It is unfair to blame the ostrich for everything. Nor can you expect Vrede to feel guilty about his unusual feathered friend. But, as life is often characterised by its illogical twists and turns, one may end up simply by shrugging the odd shoulder and flashing a wry smile at the events that started so innocuously. Like the dry wind that blows in from the desert, people simply ignored the way that dog and flightless bird accepted each other as a solution to their loneliness. It seemed so….harmless. Especially in the beginning.
“Who would have guessed that a wild ostrich would wander into Rolbos to settle here?” Vetfaan peered at the awkward bird ambling down Voortrekker Weg. The grey plumage – so typical of the drab appearance of the female bird – seemed to float by the window all on its own: neither head nor feet were visible in the frame.
“Ja, and you can bet she is looking for Vrede. The two of them have taken to each other, and she is constantly following him all over the show. Vrede doesn’t seem to mind though: he appears to be quite happy for the company.” Precilla, maybe the most romantically inclined of the townsfolk, understands something about loneliness. “I even saw them snuggle up to each other last night.” She hesitates before adding, almost as an excuse: “It was rather cold.”
“Now there’s a strange couple for you,” Kleinpiet sniggers in his beer, “I wonder if they are serious about a relationship.”
Gertruida gives her hippo-snort. “You have a dirty mind, Kleinpiet! Animals aren’t like that. Just the other day the National Geographic had an article of a hippo that adopted an antelope baby. The hippo must have lost her calf and then decided to rear the lost little buck. It happened somewhere in Kenia, I think. Anyway, it’s wrong to subject animals to the rules of human behaviour – it’s not like they’re living in sin, you know?”
Boggel remembers Lucinda sleeping over in his bungalow that one night, and blushes. Sure, you can’t really call it a sin, but he did feel guilty about his thoughts that night. After he made himself comfortable on the couch, he watched as she slipped into his bed. The light on the night stand silhouetted her perfect body, accentuating the cures underneath the flimsy night dress … and he wished he had the courage to crawl in with her. The fear of rejection stopped him, though. His bent and humped back isn’t exactly every young girl’s dream, now is it? So he lay there, struggling to relax, desperately trying to go to sleep. It didn’t work, of course.
“Well, Vrede is a male animal, and she is a female animal,” Boggel lamely tries to explain his thoughts, “and maybe they prefer company to being lonely. It’s not like they’re getting married or anything.”
They watch as the ostrich peers into Boggel’s Place as if she knew they were gossiping about her. Vrede is just behind her, and flops down on the veranda. On cue, the bird droops her long neck to nibble at the hairs on his neck.
“Oh look, she’s grooming him!” Precilla gives a shy smile. “She’s a lady with taste and she wants her man to be handsome! Now that’s true love, I tell you!”
Gertruida rolls her eyes. She likes Precilla – likes her a lot – but when she starts fantasising about love, Gertruida often feels her younger friend loses the plot. Love, Gertruida will tell you, is the opium of the masses. No, she doesn’t believe in the term. There’s want, and desire, and mutual need and security and even loyalty and respect – but love is simply a word people use to confuse the issues at stake. After all, if love was such a wonderful thing, the world would have been a happier place, wouldn’t it? She can quote the passage Oudoom is so fond of. Love, Oudoom says, is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth. And where, she will ask you, do you find such a person capable of these things? Ergo: it’s an impossibility.
“They like each other’s company,” she says flatly, “and the ostrich is simply following an instinct. Don’t be so naïve.”
At that moment, Lucinda walks into the bar. Dressed in a loose-fitting skirt and a white blouse, she looks as if the heat outside made no impression on her. The bright eyes sparkle as her red lips curl up in a happy smile.
“You sound so … angry today, Gertruida. Somebody upset you, no?” She frowns in mock anger. “Maybe Boggel give you a free beer, and you will feel better.” Her little-bell laugh tells everybody she’s not serious. “But I’ll have one, please Boggel. It is so hot out there.”
“We’re talking about Vrede and the ostrich,” Precilla explains, “and the way they seem to like being together.”
She accepts the beer from Boggel, their fingers touching for a brief moment before she takes a sip. “Even animals get lonely, no? Just like people. And let me tell you: loneliness and sadness is the same thing, I think. So, I’m happy if Vrede is happy. No want the doggy to be sad.”
“I make Vrede sad sometimes,” Vetfaan boasts, “I eat biltong while he watches me. You should see his face then!” He laughs as he signals for another beer.
“Shame on you, Vetphone!” Lucinda has difficulty pronouncing the last part of his name. “That’s cruel. If you loved Vrede, you won’t do that.”
Boggel climbs up on his crate so he can get a better look at Lucinda. He wishes he had a normal body, and even just looking at her, makes him sad. He’s got no chance…
Gertruida goes harrumph again. “Oudoom is always talking about love, but there is no such thing. He’s just like Vetfaan with his biltong. We hear about love, but it’s not something we can ever experience. When the sermon is about love, we feel like Vrede while looking at Vetfaan’s biltong – we know we’ll never get it. No, deep down, we’re just like animals. You got something I need, I got something you need, and that’s it. Finished en klaar. Love is a myth…”
Before Gertruida is finished, Lucinda holds up a regal hand. “No! Not like that! Never. Forsail! How you can say that? Falso! Love is a beautiful thing. It is the best thing in the world. But,” she takes a deep breath, “if you not believe in love, you never find love. And if you think you see love, you must make like you do with a candle in the wind.” She cups her hands around an imaginary candle. “Like so…”
Outside, Vrede gets up, stretches and yawns. The ostrich looks on with her head crooked to the side, curious to see what he’s up to. With a soft aaarf, he saunters over to a shadier spot on the veranda, the bird following him with delicate steps.
And Boggel, on his crate, brings his hands together in a protective cup. Lucinda catches his eye in that moment and nods.
“Just like that, Boggel, just like that. Not many have the courage to do that. Most people prefer to let the wind blow the candle out – it’s easier that way. No courage, no flame – yes?”
And so, it may be said that the ostrich was responsible. Or maybe even Vrede. But for Boggel, the term Love, became a description of courage at that moment. It wasn’t a physical thing anymore. Nor even an emotional thing. He remembered something he heard in the orphanage a long time ago: love isn’t for the faint-hearted. It’s for the brave.
He reaches over the counter to touch her fingers.
“I would like to have dinner with you tonight,” he says shyly.
“That’s what I came to ask you, anyway,” she smiles.
And for a moment – the briefest, longest, most exquisite moment, their eyes meet before they both gaze out to where Vrede and the ostrich are laying down in the sunny spot on the veranda.