Fanny sits down on the bed, facing Fiona Basson, who keeps on staring at her hands on her lap.
“It’s been a long time,” Fanny says after a while. She gets no response. “I tried to remember how long ago I listened to you in the Royal Albert Hall…it’s scary how fast the years roll by. I was young back then. Innocent. Stupid. Naive. In the meantime such a lot has happened and Now I live in Rolbos, married to Vetfaan – the burly one, remember?”
If Fiona remembers their recent visit (only yesterday), she gives no indication of it.
“It is here,” she sweeps a hand towards the window, towards the Kalahari, “that I found myself again. I met the most wonderful people. They care. Really care…” What else can I say to make her pay attention? I might as well be talking to a log. “Don’t worry, Fiona. You don’t have to say anything. We can just sit here a while.”
“Hymie says Mrs Fiona Basson is comfortably wealthy. Not super rich, but comfortable. She had a house in Rome, which was sold after she decided to stay in Grootdrink. Apparently most of her funds are invested in a set of blue-chip stocks – and given her modest expenses, her initial capital has grown significantly.” Sammie places the fax he’s just received on the counter. Precilla gasps when he sees the amount under Total while Kleinpiet lets out a long, low whistle.
Fanny picks up one of the scattered books and tries a different approach: “You write a lot,” she says as she scans through the pages.
Edgar Allan Poe jumps at her from a page:
‘Thy soul shall find itself alone
‘Mid dark thoughts of the grey tomb-stone;
Not one, of all the crowd, to pry
Into thine hour of secrecy.’
“I studied literature as a pre-grad. Used to love Poe – he was such a master of metaphor and delusion – and delightfully depressing. This is from Spirits of the Dead, isn’t it?”
She looks up to find Fiona studying her as if it’s the first time she’s actually seen her. When their eyes meet, Fiona nods feebly.
“I remember bits of Poe,” Fanny persists, “…let me think… There was a poem of a haunted palace… Oh yes!”
‘And round about his home the glory
That blushed and bloomed,
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old time entombed.’
“I love the bit about glory that blushed and bloomed. It’s so vivid! I always imagined my life would blush and bloom, but it never works out exactly the way we anticipate, does it?” She pauses, remembering more. “And he must have loved a girl named Helen. I wonder what became of her? He said something like this:
‘And thou, a ghost, amid the entombing trees
Didst glide away. Only thine eyes remained;
They would not go- they never yet have gone;’
“…Only her eyes remained. Those distant, tantalising, mesmerising eyes of the one he loved. Everything else changed, but her eyes were constant reminders of what had been. They didn’t disappear. Our memories of love and loved ones are like that.”
Fiona turned to face the window, where the curtain is still open since the previous visit. Out there is space. Birds. Trees. Freedom. Also people and death. Life…
“We all become the ghosts of our dreams, don’t we, Fiona? And when the old ghosts won’t go, we can’t move on to dream new dreams. We become stuck in a no-man’s land of empty days. Maybe that’s what depression is all about, or maybe each of us has a different way of dealing with loss – but sometimes we run out of dreams.”
Out there, beyond these walls, people want to have dreams. I don’t. It hurts too much. Fiona Basson sighs. This is where I belong. This is all that’s left…. Walls and paper and words nobody will ever read. She closes her eyes. What’s the use?
Spy Snyman is more helpful.
“It was just another burglary gone wrong – that’s what the newspapers said. Two old people. Soft targets. The criminals went in, found the daughter there. Left them all for dead. They were caught afterwards, and one pleaded guilty. The police found a purse, some cash, a few credit cards belonging to Fiona Basson, and the oxygen cylinder in the perpetrator’s shack. Can you believe it? They even took the oxygen! Why? To sell as scrap metal?
“Anyway, it is a tragic story. Amongst the other stories of rape, crime and corruption, this one didn’t even reach the front pages. Apparently Fiona Basson instructed her lawyers to protect her identity – almost as if she felt ashamed or guilty about what happened.
“Sad, extremely sad…”
Paul Scribbles didn’t have to consult the archives. He remembers the case well – it was his first real homicide case.
“It was horrible. Fiona Basson was hit and fell to the floor. Completely unconscious, unable to do a thing. The robbers slapped the old man around some more, which caused his oxygen mask to fall off. They wanted the safe and he tried to tell them they don’t have one. The one robber turned state witness and told everything in court.”
Even the judge was horrified. Fiona’s father struggled to breathe. His wife tried to help. She was shot. The old man had a heart attack brought on by the loss of his life-giving oxygen mask. The criminals took what they could – including the oxygen cylinder.
Later, when Fiona came to, she couldn’t understand….
“Apparently the blow to her throat damaged the little Hyoid bone attached to the larynx. She had to write down her testimony in court because she was unable to speak. After the court case, she disappeared completely, and the newspapers found some other scandal to entertain their readers with.”
“I think,” Fanny gets up while holding on to Fiona’s hand, “you need a change of scenery. Let’s get out of here – I want you to meet somebody…er…something, actually. I think you’ll like it.”
Despite the desperate uncertainty in Fiona’s eyes, she follows Fanny to the door.
The door that’s been the outer limit of her life for two decades.
The door that she shut because fear kept her inside.
The door she kept closed because the silence was too terrible to share.
She hesitates when they come to the little step leading down to the red Kalahari sands. When she feels the warm sun on her marble-like skin, she tugs back. Noooo! I can’t! Please don’t drag me back to Life? I want to…I need to…die…