“Thank you for seeing me, Mister Blum.” His handshake is firm, despite the Parkinsons. Deep into his eighties, the old man still has the clear mind of a lawyer as he gazes at Gertruida with obvious curiosity.
“That’s okay…eh…Gertruida, is it? I have lots of time. Hate bridge and the Bingo is terrible. Can’t play my music too loudly. I’ve got a good mind to take them up on that at the next meeting.” He smiles apologetically. “That’s not why you’re here, is it? Now tell me what I can do for you.”
This retirement village, Gertruida decides, is a surprise. She didn’t expect to see such a development in Keimoes, about 40 km from Upington. Although she likes the town with it’s mountain and the surrounding Kalahari, she expected the retirement village to be a rather austere place. The little houses and green gardens proved her wrong.
Mister Blum gestures to the fold-up chair next to the bench under the tree and waits for her to sit down first. Gertruida smiles: a real old-school gentleman!!
“It’s about your daughter, Annatjie…”
“Oh. Yes. Well.” Clearly gathering his thoughts, the old man resettles his kippah on the bald spot. “My daughter…”
“She needs help, Mister Blum. I’ve been seeing her for the last few weeks, and she seems so lost…”
“Okay. Let’s get down to brass tacks, Gertruida. My daughter is…disturbed. In the worst way. You see, she fell in love with a young man, many years ago…”
“I know, Mister Blum. We talked a lot: about your past as well. She’s also told me all about Hendrik Meintjies.”
Mister Blum hides his surprise well, but Gertruida sees the momentary widening of his eyes. “Oh. Then you know about his father?”
“Only that he opposed the relationship between the two young people. And he died shortly after his son’s funeral.”
“Yes. That was part of it. Stubborn Afrikaner, he was. Very. Came to see me after they buried Hendrik. I was surprised, to say the least. Asked me to draw up a will, making Annatjie the sole heir to their farm. That knocked me out, I can tell you. Thought he’d change his mind. Anyway, so I had it typed and signed, just like he demanded, while he waited there. Paid with cash and left. The next thing I hear, is that he rolled the car and died.”
A pretty young nurse approached them in the meantime, carrying a tray with a glass of water and some pills. Tight uniform, brilliant smile. Nametag reads ‘Lucy Kruiper’.
“Time for your tablets, Oom Blum.” She smiles fondly at her favourite patient. He sighs theatrically, pats her bottom and takes the medicine.
“Hate the stuff.” Washing the pills down with a mouthful of water, he coughs. “But Lucy is nice, don’t you think? I’ll wait for her to grow up and then ask her for a date. Good idea, no?”
They share polite laughter, but Gertruida sees the way the old man’s eyes follow the shapely figure as she walks away. The body might wither away, but on the mind’s stage, the dancer will still do pirouettes, she thinks.
“About Annatjie?” She has to smile at the way he snaps back to reality.
“Yes. Annatjie. Well, when the news of Hendrik’s…accident…came, she lost it. Like in completely. Oh, I know they talked about marriage and all that, but they were so young? And she being a Jewess, him being in the NG Kerk; his father the Broederbonder…it all added up to a stack of problems. Me? I didn’t mind. I knew what it was like to be deprived of love and shunted from bow to stern. If she could be happy with this boy – well, I wouldn’t stop it. That’s how I felt. But…I thought the year of army would do them both the world of good. Give them time to think, you know?
“So I promised my blessing on his return. Only…I never even gave the idea that he might die, a second thought. It happened to other kids, you understand. Had I known…” He allows the sentence to hang.
“Then the news came. Hendrik was killed. Annatjie withdrew into herself completely. Wouldn’t eat or drink. I had her hospitalised after five days – she was so weak. They fed her with a tube – under sedation. And when she was strong enough, she told me she couldn’t go on. She cried such a lot…
“Eventually I told her about the farm and that Oom Meintjies is dead. She laughed at that. An ugly, witch’s laugh. Said Oom Meintjies could rot in hell. What about the farm, I asked? She didn’t answer. Not then. And then Mevrou Meintjies visited her in hospital and that was that. She left the next day and stayed on the farm ever since. I visited her in the beginning, but she became more and more aggressive. She blamed God, the Communists, the terrorists, the country. Told me I had old-fashioned ideas about humanity and that I had been wrong to support the struggle against Apartheid. Said I had helped kill Hendrik. She said a lot of things that hurt me a lot. And then she told me to never come back. Never. And I didn’t.”
Mister Blum’s eyes moistened over while he spoke. Gertruida realises how painful the episode must have been and how difficult it must be to talk about it. She tells the old man so.
“Ag, I’m just an old man with a head full of memories and a body that’s slowly dying. There are regrets. Always the regrets. But, oy vey, what is an old man to do?” He brightens a bit. “I’m writing a book, you know? About my life and times. Doing a lot of research. Love the Internet – it’s such a valuable aid.”
“You’re doing exactly what Annatjie’s doing.” Gertruida keeps her voice kind.
“What? She writing a book, too?’
“No Mister Blum. You’re simply managing your life in denial. She’s hiding on a farm. You’re hiding between pages. Same thing.”
The old lawyer closes his eyes. A trembling hand comes to rest on his chest. “Go away, Gertruida. You’re trying to do good, I understand that. But you can’t possibly understand the magnitude of this thing. First my first parents. Then my second parents. Then the third set of parents. Then Miriam, my wife. Then Anna. My life spanned two wars. It is difficult to say which caused the most damage. Go home, Gertruida. Let me die in peace…”
(To be continued…)