The Ghosts of Halcyon Days

Sand-in-Hourglass“I sometimes wish I could go back in time and start all over again.” Kleinpiet has been complaining about his tax return ever since this morning. It turns out he owes the Revenue Service the tidy sum of R752.78, which – he says – could have bought a week’s peach brandy for all of them. Vetfaan scoffed at this, telling him he must take into account that the Rand has been steadily spiralling towards the Zimbabwean Dollar’s worth. This didn’t improve Kleinpiet’s mood.

“I should have included my travelling expenses. I mean, if I don’t drive into town to visit Boggel’s Place every day, I wouldn’t know what you guys say about the drought. As a farmer, such information is vital – and should be tax-deductible. Then the taxman would have owed me, not the other way round.”

“It’s always so easy to have 20/20 vision in retrospect, Kleinpiet.” Gertruida lays a comforting hand on his shoulder. “But we live life on a straight time-line. Going back isn’t an option – unless you happen to be a politician. Those guys are taking us back to the Bronze Age at a tremendous speed.”

“Well, if I could have started over, I’d have changed my surname to Mahlangu, bought a sunbed and claimed the Northern Cape as ancestral ground.” Boggel says the most absurd things every now and then. “Imagine suing the diamond companies for all the diamonds they stole from my land over the years. And now they plan on stealing my gas and oil as well.” He scowls angrily at the thought. “Boy! I’d be a rich man!”

“Ag, come on, Boggel! You know that’s impossible. You’d have to prove your grandfather lived here.” Vetfaan doesn’t want to remind Boggel about him being an orphan, but the point has to be made. “You’d be better off if Boggel Mahlangu got involved in a BEE deal. Then you’d be able to sit back and watch the money roll in. It’s far easier than a land claim, anyway. ”

“Nah. If Boggel could start over, I think he should become a politician. Come to think of it: all barmen are politicians – they always agree with everything said to them.  And then they do what they want, anyway. And we all know how they line their pockets.” Realising what he just said, he quickly adds: “I’m talking about politicians, not honest barmen.” Servaas smiles as he gets a friendly nod from Boggel. No offence taken.

“There’s something even better, Vetfaan.” As usual, Gertruida simply has to have the final word. “You should have become a building contractor. Especially in Natal. The chaps involved with Nkandla cleaned out the Reserve Bank, that’s for sure.”

To her surprise, Servaas trumps her. “A negotiator in the Arms Deal. That’s what he should have done. We’d have had a bar in Rolbos that had a fountain of beer and a cellar full of peach brandy.”

Yes, they all agree, anything to do with government would have made Boggel a rich man, but that wouldn’t have helped Kleinpiet at all. The Revenue Service is arguably the only department in the government that deserves the ‘Service’ tag. They’re responsible that the hardworking few in the country can support the masses of unemployed, the sick, the aged and the many single-parent teenagers.

“But,” Boggel holds up a hand for silence, “one must consider what has happened in the past ten years or so, before wishing you had known what would have happened. If somebody told me back then…” And here he ticks down an outstretched finger with every point. “…that we’d have a failing economy, rampant crime, unprecedented number of murders, an AIDS epidemic, a president with multiple wives, Satanism accepted as a religion and a national icon in jail for murder while the president is suspected of massive fraud…”

“Yes, Boggel? What would you have done?”

“I’d find a quiet little place, far from the maddening crowd. I’d look for a community where I can laugh and be happy. I’d consider opening a small bar, where I can listen to people swapping stories all day. And I’ll tell Kleinpiet to remember to add his travelling expenses when he does his income tax return…”

Kleinpiet manages a lopsided grin. “Ja, Boggel, in your dreams, my friend…in your dreams…”

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