The story continues…
Vetfaan is pumping the old Primus into action just as the sun rises in a red glow, when Fanny Featherbosom shuffles into the kitchen on a pair of pink slippers, adorned with an oversized Mickey and Minnie respectively. She yawns mightily when she leans against the door frame. The worried frown makes her look considerably older.
“Listen, Vetfaan, I can’t remember getting into bed. I remember showering, but after that… I didn’t do anything silly, did I? We didn’t…”
“Good morning to you, too, miss Featherbosom. No, you didn’t, and no we didn’t. I put you to bed and then had a chat with !Ka. You did, however, snore gently all night.” Vetfaan puts the kettle on the flames and smiles at the dishevelled mop of hair above the round face. “Tell you what: you go put on some clothes while I fix coffee. No Cactus this time. Then you must meet !Ka, and listen to his story. We’ve got a lot to do.”
She runs her fingers through her hair, smiles sheepishly and disappears down the corridor. When she returns to the kitchen, she’s dressed in a pair of baggy jeans, a loose-fitting T-shirt and a pair of red sandals. Vetfaan is surprised at the speed of her return and compliments her on that. He concludes with: “You look quite nice like this.” He wants to say the lack of cosmetics makes her look much younger, but decides that may sound too familiar.
“You’re a kind man, Vetfaan. Can’t remember when last somebody said something sweet about the way I look.” She accepts the mug of coffee, sniffs at it suspiciously, breaks out in a brilliant smile and sips happily. “I’m rather thirsty.” She looks up hopefully. “And famished.”
“Good, breakfast is mielie pap and wors. I made a relish of tomato and onion. I hope you like it. You must eat well, you’ll need a lot of energy today.”
“I’ll even eat those ghastly patties they sell in England these days, I’m so hungry.” Still, she pokes a careful finger into the pap, yelps as the hot porridge burns her skin, and takes a tentative lick.
She eats with some gusto and stops several times to smack her lips in appreciation. “You sure know how to cook,” she says as she pushes back the plate.
Over a second mug of caffee, Vetfaan says she must rather put on a pair of boots, or if she hasn’t got them, some sensible walking shoes. “!Ka will be here shortly and he wants to show us something.”
“You’ll be surprised at my wardrobe. I packed for all eventualities. Who is this !Ka character you keep referring to?”
Vetfaan has to explain about his San friend before she fetches a pair of sturdy boots from one of her heavy suitcases. Vetaan has to help her get them on – her rather bulky frame makes tying the bootlaces rather awkward. Once the boots are tied to her satisfaction, they sit down in the easy chairs on the stoep. Almost immediately, !Ka walks over from his room next to the barn.
Now, !Ka is a man who appreciates women with a fuller figure, so he stops at the steps leading up to the stoep to feast his eyes on this magnificent specimen. Never in his life has he set eyes on so much splendour. This, he decides, is what a woman should look like: big, strong and extremely attractive.
After introducing the two, Vetfaan asks !Ka to repeat the news he brought last night. At first !Ka has some difficulty in addressing somebody of such great beauty, but her kind demeanour eventually wins the day and he manages to convey his story in a more-or-less coherent way.
“While following the spoor of a klipsringer, Madam, I crossed a few dunes. This place I don’t know. It’s far. And when I crossed another dune, there I saw something I’ve never seen before. Hai! How a wagon could have got there, I do not know, but there it was. An old wagon, from many years back. And some bones. Man bones. Woman bones. And child bones. They are there, in the sand. It is far.”
“That’s what he told me last night, Fanny. I don’t know what it means, but !Ka came to me to help. He says people must know about it – it is wrong to leave those remains out in the desert. According to his custom, unburied corpses bring bad luck. He believes those spirits roam about, causing hardship to all. That is why, be believes, the klipspringer got away. He says those are white people’s bones, so white people must say words over them and bury them. Then the spirits will go away.” Vetfaan hesitates. “He also brought this.””
He fumbles around in his pocket and produces a shiny coin. “I don’t know much about old coins, but the Burger Pond is legendary. See, it says here: Thomas Francois Burger. I know they are very rare, and of great value. These were the first gold coins ever struck for South Africa, and if I’m right, it was done in London and less than a thousand were produced. Look at the date; 1874.”
“I love old stuff!” Fanny claps her hands together in delight. “My, what an adventure! Are we leaving straight away?”
To !Ka, this is the way for a woman to react. He can see how here eyes light up and how excited she is. Surely !Kaggen sent this woman at the right time to cross paths with him. He, !Ka, is being rewarded for doing the right thing. That klipspringer was not for hunting…it was a guide, sent to bring them all together to do what must be done. He gets up respectfully, averting his eyes to the ground so as not to offend this wonderful lady, and waits at Vetfaan’s pickup. This, he knows, will be a day he’ll remember for a long time. Oh, how many stories will he tell his children around camp fires in the future! Yes, !Kaggen is good. He is blessing him…
Vetfaan gathers some provisions and loads a container with water, some pots and a kettle on the old Ford. Because !Ka put so much emphasis on the place being ‘far’, he adds sleeping bags and a bundle of wood. ‘Far’ may mean many things for the San people…
Fortunately, the pickup is large. !Ka is small. They all fit into the cab when they drive off.
Vetfaan smiles when he notices how close his two passengers sit. !Ka, he knows already, adores this woman. And Fanny seems not to mind at all.
Fanny has a sudden urge to tell the two men about her life in London. About the way she always felt she didn’t belong. How men avoided her and she always ended up as the lone wallflower while the others danced the night away. And how she eventually decided, bugger it, and started feeding herself into obesity. If men didn’t like her, at least she doesn’t have to worry about her figure. And then it got out of hand and she ended up looking like…this.
She can’t get the words out. Instead, she asks !Ka if he ever reads books.
“Hai, Madam! We have no books. I read the veld and the animals. I read people. And I read the weather. What more do I want to know? I hear about places on the other side of the sea. I’ve seen the sea once. It is too wet for me. I like the desert and my people. So, I know what I need. That’s enough. I think white people, they know so much they forget about important things. We Bushmen aren’t like that.”
The discussion in the cab becomes a lively one, with all of them participating and arguing – in great respect, following !Ka’s example – until they reach a series of sand dunes just after midday.
“We stop here. It is too hot – the sand will be loose and the truck will get stuck. Mister Vetfaan can make camp here for the night. Tomorrow, when the sand is cold, we can cross. We must leave before the sun rises. It is still far, but not so far. We’ll be there tomorrow.” Vetfaan knows his friend so well – and !Ka is so convincing – that he selects a lone thorn tree to park the Ford under.
“I don’t want to eat tonight, Vetfaan. My appetite…”
“Nonsense, Fanny, you love eating?”
“I made a decision today, Vetfaan. I’m too fat. I need to do something about it and I’m starting right now. Enough is enough. I want my life back.”
“Gee, Fanny, what brought that about?” Vetfaan stands back. Women!
“Something !Ka said about us knowing so much and being so stupid. He’s a wise fellow. It’s time for me to face the basics.”
!Ka looks up in surprise. “Madam wants to lose fat? Why? You look like a woman should.”
“Oh, !Ka…you’re just as sweet as Vetfaan!” Using the simplest of terms, she tries to explain why obesity is a life-threatening condition. !Ka argues that elephants and rhinoceroses die when they’re too thin. Vetfaan already has the fire going under a pot by the time when !Ka finally nods his understanding. Yes, it’s all about knees and hips, he agrees. If they get worn out, you can’t hunt or run any more. Yes, it makes sense.
“Come, Madam. We go get some medicine for you.”
“What? Is there a pharmacy out here?” She scans the horizon for signs of civilisation.
!Ka laughs so much, he has to wipe away the tears on his withered cheeks. “Oh yes, Madam. The veld is filled with medicine. And it’s free. Come, I show you…”
(To be continued)