“You can buy love,” Kleinpiet is having a quickie while Fanny and Precilla are buying knitting needles at Sammie’s, “I see they’re advertising Russian brides in The Upington Post.”
“But that’s a gamble. With my luck I’ll get a Cossack with a permanent headache…and the mother-in-law as a bonus. No thank you.” Servaas frowns angrily at his beer.
“Ja, maybe.” Oudoom has that sermon-look. “But you can’t buy integrity either. And that should be inseparable from real love.”
During the week of Abe Hurwitz’s visit – that terrible, dragging, exhausting week during which Sammie wrote letter after letter (only to tear them all up) – Sammie received a letter from the university, advising him to see their local examiner, Mister Hurwitz. This didn’t bode well and it was with trepidation that Sammie walked to the office to make an appointment. Just like he feared, Rebecca wasn’t there.
“I have to make an appointment to see Mr Hurwitz,” he told the lady behind the desk. He vaguely recognised her; she used to help out at the school, many years ago. “Mrs van Schalkwyk? I didn’t know you worked here?”
Mrs van Schalkwyk was an ancient specimen of humanity, one who could be used to scare little children to behave during church services. Her elephantine eyes were almost hidden behind the many wrinkles, while the unruly sparse grey hair gave her a witch-like appearance. She had occasional teeth that gleamed yellow between the pale lips and the obligatory mole on the tip of her nose. Sammie thought she only needed a broom to complete the picture.
“I don’t.” She had an old-smoker’s voice. “I’m just helping out for the week.” Her shortness of breath made her sentences short. “What about? Divorce? Debt? Transferring property?”
“No, I have to see him about my exam results. He’s an examiner.”
“Oh.” The freckled hand hovered over the appointment book before her trembling fingers found the right date. “I suppose…”
She sighed, got up with obvious effort, and waddled to the lawyer’s office. “Sammie’s here,” she shouted at the door. Sammie couldn’t make out what Hurwitz answered and had to wait for Mrs van Schalkwyk to work her way back to her seat, where she sat down thankfully.
“He’ll see you now.” Almost immediately, she closed her eyes as if they were tired, too.
Hurwitz welcomed Sammie and asked him to sit down.
“You did rather well, Sammie. I was impressed with your insight and the way you constructed your answers. I’m tempted to give you a distinction, I must say.”
Sammie didn’t know what to say, so he remained silent.
“I’m glad you’re here, by the way. I believe you’ve been seeing young Rebecca?”
This remark caught Sammie by surprise and he only managed to nod.
“Well, I hope it isn’t anything serious, young man. She’s been working for me for some time now, and I’m rather impressed with her services. And now that my son is going to join this practice, we’ll need somebody really efficient. To lose her would be a disaster.”
Sammie felt his mouth dry out as his tongue suddenly felt thick and unresponsive.
“So, to get back to your exam. As an examiner, I must not only test the knowledge of the student, I have to also get an impression of his personality. I must ask whether the candidate will become an asset for the profession, understand? We need men and women of integrity, of honour; honest people who will be just and fair in their dealings with the public.” Mister Hurwitz flashed a lawyer-smile, like a good conspirator planning a coup. “That’s why I wanted to see you first. If you can satisfy me that you are such a man, I can go ahead and award you an A+. And may I remind you: I’m also in the position to recommend a bursary that will cover all your future expenses for your study.”
“W-What do you mean, sir? What do you expect of me?”
“Oh I like that! Cut to the chase! A young man with insight!” Sitting back, Mr Hurwitz made a steeple with his fingers in front of his nose. “If, for instance, my son and Rebecca became an…item…it would make me very happy. I would hate it if something – or somebody – interfered with their immediate plans. Sooo…I expect you to respect that.”
Sammie understood all too well. Mr Hurwitz was fighting his son’s battle for him. If Sammie backed off, he’d get a distinction and his studies would be paid in full. For that price, he had to let go of any future plans involving Rebecca he might have entertained.
“But sir, shouldn’t we ask Rebecca first?” Despite being upset, he managed to ask the question without stammering. Mr Hurwitz contemplated the nails on his immaculately manicured fingers for a full minute, before replying.
“A good lawyer never asks a question he doesn’t already know the answer to, young man.” He sighed and for a second Sammie thought he saw sympathy in those cold, grey eyes. Just for a second, then it was gone. “By the way…there’s a small function at my house tonight. Selected guests, very formal. Abe is going to announce their engagement. Your welcome to attend, of course.”
To this day, Sammie cannot remember how that meeting ended. He must have said something. They must have parted after some sort of greeting. He must have said goodbye to Mrs van Schalkwyk.
He became aware of his surroundings when he sat down at the bench next to the river, where the brown water flowed slowly to the sea. There was a sadness to the water, as if the passing stream was on a final journey away from him to the cold blue ocean where the river will die and cease to be. He felt angry, betrayed, lost.
When his thoughts started clearing he realised Rachel knew all along and that the extended trip ‘to the family’ involved Hurwitz and Rebecca visiting Abe, the successful lawyer in Kimberley. It explained Rachel’s hesitancy and Rebecca’s Judas kiss that evening when they met for the dinner date. He suddenly understood her last letters.
He had, he realised, been a convenient fool. Yes he might have contributed to her life by showing her his affection and making her believe in trust – but what had that helped him? Here he was, heartbroken and rejected – despised even – as lonely as a man could be.
It saddens me not to call you my Becky any more, but that’s the way it is.
I wish you and your Abe the best. May you find happiness and peace.
Your father made certain suggestions – I’m sure the two of you discussed it and that you are well aware of it – and I’m afraid I had no choice in my answer.
I have decided to put my dreams of a degree in Law on hold for now. I have much to consider, not least being the question whether I really want to join a profession where people treat others like expendable and disposable articles. For myself, I can only say that my eyes were opened in the most unpleasant way and that I’m still reeling with shock at what I’ve discovered.
I shall also leave Upington for good. I do not want to be a spectator in the silly game you’re playing and I don’t want to be involved in its outcome.
No matter how disappointed I may be at this stage, I do wish to convey my thanks for the time we spent together. Please tell Rachel I appreciated the discussions we had.
With my best wishes,
Sammie sighs as he watches the little crowd in Boggel’s Place having fun. It’s almost twenty years now, but he still thinks of Rebecca – Becky – every day. For a while he really thought they could have a future together, but in retrospect he knows things turned out the way it should have.
Rebecca and Abe got married on the banks of the Orange River, not far from the bench he used to sit on. It was a happy affair and. like people do on weddings, everybody wished the newly-weds well. Sammie, of course, didn’t attend.
The marriage lasted three years. Rebecca’s childhood got the better of her when she suspected Abe had a wandering eye. Rachel died shortly after, and old Mr Hurwitz closed the practice after it was found that Abe had been speculating with trust funds.
Sammie did – one evening after his fourth Cactus – say something about Love.
“The thing about love is that you can’t pin it down,” he said, raising his glass, “if Becky walked through that door this second, I think I’d be the happiest man ever. At the same time, I’d rather die than meet her again. I wonder if there is something like angry love? Or hateful affection? Or loving separation? Or is it inevitable that love can never be pure?”
“It’s called forgiveness, Sammie,” Boggel said, “love is forgiveness, nothing else.”
“Everything, Sammie, everything.”
Sooo…what happened afterwards? Epilogue to Follow