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Siena’s Legacy

mattanu 024“It was a hot and dusty day,” Servaas says (as if there are other types of days in the Kalahari), remembering how he and Siena met. This is one story even Gertruida is hazy about. “And I was on my way to Abraham’s shop in Kimberley. In those days I was a clerk in the post office in Kimberley, a long time before we moved to Rolbos.”

“But you always wanted to become  dominee, Servaas. Why did you end up in the post office?” Precilla recalls the last chats she had with Siena, and how the old woman thought her husband would have been a rather impressive preacher.

“Ag, you know how it was in the 40′s and the 50′s. Droughts. War. Depression. There just wasn’t any money, and I had to support my mother as well. My dad, you might know, fell at El Alamein.”

“Why didn’t he get up again?” Vetfaan has a mischievous glint in his eye.

“Oh, shush, Vetfaan. You shouldn’t joke about things like that. Few people know that the South African First Infantry Division played a major role in stopping Rommel before he got to the Suez canal. That was the First Battle of El Alamein in July 942, and laid the foundation for the defeat Rommel suffered there later that year, in November. Had the Desert Fox succeeded, Hitler would have controlled the Middle East oil and the canal. And that,” Gertruida says gravely, “would have handed Hitler the war on a silver platter. Servaas’ father helped win the war.”

“Anyway,” Servaas seems oblivious of the interruption, “there I was in Abraham’s shop, bickering about the price of sugar or something, when in waltzed this young lady.” His eyes grow dim as he remembers the day. “Yes, she was something, that’s for sure. Dressed in a long skirt and a frilly yellow blouse, she was. Her hair was long back then, hanging free down her back. But what struck me immediately, was her eyes. Sparkling, lively, full of life. And she stood there, wringing her hands as she waited to be served.”

“Well, I simply paid old Abraham and stepped aside so he could help her. Old Abraham asked what he could do for her, but she shook her head. Just stood there. And that’s when I knew.”

“What? That you loved her without knowing her name? Love at first sight?” Vetfaan seems a bit more serious.

“No man! I thought I knew she maybe wanted to see old Abraham on a … personal matter, you know? She didn’t seem to want him to serve her while I was standing there.” Servaas sees the puzzled looks and hastens to explain: “I used to be…more sensitive…in the past, see?”

“Oh, Servaas, you’ve always been responsive to feelings.” Vetfaan nods for another beer as he watches the old man blush before adding: “Especially your own.”

Servaas disregards the remark. “Well, I went outside and made as if I’m on my way, but I stopped just outside the door and eavesdropped.”

“Some things never change.” Vetfaan lifts his glass in a mock salute.

“Siena – I didn’t know her name then – was begging old Abraham for credit. Some more credit, for it seemed that her family had already borrowed as much as the old shopkeeper wanted to allow.

Asseblief, Meneer, she said, I’d do anything you want. I’ll work here for free. I’ll do your washing and cooking. I’ll even clean your stables.” Servaas frowns at the memory. “In those days everybody had horses – for riding and pulling wagons and carts.

“I heard old Abraham laugh softly. No, he said, that’s not good enough, young lady. Not good enough at all. You’ll have to do more than that.”

“Oh, I love the juicy bits of a saucy story. Come on, Servaas, tell us what the old man wanted.” Perched on the edge of his chair, Vetfaan’s drink is forgotten.

“I’ll never know. I stormed in there and demanded to know what she wanted to buy. She blushed and stammered. Old Abraham flustered and blustered. And then she showed me a list of groceries. Sugar. Flour. Coffee. And a length of Crimplene.

“So I told that miserly old bastard to give her the stuff, I’ll pay. I had to go to the bank to withdraw two pounds, which was about everything I had, and slapped the money down on his counter.”

It is at this point that Servaas falters. How can he tell the rest? About how the old man burst out laughing until the tears ran down his cheeks – and how Siena then hugged him. About how good it felt when she put her arms around him and how he became aware of a faint suggestion of perfume and the scent of her hair. And how he thought that was the most wonderful moment of his entire life.

“That’s when she invited me over to supper. She had to explain where she lived, and when she did, I didn’t think much about it. I should have. In fact, I wasn’t thinking…”

“Of course not – your brain had no blood supply at that point. Diverted the flow elsewhere, didn’t you?” Vetfaan wasn’t letting up, but Servaas is far too innocent to catch on.

“That evening, I put on my  best almost-white shirt, my post office tie and my old school blazer. I borrowed a pair of flannels from the other clerk and used about all the sheep fat I had on my shoes. You should have seen me – I still had hair back then, which I slicked down with a bit of Brylcreme.

“Anyway, there I was, striding towards her address … and then I realised I was on my way to one of the grander suburbs in Kimberley. Working at the post office meant you had a very good idea of the layout of the town, and I wasn’t on my way to the slums – if you know what I mean.”

When he arrived at the house, his jaw dropped. The extensive garden and large trees almost made it impossible to see the dwelling from the street. In front of the huge porch, a stately Rolls Royce stood waiting silently. Servaas can still close his eyes and recall the large windows and the swept-back curtains , which allowed him to glimpse the luxurious interior.

“Man, I wanted to turn around right there. I just felt so out of place. Then, as I stood considering leaving quietly, the front door opened, and there she was.”

Oh, the memory! Siena floated down the red, polished steps of the porch in the most beautiful dress he’d ever seen! Her hair was tied back and she wore just enough make-up to make him believe she wasn’t wearing any at all.

Oh, you came! I was so worried! Come on in!. Her excited voice reached him before she did. And then…then her father emerged and stood there, a slight frown on his sun-burnt face.

“He said he was glad to meet me. His daughter, he said, had told him about me. And, he added, she was a rather mischievous young lady.”

It turned out that she had dated a few young men ever since she came back from finishing school six months previously - and that these meetings usually ended in disappointment.

“She told me all about it later. You see, her father was stinking rich – grandson of one of the original Rand Lords – the guys who made vast fortunes out of the original diamond and gold discoveries. So she’d date a guy only to realise the chap’s enthusiasm was all about the money – and she was the key to unlock the door to instant riches.

“So she and old Abraham played this game, you see? Abraham, I later found out, was an old family friend and  had a soft spot for  the poor little rich girl. She’d wait until a single man bought something and she’d step in to play the poor girl who begs for credit. If a chap offered to help, he’d get an invitation to supper. It was her strategy to look for somebody who didn’t care about money, but about her. I was, as it happened, the first to fall for the ploy.”

“So where’s the money now, Servaas? Why…?” Vetfaan hesitates, not wanting to add ‘why are you here, and not on some Greek Island?’, because it sounds rude – even to him.

“Well, quite surprisingly, our relationship developed nicely. When the time came to ask for her hand, I asked her father to leave his fortune to her older brother, Vetfaan.”

This time, Servaas smiles at Vetfaan’s confusion. It’d be impossible to explain how he and Siena decided on a life of hardship and true commitment – rather than the artificiality of luxury and fake pledges. Despite his lack of formal education, Servaas realised a great wisdom: love will only survive life’s bumps if it is faced with constant challenges. Trust – not money – is needed to make love grow despite the circumstances. It was in overcoming these obstacles that he and Siena formed a bond that lasted to this day – even after her death.

“It was a wise choice, Vetfaan; something a cynic like you’d never understand.”

And old Servaas smiles the way  old man smile when they recall the beauty of that relationship that made everything worthwhile. When Vetfaan opens his mouth to say something clever, it is Gertruida – who knows everything – who sniffs loudly as she fishes out a Kleenex.

Like wars demand such a lot from the men who take up arms, Love may require the ultimate sacrifice. The difference is that men succumb in battle…just like Servaas’ father did. Love, however, will require young (and not so young) men and women to lay down their weapons, to be defenceless, and reinvent the true meaning of Life. Falling in love and falling in battle have many similarities but differ in one single major aspect: in both cases the wounds may be fatal. But only Love may – for a few fortunate individuals – resurrect the fallen to a heady condition called Beauty.

That’s why Vetfaan closes his mouth with an audible snap. Then, trying to look casual about it, he reaches for Gertruida’s box of tissues.

The Mythtery of Mister Mistoffelees

images (68)“Mister Mistoffelees was a mythtery,” Gertruida says confidently, knowing she has to get the conversation in Boggel’s Place going again after the funeral.

“You started to lisp?” Vetfaan stops staring at the single distant cloud on the horizon, realising it’s not getting any nearer.

“No, Vetfaan. I’m talking about old Oom Meyer…the one with the strange eyes –  remember?”

Of course he does. They all do. Oom Meyer was born with cat’s eyes – vertical irises that were similar to those you’d expect to find in the feline family. Coupled with the pointed ears, the sharp and fang-like canines, and underdeveloped chin, Oom Meyer certainly lived up to his nickname. That, and the story of how he died.

“Ja,” Kleinpiet says, “he was in the Korean War. Used to tell terrifying stories about how he was shot down twice..”

Another reason for his melodious moniker was the unruly mop of hair. Oom Meyer had Big Hair – a mane of prodigious proportions, parted in the middle, framing his narrow face .

“Didn’t he come down from Kenya or somewhere?”

“Yes,” Gertruida says, because she knows everything, “Before their independence. He used to be a commander in the King’s African Rifles regiment. Got wounded there, too.”

“But after that, in 1964, he was a mercenary in the Congo.” Kleinpiet remembers the time, when as a small boy, his family listened to the radio reports of the Uhuru massacres. “That’s where people started calling him Leo, because he was such a brave man. He believed he was immortal, I believe.”

“Yes, I heard he only got to be Mister Mistoffelees after the musical Cats became so popular.”Gertruida is lecturing again. “The wise and wily old cat was modelled after the mythical and evil demon, Mephistopheles, but is portrayed in the musical as a comical cat with many tricks up his sleeve. Another brilliant piece of by Andrew Lloyd Weber; based on the work by T. S. Eliot’s book of  poetry,  Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, of course.

“Cats opened on Broadway in 1981 and was an immediate hit. In 1983 the South Africans launched Operation Askari  in southern Angola. Oom Meyer was then attached to Task Force Victor and assigned to engage the enemy near Cuvelai. He was wounded in a skirmish and had to be flown out – first to their base at Opuwa, then to Grootfontein and eventually to 1 Military Hospital in Pretoria. By all accounts, he was half-dead when he reached 1 Mil, but he miraculously survived.

“Thats when they jokingly named him Mister Mistoffelees, because his survival reminded the nurses of the character in Cats. Maybe it was his looks, or the way he refused to die – but in the end that’s what they called him. So Leo Meyer became Mister M and the name stuck.”

They all knew that, of course; but nevertheless allowed Gertruida her opportunity to lecture – simply because she does it so well. But they also knew the heroic stories of how Oom Meyer played a decisive role in quite a few battles in the final phases of the Border War. This was the time that he so often infiltrated enemy lines, observed their positions and movements, and seemed to be able to move about in the bush at will without being detected. His fame as a behind-the-lines spy grew. People said he was as silent as a cat, as observant as a leopard and as determined as a lion. Once he picked up enemy tracks, nothing would stop him.

Well, almost nothing. A landmine in the final days of the conflict sent him back to hospital, where once again his recuperative powers astounded doctors and nurses alike.

“That cat-man must have nine lives,” a suprised specialist remarked one day as Oom Meyer carefully laid his crutches to one side and gingerly tested his weight on his injured legs.

“He was quite old when he bought that farm near Grootdrink.” Servaas remembers the first day he met the kindly old gentleman in the bottle store in Grootdrink. Servaas was staring longingly at a bottle of sherry when Oom Meyer softly padded up to him to introduce himself.

“Leo Meyer,” the old man purred, adding rather unnecessarily: “I’m new in the neighbourhood.”

Servaas introduced himself but couldn’t help staring at the unruly mane. In the Northern Cape baldness is considered to be an inevitable part of growing older. You earn respect that way. A completely bald pate ensures total silence by the younger ones when you get up to say something important during church council meetings. Why, just the other day old Pankop Pretorius suggested that maybe the congregation would sing better if a piano accompanied the hymns. Everybody knew it was absolute drivel, but not a single member at the meeting stood up to tell him so. Fortunately no funds were available, so the long, drawn-out singing could go on without being chased along by some new-fangled notion that the piano must determine the tempo of singing.

But, despite the dishevelled mop of hair, Servaas felt that Oom Meyer had a regal attitude – something in his demeanour made you respect the quiet old man. It was as if Oom Meyer had this independent air about him – he didn’t care a hoot whether you liked him or not – he simply made himself known when he felt like it. The inhabitants of Grootdrink accepted the solitary figure in their midst and would gossip about how he moved around his house – from east to west – as he shifted his chair to bask and doze in the sun.

At night – so a number of Grootdrinkers said – he often moved about in a random way, stopping here and resting there.  One even swore he saw Oom Meyer chasing a rat, but that was a bit much for most to believe.

300px-Labeobarbus_aeneus,_Orange_river,_RichtersveldThen there was his fishing. Oom Meyer seemed to live on fish. Every Saturday he’d take his tackle and slink off to the Orange River. He’d sit there quietly for as long as it took him to catch seven fat smallmouth yellowfish, return home and have something to fry, grill or braai every evening for the next week.

And then, just last week, Oom Meyer drove over to see Oudok about the pains in his chest.

“I have had a full and happy life,” the old warrior said, “and I feel my time is running out. I don’t want you to prescribe anything or to send me to some clever specialist. I simply want you to confirm that my luck has run out. Do an ECG and tell me the truth.”

“That’s what I did,” Oudok now tells the little crowd in Boggel’s Place. “Had one look at that tracing and saw the abnormalities at once. His heart was in a bad way. So I told him the truth.”

“…and two days later, they find him curled up in his bed, as dead as a fence post.” Servaas wipes a tear. “I will miss him…”

“Well, even a cat has only nine lives. Oom Meyer certainly used his lives wisely.” Gertruida smiles at the absurdity of it all. “But there was a bottle of aspirin next to his bed, as well. We all know,” and here she smiles haughtily, “that aspirin is highly toxic to cats.”

“Ja, I heard that, too. A bottle of 30 aspirins, only 21 left…” Precilla loves an urban legend. “He took nine, it seems…”

Vrede’s surprised barking outside makes Boggel rush to the window to have a look.

“Verde’s barking a a cat.” His voice is full of wonder. “A cat? In Rolbos? We’ve never had one.”

Gertruida gets up immediately to have a look. Seeing Voortrekker Weg is deserted, she goes outside. Two minutes later she comes back with an apologetic smile.

“Couldn’t fnd a cat,” she says, “not even his tracks. It’s strange. Maybe there wasn’t a cat at all…?

“You won’t find nothing.” Vetfaan says. Then, as the cloud on the horizon changes shape, he tells them they might expect some rain. “Cats can predict the weather, you know.”

“Yes, and they come back.” Precilla adds.

“It’s a myth,” Gertruida smiles. “And a mystery. Just like I said in the beginning…”

Widow Maritz’s Date

tombstone-3394lar“It’s about time for her to come to town again,” Gertruida remarks – because she knows everything and because nobody has said anything for some time now.

“Who?” Kleinpiet sips his beer quietly – he’s not really interested. He’s been contemplating the possibility of the president stepping down. Maybe, he thinks, he’ll jump; or maybe he’ll be pushed. Even more disturbing is the question: when did he stop caring? When did his presidency die? What was the date of his political demise…?

Still, Gertruida’s statement is an obvious attempt to break the silence and he’s gentleman enough to prod her on.

“Annetjie Maritz, the widow. You know, the one who stays on that farm on the other side of Bitterbrak.”

Of course they all know her. The crazy one. Lives on that farm alone with the few chickens and an old dog. Visits town every two months or so, to buy flour and sugar and coffee. Reed-thin with icy blue eyes and an unruly shock of grey hair. Used to be lovely once – a long time ago – but now age has withered away the beauty and replaced it with wrinkles and varicose veins.

“She’s not normal.” Vetfaan nods. “A strange cat, she is.”

“It’s the war, Vetfaan. Wars do that. It changes everything.”

That, they know, is true. Boys become men – and not all of them return home with happy smiles and fond memories. Families rejoice and grieve – and are left looking back at the time of conflict with puzzled frown. Why was the war necessary? Who won? Was the loss of life and sanity worth it? And, worst of all, the boy who took aim at a nameless opponent and pulled the trigger, wakes up in the small hours of the night, wondering how the family of his enemy are managing their loss.

“She’s still waiting for him, isn’t she?”

Nobody knows, really. Annetjie is a widow…or, at least: she’s an official widow. Bertus Maritz, according to the army, went MIA in 1986. Missing in action. Presumed KIA. No trace of him was found after the MiG bombed the camp and his tent took a direct hit.

“She told Oudoom a few years back the army couldn’t say what happened to Bertus. Was he in the tent when the bomb struck? Maybe he went out for a cup of coffee? Or answered a call of nature? And maybe, she hopes, he’s alive out there, somewhere, with no memory of who he was.”

Servaas, who knows all about the loss of a loved one during the war, shakes his head. “She’s clinging to a memory and she doesn’t want to let go. As long as she waits for him, she’s keeping him alive. That’s why she refuses to wear black. And one must never refer to her as The Widow Maritz. She hates that. Ignores you completely. You call her Annatjie or Mrs Maritz.” He sighs and stares out of the window. “It’s sad. She lives in her own world. Oudoom says she’s kept everything in the house exactly the way he left it. His pipe next to the bed. The book he’d read half-way through. And she lays a place for him at the table every night.”

They fall silent again, remembering the last time she came to town. Dressed in white blouse and a long blue skirt – with the straw hat perched on top of the mass of grey hair – she looked like any other older woman in the district. It’s only when you’re near that you realise she’s constantly chattering about how nice the town looks, and how Sammie has had to increase the prices in his shop.

“The way she talks to herself…” Kleinpiet gets interrupted before he can finish his sentence.

“…not to herself, Kleinpiet.” Gertruida holds up a restraining hand. “She’s talking to Bertus. Oh, she knows he isn’t here, but she keeps telling him what she sees.  It’s like an imaginary husband, you see.”

“But that’s not normal?”

“What is normal, Kleinpiet? Wars aren’t normal. Sending boys with guns to shoot other boys with guns isn’t normal. Hearing your son or husband died during a clash, isn’t normal. Politicians arguing with other politicians to the point where they say: ‘Now my side is going to show you. We’ll kill you all and then you can’t argue with me any more’ – we call that normal?

“No, for you she may not be normal in the usual sense of the word, but she keeps him alive – in her head – and that is ‘normal’ for her. It keeps her hope alive. And, Kleinpiet, without hope it is impossible to love…or to face the future.

“So she’s doing the best she can. Keeping him alive, keeps her alive. Letting go of him will mean she has no reason to live – or hope – for.”

Boggel looks up as the old Ford Cortina stops in front of Sammie’s Shop.

“Speaking of which,” he starts, but then lets out a long, low whistle.

The woman getting out of the car, can scarcely move. Every movement is slow and hesitantly deliberate. No hat. Long, black dress. They watch as she struggles up the stairs to the shop.

“Do you think she…”

“I’ll go and have a look.”Servaas gets up. She knows about Servasie. of course. The old man’s loss has always been a bonding factor between the two of them.

***

Later, when the old Cortina wheezes out of town, Servaas returns with bent shoulders and a stooped back.

“What did she say, Servaas?”

“Nothing much. Not too me, not to Sammie and not to Bertus. Only ordered a tomb stone. Said it is time.”

“Time for what, Servaas?”

The old man shrugs.

“The inscription made me wonder, as well.”

Here lies Anna and Bertus Maritz.

Twenty-seven letters to be carved out in granite. No dates. To add a date, you have to know when an individual ceased to love and hope and…live.

And that, Gertruida will tell you, isn’t always possible. She’ll ask you to consider the career of our president and leave you with an enigmatic smile.

The Hyena will eat itself…again.

hyena_with_leg“I hope we get rain soon.” Vetfaan stares out of the window at the clouds of red dust on the horizon. “My sheep aren’t looking great these days.”

Kleinpiet nods. “Ja, there’s just about nothing for them to eat in the veld. I’ll have to start buying feed for mine.”

Boggel knows this type of talk: it’s bad for business. Once the farmers have to spend money on their livestock, they just can’t afford to drink the way they used to.

“It’s difficult to say which is worse: the drought or the politics.” If he can get them to concentrate on less important matters, they might think less about their immediate problems. “Now that Uncle Jacob has to answer for Nkandla, the newspapers will have a field day..And there’s the Oscar trial as well.”

“But that’s not politics,” Vetfaan objects. “Nkandla has nothing to do with ANC policies; it’s about one man who lied to parliament. Uncle Jay simply stole public money, that’s what. Now, if that happened in Europe or the ‘States, he’d have to resign. Accepting personal responsibility is what democracy is all about. So…we can’t blame the ANC if one of their members gets seduced by power.”

“No, Vetfaan.” Servaas knits the bushy brows together. “Individual responsibility is important, I agree. But there should be more: the party must act. The top structure in this case – the ANC – should have taken an official stand on this, like they did with Malema. If they said, one of our members is out of line, we’ll sort out the mess…well, if they said that, then I would have tipped my hat to them. Well done, I would have said. Maybe I don’t agree with all your policies, but I respect the way you keep the party clean. That’s what I would have said. Now I can’t, because they aren’t saying anything.”

“Ah, but you don’t understand, Servaas. There are members of that party that can’t sleep well at night. They know the president can hire and fire at will. Should they demand justice, they’re thrown out of the tight circle of friends who control the party. And with that, they lose the benefits of supporting Uncle Jay. No more fancy cars, big salaries and a chance to dig into the many opportunities to make a buck on the side. It’s the old story: you don’t bite the hand that’s feeding you.”

“So,” Servaas snarls, “we’re stuck with the mess? No solution and no way out? I don’t think that’s fair at all.”

“It’s like the drought, Servaas.” Kleinpiet points at the dust devil swirling down Voortrekker Weg. “Remember what the veld looked like after the last rains? It was green and lush with flowers everywhere. Now it’s dry and dusty and bare. But, mark my words, the rain will come again, and we’ll sit here and talk about the new fountains and springs that appeared everywhere. It’s a never-ending cycle. And then the next drought will come and we’ll wait for rain once more.”

They all know that much is true, at least. The Kalahari does that. It’s a region of extremes with maybe a handful of seasons in a lifetime when Mother Nature is kind to the veld.

“You think politics work the same way? That we’ll recover from this mess?”

“Indeed, Servaas.” Boggel joins the conversation. “Remember when one Rand bought one Dollar? Two Rand to the Pound? Those were good times for the economy. Now it’s all shot to pieces, but it’ll improve. Once we show the world we’re serious about productivity, corruption and crime, our political drought will be over.”

“Sure.” Vetfaan’s sarcasm is obvious. “If you think that’s going to happen in our lifetime, you must have a fantastic relationship with the Tooth Fairy. It won’t happen. Remember the saying about absolute power? It creates absolute corruption. And absolute corruption perpetuates itself. Think what you want, but I’m not holding my breath on this one.”

“!Ka once told me the story of the hungry hyena. Many years ago, he said, a pack of hyenas had a leader. He was big and strong and fast. All the hyenas were afraid of this one, and they always allowed him to eat the best part of the carcass before they dared go near the spoils.” Boggel, who can tell these Africa-stories with many hand gestures and the right facial expressions, has their complete attention. “Well, the pack was so successful that they eventually caught all the other animals in their region. Not a hare or a buck or a bird was left. They grew hungry and angry – why were they made to suffer so?

“Then they decided to do the only thing left for them: they must eat the weakest member of the pack. This they did. Then they became hungry once more, and they ate the next…and the next…and the next.

“Eventually, of course, only the strong leader was left. Now he was alone, and had nobody else to eat. He was so used to having the best of everything, and having as much as he liked, that he just couldn’t stand being hungry. So he did the only thing left for him: he started chewing on his tail. Then his legs. And – as you can imagine – he ended up eating himself. All of himself.

“And then, when only his dry bones were left, the animals started coming back to the veld. Kudu and Gemsbok and hare and all the birds. And when the veld teemed with game once more, one day, a pack of hyenas decided this was a good place to live.”

The group at the bar waited for Boggel to go on. Surely the story can’t end like that? But in the silence that follows, they realise the story ended where it began. Like the seasons of drought and plenty, the story is an everlasting circle, with no beginning and no end.

“I hope we get rain soon.” Vetfaan says again,  staring out of the window at the clouds of red dust on the horizon. “My sheep aren’t looking great these days.”

Daily Prompt: The Music of Yesteryear

“They just don’t make music like they did in the old days.” Old Servaas knits his brows together in distaste. “Listen to this new thing they call crap…”

“It’s called ‘rap’, Servaas. It’s the newest craze. Big in America, they say.” Gertruida, who knows everything, is quick to correct the old man. She even knows who Jack Sparrow is.

“You can call it what you like. These new guys can never be as good as Virginia Lee. Remember that song about the red eyes?”

Servaas gets misty eyed when Boggel fishes out a 78 to play the song.

“No man, nobody beats Charles Jacobie, the singing cowboy. Remember him? That man made you long for home big time.” Vetfaan smiles at the memory.

Kleinpiet shakes his head. “Gee whiz, Vetfaan. That accent! And a poor translation, if you ask me.  If you want to listen to old Afrikaans songs, its hard to beat Chris Blignaut.”

“My foot! That’s ‘Deep in the Heart of Texas’ dressed in khaki. Original Afrikaans? Look no further than Jeremy Taylor. And he was funny, too!” Boggel smiles at the memory.

“Funny, sure. But not Afrikaans. What about the Briel Susters? Now that’s pure nostalgia.” Oh the memories! Even Precilla looks sad…

“No, stop it with the old songs. Theuns Jordaan does it for me.” Surprisingly Oudoom displays  romantic streak. Must be the changing of the seasons…

“Oh give me the new version of that song about the girl with the auburn hair. Elvis Green or somebody.” Fanny tries to remember, but Gertruida is quick to help her with the correct surname.

“Well, bring on David Kramer then. He’s the one who should be singing here. That Royal Hotel is so typical of Boggel’s Place.” Sammie has always said that David is a distant relative.

Servaas sits back, closes his eyes, and remembers Siena’s favourite song. It isn’t Afrikaans, but it’s in German and that’s near enough. And it even contains a message for all the new-fangled, long-haired monotone falsetto youths who call themselves musicians these days: ‘Let the lips remain silent…”

 

Daily Prompt: That’s Amore…only in the Movies.

images (67)“Love stories are just that.” Servaas raises an angry eyebrow in an invitation to start an argument. “Stories. Just stories. This thing in the movies doesn’t exist. Movies make us believe a lie.”

They’re all back in Boggel’s Place after the screening of ‘Love Story’ in the little church hall. Oudoom organised it to raise money for the leaking roof in the vestry.

“Ag, but you must admit it was a nice. And sad. And sweet…” Precilla has that faraway look.

“…and then she died and he lived happily ever after.” Servaas isn’t giving up.

“Ag sis, man!” Gertruida rarely uses this tone of voice, but they all agree Servaas deserve the rebuke. “Just because you’re in a cantankerous mood, you don’t have to be so cynical! No man! I’m ashamed of you.”

Servaas knits his bushy brows together to scowl at the group. “Love, my friends,” he makes friends sound like an insult, “is blêrrie hard work, let me tell you. Forget about the violins and little Cupid and wagon loads of red hearts. When I courted Siena, I dressed my best, brushed the horse until he shone, and I even learnt that poem by some Wilcox woman:

“She had looked for his coming as warriors come,
With the clash of arms and the bugle’s call;
But he came instead with a stealthy tread,
Which she did not hear at all.

“And you know what she did? She laughed and told me I’m silly.  Said love isn’t about fancy words. So she recited a few lines by Neruba. I remember them to this day:

“I do not love you except because I love you;
I go from loving to not loving you,
From waiting to not waiting for you
My heart moves from cold to fire.”

“My, my, my, Servaas!” This time, Gertruida’s voice is soft, sympathetic. “I never knew you were such a romantic. Imagine you, black suit and all, reciting poetry to a lady! Well, I never…”

“Maybe there’s a romantic in each of us. I remember how I imagined my lover would be, way back when I was young and sexy.” Kleinpiet sighs and shakes his head. Precuilla, like all women, imagines her best years as being something in the past. Worse: is she saying something about him in an oblique way? He waits for her to continue. “I also had a poem in my head. It’s by George Etherege:

“The Nymph that undoes me, is fair and unkind;
No less than a wonder by Nature designed.
She’s the grief of my heart, the joy of my eye ;
And the cause of a flame that never can die !

“Oh, how I dreamed about my knight in shining armour! Then Kleinpiet came along and changed all that.” She gives him a friendly punch on the shoulder. “He showed me a reality I never imagined…and it is so much better than the dream I had.”

Kleinpiet beams. He’s not sure what – exactly – she implied, but it sounds okay.

Gertruida shrugs. “I suppose we all long for that perfect love, don’t we? The one with poems and roses and late-night whispered conversations. The one Sara Teasdale wrote about when she said:

“I am not yours, not lost in you,
Not lost, although I long to be
Lost as a candle lit at noon,
Lost as a snowflake in the sea.

“Oh plunge me deep in love – put out
My senses, leave me deaf and blind,
Swept by the tempest of your love,
A taper in a rushing wind…

“But then again, “Gertruida goes into one of her typical pauses, “maybe that’s the wonder of love. When you are in love, it opens your imagination. It shifts the horizon. It rearranges your previous dreams to make you more aware of how much more there is to living.  And it makes you feel small and huge, changes the introvert into a clown and makes the warrior put away his musket. Love isn’t just a feeling…it’s a way of being. The same things you saw yesterday aren’t the same things you see today. The colours change. The music is sweeter. It lightens your step and lends weight to your thoughts.”

“But…” Kleinpiet feels completely out of his depth. “I thought love was easy. You know. The love-at-first-sight thing. I mean, when I first saw Precilla, I knew. And after that, loving her became the easiest thing in my life.”

“That’s what I said. It’s hard work.” Still scowling, Servaas orders another beer. “You have to leave yourself behind. You become the servant of a bigger cause. Like faith, love means you have to  die a little in order to discover life. Man, that took some time with me, I can tell you.”

“In a very limited way, Servaas, you are right. If you don’t put in effort, love is wasted. It becomes stale. But every drop of sweat dripping from your bushy brows is worth it if you labour in your love – and I’m not talking about the physical stuff either.” Gertruida tries to hide the blush spreading up her neck. Those evenings with Ferdinand… “I’m simply saying love makes you do things you’d never consider otherwise. And you know what? It doesn’t feel like work at all. If it does, then something is wrong…”

Servaas glares at his glass, suddenly overcome with emotion. Yes, he remembers those days. All thirty-eight years of days he couldn’t wait to get home at night. And how he watched Siena baking bread or knitting on the stoep or hanging the washing on the line. And how he so often wanted to tell her how much he loved her.

And how seldom he did.

“I wonder…?” He can’t finish the sentence.

It is Gertruida, who knows everything, who understands.

“Yes, Servaas, she knew. We women know such things. We know our men and how stupid they can be. And we forgive them, every time, because that’s what love does.”

***

One does not expect to listen to deep conversations in Boggel’s Place. Love and peach brandy can be very uneasy bedfellows, after all. But sometimes; when the patrons aren’t discussing the drought or Vetfaan’s broken tractor; their conversations touch on very serious subjects, like the leaking vestry roof or the rising petrol price.

Or love.

That’s when Servaas fishes out the little handkerchief with the flower embroidery in the one corner from his breast pocket. If he closes his eyes, he can still smell the perfume, remember her smile.

And he’d wipe his eyes with his sleeve – because he wants to keep that hanky just the way it is. That’s when Gertruida says Servaas is right about a few things: true love is a burden, a pleasure, hard work and a surrender.

And it only dies in the movies.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside Kolmanskop

THIS WEEK, IN A POST CREATED SPECIFICALLY FOR THIS CHALLENGE, SHARE A PHOTO THAT SAYS INSIDE.

In the early 1900′s, Johnny Coleman traded his simple wares at the little harbour of Luditz, after travelling over the desert with his ox-wagon. Then, in 1905, a sandstorm forced him to hide in his wagon after turning his oxen loose. They, of course, thought this to be a bit short-sighted, and took off to seek shelter themselves. Well, to cut a long story short, poor Johnny almost died there, but was eventually rescued.

Little could he have guessed at the tremendous wealth he was sleeping on during those long nights he waited for salvation. Three years later the richest diamond field in the world was discovered at this very same spot, which bears the German equivalent of his name to this day. In 1956 the mine was abandoned, leaving only the memories of heady riches and back-breaking labour.

Today, when standing inside the abandoned buildings, one gets the feeling that the ghosts of the past aren’t far away.

Come on. Come inside…

The old generator has lost the battle against time

The old generator has lost the battle against time.k3Sweat-soaked miners would clean up before strolling over to the theatre or casino especially built for them.k2The silence of the dunes now rule where once gossip and laughter reigned....and they drank with gusto, of course.  One can only guess what fun these bottles brought to the isolated village. …and they drank with gusto, of course. One can only guess what fun these bottles brought to the isolated village.Sit down on the red chair. Let your left hand dangle down, touch the bottle at your feet. Close your eyes.  Imagine....Sit down on the red chair. Let your left hand dangle down, touch the bottle at your feet. Close your eyes.

Imagine…. 

Daily Prompt: Our House

What are the earliest memories of the place you lived in as a child? Describe your house. What did it look like? How did it smell? What did it sound like? Was it quiet like a library, or full of the noise of life? Tell us all about it, in as much detail as you can recall.

breekyster 2010 118Our house was built with stone. It was strong and warm and safe.breekyster 2010 122

I remember the windows. They were large and let light in. In summer I could smell the rain. Or the flowers. Even the sheep as they grazed nearby. I liked those windows. It showed me the world.

breekyster 2010 112We had a Dover stove. Mom baked bread, birthday cakes and leg of lamb, filling the house with delicious aromas. The fire was kept going during the cold winter months, and we’d sit there, listening to Dad telling stories by candle light.

breekyster 2010 127Dad’s pride and joy was kept in the shed. It was a Chev, I think. Like the house, I believed it to be indestructible…

breekyster 2010 036I though nothing would ever change.

I had such a lot to learn…

Let it be forgotten, as a flower is forgotten,
Forgotten as a fire that once was singing gold,
Let it be forgotten forever and ever,
Time is a kind friend, he will make us old.

If anyone asks, say it was forgotten
Long and long ago,
As a flower, as a fire, as a hushed footfall
In a long-forgotten snow.

(Sarah Teasdale, 1884 – 1933)

The Curse of the Bogenfels (# 9)

svl_helicopter“This is a hare-brained scheme,” Gertruida whispers while they’re waiting for the helicopter. “Matotsi thinks we’ll be able to spot the wreck from the helicopter! Imagine that! And he insisted we come along, so he can be assured of our silence. What’s he going to do – even if he spots the wreck?” The worried frown cuts deep into her brow. “This is just too easy – I’m sure he’s up to something…”

“He told me that here’s been no aerial searches of the off-shore area for ages. None that he can trace, anyway.” Servaas hitches his small bag to hang more comfortably from his shoulder. “Anyway, we’re getting a free trip – and that counts for something.”

“I don’t know… I simply don’t trust the man. Look at the way his goons treated me? No, I say we must watch him very carefully.” Elsie looks up as she sees the little general approaching. “Shhh, you guys, here he comes.” She moves a little closer to Servaas, her hand searching for his.

“The helicopter will be here soon,” Matotsi smiles confidently. “Then we’re off…”

***

Bogenfels

//Xuiram floats – flies – in the Land of Dreams. His mother and father smile at him: they want him to join them in the Land of Plenty. Come, son, we’ve built a special hut for you. You must prepare,  it is almost time…

How many times has he dreamt of this Land? A long time ago, when the family was larger and the elders still held the yearly meetings in the desert, they talked about the Land. There were, they told little //Xuiram, green valleys, fat Eland, easy hunting. Lots of water. In fact, once you reach this Land, you have need for nothing more. The most remarkable thing he remembers from those tales, is that all people – even The Others – live in harmony with each other there.

And now it is almost time for him to journey to that land. A happy smile creeps into the wrinkles of his face.

The box, //Xuiram…first find the box…

It takes a while to leave the dream-world. Then, getting up slowly, he approaches the back wall of the cave.

***

IMG_3128The helicopter banks sharply as they fly over Pomona, the deserted mining town in the middle of the barren wastes of the Sperrgebiet. Heading west, the aircraft lifts its tail as it speeds up.

“This is one of the most inhospitable wastelands on the African continent.” The pilot’s voice in their earphones confirm what they’re looking at. “You get lost here, and you die. Short and sweet. Survival here is out of the question.”

IMG_3140Underneath them, the desert is almost featureless. Stunted little bushes survive by absorbing the cold morning mist that rolls in from the cold Atlantic. Other than that, there is no sign of life at all.

“I have a bad feeling about this,” Gertruida says, not quite realising her helmet microphone communicates with everybody on board.

IMG_3141Matotsi glances over at her. What is it in his eyes? Gertruida feels a shiver running down her spine.

“You can be glad you’re flying. The old track running to the Bogenfels has not been maintained for many years. It is almost impossible to get there, except through the air.

“Oh, and there you are!” The pilot points. “Bogenfels…”

 ***

//Xuiram finds the rock at the exact point he saw it in his dream. Straining and sweating, he shoves it to one side.

The elements have done their work. The box is rusted and the once-shining surface is now dull and covered with flaking bits of metal. When //Xuiram lifts the lock to inspect it, the clasp crumbles in his hand.

Inside, he finds two slabs of shining metal, the likes of which he’s never seen. There is also a piece of yellowed paper, parched and fragile with age, on which somebody drew some lines. In the middle of the page, the black X draws his attention.

***

The pilot puts down the helicopter within sight of the Bogenfels.

“This is as far as you go,.” Matotsi’s voice is harsh, commanding. “Come on, get out.” The snub-nosed pistol in his hand leaves no doubt about his intentions. “Out. Out!!”

“What are you doing, General? Why…” For once, Gertruida has no answers.

“OUT!!!”

Servaas, Kleinpiet, Vetfaan, Gertruida and Elsie do as they’re told. Boggel is the last to alight, struggling to get his short legs from the hull to the landing gear.

“Just tell us why…?”

“It’s easy. You lot,” the general waves the pistol towards the bedraggled group, He has to shout to be heard above the slow whunp-whump of the still-revolving rotors, “know too much. Now you’re simply an irresponsible group of tourists who wandered off into the desert. When they find you in a few months time – or a few year’s time – nobody will connect you to DEAD. A nice, clean way to get rid of civilians who snooped where they shouldn’t have. I’ll file a report stating that you said last night you wanted to explore the desert towards the north of Luderitz – and that you left early on foot. Me and the pilot here, we’ve spent the whole day looking for you. They’ll send out search parties, of course, but unfortunately they’ll be looking for you in the wrong area.”

The pitch of the engine increases suddenly and – as if plucked upwards by a huge invisible hand – the helicopter lifts and speeds away.

***

The small Bushman family hears the helicopter and now //Xuiram’s oldest son breaks tradition by shouting for them to get cover. “Hide, hide my family! I know that sound, It means trouble. We may not be seen. Run…run!”

//Xuiram, too, heard the sound.

Men will come here, //Xuiram, and they’ll die. The words of his ancestor seems to emphasise the noise the helicopter makes, Closing the box carefully, he drags it over to the smouldering ashes of his holy fire. He’ll ask the spirit-world. They’ll know what to do…

***

Vetfaan surprises everybody with the range of expletives they never use in Boggel’s Place.

“The bastard. The absolute bastard…”

“I thought…,” Gertruida begins, but Servaas stops her.

“Ja Gertruida, you thought. That doesn’t help us now. Not one bit. How we got here is not important. How we get back to Luderitz, is.”

“That arched rock isn’t that far away, guys.” Boggel tries to sound confident. “Let’s go there and look for shelter. And then let’s sit down and talk. Maybe…”

“Let’s go.” Vetfaan strides on ahead.

***

“People, my father. There are people coming.”

//Xuiram puts his hand over his mouth to remind his son they’re not supposed to talk. Then he nods. Yes, he saw them. Two women, four men. White people. They’re scared.

And then, suddenly, he knows why his family had to make this last pilgrimage…

The Curse of the Bogenfels (# 8)

goldbar_armband“One thousand kilograms of gold? In little bars, stamped with the Reich’s insignia? Wow!” Kleinpiet lets out a long, low whistle. “That must be worth something, hey?”

Gertruida nods. “Work it out: at $50,000 a kilo? And, if you added the novelty value…collectors would fork out considerably more. The Rand being such a joke these days, you can add two more zeroes to the sum.”

Matotsi manages a wobbly smile. “Ya-a-as. A lot of loot. Out there, somewhere. Many Nkandlas…”

***

Bogenfels

//Xuiram is happy. The spirits have blessed them with a downpour of rain, filling the hollows in the rocks around them and causing little streams to run down the rock face. A pool of water collected at the back of the cave they’re sheltering in, as well.

Still observing the ritual silence, he leads his family in a slow, foot-stomping dance for a while. Later, he’ll get out the fire-sticks and wait for the embers of the twigs they collected to glow before he’ll sprinkle the holy herbs over the ashes.

Yes, he thinks, my season has gone. It’s been a good one. He glances over at his oldest son, feeling glad that he’ll be able to leave his family in capable hands.

***

Boggel’s Place

General Matotsi is much more focussed now. Boggel’s special wake-up coffee contains a Kenyan mix of freshly roasted coffee beans, a dash of hot chocolate, a sprinkling of cinnamon and a tot of Amarula.

“So…what do we do now?” Elsie sips a Green Ambulance while eyeing the general critically. She has to smile at the situation: here she was, trying to get closure on her father’s death – and suddenly it exploded into a mystery of Nazi gold, international intrigue, and the government’s greed for money. Who would have guessed…?

“I’ll tell you what I’ve pieced together. Your father was sent to Bogenfels, to look for the wreck of the City of Baroda. It was a long shot, but Captain Wilmott swore under oath that the box was left in the captain’s safe when the ship sunk. Van den Bergh an Diederichs had information that the box contained a sample of the gold and details of where it was hidden…”

“But I don’t understand what the Smit murders had to do with all this?” Gertruida holds up an apologetic hand for interrupting the small general.

“Aah…that. Yes. I’m not sure. But…assuming Smit stumbled across some irregular overseas accounts? Accounts that were used to finance a plethora of underhand activities. Accounts only known to Diederichs, Vorster and maybe van den Bergh.  Vast accounts. Accounts fed by a number of less-than-legal ways. And suppose, out of these accounts, a number of secret operations were funded. Operations, including buying rocket fuel from Pakistan; buying nuclear intel from Israel, obtaining weapons from Belgium and the US of A. Should such information be made public, a number of political faces in South Africa – and elsewhere – would have had a lot of egg all over them.” Matotsi sighs. “I think your father’s operation was financed through these funds. Anybody digging deep enough – at that time – could have unravelled the puzzle. So Smit – brilliant though he was – made a fatal mistake. A few days before his murder, he made an announcement that he would make a public statement that would shock the nation.”

“But all that was forgotten and buried in history. Nobody was interested any more. However, some time ago we were discussing the shortage of funds, one of our old agents jokingly mentioned the case of the missing millions again. The treasure, he said, was still hidden in Namibia somewhere. Now – that made a few people sit up straight. Here was an answer to some of the government’s financial woes – there for picking up and bringing home. Free.” Matotsi pauses, signals for another coffee. “The only problem being that Namibia is independent now, and we’re on friendly terms with them. And we sure as nuts don’t want to share it with them…or anybody.”

“So you had to scare me off…?”

“Yes, madam, exactly. You were getting too near something we wanted to keep secret. We couldn’t afford that.”

“The answer, then, is at Bogenfels. Find the wreck, dive the site, get the safe, get the instructions and possibly a map, get the fortune?” Gertruida, being practical as usual. “Why don’t you just locate the wreck and get it over with?”

Mototsi sighs and gives her the what-do-you-know look. “We can’t start a search without drawing attention to ourselves. A sea or air recon will definitely lead to questions being asked. The Namibians aren’t stupid. They spot a South African aircraft or boat nosing around in their waters, and we’ll have to explain exactly what we’re doing there, and why. No, this must be done quietly, without them realising what we’re doing.”

“I realise that.” Gertruida rolls her eyes. The man thinks I’m dof... “That’s why I’ve got a plan. Why don’t we become common, garden-variety tourists? One happy group of people cruising through a neighbouring country, anxious to see what’s happening next door. See sights. Drink beer. Take photographs. Have a ball….and visit Bogenfels?”

***

Bogenfels

//Xuiram sits down next to the embers, inhaling the aroma of the sacred herbs.

Send your family out. There’s a gull’s nest next to the foot of the Holy Rock. They’ll find eggs there. And your son will see the burrow of a rabbit. He’ll know what to do.

The Bushman smiles contently. Yes! More blessings on their being there. He looks up, glances at his son: what a fine young man he’s become! Their eyes meet. Then, without a word, the young man motions for the rest of the family to follow him.

IMG_3147Inhaling deeply, //Xuiram closes his eyes again. It isn’t dark when he does this: in fact, with his eyes shut, he can see quite clearly how his son leads the family down to the foot of the huge arch. Sees them find the eggs, hears the whoops of joy.

Then he sees a white man, a man with a peaked cap and a sodden, white uniform, walking towards the very cave he is sitting in. The man carries a box, a heavy box, causing him the breathe deeply. It is hot outside. Sweat drips from the man’s brow. He can see individual drops of sweat coursing down the stubbled cheeks. The man glances over his shoulder at a big ship just beyond the breaking waves, There is a smaller boat in the water, taking people to the ship.

With a last glance backwards, the man stumbles into the cave. He looks around. Fixes on a hollow in the rocks at the back of the cave. The box gets shoved into the hollow. The man drags another rock in front of the hollow. Then the man walks out to wait for the boat to pick him up.

***

Luderitz, Namibia

IMG_2909“It’s not exactly a bustling city,” Matotsi says. “Looks a bit forlorn to me.”

“Don’t be deceived, General.” Gertruida is in her element. “This used to be an important harbour. And right now, you’re next to the richest diamond fields ever discovered. Anyway, we’re not here to pubcrawl. Tomorrow we’re off to the Sperrgebiet and the Bogenfels. Who knows what waits for us there…”

“Yes, okay. At six we’ll get the helicopter at the small airfield. Low tide is at seven. The pilot is an old member of the recces – he’ll take us to the last known coordinates of the City of Baroda. According to the naval charts, the sea is about thirty metres deep there. With a bit of luck…”