“There comes a time,” Gertruida says, “in stories – as in life – when small moments affect eternity. Once a seemingly insignificant event occurs, all the other pieces of life’s mosaic have to rearrange themselves to form a new pattern. This, as you’ve heard, has happened a few times already in Gert Smit’s story. Think of the fishermen, the Bushman, the way Major Gericke had Lettie’s Volkswagen prepared. On their own, these things already had an effect – but once you consider the cumulative effect of these small episodes, you end up with a soldier being declared Missing in Action while he and the love of his life go treasure-hunting in the Kalahari. Improbable? Maybe. But so is Life.”
The twelve apostles remained illusive. What can they be? Where can they be? Several excursions (Gert called them expeditions) into the desert revealed…desert. Sand. Scattered rocks here and there. Stunted bushes. Minimal vegitation. Nothing more.
“Twelve.” Gert said the word out loud, hoping for inspiration. “Months in a year. Inches in a foot. Tribes of Israel. Ribs on each side. Jurors in a jury. Gods on Olympus. Signs of the Zodiac. Tasks of Hercules…Lettie, I don’t get it!”
“At least the tomato seems to be growing well.” Ever the optimist, Lettie tried to lift their spirits. Gert had become obsessed with the twelve Apostles, causing him to become introspective and morose.
“There’s nothing out there, is there? The old man wrote down clearly: an hour and a half’s distance. And we’ve done that, tried different walking speeds, went farther, looked nearer. I don’t understand.”
“We’ll go again tomorrow, Gert. We’ll find it, I’m sure. But…we mustn’t forget those words were written down more than a century ago. A lot of things change in that time. Dunes shift. Trees die. Fountains dry up. We’ll just have to use our imaginations a bit more to figure out what the old man implied. He was so secretive about this, we can’t expect obvious clues…”
So they tried again the following morning. Walked the hour-and-a-half. Stood around. Sat down.
Lettie laid back, shielding her face from the sun. She told Gert she had closed her eyes. “Imagine I’m blind. Describe what you see…?”
“Don’t be like that, Love. Come on. Describe what you see.”
Gert sighed. “One lizard. A few rocks. Two dry bushes, knee high. Dunes all around us. A Welwitschia plant. No, two of them. Wait…there’s another….and another! Damn it! Six, seven, eight, nine, ten…eleven… Eleven Welwitschias! Where’s the twelfth?” Mad with excitement, Gert jumped up. “Come, Lettie, let’s find number twelve! The Welwitschias are the Apostles, I’m sure of it! The old man would have known they are the only plants that’ll survive anything and everything!”
“Yay! And it makes sense, doesn’t it? Old tree, old shrub. Baobab, Welwitschia!”
“They found the last one – it had withered to almost nothing due to the harsh conditions. Off to one side, the twelfth plant looked so sickly that Lettie dubbed it ‘Judas’. However, while Gert and Lettie hoped that they would be arranged in some sort of pattern – say, an arrow or something – the plants were seemingly scattered in a random array.
“They didn’t realise the miracle they’d discovered. Welwitschia plans occur in Damaraland, in Namibia. They don’t grow in Botswana at all. Yet, in this isolated spot, a small family of these plants established themselves centuries ago. How? We’ll never know, although the habitat is similar to where they survive in Namibia, except that it is thought that the Namibian plants depend on fog to collect water to feed its roots. These plants must have adapted by finding underground water…”
“Sooo, if these are the Apostles, what are they telling us?” Gert sat down next to Lettie, staring at the obvious clue they had missed completely.
“Maybe this is all that is left of an ancient garden? These plants grow terribly old, don’t they? More than a thousand years?’
“But where are the ruins? The map said ruins, didn’t it?”
This set them off again in different directions as they scouted the area for anything that might suggest previous buildings.
Gert walked back towards Lettie, kicking a stone out of the way. It glittered…reflecting a bright ray of sunshine.
“Oh. My. Word…” He bent down, picked it up, and let out a low whistle. “Lettie! Come here! Tell me I’m crazy…”
The rock was as big as his fist, dull at first glance, but once he rubbed it against his pants, the crystal-like surface seemed to glow.
“…and that’s how they found the Lost City. The rock was, of course, a rough diamond – something not rare in Botswana. The sheer size of the gem was unusual – as were the others they collected over the next few years. Once they mapped out the area where they found these diamonds, it seemed as if they were concentrated in a rough square, creating the impression that they must have been stored or buried there a long time ago. In all, they collected fifty-one of these large stones during the time they lived in the Baobab tree.”
Vetfaan, of course, now hangs on to every word Gertruida says.
“So, what happened? Did they sell them? Become rich?”
“That’s the strange part, Vetfaan, I’m not sure. I tried to figure it out, but maybe I’m wrong.”
“But if you don’t know the ending, how do you know the story?”
Two days ago, Gertruida was reading the newest National Geographic on her stoep one evening. The history of the Mayas has always fascinated her, and she was completely absorbed in the report of recent finds. She didn’t notice the scruffy figure at her gate.
!Ka coughed politely. Gertruida looked up, startled at first before shouting a joyous welcome to the little Bushman. They’d had quite a number of adventures together and she’s always glad to see the diminutive man.
“Come on in, !Ka! Don’t just stand there.” But she knew his tradition: unless invited, he wouldn’t approach her house. !Ka smiled happily, opened the gate, and greeted Gertruida formally.
As custom dictated, they talked about his family, her friends, the weather and the prospect of a better season this year. Gertruida could see !Ka had something really serious on his mind by the way he avoided telling her the reason for his unexpected visit.
Later, on his third mug of sweet bush tea, he falls silent.
“Miss Gertruida, I’m here with important business. You must help me find somebody…” Then. almost absentmindedly, he reached into the leather pouch hanging from his side. Gathering a few small, red tomatoes in his dusty hand, he offered them to Gertruida. “Would you like some?”
‘…just give me tomatoes
and mash potatoes,
give me the simple life…’