“If you guys could choose a skill, what’ll it be?” Gertruida doesn’t like the silence in the bar and – as usual – throws out an unexpected prompt to get them thinking again. When the men sit hunched over their drinks, she always imagines them having empty think-bubbles above their heads. She says the most dangerous animal in the world, is a man with an empty head. They become politicians or buy guns they don’t need.
“Oh, I’d like to know all about tractor engines.” Vetfaan’s response is immediate. He doesn’t have to think about it. His Massey Ferguson failed to start again this morning and he couldn’t get it going. He smiles shyly before admitting that he sometimes dreams about a smooth-running tractor, purring its way across his farm. “I’ll be the happiest man in the district,” he says.
“Well, I’d like to speed-read. I have a stack of books I want to get through and I simply don’t have the time.” Gertruida’s voracious reading is legendary. Vetfaan can’t imagine her being able to store even more knowledge in her head, and says so. “The brain is a muscle, Vetfaan, if you don’t exercise it, it becomes unfit and lazy.”
“No, you have to be more practical than that.” Boggel is on his crate to deliver his little speech. “I’d like to develop the ability to discern between different wines. It’s always so impressive if a guy picks up a glass, sniffs at it, and then tells you where they grew the grapes, who picked it, and if they washed their feet before trampling the juice out of the harvest. I’ve tried it several times, but I can never get the label to agree with my opinion.”
“The skill to have, is to ignore the seven o’ clock news. The world is in such a terrible state because all we get fed – day after day – is bad news. Wars here. Strikes there. Oil price up. Economy down. Corruption, crime, murder and mayhem. How can society be normal when all they hear is how bad things are. And to adapt in a bad world, people conform to the norm. No, I’d like to develop selective deafness to bad news. Don’t want to hear it no more, thank you.” Servaas’ bushy eyebrows slink down towards his cheeks. He’s in one of his morose moods again.
Oudoom has sneaked in and stands quietly at the door while he listens to the conversation. It’s one of those rare evenings when Mevrou actually suggested he has a ‘drink with the boys’. The truth is that she wants to read the new book she ordered – Fifty Shades of something – which Oudoom would certainly confiscate if he found it.
“The trick is satisfaction. That’s all. You get issued with certain skills and talents, and that’s what you have. If you can’t fix a tractor, you can try to learn how – but some people are just not that into engines at all. If you can’t tell the difference between Merlot and Pinotage – why worry about it? Enjoy what’s in you glass and be happy for the taste. As for news: there’s an old saying…you can’t change your circumstances, but you can choose the way you react to it.” It’s as eloquent a sermon as any he’s ever given. “Now, may I have a beer please Boggel?”
He sighs happily after the first gulp.
“As for reading, Gertruida, you may have a point. That is a skill one must cherish and develop. Fortunately, Mevrou is a slow reader, and I’d like to keep it that way. She’ll get through chapter one and two of her book tonight, which means I’ll be back tomorrow for a beer.”
The greatest skill – and Oudoom doesn’t share this with the patrons – is not taste or mechanical ability or selective deafness. The ultimate skill is to know when your spouse is doing something she thinks you may not like – and then create the opportunity for her to do just that. Not only will that see him back at Boggel’s for the next few evenings, but he might just get a surprise when he returns home later.
At least he hopes so. When he read that book while Mevrou thought he was working on a sermon, he got quite steamed up, himself.
Of course, like most of his lesser-known skills, he doesn’t try to explain it to the group. He can’t. There’s always an off-side chance they’d understand. And….he eavesdropped when she ordered the other two books.
He can’t wait…