The pinball demon was wrong all along


The pinball demon was wrong all along

Thanks to a recent internet outage, TINUS HORN picked up a book again. It was about witch hunts, which reminded him of Sunday school and an intervention in the vestry.


OUR internet was down the other night, so I had to reluctantly read a book; a thick one that has been lying on my bedside table for quite some time.

It's about witch hunts, including the Spanish Inquisition and the trials that unfolded in the 17th century in Salem, Massachusetts.

What caught my attention from the latter was the story of Dorothy Good, who was arrested and found guilty of witchcraft at the age of four.

Since then, civilisation has progressed, of course; that kind of primitive nonsense belongs to the past. Nowadays, one can wipe out 5,000 children within a week with a smile.

I'm not sure why I picked up that particular book; perhaps it has something to do with my family history, or maybe my own flirtation with the occult in the past.

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Before my mother met my father, she had a boyfriend named Johnny Knight. All I know about him is that his mother was a witch long before Helen Zille made it fashionable.

She read tarot cards, possibly a crystal ball. Basically, she was like the Witch of Endor but with more modern equipment.

I suspect the Mayfair aunties, pious and God-fearing, shook their heads in disapproval during the day about the wickedness in their midst. It probably couldn't go unpunished, they whispered back and forth, if my imagination is correct. But what could they do? By that time, the bonfires had fallen out of favour.

In my mind's eye, I can see how Mrs Knight's things disturbed them.

When the sun set, strangely enough, they were less agitated when they opened her garden gate at the agreed-upon time, carefully, so as not to set off the neighbourhood dogs.

The barking would betray their presence and you know how people gossip.

Mrs Knight would invite them for tea and later read their tea leaves. These are much less wicked than tarot cards, from what I understand.

Mrs Knight predicted a happily-ever-after for my mother and Johnny, among other things. It didn't work out that way, perhaps because my mother preferred coffee over tea. Coffee grounds are supposedly a less reliable source of future insights than tea leaves.

How my mother's life would have turned out if Mrs Knight's prediction had been accurate, we'll never know. Except for one thing: it's unlikely that my mother and Johnny's children would have attended Sunday school.

In any case, my parents were slow to attend church. I suspect we were sent to Sunday school to soothe my mother's conscience about her resentment towards Pastor Gerber, who did not visit my grandmother on her deathbed.

Besides, sweat dripped from his temples as he delivered the Word.

Conveniently, there was a large sports field right across from the church where my brother Hennie and I, in our neat clothes, watched baseball or soccer, the drone of “When mothers of Salem their children brought to Jesus" sometimes faintly audible in the distance, depending on the wind.

When I was around 11, our routine tragically collapsed when an anonymous family member converted. It spread faster than the Omicron variant of Covid. Before I could blink, I waited on the porch on Sundays for the Sunday school bus.

Over time, I also converted. How could I not? We were ruthlessly threatened with hell. It sounded unpleasant to me.

Unfortunately, my piety didn't last. Last in, first out. The gatherings of smokers at the pinball parlour appealed to me more than the thought of an eternal life with the folks who generously distributed tracts at the Protea Centre in Brixton.

Unfortunately, I couldn't escape the Sunday school van.

My double life was exposed when an elder caught me at the very pinball machine in Kosie Greek's store.

No one threatened to tie me to a stake and for that I am grateful. However, the following Sunday they did lay hands on me in the vestry, possibly to exorcise the pinball demon. The injuries I sustained were mostly psychological.

Whether I was healed is difficult to say. Before long, the pinball machines were loaded onto trucks to make room for video games. Those bored me endlessly.

I think I know where I was infected. It was much earlier, at a girl named Saffron's birthday party. I think I was nine.

Saffron led us into a room. There was a candle burning. On the table was a board with letters and numbers. You placed your finger on an inverted glass and asked the board a question. The glass slid over the board, from one letter to another, spelling out an answer.

Things took an unexpected turn when Petronel van Aswegen burst into tears and jumped up shouting, “It's the devil's work!" then fled into the daylight.

On a scale from one to ten, my demon would be happy to score a two. The jester thought I would someday marry Annelien Momberg.

♦ VWB ♦

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