Tag Archives: near death experience

The Diary

kubu-island-2[6] The questions surrounding the disappearance of Spook Visagie would not have been spoken about in such hushed tones, had the diary not been found. The problem is that the group in Boggel’s Place is still not sure whether it is a hoax or the real thing. Still – it had been found  amongst the rocks on Kubu Island and it might just add to the mystery.

***

The Diary – a plain, hard cover exercise book – was found , wrapped in Eland skin – on the 5th May, 2015 by a warden in the newly-established Kubu Reserve. This, Gertruida says, is significant: it is exactly fifty years since Spook disappeared. The same day and month appears in the police report . She also says that the Bushman’s legends often contain elements of periodicity – like the bearded man that appears every so many years. According to Gertruida, it is not unusual in African mythology to find events recurring over and over again – just like the diary suggests.

***

The first part of the diary contains what can be described as a travelogue. Nothing special. Crossing the border at Van Zylsrus. travelling to Gaborone, describing the condition of the road, etc. He camped at Letlhakane and drove on to Kubu, where he hoped to camp for a day or two before striking out towards Gweta. He wrote briefly about the break-down, the desperate hope that somebody would find him and how he tried – unsuccessfully, to make his water supply last until help arrived. His handwriting at that stage is almost illegible.

Then, a blank page.

Then…

***

I find myself in the most extraordinary circumstances. In fact, I doubt whether I’ll be able to put into writing what I have experienced. Let me try…

When I came to, I had no idea where I was. In fact, I thought I was dead.The experience of ‘letting go’ and finding myself in a place of complete peace was just too magnifi fantas – well, it certainly defies putting it into words. I’ll need to spend a lot of time with that experience to  make some sort of sense out of it. Maybe I’ll return to that later, but first I must say something about my saviours.

AN01156698_001_lThere are three of them: an old man (very old) and what I take to be his son and his wife. Understanding them is out of the question – their words are formed by a series of clicks that is completely foreign to my ears. They are, however, very friendly and and kind – I owe them my life. They don’t have much, but what they have, they share with me. I’ve eaten  roots, chewed twigs and had some cooked meat (?rabbit). The younger man seems to know where to find water – he disappears from time to time, returning with a gourd-like sack filled with water. I think the sack is the skin of a steenbok or something. 

402-1I’ve read about Kubu, of course. A lot. Especially after reading Laurens van der Posts’s book, The Lost World of the Kalahari, I had to come see for myself – not the area where he visited, of course. That was too far north. But he said two things that made my blood run cold.

First of all, he describes an unnamed hitchhiker outside the town of Maun. This is, as we all know, not an unknown phenomenon in Africa. But then he mentions the tragedy of the man committing suicide in Harry Riley’s hotel the following evening.

How many young men did that? Ending their lives in Riley’s Hotel? The only one I knew about, was my nephew, Christiaan – Chris for short. In our family, Chris’ name is seldom mentioned, simply because his death was so unexplained. He was an adventurer, a free soul, and wanted to travel Africa from south to north – to write a book about it afterwards.

Then Van der Post continues, stating that this young fellow caused his own death, because he had a relationship with ‘one of the local ladies’ and that she had fallen pregnant. Suddenly it all fell into place. That’s why the family didn’t want to talk about him! And, seeing that Van der Post was on an extended safari to document the lives of the so-called Water Bushmen in the Okavango (people he never really met in the end), the ‘local lady’ in question was probably somebody of Bushman descent…maybe?

That’s why I’m travelling from south to north through the Bechuana Protectorate. To see for myself. Who were these Bushmen. How do they live? And….I had the inexplicable feeling that I might just find more than I sought. It was as if I simply had to heed a call of some sorts. I didn’t understand the compulsion to obey…then.

***

A few pages later:

We’re getting on rather well, my little family and I. They’ve taken me back to the vehicle to salvage some of the supplies (very excited about Bully Beef – they savour it like the best delicatesse ever!) and I ascertained that the engine had ceased completely. No way out on that vehicle!

The old man is trying hard to tell me something. He’d sit on his haunches at the fire, look me in the eye, and speak to me in the most earnest way. The multitude of clicks would have been funny if he didn’t seem so terribly serious. He tell me  (I think) the same story over and over again, emphasising certain parts while pointing at me. I’m not sure what to make of it. He seems to be telling me something about myself…but what?

***

A strange thing happened last night. The woman brought some herbs to the shelter which caused the old man to clap his hands in joy while obviously praising her. Then, as the sun began to set, they made me stand next to the fire. It was obvious they wanted to do something important. Then the woman started undressing me. I was scared and shy, but the old man held out his hand, palms towards me, making shhh-ing sounds as if placating a baby. What could I do? They’d saved my life, after all.

images (15)Then the woman ‘dusted’ me. I know of no other way to describe it. She had ashes in half an ostrich eggshell, which she proceeded rubbing into my body. In this, she was extremely gentle and avoided the parts of anatomy which could have aggravated my embarrassment. When she was done, the old man draped a karos of springbok skin around me. It was a fine garment of extremely high quality and I wondered about the craftsmanship. It looked old, but well-cared for. What was abundantly clear, however, was that some great honour was being bestowed upon me. Of course I didn’t understand.

That’s when the woman guided me to the downwind side of the fire and made me sit down in the smoke. She proceeded to sprinkle the fetched herbs on the embers.

And that’s when I had the first vision that started to make sense out of the mystery surrounding my circumstances…

(To be continued)

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To eternity…and back (#9)

Matron, a painting by Edward Irvine Halliday

Matron, a painting by Edward Irvine Halliday

Matron sat down after making sure that nurse Botha had closed the door properly. To say she was uncertain would be an insult to the ruler of her hospital empire, but in reality, her heart was thumping away wildly. How was she to manage this situation? Yes, give her a shocked, comatose patient, and she’d be galvanised into organised activity immediately. Or bring on that difficult breech delivery – she could handle that with professional ease. But this….? What was she supposed to do with a rebellious nurse and a lover that ruined her life? She sighed and stared at her hands…she’d just have to come up with something…

The trio in front of her seemed equally unsettled – except for Vetfaan, who had a sardonic smile, as if he knew something she didn’t.

“Look, this is uncomfortable for all of us. I realise you didn’t expect me here, Jocobus.” Shorty shifted his weight, staring at his feet. “You expected to make amends with Servaas, not me. And I suppose one should commend you for that, despite my absolute misgivings about your past. You have singlehandedly been responsible for my unhappiness for the last four decades. You cannot expect me to simply smile and tell you everything is all right. I can’t because it isn’t. I’ll bear the scars of that time for the rest of my life. If you can’t understand that, you’re a bigger imbecile than even I have given you credit for.” There was no mistaking the suppressed anger in her words. “But…what was done, was done. You moved on, and so did I. I tried…Lord knows how I tried…to forget you and what you’d done. And, despite what I may feel about your rejection, I cannot undo the past.”

Shorty opened his mouth as if he wanted to say something, but she held up a silencing hand.

“Don’t! Don’t say anything, Jacobus de Lange. Let me finish. I hate what you did, even if I forgive you. I…I suppose I’m still mad at you – and probably will be till I lay down my head. That is my problem and I can deal with it…provided I hear from you what I hope you were on the point of saying.”

She looked up expectantly, uncertainty written all over her face.

“Matron….Alice…I don’t even know where to begin. I’ve apologised to Servaas – that was easy. But you? How do I say ‘sorry’ when I’ve been bogged down with more guilt than you can imagine? How can I apologise when I can’t even forgive myself? How do I make amends for something I buggered up so completely such a long time ago?” Shorty wiped away the embarrassing tear coursing down his cheek with an impatient gesture. “So I’ll just say I’m sorry. Really. I’ve ruined your life as much as I’ve done my own. I know what I went through – I can only imagine what the effect on your life had been. And I…I have to live with that. Every day you think about what I did, is another day I look at myself in the mirror…and want to smash the bloody glass! I’m sorry, Alice. I’m so sorry…”

Much to especially nurse Botha’s surprise, the woman she had come to know as an emotionless, automated perfectionist, sat completely quiet during Shorty’s apology. Then her impassive face crumbled, melted, slowly deepening the furrows and lines on her forehead while the skin over her chin crinkled as if it had a life of its own. A sound – soft at first, almost inaudible – picked up volume and became a primitive wail; the oldest expression of grief known to mankind. By the time the tears started, Shorty was at her side, patting her back with no apparent effect.

Nurse Botha stormed out to get more tea. Vetfaan stood rooted to the spot, without the faintest idea how to manage the situation. He’d never had a clue what to do with crying women, anyway…

It took two cups of strong, sweet tea to calm matron Krotz down. Vetfaan, at last galvanised into action, produced a half-jack of peach brandy, which they shared between the four of them. It helped more than the tea did.

“Oh, bugger! It’s such a mess.” Krotz blew her nose with gusto, sniffed even more loudly and managed a wobbly smile. “I’m just glad every day doesn’t start like this.”

It was a lame attempt to lighten the atmosphere, but it worked. Nurse Botha giggled, Shorty shuffled his feet and Vetfaan wished he had brought more peach brandy.

“Matron…” Nurse Botha used the silence to get Krotz’s attention.

“What is it, nurse Botha?”Something in the matron’s demeanour told everybody she was fighting to sound stern, like her old self, but was failing miserably.

“I’m sorry I called you a …a…lady dog, Matron. I didn’t mean it. Really…”

They laughed at that. Long and hard, like people do when they don’t know what words to use to make things better.

***

Servaas had another dream that night – not a lucid one like he had before, but a dream he tried to remember afterwards and couldn’t. When he woke up in his own bed in Rolbos, he did feel much refreshed. He ascribed his euphoria to his home environment, not knowing that the answer lay at a much deeper level.

In the dream he was back on the dune – the exact same one of his previous dream – reaching out to Shorty, who he found easy to recognise this time. He did, indeed, rescue Shorty from the quicksand, but not like he imagined in the original dream. This time he was helped by all his friends from Rolbos, as well as a rather portly but friendly nurse.

***

Shorty never goes to Upington without stopping to have a cup of tea with matron Krotz. They seem to have reached a new understanding, in which they manage to talk about the old days without the anger and guilt that had burdened them so. While they agreed to let bygones be bygones, they are both old and wise enough to know they cannot retrace the steps to a romantic relationship. They do, however, pop in to Boggel’s Place about once a year to join the group at the bar. Just for old time’s sake, nothing more. (For now, at least.)

Servaas has made a full recovery. He firmly believes his illness had a purpose – something they all agree on. Oudoom asked him to speak about his near-death experience during one of the Sunday services, having invited some of the pastors and reverends from Upington. While the Rolbossers hung on to his lips, absorbing every word, the visiting learned clergymen afterwards dismissed his experience as a mere hallucination. Old people, they concurred, tend to romanticise and dramatise everything.

And nurse Botha? Why, you’ll find her in every hospital you ever set your foot (or other bits of your anatomy) in. She’s the one with the soft eyes; the shy, hesitant smile; the young lass sitting next to the critically ill patient, holding a withered hand. She may not be a beauty queen, but you’ll recognise her compassion as much prettier than the girls strutting about on the Miss World stage. If you see her, be kind. Tell her how important she is in a world that recognises power and money as the only currency. And do tell her she’s special. After all, no matron can run a hospital without her. She is, when all is said and done, everything that nursing – and caring and love – is all about.

Lastly: Servaas said something during his recounting of his near death awareness in church that pleased – and upset – Gertruida tremendously. He emphasised that nothing – nothing – is ever a coincidence. Whenever fate forces you onto an unknown path, look for the kindness, the compassion, hidden somewhere even in the most unfortunate circumstances. People don’t see it, he said, because they are too absorbed in their own planning of what they think they want in life. He quoted eloquently from Desiderata, reminding them that the universe will unfold just the way it has to – not according to the rather short-sighted roster each of us draws up for our own lives. And, he emphasised, although we so often doubt the concept, the basis of everything – life, the universe, relationships – is love. Without it, nothing in the past makes sense. Nor, for that matter, does the future.

When he spoke to the congregation, he made them repeat a sentence: There is a purpose to everything under heaven. To his and Gertruida’s dismay, the visitors didn’t join in. But then…when faith is based only on theory, one cannot blame them, can one? Maybe one has to die – or almost die – to realise this basic truth.

Or travel to eternity and back…

THE END

To eternity…and back (#4)

caregiverhandsFor a while after Gertruida had left, nurse Botha thought that Servaas suffered a relapse. The old man sat upright in his bed, staring into the distance with a completely vacant look. She approached the old man cautiously to fold her hands around his shrivelled hand, ever so gently. To her surprise, he started crying.

“I…I’m sorry, nursie. I just don’t know what to do.”

She sat there, listening to his account of his conversation with Gertruida, nodding as if she understood. Some people are natural listeners, making it easy to impart even the most painful thoughts. Nurse Botha was just such a person. She was neither old nor young, in between overweight and chubby and had the soft eyes of a Labrador. The words tumbled from her patient in an unstoppable torrent until at last he sank back in his cushion with the most distraught and fatigued look. She never interrupted, never asked a single question, knowing he had to hear himself  tell his story to work through this thing.

“So…you think you had this dream about Shorty de Lange for a reason?”

“Y-yes. I…I suppose so. It was too real to ignore and yet it sounds so stupid to take it seriously.”

“And yet you had this near-death experience, didn’t you? Did you take that seriously?”

Servaas blinked. “I did…I do, I mean. Yes. Siena was there, I’m sure. And something…more.”

“Then maybe you shouldn’t hesitate to do the same with the dream? I mean, what harm can there be to find out where this…Shorty is? Maybe he’s dead already, and you’re worrying all in vain.”

The old man’s face brightened. He hadn’t thought about that! “But how do you go about finding somebody you last saw half a century ago? I don’t know where to begin.”

“Well, Oom Servaas, I might just be able to assist you with that.”

***

Wilhelm Röntgen's X-ray of Anna Bertha's - his wife - hand. 1895

Wilhelm Röntgen’s first X-ray. Anna Bertha’s – his wife’s – hand. 1895

Coincidence? Fate? Chance? Serendipity? Divine intervention…or divine planning? History is littered with hard-to-explain coincidental discoveries, ranging from penicillin, Viagra, anaesthesia, LSD, the microwave oven and – of course – X-rays. Even Alfred Nobel’s discovery of dynamite was the result of an accidental observation. Although mankind often benefitted from these ‘lucky’ incidents, we must also remember the iceberg that sunk the Titanic or the Curse of Tutankhamun which apparently killed Lord Carnarvon.

Still, the fact that portly nurse Botha had a brother working in the military archives in Pretoria could be considered a stroke of good luck – or an improbable inevitability in the strange set of events surrounding Servaas’s illness  during his stay in hospital.

Within an hour of her telephone call, Herman Botha reported that Jakob Arnoldus de Lange finished his stint as conscripted soldier in 1972, did the obligatory yearly call-up duties until 1986, and then was discharged from any further service. No, he didn’t know his present whereabouts, but he did supply the next link in the chain: the man’s ID number.

Enter Gertruida, our dear know-it-all with her contacts amongst the small but select group of people involved with the intelligence community. The ID number was  given to a retired colonel in the erstwhile National Intelligence, whose  son happened to be a professor in Computer Sciences (cost: 1 bottle of brandy and the promise of Kalahari biltong). and so the hacked records of the Office of Home Affairs supplied an address.

Much to everybody’s surprise, Shorty de Lange’s home address was a smallholding near Prieska, the town he used to represent as flanker on the rugby field.

***

“You mean you found out all that in the matter of about twelve hours?”

Gertruida stared at her shoes for a moment, slightly embarrassed. “Um…yes. I’m sorry it took so long..”

Servaas laughed at this – his first bit of mirth since his chat with matron Krotz dumped them both under a cloud of depression. Matron, by the way, had not reported for work that day; the first time – ever- she had missed a day on duty. Nurse Botha tried to phone, got no answer, and promised herself to visit her stern and unapproachable boss after her shift was over.

“I’ve thought about it.” Servaas sounded the way he looked: completely defeated. He didn’t want to be reminded of the one time he felt as if the devil had taken over his soul and he beat a friend to pulp. During the sleepless night after Gertruida had left the previous afternoon, he had forced himself to relive that incident. In the early morning hours he decided that his religious conviction had been the result of fear (that he might have such an ‘attack’ again) coupled with guilt (that he acted like a complete and demonic lunatic). Did Christ not heal such men through faith? Yes, he decided, Christ did; but he – Servaas – had used his faith as selfish protection against himself. He shielded behind religion to prove to others how righteous he was. That convoluted argument did absolutely nothing to improve his mood. “And I’ll have to see the man as soon as I’m better. Doctor Welman said my recovery will take several months. Maybe after that…”

“No, Servaas.” Gertruida – who knows everything – used her stern voice. “This thing is going to do more harm if you keep on postponing it. It’s not going to go away.You are obviously upset about meeting Shorty, and I understand that. You’re not, however, going to forget about it while you’re recovering. You’ve managed to bury the incident with Shorty under a layer of time – and had you not had that dream, you might well have lived out your life in denial. I don’t know why you had the dream, Servaas, but I think it’s the best thing to come out of all this.” She swept a hand towards the chart on the wall, showing his vital signs and progress. Seeing Servaas’s distress, she sits down on the bed next to him. “I need you to relax now. Breathe deeply and let go of the feelings of fear and guilt. Promise me that.”

“O-okay.” Hesitant, unsure.

“Okay then. Now I must ask you to prepare yourself. I sent Vetfaan to talk to Shorty. I expect them any moment now.”

Servaas’s eyes opened wide, his breathing shallow. “No! For goodness’ sakes, Gertruida. You can’t do this to me! I’m a sick man! I’m not ready, not ready at all!”

Nurse Botha entered the room with an uncertain smile. Her soft brown eyes took in the scene before she shot Gertruida an accusing look.

“I…um…well, the gentlemen are here. Shall I send them in?”

At that moment the door swung open.

Servaas closed his eyes in desperate prayer. Please, Lord, if it be Your will, let this cup pass from me…

(To be continued…)

To eternity…and back

Credit: marybreath.com

Credit: marybreath.com

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.

“But…”

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.

***

“Servaas….?”

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.

“Servaas…?”

***

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?”

“Living…compassion.”

“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…)

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.

Going for the Kill (# 5)

captain_undressJosé Migeul Pereira drifts upwards, weightless, free. He’s not concerned. He has no pain.

He doesn’t know what exactly happened. Didn’t see Pedro’s leg tremble, tremble…and move. Vaguely recalls  the second click as the toggle switch moved upward, sending the electrical signal to the M18 mine. Didn’t – couldn’t – see the mine strapped to a tree, its killing face pointed to the track at waist height. Didn’t even hear the explosion where he was crawling along the ground, following the wire.

One moment he was busy sweeping sand off the concealed wire, the next he is floating above his bleeding body. Weightless. Free.

Oh, he can see his damaged body, no question about it. There’s blood on the left side of his face. A lot of it. The left side of his shirt is also soaked in blood, some of it forming a small pool in the soft sand. This doesn’t worry him at all. No pain, just free.

“José…?”

A voice? Here? Who?

“It’s me.” Two words, explaining everything.

And suddenly he is aware of the ship’s captain in front of him. Why didn’t he notice the handsome man in the old-fashioned uniform before? And yet, there he is! Exactly the picture of his father, the one he never knew but always thought would look just like this.

“Papa…?”

“That’s right, son. Me. I’ve always been there, remember?”

José is confused. What is happening?

“Relax, José. Just be. Accept.”

“But…but why? How?” The questions flood his consciousness.

“To reassure you, son. You’ve always been lonely. You’ve had a hard life and became bitter as a result. And you’ve still not forgiven Manuel or Matron Anna.” The captain shrugs. “You’ll never move on unless you do so, José.”

“Move on? To what?” José experiences a touch of anger. “I’ve been abused, used, belittled all my life and….”

“Shhhh…” Is there any other way to describe the captain’s eyes, other than kind and sympathetic? Even – the thought surprises José – loving? “Hush now son. You had to endure unspeakable hardship for you to understand what you have to do. In a short while you’re going to face a difficult situation. I want you to think about what I just said when the time comes, José. It is very, very important. And then, when you are confronted by that choice, you’ll make the right decision.”

The image of the captain seems to waver, fade, as he draws back.

“Wait! Papa! Don’t leave me…again?’

“I’ve never left you, José. I’ll always be there…”

And then, suddenly, the captain is gone.

***

Voices… Other voices. Urgent words. Lots of voices.

Then men appear, running towards him. A few stop to stare at the mangled body of Pedro. One bends over to vomit. Others just stand there in shock, staring.

But two men rush to his side to turn him over. They wipe away blood, working silently. The medical kit gets opened. They put up a drip, managing with the third try.

“His rucksack and radio saved him,” the one says, “and most of the shrapnel went right over him. He was too near the tree and the mine was too high… Lucky devil!”

“Poor Pedro,” the other one murmurs, “he didn’t stand a chance.”

José feels himself drawn back to his body. He wants to resist, to remain in this state of blissful peace, but the pull to return is just too strong. He feels a different darkness approaching and surrenders to it.

***

Pain!

The pain is excruciating.

José wants to open his eyes, but something is wrong. Even when he tries focussing, all he can see is black. He wants to scream, but he only manages a protracted, croaking groan.

“You’re awake?” The voice is soft, a woman’s voice. Where the hell did she come from?

“Are you in pain?”

He manages another croak and a nod.

“I’ll give you something.”

The darkness returns.

***

Time passes. How long? He’s not sure. Time has no meaning. When he becomes aware again, the pain is less. Mainly his head, also his chest. It’s still dark.

“Welcome back, José Pereira. Feeling better?” The same voice. Kind. Soft.

“Yes.” The words comes out slowly over his dry tongue. “Th…th…thirsty…”

“Here.” He feels a straw on his lips. Sucks. It’s Coke! His favourite… He drinks eagerly, smacking his lips.

“How…how did you…know?”

Soft giggle. “The Coke? Comrade Vasily told he. Said I had to keep it at your bedside.”

“Dark..why is it…dark?”

“You’ve got a million bandages over your head, José Pereira. The doctors had to operate to get the pieces of iron out of your face. You’re a very lucky man, José. Or you have a powerful guardian angel.”

The captain?

“Who…are…you?”

“I’m Maria da Silva, José. Your private nurse, Comrade Vasily must like you a lot, he’s payng me well.”

And then, in bits and pieces, she allows him to assemble the puzzle to understand what’s happened in the last fourteen days. How the men got the radio working again, to notify their basecamp what’s happened. How Comrade Vasily twisted arms, called in favours and almost shot Chung to get a helicopter to fetch José. How he was taken to Luanda where the Cuban doctors spent eight hours – eight hours! – operating on his face and fixing his ruptured lung. And how she sat there, day after day, praying for him to get better.

“I did your bandages yesterday evening, José. The doctors…well, they did a marvellous job. When you came in, you were quite a mess. Now you’ll only have a scar over your left cheek. I think you’re going to be even more handsome for it.”

Despite the circumstances, José finds himself smiling beneath the bandages. She’s got such a beautiful voice…

“And Comrade Vasily… Does he know I’m okay?”

“Oh yes! I have to phone him twice a day. He’s really worried about you, you know? He said he’d be off this weekend, then he’d come and visit you.”

When José feels himself drifting off into a slumber again, he nearly didn’t hear her question.

“José? Your records show you’re an orphan. But you know? The funniest thing happened. Right after you returned from the operating theatre, A man came to visit you. A sailor, I think. He didn’t look old enough, but he said he was your father. He stood there, silently, looking down at you. Then he asked for a glass of water. I fetched it. When I returned, he was gone… Do you know such a man, José?”

Jose Migeul Pereira feels how the tension drains from his body. He also knows exactly what to do.

“Please, Maria? Will you ask a priest to visit me? I haven’t been to confession for…such a long time. I need to put a matter straight.”

And then, he thinks, if there are difficult decisions ahead, he’ll be ready.

***

Sometimes it s so easy to say we’ll do the right thing. And sometimes, when faced with a difficult choice, we back off, knowing the price is too high. It is fair to assume that José Migeul Pereira had no idea how much he’d have to sacrifice if he wanted to be true to his intentions.

SHIMMERstate

And finally , after three years, the book is finished. Here’s a synopsis:

Near-death experience – the final portal to the ultimate truth?
Peter Small doesn’t know it, but when he steps in front of the speeding taxi, he’s about to embark on a paranormal journey that will provide the answer to the biggest question of them all: Why are we here? While his body is suspended in a comatose state, Peter discovers a world where he exists as a shimmer – a condition not connected to the physical world. To his surprise, he isn’t alone.
Mary Abrahams, the nurse at his bedside, is facing a completely different problem: she is harbouring an unwanted pregnancy. Must she marry the man responsible, even though he suffers from an obviously dangerous personality disorder? What about abortion?
In his meetings with other shimmers, Peter Small seeks answers and eventually connects with The Entity, the Creator of All. He gets insight into the many religions of the world, as well as the nature and origin of the universe – and Life. Then he is tasked to save Mary’s unborn baby …
Enter Danny, the ruthless lover, George, a sexually frustrated conman, and Frederik Verster, a doctor who has become a social recluse. Add a Cape Flats gang member, a paralysed professor and a caring matron, and you have a page-turning thriller with the twists and turns the author has become famous for.
But there is more … SHIMMERstate is a story of Destiny, of Fate and of Faith. As the story unfolds, the reader is swept along to re-examine the concept of a physical God and heaven. In SHIMMERstate the author explores the deeper spiritual questions about Life and Death, to come to several surprising conclusions.

           Click to buy.

Click to buy.

http://www.amazon.com/SHIMMERstate-ebook/dp/B00EKWDS3A