Monthly Archives: March 2014

Widow Maritz’s Date

tombstone-3394lar“It’s about time for her to come to town again,” Gertruida remarks – because she knows everything and because nobody has said anything for some time now.

“Who?” Kleinpiet sips his beer quietly – he’s not really interested. He’s been contemplating the possibility of the president stepping down. Maybe, he thinks, he’ll jump; or maybe he’ll be pushed. Even more disturbing is the question: when did he stop caring? When did his presidency die? What was the date of his political demise…?

Still, Gertruida’s statement is an obvious attempt to break the silence and he’s gentleman enough to prod her on.

“Annetjie Maritz, the widow. You know, the one who stays on that farm on the other side of Bitterbrak.”

Of course they all know her. The crazy one. Lives on that farm alone with the few chickens and an old dog. Visits town every two months or so, to buy flour and sugar and coffee. Reed-thin with icy blue eyes and an unruly shock of grey hair. Used to be lovely once – a long time ago – but now age has withered away the beauty and replaced it with wrinkles and varicose veins.

“She’s not normal.” Vetfaan nods. “A strange cat, she is.”

“It’s the war, Vetfaan. Wars do that. It changes everything.”

That, they know, is true. Boys become men – and not all of them return home with happy smiles and fond memories. Families rejoice and grieve – and are left looking back at the time of conflict with puzzled frown. Why was the war necessary? Who won? Was the loss of life and sanity worth it? And, worst of all, the boy who took aim at a nameless opponent and pulled the trigger, wakes up in the small hours of the night, wondering how the family of his enemy are managing their loss.

“She’s still waiting for him, isn’t she?”

Nobody knows, really. Annetjie is a widow…or, at least: she’s an official widow. Bertus Maritz, according to the army, went MIA in 1986. Missing in action. Presumed KIA. No trace of him was found after the MiG bombed the camp and his tent took a direct hit.

“She told Oudoom a few years back the army couldn’t say what happened to Bertus. Was he in the tent when the bomb struck? Maybe he went out for a cup of coffee? Or answered a call of nature? And maybe, she hopes, he’s alive out there, somewhere, with no memory of who he was.”

Servaas, who knows all about the loss of a loved one during the war, shakes his head. “She’s clinging to a memory and she doesn’t want to let go. As long as she waits for him, she’s keeping him alive. That’s why she refuses to wear black. And one must never refer to her as The Widow Maritz. She hates that. Ignores you completely. You call her Annatjie or Mrs Maritz.” He sighs and stares out of the window. “It’s sad. She lives in her own world. Oudoom says she’s kept everything in the house exactly the way he left it. His pipe next to the bed. The book he’d read half-way through. And she lays a place for him at the table every night.”

They fall silent again, remembering the last time she came to town. Dressed in white blouse and a long blue skirt – with the straw hat perched on top of the mass of grey hair – she looked like any other older woman in the district. It’s only when you’re near that you realise she’s constantly chattering about how nice the town looks, and how Sammie has had to increase the prices in his shop.

“The way she talks to herself…” Kleinpiet gets interrupted before he can finish his sentence.

“…not to herself, Kleinpiet.” Gertruida holds up a restraining hand. “She’s talking to Bertus. Oh, she knows he isn’t here, but she keeps telling him what she sees.  It’s like an imaginary husband, you see.”

“But that’s not normal?”

“What is normal, Kleinpiet? Wars aren’t normal. Sending boys with guns to shoot other boys with guns isn’t normal. Hearing your son or husband died during a clash, isn’t normal. Politicians arguing with other politicians to the point where they say: ‘Now my side is going to show you. We’ll kill you all and then you can’t argue with me any more’ – we call that normal?

“No, for you she may not be normal in the usual sense of the word, but she keeps him alive – in her head – and that is ‘normal’ for her. It keeps her hope alive. And, Kleinpiet, without hope it is impossible to love…or to face the future.

“So she’s doing the best she can. Keeping him alive, keeps her alive. Letting go of him will mean she has no reason to live – or hope – for.”

Boggel looks up as the old Ford Cortina stops in front of Sammie’s Shop.

“Speaking of which,” he starts, but then lets out a long, low whistle.

The woman getting out of the car, can scarcely move. Every movement is slow and hesitantly deliberate. No hat. Long, black dress. They watch as she struggles up the stairs to the shop.

“Do you think she…”

“I’ll go and have a look.”Servaas gets up. She knows about Servasie. of course. The old man’s loss has always been a bonding factor between the two of them.

***

Later, when the old Cortina wheezes out of town, Servaas returns with bent shoulders and a stooped back.

“What did she say, Servaas?”

“Nothing much. Not too me, not to Sammie and not to Bertus. Only ordered a tomb stone. Said it is time.”

“Time for what, Servaas?”

The old man shrugs.

“The inscription made me wonder, as well.”

Here lies Anna and Bertus Maritz.

Twenty-seven letters to be carved out in granite. No dates. To add a date, you have to know when an individual ceased to love and hope and…live.

And that, Gertruida will tell you, isn’t always possible. She’ll ask you to consider the career of our president and leave you with an enigmatic smile.

Advertisements

The Hyena will eat itself…again.

hyena_with_leg“I hope we get rain soon.” Vetfaan stares out of the window at the clouds of red dust on the horizon. “My sheep aren’t looking great these days.”

Kleinpiet nods. “Ja, there’s just about nothing for them to eat in the veld. I’ll have to start buying feed for mine.”

Boggel knows this type of talk: it’s bad for business. Once the farmers have to spend money on their livestock, they just can’t afford to drink the way they used to.

“It’s difficult to say which is worse: the drought or the politics.” If he can get them to concentrate on less important matters, they might think less about their immediate problems. “Now that Uncle Jacob has to answer for Nkandla, the newspapers will have a field day..And there’s the Oscar trial as well.”

“But that’s not politics,” Vetfaan objects. “Nkandla has nothing to do with ANC policies; it’s about one man who lied to parliament. Uncle Jay simply stole public money, that’s what. Now, if that happened in Europe or the ‘States, he’d have to resign. Accepting personal responsibility is what democracy is all about. So…we can’t blame the ANC if one of their members gets seduced by power.”

“No, Vetfaan.” Servaas knits the bushy brows together. “Individual responsibility is important, I agree. But there should be more: the party must act. The top structure in this case – the ANC – should have taken an official stand on this, like they did with Malema. If they said, one of our members is out of line, we’ll sort out the mess…well, if they said that, then I would have tipped my hat to them. Well done, I would have said. Maybe I don’t agree with all your policies, but I respect the way you keep the party clean. That’s what I would have said. Now I can’t, because they aren’t saying anything.”

“Ah, but you don’t understand, Servaas. There are members of that party that can’t sleep well at night. They know the president can hire and fire at will. Should they demand justice, they’re thrown out of the tight circle of friends who control the party. And with that, they lose the benefits of supporting Uncle Jay. No more fancy cars, big salaries and a chance to dig into the many opportunities to make a buck on the side. It’s the old story: you don’t bite the hand that’s feeding you.”

“So,” Servaas snarls, “we’re stuck with the mess? No solution and no way out? I don’t think that’s fair at all.”

“It’s like the drought, Servaas.” Kleinpiet points at the dust devil swirling down Voortrekker Weg. “Remember what the veld looked like after the last rains? It was green and lush with flowers everywhere. Now it’s dry and dusty and bare. But, mark my words, the rain will come again, and we’ll sit here and talk about the new fountains and springs that appeared everywhere. It’s a never-ending cycle. And then the next drought will come and we’ll wait for rain once more.”

They all know that much is true, at least. The Kalahari does that. It’s a region of extremes with maybe a handful of seasons in a lifetime when Mother Nature is kind to the veld.

“You think politics work the same way? That we’ll recover from this mess?”

“Indeed, Servaas.” Boggel joins the conversation. “Remember when one Rand bought one Dollar? Two Rand to the Pound? Those were good times for the economy. Now it’s all shot to pieces, but it’ll improve. Once we show the world we’re serious about productivity, corruption and crime, our political drought will be over.”

“Sure.” Vetfaan’s sarcasm is obvious. “If you think that’s going to happen in our lifetime, you must have a fantastic relationship with the Tooth Fairy. It won’t happen. Remember the saying about absolute power? It creates absolute corruption. And absolute corruption perpetuates itself. Think what you want, but I’m not holding my breath on this one.”

“!Ka once told me the story of the hungry hyena. Many years ago, he said, a pack of hyenas had a leader. He was big and strong and fast. All the hyenas were afraid of this one, and they always allowed him to eat the best part of the carcass before they dared go near the spoils.” Boggel, who can tell these Africa-stories with many hand gestures and the right facial expressions, has their complete attention. “Well, the pack was so successful that they eventually caught all the other animals in their region. Not a hare or a buck or a bird was left. They grew hungry and angry – why were they made to suffer so?

“Then they decided to do the only thing left for them: they must eat the weakest member of the pack. This they did. Then they became hungry once more, and they ate the next…and the next…and the next.

“Eventually, of course, only the strong leader was left. Now he was alone, and had nobody else to eat. He was so used to having the best of everything, and having as much as he liked, that he just couldn’t stand being hungry. So he did the only thing left for him: he started chewing on his tail. Then his legs. And – as you can imagine – he ended up eating himself. All of himself.

“And then, when only his dry bones were left, the animals started coming back to the veld. Kudu and Gemsbok and hare and all the birds. And when the veld teemed with game once more, one day, a pack of hyenas decided this was a good place to live.”

The group at the bar waited for Boggel to go on. Surely the story can’t end like that? But in the silence that follows, they realise the story ended where it began. Like the seasons of drought and plenty, the story is an everlasting circle, with no beginning and no end.

“I hope we get rain soon.” Vetfaan says again,  staring out of the window at the clouds of red dust on the horizon. “My sheep aren’t looking great these days.”

Weekly Photo Challenge: Reflections of the Cederberg

r1

Leisure

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this is if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

William Henry Davies
r2

Daily Prompt: The Music of Yesteryear

“They just don’t make music like they did in the old days.” Old Servaas knits his brows together in distaste. “Listen to this new thing they call crap…”

“It’s called ‘rap’, Servaas. It’s the newest craze. Big in America, they say.” Gertruida, who knows everything, is quick to correct the old man. She even knows who Jack Sparrow is.

“You can call it what you like. These new guys can never be as good as Virginia Lee. Remember that song about the red eyes?”

Servaas gets misty eyed when Boggel fishes out a 78 to play the song.

“No man, nobody beats Charles Jacobie, the singing cowboy. Remember him? That man made you long for home big time.” Vetfaan smiles at the memory.

Kleinpiet shakes his head. “Gee whiz, Vetfaan. That accent! And a poor translation, if you ask me.  If you want to listen to old Afrikaans songs, its hard to beat Chris Blignaut.”

“My foot! That’s ‘Deep in the Heart of Texas’ dressed in khaki. Original Afrikaans? Look no further than Jeremy Taylor. And he was funny, too!” Boggel smiles at the memory.

“Funny, sure. But not Afrikaans. What about the Briel Susters? Now that’s pure nostalgia.” Oh the memories! Even Precilla looks sad…

“No, stop it with the old songs. Theuns Jordaan does it for me.” Surprisingly Oudoom displays  romantic streak. Must be the changing of the seasons…

“Oh give me the new version of that song about the girl with the auburn hair. Elvis Green or somebody.” Fanny tries to remember, but Gertruida is quick to help her with the correct surname.

“Well, bring on David Kramer then. He’s the one who should be singing here. That Royal Hotel is so typical of Boggel’s Place.” Sammie has always said that David is a distant relative.

Servaas sits back, closes his eyes, and remembers Siena’s favourite song. It isn’t Afrikaans, but it’s in German and that’s near enough. And it even contains a message for all the new-fangled, long-haired monotone falsetto youths who call themselves musicians these days: ‘Let the lips remain silent…”

 

Daily Prompt: That’s Amore…only in the Movies.

images (67)“Love stories are just that.” Servaas raises an angry eyebrow in an invitation to start an argument. “Stories. Just stories. This thing in the movies doesn’t exist. Movies make us believe a lie.”

They’re all back in Boggel’s Place after the screening of ‘Love Story’ in the little church hall. Oudoom organised it to raise money for the leaking roof in the vestry.

“Ag, but you must admit it was a nice. And sad. And sweet…” Precilla has that faraway look.

“…and then she died and he lived happily ever after.” Servaas isn’t giving up.

“Ag sis, man!” Gertruida rarely uses this tone of voice, but they all agree Servaas deserve the rebuke. “Just because you’re in a cantankerous mood, you don’t have to be so cynical! No man! I’m ashamed of you.”

Servaas knits his bushy brows together to scowl at the group. “Love, my friends,” he makes friends sound like an insult, “is blêrrie hard work, let me tell you. Forget about the violins and little Cupid and wagon loads of red hearts. When I courted Siena, I dressed my best, brushed the horse until he shone, and I even learnt that poem by some Wilcox woman:

“She had looked for his coming as warriors come,
With the clash of arms and the bugle’s call;
But he came instead with a stealthy tread,
Which she did not hear at all.

“And you know what she did? She laughed and told me I’m silly.  Said love isn’t about fancy words. So she recited a few lines by Neruba. I remember them to this day:

“I do not love you except because I love you;
I go from loving to not loving you,
From waiting to not waiting for you
My heart moves from cold to fire.”

“My, my, my, Servaas!” This time, Gertruida’s voice is soft, sympathetic. “I never knew you were such a romantic. Imagine you, black suit and all, reciting poetry to a lady! Well, I never…”

“Maybe there’s a romantic in each of us. I remember how I imagined my lover would be, way back when I was young and sexy.” Kleinpiet sighs and shakes his head. Precuilla, like all women, imagines her best years as being something in the past. Worse: is she saying something about him in an oblique way? He waits for her to continue. “I also had a poem in my head. It’s by George Etherege:

“The Nymph that undoes me, is fair and unkind;
No less than a wonder by Nature designed.
She’s the grief of my heart, the joy of my eye ;
And the cause of a flame that never can die !

“Oh, how I dreamed about my knight in shining armour! Then Kleinpiet came along and changed all that.” She gives him a friendly punch on the shoulder. “He showed me a reality I never imagined…and it is so much better than the dream I had.”

Kleinpiet beams. He’s not sure what – exactly – she implied, but it sounds okay.

Gertruida shrugs. “I suppose we all long for that perfect love, don’t we? The one with poems and roses and late-night whispered conversations. The one Sara Teasdale wrote about when she said:

“I am not yours, not lost in you,
Not lost, although I long to be
Lost as a candle lit at noon,
Lost as a snowflake in the sea.

“Oh plunge me deep in love – put out
My senses, leave me deaf and blind,
Swept by the tempest of your love,
A taper in a rushing wind…

“But then again, “Gertruida goes into one of her typical pauses, “maybe that’s the wonder of love. When you are in love, it opens your imagination. It shifts the horizon. It rearranges your previous dreams to make you more aware of how much more there is to living.  And it makes you feel small and huge, changes the introvert into a clown and makes the warrior put away his musket. Love isn’t just a feeling…it’s a way of being. The same things you saw yesterday aren’t the same things you see today. The colours change. The music is sweeter. It lightens your step and lends weight to your thoughts.”

“But…” Kleinpiet feels completely out of his depth. “I thought love was easy. You know. The love-at-first-sight thing. I mean, when I first saw Precilla, I knew. And after that, loving her became the easiest thing in my life.”

“That’s what I said. It’s hard work.” Still scowling, Servaas orders another beer. “You have to leave yourself behind. You become the servant of a bigger cause. Like faith, love means you have to  die a little in order to discover life. Man, that took some time with me, I can tell you.”

“In a very limited way, Servaas, you are right. If you don’t put in effort, love is wasted. It becomes stale. But every drop of sweat dripping from your bushy brows is worth it if you labour in your love – and I’m not talking about the physical stuff either.” Gertruida tries to hide the blush spreading up her neck. Those evenings with Ferdinand… “I’m simply saying love makes you do things you’d never consider otherwise. And you know what? It doesn’t feel like work at all. If it does, then something is wrong…”

Servaas glares at his glass, suddenly overcome with emotion. Yes, he remembers those days. All thirty-eight years of days he couldn’t wait to get home at night. And how he watched Siena baking bread or knitting on the stoep or hanging the washing on the line. And how he so often wanted to tell her how much he loved her.

And how seldom he did.

“I wonder…?” He can’t finish the sentence.

It is Gertruida, who knows everything, who understands.

“Yes, Servaas, she knew. We women know such things. We know our men and how stupid they can be. And we forgive them, every time, because that’s what love does.”

***

One does not expect to listen to deep conversations in Boggel’s Place. Love and peach brandy can be very uneasy bedfellows, after all. But sometimes; when the patrons aren’t discussing the drought or Vetfaan’s broken tractor; their conversations touch on very serious subjects, like the leaking vestry roof or the rising petrol price.

Or love.

That’s when Servaas fishes out the little handkerchief with the flower embroidery in the one corner from his breast pocket. If he closes his eyes, he can still smell the perfume, remember her smile.

And he’d wipe his eyes with his sleeve – because he wants to keep that hanky just the way it is. That’s when Gertruida says Servaas is right about a few things: true love is a burden, a pleasure, hard work and a surrender.

And it only dies in the movies.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside Kolmanskop

THIS WEEK, IN A POST CREATED SPECIFICALLY FOR THIS CHALLENGE, SHARE A PHOTO THAT SAYS INSIDE.

In the early 1900’s, Johnny Coleman traded his simple wares at the little harbour of Luditz, after travelling over the desert with his ox-wagon. Then, in 1905, a sandstorm forced him to hide in his wagon after turning his oxen loose. They, of course, thought this to be a bit short-sighted, and took off to seek shelter themselves. Well, to cut a long story short, poor Johnny almost died there, but was eventually rescued.

Little could he have guessed at the tremendous wealth he was sleeping on during those long nights he waited for salvation. Three years later the richest diamond field in the world was discovered at this very same spot, which bears the German equivalent of his name to this day. In 1956 the mine was abandoned, leaving only the memories of heady riches and back-breaking labour.

Today, when standing inside the abandoned buildings, one gets the feeling that the ghosts of the past aren’t far away.

Come on. Come inside…

The old generator has lost the battle against time

The old generator has lost the battle against time.k3Sweat-soaked miners would clean up before strolling over to the theatre or casino especially built for them.k2The silence of the dunes now rule where once gossip and laughter reigned....and they drank with gusto, of course.  One can only guess what fun these bottles brought to the isolated village. …and they drank with gusto, of course. One can only guess what fun these bottles brought to the isolated village.Sit down on the red chair. Let your left hand dangle down, touch the bottle at your feet. Close your eyes.  Imagine....Sit down on the red chair. Let your left hand dangle down, touch the bottle at your feet. Close your eyes.

Imagine…. 

Daily Prompt: Something So Strong – The Vrede Story

The prompt today: Tell us the origin story of your best friend. How did you become friends? What is it that keeps your friendship rockin’ after all these years?

Credit: woodenwindow.com

Credit: woodenwindow.com

“It’s difficult to define the factors that keep friends being friends.” Servaas has that faraway look you only get after the sixth Cactus Jack. “Look at me: I’ve not kept a single friend for longer than a few months. That is, of course, with the exception of Siena.” He stares balefully at Oudoom, mutely challenging the reverend to take up the argument.

Now: everybody in Rolbos knows Servaas can become rather morose, especially when summer is on its way out end autumn chills the evenings. This is when you need a proper goose-feather duvet or a warm sleeping partner. Boggel smiles at the thought: he’s got Vrede, who loves snuggling in under the blankets when he thinks Boggel has dozed off. The presence of the old police dog is strangely comforting.

Servaas, however, is too stingy to buy a duvet and spends his winter nights in several layers of clothing under the threadbare blankets he and Siena got for a wedding present soon after WW II.  This causes the old man to get up in the morning and grumble all day long. Then at night – like now – he sits in front of the hearth in Boggel’s Place, looking for somebody to argue with.

“Ag, you know Servaas,” Precilla takes up the challenge with a twinkle in her eyes, “I think Koos Kadawer likes you a lot. He’s forever staring at you with undisguised admiration.”

“Because I refuse to breathe out my last. Koos Kadawer doesn’t count. Undertakers only have lasting relationships with their customers, that’s all. And only afterwards, if you know what I mean.” Servaas orders the seventh, oblivious of the fact that she’s poking gentle fun with him.

“And what about Boggel? He likes your being alive. You must be one of his best customers, especially in wintertime. And the rest of us simply lo-o-o-ve you when you don’t dress up in that awful black suit.” Precilla doesn’t let up and continues in a whisper. “We’ve been thinking of buying you a nice suit for Christmas – a blue one. Maybe white.”

“You making jokes about me?” Servaas swivels around in his chair to fix her with a less-than-benevolent stare. “Respect your elders. Ask Oudoom: it says so in the Book.”

“Don’t drag me into this argument, Servaas. I sneaked in here for a quiet quickie. I’m still working on Sunday’s sermon and can’t stay too long. Mevrou will get suspicious.”

Boggel clears his throat as he serves the Cactus.

“Friendship is worse than love, Servaas. When you love somebody, you are obliged to endure everything with the loved one. Oudoom will tell you Love endures all. If revels in suffering. It forgives  everything.

“But friendship? Now there’s a thing for you. It’s a choice. You don’t have to be a friend to anybody at all. Man, you can simply make friends and discard them as soon as they irritate you. I hear you can even push a button on this thing called Facebook, and presto! You’ve unfriended somebody. Bang! Just like that. People, to my thinking, are much better at unfriending others than working on being a good friend to a mate.

“And you know why? Because we take ourselves far too seriously, Servaas. You do something I don’t like, then my mind pushes the unfriend button in that mushy grey matter between my ears and that’s it…I don’t care any more. It’s so much easier than getting into your erstwhile friend’s shoes to see things the way he or she does. Oh no – we insist on being right all the time and that’s where things go completely wrong.

“You should think about that.”

This is – you’ll know if you are a regular in Boggel’s Place – an uncommonly long speech by the bent little man behind the counter. Boggel is usually an exceptional listener and will refrain from becoming involved in an argument.

“You mean it’s like Vrede?” Precilla is enjoying the bit of a spat. “Or we should be more doggy-like in our relationships?”

“That’s it!” Oudoom snaps his fingers. “That’s going to be my sermon on Sunday.” He uses his hands to write the theme in the air. “Love…Let us learn from the dogs.”

Vrede, who has been dozing next to the fire, lifts an ear and opens an eye. He knows – like all dogs do – exactly what the people are discussing. And he can’t understand – simply can’t understand – why people insist on being so unforgiving. It’s so stupid, really. The hand that you bark at today, is the same hand that feeds you biltong tomorrow. How difficult is that to understand?

Servaas goes ‘harrumph’ and lifts his glass. “Nobody,” he says ‘noborry‘, “can ever accuse me of taking myself too ser…seri…serioushly. So there.”

Vrede gives one of those growls. Not an angry one, understand, just one of those low-down grumbles dogs do when they pretend not to be laughing. Then he frowns, gets up, stre-ethches, and walks over to Boggel. He’s had enough of this.

Boggel looks down as Vrede gets up on his hind legs to rest his paws on the counter.

“Yes Vrede?”

“Grmf, arfarf, grrr, yawl.”

Boggel gets it immediately. Vrede said he’ll sneak into old Servaas’ bed tonight. Snuggle real tight when the night wind brings in the cold in the small hours. And, if he does that, the patrons in the bar must club together and buy that duvet in Sammie’s shop. Tomorrow. Not a day later.

“What’s it with the dog?” Servaas peers at Vrede like only an inebriated man can: a combination of myopia and diplopia.

“Oh nothing, Servaas. Nothing much, that is. He says you’re going to be in a good mood tomorrow.”

Oudoom’s sermon will be a huge success. People will listen with serious expressions and nod here and there. They’ll tell him he’s a wonderful orator. And then they’ll go home, telling themselves that a preacher should be much more practical. He can’t, for heaven’s sake, expect them to lower themselves to canine standards, can he?

Dogs are so far down the evolutionary ladder, we can’t be expected to descend to such ignorance. We are the superior race, not so?

It’s only Vrede, who knows better, that’ll disagree. And until we all speak fluent Barkish, we won’t know how wrong we are.

The Miracle

hare-head01plFaith and politics, Gertruida will tell you, have a lot in common. A lot of what we believe are based on promises that we choose to believe. The action following the promise, however, is a matter of personal interpretation.

Take for instance – and here Gertruida will smile knowingly – the case of Ma Roberts’ rabbits. If ever there was a club for non-believers, then Ma would have been the founding member and life president. And it wasn’t like Oudoom didn’t try either. Back then, the townsfolk would observe a full minute’s worth of silence – staring longingly at the glasses in front of them – every Wednesday afternoon as Oudoom’s old Ford huffed its way down Voortrekker Weg to pay a visit to this formidable woman.

Oudoom used to say Ma Roberts was his equivalent of Jonah’s whale, especially placed on earth to test his faith, his conviction and his commitment. To his credit: it must be said that he never wavered. Regular as clockwork, he visited the huge lady with the short temper – every Wednesday afternoon. He took his Bible along, of course; but he was careful not to overplay his hand. With Ma you had to be careful…extremely careful. She had a way of clamming up, growing red in the face while her eyes bulged ominously, before telling you what (exactly) you could go and do with yourself. This was the same for the occasional traders that visited her farm, the campaigning politicians, and poor Oudoom. He said she can move surprisingly fast, just like a hippo – which we all know is the animal responsible for most killings in Africa.

And, Gertruida will add, one must not forget that Ma was a progressive farmer. Quite successful too, if one considers her methods. She started off with chickens, which she supplied to the fried-chicken franchise in Grootdrink. It is rumoured that she made quite a fortune with this endeavour; which one can understand if you take into consideration that after two months, her neighbours didn’t have a single chicken left. These neighbours remembered what happened to Japie Mulder, the chap who had a dream of representing the district for the ANC in the town council. Oh, he can walk quite well again, even without the crutches (for short distances).  But still, one thinks about such an incident quite deeply before accusing Ma Roberts of stealing a simple thing like a chicken.

With her supply of chickens gone, Ma Roberts contemplated the prospect of a diminishing cash flow, which would have meant reducing her intake of peach brandy. That’s when she took up rabbit farming. Actually, it wasn’t rabbits she kept in that cage behind her house: they were hares. But skin a hare, marinate it ever so slightly in lemon juice, and not even an expert will tell the difference.

Gertruida says one mustn’t confuse hares with rabbits. Rabbits have a soft, succulent flesh – which is why the Belgian restaurant in Kimberley was keen to procure the real thing. But hares? They’re a lot tougher than rabbits. They occur naturally in the Kalahari, fend for themselves within an hour after birth, and do not need the fancy feeding rabbits do. As an aside, Gertruida will remind you that a baby rabbit is called kittens, while the young of hares (which are hairy at birth) are called leverets. This she says just to impress you – not because it has anything to do with The Miracle.

So Ma sent out her labourers to catch the hares on her farm (for a start) and after a week she had eight of the furry animals living in her old chicken coop. After a month, she had twenty-four, due to the original hare’s natural…er…social interaction.

And during this time, Oudoom redoubled his efforts to get Ma Roberts to reconsider her faithless life. He told her about Hope, Love and Mercy. Ma wouldn’t listen, telling him that’s why the country is in such a terrible state. Oudoom changed tack and told her about Jesus – His life, His teachings, and His crucifixion.

Now, Gertruida adds happily, it’s time to talk about Herman du Preez, the chickenless neighbour. Herman was a sickly old man, patiently waiting for the end of his days on the dying farm where the drought (and Ma Roberts) finally stole his hope of a better life on earth. Realising The End was slowly creeping up on him, he took to reading the Bible on his stoep every day, while the only other living thing on his farm – Butch the sheep dog – rested at his feet. Oudoom visited him occasionally to assure him the Paradise was real, and yes, the streets were paved with gold, indeed. This made the old man very happy.

That is, until the day he realised Butch was missing. He closed the Bible, noting the chapter in the book of Job he was studying, and shuffled to the back of the house to look for his faithful friend.

And he found Butch.

With a hare in his jaws.

The hare was dead.

And old Herman looked up at the sky and told the Lord he still had to finish Job. And the New Testament, old Herman prayed earnestly, needed another going-through as well. Surely he can finish that before he closed his eyes for the last time? He reminded his Maker that Ma was a rather deadly opponent, just look what happened to Japie Mulder?

So he sat down, took the dead body from the guilty-looking Butch, and he thought about his problem deeply. If Ma knew his dog had taken one of her rabbits…er, hares…

Herman washed the little body in the basin in his kitchen. Then he dried the dead hare, fluffing up the fur as well as he could. He remembered his long-departed wife’s meagre collection of cosmetics, fished out the almost-dry lipstick and added colour to the lips and a touch of rouge to the cheeks. The brush came in handy, too.

That night, when all the Kalahari slept peacefully, old Herman walked all the way over to Ma Roberts’ farm. Being old and frail, this took longer than he expected, but he made it an hour or so before dawn. He found the wooden gate to the chicken coop, opened the latch, and quietly deposited the small corpse next to the one sleeping hare, who didn’t seem to mind too much.

Then he started shuffling back home.

That Sunday he attended church as usual and was completely surprised to see Ma Roberts in the front pew. Oudoom smiled broadly and halfway through the service he said one of the members of the congregation had something to say.

Ma Roberts hoisted her hefty frame upright, turned around and said she was happy to announce that she’d been wrong all along.

“Look,” she said, “Oudoom has been badgering me about faith for a long time now. As you all know, I thought it was just to soothe his own conscience. But…” and here the whole district saw Ma Roberts falter for the first time in her life, “I was wrong.”

She took a deep breath.

“Oudoom told me about the Resurrection last Wednesday. I listened with one ear. He asked if he could pray for me. I said yes because I wanted his sorry ass off my property.” She ignored the giggles. “Well, he prayed for a sign. Any sign, he said, to make me see the Truth.”

Another deep breath…

“Then one of my rabbits – er… hares – died and I buried it in the veld. It was dead. Really dead.

“And you know what happened? That bloody hare rose from the dead, returned to the coop and looked more alive than I’ve ever seen any hare look like – in all my life.”

***

Old Herman died the following month – peacefully in his sleep. When Koos Kadawer laid him out, he was amazed. Corpses, in his experienced opinion, have slack faces. Mostly expressionless. Unless they died of fright or after being struck by lightning, like Electric Eddie, the best weather forecaster the district ever had.

Not so with old Herman. He looked contented. Happy. His lips curled upwards in death, like a smile.

Or like somebody who knows a delicious secret he doesn’t want to share.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Perspective…Holey Moley!

South Africans are famous for many things. We make mountains out of molehills. And we are great at ignoring important stuff. We live with shocking figures when it comes to murder and rape statistics; turn a blind eye to corruption and crime; and hide behind the high walls of survival.

Our national animal should be the humble mole, who hides below the surface, digging blindly to…nowhere.

This morning while walking on the beach, a little mound of sand caught my eye…

3
46

7

The last photograph is blurred (sorry!). Moles are shy and extremely reluctant to be photographed. They hate being seen in the open, and usually disappear quickly when they see strangers near their homes. They don’t like surprises, you see?

So they live solitary lives, avoiding the dangers lurking outside their warm and cosy and dark tunnels. They prefer to let the outside world take care of itself while they live in the dark.

Like I said: the perfect national symbol for a society struggling to get the right perspective on what the word ‘normal’ means… Surely it can’t just be a setting on the program of the washing machine?

Oscar – A Sad Modern Fable

giraffeOnce upon a time a baby giraffe was born. He was handsome, chubby and seemed perfectly formed…except for his legs. They were too short, you see? The other animals crowded around, making sympathetic sounds. This little giraffe, they all agreed, would not amount up to much.

Giraffes, like we all know, need good, strong legs. Without them, they can’t reach the succulent leaves at the top of the acacia trees – and they can’t run away from the many predators in the woods. A short-legged giraffe has no chance.

Still, his parents gave him a name –  Oscar – and tried to raise him as normally as possible. Uncle owl suggested stilts, which nephew Baboon made from strong the bamboo stems. At first the little giraffe struggled to remain upright, but then something strange happened: his mother discovered that he was extremely strong-willed. Oscar refused to give up. This, of course, made his family very proud. Maybe, they thought, the little disadvantaged giraffe will be able to fend for himself, after all.

Something else happened inside the young animal’s mind: he was determined to show them – all of them, especially those who had said he wouldn’t make it – that he would be the best. The fastest. The strongest. In fact, the most famous of them all.

As the bamboo stems dried out, little Oscar found they bent when he put his weight on them. Then, when he shifted his balance, the bamboo would spring back to being straight. Initially, this unexpected quality of the stems caught him off-guard, and his family had to help him up time and again. But later, quite a bit later, young Oscar used this spring-like effect to propel him at amazing speeds across the veld.

Now: everybody loves a winner. They started taking bets: could young Oscar run faster than Lion?

He did.

What about rabbit?

Oscar won.

And cheetah…?

Oscar left him eating dust.

By now, the animals all wanted to be friends with the speeding, short-legged giraffe with his bamboo legs. Sympathy turned into adoration. And the strong-willed and almost-no-longer-disadvantaged giraffe soaked up the admiration. He liked the way the other animals deferred to him, allowing him the best grazing spots, the coolest bits of shade and the nicest place at the waterhole. They laughed at all his jokes. And, because he was so fast, even the predators and the carnivores kept their distance.

Sadly, Oscar developed what the other animals whispered about as ‘a bit of an attitude‘. Nothing much, you understand? It’s just that he became a bit arrogant. And…who could blame him? He was the best, wasn’t he? And should not the best, expect the best? So sometimes – not often – he’d growl and grumble (giraffes do this rather quietly) to show his displeasure if things didn’t quite please him.

Then something terrible happened. One night – quite late – the young giraffe took off his bamboo stilts to lay down. He did this every night, you see, to allow his short legs to rest before he strutted out his prowess for all to see in the morning.

And something happened.  During a dark and stormy night the young giraffe did the unthinkable. He lost control.

What happened?

Nobody is sure, but it became abundantly clear that Oscar did something so terrible, so completely horribly detestable, that all the other animals turned away in shock and shame.

And now something even worse occurred: the animals brayed for blood. His blood. The situation became bad enough for other animals from other parts of the forest came to see how the young giraffe was made to pay for his transgression.

And the young giraffe cried.

And he couldn’t fix the horrible thing he had done.

And then he died. He still breathed, of course, but his strong will was broken and his bamboo legs were to slow and too short to carry away from the shame and the grief he had caused.

And for the rest of his miserable life, the only thing he could hear, was the braying for blood and revenge. When he died eventually – really stopping breathing this time – his last request was that his funeral pyre be stoked with the bamboo stems that once made him famous.

***

There’s a moral to the story, of course.

We’re all born with disabilities – some are a bit more obvious than others. Over time, we overcome these defects and we strive to live normal lives. A select few of us will even become famous for what we’ve achieved. Some will thrive on the attention and the fame and the adoration. And then, inevitably, Icarus flies too near the sun and the wax melts and the wings come off.

And we fall…

Then, those of us who are spectators on such a tragedy have a choice: Either we join the carnivore choir for blood and revenge – or we become silent as we contemplate the sad and grim reality of those involved with the Fall have to live with.

Maybe that little giraffe made the worst mistake of his life – willingly or not – and this affected those closely involved in the most negative way. Maybe his life and way of doing things were not solely the result of some birth defect. Maybe the animals who made him believe he could fly with his waxed wings of bamboo legs were responsible as well.

Or maybe the worst thing about the fable is not the horrible deed that was done…but the way the other animals brayed for blood afterwards.

As if they lived blameless lives…