Monthly Archives: January 2012

April Fools

“ I love you,” she said as she buttoned her blouse, hair still wet from the shower.

He glanced up, frowned, looked down again as he tied his shoe laces. “Sure. I do, too.”

It had been some time since they have said this. Their usual morning routine included his grunt and her nonchalant shrug in return. Words didn’t mean so much any more: they seemed to have used them all. The coochie-coo-talk, the angry words, the noncommittal murmurs during the seven-o-clock news and the semi-excited grumbles when we lose the cricket – they have exhausted them all. After so many years together, their need for superfluous conversation simply died out, became extinct like some animal that just couldn’t survive the progress to a new level of survival.

Even the change in her usual routine didn’t prompt him to say anything. It was only Friday, the drab-dress-demure-blouse-day, the day she lent a helping hand at the soup kitchen in the township. His black-socks-white-shirt-striped-tie-day. Board meeting, lunch, and then an afternoon on the couch, watching the reruns on TCM. To ask her about her clothing would only lead to some explanation, more talk, and then he’d be late, anyway.

It hadn’t been like this in the beginning, of course. They used to talk for hours. Discussed politics, the church, their finances, anticipated holidays; generally they felt that they didn’t have enough time to tell each other everything.

He paused and frowned into the mirror as he knotted the striped tie. Why did it change? He shrugged. It didn’t matter, anyway, did it? Even if it did: what difference would it make? The silences actually made it easier. He didn’t have to look for words to lie about his dismal job as personal assistant (actually: chauffeur) to the Director. They kept him on as a gesture of goodwill when his position became redundant during the recession – mostly because he had served the company unfailingly for twenty-four years.

Never had the heart to tell her, of course. How could he? If he did, she’d find some way to make it all his fault but it wouldn’t change anything.

He sighed, mumbled ‘all right then’ as the usual good-bye and closed the door behind him.

She didn’t go to the soup kitchen that day. She had an appointment with the important legal firm in town. A mister Kritzinger phoned the day before. Said it was important.

 Kritzinger had a large office with a view over the city centre. Persian rug, walls of books, polished desk and a pert little secretary that brought in the coffee.

“You see,” he was saying with his best courtroom voice, very important and unruffled, “the inheritance is substantial. We had some difficulty in tracing relatives, and you are legally the only heir to the fortune.”

It took some time to sink in. All that money! Then she thought of what they’d have to do with it: a cruise? A world trip? A lifetime in the cottage she always dreamed about? Day in and day out in the strained silence of being together?

“Have you any idea how you will use the money? We can certainly assist with advice on investments and such matters?” Kritzinger leant forward, trying to look trustworthy.

Suddenly she knew what to do.

“I think you should take responsibility for the money, mister Kritzinger. Use it to build a shelter for the homeless people we give soup to, out there in the township.”

Mister Kritzinger had to concentrate to keep the proper lawyer-like expression in place. “Everything?” It is unheard of!

“Yes, mister Kritzinger. Everything. Those people need it much more than we do. You see, my husband is quite independent. Has an important job and all that. If we suddenly get such a lot of money, we’d have to rearrange our entire lives. It won’t do, mister Kritzinger. It just won’t.”

 She hesitated as she got up.

“All this is confidential, is it not, mister Kritzinger?”

“Of course, madam. Not a word.”

 The Director was having lunch at the posh restaurant on the top floor. His chauffeur was lucky to find a place to park right at the entrance. He was chewing on the stale egg-and-mayonnaise sandwich (street vendor on the corner) when he noticed his wife walking by. It struck him as strange – what would she be doing here on a Friday?

Then he shrugged. It didn’t matter, didn’t matter at all.

He opened the paper and even noticed the little article on page five about the fortune left to an unnamed heir; a lot of money, indeed.

‘It only happens to other people,’ he thought, ‘lucky bastards.’

Then he turned to the Vacancies page.

©

Dyslexia

Albertus Griesel is a loner. Has been one since forever and will most probably never change – or so he thought. As the oldest male in Shady Pines, it may be assumed that a man of his stature has the right to his opinion; which is why the other residents accepted the quiet man in the corner who sought (and found) solace in the Bible he read.

His romance with the written Word was an constant affair with self-imposed isolation. Even Matron – the longest serving member of the meagre staff – found him here on her first day. She remembers walking up to the wrinkled old man in the corner to introduce herself. He simply looked up, nodded, and went on reading. She would understand (like they all did) that The Book supplied all that Albertus needed; except of course the skimpy meals and the well-worn mattresses on the rickety beds that Shady Pines advertised as ‘luxury board and lodging for the golden years’.

The women in the Home gave up a long time ago. Oh, they tried, really tried, in the beginning, as all the newcomers do. The sequence was highly predictable: the new lady would be introduced all around; there would be welcoming smiles and then the conversation would begin. Where do you come from? Who’s your family? What did you do? How many children? Blah-blah-fish-paste. Everywhere, when older people meet, the recounting of the past is the most prominent thing on the agenda.

But not in the jaded chair in the corner. Albertus had his Book, and that was enough. He wasn’t interested in the idle, endless, senseless gossip the other old people found so fascinating. What did it matter if someone stayed in Upington, had two children and lived near Pik Botha when they were younger? It was, as far as Albertus was concerned, a utterly stupid exercise to dig around in the ruins of past lives. Such conversations didn’t change anything – it simply was a waste of time.

Of course, there was gossip about his constant involvement with the Bible. ‘He’s a holier-than-thou person,’ they’d say, winking at each other. It was alright to go to church on Sundays, but this constant reading of the Bible isn’t normal. 

Then Cecilia Crause arrived. She changed everything.

Cecilia managed to look and dress the way the other ladies wished they could. She smiled with her own teeth, never permed her hair and wore dresses that drew disapproving glances from Matron. She didn’t walk: she floated. She didn’t talk: she breathed life into words to create animated conversation. Within a week of her arrival, she had the Home at her feet. She organised music evenings, started a bridge club, and arranged an outing to the casino in the city. The cook started making her favourite snacks for teatime. Matron asked her advice about the neglected garden.

Cecilia ruled Shady Pines with her charm and a fair share of dignity and everybody agreed that she was, indeed, the best thing that ever happened there.

Except Albertus. The music evening did not budge him from his chair; bridge was a way to combat boredom’ (and he was never bored, anyway) and only fools go gambling with pension money. The quiet comfort and peace of the man in the corner irritated the busy mind of Cecilia. All her life she had been used to people doing things she wanted them to do. It was a gift; her mother said, a talent to lead and others will follow. Once she had set her mind on something, others would queue up to do it for her. And, through the years, that was how her life had been. Now, in her old age, there was this man who didn’t even bother to look up when she entered the room.

Whatever else you can say about Cecilia – and there’s a lot that you can’t – one cannot deny her perseverance. She tried everything. Albertus ignored the chess set she put down next to his chair. The new Lee Child got only a sideway glance and a ‘harrumph’. The carefully-worded Christmas card (with nuances only a careful reader would pick up) wasn’t even answered with a smile. In the end, she adopted the direct approach.

“Look here, old man,” she said as she ripped the book from his grasp, “you cannot go on ignoring me. That is downright rude manners. I am vivacious, full of life and the soul of any party. I can boogy, tango and pole-dance. I know all the card games, play a mean hand of poker and can hit the bull’s eye on a dartboard four times out of six. I know who won the Currie Cup last year and can tell you why we lost to Australia. I am, to sum up, a fun-loving, sporty and even sexy woman and I want to talk to you.”

Albertus blinked behind his thick glasses as if he wanted to see her better – or because he couldn’t believe his eyes (or ears). Cecilia had waited until the afternoon siesta when all the others do what old people do after lunch. She also wore a skirt that allowed her knees to peek out at him.

“You want to talk about Genesis? Or Exodus? Or poetry in the Psalms” He didn’t even glance at the knees. “Give me my Bible.”

She sat down on his lap and threw her arms around his neck. The book was now behind him, out of reach.

“I looked at your file, Albertus.” She said his name with a slight accent on the last bit. “And I know why you read so much.” This time she got a frightened glance, which encouraged her to go on. “I almost missed it, you know? Those files are actually just there for when we die: who to call, who’s the undertaker, which church to inform. Very clinical and extremely depressing. When it said that you had no family, I wondered about it. Under your next of kin, it simply stated Miraa, deceased.”

“What?”

“Miraa. Maria spelled out wrongly.”

By then Albertus had turned deathly white. “It’s all history,” he said, “in the past…”

“No. It’s all about the present.” The rebuke was gentle. “My middle son has dyslexia, just like you do. How far are you with the Bible?”

He hesitated. “Daniel. I’m almost through with him.”

She noticed he ignored the bit about dyslexia. “If you want, I can do the reading for you?”

Funny things have happen in Shady Pines. Some old people come there to die; others have their own reasons. Most are lonely and wish they had could turn the clock back to start over. Cecilia came there to continue developing her gift of making people do what she wants. Albertus was there to read the Bible, despite his dyslexia; or maybe because of it. It was something he wanted to do before he died.

Matron was there when Cecilia read the last book, Revelations. Ever since John and Jude it was a race between Albertus’ failing heart and the final chapter in the Bible. He’s been inactive too long, the others said, sitting there reading his Bible all the time. What they didn’t know was that Albertus never read the Bible. He heard snippets here and there during the infrequent visits to the church. He detested those meetings. How could they expect him to sing along if he couldn’t read the words in the hymnbook? And what about those silly little papers they gave out at the door where you had to tick off what you’d give or where you’d help?

Maria’s sudden death had been the wake-up call. If you didn’t know what God was all about, how could you go out there and meet Him? He promised himself that he’d work through the Bible, laboriously, word-for-word, before he went.

When Cecilia read the last verse, he looked up at her and smiled. Matron said it was a relieved smile. Then he got up and walked to the kitchen to ask them (very nicely) to make some of Cecilia’s snacks.

“But Albertus! Your heart…”

“I’m sure it’ll hold up for a while. I promised myself to get through that book before I did anything else. Now it’s finished. Thank you.” He hesitated for a second before going on. “Now, about tonight’s musical programme? Maybe you could include a polka? I can dance, you know?’

That evening he taught her to polka. Cecilia told Matron the next day that revelations aren’t restricted to the Bible only. “I had quite a big one last night.”

Like the lady she is, she never told them everything. She wanted old Albertus to last until the next dance, at least. She says dyslexia is when you read the right thing, wrongly.

©

Boggel’s Birthday

If Gertruida didn’t know everything, it might have turned out differently. But she does, and so Rolbos will have to make peace with the new trophy above Boggels counter. Of course, if Boggel fixed the light on his stoep, it would have helped as well.

It started when Precilla decided to make a birthday list. Rolbossers, she realised, kept their birthdays secret. When she asked Gertruida about it, she got the explanation that some were sensitive about their age (Vetfaan and Oudoom), some were so stingy that they didn’t want to spend money on a party (Kleinpiet) and that some simply didn’t know when they were born (Platnees).  Precilla has always been a bit of a party animal and saw this void in their social calendar as an opportunity to reintroduce birthdays as additional reasons to liven up the town.

Of course, once a birth date is known and the party is organised, one is obliged to give a present in exchange for an evening’s free drinks. For some inhabitants it was easy: Oudoom got a bottle of brandy, Vetfaan got a bottle of brandy, and Kleinpiet got a bottle of brandy and so forth. The only exception was Gertruida’s big day, when everybody clubbed together to buy a year’s subscription to the National Geographic.

Then it was Boggel’s turn.

“What do you give a guy that has a bottle store or a bar? It’ll seem a bit stupid to give him some booze, won’t it?” As chief organiser of the Rolbos Birthday Society, Precilla wanted to make sure that birthdays remained special for everybody concerned.

That’s where things went wrong.

Vetfaan suggested a new cushion, something that surprised Precilla. She never thought that Vetfaan was so sensitive. Kleinpiet didn’t agree. “It’s too obvious. We have to surprise the man. It’s his bar, remember? If we can think of something really special, we can drink the place dry. He won’t throw us out at eleven if we think of something that’ll blow his hair back.’

“What hair?” Sersant Dreyer, always one to pay attention to detail, asked.

“It’s a metaphor, moron. Like in a proverbial sense, see. I could have said “something that turns his propeller ” and meant the same thing.”

“What propeller?” You can say many things about the policeman, but you cannot accuse him of ignorance.

“Ag, man, sometimes I think you’re ignorant.” Kleinpiet was getting frustrated. “I mean we have to do something special, that’s all. What does Boggel need to spice up his life a bit? We have to think outside the box a bit here.”

“What box?” Sersant Dreyer was starting to sound like a well-trained parrot. The rest ignored him.

 It was Gertruida who suggested they get a blow-up doll and dress her up, set her at the bar and tell Boggel it’s a reminder from them to encourage a return visit to the Vermeulen girl in Cape Town. The one with the hump and the smile.

“If she sits there all day without saying a word, he’ll keep on thinking about all the things they told each other. It’s the power of suggestion, see? Monkey see, monkey do…”

“What monkey?” Sersant Dreyer always thought he knew everything about Rolbos, but suddenly they’re talking about animals and aeroplanes he knew nothing about.

“There was an advert in Die Huisgenoot,” Precilla suddenly remembered. “Right below that article about Prez Zuma’s newest bride. I was reading about the cow they dismantled right there on the front lawn, when my eye caught the heading: Are you lonely? Do you stay in a remote area with nobody to share your desires with? Well, it seemed more interesting than the description of the blood all over the rose bushes, so I skipped the lobola bit and read the advert. It said the doll is easy to inflate and they’ll send it in plain brown paper wrapping without disclosing the contents”

 The packet arrived the day before Boggel’s birthday. Servaas brought it over to Precilla’s pharmacy in case Oudoom accidentally discovered it in the post office. As an elder in the church he felt that a certain amount of discretion had to be maintained under these circumstances. Gertruida told her to keep it wrapped up like it is and that they could stick the birthday card over the address label. Boggel, she said, would be thrilled.

 Boggel eyed the bulky package, rubbing his hands together. He hadn’t received a birthday present since that time in the orphanage – maybe they got him a new cushion? His smile just about reached his low-set ears.

“Wait!” Gertruida had an idea. “We’ll take it outside, prepare it properly and return with it. You’ll have the surprise of your life.” She was right, for the wrong reason. Everybody trooped out to the stoep. In the semi-dark Vetfaan looked for and found the valve. He huffed, puffed and wheezed until the life-size doll took shape. Precilla dashed off to find one of her old mini skirts, Kleinpiet found a T-shirt (so we can wet it later) and Gertruida fished some lipstick from her handbag.

The Great March from Aida remains one of the most awesome moments in opera. When the priests and slaves, the soldiers and animals stride onto the stage, the audience is usually silent for a while before the music is drowned by the applause. When the Rolbossers walked back into Boggels place, triumphantly carrying the doll to the counter, the effect was almost the same. Almost. There was a stunned silence from Boggel, to be sure. The applause, however, was lacking.

 Sersant Dreyer, ever observant and refusing to be part of the project (I have a career to think of, guys!) was sitting at the bar, chatting with Boggel about the Springboks and their quest for world glory.  He had the best view of the entering procession while Boggel was removing his old cushion below the counter. As the group opened the swing doors carrying their trophy, feet first, on their shoulders and giggling like a bunch of naughty kids, his jaw dropped with an almost audible ‘clunk’ on the badge on his chest.

Of all the things these crazy people could come up with, he thought, this one must rate in a class of his own. He indeed saw the sandals on the dolls feet. He also saw the skirt. He saw the athletic plastic legs. But, as a keen observer and gatherer of evidence, his trained eye also saw the rest.

Policemen are trained to put two and two together in a flash. He did, and yet he couldn’t come up with a logical answer. It was only when they put the doll down hat he found his voice.

“Oh, look, Boggel! They brought you company. Now you’ll never be alone again. They brought you a brother.” Satisfied that logic triumphed over confusion, he sipped his beer. “He may be a cross-dresser, but with the new gender-equality laws, we don’t lock up those guys anymore.”

 If you ever get to Rolbos, stop at Boggel’s Place. The beer is cold and the welcome warm. Buy a beer, chat with the locals. You may even wink at Kleinpiet or Precilla (depending on your preference). But whatever you do, do NOT ask questions about the brown paper packet on the shelf. The silence of Aida’s Great March still lingers on patiently and it’ll be unkind to disturb the peace in the quiet little town. Sersant Dreyer likes the place just the way it is..

The Luck of Spin

“He’s going to lose it all.” Gertruida – who knows everything – watches the croupier and shivers. The little white ball is in his hand, waiting to be thrown, carrying with it the spiralling hopes of Rolbos in circles round and round on the wooden margin next to the roulette wheel.

 It started when the chap with the oily hair and the pencil moustache walked into Boggel’s Place a week ago. His Oakleys hung on a strap around his thin neck, drawing attention away from his uneven teeth.

“Good morning, you good people of Rolbos!” His voice boomed through Boggel’s as he walked in. “Good morning you fortunate little flock!”

Gertruida, Precilla, Vetfaan and Servaas tried to see exactly who he was talking about, but they were, of course, the fortunate little flock the greasy gentleman had greeted. Boggel, safe under the counter, didn’t count.

Undeterred, the man continued: “I am Guido Grimaldi, known as Slick to his friends, professional gambler and casino punter. I assume you chaps are thirsty? Let me buy you a round of drinks! Barman!” He looked around, searching the room for a barkeep. Vetfaan pointed to the counter. Slick didn’t understand.

But Boggel did: here was somebody with a generous heart and an open purse… He got off his favourite cushion with a happy smile to serve his customers.

“And what exactly, is a casino punter?” Servaas had heard about gamblers before, but this ‘punter’ was new to him.

“Good question, my dear sir.”  He lit a long cheroot before continuing, “my job is an interesting one. I promote the exquisite pleasures of visiting casinos. Travel the world; see all kinds of interesting people and places, every day different. It’s a family business.”

During all this time, Gertruida was strangely silent, as if something big and important in her mind bugged her.

Grimaldi? You are a Grimaldi?”  For once, Gertruida had been dumbstruck by the name.

“Indeed, Madam. I assume your surprise is associated with my family in Monaco?” Guido gave a knowing smile. “Some people are intimidated by our fame and riches, of course.”

“I’m not in the least intimidated, mister Grimaldi, but I am surprised. Why would a member of such a family visit a one-horse town like Rolbos.”

At that time Vetfaan interrupted the conversation and Gertruida, who knows everything, had to explain who the Grimaldi’s are and where Monaco is. The look on Vetfaan’s face told her that he didn’t believe her. A city that is not only a country, but a kingdom as well? The bit about the family who ruled it since 1297 was almost too much to accept – that was, after all, even before the Groot Trek!

“And they have the Monte Carlo Casino, as well.” Gertruida concluded her lecture with a smile. These Grimaldi’s mustn’t think that Rolbos is ignorant.

“Exactly, madam. I’m hugely impressed with your knowledge. Bravo! You’ve made my job so much easier, thank you.” Guido ordered another round of drinks. “You will also know then, that Prince Albert, our dear and respected incumbent, will be married to a South African lady one of these days.” Gertruida nodded: she reads the Huisgenoot, too. “Well, to promote the cooperation between your big country and our very small one, we Grimaldi’s sat down one evening to discuss a plan to enhance ties with South Africa. You may know that Monaco is a very rich principality and that it will be in your country’s best interest to entertain these affluent tourists.”

“Sooo…?” Gertruida just couldn’t get what the man was trying to say.

“To cut to the quick: we have arranged for somebody to make a fabulous fortune in a casino. Somebody who is a nobody, from nowhere. A common Joe, if you want. A person everybody can identify with.” He stopped for a moment, building the suspense. “And we have decided Rolbos, as the smallest town in South Africa, is the place we want our winner to come from. Small town, small kingdom, see?” They didn’t, but he continued anyway. “Now, to answer your question, madam: a casino punter is a person who promotes the interest in a casino. With the worldwide recession, it has become necessary market casinos aggressively. The Grimaldi’s are stakeholders in all casinos. worldwide. We don’t advertise that fact, of course, being the discreet family we are. You don’t hold onto a kingdom for almost a thousand years by being brash. However, when King Florestan legalised gambling and ordered the construction of Monte Carlo Casino in 1854, the word ‘Casino’ became the property of the Grimaldi family. The only way you can open a casino is by having the family buy into the establishment. Hence: Monaco has the highest income per capita in the world, simply because of the brilliance of one of our kings.”

Gertruida, who thought she knew everything, had to concentrate to keep her jaw from dropping to her chest. Their guest pretended not to notice.

“So. We want our casinos to prosper: I market that. We want South Africans to support our casinos: that’s a punter’s job. We want somebody to become fabulously rich, so that other South Africans spend more money in the casinos: that’s what we are talking about. And we want more of our citizens touring South Africa, simply because we will have a South African queen one of these days and mutual understanding of each other is going to forge new ties between the two counties.”

Guido ended with a flourish and sat down. It was Boggel who broke the silence.

“I didn’t know all this, you know? But everything you said concerns all kinds of stuff that won’t make a difference in Rolbos – except for the bit about somebody becoming fabulously rich. What was that all about?

Guido took his glass, toyed with it and sighed. “Well, you chaps must decide who your candidate is. That man or woman goes to the casino in Upington, The Desert Palace, places a bet on the roulette table, and breaks the bank. Simple.”

Stunned silence.

 Servaas was nervous about the whole thing. For the first time in years, he went to the bank for a loan. Guido explained that, in order to get a seat at the special wheel, a fee of R10,000 had to be paid. That was an upfront payment to the Grimaldi’s and was their assurance that the player understood the gravity of the situation. This deposit was necessary, Guido said, to keep small-time players out. Then the gambler could place everything he had on number 27, wait for the spin and walk away with 35 times that amount. It went without saying that the higher the bet, the more impressive the win would be. Gertruida said it was a scam but Servaas thought about his life as Post Master and Kleinpiet about the tired 1974 Datsun that needed replacing. Precilla dreamt about new wardrobe full of Levi’s.

“The best way, as I see it, is that the townspeople of Rolbos should form a consortium. If everybody chips in, everybody wins. Those that don’t play along will only lose.” Guido was very specific about that.

In the end, everybody in town contributed. The meeting to set up the consortium took a whole weekend but Guido was patient and very persuasive. Even afterwards, when everything was over, they all agreed that he was a very good casino punter, indeed.

 Guido said he wasn’t allowed to join them in the casino. It would look like it was an arranged thing, he said. He described the casino in detail, said where the ‘right’ table was, and told them to be there at half-past-ten that evening. Servaas, who was to be the player, had to place two smallish bets on Black, catch the croupier’s eye and knock on the table twice. That would be the signal. The next round would be the big one.

 “I’m telling you, that Guido took our money and we’re going to lose everything. I don’t trust him at all.” Gertruida and Oudoom are sitting in the lounge as they wait for the time they must join the table. Servaas fiddles with his tie while Vetfaan and Kleinpiet are strolling about between the rows of slot machines. Boggel wipes the sweat from his brow. Over at the bar, Precilla sips her third gin.

“But still, what if he’s right? We’ll be fools if we miss this one?”

“We are fools, Boggel. That’s why we are here.” Oudoom calculated the sum of the numbers on the roulette wheel and came up with the total of 666. The only reason why he participates in the scheme is because the parsonage needs painting. “It’s the only chance. Tithing won’t do it,” he explained.

 Servaas has placed the two consecutive bets of R100 each on Black, right on time. He has met the croupier’s stare, knocked the wood of the table twice, and moved their collective savings, borrowings and small change to number 27. Their total bet was R125,826.75.

 It is Gertruida who upsets the evening. When Servaas places the money on 27, she gets that far-off look of somebody who has just realised something really important.

It’s American,” she whispers.

 The croupier stops in midstride, just after he rolled the ball when Gertruida leans over to move their stash.

Calmly and ever so casually, she moves the chips to number 28. Servaas groans, Boggel sinks to the floor and Oudoom closes his eyes in silent prayer as the croupier shouts no more bets with an evil grin. Vetfaan and Kleinpiet stands rooted to the floor. Precilla can’t look.

 The ball rolls and rolls, counter to the whirl of the wheel on the wooden verge of the spinning disk. The floor manager has heard about the bet and is looking over he shoulder of the croupier, rubbing his hands together. The spectators around the table hold in a collective breath as the ball loses momentum, descends towards the middle and starts hopping over the spinning numbers. It takes forever.

 “How did you know, Gertruida? What on earth made you move the bet to 28?”

Gertruida smiles her superior, all-knowing smile. “It’s quite simple, really”

They are back in Rolbos, where Boggel is serving beer from the cooler. The sun will be up in a few minutes but already the cool of the night is giving way to the heat that will follow. Vrede, the town’s dog, is still sleeping in his kennel outside the back door.

“That was an American table, people. It’s got the zero and  double zero. The European tables only have one zero. The difference is that the American table has 38 slots while the others have only 37. Our friend Guido comes from Europe, so he had to be one number out. I’m sure you all know that?”

Oudoom has broken all the rules. He gambled with his savings and his reputation and now he’s drinking beer, even before sunrise? 

“Guido is a swindler, is he not?” He has to know. If a believer swindles a swindler, making his lie into truth, then Sin is transformed into Good. In that case, he can have the parsonage painted with the knowledge that the paint is paid with honest money.

“I still think he’s legit. Servaas did place those two bets on Black, remember?” Vetfaan stares into the beer before him, thinking about the sheep he’s going to buy.

“That guy is no Grimaldi! Did you see any photographers over there? And when they paid out our bet, the floor manager had a funny green tinge. I don’t think they were happy about Monaco-South African relations right then. And, of course, they requested that we leave – said we were bad for business.” Kleinpiet thinks he’ll buy a Toyota; those bakkies go forever.

Boggel shrugs. “So what happened to Guido, anyway?”

 They’ll never know. Guido, known as Slick to his friends, is satisfied with his takings. It’ll last for a while and then he’ll pop up again as a Rothschild or maybe Kallie Kerzner somewhere on the platteland. If you meet him, remember to bet on something else – or even stay at home. Unless, of course, you have Gertruida with you. You may have a chance, then.

.

Rolbos – The Sheepthrowing Competition

“We’re a dull lot,” Vetfaan was talking to his beer, “and nothing ever happens here. I’d really like it if we could make something happen. A dance or bazaar or maybe even some sort of competition.” He finished the glass and pushed it over to Boggel for a refill.
“And then you’d like to win it, of course. We all know how you hate losing.” Kleinpiet remembered the time when Vetfaan bought a raffle ticket (half-a-sheep, at last year’s church fundraiser to fix the roof). “You sulked for weeks after Gertruida won that leg of lamb and the packet of chops. Tried to say it was rigged and you should have won.”
“Okay, then. You explain to me how somebody wins the meat – if that somebody also donated the meat? Doesn’t it strike you as odd? So the church gets the money and Gertruida gets her meat back. Why didn’t they leave out the bit of the sheep and just ask for money? That would have been fairer.”
At that moment Gertruida walks in, takes off her wide-brimmed hat and sits down at the counter after nodding to Boggel for a beer.
“Are you still going on about me winning my meat? Oudoom said it was a sign. There is more joy in giving and all that. And Precilla did the draw, remember. She’d never crook. So lay it to rest, for goodness’ sakes.”
“We were talking about livening things up in town, Gertruida. Any suggestions?” Kleinpiet steers the conversation to a safer subject..

This is when Gertruida – who knows everything – tells them about the Black Pudding Throwing Conte in the small village of Ramsbottom, England. With a history stretching back to the dull life in the little villages of Lancasgire and Yorkshire, it basically involves competitors trying to throw a cake-like pudding onto a high platform with an underhand throw. The team with the most successful throws, wins.
“If they can do that sort of thing in England, I’m sure we can do the same here. And, Ill have you know, that competition is internationally known. If we come up with something special, we can make Rolbos world famous.”

The evolution of the Rolbos Sheeptossing Competition was quick and decisive. It was agreed that throwing food around would send the wrong message. (We do live in Africa, you know?) and the Australian contribution to world sports (dwarf chucking) wouldn’t work here either. (the only dwarf around was Pikkie Platnees, a distant relative of the Platnees clan who lived not far from Upington.. Gertruida said that the press would have a field day if white Rolbossers started throwing pigmented midgets around. Transport, too, would be a problem.)
Kleinpiet came up with Sheep Throwing later that night – after his third Cactus Jack. “We have many sheep around, they don’t have constitutional rights, and they can’t sue us for using farm animals to promote Rolbos. After all, people actually kill sheep and eat them – which is far more serious. We get a few old mattresses, a really heavy sheep, and that’s it. We’ll advertise in the Upington Post and some really strong farmers will come here. The winner, of course, gets the sheep.”

News like this has a way of worming its way through the international media. Sky News picked it up from the Burger, who got it from the Upington Post. Within a few days the SPCA, the Animal Rights League and the Veterinary Society condemned the competition. Greenpaece obtained an interdict, prohibiting farmers from throwing their sheep around – under any and all circumstances. This was when Gertruida sought – and obtained – legal advice from Skapie le Grange, the lawyer in Upington. The interdict was withdrawn after he promised the magistrate a sheep. In court the lawyer showed some slides of what happened at their local abattoir. The row of sheep waiting to be slaughtered, the actual killing and skinning and the eventual cutting up of the carcasses had the magistrate green around the gills and during a break in the proceedings, he told Gertruida he doesn’t want the sheep anymore, thank you.. Then Skapie showed pictures of the sheep trotting about on the mattresses. “You see, Your Honour, this sheep is a happy sheep. The winning contestant gets the sheep, but the sheep will never end up in an abattoir. It is part and parcel of this competition that the sheep is rewarded by a long and peaceful life and the proviso is imbedded that this sheep will never be slaughtered like the rest of his family. This competition, Your Honour, is set to save a sheep – it is the most humane thing that can happen to a farm animal.”
Amidst international outcry, the competition was allowed to go on.

On the Saturday before Nagmaal, Rolbos was packed to the rafters. Boggel had to get Kalahari Vervoer to bring in extra beer and a few tables, which he set up in Voortrekker Weg. Journalists camped in their vehicles, on the sidewalks and some even stayed with Platnees – ‘to get the local flavour’.
Sersant Dreyer cordoned off a section of Voortrekker Weg the previous day, and here Kleinpiet painted a white line across the road. (It is still visible, right in front of Precilla’s Pharmacy, if you cared to look) Vetfaan brought a whole bakkie load of old mattresses from the barracks in Upington with the promise to return them the next week. These mattresses were laid out in a neat line, so that even the best throw of the day will result in the sheep having a cushioned landing. At nine, exactly, Oudoom rang the church bell as a sign for the competition to start. Sersant Dreyer drove slowly down the road, siren blaring, with the competitors marching proudly behind the police van. From behind the driver, the sheep was eyeing the events with a certain degree of suspicion.

The sheep, named Shaun for the occasion, was a prime example of a Rolbos sheep. It was huge. They had had some difficulty to weight it on the big scale in Oudok’s practice, eventually resorting to putting the animal in a box and weighing it while balancing the sheep-in-a-box on the scale. Kleinpiet was quite proud of Shaun: it weighed in at 164 pounds.
Several men entered the competition, burly examples of robust farmers used to hard work. And the first few throws were by sturdy competitors from the district. Their best effort (you had to pick up the sheep in any way you could, then step up to the line before aiming at the mattresses) belonged to Piet Tierkop, the farmer reputed to lift his tractor when changing the tyres. He managed a staggering 2.7 metres. Shaun seemed to accept his new flying career with resigned amusement, baa-ing protest only when lifted, never on landing. The photographers clicked away, the greenies sulked in Boggel’s Place and everybody accepted that Piet Tierkop would walk away with Shaun in tow.
Then Vetfaan stepped up as the last competitor.
“So. I am allowed to pick Shaun up, take him to the line, and propel him towards the mattresses in whatever style I think will win the competition?” The answer was directed at the Sheep Throwing Judge, Sersant Dreyer. As law-enforcer on Rolbos, he was an inspired choice. (Vetfaan’s suggestion, after fourth Cactus Jack). Sersant Dreyer nodded.
The crowd watched in silenced awe while Vetfaan fetched a long plank from Sammie’s backyard, placed it on the line and then went back to Sammie’s again. He returned, rolling an old oil drum in front of him. By now his plan was clear: he was going to catapult Shaun into a low orbit around the world. Voices of protest rang out. The greenies started shouting abuse. Gertruida calmly pointed out that the mode and method of propelling Shaun was stipulated very clearly in the rules: “The thrower shall use means of his or her own preference to throw the throwee. The thrower shall not cross the line that demarcates the start of measurement. The Sheepthrowing Judge shall position himself in such a way as to ascertain the point of first contact with the mattress to allow accurate measurements to be made.” She had, after all, drawn up the rules herself, so she knew exactly what a thrower was allowed to do.
The ensuing debate lasted for an hour, but Gertruida only reread the rules. A thrower gets one chance, and cannot re-enter. The thrower chooses his or her best method. The longest throw wins. Even Sersant Dreyer had to concede that the wording of the rules left it up to the thrower to decide how Shaun would be made to fly.
Amidst the grumbling and muttering, Vetfaan put the plank over the drum and then walked Shaun over to the modern-day version of Da Vinci’s invention. The plank was positioned under the sheep’s belly. Vetfaan eyed the contraption critically, then walked back to his bakkie parked nearby. He reversed the bakkie to the end of the plank, which was now about two meters above the ground. At the other end of the plank, Shaun stood chewing in a reflective mood.
Vetfaan, humming softly to himself climbed onto the roof of the bakkie with the help of the excited bystanders. Gertruida summed it up: “It’s like watching the 1995 final over and over. You know Joel is going to boot that ball over, yet you have to watch it time and again. That’s a sort of sacred moment, you see. Now we all know Vetfaan is going to jump onto that plank. There is no way you cannot look at this. It’s also a bit sacred, I think.”

The jump fro the bakkie’s roof was photographed by a journalist from Cape Town, using his new Canon 550D, set to do five frames a second. He won Photographer of the Year award with the picture, taken a microsecond after Vetfaan hit the high end of the plank. It shows his surprise as the plank breaks and he starts tumbling sideways, arms and legsr flailing and flying all over the place. In the corner of the photograph, Shaun is shown with all four his legs off the ground.
Kleinpiet says its the wrong picture that won the prize. He says the photo he took with his Instamatic, when Shaun landed on Sersant Dreyer, us much funnier.

Shaun now lives with Oudoom and has become a symbol of resigned acceptance. Whenever Oudoom preaches about life and living, about the hardships and trails of life and about overcoming the odds by hoping for a better future, Shaun is part of the sermon. Gertruida has accepted the fact that Sersant Dreyer never measured her winning throw. When Shaun landed on the Sheepthrowing Judge, Dreyer was in no condition to measure anything; although everybody agreed that the sheep must have travelled at least four meters from the start line. Vetfaan only spent two days in Upington’s hospital after they removed the splinters form various parts of his body.

When it became clear that the sheep, after all, was the winner on the day, the greenies and bunnyhuggers all went home. They do not know about the tortoise-put competition brewing in Vetfaan’s mind.
“You know, Rolbos isn’t such a dreary place after all. It’s like any town, anywhere. If the people are dull, the place is dull.” Vetfaan was sipping his first beer after being discharged.
Sersant held up a hand. “Whatever you’re planning, I’m not part of it. I think I’m the first policeman in history to receive a KO from a sheep..”

Behind the pastorie, Shaun was munching away at Oudoom’s little flowerbed. People think sheep are stupid, that they don’t remember stuff and that they can’t think. People are wrong. Shaun actually liked flying. In his sheep-mind he is planning his escape. He’ll find Vetfaan and start baa-ing in his most enticing way. Vetfaan, he is sure, will throw him again if he asks nicely/

(*Disclaimer* No animal or part of animal was in any danger during the writing of this story. Shaun – not his real name – was examined before and after the competition by the Protect Our Endangered Sheep foundation and declared unharmed..)

Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress.com. After you read this, you should delete and write your own post, with a new title above. Or hit Add New on the left (of the admin dashboard) to start a fresh post.

Here are some suggestions for your first post.

  1. You can find new ideas for what to blog about by reading the Daily Post.
  2. Add PressThis to your browser. It creates a new blog post for you about any interesting  page you read on the web.
  3. Make some changes to this page, and then hit preview on the right. You can always preview any post or edit it before you share it to the world.