Ouma Jansen, Klein Jan's grandmother, is an enigma. Blind since twenty five years of age, determined and courageous, she stamps her personality on this book.
‘Ouma, I have something to tell you.’
‘I wish you wouldn't call me that, Jan. I'm not your grandmother. What is it then?’
They were speaking in the native Maastricht dialect, their mother tongue, but quite unintelligible to most Hollanders, and South Africans, of course, too. Jan in fact holds a Netherlands passport, the land of his birth, but he speaks little or no Dutch. His parents emigrated to the land of promise when he was less than two.
He is however quite fluent in dialect, the southern brogue. It always came as a surprise to him that Dutch tourists never understood when he spoke to them. That was until he met his first wife in the Johannesburg International Airport. It was the first time he had heard his mother tongue spoken by somebody other than his parents.
The familiar accent of the young woman speaking to her parents at the next table caught him unawares, and her parting farewell, Hoia, as her parents got up and left, had him turning round and staring at her. She too was surprised when he, a perfect stranger, came over and sat opposite her, speaking to her in their plat Dutch. The romance had soon blossomed and they married within three months but it was over almost as quickly. Maastricht’s people do not transplant easily, but the straw that broke the marriage was when Jan was caught sleeping after hours with a secretary in the law firm’s offices, and summarily fired.
A Family Affair is a spicy book about two young women in love; you'll love it.
Ouma Jansen is one of the leading characters in A Family Affair. A deeply religious woman, she stamps her kindness on her family, despite her son.
Jan cleared his throat awkwardly. ‘Two things, actually. Firstly, I am going to Australia next week for a holiday.’
‘Again. That’s nice.’ Ouma nodded. ‘And the second?’
Jan hesitated for only a moment. ‘You’re a grandmother at last.’
Ouma looked up at him sharply, staring at him blankly, yet seeing him perfectly clearly in her mind’s eye. Her only child was a great disappointment to her, but she kept her sadness to herself. Ouma was one of those people of profound Christian belief, non judgmental of the unbelieving world, including her son, and gentle with other Believers less mature in the Faith.
‘Yes, I know.’
‘Who told you?’ he asked testily, instantly assuming that Janet had told her the whole story.
‘No one told me. My hands told me.’
‘Your hands?’ Jan knew well that his mother’s hands could feel almost as well as his eyes could see, and sometimes better, but that didn’t shed any light.
Ouma didn’t answer for a while. ‘Do you remember a month or two ago you took me to the mall for coffee one Saturday morning? A small boy called out as he and his mother went past?’
‘What I didn’t tell you was that I have been meeting Janet and KJ, and her friend Santie, at the mall for a few months. They sat down at the table next to Muriel and me one Saturday morning, and we started chatting. All quite by accident. As soon as I held Klein-Jan, something stirred in me but I didn’t know what it was. I suspect that, if I had eyes, in the same situation I would never have guessed.’
Jan let out a long breath. ‘How long have you known then?’
‘I have been really been sure for only two weeks. When Janet’s friend Santie told me that KJ was short for Klein-Jan, I knew for certain, but I started to suspect it the day they walked past when you and I were having coffee. When KJ called out, I recognized your voice. He is very like his father of fifty years ago, you know. The same jaw line, the same gurgle.’ She leant forward and felt for her son’s chin, and then gently drew him to her bosom. She hadn’t done that for a long time. ‘I’m so glad for you. He’s a beautiful child and the past few months have been amongst the happiest of the last twenty years.’
Jan nodded, worried. How much did his mother know? He continued to be astounded by his mother’s great intelligence and intuition, but knew it would shake her love for him to the bone if she found out how her only grandchild was conceived. ‘So Janet has told you nothing?’
‘Not a thing. She doesn’t even know that I know.’
The Fifth heaved a sigh of relief. He hoped Ouma Jansen knows nothing of the court case either. Some of it had made the press, but then Ouma couldn’t read other than braille, and fortunately it seemed none of her friends had told her.
‘Why don’t you marry her, and make your son legitimate?’
‘She won’t have me.’ He said it bluntly.
Ouma nodded, saying nothing. She actually wasn’t surprised. Not many a sensible girl would marry a three times divorced man, more than twenty years older than herself. She has an intuition about Santie and Janet as well. ‘So, when do you leave?’
‘In about two weeks.’
‘How long will you be away?’
Jan hesitated. Finally he answered: ‘A month, maybe longer.’ He left the sentence unfinished, remembering how as a child his mother always knew when he was lying.
The court case wasn’t going well. Several of the firm’s employees testified that Janet had said publicly on the beach that nothing had happened. It was good fortune that a contact had managed to ensure that the vaginal sample taken by the MOH had been lost but Jan had not guessed that they would have been crafty enough to divide it in two.
The DNA testing done by the police proved conclusively that the sample coincided exactly with his genetic profile. It was really a case of whether the judge believed her side of the story, or his. He was having misgivings, and a little bird had whispered in his ear that both assessors believed him guilty. Judgment was due in three weeks.
‘Ouma, may we take you home today?’ Janet and KJ met with Ouma as usual on their Saturday morning excursion to the mall, but they had agreed that it would be wisest if Santie stayed at home for once. ‘There are some things I would like to tell you.’
Muriel readily agreed to the new arrangements, so Janet found herself walking out to the parking lot, for the first time arm in arm with KJ’s grandmother. The lad was by now nearly fifteen months old, a big boy, with the typical Dutch features of his father. Everywhere strangers stopped to admire her son. In the beginning, the conflict over the likeness to this father, tormented her, but gradually she had come to terms with the handsome child’s genetics. Janet was glad that the old lady could not see the boy, lest she guess at his heritage, but increasingly she wished that Ouma could see and appreciate her lovely grandchild. Eventually it became a fetish that she had to tell the old lady. Finally she wrote a letter to Jan declaring that she was going to tell his mother about Klein Jan, not knowing that Ouma already had guessed the truth, and Jan had himself divulged it to her.
KJ loved the old lady, chattering constantly on the way out to the car park. Ouma held onto the pram, smiling in her blind way at the small boy she knew was sitting just in front of her. It was a short journey. Once on the pavement outside her house she made her familiar way quickly up the steps to the large veranda, which ran round three sides of the house, letting them into the cool, dark interior. Janet marvelled at the pot plants on the veranda; a yellow Clivia in flower and a dozen Amaryllis of different colours. Several were spiking and one in full bloom boasted a deep throated trumpet shaped flower in bright gold, striped with red; a couple of staked tomatoes plants completed the homely scene.
‘Come in my dears and make yourselves at home.’
Ouma made her way to the kitchen, putting the kettle on for coffee, and brought out some spicy Dutch biscuits that she had baked. Janet was astonished that she obviously lived such an independent life. KJ squatted down admiring the large flower buds springing up from their bulbs.
"Life, misfortune, isolation, abandonment, poverty,
are battlefields which have their heroes;
obscure heroes, sometimes greater than the illustrious heroes."
They settled in comfortable old fashioned seats, Ouma in a large leather couch with arms were frayed and cracked but the appearance was friendly rather than worn. Janet watched as she filled their mugs perfectly from an ancient, battered coffeepot, adding just the right amounts of milk.
Ouma said, ‘Pour some apple juice for Klein Jan.’
When Ouma heard Janet’s snatched breath she quickly put her out of her misery with a little laugh. ‘Yes, my dear, I know his name is Klein Jan. It took me quite a few weeks before I realized what it was that my hands were trying to tell me.’
The old lady paused. ‘He’s my grandson isn’t he?’ Her sightless eyes gazed out at where she knew Janet was sitting.
Janet reached forward, going down on her knees and putting her head on the elderly woman’s broad lap, unseen tears dribbling onto Ouma’s apron. Like Jan, she too had been wondering just how much the old lady knew. Ouma gently caressed the back of her head, her fingers ruffling the fine blonde hair for the first time.
‘How did it happen, Ouma? I didn’t plan that meeting at the mall, I never knew who you were. Was it your idea? Did Jan plan it?’ The questions came thick and fast.
‘No, Janet, I don’t think anyone planned it. We have a word for it in Dutch, “toevallig ”. We just fell together. Call it providence if you will, but I think the Almighty helped us to fall over each other. It’s been the most beautiful coincidence of my life.’
You can enjoy this early unedited version of Book One, for free; if you're enjoying it, you'll have to purchase Books Two and Three. At 99c each, it won't break the bank!
Read them on your smartphone, tablet or Kindle.
Bernard Preston lives together with his wife Helen, in the small village of Hilton in South Africa. Married for 44 years with three children they are both semiretired.
They are passionate about building an ecofriendly home and garden. Bernie is something of a solar geek, Helen loves gardening, and giving a few maths lessons. Sweet peppers are her speciality.
Helen writes math textbooks, and Bernie loves to write about the quirky people he meets in life. Whilst Santie and Janet are figures of his imagination, their relationship is one that we straight folk cannot avoid; some find the company of their own sex preferable. Being judgemental no longer holds water.
A Family Affair is a trilogy; fourth and fifth sequels are in the pipeline; meet the first married pope in a millennium in 2016! He is Santie's Italian half brother.
Bernie loves them hot.
A Family Affair is a trilogy of intrigue and deception by Bernard Preston.
~ 99c each.
A sequel to A family affair is in the pipeline; it's the story of the first married pope in a thousand years. He's Santie's half brother, Georgiou.
Hopefully it will be available in 2016, but the editing of a book is a bear.
Nutritional corner is a few tidbits about healthy foods.
Interesting research shows that a 100 elderly folk who ate strawberries regularly had one third of the cancer of a similar group of people who rarely or never ate strawberries. It's due, so scientists think, to a group of substances called phenols which are strong anti oxidants. They belong to what we call phytochemical foods. Taste delic anyway!
They help with eyesight and arthritis too.