“Hey, Vetfaan! We’ve missed you! Where’s the fat lady?”
Vetfaan has just walked into Boggel’s Place and is dusting his pants with his wide-brimmed hat. The words stop him in his tracks. Fanny…he hasn’t been thinking about her as being fat ever since the funeral in the dunes. It’s as if he saw her in a completely different way after she sang Danny Boy at the graveside.
“I left Fanny with !Ka. She wants to spend time with him and his family for a while. Gimme a beer.” He hesitates a second before turning to Kleinpiet. “Her name is Fanny. Stop calling her a fat lady. Show some respect.”
“Whoa, big guy! Just asking, that’s all.” Kleinpiet sulks for a while. Vetfaan doesn’t normally react like this. “Sorry, man. Soo…is she okay?”
Vetfaan glances at his friend and nods. “I’m sorry, too. Yes, she’ll be fine. Let me tell you what happened…”
By the time Vetfaan finishes the story, Boggel’s Place is packed. Even Mevrou sneaked in to hear about the trip.
“…so I left her there. She had one of those bulky suitcases, a sleeping bag and some provisions. I’ve never seen anybody that happy in a long time. !Ka said three moons. I must fetch her at that tree again in three months time, at full moon. He said I mustn’t worry, he’ll look after her well. And that, my friends, is that.”
“Do you think she’s taken a fancy in old !Ka?” Precilla’s question makes Vetfaan swallow twice before he answers.
“Yes. She likes him very much. But…put away the lecherous thoughts guys. !Ka is an old, happily married man. I’ve met his wife – she’s just as sweet. I think !Ka welcomes the opportunity to teach her about his culture, and he realises the value of it being written down. You know the Bushmen are on the verge of extinction; he wants to leave something – anything – behind, so that future generations may at least know about their history and culture.”
A week after Fanny was deposited in Boggel’s Place, Sally Sheppard and the TV crew arrive to do the follow-up shoot on the progress Fanny has made with Vetfaan.
“What do you mean – she’s in the desert with some nomad?” Sally’s shocked tones echo down Voortrekker Weg. “You didn’t just leave her out there to fend for herself, did you?” Vetfaan’s impassive face tells the story. If Sally wants to believe that Fanny is roaming about in the arid landscape accompanied by a family of uneducated nobodies, it’s her problem. “How could you do this to me? We’ve spent thousands to do this episode. A fat academic woman and a simple rural farmer! The viewers would have loved to see a farce like that! It would have been sensational! Sophisticated London girl meets the Kalahari Joker. It was a recipe for a disaster – no script necessary, just the drama of two incompatible worlds colliding. The ratings would have soared!
“And now you’ve allowed the only daughter of the main sponsor to wander off with a man you don’t even know the surname of! Damn it Vetfaan, you’ve ruined the show. I might as well pack my bags and clear my desk!”
Vetfaan is unmoved by the tirade. “She’s a grown woman, Sally. It was her decision. And listen to yourself: you were prepared to make a fool out of her, make me look like a dinosaur, and you actually wanted us to fail. You anticipated a million viewers laughing their heads off at two stupid people, pointing fingers at the screen and remarking how wonderful Reality TV is. In fact, you cared nothing for her feelings, or mine.”Vetfaan now sits back with a smug smile. “Well, Sally, boohoo to you too! People aren’t automated little machines you use to cause sensation. You TV people are the vultures of society, feeding on the heartbreak and drama we live through in life. You want sensation, because a trillion bored people want to see blood and tears and faces twisted in anger or grief. You provide a menu of sensational bugger-ups, so those viewers can escape from their own miseries. Sorry to tell you, miss Sheppard, this time it didn’t work out the way you planned. You won’t find drama here. Go somewhere else, where people don’t see right through your silly little game.”
“But her father…” Sally seems to shrink in front of their eyes, “he’s the main sponsor. If he knew his daughter…”
“I already phoned him. He’s on his way.”
“Yep. He’ll be here tomorrow; he took the first flight from Heathrow. I think he’ll be quite anxious to speak to you.” By now, Vetfaan’s smile is threatening to go right round his head. “In fact, those were hisexact words. Anxious to speak to miss Sheppard. Thats what he said. He also said you have to stay here until he comes. He doesn’t want you to waste any more of his time.”
When the Airlink flight from Johannesburg touches down, Vetfaan waits in the little cafeteria. He watches as the passengers disembark, and spots Fanny’s father immediately. Dressed for London weather in his tweeds and bowler hat, he’s impossible to miss. Like his daughter, he sports an admirable bulky frame with an impressive girth. He seems pale, exhausted, and very hot.
During their telephonic conversation, Vetfaan assured the man of his little girl’s safety, and had to smile at the way the old man talked about her – as if she is a child still. Now, in the air-conditioned restaurant, he quickly fills him in on developments – as well as his new plan. Humphrey Mountbatten Scott Featherbosom listens attentively. He became the King of the Advertising World by listening: if you know exactly what your client wants, you are in a much better position to satisfy his desires. When Vetfaan finishes, he sits back with a small smile playing at the edges of his full lips. The cool air inside the building has brought back the colour to his chubby cheeks, and he’s stopped sweating.
“I think it’ll work. Yes, by Jove! What a splendid idea!” He reaches over the table to shake Vetfaan’s hand. “Now where do I find this little miss Sheppard? Do we really have to go to Rolbos? It sounds like a waste of time. She could have come here with you.” A slight note of irritation creeps into his almost-girlish voice.
“You have to see the Kalahari for yourself, sir.” Vetfaan quickly found out he has to treat the tycoon like he does his prize ram: make him feel important, and you get the best production out of that sheep. “Books and videos will never give you the feeling of the area. There’s a beauty in the silence and the emptiness you have to experience first-hand. It’ll help you understand.”
“Right oh, then. Lead on, McDuff.”
Sally Sheppard listens with an open mouth to Featherbosom’s speech.
“You…you can’t be serious. There’s no money in this. It’s impossible…”
“My dear miss Sheppard – I am serious. You’re right about the money. And I assure you it’s not only possible, but you’re going to make it happen. After this man,” he seems to find it hard to refer to Vetfaan by his name, “explained to me how you planned to make a fool out of my daughter, I’m sure you’ll do your best to try and keep me involved in your little TV show. I’m also sure you’ll cooperate if I told you I’ll increase your budget to accommodate this…impossibility you just mentioned.”
He gets up without waiting for her answer. “Now, if you’ll be so kind to excuse me, my friend here,” he inclines his head towards Vetfaan, “wants to show me a bit of the desert. Then I’ll retire to the presidential suite at the Oasis Casino, where I’ll refresh my tired body with a hot bath and a proper meal. Tomorrow I’ll fly back. I’ll expect you to start work on this immediately. I hold you personally responsible. Hire an extra team if you want. Goodbye.”
Vetfaan accompanies the wealthy tycoon as he leaves Boggel’s Place. He can’t help but look back at the ashen face of Sally Sheppard, who has slumped forward on the little table. She hasn’t even touched the Cactus in front of her.
“I really enjoyed that,” Featherbosom whispers as they get into the old Ford pickup. Two minutes later he says it’s a crime the vehicle has no air-conditioning. Vetfaan opens his window without a word. This time, Featherbosom’s smile is geniune…
Back in the bar, Shirley-the-Basset cuddles up in a small bundle behind Fred, on the cushion beneath the counter. If everything works out fine, Sally won’t see her there.
(To be continued…)