“Everybody’s going to Bugarach,” Gertruida – who knows everything – says. She’s studied the newspapers carefully, and she should know. “They think the world’s going to end, but not there.”
She can be quite challenging at times. Gertruida sometimes throws out such statements just to see what the reaction is. It beats drinking in silence, she says.
“It may all be a myth,” she says, “but there are thousands who flock there to escape the apocalypse. They believe they’ll escape from earth before the final bang.”
Vetfaan shrugs. “So a spaceship will come and lift them off earth? They’ll leave Prieska and De Aar for some unknown destination in the universe? What happens if they find Zuma there? Or Mugabe? Can they come back?”
Boggel tries (unsuccessfully) to suppress the giggle that demands an unkind outing. One does not poke fun at Gertruida. She gets cross and then pursues the subject with renewed vigour. If there’s one thing he’d like to avoid, it’s another long, drawn-out, argument. Who cares about a remote French village, anyway? Or some distant planet, for that matter?
“I think Rolbos is a better place to hide,” Vetfaan remarks, “nobody knows about us, anyway. We’ve got Sammie’s Shop for supplies, a lot of sheep, and Oudoom. What more can one want? And when we run out of supplies, we can always drive over to Upington for stuff.”
“The point is, Vetfaan, that Upington won’t be there any more. Neither will Pretoria or Cape Town. Zuma will be gone. I’m not sure about Malema, but he’ll most probably have to wait for a verdict by the Constitutional Court before he leaves. The rest of us won’t be here any more, however. That’s why people want to leave quickly. The courts always take a long time, see?”
“Listen, if they take politicians, I demand a return ticket.” Kleinpiet slams a fist on the counter. “No matter what’s left back here, I’m coming home.”
“They won’t take politicians, I’m sure.” Servaas, as head elder, feels that would be wrong. “If we had to start all over again on a remote planet, we must get it right from the start. Something like Eden was, only without the snake.”
Gertruida looks at him with new respect. “You think that snake wasn’t a snake, but a candidate for a political party? It makes sense, you know.” She clears her throat before going on. “Vote for me, and I promise you the world. I’ll cut taxes, abolish work and implement higher grants. Then you can strike, burn down schools and ignore the police. When I am in charge, you’ll get free land, free houses and free medicine. The only reason why you suffer so much now, is because you’ve not been supporting me. You voted for the wrong guy, see? You didn’t know better. But now, now that you have to opportunity to acquire new knowledge of how to really make this country great, now it’s in your hands to implement change. No work, permanent support and a lifetime of luxury. The only thing you’ll want to complain about, is the way you used to live up to now; and the only thing you’d want to blame, is history.
“Forget the Old Order, people. There were too many rules and too few rewards. You’re running around naked with nothing to cover you when the nights get cold. No, you can’t go on like this. I have a better plan.”
Gertruida takes a bow when the patrons at the counter burst into spontaneous applause.
“You should run for parliament, Gertruida. That was a convincing speech.” Vetfaan signals for a beer, which he passes on to her.
“Thank you, Vetfaan. But, unfortunately, I cannot lay claim to any originality here. This is the oldest recorded campaign speech on record. Look it up in Genesis – and nothing has changed since then. Over the centuries this speech has seen governments tumble, empires disappear and states vanish. The reason for this is simple: people won’t stop listening to lies. They always want something more, and preferably for free. There’s a price to pay for that.“
“Ja, that’s true. Adam and Eve should have been happy. They had everything anybody could ever want. And then, just when Creation seemed to be perfect, politics entered the ring. Since then, mankind has slowly been gravitating towards its own destruction. We’re still uncreating the creation. “ The others at the bar shift around uncomfortably. If Servaas starts talking like this, he’ll be wearing his black suit again tomorrow. “ Wars, moral decay, global climate changes, pollution, corruption, recession … without politics we won’t have these.”
“Ag come on, Servaas. You’ll have us all leaving for Bugarach if you go on like this. Oudoom says we live in a broken world, and that’s true. It’s also true that every human being that ever lived, lived in an imperfect society. Oudoom says it’s our punishment for listening to the snake’s lies. ..“
“You’re wrong, Gertruida. For once, you’re wrong.” Servaas interrupts her as he gets up to walk to the door. “It’s not the world that is broken. We are. The world was created perfectly, but we lost the plot way back at the beginning. We lost our innocence because of lies, and some people haven’t stopped lying ever since then. Once we get rid of lies, we’ll start recovering – but that would be the end of politics, I think.” He walks out, closing the door firmly behind him.
In the silence that follows, Boggel gets on his crate. He’ll have to do something to lift the atmosphere; otherwise it’s going to be a very quiet evening.
“So, who’s going to leave for France? Anybody?”
He gets a few tired smiles.
“No, Boggel, we’ll all stay here. Bagarach isn’t a magical solution to the end of the world, and politics won’t save us either. Let’s face it: to believe an alien spaceship is going to rock up, load up some frightened people and deposit them in a New Paradise, is as much a lie as the one that started all this mess.” Gertruida sits up straight and pokes Vetfaan in the ribs. “Come on, Vetfaan, cheer up! It’s almost Christmas.”
“Ja, Gertruida. People like to think there’d be some quick fix to everything. If you’re lonely, you get married. If you’re unhappy, you get divorced. But it doesn’t work like that, does it?”
Boggel serves another batch of beers. “Listen, that’s what Christmas is all about. It’s about a new start. It’s about beginning afresh. It’s about refusing to listen to lies any more. And that, my friends, is good news. Something to celebrate. Bagarach isn’t a place – it’s a way of thinking. The Place of the Great Lie, can become the first Band-Aid on a broken world.”
He says this – you must understand – to jolt his customers out of their reverie. He can’t stand it if they sit and mope at the counter. But without realising it, he said the truest thing in Boggel’s Place tonight, even if he went about it in a convoluted way. In a world without politics, there will be a completely new approach to Truth. It is true too, that politics aren’t confined to the hallowed halls of parliament: social politicking is part of our everyday lives. Perhaps this is most evident over the Christmas season, when we completely ignore the original meaning of the feast.
Over the centuries, Christmas has become a lucrative enterprise – and a time made most remarkable by the slithery snake of falsehood. Tipsy people stagger around in an alcoholic haze as they proclaim happiness and cheer to all mankind, before going home to oil the guns and check the ammunition. Streets fill up with honking vehicles before the drivers get that steely look in the eyes to curse the swerving taxi. Couples tell sweet little lies while wishing they were somewhere else. The Christmas service gets attended by pious believers who can’t wait to hear the newest gossip afterwards. Diplomats exchange hearty greetings prior to planning the next coup. And presidents and kings broadcast syrupy messages to their countries, telling them not to worry, 2013 will be better.
Despite these (literally) earth-shattering facts and while people in Russia, China, Europe and the Americas prepare for the apocalypse, the people in Rolbos approach the 21st with a much bigger problem: how to get Servaas out of his black suit and into a good mood again.
It’ll take more than an alien spaceship to do that. It’ll only be when Gertruida assures him that the 22nd will be the start of a completely new era, that he’ll cheer up.
“Hopefully this means we’ll have less politics and more kindness,” he’ll say, “less lies and more truth?”
“Yes,” Gertruida will tell him. “Remember, it’s the day after the government’s congress in Mangaung. That’s where they’ll talk about the policies for our country for the next few years. With much grace and a lot of prayers, they’ll steer the country in a new direction. Or, if that’s not to be, it’ll be the first step towards them losing a future election. Both ways, we can only win; it’s the dawn of a new day for us.”
Servaas will laugh for the first time in a while. “A new start? Then it must be Christmas.”
Gertruida will slap him on the shoulder to tell him that’s the spirit, he must never lose hope. The world can change – even if it starts with a new understanding of Christmas in a small, unknown village like Rolbos.
For is it not – when all is said and done – what Christmas is all about?