Tag Archives: San

Happy Wind #13

Wound healing complications associated with lower limb amputation ‘The journey to the Northern Cape  was long and painful. CJ’s leg stump throbbed and the glands in his groin were swollen and tender. Near Upington he started sweating – when Francina placed a hand on his brow she glanced over at Geel. They both knew…’

Gertruida doesn’t have to tell them about the dangers. Molly (Loser’s wife) died of puerperal sepsis, didn’t she? ‘Blood poisoning’, the old folks called it – rather aptly, when one considers the pathology. ‘Geel reached over to the driver – another member of the Kruiper clan – and told him to step on it.’

***

Pure Cast Iron 3 legged Potjie size #2 Dutch Oven, Cauldron ... By the time they got to Oupa’s village, it was dark. Despite this, Oupa was waiting with a huge fire in the clearing in the middle of the circle of huts. A three-legged pot was steaming over some coals next to it. And next to Oupa, a grizzled old man – more wrinkles than anything else – was sitting on a magnificent Eland skin.

CJ Jnr stood behind Oupa. He had been prepared as well as Oupa could, but still the sight of his critically sick father was almost too much to bear. He fought to keep his emotions under control, straightened up and hugged his parents. Francina wept with joy – and with grief. How big her son had grown in just the few months! How tanned and healthy he seemed! And now, in the light of the fire, how terrible the sight of her husband; the deterioration over the last few hours had been dramatic and frightful.

Once a semblance of order had descended over the reunited family (Geel hadn’t seen Oupa for many months, as well) Oupa cleared his throat.

‘This here is !Garuksab, but we call him Andries. He is from the Original People, the parents of the Kruiper family.’ Geel translated smoothly. Oupa nodded his approval. ‘He had a dream, so he came here. He knew he’d be needed.’

***

‘Nobody knows how the San-people do this. Some call these clairvoyant members of the tribe shamans or witch doctors, but that is not correct.’ Gertruida, who likes to think she knows everything, tries to explain. ‘These people live near nature. In fact, if there is anybody on earth who understands the way of Time, of the seasons and of human nature, it will be found in the San culture. These ‘wise men’ as they are called, are able to imagine (or travel) different times – future or past. They are the keepers of oral history and the prophets of the future.

‘Westerners are skeptical of this, of course. It is because we’ve confused the term ‘modern’. We think smart cellphones and Space-X are modern. But…to really come to an understanding of Life and Nature and Time – now that is really modern. I’m afraid we, the Western civilisation, have lost the desire to explore the most important aspect of the Universe: the reason for time, for humans  – and for our relationship with Nature. Exploration shouldn’t be out there,’ she says, pointing, ‘but in here, where you feel the regular pulse of your heart.’  She places a hand on her chest, smiling sadly.

***

!Garuksab, also known as Andries, had ordered his two apprentices (nameless young men who have been with Andries for a few seasons) to lay CJ down in one of the huts. He lit a precious candle and told the older apprentice to remove the bandage on the stump. As layer after layer of bandage was removed, the cause of CJ’s deterioration became clear. Green pus stained the bandages. The remainder of the leg was grossly swollen and red. The stench made the younger apprentice gag – something which drew a hiss of disapproval from old Andries. He said a few words in a rapid sequence of clicks.

”Andries says there is bad blood under the skin. It needs to come out, he says. And tomorrow they will hunt for an Eland. It is a holy animal, but it is necessary to save a life.’

The Eland in San Rock Art PaintingsBy this time, little CJ Jnr had learnt not to question the older members of the tribe, but Francina had not. ‘How will an Eland save my husband? We need to get to a hospital. Can’t you see he’s dying?’

Andries smiled. He put a withered hand in to the pouch the younger apprentice carried. Took out what looked like a piece of root. He held this out to Francine. Clicked a few words.

‘Andries, he say, you must chew.’

Francina only woke up the next day, when the men were slaughtering the huge bull Eland.

To be continued…

 

 

Everybody has a You (#7)

thescientistThe events leading up to Dawid Loper’s visit to Vetfaan must be seen as one of those strange, inexplicable situations we all experience from time to time. If one tried to arrange these happenings in a logical fashion, it all seems to sound so farfetched and illogical – causing the sceptic to walk away with that superior smile that says one should not be so gullible and stupid: coincidences happen all the time, don’t they?

But in the Kalahari the people have long learnt to keep the doors of scepticism firmly closed. Oh, like Vladimir Nabokov, they retain a sense of humour when it comes to such things, and laugh at Gertruida when she quotes the great author when he writes: “A certain man once lost a diamond cuff-link in the wide blue sea, and twenty years later, on the exact day, a Friday apparently, he was eating a large fish – but there was no diamond inside. That’s what I like about coincidence.” But they also subscribe to Albert Einstein’s famous words: “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” Boggel says both these men grasped the deeper truth behind a coincidence: sometimes Life mixes up laughter and tears to make us realise we will never be able to explain everything. Sometimes, Oudoom says, Boggel has the uncanny and surprising ability to condense complicated issues like Faith into a single sentence.

When Dawid wioke up three mornings ago in his simple hut in the dunes, he watched an eagle flying high overhead. And he felt the tapping in his chest – that strange unease, telling him about somebody who needs help. Who it was, and where, he wasn’t certain at first, but later when he saw the spoor of an eland leading off to the east, the tapping became more intense. He followed those tracks to the rise on the small hill on Vetfaan’s farm, where he immediately understood: this was where he had to be.

Now, just after the group in the bar has fallen silent – he opens the door to Boggel’s Place.

“I heard,” he said, looking at Vetfaan.

Tsamma melons (Citrullus ecirrhosus). Sesriem. Namibia.In Western society it is considered rude to be eavesdropping. Not so with the Bushman tribes. To survive, you have to gather as much information about your circumstances as possible. Wind, weather, spoor and veld provide clues to where the next meal might be found. That, and what other’s say. A family member might mention the field of tsamma plants in a deserted valley, or talk about a water source a grandfather mentioned a long time ago. Knowledge ensures survival as much in the Kalahari as in the stock exchanges all over the world.

The major difference between the so-called modern world and the Busman? The latter have retained the ability to listen – really listen – to nature, to their surroundings and to other people. The art of shutting up and paying attention was lost when Man invented the telephone – an instrument invented because we needed technology to force others to listen. Of course, poor Mister Bell meant well, but it only made matters worse: the telephone in reality created a platform to mostly broadcast one’s desires. And just when we thought our ego-driven society had reached the bottom rung, along came Facebook. We talk, we want others to see and listen…but it’s generally a one-way street.

The small, yellow people of the Kalahari avoided this downward spiral in communication. They actually use their ears – under all circumstances. Even under the window of Boggel’s Place.

“You were listening at the window?”

Dawid nods – a little shyly, because he knows the strange ways of the white people: they have this obsession with privacy.

“Good, then I won’t have to explain.”

“I felt him, mister Vetfaan, felt him here.” He taps a stubby finger against the creased skin of his chest. “I didn’t know who, but the spoor led to your farm.So…I came.”

“And now, Dawid, do you ‘feel’ Boggel? Please help us, man?”

The Bushman slowly sits down on the floor, resting his head on his hands. The people in the bar remain completely silent while they watch the man as he starts rocking to and fro. At first inaudible, they later hear the monotonous tune he hums. Vetfaan holds a finger to his lips while he watches – he’s seen this before when Dawid helped him find the lost ram.

It seems to take a long time. After the excitement of Mary and Smartryk’s arrival and the terrible realisation that Boggel may be in mortal danger, it is almost impossible to sit quietly while watching the shrivelled old man. But they have to – and they do. Servaas and Oudoom exchange glances:  their way of thinking shies away from the mystical and unexplained…yet this may very well be their only hope of finding Boggel again. This, they realise, is not the time to voice their concerns.

Eventually – after what seemed like an eternity – Dawid starts tapping his chest. Slow, deep, thudding taps. His eyes are closed when he starts talking.

“Yes, I feel him. Mister Boggel. He is…far. And I think he is injured. And…he needs help.”

“Where is he, Dawid? Can you help us?”

Again the old man is silent for a few long minutes.

“Yes. We must go.” The tapping stops. He looks up. “Immediately.”

The would-be rescuers assemble everything they need in record time. Blankets, sleeping bags, Precilla’s first-aid kit, tinned food, water and – of course – a solid supply of Cactus Jack. This gets loaded into Vetfaan’s pickup and Sersant Dreyer’s police van. Somehow, they all squeeze into the vehicles and are set to go within an hour.

“Where to, Dawid?”

“”Beyond the dunes, Mister Vetfaan. Near the dry river bed, I know the place. – we call it Zosi Plain.”

Gertruida feels a pang of panic rising in her chest. As the only Rolbosser to understand some of the San language, she knows ‘Zosi’ means ‘those without hooves‘. In other words, dangerous people, like predators. The Bushmen, she knows, associate themselves closely with the animal kingdom, where the eland reigns supreme. And, if a man ‘has no hooves’, it implies that he – unlike the Bushmen – is coupled with hunting animal with paws and nails and canines.

“Tell me about Zosi Plain,” she prompts the old man gently.

“Many summers ago, Miss Gertruida, there were men with guns. Many guns. They were hunting other men. Some of my family got shot there.”

This, Gertruida thinks, must have been during the 1914 Rebellion, when some South Africans refused to fight in WW I. They remembered the Anglo-Boer war, the burnt farms and the 26,000 women and  children who died in the concentration camps – and refused to battle alongside their former enemy, the British. Some of the rebels fled to the Kalahari,but were pursued and hunted down before they reached German West Africa – the country we know today as Namibia.

“And what did you see – or feel – about this plain, Dawid?”

Dawid Loper stares at the horizon, where the shimmering heatwaves cause heaven and earth to mix in a hazy line where it is impossible to say where the one ends and the other starts.

“Mister Boggel is weak, Miss Gertruida. He is alone. But he has a Zosi following him. We must hurry.”

Although Vertfaan and Sersant Dreyer have a lot of  experience about driving in the deep, loose sand of the Kalahari, their progress is slow. When at last they stop for the night, Dawid tells them they have only gone as far as the hips – his way of estimating halfway. Despite the urgency, the group realises the futility of attempting to cross the dunes at night.

“First thing in the morning,” Vertfaan says, “we’ll be off. According to Dawid, we should be at the plain at about midday. That’s the best we can do.”

Smartryk nods. He’s seen the Kalahari from the air while flying, and realises how dangerous the place is.

“Mary,” he now says, “tomorrow we’ll find your Boggel, don’t you worry.”

And Mary Mitchell, the woman scorned for so long by men and life alike, looks up to the kind eyes of this strange man she’s just met. She’s aware of a weird feeling welling up inside her – a warm, comfortable sensation she can’t define accurately – and finds herself smiling. Here she is, in the middle of nowhere, with somebody she hardly knows. And yet…he’s been there all day, sitting quietly next to her. Just his presence, it seems, made it possible to face the last two days. He doesn’t speak much…but even his silence was enough, made her stronger.

“You’re such a sweet man, Ryk,” she says, choosing to omit the first part of his name. ‘Grief’, she reckons, should not be part of the way she thinks of him. She toys with the name, coming up with ‘Liefryk’, blushes at the silly thought, and looks away. “I really do appreciate…”

“Shhh.” He interrupts her gently by laying a finger on her lips. “Rest now. Tomorrow will be a long day…”

Fairytales, Antlions and Love.

Antlion1_by_Jonathan_Numer“Those creatures give me the creeps.” Precilla points at the little hollow next to the steps up to Boggel’s Place.  “I once saw a picture of one of them, and boy, are they ugly!”

“Well, they have a distinct disadvantage when you compare them to jackals and swans, if that’s what you’re getting at. But we mustn’t be harsh. When last did you see Boggel before he brushed his teeth in the morning? Man, now there’s a sight to scare small children with.” He’s teasing, of course. Kleinpiet actually likes the little bent barman a lot.

In the stifling heat of a typical Kalahari day, the townsfolk have assembled under the veranda in front of the bar, where Gertruida now stops fanning herself. 

Antlion_trap (1)“One must never underestimate Nature, guys. That little antlion has survived all the millennia to come and make it’s nest here.  There is evidence of antlion fossils dating back 150 million years! Droughts and floods, progress and war have not changed its lifestyle one bit. It’s a true survivor.”

“But it is rather primitive, won’t you say? It digs a hole, waits for an unsuspecting passer-by and then devours it. And, I heard, those jaws are quite poisonous. Got a venom in there that stuns its prey.”

“That’s right, Precilla. It sucks the victim dry, chucks out the hard bits, and lives on the fluid it gets in this way. Never drinks. And…it doesn’t have an anus. What it takes in, remains in. At least, until the change comes, it retains everything inside.”

“Ugh! That’s despicable! Imagine that? A lazy little blob, waiting at the bottom of the pit for a free meal…it sounds like the parliament, if you ask me.”

“Now there’s an unlikely comparison if ever I heard one! It takes the concept of bottom-feeder to a completely new level. A low level, I might add.”

Gertruida gets up to stand behind her chair. They all know she wants to deliver another lecture, so they quickly order another round. Gertruida can lecture the legs off a donkey when she’s in the mood.

“One of the most beautiful things in nature happens with that poor animal you so wrongly judge to be ugly. Sure, it’s got jaws. And sure, it has a bit of venom. And yes, it waits patiently at the bottom of the little pit it dug without hands or tools. 

“At least, it isn’t devious about what it’s doing. That hole is there for anyone to see. If you get trapped there, it’s because you weren’t paying attention. The antlion only does what it has to do.

“Now, consider the 2,000 species of insects in the family Myrmeleontida. They occur world-wide, but prefer to live under inhospitable circumstances. They don’t like a crowd, you see? They are called by many names: Little Dog of the Wood, Pit Elephant, Doodlebug, Little Armadillo and Vulture Louse. The Spanish call it Tonto – Little Bull – which always reminds me of the famous Indian in the cowboy stories.

“What is interesting, is the little pit you observe down there. That’s made by a larva – the baby that emerged from the egg it’s mother laid. At first, it practices its trade from a small pit, catching small prey. As it grows, it makes larger and larger pits to catch more appetising meals. 

“But it is completely defenceless, as you can see. The little pit is exposed to wind and rain and anything that treads, trots or slithers across it. Whenever the pit is destroyed, the antlion simply constructs a new one. It has to, to get to the next stage.”

“What next stage?” Vetfaan has seen large areas of the Kalahari with these little pits, and never thought much about it. An antlion is an antlion – you don’t end up studying them, for goodness sakes! Now, with Gertruida in full cry, he is strangely intrigued.

“Well, they evolve, you see. Once the larval stage is over, they turn into lacewings.”

424px-Antlion_life_cycle.svgWarming to her subject, she tells them how the helpless, ugly creature becomes a little silk-lined cocoon. After a month of so in this pupal stage, they finally emerge as an adult insect.

“The transformation is remarkable. The helpless, immature larva emerges from the cocoon as a beautiful little animal, much larger than the antlion, it is able to fly.  People often confuse them with dragonflies, unless they pay attention to the clubbed antennae of the lacewing.

“Mostly nocturnal, they even get swatted by people who take them to be largish mosquitoes. 

“So, my friends, don’t look down on that hapless creature surviving below the surface in that hole. It’s really trying to find a way to become what it should be: a flying beauty.”

Ever the romantic, Precilla smiles shyly.

“Wow! At first an egg. Then an ugly larva – and then, under the right circumstances, it spreads its wings to discover a completely different way of living. That’s so sweet!”

Distoleon_tetragrammicus01Gertruida isn’t finished yet. “There is a fable, Precilla, about these antlions. A small group of San people say that ithey represent the way it is with men and women. They revere the antlion as a sort of good luck sign. You see, they say we are all born to be helpless and then we try to fight our way through life. But…as we all find out, it is often through many trials and tribulations that we realise we have the ability to fly. We can leave the pit of selfish existence to spread our wings in search of a mate. When those San people see the the fluttering lacewings, they tell each other about a better life; a life where they find freedom and love. To them, an antlion is a sign of love.”

They watch as an ant tumbles down the steep side of the pit. The waiting antlion pounces immediately, dragging it’s prey below the surface.

“Ugh,” Precilla says.

“It’ll fly one day,” Gertruida smiles, “become something beautiful.”

“Like love, Gertruida?” Vetfaan doesn’t get it.

“Exactly, Vetfaan. Antlions are Mother Nature’s fairytale. It’s the story of Cinderella who gets rescued from hardship. Or Sleeping Beauty who wakes up. Even…Pinocchio who gets to feel what it is to be alive. The beast, turning into beauty. Love does that, my friend. It is only once we discover the wings of love that we finally discover the wonder of flight.”

Boggel gets up put an empty bottle near the antlion’s pit.

“Just so we don’t step on it accidentally,” he explains. “Even an antlion needs some protection sometimes.  It’s the least we can do.”

Gertruida smiles quietly. Yes, she thinks, love is such a vulnerable thing

Weekly Photo Challenge: Monuments in the Veld

Long before Diaz, Da Gama and Van Riebeeck set foot on Southern Africa soil, there were people here – The First People. And they left monuments in the form of petroglyphs to remind us of the delicate balance in Nature.

a1

The First People regarded the rhino with awe, and even then realised how important it is for later generations to respect the presence of these huge creatures in Nature.

Some animals are depicted as 'getting out of the rock', like this Eland. It s still trapped in the spirit world, waiting for the dream to become reality.

Some animals were depicted as ‘getting out of the rock’, like this Eland. It s still trapped in the spirit world, waiting for the dream to become reality.

They were great artists, leaving us wonderful pictures on their stone monuments.

They were great artists, leaving us wonderful pictures on their stone monuments.

Did they write us a letter in a language we don't understand? Or were they aware of...other things? Distant galaxies perhaps? Foreign visitors?

Did they write us a letter in a language we don’t understand? Or were they aware of…other things? Distant galaxies perhaps? Foreign visitors?

These stones now are scattered across the veld in the Northern Cape; a monument seldom visited and it’s powerful messages lost in translation.  Maybe one day, after the nuclear dust has settled and the last plastic bottle finally decayed, it’ll remain as a reminder of how Man once respected his surroundings…

Gert Smit’s Tomatoes (# 18)

bushman_guide-682x1024…And of course, that’s where Gertruida stops telling the story. Just there, with the red tomatoes in !Ka’s hand. Just when he asked her help to find somebody. Leaving Vetfaan exasperated, confused, irritated and angry.

“Then what? You can’t stop it there, dammit! What happened then?”

Gertruida says a good story ends with a question. At least, in real life, it does. Whatever has happened before simply brings the story to a point in time when telling more is unnecessary. But, she asks, since when does Life work up to an ending? Nothing ever stops completely. The bottom line of: and the lived happily ever after, only happens in fairy tales. We all know that, don’t we?

We live a never-ending story, and for those of us who believe, even death isn’t the final full stop. Our stories continue in the lives we have effected in so many ways – some small, indeed – but others in a more remarkable way.

So she simply smiles and tells Vetfaan to make up his own ending for the time being, just like we all do, every day.

Anyway, she says, they’ll all have to wait to see how it ends. “This story isn’t finished yet, Vetfaan. Not yet.”

***

Gertruida doesn’t say anything about her further discussion with !KA. Not a word about how he discovered the tomatoes and later – cautiously, carefully – the two people living nearby. This happened, – oh, how many seasons ago – when he stumbled across the little fountain while he was tracking a klipspringer.

And she tells nothing about the strange friendship that developed after that.

***

Gert and Lettie lived in their tree-cave, quite content with their circumstances. They were safe, had enough to eat and drink, and never considered returning to civilisation. Captive, in a strange way…

At first it had been the fear that the war wasn’t over and that Gert would have to go to jail; but as the seasons rolled by, they simply settled into a comfortable existence where all their needs were catered for. They had each other, and that seemed quite enough. Yes, they said over many a campfire at night: why return to the madness people call civilisation,  when they have love and tranquility right there?

And then, one morning, they found !Ka sitting – cross-legged – outside their dwelling as if he’d always been there. At that stage !Ka command of English was rather poor, but still the two parties soon established that the one meant no harm to the other.

Some people may have considered !Ka to be primitive, but that wasn’t true, of course. In exchange for tomatoes, he taught Gert more about tracking, digging for roots and tubers and showed Lettie how to use the skins of animals to make soft, comfortable clothes and shoes. Gert learnt a little about the difficult San language. !Ka readily memorised many English words.

!K a didn’t stay with them. That would have been rude, He visited them often, though – not only for tomatoes, but also because Gert was a very proficient hunter and meat was always plentiful. Their friendship grew.

As soon as they could communicate relatively freely, Gert impressed on the little yellow man the importance of secrecy.

“Look, I was in the army,” he said. !Ka knew about the army. Some of his family were recruited to be trackers up north. “The war…wasn’t good.” !Ka understood that as well. Many Bushmen who helped the army, were left destitute after the war. “I didn’t want to kill somebody. So I came here. Nobody must know.”

“Nobody?” !Ka couldn’t figure it out. San people always supported each other, no matter what the circumstances were.

“Nobody. Especially not people with my skin.” Gert lifted his shirt to expose the untanned skin. “Like this. They’d want to hunt me.”

!Ka, like his family, understood the plight of the hunted. For generations they have been chased, killed, imprisoned – just because they were Bushmen. All ‘other’ peoples did that; black and white. That’s why the Bushmen chose to live where ‘others’ can’t. The desert became their keeper of secrets and sanctuary – and now he would honour his two new friends in the same way.

Besides, he liked the two strange pale people who made the Baobab their home. Did they not, when !Tung became ill, give him powerful medicine that took the fever away? And did they not share their meat when Gert hunted? How else could he repay Lettie for the needle and thread she gave him – without expecting anything back? No, their secret would be safe. He wouldn’t even whisper a word to Vetfaan and Kleinpiet on the rare occasions they met.

And so it stayed.

Until Gert got ill.

It was a strange sickness, which he first noticed when he stepped on a thorn and the wound wouldn’t stop bleeding. Lettie applied a poultice and a pressure bandage, but to no avail. !Ka suggested putting raw liver on the little wound, and that stemmed the drops of blood. Not thinking about it much, Gert went out hunting again the next morning. This time, his nose started bleeding for no reason at all.

Lettie then looked at her husband critically for the first time in many months. We all know the situation: you live with somebody and eventually don’t notice the small changes we all experience as time passes. Only then did she notice the pallor, the weight loss. Why hadn’t she picked it up before? Yes, he lost two teeth last month, but so had she – albeit only one. And his hair? What happened to his hair? And yes, he had been tired lately…unnaturally so.

That’s when Lettie took !Ka for a walk to the garden, where the little patch of tomatoes thrived under their canopy of thorn branches.

“You have to get a message out, !Ka. We need help. My father. He has to come. Please…”

***

Gertruida sat, open-mouthed, as !Ka told the story of the two white people he had befriended out in the desert. The Kalahari is a vast place, yes, she knew that, but for two people to live there…for almost forty years? They must be in their sixties at least! And if Letties father still lived, he must be well over eighty?

“How is this man, Gert? Is he…okay?”

“He still hunts, Miss Gertruida, but the bullets have long since been finished. He hunts with a bow and arrows, like me. Only, he comes home with a rabbit or a very small buck these days. Once, he brought a tortoise. I do most of the hunting now. Miss Gertruida, I think he’s dying…”

***

Gertruida phoned an old contact from her time in National Intelligence. Within an hour she had an address for Brigadier Gericke, Huis Vergenoeg, on Beauford West. Another telephone call confirmed that yes, this had been the Major in Fort Doppies, and that he was one of the more ‘difficult’ old men in the old age home.

“Are you family?” The young voice at the other end seemed excited. “We need a break, madam. Really. The Brigadier is too much. Just last night he chased old captain Starke right around the home, because Starke said General Viljoen was a coward and a sell-out. We had to lock them both in their rooms for the whole night. Please Madam, come and take him, even if it’s just for a few days…”

Gericke was much more forthcoming when he got on the phone. Without waiting to hear what the call is about, he launched straight into a tirade.

“If this is about that damn fool Starke, I can tell you he can count himself lucky my arthritis has been acting up lately. If I caught that man, I would have moered his false teeth right back to his hemorrhoids. And I’m not sorry. Don’t expect me to apologise.”

It took more than an hour to get the old man to grasp fully what the call is all about. He asked a million questions, of which Gertruida could answer only a few. In the end, he understood: his daughter is alive! Alive!

Sobbing, he told Gertruida to expect him the next morning.

Bianca (# 10)

338-lapua-magnum-bolt-action-rifle

.338 Lapua Magnum Bolt Action Rifle

The assassin watches the spinning vehicle disappear in a cloud of dust before closing the cap of the scope on his Lapua. He knows his shot went true.

How many times has he done this? And every time it gets a bit easier. Accommodate the speed of the vehicle, the ambient temperature, the time of day, humidity, wind….and that instinctive feeling that he must aim there. Just there. Steady. Squeeze the trigger ever so gently. Know…

His is a rare gift – and one he gets well paid for. Balancing the rifle in his grip, he sets off on a loping run towards the place where he’s left his vehicle. Time to get out. His friend, the tracker , will have to sort himself out. They both know the rules of this game…

***

Titan SS silencer

Titan SS silencer

The group in the bar doesn’t hear the shot, of course. The ultra-efficient Titan SS silencer sorted out the sound.  In the unnatural silence prevailing in the bar, only Vrede picks up the sonic effect of the 250 gram bullet travelling at 3000 feet per second. He sits up abruptly, growling at the evil in that almost-imperceptible shock wave.

Then the sound of the vehicle’s horn reaches Boggel’s place. Long. Drawn-out. Persistent.

“That’s my Land Rover!” Kleinpiet jumps up, upsetting his beer. “Something is wrong.”

Boggel’s Place is renowned for it’s debates. What carburettor is best for Vetfaan’s tractor? Which year was the driest? Who is worse: Mugabe or Zuma? What percentage of the vote will the ANC lose in the 2014 election? Given a juicy subject, the townsfolk can discuss a subject for hours at end.

But not this time.

When Kleinpiet jumps up, they all follow his determined jog down Voortrekker Weg. There, clear for all to see, a cloud of dust is visible on the road just outside town.

“No! No-no-no-no…!” Kleinpiet’s agonised shouts spur them on as they rush towards the crash site.

***

The Land Rover, still upright, stands slewed at the edge of the road. Kleinpiet is first on the scene, skids to a halt, and yanks open the driver’s door. For a moment he can’t make sense it all.

Precilla sits, slumped forward, her head resting on the steering wheel. When he lifts her head, the hooter stops. The apparently lifeless body of Bianca is crammed in the footwell on the passenger side. The only sound comes from the back. It’s a muffled ‘Owww!‘ from Servaas, who’s slipped from the seat.

“Precilla! Precilla!” Kleinpiet doesn’t know what to do, frozen in panic.

“Wait.” Gertruida pushes him to one side. “Let me have a look.”

Vetfaan helps her to lift Precilla from the vehicle and to lie her down in the shade next to it.

“She’s breathing…” Gertruida feels for a pulse. “And she’s going to be allright.”

Kleinpiet kneels next to her. “What..what happened?”

By now Boggel and Oudoom is busy on the other side of the Land Rover. Getting Bianca out proves the rather difficult, but they manage.

“Let’s get her out of the sun – help me drag her to Precilla’s side.” Boggel waits for Oudoom to get a good grip on Bianca’s arm before they combine efforts to move the woman.

“What about me?” Servaas’s plaintive voice seems unnaturally hard.

Gertruida looks up sharply. “Are you hurt?”

“No. Yes. Well, I’m okay, I think.”

“Well then, get out, you bloody old fool. We’re busy.”

Precilla coughs, opens her eyes and stares at the bystanders in total confusion.

“Shhh…you’re okay, Precilla.”

“But….but… Bianca! The glass broke. What happened?”

“We were shot at…” Bianca sits up, shakes her head. “Shot at. That’s what.”

***

Sergeant Dreyer figures it out. “Look, this is the trajectory.” He points to the hole in the head rest. “The shooter missed the back of Bianca’s head with a mere inch. The bullet travelled through the head rest, over Servaas, and exited through the window over there.” He points to the other broken window. “You ladies were travelling along, only affording him a moving target. Sure, he missed, but he sure as nuts can shoot.”

Vetfaan holds up a hand to silence the policeman. “Listen…”

They all hear it. The grinding of a starter,…yhow-yhow-yhow…carries towards them on the slight breeze.

“It’s that bastard! He’s gone back to his vehicle! He’s getting away!” Kleinpiet. “We have to stop him.”

“Relax, Kleinpiet.” Boggel smiles for the first time today. “He won’t get far. I borrowed the distributor cap. Thought it might fit Vetfaan’s tractor.”

***

How does news travel in the desert? Western cultures will never understand the way nomadic people seem to have some sort of connection with distant relatives and friends. If Grandpa dies, the rest of the tribe instinctively returns home. When a baby is born, relatives arrive for the feast. They have no telephones, no radio…and yet…

So…how on earth did !Ka know about the threat to Rolbos? Coincidence? Fate? Or this inexplicable ability of the San people to understand Life and Nature better than the most skilled scientist? When Fanny first arrived in Rolbos, she and !Ka developed a mutual respect and friendship; and true to his culture, !Ka will never ignore a friend in need.

Later, much later, when Vetfaan asks !Ka why he walked to Rolbos on that day, at that time, exactly then – !Ka simply smiles and shrugs. “I had to,”

So now, on this day, at this time, exactly now, !Ka watches the man with the long gun get out of his vehicle to open the bonnet. !Ka doesn’t know the man, but the muscles in his strong legs contract – like they always do when danger is near. He settles down behind one of the stubby bushes to watch.

The man peers under the bonnet. The man curses loudly. The man stands still for a while. Then, slinging the rather large gun over his shoulder, he starts walking towards town.

Now, !Ka will tell you: there are many ways of walking. People can amble, shuffle, step, wander, march, rove, roam, hike, traipse, tread, patrol, scout, tiptoe, stamp. stagger, plod, trudge, trundle, pace, stride, glide, swagger, strut, or simply move on. Each word implies a certain way of placing one foot in front of the other, and each one has a message.

This man is stalking. He’s got a gun and he’s using every available cover to shield the town from seeing him. !Ka reads the message as clearly as he does the spoor of a duiker.

!Ka has seen enough. Moving silently, he takes one of his special arrows from the quiver, slots it into the rawhide bow string, and takes careful aim. Just like the assassin did, he’s taken into consideration the time of day, the wind, the movement of his prey.

The arrow flies in the perfect arc to hit the man in the exposed skin on the back of his neck.

Disregarding the stream of curses from the man, !Ka settles down behind a rock to wait.

It won’t be long now…

  

The Fable of the Grass and the Rain

images (14)“International politics – even local politics – is like a sordid and doomed love affair. Or like the clouds building up, and building up, with the promise of rain that’ll never come. People say things they don’t mean, show feelings they don’t feel, and say words they wouldn’t if they were honest. It’s all about getting what you want, and not caring about the rest. False promises, lies, and lots of video tape.”

“Gee, Gertruida, that’s harsh. Mister Obama seems such a nice man.”

Seeming to be nice is what it’s all about, Kleinpiet. It’s an illusion; strangers in the night, making promises they know they won’t keep… It reminds me of the Fable of the Rain and the Grass.”

images (13)Of course she waits. This is one of !Ka’s stories – something he told her one day while she showed him how to condense the evaporated water from vegetation on a plastic sheet. He said the story s an old one, and an apt reward for a new skill. Still, the pause causes a sense of huge satisfaction and she enjoys every second of her audience’s curiosity.

“Soooo…?” Boggel prompts her.

A long time ago, the Kalahari was a green pasture with many trees and tall grass.  Great Eland came here to enjoy the lush vegetation, grow fat and be content with the safe surroundings. And the Eland multiplied and became more and more, for the veld supplied all they needed and the grass was sweet and the water was plentiful.

eland_rctb-1155But the Eland wanted more. They became numerous and fat, yet they complained as they chewed the grass, demanding more and more as each day passed. And the grass cried out, saying this is unfair, they need more water to grow faster. Then the grass sent a bird to the clouds, demanding more rain; for how must they supply food to all these animals if the rain limited their growth?

Well, the clouds listened to the bird, and called a meeting.

‘Ah,’ Thundercloud said, ‘it takes a lot of energy to make all that lightning. Somebody has to pay. I can’t do it all by myself.’

‘Sure thing.’ This was Frivolous Cloud, the joker of them all. He usually rolled across the sky, raising false hopes. ‘I can keep on rolling by, you only have to follow me.’

Grumble Cloud, Thundercloud’s personal Imbongi, sighed. ‘ No, I demand more recognition. I’m always the fool to lead others to the spot where they then get all the honour and praise. I’m fed up. If I’m not allowed to rain – and be praised for my efforts – then I refuse to cooperate.’

‘It’s your ego.’ The disgust was clearly visible on Fleecy Cloud’s face. She’s the sexy one everybody else was chasing all the time. ‘You only want the glory, but you don’t want to do the work.’

‘And what about you? You try to look glamorous all the time, and that’s all there is to you. All face and no effort. Tell me: when last did you rain, anyway?’ Grumble let out a few deep-throated rumbles – his signature sound which everybody knew meant nothing.

That’s when Cumulus Cloud held up the regal column of authority.

‘Stop it, and stop it now. I hereby decree that you all be banned from the Kalahari. Because you are so consumed with pride, you shall venture there no longer. The grass will die. Only the hardiest succulents will survive on the few drops I choose to allow there; when it pleases me to do so. The rest of you shall not cooperate in this region any longer. If you venture this way, it’ll be as single clouds – no longer as a team.

27015‘And you know what’ll happen? All the Eland that used to feed here, will leave. They’ll tell each other what a horrible place this has become and seek new pastures. Only the Gemsbok will remain to guard this place. I shall supply him with two spears as horns, so long and so sharp, that no other animal will dare challenge him. As for the Eland, I’ll give him short, strange horns as a sign of how much his greed has cost him.

‘As for the land, I’ll leave the scorpions and snakes to live there, to remind people about the dangerous poison contained in the acts of greed.’

Cumulus rose high, evaporating as it approached its father, the Sun.

And the Kalahari became a desert.

As usual, an uncomfortable silence follows Gertruida’s speech. She has a way of making the customers in Boggel’s Place stop their humorous banter by forcing reality back into the confines of the small bar.

“I don’t understand,” Servaas bunches his bushy brows together in a puzzled look, “what has this to do with politics and Obama and South Africa?”

“Everything, dear Servaas, everything. There is too little grass. Too many fat Eland. And, because trade unions – they guys that have to ensure continued and improved production – are constantly fighting about higher wages and shorter hours and not doing what they’re supposed to do.

“So Obama came here, made all the right noises, and left. Do you think anything is going to change?” Gertruida sighs as she signals for a new drink. “When the Obamas and the helicopters and the CIA leave to continue their trip through Africa, they’ll leave South Africa just like they found us – a desert  where hope used to grow.

“The Kalahari is fortunate. The Gemsbok still survive there, but in the rest of the country they were poached by Corruption.”

***

Way out in the desert, near The Valley of the Buried Wagon, a lone Oryx sips the brackish water from a secret pool next to a rock. Straightening up, it sniffs the air.

It won’t rain soon…

Fanny’s Surprise (# 2)

“You could’ve said something.” Fanny snuggles in under Henry’s shoulder to hug him. “That was the most unselfish thing anybody had ever done for me. Except maybe for the !Ka family and the Rolbossers…I think these three rank in the top spots.”

Henry blushes and swallows. Since Fanny came back, she’s such a changed person! The overweight, shy person;  simply noticeable because of her wealthy father; has turned into somebody with poise and grace, a speaker of note, a researcher who earned her PhD with distinction. Sometimes he feels inadequate to manage a relationship with such a magnificent person, but the combination of the two family fortunes beckoned. How could he ignore that? That’s why he’s taken private classes in public speaking, started a course in martial arts and resumed his interest in becoming a pilot. He’ll pop out his shell and match her step for step.

The letter from Gertruida was so convincing; she painted the Kalahari in such vivid terms and her suggestion that he swapped the CD’S to show the raw, unedited pictures of this arid region and all its peoples, 

“When did you think the project must start?” She raises an eyebrow as she studies his face. As she expected, the Roman nose twitches, mouse-like.

“I had a look at the donated figures, and it is quite astounding. There’s more than enough to start the planning phase immediately. Then there are several promises for future donations to ensure the sustainability of the project. We’ll be able to build two schools, at least one hospital, get in some infrastructure. The coverage of the goodwill shown by the conglomerates will generate the consumer confidence big companies need to maintain their customer base. Yes, the sooner we start, the better.”

“It sounds great, Henry – especially the bit about the infrastructure. But…that would mean roads, houses, water. Are you sure this is viable? I mean…it is such a lot of things.”

“Oh, I’ll get a team on it, believe me. The best engineers, scientists, architects – everything. The provisional idea is to make this project absolutely eco-friendly. You’ll see, everybody will be proud to be associated with this.”

The limousine stops at her father’s house and she gets out lightly. Henry escorts her to the door and plants a clumsy, wet kiss on her proffered cheek.

*

 “She’s coming back!” Vetfaan almost trips as he storms into Boggel’s Place. “Look, a telegram came! She’ll be here next week already!” He sighs happily as he sits down at the beer Boggel slides across the counter. “I can’t believe it…”

“Vetfaan,” Gertruida lays a soft hand on his shoulder, “you must remember she’s spoken for, now. You’ll have to respect that.”

“Ja, I know. And she says that Henry fellow will be coming out here as well. But,” he shakes his head in wonder, “I can’t understand how this all happened. I never thought she’d be back.”

“Oh, you know how it is.” Gertruida can look particularly innocent if she wants to. “Life happens while you’re planning other things, I always say.”

“Well, I think it’s a miracle. It’s not that I want to pursue anything specifically with Fanny, it’s just that I thought never seeing her again would be such a bad thing. Even !Ka asked after her the other day. Said he misses having her around. She’s that type of person, see? Everybody likes her.”

“So do I,” Boggel nods his agreement, “she used to be a heap of fun when she was around.”

 *

“!Ka, that woman is coming back.” !Tung, the old woman with the almost-blind eyes stare into the fire. This is the third night they’re spending on this spot; they’ll have to move on again soon. The veld has been stripped of berries and tubers – a new camp must be found with enough food around it. “…And tomorrow you’ll find the springbuck over the-e-ere.” She waves a wrinkled hand in the general direction of  the horizon. “You’ll have to start before sunup to get him.”

!Ka shakes his head in wonder. She’s been around since he was a child still, and even then she looked old.  She knows more about the desert than everybody else. More impressive, however, is her ability to foretell events. Even she’s not sure where these thoughts come from; but her mother had it, too. So did her grandmothers as far back as people can remember. Every month, when the moon is full, each member of the clan must recite the bit of history he was entrusted with. The rest of the clan – who knows these history-poem-songs by heart – will criticise any mistakes made. In doing so, they ensure the oral history stays fresh and accurate.

In all the years !Tung has had her story told by one of the younger members of the family, the bottom line remains: she, like her forebears, have been amazingly accurate. She knew when droughts were coming, when to hide from others, when death or pregnancy would occur.

!Ka knows he’ll find an antelope the next morning, but the story of the woman?

“The white one that stayed with us. She’s coming back”

!Ka claps his hands in joy. !Tung holds up a hand.

“And I see death. It is coming…”

Vetfaan’s Surprise (# 6)

The legendary ‘White Woman’, who lived with the San centuries ago.

“Hey, Vetfaan! We’ve missed you! Where’s the fat lady?”

Vetfaan has just walked into Boggel’s Place and is dusting his pants with his wide-brimmed hat. The words stop him in his tracks. Fanny…he hasn’t been thinking about her as being fat ever since the funeral in the dunes. It’s as if he saw her in a completely different way after she sang Danny Boy at the graveside.

“I left Fanny with !Ka. She wants to spend time with him and his family for a while. Gimme a beer.” He hesitates a second before turning to Kleinpiet. “Her name is Fanny. Stop calling her a fat lady. Show some respect.”

“Whoa, big guy! Just asking, that’s all.” Kleinpiet sulks for a while. Vetfaan doesn’t normally react like this. “Sorry, man. Soo…is she okay?”

Vetfaan glances at his friend and nods. “I’m sorry, too. Yes, she’ll be fine. Let me tell you what happened…”

By the time Vetfaan finishes the story, Boggel’s Place is packed. Even Mevrou sneaked in to hear about the trip.

“…so I left her there. She had one of those bulky suitcases, a sleeping bag and some provisions. I’ve never seen anybody that happy in a long time. !Ka said three moons. I must fetch her at that tree again in three months time, at full moon. He said I mustn’t worry, he’ll look after her well. And that, my friends, is that.”

“Do you think she’s taken a fancy in old !Ka?” Precilla’s question makes Vetfaan swallow twice before he answers.

“Yes. She likes him very much. But…put away the lecherous thoughts guys. !Ka is an old, happily married man. I’ve met his wife – she’s just as sweet. I think !Ka welcomes the opportunity to teach her about his culture, and he realises the value of it being written down. You know the Bushmen are on the verge of extinction; he wants to leave something – anything – behind, so that future generations may at least know about their history and culture.”

****

A week after Fanny was deposited in Boggel’s Place, Sally Sheppard and the TV crew arrive to do the follow-up shoot on the progress Fanny has made with Vetfaan.

“What do you mean – she’s in the desert with some nomad?” Sally’s shocked tones echo down Voortrekker Weg. “You didn’t just leave her out there to fend for herself, did you?” Vetfaan’s impassive face tells the story. If Sally wants to believe that Fanny is roaming about in the arid landscape accompanied by a family of uneducated nobodies, it’s her problem. “How could you do this to me? We’ve spent thousands to do this episode. A fat academic woman and a simple rural farmer! The viewers would have loved to see a farce like that! It would have been sensational! Sophisticated London girl meets the Kalahari Joker. It was a recipe for a disaster – no script necessary, just the drama of two incompatible worlds colliding. The ratings would have soared!

“And now you’ve allowed the only daughter of the main sponsor to wander off with a man you don’t even know the surname of! Damn it Vetfaan, you’ve ruined the show. I might as well pack my bags and clear my desk!”

Vetfaan is unmoved by the tirade. “She’s a grown woman, Sally. It was her decision. And listen to yourself: you were prepared to make a fool out of her, make me look like a dinosaur, and you actually wanted us to fail. You anticipated a million viewers laughing their heads off at two stupid people, pointing fingers at the screen and remarking how wonderful Reality TV is. In fact, you cared nothing for her feelings, or mine.”Vetfaan now sits back with a smug smile. “Well, Sally, boohoo to you too! People aren’t automated little machines you use to cause sensation. You TV people are the vultures of society, feeding on the heartbreak and drama we live through in life. You want sensation, because a trillion bored people want to see blood and tears and faces twisted in anger or grief. You provide a menu of sensational bugger-ups, so those viewers can escape from their own miseries. Sorry to tell you, miss Sheppard, this time it didn’t work out the way you planned. You won’t find drama here. Go somewhere else, where people don’t see right through your silly little game.”

“But her father…” Sally seems to shrink in front of their eyes, “he’s the main sponsor. If he knew his daughter…”

“I already phoned him. He’s on his way.”

“What?”

“Yep. He’ll be here tomorrow; he took the first flight from Heathrow. I think he’ll be quite anxious to speak to you.” By now, Vetfaan’s smile is threatening to go right round his head. “In fact, those were hisexact words. Anxious to speak to miss Sheppard. Thats what he said. He also said you have to stay here until he comes. He doesn’t want you to waste any more of his time.”

***images (56)

When the Airlink flight from Johannesburg touches down, Vetfaan waits in the little cafeteria. He watches as the passengers disembark, and spots Fanny’s father immediately. Dressed for London weather in his tweeds and bowler hat, he’s impossible to miss. Like his daughter, he sports an admirable bulky frame with an impressive girth. He seems pale, exhausted, and very hot.

During their telephonic conversation, Vetfaan assured the man of his little girl’s safety, and had to smile at the way the old man talked about her – as if she is a child still. Now, in the air-conditioned restaurant, he quickly fills him in on developments – as well as his new plan. Humphrey Mountbatten Scott Featherbosom listens attentively. He became the King of the Advertising World by listening: if you know exactly what your client wants, you are in a much better position to satisfy his desires. When Vetfaan finishes, he sits back with a small smile playing at the edges of his full lips. The cool air inside the building has brought back the colour to his chubby cheeks, and he’s stopped sweating.

“I think it’ll work. Yes, by Jove! What a splendid idea!” He reaches over the table to shake Vetfaan’s hand. “Now where do I find this little miss Sheppard? Do we really have to go to Rolbos? It sounds like a waste of time. She could have come here with you.” A slight note of irritation creeps into his almost-girlish voice.

“You have to see the Kalahari for yourself, sir.” Vetfaan quickly found out he has to treat the tycoon like he does his prize ram: make him feel important, and you get the best production out of that sheep. “Books and videos will never give you the feeling of the area. There’s a beauty in the silence and the emptiness you have to experience first-hand. It’ll help you understand.”

“Right oh, then. Lead on, McDuff.”

***

Sally Sheppard listens with an open mouth to Featherbosom’s speech.

“You…you can’t be serious. There’s no money in this. It’s impossible…”

“My dear miss Sheppard – I am serious. You’re right about the money. And I assure you it’s not only possible, but you’re going to make it happen. After this man,” he seems to find it hard to refer to Vetfaan by his name, “explained to me how you planned to make a fool out of my daughter, I’m sure you’ll do your best to try and keep me involved in your little TV show. I’m also sure you’ll cooperate if I told you I’ll increase your budget to accommodate this…impossibility you just mentioned.”

He gets up without waiting for her answer. “Now, if you’ll be so kind to excuse me, my friend here,” he inclines his head towards Vetfaan, “wants to show me a bit of the desert. Then I’ll retire to the presidential suite at the Oasis Casino, where I’ll refresh my tired body with a hot bath and a proper meal. Tomorrow I’ll fly back. I’ll expect you to start work on this immediately. I hold you personally responsible. Hire an extra team if you want. Goodbye.”

Vetfaan accompanies the wealthy tycoon as he leaves Boggel’s Place. He can’t help but look back at the ashen face of Sally Sheppard, who has slumped forward on the little table. She hasn’t even touched the Cactus in front of her.

“I really enjoyed that,” Featherbosom whispers as they get into the old Ford pickup. Two minutes later he says it’s a crime the vehicle has no air-conditioning. Vetfaan opens his window without a word. This time, Featherbosom’s smile is geniune…

Back in the bar, Shirley-the-Basset cuddles up in a small bundle behind Fred, on the cushion beneath the counter. If everything works out fine, Sally won’t see her there.

(To be continued…)

Vetfaan’s Surprise (# 3)

The story continues…

Vetfaan is pumping the old Primus into action just as the sun rises in a red glow, when Fanny Featherbosom shuffles into the kitchen on a pair of pink slippers, adorned with an oversized Mickey and Minnie respectively. She yawns mightily when she leans against the door frame. The worried frown makes her look considerably older.

“Listen, Vetfaan, I can’t remember getting into bed. I remember showering, but after that… I didn’t do anything silly, did I? We didn’t…”

“Good morning to you, too, miss Featherbosom. No, you didn’t, and no we didn’t. I put you to bed and then had a chat with !Ka. You did, however, snore gently all night.” Vetfaan puts the kettle on the flames and smiles at the dishevelled mop of hair above the round face. “Tell you what: you go put on some clothes while I fix coffee. No Cactus this time. Then you must meet !Ka, and listen to his story. We’ve got a lot to do.”

She runs her fingers through her hair, smiles sheepishly and disappears down the corridor.  When she returns to the kitchen, she’s dressed in a pair of baggy jeans, a loose-fitting T-shirt and a pair of red sandals. Vetfaan is surprised at the speed of her return and compliments her on that. He concludes with: “You look quite nice like this.” He wants to say the lack of cosmetics makes her look much younger, but decides that may sound too familiar.

“You’re a kind man, Vetfaan. Can’t remember when last somebody said something sweet about the way I look.” She accepts the mug of coffee, sniffs at it suspiciously, breaks out in a brilliant smile and sips happily. “I’m rather thirsty.” She looks up hopefully. “And famished.”

“Good, breakfast is mielie pap and wors. I made a relish of tomato and onion. I hope you like it. You must eat well, you’ll need a lot of energy today.”

“I’ll even eat those ghastly patties they sell in England these days, I’m so hungry.” Still, she pokes a careful finger into the pap, yelps as the hot porridge burns her skin, and takes a tentative lick.

She eats with some gusto and stops several times to smack her lips in appreciation. “You sure know how to cook,” she says as she pushes back the plate.

Over a second mug of caffee, Vetfaan says she must rather put on a pair of boots, or if she hasn’t got them, some sensible walking shoes. “!Ka will be here shortly and he wants to show us something.”

“You’ll be surprised at my wardrobe. I packed for all eventualities. Who is this !Ka character you keep referring to?”

Vetfaan has to explain about his San friend before she fetches a pair of sturdy boots from one of her heavy suitcases. Vetaan has to help her get them on – her rather bulky frame makes tying the bootlaces rather awkward. Once the boots are tied to her satisfaction, they sit down in the easy chairs on the stoep. Almost immediately, !Ka walks over from his room next to the barn.

Now, !Ka is a man who appreciates women with a fuller figure, so he stops at the steps leading up to the stoep to feast his eyes on this magnificent specimen. Never in his life has he set eyes on so much splendour. This, he decides, is what a woman should look like: big, strong and extremely attractive.

After introducing the two, Vetfaan asks !Ka to repeat the news he brought last night. At first !Ka has some difficulty in addressing somebody of such great beauty, but her kind demeanour eventually wins the day and he manages to convey his story in a more-or-less coherent way.

“While following the spoor of a klipsringer, Madam, I crossed a few dunes. This place I don’t know. It’s far. And when I crossed another dune, there I saw something I’ve never seen before. Hai! How a wagon could have got there, I do not know, but there it was. An old wagon, from many years back. And some bones. Man bones. Woman bones. And child bones. They are there, in the sand. It is far.”

“That’s what he told me last night, Fanny. I don’t know what it means, but !Ka came to me to help. He says people must know about it – it is wrong to leave those remains out in the desert. According to his custom, unburied corpses bring bad luck. He believes those spirits roam about, causing hardship to all. That is why, be believes, the klipspringer got away. He says those are white people’s bones, so white people must say words over them and bury them. Then the spirits will go away.” Vetfaan hesitates. “He also brought this.””

burgers_pondHe fumbles around in his pocket and produces a shiny coin. “I don’t know much about old coins, but the Burger Pond is legendary. See, it says here: Thomas Francois Burger. I know they are very rare, and of great value. These were the first gold coins ever struck for South Africa, and if I’m right, it was done in London and less than a thousand were produced. Look at the date; 1874.”

“I love old stuff!” Fanny claps her hands together in delight. “My, what an adventure! Are we leaving straight away?”

To !Ka, this is the way for a woman to react. He can see how here eyes light up and how excited she is. Surely !Kaggen sent this woman at the right time to cross paths with him. He, !Ka, is being rewarded for doing the right thing. That klipspringer was not for hunting…it was a guide, sent to bring them all together to do what must be done. He gets up respectfully, averting his eyes to the ground so as not to offend this wonderful lady, and waits at Vetfaan’s pickup. This, he knows, will be a day he’ll remember for a long time. Oh, how many stories will he tell his children around camp fires in the future! Yes, !Kaggen is good. He is blessing him…

Vetfaan gathers some provisions and loads a container with water, some pots and a kettle on the old Ford. Because !Ka put so much emphasis on the place being ‘far’, he adds sleeping bags and a bundle of wood. ‘Far’ may mean many things for the San people…

Fortunately, the pickup is large. !Ka is small. They all fit into the cab when they drive off.

Vetfaan smiles when he notices how close his two passengers sit. !Ka, he knows already, adores this woman. And Fanny seems not to mind at all.

Fanny has a sudden urge to tell the two men about her life in London. About the way she always felt she didn’t belong. How men avoided her and she always ended up as the lone wallflower while the others danced the night away. And how she eventually decided, bugger it, and started feeding herself into obesity. If men didn’t like her, at least she doesn’t have to worry about her figure. And then it got out of hand and she ended up looking like…this.

She can’t get the words out. Instead, she asks !Ka if he ever reads books.

“Hai, Madam! We have no books. I read the veld and the animals. I read people. And I read the weather. What more do I want to know? I hear about places on the other side of the sea. I’ve seen the sea once. It is too wet for me. I like the desert and my people. So, I know what I need. That’s enough. I think white people, they know so much they forget about important things. We Bushmen aren’t like that.”

The discussion in the cab becomes a lively one, with all of them participating and arguing – in great respect, following !Ka’s example – until they reach a series of sand dunes just after midday.

“We stop here. It is too hot – the sand will be loose and the truck will get stuck. Mister Vetfaan can make camp here for the night. Tomorrow, when the sand is cold, we can cross. We must leave before the sun rises. It is still far, but not so far. We’ll be there tomorrow.” Vetfaan knows his friend so well – and !Ka is so convincing – that he selects a lone thorn tree to park the Ford under.

“I don’t want to eat tonight, Vetfaan. My appetite…”

“Nonsense, Fanny, you love eating?”

“I made a decision today, Vetfaan. I’m too fat. I need to do something about it and I’m starting right now. Enough is enough. I want my life back.”

“Gee, Fanny, what brought that about?”  Vetfaan stands back. Women!

“Something  !Ka said about us knowing so much and being so stupid. He’s a wise fellow. It’s time for me to face the basics.”

!Ka looks up in surprise. “Madam wants to lose fat? Why? You look like a woman should.”

“Oh, !Ka…you’re just as sweet as Vetfaan!” Using the simplest of terms, she tries to explain why obesity is a life-threatening condition. !Ka argues that elephants and rhinoceroses die when they’re too thin. Vetfaan already has the fire going under a pot by the time when !Ka finally nods his understanding. Yes, it’s all about knees and hips, he agrees. If they get worn out, you can’t hunt or run any more. Yes, it makes sense.

“Come, Madam. We go get some medicine for you.”

“What? Is there a pharmacy out here?” She scans the horizon for signs of civilisation.

!Ka laughs so much, he has to wipe away the tears on his withered cheeks. “Oh yes, Madam. The veld is filled with medicine. And it’s free. Come, I show you…”

(To be continued)