A good story – well told – doesn’t only consist of words arranged in a specific manner. No, Gertruida says, words are just letters spelling out thoughts, with a few commas and full stops added to make it easier to read. A really good story, she says, transports the reader – or the listener – to imaginary places. It creates people, events, emotion. Only then, according to Gertruida, can a story approach greatness. Creating a story, she says, starts with the storyteller and ends with his audience – almost like a Tango, it involves two heads and one heart.
When Gertruida takes her time describing the cave-in-the-tree, she tells of the way Lettie turned it into a home-of-sorts: a one-roomed dwelling with a bed on a mattress of grass, a kitchenette with a Primus stove and their only pot (everything got done in it: stews, coffee, bread) and even their meagre possessions she hung on the ‘walls’. If Vetfaan had been an attentive listener, he would have been able to look through the ‘door’ of the cave, out over the Kalahari, and maybe he would even have imagined the place where the ‘garden’ should be, some distance off. But of course the burly man isn’t interested in the interior decorating of a hollow Baobab tree – he wants to know whether they found treasure in the Lost City…
“So, now you have a pointer, Gert. Remember that passage? He … walked out to the garden. Here He met some of His friends and family, who mistook Him for the gardener. And verily, He walketh towards the sun for an hour and a half, and He came upon the Apostles. That makes it easy, doesn’t it?”
“I hope so.” Gert sat in the mouth of the tree-cave, staring in the direction of the fountain. “Straight that-a-way, get to the garden, walk for an hour and a half to the east – or the west, and find the ‘Apostles’. Shouldn’t be that difficult. We’ll go tomorrow.”
That night they celebrated. Lettie baked a bread with some of their precious flour, using the cream of tartar on the Baobab seeds as a raising agent. They’ve taken to roasting the pips to make coffee, and the leaves of the tree substituted quite nicely for spinach. Gert told Lettie that he was going to try fermenting the fruit of the tree, which made her laugh, saying that was all they needed, thank you.
“You know, I’d give my left pinkie for a red, juicy, fresh, ripe tomato right now. Ooohhh..how lovely that would be.”
And Gert, who loved Lettie with all his heart, smiled and said that might just be arranged, if she had a little patience.
“At bloody last. The tomatoes!” Vetfaan jumps up – a little unsteadily – to raise his glass. “So they lived happily ever after?”
“You know, Vetfaan, sometimes I think you’re such a bafoon?” Shaking her head, Gertruida tells him to sit down. “How does Fanny manage to handle you when you’re in this mood?”
“She will never allow me to heckle her like this,” he smiles shyly, ” I tried it once. Had to sleep in the garage for a week. Wasn’t nice.”
“Well then…” She sighs and waits for Vetfaan to sit down again. “Instead of searching for the apostles the next day, Gert carefully removed the tomato seed his great-great grandfather had stuck to the page next to the passage of the mustard seed.”
Here, Gertruida discovers a new aspect of storytelling. Oh, how she’d love to elaborate on the tomato seed! What started out as a discussion (almost an argument) on the island of St Helena, has now (generations later) finally become proof of the old man’s faith. You see, she’d like to tell Vetfaan, how short-sighted we are? We want reasons for everything, and we want them almost immediately. Now, old man Smit could never have guessed that the little seed he had stolen from the kitchen would eventually play a role in the life of his great-great grandchild. Wouldn’t it be great, she wanted to ask, if we realised that every act of faith will be rewarded – and also had the patience to allow the future to take care of that reward?
But Gertruida knows Vetfaan all too well, so she simply continues the story, a bit saddened that he’d never grasp the deeper meaning of what happened on that hill in the Kalahari.
Gert fetched the Bible, and together they opened the of school exercise book with it’s 75 pages. This Bible belongs to Gerhardus Hyronimus Smit, written on the cover. Gert wasn’t to know that the old man preferred his second name because it sounded so important; but that his family and friends stuck to ‘Gert’, simply because it was an Afrikaner name and rolled easily off the tongue. Apparently it was The Great Farini who convinced him that a man’s name was important. Look at me, he could have said, as Mr Hunt I was nobody…but Farini – The Great Farini – now has taken me around the world!
“Here, my love, we have the beginning of our vegetable garden.” Gert found the place where the seed was stuck and carefully pried it loose. “Tomorrow we’ll plant this. I’ll find some thorny branches, and build a shelter for the plant to keep the animals away. I’m not sure if the seed will grow after all these years, but let’s give it a chance? Let’s try?”
The next morning they prepared a small patch of ground next to the little ‘river’, said as little prayer over the seed, and stuck it into the ground. Then Gert cut branches from the stunted trees in the area to build a little protective ‘hut’ over the new garden. It wasn’t much. But then, most dreams start small, don’t they? And like dreams, the seed needed protection to reach maturity.
“Then they started the search for the apostles – not knowing exactly what they were looking for. Taking the direction by aligning the tree-cave with the garden, they set off into the desert. It wasn’t easy… The answer lay either to the east or the west, but which?
“This Vetfaan, is an important point: the choices we face in Life are often positioned as opposites. Black or white. Capitalist or communist. Love or hate. Acceptance or rejection. Oh, we try to make compromises and find a middle road, and that’s okay…but in the end we veer off to one or the other side.
“That’s why I like the east-west confusion here. Should they walk towards the start of the day, or to the end? In my mind, it’s a metaphor of living. One choice has a promise of discovery, the other only and endless horizon of search and suffering.
“Gert and Lettie knew – like we all do – that it’s only by exploring the possibilities that we can decide which way is the right way.”
She’s right, of course (as always). A story may have many endings, and it sometimes requires a miracle to be a happy one.