Breakdown Burger had to come all the way from Upington to tow in the lorry from Kalahari Vervoer. Something horrible went wrong in the gearbox when the driver went from first to second in Voortrekker Weg. Gertruida (who knows everything) was walking down the street when it happened. She said that lorry will need a new gearbox and she is probably right.
“Some things can’t be fixed,” she declared with considerable authority. “If the pan gasket caused the cooling system to fail, that gearbox is finished. They’ll have to replace it.” Of course everybody said that’s exactly what they thought, too.
Breakdown is a respected – and avoided – man in the Kalahari. Respected, because he came back from the institution. Avoided, because you never know when it’ll happen again. Gertruida once told his story in Boggel’s Place.
“He used to be a mild-mannered man; somebody you’d expect to be working for the SPCA or helping the church with charity events. People said he’d go far – he finished school and was employed at Kalahari Co-op as a clerk. Then he met Julie, the stripper.
“Julie danced her way through life, you see. She specialised in stag parties, and for a considerable fee would entertain the men for an hour or so. Never did any funny stuff, though. She strictly came dancing. She was in great demand, because she used old Afrikaans songs for her music. She’d start off with Een Aand op die Trein na Pretoria and finish with flair with O, Boereplaas. While her bits of clothing slowly got less and less, the men would sing along merrily. She was very clever: while her dancing was extremely evocative, the songs were melancholy and sad. Mix in an appropriate amount of alcohol, and you’d have an audience of drunk, glum and mildly interested men.
“Now, as you all know, there is no animal on Earth more emotionally unstable than a mildly interested man loaded with enough alcohol. That’s why she used that music. Her dancing brought the men up, the songs took them down. Result? Exit dancer with a stack of money and without some crazy drunk trying to tell her she’s so hot, he thinks she’s cool.”
Anyway, Gertruida said when nobody snapped the satire in the story, Ben Burger (he wasn’t called Breakdown at that stage) was invited to attend the bachelor’s party of the senior clerk at the Co-op. He explained later that he had to go; in the corporate world you have to attend such stuff. Promotion and recognition of loyalty go hand in hand, he said.
The party was a grand affair in the barn of the Oberholzer farm. They had moved out the tractor and the chickens, washed the floor and hung lanterns from the rafters. Ouma Oberholzer was sent to spend the night with her sister in Prieska, so the men anticipated no interruptions to the show. On such parties there was no need for catering – the peach brandy Oom Oberholzer stoked, sorted out that department. He called it Uberbrew, because he maintained it contained everything a man needed to survive and it made eating unnecessary.
Ben Burger, coming from a rather innocent and narrow-minded past, made two discoveries that night. The one was that Uberbrew certainly made a man extremely thirsty. Two of the men later mentioned that Ben remarked on the nutritional value of the drink, saying it could become Upington’s biggest export product.
The second discovery was the intricate beauty of the female body. Because of his strict upbringing, he always imagined that women were much like men; except for the odd curve or two. When Julie progressed from Die Heidelied to Beautiful in Beaufort West, he realised man cannot survive on liquids alone. Filled with sadness, lust, and driven by an unquenchable thirst, he stumbled to the make-shift stage to declare his love. Half-way through his slurry speech, he took another gulp of peach brandy…and passed out.
When he woke up the next morning – next to the old tractor outside the barn – he was a changed man. His two discoveries had a profound effect on his outlook on life. He scouted around for, and found, a bottle of Oom Oberholzer’s finest amongst the other sleeping men in the barn. Most of them simply toppled over when Julie gave her last bow before she left, so a number of bottles still lay scattered around.
And then, Gertruida told everybody, his madness started. He got into his car and started looking for Julie. Maybe it was the Uberbrew, or maybe he was just too slow; but from one town to the next, the one stag party to the next all-male event, he always arrived a day or two late. Then he’d phone and ask around, find out where her next show would be, and race off in that direction.
The police eventually stopped him outside Vosburg in a routine road block. Behind the wheel they found a dishevelled and dirty young man, completely sloshed, who lectured the constable on the beauty of love and his desire to export peach brandy. The magistrate sent him off for psychiatric evaluation the next day.
“That’s how he ended up in the institution, see. And when he got out, the Co-op said they already filled his old post. The only place that took pity on him was old Squint Oberholzer, who needed a driver for his tow-in truck. I think the Oberholzers felt a bit guilty about what had happened – but at least Ben had a job. People naturally called him Breakdown, after that.”
They watch as the big tow truck rumbles into Rolbos. It is a huge machine, brand new and very loud.
“I told them to send the big one. That lorry won’t be easy to tow,” Gertruida says with a satisfied smile. They gather at the window in Boggel’s Place to see Breakdown hop from the cab, hitch up the lorry and secure the couplings. To everybody’s surprise, he looks…normal. Clean-shaven, hair neat, overall spotless and shining boots. Big smile.
“I thought he is crazy, but he seems quite normal now,” Vetfaan says as he sips his beer.
Then, to their surprise, they see Breakdown take a small ladder from the back of the truck to set it up next to the passenger door.
“Gosh, he’s brought somebody along! A woman! And just look at those legs!” Kleinpiet has to concentrate hard to keep from gaping.
Men and gearboxes have a lot in common. Sometimes they go haywire when the little cogs and ratchets and wheels don’t co-ordinate they way they should. Sometimes they have to be taken to a workshop, dismantled and fixed. Sometimes they are broken so badly, they need to be replaced.
But sometimes the only solution is to fix the problem that caused the problem. This is something that still puzzles Gertruida: if something made you sick, how can you use the same thing to cure the illness? Broken things can’t unbreak themselves, can they?
Still, when Breakdown walks into Boggels’ Place, he steers the woman to the counter.
“Cactus Jack for the lady, Boggel. Lemonade for me, please.”
“Nothing stronger?” Boggel gets the glasses ready. “I have some peach brandy, if you’re interested.”
“Not for me. I can handle only one load at a time. And since I found Julie, I don’t need anything else to make me happy.” He turns to the beautiful woman at his side. “Not so, Sweety?”
And she smiles and nods. She’ll have to tell him her real name is Willemiena; but not today. She knows how delicate his good mood can be. Maybe she must write him a letter, once she escapes.
Gertruida is right. Some gearboxes just can’t be fixed.