Vetfaan catches up with Fanny on the steps outside Oudoom’s house.
“Fanny…?” It’s a plea, not a question.
“I’m sorry, Fanie. I shouldn’t have…” She’s still crying and having difficulty to string her words together. “Henry , that night, seemed so genuine. And I was so surprised at his attitude. I mean, he showed that DVD that Gertruida sent him….”
They sit down on the steps. It’s still early in the day and the sun has not yet baked everything to an untouchable warmth, while the soft breeze is just enough to make them feel comfortable in the shade of the veranda.
“Fanny…” Vetfaan doesn’t know exactly how to continue, “I don’t know much about London, or Japan, or Life. We don’t get an instruction manual when we leave school, telling us how to make Life work. In fact, anything can happen and it usually does.” How does one do these things? He feels angry, protective, worried and upset all at once – but he also realises that saying the wrong thing right now can have catastrophic effects. He decides to stick to stuff he knows more about. “Look at my farm, man. I don’t even know if the borehole will give water tomorrow. If I start worrying about it, I’ll waste my time – best to face the problems if and when they arrive.”
He gets a puzzled frown from Fanny. “What are you talking about, Fanie? Boreholes? And that after I’ve said what I said in there?”
“I’m working through it, Fanny.” His eyes light up as a thought bubbles to the surface. “Look, some time ago, that tractor of mine just wouldn’t start. I tried everything, and eventually found a blocked fuel filter. Well, there was nothing I could do about it – I had to replace it. So I went to Upington to buy the damn thing and came back. It didn’t fit. My old tractor uses spare parts they don’t make any more.
“You know what I did? I took the old filter and washed it out. Put the flow through from the wrong side. The funny thing is – it’s still working.”
“Ag Fanny, I always fumble with words when you’re around. Maybe I’m trying to tell you blockages aren’t always fatal. Or that one may want to replace things in too much of a hurry. Or maybe – you shouldn’t replace something that still can be made to work. I don’t know, really…just don’t want to see you upset, that’s all.”
Vetfaan takes a deep breath. “He’s dead, Fanny. He saved your life. I feel upset about London, but at the same time I’m thankful for what he did. But you know what? The important thing is that you spoke about it. You told me. I may not like the idea of you and Henry together, but I would rather know about it than burden you with keeping a horrible secret for the rest of your life.
“Oudoom has a saying: The truth will hurt at first, then it sets you free. And now, Fanny, you are free of the lie you might have had to live with for the rest of your life. And for that, I am thankful.”
Tear-streaked cheeks turn to him. “You mean that, Fanie…?
“Then…” Hope flames up in her eyes.
Vetfaan gets up, holding out a hand to help her get to her feet.
“Yes, we have unfinished business.”
“Here? Now? Like this?” Oudoom can’t help smiling. “You sure?”
“Well, you’re here. We’re here. Servaas and Mevrou can be witnesses. And we’re in a hurry…”
Mevrou will later say it was one of the most beautiful ceremonies Oudoom has ever performed. The rings posed a problem – until Mevrou dug out her grandparent’s rings from her box of precious memorabilia. Not surprisingly (there being no such thing as a coincidence) they fitted perfectly. And no, she didn’t want them back, thank you – it was a their wedding gift from Mevrou and Oudoom.
When at last Oudoom says, “You may kiss the bride”, even Servaas had to dig in his pocket for a handkerchief.
News of the wedding spreads like wildfire through town. It happened so unexpectedly that even Gertruida gasps when Servaas swaggers in to tell them about it. Still, in typical Rolbos tradition, the townsfolk need no excuse for a good party – and what better reason for festivities than a wedding? Not any old wedding – Vetfaan and Fanny!
Sammie rocks up with a baby’s crib – who knows where he got that? And Kleinpiet and Precilla pushes open the door to the bar with a new Primus stove under an arm. Sersant Dreyer – still in uniform – tells them he’ll look for a present when he’s in Upington again; while Gertruida hands over a book on baby care. Platnees, not to be outdone, brings the traditional squawking chicken.
But it’s Servaas who steals the show. Despite his arthritis, he gets on to the counter top.
“Friends,” he uses his elder-voice; the one filled with gravity, “marriages should be like this.” He pauses, swallowing hard. “Look what we have here: man, woman. Different religions joined in faith in a holy moment. Two countries uniting. And then there’s us…” He falters, but soldiers on. “Look at us. We’re a bunch of misfits, living at the edge of civilisation. We don’t like busy streets and restless crowds. And amongst us, share the hope that the world will one day be a better place. Fanny makes me think she’s going to help us reach that goal.
“You know what I realised today? It’s simple. True love will always find a way. Churches, opinions, backgrounds, even language – none of these count. When love opens the door to allow two people into that wonderful inner sanctuary, outsiders can not shut it. That’s the test of true love.
“Love, they say, is a many splendoured thing. It forgives all, embraces all and blesses all. It straightens the road and calms the storm. And…” He sniffs loudly, “…and it makes an old man realise how precious his own moments of love were. How the loss of Siena made me hide behind a mask of religious self-righteousness, so I can deny other peoples’ happiness. I was selfish. I’m…so…sorry.” He struggles to regain control, blows his nose and gathers his thoughts. “But we’re not here for me. It’s Fanny and Vetfaan’s day…”
“I’d like to propose a toast on the newly-weds. Let us drink to love and life. To humility and kindness. To friendship in hard times and ecstasy in the good ones. And most of all: let us celebrate the Love that surpasses all else. May we never forget this simple four-letter word that says it all.
“To Love! And to our new, married couple.”
Nobody sees Sammie sneaking out after the toast. When he returns, he walks to the counter, and holds up a flat box, wrapped in brown paper.
“You know I never say much.” The small man with the engaging smile seems surprised that they all stopped talking when he addressed them. “But today is a happy one, and I feel your joy.
“Now, Oom Servaas, I know how much today meant to you. I heard the disgruntled Servaas talking yesterday, and now I heard a changed person talking today. And when I listened to you, I just knew I had to do something – so that’s what I’m doing now. Please, Oom Servaas, this is for you…”
A surprised Servaas steps forward to accept the gift. He wipes the recent tears from his cheeks, sniffs again, and takes the package from Sammie.
Well, Servaas had a few tears during his speech – the morning had been an emotional one for him. Now, as he opens the flat lid of the box, he can’t help himself any more. Emotion does that sometimes: we try to hide our feelings behind a fixed smile, or a nonchalant attitude; but sometimes the moment is so overwhelming, that we have to abandon all attempts to seem unconcerned or untouched.
In front of the little crowd, Servaas’ bushy eyebrows shoot upwards, away from each other. His face crinkles up in a million creases and the skin on his chin form new dimples as the tears start flowing again. He cries silently, inaudibly, as he hugs his new present; a gift of such magnitude and meaning like he’s never received before. Not only is it beautiful to look at, but the symbolism behind the gesture is profound.
No, he’s never had one before. Never.
And now, for the first time in his life, he has one.
A suit by Armani, beautifully tailored.
And all in white.