Monday, April 28, 2014

Hello Peter ... or why I stay in touch with a murderer

Back in the Dark Ages Mrs Kaartman and I faced a dilemma ... emigrate to escape the worst excesses of the National Party government and that finger-wagging fascist, PW Botha – or stay behind and do something, anything, to ease our white consciences and the lot of the dark skinned fellow citizens of our village, Plumfoot.
We chose the latter course and amongst other things helped to set up activities for kids, a reading room stocked with second hand books, clothing sales, school feeding, etc etc. It wasn’t much but we’re proud to think that we had a hand in some of the local success stories – kids who became senior building inspectors, curators of botanical gardens, senior scientists and horticulturalists. There’s an artist and a successful hiphop band in there too.
And a great number who just became ordinary local guys and girls, who married and had half as many kids as their parents had.
And a sprinkling who died of AIDS-related causes.
And some who became abalone poachers, drug runners and gangsters.
And murderers.
Randall – not his real name – appeared on our radar at about the age of seven. He was a mildly FAS child – foetal alcohol syndrome, to those who don’t know, a syndrome caused by excessive drinking during pregnancy that results in some arrested development, especially mental.
Randall’s small size and general shortage of grey matter were not his fault.
Randall had an older brother who had been spared the ravages of his mother’s frequent visits to the papsak store, a complex kid nonetheless who sheltered his klein boetie as much as he could from the vicissitudes of life.
Finally, Randall had a father who was shot dead by a gangster from Cape Town, who mistook Randall’s father for his real target. Dialled the wrong Number, so to speak.
Randall’s father’s death wasn’t Randall’s fault, either.
Things were not good at home and eventually Randall and his brother ran away. There weren’t many places to run to in Plumfoot, population 2013, so they ended up at Chez Kaartman on a dark and stormy night.
Waifs, we called them, and we must have dealt with about thirty over the years. We took Randall and Grootboet in, and sent a message to their mother. Hoping she was sober, of course. We also called the social worker, a useless piece of work who was only in it for the salary and the free GG car – I’ll call him Mr Blank, an apt shortening of his real name. They arrived more or less together at Chez K. Mr Blank tried to persuade R and G to go home, while Mama R n G screeched at them. Finally, she klapped Randall over the head with a broomstick, the clincher for the wavering Mr Blank. He took the brothers off to a Children’s Home in the Big City.
Randall’s unhappy home and placement in a Children’s Home were not his fault, either.
R n G did their statutory time in the Home, and then returned to Plumfoot to the tender care of Mama. They were a bit older now, even if Randall was none the wiser, and they’d learned a bit of street fighting by then, so they coped a bit better than they had before. Grootboet eventually got himself a steady job, married and had a coupla kids.
Not so Randall. Ill equipped to face life without the guidance of Grootboet, who now had other things on his mind, he drifted into petty crime. He wasn’t any more skilful at that than anything else and spent a lot of time in jail, and eventually he murdered someone.
‘Hello Peter,’ said the familiar voice on the phone. 
‘Ag Peter, man, ek is in die groot moeilikheid – I’m in trouble, big trouble. I got 20 years.’
I’ve never learned the circumstances of the case – I’ve not wanted to know. It was the next line that got me.
‘When I come out, will you give me a job?’
I was stunned – then laughed. ‘Of course,’ I said. “You can push me around in my wheelchair, I’ll be so old!’
There was silence, then he laughed, too. 
He wanted stamps, so he could write to his mother – and a few bucks for himself. He promised to try to do something good in prison – he’s in ‘maksimum’, he tells me.
What could I say? He has no past. He has no present. He has a tiny ray of future light, that won’t really shine until he’s 55 years old. He has few friends and absolutely no admirers. Very little is his fault, except for one single importunate act, probably committed when he’d dulled his damaged brain with drink or drugs.
But he’s a human being whom I remember as a tiny child. I owe him nothing but a memory and, when I hear that hesitant, croaky voice, ‘Hello, Peter’, my reply.

Kaartman, Freedom Day, 2014

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