Constable Andre Kruger had not been invited to the banquet; as a rank and file policeman he’d long ago accepted that the closest he would ever come to such an event would be to attend the parking of dignitaries.
No, he argued; what rankled him was the insult to his standing as Diaken; a Deacon was second only to the Dominee. The position demanded respect. But these godless outsiders had snubbed it.
Like his father before him, rising through the police ranks had been his childhood ambition until this ‘communist’, as he called them, black government had come to power decades ago. And since then his rank and prospects had been stillborn and pegged. He’d long since abandoned all hope of that changing—the passion was dead, and the grind of it had become a job-for-a-wage.
So his passion and energy to pursue meaning in life had diverted into Faith. After the Dominee he was now the most respected man in the town, even if the outsiders shunned his position.
“It’s not worth troubling yourself, that’s why I turned down my invitation, Andre” the Dominee Gert van der Nest assured the constable.
It was a Saturday night; the time families traditionally gathered at one or another’s home for the men to watch their beloved sport on television and heap meat onto the coals, while the women flocked to prepare salads and sharpen gossip.
“You won’t hear any truth spoken there—just these rooinek foreign scientists telling their lies to politicians and politicians making their empty promises back to them,” Gert assured.
The last glow of dusk had evaporated and the Milky Way was a pale rash overhead; crickets had taken over the night chorus from the retired cicadas of the dayshift. With the meat cooked and consumed, the women had retired to the kitchen to clean. The younger children were in bed and the older allowed an extra treat of television.
Kakpraathout was crackling on the hearth; the wood colloquially named for its noxious fumes that taint meat if used as coals in the cooking process. Kakpraathout—wood that made men with tumblers full of fiery liquor in their hands talk shit.
The two men—preacher and policeman—stood contemplating, eyes cast skyward as they’d done countless times since they were lads and friends. The twinkle and milky rash overhead tonight was particularly crisp and clear.
Sonja, Andre’s daughter came outside and silently threw her arms around her father’s ample bulk, snuggling her temples against his chest. She was a tall girl and took him to the armpits.
He held her fast and sniffed her head. An elastic band held a single ponytail and he pulled it out, releasing her thick blonde mane.
“Pa-aaaaa!” she complained, singing her protest.
“Go help your mother” he told her. “This is men’s talk.”
She snuggled deeper and held tighter.
He nuzzled her scalp with his nose.
“She’s a good girl,” the Dominee said.
“My special girl,” her doting father assured. “Getting her a car next year when she goes to Cape Town,” he added proudly.
“Seventeen already?” Gert asked with some amazement, he hadn’t noticed the years.
“Almost eighteen,” she smiled at him coyly then buried her face in her dad’s chest.
“And you still want to follow a course on mathematics?”
“Ja Dominee,” she responded in muffled tones. She’d known him all her life; he had christened her into the Faith.
“She’ll teach them a thing or two,” her father assured and beamed.
“And your boy?” asked the Dominee, “still so difficult?”
The Dominee had not uttered Andre’s son’s name in nearly a decade since he’d married the foreign woman and become like them; he was determined to never relent.
“…So much going for him, what a loss… But, you see, Sonja… when you mix in with the wrong people…” he let the warning hang as an accusation.
JJ—Johannes Jakob—was Sonja’s older brother by almost two decades. Not yet forty, he had already accumulated wealth that his father could barely comprehend. When he visited it was in his own airplane or by expensive sports car that needed to be nursed over the rough country roads. His end-goal focus had him spending more on speeding tickets than on fuel.
Andre was ambivalent toward his son. Secretly proud of JJ’s achievements, he was also as deeply disappointed as the Dominee for the man’s soul. Since going to the city to study law, the prodigal had strayed from the culture, married an American and resisted all efforts to win him back. He no longer attended church and was frustratingly argumentative.
“JJ is a good boy at heart,” Andre said, placatingly. He knew JJ’s apostasy hurt the Dominee the way any son’s rebellion hurts his spiritual father. “I’m proud of him… he must just spend more time with his people.”
They stood silently a few minutes longer in contemplation of the heavens.
“They want us to believe it’s getting bigger… expanding,” Andre said, jutting his chin at the sky. “Sonja comes home with these kind of stories; neh Sonja?”
Sonja said nothing and the Dominee huffed; “Our Lord’s place is big enough Sonja,” he assured with conviction. “There’s no end to the nonsense they tell these poor children.” After a few moments contemplation, he went on; “There’s a science center at the school now; a new teacher with it. They’re even wasting money on this high-speed interweb.”
Andre’s huff was weighty with despair, the burden of these sudden invasions into his quiet corner of the desert almost too much to contemplate.
“You and I, Andre, they know our faith is strong… unbreakable… they’ll never shift us. No… they want our children….” He too shook his head with disgust at the cunning.
“Gert…” Andre rarely used Dominee van der Nest’s first name, “I don’t know…” he sighed. “I don’t know what this world is coming to.”
They stood a few more moments longer and Andre went on. “That black devil from your school has been riding his bike out on the national roads. I did some checking and he’s not yet eighteen—he can’t have a license. If I find him…” He let the threat go unspoken.
“Better you find him than our Neels does hey.”
They both chuckled in prideful agreement.
Sonja’s body went instantly slack and she released her grip, turned and walked indoors, shoulders rounded, irritation in her attitude.
Andre eyed her suspiciously, instinctively filing her reaction, as any good policeman should.
“Strange...” Gert pondered aloud.
“Strange her reaction Andre, the way she just walked away.”
“It’s the trouble with her and Neels,” Andre speculated hopefully, wanting to shift the course of the obvious observation. “She hasn’t wanted him at the house for weeks.”
“Hmmm…” Gert weighed news. “They’ve been so close a long time.”
“Committed,” Andre confirmed. “I think she wants to break it off. Going their different ways next year… with her off to study.”
“No… Her attitude changed when you talked about that boy Andre. She looked very irritated.”
“Never!” Andre said emphatically, a lance of ice thrusting within; he’d felt it convulse in her the instant the Indian boy had been mentioned, Sonja’s body going rigid, betraying her anger; but he would never allow anyone to speculate such a disgusting thing that she’d side with a rooinek over her own kind, certainly not with a dark rooinek.
“Well…” Gert let the contradiction of his old friend’s words whither on the air to spare him the further shame of truth.
“I’m sorry about this with Neels though… To have a son-in-law like that… but girls these days…” Andre paused to mull what might have been.
“Ja. A special man that boy will become,” Gert agreed. “He thinks of you as a father, idolizes you my friend. I know you know it but I don’t think you realize quite how intensively he admires you”
Andre knew it was true. It filled him with vast pride to have the prince of the town’s youth so enamored of him—of him, with such a lowly rank in his police career. And, Andre thought, how miraculously and ironically his Lord worked, that his lowly rank in the police could bestow so much more untold weight to the boy’s admiration. Had he attained his ambition to follow his own father’s passion for policing to the rank of Captain and beyond… had these corrupt and undeserving black bastards not stolen that dream from him; the admiration that Neels and others with a backbone like Neels’ might have favored him with would not have carried the weight it now did.
Andre shook his head in wonder thinking about it.
No, that it was and could only be his unshakeable Belief that drew Neels to him made him burst with pride and give all honors to God for imbuing him the gift of boundless Faith.
“The father of the boy is Indian,” the Dominee changed the tack back to Dara, “No need to rub Andre’s nose further in his children’s scandalous behavior”, he thought. “Another troublemaker Andre. He’s in America now, my friends there tell me. And he’s coming here soon. I have some eyes on him, selling his ungodly books there… what when he gets here?” He was insinuating a challenge. “This family Andre… duiwel besete.”
“What do these people want with us Gert? There’s going to be trouble… they’re looking for it, they just won’t stop. This is our land and our town. Every street in this town the name of our Dominees—Alheit, Sterrenberg and Stremme…” Kruger listed them. “This wouldn’t be a town and there would be nothing but bush if it wasn’t for the mission and the church. We didn’t just proclaim the gospel, our forefathers built this place.”
“But they think it’s theirs Andre. Just listen to the name, ‘Carnarvon’—that’s a bliksemse Engels naam—they must always change to bloody English names,” Gert pointed out. “Yes, we named the streets but they stole the whole town and called it theirs… now they bring these verdomde people.”
And it was true—the village's original name, Harmsfontein, was changed to Carnarvon to honor the British colonial secretary Lord Carnarvon. Henry Howard Molyneux Herbert, the fourth Earl of Carnarvon, studied for his BA degree at the University of Oxford and became under secretary of Colonies in 1858 and State Secretary in 1866.
They looked heavenward again in askance.
“They say they’re here for the quiet of our little piece of heaven on earth—because there is no radio pollution to interfere with their listening to the sky. What a joke; these scientists must come and disrupt our simple world to escape the radio ‘pollution’ as they call it, pollution they themselves have made. I’m telling you, it’s ridiculous is what it is.” Andre’s voice was strained with frustration.
“This is the devil at work,” the Dominee solemnly assured, “…and it’s God allowing us to be tested. A test so we can show our mettle. We will overcome.”
Both men huffed in unison. They were of one mind in how they’d meet the test.