I didn’t think I would write this. I didn’t think I could write it.
I was thinking it might be more dignified and honourable if I continued to just think quietly about you, how you might be feeling (or not feeling), after I woke in the morning.
I thought I would remain quiet while I watch the TV pictures showing all the messages and balloons of love going up outside the hospital inside which you slip away, unseen, unheard but still holding us.
I thought, as I ate my Weetbix and Passion Orange yoghurt and heard the clock tick and watched the birds flit about on a golden Overberg winter’s day, about the chilling winter of your last days and how seasons come to an end. How South Africa will go into spring without you… and how our flowers will grow and blossom anyhow. Perhaps not as brightly.
Earlier this year, on February 2, Anene Booysen was taken from David’s Sports Bar and Grill in Bredasdorp to a nearby housing development. To a sandy passage between two small RDP (Reconstruction and Development Programme) houses, and alongside a deep culvert.
There, the 17-year-old girl, somebody’s daughter, somebody’s sister and a friend of some and known to many, was gang-raped and murdered. Inbetween those two events, she was disembowelled. Not just her body but Anene herself… because she died much later, after she was found by a security guard, her blood sinking into the sand.
A week later, with South Africa seemingly rising up in protest over the grotesque invasion and mutilation of Anene’s body and life, I went to join the demonstration outside the Bredasdorp Magistrate’s Court, where three young men appeared in connection with the crime. I also went to the spot where Anene’s dignity and life were taken from her…
… and found these flowers. And a wooden cross. And I found the horror. I found it on people’s faces. I felt it in the heat of a midsummer’s day. Between two unoccupied houses.
The horror had its own home between two tiny, empty houses built on sand. And I felt it snaking through my body.
When I was young, my father would often pack us all into the Ford Cortina (with round rear lights and tailfins) on a Sunday. And we would head for the ocean. Nobody had picked up on my astigmatism then and I would lie like a descaled and reddened crocodile in rock pools, with my begoggled eyes slightly submerged and, sight magnified by the refraction of sunlight on the water’s surface, watch the tiny fish flit about and the crabs beady-eye me from their shadowed nooks. Boy in a bubble. I wear glasses now. But no roadtrip in Lucille is complete without a snuffle around South Africa’s magnificent coastline. To submerge myself in the sights and sounds and sand and salt. And, while seagulls skirl overhead, to lie meditatively in rock pools. On my back. Like a seal. And drift off… and be washed away. And washed.
Tomorrow I will steer Lucille off the farm and on to the R43 and head in the very general direction of Suurbrak and Grootvadersbosch, most probably with Neil Young’s “Psychedelic Pill” grunting and growling and grinding… and skipping across my eardrums, with trees and cows and clouds and vast spaces sliding by. As I was lying here, musing on this and listening to the morning birds, these words sang out to me…
““What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? It’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” ~ Jack Kerouac.
My “Out of The Hat” column, first published in Stanford River Talk, the quite extraordinary little local newspaper that serves (and I mean serves) my village – April, 2013.
I STEP out of the shower I share with large frogs, even bigger spiders, any size and number of exquisitely hand-painted moths and and am immediately enveloped by the heat once more.
Sipping the dark, bitter remnants of last night’s sweet, black tea, I feel the mountain-dew breeze diffusing through the fly-defying mesh of the screen door and on to my chest, prickling my still-damp skin with it’s early autumn cool-creep.
The vista from my front door is the same, as always. In that is is constantly changing. The aimlessly scudding clouds, the groping, gripping mist and the love of the light all conspire to create new mountain edges, resketching a familiar landscape in my mind. Doves clatter inconsiderately through the leaves into the tree, just outside my wonky gate, where they have chicks to feed.
Once a month I am afforded the privilege of writing what I like about what I like (or sometimes don’t like) in our little gem of a local newspaper, Stanford River Talk.
What I had planned to write about this month was my most recent roadtrip, one which was meant to take Lucille and I to Montagu and beyond, to places I had never seen. Instead, I got as far as a retreat in McGregor and stayed. There was a reason for this, as there is for everything. I was taken on a journey of the spirit and soul. And left feeling replenished and uplifted. I had been taken to a place within me which I was required to look at.
But I can’t write anymore about this. Because my experience of two even more recent journeys have occupied my mind. And heart. And soul.
They were certainly not planned. And they happened within four days of each other.
On the Tuesday, I found myself driving to Bredasdorp, To stand at the very spot where a 17-year-old girl had had her body taken from her. In every terrible way imaginable. You will know the story of Anene. It is a story which South Africans must never forget. Because if we are to even begin to scratch the despicable surface of reversing the pandemic of rape and abuse of women in our country then Anene Booysen, and the countless and unnamed others like her, must never be forgotten. Bredasdorp was another trip I had to make. And it still haunts me.
Four days later I stood on a beautiful farm just outside our village and, with you and you and you and you, paid tribute to a little life lost. There is little comparison to be made with what I had experienced a few days before except, once again, I was taken on a painful and extraordinary journey.
The Girl had spent much of the day with friends at the tidal pool, dolphining in the cool waters, espying salmon-pink, grasping anemone and tiny silvery fish as they darted among the rocks.
When dusk closed in and it was time to return home, she walked along the promenade wall, her salty skin shivering slightly in the evening bite. She felt alive and on top of her world.
She was so happy that she felt she could fly.
But, although she had, just that afternoon, inhabited the water world of fish, she knew sadly that the vast air arena of the birds was beyond her reach…
But wait. Was it? As a loftily-kicked football fell back to earth, a dragonfly magically appeared before her and seemed to beckon her to reach higher… to fly.
But, as she dared to dream, the dragonfly wheeled and soared almost out of sight. Out of reach.
“Come down, Dragonfly,” called The Girl. “Come back. Please show me your way to be free!”
Lights flickered on along the promenade as the sun sank steeply below the horizon. She was out late and he mother would have begun to worry. And she was cold. But… what was this?
The Dragonfly had returned. Wings whispering on the evening breeze, he appeared to be encouraging her to follow him, to gather her belief and stretch her wings. And to fly.
So she did.
Pictures: Hatman Photography
The Girl flew. And, as her dragonfly friend dipped away across the waves, she soared. And soared.
She flew so high that it became possible in her mind to reach out and touch the Moon.
* This is my interpretation of an experience I had with part of a series of sculptures created by Marieke Prinsloo Rowe on the promenade at Sea Point, Cape Town. To enjoy the full story behind Marieke’s beautiful work, fly over to her Walking The Road website.
Thank you, Marieke. For inspiring children to dream.