Being married – according to the State – to somebody you’ve never even met, is worse than having a crooked president you didn’t vote for. That’s the consensus in Boggel’s Place, where lively debate replaced the icy silence of a while ago. Suddenly they were faced with something completely so unexpected and so strange, that they simply had to order round after round from the bent little man behind the counter while discussing what needed to be done.
“I think they should simply shack up and enjoy the experience. In fact, they’ve just saved themselves a lot of money – do you know what a wedding costs these days?”
“Ja, and what a pleasure to skip the uncertainty of that first night! Phew! They can go straight ahead to the anniversaries – that’s so much more fun.”
“Awww…shame. They missed their own honeymoon!”
Of course Gertruida isn’t amused. No matter how hard she tries to steer the conversation towards a possible solution, the others refuse to let up on their quirky remarks.
“I-I don’t want to interrupt…” Herman holds up an uncertain hand. He is surprised at the silence that follows his interjection and seems to have trouble composing his thoughts. “B-but aren’t you guys miss the point here? Me and poor Gertruida are not married at all. I don’t know her…as far as I can remember.”
“Okay.” As usual, Oudoom is the sympathetic one. “Lets get to that. Tell us about your accident and the amnesia?”
Herman accepts a beer from Boggel while he tries to remember the details. “I struck a kudu with my bakkie. On the road between Potchefstroom and Kimberley. I was a rep, you see? For a solar geyser company. Did well in those days when ESCOM started having trouble. Well, I don’t remember much after the kudu rearranged my pickup’s bonnet, but I woke up in Kimberley’s hospital not knowing who I was or how I got there. After about three months, my mind started clearing and I thought I was pretty normal. Lost my job, though. I bought a new pickup with the insurance money and started out on my own. And…here I am. Not much to tell.”
“And when was this?” Gertruida sits up sharply as she starts to realise something very important. Could there – after all – be a connection?
“W-well….it was in the beginning of 2009, in January.”
“On a Sunday?”
“Why, y-yes! I remember now. I was on my way to pick up supplies in Kimberley – for the next week’s work, you know? And…oh yes…it was the second Sunday of the year.”
“Well done, Herman!” Gertruida beams her satisfaction. This could be no coincidence! “That would make it the 11th. I remember that date for two reasons. Firstly: it was the day Captain Sullenberger made that fantastic emergency landing in the Hudson River after some birds flew into the aircraft’s engines. US Airways flight 1549. Quite a miracle, that was. Not a single life was lost.
“The second reason is more personal. I was admitted to hospital with a grumbling appendix and had an emergency op that evening.” She pauses dramatically. “…In Kimberley Hospital.”
“What?” Boggel is the first to grasp the significance.
“I don’t know, but I guess it cannot be a coincidence. At least it puts you both in the same place at the same time.” Servaas knits his bushy brows together while they all start talking together at the same time and has to wait quite a while for an opportunity to go on. “When you get admitted to hospital, they take all your details, don’t they?”
“Of course, Servaas. ID, address, medical aid, next of kin…”
“And who did you put up as next of kin?”
Gertruida shakes her head. “I didn’t. At that stage Ferdinand was gone and my parents had passed on. I left the space blank. Being there for an appendicectomy wasn’t considered a life-threatening condition, I suppose, so nobody worried about it.”
“And you, Herman? Did you have next of kin?”
“I-I didn’t fill in any forms. Couldn’t, you see? First I was unconscious and then I couldn’t remember. They did have my driver’s licence though. Must have worked from that to figure out who I am. Anyway, I’m a loner, you see? No family to speak of. A distant cousin lives in Australia, but that’s all.”
Gertruida starts pacing the length of the counter while thinking out loud. “Two people in the same hospital on the same day. One an insignificant rep for solar geysers; the other an ex-government employee with no fixed employment. And then, six years later, they find out they’re married – according to the State. Now…either that is just another example of the current state of chaos at Home Affairs, or…not. If not…then something real strange is afoot.”
The telephone interrupts her summary of possibilities. Boggel answers, hands the phone to Gertruida and they all try to make sense of the fragmented conversation that follows.
“Yes…oh, hello Bertus.” Holding a hand over the mouthpiece, she mouths that it’s her old friend who is helping them with the dilemma. “Oh….oh my….What?….No, certainly not!! I don’t believe this…Oh my word….” She remains silent, listening to the voice telling her more. Then, in a strained voice, she says goodbye and replaces the receiver.
“Herman and I…have three children. Two boys, one girl. And, according to Bertus, we have been travelling to Singapore regularly for the last three years.” Gertruida shoots a questioning glance at Herman, who shrugs and shakes his head. “Also, Herman has bank accounts in Zurich and the Cayman Islands..apparently rather substantial accounts.”
For the first time that morning, Herman bursts out laughing. “M-Me? M-Money? You have to be joking! I get by, yes, but only just. I do have a bank account,” he says as if justifying himself, “with a little money in it – but nothing to get excited about.”
“Then, my friends, all this cannot be a coincidence or a mix up at Home Affairs. This is a classical case of identity theft.” Gertruida seems more composed now. “And….something horribly ominous is at the bottom of this. Bertus says he is waiting for more info and he’ll phone again later. I’m sure it won’t be good news…”
(To be continued…)