A South African based story introducing us to Johann Pienaar and his fight with HIV.
Written in Johannesburg South Africa. A rich story introducing the reader to a wealthy, white business man named Johann Pienaar, who contracts HIV. The People he meets on his journey along with the vivid dreams that leave him cold, show the reader a different way of dealing with HIV/AIDS.|
A Toast! To Shock.
Johann pulled up the collar of his coat and tucked his head down against the cold as he left the building. It would do no good for him to be recognized leaving this building. The black Mercedes was parked four or five blocks away. He walked purposefully, head down with long determined strides.
Johann possessed the characteristics of a middle-aged, male Afrikaner. He was tall, well built, with a large shaped head and piercing blue-green eyes that exuded a mixture of cynicism and dry humour. His dark brown close cropped hair was speckled with gray and matched the length of the stubble on his rugged jaw. These were the only conspicuous traits the casual observer would notice. It was mid-winter in Johannesburg. This meant temperatures of around six or seven degrees at eight ‘o’ clock in the morning. A coat was definitely a must.
Johann walked to the intersection of Market and Fox Streets. The red man on the traffic light was flashing him not to proceed. His mind was in turmoil. He forced himself to look up and around in spite of being noticed. The smell of hot popcorn and vetkoek drifted on the air from the street vendors. He registered the hustle and bustle of the working class. Around him people were climbing on and off busses, anxious to reach their warm offices where filter coffee awaited them. He smiled to himself for a moment, reflecting on how everybody managed to look the same. With everyone clad in heavy jackets, gloves and scarves, it was impossible to tell male from female.
The light changed and a green man from the traffic light beckoned him to continue across the intersection. Continuing his walk, he could feel his mind tackling the outer edges of the explosion that had gone off in there.
He forced suppression and begged his mind “Let me get home first!”
An African street boy around seven years old ran up to him. “Please baas! Fifty cents! Please baas!” He looked into the rheumy, woebegone eyes and felt sorrow rise in his chest. Fumbling around in his pocket a hand like a shovel pulled out a R20 note and handed it to the young boy.
“Thank you, baas! God bless you, baas”
The expressive change in the boy’s eyes was thanks enough for Johann. The boy ran across the road joyously, amidst many hooter blasts!
The black Mercedes came into vision as he rounded the next corner. With relief he opened the rear door and dropped on to the extravagant leather seating. He removed his coat, letting the warm air from the cars heater filter through the fibers of his clothing, comforting him, calming him. He reached for a glass from the middle consol and poured himself a large tumbler of twenty year old Chivas Regal Whisky. He gulped it in one go.
“You can take me home now Rudi”. Johann leaned into the luxury of the leather and sighed.
“Sure Mr Pienaar. Everything ok Sir?” Rudi asked. Johann could see Rudi checking him out in the rear view mirror.
“Why? Are you a Doctor now Rudi?” Johann scowled back at him.
“No, Sir.” Rudi started the car.
“Just drive then.” Johann closed his eyes and tried counting, hoping to stop the flutter of thoughts going through his head that were screaming to be heard.
Johann was born and bred in Pretoria. His parents were staunch Afrikaners. Being the middle child between two older brothers and two younger sisters, he had a busy childhood which was often dotted with frequent bouts of harsh corporal punishment meted out by “Pa”. Johann matriculated and went to university where he knuckled down and eventually qualified as a Chartered Accountant. He was hired in the early days by a then, up and coming firm of accountants. He left his parents home at the age of twenty-four. Buying only the basics in furniture and living equipment, he moved into a townhouse in the north of Johannesburg.
Working hard during the days and nights, he more often than not found himself waking up in the morning having fallen asleep on the long leather couch in his office. As the company became more successful so did Johann. He was eventually offered a partnership which he accepted. There was no room for a social life. Committed relationships did not fall into his foreseeable future plans. After ten years of hard work and serious saving, buying shares here and there. The board of directors decided the time was finally ripe and voted him in as Chief Executive Officer.
Now at age forty-five, he was a huge success. Not only had his company thrived and branched out. He had bought a small coffee shop, revamped it and opened branches nationally. He called it ‘Java-2-go’ He was a well known property developer and owned several townhouse complexes in and around Johannesburg. There was nothing he needed - nothing money could buy anyway.
The Mercedes pulled into an enclosed driveway. Electronic gates whirred open slowly. Winter greenery, rhododendron bushes and colourful clumps of gladiolas lined the rolling driveway that lead to a double story Cape Dutch style estate home. Once inside Johann grabbed a bottle of Chivas from his bar. Throwing open the French doors leading onto the outside patio. He didn’t bother with a glass. Twisting off the cap, he took a healthy slug. He cringed as the hot liquid coated his stomach. Flopping into his favourite chair, he put his head in his hands and said “Positive? Positive! Shit! Positive!” He took another good swig as if it would rip the words out of the air.
Somewhere inside the house a telephone rang. Johann ignored it. He sat gazing into space. While waiting for each thought to form an orderly queue. He swigged Chivas. His cell phone was ringing still in his coat pocket, thrown unceremoniously over the lounge suite. Johann did not hear it.
His first thoughts were of his parents. Snippets of past conversations were echoing in his memory. His father saying:
“AIDS is punishment for a lack of self respect”
“Thank God it’s not in our culture”
Johann made one decision then and there. He would not disclose his status to his family. He would not bare the expressions their faces would wear as the knowledge and understanding spread through their aged minds. It had been ten years since South Africa had achieved democracy. Ten years since the letters of apartheid had been split apart for ever. The Afrikaner, initially tight lipped, had adapted, better than most cultures in the rainbow nation, with the changes democracy brought. They worked with their African brothers. Ate in the same restaurants and discussed their children who were in the same schools. A delicate form of respect had developed between the different African and Afrikaans cultures.
And, while the Government was still finding its feet, politicians checking each other’s back pockets and comparing houses and cars, another, much more serious change had taken place in South Africa. AIDS. IT didn’t care what colour the Government was. IT was oblivious to the delicate respect that had been formed. IT craved attention, and, receiving none, became angry. Fairly shouting now and still receiving no attention. IT took over the ruling of the country! South Africa was recognized as one of the most highly infected countries in the world with over 5 million South Africans currently infected with HIV. This was effectively, one out of every five sexually active people. Oh Yes! AIDS was picking up new votes everyday. IT was now President.
“No”, Johann thought. “I cannot tell my parents”. It was too late for them to adjust to yet another form of Ruling. The stigma surrounding one of their ‘own’ being HIV positive would be too much. His mind moved on to his business position. Again, he thought. “I cannot return to work. I am a role model. Too many people of different colours, ages and cultures look up to me. I am an example to communities. I will not go down in their estimation because of a mistake in my lifestyle. I need them to believe they can achieve the same as I have, due purely, to hard work”.
Johann felt the Chivas beginning to relax him. He went to the bar and dropped four ice cubes into a crystal tumbler. Back outside he poured a good treble shot into his glass and tackled the next thought that was begging to be heard. Tertia. He thought back to their first meeting. She was the Financial Director of a client company. They had been haggling over the financials of the contract prior to signature. Johann was attracted to her professional conduct. She wore a simple business suit. A rich green pencil skirt with matching button down jacket, a tan neck scarf hid, what looked to be an ample cleavage. Soft tan leather court shoes finished off the package. Long blonde hair had been disciplined into a French roll. Subtle make up showed soft healthy skin housing big doe like brown eyes which held a glint of the unknown.
They had telephonically arranged a dinner date. To finalize business, they told each other, both knowing the business side of things would be over in five minutes. It was a surprise to them how much they had in common. Tertia had been born and bred in Pretoria, a stone’s throw away from Johann’s own family home. Similar upbringing, the same sense for business and professionalism had lead on to frequent dinner dates.
After one such evening a week ago, Johann had said “Stay at my place tonight, I’d like you to see where I live” Tertia had said she wouldn’t stay but would come for coffee. They had sat on his patio. Laughing over childhood stories and experiences, this resulted in both getting merrily drunk over a bottle of Chivas whisky. They had not slept together; in fact, they had more or less passed out where they sat. Waking early with stiff necks and pounding heads. They shuffled around each other laughingly complaining about the day ahead of them at their respective offices.
Now, Johann realized, he would have to end something that hadn’t even begun. He imagined the confusion that would be reflected in those beautiful doe like eyes. Once again, he felt sorrow and something akin to anger, rising in his chest. He wondered if he told her the truth would she run and hide from him, or, was she made of stronger stuff? He told himself it would be unfair of him to judge her reaction. No matter which way she took it, she would have her reasons and a full healthy life to consider and reflect upon them. He decided he would tell her.
For a few moments Johann’s mind cleared. He stared at the bottle. What was it they had told him? “Maintain a healthy, nutritious diet. No smoking or drinking”. These were some of the supposed ingredients to longevity, living with HIV. What kind of living would that be? Having to avoid all the pleasures in life? Even sex! Sure, you can use condoms, but something of the pleasure would surely be taken away, just knowing he was performing the very act that had endangered his life in the first place. He hung his head in his hands and thought. “How do other HIV positive people deal with this!? I have to find out where to go from here, what to do with the rest of my life, how to even have a life!” After another whisky, a plan was in the early stages of birth in Johann’s mind.
Sometime later, when it was dark and Johann could only see out of one eye. He pulled himself up, locked up and staggered all the way upstairs to his bedroom. Once he had achieved undressing himself, he picked up the bedside phone and dialed the cellular number belonging to his Personal Assistant, Jackie. It rang continuously until finally, “Hi! This is Jackie. Sorry I’m not available at the moment, if you leave your name and number, I’ll get back to you. Have a good day!” “Bloody woman”. Johann thought. “Never answers her phone!”
“Jackie, Johann here, I will not be in this week at all. I’ll be working from home. Please let the Board members know that I will be present at next Monday’s Board meeting. Hold the fort while I’m gone and remember, that black thing that makes a noise in your handbag, could do with being answered now and again. Thanks. Bye”
For a few hours Johann slept well. Somewhere in the ‘wee’ hours he woke, sweating and thirsty. He padded through to the bathroom and drank about a gallon of tap water. Back in bed he felt the pounding in his head signifying a healthy sized hangover. After what felt like hours he dozed off again. He was dreaming. –
He seemed to be hovering above a tall, red building with a neon sign on the roof. The sign was flashing, white, then blue, then red. He scrunched up his eyes trying to read the sign. Just when he thought he’d almost got it, wailing from the foot of the building brought his vision to pavement level. There was a huge parking lot completely devoid of cars. Instead bodies were lying neatly placed in each parking bay, all writhing in pain, moaning. The scream had come from an African woman who was kneeling on the ground next to a small child. The child had blood oozing from eyes, nose and mouth. His eyes slowly found their way back to the neon sign. The flashing stopped abruptly and, like a camera flash, the letters were burnt into his retinas. The letters spelt out his name”. -
Johann awoke with a start. His heart pounded as sweat poured from his skin. Daylight poured through the curtains. He leaned back and tried to calm his beating heart. The dream was vivid in his memory. He pushed it away. By the time he had showered, dressed and had phoned Rudi to come and collect him, only thin cobwebs of the dream remained. He felt enthusiastic about today and was eager to begin his therapy.
Johann had made his mind up. He didn’t want anybody from his wealthy life style to know his status. This meant was that he would not be using his medical aid throughout this illness. “Bugger the shareholders and their annual medicals” He was the CEO and until he was dead and buried he would remain so. Doctor Vosloo had performed his annual medicals for the past fifteen years. He would ask him to submit last year’s medical for next year. The sudden realization that at last year’s medical, he was a perfectly healthy male specimen, to his current state of health, forced him into thinking of how he had contracted HIV.
A ‘Boys Night out’. It was Colin, one of his best mate’s, birthday. Seven of them had clubbed together and taken Colin to a tame strip club in the centre of Johannesburg. It had been a great night! Lap dances were ordered for Colin along with as many shooters as humanly possible. At some stage in the evening a young pretty girl had brought Johann a glass of water at his request. She had asked why he wasn’t drinking like the others. Johann had answered that he was the designated driver.
“Oh! A responsible man?” she had said laughing. He had laughed with her. “What’s your name?” Johann asked inviting her to sit next to him.
“Cindy. What’s yours?” Instead of answering, Johann had smiled at her and asked “Why do you work here? A pretty young thing like you could get a job in a more respectable environment. Have you done your matric?”
“Yes. But I haven’t any experience in anything, and no one will give me a chance.” She shrugged and smiled back at him.
“What would you like to do?” Johann asked.
“Oh, I don’t know, I think I’d like to do some kind of office job, but not accounts!” she laughed. She had a laugh that made Johann think of the bells in Christmas carols.
“Give me your number” he said. “I’ll fix you up with an office job. Don’t let me down though!”
“Lord! Could you?!” she was excited now. “I would be so grateful! Jeeez! Was I lucky bumping into you and it’s not even Christmas! Responsible, charming, what more could a girl want?!” They had swapped cell phone numbers.
Johann had phoned a few colleagues and amidst much humour and sarcasm, at his request, Dave, a friend who owned an import / export company, had agreed to offer Cindy an interview for the position of receptionist. Johann had phoned Cindy and given her the address details and time of her interview the following week, wished her luck and told her to dress appropriately. He had then wiped her from his memory.
One evening a week later, the doorbell rang. No sooner was the door open and a flash of blonde hair was all he saw before she had lurched into his arms. Wrapping her legs round his waist, she screamed.
“I got it! I got it! Thank you so much!” He extricated Cindy from his torso and set her down with a grin.
“Congratulations! How did you know where to find me?”
“Oh! I asked Dave for your address, so I could come and thank you in person! You don’t mind do you?” She had become crestfallen at the idea she had offended him.
“No, No. Come in! Let’s have a drink to celebrate.” He smiled and thought, “Why not? Let the girl be happy”. They had sunk a bottle of champagne and were half way through the second. Cindy had become very affectionate. Sitting almost on top of him, playing with his hair, tickling his back, the whole time talking about how excited she was to start her new job. What she would have done had she not met him.
It was the sound of her laughter, the brightness of her eyes. The appreciation her face advertised, that melted his resolve. By the end of the second bottle of champagne they had ended up rolling around passionately, there on the stoep. Sex with a desperation and heated passion he had not known before. They had found themselves a couple of hours later, naked in the lush garden. Senses having returned, to Johann at least, left a heavy lead weight in his stomach. His concern was due more to the idea that Cindy may decide after this, not to leave him alone. He stood and pulled her gently to her feet. She smiled at his expression, reading it correctly.
“Don’t worry. I just wanted to say Thank You! You can go back to your life. I won’t bother you unless you want me to, ok?”
“Thank you”. He smiled at her. “My life is difficult. A young girl like you shouldn’t be involved with me. We wouldn’t see each other much and I doubt I would be able to keep up with you anyway!” They laughed and an hour later she had left.
Three months later Johann had received a call from Dave. After catch up chit chat. Dave explained that Cindy had been involved in a car accident on Friday night. She had spent the weekend in hospital but unfortunately, passed away on Sunday night. Johann had felt sorrow at the loss of such a young, vibrant life. Dave shared his sentiments. “Life was just beginning for her” Dave said, anger brimming under his voice.
“Thanks for giving her a chance Dave, I know her last months must have been her happiest”. Johann replaced the phone thoughtfully. He was very aware that one minute you were starting your life and quite possibly, in no time at all, you could be gone, possibly never having achieved anything in the middle.
Johann’s own deterioration in health, barely noticeable at first, had led to tiny warning bells. These eventually became wailing alarms and had inevitably ended up with his trip to a government AIDS clinic yesterday.
He was pronounced positive with a rapidly decreasing CD4 count. Johann headed to the same clinic today. Having made up his mind to continue with Government treatment due to the anonymity it would give him.
It was necessary for him to go through the process, step by step and side by side with the mass of people. He was no different to them. Didn’t want the special treatment medical aid would afford him. He didn’t want the sympathy, the stolen glances. The whispered conversations which would surely come from his wealthy peers should they find out.
Rudi had arrived and was parked in the driveway amidst a consistent plume of exhaust fumes which were emanating from the black Mercedes. The sight reminded Johann that it was cold outside, he grabbed his coat and left.
“Jo’burg again, Sir?” Rudi asked, raising his eyebrows in the rear view mirror at Johann.
“Ja, thanks Rudi. Today you can drop me on Market Street. I’ll probably be all day, so I’ll phone you this afternoon to collect me. I’d also like you to stop in at all the branches of ‘Java-2-go’ and pick up the financial statements for me. I’ll be doing some work on them this week.” Rudi’s eyebrows went up again in the rearview mirror.
“Sure! No problem Sir. When are you going to let me buy one of those coffee shops of yours? Doreen would love to run one of those” Rudi asked with a big grin.
“Ah! You never know Rudi. I may just surprise you sooner than you think! How are your wife and my kids hmmm?” Johann teased. Rudi laughed and the two made small talk until Market Street loomed and Johann left the warm comfort of the Mercedes.
The Aids Clinic was set in a dilapidated shabby wing of an old Government hospital. Johann entered. Letting his eyes explore the depravation, of not only the establishment, but the people who were there. Following badly spaced directions down dirty passages, he noticed patients sitting in grubby orange plastic chairs. Blank expressions looked up at him as he passed. Although most were Africans, he noticed the odd white face here and there. All seemed emaciated, some sported lesions on their faces. Overall there was an atmosphere of doom. By the time Johann had reached what could have been an enquiries desk, he found himself wondering if he should go the medical aid route after all. A large African lady behind the desk was holding a heated conversation in Sotho with a male patient. It seemed to end with the patient returning to his orange chair, head hanging dejectedly, between his knees.
“Yes Da’ling? Can I help you?” She smiled cautiously at Johann.
“Ja, thank you, I’ve recently been diagnosed as HIV Positive. I’m here for counseling; I don’t know where to go. Could you direct me?” Johann smiled back.
“Ohhhhh, Shame! Yes. You can just take a seat at the back of this queue” She pointed up a passage. Johann saw a spare orange chair about thirty patients along.
“What’s your name?” Johann asked.
“Me? I’m Rosie. Don’t worry we try to take good care of the sick people here. While you wait, you fill in this form”. She stated, handing him a clip board with a pencil dangling from a string. Johann caught sight of a pretty little Indian girl about seven or eight year’s old. She was running up and down another queue just as long, on the other side of the desk.
“What’s that queue for?” he asked
“Aish! That one is for the people with the Cancer. All the people who come here we treat them for the terminally ill diseases. You understand?” Rosie looked at him with a sad smile. Johann took his eyes off the young girl who was clearly a patient. She was wearing a candy striped white and orange gown, stamped with the hospitals name.
“I’m in the right place then” He looked at Rosie.
“What time’s lunch?” He winked at the laughing Rosie and walked slowly up the passage to the first available grubby orange chair.
Johann was reading through the form before completing it. He read the statement at the top promising anonymity to any patient attending this clinic. Slowly he began filling in the spaces. His peripheral vision picked up the patient next to him. He kept glancing at Johann then turning to speak to the patient on his left.
“Goreng Monna wa lekgowa wa muhumi a lemo?”
Johann kept his head down filling in the form. His understanding of Sotho wasn’t great but he translated “Why is this rich white man here?” Johann turned to the African man next to him and said “I’m here because God forgot to colour code AIDS. Why are you here? Does it help to come here?”
“Ja!” the African nodded his head. “They are very good here. They will look after you. But you are a white man. Don’t you have family that will help to pay for the private care for you?”
“No” Johann dropped his gaze to the form in front of him “I have no next of kin. They are all dead. My name is Johann, and yours?”
“I am Sipho. Happy to meet you” Sipho grinned and they shook hands.
“Happy to meet you Sipho”, he paused. “I just wish it wasn’t here! What happens now?”
“You see the Doc. You get pills. You live to die another day! This is the room for Dr. Kolling. He is a good doctor. The nurse will take your blood just now. Then the results are given to Dr. Kolling. He will talk to you to find out how do you feel and if you have friends or family that can support you. Then he will tell you how often you must come to see him. You see?”
“Ja. So, all we’ve got to do is wait. Thank you Sipho.” Johann could see the patient to Sipho’s left had been listening avidly to this conversation and was now staring at Johann intensely.
“Am I in the wrong queue?” Johann asked looking him in the eye. “Aren’t we all in the same boat here, with the same broken paddles?” Johann said sternly. He directed his attention back to completing the form. Johann had filled in his real name and had changed one digit in his I.D number. On the off chance that somebody became nosy, they would at least battle, to pick up the correct details of his real life.
Johann returned the clip board to the ample Rosie. She offered him a seat behind the desk where she prepared him to take blood. Rosie wore latex gloves. He noticed they already sported a streak or two of blood on them, but said nothing. Very quickly, she inserted the needle into his vein. He watched the plum coloured liquid fill up the vial. When it was full she attached a second vial and filled that one as well.
“What’s the second one for?” Johann asked.
“This one is for the PCR test.” She gently removed the needle and applied cotton wool and a plaster.
“What is a PCR test?” Johann asked slightly worried.
“PCR stands for Polymerase Chain Reaction. It is a very sensitive test that measures the amount of the HIV in the blood tissue. We take this test now and all the way through your treatment. We can see how well or how badly the medicines are affecting you. It measures the HIV’s progression”
Rosie told Johann to apply pressure to his arm and return to his seat in the queue. Obviously proud of her ability to explain these things to Johann, he noticed a sense of responsibility in her body language. He stood and watched Rosie label the vials before returning to his seat in the queue. The way he saw it, there was a long wait ahead.
“You don’t look sick.” Johann, lost in thought lifted his head and saw the pretty Indian girl staring at him with large enquiring eyes.
“Sorry doctor. Nor do you!” Johann replied with a smile. “What’s your name?” he asked
“Tasmin!” she shouted.
“Jeeeez, how do you spell that? I wouldn’t know where to start” Johann teased.
“You’re lying to me. All big people can spell. Try!” she said surprising him. He thought she would simply spell her name for him. Johann saw this little one was feisty.
“Noooooo...” She interrupted. “Try again!”
“It’s T-A-S-M-I-N. Never mind. I’m going to be a teacher when I grow up. I suppose I’ll have to be patient with you. Everybody’s always telling me to be patient! What’s your name?” She had sat, crossed legged on the linoleum floor in front of Johann and was now looking up at him.
“My name’s Johann. Will you teach English? I think you’ll make a very good teacher when you grow up. Why don’t you treat me like your first student and teach me what you know about this place you and I are in?”
“Oh! That’s easy! This is a hospital you come to if you’ve got an illness that you can die from, ‘cos they have to give you special medicine to stop you from dying, and it’s really, really expensive. This hospital gives it to you for free and they try and look after you so that you don’t die. Lots of people do die though and Rosie says that’s because they didn’t come here every time they were supposed to. They didn’t take their medicines properly and things like that, so then they get really ill and they come here to die.” Johann wondered at Tasmin’s understanding of a terminal illness.
“I will have to make sure I come here every time I’m supposed to then! You’re not going to die are you Tasmin?”
“No! ‘Cos I’m not even allowed out! So I take all my medicines properly and they look after me every day here. I’ve got a bed on the second floor!” she finished off proudly.
“Why are you here?” Johann enquired gently.
“I’ve got kl-kulemia!” She smiled confidently. “They say it will go away when I get older.” Tasmin’s shoulders slumped noticeably at this last remark.
Johann pushed a lump down his throat and moved up a chair. Tasmin shuffled along the floor to remain opposite him.
“Aren’t you going to lose your place in your queue?”
“No, they always come and get me, ‘cos I go round and talk to everybody and they know to come and look for me.”
“How long have you been here Tasmin?”
“About four months now. Since my seventh birthday”
“Where are your parents?”
“My parents both work so they sometimes come and visit me at night, maybe two or three times a week. My mum’s just had a little baby boy. She has to take him to work with her. She’s also, really busy with my two older sisters and my new brother in the evenings, so they can’t always come and see me. I haven’t seen my new brother yet. Daddy say’s he can’t come inside here”. She gave a wry smile as she said this.
“Who needs TV when you can reproduce” Johann thought.
“Don’t you miss them?”
“Do you know how to play blackjack?” Tasmin asked, ignoring his last question. With a sparkle in her eye and a grin she produced a very used deck of cards from a pocket. With another look at the queue, he shark grinned and bragged.
“Ja, In fact I play very well. Do you think you can beat me? I only play for money hey?” Her eyes dropped.
“I don’t have any money.”
“I tell you what”. Johann began rummaging through his pockets. “I’m going to give you R20. Call it a gift, then you can play for money” Johann took a heap of silver from his trouser pocket and counted out R20 in change. He was aware as he did this, of the eyes watching him. Reminding himself of where he was he added “This is all I’ve got though, so you’ll have to be good to win!”
“Thanks!” she began dealing the cards.
A Year Later..
Johann stepped out of the shower and scrutinized his body in the full length mirror. Since being diagnosed with HIV a year ago, he had shrunk to half the size he was. Dr Kolling, who Johann still saw every Monday and Thursday, had explained with confidence a year ago, that provided Johann stuck to a healthy nutritious diet and avoided drinking, smoking and all the usual bad habits that actually made life worth living. There was no reason why Johann could not continue living a normal healthy life. There were complications a couple of months later. No matter how well or how much Johann ate, his ‘CD4’ cells were decreasing at a steady pace. Dr Kolling had been concerned and seemed at a loss to explain this problem. He therefore, started Johann on a course of antiretrovirals. He explained clearly to Johann, that a strict regime was to be followed when taking this course. Johann was to take the tablets at exactly the same time every day and never miss either a tablet or a day.
Over two months his ‘CD4’ count had finally stabilized. Dr Kolling was happy with Johann, if not a little disappointed that they had not risen in count. That was six months ago now. For the last four months his ‘CD4’ count had been taking a dive again, much to Dr Kolling’s dismay. Vitamins and supplements were added to his diet. Johann felt if he took any more tablets he would rattle. Unfortunately, nothing seemed to be stabilizing his ‘CD4’ count. For the first time since being diagnosed, Johann had felt the beginnings of fear spread through him.
He had decided that he would spend today in his office at home. Tertia would be arriving shortly to help him sort out the more complex issues of his finances. He had started tentatively six months ago. Putting things in order, sorting his will out, which had been harder than he’d thought it should be. Once again, revised laws and red tape had meant everything should be correctly worded and researched before a final draft could be submitted. Otherwise, Tertia had explained to him, the Government would not be interested or sympathetic to his possible ignorance on the legalities of a will. They would simply take everything Johann had worked hard for with gusto and glee. Johann had laughed.
“Well, if that’s the case, maybe they would name a street after me!” Tertia had smiled wryly at this.
“No…. You’re name is too Afrikaans!” They had both giggled.
Johann made himself a breakfast of Muesli, fresh fruit salad and plain yogurt together with a freshly prepared pot of rooibos tea. He sat on the patio with his breakfast. Tertia would not arrive for another hour. Thinking of Tertia now, a great sadness welled up inside him. He experienced this emotion a lot lately, it didn’t seem to matter who he thought about. Tertia had been a gem in his radically changed life. He recalled the night he’d told her his status. Johann had invited Tertia for supper and bragged that he could cook a meal she would never forget. Johann enjoyed cooking. He felt he had a natural flair for experimentation. Every dish he made tasted different every time he made it. He had seasoned lamb shanks with herbs and basted them in a honey-mustard sauce, along with carrots and parboiled potatoes, all roasted together in the oven. He’d prepared gravy from the sauce and steamed baby marrows. For desert, he’d prepared a fresh fruit salad, scooped into tall sundae glasses, covered with fresh cream, dredged with chocolate flakes and topped with a strawberry.
When they had finished the meal and Tertia’s tirade of compliments had finally trailed off, they sat outside enjoying Irish coffees and the warm summer evening.
“Where are you this evening?” Tertia had asked. “You seem to be miles away. You’re planning something aren’t you? I can tell by the crease in your brow!” She laughed and leaned forward expecting a response.
“Yes, I am planning something, it’s called my life!” Johann paused and smiled slowly, deliberately, creating the effect he wanted. Leaning forward and looking deeply into her eyes he whispered softly.
“I need to ask you a very important question.” Tertia blushed visibly.
“Oh! Well, what could be so important?” She leaned back in her chair and became preoccupied with the cream on her Irish coffee. Johann’s expression was serious as he answered.
“Come now, Tertia, Can’t you guess? Haven’t you known for a while?”
“Known what?!” Her blush deepened and her eyes darted uncomfortably. Johann bellowed with laughter.
“I’m sorry Tertia. I couldn’t resist that one! Don’t worry I’m not about to ask for your hand in marriage much to my disappointment!” Tertia looked him in the eyes. Dripping sarcasm she snapped.
“Johann Pienaar! You sure know how to charm a girl! What is it you want from me?”
“I would like to know if I could employ your financial services. I am currently in the process of selling off a lot of my investments and need all the financial implications worked through, y’know? Capital gains taxes, normal taxes, etc., etc. I have put all my shares up for sale. I’ve resigned as the CEO. Ultimately, I will need a tax clearance certificate to finalise everything. My coffee shop franchises have been sold. I have one branch left, the first one I opened. I’m going to hang on to that one for a little longer. This is a big job Tertia. I trust you and your company’s reputation and would like you to do this for me. What do you say?” While Johann had been briefing Tertia, her eyes had become larger and larger with surprise. Now they were narrowed in suspicion.
“Johann! What on earth are you doing?” She stood up and paced the patio. “Why have you resigned? You’re throwing everything you’ve worked so hard for away! Are you mad?! Who’s advised you to do this? Why do you need so much cash? Are you emigrating?!” She stopped pacing and stood in front of him; eyes burning into his with questions. Johann smiled up at her gently. He enjoyed seeing her riled. She looked sexy. He patted the cushioned seat next to him.
“Come and sit down.” She looked like she wanted to refuse his invitation, but only for a moment. Once seated, Johann played with a strand of her hair which had fought its way loose from the tight plaid she’d sported.
“Here let me get rid of that for you.” Johann slipped the imprisoning band from her hair and watched as it gently splayed down around her face. He could see she was once again blushing.
“Johann, tell me what’s going on” She demanded.
“I’m dying”. He replied softly. Smiling at her and seeing non coherence in her eyes, he repeated.
“I’m dying. I am HIV positive. The treatment has finally kicked in. However, I need to prepare now for the inevitable. I want to accept it gracefully”. Johann looked away from the cloud he could see reflected in Tertia’s face.
“I have plans. There is something I want to leave behind and there are some people I want to leave money to. Will you help me or would you prefer not to see me ever again?” Tertia had sat back in her chair and kept quiet for a long time. He went to the kitchen and took some time over making further Irish coffees. He knew she was upset and as yet, could not think of a way to apologize for any hurt he may have caused her. He didn’t want her to think he had been deliberately misleading her with his initial romantic advances. Once back outside, he placed her coffee on the side table and sat down.
“How long have you known?” She had whispered.
“I found out about two months ago. It hasn’t been the easiest thing to just mention offhandedly” He looked at her and smiled. She returned his smile. “Well, I suppose agreeing to help you is safer than agreeing to marry you hey?!”
“I’m truly sorry if I’ve misled you in our friendship Tertia. I would have liked it to have gone the normal healthy route and I think we could have been very happy on the journey.” Johann felt better now it had been said.
“Well, you were right about one thing!” she laughed a hollow bitter laugh.
“You certainly cooked me a meal I’ll never forget!”
A Set Back
The door bell rang and pulled Johann back to the present. Slowly he rose and made his way to the door. Tertia breezed in displaying her natural business stride. She proceeded to verbalize in point form the list of dire priorities they were to concentrate on that day.
“Coffee or tea?” Johann called out to her. He suddenly felt the energy running from his body like a tap left on.
“Tea!” she called back from the office. Johann made his way to the kitchen and gripped the counter top as he reached it. There were stars blinding his vision. Huge, slow moving, silver stars.
“I’ve finished with Rudi and Java-2-go!” She yelled. “I Thought I’d give you some good news! Now we have to work on liquidating your property investments, but that shouldn’t take long…….” Tertia walked into the kitchen stopping abruptly as she saw Johann slowly sinking to the floor.
“Oh God!” She yelled. “Johann! What can I do? Tell me what to do!”
“I’ll go to the AIDS clinic... just give me a minute” Johann managed to splutter before he fainted.
Johann awoke to his pillows being plumped and blankets being tucked in around him. He opened his eyes and waited while they adjusted to bright lights. Tertia was sitting on the end of his bed and Rosie was running around tucking him in, muttering to herself as she did so.
“Aish! This man is sick and the Doctor, he doesn’t know why! He should be doing well. He’s not doing what he’s told to do. I know these men. They don’t eat right!” Rosie gave Tertia an accusing glance.
“What he needs is his mother to cook and look after him. Ja! Then he will be well again I’m sure!”
Johann tried to speak and discovered he wore an oxygen mask.
“Oh! Mr Johann!” Rosie gasped.
“You are awake I’ll get some water for you. Just relax the Doctor will be here just now” Rosie bustled off at an alarming rate considering her bulk.
“It seems you have a fan or a potential wife depending on your preference!” Tertia grinned after Rosie. She leant forward and removed the oxygen mask. “Thank you”. Johann croaked.
“I’ll have to think about that decision” he smiled.
“I’m sorry if I scared you” He meant it. He didn’t know what had happened to him but he hadn’t wanted Tertia there. Under the circumstances however, it was probably just as well she had been there.
“Don’t apologise Johann I think you ought to realize you’re going to get weaker. You should start taking things easy and allow people to help you where they can ok?” She wasn’t asking a question. Johann winked at her and tried a different tactic.
“Thank you for being there”
“I have to go. Your Doctor is waiting to see you. I’m going back to your place and I’m doing the work on the property investments. Now don’t worry about it. If I have any questions I’ll write them all down and see you tomorrow when you can answer. She picked up her handbag and smoothed down her winter coat. As she bent to give Johann a light kiss on the cheek, Johann looked up at her.
“Please hurry, let’s finish this, ok?” Tertia ignored him and marched out of the bustling ward.
Dr. Kolling pulled the curtains around the bed and brought a plastic chair to Johann’s bedside. He sat and looked at Johann.
“We took your blood when you came here this morning. I have the results. Your cell count is dangerously low. We also managed to retrieve almost half a bottle of whisky!” Dr Kolling raised an eyebrow in humour but still managed to look stern.
“You are showing signs of opportunistic infections but the jury’s still out on what those may be, most probably viral infections such as stomach flu etc. I don’t think we are going to be able to let you leave here unless there is a marked improvement in all aspects of your health. We are going to do some combination therapy which is the use of two or more drugs to fight infection. Just as a matter of interest I’d like to mention that, in most patients diagnosed with HIV, once they have educated themselves, with help of course, on the correct diet and lifestyle necessary to successfully live life with HIV. They usually improve in health and there’s no reason for any deterioration. We’ve been through this before Johann. A positive outlook is an invaluable part of the treatment necessary to maintain your health. For some obscure reason, since the day you were diagnosed, you have maintained a resigned attitude which borders negativity. I am actually quite prepared to say that it is indeed, this negativity that has allowed the HIV to take hold in your body and complete its path of destruction. My question to you, Johann, is why you appear uninterested in fighting for your life?”
“Doctor. I’ve had a good life. You don’t need to worry about me. Other people who need this clinic’s help are hoping to be healthy enough just to carry on and improve lives for their families. That is enough to keep them going. I have more to look forward to in death.” Johann chuckled at Dr Kolling’s startled expression.
“Thank you for the pep talk Doctor. I’ll try and chirp up a bit ok?”
Three days later, Johann was feeling a great deal better. It had been established that he’d contracted gastroenteritis. His diet had been adjusted accordingly. Combined with the correct food and further cocktail medication, his body had once again readjusted. Dr. Kolling had refused his requests to go home and wanted to keep him for the remainder of the week. Johann decided to go for a walk. He generally strolled along the passages until he came to the Children’s ward where he would visit with Tasmin. Tasmin was now eight years old and a master at whipping Johann at blackjack. He grinned to himself. She had begged him to play blackjack yesterday and five hours later he was eighty Rands down. He suspected she had learnt to mark the cards seeing the tell tale creases on some of them. He enjoyed playing blackjack with Tasmin. Her young, bright mind did wonders for him.
Johann walked through the children’s ward stopping short in front of Tasmin’s bed. There she lay. Lights blinking and bleeping, whirring noises and the unmistakable medicinal odour that seemed to belong exclusively to the sick surrounded her. Johann took in the glare of green graphs which emanated from the various machines along her bedside. Pipes were running into her nose. An oxygen mask covered her face. Needles protruded from both her bare arms which were resting lightly on the thin blanket. Tasmin was unconscious. Johann blinked with non-coherence. Just yesterday, this young girl exuded energy and a sparkle that he had rarely seen in a healthy child her age. Never would a person suspect this child had leukemia. Now here she was, looking pale, lifeless, weak and extremely vulnerable. Johann thought to himself that the worst sight in the world was the sight of a sick child. Johann pulled a chair to her bedside and sat. He held the tiny hand in his. Quietly, he whispered.
“Tasmin, my young friend, please don’t give up. Get better and live a healthy, happy life.” Still holding her hand, he looked up to the ceiling. “Dear God, do not take this child’s life, please?! She has not brought this on herself and doesn’t deserve this. Take me instead, I am at least accountable for the terrible way I’ve treated my body” Johann rested his forehead on Tasmin’s small hand and sobbed.
“Aish!, Aish, Ahhhh, Mr Johann!” Rosie chided as she shuffled into the children’s ward and saw the sobbing Johann. Johann turned to Rosie and wiped his tears unashamedly.
“What is happening with this child Rosie?”
“They are saying she is needing another blood transfusion. She has a transfusion every two or three months. Until they can find her the right donor for the marrow, then she must go through this. I think they will give her the new blood tomorrow”
“What are they doing to find her the correct marrow donor?”
“Mr Johann. It is not an easy thing. There are so many people who are on the same list in the whole country. It is first come, first served. She is still young. Maybe she is strong enough to wait another year or two.”
“Another year or two!” Johann exclaimed, shocked at the time frame.
“Yes, Mr. Johann, it can take that long. Maybe longer, it’s in God’s hands. You must pray for your friend. For right now, she is fine. She just needs to be relaxed for tomorrow, so the Doctor, he has put her to sleep for today.”
Rosie bustled around the machines, checking signs and tapping drips impatiently. Johann stood and left the ward his mind buzzing at the information Rosie had given. He was surprised at how angry he felt toward a system that just did not work. What was the point in Government health care? If it cared, would it subject an eight year old to the tedious past time of waiting for a donor, before her life could even begin? Johann recognized the incorrect attitude of his thoughts. He realized a donor could take a long time, even in private healthcare. It was just the fact that all these frustrating issues seemed somewhat magnified when in Government care. Almost as if you were expected to be at the back of the line for everything, with never a hope of being ‘next’.
Johann returned to his ward. His earlier, more lighthearted mood, had deserted him. He didn’t want to dwell further on disease and death. Climbing into bed he picked up his book. The latest Martina Cole, and read until he felt his eye lids drooping.
A Homecoming Surprise
Johann lay in bed contemplating the state of his health. He felt the outer edges of depression tickling his mood when he dwelt on his unfulfilled life. A lighter feeling, however, prevailed. A sense of peace had crept over him. Exploring this thought made him realise his life was perhaps not so unfulfilled after all. The fact that he hadn’t yet seen his clinic completed or met anyone whose life had been changed by it, gave rise to excitement yet to be experienced. Something to look forward to. He picked up the newspaper and was again, pleasantly surprised, that he could read. Johann spent a long time catching up on news items he’d heard nothing about. Two hours later, his good eye was tearing from the concentration. Johann looked up.
“Knock, Knock?” A voice called from the doorway.
“Hi – er – Rudi?” Johann squinted at the shape in the doorway.
“Wow! Right first time. Hey! Lekker brille, boet!” Rudi dropped a clothes hanger, holding one of Johann’s suits, on to the bed.
“Tertia gave it to me. Says she’s not sure if you’ve got decent clothes to come out of hospital in. She says you should wear these.” Johann looked at the black suit trousers, complete with white, round necked shirt and matching double breasted blazor.
“Jeez! She likes her men to come out of hospital looking smart hey?”
“I think she thought you might fit into those, better than anything else?” Rudi said thoughtfully.
“Suppose, she looked for smaller clothes in the back of the wardrobe, I don’t remember any of this stuff. Better than nothing hey?” Johann threw aside the bedclothes and stood to dress. His earlier depression wiped away by the excitement of returning home.
Johann was enjoying the journey home. He kept his new glasses on. They seemed to help what little vision he had, become less blurred. It was a beautiful day, a clear blue sky above him. He smiled as he realised it felt good to be alive. Rudi pulled into the driveway, stealing glances at Johann through the rear view mirror. Johann was squinting at his flower beds lining the driveway. Recognizing that everything was in full bloom, he wished he could see better to appreciate all the colours. Johann climbed out of the car and started to negotiate, from memory, the pathway to the front door of his home. He didn’t see all the cars parked on the lawn, right of the driveway.
Johann entered his lounge. The musical sounds of Enya filtered through surround speakers around him. He felt his way to the open French doors and squinted out into the sunlight at the grounds. People! Lots of people! A figure was marching towards him; he stood still until the figure came into vision. Elizabeth grabbed his arm.
“Welcome home!” She said.
“What’s going on?” Johann asked.
“Sorry. Not for me to say. You’ll have to wait for Tertia. Come outside so long. Say hello to all your friends and family”
“Yes, of course.” Elizabeth giggled secretively. As she led him through the grounds, people started coming over to him, shaking his hand, congratulating him. Dave, his friend who owned the import / export company, slowly walked towards him.
“Hey there Johann! It’s good to see you. How are you feeling?”
Johann could make out Dave’s expression and decided Dave clearly, did not think it was good to see him. Dave stood erect, his body language indicated his discomfort at being so close to Johann. His smile was thin and false and his eyes darted over Johann’s face and body.
“Ja, Good to see you too Dave. Now that you’ve seen me, you can go. You don’t look comfortable here and I’m sure, that a busy man, such as yourself has got somewhere else he has to be?”
“Urm, Ja, actually. I stole some time to be here. It would be better if I left now. Thanks Johann. Oh, and er, - Johann, I’m sorry. You know? About what happened to you, Ok?”
“What? HIV / AIDS? Worry about it Dave. It could happen to you just as easily.” Johann replied smiling bitterly as he walked away from Dave. Elizabeth had wandered off, mingling, while Johann had been talking to Dave. Johann was gingerly finding his own way through people, saying “Hi” here and there. Accepting best wishes and listening to people skirt around the issue of his health seemingly oblivious to any of his obvious physical changes. Johann felt he was in one of his dreams. He desperately wanted to wake up. He felt himself becoming anxious. He found himself in front of a long table, running the length of one of the gardens. There was a waiter behind the table. He was dressed in the usual penguin suit, synonymous with these types of affairs. Johann leant forward, looking closely at the waiter, waiting for recognition to hit him. He realised he didn’t know this man.
“Would you like a drink sir?” The waiter asked. A drink? Johann thought. God yes, I’d love one!
“Do you have whisky?”
“Yes, we do, Sir. J & B or Bells?”
“Hmm, Bells, please. Tall glass, lots of ice, and water. Thanks” Once he had his drink, his anxiety dissipated somewhat. He felt like a naughty school boy. Taking sly sips at his drink while talking to people he soon realised he’d never met. He was on his second whisky, when he spotted a group of chairs being manoeuvred. Walking closer, he recognized several family members. There was Elize, shuffling everyone into place as usual. His parents, out of the line of fire, comfortably sipping on what looked like cocktails. His two brothers, laughing raucously, were holding Black Label bottles to their mouths. Johann walked across to them.
“Well, hello all!”
“Ah! The man of the moment!” Piet, his younger brother, slapped Johann on the back, laughed uncomfortably, then threw his arms around Johann in a clumsy embrace.
“Hey, Hey, Piet. Boet! Lekker to see you too!” Johann was taken aback at the show of emotion. He gently broke away from his brother and saw the tears in his eyes. Johann went around the rest of his family, greeting, kissing, shaking hands, slapping backs. He suddenly felt a rush of affection towards his family. He sensed they were shocked and upset at his appearance, but they didn’t treat him any different. Their eyes didn’t hold fear and contempt like Dave’s had. They held instead, acceptance and love.
A firm hand at his elbow, Johann turned and saw Rudi.
“You need to come over here.” Said Rudi.
“To what?” Johann asked happily. The whisky was going down well.
“Ah, So everybody can get a good look at you”
“Rudi, you’ve got one hell of a warped sense of humour”
“Ja well, so have a couple of other people round here. Enjoy yourself.” Winning a brief tug of war, he took Johann’s drink off him and left a reluctant Johann at the far end of the lawn in front of a small wrought iron gazebo. Rudi was right; as Johann turned around he could see that all the guests were seated and looking at him. From somewhere, music began. It took Johann a moment to recognize that the tune was “Here comes the bride.” By the time he’d placed it, turning to look at the passage created between the seated guests, he picked out a figure walking towards him.
“Tertia” He whispered to himself. As she drew closer and closer, Johann began to appreciate the beautiful sway of the green and cream silk, haute couture dress she wore. Her blonde hair piled high on her head, small, teased ringlets hung down cheekily at various places enveloping her face. She stopped and smiled brilliantly at Johann’s stunned expression.
“Now seemed like a good time.” She whispered as she kissed his cheek.
“Turn around and let’s get married.” She guided Johann closer to the gazebo.
The service was thankfully, short. Johann needed to sit down and rest once it was over. He felt the usual outpouring of energy and the beginnings of drowsiness. He tried not to show any of these symptoms but Tertia’s eye had picked them up. The main table, seating twenty people, had been set up under the patio roof in the shade. It faced the other tables dotted about the lawn. Tertia took her seat alongside Johann. Guests filtered up to the table congratulating them. Tertia handled them all, smiling sweetly. Accepting thanks and responding appropriately to every comment. Johann kept her free hand in his. He held her hand tightly, amazed at her cool demeanour. When he felt he should, he occasionally leaned forward and shook hands, particularly with all his friends. He shook Colin’s hand, expecting to see the same expression as Dave had worn. Instead he looked into sympathetic, but happy eyes, and his handshake was warm and firm.
Finally everyone was seated. Speeches started. Johann, surreptitiously ordered another whisky, willing time to fly. He leaned across to Tertia and said “I don’t know how you managed to organize all this so quickly, but well done!”
“Oh thanks! It was nothing.” She managed to say sarcastically while still smiling sweetly.
“Can’t wait to get me into bed can you?” Johann smiled back at her.
“You should be so lucky!”
“I am! You’re now Mrs. Pienaar. I have conjugal rights”
“Johann, don’t even joke about this.” The smile dropped from her face.
“Ok. Sorry. But my God, you look beautiful; I don’t know how I’m going to keep my hands off you.”
“There’s other things we can do, you know?” Tertia winked at him then smiled back out at the guests. The microphone was passed to Johann. Amidst cries of “Speech, Speech.” He looked out at his guests as he rose.
“Thank you all very much for coming today. I have not prepared a speech, so please bear with me. In fact, as some of you out there know, I have been completely surprised by today’s events. Not unhappily so. I have had many surprises today. Surprised at finding so many of you here, whether you be Tertia’s friends and family or my own. The fact that you are here, celebrating our wedding with us, speaks volumes about your friendship to the two of us. It is, I suppose, common knowledge by now, that I am suffering with AIDS. Not exactly a subject you would expect to be addressed at a wedding. I am aware, however, that it is being discussed. Some of you are wondering, why, at this stage, would we decide to marry? I’d like to answer. Firstly, we are marrying because we do love each other deeply, in a special way that few people are lucky enough to discover. Secondly, Tertia is a wonderfully strong woman, capable of the ups and downs this union is likely to bring. Lastly, as a reminder to everyone that happiness can be found at any stage of life.
Thank you Tertia, for becoming my wife.” Amongst the applause, Johann leant forward and kissed Tertia tenderly on the cheek.
Johann mingled amongst guests with Whisky and water in tow. He was enjoying himself. It had been a long time since he’d had any kind of festivities taking his mind off his illness. He wandered over to where his family was gathered and took a seat next to Elize.
“It’s just you left now Elize. Is there any chance of you tying the knot with some poor unsuspecting man?”
“Not at the moment Johann, I still want to be happy for a while.” She said dryly.
“Jeez, that’s a negative attitude isn’t it?’
“Not the way I see it. Once a woman becomes a wife, a man becomes her boss. Just look at you for example. You’ve certainly found the right person to take care of your financials should you curl up and die on us.”
“Elize, what you don’t know, is that Tertia and I began dating before I discovered I was HIV positive. Had I not been positive, she would have become my wife anyway. What would you have said then? Would you have suggested I’d married her to cook, clean and bare children for me?”
“So why have you married her Johann?”
“Because I’d like to spend what time I have left with her.” Tertia had walked up behind Johann and Elize, she bent forward and put her arms around Johann’s shoulders.
“Why do you two look so serious?”
“Just chatting about marriage. It’s always a serious conversation around Elize.” Johann joked. Elize stood, clearly unimpressed. She walked away.
“Was it something I said?” Tertia asked.
“Don’t worry. She’s hard work that’s all. Come and sit by me Mrs. Pienaar and tell me how you managed to wangle all this in twenty-four hours”
Johann woke up feeling dreadful. He’d forgotten how hangovers felt. He turned on his side and gazed into the pale face sleeping peacefully next to him. He reached out and gently stroked Tertia’s face. Memories of last night came flooding back. Tertia was a surprise to him. She was a warm loving creature. Her uninhibited imagination had left him completely satisfied last night. He wondered if she had felt the same. The telephone suddenly spliced the air noisily. Tertia turned over and picked up the phone.
“Hello?” She answered curtly.
“Oh, Ja. Hi! Fine, fine. Yes it was lovely. Thank you for being here.”
Johann began tracing the outline of her slender shoulders with his fingers. He saw the gooseflesh rise on her skin and grinned.
“Ja? What! Really? Terrific! We’ll be right there! Thanks. See you just now!”
She hung up and spun round, wide-eyed and grinning from ear to ear.
“Johann, get up! I’m going to take you to your clinic before we leave for our honeymoon. I was going to leave it until we got back but guess what?”
“You’re going to tell me anyway, aren’t you?’ He raised an eyebrow at her.
“Johann, they’ve found a donor for Tasmin. They’re going to go through all the procedures tomorrow.”
Johann flopped back onto his pillows.
“Oh. Thank you God! That’s wonderful news.” A feeling of intense relief overcame him. A whisper in his head said “This is all you were waiting for” He pushed the voice away. Tertia was running around the bedroom, trying to find suitable clothes, with her cell phone clutched to her ear.
“What time are we catching The Blue Train?” Johann asked.
“Eleven o’ clock. It’s nine-fifteen, so, hurry up and get up Mr. Pienaar! I’m phoning Rudi now to come and collect us”
He did as he was told. Smiling to himself, he thought of Elize’s comment on the husband becoming a boss. Not in this house. He thought. Tertia had organized everything. Arranged a honeymoon, she’d done his packing for him, paid for everything and was already shouting orders at him. The Blue Train was a fantastic idea. A luxury train traveling to Cape Town along the Garden route, gazing out at idyllic scenery, amazing food in the restaurant carriage and even beds to sleep in at night. The motion of the train would comfortably rock them to sleep. It would be an extremely relaxing way to spend a week. Two days on the train to Cape Town, two days in Cape Town and two days back to Johannesburg.
They were traveling along the highway approaching the turn off, when Tertia pointed out the clinic to Johann.
“Can you see?” She asked pointing.
“See the neon sign on the top of the building?” Johann could barely make out the signboard and shook his head. His breath was taken away by the little he could see. The area around the clinic had been cleared. There were lush, healthy green bushes and pot plants dotted around the front parking lot. The building itself looked clean. Somehow, he couldn’t remember it as it had been originally. They pulled into the parking lot. Johann got out slowly and looked up. ‘JOHANN PIENAAR, HIV/AIDS AND CANCER CLINIC’ Tertia stood next to him.
“Apparently, at night, you can see the sign from Sandton”
“Maybe we should do that sometime. I’d like that.” Johann said thoughtfully.
“Let’s go in, Mr. Pienaar. I want to show you around quickly”
They walked in through the automatic glass doors. Johann could still see signs of incompletion around the reception area. There were small stands of scaffolding dotted around some of the walls where the ceiling cornices still needed painting. There was a tarpaulin covering what he assumed must be rubble or building equipment, in the centre of the reception area.
A coloured lady was answering phones at the marble black half moon shaped reception area. Tertia lead Johann toward reception and waited for the lady to finish her phone call.
“Hi Martie. I’d like to introduce you to Mr. Johann Pienaar. Johann, this is Martie van der Byl”
Johann leant forward and shook Martie’s extended hand. She looked slightly dumb struck. She didn’t say anything, just stared at Johann with a large grin on her face.
“I-I’m very happy to meet you sir.” She eventually stammered standing up.
“The pleasure’s all mine Martie. I hope you have a terrific day and that you enjoy your work here.” The phone began to ring again and Martie dutifully sat, smiling apologies at Johann as she answered.
“Johann Pienaar clinic, Martie speaking. How can we help you?”
Johann felt a niggling sensation in his chest, once he was in the lift he analysed a feeling of pride. He felt an enormous relief that his initial dream had in fact, turned into reality. Tertia was staring at him with a large, affectionate smile.
“You like?” She said.
“So far, I’m overjoyed.” He replied with honesty.
“We don’t have time for a full tour. Do you mind if we go in and see Tasmin? We can come back next week and do the full ten cent tour.”
“Sure, of course. I must say Tertia, you’ve done an amazing job here. I can’t thank you enough.”
“You have already.” She winked as they stepped out the lift and headed down the corridor.
There were three children sharing a large ward with Tasmin. Johann cringed as he passed one young boy. Fast asleep, he couldn’t have been more than three or four years old. His head was bald, his small body already showing signs of degeneration. Johann averted his gaze as if the vision would miraculously disappear from his mind.
“Johann!” An excited familiar voice cried out at him. He grinned.
“Tasmin” She ran towards him, hugging him happily.
“You’re sly!” She said “You never told me this was your clinic”
“Who told you it was?” He asked frowning.
“I’m not stupid you know. It’s got your name on the front.”
“That doesn’t mean it’s mine.” Johann chuckled.
“There are probably hundreds of Johann Pienaar’s out there!”
“Oh, so it’s not yours?” She looked at him with her sparkling, clear eyes challenging him. Johann ignored the question.
“I believe a donor has been found for you? Are you excited?”
“Yes! Doctor Mirriam came to see me. She said, if all goes well, I could be back at school in a month! Can you imagine? I can’t wait!”
“Do you like it here in this clinic?”
“Ja, it’s nice here. There’s lots to do. But I miss Rosie and Doctor Kolling. They’ve both been to see me, in fact they’ve been twice. I think Rosie likes it here too. I think she’s going to try and get a job here, but I don’t think Doctor Kolling will be happy about that. He says he’s going to be here tomorrow while they go through all the procedures, just to make sure everything gets done properly, he says he doesn’t trust people who he doesn’t know.”
“Tasmin, sweetheart.” Johann interrupted. “Take a breath. Air is good for you. You’re looking very well, I must say. Now, shall I tell you my good news?”
“What?” She asked.
“Tertia and I got married yesterday. It was a surprise for me when I got home.”
“Oh, – Oh. Congratulations! Are you going to have kids?”
“No, I think we may already be a bit too old for kids. But we would like to stay in touch with you, if that’s alright?”
“Ja! I want to show you my house and my baby brother. I’ll get Mama to make a nice supper and you can come ok? You and Tertia ok?”
“Alright. That’s sounds like a deal. So anyway we’re going to go on our honeymoon now. But we’ll phone you in a couple of days and find out how it all went and we’ll come and see you when we come back next week. Ok?”
“Ok. Have a nice time.” She smiled at both of them. Johann gave her a brief, tight hug and said “Good luck” Tertia blew Tasmin a kiss as they left the ward. Tertia and Johann spent five minutes with Tasmin’s Doctor Mirriam, checking that everything was in place for the next day’s procedures. They swapped cell numbers and left instructions that they were to be notified as often as possible on Tasmin’s progress.
Back in the car, Rudi had opened a bottle of champagne for their journey to the station.
“I think Tasmin’s going to pull through this.” Tertia commented, sipping champagne slowly.
“Ja, I really hope so. She’s a bright kid and she should be in school. I want to see her get past all of this. Hopefully one day, spending so much time in hospital, will just be a distant memory to her.”
“You’ve done a good thing there, Johann. You should be proud of yourself.” Tertia leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. They drove into the station with ten minutes to spare. By the time they had located the correct platform and Rudi had deposited their cases on the ground, it was eleven o’clock. Johann felt for the paperwork he had slipped in his breast pocket. He handed it, still folded, to Rudi
“Rudi, this is yours now. I hope you do well with it. Look after it carefully.”
“What’s this?” Rudi opened it, glanced at it and looked at Johann, confusion written on his face.
“Those are the original title deeds, now in your name, to the one remaining ‘Java-2-go.’ You always said Doreen would love to run one. Well, maybe both of you can learn together? Reap your own rewards. I hope you do well.” The Blue Train was chugging slowly into the station.
“I can’t take this!” Rudi gasped. He folded the deed and waved it back at Johann.
“Ja, you can. You’re not exactly tied up with my work any more, what else are you going to do with yourself?”
“Well, I, er, I just can’t, I mean, this is a huge thing Johann, I’m not sure I know where to start.”
“You can start at eight o’ clock tomorrow morning by getting your manager to show you the routine of the place. From there; well it’s up to you what you do with it.” The train had stopped and porters were emerging from the doors, helping passengers on with their cases.
“Johann, I don’t know what to say to you. Thank you. Doreen will be so excited, but the profits must still go to you. I can’t take all this without paying anything for it.” Tertia was being helped with their cases on to the train.
“Then if you feel that way, take fifty percent of the profits for yourselves and deposit the other fifty percent into the clinic’s account annually. Can you do that?” Johann held out his hand to Rudi. Rudi grabbed at his hand and shook it enthusiastically.
“Ja, I can do that. No problem. It’s a deal!”
“Great. Try and enjoy it ok?” Johann stepped on to the train.
“Have a great time the two of you. See you soon. Thanks again Johann!”
As the train pulled out of the station, both Tertia and Johann looked out the door’s window, smiling as they watched Rudi strutting up and down the platform, cell phone clutched to his ear, babbling merrily into the phone looking like the happiest man in the world at that moment in time. For the second time that morning, Johann’s heart was lifted.
Time to Chill
After a further three station stops, Johann and Tertia felt they were finally on their way. They booked a table for six o’ clock in the restaurant car and whiled away the time in the lap of luxury. Pouring over complimentary booklets advertising entertainment venues and shows they might like to see. Johann was on his fourth Chivas on ice and was warming to the unfamiliar feeling of ‘time away’.
“What made you think of the Blue Train for a honeymoon?” Johann asked.
“I just thought it would be relaxing. A good way to spend some time together. Would you rather have done something else?”
“No. This is perfect. I mean what else can I do? Look at me. I’m not in peak condition for climbing Mount Everest or a skiing trip, am I? I just think you’re an extremely perceptive woman. At the moment, I’m a lucky guy
to have you.”
“What do you mean, at the moment?”
“Well, you know what I mean. Tertia, it’s not going to last for long. You do know this don’t you?” Tertia sighed heavily. She looked away from him.
“Ja, Johann. I know whatever time we have will be too short. Unlike you though, I’m not dwelling on it. While we’re on the subject though, one last thing.” Tertia began fishing through her hand luggage. She pulled out a large manila envelope.
“You’re updated will.” She handed it to Johann. “Please sign it and then, can’t we just enjoy every moment we have together and not think about the next one? I mean for heavens sake! We’ve spent months making sure every aspect of your death is covered. We haven’t had time to realize that, right now, you are actually alive and kicking.”
“I know.” Johann said dejectedly. He paged disinterestedly through the will, initialing the pages and signing the last one. Handing the document back to Tertia, he looked at her longingly.
“I’m sorry for the trouble I’ve been. I know you’re going to say you did it with pleasure, but, Tertia, I’m truly sorry things have worked out the way they have. You have done everything I’ve asked, without complaint. I’ve wondered why? What’s been in it for you? Inevitable heartbreak? That’s not what I want to imagine you having to go through. I don’t know how to stop it for you, or make it easier. Can you tell me, what can I do to make this easier for you?”
“Yes. You can forget about all of this.” She said, waving the will in the air and then packing it back into her hand luggage.
“Enjoy yourself as much as you can and don’t mention your ailments to me for this entire honeymoon. How’s that?”
“Let’s seal the deal with a kiss!” Johann beamed at Tertia across the little cabin table. They we’re interrupted by a knock. The wooden paneled door slid open revealing an elegantly dressed waiter.
“Mr. and Mrs. Pienaar?”
“That’s us!” Tertia said laughing at Johann.
“My name is James. I’ll be your waiter this evening. I’m here to escort you to your table. If you’re ready, please follow me.”
Rudi had left the train station and driven back to Johann’s house in a cloud of elation. He was on the phone with his wife, Doreen, for about half an hour. She hadn’t believed him when he’d first told her the news of ‘Java-2-go’
“Stop talking kak, Rudi! Are you expecting me to believe that Mr. Pienaar has employed you as a driver for the past four years and now he’s decided to just give you his coffee shop for nothing?”
“Ja! He just gave me the title deeds. They’re already in my name. I can’t believe it myself. I’ve agreed to deposit fifty percent of the annual profit into the clinic he’s built, but still, you can give up your crappy job and let’s both go work in the coffee shop. Make it ours!”
“Unbelievable!” She was as excited as Rudi.
“When they get back from honeymoon, I think we should do something nice for him, y’know? Maybe you can come up with something? You’re good at that.” Rudi asked.
“Well, I was talking to Elizabeth earlier and she mentioned they stopped in to see that young girl, Tasmin. Apparently they couldn’t stay long. Johann hasn’t seen his own clinic properly yet. Why don’t we organize some kind of launch or opening day? Have a huge bash in his honour? What do you think?”
“I think you’re brilliant! Good idea. I have to fetch them from the station again next week Thursday at eleven.”
“Let me organize it for the Friday. We can do it from about ten in the morning and he can spend the day meeting all the doctors and staff. Oh! Guess what?”
“What” Rudi asked, nervously.
“This is going to be terrific if it works! Tertia organized a sculptor to do a bust of Johann as a memorial which is going in the middle of the reception area. If I can push the guy to finish it for next Thursday and have it mounted by Friday morning, wouldn’t that be great? He can witness the unveiling of his own memorial?”
“See what you can do. I like the idea. Let’s get rolling with it. I’ll see you later honey. I’m going past our business for a coffee!”
“Make sure you pay for it!”
Johann and Tertia had retired to their compartment after a totally decadent meal. While at dinner, their beds had been made up and they had spent a few hours chatting companionably about anything but what the future held. Tertia had announced a new marital rule. For as long as Johann was alive, they were to refrain from discussing the inevitable while they were alone together. They discussed past traveling experiences. Things they remembered while growing up. Past relationships and the dissolving of them. Around two in the morning they climbed into bed and were gently rocked into a deep sleep by the motion of the train.
Tertia woke to the sound of a gentle knock on the wooden door. Yawning and stretching she called out.
“Morning Mrs. Pienaar. Breakfast will be served in the dining cart from nine until eleven, what time would you like a table?”
“Oh, er, is ten ‘o’ clock ok?”
“Certainly, I’ll book for you, could I bring some coffee for you in the meantime?”
“Please. That would be lovely. Thank you.”
Tertia glanced at Johann still sleeping peacefully beside her. Checking her watch she was surprised to see it was eight-thirty. It had been a long time since she had slept past five o clock on a morning. No wonder she felt so rested. Looking forward to the arrival of the coffee, she gently nudged Johann awake.
“Hey sleepy. Coffee’s on its way. How are you feeling?”
Johann stretched. He felt disorientated and registered a feeling of nausea.
“Hmm. Good morning to you too! I feel ok, I think, just a bit nauseas, maybe from the motion of the train all night?”
“Well… it made me sleep like a baby. I can’t remember the last time I slept so late and woke up feeling so good.” Tertia got out of bed and donned her robe which hung from the back of the door. There was a knock on the door. She opened it with a smile.
“Hi, just set it down here, thanks.” She pointed to the foot of the bed. The waiter set the tray down. Tertia passed a cursory tip as she closed the door.
“We’ll arrive in Cape Town at about twelve-thirty. There will be a car waiting to take us to the Peninsula Hotel. Then I think we should unpack and relax for a while before we go to the theatre tonight hey?” Tertia smiled, passing Johann his coffee.
“Whatever you say boss.” Johann answered, taking a sip of his filter coffee.
“Boss! Me?” Tertia cried feigning offence.
“Ja, Just for this trip. When it’s over, I expect you to be seen, preferably in the kitchen, and never heard, particularly during Rugby matches!”
“You male chauvinist pig!” Tertia chuckled as she climbed back into bed precariously holding her coffee.
Johann leant forward and set his half finished cup of coffee back down on the tray. Flopping back, he tightly closed his eyes. He could feel his bowels loosening. The nausea was rising in his stomach.
“What’s wrong?” Tertia asked, warning bells ringing in her mind.
“Er, nothing that won’t pass.” Smiling at his own pun, he explained. “It’s the usual problem. I’ve told you before; Coffee is far too strong a drink for me. You should have ordered me something softer, like, Chivas and ice.
“You’ve just woken up Johan! You can’t have whisky now!”
“Why not?” Johann looked at Tertia, his face reflecting a childish sulk.
“Because Johann, you haven’t eaten yet …”
“I ate last night.”
“Ok!” He laughed. “I’ll wait until breakfast before I have one. Are you ready yet?”
“Good Lord, you’re incorrigible!
The Blue Train slowly pulled into Cape Town station. The railway tracks were abuzz with street kids trying to throw themselves at the windows to the Compartments begging for what ever they could get. Cigarettes, discarded cool drinks and scraps of leftover food. Their keen eyes picking out susceptible travelers carrying suitcases and handbags as easy targets for a snatch and run. Johann and Tertia spotted their names on a board held high by a coloured gentleman. They made their way towards him and introduced themselves. He informed them in musical tones synonymous with the Cape Town accent, that his name was Solly. They were to follow him to the car. Outside the station, Johann looked up and pulled in his breath at the site of Table Mountain. The mountain seemed to sit, royally presiding over the whole of Cape Town, like a judge, quietly taking cognisance of all that took place beneath him.
“I’m really glad we came here Tertia. Thank you.” Johann put his arm around Tertia and gave her a lingering kiss on the lips before climbing into the car.
“How many whisky’s did you have for breakfast?” Tertia teased.
“Only three, but I shall make up for that as soon as we arrive at the Hotel”
“Do you think you might manage some food to go with your whisky?”
“That would only allow sobriety to rule. Why would I do that? I’m enjoying myself!”
Once again Tertia swallowed down her fear for Johann. He had eaten nothing for breakfast. True to his word, he had ordered and drank three Chivas and ice. She wanted to scream out at him. Tell him how important it was for him to eat and provide his body with some nourishment. But the same small voice, coming from somewhere deep in her stomach, kept telling her to leave him. Let him enjoy himself. Let this trip be all about him. Allow him to do all the things he wanted to do with what time he had left. She kept biting her lip, stopping her mouth from insisting on all the things he should be doing. She realized she would rather be with Johann while he was happy, even if it would be a shorter period of time, than nag like an idiot, making sure he took his tablets and ate properly, while watching him become miserable living a slow death.
Johann opened his passenger side window. He tasted the salt air as they drove along the shore line. He watched the sun dance off the tips of unbroken waves making the ocean look like a sea of broken glass. He felt at peace with himself and where he was right now. Ignoring the pain in his stomach and chest, he decided he was going to make the most of this brief holiday.
They arrived and checked in at the Hotel Peninsula and were escorted to their suite. Johann was impressed.
“Wow! No holds barred! Way to go Tertia. I like your style.” Johann walked through the sunken lounge to the bar on the opposite side of the room.
“You fix us drinks. I’ll go and unpack ok?” Tertia smiled, walking into the bedroom.
The bar had been cleverly situated in front of the big sliding French windows that opened onto a balcony overlooking the ocean. He rummaged through the cupboards and frowned when he realized there was no Chivas. His brow cleared when he found J&B brand whisky, deciding that would do. He fixed himself a whisky and Tertia, a vodka, lime and soda. Opening the French doors, he stepped on to the balcony.
The telephone rang bringing Tertia out of the bedroom.
“Hey there Mrs. Pienaar. How you doing?”
“Oh! Rudi? Hi! We’re fine, got here a few minutes ago. Everything ok?”
“Ja, all’s well. Just thought I’d let you in on a little secret that’s taking place. So if Johann’s around you right now, just say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ ok?”
“Uh-huh” Tertia looked at Johann on the balcony. It seemed he hadn’t even heard the phone ring.
“We’ve planned a launch next Friday. The bust that you ordered for reception will be completed and delivered on Thursday afternoon. So what we want to do is have like, an opening day, we’ve invited selected press and let a couple of TV stations know, but Johann will be the guest of honour. So, I know I’m picking you up on Thursday around eleven in the morning. I thought you could get some rest and then I’ll pick you both up on Friday morning about ten. How’s that sound?”
“I’m not too keen on the idea of the TV people. Maybe you could lose them. But aside from that, I think it’s a brilliant idea Rudi. It sounds great.”
“Hmm, sorry, Tertia. I’m not going to lose the TV people now. It’s too late; you know what they’re like once they get wind of something. But don’t worry; it’ll be low key ok?”
“Great! Well done! How’s Tasmin by the way?”
“The procedures went well. She’s groggy, but looks like everything’s alright up to now. They’ll know better tomorrow if her body is going to accept or reject. I’ll let you know. I’ve got to dash right now; I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Cheers!”
“Thanks Rudi, bye!”
Johann and Tertia spent the afternoon sipping drinks on the balcony overlooking the sea. As the sun started its rapid decline towards the horizon, Tertia suggested they bathe and get changed for the evening’s show. They were going to see the highly acclaimed ‘African Footprint’ which they were both looking forward to since reading the rave international reviews. Tertia showered. Johann poured himself a luxuriously hot bubble bath, complaining he was too lazy to stand and wash. After languishing in the bath for half an hour, Johann eventually got out. He felt a strange weakness overcome his body. He grabbed a fluffy white towel and began drying himself while listening to Tertia humming softly to herself in the bedroom. Suddenly, nausea overtook him. He dropped to his knees at the toilet bowl and vomited till his stomach could cramp no tighter. Breathing heavily, he hoped Tertia had not heard him. Retching again and dispensing nothing but bile, he felt his bowels beginning to loosen. Panic set in as he looked around the bathroom; sure this was the last place he’d see. “Please don’t let me die in the bathroom!” He reversed his position on the toilet and held the nausea at bay while his bowels had their relief. Johann was unsure of how much time had passed when Tertia tapped the bathroom door.
“Did you drown in there?”
“I’ll be out in a minute, babes.”
“The driver is downstairs waiting for us.”
Johann lifted himself and climbed back in the bath water for yet another wash. He emerged from the bathroom and made a great show of deciding what to wear, with the hope that Tertia would grow impatient and choose for him. Truth be told, he hadn’t the energy to stand. His joints felt like water, he couldn’t control the shake in his body and he discovered, quick movement increased his nausea. He guessed correctly.
“It’s not like you brought that many clothes with you! Good Grief! Here, wear your navy suit with this white T-shirt underneath, how’s that?”
“What about a jersey?” Johann asked trying to hide his shiver.
“Are you cold? Johann? Are you all right?”
“I’m fine, just feeling the fresh sea air.” Tertia looked at him as a doctor would a patient.
“Are you sure?”
“Ja! I’m sure! Just pass me my clothes and let me get dressed!” Johann yelled impatiently. Tertia threw the hanger at him holding his suit, together with a T-shirt and woolen waistcoat. She then stormed out of the bedroom.
Twice, while dressing, Johann returned to the bathroom to retch uncontrollably.
On the way to the theatre, Johann fought back the urge to snap and tried to eradicate his feelings of anger, which he’d deduced, were due to fear.
“Ok, look. I’m sorry for snapping at you Tertia. I know you were only trying to help. I’m just happy relaxing. I am looking forward to the show. I’m just feeling a little weak. Do you forgive me?”
“You’re weak; because you’re drunk Johann. You haven’t eaten a thing since last night!”
“I’m not drunk! It doesn’t seem like I can get drunk lately. I promise I’ll eat tomorrow”
“You better! I warn you. I’m not always so nice to be around.” The humorous glint had returned to Tertia’s eye.
“Yes boss!” Johann chuckled. Relieved.
The show was terrific. A musically told tale of the history of South Africa and its colourful people. Johann discovered happily, that as long as he wasn’t moving he didn’t feel nausea. He allowed the show to take over his mind and relaxed sipping slowly on a Chivas and ice that lasted him the duration of the performance. Once the show was over, he found himself dreading the car trip back to the hotel and all the movement, ‘going home’ would involve. He was quiet on the return journey. Willing himself onto a different plane. Ignoring Cape Town and Tertia. After what seemed an eternity, they arrived back in their hotel room. Johann immediately took off his clothes, racing for the bathroom, before Tertia could notice the sweat trickling down his face and neck. He emerged ten minutes later to Tertia begging to be allowed to use the toilet.
“Take your time why don’t you!?” Tertia growled as they passed each other in the doorway. Johann collapsed into the huge king size bed and immediately started shivering with cold. He snuggled further down under the covers and put a pillow on top of his head. Johann had drifted into a deep sleep before Tertia left the bathroom.
Tasmin was calling him. Her voice, high and clear. He couldn’t see her. He didn’t know which direction to go in. His hands were held out in front of him as if clearing away the dense, white fog. He called to her. Straining his ears to pick up the direction her voice was coming from.
“Johann! Please come and see me! Look at me! Up here!”
Above me? Her voice is coming from above me?” Johann looked up and saw a clear round hole in the fog. Through it he could see a patch of brilliant blue sky. He felt the warmth from the sun heat up his body, inside and out. He smiled up at the sky. Suddenly, the blue patch turned dark and Tasmin’s head filled the space. Enlarged to the size of a small planet, her oversized eyes burnt down into his. He shielded his eyes with his arm, but continued to look up. Her face was distorted in anger and hate. A huge finger came out of the sky, prodding him in the stomach. The force of the prod left him sitting on the pavement. There were still swirls of thick white fog skittering around him. A sound like thunder boomed as he looked around. Slowly he looked back up, fearful of what he would see. Tasmin was still staring down at him expectantly. He threw his hands up, “What?! What is it Tasmin?” The thunder boomed again. He stood up, no longer afraid of the over large Tasmin. Angry himself he yelled. “Why are you shouting at me? I can’t hear you, you’re so loud!”
“YOU SAID WE HAD TO HELP EACH OTHER! WHERE ARE YOU? YOU LET ME DOWN!” Tasmin bellowed back at him. He froze on the spot and hung his head almost in shame. Looking back up, fear coursed through his body as Tasmin’s face suddenly burst out of the circular patch of sky and began rushing down towards him. He could clearly see her demented expression still filled with complete hatred, becoming larger and larger……..”
Heart To Heart
Johann awoke with the familiar start. This time something was different. The sweat was there, oh yes! But he couldn’t feel his body. He opened his eyes. His vision was filled with white light. He tried to turn onto his side, finding he didn’t have the strength to do this. He called out to Tertia.
“Tertia? Are you here? Tertia?” Tertia’s face appeared in his line of vision, eerily reminding him of his dream.
“Hi there. How are you feeling?” He noted how tired and drained she looked.
“I’m not sure. Where are we? What happened?”
“We’re in a private clinic in Greenpoint. I tried to wake you yesterday morning. You didn’t respond. The hotel called a doctor who said your pulse was weak and assessed your body was in some kind of shock. So you were admitted here. That was yesterday morning.”
“What time is it now?” Johann asked, amazed at the passage of time.
“It’s a little after three in the afternoon.” She turned her face away from him.
“Can I get you anything? Water, food?” She asked flatly.
“Water would be good. Thanks. Tertia?” He sensed there was something she wasn’t telling him. She held a paper cup to his lips and supported his head forward to allow him a few sips of water.
“What’s wrong? What aren’t you telling me?”
Tertia sat down and sighed.
“Tertia! Please. Do me a favour, I can’t see you. Can you raise this bed or something or help me turn over so I can see you?”
“I can help raise the bed, but you can’t turn over. You’ve got too many pipes in you. I don’t want any of them getting blocked or trapped. Hang on a minute.” Tertia moved to the side of the bed and worked out which wheels raised the head of the bed. Amidst much puffing and panting, she managed to raise Johann into a reclined position. Once Johann was raised, he looked down at his arms and saw the various drips he had been plugged into. He turned to Tertia who was seated back in her chair looking glum.
“Now. Please tell me why the long face?” Tertia seemed to be struggling with what to say. Her hand flew to her brow, her fingers rubbing viciously, as if impatient with a headache.
“Nothing’s wrong Johann.” She said her hand slapping back down on her thigh.
“I’m tired, is all. I’ve been at your bedside for, I don’t know how long now and I’ve had no real sleep.” She gave him a wan smile.
“For goodness sake! Go back to the Hotel and get some sleep! I don’t want you keeping such a strict vigil at my bedside. You’ll end up sick yourself..-” Johann stopped short as he felt a crushing pain in his chest, making him battle to breathe in. He clutched a hand to his chest and his face wrinkled in pain.
“What’s wrong?” Tertia stood nervously looking him over.
“Pain….in here…..Can’t seem to breathe….uh”
“Relax. Try not to force it. Just breathe in gently and slowly. They said this may happen. I’ll call the nurse and tell her she should bring you an oxygen mask.” Tertia ran down the passage to the nurse’s station and frantically explained what was happening to Johann. Two nurses trotted off immediately to Johann’s room. Tertia stood looking after them. She didn’t want to go back just yet.
“You look like you need a coffee. Can I make you one?” A pleasant nurse, just entering the station was smiling saintly at Tertia.
“God Ja. I’d love one! Thanks.”
“Why don’t you sit yourself down in that big comfy chair over there and I’ll bring it to you?” She was pointing to a small reception area, with large puffy couches and a glass table bearing old copies of medical journals and ‘YOU’ magazines. Tertia looked longingly at the large puffy couches. Walking across, she flopped into one. She shook off her shoes and rested her feet on the coffee table oblivious of manners at this stage.
“Here you are. Do you mind if I join you? It’s my break.” The young nurse set a large mug in front of Tertia and sat down opposite her. Tertia was thrilled to see the mug, having expected a formal cup and saucer which she hated. No sooner had you sipped the coffee and it was finished.
“Thank you. Please do join me. I’m Tertia Pienaar by the way. Nice to meet you” Tertia leant forward and extended her hand.
“Hi, I’m Susie. Nice to meet you too. You look so sick and tired; I’m surprised you’re not in one of our beds?”
“It’s been a rough couple of days. I think it’s going to get rougher.” Tertia took a sip of her coffee and relished the hot, strong, sweet taste.
“Do you want to tell me about it?” Susie asked furtively.
“The question is, do you want to hear it?” Tertia chuckled.
“Of course, I’m naturally a nosy person, fire away!” Susie’s eyes were full of humour and understanding. Tertia decided she would unload on this saintly lady. She found herself pouring out Johann’s and her story, starting from two years earlier.
“There you are Mr. Pienaar. Much more comfortable now hey?” The nurse had finished setting up an oxygen canister and placed the mask over his nose and mouth. She had also lowered the bed slightly and fluffed up Johann’s pillows. Johann nodded his agreement. A cellular phone began ringing and both the nurse and Johann looked around the room for the offending noise. Johann spotted Tertia’s handbag on the floor underneath the chair she had occupied. He pulled the oxygen mask down.
“Would you mind fishing that phone out of Tertia’s handbag and passing it to me please?” His breathing was laboured. The air in his lungs used up with such a long sentence. He slipped the oxygen mask back on while the nurse obliged.
“Here you go” She said handing the phone to Johann. He slipped his mask off again.
“Hello! Johann! I was looking for Tertia, but I’m so glad I got you instead! It’s me! Tasmin! Guess what?!”
“Hi Tasmin!” Johann tried to sound as chipper as possible.
“I can’t guess. Tell me!”
“I’m all better! The doctor’s have said I can go home next week! I’m so excited. I can’t believe I’m all better! I can go back to school and play with my brother and friends and do all normal things!” Johann swallowed a sob and sent out a silent prayer of thanks as his eyes filled with tears of relief.
“See Tasmin. I told you!” He wanted to say more, wanted to share in her excitement. He didn’t’ trust his voice to hold. The wave of relief had left him shaky and light headed.
“When are you coming home Johann? I want to see you before I leave the hospital.”
“Well, we were supposed to leave tomorrow. So I guess we will see you in the next few days.”
“This is a great hospital Johann. When you come back, I want you to come here. They can fix anybody here, then you can home to our house for supper and bring Tertia and tell me who your favourite nurses and Doctor’s are and I bet we like the same ones!” Johann was still fighting the lump in his throat.
“Ok, Tasmin. I’ll be there soon ok? Well done for being such a brave, strong girl. I miss you. We’ll see you soon ok?”
“Ok! Miss you too! Say Hi to Tertia for me. Bye!” Johann dropped the cell phone onto his blankets. He lay back against the pillows and allowed himself to cry like a baby.
Two hours flew past. Tertia felt stronger after her heart to heart with Susie. She had showered Tertia with sympathetic praises and good wishes. She worked hard to convince Tertia that no matter what outcome would follow this recent stage of Johann’s hospitalization, she had single handedly assisted Johann in a terrific achievement. As Tertia made her way back to Johann’s room, she told herself she must try and be more cheerful. Who knew how much more time Johann had left? It wouldn’t do to be miserable and moody around him. She fixed a smile on her face and entered his room.
The sight of Johann hooked up to all his tubes, together with the oxygen mask strapped to his face, made Tertia suck in her breath. It all seemed to highlight Johann’s sudden frailty. His recent weight loss was noticeable and right now, he looked for all the world, like an eighty year old man. He was awake. Tertia pulled her chair closer to his bedside.
“Hi sexy, how you feeling?” She asked with a smile. Johann dropped his mask to his chest.
“I’ve been better. Tasmin phoned.” Johann put his mask back on.
“Really? And, how is she?” Johann nodded and pulled the mask down again.
“The Doctors say she’s good. They’re letting her go home next week.” The mask was back on again.
“Terrific! Excellent news. I do like a good ending.” The mask was lowered.
“So do I. Please will you get me some writing paper and envelopes?”
“Of course, Johann. What do you want to write? Can I help you?”
“Ja. You can. Today though.”
“I’ll go and get some now then.” Tertia picked up her handbag and left.
XXIII The Sign Of Life
“I don’t know Tertia. I’m not sure I’ll make it through this time. I need to do this just in case I don’t make it. There are some things I need to explain. So if I dictate, will you write for me?”
“Of course I will Johann. I just think you’re being a bit previous, but I suppose if it’s something you feel you should do then it’s one less thing to worry about. Fire away!” Tertia smiled at him. Pen poised and ready to write. It was a slow process due to Johann’s breathing. They worked through the night. Finally at four ‘o’clock in the morning. Tertia sealed the last envelope with a heavy heart and wrote the address Johann gave on the front. She put the envelopes in her handbag and stood up stretching.
“I’ll mail all these later. First I’m going to grab a couple of hours sleep on a gorgeous couch in reception. She leant over Johann, seeing the exhaustion in his eyes; she placed a gentle kiss on his cheek and said “Sleep tight. See you later my love.”
Johann fell asleep immediately. “He found himself walking through dense woods. It was night time. He didn’t know what he was looking for until he saw a glint in the distance. “Ah,” he thought. “There it is!” He waded through trees and overgrown foliage until he thought he was at the spot where the twinkle had come from. Dropping to his knees his hands began digging through the earth. Shifting dead leaves and empty insect shells about in the loose dirt, he felt a rising panic at not finding the all consuming glint. Johann Looked up in desperation. There! A few feet ahead of him, a twinkle, just once, brought him upright on his feet striding the few feet distance to the twinkle. Once again. Nothing but dead leaves and dirt. “Damn!” He thought “I can’t get out of these woods unless I get that key.” He stood again, hands on hips. The importance of the ‘key’ was tantamount to him escaping the woods and it was teasing him! He walked ahead, aware that he was traveling deeper and deeper into the heart of the forest. Almost as he finished the thought, it suddenly made sense that the key would be in the heart of the forest. He set off at a greater, more confident speed. He reached a clearing and was surprised at the smooth slab of stone he found in the middle of a circle of trees. The moon shone brightly down through the clearing and illuminated the stone slab. There were markings on the slab and as he drew nearer, dropping to his knees, his mind grappled for forgotten information. He knew this symbol, but couldn’t remember its meaning. A snake coiled around a sword, what was that again? He stood looking for clues as he scratched his head in thought. Then looking up at the moon he saw the twinkling again. It was falling from the sky straight towards him. He raised his hand, more to protect his head than anything else and was childishly surprised at himself when he caught the twinkling jewel. On inspection, he discovered he was holding a solid silver, gem encrusted version of the same sign embossed on the slab he was standing on. It came to him in a flash. “It’s the symbol for the Sign of Life!” He suddenly felt lighter and happier than he had in years. As he clutched the jewel to his chest enjoying the complete relief it gave him, the sun came out and he was standing in the Garden of Eden.
The Blue Train pulled into Johannesburg station at precisely twelve-thirty-eight. Rudi, true to his word was waiting like a sentry. Tertia gave him a quick impersonal hug as she disembarked from the train. Rudi grabbed Johann’s and Tertia’s suitcases and marched through the station to the car. It had been a long tiring journey back and Tertia found herself dozing in the back seat of the car. It felt like five minutes later that Rudi was shaking her awake, telling her she was home.
“Do you still want me to pick you up tomorrow morning?”
“Oh, Ja Rudi, can you?”
“Sure. I’ll give you a missed call when I get here all right?”
“Thanks Rudi. Have a good day. Oh! And, Rudi? Could I ask you a favour please?”
“Anything Tertia. Anything.” Tertia fumbled in her handbag and drew out a stack of envelopes.
“Please would you post these for us?”
“No problem. I’ll do it right now.”
“Thank you. See you in the morning.”
Tertia woke early. Dressing appropriately in a simple, tan trouser suit, she paced the floor waiting for Rudi to arrive. She was dreading this with all her heart and just wanted it over and done with. Finally, she heard her cell phone ring once in her handbag. Picking it up, she strode out of the door and into the car. They arrived at The Johann Pienaar HIV/AIDS and Cancer Clinic. Tertia stepped out of the car glancing furtively at the open reception doors. She took a deep steadying breath and walked in.
“Here they are!” Nurses huddled together in a bunch around the reception area. Admin staff and Doctors alike, all holding plates containing small appetizing pastries, sipping from glasses filled with fresh fruit juice. In the centre of the floor space, was a mound covered in green felt. It stood about a metre tall. The felt covered it from top to toe. In a wheelchair, beside the covered mound, was Tasmin. Clasping her hands excitedly, her eyes were twinkling, barely containing her delight. She was casting knowing glances at Doctor Kolling, who was protectively standing next to her.
Tertia entered to a barrage of cheers and congratulations. Her eyes sought out and found Tasmin immediately. She beamed and walked across to Tasmin. Kneeling down she gave her a kiss and a tight hug.
“Hi there brave girl!”
“Hi! I’ve been waiting for this all week. I’m dying to see what’s under this cover, where’s Johann? Tell him to hurry up and come inside so we can all see it.”
“Ah, well! Tasmin, I think we can make you happy here. We will uncover this right now and put you out of your misery, how’s that?”
“No! Johann’s got to be here too! I want him to see whatever it is, and then maybe he’ll believe this is a really good hospital and he’ll come here instead.”
“Tasmin, my darling. I have some news for you. First of all, I want you to understand something. Your friend Johann is Johann Pienaar. He built this hospital and you were the young lady who inspired him to do it. Tasmin gasped. A broad smile crossed her face.
“I knew it was his! He wouldn’t tell me. Why?”
“Because you’re a wonderful girl and you have a grand future in front of you. Johann obviously saw this very clearly. Tertia was dimly aware of the camera flashes going off around her. She made a mental note that it was time to do the unveiling and then the press could go.
“I can’t wait to show you what’s underneath here. So I’m going to do this now ok?” Tertia stood and signaled a passing waiter for a glass of fruit juice. Taking a pen out of her handbag, she gently tapped the edge of the glass drawing everybody’s attention.
“Hello everybody and thank you very much for coming here today. We are standing here today inside one man’s dream. In fact this hospital has practically been built with the blood, sweat and tears of one man. Johann Pienaar, recognized a need in this country for a cheap, yet professional healthcare system. Addressing almost totally, firstly, children’s cancer, thanks to young Tasmin here……” Tertia motioned towards a smiling Tasmin and cameras flashed. “….Who I’m happy to announce……. Is now cured!” A round of applause went up. “And secondly, HIV/AIDS, which as we all know, is ruling our country at the moment, from ground level right up to Executive level. There has never been a more appropriate time for such a hospital, or a greater need. Indeed, we sincerely hope that Mr. Johann Pienaar has set a precedent that fellow wealthy executives and business men of this country, would do well to follow. I hereby announce The Johann Pienaar HIV/AIDS and Cancer Clinic officially open!” Amongst much applause and camera flashes, Tertia grabbed the green felt and pulled it off revealing a beautiful stone carved bust of Johann Pienaar.
“Oooh!” Tasmin held up her hands in delight. “It’s Johann! It’s brilliant! Oh, Tertia, please let him come in now, please? He has to see this!”
Tertia tried to ignore Tasmin’s pleas, gauging when the press would leave.
“Tertia! Please?” Tertia dropped to her knees once more, looking around her, making sure she wasn’t the centre of attention. She faced Tasmin.
“Tasmin. I know you’re a brave girl, you’ve already beaten cancer. Now I need you to be brave again, sweetheart. I’m sorry, but Johann didn’t make it, honey. He passed away on Wednesday. I want you to remember something. Johann gave his life shamelessly in order to save many other sick people, just like you were. This clinic has enough funding to keep running for the next five years! Isn’t that amazing? Tasmin, you were the friend who inspired him to do this. You were so important to him that he made you his clinic’s first patient. Please, be proud that you helped him create this, Tasmin. Through his death, many more people will live.
“No.” Tasmin whispered, hanging her head. A large tear drop rolled down her cheek and fell in her lap. Doctor Kolling moved quickly to her side. He gave Tertia a knowing glance and an encouraging wink.
“Tasmin, he gave me something for you.” Tertia fished in her handbag and drew out the final envelope. Handing it to Tasmin, she looked into the young girls tear filled eyes and recognized the hurt in them. Feeling her own eyes tear up, she stood and sought out Rudi.
“Oh God, I can’t stand this anymore Rudi. Poor Tasmin. I can’t help her any further.
“Don’t worry, look…” Rudi said, pointing. “Her parents are here. You’re relieved from duty” Tasmin’s elegant mother was standing behind Tasmin’s chair, massaging her shoulders while Tasmin read the letter Johann had left her. At this point, tears were flowing freely down Tasmin’s face dropping on to the pages she read. Tertia had to look away. The smile she’d forced onto her face had long since left. Mentally she was counting sheep until she could leave. Glancing back at Tasmin, Tertia saw she had reached the end of the letter. She watched as Tasmin carefully folded the pages and handed the letter to her mother. With what looked like a great effort, Tasmin pushed herself up from her wheelchair drawing interest from several people who had not five minutes earlier, seen her crying like her heart would break. Slowly she stepped up to the stone bust of Johann Pienaar, wrapped her small arms around its neck and kissed the cold face, whispering “Thank you, from all of us”
“What are you trying to do? Close us down!?” Dr Kolling yelled at Johann. They were sitting in Doctor Kolling’s office discussing Tasmin’s transferal to the new ‘Johann Pienaar Clinic’.
“It’s not about this clinic, Doc. It’s about saving lives and Tasmin’s life here is not getting any better. I appreciate everyone’s efforts. I realise you do the best that you can here with what you have, however, I am in a position to do better for Tasmin, or at least I have more means than you do.” Johann paused.
“Yes, exactly, for a man of such means, I should say you’ve done a pretty good job of maintaining your health through the government. Were it not for people such as yourself, perhaps our means would be greater?” Dr. Kolling barked.
“That’s not fair and you know it! I’ve come here for treatment, granted at no charge, so that I can be in a better position to help more people who genuinely don’t have money, giving them a modicum of hope! Coming here is like resigning yourself to a death penalty. It’s not your fault or your staff’s fault. It’s the government not awarding enough money to medical care for the masses of people who need it! I am going to do what I can for these people. I am offering the equivalent of a private service, for a minimum once off charge to HIV / ADIS sufferers and to children with cancer. I wish I could offer more than that but I have to charge something in order to be categorized as private. Now in Tasmin’s case, here is an eight year old little girl whose only hope is me. Should this clinic know of a bone marrow donor that matches with Tasmin, and she happens not to be first in line throughout the whole country, then, guess what? Tough luck for her hey? Well I won’t allow that to happen to her. She wants to get better. We need to encourage her to do that, not explain why she can’t be moved from here and create more negativity. My clinic can do what yours can’t! It’s as simple as that. And while we’re about it, I don’t want to be in competition with you, in fact I would very much like to work together with you. If you won’t take a well paid position in my clinic, then at least let’s work together and try keeping the children with cancer and the HIV / AIDS patients out of your clinic. Send them to mine. The government can spend the money saved on other areas of illness at this clinic. Overall, more people will be receiving much needed assistance! Can’t you see what I’m trying to do here? I’m trying to help!” Johann was red in the face. Thrusting his fists into the sofa he sat on.
Dr. Kolling chuckled wryly.
“Johann, instead of the money we receive at the moment here at this clinic, being used to treat other areas of illnesses, as you put it, the government will just allocate less to us when they find out HIV / AIDS patients and sick children are going elsewhere. Do you really think you’re doing a service here? It will eventually close us down. Currently the bulk of our allocation goes on HIV / AIDS treatment. Really Johann, they will just take that off us.”
“No they won’t! Because they still have to offer a free service to those people who don’t have the once off fee to pay at my clinic. That’s why this can work Doc. Don’t be so stubborn about it.”
“Ok, Johann. Look, I commend what you’ve achieved. I will help in any way I can. I will send you those patients who have access to the fee and the children too, but please understand, I have to remain here myself. There are a lot of people here who need me and would not comprehend me leaving. However, I will be available to you for appointments at the going rate, should you need me. How’s that?”
“Thank you. I appreciate your understanding here, really I do. And thank you for your time.” Johann felt his way to the door. Dr. Kolling rose from his desk.
“Don’t worry Doc. I can manage this passage by myself now. Oh, and just one more thing I’d like you to consider and give me your answer when you’re ready”
“What’s that?” Dr Kolling asked suspiciously.
“Can I have Rosie please?” Johann gently pulled the door closed on Dr. Kolling’s voluminous curses.
Later that afternoon, when Tertia arrived, Johann filled her in on the conversation with Dr. Kolling. Tertia smiled; satisfied things were going as planned.
“We’re up and running now Johann. Advertisements have been placed in all the medical publications. Announcements have been made. Everything’s paid for. Most of the staff will be starting on Monday. Still two loose strings though...”
“Which are?” Johann enquired.
“Well, we still need a chairman and a Hospital Administrator”
“Oh, Tertia, this again! Can’t you see? I’m the chairman. That’s the reason I’m getting healthy. You’re the hospital administrator okay?”
“Johann, I can’t do that, I have my own business to run as well, or have you forgotten? Besides every time I ask you this question, I get a different answer!
“Tertia, there will be people to assist you. I’ve been talking to some ex-colleagues. I have a lady starting on Monday who was a hospital administrator in the U.K. She knows her stuff. How to do it and the only reason I’m naming you as Hospital Administrator and not her, at this stage, is that once you have familiarized her with the costing structure and conditions on patient in-take, then you can decide for yourself where you want to work on a daily basis. Personally, I think you would derive quite a lot of satisfaction out of working with the sick. You have that gentle, loving, nature about you.” Johann finished sarcastically.
“Consider yourself lucky that you’re an invalid Johann, if you weren’t I would have just made you one” Tertia looked at him sitting in his chair. “How are you feeling Johann? Are you better than you were?”
“I am feeling surprisingly well, darling! I’ll let you in on a little secret. For the past two days, I have been able to see through my left eye. Not properly!” He said sensing Tertia’s excitement. “It’s very hazy and I have difficulty focusing, but when I try really hard, I can make out shapes, colours, see people coming in, things like that. So, Yes! I’m feeling a bit more positive about things right now.”
“Oh that’s wonderful! So we’ll be able to take you to see the clinic soon? When will they let you out of here do you think?”
“I’m not sure, Tertia. It’s not just my eyesight that’s the problem; there are other issues they have to fix up first. They can’t seem to get my T-cells back up and are trying various different cocktails. Until they come up with something that stabilizes me – I think I’m stuck here for a bit. But I’m sure they’ll let me go out for a visit”
“Johann, lets move you there, please? I’d feel much better knowing you were in proper care”
“I am in proper care, Tertia. These people have looked after me from the start of this thing. Moving now might not be an option. Let’s just see what happens.”
Tertia had left. The light was fading. Johann was looking forward to supper when Elizabeth surprised him with a late visit.
“Hi, Johann. Just thought I’d nip in to let you know that Elize has phoned and an appointment has been made. I’m seeing your parents and Elize at nine ‘o clock in the morning. I’ll probably spend about two hours with them. Afterwards I’m going to suggest they visit you. Do you think you’ll be up for it?” Johann let out a heavy sigh.
“I suppose I can make myself ready for it, now that you’ve let me know. Really, thanks. I appreciate what you’ve done for me here. I hope they don’t give you too much of a hard time.” He managed a weak smile and dropped his head back against the pillows.
“You’ll feel better once it’s out the way. I promise you. Get a good night’s rest. I’ll see you tomorrow ok?”
“Ja. Thanks” Johan murmured as she left.
Johann was awakened early by Tertia. Struggling to fight off the fog of sleep, he grumbled as he lifted himself up. Tertia plumped up his pillows and apologized for her early visit.
“I have some time this morning and none this afternoon, so I thought I’d stop by now and let you know that we’re moving Tasmin into your clinic tomorrow. We’ve sent out a radio appeal asking people to visit the clinic and have a bone marrow test done, free of charge by the way, in order to find Tasmin a match. Hopefully, a match will be found quickly, I believe she’s not doing so well at the moment?”
“No, she isn’t. I’ll pop over and visit her this afternoon. You haven’t told her I own the clinic have you?”
“No. We’ve said nothing to her or her parents. I was hoping you would tackle all of this today, hence the early wake up call”
“No problem. It will give me something else to do while I’m waiting for Elizabeth to break the good news on my excellent health status to my parents and sister.”
“That’s happening this morning?” Tertia ignored his sarcasm.
“Ja, no big deal. I’m just dreading my parent’s reaction to this. That generation’s understanding of HIV/AIDS is equivalent to our understanding of people having died from ‘consumption’ whatever that was. Actually, what time is it now?” He found himself suddenly nervous.
“It’s er, eight-thirty. What time are they arriving here?”
“Nine. Listen, what time do you have to be back at the office?”
“Latest eleven. Why? Need me to hold your hand?” Johann heard the humorous lilt in her voice and grinned.
“Actually, I would like you to stay. I want you to meet them. Do you mind?”
“Jeez, Johann, I can’t say these are the best circumstances, but if you want me here, I’ll stay.”
“Good. I’d like them to meet my fiancé” Johann cringed inside as he said this.
“My word. Johann! What romance! I could never have fantasized over a more perfect proposal of marriage, and I must say, what a catch you are!”
“Ok, I’m sorry. I should have told you what was on my mind first. Thanks for the compliment by the way. I do realize I’m an excellent catch. Let me guess. You are aware of my strong physique, my current powers of observation, and let’s not forget, I have an extremely high and active libido. Oh yes, I drive the women round here crazy, let me tell you!”
“Ja, I can just imagine!” Tertia said, laughing.
“Seriously. Tertia. I didn’t want to shock you. I’ve been thinking in terms of a business arrangement y’know?”
“Oh God. Stop! I can’t handle the compliments Johann.”
“You misunderstand me. Sorry. That doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings for you…”
“Well there’s a bonus! Now, how can I refuse?”
“Stop it now! Please! I’m tying myself in knots here aren’t I?”
“Tertia. I don’t know how to thank you for standing by me through this last couple of years. I realise that you are a healthy woman with vibrant hopes and dreams for your future. I know you will one day meet a man who will be everything I’m not and go on to have a wonderful happy life. However, I don’t have too much longer to go, I’m sure. The best way I can say thank you to you as well as secure all our hard work, would be for you and I to marry. You will inherit everything I have including, of course, the clinic. That way, I can rest in peace knowing that the clinic will still exist long after I am gone. What do you say Tertia?” Silence infused the air.
“Tertia?” Johann asked carefully. Still nothing.
“Tertia, I understand it’s probably not your ideal arrangement. You can say no if you want?” More silence.
“Well, I suppose that will have to be my answer then hey?” Johann sighed. The silence was broken by a loud, wet, sob, followed by a low moaning sound. Johann leaned forward. His brow creased as he fumbled across the bed feeling for Tertia’s hands.
“Y’know, Johann, If only…” Another teary outburst, more wet sobs.
“Oh Great!” Thought Johann. “I’ve forgotten a woman’s sensitivity and now I’ve offended her. She doesn’t know how to say No” Tertia composed herself, loudly blowing her nose on a tissue.
“Johann, you have no idea...” She sniffed. “How I’ve blocked out the fantasy of you and I one day being together. But HIV is such a strong, dangerous reminder that it should never happen. I’ve become accustomed to ignoring my feelings for you. Now you ask me to rekindle these emotions and agree to marry you, with losing you completely, to look forward to?” She sniffed again. This time Johann found her hand. He squeezed it gently.
“The first time I saw you, I fancied you! I’ve shared your fantasy of being together, Tertia. I’m sorry if I’m causing you pain. I’m asking you for a lot. Can you do this? Will you do this? Should I get down on one knee?” Tertia gave a small chuckle and blew her nose again.
“I can see the benefits to this mad scheme of yours. I, er, I’ll accept your proposal.”
“Atta’ girl!” Johann beamed. “Thank you. I owe you everything, and you will in fact, receive it.” He chuckled.
“I’d rather trade it all in for your health.”
“Can’t undo what’s already done. Sorry.” Johann patted her hand smiling.
“Now then Tertia, first task is for you to amend my will, making you my beneficiary. Then you can choose a wedding date that fits in with your calendar.”
While Johann and Tertia made wedding plans. Elizabeth had led Mr. and Mrs. Pienaar along with Johann’s sister Elize, into Doctor Kolling’s office. When everybody was seated and introduced. Elizabeth took stock of each of the Pienaar’s in turn starting with Mr. Pienaar. He was a tall, robust, distinguished looking man with a wiry build. Defined muscles indicated the strength still resident in his body. His hair was mostly gray with a smattering of black at the temples running to the nape of his neck. His weathered face housed wizened eyes the colour of a good brandy. Concern and pride were reflected in those eyes as he glanced at his wife beside him. In direct contrast to her husband, Mrs. Pienaar was a petite woman. The beauty of her younger years was still apparent. It was obvious she took care of her body, still firmly shaped. Hair the colour of honey clipped up onto the back of her head, leaving wispy trails framing her small features. Soft blue eyes, containing fear and confusion looked out at Elizabeth. Elize was a rounder, sturdier version of her mother. She had inherited her father’s eyes. She sat arms folded, exuding an underlying anger and bitterness. Elizabeth took a deep breath.
“Can I organize coffee or tea, anything?” She offered.
“Nothing. Right now, I’d prefer to get this out the way so we can see our son.” Mr. Pienaar shuffled uncomfortably in his seat. His wife grabbed at his hand and held on to it tightly.
“Sorry.” She said softly. “Jan is a bit uptight. We all are, actually. Please. Call me Hettie. Let’s begin?” Elizabeth relaxed and launched in to an involved explanation of HIV and it’s progression into AIDS.
“Are you trying to tell me my son’s gay?” Jan interrupted, ignoring the lengthy medical explanation.
“Good grief, No! Not at all.” Elizabeth looked at him quizzically then entered into a detailed explanation on the contraction of HIV and its total disregard for sexuality.
“So, overall. You’re saying that Johann could live a normal healthy life?” Hettie asked hopefully.
“On close monitoring of the virus, a proper eating plan, regular testing along with the relevant precautions, there would be no reason to suggest otherwise. However, Johann has shown a complete disregard of these guidelines, choosing instead to deal with HIV in his own way. Unfortunately, I think he’s resigned himself to the fact that the virus will outwit him and is instead, planning for his death, as opposed to his future. Consequently HIV has advanced at quite a rapid rate through his system. This condition is irreversible. This brings me to his current state of health. I have to tell you a couple of weeks ago he was brought in here blind.” Elizabeth saw the shock register in each of their expressions. “Doctor Kolling diagnosed the condition as temporary.” Elizabeth continued. “And Johann has, in fact, regained partial sight in his left eye. We expect this to improve with time. It does seem though, at this stage, that he may not retrieve the sight in his right eye. He is currently on antiretrovirals and a cocktail of various other drugs which have helped tremendously with his health. Doctor Kolling’s report this morning suggested that Johann could be released within the next week. He therefore has a good prognosis at this point in time. Do you have any questions?” Elizabeth concluded.
Elizabeth spent a further half hour with Johann’s family. Reassuring them and answering sporadic questions. When these dried up, Elizabeth stood and offered to take them through to Johann. As they all rose, she remembered how Johann’s father had walked in tall and proud. He was now leaving her with the impression of a somewhat smaller, broken, old man.
The small party followed Elizabeth down the passage. Elizabeth cocked her ear and grinned hearing the distinctive sound of Johann’s deep belly laugh, floating down the passage. She showed his family into the ward, indicating several chairs scattered around Johann’s bedside.
“Good morning, Johann.” Elizabeth said brightly.
“Your family’s here to see you.” Johann pushed himself further up in his bed and concentrated on focusing through his left eye in the direction of the doorway.
“Hi, Ma, Pa, Elize? Grab a seat! Perfect timing. This attractive lady you see here, is Tertia, she is my right arm and as of a couple of hours ago, my fiancé!” Tertia knew a fleeting moment of panic as she stood and shook hands with Mr. Pienaar, then Mrs. Pienaar and finally Elize. Murmuring “Nice to meet you.” She turned to Johann, picking up her briefcase from the floor.
“I really do have to go. So sorry to appear rude. Johann has kept me here all morning. I’m running so late….” She trailed off, realising she was babbling. Colour stained her cheeks. Nervous discomfort prickled her skin.
“It was nice to have met you. I’m sure we’ll meet again.” She smiled. Bending over, she dropped a kiss on Johann’s unprepared lips and marched out of the ward. Elizabeth too, mumbled apologies and a hurried “See you later” to Johann and left.
“Pa. Are you holding a gun or something? You’re chasing all the talent away.” Jan walked around the bed and occupied Tertia’s recently vacated seat. Great wracking sobs broke out from Hettie, who had tried, in vain, to control her emotions at the sight of her emaciated son.
“Hettie. Asseblief, dis genoeg.” Jan addressed his wife sternly.
“Ma, Please. Don’t worry. I’m better than I look. I’ve just got engaged and I’m quite happy and content with the way my life is going. I know I appear selfish, not thinking of your feelings in all this. But I promise I’m still going to make you proud of me. Just wait and see.” Johann beamed out at them, hoping he could make them believe he was as happy as he sounded.
“Apparently, they’re going to look at releasing you from this place,” Jan said looking around, wrinkling his nose.
“Sometime next week, we will collect you. Then you will come home with us. We’ll make sure you recover from this Johann. Your mother will look after you properly.”
“Pa. That’s not what’s going to happen...”
“Don’t argue with me. That is what is happening Johann. I’ve just spent an hour listening to a woman try to tell me that my son is going to die. Wat se Kak is daai? I won’t have it!”
“Pa! Listen to me. I have a say in the way I live my life! Elizabeth has explained to you that I have contracted HIV. Everything she’s told you is correct. I have my own plans about the way my life will end. There is nothing you can do to change my mind or make the HIV go away.
Sorry Pa. You will have to let the information you have learned sink in and accept it. Until then I don’t want you here upsetting everybody including me!” Johann’s temper was up. He regretted the words almost as they were uttered. His mother started a fresh round of sobbing.
“Tell us your plans Johann. What’s going on?” Elize said, breaking the tension.
“With pleasure” Johann settled back and began his explanation. He told them about the clinic he’d built, how it was funded by himself. He told of the shareholders, the subsidizing and the paperwork that Tertia had waded through to ensure its ongoing privatization. It’s ultimate assistance of HIV/AIDS sufferers and children suffering with cancer.
“It’s almost like I contracted this virus for a purpose. A purpose that became clear to me after my first few visits here. Do you understand?”
“It sounds to me like you have put a lot of effort into this project” Jan said distractedly. Jan then leant forward and put his head in his hands. Elize stared at her father’s obvious anguish.
“From what I understood of Elizabeth’s explanation, if you had put as much effort into getting well, as you have into this clinic, we wouldn’t be here right now.” Hettie stood up. Pushing her chair back against the wall.
“Jan? Elize? kom ons moet ry.” She said this softly. Taking two steps to Johann’s bedside, she bent down. For a second, Johann could clearly make out the soft features of his mother’s face. She kissed his brow, ran her hand gently through his hair. Comforting him as she had so many times when he was a child.
“Ek’s lief vir jou, my kind” Jan stood and grabbed Johann’s hand. He squeezed gently.
“Laat ons weet as jy uitkom hoor?” His voice was throaty. He suddenly sounded tired. Elize dropped a cursory kiss on his cheek.
“Sien jou later.”
“Give my love to everyone please? See you all soon ok?” Johann called after them. He couldn’t see them nod back at him. He was left in silence.
All In A Day’s Work
Johann lay back feeling, strangely, like a child caught stealing. “Guilty” He thought. The situation with his family could have been handled better. He sensed their disappointment at him not wanting to fight for his life. They would not appreciate that he would rather fight for the lives of others. But then, why had he thought they would have condoned that anyway? He was part of them and he was throwing that in their faces. Depression tickled the outer layers of his mind. He decided to lift his mood by thinking of his impending wedding instead. This thought barely had chance to blossom when a commotion outside the ward distracted him. He recognized Rosie’s voice.
“Hey, Wena! Stop. You can’t just walk in there.”
“Do not tell me what I can or can’t do. It seems the policy round here dictates anyone can do what they like!” The angry female voice made its way toward Johann’s bedside.
“Just who do you think you are? How dare you arrange to have my daughter moved without mine or my husband’s consent? I demand to know what you think you are doing?”
“Please Mrs Adamjee” Rosie implored from the doorway.
“It’s ok Rosie. Thanks. You can leave us alone. Mrs Adamjee is it? I am so pleased to finally meet you. My name is Johann Pienaar and...”
“I know your name. My daughter has mentioned how much time you spend together, which is exactly why I’m here worried sick about what your intentions are.”
“Please, take a seat. There is no need to be angry. Let me explain. I am sorry I didn’t contact you earlier, I meant to. It’s just been such a busy morning so far.” Johann ran his fingers through his already wayward hair. After ten minutes of explaining his position, Johann, for the second time that day, waited earnestly for a response.
“Why do you want to do this for Tasmin?”
“Because I can!” was Johann’s irritated response.
“You want us to be indebted to you for Tasmin’s life? What do you really want?”
“Good God woman! Would you rather have Tasmin die over a matter of useless pride?”
“Isn’t that what you are doing to yourself?” She snapped in response. Johann had to think for just a moment.
“This is different. I have had a good life. I contracted HIV through my own stupidity. I would at least like to see Tasmin have the opportunity to experience her own mistakes, of which I’m sure there will be few, if her mother is anything to go by.” Johann sighed heavily. He leant against the pillows, which, he thought abstractedly, needed to be plumped again. Mrs. Adamjee began a low chuckle. By the time Johann registered this, it had turned into weeping. “Will every woman who visits my bedside today, laugh and burst into tears!” Johann felt his frustration rising.
“Look, I’m sorry; I’m having a day straight from hell here. Help me out; er… tell me your name?” Johann asked gently.
“Roshanda. I’m sorry.” She sniffed, trying to regain composure.
“I – I can’t believe you would do this for us and not gain anything by it. We want so much, for her to come home a healthy, happy little girl. The length of time she’s been here, we were beginning to doubt that this dream would ever come true. Dr. Kolling himself has explained that her chances of living would depend entirely on time. How long it would take to find a matching donor.”
“Look,” Johann interrupted. “I can’t promise anything either. What I can do is promise you that whatever amount of money it takes to find the matching donor, will be paid in order to save her life as quickly as possible. I would, therefore, appreciate your permission to move her to my clinic, where the process can at least begin. I’ve discussed all of this with Doctor Kolling. Now do you really think he would agree to all this if it didn’t mean Tasmin would stand a better chance? By the way, you are more than welcome to stay at the hospital with her for as long as this takes. What do you say?”
“Thank you, is what I should have said when I first walked in. Rosie did try and explain. I was just so furious that someone else other than her parents would have the audacity to make such a decision for Tasmin. I will stay at your clinic with Tasmin, when I can. Thank you once again.” She stood up to leave. “If you don’t mind me saying, you look awfully tired. I would have liked my husband to meet you today, but tomorrow will do. Would you mind?”
“No, not at all. I look forward to it. For now though, please just sign the release forms that Rosie needs in order to let Tasmin leave. You can even take her to my clinic yourselves if you like? Please just one thing I ask. Don’t let Tasmin know it’s my clinic. At this rate I may see her there myself.”
“No – No, I won’t do that and yes, we would like very much to take her there ourselves. Once again. Thank you. See you tomorrow.”
“Cheers” Johann replied drowsily.
Johann arranged his flat pillows flatter. Shuffled down into the bed and lay on his side to sleep. Drifting ever so lightly into a slumber he was suddenly jolted awake again.
“Mr. Pienaar. You must take a walk, you didn’t see Tasmin today. You have done nothing all day except lay here. This being lazy, is no good. Come on, let me help you up.” Rosie chattered at him.
“Rosie. Go away! From laying in bed today I have managed to get myself engaged. Told my family I’m going to die and calmed a furious woman whose child’s life, I am trying to save! Let me sleep a bit please!”
“How! I didn’t know these things. Shall I wake you later?”
“I’ll wake up when I bloody well wake up ok!” Johann yelled, knowing he would have to apologize for it later. Rosie exited with an angry “Aish!”
He found himself in a brightly lit, white room. The room was completely empty except for a brand new rag doll. Its black hair styled into pigtails which tapered into large red, sewed on bows. He was sitting cross-legged on the floor, staring at the prostrate doll. Absently wiping at drool, which it seemed, he could no longer contain in his mouth. From somewhere the strains of Annie Lennox’s ‘Little Bird’ could be heard. He continued to stare at the doll. His mind was content. He felt himself childishly happy and wondered if the drool dripped due to the continually gaping grin he felt on his face.
“I look up to the little Bir-ir-id, that
glides, across the sky.
He sings the clearest melody; It makes
me want to cry-y-y.
It makes me want to sit right down and
cry, cry cry” -
The door opened and Tertia walked in wearing a doctor’s coat. There was no greeting. No friendly smile. She stood looking down on him. Shaking her head, she asked, “Still haven’t managed to pick up the doll yet? She will die you know? You have to pick her up soon. You’re responsible for her, remember?”
- “I walk along the city streets, so
dark with rage and fear,
And I…I wish that I could be that bird
and fly away from here
I wish I had the wings to fly away
from here” -
Tertia knelt in front of him. He looked up at her. From somewhere, she took a tissue and dabbed at the drool still freely flowing from his mouth. “What are you going to do with her?” Her face had clouded, she was yelling into his vacant stare.
- “But my,my I feel so low, My, my,
where do I go?
My, my, what do I know? My, my, we
reap what we sow.
They always said that you knew best,
but this little bird’s fallen
out of that nest now.” -
He picked up the doll. Taking in the stupid detail of its face, the painted fake smile and the bright button eyes. He looked at Tertia. A smile was slowly spreading through her features. “Well done!” She rested a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “I don’t want it!” He suddenly screamed, throwing the doll across the room. “It’s not my responsibility!”
- “For I am just a troubled soul,
Weighted to the ground. Give me the
strength to carry on.
‘till I can lay this burden down.
Give me the strength to lay
this burden down, down, down, yea”-
Tertia stood up. She walked to pick up the doll. Johann stood too. A feeling of relief washing over him, comforting him, making it curiously, easier to breath. Tertia walked back to him. She slapped him, hard, across the face. Then, Tertia was gone. In her place, stood Roshanda Adamjee.
“How could you throw her away like that?!” She was yelling at him. Tears, streaming down her face. Her eyes blazed with anger as she raised her hand to slap, again, again, again…….”
Tick – Tock
“Mr. Pienaar! Please wake up now.” Rosie was shaking him awake. “I’m so sorry, but you have to take your tablets. Sit up now.” Johann woke feeling panicky, clammy, confused and un-rested. He took his tablets, wide-eyed, trying to piece together the broken fragments of his dream.
“Thanks Rosie. Tell me, how is Tasmin?”
“I think you must get out of this bed and go and see for yourself!” Rosie stood hands on hips, foot tapping.
“You want me to help you up?”
“Ok. Ja, I’d like to speak to her” Johann threw his legs over the side of the bed. The return of partial sight to his left eye had helped tremendously in assisting him with moving around. He noted with shock, however, the muscle wastage in his legs, giving the appearance of chicken legs. He wondered at the vision of himself and realised he hadn’t seen himself in a mirror for over a month. He chuckled to himself at the ‘catch’ Tertia had landed herself, then stood wobbling on unsteady legs for a moment before Rosie, clamped a strong hand under his arm and slowly lead him along the corridor to Tasmin.
Johann arrived in Tasmin’s ward to a hustle of activity. Rosie deposited him in front of a chair then rushed off abruptly. Roshanda was packing clothes and personal items from the small bedside cupboard into a small valise. Roshanda turned at Johann’s entrance and spoke quickly to her husband before greeting Johann.
“Hello Mr. Pienaar.” She smiled as she rose. Johann was reminded once again of her elegant good looks and remarkable height.
“This is my husband.” She motioned to her side. An equally tall man stepped forward with a broad smile, showing brilliant white teeth. He was, Johann supposed, a handsome man. A shock of thick black hair, neatly trimmed, with grey flashes at the temples. Large clear, intelligent eyes, brimming with merriment looked out at Johann. He extended his hand to Johann.
“Ashtar!” He introduced himself. Johann resisted the urge to say “Bless You!” He gripped Ashtar’s hand, recognising a firm, strong handshake.
“Johann Pienaar. Please, call me Johann.” Ashtar nodded, still grinning at Johann.
“My wife has told me all that you have done for Tasmin. We are indebted to you; I can not express my gratitude to you.”
“Well, let’s hang on a bit yet. I’ve promised to do all I can for Tasmin to help her recover, however the success will ultimately be determined by a matching donor. I hope one is found soon. Speaking of Tasmin, where is she?”
“Oh,” Roshanda stepped forward. “She’s with Doctor Kolling, he’s taking her final blood tests before she can be released. We’ve decided to take her out tonight, you know? Somewhere like a nice restaurant or steakhouse. It’s been such a long time since she was outside this place. Then we’ll admit her into your clinic in the morning.”
“I see.” Johann said. He felt the energy seeping from his body. Not used to being up and about anymore, his body was objecting to standing for such a long period.
“I was hoping to see her before she left.” Johann heard the disappointment in his own voice and held on to the back of a chair, looking for support.
“Why don’t you go back to your bed? We will bring Tasmin to see you before we leave here.” Ashtar suggested. Johann looked up at him thankfully.
“Let me help you.” Roshanda took Johann’s arm and guided him back to his ward.
“Thank you.” Johann sighed as he sat on his bed. “Listen,” He said, grabbing Roshanda’s arm before she could leave.
“I’m going to take a nice long bath. I will probably be about half an hour. Please don’t leave without me saying goodbye to Tasmin?”
“No, of course not. Don’t worry. She wants to see you too.”
Johann shuffled his way to the communal bathroom, praying, as he did so, that he would find it unoccupied. God was listening today. He undressed as he waited for the bath to fill. Standing right up close to the mirror, he examined his reflection as best he could. His once, brown, close cropped hair, had lengthened. Apparently, bored with brown, it was now pure white. He noticed, with growing depression, that he could see his pink scalp through the thinness of his hair. Standing in front of him, was a balding, white haired, wrinkled, skinny image of his former self. He stood closer still. Examining his blind eye, he noticed it had gone a thick, bluey colour which reminded him of cataracts. A direct contrast to his other eye, which still held the blue / green colour, but, consistent with the blind eye, had a thickish appearance. Or was that just his partial sight? Laying back in the hot bath he thought of his parents. What a shock they must have had seeing him. A part of him registered relief at being more or less blind. The expression of shock that must have registered in his father’s face, was, he imagined, not something he would like to take to the grave with him.
As Johann lay soaking in the bath, a sense of peace washed over him. He remembered earlier days, enduring constant panic and terror at what would happen to him. Worrying over his inevitable medical decline and the mountains of paperwork he’d had to complete to ensure an operational clinic in his name. The fear of admitting his status to his family and their subsequent reactions had knocked constantly at his mind. He understood a lot of “what if’s” had been answered. Perhaps his mind was preparing his body to die? He looked at his body floating in the bath. He saw his shrunken member tickling the water’s surface.
“Oh, if only I’d been more careful, worn a condom! I could still be living my life right now. Damn it! I had a good life! I enjoyed my life. I want it back!”
“Too late now” A voice from deep inside his head answered his unspoken thoughts.
“You had ample opportunity to live life sensibly with HIV. You were shown the way, but you had to be stubborn and develop hair-brained schemes to save the world, but not yourself. And now you regret it.”
“No! I don’t regret it. I’m happy with my choice. At least I haven’t withered away to nothing feeling sorry for myself. I have achieved something! I will be remembered to those that matter to me and hopefully more. I’m only sorry I did this to my own body. That I blasphemed God by allowing HIV to taint the vessel he sent me here in. But perhaps, this was his purpose after all? I’ll find out soon enough. I can feel it, eating me alive, depleting my energy bit by bit every day”
A knock on the door, brought Johann out from his reverie.
“Mr. Pienaar?” Called Rosie’s shrill voice.
“Tasmin and her family, they are going to leave now. You want to say goodbye?”
“Ja, Rosie, I said I’d be half an hour.”
“Yes, well, you’ve been in there for an hour now!” Johann stood quickly, creating small tidal waves of water that spilled over the edge of the bath and sloshed onto the bathroom floor. He was frightened by the speed at which his time was being eaten.
“Give me two minutes.”
Tasmin was bright eyed with excitement. The prospects of being released from this particular clinic, a night out with her family and being admitted into a new clinic, that may find a cure, were brimming out of her. She chattered away to Johann about the new clinic. Squinting, his sight allowed him to see that her hair had grown out a centimeter or two. He had been right, she did suit being bald. She reminded him of a doll his sister had had as a child. He also noticed the same muscle wastage in Tasmin, which he had recognized in himself earlier. A familiar pang of sympathy for one so young to experience in some way, the things he himself was going through, washed over him.
“See, I told you, you will get better Tasmin. See how it helps to think positively?”
“Ja! I know. Can you believe it? Doctor Kolling said in a year from now, I won’t even remember being here ‘cos I’ll be too busy with school and stuff y’know?” Tasmin replied with some importance.
“And he’s a Doctor, so he should know.” Johann grinned.
“Do you think they’ll let you come to this other clinic as well? They can fix you too y’know? Rosie says this other clinic can fix anyone.”
“Oh, does she now? I don’t know if they can help me Tasmin, but I tell you what, I’ll be positive, like you were, and maybe they will take me there.”
“I’ll say a prayer every night! Mum and Dad are waiting for me in Doctor Kolling’s office. I should go now. I’ll see you soon won’t I?” Tasmin jumped off the chair and planted a kiss on his cheek. Johann taken aback, found himself unable to answer. Instead he nodded as he saw her shape go running happily through the door.
Johann slept well that night. By the time Tasmin had left, he was exhausted. He couldn’t remember the last time he had felt so emotionally and physically drained. In the morning, he was relieved to find himself feeling largely rejuvenated. Rosie arrived with his breakfast. He was fascinated at her continual routine; putting his breakfast tray on the table trolley, sliding it over his bed, asking him to sit up while she wound the head of the bed up and plumped his pillows. Full of her usual banal chatter before she trotted off and did the same thing for all the other patients in the same ward. When Rosie collected his tray he told her how this routine made him feel.
“Rosie, y’know, if I had my life over again, I think one of the things I would avoid most in life, would be anything to do with routine. Don’t you realise how precious each moment in life is? How you never get that moment back again, no matter what you do? Why do we succumb to society’s dictation of our daily lives?
“Because, Mr. Pienaar. We all need money to enjoy the few hours that belong to us. To get this money, we have to perform a job, the same job, everyday, every week. This time we spend earning money is not ours, it is our boss’s time, and it makes it easier to spend when we are doing the same thing. This routine, as you call it, helps us not to think of how we are wasting our lives.”
“Well I just think that’s tragic! Is that really how you feel”
“Mr. Pienaar, we all need to get money. Some of us are lucky to have a job that we like to do. I think I am one of those people, but that doesn’t stop me wishing I had more money, that way I would have more of my own time. Surely, you must know this feeling? If you had made money in your life, Mr. Pienaar, you wouldn’t be laying here now would you?” Rosie smiled as she left the ward.
Johann picked at his breakfast. He was conscious of the fact that he hadn’t had much of an appetite the last couple of days. Rosie took his tray with a frown and a raised eyebrow.
“Elizabeth is here. I’ll send her through.” Rosie left, eating his leftover slice of toast.
“Morning Johann, how are you feeling?”
“Ah, that would be with my hands” Johann smiled wickedly, taking in her blurry features for the first time. She was young, although not as young as her voice had hinted. A figure that looked worth running his hands up and down and blonde hair that spilled about her shoulders with the sides taken up in a top knot.
“Oh, ha, ha, well, I have something for you that may allow you to see the world, and yourself, a little clearer. Here, try these on.” Elizabeth handed Johann a pair of glasses and a copy of the day’s Newspaper. Although he couldn’t clearly see them, he felt the thickness of the glass and slipped them over his ears.
“It’s heavily magnified glass, along with the prescription that your left eye currently has. I’m hoping you will be able to see a bit better, or at least read with them?” Johann blinked several times; his eye adjusting to the assistance it had been given. He pulled the newspaper towards him. A slow smile spread across his face.
“Ja, I can read the headlines. The smaller print is a bit of a strain, but I can battle with that. Thank you, Elizabeth. You have truly made my day. I’m going to spend it reading the newspaper. Good God! I’m excited about reading the newspaper, how tragic is that?”
“I’m happy that you’ve started appreciating the more trivial things in life. A couple of weeks ago you didn’t. Now then, Doctor Kolling and I have been having a little chat about you.”
“Oh, great, and what have the two of you conspired to do with me?”
“Well, we would like to discharge you. Johann, you must understand at this point that your health is as good as it’s going to get. Your “suppressor T” cells have stopped your B cells from doing their work, namely, the manufacturing of antibodies. You are beginning to show the symptoms of AIDS. At this stage all you can do is try and eat properly. Stay away from people with colds and flu’s, drink lots of water and take your tablets religiously. You will, at this stage, be prone to opportunistic infections and you can become ill from them.”
“Just tell me what I’ve got to look out for in the next few months. I don’t want to spend what little time I’ve got left, living in fear of what I might develop.”
“Well, once you enter the severe symptomatic phase, you may experience symptoms such as a persistent cough, chest pain and fever, ongoing diarrhea, headaches, fits and other neurological conditions, memory and concentration loss, cancer, spots on the skin and mucous membranes, enlarged liver or spleen, sores on the genitals and anus, etc. It’s not a pretty list Johann, but at the moment, you are as good as you are going to get.
For this reason, we weren’t sure discharging you was a good idea, but we agree. You should go and see your clinic, take some pride in what you’ve achieved. Go and marry Tertia, let her make you comfortable and who knows?”
“Die at home?” Johann finished.
“I won’t tell you that’s not going to happen Johann, maybe die in your own clinic?”
“I wanted you to be happy about being discharged. I’ve asked Tertia to fetch you at lunchtime today. She’s sent apologies, she’s tied up today, but Rudi will be here to collect you and take you home. You must surely, be looking forward to going home?” Johann stared at Elizabeth for a long time. Home. It was a different world from this place. He barely remembered what it felt like, but then, he wasn’t the same Johann who had lived there either.
“Yes, Elizabeth, Thank you. I’m looking forward to going home.”
“Good. I’ll be popping in from time to time, just to check you’re ok. But I’ll ring you first ok?”
“Ja. Thanks again.”
“Cheers for now, enjoy the newspaper.”
“Shhhh! He’s sleeping. Don’t wake him. He doesn’t know he’s bleeding.” Johann’s eyes flickered open. He couldn’t move. He lay on his back and squinted into the darkness. He saw no-one. He was surrounded by solid blackness. Closing his eyes again, he waited. A feeling of nervousness had overtaken him. He knew it was impossible for him to move but he couldn’t remember why.
“Has the bleeding stopped?” A voice whispered in the darkness. The cool, constant breeze enhanced the feel of sweat on his brow. He remembered there was nothing he could do about it. He felt he was in danger, but weren’t these people here to help him?
“Yes. It’s stopped. He can stay here until his turn comes.” Johann struggled to identify the voices, male? Female? He didn’t know.
“I’m not sleeping!” Johann suddenly yelled. “Who are you?!”
“Mr. Pienaar. Relax. We thought you were asleep. Are you feeling quite comfortable?
“No! I’m not! Why can’t I move?”
“Mr. Pienaar, you know you are paralyzed, you haven’t been able to move since you’ve been here.”
“How did I become paralyzed!? Why don’t I remember? Tell me!”
“You came here for help. This is where you wait your turn. Relax. You’ll be fine.” The voices faded away. Johann opened his eyes in frustration and anger. A pale moon shone above him in a dark, starless sky. He rolled his eyes to the left, fear spread through his body and mind like fast running water. He rolled his eyes to the right. Sobbing he stared back at the moon above. Here he lay, on the tarmac of a parking lot, placed squarely between the white lines. He saw his neighbours on both sides, blood oozing from eyes, nose, mouth and ears. Both neighbours had stared back at him. His own fear mirrored in their eyes. As he looked to his left again, taking in the bloated, fetid, diseased man in that bay, wondering how long he had been here. The man turned blood filled eyes on Johann and said in Rosie’s voice. “Don’t worry; they take good care of you here!”
Johann woke to the sound of his own whimpering. The usual heart palpitations and sweat streaked face actually filled him with relief. He held his head in his hands as he remembered not only this dream but the previous one. At least, in the first dream he was apparently floating above the parking lot, this dream had put him on it. Did this mean he was close to dying himself? One thing he did realize the dreams were telling him, he was trapped. He could do nothing about the process he was part of. The dream seemed to say that Government healthcare was akin to death. Strangely enough, it wasn’t himself he was worried about. He was concerned for all the other patients in here with him; on the parking lot, waiting for, either their turn to be treated or, to be run over by death.
Friday arrived. Johann had felt depression peeping around the corner at him these last two days. This morning, he bathed, dressed and perched himself on his bed waiting for Dr. Kolling to discharge him. He had a large agenda to get through this week and he hoped Tertia was going to be ready for him. Impatient, he got up and strolled downstairs to Rosie.
“Good morning Rosie! I’m being discharged today aren’t I?”
“Yes, Mr Johann. Dr. Kolling is running late though, so I don’t know what time you can go.”
“Damn! How long do you think he will be?”
“Well, if he hasn’t got to you by midday, then you are here for another night.”
“Oh Lord! Please no. Listen. I’m going to visit Tasmin for a while. If Doc. looks like he’s ready for me, please call me?”
“Yes, Mr. Johann. You men folk are all the same. You think I’m here to run up and down after you all day! Rosie do this, Rosie do that, Rosie help me here, Rosie tell me……!”
“Whoa!” Johann interrupted Rosie laughing. “If it means anything to you at all, I really appreciate the way you’ve taken care of me. Besides, we all know you love it! You’re a credit to nurses everywhere Rosie.
“Aish! Stop talking this nonsense! You making me embarrassed! Shoo, Shoo!” Rosie flapped her large hands at Johann. Dismissing him and laughing with obvious pride.
Johann was pleased to see Tasmin sitting up in bed. She was still attached to a drip and machine of sorts but Johann ignored these.
“Hey there Big Girl! How’s the new blood treating you? I expected to see you hopping around here like a cricket!”
“I want to, but they won’t let me yet.” She gave Johann a big grin.
“Well they’re letting me out today. I thought I’d come and tell you, just in case you came looking for me. I still have to come here twice a week, so you better practice your blackjack for Tuesday’s and Friday’s. I’ve got to go and earn some more money, so I can keep paying your winnings!”
“I hope there’s no gambling going on in this clinic. You know I’d have to report it!” Dr Kolling stated authoritatively from the doorway. Johann and Tasmin shook their heads sheepishly at him. Johann turned and winked at Tasmin.
“Are you ready to see me Doc?” Johann asked.
“Yes. Let’s go take a look at you. Maybe you could be home in an hour”
“Good Luck, Tasmin” Johann bent forward and dropped a kiss on Tasmin’s forehead. “I’ll see you soon.”
An Abandoned Life
“What do you want to look at this place for? It’s a dump!” Rudi asked Johann through the rearview mirror. Johann smiled.
“Ah! Introducing Rudi, the Doctor and more recently, the Estate Agent?”
“Come on? I mean, just look at this place?” Rudi waved his arms panoramically. Johann did just that and visualized the future.
“If it’s what I’m looking for, it won’t be a dump for long Rudi. I’m going to renovate it and turn it into a private hospital.
“You sold all your investments to build a hospital?”
“Now I know you’ve lost it!”
“Ja I know! Just drive, hey?”
Johann felt the tingles of anticipation and excitement in the pit of his stomach. He told himself not to be too positive. This was the third place he was looking at. The first two had been disastrous. Tertia had taken him to view them, he’d felt such elation at finally beginning his plan only to have his hopes dashed as soon as they’d pulled up to the sites. This one sounded like it had potential. It had started life as a Hostel back in the early 1980’s. The apartheid era had given birth to many such buildings. Home’s away from homes for black male labourers working daily in Johannesburg. Not being allowed in those days, to live in Johannesburg, Hostels had been built in the outlying townships. This one, in Alexandra, was apparently still in reasonably sound condition. Completely empty, bar the obvious squatters. Johann was one of the few people interested in purchasing the land. He was in competition with a few property developers that had an eye to turn the hostel in to a Town House complex. If the place suited Johann, he would beat them all to it and pay cash immediately.
Rudi pulled up in front of the dilapidated building. Johann felt a cold hand clench his heart and squeeze. It’s the building in my dream!
“Do you wanna take a walk around?” Rudi asked, turning to look at Johann.
“Ja…. Ja, let’s do that.” Johann replied somewhat vaguely.
Standing in front of the building, Johann looked up. There were two floors. “A third will have to be built.” he thought. Hopefully, the structural walls could take another floor. Otherwise it was perfect, essentially a square building, nothing fancy. He estimated approximately forty rooms a floor, as it stood at the moment. Once renovations had taken place, it could be more. The area surrounding the building was perfect. At the moment it was in the middle of a ‘veld’, a vast stretch of open, unkempt field. He could see the ground would have to be cleared. Rubble, broken beer bottles, plastic carrier bags and mounds of broken furniture, littered the veld. Once this had been done, he could turn the soil and plant lush gardens around the building. This would certainly improve the dismal view. Walking closer to the entrance about a hundred meters in front of him, amongst the weeds underfoot he was surprised to feel asphalt. He stopped and turned to Rudi.
“Can you work out where this asphalt starts and finishes? Mark the boundaries for me?”
“Sure!” Rudi said and set off back towards the car.
Johann continued on to the entrance of the building. Just before entering, remembering his dream. His eyes climbed the tall, ominously dark building, coming to rest at rooftop. There was nothing there.
“A sign could certainly be put on the roof.” He thought smiling to himself. Walking through the entrance into a dim, broken down reception area, the stench of stale urine and beer assaulted his nasal passages with a burn akin to ammonia. Johann took a tissue from his pocket and covered his nose as best he could. He kicked away broken chairs and empty picture frames revealing a badly damaged slate floor. Broken pieces of slate lay scattered everywhere. A passage ran to the left and right of the reception area. He took the left first. Walking along the passage, mice, rats and other pests scuttled under doors. The gloom at the bottom of the passage deterred Johann from walking further. He tried the handle on the first door he came to, it opened. Remnants of a poverty stricken life were there to be seen. A black and white photo of a family hung crooked in a tatty, red, plastic frame on the far wall. Johann walked across to take a closer look. An old African man smoking a pipe was seated on a three legged stool. Next to him, an African lady beamed showing a grand total of two yellow teeth, one at the bottom and one at the top. A row of three children knelt in front, two larger, grinning young girls, around seven or eight and a girl of about three or four, stood in the middle wearing an eternal sulky expression as she clung to a rag doll. Johann took in the rest of the room, trying to imagine which one of the people in the photograph must have lived here. There was a sodden single mattress in one corner of the room, its stuffing oozing out of split sides. Sheets of what looked like music were scattered across the mattress. An old bedside table with a broken leg and a split top leaned on one side next to the mattress. In the far corner, covered with cobwebs, was an ancient, dry, cracked guitar. Johann looked at the guitar, his imagination hearing the echo of a forever lost talent, left a great well of sadness in his heart. In the middle of the slate floor, a square foil container held the dregs of many melted down candles. Johann looked up at the ceiling and saw bare wires sprouting from a hole. The other side of the room revealed a cracked porcelain sink. No longer affixed to the wall, it was balanced on the floor. On the wall where the sink should have been, there was a half moon sliver of mirror. The acrid smell of urine was unbelievably overpowering. Johann turned towards the door to leave. Hung on the back of the door was a grey duffel bag. He saw a yellowed corner sticking out the top and pulled it out. It was an envelope addressed to a Mr. P. Matebane. Johann held the envelope firmly, looking again from the photograph hanging on the wall to the sorry looking guitar. He slotted a finger into the back of the envelope and opened it. The letter was dated 20th February 1986. It was from a Municipal office in Johannesburg informing Mr. P. Matebane I.D No. 260302 9639 071, that with regret, he was to vacate the hostel at the end of February 1986. Johann looked sympathetically at the old man in the photograph. Carefully, he returned the letter to the duffel bag and closed the door behind him.
Johann completed his walk around. Not wanting to open the door on any more ghosts and their stories, he checked the building from a structural point of view and was satisfied that this was the place he would buy. The bright sunshine attacked his eyes viciously when he returned outside. He stopped, fumbling for his sunglasses. Looking up, he saw Rudi had marked the section of asphalt in front of the building. Johann was pleasantly surprised at the size of it.
“Guess what!” Rudi called, seeing Johann.
“This asphalt goes all the way round the building. It’s even bigger at the back. Come and take a look!”
Johann followed Rudi who was marching off at an excited pace. On arrival Johann could clearly see the asphalt parking lot. The weeds had grown tall but had not taken over completely. He stepped backwards, looking up as he went, waiting for the top of the building to come into sight. “Yes! There it is!” He thought excitedly to himself. There was the huge sign on the top of the building. Now a faded Coca-Cola sign board. Johann knew this was the building he’d been shown in his dreams. This must be an Omen, good or bad, he didn’t care. Johann grinned and shouted across to Rudi.
“Phone the agent and tell them it’s sold. We’re on our way!”
A Family Issue
“Tertia. Please! Don’t give me problems. Give me solutions. I want someone out there as soon as possible. I have to get this project completed! Don’t you understand that I want to see it?”
“I Know!” Tertia spluttered. “But Johann, it’s been raining for three weeks. The building company can’t work in the rain! It doesn’t matter which building company it is! Just try and have a bit more patience, Johann, please?”
“Alright! Alright! How is everything else coming along? Have we got all the Trustees signatures?”
“We’ve got everything under control Johann. The only people we don’t have are a Chairman for the board, which once again, should be you, and a Hospital Administrator.”
“I’ve told you.” Johann growled. “I want you to be the chairman!”
“Stop yelling at me Johann! I am not a shareholder and cannot be the chairman”
“None of the board are shareholders at this point Tertia, they are all appointed by me and I want to appoint you as chairman. Why are you so stubborn on this?”
“Because! A Chairman has to be a shareholder, Johann!”
“Well in that case, I’ll give you shares. Just for God’s sake, get the ball rolling!”
“Are you ok? You seem awfully strung out Johann. You know you shouldn’t be under any stress, it’s not good for you. Why don’t you go away for a…”
“Tertia! You have more important things to be thinking about!” Johann interrupted rudely. “I’m fine. Talk to me tomorrow and tell me where you are.” Johann dropped the phone and put his hand to his head. The pounding there was getting worse. Three days now and no amount of tablets had alleviated the constant thumping rolling around inside his head. The phone rang again and thinking it was Tertia calling him back he snapped it up and rather curtly answered.
“Johann? It’s Elize. How are you?”
“Elize! Well! What a surprise! Er… I’m fighting a rather nasty headache at the moment, but otherwise ok thanks. How are you and the family?” Johann was caught off guard. Elize, his sister, very seldom rang unless it was to invite him to family occasions. Birthdays, Christmases, weddings and funerals, other than that, they rarely kept in touch. A quick mental calculation told him he hadn’t seen his parents or brothers and sisters for approximately ten months now. It was easy to keep them at bay. He had been a busy executive with plenty of excuses to put off visits. Ten months ago however, he had driven to Pretoria and informed them innocently of his decision to resign and move into real estate as an investor. They had questioned his timing but otherwise seemed perfectly happy with his decision to leave the ‘rat’ race. Now, he realized, it would be more difficult to see them. He was aware of his weight loss, around twelve kilograms, since they last saw him. His face had become drawn, pale and haggard. Occasionally he sported a lesion. These, he quickly covered with women’s foundation. A tip Tertia had convinced him he would use.
“What do you think?” Elize finished off. Johann’s thoughts had been drifting while Elize had been bringing him up to date with the family news. She had obviously asked his opinion on something.
“What was that Elize? I think there was a break in the line there for a moment.” Johann lied.
“Dad’s birthday?……On Sunday?….. We want to get together and pay for him and Mum to go to Umhlanga so Dad can go fishing. What do you think?”
“Oh...Oh! Ja! Of course! It’s a great idea. Yes!” Johann was floundering.
“Do, er, do you need me to be there on Sunday?”
“Well Johann!” Elize exclaimed. “Since it’s almost a year since you’ve deigned to come and visit, I would hope you would want to see us all. Don’t you want to?” There was a concerned lilt to her voice.
“Of course I do! I just don’t have my diary in front of me. Never mind, I will be there. What time should I arrive?
“Great! Around 11h00 ok?”
“Ja, sure! Thanks Elize”
“Oh and Johann?”
“You could bring a girlfriend if…”
“Thanks Elize. See you then.” Johann ended the conversation abruptly.
He flopped into his lazy-boy arm chair and wondered what he was going to do on Sunday when faced with the onslaught of questions as to his state of health. His head pounded away furiously. He gritted his teeth in anger, got up, strode over to the bar area and pulled out a bottle of Chivas. He grabbed a crystal tumbler and flopped back into his lazy-boy. Glancing around for the remote to his sound system, feeling blessed that it was, for once, within arms reach. He pressed power, a C.D whirred into place. The soothing strains of ‘Moby’ began. He turned it down a notch, although barely audible and began to drink.
Oblivion finally came. Johann had fallen asleep on his stretched out lazy-boy unaware of his resonant snoring.
Tasmin was running up and down the newly decorated passages. He called to her.
“Tasmin. You’ll get cold! Come here. Put your dressing gown on!” The frilly ends of her nightdress flapped cheekily at him as she went around the corner with no reply. He quickened his pace to follow her. As he rounded the corner into a passage way, bathed in blue lighting. He saw Tasmin quickly reaching the end of that passage. She turned and giggled. Pointing a finger at him, she disappeared around a corner into the next passage. He broke into a trot and rounded the bend. This passage was dark, dilapidated and windy. He slowed down. With no sight of Tasmin, he opened each door, calling her name and glancing in at the empty rooms. Paint was stripped off walls. Loose electrical wires buzzed. Panic rose in his chest.
“Tasmin!” He called. “Come back here please!” She appeared at the end of the passage standing in the doorway of a room. From a distance, the sound of a jack hammer started. A blue glow was shining out of the room, not quite filling the passage with its light, but bathing Tasmin in an eerie blue glow. The noise of the jack hammer grew louder as Johann reached her. He saw her mouth formed in a perfectly round ‘O’, a look of terror, beginning to spread across her features. Johann put his hands on her shoulders.
Gently, he tried to ply her away from the entrance to the room. He was shouting above the noise of the jack hammer,
“Come away Tasmin! Come away!” Looking into the room, he saw himself sitting cross legged playing blackjack with the hooded form of the grim reaper. His other self turned and looked at Johann. The mouth was moving but Johann couldn’t hear any words. He looked at the empty black holes where his eyes should have been. He felt frozen to the spot. His other self seemed angry now; he appeared to be shouting at him. Johann met his gaze and stammered. “I can’t hear you!” The noise of the jack hammer filled his head.
Once again, soaked in sweat, Johann woke abruptly. The now familiar, feeling of relief washing over him, until he realized with mounting fear, that the noise of the Jack hammer really was in his head! He held his head in his hands and moaned. He tried to get up and lost his balance. Dropping to his knees he opened his eyes. Flashing white stars were all he saw. Panic was setting in. He couldn’t think. He had to phone someone, “Who?” He asked himself. He felt his temples thudding. Gingerly, he put his fingers either side his head and felt the pulsing coinciding with the persistent ‘thump, thump’ inside his head. Johann slowly crawled, using his memory to avoid furniture, across the lounge floor. He found when he tried to open his eyes, the pounding became worse. After what felt like an interminably long time, he reached what he recognized by touch, as the legs of the telephone table. Pulling himself up he spent the next two minutes arguing with himself as to whether he should phone Tertia, or come clean and wake Rudi.
“Hello?” a sleep shrouded, female voice answered expectantly.
“Sorry to wake you, Doreen. Johann Pienaar here. I was hoping to get Rudi?”
“Oh - Oh, Er, Ok, hang on a sec, let me wake him.” She answered reluctantly.
The receiver was clunked down on a table surface, the noise making Johann flinch. He found himself praying “Please God, make him hurry, please help me, Oh God, please take the pain away!”
“Rudi! Hi! Thank God you’re there. Listen, I’m sorry to do this to you but could you please come to my house right away? I need your help. Please?”
“Uh, Ok. Are you Ok Johann?”
“No, Rudi. No, I’m not, I’ll explain when you’re here. Please come now?”
“I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
Johann hung up the phone, missing the receiver cradle. The receiver came crashing down on his head as he slumped to the floor.
“Christ!” he held his head in his hands, the energy draining from him rapidly.
“Got to think, Johann. Got to think.” He told himself. “I can’t die on the floor here!” Johann reached up to the telephone table, fumbling around till he felt a pen. Under the table he kept a telephone directory. His eyes still closed, he pulled out the telephone directory, ripping off the back page, knowing from memory the cover was white. He wrote in large print Tertia’s number He slid the directory back under the table and laid the torn directory cover on top of the phone. Sweat was pouring from his entire body. He felt giddy and couldn’t really tell if the jack hammer was still in his head or not. It seemed to have been replaced with a noisy hiss. With his last remaining energy, he forced himself to slide on his behind. Feet in front of him, hands behind him, across the floor in the direction of the front door. When his feet reached the door, he shifted on to hands and knees, raising himself up, feeling for the door knob. “Have to leave the door open for Rudi” he repeated over and over to himself. Pushing himself to carry on, he found the door knob and flipped the lock. Twisting the knob, he allowed his body weight to take him back down, opening the door at the same time. He landed with a thud on his behind which set the Jack hammer back in motion. As he laid his head on the cold floor, seeking relief from the heat of exertion, headlights shone through the open doorway bathing Johann’s prostrate body in their glow.
Johann reached for the water glass off the bedside table. His fingers moved along the surface slowly until they bumped up against the glass. He took a long refreshing drink, then replaced the glass. His mind was racing, searching for a resting place, something to focus on and achieve clarity. It wasn’t happening. A great sadness was gnawing at his stomach. Realization of his condition had given birth to a hand of panic which was squeezing his heart. A constant reminder that his body clock had too little time left to tick. The sound of sobbing brought him out of his reverie.
“Hello?” He asked. There was no reply.
“Is someone here?” Again there was no answer. Another sob was heard. Johann stiffened in fear when he realized, he was listening to the sound of his own sobbing.
Rudi had phoned Tertia last night on Johann’s whispered insistence. She had directed Rudi to the AIDS clinic. Rudi hadn’t really concentrated on the directions as he was finding it hard to absorb the information Tertia was giving him. After repeated directions, Tertia arranged to meet Rudi for breakfast at a coffee shop in the centre of Johannesburg at nine ‘o’ clock. Rudi agreed to the meeting and rushed the then, unconscious Johann, to the clinic, where he was released into Rosie’s capable hands.
“He is HIV positive Rudi! At this moment in time, he is probably sitting with Full Blown AIDS! He has refused to take things easy and follow the clinic’s instructions for achieving at least something approaching quality of life! He instead, insists on carrying out some master plan he has got going. He believes this will change the way the country is currently dealing with HIV! The amount of stress he’s put me under to get his affairs in order! Rudi, I tell you, you don’t know the half of it! Johann himself is so stressed out he’s like a ticking time bomb! And, of course, the Doctor has explained to him that the worst thing for him is stress!” Tertia paused to draw breath.
“Calm down, please Tertia. This is all a bit of a shock to me and I’m trying to follow you, but…um… I ended up with a Standard seven education, so, er… I actually need someone to explain this to me calmly to understand what’s happening here. Like. Why is he in a Government Clinic for Christ’s sake?”
“Sorry Rudi” Tertia sighed deeply. “We’ll go and see how Johann is just now and he can explain it all to you. He just wanted me to tell you that he has AIDS. I actually think he wanted to tell you himself. That’s why he phoned you last night and not me. I just don’t think he expected not to be able to speak to you.”
“This means I’m going to be out of work at some point in the near future, doesn’t it?” Rudi asked gloomily.
“Possibly, but that’s not for me to say. Johann will fill you in with all the details. Are we finished here?” She stood up from the table tapping the bill folder in her hands.
“Hi Rosie. Can we see Johann now?” Tertia asked curtly. Rosie wasn’t particularly fond of this arrogant white woman who had no idea of how to look after a man. She stared back at Tertia and paused before saying lazily;
“No, you can’t”
“Excuse me?” Tertia asked offended.
“I said, No” Rosie reiterated.
“And why is that?” Tertia started tapping on the counter irritably.
“Because Dr. Kolling is with him now. This means that you will wait.” Rosie promptly turned her back on the counter and continued with the paperwork she had been busy with.
“Good God!” Tertia exclaimed. “Heaven knows why Johann wanted to come here and be treated by a bunch of inarticulate, not to mention, rude people who don’t understand the first thing about the people they profess to look after!” Rudi saw Rosie turn and glare at Tertia, then slam down her paperwork, ready for war.
“Tertia, let’s take a seat and wait for a bit ok?” He gently pushed Tertia in the direction of the orange plastic chairs. Turning to the counter he caught Rosie’s eye.
“Don’t worry, I’ll keep her out of your way!” he winked “Please let me know when we can go in?”
“Aish! Only if you keep that woman quiet” Rosie shouted with her finger to her lips looking in Tertia’s direction.
“She won’t say a word, I promise” Rudi smiled and winked again.
Tertia and Rudi sat side by side in the passage. Rudi knew that Tertia was taking strain. He hadn’t realized Johann and Tertia had become so close. He wondered at the context of their relationship. At that moment a gurney was being pushed up the passage. An Indian lady was trotting alongside the gurney trying to avoid knocking the poles carrying drips. The Doctor on the opposite side was talking calmly to the patient. A young girl, her head bald, was crying softly to herself, seemingly oblivious to the people around her. Rudi turned sideways on his chair to let the procession pass smoothly. The tall Indian lady was leaning forward.
“Hush honey, the pain will be gone in the morning, be brave for me Tasmin. Be brave” Dr. Kolling was approaching from the opposite direction and stopped the procession. He had a hurried conversation with the other doctor and nodded. Rudi turned to Tertia and saw she was noticeably paler.
“God, Rudi, what the hell are they doing to that poor kid?”
“Don’t know. Trying to save her life no doubt”
“Doesn’t look like it” Tertia muttered. “You know, I’m sure Johann’s little friend’s name is Tasmin. Oh dear, I hope It’s not her.”
“Hey there Tertia, who’s your friend” Dr. Kolling interjected.
“Oh! Hi, Doc, this is Rudi, he’s actually a friend of Johann’s. Can we see him now?”
“Um….I’d like to have a word with both of you in my office first if you don’t mind?”
The team of three walked down the passage. Tertia ignoring and Rudi winking at the glaring Rosie. They all sat in the comfy if somewhat moth eaten couches in Doctor Kolling’s office.
“How is he Doc?” Tertia asked anxiously.
“Well to begin with. He’s in full blown AIDS. It doesn’t appear he’s done much to stop that actually. Judging by his blood work, he’s still drinking heavily, which is, most definitely not helping. He’s not eating correctly for his condition and he appears to be extremely stressed. Tertia does he have any family that you are aware of?”
“Family that could do what for him exactly?”
“Family that might be interested in his impending death, Tertia”
“Oh” Tertia gasped. “Yes, he does, although I wouldn’t know how to contact them. Is it that bad? How long does he have?”
“I can’t answer that right now. We’ll have to see how well he responds to a different ‘cocktail’ of medication that I’ve started him on today, but it certainly isn’t going to make too much difference if he continues living the lifestyle he has been.”
“I have a contact number for his sister in Pretoria” Rudi mentioned softly.
“Then I think she should be informed. Perhaps she’d like to visit him here? Maybe bring any other family members he has at the same time.”
“I think that sort of meeting should be on home ground Doc, I’ve a sneaky suspicion Johann hasn’t informed them of his condition.” Tertia glanced at Rudi for confirmation on this.
“Hell! I wasn’t even aware of it until last night. Yeah, sure I can see his weight loss and he isn’t looking his best, but every time I’ve asked if he’s ok, he just tells me he’s fine.” Rudi said looking bemused.
“Well, he can’t leave here now. In fact I doubt he’ll go home after this. We’ll see. So his family must be told that they should come and pay him a visit. Can one of you handle this?”
“I’ll do it.” Tertia whispered.
“Now the next thing, before you go barging in to see him. I have to tell you that, although it could be a temporary situation, for right now, he’s lost his sight.”
“What?” Tertia stifled a sob.
“He’s blind!?” Rudi asked, dumbfounded.
“Yes. As I said, it could be temporary. We’ll see how he responds. I thought I should let you know before you see him. He’s also, naturally, suffering from depression due to this latest development, so you may find him in low spirits. We are going to treat him for depression as well. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some rounds to make. You can go through and see him now.”
Dr Kolling held open his office door to let them through. As Tertia passed he placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
“Be strong for him my dear.” He smiled sadly.
Tertia stopped in the passage. Rudi was following and stopped short.
“Oh God, Rudi, I don’t think I can go through with this. He’s blind! And we’re supposed to go in there and act all chipper telling him to cheer up and take things easy! How is this possible? I just wish……” Tertia broke down sobbing and collapsed into one of the many orange plastic chairs. Rudi took the seat next to her.
”Look, I don’t know how long all this has been going on for. It seems to me like both you and Johann have been taking strain for a long time now. I also believe that Johann must have reached a point by now where he is well aware of what this virus means to him. He must have come to terms with it in some way. I don’t know, maybe made his peace with God or something. But you seem to be denying the fact that he is at some point, probably going to die from this. It’s always worse for the people that get left behind. You’ve got this far with the secret together. Can you go the rest of the way Tertia?”
“Rudi, there’s still such a long way to go.” She sobbed. “You don’t know what he’s doing, why he’s here and not in some private hospital somewhere. Johann will explain it all to you, of that I’m sure, it’s just…… I don’t know anymore……. I need someone to help me while I’m trying to help Johann. And ok, I’ll admit it! I am in love with Johann. It’s killing me to see the reality that all my dreams and fantasies of him will one day come to an end. Do you understand?” She sniffed and started fishing around in her handbag for a tissue. A box of tissues suddenly appeared in front of her face. She grabbed one and blew her nose noisily, looking up into the kind, sweet smiling face of Rosie.
“Thank you Rosie” Tertia said sheepishly as she grabbed a couple more tissues from the box.
“S’ okay” Rosie turned and left shaking her head. Rudi smiled and looked at Tertia.
“What was it you said? - Bunch of inarticulate, rude people, who don’t know anything about caring?”
“Yeah, I’m sorry. I guess I also need to come to terms with all .. this…” Tertia said flapping her arms around.
“Come on” Rudi said standing up. “I think you should go and get some sleep. I’m going to phone around and get him a nurse or someone who can look after people in his condition. I know Doreen has a lot of contacts in that department. Let me take care of that, I’ll have someone start from tomorrow. Can you organize for it to be paid for?”
“Yes, I can.” Tertia sighed.
“We have to try and help him the best way we know how. So let’s go and get some sleep and come back tomorrow, when his ‘happy tabs’ might have kicked in. I don’t want to see him trying to deal with all this right now either. I have to get used to it before I know how to react to him” Tertia didn’t argue. She was too exhausted.
Johann had slept fitfully and dreamlessly. As he stirred, he registered the benefits of a good night’s sleep coursing through his body. He stretched and yawned. Opening his eyes, he blinked. Blinking again, the memories of yesterday filtered through. He rubbed his eyes with his fists and blinked again, nothing. Not a complete darkness. More a foggy gray haze was as much as he could make out. Depression hit him. All the things he couldn’t do without sight ran through his mind like a grocery list. It suddenly dawned on him, he wouldn’t even know if someone were sitting at his bedside.
“Hello?” he whispered softly. Just to be sure. No answer. “My God! I can’t even read a book. What do I do now!” A small voice coming from deep down inside his mind was nagging him. “You can still do it! You can!” it kept repeating. Johann laid back against his pillows and let his mind explore the meaning of those words.
“Hello Mr Pienaar, hope you had a good night’s sleep, my name is Elizabeth. We haven’t met before. I’m here to give you all your tablets and I must say there are rather a lot of them! How are you feeling?”
“Oh! On top of the world Elizabeth, on top of the world!”
“Really? That’s terrific. Keep feeling that way and you’ll be out of here before you know it!”
“Great!” Johann thought, “Clever of them to give me a nurse that doesn’t recognize sarcasm.”
“What time is it Elizabeth? I’ve just remembered, I’m blind and therefore can’t see a bloody thing!”
“Now, now, Mr. Pienaar. The Doctor has told you it could just be a temporary thing. You’ve been here two nights now. It’s Thursday, and it’s 10am. Let’s start to look on the bright side shall we?”
“Oh yes! Let’s! By the way, is it bright outside?”
“Yes, Mr. Pienaar. It’s a beautiful sunny day! Now get over yourself and concentrate on getting better ok? Here, give me your hand.” Johann raised his arm limply. Elizabeth pulled his hand roughly towards her.
“Here…recognize the distance.” She dropped his arm back on to the covers.
“Do it again. Give me your hand.” Johann raised his arm again. This time bending his elbow and reaching with his hand, he measured the same distance. His hand met the plastic pill container.
“Put the pills in your other hand and reach out again for your water. Johann achieving this again began to enjoy himself.
“Not too bad hey?” he grinned.
“You’ll get better Mr. Pienaar. In the meantime, you may as well get used to the condition you find yourself in hmm?”
“How old are you?” he asked frowning. He couldn’t place her age. Initially, he had thought she sounded very young. Now he wasn’t so sure.
“Does it matter?”
“No. I just get the impression you’re more than a nurse?”
“Yes, Mr. Pienaar.”
“Ok, Johann. Amongst my many talents, AIDS counseling, physiotherapy, a few. I haven’t specialized yet”
“And you’re working in an AIDS clinic?”
“No, Johann. I’m going to cost you. I’m hired to get you through this. I can tell you it’s Tertia that’s hired me”
“No” Johann sat up. “I’ve got plans for that money”
“Johann, Tertia has explained that your plans are still going to take some time. From what I gather, it’s important to you, to see the completion of these plans. Believe me; you’ll need to spend this money in order to get there.” Johann flopped back and sighed heavily.
“Yes, it is important.”
“Besides, your medical aid will pay.”
“Yeah, but, Elizabeth, I don’t want any of my colleagues to find out I have AIDS, I’ve left that world.”
“Uh huh? Ja. That’s plain to see. However, you are still on it, AIDS doesn’t discriminate. You won’t get the degrading isolation that used to be associated with HIV-AIDS. It’s not like that anymore. Any how we’ll set up some time for some counseling, you’ve had enough today. Get some rest. Relax.”
“Oh thanks Elizabeth. By the way? You wouldn’t happen to have a copy of the latest “You” magazine would you? I’d like to browse through it.”
“We’ll work on that anger as well Johann. See you tomorrow!” Johann grinned and thought “Cocky Cow!”
Tertia and Rudi stood in the doorway to the ward. Johann was dozing. Walking to his bedside Rudi pulled up a plastic chair for Tertia. Johann’s eyes blinked.
“Hey there Johann, it’s Rudi.” As an afterthought. “And Tertia’s here too!”
“Hello. Thanks for coming” Johann shuffled himself into a sitting position against his pillows.
“So. Have you heard?” He asked.
“Um, that you can’t see?” Rudi asked slowly.
“Then you’ve heard. Hi Tertia, how are you doing precious? I must say, you’re looking lovely today!”
“Johann” Tertia leant across and grabbed his hand.
“Oh, don’t worry; I’m sure you know that I’ve got a wonderful lady by the name of Elizabeth taking good care of me now.”
“Johann. Please? I thought it was for the best. Come on now. We want you to stick around for as long as possible. Try and help a little here y’know?”
“Yes. I do know.” Johann sighed. “I’m sorry. You’ve done nothing but assist me all the way with this Tertia, the way I’m going, I’m likely to leave you with a stack of problems instead of thanking you. I’ll work on it from now on. Ok?”
“Thank you.” Tertia smiled at him and realized he couldn’t acknowledge it. She squeezed his hand.
“Now, we have some work to do, are you up for it?” Tertia became business-like.
“Let me see if I can help you.” Johann tittered.
While discussing business, Johann and Tertia filled Rudi in on all the missing blanks. They left late that afternoon. Johann slept fitfully for the rest of the night. He was awoken the next morning by an over cheerful Rosie bringing him breakfast.
“Good morning Mr. Pienaar! How are you today?” She placed a tray on the table and pulled him forward to plump up his pillows.
“I’m ok thanks Rosie. What’s for breakfast?”
“On your right, there is some Pap, melk en suiker, some toast above that…”
“Oh never mind Rosie. It’ll be the highlight of my days, surprising myself and guessing what the hospital food is throughout the day.”
“I am here to help feed you.” Rosie sounded offended.
“Don’t worry. I still know where my mouth is. Let me do this myself, but thanks, Rosie. By the way, how is my friend Tasmin?”
“Well,” Rosie paused too long.
“What? Is she ok Rosie?”
“She will be fine. The Doctor said she had to have chemotherapy and you know Mr. Pienaar that is very, very painful for such a little girl. So at the moment she is not feeling very well. Her head is shaved now and this has also upset her. But she is improving and she asked after you too. I have explained about your eyes to her. I hope you don’t mind. I thought I would make it a bit easier for you. She says she will come and see you when she is allowed out of bed.”
“Give her my love. Tell her I’m thinking of her.” Johann said with a lump in his throat.
“Yes, Mr. Pienaar. Enjoy your breakfast. Don’t make too much mess either.” Johann heard her chuckling as she entered the passage. He did make a terrible mess. Finding his mouth was the easy part, finding the spoon empty, once in his mouth, however, was more common than not.
Breakfast, with tablets, would be followed by a bed changing session. He would doze for an hour when Elizabeth would arrive. By the end of the second session, Elizabeth had him walking around the bed counting steps from the doorway, to his bed, to the draw in his small bedside table, without looking like an audition for “Frankenstein.” Elizabeth asked about his family.
“Do they know?”
“No, they don’t. I’m supposed to be there this Sunday. I’m not sure what to do now. It’s not something I wanted to handle over the phone.”
“I could do it for you? Invite them here, spend an hour in counseling with them. Then they could see you?” Johann thought about it.
“Ja, Ok. You’ll break it to them gently though?”
“Don’t worry. I’ve done this for many people. I know how sensitive some people can be.”
I’ll give you my sister’s number. Her name is Elize, but please, put it off for a while. Maybe next weekend or something, I don’t think I’m ready for this just yet” Johann turned away.
“Sure. Now, find me a pen.” Johann dozed after this session. He woke to Rosie, shaking him gently.
“Johann, you must take your tablets.” He sat up and expertly reached out for his container followed by the water.
“Rosie will you take me to visit Tasmin please?”
“Er, I don’t know if that’s a good idea”
“Oh Come on Rosie, it’s my first idea in days! I just need you to lead me there and come back for me after an hour or so. Please?”
“Aish, Mr. Pienaar, you are such trouble to me. Come on I’ll take you now”
“Thank you sweet Rosie”
Johann sat at Tasmin’s bed side. He had hold of her little hand as she sobbed to him.
“My hair! It’s all gone! I hate this!” She slammed her small fists into the bedclothes.
“Tasmin, your hair will grow back! Don’t be so vain. Besides you suit it, I can tell!”
“How do you know? You’re blind!”
“Thanks for reminding me sweetheart. I can still see you in my mind. I can imagine without hair, you must look beautiful. You have a terrific bone structure, what’s that model’s name again?’
“It doesn’t matter!” Tasmin exploded. “I’m not going to be a model, because I’m going to die!”
“Stop it now Tasmin.” Johann straightened in his chair. A look of concern shadowed his face.
“You and I are both going to get each other through this ok? I need you to believe you can do it, so that I can believe the same for myself. Do we have a deal here?” Tasmin looked into Johann’s eyes. She couldn’t believe he couldn’t see her.
“Ok. I’ll try. I’m just really, really cross about this. And what are we going to play now? Hm? I suppose it will have to be dominoes” She said folding her arms in a huff.
Breaking The Family In.
For the next week, Johann’s day’s followed much the same routine. Rudi and Doreen came to visit one night. Tertia was there at least once a day filling him in on all the details and progress on the completion of the Clinic. Tasmin had not recovered enough during that week to visit Johann. Consequently, in the afternoons, Rosie collected Johann and took him to Tasmin’s bedside. They whiled away the afternoons, Johann painfully, wishing for bigger dots or smaller fingers. Counting domino dots and losing dismally every game they played. He noticed he was getting better at judging direction and distance. He mentioned to Rosie it wouldn’t be long before he would walk to Tasmin by himself. Tasmin’s mood was not good. Her personality was marred by anger and frustration at her own illness. There was an ingredient in the tone of her voice that worried Johann and made it necessary for him to spend an hour a day constantly egging her on. He exuded positivism and encouragement, so much so, that by the end of the hour, when her mood had lifted somewhat, he was himself exhausted.
On Saturday he received an unexpected visit from Elizabeth. She seemed quiet to him. She asked all the relevant questions to his comfort and then the reason for her mood became apparent to him.
“I spoke to Elize earlier today. I asked if she would come and see me as I needed to speak to your whole family. She seemed a bit put out. I think she thought I was your girlfriend or something. So, I introduced myself and without giving them too much information on your present condition, I explained that you were HIV positive, had been for some time and that you unwisely chose to keep this information from them. I told them you were currently experiencing some health problems which would not allow you to travel to Pretoria and visit them.”
“What was her reaction?” Johann said holding his head in his hands.
“Well. She was quiet for some time. She asked how long you had. I explained it’s not like cancer, that with the proper care and treatment, there should be no reason why you wouldn’t be around for a long time to come. I suggested that she and your parents come for counseling where I could explain things better. She took my details and said she would call back. She was hesitant to break this news to your parents and until she’d figured out how she was going to do it, she couldn’t plan further. So! The hard part is done Johann. Let’s see what happens from here ok?”
“Oh God!” Johann sighed heavily. “I know exactly how my parents are going to react. Ma will be mortified. She won’t want anyone to know. I’ll be lucky if she speaks to me again. As for Pa! Well, he’s just not going to believe it. He’ll think its all lies, until I tell him myself.”
“Calm down Johann. I will try and get them in for counseling before they see you. I’ll explain it can happen to anyone. You’re not the filth that they obviously think HIV sufferers are. Hopefully I can humble them a little before they see you, alright?”
Johann lay back against the pillows, resigned. “Thanks Elizabeth”
“Johann don’t let this bother you, I know it’s your family, but right now you need to think about yourself, okay?”
And Then, There Was Light.
Johann had been at the clinic for two weeks when things started happening. He woke that morning filled with elation as he could clearly pick up the direction of light from the ward window. Excited he called for Rosie.
“Rosie, I can pick up light coming from that way!” He pointed correctly to his left.
“Oh! That’s very good Mr. Pienaar! I will tell Dr. Kolling. Maybe you are going to see again after all hey?” Rosie plumped up his pillows. It wasn’t Dr. Kolling who came. Elizabeth came in his place.
“Hello Johann. It’s Elizabeth”
“Elizabeth! Did Rosie tell you? I can see light!”
“Yes, she did. That’s terrific! I’ve come to take a closer look at you. Don’t get too excited just yet ok?” Elizabeth performed a number of tests on his eyes, the most exciting of which for Johann, was when she shone her torch into his eyes and he could quite definitely pick up the light.
“So, I’m seeing light at the end of the tunnel! I suppose it’s either a train or the taxman with a torch, hey?”
“Well. I think if we can keep you off your scotch and fatten you up a bit, you just might be lucky Johann” Elizabeth sat back. He picked up the sarcasm in her tone and once again, wished he could put a face to the voice.
“Jeez, thanks Elizabeth! So, I can’t have a drink to celebrate?”
“Correct!” She laughed. There was a knock on the door and Tertia announced herself.
“Sorry to interrupt guys.” She pulled a chair to Johann’s bedside.
“Johann, I’ve got terrific news for you. The clinic’s completed!” Johann sat bolt upright in his bed.
“At last! Whoa! What a good day I’m having!” Johann sat back and clapped his hands in obvious elation.
“So what happens from here?” Elizabeth asked. “Do we move Johann to his own clinic?”
“Well, in the next few days, once all the staff are in and settled, I suppose we could?” Tertia replied.
“No.” Johann shook his head thoughtfully. “This is where I started; this is where I will end up. What I want you to do though, Elizabeth, perhaps you could assist? Organise for my little friend Tasmin to be the first patient admitted there. Get her name down on a list immediately for a bone marrow transplant. I don’t care how much it costs, or what countries you have to get it from, but I want her to have this operation quickly. Organise her files from Rosie. Get the entire speck on the type of marrow needed etc. Please, just get her in there Tertia” Elizabeth and Tertia swapped glances. Tertia cast her memory back to the day with Rudi when the gurney had passed with a young bald girl. Hadn’t the tall Indian lady referred to her as Tasmin?
“Johann, you don’t think it may be just a tad frightening for a young girl to be in a new hospital all by herself?” Tertia asked.
“Move in there with her Johann.” Elizabeth reasoned.
“Tasmin will probably have a ball in there by herself!” He chuckled. “Let me think about it. Tertia, have you spoken to Rosie? Can we take her with us?”
“I did speak to her a week ago. She wasn’t very committed to the idea, but mentioned that should her sister take Rosie’s place here, then she would think about it. I’ll speak to her today and find out what she thinks. I don’t think Dr. Kolling will be ecstatic with you for stealing one of his best.”
“Offer him a job as well then.” Johann laughed.