Saturday, March 3, 2018


LYING ON ARMY beds in an army tent in the showgrounds in Bloemfontein, they hear the cow: mnooooo. And fall from their beds, laughing
            Nooit, he didn't. He didn't.
            He did. He did, ek se. Fijn did it.
            Fuck. He must have stood on a bucket.
            Sappeur Fijn is short and stocky with sly slant eyes and a sailors' swagger. Sappeur Fijn likes to leave the big generator loose in the back of the Bedford. When Fijn breaks hard at a robot, the generator rumbles forward under the force of its inertia, and the inertia of the taxpayers who paid for it, and commits suicide against the cab. When we unpack for the shows, Sappeur Fijn throws things as far and hard as possible of the back of the Bedford in the hope that they'll break and the Minori will have to say, ag nee fokkit man Fijn, wattie fok doen jy.
            Sappeur Fijn gets letters which he claims are from a girl and smirks and sniggers over them before fucking the tangled gritty pile of pipes which leans up against the water-purification system. In so far as I fear Sappeur Fijn I believe I should bend over whenever I see him in a baboon's gesture of sexual submission. Sappeur Fijn is a member of the Engineers, the Genieschool of the Suid-Afrikaanse Weermag. Sappeur Fijn is a soldier who works night and day to protect us from the dark ruthless AK-47 bearing terrorists who are fighting night and day to become voting South Africans like Sappeur Fijn. At the Bloemfontein showgrounds Sappeur Fijn greases his hair back and drinks and drinks and offers girls ice-creams in a smarmy deviant unsettling manner which makes the girls suspicious and scared so that they giggle and refuse the ice-creams. Then Sappeur Fijn disappears.
            The lieutenant is tall and ginger and worried. He wears a neat ginger moustache and gold-rimmed spectacles. It worries the lieutenant when Pike and Donaldson give black power salutes when they drive past black people in the Bedford. The lieutenant is tremendously fit and worried and proud of his two stars which are a commission from the State President who had to resign because he lied to the taxpayers who paid for the lieutenant's training. The lieutenant once smoked a joint at a party at the university where he became an architect and he enjoys talking to Pike and Donaldson who are graduate engineers with strange ideas and no rank. It worries the lieutenant when Pike and Donaldson say they would shoot better if they painted the State President's face over the faces of the dark cut out monsters they use as targets on the shooting range.
            In Bloemfontein the lieutenant is worried because the corporal drank a third of a gallon bottle of Tassenburg which Pike and Donaldson claim they found at a hotdog stand and took the section into town in the Bedford and drove over a Porche and damaged the Bedford's bumper. The lieutenant is worried and ginger and scared about what the major will say when he arrives to inspect the exhibition and finds that the Bedford is damaged and that the lieutenant has lost Sappeur Fijn. The lieutenant wants to phone his mother, but he doesn't. He goes round to see the MPs.
            More Sersant, says the lieutenant. Hey jy iets van Sappeur Fijn gehoor.
            O, says the MP sergeant. Daai ou wattie koei genaai het.
            It's already six years ago that these things happened. In those days they weren't sending soldiers into the townships. In those days the border was pretty much on the border of the country. Now the border goes all over the place, sometimes straight through the middle of families. Which is, I suppose, what civil war is all about.
            Sappeur Fijn was charged and found innocent in a civilian court. I don't know what the charge was. I saw him in camp afterwards and he told me that his defence when like this:
            I was too drunk to get it up, so I couldn't have fucked the cow.
            I heard later that Fijn was killed in a motor accident in Welkom. I've no idea what happened to the lieutenant, but the cow gave birth to a roaring monster, half man, half beast, who shrieks and jabbers over my shoulder when I watch the news on TV.


Sappeur Fijn and the Cow was first published in Forces Favourites, TAURUS, 1987.
It was republished in  The Penguin Book of Contemporary South African Short Stories, Penguin Books, 1993

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