Tag Archives: weekly writing challenge

The Chains of War.

Sculpture-by-Bernard-Jack-001

By US sculptor Bernard Jackson.

“Faith, my friends, is loneliest word in the universe.” Oudoom stares through the window, his back towards the group at the bar. The Kalahari sky is strangely overcast, with the faintest of suggestions of a little rain. “It’s such a personal thing. I can’t believe in anything simply because the rest of the world believes it. I – myself – must be convinced about something before I can say I have faith in it.”

“Like love?” Precilla’s voice is soft, her eyes moist.

“Yes, like love.”

It’s been a tough week in Rolbos. They’ve talked, wondered and argued (more like debated than fought) about Kleinpiet’s startling announcement that he was leaving them for a while. Just like that. And then he pecked Precilla on the cheek after shaking hands with the rest…and got into his pickup to drive out of town. No explanation.

Oh, they speculated, of course. Gertruida said they should have picked up the warning signs over the past few weeks – Kleinpiet had been very quiet, sitting on the veranda and staring at the shimmering horizon most of the time. And that one time, when Vetfaan started talking about the Border War, Kleinpiet interrupted him rudely, saying it wasn’t a subject they should be discussing. Servaas reminded them of another conversation that ended bluntly.

“I was talking about Siena when Kleinpiet said I was a fool to love so intensely. He said Siena is dead and I must get over it. I was so shocked…”

“Ja, ” Oudoom said at the time, “he told me I’m a deluded old man when I said something about God loving us all…”

***

Nobody survives – unscathed – the ravages of war. The lucky ones get killed and buried. The rest go home – either as victor or defeated – to live with what they had seen and done. The living have to bear the burden of the dead – and that poison kills a little bit of life in every soldier who unlatches the front gate of his home after the politicians signed yet another meaningless peace accord.

Perhaps it is true to say that depression is born during times of conflict. While these times of frustration may involve less obvious stresses, they do tend to surface especially after periods of battle and bloodshed. And, like a hyena has the uncanny ability to find the carcass a leopard so cleverly camouflaged amongst the thorny bushes, so depression will hunt down the weak in the unguarded moments when memories cause sleepless nights.

***

Angola 1982

Secret

Report on Prisoner 2815 – Day 15 after capture

The subject still refuses to cooperate. After prolonged sessions of interrogation, sleep deprivation and starvation, he is weak but remains defiant. 

The man repeatedly denied any military involvement, saying he is an innocent farmer in Sector 45(a), north of Lubango (Map SAW 378, position D 22). He can give no reason why he ventured so far south, and was armed with an AK47.

His interrogation will continue after his medical today. 

***

Report on Prisoner 2815 – Day 26 after capture

The prisoner is in a much weakened state. No further information has been forthcoming. Medical orderly has expressed concern about his physical state. Will discuss possible scenarios during the briefing tonight. Consider  termination?

***

Report on Prisoner 2815 – Final

Prisoner was hospitalised three days ago on advice of medical orderly. Health and mental state stabilised and improving following intravenous medication and nutrition. 

Inexplicably managed to escape from the medical tent during the night at about 3 am. Medical orderly on duty at the time was writing reports in an adjacent tent and noticed the absence of Prisoner 2815 at 03h16, and raised the alarm immediately. 

Tracks were followed in a northeasterly direction, but disappeared in the shallow river three clicks away. Commanding officer withdrew the searching patrol due to upcoming offences. Medical orderly reprimanded.

***

At first it seemed as if Manuel Cobado might make it. The orderly had hidden him at the base of a huge baobab, just south of the Angolese border with South West Africa, providing him with a ratpack and water. Of course the orderly couldn’t visit him daily, but he kept up a steady stream of supplies whenever he could.

It must have been a week after the escape that the prisoner finally spoke up.

“Why you do this for me? Better that I die, no? You get shot if they find you here.”

The orderly managed a wry smile. “You speak English?”

And so a strange and halting conversation started. Manuel admitted to spying on the South African troops, noting movements and supplies. He was supposed to convey these to his superiors in Luanda, but the batteries in his radio had been defective and he abandoned the device before attempting to return to Angola. During his journey back, he was spotted and captured.

“Why didn’t you just tell them that? It could have saved you a lot of pain?”

Manuel shrugged. “Why you help me? What can I say? This is war, no? You soldier, me soldier. We fight, we kill. I no say nothing, I die. That’s okay. But I go back and I tell I was prisoner, they think Manuel tell lie. They think Manuel is now spy for you. They put Manuel in prison and ask many questions. Manuel no can say anything – so they shoot Manuel. Manuel die, anyway.”

This upset the orderly, who argued with his patient. But in the convoluted logic that only exists during wars, they both knew the rules – and that Manuel’s return after being a prisoner would be viewed with extreme suspicion by his superiors.

The orderly suggested that Manuel return to his small farm to wait for the end of the war. Manuel said it wasn’t possible, there were spies everywhere.

When the orderly returned the next day, the hideaway was empty. On the makeshift bed he found the pocket knife he had given to Manuel and a piece of bark on which the word ‘Obrigado‘ was carved out.

***

What happened to Manuel Cobado?  Was he the farmer-turned-spy he claimed to be? Did he make it back home – unarmed and as weak as he was? Did he sometimes sit next to a fire at night, remembering the days of war? And does he, after all these years, still have faith in his convictions? Or did the Russians (or Chinese, or Cubans)  throw him in jail, as he predicted? What happened to his family? And his farm?

Maybe not all soldiers have such questions in the years after the war. Triggers were pulled, men fell, mortars exploded, people were killed. That’s what war is about, after all. But if not all, then many men and women who stow away the uniform in the holdall they hope never to unpack again, will feel their hearts shrink when these memories surface during unguarded moments. Who was that man in the cross-hairs? That face that stared in horror over the low wall as the ccrrrrumph! of the mortar echoed across the killing field – did he have a family? The pitiful, mangled body behind the splintered tree trunk – who did he pray to when the bullets started chipping away at the wood? And do we not all whimper in the same language when the shrapnel tears a chunk out of the uniform? And…what about the ragged, dirty little child that ran to the prostrate body in the village square when the bombing started?

***

Near Rolbos, 2014

 Kleinpiet turns the pocket knife over and over in his hands. He’s camping next to a sandy hill, a few miles out of town. Maybe he’ll return tomorrow, or the day after. But first he has to make peace.

With himself.

With Manuel.

With Love and Faith.

Once he’s done that, he might just manage to shake off the chains…for now..

***

“I think he’s terribly selfish, going off like that…” Precilla dabs the Kleenex to her eyes.

“No, my dear, he’s terribly brave,” Gertruida says – because she knows everything. “Faith and Love…and depression…are like Ravel’s Bolero. It builds up volume and tempo from an rather inconspicuous start. The trick is to conduct the orchestra in your mind to play the correct instrument at the right time. Only if you do that, can you unshackle the wonderful melody of Hope.”

Of course Precilla doesn’t understand.

The Last of the True Afrikaners

IMG_2534Driving from Grootdrink, a veritable bustling metropolis in comparison with Rolbos, you cross the Orange River before passing the little collection of huts where the Geel family stays. Not everybody knows that the Geels and the Kruipers are closely related, and therefore of royal blood – in the Africa sense of the word. Regop Geel, the oldest man in the family, is well known in these parts for his uncanny ability to recite, word for word, the proud history of the San people – exactly as his grandfather had told him.

About ten kilometres farther along the twisting and sandy track, one passes the locked-up homestead of Lothar de Wit, the once-wealthy farmer who – according to Gertruida – couldn’t  live with the past. Perhaps it is true to say that Lothar made his own bed, only to find it extremely uncomfortable; but that would be unkind and even rude in the modern society we live in.

Few people – according to Gertruida, at least – knew the stoic Lothar. Oh, he was a popular figure in the 80’s, being the politician he used to be. But, despite being a well recognised person, he really had no true friends. He was too superior, too supercilious and far too pretentious to bend down to the level of the common folk of the district. Lothar’s sheep were always the fattest, his car the newest and his suits cut according to the latest fashion. He also had a wonderful way with words, which was why he represented the district in  parliament as a respected and convincing orator.

But…like so often happens, he was the architect of his own little disaster, poor man. And that’s a story everybody knows…

***

“Trees,” Gertruida says, “shouldn’t grow high if they can’t stand the wind.”

“A tall tree without proper roots will topple over,” Servaas nods his agreement, “just like old Ben Bitterbrak when he has had too much. I’ve told him to get heavier boots, but he just won’t listen.”

“You can weigh that man’s feet down as much as you like, Servaas, but it won’t help. He collapses from the head downwards – his feet are on the ground already.”

“Ja, just like old Lotta.”

This remark by Kleinpiet stops the conversation. Somehow the subject of Lothar de Wit is one they avoid, simply because his fall from grace had been such a painful one. Even after all these years, Lothar – who was called Lotta behind his back – remains an uncomfortable reminder of who they don’t want to be. Lotta? Last of the True Afrikaners, according to the tongue-in-the-cheek local gossip.

“Listen, we’re all Afrikaners, man! We make mistakes just like everybody else. We live, we love, we hurt, we hope…just like anybody else. We shouldn’t joke about Lothar de Wit.”

Tuynhuys, Cape Town

Tuynhuys, Cape Town

“Shame, you’re right, Precilla. That poor man had the world at his feet, but he believed one stupid thing. I mean, he was a member of the Broederbond, represented the National Party and had a Mercedes Benz. That was as far as you could go in those days. But there was more: he had dinner with PW Botha in Tuynhuys, was an elder in the church and  had season tickets for the Blue Bulls’ games at Loftus.

“Thoroughly respected, he was. Then he started with that True Afrikaner story. Pure blood, he said, was they key to leadership. He reckoned that once you were of mixed origins, you couldn’t claim to be an Afrikaner and therefore would be unfit to lead.. He shouldn’t have said that.”

“Ja, it’s much like the ANC has this obsession about being black. It’s exactly the same mistake. If you are Pure Black, you’re seen in a different way than when you are called Coloured, or Indian, or White. I mean, Hitler proved, in the most terrifying way, that you cannot talk like that. So did the Nationalists, for that matter.” Vetfaan stares at the heatwaves shimmering on the horizon. It’s difficult to see where heaven stopped and earth began. “I don’t understand this absolute emphasis on race. And…surely: can one still claim to be of ‘pure’ blood these days? Aren’t we all carrying genes of mixed origin?”

Kleinpiet shrugs. “I met a man in Rehoboth with the same names as I have. We compared notes and found he’s a distant cousin of sorts. That makes me a Coloured, I suppose. And let me tell you: if ever they start testing the nation’s DNA, we won’t be able to talk about Whites and Blacks any longer. I think we’re all related to one another in some way.”

“Of course. Read your Bible. First Adam, then Noah – that’s where we all come from. Or, if you insist on being scientific, read up on the Origins of Man. It’s obvious either way: somewhere in the distant past we all had common ancestors.” Oudoom looks down at his hands, smiling. “We all share many features, but the opposing thumb – and the soul – separate us as unique in the animal kingdom.”

“Not so, Oudoom. There are apes with opposing thumbs, too. That, according to you, only leaves one singular characteristic for humans: we have souls. That’s all that counts.” Gertruida sits back with a knowing smile. She likes arguing with Oudoom about evolution.

“That’s the point Lothar missed – like the current government, he tried to believe that race is a defining characteristic. That’s all a bit short-sighted. Culture defines you, not colour.”

***

If you should unlock the door to Lothar de Wit’s house on the deserted farm, you’ll find nothing much of interest. A thick layer of dust covers the yellow wood floors that once were polished to a brilliant shine. The tattered curtains are still there, but that’s about all. In the porch, the wall retains the unbleached square where the framed collection of pictures of the De Wit forebears once hung. For years important visitors had to pause at  yellowed photos of the line of ancestors stretching back to Andries Pretorius, the Voortrekker leader. Of this, Lothar was particularly proud and he made a point of making his guests aware of this noble ancestry.

That is, until Regop Geel came to see the politician to discuss  independence for the San people. As can be expected of the Nationalist politician, he listened with apparent interest, promised to look into the matter, and promptly put the matter out of his mind. However, still intent on impressing his visitor, he pointed out his heritage when they passed the photos.

“Andries Pretorius? He’s your great-great-great grandfather?”

Lothar nodded proudly.

“Yes, I have some of that family’s blood too.” Regop Geel stood on tiptoe to peer at the pictures. “Catharina van Bengale, a freed slave girl, way back in the 1600’s. According to my grandfather, one of her sons became a guide to some travellers, which is how the van Bengales got taken up by our family. But that woman, Catharina…she was the great grandmother of Andries Pretorius. That, I think, makes us family.”

Ai Mieta, who worked in the kitchen at the time, overheard the conversation. She, naturally, couldn’t wait to spread the story.

***

“Poor chap. He simply packed up and left. I heard he’s farming in the Karoo now – changed his name and everything – because of the shame of having mixed blood.”

“No, Servaas. It’s no shame to have mixed blood at all. It is, however, unacceptable to proclaim your superiority on the basis of the amount of pigment in your skin. Lothar’s political demise was the direct result of his misplaced belief that purity of race should imply certain privileges. The shame of it all lies in the fact that Lothar was a symptom of a far-reaching, serious disease. It’s endemic to our society – and many societies in Africa and elsewhere. And until we stop thinking that race can – in this day and age – still be pure, we’ll continue to view people of different hues of pigmentation as different to ourselves.”

***

Before you drive past the Geel village, you might want to stop and have a chat with the wizened old man sitting under the lone tree in the clearing that serves as a square for the villagers. Here you’ll be able to hear one of the last oral historians tell you about the Bushman, the San and the Khoikhoi cultures. Be prepared to be patient while he elaborates on the difficult and convoluted history of their struggles for survival. And, if you were to ask, he’ll take you to his humble hut, where a large, square frame filled with old photographs hangs. Then he’ll tell you about Catharina van Bengale and how her offspring influenced events over the centuries.

( Read also about Angela van Bengale, the other slave girl who helped establish wine making in the Cape)

The Picture

nighthawks_by_edward_hopper_1942

That picture! Gertruida stares at it for a long time. The memories! The shock!

the-beautiful-and-the-damnedShe knew it had to be here, somewhere – and now she’s found it, wishing she didn’t, between the pages of The Beautiful and the Damned, the Fitzgerald novel she had been reading at the time. Oh! She remembers the sad and poignant tale of Anthony Patch, the lazy, egocentric youth who believed the world owed him a life of luxury. And, of course, there was his wife…the beautiful and equally shallow Gloria. Gertruida smiles wanly when she remembers the almost-bitter but brilliant ending of the book which so aptly underscored the futility of both beauty and wealth. Yes, she thinks, that book was such a fitting read for the time she spent with Gerald Grimes, the man with the most endearing smile.

How old was she at the time? Eighteen? Nineteen? And then she met Gerald, charming, handsome Gerald, on Durban’s Golden Mile, during one of the rare breakaway-weekends she allowed herself while studying. In those days you could walk along the beach for hours – there were no loiterers, no muggings, no danger. She had walked, read, dreamed, tanned and was about to return to the little flat she had rented, when he walked right up to her and asked whether she’d like to have dinner with him. Just like that! She didn’t know who he was, what his intentions were or even anything at all about this tall, athletic man…but said yes, she would, just because she couldn’t think of anything else to say. The age of innocence…

He accompanied her to the flat after introducing himself and apologising for his impertinence. “I’ve found it such a waste of time to go through the long preamble of playing stupid games. It’s so boring. And…I travel such a lot that I rarely have to privilege of going through social rituals.” He smiled the most disarming smile. “I liked the way you concentrated on your reading and thought: This girl has depth. I’d like to meet her. So there. Now we can have dinner together and we’ll chat. No strings. Not at all.”

They had dinner in the Royal Hotel, a scrumptious affair with  oysters and crayfish and the most delicately prepared choice of desserts. Afterwards they ambled up West Street, where they found this late-night cafe serving coffee.

“I read a lot,” he said, “especially the old authors – Fitzgerald, Poe, Haggard, Dafoe. They had such a wonderful way with words – even if they used a type of style and language we don’t even recognise today.”

“Like trammels, feckless,sanguinary, impecunious and erudition?” Gertruida warmed to the subject.

“Yes,” he said, “and we often can learn so much from them.”

On_the_Heels_of_de_Wet_1000170260“Ah yes,” Gertruida smiled. “There is a book on the Boer War, On the heels of De Wet by Lionel James. He had a rather severe opinion of what political change would do to South Africa. Remember, he wrote his book in 1902 and quite a visionary he turned out to be. He said…” She closed her eyes to remember the exact words. “But they have been pampered by us enough to make them imagine vain things, and vain imaginings may result at no distant period in a repetition of that rapine, pillage, and massacre of white settlements, which has ever furnished the saddest stones in the cairn of our great Empire.”

Gerald marvelled at her phenomenal ability to quote so accurately and said so. Then they started chatting about the way the old authors managed the extremely long sentences – almost unreadable, yet so lucid in their description of events and people.

This man, Gertruida realised, was the most widely-read person she’d ever met, and they sat there, chatting about books and authors, until the poor cafe-owner stared at them with tired eyes and they took pity on him. At that point the only other customer was a suited man who simply sat there, not drinking anything, apparently lost in deep thought.

They were getting up to leave when the silent customer got up, apologised to Gertruida, and asked Gerald to accompany him.

“Why…” Gertruida wanted to protest, but the man held up a hand.

“Please, Miss, this is official business. We’ve been looking for him all over. I didn’t want to cause a scene, but he’s not going to get away – again – this time.”

Suddenly, they were surrounded by a number of other men, all in suits, who escorted Gerald to a waiting vehicle – a Mercedes with tinted windows and no number plate. And then, barely a few seconds later, Gertruida sat down at the counter, all alone and completely confused. What had just happened? Neither she, nor the cafe owner, had any idea,

A few months later, she received a letter.

My dear Gerty

I must apologise for the way our lovely evening ended. I sincerely regret having to have left you like that, but you’ll remember that I had little choice in the matter. 

You see, I work for a government your people don’t approve of. I was – still am, I suppose – a persona non grata in South Africa. My work involves the gathering of information, something your authorities frown at. Enough said…

Well, I spent some time as a guest of your government in Pretoria’s Central Prison, where I wiled away the time by sketching. Most of my drawings were confiscated, unfortunately, but this one survived. 

I’m in London now, after being exchanged. The deal had been a complicated one, but it involved the release of an Israeli scientist who had been in custody in Moscow. I believe he’s working for your government now and is involved with a secret project involving missiles. 

There. True to my nature, I didn’t waste too much of your time, did i? But now you have the bare basics – a skeleton you can build the bigger picture on. I don’t suppose we’ll meet again, which saddens me much. However, suffice to say that I enjoyed the evening with you and have the fondest memories of a few hours spent with you.

Kind regards,

Gerald.

***

Gertruida puts the letter back between the pages of the book. A sentence seems to jump off the page at her:

Halcyon days like boats drifting along slow-moving rivers, spring evenings full of plaintive melancholy that made the past beautiful and bitter, bidding them look back and see that the loves of other summers long gone were dead with the forgotten waltzes of their years.

Taking great care, she closes the book before slipping it back onto the shelf. Then she sits down in her favourite chair to stare at the picture. Perhaps, she thinks, it is the lost loves that makes life so bearable. Or maybe these chance meetings serve to remind us that everybody has a story and that everyone shares the bond of loneliness.  It doesn’t matter who you are and what your convictions may be – in the end we are all strangers shuffling through Life’s night.

For some reason, the thought causes an immense feeling of sadness to envelop her. When she looks down at the picture again, she’s not surprised to see the smudge caused by her tears. Like the memory of that evening, it is only fair that the picture should fade, as well…

The Legend of the Glutton and the Small Pot

109_0966!xsaikgamma Jantjies is proud of his first name – it had been his father’s name, just like every firstborn son in his family even before they adopted the surname (nobody had surnames back in the 1800’s; the silliness started only after the English started with their registers). He simply loves it when people try to pronounce his name; which, quite obviously, only the people of his tongue manage. In the original language, his name denotes one who makes music: He who has the sound of water. However, ever since his grandfather’s time, the tradition in the family switched from being musicians (usually on the string of a bow or a flute made of reed) to singing. And their songs, if you could understand them, are musical fragments of history or what they see in the future.

***

“Welcome, Mister Jantjies!” Boggel avoids the embarrassment of trying to use the first name. “It’s always a pleasure to see you.”

!xsaikgamma smiles happily. He likes visiting Rolbos, where he always has a warm reception. “I told you to call me Jantjies. Just that. It’s easier.”

When Gertruida heard the old man was in town, she prepared his favourite stew (curried venison, lots of potatoes) and now she places the steaming bowl of aromatic food in front of him. He smacks his lips, but looks up shrewdly.

“As usual, it isn’t free, is it?”

The remark makes Gertruida do a little jig of joy.

“I hope not, !xsaikgamma.” Gertruida is the only one in town who can pronounce the name correctly. “But only if you want to.”

“Let me eat first. Sing? I cannot sing on an empty stomach.”

“That’s why I made the stew, !xsaikgamma, like I always do when you visit us. You sing so well.”

And that’s quite true, too. Not only is the old man an above-average soprano, he has also taken to translating his songs so they may understand the words. And should you ask any Rolbosser, they’d tell you he is hugely entertaining.

When at last he uses a gnarled finger to sweep the last of the gravy from the plate, he smiles at his audience. The whole town is there, waiting in anticipation.

“I shall sing you a legend. This legend isn’t about the past at all. It’s a legend of the future.” Taking out a reed flute, he plays a little intro before starting his song.

***

The fat man was hungry, he wanted more;

he’s never been so hungry before.

So he sent his sons to hunt another buck

hoping, indeed, they’d find some luck.

At first they went to scout the land to see what they could find

But the fat man had eaten everything, and he had more in mind.

“Go get some more guns, and boats and planes,” the fat man said,

for his huge appetite had not been met.

“And bring me meat – and lots of it

and bring it here to where I sit.”

His sons went out, but the day had gone,

the night was there, with only stars that shone.

And it was dark, as dark can be –

his sons were blind, they couldn’t see.

“Bring me light,” the fat man cried.

And lo! His sons looked everywhere –

but because it was dark, as dark can be

his sons looked everywhere, but couldn’t see.

But then a man came, from far away

he wore a furry hat.

“I’ll give you light, but you must do as I say”

And that, my friend was that.

So now the sons have too much light

and they can hunt throughout the night.

They bring back meat – in pieces and bits

to Nkandla, where the fat man sits.

But now the fat man cries a lot;

the meat was too much for his pot.

And it fell over, burning all his meat

and now the fat man cannot eat.

***

“What a strange man. What a weird song.I wonder what he was singing about.” Vetfaan stares at the receding figure marching down Voortrekker Weg.

“You know, Vetfaan, it is wrong to think of people like !xsaikgamma as ignorant. It is true that he – like so many others – leads a simple life. They don’t read newspapers and never listen to political analysts. Neither do they understand the massive problems with the economy or the intricate web of international relationships.

“But you just heard him express a profound opinion on the Arms Deal – the R30-billion fiasco which involved a billion Rand in bribery.” Gertruida sits back with a worried frown. “And then he sang about the alleged R500-billion deal with the Russians to build nuclear power stations. Can you imagine what a can of worms that may well turn out to be?”

“I’ve heard that legend before,” Boggel says thoughtfully. “About the glutton who couldn’t stop eating. Eventually he put so much meat in his pot that it toppled over into the fire. When he tried to rescue his food, his entire house burnt down. There’s a moral to that story.”

“Ja, there is.” Kleinpiet draws a three-legged pot on the counter top with beer froth. “No pot is ever big enough to hold injustice. Eventually it must topple over and spill the proverbial beans.”

The group at the bar stares at his froth-painting in silence for a while.

“What does his name mean, Gertruida? You pronounce it so well, but I still can’t get my tongue around it.”

“!xsaikgamma?” Gertruida smiles sadly. “Music maker. The sound of water. It may also be translated as the flute player.”

“Like: whistleblower?”

“Yes, Vetfaan, I guess you can say that.”

The war was lost
The treaty signed
There’s Truth that lives
And Truth that dies
I don’t know which
So never mind.

Words and music: L Cohen

The Man and the Chimney

(The story starts here)

chimneyBefore chimneys, Gertruida once said, mankind could not develop beyond just making fire. According to her, caves and huts and shelters filled with smoke would have rendered mankind useless – with sinusitis, rhinitis, conjunctivitis and asthma. But once they discovered chimneys, they started making progress and the wheel was invented. That, and swords and spears and knives and other things they used to kill each other with. Progress, she says, always has a price.

She says the same thing happens in our minds. If we don’t find an outlet for the results of anger or frustration or guilt, the fumes of resentment makes us blind and suffocates clear thinking.  It threatens our lives. And as usual, the little crowd in Boggel’s Place nodded happily, hoping she’d pay for the next round. Did they understand? Of course not…they just didn’t get the picture.

But, in Diksarel’s current frame of mind, he’d paint a picture of a home with smoke billowing out beneath the closed door.The fires of guilt, fear and uncertainty inside his head are so overwhelming, he doesn’t even notice the tray laden with snacks the butler brings in. What is the minister up to? How is he, Diksarel, ever going to get out of this mess? Yet, despite these worrying thoughts, there is the relief of knowing the truth about his father. Maybe even a long jail sentence is worth it all…

A long hour drags by before Minister Vilakazi returns. He’s talking rapidly into his cellphone – saying yes yes, I know, but something urgent has come up, as he ushers a ferret-faced short man into the room. Diksarel cringes: he recognises trouble when he sees it. This short man with his eyes set too far apart on the narrow face, with his claw-like hands and the peaked chin, seems the unforgiving type, When he’s introduced as Maxwell Mogale, Diksarel feels like running away.

Maxwell is a household name all over the country. A fearless fighter for justice, his appointment as the Head of the National Prosecuting Authority surprised many. His reputation rests on the fact that, despite his looks (or maybe because of it), he has had unprecedented success at prosecuting and convicting several government officials for bribery, corruption and various other crimes. He was responsible, for instance, for getting rid of the National Commissioner of Police. But he didn’t spend his time with government officials only; he’s prosecuted mine bosses, trade union leaders, tax evaders, drug lords… Nobody is immune to his scrutiny.

Maxwell, like the minister, doesn’t waste time. Diksarel has to tell his story all over again. This time, Maxwell takes notes and asks questions. Diksarel feels drained when, at last, the questions stop.

“Mmmm…” Maxwell scratches a patch of skull behind the pointed ears. “Yesss….”

“I’m sorry. Really, I am. I shouldn’t have…”

“Oh shut up!” The fire in Maxwell’s two small eyes makes Diksarel swallow the rest of the sentence. “You have destroyed evidence. You colluded with another person to defraud the the department of Internal Revenue. You agreed, for a certain payment, to transgress the basic rules of auditing. You were prepared to supply the authorities with a false report. And then you planned to flee the country.” The eyes swivel upwards, as if these things are just too much to contemplate. “You know what? I know about this case. I know about everything. And I know about RD+P.” He sighs. “In fact, they have contacted my office about you. Watertight case of a young clerk trying to pull a fast one. Makes a wrong inscription, diddles the figures, withdraws a large sum…”

“But I didn’t! I never withdrew money!”

“That’s not what they say, my friend.” The last word is hissed, devoid of any sense of kindness. “They have proof. A series of forged cheques. Signed, according to their handwriting analyst, by you. Twenty-odd million Rands over the last six months.”

Suddenly, it is so simple to understand. Of course! RD+P is in the process of framing him! The excess money in their account – the bribe they took to drop the case of the defective housing in Upington – disappeared from their books. And who better to blame than the man who discovered the fraud in the first instance? So, fabricate some evidence, get some smart-ass lawyer to lead this evidence in court, and he, Diksarel, will have no chance. Kneehigh will have her own version of what transpired, sealing his fate.

Diksarel flops down on one of the minister’s plush chairs, head in his hands. “That’s not true…,” he sobs.

“Maybe. Maybe not.” For the first time Maxwell’s tone softens. “In my line of work, I have to be extremely circumspect. All cases have two sides, and often they have more. But I do have a responsibility. A complaint has been lodged against you. That means I have to act. I can’t ignore the fact that I have here – you – a fugitive who was planning to leave the country after stealing millions from a reputable law firm…”

“I didn’t! I didn’t! I never touched money from any client. I swear!”

“That’s what they all say.” The steely note is back in Maxwell’s voice. “But your bank account shows a balance no auditing clerk should have. More than twenty million? Where, my friend, did you get the money?”

“Wha…?” Diksarel feels faint. Of course! To make the case against him, RD+P transferred money to his account, making him the obvious thief!

“The way I see it, there’s not much to discuss.I came here because I respect Vilakazi’s judgement. But now…I think it’s time for you to accompany me to the nearest police station.”

***

Gertruida’s chimney-theory is true. Anybody who has been so wrongfully accused (and some who were not), will tell you the worst moment is that instant when you know the game is up. The whistle blew, The penalty shoot-out is over and the scoreline stands. Nothing will change it now.

Diksarel sits, sobbing, as Vilakazi gets up to call the huge butler over. The small, ferrety man isn’t going to carry this burly clerk to his vehicle. No sir. The butler will have to do it.

The fire inside Diksarel’s mind flares up, causing the smoke to blind and suffocate him. Framed. Guilty. No way out. Jail…

This is when Mama Sarah gets up. “Wait,” she says softy as the butler bends to pick up the crying man. “I want to say something…”

The Man, Breathless…

Credit: gettyimages.com

Credit: gettyimages.com

(Follows on the previous posts)

People react to fright (and guilty consciences) in different ways, Gertruida is fond of saying. Mostly, their first thought is about their own safety. That is normal, she says. Once preservation of the self is ensured, attention to others become a reality.

Maybe Reverend Joseph should have thought about that. Or perhaps it’s just as well he didn’t. But when Miriam’s son appears in the doorway, Joseph has no idea of what is about to happen.

“Yes, what about the grudge?”

The three of them (Miriam, Joseph and an even more surprised – if emotional – Diksarel) turn to the door of the church, where a young man hissed the words. Despite not being quite himself, Diksarel recognises the youth as the one who brought him here from the sheneen. An alarm bell goes off in his mind – did Reverend Joseph not say he is dangerous…or something?

“You,” the newcomer points an accusing finger at Diksarel, “have ruined my family. You caused my grandfather and my mother – and me – untold misery…”

“Wait son!” Miriam is now the one pleading. “You cannot hold this white man responsible for what his father had done. Please…”

“No, Mom. Sorry. It is a matter of honour. His father, my grandfather.” He takes a deep breath, obviously trying to calm down. “Listen, White Man, if you don’t have a sense of heritage, or a sense of pride…well, that’s your bloody problem, isn’t it? But let me tell you: the Plaatjies family – all of us – aren’t like that. We are proud of who we are. Of what we are. It’s not about you and me, it’s about being a Plaatjies or being a Labuschagne. It’s our blood, White Man, crying out for justice.”

While Miriam’s son speaks, he walks down the narrow aisle slowly, ending up chest-to chest with Diksarel, who has retreated back to the little platform. He now has nowhere to go but stand and face his adversary.

“Stop it, Jason. This is a church.” Joseph’s remark is ignored.

“So.” The young man – Jason, Miriam’s son – takes off his jacket. “We’ll settle it here. Now. Let the Labuschagnes of the world know: we, the Plaatjies family, aren’t trash.”

The blow to Diksarel’s middle is unexpected, despite the preceding threatening words. He doubles up, gasping for breath.

“NOOO!” Miriam jumps forward to stop her son, but he brushes her off.

“This is somethng I wanted to do for a long time, Mom. For years and years I had to hear how one man wrecked our name. How this man – a white man – made my grandfather leave the church. And how your good name got dragged through the mud. You can’t expect me to take that lying down, for heaven’s sake!”

Diksarel fights to get his breath back. Now – almost back on his knees again – he holds up a hand.

“You….bastard! You think…only about…yourself.” Diksarel gasps for breath while he speaks. A white-hot anger is raging inside him – it is as if the decades’ worth of humiliation and being gossiped about, has burnt through the wall that has kept it at bay for all these years. “You life? Your family?” He coughs, straightening up. “You have no idea – not even vaguely – what I had to live through. And why? I’ll tell you why – your family. Your dear grandfather. Your mother.”

Diksarel feels the fear leaving him. Feels how the humiliation and rejection he had to endure all his life, rise from the ashes of his self-respect, Damn it! If this…this…Jason wanted a showdown, then bring it on! He, Diksarel Labsuchagne, has had enough. If this has to be the last chapter of his life, then let him have the courage to face it honourably. He raises his fists, ready to take on the younger man.

Conflict, Gertruida always says, is a useless exercise. She says it’s okay to have a clash of interests or a difference of opinion, but in the end conflict doesn’t settle anything. That’s how grudges are created and thoughts of revenge surface. The mightiest weapon in any conflict, she maintains, is a sense of humour.

Jason has never met Gertruida, but his reaction would have pleased her. Suddenly his scowl of anger is replaced by a brilliant smile.

“There. My family’s honour is restored. Now it’s your turn. Hit me.”

Reverend Joseph bursts out laughing in relief. Miriam sits down with a thump on the creaking pew. Diksarel stares at Jason in disbelief. What the hell…?

“Come on, White Man! Your family caused disaster in mine. I took revenge. My family wreaked havoc in yours. Now…be a man!”

Slowly, gingerly, Diksarel raises his fist. Jason doesn’t flinch. Then, when his hand is shoulder-high, he opens his fist, and lays the softest of slaps on Jason’s cheek.

“That all?” Jason is still smiling.

“Yeah. I’m not angry at you. Or your mother. Or your grandfather. I’m angry at society…and I can’t hit them all, can I?”

Yet, despite his words, Diksarel experiences a sense of relief. Here he is, at the source of the burden he has had to carry all these years, and yes…he feels a strange sense of relief at facing it. This meeting and this confrontation was necessary to get the whole picture into perspective.

“Then we can all go to Mama Sarah’s again. The beer is on me.” Jason steps aside to allow his mother to lead the way. “When honour is restored, friends should have a drink together.”

Revenge, Gertruida sometimes quotes, is a dish best served cold. Even better, is getting rid of the leftovers of anger and bake a conciliation cake.

Mama Sarah is overjoyed when the four of them sit down in her shebeen. She won’t accept payment for the four Black Labels she puts down in front of them. Apparently she already knows exactly what transpired in the church. There are no secrets in a township…

“Um…,” she says, getting their attention.  When they look up at her, she beams back. “And now there’s the little question of little Miss Kneehigh, isn’t there…?”

It hits Diksarel harder than Jason did.

The Lost Art of Telling a Story Properly

Screenie9“Tell us your story, Grootgert. We know so little about you. Where do you come from? What do you do?” Gertruida, who knows (just about) everything, is almost pleading with the big man.

“Things are lost out there,” Grootgert says in his slow way, waving a hand towards the desert, “that you don’t know about. I find them.”

Whenever Grootgert pays one of his rare visits to Boggel’s Place, the whole town turns out to find out more about him. He is, after all, the most secretive man in the Kalahari. Still, Gertruida maintains, the man is at least more entertaining than the news of the government’s successes you hear on the radio every day. After all, he never told them who he is – he simply arrives in Rolbos occasionally, has a drink, and then walks off again. They dubbed him Grootgert simply to ease their conversations about him.

Gertruida summed up what they knew about him a while ago. Yes, he’s a loner. And sure, he lives out there in the desert, all by himself. It is also true that he talks with a heavy accent, suggesting that he must be from somewhere far away, like Williston, or Kimberley even.. But that’s about it – and he never talks about himself, anyway.

Vetfaan once said he thought he had met Grootgert on the border, during the war. That might have happened, for a generation of young boys grew up to be men during those troubled times when the Army gave them guns and pointed them North. They came back – well, some of them did – as adults who chose not to remember everything. So, when Grootgert said he had never met Vetfaan before, it may have been true, or maybe it was something he wiped from his mind.

Vetfaan still isn’t convinced. There was a skirmish, on the wrong side of the line between Namibia and Angola, involving three (or was it four?) platoons and an unknown number of enemies. That’s when the MiG’S swept down – out of the blue, guns blazing – and strafed the whole area. It was one of those horrifying stupid events that happens during wars – attackers and defenders found themselves scurrying for cover. The young men – who seconds before were seriously trying to kill each other – now sprinted in a mad dash for communal safety.

Vetfaan remembers the big tree and the ant heap. While the jets screamed overhead, he found shelter behind the tree. Two yards away, he saw the ant heap – a big one. Once or twice (or was it more?), he saw chunks of earth flying off the big mound as the deadly bullets tore into the hardened earth. But then, during a lull in the shooting, he saw a movement behind the ant heap.

Now, during such times, one doesn’t engage in casual conversation. Oh, hi, I’m Fanie. From the North Cape, you know? I see you’ve got a Russian uniform? How interesting! It gets to be very cold in the winters over there, doesn’t it? No, that isn’t the way wars go. You reload your rifle carefully, take aim, and kill the bastard.

Only, it is rather important to have your rifle with you to do this. Even if you have a full magazine strapped to your webbing, you can’t shoot very well without the rifle. And throwing bullets at your enemy doesn’t work so well, either. So you end up as a shivering and frightened young man, peeking ever so carefully past the coarse bark of the Acacia tree to see what the man behind the ant heap is doing.

Now, even though one tends to forget a lot of things as one gets older, some impressions simply refuse to fade. Even if you tried – really tried – there are pictures that remain as sharp as the day you experienced them for the first time. It happens, for instance, at births, funerals and such events like romantic moments and other accident scenes.

When Vetfaan peered at the ant heap, he saw a face staring back at him. A clearly frightened face, with large eyes and an open mouth, saying what sounded like ‘Nyet’ or something. Then the man pointed at the leg he was sticking out behind the mound: a trickle of blood stained the trousers above the right knee. He’d been wounded. No more shooting, please! And they both withdrew to their shelters and waited for the MiGs to go away. And afterwards – a minute, an hour, more? – neither of them looked for the other as they crept away to the South and the North respectively.

That’s why Vetfaan can never be sure. Although that fleeting glance only recorded the eyes and mouth of his adversary in his mind, and although he can still recall it as clearly as that day when he trembled behind that tree, he can’t be sure. Maybe he chose to forget other bits of detail, or maybe there was too much dust on that face to fill in more features – but the fact remains: he can’t say for certain. Grootgert, that huge enigmatic and nameless man, may or may not have been behind that ant heap that day.

“Out there? Like what?” Kleinpiet prompts. Grootgert, he is sure, must surely tell them something about himself now.

“Things. Many things. I find things. Things I never though should be in the desert.”

“Yes…?”

“Peace.”

“Yes, and…”

“I forget.”

Then, while Gertruida thinks about her next question, the big man gets up and walks out. They watch as he ambles down Voortrekker Weg to reach the end of town, and struts out towards the red dunes on the horizon.

“Strange man.” Kleinpiet says. “Imagine forgetting what you find.”

“Yes, I can. It’s even harder than finding what you forgot.” Vetfaan runs his hand through his thinning hair.

“Ag, come on, Vetfaan, you’re not making any sense.”

A slow smile wrinkles the tanned skin on Vetfaan’s cheeks. He was thinking about the slight limp – something with the right leg? – as the man left town. “That’s the way a man should tell a story, Kleinpiet. A good story must leave you with questions. You must find the forgotten bits the man didn’t tell. And that’s what you’ll remember… “

Going for the Kill (# 7)

SWAPO_and_SA_operations_1978-1980,_Angola_civil_warComrade Vasily sits down heavily next to José in the shade of the large thorn tree.

“They’ve made Chung a general, José. A general!” Vasily sighs. “I have fought bravely, commanded the troops to the best of my ability. And now this…”

José nods. Yes, he understands. Chung is now Vasily’s superior officer, which puts him in command not only of the camp, but of the whole surrounding region. Vasily is much admired for his military skills, but also loved for the way he manages  the problems of the soldiers under his command. Chung, in contrast, can only be described as a bastard. He simply doesn’t care for the individual – he doesn’t care about casualties at all. For him the soldiers are ways to a means.

“I’m sorry,” José says lamely.

***

“I shall select sixteen men, Vasily, ” Chung says smugly, “to carry out the most decisive operation of this war. We’ll target a relatively small area to determine the efficiency of Sarin-S. I’ve chosen a remote area, where the South Africans will have very little chance of finding out what we’re doing. It’ll be dangerous, nevertheless, especially if they have to cart the chemicals there and distribute it in the water supplies of the area. It’ll take nine men to carry the Sarin-S. Six men will act as reserve carriers and protect the convoy.”

Chung leans forward, smiling ominously. “And…your little protege, Doctor José, will accompany the group as a medic. Now, my dear Vasily, I assume you concur?”

Comrade Vasily closes his eyes. Nods absently. Feels his heart shrinking.

***

General Groesbeek looks up as Brigadier Pieterse opens the door after knocking softly. It’s one of those hot and humid days in Pretoria. It’ll rain soon…

“Come in, Pieterse. As you’ve guessed, it is about this report from this man in Angola…this …er…”

“You mean Lucas, sir? The report about Sarin-S?”

opuwa“Yes. That’s it! This Lucas says the Commies are going to poison the dams and streams in the vicinity of Opuwo. They plan to enter South West at Swartbooisdrift, and then target Okangwati, Okaanga, Opuwo and Orumana.” Groesbeek stabs a finger at the map in front of him, pointing out the places.

“What worries me, Pieterse, is that they’re sending a doctor along. Doctors aren’t exactly common in Angola. Lucas also states that the doctor and the Sarin arrived at their camp within days of each other. Now, I have two questions for you: is this Lucas reliable? And what, in heaven’s name, do you make of this doctor story?”

Pieterse describes the value of Lucas in glowing terms. His reports have been regular, reliable and accurate.”But I’m not sure about the doctor? Why would they send somebody as qualified as that along? Unless….he’s a chemical expert, of course.”

HG0000501“I agree. That thought haunts me.” Groesbeek lights a Gunston, inhaling deeply. “Well, it is imperative they be stopped. The Himbas has always been rather tolerant of our presence, and we can’t afford to lose their support. Moreover, if the Commies succeed in poisoning that area, they’ll wipe out all forms of animal and human life. Can you imagine the catastrophe? What’s even worse: Lucas says this is just the first phase! A test! If they succeed, they’ll implement this strategy over the entire border. The Kunene. Kwando. Okavango rivers. All poisoned and all life exterminated! It’s diabolical, man!”

“We won’t take that lying down, sir. If they go to those extremes, we’ll ….” Pieterse hesitates, afraid to finish the sentence.

“Indeed we will!” Groesbeek feels his cheeks flush. “If they target entire civilian population groups as well as game and farm animals as their primary targets, we’ll make them feel extremely sorry that they did. Every fish, every antelope, every carnivore…” He screws his eyes tight, breathes out hard. “We’ll bomb Luanda. Dammit, man, we’ll destroy their bloody capitol city, bomb it to ashes, wipe it off the face of the earth!”

Pieterse holds up a hand, trying to calm the general down. “Lets try another approach, General. “

Pieterse leaves the general’s office with specific orders. They’ll take out the doctor as soon as possible, and ambush the patrol when they set foot on South West African soil, and capture the Sarin-S.  The general will be responsible to set up the ambush. Pieterse, via his position in Military Intelligence, has to arrange the elimination of Angola’s chemical warfare specialist, a man only known as Doctor José, before the patrol can do any harm.

Outside, the thunder crashes as the first huge hail stones start pelting the leaves off the Jacaranda trees. The two military men are not aware of the destruction. They’re planning a catastrophe of their own.

***

mirage_iii_ez_831_01A few kilometres north of the Kunene, the patrol dives for cover as the modified Mirages scream overhead.

Seconds later – to the south – they hear the stutter of several explosions…and then silence reclaims the bush. Its as if the birds and the insects are desperately trying to ignore the stupidity of humans and their their most basic instinct: the destruction of opposition.

An hour later they reach the site of the attack. What used to be a village, is now a smouldering, bare patch between the trees, pock-marked by the impacts of the missiles and explosions.

One of the troops bursts out crying, sobbing that this had been his village, and that he had hoped to see his family before crossing the border. Yes, he knew SWAPO used it as a temporary base sometimes, but he never – ever – considered the possibility of…this!

Ground attacks by supersonic jets are arguably the worst of all military offences on ground level targets – second only to long-range artillery. The attackers are completely undetected and the first thing that happens, are the unexpected explosions. Blasts of destruction, out of the blue, seconds before the sound of the turbines reach those that are already dead and dying.  Having said that, one must not discount the fear the ‘whu-ump’ of an unseen mortar or the click of a landmine under the foot. Maybe – even – it is stupid to award the prize to fast jets, but the point is made: these attacks cause panic.

And panic costs lives. People run from the last explosion, forgetting the old axiom that no two bombs ever land in the same place. The safest place to be – if one can keep a cool head and stand the heat – is the newest bomb crater. The villagers obviously didn’t know that. Running from the blasts, they ended up in new ones. The village is in ruins. The men and women are dead. It’s been – in military terms – a complete success. In humanitarian terms, it’s a tragedy.

They’ve all been killed – except the little boy with Down Syndrome, sitting forlornly, staring at the destruction with uncomprehending eyes.

Doctor José acts on instinct when he bends down and swings the child onto his shoulders. He has absolutely no idea that this act saves his life… As he does this, he is suddenly so aware of everything he experienced in Luanda – there, around the kitchen table, while Maria da Silva prayed for peace.

Author’s Note: In this week’s Writing Challenge, writers are asked to look at the world through other people’s eyes. To walk a mile in their shoes. To try to understand why ‘they’ do things differently. This is exactly the message of Going for the Kill. As a conscripted soldier back in the 70’s, I saw the enemy as just that – the enemy. Now I know that everybody who took part in that war, was just another human being. In this series, I’m trying to understand how it must have been on both sides, what people felt…and why they felt it was important enough to risk life and limb fighting for an ideology as foreign to the continent as an elephant in Hyde Park.

Weekly Writing Challenge: A Picture worth a 1000 Words.

couple-embraceSince my escape from that cell last night, I’ve been extremely careful. If that man with the blue-striped T-shirt sees me, the game will be up. That’s the man next to the tram, scanning the faces around him.

He might not look dangerous, but let me assure you: he is one of the KGB’s best trained agents. That’s why I grabbed Maria, the girl who helped me escape, in a passionate embrace. Two young people in love in Naples – who’d give them a second glance? Pretty soon the tram will cut off his view, and we’ll disappear in the narrow alley behind us.

***

couple-embracec

“That’s him! Be careful now – don’t let him see us. We have to surprise him!” His whisper is barely

audible as he unbuttons the tunic. This may get rough…

“How can you be sure? He seems such a nice guy?”

“Look: he’s standing like that again. He always does that when he tries to hide.”

“You think he’s paranoid?”

“Completely delusional. He’s got this imaginary character, Maria, who always helps him. I bet he’s trying to hide behind her right now.”

“Okay. We’ll grab him while he’s watching the other side of the road. Radio the others to bring the ambulance and the straight jacket.”

Weekly Writing Challenge: Shifting Perspectives

http://www.keepthetailwagging.com/are-we-over-vaccinating-our-pets/let-sleeping-dogs-lie/Listen, just because I’m a dog, doesn’t mean I’m stupid. I follow the news too, you know? The little transistor on Boggel’s counter is on most of the time. And most of the time it’s turned down real soft, so the people can hear each other while they talk about the weather and other unimportant things. I find that a bit stupid; if you’ll excuse my saying so; the only weather out here, is drought. Talking about it won’t make it rain, will it?

Dogs have better ears than humans. If fact, there are a lot of things we do better than them. My nose is far superior, for one thing. And dogs don’t use guns to kill each other. We don’t need politics. We don’t have bank accounts. No matter what life throws at us, we’ll always find a comfortable spot in the sun and sleep it off. Being human must be hard, to say the least.

Take pregnancies, for instance. The guys at the bar were talking about (you guessed it!) the drought a minute ago, when the radio said some princess is expecting a baby. Now I ask you: how important is that? Females are supposed to have babies. If they don’t, there’d be nobody around in a few years’ time. And now, just because a clever girl managed to put a leash on somebody who was born in a palace, the whole of England is talking about her morning sickness.

People are crazy. The radio didn’t say much about Syria and Sudan and the Congo and the killing that went on today – but it went on and on about some poor baby that’ll become king in twenty or thirty year’s time; maybe even longer.

“Hey, you guys, Vrede is moping again.” Vetfaan leans over the counter to look at Vrede, who is resting on Boggel’s cushion down there.

“Dogs don’t mope, Vetfaan. They sleep and eat and … do other things. Stop humanizing the poor creature. Here, give him a piece of biltong.” Gertruida hates to be interrupted.  She is busy telling the little crowd in the bar about the ruling party’s congress near Bloemfontein, and wants to get back to her subject. “Well, as I was saying: they’re going to spend millions on that congress. The delegates will stay in the five-star hotels, eat in the posh restaurants and hire flashy cars. Then they’ll nurse hang-overs while they decide to nominate the president for president – again. Nothing will change. It’s such a waste of money.”

There. They’re at it again. Talking about things they can’t change. One day. I’d like it if somebody said something that made a difference. We dogs don’t work like that. We accept things. If it’s wet outside, we stay inside. If it’s cold, we settle in front of the fire. But people! They’ll talk and talk about circumstances, even though it won’t change anything. That congress and the pregnancy are prime examples: whoever will be king or president, won’t stop the world turning, will it? It’s like the drought – it’ll only end when the rains come.

Me? I’ll just close my eyes and doze off a little.

***

Maybe Vrede is right. If we removed the simple, nonsensical things we say to family and friends from our conversations, an eerie silence will settle in the world. Millions of people will stare at the blinking cursor on their Facebook page, trying to figure out how to say something that’ll add value to the lives of others. Telephone companies will go bust. The flashing of little lights on Google’s huge computers will slow down – and stop. Trash cans will fill up with iPhones and Blackberries. The drums in Africa will fall silent.

Maybe then, for the first time ever, we’d be able to hear each other. Like Vrede below the counter in the bar, we won’t worry what some Bulldog in Cape Town barked about, or what some cute Corgi is expecting. We’ll be listening for the distant thunder that’ll announce the rain, or the patter of drops on the tin roof. We’ll hear the music of the evening’s breeze. We’ll share joy and pain without trying to sound important. And we’ll say only important words, like I love you, or I’m sorry.

Maybe, even, we’ll stop killing each other.

Ah well. Like Vrede, we can dream, can’t we? It really should be a dog’s world, after all.