Tag Archives: forgiveness

Boggel’s Moon (# 8)

Trip 2012 355

“Look,” she says, pointing at the horizon, “the moon is rising.”

“Yes,” he answers, “it won’t be so dark now.”

“I enoy talking to you, Boggel. It takes my darkness away, just like the moon does now.  I’m comfortable to say the words I never dared to voice before.”

“Words,” Boggel says as he inspects the almost empty bottle of wine, “are the most powerful things on earth, maybe even in the universe. They can lift you up; or bury you so deep, you won’t see the sky. Words can burn, build, break, encourage, destroy, create or tear down.” He pauses a second while filling the glasses. “And sometimes words are like wine. Too little, and they leave the thirst for more. Too much, and it makes you nauseous and leaves you with a hangover the next day. The trick is the balance.”

“That’s why silences are so profound,” Mary adds, “the complete absence of words can sometimes be terribly destructive. Unsaid things can kill a relationship.”

The two of them sit on the veranda in front of Boggel’s Place, watching the night sky changing at the first hint of dawn. They can see a light on in Gertruida’s house, but the rest of the town is still sleeping in the chill of the early morning. Boggel doesn’t seem to mind the cold, but Mary is snugly wrapped in the thick blanket Boggel fetched for her. 

After Boggel shoo-ed the townsfolk out of the bar (For the first time, ever. He said he wanted to close at 11pm.), he and Mary started sharing memories of their childhood and the time in the orphanage. To their complete surprise, the hours simply sped past while they dug up the forgotten joys and sorrows of a time they both tried so hard to forget previously. 

“I locked these thoughts away so securely,” Boggel said at one stage, “because I reckoned they’re best forgotten.”

“So did I,” she replied, “but now I realise you can never unremember your past. It’ll be part of you forever, It’s what you are.” She mulled over this for a while before continuing. “It’s like history: we can choose to ignore some things, but that doesn’t make them go away. What happened, happened. Some good and some bad; and that’s what completes the picture. By denying parts of your history, you remain incomplete – it’s like living a lie then.”

“You’re right. Choosing to bury those memories transformed me into a type of coward. I wasn’t brave enough to face them, work through them, and accept that even the bad times were given to me for a reason. I realise that now.”

And so the night flew by as the two of them discovered the healing power of acceptance. Bit by bit, they covered the times they spent together…and the times they were separated by distance and circumstances. The more they talked, the easier it became. Mary, especially, found that she could say things she never could before. She told Boggel everything she never even dared admit during confessions; about the band, the drugs, the… (and here she hesitated before soldiering on) hedonistic lifestyle. 

Boggel listened. Didn’t interrupt. 

And he didn’t, like she feared and expected, express his horror and rejection.

Instead, he moved his chair nearer to hers – saying nothing – to lay a comforting hand on her arm. The simple gesture brought tears to her eyes.

Now, with the hues of orange and pink in the eastern sky, Boggel gets up to make some coffee. He’s rather pleased to hear her footsteps following him.

“The town will wonder about the two of us,” Mary giggles softly, “they went to such a lot of trouble, trying to create a Mary Poppins scene in Voortrekker Weg. How sweet of them.”

“You can bet your life Servaas will be scowling all day. The two of us, together, all night. He’ll be telling Oudoom about the sin in Rolbos before Mevrou can wash her face this morning!” Boggel reaches over to pull her near. “I don’t think he’ll ever understand.”

“Mmmm.” She leans close, enjoying the warmth they share. “We’ve done a lot of healing tonight, Boggel. More than I ever thought possible.”

images (5)The coffee starts percolating on the Primus. Boggel tells her that it’s almost as if the intervening years disappeared – it feels just like the old days. She laughs at this, nodding quietly. 

Yes, she thinks, talking about the past only helps if you have an understanding ear that hears what you are trying to say.

“You understand me, Boggel. You even accept me. That, I think, makes you my best friend.”

People like Servaas will never understand what happened between them during the night. Maybe Boggel and Mary neither – not at this time, at least. But…it is in the sharing of those hidden and hard-to-forget memories that a strange and precious connection developed between them. Gertruida will tell you: most relationships rely on some sort of attraction to keep them going. She says this admiration can take many forms: it could be wisdom, intelligence, creativity…and sexual, of course. But seldom, oh so seldom, (she says) do people take the time to look, really look, into each others hearts.

Gertruida will write in her diary – after Mary leaves – about this.

Dear Diary

I’m so glad for Boggel and Mary. They did something so beautiful, it makes me cry. 

Mary took a chance in coming to Rolbos. In fact, I think she was extremely brave. Be that as it may, she found what she was looking for all her life. Or maybe she had it back then, and lost it for a while. Yes, I think that’s it. She found what she had lost. What a precious idea!

I talked with her before she left for Cape Town again. The change in her is absolutely remarkable: her eyes shone, her smile was genuine and she laughed so spontaneously, I had to join her. I’m so happy for her.

She says she and Boggel have a good thing going. He’s her best, best friend, she said. Now, Dear Diary, that is arguably the most wonderful thing that can happen to anybody. It’s even bigger – and better – than love.

Oh, Diary, we all need somebody like that in our lives. People make such a fuss about words. Take Love, for instance. People tell each other they love each other all the time. The word has become almost meaningless, because we love coffee, or beer, or our pets as well. But the true meaning of the word, the real responsibility of the term, is much deeper than just affection or adoration.

I’ll have to think of a word that describes the relationship between Boggel and Mary. Love simply isn’t enough. I looked up where we got the word Love from, and I’ll copy it here:

Old English lufu “love, affection, friendliness,” from Proto-Germanic *lubo (cf. Old High German liubi “joy”)

Now, Dear Diary, I like the idea that Love originates from the word Joy. It reminds me so much about John 15:11 where Jesus said: ‘I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.’

And that is what these two  people found in each other: they rediscovered Joy. Love can be mundane, even boring at times – but Joy is boisterous, happy, celebrating, overwhelming all of the time.

I think they are very clever, the two of them. Servaas wants them to get married, but Mary says no. For them the connection between them is enough. They can talk, and hear what each other is saying. So, Mary says, she’ll come and visit as often as she can. They’ll develop their relationship with care and patience. She says, she’s too afraid to lose the friendship to rush into anything right now.

I suppose I was a bit rude when I asked her what about sex, but you know me, Diary! I want to know things. So I asked her. We girls can do that sometimes. And then, Diary, I realised how deep their relationship really is. She looked at me in a surprised way, smiled sympathetically and said: “Why on earth would I want to ruin a perfect relationship with sex – at this time, especially? No, maybe later, but not now.”

I don’t think I’ve ever heard such wisdom. People equate sex with love – and sometimes it works out that way. But sex, Dear Diary, is no guarantee for Love. Not at all. The only one who’d be disappointed at hearing this, would be Servaas. How he loves a scandal! Shame, he’ll just have to hope somebody else starts sinning in our town, so he can be happy.

So I think Boggel and Mary are playing t exactly right. You must hear Boggel humming to himself these days! One love song after the other. I’m so happy for them.

It is true that Boggel seems a bit moonstruck these days. He doesn’t mind being teased a little. He says he found his moon – and she shines through his darkness.

And that, he says, that is quite enough.

And for the older Rolbossers:

Fanny’s Surprise (# 29)

Vetfaan catches up with Fanny on the steps outside Oudoom’s house.

“Fanny…?” It’s a plea, not a question.

“I’m sorry, Fanie. I shouldn’t have…” She’s still crying and having difficulty to string her words together. “Henry , that night, seemed so genuine. And I was so surprised at his attitude. I mean, he showed that DVD that Gertruida sent him….”

They sit down on the steps. It’s still early in the day and the sun has not yet baked everything to an untouchable warmth, while the soft breeze is just enough to make them feel comfortable in the shade of the veranda.

“Fanny…” Vetfaan doesn’t know exactly how to continue, “I don’t know much about London, or Japan, or Life. We don’t get an instruction manual when we leave school, telling us how to make Life work. In fact, anything can happen and it usually does.” How does one do these things? He feels angry, protective, worried and upset all at once – but he also realises that saying the wrong thing right now can have catastrophic effects. He decides to stick to stuff he knows more about.  “Look at my farm, man. I don’t even know if the borehole will give water tomorrow. If I start worrying about it, I’ll waste my time – best to face the problems if and when they arrive.”

He gets a puzzled frown from Fanny. “What are you talking about, Fanie? Boreholes? And that after I’ve said what I said in there?”

“I’m working through it, Fanny.” His eyes light up as a thought bubbles to the surface. “Look, some time ago, that tractor of mine just wouldn’t start. I tried everything, and eventually found a blocked fuel filter. Well, there was nothing I could do about it – I had to replace it. So I went to Upington to buy the damn thing and came back. It didn’t fit. My old tractor uses spare parts they don’t make any more.

“You know what I did? I took the old filter and washed it out. Put the flow through from the wrong side. The funny thing is – it’s still working.”

“What…?”

“Ag Fanny, I always fumble with words when you’re around. Maybe I’m trying to tell you blockages aren’t always fatal. Or that one may want to replace things in too much of a hurry. Or maybe – you shouldn’t replace something that still can be made to work. I don’t know, really…just don’t want to see you upset, that’s all.”

“But Henry…?”

Vetfaan takes a deep breath. “He’s dead, Fanny. He saved your life. I feel upset about London, but at the same time I’m thankful for what he did. But you know what? The important thing is that you spoke about it. You told me. I may not like the idea of you and Henry together, but I would rather know about it than burden you with keeping a horrible secret for the rest of your life.

“Oudoom has a saying: The truth will hurt at first, then it sets you free. And now, Fanny, you are free of the lie you might have had to live with for the rest of your life. And for that, I am thankful.”

Tear-streaked cheeks turn to him. “You mean that, Fanie…?

Vetfaan nods.

“Then…” Hope flames up in her eyes.

Vetfaan gets up, holding out a hand to help her get to her feet.

“Yes, we have unfinished business.”

***

“Here? Now? Like this?” Oudoom can’t help smiling. “You sure?”

“Well, you’re here. We’re here.  Servaas and Mevrou can be witnesses. And we’re in a hurry…”

Mevrou will later say it was one of the most beautiful ceremonies Oudoom has ever performed. The rings posed a problem – until Mevrou dug out her grandparent’s rings from her box of precious memorabilia. Not surprisingly (there being no such thing as a coincidence) they fitted perfectly. And no, she didn’t want them back, thank you – it was a their wedding gift from Mevrou and Oudoom.

When at last Oudoom says, “You may kiss the bride”, even Servaas had to dig in his pocket for a handkerchief.

***

News of the wedding spreads like wildfire through town. It happened so unexpectedly that even Gertruida gasps when Servaas swaggers in to tell them about it. Still, in typical Rolbos tradition, the townsfolk need no excuse for a good party – and what better reason for festivities than a wedding? Not any old wedding – Vetfaan and Fanny!

Sammie rocks up with a baby’s crib – who knows where he got that? And Kleinpiet and Precilla pushes open the door to the bar with a new Primus stove under an arm. Sersant Dreyer – still in uniform – tells them he’ll look for a present when he’s in Upington again; while Gertruida hands over a book on baby care. Platnees, not to be outdone, brings the traditional squawking chicken.

But it’s Servaas who steals the show. Despite his arthritis, he gets on to the counter top.

“Friends,” he uses his elder-voice; the one filled with gravity, “marriages should be like this.” He pauses, swallowing hard. “Look what we have here: man, woman. Different religions joined in faith in a holy moment. Two countries uniting. And then there’s us…” He falters, but soldiers on. “Look at us. We’re a bunch of misfits, living at the edge of civilisation. We don’t like busy streets and restless crowds. And amongst us, share the hope that the world will one day be a better place. Fanny makes me think she’s going to help us reach that goal.

“You know what I realised today? It’s simple. True love will always find a way. Churches, opinions, backgrounds, even language – none of these count. When love opens the door to allow two people into that wonderful inner sanctuary, outsiders can not shut it. That’s the test of true love.

“Love, they say, is a many splendoured thing.  It forgives all, embraces all and blesses all. It straightens the road and calms the storm. And…” He sniffs loudly, “…and it makes an old man realise how precious his own moments of love were. How the loss of Siena made me hide behind a mask of religious self-righteousness, so I can deny other peoples’ happiness. I was selfish. I’m…so…sorry.” He struggles to regain control, blows his nose and gathers his thoughts. “But we’re not here for me. It’s Fanny and Vetfaan’s day…”

“I’d like to propose a toast on the newly-weds. Let us drink to love and life. To humility and kindness. To friendship in hard times and ecstasy in the good ones. And most of all: let us celebrate the Love that surpasses all else. May we never forget this simple four-letter word that says it all.

“To Love! And to our new, married couple.”

Nobody sees Sammie sneaking out after the toast. When he returns, he walks to the counter, and holds up a flat box, wrapped in brown paper.

“You know I never say much.” The small man with the engaging smile seems surprised that they all stopped talking when he addressed them. “But today is a happy one, and I feel your joy.

“Now, Oom Servaas, I know how much today meant to you. I heard the disgruntled Servaas talking yesterday, and now I heard a changed person talking today. And when I listened to you, I just knew I had to do something – so that’s what I’m doing now. Please, Oom Servaas, this is for you…”

A surprised Servaas steps forward to accept the gift. He wipes the recent tears from his cheeks, sniffs again, and takes the package from Sammie.

Well, Servaas had a few tears during his speech – the morning had been an emotional one for him. Now, as he opens the flat lid of the box, he can’t help himself any more. Emotion does that sometimes: we try to hide our feelings behind a fixed smile, or a nonchalant attitude; but sometimes the moment is so overwhelming, that we have to abandon all attempts to seem unconcerned or untouched.

In front of the little crowd, Servaas’ bushy eyebrows shoot upwards, away from each other. His face crinkles up in a million creases and the skin on his chin form new dimples as the tears start flowing again. He cries silently, inaudibly, as he hugs his new present; a gift of such magnitude and meaning like he’s never received before. Not only is it beautiful to look at, but the symbolism behind the gesture is profound.

No, he’s never had one before. Never.

And now, for the first time in his life, he has one.

A suit by Armani, beautifully tailored.

And all in white.

Fanny’s Surprise (# 24)

Vetfaan drives to Rolbos with deliberate slowness, negotiating the ruts and potholes with care. Today, He’s decided, is going to be a turning point. He’ll sort out Henry Hartford II, tell him how unfair his upbringing of his son was, and afterwards declare his love for Fanny. He’ll do it in public, in Boggel’s Place, so there can be no doubt about what his intentions are any longer.

At his side, Fanny Featherbosom is also lost in thought. Sure, Mister Hartford is a reserved, aloof, unapproachable character – but he has lost his son. And she and Henry Junior had a sort-of serious relationship. The fragility of grief may draw them closer to each other. It might also be a cause for anger and accusations. Had Henry not followed her, he would have been alive still.

There’s also the issue of the massive fraud. Henry said he had done it to make money – to impress her. He wanted to be good enough for her. Did he lie? Was it part of his manipulative personality that said it, to create sympathy for his actions?

Like the road Vetfaan is negotiating with so much care, their thoughts are rutted and and worn by the realities of recent events.

They reach the beginning of Voortrekker Weg in silence.

***

jpgInside Boggel’s Place, Kleinpiet and Precilla is chatting quietly with Gertruida, while Mister Stevens and Miss Kenton sit outside, enjoying the Kalahari sun.

“I think it’s a brilliant idea, Precilla.” Gertruida beams with delight. “It’s a marvellous opportunity for the entire district. Do you think they’ll do it?”

“We haven’t asked them yet; we first wanted to bounce the idea off you.”

“Well, get to it, then. Don’t waste time.”

***

Mevrou is washing the breakfast dishes when she sees Vetfaan’s pickup lumber into town. She knows Oudoom is dead tired – as is Mister Hartford – but if Vetfaan is in town, they should know about it. The sooner all the parties in the tragedy is brought together, the sooner the situation will be normal again. She sighs as she dries her hands on the dishcloth – why must life be so complicated? Rolbos is such a small place; shouldn’t life be simple here.

The thought brings a wry smile to her lips. She can actually hear Oudoom at dinner a week ago: Where two or more people are together, you’ll always find varying degrees of conflict. No two persons are the same, that’s why we argue and fight and love…and grieve. Emotion is the result of interaction, it’s as simple as that. Small congregations like Rolbos pose a unique set of challenges: because these people are forced by circumstances to live in each other’s proverbial pocket, the intensity of their co-existence will generate friction. That’s why we are here. We’re the oil that keeps the gears from grating each other down. And that, my wife, is the message of Christ.

Then, just as the two tired men are preparing to take a morning nap, she tells them their day has only started.

 ***

“I do say, Miss Kenton, their suggestion does have a ring to it. It fits in with your little discussion last night.”

“Oh, James! Are you serious? Really? You’ll consider it?”

“On myself, I would never have thought about it, Miss Kenton. But one has to be practical about such things. You have been thinking about leaving the manor, and that would mean I have to look for a new housekeeper. I don’t think I’m quite up to it, to be honest.”

He sits up suddenly as Mister Hartford and Oudoom cross the road.

“Oh my, Miss Kenton. The master…he’s on his way. And I haven’t put on a tie! He’ll be absolutely furious…” He stops to stare at Sally Kenton in her jeans and blouse, admiring the way the clothes show off the trim figure – what will Master say about that? “Quick, we can hide inside.”

“No James. It is time for you to be a real person again – not a make-believe slave-puppet.  You don’t need others to prescribe to you – or make decisions on your behalf. You look real fine to me as you are, anyway. Honestly? I like the less formal appearance.”

His eyes reflect his uncertainty. “Are you sure, Miss Kenton?”

“Indeed, James. No need to panic. Everything will be alright.” She hesitates a second, not sure whether she should go on. Then, in a small voice, se says: “One more thing, before the master is here?”

“Ye-e-s Mis Kenton?”

She leans close to whisper in his ear. “I love you just the way you are, James.”

 ***

Oudoom holds up a hand for silence. Everybody is gathered in Boggel’s Place, but unlike the usual babble of voices, only a few hushed whispers disturb the quiet inside the bar. At his side, Henry Hartford II seems drained; his eyes puffy from lack of sleep and the emotion of the night’s talks. Precilla and Kleinpiet stand together at the window, seemingly the only happy people in the room. Next to the door, James Stevens feels how Sally’s hand searches for his – and settles on gripping the cuff of his shirt.

A little while before, Fanny approached Hartford, who seemed his usual distant self when she offered her condolences. Neither could meet the other’s eyes and the mumbles words could have been a greeting or an expression of sympathy. Vetfaan, with jaw muscles working furiously, kept his distance.

“We are gathered here, er, what shall I say? Ladies and gentlemen? Brothers and sisters? People?” He shakes his head, flashing a rare smile. “It doesn’t matter, does it?

“We’re gathered her for several reasons today, and I think some of you may want to say something later. But first, let us observe a minute of silence, to remember the young man that came to our town – and to sympathise with his father.”

Something strange happens in that minute. A soft desert breeze sweeps through the room, ruffling hair here, tugging at clothing there. It carries with it the warmth of the sand and the coolness of the room. And in the soft, weeping sound it makes, one may imagine an old woman’s wheezy voice. Everybody feels it – no-one is unaware of the touch of that breeze. The moment is so incredibly poignant – so unbearably sad – that Fanny starts crying.

After the breeze – maybe for the remaining fifteen seconds before the minute was over – the group is aware of something else. Gertruida will describe it later as a feeling of being fulfilled, as if something has been completed. Maybe that’s exactly what it was.

Oudoom says Amen to mark the end of the minute and is about to say something when Henry Hartford gets up.

“I beg you pardon, Oudoom, but I have to say this – and say it now.” He waits for Oudoom’s nod before going on. “I am a stranger in your midst.” Although his voice is strong, the undertone of emotion is unmistakable. “I came here to blame somebody – anybody – for my son’s death. I wanted revenge.” He looks up to glance at Fanny. “I even blamed you for leading him here.” He pauses, gathering his thoughts. “But after spending time with your pastor, I realise it is futile. What happened, happened. I was wrong. My son was wrong. We both paid a price for it…a terrible, terrible price. I also realise the massive contribution I made to my son’s choices. I will have to live with that thought until my dying day…

“But Oudoom taught me something else last night. He taught me the value of joy. This is something I know so little about – and it certainly isn’t something I am used to. I thought joy was money and power. Now I know it is defined by that difficult word: beauty. Oudoom says – and he’s right – that beauty is the peace only love can bring. Beauty is when you help your fellow men and women reach their goals in life…and then realise you’re the one that benefits the most.

“And it struck me how often I have trampled on others in my efforts to achieve what I perceived to be beauty and joy. My son. Mister Stevens. Miss Kenton. Hundreds – thousands of people  – had been the rungs in my ladder, and I trampled on them in a futile search for fulfilment. To all those – present and not – I owe an apology.

“I have to change my way of looking at life. After my talk with Oudoom, I have decided to sell whatever assets I still hold in my personal capacity. I shall join a speaking circuit – and I’m known on several of these – to hold motivational talks all over the world. What happened to me, shouldn’t be repeated. What I believed in, was false. And the way I lived, was selfish and wrong. If I can get that message across, the death of my son would have some meaning. Maybe then, he’d forgive me…”

Unable to continue, he sits down in the silence after his last words. Then, Vetfaan is the first to start clapping. The applause that follows, is deafening.

“Does that mean Master won’t require our services any longer?” Mister Stevens waited for the applause to die down before speaking.

“No, James. The manor will be sold. Maybe the next owner…”

“Oh no, sir. That won’t be necessary. You see, Mister Kleinpiet and Missus Precilla made me – us – an offer. They want to start a school on the farm, sir. Nothing big. Just for the children on the farms around them. And they’ve got this delightful little son, he’s called Nelson, and he needs tuition. So do several others nearby. So, with the necessary respect, Mister Hartford, we’d like to resign… But only if we have your blessing, sir. Only then. One wants to do these things properly, doesn’t one?”

When Henry Harford walks over to his faithful servant to shake his hand, the applause is even more sincere than before.

Vetfaan steps to the bar, jaws still working, a deep frown on his forehead.

“Okay. If he can do it, I can. Mister Hartford, I was very angry at you. I came here today to tell you things. Bad things. I wanted to humiliate you. I didn’t think of you as a father – or even as a human being.

“But…how can I do that after you’ve said what you said? It takes a man to stand up and admit his mistakes. And you know what I thought while you were speaking? I’ll tell you.

“I thought about the many mistakes I made in my life. Some small, some big. And I never, never had the guts to stand up and tell a room full of strangers about it.

“You, sir, are more of a man than I am. I need to apologise for my thoughts. They were wrong. Please forgive me.”

Vetfaan – so overcome by the intensity of the moment – completely forgets what he wanted to tell Fanny. 

***

This morning will be remembered as the Morning of Three Applauses. Boggel has to make several trips to the store room for more beers, and Gertruida brings  over her CD player. There is a lot to say and a lot of time to say it in. Servaas walked over to tell Oudoom it was the best sermon he ever gave; a remark so appreciated that the clergyman blushed with joy.

It is Precilla who points out the dancing couple on the veranda. With Leonard Cohen on the CD player, Sally Kenton and Mister Stevens are slowly – very slowly – shuffling to the rhythm of the music. She, with an almost-voluptuous flair; he, stiffly erect, stilted, slightly awkward – unused to the feel of a woman in his arms. Despite this, they all agree, he has the most brilliant smile they’ve ever seen. Eyes closed, James Stevens has finally discovered the meaning of one of the most misunderstood words in the English language:  Beauty.

***

Way out in the desert, a little whirlwind raises a plume of dust. It dances over the dry veld, tossing the dry leaves and twigs high into the air – almost as if it is celebrating something.

Then again – maybe it is.

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Fanny’s Surprise (# 18)

“Now, you won’t get lost, will you? We’ve only got so much water, remember?” Henry is a changed person. Lat night’s remorse has changed to overconfidence; his demeanour suddenly that of a conquering hero rather than shame-faced crook. “Oh, and I’ll take the water, thank you very much.” He holds out his hand to receive the bottle from Vetfaan.”

Vetfaan and Fanny walks ahead, with the smirking Henry a few yards behind them. This is how one should conduct business – catch them by surprise when you slap your four aces on the table. Yes, this feels like the good old days when the deals were sweet and the profits huge. Life owes him a break. It owes him big time…

“He’s not normal,” Vetfaan whispers, “the way he changes from Jeckyll to Hyde is frightening. Last night…this morning – it doesn’t make sense.”

Fanny lengthens her stride so that they are even farther ahead of Henry. “I know. In the past I saw glimpses of that. He’d be shy and quiet, but when it came to financial matters, he wanted to take over the conversation. Maybe he was just trying to assert himself in front of others. What I realise – and isn’t it ironic that I only do so now – is that you can’t believe a word he says. I think he’s a pathologic liar, Fanie. He’s the ultimate actor: he only says what you want to hear. It’s uncanny. Maybe it’s the result of all those lonely childhood years filled with intense feelings of inferiority. Whatever it is: he’s dangerous.”

“I agree, Fanny. Unstable is the word that comes to mind. He switches from one personality to another with such ease… Who is he, really?”

“I don’t know, Fanie. Damaged goods…”

They reach the dune before the Valley of the Buried Wagon  when the sun is almost directly ahead.

“Listen.” Vetfaan turns to their tormentor. “The wagon is in the next valley. We’ll climb to the top of the dune, and you’ll be able to see what is left of the skeleton of the wagon. Now me and Fanny? We’ll wait at the top of the dune. You go down and do whatever you have to. Tell you the truth: I don’t want to see what you do down there.”

“Oh no, mister wise-guy. I need hands and pockets to carry those coins out.” He taps the side of his head while shaking the water bottle with the other. “I thought about everything, my friend.” He hisses the last word. “You come along.”

Vetfaan sighs. He was hoping they’d be able to escape while the madman is busy with the gold. Then again: where would they go – especially without water?

***

Only the top of one wheel is visible above the sand when they reach the bottom of the valley.

“It’s there,” Fanny points towards the one side of the area. With down cast eyes and slumped shoulders, she seems a completely defeated woman. Vetfaan stands quietly to one side, jaw muscles working while a million thoughts cruise through his mind.  The lion, preparing to attack…

“Then, my sweet, you had better start digging, hadn’t you?”Henry’s sneer widens. “We don’t want mister farmer-boy jumping on my back, do we? Go on, let’s see you get down and dirty, my dear. I like my women like that.”

Fanny sinks to her knees and starts scooping the layer of sand away from what used to be the bed of the wagon. Tears make dusty streaks down her cheek. Henry turned out to be such a horrible person; and for a while she had been considering marrying this…this monster? How stupid can a woman be? How terribly wrong…?

When the ancient and worn timber is exposed, Henry commands her to lift the loose planks. She does.

And then it happens.

The puff adder has been using the space below these planks as a burrow for some time. Little pieces of bone – certainly from mice and other small animals – litter the lair. It certainly is the perfect home for a snake, especially in an area without rocks or other hiding places.

download (37)The snake rears it’s head. Vetfaan screams a drawn-out Nooooo!  He knows these adders are amongst the fastest strikers in the snake world, and if Fanny were to be bitten here, there’s no way he’d be able to save her.

Later, Vetfaan and Fanny will wonder about Henry’s reaction. When Fanny shrieks and falls back on the sand, the heinous smirk disappears from his haughty face. He drops the water bottle and dives towards the snake, trying to get hold of its neck.

Henry has no chance. The snake gets him three times: twice on the forearm and once on the wrist. The fangs penetrating the inside of the arm, just above the hand, do the damage. The potent venom gets injected directly into the venous complex beneath the skin, allowing the dose of venom to travel directly to the heart.

It’s over in three minutes. Oh, Vetfaan and Fanny try. They try for much, much longer. Without cortisone and antivenin, it is impossible.

***

“He saved my life.”

They’re back in the camp, sitting in shocked silence at the fire.  After they had given up hope of reviving Henry, they buried the body next to the other three skeletons they had found there – oh, it feels like ages ago. There was no way they could carry him across the sand in the heat of the day. They emptied his pockets before they covered him up. That’s when Vetfaan found the distributor cap  in the side pocket of Henry’s pants.

“Ja.” Vetfaan gets out the Cactus. He saw the look of horror on Henry’s face as he took that last, fateful dive. There’s no question about it – he reacted to save the one person in the whole world he loved. That, and his last words, croaked out when his eyes were dimming already: I’m…so terribly…sorry. He was desperately trying to say something else, reaching out with a trembling hand to touch Fanny’s face, when he sighed – and was gone. “I’m sorry.”

What else can he say?

“He was a troubled soul, Fanie. The way his personality swung to and fro – some psychologist will make sense out of it – I can’t. A sociopath? A psychopath? A nasty manipulator? Schizophrenic?  I can’t bear thinking about … And then, in his last act…”

Vetfaan moves over to share body warmth with her. “That’s who he really was, Fanny. The real Henry. The Henry his father killed when he was a small boy. He could have been such a different man, if only he had a chance to develop normally.”

“We’ll get a helicopter, won’t we, Fanie? To fetch him? Please?” Small-girl voice, plaintively pleading the hurt to stop.

“Of course we shall. We owe him that, at least.”

The soft night wind moves the sparse dry grass around the camp. It reminds Vetfaan of old !Tung’s almost-asthmatic breathing. A light gust swirls up a little winking cloud of sparks from the embers, carrying them high into the sky where they mingle with the stars. For a brief second, they form part of the milky way. Just for a moment – like we all do.

Fanny rests her head on the broad shoulder of Vetfaan.

“I wonder where !Tung is now,” she asks softly, looking at the stars.

Vetfaan doesn’t have to answer. The whisper in the wind tells him so.  

And something to read this weekend..

Also here: http://www.mybooks.co.za/book/41813/65-shades-of-guilt

The Brutal Nature of Vultures

Credit: Kevin Carter

Credit: Mirror.co.uk

Credit: Mirror.co.uk

Silence, in Boggel’s Place, is unusual and unwanted. People gather here to relax, to laugh, to forget for a while. But the banter and the smiles became progressively less over the past few days as news of murder, rape and unrest filtered through from the rest of the country

“Nothing makes sense anymore.” Vetfaan is building little umbrellas with paper clips for Boggel. It keeps him busy and makes him feel he’s useful. “It’s as if society lost the plot, man. And not just here…did you see the Upington Post? They’re stealing diamonds all over the show. Abductions, kidnappings, strikes and mayhem. To top it all, the poor British are having a hard time chewing through the horse meat in their lasagne.”

“Well it looks as if our police force made a nice bugger-up of their case against Pistorius. Their presentation of the case to the court makes it difficult to believe everything we heard on the radio. For the past 6 days everybody was baying for revenge. Now, people are starting to be critical. I mean – absurd though it might sound – suppose it was an accident? ” Precilla has always admired Oscar, and is keen to grab at any good news. “Sure, his actions led to her death. Call it any word you like, she’s dead. Nothing can change that. But the photograph on the front page of the Post upsets me every time I look at it. The poor man seems completely broken. What if he made a horrible mistake?”

“No Precilla. The Bible teaches us about an eye for an eye. He killed her, he must pay.” Servaas, once again in his black suit, is in his dark mood again. “No mercy. Finished en klaar.”

“But what about motor car accidents? Or aircrafts crashing in mid-air? I mean, real accidents. Surely we don’t put everybody in jail for life because they made a mistake? If you cause death accidentally, you get charged with manslaughter, sure, but that doesn’t make you an out-and-out murderer. I think there is a difference.”

Servaas is quiet all of a sudden. Many years ago the brakes on his car failed… The child survived, but it could have been so much different.

“Look,” Gertruida says, because she knows everything, “you guys are starting the gossip-thing again. The facts are simply that we don’t know what happened. It could be this. It could be that. And what does it matter? The girl is dead. The man’s life is ruined. Two  families are devastated. Gossiping and all the hype and drama, the second-guessing and thousands of photographs…does it change anything?

“Why are we so fascinated by tragedy? Is it because we are born with the natural tendency too finger-point, judge, and reject? Or do we revel in the misery of others? Is our curiosity born out of a secret lust to see others suffer? We’re back in the Colosseum, chaps. We want to see others bleed while we stuff our faces with popcorn in front of the telly. We say the perpetrator is sick. I say society is extremely unwell. Remember the photograph with the hungry child and the vulture? It won prizes, for goodness sakes! And the photographer snapped the shot and left things as they were. Where’s the compassion? You know, if you look at the photographs, they’re exactly the same.”

“If I remember correctly, the photographer committed suicide afterwards.” Kleinpiet folds his napkin into a coffin shape. “Such a pity…”

“And that, Kleinpiet, is what is happening to society. Our morbid interest in suffering is a bad sign. We love movies with blood and gore. Reality must be graphic, or they get bad reviews. What happened to Polyanna?” Gertruida laughs cynically. “You make a goody-goody movie today, and it’ll flop at the box office.”

“So what’s the answer, Gertruida? Surely we can’t go on like this. Society, as you so nicely put it, is on the road to self-destruction. Morals are gone – you can tick that off. Respect is non-existent – look at the way people interact on a New York street, or in Jo’burg, when a handbag is snatched. Valuing others died in Marikana. Peaceful debate got killed by violent strikes and destruction of property. I think it’s a one-way street to … well … nothing?”

“It is, Vetfaan. It is.” Gertruida sniffs loudly, sips her beer and takes a deep breath. “But there is one thing. The only trump we have. A final chance. And it’s called forgiveness. You can’t forgive, if you haven’t judged something to be wrong. Neither can you forgive by not distancing yourself from a situation. Forgiveness does not mean something didn’t happen and now everything is hunky-dory. It simply means you have decided something is wrong and that you no longer associate with it. It means you get it out of your system and refuse to drag it along with you any longer. It also means you hold no grudge.

“People think forgiveness is the same thing as condoning or accepting are forgetting. That’s wrong. There are three processes to consider here: a legal process which must take care of the laws of the land. That means you can sit back and let it run it’s course. There’s also a psychological process, in which you free yourself from whoever did wrong. And then there’s a religious process, where you know you are not going to be the final judge in the matter.

“And it’s hard. It’s an art to forgive somebody. It’s something you have to work on to get forgiveness-fit. And it’s the only way we as  a society, will be able to start building respect and morals and values again.”

“Ja Gertruida.” Vetfaan signals for another beer. “But then everybody has to do it. Otherwise it won’t work.”

“A journey of a thousand miles, Vetfaan, starts with the decision to take the first step. It’s up to you. If you won’t do it, why expect others to try?”

Silence reclaims the upper hand in Boggel’s Place after Gertruida’s speech. It’s an uncomfortable silence – one that is felt in every home, every office and on every street corner – right across the world.

And in that silence, quietly, confidently, the vulture waits.

A Look through the Window – Searching for the Butterfly

When a building gets old, it decays with gangrene-like progression with every passing year. The last time Mary Mitchell was here, was in her late teens, and even then it was obvious the homestead was dying. It held on, she is sure, for another few years, before its soul departed to leave the skeleton bleached and withered in the merciless heat of the Kalahari. Empty window sockets, staring at nothing, like she used to.

Here, she remembers, was the lounge, with the faded arm chairs and the defiant couch. Defiant, because it held the unfulfilled promise (and temptation) to explore the limits of romantic exploration. Somehow, the ultimate frontier was always a bridge too far. Something would come up: a curious parent, a sniffing dog, a crash of thunder.  Even when the carefully-selected suitor came visiting, her father would be there, watching like a hawk. Later, in the year after her father’s death, she found it impossible to close her eyes and let go when the galloping horses of desire reared, hooves clawing the air, white eyes bulging, frightened by the visions of the past.

Romantic exploration… Yes, there was very little of that. The other type was much more common. Romantic destruction. Nowadays, sexual fracking – the abuse of ability and the pollution of purity and beauty…

She closes her eyes. Holds her hands to her ears. Nooo – she doesn’t want to go there, ever again.

Deep breath. Again… Okay.

And here was the dining room. It was a place of simple meals and deep religion. Her father used to read to them every evening. Long passages, starting with January’s Genesis and ending in December with Revelations. She detested these rambling readings of family trees and archaic laws. It seemed so out of place, so mundane, to listen to So-and-so, father of Such-and-such, who had This-and-that with Rebecca. Or Lea. Or whoever.

By August the readings finally got to the New Testament, which is quite old anyway. At least it seemed more contemporary with main characters she at least recognised. And it had a message of love and forgiveness. The sick, the lame, the sinner and the dead each got a new chance in life – which is what she had hoped for, prayed for, for such a long time.

But here…here was her bedroom. The Room of Shame, as she secretly called it back then. This is where she cowered in the dark, hiding under the blanket, when the heavy boots creaked the wooden floorboatds outside her door. This was after the reading and the prayers and the washing up and the normal things happened, like it should in every normal family. This is where normality stopped and shame began.

In the kitchen – now almost gone with not a brick on another – they used to have coffee in the mornings. Her mother, eyes downcast and hands busy preparing breakfast, would mumble a subdued Good Morning  and tried to hide the fresh bruises. Her father would stomp in, the cattle rancher inspecting his herd, daring his wife and daughter to say anything. Openly taunting them to challenge his right to use, to abuse, his position as provider and master.

But it is here, in the frame of her bedroom window next to the front door, she’d stand to stare out at the world-out-there. She’d make a conscious effort to note anything positive she could see. A butterfly flitting past would bring a smile. A brigade of hard-working ants scurrying to and fro with bits of grass for the winter pantry, directed her thoughts to a better future. A family of plovers hatched their eggs in the exposed nests they have used since time immemorial, telling her even the most vulnerable lasted longer than the dinosaurs.

It was at this window she closed her eyes, imagining a normal street with normal people doing normal things. Smartly-dressed women and loving couples waltzed by, smiling happily in the afternoon sun. And then she’d open her eyes, staring out to see if God would not, please, send somebody to change circumstances. A person, a catastrophe, a miracle – anything.

This is also the window Boggel used that night, when at last her prayers were answered and the miracle happened.

“This is where I grew up. Long ago, I stood at this window, waiting for you. And, Boggel, even though I didn’t know your name, I knew the day would come that I’d be brave enough to come back, and I’d be able to look through this window again. Only this time, I’d have the courage to look in. In those days I could only look out.”

Mary walks back to her car, carefully avoiding the line of marching ants with their grass-harvest for the winter. Yes, she thinks, a time to gather, and a time to let go. A time to cry and a time for joy. A time to hope for tomorrow – and a time to seize the day.

For the first time in her life, she can smile as she walks away from the house with the Window-of-Hope and the Room-of-Shame.  Funny, she thinks, that a window has two sides; somehow both of them give a vision of  Freedom, only in different ways. Hope-for-the-future from the inside. A future-of-hope from the outside.  The trick is to look through that window, remembering the pane of forgiveness separates the time for mourning in captivity from the time for rejoicing in freedom.

At least, she thinks, that just might be the butterfly her father left behind…

Shades of Forgiveness

Editorial, Upington Post.

The emotional scenes outside court this week, spoke volumes. As the two convicted men were taken to prison, the crowd outside the courthouse displayed a spectrum of reactions.

“They deserve to be hanged,” a bereaved old man shouted. His son was one of the victims. “They murdered my son and killed my faith. I have nothing to live for anymore.”

A woman who refused to be identified, sat on the pavement, crying softly. “The tall one is the father of my son. I never thought he was involved with something like this. My life is ruined – I have nothing left.”

Off to one side, a jeering group of youths chanted the old ANC slogan, One settler, one bullet, cheering as the bewildered two men got into the police van. Not far away from them, a television crew filmed their performance for the SABC. The producer urged the cameraman nearer, but was horrified when a youth grabbed the camera and ran off with it.

The two men however, remained silent. During the hearing, both pleaded not guilty, blaming their crimes as a legacy of Apartheid. During cross-examination, it was evident that – although they claimed a political motive for their attacks – neither man could explain why a policy that became extinct twenty years ago, should be the motive for their murders.

As the van drove off, the lawyers for the state and the defence were seen heading to the Oasis Casino, after shaking hands.

In The Upington Post’s opinion, justice was served. Sadly, that is all that happened during the trial. The huge rifts in our society will need much more than a court case to heal. The crime was punished but the question remains: how to you reprove the polarisation in our community?

Oudoom’s sermon.

“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us. You all know the verse, and we all pray it at times. Yet, while we expect God to forgive us, we are rather reluctant to keep our part of the bargain. Have we not all sinned?

“Yet, John teaches us that He is true: if we confess our sins, He will forgive us.

“And that, my Brothers and Sisters, is the key. Confessing. If you don’t acknowledge our wrongs, He can’t forgive us. And confessing without remorse is not confessing – you have to admit your transgression … and be sorry about it.  Once you’ve  told yourself and those you’ve harmed that you’re truly, truly sorry, you may hope for forgiveness.

“So forgiveness starts with you, not with God. It’s not something you can demand. It’s not there for the asking or the taking. We can’t go on strike until God relents and tells us its okay, we are forgiven. We have to admit first, showing true repentance, before His grace will cover our sins.

“And that is true for our everyday transgressions.  Nobody will forgive you if you don’t have the courage to tell them you’re sorry. Think about it: if you feel you are wronged and the perpetrator simply laughs at you – won’t you feel cheated? Won’t you feel hatred? And won’t you want revenge? But if that person comes to you with genuine regret in his heart – won’t that start the healing process we call forgiveness?”

Boggel’s Place

“I’m sorry for those family members. Did you see the old man who lost his son? He wept through the entire case. He’s a broken man, I can tell you.” Sammie attended the proceedings in Upington and kept Rolbos informed about the case. “And there were others – mothers, wives, sons and daughters. Something like this will leave a permanent scar in anybody’s life. It can’t heal.”

“You’re right – and you’re wrong,” Gertruida pats him on the back to show she doesn’t want an argument. “The scar will remain – but healing will follow. People talk about closure, and they attain that in different ways. Some will feel that justice took its course and they must now close the book. Others will seek solace in faith and religion, believing in Divine justice – that God will sort the perpetrators out in some way. Some individuals will blame politics and direct their anger and sorrow at the government – allowing themselves an outlet for their emotion. Whatever they do – these men and women will find a way to distance themselves from the crimes they have suffered with. And with that distance between you and your suffering, you allow your immediate circumstances to dominate your thoughts. That’s called healing – or closure.

“People think forgiveness means you embrace the wrong that was done to you; that in the act of forgiving, you somehow tell everybody it’s okay. That’s wrong. You can never condone sin. You can’t convince yourself that the murder of your wife or child is okay. What you can do, is to reject the crime in no uncertain terms – but you still have to live with yourself afterwards. You cannot carry the burden of hate for the rest of your life.

“Forgiving doesn’t mean you forget. You can never forget. But you have to get closure. You have to experience healing.  You can be kind enough towards yourself and tell yourself that you are not going to carry the smouldering wrath of hate with you for the rest of your life. You can tell the criminal he’s not important enough to occupy your mind all the time. You can accept that something horrible happened but that it’s not going to rule your thoughts.

“The ultimate form of revenge is forgiveness. That is closure. That is healing.”

Upington Prison

“Hai, Bru, we’re going to be here a long time.” The taller one stares at the small window of the cell. “We’re going to be old men when we get out of here.”

“Oh, shut up!” The smaller Bru is angry. Spending a lifetime in jail was not what he planned for. “I saw that other guy in here – the one we teamed up with for that farm near Vosburg. He’s planning an escape. He wants us to join him.”

“No, Bru. Don’t talk like that. We did wrong. We got punished. I want a new start – even if it’ll only happen when I’m an old man. I don’t want to be on the run for the rest of my life.”

Upington Post.

In a dramatic attempt to escape, two prisoners were killed when they crashed the police van they stole. The men apparently bribed a warden to get to the vehicle, after which they smashed through the security barriers at the prison. However, they lost control of the vehicle on the gravel road to Prieska when they tried to outrun the chasing vehicles. Both men were killed instantly when a tyre burst.

The police spokesman denied that the police shot at the wheels of the fleeing vehicle.

Upington Prison

“Hai, Pastor, thank you for coming. I need to talk to you.”

Oudoom seems uncomfortable in the confined space of the visitor’s room. Is this what this man has to live with for the next two decades? Looking into the pleading eyes of the tall man, he tries to relax. “It’s okay. Take your time. Lord knows, that’s all you’ve got.”

(Something to try: Replace the word “Pretend” with “Forgive” and “Pretending” with “Forgiving” (especially later in the song), and see what the song does for you..)

The Miracle of Rolbos…

A toga has a certain dignity to it. It changes the wearer from a average person to somebody with authority. Or knowledge. Or wisdom. Maybe even into an extension of some higher power – especially amongst the faithful who flock to churches every Sunday. The message from the pulpit becomes a missive from Above, and not the ramblings of a Common Joe who fretted a week long to find new words to describe sin. Without the toga, the sermon loses its weight, and the congregation gets exposed to a preacher who can claim no more influence than they can.

Oudoom has always been meticulous about his toga. A crumpled toga belongs to a negligent pastor. A dirty toga (thank goodness it’s black) is unthinkable. During all the years of guilt and anger, he needed that toga to give him the strength to climb the few steps to the small pulpit in the tiny church in the diminutive town of Rolbos.

But not today. After glancing over to Mevrou, he pauses longer than usual at the steps as a murmur of surprise ripples through the gathering. What? Oudoom in jeans and a plain shirt? No tie? Where’s the man’s toga, for goodness sakes! She nods with a sad smile, and he climbs up to the pulpit.

The whispers subside when he looks up; as if in surprise at their reaction; when he reaches the top stair. He greets them with is usual salutation, sighs, and sits down so they can sing the first hymn. As usual, the congregation follows the slow pace of the organ, stretching the words into almost-unrecognisable forms. Oudoom often wonders if the Lord likes slow singing – or if it matters at all how these songs are sung. Is it simply a matter of repeating the right words – without having to grasp the depth and the meaning of the hymn? Funny how he never worried about this – and now, today; on this most important day; these thoughts are bothering him. Toga’s and hymns; the opium to the masses? The thought causes an unexpected smile.

When at last the congregation sits down, Oudoom gets up with slumped shoulders. Better get this over with. Tell them about the past, greet them, and get out – three main points, like a good sermon should have.

Before he starts speaking, he notices old Marco and his pretty daughter sitting in the bench near the door. Prabably came to gloat, he thinks, to see how my life finally caught up with me. Ah, well, maybe just as well. Now they will hear the news first-hand and won’t have to rely on gossip.

“Today I want to talk to you – not as your pastor, but as a man. A simple man. A man that has lived a lie for too many years. Don’t look at me as your Dominee today, or even as Oudoom … today it is I, Hendrik Vermeulen, husband of Issie, who wants to talk to you.”

Again the murmur – only Gertruida knew Mevrou’s name. Oudoom coughs, holds up a hand, and continues.

“Issie and I know about your meeting last night. I’m sure you discussed the … developments … of recent times in detail. I see Mister Verdana and his daughter are here today, as well, and that makes it easier to say what I have to.

“I want to start with the reason why I came to Rolbos. I need to confess…”

“Excuse me, Dominee.” Servaas – dressed in the obligatory suit and white tie – uses his church voice to interrupt. “I have something to say.”

Oudoom hates interruptions; everybody knows that. A small irritated frown forms on his forehead, but he manages to nod. Servaas gets up to address the pulpit.

“You know we are taught – every Sunday – about morals. About right and wrong. About sin.”  Servaas talks to Oudoom directly, with his back to the audience. “You have scolded us when we were – in your eyes – straying from the path of righteousness. And you know, Dominee, that’s what we talked about last night. We simply cannot go on the way we are doing. It’s not right. The Lord will frown down on us if we don’t cleanse this congregation of falsehood and deceit.”

Several heads nod amongst the people in the benches. Yes, they’re saying, Servaas is right, we’re with him on this one.

“Rolbos, Dominee, is a small community. We depend on each other. Why, the other day when Vrede went missing, we all looked for him. And when we found him quietly gnawing a bone behind Sammie’s Shop, we were glad. And when Boggel needed a new roof, we all worked together to fix it. That’s how it is in Rolbos. We know we can depend on honesty and if one of us has a problem, we stand together to fix it.

“That’s what we talked about. Gertruida told us. She said you carry a heavy yoke and you never had the courage to share it. Now we, Dominee, take a dim view of that. Very dim. We are your flock and we expect you to share with us.

“But Gertruida also said another thing in Boggel’s last night. We didn’t want to hear it, no sir! It cut too near the bone! So we talked about it a lot and came to a decision. Maybe it’s not what you and Mevrou would approve, not during a service, but that’s what we decided and that’s what we are going to do.

“Now Dominee, we decided…”

“Oh for goodness sakes, Servaas, get on with it.” Vetfaan’s irritated voice drowns Servaas’ monotone. “Let’s get this over with. It’s hard enough the way it is.”

Servaas turns around to face Vetfaan. “Listen, I am the elder, and it is my duty. Now why don’t you just remain quiet while I do my job. I remind you that Oudoom appointed me as head elder and not you.” He stares Vetfaan down, who drops his head in his hands, muttering something about somebody’s inflated ego.

“So, as I was saying, Dominee, we came to a decision.” Servaas turns on his heel and takes his seat next to Vetfaan, who gets an elbow in the ribs.

“And what, Elder Servaas, is that decision?” Oudoom knows – from years of experience – that a Dominee must always listen to his congregation. If they have something to say, it’s better to let them air their opinions. You don’t have to agree, but you must seem to be interested in their drivel.

To his surpise, Boggel shuffles to the front after Servaas stared at him. This, Oudoom decides, is something they agreed on.

Boggel, despite his hunchback, straightens himself as well as he can.

“Dominee, I grew up in an orphanage. There I fell in love with a girl. Her father abused her…” Boggel speaks for a full ten minutes, telling them about his past[i]. When at last he finishes, Kleinpiet gets up and tells them about the girl he left when she fell pregnant. Then it’s Precilla who – blushing and stuttering – informs them how she made money to pay for her studies, and what price she had to pay for it eventually. Sersant admits he hates his job and how he struggles to understand the way the police force works these days.

To their utter surprise, Sammie walks into the church at that point, and confesses how he has been diddling his books to avoid paying taxes. Ben Bitterbrak tells them about his childhood and how he learnt to curse like he does. He manages with only three bloodies and a single f-word. Gertruida takes them back to her affair with Ferdinand, the spy, and their evenings in his flat.

And so, one after the other, the members of the congregation impart their deepest secrets. By this time, Mevrou has joined Oudoom on the pulpit, where the couple listens with tears streaming down their cheeks.

It becomes one of the longest services the little church has even seen. Wiele Willemse stands up to say he’s sorry for all the fake sick notes he has handed in at Kalahari Vervoer. It is almost as if they are all overwhelmed by the need to get rid of the stuff that has been bothering for years. At last, Servaas confesses to the communion-wine debacle.

The meeting falls silent. In a long, drawn-out few minutes, nobody dares to speak. Oudoom tries to clear his throat and is about to start talking when an extremely guilty-looking Vrede ambles down the aisle. In his mouth is a piece of biltong he just stole from Servaas’s stoep. With a muffled grrrr-arf  he flops down in front of the pulpit.

All of a sudden, the spell is broken. The congregation collapses in laughter; but whether it is relief, or mirth or just the fact that everybody got rid of some nasty baggage, is difficult to say. Servaas gets up, bends down to take his biltong back – but straightens up again, shaking his head.

“You see, Dominee, we all have secrets. Maybe we have less of them after this service, but last night we decided it is wrong to live with so much pretence. Now, Dominee, Gertruida refused to tell us what this yoke is that’s bearing you down. She also said there is a season for everything. She assured us you have other priorities now, and that you and Mevrou will need some time to sort things out. You’ll tell us when you’re good and ready and when the Lord leads you to do so.

“So we all chipped in, Dominee. We think you and Mevrou need a bit of time to yourself. Sammie, here, has a brother who has a flat in Onrus, that little seaside village near Cape Town. We want you to take Vetfaan’s pickup and drive there today. Lucinda packed some padkos, Marco gave some wine and the rest of us want you to accept this small donation we collected last night.” After stretching to place the envelope on the pulpit, he turns to the congregation. Servaas spreads his arms wide and blesses them with the benediction.

Oudoom is left gaping as the people file out. Here he was, ready to resign, and … He turns to Mevrou with a trembling lip.

“This isn’t happening,” he says.

And Issie, with a tenderness so long forgotten, tells him yes my love, it is.

*

When the pickup drives down Voortrekker Weg, the crowd in front of Boggel’s Place waves until the dust on the road to Grootdrink settles.

The woman next to the driver glances back with a wry smile.

“You know that lot is going to have a week-long party, with you out of town and nobody to guide them?”

The driver laughs. “Honeybunch, it’s okay. They taught me more about faith in a single morning than the university did in all those years. Let them be. They deserve a break from us.”

*

“You know, this is special town,” Marco says as Boggel shuffles over with some wine. “I never hear something like this. You make history today.”

“No, Marco, not history. We just did the right thing.” He smiles at Lucinda who blows him a kiss. “And we made a memory.”

“And you make two people very happy,” Lucinda says. “I like that.”

Servaas storms in, red in the face and out of breath. “Has anyone seen that damn dog? If I find him, I’ll skin him alive! He took ALL of my biltong.”

“No Servaas,” Gertruida calms the old man down. “I took it and hung it on my porch. The roof is higher. It’s like we did with Oudoom and Mevrou – it’s safer when you move nearer to heaven…”

…………………………………

And so, after reading about 160 Rolbos stories (and writing them), it is time for us to leave Boggel to pursue the lovely Lucinda; for old Marco to settle in the community; for Gertruida to catch up on her reading of  National Geographic;  for Vetfaan and Kleinpiet to do a bit of farming for a change; and for Mevrou to unpack (to Oudoom’s delight) her new frillies – which, incidentally, helped settle many problems in the pastorie. Precilla still dreams of love, Sammie hopes for a bumper season and Wiele Willemse hopes Kalahari Vervoer will buy a new lorry..

To all the readers who lived in Rolbos for the last six months – a BIG thank you. God willing, the journey will continue in September…

Bless you all.


[i] https://rolbos.wordpress.com/2012/06/06/framed/   Boggel did a few nasty things, he even lied to Sersant dreyer

Shadows of Yesterday

 

When Oudoom staggers home after a most enjoyable afternoon in Boggel’s Place (Marco never breathed another word about the secrets of Rodriquez da Silva), he is in great spirits –  in more ways than one. He’s never let his hair down like that, and it was great to be comfortable amongst friends. Mevrou always has this haughty approach when she talks to members of the congregation – something she encourages him to do, as well. He tries, Lord knows, he tries. But this afternoon he felt so much closer to his flock, so much nearer to the heartbeat of the little society.

“Hey, Honeybunch, I’m ho-o-ome!” Oudoom giggles as he pushes open the door. That’s what they called her in the time she stayed in the small servant’s room behind the house. It was a house joke – whenever any of them came home, they’d call her that. It made them feel more domesticated than having a lowly servant around. And back then, when she was young and shapely and still seeking the illusive husband, she’d be there, waiting with some freshly brewed coffee and rusks.

“You watch your step, Oudoom,” she never uses his first name these days, “I can tell you’ve been drinking again. I hang my head in shame, that’s all I can tell you. The shepherd that leads his flock astray. You’re as bad as them all. Sies, man!” The muffled voice behind the door is angry, spoiling for a fight.

“You’ll never guess what we talked about,” he shouts back happily.

Silence.

Eventually, curiosity kills the cat. “What?”

“Remember your friend Rodriquez da Silva? The one who collected the rent every month?” Oudoom forces the mirth from his voice. “Well, he’s coming to visit. Fancy that?”

Mevrou feels the earth opening beneath her and prays that it’ll swallow her so deep, no trace will be left behind. Of course she remembers him. He was her pocket money every month – how else could she survive? And how else would she have been able to buy wine for the graduates after their exams? And Rodriquez, the gambler who knew everything there is to know about everybody, duped her into submission by threatening to expose her past activities to her current employers.

It was a game she understood well after the law firm asked her to leave. She was prepared to do anything, anything, anything, to be sure of a roof over her head. Back then her father still refused to talk to her and she had nowhere to go. So when Rodriquez said his silence is for sale the, er, transaction was done.

If Oudoom knew the details of that affair, he’d kick her out, just like her father had back then. If Rodriquez breathed a word of her attempts to secure a well-to-do husband, Oudoom, the congregation, the entire district – even the Synod – will come crashing down on her like a ton of accusing bricks.

And, after all these years, the people will laugh at Mevrou, the iron woman with the clay feet. They’ll realise she is a fake, a false prophet, a woman with a much-tainted past. She, the source of so much embarrassment to herself, her husband, everybody. The laughing stock of the Northern Cape. That is if Die Huisgenoot –  or worse – the Upington Post don’t start writing about her.

She opens the door on a crack. “What?” Breathless, anxious.

 

Mevrou sinks to her knees behind the door. No. Nooooo! This can’t be happening! After all these years? Oudoom never said anything, and now…

Oudoom saunters over to the cabinet where the communion wine is kept. “Want a drink, Honeybunch?  Our house special, not really heavy on the palate, but that’s all we’ve got. I’ll have a double myself, thank you.”

“But we don’t drink, you know that.” Funny how old habits die hard – even in the face of the firing squad, some people still try to convince others they are wrong. What’s the use?

“We.” Oudoom gets up to do a curtsy. “Oh, your royal highness, I do beg your pardon! I bow low before your radiant eminence.”

“You’re drunk! That’s it! You’ve made up that story about Rodriquez to keep me off your back – because you’re drunk. Oh, how low can you go, Dominee?” She spits out the last word as she marches down the corridor towards him. “You lied, didn’t you? Tell me you lied, you miserable man! Tell me! Tell me now…!”

Oudoom sways a little as he toasts the window. He never realised how bad he used to feel until now. Trying to keep his balance, he mulls over this wisdom. Now, in this euphoria, it is so easy to see how the wasted years affected his calling. Somehow, he finds it funny (or fonny, as Marco says) that he found this truth not in some holy handbook, but in a bottle of Cactus Jack…

“It’s so fonny,” he says, “so terribly sad and fonny…” He finally manages to coordinate his swaying with the erratic movements his eyes seem to favour. Mevrou swims into focus.

Mevrou… When did he start calling her that? Isabella Franciska Badenhorst – that’s her maiden name. He used to call her Issie – way back then, when he still thought they could manage to be civil with each other. But, somewhere along the way, he became Oudoom and she, Mevrou.

There’s some logic to that, he decides. After all, were their roles not defined by their functions as church leaders? And did those functions eventually become the two individuals they are? They lost … what? Their personalities? Their humanity? Whatever they lost doesn’t matter: they’ve become automated beings – machine-like because they were programmed to perform certain functions.

“No, Isabella Francisca, I did not lie.” A wave of nausea starts building up, but he swallows it away. “Mevrou is about to meet her past, and the whole town will be witness to it. We, my dear and beloved wife, are finished.”

Mevrou watches her husband collapse in the rocking chair next to the fireplace.  This is his favourite retreat when he’s working on his sermons. When he’s in that chair, gently rocking and staring into the flames, he ventures into a world of his own – a silent world where her biting remarks and sarcasm can’t reach him. It’s almost as if he leaves the room to be somewhere else – somewhere where clouds are rosy and people are kind.

To her utter surprise, he starts crying.

She’s never seen him react with emotion. Even on funerals he keeps his stern face, unmoved by grief and untouched by the sadness of a final good-bye. When she taunts him, he simply becomes stone-faced and waits for her anger to fizzle out. He doesn’t smile on weddings and he never does the coochie-coo-thing with babies.

Now, he’s come back from that Italian – first laughing and now crying – with the most upsetting attitude. And she’s never – never – heard him use her first names like that. He is, by all accounts, as drunk as a lord.

The knock at the door crashes into her thoughts. People! Damn! Oudoom is drunk, she is dishevelled, and now there are people at the door! She can’t possibly allow people into her house now? What’ll they think?

“Open up, Mevrou, it’s Gertruida. Please?”

Well, at least it’s Gertruida. Maybe she’ll understand? She was in the bar as well, wasn’t she?

Gertruida  walks in when the door is opened. She murmurs a soft hello before going over the slumbering figure of Oudoom.

“He passed out, did he?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so. Very unusual, I must say. Not like him at all. Can I help you?”

“No, Mevrou, I can help you. First we must get Oudoom to bed, and then we’ll talk. Come, help me get him to the bedroom…”

With no choice in the matter, Mevrou helps Gertruida to drag the slumbering Oudoom down the corridor. While Mevrou takes off the clergyman’s shoes, Gertruida scans the pictures on the wall.

“This is … you?” She points at the picture of a pretty young lady on the wall. Glancing over her shoulder, Mevrou simply nods.

“You were – are – beautiful! My, I never realised…”

“That was a long time ago, Gertruida. Long. Many years. Everything has changed over the years. Look at me now.” Her tone is harsh – now, don’t you patronise me…

Gertruida looks.

An older woman well past her prime, that’s for sure. The wrinkled brow speaks of sleepless nights and deep torment. The thin lips that find it so difficult to curl up in a smile. The loose skin on the once-beautiful neck. And the eyes – the incredible, terrible sadness lurking there. Somehow, Gertruida realises, she has never looked at Mevrou. Not like this.

“We were both young once.” It sounds so lame…

Mevrou sits down next to Oudoom, brushing away the sparse hair from his forehead.

“Yes, Getruida, we all were. Even this old bag of bones here,” she gestures towards Oudoom, but there is a new softness in her voice. Not knowing what else to say, she adds: “We had a party, once. We even danced.”

“Young girls tend to do that,” Gertruida smiles at the memories of her own youth. “I had a special friend back then. Ferdinand…[i] Wow! How that man danced! But he … went away. Life was never the same after that. But I suppose that’s what happens.” She pauses as she glances at the prostate figure on the bed. “Is he okay? That’s what I came to find out, sorry.”

“No, I don’t think so. He came back from that bar and he wasn’t himself. I’ve never seen him like that. Not like him at all. What happened there, Gertruida?”

Gertruida tells her how Marco can talk the tail off a horse – and that he must have a teflon-lined liver. “You know, Mevrou, Oudoom even laughed out loud! It was so good to see him like that. Lately he seemed so depressed and … even lonely, if you’ll excuse me saying it.” She waits for the rebuke that doesn’t come. “Anyway, we just listened as old Marco rambled on and on. He’s really a most interesting character. Been around the world a few times and has such a lot of funny stories to tell. He even told us about a nephew he met in the Cape. Rodriquez somebody..” She stops when she sees Mevrou blanching. “Oh, Mevrou! Anything wrong?”

Then he did tell the truth! That’s why he drank so much! Oh, no…they’ll all find out.

“No, just feeling a bit dizzy, that’s all. Too much for one day, really!” She gets up and puts on her formal face again. “Well, thank you, Gertruida, I appreciate your help. I think I’ll just sit here with him for a while…”

“Mevrou…?” Gertruida dangles the question in the air, afraid to finish the sentence.

“Yes?”

“Why are you and Oudoom so upset by this Rodriquez character? When Oudoom heard his name, he almost fainted. You had the same reaction just now. If he hurt you in the past…?

Mevrou shakes her head. “No, it’s not like that. Go now.”

“It’s somebody you both knew, isn’t it? Somebody in the time before you moved to Rolbos. Somebody … who had something to do with both of you.”

“Gertruida, I don’t want to talk about it. Go now!”

Oudoom stirs, shakes his head, groans – and sits up. His movements are tentative, but his eyes are much more focussed.

“No, Issie. Stop it. I can’t live like this any longer. I know Gertruida – and I trust her. Won’t you make me a cup of coffee, then we talk about Rodriques da Silva and the lawyers and the doctors and Lord knows who else. We’ve ignored this thing long enough.”

*

Gertruida leaves them long after the jackals in the desert stopped howling at each other. In fact, she can identify Venus over the eastern horizon as she walks home.

In the parsonage two old people sit, staring wordlessly at each other until Oudoom sighs.

“We should have talked about this a long time ago, Issie. We’ve bottled up those words until it choked the both of us – now it’s out. I must say, I feel much better.”

Isabella Francisca Vermeulen smiles – not hugely so, but still – at her husband. She loves the way he says her name. A sudden thought wipes the would-be smile away.

“But nothing has changed, you know that. I’m still the scarlet woman in this town; you’re still the man tricked into an unhappy marriage and that … that Italian is going to ruin everything. Gertruida might not talk about it, but once Rodriquez comes, we’re done for. Can you imagine how they’ll talk…”

*

It’s way past eleven when Mevrou brings in a tray with fresh coffee to the bedroom.

“We were fools. That Gertruida has called a meeting for tonight – in Boggel’s Place. And I can tell you what that hussy is going to do – she’ll jump the gun: by the time Da Silva comes, he’ll be too late to do any more damage. Gertruida is going to sink us at this meeting. I know it. We might as well leave.”

Oudoom runs a hand trough her greying hair. Oh, how beautiful it was when they first met! Her hair always had a special way of reflecting the sunlight on a summer’s day – now it is dull and grey and lifeless.  This is what we’ve become, he thinks.

“I was called to serve this congregation, Issie. Tomorrow is Sunday. Let them gossip all they want tonight, I’ll serve my resignation during the service tomorrow. But I won’t run away. We won’t run away.  If they want to crucify us, then so be it. No, let them talk. But we – you and I – were joined in a holy union. And we’ll honour those vows – till the end. And, in exactly the same manner, we’ll approach this problem with the congregation.”

“But, Hendrik,” must his name feel so foreign on her tongue? “Now that you know everything about me – Lord knows, I was so ashamed to tell you those things – how can you say that? I’m nothing but a … a … harlot!”

“And, much like Noah, I got drunk. And remember the weekend that dancer stayed in here? The one with the fishnets?  I’m as guilty as you are. My sin isn’t bigger than yours, and we’ve both been living a lie for too long. I married you out of guilt. You married me out of desperation. Who is the bigger sinner? We both did wrong.

“But now – now at last – we were brave enough to talk about it. And whether Gertruida spills our beans or not, she did us a favour to get us talking. Even that silly Italian helped. I don’t know about you, but I feel like a weight has been removed from my shoulders.

“Come here.”

For the first time in …thirty, forty, years? … Issie settles in the arms of her husband.

Fonny,” she smiles as she deliberately mimics the Italian she’s never met, “I used to fit in better in the old days.” Snuggling in a bit deeper, she sighs: “Tomorrow we’ll start a new life, Hennie. We’ll go away. And we’ll start over.”

“No, my dear – not tomorrow. We’ll start a new life today.” She feels his hand move slowly down her spine to cup the rather voluptuous cheek down there…

*

Afterwards it was his turn to mimic. “Its fonny – those bits still fit perfectly well, don’t they?”

Issie cuddles up to the broad chest, still surprised at the grey hair she never noticed growing there. Yes, let them talk. Tomorrow, from the pulpit, her husband, Dominee Hendrik Vermeulen, will do the honourable thing. And then, somewhere far away, they’ll start a new life.

A happy life.

The life both of them wanted for so long…