Category Archives: short stories

Happy Wind #14

The San & The Eland | Dreamflesh

Eland Hunt

‘When Francina woke up that morning, she felt strangely detached from the scene in front of her. Drugged, is the word that comes to mind. CJ, her husband, was still prone on the Eland skin, but she immediately saw that he was better. The flush and rivulets of sweat of fever were gone. His head was resting on a rolled-up karos, facing her, his expression one of calm, relaxed sleeping.’ Gertruida sips her beer, collecting her thoughts. ‘What she didn’t immediately realise, was that Andries had lanced the abscess in the stump the previous night, and had washed out the wound with salted water.’

Because she knew, and the others didn’t, Gertruida explained that there were some areas in the Kalahari where large pans collected water during the infrequent rains they get there. Some areas go without rain for years and get an excess of 4000 hours of sun per year. These pans may form in a matter of hours, disappearing just as fast again in some cases. The sand is mineral-rich, of course. So, in these little depressions, deposits may form during the evaporation of the water, leaving behind salts of various compositions and colours. And some of these salts are not the type you use at the restaurant table to season  your steak. The salt Andries used, for example, was bitter and purple.

***

Andries addressed – at length – the Eland in a most respectful way, apologising for the hunt and for taking its life. He explained that they had no choice, as only an Eland would save the sick man in the hut. He also promised the antelope that it’d be remembered for the sacrifice and that some people will be eternally thankful  for its kindness. Then, nodding to the older apprentice, he held out his cupped hands to receive a nondescript piece of flesh.

‘It’s the neck gland, white people call it a sweetbread or something,’ Geel whispered.

Even in her semi-lucid state, Francina nodded, recognising the thymus from her nursing days.

Buchu Leaf Andries cut the gland up in long, thin strips. When he turned to view CJ’s wound, Francina saw the stump for the first time that morning. Some of the swelling was gone, but the original incision had parted to reveal the rotting bone that used to be the femur of his upper leg. She also became aware of the scent filling the hut – it reminded her of a buchu-ointment – one of the natural medications Oupa had formulated  for CJ’s company before the war.

Francina was not worried; the root extract was still working its magic. Her mind was at peace, her spirit tranquil and calm. Her husband was being treated in a dirty hut by a wrinkled old man with no formal education, using bits of a dead Eland. This was all good, the way it should be. Nothing to be upset about….

‘Now they’re cutting out the stomach,’ Geel explained softly. ‘It contains the cure.’

Digestion and Nutrition - ppt video online download Andries removed a bulbous sac from the abdominal cavity. The upper end was tied with a thong. Then in deft, easy movements, Andries placed the strips of thymus in the gaping wound. What followed, did make her sit up straight, despite her sedation.

Andries slit open the bottom part of the stomach, slid the organ over the stump like a glove, and applied several strips of hide over the arrangement to keep it in place. Then he glanced over at Francina and clicked a few sentences in her direction.

‘Andries says you may wake up now, thank you.’ Geel hesitates. ‘He says we’ll see tomorrow. CJ will be better but the road to full health is long. He says patience will cure him. If we hurry, CJ will die.’

Francina did wake up from her hypnotic-like trance at once. She wanted to thank Andries, but burst into tears instead.

A bearded man, apparently about 30 years old

Paul Kruger, in 1852

***

 Gertruida smiles her superior smile. ‘That treatment was not new, of course. When Paul Kruger, later the president of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek, was hunting in 1845, he almost blew his left thumb off completely when his four-pounder exploded in his hands. When the wound became gangrenous, he consulted a local medicine man who applied the stomach of a goat in the same manner. It took six months, but he recovered’

Boggel gets on his box to peer over the counter. ‘That’s a wonderful lesson on the history of the old Transvaal Republic, Gertruida. But what happened then? To CJ and his son, the stump, poor Francina. I know something about the sad, later history of Riemvasmaak, so how did they all survive? Or didn’t they?’

Gertruida sighs. ‘Patience, dear Boggel, patience. Patience is a virgin, remember? Just wait and I’ll tell you all.’

To be continued…

Die Perskebloeisel.

Peach Blossom, Spring Flowers | PikrepoRolbos isn’t just about the Kalahari and the delightful people we find there. Sometimes something else crops up. Something current and important. Like what happens in an Intensive Care Unit during the Covid Pandemic.

It is a South African story. In order to emphasise the local situation,  this one is in Afrikaans.

***

‘Dis my verjaarsdag.’ Haar stem is skaars hoorbaar bo die onreëlmatige biep-biep van die skerm langs haar bed. Ek sit my pen neer – ek sal die voorskrif later voltooi. Ek het hope werk wat wag nadat ek van die kongres af teruggekom het en sukkel om al die pasiënte in die saal te leer ken.

‘Veels geluk.’ Ek klink seker nie entoesiasties genoeg nie en wend ʼn poging aan om te glimlag. Wat kan ek haar toewens? Goeie gesondheid is iets van die verlede. ʼn Lang lewe is buite die kwessie. ʼn Mooi jaar? Met gevorderde Covid-geassosieerde nierversaking soos hare? Gmf! ‘Ek hoop dis ʼn beter dag as gister, um, mevrou … ‘

‘Turganev, Dokter. En dis Juffrou.’ ʼn Bleek handjie fladder verskonend onder die deken uit. ‘Mense sukkel maar met die van. Dis Russies.’

Die van herinner aan die tyd toe ons familie nog normaal kon gesels oor wat daagliks interessant was. ‘Was daar nie ʼn Russiese skrywer…?’

Daar is nuwe lig in die vrou se oë. ‘Ja, Ivan Turgenev. Die Dagboek van ʼn Oortollige Man – miskien weet jy dat hy tronk toe gestuur is oor sy skryfwerk.’

‘Ek ken nie sy werk nie, Juffrou.’ Die vraagtekens in haar oë dwing my om te verduidelik. ‘My dogter is ʼn dosent – sy’s die letterkundige in die familie. Sy is dol oor die ou Russiese skrywers – Chekhov, Nabokov, Pasternak…’  Ek is haastig – die intensiewe eenheid is vol en dokter Schutte soek ʼn bed vir een van sy pasiënte.

‘En my naam is ook histories – Valentina.’ Sy sukkel met die suurstoftekort en moet eers ‘n paar keer diep asemhaal voor sy kan aangaan. ‘Ek is gebore op die 13e Junie 1963 toe Valentina Tereshkova die eerste vrou in die ruimte geword het. My ouers het gevlug uit Rusland toe hulle die muur begin bou het, maar die ruimteresies van die vyftigs en sestigs het hule verbeelding aangegryp. Sputnik, Gagarin…’

Ek het werklik nie nou tyd om hieroor te gesels nie! Ek stryk die groot vloeikaart by die voetenent plat, klik die balpuntpen en gaan aan met haar voorskrif. Uit die hoek van my oog sien ek hoe die fladderhand weer onder die deken verdwyn – die onsuksesvolle antenna word teruggetrek. Die duif keer boodskaploos terug na die Ark.

Dankie tog…

Ek kon twee minder siekes oorplaas na die algemene saal en en is op pad deur toe, maar suster Willemse keer my voor.

‘Dokter moet probeer om ʼn bietjie meer tyd by tannie Turgenev te spandeer.’ Suster Willemse se stemtoon laat – soos altyd – geen argument toe nie. ‘Kyk, sy weet sy gaan sterf en sy aanvaar dit. Sy is eensaam en sy het geen familie nie. Niemand kan vir haar kom kuier nie. Medisyne gaan nie vir haar help nie, maar ʼn simpatieke oor sal darem troos.’ Dan, onverwags, is daar ʼn ongewone pleit in haar stem. ‘Probeer, toe?’

Met my aand rondte slaap juffrou Turganev en suster Willemse rapporteer dat sy ʼn onrustige dag gehad het. ‘Laat haar rus terwyl sy kan, maar probeer om môre vyf minute vroeër te kom. Luister na haar. Hou haar hand vas. Lyk asof jy belangstel.’

Op pad huis toe eggo daardie laaste sin in my gemoed. Lyk as of jy belangstel. Sjoe! Ek spandeer my lewe in die hospitaal. My familie word afgeskeep. My werk is my lewe…en my lewe is my werk. Hoe kan iemand insinueer dat ek nie belangstel nie!

Daar is nog lig in die sitkamervenster – Estelle, my vrou, kyk seker weer ʼn sepie. As ek die voordeur toe maak, hoor ek sy lag. Dan tref dit my: die universiteit het gesluit weens die pandemie. Natuurlik. My dogter is mos tuis. Afstandsonderrig.  Skoon vergeet…

Ons groet mekaar soos dit hoort – met spontane vals glimlaggies. Estelle se oë is koud en afsydig, soos altyd, maar ons het lankal besluit om die skyn van ʼn gelukkige huwelik te bewaar. Sonja, my dogter, was nog altyd aan haar ma se kant maar haar groet is miskien darem een graad warmer as Estelle sʼn.  Ek gaan eet in die kombuis (koue bobotie en rys) en na die tyd gaan sit ek op ʼn gepaste afstand by die twee vroue. My bydrae tot die gesprek is die af-en-toe ‘O’ of ‘Mmmm…’, bloot omdat ek hulle sal verveel met my stories van siekes en sterwendes.

Dan, tydens ʼn paar oomblikke van stilte, probeer ek om deel te wees van hul lewens.

‘Um, daardie Russiese skrywer – Turgenev? Jy’t mos al van hom gepraat, Sonja?’

Sy kyk verbaas na my, as of sy vir die eerste keer hierdie aand my raaksien.  ‘Sjoe! Het Pa nou begin om ordentlike literatuur te lees? Impressive…

‘Moenie sarkasties wees nie, Sonja, dit pas jou nie.’ Ek het glad nie bedoel om so kortaf te wees nie. Hemel, wat het van ons geword? Ek haal diep asem en dwing my stemtoon terug na normaal. ‘Ek het ʼn dame in die saal, haar van is Turgenev. Sy sê sy’s familie van die skrywer. En sy het iets gesê van ʼn oortollige man…’

Turgenev Dissed Russia but Is Still Lionized as Literary Star by ...‘Ivan Turgenev. Nou toe nou! Dnevnik Lishnego Cheloveka, The Diary of a Superfluous Man.’ Ek moet, ten spyte van die atmosfeer, glimlag oor haar poging om die Russiese woorde te vorm. ‘Daardie verhaal, asook sy eerste boek, Rudin, gaan oor ʼn belangrike onderwerp – die onmag van ‘n willose intelligentsia. Daar was ʼn hele generasie opgeleide, intelligente, slim Russe, manne van insig en integriteit, maar hulle was nie in staat om die outoritêre regeringstyl van Tsar Nikolaas l te beïnvloed nie. Die gevolg?’ Dit lyk as of sy ʼn antwoord verwag en ek word gedwing om my kop te skud. Wanneer het hierdie kind, hierdie klein dogtertjie, vrou geword? Wanneer het sy verander van ʼn hulpelose telg tot ʼn selfstandige wese, ʼn akademikus, iemand met vaste opinies? Sy antwoord self: ‘Die mans is hierdie verhale het die inherente vermoë om omstandighede te verander, maar hulle word passief. Toeskouers. Die gehoor van ʼn tragedie wat reg voor hul oë afspeel.’ Sy sug. ‘Dis die verhaal van baie gesinne, baie samelewings in hierdie dae. Selfs ons.’

Ons? Ons die land of ons die gesin?

Ek slaap sleg en is voor my gewone opstaantyd aangetrek vir werk. Estelle slaap nog vas as ek by haar kamer inloer.

Die verwese, grys kop op die skoon wit linne lyk nog méér broos as gister. Sy hou my dop vandat ek die intensiewesorg saal se deur oopstoot tot ek by haar bed kom staan. Het suster Willemse met haar gepraat? Vertel dat sy my aangespreek het oor my belangelose houding? Haar oë is moeg, gedaan.

‘Dis tyd,’ sê sy.

Ek weet nie wat om te sê nie en probeer die gesprek by gister se besoek aanhaak.

‘Die onmag van die intelligentsia, Juffrou, is ʼn siekte van die mensdom. Soms wil mens omstandighede aanspreek, maar daar is geen manier nie. Jou voorvader was reg, nie waar nie? Hy was bekommerd oor wat van Rusland gaan word, en vandag moet ons erken dat hy reg was.’

‘Ja, hy skryf êrens … dat ons baie herinneringe koester, maar … so min het om te onthou. Of so iets.’ Die inspanning om te praat is pynlik duidelik

‘Ek is jammer, Mevrou, as ek soms oorhaastig is. Die werk…’ Dit klink lam. ‘Die verantwoordelikhede…’

Die kreukels en plooie rangskik hulself in iets wat ʼn glimlag mag wees. ‘Genoeg hiervan.” Sy haal diep asem. ‘Mag ek … iets vra?’

Suster Willemse kom staan langs my. Sy moes gewag het vir hierdie oomblik.

‘Ek het al vir Suster gevra en … sy’t gesê dis reg met haar.’ Die handjie kom bewend onder die deken uit en vou om my voorarm. Suster Willemse sit haar hand bo-op neer. Ons drie is verbind deur die band van tas. Hoekom voel dit so vreemd? ‘Buite, in die vierkant … net anderkant die venster, staan ʼn … boom. ʼn Perskeboom. Dit sou wonderlik gewees het … as dit ʼn kersieboom kon wees…’ Haar stem raak weg. Die oë dwaal hemelwaarts. ‘Maar dit sal nou maar moet doen.’ Nou kom daar ʼn definitiewe smeking in haar stem. ‘Kan ek…mag ek…vir ʼn oomblik onder daardie boom gaan lê? Net ʼn oomblik. Suster het gesê … sy sal help.’

Hulle het my later geroep om haar afsterwe te bevestig, daar onder die ou perskeboom in die vierkant, tussen die baksteenmure van die hospitaal. Sy het mooi gelyk, ontspanne, selfs gelukkig.

The First Woman in Space: Valentina Tereshkova | AnOther‘Sy wou soos Valentina Tereshkova wees, Dokter. Sy’t my vertel. Daardie eerste vrou in die ruimte was ʼn eenvoudige Russiese fabriekswerker, iemand met ʼn droom. En haar ruimteloopbaan het begin toe sy kind was, toe sy in die kersieboom agter hul huis geklim het om aan die hemel te probeer raak. Wys jou net: as mens braaf genoeg is om te droom, is niks onmoontlik nie. Al vereiste, het sy gesê, is dat jy regtig moet glo in jou droom. Anders word jou droom oorbodig – superfluous, is die woord wat sy gebruik het. Dis hoekom sy hier onder die boom wou kom lê, vir oulaas, sodat sy kortpad hemel toe kon kies. Sy het só uitgesien daarna…’

Daardie aand het ek huis toe gegaan en met my vrou en dogter gaan praat. ʼn Lang gesprek oor Russiese skrywers, vroulike ruimtevaarders, ons klein familietjie, en drome waarin mens moet glo. Oor ‘n gesonde wêreld sonder virusse. Die volgende oggend het Estelle vir my koffie en beskuit in die bed bedien. En op die klein skinkbordjie, langs die beker, was ʼn perskebloeisel.

The Curious Art of Celebrating the Sad Things

Johnnie Walker whisky to become available in paper-based bottle ...It’s been one of those rare, quiet mornings in Boggel’s Place where everybody is too angry to engage in superficial chit-chat. The news that Boggel’s most expensive drink is going to be sold in paper bottles, has been just too much. Vetfaan reckons  these bottles won’t withstand the stresses and shocks of Upington’s potholes.

‘Look,’ he said, ‘we can’t afford JW’s Black Label, and that’s cool. But I hear Coke is also looking at the possibility. What are we going to mix with brandy? It’s a disaster.’

Servaas breaks the reverie. ‘Ah, another disaster. Another celebration.’

Kleinpiet puts down his drink – cleverly disguised as Appletiser in case Sersant Dreyer pops in. ‘What are you talking about, Servaas? Celebrating disasters?’

‘Ja man, it’s a world-wide phenomenon. We simply cannot get enough of hardship, pain, disappointment, death and anything else that makes us sad. Or angry. Think about it: we remember 9-11. We celebrated Guy Fawkes in the past, just because he almost blew up the British Parliament. We remember Armistice Day and the millions who fell in the wars. Our own calendar is littered with names of people who died tragically.’

‘Jis, Servaas, that’s all true. But we must never forget the sacrifices people made to grant us the freedom we have today.’

Servaas sits up straight to wag a finger at Kleinpiet. ‘Freedom? You call this freedom? Remember Bobby McGee, my friend. Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…’ When Boggel slides a fresh beer over to the old man, he calms down a bit. ‘Let’s not go overboard with that freedom idea, Kleinpiet. Ja, we must remember the past – the whole past, not just the bits promoting a specific ideology.

‘Whether we like it or not, there were – as there still are – many murders in the past. We had despots, kings, wars and even a period of cannibalism. Colonialism and slavery was something the whole world endured. History tells the story of mankind’s many mistakes and it is right that we learn from that. But why celebrate disasters when we can celebrate nice things – the stuff we learnt during those times?’

‘Like National Braai Day?’ Vetfaan brightens at the idea.

‘Ja, man! That’s the idea. Why celebrate a paper bottle when we can have a real party with the contents? If all of us who live in this beautiful country can have the guts to take a good, long, hard look at what and who we are, we might see progress at last. Instead of concentrating on the weak spots, why can’t we celebrate the good that we have? We have music, cultures, creative minds, sports, miles and miles of national parks, beaches, animals, whales – the list of things to celebrate, is endless. Why can’t we have a National Love-Thy-Neighbour Day?’ Old Oom Servaas suddenly runs out of steam. ‘Ag, I know. We love to argue. We don’t let the sun shine on others. Politics have been divisive in the past and will be so forever. We insist on complaining about the paper bottle and in doing so, fail to appreciate the contents.’

Boggel nods. ‘That’s what we call freedom, Servaas.’

 

Coulrophobia is alive and well..

12060d75ff7931e6cad9fc882e79b3ce.jpg“I think it started with The Joker in the Batman movies. That guy was as evil as they come, and boy, was I scared of him! Although…,” Servaas smiles wickedly, “I sort of admired his stupidity. Imagine taking on Batman? It’s a one-horse race, but still he didn’t give up. Evil would never trump Good, yet it didn’t prevent The Joker from trying.”

Gertruida nods. “Yep. A real bad guy. Wikipedia describes him as: ‘ a criminal mastermind. Introduced as a psychopath with a warped, sadistic sense of humor…‘ Interestingly, he associated himself with various criminal elements, like the Injustice Gang and Injustice League. In short, a very realistic figure who resonates quite remarkably with us  – almost 80 years after he was first created. Interestingly, The Joker was created on April 25, 1940, just about two years before our prez was born.”

“Amazing coincidence, Gertruida. To create such characters in the middle of WW II might represent some form of logic. I mean, while everybody is shooting at everybody else, it is only natural that that period of time gave birth to some rather strange characters. I mean, Bob Hewitt was also born in 1940.”

“Ooooh…you just can’t generalise like that, Servaas! Some good people also started life in that year. Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Kitch Christie, Eddie Barlow, Frederik van Zyl Slabbert – to name only a few.” Despite her stern tone, Gertruida pats her old friend’s shoulder. “It’s not the year, Servaas. It’s not the war. We simply have to stop blaming the past for everything – as if it absolves us from all blame and gives us the right to condemn modern society.

“The choice to become a criminal is a purposeful movement away from what is just and fair – by the individual. It is he or she who decides to swindle others in the community and steal or murder or act unlawfully. To blame it on circumstances is the original cop-out. To blame it on racism or apartheid or whatever other wrong, has become the norm – but think about it. Is it justifiable to engage in criminal activity because Jan van Riebeeck started something in the Cape, establishing a world-renowned and terribly strategic port? So successful was his endeavour that we may not breathe a word about ‘colonialism’ today.”

“That’s  Greek word, isn’t it?”

“It is. The Greek word kolon, means ‘limb’, and because of stilts, was also associated with clowns. Of course, if you say ‘kolon’ today, people hear ‘colon’ and think about the temporary store for stuff the body wants to dispose of.”

“Huh?”

“Ag Servaas! The word coulrophobia has it’s origins in the way the old Greeks amused themselves. Some men would walk about on stilts and thus try to be funny. They elongated their kolons to appear comical. They were the original clowns, see? So, in an obscure way, the word Kolon is the parent word for colony (a limb of the sovereign nation) as well as for clown.”

“So, if a colony is run by a kolon, we get coulrophobia?”

“The pathological fear of clowns? Just so, my ancient friend, just so.”

Gertruida’s Fish-in-a-Bottle Analogy

images (2).jpg“You see, in the beginning everything is small  – but that tends to change as time goes on.” Gertruida smiles at her little audience in Boggel’s Place. After their protest march on Friday, they have decided not to talk about politicians for a while – but now it’s Monday and it’s time to take stock of recent events.

“Are you talking about babies, relationships or lies, Gertruida?” Servaas brushes his bushy brows flat with a drop of beer. “Nothing new there, I’m afraid.”

“Actually – yes and no. What I’m really referring to, is the fish-in-a-bottle analogy.” Her smile widens as she enjoys the blanks stares she gets. “It’s simple, really.”

***

One day, a man noted a number of small fish in the pond near his house. They were exceptionally beautiful and exhibited all the colours of the rainbow.

“I want those fish,” he said and strolled off to find a net somewhere.

“Haven’t seen a net for ages,” his friend said when asked. “It’s not something we do. Anyway, some of those fishes are quite poisonous, I’m told. Best to leave them alone.”

But the man was determined and made up his own net with bits of string. Then he thought about a container to keep the little fishes in and once again his friend advised against it.

“If you keep fish in a container, they will need to be fed. And you’ll have to clean the thing every now and then – fish swim around in their own poo, you know?”

images (3).jpgStill, the man ignored the advice. The only container he found, was an old wine bottle – the type with little handles at the neck. It was also a very precious bottle, something that had been in the family for some time. This, the man thought, would be a great container for the fish.They’d have plenty of room to swim around in and the clear glass would display their colours beautifully to anybody who cared to look. And who cared if the fish were poisonous – they’d be safe behind the glass. Anyway, they were to be looked at, not handled or eaten.

The man started catching the fish with his net. It was slow going at first, but he soon got the hang of it and he quickly filled up the bottle with a small school of lively fish bodied. Their colours were even more remarkable inside the glass container, causing the man to puff out his chest in pride.

“Nobody in the whole, wide world has fish as beautiful as mine,” he boasted. He’d spend countless hours admiring his fish, feeding them and watching them grow.

And grow…

And grow.

In time, the fish became so big that he wanted to put them into a larger container, but there was a problem. By then the fish had grown so big that he couldn’t get then out of the bottle any longer. The neck of the bottle had been large enough when the fish were small, but now – having been fed well and grown to a considerable size – the fish could no longer negotiate their way out of the bottle.

“My fish have grown too much!” The man wailed. “They are now trapped inside my bottle. Even if I wanted to, I can no longer set them free or return them to the pond.”

And still the fish grew and grew and eventually became so big that they no longer could swim in the bottle. They just hung there, suspended in water, eating all day while their scales slowly lost their lustre.

“Oh, how ugly and fat have my beauties become! I used to be so proud of them, but now they’ve become bloated and fat and lazy – and I cannot get rid of them.” The man wept as he tried to imagine what the fish looked like before.

“You have to break the bottle,” the man’s friend suggested.”Set them free in the pond and get rid of them.”

“But my bottle! It’s such a precious bottle! I belonged to my father, and his father before him. If I break the bottle, I’b be betraying their trust and disrespect their memory.”

“And if you don’t, the fish will die in that bottle and you’ll have to wait for everything to rot away before you’ll be able to get them out – piece by piece. Either way, the bottle is doomed. Either way, the fish get out. Your choice.”

The man didn’t know what to do. In the end the fish died, they rotted away and the bottle stank to high heaven for many years afterwards.

And the man had no choice. He discarded the bottle – which nobody wanted any more – and regretted the day he first thought of catching the beautiful little fish in the pond near his house.

***

“Oh, I get it.” Vetfaan’s face lights up with excitement. “You’re talking about the cows coming home. The chickens return to the roost. And being hoist by your own petard?”

“Exactly. The ANC tried to restrict the havoc Zuma caused by closing ranks and proclaiming their unyielding support for the president. Well, a while ago this might have worked and they could have gotten away with it. But now the elephant in the room has grown too big to ignore. The fish is now too big for the bottle. The only way ahead is now to break the bottle and set Zuma free to face the music, or to remain steadfast in their support and die with him inside the bottle. Either way, the ANC is causing terrible damage to the party’s image. The darling of world politics have become the skunk.”

“You mean a junk-skunk?” Vetfaan manages a lopsided grin.

“Just so, Vetfaan, just so.” Gertruida doesn’t return the smile.

The Charmer, Vetfaan’s Gout and Immortality

Paul_Désiré_Trouillebert,_The_Nude_Snake_Charmer.jpg

Paul Trouillebert: The naked snake charmer

Whenever Vetfaan is asked about the sexy girl he had met that fateful summer’s day, he blushes, stutters and tells you to mind your own business. Should you persist, a rather unpleasant exchange of a more physical nature is sure to follow.

The problem involves the fact that this waif of a girl – somewhere between mid-thirty and menopause – had the body of an athlete and the ageless wisdom some women seem to possess.

It was a particularly hot day, with heat shimmers rising and warping the scenery of the Kalahari. The distorted surroundings often create a surrealistic symptoms-of-gout-in-the-toe.jpgatmosphere, especially if the traveller is new to the area. Vetfaan, being a born-and-bred son of the region, simply failed to notice the visual impact of the heatwaves. His attention was focussed on the joint where his big toe joined his foot.

Now, anybody who has had some experience with gout, will understand the degree of pain and discomfort poor Vetfaan endured that morning. He had already eaten a handful of black cherries, drank two litres of water, ate three lemons and packed his foot in ice. Nothing helped. The throbbing, red, painful joint insisted on swelling up even more, forcing Vetfaan to take off his boot while driving to Upington, where he hoped to see the new doctor he had heard so much about.

Well, heat waves may have escaped his attention…the girl in the middle of the road did not. No Kalahari-man will ever drive past a stranded woman. Especially if she’s beautiful. Or wears a revealing, short skirt. Or stands  in the middle of the road, aiming a short-barrelled  .38 at you. In this case, the woman in question had ticked all these boxes, and Vetfaan did, indeed, stop.

She was unapologetic about the gun, saying a girl could never be sure who would stop to offer help.

“Listen, I’ve been around. I’m a woman. You’re a man. It all adds up.”

“What does?” Vetfaan didn’t understand.

She ignored his question, picked up her bag and got in. “Drive slowly and don’t make an accident. I’ve had enough trouble in my life.”

“What’s wrong with your vehicle?”

She eyed him for a full minute before answering. “Mam doesn’t like the smell of petrol. Neither do I, for that matter.”

“Mam?”

She rolled her eyes heavenward in exasperation. “Mam. My snake. Short for mamba.”

To recount the disjointed conversation that followed, would involve many pages of blank looks and horrid stares and still-born sentences. The short version: Mimi – she of no fixed abode and rather limited means – made a living as a snake charmer. She also treated various  health conditions, communicated with departed family members and had once sat as a model for a famous artist.

“That’s immortality, understand? Paintings don’t grow old and die. Oh, the paint the artist used, might get a bit flakey,but the picture? It remains as beautiful as the day the brush touched the canvas.”

By the time they reached Upington, Vetfaan was completely confused.  His passenger was either completely mad, or perhaps the most interesting woman he had ever met. Fascinated by the possibilities, he asked her to join him for coffee before his appointment with the doctor.

“Doctor? What for?”

He explained. She suggested moxibustion. Vetfaan said the people in the Northern Cape frowned on polygamy. She laughed.

japanese-moxibustion.jpg“No, it’s not that, silly man! I burn a herb on your toe, and you feel better. Moxi-bustion…the burning of mugwort.  It’s an old Chinese trick. see? Mugwort, that’s the herb – is what you need. I’ve got some.”

Vetfaan claims to be the first man in the Kalahari to have undergone moxibustion. There, on the front seat of his old Land Rover, his strange passenger rolled a few mugwort fibres into a little ball and placed it on his swollen toe. He watched, horrified, as she lit the potion with a small gas lighter and was amazed that he felt no pain.

“The swelling will go down now,” she said, “but I must go. Mam needs something to eat and you’re too nice. And…I must still find my two friends. I’ll just keep on looking, even if it takes forever. So, thank you and bye-bye.”

Vetfaan watched, dumbfounded,  as she sauntered down the street, swinging her bag casually as she strode along. He ran a hand over his still-bare foot and sighed with relief when he noticed how much better it felt. By the time he had his sock and boot back on, Mimi was nowhere to be seen.

On his way back to Rolbos, Vetfaan stopped at her abandoned vehicle. On the back seat he found an old shoe-box with a dead rat in it. Mam’s supper?  In the boot, another box – a lot bigger, containing three pieces of art.

Trouillebert-servante_du_harem.jpg1 (1).jpg

 

It was Gertruida who told Vetfaan about the girls and the great portrait artist, Paul Désiré Trouillebert. “The Young Girl, the Harem Girl and the Snake Charmer were all painted by the same man, Vetfaan. Remember, Trouillebert was a landscape artist – he abandoned his attempts at portrait works because he fell in love with the girls in his painting – like all artists do. The real, flesh-and-blood subjects were admired for their beauty, but the paintings became the loves of his life – because they were immortal. Time would not decay their beauty, neither would the lovely faces and bodies sag and become wrinkled.”

“Immortal? Really? Are you saying that I…?”

“Either that, Vetfaan, or you’ve lost your mind.” Gertruida shrugged. “I don’t know which is worse…”

‘Survivor’ in the Kalahari?

survivor-logo.jpg“We need tourism.”

Gertruida’s remark makes them all sit up. While they are used to her coming up with some very strange ideas, this one strikes them as particularly odd. When Servaas – rather cautiously – reminds her that they have chosen to live in Rolbos especially, to escape the madness other people accept as ‘civilisation’ (at the same time reminding her of the dangers posed by foreigners like ISIS and Trump), Gertruida simply shrugged.

“Look, it’s a question of economics. We need a new borehole and the potholes in Voortrekker Weg needs filling. We have two choices: either we slash away at our budgets for sitting around in Boggel’s Place, or we get other people to pay for our amenities. I don’t know about you, Servaas, but I’d prefer the second option.”

Of course, this makes a huge lot of sense to the group at the bar. Why fork out good money when visitors would not only solve their problems with the infrastructure, but also boost Boggel’s profit…which in turn would reduce the cost per glass? Simple mathematics. They all nod.

“But how? We have a dusty little town in the middle of nowhere. Sure, we have plenty of sand and a lot of sunshine, but that would not draw tourists – for that they go to Etosha and Kgalagadi, where people get to see animals and lodge in luxury. We can’t compete with that.” Vetfaan shrugs. “Unless they want to see sheep, that is.”

“That’d only draw people from New Zealand, Vetfaan. We don’t want that after the game on Saturday.”

“No, we have to create an event. Something that’d catch the attention of people. And if we get TV-coverage, that’d generate a lot of money.” Boggel likes the idea. “Maybe a literary festival or a music show or something.”

“Yeah right! People are going to drive all the way from Prieska to read a book in Boggel’s Place? Or do you want them to listen to some old records? I’ve got one of Jim Reeves…”

“Nope. Don’t be cynical, Servaas. Boggel has the right idea, though. People plus TV equals income. More of either multiplies the result. The hottest thing on TV these days, is a reality show – something scary or gaudy or quite abnormal – like the American presidential debates or Survivor.”

Of course she has to explain the Survivor concept to the patrons in Boggel’s Place. The outlandish idea of exposing teams or perfectly normal people to completely insane conditions makes no sense to Kleinpiet.

“So – you ask people to pay money to participate, then you get them to pay for accommodation and food, then you make them suffer beyond human endurance, then the TV companies show it to some overweight couch potatoes sipping beer….and then you get paid millions?”

“Exactly, Kleinpiet. All we have to do is to write a proposal and get BBC of CNN interested. The rest is up to them. We sit back and count the money…”

Like most ideas generated after a few beers in Boggel’s Place, this one gets analysed with great care. Yes, they all agree, this is a sure thing – provided they come up with a novel concept. Their final proposal gets drafted that same evening.

“So, there we are. A nice little list of items with enough endurance and fear to make millions want to watch.” Gertruida glares – somewhat bleary-eyed – at the paper.

1. Sheep Dog Imitation: the team has to round up a flock of scattered sheep and chase the flock through a gate.

2. The Ostrich Race: grabbing eggs from the roosting ostrich on Kleinpiet’s farm.

3. The Kudu Relay Run: team loaded on Vetfaan’s Land Rover, with one runner chasing a kudu. When the runner tires, he gets on the Landy while another runner takes his place. Judging will involve both distance and time to catch up with the antelope.

4 The Great Lion Escape – this item still needs refining.

“I think it is a great proposal, but item 5 is just too scary to include, guys.We cannot really expect even the strongest of the strongest to endure so much pain. I think it’s inhumane.” She glances up to see if they all agree.

“No, I think this is the item that’ll draw the audience.” Servaas manages not to slur his words. “Look, we need to be real and convincing – viewers have to identify with, and understand what the contestants are going through. This one will make them want to cry, puke and bash their heads against any available wall. It’ll make them extremely angry and inconsolably sad. I think it’s a winner.”

“Shees, Servaas – you are not only a true cynic, you are the reincarnation of Machiavelli! Okay then, we’ll keep it.”

***

Two months goes by without a response from the TV moguls.

“I told you: it’s much too painful. We should have stuck to the first four items.” Gertruida smiles sadly. “But…we gave it a good try. In the meantime we’ll just have to swerve around the potholes.”

“Ja.” Vetfaan sighs. “Item 5: making the contestants sit through the South Africa – New Zealand game to see who can suffer through the entire match? Truth be told. I couldn’t. I don’t think anybody should live through it again. It’s like harakiri with a blunt saw.”

The Horizon Hunter #4

download (8).jpg“Life in Atlantis was okay, I guess. The neighbours all knew our story and warned us many times whenever the inspectors were checking up on people’s ID’s. However, my mother refused to send me to school – the danger of exposure loomed too large. Anyway, I was an unregistered child, remember? Basically – as far as the officials were concerned, I didn’t exist.”

***

Mo’s mother found work as a waitress in Cape Town itself, which involved a lengthy train trip to a fro every day. Mo stayed at home, under the care of Achmad, her brother, for a while. Achmad was the main middleman in the supply of dagga (hashish) to the local community. A friend of a friend had a hidden plantation in the Transkei and he had several distributors who acted as agents in the Cape area. In the days before drug lords, Achmad was the king of Atlantis.

Dealing in illicit drugs  was (and still is) a nefarious and dangerous business. Achmad could not survive without a network of dealers and informers. A lot of people depended on him for an income and quite a few were deeply indebted to him in more ways than one. One of them was the lovable Aunty Florrie.

Florrie was a remarkable woman. She used to be a social worker and even helped out at the small local school for a while, but the slippery slope of alcoholism deposited her squarely in the cul de sac of addiction. She was one of Achmad’s runners and – despite her sales – could never quite get out of debt with her supplier. Achad made her an offer she could not refuse: if she housed Maria and her child, her past transgressions would be forgiven. No more debt. A new start.

Florrie grabbed the opportunity and not only provided a roof over the poor mother’s head, but also started teaching the child the basics of reading and writing. Mo proved to be a fast learner.

At the time, Mo’s identity remained a huge problem. Achad suggested that he’d arrange with ‘some people he knew’ to register the child in his name. A sympathetic Methodist pastor agreed – rather enthusiastically – to baptise little Mohammed Sulliman, clearly a convert to Christianity from a Muslim home. Now, with documents from the church and Achmad’s ID papers, the Department of Home Affairs had to be convinced that the child’s birth simply wasn’t registered due to an oversight by the Sulliman family. Money changed hands. Mo Sulliman became a real, official person.

Aunty Florrie continued her home schooling simply because it kept Achmad off her back. No, she didn’t think formal schooling would bring out the best in the child – not at all. He was far too clever to be immersed in the second-rate teaching the government provided (she said) and she provided individual teaching, didn’t she? The other side of the coin also deserves mentioning: so profound was M0’s influence on Florrie’s life that she almost stopped using drugs. Almost. Not quite.

Initially Aunty Florrie guided Mo through the basics of learning quite successfully, but when the boy was about nine years old, her addiction flared up again. Achmad was dismayed and then had to face the problem of an almost-ten years old boy who never had formal schooling. A government school was out of the question – but what to do with a ten-year old kid with nothing to do? The solution: recruit Mo as a runner to make deliveries to the agents. images (22).jpgThis was a brilliant move. While his other distributors were adults, mostly convicts and generally known to the police, the little boy could fool them all. The only problem was his rather white skin – which was solved by generous applications of Coppertone and plenty of sun.

And so, gradually over the next two years, Mo became familiar with the underbelly of the Cape’s drug world. In turn, people accepted the little runner as one of their own, while his reputation of always managing to avoid the long arm of the law eventually earned him the respect of  a number of ex-convicts and other individuals surviving in the world of petty crime and other illicit activities.

At the time, the Anti-Apartheid Resistance Movement was gaining ground amongst the Coloured people of Atlantis. The community was ripe for rebellion – after their forced move from District Six, the mood in the community was distinctly anti-government. AARM needed informers and made a deal with Achmad: they’ll smuggle the new drug, LSD, to him, in exchange for information. Achmad’s network fitted their requirements like a glove: his distributors and users worked in the affluent houses of Cape Town and some were cleaners in government departments. A few even were employed as officials and clerks. And they all could be trusted to be true to the cause as long as the supply of drugs was guaranteed.

Mo became the trusted runner with stolen documents, secret messages and  drugs – a heady mix of danger and adventure for the youth who understood the necessity of secrecy all too well. But, in the end, even this elusive runner became the focus of police activity, for the officials also had their own network of informers. A reward was posted and Mo was caught.

What followed is not something Mo wants to talk about. His interrogation was merciless and involved the usual methods used on other so-called terrorists. Solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, beatings, water – these and other ways of making him talk were all used. However, young Mo stubbornly refused to answer any question, repeating over and over again that he knew nothing. He was a street child, homeless, with no real family. Yes, he knew Achmad Sulliman, he was an uncle. And yes, Achmad had adopted him, but that was a long time ago. No he didn’t know where his mother was. He survived by scavenging on the streets – go on, ask anybody in Atlantis: they’ll all confirm that he was seen here and there, doing odd jobs and living off scraps. His interrogators redoubled their efforts. Mo remained unbroken.

The one thing Mo still remembers, is a visit from Aunty Florrie.

“I only heard – later – that she had died a week before. I didn’t know that.  But one night, while I was shivering from being cold and wet and hungry – suddenly, as if by magic – Aunty was there at my side. I was so disorientated and confused, I didn’t question her presence or how she got there.

1990-02-03.jpg“Well, she held me in her arms and made soothing noises. It was wonderful. Then she told me I had to be strong, everything would change soon. I would be free again, she said. She said I must remember the date: it was Thursday, the 1st of February, 1990.”

Then, as suddenly as she had appeared, Aunty Florrie was gone. The next day, on the 2nd of February, President F.W. de Klerk announced the release of Nelson Mandela and the unbanning of the resistance movements.

 ***

Mo sat back, his characteristic smile replacing the scowl of recounting his experiences during those terrible days.

“I thought that would be the end of it all. You know – Mandela was freed, there were talks about a negotiated settlement and even free elections for all. And…you won’t believe it…my interrogators arrived on the Monday after De Klerk’s speech with new clothes and a hamburger. They said it didn’t matter anymore and that I’d be freed that Wednesday. A doctor came and examined me. They even sent a pastor to give me a lecture on forgiveness!

“Me? I didn’t care. All that mattered was that I’d be set free and that the beatings stopped. I was old enough to understand that everything had changed, but too young to be cynical about it. So, on that Wednesday, I was ushered to a back door in my new clothes, given ten rand and told to bugger off.”

Mo sioghed. “You know, I really thought that was the end of my troubles.” He shook his head. “Had I but known…”

To be continued…

Vetfaan’s Angoraphobia

Spang-Angora-Rabbit-1024x768.jpgThis fear of Angora rabbits is unique to our burly farmer in the Kalahari, and it is still as real and acute as it was when he found the dead rabbit staring back at him with unseeing eyes in the kraal that used to house his sheep. It’s a story nobody dares tell in Boggel’s Place, for it reminds them of the time they all hoped for a better South Africa, way back, after the ’94 elections. That’s the time when everybody invested heavily in tinned food, bottled water, guns and religion. It’s also the time Vetfaan sold his entire sheep flock to the ANC.

We all know elections are never free and rarely democratic. The voter is captured by some ideology or policy he thinks will benefit him personally. The ANC knew this (they still do) and handed out T-shirts and free meals at their rallies. A well-clothed voter with a full tummy does not care what rhetoric is blared out over the loudhailer – immediate needs are far more important than some ideology and promises that’ll fade away in a few week’s time. So, when the elections loomed on the horizon, the future ruling party used the funds they got from well-wishing sympathisers in Europe, England and the USA, very wisely. A man arrived on Vetfaan’s farm with a suitcase full of money and a fleet of trucks.

“We need your sheep, Mister Vetfaan. All of them. It’s for our meetings in the Northern Cape, see? We need to feed the masses on a diet of meat and political jargon. If they understand the first bit, the second part is unimportant.”

Vetfaan is a realist. He knew where the elections were going to take the country. So, he counted the money, suppressed a surprised whistle and made the deal.

The results of the election is a matter of historical fact. However, the results of Vetfaan’s transaction are far more traumatic than the effect of the Weapons Scandal and Nkandla combined. When he realised he had a suitcase full of money, a farm and a completely empty kraal, Vetfaan approached Gertruida for advice. As always, she had a unique plan.

“Angora rabbits, Vetfaan. They multiply faster than the president’s wives, you can shear them four times a year and they’ll eat hay and some Kalahari bushes. Lots of good nourishment for a hungry, reproducing rabbit all around us, Vetfaan, and the price of that wool is far better than a sheep’s. The fibre is much in demand right around the world; you’ll be able to export and benefit from the fall in the rand. It makes sense, don’t you think?”

To cut a long story short: that’s what Vetfaan did. His flock of Angora rabbits was the talk of the district. The old kraal was spruced up and soon housed a myriad of hopping, long-haired rabbits – mostly doing what rabbits do best. His flock grew at an alarming rate.

Platnees, however. would have absolutely nothing to do with the furry animals. “Eish! Those things are the tokoloshe, Mister Vetfaan. They’re not rabbits like we have in the Kalahari – look at them! They are bad, bad news, you’ll see!” Platnees put more bricks under the legs of his bed, burnt some herbs and consulted his ancestors. They confirmed his worst fears: the rabbits were gremlins from another time; they represented evil spirits with ominous intentions.

Enter now the young Vrede, the town’s dog, who had developed a liking in Kleinpiet. Although it was generally agreed that the dog didn’t belong to anybody in particular, Vrede seemed to prefer Kleinpiet’s leftovers and spent most of his time next to Kleinpiet’s back door. Vrede, the ex-police dog, was the result of careful breeding over many years. He had been trained to identify crooks, criminals and other corrupt officials. But somewhere in his illustrious ancestry, a champion rabbit-chaser had left his mark on Vrede’s genes. It was an instinct he could not deny or suppress – he simply couldn’t help himself.

So, when the dry west wind carried the scent of rabbits over to Kleinpiet’s back door, Vrede sneaked over to Vetfaan’s kraal to help himself to a tasty meal. Vetfaan wasn’t amused.

“Your bloody dog ate one of my rabbits, Kleinpiet. That’ll be R600, thank you very much.”

Kleinpiet paid up – for the first rabbit. But when Vrede’s excursions resulted in more rabbits being dinner for the hapless hound, Kleinpiet pleaded poverty. Arguments ensued. A long-standing friendship almost got wrecked on the rocks of Vrede’s instinctive drive to supplement his diet with tasty rabbit meat. Kleinpiet tried to rescue the situation by keeping Vrede indoors at night and on a leash during the day. For a full two weeks nothing happened.

And then…

One dark and quiet night, Vrede managed to get out once more. The next morning he presented Kleinpiet with a very dead rabbit. Oh, how he scolded that poor mutt, calling him the names of all the politicians he could remember! Vrede, cocking his head to one side, tried to look contrite at first but started growling softly after a while. Being reprimanded for following his instincts was one thing – but having to endure comparison with the new leaders of the country did not sit well on his conscience. Kleinpiet’s tirade eventually blew itself out  and the two of them sat down on his veranda to contemplate the prize Vrede had brought home. Platnees walked by at that moment, saw the rabbit and ran off, shouting that he knew those things were omens of doom.

“Tokoloshe, Mister Kleinpiet, that one is evil! If you killed it, it comes back for revenge. Hai! Bad luck, bad, bad, bad luck!”

Kleinpiet was beyond despair as he watched Platnees race off. What will Vetfaan do? Shoot Vrede? Bad luck, indeed!

Noooo! He’d have to make a plan.

So he did.

Kleinpiet inspected the  fluffy body; there were only a few superficial bite marks and a lot of doggy slobber all over the corpse – causing a lot of red Kalahari sand to stick to it. Okay…think! Using some of Precilla’s left-over shampoo, he went to work in the bath before going on a hunt for her brushes and hair dryer. Three hours later he sat back to view his handiwork.

The rabbit, he concluded, looked even better in death than when he was hopping around in that dusty old kraal! Then he had to wait for the cover of night to carry out the next step – returning the rejuvinated but still deceased rabbit to his rightful place on Vetfaan’s property. As most of the crazy plans the Rolbossers dream up end in some type of catastrophe, it is quite surprising that Kleinpiet managed to carry out this part of his campaign without a hitch. The spruced-up rabbit was placed next to the feeding trough in the kraal, propped up by a strategic rock to keep it sitting upright. Vetfaan would wake up the next morning, find that the poor little animal had died from natural causes and be none the wiser…

Not to be…

Kleinpiet was just having his second rusk with his first mug of coffee, admiring the sunrise, when a very upset Vetfaan shuddered his old Land Rover to a halt in front of the veranda. Kleinpiet wiped away a bead of sweat and locked Vrede in the bedroom.

“Charlie! Charlie died!” Vetfaan cried as he stormed up the steps leading to the veranda. “I saw it with my own eyes!”

Kleinpiet managed to look puzzled. “Wha…?”

“My prize stud, my sire of a multitude, the king of the roost, is no more. Blew out his last breath. Copped it. Took the fast elevator upstairs. Followed the white light. The damn rabbit died, dammit!”

Kleinpiet suppressed a smile – this was going according to plan. Great! He made sympathetic sounds. “Charlie? That was his name? Shame man! But you have other males, don’t you?”

“That’s not the point, Kleinpiet. You don’t understand! That thing died. He was dead!”

“Calm down, Fanie. Have some coffee.”

“He must have pumped the well dry, poor thing.” Vetfaan’s eyes were wild, worried and surprised all at the same time. He settled down somewhat after some coffee. “Three days ago, I picked him up. Dead as a doornail. Stiff as a rod. Hell, man, I was upset but what could I do?  Poor thing! Well, the least I could do was to bury him good and proper – which I did. Put a little cross on the grave and even some flowers.

“Then, this morning, there he was, sitting next to the feeding trough with the females sniffing at him. I checked his grave – it’s been opened, the flowers scattered all over the placed and the cross gone.” Vetfaan took a deep breath. “That rabbit rose from his grave, Kleinpiet!”

Kleinpiet didn’t know what to say but somehow managed to keep his face straight. “Um…maybe Platnees is right, you know?”

***

If you visited Vetfaan today, you’d notice that he went back to farming with sheep – much to Platnees’s relief. In Boggel’s Place you won’t dare say anything good about Angora rabbits – an uncomfortable silence will follow. Vetfaan hates it when they remind him of Charlie, the dead rabbit that insisted on a last meal.

Gertruida, however, once remarked that Charlie was much like the ruling party today – dead but still sitting at the feeding trough. She also said they mustn’t ignore stories of tokoloshes and evil spirits, especially not when the newspapers carried headlines like we’ve seen lately.

The strange thing is that even Kleinpiet now agrees with Platnees. On dark, quiet nights, a strange, furry animal occasionally hopped over the sparse little lawn in front of Kleinpiet’s veranda. It seemed a bit agitated, sniffing here and sniffing there – as if it was looking for something. On Platnees’s advice, Kleinpiet once took a much-chewed wooden cross from its hiding place behind his wardrobe to put it on the grass. He swears he saw the apparition snatch it up in its tiny hands before running off.

Of course, he has never breathed a word about this – but then again: nobody has ever asked him about the bricks under the legs of his bed, either.

The Fable of the Jackal and the Eagle

thulimadonsela1

Credit: enca.com

Whenever Gertruida starts telling them stories, the little group in the bar falls silent, paying close attention to what she says. Gertruida never just tells a story – she has the uncanny ability to recount fables at very strategic times; when the fable really mirrors the bit of history unfolding in the current situation.

That’s why – when she finally falls silent – that they all stare out of the window, wondering how Boggel managed to understand while they didn’t.

***

A long time ago (Gertruida says) and also in recent times (typical Gertruida), a jackal spied a rabbit in the tall grass. Now, this was exactly what Jackal felt like at the time: a nice, young, succulent rabbit, slowly roasted over a few embers and served with a few termites on the side.

The problem was that Jackal was on the one side of a river, and the rabbit was feeding on the opposite bank. Jackal, like many of his brothers, had never learnt to swim. Despite this handicap, Jackal wasn’t entirely stupid – he was even more cunning than Snake and Scorpion combined. He was also ruthless, a trait the other animals were aware of all  too clearly.

So Jackal sat down, eyed the rabbit, and imagined how much he’d enjoy his next meal. But how? How to get to that rabbit? The problem had to be solved!

He had, of course, seen other animals swim. Badger was very good at it and even Buffalo could manage. Other animals, however, had failed dismally; like Tortoise for instance. The way Tortoise drowned, made Jackal very worried. If he were to attempt – and failed – that’d mean the end of him. He wasn’t prepared for that yet.

He then thought of getting help from Owl.. As one that preferred hunting at night, Owl would be sleeping during the day and be an easy one to catch. And once he’d convinced Owl to take him across, he’d be onto Rabbit in a flash. Owl was, after all, big and strong and more than capable of carrying his weight.

Owl was, to say the least, not impressed. Jackal reminded Owl that he knew exactly where Owl’s nest was and that he’d make a point of stealing  the next batch of chicks. Owl grumbled and moaned, for he actually liked Rabbit; but because of Jackal’s threats, he gave in with a heavy heart.

“You promise to leave me alone after this, and never touch my nest?” Owl didn’t trust Jackal very much.

“Of course!” Jackal said with a toothy grin. “You won’t have to worry about that. You have my word.”

Well, Owl flew Jackal across and put him down on the other side. Rabbit, however, saw him coming and hid behind a huge rock.

“The Rabbit,” he said in a squeaky, shrill voice like mouse’s, “has gone to Eagle. She’s in a foul mood. If I were you, Jackal, I’d go away.”

But Jackal would have none of that. He wanted that Rabbit and no Eagle was going to stop him. So he crept up the hill where Eagle lived and tried to see what was in her nest. And Eagle, sharp-eyed as ever – saw him coming and threw a few small stones at him. Jackal persisted and approached even closer. Then Eagle flew up high, high in the sky, and dropped a large rock on Jackal’s head. The blow was so accurate and so hard that Jackal became confused. He swore he’d get Eagle if that’s the last thing he’d do. And Eagle laughed, sprouted celebratory feathers, and flew off to her inaccessible nest on a high cliff.

“Do what you like, Jackal,” she shouted, “but by now all the animals have seen your cunning and cruelty.  Your days as a glorious hunter is over. From now on you’ll only prey on the dumb and the stupid.”

And so it was. Jackall could not go back to his home any longer – the river was too full and he still couldn’t swim. Owl laughed at him, telling im that as long as he couldn’t cross the river, he’d never be able to threaten his nest again. And Jackal looked around him, realised he couldn’t get to his old home and his hunting grounds at all, and became exceedingly angry.

***

“It didn’t help, of course. Getting angry never solved a problem.” Gertruida gets up to walk to the window. Outside, the sun was setting in a wonderful array of colours. “So Jackal, my friends, tried to steal sheep from farmers after that. Still does it to this day. But the farmers put up fences and traps and got vicious dogs to protect them. And Jackal became the most hated animal amongst the farmers and he had to flee into the wilderness to escape.”

She falls silent and turns around. The puzzled frowns on her audience’s faces pleased her tremendously.

It is Boggel who breaks the silence.

“That wasn’t a fable, Gertruida. Fables are pure fiction. This is too new, too recent, too true, to be called a fable. “

Gertruida’s smile broadened. “Yes, Eagle got him, didn’t she? Without her, Rabbit wouldn’t have survived.”