Tag Archives: addiction

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…

Ouboet’s Silence

“The Springboks lost again,” Kleinpiet is so upset; he’s not even drawing a picture on the counter today. “At half-time I thought we had them. Then, for some strange reason, we allowed them to beat us. It’s not that they won the game – we lost it. And of course, that Haka. Pure witchcraft, if you ask me.”

“Let it rest, Kleinpiet. We’re not going to change history. Anyway, we’ve got more important things to worry about.” Vetfaan wants to add that, being a previous flanker for Prieska’s first team doesn’t qualify you to judge international standards; but Kleinpiet’s mood would most probably not see the humour in that.

Ever since Servaas, old Marco and Martha returned from Italy, they had a lot to talk about, anyway. The story of Roberto had to be told and retold, until the townsfolk could actually see and hear the Ming vase as it broke on Roberto’s skull. Then Servaas would have to wait every time for the whoops and the applause to die down before he could demonstrate his tying-up technique on some hapless volunteer. It’s been years since they had so much good, clean fun in Boggel’s Place.

But there is another – more serious – situation to consider in Rolbos at present. Martha is here. Without her cocaine; she’s not doing very well. Servaas has put her up in the small spare room in his house (she refused to go anywhere else), and her tantrums cause a lot of discussions.

Gertruida knows all about addiction. “To stop cold turkey isn’t the way to do it.” Vetfaan says cold turkey can never match a good steak, causing Gertruida to roll her eyes and explain. “…so a sudden stop in the usage of these drugs cause the brain to malfunction. You get depression, aggression, bouts of complete insanity, insomnia, lack of appetite and even down-right criminal behaviour. Over and above that, such a person may have bowel abnormalities, become suicidal and irrational. This young lady is in a lot of trouble, and we have to do something about it.”

“Well. Oudoom is doing his best. He visits her twice a day. I never knew the old man had so much compassion – he’ll sit for hours, just talking to her. She’s always a bit calmer when he leaves.” Precilla has read up on addiction, as well. “I’ve given her a mild sedative, but that’s not going to do the trick. She needs lots of positive support, a healthy diet and some exercise. Servaas has taken to accompanying her on long walks, which is good. However, we must do more to get her physically fit.”

“Well, don’t look at me,” old Marco says, nudging Boggel. “The two of us won’t be much good if we tried to jog or do stuff like that. You need somebody with strong legs and a straight back for that.”

“Platnees!” Vetfaan is the one who grasps the solution. “We must get Platnees to run with her. Oh, boy, she’s in for it!”

***

Platnees listened, agreed to help, but said he wasn’t the man they needed.

“No. I know the man who’ll fix Miss Martha. He stays out in the desert and it’ll take me a few days to find him; but he’s the one. Nobody else.”

For four days the inhabitants of Rolbos scan the horizon for any sign of Platnees. Martha isn’t doing well. She has attacks of rage, followed by intense remorse. Oudoom’s visits – three a day, now – also seem to be less effective.

When at last Platnees arrives with the promised help, even Gertruida can’t believe her eyes. Ouboet Geel isn’t exactly what they expected. Sure: the man is a sinewy character with an engaging smile, but he is old and withered.

“He’s your runner?” Vetfaan asks incredulously.

“Yes, a little. But he’s also a fixer. He knows how things work. He can fix things that are wrong.”

“Listen, Platnees, this man knows nothing about cocaine. Out there in the desert he’d have had no clue what this type of addiction may involve. How can he hope to help?” Gertruida has joined the circle of people who’ve gathered around the old man. Loin-clothed, grey and toothless, Ouboet doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. “Does he even understand Afrikaans? Or English? Or Italian, for that matter?”

“No. He talks the language of the San, which I understand. But he says talking isn’t good. It is silence that heals the mind, not words. He says the Missy must go with him, and he’ll help her. He also says this thing in Miss Martha’s mind is not a sickness. It’s a demon. He knows demons.”

The strangled scream from Servaas’ cottage interrupts the conversation. It has become necessary to lock Martha in the room to prevent her from breaking any more crockery – something Martha has become very good at. Ouboet Geel turns his head, like a predator would, sniffing the air. He turns to Platnees to address him in the strange language of clicks and guttural sounds.

“Ouboet says he knows that demon. It is a bad one, he says. She must go with him, that’s the only way.”

Boggel’s Place has seen many an argument over the years. Some of them were serious, some not – but none compares to this discussion. How can they trust this old man with Martha? But how else can they help her anyway? This old man isn’t a doctor or a therapist, what does he know? That may be true, but supposing he has the ability – should they not give Martha the chance?

“There’s only one way to find out.” Gertruida, of course. “If the old man wants to take her into the desert, we can only allow that if we know she’s safe. So…let him take her. And we’ll select one of you guys to follow them. If she’s in danger, or the old man does anything untoward, then you bring her back. How about it?”

***

“Okay, Platnees, you can tell Ouboet we agree. He can take Martha, and when he returns with her all sober and cleaned up, we’ll give him two sheep. Is that okay with him?”

Platnees translates. Ouboet claps his hands in appreciation.

“Now, we’ll have to explain to Martha what is happening. Tell Ouboet to wait here, we’ll be back with Martha and some supplies, clothes and water.” Vetfaan turns to go while Platnees translates. Halfway to Servaas’ cottage, Oubout overtakes him, stops and shakes his head.

“He says this is no place for you. It is his job. He’ll do it.” Platnees seems a bit unsure, but Ouboet fixes him with a smiling stare. “Just give him a chance, Mister Vetfaan?”

They watch as Ouboet Geel walks to the cottage, opens the door and disappears inside.

“Did you tell him where she is, Platnees?”

Platnees shakes his head. You don’t explain things to Ouboet

The screaming from inside the house reaches a crescendo and then dies down to a whimper. Servaas and the rest of the townsfolk watch through the window as Ouboet sits down in front of the locked door. He doesn’t say anything. He just sits there.

“What’s he doing?”   Kleinpiet asks the question on everybody’s mind.

“Only Ouboet knows, Mister Kleinpiet. Only him.”

***

With nothing happening inside the cottage, the villagers retire to Boggel’s to reflect and down a few beers. Two hours later, they see the withered old man walking from Servaas’ cottage, leading Martha by the hand.

“She’ s got nothing with her. No extra clothing. Not a brush. And she looks terrible – her dress is a mess and she’s torn her blouse. Platnees! Tell Ouboet to stop. We’ll fix her up a bit, first.”

But Platnees holds up a hand, saying one mustn’t interfere with Ouboet when he’s working. Ouboet, he says, knows what he is doing.

Pete, the fittest of the Rolbossers, grabs his water bottle. He’s agreed to be the one that follows Ouboet and Martha into the desert and he doesn’t want to give them too much of a head start. With the sun already racing to the western horizon, he can’t afford to lose sight of them.

***

“They walked to the other side of Bokkop, there where the patch of thorn bushes is. He made her sit down, and he sang something while he made a fire. She seemed calm. Then he threw something into the fire, causing a billowing cloud of smoke. When  that cleared, they were gone.” Pete seems dazed when he returns to Boggel’s Place two hours later. He tells them how he searched for footprints, even after it became dark and he had to use his torch. “It’s as if they disappeared into thin air. Poof! Just like that.”

“Ouboet does that thing, sometimes. If you follow him, he’ll disappear. But don’t worry, Mister Pete, Ouboet is a man of his word. He said three days. Three days. Then he’ll be back. Now we must wait.”

The three days is a period of intense debate. Vetfaan and Kleinpiet had a look at the place where Ouboet made the fire – and found only Pete’s footprints next to the ashes. Servaas is too distraught to participate in the discussions; the Verdana’s suggest a posse to scour the desert; Sersant Dreyer does wide-ranging patrols in his Land Rover; Precilla has that I-told-you-so expression and Gertruida reads up on the ways and actions of shamans.

“He’ll be back, you’ll see,” Platnees tells the men at the bar. “Ouboet will come back.”

And Ouboet does, on day three, as he promised. The first thing the townsfolk notice is the frail column of smoke on the other side of Bokkop. Platnees sees it initially, points it out and says it’s a sign. They must go there, go there now, because Ouboet will be waiting…

***

They find Martha next to the little fire. She seems…different. Servaas can’t help himself: he storms ahead to embrace the girl, telling her how much he was worried about her.

“Are you okay? Are you…well?”

She looks into the concerned eyes of the old man and laughs. Not an ugly laugh, you understand, a tinkling laugh of joy. “Oh, yes, Servaas! I’ve never felt so good in my life.” Then, momentarily, she looks confused. “But…but what am I doing here? And why is everybody looking at me like that?”

And it is true. They all stare at the woman who ranted and raved only three days ago. Now she is smiling; a radiant picture of health.

Servaas tries to explain. Vetfaan tells her about her withdrawal and how they didn’t know what to do. Kleinpiet chips in, asking about Ouboet. Precilla asks who washed her dress and fixed her blouse. Gertruida wants to know who did her hair so beautifully. Oudoom shakes his head.

It’s only Platnees who separates himself from the group to sit down on the sand with a satisfied smile spreading across his face. Yes, Ouboet did it again. You have a problem – a mind problem (or a demon-problem, as Ouboet calls it) – he’s your man. There are shrubs out there in the desert. Shrubs and herbs and …silence. Ouboet always says that silence can fix most things; you must just learn to listen to what it tells you. The white people won’t understand; they think they are too modern to believe in such things. Maybe, one day, they’ll realise the healing power of the whispers you only hear in silence out there in the desert.

And oh, yes, Mister Vetfaan can go and count his sheep. There’ll be two missing…