By this time, Gertruida had a puzzled frown – something unusual for the woman who used her formidable logic to analyze issues. Servaas noticed this and leant over.
“What’s wrong, Gertruida?”
“I think I know…” She whispered back. ” But I think I know how this must end.’
Mo didn’t notice the exchange. He was lost in his narration; the pain of remembering isolating him in a bubble of words.
“I must have stood next to that road for half the night. At first the traffic was fast and heavy, but later – when the night’s cold had already almost frozen my uplifted thumb – the stream of cars became a trickle…and then, nothing. I had almost given up hope, when a dilapidated Datsun stopped. The man leant over, opened the door and told me to get the hell in, it was cold.”
The Datsun belonged to Frederik Claaste, a farmer eking out a living in the barren Karoo near Prieska. After the usual chat – introductions and weather – Frederik asked the obvious question.
“I’m not sure, Oom.” Mo, indeed, had no idea where he was going. He needed time; he needed to escape the festering loneliness inside his mind; he needed to make a new beginning somewhere, where skin colour and politics didn’t determine your future. He tried to explain and it wasn’t until Beaufort West that Frederik finally grasped the magnitude of Mo’s problems.
“So you see yourself as a martyr, then?”
Mo thought about this. Yes, he was half an orphan, half a Christian, half white and…completely lost. He had contributed – in his small, unique way – to end apartheid and had endured a lengthy and painful interrogation. Did that make him a martyr? He shook his head.
“No, Oom, I don’t suppose do. I did what I did because I believed in it. In reality, I had no choice, did I? I’m not sure about God, but it seems as if I was dealt a losing hand of cards. I’ll just have to get used to it.”
And then, with the early morning sun peeking over the silhouette of the Three Sisters, Frderik stopped next to the road to address the dishevelled young man next to him.
“Look, Son, Life will take you where you have to be. Oh, you can wriggle this way and crawl that way, but in the end you’ll arrive at what was destined for you right from the start. Everything you’ve lived through have contributed to where you are now and it’s no coincidence that I happened to pick you up.
“Us farmers in the Karoo have to learn – at an early age – that you cannot unravel the mystery of Life at all. Hardship will come, even tragedy. We stare at a cloudless sky and watch our flocks starve. But then, when it rains, the dams fill up and the Karoo turns green. There’s no logic to it and no way of explaining why – but we know there’s a season for grieving and a season to rejoice. The point is this: whatever season you are in – it’ll pass. Remember that. Laughter is great, but it’s temporary. Tears are sad, but it doesn’t last forever.
“So, you’ve had a hard time? I’m really sorry to hear that. But…you are a traveller on a predestined path, Mo. You’re on your way. There,” Frederik pointed at the horizon, “somewhere, you’ll find peace. You’ll understand. And then you’ll realise that everything had a purpose…”
The rest of the journey passed in silence as Mo contemplated those words. What, then, had been the purpose? Why the convoluted path? Could God or Allah or whichever deity reigned over everything, not have chosen a straighter, more logical route?
“You’ll have to stay.” Frederik’s firm tone made told Mo he had no choice. “There is a cottage I don’t use and you can help me with the sheep. And…you’ll meet Petrus Kruiper, the wisest man you’ll ever get to know. He’s the shepherd. He knows everything.”
Gertruida smiled at this irony. How often did wisdom and cleverness not get equated with university degrees and professors – and how seldom was that true? She completely understood Frederik’s statement – a simple shepherd; a man living so near nature, would have been just the right medicine for Mo’s troubled mind.
“Yes, I can understand that,” she interrupted Mo’s story. “Human nature and everyday hardships combine to confuse most of us, most of the time. But for an unschooled person, somebody who doesn’t want to analyze and measure the logic of Life, events unfold as they must. People like that lead happy lives because they don’t ask questions – life goes on. Tragedy and laughter are essential to make us realise what joy and grief Life may hold. It’s the contrast that paints the picture.”
Sometimes Gertruida’s remarks confuse her listeners – that was one of them.
Servaas ignored the interjection. “So you became a shepherd?”
“Yes. And I met Petrus. He became a father to me when I needed it most.”
“Oh? And what did he teach you?”
“Lots of things. To journey through life. To distinguish between asking questions and searching. There is a huge difference in the meaning and purpose of those two. It took time, of course, for me to grasp that, but he was patient. He told me about his San ancestors and how they were almost wiped out. And he said that it is in humility that greatness is found. Acceptance is better than rebellion – especially when fate steers you in an uncertain direction. That’s why, he said, the sacrifices of his forefathers were not in vain. His family, he said, would rise again to claim their rightful place in society; but it’ll take time. Many years. Possibly decades or centuries – but he doesn’t care. Their path leads to a future horizon and it was his duty to walk that road with his head held high.”
“He taught you to believe?”
“He took me to a place in the Kalahari. A secret place next to a fountain. And he told me to stay there until everything settled in my mind. ‘Write down your thoughts, Mo. Write a book. And read those thoughts over and over again to determine whether they are true or not.'” Mo’s smile was back. “So I did. Called my book ‘The Song of Life’ and filled it with verses. And when I was finished – it took me years – I returned to Frederik’s farm.
“He was quite old then and struggled to manage everything. I offered to help. He told me it was destined to be like that. So I worked on the farm while his strength slowly waned.” Mo shrugged. “He died last month and we buried him next to the sheep kraal, just like he wanted. He left the farm to me and Petrus. I told Petrus to get all of his extended family there and settle them on the farm – he has two brothers and a sister. And I realised he had been right: his belief in the future of his family had been vindicated. As for me? I realised my time to continue my journey had come. I mustn’t ask questions, but I must also not stop searching.
“And that’s how I ended up here…”
At that point, Gertruida got up with that look on her face. “You stay right here in Rolbos, Mo. I have a few calls to make. Hopefully, I’ll have some answers for you tomorrow…”
To be continued…