Fanny spent two hours in the bath, enjoying the warm water and perfumed soap Vetfaan had bought especially for her. Twice, she called for a refill of her wine glass, which resulted in Vetfaan serving it blindfolded. Fanny thought it was the funniest thing ever.
It had been a hectic evening. After !Ka and his clan left, the townsfolk agreed to have the welcoming party the next evening, allowing Fanny the opportunity to clean up and rest before the festivities. On the long drive back to the farm, Mister Featherbosom and Vetfaan listened – awestruck – to the adventures Fanny had had during her three-month stay with !Ka’s family. She told them of narrow escapes, deeply moving ceremonies, a childbirth in a hut and the burial of a distant family member of !Ka’s wife. She spoke of hunting, gathering, loyalty, respect. Her words described improbable fountains, incredible hunts and unimaginable landscapes.
Back on the farm, old Featherbosom excused himself, declaring he was dead on his feet. He certainly looked the part: the day’s stress and excitement seemed to have drained him completely. After a hasty meal and some coffee, Fanny disappeared into the bathroom, and was pleasantly surprised to find that Vetfaan installed a rather ornate bath while she was away. Her shrieks of joy brought a proud smile to the big man’s lips.
Then she called for a third glass…
Vetfaan inches his way into the bathroom, blindfolded like before.
“Take it off, Fanie..?” Her voice, soft and compelling, stops him in his tracks.”Please? Look at me?”
Vetfaan reaches up to pull the blindfold down, and has to concentrate hard to keep his breathing normal.
The three months have transformed Fanny completely. Not only is she daring, witty, eloquent and totally self-confident…her body has undergone the most remarkable change. The red hair has been bleached to the softest hue of ginger, her skin deeply tanned, and there is no trace of her massive obesity. The ungainly and bulky frame is gone – she now seems trim and yet curvy, lean and yet oh so feminine.
Vetfaan drags his gaze up to the brilliant smile and the sparkling eyes. “You are absolutely beautiful,” he breathes. “Gorgeous. Breathtaking. Amazing…”
“I had to hear that, Fanie. From you.” She’s whispering, her eyes suddenly serious. “I needed to know if people can see what I feel.”
Vetfaan sinks to the floor, so he can see only her face above the rim of the bath.
“You have a new life before you now.” Vetfaan’s tone is neutral, non-committal, flat. He’s done a lot of thinking, and feels there are things they should talk about. “Your thesis will be unique and your name will be mentioned alongside Gandhi and Mandela. Your father wants you to write a book on your experiences and with his advertising know-how, it’ll remain on the bestseller lists for months. Sally’s photographs, coupled with your words…” He stops to catch his breath. He manages a lob-sided grin and soldiers on. “I’ve done a lot of thinking, Fanny…”
“There’s something you have to know, Fanie…”
“No, let me finish, please? I fell in love with you. I don’t know why. Maybe I thought we were the same: sort-of outcasts, destined for a hermit-life. We could have made it work, too. But now…everything’s changed. The day you said you wanted to join !Ka’s family for a while, I started worrying – not because I thought you were making a mistake, but because I was afraid you’d realise your potential. I had this selfish dream of making you mine…
“But the caterpillar has changed to a butterfly. Cinderella found her shoe. The duckling turned out to be a swan… You’re destined to woo the world, and the world will fall in love with you – and I’m just a simple farmer with a flock of scrawny sheep. I…we have to face that.”
“Fanie, I love you too. We’ll find a way. There has to be a way.”
“With you in London and travelling all over the world? The work you’ve done is so unique, academics from all the major centres will ask you to address meetings and congresses. Your father is already setting that up. He says it’s the least he can do; he wants to be the father he never quite managed to be. It’s an impossible situation.”
Vetfaan gets up, averts his eyes, and fetches the bottle of wine before sitting down again.
“I don’t know, Fanny. We scarcely know each other, and here I am, sulking because you have to return to your life. During the last three months I did a lot of introspection. Why do I feel like this? I want you here. I want you to be successful. I just can’t bring the two together.”
“Fanie, you were the first man – ever – to see me as a woman. I can never forget that.”
Vetfaan sighs. “Here in the Kalahari, we learn to appreciate the rain when it comes. It’s rare. It’s precious. And then it goes away. That’s reality, Fanny. We make do with the minimum, because that’s the way things are. We are used to little spells of joy interspersed with long periods of need.” He pours some wine into his glass to gulp it down. “I’m telling you this because I want to save both of us a lot of heartache. I’d rather lay my cards on the table now, than to dream an impossible dream…”
The conversation goes round and round in circles, even after he helped her into the robe and started the generator for her hair dryer. Dawn finds them in the kitchen, where the crowing outside reminds them of a new day.
“You have to get some sleep, Fanny. Tonight is your welcoming party, which is rather silly, as your father have booked the two of you on a flight back to London tomorrow. Anyway, pretty girls need their beauty sleep, not so?” He tries to smile.
She gets up warily to shuffle towards her bedroom with slumped shoulders. At the door she turns around.
“Won’t you lie down with me. Just to feel you near. Cuddle, nothing else. Please?” Small-girl voice with pleading eyes.
The party at Boggel’s Place is a resounding success. Sullen Sally – having heard of Featherbosom’s plans for her future – brightens when she sees the effect of her adocumentary on the little audience. Even Servaas clapped hands at the end. Boggel says it’s the first time Rolbos has hosted a world première, and Fanny congratulates Sally on a magnificent film. Then Oudoom asks Fanny to tell them a little about her time with !Ka’s clan. She has them spell-bound and occasionally wiping away tears of laughter (or sadness) for the next hour.
Featherbosom waddles over to where Vetfaan is sitting on the stoep.
“You’re awfully quiet tonight, old chap. Anything the matter?”
“Sir, we’ve had a few man-to-man chats in the past. You know how I feel about your daughter. I also know we are both tremendously proud of what she’s achieved – and will achieve in the near future. It’s just that…” He falters, unable to go on.
“No need to explain, old boy. The twists in Life’s path and all that. Terribly complicated and sometimes horribly sad. Let me tell you: Ive been married more times than I care to remember. Every time, it was for all the right reasons. And every time the right reason was the wrong reason. Git bowled out with slow, straight balls every time.
“So here’s what I think: don’t throw your wicket away, old boy. Stay at the crease. Block the fast ones and the bad ones. Wait for the one just wide of off-stump. That’s the one you dispatch towards the outfield with some aplomb. You know what I’m getting at?”
Vetfaan manages a smile and pats the older man on the shoulder.
“Thank you, sir.”
Vetfaan watches as the two of them cross the runway to board the aeroplane. Fanny turns at the last moment to wave her lacy handkerchief one more time. Then the jet’s door closes as the whine of the turbines climbs the scales.
Vetfaan walks over to the counter of the cafeteria and orders a beer. He feels drained and distraught and definitely doesn’t want to tackle the road back home right now. He also wants to read the letter she shoved in his breast pocket when they kissed goodbye.
My Dearest Fanie
I know you’re right about our lives spinning away on different courses and the stupidity of ignoring reality. I find it hard, unfair, harsh, horrible.
I want to leave you with a thought: I love you. I don’t know where and when and how, but we’ll meet again. You have been incredibly kind to me; you’ve opened doors, opened my mind, given me a life I’d never have dreamed about. For that, I can only be eternally grateful. But you’ve given me even more than all that: you’ve given me love. I see it in your eyes. I feel it in your touch. I carry it in my heart.
So, in this terrible hour of saying goodbye and not knowing what the future holds, I leave you a talisman, to be a constant reminder of my love.
With all my heart
Vetfaan shakes the envelope to drop the Burger Pound in the palm of his hand. It shines in the morning sun as he turns it over and over.
Yes, he thinks, the last three months were filled with surprises. Sally with her stupid idea of a reality TV show started it all off. Then the surprises of Fanny, the stranded wagon, the treasure hidden in the sand, the unlikely friendship with old Mister Featherbosom…
He finishes his beer and strolls over to the ever-patient and reliable Ford. He’ll sit quietly in the cab for a while, savouring the lingering perfume that still hangs in the air. He’ll wipe the tears from his cheeks with an angry hand, feeling stupid to act like a schoolboy in love.
And then he’ll pray. Just a few words; a simple and intense prayer.
Dear Lord, just one more, please? Just one more surprise…