Saturday, April 24, 2010

When water is thicker than blood (1972)

It was five minutes into our 2nd break. On this day the matrics were acting really childish. It was their last week of school and their juvenile antics were starting to get on my nerves. Gone was the prim and proper behavior of the past year, replaced by conduct one would normally associate with a primary school. I was getting truly pissed off. Part of my mood was of course due to jealousy. Jealous that I could not be one of them, like my brother, that will soon shrug off the shackles of a verkrampte predominantly Afrikaans school. A school where we were subjected to weekly hair inspections and that only allowed short back and sides. Square cuts were out. Hell they even had weekly panty inspections carried out by the sexless croons that were but a few years away from retirement. Somehow they believed that this would fortify chastity. It did not help or make sense. It was just for the show. No teenager would dare to try and get leg-over at school. The teenagers still fucked like rabbits and annually quite a few unwanted pregnancies saw the light. This of course was totally taboo at the time and resulted in great shame on the families involved. South Africa never really experienced the free love of the 60’s or swinging 70’s. We had three 50’s and went right into the 80’s. Maybe the panty inspections were done to keep the male teachers from lusting after the teenage girls as there was quite a lot of that going on behind the scenes.

The paper water bomb hit me so hard in my face that my nose started bleeding. It was a big one, made and thrown by Hendrik Bruwer, the star flanker of the first rugby team who two weeks prior had broken his nose rather badly in a rugby match. I was soaked from the top of my head to mid-chest and a thin trickle of blood was making a rather interesting abstract pink artwork on my white school shirt. Around me everyone were screeching with laughter. Hendrik was big. He easily had 6 inches and 25lbs on me. That however did not deter me and we were soon circling each other like two peacocks. Hendrik’s girlfriend kept on shouting: “It was only a joke, please, it was only a joke.”

Hendrik tried his best to talk his way out of the fight. He was a school monitor and he did not know what to make of me because very few would dare to challenge him. I also had a reputation as a brawler and was the provincial boxing champ in my weight group. He however believed that his sheer bulk was more than a match for me. I was apprehensive but knew about his weak spot, his nose, and stood my ground. He threatened and blustered to get out of the situation but I was not going to back down. He refused to apologize as he maintained that it was an accident. He stated that he did not intend to hit me and also could not afford to lose face in front of his girlfriend and mates. He started to get really insulting. Telling me that I might believe that I was a force to be reckoned within the confines of the filthy and poor military base where we lived but that I was a bloody nobody in town i.e. the real world. This in turn wounded my brother deeply as he was ashamed of the humble conditions we lived in and also believed that Hendrik was his close friend. My brother tried to hide his hurt and thus minimize the effect of the insult by saying: “Ag moer him Hendrik.” (“Oh fuck him up Hendrik”)

I felt something inside of me tear and knew that it would never mend again. My brother turned on me to hide his shame. I saw red and when the mist cleared Hendrik was lying curled up on the tarmac clutching his nose with both hands trying unsuccessfully to stem the flow of blood. Apparently I hit him with a swift left to the nose and broke it in the exact same spot as before. I searched for my brother amongst the shocked onlookers but he was nowhere to be seen.

It is now 38 years since my brother and I have done no more than acknowledge each other’s existence. We treat one another with respect but aloofness. Love and the family bond are not recognized.

Hendrik’s rugby career ended that day and I got caned six of the best from the vice-principal who was also the rugby coach.