Perhaps the Indian realised the truth of what I am saying now. At all events, after a while he stopped wasting the time of his customers with stories of emperors. In between telling them that the price of sheep-dip and axle-grease had gone up. Or perhaps his customers got tired of listening to him.
But before that happened several of the farmers had hinted to me, in what they thought was a pleasantly amusing manner, that I would have to start putting more excitement into my stories if I wanted to keep in the fashion. They said I would have to bring in at least a king and a couple of princes, somehow, and also a string of elephants with Namaqualand diamonds in their ears.
I said they were talking very foolishly. I pointed out that there was no sense in my trying to tell people about kings and princes and trained elephants, and so on, when I didn't know anything about them or what they were supposed to do even.
“They don't need to do anything,” Frik Snyman explained, “you can just mention that there was a procession like that nearby when whatever you are talking about happened. You can just mention them quickly, Oom Schalk, and you needn't say anything about them until you are in the middle of your next story. You can explain that the people in the procession had nothing
to do with the story, because they were only passing through to some other place.”
Of course, I said that that was nonsense. I said that if I had to keep on using that same procession over and over again, the people in it would be very travel-stained after they had passed through a number of stories. It would be a ragged and dust-laden procession.
“And the next time you tell us about a girl going to Nagmaal in Zeerust, Oom Schalk,” Frik Snyman went on, “you can say that two men held up a red umbrella for her and that she had jewels in her hair, and she was doing a snake-dance.”
I knew that Frik Snyman was only speaking like that, thoughtlessly, because of things he had seen in the bioscope that had gone to his head.
Nevertheless, I had to listen to many unreasonable remarks of this description before the Indian at Ramoutsa gave up trying to entertain his customers with empty discourse.
The days passed, and the drought came, and the farmers of the Marico put in much of their time at the boreholes, pushing the heavy pump-handles up and down. So that the Indian's brief period of story-telling was almost forgotten. Even Krisjan Geel came to admit that there was such a thing as overdoing these stories of magnificence.
“All these things he says about temples, and so on,” Krisjan Geel said, “with white floors and shining red stones in them.And
rajahs. Do you know what a rajah is, Oom Schalk? No, I don't know, either. You can have too much of that. It was only that one story of his that was any good. That one about the princess. She had rich stones in her hair, and pearls sewn on to her dress. And so the young man never guessed why she had come there. He didn't guess that she loved him. But perhaps I didn't tell you the story properly the first time, Oom Schalk. Perhaps I should just tell it to you again. I have already told it to many people.”
But I declined his offer hurriedly. I replied that there was no need for him to go over all that again. I said that I remembered the story very well and that if it was all the same to him I should prefer not to hear it a second time. He might just spoil it in telling it again.
But it was only because he was young and inexperienced, I said, that he had allowed the Indian's story to carry him away like that. I told him about other young men whom I had known at various times, in the Marico, who had formed wrong judgments about things and who had afterwards come along and told me so.
“Why you are so interested in that story,” I said, “is because you like to imagine yourself as that young man.”
Krisjan Geel agreed with me that this was the reason why the Indian's story had appealed to him so much. And he went on to say that a young man had no chance, really, in the Marico. What with the droughts, and the cattle getting the miltsiek, and the mosquitoes buzzing around so that you couldn't sleep at night.
And when Krisjan Geel left me I could see, very clearly, how much he envied the young man in the Indian's story.
As I have said before, there are some strange things about stories and about people who listen to them. I thought so particularly on a hot afternoon, a few weeks later, when I saw Lettie Viljoen. The sun shone on her upturned face and on her bright yellow hair. She sat with one hand pressed in the dry grass of last summer, and I thought of what a graceful figure she was, and of how slender her wrists were.
And because Lettie Viljoen hadn't come there riding on an elephant with orange trappings and gold bangles, and because she wasn't wearing a string of red stones at her throat, Krisjan Geel knew, of course, that she wasn't a princess.
And I suppose that this was the reason why, during all the time in which he was talking to her, telling her that story about the princess at the well, Krisjan Geel never guessed about Lettie Viljoen, and what it was that had brought her there, in the heat of the sun, to the borehole.
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Copyright Â© 1998 by The Estate of Herman Charles Bosman
First Archipelago Books Edition
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eISBN : 978-1-935-74451-1
1. Marico River Region (Botswana and South Africa) â Fiction.
2. South Africa â Social life and customs--Fiction. I. Title.
823 â dc22 2008001176
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This publication was made possible with support from the Lannan Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency.