The Birthday Bash by Beryl Ensor-Smith

Friday, September 6, 2019
In the quiet South African town of Prentburg, the local church has new models for its nativity scene, and teenagers Adele and Adam are hosting a party; by Beryl Ensor-Smith.

Dominee Seibrand was surprised at his congregation's conflicting reactions to the gift of two display mannequins from Koos Venter's shop window, to replace the parental figures in the nativity scene that had been trotted out each December for more than fifty years and was showing its age. The church sisters, in particular, were of differing opinions.

"It's only because he's bought new modern models in the hopes of attracting more business that he's foisted these ridiculous things on us," Marion Klopper said scathingly after the next Sisters of the Church meeting.

"Perhaps so," Helga Swanepoel replied, "but these are life-size with movable joints. We'd be able to arrange the arms of the female to hold a large doll in her arms, adjusting the head of Joseph so that he is looking fondly down at the new born babe. Dressed properly they would be very effective."

"That's all very well," Darleen Jansen chipped in, "but what about other figures in the nativity scene? We'd have no wise men, shepherds and the like!"

"We could always borrow a donkey from one of the farmers," Suzie van Blerk suggested mischievously, stirring the pot, "and a lamb or two."

Christina du Plessis hissed and gave her a withering look.

Although it was only May, at his wife Anna's suggestion Dominee decided that the two models, suitably attired in biblical garb, would be displayed at the following two Sunday services and the attendees asked to place, in a slotted box provided in the entrance hall, their vote either for or against their replacing the old nativity scene. The greatest number of votes would decide their fate.

Two people not overly interested in this latest quandary had a problem of their own. With their 25th wedding anniversary looming, Truida and Bruno Spies had decided to spend the night in nearby Waterfontein, where they would see the latest musical at the Dreamland Theatre and enjoy the five-star comforts of the Elite Hotel. Their problem centred around their seventeen-year-old twins, Adele and Adam.

Even in conservative Prentburg, like youngsters everywhere, the two were keen to take advantage of their parents' absence and had asked, very politely, if they could have a party on the Saturday night. They readily agreed to all the strictures placed upon them by their reluctant mother. Too readily!

"I don't like it," Truida told Bruno, her suspicions aroused. They've promised to limit their numbers to only close friends, turn the music down at 10.30, to forbid any alcohol being brought here, prepare all eats themselves and clean up afterwards. Does that sound like our two feisty kids?"

"They're normal teenagers, Truida, neither angels nor devils, just keen to have a bit of fun. We'll be enjoying ourselves, so shouldn't we cut them a bit of slack?"

"You've always been a pushover where they're concerned. I'm more realistic, but I suppose you've got a point. If they abuse our trust they'll not get another chance, and I need you to support me in making this clear, Bruno!"

"OK," he agreed obligingly, which did little to quell her misgivings.

The twins wasted no time in issuing invitations to everyone in their class!

"We can't help it if we've made lots of friends," Adele nudged her brother. "It's up to you to make plans for alcohol seeing as I promised the fossils we'd not have any here." She giggled, "Just as well they know nothing about the after party at the lake!"

On Friday afternoon after their parents had left, Adele's girlfriends arrived en masse at the house to help prepare food. They made pizzas, sausage rolls, cheese puffs and hot dogs. Crisps and nuts would be the first course. For dessert they made koeksisters and melktert and stood looking at the results of their efforts with satisfaction, before packing most of the food into boxes to be transported to the lake some thirty kilometres beyond the village where the after-party was to be held.

"I've kept the nuts and chips for us to have here with the soft drinks my dad's provided," Adele told the workforce, "but we'll have worked up an appetite for the rest by the time we've moved on."

The neighbours of the Spies family had been warned about the impending party and were expecting a disrupted night. They were impressed when, at 10.30pm, the music was turned down so that they could no longer hear it and that at 11.00 the party ended, with youngsters calling out loud 'goodbyes' and thanks, revving the engines of their cars and motor-bikes before driving off in good spirits. The veranda light was turned off and the twins went back into the house, closing the door behind them.

"I can't believe it," Elaine Ferreira said to husband Benny. "Those twins are usually a handful and challenge their parents every inch of the way. Truida must have threatened them with blue murder to get them to behave so well. The party's over and it's only quarter-past-eleven!"

"Be thankful for small mercies," he replied.

Little did they know that the pair had snuck out of the back door, pushed the family car (which they were not allowed to drive) into the service lane behind the row of houses and joined the convoy driving to the lake where celebrations were to begin in earnest!

Once everyone arrived there, bottles of all kinds of hooch made an appearance, mostly from parents' supplies. There was a half-bottle of tequila, six-packs of beer, bottles of wine, three-quarters of a bottle of brandy, an unopened one of gin and a donation of a bottle of cooking sherry purchased by Christina at the supermarket along with other groceries and overlooked by the packer. Brent van der Bijl, one of the twins' invited guests, had been in the queue behind her and noticed the forgotten bottle. He wrestled briefly with his conscience but when the packer's attention was distracted by the teller at the next till asking for some plastic bags, he saw it as an omen and quickly packed his own purchases of school stationery and Christina's sherry into the bag he had bought and paid for.

Christina, on discovering her loss a few days later, immediately blamed the packer. "It could only be her," she fumed. "She had a furtive way about her and shifty, close-set eyes! It's too late now to demand a replacement but I'm going to write a letter of complaint to the manager."

"You can't go accusing people without proof Christina," her husband Hans admonished. "Best be more careful in future."

Taking this as an insult, Christina resorted to sulky silence.

The party at the lake was everything that the one at the house had not been; rowdy, with music blaring from the Range Rover driven by one of the boys, and uninhibited, with most of the teenagers changing behind rocks into swimming gear and leaping into the lake. Those who needed Dutch courage before taking the plunge soon became drunk. They were jolted back to sobriety by the shock of the icy water which made it impossible to stay in for long. It was unseasonably cold for Autumn.

Food was eaten, jokes did the rounds, drink flowed and later a few braved the water a second time but soon emerged again, deciding to change back into their clothes.

The girls were more circumspect than the boys both in their drinking and their behaviour, with one exception. Tertia Buyers, always one to seek the limelight by going to extremes, drank herself steadily into a state of recklessness, discarded her bikini, tossing it onto her clothes piled behind a bush and made a wild dash for the lake. Her boyfriend Wynand watched her in dismay, calling out to her not to be so stupid. While all eyes were fixed on her naked body, two of the watching lads, Kris and Piet, exchanged a conspiratorial grin, quickly scooped up her clothes, crept to the car they'd arrived in and hid them beneath the driver's seat.

"Might as well make the most of this," Kris whispered, "she'll have to get out soon or freeze to death and we'll get another eyeful."

Wynand, worried, was growing angry.

"Get out," he yelled to Tertia, "you'll catch pneumonia, you idiot!" She, meanwhile, had discovered for herself how cold the water was and was fast turning blue, a mass of goose-flesh.

"Lend me your shirt," she beseeched Wynand, and grumbling, he did so. The wind had picked up and even on the bank of the lake it was uncomfortably chilly.

She made her way out of the water covering herself with the shirt and scurried to where she had left her clothes.

"They're gone!" she cried. "OK, which of you has taken them?"

There were denials all round. Kris and Piet, disappointed at being thwarted, were as vigorous in their protestations of innocence as the others. Wynand started searching in the rocks and stubbly growth and was soon joined by Adam and Adele and most of party-goers, an uneasy Piet and Kris among them.

"She needs her clothes," Piet said in an aside to Kris. "She's shivering and so is Wynand now he's lent her his shirt!"

"She'll get them back, all excepting her bikini. I have plans for that and she can get it later if she's brazen enough. As for Wynand, he should have kept her under control. In any case he can wear his leather motorbike jacket."

"No he can't, she's claimed it and given him back his soaking-wet shirt," Piet protested.

"Stop moaning and keep pretending to look for her stuff!" Kris commanded.

The spirit had gone out of the party and some of the guests, after a fruitless hunt for Tertia's clothes, decided it was time to go home, Kris and Piet taking advantage of the opportunity to leave unobtrusively with them.

"We may be going now, but there's still more fun to be got from this situation," Kris told Piet, who looked dubious. As far as he was concerned things had got out of hand, but Kris was the stronger character and overrode his objections.

Adele and Adam, being the hosts, felt they had to find a solution to Tertia's problem, both she and Wynand now looking thoroughly miserable. They asked if anyone had any spare jerseys, jackets or blankets that the pair could borrow, but the few stragglers left weren't able to help and most were also cold and keen to get home.

"Drive to our house," Adele instructed Adam. "In my wardrobe you'll find jeans, tops and jackets. Bring some back for Tertia; we're about the same size."

"I'm not scrabbling around in your cupboards for any of that stuff!" Adam objected indignantly. "Why can't Wynand fetch some of Tertia's clothes from her house?"

"Duh! Use your head; her parents are there! How can Wynand explain Tertia's absence and why he's rummaging around among her personal things at 1.00 in the morning?"

"I can drive my bike to your house," Wynand interrupted what was about to become an argument, "it'll be quicker than taking the car and if you'll let me have the house key and trust me to get what's necessary, I promise I'll respect your privacy, Adele, and get back here as soon as possible."

She agreed reluctantly, and, giving Adam a filthy look, told Wynand how to find her room and where to look for the clothing.

A few of their closer friends stayed behind to keep them company while Wynand was gone, the shivering Tertia choosing to sit in one of the cars, out of the wind. The general mood was now sombre, the twins not on speaking terms and the remaining guests dispirited and longing for their beds.

Wynand, meanwhile, was chilled to the bone in his shirt-sleeves driving his motorbike at a speed bordering on dangerous, anxious to get to the Spies house as soon as possible. Unfortunately it was in a suburb on the far side of Prentburg. He had every intention, when he got there, of borrowing one of Adam's jackets before making the return journey!

When he reached the dorp he slowed down. All the houses were in darkness with only a few dull street lights piercing the gloom. The brightest light by far was that at the entrance to the church, dead ahead. Dominee Seibrand insisted, against strong opposition from some of his flock, that the church be unlocked and available to anyone needing spiritual comfort night or day. To protestations that it would be burgled, he pointed out that there was nothing worth taking as anything of value was locked away in a strong-room after the last Sunday service. A light was left on inside the church too, and so far his trust in his fellow-man had been vindicated, apart from the odd vagrant sleeping in the church when it rained!

As Wynand neared the church he was so cold that his teeth clattered together like castanets. His thoughts went to the two mannequins on display inside, both now suitably clad for their biblical roles, Mary draped in blue and Joseph in a robe fashioned from a bolt of grey, woolly fabric. Woolly? This sparked an idea. Wynand changed direction, drove into the church grounds, dismounted from his bike and made for the front door. He would borrow Joseph's clobber, drape it around his frozen self and return it on his way back to the lake.

Striding down the aisle towards the tableau, he suddenly noticed something wrong. Mary stood intact, but Joseph's turban and robe now lay pooled at his feet... and he was wearing Tertia's red bikini! Worse still, his pose had been altered. He was standing with his back to Mary, chin raised, making him look defiant, one arm bent at the elbow with the hand resting on his hip, the other also bent at the elbow, but upwards, with the hand turned back in a sissy pose.

"Shit!" exclaimed Wynand as he grabbed the grey gown at Joseph's feet and bolted, thoughts racing through his mind as he tried to make sense of what he'd seen.

"Swine," he said through clenched teeth, wrapping himself up as the explanation dawned on him, but not knowing who was responsible. As he drove off he was undecided as to whether he should try, on his return, to restore some of Joseph's dignity but gave up on the idea, knowing it would take too long and that it was more important to get Tertia into warm clothes and restore what was left of hers! He also resolved not to say a word about what he had seen and to leave Joseph's garment where he had found it, on the floor at his feet.

When Truida and Bruno returned from their celebrations in Waterfontein, it was to a spotless house and praise from their neighbours about their exceptionally well-behaved children.

"I don't understand it," Truida said in confusion. "I was prepared for anything but this!"

"I told you that you underestimate them," Bruno replied complacently. "They're good kids."

The twins and their guests had learned one thing from the disastrous after-party. Parents were sometimes right in setting boundaries! The balance in the friendship between Kris and Piet changed too. Piet started trusting his own instincts and no longer allowed Kris to take the initiative. There had been no "fun" in any aspect of the prank they'd played. They had embarrassed Wynand, inconvenienced their friends and given Tertia flu; not that this worried them much, feeling that her brazen behaviour invited it. As for desecrating the male model, it had been a complete waste of time! People at the following day's early morning service (which the boys attended, expecting shock and horror) found nothing amiss other than that Joseph, in his grey robe and turban, seemed to be staring at the sky rather than at the babe in Mary's arms; nor was any mention ever made of it, then or later.

The first person to arrive at the church the day after the party had been Hilda van Dyk who needed to put some finishing touches to her flower arrangement before the first service. Her mouth dropped open when she got close enough to see Joseph wearing a red bikini, looking aggressively effeminate. Turning to Mary, Hilda gave her arm a sympathetic pat and said drily:

"Just as well you had an immaculate conception, my girl. I don't think you'd have had much help from him!"

She then rooted around in her handbag for her cell phone and rang the Mans, reaching Anna, the dominee's wife.

"We have a situation and very little time to sort it out before people arrive for the first service. Come quickly."

Alarmed, Anna enquired whether the dominee should come too.

"No, I think this is best handled by us. You can put him in the picture later."

The two women had only just got Joseph again facing Mary, back into his robe and headgear and realigned his limbs and hands when the first of the congregation began to filter into the church. Hilda quickly hid the bikini in her handbag. It would go straight into the garden furnace when she got home, indecent thing!

When later Anna had a chance to tell her husband what had happened, he looked flabbergasted.

"Who would have done such a distasteful thing?"

She shrugged. "Quite a few members of our flock were dead-set against the mannequins replacing the old nativity scene; perhaps one of them? I'll tell you something Henrik, I'll never be able to get the sight of that transvestite model out of my mind. If you'd seen him posing so arrogantly in his red bikini, you'd have had another sound reason for believing in the virgin birth!"

A notice appeared on the church bulletin board during the course of the following week announcing that the old nativity scene, much loved by many, would continue to be used!


  1. Good tension, I never knew quite what would happen next. Seemed to be headed for a darker turn but instead ended quite humorously.

  2. Thank you, Ron, for taking the time to read and comment on my story.