The Man in the Library

Credit: bulgo.ga

Credit: bulgo.ga

When the mood in Boggel’s Place gets as gloomy as it has been for the last few days, Gertruida sometimes escapes to Upington. No great reason for shopping or anything like that: she just needs a bit of space. Oh, she’ll browse through the modern shops and marvel at the rate prices are going up, but in the end you’ll find her in the library, where she’ll find something to read. Something new, like the most recent National Geographic, or the latest edition of Nature – which they order especially for her.

So there she is, paging through Nature, to read the article on ‘Cooperating with the future’ by Oliver P Hauser, David G Rand, Alexander Peysakhovich and Martin A Nowak. She’s fascinated by the algorithm that explains their theory. If the current generation doesn’t leave resources for future generations, a society is doomed to fail. It’s simple, it’s logical, and it’s sad. According to the authors, the greed of the present generation may very well spell the end of the world as we know it…unless we start acting responsibly.

She’s mulling over this insight, when she notices a young man standing listlessly at a shelf, looking completely lost. He’s staring at the titles while shaking his head every now and then.

As an expert on human behaviour, she didn’t need Freud’s The Ego and the Id to understand that this man is upset about something. Now, you know Gertruida: she hates a mystery – so she does the unthinkable to walk over to the distraught young man.

***

The course of young love seldom follows an easy route. The highs! The lows! The emotion…! The wrong word at the wrong time so often steers the HMS Love to the nasty rocks of reality that await the unwary if intrepid couple. And then, sometimes, the most unlikely ship will cross that stormy ocean.

Diksarel – who isn’t really fat, just a bit bigger than Dunsarel, the sinewy wing of the town’s rugby team – is a quiet sort of man. He lives alone in the run-down house (he inherited after his mother passed away) in a quiet street just as you enter Upington. Working as a clerk for Mister Shewell, his days are filled with columns of figures and pages of columns. One would expect such a young man to have a very dreary and dull life. One would be right in such an assumption. At least sometimes – not always. Dark, deep waters and all the rest of it..

That is, until the day he had to balance the books of Radebe, Delport and Pretorius – the infamous law firm that makes a fortune out of suing the government for negligence. You had the wrong operation? RD+P will help you become financially independent. Pothole tore your tyres to shreds? No problem! RD+P won’t just replace the wheels, they’ll convince the judge to award you a new car.

Get the picture?

Well, Diksarel was tapping away at his little calculator – preparing documents for the Revenue Service – when the figures suddenly didn’t make sense. No matter how he shuffled the columns, the bottom line refused to balance. This wasn’t one of those cases where a few cents caused a problem – he sat there staring at the biggest imbalance he’d ever come across. After a while he realised the problem originated from an invoice – hand-written – for the princely sum of twenty-odd million Rands.

Diksarel did what he usually does under these circumstances: he phoned the offices of RD+P, asking them to assist him in this matter. And that’s how Kneehigh Leggings came into his life. That’s not her real name, of course – Miss Katie  Leggings would have hated the name -but that’s how Diksarel thinks of her in his lonely fantasies at night. She has – one   must admit even in retrospect – the most spectacular pair of legs in the Northern Cape.

Kneehigh is one of those rare creatures that received it all in the queues for Personality and Looks. Even when she was a small girl, people said she’d go far in life. Her smile can wipe off the most threatening scowl, while her voice – soft, melodious and so engaging – will mellow the any traces of conflict. Then there’s the way she uses her eyes: she has a way of looking at people that makes them feel terribly important. It’s a gift…

Diksarel had no chance. Kneehigh invited him to the coffee shop in town, where she explained the situation. Her employers (RD+P) had made a small mistake. That invoice – the one that caused the imbalance that worried Diksarel so – didn’t belong to the set of documents they sent to Mister Shewell. No, not at all. It was a bit of a joke, see? Mister Radebe and Mister Pretorius played poker one night, a friendly game for fun. No money was exchanged, understand? But when Mister Radebe had a full house and Mister Pretorius held a straight flush, the bets got so high that they wrote out invoices for silly numbers.

“Look at that invoice, Sarel.” She looked him in the eyes and he felt his heart skip a few beats. “It says: ‘House – R20,108,785.00’. That’s where the betting stopped and Mister Radebe had to pay Mister Pretorius because his full house wasn’t good enough. So he wrote a bogus invoice and they had a good old laugh.”

If ever there was a tall story! Diksarel wasn’t fooled by such cock and bull because he knew RD+P  had been involved in a claim against the State regarding the shoddy homes they provided in the township outside Upington. For a while it seemed as if they were going to win one of the biggest claims against the government in the Northern Cape…and then suddenly they withdrew the case. RD+P issued a statement to the effect that there was no case against the government and that the defective houses were built by the then-bankrupt firm of Joseph Molefe and Sons. To pursue the matter would be pointless, they said.

The judge dismissed the charges against the State, RD+P was praised as a reputable law firm and the poor people stayed on in their crumbling and cracked houses.

Diksarel knew all these things, and was on the verge of telling Kneehigh he didn’t believe a word she said, when she laid a soft hand on his thigh.

“Sareltjie….the best thing you can do with that invoice, is to tear it up. Burn it. Throw it away.” Her eyes did the magic and Diksarel felt dizzy. “It was a mistake, see? You weren’t supposed to get that piece of paper.” She shifted up a gear, dabbing a tear with a delicate movement. Her lips started to tremble. A soft sob escaped those lovely lips. “Oh, Sarel, I’ll lose my job! I should have known better than to think that was an official invoice. Who would pay out such a sum for a ‘House’? And I knew…I knew about the poker game and I…” She started crying in earnest then.

Diksarel got up after that. He walked out of that coffee shop with grim determination. There was no way he’d tolerate such obvious injustice.

***

For once, Gertruida isn’t sure how to respond to Diksarel’s tale of woe. Casting around for a word of encouragement, she tells Diksarel he did the right thing.

“I know it’s hard, Diksarel.” Gertruida wonders if she shouldn’t get him out of the library. Maybe it’ll help if she can get him to talk to Oudoom?  But no – this is something she must settle here and now. She changes tack: “That’s why I like the library so much. Between all these books I feel safe, see?  Why don’t we look for the Legal section, then you can read up on the way ahead. If you want to lay a charge, you’d want statement to be correct. That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?”

“Lay a charge?”

“Yes, against RD+P.”

Diksarel shakes his head. “You’ve got it wrong, Auntie Gertruida. I’m looking for the travel section. Where’s the Maldives?”

That’s when Gertruida realised: that article in Nature by Hauser et al is so accurate, it’s frightening.

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