Tag Archives: police

Bertie’s Secret

108_0820a1.jpgMuch to everybody’s surprise, Bertie Bragass rushes in to Boggel’s Place, his flushed cheeks more prominent than ever.

Gertruida was the first to notice him when his old Land Rover huffed to a stop in front of the bar. Initially, she thought it must be somebody else. Vetfaan’s story of Bertie disappearing down a giant meerkat burrow had been entertaining – convincing, even – and they are still discussing the possibility of a rescue operation.

Now, one must understand that rescue operations in the Kalahari are complicated things. You don’t just get into the first vehicle and rush off into the desert. No, you have to be sure the vehicle is capable of handling the sand, and that the petrol tank is full. Then, of course, there is the minor detail of how much beer you have to take along – and who’ll pay for it. And having settled that, the question of how you’re going to fit in the rescue party on the already overloaded vehicle.

It is on this important discussion that Bertie storms in, arms flailing and sand running from his hair.

“Bertie…?”

They all stare at the diminutive man. At four foot eight, he is arguably the smallest adult in the Kalahari. His is – in Gertruida’s words – cosmetically disadvantaged. The ears are to small, the pug-nose too big and the eyes slant ever so slightly downward.  Add to that the almost cmplete absence of a neck – causing his chin to rest on his broad chest – and you have the Hunchback of Notre Dame without the hunch.

“Damn! That meerkat almost had me! Gimme as beer, Boggel!”

“What happened?”

***

Gertruida says Bertie has to exaggerate everything to make up for his size. Take a small man, she says, and ask yourself: how does he make his mark in life? People like Bertie won’t win races, the long jump or hurdles. Bertie can’t handle a rifle (the barrel is too long for his short arms) and his legs don’t reach the stirrups, making him one of the few farmers who hates horses.

So, Gertruida explained one day, Bertie has to tell stories. Whatever he does (or sees) has to be bigger than the usual. Although she concedes that his ground-level view might have an influence on his impression of the size of things, there can be no doubt that Bertie has established himself as a liar of note. But, she says, this is something other people should understand. Bertie simply has to inflate his stories to compensate for his small frame.  Gertruida calls it a physical/psychological balance.

That’s why the group at the bar share a collective, tolerating smile while they listen to his newest effort at impressing them.

***

“That Meerkat dragged me down that hole at an amazing speed, man! Tore my pants and scuffed my elbows. Look!” Bertie shows them how much damage the meerkat did. “But I fought, hey! Shew, I fought like a Trojan! Kicked and hammered with my fists, but that meerkat just kept on dragging me down that dark tunnel. I was convinced my time had come.”

Bertie takes a mouthful of beer, peering at his audience over the rim of the glass. Well, they seem to buy the story so far…

“You won’t believe what I saw down there. Talk about a meerkat manor! There were bedrooms, a large lounge where the others gathered and even a nursery filled with baby meerkats. And they all stared at me and I was almost wetting myself with fright. I knew I had to do something and I had to do it soon.

“Well, you know how meerkats like fighting with snakes, don’t you?” He waits for the collective nod. “So I took off my belt, swung it around a while, and threw it into the farthest corner of the room. Man! You should have seen them! All of a sudden every meerkat down there scrambled to get at that snake…and forgot about me for a second.

“That was enough. I gathered myself after the meerkat dropped me, and ran as fast as I could up that burrow. I ran and I ran and I ran. The meerkats were furious, and they chased after me, howling with rage. I made it to my land Rover just in time, slammed the door as the first meerkat crashed into the vehicle, and raced here.”

Bertie finishes his beer to sit back with a contented smile. “Being small helped me a lot. I’d never have made it up that burrow if I were as big as Vetfaan, for instance. But hey, here I am in one piece, and I’m thankful for that. And, here’s another fact: I won’t be returning to my farm for a while. I’m sure the meerkats will move off some time, and then it’d be safe. I’ll go visit my cousin in Kimberley, I think.” He pauses as a thought apparently strikes him. “Oh, it may be a good idea if you guys stayed away from the farm as well. I noticed a fresh burrow not far from the house, so there may be more than one nest of the critters. Good advice? Stay away. I’ll tell you when it’s safe.”

Then, as abruptly as the little man arrived, he gets up, waves them goodbye, and drives off.

***

People tend to think that the inhabitants of such small, far-flung villages are a bit backward. After all, why stay in such a hovel, when life is so much easier in larger communities? But we know that’s not the way to look at it. The inhabitants of Rolbos stay there because even the small incidents become subjects of lengthy debates.

Take, for instance, the police van that stopped there a few hours after Bertie left. There’s been a burglary, they said. One of the major banks in Upington got robbed. The robbers gained access to the building during the night, using the antiquated sewerage system with it’s narrow pipes.

“We’re looking for a suspect – a small individual – who made off with two bags of money. Have you seen anything suspicious lately?”

Yes, of course, Servaas said. Bertie Bragass. He could fit the description, but unfortunately he had a solid alibi. He had been stuck down a meerkat hole last night, so it couldn’t possibly be him.

And the policemen found that exceedingly funny, said goodbye, and rushed off to Grootdrink to see if they could find anybody who might not have a watertight alibi like that. Somebody small, with scuffed elbows, for instance.

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Job’s Deception (# 2)

images (32)Gertruida will tell you (because she knows just about everything) that the human mind is a very vulnerable organ. Seemingly insignificant words or events may easily tilt the fine balance that most people should maintain to remain in the desirable state we call sanity (excluding preachers and politicians – they are genetically engineered to smile at whatever happens around them, kiss the babies and shake hands). Look at the number of divorces, she’d say, and nod the way a poker player does when he lays down his four aces. She also says when big things happen, big changes may follow; and then she laughs like somebody does when slapping down a royal flush…

***

The three days Job had spent cutting the tree down, the hunger, thirst and exhaustion – it all contributed to his breaking down when at last he freed himself. That was significant, but not as important as when Digger Dickson sat down next to him to start crying as well.

***

Truth be told: Digger’s grief had a lot to do with the brandy he had recently consumed and the fact that his dead neighbour seemingly had nothing else to drink; but that didn’t matter. In any case: Job found he wasn’t crying alone and that mattered. That’s the funny bit about crying: some people cry happy tears, others in grief or pain – but all tears taste equally salty and the sniffing and sobbing sounds are more or less the same.

Gertruida says the bright scientists haven’t worked out why men who cried together, form a bond. It may be that such men are linked by the embarrassment of such weakness, or it could be a Freudian thing. Still, whatever the reason, men who shared tears always share  something else: a shy smile whenever they meet.

Digger used a hammer and a chisel to free Job from the chains; which was a symbolic act, Gertruida says, because he also allowed Job to escape from his past in other ways.

***

And so it happened that Digger took the emaciated Job under his care and started feeding him properly. Job slept for another three days, except for the times old Digger woke him up to eat or drink something.

On day four Job crawled from the tent before sunrise. In his previous life he would have stolen some food, any money available and possibly even old Digger’s donkey, Vicky. But not now; the balance in his mind had shifted. Maybe it was the chain, or maybe his new freedom, but Job saw to it that Digger woke up to his first-ever breakfast in bed. Vicky had been brushed and fed. The camp was as clean as the first day Digger had pitched his tent there.

This new arrangement suited Digger down to a T. Job wanted to help him, he was unstoppable. As his strength returned, he took over the digging. He loaded the sieve. He washed the gravel. He found diamonds and brought every one of them to old Digger, who spent his days relaxing under the thorn tree on the river bank, noting the finds in his little black book. Job washed clothes, dishes and even (once) the dusty tent.

“You have changed a lot, Job,” Digger said one day, “you’ve become a great help.”

Job just smiled and dug deeper into the blue-coloured clay on the river bank.

Job discovered a weird thing: you can keep people prisoner by being indispensable. The harder he worked, the less Digger did, the more wanted he felt – and the more Digger depended on him for survival. What started out as an attitude of sharing and gratitude, turned into something akin to love.

***

“For is love  not a prison?” Gertruida always asks the rhetorical question at this point. “The indispensability of the one, locks the other in a cage of dependence. It’s like an addiction, like cigarettes or gambling or wanting to hear the delightful ‘pop!’ of the cork after a hard day’s work. It’s pure self-interest. People need to know somebody adores them – and once it happens, you can hear the lock of the dependence prison go ‘click!’ and there you are: prisoner for life, caught in your own desire to have your needs attended to.

“Now, don’t confuse this with the love Oudoom is always going on about. That’s different.

“The sad fact is that most people jump into love instead of falling in love – because they’ve found life easier when they are with somebody who does things for them. It’s a from of laziness, even giving up. They don’t understand that this kind of loving deprives them of being who they should be. Jumping-in love becomes a selfish prison, see? Those people look at financial security, the nice house in the suburbs and the Labrador panting on the porch. That’s the dependence. But when they’re alone, they realise it’s just a fantasy; an economic illusion to fool them into believing in their own happiness; and not the caring they need to develop an own identity. 

“It’s sad: women go for looks and money; men go for beauty (however they perceive it) and sexuality. They think passion is physical…and miss the point completely, don’t they? Where’s the kindness? Where’s the respect to actually want the other person to develop and grow?

“Love – real love – is hard work, but it sets both partners free to be the best they can. It is about spiritual well-being and both party’s desire to build the significant other.” But then she’ll smile and say that’s not part of the story anyway, and continue with Job’s life. She likes doing this – throwing in something almost-difficult to understand –  a bit of Gertruida-warped psychology in it’s simplest and most complicated form. She says it keeps the audience focussed and on their toes.

***

So the two men shared dependence: Digger needed Job to do the work and Job needed Digger’s appreciation. It was a system that benefited them both.

Job developed an amazing physique. Hard work saw more diamonds on the sorting table. More diamonds meant better food and a shack. Better food allowed a healthier body. A healthier body did more work. Life was good, and Digger blessed the day Job had stolen that chicken from Bull next door.

But then, like Life does when the sky is blue and the future gets a fancy rosy tint, the next phase in Job’s life arrived in the form of Constable Viljoen, the new IDB policeman. And to understand the motives for the constable’s actions, one must know about his background, too…

***

Here Gertruida will stare at her empty glass like a cat does at a closed fridge door. She’ll flutter her eyes at Boggel and wait for the glug-glug sound from the bottle before going on.

“I knew the Viljoens, of course. General Viljoen became quite a famous soldier, despite his family’s humble background. Back in those days the Viljoen boys either joined the police force or became bywoners – mere farmhands, working for food and lodging. Nelis Viljoen was the youngest and the brightest. He saw what happened to his brothers and he swore he’d be the one to escape the impoverished life he had been forced to live. He realised his chances for promotion in a police station were limited: everybody did the same work and nobody stood out as exceptional. That’s why he requested the transfer to the Illicit Diamond Buying Investigation Squad – or the IDB Department, as it was known.

“A constable’s chances for promotion depended on the number of arrests and successful convictions he was involved in. Nelis understood this very well, and used the system to pursue his dream of becoming a somebody, a respected policeman, even – and in his most private moments – an officer…”

***

Nelis Viljoen strode into the camp and demanded to see everything. He checked the claim’s papers. He checked the records of finds and how they were disposed of. He counted up the numbers in the little black book Digger kept up to date, there under the thorn tree. Then he entered the shack, gave a shout, and returned with a diamond as big as a man’s thumb.

“Where did this come from?” He practiced this tone of voice at night, next to his camp fire in the veld, while he travelled from one claim-area to the next. It had to sound just right: authoritative, indignant and surprised.

Digger said he didn’t know, because he didn’t. Job said he didn’t, because he knew it wasn’t from their claim.

“Then the two of you are under arrest for illegally dealing in diamonds. You will accompany me to the station in Christiana immediately.”

***

“That diamond was Nelis’s ticket to stardom, you see? It came from the safe where the evidence of previous cases was stored, and he was careful to select a diamond involved in an old case that already resulted in a conviction. The diamond, he reckoned, was State property; and as he was an official of the State, then why not use it…?”

“Digger was a sickly man, and when the constable cuffed his only friend – the one he loved as the father he never had – Job went along meekly.”

Here again, Gertruida will stare at her glass. Unless it gets filled again, she won’t tell the rest.

Cathy’s Eyes (# 1)

4642_1337168689-nSersant Dreyer leans on the counter of the reception area in his little police station, not noticing the fine layer of dust on the surface. It’s not necessary to clean it, anyway – nobody ever comes here.

He’s just written his monthly report to headquarters: no crime, no outstanding cases, no arrests to be made. Of course, like all the other reports, it’ll end up in some file on an archive shelf; just another unread document in the endless stream of paper the administrators insist on keeping going. As long as the forms are filled in, the generals can report that they are doing their work.

He watches the heat waves shimmer on the horizon, distorting the road to Grootdrink into a hazy, curling track. Like the documents, it seems without purpose – an endless road to an uncertain destination.

How often has he not thought of going back… A thousand times? A million? Usually he can stop those thoughts in time, before the pain of remembering cruases a circular memory that courses endlessly through the archives off his mind – like in that song she always sang:

Like a circle in a spiral
Like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning
On an ever spinning reel
[i]

Cathy McGregor wasn’t what one  would describe as beautiful. Her figure was constructed with straight lines, her hair didn’t shine in the sun, and the lines on her face spoke of a difficult past. Most people would not even consider a second glance when she walked into a room; but then, they seldom had the opportunity to look into her almost-always downcast eyes.

Sersant did. He first saw those eyes pleading from behind the burly man’s back when the drunkard dragged her in that night…

“I paid her!” He shouted. “The full fee. Now she suddenly turns prude on me. Look, she scratched my face!” The huge, dirty hand unfolds to let a dirty finger point at the red line across his stubbled cheek. Sersant (he was only a constable then) didn’t know what to do. It was his first night behind te counter, and so far it had been a disaster. Nothing can prepare a young man (in reality, still a child) for the abused children , broken and bleeding men, and hysterical women that line up in police stations across South Africa every night.

The man was obviously drunk. Thenew constables had written a test on Public Intoxication the previous day, so Sersant called over some of his more sturdy colleagues and locked the man up for the night. She still stood in the waiting area when he returned from the cells. He wanted to tell her to go home, but she spoke first.
“Thank you.” He now saw her eyes – not like a moment ago – but this time it was as if she drew him into her mind with a hypnotic, lingering stare. Then her eyes left him to travel to the empty button hole in his tunic. “You lost a button,” she said.

He hadn’t noticed it before. The burly man had put up quite a fight.

“Give me the tunic,” she said.

And he did.

He often wondered about that. Here was a woman – probably with a most unsavoury background – and yet he took off the jacket and handed it to her. When she walked out of the police station, he had no doubt that she’d return. Her eyes held that promise. And she did, a few hours later.

“I had to go home first,” she said apologetically, “to get the right colour thread.”

By that time the stampede of complainants had dwindled and as he was putting on the tunic again, he heard himself thanking the woman and offering her a mug of coffee. Why did he do it? He still doesn’t know. And why did he offer to take her home when his shift was over? Equally, he still can’t answer.

He did, however, find out how far she lived from the police station and why it took so long to sew the button back on.

“It was my first night,” she said while he drove her home. “My father owes money, you see? The bookies and the horses…” Her voice trailed off. “It’s hard out here. If Pappa didn’t pay back the money, they’d break his arms or something. Then he can’t work, see?” She seemed desperate to make him understand. “So they gave him a choice. Either he paid them immediately, or they ‘borrowed’ me for a week. Pappa cried, saying he’d make a plan – but they didn’t believe him. He had lied to many times in the past, they said. Then they took me. When Papa tried to stop them, they hit him. Hard. Many times. And I said I’d go, they must stop hurting him.

“I thought I’d just close my eyes and pray while the men…you know? But that drunk, fat man…he… he…wanted to strange things. Bad things. Horrible…”

Sersant remembers how she told him all this. Almost mechanically, without emotion – until she came to the bit of the drunk man; then she couldn’t go on. Just sat there, stone-faced, staring at the shanties and shacks rushing by as he drove on.

He gave her the money, of course. One-hundred-and-fifty Rands. The price of freedom.

It was the look in her eyes, he realises now.  He tries to sum up what he saw in them. Fear, at first, definitely. Relief, later. And gratitude, admiration, vulnerability, anguish, hope, despair…the list goes on. What she didn’t – or couldn’t  –  say in words, her eyes did. They were the only bit of the real her that peeked from behind the armour of her self-defensive isolation.

When she got out, he asked if he could visit her sometimes.

That was the first time she smiled…

Open up our eyes
The future´s in disguise
In the hobo jungle
Roaming like two moons up in the sky
We’re gettin’ by just fine
Living in a daydream by design

(1) The Windmills of Your Mind

Dragged to Death

download (23) The news about the events in Daveyton has shocked Rolbos to the core. They’re unanymous in expressing their absolute disgust at the officers involved – and offer their deepest sympathy and condolences to the family of the poor man. Gertruida – for the first time since she arrived in Rolbos – wept openly.

“It’s almost prophetic,” Oudoom says, “a warning. The problem is much bigger than the policemen they’ve arrested.”

“What are you talking about, Dominee?” Servaas is in a dark mood and has no desire for small ltalk.

“Society. I’m talking about our society. Where we’ve come from and where we’re going. We’ve become unstable a long time ago, if you remember the history we lived through. Consider it for a second:

“First the English came. They started a chain of events by wanting to grab our diamonds and gold, way back in the middle 1800’s. This dragged us through the Anglo-Boer wars, killing thousand of men, women and children. And, I’ll remind you, the casualties included all races in the country. They knew we were bound to the country by love and by roots – yet they drove on, regardless of the lives lost.

“Then we became a colonial state. We got dragged into world wars. We mounted a rebellion against joining the wars, resulting in people being executed. Again, our men were forced into battles, again we paid with blood for being bound to a cause we didn’t believe in, especially WW l.

“And then we had the Nationalist government. Oh, they were clever! They fed the nation certain choice bits of propaganda. They selected the information they  allowed citizens to digest. Young white men were conscripted to the army or forced to spend time in jail. Other parts of society had no choice but to adhere to the laws of the day. White and Black were affected and got dragged into a devilish concoction of laws, lies and deceit. We might as well have been tied to that police van they showed on the news. Even the Church played a part. You could say those clergymen were behind the wheel…

“Finally, here we are. Society is unbalanced. We’ve come from a blood-spattered past and we haven’t recovered from it. Now take our policemen: they are exposed to the most horrible crimes, murders and rapes on a daily basis. Last year, it was revealed that more than 100,000 policemen and women suffered from depression, more than 2700 had post-traumatic stress disorder and 84 attempted suicide. They get dragged to death by what they have to see and do on a daily basis. We expect them to act normally, even though they live through worse things than we see on TV? How can they be normal? And don’t forget: the top brass in the police haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory over the past few years, either.

“We, of course, aren’t just spectators. We are the society they serve. We’re part of this. Blame the politics, the economy, the churches, the past, whatever – it doesn’t really change what has happened in the country. Point is: we’re tied to what is happening around us.”

“So, Dominee,” Servaas cups his face in his hands, “we are facing the same fate that poor taxi driver had to live through?”

“Two things could have saved him: the van could have stopped, or he had to be untied. Now, we are being dragged along by socio-political events, and that van isn’t going to stop on it’s own accord. Our only chance of survival depends on getting off the chains that bind us to the van.”

“And how do we do that, Oudoom?” Gertruida raises an eyebrow as she orders a next round.

“The chains that bind? Now let’s see…” Oudoom counts off the points on his fingers. “First, we must let go of the past. Lot’s of wrong things there, sure, but it doesn’t help – it binds. Second, we need responsible government. Third, we must start listening to each other. Fourth, we must bring back kindness and respect. Fifth, discipline must be brought back: in schools, in our homes, at work. Punctuality would be a good place to start. Sixth, we must create an atmosphere of caring and kindness. And seventh, we must stop shying away from religion. Bring it back into our schools. Establish it in government and businesses. Let people respect their faith once more.”

“Is there such a place on earth, Dominee? You’re crazy.”

“There’s only one South Africa, Servaas. We have a unique blend and mix of people here. The van isn’t going to stop just because we sit around and mope about it. We can help each other loosen the knots, or we’ll perish. It’s as simple as that.”

“So it’s up to each individual? The government won’t do it?”

“The government, Servaas, is the van…”

The License

Boggel is engrossed in the article on Scott and the South Pole in the old Reader’s Digest, and shivers as he turns the page. Imagine suffering like that to fly a little flag on a spot in a remote and hostile environment? Then again, here he is in Rolbos, making a living in a bar – for a fleeting second he imagines that there are similarities between him and Scott – both pioneers with the well-being of their travelling companions at heart.

The way Kleinpiet and Vetfaan whisper over there in the corner worries him. They are busy hatching some crazy plan – or they are discussing something they want to keep from him. The latter seems more probable, as they keep on glancing his way as the conversation progresses. Vetfaan has the Upington Post in front of him, as well. What could they be reading?

 

It isn’t a big advertisement, and if Kleinpiet wasn’t so bored, he might have missed it. He reads it a second time – even a third – before he folds the newspaper again. It never ceases to surprise him what people advertise in the Upington Post. Just the other day they giggled over the ad for Hot Naught who offered Eastern Massages to Western Gentlemen; but this one is much more professional, much more serious. And it could change the way they live in Rolbos.

Under the counter, Boggel relaxes on his cushion as he looks at the second-hand of his watch approach the 60. It’ll be 11:30 soon, and he expects Gertruida to push open the door of Boggel’s Place exactly a minute later. With thirty seconds to go, he opens the beer and waits. It is a game he plays; enjoying the mock surprise from Gertruida every time the beer appears – as if by magic – from below the counter the moment she sits down. He shifts so he can see her enter through his little peep-hole below the till.

She’s on time. She sighs when se sits down. She gasps when the beer appears. But instead of their usual little chat, she gets called away by Kleinpiet. He crooks a finger at her and puts a finger to his lips. What? They want to talk about something he mustn’t hear? Some secret that he mustn’t share? Unheard of…

“What is it?” Her whisper is instinctive but urgent. It is evident Kleinpiet wants to tell her something that Boggel mustn’t hear. Something Boggel doesn’t know about. Even worse…something she doesn’t know about. The thought is as foreign as it is unbearable. She adopts the cat-in-front-of-the-closed-fridge-door attitude. Whatever it is, she has to know. That’s the other similarity of the moment – cats are curious, too. It sometimes kills them.

Department of Orthopaedic Surgery   – Grootte Schuur Hospital

Prof Victor Lockjaw, internationally famous spinal surgeon from Leeds, will visit the Department in June. He specialises in Lordosis, Skoliosis and some cases of Spina Bifida. People with severe spinal deformities are invited to contact us, as such cases are needed for the Professor to demonstrate his techniques. The cost of the surgery will be covered by the University. Further information available at Miss Kromhout, tel no 012 8762986.

Kleinpiet steers her to the table in the corner; away from the counter; opens the paper and points at the advert.

 Gertruida’s hand forgets about the beer as it flies to her mouth. “Him?” She points at Boggel.

“Yes, can’t you see? Once that Englishman has straightened out Boggel, he can have a normal life, like…” He falters. Nobody really has a normal life in Rolbos. Still, the point is made, and taken. “I mean, he’s not all that bad looking; he isn’t that old; and he runs a successful business: it’s just his back that causes him so much trouble. Once that’s fixed, he’s sure to find a girl friend.”

“Boggel is far too proud to contact the professor.” Gertruida frowns, the she snaps her fingers. “ Well, I suppose I can phone the Professor. I have a number of friends at the university. There’s the question of his travelling and lodging expenses, however.” Even as she says it, she knows they can hold a bazaar, sell some pancakes and get Vetfaan to raffle off a sheep. In her mind’s eye she sees a straight and proud Boggel – and momentarily wonders what they will call him then.

From below the counter, Boggel watches with growing concern. Alternating an ear or an eye to the peep-hole, he tries to get the gist of what they are talking about. However, despite his best efforts, the only two things he learns are that they are talking about him, and that it has some bearing on something in the paper. They seem to agree on something, and with surreptitious glances to the counter, they leave in a hurry.

Boggel shuffles over to the table, collects the two glasses and the paper and returns to his cushion. The glass rings on page three tell him that’s where they were reading something.  And then he sees the damning article on the Tourism Board.  The Board is visiting small towns and rural areas to inspect local taverns, bars and guest houses. Not only do they want to check on the star-grading of places offering accommodation, but they’ll use the opportunity to inspect kitchens, liquor licences and other legal requirements to run such establishments in a responsible manner.

He feels a cold finger running down his crooked back. Noooo! His kitchen! The long-drop toilet at the back!  And, most horrible of all…the liquor licence! This inspection will be the end of Boggel’s Place! That’s why they were whispering and pointing at him. He feels the cold sweat dripping down his neck.

He always had hoped that nobody would poke around to find out he didn’t have a license. Because they have no health inspectors or other officials in Rolbos, he progressed from a-few-beers-on-the-stoep to Boggel’s Place. And as for kitchen and toilets – those are things he wanted to fix for a long time now. But try to find a contractor to work in Rolbos? Impossible!  And although he could maybe talk his way out of that, the license is the iceberg waiting to sink the Titanic. They’ll close him down. They’ll lay charges. If he manages to stay out of jail, he’d have to find a new job.

And suddenly, another ugly thought starts worming around in the back of his mind. If those two were discussing the Tourism Board’s imminent visit, why did they keep the conversation from him? Or did they think they’d do something about the matter? Something, like asking Sersant Dreyer about the legality of Boggel’s Place? It is true that the sergeant saw the growth of the small business over the years and that he visits Boggel’s Place every now and then – and that he never enquired about a liquor license. Maybe he didn’t think about it in the past; but he surely will do so now.

Boggel sees himself in a few weeks time: either in the horrible orange overall of Correctional Services; or in a horrible khaki overall, driving Vetfaan’s tractor. The horror! The shame!

He is a pitiful figure – below the counter, with Vrede looking worried – when the rest of Rolbos (even Oudoom) marches into Boggel’s Place.

“Boggel! Boggel, where are you?” And like Adam trying to hide from the Lord, Boggel huddles closer to the dog. “Come out, we have to talk.” Oudoom uses his sermon-voice; the one with added authority and free-range righteousness.

Boggel gets out with a sigh, climbs on to his crate. “OK, so you want to expose me, humiliate me. Go on, I don’t care anymore.”

Vetfaan has a sympathetic look. “No Boggel, it’s not that. I see it more as a way to set things right. You can’t go on like this.”

“You’ve suffered enough, Boggel. It’s time to put an end to it.” Gertruida clears her throat, like she does when she wants to make a point. “I mean, what’ll happen in the future? Things are bound to get worse. Things like this can destroy one’s dreams, you know?”

Kleinpiet tries another approach. “Look, while you sort this out, I’ll run the bar for you. In a few weeks, or a month or two, you can be back. You’ll walk tall and look us all in the eye. With everything straightened out, your days will be a pleasure – not the hell you have to live with now.”

And Boggel knows his game is up. Sure, they’ll help him. Sure. But he, Boggel, will have to go to Upington. Apply for a license. Stand in queues. Talk to officials. Fill in mountains of forms. Explain why he has delayed his application so long. Be referred to the Police. Even if he gets out of that one, he’ll have to wait for months before they send out an inspector all the way to Rolbos.  Then he’ll have to see the Inland Revenue people. They’ll ask more questions. Why isn’t he registered as a tax payer? How did he make a living up to now? Mmm, interesting. So, lets work out your arrears up till now. Add interest and penalties. Okay, if you pay us millions of Rands, we can clear you to go ahead with your business.

“Brother, we are only doing our Christian duty, that’s all.” Oudoom spreads his hands wide.

Boggel has had enough. “Listen, dammit! For years and years I was good enough for you.  Never a whimper, never a complaint. Now suddenly you charge in here and you want to destroy…”

“Not destroy, Boggel, help.” Precilla is pleading now. “Calm down Boggel, we’ve collected the money and found out the Professor will see you. Then you can take it from there, at your own time.”

“…destroy my way of living.”  Suddenly, the word professor unhinges his argument. “What professor? What are you talking about?”

It takes most of the Cactus Jack to explain everything. The paper gets opened to page 3 and they show him the advert. He tells them he didn’t realise…

“But guys, I am what I am. I live with my hump and I’m happy with it. We all have things that bother us, and we all learn to live with it.” Boggel’s relief is so immense that he places another Jack on the counter. He almost made a complete fool out of himself. Almost gave his game away completely. “But I know my hump must stay the way it is. To cut it up and realign everything sounds good…but I know there are a lot of risks involved. A specialist I saw – many years ago – took some X-rays. He said something about the nerves running down my spine and that surgery will damage them. So: thanks but no thanks.”

 

The Tourism Board did travel to Upington, where they stayed at the Kalahari Oasis and Casino for a few days, on the house. Before they left, one of them asked about other hotels in the area. The manager laughed and told them this was the Kalahari, not Sun City. He saw to it that they first had a hearty breakfast before he offered the aspirin. The Board left in good spirits, assuring the manager his five stars are safe,

 

The letter in Sergeant Dreyer’s bottom drawer has been there for sixteen years. It is a directive from the Area Commissioner to all station commanders, ordering them to check and report on all establishments selling alcoholic beverages. Sometimes, when the sergeant is bored, he’d take out the letter and smile on of his rare smiles. Then he’d look up to the police force emblem on the wall. The one with the motto: To Protect and Serve.

Maybe he’ll never end up as the hero in a Readers Digest like Scott did. Sometimes the biggest hero is the one with an unanswered letter in a bottom drawer

And he’d close the drawer, still smiling, mouthing the words serve, and, protect.

That’s what he has been doing all these years, he’d think. It’s a high calling.