“This tree,” Vetfaan says as he slides the photograph over the counter, “is special. It didn’t give up.”
Boggel studies the picture. He has seen it before – several times. When Vetfaan slips into one of his pensive moods, he sometimes produces the photo. It seems to give him strength to overcome his depression – a rare but not unknown occurrence
“It’s the one in Caprivi, isn’t it?”
“Yep. Grows there in the barren soil, amidst the rocks where everything else struggles to survive.”
“That’s where the ambush was.” Boggel doesn’t have to ask, he knows the story.
Vetfaan closes his eyes deliberately, as if he wants to kill the picture in his mind. He doesn’t succeed, of course. Not now.
Some moments in time get burned so deeply into the circuitry of the brain, they remain sharp and fresh for a lifetime. Nothing – not time nor age – will spontaneously fade those moments away to insignificant grey graphics; especially if the horror of those moments are nurtured by clinging to them. That’s the trick, of course: the ability to let go. It is necessary to replace the memory with the reality of the present. Unlike the yellowing photographs in an old album. these pictures retain colour, focus and even sound as long as they are allowed to torment by revisiting them. Even now, the crash of gunfire and exploding grenades reverberate in Vetfaan’s ears.
“Why did you take that picture, Vetfaan? Surely you need to forget those days,”
When Vetfaan opens his eyes, Boggel notices the incredible sadness in them.
“I went back, Boggel, many years later.” Boggel knows this, too, but like the good barman he is, he listens intently. “To see. To remember. To forget.” Vetfaan sighs heavily. “I wanted to see if the blood had washed away in the meantime. And you know? No matter how hard I tried not to see it, there was blood everywhere. Gunfire. Screams.
“So I took the photo. See that tree? The rocks didn’t stop it from growing. It gives me hope.”
Boggel slides another beer towards his friend. “It looks like the tree is lifting the rock up – breaking it in two.”
“It does, doesn’t it? And on the picture, there’s no sound, no blood. That only remains up here.” He taps his head with a calloused finger. “I so wish this picture can be there as well. Maybe if I looked at it long enough…?”
Boggel nods patiently. One day he’ll tell Vetfaan that memories can be like that rock. Slowly, gently, the mind will grow around the agony of the past, lifting it, breaking it. The blood and gore will wash away. And, in contrast to what the mind remembers, the real, true, picture will eventually break the chains anchoring Vetfaan to the yesterdays he so desperately needs to forget.
“It takes time, Vetfaan.”
“Yes, Boggel. I’ll get there. Just like that tree. One moment at a time.”