Integrity by Trevor Romain

It happened a long time ago boet.
A time when people actually did what they said they were going to do. I was driving along a dirt road in the Drakensburg mountains with my stukkie.
In the distance I noticed a speck on the horizon. A speck that would teach me something that, until then, I did not know even existed.
Ja, I know it’s a big word and hard to explain but I will try none the less.
You see that speck on the horizon was a very old, toothless, Basotho toppie with a white beard and a Basotho hat and blanket, riding a clapped out old bicycle.
I slowed down so that I didn’t gooi dust all over the poor oke.
I waved at him and he waved back as we passed. I swear he did not have a single tooth in his head but his smile was lekker warm and friendly. He looked about eighty and too bloody old to be driving a bicycle.
I watched the toppie in my rear view mirror and then looked up to see a #%#@$ bakkie coming towards me at full speed. That thing was wikkeling ek se. There was a dust cloud billowing behind it like you’ve never seen. The driver must have thought he was at Kayalami racing against ou Jackie Stewart or Jody Schechter.
As the bakkie passed me I saw three young okes with borsel-kop haircuts in the front seat. One of them had a Lion lager in his hand. (I’m skaam to say but I could spot a Lion Lager from a mile away. That’s something I learned in the weermag.)
I checked the bakkie in my rear view mirror and my heart almost stopped ek se. The driver was heading straight for the toppie on the bicycle. I saw the old man nervously look over his shoulder as the bakkie came up from behind him.
I closed my eyes because I knew that were going to try and moer that oke off his bike.
I opened my eyes to see that they swerved towards him and missed him by inches. I could also see them gesticulating and shouting kak at the man as they drove past.
Shame man. The old oke wobbled on that bike and I saw him drive off the road and crash down a little donga.
I slowed down and turned the car around.
My stukkie was vloeking the okes in the bakkie like you won’t believe.
I got to the old man and he was sitting down in the veld rubbing his knee. The front wheel of his bike was buckled and buggered.
The old man looked so sad. “Haai eh-eh,” he said, shaking his head. “What is wrong with those kids?”
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Ja, kelinbaas,” he replied. “It is just my heart that is sore.”
He told us he was a gardener at the Champaign Castle Hotel and was on his way to work.
I put his bicycle in the boot and we took him to the hotel, which was about four miles away. Apparently he drove his rattletrap bike to work every day rain or shine.
As we were leaving, I gave the man about forty rand in cash that I had in my wallet and a few rand my stukkie had in her purse. “It’s to fix your bike,” I said.
“Sorrie my kleinbaas,” he said, “I can’t take your money.”
My stukkie charfed him to take the money because I was just going to use it to buy dop and get vrot anyway.
The old man chuckled and told me I had a wise girlfriend. “I will pay you back my baasie,” he said.
“That’s okay,” I said. “You don’t have to.”
But he insisted that I give him my address and I did on a little scrap of paper knowing that he would lose it in about ten seconds.
Needless to say I had the resources to find more dop money. And me and my goose had a lekker weekend in the berg and I forgot about the old man.
The scuffed and wrinkled little white envelope arrived at my little flat in Sandringham one month later.
In it was one rand twenty-five!
Ja the old toppie did what he said he was going to do.
I swear china, at the end of every #$#@% month, an envelope arrived with a one rand and twenty-five cents in it. No note, no return address, just the tom the oke promised to pay back to me.
I was mos in advertising in those days and a year later I went back to the Drakensburg to shoot a television commercial with Sarel van der Merwe, the rally driver. It was for Jurgens caravans and he was towing the caravan through the berg showing how rough and tough those caravans were.
The filming took place very close to where that old ballie had fallen off his bike and I decided to go and find him and to charf him he didn’t need to send me the money every month because I was doing fine.
I found out that he had retired from the hotel. They told me that he lived in the village near where I first saw him and they told me where to find the old oke.
My art director John and I went

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to the hut. Bru, it was exactly what you’d imagine. A thatched mud rondawel with missing windowpanes covered in Spar bags to keep the wind out. The floor was hardened mud and swept clean. There was a primus stove, a galvanized tub with a bar of sunlight soap in it, a rickety old table with a clean cloth on it, a little cupboard and a bed with white sheets on bricks. That’s all boet!
An grey old, old granny answered the door. She was also toothless and she had a doek on her head that was tied under her chin like people used to in the olden days when they had toothache.
The woman was the old man’s wife.
I asked if he was around so I could tell him that he didn’t have to pay the money back to me.
What she told me stopped me cold.
The old man had died six months before and she had continued paying his debt.
I mean, #$#@# it china. She had nothing. Nada. Fokkol. Bogger all. Yet she was doing what she considered was the right thing. Paying their debt as promised.
She kept his word. She sent the money every month despite the fact that her husband had died.
I told her I didn’t need the money and gave her a little more that I had in my pocket.
She was so grateful and would not stop hugging me.
Talk about integrity boet.
That’s integrity.

To read some more of Trevor Romain’s lovely stories go to:

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