Boggel picks up the letter carefully, as if it is something extremely precious. Which it is, come to think of it.
“If I may say so, sir, I’d suggest you read it in private.” Mister Stevens eyes the little crowd with the typical British look: head a bit back, nose ever so slightly tilted upwards. “Or maybe we should all retire to the bar. I am quite able to manage the till, and have mixed drinks before. Quite good at it, some say.”
Boggel nods his thanks and watches as they all drift towards Boggel’s Place. The dove settles back on the broken pavement, cooing softly.
That afternoon, after their return from the hillside, Boggel sat in the boy’s dormitory, staring at his feet. Friends…Mary wanted to be friends. He shakes his head. He wanted to be more than that.
He blushed at the thought. Of course not! The idea is so absurd, he almost smiled. The Sunday sermons had been very explicit about the sin of…well…doing it. But between friendship and doing it (he didn’t even want to think of the ‘s’-word. Dominee had said the sin started with the word, the thought), there must be something that confirms a deeper relationship? Going steady? Something like that.
He certainly felt more than just simple friendship. Admiration? Adoration? Fascination? Infatuation? Did she feel the same? He couldn’t ask her, could he?
Another word jumped at him. Intrigued. Yes, he nodded, he was. She made him want to know her better. And there was something else: at times he imagined the incredible woman what she might become. Yes, she had a beautiful body and all that, but it was her mind he fell in love with. She could be frivolous, serious, humorous, weird, funny, captivating – he simply ran out of words to describe the way she made him feel. And sexy. Not sexy in a vulgar way at all – sexy with her eyes. She had a way of looking at him – maybe in an unguarded moment – that made him feel strangely excited. It was a special look. It made him feel like a man, a king, a hunter, a…lover? Again he blushed at the thought, shaking his head as if that would get rid of the origin of the sin that refused to let go of him.
He’d write her a letter! Yes, that’s what he’d do. Slip it to her at dinner. That way she could be honest, too – and not feel forced to say something nice.
I don’t know how to say things. I think you make me a bit nervous. But I have to tell you something and this is the only way I know how.
I love you.
It had been his fifteenth attempt, but he finally decided this letter said it all. He’d decided to be succinct and to the point, and not dilute his message by telling her about the drought or the stale bread they kept on getting for their sandwiches. No, he’d tell it like it was and now the ball was in her court. It was up to her to answer…
Boggel smiles wryly at the memory. She never did answer. She did tell him about her father, though, saying that she doesn’t believe in love, not after what he did with her. Oh, he understood then – or tried to, anyway.
He tears open the envelope to take out the two sheets of paper.
My dear Boggel
What a surprise to get a letter from Fanny! And Vetfaan married? I can hardly believe it! She does seem like a wonderful person, judging from her letter. Kind and compassionate. And asking me to write back.
I’m not sure how she traced me to this address. You’ll remember that I spent some time in that convent – with Mother Superior watching very carefully over us. And then you wrote, and I was scared to come and visit you. But I did, didn’t I? And then that horrible Italian visited and we had that fight in Dusty’s Inn. Afterwards, I met that luscious Lucinda. Man, was I jealous! But I also realised how my past would impact on your future, so I hoped you and Lucinda would hook up. That’s why I left, you’ll remember.
But it didn’t work out, did it? Not for you. And not for Lucinda, Fanny wrote about it, and somehow I feel sad for you and Lucinda. And I’m glad, in a way. Call me confused, if you like.
To tell you what has happened to me in the meantime, will take a lot of paper, so I’ll summarise shortly.
Boggel flips the first page. Yes, they both have come a long way since those days in the orphanage. Mary had been part of a rag-tag band, sought solace in faith and men alike, and tried to rekindle their old relationship. And, although he loved her dearly, he realised her dreams had always been bigger than Rolbos. Or maybe he was so amazed with her, so fascinated, that he felt he wasn’t worthy? Or was it guilt that prevented him from taking the next step. He had, after all, killed her father.
But no! Did he not confess his love for her? Had he not been honest about his feelings?
On the other hand: how could he expect her to reciprocate his commitment? Her abused past would have prevented her from trusting men – all men. And it wasn’t as if he, Boggel, had such a lot to offer. A deformed orphan has little hope of securing the love of a magnificent woman like her.
And yet, he rises to his own defence, was it not her mind that attracted him in the first instance? Forget looks and history…he had this instinctive feeling that she had so much potential that waited to be discovered.
He turns the page to read on.
Dearest friend, I have never met somebody quite like you. You were there when I needed you. Unselfish, generous, kind. But…
I have made decisions in my life – some good and some less good. Some even blatantly bad. And I have to live with these and their consequences.
Yaddah, yaddah…Boggel thinks. She’s leading up to a Dear John situation. You’ve been so kind, but then I met this guy. You weren’t available, sooo… He draws a deep breath and forces himself to concentrate.
You’ll remember that I always felt isolated, different. Maybe it was a natural result of my past. Add to that my instinctive distrust of men (excluding you, of course). Well, I met somebody. She’s good to me. She understands. And she cares.
So, Boggel, my dearest friend, I have to tell you that I won’t be coming to Rolbos. Fanny’s invitation was so open and honest that I feel sad to be as blunt as this. But I have a new life and I’m happy.
I’ll always remember you as my bestest friend, ever. I do so wish that you’ll understand and find your own destiny: not just in Life, but in Love as well.
Boggel folds the letter carefully and inserts it back into the envelope. The dove is still pecking away at the dust. Like Boggel, the bird doesn’t have a lot to celebrate today.
“Mister Boggel, sir?’ He looks up to find Miss Kenton standing there with a glass of beer on a tray. “I thought you might need it.”