Tag Archives: postaday

The Horizon Hunter #4

download (8).jpg“Life in Atlantis was okay, I guess. The neighbours all knew our story and warned us many times whenever the inspectors were checking up on people’s ID’s. However, my mother refused to send me to school – the danger of exposure loomed too large. Anyway, I was an unregistered child, remember? Basically – as far as the officials were concerned, I didn’t exist.”


Mo’s mother found work as a waitress in Cape Town itself, which involved a lengthy train trip to a fro every day. Mo stayed at home, under the care of Achmad, her brother, for a while. Achmad was the main middleman in the supply of dagga (hashish) to the local community. A friend of a friend had a hidden plantation in the Transkei and he had several distributors who acted as agents in the Cape area. In the days before drug lords, Achmad was the king of Atlantis.

Dealing in illicit drugs  was (and still is) a nefarious and dangerous business. Achmad could not survive without a network of dealers and informers. A lot of people depended on him for an income and quite a few were deeply indebted to him in more ways than one. One of them was the lovable Aunty Florrie.

Florrie was a remarkable woman. She used to be a social worker and even helped out at the small local school for a while, but the slippery slope of alcoholism deposited her squarely in the cul de sac of addiction. She was one of Achmad’s runners and – despite her sales – could never quite get out of debt with her supplier. Achad made her an offer she could not refuse: if she housed Maria and her child, her past transgressions would be forgiven. No more debt. A new start.

Florrie grabbed the opportunity and not only provided a roof over the poor mother’s head, but also started teaching the child the basics of reading and writing. Mo proved to be a fast learner.

At the time, Mo’s identity remained a huge problem. Achad suggested that he’d arrange with ‘some people he knew’ to register the child in his name. A sympathetic Methodist pastor agreed – rather enthusiastically – to baptise little Mohammed Sulliman, clearly a convert to Christianity from a Muslim home. Now, with documents from the church and Achmad’s ID papers, the Department of Home Affairs had to be convinced that the child’s birth simply wasn’t registered due to an oversight by the Sulliman family. Money changed hands. Mo Sulliman became a real, official person.

Aunty Florrie continued her home schooling simply because it kept Achmad off her back. No, she didn’t think formal schooling would bring out the best in the child – not at all. He was far too clever to be immersed in the second-rate teaching the government provided (she said) and she provided individual teaching, didn’t she? The other side of the coin also deserves mentioning: so profound was M0’s influence on Florrie’s life that she almost stopped using drugs. Almost. Not quite.

Initially Aunty Florrie guided Mo through the basics of learning quite successfully, but when the boy was about nine years old, her addiction flared up again. Achmad was dismayed and then had to face the problem of an almost-ten years old boy who never had formal schooling. A government school was out of the question – but what to do with a ten-year old kid with nothing to do? The solution: recruit Mo as a runner to make deliveries to the agents. images (22).jpgThis was a brilliant move. While his other distributors were adults, mostly convicts and generally known to the police, the little boy could fool them all. The only problem was his rather white skin – which was solved by generous applications of Coppertone and plenty of sun.

And so, gradually over the next two years, Mo became familiar with the underbelly of the Cape’s drug world. In turn, people accepted the little runner as one of their own, while his reputation of always managing to avoid the long arm of the law eventually earned him the respect of  a number of ex-convicts and other individuals surviving in the world of petty crime and other illicit activities.

At the time, the Anti-Apartheid Resistance Movement was gaining ground amongst the Coloured people of Atlantis. The community was ripe for rebellion – after their forced move from District Six, the mood in the community was distinctly anti-government. AARM needed informers and made a deal with Achmad: they’ll smuggle the new drug, LSD, to him, in exchange for information. Achmad’s network fitted their requirements like a glove: his distributors and users worked in the affluent houses of Cape Town and some were cleaners in government departments. A few even were employed as officials and clerks. And they all could be trusted to be true to the cause as long as the supply of drugs was guaranteed.

Mo became the trusted runner with stolen documents, secret messages and  drugs – a heady mix of danger and adventure for the youth who understood the necessity of secrecy all too well. But, in the end, even this elusive runner became the focus of police activity, for the officials also had their own network of informers. A reward was posted and Mo was caught.

What followed is not something Mo wants to talk about. His interrogation was merciless and involved the usual methods used on other so-called terrorists. Solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, beatings, water – these and other ways of making him talk were all used. However, young Mo stubbornly refused to answer any question, repeating over and over again that he knew nothing. He was a street child, homeless, with no real family. Yes, he knew Achmad Sulliman, he was an uncle. And yes, Achmad had adopted him, but that was a long time ago. No he didn’t know where his mother was. He survived by scavenging on the streets – go on, ask anybody in Atlantis: they’ll all confirm that he was seen here and there, doing odd jobs and living off scraps. His interrogators redoubled their efforts. Mo remained unbroken.

The one thing Mo still remembers, is a visit from Aunty Florrie.

“I only heard – later – that she had died a week before. I didn’t know that.  But one night, while I was shivering from being cold and wet and hungry – suddenly, as if by magic – Aunty was there at my side. I was so disorientated and confused, I didn’t question her presence or how she got there.

1990-02-03.jpg“Well, she held me in her arms and made soothing noises. It was wonderful. Then she told me I had to be strong, everything would change soon. I would be free again, she said. She said I must remember the date: it was Thursday, the 1st of February, 1990.”

Then, as suddenly as she had appeared, Aunty Florrie was gone. The next day, on the 2nd of February, President F.W. de Klerk announced the release of Nelson Mandela and the unbanning of the resistance movements.


Mo sat back, his characteristic smile replacing the scowl of recounting his experiences during those terrible days.

“I thought that would be the end of it all. You know – Mandela was freed, there were talks about a negotiated settlement and even free elections for all. And…you won’t believe it…my interrogators arrived on the Monday after De Klerk’s speech with new clothes and a hamburger. They said it didn’t matter anymore and that I’d be freed that Wednesday. A doctor came and examined me. They even sent a pastor to give me a lecture on forgiveness!

“Me? I didn’t care. All that mattered was that I’d be set free and that the beatings stopped. I was old enough to understand that everything had changed, but too young to be cynical about it. So, on that Wednesday, I was ushered to a back door in my new clothes, given ten rand and told to bugger off.”

Mo sioghed. “You know, I really thought that was the end of my troubles.” He shook his head. “Had I but known…”

To be continued…

The Scorpion that didn’t die.

Sidney_Hall_-_Urania's_Mirror_-_Sagittarius_and_Corona_Australis,_Microscopium,_and_TelescopiumThe latest rumours (or are they more than that?) have so upset Vetfaan that he took to the dunes again. He does this from time to time; to create distance between himself and the dark reality of South Africa, to clear his mind….and to seek encouragement from his old friend, !Kung. Truth be told, !Kung has the strangest way of putting things into a new perspective, despite the fact that he never reads a paper, still believes that there are small people trapped inside the TV (he just might be right on that score!) and has never heard our president speak. This last attribute also could be seen as a point in his favour.Or maybe he’s just fortunate..

Vetfaan finds the wizened old man waiting patiently in the shade of the camelthorn tree near the big red dune. Vetfaan is never sure whether !Kung always stays in the vicinity or only comes when he knows Vetfaan’s visit is imminent. When he asked him about it once, !Kung simply smiled and told Vetfaan that there are many things he’d never understand and therefore wouldn’t believe. “The problem with Outside People is they ask too many questions,” !Kung said quietly, and left it at that. Outside People, in !Kung’s language, is anybody that lives beyond the shifting dunes of the Kalahari.

After their customary greeting, lighting the fire and sharing the comfortable silence between them, Vetfaan gets up, fetches the Kudu liver he had brought along and roasts it on the glowing embers.

“You are much troubled,” Kung says eventually, running his small hand over the white stubbles of his remaining hair.

How do you explain the chaos in the country to somebody who has never even voted? Doesn’t read, cannot write and is unable to understand the term ‘corruption’? Who can simply not understand  that senior officials are involved in criminal activities; smuggling everything from cigarettes to rhino horn, raping the treasury and consider lying as part of their job descriptions? !Kung has never even heard of ambassadors, nor of the ‘doctor’ we have in Japan or the embarrassment of our emissary in the United States.

“There are hyenas in the country, !Kung. They are eating our people.” Vetfaan stares into the flames, knowing this is enough. !Kung will hear all the things he hasn’t said.

The old man nods. “The drought has come.”

Vetfaan waits. He knows there is more. !Kung gets up to fetch the calabash of honey beer, which he offers to Vetfaan before drinking himself.

“When the grass is this high,” he lifts his hand above his head, “there is enough for the oryx and the kudu and the hare. Some eat of the trees, some of the grass. When there is plenty, everybody is fat. But sometimes there are too many of the one, more than the other. And then the trees can’t make leaves fast enough and the bigger animals will start feeding on the grass the hare needs to eat. Hare will not be happy.

“‘Now look here, Kudu and Oryx, you are eating my grass,'” Hare will say. “‘You have to stop.'”

“‘But we can’t, can you not see? We have bigger bodies than you – we need the grass. Anyway, we are much stronger, so go away.'”

“But, Mister Vetfaan, Hare doesn’t want to. Where can he go? The drought is everywhere, remember? Also, this is his home, his place. And so Hare sits down to think about how the bigger animals are trying to cheat him out of his food.”

!Kung falls silent again, gathering his thoughts. Why can Vetfaan not work it out himself? It is so simple…

“Hare then does what he does best. He starts digging a hole. A big one. And he gets Baboon to cover it with branches and twigs. And he puts some nice, green grass on the other side of the hole and then he sits down to wait.”

!Kung gets up, stretches, and starts scooping out a hollow in the sand. At his age, his hips tend to be painful at night. To get a good night’s sleep, he must prepare his bed carefully.

“And…” Vetfaan arches an eyebrow. “What happened?”

!Kung looks up, surprised at Vetfaan’s question.

“What must happen, Mister Vetfaan. That’s what.”

They sit in silence for a while before turning in. Overhead the stars glitter against the cold black of the sky. Vetfaan identifies Sagittarius, the mythical archer, with his arrow aimed at Scorpius’s heart. The arrow, however, never gets to be released, will never hit its mark. The real victor, Vetfaan realises, is the scorpion.

Yes, he thinks before drifting off to sleep. !Kung is one hundred percent right.

Of course!

“…. see a bad moon rising.
I see trouble on the way…”



“Any colour, as long as it’s black…”

1910Ford-T“That’s what old Henry Ford said back then about his cars.” Gertruida folds the newspaper with a sigh. “I suppose it was acceptable in those days. We are currently far too inclined to be sensitive about these things. Just look what’s happened in Stellenbosch: two young ladies expelled for painting their faces purple. Some insist that they were doing the blackface-thing.”

“Blackface? What’s that?” As usual, Servaas displays his ignorance of trending news.

“Look, here’s the picture of the ladies, all dressed up to attend a student theme function as blackfaceinterstellar spacewomen.” She holds up the picture. “Hard to see any racist slur in that.”

“That looks like purple.” Vetfaan says after a few moments. “And they got expelled for that?”

“What’s a blackface?” Servaas persists.

“Well, you see, it’s an old theatre tradition. When white people portrayed so-called black characters, they used to paint their faces black. Many, many well-known actors did that, including  Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Irene Dunne, Mickey Rooney, Shirley Temple, Judy Garland, and Chester Morris and George E. Stone. At the sinterklaas-002time, this wasn’t seen as racist – rather it introduced audiences to Afro-American culture…or so some historians say. Remember Zwarte Piet? In the Netherlands he’s a much-loved character. Or…to be more precise…he used to be universally accepted as Santa’s helper. But, sadly or not, even his role and character has become the centre of a debate on racism. Some say it’s bad, others don’t.

“The point is this: times have changed. Things that were generally acceptable fifty years ago, are now frowned upon. Today, society does not accept the blackface on face value alone any more. The calendar has ticked over to 2016 and people are much more sensitive about these things than in the previous centuries. No longer are we prone to joke about heritage or race – it’s become a serious matter.” Gertruida finishes with a flourish, happy that she’s made her point.

Fuck white people“Um…” Kleinpiet turns to page three. “If that is true about Stellenbosch, what about these students in Johannesburg? This is the Wits law school, so they have the right to free speech, I suppose. And see what the University had to say about it: ‘The university’s management said it had been advised that legally‚ the campaign may not be a violation of Constitution‚ which provides for freedom of expression unless it constitutes incitement to cause harm. “In this instance‚ while the messages are certainly hurtful‚ we have been advised that they may not directly incite harm.’.”

“Ag, Kleinpiet, racial tension is as old as the hills, man. Since the beginning of time, people have taken to accentuate differences – colour, culture, tradition, religion – the whole lot.” Boggel serves another round, trying to ease the tension in the bar. “It’s a bit silly, really, when you think about it. Look at our country – we are all here, moulded together into a single nation. Why on earth spend so much time trying to alienate each other, while we should be working together to build a better future for later generations? You know what’s happened? We’ve lost the vision. We’re destroying the dream. If we cannot find a way to live together in harmony, we’ll destroy each other. Banning two girls with purple faces and pussyfooting about freedom of speech are just symptoms of a society grappling with deep-rooted insecurities. While we are so terribly conscious of race, we are polarising what needs to be united. I find that exceedingly sad.”

Gertruida, at loss for words for a while, eventually nods. “I’ve got two quotes for you. The one is from Robert Sobukwe, who said: . ‘The Africanists take the view that there is only one race to which we all belong, and that is the human race. In our vocabulary therefore, the word ‘race’ as applied to man, has no plural form.’ This was in 1959. The other is by Henry Ford himself: ‘I don’t know much about history, and I wouldn’t give a nickel for all the history in the world. It means nothing to me. History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker’s damn is the history we make today.

“These two men made statements we can take to heart at this point in our country’s development. Sobukwe emphasised that we belong to one family. Ford maintained that our actions today determine our future – and that the past is of little consequence. Both were saying we must look ahead, not back. We should never poke fun at other cultures, that’s true, but we must stop skewing social morals, for goodness’ sakes! How can we object to purple faces and turn a blind eye to racist graffiti?

“It’s time for us all to start accepting some facts. We do have a colonial past – like most of the world. Slavery was accepted by our forefathers – it doesn’t imply that we still embrace the concept. Cecil John Rhodes did live here and he contributed both positively and negatively to history. Many individuals and groups forged the country into what it is today – from Kruger to Verwoerd – and we cannot change that history, even if we wanted to. That’s why Ford is correct: the only history worth anything, is the history we make today. I do so wish people bear that in mind whenever somebody wants to polarise society for political gain. Even our prez, when he sings about shooting the farmers.”

She falls silent, eyeing her little audience. There is another quote from Ford she’d like to tell them about, but she decides it’ll sting too much. No, better to remain silent on that one. It’ll only cause a protracted debate that’ll go around in circles forever, Still, it’s one of her favourites.

‘As long as we look to legislation to cure poverty or to abolish special privilege we are going to see poverty spread and special privilege grow…’

“…I knew a man who lived in fear
It was huge, it was angry, it was drawing near…

“....It wasn’t roaring, it was weeping.”         Dan Heymann



The Porcupine and the Coconut

154768913“So now the president is offering to pay back the money – at last? After all those commissions and enquiries he simply ignored and laughed away in parliament?” Servaas puts down the paper with a sarcastic smile. “I’d say that’s mighty big-hearted of the man to eat humble pie for a change.”

“Ag, Servaas, you’re being your old facetious self again!” Gertruida throws her hands in the air in mock horror. “It’s all about not fighting the battles you cannot win. The Constitutional Court is about to hear the case and the municipal elections are just around the corner. He’s performing plastic surgery on the wrinkled face of the governing party -even though he knows it’ll leave lasting scars. Better to cut your losses than to erect a house on sand.”

“He’s good at that,” Vetfaan smiles. “Erecting things, I mean.”

They giggle about that for a while. Then Gertruida tells them of the porcupine and the coconut…


One day, she says, Porcupine found a coconut in the desert. Now, this was a strange thing, for the coconut was completely out of place: it simply didn’t belong there. Porcupine wondered about this, but when he shook the coconut, he heard the milk swill around inside.

“Now this thing may be very precious,” the porcupine mused, “I shall take it to my home to prove how farsighted I am. Nobody else has one like this – they’ll all admire me for being so clever to own a coconut that’ll benefit all. I’ll wait until it starts germinating, then I’ll plant it. It’ll become a huge tree, with fruit and shade.”

images (20)Oh, and how the other animals admired Porcupine’s new object! Zebra liked the hair on the surface, while Gemsbok thought it resembled the tsammas that fed him during dry seasons. Elephant sniffed at it, thought it was foreign, but still said it was a nice thing to have.

But in all communities you’ll find that not everybody accepts what others admire. Hare, for instance, asked what good does the coconut do, sitting there on a shelf in Porcupines house? And Owl, wise as always, remarked that such a thing could only bring bad luck if it were to start growing.

“Keep it on the shelf – don’t try to do anything with it. As a showpiece it’ll be okay, but if you really think planting such a tree will be useful, you’ll only be disappointed.”

And so the coconut stayed in Porcupines house, where the other animals  could see it. Although some maintained that it underlined Porcupine’s powers, after a while others started doubting it. They asked owl to explain.

“It doesn’t belong here, see?” Owl shrugged. “We are used to living in the desert. Our world is a harsh one, where you survive because you understand the circumstances. Now that coconut…well, when it starts growing, it’ll need water and nourishment and lots of care. More importantly, if Porcupine really tries to grow here, it’ll steal our precious water. And, mark my words, it may survive a good season or two – but when times are tough, or it becomes too big and thirsty,  it’ll die. And to what avail, I ask you? If anything out here can’t contribute to our well-being, it’ll simply be a thief and a scoundrel that’ll rob us of our livelihood. No, it might be a nice thing to look at, but in the end Porcupine will regret taking it home.”

Porcupine ignored such remarks, of course. Instead, it watched as the coconut sprouted a few little roots and started growing a stem.

“Oh, how beautiful my coconut is!” Porcupine was  very proud. “In all the desert, this will be the most beautiful of all things. I shall care for it, make it grow, and the others will see my powers.”

To keep the coconut alive, Porcupine had to water it every day. Whenever its roots became dry, its fragile leaves drooped and hung limp. No longer was the coconut able to sustain itself with its own milk and oil – Porcupine had to spend his days carrying water from the little fountain that supplied water to all the animals in the desert.

One day, the animals gathered to discuss the situation. Coconut was using so much water, there was almost nothing left for them.

“Let us get rid of Coconut,” Hare said. “Coconut must fall!”

Many of the other animals simply nodded, because their mouths were too dry to speak.

When Porcupine heard this, he became exceedingly angry. “We,” (Porcupine loved using the royal plural), “have brought this wonderful thing to the desert. If you do not revere Coconut for it’s beauty and power, you’ll regret it. Moreover, Coconut provides shade for you to protect you from the sun.”

“Protect? Protect!?” Hare was furious. “It has grown so high that even the birds cannot nest in its silly things it calls branches. As for us down here, it only provides shade for you. Coconut has left us with no water and no shade. You, Porcupine, have brought great hardship upon us.”

For a long time the animals only complained like this, but nobody dared face Porcupine with his terrible quills. And then, at last, the fountain dried up completely. It was no longer possible for Porcupine to sustain the tree he had planted. Some animals died. Some animals sought for a new home.

In the end, all the animals suffered.

Ever since then, Porcupine had to hide from the rest of the animals, and had to search for food at night. His wonderful Coconut had ruined his reputation as a powerful creature. Walking around in daylight, proud of the object of his power, became impossible. Instead, he became a shadowy figure of the night, causing the other animals to scorn him as he dug around for roots in the moonlight.

It took a long time, but in the end Porcupine secretly wished he had never found the coconut.

By then it was too late.


“Well, that’s a nice story, Gertruida. I don’t understand why you felt like telling it now, but I’m sure there’s a moral  hiding in it somehow.” Servaans beckons for another round of beers. “But to get back to the point: do you really think the prez is going to pay back the money?”

Vetfaan shakes his head. “The fountain, Servaas, has dried up. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear a heavy thud one of these days. Tall trees do that when they crash to the ground.”

The Man from BBE

images (19) copy“That must be Mister Ball, ” Boggel says as the line of dust on the road to Rolbos nears the town. “I wonder what – exactly – does he want? Said he had to come to do business, but that was all. He sounded rather strangely pompous as if he expected us to fall for some sales talk. Something about empowerment and compliance – couldn’t make out head or tail…”

They’ve talked about the visit ever since the telephone call a week ago. Servaas reckons it has to be a government thing, because they seem to be creating more and more agencies to regulate businesses and organisations. “It’s their way of creating jobs, see?” Servaas gets upset about the way the government insists on appointing inept and unqualified people to positions of power – officials who do not have the faintest idea of what they should be doing, anyway.

Gertruida has been hard at work, too. Using the skills she had picked up in her days with National Intelligence, she created a perfect copy of a liquor licence  – something Boggel has never bothered to apply for. That, of course, is a completely different story, and one that has been told a long time ago. Still, if the government wants to see that piece of paper, she’ll have it ready for them.

The black BMW purrs down Voortrekker Weg (still misspelled after all these years) and comes to a stop in front of Boggel’s Place. A chauffeur in a perfectly pressed suit jumps out to open the back door for a remarkable man. Remarkable? Maybe not the right word. Astounding might be more appropriate. The huge figure emerging from the vehicle is, indeed, typical of the average government employee – built like an over-sized teapot with a soccer ball head and frog-like eyes. He, too, is dressed in a suit; but how he managed to squeeze his massive bulk into the clothes, is a mystery. Maybe one should not be so critical about Chinese material -it really stretches!

“Mister Ball…?” Boggel steps forward to shake the large man’s meaty hand.

“Just call me Black. All my friends do.” The lips scarcely move, but a gold tooth manages to wink at Boggel. The voice is alarmingly high-pitched, making Gertruida wonder about the man’s hormonal balance.


“Yes. Black. Black Ball. That’s me.” He tries bow slightly and almost manage, too. He hands over his card, which states that Black Ball is the managing director of BBE – Black Ball Enterprises. Underneath, in smaller letters: already 

“Come on in, er…um…Black. You’ll need something cool after driving through the heat.”

“No. No drinking. I’m here on business and I don’t have time to waste. Where can we talk?”

Boggel leads the man inside, where they have to place two chairs next to each other to accommodate the large frame.

“Let me get straight to the point here. You guys need protection. I can offer you this…at a very reasonable rate. You have a choice: work with me, or not. If not…well, the consequences could be rather …uncomfortable. Even painful.” Black pulls a face to emphasise the point.

Now look. You don’t talk like this in Rolbos. Never. It’s not done. Especially not if Vetfaan has had to overhaul his old Landy again – for the second time already this year. This time it was the head gasket, which necessitated a vigorous scrub-down with petrol to get rid of the treacle-like oil that clung to everything. The scrub-down was for Vetfaan, of course, resulting in his cheeks being even more rosy than usual.

“Now look here, mister…”

“Black, just call me Black.”

“Well, Black, I think you have the wrong address. We’re not interested in bribing our way out of your trouble. We’ve got rifles, pistols, a few revolvers and Vrede, our dog. We need protection? My foot! You and who are going to protect us?” Vetfaan gets up to tower over the sitting giant.

“Of course you need protection! Everybody does. Guns won’t help you.” Black spreads his hands in front him. He doesn’t have to say it – his incredulous expression tells them it’d be very stupid not to co-operate. “Look, it’s the way things are in the country.” Now his voice is an octave higher, almost pleading. “I go from town to town and everywhere I’m welcomed with open arms. But you? Sheesh! I feel like you people don’t like me! And here I am, offering you a lifeline in these troubled days…and you don’t want it?”

A troubled silence descends on the group in the bar. Boggel coughs, looks up at the ceiling, and wonders how he can defuse the situation. Sure, they had been a bit apprehensive about the visit, but this is worse than even Servaas’ worst fears. This isn’t the usual governmental mess – this is criminal extortion… He’ll have to get the large man to relax – maybe they can work something out without Vetfaan losing his temper. That would certainly bring on a gang of tattooed ex-bouncers and a bunch of ululating ladies. Hard to say which is worse…

“Look..er…Black. What does your protection cost? Let’s talk about this, man?”

“It’s very cheap. Really.” This time, the snake-like eyes seem to glimmer with…hope?  He certainly sounds more eager now. “Way below what you’ll pay in Upington, for instance. And you’ll have my personal assurance of quality. When I’ve got you covered, you’re as safe as can be. I’ve never had a complaint about quality.” He shakes the large head. “No sir. Never.”

Gertruida sits up suddenly.

“Um…Black? Your protection? Can you give us a demonstration of it?” She smiles her most charming smile. “Please?”

Black calls his chauffeur over to give him instructions.

What happened next in Boggel’s Place, will remain a source of hilarity as long as  Boggel is there to serve his customers. He insists on keeping the complementary sample on the shelf behind the till.


“Who would have guessed?” Vetfaan whistles as he slaps his hands together. “Of all things! And there I was, ready to take the poor man out, hey?”

“Always a good idea to listen before you act, Vetfaan? Gertruida tries to sound stern but the twinkle in her eyes tells him she’s not serious. “Hey, it’s the New South Africa – everybody is just trying to make ends meet. I felt rather sorry for him, but he does seem successful enough.”

Sadly, Black Ball failed to make a sale in Rolbos today. Servaas said he was to old, Gertruida pleaded menopause and Vetfaan said something about celibacy.

In bigger towns like Kenhardt and Pofadder, Black might be able to sell his wares. But in a small place like Rolbos? You see, after a certain age – especially if you’re from a more conservative background -some people simply do not use the stuff. They’re fun to blow up and Vetfaan even filled one with water; but to actually use it for its intended purpose would be worth a lot of bragging rights in Boggel’s Place. Only – here everybody knows everybody else’s business, hence they’ll know when a bragger is lying through his teeth. It’s not that they don’t want to use condoms…they simply can’t any more…



A Letter to an Imaginary Friend, Oscar Pistorius.

Credit: starrfmonline.com

Credit: starrfmonline.com

Dear Oscar,

I imagine you’d be surprised by this – after all, one doesn’t usually write to imaginary friends…and then expect them to read such a letter. Imaginary friends, by definition, are supposed to be fictitious and only exist in the realm of the subconscious. You, however, aren’t anything like that. I think most people of the planet are aware of your existence by now. Be that as it may, I take the liberty of writing, expecting the letter to find you…even if the chances of your reading it are rather slim.

Why should you, even if you could? I caught myself thinking a few moments ago: most of your mail will be censored (if ever delivered) and the majority of those letters that make it to your cell, will (quite naturally) be hate mail. If I were in your shoes (please, no pun intended), I’d ignore any letter from anybody I didn’t know – so I’d understand if this letter gets chucked into the ‘I-simply-can’t-face-another-bit-of-scripted-abuse’ bin.

I wanted to tell you that you’ve been a wonderful imaginary friend for a long time. I followed your running career with some interest, often gaining strength from the way you refused to give up when the going got tough. Man, you were good! And then the olympics and the paralympics – you made me so proud.

So we never met – why should we? – but I thought of you as a role model and an icon and all those words one uses towards somebody you respect. My friend – imaginary, to be sure, virtual by the very nature of things – but indeed somebody I’d have liked to share a drink with.

And then Valentine’s Day happened and everybody screamed for revenge. Icarus had flown too near the sun, the wax had melted, the wings were destroyed. The world – so righteous and filled with sinless people who never did any wrong – bayed for blood. Driven by their lily-white personalities and oh-so-forgetful consciences, everybody watched in horrid fascination as you were paraded on television to millions across the globe. They saw your tears and remorse, and rejected it as playacting for the judge’s benefit. They heard your faltering voice stumbling down the straight of the advocate’s scathing questions while every tabloid dug and dug into the imperfections of your past.

My imaginary friend, it turned out, had feet of clay. Like me, he was riddled with fault lines that had eroded his dreams. Oh, he was still famous – but for all the wrong reasons.

And of course, there were the families. Your own stood by your side when the storm refused to abate. And Reeva’s kin followed you with sad eyes and thoughts of justice. Your world-wide family of supporters simply faded into the background. Like St Peter, they said they’ve never heard of you, ever before. No, they didn’t know you, never rejoiced in your successes.. Only this time, the cock’s crow was replaced by the judge’s hammer banging down after the sentence. Once was enough. Case closed.

But the case will never be closed, will it? Whether you spend ten months or a lifetime in custody, you can never undo the things you have done. Your prison has mental walls, the bars being the past and the bricks made during the sleepless nights  when the 14th of February will screen inside your head, over and over again.

You’ve incarcerated a lot of people in their own prisons too, I’m afraid. The Steenkamps will never recover, neither will the Pistoriusses. Whenever they think about you – which will be all too often – they’ll retreat to their own cells of misery and regret. Sadly, too, so will so many other erstwhile fans.

I’m writing this for me, if you can understand that? My imaginary, virtual friend is in prison and I have to grow up. My idol has fallen. I must greet you, say goodbye, and try to forget how I cheered you on so many podiums. Still, I do so with a sense of profound regret, and I want you to know about that. Walking away from a prodigious superstar, who inspired a nation into believing that there is, indeed, something good in our country, isn’t easy. However, it must be done, even if it is only for my own sake.

Despite having said that, I do wish you well. The burden you will carry for the rest of your life, must be born with dignity – and that will be hard. People will remark, point fingers, write less-than-complimentary words. And every night, when the sounds of the prison reverberate around you and the keys in the locks make their crunching sounds, you will remember things you’d rather forget. What I’m trying to say is this: may you find peace. I don’t think it’ll be easy.

My dear imaginary friend – the one I’ve never met and hardly expect to, either – this letter serves to tell you that I’m not prepared to cast the first – or any subsequent – stones. Bear your burden, serve your time. Make peace with the past and try to find the strength to forgive – yourself and others. And believe that not everybody thinks that time in prison will heal the wounds. The scars, my friend, are permanent. Because I understand that, I’m writing to tell you that – as a previously faceless, anonymous fan – I hope you’ll find new friends in a new life. Try to find a  way to climb the steep mountain of recovery, even when your legs refuse to move another inch.

As for me, I somehow accept that it’s normal for imaginary friends to have superpowers, even after I’ve said goodbye..

I think you’re going to need that.

Kind Regards,


Everybody has a You (#12)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everybody has a You (#4)

Crashed-Cessna1Smartryk glances down at the relaxed face of the woman on his bed. If she took care of her hair, used a bit of make-up and lost the disheveled look, she could be so pretty. He blushes at the thought.

After she had fainted on the veranda, several waiters helped to carry her to his room. His room. The lodge had no other accommodation available, so it was impossible to get her a suite of her own. His original thought – to sleep in his old Golf – is out of the question now; he cannot just leave her like this, can he? He orders some coffee and settles down next to the bed. Mary’s breathing is deep and regular, making him believe that the faint had progressed to a deep sleep. And, after what she’s told him, he realises how tired the poor woman must be. Best to let her sleep it off…

logo5391866While sitting there, watching the woman sleep, Smartryk thinks about the string of events leading to his being here. There must be some logic, some reason, for all this… Sighing heavily, he opens the envelope bearing the imposing emblem he received in Cape Town.

Always something new in Africa, he thinks as he opens the dossier. As an accident investigator, he’s seen it all: mechanical problems, human error, freak accidents. But this one – happening out here, for goodness’ sakes – seems to be quite unusual…


Under the usual heading and initial paragraph, the provisional report on the crash of the Cessna near Grootdrink follows. Smartryk reads his instructions again: investigate the cause of the crash; gather information on the report by one Sergeant Dreyer that foul play was involved – and cooperate with the South African Police Service if necessary. It sounds so simple. One paragraph stands out.

According to an unconfirmed statement by one Sgt Dreyer, a man was abducted from a small town near Grootdrink and forced into the aircraft. The pilot then took off on an unscheduled flight to destination/s unknown. A few minutes after take-off, the Cessna lost height spiralled to the ground and made a forced landing on a gravel road. The pilot and his passenger escaped with apparently no injuries. 

Abduction? In all the years Smartryk has been involved with the SACAA, he’s never had to investigate a crash of this nature. Well, tomorrow he’ll interview this sergeant and get on with his inquiry. For now, however, he is stuck with the sleeping woman on his bed. He orders more coffee.


Mary wakes up to the sounds of the birds outside. For a full minute, nothing makes sense. Where is she? The memory of the many mornings she woke up in the prison in Rio flood her mind and for a moment she is struck by a wild panic. Her stifled scream wakes the man next to her bed.

“Shhh…,” he says as he sits up. “You’re okay, Mary. Had a bit of a faint last night, didn’t you? But everything is all right now, you’ve had a wonderful sleep. Wait, I’ll get you some coffee.”


Smartryk recaps the outlines of the previous night. “I think it must have been the wine. You…well, you passed out and slept it off. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have ordered that second bottle of wine. But…nothing a good sleep can’t cure, is there? You must be thirsty. Need something for a headache?”

Truth be told, Mary hasn’t felt so rested in many months. A night’s undisturbed sleep had been completely impossible in that hell-hole in Rio. She manages a weak smile.

“Coffee, please.” She hesitates, thinking deep. “Oh yes! I remember now. You told me about the crash.” A worried frown settles on her brow. “You said something about Boggel…”

She tries to explain over coffee. Smartryk, in turn, tells her of the phone call to Sersant Dreyer, the policeman in Rolbos who notified the Aviation Authority. By the time they’re on their third cup of steaming coffee, the picture starts to make sense.

“So…this Boggel…he’s the barman with the spinal problem? And you were on your way to see him? And now he’s been kidnapped or abducted or whatever, and this is the crash I have to investigate? This is most unusual…”

And unusual it is, too! The coincidences are just too many.

“I think,” Mary says at length, “that this incident – this crash and everything associated with it – has something to do with my coming back to South Africa. Why, for heaven’s sake, would somebody abduct Boggel? It doesn’t make sense?? And this within days of my return? I mean – come on – why the hell would a barman in a nothing town suddenly be so important as to be kidnapped?”

Smartryk can only shake his head.


To describe the chaos in Rolbos would be impossible. The townsfolk have all gathered in Boggel’s Place, where Servaas has taken over the duties of barman. As may be expected, Gertruida has appointed herself as chairperson of this emergency meeting.

“Come on guys, settle down. It’s no use everybody talking together. Sersant, please tell us – again – what happened?”

“I think you all know the story by now, Gertruida. I woke up four nights ago – thought I heard the sound of an aircraft overhead. It sounded low and near, but I didn’t think it was in trouble or anything like that. Well, the sound disappeared after a while and I went to the bathroom for a glass of water – you’ll remember that we celebrated the Springbok’s victory over the Kiwis that evening and I was thirsty – when I heard Vrede barking. It wasn’t his usual bark at all – he was clearly upset about something.

“So I went outside, see? And Vrede took hold of my pajama pants and started dragging me to Boggel’s rondawel. I thought the dog was mad or something, but I went along anyway. When I got there, the rondawel was empty. No Boggel.”  Dreyer tells them how he scouted around, looking for Boggel all over the place. “Then, suddenly, I heard the roar of an aircraft’s engine. It was quite dark still, but the moon was bright enough and I could just make out the Cessna in the veld outside town. That pilot must have glided the plane down when he landed, because nobody heard it arrive.” He waits for the heads to nod before going on. “The landing lights came on and for a second the interior was illuminated. I quite dimly saw the outline of the pilot, but Boggel I recognised immediately. He was staring through the window…. I have never seen such fear on a man’s face.

The pilot took off, flew in a lazy circle, and was heading back towards Grootdrink when it suddenly started losing height. “I don’t know what went wrong. For a few seconds I thought they’d crash headlong into the ground, but then, at the last minute, the pilot apparently got the nose up and they barrelled – belly first – into the ground. Of course I ran there as fast as I could, but when I got here, not a trace of Boggel or the pilot was to be found.”

“By that time we were all in the street,” Vetfaan interjects, “and eventually found you at the wreckage. And then, while you were telling us what you saw, we heard the sound of a vehicle roaring off in the direction of Grootdrink.”

“Ja, my bloody bakkie!” Kleinpiet looks suitably aggrieved. “Didn’t realise it was my pickup before I went home again.”

“You shouldn’t leave the keys in the ignition, Kleinpiet.” Dreyer’s frustration boils over. “Anyway, I contacted the chaps at Grootdrink, telling them to set up a roadblock – but nothing happened. They didn’t go there.”

“But we’ve looked all over, Dreyer. For the last few days we’ve searched high and low. No Boggel. They must be somewhere, damn it all!”  Precilla can’t understand why Dreyer couldn’t get a helicopter to help them search, and tells him so.

“A helicopter? Here? Sorry Precilla. This is the New South Africa. They have three helicopters in Upington. One is without landing gear after an rather unplanned landing, another is waiting for a new rotor due to a telephone pole the pilot didn’t see and the third is on standby for some minister who is entertaining some Chinese delegation. Oh, and they used to have a fourth ‘copter, but that has been stolen.”

“It’s up to us, then.” Gertruida takes charge again. “We’ll have to…”

“Look!” Servaas’s shout stops her in mid sentence as he points to the window. “There’s a car racing towards town. It looks like an old CitiGolf. I wonder who could it be…?”


The Grain of Sand at Midnight

6021415053_58b80f448b“It’s a fallacy,” Gertruida says because she knows everything, “to talk about midnight. Nobody knows when – exactly – that is.”

A statement such as this is usually met with various nods and understanding looks, simply because you don’t argue with Gertruida. It is far better to lift you glass and toast her wisdom, than to start a debate. But Servaas, who still relies on his old Westclox (the one Siena gave him on their first anniversary), feels compelled to say something.

“It’s when the short arm and the long one both point north,” he says. “Everybody knows that.”

“That’s far too crude to be accurate, Servaas. The hands on that clock stay together for too long. Have you timed it? It takes about twelve seconds before you can see the hour-hand move. Even if you watched it closely, you can’t pinpoint the exact moment when the new day starts and the old one ends.”

“But I have a radio, Gertruida! And that Westclox runs on time, I can tell you. When the beeps for the seven o’clock news sound, that alarm clock agrees: it is exactly seven. Siena always checked it, now I do too.” He hesitates for a second, unsure whether he should continue the argument. “Anyway, since you got that new-fangled watch with the electronic numbers, you seem obsessed with time. Obviously you think that thing is more accurate than the old Westclox.”

‘It’s not that, Servaas,” This time, Gertruida is the one who pauses. “It’s just…”

“Just what?”

“Well, I got to thinking about change, you see? One moment you feel this way, the next you change your mind…”

“Nt me, Getruida. That’s a woman-thing.”

She ignores the remark. “Everybody does that. It’s sometimes a conscious decision. Shall I buy a bread today? Must I go to church? May I have another beer?…And sometimes you don’t even know you made the decision, like when you slap a mosquito.”

She smiles, her point made. Yes, Servaas nods, one moment you’re faced with a situation, the next you’ve made the choice.

“That’s what I mean about midnight. Between the tick and the tock lies a thousand microseconds. Which one is the right one? And that’s what set me thinking about choices and change. Every day – in our minds – we throw the switch, chuck out the old and start with the new. And it’s not just about time, Servaas. It’s about the how and the why I’ve been thinking,

“You see, a clock has no choice in the act of ticking, provided it’s properly wound up. In our minds, however, the process of decision-making is a deliberate thing. We can decide whether we stay in a certain mode, or change to something new. But even if we decide not to change, that is change in itself? Don’t you see? Nothing remains constant – so if one decides to remain as is, that’s a change – because you stopped the process of progress. You would have ended up in a different situation if you decided otherwise.” She ignores the puzzled looks. ” And that, my friend, happens between the tick and the tock. I’m simply wondering how – and exactly why and when – that happens.”

This is far too deep for the group at the bar. Vetfaan tries to change the subject by expressing his dismay at the way the Malaysian aeroplane was shot down.

“There’s another example!” Gertruida isn’t finished. “An aeroplane crosses the sky. One moment the guy with his finger on the firing button isn’t a murderer, the next he is. He crossed his midnight and now he’ll never be able to return to yesterday.”

“Gertruida!” Kleinpiet throws up his hands in exasperation. “Good grief, woman! This is Boggel’s Place, not the Royal Society of Philosphers, Psychiatrists and Politiians. How on earth do you expect us to follow your reasoning? It’s unfair, to say the least.”

Boggel serves another round. “It’s like a scale, guys. Just before midnight, the scale is in perfect balance. Then a grain of sand – perhaps a very, very small one – is added to the one side. Now it tips to one side, the balance disturbed. That’s what Gertruida is trying to say…I think.”

She flashes him a grateful smile. “Yes, Boggel. I want to know what that grain of sand is and why it gets added to the scale. It’s just a simple thought, really. Didn’t want to start an argument.”

She almost sounds believable.

“Our history is determined by decisions. Between the ticks and the tocks of your old Westclox, Servaas, lies the determination of what we are and where we go. We live in troubled times – but who causes these troubles? I’ll tell you: men and women who cross a threshold, changes from yesterday to today, passes the midnight of indecision…and then comes to a conclusion.

“Take the strikes in our mining industry. Somebody made that decision. Hamas attacks Israel and Israel retaliates – who crossed that midnight-moment? Syria, Congo, Sudan…all the result of decisions some people made. One moment they considered peace, the next they rejected it.  Religious and ethnic conflict? It’s all due to a single moment when the grain of sand causes the scale to tip one way or the other.”

Once again her comments are digested with that faraway look farmers get when they wonder what this year’s wool-cheque is going to look like. But, because they like Gertruida so much, one or two nod to show her they’re listening.

“God created Time, Gertruida, to allow us to think.” Oudoom tries to contribute to the convoluted conversation. “Without Time, we simply cannot think, and therefore we cannot change. So, the way I see it, is that Time and Change are blood-brothers. You can’t have the one without the other. And right in between them – Time and Change – you have the grain of sand called Choice. Sometimes it takes a long while before the scale dips to one side, but it is due to Choice that it does so. In contrast to Servaas’ Westclox, we have a choice about Change. Left or right? Up or down? Yes or no? Love…or hate?” The old clergyman sighs. “The exact moment of midnight, Gertruida, is when we consider a thought that changes our ways. This can be good or bad. Evil or not. And that choice is the weight that tips the scale.”

“So,” Vetfaan says with a sardonic grin, “the answer is to make no choices? Leave everything just as it is?”

“That, my friend is impossible. The very nature of life – and of each one of our lives – is based on choice…and change. We can’t control time, but we can control the grain of sand we place on the scale. We, each of us, pass many midnights between past and future every second of our lives. We hold the bag of sand and we have to place it either on the right – or the left – of the scale as we go along. And that, Vetfaan is the way it works.”

Vetfaan shakes his head. “Every decision? Every moment?”

“Yes, Vetfaan, every one of them.”

“Then, my grain of sand says I have to order another beer.”

They laugh at that. Maybe it’s relief that something funny has been said, or simply the fact that the burden of carrying that grain of sand can be a very weighty load to transport around. Perhaps, too, they think back on the midnights they have all had, and the choices to place those grains of sand on the scale.

Precilla wipes away a tear as she remembers her affair with Richard, and the way it all ended so tragically. Yes, she made a choice – the wrong one – and she’ll regret that for the rest of her life. What would have happened if she refused his advances in the beginning?

As if reading her mind, Gertruida pats her shoulder.

“It’s not about yesterday, Precilla. Once you’ve passed midnight, it’s gone…forever. Then you are in charge again, facing that scale with your grain of sand. That’s the point. We live, we learn, we become wiser. And we all make mistakes. Some midnights – or some pivotal moments – are crucial in determining the way the day will play out. And if we place that grain of sand carefully, we can sit back and await the dawn.”


Rolbos – or Life – can be such a barrel of laughs at times. Then, sometimes, the little bar in the town falls silent whenever Gertruida  forces the group to be serious for a change. Vetfaan says she’s such a wet rag when she does this, but it’s Oudoom – who’s seen so much – who’ll tell you how important it is to wait between the tick and the tock, to take a deep breath right then, and place the grain of sand just right.

But then, too, the patrons in Boggel’s Place have a lot to be thankful for. Gertruida could have started the discussion with Fernando Pessoa’s quote: “My past is everything I failed to be.” One can only imagine the profound silence that would have greeted that statement.

The Scent of Eternity

IMG_2516Old Oom Ben Kromhout has been dying for a long time now. Gertruida once said that one mustn’t pity people like this; although the lingering shadow of death may be upsetting for everyone concerned, the person at the centre of it all enjoys the singular privilege of saying goodbye, sorting out personal and financial issues and making peace with Life and God. Still, to see the old man wither away like he did, makes one doubt the statement. Perhaps Gertruida should have set a time frame to her statement – a three-little-bears clause, saying it shouldn’t happen too fast or too slow, but just right.

Living – and dying – on his farm Kromdraai, Oom Ben used to be an example of how one should integrate the reality of this world with the belief in the next. He applied his vast knowledge of the Old and New Testament to the way he lived, the hardships of the Kalahari and the way his wife left him for that travelling salesman, that Philistine, Frederik Kotze. 

“We are but like the grass of the fields,” he said at the time, “here today, gone tomorrow. And if a Kudu came around and ate it, then the grass won’t see tomorrow’s sun. And who, do I ask you, directs that Kudu? Not me or you,” he said as he swivelled his eyes heavenward, “not me or you.” And he’d smile his peaceful smile and say that forgiveness is the answer.

No wonder then, that he was the head head elder in the little church in Grootdrink, where he used to be a pillar of wisdom. The answers to all questions, he maintained, are there for all to read. Just open the Book, and you’ll find it, he always said.

Gertruida now sits at his bedside, holding the terribly thin hand – almost transparent, it seems – as she watches the laborious breathing. She wonders what will happen to all the memories and knowledge the old man had stored in his brain. A lifetime of gathering knowledge and filing away facts – does it simply disappear into a void once we die? Gertruida, who knows everything, shakes her head. No, that is the final puzzle, the question we cannot answer at all.

And what about the soul? Yes, she’s read SHIMMERstate, and it makes some sense – but who really knows what happens when the blood stops carrying oxygen to the grey matter in our heads? The people with near-death experiences didn’t go all the way, did they? Even so, she thinks, the answer must be within the brain. That mushy collection of billions of nerves must be where the soul lives. And if it does, does that mean all brains possess a soul? 

She once asked Oom Ben the question.

“Oh no, my child,” he said, “only Man. Humans have souls. It says so in the book. The animals and the birds and the scorpions and the fish? They don’t have souls. We, as humans, are the only creatures who’ll live on in eternity. The rest return to the veld, my dear, to become part of the very ground you tread on. For them, life is fleeting, a season, and then they’re gone…forever. No heaven for them.”

But, she asked back then, why do we find the same DNA in all living things. Yes, the codes for a Kudu and a Gemsbok and a lion may differ significantly from our’s…but isn’t DNA God’s signature? Isn’t that double helix a sign that everything was created by a single hand and that somewhere in the mysterious twirls of protein, the code for the soul is to be found?

“Ah,” Oom Ben said, “science! That’s the biggest threat to religion, my child. We want to explain everything. Now don’t you go meddling with those ideas, no, not at all. We know only a part of what is. We have to accept that simple fact. One day, when we face the Great Truth, we’ll have answers. All the answers. In the meantime, we mustn’t go about explaining God in our terms. The answer, my dear, is far too simple and much too complicated for us to understand.”

But, Gertruida said, it’ll be sad to believe there are no animals in heaven. What about Elijah, she asked, was he not taken to heaven in a chariot drawn by horses? Where did they come from?

Oom Ben thought about this deeply, sipping his coffee from the saucer in the way he used to when he rummaged through the files in his head.

“They were heavenly horses. Made up there, stayed up there. That’s what.”

And dogs and cats and cows?

“No. Not them.”

Her reverie is broken when the breathing becomes even more irregular. It is time, she knows. Oom Ben’s suffering is almost over. Taking the Bible from the bedside table, she starts reading Psalm 23.

“Aaaaah,” Oom Ben says suddenly as he opens his eyes wide. “How wonderful.”

He says this clearly, in a young voice, so clear that Gertruida will remember it for many years to come. And it’s not only the clarity of the voice. No, not at all. There is something else: a joy, a celebration of sorts, that tells you he’s smiling even if you can’t see it. 

Gertruida stops reading.

“What is, Oom Ben?”

“It’s so much more!” His voice is still smiling, but the eyes are closed now. “So much.”

He’s silent for a while as his chest heaves up and down.

“Oom Ben?”

“My child…” Now his voice seems to come from far away. “It’s so…beautiful!”

Another pause to catch his breath.

“And…I can smell it.”

“What, Oom Ben? What do you smell?”

Now the chest stops straining so much. It doesn’t have to. It’s almost over.

“Puppy-breath, my child….I…smell…puppy-breath.”


They bury old Oom Ben Kromhout in the little graveyard on his farm. It’s a dignified service led by Oudoom and attended by almost everybody in the district. They have come to pay their last respects to a man who lived as an example to them all. Some speak of how Oom Ben helped them through hard times, others remember a visit, a handshake, a smile. Kind words and tears mingle as the coffin gets lowered into the ground.

gemsbokAnd maybe it’s because of the tears, or perhaps the downcast eyes – but only Gertruida looks up when the group files past the open grave to throw handfuls of sand back into the hole while Oudoom intones the bit about dust to dust.

And Gertruida, who looks up at that moment, sees the Gemsbok on the rise beyond the little graveyard. It is a magnificent creature, seemingly standing to attention with his horns held high and his many-coloured coat shining in the sun.

And if you asked her, she’d say she was sure that he was smiling. It looked that way, even at that distance.