Boggel looks at the anxious face in the window, noticing how the finger wags – much like Vrede’s tail – from side to side. No! The hand was objecting. She’s not coming in…
Only this morning, Gertruida seemed so excited about the old school friend – a flame from many years ago – who phoned her and told her he was in Grootdrink to appraise the quality of wine of the Oranje Rivier Kelders. It was a light-hearted conversation, which ended in two hesitant good-byes and a promise to keep in contact.
“He was the flank in our first team. Jan-jan Kruger.” She sighed as she mouthed the name again, slowly. “Handsome, smooth, and tall. He had a body that sent shivers down girl’s spines, and a smile as wide as the sky.” His eyes reminded her of Bambi, she said: big, brown and beguiling. “And a silk-smooth voice that made you want to listen to it all day. Charming, alluring, inviting…wonderful.”
Precilla smiled at the description. Yes, she knew one of those as well. Turned out he had too much on the outside and not nearly enough inside. She dropped him simply because he loved the mirror more than he loved her.
“So what happened, Gertruida? You found out he was a fake?”
“Nooo, not at all. His father was indispensable to the pharmaceutical company he worked for, so he was transferred to America. That was in the days of boycotts and embargoes, and they didn’t want to lose his expertise. Remember, that was before cellphones and Internet… We promised to write, but eventually even that contact dwindled and died.
“But, life went on. I filed the memories under Best Forgotten in my mind, and went on with my life. But now…” She gave a lob-sided grin. “Who knows?”
Later, she fetched an album from her home, and showed them all the photo of the impossibly-handsome young man. Even Hybie – without her glasses – took a deep breath when she looked at the image.
When the Harley’s thunder quietened to an ear-splitting growl, Boggel had to wait twenty slow seconds before the dust settled sufficiently for him to see the huge man getting off the monster of a motorcycle. He took off the chamber-pot-helmet, shook the shaggy ponytail loose and dusted his leather pants. The old-fashioned pilot’s glasses came off, to reveal Elvis sideburns above the bushy beard.
“Hya’all, Ah’m heah, lookin’ for Gertrude.” The booming voice carried up Voortrekker Weg as Vrede fled for the safety of Boggel’s cushion. “She stays in this heah li’l dust bowl, ain’t she?” His multiple chins made the beard wag when he spoke.
“What language is that? Spanish?” Kleinpiet frowned, still inside the bar. “It’s not Italian, is it?”
“No, man, that’s Harley-speak.” When he visited Cape Town a few years ago, Vetfaan ran into a biker’s parade. “They all speak like that. And – the skull on that black vest is mandatory. So is the American flag bandanna. They’re all crazy.”
The doors banged open as the giant edged through the door with another Hya’all.
“I’m Boggel. Good morning.” Not knowing what else to say, he introduced the other two at the bar.
“Fatfan? Claimpete? Hah!” The huge biker gave each of them a bear hug, lifting them clear off the floor.
“Ah’m lookin’ foh Gertrude. Some little filly ya’all have in town. Wheh she?”
“Can you speak Afrikaans?” Boggel raised an eyebrow.
“Nah. Ah’m fromTexas, unnerstan’?”
“Kleinpiet, gaan sê vir Gertruida haar ou is hier. Miskien moet sy eers deur die venster loer.” Boggel smiled his innocent smile and gave the biker his first Cactus Jack.
Five minutes later, they started understanding what the huge man said. It could have been the Cactus, or maybe they just got used to each other. Boggel and Vetfaan learnt the man referred to himself as Bear, that he worked for some wine-importing business in America and that he had a love for fast bikes, willing women and the occasional snort of coke.
“Would you like to have one?” Boggel fetched a Cola from the fridge.
The massive stomach hopped up and down while the man laughed, making it seem as if he had a Parkinsonoid skull on his vest.
By this time, Kleinpiet had Gertruida at the window.
“Holy mackerel! Just look at the man! He’s … disgusting! All that lard! Aargh!.” Gertruida wags her finger at Boggel. No, she’s not here, not here at all..
“I’m afraid Gertruida had to go to Upington, urgently. Apparently something to do with a tooth abscess. She left a note to sat she might not be back for a few days.” Kleinpiet lies so glibly that Vetfaan believes him for a second.
“Aw, damn! Man, Ah drove all the way heah! Rattlesnakes! Ah’m disappointed.” He says the last word in four syllables. “Well, Ah’ll not hang aroun’ then. Gotta saddle up that there horse and be on mah way.” Slapping down a few notes on the counter, he greets Boggel and Vetfaan with another rib-crushing hug before stomping out.
The mechanical monster roars to life, causing enough noise to rattle the bell in the church tower. Oudoom suddenly gets the subject of his next sermon: The Harbingers of the Apocalypse!
“That was close! To think he used to be this hunk of a man! And look at hm now…it’s sad, somehow.” Gertruida downed her Cactus and signalled for another. “But gee, boys, I have to thank you.” She imitates the drawl: “Ya’all saved mah bacon tonight.”
The man we now know as Bear, stops his Harley in front of Ouma-se-Huis, the lovely old home that houses the best B+B IN Grootdrink. Placing the helmet on the seat of the bike, he dusts himself again before entering the house. He looks around, and finds his boss slumped in the comfortable chair next to the hearth.
“Nah, Boss, she ain’t there. They’all said she’s had some teeth fixed someplace. Won’t be back for a while, they said. Sounds like fibbin’ to me.”
Bikers can be a hard lot. They love to push the envelope in so many ways, some of them become insensitive to the jolts life dishes out from time to time. Despite this, Bear cannot help but notice the way his partner’s shoulders drop at the news. The handsome face seems to sag a fraction before the man composes himself once more.
“You sure, Bear?”
“You don’t believe me? Well, then, next time ya’ll jes’ have to go help yerself, won’t ya?. Ah can’t help it if you’re a bit yella to lasso some frisky filly.” He guffaws, trying to lighten the atmosphere. But, he knows how much this meant for his friend. For months he has been talking about seeing this woman again, and now this…
“Yes, Bear. I should have, I suppose. But what if she is married? Or has somebody in her life? Or who even knows if she’ll want to see me? That’s why I wanted you to go scouting for me.” He sighs. “And she obviously doesn’t want to see me again… Well, so be it, then. Tomorrow we’re off, and we most probably won’t return here for a long time. These wines are so good; I won’t have to check again.” He smiled sadly, “At least the contracts are signed and sealed.”
Bear hates it when his partner is sad. “Now, don’t you go slobbering over some ole flame. Plenty of fishes in the sea, I always say. Come, let’s have some of this here good wine we bought, Jan-Jan. Ya’ll round up another heifer somewhere.”
Before switching off her little bedlamp, Gertruida opens the album again. The big smile beams back at her, the eyes full of youthful enthusiasm. She traces the face with a delicate finger. “I’d rather remember you like this, Jan-Jan,” she tells the photo. “Things work out the way they should, I suppose. I hope you find what you’re looking for.”
Grootdrink and Rolbos aren’t all that far from each other by road. But tonight, now, they might as well be on different planets. For some reason, two people in these towns remember the last English lesson they attended together. Jan-Jan was sad about going away, but Mister Miller read from an old poem:
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.(1)