The men were due to arrive for a meeting at the Kruger house within the hour. Prime on the agenda was pushing forward on the next step in their bid to oppose or forestall the SKA development.
Right now, father and son were in heated confrontation and the women of the house had evaporated out of the way. The men’s voices were raised, arguing aggressively in Afrikaans.
“You arrive, and the kak begins,” Andre was furious.
He’d got wind of JJ’s impossible-to-miss car parked outside the clinic and he’d confronted his son the moment JJ’d come through the door. There was only one inpatient, so that the significance of the visit was obvious.
JJ had already told his father why he’d gone to the hospital, “I’m interested in this whole project,” he’d told Andre. “I have had discussions and meetings with many of the scientists. You don’t even know—I donated half that hospital.”
Andre ignored the proclamation; it ashamed him before all of the community that his son should make such a donation through foreigners into his own town.
“…And I am friends with the lady whose son got injured,” JJ bent the truth a little, knowing the Loxton police would have called in his meeting with a dark boy back to his father. He was furious with his father over the sinister probability of his involvement, and intended to torment the man by not disclosing everything he knew, as custom dictated he should. “I wanted to see how they were doing.”
“And you take your little sister too?” Andre accused, “So that she can get mixed up with these skelms.”
JJ shook his head, “Where do you make up this stuff? Skelms? What makes them crooks?” He already knew what his father would answer would be, but wanted to draw his father out.
“This is our land and they come here stealing it… bringing their ungodly selves and ungodly machines with them. That’s why they’re skelms! Why didn’t they go to Australia like they said they would? Why here? In this blessed place, between our Godly people? Why?”
“Because it is the future, father, and because it is not ungodly. Because this area needs to be uplifted and because this is the best place on earth to build it.... Because through science, it will put Africa on the map.”
“Well we don’t care about science in Africa or uplifting anything… if that is how they uplift—by taking away our farms, blocking our communications, trying to break our economy and calling our beliefs into question?”
“They have not called your beliefs into question. You are paranoid and injecting issues where none exist.”
“You watch how you talk to your elders! I am still your father,” his father stood up, a challenge, looming over a son who had grown bigger, stronger and faster than him.
JJ didn’t flinch. He stayed neutral, his hands palms down on the table between them. He’d been forcing them not to fidget and now he kept his voice low and steady, “Pa…” he blinked a slow and deliberate blink of confidence, “…sit.”
They locked a mutual stare for long moments and then, slowly, his father sank back down, fists like hams still clenched, remaining in front of his son’s open hands.
“I will never trust these atheists… these… these… antichrists!” Andre spat it out, deliberately, provocatively, “…. these… satanists.”
“You mean ‘these scientists’, Pa?”
“Satanists, scientists? Yes, they’re the same ungodly thing!” Andre asserted.
“Well, yes, of the leading scientists in the world, nearly a hundred percent are atheists, sure.” JJ dared twist his father’s meaning to make a point. “And what does that say...? It certainly doesn’t make them Satanists.”
“It says they’re against God and that makes them Satanists in my book.”
JJ ignored the attempt to draw him once more into the empty old argument on the topic they’d had too many times.
“…And now you talk for them hey?” His father challenged, “You count yourself with the scientists?”
JJ reminded his father that he was a student of many things, among these things he leant toward proofs and rational answers over philosophical ones.
The argument, as always, drove his father blind with rage—Andre would dogmatically insist that atheists and scientists were synonymous with Satanists, and they remained one untrustworthy blanket collection of immoral communists in his mind.
“You forget why we were thrown out of the Garden of Eden!” Andre accused, still niggling for confrontation.
“Because a talking snake said a woman shouldn’t eat an apple,” JJ couldn’t resist the ridicule in his words or tone.
“You’re a very funny boy these days…” Andre snapped sarcastically. “Forgotten all you have been taught. The snake was Satan—he wanted mankind to seek knowledge that God had protected us from knowing.”
“And you believe this, Pa? You really believe it? That knowledge should be avoided? That looking for answers is a sin? Is that why you and the old manne are so bedonnerd—so insane with anger about the SKA…? Because once again it shows Genesis is unscientific nonsense? I hear there are real problems the installation is causing… why not argue those rather than this nonsense?”
Andre glowered at him but said nothing; the Dominee had explained that the Americans would fight this fight, but he wasn’t going to arm the enemy through his son with that important knowledge.
JJ sighed, shook his head and pulled his laptop from its bag, flipping the lid open.
“And that,” Andre pointed at the computer, “Wasting time with people who know nothing…. I have the only book I need. It is filled with everything I must know—love and obedience to our Maker. I will not deny Him, I will always do his work.”
“I used to say the same thing Pa, until I met people who were perfectly good without any God, and I read books filled with actual facts not just full of opinions; books that have data that actually describes the universe. Books so precise that they aren’t open to petty, wasteful, concocted interpretation that cause people to go to war over absurd and childish differences.” He paused, “And, they also have the benefit of being true.”
“Ja,” Andre responded. “And it is as our Dominee says—when you are a heretic, you think the answers that come from men are more important than the words of God. Since you met that woman, you have become self centered and arrogant.”
Andre had never acknowledged JJ’s marriage and would never say Morgan’s name—“that woman” was all the mention she’d get.
“I think it is more arrogant to imagine a whole universe made only for you, I think that’s a lot more arrogant than realizing how insignificant we are in the scheme of the universe.” JJ bit back, then stopped himself—it would only perpetuate more dead-end conversation. “I know you oppose this development—the telescope—but it is futile, pointless. It is finished. The contracts are signed and sealed. You can’t change that.”
“We’ll see…” Andre scoffed.
“Pa… please… I’m trying to make you understand that this is bigger than Carnarvon. It’s bigger than the church. It’s bigger than government…”
“Ja… the Government, now that’s another story. They lied to bring this here.”
“I know how you feel about them, but this development is beyond even them. What do you think you’re going to do? Bomb the telescope dishes?”
“We’re not that crude,” Andre assured him.
“I just don’t understand what is going on in everyone’s heads around here. Why are you so heated about a bloody telescope? It’s built on the bones of the existing Kat-7 and Meerkat infrastructure… nobody had a problem with those, but now there’s suddenly a groot geraas, all of you howling about the SKA. It doesn’t make any sense, Pa.”
“Because you’re no longer here and haven’t a clue what we’re suffering. Before it was isolated to a small area, but this… this thing… it’s taking over and it brings outsiders,” was all he’d venture.
“Why didn’t you complain before? Is it really just the outsiders that drive the Dominee to all this madness?”
“Now you stop with your insolence,” Andre warned. “I don’t question the Dominee when it is a matter of faith. He is a qualified theologian and if he feels that this matter is important, I support him.”
“Well I’d like to know from the Dominee then, because this is absurd. Is the church behind him on this? I see nothing about it outside of this little town.”
The question posed in that way triggered a question in Andre’s mind, but he was in no mood to admit it to his son, and he could hardly come straight out and ask the Dominee in so many words.
“And what is it you think you’re going to do…? I have a very good idea of what it might be...” It was an outright poker bluff from JJ, fishing to see if his father would reveal more than he was saying.
“Is your sister carrying stories to you again?” Andre didn’t bite. He’d remembered at that moment how Sonja had listened in from the scullery at the previous meeting in the kitchen—at the time he’d thought there’d be no harm to her hearing how men can get things done.
“Please leave Sonja out of this. She’s got no part in anything.”
“You’d be surprised!” Andre disagreed. “She’s very influenced by the nonsense these people spread… And now you take her to the hospital. I don’t want her to have anything to do with that boy from the accident.”
“The accident…” JJ repeated. “What an interesting accident he had....” He watched his father intensively, and Andre looked down at the tablecloth.
“Ja… riding without a license.”
“Perhaps. But it is strange that he was on that dirt road when he lives nowhere near there.”
“That’s none of my business,” Andre asserted.
“And I heard that there was an accident on the main road into town that day…. The dirt road somebody diverted him onto runs past the Vermaak farm.”
“What are you saying?” Andre looked up with fire and ice glinting in the blue of his eyes.
“I’m asking you if you know of an accident on the main road into town. Nobody seems to have heard of such a thing...”
“An accident… Is that what that little black bastard told you?”
“You and I… we passed one another on the road, Pa, when I was coming into town… we drove right past one another; you in a big hurry.”
“I... WAS… ATTENDING-TO-POLICE-BUSINESS,” his father spat out the words with staccato menace. “Is this now a court of law? Do you accuse me?”
“Accuse you of what?”
“I want to know whose side you sit on,” Andre changed tack.
“You are my father… but there are facts and truths.”
“And what does that mean? Where do you sit when our whole community and our way of life is threatened? Where do you sit?”
“Our community is threatened…? Really? You’re just afraid of a culture clash that you’ll lose. In your mind your old ways are threatened and you’re taking it out on people who have nothing to do with it.”
“Nothing to do with it…?” Andre scoffed. “They are here and don’t belong here, and they want to change everything. Don’t dare tell me they have nothing to do with it.”
“If you speak to the coloureds or blacks they’ll tell you that we don’t belong here.”
“Kafferboetie talk… That’s the shit you learn in the city! I don’t think your sister should go to that communist university.”
“Pa… stop. Cultures mix, populations move… that’s reality. You can’t avoid it by pretending it away. The fall and failing of our people has always been our clinging to fantasies, to the way we want things to be instead of the way they are. We’re the champions of not facing facts.”
There was a long silence before JJ continued.
“That young boy over at the hospital. His mother is here to do a job in Carnarvon, and he has a right to come with her. As I understand it, he isn’t even going to live up here—he’s going to Cape Town—and he has only tried to come into the community and fit in. And then we have clowns like that Neels who attack him in the school corridors and probably had something to do with what landed him in the hospital now.”
“And that’s what you think, my son?”
It was getting close to the time that the Dominee would arrive and Andre wanted JJ out of the house; Dominee Gert let his displeasure in the boy’s fall from his grace be unambiguously communicated.
“And if you want to talk to me, don’t keep fiddling with that machine of yours. Rather go work with it somewhere else.” Andre waved his hand at the computer.
“That is what I think, yes. Don’t worry, I’m on my way out Pa, my feelings about the Dominee are mutual; I’m just sending something off and I’m on my way.”
As he said it, JJ clicked the ‘record’ button on the computer’s built in video record feature, then stowed the recording window out of sight to the taskbar and reduced the backlit screen illumination to blackness.
“And I think it’s not going to end here. I think his mother is not going to let this thing with Neels blow over.”
“What does she say?” There was a shimmer of concern in Andre.
“She’s said nothing to me but she isn’t stupid. The facts as I understand them don’t match the stories I’ve heard. I’m not against you Pa, but I can’t be against justice and facts either. I don’t want to be forced to choose, I just think everyone around here better start thinking things through before they run into walls they didn’t even know are there.”
Andre remained silent.
“And I also think that you should all re-think whatever it is you’re planning to talk about tonight.”