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Jacana

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

“I decided to wear black to meet the man who murdered my father” – read an excerpt from Being Chris Hani’s Daughter

When Chris Hani, leader of the South African Communist Party and heir apparent to Nelson Mandela, was brutally slain in his driveway in April 1993, he left a shocked and grieving South Africa on the precipice of civil war. But to 12-year-old Lindiwe, it was the love of her life, her daddy, who had been shockingly ripped from her life.

In this intimate and brutally honest memoir, 36-year-old Lindiwe remembers the years she shared with her loving father, and the toll that his untimely death took on the Hani family.
She lays family skeletons bare and brings to the fore her own downward spiral into cocaine and alcohol addiction, a desperate attempt to avoid the pain of his brutal parting.
While the nation continued to revere and honour her father’s legacy, for Lindiwe, being Chris Hani’s daughter became an increasingly heavy burden to bear.

“For as long as I can remember, I’d grown up feeling that I was the daughter of Chris Hani and that I was useless. My father was such a huge figure, such an icon to so many people, it felt like I could never be anything close to what he achieved – so why even try? Of course my addiction to booze and cocaine just made me feel my worthlessness even more.”

In a stunning turnaround, she faces her demons, not just those that haunted her through her addiction, but, with the courage that comes with sobriety, she comes face to face with her father’s two killers – Janusz Waluś, still incarcerated, and Clive Derby Lewis, released in 2015 on medical parole. In a breathtaking twist of humanity, while searching for the truth behind her father’s assassination, Lindiwe Hani ultimately makes peace with herself and honours her father’s gigantic spirit.

Read Chapter 27: “Janusz Waluś – A killer at my table” here:

I decide to wear black to meet the man who murdered my father. Black feels right. Black skirt, black shirt, black stockings, black jacket, black boots. Black is my armour. Only my lips are red.

This time, unlike the rain-drenched, traffic-impeded journey to meet with Clive Derby-Lewis, both the weather and the busiest highway in Africa have come to the party. The sky is a big, blue, cloudless dome umbrella. The traffic is clear. We make the journey from the south of Joburg to Kgosi Mampuru II prison, formerly known as Pretoria Central, in under an hour.

I have been obsessed with Janusz Waluś for what feels like all my life, plagued by questions that have invaded my brain since I was 12. But today my mind is silent, my nerves dead. The last few days I’ve been working hard to keep expectations low. It’s as though I’ve been neutral-bombed.

At the entrance to the prison, the smiling, pretty high-cheekboned prison official has details of Mel’s rental car written on her hand. I called them in to Reverend Kekane, the prison’s chaplain, on our way in. As per procedure, our car is searched.

Mel makes small talk about the prison with the two officials who sit in the back of her tiny Ford Figo rental as they direct us towards the area commander’s office. I stay silent all the way.

A smiling Reverend Kekane is there to meet us. I’ve been communicating with him for the last few weeks around the permissions and protocol of the meeting. He’s an upbeat Presbyterian, open faced and nattily dressed in black with a red tie. With Mel similarly attired, black and red seem to be the going colour combo for the day. I have told the Rev on numerous occasions that I need to see Janusz Waluś alone. I’ve insisted that this is a personal journey, to sit in a room alone with my father’s killer, look him in the eye and ask the questions that have been holding me hostage since 10 April 1993. I am insistent that this is the only way I’m prepared to meet him.

Perhaps the Rev has merely agreed to this request to placate me, to get me here, for I am soon to discover that this is not the plan.

From the Reverend’s office, we’re led back down along the red polished stone passage to the area commander’s office. It’s a very unprison-like room. Painted in warm ochre tones, colourful landscapes adorn the walls, the curtains an organza green sheen. The talking point soon becomes the gleaming wooden cabinet behind his large oak desk – an array of silver trophies, medals and statues – accolades to prisoners’ sport and musical achievements.

The area commander is a small, stocky fellow. “I loved your father very much,” says the Reverend. “I was in the middle of conducting an Easter service when the congregation was informed of your father’s death.” After 23 years, I’ve grown used to people needing to tell me what they were doing the day my father died.

Out of the corner of my eye I see Mel take out her phone, push the record button and place it nonchalantly on the table, as it reverts back to home screen. I am not sure whether I am furious with her or relieved that she intends to record this piece of history. It appears that neither the Reverend nor the area commander have noticed.

They begin to explain the planned procedure for the meeting. They are clearly proud of their Victim Dialogue programme and I now discover I am a prime candidate for this initiative.

My throat starts closing. My eyes darken. I have already made it clear that this is not what I have come for. I do not wish to be part of any agenda of the prison system or government initiative, to be a pawn in a bigger play.

“I want to see him alone,” I announce emphatically, forcing myself to keep my anger in check. Who are these people who think they can dictate the terms of this meeting?
The two men glance at each other. The Reverend cuts in.

“Lindiwe, our Victim Dialogue programme has been very successful in bringing perpetrator and victim to sit at a table, for the victim to ask questions and get the answers that they deserve.”
The area commander adds his weight. “You see, Lindiwe, we don’t allow the victim to be alone with the perpetrator in a room. This is because of past experiences; it’s completely against prison procedure. We cannot leave you locked up alone with the man who killed your father. People would think we were mad.”

“So I am not meeting Waluś alone?” I can’t help but reveal how upset I feel. I wanted the visit to be small and intimate, not with a room full of people.

“You will be alone with him. You can ask him any questions, you will not be restricted in any way, but we will be here in the room with you.”

Clearly, he does not see his own absurd contradiction.

But this is non-negotiable. If I can’t do this meeting my way, then it’s off.

I can see that Mel is clearly caught in the middle. On one hand, I know she is here to support me, but she knows we have a book to write. She touches my arm and cautiously suggests that I conduct the first meeting according to the procedure that’s been laid out.

I irrationally want to scream: “Don’t touch me, bitch!” I’m highly irritated – with her, with everyone in the room. This is my meeting. It’s my father we are talking about here. Who are these people who think they can dictate terms to me?

“What if I come in as a normal person?” I say. “Apply to see him as any of his visitors would? Would you then give me permission?”

This has clearly thrown the two officials. They scramble for an answer, “Yes, that could be possible … but, but, but … this is not an ordinary visit.”

From their perspective, it’s clear: I am the victim and Waluś is the perpetrator.

“The thing is, I know what I’m doing,” I respond, stubborn in my decision. “I have been waiting for this meeting for 23 years; there is nothing that Waluś can say that will hurt me. I have said from the start I don’t want to be a part of this victim/offender dialogue – I want to meet him alone. Please respect my request.”

But the two officials are insistent. After much to-ing and fro-ing, it’s clear that it’s non-negotiable: the only way to meet Janusz Waluś is to do it the prison way. This is an official process and there is no way of getting around the red tape. I swallow and try to keep my powerlessness, my raging anger, from getting the better of me. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change silently whirs in my head.

Finally, I nod. “Okay, I’ll do it. But this is only an introductory meeting. Then we can take it from there. Next time I want to see him alone.”

Once again, I feel like I’m being told how to meet my father’s killer just like I was told how to mourn him when he died. I am swamped in the lava of my resentment.
Visible relief washes over the room; it’s only me who’s fuming.

The Reverend thanks me for accepting the prison’s conditions and begins to explain how the process is going to unfold.

“We are going to invite the offender into the room. We will be here and your friend will be here to support you. You are free to ask him whatever you like and you are free to interact with him in whatever way you choose. Just one thing before we bring the prisoner in, we know you have been searched but do you have any objects in your possession that could be seen to be unlawful, a sharp object maybe?”

Mel brings out her red lipstick, brandishing it like a sword. There’s laughter all round.

We take a five-minute smoke break before returning.

*

It’s clear that Waluś has been held in a room nearby. Within minutes of our return, the door opens and he’s led in, accompanied by two prison guards. Dressed in orange prison-issue overalls, he walks in head bowed and takes his place at the far end of the table.

This is the moment that’s been playing over in my head for what feels like centuries. Inside I feel completely dead. I’m in my movie mode again, where I watch events unfolding like some detached spectator.

The Reverend takes over and does the introductions. He suggests we pray. Waluś bows his head, gratefully. He looks highly apprehensive. He clearly doesn’t know what to expect. That makes two of us.

Perhaps he’s expecting an onslaught of anger. Besides firing bullets into my father, the only experience he’s had of the Hani family over the last 23 years is my mother’s unrelenting anger every time he’s appeared in court.

For years I’ve obsessed over the questions I will ask my father’s killer and now I am here before him. It feels like the most momentous thing I’ve ever experienced. Where do I begin? I summon courage from deep within.

“Hello, Waluś. How are you today?” I’m business-like. Cool, calm, Jackie O.

“Hello, Lindiwe. I am well, thank you.”

I take a deep breath.

“I would like to ask you some things about yourself. Like where do you come from? Where were you born?”

“Okay, Lindiwe,” his voice, still heavy with a Polish accent, is barely audible. “I was born on 14 January 1953 in Poland, in a town called Zakopane, which is in the south of Poland. I come from a family where there were three children, myself, my older brother and a sister.”

“Thank you. What was it like growing up in Poland?”

“It was very hard growing up in communist Poland. My father, who was a businessman, lost everything because the government kept taking over businesses. Whenever his business was doing well the government would introduce some tax, even backdate tax and so whenever he could show some success in the business, the government would make sure to take as much as they could and then the business would have to close down. The communists destroyed Poland and many people suffered because of their policies.”

He relays this information, hardly taking a breath.

As he’s talking, I’m amazed at how my recovery brain’s kicked in: “Find the similarities rather than the differences.”

“Is that why you decided to come to South Africa?” I’m surprisingly composed, like some interviewer doing a Q&A on Oprah.

“Yes, Lindiwe. There was no future for me in Poland. My brother and father left for South Africa in the seventies and I joined them in 1981.”

“What kind of business was your father involved in?” Next question. So far, so good.

“He was involved in different businesses but there was a time when I was very young that he was involved in the chocolate business. So I remember I could get a lot of chocolates and sweet things. That is perhaps why today I do not like to eat the sweets.”

He gives a little smile; almost immediately his face straightens, back into seriousness.

The chocolate detail intrigues me. It’s the first time I have seen a glimpse of human emotion. I want to know more about the young boy Waluś. I ask him if he had a happy childhood.

“I must say I had a very happy childhood, Lindiwe. Even when my parents fought and after they separated when I was 13, they did not make their problems our problems.”

“So, tell me about yourself when you were a child. What kind of a boy were you? Were you shy, were you a nerd, were you a naughty child?”

The tension in the room eases. For the first time Waluś smiles openly.

“Yes, Lindiwe, I was what you say – not a very good child sometimes. I didn’t have much achievement at school. I liked sports, I liked being outdoors and I was what you say mischievous sometimes. I was not the model child.”

“Tell me some of the things you did.” I am hoping to hear that this is where he pulled the legs off beetles, tortured cats, where the seeds of his monster were sown.

“Sometimes I would not go home after school. I would stay out and play with my friends. My mother was the one who was at home so she would take care of punishment, but for more serious things it was my father who disciplined us. But it was never serious lashings or such things.”

Mel decides she’s had enough of my questions about little Waluś and his shenanigans at school. Out of nowhere, she leads the elephant into the room.

“Not everyone has it in them to kill another person. The majority of people don’t ever think of killing a fellow human being. What was your state of mind during the time, 1993, when you found it so easy to shoot Lindiwe’s father?”

I am immediately flooded with anger and resentment. This is exactly the reason why I wanted to do this interview alone. I didn’t want to head straight into questions about my dad’s murder. This is the man who has always held a morbid fascination for me. I want to get to know him.

“It wasn’t that easy …” Waluś is thrown and struggles to respond.

“Okay, maybe not easy,” says Mel, “but what I want to know is what was going on in your mind before you shot Chris Hani? It sounds like you came to this country with so much anger – someone who can kill like you did must be a very angry person. I mean, you volunteered to be that guy, the killer. You must have felt a confidence inside yourself … to kill … so maybe not ‘easy’, but what made it possible for you to do such a thing?”

“I am not sure if you can understand this but maybe it had to do with our national political history in Poland. We have been between Germany and Russia for a 1000 years,” Waluś chooses his words slowly and carefully. “We were often attacked from both sides … Maybe this makes us Polish people more susceptible to be performing some violent act.”

Mel won’t let it go. She doesn’t notice the look on my face. “I can’t imagine that most Polish people are sitting in prison on murder convictions?”

“I am just trying to find an answer to your question,” says the man in orange with the silver hair and startling blue eyes.

“So, when you sit in your cell, alone with just you and your past and the memories of what you have done, when you think of your deed, ‘I have killed a man,’ what do you think of, of the you inside yourself?”

“I am trying to understand … I try to answer this question.” Waluś is clearly finding it hard to answer Mel’s barrage of questions. “In a war situation, you find yourself capable to do such a thing.”

Now it’s the area commander’s turn to intercede. He explains to Waluś what Mel is trying to get at – when he, Waluś, self-reflects, how does he feel when he looks back on his deed?
Waluś seems frozen. There is something inside him that is struggling to answer this question.

Mel tries again. “After you carried out your task to kill Chris, did you feel a sense of accomplishment? Clive obviously saw something in you that was capable of being the killer, so I am still trying to find out what was it in you that made you that person that Clive chose to be the assassin … Was it hatred?”

“I would say it was more hatred for the system than hatred for the person I killed,” Waluś finally finds words. “It felt like our way of life was threatened … where the country was going down the same way as it had gone down in Poland with the communists.”

I’ve had enough of the rest of the room running the show. I interject with a question that’s been on my mind for years. “Were you brought up knowing how to shoot?”

“Yes.” He looks straight at me, almost grateful that I’m asking the questions again. I don’t blame him. He is under no obligation to be here and now he’s at the mercy of these three, who all clearly seem to have their own agendas. “As I was growing up, I was taught to shoot when I was 11 or 12 by my father’s brother, my uncle; he stayed in our house for many years. He was a hunter. I had an air gun and this gun it had small power. I learned to shoot target, but always in a very safe environment.”

“Are you a racist? Were you a racist? Did the fact that your target was a black person make it easier?” I ask Waluś quietly.

He takes a moment to find his words. “The thing is, when we were talking about a political solution in the CP no one wanted to listen to us, we believed in a system where you [he clearly means black people] had your homeland. We wanted to have our homeland because we believed in separate development.”

“That sounds just like apartheid,” I say.

“Well,” says Waluś, “you can call it apartheid, but I don’t see anything derogatory about people having to live separately and not interacting.” He corrects himself quickly. “I am not saying not interacting, but definitely not living under one-and-the-same government.”

“But,” says Mel, “why would it be so offensive having an integrated government?”

“You could see the way the other countries like Zimbabwe were going …”

I am very clear on what I’m about to say next. “The problem I have with this is – you come from Poland, a country where there are not many black people, and then you come to a country like South Africa, where the majority of people here are black, and you think in your mind that black people can be subjugated by separate development. And then you say you didn’t have ill feelings towards black people? Did you see black people as equals?”

“We are all created equal,” says Waluś.

His words sound like a cliché. I don’t believe him.

“That’s the Bible,” I say.

“I am trying to … see all people as equal.”

“But that’s now; I am talking about how you felt about black people then?”

He almost stumbles. “I wouldn’t say then … that I didn’t see them as equal.” I still don’t believe him.

Mel interjects. Slap bang to the chase. “I am sorry, but anyone who belonged to the Conservative Party was racist, was anti-integration, was anti-democracy, was anti a black government. It would really help if you could admit your feelings around this, your mentality at the time when you shot and killed Chris Hani. We are talking about Janusz Waluś in 1993 and for you to avoid that … and say, ‘No, I didn’t have those racist feelings’ – it feels like you are lying.”

“I have never treated black people badly; I have never had fights and arguments.”

“But you killed a black man.”

The obvious swallows the room.

“But I did not kill him because he was a black man,” says Waluś. “It did not have to do with his race, it had to do with his politics. Please try to understand this, race did not play a part in this …”

The prisoner at the far end of the table is clearly feeling cornered. But it suddenly occurs to me that in his world, in the Polish head of Janusz Waluś, perhaps the fact that my dad was a commie was far more dangerous than the fact that he was black.

Before I can voice my realisation, the area commander intervenes. “Your answers to these questions are problematic. There’s a conflict in your answers. On one level, you say you believed black people should live in separate homelands, yet you say you were not thinking along racist lines?”

There is a part of me that almost pities this man, grey and gaunt in his lurid orange overalls. Sitting in front of three black people and Mel, being interrogated about his racism.

“I think the problem is that you are answering from your viewpoint today,” I say. Am I trying to rescue him? “And it can’t be easy talking about racism in a room full of black people. You see, Waluś, I don’t feel there is anything wrong in admitting who you once were. So, if you happened to be a racist right-wing person in 1993, who believed that black people were monkeys, it’s actually fine to admit that now. A lot of people felt that way.”

And then from almost out of nowhere, he says, “We all know that we as white people developed first as a race, that we were responsible for civilisation.”

The room breaks out in a belt of surprised laughter – huge relief as the truth finally resounds.

“There’s the Waluś I’ve been waiting for,” I almost shout from the rooftops. “Welcome, Waluś!”

He grins. It’s a bashful look. He is shocked, a little confused maybe, and a whole lot relieved by how happy I look.

“Now tell me,” I continue, “how difficult is it for you these days, surrounded by so many of us? They are all over the place now …”

“The thing is, Lindiwe, I have met a lot of black people here in prison who are so decent. It is not very often pleasant to be in jail, but it is pleasant to be with some of the people I have met.” He looks at me straight in the eye.

“So, do you feel you have changed since 1993?” Mel asks.

“For sure,” he says, “but I don’t want you to think I suddenly am claiming this has been my road to Damascus or something. It’s been a process.”

“Did you make good friends in prison?” I ask.

“Look, in prison you must be very careful in making friends. You must be very selective with whom you can get close and who you can rely on.”

“I read somewhere you were attacked in prison.” I want to hear more about this incident, which took place back in early 2014.

“Let me tell you what happened … I was in the section one floor down – it was a man who was working as a cleaner, he was connected to the gangs. He was a 26 or whatever. I don’t know because I never got involved in such things. But he was always very polite; he was also reading books, like me. I always say reading books can be better than studying – it gives you wider perspective. In prison I have read many, many books. Now this man, he always helped me, when we put our names down for the—” He pauses for a second, looks at the AC and says, “Can I disclose about the phones here?”

The Area Commander laughs and tells him to go ahead.

“So here in prison we have one phone, for let’s say three sections of about 300 people. You have to put your name on a list to keep some order. This man was always helping to put my name on list. So, on this day of the attack, we pass the gates – he said, ‘Go forward,’ because they wanted to close the gates and the next thing he came at me from behind. Then all I see is this red curtain of blood. Blood on the floor made me slip and I couldn’t catch him. At that moment Clive was walking past so, as this man ran out, he hit Clive on the head. I don’t think he even knew why he did this, he was so full of drugs.”

As he speaks, I feel weirdly protective of him, imagining the unsuspecting Waluś incapacitated as he slipped on his own blood.

Now that he’s brought up his buddy Clive, I decide to ask him about his relationship with his co-conspirator. “Do you miss him since he’s been released?”

“We were good friends, we always helped each other, but he is gone now. There are so many people in jail who you can miss. But someone is always leaving, getting transferred, so you can’t afford to get too close to people.”

My plan for today has been to get to know “Waluś the man” a little better. To make him feel a little less afraid and unthreatened so when I get to ask him about Daddy’s murder, he will be able to be as honest as possible with me. I have already decided to only approach that on our next visit. Clearly, Mel and the other two have not been on the same page.
When the session comes to an end, the Reverend asks Waluś if he would like to say anything to me.

This time the grey-haired Polish man looks me long and straight in the eye.

“First of all, I want to thank you, Lindiwe. I cannot tell you how much I have appreciated meeting you; you are a very brave, very courageous woman. If it means anything to you, Lindiwe, I am very, very sorry for what I did to you and your family … I am very, very sorry.” He seems overcome with emotion. I feel the lump in my throat too.

Then it’s my turn.

“Waluś, you were under no obligation to meet me. I appreciate you coming today and I value your honesty. I know this must be difficult for you, as it is for both of us; I thank you for your time.”

The area commander announces that lunch is about to be served. It’s after 2pm. Waluś, the prisoner in his orange overalls, gets up to leave.

“You are invited to eat with us,” says the AC, unexpectedly.

Waluś is clearly thrown. He hesitates, asks if he is really invited, then awkwardly sits down again. He has not expected this. Somehow, unlike with the Derby-Lewises and the forced quiche lunch, where I could not eat a morsel of the food Gaye prepared, for some strange reason I don’t feel awkward about sharing a meal with the man who killed my father.

*

There is something about food that blurs barriers, brings a table of unlikely people together, throws guardedness to the wind.

While we wait for the prison lunch to arrive, small talk with the guest in orange flows surprisingly effortlessly.

“So, did you ever go to varsity?” I ask him. “Have you studied anything while in prison?”

“No, no,” he laughs, self-deprecatingly. “I am not very academic.” Mel and I almost simultaneously disagree. We both believe Waluś is highly intelligent.

He tells us how back in Poland he had difficulty learning as a child, blaming it on his own stupidity. For a moment my heart goes out to the young Waluś who grew up believing that he was lesser than; I know the feeling.

“After I was arrested I was diagnosed with dyslexia.”

At that point in the conversation, the food arrives – plates laden with chicken, chips, salad and fizzy drinks. They’ve clearly made a special effort for our visit. By the look on Waluś’s face, this ‘five-star’ fare is a first in 23 years.

“So, what’s prison food like?” Mel asks him.

He smiles mischievously, then quickly glances nervously at the AC, reticent to reveal his true feelings in front of the boss.

“Well, let’s just say, we often ask: ‘What is this?’”

The room bursts out in laughter. It’s a relief to laugh.

Mel has noticed that there are no knives with which to cut the chicken and requests some. When the bluntish metal arrives, she holds one up, jokingly pointing at Waluś, and asks the AC, “Are you sure you can trust us in the same room as him, with these?”

There’s more laughter; this meal is feeling almost surreally normal.

Before we eat, the Reverend suggests we say a prayer. We bow our heads together. Waluś closes his eyes.

“Thank you God for giving us this opportunity to sit down together. Bless this food that is before us. Let us all go in peace. Amen.”

“Are you a Catholic?” Mel asks Waluś.

“I am, but not a very good one.”

“Well, I am loving what your latest pope is doing these days.” I’m keen to hear what he has to say about the liberal Pope Francis’s much more enlightened attitudes towards the marginalised of our planet. I remember being really impressed when in 2013 he said: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

Last year the Pope angered anti-abortionists when he opened a special, temporary ‘mercy’ window to make it easier for women who have abortions and confess, to be re-embraced into the bosom of the church.

Waluś is clearly not in agreement. “I have to say I am not at all impressed with him.”

“Well, of course you aren’t,” I chirp, “because he’s doing the right thing. He’s washing the feet of immigrants. What do you say, Waluś?”

“You know I am conservative,” he pauses, “but I have to be careful what I say here today because any of this can be used against me in a court of law.”

Of course. That explains his painstakingly weighed answers over the last few hours. He thinks he’s being set up. I can’t really blame him.

I survey my carb-laden plate.

With all my Bootcamping and trying to eat Paleo style over the last few months, I offer my chips to the guests at the table. Mel offers hers directly to Waluś. He politely declines. A heap of chips is sent to the guards outside.

“You clearly don’t need to watch your weight, Waluś. How have you kept so fit and trim in prison?” I ask.

“I think it’s mainly genetics; my whole family looks like this,” he’s almost blushing. “My grandfather was 74 years old when he was showing younger boys in the mountain stream how to swim against the current. I do a lot of physical exercise in prison, sit-ups and also other things like karate to stay in shape.”

We’ve covered religion and diet in five minutes, so Mel decides to introduce love.

“So, have there been any admiring women in the last 20 years, writing you love letters and wanting to marry you?”

“There has been a woman who was wanting to marry me since, I think, 1994, but after 11 years the prison stopped it. I told her she should not wait for me.” He seems wistfully sad all of a sudden.

“How did you meet her? Did she read about you and then start visiting you?” I am curious about this woman.

“It was her and a group of her friends who were supporting me. They started to write letters.”

“Was she beautiful?” I ask. Waluś pauses.

“She is still beautiful,” he says.

“Was she blonde and blue eyed?” Now I’m clearly being provocative.

“She had brown hair and eyes something between brown and green.”

“I only ask because maybe Waluś wants to keep the Aryan race going?” I say, half playfully.

He comes back at me quickly. “Nothing wrong by trying,” he says amidst more laughter at the table.

I keep on getting flashes of how absurd this situation could look to the outside world, me sharing a meal, making small talk, cracking jokes about the Aryan race and the Pope with my father’s killer. But somehow it doesn’t feel wrong.

Sometimes it feels like Mel can read my mind. She feels it too. “It’s good that we didn’t eat at the beginning of this. Food makes people far too nice to each other; we all become bonded in some way.”

For a split second we are all lost in this little human moment.

“So, is this supper for you, Waluś?” I break the moment with a question. It’s almost 3pm.

“He was supposed to have had supper already,” says the AC.

“Jeez, what time do you eat?” asks Mel.

“Well, our dinner is usually served at 2:30pm,” Waluś responds drily.

“So what time is lunch, 11am?” We all laugh.

“And what time is lights out?” says Mel. “Six pm?”

“Well, actually,” says Waluś, “there is never a lights out in prison unless the Eskom fails.”

“So, the lights stay on all the time?” Images of prisoners tortured by 24-hour light abound.

“No, no,” he explains, “you can put your own lights out, but otherwise they stay on.”

“So don’t you get hungry during the night? I mean, the last time you eat is at 2:30pm?” I am genuinely finding prison meal times mindboggling.

“You do get hungry, but then you just think about something else.” He answers in his usual matter-of-fact, resigned-to-his-fate, East European way.

“Now,” says Mel, “without telling any fibs, what is the prison food like? Is it any good?”

There is raucous laughter around the table. Waluś is laughing loudest.

“I would prefer to say: no comment.”

The AC is laughing hard, “Why? Are you afraid of me?”

“Let me put it this way,” says Waluś, “today I am shocked to see this chicken we are eating because there is no blood near the bones. The chicken we get is usually covered in blood. Chicken is always rare, like a steak, underdone.”

“Maybe I should visit you every day so you can get cooked chicken,” I laugh. “What else do you get to eat, say, for breakfast? Do you get eggs or porridge?”

“Usually porridge,” he says. “Eggs we get for supper. Two eggs.” Just in case we think they are starving him.

“We sometimes get hamburger patties and sausages,” he adds, and then, not missing a beat, “I like to call this ‘divine’ food. You know why I call it divine? Because God only knows what it is.”

He is actually hilarious. I laugh with the man who killed my father. It’s surreal.

By the end of lunch, plans are set in place to meet again.

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