Gertruida (who knows everything), says you can’t trust a man with oily hair and a tie. She says it’s an oxymoron – it just doesn’t fit together, like a ‘rich church’ or ‘military intelligence’. And If you see such a man on a Monday afternoon, she says, you have to be extra careful; Mondays are for recovery after the weekend, not for serious stuff like insurance. They get you on Mondays, she says, because statistically it is the one day of the week when you can’t think properly.
Vetfaan says they should make a new calendar, with two Saturdays following Sunday. “It’s still a seven-day week, but at least we’ll be fresh on Tuesdays.” Gertruida says it just shows you, and muttered something about pearls and swines.
“I am Gerhardus Albertus Trichaard, or simply Harry, to my friends. And I’m here to solve a problem.” The slick man with the black tie and pink shirt smiled all the way to his ears. His rodent-like eyes didn’t join in the smile – they darted across the faces of the hung-over group in Boggel’s Place. The previous evening had been a hard one…
“Selling Aspirin?” Vetfaan looked up hopefully. Precilla’s pharmacy had run out a week before and he’s taken to chewing Willow bark as a cure for the headache. It didn’t help much.
“No, my good friend, not at all. I’m not selling anything! But I am here to introduce a concept to you. Something that’ll change your lives.”
“Now listen here,” Kleinpiet said,”We’ve tried it all. Boggel’s blow-up doll didn’t work. The borehole up at Bokkop has run dry. Vrede still has fleas. Unless you’ve come to fix that pothole in Voortrekker Weg, I doubt whether you can do anything to improve our lives.”
“Ah, yes! I can see you are a thinking man; a man of some wisdom and a bit of a philosopher. I like that. It makes my work easier when I’ve got an intelligent audience.”
Gertruida snorted. “Get it over with,” she said.
“Well, it works like this. I sell short-term, refundable insurance. It is the newest craze in America.” The man fished out some glossy brochures and spread them on the counter. Pointing to various graphs and columns of figures, he explained that a place like Rolbos is ideal for this type of insurance. “Look, you have virtually no crime here. So, you buy some insurance against theft and natural disasters, wait a year, and get all your money – plus interest – back. In a place like this, it isn’t insurance in the way you’re used to thinking about it. In reality it is a savings plan. Of course, the interest is a great bonus. We invest in upcoming businesses, using your premiums. This yields a return of between 20 and 25% per year. And because South Africa has such strict laws governing service providers, we are not allowed to deduct a single cent from that to cover our costs. You get it all. Great plan. Think about it: you can make a lot of money, protect your property and have peace of mind all at the same time.”
Gertruida started asking questions, but Vetfaan had enough. While the man gave his glib answers, he slipped out, saying he had better things to do. Kleinpiet followed a minute later.
Boggel always enjoys it when Gertruida starts tearing an argument apart. Not too long ago, Oudoom said something about the heavens and how we cannot measure it. Now that was a tour de force! And the other night, Vetfaan said the quota system in sport had some merit…
Harry-the-insurance-man was sweating when Vetfaan and Kleiniet sauntered back for a beer an hour later. Gertruida was asking whether he, Gerhardus Albertus Trichaard, had such insurance himself – and to provide proof that he had. Harry said his application was in and he was waiting for approval. Gertruida wanted to see the documentation. A stammering Harry said he’d go and look for it.
Kleinpiet winked at Gertruida. Vetfaan looked smug.
The wail from outside was something to behold, as Boggel described it later. When the hapless conman got outside, his car was missing. He stormed back into the bar, and in a trembling voice announced that his car was stolen. Gertruida reminded him that his insurance would cover it.
Some people have a strange way of breaking down. Gertruida says you get hysteria, disbelief, aggression and illogical breakdowns. Harry-the-con had a silent one. He sat down at the bar and said nothing for a while.
“You guys were on to me, weren’t you? Right from the word go, you didn’t believe a word I said. This woman,” he pointed at Gertruida, “ruined my presentation. In any other one-horse town I would have had your money, but here…” He didn’t seem angry – just deflated.
Gertruida knows a lot about counselling. She sat there all afternoon, listening, talking, advising and generally being gentle with Gerhardus Albertus Trichaard. She heard about his stint in prison and how difficult it is to find a job if you have a record. He told her of his sad childhood days in the slums of Johannesburg and the struggle to survive. He followed up with a list of broken relationships and failed ventures.
And Gertruida did something nobody had done before: she not only listened; she understood. Gently, kindly, she guided the man to look at his life critically and helped him to say the words he never could. I’m sorry. I can. I will. I’m not in the slums anymore. I’m responsible for my own deeds. It was dark by the time he stood up, walked over to Gertruida and gave her a hug,
“Now, young man, there are two things we have to settle. The first is to get you a job. Kalahari Vervoer needs a driver on the new route to Prieska, and I think you’d like that just fine. I’ll phone them tomorrow and talk to them.” The man brightened considerably. “And secondly: if you ask Vetfaan nicely, he’ll tell you where they parked your car.”
Gerhardus Albertus Trichaard left Rolbos the next day, without the oily hair and the gaudy tie. In fact, it was difficult to recognise the man that walked into Boggel’s Place the previous day; he seemed taller, even happier than before. Gertruida waved until the line of dust on the road to Grootdrink had settled and the silence of the Kalahari claimed back its rightful place.
“That’s transport business for you,” Gertruida said. “One day here, the next finds you in a different place. Sometimes you end up in Rolbos, and sometimes you get a surprise. It’s like life, I suppose.” Kleinpiet looked at her, trying to figure out what she was going on about. “Ag, Kleinpiet, go order us some beer. I’m going to sit out here for a while. I want to think about transport. And destinations. And the way oxymorons sometimes makes sense.” Kleinpiet shrugged and trotted off.
And on the stoep of Boggel’s Place, Gertruida sat down with a satisfied smile. She toyed with the term: rehabilitated conman. Not always a oxymoron.
What happened to Gerhardus Albertus Trichaard? He loved his new job. Got promoted to the Upington-Rolbos route a year later and became known as Honest Harry, the man you can rely on. He eventually got used to looking for his lorry every time he visited Boggel’s. Kleinpiet and Vetfaan can be so boring – but at least they are (according to Gertruida) honest thieves.
In their case – she says – the term makes perfect sense.