Round on the House

  “Mar-ga-ret Hoog-en-boez-em.” She pronounces her surname as seven separate words as if to accentuate the importance of remembering them. “Mizz,” she adds, as if to avoid confusion. Only the slightest hint of a cold smile accompanies the performance.

Boggel watches as she takes out a thin, black cheroot; lights it and scouts around for an ashtray.

“This is a no smoking zone, Mizz Hoog-en-boez-em; but we’ll make an exception for this once only.” Business has been slow – he doesn’t want to chase away cstomers..

“I knew a Katzenellenbogen once,” Vetfaan says. “Big chap. I don’t suppose he’s family, is he?”

Vetfaan believes a lame opening is better than no opening, so he puts on his best smile. Truth be told: this woman is worth a second glance. She does her surname proud. One could describe the rest of her as ‘compact’ of ‘well proportioned’ or ‘pleasing to the eye’; all of which contain elements of truth; as she far outstrips the usual ‘attractive’ label. However, there are the chilly gaze, the cold smile and the syllable-speak that should have warned Vetfaan off.

She turns to give him a speculative once-over, like Kleinpiet does when he attends an auction to buy a new ram. It isn’t just a question of determining the looks of such a sheep – you must be able to visualise his performance, his stamina and his abilities as well. He calls it his holistic approach, something which surprised Gertruida, who thought holism was invented by Jan Smuts.

Boggel sees the holistic glance. He knows trouble when he sees it, too.

“Excuse me, Mizz…what would you like to drink?”

“Whatever this kind gentleman offers me, I suppose.”  She holds Vetfaan’s gaze as she speaks, while he has trouble keeping his eyes away from the straining blouse. Resting his chin on his palm, he splutters and circles a finger in the air.

“Whatever, Boggel. And a round on the house, as well.”

This is the sentence that convinces Boggel of Vetfaan’s temporary insanity. You don’t – DON’T EVER – say things like that in Boggel’s Place. The problem has been debated many times in the past, and every time the guy who made the statement, came up short. The issue at the centre of the argument involves the definitions of two words. What, after all, constitutes a ‘round’ and then, more importantly: what is meant by “house”.

In Rolbos a round is only finished when the last man remains standing – like in old-fashioned boxing. To offer a round to somebody, is like throwing down the gauntlet – it is disrespectful to refuse or go home too early. A round – in Rolbos – may be seen as a shift, a session, or period of time; as opposed to the more civilised single serving of several singles.

.

And then, there is the thorny issue with the definition of ‘house’. Does the word only imply those present at the time of the offer, or does it also involve late-comers? Of course, Rolbos accepts ‘house’ in the broadest sense of the word. People have been known to race in from Grootdrink, once the news of a ‘round’ on the ‘house’ had spread.

Boggel smiles as he sets up the row of glasses. This is good for business, after all. With Vetfaan so…infatuated…with Mizz Hoogenboezem, that he even forgot the implication of a ‘round-on-the-house’, the imminent burst of activity in Boggel’s Place is going to turn a slow day, into a profitable one.

Servaas was sitting in the corner, reading about the recent winnings at the Kalahari Oasis Casino, when he hears the magic words. Losing no time, he shuffles out to alert the town to the joyful happenings at Boggel’s Place.

Two hours later the little bar is bursting at the seams. Not only is Grootdrink well represented: the families staying out towards Bitterwater also joined the party. How the news spreads under such circumstances, is not certain; but whisper ‘free booze’ in the Kalahari, and you can be sure they’ll hear it in Kenhardt and Calvinia.

 “But who is that lady?” Precilla peers through the crowd at the woman who started it all.

“Mizz Hoogenboezem, she said. I think she’s famous for something – she acts like everybody should know her. She tried to chat Vetfaan up, but since he’s realised what he has done by calling for a round on the house, he seems to have lost interest. He tried to cancel the round – like Kleinpiet did when he sold that ram – but of course, that’s against the rules. He’s sitting there with the calculator, hoping everybody would go home.” Gertruida points at the big man where he’s totalling up the damages.

“But what is she doing here? I mean – if she’s famous, I’m happy for her; but famous people don’t come to Rolbos. There’s nothing for them here.”

The party peters out at about eight. Kleinpiet says it’s a sure sign of old age: you get sleepy before you get drunk. In the end, only Boggel, Vetfaan and Mizz Hoogenboezem are left.

“As the day started, so it ends.” She hasn’t had a lot to drink.

“Indeed. The folly of man is to end up where he started from. Progress is relative.” Vetfaan, on the other hand, has had a few – that’s why he’s so clever.

“I came here, because of you,” she says.

This gets Vetfaan’s full and complete attention.

She tells him that she’s from the BBC and that they are looking for a man to play the role of a big game hunter in a TV sitcom series. They wanted a new face – a face of a rugged, outdoorsy-type of  man. They pay well, she says. It’ll be an ongoing project if the viewers like it. “I’ve been travelling through the Karoo, the Kalahari and the Bushveld for the last few weeks, looking for the perfect face, and the right personality. Rolbos is my last stop, before I catch the plane back to Cape Town in Upington. I must say, I was really getting depressed about South African men – and then I saw you. And, after being so generous with all your mates, I have no doubt that you are the one they are looking for. You will be famous in a few months time.”

By now, Vetfaan is as sober as judges used to be in the Old South Africa. He looks toward Boggel for support, but the barman is polishing glasses.

“I…well.. I don’t know. I have a farm here and…”

“The pay is so good, you will be able to hire a foreman while you’re gone.”

“But I can’t act..”

“Exactly! We want the genuine item, not an actor. Viewers will see right trough the bristling moustache of a British actor. We need a Boereseun who acts normally.” She says boer-e-seun with a heavy accent.

“Hey, lady, that’s very nice and all that. But no, I can’t do it. You see, we lot in Rolbos depend on each other. You take Kleinpiet, or Oudoom, or Gertruida out of Rolbos, and the town just won’t be the same. And as for becoming famous – nah! I won’t like that. We’re happy the way we are, thank you.” Boggel has stopped shining the glasses and uses his stern voice. “And Vetfaan is as much part of us as Vrede is. He can’t go.”

“The problem with the BBC is, ” and here Vetfaan does the finger thing PW  did so well, “is that it’s British.  And that means going to England. And that,” he licks his lips PW-style, “I can’t do. Too much Kalahari in here.” He taps his chest.

“But I beg you to re-con-sider. You’re throwing away a lot of money here.”

The more she pleads, the more Vetfaan tells her she’s got the wrong man. Eventually she offers part of his salary in advance – and still he refuses.

“You are a very stu-pid man,” she says angrily as she gets up to leave. “You could have been rich.”

On her way to Upington, the woman waits for the screen on her cellphone to tell her that she’s connected with the world once more. She dials the long number and waits for the familiar voice to answer.

“No Mario… I went to the most back-ward town in the country, just like you said. Iso-la-ted, no cellphones, no news-papers. And, like you sug-ges-ted, I chose the most likely one – fat, lazy, dumb. And you know what? He turned me down.!”

She listens to the torrent of words from the other side.

“Yes, Yes, Mario, I know that batch must reach you within the next week! It’s not my fault that your reg-u-lar mule got caught last week, after all. Maybe you should simply come and fetch the dope yourself? Then you won’t have the extra expense of paying a courier? How about it?”

She presses the red button when the torrent of words becomes too loud. Of course she doesn’t expect Mario to do his own dirty work. He pays far too well, anyway. No, there are a few other towns she marked on her GPS. Sooner or later she’ll convince some dimwit to fly to London for the audition in the bogus show…some fool who won’t have the faintest idea why she wants him to take along the extra briefcasa…

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