Tag Archives: faith

The Miracle

hare-head01plFaith and politics, Gertruida will tell you, have a lot in common. A lot of what we believe are based on promises that we choose to believe. The action following the promise, however, is a matter of personal interpretation.

Take for instance – and here Gertruida will smile knowingly – the case of Ma Roberts’ rabbits. If ever there was a club for non-believers, then Ma would have been the founding member and life president. And it wasn’t like Oudoom didn’t try either. Back then, the townsfolk would observe a full minute’s worth of silence – staring longingly at the glasses in front of them – every Wednesday afternoon as Oudoom’s old Ford huffed its way down Voortrekker Weg to pay a visit to this formidable woman.

Oudoom used to say Ma Roberts was his equivalent of Jonah’s whale, especially placed on earth to test his faith, his conviction and his commitment. To his credit: it must be said that he never wavered. Regular as clockwork, he visited the huge lady with the short temper – every Wednesday afternoon. He took his Bible along, of course; but he was careful not to overplay his hand. With Ma you had to be careful…extremely careful. She had a way of clamming up, growing red in the face while her eyes bulged ominously, before telling you what (exactly) you could go and do with yourself. This was the same for the occasional traders that visited her farm, the campaigning politicians, and poor Oudoom. He said she can move surprisingly fast, just like a hippo – which we all know is the animal responsible for most killings in Africa.

And, Gertruida will add, one must not forget that Ma was a progressive farmer. Quite successful too, if one considers her methods. She started off with chickens, which she supplied to the fried-chicken franchise in Grootdrink. It is rumoured that she made quite a fortune with this endeavour; which one can understand if you take into consideration that after two months, her neighbours didn’t have a single chicken left. These neighbours remembered what happened to Japie Mulder, the chap who had a dream of representing the district for the ANC in the town council. Oh, he can walk quite well again, even without the crutches (for short distances).  But still, one thinks about such an incident quite deeply before accusing Ma Roberts of stealing a simple thing like a chicken.

With her supply of chickens gone, Ma Roberts contemplated the prospect of a diminishing cash flow, which would have meant reducing her intake of peach brandy. That’s when she took up rabbit farming. Actually, it wasn’t rabbits she kept in that cage behind her house: they were hares. But skin a hare, marinate it ever so slightly in lemon juice, and not even an expert will tell the difference.

Gertruida says one mustn’t confuse hares with rabbits. Rabbits have a soft, succulent flesh – which is why the Belgian restaurant in Kimberley was keen to procure the real thing. But hares? They’re a lot tougher than rabbits. They occur naturally in the Kalahari, fend for themselves within an hour after birth, and do not need the fancy feeding rabbits do. As an aside, Gertruida will remind you that a baby rabbit is called kittens, while the young of hares (which are hairy at birth) are called leverets. This she says just to impress you – not because it has anything to do with The Miracle.

So Ma sent out her labourers to catch the hares on her farm (for a start) and after a week she had eight of the furry animals living in her old chicken coop. After a month, she had twenty-four, due to the original hare’s natural…er…social interaction.

And during this time, Oudoom redoubled his efforts to get Ma Roberts to reconsider her faithless life. He told her about Hope, Love and Mercy. Ma wouldn’t listen, telling him that’s why the country is in such a terrible state. Oudoom changed tack and told her about Jesus – His life, His teachings, and His crucifixion.

Now, Gertruida adds happily, it’s time to talk about Herman du Preez, the chickenless neighbour. Herman was a sickly old man, patiently waiting for the end of his days on the dying farm where the drought (and Ma Roberts) finally stole his hope of a better life on earth. Realising The End was slowly creeping up on him, he took to reading the Bible on his stoep every day, while the only other living thing on his farm – Butch the sheep dog – rested at his feet. Oudoom visited him occasionally to assure him the Paradise was real, and yes, the streets were paved with gold, indeed. This made the old man very happy.

That is, until the day he realised Butch was missing. He closed the Bible, noting the chapter in the book of Job he was studying, and shuffled to the back of the house to look for his faithful friend.

And he found Butch.

With a hare in his jaws.

The hare was dead.

And old Herman looked up at the sky and told the Lord he still had to finish Job. And the New Testament, old Herman prayed earnestly, needed another going-through as well. Surely he can finish that before he closed his eyes for the last time? He reminded his Maker that Ma was a rather deadly opponent, just look what happened to Japie Mulder?

So he sat down, took the dead body from the guilty-looking Butch, and he thought about his problem deeply. If Ma knew his dog had taken one of her rabbits…er, hares…

Herman washed the little body in the basin in his kitchen. Then he dried the dead hare, fluffing up the fur as well as he could. He remembered his long-departed wife’s meagre collection of cosmetics, fished out the almost-dry lipstick and added colour to the lips and a touch of rouge to the cheeks. The brush came in handy, too.

That night, when all the Kalahari slept peacefully, old Herman walked all the way over to Ma Roberts’ farm. Being old and frail, this took longer than he expected, but he made it an hour or so before dawn. He found the wooden gate to the chicken coop, opened the latch, and quietly deposited the small corpse next to the one sleeping hare, who didn’t seem to mind too much.

Then he started shuffling back home.

That Sunday he attended church as usual and was completely surprised to see Ma Roberts in the front pew. Oudoom smiled broadly and halfway through the service he said one of the members of the congregation had something to say.

Ma Roberts hoisted her hefty frame upright, turned around and said she was happy to announce that she’d been wrong all along.

“Look,” she said, “Oudoom has been badgering me about faith for a long time now. As you all know, I thought it was just to soothe his own conscience. But…” and here the whole district saw Ma Roberts falter for the first time in her life, “I was wrong.”

She took a deep breath.

“Oudoom told me about the Resurrection last Wednesday. I listened with one ear. He asked if he could pray for me. I said yes because I wanted his sorry ass off my property.” She ignored the giggles. “Well, he prayed for a sign. Any sign, he said, to make me see the Truth.”

Another deep breath…

“Then one of my rabbits – er… hares – died and I buried it in the veld. It was dead. Really dead.

“And you know what happened? That bloody hare rose from the dead, returned to the coop and looked more alive than I’ve ever seen any hare look like – in all my life.”

***

Old Herman died the following month – peacefully in his sleep. When Koos Kadawer laid him out, he was amazed. Corpses, in his experienced opinion, have slack faces. Mostly expressionless. Unless they died of fright or after being struck by lightning, like Electric Eddie, the best weather forecaster the district ever had.

Not so with old Herman. He looked contented. Happy. His lips curled upwards in death, like a smile.

Or like somebody who knows a delicious secret he doesn’t want to share.

The Fable of a Perfect Life

IMG_0419There once was created a Perfect Life. It was shiny, new and the envy of all the other Lives.

“Look at that!” Jealousy was angry. “That’s not fair. Why must I be dull and uninteresting? This is discrimination at its worst.”

“Oh, shut your trap!” Anger flashed a furious look at Jealousy. “All you do all day long, is to complain when you’re not the center of attention. Complain, complain, complain! I hate it!”

“I can’t take it any more.” This time Depression joined the group. Rarely seen in public, Depression usually hides in the shadows – but today is different. Perfect Life has brought on the worst in it. “Look at that: a Perfect life! I’ve always wanted to be like that, now it only serves to remind me how horrible I am.”

Perfect Life – being perfect – tried to calm things down. “You all could be like me, you know? It’s simple, really. All you have to do is to let go of your pasts. Of course, you need Hope. What have you done with Hope?”

“Oh that one? Huh! Let me tell you.”  Faith stood a little way off, blinking away tears. “Hope was my best friend. But then these Lives stopped believing and they lost me. In fact, they chased me away, saying I’m not welcome anymore. I left…and Hope followed me. Somewhere along the way, Hope got lost. It must still be out there, somewhere.” Faith swept a hand out to the desert, where the endless dunes stretched to the horizon.

“But why, Faith? Why would they chase you away?” Perfect Life – although perfect – could not understand such madness.

“It started when Love died. It was so sad. You see, Anger and Jealousy got everybody together and told them about Love. They said Love was the reason why there is so much Pain.” This time, Faith pointed at the pitiful figure of Pain, curled up in the sand. It was writhing in agony. “In fact, what you see here, is just one, single Pain. There are many more of them living amongst the Lives. Some are, indeed, the result of Love, but there are many other causes. Love just got blamed for most of them.”

“And so…?” Perfect Life still didn’t understand.

“The three of us left. Love, Hope and me.Hope got lost. Love died. And, without my two friends, I am left to struggle along alone.”

“But I believe in you. And Love. And Hope… Can’t we team up against the rest, and make the world a better place?”

“Oh, Perfect Life, you are such an idealist! I’d love it if we tried…but it won’t work. Anger and Jealousy are formidable enemies by themselves, but look who are supporting them.”

And Perfect Life looked, and saw Gossip and Greed and Hate and Ego and Deceit standing behind Anger and Jealousy. And Perfect Life knew – without having to ask – the Truth had been the first to leave, because the Lives could not stand being honest with themselves any longer.

Perfect Life – being perfect – realised it would never survive amongst the Lives,  It took Faith by the hand and walked away, choosing to believe there was a better Life in the desert than amongst the Lives.

Since then, the only way to find Perfect Life, is to follow Faith.

And we know, don’t we? If we choose to live amongst the unhappy Lives, we’ll never find Perfect Life. That’s why the start of a new year is so daunting: we’ve lost too many important bits of our Lives. Now we accept Mediocrity as the only Perfect Life available to us.

If only we had Faith. Or Hope. Or Love… But those are reserved for Perfect Lives, aren’t they? For those more fortunate than us? So settle back, stop trying, and wait for the Other Lives to complete their work.

Or not.

It’s your choice on the first day of January. No, it’s not a resolution. It’s not a threat, either. Just as you cannot will yourself to stop breathing, this is something you simply have to do. You’re at a crossroad and you have to decide which way you’re going in 2014.

Your Life depends on it…

On Days Like These (# 1)

Winslow Homer (1878)

Winslow Homer (1878)

On days like these, Boggel hides under the counter. His customers are arguing about whether President Booma will resign or be sacked – and he knows it’ll make no difference. Instead, he allows himself to think back to remember a time when politics didn’t matter so much. He seldom does this, you have to understand, because it hurts so much. But today, because it is December and because it’s almost Christmas, he can’t stop the memories from rising to the surface. There were Chrismases – back then – etched into his very being, into his soul, and he  can still not answer the Big Question: what if…? 

He gets up, tells Vetfaan to take over his duties and walks out into the sunshine.

“What’s with him?”

Mary Mitchell, Servaas. He gets like this at Christmas time, every year.” Gertruida – who knows everything – watches as the bent little man sits down on the bench in front of the church. “He won’t be himself for a few days.”

***

They had sneaked out of the orphanage to their ‘secret’ place, which wasn’t so secret at all. It was a flat stone next to the small hill outside Grootdrink. Hills in this area aren’t impressive: they’re mere elevations dotted on the flat surface of the district, covered with a few sun-burnt rocks and small shrubs. Still, their spot afforded an endless view over the veld, which in those days wasn’t marred by pylons and telephone poles,

Boggel remembers these hills well: he always liken them with his life: flat, uninteresting, unremarkable; a few moments of happiness scorched and shrivelled by the unfairness of life. Or Love, come to think of it…

“I wanted to talk to you,” she said, looking uncertain, “about us.”

Boggel shifted his position so he can see her eyes. There was no mistaking the pain. She had just returned from a weekend visit to her parent’s home – which explained her need to be alone with him. Boggel always listened without commenting; he never condemned or judged…even though he had the impression she never told him the whole truth. Not entirely. She’d allude to the time spent at home as unbearable; describing the time spent there as ‘hell‘ and ‘never-ending‘, but always refrained from providing details. It was only later – much later – that he finally understood how dark and terrible her ‘hell’ had been.

“Boggel?” The little frown between her eyes deepened. “What do you think about Love? I mean,” she hesitated, biting her lip, “is there such a thing? People talk about it so much, but I don’t know…”

He was sixteen; she, a year younger. He knew no life outside the orphanage. She had her weekends at home. They both had never been outside the Grootdrink district.

“Yes,” he said, “because the Bible tells me so.” He sang the last words on the familiar melody, trying to make light of the moment.

“Oh, Boggel… The Bible tells us we have a Father in Heaven. He’s supposed to look after us. When we pray to Him, He’ll protect us. And you know what? I don’t see that happening a great deal. It’s more like He…well, He’s forgotten about us. Maybe Grootdrink is just too small. Maybe He’s busy elsewhere. But He seems so…distant.” She managed a wobbly smile. “You’re actually confirming my question, Boggel. Love. God. Do they exist?”

Boggel wanted to tell her yes, love exists. Yes, because I love you. But he was sixteen and didn’t have the courage. Or maybe he was wise beyond his years, knowing that such a statement would drive a damaging wedge between them at that time. Whatever happened during her weekends at home, this was not the time to make romantic advances.

“I..well, I suppose love and God are as real as you wish them to be, Mary. Maybe it’s the same as believing. Either you do, or you don’t. Not much grey in those concepts at all.”

At a certain stage in Life, young people are terribly clever. They have the answers to every question ever asked. The horizon is endless, the possibilities without boundaries.  Then we grow up, get knocked around a little, and realise we know so little – so very, very little. And then we bandage the wounds caused by our ignorance and start closing doors. That’s when when we start living in little boxes, because we bleed less in those.

“And you, Boggel? Do you believe in Love?”

He nodded. At that moment a small herd of springbok appeared from behind some rocks some distance away, grazing peacefully.

“How long have we come here, to this very place, to chat?” He saw that the question had startled her.

“Oh…I don’t know? Seems like forever.”

“…And this is the first time we’ve seen some springbok while we’re sitting here.” He smiled at her questioning look. “What I’m trying to say, is that Love is like this. You can look for it everywhere and never find it. And one day, out of the blue, it finds you. That’s what makes it so precious, I guess.”

She remained silent for a long time, staring at the little herd.

“We’ll always be friends, won’t we?”

This time it was Boggel’s turn to be caught off guard. Friends? He had hoped for more, much more… But at that stage he didn’t understand her need for friendship was bigger than her need for a romantic liaison. She needed trust and loyalty and respect and kindness more than a clumsy kiss on the cheek. She’d become comfortable with Love later – but it had to germinate and sprout leaves in the rich soil of friendship first.

“Of course,” he said, feeling hurt.

He got up abruptly, held out his hand, and walked her back to the orphanage in silence.

***

“Pondering the past, Boggel?” Oudoom’s question shatters his reverie and he moves to one side so that the clergyman can sit down as well.

“You know,” Oudoom says this casually, as if they’ve been chatting all afternoon, “I told Mevrou just the other day; I said it’s sometimes difficult to believe in things. When Vetfaan came back from the war, he questioned God. I think he stopped believing for a while.” Oudoom falls silent as he watches a dove pecking at the side of the road. “And I understood that. I think we all get to a point in our lives when things just don’t make sense.”

Boggel twists his neck to look up at the pastor. “But why, Oudoom? Who don’t things work out? It’s as if God adds misery to our lives on purpose. You know about my past, Oudoom. Why can’t I have somebody in my life? I’m not asking for much…just a friendly smile, a cup of coffee in the morning, a hug at night? Why must I feel so…lonely?”

Oudoom shakes his head, causing the dove to flutter off.

“It’s Christmas-time, Boggel. For some, it’s a time of joy and celebration. For others these days hold an incredible amount of pain…even depression. It’s as if Christmas acts like a prism – allowing our memories to accentuate specific emotions we live with each day. So, on Christmas, we become aware of a special bit of the spectrum – causing laughter for some, tears for others.

“What is important, is that these memories always involve other people. It’s about acts that mattered in the past.” He lays an arm across the skewed shoulders. “So, Boggel, you have to answer a question: when you think back, are you ashamed of what you did? Or did you contribute to help somebody along on the path of Life?”

Oudoom feels the shoulders begin to shake. A large tear falls from Boggel’s cheek but he makes no effort to dry his eyes. Oh Lord, Oudoom looks up at the sky, why is it so hard? 

“Next year, Boggel. Maybe next year things will be better.” What else can I say?

“You think so, Oudoom?”  Boggel sniffs loudly. “That’s what I thought last year as well…”

“God’s time isn’t our time, Boggel. His plans aren’t our plans, either. But you’ve got us, at least.”

Boggel thinks the old clergyman is using the royal plural but when he looks up, he sees the whole town gathered around them. A small figure forces her way to the front.

“Mister Boggel, sir, we’ve baked a special pudding. Mister Stevens and I…well, we thought to give it to you on Christmas, but maybe today is more appropriate.” Miss Kenton! Boggel can’t even remember when last she and Mister Stevens visited Rolbos. “And there’s a letter, sir. Nice feminine handwriting, if I may say so. It arrived on the farm this morning, and Mister Stevens insisted we bring it to you immediately.” She smiles sweetly as she places the Christmas pudding and the letter next to Boggel on the bench.

“We had given up hope of receiving an answer to Missus Fanny’s letters, sir.” Mister Stevens spreads his arms wide. “But yes, here it is. An answer. I suppose you’d want to read it, won’t you, sir?”

The little crowd moves forwards an inch, curiosity forcing them nearer.

New Beginnings, New Story…and a New Book

After all the excitement of Vetfaan, Fanny, Gertruida and who-knows-who-else, this weekend is a quiet one in Rolbos. The townsfolk will relax in Boggel’s Place and swap yarns about the days when they had nothing to do, For avid readers, they suggest you spend time with Servaas in the old-age home, where a young nurse reminds him that it’s not ideal to die as a virgin-pensioner:

This e-book is available through your usual online bookshop, and Amazon, of course.

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For those with a hunger for the wilds of Africa, there is the option of an e-book or paperback when you order this book filled with unusual and wonderful stories. Some of these adventures are based on real experiences during my travels through Africa. Some are based on stories I heard. And some…well, they simply came to me. Enjoy the unusual, and Imagine: Africa! like you’ve never done before.

***

And, in July/August: SHIMMERstate... The story of the Power behind the Universe. What makes us do the things we do?  Why does good and bad things happen to us? Is eternity possible, and how did we come to live on Earth? Why? And then the ultimate question: what is the purpose of all this?

Follow the story of Peter Small, an elderly Coloured man from Cape Town, as he explores the realms of the unknown beyond our consciousness.

Oh…it’s not just that. There’s a baby that is about to be born, a murder or two, some really bad guys and even a few good ones. Together they’ll take you on a journey that is bound to change your life.

Editing will start on Monday. Marinda Ehlers (eBooks for Africa) will see to it that the professional quality of the final product will please readers – so for the next few weeks I’ll be busy with that. Even though the birth of a book is a drawn-out process (and sometimes painful), the result is worth the effort.

This book is the result of several year’s worth of thinking and research – don’t miss out.

Fanny’s Surprise (# 28)

“I thought so.” Gertruida, who will never admit surprise, sits back with a knowing smile. “She had the look.”

“What look?”

“The pregnant look, Boggel. Women who are expecting, look different. And they get moody.”

“I bow, madam, to your superior knowledge.” Boggel knows her well enough not to pry any further. “And now they’re off to see Oudoom? That’d be interesting – her being Catholic and all that.”

“I don’t think Oudoom has ever managed so many problems in such a short time.” She lifts her glass in a mock salute. “But of course, he’s not the one I’m worried about. Servaas can be very narrow-minded sometimes. Even worse – he’s got his black suit on today. It spells trouble.”

***

Servaas, as head elder (and the only one) of the congregation, sits stiffly next to Oudoom. On the other side of the table, Vetfaan and Fanny share worried frowns and anxious looks. They’ve just told Oudoom about the pregnancy, and want to get married as soon as possible.

“Wait a minute.” Servaas has his brows knitted together again – it’s a bad sign. “If you’re pregnant, that means you had….sex? ” He whispers the last word. “Before marriage? Before?”

Fanny feels the muscles in Vetfaans shoulders bunch up.

“Yes, Servaas. We did that thing you can’t even say. It’s a horrible, despicable, loathable act between two people in love.” The veins on his forehead stand out as he speaks. “And you know what? It was one of the holiest moments of my life. Maybe you never loved anybody as much, and I pity you for that. And now, now you’re addressing Fanny and ignoring me – as if she did something wrong. Remember the incident when Jesus came upon the adulterous woman? The one the crowd wanted to kill?

“You’re that same crowd, Servaas. You’re standing there, stone in hand, ready to kill the sinner. Now, let me ask you…what did the crowd say or do to the man involved?” He pauses, breathing hard. “Let me tell you: he doesn’t even get a mention. Nothing. Zip. Nada. Not a single word. They were ready to take the woman’s life, while the man probably bragged about his conquest in the nearest bar…”

“Now, Vetfaan, maybe…” Oudoom tries to calm the big man, but he’s not having any of it.

“No, Oudoom, I’m sorry. The Bible is full of stories about inappropriate sexual conduct. We read about so many whores – and then we read about David. The women get slandered, but David was ‘a man of God’. Men get excused, but women get blamed for sinning. And yet, one prophet was told to marry a woman of ill repute – to be a symbol of God’s union with a sinning community. Go read Hosea, Servaas.

“And don’t you ever, ever insinuate that Fanny is a whore, Servaas. By all that’s holy, I swear you’ll regret it.”

Servaas doesn’t want to back down. “Don’t you get riled up, Vetfaan. Right is right. Wrong is wrong, All I’m saying is that there’s no such thing as a small sin. And sex before marriage is a sin. Full stop.”

Vetfaan gets up to tower above the old man. Oudoom wants to intervene again, but a furious glance from Vetfaan makes him sit back. Where’s Mevrou when I need her…?

“You go get your Bible, old man. And then you show me where it says sex before marriage is wrong. The Book teaches us about fidelity, but then we read about Solomon’s vast harem. I’m not going to argue about nonsense, Servaas. I’m telling you to get off your high horse. This,” he points at Fanny, “is the woman I love. She was brought up as a Catholic and we had sex before we got a piece of paper to say we’re committed to each other. If you can’t live with that, then so be it. I’m not asking you to understand or condone anything. I’m telling you we’re getting married, and that’s it. Either Oudoom agrees to confirm our loyalty to each other, or I’ll get a magistrate to do so. Is that clear?”

Fanny tries to keep a straight face, but Vetfaan’s outburst brings back the guilt she feels about the evening with Henry Hartford III. As she bursts out in tears, her raw howl of anguish fills the room. Vetfaan swirls around to try and calm her down.

“No…Fanie…sniff!…Servaas is right. There’s something I must confess…”

***

When she stops talking, nobody says anything for a long time. Vetfaan, ashen-faced, stares at Fanny with the saddest eyes. Servaas sits back in triumph, satisfied that his opinion was vindicated. Oudoom gets up quietly to fetch the bottle of brandy he hides behind the books on the shelf.

“Now listen,” he says, still searching for words, “don’t let us get carried away here. First of all: I don’t care much about the differences we humans like to tag our faith with. Originally there was one God and one faith. Then some people started telling each other their faith – their church – is the right one. Now we have thousands and thousands of churches, faiths and religions. I wonder what God thinks of that. After all – there can only be one God, one Creator. My idea is that it is important to live your faith by showing others kindness, compassion, respect. That’s what God wants – not this plethora of churches vying for the attention of people in search of God. And you know what drives most churches? Not faith, my friends. Money. Power. That’s what. I think God cringes when He sees what we have done with His commandments.

“So, Servaas, her being a Catholic simply means she’s also looking for the answers, just like we are.” Oudoom hands out the glasses with the neat brandy, even serving a very small portion to Fanny.  “Now…as for the evening with Henry? That’s more difficult.”

“At that stage Fanny knew how much Vetfaan loved her. It was wrong. A mistake. But…don’t we all make mistakes? Henry Hartford was a troubled young man. He could manipulate his way into any situation. He used and abused people…and then he saved Fanny’s life…. by sacrificing his own. That tells me a lot – he wanted you, Fanny, to have the future he couldn’t have himself. In giving his life, he blessed the union between you and Vetfaan. I think he had  a moment of clarity and honesty, and he knew…

“So, Vetfaan, if Henry gave his life – tell me – what are you prepared to give?”

“But Dominee…” Servaas is still upset.

“No Servaas, this is not the time to come with your own preconceived ideas. The Bible teaches us about love and forgiveness. To a certain extent, the question I asked Vetfaan is the same question I direct to you. Both of you: are you brave enough to live your faith…or do you read your Bible only to get handy arguments against your fellow men and women? Select verses to feed your sick egos? Don’t, gentlemen, be hypocrites. Love. Forgive. And live in peace. You’re so busy with loving your own little egos, that loving thy neighbour means nothing to you. Quite frankly, I’m disgusted…” The speech leaves the clergyman breathless. Where did that come from?

Servaas sits back suddenly, struck by the enormity of what Oudoom has just said. The Bible is a guide to living a pure life, a kind life – and nobody is so perfect, so holy, to be able to adhere to every letter of the Book. His self-righteousness disappears in a flash.

Fanny dares not look up. Why did she tell them? She should have stayed quiet, and a lot of the anguish would have been spared. Sobbing softly, she storms from the room.

Vetfaan sinks his head into his hands and nearly misses the motions Servaas is making with his hands. Go after her, they tell him, go after her you bloody fool! Now!

Big Question… Listen to the video and then answer the question:

There are two types of crowds. The one is ready to throw stones. The other joins Rod and Amy in singing.  There’s no middle ground;  you can belong to only one of the two…the question is: which?

The Wordless Easter Sermon

download (31)“Oudoom will give the same sermon he delivers every Easter Sunday.  I don’t feel like going.” Vetfaan sips the strong coffee Boggel served, pulls a face and puts down the mug. “He’s always going on about the stone that was rolled away, and the significance it has. Now me? I’ve got enough stones to roll away. I think I’ll sit here and contemplate my life while you guys go.”

The rest of the group sees the determined look on Vetfaans face and decides not to argue. He’s been in a morose mood all week, so picking a fight with him right now isn’t going to help.

Living alone on a farm has many advantages. Vetfaan doesn’t have to get up or go to bed at set times. He usually starts his day when it’s quite dark still, and often flops over into his bed soon after sunset. Meals are simple affairs of bread and whatever else he can find in the fridge. It also allows plenty of time for thinking.

He’s spent a lot of time contemplating life lately. Politics, relationships, the meaning of life, love, hope  and dreams have been foremost in his mind. Somehow, the state of the world and the way we live just doesn’t make much sense to him at this stage. So, under the awning in front of Boggel’s Place, he allows his mind to roam over the events of the year since last Easter. It’s been a good year, a bad year, a happy year, a sad year. He remembers his moments on Springbokkop and the reassurance he got from them.

He’s so engrossed in his thoughts, he doesn’t hear the approaching footsteps. It’s only when Oudoom lays a hand on his shoulder that he wakes up from his reverie with a start.

The whole congregation is there, standing quietly in the sun, in front of Boggels Place.

“They know my sermon by heart,” Oudoom smiles wryly, “but I think they finally got the message. This year I’m not going to repeat it – instead, I thought I’d preach the most important sermon Jesus ever delivered.”

Vetfaan recovers sufficiently to raise an eyebrow. “The Sermon on the Mount? That’s quite something…”

“No,” Oudoom’s smile widens. “The silent one. When He rose from death, He didn’t announce it with a grand speech filled with big words. He left the grave quietly, alive, well. He didn’t need to say it, the Resurrection said it all. His most powerful statement, Vetfaan, didn’t need words.”

“Ja,” Servaas climbs up the stairs to the stoep to sit down next to Vetfaan. “So that’s what we’re doing on Ester Sunday. A sermon of silent love. It’s what our faith should be about, isn’t it?.”

Gertruida  reaches over to pat Vetfaan’s shoulder. “The message Jesus left us with, is to love God and one another, remember? Love, like we all know, needs no speeches. It is. It’s there in how we care for each other, the way we speak and the way we act. St James put it so nicely: faith without action is no faith at all. And St Francis of Assisi taught us to convince people of our faith in any way we can – and only  if we’re really desperate, only then to use words.”

It is a quiet day on Boggel’s stoep. Nobody needs to say anything.

And Vetfaan got all the answers he prayed for so much. Sermons don’t need churches. They don’t need fancy pulpits and long speeches. It’s in the silence of caring, kindness and respect that the message of the Resurrection is most tangible. Anybody can profess to believe, he realises, but it’s absolutely rare for people to live Christ’s most important statement.

Faith, he discovers on the stoep, is like the love of the little congregation holding their morning service in Boggel’s Place. Words aren’t necessary. Words tend to make things superficial, even meaningless. That’s why lawyers make a living by debating laws, politicians believe in their own causes and churches differ. It doesn’t matter what you call your religion, or what ideology holds your truth. It even matters less if words have been the stumbling block in your search for truth.

Trusting that inner voice to guide one’s actions, is what it’s all about. It’s in this wordless sermon we start to mean something to others.,

(Don’t watch this without a box of tissues…)

Starting over? Definitely!!

“But we  can’t hold a concert here,” Servaas says earnestly, “who’d come?”

“Not that kind of concert, Servaas. If we asked Oudoom to use the church, then Ben can play there. And we don’t ask money – if somebody wants to donate something, that’s fine. We give whatever comes in to the orphanage in Grootdrink. We kill three flies with one stroke: Ben gets to play, the orphanage will get something and the church will be full, for a change.” Gertruida glances over to Vetfaan. “You’ll see to it, won’t you?”

When Gertruida uses that tone of voice, people pay more attention to what she’s saying. It’s a mixture of playful octaves, with a high ‘you’ll’ and a low ‘won’t’. It’s said in a joking manner, but the eyes are steely-grey and direct – there’s no mistaking that some parts of your anatomy may go missing if you ignored the remark. Sure, he’ll tell Oudoom…

Vetfaan can only smile sheepishly and flex his considerable biceps. Sure…he’d rather argue with a deranged Kalahari lion than cross swords with this woman.

Servaas is brave enough to ask if Ben knew about Gertruida’s plan. She gives him a withering look.

“Ben has been practicing for three months now. The driver of Kalahari Vervoer’s lorry told me so himself. Every time he drives past Bitterbrak, the sound of that violin makes him stop and listen. He says it’s improved a lot. And remember: that driver is a member of the Grootdrink Skoffelorkes – he knows his music.”

Ben, quite naturally, gets taken by surprise by Gertruida’s visit the next day. No, there’s no way. Definitely not. Impossible.

Gertruida ignores the man and walks through to the make-shift kitchen area. The old tin mug and a faded and chipped dinner plate glares back at her from the basin of soapy water. The shelf above the Primus is empty, except for three packets on instant soup (tomato) and a single tin of beans. Without a word, she chucks out the water, loads the mug, plate and food into the basin, and walks out to her car. Ben is so shocked, he can only stare.

Gertruida returns to the cottage, staggering with a big box. She starts unpacking the crockery: four new plates, mugs, a salt-and-pepper set (full), and a set of knives and forks. Next are the groceries: coffee, sugar, bully beef, tinned meat, long-life milk, sugar. By the time she’s finished, the shelf can barely hold everything.

“W-w-what’s this all about, Gertruida? I can’t pay…”

“Oh shush, you silly man. You haven’t been to town lately, so it was logical you had just about no food left here. We held a collection in Boggel’s Place.”

“But I don’t nderstand?”

“It’s not a gift, Ben. It’s your pay for the concert. One piece. You only have to play one piece. That’s all.”

The people of the Kalahari are a proud lot. They’re honest, too. (Most of the time.) Generally, they don’t accept charity. You grace a homestead on an isolated farm with a visit, and you’ll leave with a bag of biltong. Or maybe a leg of lamb. Or some eggs. People in these parts are so independent, that they never want to feel they owe you something. They pay their debts. Always. Gertruida knows this, and that’s why she has no doubt that Ben will reciprocate with a little performance in the church the next Saturday.

With a smile and a mock curtsey, she leaves Ben gaping as she drives off.

***

When the sun sets in its red throne of glory, the patrons in Boggel’s Place empty their glasses and amble over to the church. There’s a box at the door (marked: Orphanage), which fills up with home-made toys and teddybears. Gertruida has lit a row of candles down the small aisle and placed two lanterns on the lectern. The atmosphere is soft, inviting,  as the little congregation sits down in the silence only churches have. It’s different to the quiet outside, where one feels more in touch with the dust and the vast landscape around. Here, especially in the flickering glow of the candles, they become aware of a Bigger Presence – something holy and sacred.

Nobody wants to say anything – the mood is too fragile.

Oudoom and Gertruida exchange worried glances. She had told Ben the concert would be at sundown, and then left; certain he would have no choice. But…what if…

The drone of the old Land Rover lights up the faces with brilliant smiles. Ben is coming! Everybody tries hard to believe they never doubted that he would come; nevertheless, the relief is tangible. The old wooden benches creak and groan as they twist around to see Ben enter the church.

Ben obviously went to a lot of trouble to do this right. The long khaki pants were pressed to smooth the material under a mattress, while the white shirt really seems white in the golden candle-glow. His shoes – shined with sheep’s fat – are even made more impressive by the fact that he is wearing socks for a change.

Ben stops at the door, uncertainty overwhelming him. The fine sheen of sweat on his forehead is clear even in the twilight. Oudoom sees this, and extends both arms to him.

Without a word, Ben walks to the front of the congregation. As he unpacks the violin with tender hands, Gertruida notices he has brought no sheet music along. Then he closes his eyes; takes a deep, shuddering breath; and starts to play.

The music moves like a gentle wave through the audience. In the sad and forlorn melody, everyone is carried back to an age of innocence when it was so easy to believe everything would work out. It drenches the regrets of lost loves and shattered hopes. The notes eddy back and forth amongst the successes and failures that exist in everybody who has ever grabbed at life’s trapeze – missed – fell – and got hurt. It’s a melody of healing, one that touches everybody in that church; even Ben, who plays on with his eyes shut and the picture of a beaming Lori in his mind. She’s there, he is certain, smiling her approval as she dabs away a tear.

There is a hushed silence at the end of the piece as the shabby man packs away his cherished violin. There’s no applause. It isn’t necessary. The shining eyes and arms reaching out to comfort each other say it all..

Gertruida will join the others at the bar later on, after she has spent a few quiet minutes with Ben in the church. Starting over is so difficult – so painful. Its foundation is previous failure; its future is so uncertain.  Along Life’s way there are loved ones who find new, greener pastures; some find new partners; and some depart on the final journey. Whatever we aim for doesn’t always reward us with the expected bounty. And in the late-night hours, every soul on this planet will – on occasion – wrestle with the age-old question…what if…?

This is when Ben’s music will be the rising tide to float the floundering ship. It’s the wings that lift us above the storm. It’s there, in the happy smile of a child, receiving an unexpected gift. It is, in the end, the flickering glow of a candle in a small church, reminding us that starting over is the only way ahead…

Daily Prompt: Faithful

Faith is in the sunset, Hope in the dawn

“Faith,” Oudoom leans his elbow on the counter to keep his balance, “is an important thing. Without it, we may as well stop trying.”

He gets a chorus of silent nods for his effort. It’s been a long day in Boggel’s Place while they reminisced about the past year.  Boggel has found some of the Vermaak’s peach brandy, and it always surprises the patrons with its quality.

“Well, we’ve got nothing else, Oudoom,” Kleinpiet tries to be helpful, “as the politics and the economy seem to be sliding more and more out of control.” He straightens up a bit, remembering something important. “But we do have each other. Yes. Faith, and company. We can survive a long time on that.”

Gertruida almost manages to stop a ladylike burp. She smiles apologetically. “With faith and company, hope will follow. Even love. And happiness.”

“No, man. Look at me – I’m single.” Vetfaan is feeling a bit sorry for himself again. “Like Servaas.” He glances over for support and the old man replies with a slow wink. “We don’t have company or love. But we’re happy and we’ve got faith. So you don’t have to have a full house. A pair is enough to win this hand.”

They all turn to Kleinpiet and Precilla who’s sitting quietly in the darker corner of Boggel’s Place. The two of them have had a most romantic first Christmas together, and they’re still cooing at each other.

“They’re disgusting.” Servaas wipes his mouth with the back of his hand as he lowers his voice. “Look at them. They should be doing that at home – not in public. All this whispering, giggling and smooching is extremely unsettling. This is a bar, not a knock shop.”

Gertruida bursts out laughing. Servaas can be utterly cantankerous  over Christmas time – it’s been like that for several years now. Ever since Siena passed away, Servaas seems to detest the festivities around Christmas time.

She squares her shoulders. It’s time to do something about it.

“Servaas?” Gently. Softly. Voice filled with kindness. “We know you’re sad and lonely. Most of us are, this time of year. We wish we had a little fire in the hearth at home, with kids and grandchildren and aunties and uncles and friends and family. Then we’d be at home, cooking up a storm in the kitchen with venison pie, yellow rice – and dumplings for pudding. The small children would sing carols and somebody would play Father Christmas.

“But we don’t have that, do we? At least, not everybody does. And you know why?” She waits a long second before going on, allowing her question to sink in. “Because it’s alright like this. It is meant to be like this.

“You’ve had Christmases with your family – and with Siena. They’re some of the most precious memories you possess. You cherish those and you protect those … but you also resent them. That’s wrong. You feel angry because of them. You keep on comparing now, with then. And when you come up short, you lash out at others who are building little memory castles they will dwell in, in later years.

“You know what faith is? Faith is the hope for the future, but it is also the firm knowledge of the past. Faith says: maybe you have had better times, but the best is still to come. Faith says there is hope. And faith is the foundation of love and happiness. That’s the best company anybody could wish for.”

Servaas starts breathing deeply, trying to get his emotion under control. With a quivering voice he tells that that’s all fine and dandy, but he misses Siena. He misses her desperately.

“That’s why faith is necessary,” Oudoom says, “without it, your past is just a memory. Useless events that came and went. But if you add faith to your memories, it lights up like one of those Christmas trees in Upington. Then you believe there is a time for everything. Some of us are lucky enough to have fond memories of previous Christmases, and that’s good. If your current Christmas is different, it simply demands that you cherish those times.

“You know, we don’t know whether Christ ever had a birthday party. Imagine: thirty-three years without a day when people make a bit of fuss about you? Maybe He would have loved to put His feet up, be spoilt and have people singing to Him. But He had faith like no other. He trusted His Father completely, knowing the time will come when the whole world will celebrate His birth. That was good enough for Him.”

“What Oudoom is saying, Servaas, is similar to the old saying: enough unto the day is sufficient thereof. Don’t be unhappy because you were happier in the past. Don’t be a grumblebum because you think this is all there is. Celebrate your past, be content with the present, and hope for the future.  That’s what faith is about. It’s simple, really.”

Boggel leans over with a tissue for the tears on Servaas’ cheeks. The old man blows his nose enthusiastically. Then he manages a wobbly smile.

Kleinpiet glances up from his conversation with Precilla to signal for another beer. Precilla and he has fallen silent as they listened to the conversation at the counter. Reaching over, he takes her hand to give it a gentle squeeze.

“One day, hopefully a long, long time into the future, one of us may be sitting here alone during Christmas time. Whether it’s you or me, doesn’t matter. Then the remaining one must remember these words; maybe even repeat them. We are the lucky ones tonight, and we must appreciate every second. Nothing, however, remains the same forever.”

“No, we won’t forget it, Kleinpiet. Love will see to it.”

“Only if you have faith,” Boggel says as he shuffles over with their order, “only if you have faith…”

Vetfaan and the Mayans

“So what’s new in Upington?” Kleinpiet is nursing a beer when Vetfaan walks into Boggel’s Place, dusting his jeans with his hat.

“Not much. The Cronje’s emigrated to Ireland and the cafe next to the garage closed shop.  Oh, and that lawyer, du Plooy; he got his secretary pregnant. The people are all gossiping about that.”

Hieronimus du Plooy is one of the richest men in the North. His farm and his horses earned him the respect of people as far away as Vosburg and De Aar. As a confirmed bachelor, he has had the run of all the fillies in the district – and if one of them pegged him down at last, there’ll be many a satisfied smile on many faces. People will say it was a matter of time before sniggering at the man’s loss of freedom.

“What’s in Ireland? It’s cold and wet up there, isn’t it? And I don’t think you can go hunting there, as far as I know. Why would someone go there?”

Vetfaan shrugs. “They say it’s the politics. The guys at the Co-op say the Cronje’s were worried about the way things are in the country.”

Kleinpiet harbours a dim view of political matters. “I always said the Progressive Party will bugger things up. Them and that United Party. Far too liberal, if you ask me. Vorster was the last good leader, and when he went, everything turned sour.”

“Remember the Info Scandal, Kleinpiet. Oom John wasn’t exactly innocent.”

It is common knowledge that no political debates are allowed in Boggel’s Place. It’s not because they tend to disagree so violently – it’s simply a matter of them not being up to date with latest developments. No TV or newspapers and an erratic reception of RSG cause Rolbos to be a bit behind the rest of the country when it comes to current affairs. And Hosa Radio, on Precilla’s computer, only plays music. It’s up to Gertruida to lecture them occasionally to keep them informed.

“The situation is far worse than that, Vetfaan. More than a million South Africans have fled the country since 1994, and half of them have university degrees. And it wasn’t just crime and corruption that forced their decision to leave, either. The governments policy of ignoring skill and promoting individuals of a certain background,” and here she pauses for dramatic effect, leaving the emphasis to convey the message, “made it impossible for some to stay. The result is not only the loss of numbers of our countrymen, but also the inevitable shrinking of the pool of schooled and skilled innovators.  There are many opportunities overseas – why would they hang around here where their skills are not recognised or used?  Then there are the noises the government makes: land grabs, nationalisation of the mines, and the songs the president sings about machine guns. Look at our police force: the two previous top cops got sacked. And don’t forget the rife corruption, theft, and murders. It is a sad state of affairs.“

“So, Gertruida, you’re saying we must leave and build Rolbos elsewhere, like in Canada or Australia?” Vetfaan is teasing, despite his serious look.

“Ag, Vetfaan! Nobody wants us overseas. Boggel won’t be happy unless he can run a bar. You and Kleinpiet are sheep farmers: you know the Kalahari – you want to try that in Dublin? Precilla will have to compete with pharmacies that have multiple outlets and do you think Oudoom will fit in, in Perth? Or that Sammie’s Shop can compete with Harrods?  No, we’ll just have to stay right where we are.”

“So how about you, Gertruida? They can use you in the United Nations or somewhere. And I never believed the Americans know enough – you can advise their President; I heard the world’s economy is taking a dive because he’s from Kenya.”

“Jeez, Vetfaan, sometimes I wonder about you. He’s not from Kenya at all – he even had his birth certificate circulated to prove that.” She watches as Kleinpiet draws a dollar sign on the counter with the foam on his beer.  “Besides, I don’t want to go there. When the Mayans take their revenge, it’s better to be as far away as possible.” She is immediately sorry that she said this. Now she’ll have to explain it to them.

It takes three beers and a long-winded lecture, but in the end, the Rolbossers become the world’s newest experts on what the Mayans predicted.

“Maybe that’s where Oom Siener got all his information. After all, he was surprisingly accurate in his predictions. If he had a calendar like that, it’ll explain his abilities.”

Gertruida does her hippo-snort. “It isn’t like the girly calendar behind your bathroom door, Vetfaan. it’s a stone. And it wasn’t discovered until long after Siener van Rensburg’s death, you fool.”

Vetfaan thought that almanac was his secret, and lapses into an embarrassed silence. Boggel, however, peers over the counter. “But the Mayans predicted nothing, according to what you say. Their calendar simply stops on the 21ST of December, when all the stars of the Milky Way line up with the solstice. And people guess that means we’ll have earthquakes and comets all over the show?  And…that afterwards a – how did you put it – new age of peace and wisdom will start? “

“Boggel, you know how people are. They go crazy when they start trying to figure out the future. Fact is, our year ends on 31 December – look at Vetfaan’s girly pictures, and see if you find a 1st of January 2013 on it? Of course it isn’t there. But that doesn’t mean Vetfaan will stop looking at breasts in 2013; it simply means it’s time for him to get a new calendar – if he wants to know the date, that is.

“But, because we don’t know what’ll happen tomorrow, people tend to guess what the future will bring. That’s why the Cronje’s moved to Ireland – they most probably thought it is safer there.”

Oudoom walks in for one of his rare visits to Boggel’s Place. Gertruida knows it is because Mevrou has gone to Upington to attend the yearly Knitting Fraternity Circle meeting, sponsored by some fastfood franchise.

“You good people seem to be discussing something serious?  A beer, if you please, Boggel?”

“Ja, Dominee, we’re talking about pagans and magic. Nothing much. Oh, and the end of the world, as we know it.” Kleinpiet smiles. “But that won’t interest you. Did you hear about Hieronimus? His secretary proved Confucius spoke the truth.”

Oudoom sips his beer and sighs happily. “Oh? How’s that?”

Kleinpiet  uses his fingers to draw his eyes into Oriental slits, and says in a sing-song voice: “Confucius he say: secretary not part of office furniture until screwed on desk.”

For a second the other patrons are stunned into an embarrassed silence, but when Oudoom smiles, they all relax. “Now, Kleinpiet, you know I am not supposed to laugh at such jokes.” He tries to suppress a giggle. “But that is funny. So, the lawyer finally lost his freedom, did he?”

“Yes. And the Cronje’s emigrated to Ireland. That’s sad – we’ll miss them.”

Oudoom nods. “It’s all about the future, isn’t it? Somebody expects a baby. Someone thinks there are safer places with better work. And I know about the Mayans and their incredible accuracy in predicting solar and lunar eclipses.

“However, the only times we know anything about, are the present and the past. And decisions – all decisions – are about what we guess the future will hold. You know what that implies?”

Kleinpiet laughs. “Avoid desk furniture and bring on the Cactus Jack?”

“No. It tells us to live the best life we can, while we can, because that will give us the best future, when it comes.”

Only Gertruida gets it. “So if you order another beer now, before Mevrou gets back, that’ll be a good decision? Like: because you know what’ll happen if she catches you in here, you can predict the future and avoid problems?”

“Exactly, Gertruida. Boggel?” Oudoom swings his empty bottle in the air. When Boggel complies, he lets go a contented sigh. “That’s been the essence of all my sermons. Making the right decisions. That’s what it’s all about. People will emigrate, have babies, drink beer, close cafes – based on their prediction of the future. Sometimes they are right, sometimes not.

“The Mayans predicted nothing. They chiselled a very clever stone, that’s all. What they did do, was to tell us time is something that never stands still. And time, like you well know, passes. We don’t have unlimited amounts of days available to us. Every second counts.”

Vetfaan peers out of the window. “So true, Oudoom, so true.”

The pastor looks up in surprise. “What Vetfaan, you actually agree with me? It took me coming to a bar to convince you?”

“No, Oudoom, it’s not that at all. But I can see some dust on the horizon. I predict that you’ll have trouble if Mevrou finds you here. I also predict that you’ll finish that beer in a hurry, and that’ll you’ll leave shortly. I see you sitting at your desk, working on Sunday’s sermon, when Mevrou gets home.  Oh yes, and that you’ll brush your teeth before you kiss her hello.”

Oudoom smiles sadly. “Vetfaan, sometimes you amaze me. I think you are more accurate than those Mayans.”

After Oudoom leaves, Gertruida orders a round of Cactus Jacks. “Okay, Vetfaan, you’ve sorted Oudoom out. Now what about our government?”

“Impossible, Gertruida, impossible. You can only predict events which are supported by a certain amount of logic. For the rest, you have to have faith. That’s why we have Oudoom around.”

Framed

Image“Ag you know, Boggel, things turned out all right for you. In the end, I mean. Look at you now: you’re the hub of our society. If we had a chamber of commerce, you’d have been the head honcho.” Kleinpiet draws a smiley on the counter top. “Sinatra sang that song about how it’s not important how you start, but how you finish. And that’s the way I see it.”

“Yes. Suppose they sent you to an orphanage in Brakpan, man. They really had mean role models on the East Rand back then. You’d either be in jail or parliament today if they did. You can thank your lucky stars they tried to hide you in Grootdrink.”

“Vetfaan, you can be so insensitive if you put your mind to it! Boggel just told you the saddest story, and you start talking about Springs and Benoni. Sis, man!” Gertruida does her hippo-sound in disgust. “I’m just glad that Boggel saw this opportunity in Rolbos. He could have chosen a bigger town like Keimoes to settle in. No, I think everything worked out well in the end. Rolbos would have been dead if it weren’t for our barman.”

Boggel smiles as he wipes the smiley from the counter. If it weren’t for his father’s stubborn gene, he might have considered the opportunity to join the diamond smugglers. Who’d have suspected an orphaned, deformed child of hiding the parcels, anyway? He could have made a million by now.

He looks up as Sersant Dreyer walks in, and tries to ignore the fleeting feeling of guilt. He didn’t do much wrong, did he? And yet, there will always be the lingering sense that he had been very, very lucky.

“Gimme a beer.” Dreyer has the look of a troubled man. Despite his abrupt way, he smiles at Boggel. “They’re at it again, Boggel. The main guy got discharged from prison a few weeks ago. Presidetial pardon, nogal. And it didn’t take long for the scum to drop under the radar again.”

Gertruida doesn’t know the story, so she moves over to insist on an explanation.

*

It’s ancient history, Gertruida. I didn’t want to talk about it – ever… But if that man is roaming the area, I suppose I should warn you guys. It’s my duty…

He first contacted me when I was fifteen, there in the orphanage. I didn’t have many friends, unless you consider Mary Mitchell – but she was more than just a friend, anyway. I didn’t get on with the other boys; they always made remarks about my back, calling me Hunchy Bunchy, the funny little man even the king’s horses couldn’t fix.

The result was that I spent most of my time alone. I found a spot under the big willow, next to the river, where I would read and study…and do the exercises that didn’t help. That’s where he contacted me, see? Just walked up to me and said he could change my life. Offered me more money than I ever dreamt of – a whopping fifty Rands! Said they’d give it in change, so nobody would become suspicious.

Now, that was a lot of money back then. An orphan in Grootdrink? We never got pocket money or anything like that. I asked, and the man explained.

He was a big bugger. Built like a boxer, with a broken nose and scarred forehead. He said he’d bring me something and I had to hide it for a while. When the time came, he’d get me below the willow again; I’d get the thing I hid, give it to him and I’d get the money.

Well I was fifteen, broke, parentless, friendless and lonely… and I jumped at the chance. The man said it was just a way of providing safe passage for important documents they were smuggling out of the country. Said I’d be helping the country like that.

I felt like a hero.

The packets arrived at irregular intervals: sometimes twice a week, sometimes only once in two months. Always in a metal box, flat, about the size of a Ouma’s rusks carton; always padlocked. Mister Boxer was the one friendly face I could look forward to and I was helping to free our country. What bigger adventure when you are on the brink of adulthood?

Eventually my curiosity got the better of me. Boys – especially in an orphanage – can be extremely inventive. You ever tried to lock a pantry in a hostel? Might as well save yourself the effort and buy a Rottweiler. Anyway, I sat looking at the box one evening and started fiddling with the lock. I stole a paperclip from the office, straightened it, and inserted the one end in the lock. After a few minutes of this, the lock sprang open! I wanted to read what they were smuggling around, see?

Of course there were no documents. Inside, carefully folded in bubble-wrap, were a number of stones. Shiny stones. Big ones. I was a kid, man, but I didn’t need an expert to tell me those diamonds were worth quite a bit of money.

By then I understood I was busy with something that could land me in a lot of trouble. What to do? Go to the police? Tell Mister Boxer I didn’t want the money anymore? Refuse to hand over the boxes? I found myself in an impossible situation…

*

“So what did you do, Boggel?” Gertruida leans forward, completely absorbed in the story. “I’m sure you did the right thing, though. Those diamonds must have been stolen in Kimberley, smuggled to Cape Town, and sold there? What happened?”

*

Soon after that, the police caught both of us, just when I was handing over the box. Apparently Mister Boxer used me as a halfway station- he’d get the diamonds to Grootdrink, allow a week or so to pass, to allow everything to cool down. That’s in case the theft was noticed, see? Then, when he was sure it was safe, he’d pick it up again and take the diamonds to wherever he had a buyer.

Well, the police apparently were just waiting to join the dots. When they were ready, they nabbed us just when I was handing over the last box.

I was in deep trouble. But you know what? Mister Boxer told the police I was an innocent participant in his scheme. Said I was the perfect patsy. I had to look it up in the dictionary to understand. He got sent to jail, I received a stern lecture and a caning, and that was that.

Well, if Mister Boxer is at it again, he might pop up here. I owe him my freedom, see? He knows it…

*

“You owe him nothing, Boggel. He used you. A man like that has no conscience. It was nice of him to tell the truth about you, but you certainly can’t feel you are indebted to him. If he rocks up here, we’ll sort him out.” Kleinpiet tries his John Wayne drawl, causing Vetfaan to snigger.

“Boggel, if that man contacts you in whatever way, you tell me about it, you hear. You can’t play with these guys. They’re dangerous…”

*

It’s way past midnight when Boggel wakes up, sure that he isn’t alone any longer.

“I have a packet for you, Boggel. The last one I’ll give you, I swear. This is my last run – the big one. After this, I’m off to Mauritius. This is for old time’s sakes. Bye, Boggel. You keep to the straight and narrow now, will you? You were a good kid back then – I’d hate to see anything…untoward…happen to you.”

As quietly as he came, he leaves. Boggel waits sixty slow seconds before he switches on the light. The room is empty; only the flat, Ouma-size box glares at him from the little table next to the door.

He gets up, filters some coffee, and sits down next to the box. It is exactly the same size, similar to the previous boxes. Then he notices: no padlock! The box is unsealed, inviting…

*

“Have you heard anything, Boggel? Headquarters are desperate – they had somebody trailing that man, but now he seems to have disappeared completely. They need all the help they can get.”

Boggel polishes a glass behind the counter, a deep frown on his forehead. How can he tell Sersant Dreyer about his midnight visitor? Especially after he read the note in the box?

I’ve lied a lot.

About the documents and the struggle. About converting to faith in prison. About being sorry for what I did. And that I didn’t know what happened to the money.

I’m tired. I want to get away from the lies.

I told you I’d pay for every time you took care of a parcel; and I lied about that, too. When they caught me, I didn’t give you your money. I’m sorry about that. Really.

So, here is the fifty bucks I owe you. You were honest, innocent and you trusted me. Before I go away, I want to make things right with you.

I’m off now. Take care…

 

Boggel looks up, meets Dreyer’s eyes, and smiles.

“If ever I see that man again, you’ll be the first to know. Trust me, I’ll tell you. I swear.”

And, like Peter lied three times to his Master, Boggel managed to do the same in one breath. If, indeed, it matters not how you started, but how you finished, Boggel believes something has changed in Mister Boxer’s life.

If he’s lucky, Sersant Dreyer won’t ask why he went to the trouble of framing a single fifty Rand note to hang behind the bottle of Cactus Jack