Whenever you walk in to Boggel’s Place to find an icy silence, it’s best to make a sharp U-turn, take the steps down to Voortrekker Weg and go and sit on the old bench in front of the church. At least you’ll be able to enjoy a different type of quiet there and feel the sun warming up the day after a cold Kalahari night.
Today is one of those days.
Gertruida started it all by saying something about the president. Now – no matter from which side of the window you’re looking through, the view remains dismal; almost like the veld in winter. Moreover, after months and months of trying to be optimistic, the group in the bar finally gave up and chose to remain silent rather than rehashing all those previous conversations.
Realising her mistake, Gertruida sulks in her corner while the rest refuse to look in her direction. This is, as we all know, a typical Afrikaner way of going about difficult situations: if something really scratches the paint off your tractor, you either joke about it or remain silent.
Vetfaan arrives late after fixing the carburettor on his Massey Fergusson again this morning. He, too, is in a foul mood because the tractor still won’t start. He pushes open the door to Boggel’s Place, hoping to find his friends chatting happily about the weekend’s rugby. Instead, he is met with the stony silence following Gertruida’s remark. This doesn’t help to lift his mood.
Maybe that’s the way this Monday would have ended, too, if a run-down pickup didn’t rattle down Voortrekker Weg at that moment. Vetfaan does the obligatory U-turn to stare at the dilapidated vehicle as it trundles to a stop next to the church. He watches as a grizzled old man gets out, scratches at his unkempt grey hair and kicks the front wheel. Preferring to take a chance with the visitor, Vetfaan walks over.
“Ja, man. I’m fed up with this old thing.” He almost misses his next kick at the front wheel, recovers his balance and smiles apologetically. “I’m Herman Grove. Came all the way from Kimberley to see a lady called Gertruida. You wouldn’t know her, would you?”
“Of course I do. Why…what…?” Vetfaan doesn’t want to pry, but his curiosity gets the better of him.
“It seems she might be related to me, see? Apparently we’re married.”
This is enough to make Vetfaan smile. Gertruida? Married to this old geezer? Now that’s something to get Boggel’s Place buzzing again. Taking Herman by the arm, he leads the new arrival to Boggel’s Place.
“Ladi-i-e-es and gentlemen! Please welcome Mister Herman Grove, the esteemed husband of our dear Gertruida! Boggel…a round on the house, please!”
You get the same reaction in the bar when South Africa loses to Japan. Disbelief, shock, horror and a tinge of cynical suspicion that this isn’t happening. What? Gertruida married? And she never breathed a word…?
“I-I-It’s not like that. Or at least, I d-don’t know.” Herman stammers. “I-I just had to find out, that’s all.”
“Harrumph! This isn’t funny, you guys!” Gertruida, sure that somebody wants to make fun of her, glares at the group. “Of all things…”
“No, you prankster, I’m Joan of Arc. Pleased to meet you, I’m sure.” Even Boggel blanches at the tone of her voice.
“I-I’m sorry. But that’s what Home Affairs said when I wanted to renew my ID. On their records they have it that we’re married. I don’t recall ever being married, you see? A few years ago I had an accident and developed a touch of amnesia – but it was a temporary thing and I thought I recovered completely. Now, Home Affairs are adamant that they’re right, so I suppose I could have forgotten. I-I’m so terribly sorry.”
For the first time in her life, Gertruida simply stands there, gaping, not knowing what to say.
“Yes, that’s what they told me. But I can’t remember, you see? It’s so confusing.”
Gertruida takes a deep breath, another long, good look at Herman, shakes her head and finally finds something sensible to say.
“Give me your ID, let me see.”
The new ID card with Herman’s name and details gets handed over. She stares at it for a long time.
“You’re much older than I am,” she says eventually.
“But you have the same date of birth?”
And so they start to unravel the mystery. It soon transpires that they share a birthday, but that they were born a decade apart. Somehow old Herman never noticed that his ID number is wrong on the card.
“But that’s only the number, Gertruida? What about the wedding – did you forget that, too?” Vetfaan can’t stop smiling.
“They’ve bungled up the whole thing, man! Can’t you see? They gave this man the wrong ID number, and even managed to connect his number with mine, somehow. According to them, he’s ten years younger and married – wrong on both accounts.”
“S-s-so we’re not betrothed? You sure?”
Oudoom, who has been following the conversation, starts sniggering. “I love this! If it’s of any help, I can unmarry you, Gertruida. How about it?”
It takes about an hour to sort things out. Gertruida phones Bertus Cronje, an old colleague from her days in National Intelligence, who gets hold of a senior official at Home Affairs. Yes, they’ve made a mistake. Yes, they’re sorry. They’ll send the correct ID card.
“And this nonsense of being married?” Gertruida’s relief is obvious, but she want’s to be sure.
“That…er…is more difficult.” The official tries to sound sympathetic. “We’ll have to check the records to see why this has happened, and that might take time. I’m sure we’ll set the record straight soon enough, though – but in the meantime the marriage seems to be official. However, as soon as we find out how this happened, a divorce could be arranged quite easily.”
“But. I’m. Not. Married. To. This. Man!” Despite her best efforts, Gertruida can’t keep her voice even.
“I understand your frustration, Madam. But I have to follow the correct channels. Please be patient.”
Gertruida slams down the phone and wipes an angry tear from her cheek.
“Don’t worry, dear, we’ll sort this out. T-together.”
Gertruida looks up into Herman’s kind eyes, Then she bursts out in tears.
(To be continued)