In the land of scrumhalves Zach was considered first choice. Dexterity and agility, together with his height, or lack of it, made him the number one selection for each year’s bi-lateral series. When the Blue Bison took on the Roaring Forties the whole country sat up. Well, those were the days… they used to sit up. Glued to the only big screens around… those in the sports bars and other assorted drinking dives, the aficionado watched the progress of the teams with an almost religious fever.
Zach was a lonely man… no, not lonely… merely alone. A loner by choice. To this end he even chose his profession carefully. Librarian. Quiet please… the sign seemed to be stenciled on his forehead. Quiet Please!
It was an easy choice really… where Zach grew up the library was a place of refuge. A place to hide from the village bullies… ‘die dorp moeggoes…’ as he so endearingly called them. Another advantage of hiding in the library? Cool, shaded and quiet. Books, books and many more books… categorised neatly from 001 Aaa to 999 zzZ. Zach, or as he was still known back then, Sakkie… could spend his whole life in the seclusion of the peace haven that was the library.
Zach would walk in on any given day and select wherever he wanted to be on the planet. If he didn’t feel for travel he would select a classic… a Shakespeare… or Tolstoy, even the odd Langenhoven, Bosman or Marias.
Zach wasn’t too fond of Sundays… the library was closed. Zach wasn’t too fond of Saturdays either… he’d have to play sport. Rugby in winter on the dusty, packed earth excuses for playing fields. Heavy on the knees, elbows, bare feet… everywhere, actually. Grazes and scrapes would eventually only heal fully in the summer… months after the rugby season ended.
He’d long for the quiet confines of the peaceful retreat… his retreat, even on the occasion of scoring the winning try. Winning tries were quite the norm for Zach. He was good at scrumhalving. He played on instinct, using imagination… learning his trade with the help of the radio… listening to the great old commentators… when they blasted out the mesmerising Davie de Villiers exploits. Davie himself not a very large man, had been taught by another great… Doc Craven. The country sure had a knack of producing scrumhalves of note!
Zach wanted more out of life that existing in the blistering heat of the South African hinterland. Strange things happened out there among the sand dunes of the Kalahari. No man ever got the better of the place… no woman ever came to blossom out there in the withering heat. Even the buck lived all their lives trying to escape south to the less red earth. Only, they had learnt the hard way…down there they faced the bullet.
The village idiots teased him ceaselessly… they told him he’d been jinxed by his aunt Gertruida… she who knew everything. Some even whispered that his aunt was really his mother. But who really knew? Who really cared? Well, all he knew is that Aunt Gertruida cared for him… in her own way… she did everything in her own way, even loved him in her own way.
Then one day the unthinkable happened. He was almost morally injured on the rugby field. Through no fault of his own. One of those totally unexpected freaks of nature. He was preparing to place the ball into the waiting mouth of the scrum, looking this way and that… looking where his fly half was stationing himself. This was important… the fly half… nicknamed Klein Naas after some previously renowned kicking legend, was setting up for a drop goal. Zach nodded in agreement… the two worked well as the pivotal link. Then the finger of fate stuck itself straight into the scrum mouth from the blind side.
As Zach crouched down low, whispering reassuring instructions to his forwards, an almighty howl erupted, followed in rapid succession by another… and another. Big, burly under fifteen lads exploded out of the scrum as if they’d been sent flying by some unseen force… as if the finger of fate had jerked upward from it’s position in the scrum tunnel… upward and outward… sending boys flying like Saartjie’s little rag dolls.
Before the dust settled at least three of the forwards had come crashing down on the tiny frame of the stooped Zach. Zach only saw daylight three days later… his one leg elevated at a funny angle, kept aloft by cables and weights suspended by a contraption hanging from the rafters supporting the hospital’s tin roof.
There he lay for weeks… no books at first, only the pain… little time for anything but pain. Even when they put stuff into him that they said would help, the pain seemed to keep lurking… never far away. Then, after about a week in silent isolation his dear Aunt Gertruida arrived one dusty afternoon. He was convinced she carried a cloud of Kalahari dust in with her that day. He swears he can still taste it in his mouth.
Trotting behind her was a fellow he’d never laid eyes on. Oom Blinne Dirk, that’s how she introduced the man. Maybe because the lenses of the specks balancing on the tip of his nose resembled the bottoms of bottles… you know the sort, made from the fizzy drinks vessels. Anyway, it mattered none what the man looked like… it mattered what he was bearing.
Books!! Magazines! The man set down the wooden tomato crate… and disappeared, to return with another crate, filled with old copies of the Readers Digest and National Geographic. Lighter reading from her library, Aunt Gertruida mumbled. She did not stay long… only long enough to inform him about the happenings on that eventful day.
Blinne Dirk returned for the final time. This time the crate contained a large bottle of orange squash, a few paper bags containing the best black wonder-balls and a few smallish strips of kudu biltong in a small hessian bag. Also, Aunt Gertruida assured the boy, a change or two of clothes and a supply of toiletries.
“Now remember… you must brush your teeth regularly… I’ll have a word with Sister before I go,” Aunt Gertruida seemed to have a moment… as if a tear was rather close to being shed.
“Ag shame… daai groote bullebakke het jou so stukkend geval teen die harde aarde. Antie was sleg bekommered oor jou my arme kind… antie het baie gebid.” At that point she sighed… the far away look in her eye seemed to signify there were other battles to be off to. Time to go.
“It was the wasps my dear little Sakkie… you boys had to choose to scrum over a nest of ground wasps.” With that Aunt Gertruida withdrew into the bright glare of sunlight streaming in from the stoep… taking with her the cloud she seemed to have as companion on the day.
Life for Zach took a drastic turn because of that fateful, near death experience… please join us again on another day to hear how the lad’s recovery progressed.
Gertruida lives in the faraway Rolbos… feel free to read one of here tales… click here to enjoy!!
Dankie Amos vir jou hulp!! Dit word rerig wardeer!