Cold Nights

The meerkat notices the bright and shiny object the moment he pokes his head from the burrow. It is just after dawn, after a cold Kalahari night spent huddled with the family. Unlike humans, meerkats have no use for names, although they have a language of their own. The high-pitched warning about danger is distinct from the low-toned grumbling when food is found. This time, he lets out a short little squeak of excitement as he approaches the object.

He doesn’t know – or care – much about diamonds. They are simply bright stones they occasionally scratch out of the way when digging for a root or a tuber beneath the sand. However, this one is attached to a bright chain, which makes a nifty plaything. Scurrying back to the burrow, he lets out a series of grunts to call the siblings. This new toy will keep them busy for hours at end while they wile away the hours of the new, hot day…

*

“Oh, Boggle, I lost my pendant. It is tragedy, no? My Papa gave me this thing; he said it is good luck for me in my travels. Now it is gone. I’m so … triste. More than sad. Breaking heart you say, I think?”

“Heart broken,” Boggel helps her with the term, “and I’m sorry.” They’re sitting on the veranda in front of Boggel’s Place, sipping a cold beer. The rest of the town is still busy with their usual Monday-routine, and will arrive soon; in the meantime, they have the place to themselves. “I’m sure you didn’t lose it here, though. I swept the floor, polished the counter and put new table-cloths on the tables – and I didn’t see it at all. I remember that pendant; it is quite exquisite. Must have been expensive…”

“Oh, yes. It is special diamond. Belonged to my grandmother. Papa says it is part of the Star of Africa. When they cut that diamond, this was piece of it, si? No can replace that.”

Boggel doesn’t know what to do. How do you console a pretty woman who has lost a unique piece of jewellery? Even if he had the money to buy a new pendant, it’d never compensate for the loss.

“I looked in the lorry, but nothing. I’m sure I had it when I left here, but when I come to Upington, it gone.”

“But then it must be in the cab – unless you stopped somewhere?”

Lucinda brightens, but suddenly blushes as she peers from below the fringe of hair on her brow. That’s the way Princess Di used to look at the world, back then before everything went sour, Boggel thinks.

“Yes, Boggle, I did stop somewhere. Near a tree and an heap for ants. I … I had to think about things. So I stop.” She seems uncertain about going on. “It’s on the road to Grootdrink, not far from here.”

Boggel arranges with Vetfaan to be barman and gets into the lorry with Lucinda.

*

“I’ve never seen Boggel like this,” Vetfaan says as he serves the patrons, “all googly-eyed like a schoolboy at a netball match. If I was in his shoes, I’d tell the girl I like her a lot and take it from there. But not Boggel. He’s too much of a gentleman to do that. Maybe we must help him to get over this phase? Otherwise we’re going to be stuck with a barman who forgets to order supplies while he dreams of ways to woo this Italian.”

Gertruida snorts as she listens to him. “You, Vetfaan, are just as big a coward as Boggel is. At least he’s spending time with her, and that’s good. Men are all the same: put them in the company of a beautiful woman, and they regress to pre-teen jitters.  Let them be; they’ll get to be where they have to be. Don’t interfere.”

Vetfaan knows better than to argue with Gertruida’s advice. However, he’ll take it up with Kleinpiet, and then they’ll make a plan…

*

“You see – it was here. There is heap for ants, here is tree. I sit here” she points to the spot, “and I see the funny roditore … “ she searches for the word and eventually mimics the stance of a meerkat, peering at the horizon. Boggel laughs so much he has to hold on to the lorry-s fender to stay upright.

“You mean meerkat?”

“Yes, yes, that thing. I park too near their house, so I had to move lorry, see?”

Boggel knows how inquisitive meerkats can be. If they found the pendant, there isn’t a chance they’ll find it again. Despite his doubts, he starts searching the area. At least, he thinks, I have an advantage over normal people. With my back the way it is, I have a much better view of the ground…

“Okay, Lucinda, I’ll look over here, and you search the area over there. Maybe we’ll get lucky.”

Two hours later, they sit down on the step to the cab of the lorry. They’ve scoured the vicinity and came up with nothing. Lucinda is clearly crestfallen, while Boggel is totally out of his depth – how can he fix it?

“It was same time of day, Boggle,  just before the sun goes away. That’s when the cats came home.” Boggel wants to tell her that meerkats aren’t cats, but ends up smiling. “You think something funny, maybe?”

Boggel glances up at the girl next to him. Sure, she’s beautiful. Yes, she’s got a way of looking at him that makes him breathless. And oh! When she smiles, it makes his heart miss a beat… If he had the courage, he’d tell her that. Tell her, and then kiss those pretty lips. Tell her, kiss her and then get into the cab and…

That’s when he sees the little family returning to their burrow. He’s about to tell Lucinda to sit quietly while the meerkats approach, when the brave one – always the first to inspect strange things – gets up on his hind legs to see what the humans are doing on his turf. He’s obviously the leader of the pack, as the others huddle around him in a worried bunch. Two little ones – too small to know much about being cautious – continue their romping behind the rest.

And that’s when Boggel forgets about all his good intentions; for suddenly fate has opened up the door to a new level of friendship with Lucinda. There, just a few yards away, the two little ones were playing with a golden chain, with the attached diamond sparkling in the sun…

*

When they drive back into town, they gape in awe as all the townsfolk seem to burst from Boggel’s Place. People are running this way and that as they scamper to get to their homes. Surprised, Boggel gets down from the lorry to see what has happened in his bar during his absence.

The note on the till tells it all:

Boggel

We all went home.

You’ll find the money from the drinks in the drawer of the till.

Everybody is tired, so we went home early.

Vetfaan.

(We’re not coming back, either. Good night)

Lucinda reads the note and burst out laughing.

“Your friends; they are good ones, I think. You are very lucky man…”

And Boggel looks into those eyes and nods. Yes, he is lucky, so, so lucky. To find that pendant was pure luck. To have friends who grant you a bit of space when you need it, is precious. To see Lucinda laugh….

He walks around the counter to get on to his crate. “Now I can look you in the eye,” he says, “and I …” He wants to tell her all the words he has been thinking about, stutters, and ends up saying, “I can see why you were sad. About the pendant, I mean. It is nice, er, beautiful. I’m glad”

Lucinda reaches over the counter to lay a soft hand on his. “I’m happy. Very happy. This diamond, it came back to me – because of you. And this diamond, I think is good-luck diamond. First Papa give me diamond, now you. You give diamond my Papa give me. I think more – I think diamond maybe say something about love, no?”

Somehow Boggel summons up the courage. “Um. Lucinda, er, yes…well. Mmmm.” He coughs, runs a hand through his hair and swallows. “Look. You’re beautiful. I…I’m not. I have this back, see? And I, well, um,  well, you couldn’t possibly…”

He wishes he could tell her the thoughts racing through his mind. About being crippled from birth. About the pains that wake him up at night. About knowing you’ll never be normal like other people. About being so uncertain that women will ever find him acceptable.

Lucinda smiles. She knows how men get confused when they can’t say what they want to say. She also understands Boggel’s deep-rooted uncertainty because of his deformity. But then again, something in the bent little man resonates with her – he’s clever, determined, funny, brave …  and honest. She really likes him. In fact, she likes him a lot.

*

The two infant meerkats cuddle close as the night wind brings the cold to the burrow. It’s been a difficult day, especially when that human started chasing them all over the show. The brave one shrieked the danger signal, the one usually reserved for life-threatening situations, like when an eagle circles overhead. Then the thundering feet, chasing, coming closer … and suddenly stop. The man picked up the plaything with the stone in it and walked away.

Humans are stupid. Why fuss over a shiny stone like that? Tomorrow they’ll dig up a new stone to play with – one that isn’t attached to the funny root-like thing the woman put around her neck.

As the cold seeps deeper into the burrow, the brave one presses his body closer to the small ones. They need the heat…

*

Boggle…?”

He’s switched off the light after Lucinda went to bed. He’s on the couch, thinking the words he couldn’t say.

“Ye-e-es?” He hopes she is warm enough.

“You a good man. Thank you.”

And so, the Kalahari slips quietly into the world of dreams. The creatures – big and small – fight the cold night as well as they can. They have to rest, for tomorrow will bring new challenges. In Boggel’s cottage, the woman smiles as she buries her face in the cushion the man usually sleeps on. In the darkness, she imagines him there, next to her, sharing the warmth of love she so desperately craves. And Boggel, poor Boggel, turns around on the couch. Beauty and the Beast, he thinks, as he dries the unwelcome tear on his cheek.

6 thoughts on “Cold Nights

    1. Amos van der Merwe Post author

      I actually read up on the Phantom before matching Boggel with Lucinda – quite a striking resemblance , in the end. Only, in the Notre Dame story, they end up tragically dead – and that isn’t allowed in Rolbos…

      Reply

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