It’s not uncommon for people to get lost on their way through life. It happens. Look at Boggel – a man of immeasurable abilities: he ended up being a barman. Or Precilla; who lost everything and had to start over in Rolbos. Or Oudoom, who married the wrong girl for all the right reasons. In fact, most people take the wrong turn somewhere and end up in some crazy situation that begs explanation.
Most people visiting Boggel’s Place for the first time will think the Verdanas are exceptions to this rule. Lucinda, with her breathtaking beauty and ready laugh; and old Marco, the successful businessman; they both exude an aura of triumph over adversity. Like the rest of the townsfolk, they choose to live in Rolbos – but in contrast to them, they’ve come here to rest, not escape. At least, if you asked around town, that’s the answer you’ll get.
Sammie summed it up the other day. Look, he said, the lot of us sought refuge here because we don’t want to face society with our broken lives. Those Italians, however, came here because the world is crazy and they can’t face that any more. Sammie can be quite a philosopher if he wants to. Gertruida says it’s because he spends a lot of time thinking and very little time drinking. Vetfaan says it works the other way around.
Still, when Lucinda walks into Boggel’s Place, nobody cares about the psychology behind their staying in Rolbos. The only thing that counts, is the way she walks; a swaying, easy gait. And there are the dresses she wears: short and flaring, a flash of tanned leg and those ankles that draw the men’s eyes like magnets. Add the red lips, the sparkling eyes and the alluring smile – and you forget about all the theories of life to sit back and enjoy the spectacle.
She’s also the reason why Boggel is such a hero these days. Whenever she walks around the counter to plant a delicate kiss on his forehead, the rest of the men sigh, sip their beers and sulk. Today she is particularly lovely: she let her hair loose and wears a little pendant around her delicate neck. When Kleinpiet stared, Precilla slapped him and he swore he only tried to see the locket. She might have believed him, had Vetfaan not laughed at that moment.
Lucinda promised herself never to talk about the ornament. It hurts too much. But, as much as she hates the damn thing, she feels compelled to wear it, anyway. Oh, it does represent good times, wine and lots of laughter; and maybe that makes it easier to fasten the little clasp behind her neck. It also contains the photograph of the man who never had the opportunity to tell her what he wanted to.
Being a student in Rome is arguably the nearest thing to complete freedom she ever had. Away from Marco and surrounded by throngs of friends (mostly male), Lucinda ruled the social roost with her presence and her beauty. Everybody wanted to be her friend. There were parties and dances, evenings in the theatre and in the music halls. She became a familiar face in the many street cafes and bistros where doe-eyed suitors vied for her attention. She played them all like a finely-tuned instrument, filling her life with the melodies of love and laughter.
Then Andrew arrived. Andrew Scott, the American student, the son of an oil tycoon in Texas.
Most people will tell you there is a very thin line between being good friends and being in love. Or maybe there is little to distinguish falling in love from being in love. However these things are defined, Lucinda fell for Andrew in a big way. One cannot blame a young girl for doing so, can one? Andrew, for instance, didn’t arrive in Rome by aeroplane, like the rest of them. He parked his yacht in the harbour of Civitavecchia, and used his Lamborghini to drive to Rome. At the end of the academic year, he’d collect a bevy of beauties, get the crew ready, and sail back to Houston, where the private jet waited to take them to the ranch for Christmas.
Marco objected, of course. It didn’t help.
Somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic, the party was in full swing and Andrew’s guests were gorging themselves of the caviar and champagne. Lucinda stepped up to the deck to get away from the din, to stare at the millions of stars above. She remembers thinking that the passengers on board of the Titanic must have looked at the same stars before tragedy struck.
She becomes aware somebody behind her as the boat cruises silently through the smooth sea. Over the last few days she has become disenchanted with the continuous partying and excesses on board. At home, Marco would be in front of the fire, drinking Chianti and reading a classic. How she regrets coming on this cruise! What seemed to be an adventure of a lifetime has turned out to be nothing more than a drunken nightmare.
“Don’t turn around,” he whispered as he placed the trinket around her neck. “This is to say I’m sorry.”
“For what?” Surely he has done this every year for the past few years – this is what he likes, isn’t it? Girls – scantily dressed (or not at all), flanking him from morning to night, while waiters in pristine white saw to their every whim?
“I shouldn’t have done this.” He places his hands on her shoulders, turning her around gently. “You don’t belong with them” He sweeps an arm towards the cabin below them, where the music blared and the voices reach a new peak. “I don’t belong there, either. Not any more…”
When she shakes her head, he tries to explain. “I thought it would be fun, like last year, and the year before. One long, trans-Atlantic party. Girls. Music. Champagne.” He shrugs and remains silent for a while. “My mother said it was all right, rich young men must experience life before settling down. Father agreed, because he always does what my mother tells him to. Anyway, I came to Rome to be as far away from home as possible. I wanted to live – not as the son of an oil baron, but as myself. But I found out you can’t escape wealth unless you give it all away. You see, those girls down there;” pointing at the cabin once more, “they don’t care about love or friendship or even being a passable companion. They see a lifetime of luxury and will sell their souls to the devil to manage that. If they say I love you, you can’t believe them.
“But you? You are different. That’s why I have to apologise. It’s the least I can do.”
At that moment, one of the blondes comes storming out, champagne in hand and giggling drunkenly.
“Andrew, you naughty boy! You left me all alone with all those silly girls down there!” She stops to stare myopically at Lucinda. “What! You’re flirting with this Italian hussy? Are you crazy? Come down to the party immediately!”
Alcohol will do that. You can change from playful banter to rage in an instant – and that’s what happened to the girl.
“It’s okay, Lucinda,” Andrew whispers. “I’ll handle her. Wait for me, there’s something I have to tell you.”
Taking the girl by the elbow, he tries to steer her back inside, but she manages to turn in his grip to shout at Lucinda. You keep away from him, you sgualdrinetta! She has to try three times before she manages to get the word right. If I catch you near him again, I’ll rip your eyes out! Yanking free from the hand on her elbow, she storms Lucinda in the rage only irrational people are capable of. Andrew makes a desperate attempt to grab her, misses, comes crashing down on the deck. As the girl reaches out to grab her, Lucinda steps aside, allowing the girl to crash against the railing.
Time can be deceptive. Although every second is measured in exact terms, some seconds seem shorter – or longer – than the rest. In the second it takes for the girl to stare wide-eyed at Lucida before finally toppling over the balustrade, three people experience time as they’ve never done before. When at last she disappears from view, there is another long second before Andrew acts.
Shouting at the crew, he strips off his shirt to dive into the ocean. Lucinda is hysterical, screaming that they must stop, stop now, for there are people overboard. The captain, truth be told, is quick and efficient. Having marked the spot by GPS, he turns the boat to look for the two unfortunate people.
They find and rescue the girl almost immediately.
A passing passenger ship finds the body of Andrew Scott a week later.
Lucinda kisses Boggel gently as the patrons sigh, sip their beers and sulk. Boggel is surely a lucky man! Imagine that – in a place like Rolbos!
“Boggle,” she still struggles with the guttural double ‘g’, “you’ll tell me, won’t you?”
And Boggel, who has never been on a cruise on the Atlantic, nods dumbly. But sometimes – rarely – it is better to not ask the obvious question.
“And Boggle,” she hesitates, “I promise to do the same.”
An involuntary hand goes up to the pendant, to run a finger over the smooth surface. Last night she took out the little photograph of Andrew Scott. It was time, you see? Time to set the sails on a new route, to make a choice. It’s bad enough to get lost in life – it’s worse to lose your way in the past. After all, if nothing changes, everything stays the same; and she is willing to take the risk. Maybe it is a road less travelled by, but that’s what makes the difference.
Boggel makes a choice too. Oblivious of the stares, he cups her face in his hands as he mouths the three words she so desperately wants to hear.
“Come,” she says, “I must tell you about the man that saved my life. It is time..”
And the patrons sigh, sip their beers – and cheer.