!Ka lies down again after moving his leg to a more comfortable position. !Tung gave him some more of her herbs – the last ones, she said – before she walked off into the night. He will grieve her passing like he will that of any living being. Life, he knows, is a fragile and precious gift. !Tung had been such a constant presence in the family for so long, so his grief will also be mixed with a joyful gratitude for her contribution. And now, without a shaman, the family will suffer. Who’ll foretell the drought or find the hidden spring? Who’ll prepare them for death or steer them to safety? He sighs heavily, closes his eyes, and drifts into an uneasy slumber.
The two next to the fire listen to the soft cracks and hisses of the burning twigs on the fire. The night is getting colder, causing a small shiver to run through Fanny’s body. Vetfaan moves nearer to put his arm around her.
“You okay?” His voice is soft, caring.
She nods. “I am, now. It’s nice having you around. I’m not sure what I would have done with !Tung’s suggestion if you weren’t here.” She wonders what Henry would make of all this. Here she is, in the middle of the desert with this burly man, enjoying the silence of the night. It is so radically different to life in London, where she is quite a bit of a celebrity in her own right. With her father’s connections, Henry’s wealth and her recent academic achievements, she has become a known face. No restaurant or theatre is ever too full to refuse them seats. But here…here she’s nobody.
Or is she? Is being with somebody you love not more important than fame and riches? What makes a person? Money? Fame? A certain position? And then again: is loving not the answer? Not being loved – the sensation that you are wanted – but loving in itself? Loving life, yourself, even somebody else? Is loving, then, not the fulfilment of life in itself? Only a mind at ease with itself is able to create the feeling of loving and caring, not so? That surely means the act of loving is only possible by somebody in harmony with whatever Life turns out to be – good or bad.
The thought is an appealing one and causes other little side-ripple-ideas to form. People are constantly looking for recognition and acceptance – simply because they have not found peace within themselves. Other people, they think, must provide that. And because no amount of praise or even care can provide the inner peace that must flow from accepting one as one is, people can’t love the way we are supposed to. That’s why people gather riches and think fame will make up for the emptiness inside. And that’s why people build bombs and make war. And even; that’s why people are so keen to gossip and put others down. It’s because they are in themselves not able to see themselves as worthy individuals – and Instead of striving to be better, they simply try to make others look worse. People look for love – and forget that loving comes first…
Loving, she decides, defines Life. It is what we were created for – to give and share, not to keep and not to expect anything as reward.
She feels Vetfaan’s discomfort as he moves to put another piece of wood in the fire. Now, here’s a man who is not comfortable with endearing words, but his eyes! He has the most loving eyes she’s ever seen…
“Um. Er…we have to leave early,” he says, deliberately breaking the silence. “We’ll have to go to Upington to get !Ka to the hospital.” Her nearness is both comfortable and upsetting. Must he do more? Do less? Sit nearer? Rest a hand on her leg?
“Yes.” She whispers the single word.
He shoots her a surprised look. “What?”
They reach Upington in mid-afternoon to head straight for the hospital. !Ka said he is feeling much better this morning and when Fanny inspected the swelling, she was surprised to see it was almost gone.
Vetfaan hops out to call over an attendant, but an orderly is already on his way with a wheelchair.
Young Doctor Welman – he of the miracle cure of Servaas – is slightly irritated when Vetfaan proffers his hand.
“Where have you been all day, Vetfaan? I’ve been waiting for !Ka since eleven. We received a call and had everything on standby since then.”
“But I didn’t…” Vetfaan stops in mid-sentence as realisation dawns. “Oh.. Oh my…!Kung is dead…” Fanny nods, not able to stop the salty tear from running over her cheek.
“We both knew that, didn’t we?” Her voice is barely a whisper.
!Ka gets VIP treatment. He is rushed to X-Rays, and soon returns to wait for the results.
“Mister Vetfaan, my pain is almost gone. Since !Tung sang to my leg, things have improved a lot. I can’t step on it, but…”
Welman comes over with the report. “The call said it was a complicated fracture. Shows you! Never listens to amateurs. Pffft!” He puts the X-ray on the lighted screen and goes on with a lecturing tone. “What we have here, is a minor avulsion fracture of the tibia. A small fragment of bone detached itself because a ligament put strain on it. Painful, yes, but nothing serious. He’ll need to support the ankle for a week or two, but it’ll heal all by itself.”
“But I saw that leg.” Fanny tries to sound calm. She remembers all too well the angled shape of the leg, the obvious deformity indicating a tibia and fibula fracture. “It was swollen this big,” she shows with her hands, “and I could move the foot independently from the rest of the leg. It was broken, clear as daylight.”
“Well, young lady,” Welman draws himself up to his full five-foot-six, “here’s the evidence. You are, of course, welcome to a second opinion. Unless of course you feel qualified to give it yourself?”
Dog-tired and dirty, they arrive back on Vetfaan’s farm. !Ka hobbles over to his room on the new crutches he got on loan from the hospital, saying thank you, but he is tired. He’ll have a tin of bully beef, please? Stuffing the tin in a pocket, he gives Vetfaan a huge wink and a leering smile as he turns to close the door.
Vetfaan lights the fire and positions the old kettle over the flames. For the first time since Fanny’s return, they are alone – except for Vrede, who couldn’t care less: Vetfaan’s reward of a piece of biltong sees to that.
The old school-boy awkwardness is back as he stutters and stumbles through asking the simple question: would she like some coffee? Ever since she came back to Rolbos, she seems so much more than he remembered: more self-assured, more mature…more…feminine?
“Yes please. Then I’m going to have a shower and put on something more…comfortable, Fanie. Then I’ll make some dinner. Have you got candles? Any wine? We have so much to talk about. And we have to settle a few things as well, don’t you think? It’s time. We owe it to ourselves.”
Vetfaan sits down when he hears the shower running. Fanny has become such a huge part of his life in such a short time, He can see she’s comfortable with him, but does that mean just that, or is there more? A firm friendship, but no real involvement? Vrede puts a wet nose against his arm to say thanks for the snack, wagging his tail slowly.
“Ja, Vrede. Here we are, the two of us. A plain, common farmer and his dog. And in that shower, with water coursing over her most magnificent body, is a fascinating woman. I cannot believe how much she has changed since I first met her. I mean: in the beginning she was just another woman; but now…well…” He searches for the right word, fails, and settles for scratching Vrede’s head.
“And you know what?” He hears the water stop and imagines her standing there, drying herself. “She’s spoken for. So steel yourself, Boy, it’s going to be one of those nights. You know? All nice and mushy, kind words and secret looks – and then she’s going to tell me. Yep, that’s what’s on the menu. A kind-hearted few words to tell me I don’t belong in her life and she doesn’t belong here. We can be friends, but… Let’s face it Vrede, she can do so much better than me.” Vrede’s liquid-chocolate eyes search Vetfaan’s face, flicking this way and that while he listens. “Well, I’ve had disappointments before. I can handle this one. When she starts the soft-soaping process, I’ll just tell her I’m not interested. That’ll make it much easier for her and it’ll sort the situation out there and then…”
Vetfaan gets up to turn the radio on; at least they can have some music for the occasion. It sometimes beats talking, anyway.
He’s about to uncork the wine when he hears presenter announcing the next song.
Yes, he thinks, how appropriate…