Long ago, in Rolbos…

images (44)It was during the Great Drought that the lorry of Kalahari Vervoer backed into the only fire hydrant in the entire district. It really was a relic of the time when Pella Refractory Ores (Pty) Ltd, dug out part of Bokkop for the minerals hidden in the soil; when people hoped that Bokkop would become a world player in the silica and cement industries. When the dream imploded, the town remained as a sad reminder of the risks involved in investing in remote areas.

The hydrant served no known specific purpose; except of course as a beacon for Vrede, who saw it as his sole and unique property and marked it frequently in case somebody thought otherwise. When the lorry backed over the hydrant, it was Vrede’s barking that drew the collective attention of the Rolbossers. Seconds later, the town had the only fountain in the area.

First on the scene was Servaas, who remembered when the pipes were laid those many years ago. It was a direct line from the reservoir at the foot of Bokkop, and if it weren’t shut off immediately, the town would run dry.

The stream of water rushed down Voortrekker Weg, pooled around the church and flooded the vestry. Oudoom at first didn’t believe it, then thought it was the start of another Great Flood, and eventually decided that he’d be better off on the pulpit: he was nearer to the roof – and heaven – that way.

Nobody had any idea where the line could be turned off – no tap in sight anywhere – and the townsfolk stood by helplessly while their only water supply soaked away in the dry Kalahari sands.

Vetfaan twisted the bent hydrant back in place, which stopped Vrede from causing such a noise.

“That was our only water,” Gertruida noted, “better get buckets and scoop up as much water from around the church as possible. Heaven knows what we’re going to do when that is finished.” As usual, she was right. The fountain at the foot of Bokkop had dried up a month earlier, leaving only the water in the reservoir as the only supply the town had left.

Two days later, the town was dry. Empty buckets and tins stood around, Sammy had sold all his cool drinks and even Vrede couldn’t mark his precious beacon anymore. The only source of fluids in town was at Boggel’s – owned by the very same man that Oudoom vetoed off the church council because he sold liquor.

A town has to do what a town has to do, so everybody survived on the sustenance Boggel provided; everybody, except Oudoom, who didn’t want to defile his soul by even entering Boggel’s Place. Had he not, on numerous occasions, pleaded his flock to abstain from visiting this establishment? How could he, as a man with just moral values, even consider supporting this unholy place? No, he’d rather die of thirst before giving in to the whims of Satan.

Of course he didn’t. Die, I mean. When, after four days of suffering, he appeared in the doorway of Boggel’s, everybody understood the agony that drove him there.

“Have you got any water?” The question was asked from the doorway.

Boggel only smiled and shook his head.

The silence was only broken by the creaking of the roof as the sun bore down with all it’s fury. Vrede growled from beneath Vetfaan’s chair at the counter. Oudoom tried to ignore his dry mouth, didn’t succeed and asked what else Boggel could offer.

“Beer, brandy with no mixers, or Port wine,” boggel answered with a twinkle in his eye, “A very good wine, Dominee, like you serve at Communion.”

 Two hours later the devil was forgotten and everybody had to shout to be heard. Oudoom was talking (preaching, would be a better word) about the superior quality of the Port, reminding everybody that wine was invented by a very biblical person called Noah and that it wasn’t a sin to drink it, as long as one remembered the important role wine had played in the life and times of Israel. Of course, this sermon may be acknowledged as his best and most popular ever, something that made a huge impression on his attentive listeners.

As the sun set, he leant over to Boggel.

“You know, the ways of the Lord…” He never finished the sentence. The loud crack of thunder made Vrede dash to hide below the counter on Boggel’s cushion, Gertruida rushed to close the windows and doors and Kleinpiet ended his shout of surprise by ordering a round on the house.

 ***

People still talk about that rain. For seven days and seven nights a gentle drizzle soaked everything. The empty buckets and tins filled up. The fountain started running again. Vetfaan had to force an old blanket into the outlet in the dam that fed the hydrant.

And Boggel finally got Oudoom’s nod to wear a white tie on Sundays.

It didn’t last, of course. When Precilla left Boggel’s Place late one evening four months later, she sang a bit too loudly. Oudoom was preparing his sermon at the time and he distinctly heard the words of O brandewyn laat my staan. He might have ignored the incident if she hadn’t changed the words to Oudoom suip lekker saam – something he took rather personally for some reason.

Boggel was requested to resign from the church council; which he, in turn took rather personally as well. He said it’s a pity that some people forget that everybody gets thirsty sometimes. He also said that abstinence doesn’t make you a better Christian – in fact, Oudoom should read up on what Paul said about wine. The two of them agreed to disagree.

Now, every time the lorry of Kalahari Vervoer reverses from Sammy’s little parking lot, you are sure to find a few people standing around idly, hoping the driver would do the town another favour. Although their hand signals always guide the driver directly to the old fire hydrant, it is the furious barking of Vrede that tells the man when to stop.

The ways of the Lord? Mysterious indeed. When, two years later, the next drought hit the district, Boggel again had to be reinstated before the rain came. That’s when Oudoom stopped talking about the evil lurking in Boggel’s Place. He now preaches about more important stuff, he says, like how we are all guided to love one another. If any establishment in town can claim to promote this high ideal, then surely it cannot imply sin.

Boggel isn’t stupid. He didn’t belabour the point that Oudoom was wrong in the past. He simply saw to it that the supply of Port was sufficient to satisfy the increasing needs of his new customer.

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