Judge Gericke sits down on the bed with a sigh. Life can be so complicated at times! At the point of his life when retirement changed from being a reward for a lifetime of service to society, into the prelude to death, he now has to deal with issues he’s not at all comfortable with. To many new things have suddenly become part of his life. Discovering the son he’s wondered about so much, has become a mixed blessing. Relocating to this dusty little town? Well, the jury is still out on that one. And now this kind, intelligent woman convinced him to move into her library – and woke up feelings he has always been at pains to ignore.
The word stumbles through his brain like a groggy bull in a china shop, upsetting everything in its wake. Oh, he’s always had an open mind about people living together and caring for each other. That, at least, he has no problem with. But to have his own son in a relationship with another man? That really cuts a bit close to the bone. The truth? He’ll be happy if his son is happy; it’s just that such a relationship may very well turn out to be a minefield of problems. What about the attitude of the small, conservative community in the district? The little he knows about his son, makes him uneasy as well. Frans is an intense, reclusive sort of man – should this relationship turn sour, the effect may quite well be catastrophic.
And then there’s Gertruida. He has never met a woman with such an intellect. And … she’s quite good-looking, as well. Even … sexy! Despite the pale hue his face has taken to over the last few months, he feels himself blushing. Come on, Kobus Gericke, you’re almost seventy. You have leukaemia. Death awaits. And now – now you’re thinking like a schoolboy? You’re a man of logic – what future do you have? What can you offer the woman? You’re crazy to think like this!
A knock on the door disturbs his thoughts.
“I brought you some tea,” Gertruida says lamely. “And I’ve been reading.” She waves a sheaf of papers in the air. “
“The doctor said I had to have chemo, Gertruida. He said it was my only chance. Like you know, I was on the verge of going for it, when you arrived to tell me about Frans.” Judge Gericke has regained some of his composure, and uses his courtroom-voice. “The verdict, based on the available evidence at the time, was three months without chemo, eighteen months with. I had to decide whether it was worth it to go to the expense of the treatment to live a bit longer – or call it quits and face my last days.
“My doctor is a nice man. He doesn’t talk much. He doesn’t like questions. He gives you the information you need and that’s what you have to use to come to a decision. But, anyway, that’s water under the bridge. He said if I didn’t start the treatment within a week, I wouldn’t benefit any more. Said I was lucky to still be at a stage where treatment can help. And he said I had a week’s window before it’s too late. It’s too late now.”
Gertruida can’t believe what she’s hearing. The judge, after all, isn’t a fool – and he fell for that?
“Listen, Judge, you must go on appeal here. Who’s that doctor to play God like that? Is he the new prophet? That argument is all skew and wrong! A week’s window? Last chance? Three months this way or eighteen months the other?
“Listen – he might be right up to date with statistics, but there’s no way he can tell you that’s exactly what’s going to happen to you as an individual! Why, do you even know what type of leukaemia you have?”
The judge scratches his head. This woman is exasperating! Of course he doesn’t know. Leukaemia is leukaemia, for godness’ sakes! “He said something about chronic. Oh – and lymph, something about lymph. He showed me the report, but I was so shocked I couldn’t read it. And it said it was probably indolent. I don’t think that is good. Sounds aggressive to me.”
Gertruida bursts out laughing, checks herself and apologises. “Sorry, Judge.” She fights to control herself, sniggers and wags an admonishing finger at the old man. “You should brush up your English, sir!”
Judge Gericke isn’t used to ridicule and is about to retaliate, when her words sink in.
“What do you mean? My English is perfectly good, thank you.”
“Indolent. Adjective. Meaning slothful, lazy, slow to progress, subclinical. It comes from the original Latin, meaning without pain: in- dolēre. If this is what the report says, the doctor overplayed his hand. That means you have a problem, but it’s not half as bad as he said. Soooo… Judge… we’re going to get all the information we can lay our hands on. Let’s get that report and get a second opinion. I’ll get onto it first thing in the morning. After your exercise, of course.”
He can only gape at her. “Exercise? What exercise?”
“You should know this as well, you old fool…” she checks herself to peer at him. Indeed, he bristles at the remark, but the smile finds its way back to his lips when she asks if she can approach the bench. “Lifestyle change. No drinking. Exercise. Healthy diet. Happy thoughts. No anger. Lots of laughter. No stress. And you are gong for all of the above, as from now.
“Then we’re going to get all the information we can lay our hands on, and make an informed decision.”
Long after she’s taken the teacups away, closing the door softly behind her, Judge Gericke sits quietly in the chair, surrounded by the many books in Gertruida’s library. Some words keep on echoing in his mind… we’re going to get all the information we can lay our hands on… not half as bad… you old fool…
After all these years of fighting his own battles, this woman marches in and jumps into the frontline with him. Not only that – she lectures him about English! And she makes a damn fine cup of tea…
Well. He mustn’t get his hopes up, must he? Wordplay is fine, but the diagnosis still stands. Still, Gertruida has managed to peek between the cracks of his armour and somehow he likes the idea of having somebody around to bring in tea at night. To tell him he’s an old fool. And to bring new hope to a drama that was about to turn into a tragedy.
Shuffling over to the bed, he pulls off his slippers. Clean, soft sheets. A comfortable cushion. And a woman to help you face the future.
What more can a man ask for?
He slips into a deep, dreamless sleep with the smile still hovering quietly in the darkness.