Our guide every day in Thornybush Game Preserve (25,000 acres next to Kruger Park, South Africa) was Werner Pretorius. When I first heard his name, it sounded Roman to me. But we were in South Africa, so I asked him a far-fetched question. "Are you a descendant of one of the founders of Pretoria?" I didn't really anticipate his answer.
"My father and his brothers have traced their heritage back that far, yes," Werner answered in his quiet voice.
Although Orlando, our tracker, sat exposed on a small iron seat above the left headlight, Werner was THE MAN! A rifle rested securely in its open case on the dashboard in front of him, for an emergency. Werner steered our eight-person, tiered vehicle through ravines, across trees ravaged by elephants, and over twelve-foot saplings to catch glimpses of "the big five" up-close and personal. And we did - day after day! He manned the two-way radio, directing other guides in Afrikaans to rendez-vous at our locations. Then he'd switch to German to suit visitors in a passing jeep or to English for us. He had passed advanced courses as an astronomer, a naturalist, a marksman, and solo guide on foot. He was twenty-five.
Charley took a personal interest in young Werner. He peppered him with questions during our four-hour forays into the bush twice daily. Maybe it was his fatherly image - who knows? - but they bantered easily together and Werner liked Charley enough to answer.
"My father is a farmer outside Pretoria," he told us. "It's a very large farm - hundreds of thousands of acres. I hope to take it over some day."
"Do you have a girlfriend?" Charley finally got around to asking.
"Yes, she's a civil servant in Pretoria. I think she's the one I'll marry some day," Werner confided.
"If you move near her, will you still be a guide? You're so good at what you do, and you certainly enjoy being in the bush."
"Probably for a while. There's a problem with my taking over the farm. My father has several brothers who also own it."
"So you're working as a guide to save some good money?"
"Right! Then I'll ask her to marry me, and maybe one day I'll have my own farm."
The next day, Charley followed up. "Have you thought about when you'll propose?"
Werner sat with us every evening for dinner. The third evening, Charley persisted over a couple of beers. "When is soon?"
"Very soon," was Werner's only response.
Our last day on safari, Charley needed a more definitive answer. "When is 'very soon?'"
"Maybe by the end of the year. She's already decided to leave government service to train in pre-school education. She could open her own pre-school anywhere."
"Sounds as though she's making plans," Charley commented. "I guess that means you'd better pop the question. I hope you tell her you met a guy named Charley who wanted to know exactly when this blessed event is going to happen!" he added, laughing. "Maybe she'll send us an invitation and thank me in person."