We finished up our trip, headed back to town. I nursed my doubts, spent a night in a gazebo with  firewood for company, waited for the housekeeper the next morning, began calling emergency locksmiths, the AA, tow-truck drivers: the car situation was complicated.

Three days into trying to figure this all out, I took a call from Detective Coetzee from the Elands Bay police station. He had good news for me. They had my stuff. They had a proper suspect. Could I make it up there for the paperwork? I hired a car (the most recent one of my own being sold to fund the airfare to the States).

It turns out that under South African law, when a suspect is apprehended in the possession of belongings allegedly not his own, he must face his accuser over a counter and a document must be signed in which he acknowledges his crime, inspects a check-list, and returns said belongings to their rightful owner. I spent a long time in Detective Coetzee’s office as a precursor to this. “Um, Quiksilver boardshorts – baggies – pants, size medium, red and white,” went the conversation. “Sex Wax. Sex Wax? Yes, wax for surfboards. FCS? How do you spell that?” That sort of thing. “Film camera?” Yes, film camera (the roll that I processed after the return of my gear turned up three frames that showed a remarkable grasp by the thief and or his accomplices of F-stop and exposure; composition not so much).

Back in the charge office, when it was time for the accused to ante-up the loot, there was some confusion as to the protocol. “Ja, hy moet in leg-irons wees.” Yes, he must be produced in leg-irons. There was some confusion as to the whereabouts of these leg-irons. A large safe was opened. I could see two shotguns, a few boxes of cartridges, a pile of manilla folders. No leg-irons.

Miskien het iemand gevat vir persoonlikke gebruik?” Maybe someone took them for personal use, one of the officers on the case offered helpfully. Elands Bay is a lonely kind of place, who knows how many kinds of fun one can have with a personal set of leg-irons.

While I was doubled over trying to stifle laughter, it seems the leg-irons were located and the prisoner brought forward. It was rather an anti-climax, our meeting. I had imaged I would have a few things to say to this person who had temporarily deprived me of a few hundred dollars worth of colorfully branded, carefully molded crude oil effluent, a few hours sleep and my faith in humanity. But, on confronting a very short, perhaps twenty year-old, down-cast young man by the name of Christopher Van Wyk, I had nothing much to say. Except to the sudden, shocking realization that my Rip Curl rubberized headwear was smeared with shit, very possibly human. “Disgraceful,” I said, sounding like somebody’s grandfather. Christopher Van Wyk said nothing, he didn’t meet me eye, he signed the paperwork and was remanded shufflingly back into the recesses of the police station.

Contrary to all my expectations, but much to my satisfaction, it was only about a year later that I made it back to Elands Bay. Things didn’t work out in Huntington or Hollywood or New York, or anywhere in-between. There were, though, glimmers of hope when I met a girl on the Amtrak somewhere near the border between Kansas and Colorado. She was pretty and small and dark; quarter Portuguese, quarter Mexican, all-American and the kind of girl I fall in love with all the time. We talked for six hours straight while the train tracked though cowboy country and we said a lingering good-bye on a platform in Albuquerque where she got off to spend a weekend with cousins.

But that’s another story. Getting back to Jordy Smith. As it happens, he was in the water at Elands on that return trip. I drifted over and said howzit. We’d shared a few words in HB. He remembered, we chatted a little. I was riding a prototype hollow wooden single-fin that Pat had made for me, being a project of his to create a pioneering new brand. Jordy was rather bemused by the idea. I said Pat and I would make one for him to surf on the World Tour. He laughed and a set started showing higher up on the point. Jordy paddled further out and a little over, while I stayed where I was and the first wave of the set, a solid six-footer, scanned my way perfectly. Jordy paddled for it but was off priority and there was no way to make this one look like a right. I paddled in and made the drop, haunched on my homemade wooden surfboard in a poo-squat while a potential world champion looked on from the top of the wave, hands on rails, ready to drop in if I kooked—a likely scenario—but a rail bit and I took off racing down the line. Later, back on the beach, Jordy came over for a closer look at the board. “It goes,” he said, giving it a quizzical look.

I made another new friend that trip, the manageress of the campsite, Liezel. She had been witness to the crime and punishment of Christopher Van Wyk. We had a chat when she came to collect the rent and I thought to ask her about Christopher.

“Slums, we call him,” she said. “He was taking drugs. Tik.” Methamphetamine.

“Do you know what happened to him?” I asked. I had heard that he was tried and sentenced almost immediately (rare in South African justice circles) to eighteen months in jail.

Hy is gesteur tee plaas toe.” He was sent to a tea farm, hard labor, Liezel told me.

“Do you know about his family?” I asked.

“His father is weg.” Gone. “He has one young sister, fourteen. Sy ma, his mom, “Aunt Jeanette,” Liezel said, “Sys,” she’s, Liezel made the slack-armed, weak-kneed, swaying from side-to-side motions of a very drunk person trying to walk, “ge-paralyzed.” Paralyzed. “Epilepsy.”

There was not much to say to that. “I hope it works out for him, for Christopher, and his family,” I said. “Tell him if you see him, tell him we’ll have a beer, I’ll buy him a beer and maybe we can have a laugh.”

I laughed. Liezel laughed. “OK,” she said. “He does come home for weekends now. It’s going better for him. He has stopped with the drugs.”

I’ve made another trip since then. I went on my motorcycle. I made a board rack from Y-bar and cable ties because my little bakkie (truck), owned for only a month or so since my return from the States, had been properly stolen by someone or ones infinitely more adept in the methods of criminality than Christopher Van Wyk. I hadn’t got around to insuring it.

I forgot the tent poles so I made a plan with sapling stems woefully inadequate for the task, so much so that when Liezel came to collect the rent (I was out surfing) she and a colleague were compelled to stand for some time around the smothered bundled under the collapsed nylon, anxiously daring each other to test with a toe for my corpse. We had a good laugh about that when she told me about it later. I asked her about Christopher.

“It’s better with him,” she said. “He is off the drugs for good, it looks like. He is quiet. He’s back home now from the tee plaas.”

It has been some months since then and I’m already hankering for another trip. In a month I take delivery of a new used car. It’s insured. There’ll be spare sets of keys lodged in a various places. I think I’ll leave my Mick Fanning sandals and Quik boardies at home in the cupboard. I think I’ll lock everything in the trunk of the car if there’s any chance I may turn my back to check the surf. I’ll take the tent poles. I think I may even see if I can buy Christopher “Slums” Van Wyk a beer, or perhaps, if he prefers, a cup of tea.

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  • matt

    you write really well.