Kleinpiet and Precilla – with their on and off relationship that never seems to find peaceful waters – have been the subject of discussion lately. They can often be seen, heads together, in whispered conversations in the far corner of Boggel’s Place. While the others give them a wide berth (love is such a rare thing!), Boggel serves them by placing their drinks on the table next to theirs, so as not to disturb them. They’ll interrupt their conversation while he’s near, and continue whispering as soon as he’s out of earshot.
“What do you think they’re up to?” Gertruida can’t stand intrigue – she has to know everything. “Either he’s popped the question, or they’re up to no good. I don’t like it.”
“Let them be, Gertruida. If they have a secret, that’s all right. By tomorrow we’ll know, anyway. You know how things work here: we all know everything about everybody.” Vetfaan likes to think of himself as a bit of a philosopher. “I think somebody said: three can keep a secret if two are dead. And that’s true. Especially here.”
“That was Benjamin Franklin, Vetfaan. George Orwell said you can only keep a secret if you hide it from yourself. So, we’ll just have to wait, I suppose.” She still has the puzzled frown, though. “I sure hope it isn’t something that’ll upset Oudoom. He’s been cantankerous lately.”
Oudoom certainly has troubles of his own. Not the usual stuff with Mevrou criticising his sermons or her remarks about his surreptitious visits to Boggel’s Place (only to keep them in line, Liefie. You really don’t think I go there to enjoy myself, do you?). No, he’s concerned about the way Boggel looks at that Italian lady. She dresses inappropriately (just look at that short skirt!), she’s not local (he had to check the Atlas to find out where Italy is – and it’s not even in Africa), and she probably belongs to one of those funny faiths they have in Rome. Mevrou said they have no Afrikaans Churches in Europe – it’s all German and French and Chinese these days. Then there’s the way she laughs – a full-throated laugh with tears streaking down the rosy cheeks. Mevrou would never laugh like that; she has had a good upbringing and she knows how a woman should behave (at least, that’s what he tells Mevrou, just to keep her off his back).
Every week, when that lorry from Kalahari Vervoer stops at Sammie’s Shop, the same thing happens. She hands over the manifesto and invoices to Sammie, then she skips across the road to Boggel’s Place, where the bent little man waits for her with a huge smile and a cold beer. How can he, Oudoom, ignore the signs of an imminent disaster? If Boggel pursues the relationship, he can expect one of two results: either she’s going to make a fool out of him (where on earth would a woman with curves in all the right places fall for a barman with curves in all the wrong places?); or else they’re going to get serious and she’ll bring in a new religion, a new church and, (goodness me) a new pastor. Two churches in Rolbos? Not a good idea. A shrinking flock is the last thing he can afford right now. Mevrou said he has to do something about it, and he will.
When the lorry trundles into town, Oudoom is strategically placed to intercept the beautiful Italian before she gets to Boggel’s. Mevrou worked it all out: if he waited in the lapa behind Boggel’s, he can make as if he was simply looking for Vrede – and once he hears the lorry, it is a brisk walk to the stoep in front of Boggel’s, where he’ll accidentally bump into lovely Lucinda. Then, just like Mevrou said he should, he’ll ask her what her intentions are with the bartender. Mevrou assured him she’d take fright, give some lame answer, and get the message. And, Mevrou said, that’s how you solve problems. Don’t wait for them to explode in your face – she said – it doesn’t help worrying once those Romans start building a Cathedral on your doorstep. Don’t cry over spilt milk – keep the bucket upright in the first instance.
Then the fickle finger of fate…
Last night Oudoom waited for Mevrou to sleep, before he sneaked out for a quickie in Boggel’s Place. Knowing he would be in deep trouble if she were to wake up in the night (she’s got a weak bladder), he ate a piece of Roquefort cheese after brushing his teeth and before slipping in between the starched sheets. He didn’t notice the piece of cheese that slipped into the turn-up of his pants.
But now, as the lorry sighs to a stop, Vrede notices the pungent smell. In his training as police dog, he was taught to accost, apprehend or stop anybody with a suspicious scent. It must be said that Rolbos is a place of bland scents during the long periods of drought. A strong smell like that in the sensitive nasal apparatus of one of South Africa’s finest canines, demands attention. Immediate, and decisive attention, like he was trained to do.
When Oudoom reaches the stoep, two things happen simultaneously. One: he opens his mouth to greet her before launching into the speech Mevrou prepared so carefully; and Two: Vrede grabs him by the left arm (police dog training), to hurl him to the ground.
When Boggel storms out, he is struck dumb by the scene. Not only is Vrede sitting there with a satisfied grin and a piece of Oudoom’s suit hanging from his jaws; but also: Lucinda is bending over the hapless clergyman, who thinks he’s been struck down by something from the sky. Of course, it takes some time for Boggel to pay attention to the man and the dog – the pretty figure of Lucinda offers just too much to see.
Oudoom sips his beer (medicinal reasons, he assured Boggel, for shock) while he contemplates his next move. To go home and face Mevrou without delivering his speech, is unthinkable. He’ll just have to do it here and now, and get it over with.
And then Precilla appears. She’s dressed in leathers (where did she get that?), has blackened her fingernails and wears heavy mascara. A silver chain dangles from her right pocket, while her hair is combed upwards and held there by some invisible force. Oudoom blinks twice, and wonders if a horse of the Apocalypse dropped its rider in the desert. The shock is even bigger when Precilla sits down next to Lucinda and whispers in her ear.
Lucinda seems a bit dazed, but nods. Precilla gives her a sisterly punch on the shoulder, hitches up her pants, and saunters over to Oudoom like John Wayne does, on his way to a duel.
“I’ve got feelings for that woman, Oudoom. And I’m worried. What’ll I do?”
Oudoom swallows his beer slowly. He has to think this one out – Mevrou isn’t here to help.
“Do you think I must try to go out with men, instead, Oudoom” Precilla switched to her little-girl voice. “Must I force these feelings aside, and consider a date … with Kleinpiet, for instance? Will that help to save me? Will it save Lucinda?”
Mevrou is extremely proud of her husband these days. Yes, Oudoom had that chat with Lucinda, and encouraged her to visit Boggel as often as she can. And just look how sweet and feminine Precilla dresses these days when she sits next to Kleinpiet in the corner. Nobody, she reckons, can fault the way her husband handled the situation. And, oh, just like Oudoom explained, he simply has to keep an eye on developments, that’s why he spends so much time in Boggel’s place.
“Are you guys going to get serious?” Kleinpiet asks Boggel over a beer a few evenings later.
“Nah. We’re just like you two. Lonely and happy to find a friend you can share thoughts with,” Boggel smiles. “Friends. Good friends. Who knows what it’ll lead to?”
“Ja, love is a funny thing,” Kleinpiet says, “it’s like music. Two-people music. If you know what I mean? That’s the secret we are all tinkering with. Even Oudoom.”
Boggel simply nods. “It’s an illusive melody, Kleinpiet. Most people go off-key at some point.”
In the cab of the lorry grinding its way along the roads of the Northern Cape, a young woman hums a tune. It’s quite beautiful the way she harmonises the notes, but it’s actually music for two.