“Faith,” Oudoom leans his elbow on the counter to keep his balance, “is an important thing. Without it, we may as well stop trying.”
He gets a chorus of silent nods for his effort. It’s been a long day in Boggel’s Place while they reminisced about the past year. Boggel has found some of the Vermaak’s peach brandy, and it always surprises the patrons with its quality.
“Well, we’ve got nothing else, Oudoom,” Kleinpiet tries to be helpful, “as the politics and the economy seem to be sliding more and more out of control.” He straightens up a bit, remembering something important. “But we do have each other. Yes. Faith, and company. We can survive a long time on that.”
Gertruida almost manages to stop a ladylike burp. She smiles apologetically. “With faith and company, hope will follow. Even love. And happiness.”
“No, man. Look at me – I’m single.” Vetfaan is feeling a bit sorry for himself again. “Like Servaas.” He glances over for support and the old man replies with a slow wink. “We don’t have company or love. But we’re happy and we’ve got faith. So you don’t have to have a full house. A pair is enough to win this hand.”
They all turn to Kleinpiet and Precilla who’s sitting quietly in the darker corner of Boggel’s Place. The two of them have had a most romantic first Christmas together, and they’re still cooing at each other.
“They’re disgusting.” Servaas wipes his mouth with the back of his hand as he lowers his voice. “Look at them. They should be doing that at home – not in public. All this whispering, giggling and smooching is extremely unsettling. This is a bar, not a knock shop.”
Gertruida bursts out laughing. Servaas can be utterly cantankerous over Christmas time – it’s been like that for several years now. Ever since Siena passed away, Servaas seems to detest the festivities around Christmas time.
She squares her shoulders. It’s time to do something about it.
“Servaas?” Gently. Softly. Voice filled with kindness. “We know you’re sad and lonely. Most of us are, this time of year. We wish we had a little fire in the hearth at home, with kids and grandchildren and aunties and uncles and friends and family. Then we’d be at home, cooking up a storm in the kitchen with venison pie, yellow rice – and dumplings for pudding. The small children would sing carols and somebody would play Father Christmas.
“But we don’t have that, do we? At least, not everybody does. And you know why?” She waits a long second before going on, allowing her question to sink in. “Because it’s alright like this. It is meant to be like this.
“You’ve had Christmases with your family – and with Siena. They’re some of the most precious memories you possess. You cherish those and you protect those … but you also resent them. That’s wrong. You feel angry because of them. You keep on comparing now, with then. And when you come up short, you lash out at others who are building little memory castles they will dwell in, in later years.
“You know what faith is? Faith is the hope for the future, but it is also the firm knowledge of the past. Faith says: maybe you have had better times, but the best is still to come. Faith says there is hope. And faith is the foundation of love and happiness. That’s the best company anybody could wish for.”
Servaas starts breathing deeply, trying to get his emotion under control. With a quivering voice he tells that that’s all fine and dandy, but he misses Siena. He misses her desperately.
“That’s why faith is necessary,” Oudoom says, “without it, your past is just a memory. Useless events that came and went. But if you add faith to your memories, it lights up like one of those Christmas trees in Upington. Then you believe there is a time for everything. Some of us are lucky enough to have fond memories of previous Christmases, and that’s good. If your current Christmas is different, it simply demands that you cherish those times.
“You know, we don’t know whether Christ ever had a birthday party. Imagine: thirty-three years without a day when people make a bit of fuss about you? Maybe He would have loved to put His feet up, be spoilt and have people singing to Him. But He had faith like no other. He trusted His Father completely, knowing the time will come when the whole world will celebrate His birth. That was good enough for Him.”
“What Oudoom is saying, Servaas, is similar to the old saying: enough unto the day is sufficient thereof. Don’t be unhappy because you were happier in the past. Don’t be a grumblebum because you think this is all there is. Celebrate your past, be content with the present, and hope for the future. That’s what faith is about. It’s simple, really.”
Boggel leans over with a tissue for the tears on Servaas’ cheeks. The old man blows his nose enthusiastically. Then he manages a wobbly smile.
Kleinpiet glances up from his conversation with Precilla to signal for another beer. Precilla and he has fallen silent as they listened to the conversation at the counter. Reaching over, he takes her hand to give it a gentle squeeze.
“One day, hopefully a long, long time into the future, one of us may be sitting here alone during Christmas time. Whether it’s you or me, doesn’t matter. Then the remaining one must remember these words; maybe even repeat them. We are the lucky ones tonight, and we must appreciate every second. Nothing, however, remains the same forever.”
“No, we won’t forget it, Kleinpiet. Love will see to it.”
“Only if you have faith,” Boggel says as he shuffles over with their order, “only if you have faith…”