And so, after talking to Gertruida and a few dozen single cups of coffee, Mary Mitchell finally agreed to speak to Boggel. Gertruida used her excellent negotiating skills to get the two of them to agree on this Tuesday morning; just before Boggel’s Place opens for the day, and before Mary’s busy program swallows up her day.
Of course the whole town rocks up for the occasion. Boggel’s plea for privacy just doesn’t fit in with the townsfolk’s idea of fun; it’s been some time since such a romantic thing happened in Rolbos (Fanny being heavily pregnant, and Precilla now completely involved with the school on the farm). Life in the little town has become ever so slightly boring and everybody welcomes the break in the routine.
Sammie is secretly taking bets. At this point in time, the odds are 3 to 1 that the conversation will last less than two minutes. Gertruida, who knows everything, refuses to place a bet. She says love shouldn’t be a gambling matter. She maintains nobody can be forced into love, even if your bet can make it possible to buy a round for the house.
When the phone rings at half-past eight, a deathly silence reigns as Boggel picks up the instrument. Sammie clicks the button on the stopwatch, confident that he’s going to make a nice profit.
Er, yes. That you Mary?
Gertruida said I should phone.
You didn’t want to?
Not at first. Then she said you were lonely. It’s the least I can do.
That’s not true! She told me to take the call, because you are the one who’s lonely. She said it’s my Christian duty. She was very convincing.
Those were her words to me, exactly. Made me feel guilty for being stubborn, she did.
So, how are you, Mary?
I’m fine. You?
What’s the weather like in Cape Town?
I’m just trying to think of something to say, Mary.
And the weather is the best you can come up with?
Well, we talk about the drought all the time, up here.
Good for you. If you have to know: we’ve had lots of rain down here.
So everything’s wet?
Don’t you get fresh with me, Boggel! Too many years have passed and I hate lecherous men!
Is it still raining, Mary?
I don’t know what to say.
Then you have nothing to say to me?
Mary, this is difficult. Sammie is watching his stopwatch and the rest of Rolbos is hanging on to every word I say.
So you’re ashamed to talk to me?
No, not that. It’s just that…this is so forced. Can’t we meet somewhere? Private, I mean.
What do you want to tell me, then?
I..I don’t know, really. Maybe that I missed you a lot? That I’d like to spend time with you?
Okay what, Mary?
We can meet. But let me tell you, Boggel, if you think you’re in this for a good time…
No, it’s not that.
Then what is it?
You remember what I said way back then? That you have this great woman hiding inside you? The one you’re scared of? Frightened that she might surprise you? Well, I think I want to see that woman again.
(For this bit, Boggel gets a muted but polite applause from the crowd.)
Who’s there with you, Boggel?
The whole damn town, Mary. I told you.
I’ve got to go to Upington next week. Business. Maybe…?
That’ll be great.
Boggel…is that Italian hussy still around?
No. She went back to Italy. Haven’t heard anything from her since she’s left. Oh, and Kleinpiet and Precilla got married. And Vetfaan, well, he got hitched to an English woman…she’s pregnant. With twins, nogal.
Slowly, in bits and pieces and in small increments, the conversation starts flowing. She tells him about the record company, and Boggel gives a summary of recent events in town. Sammie gives up after two minutes and starts paying out the bets. Vetfaan moves in behind the counter to take up serving duties, while Gertruida gets several high-fives from the rest.
So I’ll see you when you come to Upington, then?
Oh yes, Boggel, I look forward to that.
Great. Stay in touch.
“Twenty five minutes, Boggel! Well done.” Fanny waddles around the counter to hug the bent little barman. “We’re proud of you.”
The week drags by on sluggish feet. Boggel watches the seconds tick by in painfully slow monotone while he serves his customers with less than his usual enthusiasm.
“He’s depressed,” Precilla whispers, “too much hay on his fork, I think.”
“Then he has a small-forking problem,” Vetfaan sniggers.
Still, they go out of their way to make the week easier for Boggel. Sammie found a new shirt and jeans to fit Boggel, and the whole town – even Mevrou – cleaned up Boggel’s Place to look brand new.
“What happens if she doesn’t like me any more?” Boggel asks during a lull in the clean-up phase.
“Boggel…may I remind you that she agreed to meet you here, in your place, where you feel safe. Your original plan was to meet her in Upington, remember? That should tell you something.” Gertruida pats the hump of his back. “Stop worrying, Boggel. If everything goes pear-shaped, at least you’ve got your bar spring-cleaned for a change.”
Mary takes the turn-off at Grootdrink to get on the road to Rolbos. She, too, is worried and anxious. Is she not being a fool…again?
Despite that, she has to smile as she remembers a few lines of Keats; Boggel used to recite them with a suggestive twinkle in his eyes. They were still in the orphanage at the time, and used to sit on the steps by the back door at the end of the day, watching the sun disappear below the horizon. Once, innocently, awkwardly, he took her hand – with the uncertainty of all young men, through all the ages.
”There’s a blush for won’t, and a blush for shan’t,
And a blush for having done it:
There’s a blush for thought and a blush for naught,
And a blush for just begun it.”
A blush for just begun it…
It began on the steps by the back door of an orphanage. Will it end in Rolbos? Will the blush be love…or embarrassed anger?
Kleinpiet spots the line of dust on the road from Grootdrink.
“She’s coming! She’s on her way!” Precilla smiles at the excited tone of his voice. They all love Boggel so much… “Places, everyone! The action is about to start!”
They worked out the strategy to the finest detail. Sammie will be in his shop, of course. The ladies of the town will amble around in Voortrekker Weg with umbrellas – just like a scene from Mary Poppins. Vetfaan and Kleinpiet has to look busy under the bonnet of Vetfaan’s pickup; while Servaas and Oudoom will be on the bench in front of the church, discussing Exodus..or Leviticus..or something. They want to make everything look so normal, so relaxed. Mary Mitchell must drive into a normal little town with normal people doing normal things.
This way, Gertruida says, they’ll give Boggel a normal chance…
But we all know, don’t we? There is no ‘normal’ in love; never was, never will be. Boggel, with his physical problems and a troubled past; Mary with so many heartaches locked up in her history… Both of them afraid, scared, hesitant, unsure. Normal? Not really… But then again – who is?
Maybe Gertruida – for once – overplayed her hand. Maybe she overlooked a simple, single fact: the joy of yesterday can’t always last into tomorrow. There is no bridge between the past and the future, strong enough to to ferry all our hopes and dreams to the ideal haven we yearn so for.
And maybe she’s expecting everything to work out just fine, because it’ll help her deal with her own loneliness?
When Mary Mitchell alights from her vehicle in front of Boggel’s Place, several hearts in Rolbos beat a little faster. Boggel pulls nervously at his shirt as he walks to the door.
And Mary Mitchell; she of the broken dreams; takes a deep breath. The next few minutes will determine her future.