“Man, I had a great time at school. It was one of those small farm-schools, where all the standards were thrown together in a single classroom with one teacher. Mister Muller. We were only twelve kids, but he sorted us out very efficiently.” Gertruida smiles at the memory. Back then she loved upstaging the more senior children in the room – a trait that remains till today. “I was responsible for the little library. I knew every book is that place. I read them all.”
“You must have a photographic memory, Gertruida, to be so clever. You still remember those books.”
“I don’t know how it works, Servaas, but I found things stuck to my mind once I’ve read something. Like a punch-card in the old calculating machines. Once the holes are lined up correctly, the calculator makes the same sum over and over again. It can’t give the wrong answer, see?”
“Mister Muller must have loved having you in class?” Kleinpiet is being – just a little – sarcastic.
“No, he hated me. I asked questions he couldn’t answer. The French Revolution. The American War of Independence. The wives of Henry VIII. Particle Theories and Volcanoes. So we ended up accepting each other as necessary irritations. It wasn’t always easy.”
“But you still ended yup with straight A’s.?”
“Well, one day I walked into the library, and there he was, having it off with Nomsa Khumalo, the tea-lady. Right there, between Geography and History, they had their own little Groot Trek, over a Drakensberg of books that needed to be shelved. And like a good Voortrekker should be, without any footwear.”
“Oh. So he bribed you with straight A’s?”
“No. That wouldn’t have worked. My marks were too good already. He promised me the world, though. Said he’d do anything if I kept quiet.” She smiles at the memory.
“Heehee. A teacher? In those days? No, I got much more out of it than that.”
Sometimes Gertruida can be rather exasperating when she tells stories. She leaves out the end on purpose, making her audience decide what happened next. She says the human mind is a massive network of connections, and nobody is wired exactly the way somebody else might be. That’s why, she says, a story may have thousands of endings if you don’t stick to a set script. Give the ingredients, let it stew, and each of the patrons in Boggel’s Place will come up with some fantastic way to finish the story.
Kleinpiet might want a lecherous ending. Precilla will think of an endless supply of chocolates. Vetfaan will imagine a picnic for the whole class. Boggel will guess something naughty, like Muller giving her days off.
Gertruida gets up to leave, telling them a teacher’s pet can be an expensive thing, especially if teacher ends up petting the wrong person. She’ll leave them to figure it out for themselves.
That, she says, is quite exciting. Much more fun than the year’s subscription to National Geographic she got out of the deal…