Fanny writes regularly, old-fashioned letters with stamps on the envelope. She still finds it hard to believe that Rolbos isn’t connected to the Internet, and detests the long periods between her letters and Vetfaan’s replies. Gertruida says it’s a good thing – they both have to think carefully before they write. She says e-mails and texting have killed the romance of written communication; a hugging smiley face should not be substituted for flowery words of endearment. Of course, she had to explain what smileys are, and even then Servaas didn’t get it.
Fanny handed in her thesis and waited for her promoter to respond. Three weeks went by before she was summonsed to the professor’s office – a curt invitation, giving nothing away. She arrived five minutes early, but the secretary (who could have doubled for Miss Rottenmeier, of Heidi fame, any time) said the professor is busy, she must wait. A full half-hour went by before a soft buzzer on the secretary’s desk sounded and Fanny was ushered into the office. Here, she was surprised to see the professor’s guest.
Michael Burawoy is a legend. As president of the International Sociological Association, he is arguably one of the world’s leading experts on human rights and sociological issues. Fanny has never met him, but she has read his thesis on the development of Zambia’s peoples after independence. Amongst the numerous articles he has published, she thought “ Public Sociology: South African Dilemmas in a Global Context” stood out as one of his best.
After introducing his guest, her professor apologised for making her wait.
“I discussed your thesis with Doctor Burawoy, Miss Featherbosom. We are both extremely impressed with your work. Dr Burawoy would like you to deliver the keynote address at the ISA’s next meeting in Yokohama. There are also three other satellite conferences happening as part the forthcoming XVIII World Congress of Sociology, where he’d like you to deliver a shorter version of your work.”
Fanny sat back to savour the moment. From a dusty library, to the sandy stretches of the Kalahari, and now onward to Japan? It’s a fairy tale come true.
‘Oh, yes. Your thesis. The university has made a unanimous decision the award you a PhD. in Social Sciences. Magna Cum Laude, I may add.” The usual stern face of the professor did it’s best to smile. He was, indeed, very pleased with his student’s efforts.
Fanny felt the tears run down her cheeks as she wished Vetfaan could share this moment with her.
“But I’ve never been to Japan!” Vetfaan has the letter in his one hand and the aeroplane ticket in the other, staring at them with undisguised terror. “Passports! Visas! A strange country with no deserts, no sheep and I bet they don’t understand Afrikaans, either. No, I can’t go.”
“You’re famous now, Vetfaan. Fanny has dedicated her book, Starting Over, The Roots of Respect, to you. It stormed up the best-selling charts world-wide. You, Vetfaan, are no longer an unknown person. All you need to do is to follow the instructions in the letter. Mister Featherbosom apparently arranged everything with the Japanese ambassador. Pick up the phone, you dummy. You’ll see.”
Vetfaan stares at the big conference centre in total disbelief. The Pacifico Yokohama is unlike anything he’s ever seen. He’s just checked in at the InterContinental The Grand Yokohama Hotel, and is still unable to comprehend the degree of opulence and luxury of the surroundings. Featherbosom, himself, met him at the airport with a large, white stretch limousine – equipped with a little bar that thankfully held a few Sapporo beers.
Feeling slightly giddy and overcome, he scampers back to his room. Gertruida said he must explore this wonderful city, and bring back photos of the Landmark Tower and the Sea Paradise, but the masses of people and the impossibly dense traffic scares him off. He’ll rather relax after the flight before meeting Fanny tonight.
Vetfaan settles for a teriyaki steak, simply because it is the only semi-recognisable item on the menu. His attention is focussed on Fanny, who looks gorgeous in a conservative business suit complemented by a simple string of pearls and diamond ear studs. He notices she has lost most of her tan, but the smile and the sparkling eyes are just the way he remembers them. Featherbosom left earlier, saying he has another meeting. Fanny laughed at that, thanking him for allowing the two of them some alone-time.
“I wanted you here, Vetfaan. Everybody is making a fuss about my work, as if it is something new. But you – you -lived by that code ever since you were born. All the simple things: respect, loyalty, kindness. You taught me to go back to the roots.” She’s silent for a while, then adds: “Such a pity !Ka wouldn’t come. He needs recognition, too.”
“!ka? Outside the Kalahari? He’d die… No, I spoke to him, and he said I must greet you and tell you he’s sorry. His place, he said, is the Kalahari. He said the world beyond the horizon is for other people. And, he said, his responsibility is his family. I understand that. We all belong somewhere. You belong where your message must be heard. I belong in my cottage on the farm. Still, I’m not here for recognition. I’m here because I needed to see you again. It’s been too long…”
“But I wanted you to introduce me tomorrow. It’s just a small meeting, a mini-workshop for three or four hundred people I must chair. And I thought…”
Vetfaan holds up a hand. “No Fanny. You were kind enough to fly me out for two days. You’ve arranged everything. Thank you for that.” He takes a deep breath. “But you must understand why I’m here. It is an opportunity to see you, not to give a fancy speech in front of an audience of strangers! I love you, Fanny. Full stop. This,” he sweeps a hand towards the packed restaurant, “isn’t me. I belong in Boggel’s Place, with Kleinpiet drawing pictures on the counter top.”
“Ships passing in the night, then, Fanie?” Her eyes are incredibly sad. “Are we doomed to love from afar?” She reaches over the white linen table cloth to lay a hand on his. “Whatever are we going to do?”
“I’ll gladly accompany you tomorrow. I’ll sit in the front row, absorbing every word, adoring you. We’ll spend the afternoon talking before having a wonderful dinner. Then I’ll go back. Back to where I belong. We’ll use the opportunities that present themselves. There’s no other way.”
“It went well this morning,” Vetfaan says as he takes off his tie. Fanny has joined him in his room, and she’s ordered a platter of Japanese delicacies sent up. “I’m really proud of what you’ve accomplished. Now, at least, we have an afternoon to ourselves.”
A little later, her cellphone starts ringing.
“Yes, James?” By now Vetfaan has met James, a rather effeminate and pale young man who acts as her personal assistant.
“No, James, I can’t join this afternoon’s discussion…. Yes, tell them something important has come up…. What?…It’s got nothing to do with you, young man… Listen, you know my passion is spreading the word about my findings….Yes, it’s just like missionary work….Indeed! I am just about to be missionary again…(giggle as Vetfaan slips the strap of her blouse over her shoulder)…Tomorrow I’ll be available again. Right now I have much a more urgent matter to attend to. Goodbye.”
Somewhere in the Tankwa Karoo, Sally Sheppard curses softly as the lizard scampers away. She almost had it in a perfect setting to take a unique photograph… Oh, for one single day in a city – any city – again! These silly adocumentaries of that horrible mister Featherbosom may have brought her some fame – and the pay isn’t bad – but to spend endless day after endless day without the artificial excitement of reality TV is just about more than she can handle.
“Madam! Madam! Here’s another one!” Platnees points at the lizard. “It’s a bloukop! Come quick!”
Sighing resignedly, she trudges over to where the lizard waits patiently until she’s set up her camera – before hurrying away.
“Vetfaan should have been here.” Boggel opens a new bottle of Cactus Jack. “This is quite a momentous occasion. Just see how excited Vrede is…”
“Won’t Vetfaan be surprised when he comes back!” Servaas watches the litter as they struggle to find a feeding spot on Shirley-the-new-mother-Basset. “He’ll be so happy.”
Servaas has no idea. Vetfaan’s surprise and happiness can hardly surpass what he’s experiencing right now, in a place where the horizon has shrunk and the world is a room filled with happy giggles. For a few precious hours, nothing else matters. And, like all lovers over the ages, he allows himself to indulge in that richly passionate illusion of believing everything will work out just fine…
There are two songs you may choose from, depending on the mood the story left you with. It’ll be interesting to see what the you; as a companion on Vetfaan’s and Fanny’s journey; experience after this, the last chapter of the current series. Which song will be on Fanny’s mind tomorrow? Please tell me? I’d like to know…