Yolandi’s house. Pretoria.
Two weeks before my wakening.
I just knew it. Frans Van Vuuren somehow lay burnt into the skin of Yolandi’s birth mother who was surely dead herself, long buried since abandoning the sweet girl I shared a bed with this morning. How her mother and the disturbed prodigy had become entwined was baffling. How was it possible? And why, with morbid interest, did I even care?
My brother had tried to kill me, had killed his mother, and for all I knew had killed himself. I hated him for it. So why did I see him everywhere; like a tired mind after a rainy day, why did I see him alive in the still puddles of my life’s journey? Why did he haunt me on every rugby field — and why did he remain silent in the cheering crowd, alone and staring? Had he won Super Rugby buried inside me — and was my Springbok dream a dream to please him? Did I love him still, the deadly prodigy? Did I still love my brother?
My fascination with him turned deadly curious and if I ever hoped to resolve our past, to close our book, I had to answer the question: How on God’s green Earth was his sickly symbol scarred to her mother — and why, inexplicably, did it feel as if he was alive when I saw his body dead?
My first break was an easy one. After Yolandi was adopted, her birth mother was sent to Krugersdorp where she battled addiction from a state-funded rehab centre.
‘I last saw her when I was eight,’ Yolandi explained, ‘I remember it so clearly… I was scared.’
‘Well, I had never met my real mother before and…’
‘The scars… I remember them…’
‘What happened? Did she mention them? Did she tell you how she got them?’
‘It’s just that… I am not really allowed to speak about it.’
‘Tell me, Yolandi. How did she get them? How did she get the scars?’
‘I don’t know, honestly. But I have this. It’s all I have.’
Beneath her bed she pulled out a memory box. In it was a diary — her own — and in that, a haunting memory.
[An extract from Yolandi’s diary, written in 2003, translated from Afrikaans, unedited]
I met my real mommy today for the first time and her name is Lelie and she is pretty but she has ugly scars on her body that are all red. When I arrived with Ma I was scared to say hello but Ma said that I mustn’t be scared because Lelie loves me. So I said hello to Lelie and she hugged me and she smelt of medicine. Then Lelie started screaming at Ma and she called Ma a very naughty word and was angry that we had come to visit her because she said that this was all Ma’s fault. Ma said sorry to Lelie and said that it wasn’t her fault. Then Lelie tried to hit Ma but there was a nurse there that stopped her from hitting Ma. Then Ma asked Lelie who the khaki men are and Lelie swore at Ma again. She said that Ma is a khaki man and that Ma must give me back to her. That made me scared. Then she hit Ma and Ma fell over and fell on me and I broke my wrist and it was very sore and I cried. The doctor said it will take 6 weeks to heal my wrist and I am not allowed to swim. Then we got home and Oupa came to visit us and he bought me Smarties and I showed him my new doll. He was very angry today with Ma. I saw him hit Ma and he said to her that if we visit my real mommy again that he would stab her and it made me scared. Then Ma asked if he was a khaki man and he slapped her again. Then we ate spaghetti and mince for supper and Oupa put lots of tomato sauce on his. When he was eating he looked like a vampire and I laughed because he pretended that the tomato sauce was blood on his mouth. Tomorrow he is taking me for a drive in his new black Mercedes.
‘Is she still alive?’ I asked, ‘Is Lelie still alive? I have to see her.’
‘I have no idea,’ replied Yolandi, ‘I wasn’t allowed to speak about her again. Oupa forbid it. All Ma ever said was never throw away her photos. I’d probably want them one day.’
I stood and I wondered, afraid I might never learn the truth. Then, as if to wake myself from my nightmare, I asked it loudly to myself as I did on the day I uncovered the horror:
‘What have you done, Frans?’
And then louder:
‘What have you done, Frans Van Vuuren?’
South Africa went about its business that morning, unaware. Unaware that the end was near.