I was in Hermanus on Friday night when I stumbled across a rapidly forming mob at the old harbour. Sensing a fight, I began pushing my way to the front.
If you come across an outbreak of hostilities between rival gangs of perlemoen poachers, there is no point in hanging about at the back. You want to be close enough to hear the crack of teeth and the splinter of bone. You want to feel that whipspray of hot blood across your face. You want your words of encouragement to be heard by the combatants.
This was, after all, Good Friday – a day in history that is soaked in violence and steeped in shame.
Not for everyone, of course. The Rosicrucians, for example, treat Good Friday just like any other day of the week. Similarly, the day has little relevance to practicing Gymnosophists. Then again, so does food and clothing. For others, like the Rastafarians, every Friday is good.
Kicking ragged urchins out of my way and elbowing the elderly and infirm aside, I made it to a small clearing down by the water’s edge. In the middle were two burly bearded types wearing sheepskin car seat covers and carrying wooden shepherd’s crooks. They were nodding sagely at one another.
The crowd pressed in. The bearded men nodded some more. I have learnt through bitter experience that in Hermanus anything passes for entertainment, but this was just silly.
“Hit him!” I shouted. The men stopped nodding, glared at me briefly, then went back to their nodding.
“Use your crook!” I shouted, making hitting and thrusting motions.
Just then, a powerful spotlight snapped on. Thinking it was a police helicopter, I grabbed a young girl and, using her as a shield between the sharpshooter and me, I began fighting my way back through the throng.
“You’ll never take me alive!” I yelled.
An ancient person of indeterminate gender kicked me on the shin and told me to shush. I dropped the girl and she scuttled off like a giant crab. Maybe it was a crab that I had picked up. It wouldn’t have been the first time.
I raised my arms in the air and froze. Everyone around me did the same. It was like an extreme game of Simon Says, only this one bore all the signs of turning into a hideous bloodbath.
Then a voice boomed out across the harbour. It was as if God himself were speaking.
“Dawid,” thundered the voice, “kyk daar.”
I dropped my arms. God doesn’t speak Afrikaans, does he? Surely not! But what if the Boers are right? What if they really are God’s chosen people? But then where does that leave the Jews? The sheer heaviness of the moment made my head spin and I had to fall down for a bit.
When I got up, I was enormously pleased to discover that it wasn’t the Almighty at all, but a couple of out-of-work actors huddled on a grassy knoll looking rather more bibulous than biblical.
The spotlight picked them out like a pair of oversized dassies. Alongside them, a bright red laser burnt a star into the side of the cliff.
I looked around. There was no drunken brawl about to break out. No police ambush. My relief was swiftly tempered by the cruel realisation that I had walked slap-bang into the middle of a Passion Play, or, as they called it, ‘n Passiespel.
Ever since I was a little boy, I have only ever known Jesus to speak English. And I have yet to meet three wise men who can speak Afrikaans fluently.
I was shocked to my core. What I needed, far more than redemption, was a stiff drink. I could see the lights of the nearest bar twinkling far above me at the top of the cliff. But there was no way out. The crowd had closed in like pack ice in an Arctic winter. It was as if they knew.
Just then, the spotlight picked out a flock of faux Pharisees. One of them stood up and said: “We must stop this man before people start following him.” I assumed he was talking about Jesus and not me.
Delivered in Afrikaans, the line sounded not so much post-Julius Caesar as it did pre-FW de Klerk.
It was around the time that Jesus was getting his feet washed by that tawdry harlot Mary Magdalene that I started having brutal flashbacks to the army.
I must have passed out because the next thing I remember, a young married couple was helping me to my feet. Their eyes shone and they made little murmuring sounds. I shook them off and began trying once more to break through the throng.
Then the lights went off. I was the only one who screamed. A fat lady wearing a purple tea cosy on her head clenched me to her heaving bosom. I couldn’t tell whether she was under the impression that I was having a religious epiphany or had become possessed by some kind of godless demon, so I had to put my foot down pretty sharply.
The snapping on of a battery of arc lights drowned out the snapping of her tarsal bones.
The crowd swivelled and gasped as one. There, on the far side of the harbour, were three crosses ominously illuminated against the night sky. I, too, might have gasped had I not still been struggling for breath.
The crucifixion was mercifully brief and I began applauding the moment the lights went off. Nobody else clapped, though. They probably knew that wasn’t the end of it.
We had to wait a few minutes for Jesus to get down off the cross and get ready for his resurrection, but by this stage I had given up all hope of ever leaving the harbour.
My Easter weekend went downhill from there.