“You know, I don’t understand Boggel these days.” Vetfaan speaks loud enough for Boggel to hear. “Here he is, with Lucinda drooling over him – and yet he’s as morose as Vrede was when he forgot where he buried that bone.” He laughs at the memory of poor Vrede, who must have dug up half the town before he found his hidden treasure. “Man, if a girl like that had the hots for me, I’d be smiling from ear to ear.”
Gertruida – who knows everything – slaps him on the shoulder. It is not an affectionate gesture, causing Vetfaan to frown at her.
“No, don’t you scowl at me, Vetfaan. Your mind works in a straight line: nice girl, bed. That’s why you are still single, you buffoon! Boggel is a sensitive man, something you’ll never understand.” Softening her tone somewhat, she rubs the shoulder she has just slapped before going on. “Love is never a straight line, Vetfaan. And the last thing Boggel needs now, is for you – or anybody – to make silly remarks about his relationship. Let him be; he’ll sort out his own problems.”
Below the counter, Boggel is indeed pondering his liaison with Lucinda. She is bright, witty, intelligent, beautiful, a wonderful companion …. And yet…
He dreamt about Mary Mitchell last night. Mary, with the soft brown eyes and the demure smile. Mary – whose father did those unspeakable things . Mary; she of the sugar bowl, the only thing he has to remind him of their days in the orphanage. That, and Sandy, the teddy bear.
Boggel contemplates the male-female relationships in town. There’s Oudoom and Mevrou – but they don’t really count. Pastors are supposed to have happy marriages; and if not, they have to pretend to be happy. It’s some unwritten rule. Or maybe, even, it is some obscure Old Testament law they have to obey. Be that as it may, Boggel has seen enough clergymen who only smile at their wives when they have to.
And what about Kleinpiet and Precilla? Newly-weds always have fun for a few months. Reality only kicks in later – so they don’t quite count yet. Gertruida and Judge seem happy enough with their arrangement, though. He jots down his memoirs all day while Gertruida lounges around in Boggel’s Place.
So where, Boggel wonders, is an example of a perfect relationship?
But he had one. The perfect relationship with Mary. Oh, it was innocent and of course they were so young still; but he had a connection with her, something he never experienced with other women. Now, despite the fact he enjoys Lucinda’s company tremendously, his mind strays back to those days on a constant basis. His first love…
Maybe it’s the way Lucinda told him about Giovanni. Something in her demeanour – the way she couldn’t look him in the eye when she told him, or maybe even the hesitant pauses in the telling of the story – created a distance between them. If he had to know about Giovanni, then he’d want to know everything. When he asked her if that was all that happened, she nodded, still with down-cast eyes as if there was more…
That, and the letters. Every now and then a letter arrives, bearing a Milan postmark, addressed to Lucinda Verdana, Rolbos, (Upington) South Africa. As far as he knows (he even asked Gertruida about it), Lucinda never writes back.
Torn between the beauty of Lucinda and the loyalty towards Mary Mitchell, Boggel makes a decision. He simply has to talk to them both. There is no way, he realises, he can go on with a relationship with Lucinda if he still dreams about Mary Mitchell.
Love can be strange sometimes. Life, on the other hand, can be even worse when it comes to being weird. The next letter to Lucinda arrives the very next day.
“Papa,” she tells old Marco, “Giovanni keeps on writing to tell me how well he is doing. His father is out of jail now, and the two of them have started a business which is making a lot of money. He’s asking – no, he’s begging me to visit him; even if it just to see how well they are doing. His last letters have been so kind, Papa, I don’t know how to refuse…”
“I know that family, Lucinda. I’d be very surprised if they are doing legitimate business, I can tell you.”
“But Papa – everybody deserves a second chance! You say that all the time. It’s not as if I’m going to marry Giovanni – I’m just curious. And, if I don’t go, he’ll keep on pestering me. He even says he’ll send somebody to come and fetch me, Papa.”
Old Marco feels the icy grip of fear on his heart. Exposing the Mafia connections of Giovanni’s family involved stepping on many – and important – toes. Sending some thug to fetch Lucinda does not imply any goodwill on their part; not at all. It is a threat: either you come alone, or we’ll take revenge on your father. If they come in here to settle a score, a lot of innocent, good people will get hurt…
One of the main reasons why they have settled in Rolbos, was the remoteness of the town. Yet, within weeks of their arrival, Giovanni’s letters started arriving. The Mafia, old Marco knows, has a network of contacts all over the world. If they wanted to hurt him or his daughter, they could do so very easily. And, he realises, the fact that nothing has happened so far can only mean that Giovanni still has a soft spot for Lucinda.
He sighs heavily before he nods. “You’re a big girl now, Lucinda. A grown woman. I don’t think it’s a great idea, but if you feel you have to go, then you must do so. But remember: Giovanni is of bad blood. I don’t believe he can change that.”
Lucinda grabs her father to plant a kiss on his cheek. She loves Rolbos and all the people staying here, but those days in Monaco, Paris, London… Yes, she did have fun there, too. And Giovanni always doted on her, didn’t he? A perfect gentleman, suave and correct in everything he did. The flowers…the champagne… It was so different to living in this tiny desert town.
“I’ll be careful, Papa. I promise. But I’d love to see Italy again. It’s so unlike Rolbos over there – people dress properly; they don’t discuss the weather all the time and there are theatres and music and art and museums – I long for those, Papa.”
Old Marco stares at her with his rheumy eyes. Its funny, he thinks, how your vision changes as you get older. Objects become dim – but it is the future that swims into focus. Yes, his daughter should go. Go and get it out of her system. Go and get Giovanni off their backs. One of these days he’ll be dead, and if Lucinda hasn’t resolved the situation by then, he won’t be able to help her. No, it’s better to let her go now, get it behind them and let her come back. Only then will he be able to rest in peace…
“Ja, it shows you.” Vetfaan sits down at the counter. “Women! You never know with them.”
Boggel is still at the window, staring at the last cloud of dust on the road to Grootdrink. Yes, he thinks, this is the way it is. If she wants to go and get Giovanni out of her system, then so be it. She must fight her own demons.
People think adults outgrow the sadness of being an orphan. Maybe some lucky ones do: those that find happiness and peace in the arms of a loving and understanding companion. But there is a wound that only heals with a scar: the idea that nobody wanted you. Your parents – for whatever reason – rejected the child they created. True, sometimes there is no choice. Parents die. Some end up in jail. Others may have a variety of good and legitimate reasons why their children end up in an orphanage – and it is quite different to being adopted as well. There can be no greater sacrifice for a mother to stand back to allow someone else take care of her baby. But…in Boggel’s case the lingering fear of rejection has never completely disappeared.
Gertruida once said Boggel is in the perfect place: a bar in Rolbos. After all, is it not so that after a few drinks, everybody becomes your best friend? What better place, then, to find acceptance? Despite Gertruida’s logic, the scar of the past and the fear of the future cause Boggel to come to a decision when he finally turns around from the window.
Vetfaan watches as the bent little man shuffles out of his bar. He’ll have to talk to Gertruida – Lucinda’s leaving will have a profound effect of Boggel’s life. Even for a hardened old bachelor like Vetfaan, it is hard to see a man so downcast about a relationship that just started growing.
“Oh well, I’ll just have to help myself,” he mutters as he reaches over the counter for a beer.