Dreyer visited the house on a daily basis, each time to hear she doesn’t want to see anybody. Eventually, after two weeks, Cathy relented and allowed the nurse to bring him to her room.
Policemen get desensitised quickly, once they are introduced to the chaotic mayhem of township life. Violence and death get to be tolerated as something normal; daily occurrences that need to be investigated, written up, and filed. After a while, the nightmares stop. The nausea passes. And the recruit becomes used to switching to a type of automated, state-owned machine in order to distance himself psychologically from the mangled bodies, the anger and the grief associated with death and dying.
But when Dreyer walked into Cathy’s room, he had to swallow hard to keep a straight face. He knew she was extremely ill, and that she was getting special treatment for the viruses that now lived inside her – but he never expected to see her like that: a skeletal and pathetic creature, propped up by pillows in a neatly-made bed.
“I look terrible,” she whispered.
“Not your eyes, Cathy. They’re just like I remember them.”
Her thin pale lips curled upwards in what might have been a smile. “They are the only things in my body that have grown lately.”
She was right, of course. While her cheeks melted away to expose the hard lines of her skull beneath the skin, her eyes had become larger; making her look like a badly drawn caricature of end-stage cachexia. They now swung around slowly to stare at him.
“You’ve seen me now. It’ll best if you leave, I think.”
Dreyer shook his head.
“No.” It came out harsher than he meant, so he softened his tone. “I feel terrible about what happened…to your father and to you.”
“It’s not your fault. He brought it on…sadly. His drinking never stopped – he tried, but it didn’t work.”
“It doesn’t matter, Dreyer. What happened, happened. I can’t stop this process.” She waved a frail hand at her body, which seemed so delicately fragile under the too-big pyjamas. “Only the final act in the drama remains.”
“Can’t they do anything?”
“They tried.” Her voice was tired, defeated; like the wilted palm tree next to the window outside. “I lose weight every day. Not long now…”
“You have to hang in there, Cathy. You’re young…there’s a lot of living to be done.”
“With an empty pelvis and raging AIDS? You lost your mind or something?” Anger tinged the edges of her voice.
“Because…” he hesitated, aware of the large eyes probing his, “because I care. Really…”
He watched as her pupils narrowed down to almost pinpoint size – as if she suddenly gazed into blinding light.
“I-I don’t know, Cathy. Maybe because you sewed my button back on. Maybe because you walked all the way home to get the right colour thread. Or maybe because I saw you for what you really are: a caring, loyal, loving person…” He didn’t know what else too say.
The limp little hand that belonged to her arm searched for his from under the blanket. Her eyes changed then: then became softer, mellowing at his words.
“That’s the sweetest thing anybody has ever said to me…” A giant tear formed at the corner of an eye. Her gaze dimmed for a moment, as if she retreated to a distant corner in her mind. Her chin came up when she made the decision.
“If you cared, you’d take me out of here, Dreyer. I don’t want to die in this bed. I want to feel the breeze on my skin, the sun on my body. I want the freedom I never had.”
Dreyer didn’t argue. He saw the hunger in her eyes, the pleading for release. They told him about a life so sad, so wasted, that only these final days and hours remain to reclaim something of the hope she had when her mother was still alive.
He arranged everything and signed the voluntary discharge forms. The doctor objected, of course, but admitted eventually that yes, maybe, it was for the best. It took two days of arguing and preparation before he carried the little weight she still had to his car outside.
“First we’ll settle you in the flat,” he said. “Or would you like to go for a drive over Chapman’s Peak first?”
This time, her smile reached her eyes.
Dreyer had spoken to his commanding officer, who allowed him to take his annual leave. He had three weeks. Cathy knew that. They didn’t dare discuss what would happen when the time ran out – the only important thing was that she remained comfortable. By that time, her meals had to be liquefied and Dreyer had a full-time job keeping her and the bed clean.
It was on a Sunday afternoon that she asked him to take her to Hout Bay.
The little beach, Dreyer, next to that café. I want to see the sun set. With music. Please?
The over-large orbs of her eyes said it all. He understood.
The sun was dipping towards the horizon when she asked him to put the CD in the portable player. Off to one side, a family was building a sand castle while the small waves lapped at the buttresses. High tide would smooth the beach in less than an hour’s time: the castle would only last for a few minutes.
“This is my song for you. I want you to do these things for me,” she said. “Take me along, will you? There’s so much I still wanted to see. You can be my eyes…”
Cathy tried to sing along in her weak whisper, her eyes searching his. And when she came to …fly the ocean in a silver plane/ see the jungle when it’s wet with rain… she fell silent.
And closed her eyes for the last time.