"The sound of gunshots shattered the stillness of the night" - read an excerpt from Chanette Paul's Sacrificed
Caz Colijn receives a phone call from Belgium that tears her out of her reclusive life. In Belgium, where she tries to trace her and her daughter’s family origins, it becomes clear that that country’s colonial past has had as much impact on her life as the apartheid years in South Africa did.
Read an excerpt from Chanette Paul’s riveting Sacrificed here:
17 January 1961
The night air reeked of savanna dust, sweat and fear. Of betrayal, greed and the thirst for power. A stench Ammie knew well.
César’s left hand gripped her arm. The right hand was clenched around her jaw.
“Watch, bitch,” he hissed in her ear. “Watch!”
Elijah stood under an acacia, a hare in the headlights. It was new moon. At the fringes of the pale smudge between somewhere and nowhere loomed the vague shapes of more trees. Somewhere to the left something rustled in the tall grass. A jackal howled in the distance, its mate echoing the mournful cry.
A command rang out, followed by the distinct sound of four rifles being cocked. She wanted to close her eyes but she kept staring as if her eyelids were starched.
Elijah coughed and spat out a gob of bloody mucus. His vest, once white, was smeared with soil, sweat, saliva, blood. One shoe was missing. He wasn’t looking at the soldiers with their rifles. From behind the lopsided spectacles on his battered face his eyes searched out her own. The glare on the lenses made it impossible to read the expression in his eyes.
Another command. Rifles raised to shoulders.
Sweat rolled down Elijah’s temples. He strained against the ropes, tried to find some slack around his wrists and ankles but finally gave up. His knees twitched. His calves trembled. His lips were fixed in a stiff grimace.
Everything seemed surreal — what she was witnessing now, as well as the events of earlier that evening.
On her way to Elijah’s house to warn him, she had seen the column of smoke from a distance. When she arrived at what had been his house it was clear that nothing had escaped the inferno. Not his desk, with all his documents, nor the shelves with the books he valued so highly. Not the photograph, taken in better days, of Elijah and Patrice Lumumba laughing together. Not even his Immatriculation certificate, the one piece of paper that, only a year ago, had been worth more than gold to every évolué: the passport to a better life.
When a vehicle had pulled up beside her and she was dragged inside, none of the spectators feasting their eyes on the mayhem had lifted a finger to help her.
Now, in these moments before the inevitable took place, Elijah stopped being the eternal student, the teacher, the philosopher. He was no longer Patrice Lumumba’s friend, mentor and critic. Or the man who had helped feed, clothe and educate so many orphaned children. No longer the optimist who would simply face the odds and keep going.
He was just a man in a soiled vest, his spectacles tilted at an odd angle.
A man who knew too much. Who had too much influence on Lumumba.
Who had become a complication.
But more than anything, he was the man who loved her.
Another command. The words failed to get through to her, but the intention behind them was unmistakable.
The vice-like grip around her arm and chin tightened.
Did Elijah, at that moment, still believe in God’s will? The will of a God who had saved Abraham when he had been on the point of offering his son, but had not granted his own Son the same salvation? Nor Elijah today.
The sound of gunshots shattered the stillness of the night. Ammie screamed as if it were unexpected. And maybe it had been. Maybe she didn’t really believe that these white savages, that César, could be so debased.
Elijah’s body jerked, spun to the right, fell against a tree trunk and collapsed in a heap in the shallow grave he’d probably had to dig himself earlier that day. Flesh, sinew and bone serving no further purpose. Blood pumping through the heart one last time colored the vest crimson, hiding the smears of dust and saliva.
César shoved her aside. Pain shot through her knee and elbow as she fell on the gravelly earth, grass blades scratching her arms. César wiped his hands on his trousers as if they were contaminated. For a moment his pale blue eyes met hers before a stream of saliva shot from his mouth and splattered against her cheek.
Dimly she became aware of the sounds of Elijah’s body being covered with clods and rocks and gravel.
For a brief moment her world tilted.
“Elijah!” More than a scream, it was a raw sound from a place she hadn’t known existed.
The first boot struck her side. The second, her shoulder.
Somewhere an owl was calling its mate.
The next kick exploded against her temple.
The pool of light grew dim, giving way to the mysterious sounds of nocturnal Africa.
Monday, September 1, Present day
Overberg, South Africa
Tieneke’s voice was as clear as if she were calling from the neighboring smallholding, instead of six thousand kilometers away. The words got stuck somewhere in Caz’s ear, their meaning distorted by some tube or bone or anvil. Tieneke? After so many years?
“I said: Mother is at her last gasp,” her sister repeated when Caz failed to react. Tieneke was impatient, even in this situation.
Caz remembered that about her. Though she had actually forgotten.
“I didn’t know Mother was still alive,” she finally found her voice. “She must be well into her nineties.”
“Ninety-eight. She’s been relatively healthy and quite lucid for her age until just a few days ago, when she suddenly went downhill. But she won’t hear of a nursing home. Not that I’d consider it. I’ve been taking care of her for most of her life, after all. Why not see it through to the end?” Reproach lay like thick sediment in Tieneke’s tone.
With unseeing eyes Caz stared at the splotch the Cape robin had left on the corner of the desk. Bloody cheek, eating Catya’s pellets, and then shitting all over the house.
What could she say to Tieneke? I’m sorry to hear Moth¬er is dying at the ripe old age of ninety-eight? I’m sorry you never got married—at sixty-five you’re probably too old now? I’m sorry I didn’t try to make contact again after being chased away like a mangy dog when I needed you most thirty-one years ago?
“Why are you telling me this, Tieneke?” The question sounded heartless. Would have been heartless in any other circumstances. Probably still was.
“Mother wants to see you before she dies.”
Everything fell silent—the sound of the wind in the wild olive tree, the din of birds, the soft hum of the computer—as if she had been robbed of her hearing in one fell swoop.
“What?” The word flew from her mouth.
“We don’t have much time. You’ll have to get a Schengen. Go to the Belgian Consulate. I presume you have a passport. You have to buy your plane ticket before applying for the visa. You probably don’t want to waste your time in Dubai or Istanbul, so forget about Emirates or the Turkish airline, even if they do fly to Brussels. KLM has a direct flight to Amsterdam and from there you can take the train to Ghent-Dampoort. It takes about three hours. You’ll have to change trains at Antwerp Central. From Ghent-Dampoort you take bus number three. Get off at . . .”
“Tieneke!” The sharpness in her voice stemmed the flood. Caz drew a deep breath, tried to calm down. “Why does Ma Fien want to see me?”
A deep sigh came down the line. It began in Ghent, trav¬eled through Belgium, across half of Europe, down the length of Northern Africa, Central Africa, Southern Africa, and found its way to the cottage at the foot of the Kleineberg in the Over¬berg district.
“I don’t know. She won’t say. She gets terribly upset if I mention the possibility that you might not come. Is that how you want Mother to meet her Maker? So unfulfilled?”
Why should I give a damn about Josefien Colijn’s lack of fulfilment, Caz was tempted to ask. After all, Fien didn’t give a damn three decades ago when she turned her back on her month-old granddaughter along with Caz and sent them out into the world to face scorn and humiliation. But this Tieneke knew. She had been there.
The jacarandas had been blossoming in Pretoria. Also the one in front of her childhood home, where she turned for one last beseeching look at the two women on the porch. Stunned that her mother and sister could send her away like that, refusing even to hear her side of the story. Not allowing her to cross the threshold of the house where she had grown up.
The two of them just stood there. Floral dresses stretched tight over plump figures. Tieneke with the first signs of gray in her wispy blonde hair. Fien’s hair snowy white, stiffly permed. Longish faces, pale blue eyes, lips pursed over yellow teeth sprouting haphazardly from both sets of gums—a legacy of cruel genes.
Lilah had whimpered in her arms. And just then a jacaranda blossom had floated down and settled on the dark hair. That was how she got her new name: Lila, which later became Lilah when her modeling career took off. Hentie had wanted to call his daughter Johanna Jacomina, after his paternal grandmother, but Hentie’s father had forbidden him to have the baby registered. Just as well.
“Cassie, please.” These were possibly the hardest two words Tieneke had ever spoken in her life. The image of the women on the porch faded.
“Please what? Why now? Not once in the eleven years before you returned to Belgium did either of you call me or try to find out how I was doing. I had to learn from an at¬torney that you had gone back to Belgium and were living in Ghent. Not a single word after that either. And now you expect me to drop everything and fly over there?”
“I followed Lilah’s career.”
Anger robbed Caz of breath. For a moment everything grew dim. “Is that what this is about? Lilah’s success? Are you after her money?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. We live comfortably. You know we believe in sobriety.”
Sobriety? Make that bloody stinginess. Caz had been eighteen before she could choose her own dress for the first time, a dress that wasn’t a Tieneke hand-me-down. One that didn’t have to be taken in and the hem let out to cater for the difference in weight and height. Caz had been a gangly giant in a family of chubby short-arses.
She took a deep breath. “Sorry, Tieneke, no go. Give Ma Fien my best, but I can’t travel halfway around the world just because she’s dying. I may be many things, but I’m not a hypocrite.”
Silence hummed across thousands of kilometers before Tieneke cleared her throat. “I think she wants to tell you the truth.”
“Truth?” The computer’s screensaver began its little dance. Multicolored bubbles rolling across the freshly translated text added to the out-of-body feeling that took hold of her. “What do you mean?”
“Come over here and find out, Cassie. Before it’s too late. I was only eleven when you were born. Only Mother can tell you.”
“Tell me what?”
“Who your biological parents are.”
“Your birth mother didn’t want you, so Mother and Father took pity on you and offered to raise you. That’s all Mother said at the time. It’s all I know. You can contact us through the attorney to tell us when you’ll be arriving. Mr. Moerdyk, in case you’ve forgotten. In Pretoria. Good day, Cassie.”
The line went dead. The silence was pitch black. Like the spots dancing in front of Caz’s eyes.
- Sacrificed by Chanette Paul
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