He stank. Rank
sweat, scruffy shirt, pants that shone with aged dirt and a pair of
shoes that held together more by road dirt and sweat than by
stitching. Unshaven with hair that looked like it once had dreadlocks
but which had subsequently lost a battle with a lawn mower. The
policeman sits him in the chair opposite me more gently than I would
have expected. We stare at each other for a few moments. I stick out
a hand, “Roelof Smidt”.
He looks slightly
surprised, takes my hand. “Jan Abrahams.”
Abrahams. I am your court appointed lawyer.” I hesitate for a
moment. “You took a bit of a beating? Who was it.”
“The guys in
the alley and then the Boere when they arrested me.”
remains completely unmoved. I am impressed.
I look at the
policeman. “Can you leave us please?”
He looks doubtful.
“He is not in
any condition to take me on. I will be fine.”
He nods and leaves
“I have read
your statement, but I want to hear you tell the story.”
“All of it?
Again? What for. Waste of time.”
He has that easy, musical Cape Town accent that is so difficult for non Cape Town residents to follow with its eclectic mix of English, Afrikaans and slang words whose meanings seem to change from area to area.
I nod. “All of
He scratches idly at
his side, lifting the shirt and scratching absent mindedly.
“I found a nice
little niche up an alley near that larny Bed n Breakfast. Dark corner
but with a security guard on the end of the road. He didn’t see me
sneak through. Distracted by chatting up Rosy, one of the street
I nod. “And?”
“I had a nice
trench coat from a lady up in Tamboerskloof. Nice and warm. Padded
too. Get a good nights sleep in it. Gone now I guess. I was not
wearing it when I got arrested.”
He scratches at his
hair, catches something and crushes it.
“This guy and a
woman come into the alley. He is a bit drunk and is kinda dragging
her. She keeps saying “No, No” but he ignores her. Gets her
up against the wall. Starts grabbing her under her skirt. She tries
to fight him off. He bangs her against the wall.”
He pauses. Thinking.
“She reminded me of my kid Danny last time I saw her. Beautiful, skinny, broad hips.” he sighs. “I haven’t seen Danny for 3 years now. Not since her Ma threw me out. Drunk I was. Booze is my failing.”
then?” I prompt finding myself warming to this strange man.
“I hit him with
“You got up off
your coat. Did you tell him to stop?”
“Yeah. Shouted at him to leave her alone. He told me to fuck off. So I hit him with my stick. You mustn’t swear in front of a woman. It just isn’t right”
I nod. Wait
“He lets her go
and tries to hit me, but I dodge. I shout at the woman “Run
Missy!” and I shoulder charge him and he goes down hard.
Unbalanced I guess.”
That stops me dead
in my tracks. Shoulder charge. He doesn’t look like a rugby player.
Seeing me looking
quizzically at him he says: “Played first team for my school.
I nod. “And
“She runs away
out of the alley and he starts hitting me and shouting about muggers.
His two buddies arrive and that’s all she wrote. Cops arrived and
arrested me. Laid charges.”
“You know that
the man, Ian Jessop, says there was no woman and you tried to mug
him. Hit him with a stick and he was rescued by his friends.”
“Well, he would wouldn’t he?” This is no longer funny. A street beggar, quoting Christine Keeler mimicking a rather posh English accent.
“No one saw
“Dunno. I was
too busy trying to stay alive.”
“Rosy and the
Security Man? Gone.”
“I guess so. So
no one to back you up?”
He shakes his head.
“Lets just plead guilty and get the farce over. Government hotel
for me for a year.”
calling for 5. Not a short stretch.”
That stops him in
“Five years? Fuck that is not ok.”
“Ok, do you
have anyone who can do a nice character witness thing for you?”
His head is hanging
forward, devastated, he just shakes his head.
“They all hate
He stands up and
shouts “Guard!” and is gone before I can say another word.
I walk through my
the rest of my day in a kind of stupor. I like Jan Abrahams, I
understand him better than he realises, I was just lucky, he wasn’t.
I try to forget, but I can’t.
9 pm finds me on
Kloof St outside the alley the fight took place. The security man on
the night club is a foreigner and probably working illegally in the
country. He is huge, friendly and completely unable to remember a
fight in the alley. He does remembers it being very busy that
evening. I show him the picture.
“Ag, that’s old Jan. Hasn’t been around for some time. Story goes he is in jail. Was it him in the fight?”
I nod and he shakes
never made him for a fighter. Always polite. He used to sneak up the
alley to sleep. I didn’t bust him for it. Trusted him I did.”
We are about to part
when I ask him if any strange things have happened since then.
He cocks his head,
thinks for a while then shakes his head.
As I am walking
away, he calls me back.
“A woman, red
hair 1.7 m arrived a few nights ago. Recognised her as being with one
of our regular customers sometime recently. She looking for a man “in
a trench coat” who sounded like Jan. I told her I knew nothing.”
“Where would a
frightened woman go if she ran out of that alley?” I ask.
He looks at me
carefully. Looks up and down a relatively quiet Kloof St.
“Not in here.
Too slow. Would have to get into a queue.” He pauses. “Da
Vinci’s next door? Big place, easy access. Toilets to hide in.”
We shake hands and I
get the feeling I have passed a test and been given information that
he did not really want to reveal.
Da Vinci’s is
bright, noisy and buzzing. A cheerful woman with long dreads and a
huge smile greets me as I enter.
one?” she says looking around.
“No, I have a
question to ask someone who was on duty here last Friday night.”
She pauses. Suddenly
there is large man standing at my elbow. Not threatening, but I get
the feeling things could get ugly if I didn’t behave. I take a deep
“I am a
lawyer.” The looks on their faces does not bode well for the
rest of the conversation.
Quickly “I am
representing one of the street people, Jan Abrahams.” The guy at
my shoulder nods to the back.
We end up in a store
“Is he in
“Jan is a good
man. Don’t mess me around.”
assault? BS! Jan is not capable of that. What is the story.”
I tell him both
sides of the story and I wait. The silence stretches.
here. No, come with me.”
We end up back at
the reception desk and a rapid conversation takes place in Xhosa. The
woman retrieves a piece of paper and hands it to me.
“A woman with
red hair came running in here. Asked us to hide her until she could
summon a taxi. We put her in the store room. And Lucky here took a
break and leant against the door until the taxi came. Escorted her
out to the taxi. Monday, she came back, early evening. Asked if we
knew where we could find Jan; “the man in the trench coat”
is how she described him.”
“She gave us
that number. Told us she wanted to say thank you to Jan. He had saved
her. Told us to call when we found him. Any time.”
Lucky and I go
outside and I haul my cell phone out and call the number on the piece
of paper. I put it on speaker so Lucky can hear
Soft lilting almost
Irish sounding voice.
“I am standing
with Lucky outside Da Vinci’s”
There is a soft
I tell my story
She listens without
interruption. I finish talking. There is silence for nearly a minute.
there. I am on my way.”
They find me a table
right at the back of the restaurant and I wait. A glass of beer
appears and Lucky is gone again. Then Suzie arrives. Tall willowy red
head. Makes my eyes water. I stand up trying not to knock over the
table or the beer. She shakes my hand and sits down.
“Tell me the whole
story again please. I have some questions.”
She listens to me
closely. Listening to every word. Questioning any inconsistencies.
“I am the woman
he saved and Peter Butler the man who caused all this trouble.”
I ask her to tell
her story from the beginning.
“Peter and I
had only just met and he invited me to the fancy night club place.
When we got there Peter was already quite drunk and started trying to
touch me up in the lounge. I rejected him and tried to phone for a
taxi. He kept breaking the call. I got up to leave and he followed
me. Grabbed me by the arm and dragged me down that terrible alley.
Held me against the wall and started to touch me all over. I told him
no, I tried to push him away but he was too strong. Then Jan
intervened. He told Peter to stop. Pushed him over on his back, hit
him with a stick. Told me to run. And I did. I hid in the Da Vinci
store room till my taxi came. Peter has not called me since that
night. Afraid I might start asking awkward questions. Rock his neat
little boat. Bastard.”
We go to the police station. She makes a sworn statement for me supporting Jan’s store and then insists we lay charges of perjury against Peter and his accomplices.