“Love,” Vetfaan says with absolute certainty, “is an illusion. Opium for the masses. Just another flippin’ four-letter-word.” He glares at the little crowd at the counter, daring them to argue. Not getting a response, he sits back satisfied. “Only lonely people fall in love. If you don’t feel alone, you don’t need it.”
Servaas clears his throat, straightens his tie and sighs. “Guilty as charged, Your Honour. I’m lonely. Ever since Siena… (he still can’t say died)…passed on, I’ve been lonely. Never felt so isolated in all my life. So call me weak, if you like. I won’t mind a bit of company at night. Or somebody to wash the dishes.”
“That’s my point, Servaas. People need people. It’s nice to listen to the rugby on the radio, while somebody else does the ironing. We are, by nature, lazy creatures. If we get somebody to ‘love’ us, then that poor somebody is useful for something – something you’re too lazy, too weak, too stupid to do.”
“Methinks the gentleman protests too much.” Gertruida pats Vetfaan on the shoulder. “Could it be that you are in denial, Vetfaan? That you are so in love with Fanny, you want to tell yourself it’s not true? That, my friend, is called a Double-reverse Chicken Gambit. It’s the pre-final stage. Then you get the Dead Cat Bounce. Then you give up and get married.”
“It’s a typical male reaction,” Precilla says as she tickles Kleinpiet’s neck, “to be a caveman.” She juts out her jaw, lifts her elbows, and scratches and armpit vigorously while making Neanderthal noises. “Men are so afraid of love, they try to pretend it doesn’t exist.” She shoots an apologetic glance at Kleinpiet. “Except this hunk of masculinity, of course. He converted …”
Kleinpiet smiles sheepishly before sipping his beer. He’s learnt not to argue.
“See, it’s called the domestication of the male. Training of the wild animal. Teaching the dog to sit up before getting a titbit. What used to be a wild and free soul, is now chained behind the bars of eternal servitude.”
“Oh, come on, Vetfaan, admit it. You love that woman. Fanny has turned your world upside down, and you’re loving it to bits.” Now Kleinpiet gets a little hug from Precilla. “You weren’t born to live alone.”
Vetfaan only smiles at that. He once told them about the little dove chicken that fell from the nest in the old tree behind his back door. He took it in, made a little nest in an old box, and fed it – first with soft porridge, later with soaked corn. It slowly sprouted feathers and became stronger, and eventually he took the chick for flying lessons. He’d drop it, allow a few flaps of the wings, and catch it again. This is my dove, he thought at the time. He found a brass ring and carefully slipped the dove’s foot through it. Now he’d always be able to know which one was his
Over time it became stronger, and eventually flew a few yards. And then, one day, it was strong enough to fly off. It perched in the tree, cooing proudly,
The next day he found the remains of his dove-chick near the tree. A lynx had caught it. Only a few feathers remained – even the ring was gone.
“I care about her, that’s true. And maybe I’m in denial. But she’s in London and I’m here. She’s the darling of the scientific world, and I’m a sheep farmer.” He sighs as he sips his beer. “You know what, guys? Love is a torture rack, For some the pain is immediate – like with some disappointment or something. For others, it takes years – say, if the loved one dies or runs off with somebody else. One thing is sure: love may be a great feeling, but it’s bound to hurt – badly – sometime. Love is a short-term joyful tail wagging a long-term black dog. And that, my friends, scares me. Why tell yourself you’re happy now, just because you’re in denial of what must come?”
“You’re a fatalist, Vetfaan, not a realist. The time I spent with Siena, made it worthwhile. I would have missed a lot of fun if I had never met her.” Servaas remembers the picnics they had under the tree next to Bokkop. They’d take the old gramophone and dance in the twilight, shuffling through the sand on bare feet. “But, of course, if you’re too scared to love, that’s your business.”
“But what if she meets somebody else? I can’t compete, Servaas; how can I?”
“Oh shush Vetfaan!” Gertruida waves a dismissive hand. “Love isn’t conditional.” She pulls a face to continue in a girlish voice. “I’ll only love you if you love me” She lets out a wry laugh. “Love was never supposed to be like that, at all. It’s no shame to have loved and have lost, like the old saying goes. In fact, if you really, really loved somebody, you’d have her best interests at hart. And no man has a greater love than this: than to allow the love of your life to be happy. Sometimes it requires a lot of soul-searching and a lot of honesty; but if she finds happiness elsewhere, you have to let go. Love isn’t selfish, remember?”
“I agree with Gertruida.” Boggel pushes a few cold beers over the counter. “You can’t fight for love. You can’t fight against love. And you can’t fight love. Love is. If it’s there, well, happy and hooray. If not, then it wasn’t meant to be. Remember Mary Mitchell? I still love her as much as I did back then. We haven’t seen each other for ages, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love her anymore. I talk to her all the time,” he taps his head, “in here.”
But the lynx got my dove… Vetfaan doesn’t say it, though. They won’t understand. If it flew away to a happy dove-life, that would have pleased him immensely. But it didn’t. Its freedom cost it its life.
Gertruida walks over to give Vetfaan a hug. “You poor, poor man…” For once, her voice is soft, filled with sympathy. “You finally found out what love is. That’s why you are going on about it. Let’s face it: love is the scariest thing you’ll ever experience. This all-consuming passion you have to be somebody special to Fanny, is also the most beautiful thing you’ll ever have. You’re fighting against an emotion you can no longer ignore, Vetfaan, and I’m so happy – and sorry – for you.”
“But the lynx got my dove…” This time, he says it.
“You told me about that when it happened. I remember how distraught you were. You cared for something and when you had to let it go, it had tragic results. But you know, what? You did what you could. There’s no shame in that. Love isn’t just red roses and sweet words; there’s a reality to be faced as well. The reason you felt so bad about that dove, is because you cared for it. You knew the risks out there, and hoped – trusted – it would survive. If fact, you had no choice. You couldn’t have kept it in that box forever.
“Now you have another little dove. She’s big enough to fly. She’s strong enough to find her own way. And she’s clever enough to know what lynxes do. You have no choice again, Vetfaan. Open the box. Let her fly.”
Later, back on his farm, Vetfaan sits down under the tree. Above him, a dove coos softly. He looks up to see the pretty bird perched on a branch. Around one leg, the faded brass ring shines dully in the evening sun.