Ever since the fight between Pete and Vetfaan (nobody dares mention it, but everybody treats Pete with a new respect), Boggel’s Place is abuzz with the newest bit of news – Judge isn’t dying any more. Oudok contacted the previous doctor, got the reports and then sent them off to a professor at the university.
“It’s a leukomoid reaction, Judge. It looks like leakaemia, but it isn’t. During your initial consultation, you said you lost your spleen after an accident many years ago. Well, that got me thinking. Sometimes asplenia – the absence of the spleen – is associated with an immune deficiency and infections like Pneumococcus, and that can be subclinical at times. Of course, the disease is usually much more severe, with fever and coughing; but in your case you simply became ill. Loss of weight. Short of breath. Anaemia. High white-cell count. It is entirely possible to confuse the picture with leukemia.
“But the professor looked at the specimens, inspected the blood smears carefully, and suggested we start you off on a strong antibiotic. Then we’ll follow up and see.”
The town watched as the judge regained colour in his cheeks, and his brisk walks in the morning later even left Gertruida breathless. His appetite caused Gertruida to visit Sammie’s Shop daily and Vetfaan has to bring in fresh milk every day.
“That old man is going to live to a hundred, mark my words.” Precilla watches as Judge minces his way across the street. “Unless he insists on wearing those pants. They have grown way too small for him – he’s literally bursting at the seams. Gertruida will have to order new clothes for him.”
“Yes, the two of them have become quite inseparable, haven’t they? I wonder if they…” Kleinpiet smiles. “At his age it would be quite a feat.”
“Now, now! Age has got very little to do with it. Drag a young filly past and old goat, and you’ll feel the earth move.” Vetfaan has never been big on metaphors, but he still manages to get his message across. “Anyway, he is improving so fast, there’s no telling where he’ll end up. He may even take on Pete one of these days.”
“Come on, Vetfaan? You’re surely not sore at the hiding you got?”
“That was no hiding. I broke nothing and didn’t even have a bruise afterwards. Man, that was just two grown boys playing around a little. Anyway, Pete’s a great guy. He helped me fix my tractor yesterday.”
While they talk (gossip, actually) about Judge’s medical status, other questions lurk beneath the surface. Will he pop the question? Is he brave enough? What’ll Gertruida’s reaction be? Nobody has the guts to ask them though. They want Gertruida to be happy, but they also know her as a strong-willed individual who likes her privacy. If she was to share her life with somebody, it would mean that she’d have to give up the time she spends reading and thinking and writing and whatever else she does when she’s at home. Will she surrender her lifestyle for a companion?
Oudoom scans the congregation as he opens the Bible. He’s quite pleased with the attendance: ever since the newcomers have come to town, the collection has taken on respectable proportions. They’re all here today: Lucinda and old Marco sitting with Boggel, Judge and Gertruida huddled together and Frans and Pete right at the back. Servaas, he sees, is dressed in his black suit – that may be a warning of things to come. When he dresses up like that, he usually aims at airing something important during the service.
His sermon today is about tolerance. With the influx of strangers, he has picked up on a degree of tension in town. Mevrou says Pete and Vetfaan fought in the bar the other day, and Sammie told him old Marco isn’t his cheery old self these days.
“Did you know the word tolerance doesn’t appear in the Bible? Not once in the English translations I looked up. It’s as if the original texts were too careful to use such an important word. They must have been scared about what we’d do with it. But read in Romans 14: Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. The Book doesn’t want us to struggle with what we mean by tolerance. Definitions cause people to fragment the original idea. We can be very clever when it come to definitions – we make them up to suit our own goals. Look at what the church did with so many wars through the ages – we actually used the Bible to justify our means.
“That’s why Paul wrote to the Romans, to tell them to stop judging each other. The one isn’t better than the other. No single church today – and there are many – has the right to judge another church. The people who are running amok in the world, using religion as an excuse for anarchy, are making up definitions to justify their deeds.
“This is not what Paul wants. He’s telling them to be tolerant. To be loving. To be kind. And he tells us to help each other over the obstacles in life, so that nobody has to stomach the shame of rejection.”
Servaas swallows hard. He has prepared himself to ask Oudoom what the Catholics are doing in his church. And what about the two men at the back, sitting there with holy faces? Do they know what Leviticus says about them? And the learned judge, sharing a house with Gertruida – surely nobody can condone that? No, he has to speak and call them all to order. Religion isn’t some game you play – you abide by the rules and that’s it. And if the congregation doesn’t like it, so be it. At least he, Servaas, head elder , would have done his duty.
“Now remember what Jesus said? Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone? He is telling us that we all have faults. Nobody’s perfect. Why, you know the story of me and my wife – you all had a good gossip about that, didn’t you? And then there was that Sunday where you all came forward to tell the congregation about the … little missteps …you had in the past. We called it the Miracle of Rolbos, remember?
“So. We aren’t here to condemn one another. Neither can we play ostrich and ignore the problems that surround us. But we can stop judging. We can stop being intolerant. We can listen to Paul’s advice.”
Oudoom sits down as the congregation drag their voices through a hymn. He’ll have to get them to sing with more enthusiasm, somehow. When the notes die down, Servaas is on his feet, demanding attention.
“I have to say something. It’s about those two men at the back…”
Vetfaan is up in a flash. With uncanny speed he makes his way to the pulpit, to stand in front of Servaas.
“I want to add to what the honourable Elder has to say. That young man,” he points at Pete, “knows more about tractor engines than anybody I know. And he’s fights fair. What is more, is that he’s brought new life to our brother, Frans. We all knew him in his sad days. Now, with Judge here, and with a new friend, he has developed into a friendly, happy individual. In fact, I understand the he gave two slaughtered sheep for next week’s bazaar. We all know that is even more generous than Servaas, who always gives half-a-sheep.
“My friends, Rolbos is in a time of change. We have new brothers and sisters joining us every Sunday. That is a good thing.
“You know? I read in the Upington Post about some religion that declared war against others – and that they even killed an ambassador. They are using violent protest and murder to convince other people they are holy. Now that, I think, is stupid. That’s intolerant.” He turns to Oudoom. “So, dominee, I think we should ask the congregation to make their views public. If anybody has any problem to anybody inside this church, let him or her stand up now and talk about it – or forever hold their peace.
“In the meantime, let me remind you that we are living in a time of Miracles. Judge, here, has had some good news about his tests. But need I remind you that here, in this very congregation, we’ve had a miracle cure. We all remember how Servaas suffered before the Lord took away his disease, don’t we?[i] We are all here by grace, and not because we are so terribly holy, Bothers and Sisters.”
Servaas sits down with a thump. Now that is one story he’d rather forget! Please, please, that truth must stay hidden.
“He’s leukemoid,” Gertruida whispers. “He wants to be aggressive, but he’s just been unmasked as harmless…”
Nobody gets up.
Then Judge asks if he could sing something. For the congregation, but especially for Gertruida. Oudoom nods his thankful assent – anything is better than the congregation’s long drawn-out efforts. To everybody’s surprise, the judge has a raspy, but melodious voice.
When his voice fades towards the end, Rolbos yields to a comfortable silence. They have to. They don’t want to lose the magic of the moment while they all pretend not to see the tears running down Gertruida’s cheeks. Paul would have been proud…