AND THE LION AND THE LAMB LIE DOWN TOGETHER
“Line up at the counter! Start at the left. Work your way through to the right. When you're finished, fall in outside the store” shouted Corporal du Plooy.
Several storeman stood behind the long counter, about two metres apart from each other. They were National Servicemen, like the recruits, but had already finished their basic training. They wore the blue berets of the Quartermaster's Corps, in contrast with the green berets of the Infantry Corps, which our heroes would wear.
The first storeman, dressed in the brown SADF combat uniform, called “Browns” in the vernacular, completed a long inventory of every item that was to be issued to each new troop.
“Name” he asked Vaatjie.
“Vaatjie” came the reply.
“Not your size, retard. Your name.” The Afrikaans word Vaatjie means “barrel” in English. Vaatjie was very proud of the nickname that he had earned in primary school, when he had started ballooning to his present impressive size. Vaatjie also prided himself on his intelligence. He condescendingly stared down his nose at the cretin that had just attempted to insult him.
The storeman did not have the time or energy to argue with every new recruit. He had already processed over two hundred recruits that morning and there were another hundred or so still to come. “Corporal” he shouted. “This oversized dog turd is giving me grief!”
Corporal du Plooy had had enough aggravation from Vaatjie for one day. “You cannot run, but you can start fights” he hissed in Vaatjie's ear. “You can barely march, but you can waste my time. I will make a soldier out of you, even if it kills you.”
“On the floor!” With a mighty kick to his ample backside, Vaatjie landed on his hands and knees.
“Fifty proper pushups” ordered Corporal du Plooy. “Your chest will touch the floor every time, and your arms will be straight when you come up!”
“One!” Vaatjie wheezed piteously.
“Two!” Vaatjie wheezed a bit louder and his face turned a light shade of purple.
“Three!” Vaatjie barely managed straighten his arms.
“Four!” Vaatjie's wheeze resembled the bellow of a rutting bull-elephant.
“Five!” Vaatjie's face turned dark purple with angry red spots on his cheeks.
“Six!” Vaatjie collapsed into a pathetic heap on the floor.
Instead of sympathy, he got a kick in the ribs. “Up! Up!” shouted Corporal du Plooy. Wearily, Vaatjie straightened his arms. His ample stomach barely broke contact with the floor.
“You don't do it properly – you start over.” shouted Corporal du Plooy maliciously. “One!”
Vaatjie prayed for death, but it did not come. He prayed for deliverance from evil, but that also did not happen. Corporal du Plooy restarted the count twice more, both times when Vaatjie collapsed after the second pushup. He finally relented when he saw the shocked awe on the faces of the other recruits. Vaatjie's introduction to army discipline was also seriously holding up the line of recruits waiting to be kitted out.
Vaatjie was considerably meeker when the storeman confronted him again.
“Van Rooyen” Vaatjie wheezed.
“Force Number?” Vaatjie frantically searched his pockets. They were told to have the number with them at all times and he had written it down on a piece of paper. The storeman irritably tapped his pen on the counter.
Vaatjie finally produced his force number.
Once more disaster struck. Vaatjie was required to sign for the varkpan and eating utensils he had been issued with at lunchtime. “I lost my knife” he informed the storeman. The storeman immediately shouted for Corporal du Plooy.
This time he overplayed his hand. “Corporal,” he screamed. “This fucking retarded troop of yours lost his knife. You people have been holding up the queue for ten minutes already! We have work to do here!”
Corporal du Plooy stormed over. “What did you say?” he bellowed. “We have been holding up the queue? Who do you think you are talking to, Troop?”
With that, he grabbed the storeman by the throat and pulled him halfway across the counter. “Issue him with a new set of utensils and dock his pay. NOW! Or do you want to continue this discussion on the parade ground?”
Punishment drill was a very real and frequently-used tool against minor offences. Legends of troops being drilled to death abounded in the training facilities. No-one had actually witnessed such an event, but nobody was prepared to take the risk of being the next troop drilled to death.
The paperwork for the replacement utensil set miraculously appeared on the counter. The terrified storeman made Vaatjie sign a declaration that he authorised the Defence Force to deduct one rand, eighty-four cents from his wages.
Vaatjie meekly pointed out that he had only lost the knife, not the complete utensil set. He nearly did more pushups. Prudently, Vaatjie decided it was a much wiser decision to accept the replacement utensil set.
The next storeman in the row behind the counter issued each recruit with a canvas carry-all, shaped like a sausage. It was nearly a meter long and about seventy centimetres in diameter. On top it had a zipper, running the full length of the sausage, two leather handles and a canvas shoulder carry strap. The soldier’s name for this contraption is a “balsak” (scrotum - ball sac). The balsak already contained a brown mattress cover made of cotton, two brown sheets, a brown pillow case, two grey army blankets and two brown towels. The army is awfully particular to the colour brown. Even the vehicles are painted in the same muddy colour.
The next storeman made every recruit unpack his balsak, check that every item was present and accounted for and then sign for these items. The recruit then had to repack the bedding into the balsak. The new recruits hastily bundled their bedding into their balsakke. The storeman regarded the wrinkled sheets with a nasty grin on his face.
At the next station, the recruits were issued with their “uniforms” for Basics. Each recruit was issued with two brown overalls, one pair of army boots, two pairs of brown socks, one brown vest (tank top), two pairs of black PT shorts and finally with two pairs of grey underpants. The storeman explained that the underpants were grey, so that the corporal could more easily check the personal hygiene of the troops at Inspection. This statement added a whole new dimension of terror to their already overactive imaginations.
The next storeman made them show every item to him, sign for it and stuff it into the already bulging balsakke. He shared his companion’s nasty grin when he saw how the new recruits wrinkled the overalls when they were stuffed into the balsakke, just like they had stuffed the sheets in.
At the second last stop the recruits were issued their headgear for Basics. Each recruit received the brown plastic inner lining of a steel helmet. The helmet was called a “staaldak” (steel roof) in Army parlance. This would, however, only be issued to the recruit when he started rifle training. He now had to make do with a “doiby” as the inner lining was called. All South African schoolboys knew and loved the Harvey Comics character “Spooky, the tuff little ghost”. Spooky referred to his black derby hat as a “doiby” and this became the name for the staaldak’s plastic inner lining.
The last storeman made the recruits sign for their doibies. Here Vaatjie once more risked life and limb. He asked for the extra utensil set he had signed for. The storeman made it abundantly clear that it was not his job to issue Vaatjie with anything. A growl from Corporal du Plooy immediately changed his mind for him. Vaatjie was finally kitted out and joined the growing group of recruits outside the store.
The recruits waited in the sun’s merciless glare. Sweat ran down their faces. An intrepid soul decided that a bulging balsak might actually provide a decent seat. The corporal of the next peleton waiting to enter the store quickly disabused him of that notion. “Get your fucking arse off that balsak!” he shouted. “You’re in the army, not in your mother’s fucking front parlour!” The offender quickly jumped to the “at ease” position. Vaatjie’s punishment was still very fresh in his mind.
Peleton forty-four was finally kitted out and ready for any further horrors to be inflicted on it. The recruits were not disappointed. Corporal du Plooy ordered them to sling their balsakke over their left shoulders and to put their doibies on their heads.
“Peleton forty-four, a-ten-tion!” shouted Corporal du Plooy. “Open Order-r-r-r, MARCH!” The peleton had been formed up into three rows of ten recruits. At the order, the front row took two paces forward and the back row two paces backward. The middle row stood still.
“Ri-ight DRESS!” The right arms of only the front row shot out to the right, behind the backs of their companions. Everyone in the peleton also wrenched their heads to the right, except for the three recruits at the extreme right of the peleton. They looked straight ahead and Riaan, who stood in the front row, did not extend his right arm. It stayed down in the “attention” position. The others shuffled to the left in quick, short steps, until their balled fists just touched the left shoulder of the man to their right. Then they shuffled forward and back until they formed a straight line. The two back rows followed suit until every man stood exactly behind the recruit in front of him and all three rows were completely straight.
This was the theory of the exercise. The reality was quite something else. Corporal du Plooy was less than pleased with the recruits’ performance. He waxed lyrical. He discussed the recruits’ parentage in detail. He considered their possible progeny. He speculated on each recruit’s every unsanitary habit. He finally returned to the topic of their parentage. He slapped heads. He kicked backsides. He had an absolutely marvellous time at the recruits’ expense.
Corporal du Plooy finally came up for air. “Close order-r-r-r, MARCH!” The two outside rows marched back to the centre row. Corporal du Plooy invoked the name of the Lord. Why had the Good Lord seen fit to burden him with these dregs of humanity? These specimens were lower than snake shit on the bottom of the ocean! But he would persevere. They would piss blood, but they would become soldiers!
“To the ri-i-i-ight, TURN! By the left, double time, MARCH!” And off they went at a wobbly run. The balsakke pulled them off balance, but Corporal du Plooy had no sympathy for the recruits. They circled the parade ground twice. Stragglers received sharp blows to the head accompanied with acid commentary regarding their parentage and their own unsavoury habits.
Vaatjie’s face turned its usual purple hue and he wheezed like a steam locomotive. Corporal du Plooy had made it his mission in life to torment Vaatjie. He gleefully looked forward to the moment Vaatjie would have a heart attack and rid the world of one more oxygen thief.
They finally came to a halt in front of their bungalow. “You will enter the bungalow one by one. You will place your balsak on your trommel (the metal chest at the foot of each recruit’s bed). You will then stand to attention in front of your trommel, facing the centre of the room. Do you understand?” The recruits replied with a ragged volley of “Yes, Corporal.”
Corporal du Plooy cupped his hand behind his ear. “I did not hear you. LOUDER!”
“It seems that the cat got you girls’ tongues. LOUDER!”
The volume was still not loud enough to Corporal du Plooy’s liking. “If you ladies don’t feel like talking to me, we will have to make a plan. Put down your balsakke! On the Ground! You will do pushups until you can speak up!”
“ONE! TWO! THREE! PROPER PUSHUPS ARSEHOLE! Do you think I cannot see you slacking?”
“ONE! TWO! Van Rooyen! GET THOSE FUCKING ARMS STRAIGHT! You are a disgrace to the Defence Force!” Vaatjie’s purple face turned an even deeper purple.
“ONE! TWO! YOU THERE WITH THE RED HAIR! GET YOUR CHEST ON THE GOUND EVERY TIME! Don’t think I can’t see you slacking!” Riaan snorted and whispered “cunt” under his breath. Johan heard the expletive, but was too tired to even smile.
“ONE! TWO! THREE!” The count started over yet again.
After innumerable pushups, Corporal du Plooy finally shouted “ARE YOU LADIES IN A MORE TALKATIVE MOOD NOW?”
They were finally allowed to enter the bungalow. Each recruit put his balsak down on his trommel and stood rigidly at attention in front of it. They were a ridiculous sight in their civvies (civilian clothing) with the brown doibies perched on their heads.
Corporal du Plooy punched Wouter, who was at the first bed to his left, in the chest. “What is your name Troop?”
“Wouter Akkerman, Corporal.”
“Are you longing for your mama’s tit, Wouter Akkerman?”
Wouter’s face turned blood red. “No Corporal.”
He received another sharp blow to his chest. “We have no place for mama’s boys here. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?” Another punch punctuated Corporal du Plooy’s shouted question.
“When your betters request your name, you reply PRIVATE AKKERMAN, SIR! DO YOU UNDERSTAND?” Wouter received another punch.
“WHAT IS YOUR NAME?”
“PRIVATE AKKERMAN, SIR!”
“PRIVATE AKKERMAN, SIR!”
Corporal du Plooy was finally satisfied with the volume of Wouter’s replies. “Listen up! Private Akkerman is now your Peleton Bull. When an officer or an NCO enters the bungalow, he will shout Kaserne, Aandag! (Barracks, Attention!). You will then leap from whatever you were doing to the spot where you are standing now. Private Akkerman will also relay any orders or instructions from higher authority to you. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”
Corporal du Plooy now made Wouter unpack his balsak. He grabbed the mattress cover. “This is a pisvel (piss skin)” he shouted. “You cover your mattress with it.” Vaatjie rolled his eyes at this revelation from On High. His luck held – Corporal du Plooy did not see this act of insubordination.
“There will be no wrinkles on the pisvel once it is on your bed. You will then place your sheets and BOTH blankets on the bed.”
“This in January, the hottest month of the year, where temperatures reach up to forty degrees centigrade. Yeah, right. Only in the army” whispered Vaatjie and rolled his eyes rolled once more.
“You will fold the top sheet over the blankets, so that fifty centimetres of the sheet shows. Fifty centimetres, no more, no less. I will measure every bed. You will then cover the pillow with the pillow case and place it squarely at the top of the bed. There will be NO creases on any item on the bed and all the corners will be COMPLETELY SQUARE! DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”
“You will now change into your uniforms”. Corporal du Plooy disdainfully pointed at Werner’s one pair of overalls. “Every item of clothing will be ironed to perfection. If I find one crease in any item, you will wish that you were never born. THE LOT OF YOU! Civilian clothing will be folded neatly and packed into your civilian suitcases. The suitcases will be put away in your trommels and returned to whatever hole you crawled from, later this week. You will also place your electric iron in your trommel. Spare items of uniforms, as well as your ironing board, will be placed in your kas (the metal cabinet next to every bed. Underwear and socks will be neatly folded on the shelf and your spare overalls will be neatly hung beneath that. Your toiletries will de displayed on the shelf next to your underwear and socks. You may have civilian underwear mixed with the underwear issued to you. For inspection purposes, your doiby will be displayed on your trommel. Your varkpan, mug and eating utensils will be displayed on the foot of your bed. You will keep your kas and trommel locked with the locks you brought with AT ALL TIMES. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”
“Supper will be at eighteen hundred hours SHARP! By that time this pigsty will be clean, every bed will be made and you will stand at attention at the foot of your bed! DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”
Corporal du Plooy turned on his heel, and slammed the door closed behind him. Every recruit sighed with relief.
“We should buy the cunt some ear buds (Q-Tips in the USA)” commented Riaan. “He has a serious wax problem. The pizza faced little bastard gives me the shits.” Johan giggled. Had Corporal du Plooy heard these comments, they would have been doing more than running and pushups.
It was time to start getting the bungalow in order. Because of the heat, the recruits stripped to their underpants and packed the sweat-stained civvies they had worn that morning, into their suitcases. “Imagine the stench when this suitcase gets opened next week” said Pieter Jooste, a tall recruit with dark blonde hair and baby blue eyes.
“I don’t have that problem,” commented Vaatjie. “I sweat pure English Leather aftershave.”
“Yeah, right. You stink like a privy after a thunderstorm” came the coarse reply.
Johan stared at Riaan. Riaan had an athletic build with well-defined muscles on his arms and chest. The freckles on his face extended onto his shoulders. Johan’s eyes dropped to Riaan’s underpants. They contained a very interesting bulge. He suddenly realised that Riaan was also sizing him up. They both blushed beet-red and looked away.
A few recruits, whose older brothers had already been to the army, knew how to “gyppo” a bed. This knowledge was quickly shared with all the other recruits. If one bed was not up to Corporal du Plooy’s standards, the whole bungalow would suffer the consequences.
There were only two electrical outlets in the bungalow, one on each side of the room, but a few enterprising mothers packed extension cords into their sons’ luggage. The extension cords were connected together, so that every bed could be reached. They connected an electric iron to each extension cord.
When a mattress was ensconced in its pisvel, the pisvel was ironed to wrinkleless perfection. The corners were soaked with spray starch and then ironed with both irons until the corner was as hard as rock. It was compressed to a sharp edge that would be able to cut like a razor. This same procedure was followed with the sheets and even the blankets. The pillowcase was first ironed and then put on the pillow. Try as they might, the soft synthetic pillow would just not keep its shape.
When all the beds were made, it was time to tackle the floor and bathrooms. The storeroom contained a wash trough in which clothing could be washed and a cupboard with cleaning rags and floor polish. Two industrial sized brooms leant against the cupboard. They also found a galvanized bucket hidden beneath the wash trough.
It was decided that the floors should first be swept. Then they should be washed and dried. When the concrete was completely dry, which should not take long in the January heat, the floors should be polished and buffed. This should not take too long. They should be finished by suppertime.
Johan and Riaan manned one of the two brooms. Riaan swept part of the floor and was then relieved by Johan. They swapped again after another section of the floor had been swept. It just felt natural that they should do things together. Vaatjie and Jannie manned the other broom. They worked the two brooms in tandem. Both the bathroom floor and the main floor were quickly swept.
The scrubbing of the floors also did not take very long. As there was only one bucket, it was moved from recruit to recruit and every recruit scrubbed only the bit in his immediate vicinity. They worked from the back of the bungalow to the front. To avoid footprints on the floor, the recruits that had finished their scrubbing, waited outside for the floors to dry. Other bungalows had the exact same idea and pretty soon the space between the various bungalows filled up with chatting recruits, dressed in underpants only.
Johan, Riaan, Vaatjie, Jannie and Wouter stood chatting in a little circle. Vaatjie’s shoulder and arm muscles were very painful. His mother had thoughtfully packed some “Deep Heat” (a liniment for torn muscles) and Jannie promised to rub it into his painful muscles when it was safe to enter the bungalow again.
Jannie voiced the age-old mantra: “If I catch that little shit on Civvie Street, I’ll cut out his balls.”
“You that shit your underpants, when the barber slapped you,” reposted Vaatjie. “We can still smell you twenty meters upwind.” Jannie, ever ready for a brawl, cuffed the side of Vaatjie’s head. He relented when Vaatjie wailed about his torn muscles.
“We live on a farm outside Oudtshoorn” Johan told Riaan. “My dad breeds ostriches and we have a few Angora goats.” Oudtshoorn is the world ostrich capital and Angora goats are worth their weight in gold, as mohair is weaved out of their hair. This means that the Lubbe family was quite affluent.
“My mother is a primary school teacher in Riversdale. My father died when we were little, so it is just my mum, my younger brother and me”, Riaan told Johan.
“I always wanted a brother or a sister” said Johan. It is no fun being an only child. Even the workers’ children were a lot older than me.”
“It seems that you are good friends with Vaatjie and Jannie?”
“Yes. We have been friends since we started school. Vaatjie is very clever, but he gets himself into a shitload of trouble if you don’t look out for him. Jannie’s temper always gets the better of him. I try to look out for both of them. They’re walking disasters by themselves. Have you and Wouter also been friends for long?”
“He came to our school in Standard Six (eighth grade – when South African schoolchildren enter high school), His dad is the high school’s headmaster and he was transferred to Riversdale from somewhere near Cape Town. Wouter is a nice guy. The children of school teachers grow up in a hell all of its own. We sort of stick together.”
Johan felt an irrational pang of jealousy at the idea of Riaan and Wouter sticking together. Just then, the others started entering the bungalow. The floors were dry enough to be polished. At least he managed not to stare at Riaan’s crotch. With this small consolation, Johan followed the others into the bungalow.
Army floor polish is a whitish goo that smells of lilacs. It also stains everything it comes into contact with. Johan and Riaan spread the polish on the floor. The buffing team followed them. The floor had to be buffed three times, with no noticeable results. “At least it stinks like a cemetery. Pizza face will smell that we did our best” said the ever-optimistic Vaatjie.
With the hard work over, the recruits hit the showers. Thirty bodies under eight shower heads make for cramped quarters. Vaatjie alone counted for three ordinary recruits.
Johan manoeuvred himself next to Riaan. He could not help himself. Riaan’s equipment drew his eyes like a magnet. He suddenly realised that Riaan was also checking out his equipment. Guilt hit him like a sledgehammer. For the first time in his life Johan realised that he was different. Men do not check out other men’s penises. Men do not dream about kissing other men. Men do not fantasise about doing naughty things with other men. His cheeks flamed. Guilt was written in large letters on his forehead. Every other recruit could see that he was a detestable pervert. They would kill him – he deserved to be killed. There was no place in society for perverts.
Johan panicked. He had to get out of the showers. Riaan touched his hand, as if by accident. “Hey, what’s wrong?” he asked. Johan mumbled something incoherent.
“Don’t worry, everything will work out all right” replied Riaan, barely audible above the chattering of the other recruits.
This was too much. A wave of guilt constricted Johan’s throat. He rushed to the drying-off area and grabbed the first towel that came to hand. He barely patted himself dry. He wrapped the towel around his waist and ran to his bed.
At the last moment Johan realised that he could not lie down on the bed. It would be creased and the whole bungalow would be in trouble. He sank down on his trommel in a miserable little bundle.
The other recruits started exiting the shower. Laughter and admonitions of “Don’t touch the beds” filled the bungalow. Johan was crying inside. He tried his best not to show his emotions.
Riaan appeared with a concerned face. He sat down next to Johan on the trommel. “Are you OK?” Riaan asked quietly. So far, mercifully, the other recruits have not noticed Johan’s obvious distress.
To his utter mortification, Johan started sobbing. He grabbed hold of his other towel, which was still lying on his bed and hid his face in it. He would never live this down. Every recruit would laugh his arse off at the cry-baby pervert.
“Hey, it’s OK”, whispered Riaan. He unobtrusively squeezed Johan’s hand.
“No, it will never be OK. I’m a sick pervert” sobbed Johan.
COPYRIGHT © 2010 CHRISTIAAN BOOYSE.
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