Chapter 27 (FATHER’S DAY)
Gerta le Roux read the letter one more time before looking out the window. Although the scenery – a red Bougainvillea in full bloom – was stunning, she didn’t seem to register it at all. In her mind she replayed all the conversations with Brenda Blignaut. Most of them via Internet or Skype. Most intensely shortly before her death. She’d spilled her guts, so to speak, with short breaths and coughing fits in between. She kept going till Gerta knew every little detail.
After Gerta’s conversations with her mom she realised that there was much more to “Your dad was accused and jailed for ten years for the death of a girl in South Africa in 1980”. If that was not enough to made Gerta sick to her stomach, she later added: “She was his girlfriend at the time and it happened on her 21st birthday party” and again some time later: “She was my best friend” and the last, terrible bit of information “We all thought your father guilty and most, me included, gave evidence against him.”
She remembered how difficult it was for her mom to utter those last, few words, the pain and guilt on her face and in her eyes was indescribable. Gerta had to swear not to talk to her Dad about any of this. That was all her Mom was prepared to say, except to add “What’s done is done, he has been cleared, and we’d made a new life for ourselves here in Canada. A good life for you and your brother. Your dad doesn’t want you children to be burdened with all this. It is our past, not yours!” she added.
Gerta knew the wound has healed, but the scar will always be there. She could see it in her father’s eyes at times, she could hear it in her mother’s voice the few times she opened up about the subject. He mother ended with “All you have to know is that your father is undeniable innocent.”
How her mother and father came together was a total mystery to Gerta, but she felt compelled not to ask.
She secretly began to seek more information on the internet. She didn’t find a lot – in fact she found nothing under Burger le Roux. It was as if the story her mother told her was a bad fairy-tale in which the princess didn’t woke up, or “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Grandma” were, in fact, eaten by the big, bad wolf! She realized she had too little information. She didn’t even know what the name of the murdered girl was! As far as she knew they had no family left in South Africa after the death of her grandparents on her father’s side. Her only aunt - on father’s side – and her family - lived in Canada, longer than her parents. Mom was an only child who lost her Mother in a car accident when she was only fifteen. Her grandfather on mother’s side married again when her mom was about twenty-seven. Her mother had very little contact with him from then on, because, for one thing, her mother moved to another country and secondly, his new wife discouraged contact between them. Gerta knew precious little about him, except for the odd birthday or Christmas presents or cards. They never went on holiday to South Africa - even as little children. Her grandparents on father’s side came to visit them a few times, but even though she was eleven the last time she saw them, she can’t recall any of them even mentioned anything about, murder, jail or anything even remotely connecting her father to a murder. When her grandparents died, first her grandmother and then her grandfather on father’s side, her Father and Aunt went to the funeral alone and returned within three days after the funeral. The same when mom’s father died. She went alone and returned quickly.
She overheard her mom telling her dad (when she got back after the funeral) that her two step-siblings, who must’ve been much younger Gerta and her brother, and whom her mother met for the first time at the funeral, were not pleased to see a long, lost sister. Her father died quite a well-off farmer somewhere in the Franschhoek–district. They were scared that their inheritance had to be shared with an unknown sister. She also recalls her father hugging her mother after she told him the story, saying he’s thankful she’d gave up so much for him, how much appreciated the love and support she’d gave him through the years.
Even though, as was expected, her grandfather left the farm and the bulk of his estate to his children from his second marriage, he did leave a substantial amount of money to each of his grandchildren in Canada – Gerta and her brother Steen.
Two years ago Aunt Monica and her family spent the Christmas holidays with Gerta’s family. They all loved to play games. All sorts of games, and all of them were quite competitive. On one such occasion, playing some kind of board-game (she thinks) her aunt had needed a double six to win. On her first try she’d succeeded. In her excitement she jumped up and shouted: “Dis hoe die Steenkamp’s dit doen!”
Gerta knew enough Afrikaans to interpret it as: ‘That’s how the Steenkamps’ do it!’
She saw the expression on her parents’ faces, although nobody else seemed to notice. Gerta suddenly realized where her brother’s unusual birth name “Steenkamp le Roux” came from. Her father’s surname must be Steenkamp!
She started her search in earnest again armed with this new information.
She changed her tactics and this time she used the name Burger Steenkamp and Murder-trial. Suddenly she was confronted with a whole lot more information. He was a medical student in his fourth year. The girl he supposedly murdered was Minke Blignaut, the only child of Brenda Blignaut. Gruesome details jumped up and out at her. She read till the last line. Burger Steenkamp was cleared of the murder as a result of the new development in DNA-testing in 1988. He was pardoned and released on 13 November 1990.
She was outside herself with grief for her father and she cried herself to sleep that night. Sadly, she couldn’t share her feelings with her father. He thinks she doesn’t know. She had to keep on pretending that she was oblivious! Night after night she’d lay awake in the dark trying to imagine the hell he must’ve gone through. He had to leave everything he loved behind for a fresh and new beginning in another country. He could not even be Burger Steenkamp. He was now Burger le Roux, the hard working - and by now - celebrated lawyer. He adopted her mother’s maiden name and started afresh in Canada. He gave up everything, even the dream of becoming a doctor. Maybe that’s why her father was so hung up on proper evidence – he would fight “tooth-n-nail” if he thought the evidence was insufficient on any client. On the other hand he’d sometimes let cases go when he felt unsure of the defendant’s innocence. Given his circumstances and experience, as well as his caring character - which would’ve made him a great doctor - people paid a lot of money to have him on their side.
She decided to look up Brenda Blignaut as well and was surprised to see that she was still alive. She found her on a website called: “The Ice-Cream Club”. It was a sort of supporter’s corner for family of murder victims. This club literally took those (who lived close enough) on Saturday- or Sunday-outings to taste ice-cream and “an in-depth talk” in some or other park, zoo, country estate or where-ever. A sort of therapy and healing process – but much more than that - as Gerta found out a little later.
She and Aunt Brenda started to communicate. At first very hesitantly, but as time passes she revealed the whole sad story to Gerta bit by bit. Brenda also introduced her to Mila Jordan, the grand-daughter of a very good friend of hers, Nora Jordan, who died around a year ago. Long discussions followed between the three of them and she started to regard Mila as a friend she’d never met face to face.
Brenda Blignaut was diagnosed with cancer around eighteen months ago. She decided not to have Chemo and about twelve months ago the Oncologist told her that the cancer is rapidly spreading. She doggedly hung on for another year, trying somehow, to pinpoint Minke’s murderer and decided how to bring him to justice. She didn’t reveal how, but she knew who it was. And so, a plan was set in motion.
This thing Gerta’s going to do is for her father, though he would never know what she’d done for him. Or so she hoped!
Gerta used some of her money her grandfather left her and planned her South-African “tour”.
And now it had begun.