And then, suddenly, unexpectedly – but still the way it happens every year – Christmas was over. The tinsel and the figurines, even the Star of Bethlehem, looked out of place. Tired, even. The mistletoe above the door of Boggel’s Place, once greeted with so many lewd but understanding smiles, no longer attracted a second (hopeful) glance. There was, once again, place in Life’s proverbial inn for everyday matters.
Vetfaan had been thinking about this when he walked into Boggel’s Place..
“What did you get for Christmas?” He asked during a lull in the conversation.
He got a mixed-up chorus of answers, ranging from peach brandy to a new beer glass.
“No, that’s not what I asked. I asked: What did you GET for Christmas? You know? Up here?” He tapped his head. “And here?” His calloused hand rubbed his chest.
“A hangover? And…heartburn?” Kleinpiet had no idea what Vetfaan was going on about.
“No, I get it!” Servaas brightened. “You mean on a…spiritual…level?”
“Too commercialised,” Gertruida quickly said. “Too many Jingle Bells and Drummer Boys. The spirit of Christmas is alive and well in the shops, but that’s all. I heard there was a queue in Pick ‘n Pay in Upington. Can you believe that? Unheard of! But Oudoom says Pastor Holiface delivered his Christmas sermon to three people: his wife, the janitor and a somewhat weird homeless person.”
“That’s the new reverend in that church where they threw out the organ and replaced it with band? Shew! I thought they attracted so many people?”
“Just goes to show, Servaas. To change people, you need more than a guitar – unless your name is Elvis, then you change the world.”
They all laughed at that, of course, but not because they thought Gertruida had been so funny. No…because they realised how true her words were. Shock, rather than mirth.
“Sooo…why was he weird?” Boggel arched a curious eyebrow, steering the talk in a more relaxed direction.
“Oudoom says that man was already in the building when Holiface opened the doors yesterday morning. But it was Christmas, so he decided not to make a scene. If the man sought shelter there overnight, then it would have been wrong to throw him out. Anyway, the man had such a sad face that he decided to talk to him after the service. However, when he said Amen, the man just got up quietly and left. Holiface actually looked for him afterwards, but couldn’t find him.”
Anybody who knows rural life, knows how seemingly small, insignificant events tend to be subjects of lengthy discussions. It’s no different in the Kalahari. People get tired of talking about the drought and the president’s wives, so it’s not strange that the Weird Man became the subject of speculation. Who was he? Where did he come from? Where is he now? Is he really…homeless?
The ever-romantic Precilla said something about Jesus often being in our midst without us recognising Him. Oudoom scowled at that, turning the concept over in his mind, and decided not to say anything. Yes, The Saviour might be present in an invisible form, but to think of Him as more than a spiritual presence would be absurd. Still, getting into an argument about that – on the day after Christmas – would be unchristianlike, right?
Precilla’s remark did spark a discussion, though. What if (Servaas asked) Jesus returned to the earth? “To check up on things a bit, understand? Sort of like a pre-Rapture inventory before the real Apocalypse. I bet He wouldn’t be impressed…”
He wanted to go on, but this time Oudoom did break his silence to admonish his head elder. He was saying something about blasphemy when Sersant Dreyer walked in with the troubled look he got when there was work to do.
“There’s been an accident near Grootdrink. An unidentified male was killed while he was hiking. A lorry ran over him. I just had a call from Upington – said it appeared to be a homeless person. Still, they wanted to know if anybody from Rolbos was missing.”
One can assume that the shocked silence following his remark might have puzzled Dreyer.
“Dead? He’s dead?”
“That’s what they said, Precilla.”
They all thought it but didn’t dare say it.
“Well, that settles it. Couldn’t have been Him.” Servaas sounded much more confident than he was.
Dreyer frowned. “Who…?”
“Ag, you won’t understand.”
Although Vetfaan then said something about the drought – a subject everybody suddenly seemed very keen about – the atmosphere in Boggel’s Place remained subdued. It was as if an inexplicable sadness settled amongst them – a melancholic post-Christmas feeling for a homeless man they didn’t even know.
Should one have asked Gertruida, she would have explained that it was the way of the world: we celebrate things we don’t understand simply to have a good time. The mad shopping, the wild parties and the too-often repeated (and therefore almost meaningless) wishes – according to her – aren’t really what Christmas is all about. Christmas, she would have reminded them, should be the culmination of a year-long quest for kindness and humility – and not just a single day dedicated to frivolous partying. And, she could add, while Christmas represents the end of another year’s struggle to achieve these goals, it also signifies the beginning of the next period of effort to do the same.
And…she could have told the group at the counter that Jesus – during His time on earth – also didn’t have a fixed address.
But we all know Gertruida: she often retreats behind the walls of her immense intelligence, which is why she doesn’t always say everything that crops up there.
She sat there in her corner, listening to the rest talking about their hopes for a better season in 2015, and thought about how effectively the commercial world hijacked Christmas. It’s as if we took Christ out of Christmas and then drove over His legacy with our eighteen-wheel desire for a few superficial laughs.
The homeless man? Could have been anybody, really.
He is, however, no longer with us.
Just like Christmas…