Blue train blue moon is chapter eight from A Family Affair by Bernard Preston; it finds Carlo thinking he has no family but, wait, who is this old man who can throw a rugby ball as well as he can?
This page was last updated by Bernard Preston on 25th November, 2019.
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The boys are bored. ‘A train is a train, is a train, is a train!’ exclaims Carlo. ‘Who cares if it’s blue?’
‘Oh, you boys are such ungrateful wretches,’ said Santie. ‘This is not just a train. It’s the Blue Train. It’s just about the plushest train in the world. Millions would give their eye teeth for what you are now experiencing.’
‘Trains went out with the dinosaurs,’ says Trek. ‘And for good reason. You can’t even put your head out the window without getting an eyeful of muck.’ He is tall, almost willowy, with a narrow waist, and the lean, fast look of a sportsman. His thick red hair and fine features turn heads wherever he goes, but it is the work that his long arms and legs can do on a squash court that really marks Trek out for stardom.
‘Why don’t you boys just shut up and get into a good book,’ says June. She is lying on the top bunk, deep in a novel. ‘You see, even June is finding this the most boring day of her life. She protests by losing herself in a book.’ Turning to his sister Trek says; ‘Bookworm.’
‘Oh shut up you lot. You are the ones who are so boring. Go and find some pretty girls, or just sit and think for once in your lives!’ Storm is sitting in the corner of the compartment with her arms folded, definitely apart from the rest of the family. ‘It didn’t take you long to forget that you also voted into this holiday.’
Blue train blue moon finds Carlo Veenstra connecting with an old man; another free chapter from A Family Affair.
In blue train, blue moon, Carlo is astonished to find the old man is a lot more together than he first thought.
Janet looks at her youngest, thinking, she really is one apart; at fifteen she already has a mind of her own. My baby’s so grown up already. Janet knows boys are starting to notice and she feels a mother’s anxiety. Storm’s deep red hair tells the truth; she is the intelligent one of the family, the thinker, but she is also the rebel.
Janet worries that Storm obviously feels like an outsider in her own family. In particular she does not react well to Santie. From very early on in life, she has refused to play happy families. She needs a man for a father, thinks her mother.
‘Why don’t you take a walk along the train?’ suggested Janet.
‘Stretch your legs. I’m sure that will help.’
‘Take a couple of balls with you,’ called June from her book.
‘That might make you happy.’ She is right. Carlo grabs a rugby ball he has brought along, and the boys vanish out the compartment door.
‘Whew, what a relief. Talk about two caged tigers. Now we can have a few moments of peace.’ Santie rings for service and, when the waiter comes, they order Milo and rusks before bed.
The boys walked slowly along the narrow corridor to the very end of the train, looking for entertainment. They had seen a couple of pretty girls in the dining car, but their mothers were wise enough to make sure the compartment windows were firmly closed and blinded for the night. They did find a window to peer into, but it was only an old man, with his head nodding forward on his chest, fast asleep.
The train swayed on a bend and hooted at a deserted crossing, making the familiar but reassuring and monotonous clickety-clack sound. Klok was in the depths of a dream, one that he couldn’t remember, try as he may.
He woke with a start, rubbing his neck and wondering where he was. He looked around, thinking about bed, but reached instead for a beer can from the carry pack he had brought onto the train. Probably strictly illegal, but he didn’t care. He took a few deep swallows, and opened the sliding door to the corridor feeling a little lonely, wondering who might pass by. A bright swathe of light cuts at an angle across the corridor.
‘The whole bloody train is fast asleep.’ The boys reached the baggage wagon at the end, and not seen another wakeful soul. All the doors and windows are battened down for the night and even the corridor lights are very dimly lit.
They open a window, peering out, enjoying the already frosty Highveld night, a cold moon rising in the east.
‘You can really see the stars out here. I have never seen so many,’ said Trek. ‘Look, there’s Orion’s Belt.’
‘Everybody knows Orion’s Belt, twit.’ Carlo gives his brother a friendly punch on the arm. A brief astronomy course had been compulsory for all the boys at their school, “to broaden their minds”, but mostly they are none the wiser as they gaze into the night sky. ‘I don’t even know which quarter the moon is in. It looks nearly full.’
‘That’s because you are always chasing balls and pretty girls at night! You don’t ever get to see the moon.’
‘That’s where you are wrong, Boet. Ever heard of a moonlight walk?’
‘Stop boasting. Is it the moonlight sonatas that make the difference? Or the moon?’ Trek is not a little jealous that Carlo is also the singer in the family and it definitely gives him the edge when it comes to the fairer sex.
‘There’s no room for boasting. I’ll bet our ancestors would be horrified that I don’t even know if the moon is waxing or waning,’ said Carlo.
There are a few barren buttes not far from the tracks, eerie-looking in the moonlight. ‘I wonder if there are any living creatures out there,’ mused Trek.
‘Plenty I should think. This is the Karoo remember. The waiter at dinner said our mutton came from these plains.’
‘Glad I’m not a sheep. If it’s not the butcher, then it’s probably some jackals that are smacking their lips right now after a nice little hunting trip.’
‘Yup, these cliffs would make a good haven from which to make forays out to find a lone sheep. Perhaps even a leopard or two enjoying the moonlight.’
‘And a tasty lamb cutlet.’
They laugh together before moving on to the end of the train.
Peering into the baggage wagon they see their bicycles and trunks, and a large crate about two metres long, thinking nothing of it. ‘What you boys want?’ The guard glares at them, looking up from a cheap-looking paperback.
‘We are just bored. Don’t worry, we will not bother you,’ said Carlo turning away.
‘Come on, let’s go to bed. June will not believe it but I actually did bring a book.’
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They wind their way back along the swaying train, quite ignorant of the little sidings and villages they pass, and even some small towns, giving no thought as to how the history of their land was played out alongside that line.
It’s just a boring train, one might say, bearing its human cargo through very dull countryside. Not even the moon or the stars are worthy of more than a passing comment.
When finally they open the door to their carriage they are surprised to find a bright swathe of light knifing across the darkened corridor. They peer into the compartment and are disappointed to find only the old man swigging away at a beer. He is dressed in an old pair of grey pants and a tatty, dirty-looking jersey.
They are about to move on when he calls out: ‘Ah, I wondered who was going to be sent along to entertain me tonight. Come in lads, come in and have a beer.’ Carlo looked questioningly at Trek who shrugged his shoulders and then gave a bemused nod.
‘Klok’s the name, come on in and make yourselves at home.’
The boys slid through the door sideways, sitting opposite the old man, grinning at him rather sheepishly. They each took a beer, both thinking they would just drink their beer and move on. ‘Ag, you’re the lad with the Red Devils rugby jersey, aren’t you?’ In his time Klok played 105 matches in the famous jersey, with no sponsorship, no big names and no famous coaches, putting fear into even the most successful teams when they were obliged to troop to the Highveld to take on that bunch of misfits. They were like hardened teak, making their livings either on the land or thousands of feet below it. Just like the Welsh, miners and farmers make great rugby players.
Carlo nodded. ‘I’m Carlo, this is Trek. I play for the Under 19 team and when we beat Tukkies they gave each of us one of those jerseys with the old logo. When did you notice?’
‘Ag, I saw you getting onto the train.’ The old man likes to start his sentences with an ‘Ag’. Carlo finds it irritating but thinks to himself that anything is allowed when you are as old as the ancient geezer.
‘You recognized the jersey! I think they stopped using it about twenty years ago.’
‘I may be old, and I have already forgotten your name’ – he points at Trek who made the statement – ‘but what happened fifty years ago is still as clear as daylight.’
‘My brother’s name is Trek,’ says Carlo. ‘Have you forgotten mine too?’
‘Nope, I haven’t. You must have some Italian blood in you, Carlo. One of your grandparents?’ The old man says this, switching to fluent, if rusty, Italian. Carlo gives a start. His Italian is at best mediocre, but his mother had spoken to him in Afrikaans and Italian from childhood. Santie was determined that the memory of her mother would not be erased. ‘Do you still remember my name?’ the old man asked returning to English. He looks from one to the other and they look at each other sheepishly, shaking their heads. ‘So you see our generation may be old and doddery, but that doesn’t mean we are stupid! I’m a clock maker, so my friends started calling me Klok (he spelt it out, K-L-O-K).’ He wasn’t worried about telling them his name. People only started calling him that after Santie fled. ‘I used to make guitars, but I couldn’t compete with the factory-made Yamahas pouring in from Japan, so I changed to making clocks. ’
‘That’s a shame.’
‘A man has to eat. I still make one guitar a month, mostly for my own pleasure, but few people appreciate how much time it takes to make a treasure.’
‘Could you make a cello?’
‘I don’t see why not. Why?’
‘I used to play at school, but I never had my own instrument.’
‘Hmff.’ The first shadow of doubt crossed Klok’s mind. He grimaced, sensing, yet not grasping the first discord (wrong note?) in his suicide song. He had been so sure. Deliver Ina’s clock, go up the cable car and … ‘Is he any good?’ Klok asked, turning to Trek.
‘Terrible,’ said Trek with a grin. ‘Worse than the bag-pipes! What kind of clocks do you make?’ Trek continued, mainly just to keep the conversation going until they finished their beers. ‘All sorts, but mostly grandfather clocks about two metres high. They have the phases of the moon and, of course, chimes.’
‘Speaking of the moon,’ said Carlo, opening the blind and peering out, ‘do you know what phase the moon is in?’
‘Tomorrow, it will be a full moon. So it’s in the last quarter. A Blue Moon, in fact.’
‘A Blue Moon?’ said Trek. ‘I’ve heard the saying. Is that where two full moons occur in a month?’
Klok looked at them pityingly. ‘No, that’s a hoax actually, but you probably wouldn’t understand.’
‘Why not? Try us.’
‘You need some background to grasp it. Astronomy, and old calendars, and strange religious customs.’
‘So where do you get to know all that stuff?’
‘One of my interests. You kids forget that one day you too will be old, and everybody will laugh at you. I was young once remember, and I’ve had many interests and hobbies. I love making sundials and that got me interested in astronomy.’
Carlo looked at him with more interest. ‘Okay, it’s true, we hardly know anything about astronomy. Couldn’t you make it simple?’
‘There are some things in life you can’t make simple, Carlo. Astronomy is one of them. Let me think,’ said Klok, scratching. ‘Well, I hope you know that twice a year the sun and moon line up in such a way that you get very high spring tides. It’s called the equinox.’
The boys looked at him doubtfully. The old man shook his head: ‘You kids really don’t know anything. Well, to make it simple, twice a year the day and night have exactly the same length. One is in the spring, the other in autumn. Okay?’
The boys nodded. Trek said: ‘I remember something vaguely from school.’
At their nods, he went on. ‘Now, normally there are twelve full moons in a tropical year, but sometimes there are thirteen!’ ‘What’s a tropical year,’ asked Carlo.
‘Forget it. It’s getting more complicated. Just accept that there are normally twelve full moons in a year.
‘I get it,’ said Carlo. ‘So the thirteenth is the Blue Moon.’ ‘Nope! I told you it wasn’t simple,’ said Klok. ‘If you now divide the year into four seasons, there are normally three full moons in each quarter. But this year we have four full moons in this our Spring quarter. The third is the Blue Moon.’
Trek looked at his watch. ‘It’s the 20th of November. I get it. So, there will be one more full moon just before mid-summer; but why the third? Why not the fourth?’
‘Now you’ve got to know a bit of religion. Not one of my strong points, I must admit. Many of the full moons are given names. You may have heard of the Full Harvest Moon, that’s at the end of summer, of course. Now the important one has to do with Easter. Sorry, guys, but I told you it was complicated.’
‘This is getting boring,’ said Trek, taking a full swig of his beer.
‘No, go on,’ said Carlo. ‘I’m interested.’
‘Okay, well to cut a long story short, the Full Lentern Moon, before Easter, before the Equinox always has to be the last full moon in our southern Summer quarter, so it can never be a blue moon. So if there are four in that quarter, as always the last, the fourth, is the Lentern Moon, and they decided to call the extra one, the third, the Blue Moon. Got it?’ The boys nodded, trying to take it in. Perhaps they could boast a bit to the family.
‘I haven’t held a rugby ball for years,’ Klok said turning to Carlo. ‘Toss me your ball.’
Carlo passed it across carefully and the old man took it, scrutinizing the stitching and the material, and then spun the ball expertly in his hands. ‘Quite different to the leather balls of my day. Nice clean look about it, and it doesn’t weigh a ton, I’ll bet, when it gets wet.’ He torpedoed the ball back to Carlo, catching him by surprise. ‘So you play for the Eastern’s Under 19, or whatever they call you now.’ He sized Carlo up with his experienced old eyes, nothing lost from his appreciation of shape and size; or perspective. That’s what made Klok a master craftsman. ‘Centre forward would be my guess. Inside centre?’ He raised his eyebrow.
‘Not bad for an old man,’ said Carlo deprecatingly. ‘How did you guess?’
‘Call it intuition.’ Even though he had played a few matches at outside centre, and even a couple at fullback, inside centre was the position that Klok dominated for more than a decade. It was almost impossible for a player from one of the smaller unions to make it into the Springbok squad, but there were many of Klok’s contemporaries who thought that, with the right connections, he would have walked into a place in the Springbok team. ‘You look more like a hockey or tennis player,’ Klok said turning to Trek. They look vaguely like brothers, he thinks, but he wasn’t sure if it was nurture or nature. Of one thing he was certain: the tall redhead was not of his flesh and blood. Klok sat looking at them, wondering who their fathers were. It hadn’t yet occurred to Klok that the two women were partners; nice girls didn’t do that sort of thing. His old mind hadn’t even begun to grasp the strange dynamics of their family, but then of course not many younger minds had either. ‘Are you two brothers?’
It was an awkward moment. It was a question they had been asked many times. In some respects the boys look like non-identical twins, thought Klok, with the same prominent foreheads and piercing blue eyes. ‘No, we’re only step brothers.’ Although not strictly true, in their way of reasoning, it was the only simple way of putting off more embarrassing questions. Sons of two different women, who were lovers was not something easy to explain to anyone. All four children had asked after their fathers at various times, but their mothers had simply promised to tell them when they turned twenty-one. Further discussion was curtly refused. Most of Janet and Santie’s friends thought their fathers had been randomly chosen from the semen bank, made up mostly of young medical students with no known genetic defects. Both boys started looking uncomfortable and quickly emptied their cans. ‘Thanks for the beer. We’ll be moving on.’ They always looked for a way of escape when people started asking questions about their family.
The compartment light was out, and the door open just a chink. ‘You were quite a long time,’ whispered Janet. ‘Ssh, everyone is asleep. Did you enjoy yourselves?’
‘We had a beer and a chat, that’s all,’ said Trek. He kissed his mother good night, and she gave him a hug, slipping her other arm around Carlo.
June climbed quietly down from the top bunk, needing the loo. She had slept soundly through the night as the Blue Train rumbled its way across the Highveld towards Cape Town. Lying in the warm bed she was thinking about the coming holiday at the fairest Cape, and a young man she had promised to visit. They met a year before, but he was studying engineering in Cape Town, more than a thousand kilometres away from Johannesburg. June completed her early morning Bible reading and had just finished her prayers when nature started calling. Everyone else was still sleeping soundly despite the early dawn light beginning to filter around the blind. She considered putting off the not-yet-urgent demands of her bladder and finishing her novel, but turned up her nose in distaste, finding the silent conversation with the author was one-sided and boring. Lured by the bold script describing its author as a NY Times best-selling writer, June was finding the book dull. The descriptive parts of a village in Cornwall and the tangled relationships of a woman whose unfaithful husband had been tragically killed, were quite good, but as a whole she was finding it sickly sweet and all too predictable, convinced she could have written the last chapter herself before reading it. June loved to read but she only liked authors who made her work…and the book hadn’t stretched her at all.
In retrospect she regretted not having brought a good Louis Legrange or Jack Schaefer. She giggled quietly, thinking how irritated her tutor had been when she let her love of Westerns slip out. ‘Shane’ was one of her all-time favourites, ranking absurdly, on her favourites bookshelf, with War and Peace, and A Short Circle. Firmly she decided not to finish the silly little novel.
Pulling on her slippers and dressing-gown, June made her way along the corridor to the loo. On her way back she passed an old man staring out of the window. She didn’t recognise him. ‘Goeie more,’ he said, making room for her to pass.
‘Er, good morning. Mm, I don’t speak very good Afrikaans, I’m afraid.’
‘Well, do you speak any other languages?’
‘A bit of Zulu,’ replied June, going red.
‘Ag, you young people today, what do you know? You have all kinds of pieces of paper and you call yourselves educated, and you think old men like me are fools.’
‘I didn’t say that!’ retorted June heatedly. ‘So, how many languages do you speak anyway?’ The sun was about to break above the horizon, ending its own slumber. If anything the terrain was even more sombre than when June had last looked out of the window the previous evening.
‘Well, my Afrikaans, English and Italian are fluent. And then I know a bit of Zulu, quite a lot of German and even some French, though that’s very rusty now.’
‘Gosh, where did you learn all that?’
‘I lived in Bologna for three years. It’s not too far from Switzerland. That’s where I picked up the German and the French. But no degrees and no certificates, I’m just an old man who makes guitars and clocks.’
‘So, was it you the boys were talking with last night?’
‘Ja, it was me. So which of those two ladies is your mother?’
‘The taller one. Her name is Janet Twycross.’
Klok nodded. ‘And your name is …?’
‘June. June Twycross, of course.’
‘Hmm. Do you often holiday together, your mother and Santie?’ The old man cussed himself. ‘Where does your mother work?’ he added quickly.
‘She’s a public prosecutor. She works for the Department of Justice in Johannesburg. Rape is her specialty,’ June said proudly.
‘Rape? Now that’s very interesting! Really? And the other lady, what does she do?’ He was careful not to use Santie’s name again.
‘She’s also a lawyer. She is a lecturer at Gauteng University.’ The old man stared at her: ‘Mijn God. You’re not serious? You mean that Santie Veenstra is a lawyer?’ The old man was visibly shaken. He retreated into his cabin and sat down. Drops of sweat started running down his cheeks, and he loosened his collar, moping his brow with his sleeve.
‘Of course, I’m serious. Where do you know her from?’
He thought about that and then, too quickly, said: ‘I don’t know her. No, I don’t know her. Those young men must have told me her name. You’re not kidding me now? The tall lady is a rape prosecutor and the other one a lawyer? Whew!’ Klok rubbed his head again
‘How old were you when you went to Europe,’ June asked after a few moments. ‘I would love to do that.’
‘Well, do it then. What’s stopping you? I was a bit older than you, but not much. Of course it’s easier for a boy.’
June nodded from the doorway. ‘I think I’d better be getting back. Maybe I’ll stop and talk again. Bye.’
The sun was peeping over the horizon as June slipped back into her compartment. All the others were still fast asleep. Perhaps she would finish that silly book after all but no voices spoke to her from within its pages, and there was nothing to help with the disturbing voices starting to shout from without. A trip to Europe?
Klok didn’t want the boys attracting attention to him so he made sure of an early breakfast when the dining car opened. He quickly ate a prickly pear that he was surprised to find on the menu, followed by a large plate of coarse-ground maize meal porridge, with a large dollop of butter and honey. ‘Do you think you could bring me two fried eggs and some lamb livers to my compartment? I’m not feeling too well,’ he fibbed. In fact the younger party didn’t get to breakfast for another hour.
After breakfast Carlo took his rugby ball and stepped out the compartment door. ‘I’m taking a little walk.’ Nobody thought anything of it. For some reason, he felt attracted to the old man down the corridor. He knocked and waited, catching a whiff of coffee. After a few seconds, the old man pulled open the blind, peering out, and smiling when he saw who it was. ‘Can’t be too careful these days,’ he said. ‘I’m glad you came back. Come in, come in!’ He cleared away the rest of the breakfast dishes, offering Carlo a cup of coffee.
There was an awkward moment. Carlo broke the silence. ‘You throw a rugby ball like a pro.’
‘I did play a bit of rugby in my day,’ Klok answered vaguely, knowing where the conversation was going.
‘What team did you play for?’
‘I played a few games for the Red Devils, but that was more than 50 years ago.’
Carlo looked at the old shrunken body and found it difficult to believe that it once played inter-provincial rugby,trying to figure out what position the old man had played. Hooker? No, far too small. Perhaps a scrum-half. ‘What position?’ He tossed the ball, noticing how the old man caught it expertly, spinning it in his hands before torpedoing it back.
‘Mostly at inside centre, same as you. The coach moved me around a bit. A couple of games at outside centre and even half a dozen at full back when they were experimenting with positions or our regular guy, Hentie Schoeman was injured.’
‘You played in the Hentie Schoeman team? Wow, you weren’t playing when they beat Western Province were you?’
‘Sure was. I scored the winning try!’ Klok grinned. ‘But we are talking too much about me. Tell me about yourself. Have you finished school?’
Carlo wasn’t to be put off so easily. He did some quick mental arithmetic. Half a dozen games at full back, a ‘couple’ of games at outside centre, and most of his career at inside centre. That was more than a ‘few’ games for the most famous Red Devils team of all time. He made a mental note to look up who the players in that team were when they got back home. ‘So how many games did you actually play?’ He knew that not too many players played more than 10-20 games for any province in those days.
‘Oh, I played a few games, had some fun. But come on, tell me about yourself. You play for the Under-19 team, what school did you go to?’
Carlo was easily distracted when someone asked him about his own sporting achievement which was moderately successful. ‘I went to Astonhouse in East Griqualand. I was lucky to make the Natal Schools’ team.’
Klok nodded. ‘Very nice, very nice. No injuries, I hope.’ He reflexly rubbed his neck, craning it from side to side. Even so he still got tingling in his fingers periodically.
‘No, I’ve been lucky. I did turn my ankle once but nothing serious. And you?’
‘Ja, I did have a bit of neck injury. Actually it was quite serious. Ended my career when I was playing in Italy.’ Klok cussed himself. He was giving out too much information. Definitely time to move on to some new ground. But before he could say a thing, Carlo said: ‘You played in Italy! So that’s where you learnt to speak Italian. My grandmother was Italian.’ Fortunately for Klok, that was all that Carlo knew of his family history.
Klok looked at his grandson thoughtfully: ‘Do you sing a bit? Tenor?’
Carlo looked at the old man in disbelief. ‘How do you know so much about me? First you figure out that I play inside centre, now you know that I sing tenor!’
‘Your generation thinks we old folk are just a bunch of old farts,’ said Klok with a grin. ‘You forget that we have around eighty years of experience under our hats. I can recognize a tenor from a mile off. Where do you sing? In the bath? Church, opera?’
‘No, just a bit of church stuff, but I love it. Funny, we all had to join the choir at Astonhouse and I discovered I actually quite like music. It was only years later that my mum told me that my Italian grandmother could sing. Perhaps it runs in the blood.’
The old man nodded, absent mindedly. ‘Ja, she was a wonderful singer. Dance too. You should have seen her dancing on the tables!’
‘How do you know my grandmother could dance?’
‘Did I say that? Must have been dreaming. What a combination, Carlo. Rugby and music. Very nice, too. Your family must be very proud of you. I’ll bet you’re no dumb ass either,’ the old man chided.
Carlo shrugged his shoulder. ‘I don’t have much time for my music any more but I’ll have to give the bath a try. Lie in it for hours like my sisters do and annoy them, now that’s a good idea. And at the moment I am mostly playing tennis.’
Klok inhaled deeply giving a little sigh. Rugby, tennis, music. It all ran in the genes. ‘How about a bit of classical stuff? Do you know any operettas?’
‘No, I never sang any opera.’ Carlo blushed, feeling quite awkward.
‘Well, the La Donna è Mobile is an easy piece. I’ll teach you a few lines. You’ve probably heard the melody on those infernal mobile phones.’ He reached into the cabinet for a wine glass, giving them the first note. Together they hummed a line or two, with Carlo stumbling over the unfamiliar words, wishing he could escape.
‘Come on, you can do better than that!’
They tried again, more certainly than at first, and gaining confidence.
Three doors down, the others pricked up their ears. ‘Someone’s trying to sing down there. Whew, what a terrible noise,’ said June.
Trek said: ‘It’s Carlo. He’s with that old man.’
‘I think I recognize a bit of Verdi,’ said Janet. ‘Are they singing in Italian?’
‘They could be. He said he played rugby in Italy.’
‘Rugby in Italy!’ repeated Santie. ‘Did you say rugby...?’
Impulsively, she jerked to her feet, heading for the corridor. On reaching the half open door she stood back listening. The old man’s was saying, ‘Let’s get the first note again.’ Santie heard a thin bald resonating whine and they started again in harmony, more confidently this time. ‘What an crazy notion? Sing opera? It’s far too girlish for me?’
‘Girlish! Think Pavorotti, Carlo! They don’t get more masculine than tenors!’
‘Your voice has a nice timbre, but it will take hundreds of hours of irritating your sisters to produce something worthwhile!’ Santie heard them both laughing.
The old man was saying, ‘You’re blushing, Carlo. You really fancy you could do it, don’t you! You can do anything you want, my boy.’
Santie turned back, a worried look on her face. It wasn’t long before Carlo arrived back. No sooner he sat down than Santie stormed out, closing the compartment door firmly behind her. Klok’s door was slightly ajar.
‘Who are you? How do you know so much about my children?’ Santie stood angrily at Klok’s compartment door, scowling. He stared glumly at his daughter for long moments, unsure whether he was relieved, or terrified. Ever since he saw Santie on the platform he had a feeling the moment would arrive. How he had longed to explain … but how? Now, confronted by
her, with what seemed like a hundred years of planning what he would say, he found himself stammering, as though his tonue had swollen to twice its normal size. ‘I … I know it’s been a long time, Santie, but don’t you recognize your own father?’ Santie too, had instinctively known for years that the day would finally arrive. Still, it came as a shock. She put her hand to her mouth, her heart numb, starting to pound. ‘I don’t believe it. It’s … it’s you! ‘Yes, it’s me.’
‘I … I should have guessed when I heard you talking to Carlo. I thought you were long dead,’ she stumbled over her sentences, for once completely at loss.
‘It won’t be long now.’ He was gasping for breath.
‘What … what do you mean?’ Santie’s mouth felt dry, the words heavy, clustering and stuck in the back of her throat. She backed away wanting to flee. Anywhere. Just to get far from the monster. Her father! She had nothing she wanted to say to him? ‘Never mind. I’m glad that finally we have the chance to put things right.’
‘Put things right! You think that you can put things right! Just a few glib words, and … and …’ Santie couldn’t finish. She backed firmly out into the corridor.
‘Wait, please don’t go. I have so much to say. For years …’ All their sentences were clipped, Santie standing white-faced, her father struggled to his feet, red in the face.
Santie didn’t answer. She just glared, feeling nauseous, a bitter acidity rising in her throat, dragging at her words, and starting to feel light-headed. Finally, softening just a little, she asked, ‘Well, how are you?’
‘Not well.’ Klok paused, unable to go on. Finally he said, ‘Riddled with guilt.’
‘So you should be!’ Santie felt anger beginning to rise again, her whole head flaming, a suffocating sensation tugging at her throat. She put her hands to her neck, feeling that she was being strangled by some unseen figure. Memories of one hundred a fifty two, faithfully counted unforgetable Friday nights, and a few others thrown in, sought to overwhelm her? Should she be thanking God that it was only one night a week? It could have been every night! Should she be grateful?
‘Yes, I know. I have so … so many regrets. Everything went wrong … I’m terribly sorry. Terribly … what more can I say!’
‘Nothing! Say no more! You cannot possibly have any idea …’
‘Maybe an inkling. I can hear the bitterness in your voice.’
Some moments passed, neither sure what more to add. ‘You have done well for yourself. I am glad.’ Klok finally broke the silence.
‘Did Carlo tell you?’
‘No, the girl. June.’ He went on, ‘You have a fine son. You must be very proud of him.’
‘I am. Just you stay away from him, do you hear me?’
‘Yes, I hear you. I didn’t come looking for you. It’s pure coincidence that we’re on the same train.’
‘I’m surprised you can afford it.’
‘I can’t. But when it’s the last week of your life, what does it matter?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Nothing.’ Klok hesitated again. ‘I made a clock for you. A grandfather clock.’
‘I don’t want anything from you. How can you talk to me about clocks! What I want to know is why you ruined my life!’
‘I didn’t mean to … I …’ Klok could say no more. He started to choke up. ‘It’s just a gift, something small.’
‘I don’t want anything from you! Nothing, do you hear me! Not even your apologies. Nothing you can do, nothing … can make up for what you did. Nothing!’ she shouted, feeling faint, and suddenly conscious that the whole train could probably hear her yelling. She put her hand to her hair, smoothing it into place, desperate for something to do.
‘Well, for Carlo then. A grandfather clock for my grandson!’ He gave a guffaw. ‘But I made it for you, so you could remember your mother.’ Klok’s voice cracked. ‘You had the best mother in the world. The most wonderful wife. It’s no use telling you, I suppose. Far too late, but now … now that we have finally met here, I think it’s right you should know that I do care.’ He started to weep uncontrollably. ‘I don’t expect you want to remember your father, and I can’t say I blame you, but it’s something of a token, and something to help you remember your mother. I hope you will accept it.’
They glared at each other for some moments. ‘A clock maker? You’re a clock maker now?’ Santie finally said dully. She felt like running again, feeling the bile rising in her throat once more.
‘I was. Now I have got rid of all my tools. My life is behind me, Santie. I hope you and Carlo can move on to a happier time.’
‘Happiness? How can I ever be happy after what you did to me?’
‘I don’t know. I’m sorry. I’m not pleading for forgiveness. I don’t think I would give it, if I was in your shoes, so I’m not asking you to forgive me. But I do want you to know that it is the biggest regret of my life. Even more than the death of your mother.’
Santie nodded, a little shocked at that admission. ‘Just stay away from Carlo, then. That’s how you can make amends. You’re not to poison his life like you did mine.’ With that, Santie stormed out, pleased that finally she could close that door.
Bastard! ‘Janet, we must talk!’
Janet looked up from the book she was reading. Santie jerked her head, indicating the corridor. Janet slipped a bookmark in the ‘Guide to Cape Town’. She’d heard the shouts and all of them were looking grim and tight lipped.
Santie took a deep breath. ‘You know that old man?
The one a few compartments away from us?’
‘You mean that old man that Carlo was singing with?’ said Janet wanting to laugh, but one look at Santie’s face told her that she dared not.
Santie nodded. ‘He’s my father.’
Janet put her hand to her mouth. She didn’t know what to say. ‘Why is he here?’ she gasped.
‘Just a coincidence it seems. Carlo mustn’t know.’
‘You’ve spoken to him?’
‘It was a long time ago, Sant. You don’t want to work it out with him? He looks very old and fragile.’
‘Certainly not. Let him die in agony and rot in eternity. I’ve had nearly forty years of pain, and I’m certainly not going to absolve him now.’
‘Salt water doesn’t quench the thirst.’
‘No! Please! Don’t come with your silly idioms. I’m not forgiving him, and I don’t want Carlo to know who he is. Fortunately the bastard never told him.’
Janet shrugged her shoulders. ‘I think you may be making a big mistake.’
‘Have you forgiven Jansen?’ demanded Santie, her eyes boring, and accusing. Janet shook her head, looking miserable. She said nothing, turned and made her way back to their compartment.
Klok kept his door locked for the remainder of the journey. Both Carlo and June vainly tried knocking on his door a couple of times on the way to the toilet, but there was no response. The old man’s blinds were kept firmly closed, and they had no idea whether he was in the compartment or not. On arrival at Cape Town station the family quickly caught a taxi to Blauwbergstrand. Much to Santie’s relief, Klok didn’t emerge from his compartment until after they were gone.
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