Monthly Archives: March 2012

Breakdown

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.

Friday Flash – Autumn

Sunday afternoon, late March, and Kleinpiet finally worked up the courage to ask Precilla out on a date. Braaivleis at the fountain next to Bokkop. To his utter surprise, she smiled and said yes.

He prepared with care. Fresh loin chops, a cool bottle of Chardonnay,  some wood. Fresh bread and butter and fig jam.  A blanket – no chairs; he felt slightly guilty about that.

She waited for him at her front door, chequered shirt, jeans, sensible shoes. Cowboy handkerchief around her neck. She looked gorgeous. He felt better about the chairs.

Under the only tree next to Bokkop, he made them comfortable. It is autumn, and a single brown leaf settled on her hair. They laughed.

The wine was excellent, the meat done just right. The shadows grew longer.

“I love you,” he said.

At first she gasped, not wanting to believe a man could say such a thing to her. Then she saw his soft eyes pleading, wanting, asking.

And she got up, crying, and ran back to the safety of town; while he picked up the leaf that had settled a few hours ago on the crown of freshly-washed hair. And he tried and tried – but couldn’t make the leaf stick to the branch again.

The season was over. Winter was on its way.

The License

Boggel is engrossed in the article on Scott and the South Pole in the old Reader’s Digest, and shivers as he turns the page. Imagine suffering like that to fly a little flag on a spot in a remote and hostile environment? Then again, here he is in Rolbos, making a living in a bar – for a fleeting second he imagines that there are similarities between him and Scott – both pioneers with the well-being of their travelling companions at heart.

The way Kleinpiet and Vetfaan whisper over there in the corner worries him. They are busy hatching some crazy plan – or they are discussing something they want to keep from him. The latter seems more probable, as they keep on glancing his way as the conversation progresses. Vetfaan has the Upington Post in front of him, as well. What could they be reading?

 

It isn’t a big advertisement, and if Kleinpiet wasn’t so bored, he might have missed it. He reads it a second time – even a third – before he folds the newspaper again. It never ceases to surprise him what people advertise in the Upington Post. Just the other day they giggled over the ad for Hot Naught who offered Eastern Massages to Western Gentlemen; but this one is much more professional, much more serious. And it could change the way they live in Rolbos.

Under the counter, Boggel relaxes on his cushion as he looks at the second-hand of his watch approach the 60. It’ll be 11:30 soon, and he expects Gertruida to push open the door of Boggel’s Place exactly a minute later. With thirty seconds to go, he opens the beer and waits. It is a game he plays; enjoying the mock surprise from Gertruida every time the beer appears – as if by magic – from below the counter the moment she sits down. He shifts so he can see her enter through his little peep-hole below the till.

She’s on time. She sighs when se sits down. She gasps when the beer appears. But instead of their usual little chat, she gets called away by Kleinpiet. He crooks a finger at her and puts a finger to his lips. What? They want to talk about something he mustn’t hear? Some secret that he mustn’t share? Unheard of…

“What is it?” Her whisper is instinctive but urgent. It is evident Kleinpiet wants to tell her something that Boggel mustn’t hear. Something Boggel doesn’t know about. Even worse…something she doesn’t know about. The thought is as foreign as it is unbearable. She adopts the cat-in-front-of-the-closed-fridge-door attitude. Whatever it is, she has to know. That’s the other similarity of the moment – cats are curious, too. It sometimes kills them.

Department of Orthopaedic Surgery   – Grootte Schuur Hospital

Prof Victor Lockjaw, internationally famous spinal surgeon from Leeds, will visit the Department in June. He specialises in Lordosis, Skoliosis and some cases of Spina Bifida. People with severe spinal deformities are invited to contact us, as such cases are needed for the Professor to demonstrate his techniques. The cost of the surgery will be covered by the University. Further information available at Miss Kromhout, tel no 012 8762986.

Kleinpiet steers her to the table in the corner; away from the counter; opens the paper and points at the advert.

 Gertruida’s hand forgets about the beer as it flies to her mouth. “Him?” She points at Boggel.

“Yes, can’t you see? Once that Englishman has straightened out Boggel, he can have a normal life, like…” He falters. Nobody really has a normal life in Rolbos. Still, the point is made, and taken. “I mean, he’s not all that bad looking; he isn’t that old; and he runs a successful business: it’s just his back that causes him so much trouble. Once that’s fixed, he’s sure to find a girl friend.”

“Boggel is far too proud to contact the professor.” Gertruida frowns, the she snaps her fingers. “ Well, I suppose I can phone the Professor. I have a number of friends at the university. There’s the question of his travelling and lodging expenses, however.” Even as she says it, she knows they can hold a bazaar, sell some pancakes and get Vetfaan to raffle off a sheep. In her mind’s eye she sees a straight and proud Boggel – and momentarily wonders what they will call him then.

From below the counter, Boggel watches with growing concern. Alternating an ear or an eye to the peep-hole, he tries to get the gist of what they are talking about. However, despite his best efforts, the only two things he learns are that they are talking about him, and that it has some bearing on something in the paper. They seem to agree on something, and with surreptitious glances to the counter, they leave in a hurry.

Boggel shuffles over to the table, collects the two glasses and the paper and returns to his cushion. The glass rings on page three tell him that’s where they were reading something.  And then he sees the damning article on the Tourism Board.  The Board is visiting small towns and rural areas to inspect local taverns, bars and guest houses. Not only do they want to check on the star-grading of places offering accommodation, but they’ll use the opportunity to inspect kitchens, liquor licences and other legal requirements to run such establishments in a responsible manner.

He feels a cold finger running down his crooked back. Noooo! His kitchen! The long-drop toilet at the back!  And, most horrible of all…the liquor licence! This inspection will be the end of Boggel’s Place! That’s why they were whispering and pointing at him. He feels the cold sweat dripping down his neck.

He always had hoped that nobody would poke around to find out he didn’t have a license. Because they have no health inspectors or other officials in Rolbos, he progressed from a-few-beers-on-the-stoep to Boggel’s Place. And as for kitchen and toilets – those are things he wanted to fix for a long time now. But try to find a contractor to work in Rolbos? Impossible!  And although he could maybe talk his way out of that, the license is the iceberg waiting to sink the Titanic. They’ll close him down. They’ll lay charges. If he manages to stay out of jail, he’d have to find a new job.

And suddenly, another ugly thought starts worming around in the back of his mind. If those two were discussing the Tourism Board’s imminent visit, why did they keep the conversation from him? Or did they think they’d do something about the matter? Something, like asking Sersant Dreyer about the legality of Boggel’s Place? It is true that the sergeant saw the growth of the small business over the years and that he visits Boggel’s Place every now and then – and that he never enquired about a liquor license. Maybe he didn’t think about it in the past; but he surely will do so now.

Boggel sees himself in a few weeks time: either in the horrible orange overall of Correctional Services; or in a horrible khaki overall, driving Vetfaan’s tractor. The horror! The shame!

He is a pitiful figure – below the counter, with Vrede looking worried – when the rest of Rolbos (even Oudoom) marches into Boggel’s Place.

“Boggel! Boggel, where are you?” And like Adam trying to hide from the Lord, Boggel huddles closer to the dog. “Come out, we have to talk.” Oudoom uses his sermon-voice; the one with added authority and free-range righteousness.

Boggel gets out with a sigh, climbs on to his crate. “OK, so you want to expose me, humiliate me. Go on, I don’t care anymore.”

Vetfaan has a sympathetic look. “No Boggel, it’s not that. I see it more as a way to set things right. You can’t go on like this.”

“You’ve suffered enough, Boggel. It’s time to put an end to it.” Gertruida clears her throat, like she does when she wants to make a point. “I mean, what’ll happen in the future? Things are bound to get worse. Things like this can destroy one’s dreams, you know?”

Kleinpiet tries another approach. “Look, while you sort this out, I’ll run the bar for you. In a few weeks, or a month or two, you can be back. You’ll walk tall and look us all in the eye. With everything straightened out, your days will be a pleasure – not the hell you have to live with now.”

And Boggel knows his game is up. Sure, they’ll help him. Sure. But he, Boggel, will have to go to Upington. Apply for a license. Stand in queues. Talk to officials. Fill in mountains of forms. Explain why he has delayed his application so long. Be referred to the Police. Even if he gets out of that one, he’ll have to wait for months before they send out an inspector all the way to Rolbos.  Then he’ll have to see the Inland Revenue people. They’ll ask more questions. Why isn’t he registered as a tax payer? How did he make a living up to now? Mmm, interesting. So, lets work out your arrears up till now. Add interest and penalties. Okay, if you pay us millions of Rands, we can clear you to go ahead with your business.

“Brother, we are only doing our Christian duty, that’s all.” Oudoom spreads his hands wide.

Boggel has had enough. “Listen, dammit! For years and years I was good enough for you.  Never a whimper, never a complaint. Now suddenly you charge in here and you want to destroy…”

“Not destroy, Boggel, help.” Precilla is pleading now. “Calm down Boggel, we’ve collected the money and found out the Professor will see you. Then you can take it from there, at your own time.”

“…destroy my way of living.”  Suddenly, the word professor unhinges his argument. “What professor? What are you talking about?”

It takes most of the Cactus Jack to explain everything. The paper gets opened to page 3 and they show him the advert. He tells them he didn’t realise…

“But guys, I am what I am. I live with my hump and I’m happy with it. We all have things that bother us, and we all learn to live with it.” Boggel’s relief is so immense that he places another Jack on the counter. He almost made a complete fool out of himself. Almost gave his game away completely. “But I know my hump must stay the way it is. To cut it up and realign everything sounds good…but I know there are a lot of risks involved. A specialist I saw – many years ago – took some X-rays. He said something about the nerves running down my spine and that surgery will damage them. So: thanks but no thanks.”

 

The Tourism Board did travel to Upington, where they stayed at the Kalahari Oasis and Casino for a few days, on the house. Before they left, one of them asked about other hotels in the area. The manager laughed and told them this was the Kalahari, not Sun City. He saw to it that they first had a hearty breakfast before he offered the aspirin. The Board left in good spirits, assuring the manager his five stars are safe,

 

The letter in Sergeant Dreyer’s bottom drawer has been there for sixteen years. It is a directive from the Area Commissioner to all station commanders, ordering them to check and report on all establishments selling alcoholic beverages. Sometimes, when the sergeant is bored, he’d take out the letter and smile on of his rare smiles. Then he’d look up to the police force emblem on the wall. The one with the motto: To Protect and Serve.

Maybe he’ll never end up as the hero in a Readers Digest like Scott did. Sometimes the biggest hero is the one with an unanswered letter in a bottom drawer

And he’d close the drawer, still smiling, mouthing the words serve, and, protect.

That’s what he has been doing all these years, he’d think. It’s a high calling.

Those Fishnets…

Maybe one should blame Gertruida for it all; assuming that somebody in Rolbos would be so brave (or so stupid) to have the guts to do so. Everybody knows how tenaciously stubborn she can be when faced with an impossible task – and that an argument with her can only end in shame and ridicule for the one who has had the lack of insight to cross swords with her (in her opinion) formidable mind. Yet, despite these well-known facts, it was a good two weeks before Gertruida emerged from her house as if nothing was wrong and the Cheri-from-Pofadder-thing never happened.

It started in Boggel’s, like most things in Rolbos do. As usual, it was only after the second Cactus Jack that the clientele found their second mental wind, in a manner of speaking. Once the superficial and questionably civilised conversation is set aside for a somewhat inebriated exchange of alcoholic wisdoms, it isn’t unusual for the Rolbossers to feel – man, really feel! – each other’s pain and loneliness.

 

Kleinpiet has had a bad day and is feeling sorry for himself.  Yet another Wednesday has passed without a letter…

“Ag, don’t worry, Kleinpiet. Maybe next week.” Vetfaan puts a brotherly arm around Kleinpiet’s shoulders. “You know how it is with the post these days. I hear that, since the old Poskantoor was changed to Postal Services, they forgot about the ‘service’ part. It’s happened to other services too, I hear. It’s just the way it is in the New South Africa. We’ve got all kinds of new names for things that don’t work so well.”

“Not the Police Service. Not in Rolbos. I’m still here and nothing has changed.” Sersant Dreyer stares into his empty glass, shrugs and gestures to Boggel for another.

“Ja, that’s true. We still don’t have crime or missing persons here, just like the old days.” Vetfaan didn’t want to upset Dreyer. The old Lee-Enfield he uses for poaching isn’t licensed and Dreyer knows it. “You’re doing a sterling job. A veritable example for the country. You should have made Captain a long time ago.” He doesn’t want that, of course. If Dreyer goes, there’s no telling what a new sersant may dig up – and nobody wants that.

“Maybe I must accept that nobody wants me.” Kleinpiet sighs. “Maybe I’ll become an old, disgruntled, grumpy old man and see out my days with sorrow and grief.”

 

There are two types of depression. The one type is an illness and doctors pay off their Mercedesses by listening to sad stories. The other type is bottled and barmen all over the world recognise instantly when the effective dose has been consumed. This is a signal to them to get the somber character out of his establishment.  A depressed drunk is bad for business.

“That’s quite enough of that, Kleinpiet. We all know that your advert in the Landbou Weekblad was really Gertruida’s idea and that no woman in her right mind would have ignored it. That bit about you being a lonely Christian farmer who likes drinking and going to church was a masterpiece of marketing.  If the ladies of South Africa didn’t respond to that, I can’t imagine what one must say in the Lonely Harts Column to get a reaction. Maybe next time we must say you’re a sober atheist with a bunny-farm.”

Kleinpiet closes his eyes and saw himself with two horns, a fork and acres and acres of rabbits hopping around him. He promptly bursts into tears. Boggel tries to explain about the bunnies – the shapely type – but his words are lost in the sobs that cascade from the shaking frame of Kleinpiet.

Servaas has had enough. He takes Kleinpiet by the hand, leads him to his post-office next door and makes him comfortable on the unused postal bags. When he returns, Gertruida is in full swing.

“Elephants go through the same agony. When they are in musk, they have only one thing in mind. And look at Vrede. That poor dog hasn’t seen any action for years, that’s why he likes Servaas’ leg so much. No, what Kleinpiet is experiencing, is normal for a man with no outlet for his, er, urges and desires. We have to make a plan.”

Everybody, at that point, turned to Precilla who sat quietly through all of this.

“Don’t look at me, you guys. I think he’s a nice guy and all that, but sheees! I ‘m happy the way I am. Look at Gertruida: she’s been on her own since forever. That’s what clever people do. If she’ll take a boyfriend, I’ll reconsider. Until that time, the case is closed.”

Now, one must say that was brilliant. Precilla simply diverted all the attention from her and Kleinpiet to Gertruida, who for once was quite speechless.

 

When Servaas wakes up the sleeping man in his office the next day, he has a telegram in his hand. Kleinpiet has a headache. He doesn’t want to read it and isn’t interested in anything but coffee right now.

“Come on, man. It’s for you.” He gets a bleary stare. “I’ll read it then.”

Dear Farmer Boy Stop Will arrive at noon Stop Ready to rock Stop Cheri Stop’

There can be little doubt that some things tend to sober up men faster than others. The fact that he got an answer to his advert in the Landbou Weekblad certainly gets his attention; but the name at the end of the telegram really causes panic. He closes his eyes and sees the vision of a very fat Cheri hanging from the beam above Boggel’s counter – a very fat, very loud and very sweaty picture in nauseating clarity. He lets out a protracted groan.

Servaas doesn’t know what to say. Do you apologise, laugh, ignore or sympathise? Reverse or forward? He stays in neutral.

“Ag, come on man! How bad can it be? At least she’s ready, willing and able. Lets get you cleaned up.”

Kleinpiet has other ideas. The window is the nearest, so that’s where the nausea finally gets him.

 

The whining of the ancient DKW’s engine is audible long before the glint on the windscreen is visible on the Grootdrink-road. Boggel has swept the floor and the people of Rolbos is waiting in quiet anticipation. Kleinpiet has put on his suit, given up on the tie and taken the tablets to fight the headache.

Cheri pours herself from the confined space of the little vehicle, straightens her dress and waddles into the bar. The fishnets stretch over the muscled legs and the skirt wouldn’t reach Upington – if you were on your way to Cape Town. Signal-red lipstick on the full lips. Blond hair she wasn’t born with. High heels.

“And where’s my little customer?” Her voice booms through the bar, cuts through the silence and causes a collective shudder amongst the listeners. Even Gertruida can’t get herself so far as to point to Kleinpiet, who now has taken up residence below the counter.  When Cheri clambered from her vehicle, his mind forced a total-body-shutdown. There is absolutely no way

“Come, come now! Don’t be shy! Cheri is here! Who’s the lucky boy today?”

Vetfaan is the first to buckle under the onslaught.  He clears his throat. “Well, you see…he isn’t here. He left. Thought you wouldn’t come, see? “

“But you phoned last night? Said it was a matter of urgency and that it would be worth my while? You can’t do this to me? Who’s Gertruida, anyway?” Cheri’s anger is tangible. She’s not somebody you mess around with.

Below the counter Kleinpiet almost faints. Sure, he gets the picture… Gertruida tried to trick him into an awful mess, that’s what happened! She must have phoned Cheri in Pofadder after he curled up in Servaas’ office last night! He forgets where exactly he is hiding, gets up and bumps his already-sore head against the bottom of the counter.

“This is all wrong!” He is very angry now. “Just because I felt a bit sorry for myself last night doesn’t give you the right to get this…this…stripper to share my life with me! What did you think? Can’t a man just have a bit of remorse and feel sorry for himself? Shame on you. Shame on you all!” Still clutching his throbbing head, he storms out of Boggel’s Place, leaving several embarrassed faces and a single very angry one behind.

Cheri recovers sufficiently to compose a slightly more friendly face. “So, who’s going to pay? It is quite a drive from Pofadder and I’ve wasted a whole day. Now, at R 200 per hour and adding transport, I think you owe me at least a thousand bucks. And that, I must tell you, is at a considerable discount. If you prefer, I’ll get Bug Harry to collect the money.”

Silence.

“The only other male in town is Oudoom, Cheri.” Gertruida is thinking fast. “He’s been alone since Mevrou went to visit her family in De Aar. Maybe…”

 

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Gertruida, despite her vast knowledge and exceptional intellect, could never have guessed what a single little remark like that can trigger. When the little DKW whined out of Rolbos with a smiling Cheri squashed behind the wheel a full two days later, it left behind a stunned silence. Gertruida locked herself in her house and remained there for a full two weeks. Kleinpiet finally, after a number of Cactus Jacks, agreed that Gertruida only tried to help. He even laughed a bit when they toasted the health of Oudoom, who doesn’t know – will never know – why Cheri drove all the way from Pofadder to see him.

 

“Now I suppose we’ll never know,” Gertruida says after church. “He’s such an old poker-face; it’s difficult to guess what’s going on in his head.” She’s referring to Oudoom, of course.

Still, even if Rolbos never talks about the incident, one mustn’t assume that they don’t ever think about it. Kleinpiet will never complain about his loneliness again, Gertruida won’t try her hand at matchmaking in the future, and Oudoom sometimes has such a strange smile when he gets on the little pulpit to stare down at his tiny flock before delivering his sermon.

Cheri won’t ever visit Rolbos again. She told Big Harry her car had broken down and that the stupid Rolbossers took two whole days to fix it. At night, after another very predictable evening and some voluptuous dancing, she pours a single Cactus Jack, toasts the mirror in her bedroom and giggles. She’s too much of a professional to talk about it, but one would be so very wrong that she never smiles at the absolute surprise Rolbos turned out to be.

In Boggel’s Place they cannot – just cannot – discuss service delivery without somebody failing to suppress an uncontrollable laugh. They somehow like to think that people from as far away as Pofadder would agree that people in Rolbos feel strongly about the importance of both words.

If it weren’t for the fishnets behind the sofa, Mevrou would never have guessed what had happened in her house while she was away. Gertruida told her she wanted Oudoom to wrap them up as a Welcome Home present, but the astute theologian chucked them there in disgust. The jury is still out on that one: if Mevrou doesn’t buy it, they’d all be in serious trouble.

 ©

The Rolbos Factfile

Rolbos is the remains of a small mining town in the Kalahari, after the Sillimananite was finished. During its boom years, the church was built and the main street got a name. Voortrekker Weg, spelled wrongly, does however help tell the story of the town and what remained of a once-flourishing community. Sammie’s Shop, Boggel’s Place and Precilla’s Apteek all line the street, as does the church, the diminutive post office and the police station. http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/03/18/joost-and-the-slushmobile/ and http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/the-spirits-of-rolbos/  http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/02/07/the-problem-with-the-president/

Bokkop is the hill where they mined the Sillimanite, and is about a kilometer from town. It also has the only fountain with drinkable water in the area.

Grootdrink is the nearest town, on the way to Upington.

Boggel – deformed since birth and getting worse. A good listener who rarely interrupts the late-night drunken flow of words in his bar. Shares a cushion below the counter with Vrede, the town’s only dog, where he (Boggel, not the dog) reads old Reader’s Digests.  When the conversation in the bar warrants it, he’ll get on an old beer crate to be able to see over the counter, otherwise he’ll just shove the beers into the direction of the sound of an empty glass. He never talks about his past.

http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/03/25/the-good-barman/  http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/02/25/a-trio-of-lights/ http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/02/15/skeletons-of-valentine-past-2/  http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/02/04/just-another-winters-tale/

Boggel’s Place – the bar where most of the action takes place. http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/03/22/scottys-legacy/

Gertruida – the woman who knows everything. She has an impressive library at home and is an avid reader of The National Geographic Magazine. Rumour has it that she is the only person in Rolbos with a modem-connected laptop to surf the Internet, but that has never been proven. She has a shady past, something to do with National Intelligence, about which she never speaks. Vetfaan once asked her if she used to be a spy. He had to see Precilla after that, to get some Brufen.

http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/03/12/the-birthday-3-2/ and http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/03/05/oxymoron/ as well as http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/02/13/alfies-earwig/  http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/02/06/gertruidas-lie/  http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/02/02/sunday-afternoon-kleenex/ http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/01/28/the-luck-of-spin/

Vetfaan – after a heart-wrenching break-up with the love of his life, he farms alone out on the other side of Bokkop, but spends most of his time in Boggel’s Place. Used to play lock for Kenhardt’s first team, where he learnt that beer is made from vegetables, wine from fruit and chocolate from nuts. Not the sharpest pencil in the box, but with a heart of gold. He sometimes makes a pass at Precilla, but she’s way too clever for him. http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/03/15/the- survivor/    http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/01/29/boggels-birthday/  http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/01/26/rolbos-the-sheepthrowing-competition/

Kleinpiet – the other successful farmer in the district. Specialises in producing stud rams and tall stories. He is also the only known beer-foam artist in on record to have done the Union Buildings on Boggel’s counter.  When he was much younger, he played flank for De Aar C. He, too, will chat Precilla up from time to time, but his natural shyness prevents any lasting relationships.

After they were confronted with crime, Precilla and Kleinpiet eventually got married – in the desert. Now living happily on the farm outside Rolbos, they’ve adopted Nelson Kruiper.

http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/03/18/joost-and-the-slushmobile/       http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/the-rolbos-news/  http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/national-dock-day/

Oudoom – a disillusioned pastor who settled in Rolbos for political reasons. Married to Mevrou, who forbids him to visit Boggel’s Place. His sermons are well attended when he preaches about love and hope. It once rained during one of his prayer meetings. Despite the weight of his occupation (and Mevrou’s moody greeting afterwards) he will sometimes sneak into Boggels for a quick pint.

http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/03/21/freedom-in-captivity-3/ and http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/the-confession/

Precilla – the beautiful young pharmacist who fits into her Levi’s like no woman should. Her abusive youth left her with major issues with men, although she does blossom when the conversation is light and merry. Her love affair in high school ended badly. http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/03/03/precillas-letter/  http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/02/13/a-little-valentines-goes-a-long-way/

Now married to Kleinpiet and mother to little Nelson, she feels her life is back on track.

Vrede –  the town’s dog. No less of a character than the rest. A policedog that rebelled against the way things get done in the force these days, and a dog of high morals. http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/03/10/its-in-the-eyes/  http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/02/21/rules/  http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/a-tro-of-tragedies/  http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/02/19/vredes-tale/    http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/unidentified-flying-dogs/

Servaas – the local postmaster, who should have retired while de Klerk was still president. An enigmatic man with dark desires and an acid sense of justice. Deep into his seventies, he still is on the lookout for a good time. Stalks poor Precilla sometimes. As head elder, he sometimes dresses in his black suit to lecture the town on morals.

http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/02/09/tick-tock/ and http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/03/06/the-telegram/  http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/03/01/old-oom-hattings-eyes-4/  http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/02/16/madame-zavira/  http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/02/09/tick-tock/

Sammie – the local shopkeeper.An astute businessman who takes care of his customers. Still works ‘on the book’, and not in a hurry to be paid. A rare specimen, like the rest of the townsfolk.

http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/03/24/sammy-and-the-actress/  http://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/02/11/sammies-revenge/

Sersant Dreyer – who bends the rules occasionally by turning a blind eye.

Lucinda Verdana – the pretty Italian who settled in Rolbos with her father, old Marco. It is said they have a shady past, but Boggel doesn’t care. Lucinda is often seen with Boggel, leading to much speculation and gossip.

Judge Gericke – retired judge and father to a son he almost lost. He is convinced Gertruida is the cleverest woman on earth and has moved in to her study permanently, where he writes his memoirs.

Nelson Kruiper – son of a vagabond criminal and an alcoholic mother. His family roots are tied to the Kruipers, who insist on his learning of the San way of life. Now in the care of Kleinpiet and Precilla, he is growing up where two worlds meet. He tends to be naughty sometimes – something that bothers Precilla tremendously.

26th March – Coward’s Day

You don’t talk to Vetfaan on the 26th of March. It isn’t done. It’s forbidden. The 26th is Giraffe Greeff’s day. It is also, in Vetfaan’s mind, National Coward’s day.

Of course Giraffe wasn’t the name his parents had given him. George Gregory Graham Greeff had a name to suit his body: long and gangly and very, very tall. Unfortunately his regal-sounding name and his off-centre personality didn’t slot into each other like a good jig-saw should. Add into that austere mix the high cheekbones, the long auburn hair and the piercing look, and you’ll end up with a cocktail of possibilities that defy convention.  His father once said he’s all bone and no body, which remained true for the rest of his short life.

When Vetfaan discovered the art of kissing, Giraffe was still trying figure out how to ask a girl to the movies. Later, when Vetfaan got to Base 2, Giraffe was still to shy to hold hands. And when Vetfaan scored the cherry (oh, how infantile were they with their terminology!), Giraffe chickened out and watched the test pattern of SABC on the telly.  

Vetfaan said Giraffe was built wrong.  You can’t be a love-machine with those thin long arms and the matching legs. After all, if you’re almost two meters tall in Standard 8; weighing in at 72 kilograms, you tend to look funny. And funny doesn’t work in the kissing game if the average girl is way down there. Either she sprains her neck or you spasm up your back. Giraffe solved the conundrum by avoiding girls – which added to the rejection he had to live with every day.

However, Giraffe was from the next-door farm, so they had to talk about fences and lost sheep and the jackal that came from the other side to take a bite on this side. You can do this in the fashion that suits you. Either you fight or you settle matters in a gentlemanly manner. Bearing the long reach and the tall frame in mind, Vetfaan chose the latter. In a weird way, they became friends. Friends-at-arms-length (which was considerable in Giraffe’s case); but still: congenial acquaintances.

Giraffe was the joke of the school in Kenhardt, where they all lodged in the hostel. Need a giant for the play? Giraffe is your man. Want a fool to trip over his shoelaces to make the class laugh? It’s a no-brainer. Unfinished homework?  Simply ask Giraffe: he’s got nothing else to do, anyway.  The tall boy would do anything to have a friend – even if it was only for a minute or two. Giraffe so desperately wanted to fit in with the crowd: he’d do anything – anything – just to feel the kids aren’t laughing at him, but with him.

Part of the problem was the way Giraffe walked; which is why he got his nickname.  His left foot and left arm went out at the same time, followed by the right side which moved together. (Try it – it isn’t easy). He seemed unbalanced and off-centre all the time. Whenever they had to talk about the vermin that crossed a fence, or the ram that went where no ram had ever gone before, Vetfaan had to suppress a giggle whenever Giraffe walked up to their appointed meeting place.  Vetfaan had this ambiguous relationship with the tall guy: he despised and liked the boy at the same time.

When the night of the Matric Dance started featuring, Vetfaan had to choose between five possible dates. Giraffe had none.  He arranged an appointment at the fence.

Fanie, I can’t see myself at that dance. It isn’t possible. If you need help on the farm that day, I’d be glad to lend a hand. Better to do something than sit at home, wishing I was at the dance.

Vetfaan phoned Hesterjie, the skinny girl with the mousy hair, from Keimoes. He’d give them a sheep if she dated Giraffe for one night. Hester Human was the youngest of the six Human children. The family eked out a living by selling the crocheted doilies Ma Human made – and the eggs the few chickens laid. Her father left them when she was a baby still: he joined the circus when the ringmaster put his head into the lion’s mouth for the last time.

Hestertjie was overjoyed. Earning a whole sheep had never been that easy. Of course she went with Giraffe.

They lost contact after school. Vetfaan went to the agricultural college near Bloemfontein and Giraffe enrolled as an engineering student in Pretoria. Cape Town and Louis Trichardt, for all practical purposes; like their bodies and their personalities, they were literally miles apart.  Having been neighbours, doesn’t mean you’re friends for life.

And then the army swallowed them up, gave them boots, a uniform, a R4 rifle and a bayonet. It was a strange and acceptable hell, because everybody had to do it. Giraffe was made a lieutenant and Vetfaan a sergeant, based on their academic achievements. If Giraffe barked, the sergeant growled and the corporal howled. This is the same in all armies, all over the world; and not strange at all. You become the rank you’re awarded and leave the person you used to be behind. You cease to be. The war owns you now.

They got transferred to Ondangwa, a place on few charts and not the ideal honeymoon destination.  On the flight there, they talked. Giraffe said he married Hestertjie and thanked Vetfaan – the story of the sheep had become a family legend. Giraffe said it was the nicest thing anybody had ever done for him.

On the 26th of March, they patrolled one of the dusty roads between the thorn trees and tall grass. Of course there had to be an ambush. Of course their vehicle had to be in the lead. And of course they got pinned down by enemy fire. There exists, during war time especially, the inevitability of such tragedy. And so, when it all seemed lost, it was Giraffe who stood up to return the fire. The tall man got most of them before they got him.

Every year, on the 26th of March, Vetfaan sends over a butchered sheep to the Humans. Then he’ll go to Boggels, where they know they must leave him alone. Tomorrow Vetfaan will be his old self again, joking and smiling and laughing with the rest. After all, Giraffe had given him the chance to live a happy life and he isn’t going to waste it. But today he’ll sit there quietly, thinking about the gangly man that saved his life because he phoned Hestertjie one day. And he’ll hear, over and over again, Giraffe’s words just before he saved the day.

“You saved my life, Vetfaan. Time to return the favour. Get your head down and wait for the shooting to stop. And yes, Sergeant, that’s an order.”

He thinks about those words while he sits there at the bar. He likes to think he simply obeyed an order from a superior officer. But deep down he knows: at that moment he was frozen with fear. The sudden attack, the exploding mortars and the crash of rifles were just too much. Giraffe tried to talk to him – even slapped his face once – but his limbs refused to respond to his panicky thoughts.

Now that he’s older, Vetfaan knows why Giraffe did what he did: it is better to die a hero’s death than to live a coward’s life. That’s why he commemorates the 26th. And that’s why, when you walk into Boggel’s Place, you shouldn’t talk to Vetfaan on a day like this. The shame of that day is just too much.

Maybe, one day, Vetfaan will realise it takes a hero to live a coward’s life. To live with the knowledge of such failure demands exceptional courage. But he isn’t there yet. Leave him to his thoughts and his memories.

If by chance you have a Giraffe in your life, treat him kindly. Giraffes have to be brave to get through every day while the rest of us enjoy a carefree life. They get to be exceptional people if you allow them a moment in the sun. Once they blossom, you may be pleasantly surprised at the result.

It may even save your life.

©

The Good Barman

The old man sits – like somebody much younger would – on his haunches as he blows the smouldering grass to flames. He’s done this so many times in his life, he doesn’t even think about what he’s doing. His eyes scan his immediate surroundings: this valley is renowned for its snakes and scorpions.
He’ll wait till only the embers of the fire remains before he places the rabbit’s carcass on them. In the meantime, he’s got nothing to do but wait.
His journey has been a long one; happy and sad, easy and hard, like most older people may say. However, the secret of the family now rests upon his shoulders and he has to trust somebody to carry it into the future. He looked at the Moon last night, and saw the message: it is time for him to go home.
But what about the secret? The Moon said nothing. It is up to him, now.
The secret has been in the family since before other people came here. Before the blacks and the whites and the others. His grandfather used to say they are the oldest family in the Kalahari and that they already stayed here when the Great River still flowed across the Makgadikgadi Pans, many, many years ago. There were giants in those days, huge men in flowing white robes that sailed across the water of the pans that was a sea back then. They transported gold from up north as well as many slaves. His grandfather didn’t know where these men came from, but said they had big stone houses, and they lived near another great river.
Then, according to the grandfather, the Moon saw what was happening and shook the earth, like a dog would shake his body to get rid of the sand. And the earth shook and trembled, And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed all the water, so that only the bottom of the sea remained, The shells and the fish died and the men in the flowing robes went away. That’s what his grandfather said.
The Moon felt sorry for the small family that lived at the edge of the great lake that once provided them with abundant food.
Look, the Moon said, I had to punish those men who came here to take away the gold and the slaves. I shook the world and they fell from it, even like sand does from a dog’s back. But now this family has lost its way of living. I will have to give them something else.
The Moon thought and thought. Now the country was dry the small family, that used to stay at the edge of the great lake that used to be there, grew very thin and weak. The Moon felt sorry for them and taught them how to hunt. It showed them where to look for water. And it gave to them the secret of fire.
And it showed them the Cave of Stones. The Moon said: These are the hardest stones on Earth. They are also very beautiful. If other men knew about this cave, they will do what the men in the flowing white robes did. They will take it away from you and you’ll become their slaves. Only you and one person out of every generation must know about the cave. Tell the secret once, only. Show the cave once, only. And in doing so, many, many years from now, the last one of the family must be buried here. For when all the seasons have passed, I shall return to look for my stones. If the family has looked after the cave well, I will make them live next to a great river once more, where there are fish and good hunting and honey and many trees with sweet berries.
The old man knows those words by heart, for he has said them over many fires, for fear of losing them. If he keeps the words alive, he won’t forget them. Now that it is time for him to return to his family, he must make sure he gets buried in that cave. But who can he trust and who can he tell?
Then, a few days ago, he came across another family in the desert. They shared water with him and they talked late into the night. When they asked him to travel with them, he smiled and said he was too old. But there was something he wanted to know…
Oh, said the one. There is a man in the town near Bokkop. You may trust him. People tell him all kinds of secrets, but he’ll never say anything to anybody about it. You’ll know him when you see him. He is bent like a broken branch. And: I’ll ask my nephew to tell him about you. I’ll ask my nephew to ask him to come.

Three days later, Kleinpiet walks into Boggel’s Place to find Gertruida behind the counter.
“Well, I never! A woman to serve our drinks for two days in a row! Now, I can become used to that…where’s Boggel?”
Gertruida shrugs. “He left in a hurry. Remember he drove into the desert yesterday after Platnees spoke to him? He said he felt the need for some peace and quiet. Well, he came back this morning and asked me to look after his bar for one more day. Said he needed a bit more time.”
Sammie walks in and waits for Vetfaan to buy him a beer. “Only two months to go, Vetfaan, then you’re all square and I’ll buy my own beer again. Don’t sulk, now.” He turns to Gertruida: “Boggel told me you’d be here today. I saw him at the shop just after I opened.”
“Oh?” Curiosity gets the better of her. “What did he buy?”
“That’s the strangest shopping list I ever had. One Bible and two sticks of dynamite. I asked him what he up to, and he said he was going to save the world. When I wanted to know more, he simply clammed up. And, even more strange, he paid in cash. That’s the last I saw of him. Got into that old Land Rover and headed for the desert.”
Vetfaan scratches his head. “I can understand the dynamite. Maybe he’s found an old well or a fountain. Sometimes you can get them flowing again if you use some explosives. But the Bible…now what would he want with a Bible?”
“Well, I disagree. I think the Bible is for meditation. Or maybe he’s found somebody that needs one. It’s the dynamite that puzzles me.” Even in Gertruida’s mind, the two things cannot be made to fit together.
Kleinpiet suggestion about a heavenly blowjob gets cut short by Gertruida’s withering stare.

That evening, Boggel is behind the counter as usual. Between serving beers, he rests on his cushion below the counter, where he pages through the old Reader’s Digests. Eventually, Vetfaan can’t stand the silence any more.
“Come on, Boggel, tell us! Where did you go today and what did you do?”
But you know how it is. Barmen hear all kinds of stories, some of them are gossip, others contain great wisdom and even occasionally, a secret will cross the counter. A good barman must sometimes give the impression he heard nothing, even if he did. At other times he must listen carefully, and do his best to look sympathetic. There are occasions, too, when his advice is sought or where he may be required to help smooth over a troubled relationship.
But always, always, a good barman knows when to keep his trap shut. So, when Vetfaan asks the same question for the third time, Boggel looks up from his Readers Digest.
“What is the most important right now, Vetfaan? To be served another beer or hear the answer?”
Of course he chooses the beer.
That’s another thing a good, trustworthy barman must be good at. He can tell you to go screw yourself with a smile and without saying a word.

Sammie and the Actress

Sammie’s Shop, right across the street from Boggel’s Place, was once described (by Gertruida, who knows everything) as better than the Checkers in Upington. Sure, you’d find no aisles filled with a myriad of choices for tinned sardines nor have to chat to the tired ladies trying to convince you that you can’t go home without buying Colgate or Royco; Sammie doesn’t believe in harassing his customers. He doesn’t have to: he knows exactly what everyone needs and stocks up with that.  And, of course, over the years the townsfolk have formed a collective taste:  you’ll find the same salad dressing or toilet paper in every home.

When the film crew camped outside town to do the final shoot for Apocalypse 9[i], the athletic girl with the long, long legs walked into Sammie’s to look for something to read. Sammie offered the old Reader’s Digests he pages through on quiet days, but she wanted something more recent. Sammie apologised. They talked. Sammie fell in love.

Gertruida says it happens like that, sometimes. The lonely shopkeeper and the unknown actress have a lot in common, when you think about it. She has the body. He has a shop. They both supply in the needs of people. They both need people to survive. And sometimes, rarely, a spark of kindness will ignite a fire of passion in the most unlikely situation. Whatever the reason was: when she walked out of the shop, Cupid was rolling with laughter.

Vetfaan says it only happens in movies like The Sound of Music or Pretty Woman, but Precilla reminded him of that girl who married a prince or something in Monaco – or some other island over in Europe. This causes considerable debate about what it means to marry up, or down.

“No, man. Marriages don’t work like that. It’s not a matter of up or down at all – love is an equal thing. You don’t climb up ladders or fall down from the balcony when you fall on love…”

“You see!” Precilla doesn’t let Kleinpiet finish his sentence. “You fall in love. And you don’t need Gertruida to tell you that falling implies a downward movement. Nobody falls up. So love means you surrender to gravity. And remember, nobody dies from simply falling – it’s the sudden stop at the end that kills you.” Like the rest of Boggel’s customers, she is sceptical about love. Only Kleinpiet may be considered to be a mild romantic at heart, but he doesn’t count: you have to have some experience with love to call yourself an expert.

They’re still arguing when Sammie steers the actress into Boggel’s Place. Precilla notices that he’s combed his hair and is wearing shoes – he must be determined to impress the girl. Vetfaan and Kleinpiet aren’t looking at Sammie; they’re trying not to stare at those legs.

“Gents, this is Marlene McGuire. She plays the role of Kitty Hawk, the girl who almost defuses the atom bomb that destroys the world.” Sammie sounds happy about that. “We’ll drink on that. A round for the house, Boggel. It’s on me.”

Gertruida says this is typical: a man in love loses his sense of values. Sammie, the ultimate miser, never visits Boggel’s Place and never gives anything away. But today, with this woman at his side, he is Mister Handout himself. One round follows the next as Marlene tells them about her career as an actress.

“Oh, I started out in Vosburg: played the part of the wolf in Red Riding Hood. Later, in high school, I sang and danced a bit.” They hang on to everything she says as she tells them about the drama school in Wellington and how she started acting in local productions. Then her big break came with Apocalypse 1: she accidentally broke the lead actress’ nose during rehearsal. “I was cast as a baddie, you see, and had to lose a fight against the heroine. I didn’t like her much, anyway.” Vetfaan and Kleinpiet exchange knowing looks. “So the baddie became the goodie and the rest is history.”

By this time Sammie is quite beyond himself. Marlene has moved her chair so that they are sitting close to each other and Precilla notices how she is actually talking to Sammie, and not the rest of them.

“When we finish this movie, I’m off to Italy, where I star as Mussolini’s lover. He was a famous general, I think. And they got some American to play the role of an Italian war hero – how cooked-up is that? Kevin Coetzee or somebody.” They all agreed it was cooked-up. Kleinpiet didn’t know there were Coetzees  outside Upington.

Sammie is suddenly sober. “So, when are you leaving? Italy is far and it’ll take a long time to get there.”

“Oh, tomorrow, first thing. They’re just taking a few shots of the Kalahari today, and then we’re finished here. They’ll drop me at the airport in Cape Town. After that: fame and fortune… Well, thanks for a delightful chat, you guys. They teach us to be nice to the public at the drama school; they say today’s chats are tomorrow’s fans. And what, I ask you, is the sense of acting if you have no fans?  I’ll leave you with a song, so you can remember me. It’s from the movie. I think it was a German song.”

With theatrical flair (despite the micro skirt) she gets on the counter to sing:

Wish me luck, as you wave me goodbye.
Cheerio, here I go,on my way.

Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye.
With a cheer, not a tear,make it gay.

Give me a smile,I can keep for a while,
In my heart while I’m away.

Till we meet once again you and I,
Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye.

Wish me luck, as you wave me goodbye.
Cheerio, here I go, on my way

Wish me luck, as you wave me goodbye.
With a cheer, not a tear, make it gay

Give me a smile, I can keep for a while,
In my heart while I’m away.
Till we meet once again You and I
wish me luck as you wave me goodbye.

 

Five minutes later Gertruida walks into Boggel’s Place to find the silent group huddled at the counter.

“I thought I heard that Ovaltineys with Gracie Field’s song – a World War II thing – if I remember correctly. Didn’t know it is still popular.” She stops and stares at the shopkeeper. “My word! Sammie? What a surprise to see you here! ”

Sammie doesn’t look up: he circles a finger in the air to tell Boggel to serve another round.

Precilla leans over to Sammie to rub his back. “Don’t bother him, Gertruida. It’s the sudden stop that got him.”

 

These days, if you were to shop at Sammie’s, you’ll notice the sign above the door saying that no actresses are allowed inside. They must place their orders at Boggel’s, who will sort them out. Sammie keeps it there to jog his memory about German songs and Italian war heroes. He says it reminds him why he is so happy in Rolbos. At least, as he tells everybody, real people stay here. It’s not like a movie where life is as plastic as the reels they record it on.

Gertruida says the variety of products must never overwhelm the market: it confuses customers if they get presented with too much of a choice. That’s why Sammie’s Shop is so much better than Checkers – he only stocks what they need.

And Sammie, who took two weeks to recover, now occasionally visits Boggel’s Place where he waits for the rest to offer him a drink. He’s calculated it’ll take about six months for the Rolbossers to repay him for his short-sighted generosity that day when love clouded his judgement. He says Kevin may have gotten the Oscar, but he has the memories; sometimes that’s better than the real thing. Who needs anything more, in his words.

Friday Flash, Apocalypse

“Did you see the legs on that woman?” Vetfaan struggles to keep his breathing normal.

“Ja, if the tracks look like that, can you imagine the station?” Kleinpiet isn’t even playing with his foam on the counter top any more; he just gapes at the tall and athletic woman striding down the road known as Voortrekker Weg,

It’s been a full day since the film crew arrived to camp under the only tree at the edge of the town. The guy with the ‘DIRECTOR’ cap said they didn’t want to film the town: they wanted to have the backdrop of an endless desert for their production of Apocalypse 9, the last in the series.

“What’s an apocalypse?” Gertruida is busy helping Precilla to take stock and cannot supply an immediate answer. Vetfaan mulls over the word and decides it must be American.

“It’s the end of all known things, Vetfaan.  Like the station. It ends there”

Servaas doesn’t laugh, because Kleinpiet just lied.  He knows a station is just the next step in the journey; and once there, there’s no turning back. Apocalypse, indeed. It means ‘disclosure’ or ‘revelation’. A long time ago he tried to fight it. He used to be young and adventurous, but the Kalahari won.

Scotty’s Legacy

Image“How old do you think she is?  Oudoom says she was here when he originally got here, and that was almost sixty years ago! He says she was already past her prime when he first saw her.” Vetfaan studies Ouma Van Niekerk as she walks over to Sammie’s Shop. “Not bad for an old woman, I must say.”

Boggel gets on his crate to see. “Well, I can tell you: there’s nobody who knows the history of Rolbos the way she does. Not even Gertruida. If you want to know about the Sillimanite mine or the cement factory, she can tell you all about the who, the what and the why. Clear as a bell, that mind of hers.”

“Gertruida admitted the other day – it was very hard for her – that she doesn’t know who the very first farmer was that settled in the district. Before the mine, that is. She knows the Sillimanite was found after a propector saw the rocks a farmer used to build his chimney with – but who was the farmer? Maybe we can ask Ouma Van Niekerk and then poke fun at Gertruida; we’ll know something she doesn’t know for a change. She’ll be mortified!”  Kleinpiet draws a smiley face on the counter with the froth on his beer. This could be fun!

Ouma Van Niekerk always stops at Boggels for a glass of tonic water. She says it tastes a bit better than the brackish water of the fountain on her farm.  It is during these visits that the locals get a chance to chat with her – otherwise she’s always in such a rush that it is impossible to strike up a conversation. Her trips to Rolbos are infrequent and rare; Gertruida says she’s a bit of a recluse and that she produces her own vegetables, honey and coffee (from the roots of the Witgat trees).  The only reason to come to town is to get spares for the wind pump or to sell a few sheep. Today’s visit is the result of a rusted bucket that finally leaked so much that she couldn’t water her garden with it any more.

When Ouma walks into Boggel’s Place, Kleinpiet gets up and offers his chair at the counter. She smiles, takes a seat and raps her knuckles on the bar top. Boggel promptly serves the tonic water.

“Tell me, Ouma, who was the first farmer in the district? We talked about it the other day and couldn’t figure it out.”

“Well now, young man,” her voice is surprisingly young for her age, “that takes me back quite a while. Now let me see…yes, it was Sam Kemp, the man Scotty Smith almost killed when Scotty tried to steal Kemp’s diamonds. Smith went to jail, of course, but Kemp used the recovered diamonds to set himself up as a farmer not far from here. Smith was a scoundrel, a thief, lots of fun and a great lover. No lady could resist his charms and no jail could hold him.” Ouma van Niekerk gets a far-away look as she tells the story. “But Sam; now there was a man! Honest and caring. A hard worker. Before the robbery incident, he and Scotty would go hunting in Bechuanaland. Oh what adventures they had there! They met many Bushmen who taught them all about the veld and the animals and the plants…”  She stops abruptly, puts a hand to her mouth, and gives an embarrassed laugh. “Oh, my! How I ramble on today! You must think I’m a blabbermouth. Well,” she finishes the tonic water, “I must be off. It is a long way to the farm and I have lots to do.”

They watch her scurry out to her ancient Ford pickup. The new bucket on the back catches the sun as she roars off.

“An amazing woman,” Vetfaan reflects. “Imagine: she can remember names like Sam Kemp, just like that! Most older people have to dig old names from the bottom of their minds, but not Ouma van Niekerk, oh no. She rattles off that history like she’s read it yesterday.”

When Gertruida sits down for a beer an hour later, they are still talking about Ouma van Niekerk. In a town like Rolbos, even the smallest event gets to be dissected and examined minutely – there’s nothing else to do, anyway.

“I see Ouma was here a little while ago,” Gertruida says. “Weird woman, that. Give me a beer, Boggel.”

“So what do you know about Scotty Smith, Gertruida?” Kleinpiet wants to prepare the ground before he drops the facts about the first farmer.

“Oh, Kleinpiet! Why do you insist on using that name? His real name was George St Ledger Lennox, and he was a veterinarian, a prize fighter, a soldier and a Robin Hood. He traced his ancestry to some royal family, I believe. And he once posed as the President of the Free State – while he was still in jail. A colourful character, to say the least. He explored Bechuanaland and helped the Bleeks to make a comprehensive record of Bushman words and their stories.  It is said that he knew many of their secrets. Oh, and he died in the Great Flu Epidemic in 1919.” She sips her beer appreciatively. “Why?”

 

When Ouma van Niekerk gets home tonight, she’ll make the special tea with the herbs she grows in her garden, and add the teaspoon of ground Welwitchia leaves. It is an old habit her husband started when they spent so much time with the San people in the desert.

“This plant lives for long. Your life, and another and many others: that’s the time for this plant. It keeps the secret of life in its roots, deep in the ground.” That part, she knows, is true. They once tried digging out one of these ancient plants, but never got to the end of the roots. “The leaves only carry the words, but the memory is down there” The man had pointed to the earth, making clicking sounds as he explained how deep one would have to go. “It is so deep; no one knows its end.”

Tomorrow, when she waters the garden with the new bucket, she’ll tend to the grave of her lover and friend. She should have married him, instead of Scotty; but who could resist the nobleman’s advances?  She smiles at the thought. Yes, I had it all: an adventurous lover, a royal scoundrel for a husband, and the opportunity to learn so much about the vegetation of the desert. Sadly, dear Sam never believed the Bushman’s story and Scotty got carried off by the flu.

 

Back in Boggel’s Place, Gertruida is still lecturing the others on the life and times of George St Leger Lennox.  When she mentions that he married a Miss van Niekerk in 1892, nobody pays special attention. Why should they, anyway? It’s just long-ago history – not anything of importance today. They want to get her to admit she never knew about Sam Kemp – now that’ll be something really worth remembering…