“Yes, if you have that map you’ll be able to go anywhere in the Kalahari. You will always find water.” Zach and Gertruida were enjoying a sunny side up fresh breakfast at the Upington Wimpy when they overheard the statement.
Zach raised an eyebrow, Gertruida raised her finger, indicated the need for silence. They allowed the contented buzz of satisfied customers to act as their cover.
“Keep your ears tuned into that conversation…“ Gertruida whispered, “I’ll order more toast so we can sit longer… another drink for you?” Zach nodded enthusiastically… the tall, ice filled glasses of coke complete with the slice of lemon inside the glass was his absolute favourite warm day drink. Just as it should be for a teenager, Gertruida often pointed out as she sipped her cold beer.
Zach looked over toward the two men. Burly farmers? No… rangers, they have to be. Dressed in the customary khaki so popular in these parts. They must be brothers. Well, they couldn’t have been anything else. Twins, more likely. Identical twins. Even their receding ginger hair lines seemed to mimic each other. Their sunburned red complexions testifying of the Kalahari sun’s endless supply of warmth.
“If we can find a copy of that map out troubles will be over. Then we can go looking for our share of the spoils.” Their command of the English language suggested that not too many years previously their presence must have graced the Scottish Highlands. They mistakenly seemed to think their broad accents would disguise their words, making their conversation unintelligible to the locals.
Bad mistake with Gertruida and Zach around. Gertruida, she who knows everything, and her protégée were listening as intently as possible, without making it too obvious.
“OK… check that list again. We’ve all but covered the possibilities. There can’t be many more libraries in this part of the country.” The big paw of a hand hovered over a sheet of foolscap paper… the long sausage like index finger moving slowly down the page. “We only have the few towns north of here to cover.”
“Pass that map, will you Angus?” Aha, thought Zach, at least one has a name. Angus did as he was bid. The hitherto nameless brother proceeded with unfolding the map. Carefully. He turned it this way and then that… trying to get to grips with their current location and where they may soon be heading.
“Fergus… look for a place called, wait… it looks something like Reed Fountain… or as close as can be…” So, they both have names Zach mused. Ok, Angus and Fergus, lets listen to what your story may be. At this point Gertruida motioned for him to stay seated, she gestured with a sideways movement of her head in the direction of the door. Without as much as a sound she rose and headed out of the breakfast joint.
Zach listened while A&F ordered more food… another helping would see them sufficiently enabled to head on, or so they informed the rather shy waitress. The girl flashed her toothless smile, not really understanding a word the brothers shared. The transaction took on the resemblance of a deaf, dumb conversation. Two fingers up, head shake, nods… pointing at the mixed grill pictures on the menu card.
Two more fingers… no, four? Yes, the forceful nods affirmed, that would be sufficient beer for now, two each. OK… she repeated in broken English… “Twee mixed grills… an twee, naai… four beers, Is that right sirs?” The men seemed satisfied and turned back to their list and map.
“We should make the place by mid afternoon. Into the library and out again. It can’t be that difficult to find that darned book.” Angus was mumbling on, making it slightly awkward for Zach to hear everything clearly. “The old letter says we must find that first edition. Then, we’ll have an idea of where to find the maps. The truth is scribbled on the last pages of one of the original Bosman books now in circulation in the North Cape Library Services. We’ve searched in all the other places.”
Their beers arrived and as if to show their gratitude they each downed one. The loud aaahs of satisfaction echoed within the place, followed by a series of less than subtle burps. A few of the patrons’ heads jerked around in utter disgust… stares flashing at the rude interlopers.
“The map to happiness… the map to water in the Kalahari… the map to our future, that’s what we’ll find in that place before the end of today.” Now it was the turn of Angus to continue the faraway stares and mumbles… “He who owns that map owns his own wandering oasis in the desert… that’s what the legend says.”
Their nostalgia was getting the better of them. Zach was relieved when the second helping of food arrived. The brothers fell silent while they devoured the new offering. The toothless waitress called around to ask it they would like coffee… “Naah, make it four more beer, will you luv? Africa‘s a hot place… a man needs to stay hydrated…”
Aunt Gertruida returned as the brothers were paying for their dues. The generous tip the waitress received was enough to match her weekly salary, resulting in the display of missing teeth becoming a fixed feature for at least the remainder of the time Zach and Gertruida remained at their seats.
Months later Zach and Gertruida were again visiting the esteemed establishment, enjoying their well-earned brunch, when Sergeant Koekemoer plonked himself down on one of the wooden chair. As he slumped into the seat he dropped a very faded copy of Bosman’s Mafeking Road on the table. There they sat, staring at this strange offering. The Sergeant flipped open the front cover to reveal an almost totally faded, faint blue oval stamp. The official Upington Library logo.
He turned the book over and opened the back cover… flicking through the last few pages. Traces of handwritten words could just be made out. One page contained what looked like the remnants of a map.
“We found this in a bakkie way north of Rietfontein, near the Botswana border.” Koekemoer paused and swung his big arm in the general direction of where north should be on most given days.
He paused again, allowing his attentive audience a moment to absorb the significance of his words. “There must have been enough cans of food to feed a small army for months. There was water, and even a dozen or two cases of beer. There were maps in the cubby-hole and even some shoved under the seats.”
The man gestured at the book lying on the table, “That slip of paper used as a bookmark is a receipt for food and beer from this place… ”
“Seems they never found what they were looking for…” He paused long enough to gesture to the toothless waitress for a refill of drinks. Holding up two fingers and pointing to the beer glasses and then one finger while pointing toward Zach’s glass.
“Their bodies have not been found to date. Seems they had everything but fuel… so they walked away from their only bit of safety… for what?” Zach and Gertruida answered in unison… as if by some hidden bidding…
“In search of their wandering oasis…” The Sergeant’s startled look turned even more quizzical when Gertruida completed the sentence, “the Kalahari doesn’t give up her secrets so easily… no, she doesn’t… ”