Rough Diamonds

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Chapter 31

Anton Retief

There was trouble brewing. Anton looked at his family and said under his breath: “I’m a failure, a fucking failure!”

The day had started ominously. A person who was working at the betting office had given him a reliable tip-off. It had been disastrous. Now, there would soon be an auction at which he and Shirley would be forced to sell all of their prized goods, furniture and clothes. Everything.

He was devastated. How had it come to this? Everything he owned would go under the auctioneer’s hammer.

He had an idea. He resolved to take the Holden car and his family and do a runner in the night.

He wished that he hadn’t had to break the news about his debt to Shirley. He had said: “I’m broke.”

She was fuming and had immediately broken down in tears. Now, she wouldn’t touch him.

He and Shirley packed for the children and themselves. They told the children that they were going on holiday and set off in the early hours of the morning in the Holden. It had begun to rain.

The five set off to Eshowe, near the east coast of South Africa. He had distant family there. He would try to leech off them, until they discovered the truth about his gambling debts.

They travelled all night, and just when there was a dull glow where the sun should have been, the Holden stuttered and broke down. They were north of Durban, on the east coast of South Africa.

“Fuck, now what?” Anton exclaimed. The children were asleep.

Anton had a look under the bonnet, and eventually gave up. He cursed repeatedly outside the car, where the children were unlikely to hear him. He was soaked through. Hours later, with no resources to afford to stay the night anywhere, he took the decision that they would press on.

“Children, we’ll have to get you covered to prevent the soaking you to the bone,” Shirley did not give away hers and Anton’s secret.

Anton cursed again under his breath: “Fuck!”

Anton and his family were hiking in the light rain. “Dammit, come on people,” he muttered.

It had begun to rain heavily. Then a truck slowed down and stopped to pick them up.

“Where are you headed?” the truck driver asked.

“Eshowe,” Anton said.

“I’m going there, but you’ll have to sit on the back. There’s no room up front here,” the driver apologised.

They all clambered into the back of the truck and found that they had to sit on top of barrels. Anton sniffed. Despite the hard rain, he detected a strong smell of oil. They were forced to suffer the indignity of sitting on the back of the truck on a load of petroleum barrels!

“Let’s get those blankets out,” Anton said. They pulled out the two blankets, despite the driving rain: One for Kate-Emily, Mike and Jako, and the other for Shirley and himself.

They were about half an hour from Eshowe, but the rain was not letting up.

Anton heard Mike say: “I need to pee... ” Mike slipped from the cover of the blanket and clambered over the barrels to take a pee off the back of the truck.

“Watch out, Mike,” Anton warned sternly. “It’s slippery, boet.”

Anton watched Mike urinate in the pouring rain. Anton blinked, the rainwater running into his eyes.

They were approaching the pass that gave way to Eshowe.

“Slow down,” Anton yelled to the driver, over the clattering of the truck.

He watched Mike finish urinating. “Come and get back under the blanket.”

The truck lurched. Anton watched in horror as Mike lost his balance and toppled over the edge of the truck. He screamed in terror as he realised the vehicle was out of control. Anton struggled to get to his feet as the truck swayed and the oil barrels rolled alarmingly.

Over the noise, Anton had not noticed that the two children weren’t paying attention. They were wrapped in the blanket, enduring the violent heaving of the vehicle. Mike had disappeared, and Jako and Kate-Emily were seemingly oblivious to what had happened to him.

Anton grabbed at Shirley, but it was futile. She lost her hold as the truck bounded off the road and she struggled amidst the now-reeling drums, He watched, seemingly in slow motion as the truck rolled violently, igniting the oil barrels. Then, in a moment of horror, Shirley was consumed by fire, ignited by sparks caused by the lurching of the truck. The children, wrapped up in the blanket, screamed as they were thrown from the truck by its violent motion.

Anton struggled to keep his balance, but it was to no avail. The vehicle plunged down the side of the cliff, taking Anton and Shirley to a horrible end, committing them to a fiery death deep in the gorge.

It would be a battle to recover their remains, along with those of their driver and co-driver.

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