“Is it ever easy, Gertruida?” Vetfaan stares morosely at his empty glass while drumming his fingers on the counter top. Boggel, like all barmen should, has been rather slow with the refills. Once a customer starts slurring, it is the prudent thing to do.
“Never.” She slaps an emphatic hand on the surface, making his glass jump. “Too hard, and something is wrong. Too easy, and you know you have to rethink. But in between: now that’s where we all live. Struggling to survive and revelling in the small victories. We fall in love, only to find how hard it is to stay there. We walk away, knowing the pain of failure and afraid to face the uncertainty of joy in the future. Why, we ask ourselves, is our portion of beauty so small? Will the fragile boat of Hope ever reach the safe harbour of Faith?”
Gertruida knocks back the last of her Cactus, burps (very lady-like) and puts down the empty glass.
“No, my good friend, It is never easy. But…the moment you stop dreaming, is when you stop living. Medically speaking, you’re body will still be alive, yes – but what good is a live body and a dead mind?
“You know what I see, Vetfaan? I see a man who is afraid to love unconditionally.” She nods at Boggel; time for another round… “Love cannot be contained in a safe place and then be protected from harm. Love must roam free, tread on thorns, bleed from cuts, bruise with bumps. Love, Vetfaan, is not a comfort zone – it’s bloody hard work.”
“Now let us look at your situation.” Like only Gertruida can, she starts counting down the facts on her fingers.
“One: you’re married to the woman you love.
“Two: she’s expecting twins.
“Three: haemophilia may be involved – or not.
“Four: you’re worried about the possibility of two fathers.
“Now let me tell you. Here we have one man, extremely virile and healthy, who probably is responsible for Fanny’s condition. There was another chap, later, who was known to be infertile. The chances of two eggs being fertilised on separate occasions, are extremely slim, to say the least. Usually, the battle is fought in one single skirmish. And yet you prefer to imagine two dads for one pregnancy. Come on Vetfaan, grow up! Why cling to the worst-case scenario when the answer is so obvious: you’re going to be a daddy. Celebrate it. Be with your wife. Don’t mope around here?”
“Ja, Gertruida, it’s easy for you to talk. You never had to face something like this…” He’s wrong, of course.
Dr Gene Woodcock had just finished his post-grad degree when the elections of 1994 took place. An astute student and the ultimate definition of an academic geek, his rather undersized frame failed to impress on the few parties he attended. Attend he did, but with great reluctance – simply because he hated small talk, the senseless dancing and the ridiculous volumes of booze involved.
That’s why he spotted the woman sitting in the shadow, in the far corner of the room, on that evening. In every house across the nation, radios and television sets conveyed commentators’ surprise and wonder about the miracle of the day. Peaceful lines of people – previously separated because of pigment, now as one nation – waited patiently to cast their votes for a new dispensation in the country.
The final-year medical students were put on an alert. They, and the lecturers and the post-grad chaps. If the right wing, the left wing, the communists, the ANC or the IFP, the Nationalists or some other crazy faction started the long-awaited blood-bath, the hospitals would need all the help they can get. Surely it is impossible that the election would be peaceful?
The country held it’s breath.
But, as the favourable reports came in, the waiting students changed their attitude from anticipating the worst (buses full of casualties) to boisterous partying (what else?). Students are prone to use any available reason for a party – it’s been like that since Plato and Cicero – and the relief that washed over the country that night was arguably the best excuse for celebration, ever. The music got louder, the talking more slurred, and the dancing more prone to lecherous advances.
Woodcock sat quietly, contemplating what a waste the past century had been. Queen Victoria started Apartheid, and now he had to endure the embarrassment of feeling guilty because he felt responsible for it. Did not women – the world over – suffer a second-rate citizenship for aeons of time? Did not America – a mere 30 years earlier – finally accept franchise for all? Was it his fault that South Africa became a colony of the Great Empire that grew because royalty would forever be more equal than mere serfs?
When Gertruida walked over to him, he took her for one of the new apologetics, the ones prepared to say sorry for everything, The country was full of them. For some, it was a genuine feeling. For others, there was an inherited guilt that begged explanation. And Gertruida, with her yellow skirt and sheer black blouse, seemed like one of the many whites in the country that denied the reality of history. She just seemed too ‘modern’ to accept the past as legacy of guilt. No, he decided, this woman is an embracer. She’d claim that now, at last, the future would be rosy and that all their problems were now finally solved.
But then he saw she had been crying. It changed everything.
“I need to talk to somebody. Not a drunk somebody. A thinker. Are you one?” Her approach, as always, was direct and to the point. Woodcock smiled. An honest South African? On that day? Most people lied to themselves that day. They knew the Nationalists were a spent force. They also knew the people who would be elected to govern, had no idea they got themselves into. It was Hobson’s choice, all over again. They stood at the one-horse corral where the mangy steed hobbled around. They knew he was doomed to cramp up after the first mile; and yet they chose him, telling themselves what good people they were. Lies. Despicable lies. And yet they hoped…
“You want to tell me about the stupidity we all are heading for? Or are you an optimistic?” His reply, like his usual conversation, was equally without introduction or subtlety.
She gave him a knowing look. “I thought so,” she said.
And so started an unlikely friendship that would endure despite everything. When Ferdinand Fourie – maybe the only other man to fully understand the complexities of her brilliant mind – disappeared, it was Gene Woodcock who supported her. He understood her sense of loss, because he knew how much she loved the spy. Then, when the ungainly doctor almost got married to a gold-digging belly-dancer, it was Gertruida who flew to Cape Town to have a rather frank talk with the hussy.
Now, in his little office in the research facility, Gene Woodcock stares at the file for the umpteenth time. There, neatly printed in the margin next to his notes, is the number of the woman who contacted him with the twins’ parents problem. Gertruida.
He buries his head in his hands. Should he do it? Dare he do it?
With an uncharacteristic tremor, his hand reaches for the phone.
“I’ll have you know, Vetfaan, that you’re wrong. I’ve had my share. Love, loss, hope, despair – my life has not been a bed of roses. Don’t you dare assume I don’t know what I’m talking about…”
She’s about to launch into one of her famous monologues when the phone under the counter rings. Boggel picks it up, listens for a while and grunts.
“It’s for you Gertruida…”
Life is about choices. Gene Woodcock, Gertruida, Vetfaan, Fanny – people faced with an array of possibilities. That’s why, today, Rolbos offers two songs to choose from. Which one will endure in Boggel’s Place?
Only the future will tell