Category Archives: loss

Dismal Wind

Wind - Wolwedans - NamibRand - Namibia Gertruida – who knows everything – will tell you, you get many types of winds. You get sandy winds that drive the Kalahari sand so hard it takes the paint off your vehicle. Sometimes you get a wet wind with a few scattered raindrops between the dust particles. And there is the cold wind that chills the very life out of everything.

But, she says, it is the Dismal Wind that gets her down. That’s the worst, she reckons.

This Self-Filling Water Bottle Mimics a Desert Beetle | WIREDA Dismal Wind blows in from the west, from the Namibian coast where the cold Benguela sea stream courses northward. Here the wind picks up moisture to form a fog that feeds the sparse succulent plants in the desert and the occasional desert beetle collects on its surface. (They stand on their heads to drink, incidentally.)

But that is where the promise in the wind stops. Beyond the Namib, it continues as a disillusioned, empty breeze which – at best – may cool you down on a hot summer’s day. It’s like a sterile relationship of empty promises, she says; it may bring clouds, but it never rains.

Yesterday just such a wind drove dust devils down the aptly named, irony laced and wrongly printed Voortrekkker Weg in Rolbos. It frogmarched a tumbleweed down the rutted road as if to make fun of the weeds on the sidewalk. It skirted around the few buildings lining the street, raising the occasional subdued howl as it found little holes in the rusted roofs and window frames. And it brought with it the mood which gave it a name, so many years ago.

***

Gertruida says that Pottie Visasie used to be a handsome, sought-after bachelor in the district, managing game on the family farm. That’s before he was drafted in to the army. The Rolbossers know the story well: the troop-carrier triggered a landmine and he was the last to be rescued from the flaming wreck. He spent more than a year in various hospitals before returning to the farm. He was the original self-isolator, long before a virus forced the world to close its doors.

Before he left for basic training at Voortrekkerhoogte, everybody expected him to marry Bettie Odendaal, Mooibettie, who’s father was one of the original directors of the Oranje River Cellars. Oubaas Odendaal used to be famous for the columbard grapes he cultivated, pressed and fermented on his huge farm next to the river. Odendaal’s Rus, the sweet dessert wine from the deep alluvial soil of the region, was a favourite in the majestic mansions in Monaco and French Reviera. These two markets alone made him a multimillionaire.

Mooibettie and Pottie had promised each other eternal loyalty and commitment on the evening before the train left for Pretoria. During the tough weeks of basic training, Pottie wrote a letter each day,

And then he was sent to the border, to Caprivi, where, on the second after he landed in Katima Mulilo, his luck ran out and he had to be airlifted back to Voortrekkerhoogte in a critical condition. Three weeks later he regained consciousness. Four weeks later he asked, for the first time, for a mirror.

He never wrote to Mooibettie again.

***

‘Well, he eventually made it back to the farm, and he then steadfastly refused to leave his house. The foreman, Klaas Geel, had looked after the farm while he was gone, and he simply continued doing so after Pottie’s return. Pottie was the shadow behind the curtain, the man who signed papers, the owner who was owned by the farm.’ Gertruida sits back to signal for another round. ‘And that was too much for Mooibettie.’

Mooibettie was, indeed, beautiful. Or, more correctly, she used to be. When all her Ashburton Guardianattempts to contact Pottie failed, she took to writing letters. Long, forgiving love letters, which she wedged between the locked farm gate and the post of the two-spoor road leading to Potties farm. There they remained stuck while she added more and more letters every week – for months.

‘Mooibettie was such a lovely girl – not only in looks, but in spirit as well. She hoped, prayed, remained loyal. Pottie, however, just couldn’t face her – or himself, for that matter. He knew about the letters. Klaas had told him, but Pottie would have none of it.  He ordered Klaas to leave those letters just where they were, hoping Mooibettie would get the message.’ Gertruida sighs – such a waste! ‘And she did … eventually. Married Gerbrand van Wyk, late Tannie Cathy’s old husband.’

Why, nobody knows. Mooibettie Odendaal became Elizabeth van Wyk. The newlyweds settled in the new house Oom Gerrie built on his farm. Her room had a nice view of the Kalahari landscape, with the red sand contrasting with the old Camel-thorn tree next to the farm dam. According to Ai Siena, who takes care of the kitchen on the farm, Elizabeth van Wyk just sits at her window, staring at the tree in the desert.

‘Pottie heard about the wedding through Klaas. Telling Pottie about the new Mrs van Wyk was a sort-of revenge for the frustration Klaas endured every time he drove past the bunch of letters stuck to the gate.

‘Pottie’s reaction almost broke Klaas’s heart. He says it looked as if Pottie was back in that burning troop carrier. The livid scar that used to be a handsome face distorted and reddened and looked as if the fragile bits of normal skin would tear apart. He howled like a trapped jackal. Klaas says he was afraid  the man would drop dead, right there, at his feet.’

But he didn’t. He ran out of the house, screaming as he did. And his feet found their way down the two-spoor road to the gate.

‘It was a really windy day. One of those West-winds that threatens to blow everything apart.  The letters were no longer there.’

***

Pottie never returned to the house. Gertruida says he is still out there in the veld, searching and searching for the letters the Dismal Wind had strewn all over the Kalahari. Klaas puts down food and water next to the gate post – it disappears every second or third night.

‘It’s a sad story of missed opportunities, bad luck and grief. When the Dismal Wind blows through the rusted roofs and small holes in the window sills, you can hear them both. Mooibettie and Pottie, yearning for each other, but lost in Life with no way back.’

Gertruida – who knows everything – says most people understand the way of the Dismal Wind. It’s there, inside us, looking for the small holes in our rusted window frames and roofs.

Vrede’s Lump

Boggel is unusually quiet this morning. While the Rolbossers wait for the bar to open, he settles down on his cushion beneath the counter. He needs time to think and sort out his problem.

It all started a few days ago when Vrede, the town’s dog, chased a tumbleweed across the road. In itself, that chase was not unusual. Dogs do crazy stuff all the time. After all, Vrede is known to bed down on smelly things and to chase after the lonely gecko living next to the doorway. The run after the tumbleweed, however,  was different. Vrede seemed slower than usual and when Boggel whistled him back, he limped ever so slightly.

Funny how things sneak up on people. Time has a way of camouflaging details, masking changes and wrinkles and grey hairs…and the suddenly! One day we look and realise how much we haven’t noticed for the longest of times.

CHARLES LAUGHTON in THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME ... And that’s how Boggel recognised  not only the limp, but also the lump on the back of the dog. A tumour? Now, if anybody in Rolbos understands spinal anatomy, it is Boggel, (read about Boggel’s father here; and his own history – in several episodes, here). His severe scoliosis has been a burden since birth, and, not unlike the tragedy surrounding Viktor Hugo’s famous character, has had a profound effect of his life. He simply could not bear thinking about Vrede with a spinal abnormality. People struggle to cope with it – how much more would a dog suffer? If you can’t ex[plain the situation or take regular medications, how does one cope?

Of course, in an old dog, the option of surgery may not be the best solution. What then? Euthanasia? Ask Oudok to send him on his final journey? No! Not that… Boggel feels the tears welling up. Having lost so much in his lifetime, there is no way he can imagine losing Vrede.

The loud banging on the door wakes up Vrede, who has been sleeping quietly at Boggel’s feet. His loud barking tells Vetfaan to stop making such a lot of noise. Boggel sighs: well, it’s time to face the day. Open the door, smile at the usual crowd, serve drinks and beam at his customers. Being a barman is one of the most demanding acting jobs there is.

Vetfaan,  as usual, is first through the door and first with his order.

‘Hi Boggel, a beer for me and a stiff Chivas for Doc.’ Boggel has been so preoccupied with Vrede’s dilemma that he only now notices Vetfaan’s companion. ‘Doc, this is Boggel. Boggel, meet Doc Wiener. He’s here to try to get my cow pregnant. If you serve that beer quickly, I’ll spare you the details.’

It is well known that there is no such thing as a coincidence. There is the dog, lump on his back. Here is the executioner. Add two and two together, and you get a canine funeral.

Boggel shakes his head. ‘Beer, you can have, Vetfaan. Your…friend…can wait outside.’I’m not serving nothing to a dog-killer.’

It takes time, of course. Doc Wiener is a large man with a short temper. Boggel is a short man with (when the planets get  their alignment wrong) a large temper. The shouting match lasted several minutes before Vetfaan slammed his huge fist so hard on the counter that the ice bucket fell over.

‘For goodness’ sakes, stop it you two! Boggel! What in heaven’s name are you upset about?’

Half an hour later, the three of them sat staring at Vrede.

‘It’s a lipoma, Boggel. Harmless and innocent little lump of fat. And look, you can see the little cut in the pad of that hind foot. Lump and limp has nothing to do with each other. Vrede might be getting older, but he’s as fit as can be.’

***

Gertruida – who knows everything – often says we are our own worst enemies. We anticipate the worst even if we say we hope for the best. ‘Have a little faith,’ she says, ‘and plan for the best. Some crazy pessimist may take pleasure in being right, but that’s sort of sick, isn’t it? Optimists do get disappointed at times – that much is true – but at least they smile more often.’

***

Vrede couldn’t care less;  but he has learnt something: whenever he wants a snack, he’ll limp up to Boggel. He’s an optimist, depending of Boggel’s pessimism.

 

And Now The Crickets Hesitate

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“No drinks today, guys. Today we’ll spend quietly, remembering a great man and one of the world’s foremost poets. We’ll listen to music and wonder about his words. And then we’ll go home, thinking we might – just might – be a little wiser.” Boggel speaks slowly while he rubs the glass rings from the counter. The news of Cohen’s death shocked him: he has always admired the words and music of the remarkable musician, writer and poet.

“Yes. He had a way of looking at life in a completely unique way – yet made it sound so…ordinary. As if we should all have seen it his way right from the start.” Gertruida sighs and then recites:

‘I met a girl and a poet.
One of them was dead
and one of them was alive.
The poet was from Peru
and the girl was a doctor.
She was taking antibiotics.
I will never forget her.’

“Welll…” Precilla hesitates, blushing at the thought. “I thought some of his poems were rather sexy. Even raunchy. I would have loved to have met him as a young man…”

‘There is no flesh so perfect
As on my lady’s bone,
And yet it seems so distant
When I am all alone:

As though she were a masterpiece
In some castled town,
That pilgrims come to visit
And priests to copy down.’

“Oh, that song ‘Suzanne’!” Vetfaan smiles sadly. “When I was much younger, it swept me along in his fantasy.”

‘And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For you’ve touched her perfect body with your mind.’

“I like his recent work more.” Boggel gets out the keys to lock up the doors. In the background, a CD emphasises his statement:

‘There’s a lover in the story
But the story’s still the same
There’s a lullaby for suffering
And a paradox to blame
But it’s written in the scriptures
And it’s not some idle claim
You want it darker
We kill the flame.’

The key turns; the ancient lock crunching closed over the accumulated dust. All that remains in Boggel’s Place today, is the echo of Cohen’s words:

‘Silence

and a deeper silence

when the crickets

hesitate’

There is no excuse. No excuse at all. (#2)

 

 

Jean-Dominique-Bauby-01

Jean-Dominique Bauby

 

Telling us a story of a musical savant doesn’t help us all that much, Gertruida. It may be inspiring to a certain degree, but we’re still stuck with the same old problems in the country…or the world, for that matter. Playing a piano never fixed crooked politics, neither can disabilities be used to set the example for South Africa’s masses.” Servaas, after spending a restless night while contemplating the remarkable life of Leslie Lemke, is not in a good mood at all.

“On the contrary, Servaas. It’s about being disadvantaged and overcoming odds. That – I’ll have you know – is the most important and universal lesson for all of humankind. It’s of absolutely no value to sit down next to the road, complaining about the journey. We are each given a route – an individual journey – to complete during our on earth. Some get the easier paths, others not – it’s not something we can demand or change. Read it up, Servaas. (Proverbs 16:33) I suspect you know the passage…you should, actually.”

“So we are mere passengers on a runaway train, helpless to change anything? What about Revelation 20:13? Why judgement in the end if people have no choice in their actions?”

Gertruida sits back to applaud the old man’s remark. “Well done, Servaas! You’ve just proven  my point. I’m sooo proud of you!” Despite Servaas’s confusion, he has to smile at her tone. “You see, Servaas, your life will follow a certain path. That’s a given. But…what you do on that path, involves specific choices only you can make. Let me tell you about   Jean-Dominique Bauby, maybe that’ll help you understand…”

***

Jean-Dominique, or Jean-Do as his friends called him, was a young man at the pinnacle of his career. As editor of Elle, he was a know face in the French fashion crowd and a respected writer in his own right. He probably thought Life was a sweet fruit to be savoured and enjoyed – one can only imagine…

Then it all changed. At the age of 43 he suffered a massive stroke, leaving him an a coma for three weeks. He shouldn’t have woken up, but he did…in a manner of speaking. While he seemed to recognise faces and voices, he was completely paralyzed, except for his eyes; they followed movement. Despair turned to hope; maybe he’d regain more function as time went by?

But it didn’t. Things got worse. His right eye developed complications and had to be sewn shut. Then, with movement and observation restricted to his left eye, the terrible consequences of his stroke became apparent: he had Locked-in Syndrome. He could hear and see…but nothing else. He couldn’t respond in any way to external stimuli by speech or emotion. Only the movement of one single eye could possibly convey messages to the people around him.

A plan had to be made. With all the paths of communication destroyed by the stroke, only the left eye could possibly be used to reach his thoughts. Remember, this happened in 1995, before machines like Stephen Hawking uses, were available. The nursing staff did what they could, ending up with a nurse sitting next to his bed, reciting the alphabet. Over and over and over…and over. When she got to the letter he wanted, he’d blink. The letter was then written down and the selection of the next letter began. At last…he was able to communicate his thoughts to the world out there.

Then…the surprise. i-w-a-n-t-t-o-w-r-i-t-e-a-b-o-o-k.  Write a book? In his condition? Surely an impossible task?

But he did. Letter for letter, four hours a day, with the patient assistant reciting and reciting the alphabet over and over again. It took ten months, but in the end The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was published in 1997. Sadly, two days after the book appeared on the shelves, Jean-Do died from lung complications…

***

DivingBellButterflyMP“Ten years later, a film was made of the book. It won at Cannes, BAFTA, Golden Globes and was nominated for four Oscars. The story of Jean-Do inspired people long after his death. His life was maybe above average before the stroke, but afterwards it became truly remarkable. He had to lose everything – except an eye – to summit the highest point of his life. 

“So you see, Servaas, being disadvantaged isn’t fun. People have the right to complain and revolt against unfairness and injustice. But what has happened in the past, is no excuse for poor choices in the present. It is a sad fact that everything we do today, will impact on tomorrow. And that leaves us with but two choices: do we destruct or construct? That, my friend, is the Black and White we have to deal with – there is no middle way in that. Choices determine actions and words, which in turn result in consequences. If we are not building, then we are breaking down.

“So, Servaas, harping on about hardship is an entirely futile exercise. In our society it’s become the norm to be destructive. And that, I’m afraid, is determining how we will be judged by history.”

“Well,” Servaas mumbles, “at least I’m not burning buildings and busses. I’m just saying…”

“Unfortunately,” Gertruida interrupts quickly, “words do more damage than burning a library. They remain long after the broken glass have been replaced and they hurt more than rubber bullets. ‘Just saying’ is no excuse. It’s the mind behind the words that makes you say things – and only you can fix that…nobody else is going to do it for you.”

And, just like yesterday, old Servaas finds himself at loss for words. This is a good thing, Gertruida thinks, because the country is being wrecked by people ‘just saying’. If only we could get to ‘just doing’ – positively – we’d become an example for the world.

But, she realises, we’ll get the future we deserve. And for that we have no excuses. No excuses at all…

“….Mutual misunderstanding
After the fact
Sensitivity builds a prison
In the final act…”

Trusting Liar (#10)

Liar's Meteorite

Liar’s Meteorite

Once the helicopter disappeared over the dunes, the group finally stops laughing.

“Oh, Liar, you are sooo convincing! Damn! I started believing you when you threw out that bit about the radioactive Boron. And then you…you…you added the bit about manhood! Shew! I almost burst out laughing right then.” Gertruida slaps Liar’s back as she starts giggling again.

Liar’s indignant response is immediate. “And what, Gertruida, do you think, do they use to accelerate electrons and bits of atoms in Switzerland? Or do you imagine that I’d be roving around here for my entire life, looking for lost diamonds?”

“Oh, stop it, Klasie! You’re killing us!” Vetfaan wipes the tears from his eyes as he succumbs to another bout of laughter.

Servaas gets serious all of a sudden. “You are looking for diamonds, aren’t you? Walter Kempf and the Wolf’s Tears? All that you told us? It’s true, isn’t it?”

Klasie Louw, known as Liar, scoops up a handful of sand and lefts it sift through his fingers. “There are many stories buried in the sands of the Kalahari, my friend. Legends and myths and tales that are more marvellous than anything you’ve ever heard. Here you’ll find the ghosts of the Dorsland-trekkers who tried to escape to an illusive Utopia. Amongst these dunes the history of the Bushmen, the Koranna and the lost civilisation of the gold-miners of Zimbabwe are whispered in the night breezes. Once this was an inland lake bearing boats filled with riches – then the climate changed and the earth moved…and now only the sand remains. This, Servaas, is a magical place. A place were everything is possible.”

“But that doesn’t answer the question, Klasie. I just want to know whether your story is true? We did pick up that diamond, didn’t we?” Getruida points to Liar’s pocket, remembering how he had snatched it away from her.

It is Liar’s turn to smirk. “Ah yes…the aeroplane wreck! Come, I’ll show you. It’s about an hour from here.”

***

lancaster_desert_500Sure enough, after tramping trough the loose sand in the valley between the two dunes, they arrive at a little plain – an open space with the dunes forming a natural amphitheatre around it. Off to one side, the wreckage is clearly visible.

“This was Walter’s plane. And this is the direction the flood washed his treasure away.” He points towards the south. “And over there,” pointing again, “is the rocky outcrop. I wouldn’t suggest you go near it.”

***

“I’m still not sure,” Servaas says. They’re gathered at the counter in Boggel’s Place, relieved to be back in Rolbos. “I mean, can we really believe everything he said?”

“Well, all I can tell you is that Boron is an extremely rare element in the universe. Scientists don’t believe it is natural to our planet, and that most of the Boron found on earth is due to cosmic dust and possibly meteorites. There is, indeed, radioactive Boron and it may very well be used in reactors – although the rarity of the substance makes its common use impossible. If that rocky outcrop of Liar’s is pure Boron, it could very well be the remains of an ancient meteorite and as such be a unique find.” Gertruida shrugs. “Who knows? Anyway, I made a few discreet enquiries: our friend Klasie Louw is a multi-multimillionaire. The story of the Reserve Bank taking notice of his activities may be true…”

“And the men? The helicopter and the search?”

“Oh, read the papers, Servaas! There are so many scandals in our country, it’s hard to pick the most likely one. But….I like my theory about somebody wanting to buy silence. Suppose you bribed South Africa into hosting the World Cup in 2010 and now people are starting to ask questions. You have the FBI, CIA, Fifa and even Morocco breathing down your neck. If the story is proved and evidence confirms the corruption, it won’t just impact on one single person. It’d mean that the government, the local organising committee and especially the governing party will be left with more egg on their faces than they can clean off. People will have to resign, and some will go to jail. It’d be a diplomatic catastrophe of massive proportions. International credibility – already at a low point – will fly out of the window.

“You see, Servaas, for some of the officials – from president down to the ticket-sellers – the outcome of an intensive investigation will mean the end of their careers. The money-barrel will run dry. The authorities involved with drugs, smuggling and money laundering will be forced to face the wrath of not only the local populace, but the international community as well. Can you imagine the fall-out?

“So…it is entirely possible that certain men and women will want to buy their way out of trouble – and that’s going to involve massive payments to the investigating forces. Just like FIFA bought Ireland’s silence and avoided legal action, so it may be possible to influence the reports of investigators. For that, not only would billions be required, but there cannot be any paper trail. No Banks, no transfers, no documentation. The answer: diamonds…”

“Ja,” Vetfaan signals for another beer, “desperate times. Desperate measures…”

Servaas shrugs. “Be that all as it may. I still don’t know whether I can believe Klasie Louw…”

l15 copy_edited-1“We’ll never know,” Getruida says as she puts down  her glass. “But he has a good story. Maybe we should trust Liar for a change…”

Below the counter, Vrede thumps his tail on the wooden floor. He sniffed around the wreck and the strange rock out there in the desert. He knows exactly what the facts are. But, even though he’d like to tell them about the weathered shoebox he found under the one Nara-bush, he’d rather keep the secret. It’s much more fun this way.

The End.

Trusting Liar (#6)

Farmhouse, Breekyster

Farmhouse, Breekyster

Gertruida gasps. “You’re…you’re Walter Kempf’s son?”

Liar, still staring at the endless horizon, nods. “The one and only.”

“But your surname is Louw – where did that come from?”

***

Mattie was devastated. With Walter dead, her hopes for the future had turned to ashes. Oom Nikolaas initially did what all fathers do when confronted with his daughter’s pregnancy: he exploded. A heated argument followed. He accused her of being too forward, while she blamed their poverty on Nikolaas’s inability to farm properly. She even told him her mother’s death was due to the old man’s negligence. The wordy skirmish didn’t last long – they both ended up in tears, apologising for hurting each other so much.

Oom Nikolaas considered the problem of his daughter’s pregnancy very carefully. He was getting on in years and would not be able to assist Mattie in bringing up the child. A man had to be found, but how? Who? And why would a man marry a woman pregnant with another man’s baby? Then he had a brilliant idea.

Somewhere, out in the desert, an aeroplane wreck contained two shoeboxes full of diamonds. Surely that would be enough to entice some gentleman to search for it, find it, and become fabulously rich? Such a man might – with a bit of luck – be willing to marry his daughter in exchange for information leading to the treasure hidden in the dunes? Oom Nikolaas would have preferred to search for the wreck himself, but at his age it would have been suicide. No, he’ll find someone…

But…such a man had to be somebody with enough knowledge of the desert, know something about diamonds, and be able to dispose of his find in a legal way. That, oom Nikolaas decided, narrowed the possibilities down to the few prospectors next to the Orange River. Those men, he knew, barely made a living with the few diamonds they found, so surely they would jump at the chance of acquiring the treasure in the wreck? Although these prospectors had a reputation for hard living and sometimes unscrupulous behavior, oom Nikolaas felt sure he’d be able to find the best of them all. Desperate times called for desperate measures…

Mattie didn’t like the idea. She had fallen in love with Walter and just couldn’t imagine being with another man. Another argument followed. What, oom Nikolaas asked, would happen to Mattie and the infant once he (Nikolaas) died? How would she – an unmarried mother with an illegitimate child –  survive? Surely the infant should have a better chance in life than the two of them had? No, he said, Mattie had no choice. A man had to be found, and quickly. If his plan worked out, they could still be married in church and the baby would be accepted as her new husband’s. She would have a home, a caring man to look after her, and a child with a future. No more arguments, case closed. 

Orange River mouth - rich source of diamonds

Orange River mouth – rich source of diamonds

Despite his failing health, oom Nikolaas set out to find a husband for his daughter. He trekked along the banks of the Orange River, looking for the prospectors he had heard about. What he found, disappointed him. Most of the men were unschooled. They all drank too much. Some were too old. Some, too young. And there weren’t nearly as many as he had hoped to find – the war had seen to that. When he eventually shuffled towards a shabby hut next to a digging at the water’s edge, oom Nikolaas had all but given up hope.

***

“And so oom Nikolaas bought a husband for my mother. Marriage in exchange for information about a lost treasure. Herman Jacobus Louw jumped at the chance. He was…more or less…presentable. What oom Nikolaas didn’t know, was that this same H.J. Louw was a fugitive from the law. He had a string of convictions, ranging from theft to assault. He could be as charming as a prince and change to a ball of fury at the drop of a hat. When oom Nikolaas met him, my future stepfather was in his charming mode. He seemed the nicest guy on earth. But that….changed…afterwards.

“Anyway, the deal was struck. Mattie got a husband in exchange for a vague description of where the plane went down. The very modest wedding ceremony followed within a week.

“Mattie told me it wasn’t so bad in the beginning. Herman left the morning after the marriage to start looking for the plane. He came back a month later in the worst possible mood and got into a heated argument with Nikolaas. Said the old man had tricked him. Blows followed. Nikolaas died a week later – and was buried on the farm. Nobody could prove that the fight had anything to do with his death, but to this day I’m convinced it did. Mattie told me how bruised and battered her father had been after the assault…

“Well, Herman didn’t give up. He moved Mattie to his claim and left her there to do the digging while he went on trip after trip to look for Walter’s diamonds. I was born there; Mattie somehow managed the delivery herself while Herman was on one of his expeditions.”

“What,” Gertruida asks, “happened? With Herman, I mean? Did he find the aircraft?'”

Liar wipes away a tear before answering. “He never found it. I killed him…when I was eleven…”

A Telegram to the People of Cape Town.

IMG_1634capeFrom: The people of Rolbos

To: The people of Cape Town

Subject:

FireMessage: We, the scattered people who live in faraway places; united by the concept that Life is good, that kindness should dictate our interaction with others, and that compassion is the only way to overcome differences; hereby wish to extend our heartfelt sympathy to all Capetonians – especially those who suffered directly as a result of the fire that is still raging.

It is our prayer that you will be sustained by the love of people who care (from all over the world) in this terrible time. Be assured that you are in our thoughts and that we hope that you will emerge from this ordeal stronger and more beautiful than ever.

From: The patrons in Boggel’s Place.

***

PS: please share this thought amongst your friends. Sometimes just being there for somebody is worth more than material support. 

The spirit of Cape Town (Note the left hand….)

Aboard a falling plane.

Credit: flightsim.com

Credit: flightsim.com

“This, my friends, has been a year of crashes.” Servaas folds the paper as he sits back to slip the reading glasses back into his pocket. “Those poor Malaysians! One country, three planes! It’s terrible.”

Gertruida nods. It is strange, she thinks, that both Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia are based in Malaysia. And now, after MH 370 had simply disappeared and MH 17 had been shot down, QZ 8501 was reported missing as well.

“Remember Blits Visagie? He was struck three times by lightning. He still goes fishing, though. Only insists on tackle with no metal in it.” Kleinpiet smiles at the memory of the withered, balding man he once met. “Well, he maintained that bad luck comes in threes. Now he’s afraid of the next sequence of strikes. Cats have three times as much luck as humans, he says, so he’s used up all his chances.”

“This is no joking matter, Kleinpiet. To lose an aircraft with its passengers must rate as one of the most harrowing experiences a country could live through. The families, the friends… My heart goes out to them.” Precilla, who scores a perfect 10 on the Empathy Scale, dabs a tear. “Imagine the terror of those passengers? Think about the loved ones…and them not knowing what had happened?”

“Ja, those incidents certainly makes one think about travelling. It’s better to stay here in the Kalahari. If we fall, we only go as far as the floor.”

“No, Vetfaan, you’re wrong. We may stumble about after a night of peach brandy, but that’s not the problem.” Servaas knits his brows together in a dejected scowl. “Those airline disasters made me think of our own country. We’re passengers on a political plane, completely at the mercy of the pilot, and the conditions we can do nothing about. And you know what? Our aircraft is twenty years old. It hasn’t been serviced. Our pilot has a Standard 3 certificate, and even he’s not at the helm these days. His copilot is doing most of the flying, but he’s lost the compass a while ago. The crew – mainly COSATU members – loves striking. They, too, have had so many infights lately that cabin service has ceased.

“We are, my friends, on a scheduled flight…but have strayed off the planned route so far that we may very well run out of fuel.”

“…And that’s why we have a power blackouts?”

Servaas ignores Kleinpiet’s attempt at humour. He’s in no mood for laughter. “You are right to remember Blits Visagie, Kleinpiet. Him, and his theory of threes. We’ve had Mandela, Mbeki, and now Zuma. What started out as a well-meant flight to freedom, has turned into a fiasco. We’ve lost thrust. We’ve lost a pilot. The landing gear has been stolen and there’s nobody listening for a Mayday. In short – we’re still alive, but the crash is inevitable. That’s what awaits us in 2015”

***

Despite the patrons in Boggel’s Place trying their best to cheer old Servaas up at the end of 2014, the atmosphere in the bar remains subdued, to say the least. They feel for the family and friends of the passengers and crew on board QZ 8501 and observe a moment of silence – a rare occurrence – in Boggel’s little establishment.

But…Servaas’s analogy has put a severe damper on their planned party on the 31st. Like Gertruida said: it’d be difficult to dance and sing while Rome is burning around them. Kleinpiet remarked that Rome is too far away to worry them, but that drew a disapproving look from the woman who knows everything.

“Humour may very well be the reason why we survived the last twenty years, Kleinpiet. Now, however, is not the time for snide remarks and glib statements. Our thoughts go out to those people in Indonesia. And – my word! – we should  no longer joke about our president. We should pray for him – he needs it.”

When Kleinpiet (on his fourth peach brandy) starts reciting Humpty Dumpty, Gertruida storms out, with Servaas right on her heels. Sometimes, she thinks, people’s insensitivity surpasses even their lack of understanding.

“Our country is sick,” she tells Vrede, who has followed her home. “Our aeroplane has lost power. Let’s hope there’ll be enough survivors to start over.”

And Vrede, much like so many of his human counterparts, sighs contently as he flops down for a well-deserved mid afternoon nap. The world out there is so far away…

Searching trough Yesterday

Meandering tracts through Baviaanskloof. Like Life, best viewed from a distance...

Meandering tracts through Baviaanskloof. Like Life, best viewed from a distance…

“Life,” Getruida says to nobody in particular, “is the eternal search through the past. It’s the only way to find your destiny.”

When she says something like this – and she’s quite famous for such thoughts – the patrons at the bar will fall silent or start talking about the drought. Trying to follow the creative meanderings of Gertruida’s formidable mind is like swimming in molasses – the more you try, the less you progress. Better then, to avoid the subject and remain on solid ground.

Gertruida’s statement follows one of her sleepless nights, in which she was forced to look back at her life in a strange and peculiar way…

***

Diana_(song)The knock at her door came after midnight, long after the fire in her hearth had burnt itself to ashes. The single candle on the coffee table still supported a spluttering little flame, the short wick drifting about in the last bit of molten wax. She’d been listening to one of her favourite artists of all time – Paul Anka – whose velvety voice and sad songs always carried her back to her youth. He wrote so many hits, including Frank Sinatra’s My way, Tom Jones’s  She’s a Lady and the theme from  The Longest Day, that it was difficult to silence the old record player. She simply relaxed and allowed the music to soothe her troubled mind.

And indeed, troubled she was. It had been a difficult year. A harsh year. A year filled with challenges and more disappointments than successes. Maybe it’s true to say this is typical of all years for all people; but like it happens with all people, Gertruida needed to revisit these events and situations from time to time. She believed – and still does – that such memories should not be buried amongst the chaos of everyday life, but that one should evaluate them carefully, be brutally honest and critically analytical before filing them away under the heading of ‘History’.

***

Nobody knocks on doors after midnight in Rolbos.

0494Gertruida got up carefully and moved the chintz curtain aside to peek at her porch. An older woman stood there, wearing a long, black dress and an old-fashioned kappie. It had been years and years since last Gertruida had seen such a bonnet and she stood riveted to the spot for a long minute. Who…? Why…? The questions flooded her mind.

“Are you going to stand there, gaping at me, all night? Open the door, woman!” The gravelly voice was feminine, indeed, but sounded ancient.

Gertruida turned the key to open the door.Even the dim light from the candle couldn’t hide the wrinkles and lines on her visitor’s face.

“Oh, step aside and stop gawking!!” An impatient and withered had pushed Gertruida aside and the old woman swept past her to sit down next to the candle. “And not a word from your clever tongue, young lady. I’ll do the talking tonight.” Seeing the blank expression on Gertruida’s face, the woman softened a little bit. “Oh, and sit down, will you?”

“Who…who are you…?”

The old woman sighed. “I told you to be quiet!” She wagged a stern finger at Gertruida. “But I suppose an introduction is in order.” She sat up a bit straighter. “I am Destiny. You know me well, Gertruida. Oh, we’re not blood-family or anything like that – we are much more closely involved with each other than with mere family ties.”

Gertruida’s hand flew to her mouth. “D-Destiny?”

“Yes, that’s me. And I don’t have time to waste.Places to go, people to see. Understand?” Despite not doing so, Gertruida managed to nod. “I’m here to steer your past. It’s important.”

The old woman – Destiny – relaxed a bit and leant back with a contented sigh.

“You tend to dwell on the impossible, Gertruida. That’s wrong. I have plans for you, but they won’t happen if you keep on drudging up the past. Sure, you had heartaches and failures and disappointments. There was this guy – Ferdinand – a love that ended so suddenly, so tragically, that you still can’t quite get over it. And you long back to your days in the city, where you were an important person and everybody sought your advice. And then, worst of all, you have evenings like these  where you sit and ponder the unanswerable questions, all of them starting with  ‘What if…?’.

This time, Gertruida’s nod was more convincing.

“Well, to get to the point: those thoughts are as important as they are useless. Yes, be honest in your thinking. Your history is, after all, the sum total of everything that happened to you. But so is your present. Every single thing that occurred in your life, had been extremely important. Not a second was wasted in your journey to the present.”

Destiny furrowed the already-wrinkled brow even more. “But I can’t understand this tendency of people to camp down when they go through a bad patch. Why on earth keep on returning to the broken souvenirs of your past? That, my dear, is such a waste of time.” She made to get up, but Gertruida held up a restraining hand.

“Madam…Destiny…is the past then so negligibly unimportant, even forgettable? Of no significance ?”

Another sigh, longer this time. Impatient. “Oh, you of feeble minds! Didn’t you listen? Your past – so beautifully intricate – had to have multiple elements to form your current state of life. Some of them – admittedly –  might have been painful, but that is what pruning is all about, isn’t it? You leave that tree to grow just the way it wants, and your harvest will shrink every year. But cut away the unnecessary bits, and the tree thanks you by bearing more in the following season. You should be doing the same…”

Gertruida  shook her head. “It’s not easy…”

“Look,” the old woman said as she got up, “nobody said it would be. Let me put it to you simply: there are two main types of setbacks in your life: some are of your own doing, some not.

“For the first type, you insist on becoming something you weren’t designed to be. You become a hybrid of your own making. That’s when pruning is most important – those situations are life lessons. To guide you to unbecome what you’re not and develop into who you were supposed to be.

“And the second type you have no control over. People die. People walk away. Sometimes they are making their own mistakes but often they’re not. You see, there is an inevitability to Life you have no control over. These events are the fertilizer Life adds to make you grow. To strengthen you. To increase your harvest. You have to work through such times and come out the better for it.”

Gertruida brightened a bit, finally grasping the essence of the visit.

“And…that is….destiny?”

The old woman laughed for the first time. “Yes, my dear. I told you: that’s me.”

***

“One should welcome a visit by Destiny,” Gertruida remarks as Boggel slides over a new beer. “It helps us to understand Life.”

Vetfaan eyes her critically before staring out of the window. “It’s going to be another harsh year,” he says as he watches a dust devil march down Voortrekker Weg. “Dry and challenging.”

“Ferilizer, Vetfaan, fertilizer.”

***

It’s true to say that we don’t always hear what others are telling us. Oh, we hear the words, all right, but the message is lost because we don’t understand the context. That’s why Vetfaan turns to Servaas, circling a calloused finger next to his head. Servaas shares a conspirational smile with his friend. Fertilizer? In the Kalahari?

Oh, come on!

For Gertruida, however, a new realisation dawned that night. She woke up refreshed and would have discarded  the night’s occurrences as a dream – except for one thing: the kappie Destiny had left on the chair. Like so many things in Life, that was no accident. Destiny has a way of convincing each of us of her presence during our lifetimes. It just takes longer for some…

A Rolbos Greeting for a very Special Lady. (And no, it isn’t a farewell…)

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Reinet Nagtegaal

The problem was – quite obviously – that we had known it would happen. It had to. She had been ill for some time and all the signs were there. But still, it is the holiday season and Christmas is only a few days away. Some of the family hoped for just one more Christmas together, others were kind enough to wish that release would come soon.

The reason for these diverging wishes isn’t hard to determine: she was much loved, respected…even revered. During her lifetime she had achieved many goals, met thousands and thousands of people, loved her husband and cherished her children. And everybody – without exception – adored the way she drew them into her world. A fiercely independent thinker, she had been blessed with many gifts, amongst which her compassion and sense of humour stand out as beacons for her family and friends to follow in the years to come.

But there had been something else that made her unique: despite the serious nature of her professional career, she never lost the fun-loving imaginary world she had created for herself and those close to her. She crafted upside-down worlds for her children and made them marvel at the wonders of the universe – which she didn’t hesitate to populate with amazing characters.

Author, artist, academic, connoisseur of wine and expert on many other subjects, she loved being the perfect hostess – making each and every guest feel that she was there just for him or her.

And that is why her memorial service was maybe the most memorable of all the events she ever attended.

Attended?

After passing away quietly four days previously?

Of course! In her world everything was possible. Every problem had a solution and every obstacle had a way around. Wasn’t that what she always said? Her world – her universe – didn’t have to obey the laws we take for granted. She looked – no, she lived – beyond the known margins we accept as physical or mental horizons.

Photo: Carien Loubser

Photo: Carien Loubser

And that’s why I sat there, listening to her brother and children telling the stories of her special life, and realised I have to rethink the concept of death. You see…I felt her presence. Somehow, when the wind fluttered the yellow streamers attached to the branches of the trees forming a canopy over the gathered people, I saw her smile.

Yes, she said, champagne! Snacks! Music! Lively conversation! Laughter!

And so it was – just the way the perfect hostess would have done it. A sunny day, a beautiful garden, a delightful gathering of people – everybody swapping memories and stories. Oh, there were tears and the occasional wobbly smile, but everyone who attended felt that she was there, especially for each of them.

So, sadly, we can’t wish her to rest in peace. With that overused and hollow cliche, we greet the departed to go on with our lives. But not with her. She may be at peace, but she won’t rest. The way she became part of our lives, demands that her gifts of laughter, joy and beauty be nurtured in the lives of those she touched. She will be there in our future days, answering questions we have no answers for, She’ll encourage, soothe, be the beacon. And she’ll remind us not to take ourselves so seriously – this life is far too much fun to spoil it by worrying about trivial matters. Her knowing smile will be the rich reward when we discover she had been right all along: that our apparently insurmountable mountains are, in fact, only mere molehills.

That, after all, is what is meant when we say somebody enriched our lives. Such a person didn’t do what we’ve come to accept as the norm in society: to grab, to take, to see what to skim off the top  for ourselves. No, to enrich a life, you have to give selflessly. You have to take a humble step backward and empower somebody else to achieve the seemingly impossible. It is, in a nutshell, her enduring legacy.

mcgregor-header-newI left the memorial service in the picturesque town of McGregor – situated amongst the most beautiful mountains of southern Africa – with some sadness and much joy. Sadness, because there is so much I still wanted to talk to her about; but joy, knowing her voice hasn’t been silenced.

Lets listen to a wonderful bit of music she loved so much. During the service, Karen Zoid delivered an unforgettable rendition of the song. While listening to the words, one glimpses – once again – the magic of Reinet Crause-Nagtegaal; the woman who doesn’t have to be around to grace us with her presence.