I asked my father’s second wife, the one after the suicide one, to use her known skills to find you on the radar of life. So she SMS’d in time. Mr. Van Heerden is not with us anymore, she reported back.

What to say? Sad, but glad that I did find you a few years back somewhere in Kwa Zulu Natal, if I remember correctly. I then did thank you for your special kindness and that I after decades could still feel a primary school boy’s appreciation for a teacher that took the children in his care also into his heart.

I felt good when I heard the surprise and silent joy in your voice that a grown boy would phone you fourty odd years later to relate his thankfulness for your  kind way of dealing with us standard five kids on the Highveld of the then Transvaal.

I remember well, Mr.Van Heerden, that you once used my very local rugby skills of the time to illustrate something in class. I was amazed. Thrilled. The grey head man that I now have become wonder whether you then sensed a boy captive in his loneliness and that you tried to drag him into your field of kindness.

There was also another boy that you armed with new self esteem.  Phillip was the boy with the early Brylcreamed head. We saw him on Saturday afternoons at the local cinema with tight jeans and a leather jacket. His black hair a brilliant shine to attract the attention of heaven or hell. He sensed that he was the odd ball around but he did not have the foggiest idea how to be different than being different. He just gathered his uneasiness and pretended to be very cool. But the open nerves were there for the finger licking enjoyment of onlookers.

A bruised boy came to school, and you, of short height and quiet demeanour , Mr. Van Heerden responded like a holy jesus. You engaged with him in class, real, real to the bone, and I recalled how Phillip in all sincerity invited you for tea at his parents’ house. The ‘ducktail’ inviting a teacher for tea! That was what we in astonishment perceived.

For mitigation in sentencing me for many reasons a life sentence,  one could say that I sensed the extraordinary moment in the ordinariness of time and I did not join the underhand giggling in the benches. I still remember the quiet joy in his voice when Phillip invited that kind man into the ice fields of his life. Holiness, has many surnames.

Once, Mr. Van Heerden, you left the class and appointed some child to be in charge of primary school order. I cannot remember for sure whether it was a he or a she, i recall a girl, but he or she misused the power bestowed and named guilty and innocent children as culprits when you reappeared in class. I was a rather quiet boy, but I was named as one of the delinquents of the day. You had a problem. You knew me, you knew my essence, but you had to honour the position of power that had me a culprit. I spoke to you. Telling you that I was not guilty of misbehaving but I also told you that I would take the rod never the less.

Yes,Mr. Van Heerden, you then hit me too. The through swing was like always. Like a fine tennis serve. But the force was missing. You hit me for the show, but your heart was not into it. No sir, that I knew.

You know what, Mr. Van Heerden, one can take a lot of pain in life when you know that you are standing tall and that there is someone around who applauds your frail fight for right, in the quiet.

But all giants have the low tide lapping at their heels too. One night my friend and I were walking from a school function when we saw your Volksie approaching with a fiercely stoked engine. Then the Volksie came to an abrupt stop. A door was forced open in anger and a woman, most likely your wife, stepped out of the car and in clear anger she slammed the Volksie’s door and started the walking home.

My hero’s life was in disarray. Just like the adults in my own home. It is just not possible, I told my disbelief, but there she was walking the walk. What happened that night? Did you Mr. Van Heerden eyed a beautiful woman in the gathering that night? Did you drink too much to the embarrassment of your wife? Or did someone played to your wife’s amused attention and so flared your anger?

Whatever it was, the episode left me disturbed. My hero had problems too. He was not walking effortlessly on the clouds to the applause of the angels. But he was back in class on Monday and his kindness was a looking glass through the class to find a pained child to treat with compassion.

So Mr. Van Heerden, you are now somewhere in the great beyond. But the gods from all sides will welcome you to their side. If they don’t fight to have you, I will fight them. One by one.

Though you were a shortish man in real life, you were also an extraordinary giant in the life of children, especially the ‘reeling’ ones.

You touched my soul, sir, and I will endeavor to carry your kind ways forward.

Hi ho Phillip, where are you now brother? I am ready to rock and roll with you. I have learned my standard five lesson well and will take you and our soft hearted teacher’s kindness to brightened light.

And yes, I think we will find a core of gold running through the de-fences of our consciousness. We owe him one roar of a toast!

Tonight, remembering 1965. And the way the sun sets on the East Rand.

W. Kreft. Kempton.