During the time Servaas spent in hospital, a few strange things happened. There was Matron Krotz, for instance, a formidable huge woman with a short temper and a large (if sagging) bosom. She reigned over ‘her’ hospital with an iron fist and a booming voice. Hardworking nurses sweated and trembled through her morning rounds, while even Doctor Welman deferred to her many opinions. Called Attila behind her back, she lived up to the name with gusto.
Whenever she came to Servaas’s bed, however, her entire demeanor changed – every time. She’d smile (a phenomenon previously thought to be completely impossible), ruffle the old man’s sparse hair and ever so coyly ask him if he’d had a good night’s rest. Her temper would flare back up to it’s usual and frightening intensity if she noticed that he hadn’t had his morning coffee or if there was the slightest hint that his bed wasn’t made up properly.
Another weird thing she did, was to take her lunch break at his bedside. She’d close the curtains around his bed (‘The patient needs counselling, nurse Botha, and you’re certainly not gifted or qualified to do that properly. Now get out while I attend to the patient you are so obviously neglecting! Go!) and then spend the thirty minutes or so chatting with Servaas.
Nurse Botha grudgingly noted that, while Attila Krotz might be partly human after all, matron’s conduct was probably proof that hormonal replacement had more benefits than just preventing hot flashes. And, to everybody’s surprise and well-hidden amusement, matron asked nurse Botha the strangest questions about eyeliners, lipstick and perfumes.
Servaas had recovered well enough to be acutely aware of matron’s presence and found it surprisingly easy to talk to her. Whereas other people experienced matron Krotz as an unapproachable and imperious professional, Servaas discovered that she was, in fact, a lonely woman. Her fastidious insistence on perfection in the hospital was simply a way to – as she put it – do something useful with her life. The hospital, she said, gave reason to her existence.
“The universe never cared about me, Servaas. I’m about to retire – I have to – and then what? After a lifetime of caring for the sick and the needy, I have nothing. What’s a matron after retirement? An old hag with a cupboard full of old uniforms? A nurse with nobody to care for? What use is that?”
Servaas tried to say something about believing that, when God closes a door, He opens a window, but she cut him off. There’s no such thing, she said, only fools believed in such nonsense.
“No, I never married,” she said during one of their lunch hour chats. Servaas had been progressing slowly over the past three weeks, during which their daily chats slowly became more and more personal. Eventually Servaas told matron about Siena – and asked about Krotz’s past. “I was engaged, once.” She blushed, a wry smile eventually fading to a scowl.”Then this hussey came along and he left. I was….twenty at the time. That’s when I said to myself – well, dammit! I shall never allow a man to humiliate me like that again. And…” here she hesitated and glanced with vulnerable uncertainty at Servaas, “…well, I decided to study hard and become the best I can be. I did course after course, ambitiously working myself up the nursing ladder, until I was appointed matron here. That was fifteen years ago. Suddenly there were no more rungs in the ladder, Servaas. I’m stuck in this crummy hospital until I retire. Heaven knows what I’ll do then.”
The other unusual occurrences during Servaas’s stay in hospital, were the lucid dreams he had. These in no way compared to the very real experience during his coma, but they were so intense that he had no problem recalling them afterwards. While most of the dreams concerned past experiences – simple, everyday events – some of them stood out because they seemed so utterly inappropriate.
“There was this dune, you see? One of those dunes with the steep sides and loose sand.” Matron Krotz always listened with rapt attention whenever Servaas told her about his dreams. “Somehow I knew I had to get to the top of that dune, but I didn’t know why. Every time I took a step upward, the loose sand would carry me right back. So there I was: one step up, slide back. One step up, slide back. I was exhausted when I woke up.”
The next day, Servaas could add to the dream.
“I’ve never dreamt in chapters before, Alice.” By now they were firmly on first-name terms. “But my dreams seem to be in sequence these days. Anyway, last night I made some progress up that dune. It was painfully slow, much like you experience in those dreams where you run away from something, but your legs don’t work properly. Eventually, I could see the top. There was somebody there, but I couldn’t see who it was. I reached out, and when I was about to touch that person, the sand slid back again and I had to start all over.”
And then he had one more dream – the last one – before these nightly experiences simply ceased to happen.
“The person at the top of the dune was Shorty de Lange.” If Servaas wasn’t so absorbed in the telling of his dream, he would have noticed matron Krotz’s sudden intake of breath and her pallor as colour drained from her cheeks. “I haven’t even thought about him in years and years, but there he was. Large as life, right on top of my dune. He was slowly sinking into the sand – like quicksand, I suppose – and was pleading that I should help him. I didn’t know what to do…and then I woke up.”
“Who…who did you see there?” Her voice shook as she fought for control.
“Shorty. Shorty de Lange. You won’t know him. A tall, gangling chap I used to know, way back when. He went on to study accounting, I think, and we lost touch. But before that, we went to school together and did a stint in the army – like everybody else in those days. We used to be rather close.”
“Shorty?” The incredulous note in her voice was unmistakable. “Shorty de Lange? Six foot something, thinnish, used to play flank for Prieska’s first team? Brown hair and a little extra pinkie on his left hand?”
Servaas looked up sharply. “Ye-e-e-s?”
“That’s the bastard who left me in the lurch…for that stupid bimbo. May he rot in hell…” Her voice told him: Attila was back. Time to tread softly.
“Then why…why did I dream about him?”
(To be continued…)