“I wonder if the President will bother to reply. He must have his hands full at this moment, what with the election and the storm and everything.”
“And they go big on Halloween, I hear.” Gertruida throws in the remark to test the waters. She’s sure they don’t know what the day is all about. She’s not disappointed.
“Halloween? What’s that?” They manage to harmonise the question in a choir – most likely because they had so much practice. Gertruida always comes out with these outlandish ideas.
“Nobody really knows, that’s the funny bit. It originated as a pagan feast, got taken over by Christianity and eventually became an event to scare people into giving you things. Some say it’s a festival to end the summer, others say it celebrates the harvest, while still others maintain it’s a feast to remember the Saints of Christianity. But, that is all in the past. Nowadays people dress up in costumes, scare the living daylights out of their neighbours and get rewarded with treats – usually sweets or cookies.”
“I’ve seen that.” Lucinda suddenly brightens as she remembers. “And they cut up pumpkins to look like ghosts, put candles in them, and frighten the children. In Italy we had All Saint’s Day on November the first, followed by All Soul’s Day on the second. That’s when we prayed for the recently departed who haven’t reached heaven yet.”
“I don’t understand.” Servaas uses his elder-voice again. “If it’s a Christian thing, they shouldn’t scare children. If it’s pagan, they shouldn’t celebrate the day. Why frighten the breath out of your friends – and then go and pray for the dead? It just doesn’t make sense.”
“No Servaas, it’s just a lot of fun. Remember Guy Fawkes? That used to be on November 5th. People celebrated this chap who was hung for blowing up the English parliament. It’s just an excuse for a party, that’s all.” Gertruida remembers an article in National Geographic, describing the festivities. “And they have a Barmbrack, which sounds quite exciting.”
Of course they chorus again. “What’s that?”
“It originated in Ireland, where they bake a cake with all kinds of stuff in it. If you find an object in your piece of cake, it means something will happen to you. For instance: a ring will mean you’ll find love. A button suggests you will remain a bachelor, while a thimble tells you you’ll remain a spinster. Coins mean wealth.”
Three Cactus Jacks later, the group decides to label Halloween as something the Americans can do – especially bearing in mind that Oudoom is rather strict about his interpretation of holy days. The pumpkin-and-scary aspect will surely draw comment from the old man.
“But,” Vetfaan says, “we can modernise that cake idea. We can make a potjie and boil up some objects in it. I’ll make a curry sheep’s neck stew, and you guys can add coins and keys and thimbles and such. Then, when you dish up your plate, you can tell your future.”
Like most things that originate in Boggel’s Place, it seems a good idea at the time.
With the three-legged pot boiling happily on the coals outside, the group in Boggel’s Place compare notes. It seems as if they added a wide array of objects to Vetfaan’s potjie. Rings, coins, old keys, buttons – even a spark plug (Kleinpiet wants a new tractor). Ben Bitterbrak, who wants a new rifle, added a bullet.
Now of course – it has to happen. It is inevitable.
While they compare notes on what they hope to find on their plates when the stew is ready, Boggel serves liberal amounts of Cactus. They forget about the potjie. The stew boils off all the moisture. The contents of the potjie overheats. The bullet explodes.
“I don’t think we must have a Halloween next year.” Kleinpiet nurses his hangover with a glass of milk. “I’ve run out of painkillers.”
“Well, at least Lucinda got hit by the ring when the stew exploded. It must mean something. It’s a pity about the spark plug, though. It went right through the roof. We’ll have to fix that.”
“I’m worried about that, Vetfaan. If these things are symbols of things to come, a spark plug through the roof can be quite ominous. Maybe it suggests lightning? Or fire? And, if the Irish custom is right, we can’t do anything about it. What’ll be, will be. I think we must stop meeting here for a while. Just to make sure, see. A precaution.”
And so, for three days after Halloween, Boggel’s is closed. Vrede, the town’s dog, has a royal time sniffing out the bits of sheep’s neck that is scattered about between the buildings. Lucinda shines the ring that hit her, and carefully folds it in a handkerchief. Oudoom is amazed at his flock’s abstinence.
“You closed your shop, Boggel?” Oudoom sits down next to Boggel on the bench in front of the church.
“It’s the Americans, Oudoom. They scared us. They call it Halloween.”
“Don’t worry about it, Boggel. Come, come and have tea with me and Mevrou. She baked a special cake – an old Irish recipe she inherited from her grandmother. Quite interesting in fact. She adds all kinds of…”
By this time, Boggel is halfway down the street, on his way to hide behind Sammie’s Shop. Oudoom shakes his head – will he ever understand these men and women? Every one – every single one – of the townsfolk he’s invited for tea, simply ran off.
He walks back to the pastorie where Mevrou waits in the kitchen.
“Not a single one, dear.” He spreads his arms wide to signal his frustration. “They all seem scared, for some reason.”
“I can’t understand it. I made the nicest chocolate O’Darby cream cake. I thought they’d like it…”[i]