The prompt today: Tell us the origin story of your best friend. How did you become friends? What is it that keeps your friendship rockin’ after all these years?
“It’s difficult to define the factors that keep friends being friends.” Servaas has that faraway look you only get after the sixth Cactus Jack. “Look at me: I’ve not kept a single friend for longer than a few months. That is, of course, with the exception of Siena.” He stares balefully at Oudoom, mutely challenging the reverend to take up the argument.
Now: everybody in Rolbos knows Servaas can become rather morose, especially when summer is on its way out end autumn chills the evenings. This is when you need a proper goose-feather duvet or a warm sleeping partner. Boggel smiles at the thought: he’s got Vrede, who loves snuggling in under the blankets when he thinks Boggel has dozed off. The presence of the old police dog is strangely comforting.
Servaas, however, is too stingy to buy a duvet and spends his winter nights in several layers of clothing under the threadbare blankets he and Siena got for a wedding present soon after WW II. This causes the old man to get up in the morning and grumble all day long. Then at night – like now – he sits in front of the hearth in Boggel’s Place, looking for somebody to argue with.
“Ag, you know Servaas,” Precilla takes up the challenge with a twinkle in her eyes, “I think Koos Kadawer likes you a lot. He’s forever staring at you with undisguised admiration.”
“Because I refuse to breathe out my last. Koos Kadawer doesn’t count. Undertakers only have lasting relationships with their customers, that’s all. And only afterwards, if you know what I mean.” Servaas orders the seventh, oblivious of the fact that she’s poking gentle fun with him.
“And what about Boggel? He likes your being alive. You must be one of his best customers, especially in wintertime. And the rest of us simply lo-o-o-ve you when you don’t dress up in that awful black suit.” Precilla doesn’t let up and continues in a whisper. “We’ve been thinking of buying you a nice suit for Christmas – a blue one. Maybe white.”
“You making jokes about me?” Servaas swivels around in his chair to fix her with a less-than-benevolent stare. “Respect your elders. Ask Oudoom: it says so in the Book.”
“Don’t drag me into this argument, Servaas. I sneaked in here for a quiet quickie. I’m still working on Sunday’s sermon and can’t stay too long. Mevrou will get suspicious.”
Boggel clears his throat as he serves the Cactus.
“Friendship is worse than love, Servaas. When you love somebody, you are obliged to endure everything with the loved one. Oudoom will tell you Love endures all. If revels in suffering. It forgives everything.
“But friendship? Now there’s a thing for you. It’s a choice. You don’t have to be a friend to anybody at all. Man, you can simply make friends and discard them as soon as they irritate you. I hear you can even push a button on this thing called Facebook, and presto! You’ve unfriended somebody. Bang! Just like that. People, to my thinking, are much better at unfriending others than working on being a good friend to a mate.
“And you know why? Because we take ourselves far too seriously, Servaas. You do something I don’t like, then my mind pushes the unfriend button in that mushy grey matter between my ears and that’s it…I don’t care any more. It’s so much easier than getting into your erstwhile friend’s shoes to see things the way he or she does. Oh no – we insist on being right all the time and that’s where things go completely wrong.
“You should think about that.”
This is – you’ll know if you are a regular in Boggel’s Place – an uncommonly long speech by the bent little man behind the counter. Boggel is usually an exceptional listener and will refrain from becoming involved in an argument.
“You mean it’s like Vrede?” Precilla is enjoying the bit of a spat. “Or we should be more doggy-like in our relationships?”
“That’s it!” Oudoom snaps his fingers. “That’s going to be my sermon on Sunday.” He uses his hands to write the theme in the air. “Love…Let us learn from the dogs.”
Vrede, who has been dozing next to the fire, lifts an ear and opens an eye. He knows – like all dogs do – exactly what the people are discussing. And he can’t understand – simply can’t understand – why people insist on being so unforgiving. It’s so stupid, really. The hand that you bark at today, is the same hand that feeds you biltong tomorrow. How difficult is that to understand?
Servaas goes ‘harrumph’ and lifts his glass. “Nobody,” he says ‘noborry‘, “can ever accuse me of taking myself too ser…seri…serioushly. So there.”
Vrede gives one of those growls. Not an angry one, understand, just one of those low-down grumbles dogs do when they pretend not to be laughing. Then he frowns, gets up, stre-ethches, and walks over to Boggel. He’s had enough of this.
Boggel looks down as Vrede gets up on his hind legs to rest his paws on the counter.
“Grmf, arfarf, grrr, yawl.”
Boggel gets it immediately. Vrede said he’ll sneak into old Servaas’ bed tonight. Snuggle real tight when the night wind brings in the cold in the small hours. And, if he does that, the patrons in the bar must club together and buy that duvet in Sammie’s shop. Tomorrow. Not a day later.
“What’s it with the dog?” Servaas peers at Vrede like only an inebriated man can: a combination of myopia and diplopia.
“Oh nothing, Servaas. Nothing much, that is. He says you’re going to be in a good mood tomorrow.”
Oudoom’s sermon will be a huge success. People will listen with serious expressions and nod here and there. They’ll tell him he’s a wonderful orator. And then they’ll go home, telling themselves that a preacher should be much more practical. He can’t, for heaven’s sake, expect them to lower themselves to canine standards, can he?
Dogs are so far down the evolutionary ladder, we can’t be expected to descend to such ignorance. We are the superior race, not so?
It’s only Vrede, who knows better, that’ll disagree. And until we all speak fluent Barkish, we won’t know how wrong we are.