By Johannes Adriaan Snyman
If a young gentleman found himself to be a passenger in the front seat of a dark green government truck, slowly driving from Pretoria in a westward direction, he would have come to a small town by the name of Duikersdrift. The young gentleman would notice the distinctive green government lorry coming to a halt in front of what seems to be the only shop in the town, also serving as the post office on a Tuesday morning. The driver of the lorry would then tell the young gentleman that he indeed arrived at his destination, and would, before delivering the few parcels of mail, greet the farmers on the veranda of the shop, making himself comfortable with a tin cup filled with the strongest of freshly brewed coffees.
The young gentleman on the other hand, would upon his departing from the vehicle, notice that the town of Duikersdrift has the sum total of one shop, in front of which he finds himself standing, a small church, a building which seems to be serving as some sort of magistrates office, and a couple of houses rather far apart from each other. He would, after his observation of his immediate surroundings, embrace the overwhelming characteristics of the town, such as the broad gravel road serving as the only street, the intense and dry heat reflecting on the corrugated iron roofs, and the quietness of the wide open spaces. The quietness of the surrounding being noteworthy, after the hours of exposure to the uncomfortable roaring sound of the government lorry’s loud diesel engine.
It was then in a town such as this, that this young gentleman, found himself as the newly appointed Reverent for the Dutch Reformed Church.
The residents of Duikersdrift, like most farming communities in South Africa, presented themselves in the most decent manner, with a hospitality that was often absent in the larger cities. As was custom, milk tarts and cookies made their way to the residence of the newly appointed reverent, as a token of reverence and respect for a man of such a profession, equaled in hierarchy only by the doctor. As was custom, he was expected to go from house to house, introducing himself, whist through the process acquiring peace of mind that his first Sunday on the pulpit, will not be greeted with empty pews.
It was through these preliminary house visits then, that the newly appointed reverent of Duikersdrift, found himself in the simple living room of one Marina Koch, together with her daughter, Klaradyn.
“I suppose this must be some adjustment for you, Reverent, coming to a town such as ours? I mean, the government has not even considered us for a telegraph line yet!” Marina said, sitting in the fashion of a lady, that is to say on the edge of the chair, before reaching for her tea.
“Please Ma’am, you may call me Chris,” as he specifically introduced himself to all he met as Chris Pieterse. “Yes you may say that, but for some reason I prefer the quiet life for the moment. I think this might be a season in my own life for some reflection, rather than the noise and influences of the masses out there.”
“Oh! Make no mistake, Reverent, make no mistake. This small town has much more activity then you might realize, much more I tell you! Tell me Reverent, do you have any influence in government? Like if we wanted a telegraph line prioritized?”
“Mom!” Klaradyn said in an embarrassing tone. “I’m sure the Reverent doesn’t need to be bothered with trivialities like that for the moment…”
“Oh Klaradyn! Really, what do you know?” Marina, snapped back at her, “Calling such important matters, trivial! The youth of today Reverent, you can’t imagine,” she said, once she turned her gaze to Chris again.
“It’s alright,” Chris smiled in a calming tone, changing his legs for comfort. “Of course I can’t promise anything but I’ll see if we can get someone’s attention back at home. By the looks of it, we might have to wait for the government lorry, only to arrive back here next Tuesday!”
“Don’t mind that Reverent,” Marina still not heeding for his request to call him on his first name. “Say Reverent, while we are on the subject, I take it you are not married yet?”
Chris tried to think what these two subjects had in common, yet answered ever politely that he had not been as fortunate yet. “It is not a matter of religion of course, as you know, I just haven’t seem to have managed to settle yet, so there is no rush…”
“Yes, yes,” Marina interrupted him thoughtfully, “You are still young, no need to rush these matters.”
Though Chris was barely out of university, he proofed himself as a keen observer of people, and his observations lead him to the conclusion that Marina might not have been the easiest person to live under one roof with. Whether it be because of the death of her husband a couple of months prior, or whether from the hardship of the rough country she was brought up in, he was not able to tell. This though was not as peculiar as the observation of her daughter’s smile, which did not reflect at all in the strikingly blue eyes of Klaradyn. The sadness and emptiness in her eyes was noticeable to such an extent, that Chris went to bed that night, wondering what the complexity of that girl’s life holds. She was only about twenty-two years of age, and by far not the most beautiful female Chris has seen in his lifetime, but really not bad looking either.
The Sunday morning church service went much better than Chris anticipated, as the little church was filled to the point that more chairs needed to be brought in and for the sake of ample supply of oxygen, all the windows were opened as wide as was possible. The temperature was uneasily high inside, and Chris, being dressed in his full clerical clothing, wondered why he didn’t rather choose to become a fireman, as it would have been equally throbbing to endure.
His message was simple, filled with humor, light hearted and one of giving hope, rather than the dull and slow sermons of his predecessor. To a community facing a wide range of challenges, it felt like heaven, with even the singing being raised in volume and vigor.
One unfortunate phenomenon in South African Dutch Reformed Churches is the fact that tradition often outweighs emotion and regularly, even common sense. This lead to the unspoken rule and the fact that, it was heavily frowned upon to clap hands or participate in any form or manner of applause in the solemn assembly, but somehow, on that first Sunday, the popularity of the newly appointed reverent, triumphed over tradition, with Chris, humbled as ever receiving a hearty ovation.
Standing full in his sacred duty as Holy man, he individually greeted each and every person by hand, outside the large church doors as the congregation slowly made their way to horse-cart and wagon. Something strange happened however, as Marina and Klaradyn was among the church members being whished a blessing and farewell.
Klaradyn, instead of the customary and appropriate handshake, took Chris’s hand with both her hands, combining it with a light shake. He immediately, without realizing felt a folded piece of paper in his hand, which he instinctively and without anyone noticing, put in the pocket of the right side of his trousers. Her hands then, let go of his hand, half a second longer then was appropriate, half stroking his hand with the letting go, but what troubled Chris the most, was the person he saw when he looked into her eyes. It was not Klaradyn looking at him. It was someone else, as if Klaradyn was not to be found. Chris felt the immense sensation of those eyes speaking to him. “I know who you are,” the look conversed. “You are not welcome here,” the person in her eyes seemed to have said.
Now Chris gathered himself to be a decent fellow. Never before has he experienced something as vivid as this, and he kept making it out to himself that he was imagining things which could easily be categorized as ridiculous and perhaps just his nerves getting the better of him. And in his mind, right he was, as the small note he opened, recited only one sentence, and that not of hostility but rather of a person with an innocent request.
‘I need to see you as a matter of urgency. Klaradyn’ the note read, in simple, clear handwriting.
Chris didn’t think much of it, but his mind kept going back to those eyes. And he surely didn’t imagine the extended holding of hands, and found the whole incident a little more than just strange. Chris’s thoughts were temporarily erupted by the pleasant town society who invited him to a Sunday lunch in the form of a picnic under the willow trees, next to the river some distance from town.
He was entertained with stories of a wedding that was held through a thunderstorm one afternoon, right there on the grass, small dash-hounds chasing cows, the disappearing of a famous peacock, and even the unexplained death of a cattle rancher who had a scar on his right cheek not too long ago. But Chis kept feeling the note in his pocket, and kept on thinking about the bizarre incident with Klaradyn. It was with those thoughts that Chris went to bed that night, firmly resolute to grant her, her wish by making an appointment with her the very next day.
One can indulge oneself in the most pleasant of walks in the city, but it is not the same as having the freedom of a morning stroll in a small town like Duikersdrift. There is a quietness and freshness of air, that reminded Chris of the Garden of Eden, starkly in contrast with the Train station in Pretoria, which in his own words, reminded him of “Lucifer’s court.” Where Chris was being reprimanded for his crude and direct language, he argued that the smell of burning coal and people crying whilst saying goodbye to their loved ones, does not exactly remind him of heaven, which in his mind was a fairly valid point.
With these thoughts, his extended Monday morning stroll did not yet reach half a mile out of town, spontaneously in the direction of where they enjoyed the previous day’s picnic, when a sudden shout behind him almost made him jump from fright.
It was Klaradyn. As unexpected as the British troops invading Transvaal again.
“Klaradyn?” Chris asked perplexed.
“Good morning!” she said with the broadest of smiles, which turned into a sudden frown. “Aren’t you glad to see me?”
“Mmm… surprised would be a more accurate word,” Chris said raising his eyebrows.
“Did you read my note then?” she asked, very well knowing what the answer is.
“Yes I did.”
They stood there just looking at each other for a moment, before she decided to take the lead.
“And?” she said with a child-like smile.
“Listen Klaradyn, I’m having my morning stroll here and was planning on coming by to your place later today, so perhaps we could go our separate ways and meet up, say at tea time?”
“I didn’t want you to come to our place, there are too many ears listening there, you see?” She answered with a voice that clearly portrait her state of self-pity. “I want to show you something, come with me!”
“Klaradyn, how did you know I would be walking here so early in the morning?”
“Oh! I was taking a stroll to, you know?” not making much effort to proclaim her innocence.
“No I don’t know Klaradyn,” Chris’s voice becoming all the more firm, “You live on the other side of town.”
“Oh don’t exaggerate, the town is only so big… and in any case, my favorite place is just up ahead! You see? Over by them Willow trees.”
Chris stood looking at her, weighing up his options. She really did spoil his calm state of mind, yet on the other hand, he was planning to see her, so he might just as well get it over and done with.
“All right then,” he said in the most firm manner ever, “Tell me what is so urgent that you needed to discuss with me.”
Once they reached the brook, circling through the lush green willow trees, she fell down on the grass, starring at Chris, who in turn did not feel the particular need to place himself on the ground as well.
“Are you not going to join me?” she asked in the voice of a little child.
“I’m quite at my leisure standing, thank you. Now you said you wanted to see me, as an urgent matter,” him rising his right eyebrow while uttering the word ‘urgent.’
“I’ve never had a boyfriend you know…” she paused to see his reaction, but seeing no response, continued, “you know you can kiss me if you like?”
“Wait! I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she said rapidly. “We don’t get many new people in town you know?”
“Klaradyn, I don’t know you and I’m sure you would figure it out, but you know that I cannot partake in any such conduct. You understand that right?” Chris said with a soft gentleness in his voice.
“Oh!” she said while standing up, reaching to place her arms around him, “you don’t know what it is like!”
He firmly pushed her away from him, “You are right. I don’t know what it is like, but I can assure you that what you are suggesting is not the answer.”
She skillfully turned herself out of his grip and reach, and with the quickest of actions kissed him on the mouth, with him stepping back as an equal quick reaction.
“I think,” Chris replied angrily, “It is time for you to go home now.”
“You think I’m ugly, don’t you!” She tried one last time.
Chris turned around and made his way back to town at twice the pace he came, hearing in the background a rather hateful voice as she screamed, “You can have me any time you want, you know!”
Chris knew that encountering some difficulties with the newly appointed post, was to be expected, yet not in ten lifetimes did he imagine himself to be facing such chanches of occurrence . He has through the ministry, seen lonely people, frustrated wives, rebellious children, even naughty couples, but this? This was different. Her mood changed in an instant and her motives, without doubt beyond sinister.
If Chris thought that his encounter with Miss Koch was the sum total of his entrance into the community, then he was gravely mistaken. That Monday night plagued him with nightmares of a severe kind, having him tossing and turning in his bed, only to be woken up several times, soaked in his sweat. The government lorry arrived again the next day, and the thought of that lorry seemed for a fracture of a moment like the ticket to his freedom. A freedom he more and more wanted, for he spotted Klaradyn at several intervals per day, under a big tree, behind the fence at the back of his house. She didn’t seem to hide and almost went out her way to make her presence known. He tried to ignore her, but her expression on her face clearly portrayed the message that he was not going to get rid of her. So much so that he was unwavering resolute on having a rather serious discussion with her mom the following day.
Fearful of bumping into her again, Chris decided to postpone his beloved walk the Wednesday morning, by rather have a decent breakfast at home before heading over to the Koch house. Whilst contemplating, over a bowl of porridge, the previous night’s ordeal with nightmares that just wouldn’t go away, he thought about the dilemma and what exactly he was going to say to Klaradyn’s mother. It is not the easiest of subjects to raise when trying to establish new relationships, especially since barely a week has gone by since his arrival in the farming cummunity of Duikersdrift.
A knock on the door brought him back to his senses, and as the top half of the kitchen door was already open, he could see a stately dressed man in formal clothing asking him if he can have a word.
“Of course, of course, come in,” Chris said welcoming the man in with his hand. “I was just going to pour me some coffee, do you want some?”
“No thanks, I’m fine,” the man replied in a tone less friendly. His clothing looked impeccably neat, parallel tot he preciseness of his dark hair.
“I’m truly sorry, I forgot your name…”
“It is Hans. Hans van der Heever.”
“Of course… Hans! Now I remember, have a seat! What do I owe the pleasure to?”
“Please call me Chris, everyone does,” Chris said, remaining as friendly as ever.
“No, I think I’ll call you Reverent.” He gave a pause and then continued, “I have something of grave importance to discuss with you.”
“Yes Hans, what can I help you with?”
“Grave importance,” Hans repeated as if Chris did not hear him the first time, and to somehow make his authority over the matter more prominent. “I am, as you know the magistrate in town, but I also see myself as a sort of guardian of the wonderful folks of this community.”
Hans paused once again to render some dramatic effect of some kind, and Chris for the moment thought that it might be a good thing he only preaches on Sundays, leaving him with all the time in the world to heed to the senseless power plays of various people.
“As I said, a guardian of sorts… And whenever a problem arises among the town folk, the people of this town, have absolute freedom to come and talk to me, about anything.”
Hans, looked at Chris, raising his eyebrows.
“About anything! You understand?”
Chris, neither smiling nor frowning, just nodded.
“They trust me. Trust has to be earned, he said in his pompous manner while Chris patiently waiting for him to come to the point.
“We received a complaint of the most serious kind, Reverent, the most serious kind.”
Chris now changed his gaze into a poker face, looking straight into the serious eyes of the ever so stately Hans van der Heever.
“You,” Hans continued in his narrative, “have been conducting yourself toward Miss Koch, in a way inappropriate for a man of your stature. I would have thought that a man of your understanding would at least wait until he is settled in! But you? You throw yourself at the first opportunity that comes along, exploiting a young girl still grieving for her father she has lost!”
Chris’s blood started to boil and hoped that Hans didn’t notice the redness in his face.
“Now I wouldn’t elaborate on the specific details of the complaint, but I can tell you this Reverent, it is serious enough to have any man arrested, especially young reverends who think they can prey on the innocent young girls of a community like ours.”
For a moment, it looked like Mr Magistrate has lost his tongue, which helped Chris get the better of himself and calmed down extensively.
“So,” Hans came to his long thought conclusion. “I have decided, to give you a choice, and believe you me, you can thank me that you are in the fortunate position to be receiving a choice in the matter!” Another pause which lead to him looking very pleased with his choice of words, while all this time Chris possessing the wisdom to keep his mouth shut. “You either silently pack your bags, and with the next turn of the government lorry, without any fuss, make your way back to where you come from, with no questions asked and no answers given. Or, if you, against better judgement and in your impious folly decide to stay and remain in your shame, we will undoubtedly lodge a formal complaint with the Dutch Reformed Synod, resulting in your days as a respected Reverent numbered. I, myself will in that case have the personal satisfaction of detaining you by court of law, untill I see fit.”
With these words, Hans got up from the table, fastened his overcoat and as a closing statement said: “I’ll expect your answer by Monday.”
Chris, having taken the beating with not so much as raising an eyebrow, tried to keep his voice steady.
“May I ask, where this alleged inappropriate deed was supposed to have taken place?”
“Why!” Hans said in dismay, while turning around facing the door, “you mean to tell me that you didn’t force yourself onto Miss Koch outside town by the Willow trees next to the stream on Monday morning?”
“And I assume you have witnesses?”
Hans hesitated for a moment, and then mumbled a quick “yes” as he exited through the kitchen door.
Chris did not take long to realize that he was in the most difficult position in his life. He was new and such a matter would cripple his work in a town such as this. To come up with an excuse for his premature departure from this town would have its challenges, but to endure this kind of hostility was not part of the training. And hostility he did endure. News travels fast in such a community. His house visits was promptly met with people to busy, and even buying milk and bread in the shop became a battle of avoiding the deepest of unreceptive and judgmental looks. He had nothing to do but be a prisoner in his house, as the atmosphere in a town like this can quickly turn into a suffocating grip. A grip that will make you dread the task of giving a sermon the Sunday coming. But he had a job to do, and the Sunday morning’s sermon was delivered with no interruptions whatsover. The lack of interruptions as the result of a total attendance of only three people, sitting in the front row that morning. Chris knew there and then, why Hans, the stately Magistrate, gave him until Monday to answer on the limited options Hans gave him. Hans knew that the sight of an empty church would be a final stab in the heart.
Dark blue clouds were covering the sky that Tuesday morning, with slow, heavy drops hammering on the corrugated iron roof of the shop, where Chris sat on the veranda. Waiting for the green government lorry, and with packed suitcases on either side of him, he considered asking the shop owner for a coffee, but realized that with his current reputation, even that would be excessively heavy to bear.
Starring at the raindrops hitting the hard soil on the gravel road in front of him, kicking up dust from the ground, he felt an unexplained excitement and a sudden heaviness lifted from his shoulders. He hounestly did not know where the feeling of relief came from. He was totally unaware that the recent events experienced, saved his life. He was unaware of the fact that the cattle farmer with the scar on his cheek, was, not far from the brook outside town, murdered by his own daughter whom he molested for so many years. Chris did not know that after his departure, many more murders would follow, which served as punishment for a town who turned a blind eye, to such atrocities in their midst.
As the government lorry pulled away, it was almost as if Chris could see in the rearview mirror, a young lady by the name of Klaradyn Koch, standing in the middle of the road, her hair and dress, soaking wet from the rain, with a smile that looked like a special kind of wickedness.