Every June 6th, often commemorated as D-Day elsewhere, we celebrate Pisces Day and our family’s survival on that day, after being violently shipwrecked, losing everything we owned, being stranded and left bleeding, shocked and nearly naked on a quicksand beach with our two young children. That was also the day I died and was coaxed back to life again by a French Frog Scientist. We call it Pisces Day because that was the name of our doomed yacht.
Until recently I have been unable to tell anyone the entire story of what happened on that first Pisces day. I had to wait for someone that I have hated bitterly for twenty years, someone that I tried to murder, to die. But that is a long story, told my book, 6692 Pisces the Sailfish.
This True Story is about the eighteenth anniversary of Pisces Day, June 6th 2010. The day my family was put on trial again and the Judgement it delivered is the reason why we chose to live together high up amongst the branches of a Casuarina tree for one year, one month and one day. That Judgement Day is another story told in a different book, Second Time Lucky.
We have celebrated every subsequent Pisces day by reuniting our family around a meal of prawns and rice. Why prawns and rice? To remind us how we had to eat that for weeks on end because prawns and rice were cheap and plentiful and because we were destitute.
On Pisces Day, 2010, my wife Dianne, myself and our daughters Luna and Morgan lived atop Fields Hill. Our son Bill lived and worked in Pietermaritzburg so he left work early in order to attend our annual celebration. Dianne chose the venue carefully and booked a U-shaped bench near the window, overlooking the old railway station, now the Shunters Arms restaurant in Kloof. You may have guessed that we went to Jimmy’s Killer Prawns for Pisces Day.
“Ugh! There is something slippery under the table” exclaimed Bill as he lost his footing and fell heavily against the red vinyl bench seat that protested with a sibilant hiss of escaping air.
“Judging by the smell of rancid butter and garlic it must be the prawn sauce” laughed Luna his youngest sister as we slithered our bottoms along the maroon seats, polishing them, government department queue style. Dianne took up her station at the base of the U, flanked by our daughters with Bill and me facing each other at either end.
“Although it’s just past six-thirty the place is already busy” remarked Dianne surveying the half-full restaurant.
“What shall we order?” Quipped Morgan covering her ears and cringing.
“Prawns and rice!” We chorused over and over, laughing unashamedly at the surprised faces of the other patrons.
“I’m dying of thirst. I hope the waiter comes to take our drinks order soon.” groaned Bill grasping his throat theatrically.
“Remember, only granadilla juice” I ordered, ignoring the disappointed groans of my family.
“Come on Dad, can’t we break tradition just this once? I hate tadpole juice.” Complained Morgan recalling the freshly pulped granadilla juice swimming with frog-spawn-like seeds which was the cheapest drink we could afford. I shook my head whilst my family groaned in unison -as they did every year.
“I wonder why there are no waiters around?” puzzled Dianne quietly.
“Wait a minute. Speak of the devils!” Luna pointed to a thickset man approaching our table and another four men spreading out simultaneously towards the other tables.
“It’s not that cold tonight. I’m surprised management lets them wear their hoods on duty.” I noted as our hooded waiter approached.
“Do you have granadilla juice…?” I stopped mid-sentence as the muzzle of a large pistol was placed squarely on the tip of my nose.
“Cell phones and money” interrupted the hooded man gruffly.
“I don’t have any money with me. I pay by credit card and I am not carrying my cell phone” I stuttered, numb with shock.
“And you?” The robber swung around and placed the barrel of his gun on Bills forehead.
“I have a phone.” Bill said reaching into his shirt pocket with trembling fingers and dropped it to the floor. Unthinking he ducked below the table to retrieve it and scrabbled around on the greasy floor whilst it evaded him like a slippery fish. The gunman’s pin prick irises flashed and I imagined the roar of this gun and my sons head mushrooming redly on the floor.
“Wait. Don’t shoot! My son is trying to pick up his phone.” The gunman hesitated and Bill emerged again unaware of how close he had come to extinction.
“What about you?” the gunman waved his pistol at the girls where they sat ashen faced and rooted to the bench. Luna spoke first.
“My daddy won’t buy me one.” She lied innocently. The gunman shot me a disgusted glance and so did not notice Luna secreting her precious phone and purse between the seat cushions behind her.
“And what about you?” the robber hissed at Morgan who had emulated her younger sisters example. Both girls stared down the killer’s harsh gaze. I caught their eyes with my own and gestured to them not to maintain eye contact with him. They obeyed demurely. My heart thrashed within my chest from an overload of pride, terror and anger.
“Stand Up!” He commanded and we all complied, albeit bent double like aged grannies within the narrow space between the table and the bench. He moved forward wedging his gun beneath his chin whilst he frisked Bill and me and found nothing. He looked towards my wife and daughters. I baulked at the prospect of him running his hands over their bodies and began to boil and rage inside. Bill caught my eye and shook his head imperceptibly, warning me with his eyes.
“The girls don’t carry money. Their father is too stingy.” He lied convincingly. The thug glanced disdainfully at me once more then turned his drug dulled eyes toward his other prey waiting patiently for his attentions at the tables behind him.
He swaggered to a table occupied by a solitary man who was so busily engaged in devouring his meal and at the same time speaking with unfocused eyes on his mobile phone, that he had not noticed the commotion. The gunman stuck the barrel of his pistol on the distracted man’s nose.
“Cell phone and money” he demanded. The diner frowned uncomprehendingly at what he thought was the waiter.
“Cell phone and money!” the robber hit the table with his fist upsetting the glass of red wine over the seated patrons lap.
“Uh…I have to go now. I think I’m being robbed.” The diner said to his phone, rung off and handed it to the gunman.
“Money” demanded the robber.
“I don’t have any, I pay by credit card” said the diner flicking it onto the table. “May I continue eating? This is my first meal of the day and I am starving.” he said dismissively and returned to his meal without waiting for a reply. The crook grunted and moved to the next table occupied by an elegantly dressed Indian couple sharing a candlelit dinner.
“Money and Cell phones.” He demanded crossly.
“I also pay by card” said the Indian man “But here is my phone. It’s insured so thank you! I shall get a brand new one.” he said with a huge disarming smile as he handed it over. His speechless wife showed her empty hands and shook her head vehemently. The gunman dropped the phone into a cloth bag suspended by a cord from his neck and turned to his next victim.
“Oh, just a minute” the Indian man tugged at the robbers sleeve. “Would you mind terribly sir? All my contacts and my entire business are on my phone.” He left the words dangling. The gunman nodded understanding, pocketed his pistol and upturned his swag bag upon an empty table.
“Find it” he hissed. “Take your sim card out.” The Indian diner complied and helped the robber sweep the phones and money back into the bag.
“Thank You.” He said. The thief nodded and was disappointed as he turned to service his next victim only to discover that his comrades had completed the work behind him. The situation became even more bizarre when a group of would be diners arrived to take up their dinner booking and were brusquely shooed away by a gun toting hooded crook.
So far we had only sampled the hors d’œuvre. The gang were furious at their lean pickings. Clearly they did not fear the intervention of the police since they were in no hurry to depart and it was close to midnight before they finished with us. But, as I said before, that is another story.
Note. Names have been altered for personal reasons.