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Legacy


Legacy
By Muthi Nhlema




 SOUTH AFRICA, 18th JULY 2014
I

As Bern lay on his back on the asphalt road next to his old Bakkie that Friday afternoon, the blur in his eyes began to clear as the spinning world around him settled into the recognizable. Something in his periphery caught his attention. It was the Vierkleur – the old Boer republic flag welded to the back of his Bakkie – flapping fluidly to the massage of some invisible wind.

Hissssss!

There was an unrelenting hissing sound coming from the underbelly of his pick-up. A white shopping bag came quickly into his focus. The inside of the shopping bag was facing him and there were boerewors and a six-pack of Castle beer inside – the beer cans were split open discharging the brownish liquid in a gush of white foam.
Hissssss! The sound was coming from the beer cans.    

He then remembered what happened.

The shop. Overpriced boerewors. Beer. Argument with the kaffir till attendant. Car keys. Bakkie.

Then the world disappeared into a flash of white as he collapsed to the asphalt. He was hit with something – something hard.

There was a familiar, but unpleasant, taste in his mouth. Bern, a white Afrikaner farmer in his 60s, had lived long and hard enough to know what that taste was.

Blood.

Bern touched his forehead and felt the viscous texture of flesh. He was bleeding from a crack in his skull. A line of blood had drawn itself down the bridge of his nose and into his mouth.

His blood. He spat out a sputum of blood.

Bern was a violent man who had lived a violent life. As his blackish tongue slithered along his wrinkled lips, he knew this day was a long-time coming and this had made him weary. He had grown tired of jolting out of bed at the most minute sounds of the night – always wondering – always waiting.  His dreams were filled with the hateful eyes of his black farm workers staring him down, laughing at his paranoia and baying for blood. He couldn’t remember when he last truly slept – his nights were forever consumed with a seemingly innocuous question:   

Is that day today? 

He knew he hadn’t earned a peaceful death – his would be violent and painful. But he found solace in the thought that whatever he had done in his life, the kaffir lives he had destroyed, was for a Christian cause – necessary to fulfil the will of a white God and the promise of his once great volkstaat.

The afternoon sun went dark abruptly like a solar eclipse. A dark figure – a man – stood before him, brandishing a blood-stained knobkerrie at his side, balaclava over his face and a yellow ANC t-shirt with a cracked print of Madiba.

Bern steadily gazed into the masked face of the man who had struck him – the masked coward who would surely kill him. Bern wanted him to see the fearlessness in his eyes – he wanted his calm defiance to be last thing this bastard remembered.

Strangely, the man did nothing. The man appeared calm and unmoved by Bern’s show of defiance. Bern was uneasy with this.

Without warning, the man unmasked himself and threw away his balaclava.

It’s just a boy, Bern thought as he briefly guffawed for no reason. Bern dragged his body towards his Bakkie until he was leaning up against it, whilst still keeping his sights on the boy.

It was only the boy’s eyes that moved as Bern dragged himself up against the pick-up. The boy’s eyes were dead – lifeless. There was no emotion or feeling in those eyes – only madness.     

Bern’s face became tense and more wrinkled – the white line of his lips shrank to a small orifice of blood and tissue.

Today is that day, he thought as the boy raised the knobkerrie.

Bern opened his mouth and said the last words he would ever say in his life.
_____________________
II

Lindani watched as the Boer got out of the old Bakkie and into one of the stores that lined the promenade across the street from him. From behind the sycamore tree, Lindani watched and waited – waited as he had done for most of his life.  

The Boer looked different from what he remembered. The years had been thankfully unkind to him. The Boer had lost a substantial amount of weight and had wrinkled into ugliness.

All white people get ugly in old age, Lindani smirked.

But Lindani recognized him. The Boer still religiously wore long white socks, brown safari boots, and khaki shorts that were a signature of Afrikaner farmers. He still drove around with the old Boer flag with the unrepentant words “100% BOER!” printed in bold red.

It was Bern Van Tonder in the flesh.

As Lindani watched the Boer, he swore he could hear the distant voices of his ancestors, whose blood had tainted the Van Tonder’s farm fields a bright shade of red, calling out to him – like banshees in the night. Among the voices, he could hear the cry of his long-dead father. His cry was clear and resolute.

Impindiselo! Vengeance!

Lindani hid behind the tree, closed his eyes and took a deep breath. His mind slowly wondered off to a past he thought he had successfully drowned out in a peri-urban haze of kwaito, drugs, alcohol and skanks. But he knew he would never forget – he remembered the last time he saw the Boer as vividly as he was seeing him now.

It had been a cold January night of winter when the door to their ramshackle tin-hut, on the vast farm lands of the Van Tonder estate, burst open. Lindani, then a naïve 3 or 4 year old boy, was sleeping between his mother and father under a single blanket that barely kept them warm against the cruel chill of winter.

Master Van Tonder had barged in, clearly inebriated from the night excursions, babbling something in Afrikaans. Lindani’s father, in one swift motion, reached under the pillow, grabbed a knobkerrie and leapt to his feet to face the intruder. Lindani, at this time, had been fortified by his mother’s arms and dragged into the far corner of the one-room tin hut, under a table. She covered Lindani’s eyes as if protecting whatever innocence remained in them from the corruption of the white man’s world.

But Lindani heard everything.

He heard the Boer accusing his father of stealing something from the main house while he had been out carousing. He heard the scuffle as they battled each other in the smallness of the tin hut. He heard his father begging like a dog as he was dragged outside the tin hut – the place that was his father’s castle.

Lindani’s mother cautiously got up, leaving Lindani behind under the table.

“Don’t move! Stay here! No matter what you hear, don’t come outside! You hear?!” she said hysterically as she rushed out of the tin hut, leaving Lindani alone in the dark. Lindani could hear his mother’s cries as she begged for his father’s life amidst the scuffles and accusations.

Lindani crawled slowly, out from under the table, towards the open door. The door was hanging on a single hinge of the frame; Lindani hid behind the hanging door and watched.

His mother was on her knees with her arms wrapped around her head as she wailed uncontrollably.

“Hey Solomon! Tell your kaffir bitch to shut it, men!” shouted Van Tonder.

That was the first time Lindani heard his father’s first name.

His father, Solomon, was on his knees in the dewed grass, just a few feet away from his mother, with his hands in the air. He was shaking like a leaf in a violent wind. Van Tonder, with the knobkerrie in his hand, stood towering over Solomon.

“Be calm, Lindani’s mother! Be calm! It be alright!” Solomon said, visibly failing to hide his own disbelief in those words.

She complied and became reluctantly silent. It was dark, but the blood stains on Solomon’s cloths were visible in the faint moon light – as was Solomon’s fear.  

“Where zit, kaffir?” Van Tonder asked.

 “Wwwwwwhat is where, Sah?” Solomon stammered with desperation in his voice – the kind of desperation a man has when he knows he is standing on the precipice of death.   

“Don’t give me that - hey! Where zit?”

“I not know, Sah! Tell me what I stolen and I apologize it now now, Sah!”

The swing of the knobkerrie was sharp and sudden as Van Tonder bashed it against Solomon’s skull. A drizzle of blood erupted from Solomon’s mouth as his head pivoted unnaturally to the side before his neck snapped.

His lifeless body fell to the ground like a bag of bones. Lindani’s mother threw herself onto the grass and wailed uncontrollably into the earth. Her tears coalesced with the night’s dew – her voice muffled by the soil. Solomon was dead.    

Van Tonder staggered over towards the body until he stood directly above Solomon’s torso, with Solomon between his feet - like a triumphant hunter standing over his animal conquest.

Without warning, Van Tonder hoisted the knobkerrie and slammed it against Solomon’s skull repeatedly. He continued to do this until Solomon’s face was nothing but a pulp of blood and bones, as Bern sang something in Afrikaans. 

Lindani watched in wide-eyed amazement as with each callous strike, his father vanished from the world of the living – powerless to save himself. Lindani watched as the white man asserted his power over his father – as if making an example of him.

It was then that Lindani saw other farm workers out of their tin huts – all watching what had just unfolded. All they could do was watch – overwhelmed by the manifestation of white power.

I own you! I have the power to give and take your life without your permission, kaffir!

Lindani then understood the power in that word the powerlessness that came with being born in this coat of brown and black. He was a kaffir – he was powerless – his life wasn’t his own.

Van Tonder, spent from his fervor of violence, threw away the knobkerrie and momentarily stood, with his arms akimbo, above the remains of Solomon – catching his breath. Van Tonder stared into the night sky as if the darkness was calling out to the darkness within him. He looked down at the mass of blood that used to be a face, as his hands fumbled with the buttons of his khaki shorts. He dug into his shorts, into his groin and pulled out his member.  

I own you! I have the power to give and take your life without your permission, kaffir!

Van Tonder, with a howl of relief, pissed on Solomon’s remains. His mother’s whimpering could be heard well into the night.

Lindani crawled back into the coldness of the tin hut, back under the table and was never the same again. The naïve little boy that he was, died that night, along with his father. 

The following day, the rare stamp collection, that had cost Solomon his life, was found thrown together with Master Van Tonder’s dirty laundry. 

Every day after that night was a blur for Lindani. His life became a fragmented series of unmemorable encounters. He however did remember the day he left home, a young angry teenager, to scavenge in the squalor of Pretoria and Johannesburg. He remembered the warmth of the Tsotsi who nurtured him into the world beneath. He remembered the faces of all his victims as they begged for their lives. As he slit their throats, he imagined Van Tonder’s neck splitting open. As he necklaced the kwere-kwere, he imagined it was Van Tonder he was setting alight.

I own you! I have the power to give and take your life without your permission!

They all cried for mercy and Lindani never gave it. They were all Van Tonder to him. They all needed to feel his pain – his menace – his madness.

And Van Tonder was here now – just across the street from him. After scrounging for the last five months, Lindani had found him. 

Impindiselo!   

Lindani opened his eyes as he came out of his reverie, disturbed by distant shouting. He leaned his head out from behind the tree looking towards the Bakkie. Bern was coming out of the grocery, hollering racial expletives to the till attendant inside, as he rummaged through his pockets. He was standing at the driver seat door with his back to the street.

This is my chance!

Lindani put on a black balaclava as he walked out from behind the tree and crossed the street. He pulled a knobkerrie from under his yellow ANC t-shirt and let it dangle at his side.

Bern, still rummaging in his pockets, didn’t see the knobkerrie as it descended on his skull.
_____________________
III

Lindani loomed over Bern – watching him come round in a pool of beer and blood.

I own you!

This was an exhilaration he had never felt before.      

I have the power to give and take your life!

His emotions were on a high he had never reached with any narcotic or skank – an amalgam of pleasure and carnage. A deep signification of schadenfreude

Kaffir!

He was no longer powerless. He was in control. He was Van Tonder. Though what he was feeling was not sexual, he got hard.

I am Van Tonder!

Lindani reached for his balaclava, yanked if off his head and let it fall to his side. Van Tonder chuckled at this, but Lindani was unfazed by this reaction. He stared down at Van Tonder as he crawled like a worm towards the Bakkie until he leaned up against it.   

You are the kaffir now!

Van Tonder’s face wrinkled into a grimace as he spoke his last words: 

“Fok jou, kaffir!

Lindani hoisted the knobkerrie and battered it against Bern’s skull repeatedly – spattering blood and flesh onto the asphalt road and his yellow t-shirt. He continued to do this until Bern’s face was nothing but a pulp of blood and bones. He could hear Bern’s voice in his head – Bern was singing something, almost mockingly, in Afrikaans. It was the song Lindani heard as a child when Solomon was bludgeoned to death.  The words were distinct now.

Monkey climbs up the hill, So nimbly and so quickly, So the farmers can be killed, Hurray for the jolly monkey!

Lindani stopped clubbing at the mass of bloody flesh that used to be Bern’s face. He unbuckled his jeans and allowed them to slide just below his buttocks, exposing his erect member. He released a gush of pungent piss onto the shell of the once proud Boer farmer, Bern Van Tonder.

Blood, piss, beer and gore.

The cacophony of voices in Lindani’s head subsided abruptly as a singular voice remained in the void. Forgotten, yet familiar. His own voice.

I am sorry Madiba. But I had to.

The t-shirt print of Madiba’s face, lightly sprinkled with blood, only crinkled into a scowl.


*Muthi Nhlema is a writer of creative non-fiction and recently decided to dabble in fiction. His first short story, Journey of Restoration, is considered by Shadreck Chikoti as “one of the best short stories by a Malawian”. “Legacy” is his second story and an excerpt of an unpublished novella, “Ta-O’reva”.









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