On the neighbouring farm lived a friend of mine, Lawrence Brown. He was a Catholic and attended a Marist Brothers College, while I had moved on to High School in Pretoria, so I only saw him in holidays. I was aged about fifteen when, on one overlapping weekend, we set off into the Waterberg on a Sunday morning. My parents had sternly reminded me to be back by lunch-time so as to catch my lift back to school, sixty miles away, but I had decided to leave home and ‘seek my fortune’. My destination was the Botswana border, about a hundred and fifty miles off as the crow flies, through thornveld and over stony hills. Intending to live off the land, I took my .410 shotgun along, a few tins and packets of I-forget-now-what and a blanket.
I said goodbye to Lawrence, who was briefed to say that we’d had a race home and each gone our own ways to get there. (“Gee, isn’t he back, yet?”)
This pathetic little story is told with a mixture of shame and regret and apology to those inconvenienced and, especially to Lawrence who tried to stand by me and paid the price. Knowing that actions and decisions like those made then are the fingers that mould us, and, as fairly inconsequential as it was in the scheme of things, it obviously is important to me as I would, firstly, not have remembered it, and, secondly, not have cared enough to apologise. One particular demon that has slowly emerged to my self-assessment, but been obvious to everyone else, I suppose, is my selfishness. Sensitivity and an inferiority complex will probably account for it. Disrobing like this is a self-flagilating honesty that might serve no purpose at all, but development of character and plausible motive for the actions of characters is also what novel writing is about. Knowing one’s self, maybe flashing in the mirror, is not a comfortable excercise, however.
Tramping away along a cliff-side valley draped with shouting baboons, mindful of snakes, aware that I’d heard stories of leopards, I followed a small river and found a place to camp. I laid down my blanket and clutching my little shotgun, tried to sleep. Here I must point out that it was only three in the afternoon, so I could have gone a lot further.
As I lay there, I was sure I could hear voices calling me, far off, echoing along the granite cliffs…
This would show them! They didn’t love me. They went to Pretoria to do some shopping and didn’t even visit me! Ha. Yes, they were seen there in Van Schaik’s Book Store; thought I didn’t know! Now they’d see…
I leaped up and peered around. I wasn’t sure if the voices were in my head or real. I had no watch, but it was about five, now. The lift would surely have given up and left for Pretoria. And my parents, the ones who didn’t love me, would be… what?
Relaxing with a cup of tea? Saying, “Good riddance!”?
Or would they be frantic with worry?
I took off like a baboon with his tail on fire; up the opposite cliff and across the ridge, leaping rocks and dodging scrub, running, running…
Down below me to my left, the town dam came into sight. I knew the hills well and ran on along barely seen game paths. Then, there was the dam wall with two police trucks parked, and two other cars, where none had been that morning. There were ant-like figures scouring the dam wall, the paths, the cliffs; calling…
The coward didn’t show himself, just kept running; wee, wee, wee, all the way home.
The lift to school was still waiting. Mum was pleading; where have you been, dad and the police are searching…
I ran away, Mum, ‘cos you don’t love me! My pathetic little one-man protest march.
Later they said they didn’t come and visit me at school because they thought it would have upset me to do so for so short a time. Seems reasonable.
But, poor Lawrence; the police didn’t believe him and, suspecting he had done me some harm, grilled him.
Not a proud moment. Have you got this tee-shirt? Ever run away for a rather pathetic reason from folks who loved you but maybe didn’t, or couldn’t, show it very well?