“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.”