Chapter 4:

“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.

Riaan worriedly regarded Johan. “What pervert? What are you talking about? There is nothing wrong with you.”

Johan’s shoulders heaved convulsively. He curled up into an even tighter ball. Riaan worried that the other recruits might notice Johan’s distress and ask inconvenient questions. He squeezed Johan’s leg. “Dry your face. Try to look as if you have stomach cramps. I’m taking you back to the bathroom.”

Most of the other recruits have finished their showers and were milling about the bungalow. Both Vaatjie and Jannie had noticed that something was wrong with Johan.

“What’s up with Johan?” asked Vaatjie.

“It seems to be the bloody bad food and all the running. He has stomach cramps” Riaan explained quickly.

“Fucking little Pizza Face should be shot at dawn” replied Vaatjie. He hugged Johan and winced in pain as the abused muscles in his arm screamed for attention. “Don’t worry, Johantjie (diminutive form of Johan). We will still show these baboons. We are indestructible.” Johan’s shoulders heaved.

“Let me see” Vaatjie opened his trommel and rummaged through his suitcase inside. “My mum packed some Valoids for upset tummies. And you still have to rub me Jannie. I haven’t forgotten.”

“Aha!” After a bit of rummaging and lots of grunting Vaatjie found dug out a packet of pills and a tube of Deep Heat liniment.

Johan had gotten his sobbing under control in the mean time. Luckily it seemed that nobody else had noticed Johan’s distress.

“Drink two of these now. When the cramps return, I’ll give you some more. But be careful. If you have too many of them, they’ll brick you up for a month, if you know what I mean” ordered Doctor Vaatjie.

He then plopped down on his immaculately ironed bed. “Rub me, Jannie. I’m in pain. We can always iron the fucking bed later.”

“Uh-huh. Guess who will have to iron the fucking bed once His Highness has been curried and combed” Jannie replied sourly.

“Quit complaining. You don’t want your best friend crippled so early on in life” His Highness retorted and painfully turned onto his ample stomach, destroying the immaculate ironing of his bed in the process.

Jannie shrugged his shoulders and resignedly started massaging the foul-smelling liniment into Vaatjie’s sore arms and shoulders. The other recruits were attracted by the horrible smell and Vaatjie’s grunts of appreciation.

“What the fuck are you doing?” shouted Wouter, “You do realise that if Pizza Face sees the state of that bed, we’ll all be in shit.”

It’s an emergency” grunted Vaatjie contentedly. “The cunt tore all the ligaments in my shoulders. If you don’t want my abused body to slow you down, you’ll all have to help me to get better again. You do realise who will also suffer the consequences if I’m not at my peak.”

Nobody could argue with Vaatjie’s brilliant logic. Hearing Vaatjie’s contented grunts, the other recruits soon clamoured for Jannie to massage their aches and pains away as well.

Vaatjie, always the shrewd businessman, agreed that Jannie could massage some of the others, but with a few conditions attached to the deal. He had to be reimbursed for his Deep Heat and Jannie had to be suitably recompensed for his massaging skills – in hard cash – at fifty cents a massage. The other recruits complained at the steep price, but Vaatjie was adamant. Fifty cents a massage or they could do it themselves. Patients that made use of Vaatjie’s bed also had to re-iron the bed when they had finished with it. Jannie was suitably impressed with Vaatjie’s negotiation skills.

While Vaatjie was negotiating with his prospective customers, Riaan unobtrusively led Johan to the bathroom. He pulled Johan into the store room and closed the door.

“What upset you so terribly?” Riaan asked softly. “If it is anything I did wrong, please tell me.”

Johan hid his face in his hands. “It’s me” he blurted. “I’m a sick pervert!”

Riaan sighed and carefully removed Johan’s hands from his tear-streaked face. “Perverts are dirty old men cruising the Location (Black Ghetto), looking for prostitutes. You’re no pervert.”

I’m much worse” groaned Johan. He swallowed and stared down at the floor. He finally whispered “I’m a moffie.” (Queer – a derogatory term used by both Afrikaans and English speakers to denote a gay person). “You were so nice to me and this is the way I repay your kindness. I'm sorry, I just cannot help myself. I’ll stay out of your way.”

“Johan,” Riaan whispered. Johan curled up into a ball on the floor.

“I know what you are going through.”

Nobody knows. Nobody cares. I'm a fucking pervert! I'm going to hell.”

Riaan sat down next to Johan. He put his arm round Johan's shoulder. Johan dislodged the arm with a sob.

“Listen to me, Johan! I went through the same thing last year.”

Johan sobbed harder.

We had a new history teacher in Matric.” (The final year in South African high schools is called Matric). “He cared about me. I never really liked history, but he showed me how much fun it can be – just like reading a story. He gave me extra classes. I knew I mattered to him; I was not just another stupid schoolboy. I fell for him, hook line and sinker. The only problem was that he was happily married and did not have a queer bone in his body.”

Johan uncurled slightly. “And? What did he do?”

“Thank God, I did not embarrass either of us by making stupid confessions.”

And here I make a stupid confession. I'm such a fucking washout. I deserve what's coming to me!”

No! No! No!” You are no washout! You deserve to be happy. You have done nothing wrong!”

“The Bible says I'm going to Hell! My parents will disown me. They will throw me out of the house, for God's sake! And you say I'm not doing anything wrong!”

You will be so surprised. I felt exactly like you. I could not handle the guilt. I finally plucked up the courage to speak to my mum.”

“Your mum? She didn't throw you out?”

No. She told me that I was still the son she had always loved. She promised me that she would never abandon me. She also said that love is love. Can you change the colour of your eyes? Can you decide how tall you will be? Can you choose your parents? You cannot choose who you fall in love with. It just happens”

This just sounds far too easy. What about what the Bible says? If you’re a pervert, you go to Hell.”

Since when is love wrong? The Bible is all about love. Jesus even loved the whores.”

And see where that got Him,” Johan muttered ungraciously under his breath.

Riaan wormed his arm around Johan's shoulders once more. This time Johan did not shrug it off.

I know how you feel, Johan. I went through it myself.” Riaan hugged Johan. There was just something about the stocky young man with the blond curls and piercing blue eyes that spoke directly to Riaan's soul. This beautiful young man was so lost. He was so vulnerable. He had bruised himself on the sharp edges of life. An unbidden thought came to Riaan’s mind. Johan needed protection from the harshness of life. Riaan decided that it was his duty to shield Johan from life’s cuts and bruises. He would be Johan’s backstop against the world. Johan needed him. Riaan longed to enfold Johan in his arms and to never let go. Instead, he hugged Johan once more.

The dark, dark green eyes bored into Johan’s soul. “Are you sure we'll be OK?” whispered Johan.

I'm sure. Things always work out for the best. Now let's get off our arses and get into our overalls. I'm sure the others will be very interested to know what we are doing in here. The showers are next door, not in the store room.”

They briefly stopped in the bathroom for Johan to wash his face and get rid of the two white pills Vaatjie had pressed on him. “Remember to act as if you still have a stomach cramp” Riaan warned.

The rejoined the other recruits in the bungalow.

Chaos reigned inside. To their horror, the recruits realised that their overalls were hopelessly creased, after being carelessly stuffed into the balsakke. There were only two electrical points available and everybody was frantically trying to iron his overalls. Corporal du Plooy had threatened the recruits with grave consequences if the bungalow – and their uniforms – were not up to scratch.

Johan and Riaan rushed over to their beds. A few of the other recruits were already dressed in their, now ironed, overalls. Most of them were still in their underpants only. Johan and Riaan hastily dropped their towels and dug for their new grey army underpants in their kaste. They folded the wet towels and hid them under their toiletries, as all the other recruits did. There was no time to hang the towels onto the washing line outside the bungalow.

The ironing of the overalls went fairly quickly. By 17h30 (5:30 PM), the recruits were dressed in their overalls, everybody's belongings were properly packed away, Vaatjie's bed was re-ironed to perfection and the floors were clean and still smelled of lilac floor polish.

Corporal du Plooy suddenly appeared in the door. Wouter kept his wits about him and squeaked “Kaserne, Aandag!” (Barracks, Attention), as was expected of him. Every recruit jumped up and stood to rigid attention at the foot of his bed, facing the centre of the room.

Old Pizza Face, as the recruits called him with less affection that he would imagine, slowly strolled down the room. He opened a kas at random.

“What the fuck is a wet towel doing in here?” he shouted. The owner of the kas, Martin Rheeder, one of Johan's school chums from Oudtshoorn, quaked in his new brown boots.

If I EVER find any wet or dirty clothing in a kas, you lot will shit what you haven't eaten! Wet and dirty clothing includes TOWELS!” He yanked Martin's possessions from the kas and shot them across the floor. With a mighty kick, he overturned Martin's bed. He stormed back to the door, yanking neatly ironed bedding from the beds as he went. The recruits went rigid with shock.

You WILL be woken up at 04h30 tomorrow morning. If I find ONE of you little cunts NOT sleeping in your bed, ALL of you will join him in at least a hundred pushups AND five times around the camp! You have until 06h00 to shit, shave and shampoo. Then you will RUN to the Mess. God helps the recruit that skips breakfast. Inspection is at 08h00. Remember that Lieutenant Basson will take the inspection. It will be a THOROUGH inspection. Even the doorknobs and window latches WILL be polished. Now, grab your varkpanne and get your lazy arses outside. FALL IN!”

Peleton forty-four once more took the scenic route. They circled the parade ground at a brisk trot. Corporal du Plooy then took them around the bungalow complex. They immediately noticed that they were not the only peleton running for their supper. Every new recruit, which had “cleared in” (reported for Basic Training) that morning, was participating in the festivities.

For a change, Peleton forty-four was one of the first groups entering the mess hall.

Supper was as dismal as lunch had been. The same limp salad awaited the recruits. Pork chops were served instead of the afternoon's sausages. The mashed potato was replaced by overcooked carrots, brussels sprouts swimming in butter and clumpy rice. The juice table contained orange juice, guava juice and the inevitable weak army coffee. Piles of sliced brown bread and a few slabs of butter, still in their packaging, adorned a table placed next to the juice table. The pudding was conspicuous by its absence.

Because they were early, the long lines of recruits waiting for supper had not yet formed. Five National Servicemen dressed in cook's whites slapped the food onto their varkpanne. Every recruit regarded the salad with suspicion. Only Vaatjie put some on his varkpan.

Peleton forty-four headed for one of the long trestle tables at the back of the Mess Hall. Wouter grabbed the foot of the table. Johan and Riaan sat on his right and Vaatjie and Jannie on his left, facing Johan and Riaan. The table was long enough, so that all thirty recruits could sit at it.

The brussels sprouts were surprisingly tasty. The rest of the supper tasted as bad as it looked. Vaatjie took one sniff at his salad and pushed it to one side. “There is no way in hell that I will take a bite of this shit. There are easier ways of committing suicide.”

The recruits were ravenous. The running had put an edge to their appetites that even the evil-looking army food could not dampen. When the varkpanne were polished clean, they attacked the bread table. The bread was not exactly fresh, but tasted like the nectar of the gods, according to Vaatjie.

People, how are we going to survive three months of this bullshit?” Jannie asked seriously. “Pizza Face is so far out of his gourd, he will kill one of us these days – and he will enjoy it.”

“Did you see him foaming at the mouth when he pulled all those blankets and stuff off the beds?” Vaatjie asked with a shudder. “I’m telling you, he’s rabid. One bite and you catch it too. Thank God, when they’re so far gone, they only last a week or so.”

Yeah right” Contributed Jannie to the conversation. “In a week he will have bitten all of us. We should start foaming at the mouth by the next weekend, then. The fucker isn’t rabid, he’s just bossies.

“Bossies? What is bossies?”

It happens on the Border. They get so fucked in the head with the heat and the shit food, and the terrorists ambushing them all the time, and having to stay continuously on guard so that they don’t get killed, that they just snap – like this.” Jannie snapped his fingers to illustrate. “They go completely mental. My brother told me that some guys that went bossies killed their own mates – right there on the spot. Boom. Finish. Sometimes it doesn’t show immediately. They come back home and only then the shit hits the fan. There was this one troop that went on pass just before finishing his National Service. He stayed somewhere in the Free State (a South African province). He took his girlfriend to the drive-in (drive-in theatre) and still managed to fuck her lungs out on the back seat of the car. He dropped her off at her folks’ place and went home. That night he killed both his parents with a bread knife, went over to the girlfriend’s place, killed her father with the bread knife and then strangled her and her mother with his bare hands. Bossies. And the guy seemed normal to everybody else.”

Nahh” said Wouter. “Pizza Face is just a mean little fucker. You know how it goes. He has little man disease. He feels he is fuck all if he can’t impress the troops. I bet his dick is shorter than my little finger.” They all laughed at the comparison.

Despite the laughter, everybody at the table was very worried. They had seen a side of Corporal du Plooy that frightened them badly. They realised that they were defenceless against his fury. He literally had the power of life and – if not death – then the power of broken limbs, over them. He could cause serious harm to a recruit on a whim. This was a very sobering thought. Riaan vowed to himself that he would defend Johan against this senseless abuse with his life. Johan also made a vow. Should Corporal du Plooy or any other person, ever hurt Riaan, for whatever reason, he would kill that person on the spot.