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Nuwe skryfwerk | New writing > Fiksie | Fiction > English > Published authors

No country for old men

Herman Lategan - 2008-09-17

He boarded the train in Kimberley. It was winter, it was cold and it was nightfall.

He pulled the door wide open and smiled like a man unburdened by self-knowledge. Spikkels, as he called himself, exposed an immaculate set of white teeth nestled in a cavernous mouth.

All of 17, he told me, flexing his farm-fresh muscles. "Rugby," he winked. He was wearing a tattered and torn T-shirt with an insignia on the front of a glowing hooded skeleton ominously peeping at the world. His low-hanging jeans exposed his plumber's' crack.

I sat quietly, but he could not help himself, he had to start talking again. He was bursting with words, which like restless fish in a small bowl, swam in furious circles around my head.

De Aar, where he comes from, was calling.

"De Aar," he said, as if it were some throbbing megalopolis where people like Paris Hilton swung from crystal chandeliers. He stared through the dirty window at the darkening fields that rambled past us, stroking his mamba, a tattoo between his navel and his nether regions. The snake peeped over his jeans, ready to spit.

Yes baby, when he mentioned De Aar, he had a certain look in his eyes. A wounded soldier gets the same far-away look when he is thinking of "the green, green grass of home".

Suddenly he was on his feet, jumping on the seat. "Hey my china, they're playing my song."

He grabbed his cell phone from his pocket, turned up the volume and started gyrating his hips like a supersonic spin dryer. An Afrikaans song pelting from his microscopic phone drowned out the familiar clickety-click sound of the train.

It was all a bit of a shock, this sudden explosion of madness.

Even the cadaver-like old man in the corner came alive, but just slightly. Until now, he had been overshadowed by the virility of untamed youth. He had the quiet, big hands of a mechanic and said nothing. Looking like a tired tortoise, he just sighed and stared into the vortex of darkness outside, with lifeless little stations flashing past into oblivion.

Elvis the Pelvis abruptly sat down and moved towards me, phone in hand. "Check out my new girlfriend," he said. "Santie." A photo of a minx-like Santie appeared on the little screen.

"Oh," I said. "And how long have you been dating her?"

"Ag, just one day. It is the longest relationship I have ever had," he said, without a trace of irony.

"Relationship?" I asked. "How long did the others last?"

"Oh, one afternoon. Here they are." He flicked through an array of photos of young platteland girls with overdone make-up, ponytails and a lollypop or two. Alas, not one-night stands, but a motley bouquet of one-afternoon stands. Same thing, just a different shift.

The train's siren broke the split second of silence.

Time to change the subject, I thought to myself. This was turning into a Jerry Springer

"So, what happens in De Aar over weekends?" I ask.

The old man gave a muffled Karoo-dry cough.

"We get drunk and we look for trouble," said Spikkels. "I belong to a gang called Die Bliksoldate (The Tin Soldiers)."

Oh, I thought, it sounded like innocent teenage fun. "But when we get drunk, we need more money for drinks. So it gets rough. Once we chopped off a woman's finger to get her diamond ring."

The old man sat there in a grim silence like a previous night's leftovers. Indeed, no life from him.

I was nervously looking for some support. Suddenly Spikkels yawned, stretched out and fell into a deep sleep. Lying there, he looked like a child, not like a Bliksoldaat.

The train slowed down; in the distance De Aar glowed in the night.

He jumped up, dragging his crazy world with him like a steel ball clamped to his foot.
Disappeared with the wave of a hand. Gone with the wind.

The old man slowly turned to me; his eyes were gleaming ashes.