The events leading up to Dawid Loper’s visit to Vetfaan must be seen as one of those strange, inexplicable situations we all experience from time to time. If one tried to arrange these happenings in a logical fashion, it all seems to sound so farfetched and illogical – causing the sceptic to walk away with that superior smile that says one should not be so gullible and stupid: coincidences happen all the time, don’t they?
But in the Kalahari the people have long learnt to keep the doors of scepticism firmly closed. Oh, like Vladimir Nabokov, they retain a sense of humour when it comes to such things, and laugh at Gertruida when she quotes the great author when he writes: “A certain man once lost a diamond cuff-link in the wide blue sea, and twenty years later, on the exact day, a Friday apparently, he was eating a large fish – but there was no diamond inside. That’s what I like about coincidence.” But they also subscribe to Albert Einstein’s famous words: “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” Boggel says both these men grasped the deeper truth behind a coincidence: sometimes Life mixes up laughter and tears to make us realise we will never be able to explain everything. Sometimes, Oudoom says, Boggel has the uncanny and surprising ability to condense complicated issues like Faith into a single sentence.
When Dawid wioke up three mornings ago in his simple hut in the dunes, he watched an eagle flying high overhead. And he felt the tapping in his chest – that strange unease, telling him about somebody who needs help. Who it was, and where, he wasn’t certain at first, but later when he saw the spoor of an eland leading off to the east, the tapping became more intense. He followed those tracks to the rise on the small hill on Vetfaan’s farm, where he immediately understood: this was where he had to be.
Now, just after the group in the bar has fallen silent – he opens the door to Boggel’s Place.
“I heard,” he said, looking at Vetfaan.
In Western society it is considered rude to be eavesdropping. Not so with the Bushman tribes. To survive, you have to gather as much information about your circumstances as possible. Wind, weather, spoor and veld provide clues to where the next meal might be found. That, and what other’s say. A family member might mention the field of tsamma plants in a deserted valley, or talk about a water source a grandfather mentioned a long time ago. Knowledge ensures survival as much in the Kalahari as in the stock exchanges all over the world.
The major difference between the so-called modern world and the Busman? The latter have retained the ability to listen – really listen – to nature, to their surroundings and to other people. The art of shutting up and paying attention was lost when Man invented the telephone – an instrument invented because we needed technology to force others to listen. Of course, poor Mister Bell meant well, but it only made matters worse: the telephone in reality created a platform to mostly broadcast one’s desires. And just when we thought our ego-driven society had reached the bottom rung, along came Facebook. We talk, we want others to see and listen…but it’s generally a one-way street.
The small, yellow people of the Kalahari avoided this downward spiral in communication. They actually use their ears – under all circumstances. Even under the window of Boggel’s Place.
“You were listening at the window?”
Dawid nods – a little shyly, because he knows the strange ways of the white people: they have this obsession with privacy.
“Good, then I won’t have to explain.”
“I felt him, mister Vetfaan, felt him here.” He taps a stubby finger against the creased skin of his chest. “I didn’t know who, but the spoor led to your farm.So…I came.”
“And now, Dawid, do you ‘feel’ Boggel? Please help us, man?”
The Bushman slowly sits down on the floor, resting his head on his hands. The people in the bar remain completely silent while they watch the man as he starts rocking to and fro. At first inaudible, they later hear the monotonous tune he hums. Vetfaan holds a finger to his lips while he watches – he’s seen this before when Dawid helped him find the lost ram.
It seems to take a long time. After the excitement of Mary and Smartryk’s arrival and the terrible realisation that Boggel may be in mortal danger, it is almost impossible to sit quietly while watching the shrivelled old man. But they have to – and they do. Servaas and Oudoom exchange glances: their way of thinking shies away from the mystical and unexplained…yet this may very well be their only hope of finding Boggel again. This, they realise, is not the time to voice their concerns.
Eventually – after what seemed like an eternity – Dawid starts tapping his chest. Slow, deep, thudding taps. His eyes are closed when he starts talking.
“Yes, I feel him. Mister Boggel. He is…far. And I think he is injured. And…he needs help.”
“Where is he, Dawid? Can you help us?”
Again the old man is silent for a few long minutes.
“Yes. We must go.” The tapping stops. He looks up. “Immediately.”
The would-be rescuers assemble everything they need in record time. Blankets, sleeping bags, Precilla’s first-aid kit, tinned food, water and – of course – a solid supply of Cactus Jack. This gets loaded into Vetfaan’s pickup and Sersant Dreyer’s police van. Somehow, they all squeeze into the vehicles and are set to go within an hour.
“Where to, Dawid?”
“”Beyond the dunes, Mister Vetfaan. Near the dry river bed, I know the place. – we call it Zosi Plain.”
Gertruida feels a pang of panic rising in her chest. As the only Rolbosser to understand some of the San language, she knows ‘Zosi’ means ‘those without hooves‘. In other words, dangerous people, like predators. The Bushmen, she knows, associate themselves closely with the animal kingdom, where the eland reigns supreme. And, if a man ‘has no hooves’, it implies that he – unlike the Bushmen – is coupled with hunting animal with paws and nails and canines.
“Tell me about Zosi Plain,” she prompts the old man gently.
“Many summers ago, Miss Gertruida, there were men with guns. Many guns. They were hunting other men. Some of my family got shot there.”
This, Gertruida thinks, must have been during the 1914 Rebellion, when some South Africans refused to fight in WW I. They remembered the Anglo-Boer war, the burnt farms and the 26,000 women and children who died in the concentration camps – and refused to battle alongside their former enemy, the British. Some of the rebels fled to the Kalahari,but were pursued and hunted down before they reached German West Africa – the country we know today as Namibia.
“And what did you see – or feel – about this plain, Dawid?”
Dawid Loper stares at the horizon, where the shimmering heatwaves cause heaven and earth to mix in a hazy line where it is impossible to say where the one ends and the other starts.
“Mister Boggel is weak, Miss Gertruida. He is alone. But he has a Zosi following him. We must hurry.”
Although Vertfaan and Sersant Dreyer have a lot of experience about driving in the deep, loose sand of the Kalahari, their progress is slow. When at last they stop for the night, Dawid tells them they have only gone as far as the hips – his way of estimating halfway. Despite the urgency, the group realises the futility of attempting to cross the dunes at night.
“First thing in the morning,” Vertfaan says, “we’ll be off. According to Dawid, we should be at the plain at about midday. That’s the best we can do.”
Smartryk nods. He’s seen the Kalahari from the air while flying, and realises how dangerous the place is.
“Mary,” he now says, “tomorrow we’ll find your Boggel, don’t you worry.”
And Mary Mitchell, the woman scorned for so long by men and life alike, looks up to the kind eyes of this strange man she’s just met. She’s aware of a weird feeling welling up inside her – a warm, comfortable sensation she can’t define accurately – and finds herself smiling. Here she is, in the middle of nowhere, with somebody she hardly knows. And yet…he’s been there all day, sitting quietly next to her. Just his presence, it seems, made it possible to face the last two days. He doesn’t speak much…but even his silence was enough, made her stronger.
“You’re such a sweet man, Ryk,” she says, choosing to omit the first part of his name. ‘Grief’, she reckons, should not be part of the way she thinks of him. She toys with the name, coming up with ‘Liefryk’, blushes at the silly thought, and looks away. “I really do appreciate…”
“Shhh.” He interrupts her gently by laying a finger on her lips. “Rest now. Tomorrow will be a long day…”