As we all know, Vrede isn’t your run-of-the-mill-usual-town-dog. He is, in canine culture, a man of distinction, a real big spender, good-looking and real refined. There are, of course, humans who believe dogs to be ignorant when it comes to romantic relationships – but Gertruida says (and we know she knows everything) that dogs form deep bonds that can only be ascribed to love. The human-dog association has proven this over the aeons of time and is the most obvious evidence of doggy-love. But a male dog can as easily lose his heart to a femme fatale lady-dog as he can be fond of his human.
It’s not strange then, that Vrede pricks his ears, sniffs the air and sits up suddenly when Daisy escorts Miss Smellie into Boggel’s Place.
“Grrr-aaarf.” Softly, with friendly undertones.
She, being a lady of class, ignores his greeting for a second before answering: “Yeolp, arf arf,” which means “how do you do” in Labrador.
Good manners demands that certain rituals be observed, so Vrede swaggers over to do the obligatory sniffing routine. He does this with a certain restraint, just to show her he isn’t one of those wham-bam curs who doesn’t know the first thing of respect. And she? She allows him to perform his duties like a fine lady should, before reciprocating the nose-waltz – which Vrede must admit was done with exceptional aplomb.
“Arf aaarf arf-arf.”
Daisy does a little jump with her forefeet. Yes, she’d simply love it if Vrede wanted to take her on a conducted tour of the town…
The impact Virginia Smellie has on the town is somewhat different to the dogs’ experience. Not only does she seem absolutely ancient; she also sports a wheezy cackle-laugh, and she has a way of hesitating after every third or fourth word when she says something. On the positive side: she absorbs alcohol like a sponge and Boggel has a hard time keeping up. In Rolbos, this ability always commands a degree of respect.
“Sooo…, Miss Smellie, tell us a bit about yourself?” Despite everything, Gertruida’s curiosity drives her to ask the question.
“Is this part…of the…competition?
“Oh no! We are waiting for the Carte Blanche team to arrive: they’ll only be here tomorrow. The competition will be tomorrow night – so you can relax. Nothing you say tonight will be held against you.”
“I ran a hos-tel.”
The group at the bar crane forward to hear the rest; but Virginia just sits there, apparently satisfied that she has said enough.
“Is that all? Nothing else you can say about yourself?”
“Oh. My memory…you see? Well. I danced…when I was…younger.”
It takes forever to tell her story.
Virginia was born on a cold winter’s day in Kaokoland, now known as the Kunene Province of Namibia. The date was 28 July 1928, and she was one of the last births in the repatriation of the Thirstland Trekkers – those that survived to come home.
The Thirstland Trek consisted mainly of Afrikaners, but a smattering of Jews and Germans, as well as the Smellie family contributed skills, labour and guts to the trek, They all wanted to get away – as far as possible – from British Colonial rule and the looming Anglo-Boer war in the near future. It was a disastrous decision: many families died during the haphazard crossing of the dry Botswana desert.
Her father had survived the almost-aimless trek from Transvaal to Angola, arriving at their final destination in 1879. As a baby, he was extremely lucky (and strong) to be alive, which is why he was christened ‘Samson’. Angola proved to be almost everything the trekkers hoped for, and the little community thrived. But, like Paradise and so many other dreams, it didn’t last. Politics changed, South Africa became a Union and in the 1920’s the Dorslandtrekkers were assisted by the Union’s government to trek all the way back to South Africa. It was during this return-trek that Virginia was born.
“I was brought up…according to strict…religious guidelines.” Virginia hesitates, not sure how to continue. But – maybe as a result of the Cactus or maybe because she can tell her story to a willing audience – she decides to go on.
Samson and his little family settled in Kakamas, on the banks of the Orange River, where he started farming with grapes and peaches. Little Virginia attended school here, where Mr A D Collins taught the children the basics of reading and writing. It was only natural for Mr Collins to ask Samson’s advice on a peach tree growing next to the river – and they both agreed that the fruit was unique and exceptional.
The Kakamas Peach, also called the Collin’s Peach, transformed the canned fruit industry in South Africa. Samson soon had his entire small-holding producing these peaches, ensuring a comfortable life for the Smellies. This relative affluence enabled Samson to build a house in town, buy one of the first Fords in the district…and made Virginia very popular with the children in town.
Her mother was a hard-working, plain woman who lived according to the Old Testament. Her dress, her hair and her house reflected the way she saw life. While Samson wanted to enjoy the fruits of his labour, his wife warned against the brazen flaunting of their wealth. Virginia, now a young teenager, observed their arguments and fights, becoming more confused as the years went by. Then World War II happened and Samson Smellie got sent to Egypt.
He never returned.
Just after her eighteenth birthday, Virginia left home for good. Her mother insisted that Samson’s death was a direct result of his pride and money – There is only one God, Virginia. Man has to choose between God and Mammon, and your father chose wrong…
“I’m telling you these…things, because…that’ll help you…understand why…I’m here.” By now the patrons in the bar are getting used to Virginia’s interrupted manner of speech.
“Go on…” Fanny prompts.
She arrived in Cape Town on a windy winter’s day, penniless and feeling a bit lost. First of all, she needed lodgings and a paying job. Both were hard to find. Then she met Jake.
“He was…good to me. Said he could…get me a job. And a place to…stay.”
Jake had a little theatre, not far from Green Market Square. As Virginia found out soon enough, the ‘shows’ involved dancing in skimpy clothes while Jake sold liquor on the side. In the conservative years after WW II, this was frowned upon by the church – but that didn’t stop the soldiers, sailors, tinkers and tailors from flocking to the popular venue.
“There was a…man. A friendly…sailor. We had…relations. You know?” She shakes her grey head sadly. “That’s why I’m…blind. My mother…was right. It’s the wages…of my sin.”