As Johanna arrived in Cape Town, JJ was preparing for their return to Carnarvon.
The call had come in well before sunrise. It was the Dominee and he was sobbing. JJ didn’t know that the Dominee could cry, but Gert had howled so hard that he could barely talk. He’d called from the scene. He’d been one of the first to witness it.
The sound of a shotgun carries a long way across a small town in the dead of night.
Andre was at the kitchen table when they found him. He had arranged the family around him; their pictures in frames like an amphitheater of spectators come to watch him leave. Pictures from the early years, before the children came, before the first “oops…” when he and his Johanna had squinted as school sweethearts optimistically into the lense. And then the small family emerging in the story, concluding their triumph with JJ in graduation regalia—so proudly the first of the family university qualified.
Nobody knew where Johanna and Sonja were in those first horrific hours, the frantic hours spent searching and fretting the worst… so many police families extinguished by the gun.
Mother’s car was gone from the town, and as she eschewed a mobile phone—Sonja had been JJ’s only hope. He tried and re-tried her number; terrifyingly, Sonja’s phone relentlessly going directly to voicemail without a ring; threatening the worst.
He’d alternated the frantic and fruitless calls to Sonja with calls to Morgan. She was ready to fly back to be with him, but they’d decided there was little she could do so she would remain on call to support him.
It was well into the morning, a leisurely ten-hour pace from Carnarvon, when Sonja appeared at JJ’s door.
He grabbed and embraced her with ferocity of relief that drove the air from her lungs.
He’d been crying and she saw it.
“Where’s Ma?” he asked urgently.
“On the stairs.”
“Come inside… sit down,” he flew out the door to fetch mother.
When the women were both seated he came and knelt in front of them, taking a hand from each he held on firmly as he told them plainly what had happened.
They fell in unison into him and his arms swallowed them to his chest.
The clutch of embracing misery heaved together, agonized wails of tragedy ricocheting off the walls, overwhelming the room.
Martha came in and silently slipped back out. She already knew about Andre and had already cried for JJ’s pain for many minutes in JJ’s arms. She listened from the kitchen until the timing was right and then she made tea, hugged and cried with the women and quietly withdrew to her quarters, occasionally returning to see if there was anything that she could do.
By the end of the afternoon JJ had begun to implement practical steps. He had a plane of his own but wanted to offer his mother more comfort and a faster transit, so he chartered a jet from a friend.
He called his doctor who made a house call and delivered sedatives.
In spite of the pharmaceutical assistance, none of the family slept.
Johanna degenerated into blaming herself and JJ was forced to admonish her firmly—“Pa did this to himself, Ma. He has been driving you away for years. He loved us all but he could not get over his fears and frustrations.”
It would take years for her to recover; if she ever could, and JJ knew it.
Sonja was silent, her eyes rheumy and far away in a different place in time.
After that last call with his father, JJ had wanted to call Marsha. The urge had been there but he’d decided to let the situation play itself out and not trouble her unnecessarily with yet another embarrassing fiasco exploding in his community, perpetrated by his father.
But after Marsha had been called by Sussie to come to Dawie’s assistance, she’d called JJ.
It had been awkward; JJ had once again been put in a compromised position; compelled by deep cultural urges to mitigate the indefensible, yet revolted by his father and the old ways the man represented. With his worst suspicions of what his father had done to the boy realized, he’d told Marsha to spare no expense seeking medical assistance for Dawie and committed that he would support a legal case, even though it went against his own blood.
When Marsha had hung up, JJ had called Dawie’s number hoping the phone had been returned so that he may talk to the boy—or, failing that, talk to whoever answered it in the police station. But it had gone directly to voice mail.
He’d called his father’s mobile, but after two rings it too had cut and gone to voice mail. He’d called the number again twenty minutes later and the same pattern played out; his father was screening.
He never did reach his father again.