GEORGE
by
Jacqueline Daane Van Rensburg

The bay, with warm blue waters and golden sands, surrounded by mountains and sand dunes where wild flowers and berries grew in abundance, was one of God's most beautiful creations. When one approached from across the mountain and looked down on the bay, your eyes hurt from the glare of bright sunshine on blue waters and golden sands and your heart ached that so much beauty could be brought together in one place. Most of the year the Strand, for that's what it's called that nestles sleepily by the bay, is a quiet, peaceful place.
The Dutch Reformed atmosphere, heavy and depressing, touches everything and everyone. It is therefore not surprising that the central point of the town was and still is the Dutch-Reformed church. Built by the first settlers in a mixture of Dutch and French colonial style, it stood like an over-iced white wedding cake amongst old dark cypress trees, heavy with dust, cobwebs and neglect.
From there the Reverend preached fire and brimstone on the heads of sinners, Anglicans, Roman-Catholics and anti-nationalists. His congregation, fiercely loyal to the Afrikaner blood in their veins, would not dare to shift on the hard benches in fear that his all seeing eye may notice. For hymn singing they all rose like one man, glad to get off their backsides and eager to sing the songs their ancestors sang long ago when Voortrekkers crossed the Drakens mountains and gave their blood at Bloedriver.

The Vlok family, although not born and bred in this part of South Africa had lived here so long that no one knew any better. The old man was a retired farmer, like most of the townsmen were. His retirement had nothing to do with age, but more with bad management, he now spends his days, doing good work for the Nationalists, a party that held all his affections.
His wife, a thin worried looking woman, tried to live a life that God and the Reverend could be proud of. She did more than her share of charitable work and was always ready to help others, that is if they were from the same church. She cooked baked and embroidered for the more than often held church bazaars.
The Reverend was expensive to keep and since he had more than his share of children, the flock had to find money for a larger house. The Vloks had one daughter, actually they had one more that died in infancy, a fact that Mrs.Vlok found hard to forget. Since she was convinced that the dead child would have been a better and more obedient child than the live one. To say that they lived in harmony was far from the truth. Their household was as prim and proper as that of their ancestors, who's painted faces looked down iron the walls in a ever disapproving way, Mr.Vlok liked a bit of beer at times, but it being the spirit of the devil, it caused many arguments in their household.
Arguments that were always held in whispers, just in case one of the neighbours may overhear. On one point however they were unanimous; the behaviour of their daughter was a constant worry to them both. The stupid girl had caused them some red faces in the past. The fact that her school teachers thought that she was a very brainy child only made things more difficult, for now they could not even use the excuse of stupidness.
Our meeting with George was quite unintentional, but changed our lives so radically, that we often on looking back wondered if we really did live before. After our marriage we moved to the next village. The same atmosphere of Dutch reformation lived here in the hearts of retired farmers, who spent their days reading the Bible and Die Burger, while struggling to keep their straight laced Voortrekker mentality in an ever changing world. After a visit to the family one cold winter evening, we stood shivering in the bus shelter, watching a solitary car making its way slowly round the corner, it's driver careful not to slip into the now vicious sea that bashed the beach and send up a fine spray that stuck to our hair like cobwebs. "The old fishermen will tell you that it's not the water that moans and groans like that, but it's the souls of lost men that cry out for mercy, and the softer sounds are not small waves, breaking on the beach, but the souls in heaven, distressed at the fight of their brother souls with the devil of the deep," I said. "Go on with you, you scare the hell out of me. Honestly you Afrikaners are dawn superstitious, "Adrian said." Where the hell is that bus, the bloody cold is worse than in Holland," he grumbled. "Go on don't tell lies, it's only in winter, look forward to summer, with its long hot days," I tried, "All I'm looking forward to is my bed. We should by a car, and then I may enjoy visiting your parents."

The old bus groaned and rattled around the corner and led a sigh of relieve as it stopped for us, its warm interior smelling of wet people, stale tobacco and fish and chips was a welcome change after the angry night all around us. "Boy, you look wet, did the sea spit you out or something?" the driver said in friendly Cape-coloured fashion.
The little black boy, the only other passenger, looked at us in silence. Cold, wet and miserable, he sat shivering in the corner, "Hello, what are you doing out so late?" I tried; he smiled but didn't answer. "He can't speak madam, he's tongue-tied," the conductor said. "You mean he's dumb?" "Yes madam, he can understand, but can't talk," "Why isn't he at home, what does a child of his age do on a bus at this time of night. He should've been in bed long ago." "You're right there madam, but he hasn't got a bed," shouted the driver, straining to make himself heard above the roar of the old engine. "Do you mean this child has no home?" Adrian inquired, disbelieve in his voice. "Yes sir that's right, we let him travel on the bus, at least it's warm here," I looked at the child, his black eyes, in the milk-chocolate face, heavy with sleep, his too thin legs and big flat feet protruding from a pair of once grey shorts. His eyes met mine and again, he smiled the smile that only innocent children can produce, "Mr. Conductor," Adrian said," this is the last bus-ride tonight, where's he going to sleep?" "Sir, he crawls through the first open window he finds in the coloured- quarters. Not that he would find any open windows on a night like this. People are scared to let him stay, he's Xosa and therefore not allowed in the coloured-area.
He should be send to one of the native locations. But we are all scared that there no one will take care of him." "But where are his parents? God, he must have parents?" His father is still alive, his mother died of T.B., two years ago, he's got no one now since his father has been sent to another area. The law doesn't worry about black children. You should no that madam, you're an Afrikaner." The voice was accusing and I felt ashamed. "I'm sorry, I didn't know, I said feeling both embarrassed and ashamed.
"We'll take him home," Adrian said. "We live in a white area, blacks aren't allowed there after hours, you know that." My voice, used the white man's excuse, but my heart knew better, "Tell you what, why don't you take him home so long and then we'll pick him up again on our way back, then he can sleep at my place tonight," the conductor said.
We crawled up the dark stairway to our flat. Adrian with the now half-sleeping child in his arms. In the passage light we could see how filthy he was. Peering closely at his hair I was thankful to see that he had no lice. "I'll run a bath so long; it seems a shame though to put the same filthy clothing on his clean body again. Maybe we can find something for him to borrow. Do you know anyone with children his size? Maybe one of your customers? I asked. "We can ask Mike, he's got a small brother or maybe van Dongen, Dutch people are not as suspicious as Afrikaners."
I let the stab pass in silence. He was right and I knew it. Any system where a six-year-old could end up homeless was wrong, no matter what people say. "We don't even know your name little fella, but don't be scared." Adrian said as he lifted the boy into the bath. The water turned grey immediately, the shampoo Adrian was throwing in abundance over the child's head floated in big brown blobs on the water. "It' s no use, we'll have to let him soak for a while and then use clean water again. God I never knew that anyone could be so filthy," Adrian said as he dried his hands.
After the second bath, wrapped in my big pink towel, all shiny and clean, the boy gave up his fight against sleep and curled up like a cat dozed off in front of the electric heater. "Adrian, I said, can you imagine what aunt Francis would say if she could see who's using the towel, her wedding-gift, now." "Bugger Aunt Francis, "Adrian mumbled, busy cutting bread and warming milk for the boy. "What are we going to do with him, we can't let him go back on the streets and we aren't allowed to keep him here." "Look Jackie," Adrian said while pointing the bread-knife at me, maybe it's because I'm Dutch and maybe it's because I've seen too many hungry people in Holland during the war, this child reminds me very much of them, as far as I'm concerned he stays right here, at least till we can find out what we can do with him. I'll talk to Mike first thing in the morning, working like he does at the Magistrate's office, he may think of something."
"We managed for him to sleep at the conductor's tonight, he can come back tomorrow morning," I said. "Your heart is in the right place, old thing. Besides if they deport me because of this child, I'll take you along." "Oh thank very much, kind sir. But I'm a citizen of this country, me they'll put in jail and I don't relish a stay of a hundred and eighty days on bread and water." "Think of what it will do for your figure and I'll come and visit you." "You can't, they don't allow political prisoners the joy of visitors."
"This country is becoming more and more like Holland during the war, I don't think I want to stay here much longer," he shook the now sleeping child gently by the arm, the child, scared now, whispered softly, it made me think of the time we brought our dog home as a puppy. The thought made me feel guilty, remembering my concern for the pup as I looked down on the half sleeping child being fed by Adrian. I, for the first time, wondered why we were so cruel to those God turned out black.
The ringing of the door bell made me jump. The vague outline of a pointed cap through the milky glass of the front door took my breath away. "It's the police" I said in a strange voice and my heart, like if it went mad, was making funny somersaults in my chest, "Don't be bloody silly, it's the conductor, silly clot," Adrian's voice sounded less self assured as he thought. He didn't deceive me, he too was frightened. The conductor, now cap in hand came into the kitchen and smiled at me, "You got a fright madam? Don't worry no one saw me crawl up the stairs." He picked up the boy, who on seeing a familiar face let out a howl that made all three of us jump. "Ssssshhhht, we hissed in chorus. "What's his name? I asked, "George, I believe madam. I'll take him along now. Clapping his hand over the boy's mouth, the conductor, with Adrian, flashlight in hand crawled down the stairway to the waiting bus.

The sharp penetrating sound of the doorbell made us jump out of bed. "We've overslept," Adrian mumbled while peering at the clock, whose bright green fingers pointed at six o'clock. Clock in hand he stumbled to the front door.
On opening the door a small black face peered up at him. George was back. "Oh no," I moaned watching the boy making his way to the bathroom. Small black fingers, after making sure the plug was in properly, now deftly started turning on the taps. The stream of hot water scared him and taking a step backwards he fell over the toilet and hit his head against the wall. Rubbing the sore place, he looked at me and fighting to keep back his tears, a trembling smile appeared on his lips. An unexplained feeling of tenderness came over me. Going on my knees I pulled him towards me. He was crying now, first softly and suddenly sobs tore from within him. I held him close and rubbed his head, feeling his tears in my neck while my own ran down my cheeks.
'It's all right fella, it's all right," I whispered. I held hint close till finally the storm within him subsided. Dry sobs still raked his body as I helped him into the bath. "Be careful now and don't splash so much. I'll make you some breakfast." He's staying here Adrian." I busied myself, more to hide the turmoil inside me then for anything else. "God Almighty how can we be so cruel? Do you know how lonely he must be? A child needs a mother, a home, a family." My voice trembled, but my determination grew. We both knew that the consequences of our deed would be hard to bear. But together, we decided that no matter what happened, we would not desert George. If there was still the slightest doubt, the laughing noises from the bathroom helped to dispel them. George, exhausted after his bath and breakfast, promptly fell asleep next to the dog on the floor. I left him there and rushed out to do my shopping and deliver a message to the one person we knew we could trust.

Through the window of the Magistrate's office I could see Mike busy at his desk. "Please have lunch with us today, Adrian and I have a bit of a problem." "Home-cooked lunches I never say no to, I'll be with you at twelve." At home George was still sound asleep and I left him there. I locked the front door and switched off the bell; I wasn't home for anybody. Adrian and Mike arrived at the same time. The expression on the face of our friend when he first saw George was one of dismay. "Have you two gone mad? My common sense tells me to turn and run." "We're sorry to drag you into this, but who else will help us. It's up to you of course. I mean we'll understand if you don't want to get involved." Adrian left the decision up to his friend. "First tell me about it," Mike said. Our story was quickly told. He looked at the boy who sat opposite him at the table. "If this is how we treat children in this country, what chance do we have the day they demand what's rightfully theirs." "You can't keep him here indefinitely. Tell you what, there's a Catholic school at Worcester that may take him, but we'll have to find his father, he'll have to sign if the school is prepared to take him. I'll make inquiries. In the mean time, please be careful." We managed to hide George two days before the neighbours found out. From then events happened fast.
I was ironing in the kitchen when the banging on the front door came. It scared hell out of me and the boy, who promptly started to cry. Before I got to the door, the banging was repeated. "Police open up, or we kick the door in." The look of contempt they gave me told me that I couldn't expect any help from them. ''You're violating the law," the oldest of the two said in a loud voice, trying to make himself be heard above the din of a barking dog and screaming child. The younger one spoke quietly to the dog and while stroking the soft fur turned to me. "Tell the kaffer to shut his mouth, or I'll close it for him." "The boy's scared of you," I tried. "He's a kaffer, a bloody animal, "he shouted. "Apparently you're more afraid of children then dogs Constable, and don't shout at me in my own bloody house." I was angry now and also scared. He lifted his hand slowly from the dog's head and turned towards me. I watched, fascinated at the arm, lifted now in striking position. His eyes, like two dead pools in his face, told me nothing, yet I prepared myself for the slap that was going to come. The older one caught the hand just in time and in a friendly voice said, "the child must leave, you can't keep him here." "We're busy on it, just give us a few days time. Look, I'll get my husband to come down to the police station and explain it all." "We've been to your husband already. He's a very rude man, had the cheek to tell us that we remind him of Nazis, not that I mind, I prefer Germans myself," he said while walking towards the door. "'We'll be back," he smiled.

After leaving George in his favourite place, the bath, I scraped together the remnants of my courage and walked out the door. The normally so friendly greengrocer's wife gave me a look of hostility. "We don't want you in here. We can do without your sort. Fancy taking a nigger into your house." the voice, shrill and mean, bore into my heart, my soul. "Get out," she screamed and coming from behind the counter spat me full in the face. "Don't bother going anywhere else, no one will sell you anything, fucking kaffer lover." I fled out of the shop and ran home blindly.
Dear Jesus, A small black has made me an outcast, a stranger amongst the people that I am one of. Adrian came home later than usual, Mike had been before to say that he'd found the boy's father and that, thank God, the school was prepared to take George. ''I've got something to tell you, you better sit down," Adrian said. "After all I've been through today nothing can be so bad that I have to sit down," I replied.
"Because of George, I've lost my job and we've got to be out of the flat at the end of the month." I looked at him in disbelieve." You mean Slabber fired you because of the boy? Why, he's the senior elder in the church. His brother is married to the reverend's sister," I said, amazed at so much racist hate. "Besides your father phoned, you don't have to come home till you've come to your senses. Bloody cheek to phone me at work." "What did you say?" I asked automatically. "I told him, he's a bloody Nazi too."
The tension became too much for me and half laughing, half crying, I fell into Adrian's arms." Oh God Adrian, we can't buy anymore food and now we can't even go to mother for a meal either." I said hysterically.

Mike didn't dare to visit us during the day, but he managed to get all the papers ready for George to leave for Worcester. He visited us at night, but we understood and didn't like him any less for doing so. "I'm afraid George needs quite a bit of clothing," he said, handing me the list. "Where are we going to buy it, no one will sell us anything." I busied myself with the coffee cups so that I didn't have to look at Mike's embarrassed face.

George, Adrian and I marched down Main street the next day; everyone got out of our way. "I feel like Gary Cooper in High Noon," Adrian's voice sounded strained. "I feel more as we have the plague." I answered. Mr. Cohen owned the dilapidated shop at the end of Main street. We've never been there before, but God moves in mysterious ways. "So you're the naughty people everyone's talking about," the fat little man behind the counter said smilingly. "We have this list of things the boy needs for school and we don't know where to go," Adrian's voice trailed off as the man took the list from his hand. "It's quite a list, it will put you back a few Pounds," he glanced at us over the top of his glasses. "Tell you what we do, he said, we'll split it down the middle, half for you and half for me."

Mike had arranged with an African woman, going to Worcester, that she would look after George on the journey. The Catholic sister promised us on the phone that morning that they would wait for him at the other end. A motherly figure stood waiting on the platform, of the train there was still no sign. She came towards us smiling, convinced that this odd white couple with small black child clutching a small new suitcase and teddy bear under his arm, must be the people she's been waiting for. "I'll look after him well madam, I promise," she said lovingly touching the small black face looking up at her.
With screeching brakes the old black engine, belching smoke and soot, came to a stand-still. Passengers with bored faces peered through the windows. We walked towards the rear of the train, the non-white section. George, first reluctant, was finally convinced that a new experience lay before him. He jumped on the hard wooden bench and stuck his head through toe open window. "Careful, you'll fall out." I said, just for the sake of saying something. The conductor blew his whistle and with a jolt the old engine started to move. "Good-bye George, good fella, be good you hear, "we shouted at the little face slowly disappearing out of our lives. Farewell then George, God goes with you; we've sacrificed all we had to give you a new beginning. Become a man, strong and wise and maybe you'll remember that not all whites are the same.

We left the village of bitter memories behind us. But forget we never will, because as long as we live, there always will be George.

Rotorua, New Zealand, 1969

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