Category Archives: smalltown short stories

Writing Challenge: Writerly Reflections – Two Oceans, Two Dreams…

The challenge: tell the story behind your writing. Why do it?

Tired me applauding a fresh-looking Hannes on completing a 100-miler

Tired me applauding a fresh-looking Hannes on completing a 100-miler

This is up close and personal, but on a special day like this, I suppose it is only right to say something about my crazy dream to become a writer.

Way back in 1994 many things happened in South Africa. We buried Apartheid and became a democracy. That was a major event, the culmination of lots of talks, massive political posturing and a bloody war. It is not surprising that this is why 1994 will be remembered. What never reached the headlines, was the slightly overweight, middle aged man who took up running. It is true to say that it changed my life more than the politics did. Running became an escape from an unhappy background even more than it helped me get back into shape again.

I loved the long runs and the ultramarathons. It gave me time to think. It also became the time I could talk to God – which eventually resulted in Facing Surgery with Christ and later, SHIMMERstate. Back then the editor of Runner’s World offered me a column and I took up the challenge with great joy and some trepidation. The column ran for a few years and got me into the routine of regular writing. The two things – running and writing – became a common challenge, urging me on to try to do better every time.

Well, my running got better, at least. I’m still working on the writing side.

Eventually, after attaining permanent numbers in the Two Oceans, Comrades marathons and Golden Reef 100 miler, I reached the goals I set myself for running. I was getting older and slower. I started looking at reasons to stop writing as well – but found out that the lure of writing something significant just wouldn’t let me go.

In the meantime, my children took up running. This turned out to be one of the best things we share as a family. The silence of the long-distance runner is much more than not talking. It’s a sharing of a very special passion. How many miles did we slog off in the pre-dawn hours? How many races did we complete, smiling in understanding while the odd tear threatened to embarrass? How much did it contribute to the mutual respect we have for each other to this day?

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind. I still jog. Here at the coast it is not at all uncommon to to find the breeze quite strong when I do my old-man shuffle on the beach. That’s when I hear the voices of my kids, telling me I just have to hang in there, I can still make it. The finish-line, they say, isn’t a tape strung between the winning posts. No, they declare, I have to pursue my dreams and keep on believing that someday, somehow, my writing will be as good as I can get it.

That, of course, is the answer. I never won a race (although it came close once or twice)(well, once, to be precise, okay?); but every race left me with a wonderful sense of achievement – and wondering if I could do better. You may say that my racing caused euphoria and a feeling that there may be more. Not depressing, mind you, just the call to try harder next time. And as with running, so with writing. I still hope to improve.

A few books later – and with three more in the process of writing, editing and polishing – I’ll quicken the pace on the downhills and slog it out on the upward slopes. I know I’ll never be the recipient of an internationally acclaimed literary prize – but what the heck, I’m having the time of my life. The joy of moulding a story into something readable remains the reason why I’ll toe the line every time the muse starts whispering sweet nothings in my ear.

Today is a special day for me. Son Hannes is doing his tenth Two Oceans Marathon as I write this piece. I look at him and I recognise the determination, the gritting conviction, that completing the race is what it’s all about. Sometimes the medal is a nice reward, sometimes the silver turns out to be a bronze. It really doesn’t matter, does it? But I know – when he crosses that finishing line at UCT – he’ll be smiling. He’ll promise himself that this was the last one, and never, never again.

And I know he’ll be out on the road again in the pre-dawn chill, pounding the tar with renewed energy one of these fine mornings. Strange, writing does exactly the same thing to me. Every time I close Microsoft Word, I think I have done all the writing that I can. And then…

So, today I dedicate this post to Hannes. Run well, my son. Finish well. And don’t donate your running shoes to some charity – you’ll need them soon again.

And my marathon with writing? I think I’ve passed the halfway mark. The course is getting difficult now. Fatigue has become an enemy..and a friend. It tells me to slow down, but it also tells me that the ultimate piece of writing within me must be getting closer.

I look forward to the full stop at the end of a perfect essay. At the same time I know: in this race of writing, there is no finish line – just the anxious joy of lining up at the start every time I sit down at the keyboard. So maybe writing is a marathon with no end – a race where the prize is in competing, not giving up, and smiling bravely when the going gets tough.

The finish line beckons, Hannes. Go for it. Show the world what you’re made of. Wipe the tear with pride when they hand you the medal. And know you’ll be back again next year, pounding your way up Chapman’s Peak with the wind in your face and the steady rhythm of your stride carrying you onwards.

That is the beauty of running. It is also the joy of writing.

With luck, we’ll both make it.

The Judging of Oscar Pistorius

Credit: News24.com

Credit: News24.com

“I’m glad we don’t have TV in Rolbos,” Dabbing an eye, Precilla switches off the radio, “to think your every tear and every sob gets transmitted right around the world. It must be terribly humiliating.”

“Listen. This isn’t a case of who did what. Oscar shot that girl and he deserves to be tried in an open court.” Servaas tugs at his collar – like he always does when he’s angry. “You can’t go around killing people and then say you’re sorry. It doesn’t wash. The law must take it’s course and the crime must be punished.”

Oudoom shakes his head. “I agree with Precilla. No matter how guilty he is, I question the circus the trial has become. I mean – think about the girl’s family, for goodness’ sakes! Can you imagine sitting there, listening to the advocates painting different scenario’s? The one says it was an accident, a case of a cripple frigthened for his life. The other guys says, no, not like that. He says Oscar is a man well acquainted with guns, a man with a short fuse, and he blew her away because he was angry.

“Two pictures on one canvas – the one the truth, the other a lie. The judge must make the call on what she’s heard in court. The public has the right to know the verdict, that I agree. But in the meantime, hours and days worth of TV and radio go into reporting every sniff and every tear. Why? Not because people are interested in the verdict – well, maybe they are, but that isn’t why they tune in to these broadcasts – they want the drama and sensation. They want to speculate and gossip. And I don’t think that’s okay. The bigger wrong may be the killing of Reeva, but I can’t condone the sensationalism that accompanies the case.”

“Yes.” Vetfaan holds up his empty glass for a refill. “Either we should have all high-profile cases on TV, or none at all. I’d like to see old Zum-Zum in the stand, answering to Gerrie Nel or that Le Roux guy.” He drops his voice an octave. “I put it to you, Mister President, that you have been engaged in a serious attempt to lie your way out of trouble. You lied to parliament, didn’t you, because you thought you could get away with everything?” 

Vetfaan turns to address Boggel behind the counter. “Milady, with due respect to the court, this man still has to answer on more than 700 counts of corruption and other issues. His liaison  with the Gupta’s and the Shaiks of this world has tarnished his credibility as a witness. I put it to you that such a man is unfit to lead a country.”

Now he raises his tone slightly, assuming a different persona, to confront the little crowd at the counter. “Oh no Milady. My learned colleague has sketched a terribly skewed picture of one of Africa’s foremost leaders. High trees and much wind and all that, you know? We have to take into consideration the background of our great leader. Was he not a fearless fighter against the scourge of Apartheid? Did he not father 21 (or thereabouts) children by various ladies? Does that not indicate a man of great capacity – a man of high morals, a man of vision, immensely popular amongst his compatriots? And oh, Milady, let us not digress into trivialities like arms deals and a few cents here and there. Look at the greater picture, Milady, and I put it to you that this case is a travesty of justice.”

Gertruida gets up to stare out of the window. It is another hot day in the Kalahari, with a lonely dust devil dancing slowly past the church on the other side of Voortrekker Weg.

Mr and Mrs Bumble

Mr and Mrs Bumble

“The law is an ass,” she quotes, “just like a donkey. The famous phrase is attributed to Charles Dickens, who published Oliver Twist in 1838 – the same year the Great Trek started. It’s something Mr Bumble said when it was put to him that the law supposes he is the boss in the house. The origin of the phrase goes back to the time Jan van Riebeeck landed in the Cape. It was George Chapman who published Revenge for Honour in 1654 and he wrote: ‘Ere he shall lose an eye for such a trifle… For doing deeds of nature! I’m ashamed. The law is such an ass.’

“The point, gentlemen, is that the law is blind. It only sees the letters on the pages, it doesn’t allow for creative thought. So we can frown and grumble about Pistorius, but the law knows only one way to come to a decision. Oscar is guilty and he’ll be punished. Does that mean justice was done?”

Gertruida waits for some response, gets nothing, and sighs before answering her own question.

“No. For justice to be done, you have to reinstate the circumstances and conditions that existed before the crime. Putting Oscar in jail doesn’t do that. Reeva is dead. A family lost a daughter with a bright future. An athlete has lost the respect and adoration of thousands of fans.

“Justice? No. Revenge, maybe. But it won’t fix anything.”

“Ja, Gertruida, you are right.” With the upcoming elections, Kleinpiet is more worried about voting than the court case in Pretoria.  “But what about our president? Why don’t they arrange a debate between him and Gerrie Nel? Wouldn’t that be something?”

Oudoom finishes his beer and gets up to leave.

“You lot! All you did this morning was to cry out for justice and revenge. Law this and law that. Sensation. Drama. Gossip. And this in the time when we remember the events surrounding Easter Time. Should we all not become quiet and contemplate the ultimate sacrifice Jesus brought to free us from such things? What happened to forgiveness?”

“That’s the point, Dominee.” This time, Gertruida uses his official title. “Jesus was crucified because of the law of the time. He was innocent, but that didn’t help Him. And that, Dominee, should tell us something: human judgement is flawed at its core. We choose to apply laws as it suits us. And then, just like in Dickens’ time, we want to hang sinners in public. We want to rant and rave and point fingers. That, unfortunately, is human behaviour. But…we also turn a blind eye to the many wrongs in our society. Maybe such high-profile cases soothe our consciences into thinking that there is still some justice left in the world. We condemn a man who did something terrible, but we manage to ignore the drugs, the crime, the farm murders, the raping of children and women.

“One major court case, and we go crazy. A million less obvious wrongs just get accepted as being part of a normal society. And…I simply don’t think that will ever change.”

“Sister Gertruida,” this time Oudoom, too, uses his sermon voice, “I shall now return to my home. I shall think about Easter. I shall spend time in prayer. And then I’ll try not to spend Easter Weekend as an advocate for the defence or for the state. I’ll want to spend the next few days contemplating kindness and peace and forgiveness and love.”

In the silence that follows the old clergyman’s departure, Boggel polishes some glasses behind the counter.

“You think we should pray for Oscar during Easter? Or for that matter, that our president shall receive the wisdom to tell the truth for a change?”

They all look at Boggel with surprised faces.

“What?” Servaas is the first to respond. “You crazy? Listen, it may be in God’s power to change a man’s thinking – or even the way we follow the Pistorius trial – but in the end we do what we do because we are human. We ignore, condemn, gossip, lie and cheat. And worst of all, we think the law protects us against such things. We pay more respect to our flawed laws than we do to our religion. So, yes, let us pray – but before we do, we must take a step back and ask ourselves if our all own actions are just and fair. If the answer is no, then each of us is - like the law – an ass.”

He, at least, gets a whispered ‘Amen’ from Gertruida.

Daily Prompt: French lingerie will get her there

Daily prompt: Tell us all about your best confidence outfit. Don’t leave out the shoes or the perfect accessories.

ff

“Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don’t save it for a special occasion. Today is special.”

The younger one gasped. You thought that out all by yourself?

No, I didn’t. It’s a quote by Regina Brett, but it’s appropriate. It is a special day. We have to get her  at least halfway.

If they can get her to halfway, the rest should be easy. That’s why the two women are going the extra mile: every inch gained, will make the journey easier.

It’s too big, the one with the glasses and the sad look said as she lifted the garment in the air.

Not really, her friend said, she’ll fit into this. And we can pin it back a bit, too.

But she hates black. She always hated black.

Yes, but this is affordable. She didn’t want to use cheaper, but that’s what she meant. They both knew they couldn’t afford buying at the PEP store across the street. The hospice-run shop had to do. Franny always dressed up for any occasion, and this one wouldn’t be any different.

The dress must have been an eye-catcher in the years gone by. The one with the glasses said it was a Princesse style, hanging in a straight line from the shoulders and flaring at the hem. Her friend was impressed.

They both remembered the way she looked when they had the Vermaaks making music on New Year’s Eve in Boggel’s Place. Franny was the centre of attraction, with a flared floral skirt and a flimsy blouse. She danced the polkas and mazurkas with wild abandon, causing slow wolf-whistles from the men and envious glances from the ladies.

And there was the time on Vetfaan’s farm, when he celebrated that record wool cheque, remember? Her companion nodded. That was a great party. Boggel introduced them to the newest drink on the market: Cactus Jack. Rolbos was never the same after that. She must have been the first woman, ever, to do a pole dance with a Voortrekker dress. And after her kappie fell off and that long, blond hair cascaded loose over her shoulders, even Oudoom applauded. They laughed at that.

We’ll miss her. She used to be such a sport on the parties. She teased Vetfaan and Kleinpiet and flirted with Boggel. She even had Oudoom drink a toast to Love and Happiness one night, remember?

She’ll need gloves, and a hat, as well, the younger one said, and shoes.

They rummaged around in the boxes standing around in the charity shop. An almost-new pair of black high-heels immediately met with their approval. The 1940’s bonnet was just right. Elbow-high silver gloves completed the outfit.

She’ll love this.

Do you think they’ll leave the coffin open at the service?

The funeral was in two day’s time, to give her wide circle of friends enough time to come from all over the country.  The response to her death had been overwhelming – they never knew how many people’s lives she had touched or influenced in some way or other.

No, not after the accident. The hospital said…

She let the sentence hang in the air; it was too sad to complete

Her companion nodded. I know. It’s just such a pity.

They left with the clothing folded up in a brown paper bag. Walked out to dress their friend who graced their lives from time to time; when she paid them a rare but welcome visit. Walked out without looking at the poster next to the newspaper vendor – the one that read: Kalahari Ballerina to be buried in her Hometown. They didn’t see – didn’t want to see – the heading above the photo of the wrecked aeroplane; No Survivors in Blazing Crash.

They drove off, heading for the boutique in central Upington.

Have we got enough money? She’d insist on real French stuff, you know?

Oh, yes, the clever one with the glasses said. We’ve saved so much on the clothing we can really go to town now.

They both remembered how Franny used to corrupt the famous quote on lingerie: if your lingerie makes you feel glamorous, you’re halfway to turning heads. Only she worded it differently; she said you’re halfway to heaven.

Now she’s only got halfway to go, the younger one said on their way back to Rolbos.

And the woman who knows everything smiled sadly. Maybe less, she said.

Siena’s Legacy

mattanu 024“It was a hot and dusty day,” Servaas says (as if there are other types of days in the Kalahari), remembering how he and Siena met. This is one story even Gertruida is hazy about. “And I was on my way to Abraham’s shop in Kimberley. In those days I was a clerk in the post office in Kimberley, a long time before we moved to Rolbos.”

“But you always wanted to become  dominee, Servaas. Why did you end up in the post office?” Precilla recalls the last chats she had with Siena, and how the old woman thought her husband would have been a rather impressive preacher.

“Ag, you know how it was in the 40′s and the 50′s. Droughts. War. Depression. There just wasn’t any money, and I had to support my mother as well. My dad, you might know, fell at El Alamein.”

“Why didn’t he get up again?” Vetfaan has a mischievous glint in his eye.

“Oh, shush, Vetfaan. You shouldn’t joke about things like that. Few people know that the South African First Infantry Division played a major role in stopping Rommel before he got to the Suez canal. That was the First Battle of El Alamein in July 942, and laid the foundation for the defeat Rommel suffered there later that year, in November. Had the Desert Fox succeeded, Hitler would have controlled the Middle East oil and the canal. And that,” Gertruida says gravely, “would have handed Hitler the war on a silver platter. Servaas’ father helped win the war.”

“Anyway,” Servaas seems oblivious of the interruption, “there I was in Abraham’s shop, bickering about the price of sugar or something, when in waltzed this young lady.” His eyes grow dim as he remembers the day. “Yes, she was something, that’s for sure. Dressed in a long skirt and a frilly yellow blouse, she was. Her hair was long back then, hanging free down her back. But what struck me immediately, was her eyes. Sparkling, lively, full of life. And she stood there, wringing her hands as she waited to be served.”

“Well, I simply paid old Abraham and stepped aside so he could help her. Old Abraham asked what he could do for her, but she shook her head. Just stood there. And that’s when I knew.”

“What? That you loved her without knowing her name? Love at first sight?” Vetfaan seems a bit more serious.

“No man! I thought I knew she maybe wanted to see old Abraham on a … personal matter, you know? She didn’t seem to want him to serve her while I was standing there.” Servaas sees the puzzled looks and hastens to explain: “I used to be…more sensitive…in the past, see?”

“Oh, Servaas, you’ve always been responsive to feelings.” Vetfaan nods for another beer as he watches the old man blush before adding: “Especially your own.”

Servaas disregards the remark. “Well, I went outside and made as if I’m on my way, but I stopped just outside the door and eavesdropped.”

“Some things never change.” Vetfaan lifts his glass in a mock salute.

“Siena – I didn’t know her name then – was begging old Abraham for credit. Some more credit, for it seemed that her family had already borrowed as much as the old shopkeeper wanted to allow.

Asseblief, Meneer, she said, I’d do anything you want. I’ll work here for free. I’ll do your washing and cooking. I’ll even clean your stables.” Servaas frowns at the memory. “In those days everybody had horses – for riding and pulling wagons and carts.

“I heard old Abraham laugh softly. No, he said, that’s not good enough, young lady. Not good enough at all. You’ll have to do more than that.”

“Oh, I love the juicy bits of a saucy story. Come on, Servaas, tell us what the old man wanted.” Perched on the edge of his chair, Vetfaan’s drink is forgotten.

“I’ll never know. I stormed in there and demanded to know what she wanted to buy. She blushed and stammered. Old Abraham flustered and blustered. And then she showed me a list of groceries. Sugar. Flour. Coffee. And a length of Crimplene.

“So I told that miserly old bastard to give her the stuff, I’ll pay. I had to go to the bank to withdraw two pounds, which was about everything I had, and slapped the money down on his counter.”

It is at this point that Servaas falters. How can he tell the rest? About how the old man burst out laughing until the tears ran down his cheeks – and how Siena then hugged him. About how good it felt when she put her arms around him and how he became aware of a faint suggestion of perfume and the scent of her hair. And how he thought that was the most wonderful moment of his entire life.

“That’s when she invited me over to supper. She had to explain where she lived, and when she did, I didn’t think much about it. I should have. In fact, I wasn’t thinking…”

“Of course not – your brain had no blood supply at that point. Diverted the flow elsewhere, didn’t you?” Vetfaan wasn’t letting up, but Servaas is far too innocent to catch on.

“That evening, I put on my  best almost-white shirt, my post office tie and my old school blazer. I borrowed a pair of flannels from the other clerk and used about all the sheep fat I had on my shoes. You should have seen me – I still had hair back then, which I slicked down with a bit of Brylcreme.

“Anyway, there I was, striding towards her address … and then I realised I was on my way to one of the grander suburbs in Kimberley. Working at the post office meant you had a very good idea of the layout of the town, and I wasn’t on my way to the slums – if you know what I mean.”

When he arrived at the house, his jaw dropped. The extensive garden and large trees almost made it impossible to see the dwelling from the street. In front of the huge porch, a stately Rolls Royce stood waiting silently. Servaas can still close his eyes and recall the large windows and the swept-back curtains , which allowed him to glimpse the luxurious interior.

“Man, I wanted to turn around right there. I just felt so out of place. Then, as I stood considering leaving quietly, the front door opened, and there she was.”

Oh, the memory! Siena floated down the red, polished steps of the porch in the most beautiful dress he’d ever seen! Her hair was tied back and she wore just enough make-up to make him believe she wasn’t wearing any at all.

Oh, you came! I was so worried! Come on in!. Her excited voice reached him before she did. And then…then her father emerged and stood there, a slight frown on his sun-burnt face.

“He said he was glad to meet me. His daughter, he said, had told him about me. And, he added, she was a rather mischievous young lady.”

It turned out that she had dated a few young men ever since she came back from finishing school six months previously - and that these meetings usually ended in disappointment.

“She told me all about it later. You see, her father was stinking rich – grandson of one of the original Rand Lords – the guys who made vast fortunes out of the original diamond and gold discoveries. So she’d date a guy only to realise the chap’s enthusiasm was all about the money – and she was the key to unlock the door to instant riches.

“So she and old Abraham played this game, you see? Abraham, I later found out, was an old family friend and  had a soft spot for  the poor little rich girl. She’d wait until a single man bought something and she’d step in to play the poor girl who begs for credit. If a chap offered to help, he’d get an invitation to supper. It was her strategy to look for somebody who didn’t care about money, but about her. I was, as it happened, the first to fall for the ploy.”

“So where’s the money now, Servaas? Why…?” Vetfaan hesitates, not wanting to add ‘why are you here, and not on some Greek Island?’, because it sounds rude – even to him.

“Well, quite surprisingly, our relationship developed nicely. When the time came to ask for her hand, I asked her father to leave his fortune to her older brother, Vetfaan.”

This time, Servaas smiles at Vetfaan’s confusion. It’d be impossible to explain how he and Siena decided on a life of hardship and true commitment – rather than the artificiality of luxury and fake pledges. Despite his lack of formal education, Servaas realised a great wisdom: love will only survive life’s bumps if it is faced with constant challenges. Trust – not money – is needed to make love grow despite the circumstances. It was in overcoming these obstacles that he and Siena formed a bond that lasted to this day – even after her death.

“It was a wise choice, Vetfaan; something a cynic like you’d never understand.”

And old Servaas smiles the way  old man smile when they recall the beauty of that relationship that made everything worthwhile. When Vetfaan opens his mouth to say something clever, it is Gertruida – who knows everything – who sniffs loudly as she fishes out a Kleenex.

Like wars demand such a lot from the men who take up arms, Love may require the ultimate sacrifice. The difference is that men succumb in battle…just like Servaas’ father did. Love, however, will require young (and not so young) men and women to lay down their weapons, to be defenceless, and reinvent the true meaning of Life. Falling in love and falling in battle have many similarities but differ in one single major aspect: in both cases the wounds may be fatal. But only Love may – for a few fortunate individuals – resurrect the fallen to a heady condition called Beauty.

That’s why Vetfaan closes his mouth with an audible snap. Then, trying to look casual about it, he reaches for Gertruida’s box of tissues.

The Mythtery of Mister Mistoffelees

images (68)“Mister Mistoffelees was a mythtery,” Gertruida says confidently, knowing she has to get the conversation in Boggel’s Place going again after the funeral.

“You started to lisp?” Vetfaan stops staring at the single distant cloud on the horizon, realising it’s not getting any nearer.

“No, Vetfaan. I’m talking about old Oom Meyer…the one with the strange eyes –  remember?”

Of course he does. They all do. Oom Meyer was born with cat’s eyes – vertical irises that were similar to those you’d expect to find in the feline family. Coupled with the pointed ears, the sharp and fang-like canines, and underdeveloped chin, Oom Meyer certainly lived up to his nickname. That, and the story of how he died.

“Ja,” Kleinpiet says, “he was in the Korean War. Used to tell terrifying stories about how he was shot down twice..”

Another reason for his melodious moniker was the unruly mop of hair. Oom Meyer had Big Hair – a mane of prodigious proportions, parted in the middle, framing his narrow face .

“Didn’t he come down from Kenya or somewhere?”

“Yes,” Gertruida says, because she knows everything, “Before their independence. He used to be a commander in the King’s African Rifles regiment. Got wounded there, too.”

“But after that, in 1964, he was a mercenary in the Congo.” Kleinpiet remembers the time, when as a small boy, his family listened to the radio reports of the Uhuru massacres. “That’s where people started calling him Leo, because he was such a brave man. He believed he was immortal, I believe.”

“Yes, I heard he only got to be Mister Mistoffelees after the musical Cats became so popular.”Gertruida is lecturing again. “The wise and wily old cat was modelled after the mythical and evil demon, Mephistopheles, but is portrayed in the musical as a comical cat with many tricks up his sleeve. Another brilliant piece of by Andrew Lloyd Weber; based on the work by T. S. Eliot’s book of  poetry,  Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, of course.

“Cats opened on Broadway in 1981 and was an immediate hit. In 1983 the South Africans launched Operation Askari  in southern Angola. Oom Meyer was then attached to Task Force Victor and assigned to engage the enemy near Cuvelai. He was wounded in a skirmish and had to be flown out – first to their base at Opuwa, then to Grootfontein and eventually to 1 Military Hospital in Pretoria. By all accounts, he was half-dead when he reached 1 Mil, but he miraculously survived.

“Thats when they jokingly named him Mister Mistoffelees, because his survival reminded the nurses of the character in Cats. Maybe it was his looks, or the way he refused to die – but in the end that’s what they called him. So Leo Meyer became Mister M and the name stuck.”

They all knew that, of course; but nevertheless allowed Gertruida her opportunity to lecture – simply because she does it so well. But they also knew the heroic stories of how Oom Meyer played a decisive role in quite a few battles in the final phases of the Border War. This was the time that he so often infiltrated enemy lines, observed their positions and movements, and seemed to be able to move about in the bush at will without being detected. His fame as a behind-the-lines spy grew. People said he was as silent as a cat, as observant as a leopard and as determined as a lion. Once he picked up enemy tracks, nothing would stop him.

Well, almost nothing. A landmine in the final days of the conflict sent him back to hospital, where once again his recuperative powers astounded doctors and nurses alike.

“That cat-man must have nine lives,” a suprised specialist remarked one day as Oom Meyer carefully laid his crutches to one side and gingerly tested his weight on his injured legs.

“He was quite old when he bought that farm near Grootdrink.” Servaas remembers the first day he met the kindly old gentleman in the bottle store in Grootdrink. Servaas was staring longingly at a bottle of sherry when Oom Meyer softly padded up to him to introduce himself.

“Leo Meyer,” the old man purred, adding rather unnecessarily: “I’m new in the neighbourhood.”

Servaas introduced himself but couldn’t help staring at the unruly mane. In the Northern Cape baldness is considered to be an inevitable part of growing older. You earn respect that way. A completely bald pate ensures total silence by the younger ones when you get up to say something important during church council meetings. Why, just the other day old Pankop Pretorius suggested that maybe the congregation would sing better if a piano accompanied the hymns. Everybody knew it was absolute drivel, but not a single member at the meeting stood up to tell him so. Fortunately no funds were available, so the long, drawn-out singing could go on without being chased along by some new-fangled notion that the piano must determine the tempo of singing.

But, despite the dishevelled mop of hair, Servaas felt that Oom Meyer had a regal attitude – something in his demeanour made you respect the quiet old man. It was as if Oom Meyer had this independent air about him – he didn’t care a hoot whether you liked him or not – he simply made himself known when he felt like it. The inhabitants of Grootdrink accepted the solitary figure in their midst and would gossip about how he moved around his house – from east to west – as he shifted his chair to bask and doze in the sun.

At night – so a number of Grootdrinkers said – he often moved about in a random way, stopping here and resting there.  One even swore he saw Oom Meyer chasing a rat, but that was a bit much for most to believe.

300px-Labeobarbus_aeneus,_Orange_river,_RichtersveldThen there was his fishing. Oom Meyer seemed to live on fish. Every Saturday he’d take his tackle and slink off to the Orange River. He’d sit there quietly for as long as it took him to catch seven fat smallmouth yellowfish, return home and have something to fry, grill or braai every evening for the next week.

And then, just last week, Oom Meyer drove over to see Oudok about the pains in his chest.

“I have had a full and happy life,” the old warrior said, “and I feel my time is running out. I don’t want you to prescribe anything or to send me to some clever specialist. I simply want you to confirm that my luck has run out. Do an ECG and tell me the truth.”

“That’s what I did,” Oudok now tells the little crowd in Boggel’s Place. “Had one look at that tracing and saw the abnormalities at once. His heart was in a bad way. So I told him the truth.”

“…and two days later, they find him curled up in his bed, as dead as a fence post.” Servaas wipes a tear. “I will miss him…”

“Well, even a cat has only nine lives. Oom Meyer certainly used his lives wisely.” Gertruida smiles at the absurdity of it all. “But there was a bottle of aspirin next to his bed, as well. We all know,” and here she smiles haughtily, “that aspirin is highly toxic to cats.”

“Ja, I heard that, too. A bottle of 30 aspirins, only 21 left…” Precilla loves an urban legend. “He took nine, it seems…”

Vrede’s surprised barking outside makes Boggel rush to the window to have a look.

“Verde’s barking a a cat.” His voice is full of wonder. “A cat? In Rolbos? We’ve never had one.”

Gertruida gets up immediately to have a look. Seeing Voortrekker Weg is deserted, she goes outside. Two minutes later she comes back with an apologetic smile.

“Couldn’t fnd a cat,” she says, “not even his tracks. It’s strange. Maybe there wasn’t a cat at all…?

“You won’t find nothing.” Vetfaan says. Then, as the cloud on the horizon changes shape, he tells them they might expect some rain. “Cats can predict the weather, you know.”

“Yes, and they come back.” Precilla adds.

“It’s a myth,” Gertruida smiles. “And a mystery. Just like I said in the beginning…”

The Most Talented Bobby Blackboot

ara-terry-ankle-boots-for-women-in-black-leather~p~4501g_01~1500.3“You guys remember Bobby? Bobby Blackboot?”

Rolbos has been rather quiet lately, with nobody doing something outrageously stupid or exceedingly clever. Life, you may say, has been easy, with days slotting seamlessly into each other. Now, after the many mishaps and adventures over the past few years, the patrons in Boggel’s Place spend the days staring out of the window or into their empty glasses.

Boggel, of course, checks the till at the end of every evening and he is worried. If his customers stop talking, they stop drinking. There just isn’t a point in enjoying something cool if you don’t impart the wisdom you acquire while savouring whatever IQ-enhancing content you prefer in your glass. Like any good barman will tell you: get your customers excited, and your sales go up. That’s why he mentions Bobby.

Gertruida brightens immediately despite Servaas’ scowl. Of course they remember. How could they forget…?

***

Robert Redford Swartvoet was born in the humble rondawel behind the only cinema in the Northern Cape. Nowadays people flock to the Ster Kalahari in the Pick-and-Pay Centre off Le Roux Street, but way back then the old black-and-white (and sometimes silent – especially when the speakers conked in again) movies were shown in a rather dilapidated little theatre known inappropriately as The Palace.

Abram Swartvoet (Blackfoot) climbed the steep career ladder from cleaner to ticket seller to projectionist with a smile and lots of good humour.. This,  we all know, was no mean feat in the Old South Africa. Be that as it may, Abram would have been mayor if he wasn’t hampered by the abundant pigment-producing cells he inherited from his mother. His father was, according to gossip, a travelling salesman with a propensity to get inebriated and rather…um…over-impressed with his manhood.

Abram’s popularity as the provider of the only entertainment in town was enhanced by his sunny personality. He would sit outside the cinema and tell stories about the movies and actors (at least some of them were true) and generate so much excitement that the little theatre was filled to capacity every Saturday night. Old Hymie Shewitz, the owner of the establishment, looked after his investment well and made sure Abram stayed in his employ – hence the rondawel.

Abram had other talents as well. One of them was to father a string of Swartvoets – and so Upington welcomed Clark Gable Swartvoet, Errol Flynn Swartvoet, Marlon Brando Swartvoet, Gary Cooper Swartvoet…etcetera. One after the other they were named after a famous actor of the time. Robert Redford Swartvoet was the youngest and probably the most loved of them all.

Little Robert bore the name with stoic acceptance, laughed shyly whenever people made fun of it and withdrew quietly whenever the questions became too personal.

At the age of ten, Robert asked for – and got – permission to get singing lessons from Aunty Bessie – the lady who played the piano during the silent movies. Aunty Bessie was renowned throughout the Kalahari for her fine singing voice which she used with great effect whenever she polished a bottle of peach brandy – usually on Sunday afternoons. Old Hymie saw this as a business opportunity and became her manager. Together they staged the then-famous Sunday Afternoon Concerts, which saw them travelling as far as Keimoes and Prieska. They even staged a concert in Kakamas once, which proved how popular Aunty Bessie was.

Little Robert surprised everybody with a soprano voice that eclipsed the best efforts of Aunty Bessie, no matter how much peach brandy she had drunk. Hymie was impressed. Bessie and Robert became an act that people still talk about.  When the two of them sang at weddings and the occasional  ‘good’ funerals, people took extra handkerchiefs because the duo had a way to make them realise how sad and sweet life can be.

(Note: a ‘good’ funeral is characterised with a proper send-off. Usually this means a sheep on a spit and a goodly supply of peach brandy. Frowned upon by the clergy but most popular amongst people who consider living to be preferable to the alternative)

When puberty struck and vanity became an issue Robert Redford Swartvoet decided the name was just not right and adopted the more melodious Bobby Blackboot. After all, going barefoot wasn’t the fashion any more and ‘boot’ sounded superior to ‘foot’ or ‘shoe’. ‘Black’ turned out to be an advantage in the New South Africa, and was retained as part of the surname.

Then tragedy struck. As we all know, tragedy can – on rare occasions – be a blessing in disguise; so it may be wrong to describe Aunty Bessie’s demise as a complete disaster. Anyway, she had – during her last illness (jaundice – and we all know why) insisted on a ‘good’ funeral. A short service. Two sheep. A barrel of peach brandy. Her extended family and all her friends. And, of course, Bobby sang.

And this is where Aunty Bessie’s distant relative, a man well-known in the rest of the country, heard the clear and well-modulated voice of Bobby Blackboot for the first time. She sang O Boereplaas with so much feeling that the great Nico Carstens had to swallow hard before he asked if he can have a word with Bobby.

***

“Ja, and that was the last we saw of Bobby. Right after that talk, Nico wrote a contract on the back of the paper napkin he used after enjoying the braaied ribs and insisted that it be signed there and then. Bobby, of course, did just that.”

“Yes, and I hear Bobby is doing an overseas tour now. Very popular in the Netherlands and now heading for Mexico or somewhere. Apparently got an invite to San Miguel as well, which is about as good as it gets.”

With his customers actively involved in the discussion, Boggel serves round after round with a big smile. He knew Robert Redford Swartvoet would get them going again. Not only are they proud of the many achievements and the international fame of Bobby Blackboot, but they feel a personal connection with the star.

They also owe Bobby an apology. Like the rest of the district, they predicted a lifetime of hardship and ridicule when the poor baby girl was burdened with such inappropriate names.

The song is about a young man who asks his girl whether her mother knows where she is and what she’s doing. The young man obviously has plans…

Widow Maritz’s Date

tombstone-3394lar“It’s about time for her to come to town again,” Gertruida remarks – because she knows everything and because nobody has said anything for some time now.

“Who?” Kleinpiet sips his beer quietly – he’s not really interested. He’s been contemplating the possibility of the president stepping down. Maybe, he thinks, he’ll jump; or maybe he’ll be pushed. Even more disturbing is the question: when did he stop caring? When did his presidency die? What was the date of his political demise…?

Still, Gertruida’s statement is an obvious attempt to break the silence and he’s gentleman enough to prod her on.

“Annetjie Maritz, the widow. You know, the one who stays on that farm on the other side of Bitterbrak.”

Of course they all know her. The crazy one. Lives on that farm alone with the few chickens and an old dog. Visits town every two months or so, to buy flour and sugar and coffee. Reed-thin with icy blue eyes and an unruly shock of grey hair. Used to be lovely once – a long time ago – but now age has withered away the beauty and replaced it with wrinkles and varicose veins.

“She’s not normal.” Vetfaan nods. “A strange cat, she is.”

“It’s the war, Vetfaan. Wars do that. It changes everything.”

That, they know, is true. Boys become men – and not all of them return home with happy smiles and fond memories. Families rejoice and grieve – and are left looking back at the time of conflict with puzzled frown. Why was the war necessary? Who won? Was the loss of life and sanity worth it? And, worst of all, the boy who took aim at a nameless opponent and pulled the trigger, wakes up in the small hours of the night, wondering how the family of his enemy are managing their loss.

“She’s still waiting for him, isn’t she?”

Nobody knows, really. Annetjie is a widow…or, at least: she’s an official widow. Bertus Maritz, according to the army, went MIA in 1986. Missing in action. Presumed KIA. No trace of him was found after the MiG bombed the camp and his tent took a direct hit.

“She told Oudoom a few years back the army couldn’t say what happened to Bertus. Was he in the tent when the bomb struck? Maybe he went out for a cup of coffee? Or answered a call of nature? And maybe, she hopes, he’s alive out there, somewhere, with no memory of who he was.”

Servaas, who knows all about the loss of a loved one during the war, shakes his head. “She’s clinging to a memory and she doesn’t want to let go. As long as she waits for him, she’s keeping him alive. That’s why she refuses to wear black. And one must never refer to her as The Widow Maritz. She hates that. Ignores you completely. You call her Annatjie or Mrs Maritz.” He sighs and stares out of the window. “It’s sad. She lives in her own world. Oudoom says she’s kept everything in the house exactly the way he left it. His pipe next to the bed. The book he’d read half-way through. And she lays a place for him at the table every night.”

They fall silent again, remembering the last time she came to town. Dressed in white blouse and a long blue skirt – with the straw hat perched on top of the mass of grey hair – she looked like any other older woman in the district. It’s only when you’re near that you realise she’s constantly chattering about how nice the town looks, and how Sammie has had to increase the prices in his shop.

“The way she talks to herself…” Kleinpiet gets interrupted before he can finish his sentence.

“…not to herself, Kleinpiet.” Gertruida holds up a restraining hand. “She’s talking to Bertus. Oh, she knows he isn’t here, but she keeps telling him what she sees.  It’s like an imaginary husband, you see.”

“But that’s not normal?”

“What is normal, Kleinpiet? Wars aren’t normal. Sending boys with guns to shoot other boys with guns isn’t normal. Hearing your son or husband died during a clash, isn’t normal. Politicians arguing with other politicians to the point where they say: ‘Now my side is going to show you. We’ll kill you all and then you can’t argue with me any more’ – we call that normal?

“No, for you she may not be normal in the usual sense of the word, but she keeps him alive – in her head – and that is ‘normal’ for her. It keeps her hope alive. And, Kleinpiet, without hope it is impossible to love…or to face the future.

“So she’s doing the best she can. Keeping him alive, keeps her alive. Letting go of him will mean she has no reason to live – or hope – for.”

Boggel looks up as the old Ford Cortina stops in front of Sammie’s Shop.

“Speaking of which,” he starts, but then lets out a long, low whistle.

The woman getting out of the car, can scarcely move. Every movement is slow and hesitantly deliberate. No hat. Long, black dress. They watch as she struggles up the stairs to the shop.

“Do you think she…”

“I’ll go and have a look.”Servaas gets up. She knows about Servasie. of course. The old man’s loss has always been a bonding factor between the two of them.

***

Later, when the old Cortina wheezes out of town, Servaas returns with bent shoulders and a stooped back.

“What did she say, Servaas?”

“Nothing much. Not too me, not to Sammie and not to Bertus. Only ordered a tomb stone. Said it is time.”

“Time for what, Servaas?”

The old man shrugs.

“The inscription made me wonder, as well.”

Here lies Anna and Bertus Maritz.

Twenty-seven letters to be carved out in granite. No dates. To add a date, you have to know when an individual ceased to love and hope and…live.

And that, Gertruida will tell you, isn’t always possible. She’ll ask you to consider the career of our president and leave you with an enigmatic smile.

The Hyena will eat itself…again.

hyena_with_leg“I hope we get rain soon.” Vetfaan stares out of the window at the clouds of red dust on the horizon. “My sheep aren’t looking great these days.”

Kleinpiet nods. “Ja, there’s just about nothing for them to eat in the veld. I’ll have to start buying feed for mine.”

Boggel knows this type of talk: it’s bad for business. Once the farmers have to spend money on their livestock, they just can’t afford to drink the way they used to.

“It’s difficult to say which is worse: the drought or the politics.” If he can get them to concentrate on less important matters, they might think less about their immediate problems. “Now that Uncle Jacob has to answer for Nkandla, the newspapers will have a field day..And there’s the Oscar trial as well.”

“But that’s not politics,” Vetfaan objects. “Nkandla has nothing to do with ANC policies; it’s about one man who lied to parliament. Uncle Jay simply stole public money, that’s what. Now, if that happened in Europe or the ‘States, he’d have to resign. Accepting personal responsibility is what democracy is all about. So…we can’t blame the ANC if one of their members gets seduced by power.”

“No, Vetfaan.” Servaas knits the bushy brows together. “Individual responsibility is important, I agree. But there should be more: the party must act. The top structure in this case – the ANC – should have taken an official stand on this, like they did with Malema. If they said, one of our members is out of line, we’ll sort out the mess…well, if they said that, then I would have tipped my hat to them. Well done, I would have said. Maybe I don’t agree with all your policies, but I respect the way you keep the party clean. That’s what I would have said. Now I can’t, because they aren’t saying anything.”

“Ah, but you don’t understand, Servaas. There are members of that party that can’t sleep well at night. They know the president can hire and fire at will. Should they demand justice, they’re thrown out of the tight circle of friends who control the party. And with that, they lose the benefits of supporting Uncle Jay. No more fancy cars, big salaries and a chance to dig into the many opportunities to make a buck on the side. It’s the old story: you don’t bite the hand that’s feeding you.”

“So,” Servaas snarls, “we’re stuck with the mess? No solution and no way out? I don’t think that’s fair at all.”

“It’s like the drought, Servaas.” Kleinpiet points at the dust devil swirling down Voortrekker Weg. “Remember what the veld looked like after the last rains? It was green and lush with flowers everywhere. Now it’s dry and dusty and bare. But, mark my words, the rain will come again, and we’ll sit here and talk about the new fountains and springs that appeared everywhere. It’s a never-ending cycle. And then the next drought will come and we’ll wait for rain once more.”

They all know that much is true, at least. The Kalahari does that. It’s a region of extremes with maybe a handful of seasons in a lifetime when Mother Nature is kind to the veld.

“You think politics work the same way? That we’ll recover from this mess?”

“Indeed, Servaas.” Boggel joins the conversation. “Remember when one Rand bought one Dollar? Two Rand to the Pound? Those were good times for the economy. Now it’s all shot to pieces, but it’ll improve. Once we show the world we’re serious about productivity, corruption and crime, our political drought will be over.”

“Sure.” Vetfaan’s sarcasm is obvious. “If you think that’s going to happen in our lifetime, you must have a fantastic relationship with the Tooth Fairy. It won’t happen. Remember the saying about absolute power? It creates absolute corruption. And absolute corruption perpetuates itself. Think what you want, but I’m not holding my breath on this one.”

“!Ka once told me the story of the hungry hyena. Many years ago, he said, a pack of hyenas had a leader. He was big and strong and fast. All the hyenas were afraid of this one, and they always allowed him to eat the best part of the carcass before they dared go near the spoils.” Boggel, who can tell these Africa-stories with many hand gestures and the right facial expressions, has their complete attention. “Well, the pack was so successful that they eventually caught all the other animals in their region. Not a hare or a buck or a bird was left. They grew hungry and angry – why were they made to suffer so?

“Then they decided to do the only thing left for them: they must eat the weakest member of the pack. This they did. Then they became hungry once more, and they ate the next…and the next…and the next.

“Eventually, of course, only the strong leader was left. Now he was alone, and had nobody else to eat. He was so used to having the best of everything, and having as much as he liked, that he just couldn’t stand being hungry. So he did the only thing left for him: he started chewing on his tail. Then his legs. And – as you can imagine – he ended up eating himself. All of himself.

“And then, when only his dry bones were left, the animals started coming back to the veld. Kudu and Gemsbok and hare and all the birds. And when the veld teemed with game once more, one day, a pack of hyenas decided this was a good place to live.”

The group at the bar waited for Boggel to go on. Surely the story can’t end like that? But in the silence that follows, they realise the story ended where it began. Like the seasons of drought and plenty, the story is an everlasting circle, with no beginning and no end.

“I hope we get rain soon.” Vetfaan says again,  staring out of the window at the clouds of red dust on the horizon. “My sheep aren’t looking great these days.”

Daily Prompt: The Music of Yesteryear

“They just don’t make music like they did in the old days.” Old Servaas knits his brows together in distaste. “Listen to this new thing they call crap…”

“It’s called ‘rap’, Servaas. It’s the newest craze. Big in America, they say.” Gertruida, who knows everything, is quick to correct the old man. She even knows who Jack Sparrow is.

“You can call it what you like. These new guys can never be as good as Virginia Lee. Remember that song about the red eyes?”

Servaas gets misty eyed when Boggel fishes out a 78 to play the song.

“No man, nobody beats Charles Jacobie, the singing cowboy. Remember him? That man made you long for home big time.” Vetfaan smiles at the memory.

Kleinpiet shakes his head. “Gee whiz, Vetfaan. That accent! And a poor translation, if you ask me.  If you want to listen to old Afrikaans songs, its hard to beat Chris Blignaut.”

“My foot! That’s ‘Deep in the Heart of Texas’ dressed in khaki. Original Afrikaans? Look no further than Jeremy Taylor. And he was funny, too!” Boggel smiles at the memory.

“Funny, sure. But not Afrikaans. What about the Briel Susters? Now that’s pure nostalgia.” Oh the memories! Even Precilla looks sad…

“No, stop it with the old songs. Theuns Jordaan does it for me.” Surprisingly Oudoom displays  romantic streak. Must be the changing of the seasons…

“Oh give me the new version of that song about the girl with the auburn hair. Elvis Green or somebody.” Fanny tries to remember, but Gertruida is quick to help her with the correct surname.

“Well, bring on David Kramer then. He’s the one who should be singing here. That Royal Hotel is so typical of Boggel’s Place.” Sammie has always said that David is a distant relative.

Servaas sits back, closes his eyes, and remembers Siena’s favourite song. It isn’t Afrikaans, but it’s in German and that’s near enough. And it even contains a message for all the new-fangled, long-haired monotone falsetto youths who call themselves musicians these days: ‘Let the lips remain silent…”

 

Daily Prompt: That’s Amore…only in the Movies.

images (67)“Love stories are just that.” Servaas raises an angry eyebrow in an invitation to start an argument. “Stories. Just stories. This thing in the movies doesn’t exist. Movies make us believe a lie.”

They’re all back in Boggel’s Place after the screening of ‘Love Story’ in the little church hall. Oudoom organised it to raise money for the leaking roof in the vestry.

“Ag, but you must admit it was a nice. And sad. And sweet…” Precilla has that faraway look.

“…and then she died and he lived happily ever after.” Servaas isn’t giving up.

“Ag sis, man!” Gertruida rarely uses this tone of voice, but they all agree Servaas deserve the rebuke. “Just because you’re in a cantankerous mood, you don’t have to be so cynical! No man! I’m ashamed of you.”

Servaas knits his bushy brows together to scowl at the group. “Love, my friends,” he makes friends sound like an insult, “is blêrrie hard work, let me tell you. Forget about the violins and little Cupid and wagon loads of red hearts. When I courted Siena, I dressed my best, brushed the horse until he shone, and I even learnt that poem by some Wilcox woman:

“She had looked for his coming as warriors come,
With the clash of arms and the bugle’s call;
But he came instead with a stealthy tread,
Which she did not hear at all.

“And you know what she did? She laughed and told me I’m silly.  Said love isn’t about fancy words. So she recited a few lines by Neruba. I remember them to this day:

“I do not love you except because I love you;
I go from loving to not loving you,
From waiting to not waiting for you
My heart moves from cold to fire.”

“My, my, my, Servaas!” This time, Gertruida’s voice is soft, sympathetic. “I never knew you were such a romantic. Imagine you, black suit and all, reciting poetry to a lady! Well, I never…”

“Maybe there’s a romantic in each of us. I remember how I imagined my lover would be, way back when I was young and sexy.” Kleinpiet sighs and shakes his head. Precuilla, like all women, imagines her best years as being something in the past. Worse: is she saying something about him in an oblique way? He waits for her to continue. “I also had a poem in my head. It’s by George Etherege:

“The Nymph that undoes me, is fair and unkind;
No less than a wonder by Nature designed.
She’s the grief of my heart, the joy of my eye ;
And the cause of a flame that never can die !

“Oh, how I dreamed about my knight in shining armour! Then Kleinpiet came along and changed all that.” She gives him a friendly punch on the shoulder. “He showed me a reality I never imagined…and it is so much better than the dream I had.”

Kleinpiet beams. He’s not sure what – exactly – she implied, but it sounds okay.

Gertruida shrugs. “I suppose we all long for that perfect love, don’t we? The one with poems and roses and late-night whispered conversations. The one Sara Teasdale wrote about when she said:

“I am not yours, not lost in you,
Not lost, although I long to be
Lost as a candle lit at noon,
Lost as a snowflake in the sea.

“Oh plunge me deep in love – put out
My senses, leave me deaf and blind,
Swept by the tempest of your love,
A taper in a rushing wind…

“But then again, “Gertruida goes into one of her typical pauses, “maybe that’s the wonder of love. When you are in love, it opens your imagination. It shifts the horizon. It rearranges your previous dreams to make you more aware of how much more there is to living.  And it makes you feel small and huge, changes the introvert into a clown and makes the warrior put away his musket. Love isn’t just a feeling…it’s a way of being. The same things you saw yesterday aren’t the same things you see today. The colours change. The music is sweeter. It lightens your step and lends weight to your thoughts.”

“But…” Kleinpiet feels completely out of his depth. “I thought love was easy. You know. The love-at-first-sight thing. I mean, when I first saw Precilla, I knew. And after that, loving her became the easiest thing in my life.”

“That’s what I said. It’s hard work.” Still scowling, Servaas orders another beer. “You have to leave yourself behind. You become the servant of a bigger cause. Like faith, love means you have to  die a little in order to discover life. Man, that took some time with me, I can tell you.”

“In a very limited way, Servaas, you are right. If you don’t put in effort, love is wasted. It becomes stale. But every drop of sweat dripping from your bushy brows is worth it if you labour in your love – and I’m not talking about the physical stuff either.” Gertruida tries to hide the blush spreading up her neck. Those evenings with Ferdinand… “I’m simply saying love makes you do things you’d never consider otherwise. And you know what? It doesn’t feel like work at all. If it does, then something is wrong…”

Servaas glares at his glass, suddenly overcome with emotion. Yes, he remembers those days. All thirty-eight years of days he couldn’t wait to get home at night. And how he watched Siena baking bread or knitting on the stoep or hanging the washing on the line. And how he so often wanted to tell her how much he loved her.

And how seldom he did.

“I wonder…?” He can’t finish the sentence.

It is Gertruida, who knows everything, who understands.

“Yes, Servaas, she knew. We women know such things. We know our men and how stupid they can be. And we forgive them, every time, because that’s what love does.”

***

One does not expect to listen to deep conversations in Boggel’s Place. Love and peach brandy can be very uneasy bedfellows, after all. But sometimes; when the patrons aren’t discussing the drought or Vetfaan’s broken tractor; their conversations touch on very serious subjects, like the leaking vestry roof or the rising petrol price.

Or love.

That’s when Servaas fishes out the little handkerchief with the flower embroidery in the one corner from his breast pocket. If he closes his eyes, he can still smell the perfume, remember her smile.

And he’d wipe his eyes with his sleeve – because he wants to keep that hanky just the way it is. That’s when Gertruida says Servaas is right about a few things: true love is a burden, a pleasure, hard work and a surrender.

And it only dies in the movies.