Sunday, June 28, 2009

Short Story: PLOT 79

The sign said van Rynevelder. A hard, uncompromising Afrikaans name. It was painted in white letters on a disintegrating black board that slouched roadward on old tarred poles. Underneath the name was stencilled “Plot 79”. From the dirt road a track led through a gateless entrance and down through thorn trees to the homestead. The veld was a flat brown and the thorn trees were covered in dust. God knows when the rains would come. Only 30 kilometres north of Pretoria and the Bushveld was complete, the same dry veld that had gutted the lives of the Boers a hundred years before, luring them north and away from the British. The Boers had parcelled up the land into huge tracts, one for each family, and sweated out their lives in hard labour, burying their dead in lonely graves that now rested peacefully beside abandoned farmhouses. Since those days the land had been sub-divided so many times, especially here close to Pretoria, that the plots could not support a family. People retired here, Afrikaners who left Pretoria and came back to the land.

John swung his bakkie through the gates and onto the property. He hoped they were at home. The farmstead was close by the road. A house probably built in the 1950’s, with no special character. A red tin roof, peeling walls and dirty torn curtains visible through narrow windows. It was surrounded by a wire fence, at least seven feet high, with a sturdy gate. Inside were two Dobermans. John stopped the bakkie outside the gate and climbed out. He looked at the Dobermans, who were standing back near the house watching him. He hated this part. But he knew they probably would not attack a white man. As he approached the gate an elderly white woman appeared from around the side of the house, peering at him, with one hand waving downwards at the silent dogs.

Goeimore Mevrou, mag ek ’n oomblikkei inkom?”
Kom maar”, she said
He walked as confidently as he could across the packed earth, eying the dogs.
Goeimore Mevrou.”
“Goeimore Meneer.”
“My naam is John Tunstall”.
Ja, Ja, kom maar in Meneer, ek roep my man”.
She ushered him to a garden table around which were four chairs. Wobbly and made of rusting wire, the kind of furniture seen around the swimming pools of white South Africa.
Ek roep vir my man”, she repeated, and disappeared inside the house.

An open stoep ran the length of the house. It faced a dust-packed courtyard with washing hung out to dry on wire stretched between two wooden poles. The servant’s quarters were beyond the washing, and behind John, on the other side of the courtyard, was a garage. Litter lay about the yard and the stoep of the house was dirty and cluttered. The house, glancing in through the open door, was dark. A few scrabbly chickens kicked the earth below the clothesline.

Mrs Van Rynevelder reappeared. “Hy kom nou”, she said. She wore a dirty off-white dress and her old face was haggard. One lens of her spectacles was shattered. She smiled at John and sat down. Mr Van Rynevelder emerged from the house. Tall but stooped, also a haggard face, at least seventy. He shuffled forward and shook John’s hand. Khaki shirt with baggy old trousers of indeterminate colour. They sat down, the two old people looking at John expectantly.

He was a geologist? Oh yes, did he know Dr de Klerk? They spoke in Afrikaans with a thick accent that John remembered from the train drivers on the West Rand where he had grown up.
“Dr de Klerk was my boss at Water Affairs, well, eintlik was hy die groot baas. I worked at Water Affairs for 35 years man, I started there in 1950”.
Dit was nou die direkteur, ne Willie?” said his wife, “die oubaas, hy het Stellenbosch toe gegaan?”
Ja vrou, dis hy”.
They smiled at John “are you from Water Affairs?”
No, John was not, they nodded silently as he explained his problem, an old mine. No, Mr van Rynevelder did not know of any old mine hereabouts, though the meneer was welcome to walk around the plot, but there was no old mine, that’s for sure. But Meneer du Toit, now Meneer du Toit was an educated man who had grown up in these parts, Meneer du Toit would be able to help him.

And then there was the question of the road. They peered at his map. “Waar is ons nou, laat ons kyk, dit moet nou die huis wees, hierso. Man this map is old, the road has changed, Ja vrou, onthou jy die ou pad het nie so naarby die huis gekom nie, heirdie kaart is uit”. They gazed at the map, tracing out the old road with shaking fingers. A young black woman had appeared behind them and was taking in the washing. Barefoot, but otherwise dressed somewhat better than Mrs van Rynevelder. Mrs van Rynevelder had got up and was peering past the garage across the veld to the dry river, where had the old road gone? She shaded her eyes with her hand and seemed sturdy from behind. The Dobermans had collapsed in their long-legged way in the shade of the stoep.

Mr van Rynevelder got up and went into the house to phone Meneer du Toit. Mrs van Rynevelder smiled at John, “Wil jy nie n biekie koffie drink meneer?”
Nie dankie mevrou
John could hear the old man inside
“…Ek sal hom na jou toe stuur…”

He was to go and see Meneer du Toit, who would definitely be able to help.
Baie dankie Meneer, baie dankie Mevrou”, as usual John felt overwhelmed by their friendliness. They saw him to the gate, “Nie dis a plesier meneer, ek hoop jy gaan hom kry, Meneer du Toit sal weet”.

John climbed slowly into his bakkie and drove up the track to the dirt road. As he swung onto the road he looked back and could just see the farmhouse through the trees. He felt a part of the future, and of everything that was coming to destroy the world that the van Rynevelders had built. And he felt that that was right. But he could not judge them, how could he do that?


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