“It’s funny how the Americans aren’t shy about colour. After the election, it seems quite natural for them to say that Whites voted for Romney, Blacks for Obama; not to mention the Hispanics and the Latinos. And they go on about gays and the youth as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.” Servaas shakes his head – the Americans, according to him, are a far advanced people. “Here we dare not mention such things.”
“You have to add marijuana and tax increases for the rich in the same breath, Servaas. Fearless about the future, they are. I think the biggest concern is the cut in government spending Obama wants to implement – that’ll never happen here. If our government takes away social grants, they will lose the next election.”
“You’re right Kleinpiet. If only the people who receive social grants vote for Zuma, he’ll be President forever. They don’t care about corruption and Nkandla – they have to feed mouths, and that’s all that matters.”
“Oh, I wish you’d stop talking politics!” Gertruida slams an impatient hand on the counter, making Boggel hop onto his crate. “Ever since the Chinese and the Americans are having elections and a possible change in parliament, you talk about nothing else. Mugabe, Zuma, Malema – I’m tired of listening to your negative comments. Can’t you say something nice about wool prices or Sammie’s new fridge in his shop? Anyway, you’re not promoting your country by always slamming everything that happens here.”
“Okay.” Kleinpiet raises an eyebrow. “Now let’s see: we can’t talk about hospitals, water quality, fracking, Marikana, police chiefs or schools. That leaves sport (if you say nothing about cycling), economy (if you ignore the trade deficit), and jukskei (if you don’t talk about quotas). And, maybe…the new notes the Reserve Bank issued. Nope, I think I’ll stick to Cactus, then.”
An uncomfortable hush settles in the bar. They don’t want to offend Gertruida, but they don’t like drinking in silence, either.
“I’ll tell you what,” Precilla brightens noticeably, “let’s talk about something that isn’t race related, has nothing to do with politics, and has no influence on the economy.”
The silence regains the upper hand. Really, if those are the requirements for a so-called civilised discussion, they have nothing to say to each other.
“Okay. Let me tell you a story.” Servaas signals for a Cactus, waits until it is served and then sits back. Then he tells them his lion story.
One day; a long, long time ago; a boy stumbled across a lion in Africa. The lion was very sick, so the boy fought back his fear and stopped running away. From a distance, he looked back.
Hey, Mister Lion – he said – you don’t look so good, what is wrong?
The lion growled half-heartedly for it was feverish and very weak. It said he wanted to eat a porcupine and now a quill was stuck in his foot. Look – the lion said – it is poisoning me. That’s why I am so sick.
The boy ran to his village, and asked all the elders to help. They laughed and told him to go away, they were busy with important matters. So to boy went to the next village, and the next; and got the same answer every time.
That night, the boy lay in his bed and thought about the lion. Such a big and mighty animal is dying because of a fight with a small animal, and now a quill was poisoning him. The porcupine most probably escaped, or was dead, it didn’t matter: the poor lion should not be allowed to suffer so much.
He told his mother the next morning that he felt bad about the lion.
Son – his mother said – lions and porcupines have been fighting since forever. Most often, the porcupine gets killed, but sometimes it manages to inflict a mortal wound with one of its quills. That’s the way of nature, Son, you won’t change it. And remember, Son, its the way of nature – one should not interfere with it.
The boy was saddened by this news, and went back to the lion the next day. He immediately saw the lion was dying – it didn’t growl any more.
Lion – the boy said – if I remove the quill from your paw, the fever will go away. And – he said – I have these herbs and leaves from the fever-tree that will help you recover. Please let me help you.
The lion could only nod his big head. He was thirsty, and hungry, and needed help.
Very carefully, the boy took that big paw in his hand, and little by little, he tried to dislodge the quill from the foot. Oh, once or twice the lion tried to roar his protest, but he was so weak, it didn’t prevent the well-meaning boy to try and help him. Eventually, after a struggle, both of them were drenched with sweat: the boy from trying to help, and the lion because it had such a fever. Then, almost unexpectedly, the boy sat with the quill in his one hand and the lion’s paw in the other.
“Now, that’s a nice story, Servaas! I didn’t know you knew stories like that. I’m sure the lion recovered and they all lived happily ever after.” Gertruida is so happy, she orders a round on the house.
“Well, not exactly.” Servaas pauses mischievously while he downs his glass. “You see, the boy fed the lion for a while, and the lion got stronger.”
One day, the boy carried food to the lion’s den, like he always did, every day. The lion looked at the piece of meat, and said it wasn’t enough.
It’s all we have in the village – the boy said – if I take any more, my people will starve.
The lion was much stronger by now, so his roar of displeasure was heard all over the country. Then – the lion said – I will have a piece of you, instead.
He grabbed the boy and cut off a piece of flesh from the boy’s leg. The boy cried, saying it isn’t fair, but the lion told him to be quiet, nobody’s listening anyway.
The next day, the boy limped back to the lion, again with as much meat as the village could spare. Again the lion was displeased and demanded more. Again he cut a piece of flesh from the boy.
“Ag no, Servaas, this is a terrible story.” Kleinpiet is quite upset, especially because little Nelson is growing up so nicely and even walking about these days. He can just see the poor boy delivering meat to the hungry lion, and it hurts him to think how the child must have suffered. “You’d better give it a good ending.”
“It’s not for me to give the ending, Kleinpiet. The story is the story. Anyway, it’s almost finished.”
One day, the boy didn’t return to the village and the elders wondered what happened to him. When they went out to look for him, the lion ate them all.
“Ag no, sis man!” Gertruida jumps up, grabs her purse and storms out.
“She told you not to talk about politics, Servaas! Now you’ve upset her. I think you should apologise.”
But Servaas just sits there, a wry smile on his lips as he finishes his Cactus. It’s one of the oldest stories ever told. Funny, he thinks – America and South Africa and China and Sudan and Syria, even many others – they always make the same mistake. If you befriend a lion, you can’t feign surprise when it starts devouring you; it’s the natural order of things, after all.
Boggel hold up a hand. “Wait a minute! Are you saying the boy shouldn’t have helped the lion?”
“No.” Servaas holds out his glass for more. “That’s what happens in the story, and that’s how it ends. There’s a moral, too: helping is one thing; but somewhere along the line, the lion should have started helping himself.
“And you know what? It’s still happening. Look what happened to the Egyptians, the Romans, or the English. Look at us now, or Zimbabwe. Look at America in a few years’ time. China will follow, but only after another generation or so.”
“Maybe we should be talking about the Springboks and their game on Saturday.” Vetfaan tries to lighten the atmosphere. “We can pin our colours to the mast…”
“Colours,” Servaas sighs, “...colours… Politicians want to rule but forget who we are. They gather votes to make them strong, then they destroy the village. That’s what’s wrong.”