Tag Archives: art

Gertruida’s (almost) nude sketch

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Gertruida (as we all know) is not an emotional woman. She takes life’s blows as they come and never allows circumstances to weigh her down.

Well, almost never.

Tomorrow, when Vetfaan and Boggel will discuss the incident over a couple of beers and they’ll stick to the facts…but they won’t mention the tear that found it’s way over her pale cheek this morning. That’ll be an admission of the unmentionable, a breach of confidence, a disrespectful comment of a lady they hold in such high esteem.

Still, the tear was there, even if everybody chose to ignore it. People do that, sometimes. Some call it the-elephant-in-the-room-syndrome, and others say it’s  unkind to emphasise another’s grief; but it is entirely true that we all – at times – choose not to remark about something that is patently obvious to all. Even Gertruida acted the same way: she didn’t bother to wipe away the tear, nor did she try to hide her continuous sniffing when she read the letter.

Afterwards, she left the letter on the counter. Just the letter, mind – not the sketch; that she took home. It is, after all, her very personal property now. Maybe that was her way of explaining, of making them understand. Boggel thought it was a very clever way of going about things: much better than telling them all about Mathys Willemse and that summer of ’72. After all, they were all young once and they all did things they will remember with a smile although they’ll never talk about it. When you’re young, life is a kaleidoscope of missed chances. When you’re old, you cry about the beauty of those moments.

My dear Gertruida,

I asked the nurse to write this note as my condition does not allow me to do so myself. I trust Nurse Groenewald – she promised to keep this confidential. In a certain way, she reminds me of you, all those years ago.

Don’t be surprised to receive a letter from me. We may have met – and parted – many years ago, but I’ve kept the memory of those weeks sacred – and fresh – in my mind. Even now, despite the white sheets and the beeping machines – I can recall the sound of your voice, the touch of your hand. It is a great comfort in these days. If this is a cause of embarrassment to you, I apologise. But to me, it is the most wonderful memory.

By the time you receive this – so the doctors tell me – I will know more about Life’s greatest mystery. I’m looking forward to that. But, before I go, I have to finalise a few things while I can. My will is a simple one; you know how much I loved Nature. My remaining paintings (oh, how you encouraged the young artist!) will be auctioned and the proceeds used in the fight against poaching. It seems a fitting farewell for somebody who enjoyed the wide landscapes and the animals of our lovely country.

But – and you’ll understand this – I cannot sell your sketch. That would be wrong.

Remember that evening on the beach? I’m sure you do. The sun was just setting and the gulls were settling down for the night. They were our only company. And I took out my pad and you asked me why I was looking at you in such a strange way. I couldn’t answer then. I’ll try to answer now.

You see, at that moment I saw my Gerty, the real Gerty. I stripped you of your academic achievements (of which there were many!), and the faux air of superiority you spent so much effort in maintaining. I saw a young woman, a beautiful lady, a lonely girl – in all simplicity.

When I didn’t answer, you gave a little laugh and walked on, to sit down on the rocks amongst the gulls. Funny, they didn’t seem to mind. Maybe they recognised a kindred spirit: a restless soul, constantly moving on even if they stayed in the same place. It’s a paradox of life, isn’t it Gerty? We move and move…and seldom change who we are. No matter how wide we spread our wings, we cannot deny our inner identity.

So I sketched you as I saw you. Called the work ‘Restless’, with you as an off-centre central figure and the rocks and the sleeping birds around you. Over the years it hung in my gallery and I’ve had so many offers to buy it – but of course I couldn’t sell it at all. This was my sketch, my rock, where I could be calm and at peace. Even now, it hangs on the wall next to me.

I do believe I never told you I loved you. Silly me. I should have. But I knew – even back then – that an artist’s art is a fragile thing. It’s a jealous gift that demands all. If I have to explain (it is difficult!), I’ll say that art cannot be diluted by love. Art requires torment; it is the fuel that keeps the fire burning. And, Gerty, an artist without fire is an artist without grace. It is the anguish of Life that forces the painter to depict the beauty of existence.

And, of course, you had to move on, as well. You were on the brink of a brilliant career (yes, I followed it. Dakar was one of your finest moments!), a journey that would take you to explore a world that didn’t include me. We were both adult enough to know that. I understood that you were part on my anguish, part of my future in the most painful way possible. And I embraced the feeling, because I knew you were part of my journey to artistic excellence.

So now, with the curtain coming down on my stage, I return the sketch to you, where it belongs. It is – even though I say so myself – my best work. This is the way I remember you. Despite the years, you remain the lovely girl I drew back then. You didn’t age. Nobody hurt you along the way. The sun, my dearest, never set in that picture. The gulls didn’t fly away, nor did they die. They remain there, around you, quietly preparing for the night.

I do apologise for another thing. You’ll notice that I drew you as  saw you. Don’t be shy about the absence of clothing – you’ll notice that I respected your mage in the picture. But, dear Gerty, that was (is?) you. A pretty, wonderful, restless creature with a brilliant mind, and the kindest heart. That’s why, I think, you said goodbye afterwards. 

You understood…

And now I must say farewell. My journey is at its end and it’s time for me to explore the great unknown. I just wanted to put the finishing touches on the canvas of our picture – the one you have in your heart.

With all my love,

Mathys.

When Gertruida walks in to Boggel’s Place tomorrow, she’ll smile and greet them the usual way.

And then they’ll talk about the weather.

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The True Value of Art

Sothebys-Auction_3096414b

Giacometti’s Chariot

“The world is going mad,” Servaas said quietly as he folded the Upington Post. He’s been reading the newspaper on Boggel’s veranda while they wait for the bar to open.

Of course, nobody pays attention. The concept of a sane world is, after all, as foreign to Rolbos as a thunderstorm in winter. The townsfolk are in complete agreement that the balance of reason shifted seriously south in the past few years. Take the gay issue, for instance. Why is it, Oudoom once asked, that suddenly you have same-sex parades, Gay Day, and a world-wide excitement about marriages between men (or women)…but nobody celebrates a single Straight Day? Where’s the Straight Parade, he asked? Oh, it’s wonderful that people fall in love and all that, but shouldn’t we include all relationships when we honour love?

Frustrated at not drawing attention to his remark, Servaas tries again.

ROGER~10“Somebody paid a 101 million Dollars for a tiny sculpture. Dollars! That’s a billion Rands! Look at the photograph: it looks like one of those wire-cars we built when we were small. Gee, man, I had a whole fleet of them. If I had the sense to keep them, I’d be a multibillionaire today.”

“Oh no, Servaas! That sculpture is a bronze cast by Alberto Giacometti, made in 1951. His work is pure art, I’ll tell you. Collectors buy these things as an investment, selling it a few years later at a handsome profit.” Gertruida pinches her nose, apparently thinking hard. “If I remember correctly, Giacometti’s L’Homme qui marche did even better than his chariot, selling for 104 million.”

Gertruida – true to her nature – just can’t help herself when it comes to showing off her brilliant mind.

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L’Homme qui marche 2

“Alberto became famous as a Swiss sculptor, but he dabbled with all forms of art. He experimented a lot with cubism but it’s his surreal work that drew the worlds attention. See, he liked to sculpt figures the way he saw them, not the way they appeared in real life. What made his technique unique, was the way he stretched and elongated the limbs of his figures. He started off with tiny figurines, but his later works became larger and larger – and the bigger they were, the thinner they became.”

“He should have worn contacts,” Servaas decides. “Then he could have been a better artist.”

Gertruida sighs as she stares at Servaas. “Contact lenses, I’ll tell you, only received FDA approval in America in 1971, five years after Giacometti’s death. But that’s not the point: Giacometti showed people how they really are. Long legs, because we’re never happy where we are. Long arms because we’re so greedy. A thin body suggesting eternal hunger. And the heads? They’re small and somehow resemble something alien, like we imagine extraterrestrials to be these days. I think he tried to say something with that, as well. While we imagine ourselves to be exceedingly clever, our ideas and thoughts are really without substance. People live to satisfy their desires, which is really an empty way of living. Giacometti didn’t just create art – he delivered a profound statement on humanity.”

“Well, that makes him an extremely unhappy camper. You make it sound as if his surrealism is real.”

“All forms of art reflect the artist’s comment on society, Servaas. Whether you listen to Beethoven or the Beatles, read Dahl or Dickens, or visit the Louvre or the National Gallery of Art – wherever you find art, you’ll find an analysis of Life. And let me tell you: even if you don’t get it, it influences the way you think. That’s the wonder of art.”

Servaas shakes his head. No, that’s not true. He, the astute elder of Oudoom’s church, won’t ever be swayed but such trivialities. It is absurd to think that a picture or a book can make him think differently. No, it’s not possible.

“But it is, Servaas. Every word you read, every picture you see – even the songs you hear – these things worm their way to your subconscious. And don’t think those impressions just lie there, doing nothing. Your mind is a living computer, constantly sifting through data and storing information.” She glances up as Boggel approaches with the keys. “Art, my friend, makes us think. That’s why it’s so valuable.”

Boggel hesitates before unlocking the door, stares down at the newspaper and whistles softly.

“What’s that silly wire-thingy on the front page, Servaas?”

“It is, ” Servaas bunches his brows together, “an enlightened commentary of the state of the nation, Boggel. It says the gravy train has left the station and that us common folk will now have to rely on simpler forms of transport. And that, Boggel, is a metaphor for reality. Transport, in this sense, implies getting by from day to day. The thin wheels suggest the fragility of our efforts. And the fact that the  chariot is driven by an emaciated figure, is a commentary on the way the country is being governed.” He gets up slowly, massaging his creaking knees. “But I didn’t expect you to see that. Not at all. It takes a true appreciation of art to realise the value of such a sculpture. It is, in effect, priceless…”

***

Gertruida once said something about one of Oudoom’s sermons. She reckons we only hear the bits we want to hear, and ignore the rest. Well, she said at the time, that’s Life, isn’t it?

Like Giacometti, she was right, of course.

When the Music is Wrong…

The Embarkation for Cythera ("L'Embarquement pour Cythère") is a painting by the French Rococo artist Jean-Antoine Watteau. Click the picture for its history

The Embarkation for Cythera (“L’Embarquement pour Cythère”) is a painting by the French Rococo artist Jean-Antoine Watteau. Click the picture for its history

“Just imagine! A world at peace, with love and kindness as the only laws…” Precilla, the eternal romantic, stares deep into Kleinpiet’s eyes. They’re celebrating their anniversary, so Boggel is preparing Gemsbok fillets on the embers for everybody. “Just think how wonderful that would be.”

“Impossible.” Servaas has tried to be cheerful all evening, but this is unadulterated stupidity. The world, according to him, can never be a happy place.

“People have been dreaming of Cythera, the island of Venus – the goddess of love, since ancient times, Precilla.” Gertruida ignores the negative remark. “Watteau even made a famous painting about it. Love, lots of Cupids and a little bit of old-fashioned desire. It caused quite a stir back then.”

“But why? People shouldn’t frown on Love? Isn’t it true that we all search for it, all our lives? Even after you’ve found the love of your life, it remains something that you must work on, every day.” Fanny gives Vetfaan a playful hug, telling him he’s still Number One.

“Nobody frowns on Love, Fanny. The problem is that Love doesn’t always follow the set pattern we imagine it to have.” Boggel sets down the first platter with the steaming steaks on the counter, next to the dinner plates, knives and forks. “We often try to box Love into the size and shape we’d like it to be – and it doesn’t work like that.” He’s thinking of Mary Mitchell, and of course and everybody knows it. The one girl he truly loved…and then lost.

“You mean we try to Samba on a Waltz?” Gertruida, being her old convoluted self.

“Maybe. We come prepared to play our own choice, but the orchestra is off on another tangent. Because it doesn’t fit our picture, we get up and leave. It’s so sad.”

“Harrumph.” When Oudoom clears his throat like this, you remain quiet. “You know why so many couples manage to ruin a perfectly good relationship? It’s because we don’t trust the Conductor, that’s why.

“People forget that He’s in charge – and that He selected you to contribute your music to His composition. Sure – maybe you feel you are not perfect for the situation, but He has His reasons.

“Now, I have to stress that all relationships should be based on Love – but not necessarily the love Hollywood makes movies about. I’m not talking about breathless, sweaty, frantic romping.” He glances over at Mevrou, nods an apology, but feels this point is so important that straying towards a bit of vulgarity is essential to convey his message. “I’m talking about being kind to one another. That, my friends, is Love. I’m thinking about loyalty, respect, commitment. Love isn’t about whispered promises – anybody can do that. Love is what you do – it is something that is shown, not said.”

Surprisingly, Mevrou rubs the clergyman’s slumped shoulders, smiling fondly as she does so.

“I just love arguing with my husband, you all know that. But this time he’s right. It’s about trusting the Conductor. He has a special place in His orchestra for each of us, because He knows what we can contribute to the bigger picture. He wants the music to be perfect – and if you don’t do your bit, the entire orchestra delivers an incomplete rendition.”

“That’s why Cythera isn’t an island any more. Cythera can be the world we live in..if we make it so.” Gertruida emphasises the last bit, pausing afterwards to let it sink in. “And Oudoom is right – it’s the world the Conductor had in mind when He created it all. If only we had enough faith in Him – and in our own abilities – Cythera wouldn’t be a painting of an imaginary island…it’d be all around us.”

Servaas knits his bushy eyebrows together, letting out one of his legendary sighs. “When the music is wrong, I have to adapt? Why can’t I play my own piece? ”

“When you think the music is wrong, Mister Cantankerous, it’s time to look up to the Conductor, admit you don’t think you’re ready…and then see the trust in His eyes. We’re so afraid of failure, we often don’t even try. But with that trust…anything is possible…even Cythera.”

Boggel selects a succulent fillet from the platter and serves Servaas with a flourish. “Elie Wiesel said the opposite of love isn’t hate – it’s indifference. Follow the Conductor. Even if you play badly, it’s better than not playing at all.”

Old Servaas glares at Boggel from under the eyebrows for a second…then manages a wintry smile. “I suppose I’m a bit of a solo artist.”

“Maybe. Music comes in many forms, Servaas, and that’s okay. But if you look up, you’ll find the Conductor tapping his batton, waiting for you to join the orchestra. That’s when you have to be prepared to be surprised…”

“Music. Art. People. We keep on imagining a world filled with Love. And we won’t find it until we understand the word.”  Gertruida raises her glass to the anniversary couple. “A toast to Love! To imaginary islands, beautiful paintings and breathtakingly, amazing music. And to the orchestra of Love – may each of us, trembling, unsure, trust the Conductor to select the music that’ll surprise, captivate and enthrall.”

Vrede accepts the thick piece of fat Boggel has sliced off his steak with a wagging tail. He just loves it when humans agree on important things.

The Cave (# 5)

Swartberg rock formations

Swartberg rock formations

“Aaarghh!” Patric Ngobeni can’t move. Something big and heavy is pinning his head down. His companion, the soft-spoken and usually silent Sipho Mahlangu, stirs painfully on the bed Mevrou made for them last night. She had borrowed a large mattress from Sammie and moved the lounge furniture in the parsonage to make room for the unexpected guests.

“They don’t know Green Ambulances in Gauteng,” Oudoom said as they arranged the bedding the previous evening, “these guys will need Aspirin in the morning. And maybe,” he adds with a mischievous glint in his eye, “a good sermon about Loving Thy Neighbour.”

“Shame, Oudoom, whatever they did, they don’t deserve such harsh punishment. Did you see their tears when Kleinpiet served the last round? They showed real remorse then – I felt sorry for them. Sitting in an office year in and year out can’t be fun – and then suddenly you get orders to break into somebody’s house to steal papers. And, to top it all, you get blamed for missing a map that was never there. Shame, I took pity on them.”

“But I don’t think that Patrick guy should have phoned the colonel. When you tell your superior officer he can stuff his job right up his you-know-what, it usually has a negative impact on your career options in the future. And … I expect more visitors… Anyway, these two boys are in for a hard time.”

Of course, Oudoom was right.  It takes Patrick a full five minutes to figure out that his head is weighed down by a monstrous headache, and another five to vaguely recall being helped to Oudoom’s house. When he finally moves his head far enough to get Sipho in his field of vision, he is relieved to see that his colleague is still breathing. And then, just as he considers dropping off again, he hears the distinct whup-whup-whup of helicopter blades…

***

“Boggel, you can sit in the back, if you like. You may be more comfortable there.” Servaas keeps his voice light, as if he’s doing Boggel a favour.

“Sure thing, Servaas. Thank you. Oh… Gertruida will do the driving today, so you two can have a nice chat in front while Rusty and I relax in the back.”

If he didn’t have a belt, Serrvaas’s shoulders would have slumped right to the ground. His disappointment is made worse by Gertruida’s hearty giggle – she’s actually enjoying his embarrassment.

“You old coot you! You were hoping to sit next to sexy Rusty, didn’t you? Now you’re stuck with me, Servaas…and yes – you may look at my legs while I’m driving.” Of course the others find this extremely funny. Servaas bites his lip, forces a smile, and gets in.

images (27)The drive to Oudtshoorn takes them through the awesome scenery of Meiringspoort. Gertruida lectures her passengers about the road that was opened in 1858, making it possible for the farmers of the Karoo to transport a milion kilograms of wool to the little export harbour at Mossel Bay by 1870. She also tells them how the sandstone ridges buckled and twisted to form the Swartberg Mountains while the continents of the world were still joined in the single landmass called Gondwanaland. Servaas takes great interest in this lecture, using it as an excuse to twist around in his chair ‘to look at the magnificent formations’. Rusty has to remind him that these formations are outside the car.

 The little town called De Rust reminds Boggel of Rolbos, and they stop for a late breakfast at The Village Trading Post. Servaas is so preoccupied with Rusty’s legs, that he doesn’t notice the woman crossing the street with a camera bag slung over her shoulder. Rusty, on the other hand, doesn’t notice her either because she’s turned around to point an accusing finger at the old man. Doubled up in  laughter, Gertruida and Boggel also pays no attention to the artist.

Before she drives off, the woman in the car glances over at the little group of people entering the restaurant. Tourists! Yes they are the life-blood of the town, but why do they always have to act like clowns? Then she notices the red hair of the one woman; and for a fleeting moment the unexpected memories of the past ambush her to cause an unwilling sob.

***

The atmosphere in Boggel’s Place is everything but happy when Colonel Tshabalala walks in through the swing doors. His two agents are trying to ignore the nausea which prevents them from drinking coffee, while Oudoom and Mevrou exchange guilty glances. What have they landed themselves in?

Somewhere in the military books, it states that an angry superior officer must voice his displeasure in a certain way. This is done with a ram-rod straight back, head thrown back, and an extremely loud voice (preferably with a baton tucked under the left arm, leaving the right hand free to amplify the spiced words). The colonel, despite his lack of sufficient experience, does a marvellous job. Standing six feet away from his two agents, he manages to rant for a full ten minutes without repeating himself once.

“Now,” he turns to Kleinpiet behind the counter, “you…!” He finally runs out of steam as he sees the surprised innocence on the stand-in barman’s face.

“Coffee, Colonel?”

Tshabalala throws his hands in the air in disgust, dropping the baton.

“Come on you two! On the double! We’re tracking that Volkswagen, and it’s heading towards Oudtshoorn. Get in the bloody helicopter! March! And pick up my stick, you fools!”

As the sound of the rotors fade away, Oudoom sits down with a sigh.

“Better mix something green and strong for me and Mevrou, Kleinpiet. Get one yourself, as well. I think we’re going to need it.”

***

dsc_0406“That’s the entrance to the main cave,” Rusty points, “but there’s a footpath leading from the parking area. We have to follow that until we get to a stream. That’s where we veer off to the right and start aiming for a rock formation that resembles the contours of a face. Come, I’ll show you.”

“Let the men walk in front,” Gertruida says with a wink, “we women will follow. Snakes, you know?”

Giggling at Servaas’s disappointment, the two ladies fall in behind Boggel and the disgruntled old man as they start the long journey into the mountain; the torches and water bottles clinking softly in their backpacks.

***

There! That’s the scene in the photograph. The artist sits down to wait for the sun to dip towards the horizon  When the light is right, she’ll get the perfect shot – the one that captures the atmosphere she wants to depict in the painting.

Inadvertently, her thoughts stray back to the colour of the young lady’s hair.

Before her own hair turned the colour of ash, that’s what she looked like. Red-headed, vivacious, lovely. Married… Yes, there were happy days. Many of them. But then she found out, and that was the start of the slow slide down the slope of unhappiness. The arguments got worse before the silences became more intense. And in the end – when the terrible finality of their incompatibility became a huge animal that was slowly devouring both of them – it was the unbearable sadness of being together that made the divorce so easy. 

She walked out, leaving everything behind. Everything. Just took a bag with essentials, walked out, alone. Took the bus, got off in De Rust, started over. She had the art in her though, an animal that refused to go away – a friendly one that comforted her in those dark, lonely first years. And she fed that animal, made it bigger, stronger; refining her talent until at last it started feeding her.

And then her husband-that-was died and she felt more alone than ever. Maybe if she tried harder? 

She shakes her head. No, that door is closed. He died. Yearning for what she has lost isn’t going to help anything. She’ll just sit here and wait for the right moment for her photographs, enjoying the silence and the comfort of these magnificent mountains.

The sound of approaching voices makes her look up sharply. People? Here? And she’s a woman, alone? Gathering her camera, she slinks away to hide behind a rock. Please, the last thing she wants now, is company.

Make You Feel My Love

hope-girl-in-windowLettie Gericke stares at the screen while he sings. His music is simple, his voice as sweet as she remembers – but the song and the way he sings it, takes her back to where they used to be. The feeling in the words is just too profound to ignore: he’s singing it for her, she’s sure of it.

Think! She must think! Is this a sign? A coincidence? She walks over to the window to look at the lights of the city. So many people in so many houses. So many couples saying tender words to each other. And here she is: alone and broke and hopeless! For once, Lettie Gericke listens to her heart – yes, she’ll go. She must go!

images (16)She’ll take a bus, she’ll go there now! The thought strikes her as absurdly logical. It’s a live broadcast from the Artscape Theatre in the central city – she can catch a bus to take her, can’t she?

Money? What money?

The money for tomorrow’s train ticket! Sure, if she catches the bus, she won’t have enough left to board that train…but she has to go! The urgency inside her grows as she collects her purse, runs to the door, and says a little prayer. Please, please let this work out?

Cape Town has been both cruel and kind to her. For the last two years she has worked as waitress, cashier, receptionist; and once, as a mime at the Waterfront. She could pay her rent, buy the most barest of necessities…and nothing more. One or two young men showed more than just a passing interest in her, but it soon became evident that their attentions were focussed on a physical relationship rather than commitment. And after her encounter with Slick Cilliers…well, she just wasn’t interested.

Slick had what he called CSO – chronic sperm overload – a condition he said he inherited from his father and could do nothing about (he was one of nine children). It’s the way it is, Baby. I have to get rid of the stuff, otherwise I go crazy. He’d pull a madman face and initially she thought it was funny. But soon she realised: the man was in love with himself, although insecurely so. He needed to be reminded – on a frequent basis – that he possessed her, owned her; and that she was his  mirror, mirror on the wall who had to tell him he’s the best of them all.

And so she shunned any physical approach; for even holding hands with somebody reminded her of the oily hair and the smell of Brut Slick used so liberally. Needless to say, her social life became non-existent and her isolation grew more and more intense.

When the economy collapsed – especially after the Soccer World Cup – the work dried up. She stuck it out as long as she could, but now she has had to face reality. Going back to the farm was the only option…until now. Oh please…

She’s lucky with the bus; one arrives only a minute after she reached the bus stop. Yes, the driver said, he’s going right past the theatre. He gives her a lewd eye and she rewards him with an internationally recognised finger. He only smiles – these girls all play hard to get…

Will he remember her? Of course he will, he must, they had such good times together. That evening they sang at the agricultural show was such a magic occasion. Afterwards he bought her a gin – the first she’d ever had in her life. And he said he cared. Deeply. That was enough: she knew then he loved her. She called him ‘Maestro’ and told him nobody could make music like he did – and she wasn’t just talking about his guitar, either.

The bus stops a few yards away from the theatre, she flashes the driver a weak smile and hops off. Gerrie is inside that building. Within minutes they’d be together again. She takes a deep breath and climbs the stairs to the auditorium with much more confidence than she feels.

“Ticket.” The man at the door holds out a hand. He’s old. He’s withered. He’s missing front teeth. And he’s serious.

“Ag, no!” The words escape before she can stop them. “I…I don’t have one.”

The man folds his arms.

“You see, somebody just sang. I saw it on TV. I have to see him.”

“Mith, thereth no way you get in here without a ticket. All the girlth want to thee thethe guyth. They go all wonky about their voitheth and then they want to marry an artitht. It doethn’t work that way.” He takes a deep breath. “No ticket, no entry.”

“Then I’ll buy one. How much?’

“Only hundred Randth ticketh left, Mith.”

“But I’v only got sixty-eight…” The dismay in her voice seems to soften the old man. “Please?”

“Give me fifty and I’ll look the other way.”

She hands over the crumpled notes, doesn’t think about the eighteen Rand she’s got left, and storms inside. Where would he be? Backstage? With the judges? Hell, where must she look for him?

***

Donald McKay, son of the famous radio presenter, has been in the music business for many years. He’s seen it all, heard all the wannabe’s and wrote off quite a number of artists who just didn’t have ‘it’. He maintains that stage personality is as important as voice and performance. This young Smit, who just sang the audience into complete silence, is a rare find. 

He gets up from his front-row seat and makes his way backstage. He’s not interested in the rest of the show – he wants to talk to Smit – and true to his nature, he doesn’t believe in procrastination. Many a contract can slip through unwilling, postponing fingers.

Gerrie Smit is packing up his guitar when McKay enters the dressing room.

“Young man, have you got any plans for tonight?” McKay, as direct as always. When Gerrie looks up in surprise, he shakes his head.

***

Lettie is arguing with the attendant at the backstage door when Gerrie and McKay make their way to the parking lot outside. They’ve missed each other with a few seconds.

“Gerrie Smit? You know him?” She nods as an answer. ” He’s just left, Miss, I’m sorry. I don’t think he’ll be back tonight.”

Lettie feels how her hopes evaporate. Noooo! The silent scream fills her head as she turns around and rushes back to the front door. It’s all been a hopeless, stupid, dumb effort! What was she thinking? That he’d just hug her and they’d connect up again, just like the old days? 

The old man at the door watches her as she runs past. Well, he thinks, that was an easy fifty. Then he watches her sink down on the steps to bury her face in her hands. When her shoulders start shaking, he feels a tug of sympathy. Just a tug, and just for a second, nothing more. These young people: who can understand them? They insist on following impossible dreams. And for what? Only to see the wave of hope dash itself into oblivion against the rocks of reality? 

He turns around to close the door. It’s getting chilly outside…

To see…

Lucinda puts down her paint brush with a tired smile.

“There, Gertruida, it’s all finished. I hope you’ll like it.”

For the last two weeks, Gertruida sat patiently while Lucinda worked of the painting. Using the finest of brushes, the pretty Italian has just added the last details to make the painting look not only life-like, but it also emphasises the beauty of her finely-sculpted face. Of course, reversing some of the ravages of age allows the artist to depict the subject in the most agreeable fashion – and that is what Lucinda did. Omitting a few wrinkles and minimising the double chin has taken years off the image.

“It’s … pretty. Do I look like this?” Gertruida asks in a slightly embarrassed fashion. The painting was Judge’s idea: he said he would love to have a picture of Gertruida on his wall. And, no thank you, not a photograph. Something more permanent. Something of value. And yes, indeed, an oil painting would do very well, thank you.

“Oh yes, Gertruida. Look, I finally got the look in your eyes right. You stare out of the picture with a slight smile – enigmatic – almost like the Mona Lisa. Only, I think you are more beautiful.”

“Pull the other one, Lucinda! I’m way beyond my pretty years. I have wrinkles. Everything is submitting to the pull of gravity. My neck looks like a crumpled newspaper. And there are liver spots all the way from Pretoria to Diepsloot. No, I think you captured an image of me when I was much younger. It is most flattering, to be sure, but I don’t look like this any more. And, I may tell you, I don’t feel like this any more.”

“Well, Judge said he wanted me to paint you the way he sees you. He was very specific about that. He said: Gertruida is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met. You must paint her like that. So, I did. Now, because he pays for this, he must tell us what he thinks. I think he’ll like it.”

Gertruida opens her mouth to protest. Surely he can’t see her like that? He is a judge, for goodness’ sakes! Judges are trained to review facts and deliver sound advice and opinions. They live in the sober world of facts where the truth is the only criterium when coming to a decision. Before she can say anything, Lucinda puts a paint-smeared finger on her lips.

“Don’t protest, Gertruida. Let’s hear what Judge says before you decide.”

***

If there is one thing Oudoom worries about, it is that Mevrou will discover his cache of peach brandy up in the belfry. Now – one must understand that Oudoom isn’t a secret drinker. Not like that, anyway. Sometimes, when the circumstances surrounding his flock weigh heavily on his mind, he’ll escape here to think about life for a while.

The peach brandy was delivered to the vestry by Ben Bitterbrak a year or two ago. Ben, the master stoker in the district, wanted to apologise for his behaviour when Oudoom drove out there for a visit. Look, he said, I didn’t mean to offend you. It’s just the war, man. It changed people. It changed me. I don’t want to hear fairytale stories about love and stuff. Most of those stories want us to live in peaceful harmony – and do you see that happening? No, on my farm I have some people staying with me. We live in peace. They help me, I help them. Anybody coming in there with the idea of ‘fixing’ things up, doesn’t understand the bond of friendship and trust we developed over the years. Maybe we don’t attend church much, but on that farm we live with love. So, Dominee, here is some peach brandy. It is to say I’m sorry, but please stay away from us in the future.

Oudoom had difficulty in following the logic of Ben’s argument; but the plea was delivered with such earnest conviction, that he felt it would be wrong to reject the symbol of atonement. He knew he dare not take the brandy home; Mevrou would never allow it in her house. The only option was to rely of Mevrou’s acrophobia to keep her from climbing the narrow ladder up the bell tower.

Today, however, Oudoom unscrews the one bottle to tip a small quantity into the top. Holding his breath, he swigs it down with a grimace. The fiery liquid scorches down his throat to settle uncomfortably below his midriff. To his surprise, the pleasant peachy aftertaste lingers on his tongue. This is great, he thinks, maybe I should have another.

The reason why Oudoom escaped to his lofty hide-away today, is the brewing feeling that not all is well with his flock. Oh, they tithe when they can and the attendance is relatively good, but he gets the impression that his church and Boggel’s Place have too much in common: it is a meeting place, another social gathering where people get together to talk and gossip. He wonders how much difference his sermons make and whether they actually listen to his message every Sunday. He watched them carefully during the last sermon – and although he tried his best to package his message craftily, most of the people in church had that uninterested, far-away look when he reached the climax of the sermon.

Two swigs later, he’s made up his mind – this Sunday he’ll give them something to think about!

***

Inside Boggel’s Place, Pete is telling them about the strikes in the country. “Those guys want everything, man! Imagine a workforce of that magnitude, demanding pay hikes of up to in excess of 300%! At this stake many workers are poor, that’s true. Only here, in South Africa, they look at the salary for our President, the houses for his many wives, and the school fees of his almost two dozen of his children. It’s logical that some of the workers feel they are paying taxes to a government who doesn’t supply basic services, bungled up Education and is riddled with corruption. They also want a piece of the action, that’s for sure. If the rich go around eating sushi off naked women, they feel it is their right to tag along, too.

“What they don’t realise, is that excessive wage demands will kill the goose that is feeding them. Jobs will be lost. The jobless will become more. Crime will escalate. It’s a mess.”

“Ja, maybe you’re right. But Zuma did speak in the UN the other day and we are known as the most vibrant economy in Africa. We have Ouma rusks, Mrs Ball’s chutney and produce petrol out of coal. Our constitution is one of the most modern and we have The Beast to scrum the other guys into the ground. All isn’t doom and gloom. And … we have boerewors.” Judge has become a regular in these debates in Boggel’s Place, adding his logic to the emotional chats about the country. “Everything has two sides, guys. A good side and a bad side. A right and a wrong. But no individual side is as clear-cut as we’d like to believe. Look at any country, and you’ll get an idea of what I’m talking about: nothing is ever perfect.”

“That may be true, Judge,” Kleinpiet says as he draws a stick-man with a crutch on the counter top. “But is human nature to be critical. That’s why the wheel was invented and why we were able to abolish apartheid. Remember – it wasn’t the government that threw out the old laws; it was the people –white and black – who voted. That brought about change.”

“It’s all white-wash, Kleinpiet,” Vetfaan gets up to leave. “Nothing has changed. The poor got poorer, the rich got richer and the Kalahari is still a desert.  Apartheid is alive and well in this country, only this time the whiteys are at the short end of the stick.  We have to accept that we live in an imperfect world where nothing is the way it seems. Smoke and mirrors won’t change that.”

***

On Sunday, Oudoom climbs the steps to the small pulpit without the usual Bible in his hand. He waits until the rustling of dresses and the creaking of the benches fall silent after the hymn, before addressing the congregation.

“I’ve come to an important decision, Brothers and Sisters. I’m going to stop preaching.  From now on, we’re going to have to talk to each other during the service. In civilized countries they call this process a conversation.  The only prerequisite is that everything we say must be kind, it must be true, and it must contribute to the lives of our fellow men and women. As the judge would say,” he nods his acknowledgement to the man of law, “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. As long as you remain kind, such a conversation will help develop a healthy community, dedicated to each other.

“So, from now on, you will stop hearing what Christ said – and start doing what he told us. Action, Brothers and Sisters, not sermons. Talking; not listening to an old preacher still trying – after all these years – to convince you to love your fellow man. You all say that action speaks louder than words, and it’s true.

“Now, who wants to tell us anything?”

The silence is only interrupted by the cooing of a lone dove on the roof.

***

Judge admires the painting on his wall as Gertruida walks in with the tea tray. She is still a bit embarrassed by the hauntingly beautiful canvas Lucinda produced.

“It is so beautiful,” he breathes as he stirs a spoonful of sugar into the brew.

“I’m not so sure, you know. I may have looked like that a decade or two ago, but now I’ve added a few lines to my face, a few inches to my waist and a pound or two to my weight.”

“It’s not that,” the judge parries, “it’s the smile. The light in your eyes. The way you hold your head. I’m not worried about the way Lucinda saw you as you sat there, I’m impressed with the way she captured your spirit. It’s quite astounding.”

For the first time in many years, Gertruida doesn’t have a ready answer.

***

Up in the belfry, Oudoom eyes the bottle critically before unscrewing the top. The silence in the service was deafening. In all the years he tried to amuse, entertain and fascinate his flock, he got used to the neutral way people listened to his sermons. Today, when he reversed the roles, he said nothing. He could feel their eyes boring into him, urging him to please, please say something. The atmosphere inside the church was tense as the silence enveloped the uncomfortable congregation. People glanced nervously at their neighbours, hoping somebody would say something. Even Servaas, who excels in delivering serious reprimands, had nothing to say.

It was Judge who finally stood up.

“This is an excellent idea, Dominee. People live in conflict with one another,  mostly because they don’t listen when they speak. Sometimes a government won’t hear what the people say. Sometimes employers don’t listen to their workers. And sometimes, when the government or employer says something, common people like us can’t hear them because we don’t understand them.

“The trick I suppose is to not only listen, but to see. Now, the original Latin word for ‘to see’ was vid or vis. Today we have, for instance, video, vision, vista and revise as words with that root. When people don’t see each other, they can never see eye to eye, can they? And seeing, in this argument, is not about whether you need glasses to create an impression on your retina, it’s about looking at somebody and comprehending exactly what is happening inside that person. You can call it the perception of that person’s spirit, if you like. That’s what Christ wanted us to do, and that’s what you’ve been preaching about for so many ways.

“Now, Dominee, you know these Rolbossers. If you put them on a spot, expecting them to tell each other something, you’ll get the silence you’ve just heard. My suggestion is that people don’t say anything. With your permission, I’d like them to turn to one another and look. Just look. No talking. Let us all try to see the other people we share this life with. I think that’s what religion should be all about: spiritual vision.”

***

Oudoom allows the peachy taste to linger a while before swallowing. He’s not in the belfry to worry about some difficult situation today.

He’s celebrating.