Monthly Archives: May 2012

Gertruida bought one. Did you?

“Did you see what Boggel is doing? He’s been busy all morning  in the bar, putting up new shelves.” Gertruida watches through the window as Boggel hammers away inside.  “He’ll have to hurry – I’m thirsty already.”

“It’s that book – the one Hamster gave me.” Precilla smiles sweetly. “I gave it to Boggel to read, and now he wants to make Boggel’s Place look like the bars you find in grand lodges.”

“Oh?” Gertruida has read everything there is to read in Rolbos. If there is something new floating around, she must get her hands on it. “What book?”

“The new paperback on safaris and wild animals, wonderful romance and terrible crooks. Some of the stories are sad, while others made me laugh out loud. Tourists to Africa buy it to understand what they are in for, but local people enjoy the stories because they love the continent and its people… Wait, I’ll go get it from him.”

Gertruida clicked here..

Gertruida pages through the stories. “My goodness, here are facts I didn’t know about badgers and squirrels and elephants. And I can see the book was edited properly – must be Marinda’s work. She’s such a perfectionist.

“Well. I’ll simply have to get one. This is the type of writing I want on my shelf. I wonder where Hamster bought it?”

“He read our blog, Gertruida. Then he clicked on the book above. It’s simple  -you should have known that.”

Die Barbier van Rolbos

ImageKnippertjies Kriel kom elke derde maand by Boggel oorslaap as hy die dorp se hare kom sny. Man, vrou en kind (as daar is) loop dan onder sy sker deur sodat almal respektabel kan lyk. Almal, behalwe Oudoom, natuurlik. Sy kop is al vergelyk met Ararat: jy sal die Ark (soos sy hare) daar soek en net die oorblyfsel van Noag se wingerd opdiep, daar waar die herinnering van vroëre vergrype verborge lê onder die blink skynsel van  geloof.

Mense praat mos nie oor Dominee-sondes nie. Servaas sê dis heiligskennis. Gewone mense kan afdwaal van die nou en reguit pad, maar predikante het nie daardie voorreg nie. Dus, soos in Oudoom se geval, is daar twee opsies: vergeet daarvan, of bly stil. Gemeentelede wil iedergeval nie na die kansel sit en kyk en herinner word aan hul eie tekorte nie; nee, die kansel is die plek van Hoop en Liefde, en as jy baie gelukkig is, ook van Geloof.

Miskien was dit Knippertjies se skuld. Hy kom immers al jare en jare Rolbos toe en dis hy wat daardie Saterdag vir Oudoom laat wag het, daar in Boggel se plek. Oudoom was daar vir sy laaste haarsny.

“Wag net ‘n oomblik, Dominee. Ek moet tersluiks ‘n versterkinkie inneem voor ek die eerwaarde hare van u hoof verwyder. Dis mos ‘n belangrike taak, want môre sit die gemeentelede vir u sò en kyk en as ek verkeerd gesny het, sal almal daaroor skinder tydens kollekte. U weet mos hoe dit is?” Daarmee is Knippertjies agtertoe, waar Boggel se bottel Cactus Jack in die yskas vir hom gewag het.

Oudoom het sy hande oor sy ylwordende hare gevryf terwyl hy wag. ‘n Man se blesword is mos ‘n eie, persoonlike ding; iets wat diep sny in ‘n selfbeeld maar waaroor nie gepraat word nie. Dis die vaarwel aan jeug en wellus; die touleier wat die verlies aan manlikheid vooruitloop; oplaas die wegwyser wat die afdraend wat graf toe lei aanwys. Hierdie swaar gedagtes het Oudoom se gemoed grond toe gedwing. Miskien, het hy gedink, sal Knippertjies ‘n antwoord hê. Hare is immers deel van sy nering.

Hier moet mens ook darem ter versagting noem dat Knippertjies toe al van vroegdag af besig was en dat ‘n man darem nie sonder sy nodige versterkinkies kan werk nie. Cactus Jack het toe al self na leegkant toe gestaan en Knippertjies was nie van plan om daardie afwaartse tendens te stop nie. Dis soos haarsny (het hy gereken) – mens kan mos nou nie links gaan staan en sny en nie iets doen aan regs nie? Mens maak klaar met wat jy beginne. Soos met koppe, dan so ook met Cactus.

Knippertjies Kriel het met geoefende vernuf die swenk in sy stappie verdoesel toe hy, al handvrywend, naderstaan om die eerwaarde hare van die Herder te skeer. Oudoom was so diep ingedagte terwyl hy die verlies van sy kragte oordink, dat hy ook nie eens agtergekom dat Knippertjies se swenk nie beperk was tot sy bene nie – sy hande het teen die tyd ‘n eie manier ontwikkel om self rigting te soek oor die haartjies wat nog skoorvoetend aan Oudoom se skedel vasgeklou het.

Gertruida het later gesê Knippertjies had ‘n sker des soekendes des woestyns, maar hieroor mag nie gelag word nie. Mens kan darem nie so blatant met Oudoom se lot die spot dryf nie. Tog, lag of te not: die manier hoe die knip-knip van die sker al hoe skuinser oor die heilige gewelf beweeg het, het later veroorsaak dat Vetfaan sy bier skoon vergeet het terwyl hy die haarslagting dophou.

“Van Dan tot net duskant Berseba, sê ek jou,” het hy later vertel, “was daar nie ‘n enkele haar oor nie. Weerskante die vreeslike breë middelpaadjie wat Knippertjies gemaak het, was twee klossies hare oor die ore, wat my vreeslik laat dink het aan daai hoender van Kleinpiet wat altyd met sulke bakvlerke rondloop en probeer vlieg. Maar in die middel? Daar was die hare so weg dat dit lyk soos Upington se teerpad in grastyd. Platnees kon maar netsowel met sy stootgrassnyer oor Oudoom se kop geloop het – dit sou presies dieselfde gedoen het. Delilla sou trots gewees het.”

Knippertjies, ten spyte van sy pogings om Cactus Jack se bodem te ontbloot, was darem nie sò beskonke dat hy salig onbewus was van sy wandade nie. Erens het ‘n oranje liggie begin flits tussen die alkohol walms wat sy brein oorgeneem het.

“Boggel,” het hy geroep, “lyk my die domenis se haargoed word darem nou baie skraps. Kom kyk hier?” Duidelik ‘n poging om meer troepe op die frontlinie te kry – mens moet kan verdedig as die aanval kom.

Boggel het nadergeskuifel en moes hard konsentreer om die afgryse van sy aangesig weg te hou. Dis amper so swaar as om sonde te vermy, maar Boggel, wat lyding gewoond is, het dit gedeeltelik reggekry.

“Wat sal mens maak as die rotsplaat van ouderdom se gemoed die groeiseltjie stadig maar seker doodmaak? Dit gebeur maar. Kyk, selfs Gertruida se haartjies word maar dun. Dis nog net Precilla en Platnees wat spog met ‘n ordentlike bos hare. Of kom ek stel dit sò: Precilla is nog jonk en Platnees se hare is mos nie geplant nie, hulle is ingeskroef. Maar, dis darem jammer ons mansmense moet sò ontbloot word met die jare saam.”

Boggel het simpatieke geluide gemaak, maar nie sy stem vertrou om iets te sê nie.

“Nou, onse haarkappers weet mos van sulke goed, Boggel. Die Boek sê ons moet soos die gras van die veld word, en dis reg. Ons brand ou gras af sodat die veld weer groen kan word. Lyk dit vir jou as of die veld kaal raak van ou gras wat uitval? Nee, man! Nadat die ou gras gebrand is, lyk die veld sommer weer spiekeries. Dit moet net reën, sien.”

Knippertjies het sò teruggestaan, die saak van al die kante af bekyk, en toe – sonder om vir Opudoom te vra – sy knipper ingespan en elke liewer oorblywende haar op die teologiese kop afgeskeer nog voor jy ‘Simson’ kon sê.

“Dis nou soos Jerigo se storie, Domenis,” gesels hy ewe doodluiters terwyl die hare waai en hy hard konsentreer om die ‘s’-klank reg te hou, “sewe maal. Mens moet sulke hare sewe keer so kort afsny as wat dit kan, dan kan mens daarna die hare hoor groei. Maar daar is een voorwaarde: ‘n man se geloof moet sterk wees. Dit help nie jy’s ‘n gewone verspieder nie – nee wat! Jy moet ‘n Josua wees wat glo! Regtig glo! As die geloof nie in die groei is nie, sal g’n haar weer opkom nie. Gelukkig is u mos ‘n eerwaarde Domenis, so ons sal geen probleem in die geloofsafdeling hê nie. Kyk maar, oor ‘n jaar hang die kuif weer van Samaria af tot in Judea en selfs nog verder.”

Mens kan baie dinge van Knippertjies sê, maar jy kan hom nie beskuldig van ‘n gebrekkige Bybelkennis nie. Ook nie dat hy nie mense verstaan – òf goed kan lieg nie.  Oudoom het daardie dag lank na sy hare op Boggel se vloer gestaan en kyk voor hy huistoe is. Sy verstand het gesê iets verskriklik verkeerd het gebeur, maar hy kon net nie ‘n klou by ‘n oor kry nie.

Die maande het verbygegaan, en sewe keer het Knipprtjies die akraps groei op Oudoom se kop afgeskeer. Die geloofsgesprek is elke keer herhaal. Vir miskien die eerste keer in sy lewe is Oudoom gekonfronteer met die moontlikheid dat sy geloof waarlik deur die eenvoudige man met sy haarknipper getoets word. Sy gebede vir nuwe hare het toegeneem as hy die studeerkamer se deur toegetrek het.

Na die sewende keer – amper twee jaar later – was dit duidelik dat sy bles gekom het om te bly. Hier oor die ore was die laaste haartjies nog hier en daar sigbaar as mens op ‘n winderige dag sou kyk en die lig reg val, maar die res het soos Egipte se landerye verdwyn toe die sprinkane ingetrek het.

Gertruida het natuurlik die situasie reg opgesom: groei daar niks, sal die hele distrik weet dat hul Herder se geloof te klein was en sy Jerigo te groot. Daar was ook die moontlikheid dat Knippertjies – tereg – uitgewys sou word as die man wat Oudoom laat struikel het en dit kon beteken dat Rolbos nie meer ‘n barbier sou hê nie. Soos gewoonlik, het sy dit op haarself geneem om die saak te beredder.

“Dominee,” sê sy ewe onskuldig na Knippertjie se Bantam in die rigting van Grootdrink verdwyn het met die gewone swenk in die agterlyf, “dit sal darem jammer wees as daardie hare nou weer groei.” Sy kyk rond om seker te maak almal in Boggel se Plek luister. “Kyk nou hoe mooi blink die son se skynsel op daardie kopvel. Ek het nou al so gewoond geraak aan die bles dat dit vir my baie vreemd sal wees om na ‘n dominee onder ‘n kuif te luister. Ek glo dit moet bly soos dit is.”

Boggel stem dadelik saam. “Dit is so. As ‘n predikant se hare so in al die rigtings staan, herinner dit my weer aan die duiwel in die Kinderbybel.”

So het dit gebeur dat Oudoom begin bid het dat sy hare nie weer moet groei nie – iets wat hy toe van die kansel af bekend maak. “Mens moet in jouself sterf om sterk te word. Paulus het dit gesê en hy’s reg. Om mooi hare te hê is ‘n seën, maar dit maak mens net trots om mooi te probeer lyk. Nee, gemeente, julle Predikant het besluit dat selfbewondering en eiewaan nie op die kansel hoort nie. Hier is nou ‘n vaste voorbeeld van die krag van geloof en die saligheid van eenvoudige vertroue.”

Natuurlik het die hele gemeente geweet dat Oudoom se blesgeit niks te doen gehad het met ‘n hogere ingryping nie – daarvoor was Knippertjie se verhouding met Cactus Jack darem te alombekend. Die gemeente was wel beïndruk deur Oudoom se vasberadnheid om natuurlike verskynsels te koppel aan hemelse gebeure en om sy bles te blameer op sy vaste geloof. Dit, het hulle gedink, is die aksie van ‘n getroue herder wat sy skape na regte weë wil lei.

Mens kan miskien ook die hand van Knippertjies in hierdie verhaal sien. Nie die hand wat onwillekeurig die laaste groeisels van Oudoom se kop afgesnoei het nie, maar die hand wat deur ‘n Hoër Een  gelei word om sommer gewone situasies te gebruik om mense te toets.

Net Gertruida is ‘n bietjie sinies oor die hele aangeleentheid. In ‘n onbewaakte oomblik het sy vir Boggel gefluister: “Dat mens nou so kan aangaan oor blesword. Kyk nou vir Vetfaan en Kleinpiet – vir hulle is die afname in haardigtheid maar iets wat saam met jare saamloop. Dis net ‘n predikant wat ‘n geloofsaak daarvan kan maak.”

Boggel wou sê dat die geloofsaak se begin eintlik by die einde van Cactus Jack gelê het, maar hy was nie lus vir ‘n argument nie. Knippertjies, met al sy foute, was immers die een mens wat die meeste invloed op Rolbossers se koppe gehad het. In teenstelling met Oudoom, kon mens ook die resultaat van sy arbeid beoordeel.

“Ja, jy’s reg, Gertruida.” Boggel stoot haar volgende bier oor die toonbank, “Maar as Oudoom nie preek oor sy geloof nie, preek hy oor ons sonde. Ek dink Knippertjies was gestuur om vir ons ‘n bietjie verligting the gee.”

Ver-lig-ting. Of Ver-ligting. Gertruida speel met die woord in haar kop en verwonder haar oor die verskillende maniere om die woord te gebruik om verskillende dinge te beteken. En dan is daar ‘woord’ en ‘Woord’, natuurlik. Boggel, besluit sy, het eintlik ‘n wonderlike wysheid in pag. Sy wonder of hy dit besef…

Measuring up to…The End?

Karel Kadawer, the district’s undertaker, is a worried man. For several years he has watched the farmers move to the cities and towns as the drought, and cost of labour and fuel slowly strangled the life out of their dreams.  Land claims, murders and politics contribute to farms being evacuated in the Transvaal and the ripple-effect of these factors washed over the provincial borders to the Northern Cape as well.

It is a simple fact, Kadawer says, that an undertaker needs a constant supply of lifeless bodies to keep his business alive. It’s not that he is insensitive to bereavement; it’s just the question of supply and demand all businesses face. He can supply, but the demand has slowly decreased over the last few years and now an entire month can pass without him having to polish the black station wagon in his garage.

Well, he decides, I can’t just sit around, waiting for some poor soul to pass on. If he doesn’t do something, he’ll have to find a new job – and he’s not disabled, black or female. There was some gossip that his great-grandfather on his mother’s side may have had a mixed ancestry –and that would have helped – but the diary of the old man disappeared mysteriously after Malan was elected in 1948.

That is why he puts on his funeral suit, drives over to Boggel’s Place in the polished station wagon, and surprises the customers with his announcement.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he addresses them in his gravest funeral-voice, “I am so touched by the prospect of your immanent loss. If any of you had the possibility of surviving relatives, my visit today would have been unnecessary. But, alas, such is not your good fortune.”  He ignores the shocked expressions of the patrons at the bar, pauses a second, and goes on: “Yea, you will all pass through the valley of death, my good friends. Soon, the streets of Rolbos will be empty and void of life. Even….Vrede will be no more.”

By now, Gertruida has recovered sufficiently to order a round of Cactus Jack for all of them.

“What in heaven’s name are you going on about? You can’t just walk into a bar to announce everybody is going to kick the bucket? You’re a sick man, Kadawer. It must be the peach brandy you brew up in that kitchen of yours. Sit down and tell us all about it.”

It is a well-known fact that Kadawer uses the off-cuts from the coffins he makes, to fire up his still. The few bottles he produces every month are famous for the hangovers they produce.

“No, my dear and soon-to-depart, beloved friends. I’m as sober as the Pope. I’m talking about the end of the world. It’s coming. Now, if you’ll all line up here, I’ll take your measurements.” Kadawer fishes the measuring tape and a small, black book from his pockets. “Ladies first, please?”

“Wait a second, Kadawer. What are you trying to do? Scare us to death? Why measure us, for goodness sakes?” Vetfaan gets up to snatch the tape from the undertaker’s hand.”Now you are going to explain, and you’re going to do it right now. I’m getting fed up with your nonsense.”

Karel Kadawer isn’t afraid of death – he’s seen it so many times – but an angry Vetfaan can be quite intimidating.

“Well, as you may know, the world is going to end in December. Ask Gertruida: she’ll tell you about the Mayans and how they worked it out.” He seems to regain some composure before gong on. “Now, I can produce only two coffins per month. At a stretch, maybe three. That means, in the six months before the End, I can help you with twelve to eighteen coffins. No more than that, I’m afraid. At least the people of Rolbos will have sufficient supplies to face that final hour; I don’t know what they’re going to do in the bigger places like Upington and Prieska. Oh, and I’ll throw in a box for Vrede as well, as a sign of goodwill.”

“So, you’re going to make coffins for us? The world is going to end and we’ll at least have enough coffins in Rolbos?” Precilla frowns. She was hoping to take a few days off in December. On the other hand, she has to pay a deposit on the little guest house near Kanon within the next week or so. Kadawer just saved her a lot of money. She gets up, takes the tape from Vetfaan and lies down on the floor. “Measure, already! I have to cancel a booking.”

“Oh, stop it!” Gertruida can’t believe they are all so gullible. “Sure, people are talking about the Mayan calendar. They say the Norwegians have a vault with all the seeds of plants in safekeeping. Some suggest we’re going to collide with another galaxy during the Northern hemisphere winter solstice. Others point to massive sun storms.  Hollywood has been churning out asteroid movies.” She sips her Cactus Jack, sighs and goes on: “The world may well end some day. But ever since history got written down, there were predictions of this nature. There were predictions by Clement l in 90 AD, followed by a spate of others by Hillary of Poltiers, St Martin, Hippolyptus, John of Toledo  – and that was within the first millennium. After that, the doomsday prophets multiplied and the Watchtower Society predicted no less than eight dates between 1914 and 1994 as the end of it all.” She signals for another Jack. “The point is, Karel, we don’t know.”

“But you have to be prepared, Gertruida. I’m only trying to help, that’s all.”

“Wait a second.” Kleinpiet draws a little coffin on the counter top. “You measure us, right? We pay you, and we get coffins? That’s what you’re saying?”

Kadawer nods with some enthusiasm, spilling some of his drink.

“So…who’s going to bury us, if nobody survives?”

*

It is Gertruida who suggests the solution. If she helps Kadawer to brew up a less vile peach brandy, the undertaker’s cash flow will sustain his business between funerals.  It just so happens that she knows the old Dutch recipe of peach skins, pips and sugar. “The trick is to bury the bottles for three to four months, Karel. You’re good with that – burying, I mean. When you dig them up again, you’ll have the sweetest, strongest and best brandy in the district. If you start now, you’ll be in time for the Christmas rush.”

“But Christmas is after the 21st, Gertruida; what’s the point?”

“Exactly the same as buying a coffin for Doomsday, Karel. Exactly the same. Only difference is the one will take you down, and the other will make you high.”

And so, Karel Kadawer has the only funeral parlour with empty shelves, waiting for the bottles that are fermenting away under the hot Kalahari sands. Gertruida said the brandy will have enough kick to drop a mule. Kadawer’s eyes lit up when he heard her say that – he hopes the brandy will save his business in … some unexpected ways.

The Rolbos-step

Image“We’ve been very serious lately,” Precilla remarks, “we should get something to laugh about for a change. Not like at the president or the politics; something we all find funny. What about a dance?”

Precilla used to enjoy dancing when she was a student. She remembers the garage-parties, the crinkle-paper against the walls and the tape deck playing the BeeGee’s, Cilla Black and Tom Jones. Those  evenings always started with wild dancing, but when it was time for The Last Waltz, romance usually filled the air as they tried to three-step without crushing each other’s toes. Those were good evenings; filled with soft whispers and stolen kisses – so innocent, so naïve.

“No man, I can’t dance.” Kleinpiet wrinkles his nose. “I tried it once and almost killed the girl. We danced too close to the window, see?”

“There’s nothing to it, Kleinpiet. You either go one-two-three or one-two-three-four. Unless you do a tango, then you’ve got to count to five.” Servaas knocks the ashes from his pipe into the ashtray.  “I used to do a bit of ballroom dancing when I was younger. Turned out I had a natural feeling for tempo and rhythm.” Lighting his pipe, he speaks past the stem, “I’ll teach you.”

“Good, it’s settled, then. Boggel,” she calls the small man from below the counter, “we’re having a dance here on Saturday night. I’ll bring the gramophone and the 78’s, and you can maybe hang a few lanterns from the rafters. It’ll be fun, you’ll see.”

For the rest of the week, Oudoom watches with growing concern as Servaas – the elder in his church – waltzes Kleinpiet up and down Voortrekker Weg. The two men seem to argue most of time, accentuated by the occasional howl from Servaas when Kleinpiet crushes yet another toe. He’ll have to talk to them – such behaviour takes brotherly love a step too far.

By Saturday evening, Boggel’s Place is filled with people from far and wide. The news of Precilla’s dance has spread like a wildfire – people are even bringing their own chairs and spreading blankets on the road in front of the bar. Boggel had to get the Platnees family to help serve the crowd. Sammie saw what was happening, and brought a few boxes of chips over from his shop.

When the music starts, everybody crowds around the veranda, which serves as a dance floor. Precilla has Daar doer in die Bosveld on, so Servaas leans over to Kleinpiet. “It’s a one-two-three, that one. Go for it!.”

Kleinpiet, dressed in his Sunday best, bows low before Precilla, and holds out his hand. The crowd watches as she does a little curtsy, takes his hand and leads him to the middle of the floor. Kleinpiet takes a deep breath, holds out his arm like Servaas taught him, and tekes the first step. With Precilla firmly in his grip, he moves his feet to the rhythm of the waltz, propelling an extremely uncomfortable Precilla to and fro across the small dance floor. Even Vetfaan is amazed and joins in the applause when Precilla attempts a forced little pirouette in time with Kleinpiet’s awkward footing.

Apparently it was the applause that did it. Gertruida says men are like that: you must be careful not to encourage them too much. In wars, they tend to be overly adventurous, and get shot. Mountaineers will attempt the impossible, with lethal results. Pilots try one loop too many, while bikers end up in traction. It’s the same with dancing, she says.

Kleinpiet, obviously enjoying being the envy of the town, now picks up the tempo. Servaas says the one-two-three got thrown out of the window for a completely new numerical sequence. Precilla tries to keep up for a while, but gives up eventually. Kleinpiet keeps on moving faster and faster, swirling her around at dizzying speeds. He does a bit of Kossak, folding his arms as he Nuriyevs his way past the onlookers, before sweeping Precilla up for the next few steps.

The outcome is inevitable. The veranda is only so wide. Gertruida is right when she says you have a limited number of chances when it comes to fooling fate.  When the two of them tumble from the veranda, people simply nod at each other: they knew it was coming… The applause is overwhelming.

Fortunately for Precilla, she landed on top of Kleinpiet, so she suffered very little damage. Rolbos’ Fred Astaire, however, sprained an ankle and bruised his ego. For the rest of the evening he has to sit with the injured limb elevated on a chair, while Servaas and Precilla entertain the crowd with polkas and waltzes and fancy two-steps.

It is Gertruida who eventually walks over to Boggel to ask him for a dance.

“At least you won’t steer me off the dance floor,” she laughed, “you’ll keep a good eye on the edge.” She right, of course: Boggel, bent as he is, will watch their feet while she steers him around the floor.

Alone in her corner, Hybie watches as the people all gather on the stoep to interpret the music in ways no composer ever dreamed about. When Boggel announces the last round, she shuffles off to her cottage next to Boggel’s Place to fetch Egbert’s old wheelchair.

“Come on, Kleinpiet, it’s the last waltz…would you mind?”

And so, with her wheeling the smiling Kleinpiet around, Kleinpiet at last waltzed the perfect waltz, not stepping on any toes along the way. He did, however, almost manage to spoil the moment by singing along.

I had the last waltz with you
Two lonely people together
I fell in love with you
The last waltz should last forever

Gertruida begged the crowd not to applaud this time – there’s no telling what Kleinpiet would do if they did. Hybie doesn’t mind, though. Egbert couldn’t sing either. But for a few minutes, Hybie was young once more, enjoying the music and losing herself in the perfect three-step she prided herself on in her glamorous days.

“This is such fun, Kleinpiet! I can’t wait for your foot to become better, then I can give you a few lessons. I do think you have potential, you know?”

When Vetfaan sees the frightened look on Kleinpiet’s face, he bursts out laughing. “Don’t look so worried, Kleinpiet. A real dancer has the ability to bring out the passion in his partner. You did it twice, tonight. Before, you created total fear, and now you brought a heavenly smile to Hybie’s lips. For a man to stir up such a spectrum of emotions in his partners, he has to be an expert. And remember, you did the last dance in a wheelchair. That’s quite something.”

Vetfaan shouldn’t have said that. Kleinpiet says he is going to open a dance studio next to Boggel’s Place once he graduates from the Arthur Murray School in Upington. Precilla is stocking up with Plaster of Paris and Gertruida has ordered a DVD that teaches the basics of Karate.

Boggel isn’t worried. He knows that dancing doesn’t simply mean you have to move your feet away from your partner’s menacing boots – it has much more to do with feeling the rhythm of the music in somebody else’s mind. Two people stomping away in perfect harmony can’t step on each other’s toes, after all. He says dancing isn’t new to Rolbos; it may be strange to do it to music, but they’ve perfected the Rolbos-step ages ago…

Daar doer in die Bosveld:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ZPR00yB8jwY

 

Sunday Flash: A Late-night Cuddle

“Through all the years, you have always been there for me. Never a whimper, never a word to regret.” He smiles into the brown, unblinking eyes that seem to understand him so well. “When I fell in love with Mary Mitchell, you weren’t jealous, or anything like that[1] – you continued to care. I mean, you would even have slept with us, wouldn’t you?

“But that’s a silly question – you would have, I’m sure. Shared our bed and our love and our joy. That’s what makes you tick, isn’t it? Happiness. You just love seeing me happy.

“I saw that in the orphanage, oh, how many years ago? When I was sad, you made me smile. When I was lonely, you cuddled up to me – as if you felt the need to tell me I’d never be alone with you around.”

He remembers the taunts of the other children; the sideway glances and whispered conversations that stopped the moment he shuffled by. Those were terrible, lonely, loveless years…

“I had a hump and you were small. It didn’t matter when we were together; we forgot all about that when we were together. For such a long time you made me forget everything they said about me.”

The eyes – those eyes – smile back at him.  They understand me so well

“Well, now I’m all grown up, have my own business, and people actually like me. It’s been quite a journey to get to be where we are today.  I don’t think I would have made it without you. You encouraged, you listened, you understood – and I somehow knew that, as long as you were near, things would work out.”

Boggel hugs the small body and smiles at the memories.

“I suppose the two of us will never grow up. In fact, I want to remain the little boy that couldn’t sleep without you in my arms.

“No, I haven’t told the rest about you. They wouldn’t understand, so you’ll have to remain my dark little secret, won’t you? Just like the old days – the two of us against the world.”

Boggel switches off the light, making sure the thick blankets cover him as well as the little body in his arms.

If everybody had one, he thinks, the world would be a better place. Then he drifts off to dream about green landscapes where little boys have straight backs and teddy bears live and talk and play.

And the bear – the much-loved stuffed toy – will reach out during the night to run a fuzzy paw over the relaxed face next to it. It may even pull up the blankets, to keep the chill out – warm dreams are far better than cold shoulders.  Boggel won’t notice this, because teddy bears are very,very careful not to give their secret away. Tomorrow, when the alarm goes off, it’ll just stare back at the bent little man with its glassy eyes that have seen so much.

Boggel stirs, drawing the bear closer. “Go to sleep now, Bear, it’s late.”

The bear waits until Boggel’s breathing becomes deep and regular before it allows a slow smile to wrinkle its nose.

Moth to the Flame

The candle in the window of the cottage on Hartseerdal flickers as a lone moth engages in the dance of death. Like most people find out,  fascination may be the source of horror, too. Gertruida says we are all wired this way: if we follow a dream too long, we find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And who, she asks, has ever bought happiness? The achievement of reaching a goal – of reaching the dream – is a terrible thing, she says. Once there, you either start chasing a new flame, or boredom gets you. And the gold, she says, is never worth it, anyway.

Either way, we get burnt.

Benjamin van der Bank – Bennie Bank to his acquaintances (he has no friends) – is a prime example. Gertruida says it’s his father’s fault. Growing up on a barren Karoo farm where drought and jackals competed to destroy their small flock of sheep, the old man took to distilling a vile – but very potent – brew from prickly pear leaves. This resulted in the fire that finally put an end to the farm.

Oh, he tried to support his family afterwards, but the steady downwards spiral towards his final demise was already established. His only escape – cheap wine sold in plastic bags – made him dream of untold riches. With money in the bank, he’d dress up like a lord, he used to say, and drive around in a Bentley. And yes, he’d buy a house – a real one, with brick walls and a ceiling in every room – and there would be enough food for dinner each day. And Bennie would loathe his useless, stupid, drunk father and he promised himself a different life one day.

When at last his liver refused to work through the load of alcohol it had to handle every day, Bennie’s father passed out one day. Permanently. His release from his nightmare wasn’t pretty; but then again: burnt moths do tend to look rather ugly.

Bennie’s burning ambition to escape from poverty drove him to take risks. Scarcely in his teens, he started selling second-hand gardening tools on the sidewalk, next to the bus stop in Upington. His logic was simple: the men returning from the mines in Johannesburg, had money. They wanted to feed their families: planting vegetables on the rich soil next to the Orange River made a lot of sense. Much to his surprise, he soon found it difficult to supply in the demand.

The rich people in the huge houses with brick walls and real ceilings rarely noticed the absence of the odd spade or garden fork. Working his way selectively through the suburbs, he kept his overheads low and maximised his profits. By the time he was sixteen, he graduated to second-hand cars. Of course people were more prone to notice a missing Volkswagen than the odd hosepipe, so he had to be more careful in his acquisitions. He had to find at least one vehicle a month to keep up his reputation as a reliable source, which led to excursions to Prieska, Kakamas, Kenhardt and even distant towns like Vosburg and Hopetown.  By the age of twenty, the suitcase below his bed became too small, and he had to invest in a bigger container to store the neatly bundled notes.

Realising  that his luck must run out one day – and that he would have to do some serious time behind bars when it did – Bennie became an honest man (in a manner of speaking). He now started lending out money. At a rather lucrative interest rate, Bennie became the banker to the local population. If somebody needed some cash, Bennie provided a one-stop opportunity. No paperwork, no in-depth discussions of repayments and no questions about income: you simply stated the amount you needed, and Bennie supplied the money.

There was a catch, of course. Bennie never, ever, forgot what he lent to whom. His mind had a little compartment for each of his clients and he could recall, at a moment’s notice, the exact details of any transaction. Even more importantly, Bennie’s frame had filled out in the years since his father’s death. He now was a huge man. If payments weren’t made on time, he’d simply convince the culprit to do so.

At the age of thirty, he had his house and his Bentley. He had made it.

That’s when the flame got too near.

“I want to buy this bar,” he announced to the stunned customers in Boggels Place. “I’ve got everything I need, but I don’t have friends. I want to be where people laugh – it’s been ages since last I heard spontaneous laughter.”

“It’s not for sale,” Boggel said, not making a distinction between the bar, the laughter or friendship. “This is what we have, Bennie. For as long as you have been collecting money; we’ve been here, swapping stories and drinking Cactus Jack. You’re welcome to have a drink here, though.”

“But I have money…” He looked desperate. “I’ll give you your price. Come on, name it…”

“Look, Bennie, we know you’ve had a hard time in the past. We also know you made a lot of money; which may- or not – have been through various underhand ways.” Gertruida chose her words carefully. “It’s almost like the government, you see? Now they are in parliament, they have to forget about the dream and live with reality. Oh, they have a lot of money floating around, but can they buy loyalty and friendship? Artists make our leaders look like Lennon – because they like what they see? Comedians make us laugh by imitating high-ranking officials. Cartoonists depict the president with a shower on his head. The Youth League is falling apart and the two old allies – COSATU and the ANC – are fighting about potholes and toll gates. They were so intent on reaching the top, they sacrificed friendships along the way.

“You see, Bennie, once you reach your dream, you find it is very lonely there. You know why? Because you have to step on people to get there. You burn bridges. And if you want to stay there, you’d better make peace with your solitude. The only way down, is to start all over again – from scratch.

“Boggel is right. If you want to come and have a drink with us, we’ll welcome you. We’ll teach you how to have fun. If we’re lucky, we can make you laugh again. But…laughter and friendship? You can’t buy that. You have to earn it – and only then the real
hard work starts: you have to look after it carefully.”

Bennie went back to Upington, sold his house and his Bentley, and bought Hartseerdal – the farm he had grown up on. The big trunk with the neatly bundled notes, serves as his chair. He’ll sit there as he watches the clear liquid drip from his still, where the prickly pear leaves hold the promise of escape from the nightmare of solitude.

Like the moth circling the candle on his windowsill, Bennie has no choice. If he wants to escape reality, he’ll need to dream once more. And like his father, he’s found there is a big difference between sleep-dreams and the rest. At least sometimes, a sleep-dream may have a happy ending.

He looks up as the moth falls into the molten wax.

“Should have known better,” he slurs, as the flame flares up momentarily. With only the drip-drip from the still as company, he wonders how long it will take…

New! Click to buy

Friday Flash: The President’s….?

“Is that, like, the presidents….? It is an insult to the man! I think it’s a right-wing plot.” Precilla giggles, pointing.

“No, man, that’s far too long. You can see it doesn’t belong to the persident.” Gertruida makes her hippo-sound, like when she’s really irritated. “And, I must add, I’ve never seen one looking like that.”

“That’s my point exactly. It’s too long.”

“And the wrong colour,” Kleinpiet adds.

“And not shaped right,” Vetfaan adds.

“And it reminds me of the Hanging Gardens. Those things should be rolled up in a neat coil, like Servaas does with his hosepipe. It looks less chaotic that way.” Gertruida, who knows everything, wants to have the last word.

Sammie ambles over, obviously irritated. “If you’re not going to buy it, please put it back, will you?” He shakes his head. “Nothing – really nothing – is sacred anymore! In the future, I’ll put a lock on that fridge, I swear . Boerewors isn’t something you joke with, people!”

“Tell it to the pres, “ Gertruida snorts as they walk out of the shop.

Boggel se Koffie

Party mense gee hulle kinders snaakse name. Mens is nie atyd seker hoekom nie en in later jare sukkel ouers om vir hul kinders te verduidelik hoekom ‘Ossewania’ of “Longtom” gedoop so oulik was, maar op die oomblik van naamgee het dit sekerlik maar mooi geklink. Dis seker verstaanbaar dat pa’s en ma’s weggevoer word tydens een of ander wêreldgebeurtenis en dat hulle dan voel hul kind sal graag daardie stukkie geskiedenis in die toekoms wil indra. Partykeer is dit darem ‘n ongelukkige keuse en vertoon die ouers hul gebrek aan insig. Ouers met vanne soos Pannevis, Hoogenboesem en Kraamwinkel dra sekerlik by tot hierdie fenomeen, maar name soos Langkloof Labuschagne en Disselboom de Bruyn het waarskynlik ‘n klein kans om in  die geslagte aangegee te word.

Ander ouers is net plein lui. Vat nou maar vir arme Sersant Dreyer. Dewet Vanschoor Dewaal  Vanniekerk Dreyer. Vier boeties in daai gesin en almal dieselfde gedoop. Dieselfde doopbybeltjie is vir hul almal gegee, net met die verskillende datums versigtig ingepen. En so het Dewet, Vanschoor, Dewaal en Vanniekerk maar gedink alle gesinne werk so: alhoewel jy dieselfde gedoop is as die ander spruite in die huis, sal Pa duidelik ‘n onderskeid tref tussen Dewet (soet seun) en Vanniekerk (onhebbelike klein kwaaddoener).

Toe Dreyer begin hare groei op areas wat voorheen kaal was, het hy hewig in opstand gekom teen die feit dat hy ‘n badkamer en ‘n identiteit deel met drie ander. Een kan nog gaan, maar altwee…! Op sy een-en-twintigste verjaarsdag het hy Pretoria toe geryloop en self by Binnelandse Sake sy voorname gaan skrap. Alhoewel die klerk agter die toonbank dit vreemd gedink het, het hy twee maande later sy identiteitsboekie ontvang: Dreyer Dreyer. Hy het dit dan ook goed gedink om hierdie stukkie inligting sommer daar en dan met die familie te deel , waarop sy bejaarde vader sy klere geskeur het en met as op sy kop rondgeloop het.

“Hoe kon jy? Jy het met een onbesonne daad vir Oupa Van Niekerk skoon uit die familie gedryf. Ek weier om jou Dreyer te noem – jy sal Vanniekerk bly.”

Dreyer het hard probeer om gemoedere te kalmeer. Daar was darem nog drie Vanniekerks, het hy uitgewys, en ‘n mens se oupa bly jou oupa, al sê die staat wat. Die boeties het gedink hy is ongevoelig, maar sy ma het hom daardie aand eenkant toe geroep en ‘n drukkie gegee. “Jy kan dit mos maar altyd weer terug verander as jy so voel, my kind. Oupa was iedergeval Dreyer Van Niekerk, so hy sal seker verstaan. Dreyer Vanschalkwyk Petronella Van Niekerk, staan voor in die Familiebybel. Ek dink hy was bly hy was nie die derde seun nie…”

Kort daarna het hy die kursus by die Polisiekollege voltooi en toe gesorg dat hy sover as moontlik van sy tuisdorp gestasioneer word. Sy moeder het snikkend geroet en hier sit hy steeds: twintig jaar lank die polisieman op Rolbos. Almal ken hom as ‘Dreyer’ en niemand vra oor sy doopseël nie. Kleinpiet – na ‘n lang sessie met Boggel – na hom verwys as Dopdreyer, maar na ‘n nag in die sel het hy wyslik besluit die Sersant is nie een vir byname nie; en Dreyer het Dreyer gebly.

Dreyer is gewoonlik ‘n pynlik netjiese man wanneer dit by tuinwerk en glasmerke op ‘n kroegtoonbank kom. Die blommetjies is altyd versorg en Boggel gee sommer al ‘n lap aan as hy instap. Daar is niks verkeerd met sy kreatiewe brein nie, sê Gertruida, dis die anderkant wat raas. In die polisiekantoor blink die toonbank en al die stoele is netjies gerangskik vir die ouens wat op Oujaarsdagaand kom kla oor die geraas in Die Township. (In die ou dae was dit Die Lokasie, maar Servaas het besluit om saam met die tye te verander.) Gedurende die res van die jaar gebeur maar min, met die gevolg dat die administrasie ietwat agterweë gelaat word. Dreyer se lessenaar staan kophoog vol pos: meestal van Hoofkantoor af. Daar is verslae van misdaadsyfers, prosedures wat voorgeskryf word, handleidings oor die regte van gavangenes, voorskrifte vir die ordelike instandhouding van polisiestasies, kennisgewings oor kriminele wat gesoek word en ‘n magdom papierwerk waaroor Stasiebevelvoerders moet kennis neem. Dis nou gewone bevelvoerders waar polisieëring ‘n noodsaaklike diens is – nie soos op ‘n plek soos Rolbos nie. Hier is steel en moord iets waaroor Oudoom preek en wat in Sodom en Gemorra gebeur. Noag slaap nie hier saam met sy dogters nie en Batseba laat nie Koning Dawid se tong (en ander organe –  soos die president doen) uithang nie. Behalwe vir Oujaarsdagaande, is Dreyer nie die besigste man op Rolbos nie.

Tot die bruin koevert in die posbus beland het, dit is:

Die Geagte Minister en die Areakomissaris beoog ‘n besoek aan u bevelspos op 13 Oktober. Hulle is besig met ‘n inspeksietoer van afgeleë stasies en sal aan die Parlementêre Beleidskomitee verslag doen oor die noodsaaklikheid (al dan nie) van die voortgesette bestaan van genoemde stasies.

Daar word van u verwag om alle tersaaklike dokumente en statistieke beskikbaar te hê vir ondersoek deur die inspektoraat.

Dreyer vloek nie gewoonlik nie. As hy kwaad word, sal hy hoogstens ‘n stoel breek of ‘n kar skop – maar vuil taal hoor mens nie van hom nie.

“Dis vandag die elfde! Magtag! Wat dink die minister van homself? Of dink hulle ek is hier om te hiet en gebiet?” Hy stap uit en skop na die polisiewaentjie – en dis net toe dat hy onthou van die bruinpaiersak onder in die liaseerkabinet.  ‘n Hele rits swetsworde jaag vir Vrede in Voortrekker Weg af.

Die papiersak het ‘n geskiedenis; een wat hom ‘n klip agter die verdwynende Vrede laat gooi. Dis mos dieselfde minister wat destyds daardie saak laat ‘verdwyn’ het.  Die enigste arrestasie in jare en hy moet die man laat loop, sonder dat die reg sy volle gang gegaan het. Hy, Dreyer Dreyer, die bewaker van die gereg, moes toekyk hoe ‘n wetsverbreker glimlaggend uit sy aanhoudingsel loop en in ‘n lang, swart Duitse motor klim om vir altyd uit Rolbos te verdwyn. A sy navrae aan hoofkantoor (en een aan die Minister self), het dieselfde antwoord ontvang: Ons kan in hierdie stadium geen kommentaar lewer nie. Die dokumente van hierdie geval is tans in die Minister se sorg en hy sal weldra optrede (al dan nie) aanbeveel.

Dis nou al drie jaar…

Maar die papiersak is ‘n probleem. Dis nog steeds in die laai, waar hy dit gebêre het, met al sy notas oor die insident. Eintlik is die saak eenvoudig: Die polisie van Oranjemund het laat weet dat hulle amper ‘n vermeende diamantsmokkelaar op heterdaad betrap het. Diè man, ‘n bekende in hoë sosiale kringe, het na bewering die gepantserde vragwa wat elke week De Beers se diamante Kaap toe vat, probeer beroof. Sy modus operandi was eenvoudig: ‘n lading plofstof is in die pad geplaas en hy het bloot op die regte oomblik gewag om die voertuig die lug in te blaas. Op ‘n skerp draai, waar die bestuurder noodwendig stadiger moet ry, het hy ‘n streep dinamietstokke oor die pad geplaas met die elektroniese ontsteker. Hy het tweehonderd treë verder met ‘n verkyker gewag.

Die man het natuurlik geen idee van die slinksheid van die plaaslike bevolking nie. ‘n Arbeider, op pad huistoe van Upington se kant af met sy fiets, het die bedrading opgemerk en ook kennis geneem van die man met die verkyker. Die arbeider (Willem Olyn, volgens die rekords) het doodluiters verbygetrap, vriendelik gegroet en ‘n ent verder van sy fiets afgespring. Getrou aan sy aard (volgens Upington se manne, by wie hy al etlike kere vertoef het vir klein oortredings) het hy al agter die Karoobossies langs gehardloop, die meeste van die draad gesteel en huistoe laat spaander. Die man in die voertuig het hom nooit eens gesien nie.

Toe die diamantlorrie om die draai kom, druk die vermeende skelm die knoppie maar die lorrie verdwyn nie in ‘n wolk van rook en stof nie. Die bestuurder van die lorrie het onraad gemerk toe hy die man met die skakelaar in sy hand sien ronddans langs die pad terwyl hy beduie die lorrie moet stop. Nou moet mens weet De Beers is nie van gister af in die besigheid nie. Daai lorrie stop vir niks. Oudoom het eendag vir Servaas uitgevreet omdat diè sou gesê het selfs die Wederkoms sal nie die De Beers lorrie stop nie, maar dis eintlik waar. Kort van ‘n atoombom sal mens nie daardie voertuig sien stilstaan op ‘n openbare pad nie.

Die bestuurder is natuurlik die heeltyd in radioverbinding met die onderskeie polisiestasies langs die pad en hy het toe hierdie eienaardige gedrag van die man bekend gemaak aan die naaste stasie – Upington. Dis hulle wat toe die dinamiet daar kry, die afgesnyde draad en al; en toe twee en twee bymekaar gesit het.

Dreyer het die boodskap, met die beskrywing van die voertuig en die man, ontvang en besluit dat hy, gelukkig, weereens niks met die saak te doen sal kry nie. Toe hy egter by Sammie instap om sigarette te gaan koop, staan die voertuig voor die deur en die man is besig om koeldrank by Sammie te koop.

Die res is geskiedenis, behalwe dat Dreyer nog dinamiet in die kattebak van die voertuig gekry het. Hy het wel die man gearresteer en opgesluit – totdat die Minister die volgende dag skakel om hom aan te sê om die man te laat gaan. Constitutional rights – het die minister gesê.

Dis nou daardie nota’s en dinamiet wat nog in die liaseerkabinet lê, nie soos Direktief 645 b:1 – a (ii) van 1998 nie. Dreyer ken daardie direktief: alle plofstowwe moet in ‘n spesiale gebou met spesiale sekuriteit en spesiale veiligheidsmaatreels en lugversorging gestoor word. Die stasiebevelvoerder sal daagliks persoonlik inspeksie doen om te verseker dat die plofstof nog veilig en teenwoordig is. Daar sal maandeliks ‘n verslag op vorm Pol 396/a/1998/Hoofkant/a(ii) ingetuur word.

Dreyer het nie. Nie ‘n gebou of lugreëling of inspeksie on verslag nie. DieKommissaris was uiteindelik baie duidelik: hy wat Dreyer is, het niks met die saak te doen nie – in teendeel: hy het nooit daardie man gesien nie. Die saak bestaan nie.

Dis laataand as Dreyer oorstap na Boggel se Plek om die stof uit sy keel te spoel. Kleinpiet en Vetfaan weet daar’s ‘n inspeksie op pad en handhaaf ‘n respekvolle stilte terwyl Dreyer die eerste twee biere sink.

“Moeilike dag, Dreyer?”

“Aag magtag man. Jy weet mos. Inspeksie en als. Gee nog een.” Boggel skuif die bier oor die toonbank en Dreyer vee die oppervlak met sy sakdoek af. Boggel maak verskoning en gee ‘n skoon vatdoek aan.

“Maar jy’s nou reg vir hulle?” Kleinpiet wil moed inpraat en stuur die gesprek na ‘n positiewe punt.

“Nee. Ek sit met daai bliksemse dinamiet in my liaseerkas. Ek kan dit nie huistoe vat nie, want dan vat ek evidence uit die staat se sorg. Ek kan dit nie daar laat nie, dan gaan hulle my slaan met ‘n pak 5838(1998):subseksie 3(ii)a’s. Ek is in my moer.”

“Steel dit. Beveg misdaad met misdaad.” Boggel se stem klink vrolik onder die toonbank. Hy’t seker ‘n halfjêk daar onder.

Later sal Kleinpiet sê dit was Boggel se skuld. Boggel sal dit ontken. Maar almal weet dit was sy idee.

Dreyer het ‘n saaknommer vir die diefstal van die dinamiet uitgemaak aan homself, en die dossier versigtig onder die mat onder sy stoel weggesteek. Hy is reg vir die inspeksie: laat hulle nou kom moeilikeheid soek met Vanniekerk Dreyer  - die gedagte laat hom proes van verbasing.

Kleinpiet het ander idees. Hy sukkel nog met die gate van die Happy Houses, en met die ses stuks dinamiet in sy sorg, kan daar mos iets goeds uit misdaad spruit. Geslagte Japanners kan mos voordeel trek uit die burokratiese hardlywigheid wat so op Dreyer se gemoed gerus het oor die afgelope jare. As hy nou maar daardie dinamiet gebruik vir hierdie heilige doel, dan heilig die dinamiet mos die doel, of hoe?

Platnees is nie so seker nie. Die meneer help om die gate so te grawe dat ‘n dinamietstokkie presies daarin pas en so twee voet onder die grondvlak rus. Nou, soos die meneer verduidelik, gaan daardie stokkies die gate grawe waaraan hy seker ‘n maand sou gegrawe het. Hy is wel bly dis so maklik, maar dis ook nou sy eie arbeidsveld wat gekelder word. ‘n Maand se inkomste is ‘n maand se inkomste. Maar, aan die ander kant, mens stry nie met meneer Kleinpiet nie – sy neus is alreeds plat…

Kleinpiet weet iets van dinamiet af. Hy was destyds in die geniekorps en ken die basiese moets en moenies van dinamiet. Al wat nodig is, is die slagdoppie en die lont. Steek aan, gee pad, kruip weg, boem! Dis mos maklik. Na die ladings gestel is, doen hy ‘n finale inspeksie. Hy is nie seker hoeveel dinamiet gaan wat doen nie, maar alles lyk in orde. Hy korrel oor die netjiese ry lonte wat by die gate uitsteek en besluit selfs Precilla sal tevrede wees met sy beplanning. Dan steek hy die eerste lont aan die brand.

Dis nie altyd so maklik om ‘n lont te laat vlamvat nie. Dis nie soos krismisklappers nie. Die lont wil weet dat jy regtig, regtig hom wil aansteek voor dit begin sploeter. Hy hardloop na lont nommer twee toe, trek ‘n nuwe vuurhoutjie en loer skrikkerig oor sy skouer. Daar is nog tyd.

Nommer drie lont vat vinniger en toe hy by nommer vier is, sien hy nie meer vir lont nommer een nie. Hoe vêr het dit al gebrand? Het hy tyd vir vyf en ses? En as hy hulle nie brand kry nie, sal hulle nog kan werk as hy dit later wil laat ontplof.  Lont vier is ‘n tipiese Nuwe Suid-Afrika lont: dit staak. Daardie lont weier om te brand, maak nie saak hoe lank die vuurhoutjie onder sy punt gebou word nie. Kleinpiet vloek, vee die sweet af en trek nog ‘n vuurhoutjie. Hoe ver is nommer een? Hy is skielik jammer dat hy nie vir Platnees van die ander kant af laat begin het nie. Die twee van hulle sou lankal klaar gewees het.

Nommer vier besluit om sy nonsens te stop en vat skielik vlam. Vyf brand gou en ses begin net vonkies maak voor Kleinpiet laat waai. ‘n Man moet ook nie die Voorsienigheid so toets nie. Dis heiligskennis.

Hy het net langs die trekker platgeval toe die eerste lading ontplof.

“En dit, Minister, is die stilste stasietjie in die Noorde.” Die Areakommissaris is altyd baie versigtig vir die Minister – ‘n man met wie niemand moeilikheid soek nie. Hulle het sopas in Voortrekker Weg ingedraai en die Kommissaris soek naarstigtelik na die landsvlag, wat sal aandui waar die polisiestasie is. Almal het egter gehoor dat die dorp ‘n ministreieële besoek gaan kry en voor elke gebou hang ‘n vlag.

“Very patriotic town.” Merk die minister op. “Cosatu must be very active here.”

Die Kommissaris knik. Hy sal nooit met die Minister stry nie. Maar waar is die polisiestasie? Hy soek na die blou lig wat dit sal aandui, min wetend dat die lorrie van Kalahari Transport dit al twee jaar gelede afgery het toe die bestuurder vir die slaggat uitgeswaai het. “Where is the station, Commissioner?”

“E, wel, in hierdie straat, Minister.” Dan, tot sy verligting, sien hy hoe Dreyer by Sammie uitstap en by ‘n ander gebou ingaan. “Daar, Minister, dis waarheen ons gaan.” Hy probeer sy bes om sy verligting te verbloem.

“Gee gou ‘n bier aan, Boggel, die blêrrie minister is nounou hier.  Magtag, het hy nie iets beters om te doen nie?”

Boggel se hand kom bo die toonbank uit met die vars oopgemaakte bottel. “Wat gaan jy maak as hulle die stasie wil sluit, Dreyer? Jy’t gesê die ouens kom inspeksie doen om te besluit waar hulle kan geld spaar.”

“Ek dink my kanse is nul.” Dreyer sluk diep. “Hier gaan maar min aan en selfs op Grootdrink is daar meer huismoles en dronkenskap as hier. Rolbos is ‘n vervelige, saai plekkie en ek dink hulle gaan my vlag stryk.”

Boggel weet dis tyd om stil te bly.

As die Minister en die areakommissaris by die deur instap, is Boggel en Dreyer  net so verbaas as hulle. Die kommissaris se uniform is netjies gestryk en sy rangtekens blink in die lig.

“This is not the police station.” Die Minister was nog altyd bekend vir sy skerp waarnemingsvermoë. “This is a bar. And I see an officer in full uniform drinking while he should be behind his desk. Make a note, Commissioner!”

Dis die einde, besef Dreyer. Hy weet mos: van daardie dinamiet-storie se tyd wag die Minister om van hom ontslae te raak. Die inspeksie is deel van daardie komplot, maar nou het hy onwetend – en met ‘n besondere gebrek aan insig – presies die gereedskap vir sy ontslag uit die Mag in die Minister se hande geplaas. Hy moes nooit hier by Boggel ingestap het nie.

Dreyer se Oupagrootjie, Delange Debeer Dreyer Van Niekerk, was een van die rebelle wat in 1914 nie teen Duitsland wou veg nie. Toe die manne kom om hom te arresteer, het hy doodluiters op sy stoep gesit en wag. Hy het hulle vriendelik gegroet en gevra of hulle wou koffie hê. Onseker oor wat om te antwoord, het daar ‘n kort stilte oor die geselskap neergedaal, voor Delange die ou Colt uitgetrek het en wild onder hulle begin skiet het. Daarna het hy in die berge verdwyn tot na die oorlog.

Wat goed genoeg was vir Delange, is goed genoeg vir my, besluit die sersant.

“A beer, your excellency?”

Op daardie oomblik tref die skokgolf van die ontploffings op Verlorenfontein die dorp. Die kroeg se vensters ratel en ruk en die deur swaai met ‘n slag oop. Daarna kom die klank van ‘n geweldige ontploffing. Die Minister se oë rek wyd en sy mond val oop. Stof sif van die plafon oor die Kommissaris se netjiese uniform.

“What the hell was that?”

“Aai dink dat was a ontplofthing.” Boggel haal sy beste Engels uit om die Minister te beïndruk.

Almal storm buite toe om te sien wat gebeur het. Vêr buite die dorp rys ‘n eienaardige stofwolk hemelwaarts.

“Aai dink das ‘n mushroom.” Mens sou sweer Boggel weet waarvan hy praat.

Dreyer kry ‘n swaar gevoel hier in die diepte van sy bekken. Daardie stofwolk hang nêrens anders as reg bo Verlorenfontein nie – en Kleinpiet het mos juis die gewraakte dinamiet gevat.

“Ek moet gaan ondersoek instel. Verskoon my, Minister.” Die sweet begin in sulke fyn druppeltjies op sy bolip vorm.

“We will join you.”Die Minister se vasberabe stem maak seker dat daar nie teepratery is nie.

“Oh, nee, Minister,” Boggel staan so regop as hy kan en loer oor die toonbank. “Those manne is just making a dam. For as the rains comes, understand? Let the sersant go and make sure while I serve you some food. You look hungry…” Onkundig oor wat om te doen, draal sy stem weg in onsekerheid.

Die Minister is nie verniet ‘n Minister nie. Sulke ouens weet van bedel en aalmoese. Of dit nou ‘n aandeel in ‘n nuwe myn is, of ‘n versnaperingtjie as die maag begin grom, sulke mense betaal tog nie vir hul voorregte nie – allermins. Hulle gaan so van plek tot plek op die vrees, entoesiasme of hoop van die mense wat hulle regeer. Een ding is seker –  sy parlementêre kredietkaart word nie gebruik om kos te koop nie.

Die Minister, wat nog half wonder of hy nie moes saam nie, staan nog met sy een hand in die lug om Dreyer te keer, maar die sersant skarrel gou uit, spring in die polisiewaentjie en jaag in Voortrekkerweg af.

“Ons het scrambled eggs en worsies,” Boggel is nie ‘n ou wat jy maklik (by wyse van spreke) onder kry nie.

Vanniekerk Dreyer, sê hy vir homself, vandag gaan jy lyke uitken.  Hy ry deur die digte stofwolk wat oor die pad sweef en is amper verby Verlorenfontein se hek voor hy dit raaksien. Ook gelukkig maar so – want reg in die middel van die afdraai lê ‘n tamaai groot rots. Daai klip kom net van een plek af…

Deur die stof maak hy net-net uit waar die skuur gestaan het. Dit lyk soos die Twin Towers nadat hulle inmekaar gesak het. Geskeurde sinkplate rys hemelwaarts en die gebuigde ysterraamwerk steek stukkende vingers die lug in, soos iemand wat onder in ‘n losskrum vasgekeer is. Die ses rondawels is skoonveld.

“Kleinpiet?” Hy roep sommer so in die afklimslag maar iets in hom wèèt: die spul is almal versprei oor die vlaktes van die plaas. Wie was almal hier? Precilla was mos in die apteek toe hy gery het? Dan is dit seker net Kleinpiet en Platnees…of het hulle hulp gehad?

Kleinpiet?!” Harder; dringender.

Precilla is teen hierdie tyd ook in die kroeg, waar die Minister inlê in die eiers en wordsies, met ‘n stomende beker koffie voor hom. Boggel het ‘n manier: as hy senuweeagtig is, klim hy bo-op die toonbank – soos ‘n nuuskierige meerkat, dink sy. Die hoogere mense in die kroeg demp haar vrae – sy weet wat Kleinpiet beplan het en as sy nou hier iets verkeerd sê, is sy ook aandadig aan die vernietiging van bewysstukke.

“Daai dambouers het seker nou ‘n groot rots geskuif?” Boggel probeer om Precilla se onuitgespreekte vraag te antwoord voor sy iets verkeerd sê.

“Dam? Janee, ek hoop net hulle het net rotse geskuif. Dit was darem ‘n groot slag.”

“More coffee, Minister?” Boggel vat sommer die beker en verdwyn agtertoe. Die Minister breek ‘n massiewe wind en sit vol genoegdoening terug.

“Commisioner, shouldn’t we be getting on with the inspection?” Die blink horlosie op sy arm word versigtig inspekteer. Die Areakommissaris sluk aan sy koffie: “Ons moet wag vir die Sersant. Dis volgens die voorgeskrewe prosedure.”

“Well. OK. Where’s the coffee.”

Boggel stoot die spesiale beker oor die toonbank voor hy self opklim.

As die stof effens sak, merk Dreyer die trekker op. Daar is iets verskrikliks verkeerd met daardie trekker, dink hy.

In sy skok en ontnugtering vat dit ‘n volle minuut voor hy besef dat hy die ereeD nhoJ  waarna hy kyk, eintlik ‘n trekker is. ‘n Onderstebo trekker, weliswaar, en nie meer in toonvenstertoestand nie; maar nogtans ‘n trekker.

Dan hoor hy die kreun.

Net voor die groot agterwiel steek ‘n paar bene uit. Wie-ook-al daardie bene gehad het, se lyf verdwyn onder die wrak in. Het die linkervoet beweeg? Hy draf om om die res van die mens aan die ander kant te gaan soek.

Dreyer se brein werk in donkierat. Dis as of hy alles, stukkie vir stukkie, aanmekaar moet sit om sin van die omgewing te maak. Aan die ander kant van die trekker speel sy kop weer legkaart-legkaart. Dis duidelik dat hier ‘n liggaam is – of was. Dit lyk soos die hopie grond wat mens op ‘n vars graf kry, dink hy, behalwe daat daar nie arms weerskante uitsteek by die gemiddelde graf wat ek al gesien het nie. Terwyl hy versigtig aan ‘n hand trek, kom die anderkantse hand in ‘n boog deur die lug en klap hom so hard agter die kop dat sy een tand se enamel afsplit.

Die graf-hopie rys uit die rommel – en nou eers sien Dreyer dat die omgelsane trekker se sitplek netjies oor die gesig geval het om ‘n klein, rommelvrye spasie vir die kop te skep na die ontploffing.

Die kop hoes en ‘n klompie klein stukkies gruis spat in verskillende rigtings. Wie is dit? Kleinpiet het immers ‘n dos swart hare gehad en hier is nie sprake van hare nie.  En Platnees het nie baie hare gehad nie, maar sy lippe was nie sò dik nie.

“Wie’s jy?” Dis miskien ‘n dom vraag vir daardie oomblik, maar die sersant moet mos erens begin, nie waar nie?

Sy antwoord is nog ‘n hewige, hees hoesbui, terwyl een stowwerige hand teen die area begin slaan waar mens die borskas sou verwag.

Dreyer merk vir die eerste keer op dat daar nie bloed is nie.

Die stofman probeer iets ê maar dis net ‘n onaardse kwaak wat uitkom. Water! Die man het water nodig! Dreyer draf na die polisiewa en bring sy waterbottel. Die hand vat dit en druk dit so diep in die stofmond in dat Dreyer vir ‘n mal oomblik dink die kop se bodem is weggeskiet.

“G-o-e-i-e J-i-m-i-l!” Die kop praat stadig in ‘n onherkenbare stem. As die hand die bottel los, sprinkel Dreyer van die water oor die gesig. Modderstrepe loop oor die rooi voorkop en wange.

“Kan jy beweeg?”

“Natuurlik!” Die kop het wonderbaarlik herstel. “Dink jy ek is lam?” Met dit wikkel die lyf onder die trekker uit.

Nou eers herken Dreyer iets van Kleinpiet: dit lyk soos sy skoene.

“Kleinpiet?”

Die stofman kyk verbaas op. “Nou wie’t jy gedink is dit. Hê?”

Die Minister is op sy derde beker koffie en Boggel staan reg met nog een.

“In fact,” die Minister is besig om aan almal in die kroeg te verduidelik dat hy besig is met ‘n belangrike inspeksie, “in fact, this station is not so good.” Hy waggel op sy voete. “Shomewhat incompetent. Shomewhat. Even before the inshpection, I can catagorically state ish not sho good.”

Die Areakommissaris stem saam: “Your holiness, I can only agree with such wishdom. Rolbos isha washte.”

Precilla het lankal agtergekom wat Boggel besig is om te doen en sy knikoog vir die gestremde mannetjie. Die twee is so besig om die Minister en sy kommissaris bedwelmd te maak met die gelaaide koffie dat hulle albei skrik as die kroegdeur oopswaai.

“Kleinpiet?” Precilla se oë rek as sy na die eienaardige kreatuur aan Dreyer se sy sien. “Kleinpietie?”

Die uit die borskas van die groot man kom ‘n krakerige geluid wat ‘n antwoord kon wees. Die rooi gesig, dik lippe en die afwesigheid van alle hare laat Precilla nog twyfel. Sy draai na Dreyer: “En Platnees?”

“Geen teken nie, ek is bevrees. As die stof gaan lê het, sal ons begin om liggaamsdele te soek. Daar kan nie baie van hom oor wees nie.”

“Whasish aal about?” Die Minister loer oor die rant van sy beker.

“Dis die dambouers, Minister. They blew up something.”

“Oh. My. Ishit okay?”

“O, ja, Minister. Geen probleem.”

Boggel gooi nog van die droë, groenerige blaartjies in die koffiekan voor hy skink. Die Minister kyk vir die Areakommissaris met een oog en begin onbeheersd giggel. Hy trek ‘n stadige, dik vinger deur die olierige oorblyfsels van die eiers op sy bord en lek sy vinger behaaglik af.

“Gooood.”

Teen hierdie tyd het Precilla vir Kleinpiet in die apteek en sy was die rooi gesig versigtig met ‘n ontsmettingsmiddel af. Behalwe vir die dik lippe en die verlies van sy hare, het Kleinpiet redelik lig afgekom van die ontploffing.

“Ek sê jou, Precillatjie, as daai John Deere nie presies daar gestaan het, en presies omgedop het soos hy gedoen het nie, was ek bokveld toe.” Hy kreun hoorbaar: “Maar die skade… ek wil nie eens dink aan alles wat nou tot niet is nie.”

“Now we musht look at the dam. Ha! The damn dam! Ish funny. Dam dam dam, dam dam da dam” (Boggel herken iets van Babara-ann uit die sestigs). Hoe meer Boggel en Dreyer vir die Minister probeer oortuig dat so ‘n inspeksie ongewensd sou wees, hoe meer vasberade raak die man om te gaan kyk na die nuwe Rolbosdam. Die Kommissaris het homself lankal verskoon en lê dwars oor die agterste sitplek in die ampsmotor.

Dreyer besluit later dis sinneloos om met die bedwelmde minister te stry en laai hom in die polisiewaentjie. “Letsh go!” bulder die Minister.

Die Minister ontdek weer die vreugde van sang. Hy was in sy jeug deel van ‘n kerk koor en sing nou Jesus loves me op Shosholoza se wysie. Dis nogal aansteeklik en Dreyer val ewe gedweë in as die liedjie oor en oor herhaal word. Die Minister se pogings om koorleier te speel raak al hoe meer entoesiasties en sy plomp hande dirigeer met soveel ywer dat Dreyer later sy hand op die rathefboom moet hou om te keer dat die polisiewaentjie nie skielik in trurat beland nie.

Dreyer ry behendig om die nuwe rots by die hek van Verlorenfontein en merk op dat die stof nou heeltemal gaan lê het. Die skade is nou duidelik: die stoor, die rondawels, die windpomp – alles staan in sulke skewe hoeke en draaie: dis duidelik dat Kleinpiet aansienlike bouwerk op hande het. Sy oë soek-soek na enigiets wat dalk aan Platnees se lyf kon vasgewees het.

Die krater is indrukwekkend. Waar die Happy houses moes staan, is nou ‘n langwerpige sloot wat uitgeruk is tydens die ontploffing. Dreyer het laas so iets gesien toe hy op die grens diens gedoen het. ‘n Mig het teen ‘n bult vasgevlieg met ‘n vol lading bomme…

“Ish a gooood dam.” Die Minister is so beïndruk dat hy sommer ophou sing. “And even now, in fact, filling up nicely.” Die dirigent-hand beduie gat se kant toe, en vir die eerste keer sien Dreyer die water wat onder in die gat versamel. Hy probeer sy verbasing wegsteek maar as hy klein borreltjies sien opstyg na die oppervlak, is sy eerste gedagte dat Platnees dalk onder daardie oppervlak lê.

“My magtag! Ek moet gaan help!” Die Minister verstaan nie en staan oopmond vir Dreyer en kyk as diè met ‘n dolle vaart in die gat inklouter.

Die eerste ding wat Dreyer besef as hy by die water uitkom, is dat Platnees waarskynlik teen hierdie tyd goed gaar moet wees. Die water is kokend warm. G’n mens kan oorleef in sulke warm water nie…

“It’s hot,” skree hy.

“Jaa,” sê die Minister, “I think it’s alwaysh hot here.” Hy trek weg met It’s a Rainy Day in Georgia.

“Nee, man. The water! It’s too hot. Look: it’s boiling!”

“No, you stupid, you must be joking?”

“The name, Mister Minister, is Sersant Vanniekerk Dreyer. I am a loyal member of the SAPS. If anybody around here is stupid, its that blerrie Minister who hides agter constitutional rights. If I says this water is boiling, you beter dit glo!”

Die Minister gaan sit op sy hurke soos hy lag. Dis die snaakste ding wat enigiemand nog vir hom gesê het.

“Jôôô…” Platnees staan op die rant van die krater en beduie na die water. Dreyer vlieg om, storm teen die walle van die gat uit en omhels die stofbedekte karikatuur van ‘n mens wat daar staan. Platnees, soos Kleinpiet, lyk nie meer baie soos hy gelyk het vroeër vanoggend nie, maar dis onmiskenbaar Platnees.  Sy klere is in flarde en sy oë staan onnatuurlik wit uit teen die vuil gelaat wat met stof, bossies en stukkies rommel versier is.

“Good, good, good relations..” sing die Minsiter op die Beach Boys se deuntjie.

“Waar was jy, Platnees? Wat het gebeur? Is jy oukei?” Dreyer val oor sy woorde.

“Eish! Platnees hy skrek so groot, meneer! Toe ek sien Kleinpiet hy sokkel met die fuses, toe denk ek Platnees – jy moet hier wegkom. Hier kom die groot trouble. Ek hardloop venneg, banja venneg, maar daardie dynamyte hy es venneger as ek. Ek hoor hier by my kop: moenie omkyk nie – moenie omkyk nie!  Maar soos ek omkyk, daardie dynamite hy explode en hy gôi my by die lug. Hy smêsh my so hard, ek voel die asem hy loop by my lyf uit.  Toe ek wakker word, ek sien meneer Dreyer en die ander klong hier staan. Nou ek report vir duty.”

“Kookwater? Op Verlorenfontein? Magtag!” Kleinpiet – sy kop in doeke toegedraai soos ‘n Arabier van ouds – sit by die toonbank met ‘n koue bier. Precilla staan agter hom: sy’s bang hy val van sy stoel af. Teen hierdie tyd is die hele dorp in rep en roer en almal wil die storie hoor.

Die Minister, wat intussen weer begin nugter word het, ondervind ‘n dors wat laas naby Karmel ervaar is. Boggel bly die perfekte gasheer en dra koffie aan – koffie wat volgens sy spesifikasies, net die regte hoeveelheid groen blaartjies inhet. Hy laat dit so drie minute trek en vis die blaartjies versigtig uit voor hy dit bedien. Dit vat nie lank vir Jesus loves me om te herleef nie. Die kommissaris is ‘n man wat verder dink en hy het by Precilla aangeklop vir hoofpynpille. Gelukkig het Ta’ Hybie se mediese fonds nog nie agtergekom hulle moet Ta’ Hybie se voorskrif kanselleer nie, en kon Precilla ‘n hele handvol antidepressante aan die polisie-offisier verkoop – teen ‘n spesiale prys. Steeds in sy uniform, lê die hoogere man nou op die enigste plat oppervlak wat hy kon vind – die toonbank in die polisiestasie.

En na die oopskiet van water op Verlorenfontein was dit aand en dit was môre, en die oggend was aaklig in die oë van die mense, want die son het met verblindende krag die kortsigtigheid van die vorige aand sigbaar gemaak. En die mense van Rolbos het hul hoofde vasgehou en in groot erns aan mekaar bekend gemaak dat hulle almal, elkeen van hulle, nooit, ooit, nooit weer aan enige brousel gaan raak wat deur Boggel voorberei is nie.

Die nimlike Boggel het vroegdag klaargemaak met die tel van die geld in die trommeltjie onder die toonbank. Alhoewel dit ‘n besondere aand se gekuier was, moes hy saggies fluit hy het nooit kon dink daar is soveel geld op Rolbos nie.

Ten spyte van die dorp se edele voorneme, sit die hele spul teen elf-uur by Boggel, wat ewe onskuldig lemoensap aan almal bedien. Dis nou almal, behalwe die Kommissaris wat nog diens doen op die toonbank in die stasie. Die Minister is ‘n skamele skadu van homself waar hy met bloedbelope oë na sy lemoensap sit en staar.

“It must be that explosion. I have never felt so bad in my life. I think some of the gasses that boil through the water must be toxic.” Met sy woordeskat het hy lankal die mense rondom hom verloor – maar hulle verstaan wel dat hy nie so goed voel nie.

Kleinpiet lyk vandag baie beter en na sy uitbundige ontmoeting met Platnees, sit die twee rondom ‘n hoektafeltjie en gesels. Dis duidelik dat hulle besog is om groot planne te beraam.

“Minister,” Kleinpiet het oorgestap na die politikus wat met ‘n besondere gebrek aan entoesiasme opkyk, “I wants you te make a vennootskap. If Verlorenfontein becomes Fonteingefonden, we can make more money than I can from my skape, you know? If I have a black vennoot, we can hold sommer groot partytjies there and charge people to swim in the hot waters.”

Boggel is nie links nie: “Talking about charging: this here Minister owes the kroeg ses-honderd-en-dertig Rand en ‘n paar sente. Minister sal seker reg maak as hy ry?”

Die Minister kreun en haal sy beursie uit wat hy met doelbewuste bewegings omdraai en bokant die toonbank skud. Die enigste ding wat uitval, is die parlementêre kredietkaart. Boggel, met ‘n ratsheid wat almal later oor sou praat, gryp die kaart en hou dit triomfanklik in die lug.

“My goodness, Your Excellency, this is a Diner’s Club. Ek het nog net hiervan gehoor maar nog nooit een gesien nie. Check, mense, die minister het ‘n onbeperkte kaart!” Die Minister gee so ‘n skewe glimlag en vertel dat mens met so ‘n kaart ‘n helikopter kan koop, daar is geen beperking op, mits hy net verklaar wat hy daarmee gedoen het nie.

Dit is ‘n fout.

Twee verskriklike dinge gebeur hierna:

  1. Die dorpsmense vergeet heeltemal van hul vroeëre besluit om nooit-ooit weer van Boggel se ware te gebruik nie, prys die minister en begin op sy rekening partytjie hou
  2. Na die derde dop is die Minister en Kleinpiet vennote in die Kalahari Spa en Warmwaterbron.

Rolbos kan beskryf word as ‘n vervelige plek as mens met Voortrekkerweg deur die dorpie ry. Dit lyk regtig as of daar niks gebeur nie. Miskien is jy gelukkig genoeg om op te merk dat daar ‘n polisiestasie is en as jy mooi kyk, sien jy dalk die kroegie. Die groot aantrekkingskrag op Rolbos is sekerlik die nuwe Kalahari Spa met sy mineraalbaddens.

Die polisiestasie is netjies, soos altyd, met Vanniekerk Dreyer tot u diens. Na die ontploffing het hy besluit dat Dreyer Dreyer regtig nie iets sê van sy persoonlikheid nie. ‘n Man moet vashou aan jou geskiedenis, sê hy altyd. Onder die oppervlakte van ‘n barre landskap skuil ‘n verborge fontein – dis so met mense ook. Dit vat net soms ‘n hengse ontploffing om dit te ontdek.

Sou jy stop en vra, sal almal jou verseker dat hulle maar ‘n saai en eentonige bestaan voer daar tussen Bokkop en die vlaktes.

En as jy regtig dom is, sal jy hulle nog glo, ook.

——————————————————————————————-

Nou beskikbaar is slapband

Koop nou…

The Pride of Rolbos

“We should get a library,” Gertruida says, “and get you lot to start reading. All you do is sit around all day, gossiping and drinking beer. We should be better informed about what is happening in the world today.”

“Ja, maybe.” Kleinpiet draws an open book on the counter top. “The question is: whether we actually want to know what’s happening out there. I mean – does it make any difference how they paint the president or whether that new guy in France is left, right or centre? We still have the drought and the pothole in Voortrekker Weg, anyway. I think the world should be better informed about us – it’ll make them feel better.”

Vrede jumps up suddenly, the hairs on his back telling everybody he is upset about something. A minute later they see the truck parking in front of Boggel’s Place.

“That’s not Kalahari Vervoer,” Vetfaan remarks, “it’s not Thursday, is it?”

“No, it says Pagal’s Circus on the side. They must have lost their way.”Gertruida walks to the window for a better look. “And it can’t be the whole circus – there’s only this one lorry. A smallish one, at that.”

They watch as the huge man gets down from the cab. He’s dressed in blue jeans, and orange shirt with a wide collar and cowboy boots. When he enters Boggel’s Place, he takes off the Stetson to reveal his long ponytail and bushy sideburns.

“Ya’all know where I can stable my lion for a week or two?” Gertruida decides the American accent is fake but still feels drawn in by his disarming smile. “He has been performing for three years now, but lately he seems to be a bit under the weather. I think he needs a rest.”

“You have a lion in the back of that?” Vetfaan points at the truck.

“Yep, partner. Back there is the tamest, cleverest, bestest lion ya’all will ever see. Had him since he was a cub. Meek as a lamb, he is.”

“We only have the cottage at the end of Voortrekker Weg,” Precilla says, “nobody lives there now. I suppose you can borrow that for a while. But, what about the lion? We don’t have cages and stuff like that.”

“No problem, Missy. That there lion shares everything with me. Food, chairs, bed – the whole shoot. He’s not the outdoorsy type at all. Very domesticated. I’d be mighty glad if we can borrow that bungalow. I’m sure Leo will be just dandy after a week’s rest.”

After they’ve shown Big Pete (who made quite a joke of Kleipiet’s name) to the cottage, they return to Boggel’s for a debate on circus animals. They all saw how Leo calmly jumped from the back of the truck to follow Pete indoors – like a dog would, as Boggel put it.

“That’s not natural,” Precilla says. “That lion is missing out on being a lion. He thinks he’s a pet, like a cat of a dog, and that’s not what lions are supposed to be like. I feel sorry for the animal.”

Before she can continue, an earth-shattering roar rattles the window panes, followed by another. The patrons at the bar exchange horrified looks. Did the lion…?

A few minutes later Big Pete pushes open the door. “Ya’all know where I can buy some meat? Leo sure is hungry. I think he likes it here – he hasn’t eaten for days now.” On cue, the lion pokes his head around the door, sniffing the air. Boggel has some sausages on the braai behind the bar and the aroma seems to please the big cat.

Now, a free-range lion in the confined space of Boggel’s Place isn’t a common sight. And, as Gertruida will tell you, these big cats can be very scary up close. When it padded softly – like lions do – towards the bar, the patrons did a bit of unpractised (but perfect) collective gymnastics to join Boggel behind the till. Vrede, who has been sleeping at Vetfaan’s feet, wakes up when the lion starts licking his face.

It’s difficult to tell a dog about tame lions. Dogs don’t buy that sort of logic. They file lions under the same heading as crocodiles, puff adders and the municipal inspector from Upington. Vrede’s mind works overtime, weighing up the possibilities. As a good ex-police dog, he should serve and (heaven help him!) protect.  As an intelligent dog, he should have been running already. Yet, staring into the big yellow eyes of the cat; only inches away from his own; Vrede finds that his legs refuse any orders. Hy simply stares back – eyes wide with fright and tail tucked in between his legs.

The lion finds this a bit boring and ambles out through the back door. Minutes later they hear a crash as he overturns the half-drum that serves as Boggel’s braai, and when they eventually peek out, Leo burps his appreciation. He growls a throaty thank you – that sausage sure hit the spot.

By now the lion’s peaceful manner has calmed down most of the nerves, and after Big Pete calls him back inside, he gets introduced to everybody.

“My, he sure is tame,” Gertruida says as the cat rubs his mane against her leg, “ I’ve never seen a lion like this.”

Vetfaan arranges for some meat in the freezer on his farm to be brought to Rolbos, promising Pete to deliver it to the cottage. And, by the way, would he mind taking the lion with him when they leave?

Soon after, the roaring starts up again. Over and over the thundering sound reverberates through Rolbos. Sure, the customers in Boggel’s do not think, this time, that the lion has developed a taste for bipeds; but still – the sound is unnerving, to say the least.

When Platnees arrives with the meat, the sun has almost disappeared below the western horizon. Vetfaan tells him to deliver the meat at the source of the racket. Platnees refuses, saying he can hear that is one hungry lion. Does Vetfaan take him to be a fool? You don’t walk up to famished lions and hope they’ll take the frozen meat. It’s not a good idea. No, thank you, do it yourself…

Despite their previous encounter with Leo, the rest of the customers all shake their heads as well.

“It’s your meat, Vetfaan. It’s also your deal. You sold it, you deliver it. We’re not going anywhere until that lion is fed.” Servaas knows about lions. His grandfather once had an encounter with one. “Grandpa said they look all peaceful and happy, then you disappear down their throats. The family used to poke fun about this, until it really happened while he was tracking a wounded Kudu…”

After two quick Cactus Jacks, Vetfaan shoulders the carcass and slouches out towards the cottage. The din raised by the hungry lion was ear-shattering. He wonders how Pete can stand it.

He’s about to knock on the door, when he hears the sniffing sound behind him. Turning, he is just in time to avoid the huge paw – claws extended – reaching for the carcass. With a jump that would have made Nuriyev proud, he jumps from the porch right back to the middle of the street. Gertruida will measure the distance later and suggest he should consider joining the Olympic team.

Vetfaan finds out that lion-induced paralysis is not a condition confined to dogs at all. Although his mind screams at his limbs, he stands rooted to the spot. He watches as the carcass gets pulled apart … and then notices that the lion, the one crunching away at the succulent bones of the carcass, seems to have had a recent haircut. The mane is missing…

Big Pete stays for about a month. After numerous excursions into the Kalahari, Leo was officially declared completely missing, presumably happy with the young lioness he attracted with his roars and the dowry of one sheep’s carcass.

“That circus man didn’t look happy when he drove off. I feel kind of sorry for him, you know? Losing his lion like that…” Precilla liked the friendly man with the fake accent. “But I’m glad for Leo; he can be a real lion once more.”

Gertruida snorts. “He can’t know all that much about lions, Precilla. He though Leo was hungry for meat. A young lion at that age? Pete should have known Leo had an appetite for something much more exotic than frozen sheep!”

Sometimes, late at night, the windows of Boggel’s Place gives a little rattle – as if the air vibrates for a second or two. That’s when Vrede will give a small yelp before digging in underneath Boggel’s cushion, there below the counter. It has become custom to raise one’s glass during those moments and toast the freedom of the lion, formerly known as Leo.

“You know, Gertruida,” Servaas says as they hear the windows rattle again one evening, “I don’t want that library. It’ll take away the fun in Rolbos if we knew everything about the outside world. We’ve got enough here.”

For once she agrees. “Yes, Servaas. I suppose if you grow tired of Rolbos, you’ve grown tired with life. If you can hear a happy lion roaring, it beats the clamour of survival in the big cites.”

Leo will be spotted once more, a year from now. He’ll parade down Voortrekker Weg with the same head-held-high attitude Big Pete had taught him in the ring. The patrons in Boggel’s Place will close the door quickly before they flock to the window to take in the magnificent sight of Leo, proudly bragging with the two cubs at his heels.

“The pride of Rolbos,” Gertruida will sigh, while the rest of the planet rages – like they will forever – about unimportant things like money and politics. In the glass-and-aluminium world of international affairs, they can’t hear the windows rattle any more.

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The Painting, The Question…

“That guy made a lot of money with that painting,” Gertruida says, “and he got people talking. Maybe that’s what all art should do?”

“But the detail, Gertruida! Did he really have to add all that detail to the painting? Wouldn’t a small little loincloth look better?”

“Yes, maybe,” Vetfaan has an envious look, “but that wouldn’t have covered that whole thing. He’d have needed a beach towel.”

“I find it disgusting.” Precilla shivers at the thought of the picture. “I mean, he is the President, after all. How would you guys feel if they painted you like that?”

“He would have needed a bigger canvas,” Kleinpiet says without blushing. “Bold strokes and lots of paint…and a bigger canvas.”

“I don’t know, you guys. At my age one tends to, well, be less of a man than in your twenties. You know, you lose hair and sight and hearing as you get older. The rest of the body seems to follow suit. In the end, I think old men are a sad reminder of the youth they once had.”

“But the prez is seventy already, Servaas. He’s the same age as you, give or take a few years. Are you saying the painting is a fake?”

“Sure thing. If you believe the painting, he should have bruises on his knees. No, believe me, the painter used his imagination to portray a different aspect of the prez’s personality. It could say something about priorities, or nepotism, or even corruption. I don’t know, but I think the artist was trying to tell us something.”

Kleinpiet draws the outline of South Africa on the counter top. “You mean – that artist wants to make the public aware of what the president has done to the country?”

“Well, that is a relief,” Precilla smiles for the first time, “I thought it had to do with, you know, er … the physical side of things. If it’s only a metaphor, I can live with it. I won’t buy the painting though – it’s much too graphic.”

“But that means he did the whole country, Precilla, not just his particular preference for a specific occasion. That’s worse, I think.”

“We’ve been done, as you call it, since forever. Tell me,” and here Gertruida pauses for effect, “tell me which government, for as long as you can remember, has had the true interest of the people at heart. It’s always a power game, that’s all.”

“Then we’ll commission our local artist to paint the world’s leaders all in a similar fashion. A huge canvas, with all of them lined up next to each other. It’ll cause an international sensation!” Vetfaan smiles lewdly at Kleinpiet. “You can do it, can’t you?”

“Nope. What do I do with Merkel and the Queen? You can’t do this type of art with ladies.”

“Okay then. Only the men.”

And so Kleinpiet draws them all. The presidents of the modern world, all next to each other; with our president in the position of honour, right in the middle. He covers the entire counter top with his unique style, painting with beer froth.

Boggel waits for the last little bit of detail before he takes the cloth to wipe it all off.

“I like my bar the way it is, thank you. Politics, and all the stuff that dangles from it, do not belong here. While we know artists have a licence to portray life as they see fit, we in Rolbos have a certain dignity of our own. I’m not worried about the president’s sense of honour, but we won’t gravitate to his level, will we? So, how’s about a round of Cactus Jack, then we can talk about really important things – like the drought or who’s going to fill up the pothole in Voortrekker Weg?”

At least, Gertruida muses, Rolbos won’t get swept along by the events in the rest of the world. While everybody out there gossips and sniggers about a silly painting, Boggel will force them back to reality. The most important question will pop up sooner rather than later.

Who will pay for the next round?

Now, that is a situation  really worth debating. At least Rolbos has priorities when it involves important stuff. They know you can solve many more problems with Cactus Jack, than with dangling objects from an Armani suit