“I thought so.” Gertruida, who will never admit surprise, sits back with a knowing smile. “She had the look.”
“The pregnant look, Boggel. Women who are expecting, look different. And they get moody.”
“I bow, madam, to your superior knowledge.” Boggel knows her well enough not to pry any further. “And now they’re off to see Oudoom? That’d be interesting – her being Catholic and all that.”
“I don’t think Oudoom has ever managed so many problems in such a short time.” She lifts her glass in a mock salute. “But of course, he’s not the one I’m worried about. Servaas can be very narrow-minded sometimes. Even worse – he’s got his black suit on today. It spells trouble.”
Servaas, as head elder (and the only one) of the congregation, sits stiffly next to Oudoom. On the other side of the table, Vetfaan and Fanny share worried frowns and anxious looks. They’ve just told Oudoom about the pregnancy, and want to get married as soon as possible.
“Wait a minute.” Servaas has his brows knitted together again – it’s a bad sign. “If you’re pregnant, that means you had….sex? ” He whispers the last word. “Before marriage? Before?”
Fanny feels the muscles in Vetfaans shoulders bunch up.
“Yes, Servaas. We did that thing you can’t even say. It’s a horrible, despicable, loathable act between two people in love.” The veins on his forehead stand out as he speaks. “And you know what? It was one of the holiest moments of my life. Maybe you never loved anybody as much, and I pity you for that. And now, now you’re addressing Fanny and ignoring me – as if she did something wrong. Remember the incident when Jesus came upon the adulterous woman? The one the crowd wanted to kill?
“You’re that same crowd, Servaas. You’re standing there, stone in hand, ready to kill the sinner. Now, let me ask you…what did the crowd say or do to the man involved?” He pauses, breathing hard. “Let me tell you: he doesn’t even get a mention. Nothing. Zip. Nada. Not a single word. They were ready to take the woman’s life, while the man probably bragged about his conquest in the nearest bar…”
“Now, Vetfaan, maybe…” Oudoom tries to calm the big man, but he’s not having any of it.
“No, Oudoom, I’m sorry. The Bible is full of stories about inappropriate sexual conduct. We read about so many whores – and then we read about David. The women get slandered, but David was ‘a man of God’. Men get excused, but women get blamed for sinning. And yet, one prophet was told to marry a woman of ill repute – to be a symbol of God’s union with a sinning community. Go read Hosea, Servaas.
“And don’t you ever, ever insinuate that Fanny is a whore, Servaas. By all that’s holy, I swear you’ll regret it.”
Servaas doesn’t want to back down. “Don’t you get riled up, Vetfaan. Right is right. Wrong is wrong, All I’m saying is that there’s no such thing as a small sin. And sex before marriage is a sin. Full stop.”
Vetfaan gets up to tower above the old man. Oudoom wants to intervene again, but a furious glance from Vetfaan makes him sit back. Where’s Mevrou when I need her…?
“You go get your Bible, old man. And then you show me where it says sex before marriage is wrong. The Book teaches us about fidelity, but then we read about Solomon’s vast harem. I’m not going to argue about nonsense, Servaas. I’m telling you to get off your high horse. This,” he points at Fanny, “is the woman I love. She was brought up as a Catholic and we had sex before we got a piece of paper to say we’re committed to each other. If you can’t live with that, then so be it. I’m not asking you to understand or condone anything. I’m telling you we’re getting married, and that’s it. Either Oudoom agrees to confirm our loyalty to each other, or I’ll get a magistrate to do so. Is that clear?”
Fanny tries to keep a straight face, but Vetfaan’s outburst brings back the guilt she feels about the evening with Henry Hartford III. As she bursts out in tears, her raw howl of anguish fills the room. Vetfaan swirls around to try and calm her down.
“No…Fanie…sniff!…Servaas is right. There’s something I must confess…”
When she stops talking, nobody says anything for a long time. Vetfaan, ashen-faced, stares at Fanny with the saddest eyes. Servaas sits back in triumph, satisfied that his opinion was vindicated. Oudoom gets up quietly to fetch the bottle of brandy he hides behind the books on the shelf.
“Now listen,” he says, still searching for words, “don’t let us get carried away here. First of all: I don’t care much about the differences we humans like to tag our faith with. Originally there was one God and one faith. Then some people started telling each other their faith – their church – is the right one. Now we have thousands and thousands of churches, faiths and religions. I wonder what God thinks of that. After all – there can only be one God, one Creator. My idea is that it is important to live your faith by showing others kindness, compassion, respect. That’s what God wants – not this plethora of churches vying for the attention of people in search of God. And you know what drives most churches? Not faith, my friends. Money. Power. That’s what. I think God cringes when He sees what we have done with His commandments.
“So, Servaas, her being a Catholic simply means she’s also looking for the answers, just like we are.” Oudoom hands out the glasses with the neat brandy, even serving a very small portion to Fanny. “Now…as for the evening with Henry? That’s more difficult.”
“At that stage Fanny knew how much Vetfaan loved her. It was wrong. A mistake. But…don’t we all make mistakes? Henry Hartford was a troubled young man. He could manipulate his way into any situation. He used and abused people…and then he saved Fanny’s life…. by sacrificing his own. That tells me a lot – he wanted you, Fanny, to have the future he couldn’t have himself. In giving his life, he blessed the union between you and Vetfaan. I think he had a moment of clarity and honesty, and he knew…
“So, Vetfaan, if Henry gave his life – tell me – what are you prepared to give?”
“But Dominee…” Servaas is still upset.
“No Servaas, this is not the time to come with your own preconceived ideas. The Bible teaches us about love and forgiveness. To a certain extent, the question I asked Vetfaan is the same question I direct to you. Both of you: are you brave enough to live your faith…or do you read your Bible only to get handy arguments against your fellow men and women? Select verses to feed your sick egos? Don’t, gentlemen, be hypocrites. Love. Forgive. And live in peace. You’re so busy with loving your own little egos, that loving thy neighbour means nothing to you. Quite frankly, I’m disgusted…” The speech leaves the clergyman breathless. Where did that come from?
Servaas sits back suddenly, struck by the enormity of what Oudoom has just said. The Bible is a guide to living a pure life, a kind life – and nobody is so perfect, so holy, to be able to adhere to every letter of the Book. His self-righteousness disappears in a flash.
Fanny dares not look up. Why did she tell them? She should have stayed quiet, and a lot of the anguish would have been spared. Sobbing softly, she storms from the room.
Vetfaan sinks his head into his hands and nearly misses the motions Servaas is making with his hands. Go after her, they tell him, go after her you bloody fool! Now!
Big Question… Listen to the video and then answer the question:
There are two types of crowds. The one is ready to throw stones. The other joins Rod and Amy in singing. There’s no middle ground; you can belong to only one of the two…the question is: which?