Tag Archives: daily prompt

When Time Stands Still


Steeple-Replacement-Guided-by-Church-Specialities-Professionals-at-Norton-PresbyterianIt started as another of those days.

As usual, Servaas woke up, groaned, held his throbbing head for a few minutes, sighed, got up (very slowly, holding on to the strategically placed chair to steady himself), brushed his false teeth and slicked down the obstinate hairs of his bushy brows. Then he dressed, had a mug of coffee (to wash down the aspirin) and  went outside, crossed the street and sat down wearily on the old bench on Boggel’s verandah. And as usual, he looked up to the old clock on the church steeple to check the time every now and then. Up to that point, his daily routine was unchanged and pretty much normal.

Then he realised that he’d been sitting there for quite some time, but the hands of the  clock still stood at a few minutes after twelve.

Twelve? The clock stopped just after midnight?

It couldn’t be, for goodness sakes! Judging by the sun (he had to squint because of his hangover), it should be about ten or eleven; Boggel should have been there long ago to open up the little bar. Looking up and down the street, he also noticed that Sammie hadn’t opened his shop either. And Vrede, the town’s dog, was nowhere to be seen.

Now, this posed a few rather uncomfortable questions to the old man. Where were everybody? He considered that they might have all overslept, but then a strange and unwelcome thought seeped to the surface of his painful and troubled mind. If they’re not around, waiting for Boggel, they could all be…dead? Suppose the rapture occurred and he, Servaas, didn’t make the grade? Midnight…it had happened at midnight! The thought made him sit up straighter.

Impossible! He had been an elder in Oudoom’s congregation since before Mandela was freed. And he even stopped shouting at the TV whenever the president spoke. (Truth be told: Gertruida warned him that such language would see him being sent downstairs when he meets St Peter). Well, maybe he hadn’t been a paragon of virtue, but still – his intentions were usually at least 60% good, weren’t they? In the old days, that used to be a first class pass. Not a distinction, mind you, but clearly way above the class average…

But why, then, the static hands of the clock? Is it not so that time would cease to exist when the world ends? No clocks in eternity, no sir! Pearly gates and sidewalks of gold, yes – but no clocks or watches or any form of chronometer would be necessary in Heaven. No need. Eternity means you’re never late.

But suppose – just suppose – he was late for the rapture? Or that he was forgotten? Who did one call under such circumstances?

And then again…Oudoom did speak to him last month. About his drinking. Oudoom was most kind about it, reminding him that an occasional tipple was quite alright, but that moderation was the hallmark of drinking discipline. And – Oudoom reminded him – he should remember that he was the senior member of the congregation; people looked up to him for guidance. “You are important to this congregation, Servaas; you are the example that the others follow.”

Well, that might be true, but…

Servaas tried to think about a good reason. Surely the other Rolbossers understood his loneliness? Excused his intake of Cactus Jack because he needed the drink to sleep? To escape from the terrible vacuum of solitude that crept into his life after Siena passed on?

And Siena…oh Lord! If he missed the rapture, Siena would be all alone up there – wherever up there might be – and she’d be profoundly ashamed that he missed the Salvation Bus. What would the other angels say if they knew her husband, a respected elder, had been left behind because of his habits?

Servaas got up and walked purposefully to the church. There’s only one way to protest against the situation. He’d go to the front pew, sink down on his arthritic knees, and beg for a second chance. Maybe the Second Coming is just that – the last chance to join the others.

Servaas never prays impulsively. He arranges his prayers the way they should be: first a salutation and praise; then thanks for being blessed with so much, followed by a request or two (or more, especially after another presidential speech); then more praise and a very respectful ‘Amen’. When he walked into the church, he had the words ready. He’d protest with great diplomacy – admitting that the second bottle of Cactus Jack last night was a mere little oversight, a small glitch in the way he was thinking at the time; and that Siena mustn’t think badly of him, please? Surely she’d understand that he wasn’t drinking to sin on purpose? He just took to taking a snort or two to dull the pain of solitude – and to make the politics of the day seem less important than getting to bed?

Servaas was holding on to the front pew to arrange his aged frame into a kneeling position when a voice spoke to him.

“Servaas? Servaas? Why, I didn’t expect to see you here today. It’s only Friday, you know. Service is only on Sunday, remember?”

Servaas felt a chill run through his body. Lost…he was lost. Protest wouldn’t help, but still he was at the point of saying it was all a terrible  mistake and that he’d been left behind by accident, when he looked up…into the questioning eyes of Oudoom.

He gaped. “You too, Oudoom? They left you behind as well?”

Oudom smiled. “Ja, they did. I’m glad, too. That trip is no pleasure. It’s a long way and today is going to be another scorcher.”

Servaas didn’t understand. “Where we’re going, could be hotter still, Oudoom. I’m worried.”

“Nah, we’ll amble over to Boggel’s and have a cold one. He’s left the keys with me.”

Oudoom, Servaas realised, was much to cheerful for a left-behind. “You…you’re going to have a beer? On this day? Now? Despite everything?”

“Of course, Servaas. What else? With everybody gone, I’d like the company. Hate drinking alone, you know? It’s the first sign of slipping down that slippery slope to being a problem drinker.”

“But…what about the others? They drink as much as I do – and they’re not here anymore.”

Oudoom looked down at the worried face f his favourite elder. What was bothering the old man? He seemed so…confused?

“Look Servaas, they’ll be back this afternoon. The battery of the clock on the steeple needed replacing and Boggel had to stock up for the weekend. They all left before dawn and Vrede went along for the ride. I asked whether they’d like to take you along, but Sammie said you needed the sleep. But look, here’s the key. Let’s go, I’m rather thirsty.”

Oudoom often remarks that the ways of the Lord are mysterious.

They are indeed. Servaas stopped drinking that day. For a full hour he sat there, sipping his Sprite, while Oudoom enjoyed his lager. Then they listened to the news and the latest statement by the president.

“Mind if I have the usual, Oudoom? And get you a fresh one, while I’m at it? I’ll write it up on my tab.”

And so, life returned to normal in the little town of Rolbos. Tonight Boggel will peek at the clock on the steeple before announcing the last round. Servaas will be in a reflective mood, and tell everybody that nobody knows when the last round will be. He’ll get a few curious glances for that, but he’ll ignore it and smile at himself.

Ja, Siena will understand.

“In life everything is folly
which does not bring pleasure.
Let us be happy, fleeting and rapid
is the delight of love;
it is a flower which blooms and dies,
which can no longer be enjoyed.”

La Traviata by Giusseppe Verdi


Letting go of Sixteen.

“When I turned sixteen, I received my call-up instructions for the army.” Vetfaan sips his beer, smiling at the memory. “Man, was I proud! I had barely started shaving and my country needed me already! I still had to finish school, though. Couldn’t wait to go.”

“Ja, I remember those days.The war had just started and the newspapers bombarded us with bad news. Terrorism this and unrest that. They really did a good job of deceiving an entire nation, especially later when the media painted such a rosy future in the 90’s. First they told us how bad majority rule would be, then they switched around completely and convinced everybody that our troubles were over.”

“Just goes to show, Gertruida, that public opinion is a fickle thing. Today’s heroes are tomorrow’s villains.” Shrugging as if to get rid of an unwanted weight off his shoulders, Servaas continues: “Whatever happened to common sense? Look at us today: some still believe everything will be fine.”

“But that’s the magic of being sixteen, Servaas. You’re old enough to start thinking for yourself, but far too young to understand. It’s a sort-of inbetween age when it’s still possible to believe in miracles. Kids have more hopes than fears while they can still dream reality away.” Gertruida closes her eyes to imagine that time of her life. “Oh, I dreamed big, didn’t I? The perfect picture: a handsome husband, a pair of kids, the Labrador and the white picket fence…the picture of utopia. I imagined what it would be like to be a pretty student with a wardrobe of sexy dresses – and how I’d pick and choose amongst a troupe of would-be suitors to go on exciting dates in the big city. Yes, and busses! Remember those old red doubledeckers? That was my fantasy. We had nothing like that in the small town I grew up in…”

“We all had dreams.” Servaas knits his brows together. “That’s what you do at sixteen. You dream, because you have no idea of reality. Up till then you were a child, cared for by parents.” He stops suddenly, remembering Boggel’s early years in the orphanage.”Except you, Boggel, of course. You had it much harder.”

“Oh, I dreamed a lot, as well. Remember Mary Mitchell? Oh, I adored that girl! She made me dream of much more than a Labrador.” He flashes a shy, wobbly smile at the group at the counter; knowing they had such thoughts too, when they were that age. Boggel remembers Mary’s sad eyes, the way she smiled…and the shapely legs peeking from under the school uniform (which was always a size too small). “But, despite everything that happened during the intervening years, I still remember those days as the happiest in my life.”

They fall silent at that. Yes, sixteen is a sweet, sweet age. How they all cherish the memory of the uncomplicated time when nothing was ever serious enough to keep you awake at night. Nothing, of course, except the first fluttering awareness of love? In the real world, adults struggled with politics, the economy and war – but at sixteen this didn’t concern them in the least. Those issues were just too abstract to worry about. But that strange attraction, the allure, of finding somebody to love? Now that was a goal worth pursuing! And then…oh, the bliss!…of being loved! To belong… Ah yes, at sixteen they all dreamed; they all believed that love would find its way and that they’d live happily ever after.

“But it didn’t happen, did it?” Servaas breaks the reverie, voicing the unsaid thoughts of the group in the bar. “I mean, Life happened, didn’t it? The dreams of sixteen turned into the nightmare of reality. We all loved…and lost. The war came to an end and it only changed things for the worse. And we still don’t understand politics…or the economy.”

“Ja, if I were to meet a genie, I’d ask that life stays the way we saw it at sixteen.” Vetfaan’s wry smile underlines the irony in his voice. He starts humming To Dream the Impossible Dream.

“No, thank you.” Gertruida shakes her head. “That would be stupid. At sixteen we didn’t have the tools to understand love or life. My gosh, even at twenty – no, thirty – people like to think they’re grown-ups! And we all know that’s not true.” She raises an inquiring eyebrow. “When do we make the most disastrous mistakes in life? Hey? Come on, think about it. It’s in the time we want it all – the dog, the picket fence and the perfect life.” She pauses to allow the idea to sink in. “Life is a funny old thing: when you think you have all the answers, you end up with broken dreams. No, my friends, Life demands more than dreams – that’s why we make less and less mistakes as we get older. It’s called experience. And you know what that is? Experience is the mistakes you made in the past. And that, unfortunately, means you have to let go of sixteen and reach for fifty.”

“And in the meantime? Between sixteen and fifty? What do you do with those years?”

“You grow up, Servaas. You make mistakes. You believe what the media tells you. You go about trusting people. You desperately cling to the concept of an ideal family. You try to convince yourself that your children won’t make the same mistakes you did. You invest money and effort in silly stuff that never works out. You try to keep the dream alive…and then, finally, you let go. You reach the point – at last – where you have enough experience of failure to start understanding what success means.”

“And what, dear Gertruida, is your definition of success?” The sarcasm drips from Servaas’ wrds.

“Oh, that’s simple, really. Success is acceptance. You are who you are. Life is unfair. Love is rare. Trust is mostly an illusion.And, above all, success is the ability to use your mistakes as hard-earned fertiliser to grow a meagre crop of happiness – not too much, but enough to be content.”

“Still, I’d like to be sixteen again.” Precilla sighs at the thought. “But only if I knew what I know now.”

“That,” Vetfaan says is a moment of clarity, “would take away the magic. No, you have to experience the naivety of sixteen to understand what life is not about…”

Sometimes Vetfaan surprises Gertruida with remarks like these. Even she, the wisest of them all, has no return on his statement. She ends the conversation with a decisive nod, gets up and walks to her home. The lines on her face is more pronounced as she sits down on her porch, enjoying the solitude of the midday silence. Yes, sixteen was good. It is a milestone on a long, long path to understanding that the candles on the cake must be blown out before one can embrace the darkness of reality.

Such a pity.

But, then again, that’s life

Places – Outside The World Outside

When the conversations in Boggel’s Place falls silent and the night pulls a blanket over the barren wastes outside, the patrons at the bar often reflect on The World Outside. Some memories are precious, others make them frown – still, The World Outside contains the places they’ve been to and the experiences they had. And that, after all, made them what they are: Outsiders of the World Outside.


The World Outside starts at the last windpump you get just before Grootdrink. Beyond that, the reality of modern society is just too stark, too obvious, to ignore.

later randall 013The World Outside is  a crowded place, with people crammed into every nook and cranny. Even if the authorities tried to deny it by entertaining prisoners in jail, the cells are overcrowded.

IMG_4048Businesses have funny names and say nothing about who runs it. In Rolbos the owners are proud to display their names above the door. After all, Sammie’s Shop says it all, doesn’t it?

IMG_4169And the people erect the most amazing signs everywhere, with words and pictures for those who cannot read. In Rolbos it isn’t necessary. Vrede never ventures far from the cushion under the counter.

IMG_2506Worst of all, whenever you find a nice pub, you can’t smoke there!

IMG_2689Anyway, the hotels are far too fancy…and expensive!

IMG_2597No, the true Rolbosser will always find the way home, to The World Inside, where solitude and isolation ensures peace of mind. Forget the retreats and the spas and the costly weekends-away-from-it-all…in the Kalahari you don’t need such escapes to be yourself.

Three Shots: Waiting for Sunrise.

Daily PromptTake a subject you’re familiar with and imagine it as three photos in a sequence. Tackle the subject by describing those three shots.

Waiting for sunrise in Africa.

The old lion was tired. After a lifetime in the desert, it was time to move on.


He glanced around, appreciating – for the last time – the company of his loved ones.

c 4It’s getting lighter. A last drink, a last moment…

IMG_4029dAt last…release! Time to join the others in a magnificent display of light.

The Goldilocks Zone of Kindness.

extra-Paint-CansBoggel, the bent little barman behind the counter, often tells his customers that kindness and rain have a lot in common. Too little makes things die. Too much, on the other hand, washes away the honesty of caring. Like the theme in the story of Goldilocks and The Three Bears suggests, the trick is to get it ‘just right‘. Too little – or too much – will spoil the original intent of empathy and care.

While his patrons might debate this issue, Boggel can’t forget an incident – so many years ago – just after he had left school to seek his fame and fortune in the big, wide world out there.


Having managed to pass matric, Boggel had to leave the orphanage. This was a sad day, indeed, when he hugged the others before closing the garden gate behind him for the last time. His worldly possessions included the clean change of clothes in his little suitcase, a small Bible in his pocket, and fifteen Rands and seventy-five cents carefully knotted in the washed handkerchief in his hand. With no specific plan how to conquer the world, Boggel felt like the loneliest young man in the world.

He timed his leaving well, and had just reached the bus stop when Kallie Mann stopped the lumbering bus next to the bench under the huge old Acacia.

“Going places?”

“Ja, Oom. Upington, I think.”

Kallie wouldn’t accept a bus fare from the young lad, knowing all too well what his background was. In a place like Grootdrink, even the orphans were celebrities (of sorts). Anything or anybody out of the usual, mundane normality, was a source of debate, discussion or plain gossip in the little town. Boggel, as a hunchbacked orphan, was a well-known and much talked about young man.

 Kallie, too, had a bit of history. He had married his childhood sweetheart, Sally Kleyngeld, set up home, and was soon able to announce the imminent arrival of their first child. It was not to be. A complicated birth, two graves (a big one, a small one) and an empty house termitted away at the life of this once-popular man. He resigned his work at the bank and became a bus driver. That way he rarely had to spend an evening amongst the ghosts and shattered dreams of his of his past. He said he needed the openness of the veld around him – the small office in the bank had too many walls.

A few miles out of Grootdrink, Kallie asked his only passenger what his plans were. Boggel shook his head.

“Why don’t you move in with me for a while? Until you find something else, I mean. The place is huge, I’m alone and you need a bed. Seems the logical thing to do.”

And that’s what they did. Boggel moved in. Kallie’s house, however, was in a state of total disarray. Kallie apologised, saying he’s never at home and…anyway…cleaning the place would be like throwing Sally out. Her towel. Her nighties. Her slippers. These all remained where she had put them before the catastrophe. Even the baby room, so carefully prepared, waited in vain for the whimper of a hungry infant.

Boggel started knocking on doors the next day. The butcher said his back would never be strong enough. The postmaster shook his head. The restaurant advertised a job for a waiter, but the manager said he was afraid the hunchback would scare his customers away. Door after door closed behind him. The message was clear: conquering the world was reserved for ‘normal’ people, not for cripples like him.

013001056A week or two later, Kallie had to take a busload of tourists to the Augrabies Falls; after which followed a week-long sojourn in Springbok to view the magnificent splendour of the annual flower season. Kallie said goodbye to a depressed and dejected Boggel, who vowed to have a job by the time his benefactor came back.

Boggel redoubled his efforts to find employment. The hospital didn’t need porters, the undertaker had no vacancies for grave diggers and the municipality said they’re sorry, their budget won’t allow another road worker. He had knocked on all the doors. Upington would not be the launching pad of his brilliant career.

Boggel didn’t know what to do. Being idle had never been part of his character, and there he was: unemployed, bored, and disappointed.

Well, he could fix up Kallie’s house, couldn’t he? The idea galvanised him into action. He swept. He dusted. He washed. He tidied room after room, cleaning windows and washing curtains as he went along. Then he took his money to the hardware store and asked the owner for as much paint as his money could buy. The owner took pity on the young lad, and produced a variety of half-empty paint containers – left over from the contract to renovate the town hall. No, he said, no money. He had seen how the hunchbacked youth tried to find employment and took pity on him. Do a good job – and maybe it’d be the start of a career, the man remarked.

Boggel was overjoyed. He painted from dawn to dusk. His back was a problem, of course. To get to the higher parts of the walls was impossible with his hunchback, so he painted as far as he could reach while standing on a chair. Room after room he did in this fashion. Kallie, he was sure, wouldn’t mind doing the upper bits of the walls.

The lounge was blue. There was enough green for the kitchen. The dining room looked magnificent in beige, while the large container of yellow sorted out the rest of the house. Boggel realised he was a very, very good painter. Not a drop was spilled on the carpets or furniture. The dried walls were a smooth as plastic, with no streaks and sloppy lines. This, he told himself, was a huge success.

Kallie nearly died when he returned. When he pushed open the front door, he stood riveted to the floor for a very long time. Then he started – softly at first, but growing in volume – repeating a single word.


He calmed down after a while. Sat staring at the blue walls around the fireplace, talking to himself. Or rather, talking to Sally, who wasn’t there. He asked her to please, please, come back.

Boggel left that same afternoon. Got on the train after buying a ticket to Cape Town, where he eventually learnt his trade in a tavern near the harbour. (Nobody wanted to work there – it was considered too dangerous.). Here, Boggel’s disability and the way he handled it, generated not sympathy but respect from the rough men who had come ashore from the ships. He built up a reputation as a fair barman, especially after sorting out the wrestling champion with a cricket bat. It’s quite a story, but he rarely talks about that time. He is an outspoken pacifist and hates to be reminded of his more, er, angry days. Even so, his little altercation with the burly athlete saved them both a lot of trouble. The wrestler apologised to the pretty barmaid and became a huge fan of the tavern. laughing at the way Boggel placed the bat on the counter every time he walked in…


The_three_bears_pg_11Boggel says that’s the way to dispense kindness. A lick of paint – or a cricket bat – at the right time, can work wonders. But the key is to time it right.

And…not too little.

Not too much.

Just right.

Just like in the story of Three Bears.


Riding a Rhino

the day after 1_edited-1

“It is a great talent – a gift – to be like that,” Gertruida says. “A truly remarkable display of either statesmanship…or stupidity.”

“Nah, he stuck to the written script.” Kleinpiet draws a rhino on the counter top with his beer froth. “He didn’t dare acknowledge what had happened – that would have been political suicide. I mean: how could he answer the question? He can’t. No matter what he says, it’ll just drop him deeper into the doodoo. It’s like when the lawyer asks a man whether he still beats his wife. Either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ implies guilt.”

“It will have the usual consequences,” Servaas’s bored tone indicates his displeasure. “The ruling party will say it was a despicable display of childishness, a terrible contravention of parliamentary protocol, and an indication that Malema should be banned from attending future proceedings…”

“”Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” Boggel interrupts the old man. “Can you imagine the chaos if that man should ever be in a more powerful position? I can just see him shaking hands with world leaders in that red overall.”

“…while the opposition parties will be unrepentant.” In true Zuma style, Servaas ignores the interjection. “They all speak so fat and say so lean.”

Rubens_Venus_at_a_Mirror_c1615“Those scenes were hugely entertaining, guys; best thing since sliced bread! But you raise the point that bothered me most.” Kleinpiet now draws a rather Rubenesque figure next to the rhine. “Man, our taxes are being used to good effect! Too good! Some of our esteemed leaders could hardly manage the stairway. It’s no wonder they get paid so well – can you imagine how much they have to spend on XXXXXL attire? It’s not like they’d fit into regulation clothing.”

“It’s a circus.” Even Precilla seems depressed. “Jamming cellphones, armed men in the parliamentary chamber, chaos all over. The banana republic shown to the world in the most embarrassing way. Whatever will Aunty Merkel or Madam Elizabeth think of us? I can honestly say I’m not proud of the way the president handled things. And then: that speech! Pffft! What did he say?”

“Nothing new. He’s still insisting on driving the country into even further problems. Land reform is no longer a question of willing seller and willing buyer. He blah-blahed about the energy crisis, omitting to tell the truth about his nuclear deal with the Russians. He admitted their inability to get the economy boosted and said ‘Cheers!’ twice. He takes his cues from Escom: it really takes a lot to keep the country in the dark like that.”

“You’re right, Servaas. But mark my words: we should remember this State of the Nation Address. It was a turning point in our history. They’re going to rewrite parliamentary rules, suppress robust debate and try to regulate conduct in the chamber. This won’t work, of course. Good manners, respect, work ethic and  statesmanship aren’t things you can teach people with a handbook of rules. Parliamentary culture is something you feel, an undeniable inner voice, permitting free speech but also allowing for a sense of decorum. And that, my friends, is not the way we’ll see things done until sanity returns to the hallowed halls of government.”

“And when will that happen, Gertruida?”

She sighs and signals for another beer. “Who knows? Maybe never. But yesterday’s fiasco was a start. We heard the last State of the Nation Address from Zuma – of that I’m sure. He’s become a Jonah on the ANC ship. They are just stalling, unsure of who will be chosen to give him that final shove. Then, they’ll replace him with Ramaphosa, who’s been doing the job for months now, anyway. And then, after the next election, we’ll hopefully have a more balanced parliament where one party doesn’t call all the shots. Maybe then…”

“That’s the future, Gertruida, and even you are uncertain about how things will unfold. At this moment we’re still stuck with the situation as it is.”

“Ever tried to ride a rhino, Servaas? You can only stay on top for so long…”

The Way to Rolbos

I’ll simply have to crook. 300 Words to describe Rolbos? That’s impossible. With a picture worth a thousand words, we’ll just have to go the scenic route…

The road there is a narrow gravel track, immediately telling you that you've left the city with all its pretence and false values behind.

The road there starts as a narrow gravel track, immediately telling you that you’ve left the city with all its pretence and false values behind. Please slow down. Drive with care…

The scenery around Rolbos is - according to some - dull and uninviting. Yet it is here that you'll discover the solitude to find yourself.

The scenery around Rolbos is – according to some – dull and uninviting. Yet it is here that you’ll discover the solitude to find yourself. The truth you seek isn’t found in lectures and books, TV shows and sermons – it is patiently waiting inside you to find it where it’s always been.

The big weaver nests suggest something of the values you'll find here. It's about cooperation, family life and accepting that each inhabitant has a role to play.

Along the way, the big weaver nests suggest something of the values you’ll find here. It’s about cooperation, family life and accepting that each inhabitant has a role to play. These birds work hard to take care of the nests – without having to resort to violence. Look at them carefully: they’re living in harmony, which is more than we can say.

Getting there isn't always easy. Often, people turn back because they are afraid of the challenge.

Getting there isn’t always easy. Often, people turn back because they are afraid of the challenge. Perseverance is the key. Instant gratification – the promise all politicians make – has no place here. Guts, determination and hard work are the key elements required to succeed.

The people around here are used to hardship and make do with what is available. Forget the mall and the large shopping centres, life here doesn't need bling to impress others.

The people around here are used to hardship and make do with what is available. Forget the mall and the large shopping centres.,Life here doesn’t need bling to impress others.


At last! The small town of Rolbos on the horizon. To get here, you have had to shed pretence in favour of perseverance, exchanged the mad politics of the world for hope, and swapped the cynical smile for a peal of genuine laughter. The way ahead, you realise, is through faith, love and kindness. And somehow you know – with a new certainty – that this is what Rolbos is all about. Welcome! Don’t worry – you won’t find the place crowded. Not many people are brave enough to face the simplicity that is the essence of Rolbos culture.

Mister K’s Pet

Daily PromptTell us about a teacher who had a real impact on your life, either for the better or the worse. How is your life different today because of him or her?

images (5)People often shy away from Gertruida because she gives the impression of knowing everything. Add to that her time in National Intelligence, and you end up with a lady with an incredible ability to store and recall facts, but there is something more: she seems to harbour an immense store of secrets – some of which may indeed contain information that should best be kept secret. In a way, that is why she chose to move to Rolbos – far from the maddening crowd and amongst the few friends she can trust.

But, no matter how others sum up this remarkable woman, even the Rolbossers have no idea why she turned out to be the way they know her. They weren’t there in Standard 8 (Grade 10, these days) when her mathematics teacher wanted to educate her beyond the approved curriculum of the day.

download (4)Gertruida wasn’t one of the beauties of the school. Most schools have the bevy of ‘in’ girls with rich parents, the branded clothing of the newest fashion and curves that make grown men slobber. Gertruida was a plain girl, slightly above the average in her class and with parents she viewed as losers. Her father worked on the railways and was away most of the time. Her mother had to work in the local OK Bazaars as a cashier to keep the household running. Of course Gertruida dreamt about a better life; a life of comfort, loving parents and…a handsome boyfriend others would be jealous of.

Mister Kromhout taught mathematics. He was a bachelor, a loner, a man with long, oily hair and a set of uneven, discoloured teeth. What his previous romantic life involved, is uncertain – but at the time the other girls gossiped that Mister K (as they called him) had never been, nor would he ever be, successful in that department.

Mister K had a secret. He’d be on the lookout for a struggling girl in his subject, offer extra classes, and then proceed to seduce her. These affairs never reached the public ear at all – secrecy was maintained by bribery. If the young girl threatened to expose him, she’d fail mathematics. With that, her chances of ever enrolling in a university would fade away and her future would be considerably darker and more difficult. So K was careful: he didn’t go for the slower kids – they’d never want to attend an institution of higher learning, anyway. And he’d avoid the clever girls with the rich parents – too risky. No, his aim was directed at the middle of  the class, where the average kid with the poor parents drew his attention. Devious, devilish – he went for the vulnerable girls.

Gertruida thought she had picked up a wrong vibe from the man when he suggested extra classes. Not sure, she asked her mother that night what she thought. The mom suggested Gertruida should discuss the matter with her dad, who was due to be back the next evening. And Gertruida sighed, knowing how her father would be after every stint away from home. He’d flop down in the dusty old easy chair, open a bottle of brandy and disappear into a depressed mood. He never seemed to care about what happened at home. The world, according to him, was a terrible place where the rich had all the privileges and poor buggers like him had to do the work. He once told Gertruida that he would have become a lawyer or maybe even a doctor, but that a lack of funds forced him into the railways, where he felt trapped for the rest of his life.

No, talking to him, wouldn’t help at all.

Mister K was careful. Over a period of weeks he softened Gertruida up by listening to her problems and making sympathetic sounds as the adolescent described her life. He crafted a ‘safe’ place for her to vent her frustration and share her dreams of a better future. For a while, Gertruida even thought how wrong the other kids were to laugh at him behind his back.

And then the day that Mister K waited for, arrived. Gertruida was most upset at her father’s drinking the previous night, when she had heard her parents engaging in one of their ongoing fights about money. Her mother had slapped her dad, who retaliated by flooring his wife with a vicious uppercut. Gertruida had stormed out of her room, hysterically trying to assault her father with a kitchen chair.

Mister K hugged the distraught girl, made her sit on his lap, and told her she was the most beautiful creature God had ever created, This, of course, was music to the young girl and she found herself relaxing against his broad chest. She felt so safe…

But only for a few seconds. Then she felt his hand creeping up her thigh. And then she knew…

She rushed home and collapsed on her bed. Her father found her there and, still ashamed of the previous night’s episode, made her tell him everything.

Four men visited Mister Kromhout that night – her father and three of his railway friends. Later, when the police arrived, they broke up the fight. Mister K, nursing a broken right wrist, several fractured ribs and speaking past the missing teeth, declined to press charges. He was discharged from hospital a week later and immediately requested a transfer to another school.

Gertruida never talks about this, but in her mind she thanks her lucky stars. Mister K had given her the most precious gift any teacher can convey to his students: the ability to consider the unobvious, the talent to discern truth and lies, and the will to become independent. Gertruida flew through the rest of her school years with ease because she started studying with new vigour. She realised that the only way she wouldn’t end up like her parents, would be to use the brilliant mind she had received at birth.

Her father, too, had changed that night they beat up Mister K. It was as if the realisation of Gertruida’s vulnerable future suddenly dawned on him. He stopped blaming the world for his position in life, got a job at the local farmer’s co-op and started studying accounting through the post. When Gertruida left for university, he had risen to the position of manager. Her mother responded to her husband’s new life with so much enthusiasm that she became a prominent motivational speaker.

And, because of the way Gertruida then viewed the motives and actions of other people. she slotted into National Intelligence with perfect ease. She had found her niche.

One may well ask how she views Mister K today? Being her teacher’s petting object had been the most degrading, the worst insult, she had ever lived through. But…she knows that such incidents happen to all people at some stage of their lives. Not that these events all involve a lecherous teacher and an innocent school girl – not at all. These episodes may involve a skipped promotion, an unfair round of gossip, a prejudiced remark or simply a blatant lie involving an individual’s integrity. In short – an unjust. if not wicked, uncalled for action leading to great hardship (and heartache) of the victim.

Gertruida often says it’s how we respond to hardship that make us grow. It’s a choice, she says, to use such times as  a step in the stairway to success and happiness. To conquer evil by stepping over it towards a brighter future isn’t easy, she maintains, but that is the only way. The alternative is the deep, dark pool of depression; a quagmire that traps growth for a long time…if not forever.

Yes, she remembers Mister K. Not fondly, mind you. But still with a degree of gratitude.

The Scent of Wet Kalahari Sand. (A conversation in Boggel’s Place)

IMG_1985 a“Intoxicating.” Servaas murmurs as he sniffs the air while suppressing the little shiver that threatens to crawl down his spine. Precilla has just walked past, neat a freshly shorn prize ewe in her tight fitting jeans and white T-shirt, and smelling like spring (Vetfaan’s thought).

Vetfaan glances around to make sure they’re alone before nodding. Yes, indeedy!

“That perfume should be sprayed all over the world. We’d have a global Woodstock with flowers and music….and love, of course.”

“But,” Boggel interjects, “it’s artificial, chaps. Fake. Phoney. Unnatural. Women – as well as men, for that matter – were never supposed to smell like that. We’re earthy creatures, reeking of sweat and dust. Now, don’t get me wrong? Precilla sure smells nice, but it comes out of a little, expensive bottle. She’s saying: sniff the air, boys, I’m woman with a capital W. But it remains the oldest trick in the book to advertise your femininity. It’s not real.”

His two comanions on the veranda stare at him in horror.

“Gee, Boggel! Had a bad dream last night? Any tick bites on your legs? You can be such a wet rag when you set your mind to it.”

The bent little barman blushes at the rebuke. “Slept like a rock, I’ll have you know.  But…I’m simply stating a fact. Why should a mixture of plant oils and alcohol make a woman seem more attractive? My point is this: perfume is all good and well, but the real allure of a lady should be her mind, not her scent.”

Of course he gets nods of complete agreement. No, they never implied that the feminine mind wasn’t important. Golly gosh! The outward appearance and the aroma surrounding a curvy figure only serve to attract the bees to the flower – but it is only a superficial allure. The real connection is a mental one, just like Boggel said. Especially if the said woman happened to wear a miniskirt and high heels. Then the mental attraction is irresistible.

Of course! 

Boggel goes pffffft! at this lie and goes out to get a fresh crate of beer.


“Another borehole dried up yesterday.” Vetfaan sits down heavily and snaps his fingers impatiently to order a beer. “I’ll have to start selling some sheep. I simply don’t have enough water for my flock.”

IMG_2751The  Kalahari is perhaps the healthiest place on earth to live. The bloody conflicts in the rest of the world are far away, crime is almost nonexistent, cellphone connections are patchy and – best of all – people still care about each other. There is a downside, however: the area is prone to regular droughts. Not droughts like in a few months without rain – real, championship droughts that last for years and years. And, even worse, when the rain comes, often only a few drops splatter down before the clouds evaporate before the unforgiving sun.

“Oudoom is planning a prayer service on Sunday.” Boggel pushes over the beer. “For rain,” he adds unnecessarily.

“I’ll be there,” Vetfaan’s determined frown doesn’t lessen when he downs the ale.


“Politicians,” Servaas remarks, “are just like women. They create an image, a promise, you’dd like to believe in, and then they leave you high and dry.”

“Clouds that don’t rain.” With his glass empty, Vetfaan signals for another. “People do that, too.”

“Yes, I remember how the prez promised jobs and houses and electricity in every home.” Servaas gathers his brows in an angry line above his eyes. “Now we have loadshedding every day and Number One says it’s Apartheid’s fault. Twenty-one years later he still blames the whites. I mean, the way he drove out Jan van Riebeeck’s spirit the other day was simply atrocious!”

“Ja, without old Jan, he’d still be herding cattle. Now he’s stuck with Nkandla…and the 700 cases of corruption he  used his position to disappear. That’s real progress.”

“Disappearing clouds, Kleinpiet. Our parliament should have a cloud in it’s coat of arms.”

Boggel knows his customers. Once they get into politics, it fouls up the atmosphere in the bar. He has to steer the conversation away from Jacob Zuma or else they’d all go home early.

“Girls, politicians…they all use perfume to attract. And, after all the aeons of time, generation after generation falls for it. One would have thought that evolution would have sorted out the gullible amongst us, but no! We sit back and allow the sweet scent of improbable promises lure us into disappointment.. When will we ever learn?”

Suddenly, a far-off rumble causes them all to sit up. Thunder?


They rush outside to watch a dark cloud building up behind Bokkop. It’s a wonderful, black cloud with a white crown. The wind around it whips up huge masses of water to obscure the sun.

Gertruida stands alone, in awed silence, as she remembers the words of that great poet, Jan F Cilliers:

Soos ’n vlokkie skuim uit die sfere se ruim
kom ’n wolkie aangesweef,
maar hy groei in die blou tot ’n stapelbou
van marmer wat krul en leef –

(Like a fleck of foam from the heavens/ a small cloud comes a-drifting/ Growing in the sky to a stacking/ of marble that curls with life)

“I can smell it!” Vetfaan’s jubilant cry causes Oudoom to rush from his study to also stare at the sky.

“It’s the scent of Life,” he breathes as he folds his hands together.

“It’s the promise of survival,” Vetfaan sighs.

“The sweet smell of truth, ” Boggel whispers in awe.

Precilla emerges from her little pharmacy to join the small crowd in the street. This time, not a single head turns her way as the first drops fall heavily into the dust at their feet.

A Moment to Remember


“This tree,” Vetfaan says as he slides the photograph over the counter, “is special. It didn’t give up.”

Boggel studies the picture. He has seen it before – several times. When Vetfaan slips into one of his pensive moods, he sometimes produces the photo. It seems to give him strength to overcome his depression – a rare but not unknown occurrence

“It’s the one in Caprivi, isn’t it?”

“Yep. Grows there in the barren soil, amidst the rocks where everything else struggles to survive.”

“That’s where the ambush was.” Boggel doesn’t have to ask, he knows the story.

Vetfaan closes his eyes deliberately, as if he wants to kill the picture in his mind. He doesn’t succeed, of course. Not now.

Some moments in time get burned so deeply into the circuitry of the brain, they remain sharp and fresh for a lifetime. Nothing – not time nor age – will spontaneously fade those moments away to insignificant grey graphics; especially if the horror of those moments are nurtured by clinging to them. That’s the trick, of course: the ability to let go. It is necessary to replace the memory with the reality of the present. Unlike the yellowing photographs in an old album. these pictures retain colour, focus and even sound as long as they are allowed to torment by revisiting them. Even now, the crash of gunfire and exploding grenades reverberate in Vetfaan’s ears.

“Why did you take that picture, Vetfaan? Surely you need to forget those days,”

When Vetfaan opens his eyes, Boggel notices the incredible sadness in them.

“I went back, Boggel, many years later.” Boggel knows this, too, but like the good barman he is, he listens intently. “To see. To remember. To forget.” Vetfaan sighs heavily. “I wanted to see if the blood had washed away in the meantime. And you know? No matter how hard I tried not to see it, there was blood everywhere. Gunfire. Screams.

“So I took the photo. See that tree? The rocks didn’t stop it from growing. It gives me hope.”

Boggel slides another beer towards his friend. “It looks like the tree is lifting the rock up – breaking it in two.”

“It does, doesn’t it? And on the picture, there’s no sound, no blood. That only remains up here.” He taps his head with a calloused finger. “I so wish this picture can be there as well. Maybe if I looked at it long enough…?”

Boggel nods patiently. One day he’ll tell Vetfaan that memories can be like that rock. Slowly, gently, the mind will grow around the agony of the past, lifting it, breaking it. The blood and gore will wash away. And, in contrast to what the mind remembers, the real, true, picture will eventually break the chains anchoring Vetfaan to the yesterdays he so desperately needs to forget.

“It takes time, Vetfaan.”

“Yes, Boggel. I’ll get there. Just like that tree. One moment at a time.”