Chapter 9:

Johan drifted in a sea of blackness. No thoughts, no memories, no pain disturbed the quiet of his mind. He was enveloped in warmth and serenity. Johan drifted deeper and deeper into the comfortable nothingness. He was content.

After a long time a face slowly appeared out of the darkness. The lopsided grin was followed by a snub nose covered with freckles. Dark green eyes smiled at him. “Is this what you really want?” a familiar voice asked.

I am so tired. I don’t want to fight any more. I don’t want to be afraid any longer. I just want the pain to go away.”

Is this what you really want?”

It is so peaceful here. Nobody hurts me. Nobody expects anything from me. I have no worries. I just want to drift along.”

Is this what you really want?”

Out there I want things that I cannot have. The things I want to do are evil. I don’t know what is right and what is wrong anymore. It hurts too much to be out there.”

Is this what you really want?”

What do you want of me? I told you, it is better to be here. I hurt there. Here I am at peace.”

Is this what you really want?”

Yes. No. I don’t know. Life is too hard. I just want the pain to go away. I don’t want to think anymore.”

Is this what you really want?”


Then what do you really want?”


Light stabbed at Johan’s eyes. His head screamed with pain. Waves of nausea washed through his body.

He is coming to” someone said from very far off. Johan grunted with pain.

He forced his eyes open. A face shifted in and out of focus. The headache pounded like a pneumatic drill.

OK. OK. It’s alright” said the voice, not so far off anymore. “We’ll give you something for the pain. The doctor will be here just now.”

The face drifted into focus once more. It was one of the sick bay orderlies. Johan was lying in a curtained-off hospital bed.

What happened?” Johan whispered weakly.

You lot had the whole camp in an uproar” said the orderly. I hear you attacked the RSM and the gate guards. The colonel has been running around like a blue-arsed fly all day. Apparently you nearly killed one of the guards. What were you people thinking of?”

Riaan? Vaatjie?” mumbled Johan.

Right here. We have to make you a bit more comfortable and then you can catch up with each other.”

Are you all right, Johan?” Riaan’s worried voice came from behind the curtain. Johan tried to reply, but only a grunt came out.

Give us a sec” said the orderly. “I’m nearly finished here.” He prodded and pulled at Johan and finally stuck a thermometer in his mouth.

You have a nasty concussion. We had some x-rays done last night. Your thick skull saved you” smiled the orderly. He took the thermometer from Johan’s mouth and wrote something in a file. “I’m going to give you a couple of pain pills. The doctor will be here in a couple of minutes.”

The friendly orderly helped Johan into a sitting position. The world started swimming again.

Careful, careful. Don’t try sitting up too quickly. You have to take things slowly” warned the orderly. He put two tablets in Johan’s mouth. He produced a glass of water and carefully helped Johan to drink a few sips.

He finally pulled the curtains away. They were in one of the two sick bay wards. Vaatjie was lying in the bed next to Johan’s with a worried-looking Riaan standing next to Vaatjie’s bed. Riaan’s upper body was swathed in bandages. Johan smiled weakly.

Are you really OK?” demanded Riaan. He nearly shouldered the orderly out of the way in his rush to get to Johan. “I was so worried!” He clumsily embraced Johan, pressing Johan’s face against his bandaged chest. The world started swimming again.

Careful! Don’t suffocate the poor man! He has concussion, remember” warned the orderly.

Riaan ignored the orderly. He cupped Johan’s face in his hands and planted a kiss on Johan’s lips. “Ek is lief vir jou” – I love you, he sobbed. “I was so afraid that you would die”. The world miraculously stopped spinning. Johan shot a worried look at the grinning orderly and Vaatjie.

Ahhh – puppy love” giggled the orderly. “It is so romantic.” He rolled his eyes. “It is also bloody inconvenient when you get caught. Be careful you two. If the wrong person catches you, you will be in major pooh. I’ll leave you to your fun. Doctor Swart will be here in a couple of minutes. Don’t let him catch you in a compromising position. I can guarantee you that he will not understand.” The orderly swished away.

Riaan had still not let go of Johan. He was still sobbing. “Don’t ever frighten me like this again! I don’t know what I will do if you die” he said through his tears.

Nahh,” declared Vaatjie. “This one is indestructible. It will take much more than a blow with a rifle butt to finish him off. I told you so.”

Riaan kissed Johan again. Johan could definitely get used to the kisses. He once more tried to indicate Vaatjie’s bed with his eyes.

What?” asked Riaan.

We’re not alone” Johan managed to whisper.

Oh, Vaatjie. What about him?”

He doesn’t know…”

Stop talking as if I’m not here” commented Vaatjie. “It’s bad manners. Besides, I’m not stupid. I’ve known since the first day that you two have the hots for each other. All those calf-eyed looks and the stuttering routine - it’s a dead giveaway.”

Johan blushed. “You knew?” he asked weakly.

I told you I’m not stupid.”

And it doesn’t bother you?”

Now why would it bother me? I have always suspected that you are that way inclined. You never had a girlfriend. You never perved at the photos in the Scope (the only South African “skin” magazine at the time), like the other guys. You’re friends with Jannie and me.”

What do you mean Jannie and you?”

Are you always so dense – or is it the blow to your head? Jannie and I have been playing with each other since Standard 7 (9th Grade). We thought you were just not interested. Do you mean you never even knew?” Vaatjie was incredulous. “I always thought you were a bit slow, but this takes the cake. You’re dense, Johan Lubbe.”

Riaan had stopped crying. His lopsided smile was back on his face. He still had Johan’s face cupped in his hands. “He’s not dense, he’s just innocent” said Riaan. “Not like you two perverts. Besides, I prefer him innocent.” He kissed Johan again. Johan decided that he definitely liked the kissing thing.

OK, cool it you two. The doctor will be here in a minute. We’re in major shit, as it is. We don’t want to be charged with sodomy as well” said Vaatjie. Riaan reluctantly let go of Johan. There was a chair against the wall. Riaan dragged it in between the two beds and sat down on it. He then took hold of Johan’s hand.

Johan’s head still pounded, but the pain was not so intense anymore. “What happened?” he asked.

What do you remember?” asked Vaatjie.

Johan’s headache stabbed when he tried to speak, but he managed a hoarse whisper. “Pizza Face trashed the bungalow and Arrie Nel phoned someone important. Then the RSM drilled us all over the place. You collapsed and he started kicking you. Jannie pulled him off you and he hit Jannie. Then everybody started fighting. There was this man with a rifle that hit Riaan from behind…” Johan winced at the thought. The headache returned with full force.

And you nearly killed the fucker” interjected Riaan. “He’s been transferred to 1 Mil (No.1 Military Hospital). You crushed his la… la… What’s it again, Vaatjie?”

Larynx. It’s a fancy word for throat. You’re lucky. You nearly got transferred with him. If they did not have a portable x-ray machine here, you would have been there too.”

I did what?” groaned Johan in horror.

You fucked up the guard that hit Riaan. André, the orderly said if they didn’t hit you on the head, you would have killed the man.”

Johan looked at Riaan. “And the bandages?” he asked. It had become a little less painful to speak. He still had a major headache, but the pain had subsided to a dull throb. The tablets had started working.

They put a back brace on me” explained Riaan. “I got bruised a bit when you all rolled over me. The bandages are only there for show.” Riaan smiled disparagingly. He squeezed Johan’s hand.

What happened to you?” Johan asked Vaatjie. “Are you all right?”

No, I am OK. I just overexerted myself. I am a bit dehydrated and some of my muscles are strained. I should be leaving this fine establishment shortly. Riaan too – he’s built like a tank, just like you.”

How long have we been here?” asked Johan.

Since last night. You slept like a baby all day long. Riaan drove me up the walls with his caterwauling about you dying.”

I did not caterwaul. I was worried. Johan is badly injured.” Riaan reached around Johan’s back and hugged him.

So we’re in big trouble” said Johan.

Maybe not” answered Vaatjie. “According to André, Arrie was transferred to the PDK (Personnel Services Corps) this morning. His aunt apparently raised merry hell. There are witnesses that saw us being assaulted, so we have mitigating circumstances in our favour. The rest of the peleton are Confined to Barracks, as far as I know. We haven’t seen any of them yet.”

André, the orderly entered the ward. “Are you all comfortable? Riaan get into your bed. Dr. Swart is here.” Riaan let go of Johan and got into his own bed, on the other side of Vaatjie.

Dr. Swart was a middle-aged man, dressed in an open-necked shirt and pants. Johan was surprised to see that the doctor was not in uniform.

Ah, our third musketeer is awake. Excellent” said the doctor in a pleasant tenor voice.

He paged through the file that André handed him. “How is the headache?” he asked Johan.

Sore” replied Johan.

Not to worry, it will be better in a day or so. I have prescribed some decent painkillers for you, not the useless muck the army normally dishes out to its patients.”

The doctor shined a bright light in Johan’s eyes. He asked him to sit up straight. The world started spinning again at that point.

Mmm, quite a way to go, I see” said Dr. Swart. “You are definitely still several glitters short of a twinkle. Another day or two and you’ll be right as rain. I’ll come around tomorrow morning to check up on you.”

The doctor turned to André. “Call me immediately if his temperature rises suddenly, or if he starts vomiting. He seems stable at the moment.”

You can count yourself extremely lucky” the doctor said to Johan. “Your injuries could have been much worse. Try not to rent out your head as a punch bag in future.” The doctor chuckled and turned to Vaatjie.

Vaatjie groaned dramatically. “I see we are trying to postpone the inevitable” Doctor Swart smiled.

I am nauseous, Doctor. My whole body aches.”

Yes, that normally happens when the very unfit exert themselves. I believe an enema should solve the nausea problem. The aches and pains will disappear when your body has adjusted to the army fitness programme.” Vaatjie’s eyes widened at mention of an enema. This was not what he expected. The doctor definitely lacked in the sympathy department.

Doctor Swart had a look at Vaatjie’s file. “Is he still taking the electrolytes?” he asked André.

Guzzling them like cooldrink” replied André heartlessly. “He is the most hydrated soldier in the whole Defence Force.”

Dr. Swart chuckled again. “Good. Good. I will check tomorrow morning, but I foresee no problems. You should be able to return to active duty tomorrow then.” Vaatjie groaned piteously. His groaning fell onto deaf ears.

I prescribed an enema for the nausea. Can you administer it quickly please Orderly? It seems that the patient is in a bit of distress.”

Vaatjie’s nausea vanished immediately. “I feel much better, thank you Doctor. There is no need to inconvenience the orderly” he assured Dr. Swart. André guffawed.

Dr. Swart spent a bit more time with Riaan. Riaan had to sit on the edge of his bed. The doctor tapped his shins with a little hammer, as they did during the medical examinations. The doctor pinched Riaan’s legs a couple of times in different spots.

It seems that the blisters on your heels are healing well. You can start wearing your boots again tomorrow. Just remember to wear two pairs of socks for the first couple of days.”

He then asked André to remove Riaan’s bandages. Johan gasped when he saw the injuries to Riaan’s torso.

This is the work of army boots” commented Dr. Swart. “You recruits were all barefoot, so the guards must have kicked you around quite a bit. Thank goodness you have no broken ribs. I have added these injuries to my report.”

Renew the dressings every six hours. The back brace can come off in a couple of days. André quickly dressed Riaan’s injuries while the doctor looked on.

I’m happy you are all feeling better. I’ll see you in the morning.” Doctor Swart left the ward with André accompanying him.

Johan was stunned by the extent of Riaan’s injuries. “What did they do to you?” he asked with a sick voice.

I don’t really know. I passed out when the guy hit me from behind. The next thing I knew, I was here with you guys.”

Riaan gingerly got up from his bed and sat down next to Johan again. Johan could see that Riaan was still in pain. Riaan bent over Johan. Their lips met tenderly.

Oh boy, here we go again. If you two carry on like this, I’m going to pour cold water over you. Ag nee, sies man! (An expression of disgust) Leave each other’s tonsils alone!” Vaatjie sadly lacked in many of the social graces. Romanticism was not one of his strong suits. Diplomacy also shined in its absence.