It is National Braai Day, one of the few official holidays celebrated in Rolbos. Woman’s Day does get recognised, but there are no youths or workers to be honoured with a single day. We’re all workers, anyway, Servaas said once, and we celebrate that every day in Boggel’s. It’s typical of the government to try to restrict us to one day a year. Well. Well show them! Easter and Christmas, on the other hand, aren’t viewed as real holidays – more like Sundays. And in Rolbos, the only difference between Saturday and Sunday is that Oudoom has to work on the latter.
Maybe the one who’s most excited about the day, is Vrede. He knows he’s going to get the leftovers and the bones. Being the diligent dog he is, he has already dug a number of holes to bury the excesses he won’t be able to handle today.
“That dog is as excited as a kid at Christmas time,” Lucinda tells Boggel. “Look at him! I’ve never seen him so happy.”
“It doesn’t take much, does it? The stuff we’re not going to eat is going to make his day. Wouldn’t it be nice if people were like that?” When he sees her quizzical glance, he explains. “Look, we always want the choice bits. Now, it doesn’t matter if it’s a meal or a friendship – we sort of expect to be served like kings all the time. Have you ever walked into a restaurant – and walked out because the floor is dirty or the food was bad? Or complained in a hotel that the room hasn’t been made up? We do the same with friendships: we always expect the best. If a friend makes a mistake or forgets a birthday, he gets crossed off the Christmas list.
“Vrede isn’t like that. He’s satisfied with whatever comes his way. He’ll look at you with those big, brown, pleading eyes, as if he wants you to deliver the most exquisite meal. And when you hand him the bit of sinew from your biltong, his gratitude knows no limits. That’s what I mean. People should be like that.”
When Kleinpiet walks into Boggel’s Place, a very surprised silence follows. He’s dressed in new jeans, a floral shirt, his church shoes and the pair of white socks peeps from below his pants leg. His hair is combed back, making him look like Jack Nicholson. Old Spice follows him in an invisible cloud.
Precilla lets out a strangled sigh. Sure, they had a lovely time at the Oasis Casino, and yes, she did tell him she enjoyed it tremendously. But … ever since they came back, Kleinpiet has changed completely. It’s as if he is constantly trying to overwhelm her with his knowledge, his generosity and his humour. Last night he told her about the two blondes on opposite sides of the river. The one shouted How do I get to the other side, to which the other gril replied You are on the other side. While the joke is passably funny, Kleinpiet repeated it so often that it started to irritate her. The downside of that was that Kleinpiet redoubled his efforts to entertain her with progressively less funny stories. When she said goodnight in a rather abrupt manner, Kleinpiet looked crestfallen; but she didn’t care. She wants the old, rough Kleinpiet back – not this silly little schoolboy who tries to jump through all kinds of hoops to impress her.
Boggel pushes over a beer. “Trying to impress somebody?” Of course he knows the answer.
Kleinpiet has taken to trying to memorise The Upington Post – rather unsuccessfully, one must add – and now positions himself at the counter. Now he tells them about Syria: “I read in the paper they have a lot of problems there. The miners are on strike and the police have moved in. The paper says that’s why Italy’s money is in trouble. Oh, and they had a review of that woman in England who wrote a book about Harry Potgieter. She’s richer than that singer who died. Queen, I think.” He puffs out his chest. It took a long time to memorise all those facts. “Oh, and they’re going to get a new President in America. Mick Roomys. They say he’s got more wives than old Jacob over here…”
Vrede curls up on Boggel’s cushion, moving his fluffy tail over his face. He can’t stand the way Kleinpiet is making a fool out of himself. All he wants are the leftovers from the braai Servaas is busy with outside.
Kleinpiet swaggers over to where Precilla is sitting. “I’ve taken a new interest in life since you happened,” he informs her. “You make me think about things. Before, I only worried about the farm.” He takes a swig of beer, burping enthusiastically afterwards.
“It’s off,” she says softly. “I can’t do this.”
Kleinpiet blanches. “What…”
She wipes away an unwanted tear and seems to gather her thoughts while she folds her hands on her lap. “I used to like you, Kleinpiet.” The words become a torrent as she talks about the way things used to be. “Now look at you? You’re somebody I don’t know any more. What are you trying to do, anyway? Impress me with the fact that you have white socks? That you know such a lot? That you tell silly jokes? No, Kleinpiet, I’m not impressed. I think I must leave now.”
“But … but we haven’t eaten yet.” The smell of Servaas’ braai outside is the only thing that makes sense to him right now. He’s tried so hard! Precilla is a most desirable woman, and they’ve tried to establish a relationship in the past – and only remained acquaintances. Obviously he had to do something more. Something different. And now this…?
“Give mine to Vrede. At least he’ll be able to enjoy it. I won’t.”
After Precilla stormed out, a gloomy and subdued atmosphere settles in Boggel’s Place.
“National Braai Day! More like National Catastrophic Day, if you ask me.” Gertruida echoes the feelings of the little crowd. “Well, so much for celebrations, I suppose. Judge and I are going to finish our lunch and then go for a walk.”
It looks as if Kleinpiet has shrunk in the last few minutes. He remained seated after Precilla left, silent in his remorse and embarrassed at the hushed tones of conversation around him. Old Marco takes pity on him and shuffles over with a plate of braaivleis.
“I can’t eat now, thanks. Give it to Vrede.” His words are hardly audible. “I’ve been a fool…”
When Marco offers the meat to Vrede, the dog sniffs at it and takes it gently between his front teeth. Then he jogs out to the street.
Precilla looks up as Vrede pads into her room to deposit the chop at her feet.
Pavlov says dogs don’t think much. That they learn certain actions, and that they then expect certain rewards. Maybe that great scientist didn’t travel enough. He should have visited Rolbos before he started ringing bells and feeding animals.
Vrede, at Precilla’s feet, pushes the meat towards her with his nose, before staring at her with his doggy eyes. And n that brief moment, something flashed between the two of them. She saw him pleading, begging her to take the meat. It’s a peace offering, his eyes tell her. You are feeling miserable. Your friend is feeling miserable. Even the town, Precilla, is feeling miserable. There’s only one person in the whole world that can fix this.
Kleinpiet doesn’t dress fancy anymore. Pete was overjoyed when Kleinpiet presented him with an almost-full bottle of Old Spice.
Vrede watches the little mounds of earth on his hidden treasures very carefully. He must remember where he buried every scarp, every bone. The time will come when he wants to dig up a titbit – that’s why he’ll do the rounds every so often to check whether his caches are still okay.
Precilla does the same. There’s a well-hidden treasure waiting for her deep inside Kleinpiet. She’s not going to allow him to spoil it again.