“Soooo,” Gertruida asks, even though she knows the answer, “was that article fake…or true?”
Rolbos has had an unprecedented number of visitors lately, trying to answer this very question. After all, the lady in question represents one of the most recognisable faces in Hollywood today, and it’s almost impossible to say anything about her without stopping the proverbial conversation at the next virtual table.
“Some believe it, some don’t.” Oudoom swills his brandy around in the goblet, savouring the aroma of the twenty-year-old KWV. Boggel saves the bottle especially for the old clergyman, for special occasions…or when the little community comes up with something extraordinary.
Tonight is such a night – he can feel it.
“Look,” Kleinpiet says because he still has a crush on the actress, “there’s been a lot of trash written about the woman. And you, Gertruida, dug up some rather despicable photos on the Internet. Like you pointed out – they were altered to slander, not to convey reality. I find that unacceptable.”
“The high trees catch the wind, Kleinpiet.” Servaas is dressed in his black suit again – an ominous sign of his approach to the matter. “If the Internet is such a powerful tool, why didn’t she use it to clear her name?”
“Because, dear Servaas, you only perpetuate a lie by keeping it alive with denials. Remember Shakespeare? The lady doth protest too much? That’s the way tabloids make their money, my friend. Somebody says something. Somebody denies it. And hey presto! Sensation is born and a few thousand more copies are sold. Money, money, money…” Fanny sits back, her point made. “It’s not about the person, Servaas, it’s about causing gossip and sensation.”
“Well,” the old man reluctantly agrees, “sensation we got. People from all over the world responded, some of them degrading the girl, others defending her. It seems you are either on one side or the other. Very few were neutral.”
“You’re wrong again, Servaas. Most people who read the story and didn’t respond. Those are the men and women who silently disagreed or simply thought it wasn’t worth it to respond. The silent majority is alive and well and living out there, my friend. They form their own opinion and do not care what others think.” Gertruida lifts her glass in a silent salute. “I respect those…”
“So why, Gertruida, did you bring that article here for all to see?” Servaas has to know.
“You know what? We talk about love, kindness and compassion all the time. Do people pay attention? Are they interested?” Gertruida pauses to let the point sink in. ” No! We only have a loyal following of readers who subscribe to those ideals. But…bring in a celebrity and suddenly the whole world gets on to the bandwagon.
“Oudoom preaches about forgiveness every Sunday, What happens out there? Nothing.
“When we talk about rape and corruption, it doesn’t cause a stir. These things affect thousands of people, every day. Is the world interested? No!
“Farm murders, Nkandla, the Arms Deal? No interest.
“But mention somebody famous, and suddenly it causes visitors from all over the world to voice an opinion. Remember Oscar Pistorius? People are more interested in scandal than in the mundane affairs of a healthy society – or at least a society wanting to be a tribute to humanity.”
Gertruida sighs as she signals for another beer. When will people learn?
“So you brought this up to prove…?” Precilla lets the question hang in the air.
“What Gertruida tried to do, Precilla, was to prove a point. Supposing that lady did, indeed, donate funds to an organisation. So what? Suppose she backed the wrong horse? Well, don’t we all do that at some point of our lives? And suppose this whole debacle was the result of somebody who wanted to cause unwanted sensation? Why pay attention, for goodness’ sakes!” Oudoom admires the amber liquid in his glass before sniffing it appreciatively. “The point? Gossip! Gossip fires the engine of tabloid and newspaper alike. It makes people talk. It provides scandal to a humanity that wants to build icons up, before tearing them down again. We did it with Hansie Cronje, Neil Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Oscar Pistorius. We vote for politicians only to tell the world later what scum they are. Miss a goal in the final on Saturday and see what hatemail you get on Monday.
“Somehow, we want heroes to be successful all of the time – we want to admire faultless gods. And once we detect a crack in the armoury, we prod and we probe until the tower comes crashing down.
“Of course, in doing this, we proclaim ourselves to be perfect. Woo boy! There’s nobody as great as I am – I make no mistakes! That’s what we’d like the world to believe.”
Boggel gets the Amarula from the shelf to mix the final coffee for the night.
“So, Gertruida, are you pleased with the result?”
Gertruida is at the window again, staring out at the moonlit landscape of the Kalahari. The plaintive cry of a jackal carries over the barren landscape, causing Vrede to look up suddenly.
“No, Boggel. Not pleased.” She returns to the counter to sit down quietly. “Sad. So, so incredibly sad.”
Oudoom smiles sadly as he finishes the brandy. Yes, he thinks, less people will want to read this. But, at least those that do, will understand.
The twenty-year-old sip certainly lived up to expectations…