Gertruida says loss is only a perception. You build something up in your mind and when it is taken from you, the mental void is far worse than the physical one. Loss, according to her, stands in greater relationship with disappointment than with grief. Oh, she admits, there are exceptions – like death, for instance. But mostly people experience loss on a rather selfish level.
Vetfaan disagrees, saying the ram that died last year didn’t leave a mental void. His ewes would agree if they could talk, according to him. Kleinpiet joked about this, saying they would have said their ‘Thank ewes‘ – a remark that earned him a less than playful punch on the shoulder.
Still, when Gertruida drove back to Rolbos, she contemplated the dilemma facing her. How could she reunite father and daughter? Both of them, she realised, had built up walls of denial around their personal lives. While Mister Blum’s history made it easier to understand his attitude, Annatjie tried to keep Hennie alive by not opening his last letter. It was as illogical as it was senseless: if nothing changed, they’d both die unhappy people. What to do?
When she talked to Boggel about it, the bent little barman came up with a plan. Not a good one, mind you, but one with some potential. It was either that – or leaving things the way they were.
Annatjie Blum watches from behind the chintz curtains as the little convoy of vehicles makes its way over the disused track to her house. Four…no, five…of them. What on earth…? She shuffles back to her chair, sits down and lets out a protracted sigh. Please, please, no people. I simply can’t face people…
Gertruida’s visits have made her come out of her shell a little bit. She actually started enjoying the company of this understanding woman. But not this! The last time she saw such a convoy, was when the funeral procession drove out of town. Hennie’s funeral. She had watched from behind the curtains in her bedroom because of the Meintjies’s. They had rejected her, rejected her family. Rejected what the Blums stood for. The conservative Afrikaners versus the liberal Jews. Their attitude had been so unyielding that she didn’t even dare to attend the funeral of the young man she loved so much.
These memories fill her mind when Gertruida knocks timidly on her front door. As if seeking reassurance, Annatjie holds the box with Hennie’s letters to her chest.
One by one, the Rolbossers file into her lounge, ending up in a semicircle around her. Gertruida (for once) glances over at Boggel, uncertainty written all over her face. Boggel shrugs – they’ve come this far, they might as well…
Annatjie sits quietly in her chair, clutching the letters. Her eyes are clouded over, her expression distant. She’s taken refuge behind her walls; that much is clear to everybody. Gertruida nudges Servaas in the back. Like they agreed, he will be the first to speak.
“Annatjie, many years ago, I met a lovely young lady called Siena...” He tells the whole story, from their meeting to the day he held her hand and she breathed her last. (1)
Then it’s Precilla’s turn to dig up the past with her account of Charles’s letter. In contrast to Servaas, she ends up crying so much that she can hardly finish the story.
Gertruida struggles to tell Annatjie about Ferdinand, gratefully accepting the handkerchief Kleinpiet offers. Vetfaan, too, finds it difficult to get through the history of the beautiful girl with the strong arms and can’t help sniffing loudly when he gets to the bit about the landmine. And, like they discussed beforehand, Boggel concludes with the loss he still feels so acutely for the love and companionship of Mary Mitchell.
They fall silent after that, remembering the pain of the past. Annatjie hasn’t responded much except to look up once or twice. No tears. Not even a nod here or there. Silent, stony-faced abstraction.
“You see, Annatjie, Love and Loss are two inseparable Siamese twins. If you dare to love, you must be brave enough to face to consequences.” She gets a wary look from the shrivelled woman in the chair. “Oh, Hollywood paints such a different picture, of course. They leave the story where the boy and the girl wander off on a pristine beach while the sun sets in a spectacular array of colours. That’s nice, but it isn’t Life. Hollywood wants to tell us that Love represents two individuals thinking with one mind – and that’s impossible. Tomorrow the boy will still think boy thoughts, and the girl won’t give up on her girly mindset. either. And over and above that: couples separate, people die, things change. That sunset-scene only lasts for so long, then reality kicks in.”
Annatjie looks up, still clutching the box with letters. “I saved his letters. They’re all here.”
“And that’s a good thing, Annatjie. Remembering beauty is the colour we add to the dreary canvas we live on. Sometimes it’s the only colour. But imagine a painting done in only one colour? You’d end up with no art at all, won’t you? Simply a red or a yellow background makes no picture. It’s the contrast between the different colours that creates the image. And that’s Life. A bit of blue, a bit of green, a bit of black – they’re all necessary to make you see the whole picture.”
By now, Gertruida is doubtful that they are getting through to the lonely woman with her only precious thing – the box of letters.
“They died, you know? John Denver, Jim Reeves…”
“Oh shush! Of course they did. They’re dead!” Servaas can’t stand this any longer. Pussyfooting around this woman’s grief is all good and well, but surely she can’t isolate herself like this forever? And…Gertruida is using metaphors even he finds difficult to follow – somebody has to be practical here. Say it like it is – that’s always been his motto. “Dead. Ceased to be. Gone. We may remember them, but we can’t escape the fact that everybody dies at some time. Death is as much part of living as breathing is. Can’t you understand that? And love? It doesn’t have to die. It can be eternal. The question you have to answer, young lady, is whether you think Hennie is proud of you? Would he applaud you becoming a decrepit old woman, or would he cheer you on to live a full and happy life? If he loved you so dearly, would he want you to hide behind your grief – all your life? Or…would it make him happy to see you happy?”
Servaas ignores the stern look he gets from Gertruida. He’s had enough. Damn it! Annatjie has to snap out of it!
“Love?” Annatjie’s eyes are suddenly clear. “His love?”
“Yes, my dear. It’s about his love as well, not only yours. It’s about how you honour his memory. It’s about celebrating the time you had together, not the time apart.”
“Then….then I’v wasted all this time?”
“Yes. And no. We all grieve in different ways. I grieved for Siena – and I still do. But every time I walk into Boggel’s Place, I can see her smile. She’d want me to be happy. When I’m down, I know she’s there, encouraging me. When life treats me harshly, Siena makes me realise that even sadness and anger are trivial when compared to what we had. And that, Annatjie, is what you have to realise. True Love outlasts Life, every time. And Love isn’t a sad thing. It rejoices in Life. You should, too…”
“Yes, Annatjie. It’s time to open the gates. And we’re here to help you.”
Gertruida shakes her head. Servaas can be such a pain in the neck! And then, sometimes, his bull-headed full frontal approach – flying straight in the face of soft-spoken psychology – is rewarded with seemingly impossible success. She whispers a soft ‘Well done!’ as she hears Precilla scurrying about in the kitchen to brew up some tea. It’s going to be a long afternoon…
(1) Read it in Rolbos, the book.