Coffee cups

By Johannes Adriaan Snyman

In life, there are just certain things a man needs to hide. Especially in this part of the Eastern Free State.

Like for instance your neighbour’s cattle that incidentally came strolling on to your farm as a result of a broken fence down by the poort. Or perhaps the collection of Martini-Henry rifles, taken from the Kakies in the Anglo-Boer war, now buried under a poplar tree not far from your home.

According to the law these rifles are still government property but few of us farmers here in the Clocolan district agree with the new government or their policies. If it were up to us, we would still be fighting the English. I figure the only reason we didn’t go over to conquer Britain is that we are not interested in an island where the farms are the size of our own backyards.

I, on the other hand did not feel the least bit of remorse about my stubborn neighbour, Pieter Wiese’s cattle on my farm and I felt even less guilty about the English rifles that I had taken. I was however, ashamed about the fact that next to me, in my voorkamer, sat a very lovely and splendid looking lady by the name Susan, and I could not even offer her a cup of coffee. The reason for my predicament starts with a whole different story that took place on the farm just before the war ended.

Chris Serfontein, together with five of us Boers was ordered to ambush the Kakies by the poort at a time when it was still his farm. We waited in the tree line until rather late at night and were much exited to see the English officers coming through the poort, but became more and more concerned about our own well fare when we saw that they were accompanied by little less than a regiment.

The six of us has seen some tough battles in the past few years but somehow we didn’t seem very enthusiastic about starting a fight with a whole regiment. So it came to that without any need for words or hand gestures, we quietly drew back to Chris Serfontein’s farmstead for a cup of coffee and a bit of rest from the long day’s waiting.

Kobus Bosman mentioned that if we had one or two more men, we would have walked right over that regiment. He did mention it however while sitting comfortable on a riempies chair in the leisure and safety of Chris Serfontein’s farm house.

We didn’t have time for much conversation, for some of the solders from the regiment broke away and decided to investigate the one and only building on the farm. Chris Serfontein’s house.

Naturally all candles and lanterns were put out but even with the moon shining, we couldn’t make out the exact number of solders kneeling down some distance from the house. It was very quiet and the slight breeze that we felt against our cheeks earlier the evening disappeared as well.

Then, suddenly as vicious  as thunder, came the order from an English officer for all of us to come out and present ourselves with our hands held up high, or they will (to put it in his words) blow the house up with shells that even the residents of Kimberley will hear.

We thought it very arrogant of this officer to be giving orders like that. We knew for a fact that Kimberley is at least four hundred miles away and without the slight breeze, or any wind for that matter, the sound will not reach even the church in Clocolan.

We also knew that the population of Kimberley are so deep in a hole, hauling out diamonds, they wouldn’t hear canon fire, even fired from the kerkplein right in the middle of Kimberly. Based on the foolish words of the officer, we decided not to listen to a rooinek that doesn’t know what he was talking about, and just laid low on the kitchen floor.

In the end the English didn’t blow up the house like they said they would. They only sent what seemed like an endless amount of bullets through the corrugated iron roof for their thoughts must have lead them to the conclusion that we can not be anywhere else but in the ceiling of the house.

To us who were keeping our heads low, it sounded worse than a hail storm coming down, and I more than once wondered if there were any corrugated iron roofs in Heaven, seeing that I was about to meet a few Biblical figures that very evening. I did not make it to heaven.

Instead, all six of us fled through the kitchen window at the back of the house and decided there and then that our families must be missing us very much and that it would be best to return to our homes, at least for a while. Those of us that didn’t have any family left felt the same in the way that their cattle must be longing to see them.

Soon afterwards, Chris Serfontein made a big mistake by cutting the points of his bullets, making them dum-dum bullets and was executed right in front of his home. Not before he said some harsh words to the English officer about how dumb-witted he think the English were for shooting hundreds of holes through his roof and that Igor, his pig had more brains then all of these solders put together.

The war ended and I eventually took over Chris Serfontein’s farm with holes in the roof remaini for quite some time. Money was scarce and most of us had to rebuild our farms all over again. A fixed roof was considered a luxury.

The trouble with a leaking roof is, I said to Susan, is that all my coffee cups are occupied in preventing the water falling on the wooden floor.

Susan, sitting next to me, gave a shy smile and it is amazing how a smile like that can fix one’s mind on matters other than protecting a floor. By candle light, her red lips and dark brown hair caught my attention to such a degree that I never noticed the cups getting fuller and fuller as the rain came pouring down on the house.

Like the cattle of Pieter Wiese on my farm and the English rifles buried under the poplar tree, the happenings of that evening with just the two of us in my voorkamer is something else I need to hide, particularly from the new Dutch Reformed reverend in town.

The happenings of that evening of which the details will be left to your imagination, is also something that I am not the least bit sorry about. It was only the next morning that my attention was drawn to my wooden floor, ruined beyond what I can describe in words.