It was weeks since the classroom incident and, with the initial shock of it over, Dara had derived some amusement from its retelling.
He’d shared his story far and wide across social media but none of his friends could grasp what the fuss could be about.
Confirmation that the corridor attack was a direct reprisal for Dara upsetting the preacher was all around town, returning to him from many angles. Even the house staff ventured an opinion, “Kleinbaas”—Small boss, they called him—“…you can’t go saying things like that.”
“Things like what?” he’d asked.
“Things that make the Dominee angry… when the Dominee is angry we must all be angry,” they’d declared.
And the Dominee was evidently angry; very-very angry. He’d been angry about the SKA development before but now its implementation had a face, the dark face of a devil child who did not know his place, an arrogant strutting peacock of a boy who had come grinning into his class with his very white teeth and his very white eyes cast around on the very white girls. And that devil child had been so smug and proud to announce that the Almighty Bible and Genesis were wrong.
Word also had it that the preacher’s sermons in the town were, since the incident, about almost nothing but the SKA and the blasphemous stain it would put on his town.
Dawie had verified all of these things to Dara, that he remained the talk of the town.
Since the initial furore had died down, Dawie had become a regular visitor at the compound, walking the hour it took from his own home. Sometimes he’d bring along the other boys Dara had met on the school’s playground—Detlief and Tjaardt—Tjaardt with the emerald eyes.
The house staff wasn’t finished with their opinions either; “It’s a skandaal kleinbaas—scandalous—to look at the white girls like you did,” they warned.
Dawie upped the ante and the other boys nodded in solemn agreement: “They’re still out to get you—Vermaak wants to donner you.”
“Ja, man… to beat you up.”
Neels Vermaak with the granite head thought the situation more than scandalous—he was treating it like a blasphemy. His girlfriend, Dawie explained—the one with the striking blonde hair, the one who had tried to intervene at the attack—had been so disgusted by Neels’ assault that she’d broken off their long relationship.
The only son of a wealthy farming family, Vermaak carried clout in the town. Dawie detailed his pedigree; he was the Dominee’s protégé, the youth leader in the NGK congregation and a star on the sports, and especially rugby, field. He had backup.
By now Dara had the whole scoop on the parched town—its people suffering from a crushed economy, desperately reeling from a prolonged drought. With the worst El Niño ever recorded amplifying the effects of climate change already in full force, rain hadn’t fallen in almost three years and the farms were in crisis. Prayers for rain at the local church had come to naught.
Undeterred and oblivious to these matters, Dawie’s people were planning to gather soon to shuffle and dance and beseech the ancestors to save the land from the ravages of man.
Against the backdrop of these tough conditions, small human dramas were playing themselves out.
Detlief was up from Cape Town staying with extended family. The gang violence of his home suburb in the city had boiled over and drug-related killings in the slum streets there were a daily occurrence. His mother had shipped him out when he started moving with the wrong crowd; given the depravations they lived in he could hardly have avoided it.
Tjaardt’s pedigree was now also cleared up—he’d detailed it with great pride so that there could be no confusion… These categories were important he’d insisted, as they pegged each person into a hierarchy. The brief history lesson he extolled came with solemn nods of agreement from the other boys and house staff. He pigeonholed himself into his mother’s ethnic linage; he was a Baster. Derived from the old Dutch word for bastard, an early ethnic mix between the original Dutch settlers and indigenous African population. Tjaardt seemed extremely proud to have the blood of the Trekboers in his veins… even if their ancestors in the town and on the playground rejected any hint that he was any part of them.
Tjaart’s uncle was the local Burgemeester or Mayor. His position was not a welcome one to the white community of the town. His affiliations to the ruling political party of the country, whom they hated, were bruised but still too strong for most to stomach. There was a general sense that he was an undeserving recipient of the position was rife.
When Dara thought small town politics couldn’t be any more outrageous, on his latest visit Dawie updated the threat to Defcon Level-1.
“Vermaak says he’s going to kill you… and me.”
“What for now?” Dara sighed it, exhausted by the seemingly endless litany of escalating threats and hostility constantly rumbling toward him from the distant town; were it not for Dawie’s obvious concern, it would have seemed farcical.
“They know we’re friends and they know I come here… but mainly because of your mom.”
“Because of my mum? Because of her work?”
“Yes… but also because…” he hesitated, “…because your mother went to the police—and the Constable is an elder in the Church, so it went right back to Dominee van der Nest, and then to Neels.”
“What? My mother went to the cops?” Dara was outraged, feeling betrayed but he knew that he couldn’t do anything until his mother returned home—at work she was not to be disturbed by calls.
“This is absurd…” His mind was suddenly a tangle of a thousand thoughts. More than once he’d seen a bakkie—a pickup truck—someone screened within, watching him intently from the national road as he rode his bike on an adjacent farm track.
At the time he’d convinced himself that he was imagining it but perhaps, he now thought, perhaps Dawie was right… and they were watching his every move after all.
Also, the previous week, while shopping with his mother in the town he’d been jeered at by a person in a passing car. He’d thought little of it at the time.
Fragments of memories and tumbling thoughts came vaulting through his mind, falling into place; something sinister was sliding within, a foreboding. In a few weeks time the school term would be over and his mother would take him down to Cape Town on holiday ahead of enrolling at boarding school. He’d be away for months and everything then would blow over by the time he ever came back.
Suddenly it felt like a race for survival until the date of their departure.
“I’ll keep a low profile… stay on the farm, I’m fine here,” he silently consoled himself.
“They call you Mister Prrrrretty boy,” Dawie reminded him—and the way he rolled those ‘rrrrrr’s struck like a tuning fork, resonating with that agitator’s shout-out in the town. The thing slid through Dara’s gut again and he shoved his hands into his pockets to quell any tremor and manufactured a scoff of laughter.
When his mother arrived home that evening he took her to task and it erupted into an unpleasant shouting match.
He stormed to his room and slammed the door.
Later his mother came knocking. He eventually relented and opened the door.
He knew she was right, though; she had made a statement so that the incident at the school was on record. The African sergeant who had recorded it already knew the details and name of the assailant before she even described him and battled to pronounce his name—Neels Vermaak.
It was on the record—that was all she wanted.