Gertruida takes charge of the situation. With Ouma expanding her guest house in Grootdrink, Fiona Basson has to find new lodgings until the building is completed. The only solution, she convinces the townsfolk, is to move her stuff to Rolbos, where the guest room is empty, anyway. It’s logical, isn’t it, she tells them. Where else?
With the help of Kleinpiet and Vetfaan, Fiona’s meagre belongings are moved to Rolbos while Gertruida takes Fiona to Upington to do some shopping. Servaas wanted to tag along, but the women refused, telling him quite clearly he won’t be welcome while they buy lacey goodies.
The change in Fiona is quite remarkable. She still has difficulty in speaking – the hoarse whisper seems to embarrass her – but it is the light in her eyes and the way she carries herself that are quite astounding. Boggel says it’s like replacing a blown fuse: suddenly the circuits work again. Gertruida agrees, adding that the brain sometimes develops a type of blockage:
“It’s as if the mind locks itself in to prevent further damage, see? In her case, she became so worn down by guilt and depression, she isolated herself from society. And her voice – the one thing that sets her apart from other people – well, it then served only to remind her what she had lost. The damage to her vocal chords made her feel that she had nothing to offer, nothing to make her feel special. So she locked down. Lived in silence. Chose to become the warden of her own prison.”
“Don’t we all do that to some degree, sometimes?” Boggel holds up a glass against the light, making sure it’s spotless. ” We forget hard times and cling on to happy memories – or at least, that’s what we mostly do. So we select the things we want to remember. But when somebody dies, or a relationship ends badly, we get heartbroken and grieve. During that time we dwell on the loss and nothing else makes much sense then. Isn’t that a form of lock-down as well?”
“Sure thing, Boggel. We experience mini lock-downs in all sorts of situations. Remember the fascination of a love affair? The jubilation at passing an exam? The thrill of a roller-coaster? The nostalgia of a special Christmas Eve? All deep emotions have a way of pushing other thoughts aside so that we delve deeply into a specific experience. That’s normal.
“In Fiona’s case, the loss of her parents and her voice – under those horrible circumstances – were just too much. The lock-down was intense and profound.”
“Yes, and it took Vrede to sniff out the weak point in her isolation. Unconditional love, saying I don’t care how you got here, but I care how you walk away when you choose to leave. Compassion: that’s the only key to the lock.” Boggel slips a slice of biltong to Vrede, who’s been following the conversation closely.
Six weeks later…
In the time since Fiona left, the Rolbossers haven’t stopped talking about her. They all agree her recovery was nothing short of a miracle and that she looked so much better when she left. Precilla remarked on how her skin took on a healthy tone due to the long walks Servaas made her do.
Servaas, of course, thought he had disguised his attempts to spend time with Fiona rather well. She needed the exercise he said, and the sun would do her good. These statements were met with knowing smiles and vigorous nodding, with Vetfaan almost managing to smother the guffaw that would have spoilt the moment.
Still, when Gertruida took Fiona to Upington’s airport, they were all sad to see her go.
“At least,” Boggel said, “she has a chance now. Once she’s seen that neck doctor in Cape Town, she’ll know whether they can fix that bone in her throat.”
He was talking about Dr Atlas, the man she saw soon after the assault, who agreed to see her again as soon as she arrived in Cape Town. He said a lot of research had been done in the last twenty years and that surgery to the Hyoid bone has become much more sophisticated. He’ll have a MRI scan done and then decide on a course of action.
The townsfolk have been extremely understanding, even paying for Servaas’s drinks when he sits moping in the corner, staring at the window.
“She’ll come back, Servaas; you just wait and see. She promised and I believe her.” Fanny pats the slumped shoulders. “Once she’s recovered from the surgery, she’ll return.”
Servaas nods, swallowing hard. “I hope so. But…we don’t even know whether that guy will operate. Or how well she’ll recover if he did. And what if she simply decided to stay in Cape Town? She’s quite well off so it is well within her means to buy a flat or something.”
Gertruida sits down with a sigh. “You know, Servaas, you should grow up a little. You’ve been acting like a love-sick schoolboy lately. Give it a rest, will you? Fiona will most likely return for a visit, but she’s got a lot of living to catch up with. Who knows what the future holds in store for her?”
Servaas doesn’t answer. Ever since Siena died, he believed that he’ll never have…feelings…for another woman. Now, however, Fiona is on his mind constantly and he finds (while feeling guilty about it) that Siena’s memory seems to be fading. He still loves Siena, of course, but…
Maybe if that last evening wasn’t such fun, he would have felt differently. Fiona laughed at his feeble jokes and teased him about his black suit. Although her voice was still hoarse, it had improved considerably from the rasping squawk she had initially. She told him about her life overseas and had him fascinated by the operas and operettas she had sung in.
She also said she thought Siena had been a very lucky woman when they chatted about Servaas’s life. “I can see you loved her very much,” she said softly, adding: “I missed so much.”
That, Servaas knows, is true. Fiona had given up everything to further her singing career and after the brutal attack, she’d isolated herself completely. Now, as if by magic, she’s reclaimed her right to live and has a pensive look when she stares at Vetfaan and Fanny. “They look so happy,” she once remarked. “I wonder what it must feel like…” She didn’t complete the sentence. It wasn’t necessary.
And then there was the dress she wore that evening. Gertruida brought it back from Upington and it fitted Fiona perfectly. That evening she was, without doubt, the sexiest woman in the bar.
“I suppose you’re right, Gertruida.” Servaas sighs and shrugs. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”
The letter arrives the next day
I have the most wonderful news! Dr Atlas operated and fixed a loose bit of that bone and…voila! My voice is back!!!
Oh, it’s not like it used to be, but with practice and perseverance, I’m sure I’ll be back on stage soon. I’m not being unrealistic, though. At first I’ll settle for a place in a choir, but who’s to say it’ll stop there?
You guys won’t believe how much weight I’ve picked up. Dr Atlas even remarked on that. He says I look twenty years younger. He’s such a flirt!
I’m not sure when I’ll be able to fit in a visit to Rolbos. I do so much long for the quiet atmosphere and the friendly faces. You’ve all been so good to me and I owe you so much. Without your help, I would have perished in that silly rondawel. Please know that I’m eternally thankful.
Please tell Servaas how very special he is. Such an old-school gentleman! Things have been hectic and I haven’t had time to sit down and write him a letter. I owe him that, but I don’t want to rush off a note that doesn’t say what I want to express properly. I’m sure I’ll get around to it soon.
I include a recording which I made recently. You’ll hear how my voice has changed.
With all my love
When they play the recording, they can hear Fiona’s days of isolation are finally over. She’s broken through the walls that have kept her prisoner for so long. The townsfolk, however, have mixed feelings about that.
Oh, they’re happy for Fiona, of course. But Servaas, who listened carefully to the song, gets up when it’s finished. He manages to keep a straight face as he bids them all a good night.
Gertruida sums it up: “Fiona is out of prison now, but her jail has a new inmate. I feel sorry for him.”
And so, another episode in the life and times of the little town of Rolbos draws to an end. Tomorrow the townsfolk will gather in Boggel’s Place again to discuss the drought . Maybe somebody will say something about the pothole in Voortrekker Weg. But they won’t – definitely won’t – say anything about Fiona. Not until Servaas feels better.
And that may take some time.