Tag Archives: lies

Bertie’s Secret

108_0820a1.jpgMuch to everybody’s surprise, Bertie Bragass rushes in to Boggel’s Place, his flushed cheeks more prominent than ever.

Gertruida was the first to notice him when his old Land Rover huffed to a stop in front of the bar. Initially, she thought it must be somebody else. Vetfaan’s story of Bertie disappearing down a giant meerkat burrow had been entertaining – convincing, even – and they are still discussing the possibility of a rescue operation.

Now, one must understand that rescue operations in the Kalahari are complicated things. You don’t just get into the first vehicle and rush off into the desert. No, you have to be sure the vehicle is capable of handling the sand, and that the petrol tank is full. Then, of course, there is the minor detail of how much beer you have to take along – and who’ll pay for it. And having settled that, the question of how you’re going to fit in the rescue party on the already overloaded vehicle.

It is on this important discussion that Bertie storms in, arms flailing and sand running from his hair.

“Bertie…?”

They all stare at the diminutive man. At four foot eight, he is arguably the smallest adult in the Kalahari. His is – in Gertruida’s words – cosmetically disadvantaged. The ears are to small, the pug-nose too big and the eyes slant ever so slightly downward.  Add to that the almost cmplete absence of a neck – causing his chin to rest on his broad chest – and you have the Hunchback of Notre Dame without the hunch.

“Damn! That meerkat almost had me! Gimme as beer, Boggel!”

“What happened?”

***

Gertruida says Bertie has to exaggerate everything to make up for his size. Take a small man, she says, and ask yourself: how does he make his mark in life? People like Bertie won’t win races, the long jump or hurdles. Bertie can’t handle a rifle (the barrel is too long for his short arms) and his legs don’t reach the stirrups, making him one of the few farmers who hates horses.

So, Gertruida explained one day, Bertie has to tell stories. Whatever he does (or sees) has to be bigger than the usual. Although she concedes that his ground-level view might have an influence on his impression of the size of things, there can be no doubt that Bertie has established himself as a liar of note. But, she says, this is something other people should understand. Bertie simply has to inflate his stories to compensate for his small frame.  Gertruida calls it a physical/psychological balance.

That’s why the group at the bar share a collective, tolerating smile while they listen to his newest effort at impressing them.

***

“That Meerkat dragged me down that hole at an amazing speed, man! Tore my pants and scuffed my elbows. Look!” Bertie shows them how much damage the meerkat did. “But I fought, hey! Shew, I fought like a Trojan! Kicked and hammered with my fists, but that meerkat just kept on dragging me down that dark tunnel. I was convinced my time had come.”

Bertie takes a mouthful of beer, peering at his audience over the rim of the glass. Well, they seem to buy the story so far…

“You won’t believe what I saw down there. Talk about a meerkat manor! There were bedrooms, a large lounge where the others gathered and even a nursery filled with baby meerkats. And they all stared at me and I was almost wetting myself with fright. I knew I had to do something and I had to do it soon.

“Well, you know how meerkats like fighting with snakes, don’t you?” He waits for the collective nod. “So I took off my belt, swung it around a while, and threw it into the farthest corner of the room. Man! You should have seen them! All of a sudden every meerkat down there scrambled to get at that snake…and forgot about me for a second.

“That was enough. I gathered myself after the meerkat dropped me, and ran as fast as I could up that burrow. I ran and I ran and I ran. The meerkats were furious, and they chased after me, howling with rage. I made it to my land Rover just in time, slammed the door as the first meerkat crashed into the vehicle, and raced here.”

Bertie finishes his beer to sit back with a contented smile. “Being small helped me a lot. I’d never have made it up that burrow if I were as big as Vetfaan, for instance. But hey, here I am in one piece, and I’m thankful for that. And, here’s another fact: I won’t be returning to my farm for a while. I’m sure the meerkats will move off some time, and then it’d be safe. I’ll go visit my cousin in Kimberley, I think.” He pauses as a thought apparently strikes him. “Oh, it may be a good idea if you guys stayed away from the farm as well. I noticed a fresh burrow not far from the house, so there may be more than one nest of the critters. Good advice? Stay away. I’ll tell you when it’s safe.”

Then, as abruptly as the little man arrived, he gets up, waves them goodbye, and drives off.

***

People tend to think that the inhabitants of such small, far-flung villages are a bit backward. After all, why stay in such a hovel, when life is so much easier in larger communities? But we know that’s not the way to look at it. The inhabitants of Rolbos stay there because even the small incidents become subjects of lengthy debates.

Take, for instance, the police van that stopped there a few hours after Bertie left. There’s been a burglary, they said. One of the major banks in Upington got robbed. The robbers gained access to the building during the night, using the antiquated sewerage system with it’s narrow pipes.

“We’re looking for a suspect – a small individual – who made off with two bags of money. Have you seen anything suspicious lately?”

Yes, of course, Servaas said. Bertie Bragass. He could fit the description, but unfortunately he had a solid alibi. He had been stuck down a meerkat hole last night, so it couldn’t possibly be him.

And the policemen found that exceedingly funny, said goodbye, and rushed off to Grootdrink to see if they could find anybody who might not have a watertight alibi like that. Somebody small, with scuffed elbows, for instance.

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Meerkat Biltong

108_0821a.jpg“I tell you: it was the wind. You have to admit it was quite a storm.”

“I’m not so sure. Too much of a coincidence, if you asked me. And we did taste that biltong – it was quite tasty.” Servaas, maybe the greatest Doubting Thomas since biblical times, still wonders about how – exactly – Bertie Bragass disappeared. The Kalahari is a big place and lots of strange things happen here…but Bertie’s case must be seen as completely unusual.

“You have to admit: his lies were sometimes even more impressive than our president’s. That really takes some doing. Imagine! Telling us about that giant meerkat. Did he think we’re stupid or something?”

“True. And what about the time he dragged that elephant rib in here? Told us it was the tooth of the last lion he shot. Almost had me convinced with his statement that it came from a rare species. Leo Giganticus, he called it. According to him, that thing swallowed his sheep whole,”

The group at the bar nod in unison. Yes, they remember all too well. Bertie phoned the bank manager from this very bar, asking for a loan to buy a canon to kill the beast two weeks prior to that visit. Of course, the manager refused, which caused Bertrie to use some rather spicy language as he swore to get that critter. (It wasn’t clear whether he referred to the manager or the lion). Then, fourteen days later, he dragged that bone in to Boggel’s Place to tell them he managed all by himself in the end, thank you. He maintained he used a bucket of rat poison which he wrapped in a fresh sheep’s skin.

“It sure looked like a tooth.” Precilla always defends the underdog.

“It also looked like a rib. A big one. Must have been an elephant’s.” If you listened carefully, you’d have heard the tinge of doubt in Vetfaan’s voice.

“Don’t forget about his tall giraffe, either.” Kleinpiet’s remark makes them all snigger again. “Remember? The one he trained to predict the weather?”

This is one of the favourite Bertie Bragass stories in the bar. This giraffe, Bertie told them, was born with an abnormally long neck. The poor animal had to hide behind the barn on his farm when the wind was too strong – to protect its head from flopping around in the gusts. Bertie said he found the animal in a terrible condition.

Credit: stylegerms.com

Credit: stylegerms.com

‘You see, its body and legs were only slightly larger and longer than usual, but the neck had grown to such an extent that he couldn’t feed himself. The trees were just too far below him to reach, understand? Even when it bent its knees and made the neck fold double, there was no way he could reach the topmost leaves in the trees. Christian-like person that I am, I started feeding the poor beast, it was the least I could do.’

According to Bertie, he had to hoist bales of grass into the air by standing on top of his longest ladder fixed to the platform on his wind pump. Initially, he said, the giraffe was famished and he had to keep on feeding it constantly for a full month – day and night. After that, the giraffe’s hunger subsided a bit.

‘But I noticed something. Because it was so tall, it could see very far. And you know what? It could see a storm coming two days away. That’s when it’d run to the barn to hide. It didn’t like it much when the wind whipped its head around like that. And if he poked that large head into the barn, I knew there would be lightning, too. That giraffe saved many of my sheep by warning me of impending storms. Grew quite fond of it, I did.”

Vetfaan snorts as he finishes his beer.

“Ja, one could almost swallow that story as well as the lion swallowed his sheep. But I must admit: the way he told of the giraffe finding a mate, was rather creative. He reckoned there must be a herd of long-necked giraffes out there somewhere.” He sweeps his hand owardsthe endless dunes, smiling at the thought. “So up rocks this other stretch-neck and they wander off into the wilderness. Bertie seemed genuinely upset.”

“He had me going with the huge meerkat for a while. Of all his tall stories, that one was just too much.” Boggel pushes fresh beers across the counter. “No meerkat can be as big as a rhinoceros. I almost told him to stop lying like that.”

Servaas shakes his head. “Man, when he told me, I laughed in his face. He wasn’t offended or anything like that. He just said he’d show me. Then, last week, he arrived her with that load of biltong on his pickup.”

‘You guys didn’t believe me? Well, I shot one of the meerkats and made some biltong, just to prove to you I’m not exaggerating. Here, have a taste.’

To everybody’s surprise, the biltong was tender – almost sweet – and they soon found themselves asking him to tell them more about the meerkat.

‘There’s a family of them. You have to be careful –  they seem to be rather aggressive. I once got too near one of the smaller ones and he growled at me, showing his big, yellow teeth. The sound he made sounded like thunder. And he stomped so hard on the ground, I lost my balance. No, they are fiercely ferocious, I can tell you.

‘They only come out at night, so I had to shoot this one,’ he indicated towards the heap of biltong,  ‘when he got isolated from the family. Then, realising that I was in mortal danger, I tied the carcass to the pickup and dragged him back home as fast as I could. Skinning took a whole day, but it was worth it. I’ve got enough biltong to last me the winter.’

The group at the bar stare at the little bowls of biltong on the counter. Bertie had pomised to bring the skin as proof of his conquest two day ago. When he didn’t arrive, Vetfaan drove all the way to Bertie’s farm.

“Tell us again what you found, Vetfaan?” Gertruida, who likes to think there’s an explanation for everything, can’t undertsand what had happened to Bertie.

“Well, like I said: when I got to his farm, the place was deserted. No trace of Bertie or his pickup. So I scouted around and found some tracks leading off into the desert. Following these, I got to a giant depression – you know? Like a hole almost filled with sand. Or maybe an underground burrow that collapsed.” To add graphic to the picture, Vetfaan places a saucer on the counter to show them what the depression looked like. “The sand is very loose over there, see? Something must have dug a tunnel there and it collapsed. Now….the pickup’s tracks led to that depression…but I couldn’t find them leaving it at all.”

“So the meerkat family had their revenge?” Servaas’ sarcasm is tangible.

“Ag, I don’t know, man. One day old Bertie will saunter in here with another of his crazy stories, I’m sure.”

Gertruida, who misses few things (if any at all) still doesn’t understand Vetfaan’s reaction. Every time he tells them about his visit to Bertie’s farm, he gets vague about the speed at which he left the place. No, he didn’t go into the house again. And no, he didn’t wait to see if Bertie returned.

Big, burly Kalahari men will never admit to being scared. Vetfaan will tell them he simply got into his vehicle and drove back to town. Yes, maybe he drove a bit faster than usual, but that was to tell them about the collapsed burrow. He knew, of course, they’d laugh at this and poke fun at him – but he can only report on what he’s seen, not so? At least, he can tell them the bit they can believe – not the rest.

Which is why he can’t – won’t – ever tell them about the ladder he saw strapped to the platform on the wind pump. And, of course, about the clearing behind the barn and the soft sand bearing the impression of two huge bodies that had hidden there during last night’s storm.

The Fabulous Force of Fibbing

truth_and_lies_t-607x336If you asked Gertruida who the biggest liar in the district is, she won’t hesitate a single second before telling you about Frikkie-the-Fib Ferreira. She’ll tell you why, as well, just to make sure you understand why poor Frikkie ended up with such a distinguished nickname. After all, we all lie from time to time, and to be recognised as the Lord of the Lies must count for something in a country where lying has evolved to the level where we are the envy of every sinner in the whole wide world.

Gertruida says Frikkie never had a chance. It is in his DNA,  she’ll tell you. He was fathered by Piet ‘Prisons’ Pretorius after the inimitable Piet had persuaded Martie Ferreira to believe it’s okay, he was sterile anyway. Something to do with working in an X-ray department. Neither was true of course: not the X-ray bit nor the sterility. When Martie confronted him with her expanding waist, Piet told her he was – unfortunately and much to his regret – already married to the daughter of one of Cape Town’s most notorious gang leaders. He suggested she had better solve the problem herself or face the prospect of a ‘little visit’ by some chaps with an unhealthy tendency towards violence. This statement, like almost everything else Piet ever said, was a prime example of Piet’s ability to manufacture scenarios to suit his purposes.

Martie was by no means a paragon of virtue, either. She almost succeeded in convincing her family and friends that the pregnancy had a historical precedent which proved men were not necessarily important in the process of procreation. However, when the Big Date arrived without the expected visit by three wise men, there were some sceptics who doubted her explanation.

Be that as it may, Frikkie was born after several false alarms, which – Gertruida will emphasise – is proof of the development of pre-natal lying potential. As a helpless baby, Frikkie soon learnt that imaginary illnesses were extremely helpful in forcing people to pay attention to him. Long before he could walk or talk, he could point to various parts of his body while crying real tears. Von Münchhausen would have been proud. At the age of three, Frikkie had no tonsils, no appendix and had to wear both arms in a sling to alleviate the strain on his shoulders.

Despite this, Frikkie breezed through school. He always had an excuse for not doing homework, was hospitalised without fail during exams and was advanced to the next standard simply because he had so little time to live left. The district doctor at the time tried to convince Martie to take her son to see a specialist in Cape Town, which she promised to do – and didn’t because she lied. She understood the devious way little Frikkie’s mind worked.

Frikkie left school (he wasn’t really learning anything, was he?) at the age of thirteen, lied about his age, and started selling beer to the local population. So effective were his half-truths, that he soon convinced everybody that he, himself, was a brewmaster of note. The youngest, in fact, in the world. Therefore, he said, he added secret ingredients to the bottled products only he sold. See how clever I do it? You can’t even see where I opened the bottle and resealed it. Come on, I dare you: the person who can show me how I did it, can get a whole crate of beer for free.

His ‘secret’, he told his customers, was a mood-changer. Frikkie’s Emotional Molecular Moderating Enhancer, of FEMME – an old French invention which he altered and perfected. He told men that it’d make them feel like real men – something roughly along the line on what he told the ladies, too.

His marketing campaign was so effective that he not only became rich very quickly, but the other purveyors of alcoholic beverages soon had to close their doors. Drinkers insisted on Frikkie’s beer with its added oomph.

At the age of eighteen, Frikkie had to make a difficult decision. Realising he had to make something of his life, he decided to follow a professional career. Two options sprang to mind: lawyer or preacher – both which involved a lot of opportunities for lying and twisting facts until they suited you. Despite his lack of formal education, Frikkie decided that Law was  the way to go. Unlike the options in theology, the legal profession only involved lying to people – which seemed a bit safer than messing about upstairs.

By this time, Frikkie was a master forger as well. During weekends while other young people explored the ups and downs of romantic liaisons, Frikkie copied Hundred Rand notes to pass the time. Thus, after consulting a lawyer about a fictitious issue (and having a good look around the office), he went home and forged a certificate which proclaimed that he, Frikkie Ferreira, had passed the LLB degree (Cum Laude). Realising that court appearances could become an embarrassment, he specialised in arbitration and mediation – which naturally relied heavily on his gift of lying. He also drew up a few wills, which he made the clients write out and sign; and he then endorsed as witness. For this excellent service, he charged a rather hefty fee.

Then, naturally (having developed all the necessary attributes and gifts), Frikkie decided to go big. Politics would be his ultimate triumph. He registered his Workers and Traditional Fraternities, a potentially massive collection of all trade unions, ethnic groups and workers. He succeeded in convincing stubborn and suspicious leaders of his good intentions, his impressive fortune and their combined ability to take corruption in the country to a completely new level.

It seemed as if there could be no end to his lying, conniving ways. Frikkie-the–fib, everybody agreed – was on his way to become one of our best politicians. President, even.

Then he made a mistake.

In his election manifesto, he promised to supply houses, jobs, electricity, toilets and infrastructure…to ALL those in need.

“You see,” Gertruida will tell you with a sly smile, “the best lies have at least a bit of truth in them. To be a good liar, the mix of fact and fiction must be such that it causes reasonable doubt that it is, in fact, a lie. Look at our government’s success with this: as long as they can blame all mistakes and problems on Apartheid, they’ll get the majority of the vote. It’s an emotional thing, see? People want to believe it, because it’s the easy way out. Heaven help us the day when the masses start seeing through the propaganda they are fed every day.”

You may, at this point, want to ask what happened to Frikkie, which will please Gertruida immensely.

“Just what he deserved. Frikkie was bankrupted and had to sell everything. You see, you can lie to some people all of the time. You can lie to all people some of the time. But…you can’t lie to all people all of the time. So Frikkie settled on lying his way into a disability grant, coerced some officials to employ him because he was mentally challenged. A sharp-witted HR officer spotted his talent and redeployed him as the new speech-writer to the president.

“He says it’s a full-time job – for the first time in his life he is really challenged to come up with plausible lies. Arguably the only truth ever to make it’s way past his lying tongue, is that he’s never been so unhappy in his life.?”

There is a moral to the story, of course. Lying your way through life may well cause a lot of misery. But…imagine having the responsibility of making a president look good? The wages of sin, indeed…

(Readers are reminded that this is a story. Fiction. A (hopefully) entertaining lie. And, true to Gertruida’s advice, nobody can doubt the fictitious background of this story. Too many lies and not a single strand of truth.)

(Really…)

The Unique Bogus Reality of Life

article-2242722-1657FE04000005DC-339_634x474“Did you know,” Gertruida asks because she knows everything, “that people lie every day? Some studies have shown that men lie six times a day, almost twice as much as women; while others show that 60% of people will lie at least once in a ten-minute conversation. The studies vary so much, because people tend to lie about lying. Psychologists reckon that deception was important for the development of the rather large human brain.”

Now, you must understand, Gertruida has a way of throwing out this type of statement whenever the conversation in Boggel’s Place dies down and the customers lapse into staring at their half empty glasses. Or maybe they’re half full, depending on your point of view. If there is one thing she can’t stand, then it is the absence of communication.

“It has to do with the survival of the fittest, you see? Initially it was the biggest and the strongest Neanderthal that dragged the most beautiful female off to his cave. Now, if that trait continued, the world would be filled by giant men and every woman would be stunningly pretty – but that isn’t the case, is it?”

By now she gets a few curious looks. Where is she going with this?

“So, somewhere along the line, some little guy managed to convince the alpha male that he wasn’t good enough. Maybe he had to be cleverer to get somebody to cook his meal, or maybe he lied about the size of his clan (amongst other things) – but in the end, deception became a necessary factor for survival. Tiny, the diminutive Neanderthal, had to intimidate his huge nephew Brutus, to get to Delicious, the pretty one who got tired of being beaten up every night.”

“So you’re saying that the original lie was a way to stop domestic violence?” Servaas thinks this is all so un-Calvinistic, and his face show it.

“Well, you have the two extremes: brute strength on the one hand, and deception on the other. Deception can take many forms, mind you: setting a trap for Brutus, or waiting in ambush is as much a lie as telling him your sixteen brothers are on their way to beat him up. Making somebody feel safe while you’re waiting for him to fall into the cleverly-disguised hole you dug, is deception. So is telling Delicious you love her simply because you want her to share your cave.”

“Ag, alright, Gertruida. That’s all very interesting. People lie…I get it. Why bring it up?”

“Because, Servaas, the liars became more and more creative over the years. Brutus had no chance once Tiny and his offspring got to the point that the females stopped falling for the strongest – they went for the cleverest. And you know quite well that stupid people don’t lie so well. It’s the clever ones that mix fact and fiction to such an extent that you believe them completely.”

“I’m still not sure what this has to do with us?”

“We live in a world of lies, Servaas: we get fed lies from dawn to dusk every day. Do you think newspapers tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Every front page is slanted towards a political ideology. Reporters get paid to chase a story because we just love sensation – and then they write articles to tell us what the editor thinks we should know. What’s even more important, is the stuff we don’t get told about. The media filters the truth, Servaas, there’s no question about it.”

Precilla has been listening quietly. “Then advertising is simply sophisticated lying?”

2011716_StuyvesantCigaretteAu1970“Absolutely! Remember the Stuyvesant ads? They used images of planes, boats and ski-slopes – suggesting that people who smoke this brand are sophisticated and rich. So smokers used it as a symbol of their success – and they were lied to as well as lying to everybody around them. 

“Marketing involves creative lying. Skin products promise eternal youth, clothing brands want you to believe that you’ll be the envy of all if you buy their products, and consumers buy pure beef sausages containing anything but cow.”

By now, Servaas is sitting up straight. “You haven’t touched on politicians yet, Gertruida.”

“Who needs convincing? Look at Uncle Bob next door. Or Malema – himself not a paragon of virtue – who claimed that there were 700 criminal charges against our President? And who’ll forget the statement : I did not have sexual relations with that woman?

“To be a successful politician, you have to be extremely creative in the way you handle the truth. Simply sticking to the facts is not going to cut the cheese.”

“Ag nee a!” Vetfaan signals for another beer. “You’re depressing me here, Gertruida. You make it sound as if the world is stumbling along on a diet of fat lies. It can’t be that bad?”

“Wake up, Vetfaan. The Truth is a dying entity. Human evolution depended on the ability to lie. Nowadays, we reward liars by electing them to positions of authority or by buying product we believe will improve our lives. I’m sure there are exceptions to the rule, but the fact is: the rule is in charge.”

“I agree.” Oudoom sighs as he joins the conversation. “We use an interesting term to justify lying: interpreting. People read verses of the Quran or the Bible – then they interpret it to suit their causes. Apartheid was justified by that. The fighting in Egypt, too. The list is long, but the point is: that’s the most dangerous untruth of all…”

“Where will it end, Gertruida? Are we doomed to live in a world of lies?”

“It’ll change, Servaas, but not in our lifetime. A very important thing must happen first: before we stop lying to others, we must stop lying to ourselves. Once we accept that we’re not as sexy, rich or successful as the adverts, and not as gullible to believe that other people must form our opinions, then humanity will revert back to the truth. And that will only happen when the drug of deceit is no longer addictive. When? Lies destroy, truth builds up. So, lies will cause such a major catastrophe that the world will change. 

“Maybe it’ll be a religious war, or a massive economic crisis, but in the end, only Truth will survive. It’s a tragedy.”

“I don’t agree.” Vetfaan empties his glass. “Fanny asked me yesterday whether I thought her jeans made her look fat…”

He gets a few sympathetic smiles, but the mood in the bar remains gloomy. One after the other, the patrons find an excuse to leave, claiming something to be done or forgotten.

“They don’t like the truth, Boggel.” A sad note has crept into Gertruida’s statement.

“No, Gertruida. They don’t. Lies are just so much easier to believe.”

Fanny’s Surprise (# 16)

When Gertruida sees the smartly dressed man get out of the taxi, she immediately realises who it is. In one of her shortest and most powerful lectures, she tells the patrons in Boggel’s Place exactly how they must react towards him. She’s barely finished before he opens the door.

“I say,” Henry announces his presence in his usual haughty style, “ Good morning to everybody.” It sounds like ghud mawning. If he expected a warm welcome, he was mistaken. The patrons at the bar merely nod and turn back to the counter. 

“Typical boorish little clan.” Henry mumbles to himself, but just loud enough for them to hear. He recovers his smile and ambles over to the bar.

“You the bahman, my ghud chap?”  

Boggel gets on his crate to look at the man behind the dark glasses. The oppressive heat has already caused little rivulets of sweat to run down to the collar of the shirt. The smile doesn’t fool him. He’s been a barman for too long.

“Ja. I’m the barman.” Accent on the ‘r’. “Can I help you?”

“It’s may I help you, not can.” Henry can’t help himself. Theses people are so backward! “And yes, you may. I’d like a pint of your best bitters and a telephone.” He’s trying to find out whether they’ve had any contact with London; so starting with the telephone is the first step.

Gertruida makes a scoffing sound. “Telephone? Here? It’s been disconnected years ago.” The lie slips out so glibly, one would guess she’s an expert at the art of deception. Come to think of it – she may well be.. However, she saw through his approach immediately and had to stop Boggel from reaching for the telephone beneath the counter. When she sees Henry’s relieved smile, she knows… This man is dangerous, devious and very, very calculating. A worthy adversary, indeed. Well, there can be only one winner in this contest of wills.

Just as Boggel serves a cold Castle, Vetfaan’s pickup stops outside.

“Oh, that’s my delivery.” Gertruida is a picture of surprised happiness as she skips towards the door. Boggel looks on as a small smile hovers at the edges of his lips. He hopes Gertruida won’t ever have to give evidence under oath – it’d be impossible to tell when she strayed from the truth.

Outside, Gertruida tells Vetfaan and Fanny to hold on a second. “Listen, we must make him believe you know nothing, Fanny. If he suspects you know about his fraud, there’s no telling what he’ll do. A man on the run, who’s world has collapsed – and most probably with latent psychopathic tendencies…I don’t even want to guess what he’s capable of. The only way to approach this, is to let him play out his hand. Let’s see what he’s planning. You go in there, act relatively pleasantly surprised, and let’s see.” She hesitates for a moment. “And…oh…don’t provoke the man. We don’t know how stable he is. Try to agree with whatever he says or suggests, will you?”

Ask Gertruida: you catch more flies with honey than with sour milk. Give a thief enough rope…

Fanny, it must be said, deserves an Oscar for her entrance. With a little oooh! she stops dead in her tracks as she opens the door. Then, with a hesitancy that didn’t need to be acted, she walks up to Henry, stands on tiptoe, and kisses his cheek ever so lightly.

“Henry, I’d like to introduced a very good friend of mine, Fanie.”

Vetfaan feels the Englishman’s eyes scan over his burly body, taking in the khaki pants and shirt, stopping at the old and well-worn boots. The difference between the two men just can’t be more obvious. Henry, in his sweat-soaked Savil Row suit, in  stark contrast to the cool and shabbily dressed Kalahari farmer. It’s difficult to say who is most bemused. Henry’s limp hand disappears into Vetfaan’s huge paw, and he has to draw on all the Eaton discipline not to wince as Vetfaan shakes his hand.

“Ja, it’s a nice surprise to meet you here, Henry. Fanny told me a lot about you.” Vetfaan’s voice doesn’t convey anything of the friendly words – it is cold and emotionless.

Even the dark glasses can’t hide the shadow of doubt in Henry’s eyes.

“Really, old chap? O-o-only good things, I p-presume. Ha ha. She’s such a funny girl.”

This doesn’t go down well with Vetfaan. He’s already on edge, and here this man is belittling the woman he loves.

“Funny? What’s so funny?” He towers over the smaller man, hands clenched in white-knuckled fists.

“Now, now, boys…” Gertruida puts a stop to the potential conflict with her placatory tone. “No need to take everything so seriously, Vetfaan. I’m sure Henry came here for a good reason. Let’s hear him out.”

“Well…er.” Henry isn’t used to the direct approach of the Kalahari people. In London they would have discussed the newest model Bentley, had some tea and exchanged meaningless pleasantries before getting to the point. Being put on the spot like this is unthinkable, quite simply rude. “I-I have to tell Fanny something. Something personal. And I want to see and experience what she did when she was here some time ago.” With his wavering confidence slowly restoring, he seems more certain of himself as he goes on. “I’m sure you saw the change that time in the desert accomplished in Fanny. Well, I can do with some of that. Maybe if we c-could spend a few days in the desert together, I will understand her better. You see, she gave me her word…” He stares at Vetfaan, trying to look confident.

In a man’s world, there are a few rules. Rule number one is simple: in any grouping of men, you’ll find an Alpha Male – don’t challenge him unless you are prepared for the consequences. Rule number two states that all men tend to have an over-inflated ego. It takes the tiniest prick (no pun) to let the air out. Check it out: any angry male animal tries to look bigger than he really is. He’ll rear on his back feet, make hair stand on end, try to growl louder than the opponent. It’s all a show to hide insecurity.

That’s why Vetfaan leans back with his elbows on the counter, a make-believe smile telling the world what he thinks of the newcomer.

“You want to see desert? I’ll show you desert. In fact, let’s not waste time. If we leave now, we can set up camp at that tree !Ka showed us. How about it, Fanny?” 

Fanny nods timidly. This situation is unbearable! Then, to her surprise, Vetfaan escalates the tension a little further. 

“And what was the little personal matter, mister?”

Henry is ready for this one. During the flight from London and later in the taxi, he’s arranged the words carefully. Yes, he’ll sweep her off her feet. Convincing her of his love is the first step. Then the gold coins. Then the merging of the two family’s fortunes.

Flawless, Henry Hartford…an absolute masterpiece. Spreading his smile a tad wider, he launches into his carefully prepared speech.. 

Dont forget: click to read the first bit…

The Fear of Love

http://www.google.co.za/imgres?hl=en&tbo=d&biw=1280&bih=677&tbm=isch&tbnid=mIwO0k_GSiqSsM:&imgrefurl=http://footage.shutterstock.com/clip-2317613-stock-footage-young-man-jumps-on-trampoline-with-net-around-closeup-view-from-above.html&docid=U5qw-47281GfxM&imgurl=http://ak2.picdn.net/shutterstock/videos/2209672/preview/stock-footage-young-woman-jumping-in-the-desert-slow-motion.jpg&w=400&h=224&ei=omMPUcfnHIzL0AWokIGIBw&zoom=1&ved=1t:3588,r:75,s:0,i:311&iact=rc&dur=7659&sig=116956095411488671931&page=5&tbnh=164&tbnw=300&start=75&ndsp=20&tx=138&ty=137There was a moment, out there next to his bakkie, when Vetfaan found himself staring at Anna Bruski. She stood at the side of the road, taking in the emptiness of the Kalahari, while they waited for the police to arrive. By that time, Vetfaan had hidden the briefcase behind the seat of his vehicle.

They didn’t talk much. There was nothing to say. Ahmed and his giant bodyguard were trussed up, the danger had passed and the police were taking their time. Anna seemed withdrawn, as if the magnitude of everything she had done over the past few years suddenly weighed her down.

She looked quite attractive, standing there with her back towards him. Sexy, even. The cascade of hair softened the square shoulders but there was an unmistakable femininity about the curve of her hips and the way the white skirt flapped lazily in the breeze, affording the occasional glimpse of a tanned thigh. Feet slightly apart, arms almost at rest at her sides. A faceless figure, lost in the timeless beauty of the Kalahari.

Something stirred in Vetfaan’s mind. A memory, A thought. An image of a girl he once knew – or maybe a collective collage of images of all the women he had known in his life. Each unique, yet all the same.

Women, Vetfaan had decided a long time ago, have a strange tendency to leave him feel unfulfilled and empty. Oh, there’s always  the rush of excitement and the overwhelming fascination in the beginning. It’s a caveman instinct, Gertruida once said. The big, hairy man with the club, out on a hunt to drag home his newest conquest. Tonight he’ll see the stars in her eyes, the moonlight in her hair. Tomorrow he’ll wonder what on earth made him think she’d be different to the rest.

“Women, Vetfaan, are all different and all the same. They want to be possessed and they want to be free. It’s a heady mix of ownership and being owned. You get the mix right, and they’ll tell you they love you. Get it wrong, and your life is hell.”

Gertruida was, as always, right. In his stumbling efforts to be somebody special to somebody special, it was this relationship between having and letting go that confused him completely. In Vetfaan’s mind, love means exclusivity. That, he realised a long time ago, restricts freedom. He has to let go of his own freedom to grant his woman the right to be herself. In effect, it turns him into a fraud – how else? To be free in the captivity of his love, he has to renounce who he really is. It meant that he had to let go of his own desire to be happy in order to make someone else happy – and hope that she in turn, would make him happy again.

He  told Gertruida so. He said he was happy already, thank you. Why go through the schlep of changing? If he was already happy in life, why complicate things by letting it go – in order to have someone else make you feel better about having had to change? Happiness, he said, is happiness. Full stop. If you have it, cherish it. Don’t kill it in the hope that it’ll rise again, Phoenix-like, from the ruins of your sacrifice.

Gertruida laughed at him, saying he was being ridiculous. She said you can’t be happy alone. Happiness, she said, comes from the realisation you were created to be part of a community. For that to happen, you slot into society at large – as well as with special people who you want to share time with. And, she said, you want to spend time with these people, because they make you happy. Amongst this selected few, there’ll be the one…

It was one of those endless discussions that went round and round in circles, with no solution and no result. It ended when Vetfaan told Gertruida she was being too theoretical. If she really believed in what she was saying, she would have been married to some professor. Gertruida got a far-away look as she thought of Ferdinand. She wanted to say – but didn’t, of course – that love makes you happy. And even if the loved one is long departed, he or she can still bring a smile to your lips on cold and lonely evenings.  True love, something Vetfaan doesn’t understand, carries the fulfilment of the promise of joy – and that isn’t dependent on being together all the time. Gertruida knew better than to draw Vetfaan into that argument.

These thoughts surfaced in his mind as Vetfaan watched the trim figure of Anna Bruski. She’s a beautiful, intelligent girl who’s had the terrible misfortune of falling into a different type of captivity. Her freedom had been taken away from her to leave her a broken and bewildered woman. Men have abused her. Society had simply turned away, preferring not to notice the women and children who get sold as sex slaves. And she, Anna, got so caught up in the intricate web of lies and money, that she now felt lost and helpless. Her sick and convoluted way of trying to make sense out of her life depended on a certain set of circumstances. With Ahmed facing a lifetime in jail, the fragile card-house of Anna’s universe collapsed in an untidy heap.

Vetfaan realised it was in his power to free her from her past. He could take her back to his farm, feed her up and rest her out. They could have normal conversations about normal things. She could fit into a new society and start rebuilding her life. And then, slow moment after slow moment, they’d find themselves more and more involved, more and more attracted to each other. One dark night hands would reach out, lips would meet. She’d tell him he was the best thing that ever happened to her.They’d call it love and marvel at the wonder of it all. He’d buy a ring. She’d be ecstatic.

And then, one morning, he’d notice the way she looked at him when she woke up. A faint scowl, mouth corners surrendering to gravity. And he’d start noticing other things. Her silences. Forced smiles. Or the pictures on the wall would be changed around. Or she’d finish all the warm water while showering. She’d be too neat, or untidy. Maybe she’d use his razor. Complain that he spent too much time at Boggel’s. Small things. Insignificant things.

And he’d be unhappy because he wanted her to be happy; his efforts too weak to be rewarded by his own happiness.

“You’ll have to go back to Poland,” he said to her back.

“Yes,” she whispered.

Two people out in the desert. Two souls longing to share, to be part of something bigger. Two lonely hearts, doomed to remain in captivity because the fear of loving was bigger than the fear of being honest.

“It’s better that way,” he said.

She nodded. Lies had been part of her life for so long; one more didn’t matter.

Daily Prompt: Helpless

http://safaritalk.net/topic/6903-zambia-2010/“So there I was, upside down, hanging from the branch with a leopard staring at me and the cobra only inches away. I remember looking past my feet at the circling vultures as my legs started slipping on the smooth bark of the tree. It was unbearably hot that day and I was quite dizzy with thirst. And suddenly – unexpectedly – I realized my branch was the home to a whole tribe of poisonous spiders. You know the black ones with the red dot on the tummy? Well, they weren’t impressed with my little visit to their lodgings. They were swarming down my pants towards my face. I could see them marching down in an untidy group – past my knees and over my thighs. I would have swatted at them to shoo them away, but of course, my hands were tied behind my back. I tried to shout at them. My throat was so dry I only managed a strangled bark.”

Grootpraat Grove sips his beer as he watches the group at the bar. He’s come to town to buy his supplies and he promised his long-suffering wife he’d be back in two day’s times. This is day four, and he’s enjoying every minute of his visit. It gets awfully quiet out there on the farm…

“So what did you do?” Kleinpiet always enjoys Grootpraat’s visits. He has the most amazing adventures out there on his farm.

“Well. I looked over to where the dust was settling after Kwaaihendrik Vosloo galloped away. I suppose I shouldn’t be angry at him. He did catch me with his daughter after all.” He smiles fondly at the memory. “I was young then, and young men do tend to do silly things. And boy! Was it stupid to undress Marietjie at the dam! Man oh man! We had a lovely swim and were just getting down to business when Kwaaihendrik appeared as if from nowhere. Marietjie didn’t bother dressing. She just took off and ran. I can still, to this day, see that white bum wobbling about as she sprinted across the thorn bushes.” He gurgles a happy giggle as he thinks back.

“No man, what did you do? What with the spiders and the leopard and the snake?”

“Did you know how thirsty I get from talking? My throat feels parched.”

It works every time. With a new beer before him, he sticks his finger in the froth and licks at it with a smile.

“There was nothing I could do. I fell from that tree, turning in mid-air like a cat, so I don’t break my neck. Wham! Right on top of the snake. Flattened the poor critter with my fall, I did. Funny how time slows down when things like that happen. I recall a rather explosive hiss as I drove the air from its lungs, poor thing.

“I still wasn’t sure about the snake, when the leopard charged. He was fast! One moment he was sitting there like a trained house cat, looking up at me in the tree, the next he was a blur of paws and teeth as he stormed the place where I was. I was sure it was the end. I struggled to my knees, thinking he might listen if I pleaded nicely, but he wasn’t a very clever leopard. He didn’t understand Afrikaans at all. The more I told him I’m just a skinny bag of bones and that he’d burn more calories from taking me apart than he’d get from taking me in, the faster those paws moved as he sped up his charge.”

He pauses for a dramatic second as he takes several large swallows from the glass, allowing his eyes to travel over his little audience.  They were all watching him carefully, hanging onto every word. Belching his satisfaction, he continues:

“There was nothing I could do. To curl up from a kneeling position is easy: you simply faint. Not that I fainted, of course! But because I knew that, I fell forward at the last moment. Flat on my face.” Ha places his big hand on the counter top with a loud slap. “Like that. The leopard was already airborne at that stage, so he couldn’t change his direction. He came flying at me, but just an inch or two too high. His long talons were extended to grab me – and fortunately for me, I wasn’t where he thought I’d be. He would have made it clear over me if his hind foot didn’t catch the rope that tied my hand together. And let me tell you: afterwards I measured his tracks. They were huge!” He spreads his hand to show how big the paws were; at the same time ‘discovering’ his glass is empty. The situation is quickly rectified.

“That claw ripped through the rope like a new knife through fresh biltong! Slash! Just like that!” He sighs at the memory and swigs away at the beer. “So now I had my hands free, but the leopard was turning around, ready to come at me again. By this time I knew he didn’t understand Afrikaans, so I tried English. You know what happened? He picked up speed. That’s when I realised this must be German leopard. And fortunately,” he digs about in his pockets to produce a piece of dry wors, “fortunately I always have a bit of dried sausage with me. You know? Padkos? Just in case I get hungry out there in the veld. So I told the leopard in my best German he’d do better for himself if he took the wurst. What a relief! I finally said something he could understand! I threw the sausage at him and he grabbed it. Then, purring happily, he disappeared into the bush.”

“Now tell me, Grootpraat, what about the spiders? What happened to them?”

Grootpraat flashes a thankful smile at Kleinpiet. It’s always nice if the guys concentrated on the story.

“They were chest high at that point, and I knew they must be deaf, otherwise my pleas with the leopard would have made them stop as well. Now what do you do with deaf people?” Glug-glug and the glass is almost empty again. Bu-u-urrrp! “You use sign language of course! Because they were well on their way to my jugular, I had to speak fast, very fast. And talking fast in sign language isn’t a good idea if you have a million spiders on your chest.  My hands moved faster and faster. And…” Glug. He smiles as he puts down the empty glass while he demonstrates how fast he is with sign language. Gertruida whispers that it looks like somebody with a fit. “…and before I could explain myself properly, those poor spiders fell off my clothes. All of them. Not a single one clung on long enough to let me finish my sentence. I was thankful enough not to be angry at their bad manners. To leave anybody in the middle of the sentence isn’t nice. But I forgave them. Yep. I forgave them all. You can’t be angry at deaf spiders. It’s not done.”

“And the vultures?” Boggel replaces the beer, “at least you got away from them, didn’t you?”

“Of course! I’m here, am I not?” Boggel gets a pitying look. “No, they got the dead snake, so they were happy. For me it was a long walk back to my home. Barefoot. But it was worth it. I’ll never forget that swim in the dam – or the white cheeks as they ran across the veld. Sometimes no sacrifice is too big. Old Kwaaihendrik chased me off the farm a few times after that, but it didn’t help. Me and Marietjie celebrated our twentieth last year.”

“But how did you get into the tree in the first instance, Grootpraat?  You were tied up and upside down? How did that happen?”

Grootpraat was just about to lie his way out of that one, when a shadow falls across the window. The door opens with a bang.

Marietjie!

It’s funny how huge men get to be called Tiny, or bald old omies get the nickname Hairy. Marietjie sounds like a name for a diminutive, frail, fragile beauty. It certainly doesn’t fit the huge mountain of furious woman at the door.

“You scoundrel! You worthless piece of meat! You lying, loudmouthed, sneaky bastard. Come here, or I’ll hang you from the rafters, just like I did that day at the dam! Now!”

And as she leads him away by the ear, he casts back a look at the group at the counter.

It’s a forlorn look. The look of a man on his way to the gallows.

As Gertruida puts it, quite helpless.

 

The End of the World as We Know It? (Yay!)

“Everybody’s going to Bugarach,” Gertruida – who knows everything – says. She’s studied the newspapers carefully, and she should know. “They think the world’s going to end, but not there.”

She can be quite challenging at times. Gertruida sometimes throws out such statements just to see what the reaction is. It beats drinking in silence, she says.

“It may all be a myth,” she says, “but there are thousands who flock there to escape the apocalypse. They believe they’ll escape from earth before the final bang.”

Vetfaan shrugs. “So a spaceship will come and lift them off earth? They’ll leave Prieska and De Aar for some unknown destination in the universe? What happens if they find Zuma there? Or Mugabe? Can they come back?”

Boggel tries (unsuccessfully) to suppress the giggle that demands an unkind outing. One does not poke fun at Gertruida. She gets cross and then pursues the subject with renewed vigour. If there’s one thing he’d like to avoid, it’s another long, drawn-out, argument. Who cares about a remote French village, anyway? Or some distant planet, for that matter?

“I think Rolbos is a better place to hide,” Vetfaan remarks, “nobody knows about us, anyway. We’ve got Sammie’s Shop for supplies, a lot of sheep, and Oudoom. What more can one want? And when we run out of supplies, we can always drive over to Upington for stuff.”

“The point is, Vetfaan, that Upington won’t be there any more. Neither will Pretoria or Cape Town. Zuma will be gone. I’m not sure about Malema, but he’ll most probably have to wait for a verdict by the Constitutional Court before he leaves. The rest of us won’t be here any more, however. That’s why people want to leave quickly. The courts always take a long time, see?”

“Listen, if they take politicians, I demand a return ticket.” Kleinpiet slams a fist on the counter. “No matter what’s left back here, I’m coming home.”

“They won’t take politicians, I’m sure.” Servaas, as head elder, feels that would be wrong. “If we had to start all over again on a remote planet, we must get it right from the start. Something like Eden was, only without the snake.”

Gertruida looks at him with new respect. “You think that snake wasn’t a snake, but a candidate for a political party? It makes sense, you know.” She clears her throat before going on. “Vote for me, and I promise you the world. I’ll cut taxes, abolish work and implement higher grants. Then you can strike, burn down schools and ignore the police. When I am in charge, you’ll get free land, free houses and free medicine. The only reason why you suffer so much now, is because you’ve not been supporting me. You voted for the wrong guy, see? You didn’t know better. But now, now that you have to opportunity to acquire new knowledge of how to really make this country great, now it’s in your hands to implement change. No work, permanent support and a lifetime of luxury. The only thing you’ll want to complain about, is the way you used to live up to now; and the only thing you’d want to blame, is history.

“Forget the Old Order, people. There were too many rules and too few rewards. You’re running around naked with nothing to cover you when the nights get cold. No, you can’t go on like this. I have a better plan.”

Gertruida takes a bow when the patrons at the counter burst into spontaneous applause.

“You should run for parliament, Gertruida. That was a convincing speech.” Vetfaan signals for a beer, which he passes on to her.

“Thank you, Vetfaan. But, unfortunately, I cannot lay claim to any originality here. This is the oldest recorded campaign speech on record. Look it up in Genesis – and nothing has changed since then. Over the centuries this speech has seen governments tumble, empires disappear and states vanish. The reason for this is simple: people won’t stop listening to lies. They always want something more, and preferably for free. There’s a price to pay for that.“

“Ja, that’s true. Adam and Eve should have been happy. They had everything anybody could ever want. And then, just when Creation seemed to be perfect, politics entered the ring. Since then, mankind has slowly been gravitating towards its own destruction. We’re  still uncreating the creation. “ The others at the bar shift around uncomfortably. If Servaas starts talking like this, he’ll be wearing his black suit again tomorrow. “ Wars, moral decay, global climate changes, pollution, corruption, recession … without politics we won’t have these.”

“Ag come on, Servaas. You’ll have us all leaving for Bugarach if you go on like this. Oudoom says we live in a broken world, and that’s true. It’s also true that every human being that ever lived, lived in an imperfect society. Oudoom says it’s our punishment for listening to the snake’s lies. ..“

“You’re wrong, Gertruida. For once, you’re wrong.” Servaas interrupts her as he gets up to walk to the door. “It’s not the world that is broken. We are. The world was created perfectly, but we lost the plot way back at the beginning. We lost our innocence because of lies, and some people haven’t stopped lying ever since then.  Once we get rid of lies, we’ll start recovering – but that would be the end of politics, I think.” He walks out, closing the door firmly behind him.

In the silence that follows, Boggel gets on his crate. He’ll have to do something to lift the atmosphere; otherwise it’s going to be a very quiet evening.

“So, who’s going to leave for France? Anybody?”

He gets a few tired smiles.

“No, Boggel, we’ll all stay here. Bagarach isn’t a magical solution to the end of the world, and politics won’t save us either. Let’s face it: to believe an alien spaceship is going to rock up, load up some frightened people and deposit them in a New Paradise, is as much a lie as the one that started all this mess.” Gertruida sits up straight and pokes Vetfaan in the ribs. “Come on, Vetfaan, cheer up! It’s almost Christmas.”

“Ja, Gertruida. People like to think there’d be some quick fix to everything. If you’re lonely, you get married. If you’re unhappy, you get divorced. But it doesn’t work like that, does it?”

Boggel serves another batch of beers. “Listen, that’s what Christmas is all about. It’s about a new start. It’s about beginning afresh. It’s about refusing to listen to lies any more. And that, my friends, is good news. Something to celebrate. Bagarach isn’t a place – it’s a way of thinking. The Place of the Great Lie, can become the first Band-Aid on a broken world.”

He says this – you must understand – to jolt his customers out of their reverie. He can’t stand it if they sit and mope at the counter. But without realising it, he said the truest thing in Boggel’s Place tonight, even if he went about it in a convoluted way.  In a world without politics, there will be a completely new approach to Truth. It is true too, that politics aren’t confined to the hallowed halls of parliament: social politicking is part of our everyday lives. Perhaps this is most evident over the Christmas season, when we completely ignore the original meaning of the feast.

Over the centuries, Christmas has become a lucrative enterprise – and a time made most remarkable by the slithery snake of falsehood. Tipsy people stagger around in an alcoholic haze as they proclaim happiness and cheer to all mankind, before going home to oil the guns and check the ammunition. Streets fill up with honking vehicles before the drivers get that steely look in the eyes to curse the swerving taxi. Couples tell sweet little lies while wishing they were somewhere else. The Christmas service gets attended by pious believers who can’t wait to hear the newest gossip afterwards. Diplomats exchange hearty greetings prior to planning the next coup.  And presidents and kings broadcast syrupy messages to their countries, telling them not to worry, 2013 will be better.

Despite these (literally) earth-shattering facts and while people in Russia, China, Europe and the Americas prepare for the apocalypse, the people in Rolbos approach the 21st with a much bigger problem: how to get Servaas out of his black suit and into a good mood again.

***

It’ll take more than an alien spaceship to do that. It’ll only be when Gertruida assures him that the 22nd will be the start of a completely new era, that he’ll cheer up.

“Hopefully this means we’ll have less politics and more kindness,” he’ll say, “less lies and more truth?”

“Yes,” Gertruida will tell him. “Remember, it’s the day after the government’s congress in Mangaung. That’s where they’ll talk about the policies for our country for the next few years. With much grace and a lot of prayers, they’ll steer the country in a new direction. Or, if that’s not to be, it’ll be the first step towards them losing a future election. Both ways, we can only win; it’s the dawn of a new day for us.”

Servaas will laugh for the first time in a while. “A new start? Then it must be Christmas.”

Gertruida will slap him on the shoulder to tell him that’s the spirit, he must never lose hope. The world can change – even if it starts with a new understanding of Christmas in a small, unknown village like Rolbos.

For is it not  – when all is said and done – what Christmas is all about?

Martha’s Letter

My Dearest Servaas

I’m back in Milan, and have settled in the mansion the opera company hires for me. I’m quite spoilt, really; with a butler, a maid and a cook seeing to all my needs. I’ve sent the gardener to visit his folks – it is almost winter here and there’s not much to do. He’s trimmed the hedges, the lawn is in great shape and he’s even planted a few lemon trees which seem to have taken well to their new surroundings.

They’ve thrown me in at the deep end again. In my absence they brought in a wonderful voice to sing the role of Gilda in Rigoletto. Did you know Rigoletto was the court jester, a hunchback and quite a hit with the ladies? He reminds me so much about Boggel. Anyway, the soprano fell ill (sore throat) and now I’ll have to fix the problem. Fortunately I have sung that role so many times in the past; I won’t have a problem with it.

I must tell you how much I enjoyed the supper at your house. Wasn’t the dancing outrageous? I think Mama laughed up there, where she now stays. In her younger days, she used to dance quite well, and enjoyed a lively waltz. I was quite amazed with your dancing, as well. I know we started off slowly, but when you did that pirouette that upset the coffee table, I started to understand the way you dance. It’s almost a deceptive free-style, shuffling affair which must have taken you years to learn. Here in Milan we have many dances, but I never go. I think the men here are scared to invite a diva to their parties.  That used to make me sad.

But now, Servaas, I have you. Oh, I know – not like that … but it’s so wonderful to know you think about me sometimes. It makes me happy.

In your previous letter you suggested that you may come and visit me. Alas!! Oh woe!! We are taking Rigoletto on a tour through Italy, Austria, Germany, then France and finally Norway. Since the other opera houses heard I am singing Gilda, they have been queuing up to book us. Of course this is all very flattering, but that will mean a full program for the next few months. I’ll be returning to Milan every now and then, so I’ll be able to pick up your letters and reply from home.

They have a wonderful tradition here at Alla Scala. I hesitate to tell you this, because you may think it forward of me, but here goes. If a member of the permanent personnel feels him or her attached to somebody, they have a way of telling the others. This is to publicly state that you’re spoken for, understand? Now, you know me. I may not be much to look at, but because I’m so famous, I get fed up with these men who want to be seen with me. They’re not gentlemen, like you are – they have only one aim in mind when going out with ‘a darling of the stage’. They make me sick…

So, what the girls (and some men) do, is to attach a plaque to the one wall in the backstage area. It’ll say, for instance, that Martha Pretorius is involved with Servaas Venter.  It doesn’t mean you’re engaged or anything like that, it only tells the other men that you’re not available. It helps a lot.

Now, our tradition is that the man must actually come and fix this plaque to the wall. I know that won’t be possible, so I’ll do it for you. The other bit of the tradition is that the man must have the plaque made. Well, with you in Rolbos, that won’t happen either, will it? So, I’ve had the most beautiful ornate plaque made by one of our best copper smiths in Milan. He’s terribly good but quite expensive. He charged me 2000 Euros! I told him he’s mad; but it is such a fantastic piece of work that I simply had to take it. I must tell you: you are the envy of the men around here! Don’t worry about the money, Servaas. As soon as I get some money out of the inheritance, I’ll be able to pay that scoundrel.  

And I must tell you about my catastrophe, as well! Because I’m so thin, I won’t be able to fit into the costume they had made for the other Gilda! So, this morning I had to rush out to have one made for me. The company told me I must wear the other costume, but I look ridiculous in it. Now I’ll have to pay for that as well. After my unexpected flight to Cape Town and back, my savings are now depleted, so I had to plead quite dramatically to get them to accept payment for the costume at the end of November.

Now I’ll have to rush off to rehearsal. Do hold thumbs and don’t forget to think of me? It’s such a reassuring thought that you are out there. I do so cherish the memory of that special night.

Your loving dance partner

Martha.

 ***

Martha sighs as she puts the letter in the envelope.

“Are you done?”

She looks as Roberto walks in. He’s been good to her over the last few years. He got her the job in the bookshop at the Teatro Alla Scala; and he lowered the rent of this little flat she lives in.

“Yes, thank you.” There’s a tinge of fear in her voice, but she manages a wobbly smile. “I’ve just finished a letter to somebody in Rolbos. The farm has to be sold, the estate wound up … things like that.”

He knows about Nellie’s death. An inheritance may come in very handy – if he can get his hands on it. Thinking quickly, he decides not to push her too hard on the rent she still owes. Time to change the approach here … After all, he didn’t reach his position in the organisation because he neglected to identify opportunities, did he?

“I was wondering whether you’d like to accompany me to the opera tonight. It’s Rigoletto, like you know.” His voice is playful, inviting.

“Oh.” She hesitates. Rigoletto isn’t her favourite opera at all. “I’m not sure…”

“Come on, you’ll enjoy it. Everybody deceives everybody, and nothing is the way it seems. And the end is sooo tragic. I love it.”

“What about your fiancé, Roberto? Won’t she be suspicious?”

His smirk says it all. “Nah. She knows I have to treat my clients occasionally.”

“I…I don’t think I should go, Roberto. I’m feeling a bit tired after the trip. Maybe some other time.”

He shrugs the way men do when they don’t care. “Up to you. I’ll get someone else. Actually, I just wanted to know whether you have enough supplies.”

“Yes. I checked. I’ve got enough until the weekend – but I’ll need some on Saturday. You will be around, won’t you? I should have money then.”

Hunching his shoulders to get through the doorway, the big man steps out to the street. They’re all the same: make them think they owe you something, and you get them to eat out of your hand.  Dropping the rent was a masterstroke – she won’t go anywhere now. And, with her use on cocaine slowly rising, he’s making a packet! Ah, and the talk of an inheritance! A farm to be sold? What a bonus!

Laughing softly, he marches off to his next client.

***

“That girl is using you, Servaas! You mean to tell me that you’ve sent her all that money? It’s a large chunk of your savings, man! You cannot be serious.”

Servaas bites his lip. Gertruida may be right, and he knows it. But … Martha. That’s the only reason. He doesn’t care what she’s up to, but he’s quite sure she needs the money desperately, and for a good reason. His life is nearing its end – why not help the poor girl?

“Servaas! Wake up you old fool!” Gertruida is shaking him by the shoulders. “If you feel so strongly about it, you must go there and see for yourself. She’s deceiving you, I tell you.”

It’s all the Verdana’s fault, of course. They have family in Milan; family that asked questions. Family that have a close relationship with the Teatro Alla Scala. No lead singer by the name of Martha Pretorius – that’s what they said.

She looks down at the old man, noting the slump in his shoulders that have become so pronounced over the past few days.

“I’m sorry, Servaas. I think I understand, but that doesn’t mean I agree with what she’s doing.“

Servaas sighs. There’s no fool like an old foolYep, that’s me. An old fool.

“I’ve got a bit of money in some index fund, Gertruida. It’s been laying there for decades now. Haven’t even looked at it for years.” He sighs again. “I’m going there. If she’s in trouble, I may be able to help. If she’s okay, I’ll come back.”

As Boggel pushes over a beer, he catches Gertruida’s eye. She shrugs, spreads her arms wide and looks around for help.

“I’ll go with,” Old Marco says. “I know Milan. I know people there. We’ll sort out this mess.”

Servaas slumps down on the counter. What started so innocently – he has to fight to convince himself of this – has now become a massive problem. He only had supper with the girl! Well, okay, they danced and all that, but that doesn’t justify the trouble she’s landed him in. If she did lie (and why would she?), that makes her a very bad person indeed. If she’s talking the truth, he may end up looking a bigger fool than he already is. But…he trusts Getruida. She knows everything, doesn’t she? And there’s another thing: it’s not that he thinks he loves the girl or anything – but he does feel responsible.  On the other hand – he did feel absolutely alive and thrilled when they danced. Did she lead him on? Or did something stir to life inside him again – something that has been hibernating for so long?

He has to find out.

Synopsis of Rigoletto here:

http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/history/stories/synopsis.aspx?id=134

The Rolbos Fib

There are two types of laughter. The one is when you think something is funny. Today, however, there is a sense of gloom in Rolbos. Nobody’s laughing.

“If that shop comes to Rolbos, Sammie is finished. Those guys buy huge amounts of stuff at knock-down prices; then they sell cheap. Sammie has to drive to Upington for every toilet roll, and then he has to buy at the supermarket there. Of course things are more expensive in Rolbos – but it saves us the time and expense of going to Upington ourselves. Those big guys will throttle Sammie. He’ll have to leave.”

Vetfaan drums an impatient set of fingers on the counter. This won’t do. What Kleinpiet just told him, is most upsetting.

“But why would they come here? There are only a few of us, and it’ll take years to show profit on the initial outlay.”

“No man, it’s a war between the two big chains. Each of them wants to claim that they are the best represented brand in South Africa. Now they have stores in Calvinia and Prieska – even Springbok – and apparently they are neck on neck. So this man walks in here this morning, asking if the other guys have been here. When I tell him no, his face lights up and he tells me the whole story. One more store, he said, and they’d go public. Huge publicity stunt. He says it’s not unusual for them to spend thousands of Rands on an advert – so they’re not too worried. If they beat the opposition, they’ll get their money back, anyway.”

“But in the process, Sammie has to close his doors? That’s not fair.” Vetfaan can’t imagine Rolbos without Sammie. He can source a clutch for a tractor as easily as he can find a champion ram for sale. “I mean, it’s not just the condensed milk and the potatoes I’m worried about. Last year he even found you a windscreen for that old Ford. We have to do something.”

“Well, that man said he’d be back next week for a site inspection. Said they could either build a new place or take over Sammie’s place; but they’re in a hurry. They want to settle the score with their rivals before the end of the month. Something to do with Christmas and a national advertising campaign.”

In the days before the inspection, the townsfolk hold several meetings. All of them start in a somber atmosphere; but as the Cactus starts working it’s magic, the suggestions get more and more absurd. Servaas offered to lay siege on Upington with his rifle. Vetfaan wanted to dig trenches across the road to Grootdrink. The judge suggested an interdict. On the evening before the arrival of the delegation, Rolbos is still in a quandary. What to do? What to do…

****

The dapper little man gets out of the new 4×4, followed by a rather tall individual in a suit.

“That is him.” Kleinpiet says. “And that tall bloke must be his boss.”

They watch as the two men walk up and down Voortrekker Weg (it doesn’t take long), before they stop in front of Boggel’s Place. They are in deep discussion for a while, before nodding and walking towards Boggel’s Place.

“Well, I don’t care what you guys tell them; but we have to scare them off.” Boggel has to whisper because the men are obviously in a hurry to address them.

“Gentlemen – and ladies – I have an important announcement to make. What I have to say, unfortunately isn’t pleasant and I would appreciate you remaining silent while I talk. Afterwards, I shall give the opportunity for a question or two.” The dapper little man doesn’t bother to introduce himself: he simply stands in the doorway with his companion.

“Did the vet say anything about Vrede’s rabies?” Kleinpiet ignores the two newcomers. “He’s been salivating again a lot lately. And that child he bit, doesn’t look so good anymore, either.”

“Ag, you know how it is with rabies here, Kleinpiet. It’s all over the show. Even my prize ram attacked me this morning.”

“It’s the water,” Boggel quips, “I told you long ago it isn’t safe here. The water seeps through that old sewage system the mine built when they were still here. That’s even before they found out about the radiation, of course. I heard it drives the jackals crazy, that’s why they attack the dogs. And once you have rabies in irradiated animals, you can’t get rid of it.”

“No, it’s not that.” Servaas isn’t used to lying, but the truth won’t help them here. “That dog has been eating too much meat. The sheep around here carry those worms that gives you water bubbles in the brain.[i] I would have remembered the name, but I’ve had some of that meat, as well.”

The two men in the doorway exchange nervous glances.

“Yes, and next year the state vet is due for the annual inspection. They’ll most probably tell us to move from here, like they do every year. But, if we’re lucky, we can handle him like the last one they sent.” Gertruida get’s a far-away look in her eyes and sighs. “And it was such a beautiful funeral. Old Koos Kadawer even managed to cover those bullet wounds. They never suspected anything, did they?”

“My headaches are getting worse these days.” One would never guess Precilla isn’t talking the truth – she’s got a deep and pained frown between the eyes. “Oudok says it’s the mercury in our vegetables. The miners used to dump their old batteries in the dam, and now the whole area is contaminated. He says that’s why I can’t lose weight, either – mercury is heavy, you know?”

“Ahem!!” The taller of the two men clears his throat. “My colleague here has an announcement. Would you please all shut up and listen? This is important.”

“What did he say?” Servaas cups a hand behind his ear. “The antibiotics I use for my diarrhoea has made me deaf.”

“SHUT UP!!” Both men shout together.

Knowing they can’t postpone the announcement forever, the townsfolk sit down and stare at the men. The shorter guy takes a deep breath.

“We came here today to inspect the town. We planned to open a shop here. Unfortunately, I have to tell you we won’t be doing that any more. We realise this is a big disappointment for everybody, and want to apologise. You must, however, understand that Grootdrink is a much more suitable place. It’s on the tarred road, has a bigger customer base and is much nearer to our distribution depot. Now, are there any questions?”

****

They drive back in silence, and it is only when they near Grootdrink that they feel safe enough to start talking.

“You didn’t drink any water there, did you?”

The dapper little man shakes his head.

“No. Why?”

“I’d hate to see you like that.” The taller man smiles wryly.

They both laugh at that. A nervous type of laugh. The type of laugh you laugh when you’re not sure what you’re laughing at. Later, separately and without telling each other they did so, they’ll burn their clothes.
The other type of laugh, however, will take a long time to disappear from Boggels place. That’s the funny laugh of people laughing at themselves.

[i] He meant Cysticercosis.

Soulful Sunday: