A Calabash Full of Wishes for Madiba

“We can’t have Mandela Day without a celebrity.” Gertruida has that stubborn look she gets when she can’t have her way. “And no celebrity will come all this way into the Kalahari to visit a no-place like Rolbos. They’re all tied up in celebrations in bigger places, like Keimoes and Pofadder. It looks like we’ll have just another usual Kalahari day, like we always do.”

Boggel gets on his crate so he can see Gertruida pout. It isn’t often that she does so, and he reckons it’s well worth the effort. She gets that ET h-o-o-o-me  expression. The cold has driven all the other customers home early, but he always enjoys his one-on-one chats with Gertruida. She can be very stimulating … but tonight she is in mope-mood.

“Unless we manufacture a celebrity, Gertruida. If we can disguise somebody to look like a celebrity, it’ll mean much for the morale in the town. Think about it. All we need is somebody to play along.”

Gertruida’s brow shoots up in anticipation. “You mean we fool the guys into thinking we have somebody famous in town? Wow! That’ll be something.”Then she frowns again. “But who will we impersonate?”

“Ag, Gertruida! You know how we all are. We don’t have a cooking clue who’s who out there. We dress up one of the guys, tell everybody he’s some big shot, and he delivers a stirring speech in a funny voice. Then he leaves, and we have something to talk about for weeks to come.”

By now, Gertruida is hooked. “Yes! … But wait, there’s more. We dress him up like a woman. Like Tannie Evita! Then, surely, nobody will be suspicious. We say it is Tannie Nkosasana, the new head of the African Union. She does have a funny voice, and I bet you – not one of the Rolbossers has ever seen her in person. A bit of boot polish, a wig, and a gaudy dress. Even seasoned ministers won’t be able to tell the difference. Oh, Boggel…you are a genius!”

Gertruida then spends the next ten minutes explaining who Pieter-Dirk Uys is, what the African Union means and how Mrs Dlamini-Zuma fits into that picture.

Two rounds of Cactus later, Boggel pops the all-important question. “Who, Gertruida, will be our celebrity? Kleiniet and Vetfaan are too obvious. Servaas will forget the speech. Oudoom will never try to fool his flock. We must get somebody else.”

“Sammie, Boggel! He’s forever cheating us with prices. He’s used to swindling, and he’ll have no qualms. He’s the ideal candidate.”

*

Sammie always works late. He’ll sit in the little office behind the shop, totalling sales and balancing it against stock. Gertruida once said he should be in charge of the big OK Bazaar in Upington, but he only smiled and said he liked Rolbos better. When Gertruida marches in – with Boggel shuffling along several yards behind – he looks up in utter surprise.

Boggel had the foresight to bring the Cactus along, so Gertruida waits for the tequila to lubricate her argument before she tells Sammie what the visit is all about. Sammie isn’t used to the volumes of alcohol consumed in Boggel’s Place, and it doesn’t take much to get his cooperation with the plan.

It is said that tequila can make grown men cry – or that it’ll make them incredibly brave – or both. You can see these reactions at most late-night roadblocks  in bigger towns like Malmesbury. The tequila-crowd will first fight off the diligent policemen, before breaking down in tears in the back of the police van. In Sammie’s shop, with just the right dose of Cactus Jack, Sammie has the brave-reaction. Of course he’ll do it. Piece of cake. What a wonderful idea. Etc, etc.

*

After a fitful sleep (Sammie has tequila nightmares, Gertruida has to write the speech, and Boggel wakes himself up with his giggles), they’re back at Sammie’s before dawn. Boggel is in charge of the make-up and garderobe departments, while Gertruida goes over the speech again and again. Sammie  – despite his headache – is a fast learner, and is just about word-perfect by seven.

Spreading the word about the state-visit (Gertruida’s term) is easy. Gertruida simply whispers the news to Servaas, and by eleven, Boggel’s place is abuzz with expectation. Ben Bitterbrak brought his family all the way from Bitterwater. Vetfaan brought the Platnees family. Even Oudoom is there, dressed in his Sunday best, and sufficiently far enough from the counter to appease Mevrou. Gertruida told Servaas she had to go to Grootdrink to pick up the illustrious guest, so when she stops in front of Boggel’s Place, everybody rushes to the window to get a look at the important political figure.

To be fair, one must admit Sammie is convincing. The pillow beneath the dress gives the right silhouette, while the two pairs of rugby socks (very strategically taped to his chest) complete the disguise as far as the body is concerned. His face, however, is a work of art. Below the Afro wig, Boggel’s work with the boot polish is a masterpiece. The cotton wads in the cheeks help a lot, as well. And, as a final touch, Sammie had his feet squeezed into a pair of high-heels, giving him and authentic wobble as he walks.

Boggel shuffles out, hand extended, to greet their celebrity. Then, as triumphant as Caesar and as proud as only a true member of the ANC can be, he leads their celebrity-for-a-day into Boggel’s. Gertruida planned it well, and had Kleinpiet start the tape with the Great March of Aida at that moment.

Tannie Nkosasana has to hold up a polished hand to stop the applause.

“Eish, Comrades, that is enough…thank you.”  Sammie waits until the room is quiet before going on in a falsetto voice. “I have many more appearances to make today, Comrades, so I will have to be brief. Miesies Gertruida must take me away in a few minutes, you see?

“Now, as you know, today is Mandela Day. It is an important day. It is also an important day for you in Rolbos. In fact, I’m sure you all are aware of the importance of this day. Comrades, do not think Rolbos doesn’t feature in our serious discussions in parliament. Just the other day I said to Jacob: Jacob, Rolbos is important. And, Comrades, he nodded. Yes, the president of the country – your country, my country, he nodded. He knows Rolbos is important.

“And that’s what I have come to tell you, Comrades.

“Viva, Rolbos, Viva!”

Platnees then joins in the chant, and leads Rolbos in a toyi-toyi, while the vivas! roll over the veld outside the little town.

Sweating profusely, Sammie has to join the dancing circle in Boggels. He can feel the pillow slipping, and has to sit down at the bar. Vetfaan is at his side in a flash with a double Cactus to cool the celebrity down. With a come on, Mrs Minister, this is just boere hospitality, Sammie has no choice but to down the drink.

Of course, Kleinpiet is next. Then Servaas. Precilla toasts women. Oudoom doesn’t toast, but he feels it his Christian duty to extend his welcome as well.

The situation might still have been saved, had Platnees not spoken up right then.

Hau, Nkosasana,” they are all on first-name terms by now, “eish, this is discrimination. You only drink with white people. Ag nee man, sies! Here, I brought you some Bushman beer as a gift. Come sit with me and we’ll share a calabash.” He pats the seat next to his.

By now Sammie’s pillow is thigh-high and the heels refuse to keep him up straight. He does make it to the chair and flops down, holding out an unsteady hand for the calabash.

Most people who have lived in the Kalahari know about the honey-beer that is brewed in the desert. It is rumoured you can run a tractor off the stuff, or use it to remove old paint from walls. One does not drink it, unless you have more than one gun pointed at you. Most people know it. Sammie doesn’t.

He accepts the container, admiring the natural form, and remarks that he’s never seen something quite like it. Then, under the unbelieving gaze of everybody present, he drains the contents with a series of well-timed swallows.

Platnees lets out a slow, admiring eeeiiish!, and claps his hands in appreciation. His gift to Her Eminence has been accepted; even more important, it was swallowed down in a way that expressed deep respect for his brewing abilities.

Sammie, on the other hand, doesn’t quite share his enthusiasm. By the time the brew hit his stomach, he felt as if a hand grenade went off somewhere below his diaphragm. His eyes bulged, his nostrils flared and he lost the one cotton wad from his left cheek. Boggel will say later that he saw a green tinge despite the shoe polish. Then, clutching his pillow in a desperate attempt to keep up the disguise, he stormed out. His shoes, of course, stays behind. If Gertruida didn’t open the door to her car, he would have sustained concussion as well. Gertruida says hangovers and concussions are bad combinations.

*

If you ask the people in Rolbos about Mandela Day, they’ll say it was a big success. Everybody had a good time, even that minister who came all the way from Cape Town. It’s funny how politicians act, they’ll tell you. They simply can’t hold their drinks down. And they have to pad themselves to look rich and fat. No, they’ll tell you, politicians are fake, they’re disguised as normal human beings; but they’re not, you see? If you want to know who they really are, you have to get them to Boggel’s Place – then they show their true colours.

Gertruida and Boggel will never tell the rest about Sammie and his role as Tannie Nkosasana. It’s not that they deliberately want to spread lies, they only think he’s suffered enough already.

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