2015 SA Writers College Short Story Competition Winner


'An Anniversary, Shaded' - by Duncan Aird

(With sincere apologies to Herman Charles Bosman)

“Nee wat,” said Oom Schalk Lourens, rocking forward in his chair. “I think that we will rather leave that motion picture alone, or at least wait for the DVD to come out.”

He took a deep swig of peach brandy, surveyed the dusty farmland and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“It’s not because I have a problem with matters of the flesh, you must understand,” he continued. “In that respect I am just as much a man as any boer this side of the Dwarsberge. It’s just that I’m more of a straight in-and-out type of man when it comes to things like that.

“Francina and I have a special code for when we want to engage in bonding of a carnal nature.  I will reach across the bed and place my hand on her bosom. ‘Ouvrou, are you lus?’ I’ll ask. Sometimes when I do this she will let out a moan of such intense ecstasy, even taking the name of God and making use of vulgar terminology. From this I will conclude that my work is already done. I will attribute my lack of memory of the events that led to her state of euphoria to the poor quality of the peach brandy at that time of the year. Then I will retire to my side of the bed.

“On other nights she will say, ‘If we really must, Schalk, but remember I have to get up early tomorrow to make koeksusters for the church bazaar. Three minutes later Francina will fetch us each a glass of water, and a minute after that we will both be snoring. Or at least I will.

“From what I gather, this film has very little normal sex like that in it. Although, that didn’t stop my neighbour, Gideon Erasmus, from taking his wife Elsabe to see it at the bioscope in Rustenburg on their wedding anniversary. On the day that he bought the tickets he told me that he only did so because the title had led him to believe that it was a fliek about hair-dressing in an ouetehuis.”

Oom Schalk coughed and cleared his throat loudly, then spat into the bushes next to the porch. He took a sip of coffee from the tin mug on his right and chased it down with another swig of peach brandy from the mug on the left.

“In the years before Gideon and Elsabe’s children grew up, they used to ask me to look after the house when they went out on their anniversary night. Every year, I remember, it would take me slightly longer to find where Gideon kept his brandy. In the latter years it was sometimes so obscure, you would swear he was trying to hide it from somebody. Once I found it in a cabinet filled with wedding photographs. In all the photographs Elsabe would smile so sweetly at the camera, just like a model on the cover of Rooi Rose magazine. Gideon would look nowhere else than at Elsabe.

“But I digress. I hear from Dominee Nel, who was standing outside the bioscope, that by the time the Erasmuses came out of that movie show it wasn’t just their hairs that had turned a few shades greyer. Dominee Nel maintains that he was there to watch the evening show of the Sponge-Bob-Square-Pant movie.”

Oom Schalk coughed and spat again.

“He tells me that even Gideon’s face was grey when he walked out of there.

“The funny thing, you know, is that Gideon and Elsabe Erasmus did not go straight home after that movie show.

“There is a strange toy shop at the top end of Boom Street in Rustenburg, near the bioscope. It is the kind of toy shop that children are not allowed to enter, and that no right-thinking adult man or woman should enter either. It is run by a man called Surprise Molefe, who also happens to be a sangoma. I can only think that the effects of seeing this shocking motion picture had so addled Gideon Erasmus’ brain that his sense of judgement was temporarily disabled. I have even heard it told from other witnesses, who were far outside that shop of course, that Elsabe Erasmus walked in ahead of Gideon, and that the way they walked gave the distinct impression that she was pulling him by the hand.”

Oom Schalk paused for a while, then continued.

“I am not suggesting that Gideon and Elsabe Erasmus were the only two customers in the shop that night. And neither am I suggesting that Mr Surprise Molefe  didn’t maybe already have a whole lot of money saved up. But I did hear that the bag of toys that the Erasmuses carried out of there was big enough that both of them needed to carry it. And also I heard from Dominee Nel, whose wife works in the jewellery shop on the other side of Boom Street, that Mr Molefe was in the jewellery shop the next day and that he bought a very expensive gold watch. Dominee Nel’s wife said that he had winked and asked her not to mention this to anybody, because the watch was for a ‘secret lover’.

“Well, it was around ten ‘o clock on the very evening of the Erasmus’ wedding anniversary, when the new snotkop constable from the district came tearing up this dirt road. He is a very eager young man, that constable, and he had his blue light flashing and his siren on. This notwithstanding the fact that there is not a single other car on this road, even during the day. And the state of the road is such that one can’t drive at more than twenty kilometres an hour anyway. As a result I heard him coming right from where one turns off the government road. So I went outside to ask him what was happening. He said that Elsabe Erasmus had telephoned and that they had need of a policeman to unlock a set of handcuffs. The young constable assumed that they must have apprehended an intruder on the farm, and that was why he had put on his light and siren.

“I convinced him that if they needed keys to unlock the handcuffs, then the suspect must already have been in custody. Hence, there was no need to rush, and he should stop for a little while and try some of the peach brandy I had distilled the previous week.

“He agreed with me and so we sat together in the voorkamer and discussed the merits of my latest distillation. That constable, as young as he may be, is a man who likes to consider things very carefully before passing judgement. It is also a peculiar tendency of peach brandy distilled in this particular part of the district, that one can never be quite certain about its quality until one has tasted a great many cups of it. Hence, it was well after midnight before we started to wonder why it had been Elsabe who had telephoned, instead of Gideon Erasmus.

“We reasoned that it must have been because Gideon was guarding the suspect. As such, he was probably getting tired and it would be inconsiderate of the constable to leave him any longer. So we drank a final loopdop and he set off again in the direction of Gideon Erasmus’ farm, with his blue light flashing and his siren blaring into the night.

“It was some time before I heard the sound of the police van descending the dirt road past my farm again. I didn’t even have to go out and wave to the constable to stop; he stopped immediately as he reached my gate. He walked straight into my voorkamer and poured himself half a cup of my peach brandy.

“When I asked him what had happened he started blushing like a girl. He said that he had seen a side of Gideon Erasmus that he did not want to see ever again. From the way he said it I could tell that he was not speaking figuratively.

“He said that, to avoid the risk of being called out for another such incident, he had confiscated a pair of pink fluffy handcuffs. He had them hanging from the belt of his police uniform. I did not have the heart to point out to him that his real police handcuffs were now missing.

“In the weeks that followed I did not see very much of my neighbour Gideon Erasmus. On the few occasions that I did catch sight of him he seemed to look more haggard every time. It was as if he didn’t see me, the way he stared absently into the middle distance.

“Then, one month to the day since the anniversary, I again heard the sound of a siren screaming its way up this farm road. The flashing lights that splashed their colour across the midnight veld were not blue on this occasion, but red. Out of respect I made no attempt to attract the attention of the ambulance driver.

“In my experience, when an ambulance makes its way somewhere in a huge rush, but then does not leave that place soon afterwards and rush off somewhere else, towards a hospital or such-like, it is always a bad sign. The longer the ambulance lingers at the site of its initial destination, the worse the chances are that one will be hearing any encouraging kind of news.
“And when the next sirens that one hears do not belong to the ambulance, but to a fleet of police cars making their way in the same direction that the ambulance followed, you can bet your veldskoene that there will be only bad news to follow.

“Such was the case in the early hours of the morning that followed that night. The sky in the direction of Rustenburg was turning pale already when van after van came bouncing up this road. Every single one of them announcing to the dawn the urgency of their business.

“As I was later to learn, the large number of vans that arrived had nothing to do with any kind of challenge that required lots of manpower. It was rather because every single one of our district officers wanted to see for himself the bizarre position that Gideon Erasmus had found himself in at the time of his passing. Evidently, the ambulance driver had not been as discreet as our young constable had been a month before.

“The morning sun was shining into my voorkamer when the whole procession made its way back down again. Even a mortuary van was in tow and I could see the driver shaking his head as he went.

“It was another whole day later in the mid-afternoon when once again I heard the sound of a siren approaching. It was the young constable. He tore past my gate without as much as a wave.

“On his way back down he drove very slowly, out of consideration for the comfort of Elsabe Erasmus, who was riding in the cage at the back. He stopped very briefly, to inform me of the findings from the autopsy.

“Through the grid of the cage I could see Elsabe Erasmus’ tender wrists shackled to the bar above the window with a pair of pink fluffy handcuffs. Protruding from beneath the pink fluff on her left wrist I could see what looked like a very shiny new gold watch.”

“Although he still earns his bread and butter in the corporate IT world, Duncan Aird yearned to write fiction from a young age. He now does so sporadically, squeezing this passion in between his other loves, namely his family, running, cycling, surfing and painting. He first spotted an advertisement for the SAWC short-story competition in 2007/8. He  entered and achieved sufficient recognition to spur him on to put more of the stories he’d been nursing in his head to paper. Some were keepers, some were not! After that, Duncan entered the SAWC competition religiously every year. With some varied levels of success at first, he started to edge closer to the top 5 in the latter years, and was delighted to finally take top honours in 2015".


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