Boggel often tells his customers that love and nausea have a lot in common. The outcome, he maintains, is often inevitable. Then he’ll smile, softening the blow, and tell them there are exceptions to the rule.
But they all know: Love has a price. And if they were to know the whole story of Sammie’s life, they’d observe a moment of silence and toast his health. A man can only endure so much, after all…
In the week before Sammie’s exams, Rebecca came home after work one evening, stopped, and gaped at the scene. The grass was mowed. The trees were pruned. Sammie was on the roof, nailing the gutters back into place. And then – the most obvious change struck her last – she stared at the new colour scheme. For a moment she thought she took the wrong turn to arrive at the wrong house; but no, this was their place, completely transformed.
“What the hell are you doing…?” It escaped more harshly than she intended.
“I… The place needed fixing. I did it…” What else could he say?
“Then what do you want?” In Rebecca’s mind, men only did something in order to get something back. Give…then take. That’s the way the game worked.
“Er…nothing.” Maybe it was a lie, maybe not; but in all honesty, Sammie had seen the condition of the house and the garden – and simply felt he had to do something about it.
“Look,” Boggel will occasionally remark (late at night, before closing time when his last customers get that faraway look), “love makes men do silly things. You can’t hold a man responsible for anything when he falls in love – especially not in the beginning. He’ll do strange things and say stuff he doesn’t mean. Fortunately, this phase doesn’t last long – and then he’d go back to being his old, sloppy self.”
This is true, of course. Love forces hardened soldiers to discover the poet behind the uniform and serious accountants will start taking photographs of flowers. Boggel says this phenomenon is’t restricted to humans, either. Ostriches, he’ll tell you, do the same thing with their love-dances. But…and here he’ll frown…in reality, it remains a remnant of the age-old instinct to ensure the survival of the species.
Should you ask him – because the Cactus has had an influence of your natural shyness to talk about these things – he’ll say yes, men do these things to fool women into believing they’d be good donors of genetic material for the next generation. When he mentions this, the ladies in the bar will roll their eyes towards the ceiling with an ‘oh, pulleeeaze…‘.
Sammie had one stroke of luck – Rebecca’s mother liked him. Initially she ignored the man working in the garden, but as the work progressed she stared at the neat lawn and pruned trees and considered the possibility that Sammie might not fit into the stereotype she believed all men belonged to. So, when Sammie stood there, trying to think of something witty or clever to say (he was too new in the game of relationships to realise the value of compliments), it was Rebecca’s mother who saved the day.
“Oy vey, Rebecca,” (her mother had a delightful burr, turning her name into the most exotic word Sammie had ever heard), “leave the poor man alone. He’s been slaving away all day. Now be a good girl and fetch him a glass of water, we can’t have people dying of thirst in our garden. What’ll the neighbours say?”
Rebecca did as she was told simply because it would have been stupid to argue with her mother. Nobody dared cross the old woman – it wasn’t done.
When it became too dark to work on the gutter any longer, Sammie got off the roof. He was about to close the garden gate when Rebecca’s mother called him back.
“You’re the man who got Rebecca out of the river?” She eyed him quizzically; the look of a child eyeing a hamster in a pet shop. Then, her mind made up that Sammie can’t be all that bad, she invited him in for supper. “It’s just to say thank you, nothing more. Understand?”
Gertruida says love is like that pothole in Voortrekker Weg. Although you know it’s there, you still manage to be surprised every time you steer your vehicle into it.
Maybe that’s what happened that night at supper. Rebecca’s mother (‘Call me Rachel, you sweet boy…’) found their guest rather entertaining, despite her prejudice against men. Sammie held out a chair for her. He cleared the table and washed the dishes. After his initial uncertainty, he thanked Rebecca for arranging the meeting with Mister Hurwitz. She nodded demurely. Sammie said he’d come around occasionally to mow the lawn and fix things. Rebecca said thank you.
“Well, I’m an old woman, and watching you work all day has made me tired. I’m going to turn in. Rebecca, make Sammie some coffee before he leaves. Good night.”
It’s hard to say who was the most surprised – Rebecca stared at her mother while Sammie got up stiffly to bid her sweet dreams.
In the silence that followed, Sammie swallowed hard, his uncertainty once again taking over. There he was, with the cold and beautiful Rebecca, all alone… When it became too much to bear, he turned to her.
“You don’t like me much, do you?”
Rebecca looked down at her hands, which rested quietly on her lap. She didn’t understand why her palms felt sweaty. The rebuke forming in her mind, didn’t find its way to her tongue.
“I-I don’t like – I don’t trust men.” She couldn’t meet his eye. “M-my father left us. I was so small then.”
Why did she say that? In three short sentences, she said something so important – so huge – that she felt naked afterwards. She was wishing she could take the words back, rub them out, and say something else, when Sammie said he understood.
“Happy families are all alike,” he quoted, “every unhappy family is unhappy in it’s own way.” He hesitated, waiting to see if she wanted too respond. “Leo Tolstoy wrote that in the 1870’s, and it is true. I don’t know any happy family, though. If you dig deep enough, you find skeletons everywhere, not just in cupboards.”
“You’ve read Anna Karenina?” For the first time, she seemed genuinely interested in what he has to say.
“I liked it more than War and Peace, because it says so much about human nature that is still true today. I even thought I recognised some of my family in that book.” He laughs at the absurdity of it all. Yet, the incredible clarity of the descriptions of Nikolai Dmitrievich Levin, the drunkard; and the writer Sergius Ivanovich Koznyshev; really struck him as unique.
“I read a lot, too. I like Nabokov…” Her eyes found his, held them in a silent challenge.
He knew Rebecca was testing him. “‘Vladimir’s Lo-li-ta? ‘Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock…‘” He quoted the famous words effortlessly, making her laugh.
The small pebble of common interest , dislodged by the foot searching for safety on the treacherous mountain pass of Life, will sometimes fall silently on the soft sand below to disappear below the surface of everyday happenings. At other times, it may be the start of an avalanche.
Sammie had no idea – not at all – where their discussion of Russian writers would lead to. How could he? But somehow he didn’t care, for Rebecca’s eyes lit up and she made more coffee.
And in her bedroom, Rachel heard her daughter laugh and closed her eyes in a silent prayer that Sammie would be the right one, the right man, to make them both believe in grace, goodness and mercy again. Even love, Lord, if it is possible.