Tag Archives: loneliness

Gertruida’s (almost) nude sketch

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Gertruida (as we all know) is not an emotional woman. She takes life’s blows as they come and never allows circumstances to weigh her down.

Well, almost never.

Tomorrow, when Vetfaan and Boggel will discuss the incident over a couple of beers and they’ll stick to the facts…but they won’t mention the tear that found it’s way over her pale cheek this morning. That’ll be an admission of the unmentionable, a breach of confidence, a disrespectful comment of a lady they hold in such high esteem.

Still, the tear was there, even if everybody chose to ignore it. People do that, sometimes. Some call it the-elephant-in-the-room-syndrome, and others say it’s  unkind to emphasise another’s grief; but it is entirely true that we all – at times – choose not to remark about something that is patently obvious to all. Even Gertruida acted the same way: she didn’t bother to wipe away the tear, nor did she try to hide her continuous sniffing when she read the letter.

Afterwards, she left the letter on the counter. Just the letter, mind – not the sketch; that she took home. It is, after all, her very personal property now. Maybe that was her way of explaining, of making them understand. Boggel thought it was a very clever way of going about things: much better than telling them all about Mathys Willemse and that summer of ’72. After all, they were all young once and they all did things they will remember with a smile although they’ll never talk about it. When you’re young, life is a kaleidoscope of missed chances. When you’re old, you cry about the beauty of those moments.

My dear Gertruida,

I asked the nurse to write this note as my condition does not allow me to do so myself. I trust Nurse Groenewald – she promised to keep this confidential. In a certain way, she reminds me of you, all those years ago.

Don’t be surprised to receive a letter from me. We may have met – and parted – many years ago, but I’ve kept the memory of those weeks sacred – and fresh – in my mind. Even now, despite the white sheets and the beeping machines – I can recall the sound of your voice, the touch of your hand. It is a great comfort in these days. If this is a cause of embarrassment to you, I apologise. But to me, it is the most wonderful memory.

By the time you receive this – so the doctors tell me – I will know more about Life’s greatest mystery. I’m looking forward to that. But, before I go, I have to finalise a few things while I can. My will is a simple one; you know how much I loved Nature. My remaining paintings (oh, how you encouraged the young artist!) will be auctioned and the proceeds used in the fight against poaching. It seems a fitting farewell for somebody who enjoyed the wide landscapes and the animals of our lovely country.

But – and you’ll understand this – I cannot sell your sketch. That would be wrong.

Remember that evening on the beach? I’m sure you do. The sun was just setting and the gulls were settling down for the night. They were our only company. And I took out my pad and you asked me why I was looking at you in such a strange way. I couldn’t answer then. I’ll try to answer now.

You see, at that moment I saw my Gerty, the real Gerty. I stripped you of your academic achievements (of which there were many!), and the faux air of superiority you spent so much effort in maintaining. I saw a young woman, a beautiful lady, a lonely girl – in all simplicity.

When I didn’t answer, you gave a little laugh and walked on, to sit down on the rocks amongst the gulls. Funny, they didn’t seem to mind. Maybe they recognised a kindred spirit: a restless soul, constantly moving on even if they stayed in the same place. It’s a paradox of life, isn’t it Gerty? We move and move…and seldom change who we are. No matter how wide we spread our wings, we cannot deny our inner identity.

So I sketched you as I saw you. Called the work ‘Restless’, with you as an off-centre central figure and the rocks and the sleeping birds around you. Over the years it hung in my gallery and I’ve had so many offers to buy it – but of course I couldn’t sell it at all. This was my sketch, my rock, where I could be calm and at peace. Even now, it hangs on the wall next to me.

I do believe I never told you I loved you. Silly me. I should have. But I knew – even back then – that an artist’s art is a fragile thing. It’s a jealous gift that demands all. If I have to explain (it is difficult!), I’ll say that art cannot be diluted by love. Art requires torment; it is the fuel that keeps the fire burning. And, Gerty, an artist without fire is an artist without grace. It is the anguish of Life that forces the painter to depict the beauty of existence.

And, of course, you had to move on, as well. You were on the brink of a brilliant career (yes, I followed it. Dakar was one of your finest moments!), a journey that would take you to explore a world that didn’t include me. We were both adult enough to know that. I understood that you were part on my anguish, part of my future in the most painful way possible. And I embraced the feeling, because I knew you were part of my journey to artistic excellence.

So now, with the curtain coming down on my stage, I return the sketch to you, where it belongs. It is – even though I say so myself – my best work. This is the way I remember you. Despite the years, you remain the lovely girl I drew back then. You didn’t age. Nobody hurt you along the way. The sun, my dearest, never set in that picture. The gulls didn’t fly away, nor did they die. They remain there, around you, quietly preparing for the night.

I do apologise for another thing. You’ll notice that I drew you as  saw you. Don’t be shy about the absence of clothing – you’ll notice that I respected your mage in the picture. But, dear Gerty, that was (is?) you. A pretty, wonderful, restless creature with a brilliant mind, and the kindest heart. That’s why, I think, you said goodbye afterwards. 

You understood…

And now I must say farewell. My journey is at its end and it’s time for me to explore the great unknown. I just wanted to put the finishing touches on the canvas of our picture – the one you have in your heart.

With all my love,

Mathys.

When Gertruida walks in to Boggel’s Place tomorrow, she’ll smile and greet them the usual way.

And then they’ll talk about the weather.

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The Sad Moon of Solitude…

Sir Philip Sidney, 1554 - 1586

Sir Philip Sidney, 1554 – 1586

One should be careful when asking Servaas about solitude: his answer is too brutally direct and honest if a sensitive soul should dare being so inquisitive. As a confirmed introvert with his own set of rules, he does adapt to living amongst others…but only just. Oh, he can spin a yarn and debate the issues of the day as well as anybody else (provided you accept his narrow-minded conservative approach and offer the obligatory tot of peach brandy), but deep down he is a loner. Has been all his life, will be until they lower him into the ground. And, as  a man comfortable with his own way of analysing issues, he does tend to be a bit overbearing – which doesn’t bother him in the least. He doesn’t like pretence: if you don’t like what he says, it really isn’t his problem at all.

Oudoom, naturally. disagrees with his head elder on this matter. People need people, according to the pastor, and that’s why we need many, healthy relationships. No man is an island, he’s fond of saying – but Servaas likes to remind him that as the Lord created continents, so too did He make islands.

It takes all kinds…

breekyster 2010 153But a passer by – a few years ago – did venture to ask the question. She was the sprightly widow Violet Hancock; a kind and sympathetic woman who toured the country, taking photographs of isolated places. She said it was her way of managing her sudden change in social standing – from being the wife of a famous actor, to being…well, nobody at all. Whereas before the maitre d’s and the photographers would do anything to please her, she found herself stranded on that lonely island called Isolation. Photographing the wide expanses of the country, the old ruined farm houses and the dilapidated windpumps, reminded her that all life – like all fame – was but a fleeting moment. These pictures, she said, made her feel better: she wasn’t alone in her lot.

“You see,” she told Servaas on the afternoon she visited Rolbos to take shots of the Kalahari at sunset, “my husband used to be the reason for my importance. Because he was such a huge figure in the public eye, everybody was nice to me. After he died, there were a few bouquets of flowers, a stack of sympathy cards, a ton of calls…and then it stopped. Society had settled their account –  they owed me nothing. Being nice with me wasn’t important any longer – and the public eye roved around as it must, and found somebody else to idolise. Here today, gone tomorrow.”

The two of them sat, discussing the fickle nature of mankind in general and fans in particular, and later a comfortable silence settled between them. Servaas could feel her eyeing him and started feeling really uncomfortable. Did she think…? He dismissed the thought immediately.

“And you, Servaas? Don’t you feel lonely at times? How do you handle it?”

It was a trick question – he could feel it. Still, it was only right that he should answer it honestly.

“You know? Only people who aren’t comfortable with themselves feel lonely. They need company to prop up their self esteem. They love having people around, especially if they make a fuss about them. Now, according to my reckoning, that’s more than 90% of the population.

“They play this game, see? You tell me how special I am, and I’ll be nice to you. Now for some – your husband might have been one – it is an easy game because society elevated them to star status. Actors, politicians, some pastors and a few businessmen are like that. For them it is the way to remain on top of the heap – but they seldom ask what the heap is made of.

“I’ll tell you: it’s all pretence. To be popular, you have to understand Pavlov’s dog. You have to know how the psychology works – and then use it to manipulate others into thinking you’re different. And people fall for that all the time.” His bushy eyebrows rose high as he got got excited about the subject. “Why be different? Why increase your bust size, wear outrageous clothes and makeup to try to draw attention to yourself?” He paused and, seeing she remained quiet, answered on her behalf. “Because people can’t accept the way they are. They feel they have to stand out to be noticed.  Better to hear them say ‘oooh’ and ‘aaah’ than to endure the silence of being considered only average.

“So they start pretending. They play to the audience. They build up a fan base. They have lots and lots of people they call ‘friends’, but who – in actual fact – rely on the friendship only for what’s in it for themselves. It could be money, or recognition or simply bragging rights, but in the end those ‘friends’ are social parasites, feeding off  the noticed in the hope of becoming memorable.”

“No friends at all – is that what you’re saying?'” Violet seemed exceptionally sad when she asked the question.

“No, my dear.” He softened his tone. “True friends are rare. Anybody who is honest with himself, will realise you only have a handful of real friends – if you’re lucky. These are the people you can phone at two in the morning or simply share silence with. These are effortless relationships because the commitment to respect and kindness is so natural, so spontaneous, that it sustains itself. These are very special people who can tell you what they really think without being afraid that you’d either reject them or play them along. It’s a non-judgemental association between two persons who’ve accepted each other just the way they are.”

“But…” she hesitated, “…that doesn’t exist, Servaas. I’ve never experienced that type of friendship – and believe me, I had a million friends back then.”

“And where,” Servaas asked, “are they now?”

***

IMG_0140They sat on Boggel’s veranda until the full moon managed to light up the veld from behind some rare clouds. Mrs Hancock sniffed loudly at times, but refused the handkerchief Servaas offered. Then she glanced up at that moon and addressed it with a bit of Sir Philip Sidney’s poem: To the Sad Moon:

Are beauties there as proud as here they be?
Do they above love to be loved, and yet
Those lovers scorn whom that love doth possess?
Do they call ‘virtue’ there— ungratefulness?”

Servaas, of course, had no idea what she was talking about. He nursed his peach brandy and listened to the cry of a distant jackal. Still, he felt he had to say something.

“Love, like friendship, is a rare joy, Violet, just like the moon you see over there. Search for it  when the season is right. Cherish it when you find it. Nurture it when you have it…. And appreciate it when it’s gone.”

“Full moon. Dark moon. And yet, even when I can’t see it, it is still there?”

“Yes Violet. It is still there….and alone. And you know what? It’s okay. It waxes and wanes without complaining, ever spinning around an ungrateful world. That moon,” Servaas pointed, “is the keeper of a secret – although it is a constant companion to the earth, it needs distance to remain what it was created to be.” He sighed softly, patted her shoulder and smiled. “You’ll be alright, Violet, if you remember this.”

Violet Hancock left Servaas there, on the veranda in front of Boggel’s Place. Drove off and eventually settled in a cottage she rented on a deserted farm. Her photographs have won national and international prizes, but she never attends these ceremonies. She maintains – according to the single reporter she allowed an interview – that her solitude is more gratifying than recognition. This remark caused quite a debate in a popular weekly magazine in South Africa, with most readers commenting on such selfish behaviour.

Servaas saw the article, read it twice, and sat down on the bench on the veranda in front of Boggel’s Place. He smiled proudly, blew his nose, and waited for the moon to appear from behind the dark and distant horizon.

Fly Away (#2)

credit: scn.ru

Similar to the Cessna Hendrik Meintjies died in. credit: scn.ru

“He died, you know? Crashed in an aeroplane.”

It’s Gertruida’s third weekly visit to Annatjie; visits spent listening to John Denver, very little conversation, and drinking the iced tea Gertruida brings along. By now, their relationship has progressed to the point where Annatjie had given Gertruida the key to the padlock on the gate.

“Who did? Hennie?”

The ancient eyes of Annatjie cloud over for a second, as if she wants to blank out the words.

“No, Henry John Deutschendorf. He loved flying.”

Gertruida nods. Yes, John Denver’s tragic accident in October 1997 shook the world.

“A lot of them went in plane disasters. Ricky Nelson, Patsy Cline, Otis Redding, Buddy Holly, Jim Croce, Jim Reeves. Funny, that. Up in the air one second, dead the next. Fame to ashes.”

By now, Gertruida is used to the rambling way Annatjie stumbles through her thoughts. Sometimes she just sits there, listening to her old records (mostly John Denver); but then she’d suddenly say something which at first seems completely random. However, the thread of death and dying runs through most of these apparently non-related sentences. The best way to field them, Gertruida decided, was to nod in agreement. Maybe, with enough encouragement, she can get Annatjie to talk…?

Gertruida told Boggel that she wasn’t sure where these visits were leading them, but that she felt strangely compelled to keep on visiting the lonely woman. Boggel agreed, saying that getting Annatjie to tell her story, might be the only way to unlock her mental prison.

“And there are Dag Hammarskjöld, rugby teams, soccer teams, even Hansie Cronje. People die in aeroplanes all the time.” A complacent smile as Annatjie makes an obvious attempt to rationalise Hennie’s death.

“Only recently, there’s been another Indonesian crash,” Gertruida says, hoping to egg her on.

Annatjie looks up in surprise. “Oh… Really? Didn’t know…”

This doesn’t surprise Gertruida, of course. Annatjie hasn’t got a radio or a TV in the house.

“You’ve been living a rather isolated life.” It is a question and a statement rolled into one.

Annatjie stares out of the window, seemingly lost in her own world. Then: “Yes, I have. Me and the letters. And the records, of course. I play them all the time. Love Denver…”

“Letters?” It’s the first time Annatjie has offered something of her personal life, and Gertruida is keen to follow it up.

“Of course. Hennie wrote such beautiful letters. I kept them…”

“Oh?” Taking a chance, Gertruida hesitates before asking: “You have them still? That’s wonderful. I’d really like to have a look at them.” She gets a startled look from the other woman, and rushes to add: “Only if it’s okay with you. I don’t want to intrude, but…”

“What?”

“Well, a burden shared is a burden lessened, you know…?”

***

And so, by bits and pieces, Gertruida sets about breaking down the walls Annatjie has built up over the years. Why did Annatjie allow her to read her personal mail? Gertruida would wonder about that in the years to come, but most probably the years of solitude and grief had become too much for the frail old lady. Although only in her fifties, Annatjie had the demeanor and the mindset of a much older, exhausted and beaten woman – a woman simply unable to bear her isolation any longer.

***

My dearest Annie,

I hope you got the record I left at your father’s office? It’s  Denver’s new one with such beautiful songs. 

I’m writing this on the train to Pretoria – we’ve just passed through De Aar. My word! Soldiers everywhere!  I’m quickly learning about ranks and things. Being in the army is such a drag. You’ve got to know who to salute and who not. It’s confusing. If you get it wrong, you get shouted at in the most foul language! 

Anyway, I’ll post this at the first opportunity to do so. But I wanted to apologise for my dad’s behaviour. He can be such an ass! I mean, he knows we love each other. Why he insists on politicizing our relationship is beyond he. If your father’s ideas are different to his – why. that is no reason to punish us, is that? 

I told him so in no uncertain terms. That didn’t go down well, I’m afraid. Now we’ll have to wait until my time in the Army is over. If he still persists in being a dumb fool, we’ll simply go it alone – you and I. We’ll get married in Upington. I spoke to your father and he said he’d arrange it with a judge or something.

So, here I go. Off to war. When it’s over, we’ll start our new life together. This, my dear, will keep me going, no matter what they throw at me.

Love,

Hennie.

***

“That’s so sweet.” Gertruida dabs an eye. “Soo…oh, we all were there at some or other stage, weren’t we? That flame of love can burn so high when you’re young…”

“Remember Helderberg? 1987. 157 people died in that crash.” Annatjie has slipped into her own world again – a world where dying in an aircraft disaster seems to be the norm. Gertruida nods and hands back the letter.

“Here’s the last one.” The withered hands hold up a sealed letter.

“You haven’t opened it yet?” Is it possible? Gertruida shakes her head. Surely not? Has she sealed it again?

“No.” Her voice is uncommonly stern as she replaces the letter in the box with the others.

“And the others?”

“Oh, I read them all. Every one. Know them by heart. But not that one…”

“Why…?”

“Because he’s still alive in there. If I tear open the envelope, he’ll escape. Can’t do that.” Eyes suddenly clear, she glances at Gertruida. “Don’t you see? Those were his last words to me. Once I’ve read them, he’s gone. Forever. But now…now he still hasn’t told me what he said way back then. That keeps him alive, doesn’t it?”

Gertruida nods , grasping the convoluted logic behind her new friend’s sentiment. Keeping that envelope sealed is Annatjie’s way of keeping Hennie alive in her mind. He still has something to say – he can’t be dead then, can he?

“The rest of those letters must tell you a lot about his time in the army?”

Annatjie starts rocking to and fro on her chair, eyes closed. “The SAA Comet that crashed in 1958 killed 21. And there was the Boeing crash near WIndhoek in 1968, where 123 people died…” She’s gone to her safe place again. Here, she’s not alone in her loss…

Gertruida gets up. It’s time to go. She hugs the fragile woman, turns up the volume of the record player, and closes the door softly as she leaves. Next time…next time she’ll learn more..

 

On Days Like These (# 4)

Queen Victoria and John Brown. Artist: Sir Edwin Landseer.

Queen Victoria and John Brown. Artist: Sir Edwin Landseer.

Boggel takes his position behind the counter. Nobody says anything about his ruffled and red-eyed look. Instead, they’re talking about the drought and the way the dams are drying up. The only one who seems comfortable under these depressing circumstances, is Servaas. He always thrives on misery.

“It’s not going to be a happy Christmas this year,” Precilla whispers in Fanny’s ear. “Boggel just isn’t himself at all. Gertruida’s talk helped, but he needs lots of time to reflect, think and then plan ahead.”

Vetfaan can’t take the gloomy atmosphere any more.

“Gertruida! Last year you told us the story of Silent Night. Remember? About that priest in Austria. Or was it Australia? I remember you saying he was a bastard.”

“Not bastard like that, Vetfaan. But yes…there once was a lonely priest…”

She tells the story with flair, making them laugh and cry and get that Christmassy look we all get when we sing Auld lang Syne. .

“But that’s the story, you guys. It tells us how we must never lose hope, never think things we have done were useless. Sometimes it can take centuries for the reason why something happened, to become clear.”

“Much too philosophical for me.” Vetfaan leans back against the counter. “‘T’s the time to be jolly, but this feels more like a wake than a celebration. Maybe we should get that stripper from Pofadder to liven things up a little.” He ignores the disapproving stare from Oudoom and the stern finger Fanny shakes at him.

“If I may, sir?” Mister Stevens and Miss Kenton have been sitting quietly at the table next to the window. Butlers never join the revelry of their employers and always maintain a respectful distance. Now, however, he finds it necessary to contribute his opinion.

“Of course, Mister Stevens.” Gertruida has grown to respect the aloof man with his outlandish way of dressing. Imagine wearing a coat – and socks! – in the Kalahari! Only mad dogs and Englishmen…

“I’m reminded of our late queen, Victoria. She ruled for 63 years, remember? Passed away – may her soul rest in peace – in 1901. But 40 years before that, Prince Albert died. You see, Prince Albert was the love of her life – the man she adored. Oh, before Albert, there were many suitors who tried to win her heart, but once she fell for Albert, that was it. They were married when she was 21, had nine children and shared the many responsibilities resting on the shoulders of the Queen.

“But, at the age of only 42, Albert passed away. Died of some stomach ailment which was diagnosed as Typhoid at the time, but most probably it was some sort of cancer. And then, for the next four decades, Victoria wore black. Her love had turned to grief; and she never allowed herself to forget what Albert had meant to her. Black, you see, was her way of expressing her loyalty to the memories she treasured so much”

Mister Stevens falls silent, staring at his manicured hands.

“That’s extremely sad, Mister Stevens. Why did you mention this bit of history?” Fanny arches her eyebrows, not sure where the butler is leading them.

“Oh. Well, you see, Madam, I think Victoria was a good queen. She rule Britannia, was instrumental in abolishing slavery and expanded the Empire…”

“She was a very good queen,” Kleinpiet interjects, “when she lost the First Boer War.”

John_Brown_(_Queen_Victorias's_servant)Mister Stevens appears to be unruffled as he continues. “But you see, there is more to life than just doing your job and grieving about lost love.”

He pauses a moment, apparently weighing his words carefully.

“I often wonder about Victoria’s household. I seem to recall the name John Brown, her personal servant.

“Now, there was a butler! And he served his queen with all his heart. For 20 years after Albert’s death, he became a servant, a companion, a friend. When he died, Victoria likened the sadness of his passing with the emotion she felt with Albert’s loss. And, I’ll tell you, when Victoria was buried, it was his ring and a lock of his hair that were placed in her coffin.”

Servaas, who has always been a reluctant admirer of Victoria (such a strong woman, but the Second Boer War…) cannot believe his ears.

“What, old Vicky was served hand and foot and the rest of it, by a man of low standing?”

“We’ll never know, sir. There were rumours of a secret wedding… But, that isn’t the point here, is it?” He turns to the bar to address Boggel. “Mister Boggel, I’m reminded of this bit of history to confirm a single fact: it is okay to love. Love asks not who you are and what your standing is. Love marches in where logic hesitates to knock. Love exists only to contribute to one another, never to destroy.

“Queen Victoria was well aware of the gossip behind her back, but she had the last laugh. Let them talk, but I’ll be buried with mementos of the man who cared for me. Take that, you cynical hounds!.” Mister Stevens punches a fist in the air but immediately whips down his arm – as if embarrassed by his display of emotion. “So, Mister Boggel, love only hurts when it is not acknowledged, that’s all I’m saying.”

“So, how exactly does this help Boggel?” Vetfaan doesn’t understand.

“Mister Stevens just reminded us of one of the great secrets in life, Vetfaan. We grieve in loss. We rejoice in love. It’s up to each one of us to decide which is the more important.” Gertruida gets up and uses her lecture-tone again. “Queen Victoria wore black to indicate her loss, but she celebrated the loves of her life by holding on to the memories of love, And maybe that is what love should be: remembering the important stuff. We may hope for the future, but we don’t live there…but we can remember the past as part of every breath that we take today.”

Precilla nods as she hugs Kleinpiet. “So…even if you’ve loved and lost, it’s better than never having loved at all?”

“Exactly, Precilla. People tend to expect love to keep them happy in the future, but that is an anomaly. How can tomorrow’s unborn moments keep you happy today? But…if you look back and remember the joy, the beauty; then today becomes the mirror of who you’ve become. It’s simple, really: if love – in any form – contributed to your life, it is stupid to be sad about the passion you once felt. It’s there to admire and to cherish.”

Boggel serves another round, a slow smile hesitating on his lips.

“What was that about the stripper again?”

Vetfaan bursts out laughing.

“Boggel is back, you guys! Cheers!!”

***

lesleyBut it’s never as easy as that, is it? Mary Mitchell will be part of Boggel’s existence for the rest of his life. At times he’ll smile when he thinks back; at others, he’ll retire to his little room behind Boggel’s Place to reflect and feel lonely. That’s when he’ll curl up with Sandy to tell the little bear about the stern old woman: the untouchable, severe queen of a great empire; who insisted on being buried with the memories of such a special love.

And then, with a sad smile, he finds it comforting that he isn’t the only one who finds Love to be a thorny rose: beautiful to look at, painful to hold on to, fleeting in life, enduring in passion.

At least, he realises, the memory of love may very well be the most precious gift of all; a treasure of the heart and the mind, that doesn’t even die when the coffin containing the lock of hair is lowered into the grave.

And, because Boggel belongs to the select and exclusive group of people who understands this, Sandy will just have to do until he discovers somebody he can tell this to.

On Days Like These (# 3)

man-on-the-bench-at-sunset-4211Boggel is painfully aware of the faces behind the chintz curtain in the bar, staring at him while he sips his beer.He realises that they must have guessed what the letter said – maybe not exactly, but at least the gist of it – and now they’re unsure about how to approach him. Truth be told…he doesn’t quite know how to react himself.

There can be no doubt that Mary Mitchell had been the one. The love of his life. The friend, the mate, the confidante. the sounding board, the comforter. And yes, life took them in different directions; and sure, nothing ever works out the way men and women hope. It is true, he thinks, that the biggest cause of disappointment is found in the fact that we hope too much. We dream too big.

But somehow, that thought contains only the minutest amount of consolation. In fact, it brings no relief at all. Life, after all, is about hoping. Dreaming. Anticipating. Without some expectation of a better future, it may well be worthless to go on. Now, realising Mary will never be part of his future, he is suddenly aware of a tremendous feeling of loss.

Then again: does he not grant her happiness, freedom? Has it not always his quest to want to see the beauty inside her blossom? And does he not grant her joy…and hope?

Boggel rubs his eyes – hard, until little spots of light make him stop. A life without Mary in the background? Laughing, troubled, mischievous, uncertain Mary, the one he thought would one day be at his side? Even if they spent so little time together, the mere knowledge that he may hope to be with her one day had always been such a comfort…such a beautiful hope.

He opens his eyes to see Gertruida standing in front of him.

“Mind if I sit down?”

He nods.

The two of them watch the dove walking around in little circles, like and old man pondering the mysteries of the universe.

“He seems lost,” Gertruida says, not only referring to the dove, “doesn’t he?” She glances over at Boggel, who stares at the dove.

“Maybe we all are. Maybe there is a randomness about life we’ll never understand.” She sighs. The dove has stopped walking, and now watches them with its head turned to the side. “You know Boggel, I’m not sure what that letter says, but I think it’s good news.”

This time it’s Boggel’s turn to stare at Gertruida.

“Yes, seriously. You’ve been hanging on to a dream for years and years now, hoping that you and Mary will hook up somehow. And I watched you, Boggel. Saw the longing in your eyes. Heard the way you spoke about her.

Dreams are good friends when you’re lonely. Remember the song? Well, they are. And now, during the Christmas season, millions of lonely people dream about a happier new year. They hope. They pray. And many, many of them will approach Christmas 2014 with the same prayers, because the year didn’t deliver.

“But not you, Boggel Next year will be better for you.”

Boggel shakes his head. Better? Come on Gertruida…

“I’ll tell you why. As long as you cling to a dream – no matter how unlikely that hope might be – you remain prisoner to that dream. You arrange your life around that dream and in the end it closes more doors than it opens windows. But…if the dream is shattered, it sets you free to dream anew.”

The dove makes a few flapping motions with its wings, decides to hang around some more, and resumes its pacing.

“Oh, I know, Boggel! It’s so bloody painful. Dashed hope and broken dreams bleed a lot. They make one hell of a mess in our minds. I remember when Ferdinand disappeared…I was a zombie for months on end. But then…then I accepted. I cried a lot. Protested against the unfairness of it all. Even fought with God for a while. But in the end, I accepted.

“You see, Boggel, we tend to look at other people to make us happy. We say silly things like: that person completes me. Harrumph! As if God made incomplete people!

“No, it doesn’t work like that. We discover our completeness through trial, error, pain and hardship. We simply grow through disappointment and loss to the point where we are forced to look at ourselves in the mirror. And then, only then, we are forced to answer a very important question: am I here to be a sponge for other people’s caring, or was I put on earth to be a source of love for others?”

Boggel stares at his shoes, saying nothing. Everything Gertruida says is true, of course. But…being cared for and being loved…those things did fill a void, didn’t it? He just feels so…empty…

“We are the creators of our own needs, Boggel,” Gertruida says because she has an uncanny ability to read minds – or guess the thoughts swirling about in other people’s brains. “We tell ourselves we need this, want that. And it’s not wrong to do so either. But then we become dependent on those desires, building our lives around them.

“For some people it becomes a way of life, and some couples become happily interdependent. That’s not a bad thing, either. But we should never look at other people to be the source of our happiness. Happiness and joy starts here.” She taps her chest, causing the dove to fly a few yards off.

“So you’ll have a better year, next year, Boggel. You’ll sweep up the splinters of your dream, clean up your house. You’ll sit down to accept this dream is gone, and you’ll have to do a retake of your hopes and expectations. The pain will dull a little after a while. And, although you’ll still think of her, you’ll move on. Glance back if you like, but if you want to find a route to the future, you’ll have to look ahead more often than backwards..”

Boggel doesn’t say anything. He can’t. The lump in his throat is too big to allow words to sneak past.

“And you have us, Boggel. One should not work through a loss such as this without a bit of loving care from people around you. And we care. You know that.”

The dove stretches its wings, flaps once or twice, and then takes off effortlessly.

“Um,” Boggel says to say he understands.

Boggel’s Moon (# 2)

anna“Look,” Gertruida points at the laptop’s screen, “Anna Kourinikova.  It says here she lives in Miami, have split up with Enrique  Eglisias and she wants to – and I quote – live a life of simplicity for a change.  She was born on 7 June, 1981, which makes her a bit young for Boggel; but what a birthday present it would be if she received an invitation to visit Boggel, all expenses paid! I mean, what has she got to lose? Life doesn’t get much simpler than here, does it?”

“But is she Russian?” Servaas is adamant that only a Russian girl would foot the bill ever since he saw the advert for mail-order brides. He says they are desperate enough to accept an invitation to nowhere to meet with a nobody. Precilla slapped him – hard – for being so callous.

“Of course. She only speaks  American to fool Westerners. All Russians do,” Vetfaan says. He remembers the days during the border war, when their prisoners of war all drawled like John Wayne, It was a communist trick to confuse the troops into thinking they have met up with the CIA. It worked well…

“We have to raise money for her ticket, then. But we have to do it quietly, otherwise he won’t play along. You know Boggel – he hates charity; and if he knew we were setting him up, he won’t be interested in the least.” Servaas hesitates for a second, ” But if we send her a telegram on her birthday…”

“I like it!” Fanny does a little skip-dance. “I like it a lot! Gertruida, you can write the invitation. Vetfaan, have you ever considered cleaning up all the old scrap you heaped up behind the barn? It’s a real eye-sore. I bet if you and Kleinpiet collected all the old ploughs, bits and pieces and the rusting wrecks of old cars and tractors on your farms, you’ll get a pretty penny for them at the scrapyard. They sell those things to the Japanese to melt down again? How about it?”

“Look: they’ve got an e-mail address. Maybe we can send a telegram there?” Servaas will never catch up with technology. Maybe the rest (except Gertruida) neither.

***

To: Miss Kournikova, Miami,

Visit the jewel of the Kalahari. Meet interesting people. Live simply.

Expect you soonest. All expenses paid. Happy birthday.

Rolbos

***

Secretly – and honestly – not one of them expected an answer. Fanny and Precilla thought the clearing of the scrap from the farms was already reward enough for their Cactus-induced mad idea. Indeed, when they all sobered up the next morning, the idea seemed a bit absurd, to say the least. What were they thinking? Still the telegram had been sent and they couldn’t very well erase that fact, could they?

The group gathered, headaches pounding, in Boggel’s Place for their Green Ambulances.

“That was a stupid idea.” Kleinpiet cups his face in his hands. “Fortunately, we doon’t have to worry about her coming here. She’ll never do it, I’m sure.”

“Ja,” Vetfaan whispers so that Boggel can’t hear. “Miss Kournikova must get thousands of letters and telegrams on her birthday. Maybe she won’t even read our e-mail.”

At this moment, Gertruida sits down quietly – bleary-eyed and dejected.

“She’s coming,” she says with a tired voice, before resting her head on the counter. “She’s really coming.”

***

“Anna Kournikova? A Russian? Coming here? For me?”

Boggel can’t believe his ears. Of all the dim-witted ideas…! He walks out for some fresh air – and to escape the searching eyes of the townsfolk. Sure, they were only trying to help, but… Really, this is too much! Ordering a Russian girl to keep him company? What on earth is he going to do? And she’s already arriving tomorrow – she must be pretty desperate. Taking a deep breath, he returns to his place behind the counter.

“You guys messed up big time. How could you do this to me?” He sighs when he sees the pairs of red, embarrassed eyes staring back at him. “I’m going to ration your drinks from now on.”

“We’re really sorry, Boggel. It seemed such a good idea at the time. You know how we get after a few drinks – we just felt sorry for you and wanted to help.”  Spreading her arms wide in apology, Precilla smiles sweetly at the little barman. “Anyway, how bad can it be? She’s quite beautiful, you must admit.”

“Maybe. But she’s a celebrity and I’m Boggel. She won’t even look at me twice; and that’s the cruellest thing of all..”

“Despair not, Little Man, we will all be at hand to help. Anyway, there’s nothing we can do now. She’ll be here tomorrow, and then we’ll make the best of it.” Vetfaan sips his Green Ambulance and smacks his lips. “Did you add enough cane to this? It tastes like plain Creme Soda.”

“Told you I’m rationing you guys. Tit for tat.” Boggel snorts. “Maybe we can convince Servaas to take care of this…this…Anna.”

“Don’t be like that. We’ve arranged a nice picnic for you two.” It was Gertruida’s idea. She’s such a romantic. “And it’s full moon tomorrow night. You know Boggel, pessimists never win battles. We’re going to dress you up nicely, match your socks for a change, and you’ll have a great time. You’ll see, it’s going to be wonderful.”

***

When the lorry of Kalahari Vervoer trundles down Voortrekker Weg, the entire population of the little town gathers on the veranda in front of Boggel’s Place. They’re all dressed in their best casual clothes – with Boggel standing out in the white shirt Fanny had starched and pressed for him. Even Vrede sits to attention when the lorry stops.

When the woman attempts to alight, ladylike, from the lorry, it’s Gertruida who is first to react.

“Oh. My. Word.” Eyes wide in surpise, she manages another single word: “Noooo!”

Boggel’s Moon (# 1)

Magrietjie Badenhorst

Magrietjie Badenhorst

“He’s really not himself these days.” Gertruida sips her beer tentatively while she watches the bent barman polishing glasses at the other end of the counter. “Look at him, he’s not even chatting to us.”

“Ja, he’s got that hang-dog face and he seems even more humped than ever.” Leaning sideways, Servaas imitates the curve of Boggel’s back. “Maybe he’s in pain.”

“Har! It’s the hump, all right – or the lack of it – if you ask me. He’s been here for years now, and he’s not getting any…if you know what I mean.”

“Ag sis man, Vetfaan!” He gets a punch on the shoulder from Precilla. “Is that all you men can think of? Relationships aren’t formed in bed, you oaf! Couples need more than a quick roll in the hay, I’ll have you know. They need quiet moments for sharing thoughts more than they need anatomical athletics. And I’ll have you know: a gentle fingertip caressing the outline of a face is more sensual than all the gasps, grunts and sighs.”

“Don’t you worry, Precilla,” Fanny quickly defends her husband, “just the other day he brought me some flowers he found in the desert.”

“That’s my point, guys. You share things with your husbands. You wake up to find a true companion in bed with you. You spend your days thinking of new ways to make your partners happy. Now…Boggel doesn’t have that. I tell you: he’s lonely. Yes he’s got us, but that’s not the same.”

“I understand what you’re saying, Gertruida. Me? I get lonely too, but I have the memory of Siena, and that helps a lot. Poor Boggel doesn’t even have that.” Servaas finishes his beer and calls Boggel over for a new one.

“Boggel, is there anything we can do to help?” Gertruida is like this: she gets right to the point. Despite knowing this, Boggel is taken aback.

“What do you mean?”

“You’re moping. You look like Vrede when you take his food away; or Vetfaan, when his tractor breaks down again. We’re not used to you being like this, Boggel. We want to help.”

Boggel shrugs his uneven shoulders. No, thank you. He’s fine. Nothing wrong.

Testosterone is a terrible hormone: it makes men lie. Gertruida knows this and understands the fragility of the male ego, so she doesn’t pursue the matter. Only when he’s returned to his original place, does she start whispering to her companions.

“We must find somebody for him. Even if it is a temporary arrangement, that’s okay. But I can tell: he needs a bit of female attention – look, his hair isn’t combed and his socks don’t match. We have to come up with something.”

“Cheri! That girl with the fishnets! We can get her…?” Vetfaan starts, but an angry look from Kleinpiet silences him in mid-sentence.  “Then again, maybe Mevrou will object…” his voice trails off as his attempt to divert Fanny’s attention from Kleinpiet’s past history fails. The glowering look from his friend tells him to shut up immediately.

“If you are thinking to get somebody from the district, even from as far away as Grootdrink, I’m afraid we’ve got a problem. As far as I know, there’s only one unmarried woman nearby.” They all nod simultaneously. The widow Badenhorst…

They all know the story. Magrietjie managed to punch and kick her way out of three marriages before she married Albertus Badenhorst. A formidable woman of prodigious proportions, Magrietjie isn’t somebody to argue with. Yet, when she sets her mind on the next man to help keep her farm afloat, she is unusually successful. It is rumoured that her cooking skills proved that the road to a man’s heart runs through his stomach – amongst other things. Gertruida says she’s got some kind of split personality: the soft, caring one gets the men. The other one gets rid of them as soon as their funds dry up. 

Albertus apparently refused to buckle under, and withstood her moods with the patience that can only come from true love. Sadly, even his resolute determination wasn’t enough. The police could never prove that the mushrooms in the Pasta Alfredo were added with murder on her mind. Her defence was simple: he brought it home and she cooked the dish he loved so much. Oh, she said, she hates pasta – that’s why she ate lamb chops that evening.

“No, even if she’s the last woman…” The horrid look in Servaas’ eyes says it all.

“Then we’ll have to import a woman. It’s as simple as that.” Gertruida checks that Boggel is still far enough away. “Any Ideas?”

“You mean a mail-order bride? Like the Russians? I saw an advert in The Upington Post the other day.” Servaas’ hand flies to his mouth as the blush creeps up from his neck. “I-its  not that I was looking for something in the personal column at all, I only saw it by accident, you understand?”

They laugh at that, but the idea sticks. What if they got Boggel a mail-order bride? They can scan the photos, sift out the bad ones, and then decide on a finalist. Wouldn’t it be such fun to see Boggel happy again?

And so they all bid Boggel a sheepish goodbye to trudge off to Servaas’ cottage, where The Upington Post holds the key to Boggel’s happiness.

At least, that’s the idea.

Some people think Rolbos is an isolated little village sleeping amongst the heat waves of the Kalahari. How wrong can they be? Where love calls out in pain, the answer is never simple…

The Town Called Loneliness

Daily Prompt: Explain why you chose your blog’s title and what it means to you.

Evey day a big, hairy monster takes a bite out of you. Sometimes it is a nibble, sometimes a chunk, but nevertheless you end up with less of yourself whenever you go to bed at the end of the day. The monster is called Time – and there’s no escaping the reality of it’s hunger.

That’s why Rolbos is important. Rolbos (English: Tumbleweed) is a plant that sheds it’s upper parts (either the flower or the whole bush) which is then driven by the wind. It stops at obstacles. Fences, houses, other trees and bushes. They never end up where they started. And nobody can predict where the next one will come from, or where it’ll go.

Of course, like with all living creatures (and that even includes politicians), there is a reason why these plants end their days by rolling, rolling along over the endless plains of Life. They scatter seeds as they do so.  Mother Nature ensures that the many tiny seeds get spread over the widest possible terrain, in order to give the offspring the best chance to survive, The random rolling must surely give at least one little seed a friendly environment?

Surely?

And so successful has this strategy been that these simple plants outlived the dinosaurs. They go back to the very beginning. I am sure (have no proof thought) that there, in Eden, a humble Rolbos was hoping the winds of Life will eventually scatter some of it’s seeds near you, the reader.

In Rolbos town, we find different characters that have rolled into one another’s life. Their staying in Rolbos might seem as a random happening. And here, in Boggel’s Place, they swap stories and discuss current events. Their words carry the seeds of many ideals and sometimes even hope. Like the tumbleweed seeds, they hope to find fertile ground and a happy environment.

Rolbos has now been read in more than 100 countries. It has rolled into many lives. Sometimes, I am sure, the dried twigs were cleared away with hurried hands, having maybe touched the wrong nerve. Sometimes, too, the stories made people look at their own lives with questioning eyes. Hopefully, it caused a few smiles.

As the gusts carry the fragile structure of Rolbos onwards, we are reminded of our loneliness. Like the little seeds, we are individuals; loners trudging along. We scatter word-seeds and deed-seeds, touching the lives of those around us. Mostly (and sadly so) these seeds get ignored and won’t even sprout the green leaves of happiness when the season is right. But sometimes, sometimes, we plant something good in the lives of loved ones and strangers, leaving them with a smile and a twinkle in the eye. In true rolbos fashion, these acts and words ,may seem random, but they aren’t. The dinosaurs proved that even they – huge strong beasts – cannot compete when it comes to longevity. There’s a reason for rollling along.

So that is what Rolbos is all about. Spreading the global surface with a seemingly insignificant little seed, in the hope it’ll find a suitable place to settle and grow. It’s the oldest seed in the world. It’s also the loneliest seed in the world.

It’s called Love.

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.

The Road Back…

images (12)There hides – in the small hours of the night, especially in the Kalahari – a particular loneliness. It’s carried in the soft night-breeze; it travels with the last tendrils of smoke from the hard-wood embers. It reaches into the vague mistiness between being awake and sliding off to sleep. Those who seek out the vastness of the semi-arid desert on purpose, do so because they need to escape the background noise of the beast we call civilisation.  And some – let’s call them accidental visitors – experience this solitude as a world shrinking onto itself, until only the tormented soul and the overwhelming darkness fill the long hours before dawn. Long, cold hours; in which to hold up a mirror of doubt to inspect the deep and private recesses where we normally hate to go. Africa, in the most definite of terms, is not for everybody.

Dewald Fourie is an accidental visitor. He sits up; it’s useless to try to sleep. There’s an owl somewhere, hoo-hoo-ing every few minutes. The piercing cry of a jackal refuses silence the keys to the kingdom of stillness. And the pain in his ankle gnaws – like a diligent little rodent – at his thoughts; reminding him of the calamity he has brought on himself.

It started out innocently enough. A few beers, a group of young men, and too much testosterone –  a heady and dangerous mix that may produce hilarity and tragedy with equal ease. Oh, they thought it would be funny, of course. Strange. Weird. Something exceptional.

Lets go camping, somebody said, somewhere different. Like in a desert. And we’ll play a Survivor game. They all agreed it was a wonderful idea. Somebody must scout the area for a suitable location. We’ll draw lots.

And it was he, Dewald, slightly befuddled by beer and massively cheered on by alcohol, who drew the short match and was ceremonially blessed with several toasts, to embark on a fact-finding mission. It sounded important. It even sounded adventurous. And it certainly earned him the respect of the group when he promised to set off the next morning.

The children of the so-called Idle Rich are usually seen as a bunch of ne’er-do-goods; spoilt brats with a penchant for spending money they didn’t earn. While the label might be harsh and sound uncompromising, it certainly fits the group of intoxicated young men that got into their Lamborghini’s, Jaguars and sleek BMW’s after the party. Life is a never-ending challenge to be entertained, to have a ball, and enjoy the days of sublime laziness. The money comes from mines, inheritances, drug deals and lately: clever fathers who ride the BEE-corruption wagon with amazing dexterity. They, of course, would never stoop so low as to work for a salary.

Driving around in the Kalahari is somewhat different to choosing the fastest lane in Sandton. In fact, there are no lanes. No other cars. No daring pedestrians in death-defying dashes across the road. No beggars at the traffic lights, because there are no traffic lights.  The Kalahari boast many a track that has never seen any road-works at all. They develop because of necessity. At first these tracks are merely two lines of flattened dry grass, but over time they become two sandy lanes – and eventually a sandy strip of road. The evolution of roads in the desert does not require engineers and teams of idle road workers – they are self-invented and self-sustained.

That’s why the new Range Rover – one of the seven in his father’s stable – left the road. It was sandy.  The mathematics are simple: one sandy curve, one tipsy driver, infinite self-confidence and too much speed.  The final factor comes into reckoning then: deep sand, excessive cursing and a heavy foot on the accelerator. And Bingo! One stranded vehicle resting quietly on it’s chassis in the middle of nowhere. Dewald Fourie tried pushing and pulling the few tons of metal through the sand, failed, and kicked the vehicle in his rage and frustration. That’s how he injured his ankle. Joints used to resting on bar-stools shouldn’t be exposed to such harsh treatment. The vehicle didn’t even dent…and stayed stuck, of course.

!Ka doesn’t know much about spoilt children. In his culture, all children are equal and they all get treated the same. He’s been watching this one since the vehicle careened off the road. He saw the frustration and anger. What does it help, he wondered, to kick the stone you stumbled across? And to yell at a machine is as clever as trying to shout at the clouds dispersing in the hot sun. This young man, obviously, has no manners. In the San language, spoilt is used to describe meat that has matured too much, like carrion; it isn’t used as a description of humans. ‘Bad manners’ is as far as you can go on the scale of unacceptability in a Bushman village.

Well, he’ll just have to do his fatherly duty and talk to the young man. How else will he see the wrong in his ways, if an elder did not tell him how to act? Surely his parents must be dead, or away, or very ill – otherwise they would have taught him the right way. No, he can’t walk by and ignore this man. It isn’t the way to respect Life. Would he, as the oldest of his tribe, not have done the same for anybody in his family? This man, he decides, needs help.

He’ll wait for the moon to rise. The fire the young man had made is a pathetic example of how to go about it. The few twigs scarcely give enough light to see his face. If !Ka tried to approach him now, the man will most probably attack him. No, he’ll wait for enough light, and then hail the man from a distance, the way it should be done. The correct way. He’ll tell him he need not fear, as he simply wants to tell him about the correct way to handle his life.

Dewald Fourie watches the flames die down. He thought the twigs would have lasted longer… Glancing fearfully around, he decides the Range Rover is the warmer, safer place to spend the night.

When the door clunks closed, !Ka gets up. If a man has closed his shelter for the night, you do not disturb him. It is not done. That is bad manners.

Sometimes, !Ka decides, it is the solitude that has the loudest voice. Maybe, if that young man listens to it long enough, he’ll hear the words… He settles on a soft patch of sand. Tomorrow he’ll try again.

It is one of those nights you only get in Africa. The stars are brighter. The wind is softer. The distant roars, grunts, squeals, snorts, scuffles and plods are nearer. The orchestra of crickets is in full swing tonight, and the cicada choir joins in with gusto. The sounds soothe !Ka into a happy dream, filled with antelopes and trees, with white clouds promising rain.  Dewald, on the other hand, cannot sleep. The dragons and vampires and serial killers are out there, waiting to feed him to the cannibals. Electronic robots, controlled by dirty little men in blood-stained white coats, want to rip his eyes out the moment he falls asleep. They use them to open secret doors, just like on TV.

When the dawn settles the shadows in their rightful places, !Ka walks to the vehicle and sits down a few yards from the door. When the man appears, he must see he has a visitor.

***

The walk back to Vetfaan’s farm takes two days. The first day is spent in silence. Not even !Ka’s broken English seems to penetrate the shell of misery surrounding the young man. What promised to be an adventure – an episode to impress his friends – has turned into a nightmare. The grass hat !Ka has fashioned doesn’t stop him from turning an unhealthy red in the heat of the sun. He has to suck a vile-tasting tuber of sorts to quench his thirst. And the termites !Ka heated up on a rock next to the fire…it’ll take him a long time to get over that!

Then, on day two, !Ka decides he doesn’t care if the young man doesn’t want to talk. He’ll tell him anyway. Manners are important, no matter who you are. And what better way to make the time pass quickly, than to talk? So he does.

***

Back in the mansion overlooking the sprawling city of Johannesburg, the parents watch their son brooding on the patio.

“Ever since he came back from that stupid trip, he hasn’t been himself. Look at him! Just sitting there, staring into the distance. Maybe he must see my psychologist – she’s very good.”

“Cheer up, man. As soon as that sunburn has settled, he’ll be his old self again. “

“I hope so… Last night he said he wants to become a game ranger! Can you imagine him spending days in the veld? That’s ridiculous! I told him he had too much sun.”

“You’re right.” She sits back, studying her son through the window.”I know what to do. I’ll phone those friends of his. What he needs now, is a proper party. We’ll get that band he likes so much, and the caterers will make all his favourite snacks. That is exactly what he needs to get back on track.”

“Good idea.” The man gets up, stretches. “I’ll check the booze. We can’t let them run dry, can we now?”

***

There hides – in the small hours of the night, especially in the wild city-parties – a particular loneliness. It’s carried on the off-key notes of screaming electric guitars; it travels with the last tendrils of smoke from the hubbly-bubbly in the corner. It reaches into the vague mistiness between being awake and sliding off into drunken oblivion. Those who seek out the emptiness of this pseudo-existence on purpose, do so because they imagine the need to embrace the background noise of the beast we call civilisation.

It is sad.

Or, as !Ka would put it: ill-mannered.

But even !Ka would have applauded the bad manners of the young man walking away from the party that night. Sometimes, he’ll admit, being bad-mannered takes a lot of courage. Or loneliness. Or maybe both.