Discussing weird people is a favourite pastime in Boggel’s Place; but you can only say so much about a presidential spokesman or sign language experts before you have to repeat yourself. So, it was a relief when Servaas reminded them of somebody they’d almost forgotten about.
“The problem with Klaas Kleynhans ,” Servaas said, looking suitably aggrieved, “was that he fell from the lorry. Landed straight on his head, he did. After that, he was never the same again.”
Like they all had to do, Boggel had to search his memory to remember Klaas Kleynhans. It happened so long ago that recent events almost made it impossible to think back that far. There were the droughts; the time Kalahari Vervoer didn’t bring the beer; and – most recently – the debate whether that new statue in Pretoria will stand up to a Highveld storm. These things weighed heavily on the minds of the townsfolk of Rolbos – to think of Klaas was almost a sign of disrespect under the circumstances. But, Gertruida will tell you: disrespect is almost impossible without a form of admiration. Kleinpiet always shakes his head when she says this, remarking that the English have a strange way with words.
But Klaas lived there, long ago. He used to be just like them; but that was before he took a ride on the lorry of Kalahari Vervoer, and the driver had to brake suddenly, because Kleinpiet’s sheep ran across the road. That’s when Klaas let go of the fender, and landed on his head. He wasn’t the same after that.
Klaas used to be a big, strapping young man, with sky-blue eyes and sun-bleached hair. Back then he laughed a lot, which made girls think he’d be the father of some very handsome children one day. Most young ladies in the district found all kinds of excuses to explain why they just had to come to the Kleynhans farm: some wanted his mother to teach them to crochet, others asked his father about the right dip-mixture to use for sheep. Klaas, however, wasn’t interested. The girl of his dreams lived on the farm right next door, Sannetjie Grobbelaar. He used to treat these girls kindly, but made sure they understood that he wasn’t interested.
But that was before Klaas hitched a ride on that lorry, and started saying things people don’t understand.
Gertruida says it’s important to know which side of your head gets hit when you fall. She says the right side is for thinking out new ideas, while the left is there solely to soothe your conscience. Look, she says, left-brain people always try to right wrongs – but right-sided people tend to wear uniforms with swastikas on the sleeves. The right sleeve, mind you..
Klaas had begged a ride on that lorry. They all saw that. The lorry was on it’s way to Upington, to the town where everything happened, away from Rolbos and the past, when the driver refused. No, I’ve got a full load, he said, there’s no place for you here. Maybe next week.
But Klaas thought with his left brain and tried to tell the driver to think again; then he switched to his right brain and said he’d knock the guy’s teeth out if he didn’t take him along. The driver got such a fright, he immediately let out the clutch and roared off. That was when Klaas grabbed the rear fender and hung on for dear life. You see: at that stage Klaas could still use his whole brain. Everybody saw that. Even Servaas agreed he was still very well-balanced person before the fall.
He had been well-balanced when he courted Sannetjie, the daughter of Gerhardus Grobbelaar, the auctioneer. Although they lived on a farm, Gerhardus didn’t farm much. What set him apart from the rest of the farmers, was that he made a lot of money. There was nothing Gerhardus couldn’t sell. Old wrecks, bits of furniture, stupid paintings – Gerhardus simply convinced people that these things were irreplaceable and nobody in his right (or left) mind would vaguely consider it being lost for future generations.
Despite this, Sannetjie was a real boeremeisie. She didn’t try to impress you with her knowledge of the twelve-times table or tell stories about the heroic efforts of the ANC. She would say things about the half-mens she saw today, or the little San-paintings in the hills. Things like that: simple things that don’t matter much at all. She could talk about the way she saw a Springbuck jumping, or a rabbit ran. About important things like soccer and politics – well, she knew nothing about those and never spoke about them as well.
Klaas listened to her telling him of the veld and would go home to write down the snatches of sentences he remembered her saying. He thought her words were even more beautiful than her face and her body combined, which is saying a lot; but Servaas remembers how everybody stopped and stared when Sannetjie walked down Voortrekker Weg in those days.
When Sannetjie finished school, her father sent her off to study art in Stellenbosch. Or it could have been writing. Maybe even acting. But in Rolbos nobody doubted that Sannetjie Grobbelaar will be famous one day. A beautiful woman like that with a degree…surely they’ll see her name in The Upington Post soon?
Klaas waited for Sannetjie. When the first term ended, he expected her to visit her parents; but the holiday came and the holiday went without Sannetjie. Her mother told Klaas she’d taken extra classes, but would come home during the mid-year break. And Klaas hung his head like one of those sheep that drank the dip water when the borehole ran dry, and he went home to think.
A man with a well-balanced brain can think quite a lot, but a man in love will sometimes stare at nothing for hours. Klaas stared, thought, and stared some more. Two days later he drove to Upington to buy a ring. And then he waited for the university holiday.
On the Kleynhans farm you’ll find a little hill. It’s not much of a hill, but if you stand at its highest point, you can see a stretch of the road between Rolbos and Grootdrink. That’s where Klaas sat when the holiday-time arrived. And every time he saw dust on that road, he got on his horse to see if it wasn’t Sannetjie who arrived in town. Then he’d ride back to think some more.
Finally, a week or so later, he saw dust on that road again. Fast dust, not like that of a donkey cart or a tractor. He saddled his horse quickly and galloped towards town; but he wasn’t even halfway when he saw dust on the road ahead. It was a flashy little red car, a low-slung coupe, with Sannetjie in the passenger seat. Next to her – and Klaas only got a fleeting glimpse – was a slightly older man with a finely-chiselled face and long hair, swept back by the wind.
They didn’t stop.
Klaas didn’t know what to do, so he did nothing. Went back to that hill and stared at nothing. And then he walked oer to the Grobbelaar homestead and asked to see Sannetjie.
Mevrou Grobbelaar says she felt sorry for them both. There was Sannetjie with her engagement ring, and there was Klaas, standing like his feet were fastened to the ground, just like that statue in Pretoria. And Sannetjie smiled shyly to introduce her artist friend, a nice-looking middle-aged man wil an earring and a tattoo of an eagle on his forearm.
Klaas didn’t move. The man came over with an extended hand. Klaas only hit him once. Mevrou Grobbelaar says she’s sure Klaas would have liked to hit him some more, but the man stayed down. Sannetjie gave a little shriek and bent down next to the body. Then she looked up, and she had that look people get when a veld fire destroys the little patch of corn you watched over with so much care during the summer.
That’s why, clinging to the back fender of the huge lorry, Klaas left Rolbos in such a hurry.
And they almost got to Grootdrink before the sheep ran in front of the lorry and Klaas fell off, landing on his head.
He was never the same after that.
They couldn’t even prosecute Klaas for manslaughter. The judge sent him to a special place for people with unbalanced brains.
“At least,” Servaas says, “he’s in good company.”
“Ja,” Kleinpiet agrees, “he’s better off than us. We’re surrounded by lunatics, which is far worse? Did you see the paper? That fake hand-signal-man the president hired, should have stood trial for murder, but was declared mentally unfit in 2006.”
“They should make a law against people falling on their heads,” Vetfaan says, “instead of collecting them in parliament.”
Boggel says the problem in Boggel’s Place isn’t that they don’t have anything to talk about. It’s just that they always seem to end up staring at nothing, like people who’ve got a lot on their minds. Or maybe nothing at all.
Just like Klaas Kleynhans…