Tag Archives: dance

Fanny’s Surprise (# 8)

 Fanny looks up in shock. Take off her clothes? Sit here naked? She sees Vetfaan turning to go.

“Wait…”  She Holds up a restraining hand before turning to !Ka. “You have to help me here, !Ka. What is this all about? What does she want to do?”

!Ka confers with the old woman before answering.

“There must be a dance. A long dance, for as long as the full moon lasts. Round and round the fire, shuffling. She’ll teach you the words. After a while you’ll enter another world, a deep world, where you’ll see another Life. She calls it The Different Way. After that, your gift will develop. You’ll be able to see,” he taps his head, “up here.”

Fanny gets up and walks away from the circle of light around the fire. !Tung holds out an imploring hand as if wanting to stop her, but the younger woman ignores it. The events of the day are too surreal to digest in such a short period of time. To think the bones they buried here, were from  her own family? And that coincidence after coincidence eventually brought her back to this place, these people? That, without the Busmen’s help, that little boy would have died and she wouldn’t have been here? The story is so absurd, so fantastic…and yet it has a ring of truth to it.

And now, old !Tung wants to dance her into a trance to awaken something she inherited from her mother, who received it from her grandfather?

Vetfaan walks over to her to put a protective arm around her shoulders.

“If you’re confused, girl, so am I. This day rates as the strangest I’ve ever lived through. I can’t tell you much about anything right now, but I can try to help. If you don’t feel like doing this dance…well, then, don’t. You’ve got a wonderful life as it is, why meddle with things we don’t understand…?”

“I don’t want to do this, Fanie. It must b scary to know what’ll happen tomorrow or the next day.  What would I do if I knew you’d die next week? Or what’ll happen to you and me and Henry?  These are strange, spiritual gifts and talents and abilities I don’t want to meddle with. We weren’t created to know the future until we arrive there. That’s the secret of Life, isn’t it? To seek, to find and never, never give up?”

Vetfaan nods. “I agree. You have everything you need.” He wants to add ‘including me’, but doesn’t. “Let’s go talk with them.”

“I’m not sure about this, !Ka,” she tells the two Bushmen at the fire. “It may be different in your culture, and I respect that. But I don’t think I’m comfortable with awakening things I don’t understand. Can’t I think about it and meet here again next month? This is all too sudden, too much.”

Vetfaan clears his throat. “You see, !Tung, we have a great Book that warns us about such things. For you it may be something you grew up with and accepted as normal. But we believe the spiritual world is forbidden. We don’t understand such things, see? That’s why the Book says we may only pray to God, and Him alone. If we listen to Him, He will provide all we need. That’s why we don’t have shamans. We don’t need them.” Although his tone is kind, there is a firmness to his words that brooks no argument. Fanny’s hand find his in the dark to give it a little squeeze. Suddenly Vetfaan feels ten feet tall.

!Tung smiles sadly. “A part of me believed this would happen, but I had to try. This thing must happen with the full moon, and this is my last. Look.” She slides the skirt made of soft skin to one side, to reveal large irregularities in the region of her groin. She also shows several more glands under her arms. “This disease does not go away with plants.” She asks !Ka to translate again.

My mother had this. So did my grandmother. It is something that happens. First you get weak. Then these swellings come. Then you die. Her tone is matter-of-fact, as if the words have nothing to do with her. Next month I’ll be in the New World.

“It must be some form of cancer,” Fanny whispers. They all sit down around the fire, each with a muddle of  own thoughts.  !Ka slumps back, tired after the day’s exhaustion and fatigued by pain. Vetfaan fishes out the last beer and shares it with Fanny.

“I must tell one more thing, then.” !Tung glances at !Ka who is soundly asleep. “To see in the mind is good and bad. Easy and hard. It gives you the respect of people. “ She sighs. “But it also makes you lonely. People fear me.”

“I can understand that, !Tung.” Fanny moves over to sit next to the old woman. “You have been very good to me. You taught me a lot while I was here. But this thing…I can’t do this. You understand? You were born into a certain way of life.  With me, it is different. I don’t want to know…”

“You are wiser than I thought.”  There is a glint of light in the old woman’s eyes. “Wiser.” She works her lips around the word as if it is something exquisitely foreign. “Then it will be so. My work is finished.”

She gets up to walk over to !Ka, shaking his shoulder gently to waken him. Vetfaan and Fanny listen to the steady stream of clicks as they talk. Then she returns to the fire.

“Mister Vetfaan, tomorrow !Ka will be better. You’ll take him to the doctor who will help him. Thank you for being his friend – he will need your help in the future many times. And Miss Fanny, I see you growing old as a happy woman. You’ll have a good husband. I can tell you who, but it will take away all the adventure of discovering.

“Now I have to go.”

She bows down slightly before allowing Fanny and Vetfaan to give her a hug. The night’s darkness folds around her like a cloak as she walks out of the light, with small, purposeful steps carrying her to her destiny.

“Will she be back?”

!Ka looks at her incredulously. “ Of course not.”

Coming soon…604043_532682216772817_1360375968_n

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Vetfaan’s Dance with Fonda…

“We’re a bunch of unfit misfits.” Vetfaan runs a worried hand over his paunch. “I’ll have to start doing some exercise, otherwise I’ll have to ask Sammie to order a whole new wardrobe for me.” Finishing his beer, he signals for another.

“Exercise can do more harm than good, Vetfaan. You start wearing down those joints, and it’s off to Cape Town for a hip replacement. And there’s the danger of overburdening your heart, too. And…remember what happened to Piet Potlood?” Kleinpiet shakes his head; one has to be very careful with these things.

Vetfaan nods. Poor Piet had the dream of completing the Comrade’s Marathon, and started running from Grootdrink to Rolbos at least once a week. He’d flop down on a chair in Boggel’s Place and always ordered water on arrival – something that cause much more consternation than his running did.  Gertruida said it was the stress that made his hair first go completely white, before falling out. That’s when he began using a cosmetic pencil to draw in a small, black moustache on his upper lip. Vetfaan shudders at the thought.

“But look at you, too, Kleinpiet. Your belt is almost too short these days as well. No man, I think we must do something. Maybe start walking or doing those slow Japanese exercises where you hardly move. Surely you can’t  do harm with that?”

“Boys, I’ve still got a Jane Fonda tape from way back.” Seeing their puzzled looks, she explains. “She’s a very sexy lady dressed in a leotard, and she tells you what to do. It’s not hard, but if you do it every day, I can guarantee results. I used that tape when I picked up weight a few years ago – and look at me now: I’m still in shape.” Precilla has been worried about Kleinpiet’s weight for some time now, and pounces on the opportunity.

“Do we have to wear those as well? Leotards, I mean?  I refuse. I’m a man, not a circus clown.”

“No, Kleinpiet, you can exercise in anything you want, any time you want. It doesn’t even have to interfere with your visits to Boggel’s place. I’m sure the two of you can manage that, somehow?”

***

Landslides, avalanches and an obsession with weight have a few things in common. They start small, and they can become all-consuming. What started as a hesitant, uncertain few steps this way and that on the music, while Miss Fonda shouted out instructions, became a race to see who lost the most. They meet weekly in Boggel’s Place, where Oudok placed his scale. Much like two boxers, the two men would shed as much clothing as is socially acceptable, step up to the scale and wait for Precilla to announce the reading.

It was a neck-on neck affair for weeks. The sessions with the tape became longer and longer. Some weeks Kleinpiet won with a gram or two, at others Vetfaan was the victor. Boggel started taking bets and made quite a bit of money this way.

After yet another weigh-n where Kleinpiet lost 25 grams more than he did, Vetfaan decided it was enough – he announced that the next week would be the final week of this ‘sissy-dancing’ and that whoever lost more in the coming week, would be the overall winner. Kleinpiet agreed thankfully.

***

“Platnees, bring your guitar. You must play for me.”

Platnees  has worked on Vetfaan’s farm for many years. He knows all about the farmer’s moods, most of his strange ideas and about the peach brandy he keeps locked up in the old chest in the dining room. Despite this, he is astounded.

“Eish! The last time I heard such a story, was when Saul asked for Master David to play for him. Oudoom had a sermon on that a few years ago. That story didn’t end well.”

“No, man! I just need music to dance to. You can’t expect me to do all those fancy steps in silence, can you?”

It takes a long time to explain what it’s all about, but eventually Platnees gets it. “So I play, you dance, and you win Mister Kleinpiet?” Scratching the stubble on his chin, he eyes Vetfaan critically. “It’s a bit like crooking, isn’t it? And you’ll have to pay me.”

“Name you price, you scoundrel.”  Platnees knows it’s just a mock show of anger. Vetfaan’s eyes have lit up in triumph – victory is assured.

“Two bottles of peach brandy. One is for playing – I don’t play so well if I haven’t had a sip. The other one is payment. And I promise I won’t tell anybody.”

Platnees goes off to find his petrol-tin guitar after taking a few healthy swigs. On his return, he notices that Vetfaan has cleared the stoep, and that he has stripped down to the blue underpants. He’ll have to remember to wash the red one before church on Sunday. Being careful not to say anything and averting his eyes, he takes a seat on the top step to the stoep.

“Okay! Play!”

People make a lot of noise about poor Lance Armstrong and all those athletes that spend thousands of Dollars to use performance-enhancing drugs. It’s because such contestant s use complicated and convoluted programs that involve drugs that are bad for you. They should have asked Platnees’ opinion about speed and endurance; he’d tell them the answer is peach brandy. And even if you’re a bit sozzled, they can’t ban you for life, can they? As long as you stay in your lane, you’re fine.

So, while Platnees started off with a slow waltz and a few old Voortrekker songs, he gradually changed to his rendition of the popular tunes of David Kramer. However, the peach brandy enhanced his performance to such an extent, that Vetfaan had great difficulty moving his feet to the rapid beat.

Halfway through the bottle, Platnees is in his own world. He sees himself on stage next to Mister Kramer, with a whole rugby field full of people cheering madly. Dawid steps up to the microphone to introduce South Africa’s newest sensation, the man from the Kalahari who can play the guitar like no other. The crowd goes mad as young girls throw various bits of clothing at the stage. ‘Ah, the rewards of fame’ Kramer smiles at Platnees, ‘you know you made it if they start doing that.’

Platnees, now at full speed and completely oblivious of his surroundings, is halfway through the next song when Vetfaan’s scream stops him. In a desperate attempt to keep up with the tempo, Vetfaan has pirouetted off the stoep. That didn’t do the damage. The prickly pear did.

***

It’s a well-known medical fact that you can’t put clothes on a man full of thorns. You have to remove the thorns first. To do that, it’s preferable to have a sober assistant who can focus on one thorn at a time. It also helps if your assistant doesn’t think the whole incident is hilariously funny.

Also, it isn’t customary to wash your prickly pear every now and then. People seem to think these cactus plants have a self-cleaning ability, which is obviously not true. Two days after Oudok removed the thorns (after the wild chase to get him to the doctor, while Platnees did his rendition of an ambulance siren with remarkable gusto), Oudok sent Vetfaan to Upington to get some antibiotics and a hefty dose of cortisone.

“It’s the cortisone,” Vetfaan mumbles at the weigh-in. “I was way ahead until I had those shots.”

“No,” Precilla smiles sweetly. “It’s the new underpants. Those are far too big – now that the swelling has gone down.”

***

Precilla’s Tango

“It’s the tango,” Gertruida says. “Ever since Precilla started with this idea, he walks like that.”

Kleinpiet sits down at the counter after taking several small steps across the room. He obviously has to concentrate hard to keep his feet moving with the right rhythm, and almost stumbled across old Marco, who is reading in the corner.

“It’s not normal.” Vetfaan frowns at the empty beer glass in front of him. “Kleinpiet is a farmer, man. You can’t teach a real Boere-Afrikaner to tango. Maybe a sakkie-sakkie, or a simple shuffle – but not this Italian thing Lucinda is helping Precilla with. Oudok will have to order a new supply of those new pills. The anti-stuff. It helps for sprains and bruises. At the rate Kleinpiet is going on, we’re all going to need it.”

Boggel bristles a little at the remark, feeling he should defend Lucinda. On the other hand: Kleinpiet has broken three glasses while he was twirling around last night. As much as he loves Lucinda, he has to admit the tango classes are a bit far-fetched.

“Listen, it’s not the dance – I quite agree with you. Precilla is an expert, stepping around like she’s floating on air. The problem is Kleinpiet. He’s like an elephant on roller skates. No co-ordination. And when he finally gets his feet in the right spot, he’s way behind the music. I watched while Lucinda gave him extra classes. She made him dance with a broom; but he broke it after five steps.” Boggel has to smile. “When I suggested a piece of pipe, Lucinda said it might be fatal.”

“But what is this sudden urge to teach him to dance? And a tango, nogal? Its not something we do around here?”

“Oh,” Gertruida smiles, “Precilla may be thinking about the First Dance. You know, like at a wedding?”

A stunned silence follows.

***

“Now look, Kleinpiet, you have to concentrate. It’s only five steps, two slow and three fast. T, A, ngo. Like that.” Precilla moves her pretty feet to demonstrate. “You have to do it like that.”

Kleinpiet is secretly (but extremely so) frustrated. He has accepted that his faux pas with the clothing; and his efforts to sound clever resulted in almost ruining the relationship. Although he promised himself he won’t do anything stupid like that again, he still can’t work up the enthusiasm needed for the dance.

“Look, I’ll try. You know I want to. It’s just my feet – they don’t work like yours do. I’m used to the veld and the rocks and the fences. This fancy stepping is all new to me.”

“Kleinpiet, when I was small, I promised myself I’ll get a boyfriend who can tango. One. Two. One-two-three. It was my way of escaping the reality of being poor. The tango had a message for me: it was smooth, sexy, grand – all the words that didn’t fit into my world. I could close my eyes and see myself floating in the arms of a man who understood exactly how my mind and my body works. I wanted to be the extension of his power. A graceful walk into the future – that’s how I saw it.

“Now, I know it’s difficult for you, but you have to try. Just to please me. You will, won’t you, Kleinpiet?” She flutters her lashes at him during the last sentence and he feels himself crumbling under the weight of her plea.

“It’s not just the feet, Precilla. I have to lead you, bend you this way and that, and even swing you around. It’s very intimate. Very personal. I get nervous when you’re so near.”

“That’s the point, you silly. The tango is like love – you become one person with four legs. One in mind. One in soul. To me, the tango is the dance of love.” She falters now, not sure whether it’s a good thing to bare her soul like this. “But Kleinpiet,” now she uses a little-girl voice, almost pleading with him to understand, “it’s something I’ve always dreamt about. It’s childish, maybe; even foolish; but it’s one way of breaking down the barriers between us.”

Kleinpiet understands this bit. They’re both grown adults – mature adults – on the verge of breaking new ground. Both of them have had relationships of varying degrees of intensity before and both of them have reservations about what it means to be in love. The baggage, he thinks, the baggage can sink this friendship. However, if they can allow each other into a communal and shared space, it’ll help to make them less aware of the obstacles in their way.

“Look, Kleinpiet. I’ve danced with men before. The usual stuff in garage parties. I can two-step and even get by doing the foxtrot.” She can see he doesn’t like the line she’s taking. “But I’ve never done the tango. Ever. It’s as new to me as it is to you. I dreamt about it like young girls do – a dream you never expect to fulfil. Like the perfect life in suburbia with a husband and kids and a dog named Rover. Picket fence and a few roses next to the front door.” She feels the emotion rising and swallows hard. “And I know that’s not the way my life turned out. I’ll never have children. The house turned out to be a cottage in the desert and the roses are a few withered shrubs in the sand. I can’t change that.” She’s crying now, angry at herself. “But I can still dream about the tango. And if there’s one person – one person in the whole wide world – I’d like to tango with, it’s you. Can’t you understand it?”

The human brain remains a mystery to even the most brilliant scientists today. How does it work? Where do thoughts come from? How do we conjure up images in the grey slush between our ears? We simply don’t know. It’s a miracle; an unexplainable process that we live with. We accept it as an everyday (everysecond?)  happening, which we seldom stop to analyse.

In Kleinpiet’s mind an unused neuron suddenly discovers a new protein. It’s called an engram, and it’s unique – he’s never known about this microscopic cell before. Yet, this single protein conjures up a line of thoughts; a series of images in Kleinpiet’s brain.

Precilla’s words and her emotion set this neuron off. People may say she touched a nerve – and maybe that’s much nearer to the scientific truth than we ever considered.

In that micro-second, Kleinpiet sees Precilla as she really is – a young girl trapped inside the body of a mature woman. The years roll back to a time of hope and innocence, when they both believed the world was their stage and the audience was waiting with bated breath. An invisible hand tears the pages from their history books, the war disappears, the tears get wiped. This, the neuron tells him, is possible. He can start anew. It is possible to make this woman’s dream come true. With her at his side, there is nothing he cannot face.

This neuron waited a lifetime for this moment. We call it self-discovery or acceptance or even love. One day a clever laboratory assistant will duplicate the process in a test tube, and the world will change. But now, inside Kleinpiet’s head, the engram-protein is working its magic.

He sees her watching him in this timeless moment. She wants him to answer, to laugh, to reject, to respond, to accept. Anything – but after she’s put her soul on the line, he cannot remain silent. Tell her, the neuron commands, and then dance her breath away.

***

It’s almost closing time and Boggel is serving the last round, when Vetfaan looks at his watch.

“Kleinpiet hasn’t been in tonight. I wonder if he has problems on the farm?”

“Don’t you listen, Vetfaan?” Gertruida cups a hand behind her ear. Faintly, above the buzz of conversation, faint music can be heard.

“Are they still at it? Gee whiz! That’s the third evening in a row. I never thought Kleinpiet would persevere. That tango-thing is a difficult thing.” He is quiet for a while before coming to a decision. “He’s too clumsy. He can’t dance.”

“Oh,” Gertruida says, because she knows everything, “I think you’re wrong. And…,” she wags a playful and naughty finger at Vetfaan, “I’m not sure they have their feet on the ground right now.”

Poor Gertruida. She doesn’t know everything. She’s right about one thing, though: inside Precilla’s cottage two people are dancing as one. They’re moving in perfect harmony, two slow, three fast. They sway and bend and tangle and float across the wooden floor while the music takes them back to the beginning, where they have to be: where innocence and hope are the keys to opening the new door they face. And yes – it’s as if their feet never touch the floor; like it should be; while the dance fuses the past and the future together in the sweet and sacred, intricate and delicate web we call Life. It is a dance of leading and following -blending into a common purpose.

It is the tango. Latin: tangere: to touch. Without it, Life means nothing…