THE TEXT

The Life of Henry Fuckit
(1950 - 2015)

 

38   Learning the ropes

"Alright, you can call Plaatjies."

Henry had been awaiting this moment for the past hour, eager to see how he would cope with his new job. Was he really up to it? Trying to appear casual and unhurried he got to his feet and strolled to the door, whistling a little tune as he went. Outside in the store he cleared his throat and called in a clear, polite tone, "Plaatjies! Plaatjies, won't you come to the office please?" Well, that was easy enough. Nothing to it. Pleased with himself he returned to his desk and glanced at Alf Whitehead. The Senior Storeman was staring at him contemptuously. After ten minutes Henry spoke again, his eyebrows arched to show mild surprise.

"Doesn't look as if he heard me. Maybe he was in the toilet. Shall I call again?"

Whitehead snorted, threw back his chair and stomped out of the office.

"PLAATJIES! PLAATJIES!" This was a scream, not a shout. "PLAATJIES, kom hierso! Nou! DADELIK! Roer jou GAT!" Within the space of a few seconds the running feet could be heard skidding on the painted cement floor as they negotiated turns in the aisles. Suddenly a Coloured man was standing in the doorway, smiling broadly.

"Môre, môre, môre Menere." About thirty-five, he had the small stature, yellow colouring, high Mongoloid cheekbones and tight peppercorn hair of a Hottentot or Bushman. His forehead was remarkably low and narrow, yet his dark eyes glittered with arrogant intelligence.

"Plaatjies, Baas Bergson says he wants to make your life easier. He knows your children must not go hungry. We will have more accidents with the canned food. You understand? These new crates are rubbish - rotten wood, rusty nails. Alright?" Plaatjies waited, saying nothing. "Here are the R.001's. From now on Baas Bergson wants you to arrange them in order and write them up."

Plaatjies took the register, opened it, flicked through the half dozen forms.

"No problem, Meneer. I get one of the darkies to do this. He got standard two." Henry was amazed at how easily things were arranged. How efficient it was!

Once he had been shown the way he mastered his work quickly. Over the weeks he even developed it into a rewarding entertainment, an art form. "Plaatjies. Plaatjies. Kom hierso. Donner." These were the words he chose and he never varied them. The challenge lay in injecting as much feeling as possible into these five words. When Whitehead had given him the instruction he would knit his brows and glower about the office belligerently. Abruptly he would stand up and kick his desk before going to his reflection in the glass. A few experimental expletives: "Donnerse poes! Ek gaan jou vrekmaak, fokken donder!" It was necessary to half fill his mouth with saliva and roll it towards the back of his tongue. So that the r rumbled, the k coughed and the s's hissed and spluttered. Then he took the few paces with slow, heavy tread, shoulders drooping under the weight of dangling arms, loose hands twitching, all the while thinking of Kloppers, the hominid in charge of the Receiving Bay. "PLAATJIESH! PLAATJIESH! KOMHIERSHO! DONNERR!" He soon learnt to make his voice thunder and reverberate with awesome power, and after six months of this he was to feel convinced that neither Gielgud nor Olivier could have matched his performance if they had chosen to try. At the conclusion of this horrible shouting he spat into the red fire bucket, half filled with sand, stompies and spent matches, and then retired to his desk. His body began to shake and he snorted and yelped with mirth, tears rolling down his cheeks. He never failed to find his performance anything less than hilarious, and even Whitehead, who was disapproving at first, began to enjoy the show and came to look forward to its daily enactment. As for Plaatjies, he was initially resentful but gradually began to recognise and appreciate the comedy. He even congratulated Henry on some of his finer performances.

By the end of his first week he felt himself to be settling in nicely. Whitehead was reluctant to let him roam the Dockyard on his own, but he had taken him on several guided tours and introduced him to numerous strange and interesting characters. In Central Store itself he had free range and he already had a fairly accurate picture of how it was run. He was at liberty to read his library books, write in his diary, look out of the window - with or without aid of the telescope - or pace the long aisles for exercise and inspiration. But he still hadn't met Harry Bergson.

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