“Die fokken hotnot… kont,” Andre raved.
He was home in the kitchen, beginning to explain to Johanna why it was already 10-pm and he’d not called to say he’d miss their habitual 7-pm dinner. He’d never normally utter words like fucking and cunt in front of his wife, but he’d descended several rungs past rational thought and decency.
Moments earlier, clinging to decency by a slender thread, he’d stormed through the door and ordered Sonja—sitting with her mother at the kitchen table, fretting why father was so late and not answering his mobile phone—to her bedroom.
As he was about to leave the shift three hours earlier, the Captain; Andre’s black Station Commander; had come in through the door in a black mood.
The Captain had snapped at Andre that he was to immediately hand over his service pistol, which was summarily confiscated to the Captain’s private safe.
“You are on suspension… wait here until I call you!”
Sitting where he was told to sit, Andre had seen that troublemaker, Bennie Pieterson arriving and disappearing behind the Captain’s closed door.
“Fok!” He’d said to himself.
A few minutes later the door had opened and Andre’s co-worker, the duty officer, had disappeared in and the door had shut.
Another few minutes later Andre was called in but not offered a seat.
“Burgemeester Pieterson called me at home. I think you know what this is about,” the Captain had snarled at Andre.
Andre had stood and endured the worst tongue lashing of his life. Never had anyone spoken to him like this, and now from a black man. It took all of his will to not reach across the table and throttle the life out of the Captain.
Now he was home and on suspension, pending investigation.
How stupid, he admitted to himself, he’d been to pick on the nephew of the Landdros. But he’d heard rumours that the boy had stolen a phone, and the boy had flaunted it so openly; almost challenging Andre. The perceived sleight had driven him mad with rage.
On the drive home he’d dreaded this moment, telling his wife—their relationship so strained of late.
“JJ called me,” Johanna said. It was all she’d needed to say; her eyes said everything else—her disgust and disappointment in him.
After Dawie in the cell had claimed that JJ had given him the phone, Andre had stormed back to the charge office and gone over the numbers stored in it, and there, under simply “J” was a number; he’d pushed dial and after 4 rings his son’s voice was like fist slamming into his ear, “Dawie my boy, have they brought the papers yet?”
On impulse, Andre had cut the call and a minute later the phone had run on the desk—“J” was accusingly on the screen.
“Ja?” Andre had answered, “I’m investigating something here,” he’d said to his son.
“Pa...?” JJ had fumbled a response. “Why are you answering this, Pa?”
“I picked this boy up with the phone—he says you gave it to him?”
“I did. Why did you pick him up? Where is he?”
“He couldn’t tell me where he’d got it… gave me a long bullshit story. There’s so much theft these days from these little donners so I detained him till he could remember.”
“What have you done to him?” JJ’s worst fears were at an instant panic. He knew too well that his father was a disciplinarian of the old type. He believed that the only language these local kids understood was brutality.
“He’s all right—now that I’ve cleared it up, he can go.”
“Pa, if you have done anything to him…”
“Nothing he didn’t deserve,” Andre assured sternly.
“For fuck sakes, Pa,” JJ boiled over and he lost his temper, “… Fuck you, Pa, if you have hurt that boy…”
He’d never spoken like that to anyone… now he’d said it to the man who had been his guide and hero for more than half his life.
“I see…” Andre had sounded calm and distant. “Now I see how an atheist treats his father,” Andre had blurted his deepest disappointment. “A boy who had God and respect.”
“You are really losing your mind,” JJ had told him directly, not caring anymore for keeping the peace. “This has nothing to do with the horseshit you’re constantly trying to swing on me. This has to do with your bigoted miserable self, and your inability to learn and to change. The world you inhabited is dead, Pa. It is dead. It is rotten. It is rotten and I have walked away from it and my mother and my sister will walk away from it too…”
In the silence of the moment that had followed JJ regretted having added his last utterance. It was not his place to disclose what he knew was coming in the family, but years of kowtowing had peaked and he no longer cared to guard his tongue.
“Ja, well… you have chosen your path then,” Andre too had crossed a boundary of caring. “You are with the enemy now… equipping the enemy. Tot die bitter einde, seun,” he’d spat out the declaration as though it was a lash to JJ’s face, and he’d cut the call.
To the bitter end, son—it was a challenge dredged through a century and more since the British and the Boers had fought a vicious war, a sore still festering in the heart of the most unyielding in Afrikanerdom. It meant that JJ had become a detestable verraaier, and a turncoat was worse than a rooinek—there could be no turning back, no surrender, all out war… again.
Andre saw in his wife’s eyes all of those things from the final conversation he’d had with his son; the final conversation he would ever have.
She turned her back on him, serene and composed; the familiar squeak of floorboards marking her passage as she sailed out of sight in the direction of the bedrooms. Andre heard the single knock and turn of Sonja’s handle, the door tapped lightly closed.
A moment later the handle, the light kiss of the door in its jamb, the footsteps Andre knew so well disappeared into their bedroom. The door reported it’s brutal closure.
He sat at the kitchen table for what seemed hours while sporadic footfalls travelled lightly up and down the unseen corridor, the opening and closing of doors reporting their business.
His prison was silence, his mind caged by culture, by unyielding pressures inherited from a father who had reaped it from his father before him. Back through endless time, strength demonstrated, no pity for self or others expected or given.
Now the shame at facing deeds he’d called his obligations became phantoms leering at him, taunting from the shadows of his boyhood home.
The weight of being a man came down on his shoulders, smothering his wish for life out of him. Conflict. Nothing but conflict marked the memory of his adulthood as he sat, crushed under the immensity of circumstance.
Sonja didn’t say goodbye, but out of sight and in the gloom Johanna said her farewells. She was leaving that instant for Cape Town. She would never come back. She’d said it and he knew it was true; Johanna never made an empty promise.
The car started in the driveway and, as the sound of the engine faded and died into the still of the night, Andre began to cry.
He had not cried since he was a boy, but now the emotional drought was broken and the tears came like dollops of hot rain ahead of the thunder; first one and two, and then three-four-five. It was possible to count them at first, and then the storm burst and the heavens of his tears opened. He cried as he never thought he could.
When the tears were done, he went to his rifle safe.