely reach his shoulder. But the man had a gun and Bushmen know all they need to know about guns: they kill. What Brutus Malherbe thought at that stage, will never be known. Most probably he registered surprise or even disbelief at the small man storming at him. He did, however, manage a guffaw – but whether that was due to his natural feeling of superiority or simply an incredulous outing of astonished contempt, we’ll never know. When Dawid dived at him, Brutus stepped aside, caught him by the scruff of his neck and hoisted him high. He needed both hands to do this –  dropping the pistol in the process.

Gertruida later said Brutus had the look of a madman at that moment. He, too, was covered in dried blood – some fresh bleeding was still evident from a long gash over his forehead. With his clothes in no better state than Boggel’s and his skin and face similarly affected by heat and thirst, he seemed completely out of control. While one may speculate about his sanity at that moment, there could be no doubt what he was trying to do: his huge hands were wrapped around the thin neck of his dangling and helpless attacker…

***

Servaas doesn’t think. For a while he might have thought that Dawid was leading him to safety (something he’ll emphatically deny afterwards), but when he sees Brutus and the way he looks at the pathetically squirming man in his grasp, Servaas managed to find another gear to power his aging legs. He lowered his head, and – bull-like – bellowed as he rammed his bald cranium into Brutus’s middle. Or, at least, where he thought Brutus’s middle might be. Suffice to say that a bent-down Servaas might just reach the height of Brutus’s hips – or thereabouts…

Take any man – big or small, old or young – and take a swing at the core of the nuclear power station. Remember the axiom of aiming an unstoppable force at an immovable object? Well, If that force should connect the immovable object right on the male main switch, the power goes off and the lights go out. The circuit blows. Elvis leaves the building. The fat lady sings. It’s simple physics.

True, Servaas was stunned a little by the impact, and Dawid dropped like a sack of corn next to him, but the real damage was done to Brutus while the others – cowering as they did – let out a protracted ‘…ooooooo...!’. Even the astute Gertruida winched.

***

“Quick, Mister Vetfaan, tie him up!” Dawid is the first to recover. He scoops up the pistol and hands it to Sersant Dreyer, who has  left his hiding place behind the police van. The three of them – Dreyer, Vetfaan and Dawid – get busy unlacing the boots of their adversary and tying his huge wrists. A belt suffices for the ankles.

“Help! Somebody please help Ryk. He’s bleeding…” Mary’s anguished cry cuts through the mayhem of the moment. Getruida rushes over, takes a look at Smartryk, and takes a deep breath.

Gertruida doesn’t panic. Well, not usually. Now, however, she feels faint at the sight of so much blood. Gingerly, with trembling hands, she undoes the buttons of the soaked shirt. Then, folding back the flaps of the shirt, she inspects the damage.

“Let’s see…” Her voice is as unsteady as her hands, but she presses on regardless.

A long, cut-like wound courses across Smartryk’s chest. Apparently Smartryk was standing side-on to the shooter and the bullet raced across his chest from right to left, cleaving the skin and flesh open to the bone. In the middle of the wound a severed artery spurts a little fountain of red.

breast_artery_2“It’s the Thoracoacromial,” she announces in a much relieved tone. “One of the arteries to the chest wall.” Applying a delicate thumb to the bleeding artery, she presses down gently. The bleeding stops immediately. “The shock of the bullet hitting the ribs must have caused a faint. See – he’s already moving.” Making soothing noises, she tells Smartryk to lie still.

***

Take a moment here. Forget the tied-up Brutus, the unconscious Boggel and the wounded Smartryk. Push aside thoughts of anger and pity, and don’t – for the moment – worry about how the group is going to get back to civilisation. Most of all, don’t contemplate the delicate situation with Brutus’s heart – remember his cardiac condition? No, ignore all these issues for a moment and consider the turmoil in Mary’s mind.

Look at her now – there where she’s standing motionless on trembling legs, with Brutus a few yards away, Boggel under the damp sand and Smartryk being attended to by Gertruida and Precilla. Scattered around her you see the fragments of her past, her present and – what she hoped for – her future. Yet now it doesn’t make sense, not at all, as her anger at men – all men – boils down to a reduction of white-hot rage. Damn Brutus for causing all this! Damn Boggel for not pursuing their friendship back then, when they had so much time and so much innocence! Damn Smartryk for getting hurt and…and…being so bloody nice, for goodness’ sakes!

Gertruida says all people experience at least short periods of insanity from time to time. It’s quite normal to feel control slipping and then to do something totally irrational: like commenting on a speeding ticket you got a minute ago, or laughing at our president, or falling in love. Some things, she says, just aren’t rational and some actions simply cannot be explained in a logical way.

So, go on, just accept that Mary cannot be held responsible for what she felt and did at that moment. The years and years of struggle, of being abused and misused, of being deceived and disappointed, of hoping and then seeing her dreams shattered… Well, all these emotions burst into an all-consuming blaze in her overloaded mind; white-hot and with an anger so intense that it made her vision shrink to fade out everybody…except for Brutus, who started screaming obscenities at that moment.

Mary Mitchell lost control…maybe that’s the way one should look at it. She rushed over to the tied-up brute of a man who now became the focus of her wrath. In her helpless bitterness, she kicked at Brutus. She kicked hard, venting the years of pent-up resentment in the force of that kick. In the moment before her boot struck the broad chest of Brutus Malherbe, she let out a primeval scream, causing the man to turn his head away from her, as if he saw the madness he had caused in the once-pretty girl. Then, with her face screwed up in a paroxysm of hatred, her heavy boot thudded against the ribs.

And Brutus – the strong, invincible, ruthless, abusive, crooked lawyer – felt his heartbeat skip, take, skip…and stop.

The Rape of Miss Katie Malone (# 2)

outside_view_(copy)Miss Katie Malone hesitates for a moment. She’s just gone through Customs, and isn’t quite sure where to go now. Domestic Departures? Probably…

She has a bit of a start when a soft finger taps her on the shoulder.

“I believe you’re on your way to Upington?”

Katie looks up at the tall individual, noting the smart blue suit, matching tie and the nametag. A. Makoena – Passenger Services. Broad shoulders, brilliant smile. Friendly face.

“Er…yes, I am.”

“I’m sorry, Miss, your flight has been delayed.”

“Oh…” She doesn’t know what to say.”When…when is the flight due now?”

“Technical problems, Miss. Not sure how long it will take. However, if you wish, I can escort you to the VIP lounge, where you can wait. The flight will be announced within the next few hours. I’m sure.”

Katie Malone, new and alone in Africa, used to the way things are done back home, doesn’t suspect a thing. Nodding her thanks, she follows the big man through the departure hall allowing him to carry her heavy suitcase. Wow! And I thought Africa is a wild and scary place…

***

The transition from eager naivety to shocked terror takes place within a matter of seconds. When the man leads her through a side door (It’s a shortcut, Miss, much faster this way) she doesn’t see the shadowy figure behind her. It’s only when the sponge soaked in desflurane is clamped across her nose and mouth by a strong hand, that panic sets in. The pungent smell makes her want to cough, scream, fight back – but her rapidly diminishing consciousness only registers undiluted fear as she feels herself sinking to the floor.

It’s over in a minute. The two men drag her to another door, where a third man helps them bundle her into the back of a minibus.

“Go! Go!” An impatient hand slaps the roof of the vehicle.

Bearing the official Airports Company logo, the minibus passes through the security barrier without the attendant even looking up.

***

“I don’t understand it. She landed in Cape Town, went through Customs…and then  – nothing.” Gertruida puts down the phone with a worried frown. “Maybe she simply got lost…?”

“I don’t believe that. She came from Heathrow, which is infinitely bigger and more complex than Cape Town’s airport. She may be naive, but she’s not stupid. She promised to phone as soon as she landed – and she didn’t…”

“Well, I’ve got them paging for her at the airport now, so maybe we’ll know more soon. We’ll just have to wait.”

***

Waking up is the hardest thing she’s ever done. Her eyelids feel like they weigh a ton while her brain still reels from the overdose of anaesthetic. At first she thought it was night time, but gradually she realised she had to open her eyes to see.

Clothes? Where are her clothes?

Naked…

The horror of the situation dawns slowly as she desperately tries to make sense of her surroundings. Then she remembers the rough hand over her face…the sponge…the foul smell. And then the logic: she’s been kidnapped. Abducted. Taken against her will…

Where? Where is she? Why…what… Oh, God….

“Gee, I’m glad you woke up, Miss.” The voice is as unexpected as her new surroundings. Still, it is a kind voice, a soft voice, a female voice – a voice conveying…kindness? “Now, Miss, don’t you worry. You’re safe for now. Unfortunately, we had to take your clothes away. We don’t want you to think of…going away…shall we say? If you behave yourself, things will improve.”

Katie becomes aware of the cold concrete beneath her.

“What are you doing to me?” The edge of hysteria hovers in her tone as she fights to remain calm. “Why…”

“Don’t ask questions. Anyway, I don’t know answers. I’m a caretaker, that’s all. My job is to see you don’t harm yourself. Are you thirsty?”

“Y-yes…”

“Here.”

She feels rather than sees the glass, takes it gratefully and swallows eagerly. Only afterwards the bitter taste hits her and she gags. Before she can object, the darkness comes swarming back.

***

“This isn’t happening,” Gertruida slams down the phone behind the counter in Boggel’s Place. When it became obvious that Katie Malone wasn’t on any scheduled flight to Upington, they returned to Rolbos to await further developments. “Nobody knows anything. They found a suitcase with her flight number on outside Cape Town, with a few copies of her book inside. The nametag says it belongs to K Malone, which is pretty conclusive. The police say yes, they’ve opened a docket, but it doesn’t seem as if they’re doing much else.”

“Do you think she was…hijacked?”

“Kidnapped, Fanny, kidnapped. I just don’t know why. Is she from a rich family?”

“Not really. The Malones are pretty much middle-of-the-road people – comfortable but not wealthy. And it’s not as if they are politically active or anything like that.”

Mevrou lets out a protracted sigh. “Human trafficking, Gertruida. It’s the world’s number one criminal sport these days. Take a woman, a child, a youth…and sell them to the highest bidder. There’s a lot of money to be made…” 

“What? You can’t be serious!” Kleinpiet  can’t imagine such things happening in modern times.

“Sorry Kleinpiet, she is.” Gertruida adopts her lecture-tone. “On average, very six hours, every day, the police receive a report of a missing child in this country – and almost 60% fall in to the 13 – 18 year age group. That’s 1460 cases per year – but that’s only the official figure. What about youths disappearing from the far-flung rural areas? The most common race group? White.

“When it gets to adults, the figure is more difficult to define. People disappear for all kinds of reasons: some even try to evade tax that way; others have all kinds of personal reasons to drop below the social radar.  I read one report that about 500,000 Americans go missing every year – permanently. Of course, when taking into account that raped women are also abducted, then the abduction/kidnapping situation becomes horrifying.

“And in Europe, 270,000 persons are victims of human trafficking every year – generating an income of 21 billion Pounds for the traffickers. That’s so many zeros, I can’t even begin to think of what it translates to in Rands. Now…add China, Bangkok  Vietnam, and the Arabian countries. Go figure…” She takes a deep breath before continuing.

“In Africa the situation is probably worse. People stay in isolated places with little or no contact with the authorities. When a child doesn’t come home at night, there’s no way of telling whether he’s lost his way, decided to visit the family in the next kraal, decided to run away, been eaten by some beast, struck by a snake…or abducted. Witchdoctors use the bodies of children in their concoctions. Some children are sold simply because the family can’t feed them. There is no way of even guessing what the statistics in Africa are like.”

“Oh for goodness’ sakes!” Vetfaan stares at his empty glass. “This is so bloody depressing! But…what has this got to do with Katie Malone?”

“Work it out, Vetfaan. The woman clears Customs, then doesn’t board her flight. The suitcase they found…. If only the luggage was stolen, she would have contacted us. But no – not a word. I have a bad feeling about this.”

***

The big man stares down at the sleeping body of Miss Katie Malone. She’s no beauty, but the right age and fairly attractive. Dress her up nicely, add some makeup, get the hair done… Yes, she’ll do. 

But first they must re-educate her. Get her into the right frame of mind. Change this miserable woman with her fighting rebellious attitude to a docile, submissive creature. It’ll only be a short while before she’ll be begging to please him.

They’re all the same…

 

Bianca (# 4)

jeansAs usual, the night in Rolbos is a quiet one. With everybody tucked in warmly, it is only Vrede, the town-dog, who notices the shadow move at the end of Voortrekker Weg. Something told him not to bark – whoever it is, is there with evil intent.

You can’t teach an old police dog any new tricks – he knows them all. That’s why Vrede slinks away under the veranda in front of Boggel’s Place, from where he hopes to see what this is all about. As he watches the shadow draw nearer, the light in Servaas’s bathroom suddenly comes on. Vrede knows it’s about time for the old man’s prostate to chase him up, but the shadow doesn’t. When at last Servaas’s house is dark once more, the shadow is gone.

Vrede waits a while, then ambles over to the area where he detected the movement. Faint footprints are visible in the early-morning dew – and there is a scent that lingers. Where did he smell this before?

It’s a deodorant; but since nobody in Rolbos spends money on such luxuries (and they’re not trying to impress each other, either), Vrede has lost his touch with such fineries. He’ll just have to see if he picks it up again in the future.

***

After breakfast, everybody converges on the bar to take a seat. As usual, they’re thirsty but today they hope that Bianca will continue with her story. She arrives last, looking rather tired. Even the white tank top, tight red jeans, heels and sunglasses can’t dispel the feeling that she looks exhausted.

“Didn’t you sleep well?” Servaas gets up to pull out a chair.

“On and off. New bed. New room. Couldn’t really settle down.”

“I was up, too, last night,” Servaas says truthfully. Gertruida snorts. Of course he was. He has to, every night…

Boggel pushes one of his special coffees over the counter, using the move to take a peek at the top. Sighing happily, he returns to his crate.

“Want to go on with your story?” Even Kleinpiet is curious.

Bianca sips her coffee, smiles and tells Boggel it’s very good. He beams back at her, feeling how he blushes when she meets his eye.

“Oh, where was I…?”

***

2While she was with Tiny, she had a wonderful time. The giant of a man was putty in her hands and she respected him for being there for her. In a strange way, he reminded her of her father – before he started drinking. And although Tiny kept on using steroids, he never touched alcohol or any other drugs. It was 1987 and Bianca turned twenty-one in one of the grandest parties ever held in the old Malibu Hotel. Everybody who was anybody in the organisation, the right-wing or involved with the illegal purchasing of arms for the embargoed South Africa government, was there.

“Tiny really wanted the boys to see me and to envy him. At that stage he was forty-two. He also wanted to announce our engagement that night. Halfway through the evening, the police pounced.”

At that stage the National Party knew the writing was on the wall. The war on the borders could not continue and the international pressure on Pretoria was immense. The country was basically being run by the generals of the police and army – and it were them that decided to clamp down on Tiny’s organisation. Not only would that stem the inflow of illegal weapons into the country (which ended up all to frequently with the ANC’s armed wing, MK), but it would also show the world that South Africa is determined to get rid of radical movements that aimed to destabilise the country. Tiny and his colleagues, who so often helped Pretoria procure weapons, were sacrificed for the greater good of the country. Smoke and mirrors…

Bianca escaped. The police had no evidence against her and allowed her to slip out while the arrests were made.

“Look,” a uniformed man with a lot of stars on his epaulettes said, “get out. You’re innocent, we know that. We’ll be in contact later. Stay in the flat and wait there.”

Bianca sighs. “I was scared. I was young. I did what I was told.”

“So what happened?” Gertruida, with her background in National Intelligence, detects something ominous here – something she’d rather not recognise.

“That night the same man came to the flat. I almost didn’t recognise him in jeans and a T-shirt. He told me I was in big trouble: they could implicate me in trafficking in drugs and arms, that I was an accessory and that I withheld strategic information from the government.

“I think I tried crying again, but it didn’t help. He said I was in too deep to back out. But, he said, there was a way out.”

It seemed too simple to be true. There was a company, the man said, that operated out of Walvis Bay. The South West African Import and Export Company. They handled exports of timber – teak and such – to the East. This necessitated a lot of negotiations, especially with men from Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, Japan and China. They needed a young lady who knew how to handle men, to act as an ‘interpreter’. Actually, linguistic skills had nothing to do with it.  It was about keeping these foreigners comfortable and happy.

“We need a companion for these visitors, you see. Somebody who knows how to handle tough men. Somebody like you…”

“What could I do? Tiny was in jail and I had no-one to turn to. And here the man was offering me a job – and an extremely generous salary. He said I had to say, there and then, whether they must take me in to custody, or I accept the job.

“So I did. I went to Walvis Bay, worked for the company. I met Charles there. Charles Petersen. We got married. It went sour. I divorced the man, and now I am here. The end.”

Gertruida sits back with that look. Boggel knows that look, he’s seen it before. It says: ‘ you’re lying‘.

“There’s more.” Gertruida says it with a finality that brooks no argument.

“That’s all.” Bianca’s tone is final. “That’s what happened. That’s why I am here. Now – stop prying for goodness’ sakes! I’m not feeling well.” Getting up, she thanks Boggel, gives Servaas a hug, and walks out.

The group in the bar shares a stunned silence. Gertruida shakes her head:

“After the elaborate story, stretching from the middle sixties to the end of the eighties she suddenly leaves a blank of more than twenty years? It doesn’t make sense.”

,Bianca ended it so unexpectedly, so suddenly, that they all agree with Gertruida. There should have been more. 

The day peters out in aimless conversation. No-one, with the possible exception of Gertruida, has the faintest idea of what happened in Walvis Bay – and even she doesn’t scratch the surface.

“This woman is dangerous,” Gertruida repeats herself, “and we have to be careful. Mark my words: this story is far from finished. I won’t be surprised if we get visitors – she’s on the run from something. And if I’m even vaguely right: we have no idea what she’s landed us in. Keep your eyes peeled, guys, keep them peeled.”

When they ask her to explain, the men agree to watch the road from Grootdrink…very carefully. “It’s the connection with that import and export company that worries me. I have to go and check that up…it rings an ominous bell somewhere in my head.”

She returns a half and hour later – and that’s when they draw up a roster to keep watch over the town. Gertruida’s news upset them all…

Servaas  tells them all to relax: she just a woman with a troubled past. All she needs now is kindness and understanding. Gertruida, he says with a tremor of doubt n his voice, is overreacting… Still, when it’s his turn to be on the lookout, he sits down on Boggel’s veranda. It’s one o’clock in the morning. Vrede sleeps at his feet. And the safety catch on the shotgun is in the ‘off’ position. . .

Boggel’s Moon (# 7)

images (4)Mary Mitchell reaches for the handle just when Boggel opens the door. For a moment they stand frozen – just like everybody trying to look normal in Voortrekker Weg. The town is completely silent,; except for the thump-thump-thump of Vrede’s tail on the wooden floor, behind the counter. 

Boggel croaks out a Hello Mary, aims to hug her, thinks again, stands back and extends his hand.

“You’ve changed,” she says, pulling at her dress.

“Ja. My hair…” He runs a nervous hand over the bald spot at the back of his head. “And I got wrinkles.” He’s embarrassed – he had hoped for a more romantic greeting.

“It’s not that. You’re…you’re different.”

“I’m sorry.” What else can he say?

“No, not like that.” She reaches out and they shake hands like strangers. “It’s your eyes…they’re so sad.”

“Come on in,” Boggel glances at the way the townsfolk try to look normal out there on the street, and smiles despite his discomfort, “you’re being spied on by the entire population.”

The distance between the door and the little table Boggel has arranged next to the counter, is only a few yards. It feels like ages before they sit down.

“Thank you.” Boggel manages relatively normally. He can see she’s changed, too. The pig-tailed schoolgirl has matured into near-middle-age. The lines next to her lips tell a story of hardship end determination. And there are a few grey strands, aren’t there? He can’t be sure. “For coming here, I mean.” 

“That’s okay, Boggel. Gertruida can be extremely persistent.”

“I know.” He sighs; this is so uncomfortable. “Would you like something to drink?”

Both of them remain silent while he filters the coffee. “Amarula?,” he asks over his shoulder.

“Boggel,” the uncertainty in her voice is unmistakable, “I’m not sure I’m doing the right thing right now. I mean, we were forced into this meeting. If you really wanted to see me again, you could have phoned yourself. So I don’t know…”

He sets the mugs on the table and holds up a silencing finger.

“Yes, I know that.” He pauses, searching for the right words. “You now, Mary, some people drift in and out of your life, and that’s how it is. Some stick – for various reasons. Now you – you – have been part of my life since forever, it seems. And somehow, it’ll remain like that for as long as I live.”

She takes a tentative sip and nods her appreciation.

“Then why, Boggel, didn’t you contact me?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Many reasons, I suppose. You have your life, I have mine. And after the band and the convent, I wasn’t sure whether contacting you was a good idea. I…I sort of thought it’d be better to leave you to be your own woman. And you did well, I hear, with the record company and such.”

For a minute or so, they sip the coffee, each lost in own thoughts.

Yes, she thinks, she can understand that. She’s taken a few tumbles in life and she’s definitely not the same woman she used to be. If only she hadn’t run off with the band that time! It messed up her life completely, what with the drugs and the unbridled lifestyle she enjoyed for the while it lasted. Or at least, she thought she enjoyed it. Now it’s a black mark on her personality, a time she wishes she could erase. Her shame and her guilt forced her into the convent, where Mother Superior made sure she realised what a worthless, sinful woman she was. Oh, she tried escaping all that when she left the convent and buried herself in her business. She’s been running, running, all her life.

On his side of the table, Boggel entertains a similar line of thought. The time in the orphanage was tough, and it left scars. And then, then he was the one who murdered her father! He shudders at the thought. 

“Life’s been cruel, Mary. To both of us. We had the wrong start, that’s all. I suppose we’ll never outlive those memories, will we? We’re two broken people. At least we have that in common.” He smiles wryly at his attempt to get the conversation going; it’s patently obvious they’re getting nowhere fast.

She stares at her empty mug for a while. This is so…awkward! She takes a deep breath…

“Boggel, I-I’d like us to start over. I’ll go out, knock on the door, and you open it. Let’s see if that doesn’t make a difference.”

She waits for what seems to be eternity before Boggel nods slowly. “Yes, let’s do that.”

And that’s what they do. Boggel meets her at the door with a hug and a peck on the cheek. He tells her she’s looking beautiful. She blushes, remarking something about the wonders of cosmetics…and she’s glad to see him again. They sit down once more. This time, she takes the initiative.

“Boggel, my life has been a mess. I’m lonely and depressed. I make coffee for one person at a time. Will you be my friend?”

And he laughs, saying much the same is happening in his own life. Yes, let’s be friends, he says, he’d like nothing better.

When at last the townsfolk trickle in at dusk, they find the two in deep conversation. Boggel is talking about letting go of the past, while she’s going on about embracing the future.

Gertruida lets out a long, drawn-out sigh.

“I knew it,” she says.

For once, nobody believes her.

“Because I’m feeling alive
and I’m feeling whole
I feel like I’m loosing
control

I’ve been trying to resist
this silly thing
Im heading straigt for a fall
to somewhere beautiful”

Luna Paige is going to perform in  the Netherlands soon. Go. You won’t be sorry.