Chapter 30 (MEMORY lapse)
Rita put her phone down and sigh a big sigh of relieve. Seems like Gerta is okay, she even sounded happy. Maybe she, Rita, was just a born pessimistic. Maybe life made her that way. Gerta knew only what she’s supposed to know about the past – nothing more and nothing less – it’s just her own dark mind that always conjured up the worst case-scenario. Gerta is on holiday and that’s that.
She switched on the radio, grabbed a duster and started to dust rhythmically to whatever music was playing. As she entered the study her eyes were drawn to the wedding-picture of Burger and her. Nothing fancy. Only two photos were taken. It was a plain civic ceremony with only six people in attendance, including Burger and herself. Except for Burger’s parents and his sister the only other guest, or witness, was Martin van der Westhuizen. The only person who stood steadfast at Burger’s side at all times. After the trial, most left him to rot like “the rubbish” he was – her included. The few who still went to see him soon fizzled out and vanished, but not Martin. He was a true-blue friend. Even up to now he was the only person Burger care to stay in touch with from back then. And they usually talked about the newest developments in medicine. Definitely not about the murder or the after-effects.
She dusted the picture slowly up and down, up and down as she watched the plain girl in blue and the handsome man with the empty eyes. He was appropriately dressed in black. Her memory flirted again with those cruel, sad time.
In the hub-hub that followed the murder, the arrest, the papers, the funeral, she would’ve gladly strangled Burger herself with her bare hands. She was so sad and so angry. Even six months later at the trial, she was still as mad as red ants whose nest had been trampled on. After the trial, as the stories in the papers died down, or, more to the point, in the media’s case, as the next big murder or disaster had happened and everyone else involved got on with their own lives, she allowed herself for the first time to think. Really to think about that night and what followed. Methodically, step by step, like a puzzle you put together piece by piece. Nobody wanted to talk about it anymore, except maybe Mirna. Mirna was the one who actually sat all the thinking in motion. Martin and Rodney also allowed her – up to a point - to drag all the dug-up cows down a catwalk. Dissecting them one by one, whenever and wherever but, as the two men weren’t there, perse, when the actual murder took place, they couldn’t actually attribute to the whole, sorry business like Mirna could. Mirna and she were there at the crucial time of the murder. Physically. Not so sure about mentally. Martin, Rodney and Ned left earlier and had been back at the dorm. Sleeping soundly she presumed. They weren’t there to witness the petite, beautiful girl lying half naked under a tree. They were not there to observe the disorientated, credulous young man in his frumpy shirt and suit bottoms, belt to one side and open fly. The panicked face. They weren’t huddled like nervous sheep in one room, awaiting their turn to be scrutinised or been looked upon as potential witnesses. They weren’t questioned when in a state of utter despair and distraught anguish. Hoping against all hope that it was all a terrible nightmare and they will wake soon. However, it did happen, the nightmare was real.
They were not there!
So the guys weren’t really kindred spirits in that sense. Most of all, they couldn’t even speculate about the two girls’ sworn awareness - months later, mind you - that neither of them could remember an iota from a certain point Saturday night, till the next morning when woken by the screaming commotion.
Both the women admitted that they drank way more than ever. The men could attest to that. Rodney jokingly made a remark that she, Rita, could not hold her liquor in any case. He contributed it to that fact. Which was true. Rita got weird after only one drink. She was no big drinker and usually consumed only one drink, just not to seem unsociable. Two was enough to render her nearly useless. Mirna, on the other hand, called herself a seasoned drinker. Usually gave a little snorting laugh at the revelation. Proceeded to say she must have had at least “ten too many” to give her that sort of total oblivion and big hangover the next morning. She’d, like Rita, never experienced anything like that before or again.
Both could testify to a sickening – literally - hangover the next day.
Rita and Rodney - her boyfriend at the time - drifted apart after the trial and called it quits bout four months later. He really got fed-up with her obsession about the whole “Memory-loss”-thing. Said she lost her ability to take part in a normal conversation. He even called her totally depressed at one point. He couldn’t see a future. He had, they had big plans for the future. He suggested she should see a shrink because, as he put it, she was feeling guilty that she wasn’t there for her best friend in her hour of need. That’s why she was trying to justify herself at every occasion by pleading literally unconscious to what happened.
She did went to see a shrink. He nearly told her the same thing word for word as Rodney did. Just less descriptive and angry and he used the word “figuratively-speaking” a lot. The one good piece of advice the shrink gave her was to go and see Burger and talk to the families, to find some closer.
She went to see Aunt Brenda from time to time but it was tough to go and see Burger’s parents. In the beginning it was a stiff, awkward crying affair. However, she persisted and in the end they talked. Aunt Brenda turned from a vibrant woman into a sad, thin bag of bones. The same can be said of Burger’s parents. At least they had each other, and a daughter, to lean on. At least, their son wasn’t dead – not that it made the situation that much better. However, Aunt Brenda was left with no husband, no child and alone-time was something she dreaded. She tried to take her life twice along the way. Luckily for her, she had close friends who really loved her and cared for her. They kept her going through thick and thin – mostly thin.
As the years passed Rita started to doubt Burger Steenkamp’s guilt more and more (which she was so absolutely sure off at the time) however, she’d never visit him in jail. She didn’t think – which was true - he’d wanted to see her. Never had the guts to confront him, or tell him about her suspicions or conclusions.
A few years into the whole bad business she was convinced - apart from the murder of her friend - something bad had happened to all of them that night. That Burger Steenkamp was just the unlucky one to bite the proverbial bullet.
Thank God for DNA.
Although, ten years after the fact!
Still he was cleared.
A lot of people were left devastated by the news of his innocence and felt guilty about their contribution, like she did herself. And, somewhere out there, a murderer is still walking free.
Aunt Brenda had to live with the idea that her daughter’s killer was a ghost as far as the police was concerned. DNA was only an absolute “eye-witness” if the donor could be identified beyond all doubt.
The police had no one on their (not to vast back then) data-bank that fits the bill. Not even anyone on their radar to compare it too. They did, at first, compared all known rapists and murderers to that specific DNA, but no such luck.
Well, as it turned out, she got the best of the whole ghastly affair by marrying Burger. Although he proposed, she knew he didn’t love her with the same love or passion he felt for Minke. She knew he never will however, through the years he grew to care for her. It wasn’t just her imagination - she knew!
They’ve carved themselves a good life in Canada and they’ve got two adorable children. Gerta was a bright, beautiful young girl – the apple of her father’s eye - who wanted too pursuing a career in law, like her father. Steen’s, their youngest, wishes, at this point at least, were too become a doctor. As it turns out, he has the brains and the grades. That made Burger very proud. He calls them his FUTURE.
As much as she loathed him at the time of the murder, she loves and respects him now. One needs serious character and will-power to rebuild what was left of your life. He had it! She knew of the inferno he went through, and still does at times. She granted him that reprieve. If anyone deserves it, he did. She also went into guilt-depression, as she thought of it, about Minke, Aunt Brenda, but mostly about Burger. Sometimes she traced with her finger lovingly over the scares he earned in jail. She never asked about them. If he’d wanted to, he’ll tell her about it.
After twenty-two years of marriage he still keeps it to himself.
He was like a soldier after the war.
His experiences were too terrible to share.