“They seem happy together,” Vetfaan’s voice is full of disbelief as he stares at Frans and Pete on the veranda. “Look at them sitting over there, heads together, catching up on old times.. Man, I can’t understand it.”
“”Ja, we never had something like this in the Kalahari before. I wonder what Oudoom will say?” Kleinpiet draws a church steeple on the counter top. “It’ll be fun to hear his sermon on Sunday. All that fire and brimstone, and this time it’s not directed at us.”
“You know what? You guys are sick!” Precilla’s cheeks are flushed with anger. “At least they like each other. Even … love each other. And you two burly men are still unloved and single. I think it’s purely because you are so in love with yourselves, so selfish, that you have been afraid to venture into a proper relationship. No, if Oudoom says anything, he should be lashing out against men who are too scared to love. Now, that’s a sermon I’d like to hear.”
Vetfaan hates it when people insinuate he’s afraid on anything. Ever since the time on the border, he has worked hard on his macho image. (https://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/03/26/26th-march-cowards-day/)
“Scared? Me? You’ve got to be joking, woman. I’m not scared of anything. It’s only … well, the right woman hasn’t crossed my path…”
Gertruida does her hippo-snort: “And so there you are, sitting by the roadside like a rusted mousetrap, waiting for some poor, ignorant soul to plead you to take her home? That’s not the way it works.” Gertruida has waited a long time to lecture Kleinpiet and Vetfaan on their lives. Now the opportunity presents itself, she isn’t going to let it slip by. “You two men should be out there, hunting for love. You should wash, shave, comb your hair, buy new jeans at Sammie’s and woo somebody. When last did you pick flowers to give to somebody? Or took a girl on a picnic? Bought perfume? I can tell you: never! Real men don’t do stuff like that, do they? They sweat, drink beer and burp.
“You guys are still in caveman-mode. If some damsel doesn’t crawl all over you, you sit at your fire and try to convince yourselves that this is as good as it gets. My word! If I was a man, I’d be on my horse, cruising through the district, looking for somebody to share my quiet moments with.
“And what’s wrong with Precilla, here? Kleinpiet, you should pay more attention to her. She’s a beautiful, attractive, sexy woman – and all you guys do is to talk about the drought and your sheep! No – if you want to be a real man, you should risk the perils of love. Show you’re not afraid to be honest about feeling lonely sometimes. Brave enough to accept that you need love and understanding in your lives.
“Now – those two on the veranda are much more than you’ve ever been. At least they venture. They risk. They’re brave enough to be honest. In fact, I think you two boys should ask them to teach you a thing or two.”
Precilla’s cheeks are still flushed – but this time not by anger. She can’t decide whether she should be glad that Gertruida prodded Kleinpiet along, or if she should be embarrassed. In stark contrast, the two men developed a sudden and intense interest in their beers.
“Now, Lucinda, you know your Papa, he loves you very much. And that I’ve always been on your side, no? So I have to say this thing.” Old Marco eyes his daughter carefully. So far she’s been listening quietly – it may be safe to continue. “I see the way you look at Boggel. You have that … hunger … in your eyes again. He is a good man, Lucy.” He only calls her Lucy when he wants to soften the impact of his words. She knows it, waits for the rest.
Of course she knows where this is leading to. It’s that speech again! She sighs. What he is about to say is quite true, she knows that. No matter how she tries to explain that she isn’t an ‘easy girl’ (his phrase in these conversations), her father doesn’t understand how much she needs a man to love her. Someone to look up to, to respect … and to love with all her heart. Oh sure – there was that baron in Germany, the count in Rome, the lord in England. Always the cream of the crop – and when she starts believing that this time it’s the real thing, there’s always a disappointment. Drugs. Other women. And worst of all: as soon as she submits to them, they think they own her, like the Ferrari in the garage, the island in Maldives or some stud horse they can brag about. The Sudanese prince was charming, and so was the guy from CNN and the CEO of the oil company. And yes, she did like their attentions and every time – every time – fell madly in love. She so desperately wanted to believe the illusion created by these men of the world. But soon, in every case, it became apparent that she was only an acquisition, an asset, to parade amongst the rich and successful men who boast about such things.
How can she explain the need to belong? To have a man with her; somebody who really cares and wants to spoil and protect her? Maybe it’s her Italian blood, who knows? But there is a deep craving inside her to wake up next to a loving man and to know the day will be filled with joy. Papa thinks she is overeager, too much in a hurry to find the right man, that she should be patient. But every time someone whispers sweet words in her ear, she tumbles down the steep slope of love, hoping that this man, this time, will be the one.
Nobody owns Lucinda Verdana! Only Papa, maybe. Kind, soft Papa who set such a high standard for any suitor to woo her. He always said he can see right through them, and he was right. And now Papa is warming her not to be foolish with Boggel. Give it time, he says. Let him prove himself.
Papa also says she must remember she is a very rich woman, and that the Verdana fortune will be hers one day – and it’s true. Men may have all kinds of motives when they tell her they love her. But she, she doesn’t care about money! She wants love. No, even worse: she desperately craves being loved.
And, he tells her, she is a very beautiful woman. Men like to be seen with such attractive ladies for many reasons. He’ll quote Gibran to say: Beauty is not in the face; it is a light in the heart. “And you Lucy, must protect that light – it’s burning strongly inside you.” Always he says that, and always it signals the end of his argument, as if it is the most important thing he wanted her to hear.
“I know, Papa,” she says when he finally finishes, “I know all these things. But Boggel isn’t a prince or a sheik or a lord. He’s like you, Papa. In so many ways. Always, with the men, I was looking for you. And always I was so disappointed, because there is only one Papa.
“So yes, this time I will be more careful. I’ll make him do the work. If he’s serious about me, he won’t do what those other men did – he’ll be patient and kind and he won’t hurt me. I think he’s like you Papa, but first I will make sure. Si, that man is going to have to work hard to convince me.” She smiles wryly. “So, Papa, this time I listen to you. I’ll be careful. And maybe, just maybe, he is the one. Will that make you happy, Papa?”
Aging is a journey into honesty. When the old man nods, he suddenly finds it’s hard to talk. Instead the tear running down his cheek says yes, that’s exactly what he wanted to hear.
The sun is already on its downward course when Judge Gericke shuffles into Boggel’s Place. It’s been a long day. He has briefed the architect in Upington; started ordering building materials; found a builder that seemed to be more-or-less honest; sorted out the situation with Kalahari Vervoer and phoned his physician, telling him he won’t be coming in for the chemotherapy. Now, exhausted and hot, he flops down at the counter for a beer.
He smiles when Gertruida walks in after his first sip. Now here’s a woman with poise, dignity, intelligence and style. She reminds him a bit of Martha, way back when they could still laugh and the world seemed to have rosy edges. Oh, to be young again…
“Had a busy day, Judge?” Despite his protest, the townsfolk insist on using his title when addressing him. He’s given up trying to make them use his real name.
“This and that. Starting to get people to build Frans a proper house. Have you seen him today?”
“Yes, he and Pete came into town to order stuff from Sammie’s. A couple of beds, mattresses and blankets. They had a quick beer before returning to the farm.”
Judge Gericke twists on a lob-sided smile. “Yes, the furnishings in that house is rather Spartan, I agree. And now that Pete visits there so often, I feel I must get somewhere else to stay. Two’s company…”
“Are you okay with Pete around?” Gertruida has to know everything –it’s her way of dealing with life.
“I suppose. Was a bit of a shocker in the beginning, but when I see him so happy, I know I can’t deny him that. And it’s a question of options. Would I rather see him sad and alone, or happy in company? It’s a no-brainer. I want my son to be happy, of course.”
“I’m not in a position to judge.” He smiles at the wordplay. “No, they are both grown adults – they must work it out for themselves. That’s why I must look out for new lodgings – a conservative, decrepit and sick old man doesn’t belong there. Do you know of any accommodation in town?”
“No, Judge. The Verdana’s have taken the last empty cottage.” She hesitates, studying him. “But I have a separate room at the back. It’s more like my library, and rather cramped, but it does have a small bathroom. You’re welcome to use it while you scout around for more suitable lodgings. And…it’ll be nice to have company…”
Their eyes meet for a second – a lingering look, lasting just a little bit longer than they intended.
Three rather important conversations in one day. The first about commitment, loyalty and respect The second about the necessity of caution, even abstinence. The third about possibilities.
And they all, in their own individual and unique ways, address the same issue. They represent the oldest quest of all mankind – which so few ever figure out…