One night, I went to visit my parents. My Dad and one of his old boxing friends were sitting outside, having some wine. I sat down with them and we talked about boxing.
‘The coach makes the boxer,’ my Dad said.
I disagreed, and we had a bit of an argument about it. Around nine that evening, I said my goodbyes and got dropped off at my living quarters at the barracks. I was working the morning shift, which started at six in the morning and ended at two in the afternoon, and wanted to get to bed early.
At about three in the morning, there was a knock at my door. I checked the alarm clock next to my bed and shouted back that it was too early as I’m only on duty at six o’clock. The only response was another knock. I opened the door and the station guard informed me the sergeant in the charge office said I must come down to the station. I got dressed in my uniform and walked to the station in the early morning hours. At the station, the Sergeant looked at me and said that I should go to my parents’ place. He said he would take me home. ‘But why?’ I asked.
‘Phone your mother at home,’ he replied.
I dialled our home number, but a lady answered. She was one of our neighbours. Before she could say anything, I heard my mother crying in the background. ‘Come home’, she cried, ‘just come home now.’ The Sergeant and I drove to my home in silence. I could not speak. The Sergeant didn’t speak. Getting home, I noticed an ambulance driving slowly in the same direction as us and I couldn’t help but thinking whether my Dad had another heart attack.
‘Why is the ambulance driving so slow?’
‘Andre, your Dad died about an hour ago. They are on their way to fetch his body,’ the sergeant solemnly replied.
I didn’t believe one word he said and did not answer him. He dropped me at my parent’s place and I walked into the house. I heard my mum crying and looked at my three young sisters and my brother. ‘Daddy is dead,’ my youngest sister said.
I walked into my Dad’s bedroom and saw him lying on his back in the bed. It seemed as if he was sleeping. I touched him. He was warm. When the ambulance crew eventually arrived, I ask them to touch him as well. I desperately wanted confirmation that he was still alive. They nodded and one of the crew touched him but shook his head. Then it sunk in. My Dad was really dead. He was only thirty-nine years old.
After the funeral, I moved back home. I was seventeen years old, the eldest, and had to step into my Dad’s shoes and become a father to my siblings, as well as an advisor to my mother. And I was still only a kid myself.
Some authority figure of the Railway Department arrived a few days later. With him came the bad news that we had to move within three months, as the house was railway property and was going to be allocated to somebody else.
My mum bought a house in a residential area called High Gate and we moved there. In retrospect, things became obvious as to the many questions I had when my Dad forced me to leave school. I had to grow up fast. I’m sure he knew he wouldn’t be around for long. My mom would have been worse off if I was also still at school. She would have had to raise five kids on her own.
My Dad died before I really could get to know him as a person. As a father figure, I respected him. He was a hard man, but fair. He took good care of his family and was well respected by everyone. Only after his death did I learn more about him. All from my mom’s brothers (my uncles) as well as from two very close friends he had. I recalled that on the day of his funeral, a very well built, short man with a brush cut and a scar face with real mean eyes approached me and handed me a piece of paper with a telephone number written on it. All he said was that he was a friend of my Dad’s and that if I ever needed help, I should call him. He did not introduce himself and never said his name. After the funeral we had a get together but he did not attend. I always kept the number at hand and often looked at it. It started with a Durban dialing code.
About two years later, I had to go to Durban for a police matter and I remembered the piece of paper with the number. I was curious and wanted to talk with this man about his knowledge and friendship with my Dad. Prior to leaving for Durban, I rang the number. I recognised the man’s voice as he answered the call. We agreed to meet when I arrived in Durban. Upon meeting with him, told him I did not need his help, I just wanted to know about his friendship with my Dad.
He spoke for three hours. What he told me about my Dad made me sit back in awe. He spoke about things he and my Dad did during their time as working as mercenaries in the old Republic of the Congo. They had many adventures. He asked me if I knew my Dad was an undercover cop and that he was once stabbed and nearly died because of that. He told me my Dad was in hospital for months, and after that incident he resigned from the police and joined the railway. Shortly thereafter, he met my mother and married her. I doubt my mother even knew about my Dad’s past and if she does she has never spoken about it ever.
After I left the meeting with this man, I recalled the scars on my Dad’s stomach. I never had the nerve to question him about it. After this meeting, the respect I had for my Dad grew tenfold, and I was thinking about how unfair life was by not allowing me to learn more of Dad’s life from himself. I would have loved to sit and listen to him telling me about his adventures himself. On the other hand, my Dad was never a man of many words.