Because Gertruida knows so much, she won’t let you rush her story. Stories, she will tell you, are like old-fashioned love affairs. Initially there must be something to make you sit up and take notice. Then fascination gets added, creating the need to immerse yourself in the unfolding events. Later, you must feel as if you want to help, to contribute to the circumstances, so that you almost want to predict what the outcome must be. Only then, she says, do you get to the point of submission, allowing the tale to sweep you along to a heady climax. Oudoom always objects when she says this, scolding her for being so suggestive – at which Gertruida smiles every time, thanking him for the compliment.
Magistrate Tiny Olivier (he of the short temper and the bad mood) told Constable Nelis Viljoen to address the court and was at the point of giving the policeman all his attention, when Dollie van Niekerk walked in to stand against the back wall of the court room. Dollie took special care in dressing for the occasion, wearing her newest blue jeans and the blouse she saves for funerals. Her greying hair was swept back in a tidy bun but that was balanced by the lipstick and mascara she borrowed from Betty (“The Boob” ) Visagie, the local hooker. From her position at the back of the room, she stared intently at the magistrate, daring him to hold her gaze.
It takes a long minute for Olivier to look back at Viljoen with a, “Ye-e-es?”
Viljoen describes how he searched the shack and found the large diamond hidden under a mattress.
“And who are you accusing? I mean, on whose property did you find the diamond?” Magistrate Olivier seems uncommonly uncertain.
Viljoen points at the accused bench.
“And who are they, Constable?’
“Mister J.O.B van Niekerk, known as Job, and a certain Mister Dickson that goes by the name of Digger.”
“Have you handed in your evidence? Where is it?”
Viljoen walks over to the table in front of the bench, to hold the diamond up for all to see. The sheer size of the stone is enough to make the gathered people let out a collective Ooooooh!
“Well, bring it here. I want to inspect that stone.” Afterwards, everybody will agree that the magistrate’s voice sounded rather strained, as if he was struggling to maintain his usual attitude of indignant outrage. Rather, they’ll agree, the sight of the stone made the magistrate seem to shrink.
Viljoen walks over and hands the stone to the magistrate. who accepts it with an outstretched hand.
“Mmmm…” he says. “And that, I suppose concludes your evidence?”
“Yes, your honour.”
Magistrate Olivier puts down the diamond on his bench and peers over to the two accused.
“And what have you got to say for yourselves?”
Old Digger clears his throat, gets up and shakes his head.
“That’s not our diamond, Mister. Never saw it before that policeman started shouting at us. He’s lying…”
To say such a thing in court – for all to hear and with the neatly uniformed, clean shaven and confident constable standing right there – is unheard of. It’d not done. Digger doesn’t get to finish his sentence as Olivier slams his hammer down on the desk to silence the court.
Gertruida – because she knows everything – will tell you that the desert is just like Life. It is dry. It is dangerous. And if you get lost in it, you tend to walk in circles.
“Look,” she’ll tell you, “nobody’s sure what’ll happen tomorrow. There’s no map for Life – so in a sense, we’re all lost. Sure, we have faith in God and lots of hope for the future; but there’s no guarantee that what you’re planning will work out the way you think it should. That’s why we often end up where we started and why there are so many ‘self-help’ and ‘how-to’ books on the shelves.
“Remember Japie Geldenhuys? The man who read ‘The Secret’? Well, according to that book, all you have to do is to visualise your success. So Japie, who farmed near Keimoes, started visualising a life of sexy women, lots of money and a penthouse in Calvinia. He got so carried away that he spent his days on his stoep, daydreaming about the fun he was going to have.
“It was only after the bank took back his farm that he started visualising something else: life at the other side of the prison bars.”
Somebody will – at this stage – draw Gertruida’s attention to the fact that she’s not telling the story of Job any more.
“Of course I am,” she’ll say, “I’m telling you that people tend to have rather fancy ideas about how Life should be, and how often they are wrong.
“You see, Magistrate Olivier was trying to escape his own realities by punishing criminals. It made him feel more of a man to have power over others. And Job rebelled against Life because he felt inferior – as did Nelis Viljoen. It’s not an uncommon phenomenon: most of us – at some stage or other – wish we could be more than we are.
“But then you get people like Dolly van Niekerk, who simply accepted her fate in life and tried to be the best she can. And that’s why she stood up in that courtroom that day.”
“And you?” Magistrate Olivier glares at Job. “What have you got to say about this?”
Job, with a lifetime of rebellion behind him and finally giving up on hoping for a better future, only shakes his head. It is, he knows, useless to say anything here; they’ll never believe him, anyway. He is chained to a reputation and there will be no escape from that.
“Unless there is any other matters pertaining to this case,” Olivier says, grimly smiling his satisfaction. Yes, he is enjoying himself, despite the shadow of uncertainty that still hovers in his mind. “Then I’ll proceed with my verdict,”
“Oh no, you wont!” Dollie van Niekerk steps from the back of the court to approach the bench. “You’ll do no such thing!”
Magistrate Olivier gapes at her in wide-eyed surprise, his mouth moving but not producing any sound.
“Joseph is my son, and ever since Hybie declared him to be a heathen at his christening, nobody took the time to try to understand him. I know he’s a difficult boy and I know he’s caused problems wherever he went – but where were you, ” and her she sweeps a hand at the people in the room, finally pointing at Olivier, “when he needed you? He was beaten, scolded, rejected all his life. And I, his mother, finally allowed him to escape from this community at a tender age, believing that anything is better than what he was experiencing at the time. You think it was easy for me?” She swipes angrily at an unwanted tear.
“When I fell pregnant, all of you turned your backs on me. You gossiped. You pointed fingers. You…you laughed at me. Nobody gave me a single diaper or a pair of baby booties. You made me look like a bad woman, hung a label around my neck, and ostracised me. But…what about the man who made me pregnant? Did you – even for a single second – consider that it took two people to tango?”
Now she walks right up to the bench to shake an angry finger at Tiny Olivier. “Don’t you dare….don’t you dare!…punish my child because you have to prove something, Magistrate. Don’t! There’s been too much hypocrisy. It has to stop.”
She swirls around to walk back to her place at the back of the court, hesitates, turns around again.
“Please…?” She barely whispers the word, looking the magistrate straight in the eye.
Gertruida will slump forwards at this point, as if exhausted by the telling of Job’s story. If you listened carefully, you’ll start connecting the dots, and get an idea of the intricate circle she’s completing, just like somebody who got lost in the desert ending up at the beginning of the journey again.
And Boggel, realising the story is nearing it’s end, will serve a steaming mug of coffee to her in anticipation of the climax.