Gertruida, who knows everything, never talks about her past. It’s a luxury she just does not allow herself.
Now, on a place like Rolbos, it’s quite unusual not to know most of each other’s secrets. The town is so small, the evenings so long, and the questions so personal, that everybody knows about Boggel’s childhood in the orphanage – or Servaas’ son that made it big in America. To be fair: this cannot be seen as mere curiosity; once they’ve discussed the drought (again), they can either chat about their individual lives – or endure the silence.
Also, maybe one must blame Cactus Jack for this openness. After the second round, most will agree, it is impossible to sit quietly and contemplate one’s proverbial navel. The tequila mix has a way of lifting bad moods, blowing black clouds away and generally cheering up the atmosphere. Boggel calls it his mood-stabiliser, but Gertruida says that’s wrong. She favours truth-serum.
When the weather bureau in Cape Town picks up the low-pressure system off Marion Island, they automatically assume it’ll bring wind, cold and scattered thundershowers to the west coast of Africa, which may (or may not) penetrate inland for a while. As usual, they get it more-or-less right. What the main forecaster – Sipho Modise – doesn’t take into account, is the ridge of high pressure approaching from the north. When the radio stations phone the bureau, Sipho simply says it will be cold and windy in the Cape. Nobody lifted an eyebrow. Everybody knows what the Cape is like in winter time, for it wasn’t known as the Cape of Storms with good, sound reason?
It is in the very nature of natural disasters that they start off small. Like trouble and problems – the little wind that becomes a tornado, will often initially be dismissed as a breeze. Nothing to worry about. But then..
And that’s why Gertruida never talks about her yesterdays. She should have seen it coming… Like Sipho will realise: you have to take everything into consideration before making a decision. But we never do, do we? For who has met love, and wasn’t surprised by it?
It happened towards the end of the 80’s, when she was the secretary to the head of National Intelligence. Here, she had to know everything. The plots, the schemes, the underhand dealings – everything. She knew why the Helderberg crashed, where and how oil imports circumvented the embargo and what – exactly – the war on the borders of the country cost. Because she has an encyclopaedic knowledge of everything (she simply doesn’t forget facts – a trait she inherited from her great-grandfather) she became much more than a secretary. In those troubled times, she often acted as analyst, advisor and confidante to various ministers and high-ranking officials.
That’s how she met Ferdinand Fourie, the man with many faces. This was the man that was able to slip into any country, penetrate any organisation and get any information – in short: he was a spy. Hy unearthed the information on the Muldergate scandal, was instrumental in setting up meetings between President Botha and various African leaders, and facilitated the (illegal) import of weapons. But, sadly, that is not why Gertruida remembers the man. He was a sensitive, kind companion; somebody she could talk to on equal footing and somebody she fell in love with.
Whenever he was in Pretoria, they’d meet in her flat near the Union Buildings, where they drank KWV’s Roodeberg, talked away the hours, and Ferdinand taught her about opera. With his multilingual skills, he translated the songs Puccini, Verdi and Monteverdi. Having grown up in a small rural town, opera was something Gertruida never experienced before. Her ever-inquisitive mind wanted to know everything Ferdinand could teach her.
On their last evening together, Ferdinand took her to see Aida in the State Theatre. She was swept away with the grandeur, the atmosphere and the music. But it was during O Terra Addio that Ferdinand took her hand. “Don’t forget this,” he whispered. “It is so beautiful. So inevitable. And it is so sad.” When she glanced at him, he had tears in his eyes.
Afterwards, they went over to the little bar in a nearby hotel. Ferdinand was strangely quiet. And when they walked back to his car, the rain came down. No wind, just a slight breeze. No warning. Just the heavens opening up and drenching everything. Ferdinand spread his arms wide, and turned his face to the sky.
“It’s good to be alive,” he said as he took her in his arms to waltz her to the car. They laughed. Later, still wet, they made love in his flat. And then the telephone rang.
She watched him go. And later, when he didn’t return, she went home.
The black clouds over Bokkop announces the storm. Big, rolling and ominous, they seem to hover for a while before bearing down on the little town. Strangely, there is no lightning. Boggel closes the windows, announces a round on the house and sits down below the counter.
He knows the downpour will be vicious. Water will form rivulets against the wall where the roof has pulled away from the masonry. Voortrekker Weg will be awash soon, and his patrons will crowd the windows to see the wonder of the rain. These things are wonderful, and he wouldn’t mind sharing everybody’s excitement.
But…when the storm dies down and the rain becomes a drizzle, Gertruida will down her drink, walk out to the street, spread her arms wide and turn her face to the sky. The sweet, clear drops will mingle with the salty tears on her cheeks, while she hums some sad tune. Afterwards, when the drops stop falling, she’ll go home.
“Gertruida always welcomes the rain like this.” Kleinpiet holds up his glass to signal for a refill. “Singing in the rain and getting soaking wet. I wonder if it’s some ancient ritual? Or maybe she’s just a bit crazy. Anyway, I prefer it in here.”
“No, man!” Vetfaan watches as Gertruida trudges home through the puddles. “I think she’s celebrating the rain. You know? New life? Expectation of renewal? Waiting for the veld to bloom again? Who knows? What do you think, Boggel?”
Below the counter, Boggel remembers the time he asked Gertruida the name of the sad song she hums when the rain comes down. And he remembers her answer.
“It’s a song about life and love, Boggel. It’s about a breeze that became a storm.” She hesitated for a moment to wipe away a tear. “Look at the veld before the rain. It’s dead. Withered. Dry. And once the rain comes, there is hope. The song, Boggel, is about hope and faith. It says no storm can kill love.”
Boggel, the bent little man who knows pain and loss, doesn’t really understand everything that Gertruida said that day. It sounded as if Gertruida tried to explain something simple in a complicated way.
He gets up, slides over Kleinpiet’s beer and shrugs. “It’s a gesture of hope, I think. And love. She says it’s the breeze that becomes the storm. You try to figure it out.”
But they never will. Only Gertruida, alone in her cottage, knows that some storms never pass. The small thoughts in the back of her mind will remain there, forever. And when it rains, the memories will flood over the walls she so carefully built around them; and for a while she’ll be back in the arms of the storm she knew as Ferdinand Fourie.