Boggel takes his place at the judges table, settling in between Oudoom and Servaas. As befits the occasion, they are dressed in their Sunday best – although the Carte Blanche team had to convince Oudoom that a toga isn’t really the way to go tonight.
Servaas has lost his enthusiasm for the evening.The three ladies (where did Miss Poggenpoel and Widow Swaarwater suddenly come from – he hadn’t seen them before?) who presented themselves as competitors, are really not his cup of tea. Virginia is a non-starter, as far as he is concerned. The other two…
Gertruida, alias Miss Poggenpoel, is unrecognisable under the rust-red-and-grey wig and behind the blue lipstick. Like Mevrou, she’s a wigged stranger hidden beneath several layers of rouge, mascara, and thick eyelashes. Mevrou, who entered as the Widow Swaarwater, gave her age as ninety-nine, and acts out the character brilliantly. Both of them now have moons-shaped faces due to the wads of cotton wool stuffed inside their cheeks.
One can understand then, under these circumstances, that Servaas doesn’t even look at the three entrants, but stares hungrily at the trim figure of Rita Sandman, who is about to conduct the interviews. Electric Eddie, slightly worse for the wear after several rounds of Cactus and still out of breath from the riel dancing, has excused himself from the set, saying he’d rather be a director tonight.
Rita meets Servaas’s stare. This old man reminds her so much of her father. The bushy eyebrows, the long face, the sad eyes. Yes, on the later photographs, there are striking similarities. Funny, she thinks, it’s been so many years and for a long time she hasn’t thought about him a lot – but today she finds her mind wandering back in time to remember how he walked, how he smiled, how he dressed. Just like this Oom Servaas. And just like she used to – all that time ago – she instinctively winks and smiles at the kind old face.
The effect on Servaas is electrifying. He blushes. Coughs. Feels his heart race. He’s twenty years old again (okay, make it forty…), young and healthy and full of life. Full of other things as well, which include an unhealthy surge of hormones and adrenaline. In a gesture of self-assured advertising, he licks his thumb and flattens his eyebrows. Just like daddy did, Rita thinks.
“Okay. Right. Tonight we are in Rolbos…” Rita addresses the camera to explain how this little town has decided to have a Miss Rolbos (Senior) in honour of the lovely older ladies in the district. She introduces the three ‘finalists’ as well as the judges, and then explains that the competition will be decided on general appearance as well as the answer to a single question.
The camera man does his best to get his angles right to show the best of the three ladies, while the Rolbossers let rip with wolf-whistles and cheers. This is, after all, national television, and the town’s honour is at stake. Vetfaan has taken over barman-duties and serves liberal amounts of Cactus every time he spots an empty glass. By this time, Eddie hangs on to the camera man, explaining laboriously that the best shot of the show would be to film the skeletal camel on the backdrop.
“Now, ladies, your question: What – in your opinion – is the best thing about getting older?” She waits for the question to sink in, before suggesting that Miss Poggenpoel be the first one to give her answer.
Gertruida makes sure that the cotton wool is in place before attempting to speak – but by now her tongue is so dry (and the cotton wool so uncomfortable) that she struggles to utter a word. Vetfaan notices this and rushes over with a huge Cactus.
“Well, aging.” When Gertruida sets herself up like this, mentally targeting a subject before arranging her thoughts, the Rolbossers know they’re in for a lecture. Gertruida, who knows everything. won’t let such an opportunity slip through her fingers. Although she now boasts a Marlon Brando godfather-voice, she launches into the subject with gusto; exploring the complex and dynamic relationship between gerontology and health.
Forty-three minutes later, Eddie lets go of the camera man to sink to the floor. Rita, also on her fifth glass, draws a finger across her throat. “That is an eloquent answer, Miss Poggenpoel…”
“But I haven’t finished yet…”
“Enough! Thank you.” Rita takes a deep breath, notices the camera pointing at the bar, and walks over to tell the camera man to concentrate. Returning, she asks the Widow Swaarwater what she though about aging and its benefits.
“Well…I really don’t know…” Mevrou scratches the wig, repositions it more-or-less accurately, and sighs. “When I was young, I knew I’d be old someday. Now today is someday and soon someday will be yesterday…. What was the question again?”
“Thank you, Mrs Swaarwater. And now you, Mrs Smellie?”
“Ag, you know? I don’t really know. I think Life made me lose hope…but age has given it back to me. Age reminds me about the years I’ve wasted. I want to make up for it. That’s it: age makes you want to live again.”
Much to the surprise of Rita (Electric Eddie’s fuses are blown and he’s holding on to the floor, doing a great job keeping the world from spinning away into some unknown galaxy), the judges decide on Virginia. Servaas opted to choose Miss Poggenpoel, leaving Oudoom and Boggel to make Virginia a 2 – 1 winner.
Virginia is overjoyed and gets interviewed by Rita and the unsteady cameraman.
“And how long have you been blind, Miss Smellie?”
“Oh…since I was young. I danced, and…”
Funny how these things happen. Call it instinct, or a trigger-thought or something – but sometimes a set of thoughts can be dislodged by a simple event or hearing words in the right order.
“Wait a minute,” Gertruida says with her godfather voice, ” you danced? On stage? And got blind?”
“Well…yes. Broadly speaking.” She doesn’t want to tell the story of her sin in front of the camera, for goodness’ sakes!
“Strong lights? Maybe…ultra-violet lights?”
“It was all…the rage…back then.”
“Cataracts! You’ve got cataracts, you old fool! You could have had your eyes fixed a long time ago!”
Any professional script writer would have ended a movie right there, leaving the audience in hope. But…life doesn’t work according to the script. The evening in Rolbos is far from over.
Sure, Gertruida got rid of her disguise (Virginia, being blind, doesn’t notice – while Rita, who has perfect vision, is left speechless) and told Virginia about the damage ultra-violet rays cause the the lense of the eye – a revelation that caused the old woman to do a little jig with her white cane with Vrede and Daisy joining in the dance.. And yes, Mevrou gets a hug from her husband, who tells her she should dress up more often. And oh, Eddie does recover sufficiently to stare forlornly at the coffee Boggel serves.
But it’s later that night that the story reaches an unexpected – but particularly welcome -climax. (wink-wink). The cause? The long, lingering and loving look that Rita rests on the man who made her remember how much she misses her dear Daddy. And Servaas, who doesn’t understand, winks back with his most charming smile. Yes, he thinks, I’ve still got it...yeah man! The old fox can still do a few tricks…
Of all the catastrophes on this strange day, this is the one that’ll have the most remarkable consequences; for is it not so that the worst calamities in Life have a way of sneaking up to us in the most unassuming and unexpected disguises?
Which just goes to show that script writers often miss the opportunity to depict Life as it really is. Life isn’t a story, after all. It is a condition…