“Tomorrow my Papa comes. I wrote to him and told him he’d like it here. It’s okay for him to come, no?”
Boggel has been fearing the arrival of Lucinda’s father. She told him quite a lot about the strict old man and he’s formed the mental picture of an astute gentleman with bushy eyebrows and a gravely voice. How will the old man react to Rolbos? Or, for that matter, to Boggel’s Place? And what about Oudoom, who still believes all Italians represent a different kid of faith? And … lastly, will her father accept that his daughter, his only, beautiful, daughter may be interested in a cripple?
“It’s okay,” he says without much conviction. “I’m sure everybody will be glad to meet him.”
“Ja,” Vetfaan smiles, “we’ll give him some real boere-afval, he’d like that.”
“It’s called offal in English, Vetfaan. Don’t confuse the girl.” Gertruida has taken a liking in Lucinda and wants her to feel at home.
“What is this … awful?”
“Oh, we cook up the stomach and feet and heart and tongue of a sheep in a sauce of sherry and sugar. Salt, pepper, garlic and curry get added; we chuck in a few potatoes and onions – and that’s it. It’s delicious.” Kleinpiet has a naughty twinkle in his eye: if the Italians eat this, then they’d fit in nicely.
“Oh, you mean quinto quarto? Papa will love that. We make it from the head and the tail and the heart and the stomach.” She explains that the term fifth quarter originated in the time when the best quarter of the meat went to nobility, the second best to the clergy, the third best to the bourgeoisie and the least-sought after meat to the soldiers. The fifth quarter, the glands and lungs and all the other bits and pieces, was given to the poor and the labourers. “Papa makes it with the artichokes, a little lemon and some white wine. Of course he use garlic too, but no sweet wine and curry. I ask him when he comes, he make for you. You like?”
Kleinpiet’s jaw almost drops faster than Gertruida’s. This girl is quite something. Not only did she trump Kleinpiet in the nicest possible manner, but Gertruida didn’t know about the quinto quarto bit.
Servaas giggles behind his hand when he orders another beer. “I think your father will like it here. He can teach us to cook, then.”
“Oh si, Service. He make chianini fillet for you. Or mabe a nice tagliatelle, chicken cacciatore, some frittata or maybe a simple pizza. Papa, he loves cooking. But,” she adds diplomatically, “he not know so much as Gertruida, here. He will want to know about bobotie and koeksisters and melktert. The other day Gertruida make that other thing with the milk. You call it, mmm , melkbos?”
“No, it’s melkkos – milk food, if you translate it into English. It’s quite easy, if you know how.” Gertruida likes the gentleness about the new addition to Rolbos. Wiele Willems pleaded with Kalahari Vervoer to get his old job back, and Lucinda has moved in to the empty cottage at the end of Voortrekker Weg. “I’ll teach you, and you can make it as a welcome-dish for your Papa.”
As the two women leave Boggel’s Place, the men at the bar all turn to look at the shapely legs of Lucinda. As usual, despite the early-morning chill, she is dressed in a short skirt.
“Shame on you all,” Precilla mocks them with an angry face. “Staring at the poor girl like that. One would swear you’ve never seen a beautiful girl before. How must I feel?” She pouts as she strikes a Marilyn Monroe pose.
Kleinpiet blushes from neck to brow. “I was looking at Gertruida, honey. She’s put on weight, I think.”
Boggel escapes to his cushion to arrange his thoughts. Lucinda is – next to Mary Mitchell, of course – the best thing that has happened in his life. However, there are so many things to consider! If she moves in permanently, Oudoom will have something to say. And the slight undertone of Precilla’s jealousy and Kleinpiet’s subtle taunting bothers him as well. Vetfaan doesn’t seem to mind, and neither does Servaas – who allows her to call him Service without correcting her all the time. Given that they are a very stable and compact community: how will the addition of two foreigners affect the relationships in town? Sersant Dreyer might be interested in Lucinda as well. And then there is the huge and unwashed Ben Bitterbrak, the garrulous farmer at Bitterwater – his language alone is enough to scare people away.
He doesn’t even want to think about Papa Verdana. He sounds like a no-nonsense man, and if he disapproves of the town – let alone his (Boggel’s) interest in his daughter – then the happy dream will turn into a nightmare. No, he decides with a grimace, the chances of everything working out like an old-fashioned love story are extremely slim. He’d better get used to the idea.
Boggel spends the evening serving his customers. Gertruida and Lucinda breeze in just after nine, excited about their exchange of recipes and the success of the melkkos. They order some Cactusses, but their animated conversation makes it impossible for anybody to get a word in sideways. Later, as if it is the most natural thing in the world, Gertruida announces that Lucinda is like the daughter she always wanted.
“I just love her. She’s intelligent, has a sense of humour, and makes me feel young again.”
Somehow, this statement upsets Boggel. It’s bad enough if Lucinda causes a rift in relationships in Rolbos – but now Gertruida wants to stake a claim? Where does it leave him? Out in the cold and lonely again? Or is it possible that he’s jealous? Of a woman?
By ten the next morning, Boggel’s Place is packed. Lucinda is more radiant than ever, and waltzes from table to table, bubbling over with excitement. Boggel, assured by now that he must rather curb his feelings of love and settle for being a barman, serves the beers without a smile.
“Hey, Boggel, do you think her old man will like you? Lucinda says he’s quite a character.” Kleinpiet is taunting him again and Boggel ignores the remark.
Precilla digs an elbow into Kleinpiet’s ribs. “Can’t you see he’s nervous, you ape? Shees! Sometimes I think you have the commonsense of an eight-year-old. Let him be, will you?”
Kleinpiet goes red again and draws a heart on the counter top.
“There’s dust on the road!” Servaas has been watching the road from Grootdrink and is the first to spy the approaching vehicle. “Your old man’s on his way,” he tells Lucinda, who runs out to the veranda. They all follow – except Boggel, who stays behind, perched on his crate behind the till. There’s no use in rushing towards your doom, is there?
The black BMW stops in front of the building as the population of Rolbos gathers around the vehicle. Boggel can hear Lucinda’s excited voice welcoming her father in Italian, with shouts of Ciao! and Benvenuto Papa!. And yes, there is the gravely voice she told him about, saying Grazi, Lucinda, tesoro…
Lucinda takes ages to introduce everybody. Every time she tells the old man who the person is, and how kind they all were towards her. And every time the old man shakes a hand, saying Thank you, thank you over and over. At least, Boggel thinks, he isn’t in a bad mood.
Lucinda suddenly stops, looks around and waves at Boggel. Hey, Boggle, come here. You must meet my Papa, yes? No stand there behind the counter, come, come meet Papa. Sighing heavily, he shuffles towards the door.
The townsfolk stand back a little to allow the two men to size each other up. Yes, they know how important first impressions are. Even Lucinda looks a bit worried, for if Boggel and her Papa don’t get along, the consequences will be disastrous. She sees Boggel approaching slowly, stop and stare. For a second he looks confused, but then he regains his composure.
“Papa, this is Boggle. I never get his name right, they say Bog-gel.” The little crowd smiles at her effort to get around the guttural G. “Papa, this man, he reminds me of you. I love him, Papa, and I hope you will, too.”
Boggel almost trips over his own feet as she says this. They’ve been very careful with the L-word. They’re not children anymore, and life hasn’t always been easy. For her to say this, here, in front of her father…?
Only then the old man breaks out a brilliant smile. “You! Lucinda, she write to tell me about you. She say we have much in common, but I never realised it was so obvious. See?” Old Marco Verdana turns around to point an arthritic finger at his back. The hump is more pronounced than Boggel’s. “We’re birds of a wing, no?”
“Feather,” Gertruida corrects.
“You see, Boggle, Papa also has a bog-gel, like you. When I saw you, I think: maybe it’s a sign. Then you find the diamond Papa gave me. Another sign, I think. And when Kleinpiet starts talking about quinto quarto, I know. Too many signs.
“Now, help Papa up the stairs. Gertruida and me, we’ll fetch the quinto and the melkbos, and we eat. We Italians love to eat. So there. We celebrate my Papa coming to Rolbos, yes?”
Vetfaan fetches the boxes of Chianti from the boot of the car as the two bent men shuffle up the stairs. Boggel finds there is a camaraderie between people with a disadvantage – in fact, it becomes an advantage sometimes.
“Lucinda, she didn’t write right. She no tell me about your bog-gel. She only say how good you are. My daughter, she is like that. She no look at men with woman eyes. She only see inside. You follow?”
Boggel can only nod.
“That’s why she never marry. Inside of too many men is the quinto – is the wrong quarter, yes? My Lucinda, she deserve primo quarto…only the best for her. Today we eat, we drink some wine, and we talk. If what she say is right, we must become good friends, no? Best friends. My beautiful Lucinda, she must be happy. Is so important. Now, get us a bottle of Chianti, we have lot to talk…”
And so Boggel sits down with old Marco, to open the wine and discover a world where hunchbacks have beautiful daughters and beautiful daughters (like so many women) look for their fathers when they want to settle down.
“They make a beautiful couple,” Kleinpiet whispers in Precilla’s ear a bit later.
“Oh? Boggel and Lucinda?”
“No, Boggel and the old man. I’ll bet Boggel finds a father in him, in more ways than one.”
It’s Precilla’s turn to be surprised. Kleinpiet? That sensitive? My, my … she’ll have to give him a second chance if he goes on like this. To Kleinpiet’s utter amazement, Precilla kisses him full on the lips, there, in front of the whole town.
“Thank you, Kleinpiet,” she whispers. He, of course, has no idea what it’s all about.
From across the street, Oudoom and Mevrou watches the crowd celebrating in Boggel’s Place. Oudoom wishes he could saunter over to say hello. Mevrou, on the other hand, harbours different thoughts. If the town is to stay sober and proper, she’ll have to get rid of the Italians. She walks off to the kitchen, leaving her husband to stare at the scene. She’ll fix him. She’ll fix them all.