The Development

“You know that bungalow at the end of Voortrekker Weg? Well, apparently someone hired it for an undetermined period of time. A Mrs van Wyk, according to the agent in Upington.”  Gertruida walks in to sit down at the bar. “That bungalow has seen people come and go over the past few months – it’ll be nice to have somebody staying there permanently.”

“Mrs van Wyk? Who’s she?” Servaas has this dream of somebody of his age moving to Rolbos…somebody kind and sweet and sexy; a companion for the cold Kalahari nights and somebody to share the warm summer evenings. “What does she look like?”

“Servaas, grow up, man. Act your age. If you start that motor again, the wheels will come off.” Gertruida does her hippo-snort. “But to answer the questions you so lewdly ask: I don’t know.  Just had this letter from the agent, telling me she should be here on the 12th.”

“But that’s today, Gertruida! I’ll have to shave…”

*

Just after twelve, the Lorry from Kalahari Vervoer stops in front of Sammie’s shop to deliver the weekly order of fresh produce, groceries…and a rather attractive lady. The group in Boggel’s Place watch as she peers – rather helplessly – up and down Voortrekker Weg. Servaas, who is now dressed in his Sunday suit, almost-clean shirt and the spotted white tie (gravy on the pie he bought at the church bazaar last year), gets up.

“I’ll just go over to Sammie’s to see if they brought last week’s Upington Post,” he says. Gertruida does a hippo-snort.

“She does look well-kept,” Precilla says as she stares through the window. “A real lady, if you ask me. I wonder what brought her to Rolbos? Somebody like that would be more at home in a bigger place, like Calvinia or Springbok. Seems strange she’d want to move here, doesn’t it?”

“Dark secrets, Precilla. Dark.” Kleinpiet signals for another beer. “Don’t judge a drink by its bottle. She’s like that.”

“Sis, Kleinpiet. You haven’t even met the woman, and you’ve already made up your mind about her. Give the lady a chance, will you?”

Outside, Servaas looks a bit like Vrede, when nature calls. He looks at the skew pole carrying the weathered Voortrekker Weg, inspects the lorry’s wheels, and stares at the wares in Sammie’s window. Then, seemingly accidentally, he spots the woman in the elegant dress on the veranda in front of the shop. He greets politely. She bows her head in acknowledgement. He tells her it’s hot today. She nods. He offers a beer and she looks down at her suitcase.

Servaas puffs his way across the street. The suitcase is heavier than he thought, but he soldiers on bravely, until she sits down at the counter.

“Let me introduce you…”

They take turns in getting up, shaking her hand and getting lost in her clear, green eyes. She is, undoubtedly, the most beautiful woman they’ve even had in Boggel’s Place. Somewhere between young and old, she still retains the glow of youth, with a sparkle in the eyes and an alluring smile. Even Kleinpiet notes the trim figure, the short but modern hairstyle and the smooth skin.

“She’s got a Rolex,” Gertruida whispers, “and those diamonds are real.” The necklace accentuates the low-cut blouse so effectively, that Vetfaan has to reach twice to shake her hand.

“How nice to meet you all. I’m Mathilda van Wyk, but you can call me Matty. I think we’ll all be neighbours for a while.”

And that’s how it starts. Servaas helps her move in, fixes the broken light on the porch and invites her over for supper.

Now, anybody that knows Servaas, knows he can’t cook. His staple diet consists of tinned food, the occasional sandwich and rusks. And coffee, of course. Real boerekoffie, made from ground beans in the old linen bag with the wire handles: the one Siena made before she died. Faced with the prospect on a guest for dinner, Servaas doesn’t have the faintest idea how to go about it. Baked beans on toast? Marmite sandwich? Rusk pudding? (He boils milk, crumbles the rusks into it, and adds custard and sugar.)

Gertruida, who knows everything, brings over a venison pie just before sundown. “It doesn’t fit into my fridge, so I was hoping you could use it?” Servaas almost cried.

Of course, the rest of Rolbos just can’t let this one go by without knowing the details. Kleinpiet waits until Matty walked over to Servaas’ house, before delivering a bucket of ice. To keep the wine cold, Servaas, I thought you might need it. Ten minutes later, Vetfaan ambles over to knock on the door. I brought you some candles, in case your supplies run out. Boggel takes it upon himself to deliver a complimentary bottle of Cactus Jack, to welcome our newest addition. And at nine, Gertruida wants to know if the pie was to their satisfaction.

*

Boggel opens early, in case Servaas wants to tell them about Matty.

“She went home at eleven. I checked.” Vetfaan tells them how he watched through his curtains. “Servaas didn’t walk her home.”

“I saw that. Something must have gone wrong.” Kleinpiet draws a heart on the counter top. “He is getting on a bit, you know. Maybe he wasn’t…up…to it.”

When, at last, a dejected and downcast Servaas sits down at the bar, they wait in respectful silence. When Servaas is ready to talk, they’ll listen. Gertruida eventually breaks the silence.

“So, how was your evening, Servaas? Did everything go well?”

For a while it seems as if he’s not going to answer. Then he sighs, signals for a beer, and sighs again.

“She wants to build a hotel here. A five-star retreat for the rich and famous – people who want to get away from it all. Right next to Bokkop – there where we always have a picnic. There’ll be tennis courts, a bowling green and a miniature gholf course. She wants to add conference rooms, satellite TV,  a  sauna and a massage parlour. Then, of course, she wants to market it as a place where film stars, politicians and magnates can escape from everything. She says there is a massive international market for such places, and with the Rand as weak as it is, people will flock here. The pad she talks about, will be next to a hangar where six helicopters will wait to ferry guests to the Augrabies, the Kalahari Gemsbok Park and the wine farms next to the Orange River. And then there is the prospect of bringing in hunters to do their thing on the farms in the vicinity, eco-tours and people who’d want to do walking trails in the district.”

“What? How is she going to fund all this?” Kleinpiet swallows the rest of his beer. “This is a massive plan, Servaas. It’ll change everything.”

“She’s stinking rich, that woman. She bribes and worms her way through all the legalities. Nothing…almost nothing…stops her. If she had her way, Rolbos would have been overrun by the world’s best-known faces. Sammie would have had to make way for Checkers and Boggel’s Place – well, I suppose some grand Dros or Keg-and-Ram would have opened here. No, it would have been a catastrophe.”

“You say it as if she’s changed her mind?” Boggel leans forward. “Did she?”

Servaas smiles for the first time. “That’s why I told her about the earthquakes. And the Rabies. And the ghosts.”

He has to explain, which earns him several rounds of Cactus Jacks. Rolbos, according to Servaas, has never developed because it is situated on a massive geological fault line. “And the reason we have only one dog? Figure it out…”  As for the ghosts, he says, the graves at the foot of Bokkop supply plenty of them. [1]

Matty pays Vetfaan to take her back to Upington. She doesn’t say much during the journey, and Vetfaan doesn’t ask questions. This fabulously rich woman wanted to change a whole community, but something doesn’t quite make sense. If she was so rich, why did she hitch a ride with Kalahari Vervoer? Surely she could have hired her own vehicle, or even made her entrance by helicopter? And why, after all, didn’t she send some employee to check out Rolbos?

When they approach Upington, Vetfaan slows down sufficiently to allow conversation.

“It’s a pity about the earthquakes,” he prods, “but I’m sure you’ll find a safe place somewhere in the Karoo?”

“Sure, somewhere.”

He drops her off at the Kalahari Oasis, and unloads the heavy suitcase.

“It’s quite heavy,” he tries again.

Mathilda van Wyk, also known as the Smooth Swindler, simply smiles. She doesn’t tell him about her personal fortune in Kruger Rands. With a furtive glance to see if there are any police around, she hurries inside. She wants to get to her suite – there must be other, safer, towns she can target. Small towns, where people will fork out their life savings to be part of a grand development.  Towns filled with gullible inhabitants.

But not towns with so many problems. Even the Smooth Swindler can’t bribe her way past tectonic faults. And Rabies. And, dear Lord, no ghosts.

She has enough of them already…

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