It’d be just a joke, she said. A farce. Just a bit of fun. And it would have been, if it weren’t for the ants. And now, topping the make-shift scarecrow, it serves as a reminder of how wrong things turned out to be. Nothing in this world was perfect, Gertruida said. The seeds of evil lurk in all good things – like the ants – and there’s nothing one can do about it. Like in the New Year, it’d be in the unexpected that the true character of society will be revealed.
It did, however, seem like a good idea at the time. Since New Year’s day fell on a Thursday, the group in Boggel’s Place couldn’t resist contemplating a long weekend of parties. Thursday would host the usual celebrations after New Year’s Eve. Traditionally, this was a low-key affair with lots of headache powders and the bowl of liver pills doing duty next to the cash register.
On Friday they were up to speed again, complete with the singing of Kaapse Klopse songs. They had a real minstrel parade down Voortrekker Weg, complete with costumes and lots of laugther. Servaas won the first prize for his rendition of Daar kom die Alibama , winning the bottle of premium peach brandy in the process.
Perhaps that was the reason for the Crystal Ball. Peach brandy (as we all know) increases the thinking capacity of the human brain and has always been a major factor in the Rolbossers tendency to explore the unthinkable. (By the way – Boggel says that’s why parliament is such a useless institution. If they replaced the water carafes with real Orange River Peach Brandy, they’d surprise the country with their inventiveness). After Servaas shared his prize with the townsfolk, they naturally had to sit down to contemplate Saturday’s party. Usually, Rolbos used the 3rd of January as a day to allow the overladen livers to recover a bit, so Gertruida’s suggestion of a dance was met with universal approval. Some vigorous exercise, she said, would burn off the excess of calories they had ingested over the festive season.
Music? Gertruida’s collection of the Klipwerf Orkes. Servaas’s gramophone. No problem. Then…
“We should have a crystal ball. You know, like they have in the Oasis Casino? Then we can call it our Crystal Ball – like in a dance, understand?”
“You mean a mirror ball, Vetfaan?”
“Whatever. But…a Crystal Ball sounds so much more sophisticated, don’t you agree, Gertruida?”
The manufacture of the mirror ball proved to be a problem until Boggel suggested they all go home to bring back any broken or cracked mirrors. The ball almost stumped them. With no soccer or beach balls around, it was Vetfaan who saved the day by remembering a rugby ball in the cupboard where he stored things he couldn’t throw away. Happy memories of the drop kick that won the game against Prieska, many years ago. His lucky ball, he said, but they could borrow it for a night. Kleinpiet convinced Sammie to open his shop so they can buy some glue.
The Crystal Ball was born on Boggel’s counter. No matter that it wasn’t perfect. The bits of mirror were stuck to the oblong ball with so much enthusiasm that the final result looked more like a crashed lunar module – but it was, they all agreed, the best mirror ball ever produced in Rolbos.
“Are we just going to hang it from a rafter? That simply won’t do. If it’s not turning, people will think we’re backward.” Who the ‘people’ were that Vetfaan referred to, didn’t matter. The point was taken up in a heated discussion. Yes, they agreed, a stationary ball wouldn’t be right. It had to turn.
And so Kleinpiet fashioned a crank with an old coat hanger. When he climbed on to a chair – which the townsfolk had placed on a table – he found a very handy hole in the rafter above the counter. This was, they said sagely, a sign that they were on the right path. The wire went through the hole, the ball attached to the bottom, and the cranky bit begged for attention above the rafter.
Gertruida’s Crystal Ball was set to be a huge success.
When they assembled in their Sunday best on Saturday night, they all stood staring at their magnificent mirror ball, which hung patiently below the rafter, waiting to be turned around and around.
“We’ll draw straws. The men will take turns in turning the crank – our dresses won’t allow us up there.” Gertruida had seen the way Servaas eyed Precilla’s miniskirt and decided to defuse the situation there and then. “A stint up there will last ten minutes or two rounds of drinks, depending on which finishes first.”
Servaas drew the first short straw and had to be helped to the perch on to of the rafter. Then, turning the crank ever so slowly, the townsfolk gasped as the bits of mirror threw rays of light all over the bar. It was surely the most beautiful thing they had ever seen. With the sun setting on the horizon, the room was filled with orange and red and yellow streaks of light, creating a magnificent display.
Kleinpiet, too, did an admirable job up there. Then it was Vetfaan’s turn…
We all know Vetfaan.
He’s a huge man.
A bulky man.
He had just climbed up to the rafter and was reaching for the crank, when the rafter gave a monstrous groan, sagged…and snapped…
It’s not a good idea to fall from that height into a makeshift mirror ball. A careful inspection of the rafter would have revealed the many tunnels the termites had made there over the years, but that they only realised when they removed the heavy piece of wood from Vetfaan’s groaning bulk.
The damage to the ball was surprisingly minimal. Sammie was rather proud of this, saying he only sells the best quality products in his shop. The same could not be said for Vetfaan. Precilla had to fetch her first-aid kit to patch him up with all the Band-aids she had.
This minor hiccup didn’t derail the Crystal Ball, however. As soon as Vetfaan’s comments were sufficiently civilised again, they asked Oudoom to fetch his hunting torch. The ball was placed on the table in the middle of the room and then everybody took turns to walk around it slowly while aiming the beam at their wonderful mirror ball.
On Sunday, after Oudoom’s stirring sermon on pride and ambition (a fitting New Year’s message about keeping your feet on the ground and your eyes on Heaven), the townsfolk retired to Boggel’s Place for a post mortem on the Crystal Ball. Vetfaan didn’t want his ball back, saying he had no fond memories of it any more. Kleinpiet had brought an old fence post to reinforce the broken rafter. (It’s surprising how much the man can do with a piece of wood and a sturdy length of wire – just like he did with the crank). Gertruida stacked her Klipwerf records in a neat pile and Servaas packed up his gramophone. Business was almost back to normal.
The fate of the ball caused a debate. No, they agreed, it’d be better if they didn’t use it again. Vetfaan assured them he’d boycott such an event, anyway. Then Kleinpiet suggested that he could use it as a head for the scarecrow in his vegetable patch.
Gertruida says that scarecrow is the most effective scarecrow in the world. The way the effigy sways in the wind – and with the movement of the sun – the head is constantly causing a display of reflected light rays that dance across the cabbages and pumpkins. Not a single rabbit or bird seems to be brave enough to approach this phenomenon during daytime. At night, Kleinpiet often hangs a lantern nearby, providing around-the-clock protection for his garden.
Gertruida suggested they patent the design, but Vetfaan is set against it. Mirror-headed scarecrows? Nah…not enough Band-aids in the whole of the Northern Cape…