Tag Archives: life

Vetfaan’s SONA and #Time to face the music.

It’s been a custom for a few years now, so  – once again – Vetfaan is cajoled into predicting what (and how) the president will deliver his yearly State of the Nation  Address. To do this, he has to practice saying numbers the way only Number One can, which isn’t easy.

 

“…This year, we will spend one thousand, two million and five rands on improving the fire pool. I fully expect my cattle herd to increase by three thousand…listen carefully…three point twenty-five per cent, allowing me to pay back the money at a rate of fourteen rand and  fifty seventy every month. This will prove not only my innocence, but also my unquestionable integrity…”

“”What about the seven hundred and eleventy-three cases of corruption you are dodging?”  As this is only a practice session, Servaas feels free to interrupt. “#Pay back the money is nice, but #time to face the music, seems more appropriate now.” He waves a clenched fist in the direction of Boggel, who immediately realises it’s the old man telling the world he needs a new beer.

“Eish, you are a racist pig, Servaas. It’s people like you who make this country ungovernable – did you know that?” Vetfaan pushes an imaginary pair of glasses back onto his nose bridge. “Let me explain it to you – very slowly, so you may understand.” He now points a finger at his audience while he does a little hip-wiggle. “Look, Africa is the biggest continent in the world. It is so big, her rivers never reach the sea and it took Jan van Riebeeck more than sixe…six…sixteen hundred and…ah. Never mind. He took a long time in coming here, understand?

“Now, before Jan van Riebeeck, there was no corruption. Nothing. People never had to make laws about corruption because there was none. That is history. Go on, look it up: if you find a single law aimed against corruption before Van Riebeeck’s arrival, you can come and spend a weekend at Nkandla – free of charge.

“But then Van Riebeeck came and South Africa had to have something they never had before – laws. These laws governed the way the Dutch people lived at the Cape. Were they African laws?” He pauses for effect.  “No. They were laws imported from Europe. Why?” Again he waits a second. “Because Europe invented corruption, that’s why. One of my reading friends looked it up: it’s a Latin word. It appeared in its current form sometime in the fourtieth…er…fourteenth century – in English. Which must have been just before Van Riebeeck bought his ticket to come here. So that, I must add, is just another argument against colonialism. The Dutch and the English – they started the problems down here.”

“But what, Mister President, about the help you received during the struggle years. Were not the Brits and the Dutch deeply involved in your fight against Apartheid?”

Vetfaans eyes flash his anger. “How dare you corrupt a perfectly good argument with facts?  You must realise we had help from America and Russia as well. How could we foresee Trump becoming president? Putin, at least, is on my side. He said so, after we spoke about the nuclear powerstations. And don’t you go on believing Putin is a bad man – You’d be surprised to know how generous he was with me. He said Nkandla is nothing…for him it’s small change. The way he appreciates my friendship goes far beyond the Nkandla debt – in fact, I’ll be able to settle that score as soon as the Russian stations connect up to the power grid.”

“And the Chinese? They’re your very best buddies now? What will the Guptas say about them?”

“Servaas, you’re testing my patience here. I’ll keep my answer short. In politics you don’t have friends. Never. You have business partners, even though you’ll never admit that in public. In fact, you have to be very quiet about that. And if people start asking questions, you start talking about Jan van Riebeeck, colonialism and white monopoly. At the same time you get the illiterate vote by promising land reform, increased grants and nationalising the mines. Being president, my friend, is a question of playing the ends against the middle. Ask Donald Trump – we’ll never be friends, but I think he’d be a good African leader.”

“Aren’t you proposing more colonialism with that statement?”

Vetfaan sighs theatrically. “That’s the difference between you people and myself. You guys think in straight lines. That’s stupid.”

“…and your mind weighs up the convoluted odds of corruption, Van Riebeeck’s arrival and Putin’s generosity?”

“Servaas!” Vetfaan is so angry he almost forgets to use the right accent. “The fact that you are ignorant does not give you the luxury of an opinion, you hear? Anyway, you voted for the wrong party, so even if you had an opinion, it wouldn’t count.  And what’s wrong with Putin, anyway? Trump loves the man.”

“You seem to harbour a deep respect for Mister Trump, my president?”

“Well, his forefathers didn’t come to South Africa, did they? They went west, Van Riebeeck went east. So, he’s the opposite of Oom Jan. That makes him a good man….”

Boggel holds up a hand. “Hey you guys, stop it now. You were supposed to be funny – but the way you’re going on, will have me in tears just now – or applying for a Visa to the US of A.  I wonder if they’ll allow me in?”

Vetfaan sits back, relieved that his SONA is over. “Visa into America?  Go there and leave Rolbos? Are you completely crazy? I’d rather have Zuma than Trump.”

“And why would that be?”

“With Trump you’re never quite sure whether he is truthful or if he sticks to facts. He makes you doubt, you see?  With Zuma you don’t have that problem at all…”

“So the SONA doesn’t matter?”

“That’s right, Servaas. The SONA won’t change a thing. They’ll have the imbongi shouting the praises like in medieval times before things got a bit … more sophisticated. Then the prez will dazzle us with his ability to waltz through figures and facts without touching sides. Then you’ll have some of his friends telling you how well  he manages the stress of the highest office – even though he seems to be losing a bit of weight recently.  The opposition will scoff. And on Friday….we’ll all be just where we were on Wednesday, except for the surprise of the few who  thought the bovine faecal level couldn’t go any higher.”

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Politics, religion, media: who trumps who?

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Credit: Mail & Guardian

“So the land of the free is going to get their own version of a modern-day dictator?” Servaas throws out the bait – it’s been a quiet day in Boggel’s Place again.

“Not if you listened to some religious leaders, Servaas. They paint him as The Recsuer – the man who’ll bring back proper values and some pride in being an American.” Vetfaan doesn’t sound overly optimistic though. “And, whatever one’s opinion, one must agree that the world needs a bit of a shake-up. Look at us: we’ve become spectators and not participants any longer. We listen to the news, cluck our tongues and promptly distance ourselves from the unfolding tragedies around us.”

“That may be true, Vetfaan, but whose fault is that? The churches insist on preaching good news every Sunday, saying God will fix everything in the end. The politicians say we mustn’t worry, everything is fine. The newspapers contain so much bad news, we skip over the articles. So…the church, the politicians and the media are completely out of sync. Who to believe? In the end, none of the above.”

Vetfaan nods. “We’ve become so self-absorbed that old-fashioned charity, good manners and compassion have flown out of the window. The nett result? We’re ostriches – head in the sand and please pass me by.”

“Well, we can’t say much about the US of A; not with the mess we’ve got in governance…and in our churches. First gays are sinners, then they’re not. Now they’re again.  And some pastors prescribe Doom insecticide and petrol as tests for your belief in God, while the  ANC  says it’ll rule until Jesus comes again. Zuma claims God is on his side…”

“And then his tent gets blown away by a freak storm?” Vetfaan can’t help interrupting. “Some say it was an act of God. Doesn’t sound like He’s amused by Zuma’s antics.”

“Well.” Servaas puckers his lis like he does when somebody oversteps the religion line. “People seem to think they understand God and His ways. This, my friend, is true for any religion you care to think about. So you get radical lefts and conservative rights, and they all claim to be preaching the word of The Creator. In the old days, a preacher would be very careful – even humble -with his interpretation of certain verses. Now, however, it is he brash and the outspoken pastors who fill megachurches … or start wars.

“It’s almost funny, Vetfaan. The more we advance in technology, the more naive society becomes. I think advanced societies get so clever that they don’t think any more. They gain knowledge but lose wisdom…which is terribly sad and stupid. Ponzi schemes, religious radicalism, crazy politics – you’d think that an intelligent community would be aware enough to sniff out the fraudsters…but they don’t.” Servaas sighs. “Well, I’m glad I live in Rolbos. The drought is real The sand between my toes is real. Boggel’ Place is real.

“And that’s good enough for me. Zuma, Trump and a whole lot of modern-day social structures can pass me by. As long as they are only virtual realities, they can stay other side of the Orange River…please and thank you.”

The Charmer, Vetfaan’s Gout and Immortality

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Paul Trouillebert: The naked snake charmer

Whenever Vetfaan is asked about the sexy girl he had met that fateful summer’s day, he blushes, stutters and tells you to mind your own business. Should you persist, a rather unpleasant exchange of a more physical nature is sure to follow.

The problem involves the fact that this waif of a girl – somewhere between mid-thirty and menopause – had the body of an athlete and the ageless wisdom some women seem to possess.

It was a particularly hot day, with heat shimmers rising and warping the scenery of the Kalahari. The distorted surroundings often create a surrealistic symptoms-of-gout-in-the-toe.jpgatmosphere, especially if the traveller is new to the area. Vetfaan, being a born-and-bred son of the region, simply failed to notice the visual impact of the heatwaves. His attention was focussed on the joint where his big toe joined his foot.

Now, anybody who has had some experience with gout, will understand the degree of pain and discomfort poor Vetfaan endured that morning. He had already eaten a handful of black cherries, drank two litres of water, ate three lemons and packed his foot in ice. Nothing helped. The throbbing, red, painful joint insisted on swelling up even more, forcing Vetfaan to take off his boot while driving to Upington, where he hoped to see the new doctor he had heard so much about.

Well, heat waves may have escaped his attention…the girl in the middle of the road did not. No Kalahari-man will ever drive past a stranded woman. Especially if she’s beautiful. Or wears a revealing, short skirt. Or stands  in the middle of the road, aiming a short-barrelled  .38 at you. In this case, the woman in question had ticked all these boxes, and Vetfaan did, indeed, stop.

She was unapologetic about the gun, saying a girl could never be sure who would stop to offer help.

“Listen, I’ve been around. I’m a woman. You’re a man. It all adds up.”

“What does?” Vetfaan didn’t understand.

She ignored his question, picked up her bag and got in. “Drive slowly and don’t make an accident. I’ve had enough trouble in my life.”

“What’s wrong with your vehicle?”

She eyed him for a full minute before answering. “Mam doesn’t like the smell of petrol. Neither do I, for that matter.”

“Mam?”

She rolled her eyes heavenward in exasperation. “Mam. My snake. Short for mamba.”

To recount the disjointed conversation that followed, would involve many pages of blank looks and horrid stares and still-born sentences. The short version: Mimi – she of no fixed abode and rather limited means – made a living as a snake charmer. She also treated various  health conditions, communicated with departed family members and had once sat as a model for a famous artist.

“That’s immortality, understand? Paintings don’t grow old and die. Oh, the paint the artist used, might get a bit flakey,but the picture? It remains as beautiful as the day the brush touched the canvas.”

By the time they reached Upington, Vetfaan was completely confused.  His passenger was either completely mad, or perhaps the most interesting woman he had ever met. Fascinated by the possibilities, he asked her to join him for coffee before his appointment with the doctor.

“Doctor? What for?”

He explained. She suggested moxibustion. Vetfaan said the people in the Northern Cape frowned on polygamy. She laughed.

japanese-moxibustion.jpg“No, it’s not that, silly man! I burn a herb on your toe, and you feel better. Moxi-bustion…the burning of mugwort.  It’s an old Chinese trick. see? Mugwort, that’s the herb – is what you need. I’ve got some.”

Vetfaan claims to be the first man in the Kalahari to have undergone moxibustion. There, on the front seat of his old Land Rover, his strange passenger rolled a few mugwort fibres into a little ball and placed it on his swollen toe. He watched, horrified, as she lit the potion with a small gas lighter and was amazed that he felt no pain.

“The swelling will go down now,” she said, “but I must go. Mam needs something to eat and you’re too nice. And…I must still find my two friends. I’ll just keep on looking, even if it takes forever. So, thank you and bye-bye.”

Vetfaan watched, dumbfounded,  as she sauntered down the street, swinging her bag casually as she strode along. He ran a hand over his still-bare foot and sighed with relief when he noticed how much better it felt. By the time he had his sock and boot back on, Mimi was nowhere to be seen.

On his way back to Rolbos, Vetfaan stopped at her abandoned vehicle. On the back seat he found an old shoe-box with a dead rat in it. Mam’s supper?  In the boot, another box – a lot bigger, containing three pieces of art.

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It was Gertruida who told Vetfaan about the girls and the great portrait artist, Paul Désiré Trouillebert. “The Young Girl, the Harem Girl and the Snake Charmer were all painted by the same man, Vetfaan. Remember, Trouillebert was a landscape artist – he abandoned his attempts at portrait works because he fell in love with the girls in his painting – like all artists do. The real, flesh-and-blood subjects were admired for their beauty, but the paintings became the loves of his life – because they were immortal. Time would not decay their beauty, neither would the lovely faces and bodies sag and become wrinkled.”

“Immortal? Really? Are you saying that I…?”

“Either that, Vetfaan, or you’ve lost your mind.” Gertruida shrugged. “I don’t know which is worse…”

Free Giveaway: A troupe of Bumbledragons.

Whist_marker.jpg“You know, in these days of such racial sensitivity, gender questions and religious turmoil, one has to be careful whenever one opens one’s mouth. Calling somebody a donkey or an ape will force you to see a magistrate, and if ever – oh my! – you compared somebody’s intellect with that of some insect, you’ll end up in jail, I’m sure.”  Gertruida slaps down an ace on the pile of cards and collects the packet. “But really, Servaas, that was a stupid move. You cannot expect to win the trick with a king if you know the ace is still out there somewhere.”

Ever since the group at the bar became disenchanted with their endless discussions of current politics, whist has come to their rescue. This age-old card game is not as simple as it seems, and involves bit of concentration – something often lacking in most people when they consider the state of corruption in the country.

“Yes, but I thought…”

“Ag Servaas, you are the original Bumblepuppy.” Gertruida simply has to show off, knowing that the others will be puzzled by the ‘new’ word. Actually, it is not new, but has its origins way back in the 17th century.

“A what?” Vetfaan smiles – he knows he has taken the bait, but curiosity got the better of him.

“You don’t know?” With arched brows and a mocking smile, Gertruida puts down her cards. “Okay then, let me enlighten you.”

Bumblepuppy.jpgOriginally, Bumblepuppy was a game played on a slanting, flattish surface with nine holes at one end. Round pebbles  – or stones – were rolled from  the player’s end, to finish up in one of the nine numbered holes. Then the scores were tallied up and a winner declared.

“But later the word found its way into whist. You see, because they used uneven river stones to roll down that flat surface, they never could be quite sure where the stone would end up. You could score a 1 as easily as a 9 – so it really was a game of chance. In some ways, you can compare Bumblepuppy with today’s slot machines: the only thing you can be sure of, is that you have a chance to win. The odds, however, are stacked against you

whist_history.jpg“So, a Bumblepuppy is a gambler with money to burn – a careless  player about to lose. That’s why whist players took over the term a century later. When you play like Servaas, putting down your best card with the full knowledge that somebody else would trump it, you are a Bumblepuppy. Servaas could have taken the next hand if he played his 2. But no! He hasn’t been concentrating on the table, so he shot himself in the foot. His best card is now gone and he is doomed to lose this hand.”

Boggel gets up to fetch a new round. “So it’s just like recent developments in politics, then? Trump wins in America, Zuma bamboozles the public, Escoms’s people are resigning, Abraham’s got egg on his face and our ministers get manicures from rhino poachers?”

“Much the same, Boggel. Only they aren’t playing a game,  even though they are gambling.”

.Servaas slugs down some beer and  – quite uncharacteristically – burps loudly. “Bumblepuppy? Those guys? No way! They’re Bumbledragons and you can have them free.” Without apologising, he goes on. “Come on, Gertruida, deal the next hand. Give me some good cards for a change. I need them.”

“Yeah. You and a whole parliament of others. And you know what? A Bumblepuppy can never win. It takes time, but it cleans out your wallet, guaranteed. And once that happens, you have to leave the table – those are the rules.”

“So there’s hope for us? For the country, I mean?” Boggel’s hand is a good one – he’s going to win this one for sure.

“Give a Bumbler enough rope, Boggel, and he’ll lose his money…and his footing.”

The Jackal in our Midst…

KAROO.jpg“I’ve read another one of Lawrence Green’s books last week,” Servaas says slowly as he puts down the paper. “Titled ‘Karoo’, it tells the story of the region in the fifties. What I found most intriguing,, was the tale of a Mr J.S. van Pletsen, a farmer in the area. He raised a jackal and kept him like one would keep a dog. Highly intelligent, the creature was. But, as he grew older, he started biting the other dogs on the farm. He would not, for instance, let them near his food bowl. And he’d eat the other dog’s food – as if he never had enough. Eat as he might, he just couldn’t satisfy his hunger. He’d steal mice from the farmer’s cat, raid the pantry and kill chickens at random.

“Now this jackal, you must realise, grew up with a litter of pups from the farmer’s dog. He acted like a dog, looked a bit like a dog and learnt tricks like a dog. In fact, when he was younger, he could pass as a dog. But then he grew up and he became what he was designed to be – a marauding scavenger. He simply could not deny his heritage or the message conveyed by his instincts and genes. They say a leopard can’t change his spots, but neither can a jackal.”

“Yes, I read that book – fascinating stuff, like all of Green’s books.” Gertruida – who knows everything, isn’t about to be outdone. “In it he tells another story; this one about Broken Toe, the cleverest jackal of them all.

“His tracks were first noticed on a farm in the Riversdale district, in 1924 if I remember correctly. Characteristic, they were, with one toe obviously crooked. Man, that jackal was a killer! He wasn’t satisfied with killing enough to eat – oh no! He would wade into a flock of sheep and kill at random, just for the sake of killing. His range included a large tract of land and he terrorised the farmers until they put a handsome reward on his head. It didn’t help, of course. Broken Toe was far too clever. They organised dogs, hunting expeditions and hired professional hunters – and still Broken Toe eluded them all. For eleven years that jackal had the farmers at his mercy; he struck when and where his fancy took him. Poison and traps were useless.

“Only a lucky shot by a hunter from Darling, a certain Mr Fick, ended Broken Toe’s reign in 1935. By that time the tally of his victims stood at 4000 sheep and an untold number of chickens. His identity was confirmed by the broken toe he had sustained as a pup – in a trap – and Fick claimed the reward.”

“A remarkable story, indeed, Gertruida. I also enjoyed his telling about the one jackal hunt where all the farmers got together to get rid of the jackal threat. Six hundred men on horseback, armed with rifles, shotguns and even dynamite, were accompanied by what Green describes as an army of dogs. At the end of the hunt, only nine jackals had been killed and one farmer was wounded by a charge of buckshot in the butt.”

Vetfaan has been listening with a smile hovering on his lips. “Jackal? Yes, they’ve been around forever. They steal, kill, maim, raid and cause mayhem. Devious critters, hard to catch, even harder to get rid of.  And it’s not just the animal jackals I’m talking about. We have several in our own species, as well. In fact, we’ve got a whole party full of them.”

“Ye-e-e-s.” Servaas nods slowly, following Vetfaan’s drift. “Our Broken Toe is the one with the shower, isn’t he?”

There is no excuse. No excuse at all. (#2)

 

 

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Jean-Dominique Bauby

 

Telling us a story of a musical savant doesn’t help us all that much, Gertruida. It may be inspiring to a certain degree, but we’re still stuck with the same old problems in the country…or the world, for that matter. Playing a piano never fixed crooked politics, neither can disabilities be used to set the example for South Africa’s masses.” Servaas, after spending a restless night while contemplating the remarkable life of Leslie Lemke, is not in a good mood at all.

“On the contrary, Servaas. It’s about being disadvantaged and overcoming odds. That – I’ll have you know – is the most important and universal lesson for all of humankind. It’s of absolutely no value to sit down next to the road, complaining about the journey. We are each given a route – an individual journey – to complete during our on earth. Some get the easier paths, others not – it’s not something we can demand or change. Read it up, Servaas. (Proverbs 16:33) I suspect you know the passage…you should, actually.”

“So we are mere passengers on a runaway train, helpless to change anything? What about Revelation 20:13? Why judgement in the end if people have no choice in their actions?”

Gertruida sits back to applaud the old man’s remark. “Well done, Servaas! You’ve just proven  my point. I’m sooo proud of you!” Despite Servaas’s confusion, he has to smile at her tone. “You see, Servaas, your life will follow a certain path. That’s a given. But…what you do on that path, involves specific choices only you can make. Let me tell you about   Jean-Dominique Bauby, maybe that’ll help you understand…”

***

Jean-Dominique, or Jean-Do as his friends called him, was a young man at the pinnacle of his career. As editor of Elle, he was a know face in the French fashion crowd and a respected writer in his own right. He probably thought Life was a sweet fruit to be savoured and enjoyed – one can only imagine…

Then it all changed. At the age of 43 he suffered a massive stroke, leaving him an a coma for three weeks. He shouldn’t have woken up, but he did…in a manner of speaking. While he seemed to recognise faces and voices, he was completely paralyzed, except for his eyes; they followed movement. Despair turned to hope; maybe he’d regain more function as time went by?

But it didn’t. Things got worse. His right eye developed complications and had to be sewn shut. Then, with movement and observation restricted to his left eye, the terrible consequences of his stroke became apparent: he had Locked-in Syndrome. He could hear and see…but nothing else. He couldn’t respond in any way to external stimuli by speech or emotion. Only the movement of one single eye could possibly convey messages to the people around him.

A plan had to be made. With all the paths of communication destroyed by the stroke, only the left eye could possibly be used to reach his thoughts. Remember, this happened in 1995, before machines like Stephen Hawking uses, were available. The nursing staff did what they could, ending up with a nurse sitting next to his bed, reciting the alphabet. Over and over and over…and over. When she got to the letter he wanted, he’d blink. The letter was then written down and the selection of the next letter began. At last…he was able to communicate his thoughts to the world out there.

Then…the surprise. i-w-a-n-t-t-o-w-r-i-t-e-a-b-o-o-k.  Write a book? In his condition? Surely an impossible task?

But he did. Letter for letter, four hours a day, with the patient assistant reciting and reciting the alphabet over and over again. It took ten months, but in the end The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was published in 1997. Sadly, two days after the book appeared on the shelves, Jean-Do died from lung complications…

***

DivingBellButterflyMP“Ten years later, a film was made of the book. It won at Cannes, BAFTA, Golden Globes and was nominated for four Oscars. The story of Jean-Do inspired people long after his death. His life was maybe above average before the stroke, but afterwards it became truly remarkable. He had to lose everything – except an eye – to summit the highest point of his life. 

“So you see, Servaas, being disadvantaged isn’t fun. People have the right to complain and revolt against unfairness and injustice. But what has happened in the past, is no excuse for poor choices in the present. It is a sad fact that everything we do today, will impact on tomorrow. And that leaves us with but two choices: do we destruct or construct? That, my friend, is the Black and White we have to deal with – there is no middle way in that. Choices determine actions and words, which in turn result in consequences. If we are not building, then we are breaking down.

“So, Servaas, harping on about hardship is an entirely futile exercise. In our society it’s become the norm to be destructive. And that, I’m afraid, is determining how we will be judged by history.”

“Well,” Servaas mumbles, “at least I’m not burning buildings and busses. I’m just saying…”

“Unfortunately,” Gertruida interrupts quickly, “words do more damage than burning a library. They remain long after the broken glass have been replaced and they hurt more than rubber bullets. ‘Just saying’ is no excuse. It’s the mind behind the words that makes you say things – and only you can fix that…nobody else is going to do it for you.”

And, just like yesterday, old Servaas finds himself at loss for words. This is a good thing, Gertruida thinks, because the country is being wrecked by people ‘just saying’. If only we could get to ‘just doing’ – positively – we’d become an example for the world.

But, she realises, we’ll get the future we deserve. And for that we have no excuses. No excuses at all…

“….Mutual misunderstanding
After the fact
Sensitivity builds a prison
In the final act…”

When Time Stands Still

 

Steeple-Replacement-Guided-by-Church-Specialities-Professionals-at-Norton-PresbyterianIt started as another of those days.

As usual, Servaas woke up, groaned, held his throbbing head for a few minutes, sighed, got up (very slowly, holding on to the strategically placed chair to steady himself), brushed his false teeth and slicked down the obstinate hairs of his bushy brows. Then he dressed, had a mug of coffee (to wash down the aspirin) and  went outside, crossed the street and sat down wearily on the old bench on Boggel’s verandah. And as usual, he looked up to the old clock on the church steeple to check the time every now and then. Up to that point, his daily routine was unchanged and pretty much normal.

Then he realised that he’d been sitting there for quite some time, but the hands of the  clock still stood at a few minutes after twelve.

Twelve? The clock stopped just after midnight?

It couldn’t be, for goodness sakes! Judging by the sun (he had to squint because of his hangover), it should be about ten or eleven; Boggel should have been there long ago to open up the little bar. Looking up and down the street, he also noticed that Sammie hadn’t opened his shop either. And Vrede, the town’s dog, was nowhere to be seen.

Now, this posed a few rather uncomfortable questions to the old man. Where were everybody? He considered that they might have all overslept, but then a strange and unwelcome thought seeped to the surface of his painful and troubled mind. If they’re not around, waiting for Boggel, they could all be…dead? Suppose the rapture occurred and he, Servaas, didn’t make the grade? Midnight…it had happened at midnight! The thought made him sit up straighter.

Impossible! He had been an elder in Oudoom’s congregation since before Mandela was freed. And he even stopped shouting at the TV whenever the president spoke. (Truth be told: Gertruida warned him that such language would see him being sent downstairs when he meets St Peter). Well, maybe he hadn’t been a paragon of virtue, but still – his intentions were usually at least 60% good, weren’t they? In the old days, that used to be a first class pass. Not a distinction, mind you, but clearly way above the class average…

But why, then, the static hands of the clock? Is it not so that time would cease to exist when the world ends? No clocks in eternity, no sir! Pearly gates and sidewalks of gold, yes – but no clocks or watches or any form of chronometer would be necessary in Heaven. No need. Eternity means you’re never late.

But suppose – just suppose – he was late for the rapture? Or that he was forgotten? Who did one call under such circumstances?

And then again…Oudoom did speak to him last month. About his drinking. Oudoom was most kind about it, reminding him that an occasional tipple was quite alright, but that moderation was the hallmark of drinking discipline. And – Oudoom reminded him – he should remember that he was the senior member of the congregation; people looked up to him for guidance. “You are important to this congregation, Servaas; you are the example that the others follow.”

Well, that might be true, but…

Servaas tried to think about a good reason. Surely the other Rolbossers understood his loneliness? Excused his intake of Cactus Jack because he needed the drink to sleep? To escape from the terrible vacuum of solitude that crept into his life after Siena passed on?

And Siena…oh Lord! If he missed the rapture, Siena would be all alone up there – wherever up there might be – and she’d be profoundly ashamed that he missed the Salvation Bus. What would the other angels say if they knew her husband, a respected elder, had been left behind because of his habits?

Servaas got up and walked purposefully to the church. There’s only one way to protest against the situation. He’d go to the front pew, sink down on his arthritic knees, and beg for a second chance. Maybe the Second Coming is just that – the last chance to join the others.

Servaas never prays impulsively. He arranges his prayers the way they should be: first a salutation and praise; then thanks for being blessed with so much, followed by a request or two (or more, especially after another presidential speech); then more praise and a very respectful ‘Amen’. When he walked into the church, he had the words ready. He’d protest with great diplomacy – admitting that the second bottle of Cactus Jack last night was a mere little oversight, a small glitch in the way he was thinking at the time; and that Siena mustn’t think badly of him, please? Surely she’d understand that he wasn’t drinking to sin on purpose? He just took to taking a snort or two to dull the pain of solitude – and to make the politics of the day seem less important than getting to bed?

Servaas was holding on to the front pew to arrange his aged frame into a kneeling position when a voice spoke to him.

“Servaas? Servaas? Why, I didn’t expect to see you here today. It’s only Friday, you know. Service is only on Sunday, remember?”

Servaas felt a chill run through his body. Lost…he was lost. Protest wouldn’t help, but still he was at the point of saying it was all a terrible  mistake and that he’d been left behind by accident, when he looked up…into the questioning eyes of Oudoom.

He gaped. “You too, Oudoom? They left you behind as well?”

Oudom smiled. “Ja, they did. I’m glad, too. That trip is no pleasure. It’s a long way and today is going to be another scorcher.”

Servaas didn’t understand. “Where we’re going, could be hotter still, Oudoom. I’m worried.”

“Nah, we’ll amble over to Boggel’s and have a cold one. He’s left the keys with me.”

Oudoom, Servaas realised, was much to cheerful for a left-behind. “You…you’re going to have a beer? On this day? Now? Despite everything?”

“Of course, Servaas. What else? With everybody gone, I’d like the company. Hate drinking alone, you know? It’s the first sign of slipping down that slippery slope to being a problem drinker.”

“But…what about the others? They drink as much as I do – and they’re not here anymore.”

Oudoom looked down at the worried face f his favourite elder. What was bothering the old man? He seemed so…confused?

“Look Servaas, they’ll be back this afternoon. The battery of the clock on the steeple needed replacing and Boggel had to stock up for the weekend. They all left before dawn and Vrede went along for the ride. I asked whether they’d like to take you along, but Sammie said you needed the sleep. But look, here’s the key. Let’s go, I’m rather thirsty.”

Oudoom often remarks that the ways of the Lord are mysterious.

They are indeed. Servaas stopped drinking that day. For a full hour he sat there, sipping his Sprite, while Oudoom enjoyed his lager. Then they listened to the news and the latest statement by the president.

“Mind if I have the usual, Oudoom? And get you a fresh one, while I’m at it? I’ll write it up on my tab.”

And so, life returned to normal in the little town of Rolbos. Tonight Boggel will peek at the clock on the steeple before announcing the last round. Servaas will be in a reflective mood, and tell everybody that nobody knows when the last round will be. He’ll get a few curious glances for that, but he’ll ignore it and smile at himself.

Ja, Siena will understand.

“In life everything is folly
which does not bring pleasure.
Let us be happy, fleeting and rapid
is the delight of love;
it is a flower which blooms and dies,
which can no longer be enjoyed.”

La Traviata by Giusseppe Verdi

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Optimism…

Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. – Nelson Mandela.

This is true, especially in Africa, where the sun is such a prominent presence. But it cuts deeper than merely the physical, doesn’t it?

c2Mothers guard their young with  worried frowns. What about tomorrow? What dangers lurk in the shadows of the night? How shall I manage?IMG_4786The young bachelor is lost and lonely – will he find that special someone, that ultimate mate to share his life with? How does one go about it? How to avoid the many mistakes waiting in the future? And…will he be good enough to match what she has to offer?

IMG_4846Camouflaged in the desert, the chameleon might well ask what has happened to the trees? His family has it so good, so easy – and he has to make do with so little. Does that mean he didn’t make the grade; that he is being punished for something? The pessimist is prone to depression –  will he give up, surrender, and slink away to mope in the vast empty space around him?

IMG_5000a.jpgIndeed, Life regularly seems to turn her back to us, leaving us wondering what it’s all about.

IMG_5116aWith so many predators around, any single individual becomes prone to doubt. Life seems to blur as we tend to consider the problems bigger than the solutions. Is there – when all is said and done – any sense in going on? Should one not just wallow in the profound pessimism that surrounds us, give up…and die?

IMG_4670But then – oh, the bliss! – we look up at the sun and don’t get blinded by its rays. For look, there is the promise; the rainbow; bringing hope. It lures us on and on, for no matter how heavily pessimism weighs us down, it’s darkness can never outshine the brightness of hope.

In the words of Helen Keller – arguably the epitome of optimism and an example to us all: “Be of good cheer. Do not think of today’s failures, but of the success that may come tomorrow. You have set yourselves a difficult task, but you will succeed if you persevere; and you will find a joy in overcoming obstacles. Remember, no effort that we make to attain something beautiful is ever lost.”

 

The Man from BBE

images (19) copy“That must be Mister Ball, ” Boggel says as the line of dust on the road to Rolbos nears the town. “I wonder what – exactly – does he want? Said he had to come to do business, but that was all. He sounded rather strangely pompous as if he expected us to fall for some sales talk. Something about empowerment and compliance – couldn’t make out head or tail…”

They’ve talked about the visit ever since the telephone call a week ago. Servaas reckons it has to be a government thing, because they seem to be creating more and more agencies to regulate businesses and organisations. “It’s their way of creating jobs, see?” Servaas gets upset about the way the government insists on appointing inept and unqualified people to positions of power – officials who do not have the faintest idea of what they should be doing, anyway.

Gertruida has been hard at work, too. Using the skills she had picked up in her days with National Intelligence, she created a perfect copy of a liquor licence  – something Boggel has never bothered to apply for. That, of course, is a completely different story, and one that has been told a long time ago. Still, if the government wants to see that piece of paper, she’ll have it ready for them.

The black BMW purrs down Voortrekker Weg (still misspelled after all these years) and comes to a stop in front of Boggel’s Place. A chauffeur in a perfectly pressed suit jumps out to open the back door for a remarkable man. Remarkable? Maybe not the right word. Astounding might be more appropriate. The huge figure emerging from the vehicle is, indeed, typical of the average government employee – built like an over-sized teapot with a soccer ball head and frog-like eyes. He, too, is dressed in a suit; but how he managed to squeeze his massive bulk into the clothes, is a mystery. Maybe one should not be so critical about Chinese material -it really stretches!

“Mister Ball…?” Boggel steps forward to shake the large man’s meaty hand.

“Just call me Black. All my friends do.” The lips scarcely move, but a gold tooth manages to wink at Boggel. The voice is alarmingly high-pitched, making Gertruida wonder about the man’s hormonal balance.

“Black?”

“Yes. Black. Black Ball. That’s me.” He tries bow slightly and almost manage, too. He hands over his card, which states that Black Ball is the managing director of BBE – Black Ball Enterprises. Underneath, in smaller letters: already 

“Come on in, er…um…Black. You’ll need something cool after driving through the heat.”

“No. No drinking. I’m here on business and I don’t have time to waste. Where can we talk?”

Boggel leads the man inside, where they have to place two chairs next to each other to accommodate the large frame.

“Let me get straight to the point here. You guys need protection. I can offer you this…at a very reasonable rate. You have a choice: work with me, or not. If not…well, the consequences could be rather …uncomfortable. Even painful.” Black pulls a face to emphasise the point.

Now look. You don’t talk like this in Rolbos. Never. It’s not done. Especially not if Vetfaan has had to overhaul his old Landy again – for the second time already this year. This time it was the head gasket, which necessitated a vigorous scrub-down with petrol to get rid of the treacle-like oil that clung to everything. The scrub-down was for Vetfaan, of course, resulting in his cheeks being even more rosy than usual.

“Now look here, mister…”

“Black, just call me Black.”

“Well, Black, I think you have the wrong address. We’re not interested in bribing our way out of your trouble. We’ve got rifles, pistols, a few revolvers and Vrede, our dog. We need protection? My foot! You and who are going to protect us?” Vetfaan gets up to tower over the sitting giant.

“Of course you need protection! Everybody does. Guns won’t help you.” Black spreads his hands in front him. He doesn’t have to say it – his incredulous expression tells them it’d be very stupid not to co-operate. “Look, it’s the way things are in the country.” Now his voice is an octave higher, almost pleading. “I go from town to town and everywhere I’m welcomed with open arms. But you? Sheesh! I feel like you people don’t like me! And here I am, offering you a lifeline in these troubled days…and you don’t want it?”

A troubled silence descends on the group in the bar. Boggel coughs, looks up at the ceiling, and wonders how he can defuse the situation. Sure, they had been a bit apprehensive about the visit, but this is worse than even Servaas’ worst fears. This isn’t the usual governmental mess – this is criminal extortion… He’ll have to get the large man to relax – maybe they can work something out without Vetfaan losing his temper. That would certainly bring on a gang of tattooed ex-bouncers and a bunch of ululating ladies. Hard to say which is worse…

“Look..er…Black. What does your protection cost? Let’s talk about this, man?”

“It’s very cheap. Really.” This time, the snake-like eyes seem to glimmer with…hope?  He certainly sounds more eager now. “Way below what you’ll pay in Upington, for instance. And you’ll have my personal assurance of quality. When I’ve got you covered, you’re as safe as can be. I’ve never had a complaint about quality.” He shakes the large head. “No sir. Never.”

Gertruida sits up suddenly.

“Um…Black? Your protection? Can you give us a demonstration of it?” She smiles her most charming smile. “Please?”

Black calls his chauffeur over to give him instructions.

What happened next in Boggel’s Place, will remain a source of hilarity as long as  Boggel is there to serve his customers. He insists on keeping the complementary sample on the shelf behind the till.

***

“Who would have guessed?” Vetfaan whistles as he slaps his hands together. “Of all things! And there I was, ready to take the poor man out, hey?”

“Always a good idea to listen before you act, Vetfaan? Gertruida tries to sound stern but the twinkle in her eyes tells him she’s not serious. “Hey, it’s the New South Africa – everybody is just trying to make ends meet. I felt rather sorry for him, but he does seem successful enough.”

Sadly, Black Ball failed to make a sale in Rolbos today. Servaas said he was to old, Gertruida pleaded menopause and Vetfaan said something about celibacy.

In bigger towns like Kenhardt and Pofadder, Black might be able to sell his wares. But in a small place like Rolbos? You see, after a certain age – especially if you’re from a more conservative background -some people simply do not use the stuff. They’re fun to blow up and Vetfaan even filled one with water; but to actually use it for its intended purpose would be worth a lot of bragging rights in Boggel’s Place. Only – here everybody knows everybody else’s business, hence they’ll know when a bragger is lying through his teeth. It’s not that they don’t want to use condoms…they simply can’t any more…

Shame..

 

Photo Challenge: Transitional Normality.

We all start life filled with hopeand innocence. Oh, parents mean well, don’t they? But how can anyone prepare a child to live in a world where hope and innocence are so easily lost? Teaching a child to be a ‘normal’ member of society often leads to a life of pretence – you have to act, speak, talk and exercise your choices in an ‘acceptable’ manner; denying the instinct to be an individual with unique characteristics.

t1We grow up, losing much along the way. And then we get to that point in the woods, where the two roads diverge, just like Robert Frost promised it would…

t4

‘Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth…’

t3Of course we choose one…expecting to find rest, comfort, good fortune…and possibly, Love. That is, after all, the promise of ‘normality’…isn’t it?

t2Sadly, all too often these dreams are shattered by the thorny seat we eventually find ourselves in. Here the dreams of a quiet life, ‘normal’ relationships and peace are shattered by the reality of the outcome of our choices. Pretending to be content, just isn’t good enough any more.

IMG_2528That’s when we begin to realise: ‘normal’ doesn’t mean a thing. It’s time to shun pretence and follow the heart. If it raises a few eyebrows, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter at all.

t5And then, having lost so much and found so little – we start afresh: finding happiness in simplicity; hope in reality and love in the most unexpected place. Love isn’t out there, waiting for us to find it; love has all along been  inside us; the sad  prisoner of pretence. Only once those walls are shattered, can we reclaim the hope and innocence we were born with. That’s when we dance on sunshine…