“I heard the Old Man is sick. They took him to the hospital.” Vetfaan walks in to Boggel’s Place with a worried frown. “That’s not good news.”
“Ja, it was on the radio just now. But they said it’s just for routine checkups. Nothing to worry about, the newsreader said.” Kleinpiet moves up, so Vetfaan can sit down.
“No man. You see doctors on Mondays or Tuesdays. Wednesday morning, even. On Saturdays they play golf or go hunting – or chaff the nurses. You don’t admit the most important man in the country when the hospital runs on skeleton staff. I think it’s more serious than that. And anyway – when last did you hear the truth on SABC? Last night’s weather forecast said it was going to rain and it’s still as dry as always. I tell you: I’m a worried man. If anything should happen to him…”
“Ag come on, Vetfaan. I think you’re overreacting. We should rather think of his family – they must be worried, too.”
Boggel pushes over two beers after getting on to his crate.
“Ahem… ,” he says.
Kleinpiet eye the bent little man critically. “When you say Ahem like that, you have something important to say. Okay, we’ll shut up and listen.”
One day, a long, long time ago, there was a farmer. A very good farmer. He inherited an orchard that was extremely neglected and full of weeds. The trees had not been pruned for several seasons, and the harvest was poor.
The farmer looked at the orchard with sad eyes. No, he told himself, this is not good. I’ll work hard, and I’ll fix this.
So he did. He worked tirelessly, weeding and pruning and watering those trees, until at last the blossoms rewarded his labour. That year he had a good harvest. The year after, even better. Still he worked, digging in fertiliser and compost, keeping bugs and pests away. Now his orchard was his pride and joy – and the envy of his friends who lived on the fruit the orchard provided. They spoke amongst themselves, saying it must be wonderful to have an orchard like that.
The farmer grew older and then one day he called his friends in. I am old, he said, and it is time for me to hand over this orchard to younger men. There’s a lot to be done every year, but the trees are strong; so if you work like I did, you will enjoy even better harvests than I had in the past.
The friends were very glad. When the farmer had left, they started arguing about the work. This one said he had other things to do; that one said he wasn’t going to be the only one to do all the work, and a third one said this involves too much work and he didn’t want his new suit to become dirty. The season went by, and still the friends argued. That year the harvest was still adequate, so they enjoyed the fruit and told one another the farmer had been wrong, it wasn’t necessary to do all that work.
The next year saw them staring at the dwindling harvest. No, they said, this isn’t good. These trees are not doing the right thing. We’ll have t set up an investigation into the problem. A committee, some of them said, we need a committee. One of them suggested a commission. Yet another wanted a board of enquiry. For another season they argued about how to examine the problem, and then it was harvest time again. This time they harvest was not enough to feed them all. They started blaming each other, saying this one should have done the weeding and that one, the watering. Initially they only argued; but soon they started fighting amongst themselves. They believed the one who’d win, would at least have enough fruit to feed himself.
The farmer, who had been growing old and frail in the meantime, watched his friends fighting. The orchard – his orchard – was a mess. The weeds had grown higher than the trees and the dead braches reached pathetically towards the sky. He felt sad and dejected. All his work – the seasons of toil – was going to waste while his friends squabbled and fought.
He looked at his orchard one last time. I cannot fix this, he said. In my younger days I could have started afresh, but now I’m old and frail. No, he said, before my precious orchard dies, I must go away. I cannot see this bad thing and live.
You know, he was so disappointed, he got sick. So he went away.
Vetfaan stares in disbelief when Boggel falls silent.
“That’s it? That’s all? A story about a farmer? And he went away? What’s that supposed to mean? Man, we’re talking about a country here, man! And about the Old Man in hospital. What in heaven’s name has a stupid farmer and a neglected orchard have to do with this? No man, give me a beer, I want to talk with Kleinpiet about more important stuff than a fruit harvest.”
Far away, in a private ward in a big hospital, the nurse puts down the tray in front of her favourite patient. She gets a tired smile and a nod of approval.
“Doctor says you must eat the fruit, Tata, it’s fresh and it’s good for you.”
She is quite surprised to see a tear running down the angular cheek. He’s so frail, she thinks.
“What’s wrong, Tata? Is the fruit not to your liking? I’ll get something else?”
But she doesn’t know – and how could she? – the tears were not about the fruit; they were for the orchard. The once-proud orchard, now unattended and wasting away under the neglect of people he once trusted.