For some reason, Papa Verdana doesn’t seem keen to visit Boggel’s Place. One would think the special bond between Boggel and Papa – both being hump-backed – would be some reason for the two of them to get on well. However, although Lucinda often visits the bar, the old man stays at home most of the time.
“He doesn’t like Boggel,” Kleinpiet says. “All fathers are like that. The moment their little daughters get involved with some hunk, the father gets jealous. I’ve seen it happen. When I was in matric, I fell in love with a lovely woman and her dad nearly killed me.”
Vetfaan sighs. “Sure Kleinpiet. Tell the whole story. That woman was forty and you were eighteen. You can be glad her husband was overseas at the time. Courting your teacher isn’t such a clever thing, is it? I still visited you in hospital, remember?”
“Really?” Precilla hasn’t heard this story before, and frowns at Kleinpiet. “Sis, man! How could you?”
“Oh, nothing happened. She gave me sandwiches and cooldrink when I fixed the tap in the kitchen. Then, all of a sudden, she rushed me. She had hungry hands all over me in a second – and then her dad walked in. I was innocent, I swear.”
“Pull the other one, Kleinpiet. I saw the photos in your album. You were quite sexy in those days. I’m sure you were quite a Cassanova.”
“No, I didn’t have a car. Anyway,” he says, steering the conversation back to a less personal level, “I’m sure old Papa Verdana is simply jealous. With Lucinda obviously keen on Boggel, we have to do something to make the old man comfortable with the idea. Any suggestions?”
It’s Gertruida who comes up with the solution – as always.
“The Upington Post wrote about the London Paralympics…” at this point she has to explain what it is, “and there people with all kinds of disabilities compete against each other. Now, we have two disabled people in town…” They didn’t get it, of course.
“We’ll have our own Paralympics, that’s all. Papa Verdana and Boggel can compete against each other. We make Boggel lose. Papa’s pride is restored and he establishes himself as the champion of Rolbos. That way he won’t feel threatened by Boggel’s attention to Lucinda. It’s pure logic, you guys!”
It takes several rounds of Cactus to make them understand. Boggel, who was quite curious to know what they were whispering about, couldn’t understand the secrecy. If the townsfolk are like this, they’re up to no good.
“Boggel,” Gertruida eventually announces, “we’re going to have some Paralympics.” She explains what it is all about,
“You want me to compete against Papa? He’ll kill me!”
“That’s the general idea, Boggel. If you lose, he’ll love you. If you win, you can kiss your chances with Lucinda goodbye. If you don’t do anything, you’re going to lose her, anyway. Italians are like that. The family always comes first. So if Lucinda has to choose between you and her father, guess who’ll win? No, Boggel, this is the only way.”
It’s the next day, and Voortrekker Weg has been transformed into an athletic track. The pothole is barely visible after Vetfaan dumped some sand into it, and Kleinpiet took a lot of time to get the two lanes just right. Three almost-straight white lines bisect the town- Sammy donated a whole sack of flour, Kleinpiet loaded it onto a wheel-barrow and cut a small hole in it. The trick was to walk straight down Voortrekker Weg with the flour pouring from the sack.
“Kleinpiet did a great job,” Vetfaan says, “those guys in London would have been proud.”
“Ja, it’s only there where Vrede chased the ostrich that the lines aren’t straight.” Precilla points at the section in front of Boggel’s Place. “Then he had to make the other two lines take the same curve. At least, he says that’s what happened. Maybe he was just thirsty.”
“But will the old man agree? I mean, he may very well refuse, and then all this effort would have been in vain.”
“Boggel told Lucinda this is our yearly festival. A tradition, you understand? Italians can’t break tradition. Gertruida says it’s a genetic thing. He’ll come, I’m sure.”
At eleven, they all gather on Boggel’s veranda. Boggel borrowed Kleinpiet’s old rugby pants while Oudoom fished out a pair of tennis shoes from the charity-box the congregation in Upington sent last year. Precilla insisted he should wear a head-band, so that it is easier to distinguish between the two hump-backed men. The T-shirt – advertising Massey Ferguson – was Vetfaan’s contribution.
Papa Verdana walks down the street at five-past. He looks great in the well-fitted track-suit and Nikes.
“Now, where-a are the tradition, hey? Me, I’m-a hot, see? Why you all stare at me? Bring Boggel.”
Lucinda walks the two men down to the start line at the end of the street. Oudoom, as the most just and honest man in town, fingers Vetfaan’s Remington rifle gingerly and tells the two men he wants a clean fight, no gouging or clinching and that the judges decision will be final. No correspondence will be entered into. He ends off with “Now, what is your answer to this?” and has to restrain himself from adding “You may now kiss the bride”.
Then he raises the gun, pulls the trigger, and gets knocked over by the recoil.
Boggel thought he would have to hold back to let the old man win, but after only five yards he realises he will have to really put in a huge effort to remain more-or-less in contact with Papa Verdana. He is surprisingly agile for his years, sprinting with considerable ease despite his deformity. By the time they pass the church, Boggel is several yards behind, panting heavily.
“Maybe, we-a stoppa for a drink, o?” The older man smiles over his shoulder. “You looka like you could use a rest.”
Boggel can only nod.
After the second beer, Boggel has recovered sufficiently to talk.
“Where did you learn how to run like that, Mister Verdana?”
“Oh, I was on Italian team to Beijing. I was coach to the runners, si? Always keep fit, thatsa what I say.”
At this point, Boggel concedes the race. “You win, I give up. There’s no way I can make it to the finish. You’re the best, Papa.” The Papa slips out but the old man doesn’t seem to mind.
It is Gertruida’s job to hand over the trophy. Bending over Papa, she places the medal (two bottle tops on a string) around his neck and gives him a peck on both cheeks. In the National Geographic, they say that’s how Italians kiss. To her utmost surprise, he puts a hand in the small of her back to make her sit down on his lap.
“Gertruida,” he sighs, “You look like-a Sophia Loren to me. So clever. So voluptious. So sexy. Me, I like-a you very much.”
Tonight they will have a party in Boggel’s Place to celebrate their paralympic champion. They’ll laugh and talk and listen to Papa’s stories about Beijing. He’ll tell them how happy he is that Lucinda has found a soul-mate. And later, when the talk is over, he’ll whisper in Gertruida’s ear.
“I was so afraid you no like me. That’s-a why I stay away. But when you kiss me like that – like Sophia would – I feel I can … how you say … well, it’s okay to talk, see? If you no like me, I no can visit here with Boggel. But Lucinda, she tell me why you think of race. She tell me you wanta me to win. Me, I think that says you care. I like that, very much. You understand?”
And, for the first time in years, Gertruida will feel the rush of blood to her cheeks. To think that such a sophisticated man; a world traveller, somebody who’s been to China; compares her to Sophia Loren! And that he was too shy to visit Boggel’s because he thought she wouldn’t like him?
When, later, Papa escorts Gertruida back to her house, Boggel will shake his head and announce a round on the house. Lucinda will smile – a small secret smile, the smile daughters have when their fathers are happy.
No, Rolbos will never know how well South Africa’s team did in London. It’s not that they don’t care – it’s just that they have enough to celebrate already. Like in London, the biggest goal isn’t winning – it’s Love.
The video says it all…