“He won’t win,” Gertruida says, because she knows everything. “He’ll do well, but won’t win.”
“I heard him play at the church bazaar in Upington last year, and I was impressed.” Vetfaan can get very emotional about beautiful music. “I like the guy.”
They’re talking about Gerrie Smit, the quiet young man who lives out in the district on an unworked farm.
“It’s such a sad story, come to think of it. Some people have bad luck built into their genes. That Gerrie, now, is a prime example. First his mother runs off with that insurance man because she needed to escape from the Kalahari. Truth be told: she’s a city girl and could never adapt to the quiet lives we lead here. Then his dad ups and dies because he never cut the fat from his steaks. The boy, scarcely out of his teens, inherited the farm but he’s not a farmer.
“Ever since he was a small boy, he played guitar: first one he made out of an old Castrol can; later a proper one his dad bought him. In the meantime he falls in love with the Gericke girl, the beautiful young lady who had that angelic voice. They used to sing at the school concerts in Upington and Grootbrak. Totally besotted, he was. Then there was the invitation perform at the agricultural show in Kenhardt – they were on their way to the top.”
Gertruida sits back, remembering the way the two looked at each other. There was no doubt: they were hopelessly in love.
“But then old man Gericke met this travelling salesman. What a schmuck! Oiled hair, shiny Mercedes, and a fast talker. Give the devil his due: he was selling water tanks to the farmers and he made a killing… He was, old Gericke thought, the answer to his prayers. His daughter would be well looked-after – or so he thought. How could he know about the woman in Kimberley? Or the one in De Aar? Still, he chased Gerrie off, saying he’s not good enough for his daughter. Can you believe that? Oh, what a tragedy. She cried. Tried to commit suicide. Took antidepressants. But…in the end she did what her father wanted and got engaged to the salesman.
“Gerrie took refuge on the farm and played his guitar. As a dirt-poor nobody, he was no match for old Gericke. Typical male, he also swore never to set foot on that farm again.
“But you know how love is. Once a man loses his heart, it’ll leave permanent scars. And Gerrie pined for the love he had lost and he couldn’t – wouldn’t do anything about it.”
By now Gertruida has to stop to wet her throat before continuing.
“It lasted a month. When she found out what a scoundrel the salesman was, she went back to the farm and gave her father hell. He chased her off, saying she’s the most unthankful person he knows. The next morning she was gone. Left on foot, she did. Nobody knows where she went…”
“Gee, Gertruida, I knew about Gerrie and the girl, but not all this detail. It’s such a sad story…” Servaas dabs at a tear – he’s very emotional these days. His mind keeps on dwelling back to the time he and Siena were so happy. Life, he thinks, can be such a sad affair; especially if love is found…and lost again. “So now poor Gerrie has entered a talent competition? What are his chances? A nobody from nowhere? They’ll laugh at him, I’m sure.”
They televised the show, of course. Rolbos being Rolbos, not even Gertruida could have guessed what happened on the stage when Gerrie walked up to face the judges.
But many miles away, in the dingy flat in one of Cape Towns lesser suburbs, a bored and depressed girl switches on her TV. She has just finished her meagre meal and finished packing all her earthly belongings into the dilapidated suitcase. Tomorrow…yes, tomorrow…she’ll swallow her pride and return to the farm. The Prodigal Daughter will have to go back and eat humble pie. She can’t afford the rent any more, she can’t find a job, her money is finished… At least she’ll have a roof over her head and something to eat at mealtimes.
Then she sees the young man walking up to the microphone, and for a moment her world comes to a complete standstill.
No…it can’t be!
But it is.
And then – then – he starts singing their song…