“Ag, you know, he’s harmless.” Gertruida – who knows everything – smiles at the figure of the short man walking down Voortrekker Weg. She knows all about Frikkie Brand, the so-called Dowser of the Dunes. “His father was Dawid Brand, who used to be a shepherd for Oom Jan Tille van Niekerk, who farmed near Gamoeb. When Dawid was twelve years old, he started realising he had a special gift. After that he became famous as a water diviner all over the Northern Cape – even as far as South-west Africa. It’s only natural that his son inherited the trait from his father.”
“Oodoom says it’s sorcery.” Servaas still insists on wearing the kudu tail under his hat, making his statement sound a little wayward. “And I believe these chaps look at the rocks and the vegetation and ant heaps to guess where water may be. Charlatans, if you ask me.”
“That some dowsers may be fake, is true,” Gertruida concedes, “but there are many accounts of people – often children – who had the uncanny ability to ‘see’ water under the ground. Recently I read about Jean Parangue, aged fourteen, from Marseilles. ‘This child can see through the ground, springs and waterpipes however deep they may be. He sees water there as we see wine in a glass.’ This was way back in 1772, I may add.” She loves to quote from old books and finishes the sentence with a flourish.
“There was another boy…” Vetfaan scratches his head, a puzzled frown on his forehead. “They said he had X-ray eyes…”
“You’re talking about Pieter van Jaarsveld.” Gertruida, of course. “He became quite rich back in the 50’s, asking £25 to point out the place to drill. He said he saw a beam of light on the ground where the water was – something like moonlight striking a window pane. He could follow underground water like that, even in the dark.”
“But what is Frikkie doing in town? Did somebody call him? Is anyone looking to sink a borehole?” Feeling decidedly ill at ease, Servaas nods to tell Boggel to serve another round.
“Maybe not water.” Gertruida hasn’t finished lecturing yet. “Frikkie, like many other dowsers, claim to be able to find other lost things as well. Coins, rings, things like that. And some even suggest they can see inside bodies. It’s quite extraordinary to think a dowser can look at you and see what you had for breakfast.” She meant it as a joke, but Precilla turns green at the thought.
Frikkie pushes the swing doors open and hesitates before stepping inside Boggel’s Place. The group at the counter chorus a ‘Good morning’ and is rewarded by a shy smile in return.
Frikkie is, as always, barefoot. Gossip has it that he feels more in touch with the earth this way, and that he senses a tingling in his soles whenever he passes over underground water. He is a short man, five-foot-something, bald and slightly stooped. His eyes – those reddish-brown eyes – now sweep over the group to finally rest on Servaas.
“I’ve come far,” he says, “to find something.”
“Oh? Water?” Kleinpiet draws a little rivulet on the counter top with the foam on his glass.
“No…” Frikkie seems uncertain, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. “Something else. And I walked and walked – and came here. Something is lost, and I want to find it.”
“Come, sit down and have a beer. Then you can tell us all about it.” Gertruida pats an empty chair.
“No beer. Only water.” He does, however, sit down.
“Has anybody lost anything?” Sliding the glass over the counter, Boggel addresses his patrons with an arched eyebrow.
“Not you. Me. I’ve lost something. I need to find it, and I know the answer is here.”
Frikkie then tells them a sad tale of love found, love lost.
“I met this woman when I was looking for water on a farm – almost a year ago now, maybe less – and we…well, we talked. She had a daughter who was pregnant. We had plans, you see? I saw so much kindness in those two… Anyway, I had to go deep into the Kalahari to find water for another farmer. By the time I got back, she and her daughter wasn’t on the farm any more. The farmer was gone, too. Something about the redistribution of land. The place was in shambles – all the old workers had been told to go.” Frikkie shakes his head. “That’s when I started walking…and now I’m here.”
Servaas shifts uncomfortably. Is this man talking about…?
“I can’t tell you much more, I’m afraid. Her name is Fransie, and she plants herbs. Does anyone know her? Is she in town?”
Ashen-faced, Servaas opens his mouth to say something, His voice doesn’t cooperate, but he manages a nod. Sure, he knows exactly what this man is talking about.
Dowsers can’t explain their gift. Scientists have tried over the years to find a logical reason for their abilities, but even in this day and age, nobody has been able to conclusively say how they do it. Gertruida says it has to do with electromagnetic fields and vibrations, but that doesn’t sound right. Servaas doesn’t even try to understand. He says there are things we just have to accept.
Still, when Frikkie walks back towards Grootdrink, the silence in Boggel’s Place is deafening.
Yes, Servaas told Frikkie, he had met Fransie and her daughter. He even delivered the baby. And, he said, Fransie and Agnes were going to farm with herbs. He added that he thought Fransie would love to see him again – maybe he could show them where to dig a well?
Sometimes things happen in Boggel’s Place that leave the townsfolk completely flummoxed. It doesn’t happen often, though. The Dowser of the Dunes managed that, as did Boggel, once, a long time ago when he announced that the beer was finished. On such occasions the patrons in the bar will sit quietly, thinking deep thoughts and occasionally shaking a head.
Gertruia, as always, has the last word.
“Frikkie is known to be able to follow things, find things. This time, it’s his heart. Such a pity that this gift is given to so few…”