Tag Archives: kindness

The Goldilocks Zone of Kindness.

extra-Paint-CansBoggel, the bent little barman behind the counter, often tells his customers that kindness and rain have a lot in common. Too little makes things die. Too much, on the other hand, washes away the honesty of caring. Like the theme in the story of Goldilocks and The Three Bears suggests, the trick is to get it ‘just right‘. Too little – or too much – will spoil the original intent of empathy and care.

While his patrons might debate this issue, Boggel can’t forget an incident – so many years ago – just after he had left school to seek his fame and fortune in the big, wide world out there.

***

Having managed to pass matric, Boggel had to leave the orphanage. This was a sad day, indeed, when he hugged the others before closing the garden gate behind him for the last time. His worldly possessions included the clean change of clothes in his little suitcase, a small Bible in his pocket, and fifteen Rands and seventy-five cents carefully knotted in the washed handkerchief in his hand. With no specific plan how to conquer the world, Boggel felt like the loneliest young man in the world.

He timed his leaving well, and had just reached the bus stop when Kallie Mann stopped the lumbering bus next to the bench under the huge old Acacia.

“Going places?”

“Ja, Oom. Upington, I think.”

Kallie wouldn’t accept a bus fare from the young lad, knowing all too well what his background was. In a place like Grootdrink, even the orphans were celebrities (of sorts). Anything or anybody out of the usual, mundane normality, was a source of debate, discussion or plain gossip in the little town. Boggel, as a hunchbacked orphan, was a well-known and much talked about young man.

 Kallie, too, had a bit of history. He had married his childhood sweetheart, Sally Kleyngeld, set up home, and was soon able to announce the imminent arrival of their first child. It was not to be. A complicated birth, two graves (a big one, a small one) and an empty house termitted away at the life of this once-popular man. He resigned his work at the bank and became a bus driver. That way he rarely had to spend an evening amongst the ghosts and shattered dreams of his of his past. He said he needed the openness of the veld around him – the small office in the bank had too many walls.

A few miles out of Grootdrink, Kallie asked his only passenger what his plans were. Boggel shook his head.

“Why don’t you move in with me for a while? Until you find something else, I mean. The place is huge, I’m alone and you need a bed. Seems the logical thing to do.”

And that’s what they did. Boggel moved in. Kallie’s house, however, was in a state of total disarray. Kallie apologised, saying he’s never at home and…anyway…cleaning the place would be like throwing Sally out. Her towel. Her nighties. Her slippers. These all remained where she had put them before the catastrophe. Even the baby room, so carefully prepared, waited in vain for the whimper of a hungry infant.

Boggel started knocking on doors the next day. The butcher said his back would never be strong enough. The postmaster shook his head. The restaurant advertised a job for a waiter, but the manager said he was afraid the hunchback would scare his customers away. Door after door closed behind him. The message was clear: conquering the world was reserved for ‘normal’ people, not for cripples like him.

013001056A week or two later, Kallie had to take a busload of tourists to the Augrabies Falls; after which followed a week-long sojourn in Springbok to view the magnificent splendour of the annual flower season. Kallie said goodbye to a depressed and dejected Boggel, who vowed to have a job by the time his benefactor came back.

Boggel redoubled his efforts to find employment. The hospital didn’t need porters, the undertaker had no vacancies for grave diggers and the municipality said they’re sorry, their budget won’t allow another road worker. He had knocked on all the doors. Upington would not be the launching pad of his brilliant career.

Boggel didn’t know what to do. Being idle had never been part of his character, and there he was: unemployed, bored, and disappointed.

Well, he could fix up Kallie’s house, couldn’t he? The idea galvanised him into action. He swept. He dusted. He washed. He tidied room after room, cleaning windows and washing curtains as he went along. Then he took his money to the hardware store and asked the owner for as much paint as his money could buy. The owner took pity on the young lad, and produced a variety of half-empty paint containers – left over from the contract to renovate the town hall. No, he said, no money. He had seen how the hunchbacked youth tried to find employment and took pity on him. Do a good job – and maybe it’d be the start of a career, the man remarked.

Boggel was overjoyed. He painted from dawn to dusk. His back was a problem, of course. To get to the higher parts of the walls was impossible with his hunchback, so he painted as far as he could reach while standing on a chair. Room after room he did in this fashion. Kallie, he was sure, wouldn’t mind doing the upper bits of the walls.

The lounge was blue. There was enough green for the kitchen. The dining room looked magnificent in beige, while the large container of yellow sorted out the rest of the house. Boggel realised he was a very, very good painter. Not a drop was spilled on the carpets or furniture. The dried walls were a smooth as plastic, with no streaks and sloppy lines. This, he told himself, was a huge success.

Kallie nearly died when he returned. When he pushed open the front door, he stood riveted to the floor for a very long time. Then he started – softly at first, but growing in volume – repeating a single word.

“No….no….no.…”

He calmed down after a while. Sat staring at the blue walls around the fireplace, talking to himself. Or rather, talking to Sally, who wasn’t there. He asked her to please, please, come back.

Boggel left that same afternoon. Got on the train after buying a ticket to Cape Town, where he eventually learnt his trade in a tavern near the harbour. (Nobody wanted to work there – it was considered too dangerous.). Here, Boggel’s disability and the way he handled it, generated not sympathy but respect from the rough men who had come ashore from the ships. He built up a reputation as a fair barman, especially after sorting out the wrestling champion with a cricket bat. It’s quite a story, but he rarely talks about that time. He is an outspoken pacifist and hates to be reminded of his more, er, angry days. Even so, his little altercation with the burly athlete saved them both a lot of trouble. The wrestler apologised to the pretty barmaid and became a huge fan of the tavern. laughing at the way Boggel placed the bat on the counter every time he walked in…

***

The_three_bears_pg_11Boggel says that’s the way to dispense kindness. A lick of paint – or a cricket bat – at the right time, can work wonders. But the key is to time it right.

And…not too little.

Not too much.

Just right.

Just like in the story of Three Bears.

 

The Way to Rolbos

I’ll simply have to crook. 300 Words to describe Rolbos? That’s impossible. With a picture worth a thousand words, we’ll just have to go the scenic route…

The road there is a narrow gravel track, immediately telling you that you've left the city with all its pretence and false values behind.

The road there starts as a narrow gravel track, immediately telling you that you’ve left the city with all its pretence and false values behind. Please slow down. Drive with care…

The scenery around Rolbos is - according to some - dull and uninviting. Yet it is here that you'll discover the solitude to find yourself.

The scenery around Rolbos is – according to some – dull and uninviting. Yet it is here that you’ll discover the solitude to find yourself. The truth you seek isn’t found in lectures and books, TV shows and sermons – it is patiently waiting inside you to find it where it’s always been.

The big weaver nests suggest something of the values you'll find here. It's about cooperation, family life and accepting that each inhabitant has a role to play.

Along the way, the big weaver nests suggest something of the values you’ll find here. It’s about cooperation, family life and accepting that each inhabitant has a role to play. These birds work hard to take care of the nests – without having to resort to violence. Look at them carefully: they’re living in harmony, which is more than we can say.

Getting there isn't always easy. Often, people turn back because they are afraid of the challenge.

Getting there isn’t always easy. Often, people turn back because they are afraid of the challenge. Perseverance is the key. Instant gratification – the promise all politicians make – has no place here. Guts, determination and hard work are the key elements required to succeed.

The people around here are used to hardship and make do with what is available. Forget the mall and the large shopping centres, life here doesn't need bling to impress others.

The people around here are used to hardship and make do with what is available. Forget the mall and the large shopping centres.,Life here doesn’t need bling to impress others.

IMG_2772

At last! The small town of Rolbos on the horizon. To get here, you have had to shed pretence in favour of perseverance, exchanged the mad politics of the world for hope, and swapped the cynical smile for a peal of genuine laughter. The way ahead, you realise, is through faith, love and kindness. And somehow you know – with a new certainty – that this is what Rolbos is all about. Welcome! Don’t worry – you won’t find the place crowded. Not many people are brave enough to face the simplicity that is the essence of Rolbos culture.

Everybody has a You (#15)

Gertruida gasps in surprise when she opens the door to find Sersant Dreyer standing there, an uncertain smile hovering below his trimmed moustache.

“Oh…Gertruida?” He seems surprised to find her there. “I need to talk to Mary. About the dead man, understand? This is business, nothing personal.”

Gertruida wants to tell the policeman to go away, this isn’t the time – but Mary’s tired voice calls from the bedroom.

“Let him come in, Gertruida. After talking to you all tonight, I realise I must face my life as it is. Face the consequences and take my punishment. I simply can’t…can’t live a lie any more.” She sobs the last words out.

Sersant Dreyer squeezes past Gertruida to sit down on the old settee. Waiting patiently for Mary to emerge from the bedroom, he proceeds to stuff his short-stemmed briar before putting a match to the tobacco. When Mary finally shuffles into the room, she has the look of defeat written all over her face.

“Go on, Dreyer. Arrest me and be done with it.?”

Sersant Dreyer shakes his head. “No, Mary. There’ll be an inquest, but that’s all…”

He tells the two women that something Mary said, rang a bell and made him reconsider the way they handled Brutus’s death.  “You mentioned his irregular heartbeat, the cocaine, and heart medication. We know that Brutus and Boggel endured a lot during the time they stumbled through the desert. So, when I left you in the bar, I went to phone a colleague – Dr Strauss – one of the top forensic experts in the police service. We go back a long time, but that’s not the point.

“You see, I think Brutus was responsible for his own death. Sure, you kicked him…but it is possible that his heart was already in irreversible failure. The lack of medication, the obvious dehydration and the extreme physical demands of walking that distance almost killed Boggel – and I think it was the last straws for Brutus. Your kick, Mary, was incidental. At most one can think of is a complaint of assault – if the victim was around to lay a charge, that is.

“Dr Strauss is sending a team of experts to dig up the corpse. I’ll accompany them tomorrow to show them the spot. I explained that we’d have brought the body here, but that we had no proper means of transport. He actually agreed that – under the circumstances – we did the right thing to bury the body, otherwise the jackals would have had a feast. The postmortem will show the condition of the heart muscle and probably establish the cause of death due to myocardial arrest due to infarction. Apparently – and I don’t understand everything that Strauss said – cocaine use has many effects on the heart muscle which may be seen both clinically and under the microscope. Coupled with blood and tissue samples, it should be no problem to make the diagnosis of cocaine-related terminal cardiac failure.  In short – an unnatural death due to natural – if induced – factors.

“So, Mary…that’s my news. Brutus is now legally dead and the blame of his sudden demise rests completely on his own shoulders.” Sersant Dreyer gets up to leave. “I thought you’d like to know that.”

***

Back in the bar, Boggel and Smartryk remain seated after the rest of the customers had gone home. Although they are both dog-tired, Mary’s story upset them to such an extent that they prefer to have another drink before retiring.

“What do you think, Boggel?”

Boggel can – when he relaxes – have the most disarming smile. It’s as if his face relaxes, the eyes light up and the crow’s feet around the eyes wrinkle with a secret, inner amusement.

“It’s up to her, Smartryk, not us. You know my – our – history and I appreciate the way you respect that. I also saw the way she looked at you. There’s a hunger in her eyes, a desire, that I’ve never seen before. To be honest, I wish that she’d look at me that way, but she doesn’t. For me, there’s kindness. For you – so much more. I can offer her a life in Rolbos but you can make her start afresh.

“The issue , of course, is how you weigh her past. If that burden is too much, you’ll have to be honest with her. On the other hand – if you think the two of you have a fighting chance to make it work, you have my blessing.”

***

Precilla was so mad at the little barman that she didn’t talk to Boggel for a whole week. She said he should have done more, said more, showed more of his real feelings – and maybe she’s right. But Gertruida sought him out, one evening after Smartryk, Dreyer, Mary and the forensic team had left to complete the formalities surrounding the aircraft’s crash and Brutus’s death in Upington.

***

“Are you okay, Boggel?” The concern in Gertruida’s question is unmistakable.

“I suppose.” Boggel played with the Voortrekker Monument sugar bowl on the counter, absently thinking that he must fill it up with peanuts again. “C’est la vie. Mary needed more than I could give.”

“No, Boggel, she’d have given you less than you needed. Rolbos is too small for her, my friend.” Gertruida nods her thanks when he pushes a beer over the counter. “You see, when you upset a pail of water, you can’t dry the floor with a small sponge. You need a large rag to absorb all the moisture. It’s like that with Mary. No matter how much you love her, she needs to disappear in a larger society. Over here in Rolbos, she’d have a label – The Good Girl Gone Bad. Oh, we won’t think about her like that consciously, not at all. But the stigma will remain in her own mind and it’ll eat away at her very core. But, in a different place, amongst new friends and people, she can start all over again. That’s what she needs and that’s what Smartryk can supply.

“Add to that the spark between them – we were all aware of it, weren’t we? It is only right for them to explore the promise of a relationship. If it works…well, good for them. If it doesn’t, she’ll come back. You, Boggel, have given her a chance. It’s up to her – and Smartryk – to make it work.

“We all have a you, Boggel, but only a few end up with that person. Sometimes that ‘you’ will forever remain beyond your grasp…and that may very well remain the most beautiful love story of your life.”

Boggel is no fool. He knows Gertruida is trying to cheer him up. He also knows that it would have been wrong to force Mary to stay. So he nods his agreement, telling Gertruida that she’s very wise and that he appreciates her concern. Later, after she leaves, he locks up his bar.

Then he sits down on his cushion below the counter to rub Vrede’s back. The dogs stirs in his sleep, opens a lazy eye, and thumps his tail on the wooden floor.

“Ja, Vrede. Love…” Vrede settles his head on Boggel’s lap, understanding every word. “I think the best love stories have no ending. Saying ‘I love you‘ seems so easy…The ‘love’ part isn’t the problem: finding the right ‘you’, is. At least I have…you.” He smiles wryly at the play of words as he pats the faithful dog’s head. “Damn it all, Vrede, why can’t the chapters of that book be written in plain language? If only I could read the words…”

Thump! Thump! Thumpity…Thump...

The End…

Boggel’s Choice

Credit: kindredhq.com

Credit: kindredhq.com

“Life,” Gertruida says because she knows everything, “is a choice. Nothing more, nothing less.” She sits back with a superior smile, having imparted one of her great truths.

Of course, a statement like this can lead to a protracted discussion on whether everything that happens are due to individual decisions – or it may be the final say in the matter. On this new years eve, her statement is met with a stony silence.

Vetfaan isn’t in the mood for philosophy. He wants to see out the old year with a bang. Literally.

“Ja, Gertruida. Okay. So you’re clever. But let’s talk about how we’re going to announce the new year. We can’t just sit here and drink. And…we still have that stick of dynamite.”

Everybody knows about the dynamite Kleinpiet used to blast holes for the toilets on his farm. That was a long time ago, but Vetfaan probably saved a lot of lives when he insisted that the remaining stick of dynamite be handed to him for safekeeping. Kleinpiet had, after all, proven beyond doubt that he was not the world’s most experienced explosive expert.

“You. Are. Out. Of. Your. Mind.” Gertruida cannot believe what she’s just heard. “Old dynamite leaks nitroglycerine, and that is so unstable, it may explode at any time. No, Vetfaan, you should tell Sersant Dreyer to arrange for some experts to dispose of it.”

“It won’t explode without a detonator, Gertruida. I was thinking of just attaching a fuse…”

“Stop it! Don’t even talk about it any more. I won’t be part of such madness!”

***

Boggel doesn’t participate in the discussion. He’s on his cushion below the counter where Vrede snuggled up next to him. The two of them share a piece of biltong while the rest of Rolbos talk about decisions, explosions and other unimportant things.

It’s been a hard year for Boggel. The episode with Lucinda drained him; and the hope that he and Mary Mitchell would hook up once again evaporated into the thin air of reality. Oh, the townsfolk looked after him well and supported him through the troubled times, but on this, the last day of 2013, Boggel feels alone, isolated and even…abandoned. He simply cannot work up the enthusiasm to join the revelry in Boggel’s Place.

“You know, Vrede, Life may be about choices and Gertruida may be right – as usual. But what about the choices other people make? Lucinda chose Giovanni – and that left me stranded. It wasn’t my choice, was it?” Vrede watches as Boggel slices off another piece of biltong. “It’s like this bit of meat, Vrede. I can choose to give it to you, or not. You don’t get to make that decision, but my choice has a direct influence of your happiness.”

Vrede lets out a soft groan, wagging his tail slowly. His eyes are pleading. When Boggel feeds him the titbit, the tail picks up speed.

***

“You’re just like that piece of dynamite, Vetfaan.” Gertruida still can’t believe Vetfaan is so stupid. “The older you get, the more unstable you are. Anyway, have you discussed this with Fanny? What did she say?”

“No.” Vetfaan blushes slightly. “I know what she would have said…”

“Exactly! Now, as soon as she returns from the farm, the three of us will have a nice little talk about disposing that stick. You can’t have it stashed away on the farm. The twins will start walking all over the show one of these good days, and who knows what’ll happen if they find the dynamite? Come on, Vetfaan, don’t be so irresponsible!”

“Okay, the two of you!” Servaas is in a rare good mood and doesn’t want to listen to an argument all evening. “Call it quits. Vetfaan was joking…or at least I hope he was. And you’re right – as usual – Gertruida. End of discussion. Anyway, where’s Boggel? I need a refill.”

***

But Boggel isn’t serving anybody tonight. The talk about unstable dynamite made him think how dangerous some choices are – for the individual as well as for those around him – or her. It is true, he realises, that all choices have consequences. Some are predictable, some are not; but the very essence of a choice is that one has to prefer one option over other possibilities. Something seems more attractive than the rest, that’s why it gets preference.

That, he thinks, is where the danger of explosion lurks. How many choices does one make in a year’s time. Hundreds? Thousands? More…? And each one has a ripple effect on those around you. Then again: nobody can claim a 100% positive record when it comes to choices. No matter how hard you try or how good the intentions are – there will be bad decisions and the inevitable fall-out of remorse. The road to hell is paved with bad decisions taken in good faith…

***

“Hey, Boggel! Come on, man! We’re running dry up here!” Vetfaan thumps a fist on the counter. “I have to buy Gertruida a drink, otherwise she’ll never stop telling me how stupid I am.”

Boggel finally relents and serves another round.

“You’re worse than Servaas tonight, Boggel. What’s bugging you?”

“Choices, Vetfaan, choices. Look at you now: you chose to have an idea. Gertruida chose to  shoot it down. You chose to listen to her.” Boggel gets on his crate and leans his elbows on the counter. “It is an endless circle – one choice follows another in a never-ending chain of events. Every action, every thought, every word spoken or written down – they’re all choices. Some contain the danger of unstable dynamite without us even realising it. Some are of immense benefit to all. That’s what’s bugging me.”

“You’re right, Boggel. But reality is that we cannot escape the fact that we have to make choices. We cannot survive without them. In short: we live because we make choices. We choose who we love. We choose a way of life. We also choose to allow certain opinions to influence us – and then we choose how we react to that.”

Boggel is quiet for a long time, choosing to digest this before he speaks.

“Wouldn’t it be great,” he eventually says, “if people realised how important it is to choose with kindness? I mean – if everything we do and think and say is governed by the choice of kindness?”

“Ag, Boggel, wake up. We live in a small town where we are sensitive to the needs of others. You think that happens everywhere? It doesn’t. Look at politicians, governments, the media – where’s the kindness? Where’s the good news? Society has killed kindness in the choice to pursue money and power and scandal.”

“That may be true, Vetfaan. But I’ll tell you what I’m going to do in 2014. My choice is to stop taking all those negatives so seriously. In fact, I’ll stop taking myself so seriously. I’m choosing to close the door on those things that doesn’t contribute to my well-being. I choose to love those that accept me for what I am. And for the rest…I’ll be kind enough to cut them loose to find somebody else to influence.”

***

You might find the talk in Boggel’s Place somber for a day like this. In bigger places like Pofadder and Prieska you’ll find people doing silly things, drinking and telling bawdy jokes while the clock ticks its way to the new year. And maybe that is one way of looking back at 2013 and being thankful to have survived another year. Some people choose to say goodbye to the old year like that.

But in Rolbos, the talk in the bar is about 2014. No, they’re not making new resolutions everybody knows won’t happen – they’re talking about how to go about their choices in the new year.

Boggel’s choice focuses on Kindness.  He says that is the solution to everything: embrace those you love. Or you walk away from those who aren’t worth it in that fashion – you won’t feel alone, either.

Maybe that’s the only sensible choice we have…

How much pain has cracked your soul?
How much love would make you whole?’

Operation ROAR – The Epilogue

s1“I hear the operation was a success,” Gertruida says, because she always knows everything. “Virginia can see again. And, as a result of Huisgenoot picking up on the story, she’s become quite a celebrity. Look, here’s a photo of her after the facelift, as well.”

Servaas tries to pretend he’s not interested, but curiosity forces him the glance at the magazine in Gertruida’s hands.

“Sexy, isn’t she?” Gertruida smiles at the old man. He’s been such fun to be with lately, she’d almost swear there has to be a love-interest somewhere. But…who?  Well, she decides, maybe he’s got to that age when such matters are no longer so important.

Arf-arf?” Vrede  wants to know whether Daisy will ever visit Rolbos again. Boggel, not quite getting the message, hands him a piece of biltong. Vrede lies down with a satisfied harrumph; he’ll finish the titbit before trying again.

***

If you asked Gertruida what she thought of Operation ROAR, she’ll smile and say it was a huge success. The Carte Blanche program was a hit, Virginia is now the International Ambassador for ClearView ©, the artificial lense makers, and for some reason, Servaas hasn’t worn his black suit for weeks now. She’ll even point out that Vrede is a very happy dog these days.  In fact: even though ROAR didn’t even remotely work out the way they had planned, it certainly proved to be one of their better ideas.

She’ll tell you: Life  does that all the time. The best laid plans of mice and men gang oft astray – and each of us continue to be surprised at the wonderful ways our lives unfold. Sometimes we have to face bitter disappointment – but that gets balanced by those remarkable moments when we stand in awe of unexpected beauty. Faith, she says, is the key. That, and patience. Wait long enough, believe solidly enough, and the dark skies get lit up by the most magnificent sunrise.

***

And so, the Rolbossers while away the days in Boggel’s Place, where they’ll marvel at the past and hope for the future. The little town is slipping back into the sleepy, comfortable way of life again.

Author’s Note:

For a while I’ll be busy writing away at something completely different. The Rolbos posts will be less frequent, and loyal readers may want to explore the 500+ stories in Rolbos –  or even look at the books available at Amazon, Kobo, Kalahari etc. Check out the sidebar for info. I also have a limited supply of signed 65 Shades of Guilt printed books for those that are interested.

Thank you for living in Rolbos. Take the small town’s message with you wherever you go, and be kind to those you meet on your journey through life. Gertruida says we can start an avalanche of goodwill by simply reaching out to those around us – and if we stop taking ourselves so seriously…

The Bullet – Epilogue

10Rolbos has never aimed at being controversial. It’s a blog about goodness, kindness and love. It’s about forgiving and getting on with Life.

That’s why the response to The Bullet Series was a bit surprising. It was read across a broad spectrum of society, which (I believe) included most races, religions and cultures. The comments on the blog are there for everyone to see, but on Facebook, and in my inbox and e-mail I received other comments worth noting.

  • Generally, most readers had sympathy for Ben while some thought he was the architect of his own demise.
  • Some found his locked up state hard to understand
  • Some expats wrote to tell me I’m a liberal sh*t, and I must stop living in cloud cuckoo land
  • Others found the idea of a honourable Himba far-fetched.
  • Most favourable comment came from guys who were conscripted in the war. These ex-troops remember the hardship and the danger. They also remember the difficulty of re-entering ‘normal’ society.
  • One lady said she never knew men had such feelings (Ben, the Himba, Sakkie)
  • Several readers queried the authenticity of the story – thinking it to be a factual account of real people and events.

The comments with overt racial and political overtones upset me, as it always does. Are we living in a world where ego is more important than getting on with the people we share Life with? Will we forever emphasise differences, ignoring the simple fact that we’ll only survive when we reach out to each other?

That we are a diverse society, is a fact. We don’t all think the same. We have cultural, religious, social differences…and that’s okay. But to become so self-centered that we absolutely refuse the sun to shine on others, is the beginning of xenophobia and even genocide.

That’s why Rolbos won’t buckle under the criticism of being tagged as ‘liberal’. These stories will continue to attempt to build bridges. Gertruida and company live in these fictional stories to remind us all how important communication is – in Life as well as in Love. The feeling in Boggel’s Place is that the world will only change once we insist on bringing kindness back in our words and actions.

So, to all those who felt uncomfortable with Ben &Co, I raise my hat. It means that you thought about the story – and not only browsed through it. As for the rest of the regular readers, those who ‘get’ what Rolbos is all about: come on in, Boggel is serving a round on the House as a big thank you for following the antics of his patrons. He just loves a good debate and actually said the critics are welcome to join, provided they do so with an open mind.

After all – without readers, Rolbos has no meaning, no message. Let’s keep the flag flying…

The Gates of Rolbos

images (6)“Gates,” Vetfaan says, sipping his beer at the counter. The others look up, expecting him to say something about them – but he just shakes his head and signals for another beer.

“Are you talking about Bill, or the things you have to open and shut every day?” Kleinpiet mumbles in his beer.

“You don’t open them any more, Kleinpiet. Ever since we’ve been married, you expect me to hop out of the car to do that. Before…well before the wedding you used to do it. I think our romantic phase stopped with ‘I do’.” Precilla smiles as she says this, but anybody with a little experience of woman-talk, will tell you to be careful of the small barbs in this type of remark. Kleinpiet, sadly, doesn’t read the words behind the words.

“Har! Ja, when you said I do, you said you’d do a lot of things. Opening and shutting gates is one such thing. It’s the same with washing and dusting – I do covers a lot of stuff.” The smug smile on his lips causes Precilla to get up and stomp out of Boggel’s Place. “What’d I  say…?” The smile disappears.

“Look, Kleinpiet, you should be more careful with what you say. Most women don’t like washing. In the cities they’ve got machines to do that, but to scrub away at your husbands undies can’t be a heap of fun.” Servaas knows. Siena always made remarks about that.

“I’ll wash my own stuff from now on.” Kleinpiet is clearly irritated and in a rare bad mood.”I don’t need to be pampered by nobody. In the past I rinsed out my stuff while I was showering – I’ll simply do it again.”

“So…who got your goat, Kleinpiet?” Fanny, always the peacemaker, wants to know.

“Ag, you know. Drought. Winter. Mandela is sick… How the hell should I know? Can’t a man be in a bad mood occasionally?“ He takes a deep breath. “Well, I am. I think Precilla doesn’t understand me anymore.”

Gertruida suppresses a giggle. “Okay, Kleinpiet, out with it. You did something terrible. Tell us?”

The problem (if that’s the right word) with Rolbos is it’s size. The community is so small, they don’t have to gossip like the people in Prieska or Kenhardt – where word of mouth can distort a story far beyond the original version. Here, a story needs to be repeated only once or twice before everybody knows about it. It is best then, under these circumstances, to tell the original version yourself, so that you make sure the others have sympathy with whatever calamity has crossed your path.

“No man, it’s like this. When she got dressed this morning, I told her I love her. I mean, that’s not a bad thing to say to your wife? Then she clammed up.”

“There must be more, Kleinpiet; you’re leaving out something.”

“Gertruida, has anybody ever told you that you’re terribly inquisitive?” Kleinpiet swirls his finger through the froth on his beer. “But yes, I told her: now that she’s a bit bigger, there’s more of her to love. I meant it as a compliment.”

“You…what?” Gertruida gasps her astonishment. “How dare you be so insensitive?”

“See, there you go as well? You don’t understand me. I was trying to be nice, that’s all.”

Sersant Dreyer walks in for his midday sustenance, a huge smile on his face.

“Hey, Kleinpiet! I hear you need an orthopod to take your foot out of your mouth again!” He sits down with a flourish. “Man, that’s why I prefer to live alone. I can tell myself anything, and I won’t get upset.” This, of course, isn’t of great help in improving Kleinpiet’s mood. Sersant obviously met up with Precilla outside, that’s why he knows about this. “But I must say, calling your wife ‘fat’, isn’t the cleverest thing to do. Even I know that.”

“I never used the word ‘fat’. I said something nice.”

“Out with it, Kleinpiet, what exactly did you say.” By now everybody has gathered around the grumpy husband, their curiosity pushed to the limits.

“I said… I said…flaps and flabs might hurt my eyes, but the furry little animal still rules the house.”

It takes several minutes for the laughter to die down.

“See? It’s funny. I thought so. You think so. It’s only Precilla who decided to take it up the wrong way.”

Fanny wipes the tears from her cheeks while trying to compose her face. She eyes Kleinpiet with a humorous degree of sympathy. “You, Kleinpiet, have opened a gate you shouldn’t have. It’s up to you to fix it now. I don’t care what you do: but go out there and make things right. Don’t come back if she’s still angry. And never use the words flap or flab in your life – ever again.”

“I told you: gates.” Vetfaan stares out of the window. “I have a lot of them on the farm. Keep the sheep inside and the jackals out – otherwise they’d simply roam about and the fences won’t mean anything. I need to replace a few.”

Rolbas is strange in this way. Vetfaan and Kleinpiet are talking about two completely different concepts, yet it bothers nobody.

And yet…

Our lives are ruled by laws and regulations. They fence us in, to produce what we call ‘civilised society’.  Some of these rules are written down – but most aren’t. (Like not saying anything about your spouse’s weight, for instance). As much as Vetfaan has to keep his gates in top condition, so much are we obliged to keep a check on what is acceptable in our little fenced-off worlds.

When Kleinpiet returns – rather shamefaced and sheepishly – fifteen minutes later, he holds the door open so that Precilla can enter first. For this he gets a muted applause from the other customers.

“So, what did you say?” Gertruida’s theatrical whisper carries her question to everybody.

Kleinpiet mumbles something and has to repeat it. “I said I’d take care of the gates from now on.”

Gertruida pats his shoulder, “That is, of course, the only way to save the day, Kleinpiet. Well done…”

“Yes,” Boggel echoes her thoughts, “and save the country. Somebody has to fix a few gates in government…urgently.”

Which just goes to show that a single word, a bit of marital strife, farming and a government’s malfunction can all be settled in Boggel’s Place in a single morning. The sad thing is: it only happens here. 

Or maybe we are running so fast on our little treadmills that we don’t notice the many broken gates out there any more. Maybe we should all slow down for a while, and listen to the grass grow…

(This song is a must-listen)

A Visit by Dee and Dum

Gertruida reckons they’re a man-and-wife team, although it is impossible to say which is which. Both are round, pony-tailed and dressed in khaki. The voices suggest they would make a good soprano duo. Their eyes are dusky-grey, filled with mirth and the bushy eyebrows tend to lift when they laugh. They don’t laugh a lot. And they talk in tandem. They arrived just after opening time.

“Hi, I’m Dee…”

“…and I’m Dum…”

“…like in Tweedle.”

Satisfied that they have introduced themselves properly, the two sat down to order Two glasses of milk… Cold… Thank you.

“We’re used to people staring at us…”

“…because we’re weird. That’s okay. We won’t stay long…”

“…they usually end up ingoring us, anyway.”

Of course Gertruida couldn’t help herself. She had to know.

“We travel a lot…”

“…and we make lists.”

It turned out that Dee wrote up all the positive things they meet along the journey, while Dum noted all the negative stuff.

“But Dum always wins…”

“…because my lists are longer.”

Oh yes, they’ve travelled extensively; here, there, everywhere. All over, in fact; except for the deserted places where no people live.

“There’s no point if there are no people around…”

“…because no people means no Evil…”

“…so there’s no point, is there?”

“So what are you going to do with your lists? Isn’t it a bit foolish to create a list of rights and wrongs?”

They laughed at that, the way you laugh at a joke you’ve heard too often before.  You have to have lists, they say. Without lists you can’t compare and have no way of knowing how things balance out.

“But we don’t just make lists…”

“…we also leave gifts…”

“…for you to use.”

***

“Do you think they made a list here, in Rolbos?” Kleinpiet says after they left. “They surely are the strangest people I’ve ever met.”

“You can bet your life they made lists. They’re professionals, those two. Did you notice how intensely they looked at everybody? It’s as if they mentally weigh up each person they meet. I’m sure they’re extremely serious about this list-business.”

“But why, Gertruida? Why would anybody travel the world to check out what people are? I mean: what do they want to do with those lists?”

“It’s not a new thing, Kleinpiet. Remember how children believed Father Christmas checked out each child – and then decided what present will wait below the tree? Or how the Tooth Fairy rewards well-cared for teeth? We grew up believing we are being watched and behaved ourselves even when our parents weren’t nearby.

“Then we started attending church and Sunday school – and suddenly we became aware of a Higher Presence that knew about everything we did. That was a frightening thought – the constant watch of our most secret thoughts and deeds. Only, the stakes were higher. It wasn’t about a Christmas present anymore, neither about some coins in the slipper before your bed – now it had serious, eternal implications.”

“Yes, Gertruida, but people don’t believe that anymore. They murder and steal and lie as if it doesn’t matter.” Vetfaan shakes his head – the world has gone crazy. “Some attend church and make all the right sounds; but come Monday morning, and you’ll find them scheming to get to the top of the heap. It’s all about Pride, Ego, and Greed – nothing else matters anymore.”

“Maybe that’s why their journey is so important, Vetfaan. I mean: somebody has to remind us about moral values – about Good and Evil – otherwise society will destroy itself eventually. If the church and the courts can’t do it, who will?”

***

“They  will tell the world, won’t they?” Dum is updating the Bad list.

“I hope so. In the other towns nobody believed us…”

“…and it’s a big mistake. That’s why everything …”

“…is such a mess…”

“…even so, we left the gifts, didn’t we?”

***

And so we leave the two intrepid travellers as they visit town after town and talk to person after person. Few recognise them for what they are and most are surprised to find that – in this day and age – Dee and Dum are alive and well, and still hoping to find enough to put onto the Good list to balance the Bad list.

Oh?

The gifts?

Well, it’s a bit of a misnomer, really. What Dee and Dum do, is to dust off a few thoughts and impressions in the minds of people they meet along the way. Sometimes it’s a personal encounter, but mostly people only read about them. (Like you, now.) They force people to take a good, hard look at themselves. Their gift is the reminder that honesty and kindness are the two virtues the world needs more than any other.

Sadly, most people laugh at this absurd idea.

That’s why the Bad list is so long…

The Chance to be a Hero

Wolraad Woltemade“We need a hero,” Servaas is dressed in his black suit again. It’s an ominous sign. “Somebody with faith and conviction. It’s been ages since we had one.”

“Well, we have Mandela,” Precilla points out, “he didn’t do too badly. World-wide he is seen as a man of character.”

Kleinpiet shrugs. “That’s true. But once you go down that road, you end up labelling all the people who participated in the struggle, as heroes. And let me tell you: that’s a difficult one. We all welcomed democracy and the end of Apartheid, but that suddenly made all the soldiers in the regular army villains; and all the terrorists – beg your pardon, freedom fighters – heroes. Surely there’s something wrong with that picture?”

“Listen,” this time Servaas uses his church-voice; the one he reserves for making grave statements, “every conflict and every war must deliver a victor and a loser. Through all the ages, the victor gets the laurel leaves and the losers gets reminded about what a bad person or nation they had been. Check out the results of any war you’d like to mention: it’s always the same. And often, very often, the guys fighting from the losing corner have to be braver than the odds-on favourite, who has the backing of power, money and sentiment. I mean: if you know you’re outnumbered and outgunned, the natural reaction is to lie down and play dead. The hero is the man who is prepared to stand up for his principles despite what the world thinks.”

Kleinpiet drains his beer and scratches his head. “But there’s a problem. Take a country – any country – and you’ll find different ideologies floating around. People identify with their cultures and religions and language – good characteristics, all of them. The point is this: most people believe in God in one form or another. If there were a single unifying concept or ideal everybody could cling to, it would have been their faith in God. Tell me, Gertruida, how many churches are there in the world?”

“Oh, that’s a difficult one. There are 21 major religions, I know: about 3,7 million Christian congregations, encompassing  67,000 denominations.” She nods slowly. “So I get your point: every congregation puts a personal touch to their ministry. Because of that, splinter groups form and even more fragmentation takes place.”

“That’s what I’m trying to say.” Servaas signals for a beer. “If we can’t agree on a fundamental thing like religion, how on earth are we going to agree on matters of a more material kind?  It follows that no country represents a unified population. Capitalism trains us to be selfish. Democracy inadvertently suppresses the minorities. Socialism stunts ambition.  Religion – in contrast to what it should be – sparked more wars than any other single issue. No matter what you believe in, somewhere along the line you’d find a disgruntled group, deprived of their dreams. Look at Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Congo – it’s the same old story over and over again.”

“You make a good point, Servaas.” Gertruida tries to calm the old man down. “But maybe we’re going about this in the wrong way. You’re saying we need a hero; somebody like Jopie Fourie, who was shot because he didn’t want to go to war against South-West Africa. Or Wolraad Woltemade, who saved those people from the sea until he, himself, drowned. I agree they were true heroes, and we need to respect them for that.

“But you know, the days when villages were small and populations not as vast and compact like they are today; then the act of a single person may have influenced a lot of people. They became legends by the telling and the retelling of their stories, and over time they became famous. That is the hallmark of a true hero.”

“Are you saying we can only call somebody a hero in retrospect? Like after they die?” Precilla doesn’t like the idea. “What about rugby players or soccer stars? And Lady Gaga or Madonna? To many people they are heroes?”

“The issue is not how many records you sell, or how fast you run, Precilla, although modern society does tend to award sporting and entertaining superstars a type of hero status. Heroes, by definition, are exceptional people, so it’s natural for the people on the pavilions and in the stadiums to cheer exceptional performances.  To be a hero, however, you have to be principled. You have to make a difference to the world you live in. A true hero is somebody with humility, a giver rather than a taker, a changer of lives. That, I’m sure we all agree, is rare.”

Boggel gets on his crate to join the conversation. He’s listened carefully to the patrons, but feels they are missing the point completely.

“Here’s what I think. In days gone by, with a much smaller society, single acts by remarkable people made a big difference to society. The world has changed. We live in a global village with billions of people. There are lots of religions and all kinds of political views. The chances are almost zero that we’ll discover one single man or woman who’ll rise up from the masses to be somebody the world will admire for humility and service. Oh, there’ll be isolated cases, but even these politicians and sporting greats have a limited impact – and only on a segment of society.

“So… we need to redefine the word Hero. We must look at the smaller picture, like  in townships, suburbs, communities  and families – like it was in the old days. The global village is too large and too fragmented.  Servaas is right: we need heroes. But being a hero doesn’t mean you have to change the world, like wars and politics try to do. A hero is a person who tries to improve the lot of somebody else – even in the smallest of ways. It’s a selfless act, a generous gesture.

“And then there’s another point. Modern-day heroes should not be single persons any more. A modern-day hero is somebody who instils his vision for a better community on others. He is infectious. His enthusiasm creates other little heroes. Nowadays the true heroes are groups of people who make other people look at themselves and want to change.”

His speech leaves the group at the bar silent for quite some time.

“Okay.” Servaas clears his throat. “You’re saying we must not look for individuals any more. In the connected world we live in, groups will make the difference? It makes sense. But how do we get to the point where group-heroes come into being. Isn’t it an impossible dream?”

Boggel shakes his head. “No. It’s within the grasp of every community to be a hero-group. It’ll happen if governments and churches stop fragmenting society with politics and religion – and we know that won’t happen. Too many ministers – whether in church or parliament – have a vested interest in what they are doing. I know this is a generalisation, but just go with the argument for a while.

“Now, suppose a community starts working together. They live together, work together, support each other – because they have more things that bind them together than differences that drive them apart. Now that would be a hero-group, in my opinion.”

“It’ll also be a miracle,” Gertruida adds. “I have this mental picture of a little fountain in the desert, with lots of people living around it. Won’t there always be some fool who wants to have exclusive rights? To capitalise on the situation?”

“Good example, Gertruida.” Boggel hands her a new beer. “Now, if that community said no, we don’t want you to steal our water, they will not only have their fountain back, they’ll be heroes because they stood together as a group.”

“Then groups will affect other groups, until a country is a hero-group?”

“Right. Look at us in Rolbos. We have differences, but the Kalahari has taught us to live together. We are, quite frankly, a hero group. Lots of people visit us from time to time. They may be remarkably different to us. Maybe they go to another church. Maybe they belong to other cultures. Maybe they shop in malls. But … if they act kindly to those around them, we can start a world-wide hero-movement, right here, from Boggel’s Place. It can be done, if we look at the smaller picture around us. Families should have heroes. Friends should be heroes. The man sweeping the street can be a hero. The bigger picture will take care of itself, then.”

Boggel steps down from his crate to shoo Vrede from his cushion below the counter. It’s nice to talk about these things, he thinks. It’s great to dream about it, even. Maybe some day communities will, indeed, start sharing similarities rather than emphasising differences. It’ll upset a lot of politicians, that’s for sure; it may even result in (gasp!) churches joining hands; but it will change a lot of things for the better. Until then, he decides as he ruffles Vrede’s ears, we’ll just have to settle for the old heroes while we dream of new ones. Remembering Mandela and Woltemade is great, but it’ll be John and Jill Doe who’ll change the world in the future. And strangely, they won’t get a medal or a monument. They’ll be nameless, and it won’t worry them.

Oudoom’s Christmas Wish – for you, especially…

Oudoom hesitates before he opens the Bible. The little congregation waits as the pastor shakes his head, looks up and takes a deep breath.

“I’ve prepared a sermon for today.” He seems to relax a bit, as if he’s told them everything they should know. “You know: the usual: the shepherds and the star and the three wise men. No place in the inn. Angels singing. Presents.”

Vetfaan glances towards Gertruida, who shrugs in return. Oudoom’s Christmas sermons are very predictable – they’re always the same. Obviously the old man had something different in mind this time.

“But today I feel it is wrong to rehash something you all know by heart. I won’t preach about the history you have heard repeated so often on the 25th of December.” He pauses, gathering his thoughts. “Do you realise that the only mode of transport Jesus ever used – other than his two feet – was a donkey? Although the Bible doesn’t mention Mary riding on a donkey on the way to Bethlehem, the Protoevangelium of James does. And we know He entered Jerusalem on a donkey towards the end of His life. Of course, He used boats as well while on water (when He didn’t walk on it!); but one estimate states that He travelled more than 21,000 miles by foot during his life.

“In those days they had carts and oxen, horses and camels – but He preferred His own two feet.”

“What’s this got to do with Christmas?” Kleinpiet whispers during the pause in Oudoom’s sermon, only to get another shrug from Gertruida.

“In those days the Romans had already established major, paved highways between towns. Julius Caesar started his career as a minister of transport.” Oudoom waits for the subdued laughter to die down. Only Gertruida knows that is true.  “And along those roads travelled the traders, the merchantmen, the postal services, the army, those on official errands and ordinary people on their way to weddings, churches, funerals and everyday work. This was the old Internet, the Facebook of ancient times, where people from different backgrounds and countries were thrown together – on a journey together.

“I’ll make it short and sweet.” Oudoom realises his audience isn’t on the same page as he is. “Jesus met people where they were. He didn’t rent the Colosseum to address masses during a rally. He didn’t have a big marketing campaign driven by some famous advertising company. He didn’t dress in an outrageous fashion or used scantily dressed entertainers as an opening act… He simply walked with people. People with dirty feet. People with dusty hair and grimy clothes. People stinking of sweat, unshaven and tired. “

Now Gertruida nods her head. Travelling in Biblical times was a dirty business. Although there were villages and resting places approximately twenty miles apart, she has read in National Geographic how arduous journeying through the desert-like conditions in the Middle East may be. She closes her eyes to see the throng of people, walking this way and that, making their ways to distant destinations. And there, amongst them, the Man in the white robes, chatting away the miles on His way to the next stop.

Yes, Servaas thinks, He does that. Jesus may be spoken of in church, but it is in the lonely hours on Life’s road that He takes time to meet each of us. While we’re on our way to a personal destination, He pops up next to us to guide us to a Place of Rest; a place where we can wash off the fatigue of struggling along; a haven we all strive towards…

“So….” Oudoom spreads his arms wide in a benediction, “it is my prayer that we should follow His example. During the year, we’ve had many, many visitors in Rolbos. People stopped by to meet us  – from more than 100 countries – 25000 times. That’s more than one for every mile Jesus walked. Now, my question is: what was the result of those encounters? Were we able to make them laugh with us? Cry with us? Did they leave our little town with a smile or a frown? Did we do what we were supposed to do: meet them where they were?”

Vetfaan looks down at his farmers boots. Well, he thinks, we don’t have any masks in this town. We celebrated the good times and grieved the sad ones. We laughed at the stupidity of our politics and the shallowness of believing possessions make people happy. We were saddened by loss: superstorms and idiots with guns made us cry. And through it all, He was there, at our side, walking along with us – and we weren’t even always aware of His soft footsteps.

Oudoom smiles down at his little flock. “Please join me in wishing our visitors a Christmas on the road. May each of them, as they journey to a next destination, be aware of the travel companion who’ll never leave them. May their feet follow His, and may His Place of Rest await them at the end of their journey.

“More importantly: this is Christmas. In simple terms, we celebrate the Life of Jesus – a remarkable life of sacrifice, hardship and perseverance. Why do we do it? I’ll tell you: it’s because He came to tell us  – not only about forgiveness and redemption – but about kindness and love. This is the day we remember that, and unfortunately, this is the day many people forget about it as well.”

Oudoom looks up, allowing his eyes to gaze out, through the open doors of his little church, towards the distant  horizon. He imagines he can see people all over the world – weary people, dusty people, sad and lonely people, even people worrying about the year ahead. People on their way to distant locations, dragging themselves along on a journey with an uncertain end. People struggling with loss. Grieving people. He shakes his head, as if to clear his vision. Are there, amongst the thousands of people, so few happy faces?

Without looking down again, he clears his throat, hoping his words will be heard in the hearts of every visitor to Rolbos.

“Go now. Be aware that you’ll never travel alone. And may Goodness and Kindness follow you henceforth, for Christmas is not just a day. It’ll last as long as you listen for the gentle footstep at your side. It’s up to you to make Christmas last.”

 ***

Okay. Close your eyes. See Vetfaan smiling at you. Precilla’s hug is warm and gentle. Gertruida and Judge pat you gently on the back. Kleinpiet’s handshake is firm. Servaas will tell you – in a happier voice than usual – that he wishes you well. Oudoom and Mevrou invite you over for coffee and rusks.

And Boggel, standing on his crate behind the counter, presents his cheek for a Christmas kiss. See: he’s even attached a piece of mistletoe to the rafter above the bar.

May the good wishes from the little town in the Kalahari brighten your day. And may your Christmas last longer than 24 hours – just listen for those footsteps next to you, and it will.