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
Flying Back To The Netherlands
Continued from… Visiting Wine Estates Around Stellenbosch
“I’ll see you at the airport tomorrow,” Jeanne said when she hugged Annie and Jacques goodbye. “Isaac, are you sure you will be okay to drive tomorrow?” Jeanne asked, turning to their mutual friend.
“Yes, I’ll be okay, Jeanne,” Isaac said adamantly, “and I cannot expect of you to drive all the way here just to bring me home from the airport again tomorrow.”
“You know I don’t mind doing it, Isaac,” Jeanne assured him.
“I know that, but really I will be okay,” Isaac said again.
Isaac retired to bed less than an hour after they had returned home from their day out. He was tired and not only his legs hurt again, but he had a mild ache on his stomach. Isaac didn’t want his friends to know it and he decided a good night’s sleep would make him feel better in the morning. Isaac also hoped that a good night’s sleep would make his cold disappear, even though deep down he knew it wouldn’t.
Annie and Jacques took a couple of bags of chips and a bottle of soft drink upstairs with them. All the stuff they had to pack was in Isaac’s bedroom, which they had been using for the past week.
Annie wrapped all the gifts they had bought for their children and friends back home, while Jacques folded and organized their clothes. It was late when they were done. After they got into bed, they watched a program on television and then they turned over to go to sleep. Neither of them wanted to think about saying their goodbyes the following day.
At eleven o’clock the next morning, they left Isaac’s home.
They had been up at seven and after a shower, Annie had packed the last of their stuff. By the time Jacques had brought their bags downstairs, Isaac was also up and dressed. Together, the three of them had a last cup of tea with beskuit for breakfast. The mood was sad, even though all of them tried to keep it light. Still, they couldn’t stop the frequent silences when each was lost in thought.
Annie and Jacques had to check in at half-past one that afternoon, but before they drove out to the airport, Isaac took them to the Spur for the last time. There they each had a milk-and-fruit shake. This became their favorite drink in the past week. To Annie, it felt like time passed much quicker than it should.
They were at the airport at half-past twelve, an hour too early. Annie and Jacques still had to buy another bag for their hand-luggage. They packed the stuff they wanted to keep with them in a plastic bag, but they didn’t want to take it on the plane like that. Annie had thought there might be shops at the airport where they could buy a bag, but unfortunately, there was none.
She would only find a bag later on the tax-free side of the airport. The bag had the Big Five of South Africa portrayed on it – the elephant, the lion, the rhinoceros, the leopard and the buffalo.
Jeanne, Kathy and Kathy’s daughter arrived roundabout two o’clock. They gave the Dutch travelers two extra plastic bags full of gifts for them and their family back home.
“You may not open anything until you arrive home,” Jeanne instructed.
“You shouldn’t have done it,” Annie said, with tears in her eyes, hugging first her friend and then Kathy.
All of them took place at a long table, waiting for the time to pass. Where the time had seemed to pass at a lightning speed that morning, the hands of the clock now seemed to be stuck.
Isaac sat between Annie and Kathy. He was sad. Even though this week had been tiring, he hated to see his friends leave. He knew the loneliness would dawn on him again like a leaden blanket. If only the Netherlands were closer to South Africa. If only he could get on that plane with his friends.
Annie noticed Isaac was quieter than usual. She put an arm around his shoulders, smiling at him when he looked at her. However, she didn’t trust her voice to speak, as tears choked her. How she wished she could take her friend with her — keep him close, keep him safe.
Kathy and Jacques alternately made photos of the group at the table. Annie only got up to make a couple of pictures of Isaac. Deep down, she knew she would never see him again, but she didn’t want to share this thought with anyone, not even with her husband.
Isaac’s hourglass was running out of sand. Annie shook her head, trying to ban the thought out of her mind.
Half an hour before they were scheduled to leave, Annie and Jacques walked through to the restricted area. They said their goodbyes to Kathy and Jeanne. Jacques shook Isaac’s hand and then he pulled him closer, hugging him with tears in his eyes.
When Annie stood in front of Isaac, Jacques, Jeanne and Kathy stood watching from a distance, giving them the space to say their goodbyes.
“Don’t cry, Annie,” Isaac said, trying to look strict.
“Shut up you! I’ll cry if I want to,” Annie tried to joke, seeing the same glistening in Isaac’s eyes than she felt in her own.
“If you cry, I’m going to cry too,” Isaac warned.
“Then we’ll cry a duet,” Annie said, pulling Isaac closer and feeling the tears on her cheeks.
The two friends — the one gravely ill and the other wishing that there was a miracle cure for AIDS — hugged each other close for several minutes.
“Thank you, Annie. Thank you so much. For everything,” Isaac whispered through his own tears.
“Thank you, my friend. For who you are. For being my friend,” Annie whispered back.
Isaac said nothing. He just hugged Annie closer.
“Remember, when you feel weak, just concentrate and you will feel the strength I’m sending you every hour of the day,” Annie continued.
Isaac only nodded, still not trusting his voice.
“I love you, my dear friend,” Annie said.
“I love you too, Annie. Thank you for being my friend, for supporting me. There are no words to tell you how much I appreciate…”
“Shhht,” Annie silenced Isaac.
They looked at each other, gave each other a kiss on the mouth, and hugged each other one last time.
“Good bye, Annie. Thank you.”
“Good bye, my dearest friend,” Annie whispered, tears now streaming down her face, “be strong. Always be strong.”
To be continued… From Despair Right Back To Hope Again
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