Monthly Archives: August 2013

Silence in Rolbos?

zambia 2011 168“Look, he’s packing up again.” Servaas points to the loaded vehicle. “Is he…”

“Yep.” Gertruida nods. She knows everything, of course. “He’s going to look for the desert elephants, fish in the cold Atlantic, and visit Kolmans Kop. I just hope he doesn’t get stuck again. So embarrassing to ask the locals to help.”

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“But he doesn’t know much about fishing?”

“It’s about the wine, Servaas, not the fishing.”

“And elephants…in the desert? How do they survive?”

“They  are much better at adapting than humans, They’ve even developed small ears to prevent evaporation. Quite clever, they are…”

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“And that leaves us in…silence?”

“Oh, no, Servaas! We’re going to have a party! A huge one. He’ll only be back in the second half of September, so we’ll have a lot of fun in the meantime. No supervision, you know…”

“But what about the readers?”

“Oh, please let them read some of his books! They’re all listed in the right hand column, just to keep them occupied until he’s back. That new one, SHIMMERstate, really got a few people talking. It’s selling well.”

“Ja, I suppose he needs the money, doesn’t he?”

Gertruida nods again. “That’s the problem with the real world, isn’t it?”

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Rolbos will be up and running again   towards the 20th of September. Please take care in the meantime, spread a little cheer and love, and do pop in at Boggel’s Place on Facebook – look for Rolbos, and you can join in the party…

The Rolbos Rhino Syndicate

images (46)“You know how those guys are, man.” Vetfaan was leaning on his one elbow while sipping his beer. “They’ve got family all over the world. Jo’ burg may be miles away, but if Sammy tells me he’s got a nephew over there, I believe him. I think most places have an Abramovitz of a Hurwitz behind a till somewhere.”

“But is it legal?” Gertruida frowned. “Why doesn’t he do it himself?

“Sammie says nobody will believe rhino horn coming from a major city. Rhino’s live in the veld, see? So he has to have a supplier from somewhere nobody has heard of. That, and it must be hard to check. So Rolbos is an obvious choice.’

Kleinpiet wasn’t convinced. “So, we all get to form the Rhino Horn Industrial Co, or RHIC as you call it, and put the product on the train in Upington? Then, within a week, we get paid? Sounds too easy.”

“It almost is. But Sammie says those Chinese gentlemen will pay almost anything for some horn. They really believe it helps them…” he faltered, looking at Gertruida, “well they feel better after taking it, see? And they so much want to feel better, that they’re willing to pay for it.” Vetfaan smiled happily. “The beauty is: it’s going to cost us nothing. Money for nothing, chaps, and the chips for free. And, may I remind you,  we’ll be helping the abattoir to get rid of all those hooves.”

0305000973-lAnd so it started. The lorry from Upington brought the hooves from Upington’s abattoir every Tuesday. Servaas had worked on the hammer-mill that lay rusting on Kleinpiet’s farm, hooked it up to Vetfaan’s old Massey Fergusson – and Platnees fed the cow’s feet through the mill. They produced three sacks of ground hoof every week, which the lorry picked up on its return journey to Upington. At the end of the month Sammie distributed the dividends, causing wolf-whistles of surprise.

Two months went by. Boggel never, in his wildest dreams, thought business could be so good. Every night was a party with even Kleinpiet paying for others.

 ***

The day the black minibus arrived in Rolbos will be remembered for a long time. The tinted windows prevented the onlookers from seeing its passengers, but when the driver got out, Vrede, the town dog, whimpered and hid himself behind Boggel’s cushion below the bar counter. Instinct told him to beware.

The man walked uncertainly down the street and then threw back the doors of Boggel’s Place. Vrede took refuge in the kitchen.

images (45)“I’m looking for…,” he consulted a slip of paper, “..Sammie.” A flat statement, directed at Boggel. Gertruida sat at her usual place, in the corner, next to the window so that she can read her National Geographic. Boggel hunched his shoulders even more, spreading his hands wide. He knew trouble when he saw it. This man, dark shades, black bowler hat and straining suit, reminded him of Oddjob, the James Bond character with the vicious karate moves. Better know nothing, he thought.

Oddjob calmly walked over to the cash register, picked it up with uncanny ease, and dropped it to the floor. The drawer flew open, spilling the cash on the floor.

“Oops,” the man said in an almost-believable voice. “I suppose accidents will happen. Now, let me ask you again about Sammie…” Maybe because he was so cool and calm about it, the undercurrent of threatening danger was so much more obvious.

Boggel found his voice, and started stammering an answer. He tried to tell the man he didn’t really know, but the words got fumbled and made no sense.

cashregister“You know that cash register was antique?” Gertruida put down her magazine. “That is – was – an original Gross cash register, manufactured by the brothers Gross in England. It was the model that could do pounds, pennies and shillings, as well as decimal functions. They are quite unobtainable these days and you broke it. I suppose that means you owe Mister Boggel here at least R 50,000 or so. How do you intend to remunerate mister Boggel?” When you get to know Gertruida well, you’ll know that she is at her most dangerous when she is as calm as this. Boggel even smiled a little.

For a moment Oddjob stood transfixed. Then: “I-don’t-give-a-flying-vetkoek, lady. Where is Sammie?” He walked over to her table, towering above the seated woman.

Gertruida turned a page. “Oh he died last week. Some Japanese gentleman shot him, right through here.” She tapped a delicate finger on a spot above her ear. “Quite a mess, that was. Apparently the rhino horn he sold was not up to international standards. The police said they’d be here today to investigate his business. Can’t think why they haven’t arrived yet. Should be here any moment. Said they were coming by helicopter.”

By this time Boggel’s jaw had dropped so far that his throat was visible where it stretched over his bent back. He was making funny, squawking noises.

Oddjob considered this for exactly five seconds. He turned back to Boggel, gesturing to the broken till.

“You say anything – anything – about this, and you’ll look like that.” He pointed at the cash register while drawing a finger across his throat. Then he turned for the door, thought for a while and turned back. Taking a roll of notes from his pocket, he threw it on the counter. “Go buy yourself a new piggy bank.”

 ***

Sammie remained ‘dead’ for a full three months. Oudoom kept him in the rondawel behind the pastorie and the townsfolk took turns to bring food or take away washing. Platnees was appointed to be the lookout and he spent those days watching the road to Grootdrink with orders to report any approaching vehicle at once. Gertruida ran his shop and did quite well during those months. Sammie later said that his nephew in Jo’ burg had gone back to Israel as a rich man, but that he lived as a recluse somewhere outside Jerusalem. Apparently he had developed a phobia for strangers with slanted eyes.

The cash register doesn’t work anymore. Servaas and Vetfaan spent a whole week on its mechanism, but it still refused to work properly. It now opens the drawer, but all calculations are done with the aid of the pocket calculator Precilla presented to Boggel.

They don’t talk about the Rolbos Rhino Horn Industrial Company any more. It is old news – but the still giggle about how Oddjob finally met the law. Sersant was the one who tipped off his colleagues in Upington, who in turn set up the roadblock outside Grootdrink. The district commissioner was awarded the Order of the Baobab for that action. An entire rhino-horn smuggling ring was exposed. Sersant Dreyer still maintains he shouldn’t have made that call anonymously.

“It’s funny how things work out,” Boggel said once. “Here we were innocently smuggling cow’s hooves and we almost got killed because of that. Oddjob and his mates got nabbed because they bought cattle feet. Sammie’s shop is better than ever. Maybe we should form the Rolbos Ivory Syndicate and sell horns as elephant’s teeth?”

That was the second time he almost got beaten up in the space of a few weeks.

Outside Sammie’s shop a heap of hooves remain, a source of great joy for Vrede. He gets a hoof every week to chew on. Gertruida worked out it’ll be another two years before he works his way through the last of the Rhino Horn Industrial Company.

Gertruida has, as always, the last word. “I read an article in the National Geographic about the diminishing numbers of rhino’s. It is sad to think people kill animals because men want to be better than they are. But, then again, if we keep the men thinking they need rhino horn to procreate, they won’t be able to do so all by themselves. In that case hornless men will die out eventually. In fact, that makes them an endangered species. That’s what Darwin’s evolution is all about. The stupid ones don’t last.”

That’s the thing about Gertruida. You never know when she’s serious or when she’s actually lying. Even Oddjob still believes she told the truth, that day when the Gross was broken. Maybe it’s better that way.

She would have made a great politician – if she cared less for the people and animals of this continent.

Long ago, in Rolbos…

images (44)It was during the Great Drought that the lorry of Kalahari Vervoer backed into the only fire hydrant in the entire district. It really was a relic of the time when Pella Refractory Ores (Pty) Ltd, dug out part of Bokkop for the minerals hidden in the soil; when people hoped that Bokkop would become a world player in the silica and cement industries. When the dream imploded, the town remained as a sad reminder of the risks involved in investing in remote areas.

The hydrant served no known specific purpose; except of course as a beacon for Vrede, who saw it as his sole and unique property and marked it frequently in case somebody thought otherwise. When the lorry backed over the hydrant, it was Vrede’s barking that drew the collective attention of the Rolbossers. Seconds later, the town had the only fountain in the area.

First on the scene was Servaas, who remembered when the pipes were laid those many years ago. It was a direct line from the reservoir at the foot of Bokkop, and if it weren’t shut off immediately, the town would run dry.

The stream of water rushed down Voortrekker Weg, pooled around the church and flooded the vestry. Oudoom at first didn’t believe it, then thought it was the start of another Great Flood, and eventually decided that he’d be better off on the pulpit: he was nearer to the roof – and heaven – that way.

Nobody had any idea where the line could be turned off – no tap in sight anywhere – and the townsfolk stood by helplessly while their only water supply soaked away in the dry Kalahari sands.

Vetfaan twisted the bent hydrant back in place, which stopped Vrede from causing such a noise.

“That was our only water,” Gertruida noted, “better get buckets and scoop up as much water from around the church as possible. Heaven knows what we’re going to do when that is finished.” As usual, she was right. The fountain at the foot of Bokkop had dried up a month earlier, leaving only the water in the reservoir as the only supply the town had left.

Two days later, the town was dry. Empty buckets and tins stood around, Sammy had sold all his cool drinks and even Vrede couldn’t mark his precious beacon anymore. The only source of fluids in town was at Boggel’s – owned by the very same man that Oudoom vetoed off the church council because he sold liquor.

A town has to do what a town has to do, so everybody survived on the sustenance Boggel provided; everybody, except Oudoom, who didn’t want to defile his soul by even entering Boggel’s Place. Had he not, on numerous occasions, pleaded his flock to abstain from visiting this establishment? How could he, as a man with just moral values, even consider supporting this unholy place? No, he’d rather die of thirst before giving in to the whims of Satan.

Of course he didn’t. Die, I mean. When, after four days of suffering, he appeared in the doorway of Boggel’s, everybody understood the agony that drove him there.

“Have you got any water?” The question was asked from the doorway.

Boggel only smiled and shook his head.

The silence was only broken by the creaking of the roof as the sun bore down with all it’s fury. Vrede growled from beneath Vetfaan’s chair at the counter. Oudoom tried to ignore his dry mouth, didn’t succeed and asked what else Boggel could offer.

“Beer, brandy with no mixers, or Port wine,” boggel answered with a twinkle in his eye, “A very good wine, Dominee, like you serve at Communion.”

 Two hours later the devil was forgotten and everybody had to shout to be heard. Oudoom was talking (preaching, would be a better word) about the superior quality of the Port, reminding everybody that wine was invented by a very biblical person called Noah and that it wasn’t a sin to drink it, as long as one remembered the important role wine had played in the life and times of Israel. Of course, this sermon may be acknowledged as his best and most popular ever, something that made a huge impression on his attentive listeners.

As the sun set, he leant over to Boggel.

“You know, the ways of the Lord…” He never finished the sentence. The loud crack of thunder made Vrede dash to hide below the counter on Boggel’s cushion, Gertruida rushed to close the windows and doors and Kleinpiet ended his shout of surprise by ordering a round on the house.

 ***

People still talk about that rain. For seven days and seven nights a gentle drizzle soaked everything. The empty buckets and tins filled up. The fountain started running again. Vetfaan had to force an old blanket into the outlet in the dam that fed the hydrant.

And Boggel finally got Oudoom’s nod to wear a white tie on Sundays.

It didn’t last, of course. When Precilla left Boggel’s Place late one evening four months later, she sang a bit too loudly. Oudoom was preparing his sermon at the time and he distinctly heard the words of O brandewyn laat my staan. He might have ignored the incident if she hadn’t changed the words to Oudoom suip lekker saam – something he took rather personally for some reason.

Boggel was requested to resign from the church council; which he, in turn took rather personally as well. He said it’s a pity that some people forget that everybody gets thirsty sometimes. He also said that abstinence doesn’t make you a better Christian – in fact, Oudoom should read up on what Paul said about wine. The two of them agreed to disagree.

Now, every time the lorry of Kalahari Vervoer reverses from Sammy’s little parking lot, you are sure to find a few people standing around idly, hoping the driver would do the town another favour. Although their hand signals always guide the driver directly to the old fire hydrant, it is the furious barking of Vrede that tells the man when to stop.

The ways of the Lord? Mysterious indeed. When, two years later, the next drought hit the district, Boggel again had to be reinstated before the rain came. That’s when Oudoom stopped talking about the evil lurking in Boggel’s Place. He now preaches about more important stuff, he says, like how we are all guided to love one another. If any establishment in town can claim to promote this high ideal, then surely it cannot imply sin.

Boggel isn’t stupid. He didn’t belabour the point that Oudoom was wrong in the past. He simply saw to it that the supply of Port was sufficient to satisfy the increasing needs of his new customer.

The Unique Bogus Reality of Life

article-2242722-1657FE04000005DC-339_634x474“Did you know,” Gertruida asks because she knows everything, “that people lie every day? Some studies have shown that men lie six times a day, almost twice as much as women; while others show that 60% of people will lie at least once in a ten-minute conversation. The studies vary so much, because people tend to lie about lying. Psychologists reckon that deception was important for the development of the rather large human brain.”

Now, you must understand, Gertruida has a way of throwing out this type of statement whenever the conversation in Boggel’s Place dies down and the customers lapse into staring at their half empty glasses. Or maybe they’re half full, depending on your point of view. If there is one thing she can’t stand, then it is the absence of communication.

“It has to do with the survival of the fittest, you see? Initially it was the biggest and the strongest Neanderthal that dragged the most beautiful female off to his cave. Now, if that trait continued, the world would be filled by giant men and every woman would be stunningly pretty – but that isn’t the case, is it?”

By now she gets a few curious looks. Where is she going with this?

“So, somewhere along the line, some little guy managed to convince the alpha male that he wasn’t good enough. Maybe he had to be cleverer to get somebody to cook his meal, or maybe he lied about the size of his clan (amongst other things) – but in the end, deception became a necessary factor for survival. Tiny, the diminutive Neanderthal, had to intimidate his huge nephew Brutus, to get to Delicious, the pretty one who got tired of being beaten up every night.”

“So you’re saying that the original lie was a way to stop domestic violence?” Servaas thinks this is all so un-Calvinistic, and his face show it.

“Well, you have the two extremes: brute strength on the one hand, and deception on the other. Deception can take many forms, mind you: setting a trap for Brutus, or waiting in ambush is as much a lie as telling him your sixteen brothers are on their way to beat him up. Making somebody feel safe while you’re waiting for him to fall into the cleverly-disguised hole you dug, is deception. So is telling Delicious you love her simply because you want her to share your cave.”

“Ag, alright, Gertruida. That’s all very interesting. People lie…I get it. Why bring it up?”

“Because, Servaas, the liars became more and more creative over the years. Brutus had no chance once Tiny and his offspring got to the point that the females stopped falling for the strongest – they went for the cleverest. And you know quite well that stupid people don’t lie so well. It’s the clever ones that mix fact and fiction to such an extent that you believe them completely.”

“I’m still not sure what this has to do with us?”

“We live in a world of lies, Servaas: we get fed lies from dawn to dusk every day. Do you think newspapers tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Every front page is slanted towards a political ideology. Reporters get paid to chase a story because we just love sensation – and then they write articles to tell us what the editor thinks we should know. What’s even more important, is the stuff we don’t get told about. The media filters the truth, Servaas, there’s no question about it.”

Precilla has been listening quietly. “Then advertising is simply sophisticated lying?”

2011716_StuyvesantCigaretteAu1970“Absolutely! Remember the Stuyvesant ads? They used images of planes, boats and ski-slopes – suggesting that people who smoke this brand are sophisticated and rich. So smokers used it as a symbol of their success – and they were lied to as well as lying to everybody around them. 

“Marketing involves creative lying. Skin products promise eternal youth, clothing brands want you to believe that you’ll be the envy of all if you buy their products, and consumers buy pure beef sausages containing anything but cow.”

By now, Servaas is sitting up straight. “You haven’t touched on politicians yet, Gertruida.”

“Who needs convincing? Look at Uncle Bob next door. Or Malema – himself not a paragon of virtue – who claimed that there were 700 criminal charges against our President? And who’ll forget the statement : I did not have sexual relations with that woman?

“To be a successful politician, you have to be extremely creative in the way you handle the truth. Simply sticking to the facts is not going to cut the cheese.”

“Ag nee a!” Vetfaan signals for another beer. “You’re depressing me here, Gertruida. You make it sound as if the world is stumbling along on a diet of fat lies. It can’t be that bad?”

“Wake up, Vetfaan. The Truth is a dying entity. Human evolution depended on the ability to lie. Nowadays, we reward liars by electing them to positions of authority or by buying product we believe will improve our lives. I’m sure there are exceptions to the rule, but the fact is: the rule is in charge.”

“I agree.” Oudoom sighs as he joins the conversation. “We use an interesting term to justify lying: interpreting. People read verses of the Quran or the Bible – then they interpret it to suit their causes. Apartheid was justified by that. The fighting in Egypt, too. The list is long, but the point is: that’s the most dangerous untruth of all…”

“Where will it end, Gertruida? Are we doomed to live in a world of lies?”

“It’ll change, Servaas, but not in our lifetime. A very important thing must happen first: before we stop lying to others, we must stop lying to ourselves. Once we accept that we’re not as sexy, rich or successful as the adverts, and not as gullible to believe that other people must form our opinions, then humanity will revert back to the truth. And that will only happen when the drug of deceit is no longer addictive. When? Lies destroy, truth builds up. So, lies will cause such a major catastrophe that the world will change. 

“Maybe it’ll be a religious war, or a massive economic crisis, but in the end, only Truth will survive. It’s a tragedy.”

“I don’t agree.” Vetfaan empties his glass. “Fanny asked me yesterday whether I thought her jeans made her look fat…”

He gets a few sympathetic smiles, but the mood in the bar remains gloomy. One after the other, the patrons find an excuse to leave, claiming something to be done or forgotten.

“They don’t like the truth, Boggel.” A sad note has crept into Gertruida’s statement.

“No, Gertruida. They don’t. Lies are just so much easier to believe.”

The History of SHIMMERstate

Where did it start? I often wonder where stories come from – especially this one, by far the most unusual of all. SHIMMERstate goes back a long time…

Many years ago, I attended a terminally sick gentleman. His body had given up the fight against cancer, leaving him frail and weak. This, quite naturally, was the reason why he became more and more depressed and short-tempered.

I came to know him quite well in those days. Twice a day I’d sit down next to his bed to try and convince him to see his family and friends; but he refused, saying he didn’t want them to see him like that.

“I used to be a big, strong man Doctor. In my youth I excelled in athletics and later I played wing for my club. Look at me now – I’m a pathetic bag of skin and bones. I don’t want hem to remember me like this. Anyway, mind your own business. The other patients are waiting for you.”

Despite his rebukes (and later, sullen silences) I’d spend time next to his bed every day, chatting about Life, Love, Faith and Hope…even the subject he detested and feared: Death. Whenever I sat down with him, I’d be met with a scowl and a tired sigh.

Then, one morning, he flashed me a brilliant smile as I walked into his room. He was – quite obviously – in a tremendously happy mood. I asked about it.

“Last night, two men visited me. They were dressed in white robes and stood at the foot of the bed while they spoke to me. They told me too say my goodbyes today, Doc, and that they’d be here at eleven tonight to escort me home. 

“I can’t explain it, but after they left, a feeling of excited anticipation settled inside me. I understand things so much better now. Please, Doc, tell my family I’d like to see them. Please?”

I asked the night staff: no, nobody visited him during the night. His room was right opposite the nursing station, they’d have noticed…

He spent the day with his family and friends, encouraging them, telling them not to worry. He knows where he’s going now, he told them; the fear of the unknown is gone.

That night, at exactly eleven, he smiled, closed his eyes – and was gone.

***

That incident planted a seed that would take more than two decades to germinate. During that time, other patients and other events added to my impression that we are so much more than a body. And finally, when I sat down to write SHIMMERstate, the story came to me as a complete unit – I only had to write it down. Even so, it took three years.

I’m not a theologian, and my talent is not to convey a message with a dry, unexciting thesis. I’m a story-teller: that’s what I do best. So, SHIMMERstate is the story of a simple man who experiences a near-death event. In his comatose state, he leaves his body and gets involved in the ultimate adventure of his life. 

My wish is that the book will help people to look at Life with new eyes; that we’ll start questioning the superficial values society accepts, and that we’ll appreciate each other with greater respect.

           Click to buy.

Click to buy.

Lo le Roux – Travelling Midman (# 4)

images (43)Lo’s small hands cups  the baby’s head with great tenderness, guiding the baby expertly down  the birth passage. When the head finally emerges, Lo sighs his satisfaction. “Slowly now, slowly. No pushing, please, just relax. That big uterine muscle will do the rest now. Gently, Fanny, gently. Breathe deeply, slowly…it’s going well down here. Don’t rush…take your time…” His voice was calm, authoritative, encouraging. Vetfaan wipes the beads of sweat from Fanny’s brow, smiling at her. “So far, so good…”

His remark gets interrupted by a lusty howl.

***

There’s something magical about that first breath, that initial switch from being immersed in fluid for nine months…and then, within the space of a single second, the baby has to discard the life-support system it depended on for so long to become a self-sufficient entity. The heart rearranges the blood flow to flood the lungs with oxygen-hungry blood; the little air sacks of the lung – collapsed until now – instantly inflate to accept the first breath of air. And then the biggest miracle: oxygen diffuses into the blood, changing from blue to red, and the cheeks flush with the colour of life. More oxygen! the brain shouts as it commands the breathing centre to send the nerve impulses to the little muscles between the ribs. And then, then, the rushing air to and from the lungs generate the most beautiful sound a mother can ever hear…

***

“Here’s your son, your first-born.” Lo has wrapped the baby in a towel after wiping away most of the waxy material that covered the little body. “He’s absolutely perfect.” Like it happens with every baby he’s ever caught, Lo feels the tug of emotion that causes him to sniff loudly.

Vetfaan accepts the little bundle, not trusting himself to speak. The tiny hands  move about aimlessly, the small feet kick this way and that. His son! His little boy.  Eyes brimming with tears, he holds the infant for Fanny to see.

It’s impossible to describe the look in Fanny’s eyes. Pride. Joy. Relief. Love. If ever there was a definition of beauty, it is that look a mother has  when she sees her infant for the first time. The  victory of achievement; the primal urge of motherhood fulfilled; the line of generations  reaching in to the future…all these, and so much, much more gets caught up in that look. It’s special. It’s indescribable. It’s true beauty.

“Thank you,” she breathes, not addressing those around her bed.

“Now for number two…” The icy hand of fear clamps itself around Lo’s heart. The next baby is still in its original breech position: any delay now would increase the chances of the umbilical chord sneaking out first, which would clamp off the baby’s blood supply even before he could draw his first breath. The head could get stuck. Joints might get dislocated…

“We’ll just wait for the uterus to recover, then the contractions will resume. And then, dear Fanny, you’ll have to push with all your might. We have to get him out as fast as we can.”

“Er…Lo?” It’s Gertruida, standing in the doorway.

He looks up in surprise. “Yes?”

“The baby is still a breech presentation, isn’t he?” Lo nods, a puzzled frown crinkling his brow. “I brought music. And headphones. Would you mind terribly much if I tried that?”

“Why on earth? Do you think it’ll help Fanny?”

“No, Lo. It’ll help the baby – or at least, I hope so. You see, Fanny has taken to listening to Brahms during the pregnancy – to calm the babies, understand? The small ones are used to the melodies, the sound. Now I read somewhere one can use music to turn a baby. It’ll do no harm…?”

Lo watches in amazement as she places the one headphone just above Fanny’s pubic bones. Then, turning the volume up loud, she sits back.

“We’re calling him, Fanny; he must follow the music now.”

The uterus is still in a refractory stage, the muscle absorbing glucose and nutrients before the next set of contractions must propel the second baby into a new world. Gertruida, ever curious, lays a hand on Fanny’s tummy while she smiles up at the new mother’s worried face.

“You know, Lo told me his Gramps had many faults, but he taught him about faith and hope and never giving up. Now the four of us must take this wisdom to heart.” Her eyes travel over Lo, Vetfaan and Fanny, finally resting on the first baby. “I beg your pardon…the five of us must do that.”

She gets weak smiles from everybody.

Lo wrings his tiny hands, coughs, and tells them he’s got something to say. “When I was small, I once criticised my Gramps because he was always telling me we have to trust God. I argued with him, saying that we can’t always just leave all responsibility with God – we have to be pro-active. After all, the Lord helps those that help themselves. It took me a long time to realise the old man wasn’t wrong. Nothing happens without His say-so. So today, here, I have to apologise to Gramps. And now, God, please, we’ve done what we could. It’s Your responsibility now…”

***

In the Bible, God tells Job that men can only compare with God if they could make stars. Or measure the universe. Or create seas. Big things, God told him, require big power. Job surely left that conversation much chastened and humbled. But God could equally have asked Job about small things, like creating a dew drop on a petal, or to make the sound of a mountain stream, or to count the feathers of a dove.

As big and wonderful as the universe may be, there are thousands of little miracles surrounding us every day; little wonders proclaiming the awesome abilities of our Creator. So, while Lo spoke about faith and Gertruida played Brahms to the little one, another little miracle happened – only this time it was recognised and greeted with shouts of joy…

***

“He’s turning! He’s turning!” Gertruida stares in stark disbelief at the swollen belly, as she feels the movement of the baby under her hand. “I can’t believe it…” And yes, that’s true. For once Gertruida tried something she wasn’t sure of…and took a leap of faith. It worked! “Oh, I can,” Lo sighs happily. And then, with his calm voice and gentle little hands, he guides the baby to freedom.

***

“John and Peter.” Fanny doesn’t mind the fatigue and the pain – her babies are safe. She had prayed about them and placed her trust in the Lord, believing everything will work out. Now she’ll name them in His honour.

“What about haemophilia?” Vetfaan has to know.

“Listen, have you seen those babies? You’ve been here all along and you’ve seen a rather rough birth. Do you see any – any – bruising? Any sign of bleeding? Anything funny? There is no question, Daddy, your kids are well.”

***

Lo leaves three days later. Like James Barry, he doesn’t want the be reimbursed for his services. The happiness in that farmhouse is more than ample reward. He does, however, stop at Boggel’s Place for a rather large rum – with one block of ice. Boggel opened his Place especially early for the midman. On the house.

When Lo leaves without greeting, Boggel smiles quietly. What a wonderfully mysterious man, he whispers, as he starts brewing coffee. The townsfolk will trickle in soon, wanting to know what has happened to Lo. He will tell them how the quiet little man sat drinking the rum, wiped his lips, and nodded.

“Did you know my initials are LJB? Just like that president. Only, mine stands for Lorenzo James Barry. Le Roux was added by my mother…”

“More than a coincidence,” Boggel remarked. “Family?”

“Even if I told you, you wouldn’t believe it.” Lo said it with a sad smile as he got up to leave. “At least it’s not those pioneering days any more. Things are so much more sophisticated now…”

***

“Where did he go?” Vetfaan asks when he drops in for a well-deserved pint at eleven.

Boggel shrugs. “He didn’t say.”

“Well, did he leave an address? Or did you get his registration number? Anything?”

“Vetfaan,” Boggel is suddenly serious, “he walked out of here just like he came in – quietly. I think he went back.” He pauses while he pours another round. “To 1826…”

SHIMMERstate

And finally , after three years, the book is finished. Here’s a synopsis:

Near-death experience – the final portal to the ultimate truth?
Peter Small doesn’t know it, but when he steps in front of the speeding taxi, he’s about to embark on a paranormal journey that will provide the answer to the biggest question of them all: Why are we here? While his body is suspended in a comatose state, Peter discovers a world where he exists as a shimmer – a condition not connected to the physical world. To his surprise, he isn’t alone.
Mary Abrahams, the nurse at his bedside, is facing a completely different problem: she is harbouring an unwanted pregnancy. Must she marry the man responsible, even though he suffers from an obviously dangerous personality disorder? What about abortion?
In his meetings with other shimmers, Peter Small seeks answers and eventually connects with The Entity, the Creator of All. He gets insight into the many religions of the world, as well as the nature and origin of the universe – and Life. Then he is tasked to save Mary’s unborn baby …
Enter Danny, the ruthless lover, George, a sexually frustrated conman, and Frederik Verster, a doctor who has become a social recluse. Add a Cape Flats gang member, a paralysed professor and a caring matron, and you have a page-turning thriller with the twists and turns the author has become famous for.
But there is more … SHIMMERstate is a story of Destiny, of Fate and of Faith. As the story unfolds, the reader is swept along to re-examine the concept of a physical God and heaven. In SHIMMERstate the author explores the deeper spiritual questions about Life and Death, to come to several surprising conclusions.

           Click to buy.

Click to buy.

http://www.amazon.com/SHIMMERstate-ebook/dp/B00EKWDS3A

Lo le Roux – Travelling Midman (# 3)

Dr James Barry

Dr James Barry

Lo sits down next to Fanny to place a wet cloth on her forehead. “My Gramps was a strange man, Fanny. He drank a lot; but he taught me a few strange things – and maybe the strangest thing of all, is faith. In a way, when I think back, I realise that God uses simple folk to spread his message. The clever guys use big words, but Gramps lived his faith, he didn’t preach it. People looked at him and saw a drunkard – but in the hands of the Master, he was used to teach me how to believe.”

The contractions were now ten minutes apart and during the intervals, Lo chats away quietly. Precilla, who’d seen him in the bar the previous day, is quite astounded by the change in the little man. Yesterday he was obtuse, rude, unspeaking – and here he is, perfect bedside manner and all, reassuring Fanny. Yes, Precilla thinks, how wrong to look at people with human eyes. If only we were able to see what God sees… Maybe his passion is his life, after all.

“Gramps said one must never let go of hope, even if the odds are stacked against you. He taught me God will sometimes toss you a curve ball, something unexpected. That’s when you knuckle down and trust. Trust, hope and faith. Those three.” He pauses with a smile, “And of course, a drop of rum.”

***

Lo doesn’t tell them about the huge curve ball he had to handle.

Just before he finished his midwifery course, he applied for a permanent post at the teaching hospital. He had excelled in his studies, his practical work and knowledge were impeccable, and the way he worked with his patients received praise from all concerned.

But then there was Matron van Brakel, the demigoddess who ruled over the obstetrics wing with a rod of iron.

“A man? A man delivering babies in my unit? Over my dead body.”

Matron was as complex a person as Lo was. She worked in obstetrics for a very specific reason: she hated men. Way back, when she was eight years old, she had an unfortunate experience during a Sunday school camp – but that’s a story nobody knows much about and she’ll never divulge the details, either. Suffice to say, she decided to dedicate her life to suffering women after that weekend, and that’s why she reached her position as head of the Obstetrics Unit. Then in her early sixties, she was a good matron – if she only had women under her care. She accepted the male-dominated ranks of gynaecologists because that’s the way it was, but woe betide the doctor if he made a single mistake. The disciplinary hearings that she sat on, became legends that made young doctors think twice before considering a career in obstetrics.

It came as no surprise then, when the professor of obstetrics recommended Lo as a candidate for the midwifery course, that Matron van Brakel did everything in her power to make life difficult for the young Lo le Roux. She watched him like a hawk. She scrutinised his notes. She stood behind his back, breathing heavily into his neck, when she gave him the most difficult cases to handle. But, because he understood the anatomy of the pelvis so well, he came through – every time – much to the disappointment of his matron.

In her final act of defiance, she blocked his application to be appointed as a qualified member of her staff. And, because she felt humiliated at the professor’s obvious high regard for the young midwife, she used her influence to prevent him from being successful in his application to other hospitals.

Lo le Roux, qualified midwife, found himself unemployed despite his excellent academic record.

That’s when he became a midman. Travelling to the far-flung corners of the country and attending to ladies who wanted to give birth at home, he slowly built up a reputation as the-gynaecologist-without-the-degree. At least, he felt, he was going to where he was needed most and living out his passion. When a woman is in labour, neither the gender nor the looks of the helping hand mattered so much at all. His awkward appearance and lack of social skills were of no significance when a new mother held her precious baby in her arms, while her eyes shone with pride and gratitude. Those moments define Lo’s life, nothing else.

***

Now, next to Fanny’s bed, he’s not sure about this delivery. They’re hours away from the nearest hospital, he’s on his own, and the twins aren’t really in an optimal position for labour. If something goes wrong here, he knows, the Health Professional’s Council will hear about it – and then Matron van Brakel will  get her revenge by revoking his license to practice. Despite his confident appearance, he’s quietly contemplating ordering a helicopter to come and rescue the situation  – but there is no time. The babies are due any minute now, and no ER team is going to take the risk of delivering a breech in mid-flight. He will just have to see this through…

“Will it be all right, Lo?” Fanny’s voice  is as strained as Vetfaan’s face.

“Let me tell you a story…” He smiles down at her as he thinks back on a strange bit of history…

***

“Early in the 1800’s, a youth was determined to become a surgeon. With all manner of devious means, this was accomplished. Dr James Barry qualified in 1813 – at the age of eighteen. He became a military surgeon and legend has it that he took part in the Battle of Waterloo and spent time in India before coming to Cape Town in 1816.

“Well, he was a short, slight man, so he took to wearing hugely built-up shoes, never leaving the house unless dressed in his tailored military uniform..and his sabre, of course. His short temper was legendary, but his patients loved his kind manner next to their beds. The man and the doctor were two different personalities, you see?”

“Well, to get to the point: on a cold winter’s day he was called out to see a lady in labour. After examining her, he knew: mother and baby would die. Her pelvis would never accommodate the baby; obstruction would follow with the inevitable result.

“Barry made a bold decision then and there: he performed the first caesarian section in Africa on the 25th of July 1826. He had the consent of the worried father, Thomas Munnik, despite the local church’s disapproved of his endeavour to save mother and child. However, he went ahead and did the operation right there, in the Munnik home – without anaesthetic! Mother and baby survived the ordeal, and James Barry entered history.

“The thankful parents christened their son James Barry Munnik, who lived to the ripe old age of 75, and became the godfather of James Barry Munnik Herzog – JBM Herzog – the future prime minister of South Africa.

“Then the twist in the story…James Barry was Margaret Ann Bulkley, born in Ireland in 1789. He was a she, something only discovered after her death.

“Now, the reason I’m telling you this, is that (just like Gramps always said), you never give up hope. When you think you are facing an insurmountable obstacle, God provides the most wonderful answers in the most mysterious ways. That’s why you must now, in these hours, tell yourself positive things. You are going to have two boys. They will be all right. And I’ll do my damnest to see you with two babies in your arms tonight. Anything James Barry can do, I can do, too.”

***

Lo tells the story with animated hands and gestures, creating the scene so well that both Vetfaan and Fanny get carried away to forget – for a while – to worry about the imminent momentous changes in their lives.

“You tell it so well,” Fanny says, “as if you know the history by heart.”

Lo smiles down at her and strokes her hair. Then he says something strange.

“I should, dear Fanny.  I should. He is…very special to me.” He stops talking suddenly, as if he has said more than he should. Then the little man straightens up, bites his lower lip, and in his effeminate voice tells them it is time.

“Okay, Fanny, showtime…now let’s see what you can do.” He does a cursory examination before nodding. “Yep, Number One is on his way…

Lo le Roux – Travelling Midman (# 2)

bellypicFanny stares at the little man in ill-disguised unease. Vetfaan promised her the best midwife – this must be a mistake…

“Look, Fanny, it’s no use to be frightened of me. Relax. Let me see your tummy.”

With Vetfaan standing by and holding her hand, Fanny allows Lo le Roux to examine her stomach. The small hands flutter this way and that, pressing here, squeezing there.

“Mmm. Big twins. Not going to be easy.” This, of course, does nothing to calm Fanny down. “And I feel you have small contractions. They’ll arrive tomorrow, so we’ll have to get everything ready. I’ll fetch my stuff.” He pulls the blanket back over Fanny, pats her shoulder and closes the door behind him.

“Are you sure about him, Fanie?”

Vetfaan can only shake his head. “It’s too late now…”

***

The Lotto people were very good to Lo and Gramps. A young man in a grey suit visited them before the payment was due. His job, he explained, was to make sure that winners of considerable sums used the money well. 

“It’s best to keep it a secret,” the man advised, “otherwise you’ll be swamped by family and friends, wanting a piece of your good luck.” Gramps grunted, they have no family or friends, anyway. “Now, I see this young man will need quite a bit of cash to attend a college or university, while I’m sure you’d want to use some money to address your immediate needs.” The man allowed his gaze to travel over the peeling walls and the sparse furniture. “So I suggest that 75% of your winnings go into a solid investment – like unit trusts – and you use the rest to fix this place up.”

Geamps signed the papers, and after the man left, poured two generous portions of rum.

“You were right, Lo. We were blessed for our trust in the Lord.” 

Of course, the 25% was never used on the house. Gramps’ thirst saw to that. Despite that, Lo made matric and then announced his intention to attend art school. He said he wanted to do graphic design, something Gramps had never heard of. Still, it sounded better than selling eggs for a living, so the start of the acedemic year found the two of them at the bus stop in Robertson. Gramps was fidgety because the bus was late and it was way past his drinking time. Lo kissed the only parent he ever knew, and wished him well.

Art school turned out to be so much more than Lo expected. Not only was his drawings of a very high standard, but he got interested in moulding. Casting moulds was part of the curriculum, and he had to produce a mould and a cast as part of his final examination. Having experimented during the year with colours and various epoxies and resins, he produced a rather life-like hen and egg, which he presented on a nest of twigs and feathers. It was so different to what the other students produced, that he got an A+ and an invitation to see the head of the school.

“You’ve surprised all of us, Le Roux. I’m impressed.” The handshake was genuine, the smile proud. “Now we’ve had a strange request from the medical school. They need pelvises. You think you can do that?”

Lo didn’t have a clue. “Pelvises, sir?”

baby-in-pelvisIt seemed that the university used artificial pelvises and dolls to recreate various problems associated with childbirth. The lie of the baby, the shape of the pelvis and the situation with multiple pregnancies could then be demonstrated to the class in order to prepare the future doctors for their task. Lo had to study the anatomy, learn everything about the body structure, and then cast life-sized models of the real thing. It wasn’t easy, but a month later he delivered the first prototype. The university was impressed and funded the whole project. Soon other universities started ordering these models, still known as The Lorenzo Pelvis to this day.

Although Lo now had a lucrative business, the fact that he was only working with inanimate models started preying on his mind. What would it be like to be involved with real births? And so, a year later, Lo enrolled as a student nurse at the teaching hospital associated with the university. By now he was quite well known, and despite his awkward appearance, accepted for the brilliant student he turned out to be. Four years later he was eligible to begin the course in midwifery. 

***

Fanny wakes up with a start. It’s been a cold night in the Kalahari, and she’d put on extra blankets – yet now she’s shivering. Her probing hand finds the sheets and mattress soaked.

“Fanie! Fanie! My water broke!” 

“Put a cork in it,” he mumbles, still half asleep. Then realisation dawns. “What? Oh my goodness! You sure?”

“No, you idiot, the bed wet itself!” A tinge of panic edges her words. “And…” She’s at the point of telling him to get a towel when the first contraction makes her pause. “Go get that strange little man. Now!”

***

The worried frown on Lo le Roux’s forehead deepens as he palpates Franny’s large belly.

“I feel a head and some buttocks up here.” he points to her upper abdomen. “That’s not good.”

Vetfaan doesn’t understand and says so.

“It means the one baby is correctly positioned for a normal birth. The other is the wrong side up, or a breech presentation.”

It’s Greek to Vetfaan, but Fanny gets it. “Can you turn him?”

“Not really, not at this late stage, I’m afraid. It’s difficult to say which one is first in line. The head-first baby should be allright, but the other one…”

Her contractions are speeding up, the interval shortening. Vetfaan watches anxiously as Lo gets to work, getting the towels ready, the basins filled with warm water and setting out an array of clamps, scissors and even stitches. He doesn’t even want to guess – despite everything he had read up over the last few months, nothing could have prepared him for this. And now, with a breech presentation added to the mix, he is angry at himself. They should not have tried this at home. Never. It was so stupid even to think about it.

By this time, the news has spread and Kleinpiet is the first to arrive.

“Get Gertruida, Kleinpiet. Get her now!”

As he closes the door behind his friend, he hears the first scream…

Tempo Perdido = Lost Time…

Our sacred sweat
Is way more beautiful
Than this bitter blood
And so serious
And wild! Wild!
Wild…

See the Sun
In such a gray morning
The storm that comes
Has the color of your eyes
Hazel…

So hold me tight
And tell me once more
That we’re already
Far away from everything
We have our own time
We have our own time
We have our own time…

I’m not afraid of the dark
But leave the lights
On for now
What was hidden
Is what hid itself
And what was promised
Nobody promised”