Servaas tries to concentrate on his beer and not stare at the tanned legs of the pretty Italian. She’s standing at the bar, chatting to Boggel and laughing at his jokes. She is, he must admit, extremely attractive, sexy and … funny.
“You know, Boggel,” she pronounces it as Boggle, “I have travelled the world but this place, this Rolbos, you – never have I seen such theengs. I theenk I like it here. Very much.”
Yes, Servaas thinks, poor Boggel will have no chance with this one. He’ll fall for her heavily – and when she leaves, guess who’ll have to pick up the pieces again? Despite his rather austere and stern appearance, Servaas considers himself a man of the world. Why, did he not rightfully earn the nickname, Nightrider, way back in his younger years? When many a young lady would sit at the window, waiting for the clip-clop of his horse’s hooves to announce the arrival of the most-sought-after suitor in the district? Ridder in die Nag – that’s what they called him. And the equestrian-sounding term did not only apply to his skill with horses, either.
But that was a long time ago – before Siena – and now he is left with the memories (or the wisdom?) of those days. If he could start over, he’d leave school, start farming and marry Siena – in that precise order. All that courting and visiting, the late-night trips back and forth, the fear and the adventure, had been a waste of precious time. Nothing, after all, came from those visits, did it? He should have concentrated on the important stuff.
“Boggle, tell me more about these place. I love to hear?”
Ja, Servaas thinks, they all are like that in the beginning. They hang onto every word you say, they laugh at your silly jokes, and then they leave, or die – like Siena did. After all, no relationship lasts forever, does it? Somewhere along the line, the lines get crossed, or broken or lost…
Despite himself, he smiles as he remembers those days. The angry fathers. The worried mothers. The anxious daughters. Grumbling older brothers. Flirting younger sisters… It was a heady time and no sacrifice was too big, no distance too far, to prevent him from saddling up and riding over to woo a rosy-cheeked girl. They all had the same routine: hair neatly done, Sunday-best dress, and the well-off girl on Weltevrede even wore silk stockings when she knew he was coming.
Then, later, when the parents went off to bed, they’d have a few minutes of privacy next to the half-burnt candle. It’s amazing what a young man and woman can manage on a couch in the time it takes the candle to burn down…
Lucinda gets up to peck a kiss on Boggel’s cheek, exposing enough thigh to make Servaas splutter in his beer. Oh, how he remembers those days! The furtive glance at smooth skin behind the lacy top as Siena placed the tray with coffee on the low table; even the first time she held his hand. They were innocent back then, innocent and excited and in awe with the discovery of mutual attraction.
And yet…it all peters out in the end. No matter how he analyses the path of love in his life, in the end it came to heartache. Somebody leaves. Somebody dies. And somebody is left behind. Part of him wants to jump up and tell Boggel to stop looking at Lucinda like that. He wants to warn him of the heartache and the loss – after all, if you apply the brakes early enough, no crash will follow…
Boggel announces a round on the house, toasting Lucinda and telling them Rolbos has never had it so good.
“Servaas! Come over here man! You’ve been sitting at that table, watching the bubbles in your beer for hours at end. Lucinda, sweetie, if you move this way a little, Servaas can sit next to you.”
Lucinda watches as the sad old man ambles over to sit next to her.
“Yes please. You’re Service, no? Do come sit here. I see much sadness in you today, it makes me unhappy… No want to see you sad, no? Come, we talk, we laugh and Boggle will make some Cactus for you. Maybe I make you smile again, yes?”
It’s funny how a word can trigger a whole set of thoughts to surface all at once. When last did he smile? Not the pretend-smile you use when you greet Oudoom in front of the church, or the thank-you smile when Sammie gives you a discount. The real smile, the genuine article, the one that gets flashed with a sparkle in the eye and a feeling of gratitude and joy?
“Oooh, you not smile that much? Maybe you are very serious?” She frowns in mock anger, then bursts out laughing. “No, Service, you much too – how you say – silenzioso, triste? You have to, um, ridere. Yes?”
“Me? Ridere?” Servaas suddenly feels the need to defend himself. This young girl is making fun of him! “I was called the Night Ridere in the past, I’ll have you know! I was famous, back then.”
Boggel has picked up a few words of Italian by now, and bursts out laughing. “Not Rider, ridere – to laugh, Servaas!”
“You do that for me? No? Small smile for a young lady? Please?”
Despite himself, Servaas allows the remark to tug his lips in a slow smile.
“Now, look how much younger you look. Suddenly, sad old man is handsome young man again. That’s better, Service, much better.”
“It’s Servaas, actually, miss.”
Lucinda’s hand flies to her mouth. “Oh no! I have offended you? I’m so sorree…”
Servaas sees the concern in her eyes and finds himself patting her on the shoulder. In that single moment he recognises the loneliness of the Italian woman. Like himself, she’s been looking for a companion, a friend, somebody to share a bit of life with. She has the softness, the kindness, that is so rare…
“You’re a lucky man, Boggel,” he says as he gets up to leave.
He doesn’t want to spoil their day with old-man tears. They deserve the joy of discovering where their path leads them to. Maybe it’ll be bumpy. Maybe not. But they’ll never know if they don’t step out and start the journey.
Yes, Servaas thinks, there are many stop-and-start relationships in everybody’s life. Most of them end with a tinge of sadness. But life without love is an empty existence, is it not? And love without laughter is certainly impossible.
He draws Lucinda near, smelling the faint perfume she dabbed on for Boggel, and takes her hands in his.
“Oh, to be young again…,” he whispers as he turns to go.
“You theenk old Servaas… you theenk I offend him, Boggle?” She watches as the old man shuffles out the door.
“No, Lucinda. You made him realise how precious his memories are. All of them. I think you’ve made him happy.”
Gertruida says life is about living. She says that means we all hurt sometimes. We have to, she says, otherwise we’ll never know what happiness is.