Children of the pre-judo/karate era had two basic forms of combat. The first, used mostly by younger kids, was a sort of wrestling where the two combatants would try to force the other to ‘give up’ by, usually, the simple medium of an arm-lock around the other’s neck and increasing the squeeze until the loser used the last of his breath to wheeze out ‘OK!’ When a little more expertise was attained, one could use other wily tricks, like ‘the scissors’, legs around the other’s waist hooking his feet together and trying to crush the enemy’s breath out that way.
The second, of course, was called boxing, but there was seldom any training behind the attempts to punch each other into submission. This I tried to avoid, mostly because I could not bring myself to hit first. Therefore, if my opponent got it right, it would be the end of the fight. If he didn’t finish it with his first flurry of blows, then it would be game on, as the adrenalin would often carry me through.
However, the wrestling was more suited to my thin build and calm temperament as I could wriggle out of most grips and invent my own holds to bend limbs painfully back in a direction for which they were not designed. It was more of a contest than a battle, so was often used as a sport. I became known as ‘Earle the Eel’.
If I climbed the highest pine tree at my junior school on the Springbok Flats, where I was a boarder, I could just make out the Waterberg Hills behind the farm that was home. I longed for it. When I went home for weekends or holidays, it was with dread that I returned to school.
The farm was one of four, long and narrow, lying side by side, that had been a single farm subdivided at the death of a previous owner to share between four daughters. The farm houses and lands lay east of a little stream and the larger, western side was mostly bushveld grazing, up to the foot of those hills.
That thorny bush was my domain and no fences or property rights stopped me roaming across all four farms as well as the hills.
One time, aged about ten, I came across five or so black kids on a grassy bank on the far side of the river, wrestling with each other. The eldest, about fifteen, as reigning champ, was daring the others to take him on. I asked to have a go. Heavier and stronger than me, it was all I could do to slither out of his grasp, but I surprised him with some of my holds. The others sat around and watched; a bit apprehensively, perhaps, as they were farm labourers’ kids, and I was a white ‘boss’s’ son in Apartheid South Africa.
I was a kid and he was a hormone packed adolescent. As we writhed and clenched in sweaty contact, I became aware that something changed in him. Something frightening to me that I could sense but not understand. He was trying to pin me under him as he thrust his hips at mine and muttering ‘you are my wife’…
Exploding, I kicked and shoved until I was free of him, and ran home, crying. Shattered and bewildered, I ran a bath, sobbing, and scrubbed as a ten-year-old seldom does. My father sat on the edge of the bath and eased the tattered tale out of me. What he said was never forgotten, because it was neither comforting nor true.
“Don’t play with them again. They are not the same as us; they are basic, simple people. Even as adults, they are like children.”
I’ve never understood why he said that. Perhaps he only meant the farm labourers, because I have an equally clear memory of him, several times, inviting the black school-inspector, Mr Moatsi, who came to the farm to buy produce, into the lounge for tea and long chats.
I was not raped that day, but the glimpse I got of the invasion that rape is, has made me cry for those that have been. I have tried in some measure to pay tribute to some victims that I have known, and that are dear to me, in my story ‘Hunter’s Venom’, available now on Kindle. It will be seen that my protagonist is a black Botswana CID detective, so I was also not irreparably poisoned as far as race is concerned.