Tag Archives: sin

Operation ROAR (# 2)

Credit: chepkadog.com

Credit: chepkadog.com

As we all know, Vrede isn’t your run-of-the-mill-usual-town-dog. He is, in canine culture, a man of distinction, a real big spender, good-looking and real refined. There are, of course, humans who believe dogs to be ignorant when it comes to romantic relationships – but Gertruida says (and we know she knows everything) that dogs form deep bonds that can only be ascribed to love. The human-dog association has proven this over the aeons of time and is the most obvious evidence of doggy-love. But a male dog can as easily lose his heart to a femme fatale lady-dog as he can be fond of his human.

It’s not strange then, that Vrede pricks his ears, sniffs the air and sits up suddenly when Daisy escorts Miss Smellie into Boggel’s Place.

“Grrr-aaarf.” Softly, with friendly undertones.

She, being a lady of class, ignores his greeting for a second before answering: “Yeolp, arf arf,” which  means “how do you do” in Labrador.

Good manners demands that certain rituals be observed, so Vrede swaggers over to do the obligatory sniffing routine. He does this with a certain restraint, just to show her he isn’t one of those wham-bam curs who doesn’t know the first thing of respect. And she? She allows him to perform his duties like a fine lady should, before reciprocating the nose-waltz – which Vrede must admit was done with exceptional aplomb.

“Arf aaarf arf-arf.”

Daisy does a little jump with her forefeet. Yes, she’d simply love it if Vrede wanted to take her on a conducted tour of the town

***

The impact Virginia Smellie has on the town is somewhat different to the dogs’ experience. Not only does she seem absolutely ancient; she also sports a wheezy cackle-laugh, and she has a way of hesitating after every third or fourth word when she says something. On the positive side: she absorbs alcohol like a sponge and Boggel has a hard time keeping up. In Rolbos, this ability  always commands a degree of respect.

“Sooo…, Miss Smellie, tell us a bit about yourself?” Despite everything, Gertruida’s curiosity drives her to ask the question.

“Is this part…of the…competition?

“Oh no! We are waiting for the Carte Blanche team to arrive: they’ll only be here tomorrow. The competition will be tomorrow night – so you can relax. Nothing you say tonight will be held against you.”

“I ran a hos-tel.”

The group at the bar crane forward to hear the rest; but Virginia just sits there, apparently satisfied that she has said enough.

“And…?”

“I stopped.”

“Is that all? Nothing else you can say about yourself?”

“Oh. My memory…you see? Well. I danced…when I was…younger.”

It takes forever to tell her story.

***

Virginia was born on a cold winter’s day in Kaokoland, now known as the Kunene Province of Namibia. The date was 28 July 1928, and she was one of the last births in the repatriation of the Thirstland Trekkers – those that survived to come home.

The Thirstland Trek consisted mainly of Afrikaners, but a smattering of Jews and Germans, as well as the Smellie family contributed skills, labour and guts to the trek, They all wanted to get away – as far as possible – from British Colonial rule and the looming Anglo-Boer war in the near future. It was a disastrous decision: many families died during the haphazard crossing of the dry Botswana desert.

392Her father had survived the almost-aimless trek from Transvaal to Angola, arriving at their final destination in 1879. As a baby, he was extremely lucky (and strong) to be alive, which is why he was christened ‘Samson’. Angola proved to be almost everything the trekkers hoped for, and the little community thrived. But, like Paradise and so many other dreams, it didn’t last. Politics changed, South Africa became a Union and in the 1920’s the Dorslandtrekkers were assisted by the Union’s government to trek all the way back to South Africa. It was during this return-trek that Virginia was born.

***

“I was brought up…according to strict…religious guidelines.” Virginia hesitates, not sure how to continue. But – maybe as a result of the Cactus or maybe because she can tell her story to a willing audience – she decides to go on.

***

Samson and his little family settled in Kakamas, on the banks of the Orange River, where he started farming with grapes and peaches. Little Virginia attended school here, where Mr A D Collins taught the children the basics of reading and writing. It was only natural for Mr Collins to ask Samson’s advice on a peach tree growing next to the river – and they both agreed that the fruit was unique and exceptional.

The Kakamas Peach, also called the Collin’s Peach, transformed the canned fruit industry in South Africa. Samson soon had his entire small-holding producing these peaches, ensuring a comfortable life for the Smellies. This relative affluence enabled Samson to build a house in town, buy one of the first Fords in the district…and made Virginia very popular with the children in town.

Her mother was a hard-working, plain woman who lived according to the Old Testament. Her dress, her hair and her house reflected the way she saw life. While Samson wanted to enjoy the fruits of his labour, his wife warned against the brazen flaunting of their wealth. Virginia, now a young teenager, observed their arguments and fights, becoming more confused as the years went by. Then World War II happened and Samson Smellie got sent to Egypt.

He never returned.

Just after her eighteenth birthday, Virginia left home for good. Her mother insisted that Samson’s death was a direct result of his pride and money – There is only one God, Virginia. Man has to choose between God and Mammon, and your father chose wrong… 

***

“I’m telling you these…things, because…that’ll help you…understand why…I’m here.” By now the patrons in the bar are getting used to  Virginia’s interrupted manner of speech.

“Go on…” Fanny prompts.

***

She arrived in Cape Town on a windy winter’s day, penniless and feeling a bit lost. First of all, she needed lodgings and a paying job. Both were hard to find.  Then she met Jake.

“He was…good to me.  Said he could…get me a job. And a place to…stay.”

Jake had a little theatre, not far from Green Market Square. As Virginia found out soon enough, the ‘shows’ involved dancing in skimpy clothes while Jake sold liquor on the side. In the conservative years after WW II, this was frowned upon by the church – but that didn’t stop the soldiers, sailors, tinkers and tailors from flocking to the popular venue.

“There was a…man. A friendly…sailor. We had…relations. You know?” She shakes her grey head sadly. “That’s why I’m…blind. My mother…was right. It’s the wages…of my sin.”

Fanny’s Surprise (# 28)

“I thought so.” Gertruida, who will never admit surprise, sits back with a knowing smile. “She had the look.”

“What look?”

“The pregnant look, Boggel. Women who are expecting, look different. And they get moody.”

“I bow, madam, to your superior knowledge.” Boggel knows her well enough not to pry any further. “And now they’re off to see Oudoom? That’d be interesting – her being Catholic and all that.”

“I don’t think Oudoom has ever managed so many problems in such a short time.” She lifts her glass in a mock salute. “But of course, he’s not the one I’m worried about. Servaas can be very narrow-minded sometimes. Even worse – he’s got his black suit on today. It spells trouble.”

***

Servaas, as head elder (and the only one) of the congregation, sits stiffly next to Oudoom. On the other side of the table, Vetfaan and Fanny share worried frowns and anxious looks. They’ve just told Oudoom about the pregnancy, and want to get married as soon as possible.

“Wait a minute.” Servaas has his brows knitted together again – it’s a bad sign. “If you’re pregnant, that means you had….sex? ” He whispers the last word. “Before marriage? Before?”

Fanny feels the muscles in Vetfaans shoulders bunch up.

“Yes, Servaas. We did that thing you can’t even say. It’s a horrible, despicable, loathable act between two people in love.” The veins on his forehead stand out as he speaks. “And you know what? It was one of the holiest moments of my life. Maybe you never loved anybody as much, and I pity you for that. And now, now you’re addressing Fanny and ignoring me – as if she did something wrong. Remember the incident when Jesus came upon the adulterous woman? The one the crowd wanted to kill?

“You’re that same crowd, Servaas. You’re standing there, stone in hand, ready to kill the sinner. Now, let me ask you…what did the crowd say or do to the man involved?” He pauses, breathing hard. “Let me tell you: he doesn’t even get a mention. Nothing. Zip. Nada. Not a single word. They were ready to take the woman’s life, while the man probably bragged about his conquest in the nearest bar…”

“Now, Vetfaan, maybe…” Oudoom tries to calm the big man, but he’s not having any of it.

“No, Oudoom, I’m sorry. The Bible is full of stories about inappropriate sexual conduct. We read about so many whores – and then we read about David. The women get slandered, but David was ‘a man of God’. Men get excused, but women get blamed for sinning. And yet, one prophet was told to marry a woman of ill repute – to be a symbol of God’s union with a sinning community. Go read Hosea, Servaas.

“And don’t you ever, ever insinuate that Fanny is a whore, Servaas. By all that’s holy, I swear you’ll regret it.”

Servaas doesn’t want to back down. “Don’t you get riled up, Vetfaan. Right is right. Wrong is wrong, All I’m saying is that there’s no such thing as a small sin. And sex before marriage is a sin. Full stop.”

Vetfaan gets up to tower above the old man. Oudoom wants to intervene again, but a furious glance from Vetfaan makes him sit back. Where’s Mevrou when I need her…?

“You go get your Bible, old man. And then you show me where it says sex before marriage is wrong. The Book teaches us about fidelity, but then we read about Solomon’s vast harem. I’m not going to argue about nonsense, Servaas. I’m telling you to get off your high horse. This,” he points at Fanny, “is the woman I love. She was brought up as a Catholic and we had sex before we got a piece of paper to say we’re committed to each other. If you can’t live with that, then so be it. I’m not asking you to understand or condone anything. I’m telling you we’re getting married, and that’s it. Either Oudoom agrees to confirm our loyalty to each other, or I’ll get a magistrate to do so. Is that clear?”

Fanny tries to keep a straight face, but Vetfaan’s outburst brings back the guilt she feels about the evening with Henry Hartford III. As she bursts out in tears, her raw howl of anguish fills the room. Vetfaan swirls around to try and calm her down.

“No…Fanie…sniff!…Servaas is right. There’s something I must confess…”

***

When she stops talking, nobody says anything for a long time. Vetfaan, ashen-faced, stares at Fanny with the saddest eyes. Servaas sits back in triumph, satisfied that his opinion was vindicated. Oudoom gets up quietly to fetch the bottle of brandy he hides behind the books on the shelf.

“Now listen,” he says, still searching for words, “don’t let us get carried away here. First of all: I don’t care much about the differences we humans like to tag our faith with. Originally there was one God and one faith. Then some people started telling each other their faith – their church – is the right one. Now we have thousands and thousands of churches, faiths and religions. I wonder what God thinks of that. After all – there can only be one God, one Creator. My idea is that it is important to live your faith by showing others kindness, compassion, respect. That’s what God wants – not this plethora of churches vying for the attention of people in search of God. And you know what drives most churches? Not faith, my friends. Money. Power. That’s what. I think God cringes when He sees what we have done with His commandments.

“So, Servaas, her being a Catholic simply means she’s also looking for the answers, just like we are.” Oudoom hands out the glasses with the neat brandy, even serving a very small portion to Fanny.  “Now…as for the evening with Henry? That’s more difficult.”

“At that stage Fanny knew how much Vetfaan loved her. It was wrong. A mistake. But…don’t we all make mistakes? Henry Hartford was a troubled young man. He could manipulate his way into any situation. He used and abused people…and then he saved Fanny’s life…. by sacrificing his own. That tells me a lot – he wanted you, Fanny, to have the future he couldn’t have himself. In giving his life, he blessed the union between you and Vetfaan. I think he had  a moment of clarity and honesty, and he knew…

“So, Vetfaan, if Henry gave his life – tell me – what are you prepared to give?”

“But Dominee…” Servaas is still upset.

“No Servaas, this is not the time to come with your own preconceived ideas. The Bible teaches us about love and forgiveness. To a certain extent, the question I asked Vetfaan is the same question I direct to you. Both of you: are you brave enough to live your faith…or do you read your Bible only to get handy arguments against your fellow men and women? Select verses to feed your sick egos? Don’t, gentlemen, be hypocrites. Love. Forgive. And live in peace. You’re so busy with loving your own little egos, that loving thy neighbour means nothing to you. Quite frankly, I’m disgusted…” The speech leaves the clergyman breathless. Where did that come from?

Servaas sits back suddenly, struck by the enormity of what Oudoom has just said. The Bible is a guide to living a pure life, a kind life – and nobody is so perfect, so holy, to be able to adhere to every letter of the Book. His self-righteousness disappears in a flash.

Fanny dares not look up. Why did she tell them? She should have stayed quiet, and a lot of the anguish would have been spared. Sobbing softly, she storms from the room.

Vetfaan sinks his head into his hands and nearly misses the motions Servaas is making with his hands. Go after her, they tell him, go after her you bloody fool! Now!

Big Question… Listen to the video and then answer the question:

There are two types of crowds. The one is ready to throw stones. The other joins Rod and Amy in singing.  There’s no middle ground;  you can belong to only one of the two…the question is: which?

Oudoom on the Warpath

When Oudoom rushes up the steps to the pulpit, everybody knows a storm is brewing. In a place like Rolbos, it usually doesn’t take a genius to figure out who did what wrong, and where, so all eyes swivel to Servaas and Hybie, who sit next to each other at the back. The creaking of the old benches settles down as Oudoom holds up a hand.

“Today, we’re not going to read from the scriptures. I won’t deliver a sermon. We won’t sing.” He pauses and allows the silence to make his congregation uncomfortable. “We will, of course take up an offering, as usual.” Like a good politician, he waits before he goes on.

“Today I want to talk to you about silence.” Again the pause. “Silence can be a sin, did you know that? Remaining silent about a sin, is a sin.” Now his words tumble out in a cascade of fury. He slams his fist down on the dais, and shouts: “All ye who remain silent about sin, are as guilty  as the sinners themselves! Not a single person – no man or woman – had the integrity to complain about the gross misconduct that everybody knew about. You all harboured the snake of Satan, fed it, silenced it, and lived with it.”

Bu now, there is no doubt that he is going on about Servaas, the elder in the church, and his association with Hybie, the widow of Egbert, who fell from the roof on a Sunday because Hybie told him to get up there to fix it. A man of the church, stooping so low…and getting involved

“Now I don’t have to spell out the rules of the church, do I? I don’t have to remind you of the wages of sin. You know right and wrong, Lord knows, I’ve spent my life teaching you about it. You’re about to gamble away your life in eternity and I shall not allow it! You must root out the unjust. You have a holy duty to declare you allegiance. You have no excuse! No excuse!” The fist comes down again. “I’ll give you a week. One week to sort this out. And then we’ll see…”

He stomps out, forgetting to ask somebody to take up the offering.

Outside the church the little congregation gathers in a much confused group. Servaas fled to his home, leaving Hybie to walk alone towards hers.

“Don’t you think he was talking about Boggel’s Place?” Vetfaan tries to make sense out of the sermon that wasn’t. “Remember how he objected to Boggel becoming a deacon?”

“Yes, but that was before we learnt about his regular supply of Port. You’ll recall he later preached about Paul who said a little wine is good for your health. No, there’s no prize for guessing what’s going on in his head. And I, for one, won’t do anything about it. If old Servaas is lucky enough to find a bit of company in his old age, I say we let it be.” Kleinpiet still dreams of the right one to grow old with him. He’s a romantic at heart, despite the rough exterior. “If you guys want to start complaining about things, you go ahead. I’m off to Boggels for a drink – I can sure use one right now.”

Not entirely surprisingly, the rest join him.

The atmosphere in Boggel’s Place is somber as the bent little man serves them all. It is obvious that Oudoom won’t let this one pass without some serious consequences. They all followed the romance between the two old people with a mixture of joy, jealousy and several smirks. Imagine that at that age, one can still become excited about …

“We’ll have to think of something, guys.” Life in Rolbos won’t ever be the same if Oudoom makes a stand of it, and Vetfaan knows it. “Maybe we should appoint a delegation to talk to Oudoom?”

“With him in such a mood? You’ve got to be joking. Nobody will sway him if he acts like he did this morning.” Gertruida – who is an expert on human behaviour (amongst other things) – is using her lecture voice. “No, I think we must rally in support of Servaas and Hybie. Sure, we had a nice gossip about them, but their happiness is at stake. Did you see the look on Hybie’s face when she had to go home alone? Both of them are crushed right now. They need us more than Oudoom needs somebody to come and lay a complaint. If nobody complains, he makes himself guilty of acting upon gossip. There’s something in the Bible about that, as well.”

For the rest of the week, Servaas, Hybie and Oudoom remain confined to their homes. The first two are rarely alone, however. Kleinpiet spends his days playing poker (beans as chips) with Servaas, while they talk about everything – except Hybie. Precilla and Gertruida take turns to visit Hybie, who keeps herself busy with a huge tapestry of an Eland. Nobody visits Oudoom, who can be seen peeking through the drawn curtains of the pastorie.

The talk in Boggel’s Place revolves around the question whether anybody should go to church on Sunday. Kleinpiet says they must all boycott the church, but Gertruida reckons that would be wrong. “We’re angry with Oudoom, not the Lord. Let’s go and hear what he has to say. If he starts up with Servaas and Hybie, we can all walk out and leave him shouting at the rafters. Maybe he’ll get the message then.”

Servaas visited Siena’s grave again on Friday. For once, he gets no answer. No friendly dust devil and no lonely Springbok arrive to give him a clue. He’s on his own, and he knows it.

On Saturday Boggel watches with a certain amount of trepidation as Servaas, dressed in his best, walks down the street towards Hybie’s home. Half-an-hour later he reappears and returns to his own cottage. He has the determined step of a soldier on his way to the front.

The townsfolk arrive at church on the stroke of nine on Sunday. Nobody wanted to be early for the usual chat-and-banter before the service, in case Oudoom confronts them in person. It is easier to keep the pulpit between the clergyman and the flock – it creates a safe distance which they all feel they need right now.

The Oudoom that emerge from the vestry, is a downcast and depressed-looking man. Gone is the fire and brimstone of last week; replaced with a resigned slouch of the shoulders and an almost whispered welcome to the House of the Lord.

“You know,” he starts in a soft and conversational tone, like one would expect a condemned man would use before the sergeant gives the order to fire; it is stupid and hopeless to argue at that point. “I was hoping for more integrity amongst you. After the years of preaching and teaching, I thought you had enough knowledge and wisdom to recognise the Devil.

“If one of you had the guts to complain, I could have acted. If a single voice went up in protest, I could have prevented the agent of Satan to infiltrate our midst. You’ve all seen it, right under your noses, and yet you remained silent!” He is getting angry again, and several people start eying the doors. They may have to leave soon. “But no. I tried telling Sammie you wouldn’t tolerate it. He laughed in my face. I told him you know about gambling, and that you’d complain. He said if a single one of you complained, he’d remove the Lotto machine from his shop…”

Oudoom doesn’t get to finish the sentence. Despite his anger, he sees how suddenly his congregation starts cheering and laughing.  Kleinpiet is on his feet, hugging Gertruida, who doesn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. Vetfaan skips down the aisle to shake Boggel’s hand. And Hybie, who sits a respectable distance from Servaas, suddenly finds her hand clasped in the bony hand of the old man, while he tells her he loves her.

Once the pandemonium dies down, they circulate a petition to ask Sammie – with great respect and a promise to pay their accounts within the next week – if he would mind if they asked him nicely to remove the instrument of Satan from his shop. Let the rest of the country gamble, but the Lotto is not welcome in Rolbos, where Oudoom is right in saying gambling is wrong. The slightly overwhelmed and confused pastor says a quick prayer of thanks before he allows his flock to start to trudge out, to celebrate at Boggel’s.

“The ways of the Lord…”he whispers, shaking his head as they leave. Then he catches a glimpse of Servaas and Hybie, walking hand-in-hand through the big wooden doors that protect the sacred building. A sad smile hovers on his face. It’s such a beautiful  thing if love found it’s way back to Rolbos, he thinks, I’ll have to congratulate them, once I’ve spoken to Sammie tomorrow…