Two times? Three times? Ten? Twenty?
I fold my hands around my shoulders. And once again I say: Many times, Grootbaas.
Unexpectedly he ask: Was he the first man that was with you?
I just shake my head because I don't feel like answering. I already told him mos it was my first time.
He change the question a little bit: Have you had a lot of men?
I tell him, It's only Baas Frans I come to complain about.
Look, if you have a complaint, you've got to tell us everything now. Otherwise you're wasting our time.
Once again I say: It's just about Baas Frans that I am here.
Did he hurt you?
No, Grootbaas. It was a bit difficult but I can't say it hurt me too bad. I had badder things happen to me.
Then what are you complaining about?
Because he take me and he promise me things and now he is going away from me.
What did he promise you?
He say he will give me my freedom.
What did he mean when he said he would give you your freedom? He say he will buy me freedom from the Landdrost. From the Govment. But now instead of buying my freedom he want going away from me.
How is he going away from you?
They say he want to marry a white woman. Not a slave or a Khoe but one of his own kind. So now he want to sell me upcountry.
How do you know that?
I hear him talking to the Ounooi about it. They want to put me up on auction.
Why would they want to do that?
Because they want to take my children away from the farm before the white woman come to live here.
What can you tell me about your children?
That's mos why I am here, Grootbaas.
How many children do you have?
There is two left, but there was four altogether.
What happened to the other two?
I think by myself: Now it is coming. But after a while I just say: They die when they are small. The first one didn't have a name yet and the second one was Mamie, but she only lived three months, then she also went.
Who is their father?
Frans and I made them.
He keep on asking: And the two who are still alive? Where are they?
One is at Zandvliet where we made them. She's Lena. My Ouma Nella look after her. The last one is this one I bring on my back with me.
For some time he say nothing more. Then he get in a hurry and he ask: When did the other two die?
I don't look at him. All I can say is: When they was small. One was only three months old.
And the other one?
I have nothing to say about the first one.
He die too soon.
He look hard at me, then he sigh. All right, he say. What can you tell me about this one you brought with you?
I don't say anything. I just turn sideways so that he can see the child in the doek on my back.
I tell the man: He is my youngest. He was born only three months ago. His name is Willempie.
And you say it is your Baas Francois's child?
Yes, that is the truth, before the LordGod.
Can you prove it?
I ask him: How can I prove a thing like that?
If you cannot prove it I cannot write it in my book.
The Grootbaas must believe me.
To believe something, he says, does not make it true.
Grootbaas, I say, there are things about you that I also cannot see, but I believe they are there and that make them true.
He laugh and I can hear it is not a good laugh. He ask: What you talking about?
It is getting more difficult to breathe, but I know I have no choice and so I ask: Will the Grootbaas give me permission to say it?
He say: Look, we're getting nowhere like this. So all right then, I give you permission.
I nod and look straight at him and I say: Thank you, my Grootbaas. Then I shall take that permission and say to the Grootbaas that I am speaking of the thing on which the Grootbaas is sitting.
Excerpted from Philida by Andre Brink. Copyright © 2013 by Andre Brink. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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