Tag Archives: change

The Grain of Sand at Midnight

6021415053_58b80f448b“It’s a fallacy,” Gertruida says because she knows everything, “to talk about midnight. Nobody knows when – exactly – that is.”

A statement such as this is usually met with various nods and understanding looks, simply because you don’t argue with Gertruida. It is far better to lift you glass and toast her wisdom, than to start a debate. But Servaas, who still relies on his old Westclox (the one Siena gave him on their first anniversary), feels compelled to say something.

“It’s when the short arm and the long one both point north,” he says. “Everybody knows that.”

“That’s far too crude to be accurate, Servaas. The hands on that clock stay together for too long. Have you timed it? It takes about twelve seconds before you can see the hour-hand move. Even if you watched it closely, you can’t pinpoint the exact moment when the new day starts and the old one ends.”

“But I have a radio, Gertruida! And that Westclox runs on time, I can tell you. When the beeps for the seven o’clock news sound, that alarm clock agrees: it is exactly seven. Siena always checked it, now I do too.” He hesitates for a second, unsure whether he should continue the argument. “Anyway, since you got that new-fangled watch with the electronic numbers, you seem obsessed with time. Obviously you think that thing is more accurate than the old Westclox.”

‘It’s not that, Servaas,” This time, Gertruida is the one who pauses. “It’s just…”

“Just what?”

“Well, I got to thinking about change, you see? One moment you feel this way, the next you change your mind…”

“Nt me, Getruida. That’s a woman-thing.”

She ignores the remark. “Everybody does that. It’s sometimes a conscious decision. Shall I buy a bread today? Must I go to church? May I have another beer?…And sometimes you don’t even know you made the decision, like when you slap a mosquito.”

She smiles, her point made. Yes, Servaas nods, one moment you’re faced with a situation, the next you’ve made the choice.

“That’s what I mean about midnight. Between the tick and the tock lies a thousand microseconds. Which one is the right one? And that’s what set me thinking about choices and change. Every day – in our minds – we throw the switch, chuck out the old and start with the new. And it’s not just about time, Servaas. It’s about the how and the why I’ve been thinking,

“You see, a clock has no choice in the act of ticking, provided it’s properly wound up. In our minds, however, the process of decision-making is a deliberate thing. We can decide whether we stay in a certain mode, or change to something new. But even if we decide not to change, that is change in itself? Don’t you see? Nothing remains constant – so if one decides to remain as is, that’s a change – because you stopped the process of progress. You would have ended up in a different situation if you decided otherwise.” She ignores the puzzled looks. ” And that, my friend, happens between the tick and the tock. I’m simply wondering how – and exactly why and when – that happens.”

This is far too deep for the group at the bar. Vetfaan tries to change the subject by expressing his dismay at the way the Malaysian aeroplane was shot down.

“There’s another example!” Gertruida isn’t finished. “An aeroplane crosses the sky. One moment the guy with his finger on the firing button isn’t a murderer, the next he is. He crossed his midnight and now he’ll never be able to return to yesterday.”

“Gertruida!” Kleinpiet throws up his hands in exasperation. “Good grief, woman! This is Boggel’s Place, not the Royal Society of Philosphers, Psychiatrists and Politiians. How on earth do you expect us to follow your reasoning? It’s unfair, to say the least.”

Boggel serves another round. “It’s like a scale, guys. Just before midnight, the scale is in perfect balance. Then a grain of sand – perhaps a very, very small one – is added to the one side. Now it tips to one side, the balance disturbed. That’s what Gertruida is trying to say…I think.”

She flashes him a grateful smile. “Yes, Boggel. I want to know what that grain of sand is and why it gets added to the scale. It’s just a simple thought, really. Didn’t want to start an argument.”

She almost sounds believable.

“Our history is determined by decisions. Between the ticks and the tocks of your old Westclox, Servaas, lies the determination of what we are and where we go. We live in troubled times – but who causes these troubles? I’ll tell you: men and women who cross a threshold, changes from yesterday to today, passes the midnight of indecision…and then comes to a conclusion.

“Take the strikes in our mining industry. Somebody made that decision. Hamas attacks Israel and Israel retaliates – who crossed that midnight-moment? Syria, Congo, Sudan…all the result of decisions some people made. One moment they considered peace, the next they rejected it.  Religious and ethnic conflict? It’s all due to a single moment when the grain of sand causes the scale to tip one way or the other.”

Once again her comments are digested with that faraway look farmers get when they wonder what this year’s wool-cheque is going to look like. But, because they like Gertruida so much, one or two nod to show her they’re listening.

“God created Time, Gertruida, to allow us to think.” Oudoom tries to contribute to the convoluted conversation. “Without Time, we simply cannot think, and therefore we cannot change. So, the way I see it, is that Time and Change are blood-brothers. You can’t have the one without the other. And right in between them – Time and Change – you have the grain of sand called Choice. Sometimes it takes a long while before the scale dips to one side, but it is due to Choice that it does so. In contrast to Servaas’ Westclox, we have a choice about Change. Left or right? Up or down? Yes or no? Love…or hate?” The old clergyman sighs. “The exact moment of midnight, Gertruida, is when we consider a thought that changes our ways. This can be good or bad. Evil or not. And that choice is the weight that tips the scale.”

“So,” Vetfaan says with a sardonic grin, “the answer is to make no choices? Leave everything just as it is?”

“That, my friend is impossible. The very nature of life – and of each one of our lives – is based on choice…and change. We can’t control time, but we can control the grain of sand we place on the scale. We, each of us, pass many midnights between past and future every second of our lives. We hold the bag of sand and we have to place it either on the right – or the left – of the scale as we go along. And that, Vetfaan is the way it works.”

Vetfaan shakes his head. “Every decision? Every moment?”

“Yes, Vetfaan, every one of them.”

“Then, my grain of sand says I have to order another beer.”

They laugh at that. Maybe it’s relief that something funny has been said, or simply the fact that the burden of carrying that grain of sand can be a very weighty load to transport around. Perhaps, too, they think back on the midnights they have all had, and the choices to place those grains of sand on the scale.

Precilla wipes away a tear as she remembers her affair with Richard, and the way it all ended so tragically. Yes, she made a choice – the wrong one – and she’ll regret that for the rest of her life. What would have happened if she refused his advances in the beginning?

As if reading her mind, Gertruida pats her shoulder.

“It’s not about yesterday, Precilla. Once you’ve passed midnight, it’s gone…forever. Then you are in charge again, facing that scale with your grain of sand. That’s the point. We live, we learn, we become wiser. And we all make mistakes. Some midnights – or some pivotal moments – are crucial in determining the way the day will play out. And if we place that grain of sand carefully, we can sit back and await the dawn.”


Rolbos – or Life – can be such a barrel of laughs at times. Then, sometimes, the little bar in the town falls silent whenever Gertruida  forces the group to be serious for a change. Vetfaan says she’s such a wet rag when she does this, but it’s Oudoom – who’s seen so much – who’ll tell you how important it is to wait between the tick and the tock, to take a deep breath right then, and place the grain of sand just right.

But then, too, the patrons in Boggel’s Place have a lot to be thankful for. Gertruida could have started the discussion with Fernando Pessoa’s quote: “My past is everything I failed to be.” One can only imagine the profound silence that would have greeted that statement.


Life: A Rolbos Journey

Gemsbok_and_dunes_wallpaperThe Kalahari doesn’t look the same every day. The wind constantly sculpts away at the landscape, shifting dunes, chipping away at rocks and covering areas that have been exposed for years. The unwary traveller will get lost here, especially if he tried to retrace his steps. Sometimes hours – and occasionally only minutes –are all that are needed to create a completely different scene to the one crossed so recently.

Vetfaan is talking about how he tried to locate the spot where they camped with !Ka not so long ago, and how the dunes simply managed to hide it from him.

“You’d think I know the place…but when I tried to line up the dunes in the way we saw it back then, I got…nothing. It’s as if the place never existed.”

“Ja, I’ve had the same experience,” Servaas nods, “and not so far from here, either. You know those rocks at the other side of Bokkop? Well, there was a place where Siena and I used to sit and talk about life. The other day I went looking for it. I think I got the same rocks, but the picture was wrong. I felt so disappointed.”

Kleinpiet scoffs. “Har! Last week I got lost looking for the KFC in Upington – and I’m sure all the buildings are still exactly where they were all the time.” He lifts his glass to inspect the froth on his beer. “Maybe they moved the KFC? Or they ran out of chickens. Who knows?”

Gertruida doesn’t participate in the idle chatter. Sometimes the men can go on for hours about which wood is best for braaiing, or how often they skip their vehicle’s services. (Vetfaan’s pickup, for instance, still runs with the original oil in the sump – he merely tops it up from time to time.) As far as she is concerned, such talk is a complete waste of time. Now, if they were to discuss the origins of words, they’d all learn something new. Talking about the changing features of the Kalahari is rather senseless.

Boggel’s contribution makes her sit up, however. “You know, guys, the desert out there is much like Life. Just when you think you know your way around, things change. And sometimes, while aiming to do something really good, you get the worst opposition to sidetrack you completely. Again, thinking about what Servaas said: when you try to remember the sweetest moments of your life, you often only realise how much everything changed.”

“Gosh, Boggel, that’s the only bit of  sense you men have spoken all afternoon. I didn’t know you had it in you.” She lifts her glass in a mock salute before going on. “It’s mostly about remembering correctly; so many steps this way, so many that way. But we only tend to remember the destinations, don’t we? And we mostly forget the journey that took us there.

pella cathedral“Remember when you were small, and your parents took you on a wonderful holiday to some exotic place – like Kanon Eiland or Pella, for instance? You remember the tent, the camp fire, the games, don’t you? But can you remember the route your father took to get you there?”

“It’s like they say, Gertruida: Life is about the journey, not the grave.” Even Precilla gets carried away with the conversation. “Look at me and Kleinpiet. We wouldn’t have been so happy now if we didn’t live through such hard times before. Sure, our destination is sweet and wonderful, but only so much more so because of our past histories.”

“So, you’re saying I must be glad I couldn’t find !Ka’s tree?” Vetfaan shakes his head. Women can be so superficial! How can you be glad to get lost in the Kalahari? Really!

“Yes, Vetfaan. Nothing worth cherishing is easy. The things you appreciate most, are the things that came about with a bit of blood, sweat and tears. Especially tears.” She stares at the ceiling while trying to remember. “I read a poem about tears by Lord Byron the other day, but I can only recall the beginning:

When Friendship or Love 
Our sympathies move; 
When Truth, in a glance, should appear, 
The lips may beguile, 
With a dimple or smile, 
But the test of affection’s a Tear:

Too oft is a smile 
But the hypocrite’s wile, 
To mask detestation, or fear; 
Give me the soft sigh, 
Whilst the soultelling eye 
Is dimm’d, for a time, with a Tear…

“We all get lost sometimes. We all cry silent tears from time to time. And we will keep on journeying through the ever-changing landscape of Life, trying to get to a place of peace and joy…”

“Oh, Gertruida! Come on man!” Vetfaan interrupts Gertruida rather rudely; much to the amusement of Boggel, who has been wondering how long the big man will endure her sermon. “I was only saying the desert isn’t a place for strangers.”

She doesn’t seem to mind. She flashes him a brilliant smile. “On this road, Vetfaan, we are all strangers…”

Outside, the soft wind moves the huge dunes – one kernel of sand at a time. Slowly. Silently.

Tomorrow, the Kalahari won’t look the same.

Just like life. 

And like Vetfaan, Servaas and Kleinpiet, we’ll tend to get lost out there sometimes; whilst the soultelling eye Is dimm’d, for a time, with a Tear…

Ahmed and the BIG Change

Ahmed watches as they remove the bandages from his leg. The surgeon had told him the operation was a success, and the physiotherapist would be around as soon as the wound was cleaned and bandaged again.

His attention, however, continues to drift back to his problem.  Being in police custody doesn’t fit in with his plans. As soon as he can manage to walk, he’ll use his money and his influence and his network. There is no way  they’re going to keep him here for a trial. Spending a lifetime in South African jails! Forget it! He, Ahmed, is used to a life of luxury, and he intends keeping it that way.

The physiotherapist is a surprise. She’s young. Cute. Dressed in a well-fitted uniform, Ahmed cannot but help to think she’ll be on one of his lists soon. A girl with such beauty and such a body would surely fetch a good price. He’s reasonably sure she’ll have to spend quite some time with him during his rehabilitation, so he’ll have ample opportunity to find out all he needs to know about her.

She’s working on his operated leg. The one they plated and screwed back into place after the unfortunate incident next to the road near Upington.

“Is it sore here?” Her liquid-brown eyes seem concerned as she presses against the muscles of his calf. “There’s some swelling around your ankle as well.”

His whole leg ha been sore since the femur fractured. He shrugs and tells her so.

When she lifts his leg, the change starts.

It’s a strange feeling – a type of rushing in his chest – something that makes big beads of sweat suddenly appear on his forehead.  He tries to speak, but then the pain in his chest kicks in, leaving him quite literally breathless.

He sees the girls face blanch, her eyes widen in fright.

“Are you alright?” Her voice is louder than he expected.

He tries to tell her about the pain in the chest with anxious hands clawing at his ribs. No, damn it! I’m not! Can’t you see? I’m suffocating! Give me air! Help me…!!!  But something has gone wrong. He knows he wants to shout out the words, but somehow his tongue, his mouth, his lungs, won’t cooperate.

She rushes off to the corridor, shouting something about Code Blue.  Maybe it’s only a second, maybe it takes eternity, but soon he’s aware of a lot of people around, busy with machines and pipes and injections.

And….suddenly…strangely…inexplicably so, he’s aware that he’s looking down at himself, where a team of doctors and nurses are working in quiet desperation to resuscitate the dying  body he used to inhabit. It doesn’t upset him to see them pulsing electricity through his unresponsive heart muscle. He can hear the ribs crack under the pressure of the hands doing the cardiac compressions. The tube forced down his trachea doesn’t hurt him.

They really try. When at last they stand back, his body lies still. The tracing light on the monitor is a flat line. Even now, Ahmed looks down on the scene in unconcerned distraction. Somehow it doesn’t matter. His life is over. He feels himself lifting away, swept upwards at an alarming rate, through a tunnel of white. So this is what dying is all about? It is so peaceful…

But then the screams start. Raging, ragged howls of fury. Skeletal finger reach for him, dragging him away from the light. A thousand – no, a million –grotesque faces combine to form a mosaic of disgust and revulsion. And then the little band of children appears. He recognises some of them. The little Arab boy. The Italian girl. And there –there is the small kid who cried so much, pleading him to take him back to his mother.

All of them, every one, are coming to get him. Ahmed, the child smuggler, is about to find out what it means to spend eternity in Hell.


Doctor Goedhart calms the young physiotherapist down.

“It’s not your fault, young lady. Pulmonary emboli are common after such injuries. We had him on prophylaxis, but it’s no guarantee.” He looks into her pleading eyes and wishes he could take away the pain of losing your first patient. “Look, the transition from life to death is instantaneous. He had no pain. He’s at peace now…”

She lifts her chin and tries to smile. “Thank you, Doctor,” she whispers.

She’ll cry herself to sleep tonight, wishing she could believe the well-meant words. There was something so terrifying in Ahmed’s eyes when they closed them afterwards…

The Chance to be a Hero

Wolraad Woltemade“We need a hero,” Servaas is dressed in his black suit again. It’s an ominous sign. “Somebody with faith and conviction. It’s been ages since we had one.”

“Well, we have Mandela,” Precilla points out, “he didn’t do too badly. World-wide he is seen as a man of character.”

Kleinpiet shrugs. “That’s true. But once you go down that road, you end up labelling all the people who participated in the struggle, as heroes. And let me tell you: that’s a difficult one. We all welcomed democracy and the end of Apartheid, but that suddenly made all the soldiers in the regular army villains; and all the terrorists – beg your pardon, freedom fighters – heroes. Surely there’s something wrong with that picture?”

“Listen,” this time Servaas uses his church-voice; the one he reserves for making grave statements, “every conflict and every war must deliver a victor and a loser. Through all the ages, the victor gets the laurel leaves and the losers gets reminded about what a bad person or nation they had been. Check out the results of any war you’d like to mention: it’s always the same. And often, very often, the guys fighting from the losing corner have to be braver than the odds-on favourite, who has the backing of power, money and sentiment. I mean: if you know you’re outnumbered and outgunned, the natural reaction is to lie down and play dead. The hero is the man who is prepared to stand up for his principles despite what the world thinks.”

Kleinpiet drains his beer and scratches his head. “But there’s a problem. Take a country – any country – and you’ll find different ideologies floating around. People identify with their cultures and religions and language – good characteristics, all of them. The point is this: most people believe in God in one form or another. If there were a single unifying concept or ideal everybody could cling to, it would have been their faith in God. Tell me, Gertruida, how many churches are there in the world?”

“Oh, that’s a difficult one. There are 21 major religions, I know: about 3,7 million Christian congregations, encompassing  67,000 denominations.” She nods slowly. “So I get your point: every congregation puts a personal touch to their ministry. Because of that, splinter groups form and even more fragmentation takes place.”

“That’s what I’m trying to say.” Servaas signals for a beer. “If we can’t agree on a fundamental thing like religion, how on earth are we going to agree on matters of a more material kind?  It follows that no country represents a unified population. Capitalism trains us to be selfish. Democracy inadvertently suppresses the minorities. Socialism stunts ambition.  Religion – in contrast to what it should be – sparked more wars than any other single issue. No matter what you believe in, somewhere along the line you’d find a disgruntled group, deprived of their dreams. Look at Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Congo – it’s the same old story over and over again.”

“You make a good point, Servaas.” Gertruida tries to calm the old man down. “But maybe we’re going about this in the wrong way. You’re saying we need a hero; somebody like Jopie Fourie, who was shot because he didn’t want to go to war against South-West Africa. Or Wolraad Woltemade, who saved those people from the sea until he, himself, drowned. I agree they were true heroes, and we need to respect them for that.

“But you know, the days when villages were small and populations not as vast and compact like they are today; then the act of a single person may have influenced a lot of people. They became legends by the telling and the retelling of their stories, and over time they became famous. That is the hallmark of a true hero.”

“Are you saying we can only call somebody a hero in retrospect? Like after they die?” Precilla doesn’t like the idea. “What about rugby players or soccer stars? And Lady Gaga or Madonna? To many people they are heroes?”

“The issue is not how many records you sell, or how fast you run, Precilla, although modern society does tend to award sporting and entertaining superstars a type of hero status. Heroes, by definition, are exceptional people, so it’s natural for the people on the pavilions and in the stadiums to cheer exceptional performances.  To be a hero, however, you have to be principled. You have to make a difference to the world you live in. A true hero is somebody with humility, a giver rather than a taker, a changer of lives. That, I’m sure we all agree, is rare.”

Boggel gets on his crate to join the conversation. He’s listened carefully to the patrons, but feels they are missing the point completely.

“Here’s what I think. In days gone by, with a much smaller society, single acts by remarkable people made a big difference to society. The world has changed. We live in a global village with billions of people. There are lots of religions and all kinds of political views. The chances are almost zero that we’ll discover one single man or woman who’ll rise up from the masses to be somebody the world will admire for humility and service. Oh, there’ll be isolated cases, but even these politicians and sporting greats have a limited impact – and only on a segment of society.

“So… we need to redefine the word Hero. We must look at the smaller picture, like  in townships, suburbs, communities  and families – like it was in the old days. The global village is too large and too fragmented.  Servaas is right: we need heroes. But being a hero doesn’t mean you have to change the world, like wars and politics try to do. A hero is a person who tries to improve the lot of somebody else – even in the smallest of ways. It’s a selfless act, a generous gesture.

“And then there’s another point. Modern-day heroes should not be single persons any more. A modern-day hero is somebody who instils his vision for a better community on others. He is infectious. His enthusiasm creates other little heroes. Nowadays the true heroes are groups of people who make other people look at themselves and want to change.”

His speech leaves the group at the bar silent for quite some time.

“Okay.” Servaas clears his throat. “You’re saying we must not look for individuals any more. In the connected world we live in, groups will make the difference? It makes sense. But how do we get to the point where group-heroes come into being. Isn’t it an impossible dream?”

Boggel shakes his head. “No. It’s within the grasp of every community to be a hero-group. It’ll happen if governments and churches stop fragmenting society with politics and religion – and we know that won’t happen. Too many ministers – whether in church or parliament – have a vested interest in what they are doing. I know this is a generalisation, but just go with the argument for a while.

“Now, suppose a community starts working together. They live together, work together, support each other – because they have more things that bind them together than differences that drive them apart. Now that would be a hero-group, in my opinion.”

“It’ll also be a miracle,” Gertruida adds. “I have this mental picture of a little fountain in the desert, with lots of people living around it. Won’t there always be some fool who wants to have exclusive rights? To capitalise on the situation?”

“Good example, Gertruida.” Boggel hands her a new beer. “Now, if that community said no, we don’t want you to steal our water, they will not only have their fountain back, they’ll be heroes because they stood together as a group.”

“Then groups will affect other groups, until a country is a hero-group?”

“Right. Look at us in Rolbos. We have differences, but the Kalahari has taught us to live together. We are, quite frankly, a hero group. Lots of people visit us from time to time. They may be remarkably different to us. Maybe they go to another church. Maybe they belong to other cultures. Maybe they shop in malls. But … if they act kindly to those around them, we can start a world-wide hero-movement, right here, from Boggel’s Place. It can be done, if we look at the smaller picture around us. Families should have heroes. Friends should be heroes. The man sweeping the street can be a hero. The bigger picture will take care of itself, then.”

Boggel steps down from his crate to shoo Vrede from his cushion below the counter. It’s nice to talk about these things, he thinks. It’s great to dream about it, even. Maybe some day communities will, indeed, start sharing similarities rather than emphasising differences. It’ll upset a lot of politicians, that’s for sure; it may even result in (gasp!) churches joining hands; but it will change a lot of things for the better. Until then, he decides as he ruffles Vrede’s ears, we’ll just have to settle for the old heroes while we dream of new ones. Remembering Mandela and Woltemade is great, but it’ll be John and Jill Doe who’ll change the world in the future. And strangely, they won’t get a medal or a monument. They’ll be nameless, and it won’t worry them.

Kleinpiet’s Tree

Settling a new relationship in an old house can be quite a challenge. Where once Kleinpiet ruled his own roost with the faded photographs against the walls and the threadbare curtains in front of the dusty windows, he now discovers the value (and the torture) af a new broom sweeping out the old junk.

“I’ve asked Sammie to order material for curtains, Kleinpiet. You’ll like it. It’s got flowers and clouds on – just the right thing to liven up the bedroom.” He suppressed a groan – there was nothing wrong with the brownish chintz his grandmother had hung there. “And I’m getting new cutlery. That stuff in the drawer is ancient. I’d be ashamed to use the rusted teaspoons if we get visitors.” Those too, were his grandmother’s, and they worked perfectly to stir sugar in your coffee. Kleinpiet bit his tongue and forced a smile. “The new carpet…” It seemed as if nothing was good enough anymore: Kleinpiet considered suggesting building a new house, but because he knew she’d jump at the idea, he didn’t.


Jock, the old sheep dog, is well aware of the renewal taking place. He got a new bowl and real dog food for meals; something he despises. After a lifetime of eating the leftovers from the stews Nkosasana made every day, he finds the nutritious pellets rather tasteless, dry and hard to swallow. He finds Kleinpiet sitting on the back porch and presents his left ear to be scratched.

“Ja, Jock. It used to be the two of us, hey? Now a new wind is blowing and we’ll just have to ajust.”

Jock grunts his satisfaction as the lazy fingers work on the spot behind his ear. Then he sets off to relieve himself against the old orange tree.

“You have to make a doggy toilet, Kleinpiet.” Precilla pauses as she weeps the dust from below the stove. “We can’t have dog pee all over our garden.”

Kleinpiet sighs. “Yes dear. But that old tree never blossoms, so I suppose we’ll be okay. And Jock never does that over the tomatoes or the spinach. But I’ll talk to him; he’s a very sensible dog – I’m sure he’ll understand.”

“Th tree never blossoms? What good is it then? Shouldn’t you plant something that bears fruit every year? Having a barren orange tree is like having a tractor that doesn’t run – it’s not of much use, is it?”

“That tree was planted by my grandfather. He said he got a twig from old Mister Collins – the guy that ‘discovered’ the Kakamas Peach on the banks of the Orange River in the early 30’s. It gave a good harvest of peaches every year, but when my mother died, it stopped. My father said it was the shock of her death that caused it. With nobody to stew and can the peaches, the tree didn’t want to yield fruit any more. You know how old people are – they have an explanation for everything.”

“So you’re going to dig it up and replace it with a new one? Please, Kleinpiet? It’ll be nice to have fruit on the farm.”

Kleinpiet sighs. “Yes dear.”


In human terms, the tree is extremely old. The bark is gnarled and warped into rough patterns while the more superficial roots coarse (half-submerged in the ground) across the yard in the search for moisture. From the humble, original shoot, it has grown into a shady tree with long branches. Next to the trunk, a rusted chair has provided rest for several generations of men who needed to escape the hardship of domestic life. Now, Kleinpiet sags down on the seat as he looks up at the wide-spreading branches.

“You’ll have to go,” he tells the tree, “just like the photos in the hall and the old chairs on the stoep. I’m sorry.”

The wind rustles the green leafs, causing the smaller branches to sway sadly. I’ve been here much longer than you have. I’ve celebrated births and grieved with funerals. Young people courted under me – old men and women reflected on their lives beneath my branches. And now, after a lifetime of providing shelter and comfort, you want to kill me?

“I don’t suppose you’ll understand. It’s Precilla, you see? She’s even talking about revamping the bathroom. I mean – what’s wrong with the bathroom, for goodness’ sakes! It’s got a jug, a basin and the old galvanised bath – and it’s not rusted half as bad as she says. As for the outhouse – it’s perfectly functional, if you ask me. But no. Suddenly everything must go. And who must do it? I’ll tell you: me! Kleinpiet do this. Kleinpiet do that. It’s like being in the army again.”

Listen. The tree has heard enough. This is the life you chose. You asked her to marry. You wanted her to come here. You should have known things would have to change. I’ve seen it all – when a man brings a woman to this place, things change. But me – I didn’t choose this place. I was brought here, made to grow here. Nobody asked me whether I liked it here. And when last did you prune or water me, anyway? You simply accepted me as part of the farm and left me to my own devices. Your grandfather…now that man was different. He cut away all the dead and unnecessary branches every year. He was also the last one to fertilise the ground around me…and he watered my roots regularly, Did you do it? No! You never cared as long as you had shade. You … neglected me.

“Life is funny, isn’t it?” Kleinpiet’s thoughts stray in all kinds of directions as he sits in the shade, completely oblivious of the tree. “You get used to stuff. I mean, I’ve lived in this house all my life, and never even noticed the carpets or the blankets or the curtains or whatever. They were there, and that was good enough. Now suddenly, everything looks old and worn. When did that happen? How does it happen?”

One day at a time, that’s how. You become conditioned to accept things the way they are. Over time, you lose perspective. I’ve seen it happen to children, to cars, to relationships. Humans don’t pay much attention to detail once they’ve become used to things.  Now we trees, well, we shed our leaves once a year, then we start all over again. Every season is a new season, and we have to adapt to those. Humans don’t do it. They get born and then they die. Two big seasons: life and death. And in between, you simply ignore changes. It’s sad. Then, when somebody dies, the rest of you wake up for a while, promising yourselves that you’d pay more attention to life. Of course, it never lasts.

“Now look at this tree.” Kleinpiet looks up at the branches. “Once upon a time it bore fruit. Then it stopped. Maybe love is like that as well. Young love blossoms and seems so pretty. After a while, the wonder stops. The branches are bare. Where there was once an abundance of fruit, nothing is left.”

Just like me. Nobody cared any more. My blossoms dried up. My fruit is gone.

“Kleinpiet! What are you doing out there, all by yourself?” Precilla crinkles her brow in mock anger. “Come in here, I’ve made you some coffee.”

He gets up obediently to shuffle his way to the kitchen.

There you go. Chastened into a new life of senselessness. You’ll stop feeling, get used to the new order, and accept that as the new definition of happiness. Then you’ll stop bearing fruit and then they chop you off. Happily ever after? Not if you go gently down the slope towards oblivion.

Kleinpiet stops to stare at the tree.  Why does he suddenly think of a forgotten poem – learnt in school – so many years ago? Dylan Thomas it was: Do not go gentle into the night… and Rage, rage against the dying of the light….

“Precilla, I’m not going to cut down that tree,” he says with sudden clarity. “I’ll plant others. We’ll have an orchard. But that tree stays.”


“No. Some things are worth keeping.  I love you. But … that tree is part of who I am. I grew up under that tree. I played there. My mother rocked me to sleep under it. I cannot just axe it down. I’ll put a new bench under it and plant a few flowers – you’ll see: it’ll be lovely once more.”


They fix up the house within a week. The new curtains, carpets, furniture – it all makes the house look rather new and attractive. Kleinpiet has to admit that his wife brought in a breath of fresh air into the old home as they sip a well-deserved Cactus at the end of the day.

“You’ll never become used to me, will you, Kleinpiet? I mean, lose the fascination? It’ll be so sad if you do.” Precilla rests her head against his shoulder. Being married is great, but what if…? She remembers the heartbreaks of her youth, the break-ups, the loneliness. This time, she has decided, she’ll have to be much more aware, much more careful, in the relationship. She’s seen the way Kleinpiet sulks lately and she’s worried about it. “I do so much want to make you happy…”

Kleinpiet hugs her with a smile. “Love is enjoying the shade without expecting the fruit,” he says.”And … I found a few blossoms on the old peach tree today. I think it is trying to tell us something.”