Mrs Annetjie Venter had just put the kettle on for her morning coffee when her smart phone chimed an incoming message. She glanced down and saw another condolence from a distant relative. Her eyes blurred as that all too familiar pain clenched her chest once again.
The news of Jenny’s death had come through two days ago, and she was still reeling with the shock of losing her only daughter. Her husband, Peet, had passed away several years ago, leaving Annetjie alone with her grief. She glanced out the kitchen window at the beautiful green hills and grey mountain-scape of the Stellenbosch winelands that normally brought such peace to her heart. Today they looked dark and menacing.
A knock on the door brought her back to the present. Wiping her eyes with her lace handkerchief, she straightened her skirts and headed for the front door, steeling herself for the inevitable studied expressions of grief and understanding people who could never understand wore when dealing with a person rendered helpless by bereavement.
She opened the door, and her beloved Jenny stood on the threshold, smiling the most beautiful smile she had ever seen.
‘Jenny?’ she asked uncertainly.
‘Oh, my baby!’ she cried, as her knees gave way and she sank to the floor. Jenny knelt next to her mother and took her into her arms, cradling the sobbing form as it shook in pain and relief.
‘Is it really you?’ her mother asked between sobs.
‘Yes, Mama, it really is me. I’m fine, I really am.’
Jenny and her mother spoke in Afrikaans, a member of the Germanic family of languages. Sometimes referred to as “Kitchen Dutch”, Afrikaans is almost indistinguishable from Flemish, the tongue spoken in Belgium.
A few hundred years of isolated evolution from its parent languages had bred a unique patois, but the Afrikaans speaking people of South Africa had always had a special affinity for the Dutch and Germanic members of their forebears, and it wasn’t unusual for German, Dutch or Belgian immigrants to South Africa to send their children to Afrikaans schools, and thereby add another unique strain to the already colourful lineage of the Afrikaans people.
‘Oh my liefling,’ Jenny’s mother sobbed. Jenny squeezed her hard, and regretted having waited so long to let them know she was okay.
‘Come, Mama, get up. Wipe your eyes and smile at me.’ Annetjie gave her daughter a watery smile, then stiffened her spine and climbed to her feet.
‘You must be hungry,’ she sniffed. That statement ordered the subject closed and Jenny smiled as her mother’s old fortitude reasserted itself. Wiping her eyes, Annetjie led her daughter into the kitchen and poured out two cups of strong Rooibos tea, a local favourite.
‘Could we have some too, please, Mevrou Venter?’ a masculine voice enquired, and Annetjie looked up in surprise.
A young man and woman were standing in her kitchen, and they weren’t there a second ago. She struggled for words as her brain assimilated what it was seeing.
They were wrong. Like two clones from a cheap comic book, blonde and identically dressed in tight fitting black one-piece suits covered in robes; her first thought was that she was looking at the cover of one of her son Pieter’s cheap sci-fi novels that he always left scattered around his bedroom.
‘Who are you?’ she demanded.
‘Mama, they’re my friends. They’re the ones that saved me from the attack in Kandahar. If it wasn’t for them, I would certainly have died.’
Annetjie glanced at her daughter, ‘Ja, that’s all very well; but who are you?’ she demanded again, looking up at Jade and Johnny through suspicious eyes.
Johnny smiled his most charming smile, and said, ‘I am Johnny, Mevrou, and this beautiful woman by my side is Jade. We came across your daughter and she seemed to be in a small amount of difficulty, so we stepped in and brought her home to you.’
‘Small difficulty? They told me she was dead! Killed in an attack on the base!’ Annetjie took a sip of her tea in obvious agitation.
Johnny chuckled, ‘Okay, she was in some serious kak, Mevrou!’
Annetjie’s tea snorted through her nose, and Jenny burst out laughing. Johnny’s response, although rude, was one of those little sins the Afrikaaner appreciates so well, and Annetjie thawed to her two uninvited guests almost immediately.
‘Come, sit down and tell me all about it,’ she demanded, serving up more tea, and miraculously producing fresh scones with cream and jam. Jade ate with a purpose; she had never tasted anything like this in all her young life. Not in the village of her birth, or on the ship she now called home. While she ate, humming in pleasure, Johnny told Annetjie their story.
‘I stumbled across it in Mpumalanga, and it has served me well ever since,’ he was saying.
Annetjie glanced at Jenny for confirmation, and she nodded enthusiastically.
‘Mama, would you believe that less than an hour ago we were in the Middle East? It’s incredible!’
‘So this ship is nearby?’ she asked.
‘Yes. Directly overhead actually.’
‘Yissie, but Pieter is going to go mad when he hears all this,’ Annetjie said. Johnny gave Jenny a questioning glance, and she grinned.
‘Pieter is my brother, the one I told you about,’ she said. Addressing her mother, she went on. ‘That’s one of the reasons Johnny and Jade came down to meet you, Mama. They want to have a look at some of Pietie’s books. You know, the ones the Dominie disapproves of.’
The Pastor of their local, and very strict, Dutch Reformed Church viewed Pieter’s choice of reading material with considerable trepidation, and was convinced that if he didn’t see the error of his ways soon, the fires of hell and damnation would surely follow.
‘Pieter locks his room, but he should be home soon,’ Annetjie replied. While they waited, they chatted aimlessly.
‘Oh Hemel! I’d better let people know you’re still alive!’ Annetjie realised. ‘We’ve had so many condolences, you know. Everybody loves you my skat,’ she used the local endearment for darling.
‘You should look on your Facebook page, Jenny, and see for yourself.’
Jenny logged on and went through the long list of well-wishers, sniffing loudly from time to time. Annetjie kept stealing surreptitious glances at her daughter, as though to make sure this wasn’t a dream.
‘There,’ Jenny announced, ‘I’ve just posted that I’m alive and well and I take condolence gifts in cash!’ She grinned as her mother gave her a disapproving glare.
‘It’s not funny to joke about these things!’ she declared.
‘Johnny, who is Scott?’ Jenny asked.
‘Scott? Where did you get that name?’
‘He left a message on my Facebook page. Said if I knew anything about you I should call.’
Johnny glanced at Jade. ‘I suppose Scott and Cheryl have been keeping an eye on things. News travels fast, it would seem.’
Turning to Annetjie, Johnny said, ‘Could I use your phone please, Mevrou?’
Published Titles in the Johnny Roberts Series:
Book Two: Johnny Roberts and the Gods of Eden
Andrew Noble © 2013
Cover artwork: John Killin © 2013
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© 2013 Andrew Noble All Rights Reserved