“There’s a new doctor in Upington.”
Gertruida just loves doing something like this. She’ll mention something of major importance – but only part of it. She wants the rest of the patrons at the bar to sit up, think about it, and ask questions. That way (Servaas says so, at least) she gets an opportunity to display her superior knowledge.
But this time the Rolbossers refuse to play along. Last week she predicted that the ANC would be voted back into power, and she was right of course. Servaas reckoned it was time for Gertruida to start predicting other results for the election. Can’t you give a few million votes the other way for a change, he said; but even though Gertruida laughed and said okay, she’d try, the ANC still won.
“I’m not going to ask you anything, Gertruida. Look what happened last week.” Straightening his black jacket, Servaas turns his back on her.
“Oh, come on, Servaas! The election result wasn’t my fault.” She winks at Boggel to order a cold beer. It has been another particularly hot day, making the trip from Upington most uncomfortable. “It’s a psychiatrist.”
Now, it is wrong to think that the people of Rolbos do not know anything about psychiatry. No, they do. Some time ago Gertruida told them about Freud and how everything they did reflected on their upbringing, the way their mothers explained life, and sexuality. It was the last bit that upset Servaas so much that he took to wearing his black suit again. Or maybe it was the election – it’s sometimes impossible to say what scratched his veneer.
“Ja, the morals of the country is going down the drain,” Vetfaan feels he has to respond. “Imagine having somebody like that around in the Northern Cape? We may be sparsely populated, but we certainly don’t need advice on procreation. Over here, we still do it in the old way. I, for one, won’t have to see that man. I think Fanny will agree to that.”
Smiling dutifully, Fanny says, no, Vetfaan is a natural stud.
“No, man! People consult a psychiatrist when they’re stressed, Vetfaan. And, may I add, he’s a she. A lady doctor. Doctor Veronica Ramsbottom. And I hear she’s quite a looker. The Upington Post says she trained in Amsterdam.”
Like psychiatry, so with Amsterdam. The patrons at the bar know about Amsterdam. Kleinpiet for instance, imagines a scantily-dressed young lady, consulting stressed men in a shop window. Maybe, he thought, it’s worthwhile to go and have a look? Then again, if Precilla knew what he was thinking, he’d be in a huge amount of trouble. He composes himself and wipes the smile from his face.
“That’s bad,” he says out loud, “it just shows you.”
In Kalahari-speak, that’s supposed to mean the end of the conversation. When you say it just shows you, there’s not much else left to say. Showing you tells everybody the subject is closed, it’s time to talk about important stuff, like the drought or the way the pothole in Voortrekker Weg ripped the tyre of Kalahari Vervoer’s lorry.
“There’s no need to shy away from the subject, Kleinpiet. We all need a little help sometimes, you know? It’s not something to be ashamed of. In fact, when a man says he needs help, he needs to be respected. Bottling things up inside is very bad for you.”
Everybody knows old Servaas has been bottling up for years now. Ever since Siena died, he’s not been near a woman again. They turn to the old man, nodding sympathetically. Gertruida may be right. If Servaas can unbottle a bit, he might just put that black suit into mothballs again.
“You mean…” Vetfaan doesn’t have to finish the sentence: his look at Servaas says everything.
“Oh?” For a moment Gertruida is caught off guard, then she smiles. “Yes, well, maybe.”
And so it happens that Servaas – black suit and all – gets bundled into Oudoom’s Packard the next week, to see Dr Ramsbottom. He protested most vehemently, of course, but the townsfolk have had their fill of his long face and the black suit. It was only after the second bottle of Cactus Jack was finished that he agreed to the venture the previous evening.
Too hung-over to protest any longer, Servaas is deposited in front of a rather austere building next to the Wimpy in Upington.
“Now remember, Servaas, tell her everything. She really needs to know your deepest thoughts to understand you. You’ll see – you’ll feel like a new man.”
The Wimpy – fortunately – sells beer, so the little entourage settles down to wait for Servaas. Gertruida has the smug look of a politician who won an election, but Oudoom still has doubts.
“If Servaas tells that woman everything that happened in Rolbos, the synod might want to inspect us.” That lady with the fishnet stockings still haunts the clergyman at night. “And there was the time the pole dancer visited Boggel as well…”
“Maybe she likes Servaas. He’s been in there for a long time. I really hope he doesn’t tell her too much. I mean, we’re not really the epitome of a normal society, you know. We drink too much. Maybe Boggel should see her, as well. Or Oudoom…just to tell her that we’re actually a nice bunch.”
“It won’t help, Vetfaan. Doctors like her get to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. They flash these cards with ink spots all over them, and the next thing you know, you’re hypnotised. That’s when they get to the bottom of your problems.” Boggel read something like that in a Reader’s Digest somewhere.
So they wait a bit longer.
It takes hours…
Eventually, Servaas emerges from the building, a swagger in his step and the jacket slung carelessly over his shoulder.
“Come on, chaps, lets get back to Boggel’s Place. Drinks are on me. And oh my! Just look at the colour of the sky! Isn’t it a beautiful day?”
“Servaas…?” Fanny can’t believe the transformation. “What happened to you?”
“Nothing much. I told her about Rolbos and Boggel’s Place. She was fascinated. Then I told her about Siena, and she cried. Boggel made her laugh and she can’t believe everything I told her about Gertruida and Oudoom. She even fell in love with Vrede.” Servaas smiles broadly. “What a nice young lady.”
“She prescribed pills.” For such a change, Precilla knows, Servaas must have swallowed a bottle full of happy pills. “And you took them all?”
“No. No pills. We just chatted.”
“And you feel better?”
“Well, I suppose. But she asked me to see her again next week. Told me it’s been such a long time since last she saw a normal patient. Said I’m the best therapy she’s ever had. So I’m going to help her get back to normal. Man…I feel good!”
It’s a popular myth that psychiatrists have all the answers. In fact, Servaas will tell you, they only guide their patients to find the answers to their problems all by themselves. And sometimes – rarely – the doctor ends up benefiting the most.
Whichever way you look at it, psychiatry and politics share a lot in common. What you see isn’t what you get. And those ink-splattered cards are not that dissimilar to the smoke and mirrors that excite politicians.
Change, Servaas says, is not the result of an election or a consultation. No, he says, change is in each of us, waiting to be discovered. Boggel doesn’t agree. He maintains that change only happens once you stop living in the past and start planning something better for the future. He’s due to see Dr Ramsbottom soon.