Tag Archives: desert

Trusting Liar (#2)

1The thing about Liar is what Vetfaan calls the “double-reverse chicken gambit”, the only thing in Rolbos that manages to confuse Gertruida. Vetfaan explains that you have to believe the unbelievable before discarding it as nonsense. Or vice versa. The trick is the ‘gambit’ – when to attack or withdraw. For instance: it’s like exonerating the presidency for all blame for Nkandla before finding them all guilty.

“It’s the same with Liar. It’s wrong to say his stories are untrue. He might apply some factual gymnastics to his tales, but they’re not necessarily lies – unless you don’t believe him.” This concept, he explains, makes it easy to understand why more than 60% of the voters chose the governing party during the last election. “But,” he hastens to add, “this is about to change. The second reverse of the double reverse is a slower phenomenon, it’ll only occur once the government starts telling the truth.”

This, of course, doesn’t help to explain why they all jumped on to the Land Rover as the ancient engine spluttered clouds of blue smoke down Voortrekker Weg. Maybe they were just bored, sitting around in Boggel’s Place all day long. Or perhaps they really cared about what happened to Liar. Probably they did the second reverse…?

“When last did he find a diamond?” Kleinpiet has to shout to be heard above the clatter of the straining engine.

“Oh, last year. He showed it to me.” Gertruida puts on her superior look. How she loves knowing things the others don’t! “A blue-white, this big.” She uses her fingers to indicate a large, marble-sized stone. “The purest I’ve ever seen. And several yellows, slightly larger but not as nice.”

“But having an uncut diamond in your possession is a crime! He can’t sell it? They’ll pop him into jail.”

neumap6“Not Liar, Vetfaan. He has a prospecting permit dating back to his father’s time. The old man used to prospect near the Orange River near Grootdrink, but somehow Liar convinced the authorities that he not only inherited the licence, but that it applies to the Kalahari as well. You know him: he probably lied his way to success. Point is: he’s a legit diamond prospector and so he has the right to sell his uncut diamonds to any of the world’s bourses that buy such stones. Apparently he sends over a packet once a year to Antwerp, using the contacts his father had built up after WW ll. The old man served in Egypt, where he met some chaps from the Netherlands. One thing led to another….old comrades, that sort of thing.”

“But then Liar must be a rich man?”

“Depends on whether you can believe him.” Gertruida shrugs and smiles quietly. “If he’s so rich, why is he still tramping the dunes?”

“Greed.” Boggel shouts above the noise, using his handkerchief to wipe the dust from his eyes. “It’s a disease: once diamond-fever gets you, it doesn’t let go. Liar will go on searching for diamonds until the end. He won’t – can’t – stop. There’ll always be the big one just around the corner – just like the gamblers in Oasis Casino.”

Vetfaan drives slowly, picking out Liar’s tracks in the loose sand. The Cessna is flying ahead, sometimes disappearing over the horizon before circling back.

“Liar has done it again,” Vetfaan says grimly as he watches the aeroplane flying to and fro. “He simply disappears…”

A few years ago, after Liar had bragged about a particularly large stone in Boggel’s Place, Sersant Dreyer tried to follow his tracks. They led straight into the desert for several miles – and then disappeared completely. Vetfaan remarked at the time that Liar must be an expert at anti-tracking, which made Dreyer blush under his deep tan, saying nobody can fool him that easily. Still: the fact remains that Liar’s secrets remained intact, allowing the group at the bar many hours of speculating about his whereabouts.

“This is it,” Dreyer points at the dry riverbed. “He leaves the sand, hops from boulder to boulder, and gets away without leaving a spoor.”

The group gets out stiffly, stretching legs as they watch the Cessna disappear towards Upington.

“The end of the road, chaps.” Kleinpiet sighs loudly. “We might as well give up.”

Gertruida goes harrumph!. It’s an ominous sign. She hates unanswered questions.

“Look, it’s late anyway. We’re not equipped to spend the night out here. I suggest we return to Rolbos and gear up for a proper expedition, then we can follow this man to wherever he is. Who’s in?”

“Follow his where, Gertruida? We have no idea where he might be! It’s useless…”

“Ah….you’ve stopped thinking again as usual, Vetfaan. Whether you join me or not, I’ll be back here tomorrow at first light….with Vrede.”

Of course! Vrede! Their very own town-dog with the superb nose!

***

The eastern sky has the faintest tinge of orange above the black horizon when the group gathers at the rocky riverbed. Vrede loves it out here – he’s done all the wheels on the ‘Rover, four bushes and one rock.

“Now, Vrede!” Boggel sits down next to the excited dog. “You remember Liar? That sweaty, stinky man that walked out this way? Well….you got to find him.” The dag lifts one ear as he listens to Boggel explaining the mission. “Oh…and if you find him, you’ll have a month’s worth of biltong waiting for you.”

Some people scoff at the thought that dogs understand humans. Boggel isn’t one of those. He knows Vrede would have picked up on ‘stinky man’ and ‘biltong’. He’s right, of course. The dog wags his tail, licks Boggel’s cheek and starts sniffing around. Not even a minute later, he gives an excited yelp.

 

Gert Smit’s Tomatoes (# 18)

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so it stayed.

Until Gert got ill.

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

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

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

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

***

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

“How is this man, Gert? Is he…okay?”

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Challenge: Inside – a Ghost Town

Deep inside the desert of Namibia, you find Pomona, the deserted and ghost-like diamond mining town… (yes, of 1912)

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This used to be a ten-pin bowling alley. At Kolmans Kop, a few miles away, they preserved a similar one:

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Still, the ghosts of yesterday remain…

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The hospital only remembers the hushed voices still echoing there:

IMG_3274And once upon a time, the generator provided light..

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Now, only a few graves (mostly nameless) remain to tell the story of incredible riches and desperate hope..

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Fanny’s Surprise (# 5)

 !Tung reaches the Place of the Buried Wagon first. She sits down quietly, paying her respect for those that died here. She never knew their names, of course, they died before she was born; but honouring the dead is as important to her as being kind to the living. This place, a place for death and dying, deserves the respect she is obliged to give.

She knows !Ka will come – he’s not far away, she’s sure. She closes her eyes to try and imagine where he is; but the only vision she receives is of the endless sands of the Kalahari. He’s out there, somewhere, in trouble under the scorching sun. When she looks up, it is to see a single eagle soaring in the sky above.

Go, Eagle, find !Ka…I don’t have a lot of time…

***

Vetfaan reaches the spot from where they walked the last time. Cutting across the veld and not detouring past the farm – like before – has brought them here much faster than he expected. Well, it is a long walk from here, they’ll have to hurry. As they get out, Vrede stops suddenly, fixing on the big bird swooping down on them.

These great eagles carry off rabbits, lambs, small antelope…and dogs. When Vetfaan sees the approaching bird, he starts running towards Vrede, knowing he’d never make it. He’s still ten yards away when the eagle flashes past Vrede, claws still tucked under the tail feathers. Vrede swirls around to watch it fly off.

Then he starts barking. And gets back into the pickup while he keeps an eye on the huge bird.

“He wants us to follow the bird, Fanie. I’m sure of it.” Fanny holds a hand above her brow to see the eagle more clearly. “Look, it’s flying that way…”

“Ag, come on Fanny?  I know it was crazy to follow Vrede here – but now we have an eagle to guide us? I can tell you – this verges on being ridiculous.”

“Don’t waste time, Fanie! Get in the vehicle. Lets go… please? I have the strangest feeling about this.”

Vetfaan stares at her for a minute. She came to Rolbos as a shy, introverted, rather overweight woman. Then she spent time with the Bushmen in the desert, and came back a completely different person. Look at her now, he thinks, self-assured, trim, confident. As if something in her mind clicked into the slot it was meant to be. Shrugging, he hurries over to the pickup.

***

!Ka realises he won’t make it. The swelling is getting worse and it is slowing him down. He’s got no water – there isn’t even a buried ostrich egg shell nearby. He crawls on doggedly, still aiming for the Valley of the Buried Wagon, knowing it’s of no use. Even if he can manage to fashion a crutch there, dehydration is going to have the final say.

There are many realities in living in the desert. Survival depends on protection, fluid and nutrition. It also requires skill and a bit of good luck. Now, with all the skills he’s acquired over the years, !Ka knows it is not enough. The thick tongue and dry mouth is but the start. Sucking small pebbles isn’t helping anymore. The plants with the thirst-quenching roots don’t grow nearby, either.  Next will come the muscle cramps, the absolute weakness, the disorientation…and then the long sleep.

!Ka grits his teeth. Yes, he is quite prepared for death, for is it not the gateway to the spirit-world? Has !Tung not told him about the journey all people have to undertake – the journey ending in being with all those that have gone before? She said it is a joyous occasion. The newcomer is welcomed to the vast place filled with green and game and lots of waters. She said there would be no trekking from place to place in the eternal quest for survival. Vetfaan had told him about his faith as well; he’s even attended one of Oudoom’s sermons. Maybe, he thinks, we all believe the same thing, only in a different way.

He’ll lie down to rest a while. Just for a minute. Then he’ll try to go on again. But now, now it’s time to rest.

Rest.

Aahhh…

 

***

The old pickup heads down the low dune. Vetfaan reckons they are about a kilometre or two north of the buried wagon, and here the desert is more flat, allowing the old Ford to make steady progress across the sand.

He’s about to pick up speed for the next dune, when Fanny points.

“The eagle is circling, Fanie. Look, it stays in one place now.”

Vrede gives an uncertain growl as he watches the big bird.

Then Vetfaan slams on the brakes.

“There’s a man over there!” He points. “He’s over there, on his back! Oh my…look at that leg… And… No!… It’s !ka!”

Vetfaan’s Surprise (# 6)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?”

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

***images (56)

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

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

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

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

“Right oh, then. Lead on, McDuff.”

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(To be continued…)

Vetfaan’s Surprise (# 4)

images (48)“Gee, Vetfaan, it is so huge! I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Vetfaan is putting on his old rugby shorts (as pyjamas)  behind the Ford and glances down.

“It’s not bad, isn’t it?” He wriggles into the shorts, smiling proudly.

“It really is awesome. Almost frightening. In England I only got to see small bits of it, but over here…”

Vetfaan peeks over the back of the pickup to where Fanny lies in her sleeping bag. She’s fashioned a cushion out of a towel and is staring, wide-eyed, at the stars. Suddenly feeling deflated, he crawls into his own make-shift bed.

“You ate nothing tonight,” he says, changing the subject to hide his embarrassment

“It was the most wonderful thing, Vetfaan! !Ka took me into the veld and showed me a twig with a single, withered leaf. That, he said, was the source of water. He dug out a tuber the size of a melon and cut it open. Some liquid dripped out – it was slightly tangy, but quite drinkable. Then he scouted around for a while until he found a little bush. It looked dead, but he said it only makes leaves after the rains – which, like you know, is a rare thing. But on those dry branches, he found several round seeds. He said it’s old berries. images (49)

“Well, he picked one, and gave it to me. ‘Chew‘ he said. And he made me cup my hands and he squeezed some of that tuber’s juice in them. ‘Put it in your mouth with the berry‘, he said. When I swallowed, he said I won’t be hungry for two days. And you know what? My food-craving disappeared at that moment. I get thirsty, but my hunger is gone. I am amazed…”

They settle into a comfortable silence, allowing sleep to creep up to them.

!Ka wakes them when the Morning Star shines brightly above the horizon. After a quick mug of coffee, they upload and face the dune. !Ka says he’ll run ahead, testing the sand. Vetfaan must simply follow him. The little man sets of at a remarkable pace while Vetfaan coaxes the cold engine to life. !Ka is halfway up the dune before Vetfaan builds up speed to gain momentum for the onslaught. Following !Ka’s tracks, they reach the summit at the same time.

Driving downhill on a dune is more dangerous than going up. Keeping the vehicle pointing straight down, Vetfaan avoids using the brakes until they are on firm ground again. Fanny lets out a few shrieks every now and then, causing the men to smile happily. This is fun!

The next dune is higher, and the sun is already blazing down with considerable intensity. This time, Vetfaan gets stuck about halfway up. Again maintaining a straight line, he reverses doown, takes a longer run-up, and just makes it to the top at a snail’s pace. !Ka rewards him with an appreciative smile. It has taken them three hours to cross two dunes.

“We walk now.” !Ka announces.

It soon becomes clear why they had to abandon the Ford. They next dune (!Ka says it’s the last one) is even steeper and higher than the two previous ones. Every step vauses a little sand-avalanche, dragging the feet back and making progress painfully slow. Sweating and mubling curses under his breath, Vetfaan reaches to summit and flops down.

“There it is.” !Ka points to the bottom.  The two iron-clad wheels are half-buried in the thick sand. Little bits of the rest of the wagon are a pathetic reminder of what the wagon once must have looked like.

They scramble down to stare at the wreck. Whatever happened here, happened long ago. To the north, a gulley between the dunes stretch off into the distance. To the south, dune upon dune obscure the horizon.

“They must have come from up there,” Vetfaan points to the gully, “and couldn’t go any farther. Why…?”

“My great-grandfather, he told a story. Many years ago, many wagons trekked across the desert. Men women, children. Some cattle and sheep. Even chickens in cages below the wagons. They were going that way.” !Ka points to the west, ” but some died. Many died. Wagons got stuck, oxen died. Water got finished. My great-grandfather, he says there are many graves. But those people, my great-grandfather said, didn’t come here. They trekked far that way.” He points north. “He also said some turned back. Some made it, others died. Lots of people died.”

“The Thirstland Trek!” Vetfaan runs a hand over the rusted iron cladding. “You’re talking about the Afrikaners who started trekking  in the 1870’s. We learnt about them at school. They trekked from the Rustenburg and Pretoria, wanting to go to Angola. Some say it was because they wanted to escape the English, who were intent on annexing the gold fields. Others say those families simply trekked, because they had it in their blood. These were men and women who experienced the Groot Trek of 1838 as young adults and children – and they couldn’t face settling down. But, like !Ka says, it was a disaster.”

“Look,” !Ka says, “the wagon is pointing that way.” He points south. “They must have come from the desert, hoping to reach the Orange River…”

“…and the Cape Colony.” Vetfaan finishes the sentence. “They were hoping to escape the desert, only to run into worse conditions. Poor, poor people.”

“And there they are…” !Ka points toward the sand some distance away.

The three skulls – two adult and one obviously a child – lie scattered some distance away. No other bones seem to have survived. They walk over to stare down at them in silence. !Ka says something in his own language, and stands away to one side.

“You must bury them, Mister Vetfaan. They’re your people, you must do it.”

Fanny sinks to her knees and picks up the smaller skull, cradling it against her breast while rocking gently from side to side. When Vetfaan walks over to put a calming hand on her shoulder, he hears her singing softly. It’s a lullaby.

“I need something to dig with,” he says quietly, “I’ll be back.”

Of course, the years have done their damage. Scouting around the wagon, he finds not a single utensil or tool to help him dig. The wheels and a few floorboards of the body of the wagon are all that remain. He bends down and tears one of the ancient planks loose from the floor. It’ll have to do.

The sand between the dunes is quite shallow. Beneath it, is a layer of much harder and compacted ground. Vetfaan slaves away, making slow progress. After a while, !Ka joins him with another board. Between them they manage to dig a hole about four feet deep. The two tired men glance at each other and nod. This is what they can do, no more.

Fanny insists on laying the skulls in the grave herself. One by one she places them in a neat row, humming softly. It’s a tune Vetfaan remembers – Danny Boy

“You must say something,”: she says in a small voice.

Vetfaan recites the Lord’s Prayer in Afrikaans, and looks up in surprise as Fanny joins him with the English version. They reach ‘Amen’ together.

“Shall we sing something for them? The Afrikaans Bly by my Heer semms appropriate.” He hums the tune.

“Oh! Abide with me? Yes, let’s do.”

Once again the words in the two languages merge and combine effortlessly. The two voices  – his strong and low, her’s filled with emotion and faltering – fill the gulley between the dunes, washes over the remains of the wagon, and is carried south, to where the never-reached river flows. At least, Vetfaan thinks, the wind will complete their journey.

!Ka helps to fill the grave and, with nothing else to mark it, they plant the two planks upright at one end of the hole. After a final moment of silence, they turn to start their journey back to the vehicle. The sun is already dipping towards the west – they’ll have to hurry.

“Will you look at that!” Fanny points at the floor of the wagon. The hole in the floor of the wagon, left by the two boards, gape at the sky, revealing an old iron-bound chest. “That must have been protected by the boards.”

Vetfaan lifts the chest – about the size of a small suitcase – from it’s resting place. It is obvious that the wagon had some sort of compartment or drawer below the floor, and this is where the chest remained hidden for more than a hundred years. The lock is rusted, and crumbles in his hand. He lifts the lid…

(To be continued…)

Ouboet’s Silence

“The Springboks lost again,” Kleinpiet is so upset; he’s not even drawing a picture on the counter today. “At half-time I thought we had them. Then, for some strange reason, we allowed them to beat us. It’s not that they won the game – we lost it. And of course, that Haka. Pure witchcraft, if you ask me.”

“Let it rest, Kleinpiet. We’re not going to change history. Anyway, we’ve got more important things to worry about.” Vetfaan wants to add that, being a previous flanker for Prieska’s first team doesn’t qualify you to judge international standards; but Kleinpiet’s mood would most probably not see the humour in that.

Ever since Servaas, old Marco and Martha returned from Italy, they had a lot to talk about, anyway. The story of Roberto had to be told and retold, until the townsfolk could actually see and hear the Ming vase as it broke on Roberto’s skull. Then Servaas would have to wait every time for the whoops and the applause to die down before he could demonstrate his tying-up technique on some hapless volunteer. It’s been years since they had so much good, clean fun in Boggel’s Place.

But there is another – more serious – situation to consider in Rolbos at present. Martha is here. Without her cocaine; she’s not doing very well. Servaas has put her up in the small spare room in his house (she refused to go anywhere else), and her tantrums cause a lot of discussions.

Gertruida knows all about addiction. “To stop cold turkey isn’t the way to do it.” Vetfaan says cold turkey can never match a good steak, causing Gertruida to roll her eyes and explain. “…so a sudden stop in the usage of these drugs cause the brain to malfunction. You get depression, aggression, bouts of complete insanity, insomnia, lack of appetite and even down-right criminal behaviour. Over and above that, such a person may have bowel abnormalities, become suicidal and irrational. This young lady is in a lot of trouble, and we have to do something about it.”

“Well. Oudoom is doing his best. He visits her twice a day. I never knew the old man had so much compassion – he’ll sit for hours, just talking to her. She’s always a bit calmer when he leaves.” Precilla has read up on addiction, as well. “I’ve given her a mild sedative, but that’s not going to do the trick. She needs lots of positive support, a healthy diet and some exercise. Servaas has taken to accompanying her on long walks, which is good. However, we must do more to get her physically fit.”

“Well, don’t look at me,” old Marco says, nudging Boggel. “The two of us won’t be much good if we tried to jog or do stuff like that. You need somebody with strong legs and a straight back for that.”

“Platnees!” Vetfaan is the one who grasps the solution. “We must get Platnees to run with her. Oh, boy, she’s in for it!”

***

Platnees listened, agreed to help, but said he wasn’t the man they needed.

“No. I know the man who’ll fix Miss Martha. He stays out in the desert and it’ll take me a few days to find him; but he’s the one. Nobody else.”

For four days the inhabitants of Rolbos scan the horizon for any sign of Platnees. Martha isn’t doing well. She has attacks of rage, followed by intense remorse. Oudoom’s visits – three a day, now – also seem to be less effective.

When at last Platnees arrives with the promised help, even Gertruida can’t believe her eyes. Ouboet Geel isn’t exactly what they expected. Sure: the man is a sinewy character with an engaging smile, but he is old and withered.

“He’s your runner?” Vetfaan asks incredulously.

“Yes, a little. But he’s also a fixer. He knows how things work. He can fix things that are wrong.”

“Listen, Platnees, this man knows nothing about cocaine. Out there in the desert he’d have had no clue what this type of addiction may involve. How can he hope to help?” Gertruida has joined the circle of people who’ve gathered around the old man. Loin-clothed, grey and toothless, Ouboet doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. “Does he even understand Afrikaans? Or English? Or Italian, for that matter?”

“No. He talks the language of the San, which I understand. But he says talking isn’t good. It is silence that heals the mind, not words. He says the Missy must go with him, and he’ll help her. He also says this thing in Miss Martha’s mind is not a sickness. It’s a demon. He knows demons.”

The strangled scream from Servaas’ cottage interrupts the conversation. It has become necessary to lock Martha in the room to prevent her from breaking any more crockery – something Martha has become very good at. Ouboet Geel turns his head, like a predator would, sniffing the air. He turns to Platnees to address him in the strange language of clicks and guttural sounds.

“Ouboet says he knows that demon. It is a bad one, he says. She must go with him, that’s the only way.”

Boggel’s Place has seen many an argument over the years. Some of them were serious, some not – but none compares to this discussion. How can they trust this old man with Martha? But how else can they help her anyway? This old man isn’t a doctor or a therapist, what does he know? That may be true, but supposing he has the ability – should they not give Martha the chance?

“There’s only one way to find out.” Gertruida, of course. “If the old man wants to take her into the desert, we can only allow that if we know she’s safe. So…let him take her. And we’ll select one of you guys to follow them. If she’s in danger, or the old man does anything untoward, then you bring her back. How about it?”

***

“Okay, Platnees, you can tell Ouboet we agree. He can take Martha, and when he returns with her all sober and cleaned up, we’ll give him two sheep. Is that okay with him?”

Platnees translates. Ouboet claps his hands in appreciation.

“Now, we’ll have to explain to Martha what is happening. Tell Ouboet to wait here, we’ll be back with Martha and some supplies, clothes and water.” Vetfaan turns to go while Platnees translates. Halfway to Servaas’ cottage, Oubout overtakes him, stops and shakes his head.

“He says this is no place for you. It is his job. He’ll do it.” Platnees seems a bit unsure, but Ouboet fixes him with a smiling stare. “Just give him a chance, Mister Vetfaan?”

They watch as Ouboet Geel walks to the cottage, opens the door and disappears inside.

“Did you tell him where she is, Platnees?”

Platnees shakes his head. You don’t explain things to Ouboet

The screaming from inside the house reaches a crescendo and then dies down to a whimper. Servaas and the rest of the townsfolk watch through the window as Ouboet sits down in front of the locked door. He doesn’t say anything. He just sits there.

“What’s he doing?”   Kleinpiet asks the question on everybody’s mind.

“Only Ouboet knows, Mister Kleinpiet. Only him.”

***

With nothing happening inside the cottage, the villagers retire to Boggel’s to reflect and down a few beers. Two hours later, they see the withered old man walking from Servaas’ cottage, leading Martha by the hand.

“She’ s got nothing with her. No extra clothing. Not a brush. And she looks terrible – her dress is a mess and she’s torn her blouse. Platnees! Tell Ouboet to stop. We’ll fix her up a bit, first.”

But Platnees holds up a hand, saying one mustn’t interfere with Ouboet when he’s working. Ouboet, he says, knows what he is doing.

Pete, the fittest of the Rolbossers, grabs his water bottle. He’s agreed to be the one that follows Ouboet and Martha into the desert and he doesn’t want to give them too much of a head start. With the sun already racing to the western horizon, he can’t afford to lose sight of them.

***

“They walked to the other side of Bokkop, there where the patch of thorn bushes is. He made her sit down, and he sang something while he made a fire. She seemed calm. Then he threw something into the fire, causing a billowing cloud of smoke. When  that cleared, they were gone.” Pete seems dazed when he returns to Boggel’s Place two hours later. He tells them how he searched for footprints, even after it became dark and he had to use his torch. “It’s as if they disappeared into thin air. Poof! Just like that.”

“Ouboet does that thing, sometimes. If you follow him, he’ll disappear. But don’t worry, Mister Pete, Ouboet is a man of his word. He said three days. Three days. Then he’ll be back. Now we must wait.”

The three days is a period of intense debate. Vetfaan and Kleinpiet had a look at the place where Ouboet made the fire – and found only Pete’s footprints next to the ashes. Servaas is too distraught to participate in the discussions; the Verdana’s suggest a posse to scour the desert; Sersant Dreyer does wide-ranging patrols in his Land Rover; Precilla has that I-told-you-so expression and Gertruida reads up on the ways and actions of shamans.

“He’ll be back, you’ll see,” Platnees tells the men at the bar. “Ouboet will come back.”

And Ouboet does, on day three, as he promised. The first thing the townsfolk notice is the frail column of smoke on the other side of Bokkop. Platnees sees it initially, points it out and says it’s a sign. They must go there, go there now, because Ouboet will be waiting…

***

They find Martha next to the little fire. She seems…different. Servaas can’t help himself: he storms ahead to embrace the girl, telling her how much he was worried about her.

“Are you okay? Are you…well?”

She looks into the concerned eyes of the old man and laughs. Not an ugly laugh, you understand, a tinkling laugh of joy. “Oh, yes, Servaas! I’ve never felt so good in my life.” Then, momentarily, she looks confused. “But…but what am I doing here? And why is everybody looking at me like that?”

And it is true. They all stare at the woman who ranted and raved only three days ago. Now she is smiling; a radiant picture of health.

Servaas tries to explain. Vetfaan tells her about her withdrawal and how they didn’t know what to do. Kleinpiet chips in, asking about Ouboet. Precilla asks who washed her dress and fixed her blouse. Gertruida wants to know who did her hair so beautifully. Oudoom shakes his head.

It’s only Platnees who separates himself from the group to sit down on the sand with a satisfied smile spreading across his face. Yes, Ouboet did it again. You have a problem – a mind problem (or a demon-problem, as Ouboet calls it) – he’s your man. There are shrubs out there in the desert. Shrubs and herbs and …silence. Ouboet always says that silence can fix most things; you must just learn to listen to what it tells you. The white people won’t understand; they think they are too modern to believe in such things. Maybe, one day, they’ll realise the healing power of the whispers you only hear in silence out there in the desert.

And oh, yes, Mister Vetfaan can go and count his sheep. There’ll be two missing…

A Lion’s Share (of love, amongst other things…)

Kalahari Lion

When Lucinda asked about the history of Rolbos, everybody chipped in with snippets of information. That’s why the story of Jantjie Lourens came up. Gertruida – who knows everything – says she knew someone who knew Jantjie;  and Servaas says yes, his name appears in the  church register, in the fifties… he got married to Katryn Klopper. She moved to a congregation in Cape Town a few months after the wedding.

It started (so they tell Lucinda) when Jantjie Lourens was out in the veld, looking for a lost sheep. Now we all know how sheep get lost. They’re not very clever. Sometimes they wander off into the bush and they never seem worried about finding their way back. Gertruida says you get people like that, too. Occasionally – not all that often – a lost sheep finds a lost sheep. And sometimes they stick together. That one sheep you don’t find today, might very well start a rogue flock somewhere – and if you happen on it a few years later, you suddenly own a whole bunch of vagabond sheep that hates being kraaled.

Servaas says this happened to him once. He found twelve ragged and woolly sheep in the kloof on the other side of Bokkop a few years back. And yes, he says with bristling indignation, of course they were his sheep.  He personally snipped his mark into the ram’s ear when he was a lamb – and lo! all the new sheep in that kloof had the same snips. They had to be the offspring of his sheep – and therefore they were his. Gertruida remarks that  it doesn’t work like that. Servaas tells her Darwin was a heretic and the church rejected his so-called theories. That’s when Gertruida asks Judge to hold her, for she feels a sudden urge to strangle somebody. They laugh at that and Servaas, despite his age, blushes to a crimson red. Gertruida always says you don’t have to convince the other guy he’s wrong, you only have to make him doubt his argument. That’s where you leave the discussion, she says.

Anyway, Jantjie scouted high and low for his sheep. He waited at waterholes. He climbed the little hills. He looked under the thorn trees. That’s when he found the cub.

People say that Jantjie had a a sort of an epiphany, right there. His sheep was resting under a bush with a baby lion at its side. You know – the picture of the lion and the lamb? Well, that’s what Jantjie saw. The cub was a sign. He wasn’t sure what it meant, but he was sure there was a message in that picture, especially when he bent to pick up the lamb and the little lion growled at him.

“What happened to the lioness – the mother of the cub?” Pretty Lucinda is puzzled.

They speculate about that. Vetfaan reckons she might have gone hunting, and got gored by a gemsbok. And, Kleinpiet adds, the farmers in those days put out poisoned meat for the jackals. Jantjie apparently also looked for the lioness, but not half as hard as he searched for his sheep. “I mean: what do you do if you find a lost lioness? Ask her to be a better mother?”

The cub must have been about a month or two old and Jantjie couldn’t get it over his heart to kill the kitten-like creature – so he took the sheep and the cub home. Now, Jantjie’s father – Grootjantjie – was an avid hunter of all vermin that have developed a taste for sheep meat. He took it personally if something started chewing on the odd hind leg pf one of his flock. Servaas says yes, he was in that house after the funeral, and the entire living room floor was covered in a carpet  made from jackal tails.

So Jantjie had to hide the cub in an unused shed near the wind pump, where he spent considerable periods of time with the growing lion. Soon after that, Grootjantjie got sick – Tuberculosis was still common in those days – and had to spend his last few months in bed. Jantjie could then take the lion out for walks, during which he tried to teach the animal to hunt for his own meals.

Gertruida says lions are cleverer than sheep. You can hand-rear a lamb and leave him in the veld; he’ll start feeding himself soon. Lions, according to her, are like cats. Once they know how to manipulate you, they don’t have to slink around the veld looking for prey. Cats own you – they’re never pets. They will sulk until you feed them; then they reward you with some purring and then you feel good about yourself. She calls it Feline Logic. Or human stupidity. It’s the same thing.

After Grootjantjie died, Jantjie and the lion inherited the farm. And the lion, knowing his next meal would be served up in the big bowl in the kitchen, never even glanced sideways at the sheep following him. The two of them, you see, had become attached to each other in a strange way. Even when the cub was kept in the shed, the sheep would hang around in the vicinity, grazing quietly and baa-ing his reassurance every now and then to let the cub know his best friend wasn’t far away. The two of them followed Jantjie everywhere, and he simply had to make peace with the fact that he had an unusual entourage wherever he went on his farm.

Lions, Gertruida knows, grow to be big animals. In the Kalahari they can weigh about 200 kilograms. Jantjie’s lion (according to local lore) was much bigger than that. Of course, it is rather difficult to convince the average lion to get on a scale and remain there until the needle stops quivering, so one must assume that this one was a fully mature and healthy animal when Jantjie disappeared.

It happened soon after his wedding, Kleinpiet remarks. The next day, in fact. Jantjie had fallen in love with a secretary he met at the auctioneers in Upington. The entire distric watched in awe as the two young people fell madly in love and eventually got engaged. Jantjie couldn’t do enough for her – it was an endless stream of flowers, chocolates, little love letters, messages and even a bottle pf perfume from Omar’s Emporium.

People say the ceremony was a quiet affair; with the pastor, Jantjie, Katryn and the few guests who took their chances with the lion. Everybody knew about the lion, of course. The animal – unlike the sheep who seemed quite happy to be left at home – developed the habit of driving everywhere with Jantjie.  People also knew you can’t shake Jantjie’s hand – the lion wouldn’t allow anybody near. It took, for instance, a lot of patience to make the lion understand that Katryn  was acceptable company – and even then she had to walk two steps behind her husband-to-be and the lion. Gertruida says that is how the pecking-order in the feline world works.They also say the lion kept poking his head between the bride and groom during the service. When Jantjie put the ring on her finger, the lion let out an almighty roar that filled the church. A single second later Jantjie and the lion stood abandoned in front of the pulpit – everybody else had fled to the vestry and locked the door. Jantjie had a stern chat with the lion, and it took a lot of talking through the locked door to convince the others to come out again.

Their wedding night was – again according to local gossip – a much disturbed night. Jantjie had locked the bedroom door, leaving the lion ititchen. All through the night the lion kicked up a fuss, roaring and growling and later even making mewing sounds. Apparently Katryn woke up the next morning to find Jantjie crying in the kitchen. The lion had eaten his sheep-companion during the night.

She told her parents the lion then came in and gave her a knowing look. Now, Gertruida has her doubts about that bit. The only look a lion can give you is a hungry look. Or maybe an angry look. They’re not much different, anyway: both are up-and-down scans before the yellow eyes settle on the little pulse in your neck area.

The lion padded over to Jantjie and lay down at his feet, emitting the growl-grumble-purr big cats do when they’re satisfied you understand them and their needs perfectly. Boggel remembers the cat they had in the orphanage: it did the same (only softer) if you rubbed the spot behind its ears.

That lion doesn’t like me, Katryn said, pointing at the lion with a trembling finger; and Jantjie, who knew the big cat well by that time, had to agree. He had to do something. Precilla also had a cat, a long time ago. She understands a bit about the cat-mind. Cats don’t share, she says. Either they get your full attention, or they start scratching at your furniture. A real upset cat will hiss displeasure or even bare it’s fangs to scare you back into behaving yourself.

Jantjie took a long look at his bride, nodded sadly and took the lion for a walk.

He never returned.

“This is such a stupid story, Vetfaan.” Lucinda shakes her head. “I’ve heard many stories in Africa, but nothing like this one. Do you really want me to believe this man had a grown lion as a pet, and the lion didn’t like sharing this Jantjie’s attention with his new bride? So he ate him?”

“Oh Lord no, Lucinda,” Kleinpiet parries, “the lion simply took back what he claimed to be his. Look, he ate the sheep to show he would sacrifice anything to be Jantjie’s only friend. The lion set the example, you see? If the lion wasn’t prepared to share Jantjie with the sheep, then Jantjie had to do the same in return.”

“True.” Precilla leans forwards to emphasis her point. “Remember, cats aren’t pets: they own you. With dogs it’s different – they submit to your authority. Cats however, are much more intelligent and much more emotional. They can love, hate, share joy, be mischievous … and unforgiving. You do something bad to a cat, and it’ll avoid you forever.  Cats feel love. They sense loyalty. They detest being ignored when they want attention. But…,” she pauses a dramatic second, “he didn’t eat Jantjie.”

Lucinda shakes her head. “So what happened?”

“No, Katryn stayed on the farm for a while. She waited and waited, hoping Jantjie would come back somehow. Search party after search party went out, looking for Jantjie or whatever remained of him. Eventually a Bushman found the tracks leading off into the desert. One lion; walking beside one person wearing a number nine boot; the same size as Jantjie.” Servaas takes a long sip of his Cactus and smacks his lips in appreciation. “The Bushman refused to follow the spoor. He said Jantjie was a tokoloshi, that he was under a spell. They believe in witchcraft, those guys.”

“Weeks passed. She eventually moved back to her folks in Cape Town. A year or so later the farm was sold on an auction.  The marriage was annulled, of course; and she married a much respected surgeon a few years later. She became one of the first women in South Africa to fight for animal rights, and was also involved in the establishment of transfrontier parks. There were several articles in the newspaper about her – Gertruida kept a few – where she said that humans shouldn’t prevent animals from roaming in their original territories.” Kleinpiet gives a wry smile. “I think she simply wanted that lion to be happy. As long as that lion was content, Jantjie was safe.”

Old Marco doesn’t buy it. “No. I may be Italian, but I no believe this story. You joking, si?”

“Nope.”Vetfaan is suddenly serious. “I bought that farm. I just arrived in the district when the auction took place and couldn’t believe nobody else was bidding on the property. Anyway, I was happy with the price and moved in as soon as I could. That’s when I first noticed the scratch marks on the bedroom door. Huge marks. Deep into the wood. Only later, when I heard the story, did it make sense. That cat wanted to share Jantjie bed on the night of the wedding…and when the door remained locked, he tried to show Jantjie the sheep wasn’t his companion. Jantjie was. And Jantjie knew that Katryn would be next unless he and the lion reconfirmed their friendship. That’s when he took the lion for a walk. A long walk. Because he was the lion’s pet, you see, and the lion wasn’t about to give him up. If you think about it, Jantjie must have loved that woman a lot, to leave her like that. He saved her life, if you ask me.”

“So this is love sory?”Marco guffaws his sarcasm. “We Italians like love story. Only ours end better.”

“No, Papa,” Lucinda says gently, “love stories tend to have tragic ends. Look at our operas. This one, I think, has best ending.”

On cue, Boggel puts on the CD. He loves Sonja Herold, and especially this song. Turning to serve another round, he watches the crowd at the counter with a sardonic smile hovering around his lips. These Rolbossers! They can cook up the most fantastic stories ever! Get them started, and the one ofter the other will add another bit, another twist, to create a convoluted narrative of note. No, it’s not lying, he decides. It’s how our forefathers sat around campfires at night, entertaining each other. It used to be the way families played with ideas before television took the fun out of evening-talk. It’s a gift…

“Lucinda?” He calls her to the back. “Now let me tell you what really happened.”

“Oooh! You crazy man! I think you were all fibbing back there!”

“Yes, my dear, I’m sorry.” He hangs his head in shame. “But let me fix it now…”

Head thrown back, Lucinda folds her arms while she taps out a staccato rhythm with the toe of her boot. “Ye-e-e-es?”

“I’m really sorry. I am. There was no lion…”

“I knew it! I knew!” She hisses the words from between clenched teeth.

“It was a leopard,” Boggel says with a twinkle in his eye. “A leopard…”