Tag Archives: just do it

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: Helpless

http://safaritalk.net/topic/6903-zambia-2010/“So there I was, upside down, hanging from the branch with a leopard staring at me and the cobra only inches away. I remember looking past my feet at the circling vultures as my legs started slipping on the smooth bark of the tree. It was unbearably hot that day and I was quite dizzy with thirst. And suddenly – unexpectedly – I realized my branch was the home to a whole tribe of poisonous spiders. You know the black ones with the red dot on the tummy? Well, they weren’t impressed with my little visit to their lodgings. They were swarming down my pants towards my face. I could see them marching down in an untidy group – past my knees and over my thighs. I would have swatted at them to shoo them away, but of course, my hands were tied behind my back. I tried to shout at them. My throat was so dry I only managed a strangled bark.”

Grootpraat Grove sips his beer as he watches the group at the bar. He’s come to town to buy his supplies and he promised his long-suffering wife he’d be back in two day’s times. This is day four, and he’s enjoying every minute of his visit. It gets awfully quiet out there on the farm…

“So what did you do?” Kleinpiet always enjoys Grootpraat’s visits. He has the most amazing adventures out there on his farm.

“Well. I looked over to where the dust was settling after Kwaaihendrik Vosloo galloped away. I suppose I shouldn’t be angry at him. He did catch me with his daughter after all.” He smiles fondly at the memory. “I was young then, and young men do tend to do silly things. And boy! Was it stupid to undress Marietjie at the dam! Man oh man! We had a lovely swim and were just getting down to business when Kwaaihendrik appeared as if from nowhere. Marietjie didn’t bother dressing. She just took off and ran. I can still, to this day, see that white bum wobbling about as she sprinted across the thorn bushes.” He gurgles a happy giggle as he thinks back.

“No man, what did you do? What with the spiders and the leopard and the snake?”

“Did you know how thirsty I get from talking? My throat feels parched.”

It works every time. With a new beer before him, he sticks his finger in the froth and licks at it with a smile.

“There was nothing I could do. I fell from that tree, turning in mid-air like a cat, so I don’t break my neck. Wham! Right on top of the snake. Flattened the poor critter with my fall, I did. Funny how time slows down when things like that happen. I recall a rather explosive hiss as I drove the air from its lungs, poor thing.

“I still wasn’t sure about the snake, when the leopard charged. He was fast! One moment he was sitting there like a trained house cat, looking up at me in the tree, the next he was a blur of paws and teeth as he stormed the place where I was. I was sure it was the end. I struggled to my knees, thinking he might listen if I pleaded nicely, but he wasn’t a very clever leopard. He didn’t understand Afrikaans at all. The more I told him I’m just a skinny bag of bones and that he’d burn more calories from taking me apart than he’d get from taking me in, the faster those paws moved as he sped up his charge.”

He pauses for a dramatic second as he takes several large swallows from the glass, allowing his eyes to travel over his little audience.  They were all watching him carefully, hanging onto every word. Belching his satisfaction, he continues:

“There was nothing I could do. To curl up from a kneeling position is easy: you simply faint. Not that I fainted, of course! But because I knew that, I fell forward at the last moment. Flat on my face.” Ha places his big hand on the counter top with a loud slap. “Like that. The leopard was already airborne at that stage, so he couldn’t change his direction. He came flying at me, but just an inch or two too high. His long talons were extended to grab me – and fortunately for me, I wasn’t where he thought I’d be. He would have made it clear over me if his hind foot didn’t catch the rope that tied my hand together. And let me tell you: afterwards I measured his tracks. They were huge!” He spreads his hand to show how big the paws were; at the same time ‘discovering’ his glass is empty. The situation is quickly rectified.

“That claw ripped through the rope like a new knife through fresh biltong! Slash! Just like that!” He sighs at the memory and swigs away at the beer. “So now I had my hands free, but the leopard was turning around, ready to come at me again. By this time I knew he didn’t understand Afrikaans, so I tried English. You know what happened? He picked up speed. That’s when I realised this must be German leopard. And fortunately,” he digs about in his pockets to produce a piece of dry wors, “fortunately I always have a bit of dried sausage with me. You know? Padkos? Just in case I get hungry out there in the veld. So I told the leopard in my best German he’d do better for himself if he took the wurst. What a relief! I finally said something he could understand! I threw the sausage at him and he grabbed it. Then, purring happily, he disappeared into the bush.”

“Now tell me, Grootpraat, what about the spiders? What happened to them?”

Grootpraat flashes a thankful smile at Kleinpiet. It’s always nice if the guys concentrated on the story.

“They were chest high at that point, and I knew they must be deaf, otherwise my pleas with the leopard would have made them stop as well. Now what do you do with deaf people?” Glug-glug and the glass is almost empty again. Bu-u-urrrp! “You use sign language of course! Because they were well on their way to my jugular, I had to speak fast, very fast. And talking fast in sign language isn’t a good idea if you have a million spiders on your chest.  My hands moved faster and faster. And…” Glug. He smiles as he puts down the empty glass while he demonstrates how fast he is with sign language. Gertruida whispers that it looks like somebody with a fit. “…and before I could explain myself properly, those poor spiders fell off my clothes. All of them. Not a single one clung on long enough to let me finish my sentence. I was thankful enough not to be angry at their bad manners. To leave anybody in the middle of the sentence isn’t nice. But I forgave them. Yep. I forgave them all. You can’t be angry at deaf spiders. It’s not done.”

“And the vultures?” Boggel replaces the beer, “at least you got away from them, didn’t you?”

“Of course! I’m here, am I not?” Boggel gets a pitying look. “No, they got the dead snake, so they were happy. For me it was a long walk back to my home. Barefoot. But it was worth it. I’ll never forget that swim in the dam – or the white cheeks as they ran across the veld. Sometimes no sacrifice is too big. Old Kwaaihendrik chased me off the farm a few times after that, but it didn’t help. Me and Marietjie celebrated our twentieth last year.”

“But how did you get into the tree in the first instance, Grootpraat?  You were tied up and upside down? How did that happen?”

Grootpraat was just about to lie his way out of that one, when a shadow falls across the window. The door opens with a bang.

Marietjie!

It’s funny how huge men get to be called Tiny, or bald old omies get the nickname Hairy. Marietjie sounds like a name for a diminutive, frail, fragile beauty. It certainly doesn’t fit the huge mountain of furious woman at the door.

“You scoundrel! You worthless piece of meat! You lying, loudmouthed, sneaky bastard. Come here, or I’ll hang you from the rafters, just like I did that day at the dam! Now!”

And as she leads him away by the ear, he casts back a look at the group at the counter.

It’s a forlorn look. The look of a man on his way to the gallows.

As Gertruida puts it, quite helpless.

 

The Rolbos Unpredictions for 2013

“I don’t like it when she does that. It isn’t right.”

“Ag, come on, Vetfaan, it’s all a bit of a joke. She does it every year, on the first Friday. Last year she raised R615.50 for the orphanage in Grootdrink. She wants to do better this year.”

“But isn’t it wrong? Like horoscopes and false prophesies and such?”  Vetfaan eye Kleinpiet critically. “I know Oudoom won’t amused.”

“Look, it’s a joke. She says she unpredicts, which means she’s telling you what won’t happen. That’s not really predicting, I think. And it’s for a good cause.”

The two men watch as people queue up to see the woman on the stoep. The little table is in front of her, the terrarium in the fishbowl is strategically placed. She’s gone to a lot trouble this year, that much is abundantly clear. The heavy turban covers most of her hair and face, while the big, 60’s style dark glasses mask her eyes. The little bit one can see of her features, is hidden behind several layers of thick make-up.

“She tells everybody the same stuff, and then they end up laughing and throwing money into her box. The orphanage will be pleased.” The board behind her says as much. Let me unpredict your future for a donation for the Orphanage. “Even Sammie went to hear what she says.”

Kleinpiet shakes his head. “I don’t understand what she’s told me. She said I won’t have a big fight with Precilla today, and that is still true. And she said it won’t rain too much on the farm this year. Now, I know we’re in the middle of the drought and people are talking about climate change, but how can she say that? And then she went further: she said Zuma won’t be a happy man if they start digging into his financial affairs. I mean: to talk about local stuff is bad enough, but to start predicting the president’s reaction? That is unbiblical.”

“Well, she told me much the same about the weather.” Vetfaan has a faraway look. “But she also said we won’t have the same vice-president for long. She said she sees a large, rich man in the post. Oh, and she told me we won’t have an honest government this year. Or the next. Or even the year after that. I find it quite profound.”

“She even told Boggel he’d never have enough beer in Rolbos. Imagine that? The little man is still smiling: he says business has never been better. And she remarked on his athletic ability as well. According to her, he won’t be chosen for the Springboks. Not even as a water boy.  Boggel is so relieved – he says he’d hate travelling so much.” Kleinpiet smiles at the thought and draws a jumping antelope on the counter top.

“She does have her moments of brilliance, though. She told Mevrou she won’t find any fishnet stockings in Oudoom’s wardrobe again this year. That certainly cheered Mevrou up! She jumped up there and then and kissed the turban. Then Mevrou asked if she was sure, and when she got a nod, she deposited twenty Rand into that box. I’ve never seen her so happy. “

“That’s nothing.” Kleinpiet holds a triumphant finger in the air. “Servaas took out a new Mandela R100 for what she told him. According to her, Servaas won’t stop drinking till the day he dies. Servaas has this unnatural fear of thirst, see? Ever since that time he was in hospital and he was forced to drink only water, he is petrified at the thought of having to spend another week without alcohol. Now he knows he doesn’t have to worry about it, he’s a happy man.”

“I wonder how she can say something like that? Suppose Servaas lands in hospital again?”

“I’m sure she thought about that. For her unprediction to come true, she’ll have to smuggle some in for him. But she’s honest enough to do it. Remember last year? She said we won’t believe what the government would do in 2012. And after the school books and Nkandla, I think she was right.

“No, you’ve got to hand it to her: nobody unpredicts the way she does.”

Vetfaan watches as yet another hopeful sits down at Gertruida’s table.

“She’s going to make a fortune this year,” he says with admiration dripping from every word.

“Ja. You’re right.” Kleinpiet orders another beer. “She really is quite unbelievable.”

My Grumpy Old Man

People think he’s a grumpy old man. They do, really…

They look at the way he stares into space as if they don’t exist, and then they decide his brilliant grey head is filled with a vacuum. But they’re wrong, see? It’s the figures. Always the figures. Little rows of numbers march through his brain, neatly, orderly, like only he understands them. Add and subtract. Multiply and divide. Fractions and bits of fractions. Random numbers he constantly arranges and rearranges; breaks down and builds up again. He can do it anywhere and any time. He does it constantly.

I don’t think he can help it. It just happens.

This is, of course, the thing that brought us together. We were young then, first-year students stepping out into the unknown. Even back then his world of numbers and sums and tables and figures was legendary. It was the only thing he did. And I? Well, I suffered through the maths and the calculus and was on my way to failing my course. So I did what any clever young lady would have done.

There was a first-year dance. A get-together for the novices to celebrate the half-year mark. He wasn’t going, of course. Not interested. But I asked him and promised we could talk about maths. I remember I said something about mental arithmetic and algebra. His eyes lit up. That was the start.

We sat outside that hall and looked at the stars. He fractioned the sky into so many pieces and worked out how many visible stars there were. I said he was wonderful. He liked it. Then I asked him to help me with maths. He was delighted.

And so we started courting. More accurately, I dated him. And it wasn’t just because of the sums and the calculations – I found out he was a wonderful, gentle being, a true and loyal companion. He’d quantify anything you cared to point out to him, and when I asked him what he thought about love, he said it was the only sum that defied logic. It’s an absolute, he said. That’s when I knew we’d make it.

He joined a large insurance company, and did so well that he was the youngest CEO, ever. He could analyse risk better than anyone. Investment? Well, if you had X amount of money and needed to double it in Y time, he worked out the factor you have to add to the formula to make it work. He did it all in that grey head, faster than the young men with their little gizmo machines. Even after all these years I have no idea how he does it; but for him it is as natural as breathing.

Then he turned fifty, and announced his retirement. He said he’d made the sum. It was time.

And it was. His arithmetic took us all over the world. Paris, Rome, New York, Nevada, Monte Carlo and Monaco. Everywhere. And everywhere his sums landed us in trouble. Get out and stay out, they’d say. Don’t come back. We don’t want your sort here.

On the way over here, he told me this is the last one. The world is getting too small for us. We’re a known quantity now. They want to factor us out.

So here we are in Singapore – the Resorts World Casino is brand new, ultra luxurious and terribly expensive. They don’t know my husband. He can walk on to the floor without a muted alarm going off in a hidden control room. If the grumpy old man buys the chips from the croupiers, they’d eye his bulging wallet with a smile. Just another old fool, willing to pay handsomely for an evening’s entertainment. And, as usual, I’d sit quietly at the bar, sipping my Moët, with the rest of the money in the attaché case.

I’ll watch him carefully, knowing those figures are marching around and around in his mind, until at last he has them lined up in exactly the way he wants them. Just so. Then he’ll look up with those sad, wintry eyes and wink at me. There’ll be the slightest hint of a smile – one only I can see, because he’s my man. I know him so well.

And that’s when I’ll sit down next to him and he’ll open the case and quietly, gently, stack the notes for the last bet.

Yes, you may think he’s a grumpy old man. Many people have made that calculated error. But then, they won’t know the soft chuckle he’ll give when we get back to the room. He loves that part. He likes me on the bed with the notes scattered around and the way they crinkle and crackle while we make love.

You can think what you want. I added up the figures a long time ago. See if I care…

Fifty Shades of Black

download (21)“The biggest problem,” Gertruida said, “is politics. We demand that different opinions be settled by the majority. Since when did the majority understand that their leaders are only after power? They’re not there to grant freedom and everlasting joy; they’re there because they want something from the masses. They create an illusion and sell it to the ignorant.”

“For once I disagree with you.” Vetfaan draws himself up to his six-foot-two. “It’s money. Money buys power. Power buys politics. That’s all it’s all about. Whoever controls the purse strings, is in charge. Look at Ramaphosa: he must be the richest guy in the ANC. I tell you: he’s going to be the presidential candidate in 2014. Zuma is on his way out. His wives won’t tolerate all those late meetings any more – he’s got to do his homework, and have showers afterwards as well. Come on Kleinpiet: you’re a man with experience. If you had to sleep with half-a-dozen wives every night and shower after each one – you’ll still be scrubbing away at six in the morning, won’t you?”

“Unless he’s a quickie.” Precilla has her naughty smile. “Then he can doze off at four.”

“No. You’re all wrong. World-wide the problem is race. If you’ve got a certain amount of pigment in your skin, you’re classified as white or brown or black or yellow or red…”

“You sound like Joseph’s amazing coloured coat, Servaas.” Sammie gives an apologetic shrug. “All those colours in one single coat. Nobody would want to wear it.”

Servaas ignores the taunt. “I don’t care for coats. What worries me is the issue of race. It seems as if people still classify opinions on grounds of race, rather than politics. If you’re black, you support the ANC and corruption, murder and crime. If you’re white, you suffer oppression and murder. And let me tell you: that is wrong. Whites commit crime, too. Blacks want fair government. We’re so obsessed with skin colour, we completely miss the point.”

“Okay, then be brave: throw in religion. All Moslems aren’t mad about strapping bombs under their vests and all Christians aren’t saints. Yet we use religion to polarize society. That’s wrong, too.” Boggel pours so Cactus into the empty glasses. “We’re determined to find problems with each other. It can’t be good for us.”

“But there has to be some middle ground. Males and females. Disabled and able-bodied.  Left and right. Socialism and democracy. The list is endless.”

Oudoom sighs. This is what he’s been preaching about for so many years. We are all equal – and none more so than others. “I’ll tell you what my wish is for 2013: that we’ll stop labelling people according to any identifiable characteristic. People are people – full stop. Each individual has the same right to employment, empowerment or education – regardless of his origin. You can’t get onto the stage and tell the rest you are more worthy than others, simply because your great-grandfather was so-and-so. You have to earn the right to play a piano or pave the road or farm your sheep. First prove your worth, then get the job – that’s what I say. That way, nobody gets preferential treatment.”

“Har.” Gertruida snorts as she thinks of something. “It is accepted that the original Adam and Eve – or at least the origin of mankind – comes from the Western Cape. According to ancestral rights, the rest of the world belongs to us. We were there first, therefore they owe us. I can see this going to that court in Den Haag. America will have to pay compensation to Zuma and company. Maybe we can tax Europe, like they do with carbon emissions. Because our ancestors owned those lands, they must pay us now. It could be a tidy sum.”

Boggel holds up his hands to stop the stupidity. “No. The only non-negotiable things are your religion and your culture. Those are characteristics you choose, not those you inherit like a congenital abnormality. Nobody can take that away from you. You think you’re white? Or black? Go do your DNA. I read the other day we’re all a bit mixed up. There is nobody with pure Adam and pure Eve genes any more. Heaven help us all if DNA becomes cheap enough so that everybody can do it. Can you imagine what it’ll do to Black Economic Empowerment? Mister White will prove that Mister Black has the wrong genes to be purely black – and vice versa. It’ll make a mockery of our current legislation. Then they’ll have to say you must be more than 50% pure or something. It’ll be a farce.”

Gertruida closes her eyes. She doesn’t even want to think about it. If a university states that it’s students must represent the demographics in the country, each student will have to be tested. The sum of those tests will determine whether the institution is 80% black or not. And what about sports quotas? And if you have 10 or 50% black genes, does that make you black enough?

“I’ll tell you what they’ll do: they’ll start a new state department to determine your race. Fortunately, they have the example of the National party. Pretty soon they’ll employ inspectors to see if you’re more black or more white. We’ll go back to the future, just like the movie.”

Boggel rings the bell to signal the last round.

“2013 is here, ladies and gentlemen.  We’re not going to change the world by talking about it. Praying might help, but that’s all.”

“Amen,” Oudoom says. For once he doesn’t believe it. People will go on being prejudiced and bigoted and self-righteous. Maybe one day sanity will prevail and make people see each other as individual equals. Until then, egotistical megalomaniacs will rule the masses, telling them they’re acting in the best interest of everybody.

The sad thing is people want to believe their leaders want to improve their futures.

Reality? The politicians polarize society. Divide and rule, remember? Who tells the Moslem to carry a bomb? Who wants rhino horn to be exported? Who’s making money out of drugs? Who controls the fiscal cliff in America?

Maybe we can start seeing these things in 2013.

But it won’t change much. Not now.

Maybe later.

2013 – Love it!

Dawn, Okavango

Dawn, Okavango

2013.

It sounds strange, doesn’t it? In a week or two we’ll al be used to writing the correct date on cheques and invoices. Then, suddenly, the dates of 2012 seem so distant and far away. The old year is dead. Long live the New Year…

So what’s up for Rolbos in 2013?

They’ll all stay the way they are. Oudoom will sweat over his sermons and Mevrou will keep him on the straight and narrow. Precilla and Kleinpiet will examine the intricacies of being married. Vetfaan will amble on in his lonely way and Gertruida will read one National Geographic after the other. Sammie may expand his shop to accommodate his growing clientele and Boggel must get a few more chairs.

The compiling of the Rolbos Omnibus is progressing, and Servaas will appear in a book that’ll ruffle a few conservative feathers (if everything works out according to plan). This may mean that Rolbos won’t be updated daily any more, but hopefully the books (hold thumbs) will compensate for that. There are a number of stories in the pipeline with Vrouekeur, Leisure Wheels, Merise, as well as a book Eve Hemming is producing. Griffel Media has two manuscripts they promised to publish – but there is no indication when this will happen. Another manuscript is finished, but I’ll need to find a publisher for it.

So in 2013 a lot of things will remain the same, and a lot will change. That’s what makes a new year such a wonderful event. By tearing out the last page of 2012, the calendar tells you it’s 2013 now. And like every year, every month, every day – every dawn heralds a day filled with promise. Life presents a constant challenge and it doesn’t really matter what date was printed on top of the page. What matters is whether we embrace every opportunity that comes by. It matters that we care. It matters that we treat each other kindly and with love. And every dawn must remain a reminder that we need faith to make it through the day.

May 2013 be a blessing to each of you, and may Love be a constant companion.

Look for the Real World in 2013

Oudoom looks on with an unusual degree of grave concern at the activity around the lorry from Kalahari Vervoer in front of Boggel’s Place. They’ve already downloaded fourteen cases of beer and are still carrying cases of brandy, Coke and even vodka into the storeroom at the back. It is obvious that Boggel expected a considerable crowd for New Year’s and that means Rolbos will have one huge party to see the New Year in.

The problem is that Oudoom has post-Christmas blues. Not only did the Nativity play end up with him, the Shepherd of the Flock, waking up in a barn (and the cow at the church), but he also completely forgot to take up an offering during the Christmas service.

Sure, the mere fact that he actually conducted a service may be viewed as a modern-day miracle in itself, but the Christmas offering is important. Every year the money collected on Christmas day gets donated to the little orphanage in Grootdrink – a NGO-run home for homeless AIDS children. Without the support of such donations, the facility cannot survive. And he, Oudoom, the Heavenly Ambassador of Grace and Goodwill, neglected to announce the offering on Christmas day. The people of Rolbos must have giggled in their proverbial sleeves as they walked out – they now had extra money in their pockets.

Worse: it doesn’t take particular prophetic ability to predict how they are going to spend New Year’s Eve; the offloading of the lorry makes guessing unnecessary. And this, while he was hoping to announce the first midnight service in the history of Rolbos! Taking up an offering then seemed the way to salvage the loss of income on Christmas day…

Boggel on the other hand, is ecstatic. He has promised Rolbos, Grootdrink and the district a bash they’ll never forget. The Desert Rats are going to provide music like only they can; which will result in lots of very energetic dancing – which will ensure a thirsty crowd.

Now, you have to know The Desert Rats to understand about the music. Actually, they are the Vermaaks, a small family-colony that ‘farms’ way out in the Kalahari. Farming is their word for stoking a vile and potent brand of peach brandy from the little orchard their grand-grandfather established around one of those mysterious waterholes one finds in the desert. This activity is, for most of the year, not very labour intensive and allows for many hours waiting for the peach trees to blossom and grow the fruit that made the family famous. Gertruida says the story that these peaches are responsible for the many babies born in the colony, is nonsense. It is a simple fact (according to her) that the family has nothing else to do for extended periods of time. She says that, when they’re not making babies (women get fed up too, you know?) the men play their various musical instruments. Pa Vermaak has mastered the saw, which he strokes with a bow fashioned from an old copper pipe. This creates an eerie, hollow sound reminiscent of the howling of an injured jackal. The brothers add a drum (old paint tin), a trumpet made from a disused spout from the still, a flute fashioned from a broken smoking pipe and a mouth organ played by the clever son that made it through primary school. Given enough of their brew, they get into a surprisingly hypnotic rhythm that encourages what they call ‘circle-dancing’. Men and women will fall into a line, form a circle, and stamp their feet in tempo with the screeching, drumming, whistling and clapping. Gertruida says that the family got the idea from Bushman trance-dancing – and in all probability, she is right (as usual).

The Desert Rats rarely perform to the public. To get them to play at Boggel’s Place is as exceptional as a South African politician admitting to corruption.

The 31st of December in Rolbos started with a bang. A real one. The Vermaak tractor with its trailer full of family laboured into town, approached Boggel’s – and promptly blew a gasket. Black smoke and steam spewed from the sawn-off exhaust (Frikkie Vermaak made a type of didgeridoo with it) and the long-suffering John Deere died next to the rusted sign proclaiming the existence of Voortrekker Weg. Platnees immediately realised that this meant an extended stay of the Vermaaks, went home and made sure all the doors were locked. Oudoom retired to his study to read up on what St John said about the End of Days.

But now it is mid-afternoon and Boggel’s guests arrive from far and wide. Dusty men and women get out of over-heated bakkies to file into Boggel’s Place. On the wide veranda Boggel employed the Platnees family to serve the almost-dehydrated newcomers with a Vermaak Special – made from the last, overripe fruits of that memorable good year of 2005. Something strange happened that season: it actually rained. The peach brandy from that season has a strangely pleasant, sweet taste, lingering just long enough on the taste buds to want to taste it again. Like the Vermaak music, it has a subliminal way of worming its way into your mind until you actually convince yourself that you really, really like it.

The evening’s entertainment started of with a Rolf Harris Tie me Kangaroo down, sport sound-alike. (Read: sound-alike to Vermaak ears.) Frikkie did the didgeridoo part of course, while Papa Vermaak wobbled a piece of sheet metal to make the whoopity-whoop sounds. While the tune was almost recognisable, the family substituted ‘kangaroo’ for ‘springbokkie’; much to the delight of Kleinpiet, who never could never understand the song before. He had always assumed kangaroo was another word for mother-in-law. What he thought about platypus duck, Bill, is not known.

Warming up to the atmosphere in Boggel’s Place, the Vermaaks start with their favourite medley of old Afrikaner songs, stitching Sarie Marais, Een aand op die trein na Pretoria, and Beautiful in Beaufort West together with peeps, hoots, the false harmonica and plenty of drumming. Frikkie gives random accompaniment with the John Deere exhaust, sometimes confusing the rhythm to such an extent that Mamma Vermaak’s screeching singing has to start the verse over again. The crowd (at this early stage) shows that they are seasoned lovers of all things musical and applauds with gusto.

By this time Oudoom has given up on the thought of a midnight service and, as the keeper of the town’s morals, decides to join in the festivities. During his many years’ worth of Rolbos-experience, he had come to realise that it is useless to piece together scandals after they had happened. The only way to deal with the resulting gossip of such events, is to have first-hand knowledge of what really happened. He therefore saw it as his responsibility – nay, his duty – to put Revelations aside and go and observe what the congregation is up to. When he walks into Boggel’s, the Vermaaks are busy with their own composition of Wat soek jou vinger in my p-o-e-e-e-ding bak. He hardly notices the glass Platnees thrusts in his hand; but because it is so warm and the words were so suggestive, he swallows the contents without thinking. When, five minutes later, he gets his breath back the Desert Rats are busy with Jy is my matras (en ek is so bly…). As he turns to leave this modern-day version of Sodom, Platnees hands him a fresh glass of Special. Still upset and still not thinking straight, he finishes that as well.

Gertruida says Frikkie was bitten by a puff adder once. The Vermaaks have only one cure for colds, flu, malaria and snake-bite: a glass of Pappa’s Special. Frikkie recovered of course; the snake was found dead the next day.

It is no wonder then, that Oudoom then marches up to the Rats and asks them to play something more religious. They comply – and fall in with a slow and pious version of Ver in die Ou Kalahari, daar soen die boere so….

After this, the party really catches on. In Rolbos it is important to have Oudoom’s blessing; and now, with him dancing along, there is no reason to hold back.

Alcohol, it is said, is the ultimate social lubricant. It oils the gears that make society tick (even when they belong to different model engines), it smoothes the uncomfortable edges of misunderstandings and distributes the spark of laughter to people who suffer with frozen sense of humour.

There is, sadly, another side to the effect of partaking fluids with a significant alcoholic content. For no particular reason, it may change the happy face of Doctor Jeckyll into the grumbling and ominous countenance of Mister Hyde. Boggel has often seen this happen over the years, and puts it down to the fact that the ingestion of liquor allows sunken grievances to float to the surface again. Gertruida (who knows everything) says good manners are heavier than alcohol, that’s why it sinks to the bottom. Whatever the reason may be, it happens occasionally – and is often followed by periods of intense remorse. Like life in Rolbos, it isn’t always easy or logical to try to explain why grown men would want to ridicule and belittle their best friends the one moment – and then cry on their shoulders the next.

While Oudoom does his version of the Dutch Reformed Shuffle on the makeshift dance floor (very reserved, no touching, no talking and a whispered blessing at the end), Vetfaan and Kleinpiet are trying to outdo each other in their comments on the reverend’s lack of coordination.

“It is a miracle! How that man reaches the lectern on the pulpit is a mystery. Look at the way his left hand doesn’t know what the right foot is doing.”

“Ja, man, it just shows you. You are now looking at the real Oudoom. Strip the veneer of being a preacher, and you get the lecherous old man dancing with Gertruida over there. Look at the way he watches Precilla’s bum over Gertruida’s shoulder. I tell you – his head is filled with thoughts of that lady in the bath during King David’s voyeur phase.”

The Vermaaks take a break to fill up with some of their product, allowing the dancers an opportunity to do the same. Oudoom wipes the sweat from his brow, walks over to the counter and squeezes in between Vetfaan and Kleinpiet.

“Dominee is really hot tonight, hey? Showing us how to do it and all. Maybe you should take up a collection for your effort?”

And that sparks the tears. All of a sudden Oudoom remembers the midnight service he had planned to make up for his lack of concentration on Christmas. Wave of remorse follows wave of regret as he slumps forward on the counter, more or less in the direction of the glass of Special strategically placed there by Boggel. As if touched by a Higher Wisdom, he suddenly realises how significant his oversight has been while the sad tears of repentance and sorrow drips on the glass rings on the counter. For no particular reason he remembers his efforts to build up his small congregation, the failed bazaars, the off-tune organ and the tower clock that never tells the right time.

“I’m just like the clock,” he announces between the sobs, “always a bit out.”

Vetfaan starts laughing at this, but something in the older man’s voice – and Kleinpiet’s morose look – stops him.

Pappa Vermaak has taken his seat again and his saw starts squawking out For Auld Lang Syne. Frikkie joins with the exhaust while Mamma Vermaak picks up the rhythm by striking the prongs of the garden fork with a hammer. When they reach And we’ll take a cup of kindness yet…everybody storm the bar for a refill. The Vermaaks stop in midstride (midnote?), initially confused by the sudden disappearance of their audience. When they realise what is happening, they start again from the beginning. Gertruida holds up a hand, silences the lot and solemnly delivers a lecture on the poem by Robert Burns, emphasising the fact that Burns ‘stole’ the first verse from James Watson who published it in 1711. “It is traditionally sung on Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year, but it also features in Zimbabwe as a funeral song. The Boy Scouts use it at their Jamborees and Shirley Temple sang it in a film in 1937.” Even the Desert Rats are impressed. “Now, the final verse says: and there’s a hand my trusty friend, and give us a hand o’ thine, and we’ll take a right goodwill draught, for auld lang syne. And you know what? This song is about real friendships, about loyalty and caring and about deep respect.” Everybody nods. “Now, I suggest we were very disrespectful to Oudoom last Sunday. When he forgot to take up the offering, we all sat there grinning. We calculated how much more we could spend on tonight’s Special. I think we are disgusting.”

You can hear a pin drop. Even the Desert Rats – the entire Vermaak family who belongs to no known church – looks guilty. Frikkie gets up, takes off his floppy hat, and starts a slow march through the crowd while wiping the occasional tear away with a dirty cuff. Hands find their ways to pockets as the hat slowly fills up. Then Pappa Vermaak starts making a round with the empty paint tin that served as a drum. You don’t say no to Pappa Vermaak. Not only will that be the end of your evening (and possibly a trip to Upington’s hospital), but far worse: he may just take the rest of the Special and disappear with his family into the Kalahari night.

Rolbos tears, Gertruida says, are different to those of other places: not only is it saltier, but also it causes an almost unquenchable thirst. When the drum and the hat are deposited at Oudoom’s feet, it was pretty Precilla who bends down, empties the contents on the floor, and starts counting the money. It is a lot. A huge amount. Oudoom mutters something about the bread and the fish at the Sermon on the Mount, shaking his head in wonder.

No wonder then, that everybody shows their appreciation for this miracle by toasting each other (repeatedly) with the Vermaak Special.

Sometimes we think of Rolbos as a backward place filled with simple people. It is not an unreasonable opinion, come to think of it. They can be quite stupid, callous, bigoted, opinionated, short-sighted, selfish and even cruel at times. If you attend any one of Oudoom’s sermons, you’ll hear him talk (at length) about it.

But not on this, New Year’s Day, 2013. For once Oudoom has a happy sermon about the Goodness Hidden in Mankind. For once his congregation is glued to his lips as he talks about caring and love and respect. And for the first time they sing Auld Lang Syne in church, accompanied by a rag-tag family with a strange musical taste and even stranger instruments.

Gertruida says this is the way church services should be: a beacon of goodwill in an evil world. Vetfaan agrees, but still prefers the out-of-tune organ to the John Deere didgeridoo.

Some readers may think this is just a story and that Rolbos is a virtual place in cyberspace. However, you don’t even have to stretch your imagination to understand life in Rolbos. Wherever you are in the wide, wide world, you’ll find a bit of Rolbos with you, around you and in you.

As we approach 2013, it’ll be great if we can all laugh at our little idiosyncrasies, giggle about our own stupidity and – most importantly – stop taking ourselves so very seriously.

In Gertruida’s immortal words: “May your new year be filled with old values, fresh dreams and some of the best wine you’ve ever tasted.” Boggel agrees, adding that world peace means nothing if you keep on fighting with yourself.

But it is Oudoom who has the last word. When he hands over the handsome sum of money to the orphanage in Grootdrink, he tells everybody that the Lord works in mysterious ways. Changing water into wine is certainly a feat, but to use the Vermaak Special to feed the children is maybe the biggest miracle of modern times.

So, from the upstanding and honestly crazy people of Rolbos: may you have a great 2013. Treat yourself today: close your eyes for a moment to forget all the artificial good wishes and synthetic text messages. Sit down for a second at the dusty bar in the Kalahari to smile at the little hunchbacked man serving your cold beer. And then, in that magical instant, experience what it means to be part of the real world.

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…”

The Wounds of War

It was between Christmas and New Year’s – dates didn’t matter much back then – that Vetfaan crawled across the hot sand of the Caprivi to check out the strange mound in the track. Potholes and ruts were common; mounds could signal danger. A booby-trapped hand grenade or a landmine might be concealed beneath that heap of earth.

There! The glint of sun on metal! The arming pin – pulled out once the mine is set – had been thrown away at the side of the track. Vetfaan was sure then: the landmine was a given fact; the possibility of an ambush an almost-certainty. He froze for a second, then lifted his hand in a signal to the rest of the patrol to disperse.

The effect was catastrophic. As the men stepped sideways into the bush, the carefully laid minefield exploded. The ambush was not by an invisible force armed with AK 47’s; the enemy had been much more devious in their planning. Knowing the scouting group would be suspicious about the little mound of earth, they mined the immediate area around the path.  Vetfaan’s platoon was out-thought, outsmarted and wiped out. Even the arming pin had been left there on purpose.

The human mind is able to process information at incredible rates. The hand on the hot stove gets whipped away before damage is done. A foot will find the brake pedal before the eyes register the running child in the street. The brain is, literally, quite amazing in analysing and reacting to the unexpected.

But sometimes, rarely, when the input of information is so unexpected, so grotesque, so massive, the brain cuts out. The neurons simply stop firing. Memory patterns halt. Analysis stops. Activity ceases. The body belonging to such a brain in those moments, ceases o function in a logical manner.

Vetfaan doesn’t know how long he lay there. He can’t really say. It could have been a second, or an hour. To this day, the black cloud of amnesia – the reaction to block out unacceptable events – still shrouds his ability to remember exactly what transpired in that time. He didn’t black out; he was aware of his surroundings all the time. It’s just that he was so paralysed with fear and anger and surprise and revulsion that time simply ceased to exist.

Later, when his arms and legs started obeying his mind once more, the absolute silence made him sit up. After the explosions, there were no whoops of victory from the enemy. No shots of an ambush. And in the eerie quiet, even the birds and the veld had become quiet; as if to apologise for what had happened. Sorry, Mother Nature was saying, so sorry.

It was an absurd thought.

Slowly, gingerly, Vetfaan glanced around him. It must have been some bounding Valmara VS 69’s. Vetfaan had seen a demonstration of such a mine: exploding at chest-height level, it had a killing zone of 30 yards. The three men in his group had no chance. Obviously the mines – he guessed there would have been five – had been laid to eliminate anybody stepping off the track. What saved Vetfaan, was the fact that he was laying down at the time of the explosions.

In slow motion, Vetfaan crawled away. There was no point in lingering – his men had been mutilated beyond recognition, shot to pieces and obviously dead. To venture off the track carried the risk of detonating even more mines. With the radio destroyed, his best chance was to try and get back to the base, report the incident, and let them dispatch an expert group to recover the bodies. Retracing his steps, he backed away from the mound, made a mental note of the position, and started the long and lonely road back to safety.

He must have progressed a kilometer or so – it may have been two, it may have been five – before the delayed reaction set in. When his brain finally started computing what happened, the enormity of the situation started filtering through. Up till then, his only thoughts had been about getting away, getting back to safety; but then the images of his mutilated patrol popped up again, demanding to be filed away under some heading in his mind. For a while he mulled about that: was it Sad, or Unnecessary, or Stupid, or Negligent, or Unavoidable, or … It seemed terribly important to find a category to suit the massacre.

And then a great sadness overwhelmed him. He had known those three men well. The one had always bragged about his little daughter at home. They had always laughed at his corporal’s jokes. And then there was the ferrety little bloke, who had dreamt of the ultimate love affair once he got discharged. They had been real, live, people. And now they’re dead.

Vetfaan found a tree, sat down, and cried. Great racking sobs ripped through his body, tears streaking down over his dusty cheeks. It seemed as if something inside him just gave way; he wasn’t crying out of sadness. Nor even frustration. He was weeping because there was nothing else to do. It didn’t help to feel sad. He couldn’t bring those men back. Like a mother holding a dead baby, he cried because the promise of tomorrow had been broken.

For a while, he tried to blame somebody. First of all, he wondered if he should have been more careful. Then he blamed the hands that set the mine. Later he shifted responsibility to the factory in Italy, where the greed for money allowed the manufacture of these killing devices and they traded death for Dollars. Inevitably, eventually, he charged the politicians for killing his mates. Fat, unfit, whiskey-drinking men in oak-panelled offices sent his little patrol of fit young men to fight their battles. The cowards, he decided, were the men who refused to commit to compromise.

Vetfaan got back to the base. He reported the incident. The bodies were recovered, the flowery letters sent to the grieving families, and a clerk in Headquarters filed the report neatly with the others – all marked by the little black ribbon on the right-hand corner. The admin was done. The politicians used the facts to escalate the war. Peace on Earth – at what price?

Constant war?

During the rest of the Border War, Vetfaan participated in several skirmishes with the enemy. He joined the ranks of men with their stuttering guns – but he always made sure he aimed too high. That was the only way to protest the stupidity of it all – a one-man non-fight for peace.

Now, in the time between Christmas and New Year, Vetfaan will always saunter into Boggel’s Place and order the old army-drink. Rum-and-Coke. Four of them. Doubles. His salute is always the same:

“Broken Promises! Lost innocence! And lonely ladies!”

The other patrons think it must be some old Irish toast, or maybe it’s a Greek one. They’ll raise their glasses and salute silently.  It’s only Gertruida who notices the cold, cold look in his grey eyes when he drinks the one Rum after the other, finishing the four drinks in silence. And later, when she helps him to get home, she’ll have to assure him there are no mounds in the road. Not a single one, Vetfaan. It is safe. It’s okay.

One day she’ll rustle up enough courage to ask him about it; but some instinct warns her to wait. Sometimes the wounds of war take a long time to heal.

In some cases, they never do.

Boxed in on Boxing Day

“At least Christmas is over.” Vetfaan rubs his hands together in anticipation. Boggel doesn’t open the bar on Christmas, and by now the collective thirst of the town is almost as overwhelming as the drought in the district.

“Ag, Vetfaan, show some respect!” Servaas – who shares the thirst, but feels he should set an example as elder in the church – wags and admonishing finger in the direction of the big farmer.

“At least we don’t have to put up with the bustle in the big cities.” Kleinpiet tries to change the subject. “I hear the people bought just about everything in the shops. Imagine that happening to Sammie? Well have to wait until next week for the lorry of Kalahari Vervoer to restock. Worse: what’ll happen if we drink Boggel’s dry? That’ll be a catastrophe.”

This is a serious question, which causes a shocked silence. Even Servaas has to admit – respectfully, but still – that the town without Boggel’s Place would be unthinkable. Sure, people drink there – and maybe sometimes a bit much – but this is where they gather to exchange news, talk about the drought, listen to each other’s hardships and small delights, and tell everybody next year will be better. Except for the brief chats in front of Oudoom’s church, this is where they share hope and joy and grief.

“It won’t happen.” Vetfaan is adamant. “I saw the extra boxes he ordered from Upington. It’ll last well past New Year’s.”

And Gertruida, who sits a little apart, thinks, yes, it’s all about boxes. Cities marching outward with little box houses, box lives, box schools, box churches. You either fit into the box, or you don’t; which means you won’t last. Millions upon millions of individuals, being taught that you have to fit into the mould. Radio stations, newspapers and TV stations telling people to conform to fashion, politics and religion. Think this. Wear that. Lip-gloss so. Vote for the right guy. Bank here. Go to the right church. Move with the masses and be safe. Artificial satisfaction guaranteed at the end of the queue for gratification. Come on! Be politically  correct and environmentally friendly. Swim against the stream and some horrible fate awaits you: a label screaming: Not Normal!

Not long from now, she thinks, there’ll be surgeons paying off expensive cars with their ability to bore little holes in the rebellious skulls to make them all good ol’ jolly fellows en route to Valhalla.  At least now, she thinks, some people still think for themselves – but for how long?

“You’re pensive, Gertruida. What’s wrong?” The little frown of disapproval creates a skew furrow on Precilla’s brow.

“Just thinking about Boxing Day, sweetie. About what people are allowing other people to do to them. How we are blind to Syria and sad with Sandy Hook. Mugabe and Zuma hammering the lid shut on justice. People boxed in by following stupid trends. thinking it’ll set them free. Small lives being governed by insecurity. And insecurity fanned on by fashion houses and politicians, to make you buy and spend and fit in with a constantly changing environment. The impossibility of a forced, homogeneous society. You know…everybody’s so boxed-in?”

Precilla nods – she knows better than to ask for an explanation. Gertruida sometimes has such outlandish ideas.

“Ah, here comes Boggel. Come on, Gertruida, let me buy you a drink.”

And Gertruida trudges along willingly, not keen to pursue the line of thought any further. The fate of those poor people…!

She’s right, of course. In Tokyo and New York and London and Cape Town, millions of people stand in front of overfull cupboards, uncertain what to wear for the obligatory lunch dates with the Trendsetter Family and The In Crowd. They have to fit in, you see? Their lives depend on it…