(Following on Frans Viljee’s Smile)
Rose Remigton eyes the little red stoep with some uncertainty. Next door’s one bungalow has an orange veranda, the other one’s green. She stays in red, doesn’t she? She shrugs – it doesn’t really matter. If she walks into the wrong dwelling, the world isn’t going to end, is it?
Ever since that woman came to see her, she keeps on thinking about Martha Viljee and the baby she had. It must be about thirty years now, maybe more, but she somehow remembers that specific birth quite clearly. She should, given the circumstances.
Being the district’s midwife wasn’t easy. She had to travel from farm to farm, always at the last minute but never late. Often, these visits resulted in a stay of a few days, even a week, before she felt it was safe enough to leave the mother to take care of the new arrival. Society had a strange way of dealing with midwives: when you were needed, you were expected to respond with urgency. However, between deliveries, one got the impression that one was an embarrassment – just like the Gerickes were.
She had known Martha Viljee before she got married, of course. Although she was a good ten years older than Martha, the district was so sparsely inhabited that age didn’t necessarily impact on your choice of friends. Being young meant you were below forty and that implied a possible friendship. Old was a relative term in those days. Maybe the clearest distinction was whether you participated in the occasional dances that took place for various reasons. The wool cheque, New Year’s Eve and birthdays supplied enough excuses for the younger group to party – while the older generation used these occasions to sip peach brandy and complain about the way the children misbehaved on the dance floor.
Yes, and she remembers the way Martha used to look at him. Kobus Gericke. The clever one – whose father used to grade the gravel road between Upington and Grootdrink. The Gerickes were not amongst the Chosen Ones when one arranged seating at a wedding or at Communion; they were expected to (and they did so themselves, really) sit at the back, away from the important guests, as if they were left-over patches to be worked into the quilt of society. So Kobus rarely made it past the barn door at a dance; he was allowed to be there, to look on; but that’s where his participation was expected to stop. A child of such a lowly standing would surely feel out of place in the arms of a beautiful young lady? No, it was for his own good that society decreed his presense-at-a-distance. To protect him, you see? It’s not that they were snobs or anything like that. Why allow the boy to dream if it could only end in tragedy?
But Mrs Remington remembers the way he looked at Martha as well, just like a cat does when one opens the fridge door; or a dog would, if you eat biltong. There was a hunger in those eyes; a desire reflected in Martha’s as well. Rose Remington knew – just like with pregnancies – that life contains certain inevitabilities; and that nature will not be denied by stature, bank balances or social pressure. Kobus and Martha may have been separated by communal decree, but the pull of attraction would always be stronger than the forces that kept them apart.
The wedding of Frans Viljee and Martha was a disaster. The drought had taken its toll and both families were about to lose their farms – and with it, their social standing. In a last-ditch effort to impress their guests, the barn on the Viljee farm was converted into a concert hall – complete with electric loudspeakers and several long-playing records. To a community only used to the wind-up, His-Master’s-Voice type of gramophone, this was supposed to be the ultimate in entertainment. Martha’s father said it was even better than having Charles Jacobie there – the speakers were so clear you could hear the rasping of the fingernails across the guitar strings.
The system needed electricity – another rather new idea in the district. That’s where Kobus Gericke came in. He and his father had to lug a generator all the way from Upington to Grootdrtink for the occasion. As the grader had to do the route anyway (albeit slowly…), it was a logical choice. And when the old grader broke down, ten miles from Grootdrink, the only way to tell anybody about the catastrophe, was for Kobus to run ahead with the news.
For the first time ever, Kobus had a legitimate reason to knock on the door of the hallowed family whose daughter was about to get married. Martha opened the door, eyes stretching wide in pleasant surprise. He told her. She cried. He comforted her. She invited him in. She found herself sobbing on his shoulder: about the wedding, about her unhappiness … and about her love for him.
Who can explain the thrust and power of such moments? Science will forever fail to clarify the energy created by a distraught maiden in the comforting arms of a lost love. Then again, one shouldn’t dwell on such issues, nor try and describe what happened next; as this is, like so many intimate moments, a very private affair. Suffice to say that Martha walked down the silent isle with considerably more inside her than just the remorse of what they had done.
Mrs Remington feels her face crack up with a rare smile. Yes, this is exactly what Martha told her, that night the baby was born. That someday, when life has smoothed the rough edges of anger and remorse and resentment, she would like to see father and son united again. That the circle would be completed. And how she prayed that she, Rose Remington, would be instrumental in helping that to happen!
Yes, she thinks, now at last the book can be closed.
There is something else she remembers. Kobus came to see her one evening. He wanted to know more about his son, and she was the only one he could trust. She told him about the quiet little boy who refused to cry.
“He’s going to be a lonely man, Kobus, but he’ll be strong. Now you, young man, must face up to reality. You can never go near Martha again. One scandal is enough. The only solution is to allow her to live her life without wondering what gossip is cruising through town. No, you must leave. Go to Cape Town, do some studying. Become somebody. And then, when the time is right, you may have another chance to fix all this. Not now…later…
“Mark my words: life is like a pregnancy – a mother can’t decide when to have a baby. Nature does. And so it will be with you. If you are patient enough, the delivery will be painless. However, if you try to force the issue, the baby and the mother may very well end up dead. That’s the way it is. Accept it.”
“But how, Aunty Rose? How?”
That’s when she started putting money in the Post Office savings account, pinching off as much as she could. Funny, now that she thinks of it, she never missed that money. And Kobus paid it all back eventually. Fancy: a midwife putting a young man through university? It must be said that he did his bit, too: his hard work was rewarded by a bursary that covered most expenses.
Yes, the circle is complete now. Kobus will look after Frans, like a father should. Frans will start anew. Just like a pregnancy. There’s no sense in rushing events in life – there is a time for everything.
The sun has moved along its course and she feels her legs warming in the afternoon’s glow. It’s been a good life, she thinks. Now she can face the last episode with peace. Rose Remington, born as Rosalie Gericke, can relax at last.
The smile on her face broadens. The Gerickes have always had a way of managing scandals. Why, she married an Englishman, for goodness’ sakes! And Kobus never married, but had a son. Lord only knows what poor Frans will get up to in the future…