Tag Archives: bushman

The Diary

kubu-island-2[6] The questions surrounding the disappearance of Spook Visagie would not have been spoken about in such hushed tones, had the diary not been found. The problem is that the group in Boggel’s Place is still not sure whether it is a hoax or the real thing. Still – it had been found  amongst the rocks on Kubu Island and it might just add to the mystery.

***

The Diary – a plain, hard cover exercise book – was found , wrapped in Eland skin – on the 5th May, 2015 by a warden in the newly-established Kubu Reserve. This, Gertruida says, is significant: it is exactly fifty years since Spook disappeared. The same day and month appears in the police report . She also says that the Bushman’s legends often contain elements of periodicity – like the bearded man that appears every so many years. According to Gertruida, it is not unusual in African mythology to find events recurring over and over again – just like the diary suggests.

***

The first part of the diary contains what can be described as a travelogue. Nothing special. Crossing the border at Van Zylsrus. travelling to Gaborone, describing the condition of the road, etc. He camped at Letlhakane and drove on to Kubu, where he hoped to camp for a day or two before striking out towards Gweta. He wrote briefly about the break-down, the desperate hope that somebody would find him and how he tried – unsuccessfully, to make his water supply last until help arrived. His handwriting at that stage is almost illegible.

Then, a blank page.

Then…

***

I find myself in the most extraordinary circumstances. In fact, I doubt whether I’ll be able to put into writing what I have experienced. Let me try…

When I came to, I had no idea where I was. In fact, I thought I was dead.The experience of ‘letting go’ and finding myself in a place of complete peace was just too magnifi fantas – well, it certainly defies putting it into words. I’ll need to spend a lot of time with that experience to  make some sort of sense out of it. Maybe I’ll return to that later, but first I must say something about my saviours.

AN01156698_001_lThere are three of them: an old man (very old) and what I take to be his son and his wife. Understanding them is out of the question – their words are formed by a series of clicks that is completely foreign to my ears. They are, however, very friendly and and kind – I owe them my life. They don’t have much, but what they have, they share with me. I’ve eaten  roots, chewed twigs and had some cooked meat (?rabbit). The younger man seems to know where to find water – he disappears from time to time, returning with a gourd-like sack filled with water. I think the sack is the skin of a steenbok or something. 

402-1I’ve read about Kubu, of course. A lot. Especially after reading Laurens van der Posts’s book, The Lost World of the Kalahari, I had to come see for myself – not the area where he visited, of course. That was too far north. But he said two things that made my blood run cold.

First of all, he describes an unnamed hitchhiker outside the town of Maun. This is, as we all know, not an unknown phenomenon in Africa. But then he mentions the tragedy of the man committing suicide in Harry Riley’s hotel the following evening.

How many young men did that? Ending their lives in Riley’s Hotel? The only one I knew about, was my nephew, Christiaan – Chris for short. In our family, Chris’ name is seldom mentioned, simply because his death was so unexplained. He was an adventurer, a free soul, and wanted to travel Africa from south to north – to write a book about it afterwards.

Then Van der Post continues, stating that this young fellow caused his own death, because he had a relationship with ‘one of the local ladies’ and that she had fallen pregnant. Suddenly it all fell into place. That’s why the family didn’t want to talk about him! And, seeing that Van der Post was on an extended safari to document the lives of the so-called Water Bushmen in the Okavango (people he never really met in the end), the ‘local lady’ in question was probably somebody of Bushman descent…maybe?

That’s why I’m travelling from south to north through the Bechuana Protectorate. To see for myself. Who were these Bushmen. How do they live? And….I had the inexplicable feeling that I might just find more than I sought. It was as if I simply had to heed a call of some sorts. I didn’t understand the compulsion to obey…then.

***

A few pages later:

We’re getting on rather well, my little family and I. They’ve taken me back to the vehicle to salvage some of the supplies (very excited about Bully Beef – they savour it like the best delicatesse ever!) and I ascertained that the engine had ceased completely. No way out on that vehicle!

The old man is trying hard to tell me something. He’d sit on his haunches at the fire, look me in the eye, and speak to me in the most earnest way. The multitude of clicks would have been funny if he didn’t seem so terribly serious. He tell me  (I think) the same story over and over again, emphasising certain parts while pointing at me. I’m not sure what to make of it. He seems to be telling me something about myself…but what?

***

A strange thing happened last night. The woman brought some herbs to the shelter which caused the old man to clap his hands in joy while obviously praising her. Then, as the sun began to set, they made me stand next to the fire. It was obvious they wanted to do something important. Then the woman started undressing me. I was scared and shy, but the old man held out his hand, palms towards me, making shhh-ing sounds as if placating a baby. What could I do? They’d saved my life, after all.

images (15)Then the woman ‘dusted’ me. I know of no other way to describe it. She had ashes in half an ostrich eggshell, which she proceeded rubbing into my body. In this, she was extremely gentle and avoided the parts of anatomy which could have aggravated my embarrassment. When she was done, the old man draped a karos of springbok skin around me. It was a fine garment of extremely high quality and I wondered about the craftsmanship. It looked old, but well-cared for. What was abundantly clear, however, was that some great honour was being bestowed upon me. Of course I didn’t understand.

That’s when the woman guided me to the downwind side of the fire and made me sit down in the smoke. She proceeded to sprinkle the fetched herbs on the embers.

And that’s when I had the first vision that started to make sense out of the mystery surrounding my circumstances…

(To be continued)

Everybody has a You (#7)

thescientistThe events leading up to Dawid Loper’s visit to Vetfaan must be seen as one of those strange, inexplicable situations we all experience from time to time. If one tried to arrange these happenings in a logical fashion, it all seems to sound so farfetched and illogical – causing the sceptic to walk away with that superior smile that says one should not be so gullible and stupid: coincidences happen all the time, don’t they?

But in the Kalahari the people have long learnt to keep the doors of scepticism firmly closed. Oh, like Vladimir Nabokov, they retain a sense of humour when it comes to such things, and laugh at Gertruida when she quotes the great author when he writes: “A certain man once lost a diamond cuff-link in the wide blue sea, and twenty years later, on the exact day, a Friday apparently, he was eating a large fish – but there was no diamond inside. That’s what I like about coincidence.” But they also subscribe to Albert Einstein’s famous words: “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” Boggel says both these men grasped the deeper truth behind a coincidence: sometimes Life mixes up laughter and tears to make us realise we will never be able to explain everything. Sometimes, Oudoom says, Boggel has the uncanny and surprising ability to condense complicated issues like Faith into a single sentence.

When Dawid wioke up three mornings ago in his simple hut in the dunes, he watched an eagle flying high overhead. And he felt the tapping in his chest – that strange unease, telling him about somebody who needs help. Who it was, and where, he wasn’t certain at first, but later when he saw the spoor of an eland leading off to the east, the tapping became more intense. He followed those tracks to the rise on the small hill on Vetfaan’s farm, where he immediately understood: this was where he had to be.

Now, just after the group in the bar has fallen silent – he opens the door to Boggel’s Place.

“I heard,” he said, looking at Vetfaan.

Tsamma melons (Citrullus ecirrhosus). Sesriem. Namibia.In Western society it is considered rude to be eavesdropping. Not so with the Bushman tribes. To survive, you have to gather as much information about your circumstances as possible. Wind, weather, spoor and veld provide clues to where the next meal might be found. That, and what other’s say. A family member might mention the field of tsamma plants in a deserted valley, or talk about a water source a grandfather mentioned a long time ago. Knowledge ensures survival as much in the Kalahari as in the stock exchanges all over the world.

The major difference between the so-called modern world and the Busman? The latter have retained the ability to listen – really listen – to nature, to their surroundings and to other people. The art of shutting up and paying attention was lost when Man invented the telephone – an instrument invented because we needed technology to force others to listen. Of course, poor Mister Bell meant well, but it only made matters worse: the telephone in reality created a platform to mostly broadcast one’s desires. And just when we thought our ego-driven society had reached the bottom rung, along came Facebook. We talk, we want others to see and listen…but it’s generally a one-way street.

The small, yellow people of the Kalahari avoided this downward spiral in communication. They actually use their ears – under all circumstances. Even under the window of Boggel’s Place.

“You were listening at the window?”

Dawid nods – a little shyly, because he knows the strange ways of the white people: they have this obsession with privacy.

“Good, then I won’t have to explain.”

“I felt him, mister Vetfaan, felt him here.” He taps a stubby finger against the creased skin of his chest. “I didn’t know who, but the spoor led to your farm.So…I came.”

“And now, Dawid, do you ‘feel’ Boggel? Please help us, man?”

The Bushman slowly sits down on the floor, resting his head on his hands. The people in the bar remain completely silent while they watch the man as he starts rocking to and fro. At first inaudible, they later hear the monotonous tune he hums. Vetfaan holds a finger to his lips while he watches – he’s seen this before when Dawid helped him find the lost ram.

It seems to take a long time. After the excitement of Mary and Smartryk’s arrival and the terrible realisation that Boggel may be in mortal danger, it is almost impossible to sit quietly while watching the shrivelled old man. But they have to – and they do. Servaas and Oudoom exchange glances:  their way of thinking shies away from the mystical and unexplained…yet this may very well be their only hope of finding Boggel again. This, they realise, is not the time to voice their concerns.

Eventually – after what seemed like an eternity – Dawid starts tapping his chest. Slow, deep, thudding taps. His eyes are closed when he starts talking.

“Yes, I feel him. Mister Boggel. He is…far. And I think he is injured. And…he needs help.”

“Where is he, Dawid? Can you help us?”

Again the old man is silent for a few long minutes.

“Yes. We must go.” The tapping stops. He looks up. “Immediately.”

The would-be rescuers assemble everything they need in record time. Blankets, sleeping bags, Precilla’s first-aid kit, tinned food, water and – of course – a solid supply of Cactus Jack. This gets loaded into Vetfaan’s pickup and Sersant Dreyer’s police van. Somehow, they all squeeze into the vehicles and are set to go within an hour.

“Where to, Dawid?”

“”Beyond the dunes, Mister Vetfaan. Near the dry river bed, I know the place. – we call it Zosi Plain.”

Gertruida feels a pang of panic rising in her chest. As the only Rolbosser to understand some of the San language, she knows ‘Zosi’ means ‘those without hooves‘. In other words, dangerous people, like predators. The Bushmen, she knows, associate themselves closely with the animal kingdom, where the eland reigns supreme. And, if a man ‘has no hooves’, it implies that he – unlike the Bushmen – is coupled with hunting animal with paws and nails and canines.

“Tell me about Zosi Plain,” she prompts the old man gently.

“Many summers ago, Miss Gertruida, there were men with guns. Many guns. They were hunting other men. Some of my family got shot there.”

This, Gertruida thinks, must have been during the 1914 Rebellion, when some South Africans refused to fight in WW I. They remembered the Anglo-Boer war, the burnt farms and the 26,000 women and  children who died in the concentration camps – and refused to battle alongside their former enemy, the British. Some of the rebels fled to the Kalahari,but were pursued and hunted down before they reached German West Africa – the country we know today as Namibia.

“And what did you see – or feel – about this plain, Dawid?”

Dawid Loper stares at the horizon, where the shimmering heatwaves cause heaven and earth to mix in a hazy line where it is impossible to say where the one ends and the other starts.

“Mister Boggel is weak, Miss Gertruida. He is alone. But he has a Zosi following him. We must hurry.”

Although Vertfaan and Sersant Dreyer have a lot of  experience about driving in the deep, loose sand of the Kalahari, their progress is slow. When at last they stop for the night, Dawid tells them they have only gone as far as the hips – his way of estimating halfway. Despite the urgency, the group realises the futility of attempting to cross the dunes at night.

“First thing in the morning,” Vertfaan says, “we’ll be off. According to Dawid, we should be at the plain at about midday. That’s the best we can do.”

Smartryk nods. He’s seen the Kalahari from the air while flying, and realises how dangerous the place is.

“Mary,” he now says, “tomorrow we’ll find your Boggel, don’t you worry.”

And Mary Mitchell, the woman scorned for so long by men and life alike, looks up to the kind eyes of this strange man she’s just met. She’s aware of a weird feeling welling up inside her – a warm, comfortable sensation she can’t define accurately – and finds herself smiling. Here she is, in the middle of nowhere, with somebody she hardly knows. And yet…he’s been there all day, sitting quietly next to her. Just his presence, it seems, made it possible to face the last two days. He doesn’t speak much…but even his silence was enough, made her stronger.

“You’re such a sweet man, Ryk,” she says, choosing to omit the first part of his name. ‘Grief’, she reckons, should not be part of the way she thinks of him. She toys with the name, coming up with ‘Liefryk’, blushes at the silly thought, and looks away. “I really do appreciate…”

“Shhh.” He interrupts her gently by laying a finger on her lips. “Rest now. Tomorrow will be a long day…”

Weekly Photo Challenge: Monuments in the Veld

Long before Diaz, Da Gama and Van Riebeeck set foot on Southern Africa soil, there were people here – The First People. And they left monuments in the form of petroglyphs to remind us of the delicate balance in Nature.

a1

The First People regarded the rhino with awe, and even then realised how important it is for later generations to respect the presence of these huge creatures in Nature.

Some animals are depicted as 'getting out of the rock', like this Eland. It s still trapped in the spirit world, waiting for the dream to become reality.

Some animals were depicted as ‘getting out of the rock’, like this Eland. It s still trapped in the spirit world, waiting for the dream to become reality.

They were great artists, leaving us wonderful pictures on their stone monuments.

They were great artists, leaving us wonderful pictures on their stone monuments.

Did they write us a letter in a language we don't understand? Or were they aware of...other things? Distant galaxies perhaps? Foreign visitors?

Did they write us a letter in a language we don’t understand? Or were they aware of…other things? Distant galaxies perhaps? Foreign visitors?

These stones now are scattered across the veld in the Northern Cape; a monument seldom visited and it’s powerful messages lost in translation.  Maybe one day, after the nuclear dust has settled and the last plastic bottle finally decayed, it’ll remain as a reminder of how Man once respected his surroundings…

Gert Smit’s Tomatoes (# 18)

bushman_guide-682x1024…And of course, that’s where Gertruida stops telling the story. Just there, with the red tomatoes in !Ka’s hand. Just when he asked her help to find somebody. Leaving Vetfaan exasperated, confused, irritated and angry.

“Then what? You can’t stop it there, dammit! What happened then?”

Gertruida says a good story ends with a question. At least, in real life, it does. Whatever has happened before simply brings the story to a point in time when telling more is unnecessary. But, she asks, since when does Life work up to an ending? Nothing ever stops completely. The bottom line of: and the lived happily ever after, only happens in fairy tales. We all know that, don’t we?

We live a never-ending story, and for those of us who believe, even death isn’t the final full stop. Our stories continue in the lives we have effected in so many ways – some small, indeed – but others in a more remarkable way.

So she simply smiles and tells Vetfaan to make up his own ending for the time being, just like we all do, every day.

Anyway, she says, they’ll all have to wait to see how it ends. “This story isn’t finished yet, Vetfaan. Not yet.”

***

Gertruida doesn’t say anything about her further discussion with !KA. Not a word about how he discovered the tomatoes and later – cautiously, carefully – the two people living nearby. This happened, – oh, how many seasons ago – when he stumbled across the little fountain while he was tracking a klipspringer.

And she tells nothing about the strange friendship that developed after that.

***

Gert and Lettie lived in their tree-cave, quite content with their circumstances. They were safe, had enough to eat and drink, and never considered returning to civilisation. Captive, in a strange way…

At first it had been the fear that the war wasn’t over and that Gert would have to go to jail; but as the seasons rolled by, they simply settled into a comfortable existence where all their needs were catered for. They had each other, and that seemed quite enough. Yes, they said over many a campfire at night: why return to the madness people call civilisation,  when they have love and tranquility right there?

And then, one morning, they found !Ka sitting – cross-legged – outside their dwelling as if he’d always been there. At that stage !Ka command of English was rather poor, but still the two parties soon established that the one meant no harm to the other.

Some people may have considered !Ka to be primitive, but that wasn’t true, of course. In exchange for tomatoes, he taught Gert more about tracking, digging for roots and tubers and showed Lettie how to use the skins of animals to make soft, comfortable clothes and shoes. Gert learnt a little about the difficult San language. !Ka readily memorised many English words.

!K a didn’t stay with them. That would have been rude, He visited them often, though – not only for tomatoes, but also because Gert was a very proficient hunter and meat was always plentiful. Their friendship grew.

As soon as they could communicate relatively freely, Gert impressed on the little yellow man the importance of secrecy.

“Look, I was in the army,” he said. !Ka knew about the army. Some of his family were recruited to be trackers up north. “The war…wasn’t good.” !Ka understood that as well. Many Bushmen who helped the army, were left destitute after the war. “I didn’t want to kill somebody. So I came here. Nobody must know.”

“Nobody?” !Ka couldn’t figure it out. San people always supported each other, no matter what the circumstances were.

“Nobody. Especially not people with my skin.” Gert lifted his shirt to expose the untanned skin. “Like this. They’d want to hunt me.”

!Ka, like his family, understood the plight of the hunted. For generations they have been chased, killed, imprisoned – just because they were Bushmen. All ‘other’ peoples did that; black and white. That’s why the Bushmen chose to live where ‘others’ can’t. The desert became their keeper of secrets and sanctuary – and now he would honour his two new friends in the same way.

Besides, he liked the two strange pale people who made the Baobab their home. Did they not, when !Tung became ill, give him powerful medicine that took the fever away? And did they not share their meat when Gert hunted? How else could he repay Lettie for the needle and thread she gave him – without expecting anything back? No, their secret would be safe. He wouldn’t even whisper a word to Vetfaan and Kleinpiet on the rare occasions they met.

And so it stayed.

Until Gert got ill.

It was a strange sickness, which he first noticed when he stepped on a thorn and the wound wouldn’t stop bleeding. Lettie applied a poultice and a pressure bandage, but to no avail. !Ka suggested putting raw liver on the little wound, and that stemmed the drops of blood. Not thinking about it much, Gert went out hunting again the next morning. This time, his nose started bleeding for no reason at all.

Lettie then looked at her husband critically for the first time in many months. We all know the situation: you live with somebody and eventually don’t notice the small changes we all experience as time passes. Only then did she notice the pallor, the weight loss. Why hadn’t she picked it up before? Yes, he lost two teeth last month, but so had she – albeit only one. And his hair? What happened to his hair? And yes, he had been tired lately…unnaturally so.

That’s when Lettie took !Ka for a walk to the garden, where the little patch of tomatoes thrived under their canopy of thorn branches.

“You have to get a message out, !Ka. We need help. My father. He has to come. Please…”

***

Gertruida sat, open-mouthed, as !Ka told the story of the two white people he had befriended out in the desert. The Kalahari is a vast place, yes, she knew that, but for two people to live there…for almost forty years? They must be in their sixties at least! And if Letties father still lived, he must be well over eighty?

“How is this man, Gert? Is he…okay?”

“He still hunts, Miss Gertruida, but the bullets have long since been finished. He hunts with a bow and arrows, like me. Only, he comes home with a rabbit or a very small buck these days. Once, he brought a tortoise. I do most of the hunting now. Miss Gertruida, I think he’s dying…”

***

Gertruida phoned an old contact from her time in National Intelligence. Within an hour she had an address for Brigadier Gericke, Huis Vergenoeg, on Beauford West. Another telephone call confirmed that yes, this had been the Major in Fort Doppies, and that he was one of the more ‘difficult’ old men in the old age home.

“Are you family?” The young voice at the other end seemed excited. “We need a break, madam. Really. The Brigadier is too much. Just last night he chased old captain Starke right around the home, because Starke said General Viljoen was a coward and a sell-out. We had to lock them both in their rooms for the whole night. Please Madam, come and take him, even if it’s just for a few days…”

Gericke was much more forthcoming when he got on the phone. Without waiting to hear what the call is about, he launched straight into a tirade.

“If this is about that damn fool Starke, I can tell you he can count himself lucky my arthritis has been acting up lately. If I caught that man, I would have moered his false teeth right back to his hemorrhoids. And I’m not sorry. Don’t expect me to apologise.”

It took more than an hour to get the old man to grasp fully what the call is all about. He asked a million questions, of which Gertruida could answer only a few. In the end, he understood: his daughter is alive! Alive!

Sobbing, he told Gertruida to expect him the next morning.

Gert Smit’s Tomatoes (# 9)

Credit: theguardian.com

Credit: theguardian.com

Gertruida says all great characters – in great stories, that is – have to show some sort of weakness somewhere in the storyline. That makes them more authentic, see? You can’t just tell a story about some superhero who smashes evil and then retires. No. she says, you won’t believe such a story. But if you made him suffer and sweat, gave him a retarded dwarf as a helper and allowed him one small victory every now and then – why, then he becomes believable and people want to hear what happens next. A good example of this, she says, is Sherlock Holmes and his good friend, Dr Watson. Or, in South Africa’s case: President Zuma and the Guptas. Such characters have no limits to what they can do, provided the plot allows for the fact that being gullible is actually a form of genius. Sometimes at least. Think of that bumbling detective, Columbo, she says.

When she says this, Kleinpiet usually nods wisely, as if he agrees completely. Maybe he would have, if he understood the statement.

But when Gertruida mentions the rustling in the grass behind Gert Smit, everybody in Boggel’s Place takes a deep breath and wonders why they listened so long to a story which is going to have such a bloody and unexpected ending.

They are wrong, of course…

***

The rustling stopped.

Gert Smit tried to turn his head far enough to see, but being tied to a rather sturdy tree made that impossible. While his hands were tied – stretched backward with a rope around the trunk – his feet were free. If the worst happened, he reckoned, he’d at least get in a good kick or two.

Then, like a child would peer around a curtain to see where Mom had hidden the cookies, a withered brown face slowly crept into his field of vision. Gert almost wept with relief.

“!xix! mwawuham !it!kura?” The man sat down patiently while he waited for an answer.

Gert explained in his best Afrikaans – not using any swear words or English which could have confused the Bushman – that he’d appreciate any help at that stage. Especially if such help could maybe have something to do with the knots in the rope around the tree.

“!hau,” the man said, filling his clay pipe with what appeared to be grass and leaves and which he proceeded to light with a match from a crumpled little box that hung from his loincloth.

Seeing that the man didn’t grasp the urgency of the situation, Gert now added to his plea a few choice Afrikaans words. The Bushman’s face lit up.

“X!!thkak!’ He got up, rose a hand in a sort-of salute and turned to go.

“No man! Help me. Please?” Gert was practically sobbing. “I can give you something better than matches. It’ll help you a lot. Please, man?”

***

 “You see, we all expect Life to be a very logical thing – like when you add lemonade to beer, you always get a shandy.” Gertruida has to use an analogy they’d all understand. “That’s why people become depressed; because in Real Life, somebody always drops the bottle of lemonade, or the beer might be flat, or the glass slips from your hand before you take the first sip.

“But out there,” she sweeps a hand towards the vast Kalahari, “nothing is logical. That, too, is a component of a great story.  So in a nice story, boy meets girl, they fall in love, and live happily ever after. But that’s only in stories. Real Life…Har! Here we all struggle with the unexpected.

“So when !Thwui walked up to that tree that day, he found something he didn’t expect. And Gert Smit got a visitor he didn’t expect. And that, my friends, is what separates a good story from a fairytale. The unexpected. That’s what happened.”

***

!Thwui knew about soldiers. They were trouble. But this one…? He’s never seen a soldier tied to a tree before. And as usual, this man couldn’t speak properly. He made sounds, yes, but obviously lacked the ability to communicate in a civilised manner.

Now, any Bushman worth his salt will tell you: the object in Life is to preserve and protect your hunting ground. If you don’t do this, you either starve to death, or – much, much worse – have to bid the veld farewell and go and work in a town or a city. Dying of hunger is preferable. At least it’s quicker.

This soldier, he thought, must have done something really bad for his companions to tie him to a tree. What could he have done? Stealing food must be the worst thing anybody can do. Or maybe…maybe this soldier is such a bad hunter, they just didn’t want him in the clan any more. Whatever he did, he seemed harmless enough. And isn’t it so that, once you’ve scolded somebody and he apologised, one has to forget the past and  face the future together? No, !Thwui thought, it’ll be wrong to leave this soldier to be eaten by wild animals.

He turned around to the man-tied-to-the-tree and explained that he would release him if he was sorry for whatever he did. The man didn’t seem to understand. !Thwui shook his head: one day, he thinks, these white people will learn to talk. Then he got busy with the knots.

***

Discipline is the essence of any military system. That’s why you have officers and orders. However, while discipline makes soldiers march bravely into battle, there is another factor which makes life bearable in the army: gossip. Here rumours spread by whispered conversations and innuendo. Did you hear what Captain So-and-so did with the general’s wife? Or: They caught another Cuban near Rundu. He’s talking faster than they can write it down. That sort of thing.

And that sort of thing has a way of spreading at amazing speeds.

So, when Lettie Gericke sits down to dinner in the safe house in Katima Mulilo, she was surprised to find two men already eating at the table next to hers. They are shabbily dressed  – obviously not soldiers – and they were talking in hushed tones until they noticed her.

“Hey gorgeous! What’s a nice chick like you doing in a dump like this?” The younger one – well built with startling blue eyes and his hair tied back in a ponytail – winks and flashes a brilliant smile.

Lettie wants to ignore the remark, but looks up when the older man sighs loudly.

“Please ignore my young colleague, Miss. Always on the hunt, he is. I’ve told him a thousand times to behave himself, but he doesn’t listen.”

“Ag okay, you guys. I grew up in a military home, so I know how to handle guys whose Libido/IQ ratio is bigger than 1.”

She’s rewarded by a happy guffaw from the older man, who then suggests that they share a table.

“Listen, we’re out here in the middle of nothing, we might as well be friends. I’ll tell young Harry to zip his glib remarks. How about it?”

The evening turns out to be quite enjoyable. Jacques and Harry introduce themselves as reporters for the Argus who’ve been flown in to do an article on the peaceful life in Katima.

“Some PR wizard in the army thought it’d be nice to tell our readers how well the army is doing up here. You know: despite the bombs going off back home, the army is the iron fist that’ll keep the terrorists out. So we’re here for a week. Harry, here, can’t write a story to save his life, but he’s a damn good photographer.” Jacques toys with his wine glass. “Now you know all about us. What about you?”

Reporters are reporters because they understand the art of digging out the unusual. That’s what sells newspapers. To have a headline like ‘Moon set to be full again this month’ won’t convince the average man to search for his wallet; while ‘ SA Soldier missing in Angola’ immediately grabs the attention of the public.

Lettie – to her credit – doesn’t tell them the story like that, of course. But she did enjoy the Chivas after the meal and the men were extremely clever in posing the right questions at the right time.

The next morning, at breakfast, Lettie swears the men to silence.

“Of course,” Jacques replies. “Our lips are sealed…”

The Fable of the Grass and the Rain

images (14)“International politics – even local politics – is like a sordid and doomed love affair. Or like the clouds building up, and building up, with the promise of rain that’ll never come. People say things they don’t mean, show feelings they don’t feel, and say words they wouldn’t if they were honest. It’s all about getting what you want, and not caring about the rest. False promises, lies, and lots of video tape.”

“Gee, Gertruida, that’s harsh. Mister Obama seems such a nice man.”

Seeming to be nice is what it’s all about, Kleinpiet. It’s an illusion; strangers in the night, making promises they know they won’t keep… It reminds me of the Fable of the Rain and the Grass.”

images (13)Of course she waits. This is one of !Ka’s stories – something he told her one day while she showed him how to condense the evaporated water from vegetation on a plastic sheet. He said the story s an old one, and an apt reward for a new skill. Still, the pause causes a sense of huge satisfaction and she enjoys every second of her audience’s curiosity.

“Soooo…?” Boggel prompts her.

A long time ago, the Kalahari was a green pasture with many trees and tall grass.  Great Eland came here to enjoy the lush vegetation, grow fat and be content with the safe surroundings. And the Eland multiplied and became more and more, for the veld supplied all they needed and the grass was sweet and the water was plentiful.

eland_rctb-1155But the Eland wanted more. They became numerous and fat, yet they complained as they chewed the grass, demanding more and more as each day passed. And the grass cried out, saying this is unfair, they need more water to grow faster. Then the grass sent a bird to the clouds, demanding more rain; for how must they supply food to all these animals if the rain limited their growth?

Well, the clouds listened to the bird, and called a meeting.

‘Ah,’ Thundercloud said, ‘it takes a lot of energy to make all that lightning. Somebody has to pay. I can’t do it all by myself.’

‘Sure thing.’ This was Frivolous Cloud, the joker of them all. He usually rolled across the sky, raising false hopes. ‘I can keep on rolling by, you only have to follow me.’

Grumble Cloud, Thundercloud’s personal Imbongi, sighed. ‘ No, I demand more recognition. I’m always the fool to lead others to the spot where they then get all the honour and praise. I’m fed up. If I’m not allowed to rain – and be praised for my efforts – then I refuse to cooperate.’

‘It’s your ego.’ The disgust was clearly visible on Fleecy Cloud’s face. She’s the sexy one everybody else was chasing all the time. ‘You only want the glory, but you don’t want to do the work.’

‘And what about you? You try to look glamorous all the time, and that’s all there is to you. All face and no effort. Tell me: when last did you rain, anyway?’ Grumble let out a few deep-throated rumbles – his signature sound which everybody knew meant nothing.

That’s when Cumulus Cloud held up the regal column of authority.

‘Stop it, and stop it now. I hereby decree that you all be banned from the Kalahari. Because you are so consumed with pride, you shall venture there no longer. The grass will die. Only the hardiest succulents will survive on the few drops I choose to allow there; when it pleases me to do so. The rest of you shall not cooperate in this region any longer. If you venture this way, it’ll be as single clouds – no longer as a team.

27015‘And you know what’ll happen? All the Eland that used to feed here, will leave. They’ll tell each other what a horrible place this has become and seek new pastures. Only the Gemsbok will remain to guard this place. I shall supply him with two spears as horns, so long and so sharp, that no other animal will dare challenge him. As for the Eland, I’ll give him short, strange horns as a sign of how much his greed has cost him.

‘As for the land, I’ll leave the scorpions and snakes to live there, to remind people about the dangerous poison contained in the acts of greed.’

Cumulus rose high, evaporating as it approached its father, the Sun.

And the Kalahari became a desert.

As usual, an uncomfortable silence follows Gertruida’s speech. She has a way of making the customers in Boggel’s Place stop their humorous banter by forcing reality back into the confines of the small bar.

“I don’t understand,” Servaas bunches his bushy brows together in a puzzled look, “what has this to do with politics and Obama and South Africa?”

“Everything, dear Servaas, everything. There is too little grass. Too many fat Eland. And, because trade unions – they guys that have to ensure continued and improved production – are constantly fighting about higher wages and shorter hours and not doing what they’re supposed to do.

“So Obama came here, made all the right noises, and left. Do you think anything is going to change?” Gertruida sighs as she signals for a new drink. “When the Obamas and the helicopters and the CIA leave to continue their trip through Africa, they’ll leave South Africa just like they found us – a desert  where hope used to grow.

“The Kalahari is fortunate. The Gemsbok still survive there, but in the rest of the country they were poached by Corruption.”

***

Way out in the desert, near The Valley of the Buried Wagon, a lone Oryx sips the brackish water from a secret pool next to a rock. Straightening up, it sniffs the air.

It won’t rain soon…

Fanny’s Surprise (# 7)

They reach the Valley of the Buried Wagon at sunset, to find !Tung patiently waiting. She’s collected a few twigs and used some of the old wagon’s timber to make a small fire, which acted as a beacon to guide them there. When Vetfaan stops a few yards away, she gets up to walk to the back of the vehicle. Silently, softly, she strokes the injured leg while making soothing noises.

“Thank you, mister Vetfaan.” The language is certainly foreign on her tongue, but she manages quite well. Before Vetfaan can wonder about how she knew his name, she continues. “And it’s good to see miss Fanny again. Thank you.”

While Fanny has spent some time with the family, Vetfaan has never met !Tung. Still, he shakes her hand and says he’s happy she’s there.

“Look.” She points to the full moon rising slowly over the horizon.

Vetfaan carries !Ka over to the fire; the small man has improved remarkably over the last hour, proving the resilience of these men and women who are used to the harsh life in the desert. He still complains about the pain in his leg though, and only settles down after !Tung gives him a few herbs to chew.

“!Ka, I have no idea what happened today. Fanny arrived. Vrede ran across the veld. You got injured. !Kung left the family to wait here for us. I do care how you stitch it together – it doesn’t make sense. There are just to many coincidences and unexplained events. It has no logic to it, at all. Can you tell us more?”

!Tung holds up a withered hand, preventing !Ka from answering, and launches into a long monologue with !Ka.  The clicks of the strange language melt together in a steady rhythm; an almost hypnotising melodious cascade of words; as she tells !ka why.

“”!Tung, says she’s sorry, but her own tongue is better for this story. She asked me to tell you what she said…”

When the people of the wagon arrived at this spot, they had nothing left. No water, no food. One after the other, they laid down to enter the final sleep so that they may enter the New Life. Only a little boy was still alive when the Bushmen arrived later. His mother, it seems, saved him by burying him in sand up to his neck, to keep the heat and the sun away from him. The boy took so long to recover, some members of the family gave up hope.

But, he did get better. Slowly. And the family fed him and gave him new skins to wear. And he grew up with them and stayed for many years.

Then, one day, men came with guns. That was the custom in those days. Men with guns and horses would come and shoot any Bushman they could find. This they did, because the men didn’t think the Bushmen had the right to stay here. The boy – almost a  man now – ran towards the horsemen and tried to stop him. He told them his family had done nothing wrong and why are they shooting his brothers and sisters? Of course, he had no knowledge of the language of the horsemen, but they soon saw this boy wasn’t a Bushman. He was different. He was like them.

So the men on the horses said to themselves: this is very strange. And they took the boy with them and they stopped shooting.

Now that boy was taken to a big place near the sea, where he learnt to speak the language of the horsemen. His story of survival made him very popular. Then, one day, he got into a ship and sailed away to a far country. He never came back here.

“That’s a fascinating story, !Ka, but how does it relate to today’s events?”

In the far country, the boy – who was a man by then – married a woman. They had a little girl. But over there (!Ka points to the south) the people of this country and the far country were fighting with each other. The far country made the man come here to fight. He didn’t want to. In the first fight he was involved in, he stood up to protest, just like he did when the horsemen came to kill his brothers and sisters. He died there.

His wife – in the far country – became ill. She coughed and coughed and died. Her daughter was put in a place with other children. One day a rich man came and took her away. She was happy there. And later, she married a man. They had a daughter, too: and she was your mother, Fanny.”

“What?” The word jumps from Fanny’s mouth. “These people were my family?”

Yes. She, !Tung wasn’t sure at first. But since Fanny went back to England, she had vision after vision that repeated this story over and over again. It would come in the night, and sometimes even during the days. All of them with the boy becoming a  man, the horsemen, the far country, the war, the mother coughing and the girl later staying with the rich people. The same. Again and again. Yes, !Tung is sure.

Fanny is dumbstruck and can only shake her head. “I knew my grandmother was an orphan, but…”

!Tung claps her hands in delight.

You see? You see now?

“But why…”

The boy who later became a man, learnt the art of the shaman while he stayed with his Bushman family. It was thought he had special gifts, because he was the only one to survive. He was taller than any of us. So it was natural for our people to see him as a sort of magic man, even as a god. That’s why he was taught. The family agreed it was a good idea.

Now, once a boy who becomes a man is taught these things, it stays with him. And it stays with his children. And it stays with all his children, but not all of them. Some will inherit this gift, some not. But always, always it will be carried on to the next generation. That’s how it is. Many times the child won’t know about it – it’ll just be there, waiting to wake up. Sometimes it remains sleeping.

“Then…then you are saying that I may have inherited this gift?” By now Fanny has stopped trying to understand the story. It defies logic. It is weird. It is simply unbelievable. And yet…how would the old woman know these things, if it didn’t come too her as a vision?

Yes, you have the gift of the shaman, Fanny.  I am sure. Before you take !Ka away, we must make sure it wakes up inside your mind.

!Tung shuffles over to !Ka and thanks him for translating. Then she sits down next to the injured leg and starts singing in a crooning voice. The same words over and over again.

Vetfaan fetches the rest of his emergency supplies to divide it equally between them, sharing some with Vrede. He can see Fanny is in deep thought and that she doesn’t want to talk right now.

When at last !Tung finishes her singing, she gets up. No, she won’t eat. And no, she won’t drink.

There’s too much to do under this full moon.

Then she tells Fanny to undress and sit down next to the fire

http://lyricstranslate.com

None shall sleep! None shall sleep! You too, princess,
In your cold room
You watch the stars
Trembling of love and hope…

But the mistery of me is locked inside of me
No one will know my name!

 

Wait for it…604043_532682216772817_1360375968_n

 

Fanny’s Surprise (# 2)

“You could’ve said something.” Fanny snuggles in under Henry’s shoulder to hug him. “That was the most unselfish thing anybody had ever done for me. Except maybe for the !Ka family and the Rolbossers…I think these three rank in the top spots.”

Henry blushes and swallows. Since Fanny came back, she’s such a changed person! The overweight, shy person;  simply noticeable because of her wealthy father; has turned into somebody with poise and grace, a speaker of note, a researcher who earned her PhD with distinction. Sometimes he feels inadequate to manage a relationship with such a magnificent person, but the combination of the two family fortunes beckoned. How could he ignore that? That’s why he’s taken private classes in public speaking, started a course in martial arts and resumed his interest in becoming a pilot. He’ll pop out his shell and match her step for step.

The letter from Gertruida was so convincing; she painted the Kalahari in such vivid terms and her suggestion that he swapped the CD’S to show the raw, unedited pictures of this arid region and all its peoples, 

“When did you think the project must start?” She raises an eyebrow as she studies his face. As she expected, the Roman nose twitches, mouse-like.

“I had a look at the donated figures, and it is quite astounding. There’s more than enough to start the planning phase immediately. Then there are several promises for future donations to ensure the sustainability of the project. We’ll be able to build two schools, at least one hospital, get in some infrastructure. The coverage of the goodwill shown by the conglomerates will generate the consumer confidence big companies need to maintain their customer base. Yes, the sooner we start, the better.”

“It sounds great, Henry – especially the bit about the infrastructure. But…that would mean roads, houses, water. Are you sure this is viable? I mean…it is such a lot of things.”

“Oh, I’ll get a team on it, believe me. The best engineers, scientists, architects – everything. The provisional idea is to make this project absolutely eco-friendly. You’ll see, everybody will be proud to be associated with this.”

The limousine stops at her father’s house and she gets out lightly. Henry escorts her to the door and plants a clumsy, wet kiss on her proffered cheek.

*

 “She’s coming back!” Vetfaan almost trips as he storms into Boggel’s Place. “Look, a telegram came! She’ll be here next week already!” He sighs happily as he sits down at the beer Boggel slides across the counter. “I can’t believe it…”

“Vetfaan,” Gertruida lays a soft hand on his shoulder, “you must remember she’s spoken for, now. You’ll have to respect that.”

“Ja, I know. And she says that Henry fellow will be coming out here as well. But,” he shakes his head in wonder, “I can’t understand how this all happened. I never thought she’d be back.”

“Oh, you know how it is.” Gertruida can look particularly innocent if she wants to. “Life happens while you’re planning other things, I always say.”

“Well, I think it’s a miracle. It’s not that I want to pursue anything specifically with Fanny, it’s just that I thought never seeing her again would be such a bad thing. Even !Ka asked after her the other day. Said he misses having her around. She’s that type of person, see? Everybody likes her.”

“So do I,” Boggel nods his agreement, “she used to be a heap of fun when she was around.”

 *

“!Ka, that woman is coming back.” !Tung, the old woman with the almost-blind eyes stare into the fire. This is the third night they’re spending on this spot; they’ll have to move on again soon. The veld has been stripped of berries and tubers – a new camp must be found with enough food around it. “…And tomorrow you’ll find the springbuck over the-e-ere.” She waves a wrinkled hand in the general direction of  the horizon. “You’ll have to start before sunup to get him.”

!Ka shakes his head in wonder. She’s been around since he was a child still, and even then she looked old.  She knows more about the desert than everybody else. More impressive, however, is her ability to foretell events. Even she’s not sure where these thoughts come from; but her mother had it, too. So did her grandmothers as far back as people can remember. Every month, when the moon is full, each member of the clan must recite the bit of history he was entrusted with. The rest of the clan – who knows these history-poem-songs by heart – will criticise any mistakes made. In doing so, they ensure the oral history stays fresh and accurate.

In all the years !Tung has had her story told by one of the younger members of the family, the bottom line remains: she, like her forebears, have been amazingly accurate. She knew when droughts were coming, when to hide from others, when death or pregnancy would occur.

!Ka knows he’ll find an antelope the next morning, but the story of the woman?

“The white one that stayed with us. She’s coming back”

!Ka claps his hands in joy. !Tung holds up a hand.

“And I see death. It is coming…”

Vetfaan’s Surprise (# 8)

102_0231As the sun sets in the west, the little crowd at the thorn tree gets a bit restless. They’re all there, of course, even old mister Featherbosom, who flew over from London for the occasion. Sally, who has finished editing her adocumentary, sulks away in the shadows – she hates the desert. When Boggel asked him what happened during their prolonged stay in the Kalahari, Platnees laughed and said it’s still too early to tell the story. He says some stories are like red wine – it must mature first.

Boggel has set up a bar under the wide branches, and is doing brisk business.

“It’s been three months,” Vetfaan wipes a drop of sweat from his forehead, “and it’s full moon tonight. !Ka promised…”

“Stop fretting, Vetfaan. !Ka is a man of his word.” Changing the subject, he adds: “My, how the time flew! It’s like yesterday you told us she went walkabout with the Bushmen.”

Maybe it flew for you, Boggel, Vetfaan thinks, but this has been the longest three months of my life. I counted every second, every minute, as they dragged by. He doesn’t say it, though, while his eyes scan the gloom for any sign of her return. They’ve been waiting all day. Fortunately, Sammie saw Fanny’s return as a business opportunity, and has been braaing all day. Of them all, he seems to be the happiest.

Featherbosom crooks a finger, calling Vetfaan over to his chair next to the fire.

“You sure about this? I only agreed because you gave me your word. And now the day is almost gone and my daughter is missing.” The accusation in his voice is unmistakable. “If anything happened to her…”

“…I’d never forgive myself, sir. I’m as worried as you are, but I’m sure !Ka won’t break his promise. They should be here soon.” Even as he said it, he realised how hard it must be for the Londoner to believe him. Following Boggel’s example by changing the subject, he prods the old man on the adocumentaries. “Well, at least Sally did a sterling job, don’t you think? I like the one with the porcupines.”

“Haw! That’s in your face. I like the hyena better. It’s much more subtle. People will talk about that one, for sure. They’ll get the message in the end: don’t be afraid – wear clothing that tells the world you’re not shy to be a man or a woman. The baggy, unisex thing deprives people of their pride and self-image: it takes away individuality,..  And the Rhino? Priceless!”

images (60) copy

“And you’re going to insist on these animal-messages being added to all advertisements you handle? World-wide?”

“Oh yes. Sally has produced over a hundred so far, with messages of individual rights, social respect, cultural diversity. The hard ones hit out at xenophobia, rape, crime and murder. Once the big brands realise the value of healthy societies, they’ll jump at the opportunity. After all – happy people spend more money on luxuries and less on guns and electronic alarms – especially if these messages permeate through to the masses. And then there’s the full length film on the fragile eco-system in the Kalahari. Quite superb, I must say. Sally doesn’t know it yet, but she’s going to spend the next five years doing similar films in the various nature reserves of Southern Africa. I’ve already sold the idea to National Geographic – they’re quite excited about the project.”

Full moon in the Kalahari is a magnificent sight. The last rays of sunlight still colour the evening sky in an amazing red hue, making the yellow orb stand out in all it’s splendour. An eerie silence falls on the group as they watch it rise ever so slowly.

“It is time,” Vetfaan whispers as he crosses his fingers. “Please, !Ka, it is time…”

At the precise moment the moon clears the horizon, they hear the singing. Softly at first, but growing stronger by the minute, the melody wafts toward them on the soft breeze. And then, in the bright moonlight, they see the shadowy figures approaching.

Vetfaan recognises old !Ka leading the way. Behind him a group of women and children follow in an irregular pattern, dancing to the tune; with the traditional shakers made of antelope ears around their ankles providing the tempo for the song. His desperate eyes flit this way and that, seeking the bulky frame of Fanny amongst the dancers.

Nothing.

When they are about ten paces away, !Ka holds up his hand. The feet and the melody stop.

“Where’s my daughter! What have you done to my little girl?” Featherbosom’s anguished cry splits the night.

!Ka ignores the rude greeting and walks over to Vetfaan.

“I am here,” he says.

“I see you,” Vetfaan answers in the accepted custom.

“Miss Fanny is well,” !Ka says.

“I trusted you. I know you looked after her well.” Bushman culture demands respect for both parties.

“Where. Is. My. Daughter?” Featherbosom can’t stand it any more.

!Ka allows a small smile to wrinkle his the lines of his face. Then, bowing slightly to Feaherbosom, he turns back to his people.

And then a woman steps forward. She moves with natural grace as her lithe body floats across the sand. Only when she enters the circle of light around the fire, can Vetfaan make out the way she is dressed. Her skirt is made of rabbit skins, kneaded to perfect softness; the jacket of springbuck hide, the sandals a perfect pair of duiker skins. The ostrich-shell necklace shines almost-too white in the light of the flames, contrasting perfectly with the deeply tanned skin.

And then, the most beautiful woman Vetfaan has ever seen, smiles at her father, and says two simple words – Hello, Daddy.

And then, she turns to Vetfaan. Their eyes meet. And then, for a moment, time stands still. The other people disappear. There is no fire, no tree.

Only a man. A woman.

And the moon…

(To be continued…)

Vetfaan’s Surprise (# 6)

The legendary ‘White Woman’, who lived with the San centuries ago.

“Hey, Vetfaan! We’ve missed you! Where’s the fat lady?”

Vetfaan has just walked into Boggel’s Place and is dusting his pants with his wide-brimmed hat. The words stop him in his tracks. Fanny…he hasn’t been thinking about her as being fat ever since the funeral in the dunes. It’s as if he saw her in a completely different way after she sang Danny Boy at the graveside.

“I left Fanny with !Ka. She wants to spend time with him and his family for a while. Gimme a beer.” He hesitates a second before turning to Kleinpiet. “Her name is Fanny. Stop calling her a fat lady. Show some respect.”

“Whoa, big guy! Just asking, that’s all.” Kleinpiet sulks for a while. Vetfaan doesn’t normally react like this. “Sorry, man. Soo…is she okay?”

Vetfaan glances at his friend and nods. “I’m sorry, too. Yes, she’ll be fine. Let me tell you what happened…”

By the time Vetfaan finishes the story, Boggel’s Place is packed. Even Mevrou sneaked in to hear about the trip.

“…so I left her there. She had one of those bulky suitcases, a sleeping bag and some provisions. I’ve never seen anybody that happy in a long time. !Ka said three moons. I must fetch her at that tree again in three months time, at full moon. He said I mustn’t worry, he’ll look after her well. And that, my friends, is that.”

“Do you think she’s taken a fancy in old !Ka?” Precilla’s question makes Vetfaan swallow twice before he answers.

“Yes. She likes him very much. But…put away the lecherous thoughts guys. !Ka is an old, happily married man. I’ve met his wife – she’s just as sweet. I think !Ka welcomes the opportunity to teach her about his culture, and he realises the value of it being written down. You know the Bushmen are on the verge of extinction; he wants to leave something – anything – behind, so that future generations may at least know about their history and culture.”

****

A week after Fanny was deposited in Boggel’s Place, Sally Sheppard and the TV crew arrive to do the follow-up shoot on the progress Fanny has made with Vetfaan.

“What do you mean – she’s in the desert with some nomad?” Sally’s shocked tones echo down Voortrekker Weg. “You didn’t just leave her out there to fend for herself, did you?” Vetfaan’s impassive face tells the story. If Sally wants to believe that Fanny is roaming about in the arid landscape accompanied by a family of uneducated nobodies, it’s her problem. “How could you do this to me? We’ve spent thousands to do this episode. A fat academic woman and a simple rural farmer! The viewers would have loved to see a farce like that! It would have been sensational! Sophisticated London girl meets the Kalahari Joker. It was a recipe for a disaster – no script necessary, just the drama of two incompatible worlds colliding. The ratings would have soared!

“And now you’ve allowed the only daughter of the main sponsor to wander off with a man you don’t even know the surname of! Damn it Vetfaan, you’ve ruined the show. I might as well pack my bags and clear my desk!”

Vetfaan is unmoved by the tirade. “She’s a grown woman, Sally. It was her decision. And listen to yourself: you were prepared to make a fool out of her, make me look like a dinosaur, and you actually wanted us to fail. You anticipated a million viewers laughing their heads off at two stupid people, pointing fingers at the screen and remarking how wonderful Reality TV is. In fact, you cared nothing for her feelings, or mine.”Vetfaan now sits back with a smug smile. “Well, Sally, boohoo to you too! People aren’t automated little machines you use to cause sensation. You TV people are the vultures of society, feeding on the heartbreak and drama we live through in life. You want sensation, because a trillion bored people want to see blood and tears and faces twisted in anger or grief. You provide a menu of sensational bugger-ups, so those viewers can escape from their own miseries. Sorry to tell you, miss Sheppard, this time it didn’t work out the way you planned. You won’t find drama here. Go somewhere else, where people don’t see right through your silly little game.”

“But her father…” Sally seems to shrink in front of their eyes, “he’s the main sponsor. If he knew his daughter…”

“I already phoned him. He’s on his way.”

“What?”

“Yep. He’ll be here tomorrow; he took the first flight from Heathrow. I think he’ll be quite anxious to speak to you.” By now, Vetfaan’s smile is threatening to go right round his head. “In fact, those were hisexact words. Anxious to speak to miss Sheppard. Thats what he said. He also said you have to stay here until he comes. He doesn’t want you to waste any more of his time.”

***images (56)

When the Airlink flight from Johannesburg touches down, Vetfaan waits in the little cafeteria. He watches as the passengers disembark, and spots Fanny’s father immediately. Dressed for London weather in his tweeds and bowler hat, he’s impossible to miss. Like his daughter, he sports an admirable bulky frame with an impressive girth. He seems pale, exhausted, and very hot.

During their telephonic conversation, Vetfaan assured the man of his little girl’s safety, and had to smile at the way the old man talked about her – as if she is a child still. Now, in the air-conditioned restaurant, he quickly fills him in on developments – as well as his new plan. Humphrey Mountbatten Scott Featherbosom listens attentively. He became the King of the Advertising World by listening: if you know exactly what your client wants, you are in a much better position to satisfy his desires. When Vetfaan finishes, he sits back with a small smile playing at the edges of his full lips. The cool air inside the building has brought back the colour to his chubby cheeks, and he’s stopped sweating.

“I think it’ll work. Yes, by Jove! What a splendid idea!” He reaches over the table to shake Vetfaan’s hand. “Now where do I find this little miss Sheppard? Do we really have to go to Rolbos? It sounds like a waste of time. She could have come here with you.” A slight note of irritation creeps into his almost-girlish voice.

“You have to see the Kalahari for yourself, sir.” Vetfaan quickly found out he has to treat the tycoon like he does his prize ram: make him feel important, and you get the best production out of that sheep. “Books and videos will never give you the feeling of the area. There’s a beauty in the silence and the emptiness you have to experience first-hand. It’ll help you understand.”

“Right oh, then. Lead on, McDuff.”

***

Sally Sheppard listens with an open mouth to Featherbosom’s speech.

“You…you can’t be serious. There’s no money in this. It’s impossible…”

“My dear miss Sheppard – I am serious. You’re right about the money. And I assure you it’s not only possible, but you’re going to make it happen. After this man,” he seems to find it hard to refer to Vetfaan by his name, “explained to me how you planned to make a fool out of my daughter, I’m sure you’ll do your best to try and keep me involved in your little TV show. I’m also sure you’ll cooperate if I told you I’ll increase your budget to accommodate this…impossibility you just mentioned.”

He gets up without waiting for her answer. “Now, if you’ll be so kind to excuse me, my friend here,” he inclines his head towards Vetfaan, “wants to show me a bit of the desert. Then I’ll retire to the presidential suite at the Oasis Casino, where I’ll refresh my tired body with a hot bath and a proper meal. Tomorrow I’ll fly back. I’ll expect you to start work on this immediately. I hold you personally responsible. Hire an extra team if you want. Goodbye.”

Vetfaan accompanies the wealthy tycoon as he leaves Boggel’s Place. He can’t help but look back at the ashen face of Sally Sheppard, who has slumped forward on the little table. She hasn’t even touched the Cactus in front of her.

“I really enjoyed that,” Featherbosom whispers as they get into the old Ford pickup. Two minutes later he says it’s a crime the vehicle has no air-conditioning. Vetfaan opens his window without a word. This time, Featherbosom’s smile is geniune…

Back in the bar, Shirley-the-Basset cuddles up in a small bundle behind Fred, on the cushion beneath the counter. If everything works out fine, Sally won’t see her there.

(To be continued…)