The Gates of Rolbos

images (6)“Gates,” Vetfaan says, sipping his beer at the counter. The others look up, expecting him to say something about them – but he just shakes his head and signals for another beer.

“Are you talking about Bill, or the things you have to open and shut every day?” Kleinpiet mumbles in his beer.

“You don’t open them any more, Kleinpiet. Ever since we’ve been married, you expect me to hop out of the car to do that. Before…well before the wedding you used to do it. I think our romantic phase stopped with ‘I do’.” Precilla smiles as she says this, but anybody with a little experience of woman-talk, will tell you to be careful of the small barbs in this type of remark. Kleinpiet, sadly, doesn’t read the words behind the words.

“Har! Ja, when you said I do, you said you’d do a lot of things. Opening and shutting gates is one such thing. It’s the same with washing and dusting – I do covers a lot of stuff.” The smug smile on his lips causes Precilla to get up and stomp out of Boggel’s Place. “What’d I  say…?” The smile disappears.

“Look, Kleinpiet, you should be more careful with what you say. Most women don’t like washing. In the cities they’ve got machines to do that, but to scrub away at your husbands undies can’t be a heap of fun.” Servaas knows. Siena always made remarks about that.

“I’ll wash my own stuff from now on.” Kleinpiet is clearly irritated and in a rare bad mood.”I don’t need to be pampered by nobody. In the past I rinsed out my stuff while I was showering – I’ll simply do it again.”

“So…who got your goat, Kleinpiet?” Fanny, always the peacemaker, wants to know.

“Ag, you know. Drought. Winter. Mandela is sick… How the hell should I know? Can’t a man be in a bad mood occasionally?“ He takes a deep breath. “Well, I am. I think Precilla doesn’t understand me anymore.”

Gertruida suppresses a giggle. “Okay, Kleinpiet, out with it. You did something terrible. Tell us?”

The problem (if that’s the right word) with Rolbos is it’s size. The community is so small, they don’t have to gossip like the people in Prieska or Kenhardt – where word of mouth can distort a story far beyond the original version. Here, a story needs to be repeated only once or twice before everybody knows about it. It is best then, under these circumstances, to tell the original version yourself, so that you make sure the others have sympathy with whatever calamity has crossed your path.

“No man, it’s like this. When she got dressed this morning, I told her I love her. I mean, that’s not a bad thing to say to your wife? Then she clammed up.”

“There must be more, Kleinpiet; you’re leaving out something.”

“Gertruida, has anybody ever told you that you’re terribly inquisitive?” Kleinpiet swirls his finger through the froth on his beer. “But yes, I told her: now that she’s a bit bigger, there’s more of her to love. I meant it as a compliment.”

“You…what?” Gertruida gasps her astonishment. “How dare you be so insensitive?”

“See, there you go as well? You don’t understand me. I was trying to be nice, that’s all.”

Sersant Dreyer walks in for his midday sustenance, a huge smile on his face.

“Hey, Kleinpiet! I hear you need an orthopod to take your foot out of your mouth again!” He sits down with a flourish. “Man, that’s why I prefer to live alone. I can tell myself anything, and I won’t get upset.” This, of course, isn’t of great help in improving Kleinpiet’s mood. Sersant obviously met up with Precilla outside, that’s why he knows about this. “But I must say, calling your wife ‘fat’, isn’t the cleverest thing to do. Even I know that.”

“I never used the word ‘fat’. I said something nice.”

“Out with it, Kleinpiet, what exactly did you say.” By now everybody has gathered around the grumpy husband, their curiosity pushed to the limits.

“I said… I said…flaps and flabs might hurt my eyes, but the furry little animal still rules the house.”

It takes several minutes for the laughter to die down.

“See? It’s funny. I thought so. You think so. It’s only Precilla who decided to take it up the wrong way.”

Fanny wipes the tears from her cheeks while trying to compose her face. She eyes Kleinpiet with a humorous degree of sympathy. “You, Kleinpiet, have opened a gate you shouldn’t have. It’s up to you to fix it now. I don’t care what you do: but go out there and make things right. Don’t come back if she’s still angry. And never use the words flap or flab in your life – ever again.”

“I told you: gates.” Vetfaan stares out of the window. “I have a lot of them on the farm. Keep the sheep inside and the jackals out – otherwise they’d simply roam about and the fences won’t mean anything. I need to replace a few.”

Rolbas is strange in this way. Vetfaan and Kleinpiet are talking about two completely different concepts, yet it bothers nobody.

And yet…

Our lives are ruled by laws and regulations. They fence us in, to produce what we call ‘civilised society’.  Some of these rules are written down – but most aren’t. (Like not saying anything about your spouse’s weight, for instance). As much as Vetfaan has to keep his gates in top condition, so much are we obliged to keep a check on what is acceptable in our little fenced-off worlds.

When Kleinpiet returns – rather shamefaced and sheepishly – fifteen minutes later, he holds the door open so that Precilla can enter first. For this he gets a muted applause from the other customers.

“So, what did you say?” Gertruida’s theatrical whisper carries her question to everybody.

Kleinpiet mumbles something and has to repeat it. “I said I’d take care of the gates from now on.”

Gertruida pats his shoulder, “That is, of course, the only way to save the day, Kleinpiet. Well done…”

“Yes,” Boggel echoes her thoughts, “and save the country. Somebody has to fix a few gates in government…urgently.”

Which just goes to show that a single word, a bit of marital strife, farming and a government’s malfunction can all be settled in Boggel’s Place in a single morning. The sad thing is: it only happens here. 

Or maybe we are running so fast on our little treadmills that we don’t notice the many broken gates out there any more. Maybe we should all slow down for a while, and listen to the grass grow…

(This song is a must-listen)

4 thoughts on “The Gates of Rolbos

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