“Life,” Getruida says to nobody in particular, “is the eternal search through the past. It’s the only way to find your destiny.”
When she says something like this – and she’s quite famous for such thoughts – the patrons at the bar will fall silent or start talking about the drought. Trying to follow the creative meanderings of Gertruida’s formidable mind is like swimming in molasses – the more you try, the less you progress. Better then, to avoid the subject and remain on solid ground.
Gertruida’s statement follows one of her sleepless nights, in which she was forced to look back at her life in a strange and peculiar way…
The knock at her door came after midnight, long after the fire in her hearth had burnt itself to ashes. The single candle on the coffee table still supported a spluttering little flame, the short wick drifting about in the last bit of molten wax. She’d been listening to one of her favourite artists of all time – Paul Anka – whose velvety voice and sad songs always carried her back to her youth. He wrote so many hits, including Frank Sinatra’s My way, Tom Jones’s She’s a Lady and the theme from The Longest Day, that it was difficult to silence the old record player. She simply relaxed and allowed the music to soothe her troubled mind.
And indeed, troubled she was. It had been a difficult year. A harsh year. A year filled with challenges and more disappointments than successes. Maybe it’s true to say this is typical of all years for all people; but like it happens with all people, Gertruida needed to revisit these events and situations from time to time. She believed – and still does – that such memories should not be buried amongst the chaos of everyday life, but that one should evaluate them carefully, be brutally honest and critically analytical before filing them away under the heading of ‘History’.
Nobody knocks on doors after midnight in Rolbos.
Gertruida got up carefully and moved the chintz curtain aside to peek at her porch. An older woman stood there, wearing a long, black dress and an old-fashioned kappie. It had been years and years since last Gertruida had seen such a bonnet and she stood riveted to the spot for a long minute. Who…? Why…? The questions flooded her mind.
“Are you going to stand there, gaping at me, all night? Open the door, woman!” The gravelly voice was feminine, indeed, but sounded ancient.
Gertruida turned the key to open the door.Even the dim light from the candle couldn’t hide the wrinkles and lines on her visitor’s face.
“Oh, step aside and stop gawking!!” An impatient and withered had pushed Gertruida aside and the old woman swept past her to sit down next to the candle. “And not a word from your clever tongue, young lady. I’ll do the talking tonight.” Seeing the blank expression on Gertruida’s face, the woman softened a little bit. “Oh, and sit down, will you?”
“Who…who are you…?”
The old woman sighed. “I told you to be quiet!” She wagged a stern finger at Gertruida. “But I suppose an introduction is in order.” She sat up a bit straighter. “I am Destiny. You know me well, Gertruida. Oh, we’re not blood-family or anything like that – we are much more closely involved with each other than with mere family ties.”
Gertruida’s hand flew to her mouth. “D-Destiny?”
“Yes, that’s me. And I don’t have time to waste.Places to go, people to see. Understand?” Despite not doing so, Gertruida managed to nod. “I’m here to steer your past. It’s important.”
The old woman – Destiny – relaxed a bit and leant back with a contented sigh.
“You tend to dwell on the impossible, Gertruida. That’s wrong. I have plans for you, but they won’t happen if you keep on drudging up the past. Sure, you had heartaches and failures and disappointments. There was this guy – Ferdinand – a love that ended so suddenly, so tragically, that you still can’t quite get over it. And you long back to your days in the city, where you were an important person and everybody sought your advice. And then, worst of all, you have evenings like these where you sit and ponder the unanswerable questions, all of them starting with ‘What if…?’.
This time, Gertruida’s nod was more convincing.
“Well, to get to the point: those thoughts are as important as they are useless. Yes, be honest in your thinking. Your history is, after all, the sum total of everything that happened to you. But so is your present. Every single thing that occurred in your life, had been extremely important. Not a second was wasted in your journey to the present.”
Destiny furrowed the already-wrinkled brow even more. “But I can’t understand this tendency of people to camp down when they go through a bad patch. Why on earth keep on returning to the broken souvenirs of your past? That, my dear, is such a waste of time.” She made to get up, but Gertruida held up a restraining hand.
“Madam…Destiny…is the past then so negligibly unimportant, even forgettable? Of no significance ?”
Another sigh, longer this time. Impatient. “Oh, you of feeble minds! Didn’t you listen? Your past – so beautifully intricate – had to have multiple elements to form your current state of life. Some of them – admittedly – might have been painful, but that is what pruning is all about, isn’t it? You leave that tree to grow just the way it wants, and your harvest will shrink every year. But cut away the unnecessary bits, and the tree thanks you by bearing more in the following season. You should be doing the same…”
Gertruida shook her head. “It’s not easy…”
“Look,” the old woman said as she got up, “nobody said it would be. Let me put it to you simply: there are two main types of setbacks in your life: some are of your own doing, some not.
“For the first type, you insist on becoming something you weren’t designed to be. You become a hybrid of your own making. That’s when pruning is most important – those situations are life lessons. To guide you to unbecome what you’re not and develop into who you were supposed to be.
“And the second type you have no control over. People die. People walk away. Sometimes they are making their own mistakes but often they’re not. You see, there is an inevitability to Life you have no control over. These events are the fertilizer Life adds to make you grow. To strengthen you. To increase your harvest. You have to work through such times and come out the better for it.”
Gertruida brightened a bit, finally grasping the essence of the visit.
The old woman laughed for the first time. “Yes, my dear. I told you: that’s me.”
“One should welcome a visit by Destiny,” Gertruida remarks as Boggel slides over a new beer. “It helps us to understand Life.”
Vetfaan eyes her critically before staring out of the window. “It’s going to be another harsh year,” he says as he watches a dust devil march down Voortrekker Weg. “Dry and challenging.”
“Ferilizer, Vetfaan, fertilizer.”
It’s true to say that we don’t always hear what others are telling us. Oh, we hear the words, all right, but the message is lost because we don’t understand the context. That’s why Vetfaan turns to Servaas, circling a calloused finger next to his head. Servaas shares a conspirational smile with his friend. Fertilizer? In the Kalahari?
Oh, come on!
For Gertruida, however, a new realisation dawned that night. She woke up refreshed and would have discarded the night’s occurrences as a dream – except for one thing: the kappie Destiny had left on the chair. Like so many things in Life, that was no accident. Destiny has a way of convincing each of us of her presence during our lifetimes. It just takes longer for some…