The thing about love, Boggel usually tells his customers, is that people look for it in the wrong places. That’s why so many people say never again… Look, he’ll tell them, at our president. Or Princess Diana. Or (he’ll whisper) at almost any movie star you can think of.
“Love isn’t that glamorous moment of shared bliss – anybody can do it. Love is about slogging through the hours and days of worry, raising children, fulfilling each other’s dreams. It’s about compassion, not passion. Selfless serving instead of being served.”
He always pauses when he’s said this, because he wants his audience to reflect on the hard work associated with love – and not the egocentric chase after fulfilment. Of course, mostly this gap in his talk is filled with patrons slapping the bottoms of their empty glasses; but he doesn’t mind – they’ll come back at some stage to tell him he’s right.
And it changed his life…
Sammie leans on the counter in his shop, watching the townsfolk having fun in Boggel’s Place across the street. Gertruida has just finished telling them a story, and now they’re celebrating the unexpected ending.
“Yes, this is how it always is,” he says, not thinking it strange to be talking to himself, “they have all the laughter and fun, while I’m standing here, hoping somebody will want something bad enough to come and buy it here. The outside-man looking in…that’s me.”
Sammie, despite the many years he’s had his shop in Rolbos, always feels like an outsider. He’s the odd one out, the round peg in the square hole, the smiling shopkeeper with the sad eyes…
Whenever Gertruida starts telling her stories, Sammie wonders whether he should tell her his, but he never does. It’ll hurt too much.
He met her in the summer of ’92 on a warm Kalahari morning, when he sat down to eat his lunch on the bench next to the river. This used to be his favourite spot: a place where he can relax and watch the slow, brown stream of water flowing silently towards the sea. At that time, Sammie was preparing for the exams at the end of his first year of study and still dreamt about obtaining his law degree, He had enrolled in the correspondence course UNISA offered to working men and women throughout the land (and the continent, for that matter) in his quest to obtain a degree. So far the year had been great and, due to his diligent work, it was entirely possible that he would pass with a distinction.
Now… Rebecca, he knew her of course – or, more accurately, he knew about her, She was the receptionist at the big law firm in town – Hurwitz, Weiss and Kramer – an establishment respected for its hight standards. A contract done by HWK – whether you sold your sheep or had a prenup drawn up – was as solid as Table Mountain and as watertight as the Titanic before meeting up with that iceberg.
Rebecca was reputed to have much in common with the object that sunk that unsinkable ship: people said she was hard, unforgiving and as cold as the freezer in the morgue. The few bachelors that had been brave enough to ask her out on a date, never spoke about their experiences. It was easy to recognise them: they had the empty-eyed look boxers get before the referee counts to ten.
Rebecca was beautiful, of course. And witty. And clever. And always dressed to kill. But, despite these wonderful attributes, she hated men. Her parents got divorced when she was ten years old, resulting in her teens being spent with an ever-complaining mother who blamed everything (drought, storms, broken electric kettles, the state of the country and Robert Mugabe – to name only a few) on that deceiving, hateful, horrible man – her father. So intense was her aversion to men, that some people gossiped that ‘she must be batting for the other side‘.
They were wrong, of course. Rebecca was afraid of any relationship.
“You give your heart, and you’ll be hurt. Just you wait and see. And when happens, don’t come crying to me, young lady. Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you…” Her mother was always telling her about the dangers of courtship and how the woman will always end up being the loser. Rebecca, who saw what the break-up did to her mother, swore she’d never allow herself to be hurt that badly.
So, while Sammie was munching his sandwich on the bank of the river, considering the possible questions in the upcoming exam, Rebecca – the cold and unreachable beauty – was not even a vague thought in his mind.
Rebecca, on the other hand, needed to get out of the office for a while. She was upset that the latest suitor sent flowers to the office, despite the brush-off she had handed the man the previous evening. She simply agreed to accompany Japie Kleynhans to the movies because she was curious to find out what the fuss about Basic Instinct was all about. Japie let out a drawn-out wolf whistle when Sharon Stone reclined in that chair and he was promptly rewarded with an open-handed slap in his face.
“You are like all men, you monster!” It was much louder than the whisper she had intended to use. “All you are interested in, is sex. This movie is horrible. I’m going!”
And she did, storming out and leaving another humiliated young man to wonder why he had the nerve to think he’d succeed where the others had failed.
Sammie’s reverie was interrupted when he noticed her strolling along the water’s edge. Her short black skirt contrasted nicely with the white blouse while her long auburn hair cascaded over her shoulders. The stilettos made her considerably taller than her five-foot-seven. She looked more beautiful than he remembered her. She ignored him – like she did every other man that had ever stared at her – and calmly walked on.
And then her foot slipped.
And she fell.
Into the river.
She disappeared under water for a moment, then came up with some rotten grass draped over the hair that shone in the sun a minute ago. For several long seconds they stared ta each other, too shocked to speak. She found her voice first.
“This is your bloody fault. Damn you!”
“Don’t just sit there, you moron! Help me!”
Sammie managed to get his arms and legs working, went down to the waters’ edge and held out a hand. She couldn’t reach it. He leant over, his arms stretched to their limits. She grabbed a hand. Pulled. And he , too, fell in.
“I wonder,” Sammie says to himself, “what would have happened if I had taken my lunch elsewhere that day. Would we still have met?” He shakes his head. No… It was fate…or destiny. “I shouldn’t have said anything at that time. Helped her out, walked away. But no…I had to be a hero! What a fool I’d been…”
“I’m sorry,” he said as he struggled to his feet in the thick mud of the river bank.
“Idiot!” she hissed.
And then he laughed, telling her she looked gorgeous. Afterwards he’d wonder why he said that, for her dripping hair and soaked clothing couldn’t have been attractive. But somehow he saw her then as she was: a vulnerable, hurt young woman who used anger to distance herself from other people. It even seemed funny and he found it impossible to stop smiling.
“Come,” he said. “My car is parked over there. I’ll take you home.”
He shouldn’t have done that…