So sorry for stalling. There’s good reason.

It's a book

Well, it’s not a book yet but will be. My apologies to Jenga Man’s loyal readers for not posting in a while. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time re-editing and re-structuring as the intention was always to present the story in a book. The hard work and time invested has paid off with a book deal. I’m pretty happy about that. And would like to give my heartfelt thanks to those who have followed, encouraged and engaged – there’s no point writing without readers.

Publishing a book is a long and tedious process so I might as well use this opportunity to maintain some momentum. The story is impossible to tell without the people who have wandered into my life. And I would like to honour even the brief encounters the rightful legacy in printed word. If you have recognised yourself in the manuscript – by name or behaviour, I would have to get your signed permission to use it. And if you recognise a character as yourself and he/she has not been credited with a name, please let me know if you wish to be properly recognised. Please use this forum, it’s your book too.

I’ve avoided nastiness but if you’re unhappy with how you’ve been portrayed, please let me know. But if you’re ‘Mog’ – I’m not changing a damn thing.

Please stay posted for updates on the process and I would appreciate your thoughts and suggestions.

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Chapter Thirteen. I stumble and crawl. Loved ones fall.

Angels

In a way, Michael and I were like hippies – barefoot and dancing to our own tune. Alone I was just a bergie without shoes. I was feeling increasingly uncomfortable in my own skin. I wasn’t happy with who I thought I had to be and I felt confined by expectation. I badly wanted to conform and fit in but wasn’t sure if it was worth it. We all had our internal tussles. Some of the boys who experimented with marijuana were now doing mandrax at break time. I could easily have joined that group but didn’t because I was spending time with Michael thus missing the signing-up deadline. They naively saw themselves as rebels but they weren’t. In a spike of punks the conservative is the rebel.

I sought counsel with my older sister – Sharon. Everyone in the family did. She was already a teacher by then and taught at Kensington High. She was levelheaded and always positive. She was tiny with an even tinier waist and walked with bouncy optimism, her coiffed hair returning the favour. She was pretty and darker than both Ruby and I – they held back on the first serving of milk at the creator’s coffee shop.. A mole above her lip like a single speck of cinnamon. She came home one day and found me at the dining room table doing my homework – a rare occurrence. She popped her head around the pillar.

‘Homework? Like a real matriculant almost,’ she quipped.

‘Ag just History,’ I mumbled. ‘History’s okay.’

‘Your marks are good. What about Bio?’ she asked.

‘Boring,’ I shrugged.

‘Ja, but you have to pass it,’ she warned.

‘For what? I don’t even have maths, what am I going to do?’

‘Forget Telkom, that’s not you,’ she said walking into the dining room. She sat herself down. She leaned over and looked at my History textbook before flipping through it.

‘What about art? Look at these drawings in your textbook. It’s wrong to deface school property but they’re good,’ she said with a grin.

‘Ja, I like drawing. But there’s not a job for drawing,’ I said sadly.

‘Well you can’t be a draughtsman or architect because you need maths,’ she said tapping her finger close to her beauty spot. ‘But you can be a commercial artist’.

I brightened up, ‘Like a sign writer!’

‘See, you’re full of ideas already,’ she said with some satisfaction.

‘I should have gone to Sinton. They have art.’

‘Ja probably. But you have something special,’ she said and left.

I wasn’t special. I was different. I hated the gangster clothes I wore. It was a uniform – Pringle buttoned-down shirts, Nevada pants, Lee jeans, Jack Purcell’s, diamond socks, snakeskin belts, Tiger Onitsuka, London Fog and Tiger jackets. Nothing had changed for decades yet elsewhere fashion was changing all the time. I wanted to change. I had become disillusioned with music too. Every car, every home and every braai spat out the same old staple of Michael Franks, Al Jarreau and the goddam awful Rock the Boat. Don’t get me wrong I loved Jarreau, but not all the time.

I.

Can.

Remember.

The.

Rain.

In.

December.

The leaves were brown.

On the ground.

But Michael Franks?  I hated him all of the time. That fucking cookie jar was always empty and no – love is nothing like baseball. And there was so much more going on: Hit radio in the 80’s brought something new every week. New Romanticism was on the rise. Pop Shop popped up shop in our lounges. Der Kommisar was in town, A-ha asked us to take them on and Bowie pleaded with us to put on our red shoes. Instead we shuffled to the same old shit in our Grasshoppers. I remember doing something out of sheer frustration. Detached and alone in my daydreams I belted out a lyric between periods.

‘Put on your red shoes and dance the blues.’

Jenny laughed. Tanya laughed. A red-eyed boy at the back stood up.

‘Red shoes? I don’t have red shoes. Why you always picking on me Miss?’

There was no teacher in class.

The Galaxy Nite Club was an institution then as it still is now. And I am forever thankful for the disco music. It was The Beatles or Rolling stones of our generation. The songs never had names but instead were simply known as “that cool number” we heard at The Galaxy. We didn’t rush out and buy the latest single, instead we slipped the DJ a couple of rands and a cassette to record the session. And then we would pass it around so that everyone made a copy. Often the quality degenerated to the point where it sounded like the recording was made from inside the club’s toilet. Every worthy car or home had to have a separate amplifier, where boy engineers would fiddle with the bass and treble knobs to get it sounding half-decent. But no engineering could rid the music of the annoying DJ who would brand his session with repeated and nasal interjections of “Yeah, shake it up. Shake it up one time.” And then there would be the customary “CA 347765 your car’s on fire. Shake it up.” For a while I actually believed that The Galaxy’s car park was a hotspot for cars spontaneously combusting.

But like any club, The Galaxy wasn’t just about music. It was about girls. The added angst and routine rejection ruined many a night. I was still short, big-eared with the burden of self-esteem lower than my grades. And girls our age wanted boys much older – like at least two years older. They liked boys who either had access to cars or had friends with cars. Not that it counted when Michael was around. Today we have a plethora of communication channels enabling us to chat up women before even meeting them. Then, all we had was bravado with the help of a single bottle of brandy shared amongst at least twelve boys – who contributed to the nine rand bottle of “Burns”. So not a lot of brandy. But enough for all to take turns throwing up the “Burns” in the men’s toilet of the club. And then it was off to the fringes of the dance floor, waiting for the ultimate ‘blues’ song – Reasons by Earth Wind & Fire. If you were emboldened and quick enough, you could ask a girl to slow dance at the first hint of a slow song. And they usually agreed whether they liked you or not, it was the done thing. And that meant 4.59 minutes of molestation the hapless maiden had had to endure. Boys would tighten their embrace by minute one and if sensing no resistance start grinding their pelvis parts into their dance partner. A neck kiss would follow and if that was allowed a full-on mouth assault would be attempted. If rebuffed, the grinding would continue until the end of the song and you would go your separate ways. I fell in love on the dance floor and it lasted all of five minutes. I went home that night embracing my disco shirt beneath my nose, trying to smell the girly perfume from my brief embrace. There was nothing but the stench of stale cigarette smoke, KO deodorant and brandy vomit to remind me of a good night out at The Galaxy.

But The Galaxy would linger, its warped tunes scaring squirrels at class picnics. It was rare that our class would get together en masse beyond the school grounds, but I remember an outing we undertook one fine public holiday. We caught a train to Cape Town station from where we set out on the 3.5km trek up to The Glen. Thankfully a kind lorry driver offered us a ride up the very steep Kloofnek Road. We jumped off at The Nek and traipsed down to a picnic spot known as The Glen. It was wooded and peaceful with views of the Atlantic below. But probably nothing special to those in the neighbourhood who drove past it every day on their way to the airport – to picnic in wooded and peaceful glens in Europe (we could only imagine how the other half lived). But we were outdoors and in a natural environment – one that called for an appropriate soundtrack, if any. Once we had settled on a picnic spot I promptly unpacked my collection of Marley, Steel Pulse, UB40 and Peter Tosh tapes. The “boombox” however wasn’t mine and I got thwarted by an adversary who insisted that his Galaxy mix-tape was what everyone wanted. I was of the opinion that chill-time called for chilled music – like the reggae collection I had proposed. I was sure the boys sifting out seeds in the palms of their yellow-stained hands would agree. This was hardly the place for high-energy disco and I thought my argument rational. A stalemate ensued and it was time for the tribe to speak. They chose disco. I was wounded and peeved, for the victor wasn’t even in our class but in a standard below us. And this felt worse than the time my knuckle was ground into the tar at primary school. At least nobody witnessed that. I felt betrayed by my classmates, and let down by democracy. I was right and they were all wrong.

Because of my unsuccessful attempt at broadening the listening repertoire of my classmates I overcompensated for their shortsightedness by becoming unhealthily obsessed with reggae music. Beyond parks and recreation, I thought the music an apt soundtrack to our struggle for freedom. I liked Bob Marley but so did everyone else and it irked me that the songs everyone liked were the cutesy ones that stirred them up with no women and even less crying. I favoured the ‘blues’ reggae about hardship and inequality. I felt our cause was falling on deaf ears and hoped white people all over the world would be taken by Marley’s more profound and rebellious songs, and rush to our aid. Instead they rushed to a black man In Observatory who sold marijuana. Meanwhile I got deeper into the music and dug up more obscure bands. For months I locked myself in my room listening to Misty In Roots’ Mankind repeatedly, I braided black wool into a dreadlocked wig. One evening when it was done, I rolled a tea-leaf spliff, donned an old overall, topped it with an old school shirt with hand-drawn Marley motif, put on the ‘dread’ wig and woolen cap and snuck out through my bedroom window. Assuming I was totally incognito, I roamed the avenues. Occasionally I would pass someone and say something like, “Hey mon, Jah Rastafari.” They would look at me like I was a man on drugs pretending that he was a man on drugs. I dropped my head and rolled by hastily and say something stupid like “Peace brethren.” All in a Jamaican accent of course. To this day I don’t know if the people in our hood really believed a Rastafarian lived in their midst. It’s probably something I should be sharing with a therapist but there’s a queue of people ahead of me struggling with the realisation that they’re someone different to what they say they are on Facebook.

I made a new friend at school – Rodney. Like Michael Hamburg, he was a loner and a cool one. Rodney’s father was a well-liked teacher at the school – Mr. Layman. His father didn’t drive but had a car and Rodney was his chauffeur. That was like the coolest thing ever before ‘like ever’ was even a thing. Besides driving his father to school and back every day, his father didn’t demand much more than that and we had the car most weekends. Not that we had anywhere to go, so we spent most days smoking cigarettes in the car whilst parked in the driveway. It was an old Ford Escort, once white but aged like old teeth. Rodney was tall and skinny and dark. His afro completed the Harlem Globetrotter look. He had a soft and warm face and eyes that suggested he visited smoker’s corner 2.0 but he didn’t. Although he was always the first to propose that we “get a bottie Burns” when our scant resources allowed. Of course we would throw it all up later. Occasionally we would be joined by Craig Prins. Craig had a nickname – Eier. I’m taking a flyer here but I suspect he got the name because he had a head shaped like an egg. I don’t think he particularly liked that name. He also wasn’t very particular about when he really hated it and would surprise an unlucky greeter with a head butt. Hardboiled it was, that head. Craig and his younger brother – ‘Small Eier’, lived with their single mum. She was very religious, strict and had it all to do with the likes of Craig. Rodney’s 1.1l Escort wasn’t very fast but faster than we thought when Craig vomited out the side window and left a long horizontal coke & brandy sports stripe on the side of the Escort. To avoid the wrath of his mother we would literally shove Craig out of the moving car in front of his house and drive away. Craig’s Galaxy evenings came to an end when his mother found him asleep in the backyard one Sunday morning. He couldn’t blame it on dance fatigue or politely not wanting to wake her, for under his head was the pillow that had put him asleep – an empty 5l jug of Virginia.

Egg’s escapades didn’t end the good times, our final exams did. I was always more of a crammer than a planner but put in a whole lot more effort in for my final exams as a scholar. Failing any other standard and not showing up to repeat a class could always be explained away by your parents, “He struggles with authority so we sent him to Boy’s Town”. Failing matric was there for all to see as the results were published in the newspaper. Biology was to be my first examination and the hardest for me. Everything else I kind of got, with as little effort as possible. History I liked and my only chance of an ‘A’. Geography wasn’t really a struggle although Mr. Wilson who taught it was worse at conversation than his namesake – Tom Hank’s ball in Castaway. Thanks to Baapu, I managed to maintain momentum in Accountancy and needed no further intervention on his part. I was better than the average at Afrikaans but regret not being more serious about English. Language and the good use of it is probably the most important tool we all should have, even if we knew nothing else. I’ve been charmed by some who eloquently admit they know nothing and bored by others who know everything but how to tell us. I would pass though and think nothing of it, until now. I wrote a book versus I wrote a blog. Only two letters yet the regret is deep. But Bio was going to be tough. Unless you wore a tweed jacket under a white coat and had glasses that folded away you couldn’t make this stuff up. You had to study. I did and it did not go unnoticed by my sister Sharon. My family knew that I had always put in as little effort as possible and were satisfied by the little extra I was putting into it this time. But I was worried. As usual I had spent most of the year fooling around and now had to come to grips with two unfamiliar textbooks. Sharon was impressed for a little while too. Having seen my head buried in my hands for a few nights in succession she saw the situation for what it was. I wasn’t stressed about studying, I was stressed because the more I studied, the more I realized how little I understood. One night she sat down beside me and asked how prepared I was for my Bio exam. I conceded and looked to her for help. Thankfully she immediately agreed. First by breaking it all up into manageable chunks and later by sourcing exam papers from previous years. She found patterns in papers and took calculated risks on what were to be the likely questions. We covered less but what was, I understood. At worst I would get a low pass mark.

It was a Friday, the day of my first exam – Biology. I remember seeing Sharon off as she left for school. She wore the dress she wore best and my favourite – a blue dress with white pinstripes. It fitted her little figure perfectly and the thin belt accentuated her non-existent waist. She bounded to my father’s car as he waited for her with car idling. A minor prang with her own car meant she relied on my father. She flicked her hair and beamed at me, ‘Don’t worry Ivan. You’ll do fine.’ I smiled. I believed I would.

I arrived at school and spoke to no one, fearful that everything I knew would fall out of my mouth if I opened it. I did not flip frantically through a textbook for last minute cramming, avoiding the inevitable panic and doubt. My hands shook as I struggled to open the sealed questionnaire. I nervously flipped the pages, scanning the contents quickly – the sort of selective looking you do with an ATM slip, you want to see how much you’ve drawn but don’t want to see your balance. I was in the black. I was going to pass Biology.

The turntable warbled gently as Eddy Grant’s ‘Electric Avenue mimicked my mood. I was in the lounge, waiting for Sharon to get home. My father picked her up at school, as her car was in repairs for a little fender bender a couple of weeks before. Before the Toyota Cressida came to a stop in the driveway I was at the front door and flung it open. My words held hostage by a toothy grin, she leapt out of the car and let out hers, ‘You passed! I saw the papers of our matriculants. We studied the right things.’ She rushed over to me and crushed me with a hug. I felt proud as I had finally achieved something through hard work. And her help. I beamed into the fabric of my favourite dress. Then she bounded inside but reminding me that no time was to be wasted gloating, because although the hardest, it was just the first paper.

Nothing could dampen my optimism and I would cram the rest without stress. Maybe a few dry runs with History to push for that ‘A’, but just enough was okay for everything else. I don’t remember seeing Sharon on Saturday. She went to her boyfriend’s house in Grassy Park. Nigel was a teacher too and I really liked him. He was tall and good. And cool. Sharon never had any boyfriends before him although she had an interest in two boys before, both at the teaching college she had studied at. But Nigel was her first real boyfriend and he was for keeps. Talk of marriage excited me. It excited us all.

Sharon spent the day with Nigel, his brother and his brother’s fiancé.

My room was next to the dining room where the telephone rested. It was just after midnight when it shrilled rudely. Maybe it was Uncle Davie doing something he sometimes did – asking my father if he was asleep. I heard footsteps stomping urgently to the phone. Then a blood curdling scream. Then my father’s questioning voice. I sat upright in the dark, my body cold and rigid. I heard my father gasping for air. My mother wailed.

Ruby joined, “No, no, no, no.”

Sharon was dead.

Sharon

Chapter Twelve. In loving memory of Michael Hamburg.

The Matrics

I was still smoldering. My brain short-circuiting but with sporadic sparks giving hope that there was still life in my battered person. I made the re-entry from the void of Standard 9 and through the heat of the barrier that was my exams. The delinquents had made it to matric. It was our first day as the most senior scholars at Belgravia Senior Secondary and we slapped each other’s backs like we were heroes – made of the right stuff. Then it all came crashing down.

Mr Pretorius walked into our new classroom. He was the Vice-principal and the matric Afrikaans class teacher. He was strict and always serious with the kind of authoritarian attitude of a bus conductor. He was the chief enforcer and would do beating duty for those teachers too liberal to do so themselves. He had a pug-face fringed by a ridiculously over-manicured beard. The spectacles that went dark in the sun completing the guise of a Coloured Representative Council politician from Port Elizabeth. We immediately sat down but we weren’t trembling with fear. We were matriculants now and any disagreements or issues could surely be discussed as adults – which we now considered ourselves to be. He waited for us to settle then from behind his back presented a single foolscap page. He first peered over his glasses then did a roll call of names. It read like a list of the damned and malevolent before we even knew what we had done. There were about eight of us, all boys. We were told to stand up. He stepped back and placed the page on the teacher’s desk, put his hands behind his back and cleared his throat.

‘You failed mathematics,’ he said softly. ‘Terribly.’

Some of us looked down with embarrassment, others smirked like fools.

‘So,’ he continued. ‘Who volunteers to change from maths to geography?’

We all sniggered. We were a maths class – a higher class. We were surprised he didn’t offer us woodwork as an option. He breathed deeply. Then we saw only his lips move.

‘So you want to spoil the academic record of this school with your paper-thin understanding of mathematics?’

Not all grasped that this was rhetorical, we shuffled and searched for the answer beyond the windows. Some of us felt affronted, we had every right to give the stupid subject another go. I certainly wanted to, I needed to. My father’s only hope for me was that I joined Telkom for an apprenticeship. Maybe put in people’s phones and stuff and have my own Telkom bakkie to take home. But I needed math for that. This suggestion from Mr Pretorius made him look totally rhetorical to me. He looked at us, then the windows, like he was better at finding the answers than we were.

‘You know what a lemming is?’ he said, tilting his head. ‘A lemming is a rodent you find in Europe. Once a year they go towards the coast until they get to a cliff. There are thousands of them and they are programmed to just go in a certain direction. At the cliff, it just takes one to jump off and they all follow. And they all die drowning,’ he paused for effect then made his point. ‘Don’t be a lemming.’

The classroom went silent, as we all comprehended the image so vividly explained. We had never heard of lemmings before. I couldn’t count there were so many of them – a furry mass suicide followed by me, Pinky, Mortimer….

‘So who is going to change from maths to geography?’ asked Mr Pretorius calmly.

All our hands went up. I would be saying goodbye to most of my classmates now anyway. We had been together for four years and were being split up. I was to be separated from my best friend and desk-mate, Lyndon. Although he did move away from mischief and me when he saw it unraveling hallway through Standard 9. He passed math. And all my other friends – Jenny, Pearl, Tanya, Zahra, Carl and Dawson. I never recovered from that displacement. Twenty five years later I went to our Matric Reunion and immediately went to a table of familiar faces. We joked around and before long started reminiscing about our matric year. I must have aged a bit more mentally than the others because there were some stories I was unfamiliar with. Then… a knife to my heart.

‘But Ivan, you weren’t in our matric class!’

I eventually settled in and made new friends. And geography was easy. You didn’t really have to understand it, just cram before an exam. It was fortunate because our geography teacher droned like a drone in an Afghanistan sky, but never dropping any bombs that blew us away. Like his namesake in the Cast Away movie – Mr Wilson made for dreary conversation. I took to history, enjoyed it and was good at it. I consistently scored the highest marks, albeit on the Standard Grade. Ronald scored highest on the Higher Grade. But it had been a while since I was the highest of anything.

My new friend was an older boy by the name of Michael Hamburg. He was older in many ways. He had a bit of a beard and smoked Texan Plain. He was fair and handsome. He was different, older than his years. He lived two avenues away in 4th Avenue Belgravia Estate. We hung out at his place because neither his mother nor father were ever there, so we smoked in his room. I don’t remember ever having met his father. He had an older sister who he would always torment. His sister would play the role of parent and come into his room, laying down the law. To which he would respond by singing, ‘It don’t rain in Indianapolis in the summertime…’ Where the fuck did he get that song?

Michael was on the edge of everything. His conversations never teetered on tests, school sports or haircuts. He spoke of cars, brandy and his retarded sister. He wasn’t at all interested in girls although with his good looks he could have “vryed” with any. He found it amusing when I showed up at his house with my collar turned up. I had gone to a house party the night before and took along a girl. It was my first date. Already the angst had set in and it was to be our last date. We broke up that night but not before she had sucked myself to near suffocation with a bruising “love bite’. I dropped my collar and shared the purple keepsake with Michael and his large room. He guffawed. For most a “love bite” would be respected as the wounds picked up in a brave battle. Michael didn’t care for the frivolity of girls. I was his only school friend. His adult neighbours were his friends. They would often give him their car to run errands. And give him the details of the grown-up stuff they did.

‘Love bite? That’s not a love bite. My neighbor Eric says he gives his wife love bites on the inside of her thighs!’ he smirked.

I couldn’t for the life of me understand why people would kiss down there. Feeling like my achievement had been belittled, I broke my news to him.

‘I’m going to train to make the school team,’ I said.

‘Yes? Well it don’t rain in Indianapolis in the summertime.’

I was never into athletics. The standards at BHS were too high. And I enjoyed being in the stands with the 13000 other non-athletes, cheering on our winning athletes. Anyway, I felt fulfilled playing club sport like soccer, cricket or baseball. But the athletes had the admiration of the whole school and there was much pride to be tapped for a feeling of worth. And girls. So I decided to give it my best shot in my final year. First I had to qualify and get into the inter-house team. I was quick on the football pitch but not nearly quick enough to be a serious sprint contender. I could do long-distance but Dudley already had that waxed, preening in his WP track-top everyday was testament to that. I set my goals on the 800m and 1500m races. – snug in the middle of genetically-gifted sprinter and mentally-strong long distance crank. How hard could that be? I made the team. Yellow House seemed to have inherited the dross of the school.

I trained hard without really knowing how I had to train for my races. Once I had qualified, no more interest or coaching was given by our House Masters. And Ronald and Ashley from Blue and Green House would take 1st and 2nd anyway. They always did. But I had no interest in challenging them. I wanted to be placed 3rd. Just enough to make it into the school team as a reserve. So I could walk around in school colours at Inter-School’s as a revered athlete without actually exerting myself on the day.

I trained by running the length and back of Kromboom Road every evening. Slow but sure through the coloured neighbourhood of Crawford, over the bridge of the tracks that separated whites from blacks. I would pick up the pace in the white area of Rondebosch and clear my chest of Texan Plain in their gardens before turning back at the traffic lights of Milner Road and head back. After a few weeks I took to the asphalt track of Hewat training college and practiced my distances. I had no coaching and had no idea what the time it was I was supposed to do. My goal was to be behind Ronald and Ashley. My father noticed my determination and on his meager salary decided to reward my efforts with a pair of running spikes. It was all coming together. My folly should have been obvious to all when I bought a pair of sprinting spikes instead of mid-distance ones. I am sorry father. Bless you.

Inter-House came and I was ready. The starter’s gun went off and I was immediately confused. The solo training runs didn’t prepare me for the jostling and argy-bargy of a real race. After the 200m mark I settled and felt comfortably strong. When the bell went I realized that the front-runners were already 200m ahead. I burst forward desperately and passed the field. When I passed the 500m mark I realized that Ronald and Ashley were already 150m from the finish. I was third. I ran full out. I swallowed air easily and felt it popping with energy in my blood as it shot through my body. My legs pumped like pistons. I could have beaten them. I really think I could have. I made up ground and finished about 30m behind them. I made 3rd – mission accomplished. By the time I had crossed the line the applause had already died down. Only my ex-bloodsucking-girlfriend cheered hysterically at the finish line. I should have been more appreciative of her enthusiasm.

Making the school team was special. You now belonged to Mr Britten. And with that came special privileges like missing the first two periods for training. It didn’t matter how stupid you were, athletics season belonged to the “jocks” and I was now one of them. The first Monday after Inter-House, all the qualifying athletes would attend a team meeting early in the morning. Mr Britten would come in and do a roll call. I was so proud to be part of the set-up for the first time and made my way to the back to join the stalwarts – Dudley and Ronald. My world collapsed when Mr Britten completed the roll call and my name wasn’t called. I’m sure nobody knew that I wasn’t supposed to be there but I felt like they did. I skulked out and went to class. Sprinters had reserves, middle and long-distance not. Idiot.

My classmates asked what I was doing in class instead of out at athletics practice with the rest of the jocks. I swallowed my pride then coughed up lies.

‘Mr Britten is a poes. I don’t smaak that kak.’ I said.

I told Michael the truth. And he didn’t torment. He didn’t care for sport or fitting in. He liked cars, brandy and Texan Plain. I liked Michael. He didn’t judge me. We hung out. Then he died.

It was a weekend and Michael was at a braai on the vlei. He drove his neighbour’s car on some sort of errand. He lost control of the car and it rolled, crashing into a tree. His body was flung from the car.

On the day of his funeral I walked to his house in 4th Avenue where his coffined body was open to viewing. I pushed my way through mourners to the lounge. This was the first time I had lost someone. Morbidity an unknown to a novice of loss, I surged through to see my friend one last time. The way cleared for me. Loud hailing soon ensued. My ex-short-term-girlfriend had taken her place as mourner-in-chief at the head of the coffin. She never really knew Michael and Michael certainly didn’t make any effort to know her. Exploit my grief is what she did. Screaming him through to the finish line. She meant no harm.

Michael Hamburg

Chapter Eleven. Std 9 at Belgravia Senior Secondary.

Standard Nine

Somehow I made it to Standard 10 (matric). Actually I do know how – by the seat of my pants. I was still doing well enough in Standard 8 with teachers like Miss Samuels and Mr Laatoe. They taught accountancy and mathematics respectively. They were good teachers – the old school Hewat College-graduate kind. They were approachable, passionate and even-handed. We got the odd whipping but only when deserved. And let’s not forget Miss Cargill – our first white teacher. She stood out but it wasn’t like we went up and stroked her blonde hair and bounded back to our desks screeching and scratching our armpits or anything. She would walk in and pull up her desk closer to the front row of the learner’s desks, plant her bum on her desk and rest her blotchy pink feet on the front desk. The boys would rush up and take up the front rows for a show. With her knees up the position would expose the bottom of her thighs and everything at the top end of it. To her it seemed fine – her knees were covered as far as she was concerned. Like a McDonald’s chips packet upside down – she couldn’t see the fries but we could. We could tell what day it was by the colour of her panties. I think she knew and didn’t care.

It all went pear-shaped in Standard 9, mathematics and accountancy were taught by a new breed of teacher – university graduates. They were liberal and smart. They treated us like young adults, except I wasn’t. There were no beatings or even the threat of one. No harsh words strongly spoken or marches down to the principal’s office. Most of my classmates thrived in the new environment. I didn’t. The evolution of the species took a break as I careered backwards and played the screaming monkey for a year. I bashed symbols and drank my own piss and was left to do so.

Throughout the year my marks for maths and accounts got lower and lower. Getting a good fail mark was all I eventually hoped for. And then I woke up. Actually, I fell out of bed with my heart pounding. Failing two subjects would mean repeating Standard 9. No one in the Johnson family ever repeated. My father and mother might have left school prematurely but they hadn’t failed. Sharon and Ruby didn’t and I certainly wasn’t going to let the side down. I had no idea how I was going to do it. With only two months left before the final examinations, there was no way I could catch up with a year’s worth of knowledge.

Along came Baapu. There aren’t many who know him by this name. It was what his mother called him. And I knew him by this name only because I loitered around and in his mother’s trading store. She was known as Bibi. She was an old Indian woman with a back hunched over from years serving stale marshmallow fish over her counter. She was a widower who wore saris and cursed at us delinquents in Indian. Which Indian language I do not know. Indian-owned trading stores were known as ‘cafés’. I don’t why because the only coffees ever traded over the counters were tins of Ricoffy and Frisco. There were many of these cafés in Belgravia Estate – one on almost every street corner. Our local store was Parker’s in 3rd Avenue. We would buy all our daily supplies like bread, milk, Amla and newspapers at Parker’s. Hardly anyone ever visited Bibi’s. It was dark and dank. It was musty and of paraffin it stank. But Bibi made a marketing breakthrough – she was the first to welcome arcade games into her café. Mr. Parker wouldn’t, worrying that youngsters would loiter. So we loitered at Bibi’s. And we were soon hooked on those games – Rally-X, Pengo, Donkey Kong and Elevator Action. Of course there was Pac Man but it’s a reference often over-used. Desperate for a fix I would steal an empty 1litre bottle from the kitchen cupboard and scoot to Bibi’s. I would get 30c for it – enough for a game, a loose cigarette and a few Chappies to mask the smell. Within half an hour it was all gone and we returned to loitering. When dressed in our ‘gangster’ finery we would lean against whatever we could lean against – the counter, the arcade games or outside against the wall. Some of us even did the very ‘gangster’ Taiwanese sailor squat. I refused to go that far – looking like you were taking a shit made you look more vulnerable than tough.

While I was spending my time wisely, Bibi’s son Baapu was doing his homework inside. We were in the same class but in a different class altogether. He was brilliant at math and accountancy. And pretty good at the rest of the subjects too. Of course I waved that off, saying that it was natural for an Indian to be good at math and accountancy. He could easily have just laughed at my foolishness and torment me the following year for not making Level Matric. And no amount of stolen bottles would get me there.

Then he did what set him aside as a man and me as a boy. He walked into the store from their house annexed to it. Bibi mumbled instructions to him in Indian but he ignored her. He opened the wire-mesh gate that separated them from the customers and walked straight to me. He was short and squat with hardly any neck. He had a round face, cute little Buddha lips surrounded by savannah-sparse growth. He put both hands in his pockets but left the thumbs out and moved into my personal space. It took me by surprise and I could not do anything but take whatever nature of confrontation was forthcoming. With his Mowgli-like eyes he stared intently into my mine.

‘You’re going to fail,’ he said calmly.

‘Fuck off Baapu,’ I replied.

‘You’re going to fail maths and accountancy,’ he continued.

‘Ja, I haven’t got a lekker year mark or…’

‘Forget maths,’ he urged. ‘There’s no time.’

‘What do y…’

‘I’m taking some of the guys for accounts,’ he said.

‘Ja?’

‘And don’t you guys fuck around and waste my time.’

‘Okay,’ I said softly.

‘Meet me here after school tomorrow,’ he said and turned to walk back inside.

‘Thanks Baapu,’ I said, not knowing what else to say. He turned around and walked back up to me,

‘And don’t ever call me Baapu in front of the other guys.’

I never did. And certainly wasn’t going to then. I met him as instructed and he drove us to St Francis Xavier Seminary in Crawford. He wasn’t old enough to have a driver’s licence but out of necessity drove the family car, as he was the man of the house and shop. Frankie had arranged for us to use a room at the seminary for a few days a week. Frankie too had lagged behind because of his student activist commitments. We were a group of five or six – delinquents, dagga smokers, troublemakers, activists and late developers. None of us were really friends with Baapu except for me, and only because I hung around his mother’s shop. And there was no reason for Baapu to help us but he did. And I could see his enjoyment when he saw the lights go on in our stupid heads. He was the best teacher our little group of misfits had that year.

Final exams came and went. Mathematics didn’t show up.

We smoked at the back of the main school building. Of course it wasn’t allowed but there was a sort of unwritten rule that teachers would not seek us out. If it wasn’t seen then it didn’t happen. And there was way more serious shit going down behind the woodwork room. I remember it being a warm summer’s day and there were lots of us hanging around smoker’s corner. It was post-exam and we were in good spirits. Even the non-smokers hung out. I too put on a brave face but deep down my heart was heavy knowing that I would not be hanging around with my classmates in matric the following year. Just then we were startled.

‘Ivan!’

It was Mr Adams, our accountancy teacher. The handsome, bearded and young university graduate had swung around the corner, taking all by surprise. Classmates scattered. I stayed rooted as he stormed towards me. I had just been passed a cigarette and had no time to discard it. I flipped it towards my palm and snuck my hand behind my back, furiously rotating the fag to stop it giving off smoke. But it didn’t matter to him.

‘Ivan. You passed,’ he said grinning broadly.

‘What?’ I asked in disbelief.

‘You passed. How did you do it?’ He beamed.

‘I studied sir,’ I replied proudly.

He smiled even more, shook his head and left. I smiled too. Then took a few puffs of my still burning cigarette. A few of my classmates slowly returned and asked what it was about and I told them, all the usual suspects – Tanya, Jenny, Carl, Janine, Pearl, Saatjie and Lyndon. They were as surprised by my pass as Mr Adams was. But I immediately felt bad for letting Mr Adams down all year. It must have been hard on him seeing a seemingly good kid lose his way. As for Baapu, you’re a legend sir. Thank you for your selflessness. I really could do with a refresher course right now.

Chapter Ten. Wedding guests. Insurgents. Terrorists.

SWA pic

A motel in the border town of Noordoewer, on the SWA side of the Orange River. It was dusk. The weary travellers dragged themselves to their rooms, all clearly exhausted but for Andy.

‘Nou vir ‘n lekker paar doppe,’ he says rubbing his hands.

‘Gaan kak Andy. Ek is moeg,’ said Davie.

‘Sharon, I don’t know who you’re going to be bridesmaid for. Looks like Uncle Davie is married already,’ scoffed Andy. ‘Smile julle, you’re on candid camera.’

Andy sensed that the mood and his enthusiasm were a doomed pairing and made his way to his room. But not without a last request to further irritate Davie.

‘Davie het jy ‘n spare pakkie Mills entjies?’

‘Jirre Andy. Plan jy vir niks? Davie reached into his pocket and tossed Andy the keys. ‘In die cubbyhole.’

The sun popped out in the distance and the canyon-like mountains glowed Martian red. A lone camel stood in a little kraal next to the parking lot. It was the ugliest and most beautiful creation I had ever seen. I must have stood there for five minutes, staring at the beast. It just stood there too, staring straight back. Eventually it blinked a heavy lash and turned away. And I turned to join my fellow travellers who I thought were patiently waiting for me in their cars. But they weren’t, instead they stood hunched over the Chevair, peering in through the windows. The car was locked, the keys needed to unlock it were on the driver’s seat inside. Andy shook his head and sighed,

‘Nou hoe het jy daai gedoen Davie?’

A loud noise drowned out Davie’s response as a motorcycle pulled up into the parking lot. A sizeable man dismounted and removed his helmet. He shook out his blonde hair and headed to the motel reception. He stopped for a moment, like you do when feeling you were being watched. He turned to the stranded passengers at the Chevair, then walked over to us.

‘Keys? Can I help?’ he asked confidently.

‘If you can lock it open ja please,’ replied Andy.

Sharon and I giggled with embarrassment. The biker walked around the car, his eyes scanning the dirt around it. He spotted something and picked it up. It was a piece of nylon-plastic bind of the type used to strap boxes. He dusted it off and folded it in half before slipping it between the rubber and window of the passenger door. In a flash it was around the knob and he jerked it up. Unlocked. He nodded and walked off.

We were all impressed. Andy turned to Sharon and I,

‘See, white people can also steal cars.’

The road stretched straight as far as the eye could see. The only features were the convoys of SADF Ratels, Casspirs and whatever other troop carriers. The closer we got to Windhoek, the more frequent the sightings. We left Andy and Faith in Rehoboth to seek forgiveness with the reverend while we made our way on to Windhoek. And once we had reached Windhoek we carried on to the rural area where Eva’s family lived.

Dordabis was 30km outside Windhoek. I was exhausted but was called upon to do something I thought ridiculous: opening and closing farm gates. Of course it all makes sense now but not at the time. There was a lot walking when opening those gates. The average farm gate is 4.5m in width. We were never sure which way it would open so would stop at least 6m from it. Add the 2m from the Chevair’s nose to my passenger door and we’re already looking at an 8m walk to the gate. Once you’ve tussled with chains or whatever it is that makes it so hard for city dwellers, you had to lift the gate and open it all the way. That distance would be 7.06m. To follow the arc of the gate all the way around its axis would give you a distance of 28.26m because the radius of the gate was 4.5. So 4.5 x 2 x 3.141 or C=2πr would explain my calculation. A quarter of that would give you 7.06m because you only followed the arc as far as 90˚. Anyway, the car would drive through and you would have to close the stupid gate again – another 7.06m. Then walk the remaining 6m back to the waiting Chevair. That’s a total of 30.12m just to open a gate. There must have been five gates before we got to the farmhouse, which meant a blistering 150.6m walked. That’s about as exact an approximate can be. Of course there was the rudimentary “drive off as he gets to the door’ joke – I care not to remember how many.

We finally arrived at a very basic dwelling perched on top of a pebbled hill. There was a small farmhouse and one or two smaller outbuildings. At the bottom of the hill and opposite the dirt road was a reservoir. Eva stood on the hill and waved as we arrived. She was pretty. Davie had made a good choice.

Done with the formal greetings I stood at the farmhouse and surveyed the shimmering landscape, the heat singeing my nostrils. I looked for animals but saw none. I wasn’t really sure what was farmed there. Stones maybe? Because that’s all I saw – smooth pebbles everywhere and so dense it was hard finding any sand. When evening came the night grew darker than Idi Amin’s bum hole. I stood outside amazed by the blackness. A boy my age didn’t waste time pondering existence at moments like these. A picked up a pebble because I knew they were there and tossed it into the night. Sparks flew as it hit other pebbles and my face lit up. It was the most extraordinary fireworks display I had ever witnessed. I have no idea how long I was out there tossing stones. I threw handfuls in every direction until I heard the bellowing of a cow. There were animals indeed.

I’ve always felt love for animals and still do now. The following day after breakfast I walked out the back door and saw a little lamb tethered to a pole. I went straight over and petted the bundle of fleece. I scratched it under the chin and down to the chest. The little lamb showed its appreciation by closing its eyes and lifting its chin, exposing more neck for scratching. I’m neither a farm boy but nor am I that naïve to think that this was a pet. I knew that it would one day be the premium ingredient in a stew. But I didn’t expect it while I was there. Before I could finish a lyric – “Little lamb on a hill run as fast as you can, good Christians want to kill you…” from Morrissey’s Yes I am blind, the young beast whose life had not yet begun, was murdered for dinner.

With the moldy old walls saturated with the stench of death, I struggled to sleep that night. Sharon and I shared a guestroom. There were two single beds, one on either side and up against the walls. Sharon was sound asleep, dreaming bridesmaid dreams while I lay with eyes wide open, scanning the walls and ceiling. Two large geckoes hung onto the dank wall, waiting for me to drift off to sleep. Then they would give up their desperate grip and fall into my mouth. I got up and dragged my bed to the center of the room.

Leaving Davie, Eva and Sharon to get on with their wedding planning, I moved to Windhoek and a cousin’s house – The Lamoela’s. Her husband was a pastor with a giving heart. He had no idea how much giving was to be done. The rest of the Cape Town family arrived in droves. Because of the distance travelled, the occasion wasn’t just a wedding anymore, it was now a holiday for the visitors. Not for the hosts, who eventually retreated to their bedroom. They had shared everything they had with us and needed the space to regroup as a family unit. One evening I walked past the main bedroom where they were holed up watching TV. The door was slightly ajar through which I peered before running to the kitchen where the women of the visiting families were preparing meals. I burst in with a loud whine of entitlement,

‘I’m thirsty and they’ve got a whole two litre Fanta!’

‘Ombeskof,’ said my mother and followed it up with a smack on the ear.

The men in the travelling clan were taking advantage of the hospitality as well. At least they were respectful of Reverend Lamoela’s home and consumed whisky and beer in the garage. Unfortunately it wasn’t just the male members of the family being dehydrated but the reverend’s kudu biltong too. The reverend paid the men a visit in the garage one evening and they respectfully put their glasses down. The reverend chose not to look at the booze on the table but instead pointed to the strips of meat hanging overhead,

‘Kudu makes the best biltong. With this dry air, two… three days and it’s ready,’ he said and left the men to get on with their holiday festivities.

He wasn’t wrong because there was hardly any biltong left after two days. A few pathetic strips was all that remained, spread out thinly in a lame attempt at hiding the theft. My cousin Julian and I were blamed for the pilfering. We were innocent of course but took it for the team, proving our worth as boys soon to be men in the family. And we were embarrassed by what they had done.

South West Africa was a buffer between apartheid South Africa and the communists from everywhere. We were used to seeing police and the infamous riot squads in Belgravia Estate but it was different in Windhoek. The army was everywhere. Although the war was further north along the border of Angola and in the Caprivi Strip, the threat of urban terrorism was taken seriously. And it was very visible in the only mall they had. A SADF soldier stood guard at the entrance of the OK Bazaars supermarket, he was armed with a R4 rifle. Behind him was an illustrated poster of the various bombs to look out for. I remember Limpet mines being the weapon of choice for terrorists. Or so we were told on the nightly news. I had a fascination with guns so paused outside and stared at the rifle held by the soldier. Unlike those who guard Buckingham Palace and not easily provoked even by a fart in the face, this one was easily irritated.

‘Fokkof!’ he scowled in his Afrikaans accent.

‘You fokkof,’ I replied cheekily.

My father smacked me on the head and dragged me off. I deserved it for swearing but didn’t feel too bad about it. More so when I noticed my father turn around to the soldier and with exaggerated physical pronunciation, mouthed silently,

‘Fokkof!’

The wedding itself was back in Rehoboth. And the vows were read by the reverend manipulated by Andy into lying about sickness and death. The reception was an alcohol free affair, and as Capetonians with reputations already compromised, agreed to honour it. The men in the family would not drink at the reception. They would drink in their cars instead.

My father was the wedding limousine driver. His silver-grey Toyota Cressida supposedly the smartest car in the family. My father was very honoured, although he probably insisted on it. And I was asked to accompany him in the passenger seat. I soon knew why. At my feet was a neatly arranged mini-bar with an ice bucket, a bottle of White Horse Whiskey, two glasses and a bottle of water. We drove to the hall where the reception was to be held and my father pulled off to the side of the road about fifty meters away. He turned to the newly weds,

‘Sien Eva, in die Kaap is ‘n troue nie ‘n troue nie sonder ‘n heildronk nie,’ he said as he poured two drinks. ‘Ivan. Ice.’

Davie sighed,

‘Aai Boeta Joey,’ he said, taking the glass while looking tentatively to his new bride. Eva was a calm and intelligent woman. She smiled. She was half-African and half-German. She would be late for her own wedding reception. By exactly an hour.

Chapter Nine. We left the struggle behind but not the police.

SWA

It’s 4am and the lights are on in 2nd Avenue Belgravia. We’re all in the kitchen as my mother waits for the boiled eggs to cool. This can only mean one thing – a long trip. Once the eggs had cooled she would peel them and place them in a lunchbox along with salt and pepper, wrapped separately in tin foil. Cheese and tomato sandwiches, a flask of coffee and some fruit completed the package we referred to as “padkos”.

“Why can’t we just eat at the Wimpy of the garage?” asked Sharon.

“Dy is gemors kos vir die wit mense,” said my mother as she packed the little cooler bag.

“Ja, we just stop for petrol and a piepie,” chirped my uncle Davie.

I wasn’t going to argue with that, I just wanted to get going. And was so excited I could have done without the petrol and “piepie” stops. The garage toilets on the long road always seemed to be locked anyway. Maybe they were afraid someone would go in and clean them.

It was 1981 and the year of the big wedding. No not the sharing of spoils by the freeloading royal scrounge-lizards called Charles and Di. My uncle Davie was marrying a girl called Eva. He was a building foreman and went to Bellies – so a very eligible bachelor. Eva was from a little town outside Windhoek in what was then South West Africa. She was half coloured and half German. So coloured royalty. Davie had taken his time choosing a bride and the whole family looked forward to the day he finally would. That time had come and Davie was off to get married in SWA. And Sharon and I were invited to travel in Davie’s advance party.

Sharon was going as bridesmaid to Eva. I was going because it was the June school holidays. But it felt like my biggest day. Uncle Davie had chosen me to travel with him to the most anticipated wedding ever. He was cool. He was a foreman. He had owned Minis and a Ford Capri. He had the largest collection of 8-track cassettes – 5. They were rather large. If he was cool, I was Cool Junior. And cool needed to hit the road in Davie’s Chevair.

‘One for the road Davie,’ offered my father while pouring another whisky.

“Aai Boeta Joey. Okay, is ‘n lang pad,’ relented my uncle.

Reserve your judgments and “hooly ha’s’ for later.

Uncle Davie’s belly adequately warmed, we drove off into the cold dark morning. Not without the traditional honking of horns as we left, waking the entire neighbourhood. Our final destination was 1500km away and Sharon and I were more than passengers, we were co-drivers. After about 150km out of Cape Town we were already called upon as Davie’s eyes tired. I was sat in the front passenger seat. I looked to Davie and at the first sign of him nodding off…

‘Davie!’

My uncle jolted upright and stretched his eyelids as wide open as possible for a few times.

‘Thanks,’ he said before relaxing in his seat. A few kilometres later the scene would repeat itself again. And again.

‘Davie!’

‘Wha… thanks Ivan.’

Minutes later,

‘Davie!’

‘Okay, stop shouting,’ he said, irritated.

It’s a long and straight road, the landscape featureless. After a few hours I was feeling the strain too. From the backseat would come a voice,

‘Ivan!’ shouted Sharon.

‘Wha… Davie!’ I relayed.

Teamwork. In a few hours another member of the team had his part to play. The charming Andy – a trusted friend of Davie’s. He worked and lived with his family in Nababeep and he was to join us in convoy to Windhoek. He was warned countless times, by Davie, to ensure his tank was full as it was Sunday and petrol stations were closed. And they were only open till 1pm on Saturdays. He also had to fill up a jerry can or two for Davie’s Chevair.

We finally pull up to Andy’s house in the red and dusty town of Nababeep. It’s late morning and quite warm for winter. The windows of the house were closed. No welcoming party to be seen. We walked up to the door and Davie glanced either side to both windows before knocking.

“This is now Andy,’ says Davie annoyed. ‘The bugger’s probably still sleeping.’

He knocked again and with more purpose. Then shouted through it,

‘Kom kom. Ons het ‘n troue!’

We waited a while until finally the door opened. It was Andy’s wife – Faith. Davie greeted quickly and walked in, heading straight for the main bedroom.

‘Hello Faith. Waar’s daai ly vriend van my?’

Faith replies calmly, ‘Die kamer Davie,’ and turns to welcome us, ‘Hello Sharon and Ivan. How’s your mother?’

‘Fine Aunty Faith,’ we replied in unison.

We could hear that Davie had found Andy and we made our to the doorway of the bedroom. We peeked in and saw Andy lying bare-chested in bed, a sheet up to his navel. He was reading a newspaper, now at his side. He peered calmly over his big-framed spectacles as Davie voiced his frustration.

‘Andy! Mense kom al van die kerk af en jy lé nog hier. Jirre, Sharon, Ivan, this is how I know Andy,’ he said, shaking his head.

Andy didn’t seem fazed at all. We knew Andy well and we knew him like that. He waited for Davie to finish and then replied,

‘Bekalm jouself Davie,’ he said softly then turned to Sharon and I at the doorway, ‘And the bridesmaid Sharon? Hello. Lyk nes Boeta Joey. And Ivan, have you grown yet? And your tollie? Is it growing?’

I had no response to that and slunk against the wardrobe with my eyes on the old rug, kicking away imaginary dust balls. Davie thought it deserved an answer and offered one,

‘Hy’s nou ge-circumsised. Boeta Joey decide net so. Areme kind. Sorry… young man.’

‘Wat het Boeta Joey nou slams gedraai?’ chuckled Andy.

I was feeling pity for Andy until then. But looked forward to his response for what my uncle was going to ask next.

‘Kom Andy. Faith, are you packed? Petrol gesort?’ asked Davie impatiently.

There was a long awkward silence as Andy scanned the depths of his scheming brain for an answer. A voice from the kitchen exposed yet another of Andy’s follies.

‘Hy het alles uitgery van Oranjemond af,’ shouted Faith. ‘Sharon, Ivan, Oros?’

Sharon and I were relieved to have a reason to leave the room. There was much stomping and a barrage of choice words that would be best left in the room of a little house in Naba “beep’. None of which fazed Andy. He had a plan. Well, another one as Davie had already spelt out the plan to which Andy never stuck. His plan was to ask the police to give him special permission to purchase petrol on a Sunday. Under certain circumstances you could. But there weren’t any. Andy’s plan was to lie about an illness in the family. He was going to tell the police that there was a very sick aunt on her deathbed in Rehoboth and we had to get there before the angel of death. Rehoboth was in South West Africa and a long way away. Even further than the truth.

‘Wat, ons moet die boere gaan vra? En lieg? said Davie in disbelief then turned to us, ‘that’s Andy, his plan is to lie to the police.’

We were coloureds. You don’t want to see policemen. And we were upcountry without the backing of the whole Cape Flats. You didn’t want to be questioned by them. Or give them a questionable story. But that was Andy’s plan,

‘Ag Davie. We’ll just tell them there’s sickness in the family in South West. Daar’s mos altyd siekte. En die’s nie die Kaapse verkrampte boere nie Davie. Hulle’s alright,’ said Andy calmly. He got up and dressed. On his way out he calls to his wife,

‘Faith kom saam.’

‘Los my uit. Jy gaan alleen tronk toe,’ replied Faith, with no faith at all. We sat down at our orange-like drinks while Faith poured a glass of beer from a 750ml bottle of Lion Lager for Davie, who thanked Faith,

‘Daai blerrie Andy. See, he can buy beer at the smokkie but can’t buy petrol.’

A half hour had passed before Andy pulled up outside and jumped out of his light green Datsun 160Y, the engine still idling. He rushed inside with an urgency that surprised Davie and the rest of us. Andy was never flustered so we grabbed what we could and ran to the cars. While all this was happening, Andy explained,

‘Ek het die boere gesé dat daar siekte in Rehoboth is.’

‘Wie se siekte Andy?’ asked Faith.

‘Jou familie Faith, die dominee’s se vrou,’ replied Andy.

‘Jirre Andy. Kan jy nie eers reg lieg nie?’ huffed Faith. ‘Sy’s lank al dood!’

The police in Nababeep had given Andy the necessary permit but not without Andy’s written explanation and a contact number in Rehoboth. There was a good chance that they would call to check out the story. Andy did not have a telephone and we drove around the little town to find one. A foreman friend of Andy’s had one and we rushed over to his house. Andy placed ten cents on the table next to the phone and called Rehoboth,

‘… en dis wat jy moet asseblief sé dominee,’ pleads Andy.

‘..ek moet wat? Vra jy my om te lieg seun? Het jy geen skaamte nie. Ek kom nou net uit die kerk en nagmaal bedien,’ replied the dominee, aghast.

Andy explained to the reverend the predicament we had found ourselves in. And apologised for the lie he had been rushed into. He passed on belated condolences, which didn’t really help the situation. But Andy felt that the good reverend would play along if the police did indeed go to the trouble of calling his home in Rehoboth. But we had to leave Nababeep immediately. After hastily filling the cars with petrol we drove out of town very slowly. The two cars crept past the police station. We winced as the gravel crunched under the weight of the Chevair. Davie, Sharon and myself looked nervously ahead. Behind us were Andy and Faith in their green Datsun 160Y. Faith too, stared nervously forward as we passed the open door of the police station. Andy however, smiled broadly while craning his neck trying to see inside. He rides his luck that Andy.

We whooped and hollered as we finally hit the tar of the national road. It was only 114 kilometres to the South West African border. And once over, although you could travel freely and without passport at the time, surely the cops would not be bothered with us anymore. But Andy must have really bothered them. When we finally arrived in Rehoboth we were met with an icy cold reception. Hope – the reverend’s daughter and Faith’s sister told us what had transpired. The reverend was still on the phone with Andy when the Rehoboth police pulled up in a cloud of red dust. Hope stood at the window and alerted her father,

‘Die polies pa, hulle’s hier!’

The reverend slammed down the phone and instructed his daughter,

‘In die bed nou. Jou dood bed. Die kanker soos jou ma. Bless haar siel.’

Hope sprung into action without questioning and dashed to the main bedroom. She heard the loud knocking on the door as she took her place in the bed. With the bedcovers up to her chest and arms limp at her sides, she lay still and stared at the ceiling with vacant eyes. The reverend walked in with two white constables. He shuffled solemnly to a chair at the bedside and sat down, and reached for Hope’s hand.

“Ja, sy is haar ma. Soos sy gelewe het. En nou soos sy ons gaan verlaat. Haar ma is inderdaad hier, om haar te vat na die hemel toe. Sal u saam ‘n gebed sé?

The constables removed their hats then backed out slowly and respectfully.

“Verskoon ons dominee. Sterkte,’ and left.

The reverend sighed with relief. He put his hands together and looked to the ceiling,

‘Vergewe my God.’

Hope was still playing the part when the reverend got up and looked at her, and with fire in his eyes spat,

‘Daai Andy, daar’s ‘n hel wat vir hom wag.’

Although it involved police in two countries, a great deception and a dash for the border – we completed the trip to Windhoek as a wedding party and not fugitives. Not quite the big car chase scene. But giving a man of God no option but to lie? Surely someone’s life would end in a climactic fiery ball of flames.

Changes explained.

Jenga rebooted

First of all, thank you for the great response. Notably from the ex-Bellies people. We were strong then and clearly that hasn’t changed.

I’ve cleaned up the site a bit and trashed the side stories. ‘Fuck Face’ confused a few. And irony and fiction escaped one. I’ve kept one story that might be relevant to the end of ‘Jenga Man’ – The Cannes story.

I’ve also titled the stories by chapter. Apologies to all for not doing that in the first place. A full week might pass without another though as, if you’re read “The story behind the story”, the memoir was not completed. What I write next is adapted from a screenplay I wrote. And I’m not a writer so it will take time. But I promise at least a chapter per week. See it as a book “being written” in progress. And you can be a part of it. I’ve received so many stories from people who have engaged and I would like to add those (with permission of course) to the book. A book would be nice yes. I haven’t seen many books about us – you know who you are. The late Chris van Wyk told good stories and probably the closest to what my life experiences were. Sadly he passed on in October 2014. Do yourself a favour and find his books. “Shirley, Goodness & Mercy” my personal favourite.

If you keep following consider yourself not only reader but editor, contributor and co-author. And If I manage to reach some sort of critical mass, and a publisher still refuses to publish Jenga Man, that publisher is a raci… no, he’s a cunt.

Send your stories, your pictures and links. As we used to say, “organise man.”