Andre arrived at the church only just in time for the 10am Sunday service.
Thankfully, he thought, most people had already filed in and were seated. It was the first time in living memory he was there alone—without the family he was so proud of—his beautiful wife and breathtaking daughter.
That the congregation knew JJ was in town and hadn’t attended last week and again today was more embarrassment than he could bear—but now his wife and daughter had refused too.
Sonja had not outrightly refused but her mother had done so on her behalf, insisting that she needed the girl there to take care of her, sick as she had suddenly been overcome. Lately, Sonja had been seeking excuses not to attend but even laying down the law this morning to her had not won her submission.
Getting that girl to submit to many things these days was harder and harder, he pondered. “In a time not long ago a good hiding on her backside would do it,” he considered. Though, he had to concede to himself, at seventeen she was a little old for that; besides Johanna forbade it; “It’s not the done thing anymore, Andre.”
“Just another blerry problem the rooineks and their Communist government have forced on us,” these frustrations were without end.
The last of the worshippers were funneling into the building as he approached. Mercifully they only had a chance to nod greetings and had no time to quiz him as to why he was attending all alone; but the question in their eyes was a nagging accusation; the questions were there and would come when tea was served.
When the service began, he heard little of it but a drone, his head so full of voices as it was; of arguments with his wife, stubborn as she was; with his son, rebellious as he was; and, with his daughter, impressionable as she was.
He fought each of them a dozen times and then another dozen—he heard every argument they put to him and combated them.
Amid his internal dialogue, he’d see one or another of the parishioners chance a glimpse in his direction, trying to make it look as if they were casually scanning for friends; but he was a policeman with an eye for motive, they’d instantly truncate their casual scan as soon as they saw him eyeing them back.
Throughout the service his humiliation continued to grow as whispers went all around the flock behind hands; the gossip telephone was in perfect working order this morning.
As Diaken he’d normally take his seat near the front and at the right hand of his Dominee, but with his police uniform donned this morning he was on duty and this gave him the excuse he desperately needed to sit at the back and beat a hasty retreat just before adjournment.
His gaze ran over the crowd, out of habit doing a roll call of familiar heads and profiles.
Many of the pews stood open these days, more open spaces than people. Sitting at the back of the church today as he hadn’t done in years, this truth was plain to see; gaping holes of empty benches between the small family and social groups that sat together in clumps.
There was a time he recalled when one had to be inside and seated early to ensure a seat, when the throng stood all out the door and hymns raised the roof. Today for him, the choir was more a collection of individual voices than its usual solid chorus of overwhelming and enveloping beauty.
And, he admitted to himself sourly, that kind of full house was even before they’d let just anyone in—blacks and coloureds had their own churches back then, and the laws of that time aside, non-whites would never have dared to come interfere with the time-honored patriotic mood of the whites celebrating their God-given land as they now did.
But now even though this was the major church in town, attendance was so pitiful that the darker people threatened to outnumber the whites.
What to do about this dreadful situation?
This new voice now joined the other arguments in his head, also conspiring to keep his mind out of what the Dominee was roaring about; his accusing finger jabbing down from the high pulpit, here and there, into the congregation at anyone known to be involved in nefarious deeds.
Then, a little relief and hope for a better future as he picked out Neels Vermaak’s block-cut hairstyle in the second from front row, his father’s head alongside his son’s, the pair cutting an identical silhouette and Andre felt the pang of this morning’s loss all over again.
“A good boy,” Andre mulled to thwart the cacophony of miseries of his morning. “Much better to send him on the American holiday and let this nonsense with that prrrrretty boy blow over.”
He heard the Dominee talking about “die Hemel”—the heavens and that the new foe, the SKA, trying to pry them. Talking about the help that God would soon send to them from America; the Genesis Answers organization, his new soldier in arms, Kenneth Bacon; The Revelations Institute and delegation from the Templar Foundation too; just the need-to-know information given to the community that he’d said he would share at last night’s meeting.
Just as Andre finally disciplined his concentration to the important task of participating in the prayer, the heavy grumble of the Ferrari went slowly past outside and his mind chased it down the road like a dog off its leash.
With the sound’s departure, his heart sank for the son he had banished and it boiled with anger at the boy’s stupidity in forcing his hand.
He tried to bring his thoughts back inside to help raise the rafters with the beautiful hymn being sung, but his mind would not obey—it was a bloodhound out on the trail trying to sniff where that car had come from and where it was going to—passing the church was not the route back to Cape Town and his son had clearly not departed directly for Cape Town as he should have an hour earlier.
JJ had been elsewhere… making trouble—of that Andre was certain.