Gertruida will tell you (she knows everything, remember?) that not all love stories have a happy ending. Mostly, relationships suffer mortal damage due to that silly trait people seem compelled to nurture when they are alone: the ego. They don’t realise there’s no ‘I’ in ‘Love’.
Matron Krotz, she of the ample bosom and rigid leadership, stood in the doorway, shaking with fiery and indignant rage. Shorty, on the other hand, was as white as a sheet, humiliated, shivering as if standing in an icy draft. After all these years, they met again in a whirlpool of anger, guilt, frustration and hurt. Nobody said anything for a full two minutes. Gertruida broke the icy silence.
“Matron?” She got no response and tried again. “Matron? Did you hear…everything?”
Matron Krotz finally turned her head ever so slightly to stare at Getruida – at first uncomprehending, but later recognising who had spoken.
“I do not need to hear anything, Gertruida. I know what that bastard did to my life, and that’s quite enough, thank you.” The words were clipped, said with great determination. “And this is my hospital. This piece of…piece of…” She searched for the appropriate word. “Piece of … garbage shall remove himself at once, or I shall be compelled to throw him out. Is. That. Clear?”
“She only heard the last bit, about Shorty selling those devices to Correctional Services.” Servaas sighed and went on with a tired voice: “She doesn’t know the rest…” He was, of course, the only one who had been facing the door during Shorty’s explanation. He also remembered – quite vividly at that moment – the dream he had about the dunes. “Look, we’re all grown-ups here. Matron has suffered tremendously because of Shorty’s stupidity in the past. But, come on folks, so did Shorty. There were no winners in this contest, guys. Everybody lost something – is it really necessary to continue making the same mistakes, to continue the losing streak? Or is there a way, any old way, we can stop the carnage and start over again?”
Servaas got a grateful look from Gertruida, accompanied by an almost imperceptible nod. They were witness to a pivotal moment in two person’s lives, and it was up to them to save Shorty and matron from destroying their one chance for reconciliation.
“I once heard a story.” The change of subject was so sudden, so unexpected, that all heads turned to Gertruida. She seemed oblivious of their surprise as she continued. “About a lion. A silly old lion. Funny I should think about that now.” She flashed an apologetic smile that fooled nobody. “He stepped into a thorn while chasing a ground squirrel one day. Isn’t that funny? The mean old lion wanting to eat a poor, innocent little squirrel. Ha. Ha.” Nobody joined the laughter. Gertruida didn’t seem to notice. “Well, the squirrel sat in the tree and the lion licked his foot down below, obviously in great pain.
“‘Hey,’ the squirrel said, ‘I can help you. I have hands, you see? And you don’t. If you promise not to eat me, I’ll remove that thorn for you’. But the lion, you see, was too proud, to angry, to accept help. He growled at the squirrel, who wisely climbed a bit higher up in the tree.
“Well, you can imagine what happened. That thorn festered and the lion’s foot became septic. It rotted off, quite literally. And then the lion died.”
There was a stunned silence in the room for a few seconds and then, bless her soul, nurse Botha giggled and started a soft applause. She walked over to the still stern-faced matron, put her arm around the broad shoulders, and suggested that the two of them retire to have a cup on nice, strong, sweet tea. To talk, she said, about thorns and stupidity. She said it lightly, jokingly, hoping to cool the austere woman’s temper. It was certainly a worthwhile and honourably brave act, despite the outcome.
Matro stood ramrod straight, blinked twice, and told nurse Botha to take a flying leap at herself. Then she stomped off down the corridor. The group around the bed heard her door slam.
Servaas recovered sufficiently to be discharged two days later. Doctor Welman and a surly matron Krotz did their final round that morning, making him promise to take it easy for a while and to take his tablets regularly. Servaas nodded happily, telling them that Vetfaan would be there soon to pick him up.
Back in her office, matron Krotz sat down with a sigh. Yes, she understood that Shorty had paid dearly for his stupidity way back then. And yes, she was still furious with the man. How many years have gone wasted because he had been such a fool? How many nights had she cried whenever she thought about her pain and loss? No, that stupid nurse was way off the mark when she suggested that she, matron Krotz, should try to understand…
A soft knock on her door made her look up.
Nurse Botha stepped in, an uncertain little smile hovering on her lips.
“Matron, I’ve been thinking.”
The older woman let her head sink into her hands. This damn nurse! Can’t she mind her own business?
“It’s about you, Matron. And that thorn in your foot. And the way it’s poisoned your life. And how I see – on some of the morning rounds, not all that often – how red your eyes are and how you pretend to be such an awful old woman while you’re shouting at everybody.”
Matron Krotz half-rose out of her chair, ready to teach this impertinent nurse a lesson she’d never forget. Nurse Botha didn’t flinch – squaring her shoulders, she went on.
“You, Matron, still have…feelings…for that man. Maybe it’s anger, maybe it’s hate…or maybe it’s something completely different. Whatever it is, Matron, you have to face those feelings. Face them, deal with them, and do something about them. The way you chased Mister de Lange out of the hospital the other day…well, I felt sorry for him. He has a thorn in his foot, too. So I thought…” At this point she faltered, her bravado slipping. Biting her lower lip, she stood there, wringing her hands in uncertainty.
“Well, what did you conjure up in that silly little piece of grey stuff you call a brain, nurse Botha?”
Gertruida says we all have a saturation point: for insults, for injustice, for shame. Even for being belittled and scorned at for too long. That point, she says, is a dangerous moment in time when people do unpredictable things – some of them incredibly brave, others rather stupid. This was what happened on that day when matron Krotz made her snide remark, expecting nurse Botha to beat a hasty retreat. It didn’t happen. She, however, had reached that point, jutted out her jaw and took a deep breath.
“Listen, matron, for as long as I worked here, you stomp around with a chip on your shoulder. Always criticizing, never satisfied. People don’t like you, because you’re…you’re…such an unforgiving…bitch, if you’ll pardon the word.!” She wiped away an angry tear with an even angrier hand. There was no stopping then. “And I, for one, am fed up. Fed up, you understand? Had it up to here!” The hand made a motion across her neck. “So I’ve had it! Finished! I’m taking my bag and I’m going somewhere where people appreciate me. And you…you can wallow in your grief until the final trumpet blows. I don’t care. Go spend the rest of your miserable life in misery. I was going to ask Mister de Lange to come in and try one more time. Well, bugger it! You can go and do something unmentionable to yourself. Goodbye and good riddance!”
Just before the door slammed shut behind the upset nurse, matron Krotz caught a glimpse of the face of the man who had waited there to be called in. Had anybody been watching, it would have been difficult to say which of the three people involved was the most upset. Matron sank back in her chair, flabbergasted. Never, in her entire life, had anybody spoken to her like that!
But, standing in front of the closed door, Shorty de Lange stood defeated and alone.No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he had suffered a loss even greater than the death of poor Jacobus, his only son. His son had been paralysed, retarded, compromised in every aspect of life. This was exactly how Shorty de Lange felt when he turned to leave. There just wasn’t any sense in hanging around.
(To be continued…)