Tag Archives: daily prompt

Fairytales, Antlions and Love.

Antlion1_by_Jonathan_Numer“Those creatures give me the creeps.” Precilla points at the little hollow next to the steps up to Boggel’s Place.  “I once saw a picture of one of them, and boy, are they ugly!”

“Well, they have a distinct disadvantage when you compare them to jackals and swans, if that’s what you’re getting at. But we mustn’t be harsh. When last did you see Boggel before he brushed his teeth in the morning? Man, now there’s a sight to scare small children with.” He’s teasing, of course. Kleinpiet actually likes the little bent barman a lot.

In the stifling heat of a typical Kalahari day, the townsfolk have assembled under the veranda in front of the bar, where Gertruida now stops fanning herself. 

Antlion_trap (1)“One must never underestimate Nature, guys. That little antlion has survived all the millennia to come and make it’s nest here.  There is evidence of antlion fossils dating back 150 million years! Droughts and floods, progress and war have not changed its lifestyle one bit. It’s a true survivor.”

“But it is rather primitive, won’t you say? It digs a hole, waits for an unsuspecting passer-by and then devours it. And, I heard, those jaws are quite poisonous. Got a venom in there that stuns its prey.”

“That’s right, Precilla. It sucks the victim dry, chucks out the hard bits, and lives on the fluid it gets in this way. Never drinks. And…it doesn’t have an anus. What it takes in, remains in. At least, until the change comes, it retains everything inside.”

“Ugh! That’s despicable! Imagine that? A lazy little blob, waiting at the bottom of the pit for a free meal…it sounds like the parliament, if you ask me.”

“Now there’s an unlikely comparison if ever I heard one! It takes the concept of bottom-feeder to a completely new level. A low level, I might add.”

Gertruida gets up to stand behind her chair. They all know she wants to deliver another lecture, so they quickly order another round. Gertruida can lecture the legs off a donkey when she’s in the mood.

“One of the most beautiful things in nature happens with that poor animal you so wrongly judge to be ugly. Sure, it’s got jaws. And sure, it has a bit of venom. And yes, it waits patiently at the bottom of the little pit it dug without hands or tools. 

“At least, it isn’t devious about what it’s doing. That hole is there for anyone to see. If you get trapped there, it’s because you weren’t paying attention. The antlion only does what it has to do.

“Now, consider the 2,000 species of insects in the family Myrmeleontida. They occur world-wide, but prefer to live under inhospitable circumstances. They don’t like a crowd, you see? They are called by many names: Little Dog of the Wood, Pit Elephant, Doodlebug, Little Armadillo and Vulture Louse. The Spanish call it Tonto – Little Bull – which always reminds me of the famous Indian in the cowboy stories.

“What is interesting, is the little pit you observe down there. That’s made by a larva – the baby that emerged from the egg it’s mother laid. At first, it practices its trade from a small pit, catching small prey. As it grows, it makes larger and larger pits to catch more appetising meals. 

“But it is completely defenceless, as you can see. The little pit is exposed to wind and rain and anything that treads, trots or slithers across it. Whenever the pit is destroyed, the antlion simply constructs a new one. It has to, to get to the next stage.”

“What next stage?” Vetfaan has seen large areas of the Kalahari with these little pits, and never thought much about it. An antlion is an antlion – you don’t end up studying them, for goodness sakes! Now, with Gertruida in full cry, he is strangely intrigued.

“Well, they evolve, you see. Once the larval stage is over, they turn into lacewings.”

424px-Antlion_life_cycle.svgWarming to her subject, she tells them how the helpless, ugly creature becomes a little silk-lined cocoon. After a month of so in this pupal stage, they finally emerge as an adult insect.

“The transformation is remarkable. The helpless, immature larva emerges from the cocoon as a beautiful little animal, much larger than the antlion, it is able to fly.  People often confuse them with dragonflies, unless they pay attention to the clubbed antennae of the lacewing.

“Mostly nocturnal, they even get swatted by people who take them to be largish mosquitoes. 

“So, my friends, don’t look down on that hapless creature surviving below the surface in that hole. It’s really trying to find a way to become what it should be: a flying beauty.”

Ever the romantic, Precilla smiles shyly.

“Wow! At first an egg. Then an ugly larva – and then, under the right circumstances, it spreads its wings to discover a completely different way of living. That’s so sweet!”

Distoleon_tetragrammicus01Gertruida isn’t finished yet. “There is a fable, Precilla, about these antlions. A small group of San people say that ithey represent the way it is with men and women. They revere the antlion as a sort of good luck sign. You see, they say we are all born to be helpless and then we try to fight our way through life. But…as we all find out, it is often through many trials and tribulations that we realise we have the ability to fly. We can leave the pit of selfish existence to spread our wings in search of a mate. When those San people see the the fluttering lacewings, they tell each other about a better life; a life where they find freedom and love. To them, an antlion is a sign of love.”

They watch as an ant tumbles down the steep side of the pit. The waiting antlion pounces immediately, dragging it’s prey below the surface.

“Ugh,” Precilla says.

“It’ll fly one day,” Gertruida smiles, “become something beautiful.”

“Like love, Gertruida?” Vetfaan doesn’t get it.

“Exactly, Vetfaan. Antlions are Mother Nature’s fairytale. It’s the story of Cinderella who gets rescued from hardship. Or Sleeping Beauty who wakes up. Even…Pinocchio who gets to feel what it is to be alive. The beast, turning into beauty. Love does that, my friend. It is only once we discover the wings of love that we finally discover the wonder of flight.”

Boggel gets up put an empty bottle near the antlion’s pit.

“Just so we don’t step on it accidentally,” he explains. “Even an antlion needs some protection sometimes.  It’s the least we can do.”

Gertruida smiles quietly. Yes, she thinks, love is such a vulnerable thing

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.

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.

Going for the Kill (# 9)

a-crocodile-broke-out-of-its-cage-on-a-qantas-flightIt’s the one single shot that changes the course of the war.

One shot.

Sometimes that is all it takes…

***

 José Migeul Pereira wades through the fast flowing water, step after step making sure he finds proper footing. A few tree trunks are caught between the larger boulders, and he is careful to negotiate his way cautiously in order to avoid any submerged obstacles.

However, he’s not worried about the river. His problem, he knows, will be to make contact with the South Africans, and then to convince them that he has come with an unusual message. Will they believe him? He grabs hold of a prominent rock to steady himself, all the time making sure that the white flag is in plain sight,

He feels the whip of the bullet even before he hears the shot. He ducks instinctively, suppressing a shout.

Not three yards away, a sudden thrashing in the water contributes to his fright. Then, slowly, a red stain appears in the swirling water.

***

“What the hell?” Groesbeek grabs the binoculars to study the scene. José stands bent, riveted to the spot.

It’s only when the dead crocodile surfaces almost next to José, that realisation dawns. One of his snipers spotted the creature floating silently towards the fugitive and promptly removed the danger. He sees José do a fast little retreat once he recognises the reptile. Several men, after being on edge the whole night, start sniggering at the way José now makes rather hasty progress towards the opposite bank.

One may say that the crocodile, one of Africa’s most efficient killers, saved José’s life. Or maybe even the whole the continent it threatens so. When José clambers up the river bank, several South Africans are there to lend a hand. The sniggers turn to snorts; the snorts to laughter.

There exists a strange camaraderie between soldiers, even when they are fighting against each other. Every war has stories of Christmas carols shared, prayers exchanged, and enemy soldiers receiving medical care. Of course, the opposite is true as well, with wounded men being bayoneted and women raped. One cannot predict these things.

But no-one could have foreseen the effect the killing of the crocodile would have on the men that morning. The relief of not killing and not being killed is overwhelming – the tension being replaced by an almost-inappropriate feeling of bonhomie. José isn’t fluent in English, but there’s no mistaking his gratitude. Amongst the South Africans, a gangling youth demonstrates how José high-stepped across the river, causing gales of laughter. José asks who fired the shot, and shakes the man’s hand when he steps forward. All in all – it may as well have been a meeting between old friends.

Groesbeek makes his way to the front and stares at the young man in front of him. Surely he can’t be a doctor – he’s far too young for that!. And experts on chemical warfare are much, much older…aren’t they?

They quickly find Private Stefano de Nobriga, a green grocer’s son from Parys, whose fluent Portuguese sees to it that he is immediately appointed as interpreter.

An hour later, Groesbeek gathers the men at the crest of the gorge and orders the cook to brew up some coffee and serve breakfast.

***

“I shall do exactly what you did, Mister Pereira. I’ll go across the river with a white flag, see the cargo you guys are carting around, and satisfy myself that you’re talking the truth.” Experienced soldiers never, ever, trust the enemy. “I shall take de Nobriga with to facilitate communication.

“If you lied to me, you won’t see Angola again. Unless I return unharmed, your squad will be wiped out. If, however, you told the truth, then I guarantee your men a safe stay on this side of the border. I shall then communicate with my superiors and work out a strategy. Is that clear?”

***

The Ruacana Incident – as it eventually becomes mentioned in one or two top secret reports – gets buried amongst the rumours and gossip of the Border War. Few take it seriously, and no mention is ever made of it in official reports. Look it up on Google – you’ll find nothing.

Magnus-malan

Minister of Defence: Magnus Malan

But when General Groebeek informs Minister Magnus Malan of the situation, an urgent meeting of senior military staff is held in the big boardroom of the headquarters in Voortrekkerhoogte.

Malan doesn’t mince his words. The threat is real. If the rivers were poisoned a few hundred metres upstream from the border, the army had absolutely no defence against it. The water will flow downhill as it always does, carrying the deadly solution to thousands of unsuspecting villagers, soldiers and animals.”

His frown deepens as he continues.

“Evacuation on this scale is impossible, gentlemen. Villagers will simply refuse, saying this is a trick by the South African government.

Vaal Dam - supplying water to the Gauteng Province

Vaal Dam – supplying water to the Gauteng Province

“Anyway, the logistics of clearing out the entire northern border, is way beyond our means. In short: it’s impossible. And what about the animals – do we simply turn our backs? And what about South Africa’s rivers? What’s to stop them from poisoning the Vaal  and Hartbeespoort dams? Where will they start? How can we stop them?”

No, he says, while this poses a problem, it is also an opportunity. “We have to talk, that’s all. No other option. If they do this, we have to retaliate – and we can’t afford that. Once we start dropping our atom bombs, we will lose the bit of international support we still have. We’ll win the war, but we’ll lose everything…”

“What do you suggest, Minister?” General Groesbeek stares at his hands – he has a good idea where the discussion is heading to.”

Malan sighs. “A delegation, gentlemen. Talks with Luanda. Urgently…”

***

The script for international politics is, at times, boring – because it’s so predictable. Of course the Angolan delegation denies any knowledge of Sarin-S. No, this was never part of their agenda. Of course not. It is inhuman to think of it, unacceptable to even consider it.

And yes, if the South Africans can prove the presence of such a threat, they’ll investigate it immediately. It might possibly be – for instance –  that some of the overseas instructors or advisers were overzealous and made a huge mistake. And if that is the case, they’ll deport such an advisor immediately. No, they can’t tolerate such dissidents amongst the cadres. Maybe it is the action of a single, misguided person, who knows? Yes, this calls for urgent action.

But, the South Africans must also understand, there is the minor question in the Angolan minds: what about  atom bombs? Some sources claim that there is an arsenal of these devices in Pretoria? Surely that is only a rumour, not so? But…supposing the outrageous gossip has a smidgen of truth to it, neighbouring countries need to be reassured that these weapons are only a symbolic threat and that it would never be used in the current conflict.

Atom bombs? The South Africans look shocked. Of course not! No, they never considered constructing such inhuman devices. Impossible! Surely the gentlemen present cannot believe such nonsense? We are, after all, Christians, not so? No, all we want is a fair fight. Surely everybody knows that?

The talks end with a 5-star dinner in honour of the foreign guests, with speeches and handshakes and smiles. Both sides promise to report to their command structures after the talks.

It changes the course of the war. The boxers will continue to slog it out in the ring. Queensbury rules. No guns or knives in the ring. Of course not

***

José Migeul Pereira walks point for his squad of men. Without their load of Sarin-S, they’re making good progress.

“Hey Doc,” it’s the radioman, a worried tone to his voice, “Chung will kill us.”

“No. When we reach the base, you’ll stay in the bush. I’ll go and talk to Comrade Vasily – I feel I have to report the truth to him. I owe him that.” He taps the side of his head, just like Mister Clemente always did. The old butcher was right: the answer is always in there. “Once he knows exactly what transpired, he’ll understand. Maybe he’ll deploy us elsewhere. Otherwise, we’ll just form a rogue unit and do our own thing. Don’t worry – we’ll work this out.”

***

Comrade Vasily whistles a tune as he walks over to General Chung’s hut. It’s a Russian tune, a happy one most popular in the Soviet army. He’s in an exceptionally good mood because he is going to particularly enjoy delivering the latest orders from Luanda.

He enters Chung’s dwelling without knocking, enjoying the look of annoyance on the Chinese face.

“Hey, Chung old buddy. You’ve got to pack for a long journey. Yep, next stop: China. No more venison and vegetables and balmy sunshine days for you, my friend. Rice and chopsticks – or whatever they serve in Chinese prisons.” Vasily waves a dismissive hand. “Oh, don’t bother to thank me, my friend. I wasn’t responsible for your demotion. No, not at all. Oh, by the way, I’m the general now. You know, the guy in charge? So I’m not requesting you to pack. I’m ordering you to do so.

“Your escort awaits, Mister Chung…hurry up now…”

 

The Impossibility of Everlasting Happiness.

“Did you see the Daily Prompt from those WordPress guys?” Gertruida has managed to connect to the Internet via her new cellphone, and now spends long hours visiting her two favourite sites. “They want to know about six impossible things.”

“Well, for one: you can’t tickle yourself.” Vetfaan sips his beer thoughtfully. “And elephants can’t jump.”

“And you simply cannot lick your elbow,” Precilla adds. “I tried it in front of the mirror.”

“Yeah, and how about finding words that rhyme with orange…or purple?”

“Eternal love and happiness are also impossible for humans. Somebody dies, or goes away, leaving the other one grieving.” Siena has been on Servaas’ mind lately. “Even the most precious things get lost, or broken. “

“Well, then the ultimate impossibility must be hidden in the words ‘human rights’. In our country it means that a convicted prisoner – say a serial rapist or killer – has a vote worth just as much as mine, or the President’s. How is it possible to justify that? It’s impossible. We’ve become so involved with human rights, that we’ve pulled the whole picture out of shape. We preach equal rights for all, but how do you justify people being refused promotion, just because of the amount of pigment in their skins?” Gertruida sighs. “Maybe Servaas is right. We were so happy in 1994. We were ecstatic. It couldn’t last…”

 

Daily Prompt: 180 Degrees – Tiny’s Story

(A small break from Rolbos, in response to Daliy Prompt. It’s an old story, but Vetfaan’s Surprise took a lot of writing, so I’m enjoying a break)

download (25)Tiny Jacobs is a small man in many respects. Although he comes from a small family – both in numbers as well in size – it is true to say that his body and his life are good examples of mediocrity. He came from a below average family living in the poorer section of the city. He scraped through school, was the last to sport bodily hair amongst his peers and has – up till now – never caught a rugby ball thrown at him. The opportunity to do so only presented itself but once: while he stood next to the field looking at Mandy Mitchell’s legs, the winger was tackled with such force that the ball flew from his desperate grasp that it almost took one of Tiny’s small eyes out. Being otherwise occupied, one can understand that he never saw it coming, anyway.

Mr Verster, the head of his school, often wondered about Tiny’s future. Small enough for a jockey, but after the ball incident, Tiny had to twist his head this way and that to see properly. There was no way he could steer a horse– nor most other moving things, alive or dead, come to think of it.

Tiny left school with the firm advice not pursue an academic career; it was a no-starter, Mr Verster said. One-eyed, small and somewhat disgruntled, Tiny trundled through town, looking for a job. At last, because he was physically impaired and possessed a stunted sense of ambition (Mandy flatly rejected his cautious and clumsy advances), he was appointed as Assistant-helper in the City’s Administration Office (Archive Division) . His job for the next 45 years involved working in the dusty basement where the records are kept. In essence, he was merely an office cleaner.

Of course his job suited him quite nicely, thank you. Because of his size, he managed to get into the nooks and crannies between and behind the shelves laden with boxes filled with documents nobody ever needed. This didn’t bother him: he still cleaned the place as if it were an operating theatre. The mayor remarked on this during his goodbye-party before his retirement – prompting the diminutive man to ask for a copy of the one-page speech (Times New Roman, 16 size), which he hung on his wall next to the photograph of Mandy.

They say some men fall in love once. Their minds, like the swallows in the summer or the salmon in Alaska, know only one route to happiness and joy. Call it noble instinct (or insatiable lust) if you like, but that was the way Tiny felt about Mandy. He could recall with remarkable clarity the way the wind ruffled the edge of her very short skirt that morning before the winger took the tackle. She had beautiful legs: shapely and long and oh, so alluring. He can remember how the fine white hairs stood erect that morning and how he drew in his breath once he realised what a powerful physical effect she was having on him.

But that was long ago.

He knows that Mandy got married to an investment banker (with perfect vision of what the future should hold, of course) and that they had two tall and strapping boys that played on the wings for the National Team. It would have been difficult to miss those photographs in the sports pages of the dailies: they were handsome, they were fast and they never missed catching a ball. Surest hands in the game, the journalists said. Tiny could only sigh when he read those articles: he still wondered about the fine blond hairs on those shapely legs.

Over the years Tiny accepted that Mandy made the right choice. Those two boys would most probably have been runty and sort-of underdeveloped if she chose to spend a lifetime with him. His jealousy towards the investment banker changed from total hate to a very mild form of admiration. Ce la vie...

After six months of retirement, Tiny decided that his dingy flat needed redecorating. After four-and-a-half decades of work, his pension was substantial and he had been living frugally all his life. He could afford to spoil himself with a little luxury. The plastic plants had discoloured and the carpet was basically a network of twine and fluff. With his chequebook in hand, he strode into Weatherly’s. He needed a new carpet, some pictures to go with Mandy’s on the wall – and a new couch.

The shop was a surprise and a shock. He never imagined prices like he saw there, but on the other hand; the range of merchandise was astounding. Then, suddenly, he wished the floor would open and the earth would swallow him on the spot. There, older but unmistakably familiar, was Mandy behind the desk in the carpet section. Breathless and in almost-blind terror (easier with one good eye), he turned on his heel to abandon his dream of more comfort in his flat.

Fate can be very fickle. Sometimes the winds of fortune blow ill – but on that day a favourable breeze caused Mandy to look up, gasp in surprise and shout his name loud enough for the manager to look up in alarm.

“Tiny? My word, it’s you!”

What could he do? He turned back, sheepishly, hanging his head and remembering those tiny hairs that now was hidden beneath the fabric of her tight-fitting jeans. He mumbled a muffled ‘hello’.

“I never thought I’d see you here, Tiny?” She could have said that she didn’t think he could afford anything there, but didn’t. His trolley was already laden with some pictures of geese and mountains, which must have convinced her that he was now, despite everything, a man of considerable means.

“Nor did I expect to see you here, Mandy, not here and not ever, I suppose.”

The fortune-winds picked up strength. She was due for a coffee break…would he….?

Five minutes later we find them sharing coffee at the little shop around the corner. He’d return later to pick a carpet, he said.

“I’m glad to see one of the old friends,” she started. He closed his good eye, relishing the fact that she viewed him as a friend. “I’ve been very lonely, you know? Ever since my husband had that heart attack, my life has changed completely.” Tiny didn’t know about it and said so. “Yes, exactly four months ago. Good riddance, I say. He had the looks and the money, but he never saw me as a woman. I was an object, a centre-fold to exhibit and brag about. I was the bearer of children and the charmer he needed to impress friends and superiors; but never the loved wife of a successful businessman. Now he was rewarded for a lifetime of ladder-climbing with a fatal infarct and a nice head stone; while I had to find out the debts were more than the assets.”

She took out a well-used tissue to dab away the imaginary tear, watching him for reaction. He made sympathetic sounds, sipped his coffee and remembered all those years in the dusty basement. Their lives had been remarkably similar. Being too beautiful or too weird had the same disadvantages.

He said so. She listened. Made more understanding noises. Sipped her coffee. Weighed the facts.

“Maybe I must come and have a look at your flat before you buy a carpet, Tiny? I’d be able to tell you exactly what you need.”

And with that, the winds that blew them together became a gale. He didn’t mind that her tears were fake. He didn’t care that she saw him as the last shelter in the storm of life that treated her so unkindly. It didn’t even matter if she was playing him like an ancient violin.

All that mattered was Mandy.

And she saw. She conquered. And then she came, but only later. At first she was uncomfortable in the small flat with its sparse furniture. The kitchenette allowed only one person in at a time; its cupboards contained a mug, a tin plate and some KFC plastic utensils for eating. He had a one-cup kettle and a two-egg saucepan. Predictably, his fridge was empty.

“You don’t go for the flamboyant life, do you?” It was more of a sarcastic statement than careful curiosity. He didn’t notice. His attention was focussed on the spot just below the ‘Levi’ tag. Whatever else has happened to Mandy, she certainly retained the shape that almost ruined his sight. Now, with her inspecting the empty shelf below the sink, he gave in to his boyhood fantasy to run his hand softly, tenderly over the curve of her rump.

He stood back, anticipating a rebuke.

But Mandy, the erstwhile queen-of-the-roost, suddenly realised how lonely, loneliness can be. Here was a bachelor – virgin soil – waiting to be cultivated. She also reflected briefly on her own life and realised it had been no better than his. Life had used her, chewed her, spat her out. In fact, she had been as lonely as he.

 

Later (much later), they lay on his single bed, intertwined like only first-time lovers can be. He was breathless; she could only gasp for air.

“But, Tiny, this is sooo BIG! I never realised…” She pointed in passionate admiration, satisfied grin in place.

And for the first time in his life, Tiny smiled with pride.

It took years of misunderstanding, denial, social abuse, manipulation and shallow living for her to realise how special the body of little Tiny was – and to think she could have missed this opportunity…

“Yes,” he said shyly, slyly. “It is, isn’t it?”

She was talking anatomy. He was looking at the future.

In the end, it didn’t matter. It really was the same thing.

The Unbearable Burden of Beauty

 The late Reeva Steenkamp Credit: Mstarz.com

The late Reeva Steenkamp
Credit: Mstarz.com

“Why is it that men destroy the very object of their desire?” Precilla is still hugely upset about the recent events. “It’s as if beauty drives them to destruction.”

“Oh, come on!” Vetfaan sits back and eyes her critically. “Women are just as bad. Remember Daisy de Melker? She took out two husbands and her son.  And Nannie Doss killed eleven people, which included husbands, her mother, a nephew , children and a grandchild.”

“Those were serial killers, Vetfaan. I’m talking about apparently normal men – if there are any of them.  Your usual John Doe, the happy teller in the bank.  The guy driving the removal van. Even the CEO of an international company.  Guys who earned the respect of society but then goes and steals the petty cash in the safe, or shoplifts an apple in Woolworths?  If you have what you want in life, why do a Clinton with the intern? Or why build a Nkandla with corruption money when you life is filled with luxury already?”

“You need to define beauty first. Are we talking about perfect circumstances, or physical bodies and faces? Personally, I’ve never figured out why certain dimensions and proportions should be labelled as ‘beauty’. The eyes must be so. The nose just there. Lips a certain way… It doesn’t make sense.” Gertruida stares at the mirror behind the bottles. “Look: Precilla has the same number of ears and eyes  as I have, yet you’ll all agree she’s much more beautiful.”

Her remark triggers a series of coughs and mutters. The men can’t agree or differ without offending one of the two women.

Vetfaan – who arguably has the least to lose, breaks the impasse. “I think men were created as sexual beings. Our job is to do our bit to ensure the survival of mankind. So, ever since the beginning of time, men are instinctively drawn to a certain type of woman. She has to exhibit certain characteristics. Men think boobs are sexy – and maybe they are – but in essence the better-proportioned lady will more likely supply sufficient nourishment for the baby. When men stare at voluptuous hips, they never think about the birthing process that requires certain dimensions to ensure a living mother and baby afterwards.” He quickly scans the group in Boggel’s Place to make sure he’s not offending anybody. “So men were wired to think certain attributes are sexy, and that’s why the old caveman dragged the woman back to his cave. He thought she’s a beauty, but in essense he instinctively chose the best genetic material to procreate.”

“So you’re saying that attractive women instinctively cause men to want to have sex?” A small spark of danger flashes in Precilla’s eyes.

“Think about it. There are two strong life forces, and they both have to do with survival. The one is the will to live – the mortally wounded soldier, trying to crawl back to safety. The other is, quite frankly, sex; the need to produce the next generation. So we are brought up to associate sex and success.  Cars are advertised with a busty blonde draped over the bonnet. Sandy-rumped beach bunnies  convince you to buy fruity drinks. Magazines with scantily-clad models on the cover, sell better than those featuring a rusty mine shaft. Society is at fault here: we’ve allowed the very intimate act of sex to become a social commodity. We use the female body to remind real men what real success is. Only, we don’t define real success as it should be: in the old days it was the assurance there’ll be a next generation. Nowadays, success is the curvy girl who tells you she’ll love you forever if you are man enough to buy the Porsche.” Vetfaan wipes a bead of sweat from his forehead – that was close! Precilla can be a bit of a prude when it comes to discussing sex in public.

“But that still doesn’t answer my question. Why destroy beauty? If a girl has all the right proportions – as you so succinctly put it -  should a man not cherish her? Should he not protect her as the mother of the future? Why kill something so precious?”

“The same reason why men rape a girl to death in Bredasdorp or Delhi. Why a woman gets raped every four minutes in this country. Or why our President has so many wives.” Vetfaan is even more worried now – this is uncharted territory in Boggel’s Place. “It’s called inadequacy.  Men are hunters. They’ll stalk an antelope, and the hunt ends in killing the object of their quest. They want to prove themselves as superior. As much as women bear the hidden promise of survival, men are burdened with the quest to conquer. Self-assured men do not need to boost their egos by proving their sexuality – they’ll be clever enough to fall in love with the biggest sexual organ a woman possesses: the mind.  And then it doesn’t matter if that brain floats around behind a nice-looking face – or a hairless head with squinty eyes. But the chap who need to project success to the community, will carefully select a model, a celebrity, or a beauty queen. He wants to show the world the success of his hunt. She becomes an object – a medal to wear – to make him look good.”

Gertruida pats him on the shoulder. “Well done, Vetfaan, you got out of that one nicely. And I agree with you. These men – the inadequate ones – can only believe in themselves by surrounding them with the thing they lack most: beauty. And then, one day, they realise something terrible: the image and reality aren’t the same. They got what they wanted: the adoration and jealousy of their peers – but deep inside they know: they can’t bluff themselves any more. The paparazzi aren’t following them around because he’s such a great guy – they want the candid shot of a heated argument. And then the poor inadequate man starts doubting even more – can he hold on to this beauty? Won’t she see through him to discover his weaknesses?

“That’s when the arguments start. He gets jealous. He wants to possess her. And that sometimes means he has to kill her to achieve that.”

“You may be right, Gertruida.” Precilla nods quietly. “But what about rape?”

“Take one of these inadequate men -  or a group of them. They simply know they’re not good enough to woo a girl with respect. And remember, in South Africa they hand out condoms in schools – the government is actually encouraging kids to experiment. They’re not trying to take a moral stand, they’re simply trying to cut down on the expense of treating AIDS. The President struts around, bragging with a harem and maybe 40 children. He’s the leader of the country and his message is: Look at me. I’m so successful. I have many wives. I produce numerous offspring.  So, with that example and the encouragement to have sex, the youths of today want to prove their adequacy by having sex, even if they have to force it.”

“And so they destroy beauty?” Boggel’s concern is written all over his face.

“Yes. Whether you shoot somebody through a bathroom door, or rape a girl to death, the inadequate man will rather destroy beauty than admit he doesn’t have the guts to face himself. He’s prepared to throw away his future because he can’t live with the present reality.”

“So the value-system is all skewed? We’ve mixed sex and success and survival – the things people want most – into a recipe to destroy beauty?”

“Sadly, yes.” Gertruida shrugs and spreads her arms wide. “Look at government. Look at advertisements. Look at the heroes we’ve created for ourselves.  Look at society and the signals of success it demands.

“And, while all men aren’t insecure; those that are, get driven to acts that are as violent as they are unacceptable. It may be something that occurs as a spur-of-the-moment madness, or be a permanent  insanity. But, in the few men who succumb to these urges, the result is tragedy. One woman told me: I heard the car door slam, and immediately looked at the clock. I knew then…it was too late..’

“We’re not all like that, Gertruida.” Vetfaan gets up to go. The discussion has really clouded his day. “The majority of men are  good, strong individuals who are completely comfortable with themselves.”

“Then, Vetfaan, it is time for them to get out of their comfort zones and  change the rules. They have to make themselves heard. If they don’t change anything, everything will remain the same.”

The Town Called Loneliness

Daily Prompt: Explain why you chose your blog’s title and what it means to you.

Evey day a big, hairy monster takes a bite out of you. Sometimes it is a nibble, sometimes a chunk, but nevertheless you end up with less of yourself whenever you go to bed at the end of the day. The monster is called Time – and there’s no escaping the reality of it’s hunger.

That’s why Rolbos is important. Rolbos (English: Tumbleweed) is a plant that sheds it’s upper parts (either the flower or the whole bush) which is then driven by the wind. It stops at obstacles. Fences, houses, other trees and bushes. They never end up where they started. And nobody can predict where the next one will come from, or where it’ll go.

Of course, like with all living creatures (and that even includes politicians), there is a reason why these plants end their days by rolling, rolling along over the endless plains of Life. They scatter seeds as they do so.  Mother Nature ensures that the many tiny seeds get spread over the widest possible terrain, in order to give the offspring the best chance to survive, The random rolling must surely give at least one little seed a friendly environment?

Surely?

And so successful has this strategy been that these simple plants outlived the dinosaurs. They go back to the very beginning. I am sure (have no proof thought) that there, in Eden, a humble Rolbos was hoping the winds of Life will eventually scatter some of it’s seeds near you, the reader.

In Rolbos town, we find different characters that have rolled into one another’s life. Their staying in Rolbos might seem as a random happening. And here, in Boggel’s Place, they swap stories and discuss current events. Their words carry the seeds of many ideals and sometimes even hope. Like the tumbleweed seeds, they hope to find fertile ground and a happy environment.

Rolbos has now been read in more than 100 countries. It has rolled into many lives. Sometimes, I am sure, the dried twigs were cleared away with hurried hands, having maybe touched the wrong nerve. Sometimes, too, the stories made people look at their own lives with questioning eyes. Hopefully, it caused a few smiles.

As the gusts carry the fragile structure of Rolbos onwards, we are reminded of our loneliness. Like the little seeds, we are individuals; loners trudging along. We scatter word-seeds and deed-seeds, touching the lives of those around us. Mostly (and sadly so) these seeds get ignored and won’t even sprout the green leaves of happiness when the season is right. But sometimes, sometimes, we plant something good in the lives of loved ones and strangers, leaving them with a smile and a twinkle in the eye. In true rolbos fashion, these acts and words ,may seem random, but they aren’t. The dinosaurs proved that even they – huge strong beasts – cannot compete when it comes to longevity. There’s a reason for rollling along.

So that is what Rolbos is all about. Spreading the global surface with a seemingly insignificant little seed, in the hope it’ll find a suitable place to settle and grow. It’s the oldest seed in the world. It’s also the loneliest seed in the world.

It’s called Love.

Whoa!

Daily Prpmpt: What’s the most surreal experience you’ve ever had?

(This is a reblog, but it fits in so nicely with the theme…)

images (22)“Nobody believes in ghosts any more. That’s a notion that belongs to the past. In this, the 21st   century, we are realists. It is impossible for a spirit – of a dead person, that is – to appear in our dimension.  There is a definite boundary between what we live in, and the realm of the metaphysical. So, sorry, I don’t believe all this nonsense.” Gertruida has that knowledgeable look – the one she uses to stop arguments.

Vetfaan isn’t buckling down. “You can believe what you want. But what about angels? Don’t you believe in guardian spirits that look after you? And what about all those stories in the Bible – are they wrong, too?”

Gertruida says something about more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, before waving a dismissive hand. “We’ll never know everything, I agree. Some things beg explanation, but we don’t know enough to explain them. Point is: I don’t know anybody who has seen a ghost lately. Not within living memory, at least. And that should tell you something, at least.

“The old farmers and trekkers were lonely, superstitious people. They imagined all kinds of stuff: there was a mermaid in Meiringspoort, a ghost in Uniondale and a variety of spirits in the old Concentration Camps. Hollywood took up this theme by filming Scrooge; that story was written many years before, when people were still gullible enough to think ghosts existed. Nowadays they resurrect this fascination with the paranormal with Harry Potter and a selection of vampires.  But still, it remains a fantasy of the superstitious. They don’t exist. Full stop.”

Despite the tone of her voice, Gertruida doesn’t like talking about other dimensions. This is one area where her vast knowledge and her sense for logic fails her.

The discussion was prompted by Kleinpiet, who said his grandmother used to talk about a spirit that occasionally visited her. “It was a woman in a red dress, quite beautiful, although it was difficult to see exactly what she looked like. She timed her visits to occur before major events – like deaths and births.

“Grandma told us the woman never said anything. Over the years, she realised the way this woman tried to tell her something. She always danced – a slow dance for deaths, a polka for births. If she slid her hands down her slender body, it signified female – while strong arm movements indicated male. Grandma used those dances to predict, and she was never wrong.”

Gertruida scoffed at that, calling it luck or coincidence. Kleinpiet looked hurt.

“And there was a platoon of British soldiers that died in the Kalahari in the 1914 Rebellion. They went after General Maritz’s troops, but got lost in the desert. They all died of thirst. The old hunters used to see them marching through the desert, late at night, still looking for water.”

Gertruida tapped the side of her head, saying brandy can do terrible things to you.

Later, the cold Kalahari wind finds its way down Voortrekker Weg (the name is still spelled incorrectly on the skew pole), chasing a lazy dust devil between the buildings. Way out in the desert, a jackal howls in the darkness, while a rather large rat scampers across the road towards Sammie’s Store.  The double Hoooo of an owl drifts on the wind, wakes those that have dropped off to sleep. It is the perfect night for spirits to wander around.

Servaas has other ideas. He has been tossing and turning while contemplating the debate in the bar that evening. Now, if he can scare the others – especially Gertruida – into believing in ghosts, he can have a good laugh at their expense. And as the plan takes shape in his mind, he bursts out laughing. Man, they’ll all be scared out of their wits…

As postmaster, Servaas has a more than rudimentary grasp of electronics. This is going to help him a lot tonight. He dresses in his old army uniform (with difficulty – he has to leave the fly open to get the pants on) before rigging the tape recorder to his back and hiding the speakers under the tunic. With a torch hidden under his shirt, he sets out for the upper end of Voortrekker Weg.

Minutes later, the townsfolk gather at their windows to stare in complete surprise at the apparition marching down the main road – to the blaring of There’ll be blue birds over/The white cliffs of Dover… With the torch switched on, the sight created by Servaas is more than convincing. Making sure that he remains in step with the music, he marches down the street as quickly as he can. At the end of the road he switches everything off and doubles back to his house, using the little footpath behind the buildings to conceal his return.

Undressing quickly in his dark kitchen, Servaas watches through the small window as the lights in the houses come on one after the other.  Soon, Voortrekker Weg is bathed in light and people gather on Boggel’s veranda. Kleinpiet is jubilant – the story of the dead English platoon is right, after all! No longer will Gertruida make fun of spirits – they all saw the troops, didn’t they?

When Gertruida climbs up the steps to the stoep, they all fall silent.

“Well! Now that was an interesting little demonstration, wasn’t it?  I almost missed the dragging of the tape towards the end as the batteries started to give in. Then, of course, the prankster made a fatal mistake.” She had their complete attention by now. “Shows you how much somebody knew about 1914.”

“Go on, Gertruida, tell us?” Vetfaan doesn’t like the thought of Rolbos being declared a ghost town.

“Wel, Burton and Kent only penned that song in 1941. How is it possible that the British soldiers from WW I march to the tune of a WW II song? And remember, even they made a mistake. There never were bluebirds in England – certainly not over the cliffs of Dover. The writers were American and got it all so completely wrong.

“That recording was made by Vera Lynn – born as Vera Margaret Welch – who was born in 1917; years after the Rebellion.

“So the question is: who in this town is a fan of Vera Lynn? And then I remembered the tape amongst Servaas’s collection: Vera Lynn Remembers – The World at War, given out, if I remember correctly, in 1974. Now, maybe, Servaas would like to explain why he woke us all up at this unholy hour.”

Of course they smile at his effort and soon everybody is back in bed with the lights switched off. Peace returns to Rolbos with the ease of the dust settling down after the wind dies down. It’ll pick up again just before dawn, as it usually does.

This is a pity, though. The early-morning wind will blow the red Kalahari sand down Voortrekker weg, obscuring the three neat rows of footprints down the street: footprints of soldiers following a song promising their return to England. Like that time in 1914, they’ll have to stay where they are. Maybe, one day when there really are bluebirds over those cliffs, it’ll be possible for them to return. In the meantime, they’ll  have to keep on marching, marching, marching along through the Kalahari – where the drifting sands disguise the signs of their passing every morning.

Daily Prompt: Teachable Moment

You have to learn a new skill. Do you prefer to read about it, watch someone else do it, hear someone describe it, or try it yourself?

“It’s easy,” Servaas says, “all you need to do, is to look for the blown fuse. Wrap a bit of tinfoil around it, push it back, and it’ll work again.”

They are standing around the open bonnet of the old Ford, discussing ways to get the motor running again. Vetfaan says it worked still perfectly when he parked the vehicle in front of Boggel’s Place, but now it refuses to start. They’ve checked the battery and fuel, made sure the radiator is filled, and had a few beers. Having (in their minds) done everything possible, they now have reached the end of their problem-solving abilities.

“I read somewhere it is dangerous to do that. If a circuit gets overloaded, you can burn things out.” Vetfaan isn’t sure what could burn under such circumstances, but he’s not willing to take a chance. “Anyway, the fuses seem to be okay.”

“Well, to get this pickup to a mechanic in Upington, isn’t going to be easy. I wouldn’t like to tow her over the track to the main road at Grootdrink. Maybe we can get the mechanic to come here?”

“Sure.” Sarcasm drips from the words. “That man is going to drive out here and poke around. Then he’d say he needs to get the vehicle to his workshop. All that we’d have managed, is to add a call-out fee to the final account.”

“What about taking the engine out, putting it on the back of a bakkie, and then take it to Upington? Then we won’t have to tow the whole vehicle – we’d just take the sick part to the hospital.” Precilla sounds hopeful, but blushes when she sees the looks the men give her.

“Ahem.” Gertruida gently pushes Vetfaan out of the way, waving a small, white handkerchief. With seemingly effortless movements, she removes the distributor cap, cleans the points with the dainty cloth, and replaces the cap. “You can drive now.”

Gertruida says MOM is a genetic condition in half the population – Male Obstinate Myopia. They’ll talk for hours about a problem without going to the trouble of reading the instruction book. They’ll rather get lost than to ask for directions. Even if they lose an argument, they still believe they’re right.

Women, she maintains, inherit POP – Practical Observational Perception, the skill of learning from others.

Vetfaan can’t believe it when the engine starts with the first try.

“Gee, Gertruida, how did you figure it out?”

“Easy, Vetfaan. I smelled the petrol a mile off. Obviously you had electricity and petrol. There had to be a reason why the petrol didn’t ignite in the cylinders, which points to dust on the distributor points. Anybody can figure it out.”

Being a gentleman, Vetfaan takes her back to the bar to buy her a beer.

Being a lady, Gertruida doesn’t tell him about her trip to Upington the week before. When her car refused to start, she spent a frustrating hour trying to find the problem. When at last she gave up,  the mechanic charged a rather exorbitant fee to come and have a look. That’s where she learnt to handkerchief trick. Gertruida says that’s the part of being female that men will never understand: the ability to solve apparently impossible problems with a bit of luck and a handkerchief. If you can’t fix it, you can dab your eyes and cry a little. The mechanic relented and said it’s okay, she doesn’t have to pay.

She isn’t going to be that stupid. A free beer and the men’s humbled faces are worth more than the mechanic’s original quote. Just like the advertisement says: it’s priceless.