The late summer afternoon was fading with the sun dipping below the ridge of the Karoo koppie. The twittering of finches high up in the willow trees and the creak of a bicycle chain being pedalled hard, broke the absolute quietness of our street in that space of time.
Brinkman Street had a slight rise at each end and to cycle up the modest rise a bit of effort had to be put into pedalling. The creaking chain could only mean one thing, as it was a sound that our ears were accustomed to. It was the cream deliveryman on his back-to-front dairy vending tricycle.
My cousin Garth aged seven, well, he is actually my second- cousin, on account that our grandmothers were sisters, and myself, aged eight, were sitting quietly beneath the old pomegranate tree at the front of their house pondering our life and thinking up things which could make a difference to our slight boredom.
Why were we bored? Who knows?
On the south side of our street, against the rise of the koppie stood the houses where we all lived. At the start and east end of the street stood the Jewish Synagogue followed by nine fairly large houses with steps and driveways leading up the side of the hill to their entrances. Most of the houses were built around the beginning of the twentieth century and were made of sandstone and bricks.
There were eight kids on our street. Garth had an elder brother John, aged nine and a younger brother Barry, aged five. Then I had a younger brother, Julian aged one. Then there was Gerhard aged seven, and his sister Louise aged three, whose house separated our houses. Gerhard’s nickname was Bakkelwiel, an Afrikaans expressionist name for ‘Buckled Wheel’. This was due to the fact that he had had polio as a young child and had a gammy leg. When he ran, his right leg used to contort in such a fashion that it almost represented a buckled wheel on a car or cart. Kids can be cruel. Further down the street was Sophia aged six with whom I fell in and out of love with many times before I reached puberty.
Our afternoon boredom set the scene for a degree of mischief that could take place at any given moment.
It is not that we were deliberate about it. It just happened by accident or as one may put it, an accident waiting to happen.
Joseph, the deliveryman, was a young African man of about twenty years of age. We knew him well. He had a friendly disposition and would always greet us with a smile of perfect white teeth and to say “And how are my little ones today ?”
Joseph parked his tricycle delivery bin at an angle just a few metres away from us. He applied the handbrake and trundled, with a glass bottle of cream in each hand, up the long path to the front door of the house.
As he laboured up the pathway in true unhurried African style, Garth jumped from his perch on the wall and climbed on to the tricycle. “Vroommm, vroommmm”, he said.
Said I mischievously “Bet you can’t ride that thing!”
“Bet you I can”, said Garth defiantly.
“No, you can’t, you’re too little!”
“Yes I can. You just watch me!”
Garth turned the bin along the downhill slope and fiddled with the handbrake. Using both hands he prised it loose and then the bin started to move at a gentle pace. But his feet could not reach the pedals and the weight of the cream bottles in the bin made the cycle too heavy for him to steer. Suddenly he was at the mercy of the tricycle, which was now starting to gather speed. Down the gentle slope the cycle went and as it would happen it started to take it’s path down the steeper gradient to the street below.
A wail of anxiety pierced the quiet afternoon. “Heeeeeeeelp!” cried Garth.
Alas, it was too late and Garth’s destiny was in the hands of fate. Had there not been this small rock lying innocently on the gravel surface of the road things might have turned out for the better. But as fate would have it Murphy’s Law came in to effect. The left hand front wheel of the tricycle hit the rock, the bin rose up in the air, the weight of the remaining bottles shifted and all in slow motion the whole crash happened it a dramatic display of dust, arms, legs and breaking glass.
Garth did not stop for long. In fact he did not stop to look at the damage at all. With weepy gravel rashes on his forearm and knee he scampered down the road and out of sight, whimpering, as if the whole the world had collapsed in on him.
Joseph came charging down the pathway giving me a wide-eyed look as he passed. In disbelief he surveyed the mess. The upturned tricycle, glass everywhere and the white cream and sour milk slowly oozing into the gravel road. He righted the tricycle, put the unbroken bottles back in the bin and sped off to the dairy in haste.
At this point of time I decided that I had better go home and play with my toys. Later, maybe an hour or so later, my Mom remarked that I was being a very good boy playing so quietly with my toys. She was soon to find out that what was on my mind was to stay clear of all trouble which was due to arrive.
Garth stayed away from home until just before dark. By now his arm and knee were hurting a bit and the healing skin was tight but the surface blood had dried up and the damage could soon be repaired with a good dose of Dettol. With great anxiety Garth approached the front door of his house. His Dad must be home from work by now. He was right !!
His Dad was talking on the telephone. The telephone was situated next to the front door. Garth tried to walk by without being noticed. At that moment his Dad exclaimed , “WHAT ?? !!! 42 bottles!!!” and made a lunge for Garth whilst not letting go of the telephone receiver. Garth ducked but his Dad was too quick and got him by the collar of his shirt.
“I have the culprit here and I will call you soon”, he said to the Dairyman on the phone and put down the receiver.
“You little shit!” his Dad exclaimed, “where is my strap!”, Garth started wailing in earnest.
What followed I was not privy to, but Garth got the strap. In and between sobs blamed me for instigating his misfortune.
At my house all was quiet. Too quiet for my parents liking. A gentle grilling of what I did that day ensued but I carefully negotiated my way out of the interrogation without giving anything away. We had supper and I thought that the coast was clear.
Then the phone rang.
There was nowhere to hide!!!
My Dad said, “I thought it was too quiet”, and grabbed the strap.
“But!” ‘smack’, “I”..’smack’, “didn’t”..’smack’, “do”..’smack’, “anything”..’smack’.
“YOU WERE THERE!!!!!”
Garth wasn’t at school the next day and I had to answer questions from the other kids as the news of the ‘accident’ had spread like wildfire in our community. I wasn’t too impressed with Garth for dobbing me in. After all I was the innocent party!!
Or was I ???