Life returns to normal (whatever that may mean) after Willemientjie left Rolbos. Hybie has changed from a dark and moody individual, to a happy and sparkling lady. She dresses up these days, the lipstick is overpowering and she’s done something with her hair – it now looks shiney and cared for. Precilla was not in the least surprised when Servaas bought some Viagra ‘for my shy cousin in Upington’. She simply smiled and told him the cousin should be grateful to have such an understanding uncle.
Now, budding romance in Rolbos is a rare thing, and will provide Boggel’s Place something to talk about for many hours. After Precilla and Kleinpiet made peace with the fact that their friendship would never grow to a love affair, Cupid sought out the easier targets in Upington and Prieska. Gertruida says the people there are too lonely to be fussy. But now, with Servaas wearing clean clothes every day and Hybie actually going so far as to use Body Mist (Lavender), the patrons in Boggel’s have a new subject to discuss.
“When I had the new engine put into my Massey Fergusson, I was surprised at the performance of that tractor. It’s funny how you get used to old stuff – and then accept that as normal. The deterioration occurs so gradually, you don’t take notice of it. Then, when suddenly you get confronted with the power of a new engine, you realise how bad the situation had been.” Kleinpiet watches as Servaas sprints over to Sammie’s Shop. “Our Cassanova is going to buy more chocolates,” he remarks, “Hybie isn’t going to lose weight soon.”
Gertruida, even though she likes knowing everything, doesn’t approve the town’s gossip about the newest scandal-in-the-making. Not that it would be a fully-fledged disgrace at all; Servaas’ Tant Siena left him in peace many years ago and Hybie has been a widow for as long as anybody can remember. If the two old people wanted to rekindle life in the ashes of romance, it should be celebrated, not gossiped about.
“The problem is,” and Vetfaan pauses for dramatic effect here, “that the engine is sometimes too strong for the aging chassis. You know, the steering and the gears and everything got used to the old engine. If you suddenly start revving the motor, the wheels might come off. Literally. Bang – and the old tractor dies with a new engine. I’ve seen it happen.”
Kleinpiet writes RIP on the counter top. “Maybe somebody must tell Servaas that. I mean, if he’s on dangerous ground, we should warn him. We can’t have a wedding followed by a funeral. It won’t do. Who will then take over as postmaster and elder? I suggest we delegate Boggel to tell Servaas to stop buying chocolates.”
Outside Rolbos, halfway up the slope towards Bokkop, lays the little cemetery. Here, side by side even in the Old South Africa, you’ll find the graves of workers, foremen, a few children and even less women. The first graves date back to the flu epidemic of 1918 and it has been several years since the townsfolk had to stand around an open grave. To one side, near the fence and with a fine view of the endless Kalahari, is the place where Siena rests. Servaas measured out the site himself, with place for his grave next to hers.
While the talk in Boggel’s on the possibility of his engine outgunning the rest of his frame continues, Servaas is on his way towards the little graveyard. Like he always has done, he will have to discuss this matter with Siena. She used to be quite clever with tricky situations. Whenever life confuses Servaas, he sits down next to the grave to discuss the problem – and somehow it always seems to help.
At the grave, he first clears away the few weeds around the headstone. It always amazes the old man how weeds flourish where it shouldn’t. The entire Kalahari is at the disposal of all the wild plants Mother Nature provides; but no – the thistles and kakiebos insist on growing here where his Siena is waiting for him.
“Good morning Siena. I’m sorry. It is me, Servaas. I have to talk to you today, Siena.” He always feels a bit awkward when het sits down next to her grave. Oudoom says we will all wake up one day, with new bodies and shining clothes; but he doesn’t quite say what happens between now and then. Maybe the souls in the graves next door are resting, or maybe even they have a bridge club every morning? If he just barges in, they could get upset. And, to add to his discomfort: if you’re down there, with all the ground heaped up above you, you can’t see very well, can you? And how do you hear? That’s why he always tells them down there who he is and that he must talk to Siena. The apology is for the possibility that they have some meeting or get-together which he might be disrupting.
“You see, Siena, it’s been a long time. I mean, with you down there and me still living in Rolbos. And I know Foreman Basson is always just a few feet away from you, but I’ve never said a word about that, did I? If you have friends where you are now, I’m happy for you. It can’t be easy to be on your own all the time.”
A warm puff of wind sweeps across the veld, raising a small dust devil along its path. Siena is telling him to stop waffling and get to the point.
“Well, you know Hybie, don’t you? The one who always looked as if the cat dragged her in? You know you always remarked about her hair and her dresses and her shoes. Said she looks sad and dejected. I was always proud to have you at my side – you were such a looker.” He laughs a little at this, hoping she’d get the message. He doesn’t want her to be upset because he found somebody he likes. “No sirree, no comparison there. If the two of you were sheep, you’d get the blue ribbon at the show, every time.”
He remains silent for a while to let the compliment sink in. It always worked with Siena. If he wanted to play poker with the boys, he only needed to tell her how much he loved her.
“Well, at least she doesn’t drink much; doesn’t smoke, either. She smells a little like you these days. Like flowers, I think. And she’s a bit lonely, just like me. And Rolbos is a small town, as you know. Not much happens here at all, especially lately. We just sit around in Boggel’s and on Sundays we go to church. So it tends to get a bit boring…”
He allows his voice to trail off in uncertainty. If he can get Siena to feel sorry for him, he’s halfway there. The dust devil pick up speed, whipping dust and a few blades of grass into the sky.
“Now, I don’t want you to be upset, Siena. It’s not like I’ve done anything wrong. Look, I’ve brought you some chocolate.” He places the little box next to the gravestone. “It’s your favourite, remember?”
Suddenly the wind dies down and the veld is silent.
“So, Siena, that’s what I wanted to tell you. Didn’t want you to hear the story second-hand, see? But I also wanted you to know I didn’t want this thing to happen behind your back. It’s the same with Foreman Basson. If the two of you want to play Bingo together, that’s all right with me. He wasn’t such a bad chap; a bit too stupid for you, maybe, but not bad. If he checked that dynamite properly, he would still be around – that’s what Gertruida says. So I want you to know there are no hard feelings, see?”
Servaas gets up. He’s told her as much as he dared, but at least she won’t be able to tell him, he didn’t tell her one day. He’s about to walk off, when a movement catches his attention. A lone Springbok has appeared on the crest of the hill, obviously disturbed at his presence. For a few seconds the man and the antelope stand frozen.
“No, I won’t worry you,” Servaas says softly as he sits down slowly, “this is your place. You belong here, you don’t need intruders around.” Then, suddenly, he gets up. The animal is startled, runs a few paces before stopping to look back at him, and the walks calmly, majestically, to disappear beyond the crest of the hill.
Back in town, he knocks on Hybie’s door. She’s pleased to see him – he can tell – and invites him in for a cup of tea.
“We can only be friends, Hybie. I spoke to Siena.”
And Hybie, smelling of lavender and shampoo, tells him that’s good, they are too old to start being serious at this age, anyway. He fingers the blue pills in his pocket. He wonders if Precilla will take them back.
“Did you see that? Servaas is visiting again. I bet the two of them are at it, right now.”
“Kleinpiet, you are a disgusting example of mankind!” Gertruida uses her stern voice. “Grant them a bit of privacy? They are both old and lonely, and I can assure you men and women at that age aren’t even remotely interested in physical relationships at all. It’s about company and conversation and being together that counts. You should be ashamed of yourself. Sis, man!”
Kleipiet puts on his hang-dog expression as he sits down again. Gertruida is right, he shouldn’t be thinking these thoughts.
Across the street, behind the closed curtains, Servaas feels the blood rushing to his face when Hybie returns from the kitchen with the tea tray, wearing only a skimpy apron and a wicked smile.
“Eight minutes, you sexy thing…” he whispers as he swallows the pill. “Precilla says it takes eight minutes…”
At the foot of Bokkop, a dust devil dances across the veld, scattering dust and little twigs as it approaches the cemetery. If Vetfaan listened, he would have sworn it made a rustling sound, almost like the wheezy laugh of an old woman. But he’s not listening; he just remembered his tractor on the farm got a new engine a decade ago – and it’s still running smoothly.