Tag Archives: inspiration

The Charmer, Vetfaan’s Gout and Immortality

Paul_Désiré_Trouillebert,_The_Nude_Snake_Charmer.jpg

Paul Trouillebert: The naked snake charmer

Whenever Vetfaan is asked about the sexy girl he had met that fateful summer’s day, he blushes, stutters and tells you to mind your own business. Should you persist, a rather unpleasant exchange of a more physical nature is sure to follow.

The problem involves the fact that this waif of a girl – somewhere between mid-thirty and menopause – had the body of an athlete and the ageless wisdom some women seem to possess.

It was a particularly hot day, with heat shimmers rising and warping the scenery of the Kalahari. The distorted surroundings often create a surrealistic symptoms-of-gout-in-the-toe.jpgatmosphere, especially if the traveller is new to the area. Vetfaan, being a born-and-bred son of the region, simply failed to notice the visual impact of the heatwaves. His attention was focussed on the joint where his big toe joined his foot.

Now, anybody who has had some experience with gout, will understand the degree of pain and discomfort poor Vetfaan endured that morning. He had already eaten a handful of black cherries, drank two litres of water, ate three lemons and packed his foot in ice. Nothing helped. The throbbing, red, painful joint insisted on swelling up even more, forcing Vetfaan to take off his boot while driving to Upington, where he hoped to see the new doctor he had heard so much about.

Well, heat waves may have escaped his attention…the girl in the middle of the road did not. No Kalahari-man will ever drive past a stranded woman. Especially if she’s beautiful. Or wears a revealing, short skirt. Or stands  in the middle of the road, aiming a short-barrelled  .38 at you. In this case, the woman in question had ticked all these boxes, and Vetfaan did, indeed, stop.

She was unapologetic about the gun, saying a girl could never be sure who would stop to offer help.

“Listen, I’ve been around. I’m a woman. You’re a man. It all adds up.”

“What does?” Vetfaan didn’t understand.

She ignored his question, picked up her bag and got in. “Drive slowly and don’t make an accident. I’ve had enough trouble in my life.”

“What’s wrong with your vehicle?”

She eyed him for a full minute before answering. “Mam doesn’t like the smell of petrol. Neither do I, for that matter.”

“Mam?”

She rolled her eyes heavenward in exasperation. “Mam. My snake. Short for mamba.”

To recount the disjointed conversation that followed, would involve many pages of blank looks and horrid stares and still-born sentences. The short version: Mimi – she of no fixed abode and rather limited means – made a living as a snake charmer. She also treated various  health conditions, communicated with departed family members and had once sat as a model for a famous artist.

“That’s immortality, understand? Paintings don’t grow old and die. Oh, the paint the artist used, might get a bit flakey,but the picture? It remains as beautiful as the day the brush touched the canvas.”

By the time they reached Upington, Vetfaan was completely confused.  His passenger was either completely mad, or perhaps the most interesting woman he had ever met. Fascinated by the possibilities, he asked her to join him for coffee before his appointment with the doctor.

“Doctor? What for?”

He explained. She suggested moxibustion. Vetfaan said the people in the Northern Cape frowned on polygamy. She laughed.

japanese-moxibustion.jpg“No, it’s not that, silly man! I burn a herb on your toe, and you feel better. Moxi-bustion…the burning of mugwort.  It’s an old Chinese trick. see? Mugwort, that’s the herb – is what you need. I’ve got some.”

Vetfaan claims to be the first man in the Kalahari to have undergone moxibustion. There, on the front seat of his old Land Rover, his strange passenger rolled a few mugwort fibres into a little ball and placed it on his swollen toe. He watched, horrified, as she lit the potion with a small gas lighter and was amazed that he felt no pain.

“The swelling will go down now,” she said, “but I must go. Mam needs something to eat and you’re too nice. And…I must still find my two friends. I’ll just keep on looking, even if it takes forever. So, thank you and bye-bye.”

Vetfaan watched, dumbfounded,  as she sauntered down the street, swinging her bag casually as she strode along. He ran a hand over his still-bare foot and sighed with relief when he noticed how much better it felt. By the time he had his sock and boot back on, Mimi was nowhere to be seen.

On his way back to Rolbos, Vetfaan stopped at her abandoned vehicle. On the back seat he found an old shoe-box with a dead rat in it. Mam’s supper?  In the boot, another box – a lot bigger, containing three pieces of art.

Trouillebert-servante_du_harem.jpg1 (1).jpg

 

It was Gertruida who told Vetfaan about the girls and the great portrait artist, Paul Désiré Trouillebert. “The Young Girl, the Harem Girl and the Snake Charmer were all painted by the same man, Vetfaan. Remember, Trouillebert was a landscape artist – he abandoned his attempts at portrait works because he fell in love with the girls in his painting – like all artists do. The real, flesh-and-blood subjects were admired for their beauty, but the paintings became the loves of his life – because they were immortal. Time would not decay their beauty, neither would the lovely faces and bodies sag and become wrinkled.”

“Immortal? Really? Are you saying that I…?”

“Either that, Vetfaan, or you’ve lost your mind.” Gertruida shrugged. “I don’t know which is worse…”

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The Rolbos Guide to 2015

d6Sweat the small stuff. Pay attention to detail, and the Big Stuff never becomes a problem. And never lose the wonder of even the smallest creatures around you.

d2Mother Nature has been around far longer than you have. Respect her, and by doing so, respect the world your children will live in. Never take anything for granted – even rocks decay with time.

d4There is beauty in everything – even in the harshest environment. Seek beauty, and Life will reward you in kind.

IMG_3851Take time off. Rest. Think. Reflect. And make sure you get enough me-time. Crowds and lots of friends may well have a place in your life; but that alone is insufficient to become who you should be. Nurture your uniqueness and avoid wishing you were somebody (or somewhere) else. And yes…you are good enough.

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Make sure you have at least one soft toy, and that it has a name. They are more loyal –  and give more solace and joy – than most people you know.

188_8855Be kind to older people. Visit them. Talk to them. Loneliness is the worst affliction of old age and more debilitating than any disease. Surprisingly, you’ll find that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

IMG_2629Study other cultures and history. You are a mere link in the very long chain of humanity. Losing sight of this simple fact. inflates the ego and kills humility.

IMG_2765Travel. See places you’ve never been to. There is no more sad a person than one who thinks the world ends at the city limits.

IMG_2801Birds fill your life with song. Learn the names of at least ten this year. And then study how they live. There are great lessons in this.

IMG_2876Learn to do things yourself. Depending on others inevitably leads to disappointment at some or other stage. It is the strong and independent mind  that survives the hardships we have to face every day.

IMG_3254Never cease to be amazed by the magic of  fire. Nor by the way light gets rid of darkness.

IMG_3349Never lose the ability to play. It’s the best way to stop taking yourself so seriously. Be loyal to those you love and they’ll join your fun.

IMG_3408If your mother is alive – then show her your love. If she has already passed on, never forget her legacy.

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Love your family – even the ones with bad manners. They are part of who you are. Rejecting them is to reject your own identity.

S

Enjoy wine in moderation. It’s the best social lubricant ever invented.

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Lastly – you will face giants in the next year. That is inevitable, for Life has a way of challenging the best out of you. Sit back, smile humbly, be patient and at peace. No situation is permanent – and often the threat to your existence is as uncertain as you are. Wait…it’ll pass. Every day is a gift – be grateful.x51

Daily Prompt: Our House

What are the earliest memories of the place you lived in as a child? Describe your house. What did it look like? How did it smell? What did it sound like? Was it quiet like a library, or full of the noise of life? Tell us all about it, in as much detail as you can recall.

breekyster 2010 118Our house was built with stone. It was strong and warm and safe.breekyster 2010 122

I remember the windows. They were large and let light in. In summer I could smell the rain. Or the flowers. Even the sheep as they grazed nearby. I liked those windows. It showed me the world.

breekyster 2010 112We had a Dover stove. Mom baked bread, birthday cakes and leg of lamb, filling the house with delicious aromas. The fire was kept going during the cold winter months, and we’d sit there, listening to Dad telling stories by candle light.

breekyster 2010 127Dad’s pride and joy was kept in the shed. It was a Chev, I think. Like the house, I believed it to be indestructible…

breekyster 2010 036I though nothing would ever change.

I had such a lot to learn…

Let it be forgotten, as a flower is forgotten,
Forgotten as a fire that once was singing gold,
Let it be forgotten forever and ever,
Time is a kind friend, he will make us old.

If anyone asks, say it was forgotten
Long and long ago,
As a flower, as a fire, as a hushed footfall
In a long-forgotten snow.

(Sarah Teasdale, 1884 – 1933)

Going for the Kill (# 9)

a-crocodile-broke-out-of-its-cage-on-a-qantas-flightIt’s the one single shot that changes the course of the war.

One shot.

Sometimes that is all it takes…

***

 José Migeul Pereira wades through the fast flowing water, step after step making sure he finds proper footing. A few tree trunks are caught between the larger boulders, and he is careful to negotiate his way cautiously in order to avoid any submerged obstacles.

However, he’s not worried about the river. His problem, he knows, will be to make contact with the South Africans, and then to convince them that he has come with an unusual message. Will they believe him? He grabs hold of a prominent rock to steady himself, all the time making sure that the white flag is in plain sight,

He feels the whip of the bullet even before he hears the shot. He ducks instinctively, suppressing a shout.

Not three yards away, a sudden thrashing in the water contributes to his fright. Then, slowly, a red stain appears in the swirling water.

***

“What the hell?” Groesbeek grabs the binoculars to study the scene. José stands bent, riveted to the spot.

It’s only when the dead crocodile surfaces almost next to José, that realisation dawns. One of his snipers spotted the creature floating silently towards the fugitive and promptly removed the danger. He sees José do a fast little retreat once he recognises the reptile. Several men, after being on edge the whole night, start sniggering at the way José now makes rather hasty progress towards the opposite bank.

One may say that the crocodile, one of Africa’s most efficient killers, saved José’s life. Or maybe even the whole the continent it threatens so. When José clambers up the river bank, several South Africans are there to lend a hand. The sniggers turn to snorts; the snorts to laughter.

There exists a strange camaraderie between soldiers, even when they are fighting against each other. Every war has stories of Christmas carols shared, prayers exchanged, and enemy soldiers receiving medical care. Of course, the opposite is true as well, with wounded men being bayoneted and women raped. One cannot predict these things.

But no-one could have foreseen the effect the killing of the crocodile would have on the men that morning. The relief of not killing and not being killed is overwhelming – the tension being replaced by an almost-inappropriate feeling of bonhomie. José isn’t fluent in English, but there’s no mistaking his gratitude. Amongst the South Africans, a gangling youth demonstrates how José high-stepped across the river, causing gales of laughter. José asks who fired the shot, and shakes the man’s hand when he steps forward. All in all – it may as well have been a meeting between old friends.

Groesbeek makes his way to the front and stares at the young man in front of him. Surely he can’t be a doctor – he’s far too young for that!. And experts on chemical warfare are much, much older…aren’t they?

They quickly find Private Stefano de Nobriga, a green grocer’s son from Parys, whose fluent Portuguese sees to it that he is immediately appointed as interpreter.

An hour later, Groesbeek gathers the men at the crest of the gorge and orders the cook to brew up some coffee and serve breakfast.

***

“I shall do exactly what you did, Mister Pereira. I’ll go across the river with a white flag, see the cargo you guys are carting around, and satisfy myself that you’re talking the truth.” Experienced soldiers never, ever, trust the enemy. “I shall take de Nobriga with to facilitate communication.

“If you lied to me, you won’t see Angola again. Unless I return unharmed, your squad will be wiped out. If, however, you told the truth, then I guarantee your men a safe stay on this side of the border. I shall then communicate with my superiors and work out a strategy. Is that clear?”

***

The Ruacana Incident – as it eventually becomes mentioned in one or two top secret reports – gets buried amongst the rumours and gossip of the Border War. Few take it seriously, and no mention is ever made of it in official reports. Look it up on Google – you’ll find nothing.

Magnus-malan

Minister of Defence: Magnus Malan

But when General Groebeek informs Minister Magnus Malan of the situation, an urgent meeting of senior military staff is held in the big boardroom of the headquarters in Voortrekkerhoogte.

Malan doesn’t mince his words. The threat is real. If the rivers were poisoned a few hundred metres upstream from the border, the army had absolutely no defence against it. The water will flow downhill as it always does, carrying the deadly solution to thousands of unsuspecting villagers, soldiers and animals.”

His frown deepens as he continues.

“Evacuation on this scale is impossible, gentlemen. Villagers will simply refuse, saying this is a trick by the South African government.

Vaal Dam - supplying water to the Gauteng Province

Vaal Dam – supplying water to the Gauteng Province

“Anyway, the logistics of clearing out the entire northern border, is way beyond our means. In short: it’s impossible. And what about the animals – do we simply turn our backs? And what about South Africa’s rivers? What’s to stop them from poisoning the Vaal  and Hartbeespoort dams? Where will they start? How can we stop them?”

No, he says, while this poses a problem, it is also an opportunity. “We have to talk, that’s all. No other option. If they do this, we have to retaliate – and we can’t afford that. Once we start dropping our atom bombs, we will lose the bit of international support we still have. We’ll win the war, but we’ll lose everything…”

“What do you suggest, Minister?” General Groesbeek stares at his hands – he has a good idea where the discussion is heading to.”

Malan sighs. “A delegation, gentlemen. Talks with Luanda. Urgently…”

***

The script for international politics is, at times, boring – because it’s so predictable. Of course the Angolan delegation denies any knowledge of Sarin-S. No, this was never part of their agenda. Of course not. It is inhuman to think of it, unacceptable to even consider it.

And yes, if the South Africans can prove the presence of such a threat, they’ll investigate it immediately. It might possibly be – for instance –  that some of the overseas instructors or advisers were overzealous and made a huge mistake. And if that is the case, they’ll deport such an advisor immediately. No, they can’t tolerate such dissidents amongst the cadres. Maybe it is the action of a single, misguided person, who knows? Yes, this calls for urgent action.

But, the South Africans must also understand, there is the minor question in the Angolan minds: what about  atom bombs? Some sources claim that there is an arsenal of these devices in Pretoria? Surely that is only a rumour, not so? But…supposing the outrageous gossip has a smidgen of truth to it, neighbouring countries need to be reassured that these weapons are only a symbolic threat and that it would never be used in the current conflict.

Atom bombs? The South Africans look shocked. Of course not! No, they never considered constructing such inhuman devices. Impossible! Surely the gentlemen present cannot believe such nonsense? We are, after all, Christians, not so? No, all we want is a fair fight. Surely everybody knows that?

The talks end with a 5-star dinner in honour of the foreign guests, with speeches and handshakes and smiles. Both sides promise to report to their command structures after the talks.

It changes the course of the war. The boxers will continue to slog it out in the ring. Queensbury rules. No guns or knives in the ring. Of course not

***

José Migeul Pereira walks point for his squad of men. Without their load of Sarin-S, they’re making good progress.

“Hey Doc,” it’s the radioman, a worried tone to his voice, “Chung will kill us.”

“No. When we reach the base, you’ll stay in the bush. I’ll go and talk to Comrade Vasily – I feel I have to report the truth to him. I owe him that.” He taps the side of his head, just like Mister Clemente always did. The old butcher was right: the answer is always in there. “Once he knows exactly what transpired, he’ll understand. Maybe he’ll deploy us elsewhere. Otherwise, we’ll just form a rogue unit and do our own thing. Don’t worry – we’ll work this out.”

***

Comrade Vasily whistles a tune as he walks over to General Chung’s hut. It’s a Russian tune, a happy one most popular in the Soviet army. He’s in an exceptionally good mood because he is going to particularly enjoy delivering the latest orders from Luanda.

He enters Chung’s dwelling without knocking, enjoying the look of annoyance on the Chinese face.

“Hey, Chung old buddy. You’ve got to pack for a long journey. Yep, next stop: China. No more venison and vegetables and balmy sunshine days for you, my friend. Rice and chopsticks – or whatever they serve in Chinese prisons.” Vasily waves a dismissive hand. “Oh, don’t bother to thank me, my friend. I wasn’t responsible for your demotion. No, not at all. Oh, by the way, I’m the general now. You know, the guy in charge? So I’m not requesting you to pack. I’m ordering you to do so.

“Your escort awaits, Mister Chung…hurry up now…”

 

Going for the Kill (# 4)

Ruacana Falls, Kunene River

Ruacana Falls, Kunene River

José has attended so many briefings over the years, he knows the maps by heart. How many times – with nothing else to do – did he sit at the back, listening to Comrade Vasily going over the details of the next attack? Ruacana, Rundu, Oshakati, even the failed one to Grootfontein. The names are familiar now, as are the Kunene and the roads of Kaokoland. He knows all about the peaceful Himbas and the fierce Ovambos.

No – getting there won’t pose a problem. If he could avoid the landmines and the roving South African patrols, that is.

It is on the third day of the mission – just two kilometers from the Kunene – that his luck runs out. The day starts like any other with the scorching sun rising above the canopy of trees, Men grumble, cough and scratch their way to the assembly point, munching dry rations and sharing cigarettes.

“Today we cross the Kunene at Ruacana.” The young corporal tries to sound important. José has to suppress a smile – he knows how nervous they all are. “This, men, is where the party really begins. Up till now, we’ve been in what is considered friendly surroundings; but from now on the rules change. No smoking. No talking. No fires. Absolute radio silence.

“Like you know, we’re aiming at the electrical substation outside Rundu. We have to get there and back without being detected. Our orders are clear: José will take point up to the river. He will set up a temporary base there and await our return. Any casualties we have or anybody who gets separated from the group , will return to this base. José will have a radio for emergencies. Are there any questions?”

***

With the river almost in sight, the sandy track makes progress relatively easy. It is a well-used track, obviously used by game – especially elephants, whose droppings seem fresh. Good, José thinks, if an elephant used the track last night, the possibility of landmines must have been eliminated. He relaxes as he inches forward to check out the section ahead. The track has curved away from the river, possibly due to a rock or a large tree, and he now has to peer around the corner to be sure it is safe.

The men are stretched out in single file behind him. They know they are near the official border and that danger may lurk anywhere. The silence is absolute as they move forward.

While José peers around the bend in the track, the man behind him slows down. Then, coming to a halt a yard behind José, he allows himself to relax. That’s when he moves his left foot to ease the pressure on the blister that has formed on his heel. He lifts the foot, massages the leather covering his ankle, puts his foot down again.

Click…

The sound is unmistakable and seems unnaturally loud in the silence. José whirls around  in shock. Landmine!

They’ve been briefed extensively on landmines. They know how most of them work. José remembers clearly the one lecture Comrade Vasily gave.

‘If you become aware of a landmine beneath your foot, you are lucky. Usually, you won’t. Put foot down, boom! Instantaneous! You won’t be frightened, won’t feel pain, and might be surprised to face St Peter when you thought you were still walking around in the bush. So, that one is easy. Don’t worry about it, because you can’t do anything that’d change the outcome.’ 

Comrade Vasily said this often, and always thought it to be very funny – but José saw the bodies carried back to the base. There is no humour in a mangled corpse.

‘But sometimes, you put a foot down and you hear a click. That’s when you’ve activated a mine. Lift your foot, and then you get the boom and the opportunity to meet St Peter. The only difference between these two scenarios, is that in the second one you get a chance to pray…’ This too, caused Comrade Vasily to laugh.

“Stand still! Don’t move!” José’s shout is unnecessary. The man – Pedro Goncalves – stands frozen, his mouth open in a silent scream as his eyes seem to bulge in fright. “If you lift your foot…” José doesn’t have to complete the sentence.

The rest of the men have scattered, hiding some distance away behind trees and anything that offers protection against flying shrapnel.

José knows he should go. Get away. Leave the killing zone. Once Pedro lifts his foot, the inevitable will happen.

But no! He can’t! He sees the fear in Pedro’s eyes, the hopeless look of knowing exactly what’ll happen next. José knows that feeling. How many times had he prayed, pleaded with God, when Manuel did those horrible things to him in the children’s home? And what happened? Nothing! If there’s one thing the home taught him, it is that nobody will help you if you don’t help yourself. That’s why the home burned down. That’s why he felt immensely relieved, proud, strong when Manuel stopped moving and he threw the knife into the flames.

Master your own ship, that’s what he learnt.

And now, if he didn’t do something, Pedro will die.  His death would be as unfair and as horrible as the events in that home, so many years ago. And what did Mister Clemente say? Tap the fingers against the head – the answer is always in there…

Josê’s reaction now is unthinking, automatic. He lies down on the ground, and starts sweeping the sand around Pedro’s foot away. Gently, now. Gently…

300px-US_M18a1_claymore_mineThere!

“Pedro,” his voice is a harsh whisper, “you’re standing on the toggle switch for a Claymore-type mine. Comrade Vasily says this is something FNLA does. The mine can be anywhere.”

These M18 mines, José knows, are command controlled. Usually they are used in an ambush, but the various fighting factions in Angola have adapted its use to become automated anti-personnel weapons. The trigger is buried where a foot can press the toggle down, causing the small generator inside to release an electric current. Sometimes, depressing the toggle isn’t enough to generate sufficient current, but releasing the toggle to move upward again, will do the trick. This, in turn, will detonate the hidden mine, releasing it’s deadly load of 700 steel balls at a velocity of 1200 metres per second. It is, José knows, a very effective weapon. Deadly. Horrible…

“Wait, here’s the wire.”

“I can’t stand like this much longer.” Sweat pours from Pedros ashen face. His upper body is trembling uncontrollably while he breathes in short, shallow gasps.

“If you move a muscle, you’re a gonner, Pedro. You have to remain still. Have to! I’ll follow the wire and see where the mine is. Maybe I can get the detonator out. Please, please remain still.”

Taking great care, Josê sweeps the soft sand away from the wire, following it to a clump of bushes nearby. He is about five yards away when Pedro moves.

The explosion is immediate…

The darkness that claims José isn’t complete. He feels no pain. Music, He hears music. Beautiful music. And he feels himself floating, floating on the beauty of the melody; soaring higher and higher above the searing veld and the fear of survival. His last conscious thought before the darkness comes rolling in, is a question.

Is this…heaven?

Gert Smit’s Tomatoes (# 4)

savimbi-2c604Gert Smit waited for the helicopter to land. The swirling dust made it impossible to see who got off the aircraft, but as soon as the rotors stopped turning, visibility returned to normal. By then, the elders had gathered around an imposing man, immaculately dressed in a smart uniform (with a red beret). This man, Smit realised, was his target.

He breathed in, breathed out, and settled the stock of the rifle against his shoulder. Breathe in, breathe out. Eye to the scope. Scan the crowd, look for the red beret.

There!

One last breath.

The crosshairs moved down from the beret to the face. One shot. Between the eyes. No wind. 500 yards.

Finger curling on the trigger, slowly, squeeze ever so gently…

And then the features of the face suddenly jumped into focus. This wasn’t just some headman or chief…or even some minor officer in the enemy’s employ… This was a well-known face in South Africa; an ally in the fight against terrorism and communism! No, It can’t be…but it is!

The face belonged to Jonas Savimbi…

***

“One must pause here,” Gertruida says, “to consider the complicated political scene in Angola at the time. Savimbi, the son of a stationmaster in southern Angola, was no fool. In fact, after being educated in Portugal, he not only managed to get China to train him in guerilla warfare, but he also had the support of Moscow…and the CIA! When it suited him, he was an outspoken Communist. However, when the situation demanded it, he was a vehement anti-Communist. He got arms and money from America, China, Russia, Cuba…and South Africa.

“Savimbi wanted to rule Angola and was determined to use his UNITA forces to oust the stronger faction, the MPLA. The only way to do this, was by civil war.

“A hugely charismatic man by all accounts, he played international leaders like a maestro handling a Stradivarius. This was both brilliant…and dangerous. Although Pretoria was aware of this, they continued supporting him and his UNITA-movement against the communist-run MPLA – the movement that also supported SWAPO an MK. It was a case of my enemy’s enemy is my friend.

“However, more and more doubts began to emerge as the total cost of Savimbi’s increasing demands for money and arms became too much for Pretoria to handle. It was at that stage that some generals felt that it would serve South Africa better to go it alone, and not depend on Savimbi to keep the MPLA at bay. With Savimbi out of the way, more funds would be channelled to the South African troops, which would go a long way to making their war efforts more sustainable.

“And that’s why, on that sunny day, Gert Smit recognised the face in his scope to be that of Jonas Savimbi. And once he had done so, he had to decide whether to follow his orders.”

***

Gert Smit may have been naive, but he wasn’t stupid. So far, his military training taught him many things: discipline, tactics, camouflage, strategic thinking…and then, with his finger curled around the trigger, it suddenly all came together in one sentence: all action is bound to result in counteraction, unless the enemy is completely destroyed,

Sure, he’ll destroy his target. And then…?

If he killed Savimbi, the repercussions would be huge. This wasn’t a village headman or some minor political figure. The search for the killer won’t be a half-hearted pursuit by untrained villagers. They’ll throw in everything – helicopters, troops, dogs, Bushmen trackers. There was no way he’d escape. And there was no way that they’d let him live, either.

And…yes, of course! He had no ID on him. No orders, no papers, no dog tags. UNITA might approach the South Africans, but would they own up? No! They’d say they knew nothing about this man. Nope, he isn’t one of ours. Maybe a maverick doing his own thing. Or somebody set up by the CIA? And no, we don’t use Steyr rifles. Not our issue. This one doesn’t even have a number, either. See where it’s been filed off? Could be the Russians, don’t you think?

But supposing he did survive, and made it back to Fort Doppies…? Would the commanding officer run the risk of exposing the plan, the assassination? No! South Africa was already in such a precarious position, they’d never allow Gert Smit to live to tell his story. In a flash he realised that his life was over the moment he had accepted the mission. If the Angolans didn’t get him, the South Africans would.

Oh, and of course! They already covered their tracks by listing him as missing, probably AWOL! How convenient. No, they’ll say, he disappeared from camp. You know, that Gert Smit has always been a rebel. Maybe he decided he’d had enough? Maybe a lion got him? Or maybe he shacked up in Windhoek or Katima Molilo with a floozy? You know how young men are… That’s what they’ll say. And nobody would know what really happened, because Savimbi would be dead and just another young soldier would be missing, probably KIA...

Even worse: he had not been able to write home for the past two weeks. He was in training, they said – secret training – so no communication with the outside world. Nobody knew where he was or what he was doing there. Only the officers at Fort Doppies – and they weren’t going to be telling anybody…

***

“Who knows what went through that young man’s mind at that moment?” Gertruida winks at Boggel to get a new beer. She says that one should always play a little game with your listeners when you’re telling a story. Give them time to digest the dilemma and make them imagine a thousand different outcomes to a certain scenario. People, being what they are, will always either hope for some divine intervention to bring about a happy ending, or be pessimistic and imagine the hero being tortured to death. But, Gertruida says, real life often is much worse that this: it often combines the best in human nature with the worst of reality. Or the other way around. But somehow, she says, we never manage to get it quite right.

“So, while Savimbi was addressing the elders, Gert Smit found his finger slowly – ever so slowly – releasing the pressure on the trigger. He couldn’t shoot the man. He couldn’t go back. He couldn’t stay where he was.”

“So what happened, Gertruida? What did he do?” It’s Vetfaan who can’t stand this long drawn-out tale any longer. He wants to know. Now!

“That’s why it was important to start the story right, Vetfaan, otherwise you’d never understand why he did what he did. You remember Farini and the Dorsland Trek in the Kalahari? The Boers fighting for their independence? The Rebellion of 1914? The fact that Gert Smit came from a long line of honest, hard-working, obstinate men?”

“Ja, Gertruida, Get on with it.”

“Well, then you’ll understand that he got up from his hiding place, took the magazine from the rifle, and walked down to the village. He had to sort out the mess…his way.”

Perspective: Turning Back

Daily Prompt: Perspective. This is not fiction. First read: The Wrong Turn.

Phoenix-Criminal-Defense-Attorney-2We continue our weekly chats and it becomes increasingly clear that the Road Back isn’t necessarily paved with gold or downhill.

On the contrary.

Drugs, alcohol, friends, society: they all condemn or, at the very least, frown of the individual who has the guts to stand up and accept responsibility for the past. After all: once a criminal, always a criminal…?

My new friend has an easy way out: somewhere, somehow, in jail, they mixed up his ID documents. He now has two ID’s: the real one (lost) and a new one (which isn’t really him – at least not as far as numbers and dates go).

Six years ago he applied for a loan at one of the larger commercial banks, got the cash, and ended up squandering the money. He paid back a number of installments before defaulting. Then, because the loan was granted to an ID he doesn’t own, he simply ignored the  progressively demanding letters. After all, society took away his ID: they owed him…didn’t they?  And wasn’t he entitled to something after all the hardships of the past? In the end he simply tore the letters up without opening him.

We chatted about this.

Today he went back to the bank (alone) and owned up to his actions.

And at the bank – the astute, money-making, no-exceptions, repossessing, cold-hearted bank – he found somebody who listened to him and made him feel like a human being again. Mr Havenga (you know who you are), I salute you. Thank you for being kind. Thank you for meeting my friend and allowing him the opportunity to correct a silly mistake. And thank you for being another rung in the ladder that’ll allow him climb to his full potential.

The lesson I’ve learnt from this?

Don’t label people. Listen. Try to understand. It may be a long and winding road, and the journey may be harsh and trying. But…if society refuses somebody the opportunity to retrace his or her steps back to honesty and integrity, the accusing finger points the other way. Don’t just look at the record – look at the heart. It cuts both ways.

I’m proud of my friend. His past may be troubled and his future may still be threatened with prejudice, but his determination will get him there.

I know. Many readers will say this is an exception and remain convinced that some members of society are beyond saving. And I know how much guts and determination it takes for an individual to make a U-turn in Life to pursue a seemingly impossible dream. But heck – if a man is man enough to try; really, honestly and sincerely try; he’s got my vote.

How does this fit in with the daily prompt of Perspective? Easy. I don’t like crime. But if a lifetime of wrong turns end up being a U-turn back towards self-respect, I call it a miracle of grace.

Well done, Friend. You’re an inspiration.

Daily Prompt: Childlike

His name, translated from Himba, is Ugly Face. He’s a happy, naughty, lively child, living in the kraal with his family. The question, of course, is: does he have a future?

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Or is he better off than the children in the bigger cities, where video games teach them to kill the ‘enemy’ and then press the reset button? His playground is the veld…his responsibility? The goats he has to tend to.

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Sometimes, in my cynical moments (which aren’t rare) I think he’s better off.

Daily Prompt: The Natural World

Today’s prompt: Photographers, artists, and poets: show us NATURE

Serengeti Sunset

Serengeti Sunset

A friendly neighbour

A friendly neighbour

 

Never leave a pot unwashed!

Never leave a pot unwashed!

 

Traffic light: Africa style

Traffic light: Africa style

 

Something went 'Bump' in the night...

Something went ‘Bump’ in the night…

But, my personal favourite: dusk, when Africa's sounds warm up to fill the night.

But, my personal favourite: dusk, when Africa’s sounds warm up to fill the night.