The night Arno Carstens had my back

2014-03-23 06:00

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There was nothing foxy about the night I lost my innocence.

I opened my mouth to scream, afraid that no sound would emerge. But it did, thankfully.

I was 20 years old and (embarrassingly) a disciple of James Redfield’s The Celestine Prophecy at the time, thus naively believing in some sort of a congenial existential contract, something along the lines of “be nice and the universe will have your back”.

This abruptly changed just after midnight on the first day of spring in 2001.

I was striding alone past McDonalds in Stellenbosch when increasingly urgent footsteps shattered my starry reprieve.

A man with an extended knife suddenly appeared behind my back.

He grabbed my arm and this is when I started to scream.

I struggled as he stabbed at my arms and my back. I explained I had no money, which was the truth.

Right then, I wasn’t aware that he had “28” tattooed on his shoulder, and that my fiscal disposition was of no real consequence.

Time stood still as I screamed some more, grabbing hold of the blade.

It shredded my hand but temporarily stopped the onslaught of stabs, a worthy compromise.

He started beating my left arm in an attempt to unsettle my grip. I retaliated, holding on for dear life.

(The next day X-rays would show my humerus smashed to pieces. Surgeons inserted a metal plate, advising I won’t be able to straighten the arm ever again. They were wrong).

Somewhere on the other side of my fight-or-flight-induced state of immersion, voices and footsteps were growing closer.

When I finally let go of the blade, falling backward, my assailant lingered for a few terrifying seconds before disappearing into the dark blur past my periphery.

My two heroes arrived on the scene breathless and with cricket bats held aloft.

They were young male students who lived in a nearby flat.

Hykie Berg would end up becoming a well-known actor with a starring role in Egoli.

Louis Loock, a member of the boy band Romanz, performed at the wedding of Charlene Wittstock and Prince Albert of Monaco in 2011.

They caught my assailant, who was jailed until some legal loophole secured his release the next year.

But this story isn’t about falling victim to the gang rituals of a socioeconomically deprived person. I would like to stress the joys of being saved.

And how dapper my saviours had been (cue Mariah Carey: “And then a hero comes along ...”).

Some time later, I bumped into them at De Akker, a pub in Stellenbosch. I felt shy and humbled. Gripped by a sense of deep appreciation, I bought them a beer each.

One of them (I don’t remember which one) said he could not forget my screams. He used descriptive adjectives similar to those dispelled by Michelle Burger on the witness stand on the first day of the Oscar Pistorius murder trial three weeks ago.

Under harsh cross-examination, Michelle described Reeva Steenkamp’s final screams as urgent, bloodcurdling, piercing, loud, over and over again. Seated at the North Gauteng High Court, memories of my own anguish and feelings of helplessness came flooding back.

Today, I have scars to show. Reeva wasn’t so lucky. Neither was Anene Booysen and so many others.

I think we need more heroes. Can we all please keep an ear to the ground for other people’s anguish and/or screams?

My trusty little rucksack was cut to pieces in the attack that spring night.

But the blade never sliced my spine as it was stopped by a small bundle of magazines, notably an SL magazine with animal-print clad Arno Carstens on the front cover.

So while the universe didn’t have my back that night, Louis Loock, Hykie Berg and Arno Carstens certainly did. Which is pretty cool, I think.

And for this I thank my lucky stars.

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