“I hate all men…” Bianca whispers sweetly as she toys with Servaas’s left ear. She’s been sitting next to him for the past ten minutes, listening to the townsfolk discussing the drought.
Servaas’s smile can’t be any wider. He’s having a ball…
After Bianca’s arrival, Gertruida remembered the principles of business (despite her initial reaction) and showed her to the newly built room. Her smile was strained, but she kept up appearances. Sammie had been of great help with the interior decorating, and even Mevrou thought the room looked gorgeous. The new linen, curtains and furniture still had that factory-fresh-smell that reminded of pristine cleanliness and luxury.
“This is marvellous,” Bianca breathed, “much more than I expected.”
Gertruida relaxed a little. Maybe first impressions weren’t always right? Maybe this woman wasn’t the hussy she seemed to be.
Afterwards, later. in Boggel’s Place, Gertruida decided that one shouldn’t be so generous with benefit-of-the-doubt thoughts. Gut instinct is there for a reason…
“Sooo…what’s happeining in your town?” Bianca asked when she sat down.
“We farm,” Kleinpiet said enthusiastically.
“And we talk,” Vetfaan added. “Mostly, we sit around in Boggel’s Place, supporting his business. It’s our civil duty, you see? We care.”
“And we appreciate kindness…and beauty,” was Servaas’s contribution.
“You seem a very happy community,” Bianca said, addressing the men, “happy and content. I’ll guess you all spoil your wives.”
“Uh,” Vetfaan said.
“I’m not married,” Servaas quipped as he tried to draw in his paunch, smiling innocently. “Been alone for more than a decade. It gets lonely, you know?” He put on his puppy-dog face, which made Precilla cough loudly before saying ‘wharrajerk’ (it’s a Rolbos word), under her breath.
“Well, neither are Sammie or Boggel, for that matter. Married, I mean.” Vetfaan interjected, shooting the old man a warning look. “I suppose that makes three confirmed, happy bachelors. Quite content, too…just like Cliff Richard sang, if you ask me.” He hummed a few notes to show he knew the song.
“Oh wow! Aren’t you a defensive lot?” Bianca rolled her eyes theatrically. “Can’t a girl ask a simple question? I was just curious, that’s all. It’s a woman thing.”
Boggel served a round of beers. He liked to look at Bianca – and she had a lot to look at, as well. The tight blouse and the short skirt screamed ‘woman!’, while her almost-husky voice was impossible to ignore.
“Sooo, why did you choose Rolbos, Bianca? Why here?” Gertruida tried to steer the conversation to safer waters.
“Small town. Far away from everything. Quiet… I had to get away, see? Somewhere, where nobody would look for me. I’ve had a torrid time…” She blinked away a tear. “This is my chance to regain my freedom – I want to savour it.”
Can she cry on demand? Gertruida’s misgivings grew faster that a corrupt politician’s bank account.
“You want to tell us about it?”
“Ag, I don’t want to bore you with the story of my life. You won’t be interested…”
Now, that isn’t something you say to Gertruida. Five minutes later, Bianca relented, drew a big breath, and said okay then, if they insisted. So she told them…
That’s where the trouble started. The more she told them, the closer old Servaas moved his chair to hers; eventually laying a hand on her shoulder – to comfort, as he later explained.
Bianca Buurman, at the age of twenty-two, already had a reputation. She was the daughter of Herman Buurman, the best diesel mechanic in Brakpan – when he was sober. When he was younger, he was employed by one of the mining houses, lived in a comfortable mine house, and had a dream of opening his own workshop one day.
Hester, her mother, came from a completely different background. She was the daughter of Minister Hendrik Groenewald, the parliamentarian in charge of the country’s finances. She was also used to the best of everything.
The two of them met after the mining company held its annual Christmas party in 1966. Herman was dressed in his church suit, and kept mostly to himself. Later, when he joined some colleagues at the bar, he was persuaded to have a few beers. This is where he heard about Hester for the first time.
“Man, that chick will drive me crazy. Have you guys seen that dress?” Spanners Swanepoel pointed. “Now there’s a tune-up I’d like to do.”
“Stand in the queue, my mate. I saw her first.” Sparks Botha finished his beer. “I can blow a fuse or two there, myself.”
“She revs up my hydraulic system, I can tell you. Never knew I could build up such pressure.” Vark Venter ran his hand over his oily hair, making suggestive thrusts with his hips.
“You lot disgust me. How can you talk like that? She’s a minister’s daughter, for crying out loud. She’s got class.” Herman was upset. To talk a bout a woman like that…it’s not right.
“Class, my ass.” Vark said. “I betcha I can take that filly for a ride.”
“No man. That’s plain vulgar. You should be ashamed…”
Some Christmas parties are nice. That’s when people sing carols, exchange presents and try to say only kind words. But some – especially those given by large organisations – tend to be stiff, with most of the guests attending because they have to. They spend the evening wishing they were somewhere else, and find escape in the eggnog. These are the occasions where alcohol can have a devastating effect – after consuming enough punch, some men and women feel compelled to tell each other why they don’t get along so well.
That’s why Vark told Herman what a pompous, ignorant, stupid and self-righteous fool he was – and shoved him off his chair. And Herman, unaccustomed to alcohol, felt naturally that was a bit much got up and shoved Vark right back.
That was the Christmas party that people still talk about in Brakpan. A free-for-all developed, which ended when the ambulances started arriving – minutes after the police rocked up.
In those days there were no secrets in South Africa. The minister ordered a discreet little enquiry into the fracas, wanting to know whether there had been any political reason why a party he had attended ended so badly. Upon hearing that somebody had defended his daughter’s honour, he invited that person over to dinner at his mansion in Waterkloof.
“Who can explain attraction? Is there a reason for love?” Bianca is so convincing in her narrative, that the men all sit there, staring at her and shaking their heads in silent agreement: no, love is utterly confounding. Yes. Indeed. Ne’er a truer word… “So, that’s how Mom and Dad met. They got married…secretly, of course. Grandpa Minister objected heavily, but I was born seven months after the wedding. Very, very prematurely, they said.”
“We love stories in this bar,” Gertruida tries to sound reasonable, “and this is certainly fascinating. But what – on earth – has this to do with the reason you are here? That’s ancient history.”
“Oooh, aren’t you the impatient one, Aunty Gerty?” She ignores the deep frown between the older woman’s eyes. “Well…tell you the truth, it has a lot to do with it. Mom left Dad after a year – walked out on me and him. Back to the high life and her politician father. And father…he was devastated. He started drinking. Over the years he got worse and worse and then he lost his job. I was fourteen.
“That’s when…when I had to start generating an income. I…I loved my father, see? He tried his best. but it never was quite good enough. He knew all about diesel engines, but when Mom left, he lost his confidence. He was ridiculed at work – Vark Venter saw to that. So it was a downward spiral from there on: drinking, selling furniture, borrowing money he could never repay.”
Servaas leans over to dab a tear from her cheek. She rewards him by mouthing thank you with those red-red lips.
She draws a deep breath. “That’s when I started earning money. To keep us afloat, see? It was the only way…”