From Selected Stories
by Herman Charles Bosman
Chris Welman started feeling sorry for Oupa Bekker then.
‘Was it really as altered as all that, Oupa?’ he asked.
‘Altered?’ Oupa Bekker repeated. ‘Take the hotel, now. It used to be a wood and iron building with a long verandah. Now it was a double-storey brick building. And where there had been a hitching-post in front of that, that we children used to swing on, there was now one of those upright iron box things that have to do with electricity. Electricity – why, in the old days we hardly even had paraffin-lamps.’
It all sounded quite sad. But then, as Gysbert van Tonder remarked, there had to be such a thing as progress. We couldn’t expect the world to just stand still, for Oupa Bekker’s sake, or for any of our sakes, for that matter, either.
‘I went to look for the place that we children used to call the river,’ Oupa Bekker went on, ‘and that we used to fish in, and that people used to lead water into their gardens from, and that had a bridge over it.’
Well, we knew what was coming, of course. And we almost wished that Oupa Bekker wouldn’t go to the length of telling us about it. Because they would have put pipes there, of course. And the stream would have been covered up. And where the bridge had been, there would now be a new power station. Or a glue factory.
We would rather not think what there was on the site of the garden wall that Jurie Steyn and Chris Welman and Gysbert van Tonder had spoken about earlier.
The piece of garden wall that every person who spent his childhood in a village remembers. A red-brick and honeysuckle wall, or a white-washed wall wildly rich with convolvulus.
‘After I had had dinner in the hotel,’ Oupa Bekker proceeded – and without his having to say so, we gathered that he did not eat much: his voice told us all that – ‘I went to the bioscope. I had been there earlier in the day, and it had said that there would be an afternoon show.
‘It was a picture about cowboys and Indians, or about cowboys and something. Or it might not even have been cowboys. I’m not sure. Seeing that the talking was all in English, I couldn’t understand very much of it.
‘But there was a coach in the picture, like the Zeederberg coaches they used to have here in the old days, before they had trains, much. And there was a fat man in the picture with a black manel who had other fat men under him. And he looked important, like a raadslid that they had in that village when I was a boy. And that fat-man-with-the-manel’s job seemed to be to work out for the other fat men what was the best way to rob that Zeederberg coach, every time.
‘And after a while, sitting in that bioscope, I began to get quite happy again, and I didn’t mind so much that my home town had changed. Because the places they had there, on the picture, where all those things were going on, were just like my village had been when I was a boy. And there was the same sort of riding on horses, that I remembered well. And the hotel in the picture had the same kind of verandah. And although I didn’t actually see any children swinging on the hitching-post, they might have been, but the picture just didn’t show it. Anyway, I knew it was the same hitching-post. I mean, I would know it anywhere.
‘And I was pleased to see the bridge, too. It was exactly the same bridge that we had over our stream, in the old days. And there was a young fellow who wasn’t as fat as the fat-man-in-the-manel’s men, and who seemed to be on the opposite side from what they were on, and got in their way, every time. And the young fellow stood on that very bridge that I remembered from my childhood. He stood on the bridge with a lovely girl in his arms. And if you had looked under the bridge, I’m sure there would have been the same pieces of tree-trunk washed up under the side of it.
‘And afterwards, when there was shooting in the hotel, it was exactly the same paraffin lamps and candles that they had there that used to be in the village hotel in the old days, before they made it into two storeys.’
Afterwards, Oupa Bekker said, when it came to the end of the picture, and that lovely girl got married to the young fellow who wasn’t as fat as the man-in-the manel’s men were fat, he felt happier than he had done for a considerable while – happier than he had felt at any time since he got off the train, that morning, and saw that the road over the rise was tarred.
‘Because the church they got married in was the old church just as I had known it,’ Oupa Bekker said. ‘It was like the church used to be, before they made it three times bigger and moved it to the other end of the plein.’
And when he went back to the station in the evening, Oupa Bekker said, descending the rise with the light wind that he knew so well blowing about him, it was with much satisfaction that he realised how, through all those years, his home town had not changed.
‘But that bioscope itself,’ Jurie Steyn said. ‘That must be quite a new thing, I should imagine. They certainly couldn’t have had a bioscope in that village when you were a boy.’
‘No,’ Oupa Bekker said. ‘Where they built that bioscope there was, before that, when I was a boy, a stretch of garden wall with a creeper over it.’