Tag Archives: gossip

The Man at the Airport

airport_in_cape_town_680_453_80_s-390x259(following on the previous post) 

Next time you’re at an international airport, look around. Not just glance or peer or peek: really LOOK at the people milling this way and that. Gertruida says that when you realise there is no bigger collection of secrets anywhere else in the world. Airports, she says, are the warehouses of the world when it comes to harbouring mysteries and secrets. Every one of the people bustling past you, has a thought, an opinion or a memory nobody else knows anything about. Check it out…it’s true.

Take – for instance – the young lady over there. The one with the slightly prominent middle. She’s been crying, you can see that. Or the frowning old man over there, clutching the battered briefcase. He’s a con artist, waiting for the gullible but rich young man on the next flight. Or what about the chap in the dark suit? The one with the dog collar? Did you know he has a cupboard filled with leather clothes and whips in the flat he rents a mile from his home?

Everyone has a secret.

Diksarel, too,

He’s got his wallet and passport safely tucked into the pocket of his floral shirt, feeling a bit odd in the Bermuda’s and floppy sandals. It is cold outside, but where he’s going, the weather will be balmy and the company hot. At least, he hopes so. Kneehigh suggested much more than casual conversation, after all. Admittedly, he was a bit confused when she suggested they take a holiday. Who does that, anyway? To go to a romantic tropical island with somebody, is something he never even dreamt of. Yet, here he is, waiting at the airport…

Kneehigh not only suggested the trip, she supplied the tickets, the bookings…everything. What was a man to do? Say no thank you? Refused to slip away into the most erotic fantasy he’d ever have and forever be sorry that he didn’t? And all that, while Kneehigh had her hand so softly – so seductively – on his thigh and her magical eyes saw the need deep inside his mind?

One cannot blame a man such as Diksarel for surrendering to those eyes. Not if you knew his secret…

You see, Diksarel can be described as a social runt. Physically, there is nothing wrong with him. He has the standard two arms and two legs and all the rest. But deep inside him, he carries the underdeveloped ability to be part of the in-crowd. Ever since he was a toddler, he has been a loner, an outcast, the little boy who wasn’t invited to the birthday party.

It wasn’t his fault.

His father, you see, was a spy. No, not like in James Bond or one of Le Carrè’s characters – nothing as dramatic or adventurous like that. He may be better described as one of the many Bureau of State Security’s ears on the ground. These men and women were everywhere. White people accepted them as part of the surreal life they led back in the 70’s and 80’s, It was believed that such ‘agents’ were necessary to combat the danger of communism. And, as it was believed at the time, the threat lived and grew stronger in the black townships on the outskirts of every town in the country.

So far, so good. If Diksarel’s father was instrumental in keeping South Africa safe, he should be a hero, not so? Well, maybe for a time he might have been seen in such a flattering light…but then an intimate little fact became known. He had a secret girlfriend. An affair. And in this case, his Delilah wasn’t white…

So Diksarel’s mother left, his father took to the bottle, and Diksarel became a recluse. As young as he was, he understood that his Pappa had done something so terrible, so unacceptably horrible, that even he, the small boy, had to bear the burden of his father’s unthinkable actions.

It’s funny (not in a humorous way – let’s rather settle on weird) how such a stigma can outlast the scandal. Now, so many long years after his father succumbed to the effects of the excessive volumes of alcohol he insisted on pouring down his throat, Diksarel is still the outcast. Maybe it is the way all societies work, or maybe Upingon is blessed with a particularly good memory, but to this day people whisper behind his back. This may be entirely due to the unforgiving nature of the human mind, but one may add that Diksarel’s shame refused to fade as the years rolled by.  If your father had to endure the grim rejection following such a scandal, the effects might just last a lifetime. Times and governments may change, policies may dictate a more just community – but it’ll never rid society of prejudice and gossip.

That’s why Diksarel lives alone in the house he inherited from his mother. She, in turn, inherited it from his father, but she never returned to Upington. She knew…and she stayed away. The House of Shame, it was called back then – nowadays it’s Diksarel’s house. The name changed but the implied shame didn’t.

Oh, one can understand Diksarel’s joy, his anticipation, his expectation. Kneehigh is, after all, the first woman – ever – to talk to him in the way women talk to men they like. You know: the eyes. The mirrors of the soul. They say more than words ever can. And when she talked to Diksarel, her eyes promised a paradise all men dream of. And he felt himself drawn in by those eyes and his whole world changed.

So we find Diksarel in his floral shirt and his Bermuda shorts and his sandals on this cold day at the airport, waiting for the woman who told him such wonderful things while she looked into his soul.

But look: over there are two men. The ones with the short hair and the strong jaws and the determined looks. They’re scanning the faces, comparing them with the photograph the taller one is holding in his right hand. You won’t think they’re taxi drivers or agents for a local hotel or spa. No sir. Their almost-military bearing says something about their background. In fact, you’d notice them standing there simply because they are obviously not tourists, but two men on a mission.

You’d wonder about that. Who are they looking for? Why?

But you know about Diksarel and that invoice. The one he destroyed after chatting to the voluptuously beautiful Kneehigh. So do those two men from the Revenue Services.

Yes, Gertruida is right – as usual. An airport is where you find secrets. And as you rush towards the customs officials, you seldom have the time to consider the hidden tragedies – and hopes – of your fellow passengers.

It’s a pity.

Travelling would be so much more interesting if you did.

The Meeting

Robert-RedfordNobody can accuse Servaas of being a coward.

Not him.

Not the man whose solemn face speaks volumes of his faith and the steadfast belief that everything in Life has a purpose. If you looked at him now – sitting at the bar while nursing his beer – you’d say he is a man at peace with the world. His black Sunday suit has been pressed and the old shoes shined to a mirror-like finish. He took particular care of his hair today and even combed the bushy eyebrows. And…he’s surrounded by a cloud of Old Spice…

“What’s with the grooming, Oom Servaas? And the red tie? Wow, you look like  Robert Redford.” Kleinpiet just can’t keep his curiosity in check.

“It’s your fault.” Servaas glances at the younger man, the accusation in his words all too obvious. “You wrote that letter.”

The penny drops.

***

A few weeks ago, Servaas mentioned (in passing, just a side remark) that he was rather lonely at night.

“Look,” he said at the time, “when you get older, your mind tends to wander back into the past. In my case, I remember the laughter and fun…and then I wonder why I didn’t enjoy it more while it lasted.” He sighed as he looked down at his arthritic hands. “Especially at night – when I go to bed – that’s when I feel lonely. You know? Just to have somebody there. Someone to talk with. To pray with. To be with.”

Vetfaan was there that day, and he nudged Kleinpiet. “We’ve got to get him a girlfriend, Kleinpiet. When he starts talking like this, he’ll have us all in tears in no time. Buggers up the atmosphere every time he starts thinking about Siena.”  He kept his voice low, making sure Servaas didn’t hear.

Kleinpiet nodded. “But who?”

When they discussed the issue with Gertruida a while later, she remembered Hetty.

“She’s a niece thrice removed. Used to be a teacher, and now lives in Pretoria. She’s a lively one, I can tell you that. Nice sense of humour, too.” She smiled sweetly at Kleinpiet: “Come on, Cupid, why don’t you write her a letter? Maybe she’ll be interested in meeting Servaas?”

***

“She’s coming today? Today?” Kleinpiet almost chokes on his beer. “I thought…”

“You thought I’d say no, didn’t you? You thought I’d be embarrassed? That once I found out about your…your little plan…I’d chicken out? Well, think again, young man. Servaas is not a man to let a lady down.”

***

Rolbos is just too small for a secret to survive more than 24 hours. After Kleinpiet posted the letter, the group at the bar was discussing the possibilities when Servaas walked in on them. Boggel saw trouble looming on the horizon and started serving Cactus Jack with alarming regularity. After the fourth round, Servaas had the whole story.

“We only did it to help you, Oom.” Kleinpiet spread his arms wide in a gesture of innocence. “Didn’t mean no harm…”

“No?” Servaas knitted his brows together, snorted and slammed down his glass. “You wrote a letter to somebody you don’t know, asking her to come and visit me – because I’m a pathetic old lonely man?” Ha had to take a deep breath before going on in a whisper that everybody could hear. “Now, I’ll tell you what. You give me the name and address, and I’ll fix this. And then, my dear young friend, you keep your nose out of my business. Understand?”

***

At exactly eleven o’ clock, the rented car stops in front of Boggel’s Place. By now the story of the visit has spread and everybody has found an excuse to be in Boggel’s Place.

“A red tie? Red? I’ve never seen him wear anything but white before. And see how he’s dressed? This is so unlike Servaas, it’s scary.” Precilla actually thinks the old man looks rather handsome. She sees the car draw up and gasps. “Shhh…she’s here…”

Hetty is, indeed, somebody to gasp at. Dressed in a neat floral skirt and matching blouse, she hops from the car, closes the door, and then reaches through the open window to pick up a red rose from the back seat.

“Nice legs,” Vetfaan whispers.

“Go on, Servaas. Don’t let her stand there. Go introduce yourself.” Precilla pushes Servaas from the bar stool and aims him at the door. Strangely, the old man seems calm and not reluctant at all.

They all watch as Servaas marches out to meet Hetty. They embrace. He takes the rose with a little bow. Then he leads her into Boggel’s Place.

“Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce Hetty. Hetty: these are the cretins I have to put up with every day.” Seemingly pleased with his insult, he turns on his heel to guide Hetty back to the street.

The little group in the bar crowd the window to watch the two walk over to the bench in front of the church.

“What just happened here?” Vetfaan shakes his head to clear the racing thoughts. “This isn’t the Servaas I know? Did the aliens clone him during the night or something?”

A lively discussion follows. Precilla suggests that Oudok must have increased the old man’s antidepressants. Kleinpiet blames the Cactus. Fanny – with a Bambi-look in her eyes – tells everybody it must be love at first sight.

***

“Now tell me, Hetty, everything that’s happened in the meantime? I last saw you – oh, how many years ago – at the matric dance in Swartruggens…”

“Yes, isn’t it strange? When I got the first letter, I thought it was a prank. I’ve got…strange friends, you know? Always out to make fun of things. But then – then I got your letter, and I know only one Servaas who can be so indignant. Even after all these years, I still remember you well. That’s why I wrote back – I thought it’d be nice to meet you again. I can see I wasn’t wrong.”

“Ja…” Servaas smiles happily. “To think it’ssuch a coincidence! I was the head boy, you the prefect. And now, after all these years, we meet up like this?”

“Well, we’ve got a lot of catching up to do. Funny how we simply drifted apart back then. I suppose that’s life, not so? You left to study in Pretoria and I had another two years of school ahead of me. And then my parents moved and we lost touch.” Hetty gives a little giggle. “Shall we tell this lot everything?”

“…And spoil their fun? No, we’ll keep them guessing for a while. They need something to gossip about, anyway. Later – much later – we can tell them we’re family. Until then…”

***

“They’re holding hands!” Kleiniet is dumbstruck. “They’re actually holding hands…”

“Well, I never!” Gertruida fights down a little wave of jealousy. “That old man must be out of his mind. His heart won’t be up to it…”

For once, Gertruida doesn’t know how wrong she is.

The Reality of the Act

Charlize-Theron-Hair-2013“Soooo,” Gertruida asks, even though she knows the answer, “was that article fake…or true?”

Rolbos has had an unprecedented number of visitors lately, trying to answer this very question. After all, the lady in question represents one of the most recognisable faces in Hollywood today, and it’s almost impossible to say anything about her without stopping the proverbial conversation at the next virtual table.

kwv-2-600“Some believe it, some don’t.” Oudoom swills his brandy around in the goblet, savouring the aroma of the twenty-year-old KWV. Boggel saves the bottle especially for the old clergyman, for special occasions…or when the little community comes up with something extraordinary.

Tonight is such a night – he can feel it.

“Look,” Kleinpiet says because he still has a crush on the actress, “there’s been a lot of trash written about the woman. And you, Gertruida, dug up some rather despicable photos on the Internet. Like you pointed out – they were altered to slander, not to convey reality. I find that unacceptable.”

“The high trees catch the wind, Kleinpiet.” Servaas is dressed in his black suit again – an ominous sign of his approach to the matter. “If the Internet is such a powerful tool, why didn’t she use it to clear her name?”

“Because, dear Servaas, you only perpetuate a lie by keeping it alive with denials. Remember Shakespeare? The lady doth protest too much? That’s the way tabloids make their money, my friend. Somebody says something. Somebody denies it. And hey presto! Sensation is born and a few thousand more copies are sold. Money, money, money…” Fanny sits back, her point made. “It’s not about the person, Servaas, it’s about causing gossip and sensation.”

“Well,” the old man reluctantly agrees, “sensation we got. People from all over the world responded, some of them degrading the girl, others defending her. It seems you are either on one side or the other. Very few were neutral.”

“You’re wrong again, Servaas. Most people who read the story and didn’t respond. Those are the men and women who silently disagreed or simply thought it wasn’t worth it to respond. The silent majority is alive and well and living out there, my friend. They form their own opinion and do not care what others think.” Gertruida lifts her glass in a silent salute. “I respect those…”

“So why, Gertruida, did you bring that article here for all to see?” Servaas has to know.

“You know what? We talk about love, kindness and compassion all the time. Do people pay attention? Are they interested?” Gertruida pauses to let the point sink in. ” No! We only have a loyal following of readers who subscribe to those ideals. But…bring in a celebrity and suddenly the whole world gets on to the bandwagon.

“Oudoom preaches about forgiveness every Sunday, What happens out there? Nothing.

“When we talk about rape and corruption, it doesn’t cause a stir. These things affect thousands of people, every day. Is the world interested? No!

“Farm murders, Nkandla, the Arms Deal? No interest.

“But mention somebody famous, and suddenly it causes visitors from all over the world to voice an opinion. Remember Oscar Pistorius? People are more interested in scandal than in the mundane affairs of a healthy society – or at least a society wanting to be a tribute to humanity.”

Gertruida sighs as she signals for another beer. When will people learn?

“So you brought this up to prove…?” Precilla lets the question hang in the air.

“What Gertruida tried to do, Precilla, was to prove a point. Supposing that lady did, indeed, donate funds to an organisation. So what? Suppose she backed the wrong horse? Well, don’t we all do that at some point of our lives? And suppose this whole debacle was the result of somebody who wanted to cause unwanted sensation? Why pay attention, for goodness’ sakes!” Oudoom admires the amber liquid in his glass before sniffing it appreciatively. “The point? Gossip! Gossip fires the engine of tabloid and newspaper alike. It makes people talk. It provides scandal to a humanity that wants to build icons up, before tearing them down again. We did it with Hansie Cronje, Neil Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Oscar Pistorius. We vote for politicians only to tell the world later what scum they are. Miss a goal in the final on Saturday and see what hatemail you get on Monday.

“Somehow, we want heroes to be successful all of the time – we want to admire faultless gods. And once we detect a crack in the armoury, we prod and we probe until the tower comes crashing down.

“Of course, in doing this, we proclaim ourselves to be perfect. Woo boy! There’s nobody as great as I am – I make no mistakes! That’s what we’d like the world to believe.”

Boggel gets the Amarula from the shelf to mix the final coffee for the night.

“So, Gertruida, are you pleased with the result?”

Gertruida is at the window again, staring out at the moonlit landscape of the Kalahari. The plaintive cry of a jackal carries over the barren landscape, causing Vrede to look up suddenly.

“No, Boggel. Not pleased.”  She returns to the counter to sit down quietly. “Sad. So, so incredibly sad.”

Oudoom smiles sadly as he finishes the brandy. Yes, he thinks, less people will want to read this. But, at least those that do, will understand.

The twenty-year-old sip certainly lived up to expectations…

Oudoom on the Warpath

When Oudoom rushes up the steps to the pulpit, everybody knows a storm is brewing. In a place like Rolbos, it usually doesn’t take a genius to figure out who did what wrong, and where, so all eyes swivel to Servaas and Hybie, who sit next to each other at the back. The creaking of the old benches settles down as Oudoom holds up a hand.

“Today, we’re not going to read from the scriptures. I won’t deliver a sermon. We won’t sing.” He pauses and allows the silence to make his congregation uncomfortable. “We will, of course take up an offering, as usual.” Like a good politician, he waits before he goes on.

“Today I want to talk to you about silence.” Again the pause. “Silence can be a sin, did you know that? Remaining silent about a sin, is a sin.” Now his words tumble out in a cascade of fury. He slams his fist down on the dais, and shouts: “All ye who remain silent about sin, are as guilty  as the sinners themselves! Not a single person – no man or woman – had the integrity to complain about the gross misconduct that everybody knew about. You all harboured the snake of Satan, fed it, silenced it, and lived with it.”

Bu now, there is no doubt that he is going on about Servaas, the elder in the church, and his association with Hybie, the widow of Egbert, who fell from the roof on a Sunday because Hybie told him to get up there to fix it. A man of the church, stooping so low…and getting involved

“Now I don’t have to spell out the rules of the church, do I? I don’t have to remind you of the wages of sin. You know right and wrong, Lord knows, I’ve spent my life teaching you about it. You’re about to gamble away your life in eternity and I shall not allow it! You must root out the unjust. You have a holy duty to declare you allegiance. You have no excuse! No excuse!” The fist comes down again. “I’ll give you a week. One week to sort this out. And then we’ll see…”

He stomps out, forgetting to ask somebody to take up the offering.

Outside the church the little congregation gathers in a much confused group. Servaas fled to his home, leaving Hybie to walk alone towards hers.

“Don’t you think he was talking about Boggel’s Place?” Vetfaan tries to make sense out of the sermon that wasn’t. “Remember how he objected to Boggel becoming a deacon?”

“Yes, but that was before we learnt about his regular supply of Port. You’ll recall he later preached about Paul who said a little wine is good for your health. No, there’s no prize for guessing what’s going on in his head. And I, for one, won’t do anything about it. If old Servaas is lucky enough to find a bit of company in his old age, I say we let it be.” Kleinpiet still dreams of the right one to grow old with him. He’s a romantic at heart, despite the rough exterior. “If you guys want to start complaining about things, you go ahead. I’m off to Boggels for a drink – I can sure use one right now.”

Not entirely surprisingly, the rest join him.

The atmosphere in Boggel’s Place is somber as the bent little man serves them all. It is obvious that Oudoom won’t let this one pass without some serious consequences. They all followed the romance between the two old people with a mixture of joy, jealousy and several smirks. Imagine that at that age, one can still become excited about …

“We’ll have to think of something, guys.” Life in Rolbos won’t ever be the same if Oudoom makes a stand of it, and Vetfaan knows it. “Maybe we should appoint a delegation to talk to Oudoom?”

“With him in such a mood? You’ve got to be joking. Nobody will sway him if he acts like he did this morning.” Gertruida – who is an expert on human behaviour (amongst other things) – is using her lecture voice. “No, I think we must rally in support of Servaas and Hybie. Sure, we had a nice gossip about them, but their happiness is at stake. Did you see the look on Hybie’s face when she had to go home alone? Both of them are crushed right now. They need us more than Oudoom needs somebody to come and lay a complaint. If nobody complains, he makes himself guilty of acting upon gossip. There’s something in the Bible about that, as well.”

For the rest of the week, Servaas, Hybie and Oudoom remain confined to their homes. The first two are rarely alone, however. Kleinpiet spends his days playing poker (beans as chips) with Servaas, while they talk about everything – except Hybie. Precilla and Gertruida take turns to visit Hybie, who keeps herself busy with a huge tapestry of an Eland. Nobody visits Oudoom, who can be seen peeking through the drawn curtains of the pastorie.

The talk in Boggel’s Place revolves around the question whether anybody should go to church on Sunday. Kleinpiet says they must all boycott the church, but Gertruida reckons that would be wrong. “We’re angry with Oudoom, not the Lord. Let’s go and hear what he has to say. If he starts up with Servaas and Hybie, we can all walk out and leave him shouting at the rafters. Maybe he’ll get the message then.”

Servaas visited Siena’s grave again on Friday. For once, he gets no answer. No friendly dust devil and no lonely Springbok arrive to give him a clue. He’s on his own, and he knows it.

On Saturday Boggel watches with a certain amount of trepidation as Servaas, dressed in his best, walks down the street towards Hybie’s home. Half-an-hour later he reappears and returns to his own cottage. He has the determined step of a soldier on his way to the front.

The townsfolk arrive at church on the stroke of nine on Sunday. Nobody wanted to be early for the usual chat-and-banter before the service, in case Oudoom confronts them in person. It is easier to keep the pulpit between the clergyman and the flock – it creates a safe distance which they all feel they need right now.

The Oudoom that emerge from the vestry, is a downcast and depressed-looking man. Gone is the fire and brimstone of last week; replaced with a resigned slouch of the shoulders and an almost whispered welcome to the House of the Lord.

“You know,” he starts in a soft and conversational tone, like one would expect a condemned man would use before the sergeant gives the order to fire; it is stupid and hopeless to argue at that point. “I was hoping for more integrity amongst you. After the years of preaching and teaching, I thought you had enough knowledge and wisdom to recognise the Devil.

“If one of you had the guts to complain, I could have acted. If a single voice went up in protest, I could have prevented the agent of Satan to infiltrate our midst. You’ve all seen it, right under your noses, and yet you remained silent!” He is getting angry again, and several people start eying the doors. They may have to leave soon. “But no. I tried telling Sammie you wouldn’t tolerate it. He laughed in my face. I told him you know about gambling, and that you’d complain. He said if a single one of you complained, he’d remove the Lotto machine from his shop…”

Oudoom doesn’t get to finish the sentence. Despite his anger, he sees how suddenly his congregation starts cheering and laughing.  Kleinpiet is on his feet, hugging Gertruida, who doesn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. Vetfaan skips down the aisle to shake Boggel’s hand. And Hybie, who sits a respectable distance from Servaas, suddenly finds her hand clasped in the bony hand of the old man, while he tells her he loves her.

Once the pandemonium dies down, they circulate a petition to ask Sammie – with great respect and a promise to pay their accounts within the next week – if he would mind if they asked him nicely to remove the instrument of Satan from his shop. Let the rest of the country gamble, but the Lotto is not welcome in Rolbos, where Oudoom is right in saying gambling is wrong. The slightly overwhelmed and confused pastor says a quick prayer of thanks before he allows his flock to start to trudge out, to celebrate at Boggel’s.

“The ways of the Lord…”he whispers, shaking his head as they leave. Then he catches a glimpse of Servaas and Hybie, walking hand-in-hand through the big wooden doors that protect the sacred building. A sad smile hovers on his face. It’s such a beautiful  thing if love found it’s way back to Rolbos, he thinks, I’ll have to congratulate them, once I’ve spoken to Sammie tomorrow…