Writing Prompt: A form of Flattery – A tribute to Herman Charles Bosman

HC_BosmanWrite a post about any topic you want, but in the style of an author or a blogger you admire.

Herman Charles Bosman was born in 1905 in Kuils River. As a school teacher, he spent a mere six months in the Bushveld, where his Groot Marico tales started germinating. Then, in a terrible accident reminiscent of the Pistorius case, he fired into a darkened room where his stepbrother was involved in a tussle –  killing him instantly. Bosman attempted suicide directly afterwards, but recovered to stand trail. Convicted of murder, he was sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted afterwards and he spent four years in prison,

He then started writing under the name Herman Malan (his mother’s maiden name), becoming especially known for his dark stories and macabre plots. Later, paradoxically, he started writing extremely humorous stories in which Oom Schalk Lourens was the narrator.

Bosman died in 1951, aged 46. It was only after his death that the public took notice of his work and recognition- like it so often and so cruelly does – finally came for the brilliance of this enigmatic man.

****

“Now look,” Oom Schalk Lourens said, puffing his pipe as he stared at his empty glass, “those scoundrels at Rolbos must think they’re quite fancy because their stories are read in so many countries. In my time, Herman used a pencil and paper. And let me tell you, it wasn’t easy. He wasn’t paid much –  three guineas for a thousand words. I remember something he wrote:

I, like other simpletons, sweat, pore, write, rewrite, retype (many times over), curse, burn midnight oil to produce something between 2000 and 4000 words… I have spent a few bob at the races with just as much chance of remuneration (or loss) as writing a short story.

“Ja, I remember those days. Good days they were, even though they were bad. It’s like the way life treats you, man. Some days the sun burns the hell out of you, but at night the cold wind bites through your blanket.”

Jurie Els shakes his head. They’ve been sitting in the old post office drinking peach brandy all afternoon, and Oom Schalk keeps on harping on about the old days. Can’t the man move on with the times? After all, the town has progressed remarkably in the last few years.

“Oom Schalk, let that sleeping dog be, man. We’ve got a black mayor now, and he’s promised to fill up the potholes in the street – as soon as he’s finished building a few more houses in the location.”

“That’s the problem,” Oom Schalk sighs, “the location has been upgraded to a township now. Whatever will they think of next? We don’t even have squatters now; they live in an ‘informal settlement’. You’d think that would bring down the number of thefts in town – but what happens? People don’t steal any more. They call it affirmative action. No man, I liked it when somebody stole and you could call him a thief. Now they say everything is a legacy of the past.”

He sighs, staring at the unopened postal bags. “The past…man, those were good days. You worked, you got paid. Now people get paid for doing nothing. Look at those bags: when do you plan on opening them?”

“I’m on strike,” Jurie says, smiling broadly, “it’s my constitutional right, see? It’s like a holiday. And when enough people didn’t get their post for long enough, they will say yes, Jurie does a sterling job. That’s when they will increase my salary. It’s the modern way, Oom Schalk.”

Sometimes, Oom Schalk Lourens says, he thinks back on the time he spent in jail, that time he tried to smuggle cattle from Bechuanaland. He talks about the clothes he got for free and the three meals every day. He also got a few other things, like lice, for instance. But, he says, that’s progress for you – it always comes with a price.

We always laugh when he talks about these things. Laugh loudly, slapping him on the shoulder and telling him how good his memory is. We want to make him talk about long ago, see, so he won’t talk about the present. And when he gets going, we make sure his glass remains full and then we laugh some more.

But always, when the bottle is empty, Oom Schalk falls silent and tells us his hayfever is acting up again. That’s when he borrows Floris van Barneveldt’s handkerchief to wipe his eyes and nose. And then he’d stare out of the window; stare at the potholed road that leads to the township; and he’d shake his head.

“There was a time you could tell these stories. You know, the things that really happened. But now we can only sit on these post bags and talk about them softly.” That’s what he said last time. “I’m glad Herman isn’t around to see this. He wouldn’t be able to write his stories now. They’d call him names, they would. But, ” and here Oom Schalk took his time lighting his pipe, “maybe it’s good to think back on the life and times of Herman Charles Bosman. No matter what the politicians do, they can’t wipe out his words.”

Of course we laugh when he says this, like we always do. This time Oom Schalk surpises us by digging out his own handkerchief. He says nowadays a man must carry his own in his pocket, because there’s so much dust in the air.

And we won’t laugh at that. No sir. Something as serious as that deserves a quiet moment. We’ll just sit there and wait for the next bottle of peach brandy to be opened. After all. the past is always present, not so? Especially these days…

6 thoughts on “Writing Prompt: A form of Flattery – A tribute to Herman Charles Bosman

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