A day in the life of student constable Santie Veenstra morning sees her taking on "The Bitch."
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The early morning bell rang stridently at a quarter to five. One thing Santie couldn’t break was the sense of fright, even shock, as the loud clanging rudely awoke her. Even now in the last week of her training she woke with a jerk, sitting up abruptly before falling back again onto her pillow and lay thinking about the day ahead. What she would give for a nice long shower! Well, what would she give? What would the cost be? For the thousandth time she cursed The Bitch and came to a short, sharp decision. I am going to take a shower today and to hell with The Bitch. Let her do her worst!
This page was last updated by Bernard Preston on 29th November, 2018.
The showers had been unused since the first day, the girls taking turns for a very quick bath, no time to run clean water; none of them were able to forget the punishment for leaving a few tiny drops of water on the shower wall. The Bitch had made them clean, and scrub for a week, and the girls knew why they had been told never to use the showers. It was The Bitch’s unique way of terrorizing them. The way that only a twisted mind can work, Santie always said. Beautiful showers, and they hadn’t used them since that first day. How I would love to shampoo my hair, and let the hot water stream down me, and get really clean for once. Damn it all, I am going to do it! Resolution made, Santie jumped out of bed, grabbed her towel and bathroom bag and ran past the long queue of girls already waiting patiently in line for a quick jump in the only tub. She headed for the showers with a cry: ‘Shower day, ladies, and to hell with The Bitch.’ ‘You’re not going to shower are you, Santie?’ called Nicole anxiously. ‘The Bitch will kill you.’
‘I’m sick and tired of The Bitch will do this, The Bitch will do that. The Bitch can go to hell! Come on girls, shower day, and I’ll take the rap.’ The young women gave a shriek and rushed to join Santie, the whole platoon in the shower together, shouting gleefully, throwing soap at each other, and playing like a giggle of schoolgirls.
The release of tension was palpable, the hot water spraying everywhere and it wasn’t long before a cloud of thick steam filled the air, fogging the tiny prisonlike windows. It wasn’t so much nicely shampooed hair that she enjoyed, or a desperate need to be scrupulously clean, but a few moments of indulgence,’ said Nicole once it was all over. ‘That’s what The Bitch is about; control.’
“There is no place for indulgences in the life of a policewoman,” The Bitch often said them. “Give no thought to such pleasures.” The mess was going to take a lot of cleaning.
Santie was the first to leave, toweling herself down vigorously until her skin glowed and quickly slipped on her blue longs and shirt, cursing the police college for their ‘one size fits all’ policy. She is a big woman and the tight uniform, along with much of the rest of police college life, irked. She dried her hair as best she could and was the first ready for the clean up drill.
A natural leader, the young woman found that she could lead from the front, bullying where necessary, but without being victimizing and petty.
‘Ronelle, Slinky, Annie, Barbara. Come with me; we’ll clean the showers. The rest of you get the toilets and dorm neat and tidy.’ Santie got out the mops and rags and they made a start. ‘We’ll do a good job, girls, but of course it won’t be good enough for The Bitch. She’ll give us hell, but what the heck, it’s only a week until we’re out of this place.’ They cleaned and wiped until the showers were spotless, but of course anyone could see they had been used; for the first time in nearly six months.
Santie took a last look at her own little cubicle, making sure it was tidy. The previous night she had carefully put away her final year schoolbooks that she was studying, on top of the college course work. A naturally gifted person, she found the learning easy, but some of the young policewomen in the dorm were jealous. The girls quickly nicknamed her bof. The guys simply referred to her as Iceberg, although Gerhard and his friends loved to call her the Class Virgin. In one respect Santie was fortunate. She had been surprised to find that her lecturer in Criminal Law also had a degree in English literature, and he helped her with King Lear and Silas Marner, but it was Slinky’s father who was the biggest help. He taught mathematics at a nearby high school and gave her extra lessons over the weekend. The trophies for unarmed combat and captain of the college netball team drew a final glance before she sped down the stairs.
The girls queued for coffee and rusks, giggling nervously and wondering what The Bitch was going to say. There was an air of rebellion in the ranks. It was only a quarter to six, more than an hour before sunrise, and the freezing highveld had them squeezing their coffee mugs tightly.‘Student Constable Veenstra, why is your hair wet?’ the strident voice of the drill sergeant rang out. She always picked on Santie. Conquer the leader and you’ve got them all eating out of your hand like little lambs, she was always telling her colleagues. The Bitch looked up and down the groups of girls, sensing something in the air. She was no fool. It didn’t take her too long to add two and two together and get shower. ‘Mugs down, dorm inspection, NOW!’ she shrilled. The girls scattered, their habitual response to the overbearing and cruel way in which The Bitch managed them, dashing up the barracks stairs to the second floor where their platoon was stationed.The Bitch strode up the stairs, two at a time, heading straight for the showers. She is a big, strong woman and the double effect of physical and verbal abuse made her an intimidating sergeant. ‘Who gave you permission to use the showers? Who? Who? Student constable van der Merwe: did you take a shower?’ she shouted.‘Yes, sergeant.’‘Who gave you permission? Quick girl, tell me who?’Ronelle hung her head. The Bitch had particularly enjoyed intimidating and humiliating her, even beating her on occasion, and the blossoming young woman who had entered the College six months earlier had become a mouse. She was terrified of The Beast, as she called The Bitch, but she resolved she wasn’t going to be the one to let on. She lifted her head, staring at The Bitch, refusing to reply. That maddened the drill-sergeant. She wanted them examining their regulation black army shoes, not staring insolently at her. This was the time to make an example of somebody. She raised her cane and gave Ronelle a sharp crack across the shoulders. The girl fell to the ground, her hand to her mouth stifling a scream.
A voice rang out: ‘I led the way to the showers, sergeant. It’s our last week, and I thought we deserved a decent shower.’‘You-led-the-way-to-the-showers!’ The Bitch spoke the words slowly, ominously, one by one. ‘You led the way to the showers!’ she shouted at Santie, striding forward. Santie stood at attention facing The Bitch, not to be cowed. The drill-sergeant stopped with her nose no more than ten centimetres from Santie’s, furious eyes staring Santie down. A new determination stirred in the young recruit, and she gazed arrogantly back. Black Italian eyes glared into angry tawny-coloured Afrikaner eyes.
There was a long silence while The Bitch considered her options. ‘To the parade ground!’ she shouted, spittle splattering over Santie’s face. The young woman didn’t flinch. ‘We will finish this after the parade,’ The Bitch spat out threateningly.The platoon dashed down the stairs again, coffee and rusks unfinished, and filed into their platoon ranks. It was a sombre affair, the whole college at attention under the bright lights. There was still not a glimmer of light in the east.
To one side the drill-sergeants gathered in a huddle, The Bitch animatedly giving them a report of the rebellion in Heidehof. One of the others said something inaudible and the group guffawed. That had the Brigadier gazing their way angrily; they were also supposed to be at attention. Realizing they were about to get a lambasting, they quickly marched to their platoons.
A Dutch Reformed minister, Dominee Stander, dressed in College uniform, a purple badge giving his rank, stepped up to the mike. It was his job to care for the spiritual needs of the college; he had been appointed when it was decided by the hierarchy that there had been one too many suicides at the College.‘The Lord is my Shepherd,’ he intoned.‘I’ll not want,’ the parade ground responded with one voice.‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your soul.’
‘And your neighbour as yourself.’The man read a short passage from the Bible. He was a tall man, aging, his hair totally grey, yet the stooped stance did not detract from an air of pride and confidence.
A man of distinction in the Church, he thought that spending his last few years giving something special back to the youth would be a fine thing to do, not realizing the power and authority of the police hierarchy, or the cruelty and indoctrination that he would be pressured into espousing. It turned out to be anything but the fine ending to an illustrious career that he was hoping for, and he often rued the decision, questioning the divine guidance that seemed so clear at the time.
He spoke out the passage clearly and boldly, obviously believing the power of the Word, finishing with a fine prayer constructed around the prayer of Jesus that the World would only believe in Him when they saw how Christians loved one another.
Nobody said anything but Santie’s thoughts were probably reflected in most minds that crisp predawn morning. No wonder we find it so hard to believe. The Bitch made no pretense of loving them, but at least she was honest enough not to make a charade of being religious. Like the rest she went through the motions though.
The Brigadier made a few important announcements, a short curt reminder of their Christian duty to uphold law and order in the land, and discharged them. All except Platoon 5 from barracks B in Heidehof, who were to remain on the parade ground, he said, after reading a note passed to him.
The troops cleared rapidly to the sound of drums and marching feet as the recruits, confident in their routine after nearly six months of drilling, left for their first classes.
The Bitch grilled them for two solid hours. They marched in uniform, they changed into their tracksuits and nasty yellow and blue running shoes, and ran, they did pushups and sits ups until they nearly died. The weaker were beginning to take a serious beating, taunted on by the shouts from the sergeant, the strong starting to joke about buying a discharge in this their last week, making them all laugh, so she pushed them harder than ever.
Eventually Santie stood forward: ‘Sergeant, it was me who took the first shower, this morning. I will take the punishment from now on.’‘Ah, so it was, Veenstra. What were you thinking?’‘Like I said, I just felt like a shower, being clean for once and, being our last week, I thought you wouldn’t mind.’‘And who gave you the authority to think? You are here to obey, not to think, Corporal!’ Santie stood at attention, her thigh muscles trembling with exhaustion. The others lay on the cold ground regaining their breath and wondering what was coming.‘God gave us a command to be clean, Sergeant. The State President provided us with showers, and the Brigadier told us at the first parade that anybody who stank would be severely punished. I never realized you had the authority to defy them, Sergeant!’ Santie carefully did not allow any sign of impudence to reach her face, just glaring insolently into the tawny-brown, angry eyes. In the early morning sunlight she could clearly see the drill-sergeant’s honey-coloured iris’s narrow. There was a gasp from the platoon. The drill-sergeant did not respond initially, considering her options. She had dealt with miscreants like this before. ‘Student constable Veenstra, you will do four 400m sprints, with a one minute rest between them. If any one of them is over eighty seconds, then you will do another four. Then you will do one hundred press ups while we watch. Platoon, atten-tion!’ she shouted.
Santie knew that she had to do it the first time. The drill was standard, but the change from ninety to eighty seconds made it well nigh impossible. She made for the start checking her own stopwatch, removing her tracksuit.‘Go.’Santie ran cleanly and fast, timing herself carefully. Each sprint would have to be perfect. Too fast on any of the circuits and she was finished. She completed the first lap in seventy-eight seconds, the assembled platoon standing silently at attention, anxiously watching the rebel, their champion, being brought to heel. After her one minute break, Santie sprinted the next circuit in seventy-seven seconds and the third in seventy-nine, but she knew she was beat. Chest heaving, the taste of blood in her mouth, the cold Highveld air burning fiercely in her chest, she knew there was no way she could complete the last leg legitimately. Fortunately, just at the moment the Good Lord looked down kindly on that lowest form of life that was Santie Veenstra. The Bitch’s attention was diverted at a critical moment by one of the other drill-sergeants arriving to watch the fun. At the farthest corner, Santie cut sharply into the track, shortening her run by thirty metres. By the time The Bitch’s attention returned to her victim, Santie was safely back on the track.
The Bitch was angry. No woman had ever completed the task before. She looked suspiciously up and down, looking for a sign from the platoon as Santie finished her fourth lap in seventy-five seconds. They kept their heads bowed, giving nothing away. ‘One hundred press-ups, student constable Veenstra. At the double!’ she roared. ‘Right here in front of the platoon so everyone will know how future acts of insolence will be handled.’ The last ten were the hardest thing that Santie had ever done. Summoning every last ounce of reserve, whilst The Bitch shouted: ‘Ninety-one, ninety-two …’ There was a low call from the back of the platoon: ‘On your bellies, girls. Press-ups.’ The thirty-four women fell to the ground, doing the last eight press-ups with Santie.
Bernard Preston's fourth book is a hot paced, topical romance; women in love.
That made The Bitch angrier than ever. Her attempt to divide and rule had failed. ‘So you want more! Well, I’m told there has been an unfortunate death in the men’s barracks, so we must of course have a burial. Squad: Atten-tion. Quick march!’ It was in fact to the toilets, that they were directed. ‘A piece of Police shit has drowned in a toilet, so it must have a decent committal,’ the Bitch taunted. Someone had forgotten to flush the WC. ‘Form a circle. Veenstra, you here at the front.’ The girls obeyed, their heads hanging. They had heard of this ultimate form of humiliation. ‘Pick it up, Veenstra, reverently now; careful, remember it’s a piece of dead shit.’ The Bitch gave a low laugh. ‘Pass it round, and then you, Veenstra, commit it decently to its watery grave.’ The girls passed the parcel, closing their eyes and screwing up their faces until the grisly task was complete.
‘That, squad, is what happens to student constables who think they can flout police authority. Just remember it when you get out into the charge offices. Do what you are told, and you will live to see another few dawns.’ The Bitch left them, and the young women washed themselves off, subdued and silent.The morning classes were over by the time they had finished, and they assembled with the rest of the college for Brunch. There were only two meals a day, one at ten and the other at five. The other platoons kept their distance. They’d all had their share of rough justice, and they knew this was no time for crass remarks and jokes. That was one thing that the college did achieve–they stuck together, having been beaten and subdued into a highly-strung, closely knit team.
They were walking quietly towards the lecture theatres when Santie vomited her whole breakfast on the paving. Magda van der Merwe took her by the arm, leading her off to the Sanatorium and three other girls quickly cleaned up the mess. After a quick report from Magda, the Sister-in-charge took Santie for a shower. ‘Take your time, my dear. I’ll bring you a nice cup of tea, and then you must lie down for a couple of hours.’ It was the first word of kindness that Santie heard that day.
This has I fear nothing to do with A Family Affair, or a day in the life of student constable Santie Veenstra morning, but is another of Bernard Preston's passions. Low back pain, often serious, is a feature of most folks' lives because we sit too much. Do these exercises every morning and you'll save yourself a lot of trouble.
Yes, writing A Family Affair has meant months of sitting too much at this computer. I too have had my troubles which you can read at femoral nerve damage if interested; a very serious slipped disc saved from the knife by my colleague.
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