Marsha’s keynote speech in which she’d touched on the Kardashev scale and its Type 1, 2 and 3 Civilizations had prompted a vigorous debate in the town during the final days of school.
John Fiske, the new science teacher whose employment had been afforded by recent donations from the SKA fund, had found the notion of the Kardashev predictions utterly fascinating.
Informed by them, he’d delighted in contemplating the vast cosmic drama that may be unfolding in the heavens, a drama whose radio emissions might well rain down into the telescope dishes to be centered around the little town.
After Marsha’s address, John had spent a few minutes sharing his enthusiasm with her and she’d given him her personal email address.
He’d then taken the discussion points he’d gleaned from Marsha back into the classroom where it had quickly become a vast and passionately fought debate among the kids that the long-time old-guard teachers and Doctor Louw watched with rising distress. John had kept a stream of information flowing to Marsha, detailing interesting points raised in discussions.
The debate had re-ignited the same rumblings and schism in the community that the Dara incident had prompted months before.
But, year-end exams were upon them and to the relief of Principal Louw the debate was ended; Louw hoped, forgotten.
Then, to his fury, with the school year officially over Dr. Louw discovered that John had gone over his head to secure permission directly from the education governing authority to use school facilities to continue the discussion for anyone who wished to participate.
Louw was furious.
The next discussion group was scheduled for 10am Thursday, a public holiday. It was anticipated to last two hours.
Worse yet the black devil’s mother, Marsha, had agreed to open discussions about the viability of achieving Inter-Stellar Travel, while the boy’s father, Al, had agreed to give a presentation on Ancient Aliens and Gods.
Andre’s funeral was set to begin at 3pm that same day. It was a disgrace.
Dominee Gert had, for the record, officially lodged a complaint through Principal Louw’s authority to have the presentation cancelled on the grounds that it insulted the community by violating Andre’s legacy as a pious man.
“With all respect, sir,” John was in heated debate with Deon Louw, “That is a non sequitur argument. It…”
“It’s a non-nothing…” the Principal snapped back, “Don’t come in here at this sensitive time for our community and throw around your big words.”
“It is not a big word. It simply means that the conclusion you’re making does not logically follow-on from what is at issue. We have planned a morning of discussions with preeminent scientists—world-renowned scientists—who we are fortunate enough to have available. Under normal circumstances we would not even get a reply from people of this caliber let alone their time—they’d never even come to Carnarvon. And there are dozens of people who have RSVP’d positively—many of them parents.”
“I don’t expect you can grasp this John because you don’t come from a community,” Louw’s voice stung with implied insult, “but this topic at this time is a slap in the face of a well respected and deeply religious man who was a cornerstone of our Faith.”
“I am afraid that you are right, Doctor. I don’t grasp it. We will be finished a full three or more hours before the service begins. Hell—the late man’s own son and daughter are coming to our event; evidently then they find no insult in the two events occupying the same day when divided by lunch… Indeed, the holiday specifically commemorates reconciliation, it is National Reconciliation day so that I think it is appropriate.”
The Principal snorted with mockery and disdain. “Reconciliation… We don’t need any reconciliation we only need respect for our Faith.”
As John was about to respond, Dominee Gert barraged into the Principal’s office; he was in an evil mood and glared lightening bolts at John. John nodded a cordial greeting, “Good morning Dominee,” he said.
Gert did not reply, his mouth pencil thin.
“Well?” Dr. Louw asked of Gert.
“Daai f’-ken Kaptein…” Gert hissed through pinched lips, minutely indicating to The Principal that in John’s presence, now was not the time for details, “…hy skop vas… ek sal jou later sê.”
John knew next to no Afrikaans, but it was clear that Captain had been uncooperative, and John guessed he meant the Captain of the Police. He shook his head in amazement that they’d take the situation that far.
The Principal glared at John, “So you remain unwilling to accommodate us… a whole community… and put aside your ungodly agenda for just this one day?”
“Sir, we are discussing interesting scientific topics—there is no intention to mention your God,” he responded evenly.
“Ahhhh…. Our God… it’s our God is it? Is ‘God’, not enough?” Louw interrogated, dripping in sarcasm, trying to draw the Dominee in, trying to goad John into an open confrontation.
“Well yes, sir—I’ve heard you say often enough ‘Our God’ and I am merely providing you with the respect and honor that it is your God,” John welcomed a blow-out for tactical reasons but felt no emotion for the contents of it. “And, if the whole community wants to be accommodated, they will simply vote with their feet and not attend.”
There was a moment of silence and the two men had a stare-down.
“That will be all then,” Dr. Deon Louw said curtly, “You can go.”
“Thank you, sir,” John said cheerily, “Dominee…” he nodded the greeting and left.
The two men stood in silence until they could no longer hear John Fiske’s footsteps disappearing to the convention room up the corridor.
“Onbeskof!” Deon spat, “If I could only fire him I’d do it on the spot.”
“Why don’t you?” Gert asked.
“Because he is forced on us. Forced from the education governors. It’s politics,” he shook his head, just a rapid dart of frustrated tension. “What happened with the Captain?” He asked of the Dominee.
Dominee Gert van der Nest had taken his complaint to the police station. Had Andre still been alive, lowly Constable or not, the Dominee would have called him privately and he’d have followed the request without hesitation, delay or paperwork; none of this degrading begging for decency in the charge office.
And, Gert had noted, this arrogant pretender in the role of Police Station Commander had not even had the decency and respect for the Dominee’s standing to invite him and his gripe into his private office. Oh, no!... He insisted on taking the complaint out in the public and open charge office where all the other coloured and black officers could hear the business.
Without Andre, the last of the old guard were now gone. And Gert felt the crushing weight of doom against his people and his culture beginning to squeeze the hope from him.
He’d asked the Police Captain very reasonably to accompany him back to the school to impress upon the new teacher that today was not the day for dissention. And the Captain had asked if he should go in his official capacity as a policeman.
Gert had not expected the question and dithered with it, undecided, his mind racing to weigh the implications if he committed either way to a reply.
“What is the difference,” he’d asked of the Captain.
The Captain had said that if he did it as a colleague of the dead man he could leave to the task immediately and without further ado. He would of course be happy to conduct the complaint in his uniform for whatever impression that might make.
But if he did it as a policeman, as an official demanding compliance, he’d explained, for that he would need a contravention of a law and an official charge to be laid.
Gert had been unable to come up with any specific ordinance or law that would be contravened if the symposium went ahead.
“How about trespass?”
It had been clear to Gert when the Captain suggested it that it had not been a genuine suggestion; far from it, it had been highly disingenuous, the Captain’s tone mocking, toying with him.
“I have already explained to you when I laid out the issue, Captain,” the Dominee had said with a bitter timbre to his voice, drawing himself up to his full height and authority, “that this is not a question of trespass because the teacher concerned has permission. It is a question of decency and respect for our culture.”
“So there is no actual law being violated then, Dominee...?”
The Dominee had clearly seen the ridicule in the man’s eyes.
“…But you would like me to come with you and make the request…? Because, you see Dominee… this is where I’m confused; a request on my official behalf as a policeman or a request on your behalf as an ordinary member of the public?”
The police juniors had all been sneaking open smirks at the Dominee as he was being moved around like a pawn in chess; maneuvered into a checkmate. And Gert had seen how they openly mocked him with their smug smiles without their commander saying a word against it.
It had been a call of ‘check’ in the checkmate game and whichever way Gert could have answered he’d look like a fool.
“If you will not assist then I would like for you to make a statement to that effect, please.” Gert had tried to divert from the head-on defeat.
“A statement?” The Captain had grinned openly.
“Yes. A statement. I would like you to make a statement.” Gert’s voice had risen, becoming shrill.
“A statement saying?”
Gert knew he’d been outmaneuvered. He’d been so goaded he’d blurted, wanting to make a statement without thinking through quite what its thrust should be, but he was too deep in it now to back down—he’d needed to force the Captain to refuse to take the statement so that he could share the insolence of his refusal with the community.
“I insist on you making a statement, Captain. Kindly get your pen and write down what I say, so that it is on the record.”
“It is unusual for you to order me as an officer to make a statement, but I will consider it as a courtesy for you, sir, if you’ll please just tell me what aspects of our discussion you wish for me to record.”
There was a long pregnant silence. The only sound had been one of the policeman’s ballpoint pen skidding over the foolscap sheet on which he was pretending to write, but Gert knew he was just doodling.
The Dominee’s face had been swollen and red with indignation. He’d taken charge of his voice and delivered his final plea with force, as if from the pulpit;
“The man I am burying today, Captain, was a friend. He was a pillar of this community.” He’d halted, searching the Captain for any shred of humanity. “His father… his father before him was this station’s commander. He was a policeman just like you… Do you have no respect for the uniform and what it stands for?”
“It stands for the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa,” the Captain responded quietly.
The Dominee had turned and walked. As he went his grumbles about incompetence, corruption and lack of honor were said loud enough for all those in the charge office to hear.
The Dominee had heard the Captain saying in a voice measured to reach him too, “I remember Kruger’s father from when I was a young boy and neither he nor his son were a policeman like me… or a policeman like any of you.”
Gert had explained it all to Deon, and the two men were outraged, but they had played all of their cards. There was nothing to do now but put this matter aside and prepare to bury their friend.