The soul mate vs the potato

2013-10-16 00:00

I WENT into Madelaine’s beauty salon yesterday. The first thing Madelaine told me was that her mother was sleeping with a potato in her bed. She got the idea from a programme on RSG. It is supposed to help with painful knees.

The second thing that Madelaine told me is that she hopes I still write columns, as she wants me to write a column about a word that has been distressing her for four days now. She goes off to get the warm water for the hydration machine, and then sits down to tell me what happened.

She had coffee last week with a school friend who lives overseas. The friend, let’s call her Frieda, has never married. She lived with a man for 13 years, but they never did the “I wish, I intend and therefore I do” bit, and they don’t have children. Since breaking up with him, “daar is nou ‘n ander man wat kuier by haar”. (I have to write that bit in Afrikaans, as it cannot translate into English — if a man “visits” a woman in English, he could be popping in for a talk about life insurance or he could be about to pop the question. If a man “kuiers” with a woman in Afrikaans, it also means they are probably “vry-ing”. “Vry-ing” once again, cannot be translated into English as it covers the full spectrum of sexual exploration, from fingers reaching towards each other on the couch with the “opsitkers” burning, to passionate and flaming consummation. If you are young and are but shouldn’t be “vry -ing”, the doctor tells you to “vry versigtig” if you don’t want to have to say “I do” when you didn’t mean it.)

But to get back to Frieda. After telling Madelaine about her visitor, she tells her also that there is another man in her life. “And then,” says Madelaine, looking like she wants to spit venom, “Frieda gets this glint in her eye and says he is her soul mate”. Madelaine turns on the hydration machine and I get a blast of hot vapour in my face. “And then Frieda says to me that when they see each other, they talk until three o’clock in the morning. But they don’t see each other often even though he is her soul mate, because he is married!” Madelaine adjusts the hydration machine from a third-degree burn setting to a comfortable spray. “And Frieda tells this to me, and I am a married woman. I told her to spare me the details. I am really not interested.” I cluck sympathetically.

Madelaine explains how, after her discussion with Frieda, she went home to fill her husband in on her conversation with Frieda in a friendly, passive-aggressive and companionably confrontational manner. “It’s not,” she explains to me, “that I think there is anything wrong with my marriage.”

“Mine neither,” I add hastily, shaking my head violently under the mask.

“But I did ask him,” Madelaine says, “to please come back to me with his definition of what a soul mate is, and he has yet to answer me.” Why, we ask each other, if this soul mate idea could make Frieda so gagga, why has it never been part of the pillow talk in our households?

With her husband remaining so quiet on the soul mate front, Madelaine went to her mother for her wisdom. “You know what happens,” her mother told her, “you marry a man and you spend your life trying to change him. Then one day, after years and years and years together, you wake up and realise that he is actually your soul mate. But it is too late then, because shortly after that he dies. And then you are left with your bad knees and a potato in your bed. And a relationship with a potato, even if you give it a name that you write on it with a permanent marker, a relationship with a potato only lasts two days before RSG wisdom says you must toss it out and put in a fresh one.”

“And then I Googled soul mate, and you should see the nonsense that comes up on that site,” Madelaine tells me.

Mask comes off and she continues with my facial, apologising for being so upset about this issue, and promising that next time I come I will get a chance to talk.

“All that I can conclude,” she says to me eventually, “is that a relationship can only be a soul mate connection if there are no skottelgoed involved!”

• Catherine Smetherham is an ex-city dweller who is rediscovering herself and South Africa from a platteland perspective. She lives in Strydpoort, North West. Contact her at

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