Fanny’s Surprise

Fanny Featherbosom stares at the mirror for a long time. The dress, made by Androulla Toumaza’s unique boutique in Stoke Newington, north London, is fashioned after a 50’s rage. It is elegantly styled to fit her perfectly; she’d be the envy of every woman in the audience tonight and can anticipate the lecherous looks from the men. Although the thought makes her smile, the mirth doesn’t reach her eyes.

She is the keynote speaker at a fundraiser for the Kalahari Bushmen Humanitarian Fund, a charity which aims to improve education and development of the indigenous peoples on that vast desert. Her notes are ready: the history of the persecution of the San over the ages is a harrowing subject that’ll make the attendees add more naughts to their donated sums. The KBHF was started after she returned from her time with !Ka by her father, who saw the value of exploiting public consciousness. Not only would the Bushmen benefit from such a campaign, it also gave big companies the opportunity to tell the world how much they care. Plain Advertising 101: benefits all round.

But this afternoon she had her first look at the projected costs. To get a camera crew to the Kalahari – private jet and the hiring of two additional helicopters once they’re there – already  eats up the first three million. Then, to keep the campaign going, a crew will be left (after the nitial shoots) for another six months. Salaries, overheads, lodging, apparatus – another million gone. After that: the extensive editing, the music that must be composed, the jingles to be written. The budget is quite staggering…

Henry Hartford (The Third) arrives when the large oak grandfather clock in the hall strikes the hour. Dear Henry – always so prompt! Reliable, dependable Henry. Boring, dull Henry. Still, a girl can’t have everything. Despite his personality, he’s quite a catch – everybody agrees on that. With significant shareholding in oil companies, mining rights in Australia and the hotel chain, the wealth of the Hartfords is far beyond the capabilities of normal thought. There are just too many zeroes. Although the marriage will be secure and safe with predictable moments of joy (Christmas dinners, birthdays), she’ll be introduced as a celebrity to the lords and ladies of high society – even the Queen herself. As far as English maidens goes, she’s landed the ultimate prize.

As he escorts her to the limousine (soft hand at her elbow, straight back, nose slightly tilited upwards) she cannot but help thinking of Vetfaan. Rough, tough-as-nails Vetfaan with the old Ford pickup. Yes he did open the door for her, but she had to clear the supplies and equipment from the seat before she could get in. Dusty, trusty Vetfaan, the rugged man with the soft heart and the kind eyes. She smiles as the chauffeur jumps out to shepherd the two of them into the air-conditioned interior, where the two chilled glasses of Dom Perignon won’t spill a drop as they drive off.

As usual, Henry says nothing.  He’s may be brilliant with figures and numbers, but small-talk is something he  is totally incapable of. He said he’d fetch her and escort her to the function, so that’s what he’s doing. It’s unnecessary to say anything, after all.

After the customary social interaction that accompanies these stiff evenings, her talk is announced.  Henry gets up to give her a hand to rise from her chair, hands the CD with the powerpoint presentation to her, and shakes her hand.  Pompous, dull Henry. She lets go of Henry’s limp hand, gets up and glides up the steps to the stage. The technician rushes over to get the powerpoint into the computer and waits for her nod to start the slide show.

From where she stands, she scans the faces of the audience for a second, gathering her thoughts.

“Ladies and gentlemen..” she rushes through the ritual of greeting everybody by their social rank and standing, before telling them about the plight of the San people of the Kalahari. She sweeps the audience along with her telling of the value system these so-called primitive men and women accept as completely normal, contrasting it brilliantly with the mayhem of modern society. The inherent kindness and respect of the San gets positioned apposite the greed and laws of Western civilisation.

Then she nods, starting the slides.

The audience gasps.

She swirls around to see the face of Vetfaan smiling from the screen.

One after the other, Gertruida’s photographs of Rolbos, !Ka and the Busman family flashes in front of the audience, telling a wordless story of the life and times of this remote area in the desert. A short video clip of Oudoom talking about love follows, and the slide show ends with a clip of the group at the bar wishing her and Henry the best of futures.

The polite applause punctuates the audience’s surprise. They expected Fanny’s brilliant photographic documentation of the !Ka family’s life, but here they were shown how different groups can coexist – under completely different circumstances – in peaceful harmony, interdependent, and on the goodwill they  share.

Then, after thirty seconds or so, Gertruida appears on the screen. The end of the slides, was, after all, not the end of the show.

“You people don’t know me. I’m Gertruida.  And I want to tell you something you may not know. We love Fanny. All of us do. Maybe Vetfaan loves her more than the rest of us, but that remains to be seen.

“Now I know you want to collect money for an advert and you’ll donate millions towards improving the life of these Bushmen. I have another suggestion.

“Donate your money. Give it to Fanny. Let her get that Sally Shepherd to do the filming, with Fanny directing. You’ll save thousands of pounds in production, and we can get Fanny back to Rolbos for a while. I’ve spoken to Henry Hartford, and he’s given his blessing on such an undertaking.”

This time the applause is spontaneous and genuine.

Fanny stares down at Henry. Dull, socially inept Henry. And in that moment, she understands for the first time that his life isn’t just about money and numbers. Gertruida obviously contacted him, and suggested that he exchange to CD’S to show the one they saw tonight.

In that locked gaze, she realises a new understanding between them. He’s not afraid to trust her, and he doesn’t want to keep her from doing what she feels she must do. He wants her to be free, find her heart, be the person she wants to be, and follow her passion.

With tears streaking down her cheeks, she hurries over to hug Henry. Dear, sweet, understanding, loving Henry. He of few words, but a heart of gold.

For the first time since she’s met him, she can see him laughing as she rushes up to him.

17 thoughts on “Fanny’s Surprise

  1. thehappyhugger

    Whilst reading this I thought “no,this cannot be happening to Henry.” Amos wouldn’t let that happen…and then the twist took me quite by surprise. Fabulous work, Amos!

  2. Ben Wolmarans

    Dankie Amos. Hoe waardevol as ons hulle wat naby ons lewe gun om hulleself uit te lewe en hulle daarin te kan vertrou!

  3. cvheerden

    Love your writing, Amos! Gee but what a name, Vetfaan.Maybe because I am not native South African, you have me giggling their in curls just about the name. And I can just see Gertruida smiling from that screen.

    1. Amos van der Merwe Post author

      Vetfaan popped up one day, straight out of the keyboard – and he refuses to leave. He’s such a sweet, gullible, gentle, kind character – wish there were real people like him.

  4. aj vosse

    I’ve been away for a while… I’m really looking forward to reading their exploits!

    Could true love win? I hope so! And of course the San and the Kalahari must also win!


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