Tag Archives: marriage

Gertruida’s Unwedding. (#1)

4535793911_204x219Whenever you walk in to Boggel’s Place to find an icy silence, it’s best to make a sharp U-turn, take the steps down to Voortrekker Weg and go and sit on the old bench in front of the church. At least you’ll be able to enjoy a different type of quiet there and feel the sun warming up the day after a cold Kalahari night.

Today is one of those days.

Gertruida started it all by saying something about the president. Now – no matter from which side of the window you’re looking through, the view remains dismal; almost like the veld in winter. Moreover, after months and months of trying to be optimistic, the group in the bar finally gave up and chose to remain silent rather than rehashing all those previous conversations.

Realising her mistake, Gertruida sulks in her corner while the rest refuse to look in her direction. This is, as we all know, a typical Afrikaner way of going about difficult situations: if something really scratches the paint off your tractor, you either joke about it or remain silent.

Vetfaan arrives late after fixing the carburettor on his Massey Fergusson again this morning. He, too, is in a foul mood because the tractor still won’t start. He pushes open the door to Boggel’s Place, hoping to find his friends chatting happily about the weekend’s rugby. Instead, he is met with the stony silence following Gertruida’s remark. This doesn’t help to lift his mood.

Maybe that’s the way this Monday would have ended, too, if a run-down pickup didn’t rattle down Voortrekker Weg at that moment. Vetfaan does the obligatory U-turn to stare at the dilapidated vehicle as it trundles to a stop next to the church. He watches as a grizzled old man gets out, scratches at his unkempt grey hair and kicks the front wheel. Preferring to take a chance with the visitor, Vetfaan walks over.

“Trouble?”

“Ja, man. I’m fed up with this old thing.” He almost misses his next kick at the front wheel, recovers his balance and smiles apologetically. “I’m Herman Grove. Came all the way from Kimberley to see a lady called Gertruida. You wouldn’t know her, would you?”

“Of course I do. Why…what…?” Vetfaan doesn’t want to pry, but his curiosity gets the better of him.

“It seems she might be related to me, see? Apparently we’re married.”

This is enough to make Vetfaan smile.  Gertruida? Married to this old geezer? Now that’s something to get Boggel’s Place buzzing again. Taking Herman by the arm, he leads the new arrival to Boggel’s Place.

“Ladi-i-e-es and gentlemen! Please welcome Mister Herman Grove, the esteemed husband of our dear Gertruida! Boggel…a round on the house, please!”

You get the same reaction in the bar when South Africa loses to Japan. Disbelief, shock, horror and a tinge of cynical suspicion that this isn’t happening. What? Gertruida married? And she never breathed a word…?

“I-I-It’s not like that. Or at least, I d-don’t know.” Herman stammers. “I-I just had to find out, that’s all.”

“Harrumph! This isn’t funny, you guys!” Gertruida, sure that somebody wants to make fun of her, glares at the group. “Of all things…”

“Y-you’re Gertruida?”

“No, you prankster, I’m Joan of Arc. Pleased to meet you, I’m sure.” Even Boggel blanches at the tone of her voice.

“I-I’m sorry. But that’s what Home Affairs said when I wanted to renew my ID.  On their records they have it that we’re married. I don’t recall ever being married, you see? A few years ago I had an accident and developed a touch of amnesia – but it was a temporary thing and I thought I recovered completely. Now, Home Affairs are adamant that they’re right, so I suppose I could have forgotten. I-I’m so terribly sorry.”

For the first time in her life, Gertruida simply stands there, gaping, not knowing what to say.

“Married?”

“Yes, that’s what they told me. But I can’t remember, you see? It’s so confusing.”

Gertruida takes a deep breath, another long, good look at Herman, shakes her head and finally finds something sensible to say.

“Give me your ID, let me see.”

The new ID card with Herman’s name and details gets handed over. She stares at it for a long time.

“You’re much older than I am,” she says eventually.

“Yes…”

“But you have the same date of birth?”

And so they start to unravel the mystery. It soon transpires that they share a birthday, but that they were born a decade apart. Somehow old Herman never noticed that his ID number is wrong on the card.

“But that’s only the number, Gertruida? What about the wedding – did you forget that, too?” Vetfaan can’t stop smiling.

“They’ve bungled up the whole thing, man! Can’t you see? They gave this man the wrong ID number, and even managed to connect his number with mine, somehow.  According to them, he’s ten years younger and married – wrong on both accounts.”

“S-s-so we’re not betrothed? You sure?”

Oudoom, who has been following the conversation, starts sniggering. “I love this! If it’s of any help, I can unmarry you, Gertruida. How about it?”

It takes about an hour to sort things out. Gertruida phones Bertus Cronje, an old colleague from her days in National Intelligence, who gets hold of a senior official at Home Affairs. Yes, they’ve made a mistake. Yes, they’re sorry. They’ll send the correct ID card.

“And this nonsense of being married?” Gertruida’s relief is obvious, but she want’s to be sure.

“That…er…is more difficult.” The official tries to sound sympathetic. “We’ll have to check the records to see why this has happened, and that might take time. I’m sure we’ll set the record straight soon enough, though – but in the meantime the marriage seems to be official. However, as soon as we find out how this happened, a divorce could be arranged quite easily.”

“But. I’m. Not. Married. To. This. Man!” Despite her best efforts, Gertruida can’t keep her voice even.

“I understand your frustration, Madam. But I have to follow the correct channels. Please be patient.”

Gertruida slams down the phone and wipes an angry tear from her cheek.

“Don’t worry, dear, we’ll sort this out. T-together.”

Gertruida looks up into Herman’s kind eyes, Then she bursts out in tears.

(To be continued)

The Gates of Rolbos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It takes several minutes for the laughter to die down.

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

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

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

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

And yet…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(This song is a must-listen)

Crime and Forgiveness (Part 4)

“I don’t want a traditional wedding.” Precilla drops the bombshell after the third Cactus. “I know Oudoom will be upset, but the ceremony puts me off. I mean – why have a ceremony at all? And it’s not as if signing a register puts a seal on anything.”

Kleinpiet gapes at her. She can be quite strange if she wants to.

“Look, if one wants to be analytical: more than two-thirds of people who solemnly promise to be partners till death, eventually end up with a lawyer writing a letter to the spouse. That’s incredibly sad. So, my point is – getting married in church doesn’t guarantee a happy marriage. That’s why people all over the world draw up fancy contracts before they get married – in case it doesn’t work out. Now who, in their right minds, stands in front of a pulpit to swear about undying love – while there is a prenup in the drawer at home, in case somebody is lying? It doesn’t make sense.”

Kleinpiet takes a huge gulp of Cactus before saying anything. He’s already phoned Skelmsarel Swanepoel about a prenuptial agreement, and was waiting for the opportunity to arise to discuss it with Precilla. After all, his farm is worth a considerable amount of money – and she doesn’t have much to her name.

“Soo…what did you have in mind, Sweetie?”

“I thought we’d exchange vows in the desert – out there on your farm. Just the two of us. We can say what we feel in our hearts, promise whatever we feel is right, and declare ourselves to be married.”

“That’s not quite legal,” Gertruida says. “There’s got to be an officiating minister or magistrate – and witnesses. And it’s got to be recorded in Pretoria. Simply telling everybody you’re married doesn’t count. Even the President has to go though an elaborate ceremony every time he takes fancy to a new maiden. It’s the law.”

“That’s the point, Gertruida. People have made marriages cheap – worthless. And why? Because we’ve bogged weddings down in red tape. The more legislation you need to enforce something, the bigger the chance of failure. Every law leaves loopholes; and every loophole will find somebody and supply them with an excuse. No – I suppose its okay to legislate what marriage means, but you can’t legislate happiness. That’s something only you can decide: to be happy – or not. And if you really, really love somebody, you’ll aim for happiness.”

“This is so romantic, isn’t it, Boggle?” Lucinda pats Boggel’s hump. “To think you love somebody so much that you don’t need a ceremony to put on a show. In fact – you don’t need a show. You only need two people who love each other dearly.”

“Somebody will have to tell Oudoom. He’s been brushing up on the wedding ceremony – it’s been years since he married anybody. He can recite the funeral-thing without even glancing at the book; but he says he forgotten the marriage-story.” Vetfaan smiles wryly. “I often wonder how much value one can attach to a recited set of words. I mean – even at funerals – Oudoom just says the words. Bla-bla-fishpaste and let’s remember the dearly loved departed.  It’s just a silly set of words to tell everybody the Church recognises somebody isn’t going to tithe any more. For what? You’re right, Lucinda. It’s all a show.”

“Well, God knows if you love somebody. Or if you’re dead. I’m sure He doesn’t need a recitation to convince Him you’re married or stopped breathing. But … we need those ceremonies to make things official. You’re married. You’re dead. That sort of thing.” Judge signals for another beer. “Society needs these ceremonies to mark important events. In fact, without them, we’d be an extremely disorganised bunch of people. So, as far as I’m concerned, such ceremonies are more for the benefit of what we call civilised living, than anything else. We need State and Church to partner in these events, otherwise we’d have chaos.”

Precilla isn’t convinced. “Then what about people who have no state or church? There are millions living in deserts, forests, ice-bound countries and far-off places who live isolated lives. Life goes on without all the stuff we insist on. Babies get born and old people get buried and couples come together – without a priest or a magistrate in sight. You’re saying somebody can’t be dead if you don’t have papers to prove it. I’m saying it doesn’t matter what the documents say.”

 

***

On that Saturday, at dawn, Kleinpiet and Precilla walk to the crest of the low hill behind his cottage. He’s dressed in his everyday-clothes – the way she’ll see him every day as he works on the farm, or visits Boggel’s Place. She’s wearing her customary jeans and blouse, but she did compromise with some flowers in her hair.

They keep it simple. Kneeling in the soft sand – still cool from the night’s chill – each asks the same question. Do you promise? Three words, in an open-ended question. And, when both answered Yes, they kiss and watch the sun rise over the veld.

Kleinpiet is amazed at the emotion that wells up inside him. Sure, a church service with all the friends would have been great; and yes, it would have been wonderful to hear a blessing from Oudoom … but this – this – is so much more, so very sacred, so special. Closing his eyes, he feels a unity he’s never experienced before – Precilla, the veld, peace – it all seems to seep into his being to become one within his mind.

She doesn’t want the moment to end. She wants Kleinpiet at her side; just like this; forever. This is exactly what she wanted: a silent vow to spend the rest of her life in harmony with the man she loves.

The sound of a straining motor disturbs their reverie. Then, like a creature rising from the deep, the lorry from Kalahari Vervoer appears from below the hill, grinding and gnashing over the uneven surface towards them.

“What the….” But before Kleinpiet can figure it out, the lorry stops and Lucinda hops out. She rushes to the back, where she opens the huge doors.

They’re all there. Oudoom and Servaas and Gertruida and old Marco and Vetfaan and Sammie and Judge and even Vrede. Beaming broadly, Desmond Kruiper and his family follows – bringing little Nelson with them.

And there, in the early morning sun and surrounded by happy faces, Precilla and Kleinpiet fill in the register Oudoom has brought along. The townsfolk carry wood and coolboxes from the lorry to start the fire for the braai, while Boggel makes sure everybody has a glass of ice-cold Cactus in hand.

“We thought we’d have a quiet little ceremony…” Kleinpiet smiles his protest, but he knows it’s hopeless. Their wedding isn’t just an occasion for the two of them –  it’s something for the entire town.

Precilla holds a finger in front of her lips. “No, Kleinpiet, it’s exactly right. We get married and they celebrate – it’s a massive compliment.”

And so they discover that marriage isn’t just an exchange of words between two people – it’s a statement to society; a declaration of joy and beauty – one that should be celebrated in style.

And that, they did.

Later, much later, Precilla whispers: “I don’t have to go home.”

And Kleinpiet says the three words that mean everything: “You are home.”