Dr Fanny Hiscock pulls off the gloves and smiles at her pretty patient.
“I think you’re just fine, young lady. Get dressed while I fill in your file, will you?”
Lucinda hates these check-ups, and avoids them as far as possible. Her gynaecologist in Italy suggested a yearly follow-up after she had some abnormal cells on her PAP-smear; something to do with a virus of sorts. He assured her it was nothing like the immune suppressing viruses, but still insisted that she should not neglect it. Now, with the prospect of a serious relationship on the horison, she finally made an appointment to see the visiting gynae in Upington. Despite her name, she has a good reputation. Gertruida said so…
The doctor is professionally friendly when she sits down at the desk. Yes, there are no signs of anything wrong, but they’ll have to wait for the smear. The blood tests will take another few days. If there’s anything else…?
“Yes. I was wondering about hunchbacks. My father has one, you see? Is it possible – should I ever fall pregnant – that my baby will be affected?”
“Ag, no, my dear. The chances are slim. There is a condition called congenital kyphosis, which may involve a recessive gene. That means it is highly unlikely to ever affect your baby. You obviously didn’t inherit anything like that, although you may be a carrier. That means only an affected man will put your baby at risk. But then – a woman like you will land the most handsome of men, and certainly not get stuck with a hunchback, will you? The rich and beautiful young farmers must drive you crazy with their attentions. No, sweetie, you’ll be fine.”
Lucinda doesn’t remember how she got out of that consulting room. She can’t recall how she wandered through the wide streets of Upington for the next two hours. Worrying about a PAP-smear is one thing, but now an innocent question and a straight answer suddenly upset her entire universe. If she and Boggel were to get married, the chances are… The thought kept on circling around in her head, obliterating the happiness that existed there a few hours before. The visit to the doctor was supposed to be comforting; telling her to go ahead, and not to worry, everything’s fine.
Now, with dreams shattered and hopes dashed, there seems no point to continue a doomed relationship.
Life is full of what-ifs. What if Lucinda never came to Rolbos? And what if she never realised what a sweet and gentle man Boggel is? What if she had a normal father? What if … she didn’t run into Mary Mitchell that day? What if Mary had a happy childhood?
Mary sips her coffee under the umbrella outside the Wimpy. She had to buy some cosmetics, and bummed a lift with Vetfaan and Lucinda when Vetfaan announced the trip to buy a new carburettor for his tractor. With her shopping done, she’s enjoying the milling crowds and the shouts of the street hawkers. It’s so much different to Rolbos: the place is alive with activity. The music store across the street emits the sounds of Africa, complete with some shoppers doing an impromptu jive on the sidewalk. Like in all towns and cities in Africa, a few rather thin girls dressed in miniskirts attempt to draw the attentions of men, who try to give the impression they’re not interested. On the corner, a boy is selling cooldrinks from a bucket. A white madam, complete with the au pair pushing a pram, lifts a disdainful nose when she gets into her new Mercedes.
Enthralled by the throng – and with Vetfaan still not back – Mary orders another coffee, changes her mind, and asks for a milkshake. It’s been years since last she had a pink one. That’s when she sees Lucinda stumbling along on the sidewalk, completely unaware of her surroundings.
Telling the waiter she’ll be back in a minute, Mary runs to intercept the crying Italian.
In the time they wait for Vetfaan, Lucinda blurts it all out. The whole story of the virus – Mary says it must be HPV – and, of course, the potential to have abnormal children, especially if she married the wrong man.
“I hoped so, Mary, I hoped so my life would get direction now. Of all the men I can fall in love with, I fall for the one man in a million who will help me make an abnormal baby. It’s so unfair! My life is worthless! And with that damn virus in the background, I’m not sure any man will be interested in me, anyway. My life, Mary, is over.”
Mary has no idea what to say. Sure, she realised Lucinda had feelings for Boggel – but then again: everybody does. He’s sweet and kind and gentle; the ideal friend and companion. But to grasp the depth of Lucinda’s feelings for the bent little man, is a bit of a surprise; not a pleasant one, either.
Yet, it makes no difference. She and Lucinda are in the same little boat with this one. Lucinda may have a gene that’ll cause future problems, but Mary has a problem that is much more immediate.
Boggel shot her father: a crime he was never suspected of. A justifiable murder, to be sure, but still a secret the two of them have to live with. Lately, her frustration at her past has caused a lot of problems. She asked Gertruida about this, and was told that unresolved issues often exhibit themselves in acts of aggression. No, she didn’t tell her about her father’s death, only about her youth. It was enough.
“It’s as if the mind seeks to release pressure in other ways, Mary. You live with the guilt and the shame and the anger of your childhood abuse. It’s festering away inside you, despite the fact that your father no longer holds a threat for your security. It is those thoughts, those endless thoughts, which keep popping up to remind you of what happened. And you know what? Unless you forgive your father – and yourself – the problem will grow and grow and eventually boil over in aggression. That’s why you attacked Mother Superior. That’s why you disarmed Francesco. For years and years the abuse has been festering away in your mind; and now that there is no more space for that, it influences the way you conduct yourself. You simply can’t compensate for the past any more. No, Mary, without forgiveness, these incidents will become more and more common. It’ll destroy your life. It’ll destroy your relationships with other people.”
“But suppose I suppress those outbursts, Gertruida? Suppose I overcome my tendency for aggression, to live quietly and calmly? I can do it, you know? For years I’ve been able to control my temper. Other people don’t see it, I’m good at it.”
The older woman got up at that stage to put a sympathetic arm around her shoulders. “Dear child, that isn’t the answer. Frustration has two children. The one is called aggression. The other: depression. If aggression is suppressed, depression will follow. Think about it: have you been sleeping well lately? What about your diet? And the quiet, dark moods you hide so well? The feelings of worthlessness, helplessness? That, and the impression the future is dark and filled with gloom? Recognise those? Now – do you understand what I’m saying?”
Mary didn’t answer the questions. Gertruida was telling her to do the impossible: forgive her father, forgive herself, accept the past, face the future…
She glances over at Lucinda’s red and swollen eyes. She wants to tell her she’s lucky, at least she can be friends with Boggel. She can chat and have a beer with Boggel without worrying about a time-bomb ticking away in the dark recesses of her mind. But Mary Mitchell, the sweet little teenager who wooed Boggel in the orphanage, is no more. There are dark clouds and flashes of thunder in her mind – conditions she has no control over. And even if she tried her best, her temper – or her moods – will ostracise the best man she’s ever met.
When Vetfaan stops his Bakkie, he apologises for being late. He watches as the two teary-eyed ladies get in.
“I’m really sorry. Really! It just took so much longer to get the spares.” By now Lucinda has covered her face with a tissue, crying uncontrollably. Mary sits, stone-faced, staring at the irritating people on the sidewalks.
“Jeesh! I said I’m sorry, for goddness’ sakes!” Vetfaan drives off in silence. Women can get upset ay such little things! It’s not his fault it took so long, is it? He wants to tell them to pull themselves together, but is wise enough to remain silent.
On the long road to Rolbos, one has to cross the river with its lush and green banks, pass the vineyards of Grootdrink, and then get onto the rutted and dusty track to Rolbos. It’s a kaleidoscope of landscapes – the Northern Cape at its best. In Upington there are crowds of people milling around, but in Rolbos they only have Boggel’s Place … and the church, of course. The Kalahari, one may say, is a condensed version of society at large. Most people get lost amidst the masses, where they are trained to watch the news every evening and to worry about Syria and the Congo and Greece. It’s as if it is important for those in control of the media, to make people worry about other people, provided they are far away. The glib news anchors will do everything in his power to direct your attention towards problems and conflicts that have little bearing on the way you dress tomorrow.
Maybe that’s what makes Rolbos different. With no TV – and only a weekly paper – people here care for each other. It’s an immediate thing. It’s a here-thing, a now-thing.
That’s why Vetfaan tells the girls he’s sorry – several times. And even if it is for the wrong reason, he gets wintry smiles from both of them once they hit the track to Rolbos.
“It’s not you, you silly oaf,” Lucinda tells him, “It’s just that we left something in Upington. Something important.” She manages to get through the sentence on the first try.
He immediately offers to turn around and get it.
“No, Vetfaan. You don’t understand. We didn’t leave it there today. It happened long ago…”
“Oh,” he said with male practicality, “then you’ll have to say goodbye to it, won’t you?”
“I can’t,” they whispered simultaneously, before exchanging shocked glances.