“Hey, guys, Spy Snyman sent another fax. Listen to this…” Sersant Dreyer spreads the page on the counter and starts reading.
According to the records of Dr Axel Atlas, some sort of neck surgeon in the Cape, Fiona Basson consulted him soon after the brutal attack. (His receptionist happens to be a client I assisted with a rather messy divorce. She owed me one for the photos I took). Anyway, it seems as if the injuries to Mrs Basson’s Hyoid bone may be corrected by surgery. Mrs Basson, however, refused. No reason is given in the file.
Also: Mrs Basson is actually Miss Basson. She never married. This I got from the offices of Internal Affairs, where I naturally maintain extremely good contacts. The only reason for this deception, I think, was to keep possible suitors away. She seems to have gone to extraordinary lengths to isolate herself.
And lastly: Dr Atlas’s records indicate that she used antidepressants. You may want to check whether she still does.
“The woman did this to herself?” Servaas can’t understand it. “I mean: we all go through heartache and sad times, but to live such an isolated life – for two decades! – is completely daft. I think she’s mad. No, in fact, I know she’s mad.”
“Don’t be so harsh, Servaas. None of us knows exactly other people really feel. I mean: this woman’s voice was her career, her life, her passport to the future. She loved her parents. And then, in a matter of seconds, everything changed.” Gertruida pauses a second, deciding on the wisdom of the next sentence. “Er…you’ll remember, Servaas. You received a telegram once: it changed your life. And remember old Oom Hatting? Our lives never stick to the planned course, Servaas. Not the one we think out in our quiet moments, anyway.
“There’s only one reality, Servaas, and that’s the present moment we live in. The past is merely the background and tomorrow must still happen – if there is a tomorrow, that is. So, now, this moment, is all you’ve got. And don’t think of moments as fleeting seconds. Some moments last a lifetime. Take Mrs Basson for instance: her clock stopped ticking that second when her world came crashing down around her. Her ‘present’ froze to become a lifetime.”
Kleinpiet just shakes his head. This is all way too deep for him.
Arf? Yes, she seems to smile a bit and she’s already scratched behind both ears now. I even put my paw on her lap. But…she needs words, I think. Not arf-arf words; real ones. I’ll call Gertruida.
“The brain isn’t like a computer. It’s an organic thinking machine – and it reacts to its environment. You affect one bit, and the others all change accordingly. But expose it to an overwhelming situation, and bits of it can switch off completely. It’s a mechanism to protect us, see? That’s why we remember laughter, but not pain.
“Sometimes a brain can go into complete lock-down. Such a person can breathe and do basic things, but it seems as if all logical thought disappeared. And then you have Alzheimer’s, where memories simply disappear. In a case like Fiona’s, it is quite possible that her brain deliberately refuses to compute and assimilate the past and the present, leaving her without a future.” Gertruida is in full cry now, loving the opportunity to lecture the group. “It’s not uncommon, either. We choose what we want to remember. Miroslav Volf wrote extensively on the subject, saying that we reject the truth about certain memories to manufacture new ones. This, of course, overlaps with rationalisation, where we justify all the wrong things we do by blaming the context of events.”
By this time, Kleinpiet just sits there, shaking his head. Then he remembers how Oudoom rationalised the visit by that stripper and has to smile. Yes, if even Oudoom does it, we all do it, don’t we? Rationalising isn’t a sin…or is it? He’ll have to ask Servaas one day…
Vrede disturbs his thinking as the dog pads in to utter a low, questioning ‘Aaarf?’.
“Oh look,” Fanny says, “he wants us outside.”
Thankful for the interruption, Kleinpiet carries chairs outside, forming a semicircle in front of Fiona. The group soon joins him when he sits down. Vrede wags his tail in appreciation.
“Fiona,” Fanny addresses the older woman, “we’re just a group of friends who’d like to see you become better. See, even Vrede likes the idea.” She points to their favourite pet, who obliges with a friendly ‘woof!’.
For a moment, an uncomfortable silence settles In Voortrekker Weg. This is not the Kalahari-quiet they are all used to; that stillness that folds around them with soothing compassion. This is an ominous, unpredictable silence, a silence punctuated with uncertain looks and stolen glances.
“I can’t remember,” Oudoom says, “what exactly I thought when they told my my father had died. I mean, it’s so long ago! I was young and had all kinds of dreams, But I retain the memory of loss – and that never fades.”
Boggel picks up the hint immediately.
“Yes, I wish I had a father to remember. Growing up in an orphanage isn’t so great. Oh, we had a matron, and she was okay, I guess. And there was Ai Mieta who tried to teach me to sing, but she wasn’t all that successful.” He flashes a disarming smile. “Like you all know…”
A series of guffaws and giggles follows his remark. When Boggel lets loose after a few Amarulas, they usually have to beg him to stop.
“My parents were strangers to me,” Precilla adds. “I so wish I had something good to remember.” Her past, like we know, is tainted by alcohol and abuse.
They fall silent again, looking at Fiona.
“Mrs Basson,” Gertruida ventures, even if she knows Fiona is a Miss, “what do you remember?” It is a direct question, a challenge for her to join the conversation.
Fiona Basson doesn’t seem to notice. She’s patting Vrede’s head. Then, with a torturded look, she raises her head before opening her mouth to say something. The townsfolk crane forward.
To everybody’s surprise, Servaas holds up a hand. He scampers off, returning with Siena’s old wind-up gramophone and a 78′ vinyl record. Placing it next to Vrede, he winds it up, sets the needle in the groove, and returns to his seat.
Later, all the others will congratulate him on this stroke of genius.
‘Let’s enjoy ourselves
for the delight of love is fleeting and quick.
It’s like a flower that blooms and dies
And we can no longer enjoy it.
So enjoy; A keen and flattering voice invites us!’
From: La Traviata, by Verdi