“I don’t want a traditional wedding.” Precilla drops the bombshell after the third Cactus. “I know Oudoom will be upset, but the ceremony puts me off. I mean – why have a ceremony at all? And it’s not as if signing a register puts a seal on anything.”
Kleinpiet gapes at her. She can be quite strange if she wants to.
“Look, if one wants to be analytical: more than two-thirds of people who solemnly promise to be partners till death, eventually end up with a lawyer writing a letter to the spouse. That’s incredibly sad. So, my point is – getting married in church doesn’t guarantee a happy marriage. That’s why people all over the world draw up fancy contracts before they get married – in case it doesn’t work out. Now who, in their right minds, stands in front of a pulpit to swear about undying love – while there is a prenup in the drawer at home, in case somebody is lying? It doesn’t make sense.”
Kleinpiet takes a huge gulp of Cactus before saying anything. He’s already phoned Skelmsarel Swanepoel about a prenuptial agreement, and was waiting for the opportunity to arise to discuss it with Precilla. After all, his farm is worth a considerable amount of money – and she doesn’t have much to her name.
“Soo…what did you have in mind, Sweetie?”
“I thought we’d exchange vows in the desert – out there on your farm. Just the two of us. We can say what we feel in our hearts, promise whatever we feel is right, and declare ourselves to be married.”
“That’s not quite legal,” Gertruida says. “There’s got to be an officiating minister or magistrate – and witnesses. And it’s got to be recorded in Pretoria. Simply telling everybody you’re married doesn’t count. Even the President has to go though an elaborate ceremony every time he takes fancy to a new maiden. It’s the law.”
“That’s the point, Gertruida. People have made marriages cheap – worthless. And why? Because we’ve bogged weddings down in red tape. The more legislation you need to enforce something, the bigger the chance of failure. Every law leaves loopholes; and every loophole will find somebody and supply them with an excuse. No – I suppose its okay to legislate what marriage means, but you can’t legislate happiness. That’s something only you can decide: to be happy – or not. And if you really, really love somebody, you’ll aim for happiness.”
“This is so romantic, isn’t it, Boggle?” Lucinda pats Boggel’s hump. “To think you love somebody so much that you don’t need a ceremony to put on a show. In fact – you don’t need a show. You only need two people who love each other dearly.”
“Somebody will have to tell Oudoom. He’s been brushing up on the wedding ceremony – it’s been years since he married anybody. He can recite the funeral-thing without even glancing at the book; but he says he forgotten the marriage-story.” Vetfaan smiles wryly. “I often wonder how much value one can attach to a recited set of words. I mean – even at funerals – Oudoom just says the words. Bla-bla-fishpaste and let’s remember the dearly loved departed. It’s just a silly set of words to tell everybody the Church recognises somebody isn’t going to tithe any more. For what? You’re right, Lucinda. It’s all a show.”
“Well, God knows if you love somebody. Or if you’re dead. I’m sure He doesn’t need a recitation to convince Him you’re married or stopped breathing. But … we need those ceremonies to make things official. You’re married. You’re dead. That sort of thing.” Judge signals for another beer. “Society needs these ceremonies to mark important events. In fact, without them, we’d be an extremely disorganised bunch of people. So, as far as I’m concerned, such ceremonies are more for the benefit of what we call civilised living, than anything else. We need State and Church to partner in these events, otherwise we’d have chaos.”
Precilla isn’t convinced. “Then what about people who have no state or church? There are millions living in deserts, forests, ice-bound countries and far-off places who live isolated lives. Life goes on without all the stuff we insist on. Babies get born and old people get buried and couples come together – without a priest or a magistrate in sight. You’re saying somebody can’t be dead if you don’t have papers to prove it. I’m saying it doesn’t matter what the documents say.”
On that Saturday, at dawn, Kleinpiet and Precilla walk to the crest of the low hill behind his cottage. He’s dressed in his everyday-clothes – the way she’ll see him every day as he works on the farm, or visits Boggel’s Place. She’s wearing her customary jeans and blouse, but she did compromise with some flowers in her hair.
They keep it simple. Kneeling in the soft sand – still cool from the night’s chill – each asks the same question. Do you promise? Three words, in an open-ended question. And, when both answered Yes, they kiss and watch the sun rise over the veld.
Kleinpiet is amazed at the emotion that wells up inside him. Sure, a church service with all the friends would have been great; and yes, it would have been wonderful to hear a blessing from Oudoom … but this – this – is so much more, so very sacred, so special. Closing his eyes, he feels a unity he’s never experienced before – Precilla, the veld, peace – it all seems to seep into his being to become one within his mind.
She doesn’t want the moment to end. She wants Kleinpiet at her side; just like this; forever. This is exactly what she wanted: a silent vow to spend the rest of her life in harmony with the man she loves.
The sound of a straining motor disturbs their reverie. Then, like a creature rising from the deep, the lorry from Kalahari Vervoer appears from below the hill, grinding and gnashing over the uneven surface towards them.
“What the….” But before Kleinpiet can figure it out, the lorry stops and Lucinda hops out. She rushes to the back, where she opens the huge doors.
They’re all there. Oudoom and Servaas and Gertruida and old Marco and Vetfaan and Sammie and Judge and even Vrede. Beaming broadly, Desmond Kruiper and his family follows – bringing little Nelson with them.
And there, in the early morning sun and surrounded by happy faces, Precilla and Kleinpiet fill in the register Oudoom has brought along. The townsfolk carry wood and coolboxes from the lorry to start the fire for the braai, while Boggel makes sure everybody has a glass of ice-cold Cactus in hand.
“We thought we’d have a quiet little ceremony…” Kleinpiet smiles his protest, but he knows it’s hopeless. Their wedding isn’t just an occasion for the two of them – it’s something for the entire town.
Precilla holds a finger in front of her lips. “No, Kleinpiet, it’s exactly right. We get married and they celebrate – it’s a massive compliment.”
And so they discover that marriage isn’t just an exchange of words between two people – it’s a statement to society; a declaration of joy and beauty – one that should be celebrated in style.
And that, they did.
Later, much later, Precilla whispers: “I don’t have to go home.”
And Kleinpiet says the three words that mean everything: “You are home.”