Time doesn’t count for much in the Kalahari. Days come and go. Seasons are a better way of keeping tabs on the passage of time. Boggel’s New Year’s party is maybe the best way to determine whether you are still in 2013 or not.
But in 2016 – most of the inhabitants are fairly sure it was that year – some remarkable events took place in Rolbos and elsewhere.
It’s not that nothing much happened in the preceding years. Not at all. There was the drought, of course. And the twins have the run of the town. And Servaas wears his sling to church but never in the bar – ‘in case I have to eat chips while I’m drinking’. And Gertruida was commissioned to write an article on Micro ecosystems in the Kalahari Desert for National Geographic, which received a special mention from the Planetary Ecological and Natural Investigative Society. She likes to think of that mention as the climax of her writing career.
The biggest talking point in Rolbos has been the movie Mister Featherbosom made in response to Bianca’s visit. He loves to entertain his guest at his lavish dinner parties with the story.
“…So up rocked this woman with my daughter’s passport. Can you believe it? I remember it like yesterday: it was Sunday morning – early, before breakfast – and the first thing she did, was to scold me for being in bed at 11am still. I don’t take kindly to being shouted at before I’ve woken up properly, but this woman had something - that something - which appealed to me.
“Anyway, once she explained the situation, it was lunchtime and I excused myself to go and get dressed. When I returned, she had given the cook the day off, and was busy making a concoction in the kitchen. Called it bobotie and it looked vile. She told me to get some wine, which I did.
“While I opened the bottle, I asked her whether she was always as bossy as that. She laughed, and told me all men are the same: they like to be ordered around. I scoffed, but then she started talking about Afghanistan and Darfur. I was intrigued.
“And that bobotie…it’s been my favourite ever since.
“She only allowed me to question her being there after lunch. She said two things make a man stupid: hunger and lust. So she shunted me around a bit before feeding me…and then said she had something to ask me.”
At first he scoffed at the idea of an international expose on the scope of corruption in the South African government, but the question of poaching weighed heavily on his mind. He said he’d make a few calls and talk to people he trusted.
That’s when the idea of a film was born.
“You see, news doesn’t last. Today there’s a tornado that wiped out a town. Next week nobody talks about it any more. Remember that Kenyan shopping mall disaster? Didn’t even last that long. The point is: people are so saturated by international scandals and disasters, they just don’t care any more.
“But a movie! First of all: it conveys a message. Over and over. It doesn’t go away, like the news of some pedophile who got caught in Ghana. Really…if you’re sitting in France, how does it affect your life? It doesn’t, so you file it under ‘Inconsequential’ and forget about it. In contrast: people still talk about Schindler’s List, The Sound of Music and Sophie’s Choice.
“You make a good movie, and people will talk about it. It gets their attention. And – instead of spending a fortune on lawyers and years in court, a movie is fun to make and you get to make a profit. It made perfect sense, and so we made the movie, called it ‘Bianca’…and the rest is history.”
“That Bianca is a live wire, that’s for sure.” Gertruida folds The Upington Post, takes off her glasses and signals Boggel for a beer. “She and your father is attending the premiere at Cannes. The preview critics are raving – they say there might be an Oscar in the offing.”
“Ag, you know my daddy – never does things half-way. If he tackles a project, he insists on perfection. What surprised me, was how he took to Bianca. I really didn’t see that coming, but I’ve never seen the old man this happy…”
Fanny’s happy babble gets drowned by a prolonged ‘Owwwww!’ from Servaas. He’s been acting like a love-sick teenager ever since he heard about Bianca’s engagement.
“Oh, shush, Servaas. She was way too young for you – your heart would have conked in. At your age you shouldn’t even walk past that window doll in Upington’s Pep Store. Even Oudoom couldn’t help staring when he saw her.” When Fanny sees the old man’s hurt expression, she pats his shoulder. “Don’t worry, we’ll get a nice old widow for you. Somebody with asthma on tranquilizers - you’ll be safe then.”
Servaas closes his eyes. He can just see the waddling, wheezing woman with a string of grandchildren, sitting on his stoep, crochetting a tea-cosy while shouting for her inhaler.
“No, I’m fine,” he says hastily, his imaginary pain forgotten for the moment.
“Anyway, I think the movie is going to shake things up a bit.”
“Yes, indeed.” Precilla sits back with a smug smile. “Since the government lost so much support in the 2014 election, the president has had a very shaky term in office. Something like this may very well be the last straw…”
“We’ll sue them!” The president pushes his glasses back on his nose with his middle finger. “We’ll stop the distribution of the film! We’ll arrest that man! Get somebody in here that can stop this nonsense!”
“Um, Mister President, sir…” the spokeman doesn’t quite know how to approach his boss today. He’s become rather erratic lately and his temper tantrums has alienated a lot of erstwhile political allies. “Sir, we can’t interfere with a film festival in Europe. You know the EU has lost a lot of regard for us, especially after your latest wedding. The evidence before the commission of enquiery into the Arms Deal is overwhelingly condemning and your ‘informal’ chat with the Head Judge got splattered over the front page of every major newspaper in the country. I’m afraid your influence and stature have been severely compromised, sir. That film will be shown.”
“But it is only a film. A story. Do you think the public will connect me with the plot?” A hopeful note creeps into the obese president’s strained question.
“Of course not, Mister President. Nobody in his right mind will suggest that you’ve ever done anything wrong. The Party, the Youth League…in fact the whole country, is behind you. One hundred percent. Definitely. Sir.”
When the credits roll across the screen, it is ominously quiet in the Grand Théâtre Lumière. The silence is so complete that even the sound of the traffic outside on Rue du Hohwald seeps into the auditorium.
Bianca turns to face the man she’s come to love so much. Reaching up, she touches his cheek and isn’t surprised to find it damp. Yes, he’s put everything into making this film…her film. No detail was too trivial to be skimped, everything was done exactly the way it happened. “Shh, my darling. If the audience didn’t like it, it’s not the end of the world…”
Before she can say anything more, the audience erupts in appluase. As the lights come on, a spotlight swings to the couple who’ve made the movie possible. As if they practiced it, the audience all turn to face them. The clapping hands and the tear-streaked cheeks shout it out….Bianca is a success!
Later, much later, they enjoy a quiet meal in the quaint Restaurant Auberge Provincale, Bianca lifts her glass in a toast.
“You gave me my life back. Thank you, darling.”
“We’ve only just begon, my dear…”
Boggel pushes over a fresh beer to Servaas. They are alone in Boggel’s Place after the rest of the patrons retired for the night.
“So, how is you shoulder, Servaas? I mean, really?”
The rheumy eyes peer from below the bushy brows.
“It’s not my shoulder, Boggel” Sevaas looks sad. Nobody really understands him. He sighs and taps his chest. “… It’s my heart.”
Boggel, the understanding barman, reaches under the counter for the box of tissues he keeps for just these occasions. “You know, Servaas, a bullet tears through flesh at an amazing speed; but love, real love, doesn’t have an exit wound. That’s why it hurts so much.”
He gets a wintry smile before the old man bursts into tears.
Gertruida says every story must end somewhere, and maybe she’s right. Then again: in politics and love it’s equally difficult to say where it started and where it ends. As for Bianca’s story, we’ll have to wait to see what effect the movie had. Watch this space towards the end of 2016.
In the meantime the townsfolk of Rolbos – crazy, loveable, brave, lonely, isolated and opinionated – will chat away the hours. Boggel will serve the drinks and Gertruida will lecture them about stuff they never knew about. Oudoom’s sermons will guide his little flock towards the straight-and-narrow and Servaas will dream about the love he still hopes to find.
In short: Rolbos will remain just what it used to be: small, insignificant…and content.