The Life of Henry Fuckit
45 He misses his train, hitch-hikes to Springbok and meets Mike Berkin
True, he was in charge of this expedition. But, on account of the fact that he had no one to lead, he felt unencumbered by responsibility. Not having to set an example, he was free to act as well or as badly as he chose. It occurred to him that in twenty-five years he had never once felt obliged to set anyone an example and, accordingly, it was fortunate that this enterprise did not require of him a skill that he did not possess.
The first thing he did was to miss his train. His response to this blunder was to curse horribly and nonsensically and to vandalise a litter bin by delivering an almighty kick to its nethers, sending it on a trajectory terminating on the mainline track, where it lay helplessly awaiting its fate. His curses were blasphemous, sanguinary, perversely sexual, racist, deeply philosophical and entirely illogical. They enabled him to cope with his disappointment and quickly shrug off the temporary setback. Over a cup of coffee and two slices of anchovy toast in the empty cafeteria he devised an alternative plan of action. His road map showed the roundabout route the railway line took to Namibia. By road he should be able to intercept the train at Grunau or Keetmanshoop.
At the ticket office an Afrikaner male who did not appear to possess a forehead sold him a first class, Whites Only single to Piketberg. On learning of Henry's Namibian destination he offered some cautionary advice. "Pas op vir die Swapo terroriste. Hulle is fokken sleg. Heelwat slegter as ons eie Kaffers."
It was late afternoon when the bus reached Piketberg. This dorp was well into the countryside in the midst of the Swartland grainlands. He knew the area from his 'student days', when he and his Bedford Street mates had made weekend sorties into the Cedarberg. He booked into the hotel where they had often stopped for a drink in the bar prior to pressing on up the pass and into the mountains.
In the morning, after an early breakfast, he shouldered his backpack and headed for the national road. On a short leash Lady Provider, his shiny technologically advanced titanium suitcase, trundled at his heel like a well-trained dog.
He did not have to stand for long in the cold morning air. The clouds paled and lifted as the day roused itself and he smelt the cold clear air and felt the old enthusiasms stirring. A big truck with red cab, 'Jowells Transport' on the door, pulled up and he lifted his luggage and climbed into the warmth. It was going to Okiep, just north of Springbok. About five hundred kilometres. Should be there by lunchtime. The driver's English was as bad as Henry's Afrikaans and they had to shout above the noise of the engine. He tried to find out what was being transported but they misunderstood each other, grinned and nodded foolishly as if this were not so, as if Henry had received a satisfactory answer, and then gave up further conversation.
There was blue ahead and soon they were coming out from under the cloud and moving into sunlight. The plain rolled beneath them and all around lay the vivid green of wheat and oats and barley. The mountains approached and up the Piekenierskloof the truck wound slower and slower until they were over and into the valley of the Olifants River. This was the familiar land of the Cedarberg, jumbled blue mountains across the river and the citrus groves to the right. At the far end of the valley was Clanwilliam and then the scene changed, becoming harsher and flatter as they moved north in the brittle sunlight.
At Vanrhynsdorp the driver turned off the National road into the town and pulled up at a garage for diesel. Warm air in a quiet dorp, the usual church steeple down the road. Henry crossed the width of empty street to a bottle store and bought a litre bottle of Bols. The driver was checking tyre pressure. Henry bought two Cokes and gave him one and said "Ek gaan gou pee. Alright?" In the toilet he relieved himself and drank half the can and topped it up with brandy.
The day was hotting up as they moved onto the huge plain of slowly undulating rock and scrub. A black smudge of hills marked the far eastern horizon and to the north the heat lay in a low heap. After an hour the terrain began to change and became more rugged and then they were passing through broken granite hills with aloe and kokerboom silhouettes against the blue sky. Bitterfontein, Garies, Kamieskroon - the road dipped, turned, twisted, climbed through the harsh country, brown and grey and black.
"Dis nou Springbok." It was one o'clock and like an oven in the cab. He needed a cold beer and asked the driver to let him off at the turning. The truck drove away with its engine roaring angrily through the gears and he shouldered his pack and walked sweating into the dusty town. It lay in a bowl amongst brown hills that seemed too close and overbearing, as if they were herding the buildings into a flock before chasing them out of the valley.
In the bar it was cooler than outside and he had two fast Lions well chilled. Then he sat on a stool and looked about the room. Dartboard one end with black scoreboard, a Mainstay poster with palms and coral beach and invisible blue sea, a clock. An overhead fan that wasn't working. The barman and two locals were listening to a rep telling jokes. He had to be a rep - thirties, pot belly, hair grown forward to disguise baldness, suit pants too tight on his fat arse, lounge shirt open three buttons, sleeves flapping below elbows, big gold ring like a knuckle-duster, flash of silver incisor right of centre, Red Heart rum and Coke. One about a Kaffir, a Jew, a Greek, a Porro, a Pom and Van der Merwe. He concluded with the punch line and broke into a loud phlegmy laugh of appreciation. The audience of three looked at him in sullen silence. Henry sniggered. The two Van der Merwes muttered something to the barman and left.
"Yissis, but these ous have got no sense of humour! You ever known an Afrikaner can laugh at himself?" He was addressing Henry as he picked up his drink, cigarettes and lighter and moved down the counter. "You look as if you're heading somewhere. North? Windhoek? Mike Birkin's the name." He ordered another rum and a beer for Henry and after ten minutes had painted the picture of his life, imparting all manner of personal information both trivial and sordid. His line was toiletries, his route was Cape Town to Windhoek with detours, he had been on it for three years and had a fiancée in eight of the twenty three towns he serviced. From his pocket he drew a small black plastic case, snapped it open and displayed an engagement ring with flashy stone. "A low investment with a high return. Talk of love, promise of marriage, and hey presto! Free food, booze and a fuck. So you're going north? Well, I can give you a lift to Keetmanshoop, my next stop. Got a lekker piece of poes there!"
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