Tag Archives: dreams

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

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Stoney Steenkamp’s Dream Factory (#2)

e 1Gerttruida is running as fas as she can. She hears the wind roar past her ears as her legs move at maximum speed, her feet constantly slipping on the oily surface of the smooth cement. As far as she can make out, she’s in an underground passage, stretching away ahead of her. The overhead halogen lights are flickering, almost in Morse-code, as if warning her to go yet faster and faster.

She can hear the breathing behind her: untroubled, regular, calm. A total contrast to her rasping, burning gasps as she attempts to get away, away, away

Moments before, she was sitting at the desk of Neil Barnard…or was it Jacob Zuma? Or were they both there, morphed into a single person with an ominous smile and unreadable eyes? Cold eyes, calculating eyes, fixed on the big red clock against the shimmering wall with its both hands on the 12.

“You can’t get away, Gertruida. It’s too late. The clock has stopped, your time is up.” The accent is a strange combination of African and Afrikaans; the words uttered in an unearthly growl.

She doesn’t know what was too late, nor does she know why, but she knows with unwavering certainty that there is no more time. It’s finished. If she didn’t escape, she’d be devoured by the monster.

Aaah…a light! She must get to the light! Only then does she notice the firing squad kneeling behind the spotlights: men in camouflaged uniforms aiming automatic weapons straight at her face. When she skids to a halt, a million spiders descend on her, crawl up her legs and poke their long legs into her nostrils and mouth. Frozen by fear, she isn’t able to move at all. Behind her the monster closes in, folding a hairy arm around her waist. She prays for the firing squad to end it all…

“GERTRUIDA!”

Stoney’s voice is loud in her ear, and she wakes up with a start.

“Wha…”

“You asked for a nightmare, so that’s what you got. Are you convinced now?”

She shakes her head to clear the cobwebs. “Dammit, Stoney! You could have killed me!”

“Ja, these dreams are extremely graphic, aren’t they? Seems all too real. But, in the end, they remain just that: dreams. The terror-dreams  are the best. It’s like you can’t escape. Mine is a lion with huge teeth.” He uses his fingers to show how long. “And I can feel his hot breath on my back as I scramble through the bush. Can even feel the thorns on the branches tearing at my skin. It’s so real, I’ve considered going to sleep with my shotgun next to me.”

“But….how do you do it?”

She arrived at Onkruidbult the previous afternoon to see what Stoney is up to. He entertained her with his stories of funny dreams, sad dreams, nightmares and happy dreams, before they sat down at his new dining table to a scrumptious dinner of leg of lamb and pumpkin cakes. Stoney avoided all her questions until at last he asked her what type of dream she’d like to have that night. She didn’t hesitate: not known as a frightened woman, she insisted on a nightmare.

Now, with dawn only minutes away, she sits up to stare bleary-eyed at Stoney. “I’ve never been so scared  in my life! Wow! It was terrible…”

“You took a long time to get to your dream, Gertruida. I sat here all night waiting for some sign that you’re dreaming, and it only started a few minutes ago. Some individuals scream and shout, but you just panted. I must say, it is very rare for somebody to request a nightmare. Mostly they want happy dreams…some even of a …er…sexual nature. Those dreams are so popular I can’t keep up with the demand. The politicians usually want victorious dreams, while artists commonly want dreams of inspiration. Those are much easier to supply.”

“But how do you do it, Stoney? This is phenomenal! Didn’t you drug me, or something? You gave me that little chocolate after dinner…”

He laughs heartily. “No, no drugs, Gertruida. You’ve seen my house – I don’t have a laboratory or anything like that. Only a kitchen. Yes, it’s the chocolate, but that’s as much as I can tell you. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in my life, it is that you can’t trust anybody. Once you’ve told a secret to one individual, it’s not a secret any longer. And the next thing you know, the grannies are talking about it at the bridge club. No, I’m not telling. But tonight I’ll give you something more…delectable. You’ll enjoy it…”

They spend a lazy day on the veranda in front of the house. Gertruida still feels a little unsettled, but she brought along a stack of National Geographics. Stoney seems content to sit and doze in the sun.  When dusk arrived, Stoney cooked some chops on the fire, adding a pot-bread he prepared that afternoon. Once again he regaled her with stories of the type of dream she might encounter.

This time, the carefully wrapped chocolate was followed by a rich brew of coffee and a promise that she wouldn’t like to wake up.

In the months to follow, Gertruida will wish she could have another dream like that. She was young, voluptuous and ever so slightly drunk when the yacht dropped anchor near the deserted island. The pristine beach, the swaying palm trees and the fragrance of frangipani created an alluring invitation to swim to the shore and explore. It didn’t worry her that she was alone on the yacht – it was a minor technicality of no consequence. She didn’t guess…she knew that he would be waiting for her.

He was the nameless hunk she had dreamed about when she was sixteen. Tanned, ripped muscles, sparkling eyes and an irresistible smile. Body sculptured to perfection and a mind to match. He, the childhood (and childish) imaginary companion with the strong arms and the soft voice.

She was right, of course. He waited behind the ferns in the long grass next to the waterfall. Ahhh…he was magnificent…

This time, Stoney was kind enough not to wake her when she moaned softly. He just sat there, dozing quietly next to her bed. When she woke up at last, he left her to savour the afterglow of the experience…

“I have to know, Stoney…I have to! How do you do it?”

Stoney Steenkamp’s Dream Factory (#1)

sunrise“He did it!”. Kleinpiet points at the advert in the Upington Post. “I always thought he was a bit mad, but now…”

The small advertisement under “Personal Services” is almost unremarkable between the others offering body massages, willing-to-travel-girls and the prominent one of Hot Naught who promises ‘exquisite joy and release of tension‘. Kleinpiet hastily explains that he saw the advert ‘quite by chance‘ while he was searching for a new carburettor for his pickup. Still, the little insert on the back page is responsible for a pregnant silence after the group read it.

Dreams available at bargain prices. No previous experience required. Completely organic. Contact Stoney Steenkamp, Onkruidbult.

“That man! I remember the first time he started experimenting with that crazy idea.” Gertruida adopts her lecturer-mode, which means you cannot even think of interrupting her. “But it is a known fact that certain foods have an influence on tryptophan and serotonin  – as well as other neurotransmitters in the brain. Cheese, chillies, and especially red meat are the prime foodstuffs that may influence the brain’s function during sleep, often causing lucid dreams in the process.

“Now, Stoney had this theory about dreams. He reckoned that something in the meat triggered the brain to conjure up certain images. That’s what his research was all about. Maybe he made a breakthrough?”

“Nah…” Vetfaan empties his glass and signals for another beer. “His ‘research’ was way too crude. Imagine! If you eat lamb, you’ll dream of green pastures and rustling brooks. And if you eat springbok, you’ll be the only man in a herd of lovely ladies – what a nightmare! I mean…that is pure bulldust, man! I tried it and it doesn’t work. Anyway, I can’t remember my dreams after I wake up…”

“Maybe that’s his secret?” Joining them at the counter, Servaas sits down with a sigh. “When you wake up, Stoney tells you what you dreamed. That way he’ll have a 100% accurate result on his prediction and you can’t prove him wrong.”

Stoney Steenkamp is one of those strange hermits you tend to find in the Northern Cape. Living alone on his farm, he turned to science to combat boredom. It is entirely true that this arid and sprawling landscape has been the source of many of South Africa’s most creative minds; a fact Gertruida ascribes to the many idle hours spent alone. People here – like in other isolated regions of the planet –  are forced to use their minds to escape the monotonous days and nights during which nothing happens. Walter Battiss, Eli Louw, Olive Schreiner, authors, songwriters and numerous clergymen attest to the creative instinct that prevented men and women  from talking to themselves all day long.

Stoney’s tendency to fall asleep while watching his sheep made him curious about the only entertainment he had – his dreams. He started keeping a dream-diary, noting what he dreamed and when. Then he tried to correlate the type of dream with environmental influences. For instance: during the cold winter nights, his imagination conjured up images of igloos and polar bears. Or when he slept through an occasional thunderstorm, he’d be storming up Amajuba to shoot at the Brits. Should the wind pick up, Stoney would be standing at the helm of a schooner, chasing a pirate across the ocean.

Of course Stoney couldn’t keep these scientific findings to himself. Whenever he arrived in Rolbos to buy sheep dip from Sammie’s Shop, he’d inform the group at the bar about his latest observations. In one of his sarcastic moods, Servaas once suggested that Stoney’s research was truly unique and that his findings should be published in one of the scientific journals or even the Huisgenoot, which only served to encourage Stoney to be more enthusiastic about his research. His need for more  information resulted in a need for more sleep, which of course had a negative impact on the size of his flock.

The last time he visited Rolbos, Gertruida told him to take note of what he ate before dropping off in yet another slumber, as this may also influence dreams. Stoney tried it the same night. The next morning he announced that peach brandy was a dream-killer. Gertruida had to tell the poor man that alcohol should not be part of his research, explaining that alcohol dissolves fat, and that fat is a major component of the brain. Stoney wrote that down in his journal, as well.

“How can he advertise dreams on demand and then have the gall to charge money for it? It’s a ridiculous idea.” Servaas knits his brows together while he concentrates to keep his bushy moustache from sinking into the froth as he downs his beer.”He should do something constructive with his time, like advising ESCOM or something. They need a few big dreams, if you asked me,”

Like with so many foolhardy ideas hatched in an around Rolbos, it would have been entirely normal for the group at the bar to have a good old laugh at such silliness before forgetting about it completely. And they would have….if Stoney didn’t rock up a week or two later to say he needed to buy some sheep to replenish his flock – with cash! 

“My dream-business has taken off! You won’t believe the orders I get, specially from politicians, artists and people in the advertising community. I’ve pushed up my price, but that doesn’t deter them…the orders just keep on flooding in.”

Now…we all know Gertruida. She hates a mystery. No-one was surprised when she announced her intention to visit Onkruidbult.This is in keeping with her natural curiosity, after all. What they didn’t expect, was her reaction on what she experienced there….

(To be continued…)

To eternity…and back (#9)

Matron, a painting by Edward Irvine Halliday

Matron, a painting by Edward Irvine Halliday

Matron sat down after making sure that nurse Botha had closed the door properly. To say she was uncertain would be an insult to the ruler of her hospital empire, but in reality, her heart was thumping away wildly. How was she to manage this situation? Yes, give her a shocked, comatose patient, and she’d be galvanised into organised activity immediately. Or bring on that difficult breech delivery – she could handle that with professional ease. But this….? What was she supposed to do with a rebellious nurse and a lover that ruined her life? She sighed and stared at her hands…she’d just have to come up with something…

The trio in front of her seemed equally unsettled – except for Vetfaan, who had a sardonic smile, as if he knew something she didn’t.

“Look, this is uncomfortable for all of us. I realise you didn’t expect me here, Jocobus.” Shorty shifted his weight, staring at his feet. “You expected to make amends with Servaas, not me. And I suppose one should commend you for that, despite my absolute misgivings about your past. You have singlehandedly been responsible for my unhappiness for the last four decades. You cannot expect me to simply smile and tell you everything is all right. I can’t because it isn’t. I’ll bear the scars of that time for the rest of my life. If you can’t understand that, you’re a bigger imbecile than even I have given you credit for.” There was no mistaking the suppressed anger in her words. “But…what was done, was done. You moved on, and so did I. I tried…Lord knows how I tried…to forget you and what you’d done. And, despite what I may feel about your rejection, I cannot undo the past.”

Shorty opened his mouth as if he wanted to say something, but she held up a silencing hand.

“Don’t! Don’t say anything, Jacobus de Lange. Let me finish. I hate what you did, even if I forgive you. I…I suppose I’m still mad at you – and probably will be till I lay down my head. That is my problem and I can deal with it…provided I hear from you what I hope you were on the point of saying.”

She looked up expectantly, uncertainty written all over her face.

“Matron….Alice…I don’t even know where to begin. I’ve apologised to Servaas – that was easy. But you? How do I say ‘sorry’ when I’ve been bogged down with more guilt than you can imagine? How can I apologise when I can’t even forgive myself? How do I make amends for something I buggered up so completely such a long time ago?” Shorty wiped away the embarrassing tear coursing down his cheek with an impatient gesture. “So I’ll just say I’m sorry. Really. I’ve ruined your life as much as I’ve done my own. I know what I went through – I can only imagine what the effect on your life had been. And I…I have to live with that. Every day you think about what I did, is another day I look at myself in the mirror…and want to smash the bloody glass! I’m sorry, Alice. I’m so sorry…”

Much to especially nurse Botha’s surprise, the woman she had come to know as an emotionless, automated perfectionist, sat completely quiet during Shorty’s apology. Then her impassive face crumbled, melted, slowly deepening the furrows and lines on her forehead while the skin over her chin crinkled as if it had a life of its own. A sound – soft at first, almost inaudible – picked up volume and became a primitive wail; the oldest expression of grief known to mankind. By the time the tears started, Shorty was at her side, patting her back with no apparent effect.

Nurse Botha stormed out to get more tea. Vetfaan stood rooted to the spot, without the faintest idea how to manage the situation. He’d never had a clue what to do with crying women, anyway…

It took two cups of strong, sweet tea to calm matron Krotz down. Vetfaan, at last galvanised into action, produced a half-jack of peach brandy, which they shared between the four of them. It helped more than the tea did.

“Oh, bugger! It’s such a mess.” Krotz blew her nose with gusto, sniffed even more loudly and managed a wobbly smile. “I’m just glad every day doesn’t start like this.”

It was a lame attempt to lighten the atmosphere, but it worked. Nurse Botha giggled, Shorty shuffled his feet and Vetfaan wished he had brought more peach brandy.

“Matron…” Nurse Botha used the silence to get Krotz’s attention.

“What is it, nurse Botha?”Something in the matron’s demeanour told everybody she was fighting to sound stern, like her old self, but was failing miserably.

“I’m sorry I called you a …a…lady dog, Matron. I didn’t mean it. Really…”

They laughed at that. Long and hard, like people do when they don’t know what words to use to make things better.

***

Servaas had another dream that night – not a lucid one like he had before, but a dream he tried to remember afterwards and couldn’t. When he woke up in his own bed in Rolbos, he did feel much refreshed. He ascribed his euphoria to his home environment, not knowing that the answer lay at a much deeper level.

In the dream he was back on the dune – the exact same one of his previous dream – reaching out to Shorty, who he found easy to recognise this time. He did, indeed, rescue Shorty from the quicksand, but not like he imagined in the original dream. This time he was helped by all his friends from Rolbos, as well as a rather portly but friendly nurse.

***

Shorty never goes to Upington without stopping to have a cup of tea with matron Krotz. They seem to have reached a new understanding, in which they manage to talk about the old days without the anger and guilt that had burdened them so. While they agreed to let bygones be bygones, they are both old and wise enough to know they cannot retrace the steps to a romantic relationship. They do, however, pop in to Boggel’s Place about once a year to join the group at the bar. Just for old time’s sake, nothing more. (For now, at least.)

Servaas has made a full recovery. He firmly believes his illness had a purpose – something they all agree on. Oudoom asked him to speak about his near-death experience during one of the Sunday services, having invited some of the pastors and reverends from Upington. While the Rolbossers hung on to his lips, absorbing every word, the visiting learned clergymen afterwards dismissed his experience as a mere hallucination. Old people, they concurred, tend to romanticise and dramatise everything.

And nurse Botha? Why, you’ll find her in every hospital you ever set your foot (or other bits of your anatomy) in. She’s the one with the soft eyes; the shy, hesitant smile; the young lass sitting next to the critically ill patient, holding a withered hand. She may not be a beauty queen, but you’ll recognise her compassion as much prettier than the girls strutting about on the Miss World stage. If you see her, be kind. Tell her how important she is in a world that recognises power and money as the only currency. And do tell her she’s special. After all, no matron can run a hospital without her. She is, when all is said and done, everything that nursing – and caring and love – is all about.

Lastly: Servaas said something during his recounting of his near death awareness in church that pleased – and upset – Gertruida tremendously. He emphasised that nothing – nothing – is ever a coincidence. Whenever fate forces you onto an unknown path, look for the kindness, the compassion, hidden somewhere even in the most unfortunate circumstances. People don’t see it, he said, because they are too absorbed in their own planning of what they think they want in life. He quoted eloquently from Desiderata, reminding them that the universe will unfold just the way it has to – not according to the rather short-sighted roster each of us draws up for our own lives. And, he emphasised, although we so often doubt the concept, the basis of everything – life, the universe, relationships – is love. Without it, nothing in the past makes sense. Nor, for that matter, does the future.

When he spoke to the congregation, he made them repeat a sentence: There is a purpose to everything under heaven. To his and Gertruida’s dismay, the visitors didn’t join in. But then…when faith is based only on theory, one cannot blame them, can one? Maybe one has to die – or almost die – to realise this basic truth.

Or travel to eternity and back…

THE END

To eternity…and back (#4)

caregiverhandsFor a while after Gertruida had left, nurse Botha thought that Servaas suffered a relapse. The old man sat upright in his bed, staring into the distance with a completely vacant look. She approached the old man cautiously to fold her hands around his shrivelled hand, ever so gently. To her surprise, he started crying.

“I…I’m sorry, nursie. I just don’t know what to do.”

She sat there, listening to his account of his conversation with Gertruida, nodding as if she understood. Some people are natural listeners, making it easy to impart even the most painful thoughts. Nurse Botha was just such a person. She was neither old nor young, in between overweight and chubby and had the soft eyes of a Labrador. The words tumbled from her patient in an unstoppable torrent until at last he sank back in his cushion with the most distraught and fatigued look. She never interrupted, never asked a single question, knowing he had to hear himself  tell his story to work through this thing.

“So…you think you had this dream about Shorty de Lange for a reason?”

“Y-yes. I…I suppose so. It was too real to ignore and yet it sounds so stupid to take it seriously.”

“And yet you had this near-death experience, didn’t you? Did you take that seriously?”

Servaas blinked. “I did…I do, I mean. Yes. Siena was there, I’m sure. And something…more.”

“Then maybe you shouldn’t hesitate to do the same with the dream? I mean, what harm can there be to find out where this…Shorty is? Maybe he’s dead already, and you’re worrying all in vain.”

The old man’s face brightened. He hadn’t thought about that! “But how do you go about finding somebody you last saw half a century ago? I don’t know where to begin.”

“Well, Oom Servaas, I might just be able to assist you with that.”

***

Wilhelm Röntgen's X-ray of Anna Bertha's - his wife - hand. 1895

Wilhelm Röntgen’s first X-ray. Anna Bertha’s – his wife’s – hand. 1895

Coincidence? Fate? Chance? Serendipity? Divine intervention…or divine planning? History is littered with hard-to-explain coincidental discoveries, ranging from penicillin, Viagra, anaesthesia, LSD, the microwave oven and – of course – X-rays. Even Alfred Nobel’s discovery of dynamite was the result of an accidental observation. Although mankind often benefitted from these ‘lucky’ incidents, we must also remember the iceberg that sunk the Titanic or the Curse of Tutankhamun which apparently killed Lord Carnarvon.

Still, the fact that portly nurse Botha had a brother working in the military archives in Pretoria could be considered a stroke of good luck – or an improbable inevitability in the strange set of events surrounding Servaas’s illness  during his stay in hospital.

Within an hour of her telephone call, Herman Botha reported that Jakob Arnoldus de Lange finished his stint as conscripted soldier in 1972, did the obligatory yearly call-up duties until 1986, and then was discharged from any further service. No, he didn’t know his present whereabouts, but he did supply the next link in the chain: the man’s ID number.

Enter Gertruida, our dear know-it-all with her contacts amongst the small but select group of people involved with the intelligence community. The ID number was  given to a retired colonel in the erstwhile National Intelligence, whose  son happened to be a professor in Computer Sciences (cost: 1 bottle of brandy and the promise of Kalahari biltong). and so the hacked records of the Office of Home Affairs supplied an address.

Much to everybody’s surprise, Shorty de Lange’s home address was a smallholding near Prieska, the town he used to represent as flanker on the rugby field.

***

“You mean you found out all that in the matter of about twelve hours?”

Gertruida stared at her shoes for a moment, slightly embarrassed. “Um…yes. I’m sorry it took so long..”

Servaas laughed at this – his first bit of mirth since his chat with matron Krotz dumped them both under a cloud of depression. Matron, by the way, had not reported for work that day; the first time – ever- she had missed a day on duty. Nurse Botha tried to phone, got no answer, and promised herself to visit her stern and unapproachable boss after her shift was over.

“I’ve thought about it.” Servaas sounded the way he looked: completely defeated. He didn’t want to be reminded of the one time he felt as if the devil had taken over his soul and he beat a friend to pulp. During the sleepless night after Gertruida had left the previous afternoon, he had forced himself to relive that incident. In the early morning hours he decided that his religious conviction had been the result of fear (that he might have such an ‘attack’ again) coupled with guilt (that he acted like a complete and demonic lunatic). Did Christ not heal such men through faith? Yes, he decided, Christ did; but he – Servaas – had used his faith as selfish protection against himself. He shielded behind religion to prove to others how righteous he was. That convoluted argument did absolutely nothing to improve his mood. “And I’ll have to see the man as soon as I’m better. Doctor Welman said my recovery will take several months. Maybe after that…”

“No, Servaas.” Gertruida – who knows everything – used her stern voice. “This thing is going to do more harm if you keep on postponing it. It’s not going to go away.You are obviously upset about meeting Shorty, and I understand that. You’re not, however, going to forget about it while you’re recovering. You’ve managed to bury the incident with Shorty under a layer of time – and had you not had that dream, you might well have lived out your life in denial. I don’t know why you had the dream, Servaas, but I think it’s the best thing to come out of all this.” She swept a hand towards the chart on the wall, showing his vital signs and progress. Seeing Servaas’s distress, she sits down on the bed next to him. “I need you to relax now. Breathe deeply and let go of the feelings of fear and guilt. Promise me that.”

“O-okay.” Hesitant, unsure.

“Okay then. Now I must ask you to prepare yourself. I sent Vetfaan to talk to Shorty. I expect them any moment now.”

Servaas’s eyes opened wide, his breathing shallow. “No! For goodness’ sakes, Gertruida. You can’t do this to me! I’m a sick man! I’m not ready, not ready at all!”

Nurse Botha entered the room with an uncertain smile. Her soft brown eyes took in the scene before she shot Gertruida an accusing look.

“I…um…well, the gentlemen are here. Shall I send them in?”

At that moment the door swung open.

Servaas closed his eyes in desperate prayer. Please, Lord, if it be Your will, let this cup pass from me…

(To be continued…)

To eternity…and back (#2)

IMG_2826During the time Servaas spent in hospital, a few strange things happened. There was Matron Krotz, for instance, a formidable huge woman with a  short temper and a large (if sagging) bosom. She reigned over ‘her’ hospital with an iron fist and a booming voice. Hardworking nurses sweated and trembled through her morning rounds, while even Doctor Welman deferred to her many opinions. Called Attila behind her back, she lived up to the name with gusto.

Whenever she came to Servaas’s bed, however, her entire demeanor changed – every time. She’d smile (a phenomenon previously thought to be completely impossible), ruffle the old man’s sparse hair and ever so coyly ask him if he’d had a good night’s rest. Her temper would flare back up to it’s usual and frightening intensity if she noticed that he hadn’t had his morning coffee or if there was the slightest hint that his bed wasn’t made up properly.

Another weird thing she did, was to take her lunch break at his bedside. She’d close the curtains around his bed (‘The patient needs counselling, nurse Botha, and you’re certainly not gifted or qualified to do that properly. Now get out while I attend to the patient you are so obviously neglecting! Go!) and then spend the thirty minutes or so chatting with Servaas.

Nurse Botha grudgingly noted that, while Attila Krotz might be partly human after all,  matron’s conduct was probably proof that hormonal replacement had more benefits than just preventing hot flashes. And, to everybody’s surprise and well-hidden amusement, matron asked nurse Botha the strangest questions about eyeliners, lipstick and perfumes.

Servaas had recovered well enough to be acutely aware of matron’s presence and found it surprisingly easy to talk to her. Whereas other people experienced matron Krotz as an unapproachable and imperious professional, Servaas discovered that she was, in fact, a lonely woman. Her fastidious insistence on perfection in the hospital was simply a way to – as she  put it – do something useful with her life. The hospital, she said, gave reason to her existence.

“The universe never cared about me, Servaas. I’m about to retire – I have to – and then what? After a lifetime of caring for the sick and the needy, I have nothing. What’s a matron after retirement? An old hag with a cupboard full of old uniforms? A nurse with nobody to care for? What use is that?”

Servaas tried to say something about believing that, when God closes a door, He opens a window, but she cut him off. There’s no such thing, she said, only fools believed in such nonsense.

“No, I never married,” she said during one of their lunch hour chats. Servaas had been progressing slowly over the past three weeks, during which their daily chats slowly became more and more personal. Eventually Servaas told matron about Siena – and asked about Krotz’s past. “I was engaged, once.” She blushed, a wry smile eventually fading to a scowl.”Then this hussey came along and he left. I was….twenty at the time. That’s when I said to myself – well, dammit! I shall never allow a man to humiliate me like that again. And…” here she hesitated and glanced with vulnerable uncertainty at Servaas, “…well, I decided to study hard and become the best I can be. I did course after course, ambitiously working myself up the nursing ladder, until I was appointed matron here. That was fifteen years ago. Suddenly there were no more rungs in the ladder, Servaas. I’m stuck in this crummy hospital until I retire. Heaven knows what I’ll do then.”

The other unusual occurrences during Servaas’s stay in hospital, were the lucid dreams he had. These in no way compared to the very real experience during his coma, but they were so intense that he had no problem recalling them afterwards. While most of the dreams concerned past experiences – simple, everyday events – some of them stood out because they seemed so utterly inappropriate.

“There was this dune, you see? One of those dunes with the steep sides and loose sand.” Matron Krotz always listened with rapt attention whenever Servaas told her about his dreams. “Somehow I knew I had to get to the top of that dune, but I didn’t know why. Every time I took a step upward, the loose sand would carry me right back. So there I was: one step up, slide back. One step up, slide back. I was exhausted when I woke up.”

The next day, Servaas could add to the dream.

“I’ve never dreamt in chapters before, Alice.” By now they were firmly on first-name terms. “But my dreams seem to be in sequence these days. Anyway, last night I made some progress up that dune. It was painfully slow, much like you experience in those dreams where you run away from something, but your legs don’t work properly. Eventually, I could see the top. There was somebody there, but I couldn’t see who it was. I reached out, and when I was about to touch that person, the sand slid back again and I had to start all over.”

And then he had one more dream – the last one – before these nightly experiences simply ceased to happen.

“The person at the top of the dune was Shorty de Lange.” If Servaas wasn’t so absorbed in the telling of his dream, he would have noticed matron Krotz’s sudden intake of breath and her pallor as colour drained from her cheeks. “I haven’t even thought about him in years and years, but there he was. Large as life, right on top of my dune. He was slowly sinking into the sand – like quicksand, I suppose – and was pleading that I should help him. I didn’t know what to do…and then I woke up.”

“Who…who did you see there?” Her voice shook as she fought for control.

“Shorty. Shorty de Lange. You won’t know him. A tall, gangling chap I used to know, way back when. He went on to study accounting, I think, and we lost touch. But before that, we went to school together and did a stint in the army – like everybody else in those days. We used to be rather close.”

“Shorty?” The incredulous note in her voice was unmistakable. “Shorty de Lange? Six foot something, thinnish, used to play flank for Prieska’s first team? Brown hair and a little extra pinkie on his left hand?”

Servaas looked up sharply. “Ye-e-e-s?”

“That’s the bastard who left me in the lurch…for that stupid bimbo. May he rot in hell…” Her voice told him: Attila was back. Time to tread softly.

“Then why…why did I dream about him?”

(To be continued…)

Boggel’s Moon (# 6)

jpgAnd so, after talking to Gertruida and a few dozen single cups of coffee, Mary Mitchell finally agreed to speak to Boggel. Gertruida used her excellent negotiating skills to get the two of them to agree on this Tuesday morning; just before Boggel’s Place opens for the day, and before Mary’s busy program swallows up her day.

Of course the whole town rocks up for the occasion. Boggel’s plea for privacy just doesn’t fit in with the townsfolk’s idea of fun; it’s been some time since such a romantic thing happened in Rolbos (Fanny being heavily pregnant, and Precilla now completely involved with the school on the farm). Life in the little town has become ever so slightly boring and everybody welcomes the break in the routine.

Sammie is secretly taking bets. At this point in time, the odds are 3 to 1 that the conversation will last less than two minutes. Gertruida, who knows everything, refuses to place a bet. She says love shouldn’t  be a gambling matter. She maintains nobody can be forced into love, even if your bet can make it possible to buy a round for the house.

When the phone rings at half-past eight, a deathly silence reigns as Boggel picks up the instrument. Sammie clicks the button on the stopwatch, confident that he’s going to make a nice profit.

Hello, Boggel?

Er, yes. That you Mary?

Gertruida said I should phone.

You didn’t want to?

Not at first. Then she said you were lonely. It’s the least I can do.

That’s not true! She told me to take the call, because you are the one who’s lonely. She said it’s my Christian duty. She was very convincing.

Those were her words to me, exactly. Made me feel guilty for being stubborn, she did.

….

So, how are you, Mary?

I’m fine. You?

Fine.

….

What’s the weather like in Cape Town?

….Oh please…!

I’m just trying to think of something to say, Mary.

And the weather is the best you can come up with?

Well, we talk about the drought all the time, up here.

Good for you. If you have to know: we’ve had lots of rain down here.

So everything’s wet?

Don’t you get fresh with me, Boggel! Too many years have passed and I hate lecherous men!

….

Is it still raining, Mary?

No.

….

I don’t know what to say.

Then you have nothing to say to me?

Mary, this is difficult. Sammie is watching his stopwatch and the rest of Rolbos is hanging on to every word I say.

So you’re ashamed to talk to me?

No, not that. It’s just that…this is so forced. Can’t we meet somewhere? Private, I mean.

What do you want to tell me, then?

I..I don’t know, really. Maybe that I missed you a lot? That I’d like to spend time with you?

….

Okay.

Okay what, Mary?

We can meet. But let me tell you, Boggel, if you think you’re in this for a good time…

No, it’s not that.

Then what is it?

You remember what I said way back then? That you have this great woman hiding inside you? The one you’re scared of? Frightened that she might surprise you? Well, I think I want to see that woman again.

(For this bit, Boggel gets a muted but polite applause from the crowd.)

Who’s there with you, Boggel?

The whole damn town, Mary. I told you.

Really?

Yep.

I’ve got to go to Upington next week. Business. Maybe…?

That’ll be great.

Boggel…is that Italian hussy still around?

No. She went back to Italy. Haven’t heard anything from her since she’s left. Oh, and Kleinpiet and Precilla got married. And Vetfaan, well, he got hitched to an English woman…she’s pregnant. With twins, nogal.

Slowly, in bits and pieces and in small increments, the conversation starts flowing.  She tells him about the record company, and Boggel gives a summary of recent events in town. Sammie gives up after two minutes and starts paying out the bets. Vetfaan moves in behind the counter to take up serving duties, while Gertruida gets several high-fives from the rest.

So I’ll see you when you come to Upington, then?

Oh yes, Boggel, I look forward to that.

Great. Stay in touch.

I shall.

Goodbye then.

Goodbye.

“Twenty five minutes, Boggel! Well done.” Fanny waddles around the counter to hug the bent little barman. “We’re proud of you.”

 ***

The week drags by on sluggish feet. Boggel watches the seconds tick by in painfully slow monotone while he serves his customers with less than his usual enthusiasm.

“He’s depressed,” Precilla whispers, “too much hay on his fork, I think.”

“Then he has a small-forking problem,” Vetfaan sniggers.

Still, they go out of their way to make the week easier for Boggel. Sammie found a new shirt and jeans to fit Boggel, and the whole town – even Mevrou – cleaned up Boggel’s Place to look brand new.

“What happens if she doesn’t like me any more?” Boggel asks during a lull in the clean-up phase.

“Boggel…may I remind you that she agreed to meet you here, in your place, where you feel safe. Your original plan was to meet her in Upington, remember? That should tell you something.” Gertruida pats the hump of his back. “Stop worrying, Boggel. If everything goes pear-shaped, at least you’ve got your bar spring-cleaned for a change.”

***

Mary takes the turn-off at Grootdrink to get on the road to Rolbos. She, too, is worried and anxious. Is she not being a fool…again?

Despite that, she has to smile as she remembers a few lines of Keats; Boggel used to recite them with a suggestive twinkle in his eyes. They were still in the orphanage at the time, and used to sit on the steps by the back door at the end of the day, watching the sun disappear below the horizon. Once,  innocently, awkwardly, he  took her hand – with the uncertainty of all young men, through all the ages.

”There’s a blush for won’t, and a blush for shan’t, 
And a blush for having done it: 
There’s a blush for thought and a blush for naught, 
And a blush for just begun it.”

A blush for just begun it…

It began on the steps by the back door of an orphanage.  Will it end in Rolbos? Will the blush be love…or embarrassed anger?

***

Kleinpiet spots the line of dust on the road from Grootdrink.

“She’s coming! She’s on her way!” Precilla smiles at the excited tone of his voice. They all love Boggel so much… “Places, everyone! The action is about to start!”

images (3)They worked out the strategy to the finest detail. Sammie will be in his shop, of course. The ladies of the town will amble around in Voortrekker Weg with umbrellas – just like a scene from Mary Poppins. Vetfaan and Kleinpiet has to look busy under the bonnet of Vetfaan’s pickup; while Servaas and Oudoom will be on the bench in front of the church, discussing Exodus..or Leviticus..or something. They want to make everything look so normal, so relaxed. Mary Mitchell must drive into a normal little town with normal people doing normal things.

This way, Gertruida says, they’ll give Boggel a normal chance…

But we all know, don’t we? There is no ‘normal’ in love; never was, never will be. Boggel, with his physical problems and a troubled past; Mary with so many heartaches locked up in her history… Both of them afraid, scared, hesitant, unsure. Normal? Not really… But then again – who is?

Maybe Gertruida – for once – overplayed her hand. Maybe she overlooked a simple, single fact: the joy of yesterday can’t always last into tomorrow. There is no bridge between the past and the future, strong enough to to ferry all our hopes and dreams to the ideal haven we yearn so for.

And maybe she’s expecting everything to work out just fine, because it’ll help her deal with her own loneliness?

When Mary Mitchell alights from her vehicle in front of Boggel’s Place, several hearts in Rolbos beat a little faster. Boggel pulls nervously at his shirt as he walks to the door.

And Mary Mitchell; she of the broken dreams; takes a deep breath. The next few minutes will determine her future.

Weekly Photo Challenge: From Above (Lessons to be learnt in the Kalahari)

These two explorers live on an elevated shelf  in Boggel’s Place. They have learnt a valuable lesson – by viewing things from a greater height, you get a better perspective of life. In fact, you learn that even under the most arduous conditions, living life to the fullest allows you to survive  the worst of times.

e

From their perspective, the trials and tribulations we all face, are lessons in survival.

eTake, for instance, the miracle of a plover’s nest. Exposed and completely out in the open, these birds simply  line a hollow with a layer of grass and survive under the harshest conditions. Two birds. One egg. No protection. They should have been extinct centuries ago – but they aren’t. Don’t let the odds tell you something is impossible. Be brave enough to follow your heart.

e1A few yards away, the stunted and withered skeletal remains of a once-green shrub tells the world: “I’m dead. I’m dry. You won’t find nourishment here, animals. Go somewhere else.” Why? Because after a few drops of rain, it’ll produce green leaves once more. Lesson: never give up hope.

e2But look carefully around you. There is beauty hidden in the apparently dead landscape. Despite the conditions, Nature never loses her sense of joy. Whatever your circumstances, something good is hiding in there, somewhere. Not easy to spot with tear-filled eyes, at all – but still…never stop looking for beauty.

e3

Sometimes it is necessary to protect what you have. Bigger thorns and smaller leaves tell the hungry ones to stay away. We can learn a lot from this. Put away the ego but don’t allow others the right to devour what you’ve built up.

e4From a higher position – above the ground level of daily toil – one may see danger lurking with greater ease. Don’t crawl ahead with downcast eyes; walk tall and proud…and cautiously.

skillie modAnd yes – our explorer’s last message: never give up on your dreams. Don’t rush. One step at a time is enough.