The bloody dog was barking again. Was she just bored, or was someone really going by in the road? I got up from my desk (for the third time that morning) and went to the open door, calling out, Alright, good dog! You tell them to clear off. Good dog!
She was down at the gate, on the other side of which was a white man of about 30. What does this character want? Better not be a Jehovah’s Witness. No, didn’t look like a Jehovah’s Witness. T-shirt, rugby shorts and bare feet. A boertjie.
Yes, he addressed me in Afrikaans, calling me Uncle, which further irritated me. I was in a shop in Goons Bay a while back, when an 18 year-old assistant referred to a 25 year-old customer as ‘Oom.” The customer scowled and said, ‘Jou moer! Ek is nie jou fokken oom nie!’ This is what I felt like saying to this boetie but didn’t, because I was probably older than his father, and he was only trying to be respectful, I suppose.
He asked me where he should offload the wood. His bakkie was standing in the road. Wood? Wood? Yes, braai wood. For number 68. This guy was wasting my time! And insulting me. Did I look like a geriatric? Or some moneyed arsehole too lazy to cut his own firewood? Man, for thirty years I haven’t bought a stick of firewood. Why should I waste money on firewood when I’ve got a bush saw and an axe? And I’m surrounded by a sea of rooikranz waiting to be cut down? I’ve always cut my own wood, and I go through a lot of wood. Three fires a week, and when we had the Dover stove … It’s one of the advantages of living at the back of beyond.
He went to his bakkie for his boekie and came back. A thousand pieces for Mr Martin, number 68. What? Who ordered this? I’m not paying for wood that I never ordered.
Klaar betaal, he said .He read out the phone number.
My own boy! I had been wondering about him, the way he hadn’t cut any wood for me this time. Four weeks of self-indulgence, being waited on by his ageing parents, and now he was back in Joburg this salving of conscience.
Japie – I don’t remember if his name was Japie or Hennie, but because he looked like a plaasjapie I’ll call him Japie – anyway, Japie reversed his bakkie up against the fence. Now this bakkie had a canopy, and because the windows were covered in dust from the dirt road it was hard to see inside,. When the canopy flap opened, seemingly of its own accord, and pieces of wood started flying out, I realised with some surprise that a person was in there with the load.
Japie reached into the cab and took out a little kid of about three. She had blond hair and wore a yellow track suit. She said something about ‘piepie’ and her father took her onto the grass verge, pulled down her pants and held her while she relieved herself. Then we stood in the shade of a manatoka and watched the pieces of wood flying and the heap growing.
Japie cracked a joke about me calling up my son and saying thanks for the wood, but where’s the meat? Then the wood stopped coming and the canopy flap closed. Japie and the kid got into the cab and headed off back to the plaas, or wherever it was they came from.
I stood there looking at this huge pile of braai wood that had just been dumped on me, and thought that there was something surreal about what had happened. It had to do with the anonymous figure crouched in the back. There had been absolutely no communication with this shadow, as if it had no identity and no feelings. If I had ordered a bakkie load of wood 30 years ago, this is how it would have been. Bak then black people weren’t really human. But now, in 2013? Well, obviously nothing had changed, and they were still being stripped of their dignity and treated like objects. I felt a stab of guilt but it soon passed when it occurred to me that I now had to get all this wood up to the house. That would be my penance.