The two women manage to extract themselves from the throng at the bar. It’s been a long day of celebrations and both of them need a bit of peace and quiet on the veranda outside Boggel’s Place.
“Didn’t you just love the way that Francesco wanted to stay? I mean, he’s a hardened criminal and all that. He even apologised.” Mary smiles as she remembers the way the assassin greeted her. She now repeats his words with the Italian accent. “ Senorita, I do apologise. I have never met people like you. In Italy, I would be dead. But here, you give me food and Mevrou, she tell me so much.”
Lucinda nods. “Yes, in Italy… But after those sessions with Mevrou, I almost feel sorry for Giovanni. Francesco said he was finished with the Mob, but only time will tell. And let’s drink a toast to Oudoom: he was so patient when Francesco started crying. Even Mevrou chipped in with her home cooking. “ The memory makes her laugh. “Whatever Francesco does now: it’s up to him. Some bad men can’t change, I know. But this one … maybe …”
“What is this thing with men, Lucinda? Some of them just never seem to understand the principle of respect. Or kindness. Or love, for that matter. Oh, and it isn’t just the men, I suppose. Some women can be cruel, as well.” Despite the situation, Mary giggles softly as she remembers the surprise on Mother Superior’s face when her hands found the sister’s throat.
She gets a wink from Lucinda. “Sure. Take Giovanni, for instance. He’s clever, he’s witty, and – my word! – he can be charming! I so wanted to believe he wanted to see me because he cared; but when I got there ….” A single tear streaks down her cheek. “I-I could not believe the things he said to me. He wanted to keep me as a type of … you know?” Mary shakes her head. She doesn’t want to hear it. Despite this, Lucinda continues; she has to get this out. “Like a kept woman. A plaything. Something to use when the need arises. He locked me in a room with bars on the windows… And cupboards. Three cupboards filled with gaudy clothes. School uniforms. Nurse uniforms. Leather clothing. Perverted stuff that made my skin crawl. I was there to please his stupid fantasies.” She starts crying now. “..A-a-and I thought … I thought…”
At loss about what to do, Mary puts an arm around her friend. She tells Lucinda – not everything, but enough – about her childhood and the heavy footsteps, late at night, coming down the corridor. “At least you aren’t related to Giovanni. In my case, it was my father. Family. Somebody that should have commanded respect. I don’t think this is a competition, Lucinda – but I do think you, at least, can now put this thing behind you and get on with your life.”
She gets a wet snort as a reply. “I’m not so sure, Mary. I mean; how can I ever trust a man again? Or, more honestly: how can I ever trust my instincts again? Giovanni is but one of many: every time I fall in love, I choose the wrong guy. I seem to have the ability to sniff out bad men, just like Vrede sniffs out the bones he’s buried. I’m doomed to repeat the same mistake, over and over again.”
Vetfaan coughs softly to make them realise he’s there. “I brought you girls something to drink.” Handing over the beers, he sits down. “You two seem to be extremely serious on a day everybody is celebrating. Is something wrong?”
Vetfaan detests being a bachelor. The lonely evenings and the long nights tend to depress him. But, he’s realised a log time ago, being labelled a confirmed bachelor does have certain advantages. Women accept him as not dangerous. They know he’s too shy, too awkward and too set in his ways to make untoward advances. Therefore: he’s harmless.
“Ag, Vetfaan, we’re just talking girly stuff. You know: about how stupid men are and such.” Lucinda tries to smile but doesn’t quite manage.
“Oh yes. I know all about that. The great mystery of a solid relationship. The reason most people get married – and then fight for a divorce afterwards. And then some fool tries to convince us that having loved and lost, is better than never having loved at all. Well, let me tell you: it isn’t as easy as that. One should be very careful about love.”
“Sure Vetfaan, then you end up living alone in a cottage on your farm. You start talking to the chickens and the pictures on the wall. And the rest of the time, you drink the days away in Boggel’s Place, wishing you had someone to go home with. What kind of life is that?” Mary pats his arm to apologise. “Sorry, I didn’t want to sound rude; but that’s how I feel about being single. I desperately want a companion, but the doubt and the fear and the guilt keep on stopping me. And, for different reasons and similar sentiments, Lucinda feels the same. We want to belong, but we can’t. So much water under the bridge…”
Vetfaan guffaws in delight. “Okay, ladies: the two of you can move in on my farm. There’s a shed at the back – the one we kept Francesco in, remember? Mevrou made me clean it up and Francesco painted the walls while we waited for Lucinda to come back. It’s quite a nice place now. The two of you can move in there. And, for good measure, I’ll be your man-judge from now on. Before you date anybody, you ask me. I’ll tell you who is good and which ones you must dump.” He reflects for a while as the two women exchange disapproving glances. “But what about Boggel, anyway? He’s such a good man…”
Ever since Lucinda came back to Rolbos, Mary has been careful not to discuss the issue with Lucinda. Yes, she knows they were good friends – very good friends – before Lucinda traipsed off to Italy to see Giovanni. And Boggel; the dear, sweet, sensitive barkeep; well, he seems to have taken it all in his stride. He was happy to see Lucinda. He was happy to see Mary. Did Lucinda’s trip influence his feelings for the Italian? And in the same breath – does he really harbour any romantic ideas for either of them?
“Ag, you know Boggel. Everybody’s friend, he is. He dishes out smiles like he serves Cactus – but it’s difficult to guess what’s happening inside him. I’m never quite sure…”
Vetfaan is a farmer. He knows a lot about sheep and drought and broken tractors. Talk to him about love, and he’ll most probably shrug. Yet, on this occasion on Boggel’s veranda, he tries to contribute to the discussion.
“Listen. You’d have noticed how many farms in the Northern Cape are called by water-names. Bitterbrak, Verlorenfontein, Rooidam, Kraaifontein, Koelwater – there are many such names. This happened because some farmer found a fountain or a spring next to a hill or in a valley. Some of these fountains were strong, and the farmer could fill up a dam with the water. Some, however, only gave enough water to slake the thirst of an occasional antelope or rabbit.
“Now, these fountains had been there for ages. A long-long time. Until the farmers came. They needed water to survive and for their ever-increasing stock and lands. They started planting lucerne and wheat, and obtained more water by pumping from their boreholes. Big pumps gave more water. More water gave bigger harvests. So they put up more pumps.
“Then the water table started dropping and the pumps ran dry. Desperate farmers drilled deeper holes to survive – until they, too, stopped yielding water. Eventually these once-rich farmers moved to the cities, where they worked in bakeries and service stations. Their ambitions eventually killed their dreams.”
Satisfied that he told them what they needed to hear, he takes a long swig of beer.
“But that’s a stupid story, Vetfaan! What are we supposed to learn from that?”
“It’s simple, really. Only the farmers who relied on wind pumps, survived. They only work when the wind blows, and then they produce a trickle of water. Wind pumps don’t dry up the water beneath the Kalahari. It was the impatient farmer who wants to make a lot of money quickly, who depletes the precious resource he was entrusted with. It’s a question of supply and demand: if there is just so much water available, it is stupid to try and pump out more. Sometimes, the fountain is all there is.”
Maybe that’s the big difference between men and women: men think in different pictures. Male pictures are simple and straightforward – female ones tend to be a bit more complicated. And sometimes the really simple pictures – like so many petroglyphs in the Kalahari, defy translation by even the most scientific brain. To Vetfaan the argument is abundantly clear: respect the life-giving source of love and never think it’s an everlasting thing. Abuse it at your peril. Simple.
The two women glance at each other. Vetfaan must have had too much to drink. They get up without a word to go back inside.
“He’s a weird man, isn’t he? Talking about boreholes and water and pumps – while we’re talking about relationships and love.” Mary shakes her head. “Now I know I don’t understand men at all. Maybe I must stop trying.”
Gertruida, as always, has been eavesdropping. She thinks it is the wisest thing Vetfaan has ever said. Love is a precious commodity, even a scarce commodity; something people expect to supply them with instant results. It is the couple who respect the source that will survive in the arid world we live in.
She walks out to put a soothing arm around his slumped shoulders. He spreads his arms wide to say he doesn’t understand women.
“It’s the fountain, Vetfaan. Sometimes the water isn’t enough.”
“Ja, Getruida. You can’t farm everywhere…”