Tag Archives: dying

The Scent of Eternity

IMG_2516Old Oom Ben Kromhout has been dying for a long time now. Gertruida once said that one mustn’t pity people like this; although the lingering shadow of death may be upsetting for everyone concerned, the person at the centre of it all enjoys the singular privilege of saying goodbye, sorting out personal and financial issues and making peace with Life and God. Still, to see the old man wither away like he did, makes one doubt the statement. Perhaps Gertruida should have set a time frame to her statement – a three-little-bears clause, saying it shouldn’t happen too fast or too slow, but just right.

Living – and dying – on his farm Kromdraai, Oom Ben used to be an example of how one should integrate the reality of this world with the belief in the next. He applied his vast knowledge of the Old and New Testament to the way he lived, the hardships of the Kalahari and the way his wife left him for that travelling salesman, that Philistine, Frederik Kotze. 

“We are but like the grass of the fields,” he said at the time, “here today, gone tomorrow. And if a Kudu came around and ate it, then the grass won’t see tomorrow’s sun. And who, do I ask you, directs that Kudu? Not me or you,” he said as he swivelled his eyes heavenward, “not me or you.” And he’d smile his peaceful smile and say that forgiveness is the answer.

No wonder then, that he was the head head elder in the little church in Grootdrink, where he used to be a pillar of wisdom. The answers to all questions, he maintained, are there for all to read. Just open the Book, and you’ll find it, he always said.

Gertruida now sits at his bedside, holding the terribly thin hand – almost transparent, it seems – as she watches the laborious breathing. She wonders what will happen to all the memories and knowledge the old man had stored in his brain. A lifetime of gathering knowledge and filing away facts – does it simply disappear into a void once we die? Gertruida, who knows everything, shakes her head. No, that is the final puzzle, the question we cannot answer at all.

And what about the soul? Yes, she’s read SHIMMERstate, and it makes some sense – but who really knows what happens when the blood stops carrying oxygen to the grey matter in our heads? The people with near-death experiences didn’t go all the way, did they? Even so, she thinks, the answer must be within the brain. That mushy collection of billions of nerves must be where the soul lives. And if it does, does that mean all brains possess a soul? 

She once asked Oom Ben the question.

“Oh no, my child,” he said, “only Man. Humans have souls. It says so in the book. The animals and the birds and the scorpions and the fish? They don’t have souls. We, as humans, are the only creatures who’ll live on in eternity. The rest return to the veld, my dear, to become part of the very ground you tread on. For them, life is fleeting, a season, and then they’re gone…forever. No heaven for them.”

But, she asked back then, why do we find the same DNA in all living things. Yes, the codes for a Kudu and a Gemsbok and a lion may differ significantly from our’s…but isn’t DNA God’s signature? Isn’t that double helix a sign that everything was created by a single hand and that somewhere in the mysterious twirls of protein, the code for the soul is to be found?

“Ah,” Oom Ben said, “science! That’s the biggest threat to religion, my child. We want to explain everything. Now don’t you go meddling with those ideas, no, not at all. We know only a part of what is. We have to accept that simple fact. One day, when we face the Great Truth, we’ll have answers. All the answers. In the meantime, we mustn’t go about explaining God in our terms. The answer, my dear, is far too simple and much too complicated for us to understand.”

But, Gertruida said, it’ll be sad to believe there are no animals in heaven. What about Elijah, she asked, was he not taken to heaven in a chariot drawn by horses? Where did they come from?

Oom Ben thought about this deeply, sipping his coffee from the saucer in the way he used to when he rummaged through the files in his head.

“They were heavenly horses. Made up there, stayed up there. That’s what.”

And dogs and cats and cows?

“No. Not them.”

Her reverie is broken when the breathing becomes even more irregular. It is time, she knows. Oom Ben’s suffering is almost over. Taking the Bible from the bedside table, she starts reading Psalm 23.

“Aaaaah,” Oom Ben says suddenly as he opens his eyes wide. “How wonderful.”

He says this clearly, in a young voice, so clear that Gertruida will remember it for many years to come. And it’s not only the clarity of the voice. No, not at all. There is something else: a joy, a celebration of sorts, that tells you he’s smiling even if you can’t see it. 

Gertruida stops reading.

“What is, Oom Ben?”

“It’s so much more!” His voice is still smiling, but the eyes are closed now. “So much.”

He’s silent for a while as his chest heaves up and down.

“Oom Ben?”

“My child…” Now his voice seems to come from far away. “It’s so…beautiful!”

Another pause to catch his breath.

“And…I can smell it.”

“What, Oom Ben? What do you smell?”

Now the chest stops straining so much. It doesn’t have to. It’s almost over.

“Puppy-breath, my child….I…smell…puppy-breath.”

***

They bury old Oom Ben Kromhout in the little graveyard on his farm. It’s a dignified service led by Oudoom and attended by almost everybody in the district. They have come to pay their last respects to a man who lived as an example to them all. Some speak of how Oom Ben helped them through hard times, others remember a visit, a handshake, a smile. Kind words and tears mingle as the coffin gets lowered into the ground.

gemsbokAnd maybe it’s because of the tears, or perhaps the downcast eyes – but only Gertruida looks up when the group files past the open grave to throw handfuls of sand back into the hole while Oudoom intones the bit about dust to dust.

And Gertruida, who looks up at that moment, sees the Gemsbok on the rise beyond the little graveyard. It is a magnificent creature, seemingly standing to attention with his horns held high and his many-coloured coat shining in the sun.

And if you asked her, she’d say she was sure that he was smiling. It looked that way, even at that distance.

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The Holiness of Love

images (19)“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?”

“Well, I…”

“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.

Cathy’s Eyes (# 4)

dreamstime_10959250-woman_lending_support_for_AIDS_causeDreyer visited the house on a daily basis, each time to hear she doesn’t want to see anybody. Eventually, after two weeks, Cathy relented and allowed the nurse to bring him to her room.

Policemen get desensitised quickly, once they are introduced to the chaotic mayhem of township life. Violence and death get to be tolerated as something normal; daily occurrences that need to be investigated, written up, and filed. After a while, the nightmares stop. The nausea passes. And the recruit becomes used to switching to a type of automated, state-owned machine in order to distance himself psychologically from the mangled bodies, the anger and the grief associated with death and dying.

But when Dreyer walked into Cathy’s room, he had to swallow hard to keep a straight face. He knew she was extremely ill, and that she was getting special treatment for the viruses that now lived inside her – but he never expected to see her like that: a skeletal and pathetic creature, propped up by pillows in a neatly-made bed.

“I look terrible,” she whispered.

“Not your eyes, Cathy. They’re just like I remember them.”

Her thin pale lips curled upwards in what might have been a smile. “They are the only things in my body that have grown lately.”

She was right, of course. While her cheeks melted away to expose the hard lines of her skull beneath the skin, her eyes had become larger; making her look like a badly drawn caricature of end-stage cachexia.  They now swung around slowly to stare at him.

“You’ve seen me now. It’ll best if you leave, I think.”

Dreyer shook his head.

“No.” It came out harsher than he meant, so he softened his tone. “I feel terrible about what happened…to your father and to you.”

“It’s not your fault. He brought it on…sadly. His drinking never stopped – he tried, but it didn’t work.”

“I’m sorry…”
“It doesn’t matter, Dreyer. What happened, happened. I can’t stop this process.” She waved a frail hand at her body, which seemed so delicately fragile under the too-big pyjamas. “Only the final act in the drama remains.”

“Can’t they do anything?”

“They tried.” Her voice was tired, defeated; like the wilted palm tree next to the window outside. “I lose weight every day. Not long now…”

“You have to hang in there, Cathy. You’re young…there’s a lot of living to be done.”

“With an empty pelvis and raging AIDS? You lost your mind or something?” Anger tinged the edges of her voice.

“Because…” he hesitated, aware of the large eyes probing his, “because I care. Really…”

He watched as her pupils narrowed down to almost pinpoint size – as if she suddenly gazed into blinding light.

“Why?”

“I-I don’t know, Cathy. Maybe because you sewed my button back on. Maybe because you walked all the way home to get the right colour thread. Or maybe because I saw you for what you really are: a caring, loyal, loving person…” He didn’t know what else too say.

The limp little hand that belonged to her arm searched for his from under the blanket. Her eyes changed then: then became softer, mellowing at his words.

“That’s the sweetest thing anybody has ever said to me…” A giant tear formed at the corner of an eye.  Her gaze dimmed for a moment, as if she retreated to a distant corner in her mind. Her chin came up when she made the decision.

“If you cared, you’d take me out of here, Dreyer. I don’t want to die in this bed. I want to feel the breeze on my skin, the sun on my body. I want the freedom I never had.”

Dreyer didn’t argue. He saw the hunger in her eyes, the pleading for release. They told him about a life so sad, so wasted, that only these final days and hours remain to reclaim something of the hope she had when her mother was still alive.

  He arranged everything and signed the voluntary discharge forms. The doctor objected, of course, but admitted eventually that yes, maybe, it was for the best. It took two days of arguing and preparation before he carried the little weight she still had to his car outside.

Chapman's Peak Drive

Chapman’s Peak Drive

“First we’ll settle you in the flat,” he said. “Or would you like to go for a drive over Chapman’s Peak first?”

This time, her smile reached her eyes.

Dreyer had spoken to his commanding officer, who allowed him to take his annual leave. He had three weeks. Cathy knew that. They didn’t dare discuss what would happen when the time ran out – the only important thing was that she remained comfortable.  By that time, her meals had to be liquefied and Dreyer had a full-time job keeping her and the bed clean.

Hout Bay

Hout Bay

It was on a  Sunday afternoon that she asked him to take her to Hout Bay.

The little beach, Dreyer, next to that café. I want to see the sun set. With music. Please?

The over-large orbs of her eyes said it all. He understood.

The sun was dipping towards the horizon when she asked him to put the CD in the portable player. Off to one side, a family was building a sand castle while the small waves lapped at the buttresses. High tide would smooth the beach in less than an hour’s time: the castle would only last for a few minutes.

“This is my song for you. I want you to do these things for me,” she said. “Take me along, will you?  There’s so much I still wanted to see. You can be my eyes…”

Cathy tried to sing along in her weak whisper, her eyes searching his. And when she came to …fly the ocean in a silver plane/ see the jungle when it’s wet with rain… she fell silent.

And closed her eyes for the last time.

Fanny’s Surprise (# 5)

 !Tung reaches the Place of the Buried Wagon first. She sits down quietly, paying her respect for those that died here. She never knew their names, of course, they died before she was born; but honouring the dead is as important to her as being kind to the living. This place, a place for death and dying, deserves the respect she is obliged to give.

She knows !Ka will come – he’s not far away, she’s sure. She closes her eyes to try and imagine where he is; but the only vision she receives is of the endless sands of the Kalahari. He’s out there, somewhere, in trouble under the scorching sun. When she looks up, it is to see a single eagle soaring in the sky above.

Go, Eagle, find !Ka…I don’t have a lot of time…

***

Vetfaan reaches the spot from where they walked the last time. Cutting across the veld and not detouring past the farm – like before – has brought them here much faster than he expected. Well, it is a long walk from here, they’ll have to hurry. As they get out, Vrede stops suddenly, fixing on the big bird swooping down on them.

These great eagles carry off rabbits, lambs, small antelope…and dogs. When Vetfaan sees the approaching bird, he starts running towards Vrede, knowing he’d never make it. He’s still ten yards away when the eagle flashes past Vrede, claws still tucked under the tail feathers. Vrede swirls around to watch it fly off.

Then he starts barking. And gets back into the pickup while he keeps an eye on the huge bird.

“He wants us to follow the bird, Fanie. I’m sure of it.” Fanny holds a hand above her brow to see the eagle more clearly. “Look, it’s flying that way…”

“Ag, come on Fanny?  I know it was crazy to follow Vrede here – but now we have an eagle to guide us? I can tell you – this verges on being ridiculous.”

“Don’t waste time, Fanie! Get in the vehicle. Lets go… please? I have the strangest feeling about this.”

Vetfaan stares at her for a minute. She came to Rolbos as a shy, introverted, rather overweight woman. Then she spent time with the Bushmen in the desert, and came back a completely different person. Look at her now, he thinks, self-assured, trim, confident. As if something in her mind clicked into the slot it was meant to be. Shrugging, he hurries over to the pickup.

***

!Ka realises he won’t make it. The swelling is getting worse and it is slowing him down. He’s got no water – there isn’t even a buried ostrich egg shell nearby. He crawls on doggedly, still aiming for the Valley of the Buried Wagon, knowing it’s of no use. Even if he can manage to fashion a crutch there, dehydration is going to have the final say.

There are many realities in living in the desert. Survival depends on protection, fluid and nutrition. It also requires skill and a bit of good luck. Now, with all the skills he’s acquired over the years, !Ka knows it is not enough. The thick tongue and dry mouth is but the start. Sucking small pebbles isn’t helping anymore. The plants with the thirst-quenching roots don’t grow nearby, either.  Next will come the muscle cramps, the absolute weakness, the disorientation…and then the long sleep.

!Ka grits his teeth. Yes, he is quite prepared for death, for is it not the gateway to the spirit-world? Has !Tung not told him about the journey all people have to undertake – the journey ending in being with all those that have gone before? She said it is a joyous occasion. The newcomer is welcomed to the vast place filled with green and game and lots of waters. She said there would be no trekking from place to place in the eternal quest for survival. Vetfaan had told him about his faith as well; he’s even attended one of Oudoom’s sermons. Maybe, he thinks, we all believe the same thing, only in a different way.

He’ll lie down to rest a while. Just for a minute. Then he’ll try to go on again. But now, now it’s time to rest.

Rest.

Aahhh…

 

***

The old pickup heads down the low dune. Vetfaan reckons they are about a kilometre or two north of the buried wagon, and here the desert is more flat, allowing the old Ford to make steady progress across the sand.

He’s about to pick up speed for the next dune, when Fanny points.

“The eagle is circling, Fanie. Look, it stays in one place now.”

Vrede gives an uncertain growl as he watches the big bird.

Then Vetfaan slams on the brakes.

“There’s a man over there!” He points. “He’s over there, on his back! Oh my…look at that leg… And… No!… It’s !ka!”

The Waiting Cat

“Oh, she’s doing all right,” Servaas says as he delivers his report on his monthly visit to Nellie Pretorius. As elder in the church, it is his duty to drive out to the deserted farm once a month to see the old lady. It is a long drive, and on his return he always stops at Boggel’s Place to rehydrate and tell Boggel the latest. “Fortunately she has old Phineas to help her, but I doubt if she’s going to last much longer.”

“And that cat? Is he still around?”

“Yes, that cat…” Servaas doesn’t like to talk about the cat. The concept that a cat may be waiting for someone to die, is weird enough. To have a tradition  linked to it, is completely insane. “Sure. He spends his days on her bed now. Tannie Nellie says he won’t budge…”

***

The first time Servaas drove out to see Tannie Nellie was a cold winter’s day in the middle of June. He found the aging woman in front of the hearth in her stone-and-thatch cottage on the farm, where they had tea and talked about everything else except her health. When it was time to go, Servaas finally asked her about it.

“Oh, I’m fine thank you.” She wasn’t, it was plain to see. The stroke had caused the left side of her face to slide down even further than the right, and she was obviously short of breath. “As long as the cats roams about outside, I’m not worried.”

What’s the cat got to do with it?

“They wait for you to die. They know when it’s time. When my mother died, her cat was at her side; and when it was my father’s turn, the same thing happened. Mamma told me it would happen. She said cats have something to do with your soul – something about how cats are sensitive about the spiritual world. Maybe they help carry the soul to the other side. Maybe they assist the soul out of the body. Or maybe I’m just a bit daft!” She cackled a hoarse laugh while tapping against the side of her head with her good hand.

Servaas didn’t respond. She was old, somewhat senile and weak. To get into a Biblical argument about how stupid it is to think that a cat … ? No, he decided, as he put down his empty tea cup, best to go now.

Over the months that followed, she deteriorated slowly. She refused to see a doctor because they shouldn’t interfere. “Life is a book, Servaas. When you turn the last page, the story ends. You can’t add pages just because you enjoyed the story. And look at my cat – we don’t want to disappoint him, do we?”

The cat, indeed, did spend more and more time inside the house. When her bedroom became her home in November, the cat followed her and refused to budge.

“He waits until I doze off before going outside. That’s why the window is open. Quick out, quick back.” She tried to laugh, spasmed up in a spell of coughing, and gave a weak smile.

Servaas once tried to convince her to consider an old-age home. It was a mistake.

“You crazy?” Her eyes blazed at him. “This is my farm. My grandparents are here. My parents are here. My two children are here. Why would I leave?”

Servaas knew about the little cemetery near the dam – the one that never held any water. Tannie Nellie said it was the thought that counts, anyway. Her two boys are buried there (what they think were their remains, anyway, she said)– both died n the Helderberg disaster. “The bloody government used that plane to carry stuff for the atom bomb they built. That’s why the Americans blew it up.” It was the only time he ever heard her use foul language.  As for the Americans blowing up a South African plane – well, he’s never heard anything so absurd in his entire life. “That is a problem, of course. They had no cats near when they died…”

***

The month passes quickly, as time does when the year starts running downhill. Servaas wrestles his old pickup over the rutted road leading to Tijgersrust, Tannie Nellie’s farm. According to local lore, the farm got its name because the last leopard in the district was shot there.

It is still plain to see that the farm must have been very successful at some stage. The remains of several cottages dot the area, stone walls remain where the kraals were and the huge shed must have housed the implements. Now only the skeletons of those days remain. The dam-without-water is a mocking tribute to the dreams of a few generations. Dust to dust, Servaas thinks as he opens the gate.

Phineas opens the door even before he can knock.

“Hai, Mister Servaas, come in. It is a sad day. How did you know?”

“Know what, Phineas?”

“Tannie Nellie has just passed away. Thank you for coming.”

***

Servaas doesn’t stop at Boggel’s Place when he returns to town. He needs time to think. Last night he dreamt about a cat – a big one with spots. The animal was resting on his bed and refused to budge when he drew the sheets over his head. It wasn’t a nightmare; somehow, it was the most natural thing to share his bed with the creature.

Then there was the other thing: when he opened that gate to the farm, he saw Tannie Nellie’s cat resting on the veranda. He hesitated before knocking, thinking the cat seemed exhausted.

He flops down on his old couch. People can be very strange in their beliefs. Now he, Servaas, isn’t going to be intimidated by some silly myth. That’s why he agreed to bring the cat to town. Phineas told him that he was leaving now that Tannie Nellie is gone; there is nothing to keep him on the farm. If Mister Servaas would be so kind? Please. I can’t take the cat home – in my village people keep too many dogs.

He knew Phineas was lying. He had spent more time on that farm than anybody else. He also knew about the leopard and the cats.

Well, he, Servaas Venter, isn’t superstitious. He’s not afraid. That old woman deluded. Deranged. Demented. Or something.

On impulse, he gets up to peek through the window. The cat is wandering around outside, inspecting his new environment.

Outside, Servaas thinks as he opens the fridge. I’ll put out a cushion and some milk outside.