The Meeting

Robert-RedfordNobody can accuse Servaas of being a coward.

Not him.

Not the man whose solemn face speaks volumes of his faith and the steadfast belief that everything in Life has a purpose. If you looked at him now – sitting at the bar while nursing his beer – you’d say he is a man at peace with the world. His black Sunday suit has been pressed and the old shoes shined to a mirror-like finish. He took particular care of his hair today and even combed the bushy eyebrows. And…he’s surrounded by a cloud of Old Spice…

“What’s with the grooming, Oom Servaas? And the red tie? Wow, you look like  Robert Redford.” Kleinpiet just can’t keep his curiosity in check.

“It’s your fault.” Servaas glances at the younger man, the accusation in his words all too obvious. “You wrote that letter.”

The penny drops.

***

A few weeks ago, Servaas mentioned (in passing, just a side remark) that he was rather lonely at night.

“Look,” he said at the time, “when you get older, your mind tends to wander back into the past. In my case, I remember the laughter and fun…and then I wonder why I didn’t enjoy it more while it lasted.” He sighed as he looked down at his arthritic hands. “Especially at night – when I go to bed – that’s when I feel lonely. You know? Just to have somebody there. Someone to talk with. To pray with. To be with.”

Vetfaan was there that day, and he nudged Kleinpiet. “We’ve got to get him a girlfriend, Kleinpiet. When he starts talking like this, he’ll have us all in tears in no time. Buggers up the atmosphere every time he starts thinking about Siena.”  He kept his voice low, making sure Servaas didn’t hear.

Kleinpiet nodded. “But who?”

When they discussed the issue with Gertruida a while later, she remembered Hetty.

“She’s a niece thrice removed. Used to be a teacher, and now lives in Pretoria. She’s a lively one, I can tell you that. Nice sense of humour, too.” She smiled sweetly at Kleinpiet: “Come on, Cupid, why don’t you write her a letter? Maybe she’ll be interested in meeting Servaas?”

***

“She’s coming today? Today?” Kleinpiet almost chokes on his beer. “I thought…”

“You thought I’d say no, didn’t you? You thought I’d be embarrassed? That once I found out about your…your little plan…I’d chicken out? Well, think again, young man. Servaas is not a man to let a lady down.”

***

Rolbos is just too small for a secret to survive more than 24 hours. After Kleinpiet posted the letter, the group at the bar was discussing the possibilities when Servaas walked in on them. Boggel saw trouble looming on the horizon and started serving Cactus Jack with alarming regularity. After the fourth round, Servaas had the whole story.

“We only did it to help you, Oom.” Kleinpiet spread his arms wide in a gesture of innocence. “Didn’t mean no harm…”

“No?” Servaas knitted his brows together, snorted and slammed down his glass. “You wrote a letter to somebody you don’t know, asking her to come and visit me – because I’m a pathetic old lonely man?” Ha had to take a deep breath before going on in a whisper that everybody could hear. “Now, I’ll tell you what. You give me the name and address, and I’ll fix this. And then, my dear young friend, you keep your nose out of my business. Understand?”

***

At exactly eleven o’ clock, the rented car stops in front of Boggel’s Place. By now the story of the visit has spread and everybody has found an excuse to be in Boggel’s Place.

“A red tie? Red? I’ve never seen him wear anything but white before. And see how he’s dressed? This is so unlike Servaas, it’s scary.” Precilla actually thinks the old man looks rather handsome. She sees the car draw up and gasps. “Shhh…she’s here…”

Hetty is, indeed, somebody to gasp at. Dressed in a neat floral skirt and matching blouse, she hops from the car, closes the door, and then reaches through the open window to pick up a red rose from the back seat.

“Nice legs,” Vetfaan whispers.

“Go on, Servaas. Don’t let her stand there. Go introduce yourself.” Precilla pushes Servaas from the bar stool and aims him at the door. Strangely, the old man seems calm and not reluctant at all.

They all watch as Servaas marches out to meet Hetty. They embrace. He takes the rose with a little bow. Then he leads her into Boggel’s Place.

“Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce Hetty. Hetty: these are the cretins I have to put up with every day.” Seemingly pleased with his insult, he turns on his heel to guide Hetty back to the street.

The little group in the bar crowd the window to watch the two walk over to the bench in front of the church.

“What just happened here?” Vetfaan shakes his head to clear the racing thoughts. “This isn’t the Servaas I know? Did the aliens clone him during the night or something?”

A lively discussion follows. Precilla suggests that Oudok must have increased the old man’s antidepressants. Kleinpiet blames the Cactus. Fanny – with a Bambi-look in her eyes – tells everybody it must be love at first sight.

***

“Now tell me, Hetty, everything that’s happened in the meantime? I last saw you – oh, how many years ago – at the matric dance in Swartruggens…”

“Yes, isn’t it strange? When I got the first letter, I thought it was a prank. I’ve got…strange friends, you know? Always out to make fun of things. But then – then I got your letter, and I know only one Servaas who can be so indignant. Even after all these years, I still remember you well. That’s why I wrote back – I thought it’d be nice to meet you again. I can see I wasn’t wrong.”

“Ja…” Servaas smiles happily. “To think it’ssuch a coincidence! I was the head boy, you the prefect. And now, after all these years, we meet up like this?”

“Well, we’ve got a lot of catching up to do. Funny how we simply drifted apart back then. I suppose that’s life, not so? You left to study in Pretoria and I had another two years of school ahead of me. And then my parents moved and we lost touch.” Hetty gives a little giggle. “Shall we tell this lot everything?”

“…And spoil their fun? No, we’ll keep them guessing for a while. They need something to gossip about, anyway. Later – much later – we can tell them we’re family. Until then…”

***

“They’re holding hands!” Kleiniet is dumbstruck. “They’re actually holding hands…”

“Well, I never!” Gertruida fights down a little wave of jealousy. “That old man must be out of his mind. His heart won’t be up to it…”

For once, Gertruida doesn’t know how wrong she is.

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