In a town like Rolbos, secrets don’t survive long. In fact, the townsfolk realised long ago that it’s far better to tell it like it is – then nobody has anything to gossip about.
That’s why Boggel’s Place soon looks like a mini auditorium, with rows of chairs around Dreyer and Lucia, while they share the stories of their lives. Boggel – never slow to increase business – keeps himself busy refilling the glasses.
“You see, Dreyer, it came as quite a shock to learn that my Dad wasn’t my real father. And, as an only child, I was so excited to learn I had a sister. Then, the deep disappointment that she died, especially the way she did…”
Dreyer sits, slumped forward on his elbows, looking at the glass in his hands. He still can’t look at Lucia’s face – those eyes…
He tells her everything; the whole sad story from their first meeting when the drunkard brought her in because she didn’t want to play his games, everything, up to the funeral and how Jack Okapi died. Lucia listens with her head tilted slightly to one side, absorbing every word, wiping away the occasional tear.
When he falls silent, the other customers sit quietly on the creaking chairs, aware they have just gained a completely new understanding of the quiet policeman. Gertruida often remarked on his introverted personality – but now, with his story told and the tears dried, they view him with a new kind of respect. To imagine he lived with his hurt and pain for such a long time, and never even breathed a word about it?
Dreyer reaches into his pocket to produce his wallet. “This is the only photograph I have of her. I didn’t want to take photos…later…when she was so ill.”
The pretty face smiles at the camera, her eyes shining with some inner mirth. It was taken in the time when she stayed in his flat, before she went back to her father. She’s holding a stray dog that she used to feed with the scraps from the kitchen. She’s not wearing much make-up and her hair frames the high cheekbones in the most endearing way. The picture tells of a person so comfortable, so happy, that her joy is patently obvious. Even though it is only a picture of Cathy, the deep liquid-brown eyes seem to stare at the onlookers, to reach out to them, an eerie and almost hypnotic gaze.
“You have the same eyes,” Dreyer says. “It’s uncanny.” He wants to tell her that he similarities doesn’t stop there, but can’t find the words. Nobody can be like Cathy. She was unique, special.
“I’m so sorry,” much like her half-sister had the habit of doing, she reaches across the table to touch Dreyer’s arm. He resists the impulse to draw back. “I know this must have been hard for you.” Cathy’s voice, hurting him because he missed it so much.
“I think it was good of you to come here and listen to him talking,” Gertruida assumes the role of village psychologist once more. “He needed to hear himself say the words that he’s bottled up for such a long time. It isn’t easy…”
“I-I think I must go now.” Lucia’s voice is uncertain, hesitant. “I came, I heard. That’s enough.”
Dreyer gets up suddenly and holds out a hand. “I need fresh air, lets go for a walk…”
They leave the bar while the patrons line up for new drinks at the counter. For once, Boggel’s Place is quiet – they’re all a bit overwhelmed by what they’ve just heard.
Dreyer – rather tall and straight with his athletic build – leads the way towards Bokkop, his favourite thinking spot. Lucia has to stretch her stride to keep up.
“You okay?” He stops when she asks the question.
“I suppose so.” He points at a rock and they sit down. “It’s so weird, Miss van Wyk. I’ve never said goodbye to Cathy. You never had the chance to say hello to her. It’s as if the two of us represent the two extremes of knowing her. And yet…you have so much in common. It’s almost scary.”
“You know, all my life I felt sort of alone. I thought it was because I was an only child. I’m used to fighting my own battles, see? But now – now I think it’s because something inside me was incomplete. Knowing who my real father was, and why he went off the rails so badly, helps to arrange the pieces of my Life-puzzle. And Cathy… Well, my heart simply breaks when I think what she must have gone through. In a strange and convoluted way, she gave her life so I can lead mine.” When she sees the puzzled frown on Dreyer’s face, she continues. “See, if my real father married my real mother, I would have been brought up in that house. And who knows what would have happened? I could very well have ended up like her – such a sad, sad situation.”
Dreyer nods. “I understand, yes. The one thing I’m glad about your coming here, is that I can now believe there’s a little bit of her left in the world. That she didn’t die and leave nothing behind. You’re living her life – as well as your own – now. You’re bright, pretty, and have all the opportunities she never had.”
A slow blush creeps up her cheeks.
“I really think it’s time to leave. Do you mind?”
It’s Dreyer’s turn to hesitate. “You can consider staying a while, Miss van Wyk?”
Her hand finds it’s way to his arm again.
“No, Dreyer. In another life. Another time and place… Who knows? You’ll always see me as Cathy – and she’s much too precious to the both of us to be treated like that.” She blinks away a tear. “You have wonderful memories of a wonderful woman. And I…I now have peace, knowing what I now do.”
They walk back to town, where she says a trembling goodbye to the patrons in Boggel’s Place. They crowd the window when Sersant Dreyer accompanies her to the car.
“You can have the photograph,” Dreyer says. “I don’t need it any more.”
She stands on tiptoe to kiss him on the cheek. “Thank you…”
And then she drives off – slowly – on the rutted road to Grootdrink, leaving Dreyer standing on the dusty pavement next to Voortrekker Weg. He waves once before sitting down on the kerb. Why…? The old question starts rummaging around in his mind once more.
“That was kind of you.” Dreyer looks up in surprise as Boggel shuffels over with two beers. “Giving her the photo, I mean.”
The beer is cold and refreshing. When Dreyer puts down the empty bottle, he gives Boggel a man-hug. “Thanks, pal.” Then he moves an inch or two away, almost embarrassed at the show of affection. “Yes, the photo – I don’t need it any more.”
“You said goodbye, didn’t you?” Boggel’s voice is gentle.
“Yes, I did,” Dreyer says as he watches the line of dust on the road to Grootdrink. “It was time.”
Boggel shrugs. “Memories, Dreyer, are so precious. Sometimes they are better than the reality we so wish for. Strange, that.”.
The soft breeze sweeps the dusty line on the road off to the veld, where it’ll settle; much like the waves did to that sand castle on the beach so many years ago. Life is like that, Dreyer thinks, nothing is permanent.
“We’re just a bunch of sand castles,” he tells Boggel as he gets up to go.
And Boggel, with the wisdom barmen accumulate over the years, knows he shouldn’t ask. Not now. Maybe later. So he simply nods as he watches the tall man saunter off to his little police station, where the new layer of dust covers the counter. Once safely there, he closes his eyes to remember hers. For the first time is so many years, he can now remember them as being alive.
And sometimes remembering, just like Boggel said, is as good as it gets.