A TROJAN AFFAIR - The S.K.A. at Carnarvon

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Chapter 25

Dawie checked again for traces of blood. Every few minutes he’d wipe his nose with the back of his hand and peer in the dim light of the single naked dust-laden bulb for any faint smear of it; at last it seemed clear.

Though it felt like his throat had been ripped out, his vision had returned. He could see up through the bars to the outside that it was twilight; his family would be ferociously angry with him by now. Probably, as would be usual for this time of evening, his father would be blind drunk and there’d be hell to pay when he got home… if he got home.

The muted distant voices along the dingy corridor suddenly popped from the background to full volume; the door to the charge office had opened and he could hear the click and squeak of approaching boots. He was the only inmate in the cellblock; the footsteps could only be coming for him again, and he cringed to the back of the cell, praying in sniveling fear to slip into a crevasse in the old fractured plaster.

The apparition appeared at the gate, a key bunch jingled merrily as the selected one metallically clinked against steel frame, finding the slot, and the bolt shot open. The gate swung heavily aside with a resounding CLANG! and the bulb within illuminated the giant constable who filled the doorway.

This time he did not step inside.

“Staan… weg met jou!” The order to get out was barked.

After the ordeal of the past few hours Dawie didn’t trust his own ears. He thought it a trap, another ploy for the policeman to extract secrets he was not keeping.

“Luister jy nie, boetie?” The rumble of his voice suddenly encouraging with a psychopath’s gentleness to it.

Dawie was listening all right—it was his legs that weren’t.

“STAAN…” the policeman encouraged and then erupted—“enFOKKOF...!”

Terrified, Dawie found his feet, his knees sagging with fear. He approached like a whipped dog, hunched to offer the smallest target for a crippling blow that must surely come.

“VOETSEK!” The constable boomed after the fleeing boy as he would to accelerate any escaping mongrel.

Like a scolded hound through a doorway past the knees, Dawie was into the corridor and scooting for the doorway and freedom beyond it.

He heard the footsteps striding up from behind as he came into the glare of the charge office.

One black officer was seated, he inclined his head rapidly at the door to liberation—the universal signal to go ‘that way’ in a hurry.

In a flash Dawie was out and running—running for his life, like a jackal pursued by the hounds of his deepest fears. He was listening for a yell to return, listening for the brute to challenge him, straining for the snicker of a pistol’s slide; and then, when he was beyond gunshot range, expecting the inevitable turn of the police van’s engine and squeal of pursuit.

Instinctively he avoided the direct route home, jinxing instead into a side street and then an alley. Like a hyena slinking along fences, blending into the background of oncoming night.

Mid afternoon, he’d been on the phone, walking back from school. It hadn’t been Baas JJ’s airtime either, it had been airtime he’d bought with extra money he’d earned by washing the car of one of his regular customers; Dawie had a business doing odd jobs in the town.

He’d been so proud of that phone and guarded it with his life, keeping it in a woolen sock so that it wouldn’t get a scratch. Curiously it had refused to work on the farm and only worked in town. When he’d brought the older broken phone to town, it too began to work. The problem had vexed him, and being a bold lad he’d asked Baas Bauer, his farm’s owner, directly why the Baas’ phone worked, but his would not.

“The phone network is blocked on the farm,” the Baas had told him. This is why my people don’t like this SKA. My phone works because it has Wi-Fi and I am using my computer Internet router, not the phone network. Your little phone doesn’t have Wi-Fi.”

Dawie understood the difference between mobile signal and Wi-Fi, but when he tried to explain it to his people, they were having none of it, laughing at him for being duped. The Baas was lying to them, again; more of the white man’s tricks to keep them at a disadvantage they concluded.

The community also wanted to know how he’d come by the mysterious new phone he’d acquired. He’d of course told the truth to his people; that Baas JJ had given him the money to buy the phone, so that he could help grandpa and that he could also take care of important business. He’d regretted betraying his word so readily, but it was impossible to hide the phone, and he had no better story to explain how he’d come by it.

Most believed him, though a few were deadly jealous; they’d begun the rumours about theft. He’d ignored them, not dignifying lies with more than the minimal truth.

The phone had already been very useful and Dawie was constantly contemplating by what other ways he might exploit it. Because he had the phone, from a spot he’d jogged to along the road closer to town, he’d arranged for Grandpa to be picked up by Dara’s mom and taken to the clinic in two days. One of the goats Dawie kept in a private arrangement with their landlord, Baas Bauer, had been sold for meat to a laborer on another farm whome Dawie had heard was getting married; and his social life and opportunities to meet up with Dara were taking good shape with this valuable asset in hand.

Indeed, the phone had quickly become a central pivot to his life. With his own investment into airtime he’d begun to make a tidy profit renting use of the phone to the other families that lived and worked alongside his family; it entailed them taking a hike until there was sufficient signal to make a call. But unless the receiving party was standing by off of their farm at a location where there was signal, no call would connect. It was a huge step backward for everyone who had become accustomed to the free access to signal that had for a decade and more become widespread; and then suddenly cut to accommodate the new SKA infrastructure.

He was certain Baas JJ would not mind—the Baas had not said he could not use it in these ways.

In the few days since he’d acquired this asset he’d become so comfortable with it that he had it out of the sock and was talking into it when the police van had pulled up alongside.

“Nou waar kry jy dit?” JJ’s father had asked him as he got out of the van. The constable’s question was rhetorical; he’d already heard it was stolen.

A surge of adrenaline had pulsed to every extremity and Dawie had babbled, not making sense. And the less sense he made the more skeptical the policeman had become as he’d opened the cage on the back of the van.

“Klim maar in,” he’d invited Dawie in a friendly manner, and the phone was relieved from his hand as he’d stepped into the cage.

During the trip back to the police station, Dawie had slunk down as low as possible; terrified somebody would recognize him in his school uniform.

His mind had been a barrage of angles. Baas JJ had said his father was a good man, just suspicious. But he could not betray the Baas and reveal how and why he’d come by the phone, because the Baas had specifically linked the necessity for the phone with important and secret matters that had to do with his own father—the man now arresting him.

“I’ll tell them a rich Baas from the city has given me the phone to help my parents and neighbours,” he hatched the story during the short trip; it was the truth after all. It just didn’t have all the facts and he had assured himself that it should clear matters up.

There’d been no more time to think it through as they’d pulled up outside the station and the van door had unhitched. He’d been quickly ushered through the charge office where a member of the public had been making a statement to the black sergeant.

As they disappeared into the gloom of the cellblock, Kruger had offhandedly mentioned catching a “hotnot dief”—a little coloured thiefand the stranger making the statement had nodded approvingly.

As the open handed slaps had come, he could feel that they were just hard enough to hurt, not so hard that their sound would carry to ears that might help. The handcuffs to the bars had bitten into his flesh with each blow that had sent him reeling.

He repeated his story between cracks against the head, but was quickly cornered in its details; he’d not thought far enough through to concoct an identity for the mysterious and benevolent stranger he alleged had funded the gift.

“So you’re a hard boy?” Andre had said in a cruel mien. “…I know how to make a hard man humble.”

The gate had clanged and bolted. Ten minutes later Kruger had reappeared carrying a section of car inner-tube and a spray can. Dawie’s mind exploded in terror, he knew what was coming.

The big man had grabbed him and with practiced deftness pulled the section of car inner tube over the boy’s head.

The rubber had sealed Dawie’s eyes and breathing. He’d instantly been locked into a claustrophobic world of terror—the rubber extinguishing his ability to breathe.

Ten seconds felt like a minute, twenty felt ten times longer.

He’d felt the blackness of suffocation coming and started to taste terror as his throat clutched spasmodically; his chest had heaved, his body straining with futility against the biting cuffs that had unforgivingly held him.

Kruger had picked the precise moment that the boy would black out; he’d lifted the cloying rubber from the boy’s chin just enough for him to suck air—and with that desperate clutch for breath the Constable sprayed a measure of pepper gas, then dropped the rubber seal back in place.

Dawie had exploded into an insane rage and his haunting growls had fought against the muffle, desperate to be heard.

Five seconds passed, then Kruger had stepped forward and rolled the rubber back, enough that the boy could breathe again freely, not so much that he could see.

“Now I want you to tell me the truth…” he’d spoken very gently but firmly, almost like a father might.

Dawie had cried like a baby. Choking on his own vomit and pouring saliva, his resolve to protect his new friend, Baas JJ—the torturer’s own son—broken.

“Dis Baas se seun, Baas”—your own son, he’d disclosed. “Dis Baas JJ wat dit vir my gegee het.”

Andre had ripped the tube from Dawie’s head with a ferocity Dawie could scarcely believe. Dawie could see nothing for the tears and the burning, but he could hear the constable’s breathing—snorting with each breath like a ferocious bull about to charge. He braced himself to receive a clout that never came.

“My own son hey?”

The cell door had clanged to a close and the footsteps had retreated. The door into the office had ripped open and slammed shut and he was left in his private hell, hanging from the cuff attached to the bars.

After fifteen minutes, Dawie’s eyes had cleared, he could see again. The black sergeant had come and unlocked the cuffs through the bars. He’d said nothing, just took the cuffs and left.

It had been many hours before Dawie was given his release.

Now, as he ran he wondered about the phone—about the dashed dreams it’s confiscation meant for him. About the anger Baas JJ must surely have for him losing such an expensive device and betraying whatever ‘serious business’ it was that he’d embroiled Dawie in.

He arrived at Tjaardt’s house when it was almost dark.

The family were eating and the doorbell rang six urgent times before Susanne—though everyone called her Sussie, Afrikaans for Sister—reached it, irritated by the insistent intrusion.

She peered out through the peephole at the swollen, distorted face with terrified swiveling eyes urgently begging a sanctuary. The doorbell rung a seventh and eight time before she realized who the haunted stranger was.

“TJAARDT!!!” She involuntarily yelled as she ripped the door open and fumbled for the keys to the security gate, “DAWIE…! What in God’s name happened to you...? TJAARDT!”

The whole family arrived as one, cramming the doorway to take a look.

Dawie began to cry. He knew a big boy should not give in to public tears, but the relief of finding a safe harbor broke over him like a wave and he sank down where he stood and sobbed.

Sussie swarmed over him like a blanket, enveloping him in her ample bosom and effortlessly plucking him to his feet in a single lift with the adrenaline shock of his appearance.

In quick order he was laid out on the couch, wetted cloths were rotated quickly through a bowl of warm water and used to douse the chemical sting that still raked his eyes. Milk was brought for him to slake away the burn in his throat and he was consoled and caressed by everyone from every angle as they craned and cooed over him.

Dawie related his ordeal.

“Die fokken vark!” Sussie growled; she’d always hated Kruger and habitually called him a fucking pig—today she spat it with boosted venom.

She kept saying it, devising between the oft-repeated cusses, every manner of threat that ran from outright vigilante reprisal to a Constitutional Court application.

Eventually Dawie’s condition was stabilized and the next step put into practice.

Dara was called and Marsha was put on the line. The address was given and she promised to be there without delay.

By the time Marsha arrived, Bennie Pieterson, the town’s mayor, Tjaardt’s uncle, had been in attendance for some time. He lived three doors down and was hailed in the first few moments as soon as Sussie knew it was serious.

Bennie had ordered everyone to leave the room and they did so, retiring to the kitchen, keeping uncharacteristically quiet there as they each tried to steal snippets of what Bennie was saying to Dawie a corridor away.

But Bennie wasn’t yet saying anything of interest, Dawie just told his story over and Bennie grunted and said encouraging things to keep the flow and details coming.

When Marsha and Al arrived, Dawie was just about complete with his story, and Sussie took the opportunity to re-join the action; she admonished all of the others to stay in the kitchen and busy themselves with bringing tea for the guests.

Bennie and his credentials were introduced and he took the lead now and retold the story in summary, careful to include those legal issues of abuse that were damning—and there were many.

“I’m just overwhelmed with what’s going on in this little town,” Al said when Bennie had finished.

“It’s not always like this,” Bennie assured him.

“I’m sure—for an outsider it’s a lunatic asylum,” he went on. “I mean; my son… now this. I thought this sort of thing was left decades behind us? If the press get hold of this in the context of what the international community aims to do to transform this place, it’s going to be dynamite.”

“That’s a concern, but I can’t deal with anything but this. I’m going right now to lodge a case against the police.”

“I’m coming with you,” Sussie was already pulling on a sweater.

“No. I’ll go alone. I don’t want to inflame this any more than necessary.”

“How do you walk into the police station and ask the policeman who just violated the law to open a case against himself?” Marsha asked.

“Calmly,” Bennie replied.

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