The later history of Vetfaan’s Surprise..
That’s what he called it, The Place of Seeing, when they sat there. It was one of those balmy days, a clear spring day filled with promise, when they climbed the hill to see if they could find the little herd of Springbuck that sometimes visits the farm. Fences mean nothing to these animals – the veld is theirs, and humans will never manage to stop their endless roaming.
That’s why he wanted to read the letter here again, one last time, He feels closer to her on this hilltop.
“It’s so beautiful,” she whispered back then. The silence around them was absolute, capturing the moment in a timeless vacuum. When he closed his eyes, he wished he had the power to to make the world stand still. He didn’t want the beauty of those seconds to fade into the grey nothing of history.
“Yes. It’s my Place of Seeing. I always imagine this to be a picture of Life. Look.” He pointed. “There is this barren plain, filled with blackened rocks and dry sand. Yet, these little bits of bush and shrub and grass are enough for the antelopes. They live here, because they want to. Sometimes it rains and the whole area is green. Mostly, it’s as dry as this.”
Fanny looked at him sideways, a secret smile on her lips. “Just like Life, Fanie? Our joys are short-lived and interspersed by long periods of hardship.”
“True,” he said. “But look at the horizon. See? There where the blue mountains meet? There’s a little hint of clouds resting between the outcrops. That’s the promise: it’ll rain again someday.”
“Some day,” she said wistfully, “For me it’s always someday.”
He told her then. Said he cared for her. Said the road ahead is a barren and rocky one, but that he’d be her guide. Said that, he’d walk with her until she gets to the clouds, even if there is no path for them to follow.
“Will we get there together?” Uncertainty made her turn to look at him with worried eyes.
“Destiny will find a way. It always does. What will be, will be.”
It’s a long letter; written, not typed; telling him of her life in England. Then he gets to the last paragraphs:
I belong here, like those antelopes belong in their environment. And…I’ve met somebody. Somebody really special, who makes me very happy. I don’t know how to say this, but I have to… I love you. I love him differently. He loves me, he’s here, he’s the right one. And yet…when I think of those moments we sat on the hilltop – just before the Springbucks walked by so gracefully – I’m torn between a wish and a reality.
I have so many conflicting emotions as I write this. How can I care for you, and still not want to be with you? Of course, I want to be with you. Maybe it’s the distance, or maybe we were just assembled differently, or maybe it wasn’t meant to be – and all those ‘maybes’ still doesn’t add up to anything remotely approaching a proper answer. That’s when I remember our Place of Seeing. You said Destiny will always find a way. It has, but not in the way we thought back then.
You were right about the clouds. They do hold the promise of rain. And you walked me across that arid stretch of earth to bring me to the blue mountains where I can touch the clouds. I would never have done it alone. You made me believe in myself again – and now I have the courage to see what is beyond the horizon.
Dearest, please wish me well? I do so hope you understand. I have to work this thing out for myself – this time you can’t help me. I’ll go forth boldly, but with caution. And I can only do that, if I knew you supported me in this. I think my ‘someday’ has come. Please allow me the freedom to see for myself? To get to my own personal Place of Seeing?
She goes on to tell him she will always love him, even if it is difficult to understand.
I need to know I have your blessing, even though I know how much this letter might upset you. The time I spent with you will remain my fondest memories.
I struggled to write this letter, Fanie, but I had to. I want our relationship to be one I can be proud of, and dishonesty doesn’t belong between the two of us.
I am, as always,
Vetfaan folds the letter carefully to put it back in the envelope. The slightest hint of perfume still clings to the paper, almost as a farewell gift to soften the blow. He knew, he tells himself, how slim the chances were that she’d move to Rolbos and become a farmer’s wife. Equally, he could never adapt to the foreign ways of London. Damned if he tried, damned if he didn’t.
He leans back against the rock behind him, looking out across the veld to the distant mountains and the little patch of clouds. He loves her, of that there can be no question. And, he decides, that means he must grant what is best for her. Love means, after all, giving; not taking. The thought is so painful, he has to wipe away an unwanted tear. He never realised how far away those mountains were…
The way back home seems much longer today. It’s as if his feet want to turn around to go back to the Place of Seeing to relive that happy timeless moment when they sat there, staring at the distant horizon. He stops once when a lone Springbuck trots past proudly; the real owner of the ground they share.
“We’re all just travellers, aren’t we?” He shouts at the disappearing antelope. “Journeymen across this dusty plain, hoping for rain. It’s so … unfair!”
The buck picks up speed. Humans scare him. They put up fences.
Vetfaan looks back one last time. It’s getting dark and he can scarcely make out the romantic lookout point. The letter has fenced it off and the view has gone.
He won’t go back.
The Place of Seeing belongs to the Springbuck now.