Servaas was sweeping the floor of his little cottage when the attack came. At first it was only a dizzy spell, but he soon had to sit down to avoid falling down. Oh, he’s had similar incidents in the past, especially after that new batch of Kleinpiet’s peach brandy was served in Boggel’s Place, but this was more severe, less ignorable and the headache didn’t wait for the next day – it was there immediately.
He tried to think, realising he needed help, but the more he tried to grab at thoughts – any thoughts – the less he was able to formulate a logical response. Yes, he knew he had to call out…or something. Maybe crawl to the door? Bang on the floor? Get something to make a noise with…?
And then the darkness started approaching. This, he could understand. The darkness would come and creep closer and closer until it seeped into every little crack in the floor. Then it would rise, grow bigger and stronger…and then there would be a bright tunnel of light. This was quite all right, he knew. It had to happen sometime, hadn’t it? And now, with this inevitability established, he felt a wave of resigned peace wash over him. Let it go…let it go…
At once he became aware of Siena. Not Siena the way she looked when she was in hospital after her stroke, no…Siena was young and vibrant and…beautiful. Yes, he remembered that dress – the white, frilly one with the little flowers around the hemline. And oh! The inviting smile! She was just standing there, waiting with a hand raised, waiting for him to ask her to the dance in Sarel Rooidam’s barn on Saturday. He was trembling, fumbling for words…
“You may ask me,” she said with that familiar smile.
He remembered that moment. Amongst the jumble of racing thoughts cruising through his brain right then, that moment froze, focussed, became startlingly clear. He couldn’t back then, neither can he now, bring himself to ask her to accompany him to Sarel’s barn.
“I know it’s hard to take that step, Servaas. So much uncertainty! So much to risk – what if she says ‘no’?. ”
Hey, wait! Siena didn’t say that? Who did? It’s a different, more commanding voice. Servaas tried to look around, but his glasses had fallen off during the dizzy spell. Everything is so…unfocussed. Yet, he could make out the outline of …somebody?
“Yes, Servaas, it’s me. You often wondered, didn’t you? Well, no you know.”
An image of Oudoom’s church now flashed through his mind.
“Oh, I know you tried, Servaas. All of you did, even Oudoom – as you call him. But you know? You guys were only scratching at the surface of Truth. You created a man-made religion with man-made rules.” Did he hear a chuckle in the voice? “It’s funny, actually. I mean: how you pieced together the puzzle and got the completely wrong picture. So, so many wrong pictures, to be exact.”
A thought gelled at last. “Am I dying?”
“Everybody’s dying, Servaas, you just choose to ignore it. Nobody lives forever down here on earth.”
“Will I…will I go to…heaven?”
This time the chuckle is unmistakable. “It depends on whether you want to sing in a choir for eternity, or prefer living in a suburb with pearly gates and golden streets. Then, I’m afraid, the answer is ‘No!’. But, if you wanted to find Peace and Love at last, then I’d say you have a very good chance.”
“But…where am I going now?”
The image faded a little, the silhouette becoming hazy. “To hospital, Servaas. They’re going to make you better.”
The last image Servaas became aware of, is Siena waving a cheery goodbye, her dress held down by a shy hand as the wind threatened to expose a knee. Almost a Marilyn Monroe picture, he’ll recall later.
Precilla wipes the sweaty brow with a damp cloth while she whispers his name over and over again. When did she become so fond of the cantankerous old man? Why, he’s forever being obtuse and garrulous, and yet here she is, next to his bed in Upington’s hospital, feeling so sad she could cry for days.
Doctor Welman – who treated him before – told her old Servaas had had a minor stroke but that nobody could predict the outcome. He may be paralyzed, lose some words or parts of memory, even be blind or deaf – who knows? Only time will tell.
There is the faintest suggestion that the frown on the forehead deepened slightly.
Siena returned for the last time.
“You’re not ready yet, Servaas.” This time the dress was loose, faintly suggestive as a thin strap slipped from her left shoulder. She’s still smiling that inviting smile, her eyes sparkling with some inner humour. “Don’t worry, I’m waiting for you. I’m not going anywhere.”
“Wha…what is this?” He was thoroughly confused.
“Ag, Servaas!” A slight note of exasperation crept into her voice, like it always did when he asked a stupid question. “This is Life, Servaas. Different, but the same. Here, but everywhere.”
“”I don’t understand…”
She sighed, pulled back the strap. “I didn’t either, when I was still trapped in a body. Shame, man! I know it doesn’t make sense right now. But here’s what I can tell you: you’re living only a fraction of the life you have. You know a little bit of something so big, it’ll blow your mind to know more. You must tell Oudoom that.”
He remained silent, digesting what she had said.
“Listen, Servaas: when you get out of hospital, you must really try to be more…religious.”
This time, it was Servaas who rebelled. “Siena, you know me. Head elder. Upholder of morals. I sit with Oudoom every week to work out his sermion….”
She… giggled…? It was hard to tell, for she had hidden her lips behind a demure hand. “Oh, my old sweetheart!” Yes, there was definitely laughter in her voice. “I know you try so hard. But really, Servaas, do you think that is what it’s all about? Religion is so much more than a sermon or the desire to criticize. No, what I’m telling you to do, is to practice compassion and kindness. Religion isn’t about wearing black suits and white ties and sitting in the front pew. You have to live your religion – every hour of every day. Make people experience what you believe in by the way you act, the words you speak, the smile to the stranger.” She took a step closer, but stopped suddenly as if she realised there was a barrier between them. “Reading the Bible and praying is good, Servaas, and please don’t stop. But, my dear, those are things you do by yourself and for yourself. That’s a teeny bit of what your religion should be all about. Your religion, Servaas, should be a beacon of light to others, not a series of selfish acts to soothe your conscience. It must be apparent to your friends, your family, the cashier at the till, the newspaper vendor on the street corner. It’s not about knowing which verse to quote under the right circumstances, it’s about living compassion.”
“Living…compassion.” Servaas’s eyes flicker open for a second.
“Hey, guys, Servaas is back! He sounds a bit confused, though.” Precilla motions the group at the door to gather around the bed.
“What did you say, Servaas?”
“Yep, he’s confused, alright! Doctor Welman said it might happen.” Vetfaan stares down at the gray-haired patient. “At least he can talk.”
“I can…do…more. I…must…do more.”
“Yeah, yeah, Servaas. One step at a time, will you? Relax now, everything is just dandy.”
“No…it isn’t. It never was…”
When Servaas slips back into the peaceful void, the little crowd around his bed exchange worried glances. Their old friend seems to be so very vague, so extremely abstruse…
They are so very wrong.
(To be continued…)