the pain is receding. Sister looks down on me and smiles.
feeling more comfortable now, Hector?
I nod and murmur
my thanks. They are universally kind here at St Anthonys. She leaves the room
softly. I fall into a light sleep.
Minutes, perhaps half an hour or so. And suddenly I am wide awake. Someone is standing at
the end of the bed. A girl in uniform, a care assistant I guess. I think I have not seen
her before. Yet there is something almost familiar. A memory
Father, she has a faint accent. I think it may be German. They must have told her
who I am, though soutane and surplice are locked away in the cupboard by the door.
Probably they will remain there. I think I shall not robe for Mass again. Sister
asked me to come and see how you are.
I peer at her,
squinting a little to try to make out her name badge. There is something about her hair
a chord of music drifts through my head. Debussy - La fille aux cheveux de lin. And her eyes
she smiles with her eyes.
My name is
Yes. Of course.
Your name is Isolde. And I begin to wonder if I am dreaming.
* * *
Her name was Isolde. I
can remember when we first met. It was on a river boat, hired for a party given by the
parents of mutual friends. She told me that her father was in the Swiss diplomatic
service, on a posting to
In those days
there was still an essential innocence that was common to most young people who found
themselves in love. By that I mean, there was not the urgency to consummate, to sleep
together at a time when they barely knew each others names. The age of free love had
not yet dawned, although it was very near and would in the not so distant future affect us
both in very different ways. Then there were codes of behaviour and unwritten rituals to
be adhered to. Yet I cannot imagine otherwise than that our hand holding and gentle
caresses were any less exquisite than the long nights of passion that seem to be the norm
today. No I dont think I am being old-fashioned: I really believe that
something precious has been lost in the search for and indeed the insistence upon instant
As the weeks
went by we met often. We would take the train out of
One day late in
the summer, as we lay on the grass beside a wide estuary in Kent she raised herself on one
elbow, looked down on me with those smiling eyes and put her forefinger to my lips. I had
voiced my sadness at the thought of our parting, wondering when we might, eventually, see
each other again.
write. Often. And then we will see! But I think that even then she knew that her
future and mine were set upon different courses. And I think that was because she knew me
better than I had ever realised, better even than I knew myself.
A great flock of
geese rose from the mudflats below us, scattered across the sky and then drew together
again forming into a ragged skein, and made eastward to the sea. Isolde turned to gaze
after them, and I sat up to watch with her and listen to their calling. She began to
murmur, to half chant what I took to be verse. I did not recognise it:
And on a morning, such a morning as
there might have been
Her voice faded.
I wondered if what followed was lost to her. But then she turned to me with a look of
expectation that said go on this is
ours! I must have read it, or something like it before, because the words came
to me quite effortlessly and to my complete surprise:
I heard, it seemed to me
That is it, exactly! And she leaned over me and kissed me.
Two weeks later
she left took a flight with her parents to
* * *
Isolde has been a
regular visitor to me over the past few weeks, since that first time when she stood at the
end of the bed as I drifted out of sleep. I believe that the child has become fond of me.
This evening, long after she should have gone off duty, she is sitting with a pad in the
chair to one side of the bed, sketching the biretta placed on the bedside locker.
She is silent, and I say to her, Why do you stay on here? I am sure you have friends you would sooner be with.
She shakes her
head. They can wait. They have time.
She makes no
direct response to my question. If you must know, I feel ashamed to think that you
Father Hector Ademokun of the mighty Roman Catholic Church have not had a
single visitor since first I met you. She smiles. I am trying to make up for
the failings of my fellow men and women!
something of my past. She knew very soon after our first meeting that, half a century ago
I had loved her grandmother more than I have ever loved anyone since. And she is the only
other living soul who has known this. But does
she know that her grandmother dead these last five years has never, for one
single day, been absent from my thoughts? Indeed we were are soul-mates.
Nothing can change that. Not even my faith, or the crumbling remnant of it that still
She told me that
the Isolde I had loved never married. Swept up in the movement towards free love and the
illusion of freedom, she became pregnant when in
miss her. She was a lovely grandma to me. When she died, she left me a painting, one of
her best. I think it is perhaps the most precious thing that I own.
the painting of?
of geese. They are flying towards the sun across a glittering sea. I think
sometimes I think, that it is a vision of heaven.
* * *
I am very near to the
end now. The staff here at the hospice are beyond praise. I have no pain and I am
sometimes even comfortable. As I said
Isolde has come
to see me, as she does several times a day now. She pulls the chair close to me.
I am going away for a few days. Home. To
She takes my
hand. I turn to her and I know that a tear is rolling down my cheek. I will never see her
been so very, very good to me. I ask myself, why?
She does not
answer immediately, but instead says:
grandma, loved you so, so dearly. And then, you know why I
and her voice catches and
I think I am
falling into a dream. Perhaps my last. She leans over me, and that beautiful flaxen hair
falls across my face. Her lips brush my forehead.
And I know at
last that we never lose those we love, because we see them for ever, deep in the eyes of
their children. And of their childrens children.
Outside in the park, where I am told there is a wide lake where waterfowl nest and find sanctuary, I can hear the cry of the geese. And their calling reaches a crescendo, like a mighty fanfare, as they rise together from the water.
Henry Tegner August 2011 1653 words
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