It is a well-know fact of life that the grass is always greener on the other side. This is true in most circumstances everywhere, and Rolbos is no exception. Sometimes a bakkie is too old to trust during a trip into the dunes, but nobody would want to risk the scratches of the thorn bushes on a new one. When the drought lasts too long, Oudoom must call a prayer meeting…but when it starts raining, the roads wash away and everybody complains about leaking roofs. Life, it seems, is not about a happy medium; the constant supply of problems sorted that one out long before Noah built his ark. Of course, one must remember that all solutions to problems bring about new challenges, some of which may be a little … unexpected. If you listened in on the conversation at Boggel’s Place the other night, you’d understand…
“We have to make the counter longer,” Vetfaan says as he squeezes in between Kleinpiet and Servaas, “it’s really crowded in here.”
“Sure. I thought about that, but there is a small problem … the wall. If you want a longer counter, we have to move the wall. And if that’s not enough of a hassle, you’ll have to change the roof as well. The window will be a problem, too. Sooo … anytime you’re ready, we can begin.” Boggel is bluffing of course. Altering the layout of the bar will be a huge undertaking.
“The other alternative is to drink in shifts.” Gertruida snaps her fingers at this brilliant idea. “We’ll draw lots, and each gets a two-hour slot to have something cool. Then the next shift takes over. This way, we’ll have plenty of space and Boggel won’t be so pressed to serve everyone simultaneously.”
“No way! Look, if you expect me to sit down at eight and leave at ten in the morning, you may as well forget about it. What do I do with the rest of the day? No, Gertruida, that is one of your worst ideas.” As the oldest man in town, Servaas has the most time to sit and watch the world go by in Boggel’s Place. What else is there to do, anyway?
“Well, we can have a draw every Saturday; that’ll mean you won’t have the same slot indefinitely. And of course, you can swap or sell your slot. We can even have Shift Exchange…”
Most things that start at the bar have a way of morphing towards the unexpected. This is not – you must understand – due to any amount of Cactus Jack consumed, but rather the way of the Kalahari. Maybe it’s the same in Dublin or San Francisco, but somewhere along the path of good intentions, the potholes cause you choose a detour. Generals in the CIA do it. Presidents fall for this trap. Workers Unions demand higher wages, only to find their members losing jobs. The Kalahari certainly does not have the patent rights on detours – it’s just that they tend to be more spectacular in the desert than in the densely populated cities. In Washington, scandal gets diluted by a constant stream of calamities that bombard the masses every day. Rolbos does not have that privilege…
The first thing that went wrong was that Gertruida (as usual) convinced the group of her plan. They should have known better. The second mistake was the draw.
Each name was scribbled on a scarp of paper, which was then chucked into an old wine box. Boggel did the draw because he couldn’t see over the rim of the box. Staring fixedly at his shoes, he was the one who produced the names to write on the roster Gertruida had drawn up.
The prime time-slots are allotted to Judge (who visits rarely because he’s writing his memoirs) and Oudoom, who isn’t (usually) allowed out after dark. Mevrou insists that he spends more time on his sermons…
“But that means I’ll have no-one to serve between seven and eleven,” Boggel complains, who gets a nod from Servaas.
“Yes,” the old man says, “and I’ll have to clock in at eight in the morning for coffee. I’ll have palpitations before nine. Coffee isn’t good for my heart.”
“Well, maybe you can buy – or swap – your time slots amongst yourselves. Oudoom can get the early shift and you can then take his night shift.” Once Gertruida has an idea in her head, there’s no stopping her.
Now there, like the great bard said, is where you’ll find the rub. Oudoom was just settling in with his sharpened pencil, when the noise from his front door made Mevrou look up in surprise. A little crowd – well, all of Rolbos, to be exact – had gathered on their veranda and they were all shaking little pieces of paper in the air.
Halleluja, she thought, the people finally realised that Oudoom can’t be expected to work out his sermons all by himself. Look, she thought, they have brought suggestions for my husband. How kind, she thought…
“Oh, do come in! I’m so glad you are here to help Oudoom. He certainly appreciates the fact that you take up this matter so seriously and let me tell you: I’m so impressed with your diligence. At last – at last! – Rolbos is coming to its senses! Halleluja! Come, come in, don’t just stand there! I’ll get Oudoom to listen to your suggestions. He’ll be so glad…” Leaving the door open, she storms down the corridor to call her husband from his study.
“She thinks we’re here to …?” Vetfaan’s whispered question hangs in the air.
“Oh my!” It’s Precilla who suddenly realises what is going on. “She thinks we want to help him with his work?”
“His sermon?” Servaas has a glazed look. As head elder (in fact, the only one, but that is a moot point), the weight of his position makes him feel particularly awkward. “If we insist on swapping his shift, Mevrou will kill us all. She’ll never forgive us.”
Oudoom was as surprised as Mevrou when she told him how anxious the town’s people were to help. Breathing a prayer of thanks, he beamed his satisfaction at his guests when he entered the crowded living room.
“I’m so humbled! The Lord works in mysterious ways, indeed. Well, here I am. Tell me what you guys have in mind?”
“We thought we could suggest a sermon on sharing,” Lucinda tries to defuse the situation. “You know, to be unselfish and give others a chance to enjoy life.”
“Yes, to stand back and not always want the best for yourself.” Vetfaan eyes his slip of paper. “A dominee must set the example and his flock will follow.”
“And maybe say something about time. Spending time with friends. Being at the right place at the right time. That sort of thing.” Servaas has recovered sufficiently to nudge Kleinpiet in the ribs. Kleinpiet, for instance, refused to swap his late afternoon spot for Servaas’ early shift.
“And respect. I mean – not begrudging other who may be more fortunate than yourself.” Kleinpiet stares at Servaas, daring him to object.
“What about kindness? Ladies always appreciate a kind gentleman. I feel, for instance, the men in town must accommodate us ladies a bit better than they do.” Gertruida has tried – completely in vain – to swap the shift following Servaas’ slot. “You can tell people to exhibit more compassion.”
“Yes, and you can maybe say something about wisdom, Dominee. Being clever doesn’t make you wise, after all.” This time it’s Boggel who glances over at Gertruida.
Oudoom is so overcome with emotion; he has to swallow hard before he gets a word in edgewise.
Mevrou thanked them all and waited until they have left before kissing Oudoom.
“You are a miracle-worker, Oudoom! Look at what you’ve done! In a time when they usually drink themselves silly in that Boggel’s Place, they’ve come here to help you with your sermon. Isn’t that wonderful?”
That Sunday, Oudoom gave one of his best sermons ever. Ben Bitterbrak, who heard about it, arranged for Oudoom to come and repeat it in Bitterwater. All the labourers and others, who rarely have to opportunity to attend church, listened with rapt attention while Oudoom gave them an exposition on Christianity.
In Boggel’s Place nothing changed. Gertruida convinced them to hold another draw – this time the townsfolk had to draw a piece of paper with a time slot written on it. It says a lot about her oratory skills that she managed to do so, one must admit. But something about Boggel’s remark about wisdom must have hit the mark.
All the papers had the same time slot printed on it – 8 till late.
Vetaan still complains that Boggel’s Place is overcrowded; but – he says – one must not be in a hurry to change things. He now maintains it is far better to enjoy the company than to complain about it. And, he says, that story of greener grass is a myth. Even if you put up a fence in the Kalahari, the sand stays the same colour…