Last Sunday – after Oudoom’s sermon on The Sins of the Fathers, Gertruida said that Life is an endless circle. What has been, will be again. Vetfaan said that’s true; he remembered Frikkie, the son of Fists Fourie, who also was jailed after his wife walked into the door once too often. Vetfaan reckons those men should have been much more circumspect in choosing their wives. And Kleinpiet agreed about the Sinning Father Syndrome, reminding them that Innocent Tshabalala became a lawyer, just like his dad..
Still, it was a sobering thought. Precilla said it isn’t fair that a great-grandson should bear the burden of punishment for somebody he didn’t even know, whereupon Servaas said we all suffer because of our president. And – he asked – who in town actually knew the man? The fact that the president is still around while his sins are visited upon us, he said, must say something. “Maybe his wrongs are so great and so many, that waiting for a few generations is out of the question, hey?” Of course everybody laughed at that, but it wasn’t the laughing you’d usually hear in Boggel’s Place: it sounded too harsh, too hollow.
The sermon also had another effect on the townsfolk: they wanted to find out what their great-grandfathers did – hoping to discover pious and upright citizens of the first order (Servaas’s words). To their utter and collective dismay, this turned out to be a false hope. Gertruida knew, of course, that her family history contained a bootlegger, a diamond smuggler and a cattle thief. Vetfaan checked out the inscriptions on the first pages of the old family bible noting with concern the description of a forebear as ‘a rascal not worthy of our name‘. In Kleinpiet’s case the situation was even worse. In the carefully annotated diary his mother used to keep, she wrote about ‘Oupa Piet’, the candidate for the National Party in the fifties.
“Well, I have no such worries,” Boggel announced. “As an orphan I don’t have a family – hence I have nothing to worry about.”
“Oh no, Boggel. You can’t get off so easily. Unless you were hatched from an egg, you had a father, a grandfather and a great-grandfather.” Servaas ignored Kleinpiet’s remark that chickens had daddies too, and continued. “You’re just like us. We’ve all got to take what’s coming to us, I’m afraid.”
Of course Oudoom helped them to understand that it’s not so simple. If, he said, generations persist in sinning, it is only natural to think that the sins – which originated earlier in the family – would be continuously punished. “If grandpa taught his children to do something wrong: why then, you can’t just punish grandpa, can you? Go read Ezekiel. He made it abundantly clear.”
“So you say that we can’t blame previous generations for the mess we’re in?”
“Don’t be simplistic, Servaas. But your remark does touch on an important issue: the ‘sins of the father’ does not necessarily imply a family connotation. ‘Fathers’ can also be seen as ‘Leaders’ and ‘children’ as ‘followers’. We talk about ‘the founding fathers’ and in Africa we use ‘father’ as a form of respect. So, as much as we apply the term to families, we may also use it to refer to society at large.”
“You’re talking about the National Party again?” It is well known that Oudoom frequently laments the decision of the Synod in 1957.
“Oh no, Servaas. Not at all. I’m looking ahead, not to the past. The past is history, we can’t do anything about that. But the future? It rests on the present. And when I look at the leadership in the country, I see problems. What have they done to strengthen the moral fibre in the land? They’re sooo big on human rights, children’s rights, women’s rights – you can go on and on. But what, I ask you, did they do to God’s rights? I mean, those are the most important of all, aren’t they?
“I’ll tell you: they legalised Satanism. Banned prayer in schools. Opened the parliament with an imbongi. When elections come about, they attend church services to get votes – but once the results are in, do we see the TV cameras focus on a politician on any given Sunday?
“So, maybe we should consider our ‘fathers’ in South Africa very carefully. If you were to look down from heaven – would you have been proud?”
Boggel maintains it is sometimes better to be an orphan: being fatherless isn’t so bad when you are given a clean slate to start off with. Gertruida reckons that was the dream in 1994, but it all went horribly wrong afterwards.
“We talk about the Rainbow Nation because it’s such a nice term. But remember: the rainbow, according to the Bible, is a symbol of a covenant God made with mankind. In Revelations, it is said that a rainbow around the Throne. The rainbow, it seems, signifies peace and forgiveness.”
Gertruida sometimes says things that make people think. And occasionally, her knowledge of everything is quite astounding, like when she reminds them that the human eye can see no black, white or brown in the rainbow,
“But what has that to do with sinning fathers, Gertruida?”
“Everything, Servaas. We’re big on symbols and words, but small in action. To talk about peace and tolerance is one thing, to live it is quite a different matter. We need leaders whose aim is to guide the country to a honest, respectful place where life and property mean something. We need fathers who are true to the oldest guidelines we know. Ask Oudoom, he’ll tell you.”
And he does, by quoting two verses.
- Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)
- As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. (Psalm 103:13)
Oudoom says a true father to the nation should encourage compassionate discipline. According to him, that’s the way to add colours to the rainbow. And, he says, that’s the only way to repair that symbol we so love to talk about while it is disappearing from our skies…
That picture! Gertruida stares at it for a long time. The memories! The shock!
She knew it had to be here, somewhere – and now she’s found it, wishing she didn’t, between the pages of The Beautiful and the Damned, the Fitzgerald novel she had been reading at the time. Oh! She remembers the sad and poignant tale of Anthony Patch, the lazy, egocentric youth who believed the world owed him a life of luxury. And, of course, there was his wife…the beautiful and equally shallow Gloria. Gertruida smiles wanly when she remembers the almost-bitter but brilliant ending of the book which so aptly underscored the futility of both beauty and wealth. Yes, she thinks, that book was such a fitting read for the time she spent with Gerald Grimes, the man with the most endearing smile.
How old was she at the time? Eighteen? Nineteen? And then she met Gerald, charming, handsome Gerald, on Durban’s Golden Mile, during one of the rare breakaway-weekends she allowed herself while studying. In those days you could walk along the beach for hours – there were no loiterers, no muggings, no danger. She had walked, read, dreamed, tanned and was about to return to the little flat she had rented, when he walked right up to her and asked whether she’d like to have dinner with him. Just like that! She didn’t know who he was, what his intentions were or even anything at all about this tall, athletic man…but said yes, she would, just because she couldn’t think of anything else to say. The age of innocence…
He accompanied her to the flat after introducing himself and apologising for his impertinence. “I’ve found it such a waste of time to go through the long preamble of playing stupid games. It’s so boring. And…I travel such a lot that I rarely have to privilege of going through social rituals.” He smiled the most disarming smile. “I liked the way you concentrated on your reading and thought: This girl has depth. I’d like to meet her. So there. Now we can have dinner together and we’ll chat. No strings. Not at all.”
They had dinner in the Royal Hotel, a scrumptious affair with oysters and crayfish and the most delicately prepared choice of desserts. Afterwards they ambled up West Street, where they found this late-night cafe serving coffee.
“I read a lot,” he said, “especially the old authors – Fitzgerald, Poe, Haggard, Dafoe. They had such a wonderful way with words – even if they used a type of style and language we don’t even recognise today.”
“Like trammels, feckless,sanguinary, impecunious and erudition?” Gertruida warmed to the subject.
“Yes,” he said, “and we often can learn so much from them.”
“Ah yes,” Gertruida smiled. “There is a book on the Boer War, On the heels of De Wet by Lionel James. He had a rather severe opinion of what political change would do to South Africa. Remember, he wrote his book in 1902 and quite a visionary he turned out to be. He said…” She closed her eyes to remember the exact words. “But they have been pampered by us enough to make them imagine vain things, and vain imaginings may result at no distant period in a repetition of that rapine, pillage, and massacre of white settlements, which has ever furnished the saddest stones in the cairn of our great Empire.”
Gerald marvelled at her phenomenal ability to quote so accurately and said so. Then they started chatting about the way the old authors managed the extremely long sentences – almost unreadable, yet so lucid in their description of events and people.
This man, Gertruida realised, was the most widely-read person she’d ever met, and they sat there, chatting about books and authors, until the poor cafe-owner stared at them with tired eyes and they took pity on him. At that point the only other customer was a suited man who simply sat there, not drinking anything, apparently lost in deep thought.
They were getting up to leave when the silent customer got up, apologised to Gertruida, and asked Gerald to accompany him.
“Why…” Gertruida wanted to protest, but the man held up a hand.
“Please, Miss, this is official business. We’ve been looking for him all over. I didn’t want to cause a scene, but he’s not going to get away – again – this time.”
Suddenly, they were surrounded by a number of other men, all in suits, who escorted Gerald to a waiting vehicle – a Mercedes with tinted windows and no number plate. And then, barely a few seconds later, Gertruida sat down at the counter, all alone and completely confused. What had just happened? Neither she, nor the cafe owner, had any idea,
A few months later, she received a letter.
My dear Gerty
I must apologise for the way our lovely evening ended. I sincerely regret having to have left you like that, but you’ll remember that I had little choice in the matter.
You see, I work for a government your people don’t approve of. I was – still am, I suppose – a persona non grata in South Africa. My work involves the gathering of information, something your authorities frown at. Enough said…
Well, I spent some time as a guest of your government in Pretoria’s Central Prison, where I wiled away the time by sketching. Most of my drawings were confiscated, unfortunately, but this one survived.
I’m in London now, after being exchanged. The deal had been a complicated one, but it involved the release of an Israeli scientist who had been in custody in Moscow. I believe he’s working for your government now and is involved with a secret project involving missiles.
There. True to my nature, I didn’t waste too much of your time, did i? But now you have the bare basics – a skeleton you can build the bigger picture on. I don’t suppose we’ll meet again, which saddens me much. However, suffice to say that I enjoyed the evening with you and have the fondest memories of a few hours spent with you.
Gertruida puts the letter back between the pages of the book. A sentence seems to jump off the page at her:
Halcyon days like boats drifting along slow-moving rivers, spring evenings full of plaintive melancholy that made the past beautiful and bitter, bidding them look back and see that the loves of other summers long gone were dead with the forgotten waltzes of their years.
Taking great care, she closes the book before slipping it back onto the shelf. Then she sits down in her favourite chair to stare at the picture. Perhaps, she thinks, it is the lost loves that makes life so bearable. Or maybe these chance meetings serve to remind us that everybody has a story and that everyone shares the bond of loneliness. It doesn’t matter who you are and what your convictions may be – in the end we are all strangers shuffling through Life’s night.
For some reason, the thought causes an immense feeling of sadness to envelop her. When she looks down at the picture again, she’s not surprised to see the smudge caused by her tears. Like the memory of that evening, it is only fair that the picture should fade, as well…
Daily Prompt: You’re tasked with creating a brand new astrological sign for the people born around your birthday — based solely on yourself. What would your new sign be, and how would you describe those who share it?
“Well now,” Gertruida says, rising to the challenge, “That’s an easy task…I think.”
Whenever the conversation in Boggel’s Place slews towards long ‘Umm’s” and grunting ‘Aahhh’s”, the best thing to do, is to ask an impossible question like “How big is the universe?” or “When will people see the problem with BEE?”. The magnitude of those questions will keep Gertruida talking for hours at end, providing ample opportunity for debate to while away the empty hours. The creation of a new Zodiac sign was Precilla’s idea, who thinks some people don’t fit into the twelve described in The Upington Post.
“Now, let’s see… Yes! Let’s think of somebody who we know nothing about. Nothing personal, that is, but still somebody everybody is familiar with. Then we can create a personality, a Zodiac sign, and suggest something in the future according to the stars.”
Oudoom and Servaas immediately objects, saying such things are unbiblical, but Precilla assures them it’s only for fun. And anyway, she says, they’ve talked about the drought for days now, what else could they possibly discuss?
“Look,” Vetfaan ventures, “we all know the people in the newspapers – or at least, know about them. But we don’t really know them, do we? They’re just names; faces we recognise, but with no idea what they are like in real life.”
“Like our president?” Kleinpiet’s remark results in a protracted silence.
“Ye-e-e-e-s. I suppose that’s a good one.” Precilla isn’t entirely convinced, but anything is better than Oudoom’s disapproval.
“I like it.” Boggel spreads an imaginary banner in the air. “Born under the sign of Zuma!” He ignores the guffaws. “It’d describe almost anybody involved in politics these days.”
Precilla takes out a small notebook and jots down the suggestions made by the group at the bar. People who are born under this sign:
- Like to shower. They are extremely fastidious about cleanliness.
- Don’t care much about formal academics – they go with their gut instinct and do not mind making mistakes.
- Laugh a lot, especially when such mistakes are pointed out.
- Have a way of avoiding pointed questions, blaming problems on others and ignoring criticism.
- The men, especially, are known for their romantic side. Relationships are often compromised by their wonderful ability to attract women – especially if such ladies are conversant in the art of flattery.
- Attract rich and influential friends, irrespective of their social standing. Being born under this sign makes such individuals immune to criticism and disapproval. If you have the gift to rub up an ego, you’re a friend for life.
- Choose to be ignorant about financial matters. As long as the money keeps rolling in, it doesn’t matter where it comes from.
- Love the idea of having large swimming pools, a few chicken coops and enough bodyguards.
- Cannot drive slowly. They usually must have a few cars with flashing blue lights to clear the way in their need for speed.
- Prefer flying – whenever they can get somebody else to foot the bill.
- Cannot be labelled as egocentric – as long as they have an imbongi, they will sit listening with rapt attention for hours.
- The older they get, the better they were. The past is extremely important.
Precilla doesn’t write down everything. Some of the remarks bordered on the ridiculous, like Servaas’s suggestion that Zumians have a propensity to provide ample numbers to future generations. Or Kleinpiet’s remarks about these individual’s ability to fool everybody all the time. Still, by the time she covered three pages, the mood in Boggel’s Place may be described as hilarious – a pleasant change from the dreary discussion of the drought,
Gertruida says that is one aspect of our human nature she doesn’t understand. Why do we laugh at the things that hurt us most? Or joke about serious matters? Surely having a thirteenth Zodiac sign would be unlucky? Or is it the only way to digest the diet of bad news we have to face every day?
That question remains unanswered while Boggel serves another round.
“Twenty years of democracy,” Vetfaan sighs, “and still some people consider the value of a cellphone or a wallet to be worth more than a human life.” He points at the lead article in The Upington Post about the murder of Senzo Meyiwa, the captain of the national soccer team.
“There’s something fishy about that.” Gertruida reads the article with a creased brow. “Why is this policeman – Norman Taioe – so quick to say that the motive was robbery? I mean, have they concluded their investigations? I think he’s far too anxious to tell the public that it wasn’t a hit or an assassination.” She drops her shoulders in helpless protest: “I suppose South Africa is the only country where a botched hijack or robbery is accepted as a cause of death. An almost-natural cause of death, I may add; as if it were something like cancer or old-age. Oh you know old So-and-so? Ja, it’s sad, man. They got him at the intersection. Nothing you can do about it, hey? Life goes on…” Her tone contains equal amounts of sarcasm and sadness.
“Well, no police force can cope with 17,000 murders per year. That’s about 50 cases per day!” Nothing gets Sersant Dreyer so upset as the crime statistics in the country. “It is an impossible situation. Take the Pistorius trial – it took the state eighteen month’s worth of investigation and almost a year in court – and 15 million Rands – to decide to jail him for five years. And let me remind you: his situation was simpler – because there was no question about who pulled the trigger. And the Dewani case? It started in 2010, didn’t it? Now – add 50 new murder dockets per day to the overworked and understaffed police force’s workload, and think about it. How, in heaven’s name, can they hope to cope? I’m not even talking about the 65,000 sexual offences per year. A woman gets raped every four minutes in this country… Heaven help us if we manage to convict even just half of those offenders – we’ll have to build prisons, train a whole new generation of warders and drain the Reserve Bank in trying to rehabilitate the unrehabitable.”
“It’s the moral fibre in the country. It’s decayed beyond the point of repair.” From under the gathered bushy brow, Servaas surveys the group at the bar. “And let me tell you: a country is only governable when the leadership is healthy and strong. Why do you think we have such horrible statistics regarding abuse, molestation and murder? It’s of no use to blame the policemen or the prosecuting authorities – although the commissioner has repeatedly stated that even here you’d find corrupt officials. No, my friends, if the government started acting, we’d see some changes.”
“So, what do you suggest? That some minister says something about enough being enough? That the parliament issues a statement? Or that the president starts growling at the populace?” Kleinpiet’s cynical laugh is completely without humour.
“Well, that would be a start. But, let me remind you of the old saying: a fish starts rotting from the head downwards. Look at central government – how many more scandals do we need to live through? And what about municipalities? There was an article in June that stated: ‘ governance in most municipalities in the country is in shambles and is worsened by the political interference in administration.‘” Gertruida’s ability to quote verbatim is sometimes shocking. “And then you look at schools, hospitals, service delivery…only to realise we live in a country where the downhill slope has become too steep. We simply can’t hold on to the Mandela’s utopia any longer. We’ve lost the war with crime, and now we have to live in this mess.”
“And still, after twenty years, they blame Apartheid! It doesn’t make sense.”
“Well, I feel very sorry for the Meyiwa family, for Bafana and for all of us who admired the goal keeper so much. While we can blame the system, it is always the individuals who suffer. And don’t think the media will be kind: they’ll keep on digging into the poor man’s private life to find sordid allegations to scream from the headlines. The fact is: nothing will bring Anni Dewani, Reeva Steenkamp or Senzo Meyiwa back. The country is bleeding, people are dying…and the fish is rotting away quietly.”
At Oudoom’s suggestion, the observe a moment of silence, praying for the relatives of a great sportsman and all the victims of the wave of senseless crimes that has engulfed the country. And then, in a hushed and almost inaudible whisper, Oudoom asks that the The Great Fisherman bless us with a net full of healthy fish for a change…please…
“….Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown…”
Of course they laughed at him. The huge bandage around his head, the constant hand-behind-the-ear and the puzzled look did, indeed, paint a funny picture – but it was the story behind Vetfaan’s deafness that made them snigger the most.
If, for instance, Vetfaan had been an upright, honest, law-abiding citizen, he would have spared himself considerable pain and embarrassment. Or if he didn’t take up the conversation in Boggel’s Place so seriously, his medical bills would have been less. Then again, fracking had been a subject hotly debated, and who would have thought such a threat to the environment could have caused so much damage? Maybe it is only right to blame the peach brandy Boggel served that night: after all, we all know that the most difficult problems in the world are reduced to mere irritations by the time Boggel finally gets to lock the door to his bar every night.
It was Kleinpiet who started the debate about fracking. He said the price of diesel made it difficult to make ends meet. Peach brandy, he said, had not increased in cost – and nobody else wanted to use the over ripe fruit, anyway. You simply picked up whatever had fallen from the tree. So why, he asked, should oil be such a problem? Was the fruit of the tree not similar to the oil underground? You don’t go about manufacturing oil or peaches – Mother Nature does that. Therefore, if peach brandy is virtually free, why then, so should oil be.
Gertruida then launched into a long and detailed lecture on refineries and world economics – which her audience either ignored or didn’t understand. It’s been a longtime understanding in Boggel’s Place that one must at least appear to be listening to Gertruida’s speeches, but that it is permissible to have another few tots, daydream, and nod occasionally – simply to allow her to finish whatever she’s saying. It was when she concluded her dissertation on the balance of energy needs and the supply of money and oil that Kleinpiet said something about how nice it would be if the country had it’s own oil supply.
“Look,” he said, “fracking involves pumping a lot of sludge into the ground. That’s bad.” He swayed to his feet, shaking his head at the thought of the pollution that’d follow. “But…if we discovered a new way of getting oil from under the Kalahari, we’d be rich. Maybe..,” here his face lit up at the thought, “…Rolbos will expand. Can you imagine a Spar, or a Checkers or even a Woolworths in Voortrekker Weg? Think about it: no more trips to Upington to buy shoes from PEP Stores – we’d have one right here! We’d be exporting oil – and save a lot by walking to the store and not driving halfway around the world to get to a decent shop.”
Of course his opinion received much more attention than Gertruida’s dreary lecture. Servaas wanted to start drilling immediately (at the end of Voortrekker Weg, where the road stops. In front of Boggel’s Place would be far too noisy). Oudoom agreed, dreaming of a bigger congregation and a new coat of paint on the church. The increase in business wasn’t lost on Boggel either, while Sammie could just see “Sammie’s Woolworths” in blazing neon above the entrance to his shop.
“Why drill? That’s expensive. What about using one of the dry holes we have in the district – some of them are very deep already.” (It has to be said that this was Vetfaan’s contribution, so he has only himself to blame.) “Gertruida, tell us again how the do this fracking? There must be an easier way.”
Somewhat reluctantly – for she must have had an inkling of what would follow – Gertruida explained that holes were drilled vertically, and then expanded horizontally. Then, she said, they pumped water and chemicals into the substrata, which forced gas – and sometimes oil – to the surface.
“We can’t do that.” Vetfaan glared at his glass, which was empty again. “We’ll develop the Rolbos Method.”
This – understandably – resulted in everybody chipping in with new and brilliant (if somewhat inebriated) ideas of how one can do ‘clean’ fracking. In the end, the slurred debate subsided into a sullen silence. Getting oil to the surface proved too much for even the ingenuity of their late-night plans. Like most evenings in Boggel’s Place ends, they bade each other a sound sleep before swaying to their individual homes.
The next day Vetfaan wasn’t there when Boggel opened his bar. This does happen sometimes when he has to count his sheep or repair his tractor, so nobody was particularly worried at first. However, when two o’clock arrived and Vetfaan still didn’t show up, it was Servaas who wondered whether the burly farmer might be ill or something.
“He did have an inordinate amount of peach brandy last night,” he said, “and he could have gotten lost on his way home,”
A rescue party was hastily assembled, and armed with a bottle (‘Hair of the dog,” Kleinpiet insisted), the group traipsed down Voortrekker weg to knock on Vetfaan’s ‘dorphuis’ – the cottage he uses when he’s not on the farm (which is most of the time. – he always says his sheep do a better job of looking after themselves than he does). There, after knocking on the door for a few minutes, they opened the door (nobody locks doors in Rolbos) to find the interior in complete disarray.
“This looks like a burglary,” Sersant Dreyer eyed the mess suspiciously.
“No, he was looking for something. Look, his clothes are still in the cupboard and the radio is there, next to the bed.” Gertruida assumed that superior attitude of one who knows everything. “But he did dig into his old army holdall. See how the uniforms are scattered around? There are the boots and the socks and the…” She stared at the oversized brown underpants in horror, unable to say the word. “…and here’s the steel helmet..and the bayonet.”
“Oh. My. Word.” Kleinpiet whispered the words, his face ashen. “It’s the hand grenade.”
Kleinpiet – with a sideway glance to Sersant Dreyer – then told everybody that Vetfaan had brought back a Russian hand grenade from the border. “He showed it to me once, and then he put it back in the old coffee tin. That coffee tin,” he pointed at the empty container, ‘which now no longer has anything in it.”
Servaas caught on immediately. “Didn’t Gertruida say they used explosives to help the fracking process?”
Vetfaan later explained that he pulled the pin, counted to five, and dropped the grenade into the dry borehole on his farm. Gertruida had to tell him (by facial expressions and various hand movements) that there was no need for him to shout, which only served to decrease his volume to a slightly more acceptable level.
“When I got to twenty, I realised the hand grenade was dead. So I went to the house, got a torch, and looked down the hole. That’s when it went off.”
Of course everybody said that was the stupidest thing they’d ever heard, and for months after his hearing returned, Vetfaan endured the jibes and the snide remarks with an embarrassed grin.
One day he’ll tell them about the black stuff oozing from that borehole. That’s the borehole that was quietly filled up with cement afterwards; the one carefully disguised by the construction of a huge ant heap over it. This was done quite cleverly, understand? If you didn’t know it was man made, you’d think it’s one of the hundreds that you see every day in the Kalahari.
Vetfaan thinks it’s far better to be silent about such things. Once he’d sobered up, he realised he liked Rolbios – and the Kalahari – just the way it is, thank you.
And Sersant Dreyer? There’s no evidence, he says. Nothing to indicate any criminal activity. After all – did he not help Vetfaan build that ant heap? No, poor Vetfaan had a temporary loss of hearing, and that’s a medical problem. Policemen don’t get involved in such matters.
No, sir, not at all.
For the readers who do not understand the simple lyrics: it is an old Afrikaans folk song, describing the beauty of the Kalahari. Enjoy the pictures, sit back, and let your mind wander...
“Ja, there’ll be a few sore heads in the Western Province today,” Servaas, an old Province supporter, smiles happily. “We certainly beat them fair and square.”
“Not so. No fair. One successful kick and the tables would have been turned. The Lions played their hearts out, you have to give them that.” Vetfaan, whose loyalty towards the more northern team never wavered, stares wistfully into his empty glass. “if only…”
“If doesn’t count, the score board does. And it’s there for everybody to see: we won. That result is now history – fifty years from now the statisticians will look at it and nobody will worry about how it came about. Rugby isn’t for sissies, Vetfaan. You have to take what’s coming to you, like a man.”
The conversation slews this way and that, but the central theme remains the Lion’s defeat at the hands of Province. Vetfaan said something about penalties missed, opportunities that went begging.
“Ag, it’s Life, Vetfaan.” Kleinpiet puts a comforting arm around his friend’s shoulder. “Win some, lose some. No use crying over spilt milk.”
Boggel serves another round before joining the conversation. “That’s the problem these days. People aren’t allowed to feel sorry anymore. It’s not fashionable to express grief. Why, whenever something goes wrong, you simply blame somebody else, the system, the legacy of the past or any lame excuse you can think of. And you know what? Then people forget about it and the next catastrophe pops up. Life, as we know it, has become a string of disasters, one following the other, and we’ve become immune to the results of such. Take e-toll, Nkandla, the Arms Deal, corrupt ministers and so many officials and administrators who erode the fabric of our society. Even worse: take the huge interest in the various court cases we hear about every day.” He is, of course, referring to the Pistorius and Dewani cases. “Do we still stop and think about these? Are we still able to distinguish between right and wrong? And do we pause for a moment to consider the men and women behind these incidents?
“No, we say it’s spilt milk, we don’t cry about it, and simply continue building little mental forts to hide in. As long as we can play ostrich-ostrich, we don’t have to think. And that, I think, is bad.
“But when we consider sport, we become changed men. We shout. We express opinions, we celebrate and we grieve. Why? Because for too many people, the only real thing they see, is sport. It’s transparent,it’s actual, and the scoreline is final. There’s no appeal, no replay. A dropped pass is a dropped pass. The kick that missed, remains a scoring opportunity gone begging. And that, I think, appeals to people because there’s discipline, logic and finality involved. Those things are sadly lacking in everyday life.”
It’s Gertruida, who knows everything, who nods. Yes, Boggel is right. Modern Man is becoming progressively impassive to unfolding events. It’s almost as if we expect failure – as if the only way to handle Life, is to become so self-centered that we shrink the world to be the thin timeline we live on.
“It is,” she says, “because we refuse remorse and grief to play a part in our everyday lives. And that’s where the Bible leads a few of us astray, Oudoom.” She watches the old Pastor’s face blanche. “No, listen to what I’m saying before you react.
“How many times have you told us not to judge? Isn’t it central to our faith? We say we mustn’t reprove.” She pauses while Oudoom takes a deep breath. “But what about forgiveness? How can you forgive, if you haven’t formed an opinion? And without an opinion – or judgement – you cannot decide that something is right or wrong. It’s fundamental to the act of forgiveness to have judged something to be improper.
“Once we can forgive, we can allow remorse, for it’s only forgiveness that sets the stage for remorse. So what happens in society? We don’t judge kindly, we don’t forgive, and thus nobody has to express remorse. We become callous and unfeeling, little armored amoebas drifting along in the sludge that surrounds us, because we don’t allow us to be honest with ourselves – and go through life as isolated as we possibly can. The concept of a sympathetic society that acts as a unit, has ceased to exist. We have become Homo Pachydermacallous, the final stage in evolution.”
All this is way too much for Kleinpiet, who enjoyed the Currie Cup Final tremendously.
“Gee, guys, do we have to psychoanalyse civilisation because the Lions lost? Can’t we just be normal and celebrate the victors – as well as commiserate with the losers.?”
“That’s the point, Kleinpiet. We need to feel – both sides. Express emotion. Laugh a little. Cry a bit. That’s the only way to experience Life as it should be. And let me remind you: such emotions are judgement calls as well. We can decide to be happy – or sad – because we’ve analysed the situation. Then, once again, we become captains of our own ships: individuals with an opinion – but members of a larger body,”
“I don’t understand what this has to do with rugby.” Servaas has lost the point in the conversation right in the beginning. He only expressed his joy at his team winning, after all.
“Rugby is much like life, Servaas. In Life, we also have a referee, a game plan and a limited time to play. Then, along the way, things go right…or wrong. When the final whistle sounds, one may have stacked up enough points to win…or lose. Somehow I don’t think it matters much whether you founded Microsoft or lived a pauper’s life on the sidewalk. What matters is how you lived the life you were given. Did you, in essence, play the game? How did you treat your fellow man? What – and how – did you say things to your neighbour? Were you kind in your judgement and what role did forgiveness play?” Despite Gertruida’s explanation, Servaas retains his puzzled look.
“Look, Servaas.” Oudoom seems to have recovered from Gertruida’s remarks. “what our panel of psychoanalysts seem to say, is that we should do in Life as we do in sport. Feel, shout, celebrate, grieve…and even love. Look at you, Servaas: when that final whistle blew, you whooped with joy. Vetfaan, however, emitted a constipated groan. Now – the question is this: why do we allow ourselves to experience sport in so many more colours than we live in every day? Why does Vetfaan feel worse about a three-point difference, than about the killing, the rape and the corruption in the country? And yes, Gertruida may be right: it’s because we stopped thinking about such things. That’s why, my friend, we need to bring back remorse and reality to our lives. If our government expressed these emotions about some of their decisions, we’d be able – at last – to judge them fairly. They’d get my vote the moment they become honest about their feelings.”
Sometimes, Boggel will tell you, he wishes he could write about the things they talk about in his little bar. The conversations don’t always follow a logical line, but – if you listened carefully – you’d find s few nuggets of wisdom hidden in the musings of his patrons.
But – he says – he won’t bother putting these wisdoms to paper. People won’t read them, he says, and if they do, they’d most probably reject them as idealistic and even romantic. And, as we all know, Life is too real for fantasy.
Ask any Lion supporter if you don’t believe him.,..
Selecting a cover for the book on Rolbos wasn’t easy. How do you capture the poignant but sometimes outrageous escapades of the group at the bar in Boggel’s Place? The cover had to say something about isolation and the atmosphere of the stories. Here are a few examples:
But no, that didn’t do it. It had to be more human, more humane, say something about the town.
Too desolate, run down. Maybe something more romantic?
Nice…but still not enough character. So here’s the one that made it to the cover. It’s a lovely image, kindly provided by my most efficient publisher, and it says it all…
“Those Canadians,” Vetfaan said after the third peach brandy, “are a crazy lot. Imagine doing something like this in South Africa?”
“Shooting intruders? We do that all the time. Even civilians do it, but then they somethimes have to do a bit of jail-time afterwards.”
Vetfaan glares at Kleinpiet for a second. The ignorance! The backwardness! Surely Kleinpiet, like himself, replaces the batteries in his transistor radio from time to time? Why, one must keep up with the world – and the weather.
On the other hand, he thinks, listening to the radio once a week – or even a month – is more than enough. The circumstances surrounding Nkandla and the Arms deal have not changed in years – and neither has the weather. Maybe he shouldn’t be so hard on his friend.
“No man. I’m talking about that Vickers guy in Ottawa. At least you realised that, I know, but my point is not the shooting. It’s the rest. I can’t understand that.”
Even Gertruida – who knows everything – looks up in surprise. What is Vetfaan going on about? The news of the tragic events in Ottawa has dominated their conversations ever since Oscar’s incarceration – a welcome relief from an upsetting bit of history. Welcome? She shakes her head. No, that’s the wrong word. Nobody welcomes the news of terrorism, even if it happens on the other side of the Atlantic.
“I’m not sure what you’re getting at, Vetfaan.” With her brow knitted in an admonishing scowl, Gertruida uses her lecture tone. “That man, Kevin Vickers, is a national hero in Canada. He prevented a disaster by remaining calm, doing his duty and protecting their Prime Minister.” She turns to Servaas, who is trying to order another beer from Boggel. “Vickers is almost as old as you are, Servaas. what would you have done?”
“Um…let me see.You mean: there I am, an unknown man brandishes a gun and I have to stop him? Gee, I don’t know.” He pulls at one of the long hairs protruding from his left ear. “Well, I’d consider what would happen afterwards. First of all, the police will confiscate my gun and my licence, telling me I can never own a firearm again. Then they’ll arrest me for disturbing the peace, reckless handling of a gun in a public place, discharging the same at somebody I assumed was an intruder – but had no proof of the man’s intent, inciting racial unrest, and – of course – manslaughter, culpable homicide or murder…or any combination of the above. Consider, too, that I might have missed and hit one of the statues in the building – then they would have slapped a charge of the malicious damaging of public property on me as well.” The hair releases it’s hold on the ear, allowing Servaas to inspect it closely. At length, he concludes: “It’s not a trick question, is it? I would have run away as fast as my legs can carry me. I don’t need trouble at this stage of my life.”
Vetfaan rolls his eyes and sighs. “I’m not talking about the shooting, man! In Johannesburg they discharge guns at traffic lights just for the fun. Anybody can pull a trigger. What I’m talking about is, ” and here he waits a dramatic moment, “the gold!”
A stunned silence follows the silence.
“What gold?” The group’s question sounds like a well-rehearsed chorus.
“That thing the man carries around all day. What do you call it? That club on his shoulder?”
“It is called a mace, Vetfaan. It’s a ceremonial staff that symbolises authority.” Warming to the subject, Gertruida tells them that – originally – a mace was a club with a heavy head, used to bludgeon the enemy. “The Canadian mace looks very much like the British one, with the head consisting of four panels: the Arms of Canada, the rose of England, the harp of Ireland and the thistle of Scotland.”
“Well,” Vetfaan says with a satisfied grin – Gertruida actually strengthened his case. “It has a lot of gold in it. Can you imagine what it is worth? Must be thousands, even more.”
Kleinpiet still has a confused look. “What’s your point, Vetfaan?”
“Don’t you get it? The Canadians entrust that…mace…to a mere sergeant! It’s unthinkable! We’d never be so irresponsible in South Africa, Just stop to think about it: scrap metal is a burgeoning enterprise in our country. Cable theft halts trains and stops Johannesburg from getting water. And let me remind you: we’re talking about copper here. Not gold. No, my friends, a thing like that should be the responsibility of a general or kept locked up in a safe. If you walked down a street with that thing on your shoulder, you can be sure it’ll be melted down before the sun sets.”
Gertruida had to explain the system to Vetfaan, who finally understood more about the rank of Sergeant-at-Arms when he finished his eighth peach brandy.
“In Rolbos we’ll call him a General-at-Arms,” he concluded, an awed expression replacing the cynical smile, “and we would have bought that man a Bell’s. Goodness me, what a man! Gertruida, you have to write to that Prime Minister and tell him to promote that sergeant. I think he deserves it.”
In the end they decided – due to the protracted postal strike in the country – that such a letter won’t even reach Pofadder. So, if you walked in to Boggel’s Place over the weekend, you’ll see a photograph of Kevin Vickers on the shelf behind the till. Precilla has drawn four stars on the man’s shoulder. Over here, they insist on talking about General Vickers. Even Gertruida says it’s only fair.
“Of all the subjects to talk about, you may choose anything…except religion. Of that you shall not speak. It is the modern-day apple in Paradise. Unless, of course, you want to go overboard and talk about racism – then you venture into really dangerous territory.”
The group in the bar has been discussing the events in Ottawa and the possible connection with ISIS, after Gertruida explained the issues in the Middle East. Servaas said something about the danger of a Jihad, prompting Oudoom to caution against prejudice.
“Look,” Oudoom says, “religion is about many things. We can talk about the creation of the universe – and the world – and marvel at the Creator. Or we can talk about the directives – in all religions – about love and tolerance. Most religions – the exception I know of is the way the Aztecs thought about time – accept that the world has a beginning and an end. And all religious teachings say something about Life after Death. Those communalities are enough for me. I’d like to accept that and then to stop thinking about the differences. Surely the concept of God is an universal one – something that calls us all to be more circumspect in our denouncement of ‘other’ religions?”
“Ja, Oudoom, that might be true. But what about terrorists acting in the name of faith?”
“That’s the oldest story ever told, Servaas. Go back in history: more wars were fought in the name of religion than anything else. The land disputes and greed of kings and rulers pale into insignificance once you add religion. Since Biblical times this hasn’t stopped. Joshua invaded Canaan. The Israelites fought the non-believers. The Muslim conquests in the 7th and 8th century were followed by the Christian Crusades. Today we have similar situations in Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Nigeria…and now in Canada.
“The question, of course, is whether we must condemn the religion…or the people. My take is that people use religion to justify their means. Faith, my friends, has become a shield to hide behind when you promote certain ideals.”
Gertruida nods -yes, she knew all this – but still she frowns. “What I don’t understand, is why religion – which ostensibly preaches love and tolerance – reverts to violence? And if terrorism isn’t in line with the ideology of religion, why do people shoot at soldiers standing guard at the memorial for the Unknown Soldier?”
“Let me tell you, Gertruida, that the most dangerous thing in this world, is faith. Once you start believing everything that is preached from the pulpit, you must remember that there is a human element to such sermons. Remember how some churches justified Apartheid? And how they led a whole country astray – for purely political goals? No, we must not jump on the bandwagon and condemn all people who follow other religions. It’s not about Muslims or Christians or Shiites or Sunnis. It’s about the rape of faith, the corruption of an age-old message to live and let live. And that, my friends, has been the polarising factor in our world since the dawn of time.”
“But why then attack innocent bystanders – or wage war in Syria?”
“Money, Servaas, and power. There will always be people who are suppressed by others in the name of capitalism or politics. We live in a world where differences in ethnicity and status are defined and accentuated by financial factors. The person who controls the purse, is the boss. So you take people who have nothing to lose, give them the blessing of their faith, and what happens? They believe a martyr’s death is the key to salvation. The’ll wage your war for you and you end up with the spoils. Do you think any religious war has ever benefitted the poor? Of course not! The poor remained poor, but the new emperor or king – or whatever you call the leader – he’s the one who ends up sipping the champagne.”
“I’ve never understood war.” Vetfaan remembers his days in the army. “How do you convince somebody of your ideology by killing people? I mean: is it right for the side that kills the most, to come out tops? Will a thousand dead bodies convince a million live ones that the aggressor was right all along? It doesn’t make sense.”
“If I understand you right, Oudoom, you’re saying the real enemy isn’t religion, but the people who corrupt the message of faith? That the head of the snake is the problem, not the rest of the body?”
Oudoom smiles at this. Yes…ever since the Garden of Eden it has been like this. Did not the snake speak to Adam and Eve…with it’s head? And does not a snake kill with it’s fangs and not it’s body? Yes, somewhere in the world the head of the snake is hiding while we insist on being horrified by the body we can see.
“There’s the myth of Typhon, of course.” Gertruida switches to her lecture voice. “Typhon was a snake-like creature in Greek mythology – the enemy of the Greek deities. Zeus didn’t like it very much, conquered the monster, and confined it beneath the ground. Typhon rumbled and roared his displeasure, causing volcanoes to erupt. Since then – according to mythology – Typhon is responsible for the fire and lava that erupt from mountains.” She pauses, allowing the story to sink in. “There’s a lesson in that myth: even if you drive such a creature underground, it won’t go away. Instead, it’ll cause untold misery by erupting a volcano when you least expect it – killing innocent men and women in the process.”
Oudoom sighs. “There’s no real answer to this. Religion is the road to salvation, but it also holds the seeds of destruction. The only thing any individual can do, is to be critical about his or her belief. Like St James said: your actions must tell the world what you believe in. Let’s pray that those guys with the guns and the bombs think about this before they put on their balaclavas next time…”