“I don’t know what to do.”
This strange statement by Gertruida causes an immediate hush in Boggel’s Place. Gertruida uncertain? Now there’s an oxymoron for you! Boggel rushes over with a double Cactus to help her think.
That’s the funny thing about alcohol: no matter what solution to a problem you think of when sober – you always get a better one after the third glass. Boggel is prepared to swear under oath that he has seen this a thousand times. Take, for instance, the huge rock that lay there, right where Kleinpiet wanted to put up a shed. After his tractor broke down while trying to drag the rock away, he shared his problem right here, in Boggel’s Place, with the other patrons. After the third drink – it could have been the fourth – everybody agreed dynamite was the answer.
Of course it worked. Afterwards they all helped to replace the roof of his house, as well. Rolbos is like this; they’ll always help to find solutions to the problems caused by the solutions of the problems that caused the initial issue.
“Want to tell me about it, Gertruida?” Boggel drags his crate across so he can lean with his elbows on the counter top. He is arguably the best listener in the world.
“It’s Doc, Boggel. You know – Doctor Gene Woodcock? He wants to come and visit. He says he wants to talk to Fanny, but that is just an excuse. Doctors don’t do home visits any more – let alone drive a thousand kilometres to chat with a patient. It doesn’t make sense.”
Boggel gives the long, drawn-out whistle we all know – the one a mechanic will give when he looks at the smoke billowing out past the sides of your car’s bonnet.
“Old flame, huh? Kindling the smouldering embers? I know about Doc – you told me about your nice chats some time ago. He sounds like a pleasant fellow?”
“Ag, come off it, Boggel. It never was anything like that!” Gertruida blushes as she says this. She knows full well the doctor wanted their relationship to move to the next level, but after Ferdinand’s disappearance, she just wasn’t ready for that. “I’ll have you know that it was a good, platonic friendship, Boggel. Nothing more than that. Purely intellectual.”
Now Boggel? He’s heard that one before – and knows one should never laugh at the statement. Plato, the great philosopher who never married, is still remembered for his definition of Love: that through the admiration of beauty, more beauty is created. According to this philosophy, Love is the connection between an individual and God – but only once the individual recognises the need to use the relationship as a tool to enhance the life of that significant other person.
While the philosophy aims at such deep values and goals, Boggel knows that few people ever think of love in that way. That’s why he won’t laugh – the fact that so many think of love in a much more superficial way, is actually cause for great sadness.
“Did he anhance your life, Gertruida? I mean: did he contribute to your understanding of joy? Was he someone who made you laugh?”
“Oh yes. We laughed a lot. He had such a cynical way of turning my arguments around. Made me look silly, sometimes. But laughter? There was always laughter.”
“And tell me, Gertruida, could you share silence with him?”
The question makes her look up suddenly. Boggel, she realises, is a crafty philosopher himself. It’s not what he says that is so clever – it’s the way he guides his listener to explore own and new ideas. That, she realises, is the mark of a good barman – or a clever psychologist.
“I suppose so…no, wait…yes we did. Often. We’d have wine, talk, fall silent, talk more…all the time. Yes definitely. The silences were good.”
“Then there’s one more question – the most important one.” Boggel draws a deep breath. This will determine the future. “What did he want from you? Why did he spend time with you? There must have been a reason…?”
This time, Gertruida takes even longer to come up with an answer.
“Oh, I don’t know… He liked the way I think, I suppose.” She takes a tentative sip from her glass to get more time to think. “No, he didn’t want anything.” More certain now. “He always said he fell in love with my mind. He said that was the most important part of me and he was fascinated with it. Nobody else, he said, challenged him the way I do. So it wasn’t like he was after my body or anything like that. He wanted me to explore the limits of my reason – he said so more than once.”
“Then, Gertruida, I think you missed the opportunity to have a special bond with a soul mate. Maybe you should be more careful this time around?”
Yes, she knows that. Years have passed and they’re both older and wiser. Maybe, she thinks, that’s why I’m so unsure?
There was one evening. A special moment. She remembers it well…
“I often wonder what happened to Ferdinand, Gene. I mean, he simply disappeared.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, as if it was his fault, “you must have loved him a lot. It must be difficult for you. I mean, how do you get closure on such a relationship? If he’s got another love-interest, or even if he died, it is easier to move on. But not knowing…”
She didn’t object when he came over to sit next to her. He said soothing things. She began to cry. He moved closer; put his arm around her shoulders…and that broke the spell.
“No. Not like this. Get us some more wine, please?”
And he got up, looking for all the world like a chastised dog, to fetch the wine.
“Yeah. Miss Careful, that’s me. You know Boggel, it’ll always be Ferdinand for me. Nobody can replace him.”
“True. Nobody can and nobody will. It’s like I feel about Mary Mitchell – she was my first love, and my last. But you, Gertruida, should have a special friend. You can make somebody feel very special. You shouldn’t be spending your nights alone. Ask yourself an important question, if you dare: What would Ferdinand have wished for you? A lonely old-age? Nobody to spoil you with coffee in bed on a cold morning? Nobody to share silence with, or laugh at something funny? No, Gertruida, it’s time to let go of the past. You deserve more…”
“That’s the point, man! Relationships come with a price. You give up your independence to include another person in your life. After all these years of living alone, I’m not sure I want to do that. I like the way I live.”
Boggel throws up his hands in mock horror. “Listen to yourself: you’re already envisaging married life, and the man only wants to visit. Methinks the lady doth feel the stirrings of love? Oh my, Gertruida, you’ve loved this man from afar for many years, never acknowledging the fact, and now suddenly you’re scared to bits he might live up to your expectations? Here, have another. I think you need it.”
Sometimes a good barman doesn’t have to solve the problem. Listening to somebody explaining the issue is much more important than providing a solution. When Gertruida gets up to leave a little while later, she seems confident that she knows what to do. There’s a new certainty in her step; just like Kleinpiet had that day when he walked out with the dynamite sticks in his pocket.
Sometimes even a good barman can’t predict the effect his sympathetic ear had…