Gertruida likes to say that people are the most fickle of all God’s creatures. Some, she says, are so much worse than the rest, they belong to a subspecies – Homo Cantankerus. According to her, they are everywhere. You’ll find them gossiping in front of the church; lying under oath; denying responsibility by blaming the past; or simply turning their backs in your time of need. In short: these persons were born without the gene to code Kindness. They are, she says, the sociopaths who cling to strange ideologies and vote for radical politicians. They’ve become so common in society because they manipulate unsuspecting individuals with ease, ensuring the multiplication of their sort.
Now, in the shade of the huge rock arch, she knows they’ve been conned by one of these subhumans.
“Damn it! I should have seen this coming. That general was just too keen to take this trip with us.”
“No use fretting over broken eggs, Gertruida.” Boggel sits down next to her, patting her back. “But…what do you make of the tracks in the sand over there.” He points.
Break the silence, break the curse… //Xuiram hears it as clearly as if somebody right next to him is saying the words. It is time, Xuiram.
“Go out there, my son. Greet those people.” Despite the spirit-message, the old man doesn’t raise his voice louder than a whisper. “We have food. Let us share that with them. It shall be my last meal.”
A good story, like we all know, shouldn’t tell everything. Enough…but not everything. An excellent story, however, is one which grows spontaneously in the listener’s mind. Gertruida says the story must plant the seeds, and then the listener becomes the incubator to allow it to germinate, sprout new twigs, and provide shade for the audience to rest under…and to dream. It is in the imagination of the hearer that the original story bears its own, sweet fruit
To describe the meal of rabbit meat and gull eggs wouldn’t be right. Nor would it be kind towards the story to say something about how they laughed while trying to communicate with hand gestures. Neither would words be adequate to conjure up the sadness and joy of //Xuiram’s passing – or even tell of simple funeral in that cave, with an old metallic box wedged firmly between the feet of the much-loved deceased.
No…it is better to simply mention these things, because no storyteller would do justice to scenes like these. Gertruida says moviemakers sometimes use a technique where they slow the frames down, cut the sound, and take the viewer on a sentimental journey to a place deep inside the mind in complete silence. That’s why, she says, one mustn’t talk about the time they spent in the cave.
She’ll also refuse to say much about how //Xuiram’s family helped them across the Sperrgebiet back to Luderitz. She will maybe mention the wisdom of the Bushmen to find tubers and roots, or maybe how important it is to lick dew from the plants in the mornings. Servaas will feature in these moments, because he brought a rucksack with bottled water and biscuits – a real boon to the group of people as they trudged across the wasteland.
Then she’ll smile and say the rest of the story is best told over a beer in Boggel’s Place.
Boggel’s Place, Rolbos
“That old //Xuiram was a wonderful man.” Vetfaan thinks back on the episode in the cave as he signals for another beer. “The way he gathered his family to say goodbye was extremely touching. And then they all went to sleep -and the next morning they weren’t at all surprised to find him dead.”
“And the way the son took us back to Luderitz!” Kleinpiet shakes his head. “I have no idea how they navigate their way through that desert. And when we saw the town in the distance, they greeted us and went their own way. I’ll never forget that.”
“Ja, I agree. Bur you remember what //Xuiram indicated that last night? He made movements with his hands, like something falling from the sky. Something big… He smiled as if was a good thing, but couldn’t explain…” Boggel serves another round, remembering that remarkable old man.
“I don’t think we connected the dots at the time. I wonder…” Gertruida stares out of the window, vacantly staring at the horizon. “I wonder if they’ve found the helicopter already…”
“I can tell you one thing for certain: that helicopter? You’ll find no official record about it. It didn’t exist. Like the Nazi gold, it won’t be found.”
“Yes Boggel, you made sure of that, didn’t you? You sat with //Xuiram next to the little fire when he placed the map on the coals…”
Only two loose strands in this story needs to be tied down.
You’ll find the first one on the bench outside Oudoom’s church – the only private place in Rolbos. Servaas and Elsie left the bar quietly to sit here, hold hands, and talk about the future.
The second strand is more complicated. You’ll have to travel to Otjikoto Lake, a deep sinkhole filled with water, about 20 km from Tsumeb. It is here that the German troops dumped their cannons and guns in 1915 to prevent them falling in their enemy’s hands. A side shaft of that sinkhole disappears into the bowels of the earth and it is impossible to guess how deep it is.
The Bushmen of the area, known for their uncanny eyesight, swear that – if the sun strikes the water at the right angle – they can see spirits down there. The have yellow, winking eyes, the size of small bricks.