Vrede ambles through Rolbos, which is strangely quiet since Oudoom’s sermon. He stops at Gertruida’s house, cocks an ear, and thinks up a disgruntled growl. No, this isn’t right! Nobody’s talking any more. He used to love the hushed conversations people have about the other townsfolk; it was here that he found out who was planning a braai or what they were going to cook the next day. It created anticipation, you see? A dog can spend an entire day dreaming about the bone in a leg of lamb…
Then, out of the blue, he becomes aware of a strange scent. It is faint, it is distant, but it is distinctly…jackal! He forgets about the intricacies of human nature in a flash; if there is a jackal nearby, he – the ex-police dog – must rise to the challenge. It’s him or the jackal: this town is too small for both of them. Panting happily, he sniffs the air, finds the direction, and sets off at a comfortable pace. He has to conserve his energy. The chase may be long and hard…
The jackal, meanwhile, has other things on his mind. He’s watching the stray lamb at the foot of Bokkop, where the flock grazed about an hour ago. The sun is warm on this wind-still day, and the lamb sought shelter under the big thorn tree. Having fed well that morning, the lamb surrendered to the drowsiness such a day brings. Soon he drifted into a deep sleep, dreaming of a lush, green pasture with a silent river meandering through the veld.
The jackal can’t believe his luck. The lamb will not be able to put up a fight: it’s far too small for that. And to have a sleeping victim awaiting his attentions is a huge bonus. Still, being a jackal means that he has the natural cunning to be careful. Slinking down to a crouch, he glances around to see whether it is safe to proceed.
Vrede follows the scent as it wafts through the warm air. The absence of a breeze makes it a bit more difficult to determine exactly where the jackal is hiding, but his training has sharpened his instincts to such a degree that he is able to gauge the direction reasonably accurately. He wishes sheep had a greater sense of personal hygiene. Dogs are very aware of body odour and cleanliness. They love running in the rain, swimming in the river (if there is one) and licking their various bits of anatomy to ensure everything is spotless. Sheep, on the other hand, don’t do licking of swimming. They stand in the sun all day; sweating into the already-greasy wool; not caring what other animals think about their BO. While that may be the way they like it, it sure does contaminate the air with their aroma – making it even more difficult to track down the jackal.
The scent of the jackal is getting stronger now. Vrede knows there is only one tree on Bokkop, and he wonders whether the jackal might have gone there to rest in the shade. With the smell getting stronger by the minute, he jogs towards the tree.
Vrede will tell you (if he could) that even well-trained police dogs lose the plot sometimes. Like good politicians and commissioners of police, the lure of an easy victory or ample rewards tends to cloud their sense of duty and judgement. Vrede is so intent on reaching the inviting shade of the tree that he almost stumbles over the jackal, who was also concentrating on the shady spot – albeit for a different reason.
If Precilla had a camera nearby, she would have made the front page of National Geographic. Vrede freezes the moment he realises his left front paw is resting on the jackal’s bushy tail. The jackal, completely surprised by the sudden appearance of the big dog with a foot on his tail, discovers that his legs won’t work in this moment of panic and lets out a high-pitched yelp. And the lamb, roused from his happy slumber, sits up, dog-like, with confused and sleepy eyes, trying to make sense of his circumstances.
There are people who say animals don’t really follow logical processes when – even if – they think. That’s why sheep don’t build cathedrals and still haven’t invented the wheel, they say. They say jackals are cunning, but that they rely on instinct and not logical thought. And they say dogs are conditioned, not taught.
These people should visit Rolbos the next time a lamb falls asleep under the big thorn tree at the foot of Bokkop.
Vrede looks down at the jackal. Not wanting a full-blown fight, he lifts his lip a little to show his teeth while emitting a warning-growl. The jackal lets his head hang, pulls his tail from under Vrede’s foot, and crawls away on his belly. Meanwhile, the sheep runs baa-baa-ing off in the distance, suddenly aware that his milk-supply seems to have disappeared.
Finding the flock is easy. Vrede simply tries to avoid breathing as he nears the group of sheep in the veld. By this time the lamb kicks up such a racket that even his mother has to interrupt her grazing to see where the noise is coming from.
Back n Boggel’s Place, Vetfaan announces that he is through with this looking and starting business.
“No man. This can’t go on. If we have to be kind to one another, we’ll have nothing to say. We’re disrupting the natural order of things, guys. A few days ago we were sitting around this same counter, talking our heads off. Now, after Oudoom’s sermon, we slink around all the time, thinking guilty thoughts. I cannot say this or that, it’s unkind. I’ll hurt somebody if I gave my opinion. So-and-so will be offended if I told him what I think. We have to stop this.”
Vrede jogs in to plop down of Boggel’s cushion beneath the counter.
“Now look at that dog. He is the most lovable creature you’ve ever seen – and he doesn’t have to make difficult decisions like us. He can follow his natural instincts and be as rude as he wants to. Why, only the other day I was sitting at my kitchen table and he sat there, licking his…”
“Now, don’t you go there, Vetfaan. Vrede is a dog, a pet. He doesn’t know about chivalry or the rules of kindness. He does what dogs do, without even considering you might find his actions offensive.” Precilla bites her lip. “I…I don’t mean to be unkind, but you cannot expect us to live like dogs. We have morals, they don’t.”
Vrede lets out a huge sigh as he lowers his head onto his paws. He wonders if humans will ever get to the point where they understand Life. Sure, they’re very clever. They have vehicles and radios and they can make water run from a piece of iron above the sink. But, unlike dogs, they need a whole set of rules to live amongst their own kind. It would have been so much easier, Vrede thinks, if humans could sniff at each other, decide whether to be pals or not, and get on with life. They talk about their fancy gadgets and wheels and tinned dog food – and then they call it civilisation. Vrede, like all good dogs, knows civilisation is a word used to describe the unsavoury condition the world is in. It’s a set of do’s and don’ts that allow people to interact with one another without killing everything in sight.
Boggels feet appear next to his head, followed by a hand holding a piece of biltong. His tail goes thump-thump on the floor as he takes the meat between his front teeth. Ah, that’s more like it! One day people will let jackals escape and lambs return to their mothers. They have made a little progress already, Vrede realises, and that’s why he gets the odd bone ad bit of biltong. But oh, they have such a long way to go! They’ll have to stop making rules they don’t follow. Or maybe scrap the rules and start living.
The drone of conversation in the bar is slowly picking up. Vrede gives a contented groan as he stretches his legs to make the cushion comfortable for an afternoon nap. He can hear Gertruida arguing with Kleinpiet over the merits of kindness. Precilla’s voice picks up volume as she tells Judge he shouldn’t interfere with sermons, while Boggel tells Vetfaan he really has to go slow with the Cactus.
Way out in the veld, the jackal stalks a rabbit.
Some things will never change.