“You’d better get hold of his next of kin,” Dr Snyman scowls down at the pretty intern, “this poor sod is on his way out.”
Over the last two days, the patient’s vital signs deteriorated slowly as the intra-cranial pressure slowly rose.The medical team could only look on helplessly while the brain tissue expanded and were compressed by the unforgiving rigidity of the skull. They’ve given mega doses of medication, tried every trick, but the progressive slide towards the inevitable refused to slow down.
Dr Stroker blinks away a tear – somehow she’d hoped that Gerrie Smit would pull through. She bought the only CD he published, and fell in love with his voice. To think that he’ll never sing again… She swallows the thretening sob, nods, and hastens to the nurse’s station to check his records.
“Dr S-Snyman, we’ve only got the name of his m-manager.” She takes a deep breath, forcing her to calm down. “That’s all.”
“I’m surrounded by idiots and fools!” Snyman rolls his eyes towards the ceiling in a theatrical display of petulance. “Then you’d better get hold of them, Doctor! Or did you think you aren’t equipped for such arduous administrative work? Not up to it? Unable to think?”
“B-but how?” She’s near tears now. Her chief has the reputation of being unforgiving and downright unpleasant, but she’s not going to allow him to degrade her like this – so she adds: “Sir?”
“Don’t you be uppity with me, young lady. Use your head. Phone the hospital in Cape Town – not any old hospital: the one where they operated him originally – and see if they can help you.” He turns on his heel to stomp out while muttering something about clowns and imbeciles.
“Nooo, Doctor.” Klaas Plaatjies shakes his head while he tells the medic on the phone they’ve got no record on Smit’s next of kin. “We only have record of this Gertruida woman. She visited Mister Smit and left a number. I can give that to you…?”
Gerrie Smit lives in a deep, dark, cave. He’s aware of a pinpoint of light – somewhere – but he can’t see it. He’s also aware of voices; hollow, faraway sounds of people – like listening to your parents talking on the front seat of a speeding vehicle while you doze off in the back.
He’s a little boy again? Yes, that makes sense! He’s small and young and he’s dozing on the back seat while they’re on their way to somewhere. The few nerves still functioning with a degree of logic, assemble the input in the most likely order it can manage under the circumstances.
I’m five years old and everything is going to be fine. I can just drop off to sleep for now, and when we get there, they’ll wake me up and I’ll play with the other kids.
Maybe I’l sing? Yes, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll sing for them. Mom says I have a beautiful voice, and she never lies.
One of the dying neurons releases a final packet of neurotransmitters into a synapse, which triggers a series of thoughts.
Lettie…Lettie Gericke…the girl who sang with me. Love…? Yes, I love her.
But I rejected her…how could I? I must tell her it’s a mistake….
He tries to say it: “Lettie…” Despite the damage to his brain, Gerrie manages to produce a sound that sounds something like “Lt-ett..ieanh.”
Gertruida holds the limp, pale hand in hers. After Doctor Stroker’s call, she flew in from Upington. That, she felt, was the least she could do. She knew the parents quite well, and after they passed away (so tragic – also in an accident), she followed the young man’s climb up the ladder to stardom with her usual interest in events concerning the people in the district. After their brief meeting in the hospital in Cape Town, she felt obliged to respond to the young, anxious voice on the telephone. Now, after spending an hour with Doctor Grace (as Gertruida insists on calling her) she knows enough to draw her own conclusions.
“So, you’ve been with him since he was admitted, Doctor Grace?”
Grace Stroker likes the older woman. She seems a no-nonsense type, somebody who you can talk to without feeling inadequate all the time.
“Yes. He was unresponsive right from the start. Still, I wish we had interfered earlier. It might have made a difference. At least…” she hesitates, “Doctor Snyman seems to think so. I think he blames me.”
Gertruida sits up straight, snapping her fingers. “Snyman? The neurosurgeon? Herman Snyman?”
“I-I don’t know. Not his first name, I mean. I don’t think he has one.” She manages a weak smile at her attempted humour.
“What the hell do you mean?”
They both swivel around at the angry tone in Snyman’s voice. He stands, arms folded and with an irritated frown on his forehead, in the doorway. Then, when Gertruida bursts out laughing, his expression changes to furious surprise.
“Herman? Herman Snyman? My gosh! How you have grown. I remember you as a little boy, way back in the 80’s, in Pretoria. Remember me? Gertruida? I used to come to your house to have meetings with your father. And I remember how he complained about your temper tantrums back then, already. Quite impressive they were, too.”
Gertruida, unlike the hapless Grace Stroker, doesn’t get up. She has a look of distinct disdain as she watches Snyman fight to control his temper.
“Your Dad was an important man, Herman. He was involved with National Security at that stage, and he was in control of...Vlakplaas,” She hisses the last word, remembering how she pleaded with the man to stop the torture and crime in the elite police unit stationed at the notorious farm. “Funny, that. He never listened to me. Isn’t he still in jail?”
Snyman goes red. Grace watches in amazement as her boss then seems to deflate, become smaller, slump his shoulders.
“Don’t…don’t talk about that. Please. My job…”
“Oh, I wouldn’t think about it. As I have been telling this delightful and intelligent doctor, I’m sure you are the best man to help her further her career in medicine. I can see how much she cares for her patients; and let me tell you: that’s a rare talent. Now, if somebody like her had the necessary support, she’ll be a wonderful neurosurgeon one day, don’t you think?”
“Oh, I don’t mean that she must take over your job, Herman, not at all. Oh, dear me, no! You’re the head of the department, for goodness’ sakes. I’m sure you maintain a very high standard and all else that’s necessary to fill the post. No, I mean…somebody like Doctor Grace will need guidance – kind and generous assistance, you know? Somebody must be a caring mentor to help her fulfill her dreams – that’s what I meant.”
“You will not tell me how to do my…” Snaman starts, but when he sees the look in Gertruida’s eyes, he simply nods. “Yes, I suppose you’re right.”
Lettie is at his side. He’s five years old. She tells him its time to go on stage, with a choir and an orchestra. They’re going to sing together, in front of a huge audience. He’s nervous.
“A-fraaaaid,” he manages.
“Don’t be,” Lettie tells him. “I’m here.”
“Let-t-t…” It’s a question.
“Yes, it’s me,” Gertruida says, “I’m with you. It’ll be okay.”
The last neuron finally falters, its metabolic process smothered by the lack of oxygen. Gerrie Smit reaches up to take Lettie’s hand, who tells him the Conductor is waiting for them . There are lights everywhere. He can hear the applause going on and on as he takes his position. The little baton rises to get the orchestra’s attention…and then the music starts. In that instant, he knows it’ll be all right; his child-like voice will blend in perfectly with the rest.
Yes, I’ll sing. It’ll be my best song ever. I want, want, want too join that choir. Please Mister Baton-man, lead the music on …
“He’s gone,” Grace Stroker says, wiping the tears from her cheeks.
“It was inevitable, I suppose. You really tried your best.” Snyman pats the shoulder of the young intern. “Come, let me make you both a nice cup of tea.”
And Gertruida, despite the sad gravity of the moment, listens to the new, compassionate tone of the stern doctor’s voice – and has to fight to keep the smile from her face.