The Smoke That Thunders
A Piet van Zyl Adventure short story
by Paul Zunckel
One Thousand Five Hundred meters above sea level in the Mwinilunga District, very close to the border where Zambia, Angola, and the Congo meet, lies the source of the mighty Zambezi River. The thunderheads tower up into the sky, darkening the land below them. Lightning flashes across the darkened sky as if heaven itself is taking photos. The wind picks up into a gale force, causing the creatures of the wild to scatter and flee for shelter and safety as the thunder rolls out its warning in ominous tones. Lightning stabs down at the ground below and the gates are opened as heavy rain is let loose on the earth below, drowning out any sound.
The mighty Zambezi accepts the offering, and the slow sluggish movement of the river slowly changes until the flow is like a train leaving a station, gradually picking up momentum as the flood waters start to rise, tearing trees and bushes from their roots and pitching them into the dark boiling waters as it starts its journey down, rushing into Angola. Churning into Zambia under the cover of darkness, the mighty river turns the Cholwezi Rapids and Chavuma Falls into raging white water as it continues its downward journey towards the Victoria Falls and the unsuspecting people of the Zambezi Valley.
Lightning splits the sky in two. Thunder rolls across the heavens and the rains hammer down on the ground below. Small streams are turned into rivers. The mighty Zambezi River is turned into a raging torrent as the power of Mother Nature takes hold.
Slowly Africa comes awake. The chatter of the primates in the tall trees surrounding the safari camp, the varied calls of the birds, and the grunts from the resident hippo pod in the mighty Zambezi River carries across to the tent where Piet has taken on more than he can handle… trying to feed baby Heather.
“Ag nee man Peggy, this child will not sit still, how the moer am I expected to feed her if she will not take the bloody spoon… damn… give me a break… I can handle a bloody man-eater, fok, a fucking poacher, or whatever other shit has been thrown at us… but, hell… I can’t even handle my own daughter… hell, man.”
“Ag Piet, my skat, don’t worry so much. You can’t be perfect at everything, you know, even if you would like to think so. Here, give Heather to me. Let a professional show you how it is done.”
Piet hands over baby Heather, and as soon as she is on her mother’s lap, her mouth opens, and the offered spoon is accepted, leaving the burly South African looking perplexed at how easy Peggy makes it all look.
“Not a moer, I’m going to go and find something I can handle… like a bloody crocodile that wants a wrestling match or something like that… Peggy, if I can’t handle the young one now, what the hell is it going to be like when she gets older?”
“Well my big white hunter, since you asked… now you will get the chance to see how you will cope.”
“En nou, wat praat jy… I will get the chance?”
“I forgot to tell you, my love, David and Adele are leaving for South Africa tomorrow… going to spend a few days in Cape Town, and have asked us to look after Debi for the time that they are away. As we all know, she is your blue eyed little girl, so we figured Uncle Piet would not mind.”
“That is fine with me skat. If she gets out of hand, I’ll just tie her to a bloody tree, or make Pooch her babysitter.”
“Oh Piet, how can you say that?”
“Ja, Peggy, and you think you know me, hey? That one has a piece of my heart and I would do anything for her… so, ja… bring it on…” and we’ll have fun… nothing dangerous, and at least when I want her to eat, she will eat…man that kind can put it away. And then, there is always Pooch to keep an eye on her.”
The waters move slowly, eating up the eight hundred kilometres that separate it from the Barotse Floodplain, where it starts to spread its girth over the land, swallowing up the bush and land that border it, driving back the villages and wildlife that live off its life giving waters. By the time the waters reach the Katima Mulilo Rapids, it is once again a fast moving express of destruction, washing away whatever stands in its way, joining with the Chobe River in its headlong rush towards the magnificent Victoria Falls that waits eighty kilometres away.
The sky is dark above the fast moving Chobe River. Lightning forks jab earthwards, splitting a majestic tree. Smoke rises from the thunderous crash as the tree is uprooted by the tumultous, swirling waters. The tree is pulled into the swiftly growing current. The rain hammers down on the African bush, driving the people of the wild to seek shelter from the force of Mother Nature.
The mighty Zambezi River, called ‘the river of life’, has now turned the other cheek and only death and destruction lie in its wake as it moves forward like a bulldozer, with nothing to hold it back. The thunder rolls across the African sky, sending out a warning to those who would care to take heed!
The sound of the mighty falls comes to Piet’s ears as the safari camp bakes under the warm African sun. Pooch runs to greet the arriving young Debi, who, full of smiles, drops everything she is carrying to throw her arms around the neck of the joyful canine.
Thunder rolls in the far distance, making the burly South African search the bright blue skies above, looking for the source of the warning. A body is thrown into his arms, and suddenly he has more than a handful as Debi throws her eleven year old arms around his neck and covers him with kisses.
“Uncle Piet, I missed you… I hate that boarding school… I mean, I am sure they put worms in the porridge… yuk!… can I go fishing… where is Aunt Peggy… I wanna see Heather… don’t tell Adele and David but I got a tattoo…”
With all that said, Debi releases her hold on Piet, leaving him reeling, feeling like he had just run the one minute mile, and she dashes off to find Peggy and Heather.
“Piet, are you sure that you and Peggy will be able to cope with Debi, after all, it is only for three days.”
“Hey, Adele, who do you think you are talking to… of course we will cope, no problems. The two of you say tot siens and get a move on! You’ve got a plane to catch, and anyway, the two of us are going to go fishing… I’ve got a surprise for the young lady.”
“What might that be Piet? You’re not taking her hunting with you.”
“Nee Man, do you think I was born yesterday… I’ve got her a dugout canoe, just her size so she can fish out on the river, just off the bank, and I promise I will keep an eye on her. So, no worries. See you guys in a couple of days.”
“Piet, just be careful, you know that our Debi can be a bit wild and adventurous.”
“Relax, you two… she has swum in Devil’s Pool, plus she understands the river…also Pooch will keep an eye on her.”
Thunder hammers across the clear blue skies above, drawing all eyes upwards, searching but seeing no sign of the raging storm hidden in the distance by the towering kopjes.
“It sounds like a storm is on the way, judging by the sound of the thunder.”
“Ja, David, I guess you are right. Well I will let her play in the dugout this afternoon, just in case the weather changes.”
The swirling waters of the Zambezi move and buck as if a living creature is trapped under the dark waters as the flood waters swell on the journey towards the falls. The thunderheads disappear. The damage is done, and Africa once again basks in the brilliant glow of the sun. But, submerged beneath the rapidly moving water, the remains of the gargantuan tree feels the pull from the falls. As if life has been breathed into it, it surges forward, like a racehorse released to run, eager to plunge over the thundering lip and fall over a hundred meters to be crushed on the rocks below under the five hundred million litres of water a minute that thunders down, sending up a spray of water, catching the sun’s rays and throwing rainbows up into the clear blue skies above it.
Piet stands at the river’s edge, scanning the surface for the telltale signs of the resident reptiles which make the Zambezi their home. His eyes move over a sandbank. The locals are not basking in the sun. A pod of hippo snort in distain at him. A Fish Eagle swoops down, hits the water and climbs back up into the sky, its cry of triumph ringing across the vast expanse of water, and, clutching its prey in its talons, sets off towards the far distant kopjes.
“Debi, you can go out onto the river, but remember, young lady, use your paddle as a rudder as well as an oar… stay away from the bloody hippo. It looks like the river is moving quicker today… must have been raining higher up. Just be careful of the current and stay close to the bank.”
“Aw, Uncle Piet, I’m not going to catch anything if I don’t go in deeper, plus the falls is about five kilometres away from us, nothing is going to happen, I’ll be careful… promise… cross my heart.”
“Ja, okay, sweetheart, but remember your promise… no more than twenty meters out, hey.”
Piet stands and watches as young Debi paddles out into the river. Pooch whines at his side, looks up at the man, then makes a tentative effort to follow the dugout as Debi guides it out into the river.
“Nee, my hond, you stay here with me, and stop panicking, she will be okay.”
Piet feels water lapping at his feet, looks down and the dry bank he was standing on has now been claimed by the river. He glances towards the sandbank… it no longer exists… the pod of snorting hippo are a happy memory, and the mighty Zambezi has taken on a new life all of its own. Debris clutters the now swiftly moving surface as the flood waters surge forward.
Debi feels the pull of the current as it clutches at the dugout, like fingers reaching out from the depths of the dark water. Determined to reach her goal, the plucky young lady digs in deep to propel her craft forward. The swiftly moving river reaches out, plucking the oar from her hands, and the frothy current wraps itself around the small dugout, which takes on a life of its own, spinning in the now swiftly moving water. Fingers of fear race down Debi’s spine. Panic sets in as the sound of the Falls hammers in her ears. Her screams of panic and fear ring out above the sound of thunder.
“Uncle Piet… Uncle Piet… Help me!”
Piet looks up at the sound of terror that carries across the dark waters, just as the submerged forest behemoth slams into the side of the spinning dugout, sending the panicking child onto the floor of the canoe. She is clutching desperately to the wooden sides, trying to stay out of the mass of moving water that surrounds her.
“Not a Fok…not on my watch!” He gasps, his heart stuttering in his chest.
Piet is galvanised into action, his mind frantically working out where the river narrows before it enters the final stretch before the Falls. The frantic, frenetic barking issuing from Pooch brings Jacob running from the camp, followed closely by Peggy, clutching Heather.
“Jacob, quick, get the Land Rover… I’m going to follow her along the bank… wait for me further down river… get the one with the winch.”
“Okay, Bwana Piet… I go now.”
“Oh, my God, Piet, the river is flooding…where is Debi?”
Just then Debi is able to pull herself upright in the dugout, her screams of fear reaching the people standing on the bank of the river.
“Thank God, she is still in the bloody dugout… Peggy, call the rangers station! We might need that helicopter of theirs. The current is damn strong… I can’t swim from here, I’ll never reach her in time.”
“Do something, Piet!” Peggy is frantically scanning the water, trying desperately to catch sight of Debi.”
“Peggy…ń Boer maak ń plan. Watch me… no, don’t watch me, go call the bloody rangers station.”
With that said, Piet sets off at a run along the river bank, keeping the now trapped dugout in sight, shouting encouragement across the swirling waters to Debi. Pooch is hot on his heels as he crashes through the grass and brush that line the river bank.
Debi frantically scans around her, trying to get her bearings, but everything is moving too fast. The dugout is now held firmly by the roots of the submerged tree, as it is propelled through the rushing water, onwards towards the thunder of the falls. She looks towards the running figure of Piet, gauging the distance between safety and her situation, but disregards it, as she knows the river narrows before its final run towards the Falls.
“Stop acting like a girl…you have been in worsesituations than this… all you are going to do is get wet… just jump…”
The submerged tree hits a rock beneath the dark, swirling, churning waters and its headlong flight into obscurity is halted momentarily, the current rushing past, clutching at its bulk, slowly moving it until it swings around, spinning out of control. The forces of nature once again grab hold, and the tree sets course once again towards its destiny.
Debi sees that she has been brought closer to the river bank… the current is not as strong. She tries to stand in the dugout, trembling in terror. Her resolve strengthened from her little pep talk to herself, fear has almost, but not quite, taken a back seat as she looks across at the safety of the riverbank with new determination forming in her blue eyes.
She looks at the submerged branches of her captor, and there, within the tangle of broken branches, is the oar. An idea forms in her mind, and slowly and carefully, she inches her way out from the relative safety of the dugout, sliding on the wet surface of the tree, clutching at the rough bark, inching her way towards the captured oar with grim determination. The cold waters of the Zambezi clutch at her, until she is able to reach her prize, pry it loose, and return, wet, cold, and shivering, to the dugout.
With her new found determination, looking like a drowned rat. she digs the oar deeply into the dark water, trying desperately to alter the course of her captor, steering it ever so slightly towards safety.
Piet reaches the point where the river narrows, only to find that the flood waters have beaten him, and the narrow section is now as wide as the rest of the river. The dugout comes into view, closer to the bank, but still too far out for him to try reaching it. Debi waves at the burly South African, her voice coming clearly to his ears, and despite the urgency of the situation, it brings a smile to his rugged features, and tears to his eyes.
“Uncle Piet… don’t worry… ń Boer maak ń plan”, love you.”
“Debi, try to get close to Devil’s Pool… we’ll wait there for you… hold on tight, sweetheart, we will get you out of there. Where the fok is your lifejacket young lady? Shit, I forgot to give it to her…bliksem!”
With that thought still ringing in his head, Piet jumps behind the wheel of the Land Rover, floors the accelerator and heads towards the area of Devil’s Pool, his heart hammering like a jackhammer, his throat constricted as he knows this will be the only chance they get to stop Debi from going over the edge.
“Hou vas, this is going to be a rough ride!”
Both Jacob and Pooch are thrown around as the Land Rover skids on the gravel surface of the bush road, the tyres take purchase, and Piet pushes the vehicle as fast as he dare. Destination, Devil’s Pool!
Debi pushes the oar deep into the water, the current fighting her, threatening to tear it from her grasp again, the spray from the falls adding to her terrifying discomfort as she fights back. Determination in her blue eyes as she looks ahead searching for Piet and the Land Rover, all she sees ahead of her is the white water from the two kilometre wide Victoria Falls, waiting for her like a giant predator, wanting to swallow her whole. Her heart is thudding hard in her small chest.
Her efforts rewarded, the massive tree moves slightly as it starts to drift in the direction of Devil’s Pool, but where is the pool. The natural rock wall is hidden by the flood waters, and then she sees the wall, just below the surface of the water. Without a second thought, Debi launches herself out of the dugout, and quickly feels herself being dragged down by the current. The dark waters close over her head. She fights like never before, breaks the surface of the river, and gulps in a lungful of air before the river drags her back down again. The current clutches and grabs at her, tumbling her like a cork in a bathtub. She feels the rocky bottom under her feet, and kicks out, reaches the surface, and suddenly is pushed up tight against the inner wall of Devil’s Pool, right on the lip of the Falls, the current holding her in place like a fly caught on sticky paper. She’s gasping for air, fighting to keep her head above the raging torrent, struggling to hold back the fear as the Falls thunders just meters behind her. The cold wet fingers of the Zambezi fight to pry her loose from the clutches of the rocky wall.
She watches in horrified fascination as the dugout and tree are clutched by the current, lifted and hurled into the air whirling and twirling and then disappears into the rising spray, as they are thrown violently over the edge of the falls.
As the Land Rover comes to a skidding halt, a horrified Piet takes in the scene before him. He sees the massive tree rising out of the water, the dugout clutched firmly in its roots, before Mother Nature effortlessly slings both over the edge of the falls, to crash one hundred meters below. He doesn’t see Debi.
He frantically scans the surface of the water, looking for any sign of Debi, his heart beating like an express train in his throat. Feeling beaten for the first time in his life while waves of anguish tear at him, brings him down onto his knees, his hands digging into the soil, clutching at anything to stop himself throwing caution to the wind and plunging into the raging flood waters.
Pooch’s frantic barking cuts through Piet’s grief, and he finds the animal standing at the very edge of the swollen river, his eyes locked on an object pushed up against the very rocks that form Devil’s Pool, and as Debi rises from the current to gulp another lungful of air, Piet sees her, and hope surges through him. There’s still a chance, but they must work quickly… it looks as if she is weakening against the thundering current.
He barks out orders to Jacob, who starts the winch, feeding out the cable. Piet attaches a safety harness to himself, and then slips the hook from the cable onto the harness. Once that is done, Jacob backs up the Land Rover, ending up one hundred meters upstream from Devil’s Pool. Piet enters the raging water, allowing the current to wash him towards the edge of the Falls and Devil’s Pool. His feet slip out from under him, and the current pulls on him, but Jacob keeps the cable taut, allowing Piet to fight against the current, and slowly, he makes his way to Debi.
Debi watches through wide open frightened eyes as Piet struggles against the current, the cold eating into her small frame. She shivers as the water pushes against her, making her fight for every breath of air. Piet slips, and is lost to her as the Zambezi closes over him, then like a hippo breaking the surface, he comes back up, spitting water, fighting the fury of Mother Nature and struggling and fighting every inch of the way to get closer her.
Pooch runs up and down the bank of the river, his eyes never leaving the man in the water, his frantic barks mixing with the thunder from the Falls. Jacob watches closely, and as Piet nears the edge of the pool, he stops the cable feed, allowing the slack to be taken up as the current carries Piet onto submerged rocks.
Piet watches in horror as Debi slips beneath the water, and he lunges against the current to reach her. His hands grab fabric, and he pulls her to the surface, holding her in a bear hug, he hears her take in a huge lungful of air, then cough up a mouthful of water. Then, her skinny arms are wrap around the neck of the burly safari owner, her gasping tearful whispers filling his head as he turns, holding her close, his heart pounding rapidly in his chest, in unison with the shivering Debi as she clings tightly to the man she never lost faith in. Piet signals Jacob to reel them into safety, just as the Park Ranger helicopter swoops low overhead the flooded Zambezi.
“ń Boer maak ń plan…ń Boer maak ń plan.”
Foot note to the Reader
I have removed all tourist attractions plus tourists from the Victoria Falls area for the sake of my story.
“Devil’s Pool” that features in “The Smoke that Thunders” exists and during the drier months of the year, May to October, it is possible to walk along the lip of the falls. This can only be done from the Zambian side. After thousands of years of erosion, many rock pools have formed and “Devil’s Pool” has formed right on the edge of the sheer drop.
It takes a rocky walk and a swim in the Zambezi to reach the pool, and when the level of the water drops, the natural rock walls of the pool come close enough to the surface to form a barrier and stop swimmers from being carried away. The rock lip will halt anyone as the raging waters of the Zambezi crash over the cliffs a few feet away, down over the precipice; a hundred meter drop.
Over 500 million litres’ of water a minute cascade over the almost 2 km wide falls, causing a deafening and spectacular explosion of spray that can be seen from 30 miles away. This is why it is known locally as Mosi-oa-Tunya or The Smoke that Thunders.
Bonus Short Story
I can still hear that maniac laughter ringing in my ears, I close my eyes and still see the glint of the blade of the butchers knife as it arcs down in a vicious killing blow, the screams of my children behind me as I watch the knife bury itself deep in the throat of my wife as she lies on the kitchen floor.
The laughter coming to me loud and clear, almost as if the person laughing has no control. She lies there in a spreading pool of blood, staining the white tiles of the floor, trying to talk, to beg forgiveness for her transgressions, begging for her very life when I see the blade descend once again, and it buries itself deep in her chest. I watch as her life blood flows our of her, her eye glaze over, her chest gives one final heave, searching for that life giving air to fill her body, and then she relaxes, the air from her lungs rushing out in one long exhale, and she has gone to a better life.
The laughter threatens to engulf me, it’s hammering in my head, I turn from the sight before my horrified eyes, the vision of that knife in her chest will stay with me for the rest of my life, hurriedly gathering up my two children, I stumble away from the kitchen, the laughter following me as I drag them into the main bedroom, and slam the door, looking for safety.
The screams of the two fill the room; they scramble for safety, their sobs of pure terror coming to my ears, as once again the laughter cuts through my head. I look around, my eyes wide with fear as a hand comes into my vision, wraps around the ankle of my youngest child, and proceeds to drag her from underneath the bed, kicking and screaming.
I feel paralyzed, all I can do is watch the scene being played out before me, I’m helpless as the crazy laughter fills the room, her screams of terror cut off abruptly as the knife arcs in the air, and severs her throat, her small body convulses, struggling to hold on to life, and then goes limp.
My brain threatens to explode in my head as I slump down against the far wall, as far away from her small still form as I can get. The horror of the carnage before me flashing through my head. I watch the carpet hungrily soak up her young blood, leaving its mark for all to see the violence that has invaded our home, our refuge from an angry world.
The laughter stops, and I hear sobbing. My mind clears and I move over to the bed, crawl over the bloodstained carpet, and peer underneath, and there I find my first born, curled up in a fetal position, his small five year old body racked with sobs of fear, his brown eyes are wide at the horror he has just witnessed.
I pull him towards me, and he comes willingly, and I hold him close to my chest, his sobs coming in huge gasps as if he is struggling to breath, and slowly as I talk to him, sooth him with words of comfort, he relaxes against me, trusting me to keep him safe.
But I have failed as a Father, my youngest lies dead to my right, I have failed as a Husband, my wife lies cold and dead on the kitchen floor. I’m the one that they looked too for protection in this sick world of ours, and yet I was unable to stand up and protect.
The laughter in my head renders me helpless; all I can do is stand by and watch. I look at my hands, red with the blood of my family, and in horror I see a hand grab his hair and yank it back, exposing his throat, the laughter fills my head and a blade appears before my eyes and in one quick motion slices across his young throat, his blood spewing across the room, leaving a pattern on the wall, and the child that put his faith in me to protect him, dies in my arms.
Horrified, I scramble up onto my feet, the body of my son falling on the carpet, as I frantically look around the room, searching for the source of the laughter, something that I can defend against, something I can attack and take out my fury on, but there is nothing before me, but the two small bodies of my children, lying there in the pools of there own blood.
I remove the knife from my dead son’s throat, and jump as air escapes from his lifeless body, move quietly across to the bedroom door and listen for the sound of movement from the killer, listen for the mad laughter but the house is quite. Outside I can hear the steady pump from the swimming pool, and in the distance, the sound of someone cutting their lawn.
Everything is normal in the world outside, but in here, in this place of so called safety, madness had taken hold and reared it’s ugly head, and now I am the sole survivor from a family massacre, but it is not over yet, I still need to get out of the house and find safety, for nothing is safe where I am right now.
Slowly I turn the handle, expecting the door to be open but find it locked. How had the killer gained entry if the door’s locked? I look around fearfully, my eyes searching for the son of a bitch that took the lives of the ones I love, and the eyes of my dead children stare back at me, accusation in their eyes, I have failed them in their hour of need.
I return to my daughters body, pick her up, and place her on the bed, covering her face so she can no longer see me, then I repeat the process with my son, move back to the door, clutching the knife tightly, unlock the door, and step out into the passage, ready to confront the madness that has invaded our home.
I move slowly along the passage, back to the kitchen, knowing that the body of my wife is there, but needing to see if she still lives. The sunlight spills through the window, and the rays of sunshine reflect off the pool of blood that is slowly congealing on the floor, giving it a glossy effect. Her body is where I left it, when I ran from the room with the children, running as if being chased by the hounds of hell, with that maniac laughter following me.
I kneel next to her, the butchers knife still protruding from her chest, and with racking sobs escaping from my throat, cradle her head in my lap, running my bloodstained fingers through her long blonde hair, my tears of anguish and agony streaming down my face as I look into the once beautiful face of a woman that I loved and adored, a woman that I would have given my life for, but this time was unable to, as the laughter had filled my head, and all I could do was stand by and watch as the knife was plunged into her body.
The day passes, and the sun moves overhead and I remain where I am, my dead wife’s head cradled in my arms, sitting in the pool of her blood. I can no longer cry, my feelings are numb, and as if on automation, I pick up my lovely wife’s body from the floor, and carry her through to the bedroom to join the two children on the bed.
Carefully I place her body next to the children, and then cover her accusing eyes as well. Cross their arms on their chests, making them look at peace. Move off to the bathroom, where I wet a cloth and return to clean their bodies. Once that has been done, I lie down next to my wife, and cradle her head in my arms, and wait for the laughter to return, for I too will die with them.
Night falls, and the room grow dark and still the mad laughter does not return to haunt my dreams, and sleep will not come as my mind moves back to the day that I found out that my daughter was not mine, but another’s. The woman that I had pledged to love and cherish all my life, come sickness or wealth was not the woman lying next to me on the bed. That woman had disappeared four years ago, disappeared into a world on the internet where men hunt woman, and woman hunt men, and three years ago, the youngest child had been born from such a liaison.
This I had known, and accepted. I had forgiven her and taken her back into the safety of my arms, and pledged to bring the child up as my own, and for awhile we were like a family again. That is until I found her once again on that site, that hunting site. I remained quite, and accepted that if I wanted a family, I would have to ignore her transgressions once again, for deep down; I loved her with all my heart, and wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.
That is until the laughter invades our home, the madness had taken over and all I can do is stand by and watch as justice is served. We had been in the kitchen, when she had turned to me, and informed me that she was going away for another weekend away with friends, and then had taken me in her arms and informed me that she was once again expecting.
I knew then that nothing had changed in our lives. I was not capable of being the sire to any more children as I had been fixed when the youngest had been born, as I had no wish to bring forth anymore children into this sick world of ours, and that is when the laughter had invaded our home, and madness had taken over.
That is how they found me, lying next to the dead bodies of my family. I have not spoken in two years to a single person, and yet on a daily basis the doctors run tests on me, try and get me to talk, monitor me 24 hours a day, trying to get a reaction from me, but all I do is stare at the far wall, the laughter filling my head on a daily basis for I was taken for a fool, and the laughter is me, laughing at myself for giving my heart and soul to someone that was skin-deep.
I lie in my cell, the walls are padded, as they are scared that I will do myself harm, and every half hour, the guard on duty checks up on me, just to make sure that I’m alright, for they cannot take me to trial, and try me, if I manage to kill myself, nor can they try me, until I am declared competent. I feel safe where I am, in the dark recess of my brain, no one can hurt me now, no one can tear my heart to shreds with their devious wonderings, and no one can touch me, for as long as the laughter says with me, I will be safe.
The only time that my mind moves back to that night of madness, that night when our home was invaded, and the only time you could possibly call me sane is the night when I plunged that butchers knife into my wife, when I cut my children’s throats, and watched their lifeblood spill out onto the carpet, and the mad laughter filled my head, is a night like tonight. The moon is full, it is the 1st April 2012, and it is the 2nd Anniversary of when I went over the edge, and killed my family.
(A Love Story)
To all the ladies out there…without you the guys would have no direction.
My wife…Lucie…for loving me.
And My Mom…for putting up with me.
The Lord…He Blessed me.
The lightning flashed across the dark African sky, lighting up the rolling storm clouds, as the thunder hammers down, the rain hitting their exposed skin like darts…stinging and a chill sweeps through their bodies.
The donga into which they have crawled seeking shelter from the sudden fury of the storm started to fill with the downpour from the heavens, a small river flowing under their shaking bodies. Piet could feel the woman shivering against him as the cold set in and the burly South African pulls her closer, his strong arms holding her close, offering her what warmth his own body could supply.
They have been trapped in the wide open savannah when the storm had rolled in…and over and over the safari owner cursed himself for not paying more attention to what was happening around them, but he had eyes for nothing but the blonde blue eyed woman with him…damn he felt like a bloody school boy with a massive crush on the head cheerleader, and now the woman who has stolen his heart lies next to him…dripping wet…shivering with cold and with a possible sprained ankle.
“Fok, after this is over, and we get out of here alive I doubt if she will even smile at me again in the bank…fok Piet, you are so bloody stupid…you find someone that could be your soul mate, and you flush it all down the toilet. Shit I don’t even have the courage to tell her how I feel…but I know in my heart, this one is made for me.”
The woman beside Piet groans in pain. Her beautiful features twisted in a grimace as the cold from the storm washes over her…her face is a mask on the dim light but he can see how pale she is. He looks down at her left leg and can see the redness of the skin and the swelling starting up around her ankle. Piet pulls her closer…savouring the closeness…he kisses her softly on the forehead…Peggy looks up at him…he can see the pain in her eyes…but a small smile touches her lips.
Piet removes his soaking wet jacket, and starts to cut strips from the material with his hunting knife. The ankle needs to be splinted, and slowly he moves the leg out, removes her shoe and places padding around the swelling and then applies the makeshift splint. A soft groan escapes from Peggy’s lips causing him to look at her in alarm, but thankfully, she has passed out, giving the lovesick South African a chance to complete the job.
Once Piet is happy that the ankle has been stabilized, he settles back next to Peggy, puts his arms around her once more, offering her what warmth he can…his mind flies back to three months ago when he walked into the main bank in Lusaka…stood in the queue waiting for his turn to be served by the teller, and was then rendered speechless as he gazed into those lovely blue eyes that looked back at him across the counter…her smile dazzled him…and he felt his heart thumping in his chest.
A flash of lightning forked earthwards, splitting a mighty monarch of the African bush in two. The rain increases as it hammers down on the two people huddled in the donga. The woman burrows closer to the big man…seeking warmth…and a smile plays on his lips as he remembers Jacobs words…as he remembers the impact this woman has made on him.
“Bwana Piet…you must take your courage in your hands…Eish!…the man that will hunt a wounded buffalo is scared of a woman…ai ai ai Bwana…you must speak what your heart feels, for if you lose her…your life will be meaningless.”
Piet pulls the shivering woman closer…kisses her softly again on the forehead and looked into her beautiful face…gathers up his courage in his hands and whispers softly to the unconscious woman…or so he thought.
“Peggy …um…wat ek wil sé…I mean…ah…Ag fok…I love you.”
The tent flaps move aside as Piet steps out from the tent, looks across the mighty Zambezi River and stretches his sleek suntanned frame…satisfaction written all over his broad features…he glances back into the tent to where the sleeping redhead is softly snoring…a smile touches his lips.
“Man it is true what they say about redheads…shit I could hardly keep up with her, and this fascination that these foreign woman have with the big white hunter idea…man life is good…let it roll, let it roll. I always knew I was a lover, not a fighter…business is good.”
Bachelor life for Piet van Zyl suited the burly South African down to the ground, and if the female clients that came out on the photographic safaris decided that the Big White Hunter was also on the menu, who was he to complain…after all it all boiled down to good customer service…and referrals. Referrals were the life blood of his business in Zambia, and he was slowly building up a very good reputation with overseas travel agencies as being the one to go to…the one who delivered the goods.
“Oh Piet…honey…I’m awake and need my strong hunter to protect me from all the vicious beasts in here…come back to bed…I’m lonely.”
Piet turns from his daydreaming, and moves back towards the tent. The sun just starting to peek over the horizon…the grunts from a pod of hippo out in the river, and the early morning calls from the birds in the trees surrounding the camp, along with the chatter of the resident primates fills the air…mixes with the giggles from the redhead as Piet once again returned to the tent, a wry smile on his futures.
“Ja business is good and who am I to complain.”
The dust from the departing Land Rover slowly settles back onto the dirt road as Piet watches Jacob drive off towards Lusaka…taking the latest batch of clients back to the airport…including the redhead who had got her claws into Piet on the third night of the week long safari.
“Phew…man that one was demanding…thank goodness she was the only single woman with this bunch…shit its getting difficult to juggle some of them…I hope the next group are all pensioners…I need a bloody break.”
He moves over to the large thatched area that serves as a dinning/pub for the visiting guests, but also where the safe is kept…a large roll of American Dollars in his pocket…tips from the much appreciative party that have just left. Pulling the roll from his pocket, he carelessly throws the roll onto a small table, bends down and opens the safe, intending to add it to the tips from the previous four tours, but when he sees the amount that is in the safe…he has only one alternative…drive to Lusaka and bank it…something Piet did not do very often.
The burley South African loves the bush, the wide open spaces…the call of the wild and the animals that make Africa what it is…he loves to share his love of the wilds, to capture it on film. What he does not love is the hustle and bustle of the big city, the exhaust fumes, the fast pace of life and the endless stream of people seeming to hurry everywhere, with nowhere to go.
He puts the Land Rover into gear, leaving Isaac behind at the camp and heads off towards civilisation, where unknown to him there is more than just the hustle and bustle waiting for him, and that when he returned to the camp…something of his would have been left behind.
Piet walks into the bank, through the revolving doors, and stops in his tracks…the queue leading to the tellers is almost to where he is standing…he fights with himself…part of him wanting to leave…the other part knowing that the money needs to be banked, and so slowly allows himself to be absorbed into the mass of humanity…the babble of chatter washes over him…making him wish for the peace and quiet of the safari camp.
“Fok dit vir ń takkie, they can keep this life…moer just listen to them all…the bloody monkeys back at camp make more sense. Ja well I’m here so I might as well stick it out, and get it over and done…next time bloody Jacob can do the bloody banking.”
Slowly the queue moves forward…Piet keeps his eyes to the ground…not wanting to make eye contact with anyone, and finding himself drawn into meaningless chatter, until suddenly he is nudged from behind.
“Mr…Cashier number four is waiting for you…come on; we don’t all have all day.”
“Ag Jammer, I mean sorry. My thoughts were far away.”
Piet moves towards the window for cashier number four, raises his eyes to find himself looking into the most perfect, beautiful pair of blue eyes he has ever seen…his mouth suddenly goes dry…his heart hammers in his chest…he struggles to get the words out. Unable to say anything to the vision of beauty behind the safety glass, he fumbles for the roll of bank notes in his pocket, withdraws them, and pushes them through the opening.
“Good morning Mr van Zyl…and how are you today.”
“Ag nee…she knows my name…how the hell does she know my name…kom man…praat…talk for God’s sake…say something.”
“Himmm ja…mόre lady…ja, I wish to bank this money please.”
“You can call me Peggy, Mr van Zyl, and our business is your pleasure. Please sign this deposit slip, and I will sort the rest out for you.”
Piet feels her lovely eyes on him as he signs the slip…looks up into a wonderful smile that makes his heart skip a beat…feeling like a school boy he stammers a thank you…his face feeling a flush rise up under her steady gaze.
“Ag…how do you know my name…ahh…Peggy?”
He savours the sound of her name as it rolls around in his dry mouth…hoping like hell that no one else can hear his thumping heart in a banking hall where all sound has ceased for him…his whole attention is on the woman before him.
“Well let’s just say that I have my ways of finding out something that I am interested in.”
The blue eyes bore into his…a flush spreads across his face…confused by the way he is feeling Piet mutters thanks, takes the deposit slip and stumbles away from the counter.
“Mr van Zyl…Mr van Zyl…you forgot something.”
The sound of her voice is like music to his ears…he turns quickly…not so cock sure of himself right now and moves back to the counter. Peggy stretches out her left hand…in it is a white slip of paper…Piet takes it…no wedding ring…no ring at all. Puts the paper in his pocket, and hoping that he still has a bit of pride left in him…holds his head up high and strides for the door…totally flustered by the encounter with cashier number four.
He reaches the relative safety of his Land Rover, lets out a huge sign of relief and realizes that he has been perspiring…reaches for his scarf to wipe his brow…his fingers close over the slip of paper…he pulls it out, and opens it…the message inside turns the burly South African to putty.
“Piet, call me sometime. My number is 047 347 2201.”
The shrill cry of the hunting jackal cuts across the empty safari camp…the cough of a lion out on a night on the town, and the eerie call of the hyena and the crackle from the fire go unheard as the burly South African sits quietly, nursing a brandy and coke, the ice tinkling in his glass as he unknowingly moves the glass from hand to hand…his mind back in the bank…the vision of cashier number four imprinted on his brain…”You can call me Peggy”…plays over and over in his head. For the umpteenth time Piet digs into his top pocket and removes the note, its edges already frayed from the number of times he has opened it and just stared at the message…call me sometime…jumps out at him.
“Fok, she even knows my name…moer…this Peggy is different…the way she makes me feel…my bloody heart is still pounding every time I think about her…man I have never felt like this before…come on van Zyl…what is wrong with you man? Get a grip, she is just another woman.”
Laughter comes from the edge of the fire and Piet looks up. Jacob is there, a large grin on his face and a knowing gleam in his eyes.
“Ja you bugger, and what do you want…you should be asleep old friend.”
“Bwana Piet, I can see that you have been bitten, and now you need the wise words of an old man.”
“En nou Jacob, what are you talking about? I’ve been bitten…by what?”
“Bwana Piet, my eyes might be old but they see things…I see that my brother has been bitten by a woman…this must be a very special woman Bwana…for never before have I seen you dwell on a vision that you have in your head…you are here Bwana, but I think that you left your heart somewhere in Lusaka.”
“En nou old friend…who made you bloody cupid…and as for my heart…it is right here, beating in my chest.”
“Eish Bwana Piet…your words make you a liar…but your eyes…that do not lie…they shine with an inner light…this one is different Bwana from the others…I know that she is a special woman…but be warned my friend…even the special ones will not wait.”
“So now Jacob, you will offer advice of the heart… tell me my old friend…what makes you an expert on the subject?”
“Bwana Piet, you have been too long without a wife…the time has come that you take a woman so that you can become whole…I’ve watched you from the shadows, I see the loneliness in your eyes, but acting like a young bull does not fill that void in your heart.”
“Your words are wise old friend…this one in Lusaka is different…she took my breath away.”
“I know the one of which you speak Bwana…she has spoken to me many times…she will know you.”
“Alright Jacob…I’ll call her, and ask her out for drinks…get to know her, but I warn you old friend, don’t go planning any wedding just yet. You have not told me what makes you an expert on woman…kom ek wag…talks to me.”
“Ha ha Bwana Piet…am I not the one with six wives…and you, the one with nothing.”
“Ja Jacob…six wives…that is why you stay here in the camp and only go home every three months or so…six wives to many old friend.”
“Eish Bwana Piet…a man is like a battery…he needs to recharge before he goes to his wives…or else there is trouble in the home…it is better I stay here.”
‘Alright old friend, you have made your point…I will call the lady in the morning…fok, I don’t know what I am letting myself in for…are you sure there is not a man-eater we need to take care of?”
“Ha ha haaa Bwana Piet, you have had your share of “man-eaters”…the time for you to find a mate is now here…do not worry Bwana…I Jacob will guide you in the art of courtship.”
“Gaan slaap Jacob…you talk too much…leave me alone with my thoughts.”
Piet watches as Jacob makes his way towards the staff quarters, the blazing fire has now died right down, his drink forgotten…his mind filled with the sound of her voice…her smile…those blue eyes. Muttering under his breath, the burly South African makes his way towards his tent.
Unseen by Piet, the paper that holds his hopes flutters off his lap, the breeze plays with it, until it lands on the slowly dying coals…a brief flare of flames and cashier number fours number goes up in smoke.
“Moer…I don’t know what is wrong with me, but I can’t get her out of my head…fok…van Zyl you are in the shit my man.”
Piet spends the rest of the night, restless, his mind wandering…his heart pounding in his chest and at last he admits to himself that the thought of Peggy scared him…no woman has every had this effect on him before…the big white hunter feels out of his depth…all he wants is to see her again.
Jacobs’s words play over and over in his head.
“Bwana Piet…you must take your courage in your hands…Eish!…the man that will hunt a wounded buffalo is scared of a woman…ai ai ai Bwana…you must speak what your heart feels, for if you lose her…your life will be meaningless.”
Scattered chatter rises over the three tops as the resident primates pay the camp a visit, hoping and looking for any scraps that might have been left around the camp fire the night before, a lone hyena passes beyond the boma…stops and sniffs the air…then moves on, the thick bush swallowing up its shape…the haunting cry of the Fish Eagle rings out across the bright blue sky as the sun bids Africa good morning, to be greeted by the snorts from the resident pod of hippo in the Zambezi River.
Suddenly the tranquility of the African bush is shattered by a bellow of frustrated rage.
“Nee fok…that bloody piece of paper must be here somewhere…think van Zyl…damn it boet…you would lose your own bloody head if it was not attached to your shoulders.”
A frantic Piet searches once again through his jacket, shirt and jeans for the phone number that was pulling him like a magnet. He has spent a sleepless night, tossing and turning…thinking of nothing but cashier number four. In the end he is determined to make that call…he has to see her again…but now the precious piece of paper had gone AWOL. He savors’ her name on his lips…”Peggy”…closes his eyes and sees her smile and with renewed vigor, once again goes through each and every pocket once again, coming up empty handed.
“En nou boet…you are stuffed…come van Zyl…think man…if you don’t call today, you will chicken out and then you might as well bury your bloody head in the sand. Wag…just phone the bank…ja boet…now you are thinking.”
With his mind made up Piet strides across to the dining area, his target, the phone directory, his mission, to phone Peggy…before his courage leaves him. He finds the number and dials…hears the urgent ringing at the other end and waits for the connection to be picked up…one minute…two minutes go past.
“Fok…don’t those bloody people work…shit how much longer must I hold on to be answered?”
He glances down at his wristwatch…it reads only six fifteen in the morning. He feels himself turning red with embarrassment, he gentle replaces the receiver…his courage held in check, and he writes the number down…determined to call again.
Six Thirty in the morning…the last fifteen minutes have felt like a life time…Piet keeps on looking at his watch…willing the time to speed up…needing to talk to Peggy…wanting to see her again, and then without a backward glance at the camp, he heads over to the waiting Land Rover…starts the engine, puts the vehicle in gear and pulls away along the dirt road…destination…Lusaka…mission…to see Peggy.
He turns on the radio and the voice of Celine Dion fills the cab of the Land Rover….telling everyone how she, “drove all night to be with you”.
“Ja you and me both lady…you and me both.”
He glances down at the fuel gauge…it reads three quarters full…more than enough for the three hundred and twenty five kilometre trip, and he should be there by the time the bank opens…and then…who knows…but he is now determined that he will see her again…telling himself it is far better than a phone call.
Back at camp a grinning Jacob and Isaac congratulate each other…Bwana Piet is on a mission, and if all went well they would soon have a Madam in the camp…after all someone else other than them was needed to take care of the burly South African.
The Land Rover steadily ate up the distance. All the way Piet went over and over in his mind what he was going to say to the beautiful Peggy…he rehearses it over and over again, until he was happy with the way it sounded.
“Hello Peggy…I thought that it would be better if I came to see you, rather than call. You have this amazing effect on me, and I would really like to take you out for lunch. I know a very nice place not far from here…we can get to know each other, and they serve a very good plate of food…I hope you are hungry?”
Lusaka was a busy hive when he arrived in the city…people hurrying to and fro, and once again Piet is struck at how much they all resemble ants…busy, busy, and busy, with nowhere to go. On reaching the parking lot outside the bank his heart drops into his boots…the place is still closed. He swallows hard, his mouth suddenly dry…and started rehearsing his “Peggy Speech” as he is now calling it, his eyes never leaving the door to the bank, and then he sees her…walking at a brisk pace along the sidewalk…and his courage goes out the window.
The vision of beauty looks up, and their eyes meet across the parking lot…Piet feels his heart lurch in his chest as she locks eyes with him, and he wishes the earth would open up and swallow him…then to his horror, she steps off the sidewalk and makes her way towards the parked Land Rover, that beautiful smile lighting up her face.
“Steady van Zyl…steady…don’t lose your cool…man she is gorgeous…remember your speech…take a deep breath…come on m…”
“Why hello Piet, fancy seeing you back in the city so soon…you must have forgotten something yesterday.”
“Ja…more…ag…I mean Good Morning…yes I think I left my sunglasses with you yesterday.”
Peggy’s bright blue eyes look deeply into Piets, he felt as if his heart is going to burst, and then she starts to giggle, and it sounds like music to his ears.
“Oh Piet…you are so silly…your sunglasses are on your head…now tell me Mr Man…Why are you really back in the city…or should I just take a wild guess.”
“Well you see it is like this…phew…moer…this is harder than hunting…what I am trying to say is th…”
“I tell you what big man, why don’t you take me out to lunch and we can talk…give you a chance to catch your breath…and then you can tell me why you are really here.”
“Ja…okay…that sounds like a plan…I’ll wait here for you, if that is alright?”
“Piet, my lunch hour is still five hours away…you must have something else to do until then…why else did you come all the way back to Lusaka?”
The way she says his name makes Piet van Zyl suddenly very self conscious… he suddenly realises that he has not shaved in two days…and is wearing the same shirt as yesterday.
Peggy turns away from Piet, makes her way towards the bank…looks back once at the man in the Land Rover…enjoying his discomfort and very thankful to a certain Jacob who had called her this morning…telling her the mouse had taken the bait…the man was smitten.
Behind her departure she left a very confused, bewildered Piet van Zyl, feeling as if he has just been hit between the eyes. He runs his tongue across his dry lips…watching her as she sways across the parking lot and into the bank…his mind in a total muddle…the ball had been taken away from him…his rehearsed “Peggy Speech” lies in tatters…the man who is always quick off the mark had nothing to say, except…
“ń Boer maak ń plan…that Peggy is a keeper, that is for sure…I must just play my cards right…I could settle down with a woman like that…moer…she takes my breath away.”
As the morning dragged on, she kept on looking out the window towards the parking lot…the Land Rover has not moved all morning…he is still there and she smiled to herself…Piet van Zyl had captured her interest months ago…and now the big white hunter is not moving…waiting for her like a lion at a watering hole…
“Well if he plays his cards right…he can capture me anytime.”
Daydreaming…eyes closed…Piet allows his mind to wander…what it would be like to have someone in his life. He has been alone for so long in the bush…his first love…the animals of Africa…the land and the people. The joy he feels when exposing his clients to the wild. Sharing the beauty of Africa with them, telling those stories of Africa around the fire at night…living in the wilds. Then a fear settles over him. It grips his heart in ice cold fingers…what if Peggy did not share his love for the bush, and he has to choose.
“Mrs Peggy van Zyl…now that has a nice ring to it…shit van Zyl, you have not even had a cup of coffee with the woman…slow down man…you are going to mess up.”
A knock on the window brings Piet back to reality, and suddenly everything that he has planned to say flies right past the smiling face looking in at him.
“Hello Piet…you been waiting long?”
“Ag nee…not long…I just got here a few minutes ago.”
“Oh Piet, you are so silly…I know that you have not moved…the engine is cold, and I have been watching you big man.”
“My moer…this one is sharp…but hell she is lovely.”
“What I mean is that I fell asleep…for some reason I did not have a good night, too much on my mind, you know, with the safari business and all.”
Piet stumbles out of the driver’s side of the Land Rover, runs around and opens the passenger door for Peggy. She slides into the vehicle…the hem of her dress riding up her long legs as she settles down…causing the burly South African to suddenly find something very interesting on the other side of the parking lot…the flush once again creeping up his neck.
The restaurant is empty…the two get a table in the far corner and Piet keeps on finding himself falling into those bright blue eyes as they look at him from across the table. Peggy wants to know all about him and at first Piet is very self conscious, but once he starts talking about his love for the bush, the animals and the people who live there, telling her stories of clients gone by he has her in hysterics. She reaches across the table and touches his arm…it feels as if an electrical current runs through him…and once again Piet van Zyl is speechless…he looks across at her, and finds himself once again falling deeply into those liquid blue eyes.
“Piet…earth to Piet…are you still there big man?”
With his heart pounding…mouth dry…Piet comes back to earth…his eyes focus once again on the woman sitting across from him.
“Moer, I’m just like a bloody schoolboy.”
“Peggy…I’m sorry…I was far away…not much good at keeping a beautiful woman company…too much bush in me I suppose.
“Hmm I like the way you say my name, and I can see you love Africa…I love the way you talk about it…so full of confidence…so tell me Mr Piet van Zyl…why did you come back in to the city today?”
Piet feels as if someone has just thrown a ice cold bucket of water over him, and finds himself stammering for an answer…and the woman across from him, just looks deeply into his eyes…making it even harder to get the words out.
“The…the tru…truth Peggy is that I…damn why is it so hard?”
“Just say what is on your mind Piet…pretend that you are talking to a client about hippo or elephant.”
“Ja well that is easy enough for you to say…what I mean is…you don’t look like a hippo or an elephant…my…my reason for coming back into the city was…phew…was to see you Peggy.”
“Well Mr Piet van Zyl…was that so hard…and I must say I am bloody glad that you don’t think that I look like a hippo or elephant…oh and Piet…I am very flattered that you came all this way to see me…it makes me feel very special.”
Piet looks across at the woman…her smile dazzles him…his heart pounds and for someone who does not believe in love at first sight…he is now a believer…sitting across from him is his future…sitting across from him is the woman he wants to grow old with and share his life with.
He reaches deep inside himself…willing the right words to come out…wanting her to know how he feels about her, but all he can do is stare back across the table as he fumbles for the right words.
“Ag you know…I needed a break from the bush…the company of a young lady, and now I am ready to…to…heck I don’t know…for some reason I can’t think straight…sorry Peggy, but I must take you back to the bank…the time is almost up.”
Peggy looks at Piet…she knows like all women know…Piet van Zyl has just discovered that there is such a thing as love at first sight, and now he is out of his depth. She first laid eyes on him three months ago when he was in the bank, and from that moment onwards Peggy knew that Piet was the man for her…unknown to him she had orchestrated that she was the casher that served him, she had made a point of talking to the man Jacob and she was the type of woman that got what she wanted…and Peggy wanted Piet.
“Wow! Piet how the time has flown…thank you so much for lunch…I really enjoyed it, and I just loved your stories. I would love to come out to your camp sometime…I just love the bush.”
Piets head is in a spin all the way back to the bank…”I just love the bush”…played over and over in his head. He jumps out, rushes around and opens the door for her…Peggy stands on tip toe and places a gentle kiss on his lips…stunning the big man even more, and with a twinkle in her blue eyes, moves off towards the bank…turns around and leaves him feeling shattered.
“Oh Piet…call me sometime…I would love to see you again…bye.”
Piet travels back the odd three hundred kilometers in a daze…the touch of Peggy’s soft lips still lingers on his…the magical sound of her laugh bounces around in his head, and her parting words…”I would love to see you again”…play over and over as the Land Rover eats up the distance back to the safety of the wilds…back to where Piet feels confident…back to where he is sure of himself…back to a world that he knows.
“Man I don’t know…this Peggy makes my knees weak…and I thought I was Mr Cool when it came to woman…David will laugh at me if he gets to hear about this little adventure. Fok van Zyl…get a grip…call David and get some advise…stop acting like a lovesick schoolboy…take charge man…remember, ń boer maak ń plan…now make a bloody plan…talk to David, get Peggy out here…and see what happens. Ja what is that bloody saying…a faint heart never won a woman or something like that?”
With the setting sun just touching the treetops, throwing shadows across the camp, Piet arrives back at camp…his mind made up…call David in Europe…bugger the time difference, and get some advice from his best friend, and then take the bull by the horns…call Peggy and invite her to join him in his world.
The shrill ring of the phone makes Piet cringe as he waits for the other side to be picked up…three rings…four and suddenly the clear voice of David travels across the vast distance that separates them.
“Well if it was not you snotkop, I would be very worried…how the hell are you?”
“Piet! You old Dutchman…great to hear from you…how are things in that bush of yours?”
“Ag everything is going well Dave, business is great, but I’ve got a small problem, and thought that maybe you can help out.”
“Let me guess Piet…you got a woman pregnant and no…”
“Nee nee nee, you think I am stupid hey…no this is different, but it is a woman…she makes me feel…shit David…she is all I can think about.”
The laughter comes over the phone loud and clear…Piet can hear the mirth in his friend’s voice, and can’t help himself but smile.
“Fok jou David…I’m so glad you find it so funny…I tell you man, this is serious…I need help here.”
“Sorry Piet, it is funny…the one who had the pick of all the girls at the school dance, Mr Cool himself is asking me for advice…but seriously my friend…just how bad is it?”
“Dave…it is bad…her name is Peggy…the most wonderful creature you would ever meet. I was thinking that I should ask her out to the camp…show her around…moer…you should see her eyes…like liquid pools of blue…a man could drown in them…I tell yo…”
“Hang on Piet…hang on.I get the picture…loud and clear…man this is great…you my friend are in love. My advice to you old friend is to follow your heart…call her, invite her out, let her see the real Piet, and take it from there, but Piet, a word of warning…don’t wait too long…you just might lose out.”
“Dankie David…and yes my friend, you are right…van Zyl is in love, and in the morning I will call her…Thanks again…I just needed to hear someone else tell me what I already knew.”
Piet replaces the receiver, his mind made up. In the morning he will call Peggy and invite her out to the camp for a weekend…and see how things pan out.
Once again his dreams are filled with the vision of cashier number four. He smiles in his sleep as he relives the quick goodbye kiss, and moans in frustration as the dream fades, desperately trying to hold on to the memory.
Hands grip his shoulder…Shaking him…awake him in a daze.
“Ja okay Peggy, I am coming…I’m…Jacob! What’s wrong?”
“Ah Bwana Piet, you were talking in your sleep…this Madam Peggy, she is the right one for you my friend, but today, the clients from Germany arrive. I must take the Land Rover and collect them from Lusaka. Isaac has prepared the tents…all is ready, but you Bwana…Eish…now you even sleep late.”
“Damn Jacob…Dankie…I bloody forgot about their arrival…Ja…you better go collect them…I need to shave and check the rifles before they arrive…moer…that now puts a spanner in the works…damn it.”
“Bwana Piet, the Madam will still be there in a week’s time…but for now the people from Germany are there for you.”
“Have you any idea how long a bloody week can be old man?”
“Bwana Piet, a week is nothing…the clients will keep you busy, and then old friend, we will prepare the wedding feast for I can see the Bwana is bitten and held fast.”
“Jacob…piss off and collect the clients, you are starting to sound like the monkeys in the trees…nonstop chatter.”
Piet watches his boss boy leave the tent, quietly chuckling to himself as he makes his way over to the Land Rover. Piet lies back in his bed and wonders how he is going to get through this week long safari, and then in a flurry, rushed out in his undershorts, after Jacob.
“Jacob…wag…you got something that I need, and don’t deny it old friend…I know. I want Madam Peggy’s phone number please.”
“Eish Bwana Piet…I have it here, but Bwana, that is all I can help you with…I got enough problems with my six wives without the Bwana’s problems as well.”
“Jacob, you are just a smart arse…go fetch the clients…we will talk again.”
Piet watches as Jacob pulls away from the camp…then looks at the piece of paper Jacob has given him, and his eyes widened at what he sees.
I knew that you would lose my number, so here it is again, and this time big man…don’t lose it…use it and call me…I’m waiting. My number is 047 347 2201.
The week passes slowly for Piet…even the attention from the twins does nothing to stir the big man…both are blonde, blue eyed beauties and both had the same idea…the big white hunter is on the menu. They try every trick in the book to capture him, but each time he looks at them…Peggy’s face swims into his vision…blonde hair, blue eyes, and that smile.
“Fok…what the hell…two for the price of one, and I am not even interested…man I must be sick…ja van Zyl…love sick boet…shit your reputation is going to go up in smoke if this gets out. Man each time I look at them I see Peggy. Okay I admit it, but only to me…they just do not come close to that woman in Lusaka.”
Piet builds up the courage to take the twins to one side, something he has been avoiding since their arrival. Both young women arrived at the river bank, dressed for the kill…in fact showing off more skin than a Penthouse Playmate, making the burly South Africa swallow hard, kicks himself for what he was going to say, and hoping he will not live to regret it.
“Hello Piet, we were wondering when you were going to pay any attention to us, after all it has been three days, and we have been sending out signals like mad…we have heard so much about you, and are dying to find out for ourselves.”
“Oh yes Piet, and we really don’t mind sharing, after all is that not what sisters do…bet you never-ever had twins before?”
“Ag nee man…give me strength…this one is going to be tough.”
Piet looks at the two eager young ladies…takes a deep breath and plunges right in.
“Ladies…I mean Paula and Desire…I must admit that I find you both very attractive…but I am very sorry…you see I injured myself and because of my injury, I cannot…how can I put it…ah…rise to the occasion, and I would hate to disappoint you. So rather than try, I would rather be able to relax, enjoy your company, and just get better…the sooner the better I hope.”
“Oh poor Piet, and here we were thinking that you were not interested. Well I am sure I speak for Paula as well when we say we are disappointed, but we understand…never mind big man, we have already booked a safari for next year again…you can make up for it then…until then…just relax and get better.”
The twins both stand on tip toe, giving the big white hunter a soft kiss on each cheek, their bodies pressed close to him…letting him know what he is missing, and then ran off back to their tent, leaving a very relieved Piet standing there, watching them leave.
The rest of the week passes, with the twins treating Piet as if he is wrapped in cotton wool, until finally with a huge sigh of relief he watches as Jacob takes to the dirt road…the touring party all accounted for in the Land Rover, and on their way to connect with their flight back to Germany.
“Phew, that was a close call…now van Zyl…it is time for ń Boer maak ń Plan…operation Peggy is underway…make that call.”
For the third time Piet cuts the call…his heart in his mouth…as nervous as a schoolboy on his first date, and then mustering his courage, he hits the redial button on his mobile…trying to control his breathing as he waits for Peggy to answer. Four rings…five…six…and just as his courage was leaving him…
“Hello, Peggy speaking…sorry I was in the shower.”
Suddenly the burly South African is speechless…his mouth has gone bone dry…he presses the phone to his ear, willing himself to say something. Anything…but all he manages is a groan.
“Hello…hello…I can’t hear you. Piet is that you?”
Visions of Peggy float in front of his eyes…his heart hammering in his chest…Piet fights with himself…forcing the words out.
“Ja dis ek…ag…yes Peggy it is me…I’m just calling to say hello.”
“Why hello “ek”. Really nice to hear from you. How are things in the bush?”
“Things are great…but…but…a…the reason I called…I mean…can I take you out for a drink sometime?”
“Oh Piet, you are so silly. You are going to drive over three hundred kilometers to take a girl out for a drink.”
Slowly his courage returns…her voice sends shivers of pleasure down his spine…and Piet van Zyl takes the bull by the horns.
“Ja well you know…if the lady is worth it…three hundred kilometers is nothing…so Miss Peggy is that okay with you…can I take you out for a drink?”
As Piet took a shower, shaved and selected his best looking shirt, all he could hear in his head is her laugher, and the words…”Yes, I would love that”…over and over again.
The next three weeks passed by, with Piet spending more and more time in Lusaka…his feelings for Peggy growing and growing…each time he sees her he finds himself marveling at her beauty, her quick wit…she matches him word for word…and when he returns to the safari camp, he is left with an empty feeling inside, for he has left a piece of his heart behind every time they said goodbye, for he knows he has found his soul mate…now all he needed was the courage to tell her how he felt about her.
She gazes across the table at him, the candle flickering in the soft breeze…reaches across and caresses his arm, sending bolts of electricity shooting through his body. Piet looks across at her, swallows and jumps right in.
“Peggy, I was wandering if maybe you would like to spend some time at our safari camp…I mean you will have your own tent…I don’t mean anything like that…I mean…what I…I mean is that I would like to show you my world.”
“Big man, I was starting to think that you did not like me…I’ve been waiting for an invitation into your world.”
“Nee fok…ag sorry…not like you…moer…what is there not to like…of course I like you Peggy…you make me feel…ah…ah…you make me feel nice.”
“Nice…nice…I make Mr Piet van Zyl feel nice…how nice.”
“Ag Peggy…you know what I mean.”
Peggy’s eyes sparkle as she put Piet in a spot…once again the burly South Africa has managed to put his size ten’s in his mouth.
“No Piet, I don’t know what you mean…why don’t you tell me. I would love to hear what nice means.”
“What I mean is that you make me feel good inside…”shit why is it so hard to tell her how I feel…damn it I love the woman”…I really enjoy your company.”
Peggy can see the love light shining out of his dark brown eyes…she knows like a woman knows…the man opposite her is in love with her…but she has no intention of making it easy on him…after all she has fallen in love with Piet, but is determined to wait until he finds the courage to tell her how he feels…but for now, she will let him off the hook.
“Well that explains all the trips into Lusaka, the flowers, the late night dinners, and your invitation…you enjoy my company, well I enjoy yours as well…soooo when can I come out to the camp?”
The camp is a hive of activity…never before have Jacob, Isaac and Simpewe seen the burly South African like this before guests arrived…nervous…on tender hooks…and the most amazing thing to all three of the men is Piet, going out looking for wild flowers to place in the tent that has been set aside for the visiting lady.
The three smile to themselves and talk in hushed tones…Bwana Piet is now a lost cause…his heart no longer belongs to him but to the woman who is going to be arriving soon. Their hearts are glad, for he has been alone to long…they have seen the loneliness in his eyes when the camp has been empty…sitting staring into the flames of the fire as they licked the darkness around him…they hear it in his voice when he bids them good night.
“A man like the Bwana needs a strong woman in his life…she must share his love for the bush…Bwana Piet has been like the young bull for too long…all that is meaningless to him. My heart tells me that if the Bwana finds the courage to speak his heart…the young bull will be put out to pasture and his heart will be filled with joy.”
“Eish Jacob…wise words, but the Bwana is like the cattle in a kraal with the lion outside the fence…he has changed his shirt three times this morning…The one who faces down a charging elephant…trembles at this moment.”
“Simpewe, you are still young…wait until a maiden steals your heart…you too my friend will tremble, and not only with the feelings but the worry of the Labola…Eish…Bwana Piet does not have to worry about Labola…he must just find the courage inside to let his heart speak.”
“Jacob, Simpewe is too skinny for a maiden…he is like the dog in the city that chases a car…when he catches it. He will not know what to do with it.”
The sound of an approaching vehicle stills all talk. The three make themselves scarce leaving Bwana Piet to act as the welcoming party, reception, check in clerk, host and most of all, leaving Piet standing there with his hat in his hands, his heart pounding, and mouth dry waiting for the arrival of Peggy.
Piet stands and watches as Peggy arrives at the camp in her bright green V.W.Beetle, a huge smile on her face and her eyes beaming. Piet is like a race horse at the starting gate…he cannot wait to share his world with this woman…all fears forgotten as she steps out of the car…into his world. He moves to greet her…she stands on tip toe…kissing him on the lips and all his courage melts like a block of ice, left out in the sun.
“Piet, you are going to ruin that hat of yours…just look at what you are doing.”
The hat has been wrung like a rag between his hands…feeling his face heating up…he grabs her suitcase…avoiding her eyes…and leads the way across to her tent…the wild flowers waiting in a glass jar.
“I forgot I was holding it…Ag never mind…I can always get another. Peggy, this is your tent, and I hope you will be comfortable…th…th…thank you for coming.”
“The pleasure is all mine big man…thank you for inviting me…I guess I have not told you, but I have always wanted to live in the wilds…I am fascinated by the animals of Africa.”
Her words sent shivers through Piet…anticipation of being able to share what he loves, with the person he had lost his heart to. It gives him courage, and not before too long he has Peggy totally captivated with tales of days gone by. As they walked towards the banks of the mighty Zambezi River, she slips her arm through his…so engrossed in sharing his love of Africa with this lovely woman…Piet does not even notice.
That was the outer shell he projected…inside he just turned to mush each time she touches him, and his heart soars above the vast river…his heart pounding so hard, he is afraid she will hear it. One question is burning away at him…he has to know how much time he has with Peggy…how much time he has to build up the courage to tell her he loves her.
“Peggy…how long are you going to spend here in the camp?”
“Why Piet, I only just got here…you want to get rid of me already?”
“Nee, nee…moer, know ways…that is not what I meant…I…I just was wondering how many days I have to enjoy your company…that’s all.”
“Well, seeing as you put it that way…you are stuck with me for a week Mr Man…Think you can handle that?”
A feeling of absolute joy the fills the burly South African at these words and makes him want to do the dance of joy…but he sucks it up…looks down at her…and kisses her softly on the tip of her nose.
“I’ve got lots to show you…I am glad that you will be here for a week…welcome to my world Peggy.”
The days passed too quickly for Piet, he finds that there are not enough hours in the day. With the dawning of each new day, he strengthens his resolve, determined to tell Peggy how he feels about her…marches out of his tent, brimming with confidence…today is going to be the day, and before he knows it, the day has gone and they are saying good night, moving off to their separate tents.
That night he lies awake in his bed, thinking of her. The flickering flames from the campfire dancing on the outside of the tent…the lonesome howl of a jackal rings out through the still night, the hoot of a hunting owl and the call of the creatures of the night…all looking for the same thing…a mate…someone to love.
“Moer…I bet she is fast asleep…man she is just something else…she makes me feel whole. Damn I wish I had the courage to take her in my arms…look into those eyes of hers and tell her how I feel. Five days gone by van Zyl…it is slipping through your fingers boet…get a grip man…get a grip.”
Across the open space between the flickering camp fire, Peggy lies awake in her bed. Her head filled with thoughts of Piet van Zyl. She knows without a doubt that she is in love with the big man…she is almost sure he feels the same way. Call it woman’s intuition…but she knows like she knows.
“I bet he is fast asleep…nothing at all on his mind. Wow! But he is really an amazing man…I could very easily just throw caution to the wind and tell him how I feel. I wish he would just take me in his arms and hold me close…forget about being scared and tell me he loves me.”
As the moon climbs up into the clear African sky, the fire starts to die down…a small breeze sends whispers through the trees, both Piet and Peggy fell asleep…each one with their dreams…each one not knowing that you should be careful what you wish for…it just might come true!
The cry of the Fish Eagle echoes across the Zambezi heralding the arrival of another day in Africa, the snorts from the hippo pod and the faraway bark from a troop of baboon, the songs of the wild birds in the trees around the camp, mingle in with the chatter of the resident primates as Piet and Peggy make ready for what Piet hopes will be the highlight of her visit…a day trip into the Zambezi Valley…then a walking safari into the savannah grasslands.
Most of all, he hopes that today will be the day that he finds the courage to tell her how he feels…even if he just slips it in quickly…sort of …
”Oh by the way Peggy…I love you.”
Peggy watches the big man…a smile playing on her lips…she can see him fighting with his inner self…the inner turmoil…trying so hard to be Mr Cool. Then it struck her…
”Today of all days…the 14th February…Valentine’s Day…The day for lovers…hmmm maybe just maybe he has something up his sleeve.”
The camp drops behind them as they head off in the direction of the valley, the sun climbing up into the sky…both with their own thoughts…both wanting nothing more than to belong to each other…both wanting this to never end.
The day is perfect…almost perfect because as far as Piet is concerned he dries up every time he starts to tell Peggy how he feels, so he loses himself in acting as a guide, allowing himself to be swallowed up in her company…the parked Land Rover gets further and further away as they walked through the grasslands. Peggy marveling at everything Piet points out…the herd of Impala, the buffalo, a pride of well fed lion in the shade of a cluster of thorn trees, the tall giraffe moving with grace across the open plains, the leopard with its kill up in the fork of a tree.
Both are so absorbed in the wonders of Africa, that they fail to see the thunder clouds building up overhead…the wind picks up and with it the rain comes…suddenly…soaking both of them…their cloths sticking to them like a second skin.
The lightning flashes across the dark African sky, lighting up the rolling storm clouds, as the thunder hammers down, the rain hitting their exposed skin like darts…stinging and a chill sweeping through their bodies.
“Man Peggy, sorry man…I got carried away…we need to find some shelter from this storm. The Land Rover is just too far away…come let’s run.”
With his rifle in one hand, Peggy’s hand in the other Piet leads the way through the tall savannah grass, moving as quickly as possible, heading towards a cluster of trees off to the right, from the path they have been following, when suddenly Piet loses his grip on Peggy’s hand as she trips over large rock, hidden in the grass.
She lands hard; her ankle twisting under her as she falls…Piet can see the pain written on her face as tears mingled with the rain. Without thinking, he stoops down and picks her up effortlessly, and then as the storm increased its attack, he moves down the steep muddy slope of a donga…hoping for some kind of shelter…cursing himself for the situation they are now in.
The bottom of the donga is filled with thick brush, so he carefully makes sure they hve the place to themselves, moves Peggy under the bushes, and then joins her…holding her close…acting as a shield against the driving rain.
The donga into which they have crawled seeking shelter from the sudden fury of the storm starts to fill with the downpour from the heavens, a small river flowing under their shaking bodies. Piet can feel the woman shivering against him as the cold sets in and the burly South African pulls her closer, his strong arms holding her close, offering her what warmth his own body can supply.
Over and over the safari owner curses himself for not paying more attention to what was happening around them, but he had eyes for nothing but the blonde blue eyed woman with him…damn he felt like a bloody schoolboy with a massive crush on the head cheerleader, and now the woman who has stolen his heart lies next to him…dripping wet…shivering with cold and with a possible sprained ankle.
“Fok, after this is over, and we get out of here alive I doubt if she will even smile at me again in the bank…fok Piet, you are so bloody stupid…you find someone that could be your soul mate, and you flush it all down the toilet. Shit I don’t even have the courage to tell her how I feel…but I know in my heart, this one is made for me.”
The woman beside Piet groans in pain. Her beautiful features twisted in a grimace as the cold from the storm washes over her…her face is a mask in the dim light but he can see how pale she is. He looks down at her left leg and can see the redness of the skin and the swelling starting up around her ankle. Piet pulls her closer…savouring her closeness…he kisses her softly on the forehead…Peggy looks up at him…he can see the pain in her eyes…but a small smile touches her lips.
Piet removes his soaking wet jacket, and starts to cut strips from the material with his hunting knife. The ankle needs to be splinted, and slowly he moves the leg out, removes her shoe and places padding around the swelling and then applies the makeshift splint. A soft groan escapes from Peggy’s lips causing him to look at her in alarm, but thankfully, she has passed out, giving the lovesick South Africa a chance to complete the job.
Once Piet is happy that the ankle has been stabilized, he settles back next to Peggy, puts his arms around her once more, offering her what warmth he can…his mind flies back to three months ago when he walked into the main bank in Lusaka…stood in the queue waiting for his turn with the teller, and was then rendered speechless as he gazed into those lovely blue eyes that looked back at him across the counter…her smile dazzling him…how his heart thumped in his chest.
A flash of lightning forks earthwards, splitting a mighty monarch of the African bush in two. The rain increases as it hammers down on the two people huddled in the donga. The woman burrows closer to the big man…seeking warmth…and a smile plays on his lips as he remembers Jacobs words…as he remembers the impact this woman has made on him.
“Bwana Piet…you must take your courage in your hands…Eish!…the man that will hunt a wounded buffalo is scared of a woman…ai ai ai Bwana…you must speak what your heart feels, for if you lose her…your life will be meaningless.”
Piet pulls the shivering woman closer…kisses her softly again on the forehead and looks into her beautiful face…gathers up his courage in his hands and whispers softly to the unconscious woman…or so he thought.
“Peggy …um…wat ek wil sé…I mean…ah…Ag fok…I love you.”
He feels her arms tighten around him…pulling him downwards towards her face, and before Piet can protest…finds himself being kissed…softly, gently and then with more urgency…the burly South Africa allows himself to get lost in the kiss…returns the kiss…holding her close…not wanting this to ever end.
They pull apart…look deeply into each other’s eyes…both realising that something magical has just happened…and then without saying anything, they kiss again…long…deep…with the passion that they both feel, until finally Peggy pulls away…looking up at Piet…that smile on her lips.
“Wow! van Zyl…you really know how to get a girls attention…talk about fireworks…is that you or the lightning.”
Piet opens his mouth to say something, but the rolling thunder drowns out his words.
“Hold me Piet…I’m cold…and tell me big man…was I dreaming just now, or did you say something like… Ag fok…I love you…I’m not sure I heard you.”
Piet feels his pulse rate increase, looks down at her upturned face. The falling rain washes away the big man’s misgivings, his fears and as if he is killing for the pot…he shoots straight for the heart.
“Peggy…I just want you to know how I feel about you…I…I…I’m in love with you lady…I would like to grow old with you…share my life with you…that is…um…that is if you will have me.”
“Oh Piet van Zyl…a girl could not ask for a better Valentine’s Day present…I love you Piet, with all my heart…and if that is a proposal…well I’m just going to have to think about it…I mean it is not every day that a man tells a woman he loves her…sitting in the mud…in the middle of a donga in the pouring rain.”
“Moer…it is Valentine’s Day…shit I slipped up again…I did not even know.”
“Well big man…if you don’t tell anyone you forgot…neither will I…it can be our secret. Now van Zyl…tell me again that you love me…and then get me home.”
The sun breaks through the clouds as the storm moves off towards the distant horizon. Picking Peggy up in his arms, Piet makes his way up the slope of the donga, relishing the feel of her arms around his neck, her hot breath on his cheek, and slowly makes his way towards the waiting Land Rover.
“Peggy…I love you with all my heart…this I know without a doubt…I love you.”
In the distance the roar of a lion can be heard…as if giving Africa’s approval of Piets declaration of love.
“You hear that Peggy…the king of beasts approves.”
Peggy holds onto the burly South Africa…tighter than necessary…why…because she just loves the feel of being cradled in his strong arms…she feels safe…warm…and most of all she knows that she belongs out in the wilds with Piet van Zyl.
“Well then big man, I’m sure he will not object if I have something to say as well…I love you Piet, I always have, and yes…I also want to grow old with you.”
The roar of the lion carries across to the two of them as they approach the Land Rover…making them both laugh.
“Well Peggy…I guess that is that…Africa approves. Mrs Peggy van Zyl…moer…that’s got a nice ring to it.”
“Oh Piet…talking about a ring…you know I saw such a nice one the other day, I mean I wa…Piet are you listening?”
With a wry smile on his rugged face, Piet looks at the woman he loves. He knows he is caught, hook, line and sinker…and is enjoying every moment of it.
“Ag jammer skat…I was just thinking you know.”
“Thinking about what big man…I was talking.”
“I was wondering if I could afford the Labola…I mean, how many cattle is your father going to want for you?”
“Labola…Labola…for me…oh Piet my darling…you don’t have to pay Labola…after all big man, you going to spend the rest of your life paying for coming into the bank.”
“Ja well I suppose you are right…well never mind skat…ń Boer maak ń plan.”
The Smoke that Thunders is a collection of three short stories. Feel the power of the mighty Zambezi river as it comes down in flood, a young girl caught in the raging current, the smoke that thunders hangs high over her head as she is sweeped towards the precipice; a hundred meter drop. Over 500 million litresâ€™ of water a minute cascade over the almost 2 km wide falls, causing a deafening and spectacular explosion of spray that can be seen from 30 miles away. This is why it is known locally as Mosi-oa-Tunya or The Smoke that Thunders. Can Piet van Zyl pull off a rescue attampt. The Anniversary is a dark tale, leading you down into the darkness of a deranged mind. "n Boer maak n Plan" shows the softer side of Piet van Zyl as he gathers his courage in his hands and persues the lovely Peggy in a short romantic lighthearted story.