Magrietjie Badenhorst – she of the prodigious figure and the ample measurements – finally negotiates her way down from the passenger seat of the lorry. She’s dressed in a long frock, a bolero-type of crocheted little jacket, and the customary church hat with the wilted, plastic flowers at the side. There can be no doubt that she went to a lot of trouble to soften her appearance: the amount of rouge next to the red lips would have painted a roof. She teeters around on the high heels while the townsfolk recover from the shock.
“You…you’re not Anna!” Gertruida gasps. “Magrietjie Badenhorst, what are you doing here?”
“I can use any name I want. And don’t you be uppity with me, Gertruida, Introduce me to my beau. I’ve been lonely long enough to be desperate, Come on, woman, get on with it! We can’t stand around like this forever.”
“But..you deceived us, Magrietjie Badenhorst! How dare you?”
“Come off your high horse, will you?” Magrietjie seems to calm down a bit. “Do you think anybody would be interested in an old, ugly woman like me? I merely did what everybody else is doing on the ‘Net. Fake name, fake photo…and you never know when you’re going to get lucky. Anyway…nobody else responded, which goes to show even glamorous girls aren’t so popular. That’s my point.”
“But you’re not Russian.” Servaas folds his arms in disgust. “You’re just like us. That’s no good.”
By this time, Boggel is back on his cushion below the counter, rubbing Vrede’s ears to settle the poor dog. They’re both upset and angry. What a mess…!
Outside, Oudoom steps in, holding up his hands as a signal of peace (or surrender, it’s difficult to say).
“Brothers and Sisters, no need to fight about this little misunderstanding. Here we have a woman in search of love. And there we have a town full of people who want to see Boggel happy. Now, things didn’t work out exactly the way everybody hoped…but hey, we all live on hope, don’t we? We hope things will change. We hope the government will become responsible. We hope for many things every day…but most of all, we hope for love.
“Now, Marietjie, you didn’t do right. And as for the people of Rolbos: I’m ashamed that you went behind Boggel’s back – as curved though it might be – to arrange something he wouldn’t have approved anyway.” Here he pauses, letting his word sink in. “So…I suggest we call it quits. You were all deceiving, lying, dishonest in what you did. You should be ashamed. You should apologise.”
A long silence follows his speech, until Kleinpiet starts sniggering.
“It’s actually funny, Dominee. Here we are, talking about love and hope and trying to make sense out of the lives we lead. Magrietjie, we all know, is a woman of wide experience in romantic matters. Boggel, on the other hand, may be considered a novice. Yet, in the final analysis, they’re both looking for the same thing. In a weird way, it strikes me as funny.”
“That, Kleinpiet, is the definition of life and of living. Humans – just like animals – tend to look for a mate. What we do, is to seek that soul-mate that’ll be the love of our lives,” Oudoom is building up steam, warming to the subject. “Love, my friends, isn’t something you can manufacture. It is. Full stop. Oh, you can be friends or companions, and in that you’ll find elements of love as well – but the love between man and woman is a sacred thing. It is also a vastly misunderstood term.
“You cannot expect Boggel – or Margrietjie – to feel obliged to fall in love just because you had these good intentions. And if you’ll excuse me saying so, neither a mail-order bride nor Magrietjie must necessarily be something with a guarantee to success.
“Moreover, Love has consequences. It implies a responsibility to honour and respect the loved one under all circumstances, It might even mean that Love may lead to loneliness, because it isn’t returned with the fervour it is offered with. Of all human emotions, Love can be both the kindest as well as the cruellest of feelings.
“So, my friends, let us not make Love a cheap thing. Let us respect this deep and humbling emotion and grant every lonely soul the right – and the opportunity – to find an individual destiny. It cannot be forced.”
Servaas can see how Oudoom struggles not to say ‘Amen’ at the end of his little sermon, and suppresses a smile. What Oudoom has said is true; he and Siena experienced it first hand. He met her, quite by accident, when she crossed the street without looking. He almost killed her that day. When he got out of the car to give her a piece of his mind, he saw the loneliness in her eyes. He could never explain it – and didn’t want to. Instead of scolding her, he offered her coffee at the nearby café. That, he’ll tell you, was the start of his life.
The group has no other option but to amble over to Boggel’s Place. Magrietjie, still not completely comfortable with her humiliation, joined them for a round of Cactus. As usual, it proves to be the ultimate social lubricant: after the fourth round, the place is abuzz with conversation. Vetfaan tells them of the wonderful set of circumstances that brought Fanny to Rolbos, while Kleinpiet and Precilla says that’s nothing – he must hear their story.
Through all this, Magrietjie sits quietly, absorbing the atmosphere.
“I’ve been around the block more times than all of you together,” she says, “and what Oudoom said, is true. I realise that now. If love isn’t meant to be, it won’t. It’ll come to me if it must. ”
This leads to a round of apologies, where everyone said they’re sorry – which leads to Boggel having to fetch another crate of Cactus Jack from the store room. The buzz becomes a boom, the boom increases to people having to shout to be heard.
That’s when Boggel sneaks out of the back door, whistling softly to Vrede to join him. The two of them walk down Voortrekker Weg towards the almost-garden in front of the church, where the only bench in town is bathed in the light of the full moon. It is here that he will, like so many nights before, sit down to talk with Mary Mitchell, the only girl he ever loved. It doesn’t matter if she’s not there.
He knows she’ll hear him.
That is the nature of Love, after all.