What’s the saddest thing you’ve ever seen?

For me it was this dead creature I found lying in the middle of the road. I was driving back from my parents' place (since happily divorced), on my way to face another daunting week on Stellenbosch campus. This usually involved a relentless series of awkward and overwhelming events of sitcom proportions. I always spent the weekend at my parents’ in Somerset West, the idea of having a social life not yet having occurred to me. (How many people only discover and buy into the whole “going out and getting fucked” thing at 22 years of age? I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.)

This was always the utter low point of the week. But driving my usual route (I fear uncharted territory), I got ready for my only respite on a post-Carte Blanche Sunday evening: a glimpse of my friends, two neighbourhood owls. They sometimes sat on this tennis fence in the yard on the corner of Buitenzorg and Oldenland, a block away from my house, other times on the higher of the two roads ten meters from where it flows into the one that meanders up the mountain.

But this time I could only see one owl, unapologetically sitting in the middle of the road with what seemed to be a smaller animal, a tender prey I presumed. As I got closer the visible owl flew away in its wide-eyed austere way, settling on the couple's favourite tennis fence. From there they have a clear view of the road and the little creatures that scurry underneath streetlights for food and shelter for the daytime, when humans come out to do their thing.

This is where my story takes a wrong turn. I drove past and stopped next to the lifeless animal. To my utter dismay, it perversely turns out to be the other owl. It was completely in tact, but must have been struck by a car, some fucker like me driving around the corner, on his way to some nowhere. I opened my door, and the car light that ingeniously automatically switches on upon breach of the perimeter, reflected on the still unsettlingly wide open, disproportionately large eyes of the bemused owl’s partner. It was alive and proud and magnificent a few minutes earlier, now it is dead, its being having irreversibly left an imprint on the neural pathways of its widow or widower, who will yearn in vain for its partner until the day it too must die.

Since then the place I grew up in has been sold to a foreign rich bastard who all but destroyed the 70-year old house called Buitenzorg (thus the street of the crime’s name). It was the the mansion of a farm-like setup, back in the day.

And so we all yearn for a previous state of things that can never be restored.


Anonymous said...

Vulnerability makes me feel sad. Seeing people who are open to exploitation and knowing that there are people who will take advantage of them affects me. I felt it acutely as a teenager (particularly for frail, older people) but I have managed to control it as I've got older. Maybe I'm desensitised and less angst ridden. I suppose all humans and animals are vulnrable at some level.

Anonymous said...

My childhood vacations - spent on a private, unspoilt piece of earth that belonged to my family for a few generations. It included rich sealife as well as a farm hosting a plethora of fauna and flora. One day the goverment announced expropriation (in the name of a missile base - which turned out to be a monumental government blunder) and we had to vacate. That Afrikaans song named "Skipskop" was wrote for communities suffering the same fate. Every sent (and much more) received for the property went into litigation.
After twenty years my father finally gave up. It crushed him. Sad part is that it used to be hailed as one of the best preserved stretches of earth and coastline in the world! My family not only owned it but proved themselves as worthy stewards. Today that piece of heaven (and all it's animals and plants) is as vulnerable as your owls on the fence. Take care of the people in your life and thank you for the memory.

iv said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
arcadia said...

this blog never fails to surprise.

theresa said...


Thanks for being human.....you do have mistakes after all

jennifer said...

This has nothing to do with me, I know, but here is my 2 cents' worth:

Ingrid says: "Rebecca, I felt particularly disappointed when I realized that B knew you as Tinus’ friend because I have never intentionally hurt Tinus before."

Let me get this straight - you are sorry for hurting R because she turns out to be Tinus's friend (the mysterious Tinus again). Shouldn't we treat everyone with respect, regardless of who their friends are?

And then Ingrid continues: "As you know, I have a very nasty habit of criticizing people who know less than I do about any topic."

We know now. But it remains to be seen whether you know more about anything than Rebecca, or anyone else for that matter. Rather than criticising others (or yourself) you should focus your energy on sharing your knowledge.

No insult intended, Ingrid, but it is time you realise that the world is much more interesting than you.

Jen (still doen't have a profile

b said...

hey arcadia!

are you referring to the post or some of the weird comments going around?


le said...

Dear Jennifer

Not to be intentionally rude, but again I find myself in rather a protective mode (i.e Ingrid). You are very right in saying that this has nothing to do with you, and this is very unfortunate for other people reading this blog. Ingrid has done a very brave thing, pouring her heart out ON THE INTERNET, the last thing she needs is someone to kick her while she's down.
Please let her be. Let's concentrate on all the other interesting posts and leave Ingrid to come to terms with herself. She is fully aware of all her flaws and they don't need to be pointed out yet again.

arcadia said...

was referring to the apology, b.

Anonymous said...


Ok. Sorry. I'll turn my attention to b then.

b: I cannot figure you out, man. I mean your posting. What exactly is the saddest thing ever?

a. the dead owl;
b. the fact that you spent your weekends at home until age 22;
c. the fact that you no longer spend your weekends at home;
d. the destruction of the family mansion?

And what is the low point of the week:

e. spending your weekend at home; or
f. driving back to campus after spending the weekend at home?


b said...

dear jennifer

1. a
2. f

i think it's quite clear. but you can interpret it any way you wish.


Jennifer said...


I thought it was ambiguous, and meant to be so. (Why all the stuff about the house, etc. when it is really about the owl?) The reason I'm interested in this is that I have this strange nostalgia when it comes to my own childhood. I wish I could be there again, in that house, with those people, the way they were then. At the same time if memory serves me right those were bad times. So why this bloody longing? It just does not make sense to me. Ten years later, and just about all my dreams are set in that house, with those people. I have my own child now, but when I dream about a child it is always about my little sister. Perhaps it is just the way one's mind is programmed. But still, why do I miss it so much, that dreadful place?

Which brings me to you. It doesn't sound as if you were thrilled about being home during the weekends (what was that about the sitcom proportions?), and yet you hated leaving. Or was it just a case of going from bad to worse? Even then, there must have been a sense of safety in that house. And then to see it destroyed...

I don't mean to psychoanalyse you, but you put yourself out there.

Ok. Let me correct myself. I mean to psychoanalyse you, but really just as an attempt to understand myself better. I'm a South African living in Australia, but desperately want to go back home. Sadly, this blog is the closest I've been to SA in 8 years.

b said...

It wasn’t meant to be ambiguous, but there is a theme of nostalgia and loss, including being lost. I hated going home for my week of university. Yes, I felt safer at home, where things were actually quite screwed up. At least there I knew what to expect by that time.

“It doesn't sound as if you were thrilled about being home during the weekends (what was that about the sitcom proportions?),”

In this case, you’re simply reading it wrong. Read it carefully:

“…on my way to face another daunting week on Stellenbosch campus. This usually involved a relentless series of awkward and overwhelming events of sitcom proportions.”

I have a lot of dreams of my grandparents’ house in Hermanus. We used to go there for Christmas at least to the age of about 13. Certain members of my family were usually not there, which made it a more relaxing time for me. I guess that’s why I miss it.

I miss the house, but mostly I miss the kind of childhood I never had. I miss it all, really. It is lost.


PS: I'm pleased we can take you back to South Africa, even if just a little bit.