Some people believe in spirits. Others blame coincidence. Even more never stop to consider the weird events that dot our lives. But when that lock crumbled, !Ka suddenly sat up straight, staring intently towards the north. He’s heard something…
The next moment his eyes widen in terror.
“Mister Vetfaan! Madam! We have to hide!”
By now the sound – a howling, rushing noise – was clearly audible and fast approaching. Vetfaan, too, realised the danger. Once, while in the army and on his way between Windhoek and Luderitz, he was caught in one of these sand storms. The wind drove the fine sand of the desert with such force and ferocity that it took the paint off the Land Rover he was driving. It was, quite literally, sand-blasted. If a person were to be caught in the open during such a storm, he would have no skin left…
“Dig!” Vetfaan uses his hands to scoop sand from under the floor boards of the old wagon. If they can make a hollow big enough for the three of them, they might just be safe. !Ka joins the scooping, but Fanny stands rooted to the spot. She’s staring at the contents of the chest. Then she looks up and sees the wall of dust and sand approaching. Giving a little shriek, she starts digging alongside the men.
With the wind tugging at their clothes and sand already stinging any exposed skin, they huddle in the hollow below the wagon. Sheets of sand rush overhead, causing the wagon to creak and sigh under the onslaught. Fanny says a silent prayer. The wind increases in velocity, screaming and howling louder and louder…and then, suddenly, it is gone. As unexpectedly as it came, it disappears down the valley between the two dunes. The silence after the pandemonium is almost worse than the noise during the storm.
“That was close,” Vetfaan stretches as he gets out from their shelter.
“It was a spirit-wind. It took away the people that were here.” !Ka points at the grave. The two upright planks are gone. “They will join the others now.”
“May they rest in peace,” Fanny whispers. She is obviously deeply moved by the events.
They have to dig in the new layer of sand to find the chest again. Vetfaan now lifts the lid in complete silence. Twenty Burger Pounds glitter in the sun. It is a fortune!
“Those poor people must have brought the money along to start a new life in Angola.” Vetfaan counts the coins, noting they all seem like new. The fine quality of pure gold withstood the ravages of the desert. “What can they be worth? Thousands? Millions?”
“It’s not ours, Mister Vetfaan. We must leave it here.” !Ka’s tone is final. “If we take their things, we’ll anger their spirits.”
“But they can’t use it any more, !Ka. How can they harm us?”
As if in answer, a sudden gust of wind blows up the sand over the graves.
“It’s not the money, Mister Vetfaan. It’s their dreams, their hopes. They must have worked very hard to get those coins. If we take it, we steal it. It’s wrong.”
“I hear what !Ka is saying, Vetfaan.” Fanny has been quiet ever since the storm. “It doesn’t sound logical, yet it makes sense. Look at us. We came here to bury this family. They died for a dream. We should respect that. Taking their things wasn’t the reason we came here..
“I had dreams of becoming somebody special, and look what happened? I was too much of a nerd, too bookish, too much of an academic. It scared men off. I buried myself in studies and started hating people because they took my dream of femininity away. I was depressed and found gratification in food…and more food. I didn’t care about how I looked, I wanted to be happy. It didn’t work of course. The fatter I became, the more unhappy I was. So I ate more…
“When my father suggested I come out here for that ghastly TV show, something in me broke. Even my father had given up on my finding a man for myself! Just to prove to him he won’t succeed, I agreed. I wanted to show him how unacceptable I’ve become. Maybe, I hoped, that will make him understand my unhappiness. Maybe, if he saw my unsuccess, he’d love me again – like he did when I was small and he was married to Mom. I hoped my failure – in front of the cameras and for all the world to see – would jolt him back to being human. And…maybe I even hoped that, by getting out of the stuffy atmosphere of the museum, I can find my dream again: to be loved and to care. I lost both those…
“I suppose I’m trying to tell you how important dreams are, and that people have no right to destroy each other’s dreams.” She sniffs loudly and wipes away an angry tear that streaked down her dusty cheek. “But you know something? You two men have given me hope. Oh, I’m not talking about food and fat – I’m talking about feeling human again. You’ve been kind. You accepted me just as I am. You…are giving me my dream back…”
Vetfaan opens his mouth to tell her she’s missing the point. This is an incredible amount of money, Fanny, for goodness’ sakes! He glances at her unhappy face and turns away. Taking a deep breath, he walks over to the grave. What is the price of a dream? And if that dream turns into a nightmare, must it necessarily lead to destruction? Is a nameless grave in a no-man’s land better than making peace with what you’ve got? Take these poor people, for instance. Had they made peace with their lives in Transvaal, would they not have had a better chance of living out a full and happy life? Dreaming, he decides, is great; but it must have a foundation of reality. And reality, in its turn, can create rich dreams you can’t buy with money.
“Okay. We’ll take a vote. All in favour of leaving these coins here, say aye.”
They make it back to the camp site long after the sun has set. It’s been a quiet journey over the dunes, with each one of them lost in thought. !Ka is happy, because they did the right thing. They buried the remains and the wandering spirits have found a home. Vetfaan tried to calculate what those coins were worth, gave up when the zeroes became too many, and wondered if the shifting dunes will ever uncover that spot again. Fanny somehow feels elated. The poignant burial has touched her in a strange way. The final episode in that family’s quest to fulfil a dream was the start of her long journey back to her own hope; her own dream.
“We left a fortune back there,” Vetfaan says over a mug of coffee. “A few million, I’d guess.”
“Money, Vetfaan, won’t buy dreams. Ask me. I come from a wealthy family. My father’s business empire stretches the globe. His advertising agency is the biggest in the world and they handle all the famous brands you’d find in every home. You think he’s happy? His marriages were disasters. His only daughter is an outcast. He’s got mansions and holiday homes, two jets and three Ferraris. And he’s got ulcers, depression and blood pressure. Last year, he had a coronary bypass. He’s just like that family we buried today. He thought money equals guaranteed success. It cost him his life – and nearly mine as well.”
!Ka pokes at the glowing embers and smiles. People can be so strange! Give him a bow and an arrow, the endless horizon and the spoor of an antelope. What more can a man dream of?
“You go back to the farm tomorrow, Mister Vetfaan?” When he gets a nod, he continues: “You know where we camped that first night, At that tree?” Another nod. “I will leave there. My family isn’t far from there, and you’ll find your way easily once we’re out of the dunes.”
“That’s fine, !Ka. We’ll do it like that. I think Fanny will be glad to see the farm again.”
‘No. Not now. I want to…” she falters, eyeing the men in turn, “I want to go with !Ka. I have much to learn from him. I’d like to, if he’ll take me along, that is.”
Vetfaan sits back, dumbstruck. “Why, Fanny? It doesn’t make sense.”
“Remember I told you about my thesis? That I’m writing about the Unity of Mankind? That we are all related to each other – and once we rediscover that truth, we can start respecting other people’s dreams and ambitions? If cultures realised they all stem from the same roots, there’ll be less conflict? Well, I can either page through a hundred books and regurgitate old theories everybody is familiar with…or I can quote a source more valuable, more unique and more rare than anything they have in the dusty libraries in London. That’s why…I have no choice, come to think of it.”
“You want to use the San as a source?” Even as he asks the question, Vetfaan knows she is right. The Bushmen have lived in harmony with nature for countless centuries. It is also generally accepted that they represent one of the oldest cultures on earth. They are, to some extent at least, the source of much we claim to be. And they remained true to their way of life, despite the ‘progress’ of their descendants. Later, the confusion of laws brought back to Africa by people who didn’t understand this intimate kinship, have driven them into the desert to isolate themselves from an artificial civilisation characterised by crime, corruption, murder and greed. If Fanny wants to – as she puts it – rediscover truth – then maybe it makes sense to return to the beginning and learn more about the San view of life. If a root is to be found, she may just be digging at the right spot.
He passes a fresh mug of coffee to !Ka. “What do you think, old man? Are you up to it? Do you think it’s a good idea?”
“We talked, Mister Vetfaan. Yesterday when I gave her the berries, out there in the veld. She said she writes things. I said the veld and the animals and the sky – we are all part of it. She wants to know more. When she asked, I agreed.”
How, in heaven’s name, am I going to explain all this in Rolbos? And then, inexplicably, Vetfaan fInds himself smiling. The smile grows into a chuckle. And pretty soon, happy laughter fills the night as three people – from totally different worlds – discover that the most valuable dreams cost nothing…and they can be shared.
(To be continued…)
Sanbonani.. Zulu for ‘I see you‘. It is a form of respectful greeting; a recognition of the right of others to be there.