Friday, June 27, 2014

The Outing by Beryl Ensor-Smith

When the Prentburg Church Sisters join their neighbouring congregations on an outing to Waterfontein, a mix-up on the buses causes a terrible muddle; by Beryl Ensor-Smith.

The invitation to church members in Prentburg to join the congregations of other towns on a bus trip was met with varying degrees of enthusiasm by the Sisters of the Church.

"How lovely," was Sarie Blignault's bright response.

"I'm not so sure," Marion Klopper said slowly.

"Well, I am!" Mrs Merton shot back without pause. "Some of the branches of our church in bigger towns are so snooty I'm surprised they even bothered to invite us. They look upon our little congregation as poor relatives."

"Especially the Waterfontein lot," Helga Swanepoel agreed. "They're really an arrogant bunch."

Christina du Plessis, who had lived in Waterfontein for some years and been (in her opinion) a mainstay of that branch, bridled.

"They most certainly are not! In fact, they are known far and wide for their Christian charity. They've adopted the local township and there is no end to their good deeds."

Their interference, more likely, Rina van Wyk thought cynically, but left the thought unsaid.

Miems Gouws felt that as a church deacon, she should discourage any negativity. "Dominee Seibrand is very pleased we've been included," she said firmly, "and expects us to extend the hand of friendship to everyone on the outing. We're all going in buses to places of interest near Waterfontein." ("You see?" Helga breathed audibly, receiving a glare from Christina and a reproving glance from Miems, who continued.) "But we will mingle so that each bus will take people from different towns to give us a chance to get to know one another."

"A disastrous idea," Mrs. Merton barked. "We'll rue the day, mark my words!"

When Miems got home and told her mother of the dubious reception the invitation had received, for once old Ma Gouws was in agreement with her contemporary and arch-enemy, Ethel Merton.

"People in these parts don't 'mingle', Miems. We're a conservative lot, as you well know. Those buses will travel from place to place in grim silence. It's a stupid idea, no doubt thought up by one of those socialite Waterfontein women who are totally out of touch with reality!"

"Oh, Ma," Miems complained, "Not you too! Dominee expects us to be at our best, and we should, for the sake of our pride if nothing else."

Ma Gouws was having one of her deaf days and picked up only a word here and there of what Miems had said.

"Daughter, you're talking in riddles. What bride? What guest?

Or did you say jest? If we've going to have busloads of jolly, joking bridal guests, heaven help us! On the other hand..." a calculating gleam came into her eyes, "is she going to be on our bus, this bride?"

Miems looked at her mother wordlessly and let it go. It was just too exhausting to have to shout to make herself heard, especially as the old lady didn't have her earhorn to hand.

The day of the outing dawned hot, bright and clear. Prentburg members who had chosen to go were travelling in cars to Waterfontein, where they would board their respective buses. Dominee Seibrand looked momentarily bemused when he saw the ladies of his congregation dressed up to the nines in garb more suitable for a garden party than a casual day trip. He caught the eye of his wife, Anna, and they shared a smile, both knowing the motivation behind the glad rags. These ladies would not on any account be regarded as inferior to those of other congregations. He looked fondly at his Church Sisters; a power in their own right!

They felt vindicated when they reached the meeting point in Waterfontein. While people from outlying areas were casually dressed, the Waterfontein contingent were all beautifully turned out in clothes shrieking recognised brand names. The Church Sisters preened complacently. They had not been found wanting!

There was one bossy woman (naturally from Waterfontein) supervising

the boarding of the buses. She called out names in a stentorian voice and brooked no delays. There was a brief hold-up when Ma Gouws accosted her and demanded that she and Miems be put on the same bus as the bride. The bossy woman frowned, and then her brow cleared.

"Ah, that will be Lisette, no doubt. You know her?" Taking a look at Ma Gouws's determined face, she gave in. "I suppose that could be arranged, but it will mean shifting people." She sighed mightily to indicate the inconvenience, but within seconds had moved them from their allotted bus to the one containing the bride.

"Good," Ma Gouws said to her embarrassed and confused daughter. "It will surely mean champagne instead of orange juice on this bus and we'll need something to make it bearable. Quick thinking, hey?"

"Ma!" Miems protested despairingly.

As things happened, in transferring the Gouws women a precedent had been set and was taken advantage of by others wanting to be placed with their friends. The lady organiser was besieged with requests from all sides. In hastily re-seating people, she became flustered and the outcome was that most of the Prentburg group ended up on the same bus, with only a few other couples from outlying areas. They were more than happy at this mistake and did not point out the error. The men in particular were relieved not to have to socialise with their wealthier and more competitive brothers from the bigger towns. Only Christina complained.

"I was hoping to meet up with some of my old Waterfontein friends and what do I find? None are on this bus! There's such a queue waiting to see that woman about being shifted to other buses that I shan't do anything now, but at our very first stop I'll ask to be moved." She glared in the direction of the harassed object of her displeasure. "What makes it worse is that Hans isn't even on the same bus as me! How can such an important task have been given to someone so grossly incompetent? I'm certainly not putting up with us being separated!"

"Angel, asking to be together will be rude," Hans said hastily, delighted to be out of his wife's clutches for a few hours. "I think we should put up with it."

"Oh you do, do you?" she replied, but privately conceded that it would be undignified to kick up a fuss. She might be mistaken for the clinging vine type, unable to cope without a man at her side. She had better grin and bear it. Christina settled into her seat and sulked all the way to their first stop, an old fortification from the first Boer war.

When passengers climbed back onto the buses a half-hour later, the Prentburg lot were at first delighted to find that Christina and Sarie, who had been sitting together, were no longer with them. Sarie they liked, despite her childlike naivety; Christina they suffered, like an annoying toothache. Their initial relief at finding her abrasive presence removed from their midst faded somewhat when they found that a young Chinese couple had climbed onto the bus and were looking for seats. They found those vacated by Christina and Sarie and the bus lurched on its way. There was a stilted silence as the newcomers were eyed curiously by the Prentburg churchgoers. They looked back wide-eyed, their gazes roving from face to face.

"I'd heard that the Waterfontein church is progressive, but isn't this carrying things a bit far?" Susie Lamprecht whispered. "How can their Dominee be sure they aren't spies for Buddha or whoever their prophet is?"

"Don't be ridiculous," Helga admonished. "They're obviously converts and it's the function of the church to embrace all-comers. Even though Dominee Seibrand isn't on this bus, he would expect us to show kindness to these, er, foreigners." She leaned forward and smiled wolfishly at the Chinese couple. They shrank back into their seats. An argument between the couple then ensued, all carried out in hushed voices in a Chinese dialect. While what they were saying was not known, it was clear that the young woman was upset and that her husband was trying to placate her.

"We're derelict in our duty," Marion said. "Helga's right. We should be more friendly." She leaned forward in her seat, which was directly behind the couple.

"Can we help?" she asked kindly, and was met by a torrent of Chinese from the young man that left her open-mouthed with astonishment.

Mrs Merton had been watching the exchange with derisive detachment and now turned to Marion with ill-concealed enjoyment.

"So do tell us where lies the problem," she rasped.

"At least I'm trying to help," Marion spluttered angrily.

Elaine Ferreira was looking troubled. "What I can't understand is, if they don't talk Afrikaans, how can they understand the sermons? Or anything else, for that matter."

"They probably aren't missing much. If they're from Waterfontein, their minister has the charisma of a chameleon," Suzie said dismissively. "He has the same creepy eyelids too, come to think of it. Hey," as a fresh thought struck her, "we haven't tried speaking English. Perhaps they understand some?"

Attempts were made by first one, then another, to communicate with the Chinese couple, but to no avail. The young woman was by now in tears and her husband rushed to the front of the bus and unleashed a loud unintelligible torrent at the driver, who was not impressed.

"Get this maniac back to his seat," he yelled. "What's the matter with the guy? How am I supposed to concentrate on my driving with him at my elbow, kicking up a din?"

The man was coaxed unwillingly back to his seat and his unhappy wife.

Bottled water and orange juice were sent from somewhere at the rear of the bus, tissues offered and genuine concern shown for the predicament of the distressed strangers.

"Don't you worry," Marion said, patting the hand of the young woman. "We'll find someone along the way who can help sort everything out, I promise."

"I hope you can keep that promise," Mrs Merton said scathingly. "Where on this trip are we likely to find an Oriental person to interpret? We don't even know if this couple is Japanese, Taiwanese or Chinese!"

"We'll ask the bus driver to stop in the next dorp and find a take-away or something where there are Easterners," Helga said briskly.

"Well I won't hold my breath," was Mrs Merton's response, but she too hoped a solution could be found. There was a lively intelligence about the couple that appealed to her, probably because there was such a dearth of it in her own community, she decided uncharitably.

Meanwhile Christina and Sarie were seated on a luxury tourist bus travelling in the opposite direction. They had dallied overlong at the fortification, as Sarie was intrigued by the history of the place and wanted to read all the plaques. Being a slow reader, this had taken a long time and despite Christina's impatient urging, by the time they got back to the parking lot, their bus had gone and only two others remained.

"Make for the nearest one," Christina commanded and hustled a reluctant Sarie in its direction.

"What if there are no empty seats?" she protested.

"Then they'll just have to squash up and make room for us!"

Sarie looked even more doubtful. No amount of squashing up would accommodate Christina's fat body, she was sure.

"It's all your fault for making us late, but I'm cut to the quick to think that our so-called friends drove off without us," Christina complained.

"Perhaps they didn't notice we weren't on the bus?"

"What rubbish! Everybody notices when I'm around."

"That's no lie," Sarie was foolish enough to agree and got a short, sharp slap against the side of the head as she boarded the bus.

They were lucky enough to find two unoccupied seats directly ahead of them and were hardly seated before the bus drove off.

"We're in luck," Christina said, settling back into her seat with satisfaction. She decided to forgive Sarie for delaying them. It had been a stroke of good fortune after all! "This bus is much nicer than the other, much more modern. Aren't the seats comfortable, Sarie? And we can adjust the air conditioning." She fiddled happily, altering the flow, as the bus turned onto the highway.

Sarie looked out of the window at the passing scenery, then at the other passengers. Her face took on an expression of intense bewilderment. She sat in silence for a while, then:

"Christina," timidly, "I don't recognise anyone here."

"Of course you don't, you goose. We're on a different bus!" Christina continued to explore the gadgets on either side of her seat. "See, Sarie, if you depress this lever and push back, the seat reclines!"

"Christina," Sarie persisted, "these people on this bus are all speaking a strange language."

"Oh, come on, Sarie, don't you even recognise your mother-tongue when you hear it?" Christina had found a pair of earphones in the pouch of the seat in front of hers. "There must be music programmes. These must plug in here," she said, having located a likely looking hole in the armrest.

"My mother didn't speak in this tongue," Sarie said with unaccustomed

determination. "She spoke Afrikaans and these people are definitely not Afrikaners."

Just then the tour guide in the front seat took up her microphone and broke into a long explanation of delights to come in a language that was decidedly not Afrikaans. Christina froze for a moment, then looked up in alarm, first at the tour guide and then around her into a sea of politely curious Chinese faces. For a while she was dumbstruck as her mind worked laboriously through the process of what had happened.

"Oh my God," she whispered, "we're on the wrong bus," and she promptly gave vent to full-blown hysterics.

Ma Gouws and Miems were two of the Prentburg contingent having a good time. The bus they were on had hardly pulled away from the first historical site, the fortification, when someone at the back passed round paper cups of champagne with which to toast the newly wedded couple.

"Lisette and Marcus," was the call.

"Lisette and Marcus," enthused old Ma Gouws, and then in an aside to Miems, "I told you so! Daughter, you're lucky you've a mother with brains."

Miems made no reply, but as the champagne took effect and more was produced, fell into conversation with those around her and found she was enjoying herself. No one seemed to mind when her mother nodded off and slept through the next three stops at the botanical gardens, the waterfall and the nature reserve. When the old lady awoke, she was plied with more champagne and titbits of food produced by different passengers. She revelled in the attention. "This is what I call living," she said with satisfaction.

Another of their clan who was enjoying himself was Hans du Plessis. He had met up with some of his old cronies from Waterfontein on his bus, and went to great lengths to impress on them the importance of his contribution to the community since his return to Prentburg (exaggerated) and the great part he played as a member of both the church and district councils (grossly exaggerated!). One of his "buddies" in sheer desperation suddenly suggested that everyone sitting on the aisle seats move one row forward every half hour. Hans was in an aisle seat!

At first he was disappointed at being separated from his chums, but it soon dawned on him that with each move forward, he had a new pair of ears to bend. Also, a crate of beers appeared mysteriously and was dispersed throughout the bus. Hans became more convivial with each beer. His last move was into a seat alongside an attractive brunette who seemed to find him vastly amusing. Well into his cups, Hans felt a right old boy-oh! Things could be a lot worse, he decided. Thinking of how it would have been if he'd been on the same bus as Christina, he broke into a sweat. Things could have been a lot worse!

The many Prentburg residents in the same bus as the Chinese couple missed out on all of the planned sights barring the first, the fortification, as they spent hours tracking down someone who could interpret for them. After explaining the problem to him, their bus driver had willingly abandoned his route, as he could not stand the wailing of the unhappy foreign lady and was as eager as anyone to put a stop to it. Eventually they had found a Chinaman in a small supply store out in the country who could understand the couple.

"They on wrong bus," he grinned. "They with tourist group going to Bloemfontein. Better chase to catch up, yes?"

Their driver cursed in a most ungodly way but his passengers were sympathetic, so pretended not to notice. He "chased" to the highway, heading back in the direction of the fortification, and by guess and by God, less than an hour later came across the stationary tourist bus alongside the N1. A group of frantic Chinese people were trying to comfort a shrieking Christina and a tearful Sarie.

Two lots of very relieved and emotional passengers were exchanged and the buses took off in short order in different directions, both filled with exhausted passengers.

"I predicted this," Mrs Merton said grumpily, passing a wad of tissues to a bawling Christina. "I said no good would come of it!"

"It was too terrible," Christina wailed, "all those yellow people crowded round us! I've never been so scared in all my life."

"Go on! They were very kind," Sarie contradicted, emboldened now that she was again in the company of her friends. "They gave us rice cakes and fortune cookies. Mine said I would meet new people and I did!"

"And Christina's?" Suzie asked. (She was interested in fortunes, the occult and all things mysterious.)

"She was too upset to open hers. I did it for her." Sarie stole a sideways glance at Christina, who was still blubbering at full strength.

"So?" queried Suzie again.

"It said, well... it said that someone close to her would face temptation."

Christina's head shot up. Her eyes widened. "I knew it. I knew I couldn't let Hans out of my sight! He's very susceptible to temptation." Her face flushed with anger. "He's probably been drinking or even flirting with another woman!"

"Oh, don't be absurd," Mrs. Merton snapped. "Even if he is, your husband isn't Harrison Ford or Brad Pitt, Christina. He's a portly, ageing man with hair transferring itself from his head to his nose and ears! You are, I assure you, quite safe from having some woman wrest him from your grasp." She smiled nastily before adding, "I can't, however, vouch for his sobriety!"

This speech incensed Christina even more. "My Hans is very attractive to other women, I'll have you know. I've even heard rumours that the counsellor for our area, that Dixon woman, has her sights set on him!"

Thinking about the whispers that had circulated through the dorp a few months earlier, she gritted her teeth.

"Wait till I get hold of him. If he's been playing the part of Don Juan, he'll meet a similar end at my hands, I promise you!"

Mrs Merton raised her eyes heavenwards and turned impatiently away.

The other members of the sisterhood felt that in the interests of fairness they should calm Christina down as there was no evidence, as yet, that Hans was guilty of any wrongdoing. They exchanged glances, and to a woman decided they'd all had enough of her histrionics for one day. Hans du Plessis, guilty or innocent, would just have to fend for himself!

5 comments:

  1. Wrong bus! What a crack-up! A couple of lines really caught my eye - for example: Christina they suffered, like an annoying toothache.
    Nice!
    Keep 'um coming, Beryl.

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  2. Hi Jim, and thank you - pleased you enjoyed it. I hope to have more published in coming months. Keep well!
    Beryl

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  3. Well written and creative presentation of (sadly) not uncommon professors of faith either unwilling to acknowledge or unable to recognize their hypocrisy and betrayal of the very God they at least pretend to worship. Being on the bus with this bunch is my idea of Hell.

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  4. Thanks for your comment, Charlie. It's lways good to have feedback.
    Beryl.

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  5. Fabulous! So entertaining - I enjoyed every word.

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