“Love affairs,” Boggel will tell you because he’s heard it all before, “have a lot in common with snake bites: they happen suddenly, can be very painful and … not all of them are fatal.” There is a difference, he’ll admit – we usually don’t go looking for snakes…
But then again, neither did Sammie when he offered to drive Rebecca home that day. He was trying to be a true gentleman; the rescuing knight to the damsel; and certainly not pursuing any untoward amorous goals. Alas, the snake called Love is an unpredictable striker.
“You can wait in the car.” Rebecca got out at the house she shared with her mother after the silent, sullen drive from the river. Sammie was a bit surprised – he didn’t think she’s want a ride back to her work…not with him, not after the embarrassment, not at all. But, obviously, she accepted the fact that he’d be her taxi for the day, and who was he to refuse? Rebecca might be the unreachable woman, but she was definitely the most beautiful girl in town. And he, Sammie, the lowly cashier at the local Spar…his chances of ever being so close to Rebecca again were almost as good as his chance of getting Christmas Day off this year.
On the other hand: when she stopped calling him names and he stopped smiling at the sight of her wet hairdo (which made her seem so vulnerable – even more feminine), she flashed (for a single, unguarded moment) an apologetic smile. Or was it a thankful one? Sammie thought that proved that she wasn’t the cold and heartless monster local gossip made her out to be.
While waiting, Sammie got out of his rusty Datsun, found a rag in the boot, and dried the seat she had sat on. The damp cloth came in handy when he cleaned the windscreen; and for good measure, he swiped most of the dust from the bonnet as well. He glanced at the house, noting the peeling paint, the skew gutters and the overgrown garden. This place hadn’t see a man’s hand in ages…
She was surprisingly fast. Within half-an-hour, she appeared, framed in her front door; a picture of perfection. Her hair shone in the sun, her new outfit – similar to the one she took the tumble with – confirming the gentle contours of her body. The only difference was that she now wore sensible shoes, making her an inch shorter than Sammie when he opened the door for her.
“You’re studying law?” The question was unexpected. The drive back to her work had been an uncomfortable one, with him not sure whether he should compliment her on her looks, or just shut up. They had nothing in common and she would certainly not be interested to make small talk with him.
“Er..yes. Still a long way to go. Exams one of these days.” He kept his sentences short, afraid to say too much.
“Mister Hurwitz is one of the examiners. You should have a chat with him. I’ll set it up.”
In later years, Sammie would wonder about this. Why did she offer that? Was it an oblique way of thanking him? How did she know about his studies? Did it mean she’d noticed him before and made enquiries?
Whatever her motive was, he was thankful. Hurwitz possessed one of the finest legal brains in the country and his involvement with several high-profile cases had earned him the respect of his peers. It was only natural then, that an institution like UNISA had asked him to serve on their panel of examiners, something that Sammie had been aware of – and feared to some extent. The thought of facing a man of such a formidable reputation during an examination, created great uncertainty in the mind of the humble cashier at the local supermarket.
“Would you?” he couldn’t believe it.
“Listen, I said I would. Don’t you understand English?” With that, she closed the door (rather forcibly) and was gone.
Whenever Sammie allows his thoughts to stray back to those days (something he tries to avoid, mostly) he conjures op the image of her walking back to the office that day. The sun caught her at just the right angle to suggest the curve of her back, the swell of her derrière, the shape of those thighs. Yes, he’ll admit, he entertained a few deliciously dark thoughts then – and that was the moment she ceased to be an impossible dream.
The snake had struck, sinking it’s fangs deep into his willing flesh. It would take time for the venom to spread, however…
Mister Hurwitz turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Sammie had only heard about him, so when he was ushered into the cluttered office, he took a moment to take it all in.
Samuel Hurwitz had a tea-pot figure, a moon-shaped face and lots of grey hair. His suit was rumpled, his tie askew and the handkerchief in the top pocket of his jacket used to be white at some time. When he got up to shake Sammie’s hand, his smile was genuine. Sammie noted the built-up shoes.
“The key to being a good lawyer,”” the old man said, “is to force your opposition to underestimate you.” He wheezed a laugh as he sat down, pressed a button n his desk and ordered coffee. “You are studying law, I hear?”
Sammie sat down gingerly and nodded. Yes, he said, he always wanted to, and now he’s trying his best…
“Well, sir, my family…”
“I know all about your family, young Samuel. Met them at shul in Cape Town, more years ago than I care to remember. Your father worked at the green grocer where we used to shop. Your mother was a fine, upstanding lady. At that time you would have been a baby. Then I came here and lost contact with them. Humble beginnings, Samuel, are the best. They inspire and encourage. I think that happened to you.”
There was a soft knock at the door and Rebecca brought in the tray with two mugs.
“You know Rebecca, of course. She speaks highly of you.” Then, ignoring Sammie’s complete surprise, the old man launched into a summary of the year’s curriculum.
“It is important that you prepare well for the exams, Samuel. Very well. And I’ll keep an eye on you from now on.”
The meeting was over. Sammie thanked the lawyer as well as he could and let himself out. Yes, Mister Hurwitz might have emphasised certain aspects of the work – but he couldn’t remember listening to a single word the old man said. He stopped listening at ‘she speaks highly of you…’
The next week Sammie studied, worked and dreamed. More accurately, he dreamed about Rebecca, worked up the courage to contact her, and studied The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne by Brian Moore.
The book shocked and worried him. The tragic story of Judith, a spinster with grand dreams and a passionate desire to be loved, made him aware how vulnerable women were when they get to ‘a certain age’ and still remained unmarried. What if, he wondered, somebody like Rebecca ended up like that: a lonely, disillusioned and desperately unhappy woman whose life turned out to be one huge and unforgiving disappointment?
Sure, she was young and attractive and had every opportunity to meet men (and settle down), but her obvious aversion to relationships foretold an unhappy spinsterhood…just like the poor Judith had to face.
“I had no choice,” Sammie still tries to convince himself after all these years, “I simply had no choice.”
That’s why Boggel’s words are so true. Once that snake has struck, the outcome is inevitable: life or death…and sometimes even that isn’t important. At the very least, the scar will remain.