Tannie Susanna van Wyk was an unhappy person. When I arrived at their home to collect bags of chicken manure for our garden, she was in the kitchen, her face looking like thunder, to use a colloquialism. Outside, their teenage Zimbabwean gardener seemed to have gone insane. He was as far as he could go up a small peach tree and was shaking the hell out of it.
It was not a big tree and not terribly sturdy. I wondered how much of this treatment it could take. Branches threatened to come off, leaves flew in every direction and a cloud of dust that had no doubt collected on the leaves hung in the air around him.
Oom Sarel, the Tannie’s husband, came from a shed, weighed down by a sack of the manure I had come to collect. He barely glanced at the commotion in the peach tree. “He’s gone nuts,” I told him.
The Oom shook his head sadly. “No, it’s the Tannie’s doing. She hates having leaves scattered all over the garden. She says it looks untidy. So he has to get up the trees and shake the branches. That way the leaves that are on the verge of falling come off and, he can rake them up. Then, she says, there are fewest leaves scattered around the garden to make the place look messy.”
“How often does he have to do it?”
“Three or four times a day, mostly four times.”
“Does he get the chance to do any other garden work?”
“Are you making fun of my wife,” he demanded.
“No,” I said innocently. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”
“He hardly has time for anything else. He’s always too busy with the leaves.”
“My I offer a suggestion?” I asked.
My suggestion was that they plant a few evergreen shrubs that do not shed their leaves every autumn. Oom Sarel thought that was a good idea and said he would set about it immediately.
I went off with the bags of manure and had no reason to return for a year. I had passed by a few times though and saw the evergreen shrubs I had suggested. Oom Sarel had planted quite a few and they were doing nicely. I saw signs of them being watered, so someone was looking after them well. I also noticed the empty spaces where the original, delinquent, leaf-scattering trees had once stood, but were now gone.
When I drove in a year later, to replenish our manure, I had every reason to believe the Tannie would treat me like a hero. I was wrong. She came out of the kitchen, her face even more thunderously clouded than a year before. “You,” she yelled. “I’m surprised you have the nerve to show your face here. We did what you said, but those trees you recommended shed their leaves all year round, not just in autumn. How could you do that to me? My gardener has left because of you. And look at my garden now. It’s a mess.”
I looked at her immaculate garden that did have a thin scattering of leaves from the evergreens on the lawns and flowerbeds. Then I looked again at the Tannie’s face and could see it was time for me to leave.