‘Koos Nienaber got a letter from his daughter, Minnie, last week,’ Jurie Steyn announced to several of us sitting in his voorkamer, that served as the Drogevlei post office. ‘It’s two years now that she’s been working in an office in Johannesburg. You wouldn’t think it. Two years …’
‘What was in the letter?’ At Naudé asked, coming to the point.
‘Well,’ Jurie Steyn began, ‘Minnie says that …’
Jurie Steyn was quick to sense our amusement.
‘If that’s how you carry on,’ he announced, ‘I won’t tell you anything. I know what you’re all thinking, laughing in that silly way. Well, just let one of you try and be postmaster, like me, in between milking and ploughing and getting the wrong statements from the creamery and the pigs rooting up the sweet potatoes – not to talk about the calving season, even – and then see how much time you’ll have left over for steaming open and reading other people’s letters.’
Johnny Coen, who was young and more than a little interested in Minnie Nienaber, hastened to set Jurie Steyn’s mind at rest.
‘You know, we make the same sort of joke about every postmaster in the Bushveld,’ Johnny Coen said. ‘We don’t mean anything by it. It’s a very old joke.’
‘It must be that Koos Nienaber told you what was in his daughter’s letter,’ Johnny Coen said. ‘Koos Nienaber must have come round here and told you. Otherwise you would never have known, I mean. You couldn’t possibly have known.’
That was what had happened, Jurie Steyn acknowledged.
Thereupon Jurie Steyn acquainted us in detail with the contents of Minnie Nienaber’s letter, as retailed to him by her father, Koos Nienaber.
‘Koos says that Minnie has been,’ Jurie Steyn said, ‘has been – well, just a minute – oh yes, here it is – I got old Koos Nienaber to write it down for me – she’s been psycho … psycho-analysed. Here it is, written down and all –sielsontleding.’
I won’t deny that we were all much impressed. It was something we had never heard of before. Jurie Steyn saw the effect his statement had had on us.
‘Yes,’ he repeated, sure of himself – and more sure of the word, too, now – ‘Yes, in the gold-mining city of Johannesburg, Minnie Nienaber got psycho-analysed.’
After a few moments of silence, Gysbert van Tonder made himself heard. Gysbert often spoke out of turn, that way.
‘Well, it’s not the first time a thing like that has happened to a girl living in Johannesburg on her own,’ Gysbert said. ‘One thing, the door of her parents’ home will always remain open for her. But I’m surprised at old Koos Nienaber mentioning it to you. He’s usually so proud.’
I noticed that Johnny Coen looked crestfallen for a moment, until Jurie Steyn made haste to explain that it didn’t mean that at all.
According to what Koos Nienaber told him – Jurie Steyn said – it had become fashionable in Johannesburg for people to go and be attended to by a new sort of doctor, who didn’t worry about how sick your body was, but saw to it that he got your mind right. This kind of doctor could straighten out anything that was wrong with your mind, Jurie Steyn explained. And you didn’t have to be sick, even, to go along and get yourself treated by a doctor like that. It was a very fashionable thing to do, Jurie Steyn added. Johnny Coen looked relieved.
‘According to what Koos Nienaber told me,’ Jurie Steyn said, ‘this new kind of doctor doesn’t test your heart any more, by listening through that rubber tube thing. Instead, he just asks you what you dreamt last night. And then he works it all out with a dream book. But it’s not just an ordinary dream book that says if you dreamt last night of a herd of cattle, it means that there is grave peril ahead for some person that you haven’t met yet …’
‘Well, I dreamt a couple of nights ago that I was driving a lot of Afrikaner cattle across the Bechuanaland Protectorate border,’ Fritz Pretorius said. ‘Just like I have often done, on a night when there isn’t much of a moon. Only, what was funny about my dream was that I dreamt I was smuggling the cattle into the Protectorate, instead of out of it. Can you imagine a Marico farmer doing a foolish thing like that? I suppose this dream means that I’m going mad or something.’
After At Naudé had said how surprised he was that Fritz Pretorius should have to be told in a dream what everybody knew about him in any case – and after Fritz Pretorius’s invitation to At Naudé to come and repeat that remark outside the post office had come to nothing – Jurie Steyn went on to explain further about what the new kind of treatment was that Minnie Nienaber was receiving from a new kind of doctor in Johannesburg, and that she had no need for.
‘It’s not the ordinary kind of dream book, like that Napoleon dream book on which my wife set so much store before we got married,’ Jurie Steyn continued. ‘It’s a dream book written by professors. Minnie has been getting all sorts of fears, lately. Just silly sorts of fears, her father says. Nothing to worry about. I suppose anybody from the Groot Marico who has stayed in Johannesburg as long as Minnie Nienaber would get frightened in the same way.
‘What puzzles me is only that it took her so long to start getting frightened.’