BLACK AND WHITE BLOOD
Saturday, 22 September 2012
BLACK AND WHITE BLOOD
BLACK AND WHITE BLOOD
There is a lovely road that runs from the airport to the hills. It passes through the sparsely populated rural uplands on its way to the capital, built during the colonial era on a high plateau. The countryside surrounding the city for hundreds of miles in all directions is designated rural and farming. Almost all of the land is owned by farmers.
Only the capital and its slums are considered urban. This is where most of the population lives.
The scenery is spectacular, the climate serene and the living conditions despicable.
The boy in charge of the cattle saw the dust in the distance thrown up by the vehicle. He left his herd and ran down the hillside towards a group of ramshackle dwellings shouting. ‘Wake up! Wake up! The farmer again. He’s coming!’
Two men came out of one of the ramshackle huts. They stared at the approaching vehicle and then walked quickly into the bush.
The boy’s name was Jabulani. The farmer’s name was Kruger. He was looking for Jabulani’s father, whose name was Paul Delani.
The huts were on Kruger’s land. Land his forefathers had found empty before they settled on it. That’s what they said, anyway.
Paul was in one of the crude buildings. He did not know yet what the farmer wanted. So he was only mildly apprehensive about the Kruger’s sudden appearance. Paul thought it was probably to do with the men who had just left. And he’d had nothing to do with them. He’d ignored them when they were there.
As he watched the approaching truck, he formulated what he’d say. He thought that, if asked, he’d simply tell Kruger that he did not know the men. So he felt that if this was what the farmer wanted, information about the strangers, he would be reasonably safe.
But that wasn’t the case.
Although Paul was not aware of it, Kruger was on his way to get Paul because Paul had killed Kruger’s wife’s pet dog.
Since her baby had died, the dog had been the light of her life. She’d carried it round with her everywhere. A beautiful looking, but snappy and thoroughly spoilt fox terrier called, of all things, Nipper. It was white with a brown head, and she’d named it after the dog listening to a phonograph on her mother’s collection of old black-with-red-labels seventy eight His Master’s Voice records.
Kruger didn’t like the dog much and often referred to it as Shit Head. Of course he said this mainly when his wife was not around.
But now the light had gone out of her life again. A dead baby and a dead dog. Both in the space of a year. What had she done to deserve this? ‘Die Here, please give me back my dog,’ she pleaded in prayer.
And all because Kruger had asked Paul to set a trap for the small buck that were eating the vegetables in his wife’s garden. But the wire snare had trapped Nipper instead of the thieving dik dik or duiker. So Shit Head, or Nipper, if you like, had died an agonizing death meant for a dwarf deer.
When Kruger had found his wife’s pet, the dog had been dead for some time. The sick smell of death filled the air. Bloat was forcing fluids to escape from its bulging eyes, mouth, nose and anus. Flies were buzzing and fighting to get at the putrefying orifices. When he picked it up, the stench was revolting and maggots covered the underside that had been in contact with the soil.
So much for his wife wondering around the property for several days and nights calling it’s stupid name.
‘Nip! Nip! Nippy, where are you? Nipper, mummy’s waiting. Come on, Nippy, come home to me my baby.’
He put the dog’s body in the back of his truck and drove home to confront his wife with the news. He was anticipating a crisis.
And he got one.
Kruger’s wife was in the kitchen. ‘Bad news about the dog, I’m afraid. Caught in a trap.’
They went out to the truck. He pointed at the dog lying in the back, flies swooping and swarming across the lifeless body.
She stared at her darling in disbelief. Then she started to hit Kruger. She struck him on the face and chest with balled fists. ‘You… you…’ She was lost for words. ‘You bastard. You fucking bastard,’ she shouted as she let fly at him.
‘What are we doing here? Why did you bring me to this godforsaken place?’
Why indeed? He had no answer. What were they doing there?
Kruger looked at the huts in disgust. ‘These people,’ he thought. ‘No self-respect. Just look at the fucking mess.’
He called out for Paul who had once been one of his farm labourers until he got too old for regular daylong work. But he had to earn his living in order to remain on the farmer’s land. So he looked after the farmer’s wife’s extensive vegetable patch.
Kruger saw an old man come shuffling towards him from one of the shacks. Paul took off his battered hat.
Kruger immediately detected a sullen look. He knew how to read these people. He’d been amongst them all his life. And he was sure that Paul looked both truculent and guilty. He’d done it deliberately. That was obvious from his surly manner.
Times were changing. Things were different now that times had changed. But the changes were not for the better in Kruger’s opinion. Some of his neighbours, and worse still, even some of his relatives, allowed these people to ride in the cab with the owner of the vehicle. But Kruger prided himself on one of the old guard. ‘Get in the back!’ he told Paul. The old man climbed up onto the bakkie and sat on the metal seat over the rear wheel.
When he got back through the automated gates in the perimeter fence, Kruger told Paul to go to the machine shed. Then he went to fetch his wife. He told her to stand by the door. He told Paul to take off his shirt and lean across one of the tractor wheels. He took a sjambok off a hook on the wall.
He had a few practice swings. The animal hide whip made a swishing sound as it cut through the air.
Kruger’s wife stood with her legs slightly apart, watching. He began his work.
Paul made no sound. The only thing that could be heard was the sjambok in the air as it arched towards the cuts it made in the flesh on the labourer’s back.
After a few minutes, Kruger’s wife shouted, ‘Stop. Stop Jannie. Stop now. That’s enough.’
Kruger stopped. He told Paul to get into the back of the truck. He drove the man back to his hut.
Jabulani was staring at Kruger from where he lay on the earth floor of his father’s hut. He was looking under the gap in the door. He saw Kruger grab Paul and pull him off the back of the truck. The old man’s shirt was covered in blood. When Kruger had driven off, the old man put his hat back on his head.
Kruger’s sister-in-law lived with them. She was a widow. His brother had been killed when he was still a young man and she’d moved in with Kruger and his new wife.
Kruger found her in the middle of the milking shed one day. She was dressed in denim shorts bleached almost white with a ragged hem. Her blouse was not buttoned, but tied in a knot that showed her underwear. And she was wearing cheap canvas Dunlop tackies.
The milkers stopped smiling as soon has he came back to the shed. He told her to get out of the building. ‘The only females allowed in here are the cows,’ he said.
When she’d gone, he walked up and down the rows of heifers dodging the dung and piss and wagging his finger menacingly at the milkers. He shook his fist at some. They felt his ugly mood and concentrated on squeezing teats and expressing milk into silver pails.
Kruger didn’t really like his sister in law. She had the wrong attitude. He thought she was far too familiar with the servants. And the farm labourers. He told her to stop speaking to them when she walked around the farmyard.
‘You never know what they’re thinking. And you know by just looking at them that they have evil things on their minds. I don’t trust them. Any of them. Because they hate us. You can see that written all over their faces. So you don’t have to be Einstein to work that out.’
Kruger had once propositioned his sister in law.
It happened only once.
It was as if he couldn’t help himself. He didn’t like the woman, he didn’t respect her, but she had an effect on him. So he wanted to show off to her. His male prowess. He wanted to establish a relationship. Where he could show her what he was made of.
‘Shall we… Well… I was thinking… do you feel like…? Well… You know what I mean, don’t you? A bit of fun, perhaps. You can’t had any for quite a while.’ He laughed. ‘I hope not anyway.’ He laughed again.
He stepped right up next to her. He could see the faint moustache on her lip and a few minute cracks where her makeup was leeching into the surrounding epidermis.
He put his hand around her waste. He pushed his pelvis up against hers so that there was no mistake about what he had in mind.
‘Fok, Jannie,’ she said as she pushed him away. ‘Your brother’s not dead a year and you try to sleep with me? No way man. What do you think I am?’
As the unexpected rebuttal sunk in Kruger felt crushed. Demeaned and affronted. Humiliated, in fact.
‘You ungrateful bitch,’ he muttered as he left the room.
A few years before Jabulani would automatically have entered the labour force on Kruger’s farm, he was playing outside the milk shed waiting for one of his brothers to finish milking. But Kruger gave orders to one of the younger milkers, Dixon, to go and look for a missing heifer before he could go home.
Jabulani went with Dixon who was in his late teens. As they walked they chatted and Jabulani was fascinated at the older boy’s attitude. He didn’t like the farmer or anyone in his family. He didn’t like farmers, period. He didn’t like the conditions he lived under, but he had no other options. He didn’t like the government. It had changed little in fifteen years. The signs on the toilets had changed. And on the railway stations platforms. And on the front of the busses. And everyone was allowed to sit on the same benches in the park. But very little else had changed. Very little indeed.
A prominent priest had said the gravy train stopped just long enough for one set of politicians to get off while the others - the new lot - got on.
Well, perhaps some people’s attitudes had changed, but there were not many of them. Most simply masked their innermost thoughts and feelings because they had not changed at all.
Dixon talked about some people that had plans to change things at a faster rate. They would be visiting all the labourers on Kruger’s farm over the next few weeks, he told Jabulani.
They found the missing heifer in a field of maze and chased it back onto the dirt road leading to the farmstead. It knew the way and walked in front of them.
They saw a white Japanese car parked just off the track. They both knew it belonged to Kruger’s sister in law. Dixon ran up to the car, gesticulating frantically. He was pointing to the fact that it was unlocked. A very unusual situation. A ladies handbag lay on the front seat. They both looked around. A path led through the reeds down to a dam surrounded by willows.
Jabulani was apprehensive. He beckoned to Dixon to get back to the cow and their mission. Dixon started down the path. Jabulani hesitated for a moment then followed him.
Smith’s sister in law was lying on a blanket. Most of her clothing lay in a neat pile next to her. She was in her underwear.
She was with a man the boys both knew. He was from the work force on the next-door farm. He was completely naked. And it was obvious that he was ready to make love.
Jabulani was terrified. He pulled at Dixon’s shirt and motioned him to leave. Dixon shook his head.
Jabulani crouched down and walked quickly back along the path back towards the car. He looked back once. He saw that Dixon had taken out his penis and was started to masturbate while staring at the couple involved in this frightening situation.
Miscegenation had, until recently, been a serious crime. Jabulani probably didn’t know what that meant, but knew that there would be serious consequences emanating from what they had just seen. Love played no part in the equation. Because he knew intuitively that the social convention was as powerful as ever. The consequences were inevitable, and that the couple they were spying on were fucking across the so-called colour bar. A very dangerous thing to do in this area.
Dixon came to see Jabulani the next day. He showed Jabulani a brilliant gold lipstick. He took the cap off and, by twisting the shaft, Dixon made the bright red make-up protrude from the top of the container. Then, by reversing the action, he made it retract. Just like a shiny wet glans moving in and out of a golden prepuce.
Dixon made a mark on his skin with the crimson colouring. Jabulani thought it looked as if Dixon had slashed his skin with a blade revealing the bright flesh beneath. He looked away.
Dixon took Jabulani to a rocky outcrop. He moved some large stones from the front of a small cavity to show Jabulani where he had hidden Kruger’s sister in law’s handbag in amongst the dassie shit.
The boy in charge of the cattle saw the dust in the distance. He knew it was Kruger’s vehicle. He ran down the hillside towards the huts shouting. ‘Wake up! Wake up! It’s the farmer. He’s coming!’
Kruger stopped his truck and got out. ‘Where’s Jabulani?’ he asked.
Paul took off his hat and went across to speak to the farmer.
He came back and told Jabulani to get into the back of the bakkie.
‘Where’s Dixon?’ Kruger asked the Jabulani.
They drove to a nearby group of crude dwellings and asked for Dixon. Dixon’s parents sent him out to the farmer.
‘Where’s the handbag?’ he asked the boys.
They looked at him blankly and shook their heads. But Kruger knew they were lying. He could see it written all over their faces. He’d lived amongst these people all his life. He could read any one of them like he could read a magazine.
When they had driven through the automated gates, Kruger told the boys to wait in the machine shed. He told Dixon to take off his shirt and his trousers and to lean across one of the tractor wheels. He tied the naked boy’s wrists and ankles to the machine’s axles. He told Jabulani to stand next to Dixon.
‘Take your pants off. You’re next,’ he told Jabulani.
‘No. Not there. Closer to him. I want you to feel this too,’ he instructed.
Kruger took a sjambok off its hook. He touched the tip of Jabulani’s foreskin with the whip.
Then he struck Dixon viciously across the buttocks. Once. Twice. And again. And again and again.
Jabulani wet himself.
Dixon was bleeding and screaming. The farmer’s wife came to the door of the shed. She stood there with her legs apart.
‘Fok, Jannie. Be careful. You don’t want to kill him.’
Jabulani told the farmer he would show him where his sister in law’s handbag was hidden.
Dixon shot the farmer through his bathroom window. Then they drove the tractor through the front door. Jabulani found the farmer’s wife in the kithen. She was crying without making any noise. He stabbed her in the throat. She slid down onto the floor.
There was no sign of Kruger’s sister in law.
When they left the farm, they each took half the money.
Dixon held a shotgun over his shoulder. Jabulani had a revolver in one hand.
With their free hands, they lifted a large television between them and started walking. Dixon helped Jabualani to carry it away from the burning buildings and up into the hills.
It was old, very heavy and cumbersome to carry with one hand. They plodded on holding onto the TV and their guns.
After a few miles, Dixon said he was tired, and that they should abandon the trophy.
Jabulani said he would handle it alone. Dixon went off without further comment.
Jabulani managed to manhandle the set down the rocky hillside to a dirt road where he sat on it and waited.
It would have been a long walk home, but a priest gave him a lift in a bakkie. Jabulani loaded the television set into the back and sat alongside the driver who wore a dirty black suit with a soiled white dog collar. He said nothing to Jabulani about the TV.
Jabulani tried to engage the priest in conversation, but he could see that the old man was afraid. He replied in monosyllables.
Eventually Jabulani asked him to turn off the road they were on.
‘To where I live,’ he told the priest. ‘I want
you to take me to my house.’
‘No, I’m sorry, I can’t do that I’m afraid,’ he said, ‘I’m on the way to a meeting. And I can’t be late.’
Jabulani stuck the muzzle of his gun into the priest’s neck. ‘Jou fok! Just do what I tell you.’
Jabulani dragged the large lump of old-fashioned electrical equipment into his hut. He placed it on the earth floor in the corner. He stood a wooden chair in the centre of the room and sat down.
He looked at the TV, but there was no picture or sound because there was no power. Nor was there any for miles around. The nearest available electricity would have been the farmhouse he’d just left. Which used, or had used until recently, a diesel generator, and was not connected to an electrical grid anyway.
So the stolen television set would never work.
Jabulani sat in the near dark and stared at his distorted reflection on the screen.
He waited for the police to arrive.
Although he is long dead, and my thanks are therefore futile, I would just the same like to thank Dr Alan Paton, albeit posthumously, for starting a process that eventually completely changed my political perspective.
Anyone who has read his book Cry the Beloved Country will recognize that it is his road to Ixopo in disguise at the beginning of this short story.