Читать онлайн "Red Dog: A Frontier Novel"

автора "Willem Anker"

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... >The dog is called Ore, for his large flapping ears. He is sitting next to me under the tree. I am still cold. Geertruy is teaching me about zijn and hebben, being and having.

Ik ben, zij is, het is, jullie zijn, she says, I am, she is, it is, you are. Wij zijn. Zij zijn. We are. They are.

She waits for me to recite the list. I look at the white sunlight beyond the shade of the tree. The soil is quaking with heat.

Ik heb, u heeft, jij hebt, zij heeft, hij heeft, het heeft, jullie hebben, she says, I have, you have, thou hast, she has, he has. Wij hebben, zij hebben. We have, they have.

I repeat after her, make a few mistakes so that the lesson can carry on as long as possible. Only she and I. We have each other and are of each other. Hebben and zijn, to have and to be. The house and the other people are over there. I shuffle closer to her, try wriggling myself in under her armpit.

When do I zijn, when do I hebben? I ask.

You use zijn if you are talking of something that is on its way, to somewhere else, but a particular somewhere else. From here to there. In a direction. Verbs that speak of something that is moving, changing.

Oh, I say, and understand not a whit of it.

Coming, beginning, dying, shrinking, seeming, preventing, staying, looking, appearing, touching. And becoming, she says.

Becoming?

Yes, everything that becomes.

What does not become? I ask.

She is silent, looks up into the body of the tree, the branches above us as thick as crocodiles.

Zijn for departing, she says. Zijn for jumping in, for walking past, climbing up.

My teeth are chattering. I fiddle with the kaross, put my arm around the dog.

Coen, she says, note well. We say verbs are words of working, because words can work hard if you yoke them properly like willing oxen. Words are tools. You must learn to use them like a saw or a hammer. Come, think of more words that take a zijn.

Falling? I ask. Sinking?

Yes, she says. Always zijn.

She presses me against her, strokes the kaross.

Remember, Coen, what you are must be more than what you have. Most verbs need a hebben, but don’t forget the zijn. Zijn is how you grow from the inside. One day when you are old, you’ll see how your zijn, your being, has grown, big and strong like this tree. As long as you’ve given it enough water. Hebben is what you can count, everything you’ve accumulated.

What do you mean, Geertruy?

She pretends to be hearing something near the house.

I hear the baby crying, she says.

Wij hebben elkaar; wij zijn van elkaar. We have each other; we are of each other.

Damnation David flattens me with a blow one evening when I correct the head of the household’s pronunciation of the Dutch God’s High Dutch Word, and he thrashes me half to death when I drive the cattle into the kraal too late, and he beats the shit out of me when I sit too still in the house and look at him and smile.

I don’t want to bore you. A year after I ran off, I walk over to Mother’s homestead. Ore follows me at a trot. Mother is still pretty and the first Jacob is still alive behind his milky gaze. Mother is yelling at the Hottentots. She kicks a suckling pig that’s forever under her feet. She sees me coming, goes into the house and comes out with her hair under a bonnet. She awaits me at the door.

And to what do we owe this honour?

Good day, Mother.

Yes, good day. You’re thin. Don’t they feed you?

We stand and talk at the door and she doesn’t ask me why I ran away and I don’t ask her if she misses my father. While we talk, she directs the affairs of the farm with hand gestures and biting commands. I start to say good bye; she tells me to wait. She goes indoors and returns with the clothes that I left there and that are now too small. She says if they don’t fit me any more, I can pass them on to Geertruy’s offspring.

It’s a girl-child, Mother.

What is that to me.

I walk back to David Dunderhead’s house. On the way I chuck the clothes into the rhinoceros bush. A cloud of thistle seeds puffs up. I watch the sun setting. See the mountains grimacing with golden teeth. The kloof turns into a flared-open snout. If you live here, you wait for the clamping shut of these jaws you call home, you wait for the gnashing to commence.

Not far from the homestead Ore comes to a standstill. He listens to the distant barking of other dogs somewhere in the veldt behind us. The barking sounds different to that of the yard dogs. His tail creeps up between his legs. He comes to stand against me, he sniffs the air. Yowls and growls stick in his throat. The barking dies away. Ore trots on ahead, anxious to reach his own yard.

Sometimes I go back and talk to Mother. Sometimes she rubs my shoulders and says I’m going to grow tall, tall as my father, one day perhaps taller. Sometimes I touch her cheek and then I feel a little muscle contract when she clenches her jaw. She and Helbeck will move away shortly after my fourteenth birthday and I’ll never see her again.

With my father’s inheritance I buy two cows and a dozen sheep. David Dimwit lets them graze on his part of the farm and they multiply. At eleven I am taller than my brother-in-law; at thirteen I’ll be more than six feet tall. During the day I herd cattle with Saterdag, a Bushman child, perhaps a year or so older than I, but younger of body, named, for no particular reason, for the sixth day of the week.

David Donkey-dick caught Saterdag’s mother before his birth. Fortified with brandy and the singing of a few hymns, Demon David and the surrounding farmers ventured into the veldt that day to hunt Bushmen. Saterdag’s mother told him about that day’s hunt: the Hottentots lure the Bushmen out into the open and the Christians await them with flintlock muskets. The farmers’ lead runs out and they pour stones into the barrels and carry on shooting. They round up the surviving men and cut their throats, since they’ve run out of ammunition. The creatures don’t know this. The empty rifles pointed at them make them submit completely. They stand awaiting death with their eyes already fixed on some other destination. The women with babies and children younger than six are divided up between the farmers and taken to the farm and made to live among the Hottentots. The women are given to Hottentot men and the children to Hottentot women to raise, so that their savagery can be tamed. When another Bushman tribe is noticed in the district, Saterdag’s mother disappears one night, leaving him on the farm, her child who no longer was her child, but from an early age had taken after the farm hands among whom she was held captive.

I play with the Hottentot and Bushman children, we throw claystick and stones, we fish and steal eggs and fight. I play with the children but I don’t befriend them. It’s only Saterdag who keeps following me around. The Christianised children call us David and Goliath. When they pelt us with stones, David hides behind Goliath, the biggest and smallest whippersnappers on the farm. No stone is going to make this Goliath fall upon his kisser. I’m not the goddam farmer’s godforsaken son. I’m more at home among the huts than near the homestead. The children don’t treat me like a Christian. I don’t anger easily and I put up with the teasing, but sometimes something cracks and then for weeks only Saterdag dares come close to me. My clothes are forever either too small or too big. When in one year I outgrow three pairs of shoes, Geertruy gives up trying to shoe me. At the homestead I am on my own. Saterdag doesn’t venture into the yard. He remembers what his mother told him about the Christians and their guns and how a horse shod with iron can trample a Bushman to shreds.

One fine day in my twelfth year David Deathshead wallops me a last time. I hit back. He picks up his tooth from the ground and the next day he breaks a Hottentot’s collarbone with his fist.

That afternoon I spy on him to see how one skins a leopard. Geertruy comes walking up. My swine-syphilis godfather’s arms are dripping blood and fat up to the elbows.

I can’t chase him away, David.

You must do what you have to do. I’ll pay him a wage, but that savage is no child of mine.

He is a child.

Did you see how he hit me? Have you seen how he looks at me? How he laughs at me.

He’s not laughing at you.

He laughs.

One of the farm workers knocks me awake where like every night I am still lying under a kaross in the living room. Ore grumbles in his sleep. There we