If Gertruida didn’t know everything, it might have turned out differently. But she does, and so Rolbos will have to make peace with the new trophy above Boggels counter. Of course, if Boggel fixed the light on his stoep, it would have helped as well.
It started when Precilla decided to make a birthday list. Rolbossers, she realised, kept their birthdays secret. When she asked Gertruida about it, she got the explanation that some were sensitive about their age (Vetfaan and Oudoom), some were so stingy that they didn’t want to spend money on a party (Kleinpiet) and that some simply didn’t know when they were born (Platnees). Precilla has always been a bit of a party animal and saw this void in their social calendar as an opportunity to reintroduce birthdays as additional reasons to liven up the town.
Of course, once a birth date is known and the party is organised, one is obliged to give a present in exchange for an evening’s free drinks. For some inhabitants it was easy: Oudoom got a bottle of brandy, Vetfaan got a bottle of brandy, and Kleinpiet got a bottle of brandy and so forth. The only exception was Gertruida’s big day, when everybody clubbed together to buy a year’s subscription to the National Geographic.
Then it was Boggel’s turn.
“What do you give a guy that has a bottle store or a bar? It’ll seem a bit stupid to give him some booze, won’t it?” As chief organiser of the Rolbos Birthday Society, Precilla wanted to make sure that birthdays remained special for everybody concerned.
That’s where things went wrong.
Vetfaan suggested a new cushion, something that surprised Precilla. She never thought that Vetfaan was so sensitive. Kleinpiet didn’t agree. “It’s too obvious. We have to surprise the man. It’s his bar, remember? If we can think of something really special, we can drink the place dry. He won’t throw us out at eleven if we think of something that’ll blow his hair back.’
“What hair?” Sersant Dreyer, always one to pay attention to detail, asked.
“It’s a metaphor, moron. Like in a proverbial sense, see. I could have said “something that turns his propeller ” and meant the same thing.”
“What propeller?” You can say many things about the policeman, but you cannot accuse him of ignorance.
“Ag, man, sometimes I think you’re ignorant.” Kleinpiet was getting frustrated. “I mean we have to do something special, that’s all. What does Boggel need to spice up his life a bit? We have to think outside the box a bit here.”
“What box?” Sersant Dreyer was starting to sound like a well-trained parrot. The rest ignored him.
It was Gertruida who suggested they get a blow-up doll and dress her up, set her at the bar and tell Boggel it’s a reminder from them to encourage a return visit to the Vermeulen girl in Cape Town. The one with the hump and the smile.
“If she sits there all day without saying a word, he’ll keep on thinking about all the things they told each other. It’s the power of suggestion, see? Monkey see, monkey do…”
“What monkey?” Sersant Dreyer always thought he knew everything about Rolbos, but suddenly they’re talking about animals and aeroplanes he knew nothing about.
“There was an advert in Die Huisgenoot,” Precilla suddenly remembered. “Right below that article about Prez Zuma’s newest bride. I was reading about the cow they dismantled right there on the front lawn, when my eye caught the heading: Are you lonely? Do you stay in a remote area with nobody to share your desires with? Well, it seemed more interesting than the description of the blood all over the rose bushes, so I skipped the lobola bit and read the advert. It said the doll is easy to inflate and they’ll send it in plain brown paper wrapping without disclosing the contents”
The packet arrived the day before Boggel’s birthday. Servaas brought it over to Precilla’s pharmacy in case Oudoom accidentally discovered it in the post office. As an elder in the church he felt that a certain amount of discretion had to be maintained under these circumstances. Gertruida told her to keep it wrapped up like it is and that they could stick the birthday card over the address label. Boggel, she said, would be thrilled.
Boggel eyed the bulky package, rubbing his hands together. He hadn’t received a birthday present since that time in the orphanage – maybe they got him a new cushion? His smile just about reached his low-set ears.
“Wait!” Gertruida had an idea. “We’ll take it outside, prepare it properly and return with it. You’ll have the surprise of your life.” She was right, for the wrong reason. Everybody trooped out to the stoep. In the semi-dark Vetfaan looked for and found the valve. He huffed, puffed and wheezed until the life-size doll took shape. Precilla dashed off to find one of her old mini skirts, Kleinpiet found a T-shirt (so we can wet it later) and Gertruida fished some lipstick from her handbag.
The Great March from Aida remains one of the most awesome moments in opera. When the priests and slaves, the soldiers and animals stride onto the stage, the audience is usually silent for a while before the music is drowned by the applause. When the Rolbossers walked back into Boggels place, triumphantly carrying the doll to the counter, the effect was almost the same. Almost. There was a stunned silence from Boggel, to be sure. The applause, however, was lacking.
Sersant Dreyer, ever observant and refusing to be part of the project (I have a career to think of, guys!) was sitting at the bar, chatting with Boggel about the Springboks and their quest for world glory. He had the best view of the entering procession while Boggel was removing his old cushion below the counter. As the group opened the swing doors carrying their trophy, feet first, on their shoulders and giggling like a bunch of naughty kids, his jaw dropped with an almost audible ‘clunk’ on the badge on his chest.
Of all the things these crazy people could come up with, he thought, this one must rate in a class of his own. He indeed saw the sandals on the dolls feet. He also saw the skirt. He saw the athletic plastic legs. But, as a keen observer and gatherer of evidence, his trained eye also saw the rest.
Policemen are trained to put two and two together in a flash. He did, and yet he couldn’t come up with a logical answer. It was only when they put the doll down hat he found his voice.
“Oh, look, Boggel! They brought you company. Now you’ll never be alone again. They brought you a brother.” Satisfied that logic triumphed over confusion, he sipped his beer. “He may be a cross-dresser, but with the new gender-equality laws, we don’t lock up those guys anymore.”
If you ever get to Rolbos, stop at Boggel’s Place. The beer is cold and the welcome warm. Buy a beer, chat with the locals. You may even wink at Kleinpiet or Precilla (depending on your preference). But whatever you do, do NOT ask questions about the brown paper packet on the shelf. The silence of Aida’s Great March still lingers on patiently and it’ll be unkind to disturb the peace in the quiet little town. Sersant Dreyer likes the place just the way it is..