The last time Gertruida spoke to Ferdinand – on that final evening before he left – will haunt her for the rest of her life. They went to the State Thaetre, saw Aida, drank some wine in a little bar, and danced in the rain. It was such a sweet, tender evening, filled with promises of hope…and then they called him away and he left…forever.
Now, after Paul’s visit, those memories refuse to remain hidden under the heavy blanket of self-control she uses to avoid thinking of them. She read somewhere (Miroslav Volf’s excellent book) that we choose to remember certain details of the past, because they bring pleasure. And the ones causing pain – well, we suppress those and hope they’ll go away.
But they never do, do they? They remain all too well preserved in the salted wrappings of heartache. Oh, how can she possibly forget their tender moments? The soft words, the exquisite exploring touch of fingertip to fingertip? The sharp intake of breath when ecstasy becomes too much to bear? The sighs of satisfaction afterwards? There is no way the human mind can obliterate those, simply because they hold the very essence of hope and happiness.
Ferdinand was a strange man in many respects. Weird, even. Her previous boyfriends made no secret of their motives: physical intimacy was high on their agendas. Young men tend to surf the wave of testosterone and follow deep-rooted instincts – just like the cavemen did when Homo Erectus lived up to their name. (Little Homo, much Erectus…) She used to smile at the apt irony contained in the name, and became quite an expert at handling men in the throes of their – for lack of a better word – phallomania. (This, like so many of Gertruida’s words, is one of her own contributions to the English language.)
There were several ways of handling these besotted youths, of course: her father was on his way; she would love to, but she hasn’t finished her medication for her condition yet; or even, in extreme cases: didn’t he realise she had a girlfriend? Exit potential lover, enter a blissful evening of reading Chaucer or Shakespeare.
But Ferdinand, the quiet, serious man with the soft eyes and the slow smile…she wanted him to seduce her. There was an honesty in his adoration, a simplicity in his friendship, a tenderness in his words and his touch. He was the Albert to her Victoria; and as with the famous English Queen, his leaving created a void that refused to be filled with just another frivolous affair. She was a one-man woman, and nothing would change that.
Oh, she tried everything in her power to trace him afterwards; she had, after all, the secret service eating out of her hand by then. The only man who knew exactly where Ferdinand was sent, was The Boss…and now he’s dead; riddled with bullets and then blown up to cover up his death. Back in those days, The Boss was unapproachable. Ask the wrong question, and you get fired (if you’re lucky). Some agents disappeared on missions, others were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Death came quickly and in a variety of ways during the Struggle Years, and could always be blamed on the other side. And those deaths, Gertruida knew all too well, was not something you dared ask a question about.
Whenever she tried finding out more, she ended up in the cul de sac of blank stares and shaking heads. No, they don’t know. It’s in the file behind the heavy safe’s door in The Boss’ office.
She had hoped to get the opportunity to talk to The Boss if he came looking for Paul, but now…
And then it struck her. The laptop! It’s filled with the old files, so maybe…? And…Boggel has that computer hidden away somewhere…
While Beauty enjoys her extended visit to her family and Jacob Ngobeni just loves the way the president flinches whenever they meet; Paul Harrison arranged his flight to Syria, where his services are now required. The farm near Beaufort West was raided, where the police recovered the explosives they had cleverly planted in Mr Kotze’s office. All in all, it is business back to normal in the stumbling process of survival in the New South Africa.
But not in Rolbos.
Gertruida stares at the screen of the laptop. Paul did remove the password-protection on the huge file with it’s many sub-folders, making it possible for her to browse the data. It took her two hours o find a file that contained information about Ferdinand Fourie…
It was a time of unrest and much uncertainty. Mobs lynched men and women suspected of collaborating with the Nationalist government. At Vlakplaas, the Nationalists interrogated and tortured anybody they thought could supply information that’d help the government survive. Both sides planted bombs and killed innocent men and women who’s only desire was that the nightmare would end.
While this was going on, the various political parties and organisations were involved in the complicated process that would lead to a so-called free and fair election. Free it would be, for everybody could vote. Fair it wasn’t, because the numbers ensured a predictable outcome. It was a simple matter of Black against White. In the Black community, differences in language and culture were set aside to combine forces – and while it worked well at the polls, the later history witnessed the folly. South Africa has many minorities: the Venda, the Coloureds, the San people and many other smaller tribes and communities now suffer under a similar type of Apartheid the ANC fought so hard against.
The Boss foresaw this situation and wanted Ferdinand to gather information about the smaller communities and cultural groups. Was there any way the Nationalists can convince these people to oppose the ANC? Were they really prepared to sacrifice their histories and cultures, and be unified under a Xhosa or Zulu ruler? What if, as was considered inevitable, the Zulus and Xhosas found out their old tribal differences started to have a negative effect on governance?
Ferdinand thought it was a no-brainer – a desperate attempt of the old government to keep their hopes of survival alive – and said so. Nevertheless, he followed orders and set off to interview various chiefs and headmen. This is where he first heard the rumours…
Did he not know about the secret deals, he was asked? The senior officials in the old government would receive indemnity, a generous pension and some of them will even be taken up in the new government. Ferdinand’s report is damning: in the end peace was brokered on the principal of personal gain, and not for the good of all the people in the country. Oh, the negotiations were conducted with everybody saying the right thing at the right time…but behind the scenes a lot of horse-trading occurred that had nothing to do with the high ideals of a free and fair democratic society.
Ferdinand reported this to The Boss. The Boss thanked him for his diligence. And then The Boss – himself somebody who stood much to gain from these ‘unofficial agreements’ – ordered Ferdinand’s removal. He could not afford having such a loose canon in his department.
The Boss knew about Ferdinand and Gertruida all along, but allowed their activities to continue. Keep your friends close – but keep your enemies closer. Now, with Ferdinand knowing too much, he had to make a plan to get rid of the man. And so, with veiled threats about Gertruida’s safety, Ferdinand had to leave the country to start a new life in Sussex. The Boss might have been a deluded man, but there was no mistaking his intentions: break off all contact with Gertruida or something horrible will happen to her. Get out, stay out – and live. Or else you and Gertruida will regret it…
Gertruida sits back, wiping a tear from her cheek. So that’s why he never made contact again? At the end of the report, she notices a reference number. She types it into the Search box, and waits for another document to open.
…An unidentified man collapsed and died in front of the State Theatre yesterday. He carried nothing to help find out who he was. An old ticket for the opera Aida was the only paper he had with him. The morgue ran his fingerprints, but of course they didn’t match anybody’s at the Department of Home Affairs. However, in our own records, they match those of one Ferdinand Fourie, a double agent during the struggle years. Autopsy proved the presence of terminal Hodgkin’s Disease.
Gertruida will tell you (much later, when the pain subsided) that Life is a mosaic of many journeys. We make friends, enter into relationships, have high hopes for joy and laughter that must (surely it must) be waiting just around the corner. But, she’ll add, all journeys come to an end. Somewhere in every optimistic and excited hallo, a goodbye is waiting with the sorrow it’ll bring. All journeys reach a destination where the road peters out and the wilderness of loneliness awaits. This, she maintains, is the inevitability that makes Love such a mysterious, wonderful and painful torture.
That’s why she sits alone near the window in Boggel’s Place tonight. Her journey with Ferdinand is over. And when Boggel shuffles over with a stiff Cactus Jack, she’ll flash him a sad smile and thank him.
He’ll think it’s for the drink – but it is for more than that: it’s because he is a friend. At least, she thinks, they can journey together in their loneliness.
An so we come to the end of this bit of the journey with Rolbos. Will the little town settle into obscurity? Not on your life! Who knows who will push open the door to Boggel’s Place next? Whoever it might be, you can be sure he won’t just be there to enjoy a cold beer…