AIDS was… an illness in stages, a very long flight of steps that led assuredly to death, but whose every step represented a unique apprenticeship. It was a disease that gave death time to live and its victims time to die, time to discover time, and in the end to discover life.~ Hervé Guibert
Continued from… Introduced to traditions
They joined the line at the entrance on this cold, sunny day. The gates of Madurodam had opened only ten minutes before. As soon as they had their tickets, they walked through the big hall towards an open door, which would lead them right into the magic of Madurodam.
In this tourist attraction, everything – buildings, cars, trains and more – was replicated in detail on a scale of 1 to 25. Isaac drew in his breath when they stood overlooking the miniature city, and could hardly wait to start walking between the buildings. Where they stood at the railing, they looked down on a miniature of the Delta works. As the alarm sounded, the big white gates, which in real were in the southwest of the Netherlands to protect a large area of the land from uprising water, started to close. Once the gate had opened again, they followed the footpath to the next miniature.
Everything fascinated Isaac. One of the bigger buildings they came to was the St. John’s Basilica. Isaac inspected the detail of the statues and the stained-glass windows. While bent over to look at it closely, the first fierce stabbing pain shot through his belly. He stayed in that position for a while, not wanting to alert anyone to his discomfort.
He also liked the Royal Palace ‘Huis ten Bosch’, the palace of the king of the Netherlands. While looking at it, he stood next to Annie, and the second sharp pain hit. Isaac inhaled sharply, and Annie instantly turned her head.
“Are you okay?” she asked, glancing at Isaac, and looking concerned.
“Yes, I’m okay,” he lied.
As if the pain was playing the game along with Isaac, it didn’t hit again in the next half an hour, while Annie kept a close eye on him. They passed by the miniature of Schiphol Airport and the confectionery factory in Veghel, where Annie had worked a couple of years earlier. They walked across the miniature of the Erasmus Bridge, which Isaac remembered from their trip on the Spido.
Annie had made her way to her mom, who walked a couple of meters in front of her and Isaac. Just as the two women turned around to wait for Isaac to join them, the pain struck again. Isaac couldn’t keep his face straight. Annie’s mom was aware of her daughter’s concern for Isaac’s health. Even though he said that he was okay, Annie had suspected it was a lie.
While the pain had him in its grip, Isaac couldn’t manage to set one foot in front of the other. The women hurried over towards him. This time Annie didn’t ask.
“You’re not okay,” she stated. “You’re in pain!”
Isaac didn’t answer. He was incapable of doing so. Only when the pain subsided a bit, he spoke.
“I need something to drink,” he said.
“Come on,” Annie said, “let’s go to the restaurant.”
She looked around, saw her husband and hurried over to him. Quickly she told him about Isaac, and suggested he and the children should continue the tour between the miniatures. However, when the kids had the notion someone was going to the restaurant, all of them said they were thirsty. Isaac laughed when he saw this, but his laugh sounded more like a groan of pain.
In the restaurant, they found a place to sit. Annie’s mom stayed with Isaac and the kids, while Annie and Jacques got their drinks – cold drinks for the kids, and tea for the adults. Just as they sat down, Isaac jumped up and walked towards the cash register of the souvenir shop, a couple of meters from their table. He came back with a small bottle of Underberg.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“It’s a digestive and it will help for my stomach cramps,” Isaac explained. He managed to keep the doubt out of his voice and Annie believed him. Surely, they wouldn’t sell alcohol over here? When she glanced at her mom, she saw her mom’s skepticism matched her own. Somehow, she wasn’t at ease with Isaac drinking the contents of the small bottle, which he had emptied in his tea.
“Hey,” someone said behind Annie, “are you not the man from the Dream a Wish Show of last night?”
Isaac smiled and blushed. As Annie looked around to see who was standing behind her, the strange man looked at her.
“Yes, it’s you! I recognize you now,” he said to Annie.
“Wendy,” he said to a woman who approached with two kids following in her tracks, “look, these are the people who were on the Dream a Wish Show last night. We really enjoyed watching it. Both of you are so brave!”
Neither Annie nor Isaac knew what to say. They thanked the man. Both the man and his wife wished Isaac a wonderful time in the Netherlands, and a lot of strength in fighting his illness. They rounded up their kids and walked over to a table not far from theirs. Every now and then, the man and his wife glanced over at their table, and smiled.
The Underberg seemed to have helped. When they continued their walk in Madurodam, Isaac felt better. The cramps were less fierce, and the intervals between were longer. Now that they had been recognized, both Isaac and Annie paid more attention to the other people around them. They noticed more people looking and pointing at them, but no one else came to talk to them. Annie joked, saying in the next couple of weeks they would have to go outside in disguise.
The miniature people at Madurodam’s funfair made Isaac smile. He pointed some of them out to Annie and her mother, who now stayed close to him all the time. The miniature of the cheese market in Alkmaar was another where Isaac closely inspected the different miniature people. He loved the small miniature cheeses stacked on top of each other in neat rows. Annie pointed the Blijdorp Zoo in Rotterdam out to him, telling him they would go there the next weekend. She also showed him the replica of the Blaak Station in Rotterdam, explaining that they had had seen it when they had been shopping at the market in Rotterdam.
It was while they looked at the cube-shaped houses, and Annie’s mom was explaining that the real houses were in Rotterdam, that it hit again. Isaac turned white as a sheet and tried not to react to the pain. He didn’t succeed in hiding it from Annie. She saw how pale he was, and put an arm around him. He willfully allowed her to lead him back to the restaurant. Annie’s mother joined them and soon after that, so did Jacques and the kids. They had planned to go to Kijkduin to eat poffertjes after their visit to Madurodam, but Annie now suggested they should go home, so Isaac could rest.
Isaac vigorously protested. He didn’t want them to change their plans just for him. Even though they assured him they didn’t mind going home, he wanted to hear nothing about it. He wanted to taste poffertjes, he said, and they were not going to deprive him of that pleasure.
To be continued… Pancakes and pain
Note: This series is a rework of a self-published book (2009), rewritten for this blog, and in loving memory of a dear friend who suffered from and passed because of AIDS. Keep in mind this story happens in the late eighties and throughout the nineties. Names of characters have been changed to protect their privacy.
© Rebel’s Notes
Image from Pixabay