From ‘The Budget’
In Jurie Steyn’s Post Office
by Herman Charles Bosman
We were sitting in Jurie Steyn’s voorkamer at Drogevlei, waiting for the Government lorry from Bekkersdal that brought us letters and empty milk-cans. Jurie Steyn’s voorkamer had served as the Drogevlei post office for some years, and Jurie Steyn was the postmaster. His complaint was that the post office didn’t pay. It didn’t pay him, he said, to be called away from his lands every time somebody came in for a penny stamp. What was more, Gysbert van Tonder could walk right into his voorkamer whenever he liked, without even knocking. Gysbert van Tonder was Jurie Steyn’s neighbour, and Jurie Steyn had, naturally, not been on friendly terms with him since the time Gysbert van Tonder got a justice of the peace, and a land surveyor, and a policeman riding a skimmel horse, to explain to Jurie Steyn on what side of the vlei the boundary fence ran.
What gave Jurie Steyn some measure of satisfaction, he said, was the fact that his post office couldn’t be paying the Government either.
‘Maybe it will pay better now,’ At Naudé said. ‘Now that you can charge more for stamps, I mean.’
At Naudé had a wireless, and was therefore always first with the news. Moreover, At Naudé had made that remark with a slight sneer.
Now, Jurie Steyn was funny in his way. He didn’t mind what he himself said about his post office. But he did not take kindly to the ill-informed criticism he sometimes received from people who had no idea how exacting a postmaster’s duties were.
I can still remember some of the things Jurie Steyn said to a stranger who dropped in one day for a half-crown postal order – when Jurie had been busy with the cream separator. The stranger spoke of the buttermilk smudges on the postal order form, which made the ink run in a blue splotch when he tried to fill in the form. It was then that Jurie Steyn asked the stranger if he thought Marico buttermilk wasn’t good enough for him, and what he expected to get for half a crown. Jurie Steyn also started coming from behind the counter, so that he could explain better to the stranger what a man could get in the Bushveld for considerably less than half a crown. Unfortunately, the stranger couldn’t wait to hear. He said that he had left his engine running when he had popped into the post office.
From that it would appear that he was not such a complete stranger to the ways of the Groot Marico.
With regard to At Naudé’s remark now, however, we could see that Jurie Steyn would have preferred to let it pass. He took out a thick book with black covers, and started ticking off lists with a pencil, in an important sort of a way. But all the time we could sense the bitterness against At Naudé that was welling up inside him. And when the pencil point broke, Jurie Steyn could stand it no longer.
‘Anyway, At,’ he said, ‘even twopence a half-ounce is cheaper than getting a Mchopi runner to carry a letter in a long stick with a cleft at the end. But, of course, you wouldn’t understand about things like progress.’
Jurie Steyn shouldn’t have said that. Immediately three or four of us wanted to start talking at the same time.
‘Cheaper, maybe,’ Johnny Coen said, ‘but not better, or quicker … or … or … or cleaner.’ Johnny Coen almost choked with laughter. He thought he was being very clever.
Meanwhile, Chris Welman was trying to tell a story we had heard from him often before, about a letter that had been posted at Christmas-time in Volksrust and had arrived at its destination, Magoeba’s Kloof, twenty-eight years later, on Dingaan’s Day.
‘If a Mchopi runner had taken twenty-eight years to get from Volksrust to Magoeba’s Kloof,’ Chris Welman said, ‘we would have known that he didn’t run much. He must have stopped, at least once or twice, at huts along the way, for some home-made beer.’
Meanwhile, Oupa Sarel Bekker, who was one of the oldest inhabitants of the Marico, and had known Bekkersdal before it was even a properly measured out farm, started taking part in the conversation. But because Oupa Bekker was somewhat deaf, and a bit queer in the head on account of his advancing years, he thought we were saying that Jurie Steyn had been running along the made road, carrying a letter in a cleft stick. Accordingly, Oupa Bekker warned Jurie Steyn to be careful of mambas. The kloof was full of brown mambas at that time of the year, Oupa Bekker said.
Oupa Bekker was still talking about the measures he had introduced to combat inflation in the early days of the Orighstad Republic when the lorry from Bekkersdal arrived in a cloud of dust. The next few minutes were taken up with a hurried sorting of letters and packages, all of which proceeded against the background noise of clanking milk-cans. Oupa Bekker had left when the lorry arrived, since he had been expecting neither correspondence nor a milk-can. The lorry driver and his assistant seated themselves on the riempie bench that the old man had vacated, and Jurie Steyn’s wife brought them in coffee.
‘You know,’ Jurie Steyn said to Chris Welman, in between putting sealing-wax on a letter he was getting ready for the mailbag, ‘I often wonder what’s going to happen to Oupa Bekker – such an old man and all that, and still such a liar. All that Finance Minister rubbish of his. How they ever appointed him an ouderling in the church, I don’t know. For one thing, I mean, he couldn’t even have been born at the time of the Orighstad Republic.’ Jurie Steyn reflected for a few moments. ‘Or could he?’
‘I don’t know,’ Chris Welman answered truthfully.
A little later, the lorry driver and his assistant departed. We heard them putting water in the radiator. Some time afterwards, we heard them starting up the engine, noisily, and the driver swearing to himself quite a lot.
It was when the lorry had already started to move off that Jurie Steyn remembered about the registered letter on which he had put the seals. He grabbed up the letter, and was over the counter in a single bound.
Chris Welman followed him to the door. He watched Jurie Steyn for a considerable distance, streaking along in the sun behind the lorry, and shouting, and waving the letter in front of him, and jumping over thorn bushes.
‘Just like a Mchopi runner,’ Chris Welman said.