“Whenever I finally see it or feel it or touch it or hear it or smell it, I just know it, that before my physical discovery of it, my love for it was here, it’s the déjà vu of our godliness.”
Ubuntu (You see me therefore I am)
Boetman wiped the oil from his hands onto an over greased sticky and dirty piece of mutton cloth that at some time had within it the ability to absorb the dirt and grease that lay on the hands of its owner. That was a long time ago, now the mutton cloth was past its glory days. Today as everyday it remained tied to his belt and was a permanent feature of the only available mechanic within two hundred miles. Boetmans history and that of his piece of mutton cloth were linked.
When he first moved here he had renovated, well perhaps renovated is to suburban a term. Out here I expect they don’t renovate, regenerate, reconstitute or reconstruct they simply fix things that need fixing and that is what Boetman did, he fixed the old service garage, repainted it and recast the concrete forecourt in anticipation of the rush of tourists who would flock to his created Oasis in the middle of nowhere. He had been excited then, excited by the energy he found in his dreams. His fortitude, purity of purpose and belief in his god was what had driven him. He was at that time a religious man, these days he was far more spiritual. The remnants of his dreams flapping in the greasy mutton cloth tied to the side of his pants filled with the sweat, grease and broken promises of a man religiously serving a self imposed life sentence for failing to attain his fantasy.
The signs of all his original entrepreneurship were faded, rusted and weather beaten but they were still hanging, clanging and creaking in the wind on the side of the dust road where so many years ago he had meticulously placed them with pride. I suppose they served the purpose of reminding him at the magnitude of his folly. There was no escaping them even when the sun receded over the western horizon and the darkness hid the sight of the broken buildings and billboards, the metallic laughter of the loose and sun bleached signs would carry on long into the night reminding him of the man he once was.
“Put a Tiger in your tank”, “Next stop 200km’s and “Refresh in our restrooms”, “Kudu Biltong sold here”, so many signs still partially visible of his once grandiose ideas, of the belief in his fantasy of the time. I could almost feel how excited he must have been to finally have his own place, his own business, to truly be a master of his own destiny. How macabre and cruel life can be. It seems that in time life makes fools of us all.
I could smell the stench of the toilets from where I stood, and my previous inclination to answer Mother Nature’s call and squeeze a kidney retreated to the safety of the bladder, my manhood sulked and followed.
“Ja yous is going to need a nuwe fan belt”, Boetman shouted at me over the noise of the engine he was revving.
I knew I didn’t need a new fan belt but Boetman needed me to confirm that he was still a good mechanic. To reject or challenge his diagnostic would make a fellow human being more miserable than the sentence he had already cast on himself, so I nodded, it wasn’t an expensive nod the fan belt would set me back no more than a couple of hundred Rands.
“Thank god you were here Boetman I don’t know what I would have done, I would have been totally snookered man”, I replied.
My words seem to wash away his earlier bent posture I watched in amazement as my confirmation in his ability magically filled and smoothed the crevice of his furrowed brow. Thus with a few kind words and recognition Boetman’s stature grew. He wiped his hands with new found authority and deliberation on the rotting mutton cloth and looked at me as he dragged deeply on his Texan plain. The smoke he exhaled from his nose held its shape for longer than ever, it held its shape and then as the ground heat reached it, it lifted and swirled and cascaded and twisted as it finally escaped its gravity and the evil Texan from whence it was born.
“He he, hell I tell yous the number of fan belts and bande ek het regemaak op hierdie pad, Ja jong there are many a traferllers who owes me a lot more than the price of a fan belt or a tyre change dit kan ek vir jou se”, he said with a soft smile shaping his mouth.
As I listened to Boetman and watched the cigarette smoke disappear into heaven I realised that his last statement had said it all, “There are many travellers who owe me a lot more than the price of a fan belt or a tyre change….” Yes I thought, yes Boetman I guess you feel they owe you your dreams and their lives.
Over against the cracked peeling plaster grey wall I saw a movement, I squinted and brought my hand up to shield my eyes from the 45 degree Celsius heat and the sharp blue ultra violet light that created an unsteady and wavering mirage that was typical of the midday suns presence in this area.
There through the shaky heat waves playing with a mangy dog was a young boy, he couldn’t have been more than seven years old. The dog looked old and unkempt, like it had fought too many fights and not won many. He was sitting with his back against the broken plaster wall of the Garage and the dog had its head in his lap. The young boy seemed to be dressed in left over mans clothes of a past era when bow ties and hats were still in fashion.
Boetman caught my stare and grunted, “It’s my seun Pieter, his mufver left fife years ago so now it’s net ek en hy”, he said with the small smile now widening to reveal his Texan stained teeth.
“Good looking kid just like his daddy”, I said in the most convincing tone I could muster as I carried on staring transfixed by the wise face of this young boy and the scene of him sitting against the wall just gently patting and stroking the dogs head whilst he gazed at Boetman, his eyes never leaving his fathers figure.
“He doesn’t talk much, but he is a good boy, does what he is told and nefer komplains, yust wish I could affort to sent him to school next jear.” Boetman said quietly scratching the side of his head, the grin now a grimace as if irritated by this realization.
“ It’s going to have to be a koshuis, ah whats you call it in English again, ja that’s it, boarding school, but wragtig wif the price of fings I can’t bekostig it and anyway he doesn’t wants to go. He worries to much about me, nefer lets me out of his sight, ja my Pieter sometimes maak my wakker in die middel of the night to make sure I’m still here”, Boetman continued but now proudly, as if to show me he was still loved, still worth more than those broken down tourists whose lives he had saved, thought he was.
“Ja kinders they doesn’t need much you know, just someone to listen to them, just someone who tells them they is great”, he said with conviction just before he took another drag of his Texan squinting slightly as he sucked the smoke through clenched teeth.
I caught myself thinking about the two of them, no wife no mother but they had each other, just the love of a father and the love of a son. It was perfect.
Who would have thought that my original assumption of this mans condition could be so superficial and misleading. Is it my own conditioning that over the years has trained me to look for the shiny and the new in recognition of success of a life’s purpose? Had those who deemed themselves successful always been known to me by their bright neon and well maintained surfaces? Why if I believe in the depth of a being, in the spirit and beauty of purpose do I do so only on my terms, what am I so afraid of discovering?
I wondered how many of those who, like me, Boetman had helped over the years realised that this seemingly loser of a man was richer and more successful than they, than I? That through this relic of what was his original purpose he continued in his daily striving to make something out of nothing and in so doing god had rewarded Boetman with not just a son but with the ability to love. That the object of his affection was perfect and its perfection reflected his soul.
It is not often that we find absolute perfection, in most cases I am ashamed to say that I cannot recognise it and when I do I am extremely cautious to accept it, even though it is here enveloping us in life in day and night with an absolute disregard for our tainted and cynical point of view.
“You are a lucky man Boetman”, I said quietly as I surveyed the scene, with a new eye, that lay before me.
“Ja we are bofe lucky today meneer, I think I has a fan belt that will fix this, but first kom drink kowfie”, he said and then laughed.
I looked once again at the son of Boetman and saw that he was staring at me and he like his father was laughing.
Later the next day as I drove away from that place I watched as the two of them, my two new found soul teachers who had waited for me for seven years in a garage in the middle of nowhere, started repainting the signs and the walls of the “Boetman and Seun” Garage. I watched as the two figures, now brighter with their re energised purpose faded into specs in my rear view mirror and as their presence in my being grew I realised with a great sense of relief that all the perfection I seek for my future lies waiting to be recognised in my past. I laughed out aloud as I drove on and left this place, a rare Oasis in a soulless desert that threatened to destroy my humanity.