Saturday

Belize Survivor, part 34

A young Zulu girl was scrubbing the floor under Ellie’s supervision, and she was taking a long time to do it badly. The harsh knock on the door of the main house startled her, and when she opened it, a large heavy-set army lieutenant stood menacingly in the doorway. Behind him was an army transport vehicle. Ellie stared at him in surprise.

“May I help you, Menheer?” she asked politely.

“I would like to speak to Maximilian Augustus Lord, please.”

"I'm sorry. He's not here right now."

"Very well” he said, in a thick Boer accent. “Then it is my duty to inform you that your son is required to attend two weeks of Reserve Army training at the base in Pietermaritzburg. We expect him to report in one month's time. This is his official notice. Please sign here.” He handed her the clipboard and pen. Dutifully, Ellie signed the slip and was given the carbon copy. "Make sure he receives this notification. It is a punishable offense if he does not appear."

That evening when Max came in from the fields, his mother presented him with the letter. She had made him a special dinner, but his appetite evaporated instantly when he opened it. Memories of Sergeant DeGroot and his army days came back to him; it felt like a physical blow. I can't do this, he thought. I can't. There's got to be a way. I've got to get out of here, somehow. I can't go back to that. They'll shave off my hair and, with it, my dignity. No, never again. He excused himself from the table, hurried to the telephone in the back room, out of earshot from this mother, and made a phone call.

"Yeah, that stinks, Max,” Ian agreed, after hearing the news. “It really does. Is there anything I can do?"

"I honestly don't know, but I'll tell you one thing, I'm starting to think about getting out of here."

"Getting out? Where would you go?"

"I don't know, but I'm damn glad I got a proper British passport. Good thing Dad was actually born in England. I can go a lot more places on that than a South African one."

"That's helpful, at least. You really think you'll leave?"

"I don't know. The sad thing is that I've really been enjoying South Africa ever since we came back. Come over and let’s drink a few beers, OK? We need to talk."

"Sure, old chap. Anything to help."

After he’d been served notice, Max remained in his thatched house on the edge of Ngotche Gorge. He felt trapped. Everything was falling apart. His parents couldn’t understand his angst. It was only two weeks of reserve training, after all, and what would be so bad about having to cut his hair? It all came to a head one rainy afternoon when the police, rather than the army, arrived at the door of his private domain. Too late to duck and run, he stood there in disbelief.

"Maximilian Lord, you will come with us, please. You are wanted by the authorities for questioning in regard to possible involvement in illegal drug trafficking."

Handcuffed and taken into custody, the next few hours were sheer torture. The counter-culture of the U.S and England had yet to trickle down to the South African police, and the fact that his hair was now well below his shoulders didn't help his image. By evening, Max found himself in jail under the official charge of “suspicion of treason against the state” – a catch-all phrase long-used against the Zulus to detain them for months on end for unspecified reasons.

The next day Ian came to bail him out.

"You mean my parents won't put up the money?" Max asked incredulously.

"Probably they will, but I thought it would be better if we did it first," said Ian. "All of your buddies, including myself, put this money together so you could get the hell out of here. If your parents did it, then you might feel guilty about jumping bail."

Max's eyes grew wide in amazement. "What?" he whispered softly.

"Why, of course, old boy. Can you imagine what would happen with the army and the drug thing combined? No. You need to go – with our blessings."

There was no longer anything to think about, the decision was made. Max was too far ahead of his time to stay in a country of rural rooineks and rock-spiders. In seeking a more modern environment, it wasn't hard to figure out where to go. He wanted to be where the length of his hair was the standard, where sandaled feet were acceptable, where the women gave free love, where beads and flowers were worn by everyone, and marijuana was a part of the culture.

* * * *

The cold rain still fell outside the tiny trailer as Max finished telling his story.

“See, Ntombi?” said Max, warmly. “There was only one possible destination for me – California.”



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