Around that time, Daniel Iancu and his companions were walking through yet more bush, this time in the upper part of the Western Cape province. The army pickup truck they’d taken from the road block had been ridden on and off the road until its fuel tank was empty, and from there it was back on foot through farm land and bushes, from cache to cache. Everything was fine, though frustrating because they were tired of walking and the charm of those cold MREs had worn off long ago. They hadn’t known warmth or the feel of a bed in ages, and fire was out of the question. The group had avoided road blocks, being mostly one or two clicks off the side of the road, but the stress was ever-present. Water was always a problem because Dan hadn’t counted on four people feeding off his caches, and 1.25 liters per person per day wasn’t enough. Nevertheless it was clean water and he’d once been forced to pull a gun on his mates to stop them from filling their canteens with water from streams and pools they’d come across. In time, they started to play a game, needling each other with “Are we there yet?”, to which whenever one asked, the whole group would respond “Fuck no!” There had been some uncomfortable fucking nights, a few rains and the struggle of four people to fit under a poncho designed for one man that Dan would stretch out as a makeshift roof. Together with his rainproof pants, they made “The best six hundred bucks I ever spent, let me tell you”, as Dan never tired of telling them…

Close to 5 AM, they were looking for a place to stop, when they smelled smoke. Following the scent in the morning nautical twilight, they came upon a bundled figure sleeping next to the remnants of a small fire. Dan didn’t have to tell them, the team automatically spread out a couple of meters and trained their weapons on the sleeping man while also looking around. As soon as he saw this, Dan kicked the guy’s feet and he sprung up like a junkie on crack. “Who are you?” growled Daniel. “Andries van der Merwe” came the response. “What are you doing here?” “Keeping away from patrols and looking for a safe place to sleep”, came the answer. “How long have you been on the road?” “Over a week”, replied Andries. Dan looked at him carefully. The guy’s hair was kind of neat and short, though getting long. He had a day or two of stubble on his face and his boots looked fairly clean and the toes weren’t badly scuffed like theirs. Suspicious, Dan moved to the man’s backpack. It was fairly light. It had a packet of chips, some biltong (fragrant dried meat) and a military two liter canteen of water that was about a quarter empty.

They’d been on the road for weeks, and Dan felt his beard. He’d never been “blessed” with a full bush, but it was quite heavy by now. His hair was caked from the sweat and like the others, he stank enough to kill a buffalo. This guy looked too good to have been on the road by himself for a week, and anyway, where the fuck did he come from? There wasn’t much out here, just a few shitty little towns which had one or no traffic lights and some farms. “Nah, man. This shit’s wrong”, thought Dan. “Get up”, he told Andries. The guy yawned and stretched. Maybe he was still trying to wake up, maybe it was stress. Whatever it was, his waist-length jacket rode up when he stretched and Dan saw the rectangular shape of a pouch with a cell phone in it. “Freeze, motherfucker! Lie back, keep your hands stretched up! Don’t fuckin’ move!” Martin hadn’t seen it, so he asked “What’s up Dan?” Dan replied “Got a cell phone here. This guy looks all shades of wrong. I wanna check ‘im out. Gimme some cover, will ya?” With that, he shifted the rifle to his back, drew his USP and aimed it at Andries’ chest, then without taking his eyes off him, reached for the pouch and pulled out the phone. He saw it was a Samsung, and pushed the power button. The phone lit up and out of habit, Dan looked at the power bars. The battery was about half full, but what really got his attention was that it had signal…

He turned it to face Andries and barked “What is this, motherfucker? Signal? How the fuck do you have signal, when we haven’t seen a working phone in a month? Who the fuck are you and what the fuck is going on?” Andries replied calmly (a little too calmly and with quite steady eyes, Dan thought) “I’m Andries van der Merwe, this is my phone. I don’t know why it’s working, but it is. I haven’t been able to reach anybody I know, and there’s nothing going on.” Dan raised his voice in a passable imitation of his old platoon sergeant and said “Kak (shit), man. You’ve been in the bush for a week and your cell phone is half charged? How did you get that right, a fucking miracle from the heavens? You’re too fucking clean to have been out here that long and while you’ve got no razor and hardly any water, your beard is not older than a day or two. No, this is something else. Now I tell you what’s gonna happen. You’re gonna be a good little boy and roll over on your stomach with your fuckin’ hands still up, or I’ll kill you, then you’re going to do what I tell you- and after that we’ll have us a little chat…”

End of Part 19. To be continued…

Mircea Negres

Port Elizabeth

South Africa