Tag Archives: redemption.

Fanny’s Surprise (# 18)

“Now, you won’t get lost, will you? We’ve only got so much water, remember?” Henry is a changed person. Lat night’s remorse has changed to overconfidence; his demeanour suddenly that of a conquering hero rather than shame-faced crook. “Oh, and I’ll take the water, thank you very much.” He holds out his hand to receive the bottle from Vetfaan.”

Vetfaan and Fanny walks ahead, with the smirking Henry a few yards behind them. This is how one should conduct business – catch them by surprise when you slap your four aces on the table. Yes, this feels like the good old days when the deals were sweet and the profits huge. Life owes him a break. It owes him big time…

“He’s not normal,” Vetfaan whispers, “the way he changes from Jeckyll to Hyde is frightening. Last night…this morning – it doesn’t make sense.”

Fanny lengthens her stride so that they are even farther ahead of Henry. “I know. In the past I saw glimpses of that. He’d be shy and quiet, but when it came to financial matters, he wanted to take over the conversation. Maybe he was just trying to assert himself in front of others. What I realise – and isn’t it ironic that I only do so now – is that you can’t believe a word he says. I think he’s a pathologic liar, Fanie. He’s the ultimate actor: he only says what you want to hear. It’s uncanny. Maybe it’s the result of all those lonely childhood years filled with intense feelings of inferiority. Whatever it is: he’s dangerous.”

“I agree, Fanny. Unstable is the word that comes to mind. He switches from one personality to another with such ease… Who is he, really?”

“I don’t know, Fanie. Damaged goods…”

They reach the dune before the Valley of the Buried Wagon  when the sun is almost directly ahead.

“Listen.” Vetfaan turns to their tormentor. “The wagon is in the next valley. We’ll climb to the top of the dune, and you’ll be able to see what is left of the skeleton of the wagon. Now me and Fanny? We’ll wait at the top of the dune. You go down and do whatever you have to. Tell you the truth: I don’t want to see what you do down there.”

“Oh no, mister wise-guy. I need hands and pockets to carry those coins out.” He taps the side of his head while shaking the water bottle with the other. “I thought about everything, my friend.” He hisses the last word. “You come along.”

Vetfaan sighs. He was hoping they’d be able to escape while the madman is busy with the gold. Then again: where would they go – especially without water?

***

Only the top of one wheel is visible above the sand when they reach the bottom of the valley.

“It’s there,” Fanny points towards the one side of the area. With down cast eyes and slumped shoulders, she seems a completely defeated woman. Vetfaan stands quietly to one side, jaw muscles working while a million thoughts cruise through his mind.  The lion, preparing to attack…

“Then, my sweet, you had better start digging, hadn’t you?”Henry’s sneer widens. “We don’t want mister farmer-boy jumping on my back, do we? Go on, let’s see you get down and dirty, my dear. I like my women like that.”

Fanny sinks to her knees and starts scooping the layer of sand away from what used to be the bed of the wagon. Tears make dusty streaks down her cheek. Henry turned out to be such a horrible person; and for a while she had been considering marrying this…this monster? How stupid can a woman be? How terribly wrong…?

When the ancient and worn timber is exposed, Henry commands her to lift the loose planks. She does.

And then it happens.

The puff adder has been using the space below these planks as a burrow for some time. Little pieces of bone – certainly from mice and other small animals – litter the lair. It certainly is the perfect home for a snake, especially in an area without rocks or other hiding places.

download (37)The snake rears it’s head. Vetfaan screams a drawn-out Nooooo!  He knows these adders are amongst the fastest strikers in the snake world, and if Fanny were to be bitten here, there’s no way he’d be able to save her.

Later, Vetfaan and Fanny will wonder about Henry’s reaction. When Fanny shrieks and falls back on the sand, the heinous smirk disappears from his haughty face. He drops the water bottle and dives towards the snake, trying to get hold of its neck.

Henry has no chance. The snake gets him three times: twice on the forearm and once on the wrist. The fangs penetrating the inside of the arm, just above the hand, do the damage. The potent venom gets injected directly into the venous complex beneath the skin, allowing the dose of venom to travel directly to the heart.

It’s over in three minutes. Oh, Vetfaan and Fanny try. They try for much, much longer. Without cortisone and antivenin, it is impossible.

***

“He saved my life.”

They’re back in the camp, sitting in shocked silence at the fire.  After they had given up hope of reviving Henry, they buried the body next to the other three skeletons they had found there – oh, it feels like ages ago. There was no way they could carry him across the sand in the heat of the day. They emptied his pockets before they covered him up. That’s when Vetfaan found the distributor cap  in the side pocket of Henry’s pants.

“Ja.” Vetfaan gets out the Cactus. He saw the look of horror on Henry’s face as he took that last, fateful dive. There’s no question about it – he reacted to save the one person in the whole world he loved. That, and his last words, croaked out when his eyes were dimming already: I’m…so terribly…sorry. He was desperately trying to say something else, reaching out with a trembling hand to touch Fanny’s face, when he sighed – and was gone. “I’m sorry.”

What else can he say?

“He was a troubled soul, Fanie. The way his personality swung to and fro – some psychologist will make sense out of it – I can’t. A sociopath? A psychopath? A nasty manipulator? Schizophrenic?  I can’t bear thinking about … And then, in his last act…”

Vetfaan moves over to share body warmth with her. “That’s who he really was, Fanny. The real Henry. The Henry his father killed when he was a small boy. He could have been such a different man, if only he had a chance to develop normally.”

“We’ll get a helicopter, won’t we, Fanie? To fetch him? Please?” Small-girl voice, plaintively pleading the hurt to stop.

“Of course we shall. We owe him that, at least.”

The soft night wind moves the sparse dry grass around the camp. It reminds Vetfaan of old !Tung’s almost-asthmatic breathing. A light gust swirls up a little winking cloud of sparks from the embers, carrying them high into the sky where they mingle with the stars. For a brief second, they form part of the milky way. Just for a moment – like we all do.

Fanny rests her head on the broad shoulder of Vetfaan.

“I wonder where !Tung is now,” she asks softly, looking at the stars.

Vetfaan doesn’t have to answer. The whisper in the wind tells him so.  

And something to read this weekend..

Also here: http://www.mybooks.co.za/book/41813/65-shades-of-guilt

Pass-over

“Servaas, you are particularly cantankerous these days.”Gertruida sits down next to the old man, rubbing the small of his back with a soft hand. “I think you should talk about it. Something is brewing in that grey head, and I think it must come out. You can’t go on like this.”

Servaas looks up at Gertruida’s face to see the kindness and concern there. Suddenly, tears well up. He sniffs loudly.

“It’s nothing, thank you. Something that happened a long time ago. 30 years ago, to be exact. Long gone, not important any more.”

“You know better than that, Servaas. Sometimes those thoughts are the most dangerous of all. They sit there, festering away below the surface, destroying the little happiness you might still have left in you.” She pauses to do a little mental arithmetic. “Thirty years? That was 1982. The country was at war in Angola…”

“Super.”

“What?”

Operation Super. March 1982.”

Gertruida’s face lights up. “Of course! Servaasie! She lowers her voice as Servaas’ shoulders start shaking, “He was in a support group, wasn’t he? And a landmine got his vehicle?” When Servaas nods, Gertruida tells him she’s so sorry.

“Yeah. He died, and I failed…”

When the telegram arrived to announce the death of his only son, Servaas locked himself in his room. He came out once, to attend the funeral.  For three days and three nights he even ignored Siena’s pleas to come out, saying he was busy struggling with God. That was not true: he was fighting with God, accusing Him of being an unfeeling and unjust deity, unworthy of worship.

“How can you say you failed? You didn’t. You gave the best to Servaasie and the war wasn’t your doing, anyway. You’re being unreasonable, Servaas.”

On the fourth day, he opened the door and told Siena he’d be away for a while. She saw the terrible determination in his eyes and didn’t ask. He took a bag and his old hunting rifle, loaded it into the pickup, and drove off. Now it was Siena’s turn to spend her days on her knees, pleading  God to protect her husband.

He drove up the long, tarred road from Vioolsdrift to Grootfontein, only stopping for petrol and stale meat pies along the way. Three days later he stood on the banks of the Kunene River, gazing at Angola with blood-shot eyes. Camouflaging his vehicle, he stretched out on the back, and slept for a full day. Then, after a meal of bully beef and beans, he took his rifle and started looking for a way to cross the river.

His intention was clear: they took his son. He’d take one of theirs. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. When the evening came, he found a wide, shallow stretch of river where he waded through.

“Servaas? A one-man expedition against a trained army? What were you thinking?”

He lived off the veld, trapping small animals and drinking whenever he found water. The area was rather inhospitable, so he trekked more-or-less up along the river so as not to lose contact with the only reliable source of water.

And then, one night, he heard voices. Clear, singing voices. Voices joined together to sing a hymn – like only the people from Africa can. Multi-tiered singing, combining bass and soprano in alternating verses, praising God.

Servaas never found out who did that singing.

He returned home.

“You did the right thing, Servaas. How can you say you failed?”

“I failed God, for a while. I got angry and turned my back on Him. I was quite prepared to kill anybody I met in Angola: man, woman, child, soldier, civilian. Anybody. Just to feel I took some sort of revenge.”

“Remember the ten plagues, Servaas, and how the first Passover came into being? It was the blood of the lamb that was the sign. Those with the sign, survived. The others didn’t. The same thing happened to you. The hymn was the sign, that’s all. It’s actually a beautiful story.

“You passed them over – whoever they were – just like the plague did the Jews in Egypt all those years ago. And now, with Passover upon us, you should celebrate it, not sit and mope about it.”

“But I never got my revenge, Gertruida!” The old man’s face contorts in a picture of regret. “Now I live with this emptiness inside me. I wanted to fill it, but couldn’t.”

“You know, Servaas, the biggest, worst, most horrible form of revenge is … forgiveness. You cannot fight hate with hate. Hate can only succumb to one force; and that’s the force of love. If we were to be punished for every sinful thought, every sinful action, life on earth would have been impossible. We all may live in hope, because of Passover. It is given to everybody, but it’ll cost you. Not everybody is humble enough to accept it; the proud ones refuse to reach out – and continue hating, continue seeking revenge and justification.”

“Are you telling me I’ve been missing the message of Passover all these years, Gertruida?” A new sorrow has found it’s way to the wrinkled face as the eyebrows shoot up in surprise.

“Passover. Forgiveness. Redemption. And all those rest on Love. They’re all the same, my friend. There’s only one trick: reach out and make it your own.”

Tonight, Servaas will go home with a smile. The empty space inside his mind has been filled. By being passed over, he has been passed up, in a manner of speaking. Up: like in nearer to the wisdom of the Throne, not like in forgotten. Quite the opposite, in fact. It is quite an exhilarating freedom, something quite new to him.

Anyway, like Gertruida says; make sure you’re passed over and passed up before you pass on.