There are two types of laughter. The one is when you think something is funny. Today, however, there is a sense of gloom in Rolbos. Nobody’s laughing.
“If that shop comes to Rolbos, Sammie is finished. Those guys buy huge amounts of stuff at knock-down prices; then they sell cheap. Sammie has to drive to Upington for every toilet roll, and then he has to buy at the supermarket there. Of course things are more expensive in Rolbos – but it saves us the time and expense of going to Upington ourselves. Those big guys will throttle Sammie. He’ll have to leave.”
Vetfaan drums an impatient set of fingers on the counter. This won’t do. What Kleinpiet just told him, is most upsetting.
“But why would they come here? There are only a few of us, and it’ll take years to show profit on the initial outlay.”
“No man, it’s a war between the two big chains. Each of them wants to claim that they are the best represented brand in South Africa. Now they have stores in Calvinia and Prieska – even Springbok – and apparently they are neck on neck. So this man walks in here this morning, asking if the other guys have been here. When I tell him no, his face lights up and he tells me the whole story. One more store, he said, and they’d go public. Huge publicity stunt. He says it’s not unusual for them to spend thousands of Rands on an advert – so they’re not too worried. If they beat the opposition, they’ll get their money back, anyway.”
“But in the process, Sammie has to close his doors? That’s not fair.” Vetfaan can’t imagine Rolbos without Sammie. He can source a clutch for a tractor as easily as he can find a champion ram for sale. “I mean, it’s not just the condensed milk and the potatoes I’m worried about. Last year he even found you a windscreen for that old Ford. We have to do something.”
“Well, that man said he’d be back next week for a site inspection. Said they could either build a new place or take over Sammie’s place; but they’re in a hurry. They want to settle the score with their rivals before the end of the month. Something to do with Christmas and a national advertising campaign.”
In the days before the inspection, the townsfolk hold several meetings. All of them start in a somber atmosphere; but as the Cactus starts working it’s magic, the suggestions get more and more absurd. Servaas offered to lay siege on Upington with his rifle. Vetfaan wanted to dig trenches across the road to Grootdrink. The judge suggested an interdict. On the evening before the arrival of the delegation, Rolbos is still in a quandary. What to do? What to do…
The dapper little man gets out of the new 4×4, followed by a rather tall individual in a suit.
“That is him.” Kleinpiet says. “And that tall bloke must be his boss.”
They watch as the two men walk up and down Voortrekker Weg (it doesn’t take long), before they stop in front of Boggel’s Place. They are in deep discussion for a while, before nodding and walking towards Boggel’s Place.
“Well, I don’t care what you guys tell them; but we have to scare them off.” Boggel has to whisper because the men are obviously in a hurry to address them.
“Gentlemen – and ladies – I have an important announcement to make. What I have to say, unfortunately isn’t pleasant and I would appreciate you remaining silent while I talk. Afterwards, I shall give the opportunity for a question or two.” The dapper little man doesn’t bother to introduce himself: he simply stands in the doorway with his companion.
“Did the vet say anything about Vrede’s rabies?” Kleinpiet ignores the two newcomers. “He’s been salivating again a lot lately. And that child he bit, doesn’t look so good anymore, either.”
“Ag, you know how it is with rabies here, Kleinpiet. It’s all over the show. Even my prize ram attacked me this morning.”
“It’s the water,” Boggel quips, “I told you long ago it isn’t safe here. The water seeps through that old sewage system the mine built when they were still here. That’s even before they found out about the radiation, of course. I heard it drives the jackals crazy, that’s why they attack the dogs. And once you have rabies in irradiated animals, you can’t get rid of it.”
“No, it’s not that.” Servaas isn’t used to lying, but the truth won’t help them here. “That dog has been eating too much meat. The sheep around here carry those worms that gives you water bubbles in the brain.[i] I would have remembered the name, but I’ve had some of that meat, as well.”
The two men in the doorway exchange nervous glances.
“Yes, and next year the state vet is due for the annual inspection. They’ll most probably tell us to move from here, like they do every year. But, if we’re lucky, we can handle him like the last one they sent.” Gertruida get’s a far-away look in her eyes and sighs. “And it was such a beautiful funeral. Old Koos Kadawer even managed to cover those bullet wounds. They never suspected anything, did they?”
“My headaches are getting worse these days.” One would never guess Precilla isn’t talking the truth – she’s got a deep and pained frown between the eyes. “Oudok says it’s the mercury in our vegetables. The miners used to dump their old batteries in the dam, and now the whole area is contaminated. He says that’s why I can’t lose weight, either – mercury is heavy, you know?”
“Ahem!!” The taller of the two men clears his throat. “My colleague here has an announcement. Would you please all shut up and listen? This is important.”
“What did he say?” Servaas cups a hand behind his ear. “The antibiotics I use for my diarrhoea has made me deaf.”
“SHUT UP!!” Both men shout together.
Knowing they can’t postpone the announcement forever, the townsfolk sit down and stare at the men. The shorter guy takes a deep breath.
“We came here today to inspect the town. We planned to open a shop here. Unfortunately, I have to tell you we won’t be doing that any more. We realise this is a big disappointment for everybody, and want to apologise. You must, however, understand that Grootdrink is a much more suitable place. It’s on the tarred road, has a bigger customer base and is much nearer to our distribution depot. Now, are there any questions?”
They drive back in silence, and it is only when they near Grootdrink that they feel safe enough to start talking.
“You didn’t drink any water there, did you?”
The dapper little man shakes his head.
“I’d hate to see you like that.” The taller man smiles wryly.
They both laugh at that. A nervous type of laugh. The type of laugh you laugh when you’re not sure what you’re laughing at. Later, separately and without telling each other they did so, they’ll burn their clothes.
The other type of laugh, however, will take a long time to disappear from Boggels place. That’s the funny laugh of people laughing at themselves.
[i] He meant Cysticercosis.