There was a moment, out there next to his bakkie, when Vetfaan found himself staring at Anna Bruski. She stood at the side of the road, taking in the emptiness of the Kalahari, while they waited for the police to arrive. By that time, Vetfaan had hidden the briefcase behind the seat of his vehicle.
They didn’t talk much. There was nothing to say. Ahmed and his giant bodyguard were trussed up, the danger had passed and the police were taking their time. Anna seemed withdrawn, as if the magnitude of everything she had done over the past few years suddenly weighed her down.
She looked quite attractive, standing there with her back towards him. Sexy, even. The cascade of hair softened the square shoulders but there was an unmistakable femininity about the curve of her hips and the way the white skirt flapped lazily in the breeze, affording the occasional glimpse of a tanned thigh. Feet slightly apart, arms almost at rest at her sides. A faceless figure, lost in the timeless beauty of the Kalahari.
Something stirred in Vetfaan’s mind. A memory, A thought. An image of a girl he once knew – or maybe a collective collage of images of all the women he had known in his life. Each unique, yet all the same.
Women, Vetfaan had decided a long time ago, have a strange tendency to leave him feel unfulfilled and empty. Oh, there’s always the rush of excitement and the overwhelming fascination in the beginning. It’s a caveman instinct, Gertruida once said. The big, hairy man with the club, out on a hunt to drag home his newest conquest. Tonight he’ll see the stars in her eyes, the moonlight in her hair. Tomorrow he’ll wonder what on earth made him think she’d be different to the rest.
“Women, Vetfaan, are all different and all the same. They want to be possessed and they want to be free. It’s a heady mix of ownership and being owned. You get the mix right, and they’ll tell you they love you. Get it wrong, and your life is hell.”
Gertruida was, as always, right. In his stumbling efforts to be somebody special to somebody special, it was this relationship between having and letting go that confused him completely. In Vetfaan’s mind, love means exclusivity. That, he realised a long time ago, restricts freedom. He has to let go of his own freedom to grant his woman the right to be herself. In effect, it turns him into a fraud – how else? To be free in the captivity of his love, he has to renounce who he really is. It meant that he had to let go of his own desire to be happy in order to make someone else happy – and hope that she in turn, would make him happy again.
He told Gertruida so. He said he was happy already, thank you. Why go through the schlep of changing? If he was already happy in life, why complicate things by letting it go – in order to have someone else make you feel better about having had to change? Happiness, he said, is happiness. Full stop. If you have it, cherish it. Don’t kill it in the hope that it’ll rise again, Phoenix-like, from the ruins of your sacrifice.
Gertruida laughed at him, saying he was being ridiculous. She said you can’t be happy alone. Happiness, she said, comes from the realisation you were created to be part of a community. For that to happen, you slot into society at large – as well as with special people who you want to share time with. And, she said, you want to spend time with these people, because they make you happy. Amongst this selected few, there’ll be the one…
It was one of those endless discussions that went round and round in circles, with no solution and no result. It ended when Vetfaan told Gertruida she was being too theoretical. If she really believed in what she was saying, she would have been married to some professor. Gertruida got a far-away look as she thought of Ferdinand. She wanted to say – but didn’t, of course – that love makes you happy. And even if the loved one is long departed, he or she can still bring a smile to your lips on cold and lonely evenings. True love, something Vetfaan doesn’t understand, carries the fulfilment of the promise of joy – and that isn’t dependent on being together all the time. Gertruida knew better than to draw Vetfaan into that argument.
These thoughts surfaced in his mind as Vetfaan watched the trim figure of Anna Bruski. She’s a beautiful, intelligent girl who’s had the terrible misfortune of falling into a different type of captivity. Her freedom had been taken away from her to leave her a broken and bewildered woman. Men have abused her. Society had simply turned away, preferring not to notice the women and children who get sold as sex slaves. And she, Anna, got so caught up in the intricate web of lies and money, that she now felt lost and helpless. Her sick and convoluted way of trying to make sense out of her life depended on a certain set of circumstances. With Ahmed facing a lifetime in jail, the fragile card-house of Anna’s universe collapsed in an untidy heap.
Vetfaan realised it was in his power to free her from her past. He could take her back to his farm, feed her up and rest her out. They could have normal conversations about normal things. She could fit into a new society and start rebuilding her life. And then, slow moment after slow moment, they’d find themselves more and more involved, more and more attracted to each other. One dark night hands would reach out, lips would meet. She’d tell him he was the best thing that ever happened to her.They’d call it love and marvel at the wonder of it all. He’d buy a ring. She’d be ecstatic.
And then, one morning, he’d notice the way she looked at him when she woke up. A faint scowl, mouth corners surrendering to gravity. And he’d start noticing other things. Her silences. Forced smiles. Or the pictures on the wall would be changed around. Or she’d finish all the warm water while showering. She’d be too neat, or untidy. Maybe she’d use his razor. Complain that he spent too much time at Boggel’s. Small things. Insignificant things.
And he’d be unhappy because he wanted her to be happy; his efforts too weak to be rewarded by his own happiness.
“You’ll have to go back to Poland,” he said to her back.
“Yes,” she whispered.
Two people out in the desert. Two souls longing to share, to be part of something bigger. Two lonely hearts, doomed to remain in captivity because the fear of loving was bigger than the fear of being honest.
“It’s better that way,” he said.
She nodded. Lies had been part of her life for so long; one more didn’t matter.