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ROAD OF HOPE
By Roger Russell

I NO LONGER WISH TO PAINT MY FACE AND GIRD MY LOINS OR DANCE TO A TUNE NOT OF MY OWN MAKING

I WILL WALK FREELY MY BACK TO THE PAST MY FEET TRACING THE PATTERNS OF MY HEART

I AM AN EXPRESSION OF MYSELF.

Jill Russell.

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Sharon and I did nothing in isolation. The story you will read is not just our story, it is the story of hundreds of people that made it possible for the two of us to express what we believe through the trauma that all of us had to deal with. The doctors and staff at St. Luke‟s Hospice, Groote Schuur Hospital and the Cancer Association of South Africa were, every single one of them, absolutely dedicated and professional in their tolerance and treatment of both physical and spiritual failings during a time of great learning and sometimes deep despair. It is unfortunately not possible to thank everyone by name but that does not detract from the value of their contribution or our appreciation of it. I would especially like to thank my family, from my youngest daughter to my parents for giving without measure the support that Sharon and I both required through many years of need. Last but not least I would like to thank my very special friend, Barbara Kramm who typed this manuscript and dealt daily with my heartbreak and anger whilst I wrote it.

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CHAPTER ONE

It is 10.00 pm and the rain is coming down as if someone upstairs has decided that it has been too little for too long and tonight is the night to put the shortage to rights. What lights there are have been rendered ineffective by the glistening streaks of water slanting down from the black sky to the rough stone gravel crunching beneath our feet. All I can really see is the back of the train conductor in front of me. I am aware of his stumbling haste and his cursing as we struggle over sleepers and railway tracks. I am also aware of my backpack which is precious because the next three months of my life and a great deal more of my selfrespect are tied up in it. It is an unwieldy lump of canvas and straps and because it is not properly strapped to my back and hips but hangs from my shoulders, it is heavy and painful to carry. I half run, half climb and step after the worried man in front of me. I am in fact in the goods yard at Beit Bridge station which is well and truly in the sovereign state of Zimbabwe. A place I have no right to be at all. I have no travel documents, no passport, no anything except a horrible suspicion that the walk which Sharon and I planned, it seems so long ago, will come to nothing in a mess of political nonsense and drama arising from my illegal presence in a foreign country. A few hours previously this same conductor and myself were sitting comfortably in a second class carriage, rocking slightly in rhythm with the train as we moved through the night towards the northern border of South Africa, where the walk was to begin. He had talked himself dry and I had listened. In the silence that had fallen I allowed my thoughts to wander back to the world I had left behind. It would be foolish to maintain that the whole six years passed by me in those few moments, but the incidents that rose to the surface were those that my mind felt best summed up the total experience. One‟s inner self has much power and can suppress or raise experiences in tune with the mood and circumstances that exist around you, but the truth is often a lot more than just what jumps out of the past on demand and it is good that occasionally you deliberately list and describe everything you can, regardless of what your conscious preferences are.... Once upon what seems a very long time ago, there was a girl of sixteen years of age. She was at once, as young and fresh as spring and as beautiful as summer. There was no autumn in her life then, nor was there ever to be, for she died of breast cancer when she was forty three years old. When we met I was brash and cocksure and not much older. She saw something in me that was good to her and I, well how could anyone not love what she was then and still is deep in my heart. Neither of us had ever known another person's body when we married and our lovemaking was and remained an adventure of glory and joy until we could no longer. Constancy of desire was never a problem, but faithfulness of mind is a different story, we can say that we are faithful and we can live as if we are faithful, but the mind has a way of interpreting life that complicates issues beyond the simple physical attractions of one gender for the other. Sharon and I fought the bitter battles that life can bring to any partnership
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and although we lost many, the grace of God, and there is no other way to put it, allowed us to fly a triumphant flag of victory over the last and most terrible of all, the battle that was to join us as never before yet took us totally and irrevocably from each other. Sitting on the train, I was heading towards the final act of that victory, an attempt to somehow, in some personal way put something back into a system. A system that had stepped into our lives when we most needed it and had overwhelmed us with its depth of care and concern for anyone with the problems that cancer presents to those chosen to deal with it. Sharon had planned and discussed the walk with me, but she had moved on and it was left to me to ensure that there would be growth and not depletion through our contact with the Hospice, the Cancer Association and the Cancer Clinic at Groote Schuur. Cancer attacks one‟s faith in life where ever in the body it is rooted. Consciously we are staggered by its implications, subconsciously we call up defenses to fend off or detach ourselves from the hurt and pain. It is simple to say, “If your wife has a breast removed you must assure her of a continued place in your desires, never let her see that you find her physically less than she was before.” There were two problems in this for us; one was that we were far too close to each other for there to be any deception unless it was very deeply seated. The second was that when your lives have spun around each other for as long as ours had, the possibility of losing the one you love becomes a matter that your subconscious wants to deal with in private and somewhere inside yourself the foundations for a wall or two are laid. Subtly and without either of us being truly aware of it, I started to move myself out of danger, to surround myself with stone. This process was so slow and so unobtrusive that it might never have become a problem, but then a terrible thing happened; I developed cancer as well. Now two of us were building walls, in secret, from each other and worst of all, from ourselves. The normal familiarity and disillusionment that can threaten any marriage pales into insignificance in comparison with the power that drives the forces with which we protect ourselves from pain and loss. I have often heard stories of husbands and wives that walked out on their partner's cancer and the ignorant have raised their hands in horror that such a thing could happen. As I sat in the train I thought back to when, after months of having my sexual overtures turned down, I made up my mind that I would never make an advance again and only respond if the need came from her. I was very quick to seize an opportunity to move myself one step further away. Sharon, it seemed did not care too much for me so why should I allow myself to remain vulnerable. I started my own business and Sharon worked hard at her job and her hobby which was painting. The more time I spent at work, the less she seemed to care. The business struggled, I worked longer hours, we saw less of each other. Nobody really knew that anything was wrong, I got on with my cancer, she got on with hers. We supported each other more or less as it was expected of us and time ticked by.
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Eventually I was faced with the realization that my business was a failure. For some time I had been hiding it from myself, I needed a reason to be away from home but finally had to admit that I could justify this escape route no longer. I simply found another one; I told Sharon that I was going to leave her and go upcountry. She did not love me and I would get along without her. I would continue to support the family financially as best as I was able but our relationship was ended. The world fell apart. I was shocked by what happened to her, by how deeply and badly it took her. I had not believed that she cared that much and the depth of her hurt tore at my own being so completely that there was no question of my departure. I could never and would never leave her. To realize how much we loved and could not face the prospect of losing each other, we had to cut so far into our hearts that we opened wounds that nearly destroyed the very thing we had been so frightened of being taken from us. Those wounds never entirely healed and as I stared out of the train window into the darkness I was still suffering from a belief that it should have been otherwise. I have asked myself many times, could God not have delayed my stupidity just a couple of months, that she need not have been so hurt? It was only six weeks later that her cancer moved into her bones and we were informed that, although it was difficult to say when it would happen, she should start to prepare herself and the family for a terminal situation. I know now that if we had not gone through the shock of understanding how we felt about each other we might never have valued the last months of her life as we did. I would never have worked so hard every day, to say in any way that I could, “I love you Shar, I love you Oh, so very much.” and she would not have worked so hard to believe it. Slowly we gained ground in restructuring our dependence on each other and the last year of our life together was a time when, as never before, the two of us stood back to back and took the worst that life had ever thrown our way. We did not ward off cancer, we took it and forced it down from our hearts and minds to a level where it belonged. We were able thus to keep the destruction it causes a physical thing and so it remains to this day. Her courage and faith took many blows that made her reel and almost fall, but she always took hold again and stood up straight, shining and proud. She held fast to the belief that cancer was a thing of the flesh and could not demean or destroy anything of value as long as she did not open up her heart and let it in. I can remember when it all started, sitting in the car and waiting for her to come out of the doctor‟s rooms where she had gone to have a lump examined. When she arrived she told me that she had to have an operation. Only on the table would they know if a mastectomy was required. We must agree to the removal of her breast before the operation. This was hard to believe; could it not be done in two operations? Was there no way we could have time to digest the truth, discuss it and then say, “Go ahead,”? It seemed not. She was operated on much against her will. She went into the theater not knowing whether she would come out a whole woman or whether she would lose something
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of herself, something that would be more than a breast. Her pride in herself and her sexuality hung on the whim of a doctor whose manner was at times abrupt and uncaring. What did he know of her and who she was, of how her values were structured? She did not live as many other women did; her hair color was real, her skin hardly touched by makeup. She had never allowed me to see her in curlers. How would it feel to undress in front of me and remove not only her clothes but a part of her body? How would it be for her to lie in bed knowing that not just her body but her essential femininity was marred? It avails a man nothing in such circumstances to say it will not make a difference, it is not he that controls his partner‟s belief in herself, she has to decide for herself that it will make no difference. Sharon had always been so proud of my enjoyment of her. What did this doctor know of such things? He never discussed them with us. Nobody did. Sharon‟s mastectomy was partial but unsightly. The scarring was heavy and stretched from under her arm to her nipple. Her first struggle to get back on her feet and look the world in the eye began. She decided not to wear a false breast, what she was, she was.

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CHAPTER TWO

I looked across at the conductor, he was sitting and staring at a clipboard on his lap. He must have felt my attention for he looked up and smiled. He got to his feet and turned to the window. There were some lights visible ahead. He started and grabbed hold of the window, lowering it to lean out into the night. The wind whipped rain across my face and I drew away. He turned back, smile gone, “The driver did not stop,” he said and left the carriage in some haste. I felt the train starting to slow and got up, reaching for my backpack. As I came out into the corridor the conductor returned. He was very disturbed and indecisive. “Get back into the compartment and wait for me to fetch you. No one must see you.” Then he stood for a minute.... “I will ask the stationmaster, we are good friends ..... No I cannot tell him, he will have to report it. I will have to get one of our own drivers to take you back.” “Take me back where?” I asked. “Back across the border. The train did not stop at the border as arranged and this is Zimbabwe. You are in darkest Africa now Mr. Russell and you have no papers.” Thoughts of prison cells and political red tape filled my mind. In recent years several tourists had languished in jail mistakenly accused of spying for South Africa. I did not relish the idea of joining their ranks. I sat in the compartment and waited. Slowly the train pulled into the station and I pulled back from the window as we passed people standing on the platform. I pulled down the blinds and sat for at least ten minutes expecting to be discovered by the wrong person. Eventually the conductor returned, “So far the authorities know nothing,” he said, “Come with me.” We climbed off the train on the wrong side. I jumped down from the vertical steps into the rain with my heavy pack. As the rain fell, slowly starting to soak through the outer layers of my clothing, the conductor told me what to do. “You must follow me and we must be quick. I am going to take you to the goods yard and we will see if we can find one of our drivers to run you back across the border. There are two South African trains, one was just ahead of us and the other one is about ready to leave at any time now.” I nodded, what could I say or do, I had no knowledge or understanding of what was happening here. I could only hope that somehow this man would be able to organize something. The walk was too much my own effort to be able to absorb long delays or added costs. I was scheduled to start at the border on Saturday the 3rd of July and today was Friday the 2nd with only two hours left to midnight. I was a stranger in another country and I guess if I had to trust anybody it had to be this man. So here I am, wet and cold, trudging along behind someone to whom I have become a problem. A problem that must be resolved quickly or his absence from the train will be noticed.

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A loco looms large ahead of us and through the rain I can make out the shape of a man standing beside a lantern and a metal lunch box. My conductor goes up to him and they talk. The man turns to look at me and then shakes his head. The conductor swears and then returns to me, “Come on,” he says and I follow him around the front of this massive machine which hums electrically as it sits impassively on its tracks. After we have crossed three or four more lines I see we are approaching another loco. This one has lights and is moving slowly towards a line of trucks. They meet and a crash indicates that they have coupled up. The humming takes on a sharper pitch and my conductor hurries forward. Again there is talk, this time directed up at a man who has come out of the cab to stand on the footplate. He listens and then reaches down to me, “Pass up the bag.” he tells me. I shrug it off my shoulders and struggle to get it high enough. He leans down further and grips one of the straps. “It‟s bloody heavy” he says, but gets it up. I follow the bag and when I get to the footplate turn to thank the conductor, but he has gone. There is only the rain sleeting down and lights reflecting off it in a pattern that bears no resemblance to any sensible scene however hard I try to decipher it Inside the cab it is warm and there is light, but not much room. Someone closes the door and the rain is shut outside in another world. I push my pack against the front of the cab and stand with my back to the engine. There are two men in the cab, the man who lifted my pack is obviously the senior and it is he who starts to question me about who I am and what I am trying to do. “My wife died in February and I am walking from Beit Bridge to Cape Town to raise funds for cancer.” This statement was to bring all sorts of reaction and in this case the response is typical of many to come; an immediate move towards a wallet or a purse. “No,” I say, “I do not accept money, you must send your donation to the Hospice Association or to your local Cancer Association.” They ask for an address and it is obvious to me straight away that I have not given this aspect of the walk enough thought. Later I would have a small handout printed with the necessary details on it that I could give to anyone that expressed interest. I understand that people who say they will give sometimes forget but realize too that the generosity of most South Africans is spontaneous and if an offer is not taken up immediately it does not get followed through. I could not, however, accept cash donations officially; it was illegal for a start and secondly could make me an attractive target for someone with a need and an unsociable way of filling it. The driver and his assistant discuss the foolhardiness of the venture with a certain amount of skepticism, but by the time they have satisfied themselves about the details of the planning such as daily targets, diet and other aspects that occur to them they feel better. Then they ask the question that nearly always brings the whole scheme into the realms of the irresponsible. “Do you have a gun?” “No” I reply, “I do not.” The driver looks at me and shakes his head. His assistant chips in, “This is not Cape Town, the N1 runs right through Venda and the blacks are up and down the
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road all the time. Once they know you are alone on the road, then........” He draws his finger across his throat and laughs. It is acceptable but surprising that I do not have a support team and a back up vehicle. It is acceptable but disturbing that I intend to sleep many nights alongside the road, but couple these two with the fact that I have no weapon, means to most people that my walk can only end one way, and that is violently. Most people that I discussed the walk with before I started expressed concern over this aspect. Some people were quite forceful in their attempts to get me to carry a weapon. I have never felt the need to own a gun, and as it turned out, in all the two thousand kilometers from Beit Bridge to Cape Town the need for any kind of self defense of a physical nature never arose, although once or twice I was close to incidents that harmed others. Ahead of us a light changes from red to green and slowly the train moves forward into the night. The standing lights fall behind and the world is reduced to a moving oval of illumination ahead of us. Sometime later we pass over the bridge into South Africa and then come to a stop. The rain has slackened and ahead of us I can see the rail track running down the center of a cleared path. It is walled in along its length by bush, impenetrable and forbidding, dark and uncomfortable. The driver turns to me and smiles, “This is it.” I look out through the glass... There is nothing: No road, no town, no lights. I had hoped I would be able to get off the train and use a waiting room or find a dry corner at a garage. I need to sleep and to wake up where there is space to do a final check of my equipment and supplies. I hesitate and then ask, “Where is the N1?” The driver replies, pointing ahead, “Somewhere over there is a gate and a dirt track that goes off to the right. The gate should be open. Go through it and stick to the track. After about a kilometer it runs right onto the main road. If you turn back up the road it is another kilometer back to the border post, but you can just turn left and you will be on your way to Cape Town.” I reach out my hand to him and then his assistant, “Thanks very much, I appreciate your trouble.” “It is not a problem.” is the reply and then, “I will tell people about what you are doing.” This makes me feel better as the walk needs to inspire talk. As long as it is unusual and impressive enough for people to want to talk about it then the purpose of it must get spread. For Sharon and myself it is important that people know that we as individuals have been touched and that our effort, our walk is an expression of debt and not an organized, impersonal scheme to raise funds by a team of professionals. I climb down from the cab and reach up for my pack. I step back away from the train as it starts to move. Slowly its weight and mechanized power gather strength as it rolls past. Within minutes it has gone and I stand alone. Nature closes in around me and she seems uninspired by my presence as she cracks and chatters with the sounds of the night. The bush is alive despite the weather and the soft rasping of the downpour is not enough to dampen its activity. I cannot afford to stand too long and need shelter. As I become accustomed to the dark my surroundings appear, forming out of the black. I walk towards where I have been told to find the gate and it is where it is supposed to be, unlocked. There are no
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trees big enough to shelter me so I am forced to open my pack in the rain and dig around for my poncho. When I have it on I feel better, even if I am already wet, the irritating feel of the rain is reduced to my face. I start walking through the mud and fifteen minutes later step out of the bush onto the N1. The rain stops. The road is quiet and I walk into the middle of it. I turn and look back towards Zimbabwe and see the lights of the border post. To the South lies Cape Town and I am keen to get going, but need to rest and pack my gear. I walk to the North. When I get closer I see that the lights are actually not the customs post at all, but a construction site. Along the side of the road are some houses and in the distance a large white building that looks like a barracks. I continue forward and walk past a long line of trucks, obviously waiting for the border to open. At the end of the line are people, this is the customs post but it is in darkness. The people huddle together, mixed in with large bundles of belongings wrapped in a variety of colors and forms. A few fortunate ones are gathered around a fire and have a tarpaulin of sorts stretched above their heads. The fire hisses because the rain has started up again. I greet the people at the fire and they look up at me. One or two of them return the greeting, but they all watch me, waiting. They wait to see if I will indicate a desire to join them, sharing the warmth. I sense that they will not refuse me a place, but I can see that it will be awkward. I wish them well. “Hamba gahle” I say, not knowing whether or not they will understand fanakalo. They respond in kind and seem curious as I move off, but ask nothing out loud. I walk back along the line of trucks and quickly see that there is no hope of shelter amongst them. As I pass by, black forms watch me from underneath every available piece of cover including the undersides of huge trailers. I pass a car full of white men, they are laughing and drinking beer, the radio blaring. They take little notice of me. My shoes are squelching by now and I am worried that all the clothes in my pack will be wet too. I trudge towards the construction site and look around for a guard or a dog. A gate in the fence around the pre-fab offices stands open and I make a decision. In seconds I am inside the square of buildings. The cover I thought I might be able to use turns out to be shade netting and the rain drips through it as if it did not exist. I try several doors, but the only one that is open is the toilet. I put down the seat cover and wedge the door closed with my pack. It is 00.30 on Saturday morning and I have no idea what I am going to do tomorrow. It is cold so I unpack the space blanket and cover myself with it. I sleep. I am at least in the right place at the right time. The toilet seat is uncomfortable and although I am dry I find that by 4.00 am. I can take it no longer and pack up to leave. On the road again it is dark. The morning air is crisp and the rain has stopped. I walk for a short while and stop to make some coffee. I have found a culvert, a large drain passing under the road. It has a floor of soft sand, but it is dry and large enough to sit up in. I crawl inside and think, “To hell with the coffee. I know what I want.” So I quickly unpack my ground sheet and sleeping bag. I strip off my clothes and let them lay where they fall. Within minutes I am warm, dry and flat on my back. When I eventually wake up, it is nearly 9.00 am and the culvert is vibrating to the rumble of the trucks passing above me. The air is warm and the sky clear.
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I pull the groundsheet out from inside my little home and spread it on the floor in the sun. I unpack everything onto it and bearing in mind the weight that I have battled with for only a few hours, I re-pack only those items that I feel I will really need. The rest I stand neatly by the side of the road, a gift to the first passerby. What is left is still too much, but I have re-adjusted straps and redistributed the weight. Having made myself happy about my pack I take it off again and make breakfast. The gas stove works. I have porridge and coffee with a couple of rice cakes. I boil some water and shave. At about 10.00 am I am on the road and walking. Everything feels easier and the sun is shining. The Northern Transvaal stretches out on either side and I love it. I feel like singing. It was always to remain a good feeling, this being on the road. Later I would get into the habit of talking to my creator; I would start to walk in the morning, mentally feeling my toes, feet, ankles, legs and shoulders. Then I would report, “Well God, I am on my way again, everything seems fine and I feel good. Thanks.” During my approach to the town I meet the odd person walking or waiting alongside the road. They are friendly and relaxed and to my surprise speak fanakalo. I stop and explain to each of them what I am doing. Later I was to find this impossible as it took up too much of my time.

FROM MY NOTES: 3/7... Walk well until in Messina, find and report to parish priest, Father......... He seems suspicious and reluctant to let me talk despite letter from Archbishop. He says he cannot put me up as he lives alone. Walked 10km out of town, hitched back to get a head start tomorrow after Mass. Back in town about 6. Walk town flat trying to find suitable place to sleep. End up at garage. Huge blister on right foot in usual place. Shoulders ache. Garage attendant real character. Gave me beer and talk of his culture and it‟s superiority to that of whites. I am locked in restroom until morning.....

The first thing I do when I reach Messina is ask for the Catholic Church. I am directed into the township and told that it is behind the beer hall. I walk through people gathered around stalls and taxis. It is Saturday morning and busy. Nearly everybody stares and shuts up as I walk past. The sun is hot and the street is mustard colored and dusty. I turn into the road where the church is supposed to be and find it not much more than a track. There are a lot of teenage children playing some sort of game and they have no problem with me, but continue as if I belong there. I ask for the priest and I am told that he is in town at the “white church”. One of the older people comes up and talks to me. Yes, he will run me down in his car. But first I go into the church. I need to pray. The place is more like a hall than a church; Benches are scattered everywhere, the
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paint is peeling and on the floor in front of the altar are cardboard boxes which are stuffed with what looks like old clothes. When we get to the “white church” it is more in keeping with what one expects of a Catholic church. The garden is dry but cool and there is a feeling of peace there. Father is not too peaceful when I give him my credentials. He agrees reluctantly to let me address his congregation, but says he cannot give me a place to sleep as he lives on his own. He tells me that the service is at eight am the next day. I have met priests before that are suspicious and guarded about being hospitable, but here is a contrast; he seems like a gentle man and yet something is worrying him. I leave him and lift my pack to my back. I must walk out of town at least 10km in order to complete my day‟s quota. Ignoring the early afternoon heat I set off. This time I am not so comfortable and it is a struggle. I can feel my right foot burning and know that I am developing a blister. For some reason I have had little trouble with my left foot, but have constantly been plagued by blisters on my right foot. From the time I started training, whenever I pushed a little too hard the first casualty has always been the skin behind my big toe.

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When Sharon and I first discussed the walk I was totally confident that I could deal with the physical aspect of it. I had worked for many years underground and was proud of my ability to put my head down and keep going when things got uncomfortable. I was a member of the underground rescue team for three years during which time I found that I had natural physical fitness which others had to exercise to achieve. The walk seemed to be the sort of thing suited to my nature and make up. Cancer is a disease that calls on an ability to consistently go forwards despite relentless attacks on sometimes very basic and valued aspects of your life. It is not only the disease that must be actively fought, sometimes it is also the treatment. Radiation over prolonged periods brings fatigue, loss of hair and other side effects. Chemotherapy is however the big ugly and although its side affects vary from patient to patient they are never pleasant. Sharon explained to me that although she had been told that the operation was successful, she had to attend a course of treatments that involved going up to Pretoria once a month. It was called chemotherapy and was to kill whatever cancer cells were still floating around in her system. “Will it be difficult?” I asked. “No, the doctor says that it is quite straight forward and lots of people go through it without problems.” We had no reason to believe otherwise and thought that although inconvenient, chemotherapy would be just fine. Fortunately, later that week someone walked into my office at work.
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“I believe that your wife has cancer” he said. I looked up from my desk. “That‟s right.” He pointed at a chair, “Do you have a few minutes? Can I talk to you?” “Of course.” I replied, “Sit down.” I had met him before in the course of my work, but only casually and I was surprised that he even knew of Sharon's cancer. “Is she going to have chemo?” he asked. I nodded but before I could elaborate he interrupted, “I had cancer and I had chemotherapy. Because neither I nor my wife knew anything about it when we started, I have come to warn you about a few things.” “What is there to warn me about? The doctor seems to think its fine. He says that it can make her a bit nauseous for a few days after she gets it, but that it passes. He also told her that she can lose some hair..., but that does not happen to everyone.” He looked at me, “What did he tell you personally?” I did not understand. “Me…Nothing, why?” “Have you seen him yourself to discuss this with him?” “No, I have not!” I laughed, “I don‟t think he likes me, he prefers to talk to Sharon's mother.” What I was told that morning shocked me. I heard a story of despair and anger. I heard of extreme nausea and total hair loss. I was told it was true that the side effects varied from person to person, but common to all was a buildup of resistance to taking the treatment. I learned that some patients went so far as to refuse the treatment rather than continue to live a life of misery. I learned that others developed allergies to needles, to swabs, to anything that might free them from the necessity of having further doses. He told me that in his case, he had lost his hair, although it had grown back. He explained how he deliberately made business appointments that clashed with his treatment days and then told his wife he could not let his job come second. “Your wife will get irritable and sly,” he warned me, “She will make any excuse, she will tell you, it‟s fine, that the treatment is no longer necessary etc., etc.” “Why didn‟t anybody tell us this?” I asked. He shook his head. “We live in the backwoods here, you are dealing with doctors that think husbands are only allowed into a bedroom after the wife is in her nightclothes with the lights off. You are not like that I hope? If you are, you had better change, cancer cannot be dealt with from a distance. If you love your wife you are going to have to be open and prepared to take some rough times.” Sharon was to go up to Pretoria a few days later. Her father, who was retired, had offered to take her and it seemed a convenient way of arranging things. I did not have the heart to tell her what I had learned and she went as planned without me. Sharon came back after her treatment pale and shaken. The nurse had found inserting the needle for the drip difficult and Sharon had fainted. Her veins were difficult to find and she was to be plagued by this problem for rest of her life. She had also learnt something of the truth of what she was facing from the doctor at the cancer clinic under whose care she had been placed. I found myself allowing her parents to take her to Pretoria each time she was scheduled for treatment. In
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fact during that whole period I only went with her twice and neither she nor I was comfortable about it. On reflection and with the knowledge I possess now, the side effects of the chemotherapy were not as bad as they could have been. Her hair did not all fall out and the nausea was restricted to a few days after each session by the use of pills, eating wisely and its own mysterious ability to come and go. Psychologically it was not so easy for her. Sharon became very irritable and difficult to live with. This was brought about partly by her frustration and partly by her anger at life. She was often absent minded and once I received a phone call from her in the middle of the morning. “Rog, I can‟t find the car.” “What do you mean, you can‟t find the car? Where are you?” She burst into tears and through them cried that she had taken the car to the supermarket to do some shopping. When she had gone into the shop she could not remember what it was that she needed. She had left the shop and come out into the car park only to find she could not remember where she had left the car. I took the rest of the day off and went to fetch her. We found the car and she drove it home. I made lunch and walked with her in our garden. We did not discuss what had happened. We ignored it. Things were not easy to face, it seemed better to deal with the physical results of her treatment and then pretend that anything else had no significance. The children had plenty to deal with and I found that they too evidenced behavior that was not what I was used to from my offspring. They received little sympathy from me and I laid at this time the foundations of problems that complicated their relationship with her when she was dying and they needed to express their deep love for her. One evening I came home to find that the glass top of our dining room table had been smashed. Sharon had hit it with a jam jar whilst overreacting to some or other remark by one of the kids. For me the solution lay with the children; “Your mother is sick,” I told them, “it is your responsibility to make sure that nothing goes wrong in this house when I am not here.” I squashed any protest. They were to blame for anything that happened if they were the spark that set fire to their mother‟s anger. In the situation that existed her anger was normal and they could not control it. They were expected to smooth out my rough road and knew that they were failing. I never stopped to think that they were hurting too. I saw only the problems that I had to avoid to keep my life in some sort of balance. Some part of me doubted my ability to be what I needed to be. If I had opened my heart to her and the children I might have been overwhelmed by the need. I could not risk that. In time the treatment ran its course and life returned to some semblance of normality. The children settled down and the house became a place where we laughed and cried as if we had nothing to fear from the future. The damage had been shelved somewhere and need never be aired. I was unhappy at work and tried to fix things by transferring to another department. This did not work and when I saw a job advertised in the Sunday paper for a boat builder in Capetown I applied. Building boats had been a hobby of

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mine from when I was a teenager and the Cape was a place that both Shar and I loved very much. My application was successful so we packed bag and baggage and left. I started my new job and Sharon found work as a receptionist. The children went to new schools with the exception of the two eldest. Annelee had joined the circus on completing her matric and so had already become independent. Brian stayed in Klerksdorp in order to complete his matric at the school he was used to. Life was different and stimulating. My work was fulfilling and took up a lot of my time. Sharon seemed happy and although I could sense that we were not as close as before, well we were getting older and if some of the rose petals had fallen off it was a casualty common to most marriages. She was in control, I was in control and life went on. Sharon had stopped going for checkups and that was fine with me. It was her life, her body. I did not want her to go looking for trouble anyway. We had been in Capetown for six months when I discovered a lump under my arm. I had cancer.

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CHAPTER 3

The sun has set and the town is basically dark. I feel lost. I have no idea of where to go or how to sleep. I go to the station and find the station master but he tells me that I cannot sleep there. Back on the street I eventually end up at a garage. On the side of it is a container and behind the container a small cement floor surrounded by a low wall. I ask the garage attendant if I can sleep there, he shrugs and I take it as a yes. I sit and take stock of the situation wishing I was back in the culvert at the border. I am reluctant to set up my sleeping arrangements as it is still early and the hotel next to the garage is busy. The attendant watches me from the corner of his eye. At about 8.00 pm a crowd of people come streaming from the hotel. Their talk is of a rugby game and I realize they have been watching the French play South Africa. Three of them come round to the back of the container and relieve themselves against the wall. The urine spreads across the concrete at their feet. Suddenly the hope of sleeping there becomes less attractive. About three meters away the door to the gents‟ toilet at the garage is standing open. One of them looks at me and says, “What goes in at the top has to come out at the bottom.” They all laugh and walk off. When they have gone the garage attendant comes across to me. “Come and sit with me,” he says, “I have a beer for you.” We sit and talk until late. First he brings me a beer and then suggests I take off my shoes. He has a lot to talk about, he has been working at the garage for a long time and tells me that he almost runs it by himself. We have a long discussion about blacks and whites, marriage and children and other cultural issues. I talk and listen and laugh with him. We have all changed in this country lately and continue to change every day that we interact. It is staggering to think of what it was like even ten years ago; could I then have sat and shared a beer with this man? Would he have felt as at ease, sitting with me criticizing my race as explicitly as he was doing now? I realize for the first time something that I am to understand clearly on the walk; the country has grown up. As a nation, black, white, brown, whatever, we have converged and are closer to accepting our differences than seems possible in the time we have been consciously busy. At midnight he packs away the products that are on display. I help him and when we are finished he tells me to take my pack into the gents‟ restroom. “I will have to lock you in.” he says. “What time can you let me out tomorrow?” I ask. “I am always here at six. You will have time to make yourself breakfast and be on the road before the boss comes at eight.” I have to be at the church at eight so that suits me very well. I will have time to prepare what I wish to say.

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Later, on my own in the restroom, I get down to doctoring my body. First comes the blister. The half of my foot just behind my big toe is covered with it, the skin swollen out by the fluid. I lance it with a needle and squeeze the fluid out. Then I cover it with ointment. I have been told by those that know that this is what they do in the army. I dress it with a large piece of plaster to stop it soiling my sleeping bag. Next I consider my aches and pains; my left hip is little sore for some reason but the real discomfort is in the muscles behind my right shoulder. When I move my arm up a sharp stabbing pain shoots across my back. I decide against a muscle relaxant until the morning as I read that the effects include an anti-depressant and I do not want anything to interfere with my ability to sleep. Instead I take two pain pills and lay down to spend an uncomfortable and restless night. I am not used to sleeping on a hard flat floor. In the morning I am up and washed by the time that my friend opens the door. My blister does not feel too sensitive so I leave it alone. I treat myself to two cups of coffee at a cafe and make sure I am at the church by 7.30 am. The door is open and I go in and kneel down. A little later father comes in and busies himself at the altar and the sacristy. I realize that he has no servers. Just before eight he appears from the sacristy fully robed and sits. We both wait. 8.00 am comes and goes. Father is obviously uncomfortable and keeps looking at the door. I know now why he has been acting strangely; we are going to be alone, there is no one for me to address. As mass is about to begin, five minutes late, two people arrive. Others come in later and eventually, by the time we start the readings there are about twelve in the church. Father gives a few words of homily and then introduces me as someone who is collecting for cancer. I stand and walk up to the pulpit. “Good morning,” I begin, and smile. I am relaxed and I see that they too relax. Some of them also smile as they return the greeting. “My name is Roger Russell and my wife's name is Sharon. Sharon died of cancer in February this year and before she did, she and I decided we would like to repay the people who had helped us by doing something that would publicize their needs and their service. We decided that after she had died I would walk from Beit Bridge to Capetown to tell people about cancer. Cancer is called a death sentence and people who have cancer are sometimes called cancer victims. I find it difficult to stand here and tell you that these terms are not good because I know that possibly some of you have had bad experiences with cancer, and yes, cancer can be very hard. Sharon and I had some bad times and in the beginning it was difficult to understand why we should have to go through them. But I have to tell you that for us cancer became a blessing and now we prefer to call ourselves cancer beneficiaries. We all have a death sentence and we cannot avoid that. We are all going to die at some time, we just do not know when.

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For Sharon and myself it was as if God reached down and touched our hearts and said, “Be careful, there is not much time left to you, it can happen soon.” He gave us a great gift, He gave us time and an awareness of the value of the real things in life. He gave us time to be together like never before, time to talk to each other, time to gather our children around us and time to put things right that we had let slip. When you have been married for twenty five years you take things for granted. We were able to go back to an appreciation of life that was ours when we were younger; a walk on the beach became much more than a walk on the beach. We surprised each other with little gifts and we stood beside each other when it was difficult to do so. The last years of our married life became the best years of all. Our eyes were opened to many things; we understood the value of our children, of each other. We had always been independent and had never needed anyone‟s help and then suddenly we did and we found that there were thousands of people all over the country that were there for us. These people work hard every day to help all sorts of people that suffer. They are colorless, they have no politics, no race. They are doctors, nurses, social workers and receptionists. They are human beings who care, people who reach out to others. Sharon did not care if the person who smiled and fluffed her pillow was a member of the Nationalist party or a member of the ANC That person was not helping someone who belonged to his or her own group. That person was helping a fellow human being. Sharon and I want you to vote. Everyone votes, four years old or forty. If you buy a BMW you vote for German cars. If you shop at a certain supermarket you vote for that supermarket. I ask you today to vote for the good in the country. Vote for the hospitals and the clinics, vote for the people that struggle to provide for others despite cut budgets and staff shortages. We do not ask you to give anything now. We want you to support these organizations all the time. The need of the people does not end, the support from the public cannot end either. Give! Put something into the collection box on the street corner, take some magazines to the hospital.... Do anything that you can but support the positive aspects of our life. Sharon and I have a special concern for the Breast clinic at Groote Schuur, St. Luke‟s Hospice and the Cancer Association of South Africa but if there is a charity or an organization that is special to you in some way then please support that instead. What is important is that we support the good in this great country. Thank you very much.” What I have written here is what I planned to say, I did not speak from notes but from my heart and sometimes what I had to say at different times and in different places varied a little from the above. The message remained the same and the response is almost impossible to gauge. In Messina, I stepped down from the pulpit feeling that I had not done very well at all.

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I stand back from the pulpit and the twelve people clap. This is an unexpected reaction and I feel embarrassed. Father comes across to me and touches my arm, he nods his head and I see he is pleased. Outside everyone talks to me, they seem supportive and keen to donate money. One of them stands a little to one side waiting for a chance to talk to me. He is an impressive looking individual, dressed in a cowboy hat and wide leather belt as if he would be more comfortable in a Texas shopping mall than in a dusty African town. When we finally talk he introduces himself as “Tink”, telling me that he is an American and that it is the Fourth of July, which of course it is. As there are still three or four people around I let it be known that I need a lift out of town to the place where I stopped yesterday afternoon. Tink immediately offers his services, but wants me to meet his wife which means a visit to his home. Although I am worried about time I agree and I am taken to meet Donna Rae. She is a lovely lady and very, very American. We have coffee and mango muffins which are new to me. Some of them get packed in a plastic bag for my lunch and as I am about to leave Donna Rae offers me R20.00. At first I refuse but she insists that I accept it and spend it on myself. Back on the road I feel a little jaded but ignore that and walk. By 1.30 pm I am so tired that I can feel myself stagger from time to time. My right knee hurts, my left hip hurts and my blistered foot is on fire. I stop at a resting place at the side of the road and eat the muffins that Donna Rae gave me. I realize that I have had no breakfast. Stupid! I make some coffee and eat two Snackers. I feel much better. My blister still has the plaster over it so I take it off and see that it is full of fluid again. This time I snip the skin completely open with the scissors and pack it full of Savlon. I take two muscle relaxants for my shoulder but also because the write up says they help alleviate the depression that comes with muscle pain. I lay out my groundsheet and settle down to have a good rest. These hopes are dashed when, for some unknown reason, a troop of baboons decide that they want the resting place. I have hardly stretched out my legs and relaxed when I become aware of some movement in the scrub a little way down the road to my right. Two large male baboons emerge from the bush where the resting place ends ahead of me. They walk a few paces into the clearing and while the one remains standing on all fours, staring off into space, the other sits back on his haunches and starts scratching himself. Behind them others start to appear. They are smaller, one with a baby hanging from her neck. They too sit and scratch. One or two are feeding, plucking leaves from the bushes. They seem harmless enough so I relax and enjoy a little bit of nature in circumstances that I have not been in before. It is special to be here in the open on equal terms with creatures that live their lives in close contact with the world around them. I am on foot and have the same sort of habitat that they do. I will sleep where God has given shelter and rest, as I do now, where the fancy takes me. I soon learn that the baboons have other ideas. After a few minutes the one that is still on all fours rises to his back legs and looks directly at me. He starts to lift himself up and down as he does so. He has an
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unfriendly glare in his eye and I get the feeling that I have broken some important rule by just being there. He drops back onto all fours and advances towards me a couple of steps. He repeats his up and down display and barks at me before turning to go back to the other baboon who is still sitting. Then they both get up and come forward. One moves a little to the right, one a little to the left. This flanking movement is calculated to disturb me and it does, I start to pack my bag. Both baboons now sit and are joined by a third baboon. The rest of the troop have also managed to get closer without my actually seeing them do it. However they are more concerned with filling their stomachs and are merely following along behind the leaders, taking advantage of each extra metre of territory they are presented with. Once again the big one comes forward followed by the other two. Two of them now rise and go through the “What the hell are you doing here?” routine. I get my shoes on and rising painfully to my feet, reluctantly move on. I cross over the road to the other side and walk a hundred metres. When I look back they have taken over the resting place. The big one is sitting on the refuse bin and is dissecting one of the wrappers I have recently thrown in there. I have become a nonentity. I walk painfully as everything has stiffened up. Very soon I find some shade and rest again. This time I am undisturbed by territorial pettiness. It is 5.30 pm by the time that I reach the Tshipise turnoff, which is my target for Sunday. I am pleased that I am still on schedule but realize that if I must struggle to this extent every day I am not going to make it. At the turnoff I am overjoyed to see that there are three small rondavels and a sign that says accommodation. I think of the money I have been given and decide that I need to spoil myself. As it turns out the charge is exactly twenty rand but the owners refuse payment and the twenty goes back into my wallet. I am glad for the privacy of the room and a good wash which goes a long way to easing tired and aching muscles. After cleaning myself up, I sit with a cup of hot soup and I know that I could be a lot worse off than I am. I cook myself a decent meal and enjoy some hot black coffee. My belongings are laid out on the spare bed and I attack them with a cold and determined resolve to make the trip as easy as I can. Spare clothes, large torch, spare sugar, powdered milk, all go into a plastic bag condemned to be left out of the rest of my life. I ration out the food that I will need to get me to Louis Trichardt, the rest goes into the bag. I check my utensils. I keep three smaller pots and ditch the rest along with a set of plastic plates and some of the cutlery. I keep a teaspoon, tablespoon and a fork. My penknife I keep. I am going to do this walk and I am going to do it well. I will walk through all the problems that come up, be they physical or mental and stride into Capetown strong and healthy. Anything that gets in the way will be discarded or walked over. I realize that I must not miss a meal or any opportunity to rest. I must discipline myself to ensure that my body is properly paced and nourished.

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*

*

*

*

My cancer caught me completely off guard. All my life I had been active and healthy. When heart awareness teams visited the mine offices and checked our blood pressure and pulse rates they were always surprised at my age, saying that my results were those of a younger man. My regular fitness checkups, mandatory on the mines if you worked underground, always showed perfect lungs and hearing. I had accidents because I was careless but I did not get seriously sick. I had been working at John Robertson Yachts for about four months when I started to believe that I must have flu. For about two months I complained to all and sundry that I could not seem to shake off a feeling of being run down and generally tired. One weekend I helped my sister move her furniture from one flat to another. Those supposed to help did not and much of the work fell on her and myself. I have never had a problem performing physical labor before but this time I struggled. By the time the work was done I was finished. I went home feeling very ill indeed. The next day, a Sunday, I showered and found the lump. About the size of a golf ball and hard, it was suddenly very obvious. I assumed that it had grown there very quickly as I had not been aware of it before. Cancer never entered my head. Glandular fever was the obvious problem. Without much concern I agreed to a biopsy and it was performed at Fish Hoek hospital. When I visited the surgeon at his consulting rooms a few days later he asked me to sit down. I sensed that something was seriously wrong and sat down without the usual small talk. “Mr. Russell, we have identified the tissue from the lump under you arm as a metastasized squamous carcinoma.” I stared at him blankly, “What is that?” He continued, “This means that the lump is a malignant cancerous growth but that it does not belong where we have found it. It is in fact a cancer cell that originated in another part of your body and has migrated to the glands under your arm and grown there.” Again I asked. “What does this mean to me?” “Well I am sorry to have to tell you this, but the situation is very serious. Squamous tissue is the sort of tissue that we associate with your lungs and there is a strong possibility that is where the cancer originates. Also the fact that we found the secondary growth and not the original means that it has already reached the stage where it has been freed to move around your body.” I absorbed what he told me in silence and then asked him, “What do I do now?” He operated and removed what he could of the growth and then handed me over to Groote Schuur Hospital. Sharon was devastated. One night after the operation she was standing by the side of my bed just before visiting hours ended. I put my hand out and took hers.

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“It‟s O.K. love, you know me. I will get better, it will take more than a few little cancer cells to kill me.” I tried but knew that I did not sound very convincing. She started to cry and bent over to hug me. “I just know that nothing will ever be the same again. You are not supposed to be sick like this, I am.” I held her very close. “Promise me that you will go and see about your own check up.” She nodded and left, waving from the door of the ward. I do not know why that evening sticks so clearly in my memory. Perhaps it is because we were on a level of understanding that somehow went beyond the information that we had been given. Sharon was absolutely right … nothing was ever the same again. The only thing that we got wrong was that we thought I was the one that was going to die. Later that night I lay in bed and listened to the sounds of the hospital around me. “It is O.K. Lord,” I said, “I have no complaints, I have good children and I have had a good life. If I must go then I accept that.” God must have looked down at me and thought, “How can he be so pathetic?” Unfortunately this was to remain my attitude for a long time. “I want to start my own business.” I said. “Why, Roger? Why now? We have no pension, no money and our medical aid is the only insurance there is to help with the medical bills.” “If I am going to die, then I want to do things now that I have dreamed of all my life.... and I will do them!” I would not listen to reason; what I saw as important was all that was important. I wrote a book about my life on the mines. I started one morning in the hospital and I wrote and wrote and wrote. In six weeks it was finished and now lies unpublished in a drawer in my bedroom. I needed to leave something behind to tell people what and who I was. I became annoyed when my family told me stories of people that had by the force of their character and their will cured themselves of cancer. “What you are trying to say,” I answered, “is that if I die it will be my fault.” Sharon had no answer for my attitude and slowly withdrew from what I was. I sat at home for a long time after the operation. There were complications and the wound would not stop weeping. I was scheduled for very heavy radiation as it had not been possible to remove all the growth. This aggravated the wound and infection set in. The radiation had to be stopped several times and the treatment dragged on. I became very demanding sexually and Sharon was more and more reluctant to provide what I needed. One morning after having had my overtures turned down, I sat on the steps outside the house. Sharon had just left for work. I was feeling bitter and humiliated, “I will never ask her again.” I vowed. “I will never lower myself like this again.” I hurt so badly inside, things felt twisted and wrong, I felt hard done by. I was determined that no one was going to be able to hurt me anymore. Especially Sharon.
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One day after I had been back at work a few days Sharon telephoned and told me that she had finally been for a checkup. They had discovered another lump in the scar tissue of the previous operation. An immediate test had been done and it was malignant. She was to have a small operation followed afterwards by a course of radiation treatment. When we discussed it that night I asked her, “What about chemotherapy?” She shook her head, her lips firming to an obstinate line that was infrequent but once there spelt problems. “I will never have it again, I don‟t care what happens to me but I won‟t go through that again, I just won‟t.” Our life was not anything like that which we had always enjoyed. The two younger children who lived at home with us, Carolyn and Diana, existed on the fringes of a situation where the two most important people in their lives, the two around which their world swung, were suspect. They carried on doing the things that children of their age do, but the ground on which they had been building their futures suddenly had no substance. Mum and Dad looked the same on the outside but were so very different on the inside. Mum and Dad came home from work and sat in front of the TV, when it was cold they asked for blankets. When it was time to eat they ate in front of the TV. By eight or eight-thirty they were, more often than not, asleep in their armchairs. There was something different about the way that they talked to each other. They still lived together but they were not one person any more. They were two, and neither of the two ever did anything. I left John Robertson Yachts to start my own business. I had to pay in money on my last salary check as I had purchased some tools through their account. We started with literally nothing, Sharon‟s money kept the rent paid and I threw myself into my business with every ounce of energy that I had. I wanted it to work and as I had no money I had to be clever and industrious. Sharon became very concerned about her work as she said that it was only her pay check that kept us alive. At weekends I was not at home. Sharon painted and I worked. Cancer of the breast and cancer of the lung, two medical terms that say nothing about cancer of the spirit. Metastasis, a word describing the spread of cancer that says nothing of its infiltration into the hearts of two people who had always believed that their partnership was unassailable.

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CHAPTER 4

FROM MY NOTES: 5\7........ Walked until 1.40 pm + - 19km. Supposed to be a shop 10km ahead. I will try to make it. Really sick, plenty of aches and trembling, nausea. Have done well but battled. 2 more blisters, right knee is painful all the time. 4 people stopped to offer a lift. Every time knee and hip freezes up. Pain to get going again is excruciating, it lasts about 10 - 15 minutes. Will I slowly crack up? Mining should have toughened me but a friend told me that it had maybe done the opposite and I would suffer. I am scared that he was right.....

I oversleep and seem slow as I get myself sorted out. It is gone 9.00 am when I get on the road. I walk fairly steadily until 12.00 and after resting for half an hour walk until 1.40 pm. I have managed 19km for the morning which is good. Someone stops to offer me a lift and tells me that there is a shop about 10km further on. I strongly doubt my ability to make another 10km. The morning has been hot and I have battled the whole time with my knee and hip. The pain in my hip is fairly constant but the problem with my knee seems to settle once I have started walking, although every time I stumble or turn my foot it starts up again. During the course of the morning four people have stopped to offer me lifts. Every time they do I must stand and answer questions about what I am doing and how. The problem is that during this time everything freezes up and the pain to get moving again is excruciating. It takes at least ten to fifteen minutes to ease off so that I can walk with some degree of comfort. Once I have had lunch I take off my shoes and check my feet. The original blister is raw and inflamed. At the base of my small toe there is another one and this time on my left foot I have the beginnings of one as well. I lance them and pack each one with cream. I dress them all carefully, laying paraffin gauze on first and then a thin layer of sterilized gauze, all held down with plaster. After a long rest I start walking again at 3.45 pm. It takes longer than usual to get my legs to move normally and when I hear a car I stop walking so that people do not see me limping and hobbling along. Soon I am striding more easily and this helps me to feel better for a while. I reach the shop at about 5.00 pm which means I have only walked another 7km. Somewhere I have lost track of the kilometers because just past the shop is the turnoff for Waterpoort which is my stop for the night. I am where I am supposed to be after all. During the day I have walked three or four kilometers that I have not counted.

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The shop is on top of a small rise and I trudge up the slope in relief. I intend to have a good supper and promise myself some tinned peaches. When I get to the porch I release the straps of my backpack and slide it to the ground. Despite all the jettisoning of food and equipment it is still very heavy. In fact, at this stage of the journey, my pack weights 24kg, 3kg of which is water. I stand for a minute and move my shoulders around. It is good to be free of the pack but my right shoulder still has a twinge in the muscle under my neck. Inside the shop it is cool and smells of spice. The shop appears to be owned by an Indian family and I am helped by two young girls who are beautiful in that dark and special way peculiar to their nation. Whilst I am paying for my goods a young boy, blond and blue eyed comes up to me. “Do you mind if I ask you something?” I smile at him, “Not at all.” “Are you walking for something special? Are you going far?” He is such an open and confident boy that I cannot help but feel friendly and tell him what I am doing and where I am going. “I read about you in the paper,” he responds, looking very pleased about it all. “I told my father it was you. I want you to meet him, do you mind?” “No,” I reply, “I don‟t mind at all.” A few minutes later I have met and been introduced to the family of Johan B_________ who is the owner of a large transport company and also of a game ranch a few kilometers from where we are. He has no hesitation in inviting me to spend the night as his guest. He assures me that he will respect the requirements of my walk and bring me back in the morning to the very place he has picked me up. I have always been a little inclined to be skeptical about the number of truly good people in this world. A skepticism that is destined to take a severe beating as I progress through the country. In Johan and his family I find the first blow struck for good guys. He and his family are friendly and concerned. His son in particular turns out to be strong and sensible with a good grip on life. His daughter and his wife, although vastly different in maturity, are both cast from the same mold and are people any man would be proud to have as his own. I have a very pleasant evening with a braai in the traditional game lodge fashion; in a huge circular boma with the fire for coals burning high in the center. We discuss many things but what is pertinent to the walk comes across in a gentle and respectful manner. “Roger this walk you are doing is an admirable thing and not many people would have the guts to do it.” I make some remark about my ordinary nature, but Johan has something to say, “You do not have to worry about finishing it. If you reach Pietersburg or Johannesburg and feel that you have done enough then you must not feel that you have failed. You will have done more than most people do by just getting here to where you are now.” He pauses and looks across at me, “You know we passed you on the road on our way to that shop and we could see that you were really battling.”

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I sit and look into the fire, my heart is down in my boots. I know that although he and his family have politely ignored it, they have seen me struggling to walk around the lodge. My legs and shoulders are now in such a state that if I sit or stand still for longer than five minutes it is agony to move again. The blisters on my feet look like severe burns. The pain in my right foot has been aggravated by my own carelessness. One of the things I bought at the shop was methylated spirits. I had heard that it toughens the skin and although I had applied it to my feet carefully, my hand slipped and a great deal of it splashed over the raw skin of the big blister behind my toe. I can still feel the effects of the neat spirit on the already sensitive skin. The flames of the fire have died down a little, the silence stretches out. I am reasonably comfortable as long as I don‟t get up, but the blister hurts like hell. “I am not going to kill myself.” I reply. “Perhaps you should consider going a little slower. You are only going to do this walk once in your life and you should really try to enjoy it.” Later that night I sit and write up my notes. When I think about what he has said it makes sense. Except perhaps for the part about not finishing; this walk is not my walk, it is our walk and Sharon knew as well as I did that I could do it, and do it I will. He is right about one thing, I must slow down. Tomorrow is a tough climb up Wyllie‟s Poort and it also just happens to be scheduled as a 29km day. I make up my mind to relax and to do the 29km to Louis Trichardt over two days instead of one. The good food and the rest I have had will help me and perhaps I can actually improve my condition. Early the next morning it is just Johan and myself that leave the lodge. The rest of the family stays behind. We drive through the bush and he talks of what he is trying to do on his farm. He is concerned about the country around him and I can sense that he genuinely wishes to contribute to the future. An hour into the walk I stop and sit for a few minutes. I am physically drained and my hands are shaking. I make myself some coffee, very strong, very sweet. After a while I pull myself together and carry on. I am now walking through the Verwoerd tunnels and the country is magnificent. If I could get over the aches and the pains it would be a pleasure to walk along this road. There is plenty of game and I have seen several different animals but mostly buck. At about 11.00 am I stop and have a really good rest. I am going to need it, ahead of me the Wyllie‟s Poort pass climbs up and up forever. Just after 1.30 pm I strap on the backpack and start to hobble along. I move across to the left hand side of the road because the camber of that side favors my hip. Then it hits me like switching on a light bulb; my hip problem is caused by the camber of the road. Sometimes the slope is quite pronounced and most of the weight of my pack has to be lifted every time I step on my left foot. I cannot believe how stupid I am, why did I not see that straight away. But it is too late for my immediate problems. I make up my mind that I will not stop until I get to the top of the pass. So with shooting pains from my right knee and liquid fire on the soles of my feet I am on my way.
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Soon I adopt a sort of sideways step that is a little slower than normal but really helps my knee. One step at a time, I steadily move up the hill. I count the steps that I take to a minute and then calculate the number of steps to a kilometer at a rate of one kilometer every eleven minutes. I then calculate how many steps it is from Beit Bridge to Cape Town, then how long is a step, and so I go on for nearly an hour. After a while I have no energy for such things and my mind shuts down, I become silent, all I do is just walk. The sun beats down and I am dry. I force myself to have only one swallow of water every fifteen minutes. There is not much water in the canteen and after a while I take the last gulp. I hear crickets chirp and birds chatter but all is meaningless, the only thing that counts is the steady crunch of the gravel beneath my feet. Every now and again the sweat burns my eyes and I use my bush hat to wipe my head. It is already wet but the sun seems to dry off the rim fairly quickly. Up and up and up, it seems endless….. The first time I stop is at the top of the pass. There is a roadside stall where three black people are selling tomatoes. One is a real old patriarch and the other two, just simple youngsters. I look at my watch, I have done approximately nine kilometers and it has taken me two and a half hours. My shirt is soaked through with sweat and my hat is a soggy shapeless mass. I am as thirsty as you can get although it has only been a short while since the canteen was emptied. “Good afternoon” I say and the three greet me politely. “How much are the tomatoes?” The old man looks at my pack and then at me. He thinks for a minute and then says, “I sell them by the box.” I look at the box, it is not a box it is a crate. “How much for one?” I ask. The old man reaches down and picks out a large one, “For one you do not pay.” I take it in my hand it is cold and firm. I realize that this tomato cannot be dealt with casually so I put it down on the grass and take off my pack. I sit down on the step beside the door to the stall and pick up the tomato. I turn it round in my hand looking at it and when I bite it, it is everything I ever dreamed a tomato could be; The juice is overflowing and it has that special slightly acid taste that only the best fresh tomatoes, newly picked, manage to have. One of the younger men comes across to me and asks, “Where are you going?” “To Cape Town.” I reply. He looks at me in awe, “By the foot?” I laugh, “Yes,” I say, “By the foot. All the way, by the foot.” I sit for a few minutes and as long as we talk, so long do I get fed tomatoes. The old man cannot believe that I intend to walk to Cape Town. Cape Town is beyond Johannesburg, which places it in the same category as heaven or hell; a place that people tell you exists but which has no real meaning for you at all. “Do you have a car?” he asks me. “Yes I have a kombi.”
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“Where is it?” “In Cape Town.” “Why don‟t you use the car? Why do you walk?” I have already tried to explain this but I give it another try. “I want to talk to people, I want to go slowly so that I can sit like this and tell you that it is not all bad people in our country. There are many good people.” “Are you a good person?” I ask. He nods his head. “Is this man a good person?” He nods again. “Am I a good person?” He looks at me for a minute hesitating to say whatever it is that bothers him. “You are not a clever person,” he says. “Look,” I begin again, “If I had a car I would drive up this road and Whoosh, I would go past here and not greet you or tell you about my wife. My wife died in February this year and many people looked after her and helped her. Now I am walking to tell other people that those people did a good thing. I am walking to say thank you.” He shakes his head, “If I had money I would pay for you to take a taxi to Pietersburg, that would help you. If you refuse to take a lift, no one can help you, so how can you make friends?” “You are my friend,” I reply “I can feel it here,” I place my hand over my heart. “You can still say thank you to these other people, even if you ride in a car.” “I must do what my heart tells me to do.” I finally tell him. I have rested enough and we part company. As I hobble off I turn to wave and they all raise their hands in greeting. The old man holds his hand up longer than the others but still shakes his head. Many of the black people that I met could not see the reasoning behind what I was doing and later I was to meet an old Afrikaans lady who also felt I could just as well drive down the N1 as walk. The road is reasonably flat as I am traversing the top of the Soutpansberg and it is glorious. There are small farms and guest houses all along this stretch of the road and I see places where I could quite happily live out the remainder of my life. I come around a corner and see a resting place a little way ahead. I stop again. I should be looking for a place to sleep. I have done enough for today. In fact I have done too much; 20km of stiff climb on one of the hottest days I have known. The resting place is at the top of the long descent onto the plain below. 9km away and directly beneath me lies the town of Louis Trichardt. It is a good feeling standing there and seeing it. If I could go just a little further I would be on target. There is a long stream of traffic following a couple of slow trucks up the hill. I have a tin of Coke in my pack and a bar of chocolate. I sit on the table at the resting place with my feet on the bench. As I eat I watch the long line of cars crawl past. There are old bakkies and shiny new Mercedes. There are buses and trucks. Nobody can overtake, nobody wants to pull off. For a little while they are forced to see the surroundings at something like my pace. But they see very little. They are unhappy and irritated. As they grind by I stare at them and many of them stare back. We are separated by centuries of tradition.
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They are part of a system that has structured itself around material goods and financial security. It is fast and furious, it is the now and everybody has to work desperately to keep it going. The prospect of it crumbling and throwing everyone on to their own resources is too terrible to contemplate. I have elected to step outside it for a while. It feels great now, but I know that I will have to go back to it one day. I turn and look down at Louis Trichardt. Dusk is just starting to come down and in the twilight below the town lights are burning. Despite my noble thoughts about my temporary freedom, I feel the need to utilize the system. I disregard all the resolutions about disciplining and pacing my efforts and shoulder my pack. I will get to Louis Trichardt tonight and I will be on schedule. I fairly gallop downhill but must walk the last stretch in the dark. When I reach the town I have to turn off the N1 to go into it. I have no idea where I am and cannot see any indication of how to reach the town center. I stand at a stop street and wait for a car to stop. When one does there are two young men in it. I bend down to the window to ask directions but they pull off before I finish. The second car does the same so I walk further until I come to a set of robots. “Now they cannot ride off.” I think. When the lights change to red a car stops and a second car pulls up behind it. Again I approach the side window but the lady sitting there quickly winds it closed. Still I bend down to ask but to my astonishment they jump the lights and speed off. I stand up and look at the car behind. The couple in it is watching me closely and I see the driver look behind him. He is thinking of how he can get out of there. He does not come forward to the stop line but stays where he is. He and his passenger both stare at me. I shrug my shoulders and step back onto the pavement. “Welcome back to civilization.” I mutter to myself. The next time the lights go red I try again, this time I am told to keep going along the road I am on and I will come to some shops. I can ask further directions there. I find the shops and ask a garage attendant for the Catholic Church. He is not sure where it is but gives me a general indication. I walk a little further and find a Dutch Reform church. There are people coming out of the doors and I see from what is happening which one is the Dominie. I wait to one side for him to finish greeting his congregation and ask him where I will find the Catholic Church. He says he does not know. This is some town. I return to the shops to use a telephone but when I get there I realize that the people to ask are the Portuguese owners of the corner cafe. Sure enough they not only know where the church is but offer to take me there. I am loaded into a bakkie and a few minutes later find myself being introduced to the priest. The usual priest is away and the man I meet is from Senegal. He is French and very open about life. Staying with him are two trainees, Charles and Peter. They are a different sort of African, one with which I have no experience. They are like university students in that they discuss politics and philosophy with a seriousness that implies an understanding of the importance of it all. Not
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realizing that until they can see the humor and futility of it when measured against human nature they have understood nothing. As I listen to the discussion around the dinner table, because here in this parish I am welcome to share what there is, I hear the confidence in the voices of two people. Two people who are young, political and yet have their fervor tempered by a commitment to peace and goodwill. The Catholic Church is old and experienced, it has seen human failing and corruption both outside and within its ranks. I catch the old French priest listening to the young talk with amusement. He catches my eye and smiles at me. He has been there himself. I have a problem equating organized religion with the obvious intelligence of its administrators in any denomination. Here I see tolerance watching enthusiasm with complete faith in a positive outcome. The next morning after breakfast I stroll out into the garden and meet a small Irishman, he has long, dark curly hair, a few days growth on his face and is wearing a T-shirt and jeans. I talk to him about the walk and because I believe him to be a handyman of some sort ask him why he is there. He smiles and introduces himself as Father Frank. He works in the rural communities around Tzaneen and tells me his parish includes seventeen villages. He has come to fetch the three I have been staying with and they will be leaving to go to his parish that afternoon. They will only return the next day. I am told that I can stay at the rectory as long as I like and I take advantage of the offer immediately. I need to see a doctor about my knee. Now that I have rested and am thinking clearly, I can see that I have to lose a day if I am to stand any chance of recovery. Perhaps it is because of my surroundings that I have the feeling that I must trust the power that is behind this walk and all life. It occurs to me that I could hitch a lift to make up the 25 kilometers I will miss but I know that I cannot do this. I cannot afford to let myself and Sharon down. I walk into town and find a member of the Rotary club. He owns the chemist shop and directs me to a doctor. The doctor is abrupt and efficient, he listens to my story and examines my knee. “Rheumatism! -Get dressed.” He leaves the office and returns with a box of pills. “Take one three times a day for ten days. Don‟t miss any of them.” I am a little hesitant to leave. I feel that somehow he must have missed something. Why should I suddenly get rheumatism and why has he not told me to rest for a few days? He looks at me, waiting. “How much do I owe you?” I ask. “Nothing. You want to carry on walking don‟t you?” “Yes,” I say. “Take the pills.” I stroll through the town and look at the people on the streets. Contrary to what I have seen on the road there is a tension here. A lot of men look and dress like Eugene Terreblanche. Many of them wear guns.

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I go to a Wimpy and stoke up on eggs and bacon. I love this kind of food. I wash it down with a glass of milk. When I leave I walk past something I have not seen before; A shop that sells the use of a telephone. There are cubicles in which you sit and phone where ever and for as long as you like. When you are finished you go to the office at the entrance and pay for the units you have used up. I have a field day and when I leave I am presented with a bill for R78.00. I cannot believe it, but I have to pay. I have just enough cash on me and must walk back to the automatic teller and draw more for the walk to Petersburg. In the evening I wander around the priests‟ house alone. I make coffee, sit and read. I get up and look at the statues and pictures. I fetch my notebook and write. Suddenly I am frightened by the thought of tomorrow and all the tomorrow‟s there after. These last few days I have been in a sort of trance, driving myself through rain, pain and whatever. How I managed to climb the pass yesterday I have no idea. Somebody took over and shut down my awareness and my body just did what it was told to do... Will that continue to happen? Will I be able to walk through the daily problems without help as the road gets longer? I feel that if I could overcome the aches and pains I would be able to deal with the fear and loneliness more effectively. I miss my grandchildren and others that I love very much. I am a family person and not really a loner. Sharon and I were very close and there is nobody that now plays the role in my life that she did. This trip is something we planned together but it is also something that only two feet can walk. I go through my pack again and remove some items. This time I pack them in a plastic bag and before I leave arrange with Rotary to have them forwarded to Pick „n Pay in Pietersburg.

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CHAPTER 5

I rise early and leave an empty house. I write a small note of thanks for the priest and leave it on the mantelpiece. The opportunity afforded to me to rest and recuperate has been a real gift. I walk out onto the bypass and turn to the south. At 8.15 am I am at a sign that tells me it is 108km to Pietersburg. My schedule tells me it is 1890km to Cape Town. I have completed 109km in four days. This is good enough. Then I decide that it is not good enough. I must push harder. I grip my mental attitude by the throat and shake it. I will do the next stretch in three days and make up for what I have lost. Nothing is going to stop me. If I feel that I am not really winning then I must be losing. I am obviously not doing enough and must do more. So much for a disciplined and controlled approach I tell myself, but smile, I feel better already. By 10.25 am I have done 12km. My pains have been reduced considerably but the expensive foot plasters that I had purchased for my blisters are proving to be useless. I strip them all off and treat the blisters my way. The pack is noticeably lighter and within half an hour I am keen to get going again. This day is a hot one but I keep on until 1.10 pm and add another 11km to the day‟s tally. At 3.15 pm I am rested and fed and although my feet are sore, I have dressed them for the second time and I feel comfortable about pushing ahead. Bandelierkop is a 7km gain on my schedule and when I reach it at 5.30 I feel very pleased. There is no medicine like success. As I approach the town I see a Police station on the right and I decide to ask for a cell for the night. Twenty five years ago I had done this often whilst hitch hiking around the country and although the conditions were sometimes spartan, four walls and a roof are better than nothing. The problem of where to sleep only arises in towns and built up areas. On the open road the culverts provide all I need. They are dry and normally clean. Once in a culvert you are invisible to any passing traffic and the average size of them is just enough to allow reasonable movement without being so large as to make you feel unsheltered. The man on duty listens to my request and I can sense that this sort of thing is no longer common. Using the telephone he refers the matter to the duty sergeant who finds it so intriguing, he asks that I wait whilst he comes from the barracks. He refuses point blank to give me a cell and instead takes me back to the barracks where he shows me a spare room, TV lounge and bathroom. “You make yourself at home here,” he insists, “and if you need anything just shout.” Before I do anything else, I set off for the hotel, leaving my pack in the room unopened. I have been dreaming of a rock shandy the whole day and that little reward for the kilometers I have done comes first. I treat myself to two. I sit and
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drink alone but my thoughts are of the road ahead. I am excited by the good progress I have made today and believe that there is some hope of making up the day I have lost in Louis Trichardt. I do not sleep too well, my knee and my hip are better but I have difficulty finding a comfortable position that caters to both at the same time. In the morning I talk to some of the men and they warn me that there is a large black township called Mphakane about 23km ahead. There are some rough people there but I am told I should be O.K. if I stay on the road and get through it before nightfall. I leave Bandelierkop at 8.00 am and push hard. I stop at a farm stall to buy some tomatoes. I am pleased that I am walking at this time of the year. On the train journey up to the border I saw huge orange orchards rich with golden fruit and here in the north there are tomatoes, fresh and tasty, everywhere. I move on and as I walk I am comfortable enough to think about something else besides my body. I have to do more towards generating funds. I often get stopped and people offer me lifts then want to know more about what I am doing. This takes time and I cannot be abrupt. What I need is a hand out. Something with a brief message and details of where to send money. One of the more disturbing things I have learnt through Sharon‟s death is that many people need to be seen to be giving. The motivation to actually send a donation through the post has to be great to get someone to go to the trouble. When I placed the funeral notice in the paper, I ask that donations be made to St. Luke‟s Hospice rather than have flowers at the church. There were no flowers at the church but few people actually took the trouble to make a contribution to the Hospice. St. Luke‟s Hospice wrote and thanked me for each donation. The amount was never mentioned but the source of the donation was stated and I was disappointed in many close friends and organizations. I felt that they would have sent flowers under normal circumstances but did not donate because nobody would know that protocol had been side stepped. I know that most of the people I have spoken to so far will forget or just not bother once they are back at home again. A hand out would help to remind them. Ahead of me I see a typical location town; some solid houses but mostly flat roofed, one roomed buildings. They are dirty and scattered across the veldt. Here and there they are grouped quite densely. Everywhere in between the permanent structures are lean-tos and shacks. Although it is nearly 12.00 am and I am at a distance, I can see a smoke layer spread like a soiled gray sheet above the houses. All around me the country is rocky and the vegetation sparse but just ahead, between me and the town, the rocks are huge and lie amongst dense thorn trees. The road goes through this patch, cutting the roughness with a strip of blue, much as it does the human blot on the slopes ahead. I see movement in the rocks and as I approach I am confronted by about ten children between the ages of eight and fifteen. The tallest is thin and dressed in a variety of different clothes, the colors of which must have been impressive once but
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are now drab and degraded by years of sun, dust and who knows what else. I feel apprehensive but I am not sure that I am justified in doing so, so I try to put the feeling down. A lot of the trouble that occurs in the country is fronted by groups of children such as this one. The possibility of being attacked and robbed at night in the veldt is minimal by virtue of the fact that to all intents and purposes I don‟t exist. I am a single unit that moves without pattern and disappears in the late evening. The situation I now find myself in is, however, the one set of circumstances that I have been dreading. In an interview with the Sunday Times before I had left Cape Town I mentioned it as the only aspect of the walk that worried me. The children surround me and all start to talk at once. I can understand nothing and try Afrikaans, English and Fanakalo without success. Two or three of them are behind me and I can feel some interference with my pack. I turn and say, “No!” very aggressively and then immediately turn back to the tall one in front of me. “I must walk.” I state quite firmly and wiggle two fingers in a walking motion. He is standing directly in front of me so I step around him and start walking at a fast pace. As I pass by him I start to speak Afrikaans and he follows alongside listening. He tries to make some sense of what I am saying but cannot and keeps asking questions that I cannot understand until he starts to use a couple of English and Afrikaans words amongst the others. The necessity for communication seems to keep other desires at bay and the fact that we are walking along a roadside requires some attention to what his feet are doing as well. The closer we get to the town the better I feel. I am sure that I will be safer amongst a larger, more varied population than I am out here in the open with what is now very obviously a gang of youths led by the boy at my side. Slowly we develop some ideas, theirs mostly seen to center around the contents of my pack. Mine are directed towards getting them to name themselves and give some background to their lives. I want them to realize that; firstly I posses little of any value, and secondly that I know who and what they are. Someone behind me says something and I can hear he is not happy. His leader does not have time for insubordination and he gets a sharp response which includes a push that sends him sprawling. The boy walking along on my left appears to be the second in command and is a lot friendlier than the others. I learn that his name is Philip and he decides, with a flash of insight into what I am doing, that he will walk with me. He taps himself on the chest and grins from ear to ear, “Walk,” he says, “Me walk.” He makes the same motion with his fingers that I had done earlier. “You, Me, walk Cape Town.” As this strange conversation continues we reach and pass the first few houses. Other children are running across the open patches of ground. When they reach the fence they stop and shout at my companions. The reaction is not friendly and some scorn and some needling are thrown back and forth.

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Philip is keen to tell me something and keeps pointing ahead saying, “Me come, me come.” Without a word of good-bye everyone departs, climbing the fence and disappearing into the houses on my left. Those at the fence on my right wander off more slowly back across the veldt. Before they do one them holds out his hand and shouts for money. I shake my head and with a feeling of relief at being on my own again, continue down the road. I make up my mind to walk through the settlement and only stop for lunch once I am clear of people on the other side. Then my blood runs cold and everything else is blocked out by a shout I hear from behind me.... “Kill the Boer! Kill the Boer!” I turn to meet whatever it is that is coming and there is nothing, only three children standing on the wires of the fence. The older children are far away, moving towards the distant houses. One of those on the fence waves her hand at me and the others climb down and shout again, “Kill the Boer!” I laugh and wave back, “Kill the Boer!” I shout. This is obviously the right thing to say as they respond excitedly. The oldest is not more than six years old. It is sad that the only English words they know have been gleaned from a bitter heritage indeed. I do not believe for a minute that they have any idea of what they are saying. They see a white man and they wish to strut out their knowledge of a white man‟s world. It makes me stop and think. I love children and believe with all my heart that their innocence and pleasure in life is a direct gift from God. If there is anything that condemns our modern lifestyle it is the loss of this love of life as we slowly mature. How privileged we are if we can extend some of this simplicity and faith into our adult years. I get through the township without further incident but as I move out of town on the other side I am again surrounded by my gang of boys. Now I know what Philip was trying to tell me, “Me come,” he said, and he has. I cannot unpack my bag to eat. There are too many little bits and pieces and too many little fingers around me to be able to control what might happen. Natural curiosity or sly manipulation, I know that they will want to dig and scratch through everything once the backpack is opened. I have at least two days still to go before I can replenish my meager stores and must hoard everything carefully. At the same time I cannot trail this bunch of unknowns out into the bush where I would be totally at their mercy if, and I feel it is an unlikely if, they were to decide that my belongings were worth taking by force. On the far side of the road there is a tree and some shade. I cross over to it and tell them, “I must rest now.” I sit, my backpack firmly against the tree. I am comfortable as I lean against the harness of the pack and the weight is now on the ground. They have no problem

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with this and immediately sit as well. They form a ring in front of me and just stare. Silence descends and I realize that we could be here for a long time. I do not know what else to do. I must look like some teacher or prophet sharing knowledge or wisdom with his disciples. The earth around us is bare and beaten flat by countless feet and vehicles that have passed or stopped by this tree. In fact a taxi draws up and discards two very large ladies with babies, shawls and parcels. They look at us but climb through the fence and walk off without comment. An old man approaches on an even older bicycle and dismounts. He pushes the bicycle to the fence and sits down beside it. He is in the direct sun but it does not seem to bother him at all. He just sits. I just sit, my escorts just sit. From the town two young men stroll up. They are reasonably dressed and are sophisticated enough to give me some hope that here might be a break in the deadlock that I see developing. They come up to the circle and address the boys. There is a great deal of talk and the leader of my gang starts to look a little sullen. One of the new arrivals turns to me and asks me politely, “Why are you walking to Cape Town?” He speaks good clean English. What a joy! I am so pleased to be able to communicate that I really lay it out for them. I tell them of cancer and of how people helped Sharon. I speak of violence and peace and of how many good people there are. One of the two says to me, “These boys are not good people. They are tsotsi.” The gang leader says something and spits on the ground. With some threatening and fairly obvious swearing in whatever language it is that they speak, the gang of boys is chased off. This amuses the old man at the fence and he laughs and shouts something after their reluctant departure. I am glad but Philip is very annoyed and keeps appealing to me as he moves off, “Me, You, walk Capetown.” I find out that the young men are busy with Matric in the local school. The school is temporarily closed because of a current boycott. They are not pleased about this and have no idea of how their year will end. They are worried about the possibility that they will not be able to write exams or even be able to pass them if they do. I am still uncomfortable about opening my pack for lunch so make it known that I am about to leave. The old man with the bicycle gets to his feet and walks around to stand in front of me. He looks down at my legs. I am wearing shorts and have been a little burnt by the sun but I am not aware that there is anything wrong with them. He spits to one side and says, “Those legs will never make it to Capetown... Those legs will get sick before they get to Capetown.” I have to admit that they are not all that impressive to the passing glance but they are all I have and they are going to have to do. It is now 2.45 pm and I have not eaten but I must leave. The old man has mounted his bike and ridden off along the road so I say good-bye to the two that have resolved what could have been a difficult situation and start walking. I wait until Mphakane is lost behind me before I unpack some chocolate and biltong. I eat as I walk and take stock of my situation. My water is low as I did not
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have a chance to fill my bottles. I have done nearly 30km and it is only mid afternoon. Pietersburg is another 44km ahead of me. If I can do 5km more I will be in striking distance of it tomorrow. The schedule gives Sunday as a rest day. I will be able to take it as such and be right on time, leaving Pietersburg on Monday. I manage another 3km and feel really tired so I start to look for a suitable place to sleep. Investigating each culvert takes time and involves walking off the road and along the side so that I can see if the place is big and clean enough. I try not to appear as if I am actually stopping for the night. Eventually I find what I am looking for and walk slowly by until there is no traffic in either direction. When the road is clear I double back and duck into my home for the night; unobserved, invisible and sheltered better than a camper at a caravan park. The time it took me to find the place has brought me the 5km I needed and into the late evening. I do not have enough water to cook a full meal so I make do with half a cup for noodles and supplement that with the tin of fish that I still have left. Rationing water does not really help, as all through the night I keep waking up thirsty and although I only allow myself one swallow each time, by the morning I have hardly a full liter left. Breakfast, one cup of coffee and a wash take care of half of that and I face a long, hot stretch of 39km with 500ml of water. I get going and go through my morning body check; Blisters? Sore but dressed and in spite of not resting them, on the mend. Right knee? Marvelous! God bless brusque doctors. Left hip? Constant dull ache but also improving. I am very careful now about the camber of the road and walk as much as possible where the verge flattens out. If it does not, then I walk on the other side of the road, as long as it seems safe, in order to give my hip a rest. Other items? Water - on Thursday when I pushed hard I consumed a great deal of liquid, I had two rock shandies, cooked and drank the three liters that I carry. I ate several tomatoes and had a cold drink. The total must have been in the region of five to six liters. If I am to make it through this day I must have more water. By 11.00 am I am really thirsty and have only one swallow left in the canteen. I am fortunate because as I come over a small rise I see a farm stall on the right hand side. The only drink they have is some artificial stuff in plastic bottles. I buy three of them but they are terrible, which is quite a statement because I am in no condition to be critical. The women who are working the stall are not very helpful, one has water but I have to offer her R1.00 before she will fill my two liter bottle. One race, one people but so many persons; some wise and almost gentle, others loud and aggressive. Once I have the water I move to a tree nearby and sit down in the shade. Today is not a good day for pushing and when I get going again I am frequently interrupted by people offering me lifts. I love it and enjoy the company and the opportunity to tell my story but it takes up so much time. Amongst those that stop is „Tink‟ from Messina. He is on his way to Pietersburg for a job interview. He opens his boot to reveal some ice cold water and we fill up all my water bottles with
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it. I could kiss him. We talk for a while before he carries on and I walk until about 1.30 pm. I have 17km to go and cannot rest for long. Back on the road early, my stomach is full, blisters are dressed and I have lots of water. I can make it into Pietersburg today if I really try. Soon after I start another person stops. She drives a small truck and is friendly, fit and weathered by the outdoors. Her name is Dorothy and after refusing a lift I explain to her about the walk. Dorothy is a Rhodesian. I am aware that the country has a new name, but the old colonial strength and hospitality lives on in many people and they, to me, remain Rhodesians. She immediately grasps the demands of the situation and says, “Look, can you see that tree up ahead?” I can see it about 2 km further on. “Well, you keep walking and I will drive to the tree. By the time that you reach me I will have a cup of tea and a biscuit ready. So off you go.” A hot drink under the baking sun at midday sounds ridiculous but all tea drinkers know that this is in fact a very refreshing time to drink tea. The tea turns out to be as good as I thought it would be. Dorothy promises to do her best to generate funds when she arrives in Cape Town. Later I hear from the Hospice that she phoned them and said that she had met me and although I was struggling with my feet, all was well. 7.30 pm I am in Pietersburg. The last 10 km were long and I was on the verge of stopping several times. However the closer you are to civilization the more dangerous it is to sleep out in the open, so I kept on going in the end because there was no other practical option. Once I am in the town under the street lights I walk with some spirit. I am very proud of myself; 108 km in three days, now that is really something. I am back on schedule and can rest the whole day tomorrow. Two teenage boys walk me to the Catholic Church and it is obvious by their behavior that it is Saturday night. In Pietersburg as in other towns this means it is time to let your hair down and create some mayhem. I am supposed to be beyond this sort of thing and so as we walk I hang back a little as if they do not really belong to me, which they do not. When we finally reach the church and part company I am relieved. As I approach the gates I see the people starting to leave and I bless my good fortune; the priest will be here and I will be able to speak to him right away.

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CHAPTER 6

There is no specific time that I can point a finger at and say this is where our relationship deteriorated. There are no incidents that I can highlight and say, “You see here I was misunderstood, here I was cruel.” In fact from the middle of 1989 to late 1990 our interaction was colored only by concern for our own problems. This selfishness left little of value. I battled to make my boat repair business work and it grew steadily. February brought the realization that I needed a receptionist, come typist, come bookkeeper. I asked Sharon to give up her job and help me. She was not keen, but I insisted and she joined me in April. It was not a happy time. Sharon could not really get involved and constantly complained that she did not have enough to do. At the same time the books were not improved on, she did not enjoy learning to operate the computer and spent a lot of her time reading. We had several quite bitter fights and I was not surprised when she told me that she was going back to her old job. The year rolled by. I moved the business to bigger premises and allowed it to grow larger than I was able to comfortably finance. I spent a great deal of time at work. I could always find something that needed urgent attention. If I had been told that I did not want to live at home I would have been shocked. I was the one that was lonely not her. She was painting, going to work to her friends every day. Her life was the way she wanted it. One night, after a heated argument, I left the house about midnight and walked along the beach. The wind was howling across the bay, lifting salt spray and sand to hurl at my face. There alone I faced the fury that was God at his most ferocious and screamed into the power that lashed out at me, “Bring me someone who cares, bring me someone that looks at me and is filled with love. I don‟t care who or what, bring anyone! Do you hear me...? Do you hear me?” But the violence of the wind and the intensity of my despair were separated by a gulf of purpose, the one changing the face of the earth, the other eroding the face of a marriage. I turned and walked hopelessly home, directing my steps towards a house where there was someone who loved me as desperately as I loved her. A truth that neither of us was prepared to face. God had no need to give us anything. We had a need to open our eyes and see. Physically I had made tremendous progress and by the end of 1990 was trimmer and stronger than I had been for many years. The opposite was true of the business, it was fat and unhealthy. Fat, because I had several large jobs on the books. Unhealthy, because there was neither the capital nor the resources to complete them.
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I desperately needed money and to get some I concentrated on one boat and when I had completed it, arranged to tow it a 1000km to the customer in Durban myself. For the first time in our married life Sharon and I were separated over the Christmas period. My son Brian was doing military service close to Durban and we spent a day and a night together. I picked him up at his barracks and we took a slow ride through Southern Natal. We stopped to overnight at a caravan camp in Kokstad. We ate good red meat and drank beer, talking much as all sons and fathers do about the business, the country and Brian‟s recent experiences in the army. “What is going on between you and Mum?” he eventually asked me. “Your mother and I have lost something.” I told him, “She still loves me, I think, but things are not the same anymore…….” I stopped and stared into the fire. So much passed through my mind. What was I to say to him? I knew that he and his mother were very close, although they fought bitterly, as sons and mothers often do. He was the fifteen year old boy who had aggravated his mother to such an extent when she was battling with chemotherapy that I had taken him aside and threatened to send him to boarding school, or anywhere, just to get him out of the house. He was the fifteen year old boy that during the same period had consistently spent his newspaper round money on presents for her. The same boy that had ridden his bicycle to the hospital every day she was there, to spend more time with her. I spoke to the fire and he listened. “You have to understand that Mum is just like her mother, but I am nothing like her father. For me sex and love go together. But for Mum sex is a thing that becomes less important after a while. Now that we are both getting older I think she expects us to sleep in separate beds like your Gran and Granddad. I can‟t do that. When I look at her and I see what she is, then I want to lay her down and say I love you with everything I have in me. Now she does not let me do that very often. A little while ago we fought about it once too much and I decided I would not ask her anymore.” He was quiet and sat looking at the coals for a while. Then he said, “There is one thing I will never forget in my life, Can you remember when we drove to the top of the hill and you switched the car off and told me that I must not fight with Mum anymore. That you did not care how much it cost or how much it hurt. That you would send me away if I did, because Mum came first.” “I remember it very well.” I said. “Well I have always admired you for that, because I thought, “Dad really loves Mum very much. But I want to tell you something, Mum loves you just as much. Have you ever thought that she might be frightened by what could happen to you? Mum is very determined, she hates people to see any weakness in her. I know how she is. She will not even admit things to herself. She does not want to need you so much, so she is pushing you away now while she can. She won‟t wait for it to just happen.”

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I had never known Brian as a boy of such understanding, he had always been happy go lucky and taken life so casually. Generous to a fault and very aggressive if crossed, I believed him to be someone who lived on the surface of life with little interest in its depth. He had presented me with a possibility that had not occurred to me before. It remained with me and I mulled it over until I returned home. There I dismissed it as just that; nothing more than a possibility. Sharon had been attending her checkups regularly and early in February another growth was discovered in her breast. We were told that it was not too serious, but she was put onto hormone treatment. Slowly the emphasis was shifting; I was drifting back to normal life and she was becoming aware that inside her body the cancer was persistently promoting its own existence. I had no money left and the overheads at my boat shop could no longer be met. I closed the doors. When all the shouting had stopped and I could breathe again, Sharon asked me what I was going to do. Again we argued. I spent the next few days bitter and full of self pity. I decided to sell what was left of my tools and find work somewhere where I would not take the family. That night when Sharon came home I took her to the bedroom and sat her down. “I am leaving.” I said. She immediately became annoyed, “What do you mean, you are leaving? Where are you going?” “I am leaving you, Shar. I am going to go upcountry and get a job. But I am going by myself, I do not want you to go with me. You have a job and you must keep it. I think I must be by myself for a while, I don‟t know if I will ever come back.” She sat stunned and I could see anger replaced by bewilderment, then anger return, “What are you trying to say? Why the hell don‟t you just say you have had enough of me, that you don‟t want me anymore?” “No Shar, that‟s your problem. You don‟t love me, you don‟t want me to make love to you anymore. You are always complaining that I spend too much time at work, but when I wanted you to work with me you would not. You couldn‟t wait to go back to your job. I will not live in a house where I am some sort of distant relative. You don‟t want me for me, you just want a husband. So you just go ahead and find yourself someone who will be what you want him to be, someone that you can send off to his own room at night.” She just sat and looked at me. “I am going to sell my tools and give you the money, but I am going, and I am going alone. Maybe, if you want to, we can talk again later, but for now I want to be by myself.” She lifted her hand half out of her lap and then let it drop back down. She knew this was no fight. Her lip started to tremble and she whispered, “Oh my God........ Oh my God, Roger.” I stood up and walked away. I could not look at her.

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A few minutes later I heard something crash in the bathroom and I went back to the bedroom. She came out of the door as I reached it. She was as I had never seen her before. “You bastard!” she hissed at me, “I spent my whole life following you wherever you went. I gave up my family and everything, to be the sort of wife you wanted. You have had everything, you just said this or that and we did it. I gave you everything and now you‟re fed up and I just get thrown out. Who the hell do you think you are? What do you think you are? Your bloody business doesn‟t work so the kids and I sit here alone at night while you go and walk on the beach feeling sorry for yourself. Now you have had to close it down, so you want to run away and cry where you don‟t have to worry about us. Well Roger, I feel sorry for you because you are worthless, you are just rubbish.” She burst into tears and lifted her hands to me, “What have I done? I can‟t believe this, I just cannot believe this. It can‟t be happening to me. What have I done to you that you hate me so?” I stood frightened by the intensity of her outburst, but determined not to let anything influence me. “You have not loved me Shar, you have let yourself think of me as if I was part of the furniture. Well it‟s over and I am not going to be conveniently around anymore.” She turned and went into the bedroom. I went back down the passage towards the kitchen, as I passed Diana‟s room I glanced through the door, she was sitting on the bed, staring at me, her face white. When I reached the kitchen Carolyn was busy washing dishes. She went on working as if I was not there. “You will have to cook supper,” I said, “I don‟t think Mum will be doing anything.” She nodded but said nothing, I went out into the garden. “I will be in the garage.” I said as I walked away from the door. In the garage I sat, my mind almost blank. What thoughts did come and go were sometimes angry, sometimes selfish. When I roused myself it was dark and cold. I got up and went back to the house. In the kitchen Carolyn was still busy. “Mum went to the beach,” she told me. “Well that‟s O.K.” I replied. “No, it is not O.K. Dad, Mum is not O.K., she is very upset. She could do something stupid.” Carolyn was holding onto herself as tightly as only she could do. “All right,” I agreed, “How long has she been gone?” “About fifteen minutes. Brian came home just now and I told him what happened, he‟s gone to look for her.” I walked down across the road and along the track that led to the bay. Brian and his mother came up at me out of the darkness. “Are you O.K.?” I asked. Sharon looked at me, her face was a mess, hair blown in all directions, her eyes swollen and cheeks wet with tears. “What do you think!” she said and pushed past me. I stood looking at my son, his emotions were in turmoil. I could see the shock and disbelief at what was happening in his stance, in everything about him. He spoke quietly but with the effort to keep himself under
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control obvious in his voice.... He lifted his hand and pointed across the bay to the open sea. “That woman who just went past you, if you got into a canoe and said that you were going to paddle out there forever, she would just get in behind you and go with you. She would go anywhere, do anything for you and I thought you loved her.” I knew if I said the wrong thing he would do something violent and I could not allow that to happen. There was enough grief and pain as it was. “Please Brian, what I am or do does not matter now, you stay with her until she calms down. Tell Carolyn I won‟t eat now, I will come later.” I pushed past him and walked off into the darkness. Nobody got much sleep that night. When I returned to the house it was quiet and in darkness. Brian, who had only been back from the army for a few weeks, was in his room at the back of the house. His light was on, but I did not go in. The two girls were both in their beds and I sensed their eyes on me as I walked past their rooms. Sharon was in bed and silent. I undressed and lay down on my side of the bed. “Must I switch off the light?” I asked. “Do whatever you want.” she answered. I got up and switched it off then climbed back in. I lay for a long time. I dozed occasionally but something was there lying in the bed between us. It was strange and evil and would not be ignored. Now that it had been exposed we knew that it was stupid and unacceptable. We were not like this, somebody had to say so. At some stage she started to cry and I could not stand it any more. I slid my hand across the bed and found her body. At my touch she stopped and for a few minutes there was silence, then she reached down and our fingers clasped. “Don‟t go.” It was so soft, so frightened, that I hardly heard her. “I don‟t want to leave you.” I whispered. She turned and clung to me. We lay for a long time. “When you said I must find someone else, something inside me broke. There is no one else, Roger, I can‟t just find someone else. I will try harder. I don‟t know why I don't want to do it anymore, I do love you, but I just don‟t always feel like it.” I could sense the sobs still plucking at her breath. “Please God... don‟t go, I need you.” Then she said desperately, “I can‟t fight it without you.” The depth of her fear and its loneliness was like a knife in my breast and suddenly I knew for the first time that she believed her sickness to be something more serious than I had appreciated. Somehow she knew and feared the inevitability of the future. It took a long time. It was a strange experience for both of us; frightened to touch, frightened to ask, frightened to refuse. The children walked carefully through the next few months of our lives and we circled just as carefully around our own. The next time she went for a check up I went with her.

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Sharon always knew what was happening to her body and always denied that it was happening. For some reason during the check up she casually mentioned to the doctor that she was experiencing some back pain. Her back had often given her trouble but she had never, to my knowledge, felt that it was a thing to be mentioned in a cancer clinic. The necessary x-rays were taken and then she was booked for a bone scan. There was cancer in three of her vertebrae. The team at Groote Schuur was gentle but conservative. “No, we don‟t know how long it will be, you could be fine for years, but in some cases it is quicker. For now we will treat this outbreak locally with radiotherapy and you will recover. Your back will be just as strong as before. After a time you might feel some pain elsewhere and if there is cancer in the bone again we will treat it the same way and so on for as long as we can. Unfortunately we cannot stop it. We can only fix it up as it occurs. We will have a better idea of how the disease will progress when we see how long it is going to be between attacks.” The next day I arrived at the clinic alone. Sharon had no idea I was there. I needed to talk to someone. I needed to know. The problem is that nobody does know. Cancer is not one disease, it is a hundred thousand diseases. It does this to one and that to another. The will, stress, love of life, natural health, the virulence and the type of cancer all play a role. You cannot predict the outcome of a game of chess much less the time it will take to play. You can only take each day as it is given and live it as a gift. But then that is the way it is for all of us. More people have their life snatched away by accident than by cancer. Each day is always a gift. All I could take home with me was, “Mr. Russell it is very serious indeed and we believe that you should start to prepare your children for a terminal situation.”

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CHAPTER 7

The lights at the porch give the church and the people a quality of association which does not include me. I stand to one side and wait. My body is tense and I can feel the muscles in my back and legs trembling with the effort that I have put in this day to get here. Once the congregation has thinned out I will step across from my world into theirs and introduce myself. Father B is hesitant to commit himself to any kind of support and when I explain that I would like to talk to the congregation he immediately becomes defensive and tells me that only the Bishop could condone such a thing. But I am welcome to attend mass in the morning. There are still members of the congregation around and as the conversation develops I realize that the Bishop actually resides close by and it is possible that I will be able to overnight in his house. This information is not given outright, but comes from remarks made by some of those listening as I explain how and why I come to be there. One of the people tells me that the Bishop has a big house and an even bigger heart. He and another man discuss their immediate plans and decide that one of them can in fact take me there right now. We leave and very soon I am being offloaded at the corner of a dark suburban road. The car leaves me, I turn and go to the house that has been pointed out as the right one and knock on the door. I find the Bishop relaxed and hospitable. We sit and discuss the walk and find that we relate well. I have never had such an august personage wait on me in my life, but Bishop F is a simple and straight forward man. He fries me some eggs which I eat with bread and cheese and some oranges. After I have eaten he shows me to a flat above his garage which is furnished to cater for visiting priests. I have it all to myself and in this flat is a great and wonderful thing; it is long enough and deep enough to lie back in and at one end are two metal contraptions that allow water to flow. Civilized people place a stopper in a hole at the bottom of this thing and then fill it with steaming hot water from the two metal contraptions. There are all sorts of accessories that one utilizes to increase the enjoyment of what you do with this hot water. Such things as soap and big fluffy towels. Known as a bath, lots of children hate it, some adults take it for granted whilst others swear by it. For me, despite a short period of agony as my blisters became accustomed to the heat, it is a moment of ecstasy in a time of torture. Muscles and bones and heart are soothed and caressed. My thoughts of the days to come, the towns and kilometers yet to be traveled fade into insignificance as I participate in this great and civilized custom so long denied to me. The night is a long one and I do not sleep well. The morning comes and the Bishop tells me that he is attending an opening ceremony at a new institution in one of the rural areas so will drop me at the church a little early.

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He cooks a good breakfast... more eggs, but he laughs and says that it is what he does best. Whilst we are eating he tells me that I must inform Father B that I have the Bishop‟s blessing and can address the congregation.

FROM MY NOTES 11/7..... Breakfast cooked by Bishop. Will speak in Cathedral today. (=Big breakthrough for me.) With God on my side it will go well. I sense I am being looked after and can only credit this to filling some part of a larger plan than my own. I am a little stiff but basically fine. Hip and knee gave trouble in bed but seem O.K. once I got moving. Bishop will give me lift to church. Shock! Father B went against the Bishop and would not let me speak. I was hurt and very upset. But I must learn to accept. There is not the backing behind this walk that there should be...

I kneel in church, it is early and I am virtually alone. Father B has just told me that he would not be comfortable allowing me to address his congregation. He has the final say. I cannot deal with the disappointment and everything comes to a head with a vengeance and for the first time since I left home the tears roll unhindered down my face. There is no one to shout at, nobody to cuddle up to and God, whose decision this must be, seems unapproachable. Slowly I get control and flattening my emotions, I fold and pack them away. People are starting to fill the church. Fortunately the singing is terrible and my tears stay where they have been put, behind a wall, in a place where much other private grief is stored. After father has read the notices he tells the congregation that I am in church and that when the service is over I will be on the steps outside and available to anyone who would like to speak to me or make a donation. Some people do take the trouble but not many. Two that do, offer me a place to stay if I need it and I desperately do. My body is slowly stiffening up and I am very, very unhappy. I have not really had time to allow the trauma of the last few years to come forward and be recognized. It is however very close and these tears are the first of many I shed along the length of the road to Cape Town. Jim and Patricia are both unique individuals. Their hospitality is unfettered and in the afternoon Jim takes me on a tour of the town. We travel out to the airport, see the industrial area and he explains much of the local politics and interaction between the conservative and liberal elements.

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That evening we enjoy a meal together. Patricia has had to deal with cancer in her own family and can understand much that is left unsaid. She is stock of a well known and influential Pietersburg family and has deep local roots. Jim is an alien who brings to Pietersburg society a strong, realistic appreciation of the country‟s problems. Once again to rest is good and by the end of the evening I am rational and know that I must stay at least another full day in Pietersburg. I need supplies and a chance to collect my parcel from Pick n‟ Pay. It is no problem to my hosts and I sense that they are genuinely pleased. The next morning I present myself at the store to find that they are expecting me and have arranged for a photograph and an article in the local paper. I am taken for lunch and re-stock my pack. I have been impressed by the social responsibility that this company displays. I have been in several Pick „n Pay offices to discuss my sponsorship. These offices have been busy. Busy not only with my problems or local promotions but with all sorts of requests and projects that benefit the community around the store. There had been no hesitation in deciding to support the walk. When I approach Wendy Ackerman, seeking sponsorship early in June, she had assessed, approved and initiated action in the space of a few minutes. The help and support I received from them along the road extended far beyond the supply of provisions. Functions were organized, shoes donated and parcels shunted from one branch to the next on my behalf. Monday is a productive day. Jim helps me to get a handout printed and when I am in town that afternoon I am treated to an example of good Afrikaans concern; the day is particularly warm and I enter a small cafe for a liter of cold milk. The man behind the counter belongs in Louis Trichardt with his full beard and khaki safari suit. He is friendly and wants to know all about where I come from and where I am going. I tell him. “What! You are walking to Cape Town?” “All the way.” I smile at him. “And where do you sleep?” “Normally I sleep under the road in the culverts.” “And food? How do you make your food?” He tests my pack for weight and I open it and show him my little gas cooker and other items inside. He looks at it, then looks me up and down. Something is missing. “Ag no man! Where is your gun?” “I have not got one.” I reply. He stares at me in disbelief. “This is really stupid, you do not know what you are doing.” He walks back around the counter and shakes his head. “You are going to get yourself murdered.” “No I don‟t think a gun will be of any real help to me.” “Are you mad? Won‟t help you? What is going to help you? Listen friend, God is busy with a major war, just like you and me. He is trying to look after the good
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guys but it is not easy. The devil is just as busy. He is trying to stop people like you and your walk. You have to do your share. God cannot do everything!” I had not mentioned faith yet and decided not to bother. “Me and my wife will pray for you, but you must defend yourself or our prayers won‟t help a damn.” “I have no money for a gun, neither do I have a license. It is too late for such a thing” He gazes at me, once again speechless, then goes to the shop door and looks around outside. Returning to the back of the counter he reaches down and brings out a revolver. Actually it is more like a cannon. It looks like something that was issued to officers in the First World War and must weigh more than the entire contents of my pack. He puts it down on the counter and pushes it across to me. “Take this one. It belonged to my grandfather. No one knows about it and you will not need a license. Go on, take it. I cannot allow you to walk around alone with nothing to protect yourself.” Half an hour later I am at last back on the street minus the gun but with a headful of assurances that I will be prayed for despite my “Hard assed attitude.” I am one day behind again but know that I am strong enough to make it up. Jim tells me the same thing that Johan had said a few days before, “Enjoy Roger, Don‟t push so hard. This walk is a once in a lifetime job, slow down and see things.” I have a brilliant evening. Jim and Patricia take me to a local restaurant and I consume a steak that represents most of a cow‟s hindquarter. We return to the house and continue talking until well after four in the morning. I am branded a romantic and on reflection love it. During the course of the evening Jim and Patricia tell me that they want me to stay over another day but I cannot. We reach a compromise; On Wednesday Jim must go to Johannesburg. His son from a previous marriage is to catch a flight to Durban from Jan Smuts. On Tuesday I will walk from Pietersburg with no pack and Jim will come out and fetch me back to the house on Tuesday evening. Then on Wednesday I can get a lift with Jim and his son to where I stopped and continue from there with all my gear. I surprise Jim by managing 37km on Tuesday and when he eventually finds me, he tells me he was about to turn back. I have been given something called Reparil Gel by Patricia and have used it with success. All through the walk it was to be of immense value, not only bringing a rapid easing of symptoms but working over a period of time to actual heal all sorts of pains and aches. I start to genuinely believe that given a little bit of grace I will do this thing. The next day I am happy again and although the pains and aches are back in force the day is been a good one. I add 20km to yesterday‟s tally by lunchtime and walk another 11km in the late afternoon. I walk up to Moorddrif Monument. 33 Voortrekkers were murdered here by Makapan in 1854. I decide not to sleep in a ditch but to risk being seen by passersby and I camp. My faith in my fellow South Africans has grown to the extent that I am prepared to

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defy the ghosts of the past and believe that there will be no need to write a post script to the plaque that I stand and read at the monument. It is the first time that I actually camp and I enjoy it. There are some trees and between them I stretch out the space blanket, which is really a light plastic sheet. I tie it so that it slants down from about waist height to just above the ground. The dark green surface is uppermost and towards the road. The silver, heat reflective side is underneath. On the ground below it I spread my groundsheet and lay on it the sleeping bag and other bits and pieces I will need. Supper is excellent and I eat sitting under a spray of brilliant stars that banish the depths of the universe to somewhere far behind them. My last cup of coffee for the night is on the cooker when a car brakes as it goes past. It stops and turns, the headlights swing across the trees and flood my little home with light. I am blinded but realize that it is approaching me. I lift my hand to my face and the driver pulls off to one side and parks a few feet away. My apprehension goes as I hear Jim‟s voice. “I hoped I would see you but I nearly missed you. Then I caught a glimpse of a blue light and I realized it could only be that little stove of yours.” We sit and talk for a while. It strikes us as funny that the three of us left Pietersburg together and he is on his way back from Johannesburg, his son is already in Durban and I am still only half-an-hour‟s drive from where he dropped me 12 hours ago. The morning is chilly and I lay until it is light. I no longer have a large torch and must conserve the power in the little one as long as possible. This means early to bed and late to rise. For some reason, I feel a little depressed and I attribute it to leaving behind good friends. 9.00 am sees me on the road and I walk. I have hardly started when Sharon‟s death comes home to me in a way I have not yet experienced; my thoughts turn to her and my eyes flood with tears, my throat closes and the physical pain cuts so deep that I cannot bear it. I know she cannot come back. I would be happy if I could just leave this all behind and join her. Such things are not permitted and to take final control in such a fashion is not in my make up. I think of the little I would have to give up and cannot believe that what remains of my life will ever equal what I have lost. Her presence, the force that was her can never be replaced by what is left behind. I hope that what I did and the way we ran her illness and death was right in the overall scheme of things. The moral issues of life must have a rule book that fits, that is applicable regardless of cultural or religious background. The way we see the rules, emphasise them or ignore them is so governed by what is convenient. A passage in the New Testament that appeals to me, says that although we see dimly now, one day all will be clear. How do I stand in her new clarity of vision? In that light, what darkness is revealed? I hope that her love can accept where I bent the rules to justify selfishness I was not even aware of. God forgive her and I for anything we encouraged or ignored in each other in our distress and anger. Forgive me if I contributed to loss of direction on her part. Despite everything, all my human weakness I loved her deeply. In all the confusion and torment of the last months, that love must have been able to stand high on every horizon. It has to have been
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enough to have been in the way of whatever inappropriate direction I wished to take. To love is divine, to err is human; but the measure is safe if the divine is enough to balance our humanity. Before I left Capetown someone who meant a great deal to Sharon and myself asked me, “Are you undertaking this walk as some sort of penance for things you did or did not do while Sharon was alive?” I tried to be honest but I know now, as I think she did then, that the walk is an offering. As much as it is an expression of debt, it is an expression of hope. A Road of Hope that, in the last years at least, what we did was right. Not as the people around us saw right, but truly in the purest sense of creation, the best that we could do. A road of hope stretching across the void to reach out and touch her saying, “Even if I cannot see you or know your presence, I can still do something for you Shar. I can help to balance the scales by completing the work we were busy with.” Nothing in this human world can be perfect but everything we undertake should be as good as we can honestly make it. Maybe the walk can dot some i‟s or cross some t‟s we might have forgotten along the way. I pull myself together and walk on. I have no way of knowing if the walk has any eternal significance or not but somehow I know that of all the things we discussed or undertook, the walk is right. Right for me, right for her at the time and right for other people suffering or still to suffer from cancer. Spiritual or materialistic, it is needed and so must continue. Why is it that the spirit has so much control over us? When the heart soars and everything appears golden, then the physical becomes all powerful and life is taken and molded as you desire. If the heart is empty and lies open and raw then any little hassle becomes a brick wall shutting out hope. All the challenges become problems and they tramp across the spirit beating it further into the mire. I walk until 11.30 and manage 13km. My blisters are very sore and I have a new one on my little toe. I am depressed and have no water as I have not passed a safe source for replenishment. I cannot sit and brood so I leave at 12.00 and continue. Once again I am not feeling well and I have only done about 2km when my nose starts to bleed. At first it is just a minor irritation. I have a handkerchief handy and I continue walking whilst absorbing the blood. It does not stop and soon I have to stop. I find shade and lie down with my head back. I wish I had some water. This is not my backyard and I cannot just go to a tap and turn it on. I must get a grip and discipline myself to keeping my supplies at the right level. The problem is that everything is so damn heavy; 5 liters of water weights 5kg. Nothing changes except the blood now runs down the back of my throat. I cannot deal with that for too long and it is soon obvious that it is not going to stop easily. I sit up and lean forward letting it drip, but that too is disgusting so something else must be done. I look at my watch and see that it has been bleeding for nearly 30 minutes. In desperation I do what I should have done in the first place. I make a plug of toilet paper and push it up my nose. The bleeding stops and I carry on. The sun is merciless and beats down continuously.
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I reach a farm stall and ask the man for water. He is young and struggles with his English and Afrikaans, but understands. He is obviously distressed but has no water. Instead he gives me eight oranges which help. When I try to pay for them he refuses to accept the money. As we talk a car pulls up and I ask the man driving if they have water but he has none. I retire across the road to sit under a tree opposite. I feel weak so I lie down and doze. I decide that if I am to continue I must do it in the evening. I am about 18km from Naboomspruit and have to reach it. I cannot cook without water so must deprive myself until at least 10.00 am tomorrow if I do not get water tonight. At four I drag myself to my feet and get going. Two hours later I am actually praying for someone to stop and offer me a cold drink when a Landrover pulls up beside me. A man leans out and shouts “Are you on some kind of a mission?” I look at myself, if I look the way I feel it is very justifiable question. Once again I explain the story. “Can‟t we give you a lift?” I start to refuse and then do something I regret for the rest of the journey. I give in. I tell myself and the people in the car that I will hitch back in the morning and start again from where they picked me up. I know and I think they know, that it is not going to happen. They tell me that they are a film crew returning from shoot for Coca-Cola. There are three of them, two men and a woman. The woman is the Art director and the man beside the driver, a technician. The driver is the Director and does not say too much but when they drop me off he gets out of the Landrover and comes round to the back of the car to talk to me. He starts, “I understand more than you think. My son died of cancer last year and it took a long time to come to terms with what that meant. You suffer a great deal, I can see that. My son and I grew very close at the end and I believe that the opportunity to do so was a great gift. We were very special to each other. In time you will be able to value the good times as they should be valued. Nothing happens that there is not enough good in it to make it worthwhile.” I want to say to him that I know, that I was also given that opportunity. That despite my concerns for myself, someone stopped the bus and said, “Roger Russell get off and go back to where you must be.” As they drive away I cannot help but think that God is still in control. The day has been a miserable failure ending in a weak decision to take a lift. Yet that decision has given me strength. It has brought me fellowship through the experiences of a man who knows and understands. Out here, miles from home. I am picked up and touched by someone who has loved and lost, but gained so much, just as I have done. The first thing I do in town is buy and drink 2 liters of milk. Then I report to the Police station and from there phone the Mayor. He knows of me and says that I may overnight at the caravan park as the guest of Naboomspruit. He asks to talk to the duty sergeant who tells me that the Mayor has asked them to take me to the caravan park. He personally drives me there and when we arrive he asks the watchman if he has been informed that I am to stay there.
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“Yes, the Mayor phoned and told me that the man who is walking, is coming and must not pay.” The sergeant tells him, “Well the man who is walking is not staying. You tell the Mayor that he is staying with me at the police barracks. Have you got that?” The dark form at the gate shrugs, “Yes Sir, Whatever you say.” “And now?” I ask. Tienie, the sergeant, laughs, “You don‟t really want to stay here and I want to hear your story, so I am going to arrange a room at the station.” Once again I sleep in a bed, shower and eat in comfort. Later I reverse charge a call to Cape Town and speak to Brian, Diana and Annelee. Troy, my three year old grandson wants to say hello and so I speak to him too. “Hello Roger.” “Hello Troy.” “What you doing?” “I‟m walking.” “Are you talking to granny?” I am stopped cold. His grandmother has disappeared from his life and now I too have gone. He believes that it must be connected. I think of all that has happened since I left Capetown. Out of the mouths of babes....... “Yes Troy,” I say, “I‟m talking to granny.”

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CHAPTER 8

Prepare your children! How do you tell yourself? How do you deal with the news that someone who has been there all of your adult life is to die? If you cannot accept it, how do you relate it to others? For myself it was bad enough, for the children it was their mother we were talking about. The one that they had always gone to in need, the one they had trusted with feelings and emotions no else ever heard of. The one person that had always been there would soon no longer be there. I paid my father a visit and we talked around it. Sharon had been very special to him and his normal rigid approach to life was a little compromised by his emotions. When I left him that morning his feelings had made one thing crystal clear; The job I was about to do, from telling the children, through supporting Sharon to the final input at her death, was the most important job I would ever do. More important than anything I had ever tackled. More important than anything I was ever likely to tackle again. That evening when she came home from work we walked on the beach together. “Come and sit with me,” I said and found a place where we would be comfortable. I can remember she was holding her shoes in her hand and she pushed her feet deep into the sand as if to anchor herself firmly. “Have you said anything to the kids?” I asked. “About what?” “Come on Sharon, you know about what.” She looked down at the sand and shook her head. “I was at the hospital the other day, I saw Dr. G......” I said. “What did you go there for? They told us everything on Monday.” “I wanted to know more....., I thought perhaps they might tell me something else.” “And did they?” “No, just what we already know, but we must start to tell the kids. We have to get them ready.” Sharon looked at me, “Tell them what Roger? Tell them I am going to die.” She bit her lip and I could see tears in her eyes. I put my hand on her leg, “Angel, they love you so much, we have to be strong. There is only one way to do this, we must be absolutely honest with each other. We have to tell the children what is happening now and tell them whenever something goes wrong. We cannot pretend to each other and we cannot treat them as any different from ourselves. We all love you and we all want to know everything there is to know.” She turned away from me and spoke to the sea in front of us. “And you Roger, do you love me?” I was silent, my heart cried out deep within me but was powerless to tear down that silence. Would she ever again believe that I loved her? How could she ignore the hurt I had caused her, How could she ever trust the sincerity of my heart after what I had done?
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Our relationship was broken and lay, devastated between us. I had to start again, I had to go back twenty three years and put brick on brick, I had to pray that I had enough time to rebuild some sort of shelter for her. Eventually I said it, “Yes Shar, I love you. I have always loved you. I just made a terrible mistake, that‟s all.” “You have to love me, Roger I can‟t get through this by myself.” She got to her feet and as I started to get up she said, “No I want to be on my own for a minute. You wait here.” I sat back and she walked a couple of steps and then turned to me, her face torn, “If you don‟t love me, you are going to have to pretend that you do. You owe me that much.” I sat and watched her walk down the beach, the wind swirled her long skirt around her legs. She was so bitterly lonely. What she had to face, she had to face alone. No matter how hard I rebuilt and how hard I loved, I could never creep inside her soul and face death for her. I had almost caused us to walk separate physical paths but had stopped in time. From now on we would do as much together as we could. But her spiritual road was one that I could not walk with her. If the events of the last few months had never happened, if we had been as strong a couple as we were before, it would have made no difference. She was taking steps now with no one but herself and whatever creator she had come to know in her dealings with the eternal. Our separation had begun and it was so different to what I had imagined. When she returned I got up and we started off towards the house. “Annelee will be here this weekend.” I said. She took my hand, “We will tell them what you think is best,” she said, “but I am not going to die, no matter what you lot think, I am not going to die.”

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*

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The 16th of July. Thanks to some hard walking and the fact that I have stolen 10km by taking a lift, I am back on schedule. Before I leave the town I stop and consider hitching a lift out to where I was picked up and rectifying the 10km I have not walked, but I cannot bring myself to go backwards. I turn to the South and start walking, it is 8.30 am. I reach the place where I must turn off the N1 and take an alternative route. Ahead of me on the N1 is a Toll plaza and I cannot walk on a Toll road. To the right is the old N1 which leads through all the towns, something that disturbs me as I prefer the loneliness of the open road. During the day I find the old road to be narrow and populated. The farms are small and frequent. It is going to be difficult to find a place to sleep unobserved.

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I pass a farm gate and see a dense grove of trees. I decide to ask the farmer if I can camp on his property. It will be a first for me; I have not had to ask for anything to date. The gate is there, the trees look like a good place to shelter me from wind and prying eyes, so I start up the road to the farm house. As I walk a car draws up behind me and I stand to one side. The car stops alongside me and a woman winds down the window. “Good evening,” I say and then ask her, “I am walking for Cancer and need a safe place to sleep. Can I camp on your farm? Down by the trees?” I point back at the gate. Two younger women, in their early twenties, watch me curiously from the back of the car. The woman driving looks me up and down and then says, “Walk up to the house, you can camp there. There is hot water and you can shower.” I thank her and follow the car as it disappears around the corner of a small koppie ahead of us. When I get to the house, two young children run out to greet me. The car is standing in the yard but the ladies are nowhere to be seen. I get to the back door and a huge man greets me and invites me to come and sit. The kitchen is big and the furniture old. The roof has no ceiling and the rafters are visible, as is all the electric conduit. The walls are plastered but not painted. I am invited to share the house and shown to a lounge where I am told I can sleep on a divan against the one wall. I am offered coffee and biscuits and asked to tell my story. During the course of the conversation I notice that the woman is uncomfortable about something and eventually she says to her husband, “We have no meat in the house, I completely forgot to buy some today.” This catches him off guard and he is uncertain of what to say. “You will have to drive back to town and get some.” he says, but something is not as easy as it looks. She stands up and says, “I will phone Marie...... She will be able to help.” As she leaves the room he calls after her saying, “Ask for some sausage…..and a few chops, Yes ask for some chops as well.” He turns to me and smiles, “The house is not prepared for guests.” He points to the roof, “I am busy building but I am doing everything myself. It is expensive and we are battling to buy what we need.” The matter is not discussed any further. I respect their pride and their commitment to traditional Afrikaans hospitality. We eat well that night; Tomato and onion gravy, chops and mealiemeal. All in the kitchen with everywhere full of people, children and dogs. The house is warm and topped up with love. I am once again part of the strength that exists in our country, part of the ordinary, daily life of people, part of the extraordinary feeling we humans have for each other as individuals. The next day I set off, rested, clean and with a stomach full of porridge, sausage and eggs. I walk. My feet are sore. My legs ache. Blisters continue to give problems. The one on my right foot is now extending into the arch of my foot and it feels as though the skin is tearing each time I step. I reach Nylstroom and present myself

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at the caravan park to get permission to stay over despite the fact that the sign says it is for caravans only. The caretaker agrees readily and later comes over to where I am sorting my gear to invite me to sleep in his home. Again I sleep and eat courtesy of people who care. I cry everyday now. This morning I think of the farm where I had just shared a family and wonder if I might be allowed to have another home one day. If I came back here and bought a farm would I have another woman to share it with and would I be as at home with her as I was with Shar. And what of Sharon, can I continue to want her presence back? At the end she promised that she would always be with me, but there is only an endless void. I am so frightened that, despite all the theories, I have lost her forever. I cannot see her or hear her now. What is she doing? Does she still know me? I continue to torture myself; the woman that I might one day marry, will she fill that void? Will the memories fade and become less important because I have found someone else? If we have a home, will I be able to walk out of the house, leaving her behind, and hear my Sharon in the trees or see her in the sky? I don‟t know the answers to these things and I hurt inside with the wanting, with the wish that it was somehow all a matter of just knowing. But of course, it is not, it is a matter of missing, of going round in circles saying, “If only......” What has happened cannot be changed and the strength of God is not to be tried. I must learn to accept. The pass up from Nylstroom is steep and very rough. Walking is difficult. A man out for a Sunday run cruises past me and lifts his hand in greeting. “You ought to be running,” he shouts back at me. Half an hour later he passes me again on his way back. “What‟s wrong?” I shout, “Did you leave something behind?” He does not understand my sense of humor and replies, “No, I live in Nylstroom.” On the other side of the pass I stop at a Motel and ask for a Rock Shandy. One of the people sitting at the bar pays and after hearing my story buys me another one. I have only just started on my way again when a car pulls up and a young man leans out of the driver‟s window. “Is your name Roger Russell?” “Yes that‟s right.” “Hi, I am Hennie V......, my father is President of the Rotary in Warmbaths and I‟ve been out looking for you along the road.” The Rotary had no reason to help me. I had not approached them until just before the walk was to begin. All I had asked them to do was standby as a sort of information service in case I needed local guidance in whatever town I was in. I had already made use of their help in Louis Trichardt, but in Warmbaths I asked for nothing and received everything; a holiday flat to overnight in, the use of a washing machine and best of all, a desk to do some much-needed telephoning.

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In the evening I am hosted by the club at a barbecue. It is attended by all the members and their wives. After the meal is served and eaten they ask me to address them. “I came on this walk to tell people about how good the Capetonians are and I have found out that they are only the same as everybody else. I have had nothing else but support from all I have met. Sharon died this year, at the end of February and before that, she and I were helped by people from all walks of life. It seems that in this, the last thing that we planned and are doing together, we are still being helped.” I continue with my normal address ending in a plea for support for cancer. When I am finished it is question and answer time. Amongst all the other questions comes the one most often asked. “Are you not afraid, sleeping on the road, unarmed, alone?” It is answered for me. A perceptive woman, wife of one of the members has been watching me closely. She says outright, what I do not have the courage to say. “He does not fear that at all, can you not see that he is doing something for the Lord. He knows that God will finish what has to be done. Who can touch him whilst he has that strength in his heart?” Some of those present look at me uncomfortably, but I have no problem with what she is saying. It is true that I have no fear of sleeping alone and although I am frightened of being hurt and in pain, I know somehow as I listen to her, that I do believe that the walk is something more than just a whim on the part of two people beholden to the community. She continues, “I will pray for you, but looking at you I think that you should be praying for us.” The next day there is clean washing in my bag and provisions for the stretch to Johannesburg. I am picked up at the holiday flat and taken to an office in town. I abuse my host‟s hospitality and sit on the telephone. My sister in Johannesburg has been busy. When I talk to her and other contacts I find out that they have all been in touch with each other and my schedule for the two big cities, Pretoria and Johannesburg has been arranged for me; I am to be met in Pretoria by people from the Sungardens Hospice. Pick „n Pay in Verwoedburg would like me to visit their store at Centurion Park. The Mayor of Mid Rand wishes to present me with a cheque and his office has arranged for me to be the guest of the new Protea Hotel at Mid Rand. I am also to meet the Mayor of Randburg at a Saturday morning function at the local Pick 'n Pay. This visit will coincide with a collection and fund raising effort arranged jointly by Pick 'n Pay and the Johannesburg Hospice. I am pleased that so much mileage can be had from the walk and it does bring home to me the other side of the walk's potential. The fact that I insisted on tackling the walk immediately and my feelings that it should be an individual effort have perhaps deprived the cancer effort in this country of a lot of funds. The Cancer Association in particular wanted me to delay the walk so that it could form the basis of a massive fundraising drive. We cannot always understand why things fall into place as they do, but I am satisfied that the way I am doing it is the way that it should be done.
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All the telephoning causes a late start and so I walk for a solid four hours, completing 21km by 2.00 pm. I rest and start again at 3.50 pm. I walk until late evening and reach Pienaarsrivier well after dark. Now I sit with the awkward situation that is so difficult to resolve; I am in a built up area, surrounded by people and nowhere to go that will provide me with a safe night. I have walked 36km with a full pack and my legs are stiff and sore. At a garage I buy a tin of Coke and I talk to the attendants. There are no little hideaways here but next to the garage is a derelict house. Half of the walls are missing and there is no roof, but it will screen me from casual passersby. The attendants at the garage will know I am there but that cannot be helped. A little while later I am making supper when one of them joins me. He wants to see everything and is very impressed with the little cooker. He lights up a marijuana joint and the smell of it reminds me of my years underground. In the beginning I am worried by his curiosity and with the introduction of the joint I become further concerned by the potential danger of being alone in this collection of broken brick that is just as good a screen of what happens to me as it is a screen to keep it from happening. Why do people all believe that I am better off in the towns when it is so much cleaner and so open out alongside the road? However, despite my reservations, I sleep undisturbed but rise to find that the floor of the room I slept in is covered in black dust. I have to clean everything and once again start late. My blisters are acting up and the dressings are soaked with blood. My little toe has a small place on the side where the skin has gone and the flesh keeps breaking open. The real problem lies in the arch of my foot; the skin has blistered three or four times and this place bleeds regularly. I have to struggle to achieve a compromise between a comfortable and secure dressing and one that will fit inside my shoe. Today I try a new approach; a thin layer of paraffin gauze and then a piece of gauze with a hole in the middle that leaves the blister free. I cover this with a dressing of plaster that goes from behind my toes back to my heel but does not stick to the thin skin of my instep. This way the dressing is held in place and the blister is free to move. The sun is in its heaven and I feel strong, I did well yesterday and have actually gained on my schedule. Ahead of me lie Temba and Hammanskraal. Temba means Black trouble, it has been the center of a great deal of violence lately and I am concerned but also a little curious as to just what it is going to be like. Hammanskraal means sanctuary, there is a Catholic seminary there and I am hoping that I will be able to stay and enjoy some spiritual upliftment. As I walk a bicycle comes along from behind me and I greet the rider. He reacts to my story in the now accepted fashion, disbelief coupled with a long and concerted attempt to convince me to take a lift. His name is Ben and he rides along beside me for over an hour. We discuss a great deal, ranging from the policy of the ANC to the price of spares for the truck he is trying to get back into running order. “What do you think it will be like if Mandela wins the election?” I ask him. “It will be better. Many of us who struggle to buy bread and clothes will be able to live like others who work for themselves or for the government.”
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“What is so good about people who work for the government?” “They get enough.” “What is enough?” “If you get enough you can buy clothes, food. You can buy a house.” “How much money do you need to do that?” Ben rides along silently for a few minutes then says, “The police get about R3500.00 each month.” I ask him, “Do you think this is enough?” “Yes.” he says, “This is enough.” “Do you have a job in Cape Town?” He asks. “No, I had a job but I lost it when I started to walk.” “You have no money?” “Very little.” “Do you have enough for food?” “Yes, I have enough for food.” “Do you have enough to buy a bicycle?” “What would I do with a bicycle?” I ask. “You could ride it to Cape Town.” I laugh and tell him that I don‟t want to ride, I want to walk. “I will sell you this bicycle very cheaply,” he says. “Thank you Ben, but I really have to walk.” He looks at me and says “R50.00.” I shake my head and repeat that I must walk. Once again he falls silent and he seems to be struggling to come to a decision. “I will give you this bicycle.” He eventually blurts out. I thank him and refuse the offer. When we part company he asks for my telephone number and promises to telephone me. We must go into business together because I am, as he puts it, “A straight man with good heart.” Temba and Hammanskraal appear to be one and the same place, or at least so close to each other that they have become one. The road goes over a small rise and at the top of the rise is an intersection. At this intersection there is a taxi rank and a shopping center. Close to the shopping center is a huge white house which stands out in its surroundings much as a castle might amongst the hovels around it in a fairy tale. The house and the shops are all owned by the same man and the person who tells me this spits on the ground as he does so. I ask various people for directions to St. Peters seminary which is supposedly here somewhere. The drivers at the taxi rank stare sullenly at me as I approach but are quick to pass comments on my backpack and hat when three or four of them group together to listen to my request for directions. One of them asks, “Why do you want the priest?” I answer that I have no place to sleep and need shelter. “Is this a good place to spend the night?” I ask him pointing to the streets around us. He shakes his head but none of them will tell me anything, although one says he will take me there for R2.00. Over to one side of the parking lot, under a tree, I see a Casper riot truck and a police car. The interior of the Casper is full of black policemen who are sitting and
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eating. When I speak to them they suggest I ask at the police station which is 2km along the road towards Bophutswana. I shoulder the pack and walk there. The station is part of a huge complex where the police have a training center. The charge office is large and pleasant. The desk is manned by an efficient black female sergeant who very quickly arranges transport to take me to the seminary. The driver of the police van is a young white and I stand and watch as he accepts his instructions from the black female sergeant with as much respect as that with which they are given. Who says this country has no hope? At the seminary all is quiet and the brown brick has a hollow look to it as if it belonged to some or other film set. The only person I can find is a young boy who is busy washing a car. He is friendly and tells me that Father is sleeping, I must wait until 4.00 pm. I wander up and down deserted passageways. I see room upon room empty and bleak. The boy says good-bye and leaves. I wait. At about 4.15 I go down to the priest‟s quarters and knock. Just as I am beginning to believe that I am alone in this huge empty place, Father M....... opens the door and I am well received. There are only two priests here, the other is a Father A........ Father M....... apologizes, food is not plentiful but there is some. Unfortunately he must soon go out as he has a prior appointment. He shows me to a room and gives me keys to the bathroom and kitchen. Except for the invisible presence of father A......., who remains in his room, I am alone. I walk through the entire complex, it is eerie. My steps echo as lots of hollow legs follow me in and out of empty class rooms and stripped halls. The wind blows leaves backwards and forwards along dusty balconies. It must have been a beautiful place once, symbolic of hope for vigorous growth. Now all that energy has been left to brood. There is an atmosphere of potential adventure. I shower and then eat alone in a small kitchen, where, when I open the door and switch on the light I find that a place is laid for me, there is a plate and cup, knife and fork. In the middle of the table is a tin of meatballs, a packet of soup and cut bread. I eat well and then make myself some coffee. Next door to the kitchen is a lounge. When I have eaten I go in there. It is long and narrow like a railway coach. The smell of incense is slight and the room is furnished like a gentleman‟s study with dark brown easy chairs and wood paneling. There are some stunning paintings and elegant statues. I use the TV and am joined by Father A....... for the news. It is full of violence and hate. How can it be? How can the country be so extreme, so friendly and mature on the road and yet so torn and bleeding in the media? When I eventually sleep it is to dream of empty corridors, dark and long, with hundreds of doors leading nowhere but other long thin rooms. For the first time since her death I dream of Sharon and I see her clearly, she smiles and I can remember no more but wake up feeling stronger and brighter than I can remember feeling for a very long time indeed. I must walk the 2km back to the road but I have done 12km by 10.30 am. By nightfall I am in a small place called Bon Accord. I spend the night at a Zenex
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garage. The chief attendant tells me that I must wait until about 10.00 pm and he will arrange a good place for me to sleep. This turns out to be a little room at the back of the garage which I must share with two other people who, although clean, have strange habits. By the time they have been woken and consulted for the fifth time by people who come in from the night, I have had enough. The air is rich with smells and the light keeps going on and off. Those that visit the room are often cheerful and loud. There is no serious sleeping to be done. I apologize and excuse myself. So at 1.00 am in the morning I find myself walking bare foot in my underwear across the courtyard to throw my sleeping bag down on the cement behind a small shed. There, under the stars, with a fresh, cold wind gently stroking my face, I am happy and sleep like a baby. It is cold in the morning and I leave early. The walk into Pretoria is slow and easy. I walk through a pretty area with a broad river running alongside the highway. I feel full of joy and confidence. I have made it through the first leg of the journey. I am walking amongst people. Cars are busy carrying other people from one place to another. They are all caught up, each in his own world and the sight of a man walking with a backpack is just part of the passing scene. No one waves, no one points or looks back at me. On the left I pass a huge shopping complex. Then I am surrounded by pedestrians, some greet me, most don‟t. As I approach the City center I stop two women and ask the way to the Post Office. One hesitates but the other tries to push past me. I put my hand out and ask again and she angrily lets loose with a string of abuse. I stand speechless as they hurry away. At first I am hurt then I laugh, what is it about Cities that leeches the goodwill from people‟s hearts? But it does not matter what this place is or how its citizens behave, it represents a victory and an assurance. Pretoria says to me, “Hello, Roger Russell, you have completed 500km in three weeks, you are half a day ahead of schedule and despite everything you are stronger than when you started... Welcome” When I find the Post Office I phone the Hospice and I am told by an excited lady to just wait where I am and I will be picked up immediately. As I stand on the corner and watch the busy day I become aware of some activity in front of the courthouse. There are several taxis and a small crowd of people. On my side of the street a TV crew is setting up a camera. It must be an event of some importance. Whatever it is, it is soon over and most of the people climb into the taxis and leave. Two men walk over from the taxi rank towards me. The one that approaches me is large, very black and sports a beard. “What are you selling?” he asks. I am confused and do not understand. “Nothing.” I say. “What is in the bag?” he points at my backpack on the ground in front of me. He is abrupt and aggressive. “Nothing for you,” I say, “It‟s all my stuff.” “Open it.”

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I look around, I am not exactly alone but there is nobody within 10 or 12 meters of me except his companion who is standing to one side of us. “I told you,” I say slowly, “It is my bag, there is nothing in here for you.” For a long moment we look at each other and then he puts out his hand to my backpack. “I would not do that if I was you.” I say it and I mean it. I do not need this in my life and I feel strong enough to refuse it. He suddenly smiles at me and then turns and walks off. I watch him as he and his friend laugh and disappear into the people that are still milling around the last taxi. This is a hectic way to live and here is where the real jungle is at, not out on the open road.

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CHAPTER 9

Pretoria Hospice has something very special, it has Sheilagh L__________. Sheilagh is a dynamic, Irish lady who has that, „I have seen it all and I love it,‟ look in her eyes. Her answer to life and its problems is a driving belief in herself and what she is doing. Her team and the Sungardens Hospice reflect her concern and dedication. The history of Sungardens seems to have been written as a preamble to its real purpose: its place in the hearts of its patients. It was once a nursery school that through circumstance found itself empty and unwanted at the very time that Sheila and her dream of a Hospice needed a place to realize themselves. Thanks to her determination and the reality of the need it fills, it is firmly ensconced in Pretoria‟s heart. Sheilagh and her staff tend to the dying over a vast area. She often finds herself, sometimes alone, sometimes accompanied by only her husband, ministering to someone deep in the heart of the townships, in the dark hours of the night. Violence, racism, revenge, are words that describe the mood of the people in our times and in the townships it seems that such feelings rule unhindered. In the midst of these troubled places, in the dead of night, at times when others have locked themselves away from life, Sheilagh and others like her open their lives to those that have no life left. If you want to see God at work, if you feel that God is a forgotten concept, visit a Hospice and meet Hospice staff. God will look up at you from their work and smile. He is busy and he knows what he is doing. I am interviewed at the Hospice by the Pretoria News and the reporter asks, “What does a Hospice do?” Sheilagh answers him, “I will tell you what a Hospice does. A Hospice takes over where a Hospital stops. If a person is terminal and there is no reasonable hope, then the hospital sends that person home. The hospital cannot afford to have beds occupied for long periods of time by people that are not going to get well.” Drawing breath Sheila pauses and continues, “Last month we heard of a woman who had been sent home because there was nothing more that could be done for her. We were given her address and found her lying in her own filth at the back of a shack in which 10 other people were living; Sleeping, eating and carrying on in this one room while she was dying in the corner. We picked her up and brought her here. She had no underwear, we could not use her dress, so we burnt it. We cleaned her and clothed her, we put her in a bed with clean sheets in a room where there was some sunshine. We fed her and we invited some of her family to stay in a place we have at the back here, so that she would not die alone.” Sheila stops and lifts her hand to her mouth as she tries to control her emotions but she cannot and she starts to cry. “I‟m sorry,” she says, “but that‟s what we do here, we give people back their dignity.”

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The time I spend in the Witwatersrand is hectic and confusing. My sister Jackie has really been working hard in an unofficial capacity as P.R.O and I meet two Mayors, collect cheques and hand over cheques. I meet many people who now express admiration instead of disbelief and I understand with considerable satisfaction that the walk has become a reality; for me in that I can sensibly believe that I will complete it on time and in reasonable health. A reality for others in that they are faced with an achievement that says, “This is more than a lot of talk. He is here, he is strong and he is walking.” After I leave the Pretoria Hospice my next port of call is The Centurion Park Pick „n Pay. I am met on the Old Pretoria road by Lynne S.... I have lunch with her and a reporter from the Verwoedburg paper. The reporter is young and excited about the walk and promises me a good article. I am back on the road at 4.15 pm just in time to walk against the evening traffic. I walk for a long time whilst people sit behind the steering wheels of their cars and fume, watching me with what I believe to be considerable envy. I reach Halfway House and Jackie is there to meet me with her son Anthony. He walks with me for a little way until I have done the kilometers that I need to and then I climb in the car and Jackie takes me to her house. Which, for the next four days, I use as a base whilst she runs me backwards and forwards to one function or meeting after another. On Saturday I meet the Mayor of Randburg but before I do I must walk through the Randburg shopping center with a huge banner above me, saying, “Welcome Roger Russell.” I am embarrassed by it all and find it difficult to approach people with a tin in my hand. However the morning is a success and I am told that money has been donated generously. After Randburg I am bundled into a motorcar and it is back to Mid Rand and a police escort. The escort drives ahead of me for the five kilometers to the municipal offices where I meet the mayor of Mid Rand. The Mayor and his wife are charming and again I am given a cheque. At this function is a representative of the Protea Hotel group who welcomes me on behalf of his organization and after the reception is over, whisks me off to his Hotel. There I am treated royally and am very impressed with the friendliness and genuine hospitality that I receive. Later Jackie and her family join me for supper and we have an excellent evening. Despite the relaxed atmosphere and the presence of family I feel a little awkward. There is a certain artificial quality to everything. On the road the surroundings are what actually is. The road is reality. Here, in this beautiful place, I am very aware that everything around me is what some group of experts believes it ought to be. For me it is not good enough. Just for the moment I feel out of myself and I can see the four of us sitting round the table eating as if I was someone else watching from across the room. I look and I know that the short stocky one with the bald head is not part of his surroundings. He does not belong.
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I pull myself together and the evening continues but I know that I must somehow find a place in life that is better than where I am and have been for an eternity. Life has more value than we seem to credit it with through the tinsel and glitter of our self-made surroundings. My change of diet has been too drastic; for two days I struggle with stomach trouble which leaves me feeling weak. What is good is that my feet are reveling in the holiday they are having. Everyday Jackie drops me and picks me up. I do not need to carry the pack and I easily walk a daily quota of kilometers. So I work myself through this awful place where those that are not armed and criminal, all drive motorcars, which is just as frightening. Before I left Cape Town I had spoken in a church in Brooklyn and after the service was over I was approached by a lady who introduced herself to me as Veronica W..... She lived in Johannesburg and was on holiday in Cape Town. She had asked me to contact her when I arrived in Johannesburg in order that she might arrange for me to talk at the mass in her parish. I want to talk and no opportunity can be allowed to slip by. I phone Veronica and it is arranged that I will speak at the Sunday evening service. I go to the church with Veronica and her husband. It is a huge circular building and once inside I am frightened by the number of people and the magnificence of the decor. The mass is a youth mass and well attended, I do not know how many people there are but it is more than I have ever spoken to in my life. The music is good and the singing powerful. The second hymn that is sung is one that we had sung at Sharon‟s funeral service. It is a hymn that because of a letter I had written to her near the end was special to us both.

I watch the sunrise lighting the sky, Casting its shadows near And on this morning bright though it be, I feel those shadows near me. I watch the sunset fading away, lighting the clouds with sleep. And as the evening closes its eyes I feel your presence near me.

I have not the will to withstand the assault on my emotions and the tears flow freely. I sing perhaps two lines out of the whole hymn. My heart and soul are shaken and I have no idea of how I am to speak to this massive crowd. To make things worse Veronica‟s husband points out a man in the congregation and tells me
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that his wife is dying from cancer. How am I to stand up and say to someone that is deep in that terrible experience, “Cancer is a blessing my friend, it is a gift from God.”? The church is a circular one with the altar in the center. When I climb up to the podium and face the people they are spread out around me, waiting. “Good evening, my name is Roger Russell and in February this year my wife, Sharon, died of breast cancer........” I am lifted by a strength that comes from somewhere deep within me and I tell them the truth. I tell them what I believe with my whole heart and soul and when I am finished, the response is tremendous. The congregation starts to clap and then they all stand and the clapping continues. I step down wondering what had happened. I am the person who said those things, but I am not the power behind the words. The next morning I wake in time to see the early news and learn that whilst I was standing in that pulpit trying to tell people how much love there is in this country a group of gunmen had entered a church in Cape Town and gunned down the people inside. Jackie says to me, “Those bastards! You see what goes on in this country?” I have no answer for her, it seems stupid to say that I believe in love, that despite everything, I believe that the country is safe. When I had come out of the church, after speaking, several people came up to me and spoke of their own experiences or thanked me for what I had said. One of them asked me to write something for her. After I have watched the news and eaten I return to my room and write it. It does not excuse violence but perhaps it pulls it into perspective:

FOR DENISE SALVADOR: Life was never promised or given as an unbalanced event. It has always been and always will be a fair mix of joy and despair, laughter and grief. There are no free rides and anyone who believes that such a concept is the right of every human is mistaken. What is our right, and always has been, is the right to select from life what we choose. Life is not balanced by having first some good things then some bad, it is balanced within each event that we experience. The bad things contain good as do good things contain bad. We cannot and should not refuse or resist any of the experiences that come our way, but we should most definitely take from those experiences the positive and walk away from the negative. It is this way with cancer. Cancer contains so much that is frightening and degrading, its physical and mental trauma is devastating. Yet cancer patients are usually such great and courageous people. In the face of death and indignity there exists in most such people life and pride. It is an experience that can break people apart and bring people together in a way they have never experienced before. It can allow such depth of understanding and awaken faith that amazes people who witness it. Whether it kills or not is irrelevant, it is there to be lived, it is not a sentence of death, we all have that
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sentence, it is an opportunity to show that we are truly greater than the physical, to show that we have within us the souls that God gave us. This freedom of ours to choose the path that leads to spiritual triumph in such an affliction as cancer is exercised in other daily situations as well; We can so easily see and talk about the downside of our society when there exists in that same society so much of value that we should be propagating and supporting. In this country sensationalism sells and we as the public buy it. I do not advocate that we should blind ourselves to the unpleasantness of life but I do advocate that we should support and encourage the good. Let us put each unfortunate event that occurs in its proper perspective by giving fair attention to the loving things that occur as well. Everyday all over this country thousands of social workers, nurses, doctors and others put in nine, ten, sometimes more hours of effort to relieve pain, grief and countless forms of trauma. Everyday volunteers read magazines, fluff pillows, brush hair and shop for people who are suffering from some form of need. These people and their charges do not regard each other‟s creed, color or political ideology as important. They are brothers and sisters and do what they do, receive what they receive as simple humans. Why do we not see this work advertised and boosted as the incredible power that it is. Surely we should, in the midst of our social afflictions, build and broadcast the positive whilst we treat the negative. I advocate that we as members of the public put our vote squarely behind the good. Let us continually and enthusiastically support those aspects of our society that work for us, those organizations that reach out and touch us with care and concern. Put some coins into the tin on the street corner, send your old magazines to the hospitals, take a contribution to the old clothes collection. Do it and keep on doing it. It is living......, it is building a future from the right side of the present. Peace is a product of love and not negotiation. Care is a function of love. It is too easy for the negative elements in the country to leap up and demonstrate their presence, they are almost encouraged to do so by the attention they draw. When we rely on the information that is presented to us by the media we are unbalanced by the despair and darkness that seems to rule the country. Yet all along this road I have walked, black and white alike hear what I am doing and say to themselves, “This is a good thing, I want to be part of it, I want to contribute to something worthwhile.” They are not full of hate, they have no rage in their heart. They are South Africans! Jackie has contacted the S.A.B.C. T.V. and as a result I phone Julie S......, who does programs for „Six On One‟ and „Good Morning South Africa.‟. Julie is keen to do a piece on the walk and I agree to phone her from along the Johannesburg Vereeniging stretch of road.

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It is simple to say that this one is too young, that one too sensitive but no matter how easily justifiable the opposite may appear to be, the only long term approach that is fair to all members of the family is an open one. This means trust. It means believing in each individual‟s inborn ability to be able to deal with life no matter how tough it can be. It means telling everybody everything. The existence of love for another in a person‟s heart is a very precious possession and the right to allow that love to fulfill itself when it is most needed is not to be denied anyone who truly cares. There are so many instances when it seems that things are better hidden. Once or twice Sharon and I made a decision to do that. The trauma of cancer is however only deepened by doubt, doubt created by having been fed incomplete or watered down information in the past. There is no better security than total confidence in those that surround you, in what they tell you. We as a family were able, at the end, to accept that when told “I do not know,” it was not known. When told “It is the end,” it was truly the end. Sharon knew with complete faith that I was not hiding anything from her, as did my children. The hardships at the end must not be complicated by distrust. When the chips are down the faith that exists between you as a family stands firm on the base that you built back when it all started, when you were lost and seeking each other, when you needed something to hang onto, something you could rely on. Sharon and I made a decision to be open with the kids and it was in retrospect a good decision. At the time it was just a feeling, a sense that it was the right way to do it. Later, through it, we learned to believe in each other and our mutual respect became something of meaning in a world turned inside out. Our furniture was old and we had no heaters in the house. Sharon‟s chair and mine were comfortable but old fashioned. When you sat in one of them, little of your body was visible. The arms themselves were big enough to sit on. That Sunday afternoon it was cold and Sharon was almost lost in the chair, covered with a duvet from the bedroom. She was always a woman, feminine and gentle in appearance. Buried in soft covers, she seemed so terribly vulnerable, but still capable of a resolute strength that defied her situation. Many people have told me that they admire the way that my family had stood by Sharon. The courage of my children was an aspect that I had not ever doubted but it was made easy for all of us by Sharon‟s calm acceptance of the need to deal sensibly with each new development. She was the Flagship and we the fleet. She steamed ahead in all her magnificence and we were swept along behind with determination and resolve fueled by her power. When we were all together I started by telling them that I had some news about Mum. “It‟s not good news. Last week Mum had some pain in her back and as you know we had it checked out. It is cancer. The problem is that this means that the cancer has gone from being just a sickness to being fatal. Mum is probably going to die from cancer but we do not know when.” Nobody burst into tears, nobody ran out of the room, we all just sat there.
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Annelee asked, “Are they sure?” Her mother looked across at her, “Yes, they are pretty sure,” she said. Something in her voice alerted Annelee who responded immediately, “You are not sure, are you?” Deep in the folds of the duvet, Sharon shrugged and looked across at me... “I‟m not supposed to say this, but I don‟t feel like I am going to die.” I was a little put out and said to her, “You can say it love, it is not that you are not allowed to say things, but we must not pretend that things are just going to be all right.” I turned to the children, “Mum and I agreed that all of you, including you Diana, are old enough to be told all that there is to know. We want you to be a part of this and we do not want anybody here to feel left out. I promise you that you will always know as much as we do, as soon as we do. The truth is that when breast cancer goes into the bone it nearly always kills. How long it will take, nobody knows. There is a small chance that Mum could live to see us all dead before her, but it is not much of a chance at all. This is serious and we cannot hide from that.” Carolyn had been sitting staring at the floor and she looked up to ask, “If you say you don‟t know how long, then you are saying it might be very soon, like in a month or so, or are you saying it might be in five or six years?” I sat and thought about this, even Sharon did not know what the social worker had said to me when I had returned to the hospital and spoken to her alone. However we were supposed to be open with each other and I had to start somewhere. “Anything from three to nine months.” I said. Sharon looked sharply at me and I could see that the blatancy of what I had said had shaken her. Brian was watching her and saw it too. His face was under tight control but he joked, “They obviously don‟t know my Mum.” Sharon immediately smiled at him, “No they don‟t. If they think I am going to pack it in just like that, then they have another think coming.” “So how can we help? What do you want us to do?” Sharon became serious and said, “The one thing I don‟t want any of you to do is to change your lives. I don‟t want you to be different, or give up your dreams because of what I am going through.” She looked at Brian, “You have been talking of selling your car and going to Europe for a year and you must do that. Carol you have to work hard at your Matric and pass. If next year you want to go away to a hotel school you must go. The one thing I do not want is for this to mess up everybody‟s life.” She motioned downwards with one hand to emphasize its importance to her, “It must not change anything. I will be happiest if I know that you all love me enough to not make me feel guilty about being sick in the first place.” I continued, “Life will go on just the same, Mum will stay at work, she is going to be treated with radiotherapy which does not have a lot of side effects and this outbreak will get fixed. Then we must wait for the next one. The time between attacks will help us to know how long it will carry on for.” “What about you, Dad?” Annelee interrupted, “Isn‟t it expensive, this treatment? Have you got a job yet?” “No,” I replied, “but I am going to start another business. I am going to start teaching study and exam techniques the same as I used to do part time in
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Klerksdorp. Except that there are more schools and people here in Cape Town and I think I will make more money.” We sat for a long time that afternoon and talked around many things that needed to be discussed. What the doctors said, how the treatment worked, what might happen next and so on. Carolyn all made us tea and we grew a little closer. The one thing that was not mentioned but stood in everyone‟s mind was, how did Mum and Dad relate to each other now? The question was obvious and not voiced, the answer was not obvious but Shar and I really tried hard to give an answer substance through our behavior. “Yes, we know that we let you down, but we are back on track and as secure, even in this, as we have ever been.” It was not long afterwards, hardly two months later in fact, that one afternoon I phoned Sharon‟s work and was told, “I‟m sorry, we thought you knew, Sharon has been taken to hospital. She has hurt her side.” When I arrived at the clinic she was ready to come home. “I have to have more radiotherapy. Now it is my ribs, I have broken two of them.” “But how? How did this happen?” I was almost angry. “It‟s not my fault, Roger, all I did was lean across the desk to pick up a file and they just broke, that‟s all.” Cancer can be so relentless. Sharon had embarked on a journey that was to lead her through one pitfall after another. Just as she began to think that she had come to terms with all the implications of one thing that had happened to her another Pandora‟s box of ills was opened and new aspects crowded out to swarm all over her resolve and strength. For Sharon it was never a steady deterioration of one part of her life. For Sharon it was separate and different assaults; First on one wall and then on another, until there were so many breaches all around the very core of her being that she had nothing left to fight with. What happened would have been horrifying if it was not for the fact that as those walls crumbled, what she truly was, her very heart, was exposed and it was worth being with her to see the revelation of a spirit as perhaps only God had previously seen it.

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CHAPTER 10

I stop for lunch in Walkerville and chat to two black men that come walking by. One of them is a little bit edgy and has a few disturbing things to say concerning my possessions but settles down and becomes quite friendly as we talk. He takes down my telephone number and says he will call me when I get back to Cape Town. My map of the area is not good and the kilometer indicators on the side of the road are non-existent. I have to be at a telephone this evening as I have arranged to speak to Julie S....... TV coverage is crucial if this walk is to gain any power at all. The newspapers have been good to me but the public watch TV. As dusk falls I am still a long way from Vereeniging. I go into a small general dealer and ask how far it is to the center of town. They tell me that it is at least another 6 kilometers. “How far is it to the next garage?” I ask. They repeat, “About 6 km.” We cannot seem to get past this contradiction, if the center of town is 6 km, surely on a main road like this one there must be a garage on the outskirts of town. The owners of the shop are Greek and do struggle with their English. In the end I decide that they do not understand. I establish that the center of town is definitely 6 km or maybe a little more and I leave. I am confident that I will find a garage a little closer than that. An hour later I am stumbling along the highway in the dark. I can see the shops of Vereeniging ahead but I have yet to see a garage or anywhere that I could even stop for the night, let alone telephone anybody. Eventually I find myself walking on pavements. I pass supermarkets and furniture stores. It is about 8.30 pm and everything is closed up tight. There are no cafes, no garages and I do not see a Post Office or a Police Station. Two security guards watch me as I approach them standing at the entrance to a fancy shopping Mall. I ask them where there is a telephone and they direct me to the Porterhouse Restaurant upstairs in the mall. When I explain to the owner why I need to use the phone he has reserved for customers only, he not only gives me the use of the restaurant‟s private telephone but provides me with an excellent meal as well. Julie answers immediately but asks me to wait until she can phone me back. Julie is a singular person with an interest in cancer that stems from her own battle with a breast tumor. She very much wants to do an article for her magazine program and we arrange to meet on the road the next day. This is a great milestone for me and I can hardly believe that our walk is at last going to receive the publicity Sharon and I had always hoped it would. Once the worry of arranging the coverage is over I can relax. Whenever I get an opportunity to eat like this I eat greens or protein. I have a Greek salad that is big enough for a table of four and eat every last morsel. I enjoy it immensely and talk to the owner of the restaurant. He has little confidence in the future of the country and has made plans to emigrate.

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I am struggling with stiffness and after eating I get up to go to the restroom and nearly fall flat on my face. The top of my body goes forward but my legs stay where they are. I am embarrassed but manage to hobble to the toilet and back. The atmosphere here is warm and friendly and I am reluctant to leave the restaurant. Nobody makes any moves to throw me out and so I sit and write.

FROM MY NOTES: 28/7 PORTERHOUSE, VEREENIGING...... I live - I love - I have feelings that swell my heart beyond the confines of my body. Shar, you are gone and if I am not to join you, how do I put my life forward if I cannot live it to the full? Is it possible to go through the rest of my life without that which has been my whole life for going on thirty years? I must love, I must touch, I must be loved. Can you understand this Shar? Can you let me go? Can you help me to let you go? I want someone to snuggle up to me at night as if I was the safest place in the world. I need to reach out my hand and let my fingers slide down a perfect cheek. I need to drive my body to the limit to transport my lover to the ultimate abandoning of all for me and what I am doing. I need to have someone I trust with my whole being, in my life and in my heart. I know that there must be another woman somewhere and I know that she will be right for me. She will never be you, my darling, but I know that I will be able to love her for what she will be. That love will never have the new sun sparkle across it as did ours, but it will be deep and perhaps it‟s evening twilight will equal what we had, although never resemble it. I will need to make her as close to being you as I possibly can, not to replace you, but to help me live fully and completely. I believe that you can understand this. All I must do is convince myself that you will.......

Later that night on the far side of Vereeniging I find a garage where the attendant locks me into the toilet for the night. It is cramped and there is just enough room for me to sleep on the floor if I wrap myself around my backpack. I wake up early after a very restless night. I am stiff and sore all over. My old blisters which seemed to have healed so well are painful. I cover them up with plaster. I decide to walk out of town before I have breakfast and eventually halt at a bus shelter. I eat well which cheers me up considerably. It is a lovely cold, crisp morning. For the first time my ears really hurt. I have good gloves but must get a balaclava for the Free State. I read over what I wrote in the restaurant last night. I believe that I am getting my head together about Sharon. I feel almost as though I have sat for some kind of examination and am now waiting for the results.

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What I did, I did and I pray that I did it right. The results of the test will never be published except in that they will become evident over time. Suddenly I realize that I am the examiner. I am the Judge, Jury and Executioner. I am the one who will have to live with myself, now and in whatever eternity awaits me. I walk on with a feeling of peace and wait for the TV I am sitting on the side of the road under a tree when Julie and her cameraman arrive in a Kombi. I am caught with my shoes off and embarrassed by the fact that my feet are covered in blister plasters and two of my toenails have turned black. Julie and the man behind the camera quickly become my friends and I sense that they can see some depth in my story. We work together for nearly two hours and share lunch and some laughs. I really enjoy the interlude and it contributes a great deal to an already positive day. The first thing I do after they have left is knock on someone‟s door and ask to use the phone. I reverse charge a call to my daughter Diana and give her a list of people to telephone. She must tell them to watch “Six On One” that evening. „I have made the big time.‟ Later on in the day I cross the Vaal River and I am in the Free State. This is a significant step forward. There is a long way still to go but I am getting there. I walk until about 6.00 pm and in the midst of my euphoria something goes wrong with my foot. Suddenly it feels wet and squishy. I walk a few steps but the whole of the right side of my foot feels really odd. My little toe seems almost out of place. I can go no further and stop to take off my shoe and check it out. My heart is down there where the problem is and I reluctantly strip of my shoe and sock. I can hardly bear to look, I do not want to know about anything that might spoil everything. But there is absolutely nothing wrong. I am not happy about it at all; why should I feel such definite problems if there is no reason for it. I poke and push all around my foot but there is no reaction; everything is normal. I put my shoe back on and as I do I look up and see opposite me the perfect place to spend the night. On the other side of the road is a high embankment and along the top a double row of trees. I cross over and climb to the ridge. It is even better than I thought. Between the trees is a ditch and the bottom of it is deep in leaves. I am able to spread my space blanket between the trees for cover. I clear the leaves where I will sit and eat but leave them where I lay my bed. I set up one of the nicest camps of the trip. After I have eaten, I sit. I am comfortable and well out of sight. As I look out to the west I look across open fields to the sunset. It is soft and pastel, but stunning in its vastness. Today was a good day; sometimes in life you work hard and push towards a goal, really making a prolonged and concerted effort. When you stop to take a breath nothing seems to have happened. Everything appears much as it was. But this is only the way that it appears to be. Behind the apparent lack of progress your efforts have accumulated and although it seems as though those efforts will never be seen, they are there and remain there. If you give up and turn away then you will never truly know what you have done. A day like today is one of those few times when all that accumulated effort is allowed to flow free for all to see and you
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can laugh and wave your fist at the air. You can feel the power inside of yourself and it is not conceit or foolishness, it is achievement. I sleep like a baby and dream that a very special person in my life tells me that I am fine and that she is glad I am back at home. I wake up really wanting to get on with what I am doing. I wonder if I will get an opportunity to see the TV program before I get to Cape Town.

FROM MY NOTES 30\7....... Today I feel fine but water is finished. 2 liters will do three meals a day. I need at least 2 more for drinking. In the Karroo will probably need 3. Start at 9.00 cop stops me at 9.30 People are waiting in Parys - I can‟t bypass. This = 30km day today. Now 11.30 with 19km to go and I am thirsty......

Sometime before 1.00 am I am walking along the road with some school children. I ask them about farms because I am really thirsty and it is hot. They tell me that I will be able to get water soon and I need it, I am dry right down deep inside. I come over the top of a rise and three cars stop at once. A green Mercedes pulls over behind me. A couple in a camper gives me two Cokes and their congratulations. The man in the Mercedes motions to the people ahead... he is prepared to wait. They give me a packet of Kentucky fried chicken and tell me that they saw me on TV. They had passed me earlier and had decided to buy me lunch and bring it back to me. The man who is waiting in the Mercedes turns out to be Pieter V..... He has a Kentucky rounder and Liquifruit for me. The power of the square box is in operation. Suddenly people know what this strange man walking alongside the road is all about. What is to become so meaningful to me is that because they know they want to join in. A lot of organization conscious people asked me, “Where is your support group? What has been arranged for you up ahead? Who is looking after you?” I have no need of these things because in the heart of all South Africans is a need to show empathy, to reach out and say, “I can help. I want to join such an effort.” They buy food and drink and bring it to me. They offer to phone my family. They stop and talk and encourage me. It becomes an experience I will never forget. Pieter turns out to be the magistrate in Parys and is very involved with the local cancer effort, mostly with Hospice but also with the Cancer Association. We discuss my plans for the rest of the day and he wants to give me a lift into Parys where I will stay overnight at his home. I get out my map as I am not actually on the N1 and should be. With his local knowledge we are able to
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determine whereabouts on the N1 I should be at this moment. He agrees to drop me at that point in the morning if I come with him into Parys. This time I am careful, will this actually happen? I cannot afford to compromise my effort again, the last time caused enough self recrimination. But it is a realistic proposal and I accept. That afternoon I bath and relax in his house. He has recorded the “Six On One” program and so I am able to see what Julie has done for me. She is a real star, the article is tasteful and sympathetic. I watch it two or three times and I am satisfied that the message is as I would like it. The show host has added a request for water, suggesting that people keep some handy for me when they drive. I know that there has not been enough pushing on my part to encourage people to donate money, but at least the walk is saying something to the country. “Charitable effort and welfare helps. Real people are being taken care of.” Later I meet Pieter‟s wife Carol and the two of them become one in my mind. They are so united in their attitude and seem to be totally at peace with each other. We attend a Cancer Association meeting and I address the group in the usual way. Afterwards Pieter and Carol take me out to dinner and we have a wonderful evening full of meaning. The food is good and the two waitresses so young and simple in their hospitality. In another place, in a city perhaps, where proficiency and protocol have become all important they would have been out of place. Here in this quiet town they are the essence of warmth and good living. When we arrive back at the house I receive a phone call from an Emile B...... who lives in Kroonstad. His Dominie was at the cancer meeting and spoke to him of me, would I stay overnight in his home when I get to Kroonstad? I agree. Pieter tells me that I am to phone Val D..... in Welkom, which I do. She and I arrange a function in Welkom She will pick me up when I reach Ventersburg and take me there. I can stay with her and she will bring me back to the N1 the next day. My walk has taken on new meaning and I feel proud of what is happening. It is becoming an effort with significance for others besides myself and Sharon. The next morning both Pieter and Carol take me out to the agreed place on the N1. They stop the car and we all get out to say our goodbyes. Carol suddenly steps forward and hugs me tightly. I cannot say out loud what I feel but there is a bond that has nothing to do with who we are. It is what we are that counts. As I walk away I keep looking back, their car remains visible, and they sit, watching me go until the rise and fall of the road blocks them from view. Now I am on schedule. I have a busy morning as a lot of people pull up to greet me. In the afternoon a man stops, tells me he is a born again Christian and asks if he can pray over me. This happened many times whilst Sharon and I were ill and as we always tried to respect others beliefs, we never refused. I stand as he goes on and about the Lord helping me and protecting me. My God and I listen with patience. God knows that he is running this thing and so do I. Of the three of us only the born again Christian does not know. His heart is in the right place however. He gives me some food and drink that he has with him. Six
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small tins of soda water and a hamburger. The soda water, because he says that he knows I suffer from cancer and I must be careful about what I drink and the burger because....... well, the burger is so greasy and covered in sauces that it is hard to understand quite what he was thinking when he decided to give it to me. I do not eat special food, in fact I love all the wrong things, So I do not enjoy the soda water but eat the hamburger with relish. I sleep in a decent culvert and have a reasonable night, but first cry myself to sleep. Again I am struck by the awfulness of my betrayal of her faith in me. We are always so sure about everything once we start to justify our own actions. I need to come to terms with the fact that I was human. I am walking well and seeing a part of the country I have never been in before. In the middle of dehydrated grasslands and bleached mieliefields I come across a cool dam surrounded by tall green poplars. At least twenty swans are flecks of graceful white on a silent sheet of water. It is absolutely beautiful. Lots of people stop or wave. Today I have had several cold drinks, nearly always coke, as well as fruit. I reach Ultra City in Kroonstad at about 6.10 pm after a 38km day. I treat myself to steak and eggs at the Golden Egg and it is great. While I am eating a young boy of about thirteen comes up to my table and looks at me long and hard. “Were you on TV?” “Yes,” I reply, “I was.” “Oh Wow, I knew it was you. Where are you going after this?” “Well, I am not going to go anywhere. I am going to have a shower and then I will find a little place to sleep and......” “Where? Where will you sleep?” he interrupts me impatiently. “Oh I don‟t know,” I wave my hand vaguely at the courtyard outside, “Somewhere out there. I will find a place.” “What about my house? Will you sleep at my house?” “No, I can‟t do that, your Mum and Dad do not know me and they have other things to do. I am sure they do not need their son bringing some stranger home with him.” “But they will love it if you stayed with us. I know they will. Can I phone them and ask them?” Under such pressure greater men than I have folded and an hour or so later I am in someone‟s house enjoying home cooked food, a bath, clean sheets and a warm, family atmosphere. Hennie and Christa B..... treat their four boys with love and understanding, they are only too happy to accommodate the latest lost dog that one of them has brought home. The Kroonstad Ultra City is outside of town and the next morning Hennie drops me there to walk the last few kilometers into town. In Kroonstad I am met by Hettie M.... Hettie is an immensely attractive woman who is efficient and professional. She manages the offices of the Cancer Association in Kroonstad and from what I can see does it with flair.
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It is the first time on the walk that I have been hosted by the Cancer Association and I am wary as I know that there was some resistance to my management of the walk planning. The head office in Johannesburg was reluctant to involve themselves officially with something over which they had little control. However Hettie pulls out all the stops and I have two newspaper interviews and lunch at the local Spur courtesy of its management. In one of the interviews I meet a veteran of the newspaper world. She has worked for the local „Times‟ for more years than I have been alive. First some photographs, and then Hettie and I follow the grand old lady into her office. I tell her my story as simply as I can and she asks some very perceptive questions. Soon my feelings become difficult to control and I have to pause now and again to keep the emotions hidden. I obviously do a lousy job because to my astonishment the veteran news woman allows her humanity to take over and she puts her arms around me and hugs me tightly. She is crying. I am deeply touched and a little overawed by the way in which a lot of people react to me. Emile B...... arrives at the cancer offices after lunch to pick me up. His offer of accommodation was made to me in Parys and he tells me he has really been looking forward to meeting me. Emile is a committed Christian in the N.G. Church and like all people who profess to have found the Lord wants me to find him too. Emile and his wife have a great deal in their lives. What they have is doubly precious to them because they came close to losing everything in a motor accident. They have a lovely young son who shows me his room and his books. He is proud of the books and we share them for over an hour. Later, after one of the most excellent meals I have ever eaten, Emile tackles me about my religious beliefs. His main problem seems to lie in the veneration we Catholics afford Mary, Christ‟s mother, and as I say the rosary everyday this is a sensitive issue. Emile is not as dogmatic as some and the discussion never becomes too awkward. He is, however, disturbed enough to tell me that his motives are rooted in his horror that my soul is probably headed for hell as things presently stand. For the first time in my life I actually speak out about my beliefs. I have never felt that they were anybody‟s business but mine and my creator‟s. I am not called to convert others and believe that all of us are safe in God‟s love exactly where he has put us. I tell Emile about Catholic customs and traditions. What value Catholics receive from symbolically reliving Christ‟s life throughout the year. I try to convey to him and his wife the beauty and simple faith that is resplendent through it all. I explain some of the great mysteries of the rosary and what they mean to me. The Agony of the Lord in the garden, the humanity of His death on the cross. He has no answer and admits that if the symbolism can conjure up such visions and thoughts in my spiritual life then I should never relinquish them. I never intend to. Emile does something for me that is material and comes from his own humanity; He buys me a little pocket radio which is to become such a part of my daily routine
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that I cannot do without it. He also makes me a present of his own balaclava which is soft and warm. It too becomes a part of my walk. When he offloads me on the highway in the morning we both know that we have met in each other someone from another walk of life who is at least sincere in what they believe.

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CHAPTER 11

Back on the road again; a boring, uneventful day. That night for some reason I decide to walk well off the road into a small grove of trees set back against the fence. The foliage is dense and I have to beat down a small clearing in which to set up my camp. I do not actually like sleeping under the road. A drain remains a drain and on our roads is often used as a toilet. If I can sleep in the open, I do, but it takes more effort to make sure that I am safe and comfortable. The wind is always a factor as is the rain and the dew, or around here the frost. During the night I suddenly wake up. The stars are like crystals thrown all over the sky, the Milky Way sweeping across the black above me in one incredible spray of light. It is very cold and there is a breeze drawing a soft whisper from the grass around me. But that is not what awakened me. Far away, as if in another world, I hear what I think is some shouting. I definitely hear a truck and then silence. It is all unreal and the essence of it floats around the night eluding my more solid senses. Sleep returns. In the morning I remember it, but only as something minor. I rise, wash, eat and pack the bag. It is late when I start off as it takes time to get organized. In the first place it is cold in the mornings and so I stay in my sleeping bag until the sun is up. I know that my system of operating is not all that efficient but I constantly try new routines and ways of packing my gear in order to be faster and more effective. Once I am going, I get about a kilometer down the road and I see large drops of blood on the tar. They are spattered across one section of the road much as the stars were across the night sky, but not in the same quantities. It is not the blood of something that had been crushed, it is drops from a wound. I walk through the grass on the verge but nothing is there. If an animal was hurt, it is long gone. There is an icy wind blowing which is most uncomfortable but otherwise it is a wonderful day, bright and clear. Two people stop, one to give me a dozen eggs and the other a two liter bottle of Coke. I am at a loss as to what to do with them and have to refuse the eggs. The Coke I accept but only because I am about to stop and know that I don‟t have to carry it too far. People are sometimes over enthusiastic but it comes from their hearts and I appreciate the moral support. At about midday I come over a rise and see Ventersburg in the distance; it is like a story book village, a cluster of trees, a group of buildings, graced by a church tower in the center. All around it and slowly rising outwards to the horizon are huge washed yellow fields that support the local farming community. In the last few days I have seen farming being done on a massive scale and it is so far beyond what my vision of a farm is as to almost require another name. This area must produce large quantities of basic foodstuffs.

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At lunch time I arrive at the municipal offices and pay a courtesy visit to the administration. The Town clerk greets me and takes me home for lunch. His life is so different to that which one sees in the cities and larger towns. His wife is a small attractive woman who runs marathons and their entrance hall has a board covered with her ribbons and trophies. They and their two children are old fashioned, untouched by the faster world outside the borders of their town. After lunch we sit and have coffee and Joop V..... tells me to be careful at night. “Last night, about 17km from here, a truck was hi-jacked. They pulled a car across the road and had a woman flag down the truck driver. When the driver got out of his cab they attacked him with pangas and nearly killed him. He is in hospital in a critical condition.” I remember how I had been awakened by the noises in the night. “I slept about 17km up the road.” I tell him, “Was this 17km towards Kroonstad?” “Yes it was,” He pauses, “You must have camped just about where it happened.” I tell him of the waking up and the blood on the road. He shakes his head, “You are lucky that you stayed in your sleeping bag. If you had gone to look you might have been hurt.” The fact of the matter is, I am not known to be there, no one attacks me because no one knows that I exist. Even though I move relatively slowly along the road, I appear out of nowhere in the morning and disappear again in the evening. Like some sort of ghost that has his schedule twelve hours out of kilter and walks the daylight hours instead of the night. I phone Val D..... and she comes through from Welkom to pick me up. I am at the Post Office waiting for her at 3.00 pm when she arrives. She drives an old beat up Peugeot with her dog in the back. Like every single Hospice and cancer lady I have so far met, she is a person with a mission in life. Val has the character and strength to execute it with flying colors. She has arranged for me to be interviewed by the local radio station. I do this and then go to Val‟s house for a bath and a rest before being taken to the Welkom Hospice. The Hospice house has been donated by Anglo-American and is a lovely place. There is a small bring and share dinner at which I address about twenty people. They are very supportive and two of them remember passing me on the road near Louis Trichardt. They ask if I had been wearing a white bandage on my knee, which I had been. It is gratifying to think that people take notice. Everyone treats me as if I was some sort of a hero, which of course I am not. It is hard to know what to say to this kind of praise as I want people to realize that I am in fact just a person like anybody else and always have been. I think of what one of Sharon‟s doctors said to me some time ago. I had asked why it was that all cancer patients were heroes. “That is nonsense, Mr. Russell,” She replied. “Everyone is a hero, it is just that cancer gives some people an opportunity to show it.” I feel that I have been granted an opportunity to display what we all have. In Warmbaths, Hennie V..... had expressed his desire to join me and walk with me if it was possible. Many people have said, “If only I could also........”

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Hennie told me that I was walking for all the husbands, wives and mothers, sons and daughters of people who had been on the receiving end of good works when they were lost and without hope. “We all wish we could do what you are doing but we cannot, so you are doing it for us.” I believe that anyone could have been chosen but that I was lucky.

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Towards the end of 1991 Sharon was having to face the fact that the disease was progressing fairly steadily. In September of that year she had pain in her groin and hip. X-rays and bone scans had revealed nothing but there was no doubt in the minds of her doctors that there was cause for concern. Finally she was scheduled for an ultrasound scan and the results were frightening. Cancer lesions were identified in four different areas of her lower body including her spine. Groote Schuur cancer clinic is modern and pleasant. The waiting area is light and airy. There are a lot of people that use it and sometimes a visit there can take up a lot of your day. The overall impression in the place is one of fellowship. Everyone is cheerful and concerned with the resolution of problems rather than the trauma of the disease. If you want to mention how badly ill you are, you almost expect someone to put their arm around you and say, “Oh that, well it isn‟t nice is it. Let‟s see if we can get on with fixing it.” Sharon and I both attended a counseling program held by the Cancer Association and were astonished to hear some of the cancer patients really criticizing the Groote Schuur clinic. In one of the discussions I was forced to say, with some feeling, that for Sharon and myself Groote Schuur was a second home. People there; doctors, nurses and everyone else knew us and we knew them as friends. During Sharon‟s illness a good friend of mine who is resident in Germany telephoned me and offered me a job with a branch of his company in England. He believed that she might receive better care in Europe. It was, at the same time, a good opportunity for me as my new business was struggling and I could see that soon it would close. Sharon was not even tempted, she would not leave the people that she knew. “I can tell them things that I can hardly explain to myself and they know what I mean because they know me.” I turned the offer down and neither Sharon nor I ever regretted it. We had become part of a team and we were sticking with it.

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During the course of Sharon‟s illness many people would approach us with recommendations to adopt or try a „special‟ treatment. These ranged from special kinds of drinks, diets, through to meditation and many other further removed from sense than most. Two incidents bear mention at this point, one occurred at about the time Sharon‟s ribs broke and the other soon after I had returned from my walk. The first involved Sharon‟s mother who had heard that there was a treatment available from a lady in a town close to Klerksdorp, where she lived. Sharon‟s Mum telephoned and asked Sharon if she would object to trying this treatment which was derived from herbs and supposedly very effective. She would contact the person in question and finance the cost on Sharon‟s behalf. Sharon had no problem with this at all and in fact seemed to be very hopeful that something might come of it. She supplied her mother with details about her present state and the treatment she was receiving from the hospital. Sharon told me about her Mum‟s offer in the evening and said she expected to hear about it soon. The next day when she came home from work she was in tears. She told me that her mother was very upset and shocked. When the lady peddling the treatment had heard what Sharon‟s symptoms were, she had, over the telephone, exclaimed, “Oh no, I can do nothing for her, she‟s finished!” I had been back from the walk for about a month when I received a telephone call from a man I had never met. He introduced himself to me and I asked him how I could help him. He proceeded to tell me how touched he had been by what I had done and now wanted to do something for me. He then asked me if I knew anything about the power centers of the earth and the grid of magnetic lines that affected all our lives. At this point I asked him, “Where did you get my telephone number?” “I read about you in the paper and I looked up all the Russell‟s that live in Milnerton. You are the only one” I was little annoyed as I could see where the conversation was leading. “What about these lines? How has it got anything to do with me?” “I have a friend, Mr. Russell, he makes a little box and this box makes sure that the power lines in your house are favorable. You have cancer, Mr. Russell. The power lines cause cancer. These boxes put the lines into a favorable pattern.” “How much do they cost?” I asked him. But he ignored my cynical question and continued, “My daughter suffers from asthma and I took her to all the doctors but they could not do anything for her. After I put a box under her bed, she was fine. She has not had a single attack since.” “What will it cost me?” I repeated. “You should have two, one in the place where your electricity meter is kept and one under your bed.” I gave up requesting the price and decided to be honest with him, “Look Mr...... I understand that you are concerned about my cancer and I hope you are doing the right thing for your daughter but I believe in Doctors, they might make mistakes and they sometimes want a lot of money......There is however, a great number of them and they have centuries of experience to draw on. They deal everyday with

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asthma and cancer and other things. You cannot pretend that they and everyone else know nothing at all, can you?” But Mr..... was not to be deterred, he now tells me that the box costs R150.00 and is only available from him. When he told me that the television sets imported from overseas are deliberately made to disrupt the power lines in our homes so as to sabotage the country I hung up. When you find out that you have cancer you become one of an army of people who are fighting an enemy that is sometimes defeated, sometimes not. In that war there is a need to commit your life and your very personal battle alongside others who are, and have been, fighting for a very long time. These people can be other patients but there are some of them who are not. They are the people for whom the battle is a life‟s work. They are the nurses and Doctors, social workers and volunteers at clinics and hospitals everywhere. They commit their working day in medical and research centers all over the world, day in and day out. You have the right to take your disease elsewhere. You can take it to people who are not as interested in the disease itself as they are in making you pay for something, anything that will allay your fears, give you some kind of hope, even if that hope has no real basis. They will make sure that you get fed well in hospital, they will go to great lengths to make sure that the injections do not hurt, that you do not have to wait in long queues. Your cancer will run its course in their care and you might live or die. What you will not do is contribute to the overall picture that is our hope for cancer‟s eventual defeat. Sharon and I wanted to see that everything that could be done to defeat cancer was done. You might have some money or you might have no money at all. What you do have is cancer, cancer that is almost as individual as you are. Take the progress of your cancer and place it in the hands of those who can use what they learn to push the front line a little further forward. They can use the money if you have it; by coincidence these people are generally found where there is no money. They are found where money is not the issue, but winning the war is. Do not just see your cancer as a defeat or victory for you personally, see it as your part in a much larger victory. You could lose your life, Sharon did. She did not lose it in vain, she committed her battle to the cause and everyone learned a little more. Your trauma and your life is so precious, you must spend it well. The staff at LE 33, which is the cancer clinic where Sharon was cared for, was very concerned about her latest developments. The battle was not being won and as Sharon was considered to be someone special by everyone, they were worried. Sharon and I sat in the little examination room with Dr. G..... and she recommended treatment to help strengthen Sharon‟s bone structure. The cost of it was prohibitive. I sat and listened with an emptiness inside that I had never experienced before. I had always provided, and provided well for whatever my family needed. I could not hope to pay for even one of the treatments.

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I can remember looking at Dr. G..... and wanting to tell her that we could not afford it but I did not have the courage. Sharon looked at me and back at the doctor. She knew as well as I did that there was not enough money. Dr. G...... smiled and reached out to touch Sharon‟s arm, “We have a little stock of our own. It has been given to us by certain pharmaceutical companies and we use it for cases that are very special. You both wait here while I see what can be arranged.” She left and I looked at Shar “I‟m sorry love,” I said. She nodded, saying nothing. Dr. G..... was soon back and obviously happy about what she had been able to organize. As we left the room Dr. H......, who was at that time head of the clinic, walked by and smiled at us. She came to Sharon and said to her “Don‟t you worry about anything, we will look after you.” Sharon was once again receiving radiotherapy treatment as well as the doses of Aredia to help rebuild the bones. It did not seem to help. Things did not improve and her deterioration continued. By December she was again in trouble. We were both in trouble. I had repeated my earlier mistake and allowed myself to build too big. My Study and Exam techniques school did not have the support that I had hoped it would get. I had leased office and lecture room space, installed equipment and employed a receptionist. The receptionist was a close friend of mine who had worked with me previously. She had helped at the boat business, working long hours for no pay until the bitter end. She was again working for no pay and coming in everyday despite the obvious demise of which for her was the second dream I roped her in on. I closed the school and went looking for work. The least I could do for Barbara, my receptionist was find work for her too. Whilst looking through the job advertisements for myself I found one for fiberglass laminators and telephoned the company on Barbara‟s behalf. As I was talking to the owner about her experience, he realized that I too was a boat builder and he asked me to come in and speak to him. I agreed to work for him as a production consultant for a short period during which time we could learn about each other and the job. He believed that I could be useful in setting up the production line and that it was good to get my input before much of the preparatory work was completed. The company was in the process of tooling up to produce a large catamaran and the man in charge of the tooling was James..... He was a giant of man but one of the sloppiest I have ever met. He seldom wore clean clothes and the factory was a reflection of what he was. The molds were being mistreated and I knew I was in for a tough time. It did not last longer than a couple of weeks. I could never accept responsibility for building boats with the type of molds being prepared. I started a long and soul destroying search for a decent job. Interview after interview, rejection after rejection.

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I had never been without work and had never had an unsuccessful interview before. Finally something happened that totally destroyed all the self-confidence I had left. It was a typical Cape summer morning; hot and sharply bright with a strong South Easter burning discomfort into every living thing it got at. I arrived at the factory five minutes early for an 11.00 am appointment. I parked the car and climbed out into the flying sand with my briefcase in my hand. The office was on the first floor and I entered the building through a side door. I found myself facing a dirty flight of stairs upwards. In the passage at the top of the stairs were several doors and the one marked Reception was the second one to the left. When I opened it and entered three people turned to look at me. I turned my back on them to close the door and then turned and introduced myself. “Good morning, I am Roger Russell; I have an appointment at 11.00.” A tall man, balding and thin said, “You are early! Go through into that office...,” he pointed at an interleading door, “...and wait for me. I will be there in a minute.” I was a little taken aback, it was normal for me to report to the reception a few minutes early and it was disturbing not to be welcomed. I felt unhappy that the atmosphere was not one that looked easy to work in. I went into the office as asked and stood waiting. After a few minutes the man entered with some papers in his hand and asked, “Why are you standing? There is a chair in front of you!” I sat down. “My name is John B..... and I am the owner of this company. Please write down on this paper all your details.” He handed me a poor Photostat copy of an application form. I opened my briefcase and took out my C.V. “I have everything here.” I told him and handed it over. He took it and paged through it. “Fill in the form anyway.” he said. Whilst I was writing he read my C.V. carefully. Eventually he put it down and asked me, “Why are you not working? This,” he waved the C.V. at me, “is not the history of a man that needs to come here for a job.” I shrugged, “It is not easy to find work, there isn‟t any and I have had to close down my business.” I smiled, “I am not much good with money.” He put the C.V. down and leant back in his chair. He stared at me for a few seconds and then asked abruptly, “What is wrong with you? What are you frightened of?” I did not understand and hesitated, “Wrong with me?” My mind raced and eventually I answered, “I am sometimes a bit soft with people but they usually respect me, I like things to be systematic, I sometimes do not get on too well with people above me......” “No. No. No. I mean now! What is wrong with you now? I saw, as soon as you walked in the door of the office, something was wrong with you. Why are you frightened? Do you have to have this job? If I chase you out of my office, will you be able to deal with that?”

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I should have got up and left but I really needed the job. I sat for a minute with my stomach turning over and over. “My wife is dying of cancer; I have no work, no money. I need to be able to look after her and I can‟t. Yes, I do want this job. I want it very much.” “I knew it.” He replied with an air of satisfaction, “I knew that there was something going on. I cannot hire a man in your situation. I can always tell if someone has a problem.” He relaxed visibly and proceeded to go into a long and detailed explanation of how many people he had hired and fired in his life and why his business was successful because of his ability to be hard when it was necessary. I left his office, went downstairs and climbed into my car. Every now and again the wind rocked it with a particularly hard gust. Was it true? Was my normal easy confidence sabotaged by a look on my face? Despite all my preparation and efforts in an interview, was I sitting there saying one thing whilst my face said something else? Was my presence telling people; “I have a serious problem. I am hiding something terrible that you do not want to employ.”? I had one more interview that day but did not go to it. Instead I turned my car around and headed for Mowbray and the Cancer Association. I walked into the reception and asked to see a councilor. I needed help. I needed to know what people were seeing when they talked to me. I had to find out and bury that part of myself so deep that no one would ever see it until it did not matter any more. At home Sharon had to face the fact that the Aredia was not having the effect that we had hoped for. Towards the end of November she had developed new pains and more trouble areas were identified. The Doctors looked worried. The prognosis was bad. In private I was told that she might not have much more than three months left. Dr. G....... sat across the table from me and struggled to find the words that would tell me what she wanted me to know without destroying my hopes. “You must take each day and make the best of it, Mr. Russell. You have to see the life that she has left numbered in weeks not months.” But a week later, at our next visit, they held out some real hope. Something new, something never tried before in South Africa. A drug called Lithium and a test program which meant that all expenses would be borne by a drug company. Sharon was weighed, checked and all details noted in a special file. A sister was placed in charge of recording everything that happened to her on a daily basis. Early in December she was admitted to F7, the cancer ward. She was to receive the drug intravenously. A permanent needle was inserted deep into a vein under her collarbone and she was watched like a hawk by about three different Doctors. They told us 10 days. She will be home well before Christmas they said. Sharon battled, the lithium had an adverse effect on her blood and the dosage rate had to be reduced, then stopped for a while. It was restarted and reduced again.
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By the time the ten days were over she had only received about half of the planned amount. I phoned Sharon‟s parents at this time. Sharon had told me that they were planning to spend their holiday in Durban and would come and see her in April. I spoke to her mother and said that the family should come down at Christmas and not go to Durban. I believed that if they wanted to see Sharon as a whole person, capable of laughing and walking along a beach, they did not have much time left. I explained that she would be out of hospital soon and that they should time their arrival for when she was back at home. When they arrived she was still in hospital.

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CHAPTER 12

It was nearly a week after her parent‟s arrival before the doctors were satisfied that she could come home. We all went to hospital on the Saturday morning to fetch her. The cancer ward was nearly empty as everyone that could be at home for Christmas had left or were about to leave. It is a fresh and sunny ward. The flowers and space made the rooms bright with hope and efficiency. I was so proud of her, she left the ward in a manner that belonged to a person who had been cured totally and completely. She was radiant, it was as if she was going home with her cancer a thing of the past. Only I knew, as she did, that it was an act. That if there was one thing that Sharon could do with finesse; it was to rise above the despair and trauma to soar, as if all there was to life was the joy and the glory of living it. As she waved and said her good-byes to the staff and patients she was enjoying her ability and strength as much as I was admiring it. At 10.00 am she was home, sitting in her favorite chair, with her duvet tucked around her. By 10.00 pm that night she was back in the hospital in the same ward, in the same bed that she had left that morning. She was devastated. The Lithium has a thickening effect on the blood and all her stops and starts with its acceptance by her body were complicated because her veins were so thin. The Lithium had now caused many of them in her left arm to clot up and stop flowing. Within a few hours of her arriving at home her arm had started to swell and by early evening she was in pain. Despite her pleading that I wait until the next day I had no choice but to phone Dr. H....... and explain what was happening. She did not even hesitate but told me to get ready to bring Sharon back to the hospital. She phoned me back five minutes later. A doctor would meet us at the casualty and Sharon would be examined and made safe as soon as she arrived. It was just not fair. Spirit was not enough to resolve her problems, only enough to ignore them for a while. On Sunday I was at the hospital early. She was calmer and once again busy with putting her life together. Whilst I was sitting at her bedside in the quiet of the morning I watched her calm strength and realized that I loved her deeply. I needed her to know that as surely as I did. I knew that she still did not trust my feelings for her and possibly never would again in the way that she had done. I went to mass after I had left her and it was the first time I had ever really heard the words to the hymn that was to become special to us. I sat down that afternoon and wrote her a letter. When I left the ward that evening after visiting hours I gave it to her, “Read this when you are alone,” I whispered, “please! Shar, believe it, it is the truth.”

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Roger At Home Dear Shar, When we were young and it was springtime in our life I used to write to you everyday. How sure we were of everything, how confident we were in each other. Now we are older and wiser. I have found out that you are not just an innocent pliable girl and you have discovered that I am less than a shining knight. We have had times of bitter disappointment in each other as well as times that we have realized that the other was more than we ever expected. When I tell you that you are the best and that I don‟t deserve you, you tell me the same. Sometimes I am sure that it is just a compliment but sometimes it is more, it is the truth rising up from somewhere deep within our hearts. We do know, both of us, that our love and our association was, and still is, one of the great loves of the world. It was given to us even though we were just two ordinary people. Because we are ordinary and nobody looks at our lives nobody will ever know just how strong our love has been, but we know and eternity knows. Think back to all the things we have experienced together; your miscarriage, the unhappiness we had in our first years in Cape Town. Think of our children and our home making at so many places. Think of South West and the friends we made. Think of Jane and my foolishness. Think of how jealous I used to be about you and think of how we have loved and enjoyed our bodies in every way imaginable. No one has ever come close to having any of what we have given each other so freely. For twenty five years we have touched and whispered and consumed each other, we have ranted and raved and attacked each other, and yes, once or twice we have bitterly disappointed each other. But you and I know that there is no one else for either of us. You are the one that was meant for me and I for you. If you get better and I die I know that if you married again that the man you take will never, can never know you like I do. He can never know you at 18 years, your skin fresh and young, so happy, so beautiful that it hurt to look at you. He can never know you as a first time mother, with Annelee in your arms, radiant and regal. He will never see you in that white sexy dress or the black Chinese one. These things are mine

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and they will stay mine until the sun grows cold and the universe ceases to be. In the same way if you do not get better and I must continue without you, maybe I will find somebody to live with but they will only have what is left over. You have had me, you have had everything of my life that matters. I know that you are disappointed in me because of the last year or two but my love for you is just as strong if not stronger than ever before. How could it not be, you are easier to love, stronger and more beautiful than ever before. More regal than when you held your children, more desirable in your softness and skill in bed than ever before, and more supportive in your understanding and knowledge of my weaknesses than ever before. If I am here for you, to help in any way that I can, it is not because I pity you but because I pity myself. Any little thing I can do for you is a service because I know that I may not be able to do that forever. I want to be with you and to give you all I can because now I have the opportunity to do it and it pleases me so much to do it, because I love you and will always love you. Please don‟t see yourself as any less because you have cancer. You are not less, all the people that are around you are realizing that you are more, much more than they imagined. Everyone is telling me how your strength inspires them. I, who should know you so well, am realizing even more than ever before that it is an honor and a great gift to be allowed to love you. I thank God for what you are, always have been and always will be for me.

Roger.

Sharon‟s Mum and Dad were to return to Klerksdorp and decided to leave on Christmas day. We all invaded the ward in force and before her family left opened their presents to us as they opened ours to them. Our own presents we kept, promising ourselves that we would have our Christmas at a time when we could enjoy it together in our home as we had always done. We took with us enough biscuits, cake and sweets for the nurses on duty and the patients around her. The patients had to be there, but the nurses had chosen a career of service and although that sounds romantic, practically it means sacrifices that the rest of us are not prepared to make. In time the clotting was brought under control and she really did come home.
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I believe that my letter had helped her but knew that to write something down on paper was not enough. I had to write it on her heart and the only ink I could use was my absolute commitment to her through what was still to come.

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It is early Thursday and I am dropped on the N1 at Ventersburg. Despite the company I have enjoyed over the last few days I feel lonely. I see a public call box and try to telephone Barbara but there is no answer. I feel the need to talk to a friend but everybody I know are either close family members or casual acquaintances. The radio interview that was recorded in Welkom is scheduled for between 1.00 and 2.00 pm and I stop for lunch and tune in the little radio. Just as I settle down to listen, a car stops and the lady on the passenger‟s side leans out to ask me, “Are you the cancer man?” “Yes” I reply and everyone climbs out of the huge Mercedes to ply me with food and drink. I eat well and we talk. When they leave I sit and again listen to the radio but the interview is obviously over. Later, as I rest, a young black girl, about 16 years of age runs past me in the direction of Ventersburg. She is very serious and intent on what she is doing. I could see her approach from a long way off and I watch her as she runs past and over the hill behind me, a small white shape bobbing up and down to slowly disappear behind the rise. In the late afternoon I have only been walking a few minutes when I hear steps rhythmically crunching the gravel behind me. I turn and it is her. She now has a parcel on her head and is holding it with one hand as she runs by. This time she has the grace to smile shyly as I raise my hand in greeting but she continues to run until I can see her no more. Much later as I am thinking of stopping I see her again. She is with a very old woman, thin and gray with years. The two of them are walking along the road laden with boxes and bundles, one of them the parcel the youngster had with her earlier. I greet the old lady, “Hello Mother,” She stops and surveys me with a critical eye, “Hello Baas,” she replies with a little bob of the head. Then she asks the girl something in their language. The girl nods and the old lady steps to one side of me to look at my pack. She reaches out and feels the material and says, “Hau Baas, this is nice!” I reply with small talk because I want to know about the girl running but realize that I must be polite and go through some preliminaries before I can ask. So I ask other questions first, “Where are you ladies going?” She points back along the road, “We live on a farm over there. We are going to visit my sister,” she points forwards to the horizon.
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After one or two other exchanges which are meaningless I pop the question, “Why was the young girl running?” The old lady looks at the girl with strong disapproval, “She is stupid. She is making us late.” The girl hangs her head and says a few words which bring on a tirade of anger from the old lady. In the middle of this stream of foreign abuse, she turns to me and says, “The youngsters do not care anymore, she is the one that forgot the stuff but I must sit in the sun and wait. If she had not run she would have got a beating!” On saying this the old woman turns and with more agility than one would expect starts to slap the girl about her head. I am surprised and tell them to stop. The old lady reluctantly does so but continues to hurl abuse at the now crying youngster. I give the girl a chocolate and the old lady some barley sugar sweets. I leave them bickering over who should have what and quickly put some distance between us. Despite my hasty departure it has cheered me tremendously to have been part of a silly domestic incident out here in the middle of nowhere. The empty horizons, back and front, cut off more than just the scenery. It seems to me that on the other side of them exists a world from which I have been excluded. A world of normal behavior where people get cross and are sometimes not so nice. A world where situations are real and not contrived. The countryside around me is not contrived but it is empty of human energy. Beyond it lie people that bicker and are familiar enough to be petty and irrational. I have not met too many of those lately. The old lady lording it over her young protégé has been a breath of purity because of its refusal to cover up humanity. The army has been called in to help police the trouble spots on the Witwatersrand. It was just another news item when I first heard it on the radio but now it has become real. The armoured cars and trucks stream by on their way from Bloemfontein to Johannesburg. To my surprise the third armored car in the first convoy flashes it‟s lights and two soldiers salute as they pass and then wave as I raise my hand. Afterwards virtually every vehicle flashes its lights or the occupants wave, some giving a thumbs up sign, some saluting. The first ones must have recognized me and spread the word somehow. I am touched by this unexpected tribute to the walk and what it has come to mean to so many South Africans. The convoys drive past for most of the afternoon and even when I lay down to sleep in the culvert after dark, the drone of heavy vehicles going over my head continues far into the night. I walk for peace and goodwill and they go to war. They have a job to do and they must do it with love and care, not hate and bitterness. That night I pray hard for those youngsters. I pray that they do not lose their humanity but find it in themselves to maintain discipline with consideration and sensitivity. It is a traditional but sad thing to do to a young man, this casual sending in of the troops.
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They might commit acts that will live with them for the rest of their lives. “..... Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war” refers not to the men that are sent in to battle but to raging opportunity that offers the savagery in a man‟s breast a chance to override his gentler half. We are children of our history and must deal with the violence that is in us. It is a terrible responsibility for the leader of a nation to command the hope and sunshine of our future into a situation where the resolution of problems lies in the barrel of a gun or at the end of a whip. Today I must reach Winburg and restock my provisions. I rise early and find it cold but I can see no frost. I await the dreaded icy winter of Bloemfontein but as of yet have seen little sign of it. On advice from someone in Welkom I have taken to wearing ladies stockings under my socks to prevent blisters. I find that this works well, preventing much of the chafing and therefore the aggravation of the blisters already there. Consequently my feet are definitely improving. Generally I am getting stronger and also feel better about Sharon. I cry less often and can think of her without it deteriorating into a session of self pity. According to my schedule, Winburg should have been 26km from my overnight stop but I walk and walk and then find that I must still go 5km off the road to get to the town. I have little choice as I have no food and need to telephone all sorts of people. I walk into the town and meet a lady who knows of me. We exchange the usual pleasantries and she directs me to the municipal offices. I am not known to the people there but they do what protocol requires of them and I am treated politely. I am directed to the caravan park but I am stiff and sore and decide to stay at the Hotel. When I book in, the owner tells me that there will be no charge for the room, I must only pay for the food I eat. I telephone everyone I need to but most importantly the people in Bloemfontein, both at the Hospice and the Catholic Church. I have been given a name, Paddy H......., Paddy will arrange a place for me to sleep at the Cathedral whilst I am there. After all this has been done I go shopping. I have a four day stretch to Bloemfontein and must carry what I call a full Karoo pack. This is not only to ensure that I can carry my supplies but will act as a test of my ability to support myself for a long period. The map shows 110km to do and this means a steady 28km day every day. The pack should start out at about 22kg. Shopping is a shock, virtually all the items I have come to rely on are unavailable. I have to rethink my diet and end up with mealie meal porridge, lots of biltong and some tinned foods. Nice to eat but heavy to carry. I hope my old bones can take it. In the evening I have a great meal at the hotel. Definitely not gourmet cooking but down to earth, big, thick steak, eggs and vegetables. The hotel is old but clean and I find it easy to stay there.

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After I have eaten I do something I have not done since I was a young man, I go and ensconce myself in the bar. I am disappointed. I drink two gin and tonics and try hard to feel at home but fail. It is not a place I can spend time in anymore. I look around and see it as a refuge for the lost, each of them peddling the other the solace they all need. It is not just the booze; it is the escapism of overrated conversation about rugby, women and politics. Meaningless games that become the sole purpose of the evening and the other pursuits that hide life behind a curtain of social interaction. The TV tells me of turmoil and despair in the townships but also that the temperature will be - 5 degrees in the morning. When I do leave the next day, Hennie T.... the owner of the Winburg Hotel refuses even payment for the meals. He tells me, “I listened to you talking in the bar last night. You talk of all the goodwill that exists in the country, of how keen people are to help you in what you are doing. You have a lot of guts and I want to be part of it to. Consider it a present from us here in Winburg. It is not much.” People are the same everywhere. Even if they are skeptical about the future they desperately want to try and tackle it with hope. The people of this country need a vehicle to ride on, one that ignores culture and creed and just heads for the sunshine. I think they envy the fact that I have such a vehicle. I walk, but I ride my own dream and it has no politics or religion only a simple faith in my brother whoever he might happen to be. Late in the morning, back on the N1, one of the people that stop to help me is an absolute vision of beauty. Not only is she young and attractive but her good nature radiates everywhere. I am about 10km out of Winburg and she had passed me heading in the opposite direction. She tells me that after seeing me she had continued into Winburg and bought some cold drink and sweets. She had then driven back the 10km to give them to me. I am honoured. Her name is Audrey and her graciousness an inspiration. I walk on feeling very pleased with myself. Many people stop today and I am well looked after by all. In the evening I find a gully covered by trees. I have to walk down a steep bank and climb a barbed wire fence to get to it, but it is secluded and sheltered. I make a comfortable bed and stretch the space blanket over the site from bank to bank. I eat spaghetti and tuna, almost like home. It is a pleasant change from the usual noodles and Soya mince but not good enough to be worth carrying the extra weight. My feet are suffering and I realize just how closely the blisters are linked to the weight of my pack. During the night I wake up with a start and lie listening to the sounds around me. Something is prowling around and although I can see nothing I estimate it to be an animal about the size of a large dog. My camp is tidy and all foodstuffs packed away. Empty tins and rubbish, except for the plastic, has been buried. There is nothing for prowlers.

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I wait, and after that what seems to be most of the night, it, whatever it is, moves off. In the morning I am awakened by the opposing sounds of birds singing and rain falling. I look around and there on the horizon the sun is rising to a clear sky. I am puzzled but it definitely sounds like rain. I crawl out from under cover and the rain turns out to be twigs and debris dropping from the trees. The number of birds building and going about their morning tasks directly above me is amazing. There must be hundreds of them. The offcuts and other matter falling from their activities are hitting the space blanket with a continuous pitter, patter. I move my gear out from under the trees and dress. I start breakfast. I have just sat down with a full bowel of mealie porridge when it happens; out of nowhere a group of cows appear and move slowly but inexorably down the gully towards me. It is the worst possible time for this to happen, my whole life is spread out before their feet. My groundsheet is stretched across the floor and on it are my personal items, all the food unpacked for breakfast and my clothes, plus the most important of all, my sleeping bag. I leap to my feet and make all the appropriate noises, “Shoo..... Shoo...... Get the hell out of here! Aaagh!...... Get Away!” This does not help, in fact the front ranks part to reveal an Afrikaner bull that probably weighs in at two tons if he weights an ounce. This animal takes two steps forward and I reach a quick decision.... Retreat! I throw my breakfast over the barbed wire fence that runs along the edge of the gully. It is quickly followed by the sleeping bag. I turn to see that the wall of brown has advanced still further and my actions become a little frenzied. Clothes, food, papers, all describe a continuous arc of goods from the floor of the gully over the fence and into the grass at the side of the road. Included in this feverish activity are little runs at the enemy with much waving of whatever colorful objects come to hand. This is a mistake, the bull is obviously becoming irritated and the others, now piling into his rear end, are forcing him towards me. Finally I heave the last of my stuff over the fence and out of harm‟s way. I turn to scramble up the bank with every intention of following my possessions to safety. The bank promptly crumbles and deposits me on my hands and knees in the dirt. I look up from this not very impressive position to see the ultimate example of the presence I wish was mine; two tons of muscle and horn with a cold and deadly look in its eye. I retreat backwards down the gully on my hands and knees until I see an opportunity and try getting over the bank again. This time I succeed and stand in safety as I watch the herd move past beneath me. I turn to survey my gear and although I should be pleased to have it all in one piece cannot conjure up anything good to say about the incident at all. It has been an auspicious start to the day. Later in the morning I am walking well. Nothing was lost or damaged and despite everything I did not lose too much time.

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For the first time since I have started on the walk two truck drivers do something stupid and frighten me badly. Sometime the drivers ride in a sort of train, the one truck close behind the other. The length of a single horse and trailer is already enough to make its passing batter the senses. Two of them mean a train of four large vehicles hurtling along the road. I think that riding so close behind each other probably cuts down on fuel consumption or something. This time the driver of the truck in front decides to give me a scare by riding very close to me and I watch his smile as he roars towards me on the verge of the road. On my right side the bank falls away sharply and there is nowhere for me to go. At the last minute he swerves the truck back onto the road. The driver of the truck behind sees me almost too late. He does not smile, his expression registers shock and disbelief. He pulls desperately away but passes so close to me that the turbulence created by his backwash lifts me virtually from my feet. I stagger to keep my balance but the weight and windage of my pack is too much for me. Rather than fall backwards, I fall forwards and for the second time that day I end up on my hands and knees in the ditch. The day is hot and few people stop or wave. I have had no cold drinks offered to me the whole day and realize that I depend too much on the glory that I have been enjoying lately. I must look forward to no more than my daily bread. The rest is not mine to expect. In the evening I stop early and find a lovely culvert to sleep in. It lies across the wind and is dry and clean. The grass along the road has been recently cut, so I have a fresh and comfortable mattress ready to spread. But my body aches and so does my heart. After I have washed and shaved I sit with a cup of coffee and some biltong. The sun settles slowly and the shadows deepen. It has been a long and trying day. My shoulders throb down into my back. The dark that is creeping across the fields slowly invades my soul and I wonder what has happened to God and why it is that his presence is sometimes so.....? Just missing. Would it be too easy for us if it were otherwise? Perhaps we are not here to fall down and weep every time things go wrong. Perhaps the more we fight back and stand taller than our troubles, the easier it is to see him. But I cry a little and then get up and make food. That night I sleep the sleep of the dead.

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CHAPTER 13

After Sharon‟s return to work in January I continued to apply everywhere and anywhere for work. Eventually in desperation I decided to fabricate a lie in order to improve my chances. I had to have work; there just was not enough money. I decided that the next application I sent in would say I was currently employed. In the Argus that evening there was an advertisement for a production controller for a jewelry manufacturer. I applied stating that I was presently employed in a similar capacity with a boat building company. I believed that if I tried and lost, it would mean nothing but just become another one of the many unsuccessful applications I had become used to. To my astonishment the application was successful and to my shame I was aware that it probably had not mattered that I was employed or unemployed. I vowed that despite my personal problems and the demands that Sharon‟s illness were likely to make on my strength and my time I would give the company everything I could. The relief at having established a regular income was tremendous. Sharon and I were both better and stronger because of it. As a bystander the hardest thing to do was to maintain support for Sharon in the face of what at times seemed to be a relentless and personal attack on her faith and courage. It was as if there was a malevolent intelligence actively assessing her situation. An intelligence that made calculated moves to undermine her spirit, not directly, but through her physical self and her surroundings. Each time that an incident occurred it went through a recognizable pattern; First of all there would be just a hint that something strange was happening, an ache or an awkwardness in her movement. Inside her heart an alarm would sound and the problem would become a threat. She would carefully assess each twinge, watching it grow until there was no doubt that it was real and must be faced. This was, in itself, soul destroying. It was almost impossible for her to ignore any ache or discomfort. The hope that these little incidents might turn out to be nothing diminished as the months rolled by. Always the question had to be asked, “Is it flu, or anyone of a hundred normal aches and pains, or is it cancer?” Once enough courage had been summoned up to face the risk, off we would go to the Hospital and the symptoms described, X-rays or scans taken and a diagnosis made. The news would be made known and we would sit like dummies and listen to the latest analysis, the prognosis and the inevitable pep talk. Most of which flowed over our heads whilst our minds raced round and round in circles, trying to find

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some hope, some little aspect that would allow us to believe that somehow this too would pass. At the beginning of February Sharon started to have trouble with her eyes. She was always rubbing them and complained that they were sore. When she realized that the problem lay more on the right side than the left she suddenly stopped complaining. I knew then that she had decided it was more than just an irritation. I tackled her about it when I felt that she was receptive but she insisted that nothing was wrong. One morning she was very depressed and a minor remark about her facing the problem caused her to burst into tears. We were driving in the early morning traffic to her work at the time and I pulled over to the side of the road to try and get her to calm down. When I had parked the car I turned to her and was about to say something when I was stopped cold. Her tears had streamed down across her face but only on her left cheek. Her right eye was as dry as a bone; there was not a single tear. I did not know what to say. “Angel there are no tears in your right eye,” was the best I could do. “I know,” she sobbed, “I can‟t even cry properly anymore.” “How long?” I asked her. “About a week.” “You have to go to the hospital, Shar. You must my darling.” She went the next morning and a few days later they started radiotherapy for cancer lesions on the skull. Her hair, her pride and joy, the one thing she had been so happy had not gone, despite the chemotherapy, was now in jeopardy. I watched her brush her hair viciously at night and then after two or three strokes examine the brush carefully. She was looking for hairs, for the first that would fall. As the treatment progressed her hair stayed strong and even I began to believe that it would be all right after all. Then one night, virtually at the end of the treatment, it happened and every brushstroke came away with great clumps of hair. She would not stop but brushed and brushed, the tears rolling down from her left eye. She said nothing but held herself tightly upright in front of the mirror, her hair falling in masses to the floor at her feet. When it was over she had hair, but it was thin and hardly worth anything at all. Her skin was clearly visible under the few strands remaining. “I cannot take it anymore, Roger.” She did not look at me, only at the mirror, “I might as well die, no one will be able to bear to look at me now.” “I love you.” I said and got up to stand behind her. Tentatively I put my hand gently to her head and slowly started to stroke it. She lay back against me and closed her eyes, “Give me the bottle of tears,” she said, “my dry eye hurts.” I reached across the dressing table and picked up the bottle of false teardrops the hospital had given to her to keep her affected eye moist. “We‟ll get you the best wig in the country.” I said. Her eyes snapped open, full of fire, “I don‟t want a wig, I just want to be me!”
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“I know my darling, I know.” But she was inconsolable. I took her into the bathroom and sat her down on the bath. I wiped her face and eyes with a wet flannel, “Have a good, hot bath and I will organize some tea.” She stood up and started to turn on the water, careful not to look at herself in the mirror. I closed the door on her and went back to the bedroom. I looked down at the hair lying all around the dressing table and my stomach and chest hurt with the hopelessness of it all. There seemed nothing that I could do, nothing that anyone could do. I went down on my hands and knees and started cleaning it all up. When she went to bed she looked at the floor but said nothing. We lay together for a long time and when I eventually fell asleep she was still awake, her eyes open and staring into the darkness. The following day she was subdued and withdrawn, she did not go to work, instead we visited the hospital and the Cancer Association to select some wigs from their stock. What she could find was not right for her but had to do until we could get better. The evening was again difficult; a long session of trying this, washing that, brushing this way and brushing another way. I had little to do with it all, it was a female thing and the girls and her tackled it together. The results were finally acceptable but Sharon was not happy; this was not something she could overcome in a day or two. This was a public blow that marked her before everybody. She could not pretend this had not happened. She told me, “The top of my head is a great big sign that tells everybody to feel sorry for me. It says, „This lady has cancer, this lady is different, she is going to die.‟” Not all of the trauma of cancer is propagated through physical assaults, sometimes it comes through what goes on around us, through people that we deal with everyday. Companies that find themselves with an employee who has cancer have a large problem because, not only are there the actual inroads into the patient‟s time on the job, there are also the side effects of the trauma, the side effects of the treatment and the reaction of those that are in close contact with the patient at work. The importance of trying to maintain normal relationships and demands around the person cannot be over estimated. The cancer patient needs to feel that they are useful, as needed as they always were. It is quite often the case that their job is the only thing that maintains a semblance of normality in their lives. They can rise, get dressed, catch a bus or drive a car and for a full shift carry on with something that has not changed but requires the same of them that it has always done. It is not allowing them the time off, or understanding that radiation can make them tired that counts. It is treating them like everybody else that is so important. The treatment of cancer is to a large extent the administration of chemicals and other medical strategies but is so much more a spiritual battle, so much a war of the will. One of the worst setbacks of Sharon‟s life was the loss of her job. This started like all the other setbacks with a few minor incidents that eventually became a major loss that had to be accepted and put behind her.
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When Sharon‟s stay in hospital and recovery extended beyond her leave period I went in to her work and spoke to her boss Basil R..... He seemed very co-operative and told me how much he cared for Sharon. He assured me that she was a valued employee and that the company would support her as much as it was able. I asked him to be sensitive to her problems as she was at times tired and forgetful. I especially asked him to call me first and warn me if any difficulties arose. I assured him that I would drop whatever I was doing and come to the company with or without Sharon‟s knowledge in order to resolve or deal with anything that had gone wrong. When I left I was happy that Sharon was safe at work and that they would be able to deal with her particular problems with more understanding. He then proceeded to ignore the fact that I existed and throughout the unfortunate events that led to her dismissal at the end of July never spoke to me again. Later I came to know that almost immediately after I had spoken to him, somebody started an action that in retrospect seems to have been more calculated than casual. Sharon returned to work and within a few days was approached by the company doctor. Would Sharon write a letter giving permission for her to access Sharon‟s records at Groote Schuur? Sharon did this willingly. When I heard of it I believed that the interest stemmed from my conversation with Basil. It possibly did but the motivation was not what Sharon and I assumed.

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I wake up to a cold, crisp morning full of light and wonder. It is good to be alive. After I have eaten I get up onto the road and sit on the bank to say my morning prayers. When I have finished, I pause and let my thoughts run free. I take out my pad and write. I am moved to say something and it flows from my heart.

FROM MY NOTES: 8/8......... I sit on the side of the road and it is cold. The wind blows chill into my skin and deeper where it can. I am, however, warm as I look across the valley and see endless mustard coloured grass and life; Life in trees, in horizons and in rocks. My heart fills with a great joy and for a moment I grasp the beauty of creation and the security of its perfect logic. From nowhere tears spring into my eyes and something deep inside tears with grief. She has become part of all this; part of the past and of the eternal future and I am trapped in the present. I can never touch with what I am, what she has become. I can only catch glimpses and perhaps feel the feather like touch of God‟s love which now includes her own.

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This love desires from me, for me, that I somehow pursue the joy in creation. That I try each day to partake in and absorb the wonder and excess of giving that exists everywhere we care to look. In this way I can become a source myself and radiate the greatness of it all, contributing to its inevitable success over all that is dark and lost. We in our deprived sense of God liken him to us, but he is much more, so much everything, that for the present it is perhaps best that we name him and classify him. For the truth is so vast and so far beyond our understanding that we would surely deny it could ever be. (Thanks Lord.)

Today is a work day and I have no idea who will be using the road. I know that Mondays are normally quiet. The incident with the truck yesterday annoyed me because I have developed an excellent relationship with the drivers. Some of them I see regularly, every couple of days. Many of them greet me and one or two of them have been doing so since I was in the Northern Transvaal. When I walk and the trucks come at me I move to the right as much as I can and they normally drive past giving me plenty of room. The respect they have for the road is evident in the way they drive. The foolishness of two exceptions to the rule should not disturb me too much, but it does. In the late morning I am stopped by a provincial traffic officer. He asks me where I am going, which means “Are you the cancer man?” When that has been established he becomes very friendly. I share coffee with him and I am grateful as my water is low. He advises me about the road ahead and asks me to overnight at his home in Bloemfontein when I reach there. Later on in the day he stops again and we talk for about half-an-hour. He and I get along well. His name is Eugene D....... Later, as I am walking, I miss my supply of coke and say out loud to nobody in particular, “When is someone going to stop and give me a drink?” Almost immediately a car pulls up on the opposite side of the road, I cross over to hand out one of my flyers and I am given six ice cold cans of Coke. I try to refuse but the driver of the car gets out of his vehicle and stuffs the tins into any little empty place he can find in my pack. He tells me that he bought them especially for me and had driven back to give them to me. I now have Coke coming out of my ears but I am pleased because I really enjoy the stuff. I find that it is not only thirst quenching but seems to give me an energy boost. Somehow I have lost count of the kilometers I have done but must do another 10 km if I am to make Bloemfontein tomorrow. My hip is sore again, as is my shoulder. As the evening approaches I have difficulty in finding a decent place to sleep. Whilst walking in the afternoon I have not been paying attention and find that the
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open horizons have been replaced by dry and inhospitable thorn bushes. They have dark gray branches bristling with long white spikes. All over the ground the dead and deadly fallen twigs and wood lies, prohibiting easy camping. No culverts present themselves either. I shiver as the cold that is dropping from nowhere envelopes me. I keep walking but can find nothing. It is getting difficult to see. I must stop soon. I am tired and starting to lose faith in the presence that has provided for me through 38 consecutive nights to date. I keep going and eventually stop looking. I can see very little and have stumbled a couple of times. Now I cannot choose for myself because I have no idea of what is going on around me. I cross over to the left side of the road and hear the chuck, chuck of a sprinkler. Against the sky I see the silhouette of several huge wheels and to the left of them some trees. The wheels are in a field and belong to an irrigation system. As I listen, the sound of the sprinkler increases and I realize that the wheels are turning ever so slowly, bringing the spray of water closer. The fence is close to the road and as I walk beside it I walk downwards whilst on my right the road rises up beside me. Perhaps there is a culvert in the offing. Suddenly I have to stop, the fence is on my left, the bank of the road on my right and there in front of me, is a wall of dark which turns out to be a tree and some bushes, I can walk no further. I bend down and feel the ground around my feet. It is covered with grass of some kind and I gratefully shrug of my pack. I lay out my groundsheet and take shortcuts to get some hot food into me and me into a warm sleeping bag as quickly as possible. I am very cold and very tired. I do put up my space blanket because I am worried about the dew or frost in the morning. In my pre-occupation with getting myself comfortable I take no notice of two important signs that will irritate me the whole night long. Once I am settled in my sleeping bag and warm, I slowly relax and allow the world around me to speak. The first statement it makes is unpleasant. I become aware of a strong smell of human excreta. The place I am in is obviously a popular bush toilet. I dig out my torch and search everywhere that I can reach from the safety of my sleeping bag. I find nothing at all and I am suddenly struck by the thought that I must have laid my groundsheet on top of it. I do not look forward to the morning. As I lay still and deal with the fact that there is nothing I can do but ignore the smell and go to sleep, I again hear the sprinkler. It is getting louder and I realize that at some stage it had faded away completely. The only explanation is that it is transversing back and forth across the field. It gets louder and louder and then some drops of water fall noisily onto the space blanket above my feet. I lie still, waiting, I am going to have to pack up and move. My sleeping arrangements are definitely not waterproof. To my relief the drops stop and the noise of the sprinkler starts to recede. Right through the night the sprinkler works on; each time it comes to my end of the field the drops of water reach out to wake me up and then retreat chuckling quietly as I sniff and smell what I believe is waiting for me in the morning.

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Whilst I am lying awake I wonder where I am and how far I have come. I hear a train go by not too far away. According to what I can remember of the map I should cross a railway line, but only later, much closer to Bloemfontein. I am so close to the road that the passing traffic sounds as if it is driving right through the camp. I awake early to a beautiful morning and find myself in a little hollow surrounded by bush and overhung by trees. The ground beneath me is covered in some sort of small leaf creeper, not grass, but it is thorn free. I trace the obnoxious smell to a pile of toilet paper behind the tree and am relieved that my gear is not contaminated. When I check my surroundings and position myself on the map I conclude that I am near a place called Glen and have only 25km to go to Bloemfontein. I look down the road that I walked in the dark the night before and can see that my camp was in the first bit of greenery that I had reached. If I had stuck to the verge of the road or stayed on the left hand side I would have missed it. “O ye of little faith.” I quote to myself. I did not need to worry about where I was to lay my head; a place had been prepared for me! I cruise through the day and enjoy the lack of worry. I will easily make Bloemfontein. When Eugene‟s partner stops to chat during the morning I ask him to tell Eugene that I will be at his house that evening. The police radio is used and arrangements made. Eugene‟s wife will pick me up at the Engen garage. My stomach is acting up and once or twice I feel light headed. Perhaps too much Coke. That will teach me. As I approach the end of the morning I feel a little shaky, something is definitely wrong. After four days of walk diet with little other input I worry that my intake is lacking in something. I do not get fresh greens; I must investigate the possibility of supplementing my normal rations with vitamins. When I arrive at the garage I have a „Lady‟s Steak‟ at the Golden Egg and enjoy it immensely. In the trucker‟s restroom two of the four shower cubicles are in use and I take one of the remaining two. This is Bloemfontein, in the Orange Free State where, a few years previously, an Indian had 24 hours to travel through the province but was not allowed to stop. Here I stand, naked, showering alongside a pitch black native and a cheerful, talkative Indian gentleman. All three of us are relaxed and friendly. We discuss the latest atrocities and all of us are equally disgusted with the ability of a few radicals to turn the country upside down. The Indian guy mistakes me for a truck driver and asks me where I am taking my load. He is really excited when he learns who I am. “I read about you in the „You‟ magazine,” he says. I do not argue with him but it is not possible. The „You‟ magazine was not interested in doing the story, and most of my coverage has been in the „Argus‟ or the „Sunday Times‟. I walk on to Engen and Eugene‟s young wife picks me up and takes me home. She is very pregnant and already pretty but her pregnancy gives her an air of glowing health and confidence that makes her beautiful.
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That afternoon I walk around the local shopping center and generally take it easy. When I am back at Eugene‟s house I telephone the Hospice and make arrangements to be met at the Bloemfontein Post Office at 12.30 am the next day. I arrange with Eugene to be dropped off where his wife picked me up. Rain is forecast but I will have plenty of time to walk the last few kilometers. In the morning I phone home and am given a boost by the knowledge that in Cape Town people are waiting for me that love me. It is probably the most essential part of my life, this need to have someone who loves me for what I am. Not because I am a father or a brother but because I have been created in a unique way that appeals to another human being. How can we believe in ourselves if we do not have a second opinion to confirm the diagnosis? The rain is pelting down and since being dropped off I have done little else except sit in the Wimpy at Engen and wait for the weather to ease off. I watch the gray cement. Garage attendants run from shelter to the covered apron where cars come and go constantly. Life is sometimes as gray as the rain. I have no inclination to write but I have time on my hands so I allow my mind to circle around this feeling and lift a corner or two. These periods of non-inspiration are a part of my life and constitute a state of mind that must be describable in terms that bring it home to others. Instead of the deep, fast moving flood that sometimes takes me, it is shallow, nondirectional and lies much like the rain on the flat courtyard outside. Dark and impenetrable, it wants to gather and gain momentum but first creeps in one direction and then another. God needs to tip the world ever so slightly so that a slope opens up and it can run and sweep the dust before it. I take out my notes and try to put how I feel down on paper.

FROM MY NOTES: 11\8...... I sit at this small table in a bright red and yellow room. I have had two cups of coffee and will probably have another. There are people in here and one of them points me out to her companion. They know who I am but I quickly look away because in spite of them I am alone and I want it to stay that way. I want nothing from these people. When I needed desperately to be loved there was no love. In my self pity at the time I was blinded to the needs of someone who wanted my love. If I had been able to give, I might have been able to receive. With Sharon‟s death I lost a part of my life which, because it is commonplace in most people‟s lives and seemed to be in mine, I did not value as I should have. Now she has gone and although we had time together I wonder if it was enough. There is no meeting place for myself and these people around me. I am lost in a world they can never enter and

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they, they are part of a world I am frightened to rejoin, in spite of what it holds out to me in fellowship. Once there had been a meeting place for Sharon and myself, it was a field in which we had laughed, played and cried. When it clouded over we both stepped outside and closed the gates. Far away on the other side of opposite fences we had stood and looked back at what we had once possessed. It stood empty, shrouded in mist, almost as if it had never been. We were lucky; that distance and that void had caused a cry loud enough to be heard across acres of loss. We were perhaps never able to step back inside that field, but we walked around it and we walked back towards each other. When we faced, we were able to realize that what we had always enjoyed was not so much our circumstances as each other. How wonderful it was to know that. This is the wonder that I am now without. I look around and see the people at the tables about me, is there someone else that is right for me? What am I, and how much of me have been colored by her? Sharon was part of the creation of the Roger Russell that sits at this table. This work that I am, I retain and put forward into a new life. I am a person now molded by nearly thirty years of her life. This is a gift from her which no one‟s death can take from me.

I sit back and realize that there are always meeting places but we have to stand up and walk into them. People are greater than problems, their hearts higher than fences. I smile at the woman who looked at me earlier but she is embarrassed and turns away. God can tip the world but it is we who allow life to flow. I have done little walking in the rain so far, but eventually have to leave. The rain is falling steadily and the side of the road is muddy and slippery. I have to walk very carefully as the weight of my pack creates balancing problems that are unexpected and difficult to deal with. My bright red poncho, which covers me completely from over my head down to my knees, seems to draw a lot of attention. Some passersby actually stop to watch me walk past. I understand that it is not a good idea to walk in the rain but they are doing the same thing. What is it that makes me any different to them? I get closer to the city center and the downpour starts to slacken off. At a faulty set of traffic lights two traffic officers are doing duty. I greet them and the one who stands at the side of the road nods doubtfully. He is not happy. “What is that thing on your back,” He asks. “My backpack,” I reply, “I have just walked from Beit Bridge,” “Oh and where might that be?” “In the North, on the Zimbabwe border.” I say, but I am unsure of what is going on as he has a problem keeping a straight face.
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“And that thing on your back is where you store your water, I suppose?” I am starting to get a little irritated and reply shortly, “Water and food, clothes..... everything. It is my home from home.” He cannot help it but laughs out loud and shakes his head. “Well I wish you the best of luck, it must be taking a long time.” “Walking is not as slow as one might think,” I tell him. “I just keep steadily adding on the kilometers each day.” I watch him carefully, he has not asked me where I am going and does not appear to be particularly interested. I decide to move on as the conversation is going nowhere. I walk off and feel the doubt starting to grow within me. There is more to this than meets the eye. I get into the city proper and I am walking past shop windows when I catch sight of myself in one of them. I am a huge and strange red object, half bent over, plodding along the pavement. The poncho has transformed a man and a backpack into a single unit. A weird and wonderful cross between a camel and a tortoise. My hump curves over my back and the poncho that colors it red, hangs like an inverted bowl around me. If I had a leg in each corner it would be perfect but I have only two thin hairy sticks that protrude from the bottom somewhere towards the middle. Jutting out in front like a small red ball is the section of the poncho that fits over my head. If it was on the end of a long neck I might be a camel. As it is tucked into the end of the hump, I am half a tortoise. The officer must have seen the camel and made his now obvious remark about the water. I see the resemblance to a two legged tortoise and wonder if he realized the same when I talked of my home from home. The age old story of the consistent effort winning the race comes home to me with new meaning and I can now react cheerfully to the puzzled and sometimes derogatory looks I am still receiving. Thankfully, as I near the much publicized „Glass Palace‟ which houses the officialdom of Bloemfontein‟s administration, the rain stops completely and I am able to remove my red cloak and emerge as man and backpack once more. I am unexpected, but well received by Bloemfontein in the form of the Mayor‟s representative, Mr. Van D...... Afterwards I continue on to the Post Office and am welcomed into the warmth and love that is Bloemfontein Hospice. I wash my face and change before lunch. I really enjoy relaxing in good company and find everyone easy to talk to. One of the ladies present is dealing with the trauma of fatal cancer within her own circle and I feel her need to understand the why‟s and wherefore‟s deeply. One again it is obvious how personal and sensitive these problems are. A stranger such as myself cannot ad lib pat answers to problems that are rooted in long and intimate relationships.

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After lunch, my hostess, Joan M..... takes me across the road to the Cathedral. I meet Paddy H..... who is the Bishop‟s secretary and she has arranged a room for me in the building. It is quiet and comfortable. I feel at home in such places, there is peace and air of permanent strength. There is no place for secrets yet all the privacy in the world. Because of the atmosphere it is familiar and I can unwind safely.

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CHAPTER 14

In the light of what Sharon was and the basis on which her whole approach to the disease was grounded, what happened next was nothing but a display of stupidity. Her boss Basil R..... approached her whilst she was having the radiotherapy treatment to her skull and suggested that she worked half days only until she had overcome the tiredness that went with such treatment. Sharon refused, saying that she would do a full day‟s work for as long as she was able. Two weeks later Basil came into the reception in a bad mood. He started to shout at Sharon accusing her of not doing her work properly and using her cancer to generate sympathy to excuse her inability to perform. Sharon asked him to say what it was that she had failed to do or where she had made mistakes but he would not specify. He warned her that he was not prepared to accept the situation as it stood and left the office. When she told me what had happened I could not believe it. On top of the fact that she had just lost her hair she now had to face, on her own, this kind of assault on her integrity and value where she worked. She was adamant about my non-interference and became almost hysterical when I wanted to see the company personally. There was no way she was going to allow me to confront him and I became worried that there was something she was not telling me. I suggested that she resign. I had work and it was possible for us to survive without her salary. She did not want me to go and see them; perhaps it was best that she did not have to face the daily stress anyway. She and I compiled the following letter,

13 Reitz Street Milnerton 7441 25/02/92 N____ T____ Pty Ltd P O Box_ Eppindust 7475. Dear Mr. B..... As a result of the conversation that I had on Monday 24th February with Mr. Basil R......., I am forced to accept the fact that the company is unhappy with the standard of my performance. Further to this is the stated problem that Mr. R..... has in dealing with the sympathetic demands of my state of health. I therefore feel that it is in both the company‟s and my own interest that I terminate my employment with the usual notice i.e. as of the end of March.

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I wish to state at this point that I appreciate the consideration and more than generous treatment of my particular circumstances and hope that the company has every success in the future. Yours Sincerely Sharon Russell.

She presented the resignation to her managing director, a Mr. B..... the following day. He was surprised and said to her that he was not aware of any problems with her work and that the resignation was unacceptable. After he had torn the letter up and thrown it into his wastepaper basket he told Sharon she was not to worry and it was up to her to decide when she was no longer able to work a full day. The company would keep her on full pay and when she needed to she could shift to a half day job. She and Basil treated each other carefully for a few days but the stories she told me indicated that he was visiting whatever frustrations he had onto other people in the company. I felt guilty that I had entertained a suspicion that Sharon had been in any way to blame for the incident. It was about this time that I first noticed the plaque on the wall at the Cancer Association resource center in Mowbray telling the story of Doug Eyre. Doug had built an airplane in 1986 and used the project as a fund raising campaign. He had been a cancer sufferer. I could not build an airplane but I had cancer and thanks to my background I could talk. Perhaps I could talk to people about cancer and somehow put money back into the system that was supporting us so well. When Sharon and I next visited the center I pointed it out to her. She was immediately taken with the idea of doing something but told me, “I‟d like to say thank you somehow but I cannot do anything now. Maybe later we could do something together.” March was a relatively easy month for both of us. Sharon had purchased an excellent wig and looked great in it. She was comfortable about her appearance and was operating at home and at work more like her normal self. Brian was selling vacuum cleaners on a commission only basis and despite my disapproval of this kind of selling was tackling the work with an intensity unusual for him. Annelee and Carolyn, the two eldest were both working at a local restaurant. Annelee as a waitress and Carolyn in the kitchen as a learner pastry chef. Diana, who had the previous year shown signs of uncooperative behavior at school, was settling down well in a new school; a small convent near our new home. The nuns were sensitive to her situation and treated her well.
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At work I was learning the ins and outs of the jewelry trade and was enjoying the stimulation of applying my general skills to a specific industry. The company had been a family concern run by Mr. and Mrs. Z..... They had hearts of gold and as is often the case where there is great skill and love at the head of a business found themselves taken over by more financially orientated people. In this case the company had been brought by an organization represented by Peter G...... Peter was the man to whom I owed my selection from hundreds of other applicants. He had been looking for someone to turn the organization from a small family business into a large volume professional factory. This had to be done carefully and without losing the aura of excellence that Mr. and Mrs. Z....... had built into the company‟s previous image. The client base was to be shifted to consist mainly of large retail organizations such as American Swiss and Sterns. I started quietly, sitting at a desk processing orders until I was at least able to assess the administrative aspects of the production. I reported to the son of the original owner, Klaus. Klaus was of the same cut as his father with more gentleness and less experience. It was an easy place to work, the staff was well motivated and the management friendly and fairly relaxed. Myself and Peter G..... understood each other well and once I had established my worth I approached him and told him I had misrepresented my work situation on my C.V. He was shocked that I had misled him but understood the circumstances and to my knowledge never held it against me. Organization was very haphazard and there was a great deal for me to do. I knew that I could improve on their productive performance quite easily and was enthusiastic about my future there. It was more than just a job, it was a good place to be and I was glad to be there in a position enabling me to make a real contribution. The next step down the road was a shift from the attacks on Sharon‟s bone structure to lesions in her organs. The normal course of events is for the metastases to move to the liver and sure enough this happened in April. Slowly any hope of recovery was being eroded and even Sharon had to face the fact that she was steadily moving along the path that her doctors had predicted. Her only consolation was that she was doing it more slowly than the doctors had told us to expect. When we sat in the consulting room with the latest X-rays on display Dr. G...... seemed distressed. She too had been infected by Sharon‟s will and faith and now she had to come up with something that Sharon could use. Something that Sharon could wield in her solitary battle with the slow, steady progress of the disease.

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All of us knew the stance that Sharon had adopted towards chemotherapy. We had even joked how Sharon had decided to go quietly rather than have another course of chemo. Dr. G...... sighed and looked at Sharon, “I think you realize that I would not suggest this if I did not have too. I know that you have had problems with chemotherapy before, but I feel that we can give you something to fight with if we schedule a really heavy course of treatment for just a short while.” I felt my heart sink, what would she say? I found myself watching her, as Dr. G..... was watching her. I did not know what was going through the Doctor‟s mind but my thoughts were focused; “Take it, please take it. Please God don‟t let her turn it down.” How much fight she still had left would be gauged by her reply. I could not bear to see her turn away from another chance. She shrugged, “If I must, I must,” and look looking at us both smiled and said, “I am not going to die yet.” Two things were significant; one was that soon after this she asked the social worker if she could initiate procedures to register at the St. Luke‟s Hospice in Kenilworth. The second was harder to define, but she was becoming a more private person. She seemed to be trying to move herself to the edge of our family circle. She stopped talking openly to me about aches and pains but said several times that there was no God that would allow the sort of world we lived in. The first act was the first sign that she had shown to indicate that she felt that she might in fact die. The drawing back, a sign to me that she was scared. For her it was a tactic; the latest move to deal with her situation in her own private way. For me it was frightening and the coldness of what was to come started to touch the edges of my being. Annelee and Carolyn organized a Mother‟s day luncheon at the Lighthouse restaurant where they worked. It was a present for the two of us, although intended mainly for her. We sat against a far wall, away from the door and were treated with special attention. It was a warm sunny day and should have been fun. It was not to be a good day for me. That day everything said to me, “She is going to die!” The expression on people‟s faces said it when they looked at her. The way we seemed separate from the pleasure that the other diners were experiencing, said it. The wind outside and the flowers on the table said it. My heart said it. I remember little of what happened at that meal, Annelee hovered around us, serving us as was her job and I think Carolyn came out from the kitchen to sit with us for a few minutes.
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I know that one point I looked at Sharon, she was smiling across the table at me as I was saying something or other and suddenly I could not go on anymore. My feelings took hold of my throat and it closed up completely. I tried to continue but I could not, I looked at her and the tears welled up inside. I wiped my cheek and she sat looking at me. She said, “You think that this is the last Mother‟s day for me, don‟t you?” I nodded, saying nothing. “I think so too, but I‟m not sure,” she paused, “not yet.” I took in a deep breath. “I‟ll be O.K.” I said, “It‟s just a little difficult to deal with at times, that‟s all.” I sat for a minute and then said, “I love you so much.” She smiled, “I know,” she said. It was enough. We finished the meal and by the time we left the hurting had subsided. Life continued and that is what makes everything possible in the end; no matter what happens, how bad everything can suddenly become, it passes and life goes on. It is this continual progress we make that assures us of hope. The movement of time guarantees that all becomes the past and that the future, unknown as it is, brings change varied enough to provide relief.

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Once I have settled in at the Cathedral, I return to the Hospice and sit for most of the afternoon in the lounge. I talk to many people who drop in to see me including the press. During this time, when I have a chance, I telephone the various organizations that are supporting me and I make an important contact. The local Rotary asks me to telephone Mr. and Mrs. G..... in Colesburg, which I do. Diane G..... asks me to stay with her and her husband when I pass through Colesburg and I make arrangements to be met at the Orange River as they have a farm near there. When I want to phone the local Pick „n Pay I am told that the P.R.O lady from Pick „n Pay is scheduled to arrive later in the afternoon to welcome me personally. In due course she does arrive and turns out to be a vivacious and cheerful person whose only regret is that she cannot do more for me. She brings me a parcel which contains my third pair of shoes. I am worried about them as I know that my size was unavailable and that these are half a size too big. If they increase my constant blister problem I will be in trouble. Bloemfontein is the last town with a Pick „n Pay until Worcester, a distance of almost 900km. I have little chance of replacing them. I am annoyed with myself for allowing this situation to develop. I should not let such important issues slip out of control.

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My itinerary for the day includes a visit that evening to the home for cancer patients run by the Cancer Association. This place and many others like it all over the country is a godsend to the people who live far from the facilities that us city dwellers take for granted. When a patient needs a course of chemotherapy or radiotherapy and the nearest center is hundreds of kilometers away, then the only option is to stay in reach of the required facility for as long as it takes. It would be nice to believe that everyone who gets sick can afford such periphery costs but these are not direct medical expenses and the money is often just not there to cover them. Some of the people who stay in this particular home have been there on and off for some time. Chemotherapy is often administered once a month or once a week but radiotherapy is usually a daily administration stretching over many weeks. A place like this needs to be above all a home. The people that can make it so do not sit in the office or headquarters of the Cancer Association but are the people that meet you at the door, that listen to your problems, serve you your food and interact constantly with you and the other guests to make you comfortable and secure. In Bloemfontein, cancer patients do have a real home to go to when they need it. From the boerewors and mieliepap I was served at supper to the easy conversation I had with the guests over some coffee afterwards, the place is a home in every sense of the word. I sat and told them about Sharon and how we had got through the ongoing trauma of her cancer but I listened a great deal as well. When we are personally in the throes of the violence and turbulence of the disease we see only ourselves. We ask ourselves, “What now Lord?” “Why me Lord?” We say, “This is too much!” “Here is too little!” “This is the worst case of cancer ever.” “She is the best patient ever.” We cannot understand the meaning of anything that is happening. “How can it be that my situation has its poles so far apart, why so much distance between the good that is my wife and the evil that is in her?” It is just us. Nobody else has it so bad. That night in Bloemfontein I listened and heard in peoples voices how great each of their tragedies were. I heard an old man, healthy and strong but with only a few years left to him, talk of his wife of fifty years who was dying in a hospital nearby. I am forty six and I can live and love still. Behind his words, describing his love and his life, a whisper of what was waiting for him when she had gone reached out across the room and touched us all. I have heard it said that in truth we are alone and can no more reach out and touch each other‟s inner being than we can fly to the moon. Perhaps we cannot aggressively place what we are inside another‟s inner world but we can and do submissively accept what we learn of others into ourselves. We build and create our life around other people inside ourselves.
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The death of a loved one proves beyond doubt just how much we need their continued presence. When they are taken from us the pillars of our personality lie in the rubble of the walls which once was our image and we stand defenseless. I realize that I have time to build again. There is much material that I can re-use and maybe the foundations have not cracked beyond repair. Above all there is hope. The old man has little that seems worthwhile, his strength is gone and he has no desire to rebuild and call in new partners. His home is gone and he will perhaps quietly wait for night to fall and catch him without shelter. Later when I talk to him alone I satisfy myself that he is aware of this and is not frightened of the dark but will accept it in peace as the twilight closes in. The evening comes to an end and I phone Joan as arranged. In due course she arrives to run me back to my room. Joan is bright and cheerful. I have yet to meet a Hospice lady who is anything but strengthened by the work that she does. She asks if I would like a tour of the town and I enjoy her bright chatter and humor for a little longer. She tells me that Bloemfontein is a great place to live and work. She loves it and calls Bloemfontein „South Africa‟s best kept secret.‟ “If the people of Cape Town or Durban knew what it is like to live in Bloemfontein, we would be flooded with immigrants,” she laughs. Her husband is a lucky man and if I had the courage I would ask her to take us to a restaurant somewhere so that I could steal a little more of what he has so much of. She is a breath of fresh night air that balances the evening to perfection. I catch myself wondering what Sharon would think of her. The next day I rise, shower and breakfast. The cook at the Cathedral presents me with an envelope. In it is a donation from her towards cancer. I am deeply touched. She tells me that she is a Methodist but has worked in the kitchen here at the Catholic Cathedral for years. God‟s children have no walls and limitations on their hearts. She believes in the Hospice and all good works. I learn a little of her life and wish I could quadruple her donation and slip it back into her purse. I cannot, and accept the gift with genuine gratitude. God will surely do all the balancing of accounts in his own time. The day proceeds at a leisurely pace and I stroll through the shops. I have a haircut and enjoy a salad bowl at the Spur. I am back at the Cathedral for lunch and afterwards attend the one-o-clock Mass. I buy a plain silver cross because I am finding out that there is always a resurrection and although Catholics normally have the figure of Christ on the cross, on this one He is not depicted. I feel that the suffering is over for Sharon and diminishing for myself. It is a symbol of hope for the future. It is good to be reminded that there was a cross but we need to be able to see that the life that hung there has moved on to new and better things. I believe that this cross will mean a commitment to a new and brighter future for me as well.
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Later Joan drops me at Pick „n Pay and says good-bye to me. Her daughter is with her and I can feel the strong family ties that exist. I wonder if her daughter will learn, as my children have learned, how great a gift it is to have someone like Joan locked into your life with such bright and powerful chains as this love, mother and child, one for the other. Again I am hugged tightly and again I say good-bye to someone that, in a short space of time, I have learnt to like almost too much. I complete the work I need to do at Pick „n Pay which includes talking to the shoppers over the public address system. The staff is helpful and co-operative and I leave with all the cash I am to need as well as a reasonable selection of foodstuffs. I have been able to go back to my planned diet as most of the things I need are available. Afterwards I walk the few kilometers to Eugene‟s house and am welcomed by his wife and little boy. I meet Eugene‟s parents who will be putting me up the next night. They own a farm approximately 30 km out of Bloemfontein so it will make an ideal stopping point for the next leg of the journey. The following day Eugene drops me at Pick „n Pay as I have worked out the distances will be right if I begin from there. I decided at the last minute to buy another T-shirt and do so. A little while later I am walking, the full weight of my so-called Karoo pack heavy on my back and hips. I still have the old walking shoes as I am frightened to try the new ones. 3km out of town I realize that I have left my file and notes in the Pick „n Pay. I am shattered, it is the first time that I have made such a mistake in a 1000 km. I have no choice but must turn around and go back for them. I do so, cursing and chiding myself the whole way. It means an extra 6km on my day‟s quota. I will have to really push hard. I realize with some bitterness that it is Friday 13th.

FROM MY NOTES: 13/8.......... So I have done this morning from 8.30 to 11.0 ± 13 km of which only 7 are useful. I am now at a road sign This is a major event. Time; 10.53 am Date; 13/8/93.

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NI

EDENBURG COLESBURG PORT ELIZABETH CAPE TOWN

65 210 650 1000

Exactly halfway. I should feel great but do I? The truth is that I find it depressing to leave some places behind. Even if I do return it will never be as what I am now. It will be as just another person and the walker will have become a thing of the past. The real me is not so romantic or such an adventurer. The me that lives and works in Cape Town is too ordinary to live this life, to impress the people he meets as this walking fellow does. I am now headed back towards the truth and I am a little frightened as to who I am going to be when I get back. The person for whom I was a knight in shining armour has gone and I must accept that I will miss being so special. For the last time my thoughts turn consciously towards the possibilities of somehow cutting it all short in the hope of joining her. I try to imagine her reply to me if I could put the idea across to her somehow. I know that she would gently shake her head; there is no reason to give up. The decision is not mine to make and I realize that in fact I do not have the courage to even pray for my life to end. There is still too much potential for me, maybe another family, more children, a farm or some great work still to be done. When a friend of mine lost his father a little while ago I sent him these lines from Tennyson, “.....Yet all experience is an arch wherethro‟ Gleams that untraveled world, whose margin fades For ever and ever when I move. .....How dull it is to pause, to make an end,...... .....that which we are, we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield...”

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I decide it is dull indeed to even think of making an end. When we are so lackluster as to have not even the desire to just peek through that arch... when we have no interest in whether or not a gleam even exists, then perhaps it is time to lift the oars and slide into harbor. But not yet... My horizon is still full of promise and I have an urge to stand up and continue. 1000km down, 1000 still to go. I pack away my cup and the notes that cost me so much this morning. I get to my feet. The pack swings easily to my shoulders and I stride on towards my own as yet untraveled world which seems to gleam more strongly each passing day. Late in the afternoon I am walking well but painfully. I know I am close to the farm and I am pleased with myself. I have approximately 28 or 29 positive kilometers behind me plus the 6 useless ones. Eugene and his family pull up beside me and he jumps out of the car to walk the last few kilometers with me. It is nice to have a friend. We climb over the barbed wire fence onto his parent‟s farm and we walk and chat through the veldt to the farmhouse. He takes my pack and is surprised at the weight I carry. I feel a strange paternal affection for this pack, it is truly a home from home and we have learned to live together in harmony. The pack was donated to me by Karrimor and its design has proven practical and comfortable beyond all expectations. As I write it stands against the wall of my bedroom as strong and good looking as when it was given to me. Eugene is impressed with the technicalities of its structure and says that he would like one just like it. Faan V....., Eugene‟s father-in-law, takes us out over the farm. He talks of the struggle it is to farm economically and the improvisations that have to be made to achieve anything on a tight budget. However his operation looks good and he seems to have what he needs. That night I sit down to a table loaded with meat and side dishes of all descriptions. The wine and laughter is passed back and forth across the room and everyone seems to enjoy the occasion with an ease that tells me they do it often. Before I go to bed I bath and lay in steaming hot water with my head spinning. I am tired and I have drunk too much. I am glad to climb into bed and I know nothing until the next morning. Edenburg is about 40km away and I will sleep on the road tomorrow night. The next day my feet give me trouble again and I feel ill. I cannot blame anyone but myself. Too much rich food and drink. I struggle through the day and sleep in a small culvert that is cramped and dirty. However it is the only available shelter I can find. It is dark by the time I get settled and although I am dirty and miserable I petulantly decide not to wash. The next day it is bitterly cold and the ground is thick with frost. The water in my bottle is frozen at the top and I can get nothing out of it until much later. I have to start the day hungry and dirty. Eventually I am able to eat and wash. It is nearly 11.00 am before I can properly get going.

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CHAPTER 15

The relentless advance of her disease seldom varied. We always feared the next step, the next in a series of incidents along the road. They were attacks on the spirit; attacks that were aimed single mindedly at destroying her faith in the world and her standing in it. We all start out with a belief in the future and in what it will one day bring us. We believe that we have a right to this future no matter what it holds in store for us. A right to the joys, the loves, to the happiness. If this is undermined and the hope of it taken from us by our personal creator then what reason is there to live? If the future is going to bring you nothing, then why bother with it all? It is at this point in your life that your hope must undergo a shift from what this world offers to what you can expect from the next. If your God has denied you what others have; Weddings, grandchildren, retirement and continued faith in this life, can you reasonably believe that anything is guaranteed in the next. It is not for me to say that the devil is coloured red and has a briefcase full of sales agreements signed in blood, but I can say that it is an evil act that destroys both the faith we have in this life and hope for the next. If we are only here to live out three score years and ten, then what price our spirit at the end? Do we just look back as I did when I lay with my cancer and say, “The past has been good enough.”? It is not good enough! The hope of what is to come is the driving attraction of life. The will to live is the anticipation of all that is held out to us. For myself and I believe finally for Sharon too, faith in an existence beyond the grave is the only reality that can make sense of the whims and fancies of chance. As soon as hope shifts from this world to the next then the will to live is superseded by the hope of an eternity and the physical battle becomes irrelevant. New hope is created and the step across the divide becomes the adventure; for some frightening, for others a natural act of trust. For Sharon, at this point in her life, the attractions of her desired earthly future were being withdrawn. Her ties to the importance of those attractions were still so strong that although she was starting to accept the truth she could not yet see that there was anything that could possibly replace them. The chemotherapy was hard for us all. Once again Sharon suffered from depression and nausea. As the time for her treatments approached she became difficult and depressed. She was tired, so very tired. In the evenings, when we sat around the TV and ate or just watched, she would hardly last out beyond 7.00 pm. If I woke her up and asked her to go to bed she would pick herself up and go, saying “I am tired, but you don‟t have to come. You can sit and watch if you like.”
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Normally I would wait a while and then follow her. Her preparations for bed embarrassed her. She needed to put in her false tears, take off her wig and take the various drugs she was on and she hated me to see it. Once I was in the room I would lie and read or even go to sleep. She always slept with a cover on her head and if I saw her bald more than twice, in all the months that it took before her hair grew back, it was a lot. The effects of the chemo became too difficult for her already stressed body to deal with and one day on her way home from work she fell asleep at the wheel of the car and went off the road. Nothing happened but she was badly frightened. She went to the managing director and explained the situation to him. She still did not want me to interfere at her work, feeling that it was her domain and under her control. She again offered her resignation and had it turned down. Mr. B...... was happy to keep her on, on a half day basis. She seemed to get on better dealing directly with Mr. B...... than going through Basil R..... who was still being unpleasant. She remained on full pay and was happy that the company felt strongly enough about her to do that. At Z....... things were becoming extremely busy. We had large order commitments to meet during May and it was obvious that the existing control structure was incapable of handling it. I needed more power and better information in order to maximize our productivity. It had already been difficult to channel all the creative energy into a more uniform and perhaps boring routine than what had been the case in the past. Mass production is hardly designed for the creative people on the bench and routine had to become habitual. I needed overtime from the factory to make up a back log of orders that had developed over the previous months. It was incumbent on me to participate in that overtime and although Klaus Z...... was always ready to do his share, I had to do mine. I was very sensitive to the fact that it was too easy to find an excuse to stay away from home, but I knew too, that there would come a time when I would have to ask for a great deal of time off to help Sharon. I received no pay for the hours I worked and was glad as I felt that I already owed the company a debt that went beyond an hourly count of who did what. I slowly took control of the workshop and customer liaison from Klaus, who had more than enough to worry about and seemed glad to stand back and let this area of authority slip from him. I was constantly at loggerheads with our financial manager who had a very real concern for profitability and we had several very intense and bitter arguments. I am sorry to say that I overreacted many times and allowed the conflicts at work to become an escape valve for a great deal of my frustration at home. It is to everyone‟s credit at Z....... that they managed to absorb a great deal of my pain without ever mentioning it as a motivation for my behavior. I was officially made production manager at this time, and invited to attend the board meetings. With the control I needed, I was able to implement tracking systems and employ administration staff to better control orders and deliveries.

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I needed someone to assist me in the discipline required to maintain adherence to new procedures. Someone I could trust to do what needed to be done in the face of the continual reversion to old habits by some very powerful people in the management and staff. There was only one person that I knew I could totally rely on and Barbara joined Z...... in May. During May Sharon became concerned that there was something going on behind the scenes at her work. This worry was focused on a pending visit by a Dr. B...... from the company‟s head office in Johannesburg. Sharon told me that it was supposedly to investigate the absenteeism that was high at this time, but she was sure that they were concerned in particular about her own absenteeism. When she returned home in the evening of the day of his visit she was almost annoyed. The Doctor had called in all the habitual sick, lame and lazy and spoken to each one individually but had not spoken to Sharon. “I am the sickest of the lot,” she complained to me, “and I don‟t even get to say Hello.” I re-assured her, “They do not need to discuss it. I expect Mr. B..... has told them to leave you alone.” She was not satisfied. “This is something going on there and I am going to find out what it is.” The next day I asked her what had happened. “I asked the personnel officer,” she replied, “She said what you said; they know all about my case, so it was not necessary.” Generally we relaxed; Sharon was still tired but better as she was resting in the afternoons. Although my job was demanding I was alive and strong. My cancer had been shelved by fate and by myself. Each time I visited the cancer clinic for my own check-ups the Doctors shook their heads, paged back through the files, sent me for X-rays and generally seemed at a loss as to where my cancer had come from and where it might have gone. I did not care, as far as I was concerned the check-ups were a formality; there was no cancer anymore. I told Sharon that I had decided that I would walk to raise money for cancer organizations. At first she was doubtful but one evening we sat down and really discussed it. “If you walk, where will you walk Roger?” I shrugged, “I don‟t know. Wait, let me get something.” I went out to the garage and came back with an old map. It was a fold out paper map and I opened it up on the coffee table. “It has to be a big walk; something that people will take notice of.” With the map spread out in front of us there was no need to discuss the route any further. Across the country and across the paper, standing out like ribbon of blue, the N1 stretched from the top right to the bottom left. “I will walk across the country from the top to the bottom,” I said. We both sat and looked at the map and its implications.
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“What is the name of the place where you will start, and where will you finish?” She asked. I bent over to look more closely. “Beit Bridge and Cape Town. I will start in Beit Bridge and will walk to Cape Town. From one end of the country to the other.” It seemed easy enough, we just looked at the map and I decided to do it. Sharon did not even ask what role she would play. It was very obvious that there was no role for her to play. Neither of us said anything but we both knew that it would be done alone. She asked, “When will you do it?” I sat back and looked at her; she held my gaze for a minute and then looked away at the window. “Afterwards” I said, “When it is all over.” She nodded and bit her lip. “Well,” she said, “I think I will make tea. Do you want some?” I took the map back to the garage and we did not discuss the walk again until almost the very end. One of the best things to come from our association with the Cancer Association of South Africa was the „I Can Cope‟ programme. For Sharon and I, with our independent approach to life, it was awkward to be amongst strangers and discuss personal issues with them. It became easier with time. Much of what we learned on the programme was useful to us. The relaxation sessions were especially helpful and the technique of letting tension drain from the body is one that is still useful to me today. The second session we attended was the first time I had ever heard anybody say that cancer could have beneficial effects on one‟s life. This rather surprising concept was to become the basis of my philosophy for the rest of my life. The statement helped to give some purpose to the hard to understand, daily battle that Sharon and I were both fighting. She as a trooper and I as backup. Group therapy remains an expression of one‟s self that I am uncomfortable with but it was useful to see one‟s own problems sized up against those of others. It is a little too easy to believe that your depth of despair is unique and exceeds everybody else‟s. A sense of almost comfort with your own problem can arise from realizing that someone else has circumstances that you not would exchange for your own. The other organization that supported us in the handling of our trauma was the St. Luke‟s Hospice and after Sharon had been accepted as a patient we went to them for a first visit. Sharon was placed in the care of Dr. J..... who turned out to be very sympathetic yet coolly professional. A Hospice is not an institution that one seeks out as a place to die. It does not offer a private situation where you physically place yourself out of the way of life and expire. That is an easy and common assumption for the strong and healthy who are in a position to push away rational analysis of what death could really mean to them. What a Hospice is encompasses a positive and vital approach to the process of living before death. You may die where ever you like. You may choose a private facility, or the bed that you normally sleep on at home. The Hospice is not that place. The Hospice performs a service in assisting your body and mind to live at its

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best during the time prior to your death. It is the place where you go to find out how to live. Death is a private and personal issue, no one can go all the way with you and then come back to fetch another candidate. I do not believe that any professional seriously believes that they can make death anything else than what it is, termination of life as we know it. What they can do is regulate and rationalize the treatment of symptoms in order to ensure that the living you do beforehand is comfortable and relatively active. They can provide facilities and resources that keep it that way. What they also do is provide counseling for those people in the family that can see a need in themselves. They are there for you. There to listen, there to open your mind to new avenues of understanding and there to help you meet each other again. There to help you understand people close to you, people that you thought you knew and really did not know at all. Sharon and I asked to speak to a counselor and one Sunday we met Leora. Leora was not awe inspiring, not stunningly beautiful, neither did she seem terribly intellectual. She was open and friendly, totally non-threatening and so easy to talk too. Hospice is surely proof of God‟s love in a real and earthly form and Leora was perhaps a hint that angels are not too farfetched either. Her very real concern for Sharon‟s and my well being was a little haven of hope for both of us and although I tried hard to get my children to participate in her strength and wisdom, they would not. The two elder girls said they would meet her but somehow always seemed to be too busy. Brian would not hear of it, “You always told us to stand on our own feet. I am surprised that you talk to her. You are always knocking the Americans on TV because they continually go to psychiatrists and now you are going to one.” I did not really have an answer for that remark but tried anyway, “We are all in a situation that is new and we are none of us very expert at any of it. I think that it is the duty of each one of us to make sure that any service or knowledge that is available is used to the fullest extent.” Annelee interrupted, “Yes Dad, but if we are managing O.K., then it is not good for us to do things that make us lose principles that we have learnt to rely on. You can‟t expect us to just change because, „maybe‟ we can learn something.” I smiled at Annelee and shook my head, she always had an answer. “All right, it‟s up to you. I can change..., because I have to. Perhaps you should all think about it and maybe we can go together one day.” Leora was against any member of the family being coerced into seeing her and so the only one of our children ever to meet her was Diana, the youngest of all of them. Diana is an intense young lady and although she had evidenced distress through incidents in her previous school, she had been responding well at her new school. Diana had expressed concern about her future life with me. She had also been fairly bitter about the way her family circumstances were developing as opposed to the happy stories she had heard of the other three and their childhood. “I won‟t have a family.” she said, “It will just be me and Dad, and dad is such an idiot.”
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I must confess to being a little clumsy around my maturing daughters, who always seemed to be at one stage or another. They were either not quite young women and therefore not ready for responsibility or somehow suddenly mature and mysteriously knowledged ladies to whom all men are idiots. Diana had one day quite coolly informed me that she was concerned about my ability to bring her up alone as I was, as she put it, “Coming apart at the seams.” These remarks and other incidents where we openly clashed were defused and brought into perspective by Leora. Diana and I agreed to try and accept that we each had a right to be who we were. I had to accept she was older than she looked and had been matured through circumstances other children her age seldom had to face. She was to realize that I might be more capable than I had previously demonstrated. I have never been able to really get inside of the feelings of this particular daughter but can only admire the strength and courage I have seen on the outside. She has had to accept changes in her life that affected everything that was supposed to help her through a difficult stage of her development. Yet she works hard at doing the things that she is supposed to do and is always pleasant to be with.

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Today is Sunday and the Feast of the Assumption. I would very much like to hear mass but realize that I will be in Edenburg to late. When I get into town just before lunchtime, I walk to the police station and they tell me that the Catholic priest runs a shop on the edge of town. I follow their directions and find the place but it is closed as is the priest‟s residence next door. After sitting around in the sun for too long I ask around and find out that the Catholic Church is in the middle of the black township. The steeple is pointed out to me, a tall spire rising out of a flat expanse of squalor. I decide I will walk there and see if I can find out about a possible evening service. The first group of black people I meet is a bunch of youngsters playing football alongside the road just where it plunges into the mass of shanties in front of me. They continue to play but some watch me steadily as I pass by. In the town, on the street, I meet another group of youngsters. They are a little older, possibly in their late teens. They are walking line abreast across the road, swaggering and shouting at each other as all boys of this kind do. They see me and stop, falling silent. I keep walking and approach the now sullen line. It parts and I walk through. I do not look back but I hear laughter. A flamboyant looking lady calls something to me from where she is sitting on her front step. I smile at her because I have no idea of what she has said. She bursts into raucous laughter and yells at a friend across the road who waves at me and
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wiggles her hips. None of this is really threatening and although I can feel many eyes following my progress I am not unduly disturbed. I turn a corner and the road goes straight as an arrow to the circular building under the spire. It is still a few blocks from me and I walk on through the dust and the stares. The blocks I refer to are not really divided by streets but by little alleyways that lead off into nowhere. As I pass by one of them a man emerges with a smile on his face that his eyes know nothing about. He reaches out his hand to me and I take it, returning his limp greeting in kind. He sighs, “Ah baas, where are you going in this place?” I indicate the church. “I am looking for the Catholic priest.” He looks sympathetic and replies, “The priest is not there, the church is closed.” “Perhaps I can find someone there; I need to know when the service will be held.” As I speak I notice that people have stopped staring and no one is taking any notice of me and my new companion at all. He puts out his hand and holds my arm. I feel pressure turning me towards the alleyway. “The priest is always busy, he cares for many people, but you are lucky, I know where he is and I can take you there.” He motions across the top of the house at our side. “He is visiting a friend of mine, I will show you the house.” My blood is cold and I am more than a little worried. “No!” I state flatly, “I am going to the church.” He allows himself to be irritated. “I do not understand this,” he says, “Did I not just tell you that the priest is not there?” I do what has worked before and as I reply push past him roughly and start walking, “I will wait for him at the church. I have plenty of time.” This time I do turn and look back. The man stares hard into my eyes and spits on the ground. He shrugs his shoulders and turns, walking off down the street without haste. I am not the only person that watches him move away. A man sitting in front of one of the houses watches as do some others, but as I am about to carry on his eyes flick back to me and when he sees me watching him he drops his gaze to his feet. He has a thin stick in his hand and with it he scratches aimlessly in the dust. I arrive at the church and it is broken down and dirty. Some of the walls are marked with graffiti and the garden is neglected and dying. There are no notices around and it is obvious that nothing is happening here. After a while I give up and walk back to Edenburg. As I pass the alleyway from which my earlier companion had emerged, a huge black woman calls out to me from the fence beside her shanty. “Come in here and eat with us.” she says. There are two other women sitting with her around a very black pot full of greasy brown liquid. There are odd looking lumps floating in it. Without thinking I quickly say, “No thanks.” There is an immediate chill in the air and she looks daggers at me. I see straight away that she has not harbored evil intent up to now but that by refusing her food
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I have put myself in the wrong. I point to the sky, “I have already eaten too much,” I say, “and the sun is hot. I am very happy that you have offered me your food and very sorry that I cannot eat now.” She smiles a toothless smile and says with an insight that I do not expect, “You are lucky that you speak nicely otherwise I might have eaten you.” She laughs, her whole body shaking violently, “Yes I could eat you just like that,” and snaps her fingers at me. Her companions laugh too. I mumble some pleasantries before walking on. Dark alleyways and men that don‟t smile with their eyes I can handle but these three women, now they are something else. I hang around town the whole afternoon but find no priest at home nor do I find anyone who can tell me what Catholics do in Edenburg on Sundays. Later I walk out of town to the south and camp under a bridge. I am not on the N1 but according to my map I can cut across the farmland to rejoin the N1 the next day without walking back through town. I wake, wash and eat leaving early at just after 8.00 am. I find the right road across the farms and re-join the N1. I walk well and it is a good day. This district farms mainly sheep but I find that a lot of the places have ostriches in the fields. What is unusual is the fact that it is normally only one ostrich at a time. I have seen ostrich farms before and they have plenty of ostriches. One bird per field is hardly economical. As I walk, I pass a large and well feathered fellow who is at first some distance from me in the middle of a large open stretch of grass. He soon rectifies this and lopes over to stare at me intently as I walk by. He is not happy with what he sees and places me under close observation, walking alongside the fence for the next ten or fifteen minutes. Eventually my grace and stunning appearance is too much for him and he starts to court my attentions. Every time I look at him he drops to his knees and spreads his magnificent feathers out along the ground either side of him. Once in this position he proceeds to stretch his neck back and rubs himself with the back of his head up and down the exposed parts of his body. When I walk on he gets up and runs after me. It is all very flattering as long as I don‟t look into his eyes. What I find there is cold and menacing. I decide that before I leap over the fence and become friends for life I will have to ask someone who knows if this ritual means, “I want you in my life” or, “I want you out of it.” When we eventually reach a fence that stops him from following me any further he watches me until I can see him no longer. I am perpetually thirsty and have to exercise a lot of will power to ration my water. The ostriches present an unexpected problem. I had planned to and have so far successfully used the wind pumps and dams as a source of water along the road. However the need for these intermittent watering points becomes more real as I move further down towards the Karoo. Here, as I start to use the pumps more regularly, I find ostriches. I am not a coward but I have a healthy respect for irate creatures that stand head and shoulders above me and sport leg muscles that an ox would be proud of. Later in the day I have a close call.
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Whenever I climb through the fence to fetch water I leave my pack behind beside the road. On this occasion I do the same which proves to be fortunate as I am able to run a great deal faster without it. Once through the fence I make my way into the field and check the quality of the water in the dam. I have just started to fill the canteen when from nowhere an ostrich appears and lopes towards me with more enthusiasm than is called for. I am more than happy that it is only me that has to turn and flee, unrestricted by 22kg of cumbersome backpack. Once on the safe side of the fence, I turn to look and find that he is right behind me but frustrated by the wire between us. I am not quite sure of how I got over the wire so fast. I leave the water to the ostrich, whose whole demeanor underlines that it is a possession he is prepared to spill blood over. Especially my blood. He and his kind become an irritating hindrance to keeping my water bottles full. Several truck drivers have taken to pulling off the road and talking to me. It is nice to be developing contacts in circumstances that would seem to exclude any form of permanence. But for as long as I am on the road so will the truckers be. Although I make good friends as I pass through towns, I leave them behind. Drivers, like Danny from Durban, Danie from Kuilsriver, Johan and others I will continue to meet and stay in contact with until the walk ends. I tell one of them that for me the worst will be over when I come down the Hexriver pass into the valley below. For Sharon and myself that valley was the Cape. When we saw it, we saw home. I have no doubt it will be the same for me as it always was for us. I camp well that evening, stretching my space blanket between two pine trees close to a river. There is at least 15cm of pine needles to soften the ground. A gentle breeze accentuates the smell of pine just enough to bring it to my attention every now and again. I have some time this evening and enjoy my meal. Afterwards I lean back against the tree and appreciate my surroundings. Life is so constant and secure. Death is not the opposite of life or the end of it; it is just a very small part of it. Nothing ends, it only changes. A leaf is not a tree nor is a person life. From my viewpoint alongside the river I can appreciate that the peace and beauty of my surroundings is the creation and assimilation of different aspects of life. We fear the loss of awareness and perhaps this fear arises from a lack of the very awareness we really need; an understanding that other forms of being have their own knowledge, their own self and their own contract with the environment in which they exist. It is you and I that fear death. Life cannot fear death. Death is to life what breathing is to us; part of an endless cycle that pumps food around the body of creation.

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CHAPTER 16

On the 22nd of June the company doctor telephoned Sharon and dropped the roof on her head. Sharon was told that the company was in possession of a report from Dr. G..... at Groote Schuur that defined Sharon‟s prognosis as terminal and included a recommendation that Sharon should stop working. The doctor told her that later in the day Mr. B..... would be speaking to her about how the company would handle the matter. Sharon did not telephone me to tell me and I only learnt of the situation when I came home that evening. Mr. B...... had told her that the half day situation was no longer viable as it was too expensive. He felt that Sharon should be able to understand the position and would be better off at home anyway as their doctor, in consultation with Groote Schuur, had agreed on this. There was to be a board meeting on the 26th of the month and a final decision would be made at the meeting. This was a little different to what had happened before. Sharon was always prepared to be reasonable but did not accept that she was considered incapable by the doctors at her clinic. This approach was suspect and did not fit with what she knew of Groote Schuur and Dr. G...... We had been told many times, “Keep Sharon working as long as possible, try to live a normal life as far as you can.” Sharon knew instinctively that something was wrong and telephoned the company doctor at the offices in Parow. She said she wanted to see the report from Dr. G...... She also went to the personnel officer and said she was not happy about being dismissed or boarded unless it was a genuine decision by the people that were treating her at the cancer clinic. She was prepared to do what had to be done but was not going to allow a decision to be made by others unless it fitted in with the sense of her illness. She knew when it was time for what should happen, to happen. Although the incidents in her cancer were sometimes destructive she was able to assess and deal with them because she could accept what had to be. To have to deal with an incident that was created by someone‟s misunderstanding, or worse, by someone‟s deliberate tactic to discredit her was unacceptable. She dug in her heels and told me, “I won‟t let them do this, I‟II fight. I will go to a lawyer if necessary.” “If Dr. G...... did say you should not work then there is not much you can do.” I told her. But even to me it did not seem possible that such a decision could have been made without some input from us and so we went to the clinic to see her. Dr. G...... was extremely disturbed by the incident and promised Sharon a written statement denying that she had ever suggested that Sharon should stop working. Sharon had not told anyone at work that she had contacted Dr. G..... but it is difficult to see how anyone could have believed that we would not discuss the

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dismissal with Sharon‟s doctor. It began to appear to me that someone had perhaps initiated something here with very little thought indeed. On the 29th Sharon approached Mr. B..... for details of her notice but he could not give Sharon any information and told her he needed more time to investigate certain aspects of the situation. She kept our visit to Dr. G.... to herself. Later that day Sharon was asked to visit the consulting rooms of the company and she went to see them at lunchtime. The Doctor at the rooms had a problem, she admitted to Sharon that there had been a mistake.... There was no report. She went on to explain that she had spoken to Dr. G...... over the telephone and Dr. G...... had said that Sharon was a very sick lady indeed and that she most definitely should not be at work. Even if we had not had Dr. G.....‟s denial, this would have been hard to believe; Sharon was operating well, She was happily driving to work every day, helping the kids make supper and generally had more energy than seemed possible after her initial depletion through the chemotherapy treatment. In fact I believe that whoever was behind the dismissal must have been surprised at the strength of the stand she was taking. They could not have anticipated that Sharon, supposedly at death‟s door would be sitting there, straight and strong, eyes flashing and saying, “You don‟t put me out on the street, I won‟t accept it!” On the 30th Mr. B...... called Sharon in to tell her it was her last day of employment. The company would give her two months pay but she must leave immediately. To his surprise Sharon asked him to put it in writing, detailing the reasons for the company‟s decision. She then told him of our meeting with Dr. G..... He did not alter his decision but refused to give her anything in writing. Sharon had no choice but to leave. That evening the buildup of tension over the week became too much for her and she was devastated. She cried and cried for a long time. She did not want to discuss it and I had to piece together an account of the day‟s happenings bit by bit. It was the early hours of the morning before she slept and I was glad that she did not have to go to work. The next morning I phoned my work, giving them some excuse and stayed with her whole day. In the late morning she was better and told me, “I am going to make them pay because it is not true. I can work, look at me; I‟m fine. If I don‟t work there, I must work somewhere else. I cannot sit at home all day and just think, I will go mad.” I thought about what was best for her spirit and decided that I should encourage her to fight. She herself had said she could not sit at home all day, so here was a mission. Here was a reason to keep active. I was worried that there were things I did not know, that she might be hurt if a slanging match started but I knew her and respected her ability to take on the chin any backlash that might occur. She went to Dr. G......... to get the letter she had been promised. She arranged to see Leora at the Hospice and also telephoned Linda, Leora‟s counterpart at the National Cancer Association. I quote from Dr. G ‟s...... letter;
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Groote Schuur Hospital Radiotherapy Dept. July 7, 1992 Re: MS SHARON RUSSELL - OUR REF: 89/1290 ........... Although Mrs. Russell is extremely sick from the breast cancer point of view she is able to maintain a reasonably normal way of living and her performance status on the echo scale would be classified under as, (i.e. symptomatic but ambulatory). The above information was discussed with Dr. Du P...... I have not advised Mrs. Russell to give up work at any time as it is the policy at this clinic to offer boarding from work if the patient requires, but we would not suggest to the patient that she‟s to discontinue work just because of the extent of her disease, if she was managing. We feel to do this would be extremely detrimental to the psychological make up. Mrs. Russell would probably not be as efficient as somebody who was particularly well and would need to have time off for hospital appointments, there is no reason why she should not be employed in some way........

I do not believe that the company as an entity acted with malice, on the contrary I understand that business requires a logical and unemotional approach. I feel that the decision was taken in the supposed best interests of Sharon and the management acted in accordance with the information presented to them. Without any doubt at all the information was false. There was never any recommendation to anyone that Sharon should stop working. Such a move was extremely detrimental to her spirit and therefore to her fight against the cancer. Sharon and I both felt that someone had deliberately misled the company. If I was asked to pinpoint the start of the end I would unhesitatingly name the loss of her job as it. Sharon was progressing towards death and there was no way it could have been stopped, but the reality of that end was always hidden behind a belief that there might be a chance. She had clung to that belief somewhere deep inside herself in the face of countless setbacks. The loss of her job cracked that belief from top to bottom and Sharon had to admit to herself that she could clearly see what was coming. Within a few weeks the wheels that Sharon had put into motion brought legal advice and representation.

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On Sharon‟s behalf someone contacted her company. The Personnel Officer at the company explained that they had felt that it was what was best for Sharon. Her account of what had happened did not correspond with the facts as Sharon and I had experienced them. She then told Sharon‟s representative that it was a case of the company doctor‟s word against that of Dr. G....... at the clinic. When the representative asked what the company intended to do to rectify the matter she was told that the company would take Sharon back on in a half-day position again. Sharon sat that evening and wrote all the details of her story down. After she had finished I sat with her and she said to me, “If they are prepared to take me back on in a half day position again, what has suddenly changed from when they were willing to fire me for being sick? They have employed someone else, so what are they going to do with her? How can they take me back on? I could not do the job and they got rid of me. If I go back now they will have to get rid of someone else? I hear the reception is not running so smoothly anymore. Maybe they know they have made a mistake and they want to give me my job back anyway? Never mind about the trauma they caused.” She shook her head, “No. It is just a meaningless offer. I can‟t ever go back there and they know it.” She was never the same again. For weeks she was listless and depressed and I did not know what to do or say. The one thing that I never told her was that her personnel manager had come see me personally at work and apologized for what she said, “was an unfortunate mistake!” When she did eventually lift herself out of the depression it was with full knowledge that she had no hope of life. We walked a great deal, along the beach at Milnerton, along Seapoint promenade, anywhere where there was space and weather. She would walk slowly and watch everything around her, the sea, the birds, even children that ran or played as we passed. What had happened, had happened and it was sad that a part of her life that had meant such a great deal to her had been taken from her. She had to say good-bye to so much and it was hard for her, as it must be for all the dying. This good-bye was however the one that made it all real. She realized now that bags had to be packed and affairs put in order. She knew she was leaving, the only problem was that as of yet she had nowhere to go.

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It is morning and I am somewhere north of Trompsburg. It is bitterly cold. My water bottle is again iced up and I must wait for it to thaw. I boil some river water and pour it over the outside of the plastic bottle. Gradually I melt and accumulate enough safe water for coffee and my porridge. By the time I have eaten, more has melted and I have enough to wash with but it is really cold. My sleeping bag is warm and I would love to lie in it until the middle of the morning but this would create a problem for me, if I start late I have to walk in the heat of the day and that is not acceptable either. Temperatures here go from one extreme to the other in a matter of hours. As I approach Trompsburg the Provincial traffic officers pass by and a little while later return to pull off the road and talk to me. “Where are you going?” they ask. I know what they really want to know so I reply, “I am walking to Cape Town for Cancer.” They have a basket for me, in it is biltong, fruit, biscuits and some coke. They give it all to me with an explanation, telling me that it is a gift of appreciation from Rev Van V....... of Trompsburg. He had asked them to watch for me and had his gift ready for when I passed his town. One of the officers is as black as the ace of spades but has a ready and likable friendliness. Out there in the middle of an endless stretch of road the three of us and all the givers of gifts throughout the country are joined together in a brotherhood that has no color or creed and defies the raving of politicians that keep telling us how much we hate each other. Danny, my shower companion from Bloemfontein stops and tells me that the N1 bypasses Springfontein but that there is a truck stop at the turn off. He assures me that it is a good one and I will be comfortable there for the night. It is still quite far ahead but I press on. My right foot is giving a lot of trouble lately and does not burn so much as it pains in my instep. The wind has picked up and the late afternoon has turned cold. I have the sniffles and a sore throat. The Engen truck stop is as described and I treat myself to a bacon and egg sandwich and a glass of milk. I eat and drink at the table outside and when I have finished approach the manager for permission to find a corner to sleep in. This is not a problem except that he insists that the corner is in the trucker‟s lounge against the wall. It makes sense to him because it is inside and secure but my experience tells me that I will have a long and probably sleepless night. Later I am buying coffee from the lady who runs the cafeteria and another customer offers me a lift to Cape Town. I explain to him what I am doing and politely refuse. The old lady chips in and asks, “Why are you walking if that man has offered you a lift?” Again I patiently explain that I am walking for cancer. She replies tersely, “Well I think you could just as well ride for cancer........ and then you would not go around scaring people half to death.” She had me; I was stumped and could only shrug my shoulders, “I just thought it would appeal to people if I walked.”
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“It does not appeal to me!” she snapped. The night goes much as is expected and the place is like a railway station, music blaring, lights on and people coming and going. After midnight I drag myself and my gear outside to the back of the building and finally get some sleep. At five, I am up and dressed. The person behind the counter is not the stern, disapproving, older lady of yesterday but is younger and seems more relaxed. However I have no sugar for my coffee and when I try to buy some she sells me six little packets of the kind that goes on your saucer in the Wimpy bar. She wants 10c each and I give her the sixty cents which she puts into the till without turning a hair. The day is hot and I do not feel well. I definitely have an attack of influenza and I am feeling very sorry for myself when a car slams on its brakes and comes to dramatic stop further up the road. It does a quick U-turn and returns to me, pulling up to reveal two young and happy girls in the front seat. The driver, about twenty six and attractive, cheerfully asks, “Where are you going?” I think that she wants to know if I am the cancer man but I am not feeling very cooperative so I reply, “Cape Town.” But I am wrong and she jumps out of the car, “Great!” she says, “So are we. We will be there by tonight! Hop in.” She has already opened the back door and I see this empty seat beckoning me. They are so happy it seems unfair. Everything about them tells me that it would be a lot of fun. It would even be nice to go along for the ride and hitch back tomorrow. They offer more than a ride; they offer a little sunshine and companionship. I cannot even consider it. I explain about myself and find out that they have never heard of me. They seem suitably impressed however and give me some fruit and a cold drink. I watch them accelerate away and despite the momentary temptation am greatly cheered by the interaction we enjoyed for a brief moment. At lunchtime I stop and settle down on a small koppie. I think I am about 30 km from the Orange River.

FROM MY NOTES: 18/8...... The wind is blowing strongly and the grass waves like soft, golden fur when God breathes across it. There is a great open plain in front of me. It stretches out ahead, and to the sides of me where it is met by blue mountains. It is very beautiful and must have seemed great to the Voortrekkers. I enjoy the beauty and peace.

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The lunchtimes are possibly the best part of the day. I am normally tired by the time I stop and look forward to a good rest. When it gets to about 12 or 12.30 pm I start to look for a suitable place with some shade and shelter from the wind. I take off my pack and my shoes and socks in that order. I then roll out my groundsheet and sit down to prepare lunch. Normally this would be rice cakes, some dried fruit and dried wors or biltong and a triangle of savoury cheese. I make a cup of soup and when I have finished eating; end my meal with black coffee and a chocolate. Then I pack it all away and rest. Sometimes I write, sometimes I just lay back and doze off for a while. There are no telephones and no bills to pay, yet the world is just a few feet away, buzzing back and forth along a ribbon of blue. At about 3 or 3.30 pm I start off again, refreshed and with only 10 or 12 km to do before I stop for the night. That night I camp well and I wake up strong but very chesty and thirsty. There is a lot of mucous in my throat and nose and it is thick and irritating. I decide to tackle my foot which is worrying me consistently. I examine the blisters carefully. My right foot has hard skin behind my big toe stretching into my instep. I prod and push and it is painful. As I push I notice that the skin seems to move too easily and I realize that there is fluid beneath it. I snip it with scissors and yellow matter comes out. I have no option but to open it right up and clean everything I can. There is a lot of infected material so I pack it full of Savlon and dress it with a walk special; Paraffin gauze, sterile dressing with a hole in the middle, more sterile dressing over the whole lot and then bind it tightly with plaster. I can only wait and see what will happen. For the first time I risk my new shoes because they are bigger and my dressing needs space. It is the last day in the Free State. By the evening I should be at the Orange River waiting to be picked up by John G........ I have no water and have not passed a wind pump all day. My cold needs fluid and I am really very thirsty. I try standing under a flyover holding my water bottle out upside down to indicate my need but no one stops. After an hour I give up and carry on walking. I must be at the river on time to meet John. I am glad I do because I find out standing with an empty bottle is a dumb idea, having a bit of faith and moving forwards is a better one. About 4 km down the road I am shown a miracle; a wind pump and a dam on the roadside of the fence. It is pumping like crazy and there is cold, clear water flowing everywhere. The overflow is running into the thick green grass around the dam and it is all complimented by a huge shade tree. I drink my fill and wash my face, pouring the water over my head. I fill all the bottles and drink some more. 4.30 pm Thursday 19th August. I have crossed the Orange River and I am back in my own province. When you speak to people on the telephone you cannot help forming impressions as to what and who they are. I was expecting John and Diana G....... to fall into the
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same category as most of the Rotarians, Hospice and other philanthropic people that I had met to date; Probably in their late forties to fifties, fairly well off and astute in their dealings with finance and life. John and Diana turn out to be well into the closing of their lives and although active, have to deal with problems on a daily basis that younger people have yet to realize await them. In a world where values are shifting rapidly across a spectrum of cultural ideology, they and their circle of friends stand as a granite monument to the real worth of what has faded from our concepts. What people might think of or say about them cannot alter their stand and they uphold the past not because they cannot change but because they believe in it. John picks me up and we drive across the country to where his farm lies. It is situated by a spring which I believe has never dried up. The house is the original building which was erected in 1834. Although it is furnished with authentic period items, one cannot say that living there is like living in a museum. In museums the furniture is restored, polished and untouchable. In this home you sit, eat and sleep, bath and converse in the past. Everything is usable and part of what you do. Protocol is as practical and as dated as the paraphernalia that is used to achieve it. What happens here on a daily basis is true in its essence to what has been happening for one hundred and fifty years. I am introduced to the farm people that help John and Diana maintain what they can of their lifestyle. The house is a double story rectangle of classical proportions but most of it has been put on hold. Living is done at one end only, downstairs is the reception, dining room and kitchen, whilst upstairs a bathroom, two bedrooms and a living room are in use. The work required to keep the house going has thus been reduced to manageable proportions but the civilized image it all presents requires a great deal of behind the scenes work from John and Diana and the few families that live on the farm. Once well met and shown the ropes I am left to my own devices for a little while. I wander around the areas of the house that I can without intruding on their privacy. The walls, cabinets and dresser are full of history. John‟s family has played an important role in opening up the country. Hunting photographs and trophies line the stairwell and hall. Diana has books and paintings everywhere that go back to 1664. I love history and old books and I am lost in the sheer volume of enchantment that urges me to touch and open. Once I start I might never stop. I allow myself two books which, having obtained an amused consent to my reverenced request to read, I take to my room. The next day is Friday and I am given breakfast in the dining room. We have orange instead of grapefruit and then porridge. Bacon and eggs are followed by toast, marmalade and tea. How I will ever stand routine again I do not know. My life changes constantly from climbing out of a drain and drinking black coffee and mealie meal one day, to towels, crisp sheets and toast and marmalade the next.

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John and Diana take me into Colesburg and leave me with a friend of theirs as they are to attend a course on the unionization of farm laborers. They are very keen to do the right thing and although they are battling to make ends meet realize that those ends encompass the provision of a good life for their workers. They have already created a recreation room at the back of the house which although crude has electricity and a small TV. The friends are introduced, Des and his wife are well into their mellow years but are very active in the community. With their able help I purchase what I need and meet the Catholic priest. The priest is a colored man who found himself at the center of a storm of controversy when he moved into his residence. The previous tenants had all been white priests which was fine for their neighbours. However the „all white‟ area was not prepared to accept that a man of God with a brown skin was quite godly enough to be that high on the social ladder as to equate himself with them. When the issue became a national one, the bankers and the other public members of the community who live around him backed down and Father Clive continues his work and life in the midst of his so called betters. He is a friendly and gentle man and I am lucky in that he has just returned from the Bishop‟s conference. Had I been a few days earlier I would have missed a great deal. During our conversation he says to me that he has been told at the conference to initiate a Hospice in Middleburg which will serve the Karoo. I am pleased with the timing and hope that I will be able to motivate some support for his cause. I find out about mass on Sunday and feel good about my reception. Father is not in the least suspicious or worried, he wants me to address his congregation. At lunch I address a meeting of the local Rotarians and meet some fine and cheerful people. Colesburg seems a happy place. Des takes me to a gift emporium which I am led to believe belongs to the Mayor. He is friendly enough but has to make an effort to give me time as M-Net has just come to Colesburg and his shop provides the wherewithal to watch it. He is busy and excited by what is, for his town, a social step forward. That evening I am given a great treat. Des and his wife take me out to a farm that is deep in the country south of the Hendrik Verwoerd Dam. There I rejoin John and Diana and meet several other members of their circle of friends. This group is centered around the M.O.T.H. organization of which they are all members. What I am to attend is one of the infrequent meetings their chapter holds in the area. After we arrive and everyone is gathered together in the living room, the men make noises and comments indicating that the meeting should start. I have already taken note of the front room which has been prepared for the meeting. I assume that I will remain in the living room with the women whilst these old warriors do their thing. To my pleased surprise they invite me to join them and I am granted an opportunity to understand a little more about life. The image of the British Tommy in his khaki coat and round tin hat is upheld by the tradition that is enacted before me. What is incongruous is the time span between the event and the celebration. The events which gave birth to the celebration I watch have gone forever and most of the world has forgotten.
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These few represent a brotherhood that cannot cast loose the ties that hold them to the dead. They salute a folded jacket and a tin hat that is symbolic of lost companions. I can empathize. I was once part of an underground rescue team of which several members died as the result of a fall of ground, deep in the bowels of the earth. I live with a feeling, an emotion that belongs to the aftermath of their deaths; deep in my heart something says, “I would so much have liked to share your final experience but the draw of life was too strong for me.” It is a longing to be a part of a great sacrifice and some small sense of guilt that you are not, overridden by the vitality of being alive and aware. I cannot express it to these men because I respect their roots, but death is not to be clung to. The past has only value in that it happened and is part of our experience. The way that it should be propagated is through the changes it has wrought in us that live. We cannot prolong the event artificially and hope to move on. A tie to the past is just that, a restriction on progress. History should be a springboard not a damper. The meeting is closed and the tin hat and jacket is put away for the next time. We move out of the front room and into the living room. Back amongst the wives, drinking and eating resumes. In the idle chatter and laughter I see that none of these people are weak. They have come a long way and seen much of life. They accept me and what I am doing as unusual but not spectacular. It makes a nice change. They are the older generation, tempered but gentled by things they do not flaunt. Unfortunately they have little power in this world of ours. The flow of their lives has eddied into a slow and deeper pool, bypassed by both the N1 and the frenzy which rushes up and down it. When John and Diana and myself get back to their farm one of the labourers is waiting for us at the house. He reports that the TV from the recreation room has been stolen. John and Diana are very upset and I think a little frightened by the event. It is disturbing to think that someone who knows enough about them to do such a thing has so little regard for who and what they are. John tells me of one or two other incidents that have occurred recently, including a demand by some migrant labourers for money a few days previously. Late that night I am writing up my notes at the open window of my room and I look out into the black shadows and pale gloom that is the trees and shrubbery. It is cold and unfeeling. I worry that there is, around this haven of civilization, that dark outside which holds so much potential harm for the old fashioned innocence to be found here. The farm house is huge and old; impossible to make secure without spending a great deal of money. John and his wife cannot leave it, it is their life and what they are. I think of John and am reminded of an aged lion hounded by hyenas. It is trapped in itself; it can never be anything else but a lion. It has no recourse but to go down clinging to the belief that it is what it is meant to be, not understanding that to remain so and age is to die.
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CHAPTER 17

The next few months of Sharon‟s life consisted of treatment and regular visits to the clinic. Her liver had not seemed to deteriorate any further so we assumed that the chemotherapy had been fairly effective. She did have further bone metastases, but nothing that was any more than a continuation of already established problems. We based our assessment of her health on the condition of her liver and were lulled into a state of acceptance. Sharon started to paint again and most of her work depicted a watercourse that would wind its way into the distance. The water was gray and the trees that lined the banks stark and bare. I had taken to praying at night before going to bed and one night when I had got up from my knees and was climbing into bed she asked me, “Why do you do that?” “What?” I asked. “Pray. Why do you pray, there is nothing to pray about and nobody to pray to.” “There is my maker.” I said. “If there even was a person that made us, he does not care about people like us. But there is no one, because if there was, all this would never have happened to me.” “I don‟t know Shar, I only know that somehow it feels right. I don‟t understand God or how it all works but I believe that he exists and he really cares.” She did not receive this very well. “God does not care things just happen. We all do whatever we like and everything just gets messed up. He would stop it and get rid of us all if he cared.” I understood well that her despair needed some hope. I knew that without something in her life to believe in she would die broken. It was not possible that the God we were discussing would allow her to die alone and without hope. She was not callous or hard, she was a fine sensitive woman whom I had been allowed to love. I needed her to see that, to understand that despite whatever had happened to her, God would not turn his back on what was surely as close to him as I would ever see. The real problem was that although I believed that she needed to have an eternal hope, needed to have a support inside of herself to help her get through what was coming. I was not really confident deep down inside that I myself believed. If I was not sure, how was I to convince her? I was not facing the stark reality that she was. If I pushed too hard to give her an anchor would she see me as false and thereby lose faith in me too. Once again it was not I that had to believe it was her. If I had learnt anything from her struggle with cancer it was that although I could stand beside her and support her I could never do anything in her place. Her struggle with herself and her disease was not mine to live or die it was hers and hers alone. I could only tell her what I believed to be true.

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“We cannot tell God how to do this Shar, He is so in control that we have no idea of how things even work let alone what they mean. I would feel silly trying to tell a doctor how to remove an appendix and it would be ridiculous to try and tell God how to resolve your problem. Think of all the things that have happened over the last few years. Think of Anny and the way she went into the circus and had to suddenly grow up. Remember when she told us she was pregnant and we were worried because she was not married. But look at Troy and Neil and how much you love them, aren‟t you glad they were born in time for you to know them? I think that God knew this had to happen. He has worked so hard to make it as easy for you as he can. He loves you sweetheart.” “Well I wish he would love me enough to make this all go away.” She replied shortly. She did not want to discuss it further and I dropped the subject, however I was determined to do everything I could to give her a strength beyond the physical. We had not been to mass on a Sunday for quite a while as Sharon was not keen to attend the local services. The parish priest was outspoken and modern. Sharon and I were both a little more traditional and Sharon needed love not contention. I convinced her to come with me to the church next to Diana‟s school which was in the next door parish. Father M_____, who was the priest there, was an elderly, soft spoken and gentle man. Sharon took to him immediately and we started to attend regularly. The nuns from the school also attended at the same church and as they knew and liked Sharon it was normally a bright and uplifting experience for her. The people who attended the little church were mostly coloured and they soon accepted us as part of the congregation. Slowly, as the months passed Sharon regained some of her normal spirit but never mentioned again that she was not going to die. There seemed to be a lull in the storm but we were always expectant. We lived constantly with the knowledge that sooner or later we would be back on the front line, face to face with the enemy. My efforts at work were bearing fruit and we were producing high volumes of jewelry. It was difficult and sometimes the constant need to stop people reverting to old habits was demotivating. The increased volumes did not improve profits and there was much work still to be done in order to make the factory efficient. But by this time everyone had accepted that I was in control and although this made life easier, the responsibility was an extra burden. Barbara was her normal quiet and efficient self at all times. Intensely loyal to me, she kept the paperwork and reporting systems religiously up to date and accurate. This was a big help and I was able to take the odd morning off to accompany Sharon on her regular visits to the cancer clinic. The people at the clinic saw us often and we felt comfortable and relaxed in their care. Never once did Sharon or I find that it was an unpleasant place to be. There was never an atmosphere of gloom or loss there for us. We always felt welcome and always felt that the disease was being dealt with in the best possible manner.

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Dr. H_____ who was the head of the breast cancer clinic retired and her place was taken by Dr. G_____ Her increased duties meant that we saw less of her and more of Dr. B_____ whom we had already had dealings with. Dr. B_____ had a special place in her heart for Sharon and the two of them got on very well indeed. We would sit in the waiting area and read the magazines, constantly being stopped by nurses, receptionist and others who would see Sharon as they passed and come over to greet her or ask how she was doing. No matter what her mood or how bleak the news she was dealing with, Sharon was cheerful and happy to talk to them. She painted a picture for Dr. H_____ as a going away present and received a touching and personal thank you which meant so much to her. During this period I too received a letter. Sharon must have kept the letter I had written to her at Christmas and had finally found it in her heart to reply. Sharon‟s letter.

16/8/92. My Dearest Darling, The house is quiet and I have been thinking about us and our journey through life together. When I think of all the precious moments we have spent together it makes me feel warm and I can feel the love swelling within me. I think of all the journeys we have started and gone on the road and watched the sun came up with it‟s lovely colors and then when we were tired after traveling sitting in some Caravan park or at the side of the road watching the sun go down. Sharing the moments of the babies being born, I remember you coming to my bed after Annelee was born and saying “you are such a clever girl” with such a look of pride and love on your face that I felt like a queen. So what came to me in this quiet time was, that life may not always be fair but one thing it cannot take away is the memories, the good times, even the bad times. The joy of making love by the fireplace and seeing the orange reflecting on your body and feeling that tenderness and tingling, the excitement. All these things are ours and no one else‟s and can never belong to anyone else but us. One of the things that came home to me so strongly when you wanted to leave me was that I would never feel you near me again, never feel your touch, never hear the love in your voice again, and that made me so sad I couldn‟t bear it. I love to have you near, I need the touch of your hands and body. I especially need your love and if I never live another lifetime I
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will always thank God for the love we shared together and all the memories we have had. I am not very good with words but I just wanted to take the time I have left to say I love you and always will. Lots of Love Your wife & friend Sharon.

The letter spoke volumes that she had not written. She was positive and her mind occupied with the treasure of her life and not with the hurt. For me personally it was a huge step forward. I felt that all the manipulating and maneuvering to win her back was bearing fruit. I had made up my mind that if she was to leave she would leave with all the love and care I could possibly give her. She had given so much, she deserved no less. It seemed that at last she was looking to see me at her side. There had been moments when it seemed almost impossible that she would ever trust me again. Once, on the way home after a visit to Leora at the Hospice I suggested to her that she write her feelings and emotions down, “It could help a lot of other people if they knew what you went through.” I said. “I could never do that,” she replied, “I have had too much pain and there are things that no one must ever know about us and how I feel inside.” “But you are a good person and you have nothing to hide.” “When you said you were going to leave me, something broke inside and I‟ve never been sure of anything since. I lost something I thought I could never lose. I don‟t want anyone to know that you don‟t love me.” She started to cry. I had nothing to say and reached out to touch her but she pulled away. It was a terrible moment and I was unable to feel that I had any hope of ever being able to heal that break in her. Many hours of my walk were spent asking myself, “How serious was that break? What had I done that night at Glencairn when I had been so sure of myself, so selfish and single minded?” For a long time I pictured her will to live snapping as if it was a delicate reed, never again to have the strength she so desperately needed to keep on living. The letter helped to put my guilt and trouble to bed for a while. It seemed as if there was hope after all. Not so much for her life which was anyway not important anymore, but for her self-respect, her assurance that she was precious and for her belief that our love would not die even if she was not here to feed and nurture it. We can make many mistakes in this life and squander all sorts of possessions, they can be replaced. Deep caring, friendship and above all love are too precious to play with.

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If we spend our love whole heartedly, because wisely is not a quality we should apply to its use, we will receive and store all we need for the bad times. Love cannot grow or be kept safely if it is not given. The world is desperately short of this greatest of all gifts. I will never hide my feelings for another person ever again. I believe totally that however hard it may seem, however wrong it might appear to be, Love is for sharing.

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Saturday in Colesburg dawns bright and crisp. John and I watch the Springbok rugby team get a pasting from the Australians and John is bitter about it. After Breakfast I must walk from where John picked me up on Thursday, into Colesburg. A distance of about 35km. My foot has benefited tremendously from the drastic surgery I administered and the rest it had yesterday. I am feeling strong and on reflection I decide to walk from the farm which will mean a distance somewhat closer to 40km. It turns out to be a wonderful walk through country roads and then back along the N1. My heart tells me to make the rest of my life in such a place. The people that live here are stronger, happier and more stable than those I am used too. Farming has its problems, there are no free rides in this world, but we should live where the rewards suit our personalities and this sort of life provides much that my heart yearns for. 19km from Colesburg I stop and look at the vista that has opened up before me. To the North West, three or four undulating valleys are locked in and graced by mountains that stretch back in waves until they turn blue and become a ragged horizon. The colors they frame are khaki, green, grays and yellows. Sharon would have loved it. There is so much she could still have seen and done. I pray that in some way our connection is strong enough for her to appreciate this through my eyes. Later, coming round a curve in the road that hugs the side of a mountain, I see Colesburg on the plain below. I do not stop as I am to meet the press at the Colesburg municipal boundary and I am cutting it very fine. After meeting the reporter and completing the usual interviews and photographs, John and Diana pick me up. I spend a third night at the farm. The next day I am on my way. I want to go to mass and leave Colesburg afterwards. Diana is to drop me off at the bypass and we leave John behind as Diana will attend mass with me. I say good-bye to a fine man and regret that there is nothing concrete that I can do to help him. The Catholic Church in Colesburg is fairly new and it is clean and neat. The congregation is small, and of the thirty odd people who are in the church, three of us are white. The singing is enthusiastic. The mass is said in Afrikaans and I
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deliver my address in that language, which is a struggle but as my Afrikaans is practical rather than intellectual, goes down well enough. Father Clive is impressed and at the end of mass draws attention to the fact that I propagate the good in Sharon‟s death and not the evil. He praises the way in which I am rebuilding my faith in my life, that the walk is healing wounds that have nothing to do with blisters or torn muscles. After mass I say good-bye to Diana and an experience I will never forget. She invites me back and I know that when I have resolved the problems that wait for me in Cape Town I will return. I know that here I will be able to recapture some of the basic goodness that I have had so much of along the N1. My pack is very heavy and once walking again I can feel the effect on my stamina, muscles and most of all, on my feet. The previous day I had, with my pack virtually empty, completed almost 40km in 7.5 hours. I had not been unduly stressed by the distance or the pace. Today with a full four day pack I am struggling. I contemplate the seven day stretch I will be facing between Beaufort West and Laingsburg and I am worried. It is going to be very tough indeed. The day has been positive with people stopping to encourage me, including one of the trucks. The very air is full of promise. Spring is definitely on its way. It seems that everything that is white and woolly has a lamb at its heels. These lambs are like car drivers at Christmas; when in doubt have another drink! As I approach and become a threat they turn and run like the wind to their mothers. When they reach her, they do not run behind her or beside her but dive under her rear end and start sucking madly. Their heads go down their tails go up and it vibrates like a tuning fork. Perhaps they think this is the best that life can offer and if they are to die they must get as much of it as they can before it is gone forever. This part of the Karoo is nothing like the image that the name conjures up. Here there is life. Aside from the four legged kind, there is, all along the edge of the road, an abundance of wild flowers from small Spartan looking twigs adorned by puffed cotton buds to large bushes ablaze with intricate little red flowers. Everything unique. All of them glorious in their shape and markings. John and Diana‟s concern reaches out to me from Colesburg in the form of a friend of theirs, Robert E..... He stops on the side of the road and introduces himself. He and Diana have arranged that I will sleep at his farm for the next two nights. He asks me where I will be at the end of the day and I tell him the exact kilometer mark that I will wait at. That evening I am there and he arrives at the agreed time. We drive on to his farm which lies a few hundred meters off the road to the east of the N1. Robert tells me his mother died of cancer a year ago and his father has remarried. His father is semi-retired and Robert runs the farm. He is a professional at a young age but is quiet and unassuming. His wife Mimi is a strange dark woman, very attractive and anxious to please. That evening we enjoy a meal that is totally her creation. She is very proud of her role as the lady of the house and plays it with unusual sincerity.
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She teaches at the coloured school in Hanover and drives there and back every day. A distance of some 40km. Mimi is small and delicate but her eyes are strong and I am sure that her classroom is as orderly as her house. I find out on the road the next day that she bakes the finest biscuits in the country. When I go to my room to sleep that night I find my bed turned down and the electric blanket on. On the dresser is a carafe of water and a glass. There is a great deal of goodness in this house and I feel envious of the youngsters that will one day flower in such care. The house is so close to the road that you can hear the traffic and I feel content as I drop off. I am walking still. I have found a strength and real quality in the country that I was not aware of before. Robert and Mimi are true products of the Karoo; strong and as practical as the shrubs and trees, yet as soft and finely created as the profusion of flowers that surround them at this time. The next morning Mimi is long gone when Robert drops me back at the place I stopped yesterday. I will pass his house at lunchtime and will rest there. In the evening he will pick me up again, take me back to the house and drop me again the next day. The road is quiet as it always is at the beginning of the week. There is very little trucking done on a Monday and the amount of traffic is drastically reduced. There are birds everywhere and the intensity of their yellow and dark green feathers is a distillation of the weaker more scattered mustard and khaki of their surroundings. I do not have to walk a full quota today and can enjoy myself. I am excited about my new shoes which I am now wearing all the time. Unfortunately they do not support my ankles as the previous two pairs did. But the extra half size is proving to be very comfortable. My feet are slowly improving and I can sense that the pressure on them has eased a great deal. My care program which was originally two concepts; diligent cleaning and dressing of blisters as well as rationalizing my pack weight, now has a third item on the register; better fitting shoes. Under this kind of assault my blisters have no choice but to dry up and disappear. My throat is still sore but I have been given Flutex by Mimi and Robert, it should make a difference. All my problems are in hand and I have friends and places to sleep. I feel spoiled but know that hard times are ahead. I must relax and enjoy this tremendously powerful place as much as I can.

FROM MY NOTES: 24/8...... Something happens in this Karoo every now and again. Farmers might be aware of it from time to time but I suspect that you might only be
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introduced to it if you walk along the national road as I am doing. Normally there is a continuous hum of traffic which obliterates most sound, although you are aware of some background noises such as the wind or the birds and other odd noises of life. But every so often the cars and the trucks disappear..... and a blanket of silence rolls open across the great plains from mountain to mountain. You are left alone in a silent world. As you wait, silent, the possibility seems strong that the light too could slip away and all your contact with the world lost.... Then softly, as if God whispers, “I am alive!” the wind brushes across the top of the grass and far away the drone of a truck begins to rise. A car batters the air as it passes and the birds and the veldt return to normal. Just for a moment it almost seemed that the hustle and melee of life, machine and veldt alike had stopped and looked around in shock, “Where is God?” Only to turn back to business once the assurance had been given; “I am still here!”

Again I awake refreshed and stronger because of the hospitality of the Karoo. Robert has left early to attend an agricultural conference in Port Elizabeth. Mimi is just about to leave for work. She tells me that as Robert does not like her to be alone on the farm she will be staying over at a friend‟s house in Hanover. It has been arranged that I am to stay with the same friend. May, the foreman of the farm for 34 years drives me back to the N1. As we drive he tells me of his seven children. Four have good jobs in the Witwatersrand, one is in Port Elizabeth whilst the last two are busy with their matriculation certificate in Colesburg. The New South Africa is an educated and commercial one. Some time ago there would have been little schooling for his children and most of them would have ended up as wives or labourers on the farm where they were born. It is a lovely day, warm with a soft breeze. I have no plasters on my feet and aside from the ever present flu, I feel great. Later the young woman that so cheerfully offered me a lift to Capetown a week previously stops on her way back. This time her mother is driving. She is pleased to have found me and says that she has been looking out for me. She has some fruit and cold drink to give me which is welcome. I really enjoy the friendship that seems so available all along the road. Most lorry drivers hoot and wave when they pass. Nearly everyone I meet is pleased to do whatever they can to ease my situation. I have difficulty in equating the image seen in the media with the spirit I meet on the road. When I sit in front of a TV I feel that South Africans are being done an injustice by the news of so much distrust and defensive behaviour. As I listen to the innuendoes and sometimes more direct accusations made by politicians about the
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various groups they oppose I wonder about their motives. If they really believe all the things they say reflect the opinions of the people, then perhaps they should all take three months leave and walk through this country. They will be humbled by just how wrong they are. I am in Hanover before 4.00 pm and walk around looking for a chemist. There is no such luxury in this clean and tidy little place. As I leave the general dealer, who has only Aspirin and the more common medications, I meet a little of what the politicians believe to be so widespread. I am bearded and I do have on a pair of old khaki pants but I am not wearing an A.W.B. uniform. When I come through the door onto the pavement I walk into a small group of black people. They have no purpose and are gathered around a thin intense looking man of about thirty. He stands directly in front of me and does not move to let me through but looks me up and down. “Who are you, „boertjie‟ (farmer)?” he asks me in Afrikaans. I decide to be obtuse and reply in English as if I have no idea what he is talking about. “I am sorry, what did you say?” At first he does not realize the implications and repeats himself, again in Afrikaans, “I asked you, who are you, „boertjie‟?” I shake my head, “Look, I am sorry but I do not understand. What is it that you want?” At first he replies, “Who are you......” but hesitates because if I do not speak Afrikaans I cannot be a `boertjie.‟ Now he has no derogatory epithet for his sentence. I answer, “I am Roger Russell!” and stand waiting. One of his companions takes his arm and says something to him. They both step out of the way and I pass through them. As I stand waiting to cross the road I hear him say “A.W.B” loudly. I ignore him and his friends. I have no hope of doing any sensible shopping in this small town and so decide to go directly to the address that Mimi has given me. At an intersection I have to wait for two vehicles to pass, they slow down to a crawl but do not stop as the front one is towing the kombi behind it. The person at the wheel of the kombi is young and pretty. She smiles broadly at me. Her vehicle has a large sign on it that says “Mobile clinic.” “Is this what you call mobile in Hanover?” I ask her. “It is moving, isn‟t it?” she laughs as she creeps past. Mimi‟s friend has a name and it is Lettie. She welcomes me into her home and shows me where I can put my things. Her husband is a representative for a large agricultural supplier and is away for a few days. Her children board at school on a weekly basis so she has plenty of space for me. I am put into the children‟s room which is large and comfortable as is the whole house. Before I bath and get changed I have to sit down for a cup of tea and tell her about what I am doing. Soon after I have gone through the whole story a visitor arrives, it is the not so mobile, mobile nurse. Her name is Val and she turns out to be a bright spark of color in this staid and conservative Karoo.

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That evening I am greatly privileged. I am hosted in comfortable surroundings and entertained by three lovely women. Mimi is a little withdrawn but not so that her character and ability is at all hidden. During the course of the evening I find out that she is studying for a Masters degree. That is not all; she is an accomplished musician, playing several different instruments. Val is the butt of several remarks and admonishments from the other two about her marital status. She is single and has recently come to the area from Natal. Much of the discussion centers on who is presently available and what attributes they possess. These rank from money and large farms down to poor taste and thinning hair. I cannot join in too enthusiastically as I am suddenly very conscious that I have become an eligible widower and although Val is too young, I would consider myself lucky to find an older version of her. Politely the ladies avoid comment on what I feel is an all too obvious turn to the conversation. Lettie is a warm, friendly person and insists that I telephone home. I am glad to do so but first try to get through to a James P.... in Richmond. I had been given his name in Welkom as a definite place to stay but I cannot just arrive unannounced on his doorstep. I do not get through to him so must accept that I cannot be sure of a bed in Richmond. It is not so bad; I have been sleeping in homes for a solid week and actually miss the roadside. I telephone home and Brian tells me that he must drive to Bloemfontein on Thursday and will meet me on the road. This is good news. I miss my children and feel very excited about seeing him again. Before Val leaves at the end of the evening, she tells me to report to her clinic in the morning as she will be able to provide me with the Flutex I need. She asks me if I am tired and I have to admit that I am not as strong as I would like to be. Mimi says good-bye before we retire for the night as she is to leave early. In the morning I wake up to an empty house. I find more biscuits from Mimi and see that Lettie has left me a large supply of biltong. I am consistently being touched by people‟s regard and consideration. My picture of the general public is being drastically altered. I will never see the masses as unfeeling or menacing again. I sit and write a short note for Mimi which I hope expresses in safe terms how strongly I feel about her. When I arrive at the clinic Val is there and already busy. Her uniform is traditionally attractive but in it Val is crisp and pretty. She has the Flutex but also gives me a healthy supply of vitamin pills. I did not ask for them but respect her diagnosis and prescription. Instead of going directly to the N1, I call in at the local bottle store (No chemist in Hanover, but a large bottle store!) which is where Lettie works. I thank her for all she has done and promise to see her again. She is a lovely person, they all are.

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CHAPTER 18

Early in November I received some money from the Internal Revenue for taxes overpaid in 1992. Since Sharon‟s letter, I had wanted to do something special for her and the money made that possible for me. Her mother was staying with us and was finding our house a strain. We had always been an easy going family and she felt out of place in an environment that was not always as orderly as it might have been. Sharon, despite her strength, was going through a bad time and was sometimes irritating and argumentative. When one was in close daily contact with her the deterioration of her body and soul was obvious. Eileen, Sharon‟s mother was visibly finding the whole situation difficult to come to terms with. One Friday evening when I arrived from work we were sitting together in the lounge and I said to Sharon, “Shar, I‟d like to take you to someplace really special for a meal. Mom will look after things at home and we can really just put everything behind us for an hour or two.” Sharon was not overly enthusiastic but agreed that it might be nice. “It will really be wasted on me you know, I can hardly eat anything without throwing it up.” “I will do all the eating,” I replied, “You just have to look beautiful.” She smiled, “O.K. but I don‟t want to come home too late.” I fetched the paper and started to browse through the entertainment section. I was looking for something different, something very special. At the bottom of the page was an advertisement for the „Grande Roche Hotel‟ in Paarl. It spoke of a special offer; overnight in the Hotel and a meal that sounded impressive. I telephoned to book a table and the receptionist, God Bless her, convinced me that I should come the next day at midday and enjoy the surroundings first. “Book in for the evening and you can leave late on Sunday. You will not regret it.” I took her at her word and did just that. Mother-in-law seemed almost relieved that she would have the house under her control for a while and Sharon seemed to be pleased as well. Our car is not impressive and we felt a little embarrassed by the attention we received when we arrived. I had underestimated the class of the establishment and when we were shown to a large reception area and given champagne I wondered if it would all be too much for Shar. I looked across the room at her; she seemed relaxed and was looking at one of the paintings on the opposite wall. She must have sensed my eyes on her and she turned, she lifted her glass to me and winked. It was going to be just fine. Our suite was one of the original stables of a manor house that had been an integral part of the history of Paarl. It was beautifully done, and consisted of a bed area, lounge, dressing room and a bathroom with a huge bath. Everything was where it needed to be and discreetly offered ample comfort. A cupboard and fridge was stocked with snacks and drinks.
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Sharon was really happy for once. “What is this all going to cost?” she breathed. I shrugged, “That is my business, but you had better not waste it, you had better enjoy everything there is, twice if you can!” A few minutes later she called out from the bathroom, “The first thing I am going to do is bath.” “I will shower later,” I called back. I took a beer from the fridge, a packet of nuts from the cupboard and switched on the TV. Sharon padded happily around the suite, putting out clothes on the bed and playing with the water controls in the bathroom. After a few minutes there was silence and I stretched out my legs and kicked off my shoes. She called to me a few minutes later, “Roger will you come in here for a minute.” I went to the bathroom and stepped into a typical movie set, she lay back in the bath with foam all around her. “Who do you think you are?” I asked her, “Sophia Loren?” She looked up at me very seriously and said, “I want you.” I stopped and waited. She was always beautiful, her breasts still firm, the skin so fine, her veins spread like marble underneath it. “I want you to bath me like you used to do, I want you to get undressed and get in the bath.” The afternoon was slow and wonderful. We stopped time for a day and went back to being twenty years old. I made love to her as I had always done before, when life was good and the future full of hope and expectancy. As I washed her I explored and claimed every part of her. We lay together in the bath and after I had toweled her down, again on the bed. There was no holding back on her part, she bit and kissed, fought and welcomed every act, everything that was me. Afterwards we slept and I awoke to find her watching me. “I am sorry.” she said. “Sorry for what?” I asked. “Sorry for not always being what you wanted me to be.” I reached out to her and pulled her against me. I stroked her new hair and told her, “You have always been more than I ever dreamed could be mine. I will probably spend an eternity being told that I had my fair share in this one life. You must never believe that you ever deprived me of anything...... We both stood back from each other for a while, but I think God wanted us to shake the dust from our love and really see what we had in each other.” “I loved you from the first day,” she said. “Do you remember the first day, when I saw you coming up from the sports field?” I asked. “I fell of my bike.” She chuckled against my chest; this was a very old family joke. “I have told you before, you weren‟t riding a bike.” “Well,” I replied, “it just shows what an effect you had on me; I thought I‟d fallen off a bike.”
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That evening the two of us entered the dining hall with a glow that must have spelled out to the world what we had found that afternoon. The meal was an occasion that neither of us had ever experienced before. We had two waiters and they smiled and helped us through our ignorance of protocol without any indication that what was happening was in anyway different from what happened at every table. Sharon did not manage too well and only nibbled at each course. By the time that we came to the Roast Beef Fillet, She could eat no more. The waiters, especially the girl, who was now known to us as Patricia, were aware that something was wrong. I sensed that she was giving Sharon more attention than before. She left us for a few minutes and Sharon took her plate and pushed some of her food across onto mine. “Quickly eat this for me,” she said, “I don‟t want her to know that I can‟t eat it.” Then she got to her feet, “I must go to the rest room,” she told me, “I am O.K, I just need to do normal things.” She smiled and slipped out of the room. She had just left when Patricia returned. She looked at Sharon‟s plate and I said to her, “You can take it, she won‟t eat anymore.” As she picked it up I saw her look at the extra food on my plate. I put down my knife and fork as she turned to go, “Wait,” I said. She turned back to me and I continued, “She‟s dying. She has cancer and it is quite far advanced. This is a sort of a last treat for both of us.” “I am so sorry,” she answered. “You don‟t have to be sorry, she is very strong and she is doing fine. But you must not let her realise that you know, she is very proud and does not want pity. I am telling you, because you need to understand that there is nothing wrong with the service or with the food. It is just that she cannot eat too much.” She nodded and left. Sharon had just entered the dining room. As she sat down she said, “You told her didn‟t you?” I nodded. “Do you mind?” “No, it‟s all right,” she said. When we had finished the meal Patricia brought us a plate covered in fine chocolate work and small sweets. The chocolate was in the form of tiny little butterflies and writing; the writing said, “Best wishes for the two of you, The Grande Roche staff.” I do not know if this is normal for all customers but Sharon took it as special and was deeply touched. Patricia also gave us the menu as a keepsake and in it she wrote;

“All the best for you and your husband, with all my heart Patricia.”

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The next day we woke up warm and lazy and made love again. Afterwards Sharon laughed and told me, “For the first time in years and years I‟m sore. We will have to go home before there is nothing left for the cancer.” I felt marvelous, I was strong and happy. I knew that I had done more for her and myself with the R800.00 that it had cost for the Hotel than I could have done with ten times that value in medical treatment. In the early afternoon we left and took a long drive home, winding our way through wine farms and rolling hills in the Stellenbosch area. As I drove she sat beside me cheerful and alive to everything that was happening. It was as if she had been given some miracle drug. I too felt as if I had been given tonic. The sun shone on everything under it. The road was busy with people out for pleasure and several tour buses passed us. As one approached, it struck me that we would probably never again achieve this level of happiness. Somehow I sensed that the battle was about to begin in earnest. I thought, “This would be a good time to end it. She is so happy and I have everything right here in this car that I have ever wanted. Why should she suffer? Would the children understand if I turned the car head on into the front of the next bus? If I picked up speed and suddenly swerved at the last moment neither of us would survive but the people in the bus would be fairly safe.” I watched the next bus approach and as it flashed by I saw that it was more than possible. I slowly started to speed up and without having consciously made a decision waited for the next bus. I could feel myself tensing up inside when she turned to me and spoke, “Roger, I want to talk to you about Diana. How are you going to look after her if you do the walk?” Slowly I eased off pressure on the accelerator. The moment passed. It was not really a feasible option anyway. “I really do not know,” I replied, “I have not given it much thought.” “Well you must not forget that she will have no one else except you to believe in after...” She paused, “Afterwards.”

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My pack is so heavy it makes my bones creak. I have full rations, an overenthusiastic supply of biltong and biscuits and 31km to walk. The spoiling is over. Mimi, Lettie and Val are behind me and what lies ahead is still to be seen. The quality of the vegetation around me is deteriorating and the ground is drier. Only along the side of the road is the growth still prolific. There is one shrub in particular which is attractive. It is a rich, deep green in colour and covered with a bright yellow flower. This plant is so small and dense that it looks like moss
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growing over a bulbous rock. The bees love it and bury themselves in the yellow in an ecstatic frenzy. The sun is hot but this does not deter the mice and lizards which seem to be on the increase as the ground gets drier. Perhaps they are just more visible.

FROM MY NOTES: 25/8....... A pen is a poor instrument with which to portray the variety of colour and growth that graces the verge of the road. A few minutes ago I might as well have been walking through a botanical garden; the amount of different and exotic shapes only equaled by the variety of colour. There are balloons, sprays, puffballs, feathers and petals coloured in reds through pinks to yellow, whites and greens.....

Later in the afternoon the wind picks up and the air chills as clouds move in to cover the sky. I have an irritating habit of not accepting a camping spot until I have done at least the day‟s quota of kilometres. I pass up a good culvert because it is 29km not 30 and have to walk another 4km to find the next one. It ends up being well worth the effort because the place I finally find is not a drain but some rich green grass under some trees. It lies off the road in a dip behind a resting place and is well hidden. It always seems so depressing to slink away and hide in a drain after walking free in the open air all day. Here, as the day closes, the air is fresh and there are birds singing. To my great delight, as twilight falls, I see a large herd of Springbok grazing in the veldt. The morning starts with the sun at 6.50 am. I am up early as it is not really cold despite the fact that it is still overcast. If I was not in the Karoo I would think that it was going to rain. The day is long and sultry and I am tense as I watch constantly for Brian. There is very little shade and I do not stop for a midmorning break. My feet are better than they have ever been. I eat the last of Mimi‟s biscuits, which is a great shame as I have enjoyed the change of taste they have provided. I do stop for lunch but do not wait around afterwards. By ten past four I am in Richmond. I stroll around the few streets for a while and then stop at a guesthouse to ask if anybody has heard of James P........ Two men are sitting on the porch and one turns out to be the owner. He speaks before I do and asks, “Where are you walking to?” “Cape Town.” I reply, and he smiles. “I thought so; you are the man that was on TV.”

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“Yes, that was me. I wonder if you could help me. I am looking for James P........ Do you know him?” The two men look at each other and one raises his eyebrows. Their interest changes subtly and the other man asks, “Do you know him? Is he a friend of yours?” “No.” I say, “I have never met him but I am told that he will put me up for the night.” “Oh I am sure that he would love to!” is the retort. Somehow there are nuances here that escape me. The two of them realise that the innuendoes are lost on me and they direct me to a house a few blocks away. As I turn to go I am told, “Look, I run this guesthouse and if you are unhappy or don‟t want to stay with James P....... then you can come back here and I will give you a room for the night.” The offer is genuine and made sincerely. I thank them both and move off in search of James. I am a little curious to discover what it is about him that might make me unhappy. The house fronts onto the street and it is a typical Karoo dorp home with little garden and a corrugated iron roof. I climb some steps to reach a paved stoep and ring the bell. James is a large man who views me with some suspicion. I introduce myself and he is pleased to hear that it is me and says that he is expecting me. However the invitation to sleep under his roof is not as clear as I would like it and I am forced to ask him directly. “Of course you can, I am sure that we can arrange something.” he replies. But I sense that there are some reservations. I can understand this as I myself hate to have the privacy of my home disturbed unless well prepared. James makes me some tea and I relax in the lounge which is in the middle of the house and somber. The coffee table in front of me is large and circular. It is covered in an assortment of bric-a-brac that ranges from a pack of playing cards to fine porcelain china. The whole house is full of crafts and artwork, some finely wrought and pleasing, some coarse and jarring. The walls are covered in paintings which tend to be modern and disturbing. It could possibly be the house of an eccentric spinster if it were not for the heaps of books; books on shelves, stacked on the floor and piled high in the corners. Books of every description from Readers Digest to illustrated Chinese erotica. As he talks I learn something of James and what he is. It is not surprising that people in this town should view him with some skepticism. James is an artist. He creates. He works in the theater and has done everything from set design, which is his forte, to acting. He has played some difficult roles including Macbeth and his art has complemented top class theater productions. A lot of his work has been done in Bloemfontein as it is the closest cultural centre to where he has chosen to live.

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Here in Richmond he owns a pottery shop and sells a range of fine work that is made by himself and his assistant on the premises. Some of it is unusual but all of it has an appeal of its own. I am no critic but when a thing is right it is pleasing and what I see feels right. The house is another matter, here James and his friend live, and here creativity has been given free reign. There is not the discipline that exists on the shelves of his pottery shop. I am invited to bath and do so in a bathroom that has its walls and ceiling painted black. The gloom is lightened marginally by contrasting colours, whites and golds, but the effect is out of the ordinary to say the least. James does not really relax until I have met Charles who lives with him. Charles is tall and wiry with curly blonde hair. He is some years younger than James. They tell me that they met through their work in the theater and have been close friends for years. Charles is a hairdresser who has a salon next door to the pottery shop. I am carefully watched and my reactions gauged. When it is obvious that I have no criticisms to offer, no snide remarks to make and evidence no discomfort with the liberated lifestyle they lead, everyone settles down and the wariness I have sensed since I arrived disappears. That evening we sit around the TV and eat an excellent meal that James has prepared. They tell me of their life in Richmond and although no one says anything directly, I hear of a struggle to live what must be a life of constant defiance in a town that has little else to do than propagate any scandal it can find. But the two of them seem to be content with the situation and obviously feel that they have won an acceptable place in the community. I am upset that I did not see Brian on the road and hope to see him either tomorrow or a few days later when he returns to Cape Town. I will not able to leave Richmond early as I must replenish my provisions, so there is a very real chance that if he is on the road I will miss him. I really need gas as I am using my last container. I have also found out that the mealie meal and other substitutes for the items that normally constitute my diet are not providing me with a balanced intake. I need to replace the replacements with the real thing. Sometime during the night I wake up to hear the rain really coming down. I am glad that I have a decent roof over my head but the possibility of heavy rain the next day is not pleasant to contemplate. I put it out of my mind and go back to sleep. In the morning James offers to help with the shopping and drives me around the town. I end up being taken from place to place and shown off to all and sundry. It suits me as I am glad of an opportunity to spread the message about cancer and Hospice. I am also entertained by the variety of people I meet. One of them is a long haired blond man who looks and dresses like something out of a Spanish Western.

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He is appalled that I carry no weapon and shows me his handgun. “When I was born this thing was clutched in my hand and it has been there ever since.” He makes this statement with some pride. The gun means nothing to me, he could have been born with a suitcase full, it does not make him anything more than he is; a frightened man who has to have with him, what James used to make, a piece of scenery to complement his act. Before leaving town I reverse charge some telephone calls and contact Cape Town. No one at home seems to know anything about Brian except that he is not at home yet. I speak to Barbara who tells me that she is worried about me. For the first time I learn about an intercity bus that has been attacked outside Beaufort West on the N1. Remembering the cowboy, I wonder how many of the passengers were armed and what good it did them. The weather does not look good and changes rapidly. The heavy rain of the previous night seems to have passed on but the threat of more to come is very evident. Every time I stop I hang a white cloth on a bush to draw attention to myself. I do not want Brian to miss me if he happens to pass. By the end of the day I realise that if I am to see him it will only be on his way back. I have had my life made easier by a silly little thing. For some unknown reason the roads department has taken it into their heads to mark the culverts. On the tar above each culvert I pass is painted in small white letters the type and size of culvert beneath me. BC represents Box Concrete and PC means Pipe Concrete. 3x900x900 BC means three sets of culverts beside each other of a box shape. This is fantastic! At the end of the day I can actually just walk along without having to clamber down the embankment to see if the drain is suitable or not. I reach my kilometre target for the day and walk on until I reach a place where I read 3x900x1500 BC. I look around to see if I am alone and then climb down out of sight to a perfect culvert. So simple! Once again I wake up to hear rain and through the square shape that is the end of the culvert in which I am sleeping, I see lightening light up the sky. But I am safe and dry in my little shelter courtesy of the roads department, who now not only provides the room but advertise it on the road above. In the morning the sun is shining. There is some cloud but little wind. Looking down the road I am to travel, I see up ahead a black and heavy horizon. A storm is on its way. During the morning I am stopped by a family who want to give me some money. This I manage to refuse. Later a truck driver offers me a bottle of orange juice to share with him. I take a hearty swallow and find that it has been strongly laced with something or other. He winks at me and then shrugs his shoulders when I decline another shot at it.
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Another driver whom I have seen often before but never had actually stopped, pulls up and introduces himself as Swanie. He tells me that the drivers often discuss me and report on where I am. He says that he has started a collection and will be forwarding money to the Cancer Association. As I have advanced the cloud bank has rolled steadily back and is now virtually non-existent. The road ahead is clear and I am starting to meet that Karoo special that all South African drivers know so well; Everytime that you crest a hill you see the road stretching out forever ahead of you. I am in a range of hills at the moment and in front of me lies a plain reaching out to another range of hills. Beyond that is yet another climb and the small sparks in the distant hills, like those from flint, can only be the sun momentarily catching metal and glass as, far away, the road lies under the passing traffic. Again I do 4km more than I need to because the grass is always greener further along the road. I am tired as the afternoon has included a stiff 3km climb. That evening I eat the last of my mealie meal, Lettie‟s biltong and a few rusks I have in the bottom of my food box. The next day rain is again in the offing and the wind gusts in short cold starts across the veldt. The ground outside the culvert is muddy and so I know it has rained in the night. In this weather there is a conflict of interest. I need to dress warmly but long pants and woolly shirts mean two things in the rain; My poncho is non-porous so it makes me sweat profusely when I walk. It also reaches my knees so long trousers get soaked at the bottom. My opportunities for washing clothes, or drying them, for that matter, are infrequent and I normally decide to wear shorts and T-shirt under the poncho rather than end up with a pack full of wet and smelly clothing. Now because of my concern over how much gas I have left I have cut down on my intake of hot soup and coffee. I am beginning to really feel the cold and it almost seems as if I am stretching resources in the middle of Siberia rather than holding out for a day or two in the middle of a civilised country. If Beaufort West turns out to be as primitive a supply centre as some of the towns I have been in then I am going to find the seven days following it to Laingsburg really difficult. Val has done me a really good turn in giving me the vitamin pills as they make a big difference. On the odd days that I have forgotten to take them I have really felt run down. As I cook and eat, I wash the little saucepans out with a bit of drinking water which I rinse around with my fingers. When the pan is clean, I drink the dirty water and dry the pan immediately. The reason I mention this is trivial but annoying. The Oat So Easy dish water is tasty, the mealie meal dish water awful. The only water that I waste in any way is the two cups of water that I use to shave, wash and brush my teeth with in the morning. I need water this morning and I am pleased to see a large farm ahead. It lies very close to the road. I turn into the driveway and knock on the doors of three different houses all clustered in a group around the main house.
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This is a lovely home and the gardens are neat and well tended. The dogs are friendly and I am welcome to take whatever I like as far as they are concerned. No one is at home at any of the houses. Eventually I decide to help myself and I leave with five litres of fresh water which I doubt will be missed. The wind and gusting bouts of drizzle have become so unpleasant that I decide to call it a day at about 3.00 pm. I cannot find myself a culvert. The only available shelter is more of a bridge than a culvert but there are a lot of large rocks around so I build myself a windbreak about halfway down it. Despite the windbreak it is uncomfortable. Strong gusts periodically scream through the camp, the splayed concrete walls at the opening of the bridge acting like a scoop and accelerating the power of the wind directly at me. The rain is carried down the tunnel easily and sometimes I might as well be out in the open. It is too late to try elsewhere and I have to make the best of what I have got. I work like a slave and extend my stonewall upwards and outwards. Eventually it is about two metres long and one and a half metres high. It curves slightly around me in order to stand more securely and provide me more shelter. On the lee side I stretch my space blanket out about a metre high and move in under it. It is nearly 6.00 pm. I am physically beaten but spiritually boosted. My shelter is good and in its protection I am dry and can cook and sleep safely. The whole night the wind shrieks past me like a frustrated vulture but there are no pickings for it. Now and again it manages to pull at the space blanket which flaps it away with vigour, falling back to rest when the wind does the same. In the dark I hear something scratching very close to me and using my little torch I pick out two shiny little eyes and direct the beam there. A field mouse huddles behind me in a corner of my wall and shivers. It is wet and frightened and I leave it. I have no way of knowing if it spent the night as it is gone in the morning. The weather has not abated in the morning. I eat, wash and pack uncomfortably. I am glad to get finished and back on the road despite the drizzle. Once again my poncho turns me into some kind of freak show drawing strange if not sometimes incredulous looks from passing traffic. When there is no wind it is difficult to get my poncho over my body. The backpack stretches up and back well beyond the reach of my arms. In order to get the poncho over it I have developed a technique of holding the poncho out in front of me and then whirling it up as I turn and duck under it. With luck it settles down over me like some sort of net and all I have to do is pull it here or there to adjust it into place. Today the wind has an opportunity to do what it has been denied through the night; make my life miserable. On the side of the road, in full view of all and sundry, I take on the wind and we get stuck into the battle of the poncho. I want the poncho on; the wind wants it anywhere as long as it is not where I want it. I cannot hold the thing out in front of me as the wind just plasters it against my body and I am forced to drag it from my face and chest rolling it into a ball as I do. After three or four attempts at this I decide to let the wind help me rather than fight it. I put my back to the wind and hold up the poncho. With a loud whoop the poncho blows out into a magnificent red balloon whipping and shuddering above me with real power. I am almost dragged off of my feet and must slide and
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stumble after it as it pulls and whips from side to side. For a moment as the wind drops I think I can get underneath it and I run to let it settle on me as it should. The wind sees me coming and blows with such force that I lose my grip and the poncho flies up to collapse and come back down to earth. I get it back and consider what to do. I nearly made it, so maybe the same tactic will work if I persevere. Once again I stumble and fight along behind my red balloon and when the wind drops run and whirl underneath it. This time it is very close and I am enveloped in wet plastic. The poncho is all over my face and I can see nothing and have no idea what is up, down, back or front. I pull and turn at the clinging soggy mass, sometimes walking backwards, sometimes turning round and round in order to get the wind where it will help to unravel it. At some stage of the proceedings the objective switches from get it on, to get it off. When I eventually see daylight it is with a relief that I can physically feel. Again I hold the poncho out but this time I am clever and I hold it with my arms crossed and grip reversed. When it billows out I intend to lift and turn slipping underneath it so that it will blow out behind me and I can simply pull the edge in my hands down over my head. Presto! I will be inside it. I whirl and whap! It is torn out of my hands, I have to really run to catch it. I try again. Whap! I have to run again. As the wind is blowing north I can see myself ending up back in Beit Bridge very soon. I am now wet, the poncho is wet. It hardly seems worth putting it on at all. I decide that I do not care if the sun starts to shine, I started out to put on my poncho and put it on I will. Then I get really clever. I choose a reasonable piece of ground and spread the poncho out on it in all directions. I trap the leading edges with rocks and leave the top edge free. I take a long stick from the veldt and push the end of the stick into a tie hole on the top edge and lie the stick down alongside the poncho. Then I sit down at the bottom of the poncho with my back to it. The wind is at a loss as to what I am trying to do. Even the poncho has no idea. Now we will see who is boss around here. I lie back awkwardly until my backpack is flat on the ground and I am stretched horizontally across it. I let my head hang fully back and look. I can see the top edge of the poncho and the end of the stick that I attached to it. I grope for the stick and with it carefully lift the back edge of the poncho up until I can reach it with my other hand. When I have it I let out a yell of triumph and pull it down over myself. I roll back up into a sitting position and then get to my feet. It is a mere formality to arrange the poncho properly and get my head into the hood. When it is done I start out on the road. I am wet through but I have won a major victory. Within half an hour, the wind, defeated, slacks off and the sun comes out. I do not care, I beat them and they must retire with grace. Later on in the walk I talk to Danny who tells me that he saw some of this titanic battle as he drove past in his truck and thought that I must have gone mad, whirling round and round in circles with a piece of red canvas flying out above my head.

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By 11.00 am it is a glorious day and I have regained some sanity. I must have really looked ridiculous but the picture I create of myself as seen by the motorists is so funny that I cannot help but be pleased with the whole business. When Sharon was ill I was busy. I had a real and major issue to deal with. Caught up in the ongoing trauma, every decision and action was weighed and taken in the throes of a desperate struggle to do the best we possibly could. Best for the children, for me and ultimately for her. Now that I am walking, I am again, as one passerby has put it, „a man with a mission.‟ But I worry about what I will do when this is all over. In order to do the walk I had to give up my job. I would have liked to have kept it and had hoped to be given unpaid leave. That was not to be. Business is business and I was asked to either postpone the walk or resign. So I walk back to Cape Town and an unknown future. I want to marry again and in several conversations with Sharon before she died I discussed families and children. I could not see myself married to another woman without sharing the joy of children. Sharon understood this but I think it hurt her. She would skirt around the topic a little, joking about age and abilities. There are few women that I could think of that would follow Sharon‟s role in my life and the few that do come to mind are very, very married. This is obvious, as the type of woman my future wife must be is hardly going to be middle aged and still single. Yet I must lead a full life if it is to be any life at all. The prospect of going through the years ahead alone is frightening to me. For my sake I must learn to make decisions that do not include Sharon anymore. I cannot live my life according to what she might like or not like if she was here. I might ask myself, “What would Sharon think?” But only because the memory of her feelings about things could add perspective to the choice, not because I need to honour her opinion regardless of its relevance. I realise that Sharon has taken a step that has placed her in a realm where our sorry world has no bearing. I cannot even begin to understand how she sees things now. However I do believe that she understands at least this much of me; I am still human and part of this world. My decisions can only be of value here and are excused to some extent by my limited grasp of life. I did things when she was in my care that have left me alone in a vast darkness with no clue as to whether I was right or wrong. The rest of my life will surely not bring any greater responsibility than that which I have so recently born. So I must gather up my shattered strengths and move on as best I can. I must strive for some earthly happiness as any normal person would but I must do it alone and do it for myself. The partnership is ended and I have only myself to think for. It is this lack of purpose that is so frightening. There is no mission in sight. Somehow I just do not seem important enough by myself. I could understand my role if there was a loved one involved. God knows and understands me better than I do myself. He must realise that for me to have a single life is to have no life at all. I need a partner and he will just have to arrange it for me as he has faithfully and effectively arranged everything else.

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CHAPTER 19

When we first arrived in Cape Town we had lived in the Fish Hoek area and attended mass in a little suburb called Sun Valley. Here we had met Father S...... who was head of the Norbetine Monastery at Kommetjie. Father was a straight forward and intelligent man whose grasp of life was practical and real. Sharon had a great deal of respect and regard for him and he for her. I felt that if anybody could help her come to terms with the contradictions that she faced, he could. I telephoned him one morning and told him how ill she had become, asking him if he would not consider paying her a visit despite the fact that she was far away and the member of another parish. He had visited her when she was in hospital the previous Christmas and I felt sure that he would. He did, and Sharon was pleased to see him. What she said to him and he to her, I will never know. Whatever it was, it affected both of them. When I spoke to him afterwards he told me about how he had felt when we had first come to see him in his office some years previously. “Sharon has always meant something to me. When the two of you sat in front of me at the monastery and told me that you both had cancer I felt immediately that I had an important role to play. That there would come a time that I would be able to do something for the two of you... Sharon is a strong person, she has an incredible faith.” “I am worried that she is becoming lost in all this trauma.” I replied. He shook his head, “You need have no fear on that account, she is very special to God. He will not let her down.” Sharon was different. I asked her what had been said but she refused to tell me any details. “But you are so much more positive.” I said, “Do you suddenly think God is alive and in his heaven?” “It is just that I understand that there might be a reason for all this. It is possible that I am being used to do something for God and that I am lucky because I think it is for people that I love very much.” Whatever she had come to realize, it was worthwhile. She steadily rebuilt a faith in her creator and in her future that totally ignored everything that happened to her body. She did something for me and for many others. Through the few months that remained she had an inner strength and light that was to stand out through all her pain and anguish like a beacon. Our local priest never visited her once in the whole year she lived in his parish but others did. He lost a great opportunity. The nuns from Diana‟s school visited her; other religious from other denominations visited her. One nun, the principal of Diana‟s school told me, “After years of dedicated service to God I find that I can learn from a normal person living out a sacrifice that I do not believe I could easily make.”

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A priest told me as we walked from her final bedplace in the Hospice, “I have never met anyone who was so sure of her salvation.” For Sharon the last months were frightening but no longer so frightening that she wished to avoid what was to come. She had changed completely and her spirit rose up with a renewed vigor and determination; not to avoid the trauma but to get through it as best she could. The change that had come about in her could have been laid before her by God but the strength with which she grasped it and used it to make sense of her life was all her own. It spoke to me of a decision, a decision which had been reached and implemented as soon as it was right for her. Her hopes for this world were replaced by a belief that her future lay beyond the physical, that she was on her way to something in which she had every confidence. During November Sharon started to struggle with all sorts of symptoms. Her life became a constant battle to overcome them and then overcome the side effects of the drugs that were dealing with them. Her bone structure was really taking a beating and although she was constantly receiving local treatment by radiotherapy the lesions were becoming evermore widespread. She was constantly in pain and had to start receiving a regular morphine dosage. Most of the bone problems were seated in her spinal column and it soon became no longer possible to radiate all the areas as they had been overtreated already. The therapy itself was in danger of doing more damage than the cancer. Life was seriously complicated by all the drugs she was taking. Her list of medication on the 30th of November reads as follows; 2 x measuring spoons of morphine every 4 hrs with double dose at night. 4 x measures of liquid paraffin and Agarol at night 1 x Dolorol Forel tablet every 4 - 6 hrs. 1 x 25mg Hydroxyzine every 8 hrs. 1 x 15mg Oxazepan at night 1 x Metoclopramide (x 4 a day) 1 x Diclophenare Sodium (x 3 a day) This meant one pill now, two an hour later, three pills together at twelve. Some at four, some at six…it was almost impossible to keep track. There were pills that helped this but caused constipation, there were pills that helped something else but made her restless. So there were pills to sleep and liquid paraffin for her stomach. The morphine made her nauseous, so quite often she would throw up and then she would have to take the pills all over again. Few people on the outside understood what she was going through. Once when Barbara was sick and took a few days off, I asked Sharon if she would not come in and help us out for a week. She was only too glad to be useful again and came in everyday. Everyone at work had been keeping track of how she was and I had been reporting on her state of health fairly regularly. I was not aware that I had been telling them anything but the truth. Within half a day of her being there I could sense that there was an undercurrent of feeling in
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the workshop. Some of the staff seemed unable to look at me in the face. I was about to enter a department when I overheard a conversation that explained it all. “Well, she doesn‟t look sick to me!” I stopped and someone else replied, “Oh, I can see that she is sick, but she is not about to die. Anyone can see that she is strong and fit.” I turned and went somewhere else, returning to that department later. I did not want them to realize that I had overheard. I was proud of her and what she was. It did not matter to me that they thought I had exaggerated her condition, it was wonderful to realize that she appeared to be so strong to others. But her health and her quality of life were deteriorating. Despite her strength and new hope, she was irritable at home and would burst into tears easily. Especially if she felt that she had been particularly unpleasant beforehand. She visited the Hospice for a regular check-up and Dr. J..... carefully went over her list of drugs. Something was not right as her nausea was becoming almost constant. For some time she had not been able to eat anything without immediately bringing it back up. He decided that she should be admitted and that her symptoms be re-assessed with a view to making her drug intake as comfortable as possible. St. Luke‟s is a haven of peace and the air of quiet joy that pervades the garden continues with you as you enter the wards. The staff is totally professional and there are enough of them to ensure that each patient gets every bit of attention that they need. When we arrived there were flowers at her bedside and a note welcoming her to the ward. The people that work there really care and it shows. Sharon stayed for a week and they worked hard to put her on a drug program that would make life worthwhile. The first thing they did was clear her bowels and this turned out to be a bigger task than they anticipated. The clearing process went on for days and as it progressed so Sharon improved. What she had not been telling anyone was that she had not had a proper bowel movement for some time. But that was not all, she was very anemic. The cancer had been retarding the ability of her bone marrow to do its work and she needed blood desperately. She had to have a transfusion and received two packets of blood. Slowly she picked up strength and by the time she left the hospice she was rosy cheeked, cheerful and keen to come home. The jewelry factories close over Christmas and I decided to ask Peter G...... if I could stop work two weeks before the rest of the staff in order to spend more time at home. Sharon‟s mother, Eileen, had been down to help us look after her but had found the reality of Sharon‟s sickness hard to deal with. It was doubly traumatic for her as her religious beliefs did not accept the salvation of a soul that died outside of her own faith. For her it was not just Sharon‟s death but quite possibly the loss of Sharon‟s soul forever. She needed time to gather her resources again and had decided to return home for a period. I wanted to be at home as much as I could. Peter was only too glad to be able to help and I received full pay for the period and

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a substantial Christmas bonus to help alleviate the financial strain we were experiencing. At about this time a great thing happened; after many years of silence one of Sharon‟s brothers made up his mind to visit her. He was a nice person and soft hearted, perhaps too soft hearted to face his responsibilities as he had not been able to speak to her directly ever since he had learnt that she was still ill. He was dear to her and she had been badly hurt by his silence. His visit was a great success and he spent a lot of time with her. When he left he said to me that he had been frightened to contact her because he had not known what to say. I felt sorry for him, she was so easy to be with, so easy to talk to. She made her cancer manageable, not only for herself but for those around her. I had taken from her family a great person and she had been mine for so long that they no longer knew her as they should have. I made up my mind that I would try to allow them as much time with her as I could. This was not as simple as it sounds. It was already becoming difficult to be alone with her for any length of time and I realized it would get worse. Aside from casual visitors such as the friends she had made since she left work, there were others, people who had met her at church or in hospital and most demanding of all, her family; us and the rest of her relatives. When Sharon came home from the Hospice she had something with her that changed our lives. The tragedy is that the little machine she had been given is not freely available in other clinics and hospitals. The device is known as a syringe driver and it is about the size of a camera. It is a simple, motorized pump that runs on the power of two penlight batteries. A normal syringe is loaded with a prepared solution that contains all the medication the patient requires for a 24 hour period. The syringe is fitted into the machine and the pump started. Every few minutes the machine pushes a minute quantity of the solution out of the syringe. From the syringe to a small needle inserted semi-permanently under the skin is a plastic tube that carries the solution to the body. All day long, all night long the little buzz of the motor indicated that Sharon was getting a carefully calculated and balanced recipe of drugs. The quantity at any one time too small to create side effects, the overall amount over the day enough to do what is needed. The preparation of the drugs had to be done once a day. This I learnt to do. All the drugs were delivered in glass vials and every night I would take one of these, two of the other and so on to make up the required volume. I would remove the empty syringe and replace it with a full one, reset the driver, and she was safe for another day. No need for an hourly count of pills, no concern about losing half of her medication through vomiting. All in all we seemed set for a good Christmas, it was the 18th of December and Christmas was just around the corner. We started the Christmas period with strength. We both understood that time was short but we ignored the future and got on with the present. I had learnt from Sharon‟s stay in the Hospice and tried hard to make her life as comfortable as possible. In the morning I would prepare her breakfast; there was always some fruit, normally honey melon but sometimes apple or peach. I would cut the flesh
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into small squares and she would have it in a dish next to her bowl of cereal. Occasionally she would ask for a boiled egg and I became an expert at timing it to perfection. As in the Hospice, there was always a little vase of flowers on the tray. It was fun to cut flowers from different bushes and fit, sometimes three of them, one into the other, making exotic looking combinations of color and shape. Her spirit was strong enough to paint and she did. Her pictures were brighter now and full of power, yet strangely peaceful. She gave one to Leora at the Hospice and I saw it there the other day. There is a small pool with high banks behind it. The water falls quietly over the bank beside some steps leading down from under a tree. It is pastel and calm. It is relaxed and sure. She was not so calm in her daily dealings with us, sometimes being irritatingly fussy about silly things, but behind her interaction with the world around her was an obvious acceptance of what was to come. Sometimes the reality would catch her at a sensitive moment and frighten her. Once or twice I woke up at night to find that she was lying awake, she would turn to me and once locked in my arms start to cry softly. She was lonely and when life was not hectic or absorbing enough, it would show. Slowly she rebuilt her belief in God and the two of them grew closer. She became very determined not to miss a Sunday service and although she would sometimes fall asleep on the pew beside me, always attended.

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I walk into Three Sisters at 2.00 pm on Monday 30th August. I am glad to see the place. For me it is one of the milestones of the trip. Many South Africans know it as a familiar and popular stopping point along the N1. Sometime before I met Sharon, when I was a young rebel in blue jeans with a halfjack of booze in my pocket and Brylcream on my hair I hitchhiked to Cape Town and got stuck here. In those days it was just another garage and cafe. The owner was a huge Italian with white hair and a no nonsense attitude. I do not think he approved of me at first. But I knew and loved sports cars and the old Italian was an Alfa Romeo fanatic. We soon found common ground and the breakfast I had there of fried eggs and bacon, toast and rich dark coffee has never been forgotten. Things have changed a great deal. The Shell Ultra City sign can be seen from far away. No expense has been spared in making it into a traveler‟s Mecca and it is as professional as you can get. However professional is not everything and the steak and eggs I eat now are nice but measured out, not served up. After I have eaten I approach the manager and ask if I can find a corner for the night. He listens to my story and suggests I walk on to the Hotel 3km further down the road. I cannot argue so we part amicably enough but I have no intention of walking any further. I need to telephone everyone and do so from the public call boxes. While I am wandering around wasting time, (waiting for the management to go home), I am
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accosted by one of the attendants, “Are you the man that is walking to Cape Town?” “Yes.” I reply. “There was a young man here yesterday asking for you.” He said. I question him closely about who it was and I am told it was a young man and a woman in a red car. “They asked about you and when we told them that you had not been here the woman said that they must have missed you on the road.” “Was it a happy, friendly man with blond hair?” I finally ask. “Yes.” the answer is immediate; he readily agrees that the man was blond and that he was happy and friendly. “Which way did he drive when he left?” I ask. He does not know as the garage is set back from the road and all cars exit the same way. Then one of the other attendants who has been listening says that the woman asked him the distance to Beaufort West so he thinks they were headed for Cape Town. I am pretty sure that it must have been Brian on his way home. The woman could have been Mandy, his girlfriend but I am not sure that she was with him. Later on that night I see someone else wandering around without much purpose. I approach him and learn that he is a member of a caving team that is returning from an expedition to Zimbabwe where they have set some kind of diving record in an underground cave. He and some of his companions are returning home but their Landrover has broken down. The rest of his friends are round at the back of the garage where the problem is being rectified. We discuss my pack and the weight restrictions I have to face. When I tell him of the dietary problems I am experiencing he says that he has a surprise for me. I am taken to the Landrover and introduced to the others. Then he climbs into the back of the vehicle and returns with a dozen „Mars‟ bars and eight packets of „Shogun.‟ Here in the middle of the Karroo after almost believing that I will never see „Shogun‟ again I am given enough to keep me going for weeks. I am stunned and cannot thank them all enough. On the telephone I speak to Diana. The poor girl is baby-sitting the grandchildren on her own again and I resolve to make it up to her somehow when I get back. Then I telephone the Rotary in Beaufort West but they have never heard of me. I speak to Albertus S...... who invites me to his office when I arrive. I tell him I will be there on Thursday. I also speak to my Dad who says, “It looks like you are actually going to make it Roger.” I can sense his pride and I think, “Yes dammit. I am actually going to make it.” I have a little over three weeks to go. One of those weeks will be a real trial but once I reach the Hex River the last week should be fine. After things quieten down and the staff looks as if they are preparing for the night, I found myself a little room behind the garage and as the attendants studiously look the other way, settle myself down out of the way for the night. It is a long and unusual one with thunder and lightning and heavy downpours of rain. I sleep well, as I can listen to the violence outside and snuggle deeper into my sleeping

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bag, dry and cozy. In the morning at 5.00 am one of the attendants wakes me, “Boss you must get up and dress now, the dayshift will be here at six.” When the dayshift does arrive, I am waiting for them. I eat a good breakfast in the Golden Egg and hit the road at about 8.00 am. For some reason the vegetation is completely different. I am reminded of South West Africa. The sides of the road are hemmed in by thick thorn bush. The night‟s rain lies in large pools around the base of the trees and the sun is lifting the moisture into the air, making everything seem heavy and damp. In the afternoon, after lunch, I become a tailor for a while and shorten a pair of khaki pants that I bought in Bloemfontein. I do an excellent job. First I cut them to size and then I blanket stitch the edge before blindstiching the hem. However I have to admit that the final result is still not as good as what Sharon would have done. I smile to myself when I think of how I used to criticize her hems. She is possibly having a pretty good smile herself at the moment. I walk until late evening and end up in a very small culvert which makes life awkward when it comes to cooking and other domestic chores. I think the contortions I put my body through whilst fighting my poncho have aggravated the problem with my shoulder. It has been a nagging minor irritation since early on in the walk. It starts out in the morning as a small itching sensation in the muscle below my neck on the right side. Sometimes it develops into an awkward pain later in the day but never becomes really severe. Now it is much worse and I am annoyed that I have allowed a stupid fixation to inflame a potentially difficult injury. Physically I have few complaints; I am so very pleased with the state of my feet. Stockings, Prep and larger shoes keep them in excellent shape. My diet is almost back to normal and I still feel a little overawed by the coincidence with the food at Three Sisters; two people are brought together at a lonely garage in the middle of the Karoo. The one needs items that have not been available in the shops for almost 500km and the other just happens to have a large surplice of those very items. This does not detract from my enjoyment of the night‟s meal but adds to it. Today is the first of September and officially the first day of spring. The sun has heard about this and is shining gently. The wind has dropped and I have fresh water close by in a dam where the pump is just about turning in what wind there still is. At 9.04 am I am on my way again. I stop 30km from Beaufort West at 11.34; 13km in 2.5 hours. A very good walk indeed. Later Richard M..... stops on his way from Bloemfontein to Cape Town and says hello. He tells me that Joan asked him to look out for me. So he is the lucky man she is married to. An Eskom bakkie stops and the driver offers me a lift. The truck drivers are especially friendly today and the world is generally a nice place to be. I am now walking across a big plain and cannot see the end of it as it rises and drops away into the distance. There are lovely mountains to be seen to the left and right of me.
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I am very relaxed about life and know that I will be in Beaufort West by lunchtime tomorrow. I would like to attend mass but this will mean Thursday, Friday and Saturday night in town. This is perhaps not a bad idea anyway as I need to telephone, wash clothes, shop and organize for my big seven day stretch through the Karoo. I do not only need time however, I also need a place from which to operate. Where will I stay? I have no idea. I will try the Catholic Church and if that fails the caravan parks. I crawl out of my culvert on Thursday morning to find everything blanketed in a heavy mist. I am in no hurry as I have only 14km to go to the town. I had a strange dream last night in which everything was dark and threatening. Figures kept looming out of the blackness and staring at me. Children were armed with guns and walked patrol up and down church aisles. I became a sort of Idi Amin figure and people from all walks of life were following me around like sheep. Suddenly, with a flash of insight, I understood everything and I kept trying to tell them, “Stop, stop. Can‟t you see? Can‟t you understand?” It was frustrating as I was the only one that knew what it was all about. Although what that was I cannot remember now, which is even more frustrating. I stop for lunch a little way away from the Wagon Wheel Motel. Sharon and I stayed there often. From where I sit I can see the rooms we stayed in the last time we were here. It was in 1980 and we sneaked our dog in. Nandi was a bullmastiff and difficult to sneak anywhere. We took her for a walk in the evening on the piece of open veldt behind the rooms. Thinking of Nandi brings to mind her death. She died of a virulent form of tick fever that the dogs get in S.W.A. Sharon and I nursed her for a long time, hand feeding her on liver and milk. One night at about 1.00 am she staggered into our bedroom and woke us up by sticking her nose into our faces. We both followed as she slowly led us out into the garden. When she reached the middle of the lawn she stood there, too weak to move. I lay her down and Shar brought her some water. Sharon and I sat with her until she died about two hours later. When the sun came up it found us still in the garden. I was digging the grave and Sharon was sitting, a small and sad figure in the middle of the lawn, Nandi‟s head on her lap. I built a garage over the grave and in the concrete floor wrote, “Here lies Nandi, more than a dog.” As I write this into my notes, I cry freely, the memory of Sharon linked to too much pain and loss. A little while after Nandi died we bought Jess, another bullmastiff. She was with us for eight years and followed Sharon into the grave within two months. Strangely enough, she too died of cancer, but perhaps her problem was deeper than the outward physical cause. It seems almost too much to bear, that one cannot bring back a happy memory without it dragging along its grievous brother. But, on reflection, that is life, the good and the bad go hand in hand. We could not appreciate joy if we knew nothing of despair. If we run from grief and sadness or hide ourselves from the possibility
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of anguish how can we hope to know real happiness, to understand and enjoy love? I can feel the depth of this memory and can allow the value of its meaning to flood my mind. Shar was so much a part of my life that if I am to have any memories of her I must accept them all. I cannot stifle what remains to me by selecting only happiness. All that we shared is what we were and I want to keep it all, as much as I can. Someone interrupts my emotions. He walks up to me and puts out his hand to take mine. He shakes it limply and says “Peace Baas.” He is old, tall and thin. On his shoulder is a bedroll and around his neck a piece of string from which a plastic bag hangs at his waist. He seems happy with my response to his greeting and asks me for some water. I have plenty and town is right in front of me so I fill his rather dirty coke bottle to the top. “Oh that is good, thank you, thank you.” He points at my peace badge which I have worn for so long now that the pin has fallen off and I have had to sew it to my hat like a button. “You are a man of peace?” I smile, “Oh yes, I am definitely a man of peace.” “Where are you from?” “From Capetown, but I have walked from Zimbabwe.” He does not turn a hair, “That is a long way to come. Do you have friends here?” “No,” I reply, “I am going to Cape Town, that is my home.” He shakes his head and says, “That is a long way to walk. You will never be able to get there by walking.” “Do you know how far it is to Zimbabwe?” I ask him. “No, but I think it is not so far as it is to Cape Town.” We sit for a few minutes in silence and then he says, “This is a good day, this day of peace.” I am not quite sure what he means but nod and say, “Yes it is a lovely day.” “In town there are many children in the street with that badge. They are singing and laughing. They are not good children.” “Why is that?” I ask. “They know nothing of Peace. For them it is a game. The government says today is Peace day and they stay away from school and play in the street.” I am curious and ask him, “Why do you say today is peace day?” He looks at me in surprise, “You say you are a man of peace and yet you do not know that today is peace day? Why do you wear that badge and why do you give me water. Is it not because today is a day of peace everywhere?” I have obviously missed something somewhere along the line but now I know enough to make me want to ask someone else what is happening. We part company, he is hiking to Colesburg, I am going to Cape Town. Lunch is over anyway so I start walking again but I am soon stopped by a red minibus and a car. A whole group of coloured people climb out and all of them come over to me. They greet me, every one of them, saying, “Peace, peace, peace.” As they do this all the passing cars start hooting and flashing their lights. One of the men with me looks at his watch and says “It is twelve-o-clock.” and they all wave at the passing cars.

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I am clever enough to realize what is going on and play along. Today, especially twelve-o-clock is being used to promote peace. The group of people who have stopped, turn out to be a cycle club that is on its way to participate in a charity ride from Johannesburg to Durban. Half of the people in the group are blind. I am told that this event is for the blind. They ride the course paired on a tandem bicycle with a rider who can see. Some of those in the group work my uncle for a company in Cape Town and they have been looking out for me along the road. It is an auspicious event for them as the timing is perfect for peace and caring, which is what they are doing. They take a lot of photographs and there is a lot of handshaking before we part company. The town is, as the old man said, full of children propagating peace with an enthusiasm and vigour that I can understand has irritated the slow and mild character of the old man. But enthusiasm is good and I am proud that my peace badge is already worn and battered by use. Peace would be a great thing, but I believe it is a result and not an objective. If we work on our regard for each other surely peace is a natural consequence.

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CHAPTER 20

The children took a hammering both from myself and from her. I wanted the house to be always clean and neat. She was a proud woman and was visited by more people now than ever before. It was important to me that her surroundings were as good as I could make them. The children were not used to this and both Sharon and myself used to get angry and impatient about things that had always been all right before. She became a creature of habit and any deviation from the norm would irritate her. She liked to have two slices of cheese toast for lunch, and it had to be cut into thin strips. One day Carol was at home and she offered to make Mum‟s lunch. With her new found skills from the restaurant she went to a great deal of trouble to make something special. I believe that it was egg mayonnaise sandwiches, sliced thinly and cut into little triangles. We laughed about it later and still tease her today but at the time it was hurtful. Carol took the food to Mum on a tray with flowers and all the trimmings. Sharon looked down at it and frowned. She put out her hand and pushed the bread around on the plate, “What is this?” Carol told her, “It is egg mayonnaise sandwiches, Mum.” “Is the cheese finished?” Sharon asked. “No it‟s not finished, but I thought you might like a change...... So I made something special. You like egg.” Sharon pushed the tray away, “I wish people would not tell me what I like. If you can‟t make me what I want to eat why do you bother to make anything at all?” I got up and took the tray, “Just leave it Shar, I will make you some toast. Carol its fine, my love, I will eat this.” I asked her to come with me and we went into the kitchen. Carol burst out crying and it was unusual for her to show that much emotion. “I just wanted to do something nice for her, that‟s all.” What was I to say to her, they all tried so hard? The problem was that Sharon was who she was, and she was frightened to deviate from things that were safe. Cheese toast was safe. Rich egg mayonnaise might not be. I tried to explain to Carol that Mum had to be allowed to be irritable at times, “She struggles so hard to be strong and O.K. when people come to visit her that sometimes, when it is only us around her, she has to let go and blow off some steam.” Carol nodded her eyes bright with tears. “Will you make me some coffee?” I asked. I left her busy, which was the best way to leave Carol when she was disturbed. One night we were in the room, I was in bed reading and Sharon was brushing her hair. I heard her exclaim something. She got up and hurried out of the room. She sometimes had tummy problems and I lay and read on. A few minutes later Annelee came into the room, “Dad, I think you had better come.”
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I quickly got out of bed and followed her out of the room into the passage. Sharon was on her hands and knees on the floor with a whole lot of toilet paper in her hands. She looked up at me her face drawn, “I couldn‟t help it, I‟m so sorry but I couldn‟t help it.” The smell in the little passageway was strong and the awfulness of her feelings worse. “I don‟t want the children to see this, I just can‟t stand it anymore.” She sobbed. Annelee and I cleaned up the floor whilst Sharon hid in the bathroom and cleaned herself. She was mortified and told me that she could face anything but the indignity of losing control of her bodily functions, “I want to die before that happens, I cannot face having my private life out in the open.” She started crying again and shook her head, “I don‟t want anyone, anyone to see me like that.” Sometime later whilst two other cancer patient friends of hers were visiting, she suddenly threw up as she was drinking tea. Once again Annelee was there to help but the more everyone tried to tell her it was O.K., The more annoyed she became. “It is not O.K. How can you think it‟s O.K.?” However unpleasant and demoralizing these incidents were they did not bring down her resolve to fight and maintain as normal a life as possible. She loved to go down to the library as well as drive out on the weekends. Annelee became a trusted confidant and she slowly came to accept Annelee‟s role in the care of some of her more intimate and personal problems. We had a kombi on a sort of permanent loan from a good friend. I was supposed to be paying a small amount each month against its purchase. More often than not I did not pay but this was never mentioned. Unfortunately it was not running well and I had to strip the engine and rebuild it. I did this in the time before Christmas and we were prevented from going out too much. Sharon‟s parents had given her an old Audi sometime before and she drove herself around locally, staying mobile until just after Christmas. Sharon liked to rest at least twice a day but found time to come and sit in the garage and watch me work. I put a garden chair in one corner and although she never stayed too long it was somehow nice to have her just sit there and talk about her painting or her latest visit to one of her friends. It was not always easy to know exactly what was going wrong with her; some of her problems were related to the drugs she was on, some to mysterious side effects of the cancer itself. She had an irritating rash on her arms and fingers that came and went as it pleased. The skin on the palms of her hands was dry and frequently cracked. She was often in pain despite the morphine and as Christmas approached had more and more trouble getting out of bed in the mornings or up from her lounge chair. Our dog, Jess, a bullmastiff, followed her around everywhere she went often getting under her feet. Sharon would bump into her and exclaim, “Oh get out of my way you stupid bloody dog!” Jess would amble off a few feet and collapse on the floor to watch her with sorrowful eyes. A little later Shar would reach out and touch her head and Jess would turn her face into the palm of her hand.

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Jess, our slow and gentle, huge and faithful friend, deserted us later, dying of cancer quite suddenly about two months after Sharon had died. The kids told me, “Mum can‟t take one of us to join her so she probably told God she wants her dog.” The staff at the clinic watched her progress carefully and gave Sharon anything and everything she needed. They gave her a walking aid with three legs which she would only use in the privacy of the house. “I‟m not some old and decrepit woman!” she said. In our area, through some quirk of fate, lived an old friend of Sharon‟s. Winifred and Sharon had worked together on an anti-abortion program for the church back in Klerksdorp where Sharon had first developed her breast tumor. They had also walked the streets of Klerksdorp collecting for the National Cancer Association in Tok-Tokkie collection drives. Winifred is a straight forward yet gentle person with a strong grip on her faith. As they were both Catholics they were able to share a fellowship which supported Sharon‟s new found hope. Winifred had already accompanied Sharon and myself to mass on one or two occasions and as I liked her and knew what she meant to Shar I invited her to come with us to midnight mass. We, as many millions of others around the world, cannot see Christmas as Christmas without midnight mass. Sharon wanted to go through to Kommetjie to attend the service at the Norbetine Monastery with Father S....... It would mean an hour‟s drive out and an hour back which was a lot for her but she was adamant. I gave in and agreed to take her. It was to be a long night; Sharon and I had, for over twenty years, come back from mass to fill stockings and put out presents only going to bed once the scene was set for the children‟s waking eyes. I knew that she would want to do everything as before and wondered how she would manage. At about 10.15 pm on Christmas eve Winifred arrived at the house and we left for Kommetjie. Sharon seemed strong but the evening had already been long. We arrived at the church a little after 11.00 pm and Sharon was already struggling but insisted that we stay. Father S....... understood her position immediately and offered her his bed to lie on until the service was to start. She lay on the bed in the dark and I sat beside her and just let my thoughts flow. I had no idea where we were going, this was surely the last Christmas we would be together, it seemed so important to do it as we had always done it. I thought back to other times, times when the dark side of life did not exist and there was so much power in just being ourselves. On the plot where we had lived when Sharon first became ill we had eaten a meal that had consisted of food from our own grounds. Aside from the Christmas pudding, which we bought, we had goose from our geese, potatoes, vegetables, mulberry pie, from the garden. Cream from our cow, wine which I had made from our grapes. How proud we had been! In South West Africa we had shown off to two young German friends of ours what an English Christmas was. We had eaten, laughed and drunk around a table laden with traditional Christmas fare. There had been so much in our life, such an abundance of love and care, so many good times.
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Now she was here to do homage to the birth of Christ in an old and traditional way. What would it mean to her next time around? Would she in fact have gone beyond its significance or perhaps found out it had no significance? What would it mean to us, to me, without her? I had no idea at all; it did not seem to be important. What was important was to do it right this time, to make sure that all of us had a memory to revive the next time and all the times to come. A memory we could bring out and view with pleasure saying, “This is what Christmas was when we were still together.” As the time for the service approached I roused myself and looked at her, she was asleep and at peace. I got up and checked on the others, they were all seated in one pew and had kept a space open for Sharon and myself. There was a side door close to where they were sitting and that was good as it gave her an easy exit if she had trouble. I went back and woke her up. She was tired and told me that she felt sick. She got up and we stood outside for a few minutes in the fresh air. We went in as the mass started. For me the mass ran its course without meaning. We sang the hymns that we always sing and took part in the responses as we always had but it was too bright and too public. Sharon was ill and her face gray. I stood and knelt and sat as required but my thoughts were confined by the knowledge that she was unable to participate as she had so desperately wanted to. During the sermon she touched my leg and I turned to her, her face was now white and she motioned to the door. I helped her rise and we went outside. She quickly moved to the edge of the garden and retched. She soon had nothing inside her and after the first and second heave expelled little more than spittle. She stepped back and sucked in breath. I gave her a handkerchief and she took it but motioned at the ground. “What is it?” I asked. “Cover it up.” She whispered, “Cover it with some dirt, I don‟t want anyone to see it.” “Are you O.K.?” I was worried that she would hurt herself if she threw up too violently. She nodded and said, “I‟m O.K. but I must sit down somewhere.” I helped her over to a low wall and she leant against it, half sitting. “Please Roger,” she pleaded, “Cover it up for me.” I went back and as best I could in the dark covered the little visible matter with dirt. After a while she stood up straight and we went back in. The second time was worse, she heaved and sobbed so violently I felt sure she would do herself harm. There was no way she would listen to me, “Angel why don‟t you come with me to Father‟s room and lie down for a bit. You are going to kill yourself.” She tried to smile and said, “I don‟t have to do that.” We went back inside but she was weak and held onto my arm until we reached the door when she let go and walked to her place unaided. The third time we had to go out, she staggered when she lifted her head after holding onto me tightly while she threw up nothing but sounds of torture. When she pulled herself together she finally told me, “Take me to the car.” “Why not lie down?” I pleaded.
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“No, I want to go to the car.” Slowly we made our way down the path to the parking lot and I helped her get in, putting the seat back so that she could half lie down. “Oh God, what am I going to do?” she asked. I knelt on the ground beside the car, the door open, “I don‟t know my love, I don‟t know what to say anymore.” She lay back and drew in a long breath. “I don‟t know how I am going to get through this. I am so tired, I don‟t know if I can fight anymore.” We stayed quiet for a while and then she squeezed my hand. “Go back and finish the mass, I will be fine but apologize to Father for me.” “No, I will just sit here,” I said, “I would rather wait here. The kids are with Winifred and they will come when the mass is over.” From her bag she took out a little box. She opened it and showed me a wooden set of rosary beads, “It‟s your Christmas present, I wanted Father to bless it but I can‟t face all the people anymore. Go back to the church and when mass is over ask Father to bless it for me. You were not supposed to see it, but I so much want it blessed for you. Will you do it for me Rog?” I took the rosary and went back just in time to see everyone pouring out of the church. Father was surrounded by people and I realized that it would take ages to get to see him. Brian came up to me, the others close behind him. My mother and youngest sister were also there and I told them all that Sharon was in the car. They moved off and I started towards the crowd of people surrounding Father S_______ but quickly saw that it was going to take too long. Suddenly all that was important was to get her home. I turned and followed the others back to the car. When I got there everyone was already inside and waiting for me. I got into the driver‟s seat and Sharon asked me, “Did he do it?” “Yes.” I replied and gave her the box. She nodded and put it away. “How are you feeling now?” I asked. “I am okay, I just want to get home.” It seemed to be a long way back and much of the drive was in silence. Sharon slept. When we arrived at the house everyone was tired. Sharon was pale and drawn, she went straight to bed. I apologized to Winifred for the way the evening had gone. It was only an apology for forms sake as I knew that Winifred did not need or expect one. She said as much and I knew that she meant it. For a little while she had shared a knowing with us. Now she too appreciated the extent of Sharon‟s illness. When I wished her the best of the season she hugged me tightly and I could feel that there was concern for all of us in her emotions. Once everyone had either left or gone to bed, Annelee and I packed the stockings and put out the presents. It was the early hours of the morning before I finally got to bed. I did not have much hope of a good Christmas ahead.

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Once in Beaufort West I ask directions and walk out of the other side of town to find the catholic priest, Father B...... He is very wary of me and immediately says that he cannot help me in anyway. I show him my letter of introduction from the Archbishop. He holds it out in front of him and reads it distastefully. “This means nothing to me. It can easily be a copy. Anyone can come here pretending to be something they are not with a copy of a letter.” “I am not pretending Father and that is not a copy, it is signed by the Archbishop.” Father looks at the signature closely, “this is definitely a copy.” I feel a little angry. It is about half past two in the afternoon and I have just walked here in the heat of the day. As I stand at the door, still in the sun, I am tired and irritated. “It is not a copy Father, if you turn it over you can see that the ink of the Archbishop‟s seal has soaked through the paper.” He turns the paper over and glances at the back. “Anybody can do this, I can do it on my own photo-copy machine.” I reach out for the paper and ask him, “Can I have it back? It is important to me.” He returns it and then to my surprise offers me a piece of cake. “Yes, thank you very much.” I quickly reply, “I would love a piece of cake.” Perhaps I am going to be able to go inside out of the sun after all. “Just wait here.” he says and disappears into the house, closing the door behind him. I contemplate walking away but cannot. I have nowhere to go and I do so enjoy the fellowship of the church. As long as there is some hope I will remain. When Father returns he has a very generous slab of chocolate cake. “I had some people here this morning and this was left over.” He tells me as he hands it over. I stand in the sun and eat it as he stands in the doorway and watches me. “I have stayed in several Catholic places.” I tell him. “Oh, and what places were those?” “I stayed with the Bishop in Pietersburg and I stayed at the Seminary in Hammanskraal.....” Father immediately interrupts, “That is not possible, the Seminary has been closed down.” “I know Father, they were busy packing the last of the furniture when I was there and only two priests were left.” He is adamant that I am wrong and says abruptly. “It has been closed for some time, it has been sold. It is not possible that you stayed there.” “I am not a liar Father. I have nothing to gain by telling you stories.” “I am not saying that you are lying, but the Seminary is closed and has been for a long time.” I cannot deal with this anymore and I ask him what time mass will be over the weekend. He tells me that the only service is at 6.00 pm on Saturday. “Do you mind if I attend?”
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“No of course not, why should I mind?” I shake my head and say good-bye, thanking him for the cake. I do not bother to ask if I can address the congregation. On my way back into town I pass the Beaufort West caravan park and decide I have little choice but to spend some money and book in. I have to have a reasonable base at which I can prepare for the last leg of the trip. A distance of 500km remains and the first 200 of them constitute the driest and hottest section that I will have to face. The distance I must do between Beaufort West and Laingsburg is also almost twice that of any single stretch that I have attempted so far. I must prepare properly, I cannot afford to fail now. I am able to hire a caravan for the reasonable sum of R25.00 per night and I move into comparative luxury. The great thing about this decision turns out to be the privacy. I am able to really relax and straighten out some of the kinks that constant involvement with strangers or total lack of companionship has created in my life. Once settled in I go into town and visit the Mayor‟s office. As usual no one really knows what I am all about but I do my part and pay my respects to the town. My gesture is received courteously enough. I leave the municipal offices and visit Albertus S....... He is happy to meet me and I am invited to attend the Rotarian‟s Friday lunch the next day. On my way back to the caravan park I buy some fresh meat, bacon, eggs, milk and rolls, etc. I also buy two bottles of beer. That evening I have a great meal and afterwards sleep like a baby. The next day I make bacon and eggs and coffee. I shower and arrange for someone to do my laundry. I walk over to the caretaker‟s residence to pay my respects and find an extremely courteous and pleasant character in the person of Lenore L....... She has no hesitation in offering me the use of the facilities and the caravan until Sunday, free of charge. Her open acceptance of what I am and empathy with what I am doing restores my faith in humanity. Aside from the luncheon date with the Rotarians I need to telephone all over the country to finalize arrangements for the last part of the walk. Publicity is still important but does not seem to have been made any easier by the now almost definite successful outcome. I take a chance and go to the Oasis Hotel. I ask for the manager and explain my circumstances to him. I ask him if I may use a telephone and run up an account, much as if I was a guest in his Hotel. He agrees and gives me the use of his facility at cost which is fortunate as the bill exceeds R100.00.

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FROM MY NOTES: 3/9 ...... Pixie L ..... Will arrange function at Groote Schuur. I must contact Julie of S.A.B.C. Alma S.......Left message will beat Pick„n Pay at 12.30 pm on 23rd September for Reception. Annelee ..... Pension is in bank she can pay rent etc. Klaus ....... No reply, fax machine only. Pat C ....... Will liaise functions Pick „n Pay and Groote Schuur. Julie S ..... Not available, phone tonight. Keith S ..... Will attend Pick „n Pay reception. Cancer Ass... Eileen not available phone Sally O..... tonight. Diana S ..... Sunday Times to liase with Alma S..... Barbara ..... Seems fine and positive. Will possibly drive out to meet me in Worcester.

The fact that I must co-ordinate the P.R.O. work is complicated by the difficulty I have in communicating easily. The ability to sit with my notes at a desk and just telephone allows me to initiate and finalize much that has been pending since I left Bloemfontein. Only one or two items are left to be clarified in the evening and I can do that from the public call box in the caravan park. Lunch goes off well and the Rotarians wish me Godspeed. I complete the shopping I must do for the walk and return to the park. It has not been an exciting day, but it has been an important one for the walk. The next day will be completely free and I can finalize preparations for the Karoo at my leisure. Later in the afternoon I am sitting on a bench outside the caravan when I receive a visitor. He is brought to me by a local Pastor. A man called Diemos. The car they arrive in pulls up outside the caravan and the first thing that draws my attention is a large cross tied to the roof rack of the car. The visitor introduces himself as Pieter V....... Pieter has made a point of looking me up because he is also walking. He walks from Cape Town to Beit Bridge carrying the cross that is now strapped to the roof of the car. I remember seeing a man on TV some years before that did the same thing and I was staggered by the difficulties involved. I struggle to achieve a quota of 25 to 30 km per day with just what I need to live. How does this man accomplish what he does as well as drag this very large cross along the road? However I soon find out that what he is doing is more a publicity campaign for the propagation of the gospel than a genuine physical trial. He has been donated a car as a backup vehicle and has an assistant who drives and generally helps with making the whole crusade possible. Pieter does not walk from town to town but rides in the car. Before he arrives he is off-loaded and starts his walk some way out of town. He walks into town dragging the cross and the next day walks out of town dragging the cross again. Once out of the public eye, the cross is strapped back onto the car and he drives on to the next town and his next public appearance. As he says, “Why must I carry the cross in the middle of nothing?
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Nobody is there to see me, so what is the point? I carry the cross where people can see and hear the message.” The three of us talk easily, we have much in common. We discuss shoes, chafing and the heat. Eventually Pieter learns that I am a catholic and despite this or perhaps because of it invites me to attend a service he is holding that night. Pastor Diemos suggests that I join him and his family for supper afterwards. I never pass up an opportunity to see any of life‟s different facets, so I happily agree. I have heard the word charismatic and I had believed that I understood what it meant. This night it is to be defined and underlined for me. We arrive at a small drab building in the middle of an extremely squalid township and find some people already waiting outside for us. When the service eventually starts Pieter is disappointed with the attendance. I estimate that there must be at least a hundred people in the small hall. The service is not charismatic, it is chaotic. The preacher is perhaps charismatic and he somehow rides the wave of enthusiasm much as a surfer does. The power that he harnesses is wild and sweeping but he stays on top by virtue of his control and skill. Musical accompaniment is provided by an old man on a piano accordion. He plays well on his own but he is assisted by a teenager with an electric guitar from which the youngster plucks dubious music with a wooden toothpick. The service starts with a member of the congregation opening in prayer. Then continues with the singing of a series of hymns which I am not able to recognise because of the unprecedented assault on my ears by a volume of sound that sweeps all lyrics and melody before it like a tidal wave. The two musicians seem to love it and I can see them pumping and plucking away although I cannot hear them too well. The congregation works its way steadily into a state of almost frenzy, waving their hands above their heads or clapping rapidly at every half beat. The involvement and euphoria is total; eyes closed, feet lifting in rhythm and bodies swaying. This continues for some time and I notice that the pastor who leads this trip into religious ecstasy is at all times aware. He constantly asses the commitment of the people and the extent of his control. There is something else which is strange; sometimes in the middle of this total abandonment to the spiritual someone will just stop, look around and then stroll outside for a few minutes as if nothing was happening at all. When they return they go straight back into their state as if they had never left. At a time that Pastor thinks is appropriate I am introduced and asked to say a few words. I do my best but although supported by a few “Amens” and “Thank you Jesus,” never even come close to providing the avenue of enthusiasm that is expected of me. After I have finished it is the turn of Pastor Pieter. He stands up and looks slowly around the hall. Everyone is quiet and the silence carries a heavy expectancy. We all know that here we have a preacher. Pieter V__ ____ is a large and powerful man. He is definitely charismatic. His face is tanned brown and framed by a full black beard. He has thick long black hair. He looks at once both strong enough to carry a cross anywhere he chooses and
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yet too well cared for to do it for any length of time. He makes use of an instinctive understanding of human failings and his forceful character to drag out of the audience people who have recently undergone some trauma or other. He stops in the middle of what he is saying and closes his eyes. “I can feel the pain,” he says and opens his eyes, sweeping the hall with them. “Someone here has grief in their heart and I can feel it like a knife cutting me deeply. Is it you sister? Or you brother? Wait...it is a family problem, a conflict. Is there a person in this hall that is thinking of leaving her husband?” A moan escapes someone at the back of the hall and he cries out, “Yes! I knew it. Come up here sister. Do not be ashamed. Come up here and the Lord will hear you.” A woman stumbles forward and pours out her tale of woe. Pieter puts his hands on her head and prays. As he shouts out, “Feel the Lord sister, feel his power...” she faints and he catches her, holding her until someone comes up to take her back to her seat. So it goes on and the congregation is held enthralled by the power of this man. As the service draws to a close a time of prayer is called. There is an immediate response, not only from those that go forward to receive the blessing but from a small group of people who have seen it all before. Their job is to stand behind the one being prayed over....... Again and again, as Pieter prays and lays his hands on the recipient, the force of the moment is too great and they fall to the floor in a trance. The little group catches the fainting person and lowers him or her to the floor. If it is a woman her legs are straightened and her skirt tucked modestly around them. The person lies for a while as the team moves on to catch the next one. After a short while they rise and are led back to their seats. At one stage there are upwards of a dozen people prostrate on the floor. We close the service with a long prayer which is in fact a series of short statements to which the congregation replies “Amen”, “Thank you Jesus” or “Yes Jesus”, “Praise the Lord” and so on. For me the experience has been disturbing in its show of power over an entire group of people. I am thankful that the power did not touch me, not because I disapprove, but because I somehow feel that my religious commitment should be an act of rational will and not an uncontrolled surrender to emotion. Outside in the cool night Pieter asks me if I enjoyed the service and I tell him that I am amazed. I ask him, “Are you not frightened by the power you hold?” He is puzzled, “What do you mean?” “This power, this ability to sway people‟s opinions and lead them, don‟t you sometimes worry that you could make a mistake and mislead them?” He is even more perplexed, “That is not possible, I am doing the Lord‟s work. It is he that leads them through me.” “It is an incredible gift,” I reply, “You have a great power.” Pastor Diemos has a fine family and I really enjoy supper. The food is tasty and there is some hot mango Atchar which lifts the skin off my tongue. I normally only eat like this when my family is invited to Barbara‟s house where she prepares similar spicy fare. It is the kind of food I have not had for a long time and fits my
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taste perfectly. His two children, bath-fresh and scrubbed, come in shyly to say goodnight. As I sit there, in this kitchen of this outwardly poor but truly rich home, I miss my own home, my family and my friends. I have been accepted and feted by everyone I have met. But I have not been able to sit back and share with someone who knows me well, all that I have seen and done. When Pieter drops me back at my caravan he tells me that he is leaving the city hall at 9.00 am the next day and asks if I will come down and see him off. I am only too glad to, I like him. The turnout is poor and Pieter is too casual about not caring. The Deputy Mayor is there complete with chain of office and Pieter is invited in to tea. I am asked in as an afterthought. Pieter is given a message of peace to hand to the Mayor of the next town when he arrives there. After the ceremony is over Pieter sets off down the road followed by a small group of coloured people, singing hymns and clapping. People stop and stare, the cars slow down and it is quite an occasion. I am sorry but I drop out. I cannot pretend to be part of something that is not me. It seems somehow too personal a thing, belonging to those people that have chosen a way to give their life meaning that does nothing for me. I cannot help but feel an empathy with what he is trying to do and say in my heart, “So Pastor Pieter, your message has great value and it is in fact very close to mine. But it touches another walk of life in which there is no place for me. Your powerful ministry is a great responsibility indeed. It is one that would be too great for me to bear. In the place that the Lord has given you, you are what you must be. I respect you and wish you well.”

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CHAPTER 21

It was in fact a very real Christmas. When we woke up, Sharon and I could hear the laughs and giggles in the rest of the house. Our Christmas routine requires that Mum and Dad are left to sleep in peace until they have had their fair share of rest. The presents are not touched until Mum in her gown and Dad in a pair of shorts, deign to emerge and plonk themselves down in the lounge. The stockings are there to keep children occupied until this late morning appearance occurs. Stockings then are the only source of amusement and food until sometimes 10.00 pm or later. This year we only managed to ignore the noise until about 9.30 and that was mainly due to the ruckus created by our grandchild, Troy, who was not yet aware that there were any rules. Sharon had recovered to a large extent and was almost her old self as presents were opened, electric toys set in motion, perfumes were sprayed and sniffed and little hoards of new possessions grew around their owner‟s excited feet. Sharon gave me the rosary and it was blessed by her desire. We set up a table in the middle of the lounge and the meal was as festive as any Christmas we had ever had. No one expected Sharon to eat a great deal but all in all she did well. I was able to relax and enjoy the day, putting the fears of the previous night on hold somewhere. On Boxing Day we let the time slip by as we did the day after. It was soon the New Year. The world was just becoming almost O.K. when we had to face the fact that she was still in pain, still vomiting and still needed the clinic and its slow tracking of her physical deterioration. Sharon shrugged off the festive cloak which we had all hidden behind for a few short days and we went back to normal. It became steadily more uncomfortable for her to lift herself out of a chair and also sometimes just to walk. There came a time when she decided that she could not drive the car anymore. It was a big decision to make as it took away much of her independence. Something that she had valued so highly. But it was her decision and taken without fuss or anguish. At the clinic they suggested a corset and we went through all the paperwork and fitting process to have it made. Her deterioration was now so fast that the initial idea was to have it support her standing, but by the time she went for the fitting some ten days later, it was decided that it should be for sitting. During this period she was advised to use a wheelchair. A bone scan and a set of x-rays had revealed a major lesion in the upper thigh bone of her left leg. I could see it clearly on the x-ray, a discolored patch about the size of a 50c piece. Dr. B...... was very concerned. “If this breaks....,” she told us, “It will never heal and you could be bedridden completely.” The wheelchair was provided by the Hospice, as was a small stool fitted with a bedpan for beside her bed.
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“Sharon must not use the leg unless absolutely necessary. Use the wheelchair, use the bedpan, don‟t take chances.” Radiotherapy treatment was prescribed and she started the course immediately. The kombi came into its own. I made a wooden ramp which enabled me to wheel her up into it and down out of it. Sharon‟s mother was with us again and found it difficult not to interfere. Sharon wanted to live and her Mum wanted her to live. The difference was that Sharon wanted to live now and her Mum wanted her to live tomorrow. Sharon wanted to bath and go for walks. Sharon‟s Mum could not accept the risks. But she was tied by respect for her daughter‟s courage and had to stand by helplessly as Sharon and I negotiated kerbs and ramps with the wheelchair or got Sharon in and out of the bath. Sharon‟s body was in pain and very, very fragile but her body was not in control, she was, and she was alive. She had no intention of hiding herself away or protecting herself from a normal life. Sharon‟s mother went back home for a while and the treatment came to an end. Life was much as it had been before. Just a little closer to the end that we all accepted but ignored. We were tired, all of us. The children and myself were frightened sometimes by the violence of our reactions to little things that went wrong. Out of respect and an understanding for what we were all going through we had to allow each other the opportunity to be angry. If it was me that was ranting and raving the children would fall silent and let me play out my emotions until I was finished. If they fought with each other, we would stand back and give the antagonists time and space to shout and cry as much as they needed. Sometimes we even laughed at what we were doing. My favorite hobby horse was the cleaning of the house. “I will not have this!” became a stock phrase for me. I would stand in the middle of the lounge and call them in. “Get in here all of you. I am not coming home from work and walking into a mess like this. You will keep this place clean. You will pick up after yourselves.” “This place is like a bloody pigsty!” “Where the hell do you kids get this from?” “I won‟t have it. When your mother comes down that passage or through the door this place will be spotless! Spotless! Do you understand?” I did not realize what sort of picture I presented until one day during a particularly vitriolic attack on who and what they all were, Troy, my two and a half year old grandson suddenly stood in front of me and started to wave his hands up and down. “Wa Wa Wa,” he shouted at me, “Wa Wa Wa.” It caught me so by surprise that at first I tried to ignore him. As I went on, so did he. Then I stopped and said to him sternly “Troy, stop it!” But he ignored me and carried on, arms waving and with a ferocious grimace on his face, “Wa Wa Wa...” I looked up in time to see Brian trying to hide a smile. Annelee was openly grinning at me. We all started to laugh and my tantrums were at an end.
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Troy was so pleased with the success of his act that whenever I even looked like getting started he would run up and wave his arms around, Wa-wa-ing as if his life depended on it. Generally we were happy. We were really doing this thing together. Sharon and I were perhaps closer than we had ever been before and had found new respect for each other. I for her, because I always believed that I was the rock in the family, believed that I was the one that would stand as the pillar around which my family gathered for support. But it was in Sharon that we found real strength. Steel that did not bend or give way but held true in the face of terrible onslaught. Her pride and rigid adherence to maintaining her image of herself was something that all of us appreciated. It was only I that knew how bare that frame had been stripped. I still doubt today that my basic strength is as secure as hers was. Her respect for me was based on a simpler thing. It was based on my acceptance of her leadership in the course of her disease. She had always allowed me the traditional role in the family and was pleased that I was able to recognise and stand back from her control of this personal but still very much a family issue. Despite the pressures that my children operated under they were able to maintain their lives. Brian sold his vacuum cleaners, Annelee and Carol worked at their restaurant, Diana studied hard and played hard at school. All of us were content that Mum was doing fine, that the worst event of all; her death, was acceptable for her and therefore for us, at some undetermined time in the future. The human individual has an ability which if viewed from one aspect is of great advantage. The benefit of this ability, which enables us to ignore the most critical and obvious warnings of life, is that it allows us to continue to live everyday events whilst those that we cannot face are shelved for a later time. However this ability does hide reality and when that reality comes upon you it seems too sudden. It seems unfair, as if it had deliberately waited for an unexpected moment. That time always comes and when it does it seems cruel and unbidden. Without warning and in the space of a heartbeat Sharon was taken from an already difficult and consistent struggle to a headlong rush down the remaining course of her life. When I left for work that morning I walked out of the bedroom and left behind a warm and sleepy woman who had kissed me good-bye through a haze of comfort and dreams. Annelee was not yet awake and the house was quiet behind me as I shut the door. Sometime before I had made a decision to go to work in the kombi rather than catch the bus as I usually did. Despite the fact that this deprived those at home of transport that they could use to move Sharon and her wheelchair, I was not prepared to find myself needed and without any way of reaching her quickly.
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“I am only a phone call away and can be at home in ten minutes. If something goes wrong there is no way that I am going to sit at work waiting to be picked up or trying to catch a bus. If Mum has a problem, I am the one that needs to be with her first, not the doctors, not an ambulance, not anybody else. Only me. Then I will deal with it and make the decisions as to where or how it will go.” This was not as irresponsible as it seemed, I had spent many years underground as a member of the rescue team and had first aid experience in traumatic situations where people‟s lives had depended on quick and effective action. I had little faith in a situation under the control of anyone and everyone that casually got involved. If something went wrong I wanted to be the one calling the shots. At about 9.30 am that morning the phone call came. Annelee‟s voice was tight with control, “Dad, Mum has hurt herself.”

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My Friday night in Beaufort West had been one of wild worship. Saturday evening at Mass is a total contrast. I think Father B...... is in a strange way pleased to see me there. As I am alone in the church he comes across and speaks to me, asking how I am managing. Inside a little voice keeps saying to me, “Ask him if you can speak” but I do not have the courage. The mass starts with possibly twelve or fifteen people in church. I notice that although the building is beautiful it is in a state of disrepair. There are no flowers and few candles. The statue of Mary looks down at the congregation, small as it is, in sad wisdom. In the middle of the sermon Father is interrupted by one of the congregation and what he is saying contradicted. He handles the situation with grace, apologizing in advance if he was wrong. The whole thing is a dismal affair but somehow remains spiritual in comparison with the totally human service the night before. The church is beautiful in its neglected state and has fine acoustics. Someone has a lovely voice and the familiar hymns are pleasingly rendered. I appreciate the old ways simply because they are familiar and safe, therefore right in my eyes. When I get back to the park I set out and pack my provisions. Tomorrow is the start of the big one. If I can get through it, I am virtually assured of success. I cannot help but believe that I will be fine. I have, in the last 1500km, proved not only my own abilities but also God‟s care. There is no possibility, in my human understanding of what has gone before, of his withdrawal now. The next 200km are there to be walked and I believe that it is my place to walk them. The last few days have been good for me. I have not had to worry about being a good guest but have been able to slop around in slippers and shorts, scratch myself, drink beer at six-o-clock in the morning and generally relax. It has cost me some
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money but I feel strong and well fed. The owners have really done me a good turn by their hospitality. Their caravan park is well run, clean and pleasant. My diet is back to its original organized state. Each day has been sorted out and packed separately. The contents of a day pack are as follows:

Breakfast;

3 heaped tablespoons Kreemy Meal. 2 dried peaches and 3 dried prunes. 2 cups of coffee and 1 rusk.

11.00 am Snack; 2 pieces dried wors 1 Cadbury snacker 2 rations of Game (cold drink) Lunch; 2 bran biscuits 1 cup-a-soup. (Royco Supreme) 2 pieces of dried wors 1 Bar One or Mars bar 1/2 Packet Shogun noodles 1 Cup-o-soup (added to noodles) 1/3 Packet of Toppers 1 cup of coffee and 3 rusks.

Supper;

In addition to the above I have 1 packet of Game powder to mix with my drinking water each day. 1 multi-vitamin tablet and 1 Sylvasun tablet per day. My medicine box includes Prep for the chafing between my legs and for easing my feet. There is also an assortment of plasters, Paraffin gauze, sterile dressing and two crepe bandages. I have pills for diarrhea, muscle cramps and rheumatism. A large tube of Savlon, a pair of scissors and a sewing kit more or less complete the contents of my kit. Elsewhere in the pack are two small cylinders of Gaz, matches, a torch and my cooking utensils. I pack away everything including all the clothes except those I will wear the next day. In the morning I need only to shower and dress and I will be on my way. I leave the caravan park just after 9.00 am and set out into the already hot and silent countryside. It takes some time to leave the town behind as Beaufort West has strung out its coloured and industrial communities along the road. It is quiet and few people see me leave. Before I leave the signs of civilization behind I have to stop and explain what I am doing to a small car that stops by me on the outskirts of town. They remember me from the TV program and they stop to offer me cold drink and food. This is not necessary as I have only just left town, but they want to chat, so we chat. I talk of the care that has been evident from all races in the country and the woman agrees.
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“If we only try I am sure that we can all live together very happily in this country,” She says. Then she adds the rider; “Of course I am sure God does not want us to marry them or anything like that, but we can all be friends.” I walk on. It is sad to think that some people have to believe that they are in some way more select than others. The protection of their way of life has to be artificially maintained because it cannot survive on its own merits. I pass some hikers; they are tourists from Germany and find the middle morning heat almost too much. They do not actually walk but hitch-hike. I can see that they think I am a little weird. Perhaps touched by the sun that they are complaining about. The pack is heavy. It clings to my back like a growth and threatens to drag me down onto my knees. I have no option but to bear it. The weight should diminish over the next few days bringing it to normal at about the half-way mark. The country is real textbook Karoo; the overall impression is one of rocks and dull, beige dirt. The scrub has little colour and what there is, has been reduced by a film of brown dust. Most of the bushes are well below knee height and even now, in the first week of spring, look as if they have been dead for years. The heat underfoot is terrific and comes up through the soles of my shoes. My old blister spots are sore and I am worried. The weight of the pack could re-start all the old problems. I console myself with the thought that I am personally lighter, fitter and stronger than I have ever been. The last time I weighed myself I was 73kg, some 12kg lighter than when I started the walk. I end the day at 5.30 pm and camp in a good culvert just past an obviously rich farm. In the middle of a parched land there are trees, outbuildings and grass lands. There are huge sprinklers crossing fields of green. It is late afternoon and the sun reflects off the fine spray that hangs almost cloudlike in the heat. The farm buildings are extensive and well kept. They look secure and friendly. For me it will be the first night on a concrete floor for three days and I am not looking forward to it. However one day and 30km is in the bag and that is great. I mark my diary *IDKD * which means, One dead Karoo day. I sleep well except for the animal life. A centipede tries to crawl into bed with me. An act of such mutual shock for the two of us, that I cannot get out of my sleeping bag fast enough, whilst the centipede immediately whips into a tightly curled and heavily armored ball. Some time later a field mouse scurries by the end of my nose only to turn and scurry back a few minutes later. Halfway down the culvert a pair of birds is nesting and they become particularly active very early in the morning. I am on the road early the next day and glad to be able to put in some kilometers before the heat picks up. At about 11.00 am a Kombi pulls up ahead of me and turns back. In it are three ladies. One of whom I assume to be the grandmother, one the mother and the other the daughter. They want to give me a lift and when I explain what I am doing the grandmother burst into tears. “I am sorry,” she cries, “but he touches my heart so.” My feet are particularly sore, probably because of the heat in the road more than anything else. I was so sure of myself in Beaufort West that I did not buy
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stockings. I will be passing Leeu-Gamka tomorrow and if I am lucky I will possibly find a general dealer at which I can get a few pairs. I pass by a windmill and see an old man filling his water bottle there. His bicycle is leaning against the fence and he eyes me suspiciously as I approach. I ask him to fill my water bottles and I am spared the necessity of climbing over the fence myself. He tells me that he is on his way to Prince Albert and we part company. I walk well into the midday heat and I am stopped just before lunch by the owner of the farm that so entranced me the night before. He tells me that he is sorry that he did not see me yesterday as he had heard of me and had hoped that I would spend the night at his house. His wife has suffered from cancer and they have been through a difficult time. We discuss the heat and he tells me that it is bad for this time of year. The area has had drought conditions for over four years and he cannot continue to farm for very much longer unless the situation changes. From where we stand the country is desolate. The road stretches backwards to shimmering horizons and there is not a living creature in sight except the two of us standing alone and high, above the coarse scrub at our feet. No wind stirs the air and I can feel the sweat trickling down the sides of my face and other places on my body. When he leaves I watch the bakkie disappear and then turn to plod on to Capetown. I am fortunate for I soon find a large culvert with plenty of shade in which I can rest for the afternoon. I eat, then mend some of my clothes. My underpants are jockey shorts and very necessary as briefs cause agonizing chafing between my legs. I have only three pairs left and they require constant attention to keep them serviceable. Late afternoon comes all too soon and I move on. I have done the daily 30km by 5.30 pm and arrive at a large resting place with a windmill and large reservoir. As I approach I am keen to strip off and sponge myself down. Despite the sun block and vitamin A that I use constantly I am burnt. I feel hot and uncomfortable, but my plans for a bath are upset as I catch a glimpse of movement. At first I cannot be certain that it is significant but then I see it again… Someone is there. Someone who is on foot, as there are no cars or trucks anywhere to be seen. When I arrive at the windmill I can see no one. I look around carefully and find some tracks and some spilled water on the ground near the reservoir. In this heat it can only be fresh. What worries me is the fact that whoever it is has gone into hiding. I decide not to risk camping or even washing. I fill up my water bottles and move on. Not more than 200 meters down the road I look over the top of a culvert to check its suitability as a sleeping place and find the missing man. It is the old man who filled my bottles that morning. He is bent over lighting a fire, his few meager possessions spread out beside him and his bicycle propped against the wall of the culvert. I do not want company so I do not greet him but pull back and walk on. After I have found another spot, I set up my bed and prepare food. I sit for a while and think about why I am uncomfortable with myself. I feel guilty that I have avoided the old man. I do not want to share with him although I am sure that he would share with me. It is all right to be loudmouthed about sharing with your brother but reality is not always that simple. The only justification I can find is
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that even if it was a white man I would feel the same. If he had been a young man, maybe I would have been glad of the company. Where do you draw the line? Where does discrimination end? There are so many differences we need to bridge; Age, gender, culture, taste....... the list is endless. I am glad to lie down on my bed. This Karoo is tough, the road is hot under your feet, the sun literally beats down on you and 30km feels like 40. I will be pleased when it is over. * 2 DKD * I have a reasonable night but dream of Sharon. For the first time I see her clearly and in full view. I dream that I have just returned from somewhere and walk into our house and down the passage. It is cool and dark. Sharon emerges from the bedroom naked. She is beautiful and just as she was when she was alive. She is covered in paintings of flowers done in pastel colours with simple brush strokes, much like oriental art. “Who did this?” I ask, but she cannot answer directly. It is this person and then it is that one. She stops and seems bemused by the problem. A while later I am looking for my pack as I know I must walk. I ask the kids, “Where is your mother?” They tell me that she is in the bath washing off the flowers. “She told us you didn‟t like them.” I find myself back in the wilds but there is fruit everywhere and rocky caves. Water flows from under bushes and trees. “It is dangerous here.” I think and glimpse a huge white lion slip behind some rocks. His tail twitches once, twice before he disappears. Sharon‟s voice calls out to me, “Take the fruit, you need more fruit.” I pack some, I do not remember what, into my bag and hoist the bag to my back. I awake with a severe headache. I lie for a while trying to orientate myself but feel tense and shaky, the dream was very real. The morning is warm and for the first time I can walk around in shorts only. My gas cylinder has run out so I am using the spare. I have no back-up which is not good. I feel uncomfortable and I am glad when I am on the road and walking. At about 9.30 am a truck pulls up on the side of the road and the driver gets down. In his hand he has two bright red apples and a golden orange. “I thought you might like some fruit.” He says. The whole morning seems strange and unbelievable. My flesh crawls and for a second I can say nothing to him. The dream has shaken me and although I am always skeptical about seemingly meaningful co-incidence, I am frightened by the fruit.

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CHAPTER 22

As soon as Annelee spoke I knew in my heart that this was it. What we had all feared was here. “What has happened Anny?” “I don‟t know what she‟s done but I think she‟s broken her leg.” “Where is she now?” “She‟s lying on the floor in the toilet, all in a heap, she can‟t get up and when I try to move her, she screams......Dad, I told her to wait for me to help her get in the chair, but she won‟t listen. She just doesn‟t listen!” “Anny this is what you must do; first, before anything else, you must get her as comfortable as you can. Don‟t move her anymore than you have to, but calm her down and explain to her that I am coming. When she is listening, get her to help you, make sure that her weight is on her bottom and see if you can get her legs to lie free but don‟t move anything more than she will let you. Don‟t argue with her or upset her. Try to just hold things as best you can, just to allow me to get home.” “Yes, Dad.” “Annelee wait, don‟t hang up. After you have done that, phone the clinic and speak to Dr. B........ or Dr. G.......... and tell them what has happened. Tell them that I will bring her to the clinic........ Have you got that Anny?” She was crying and I told her I would be there. She must just do what I said and before she knew it I would be there. I spoke only to Klaus and then ran. I ran to the lift, out of the lift, through the Golden Acre Shopping Mall, up the escalators to the parking area where the kombi stood. I hit the streets with my foot flat on the accelerator. As I went down Marine Drive the kombi reached speeds that I had not realised it was capable of. Six minutes after I had put the phone down I was at home. Annelee met me at the door and said, “I can‟t move her Dad. She‟s too heavy.” When I got to the toilet Sharon was sitting, one leg still folded under her and one out in front. She was leaning against the wall and there was little space to move in. I knelt down in front of her and took her face in my hands, “I am here, my angel, it‟s going to be O.K. now.” She grimaced and bit her lip. “I can‟t move Roger, it hurts so if I move.” “Anny and I have to get you into the wheelchair, Shar. You must understand that someone is going to move you and I want it to be me. Will you let me try, my love? Just let me try. I will hurt you but I will be as gentle as I can.” She nodded. “Now I don‟t want you to do anything, I just want you to relax. I will take your weight and Anny will move your leg.” “Anny I want you to take hold of her foot and when I lift her you pull her leg out and pull it straight with her toes up. Put one hand under her ankle and one under

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her leg and pull firmly towards you then turn her foot with the toes up. Have you got that?” Annelee looked frightened but said, “Yes O.K.” I stepped over and stood behind her, one leg either side of the toilet bowl. I reached down and gripped her as best I could under her arms. “God give me strength,” I prayed and said out loud, “Are we all ready?” I pulled upwards and lifted her clean off the floor until her bottom was level with the toilet seat and I was upright. “Now! Annelee,” I gasped. Anny did what she had to very well but Sharon could not help but to scream out once in agony and then she was quiet. As Anny kept up the support I lowered Sharon back to the floor. We all took a breath and I told Anny, “Get the wheelchair.” I sat down on the toilet seat and Sharon leant back against my legs. I stroked her cheeks and kissed the top of her head. “Roger its sore, it‟s so sore,” she sobbed. “I know my love,” I whispered to her, “I know.” It was by no means over, Annelee brought the wheelchair and I realised that Sharon was facing in the wrong direction. The two of us had to get her to her feet and turn her around before we could lower her into the chair. It was not easy for us and it was a time of intense pain for her. Even wheeling her out to the kombi was an exercise of slow and studied maneuvering, Anny pushing whilst I carefully lowered the front wheels down steps or across ridges. Finally she was securely fixed in the kombi and I drove slowly and carefully to the Hospital. As I pulled up in front of the clinic it was obvious that this was not the place to unload her. I stopped and told Annelee, “Get out here and go up to the clinic. Tell them we are here. I am going round to the casualty because I can get help to unload her there.” I turned to Sharon, who was sitting, white as a sheet, her eyes huge and full of pain, “Just a few minutes, Shar. I need some muscle to help lift you out of the car.” I drove around to Casualty and stopped the kombi at the entrance. I got out and spoke to two security men who came to the kombi as I pulled up. “I need help to get my wife out of the car.” I said. They called to an ambulance officer and he asked if she could walk. “No, I replied, she‟s broken her leg and I want us to pick up the wheelchair as it is and lift it down.” “We can‟t do that,” the ambulance officer told me, “She must be put on to a stretcher.” “You are not to move her until the doctors have seen her.” I told him. He looked at me and said. “Don‟t worry man, it will be fine. I will bring a stretcher and we will put her on it with no trouble at all.” “No you bloody well won‟t.” I said and closed the kombi door. I went round to the front and got in. “Where are you going to take her?” he shouted after me but I ignored him. I went back to the clinic and parked the kombi.

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Inside, I ran down the corridor to the porter‟s office and asked two of them to help me. I didn‟t mention a broken leg, only that I wanted her taken out of the car. Without any fuss or bother she was lifted out by the three of us and I wheeled her into the lift and took her up to the clinic. Dr. B........ met us and ushered us quickly into a consulting room. Sharon was examined and questioned but she was in pain and kept withdrawing into herself. She gripped my hand tightly and said to me, “I have really done it now Rog, I have really done it, haven‟t I?” I tried to reassure her, “It‟s not necessarily so bad Angel, maybe they can fix it up for you, but I think you will have to get used to a wheelchair for a while.” Dr. B.......... came across to me and said, “We have organised a private room in the ward for her and we will obviously have to take x-rays. She must be moved from the chair onto a stretcher bed.” I was relieved that she was now in the right hands, “That‟s fine, I understand that she must be moved. It‟s O.K. now that she is here where there are people who know exactly what is wrong.” She smiled at me and patted my arm, “You can supervise everything you feel you need to, we trust you too you know.” Once again, despite the care and assistance of at least four others she had to undergo the wrenching agony of being shifted. She did not scream this time but could not help saying over and over “Oh God, oh my God.” softly to herself. Once on her back and resting it was easier and a porter and myself wheeled her off across the hospital to the x-ray department. The x-ray section is staffed by young girls, always cheerful, always strong and pretty. Most of them are Indian and many have the long luxuriant black hair which is so beautiful. The two that helped me with Sharon were just such girls. At first they wanted me to wait outside but I shook my head, “She goes nowhere that I don‟t go!” I told them. The one started to say something, then smiled at me and shrugged her shoulders at the other one. We wheeled Sharon into the X-ray room and by a process of, “We want to do this and we want to do that…” Whilst I refused or helped we eventually managed to get the pictures they needed. Sharon was tired and kept dozing off. I did not know whether she had been given anything or not, but she seemed a lot more at ease. We got back to the clinic and she was wheeled in to lie beside the wall of the passage. I sat down beside her and she laid quietly, her eyes closed. Her folder with the X-rays was put onto a table at the end of the passage. I will never forget the following few moments. The scene is painted onto the walls of my memory and will remain there forever. Dr. B.... came out of one of the consulting rooms and walked across to the table. She picked up the X-rays and held one of them up to the light. Slowly she put it down on the table and stared at it. Between us were people, some sitting, waiting, others moving down, in or out of the passage.

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She turned and looked at me. Across the heads of everyone I could see the truth written all over her face. She slowly shook her head and there was no doubt what she meant. It was over, the time we had all relegated to the future had arrived. I put my head down in my hands and cried out in anguish somewhere deep inside. Later that afternoon Sharon was taken to the ward and I left her to go back and talk to Dr. G...... and Dr. B......... “It is a bad fracture at the place where the cancer has weakened the bone. The bone is very brittle and Sharon must wait for an examination by a surgeon. We need expert advice on what to do.” Dr B.......... interrupted to say, “The shock of an operation might be too much for her, Mr. Russell. Even for somebody with Sharon‟s will it could just be more than she could handle. We need to be careful about how we go from here.” Dr G.......... continued, “We will stabilise her situation and make her as comfortable as possible. We will increase her morphine and give her other pain killers so that she does not have to suffer. The doctor that we want to see her is at a conference but he should be available tomorrow. You are going to have to be patient. We both want you to know that we care for your wife very much and we will not allow or do anything that is not to her benefit.” I asked if I would be allowed to stay with her as much as possible. Dr B.......... said, “As much as you like. F7 is a special ward and the staff understands the problems of their patients. They will not turn you out.” I went home to tell the children and phone all those that needed to know. I ate, washed and changed and went back to the Hospital. Sharon looked up at me from the pillow and smiled. “Hi sweetheart,” I whispered and bent down to kiss her. “How are you doing?” “I‟m fine, but still a bit sore.......... and so tired, I just want to sleep all the time.” “Do you know what is happening?” She nodded, “Dr. B......... came up to see me and told me that a surgeon would be seeing me tomorrow. That they don‟t know what a surgeon would be able to do to put the bones together again. She says that the bone is badly affected by the cancer and it will never grow together normally.” “Did they say anything about not operating at all?” Her eyes widened as the implications of what I had said sank in. She shook her head. I took a breath and said, “The operation might be too great a shock to your system, they think that if you are weak you might not survive and even if you do, you might never walk again. The big question is whether or not the operation is going to help you get better or make you worse.” I paused, “This is bad news my love, this is going to be a difficult one for even you to get over.” She turned her head away and spoke to the window, “I have really tried hard to understand. I know that if God wants me to die I must die, but why do I have to go through all this. They told me just now to ring for a bedpan if I need one. I hate bedpans, I can‟t stand the idea of all the things that this is going to mean I can‟t do for myself. God knows what is so important to me, why does he pick on those very things to make me suffer. I never in all my life did anything to make him punish me like this.”
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I replied, “I am just a human being, my darling. I don‟t know why. I just believe that it must be right, and I know one thing with all my heart, I love you and I am ordinary and stupid. God is God, he must love you as I could never love you. I believe totally that this would never happen if it did not absolutely have to.” We sat quietly for a few minutes and she said, “I can do whatever He wants me to do. I know in my heart that it will be O.K. in the end. I know that it will be over and all the trouble will be finished soon. I just don‟t want it to happen at all. Sometimes I really feel that I am being looked after and then something goes wrong and I look around everywhere and there is absolutely no one. I am alone and I get frightened. There is nowhere for me to go and no indication of why I am even here. Then it seems so hopeless, so lonely, so terribly lonely. I am so glad that I have you. I could not stand it if I didn‟t have you.” She held my hand tightly until I could feel my fingers going to sleep. In the distance I heard a familiar voice say, “Where‟s Granny? Where is my Granny?” Troy and the rest of the family had arrived.

*

*

*

*

I reach Leeu-Gamka at about 12.00 am and my decision to discount it as a viable stopping place is justified, there is virtually nothing here except a small general dealer and a hotel. I manage to get some stockings and buy lunch. Lunch being a packet of hot chips and a litre of milk. I have a wash at a garage on the outside of town and take myself and my lunch 3km down the road before stopping. While I am resting I stitch a flap onto my bush hat as the back of my neck is taking a beating from the sun. By the end of the day I have only managed 25km. My shoulders and back ache, the straps of my pack feel too tight. The pack is still heavy and the heat is intense. My feet are sore but all right, although my Achilles tendons ache constantly. During the day I was cheered by the sight of real mountains. They could only have been the Groote Swartberge. They stood across the plain from left to right and proclaimed, “Here we are and close by is the coast.” Now they have disappeared below the horizon and I could just as well still be outside Colesburg or some place far away. The night sky is stunning, the stars magnificent. It is no wonder that the ancients were so sure that the Gods lived there. * 3DKD * During the night I awake to voices. Back and forth two people argue and answer each other. They are not angry but loud. The language is Xhosa so I can understand nothing. In the culvert it is very black and I cannot make out anything recognisable at the opening. I lie still and wait. After a while the voices start to fade and I know the couple is moving on. I hear no car but soon everything is quiet again. I go back to sleep.

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In the morning there is evidence of toilet use outside the culvert so I assume that is what the nocturnal visit was all about. The Karoo roads seem to be well used by pedestrians, which is surprising considering the distances involved. The day starts out warm and lovely. I am walking by 8.30 am. I walk steadily until 11.30 and manage 15km which is slow but enough. There is no shade and no decent culverts so I am forced to put up the space blanket. This works well. I put it up with silver side facing the sun and sit in comparatively cool conditions on the ground underneath it. The air is full of little flying insects and most uncomfortable. I am about to move on when a car pulls up. The driver is a man called Thys. He tells me he is a doctor but does not practice any more as it does not pay. He tells me that he should rather have been a plumber. I do not say anything but think that maybe he is right, he looks and acts more like a plumber. He wants to help me but has no water so gives me a bottle of Pinotage. I do not refuse it. He suggests that I sleep over at his friend‟s house in Laingsburg when I get there and writes me a flamboyant letter of introduction. However he is not sure of the address, so he tells me to ask anyone in Laingsburg as his friend is well known. Whilst discussing the reason for my walk I mention the Hospice and his immediate response is, “Do not talk to me about Hospice, Hospice is negative, it is a place where people go to die. They give up so they want somewhere to go and slide out of life. Something should be done to prevent death not ease it.” I am shocked by his ignorance of what a Hospice is. Unfortunately the world has coined the term „dying‟ to describe the time of living which precedes death. Death, to all intents and purposes is the removal of life from this earthly reality. When life has gone, be it into an oblivion or a hereafter, that is for those of us left behind, death. “I am dying” describes the state we exist in when it seems inevitable that our circumstances must culminate in this absence of life. A more accurate expression would be, „I am living out the last acts of my earthly presence.‟ Death is as much an act of life as is birth and the two events are probably the only two events that we can really rely on. The description of the Garden of Eden speaks of a tree of knowledge. The awareness we have taken upon ourselves through eating the fruit of that tree, threatens to overwhelm us. But there is another tree in the garden, not depicted in most illustrations of the story. It is the tree of immortality. If we prematurely pluck that fruit it will change the face of our humanity beyond recognition. Our ability to handle the implications of that change is grossly inadequate. Yet it is this act that Thys is advocating in principle. As humans, religious or otherwise we should welcome death as an integral part of life itself. We should not ease our grip on life or try to hasten the loss of life but we should definitely not view death as an evil, as an aspect of life that is detrimental or unnecessary. It is in fact the culmination of life. We can fear it, even run from it on a personal level, but we must surely recognise the very necessary role that it plays in the order of things. Without death, life would not work.

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The Hospice concept recognises the reality of life. Only a fool emphasises the evil and medieval sorcery of death. The degradation and negativity is a human addendum to death. Hospice is a ray of rational thought on the subject. It is to the credit of modern man that such a concept has been widely accepted and supported by him. Hospice is not a place to go and die. Hospice is a place to go to when life has become so important that it is necessary to learn how to live. At the Hospice Sharon learned how to handle the last months of her life with dignity and skill. There, we who surrounded her, were taught how to fill the roles required of us in abnormal and difficult circumstances. As a husband I am proud that I was able, with the help of the Hospice, to provide the support my wife needed. Support that she needed in order to live out the last acts of her life with calm and competency. “I helped my wife to die.” It sounds like a headline in a sordid magazine, almost as if I administered a drug, or disconnected a machine. For me it was something beautiful, it was an ability to assist her through an intense living experience, one which might have stripped her of everything she had left. I helped my wife to die? No! I helped my wife to live. To live in a way that was admirable. That left behind a memory of her that we all hold as precious. A memory that gives us pride in what she was. Even the death itself, however it is looked at, was an act of intense sharing, of preservation of our commitment to each other. If this book can in anyway increase the number of people that can share in this hope of excellence in their final living acts, then it will have achieved a great work. Anyone who tries to demean or bring down the work of Hospice is depriving us all of a service we may desperately need one day. I try to tell some of this to Thys but he skirts around the issue and changes the subject. It is too easy to be judgmental so I do not push him too hard. We part friends, he with one of my flyers and I with a letter and a bottle of wine. I am not well and have no idea what is wrong. After Thys leaves me I walk on, supposedly to find a better place to have lunch. The heat is exhausting and for some reason it is easier to just plod along than stop. At about 2.15 pm and almost 7km further down the road a moment of sanity stops me in my tracks. I have walked through the hottest part of the day for no reason. Something tells me, “Stop, stop, stop. You must rest, drink and eat.” I pull off the road and set up the space blanket. I have 4km to go to Prince Albert Road and there is no need to kill myself. Later, when the heat of the afternoon is giving way to the end of the day, I resume walking. I come over a small rise and there is Prince Albert Road. At the little settlement I go into the Hotel and the friendly owner swops the wine for two tins of coke and two litres of milk. I telephone home and then leave to walk on down the road at about 5.30 pm. I only manage another 3km and decide that I have had enough. I have completed about 28km for the day but it feels as if I have walked non-stop since the morning. I am finished. My legs are shaking and I have hardly enough strength to swing my pack to the ground. I sit for some time slowly slipping one of the cokes. Eventually I set up camp.
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I had planned to do 30km each day in the hope that I would be able to exceed that target comfortably by at least 3 or 4km, giving myself an edge. This is obviously impracticable in the Karoo conditions. I prepare my bed and make supper. I am clumsy and keep knocking things over. The heat seems to have made my mind slow. My pack is supposed to be lighter now but still seems heavy. I am worried about my stupidity at lunch time. I make up my mind to be more disciplined tomorrow. I must force myself to stop early enough to miss the worst heat of the day. The Karoo seems silent tonight. From where I am, I can see the mountains which have been ducking and diving behind the horizon all day. Now they are tall and solid except for one deep cleft. It must be the Swartberg pass. It is exciting to be so close to the sea. Only about 150km as the crow flies. An easy five day walk. My Karoo ordeal has 83km left and the whole walk only 360km or 14 days to go. *4DKD * It is cooler this morning and cloudy but that is to the good. I have little energy and dither around doing this and that. It requires an actual mental effort to stop the nonsense and get walking. I feel all right, my feet are fine and the pack is not too heavy. I wish I could spoil myself and take a day off but my schedule is too tight. I cannot afford an extra day along this stretch of road. I walk and my thoughts turn to what is to happen to me when I get back home. This happens quite often lately and I am learning to face the fact that my future has to be rebuilt. I have to plan it and work through it, much as I have this walk. I know that I will need a woman in my life, someone soft who cares about me. Someone to spoil me sometimes, yet push me hard at others. I am afraid I am not only a romantic but a big dope when it comes to being somebody‟s hero. I suppose I could survive on my own but for me it would mean half a life and that is unacceptable. Once walking I am able to go at a reasonable pace. It is mostly downhill to the Dwyka river which I reach at just after 11.00 am. Now I must climb out of the valley and the road has swung into the wind. I walk steadily, climbing slowly all the time. By lunchtime I am in sight of a resting place and get there to meet a family of German tourists who share their incredibly refreshing tea with me. When they leave I feel stronger and I am richer by six oranges. I lie down under a tree to wait out the heat of the day. Within minutes another car pulls up and three youngsters climb out. The two guys walk to the fence and relieve themselves as most men do. The girl embarrasses me, she looks around quickly, grins broadly at me and climbs into the concrete rubbish bin. I see by her gyrations and arm movements that she is taking down her jeans. She is slim but hardly fits into the narrow pipe. It is one of the weirdest demonstrations of toiletry that I have ever seen. After a few seconds of silence she shudders and proceeds to pull her pants up. When she climbs out she seems perfectly dry and happy so I assume that the female anatomy lends itself to that particular method of urination. Despite having been married for twenty five years and reasonably observant I fail to see quite how! The three of them are friendly and unperturbed by the performance I have just witnessed. In fact the girl is the friendliest and insists that her two partners each

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give me a beer. After they have gone I drink one but leave the other on the picnic table. I finish my rest undisturbed by further visits and leave at four. The wind is gusting strongly and there is a lot of cloud. The three youngsters told me that it was raining behind them but were vague as to just how far away. Twenty minutes drive translates to a day‟s walk for me so the rain could be relatively distant. The combination of wind, heat and uphill climb makes me hot and uncomfortable. I find water at about 5.00 pm and top up all containers. I am starting to really struggle against the headwind and just before 6.00 pm a passenger in a passing car makes circular motions with his finger at the side of his head. I agree, this is crazy. At the first available culvert I stop. The wind is dead ahead so does not blow down the culvert. I feel hot and sticky so I strip naked and using a whole litre of water sponge myself off from head to toe. I sit absolutely naked in the shade and slowly cool off as does the evening air. It helps to bring down my body temperature and I feel better than I have done for days. For some reason I am thirsty right through the night and I do not sleep well. At about 2.00 am I get up and relieve myself outside. It is cooler but still warm. I take two Syndols to knock myself out and return to bed. * 5DKD *

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CHAPTER 23

The next item on the agenda was the visit from the surgeon. Nobody could do anything without his opinion. So we waited and waited. Sharon‟s leg was strapped up and put into tension. That and the drugs eased her pain immensely. I sat and dozed in a chair for most of the night. The nurses at the ward had never seen a syringe driver before and for the duration of her stay at the hospital I made up the solution and changed the syringes. An old friend of her‟s, sister K........, a nun assigned to hospital duty, spent a lot of time with her but it was a period of time that seemed to stretch on forever for both us. By the evening of the next day no surgeon had yet seen her. She was again vomiting after eating and I explained to the ward registrar what her history was in that regard. Aside from myself and the children, other members of the family and friends visited her. Whilst I sat with her and talked she would doze off and it was amazing to see how this indicated how close you were to her. If one of her more casual friends arrived she would be alert and cheerful, saying this or that. Generally she would appear bright and active. The closer you were to her the more easily she would fall asleep. She was heavily drugged and the energy required to be sunny and sociable depleted her already low reserves. On the morning of the third day there had still been no visit from a surgeon. By mid morning I could take it no more. It was not that she was deteriorating or that she was really uncomfortable. It was just not knowing what her future was to be. The decision to operate or not operate meant to us a turning point in her struggle. If the leg had to stay the way it was then it spelt the end for Sharon as she would be facing an unthinkable future. If they decided to operate then she would have been given a chance to try and climb out of the latest pit and keep going. This is what the two of us discussed openly and it was this choice that existed for and lay in the hands of this tardy surgeon. Neither she nor I could stand the suspense much longer. For me the surgeon‟s decision meant much more. I was acutely aware that the operation could kill her. That the shock of it might be too much. I had a vision of her disappearing into the theatre and never returning. I was torn between the hope that it offered and the threat that it presented. I began to hope that they would say no and that she could just come home even if it was for only a few months. For days I had hounded the nurses and the registrar to no avail. I decided to go down to the clinic and speak to Dr B........ She told me that the surgeon was busy, he was the best but he had an extremely heavy work load, he would try to make it that evening. When he arrived he looked young but was obviously well in control of his life. He stood and talked to Sharon for a few minutes and then asked the matron for Sharon‟s folder. They left the room together and I sat silent beside the bed.
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Sharon lay looking up at the ceiling. She did not sleep, her eyes remained open and I could see the blankness of her mind behind them. He came back into the room after a while and smiled down at her, “I see no reason why you should not be walking about on that leg in a few weeks. I think we should operate.” Somewhere inside her soul someone touched a switch and Sharon lit up. Her smile sprang across her face with joy and her eyes shone with hope. He laughed and touched her arm. “That‟s good news is it? Don‟t get too excited, I have to meet with all those cancer people down at the clinic, but I promise you I will convince them one way or another.” I went home to eat and change. I sat and talked to the children, “This is what is happening, the operation Mum needs could be too much for her and she might not survive the shock. If she does not have the operation she would be bedridden for the rest of her life and that would make Mum miserable.” I looked around at them, “That would make Mum miserable, but she would be alive and she could possibly get used to it. The doctor told Mum that she should have the operation and now she is excited and pleased. I am frightened that she does not understand what it might mean. I don‟t think she realises that even if she does have the op she might never walk again anyway; her spine is already giving a lot of trouble.” Brain sat looking at me and quietly said, “Don‟t underestimate Mum, if you give her a chance she will get back on her feet.” I continued, “The doctors at the clinic know more about her spine than the surgeon and they might tell him not to operate, but if they do then it will destroy what little hope she has even now. I really do not know what is the answer. I know what I think, but I want you kids to tell me what you feel.” Annelee said, “It is not up to us, it is up to you. You and Mum have done this together and it is almost as much your struggle as it is hers.” Carol agreed, “You must decide Dad.” I looked at Diana and she nodded. I told them what I had seen, how Sharon‟s face had lit up. “I have to be honest and say that I was hoping that the Doctor would not do the operation. I am frightened to lose Mum and from what I know about her cancer I do not believe that she will ever get out of bed again. I thought the operation might just be unnecessary pain and trauma. But tonight when the doctor told her that he would operate she glowed. She is so pleased, now at this moment, that there is no doubt in my mind that she must have the op. I would rather she lived an hour as happy as she is now than three months in misery. So this is what I am going to do…Tomorrow I will be at the clinic bright and early and I will tell Dr G....... that they cannot tell the surgeon no. He must operate, if they turn her down now it will destroy her.” I sat with Sharon through the night and she slept well. In the morning at 7.00 am I was waiting outside the cancer clinic downstairs.

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The first person I saw was Dr B........ I told her what had happened and said to her, “The operation must be done, I don‟t care if it will work or not. She cannot be told that your meeting with the surgeon has changed his mind.” She looked at me strangely, “But of course, Mr. Russell, if it gives Sharon only a tiny bit of hope then there is no question, of course we will agree to it.” Relief washed over me and I thanked her. I had to go into work and when I saw Sharon again it was lunchtime. She had been told they would operate on Monday. Somehow the days passed. I was glad when Friday came. Most nights I slept at the hospital and as I worked for at least half of the day, going back to the hospital in the afternoons, I was tired. Over the weekend I managed to get some extra sleep during the day and was better on Monday. I did not work on Monday and stayed at the hospital but the operation was held over for Tuesday. Again I felt ragged but Sharon was doing very well aside from the minor irritations that visit all of us in hospital. She was strong and positive when awake but quite content to sleep most of the day away. Hospital staff struggle to maintain the kind of service that patients feel they deserve. The situation is such that there are just not enough nurses to go around. This sometimes means that the people who are employed in a hospital are perhaps not really suited to the work that they do. An unhappy nurse or attendant is not always able to be as calm and helpful as one would like. Antagonism reaps its own reward, patients and nurses often becoming abrupt and short with each other. Compounding the tension and dissatisfaction are the demands on the already overloaded few. In one specific instance Sharon needed a bedpan. I rang and asked for one to be brought to her. Ten minutes later when it had not yet arrived I went out into the main ward to raise some hell. There was no one at the desk and I walked towards the beds to find someone. As I did one nurse came past me with soiled linen and I saw ahead of me another one wheeling a drip alongside an old lady struggling on two very shaky feet across to the toilet. I stopped beside a bed around which curtains were drawn and heard sounds of vomiting. The voice of the Head nurse could be made out above the retching. She was obviously busy. I went back to Sharon and told her she would have to hold on as long as she could. I thought back to Sharon‟s last stay in this ward. One night I had threatened to take her home if they did not give her more attention. Those same nurses were still here, I had greeted them and they remembered us. I was probably only one in a long string of silly, irritated husbands who failed to understand that although there are always exceptions, hospital staff are a lot more dedicated to their work than most occupations can boast. In contrast to my occasional irritations Sharon was always friendly and cooperative. “They try very hard.” she whispered to me once, as I sat fuming about some or other mishap. She loved to have flowers around and here I am afraid that in my enthusiasm over the variety and abundance of them I was the source of further problems for the staff. In our garden we have a tree which has a profusion of pale pink, spray-like
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blossoms. They looked as if they would make a lovely backdrop for flower arrangement so I cut large sections of them and put them into a huge vase, which I then decorated with more conventional flowers like roses and lilies. It probably would have landed a florist in the ward alongside of Sharon if she had seen it but I thought it looked great. Sharon laughed when she saw it but told me it was just like the garden so I must leave it. When I came strolling down the corridor to see her again that afternoon I was aware that one or two of the nurses did not seem too friendly. The first thing I noticed when entering Sharon‟s room was that my exotic flower display had disappeared. I immediately asked where the flowers had gone. Sharon concealed her amusement poorly and when I asked again what had happened to her flowers, she told me to ask the nurses. “Come over here,” she said, “Look at the wall there.” I looked but could see nothing. She could not lift herself up but pointed again. Then I saw a couple of ants wandering hopelessly around in circles. “Are they sick or something?” I asked. “They are lost,” she laughed, “They miss the house. There are literally hundreds of them all over the place. This morning some time after you left, the little nurse, the cheeky one, came in here and shrieked. There were ants everywhere. They have been finding them all over the ward all day. I think they want to kill you.” “Where are the flowers?” I asked again. “Don‟t even mention the flowers,” she replied, “pretend that they never existed.” That evening at about 10.00 pm I went to the desk and asked the duty sister for the drugs to make up the syringe driver. “I understand that you are responsible for all the ants!” she stated flatly. “I did not know that the flowers had ants on them.” I said lamely. “Can I have the morphine?” She turned to the drug cabinet and took out her keys. As I waited for her I saw an ant appear from under a book on the desk and make its steady way across towards the telephone behind her. I could not reach it and I was definitely not going to point it out to her. It disappeared before she could see it. She gave me the drugs and I thanked her, adding, “There cannot have been too many, it was only one vase of flowers.” “They breed.” she snorted, “They will probably be here for years.” In the face of such assured pessimism I could do nothing. “I have to put this in the syringe.” I said and left.

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This is not good, I am losing control. If I do not discipline myself I could pay dearly. I check the map, there is a railway station called Koup about 9km ahead I will be able to fill up my water there. If it is in use.

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However later in the morning I meet Steven, a provincial traffic officer. He has two litres of water for me and so I am fine as far as water supplies are concerned. In other aspects I am not fine. The wind is unbelievably strong. It takes me until nearly 12.00 am to complete 11km.

FROM MY NOTES: 10/9................... Had to take shelter in culvert. There is a storm coming. Not here yet but wind is so strong it is carrying drops of rain and the smell of wet dust from miles ahead. This Karoo! It seems that the heat and wind could not stop me so I am getting a typhoon. Every centimetre today has been fought for....... head down cars or no cars, one foot in front of the other, never look up, don‟t rest. The wind batters away but cannot win. I will not let it....

The rain is a letdown. The threat of it passes over me or to one side and when the light brightens I emerge from the culvert to find a fairly clear sky and no sign of rain. I push on and head into one of the worst afternoons of the walk. My progress is so slow that I must cut down my lunch break. I really need to make the day‟s quota but doubt that I will. However every kilometre means a small victory. Several times the wind gusts so strongly that it staggers me, stopping my forward progress completely. I must lean forward into it until the gust passes. Once it does I push one foot in front of the other and slowly get back my momentum. My feet hurt and it is more than the heat of the road, I can feel the strange burning sensation that says “Blister!” My legs and back ache and I wish I could find some shade out of the wind. I get a yearning for some soup. What a joke! 2.00 pm in the middle of the a semi-desert and I want hot soup? In the evening, some time before I stop, the road swings to the right which means that the wind is now blowing down the culverts. When I stop I am forced to spend nearly an hour carry rocks into the culvert to block off the wind. Later as I eat I watch the sky. Up ahead, towards Laingsburg, the clouds are black and I can see the rain coming down in sheets. I am so tired and every part of my body is telling me that enough is enough. The culvert is small and when I crawl inside to sleep I keep bumping my head. Eventually I get into my sleeping bag and lie back letting the tension ease from my body. Within minutes I am lost to the world. *6DKD* The night was a comfortable one and I slept well. I did wake up once and discipline went out the window again....I woke up thirsty. I mixed up an entire

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litre of Game and took a few mouthfuls. It was delicious so I took a few more. Then I thought, “What the hell!” and drank the lot. In the morning I am awake at 5.30 am. I get up and watch the sunrise. Today will see me in Laingsburg. I feel relaxed and very casual about time. After Laingsburg 3 or 4 days to the Hex River and I am virtually home. I am, however, aware that I have taken a beating, I feel weak and lethargic. I hope that I can find some comfort in Laingsburg but have nowhere to go to stay. No contacts or even an organisation to approach. It is Saturday and a rest day is overdue. If I had accommodation I would be able to rest properly and continue again on Monday much refreshed. But all of this will be purely academic if I don‟t get going. I have 20km to do and that means four hours of solid walking. I leave eventually but amble along and stop twice. The day is cool and the wind has dropped considerably. I am very glad that it is so as my legs feel weak and I have little energy. Just before 11.00 am I reach the famous Blockhouse which Sharon and I had passed so often when we travelled the N1. I would have liked to have slept here last night but the Karoo has been too tough to allow me the extra two or three kilometres each day that would have made it possible. I stand on the platform and watch a goods train go by, much as a British soldier might have done long ago. What a dreary assignment this duty must have been. It is not possible to get inside, the doors are securely locked. I can understand why. The fine old building has already been defaced by two political slogans and badges. It is amazing that after all these years, people still cannot see beyond their attitudes to the human suffering that intolerance causes. The same old hates and prejudices are being resurrected with an enthusiasm which says little for our ability to learn. At 1.30 pm I march down the hill into Laingsburg. No one is there to greet me, there are no laurel wreathes or shoulders to carry me high. I am tired and dirty but inside my heart I have carved a message for myself that will stand up to be read whenever things get hopeless in the future. No one else will ever know or even need to know how much I have achieved for myself in this small victory. I have done 210 kilometres in six and a half days, with no support team, or any other help for that matter. I have walked through heat, rain and against a wind what would have put the ferocious South Easter to shame. I have carried everything I needed on my back, built my own shelters and slept where I found myself at the end of the day. I have confirmed to myself that God exists and that he cares. What more could I ask? I walk into a roadside cafe and buy a litre of milk. I find a place to sit and watch the people as the town goes about a lazy Saturday afternoon. I need a place to sleep and I need money but first I owe the Karoo something of how I feel about it on a deeper level. I take out my notepad and write. The result is a poor tribute to

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its reality and the vitality of its life. But it is at least a tribute from someone that has seen it in a way that few others have done.

FROM MY NOTES: 11/9.............. When I look at this Karoo, what do these eyes see? What does my mind think? What does my heart know? My eyes see small dry scrub scattered far and wide. My eyes see little substance for nourishment. There are only the bushes and between them, large areas of dry sand. Areas of rock where nothing grows. It is not desolate but it is very close. My eyes see heat rising in ripples from side to side. It is true that here and there, where man has raised water, some green grows but it is alien and almost shunned by the surroundings. My mind thinks; here is little that life can use. Here is despair and hopelessness. Here is a dearth of the things that make life comfortable and safe. Where is the surplus that means security? Where is the plenty that frees life from aggression and death? My mind thinks, this is not a place to be! Move on. Seek a place that has some guarantee of an earthly future, that is not rearing up to send you to an early, heavenly one. But my heart knows something about this Karoo, because it has hoarded things that my eyes have seen and my mind forgotten. My heart knows this: This Karoo teems with life. All around me are lizards, bugs, flies, snakes, crickets, jackals, birds, and life, and more life. These creatures are busy................. Under every rock a nest of industry. In and around every bush, a colony. A bird for every fence and branch. A beetle for every bit of dung and blood for those that need it. During the day life fights hard here. Every creature is alert and vital because it needs to be. Eyes and ears and muscles work at a frantic pace; seeking food and seeking not to be food and it is good! My heart knows it is good because in the evenings, far from towns and their people life takes wing in song and you can hear a chorus raised heavenward with a feeling that is total and draws the ear of God no matter how high he finds himself. Life sings in exaltation. It has survived reality. It has survived truth, not some artificial set of circumstances that it has created around itself as we do but in the harsh rawness of nature where the rules are imposed without regard for individuality. It sings that it is alive. It has made it through another day, with its own power, by its own
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wiles and creativity. It sings of triumph because alone and unaided it has overcome. The lyrics say, “I am here despite this Karoo. I am here because I am who I am!” This is the greatest gift God can give; to be sufficient without extras. To be an abundance of power in your own right. Why then does life sing in the morning? Is not the thought of another day too much? Is not the realization that the price that must be paid sooner or later too awful. Life here has told my heart that to hide is to die. To doubt that you have the power, is to lose the battle before it has begun. So life sings a different song in the morning, it cries out a challenge; “Come Karoo, come and meet with me, I am more than enough for you. I am everything I need to be right here inside myself.” If Sharon had known the Karoo she would have sung this song. It is the song that she learned to sing.

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CHAPTER 24

The memories I have of her private room and of her in it are not painful. They are not of frustration or of anguish. They are of a woman dealing with a terrible reality with calm and assurance. If I picture her at this time, it is to see her lying back on her pillows, her skin fine and glowing, her hair shining, dark auburn against the white linens. She liked to wear pink and loved to have fresh, natural bouquets of flowers. I see her content and the troubles that plagued her under control. I remember one quiet afternoon. I had picked up a magazine and paged through it to find an article on near death experience. It was positive and spoke of joy and peace. I showed it to her and asked, “Have you read this?” “Yes,” She replied, “I started to.” “Do you think they really know what is on the other side?” I asked, watching her carefully. She smiled at me, “You want to know how I feel about it, don‟t you?” “Well I suppose that‟s natural.” I admitted. “I worry about this life not the next. I worry how you will manage and who you will marry.....” She turned her eyes to mine, “You must not make a mistake because you will be so unhappy. You so desperately need to be loved. I think I will have to come back and interfere if she is not a good woman. I will come back and haunt you.” She smiled deeply and watched my face. Slowly her eyes closed and I sat waiting. I was about to pick up the magazine again when they fluttered open. “Diana.” She said, “I worry about Diana. Rog, you must try to understand her as a young woman and not as a child. Oh I wish I could see them all married, I wish.....” she paused a minute. “Oh I will see them all, I know that, but my body does not know it. My body wants to be with them. My spirit is free Roger, my soul is not frightened anymore. I don‟t need to read of those things in the magazine because I believe that everyone on the other side is waiting for me. When the time is right I will be ready.” Then she took my hand and from the bottom of her heart cried out, “I want to go. I‟m sorry Roger, I truly am but can‟t fight much longer, you have to understand that. I want to go now but.......” she closed her eyes and said, “But this old body of mine just won‟t stop.” “I don‟t want you to fight for my sake,” I whispered, “I don‟t know how I will live without you, I cannot bear to think of how it will be when you are gone. But I‟m tired too my love. I am tired of seeing you suffer and of feeling your pain. I understand and I want you to have whatever it is that you need. If that means giving you up because it is peace that you need, then it is fine, it is just fine.” She lay still and whispered, “You will have to explain to the children one day for me. You must promise me that. You will tell them that I just couldn‟t anymore.” “They know already.” I said. “They know.”
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After the operation, they wheeled Sharon into the ward and she looked good. By the time evening came she was a little drowsy but otherwise seemed fine. She talked to all of us and was pleased with the fact that the operation was over and had gone well. I sat with her through the night and she slept deeply. On Wednesday morning she was in excellent spirits and I helped her wash herself. She took time to make herself pretty. I am not very good with hair but it was nice to sit and brush what she had once lost and re-grown so beautifully. Her faith which had also died once had, through God‟s grace, been just as effectively restored and I was content that whatever happened, she was, by her own admission, safe in her creator‟s care. When lunchtime arrived I woke her from a sleep and although she was looking good she seemed a little confused and I was at once quite concerned. However I did not say anything to her but let it pass. In the evening she managed to get through the visiting hours reasonably well but afterwards she turned to me and said sharply, “Roger, it‟s no good, we will never get it all on.” Puzzled I asked, “What love, on what?” “On the truck of course, it‟s never going to fit.” She stopped suddenly and then looked around. “Did I doze off?” she asked. “Yes,” I replied, hesitating, “Sort of.” She seemed happy with that and relaxed, closing her eyes. I reported it to the sister and she suggested it might be the side effects of the anesthetic. I had to accept that as I did not know any better. I again slept on a chair beside her bed, going home in the morning for a quick shower and change of clothes. When I left her she was subdued but alert. When I returned she was tired and sleepy. Lunchtime was bad. She looked ill and was again losing track of reality, slipping into some world where she was aware of and talking about the children, things we had done in the past and other situations which had no meaning to me. I was not prepared to accept an explanation about an anesthetic given over two days previously and left her to go to the clinic for advice. It was late afternoon and the only person present was Dr. M.... who listened to me and then asked the ward duty doctor, A Dr. V..... to look into the matter. He and I returned to the ward where he took hold of Sharon‟s folder and mused over it for a few minutes He then called in the ward sister and whilst crossing off medicines on her list of medication said, “Sister you can stop this...... and this...... Give no more of this.” Quickly he slashed her medication to very little indeed. I was appalled and said to him “Doctor, that medicine was prescribed by the Hospice. I make up much of it to put in her syringe driver myself. It took them a week to balance everything for her.” He became abrupt and said, “She does not need half of it. Look here..... He showed me the chart. She has been refusing this and this for quite some time.” “What is it?” I asked. “One of them is anti-inflammatory drug, „Indosit‟; she can‟t be in too much pain if she is refusing these things.”

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“I am sure that Sharon would never knowingly refuse a drug that had been prescribed for her.” I told him. “Well she has, there‟s the proof.” He showed me the chart again. He continued, “Anyway, if she has pain she only has to ask and she will be given something.” I went into Sharon and tried to explain what was happening. She told me that to her knowledge the only thing she had refused was an anti-constipation drug. “Why?” I asked, “You know you have to keep your tummy loose.” She looked cross and said. “It makes my tummy run and they keep having to clean me up.” I sighed, “Oh Shar, I know you hate it but you must accept that until you can walk again it is just going to have to be that way.” Obviously she had been refusing medicines but she was not capable of making sensible judgments as to which, especially now that she was so confused. I made a mental note to ask the doctors to consult with me before just accepting any decision she made. I could talk to her and convince her to take the things she really needed. She was restless through the night and I slept holding her hand. During the night one of the nurses came in and tucked a blanket around me. I smiled my thanks and she smiled back shaking her head. In the morning Sharon seemed better. At lunch she ate very little and then threw it up. She was complaining of backache but told me that her leg was not hurting much. I ask for some additional pain killer. We waited and it was not given. I went to the sister and was told that it was not on her normal regime, the registrar had to give his approval and he could not be found. By late afternoon she was in severe pain and crying. I became really angry and eventually she was given an injection which calmed her and eased the pain. That night there was no Valoid for the syringe driver. I refused to make up the solution without it. Eventually the Ward doctor was telephoned and Valoid was sent to the ward from casualty. During the night Sharon woke up and spoke to me, she was clear and alert. She told me that she had not been to the toilet since before the operation. I checked her folder and found it to be true.

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Laingsburg is a dry, harsh town. It is a leech fastened onto the artery that is the N1. The business that it occupies itself with centers around the traffic that flows up and down a ribbon of tar. Roadside food outlets, garages and Hotels are bright and prosperous looking. Everything else is drab and dreary. The first problem I have is the absence of an automatic bank teller. I cannot draw money until Monday. This means that I cannot afford to buy much food neither can I pay for accommodation. My letter of introduction from Thys is meaningless
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as nobody knows the man to whom it is addressed and I have no idea where he lives. I enter a small complex that advertises rooms and ask if I can stay there until Monday when I will pay. The girl in the office suggests that I ask the manager. She directs me to the „Golden Egg‟ restaurant at the Shell Ultra City. I walk through town to get there and find that he has gone home. Home is a couple of kilometers out of town towards Cape Town so I set off to find him. After a great deal of unnecessary walking I eventually knock on the right door. To my surprise he is expecting me. “I was telephoned by the Cancer Association in Cape Town, they asked me to put you up for a night.” I breathe a sigh of relief. It could only have been Sally O...... She has reached out from Cape Town and provided for me in the only town where I had been without. It seems incredible that everywhere I go, every town I enter there is always something. The organization of the walk did not include this sort of thing. Early on in its creation it became obvious that I would be relying on the spontaneous goodwill of strangers. I cannot think of one instance or any place that was not just as I needed it. This country is full of a natural and easy hospitality. I cannot believe that the vibrant goodwill that exists in such quantities will fail us in whatever troubles are ahead in the New South Africa. I return to the girl I had left earlier and I am given a lovely double room with a private bath. If I look after the R30.00 I have in my pocket I will make it through to Monday rested and ready for the last leg to Cape Town. After a good bath and a change of clothes I sit outside and thank God for the way I been cared for. As I do, I hear a band playing. A funeral procession emerges from behind some houses and winds its way past me towards a church on my left. The procession is on foot, the band leading, followed by the coffin, carried high by its bearers. Behind come the mourners. All these people are paying tribute to the dead. Funerals are steeped in tradition and it is somehow sad that despite all our ceremony and preparation we know no more about where we are going when we die than we did thousands of years ago. Can it be that there is nothing to know? Is it possible that the spirit that is so powerfully alive within us depends on such a feeble thing as the body for its existence? As the procession passes I have to go back into the room because I am crying. I cry for Sharon because despite my faith and belief I don‟t know for sure that she still exists. I have to tell myself that it is only my humanity that is the source of my doubt. That her present state is beyond such humanity and has no doubt. That somewhere she can smile at my tears in a new understanding that is so complete, it goes beyond tears and can let mine flow without disturbing her joy in any way at all. But for us, for the people behind the coffin and myself, death remains so awful, so humanly devastating and depriving. Later in the evening when I have relaxed, I get out my pack and asses the condition of what is left. I have little gas left so must buy some on Monday. My food stocks are very low indeed. I still have some dried wors but it is covered in green mold and has been for days. Now that I do not have to eat it any more I throw it away. I am sure that mold is highly nutritious but somehow it does not appeal to me.
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I sit on the bed that evening and do some more patching on my underpants. The one pair has more repair than original material but I keep them as the idea of wearing one pair for more than two days is distasteful. The thought strikes me that it is so civilized to be able to sit and read or work after dark. On the road when the sun lies down so do I. Eventually, even though I am enjoying the luxury of electricity, I get tired and go to bed. *7DKD* Sunday morning and I spoil myself with another hot bath. In my usual highly disciplined fashion I spend most of my money on a steak and egg breakfast and the Sunday Times. This leaves me with about R2.00 until tomorrow. I wander around town content and as I pass the Dutch Reformed Church decide to attend the service. There is no Catholic Church in Laingsburg. The service is not an adoration of the lord but more of a meeting. There are hymns, but few prayers and little humility. Sales of books are discussed as is other fundraising. I come away a little disappointed. The congregation is stiff and dresses very formally. After the service I pay my respects to the Dominie who is very pleasant and friendly. I am lonely so I reverse charge a telephone call to Cape Town. My eldest daughter has had a really bad quarrel with her brother Brian, and Diana, my youngest, is very upset. I speak to Annelee and try to pour oil on the waters but realise it is about time I was at home. The day drags on at a pace that probably suits the town. In the evening I walk some of the back streets and find a Laingsburg that must have existed sixty years ago. The houses are the same, the evening stillness as dusk falls, is the same. I enter a small general dealer on the corner of a backstreet and overhear a conversation that could have been scripted from an early Hollywood movie. At an old fashioned counter with a wooden top and sloping glass front an old lady gives the shop keeper some sound advice for his sick wife. He writes down a remedy for severe headaches and the old lady leaves. The shopkeeper watches her go calling out after her to be careful of the step. Once he is satisfied that she is safely off the premises he turns to me. I am unknown to him but by the time I leave, with an apple and a sticky bun, my life has been laid bare. I do not have to pay as he is only too happy to help me. I have managed to keep my financial status to myself so the gift is not forced. Back on the high street it is different. I stand across the road from a large, modern garage. The New South Africa vibrates and cries out from a melee of taxis and their passengers. At every petrol bay stands a queue of minibuses, each pulling a trailer piled high with mattresses, suitcases and other less identifiable objects. From each of them comes the steady base thump of a car radio turned up too loud for the coachwork to effectively contain. People of all shapes and sizes, but mostly dark hued and fat, wait at or shout into telephones, eat out of plastic bags, queue in the shop or bump and grind their hips to whichever particular car radio appeals. The mini-cabs stand in rows each with one leg cocked to the pump. Each driver carries

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a small ramp which he uses to tilt the taxi when filling it with petrol. This way he gets the maximum range from his vehicle. A Karoo road is much like a Karoo river. Where the river runs there is a little more green, a few more flowers, more activity than normal. Just a few feet away everything is much as it always has been and life continues unaffected by the comparatively frenzied activity alongside the source of nourishment that flows seasonally through it. Tonight is Sunday and the end of the weekend. Everyone is going home. During the week the torrent of travelers will drop to a small trickle picking up to flood the town next Friday. Near where I stand there are three or four trucks parked for the night. They are different. They represent a regular income. The key to their custom is food. At Hanover I saw a garage, modern and well equipped on one side of the road. It stood virtually empty whilst the garage opposite, an older, less impressive structure could hardly handle its business. The reason; Truckers buy diesel where they buy food. Clean showers, TV lounges and all the rest cannot change this fact. If petrol companies wish to woo truckers they should analyze excreta not exhaust fumes. Back in my room I prepare for the next day. I do not have the wherewithal to have a good meal but I become one. The things that bite and feed and go zing in the night are taking advantage of their last opportunity. I check my schedule and see that I should be in Worcester on Saturday as planned. After that it is all mountains and deadlines. I am looking forward to the next day. I have taken the worst that the Karoo could throw at me and know that it will be easier for me now. On the road, the Karoo welcomes me back gently, with warm sunshine and a cool breeze to garnish the profusion of color and growth all around me. Despite the harsh horizons and forbidding rock everything is offered up in a light dressing of every kind of green imaginable. The senses are overwhelmed by such a rainbow of flowers that even what would normally be the jarring red of a discarded Coke tin is lost in it all. The contrasts and harmony of colors exist side by side with no shame. They are, however, not to be reproduced by anyone except nature herself. No one else could get away with it. I intend to make Matjiesfontein by the end of the day. I do not have much money but I am determined to stay over at the famous hotel which is situated there. I have used more than one incentive to encourage myself when things seemed difficult. The possibility of staying over in The Lord Milner Hotel has been one of them since the beginning. As you approach Matjiesfontein from Laingsburg you come into the valley through a cutting in the hills. The Hotel and village is nestled below and to the left of you amongst the trees. There are white battlements and flags flying that already depict the little bit of past that it is. I walk up the village street and turn into the gates of the Hotel. I enter the front office with R75.00 in my pocket. I ask and find out that dinner, bed and breakfast

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is too much. My heart sinks. I cannot afford it. The young girl at reception, Louise, tells me that Laingsburg or Touw‟s River are only a short drive away. I laugh and tell her that the one is a good day‟s walk and the other, at least two. This raises the usual questions and after hearing the answers she asks me to wait for her to consult with the manager. To my great joy she comes back to tell me that food and a room are on the house. An hour later, after a hot shower and change of clothes, I sit in my room in front of a plate of Karoo lamb and vegetables. It is followed by fruit salad and ice cream. It is one of the best meals of the trip and I enjoy it immensely. Afterwards I stroll into the bar and find only the staff. One of them behind the bar, two on my side of the counter. A young blond man sitting at the end of the counter is the front office Manager and he is as flamboyant and decorative as they come. He flaunts his feminine sexuality with bravado but is constantly gauging my response. I am not threatened by men who flirt with me, my own sexuality has never been compromised by them and I have always felt capable of dealing with an aggressive assault of that nature. This young and unhappy man tells me that in the year that he has been employed at this little cocoon of 100 year old civilization he has had the space to come to terms with his own needs and the freedom to be the person he wants to be. It is strange that, amongst all the Victorian trappings of a less tolerant era, his particular life style has been accepted and supported by the people that surround him. I call him unhappy because although he says that he has been accepted, I sense that he still desires something more, some of what the rest of us perhaps take for granted. He talks of a family and wonders if he might ever be a father. He smiles and shakes his head. “No. I could never do that to my children. How would they face the world knowing what I am? I don‟t think I can ever bring myself to hide it again.” The conversation falters for a moment and then he reaches out to touch my arm. “Sex with me is very safe you know. I can do wonderful things and hardly even touch a person” I shake my head. “I have only ever slept with my wife and sex is something that I could only share with a woman that I love.” He relaxes and I think he is almost as relieved as I am. “I had to just ask.” He says. That night I think a lot about the life he leads, one night stands, casual relationships, all equal the opposite of the family life he so desperately wants. I have lost my wife but have had so much from the time we were together that I cannot help but feel a gratitude and deep sense of debt to the one who allowed such an abundance of love and life. After breakfast I visit the small museum and stroll through the gardens. There is a nobility here that supports the idea that our roots are set in a finer age. At the side of the river stands a chapel. I enter and find a personal confirmation that my own religious beliefs are also firmly rooted in traditions that have qualities we give too little importance to. The peace and strength that I find in a few short minutes surpasses beyond measure what I was able to receive in an entire service
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elsewhere. I get down on my knees and ask God that he never allows me to squander or demean that which he has placed in my heart on this walk. I give up Sharon to his care with new faith and look forward to a new love which I am confident waits for me ahead. I have never been a formally religious man, neither do I profess to know with certainty that the feelings of my heart reflect what this God we all define so easily truly is. I can only say that through the recent turmoil and my own resolution of it, I have come to understand that there is a strength and a great love at work in this world. My understanding of it satisfies some deep need in myself and for me, therefore, it is sufficient. Regretfully I say good-bye to this place that has become a realisation of all the good in my life and I walk on somehow a better person than I have been for what seems a very long time indeed.

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CHAPTER 25

I have a healthy respect for hospital staff and the authority vested in matrons, doctors and the like. I do not easily get upset or angry as I feel that I understand the pressures that they work under. Now I had little choice but to go against the developing situation. Sharon had been comfortable and her intake of medicine balanced and sensible. This program had been arbitrarily slashed. She had been allowed to indicate to the nurses what they must give her whilst she was in no condition to know what she was doing to herself. Everyday a different doctor was on duty. There was no guarantee of consistent treatment. I could not allow it to continue. Her symptoms were too varied and their root could be in her constipation, the deterioration of her spine or just simple the absence or incompatibility of some of her drugs. Someone had to take charge and wrench the car back onto the road. I did not go home on Saturday morning but waited for the duty Doctor. The clinic was empty and I knew that I should not go over the head of whoever was in charge of the ward. I intended to make it clear that I would go to any length or action to get some satisfactory intervention in her situation. Eventually a Dr. S...... arrived and I asked her if we could sit down somewhere and discuss some serious problems that I had. She was very helpful and for the first time I felt that I was making progress. We carefully checked the long list of drugs that Sharon had been on and nearly all those that had been withdrawn by Dr. V..... were re-instated. I, in turn, promised her that I would ensure that Sharon understood the implications of refusing her drugs and that as far as was possible would not allow her to turn anything down anymore. Dr. S...... said that she would arrange for an enema to relieve Sharon‟s constipation. During the course of the day Sharon ate little and threw up most of what she ate after a few minutes. By the afternoon she was more alert and although still uncomfortable, happier with herself than she had been for several days. It seemed that once again we were on a positive track. Sharon loved to have her feet or hands rubbed. When one of the children arrived to visit her it went without saying that the first duty after the normal greeting was to rub her feet. I, as I virtually lived at the hospital, ended up rubbing her feet or hands two or three times a day. As soon as she was more aware and active she asked for a rub and I started on her toes. “That‟s strange,” she complained, “I can hardly feel it, rub harder.” I did and it seemed all right but she told me afterwards that her legs felt a little numb. I thought that her constipation might be causing a pinched nerve or something and asked the nurses when they were going to do the enema. They told me that they knew nothing of an enema.
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That evening Sharon told me that her stomach hurt but that generally she was feeling better. She still had not had the enema. Late Sunday morning I was again distraught and angry. Sharon still had not had her enema. I complained bitterly to the staff and just before lunch I was chased out by a team of nurses armed with all the paraphernalia that Sharon dreaded. The much needed enema was on its way. She was immediately better and as the afternoon progressed continued to improve. The only disturbing factor was the deadness in her legs which was steadily getting worse. I had believed that the enema would relieve that too, but it was not to be. That evening she told us not to bother to rub her feet as she could feel nothing. After the nurses had been in to place some suppositories Sharon looked frightened and told me that she had not been able to feel them do it. She was numb from the waist down. I asked her to wiggle her toes and she watched my face intently. “Are they wiggling?” she asked. I shook my head and she sighed deeply. “What‟s the use Rog, just when one thing gets better, something else goes.” During the night she was in pain. The anti-inflammatory suppositories were no sooner in place when her tummy would run and they would be expelled. She woke up when I was doing the syringe driver and asked me to see Dr. G..... in the morning and ask if there was not something that could be done to end it all. I was deeply touched and saddened that she had come to a place in her illness where she felt that there was nothing life could offer her anymore. The night was long. I sat staring into space, my mind turning the whole situation around. There did not seem to be many options left. By early morning I had decided that she should be transferred to the Hospice. I left her and went home where I listed all the things that had happened to her and wrote a covering letter describing how I felt. I returned to the hospital and went to the clinic. I gave the letter to Dr. G..... Extract from the letter:

...... In my opinion the refusal to take the anti-inflammatory drugs was a mistake on Sharon‟s part, due, perhaps, to the post operation confusion and the heavy morphine dosage. I believe that if someone had monitored her drug intake correctly, (i.e. with more knowledge of; a. her back problems and b. her bowel blockage problem) some effort could have been made to persuade her to take what was required. My assistance could have been requested, I am constantly at the Hospital. I believe that her already weak and over stressed system has been compromised by 5 days of constipation. One enema is not sufficient to clear the problem (Hospice had to use Sorbitol? and nearly 2 days to clear her the last time)

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I believe that her back could have deteriorated (cancer related) but that this will be difficult to determine because of; a. Prone position for nearly two weeks b. Constipation. She is depressed and last night asked me genuinely and lucidly to ask Dr. B......./ Dr. G....... if there was nothing that could be done to bring everything to an end. She believes that her present state could continue for some time and is not prepared to face it. I have detailed the history of this week because I believe that the chances are good that it is through an unfortunate set of circumstances that her discomfort and symptoms have developed. I would like some serious thought to be given to her situation and if it is possible, that some action be taken that will re-instate a sensible drug regime such as she was on before the break, i.e. that will control her bowel problem and return to her, some quality of life, be it in a bed or wheelchair or crutches. Based on assurances I have received in the past I cannot accept that her condition is a state that she must endure through the time she has left. There seems to be little or no effort to assist her in getting mobile again, no physiotherapy or help from any one as to what she should do. I would like her moved to the Hospice in order to have the situation brought under control, if they and yourself agree that this will contribute to her well being. It will definitely help to restore some hope in her heart. If, in your opinion, this is going to make no difference, both Sharon and myself will accept your better judgment and try to accept the situation as best we can. Roger Russell.

Dr. G.... asked me to sit whilst she read through all that had happened since Sharon had been admitted. She put the letter down on the table between us and looked at me sadly. “Sharon is dying Mr. Russell, and there is nothing we can do to stop that. But I think you know that?” I nodded, “I know but I don‟t want her to suffer.....” I tried to say, “I love her....” but my throat closed and I had to stop and look at the ceiling for a few minutes. I drew a deep breath and continued, “I love her and I cannot bear to see her struggling so hard to be what she wants to be. She wants to be pretty and confident and I think she can do that better at the Hospice.” Dr. G..... said, “One thing we all know here at the clinic is that once this stage is reached then things can happen very quickly. Death is often a merciful release and she needs to believe that she is free to accept that option.” She looked up at me and said carefully. “It is you and your family that have to give her that freedom. You must let her know that she need not fight for your sakes. You all have to tell her that it is O.K. for her to accept death as an option, that she can make a decision to go with your blessing.”

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So many discussions with Sharon about this very freedom. So much worry on her part as to what we would think of her if she let go. But never the reality of saying it and meaning it. I would bring in all the children and we would do it. No matter what it cost us, we would do it and mean it. Not any one of us could ask her to risk her dignity and her pride any longer. She need not sacrifice her lifelong belief in what she was for us. There was not that much selfishness in any of us. I left Dr. G...... and went up to the ward. Sharon was to be X-rayed and the condition of her spine assessed. Whatever could be done to make her comfortable would be done and the Hospice would be contacted to arrange her transfer as soon as possible. I was right, the hospitals are for the curable, Sharon needed to have her spirit bolstered and maintained, her body was hers no longer but belonged to a disease. Her body was not her, it came second. She came first. The children all came and spoke to her through the course of the day. Sharon knew what I was doing. I had explained it to her, although I had said nothing of my own feelings. What they told her I largely don‟t know. She had to bring to a close their relationships in the way that was apt for each of them. I, as a father, was not always aware of how deep or wide their closeness spread. A mother is very special and although I always put her first, I realized that in the way of things, for mothers and for children, Father comes second. Diana is the only one of the children that told me what happened and she wrote it down for inclusion in this story of her mother.

Diana‟s story; Dad told me we had to let Mum go, that she needed to see me. He had a look in his eyes and I realized what was to come. As usual she was lying on her back sleeping. She looked calm and as if not feeling it, also looked comfortable. I did not wake her up immediately, but stood for a while just looking at her. I sat down and shook her hand, “Mum wake up.” She woke up with a start, looked at the ceiling for two seconds then looked at me. Mum smiled. “Hello, how are you?” “Fine thanks and you?” I answered. I looked away and got up to reach for the cream next to her on the metal cupboard. “I‟ll rub your hands for you.” “No thanks, I want to talk to you.” It was not normal for Mum to turn down a rub of anything. “I love you Diana, you know that?” “I love you too, Mum.” She looked at me for a while then took a deep breath and said, “I don‟t think I can hang on for very much longer. It hurts, you know, this cancer, I think you realize what I am asking.”
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She was struggling not to cry and so was I. I had an idea in my head that if I did not cry I would show her I was strong and could handle myself just fine. “I want you to let me go and I want you to look after Dad for me. Will you look after Dad?” She said the words very slowly as if she had just had a lesson with my speech teacher. “Sure.” my answer sounded so small, so pathetic. She turned back to the ceiling and closed her eyes, “I am not really sleeping you know, I just close my eyes for a while.” The last few words were slurred. I looked at her and did not think of how brave she was or how much pain she was in, but selfishly thought of how the funeral would be and how my friends would react and most of all how I was going to be after she died. I moved in my chair and she said, “You can rub my hands now if you like.”

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I have lived in this country for nearly thirty years and I have never seen the Karoo as I see it now. I have no idea if this is because I have never walked it before or because I have never been here at this time of year. I am told that this area has had good rains lately. What I walk through now is green, with meadows of dense grass and rivers of clear running water. I come over a hill top, 41km from Touw‟s River and before me lies a valley that would hold its own in the English countryside if it were not for its vastness. The road lies through its length and ahead I see mountains that can be none other except the Hex! They look so distant but no one knows better than I how quickly these two legs of mine will bring them to me. Home is on the horizon and I stop for minute, not knowing quite what that is going to mean. My family and a warm welcome, yes but what then? The future lies at my feet I can make of it what I will. I pass a coloured farm crew working on the gates of a farm called “Tweedside” “How come everything is so green?” I ask them. “No boss, this place is so green because here begins the Cape.” “Here begins the Cape!” I feel almost as if I am on a holiday of some sort. I decide to relax and enjoy myself. Soon it will all be over and I know that I will miss it. The next day I rise and enjoy some Oatso-easy, boiled fruit and biscuits. I am sitting here with my notes on my lap and being philosophical, probably one of man‟s and definitely one of my favorite pastimes. Three geese flew over me just now and a field mouse is sitting a few feet away, still and wary. The absence of stress is almost tangible. Why have we created such an anxious and hurried world? God knows better and the places where he and the world have been left alone have something that we in our cleverness have forgotten about.

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Once walking I quickly loose the laziness I feel and stride out strongly. This is a beautiful piece of country. I realise that I can do this part of the walk at anytime. Perhaps next year in September I will catch a train to Matjiesfontein and walk back to Cape Town. There are safe places to sleep and the weather is fantastic. The idea appeals to me greatly and I make up my mind to do it. Actually it would make an excellent walk for anybody. There is some of the best scenery in South Africa and it is just long enough to give people a taste of what I have had for three months. As the day wears on I come down a few levels from the euphoria of the morning. The sun is very hot and my arms and legs get burnt. I stop at a resting place for lunch and take it easy in the shade. I am 8km from Touw‟s River and will get there this afternoon quite easily. A kombi and a bakkie pull off the road in a cloud of dust and the doors open to free a whole bunch of men who rush over to the fence to do what men do. The radio is blaring out so-called music which hardly covers the shouts and laughter bandied back and forth. Some of them still clutch beers in their one hand whilst the other hand directs the remains of the other beers at the bushes. Earlier in the day I had been passed by a breakdown truck and two ambulances with sirens wailing. I can only assume that someone had already achieved what these men were so careless of. It is ridiculous that some call me irresponsible because I do not carry a weapon and yet put themselves directly in the path of violence with no defense at all. The screeching of tyres, tearing of metal and spilling of blood on the highway or city street is more likely to strike you down than any other civilized form of death we know. In Touws River I stay in a room over the BP garage and eat a well prepared but plain and homely meal, courtesy of the garage owner. I sleep well and the next day telephone various people before leaving.

FROM MY NOTES: 16/9....... Cancer Ass in Worcester is expecting me Saturday. Diana P.... has arranged accommodation Saturday night. Cancer Ass has arranged accommodation at Protea Hotel in Du Toits Kloof for Monday night. Diana P..... will meet me with group of walkers at Paarl 10km on Tuesday at 1.00 pm. Wednesday I must address group at Hospice function in Somerset West. Alma S.... is expecting me at Brakenfell turn off at 12.30 pm Thursday. Pixie L..... Expecting me 2.00 pm Friday at Groote Schuur. T.V will be there.

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I am about 50km from Worcester; the road has topped a crest and flattens out in front of me for about 1500 meters before it drops out of sight over another rise. But it points like an arrow to the distant horizon which is a wall of mountains. According to the map they are the Hex River Berge! I do not care about that, they are Cape Mountains and they have stood, patiently waiting for me for nearly three months, perhaps longer. They are immense and stunningly beautiful, they have the ability to lift my spirits like a sling shot, far higher than they themselves can reach. Then the day is turned from just good to triumphant. To my surprise, because I thought I still had seven or eight kilometers to go, I find myself at the top of the Hex River pass. I have no option but to walk it now and I start downwards into the valley. I was impressed by the bush and very much African scenery of the Northern Transvaal. I was touched by the sweeping magnificence of the Free State grasslands. And the Karoo, well the Karoo will never be ordinary for me again, it is one of the most vital pieces of country I have ever seen. But this Hex River Valley…This valley must surely be the most beautiful place in all the world. I can believe nothing less as I walk down the pass into the magic that has spread out below me. The sun is setting behind the mountains on the other side of the vineyards and everything is touched by a golden haze. By some strange coincidence the road is full of trucks grinding up the pass against me. The drivers pull on their horns and the lonely sounds take on new meaning as they reverberate across the hills. The truckers and their mates lean out and wave their fists in the air or raise their thumbs upwards. I punch my fist into the sky and shout in triumph as they pass. We are, all of us, as pleased and excited as each other. I cannot restrain my emotions but cry openly, the tears rolling down my face. I remember telling one of the drivers that for me the Hex river pass was the real objective. That once in it, I was home. The message must have spread and it has not been forgotten. I have become part of a brotherhood that is unique and I am overcome by the reaction of these hard and disciplined men to my success. Sharon and I loved this pass so. Whenever we returned to the Cape by car we always looked forward to seeing it, arranging our schedule to come down it in the evenings at just this time. I sense her presence and feel sure that we are enjoying it together one more time. Perhaps more at peace and in tune with its aura than ever before. At one point I ask her if the feelings I have are in any way an indication of the life she now enjoys but there is no answer, only the valley stretched out before me in the late evening haze. It is, in a strange way, enough. An impersonal assurance that somehow everything is going to be just fine. At the bottom of the pass there is no suitable place to camp. Eventually I find a small drain but my arrangements are not comfortable. I have only two litres of water with which to make supper and breakfast. I ration it out cup by cup and find that I have hardly any left for washing. I sleep well but wake up to a heavy mist. I had hung out some of my clothes to air before I went to bed and now they
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are soaking wet. I pack up and leave, it is a miserable morning. It does not stay that way for long. By 10.00 am the sun is beating down and the valley is alive. I pass some coloured ladies working amongst the vines. Some of them flaunt their bodies. Hands on hips and aggressively sexy they call out to me. “Where are you going?” “Capetown.” I reply “With those sexy legs?” I laugh, “Yes with these sexy legs!” “Come here…!” One of them beckons to me. “I am sorry but I am in a hurry.” I shout back. “You are scared of us. Come here. I will give you a good time.” “You are all beautiful, but I cannot.” One of them lifts her arms above her head, snapping her thumbs and wiggling her hips. She starts to sing, “Oh my achy breaky heart.” All of them roar with laughter and I walk on to jeers and derogatory references to my manhood. Soon afterwards I pass a squatter camp. I have always been impressed by what squatters create out of nothing and here building is going on at a furious pace. Unfortunately begging is a professional occupation for many people at this social level and sure enough I am soon approached. “What is in the bag?” “The things in this bag are mine.” I state flatly. “Give me something Boss? The bag is very full.” is the immediate response. “I have carried all the things in this bag for three months. All the things are mine.” “But where is mine?” he insists. I stop walking and look at him. “If you carry this bag to De Doorns for me, then I will give you something.” He looks at me in disgust and walks off, back to the shanty town from which he comes. At 12.00 am I am in De Doorns and I phone my mother. It is the 17th of September and her birthday. I phone Barbara and cannot help but feel pleased; she and her family will come out and meet me tomorrow. I tell her that I will be approximately 10km out of Worcester at lunch time. She will make the lunch, she says. In the afternoon I pass more coloured ladies in the vineyards. This time they are gathered around a water outlet and are obviously on a break. They shout out a greeting but the conversation quickly degenerates to lewd comments about my legs and references to what could happen if I joined them. This pre-occupation with my legs surprises me and I can only attribute it to the fact that my legs are thin and my shorts baggy. The interest in them would surprise my friend in the Northern Transvaal who forecast their impending collapse some three months ago. Late that afternoon I camp near a place which Sharon and I used to picnic at in times that seemed so permanent once.

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FROM MY NOTES: 17/9..... I sit and look at this place where Sharon and I and the children enjoyed ourselves so much so many years ago. I can see Brian, always the woodsman, excited to be swimming in a river. I can hear the laughter of the girls and their shrieks as they wade into the icy water. Shar is with them, her jeans rolled up to her calves and her arms wide to keep her balance. This place is special and I have almost dreaded coming here, not knowing if I would spoil it forever with my grief. But I am at peace. The sword that has cut so deep and has torn at the bones of my soul is being transformed to its original form. I can feel it cutting still but it is gently turning the soil in preparation for the new growth that I hope for in my heart. Once, a long time ago I used to laugh and sing. The world was a good place to be. I was confident and self-opinionated. As I got older, I did not change much, I just matured. The last few years changed all that. Sharon and I walked a road full of tears and pain. I cannot speak from the depths of her being, I only know what it is that I lost. I became old and was stripped of the sunshine that I believed was my eternal right. Lost and lonely with no faith in another dawn I went into the night. This walk, begun, for so many reasons, has opened my eyes to a lightening of the sky. Perhaps the sun is going to rise again after all. I want to be young and strong, and why not? My body ages and I must accept and deal with that, but my attitude? …..No! That can be young again. I can learn, I will learn to laugh at life again, and again. Until the day that life laughs at me and I become, as Shar has, a part of all this. A memory, perhaps a picture in someone‟s mind; sunburnt, with baggy shorts and a backpack. A someone that will raise that picture in sorrow because I am no longer there and yet feel content with what and where they are, as I do now in this place of which I was so frightened.

In the morning I get up and read what I wrote last night. It touches me deeply because I suddenly realize that if I can regain my love of life, I will have regained what Sharon meant to me. I will therefore, to all intents and purpose, have regained the essence of her. In the cold gray light of the morning, this hope seems, not impossible, but just so precious and important as to make it very much what Sharon was; a gift of love from God to which I have no right but that can only come through his bounty. Fortunately I have faith in this bounty and I resolve to do my part as best I can.

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CHAPTER 26

I went down to see Dr. G..... in the course of the afternoon. I was anxious to know what the X-Rays revealed. She told me that Sharon‟s spine had gone, that she could never regain any feeling or control of her lower body. She had contacted the Hospice and Sharon would be transferred the next morning which was Tuesday the 16th. I told Sharon both pieces of news and she bit her lip, staring out of the window. She told me that she was glad to be going to the Hospice. As usual we waited and waited and waited. Again I had to ask the nurses, “Please phone. Find out where the transport is? Has it even been arranged?” Eventually it arrived at lunchtime in the form of a young woman and a burly man, both in uniform and pushing a stretcher. They pushed it into the room and spoke to me. “Is this the patient for Hospice?” “Yes, she is.” “We must get her onto the stretcher, can she move?” “No. She has a spinal problem she needs a back support. Do you have a backboard?” “No we have not. I will get the sister.....” Sister arrived, “We can move her if some of the nurses help.” She turned to the young woman, “Can we move her by picking up the sheet?” I intervened, stepping over to the bed, “I am sorry but she stays right here until someone fetches a backboard.” They all stood and looked at me. The young woman said, “I will have to go all the way down to Casualty to fetch one.” She stared at me and I said, “O.K. We will wait.” She left the room and the nurses disappeared one by one, returning to their work. At long last the board arrived and Sharon was moved safely. I walked through the hospital with her and watched as they loaded her into the ambulance. I drove behind them to the Hospice and parked. I arrived at the entrance to the wards as the ambulance opened its doors. I helped the two of them unload her and we wheeled Sharon into the passage. She was tired but gripped my hand tightly and whispered, “I am home.” This is what St. Luke‟s Hospice had to come to mean to her. It was a place where she was loved enough to have people protect her dignity. A place where she could rest, assured that her weaknesses would be hidden from the general public. Where she could be what it was important for her to be; an acceptable human being. It was safe and therefore the right place to be. I left her that afternoon happy in the knowledge that she was back on course. I knew she was dying but also knew that everyone around her at Hospice desired for her, what all of us who loved her desired; her comfort and spiritual well being. These people that had taken charge, not only desired her good, but had the skill and expertise to ensure it as I never could.

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Sharon was in a lot of pain and her morphine dosage was now so high that she had two syringe drivers, one dedicated to her morphine alone. Within a few days she was comfortable again and most of her symptoms were under control. She had to be constantly cleaned as she had no control over her body. No outsider could ever have known this and she received visitors clean, radiant and pleasant. Sometimes she would doze off when people she knew were around her. When it was someone whom she felt needed social graces, she would, through sheer will power, maintain a conversation with smiles and comments for up to fifteen minutes. I would watch her carefully and if I felt that she could do no more, I would intervene and say, “I think Sharon needs to rest now, perhaps we could leave her a while.” She told me, “I get tired if someone is here, even when it is you sometimes. If you just sit there and I close my eyes, sometimes I feel you there and get tired.” I was a little irritated and replied, “When somebody that hardly knows you comes in here, you smile and talk and yet when I want to talk to you I hardly get two words out and you fall asleep.” She frowned and said, “Don‟t snap at me Rog, I know that you understand. I just need to rest. If my eyes are closed I am not always asleep you know.” I was immediately sorry and told her so. She smiled and replied, “Even if I do get tired when you are here at least I am not alone, sometimes when the others sit here I am still alone. When nobody is here at all, God is here. But if you are here then I am with someone who knows me nearly as well as God does.” Sharon‟s Mum and Dad arrived before the weekend and were anxious to be with her. The husband has total control over who sees his wife and how much time they spend at her side. I had given the Hospice a list of those that were close to her and they carefully and politely screened all the visitors. It seems harsh, but time becomes a precious commodity as does energy. Sharon did not have much of either and there were many that wanted more than their fair share of it. One of the family members who repeatedly phoned her was asked not to be so demanding and ignored the request. I had to ask the Hospice to screen telephone calls as well and this person resorted to a ruse to get through to Sharon. A young child phoned one morning and asked to speak to Sharon, the nurse on duty could not link the child to any one family member and decided to give Sharon the call. When Sharon answered, the person on the other end of the line was the very person who had been asked to curtail her phone calls. She had got her son to telephone and ask for Sharon, taking over the telephone when the nurse had put him through. I was viewed by a few foolish people as a selfish person who, for reasons of his own, had decided to keep Sharon all to himself. It was not so, I needed time with her, perhaps more than anyone but there were others whose rights I had to protect as well. It was heartbreaking to see her children arrive at the end of the day to do nothing but sit around the bed and watch her sleep because all afternoon she had been entertaining a stream of visitors. One day I had to say, “Stop.” I arranged for Winifred to see her with another friend of hers, a lady called Dee and they were the last. Myself, our children, my mother and father and Sharon‟s
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Mum and Dad and that was it. The Hospice staff closed ranks and we were left in peace. When Sharon and I were alone she had only one problem that kept creeping back into the conversation. How was she to die? “How will it happen? What will stop? Will I be in agony or will I just get sicker?” The only thing I had been told and kept repeating to her was, “You will sleep more and more and then one day you will not wake up.” It sounded too easy to me but I also found it easy to say and so I stuck to it. “I cannot go on like this, I cannot keep messing the bed and dealing with the pain. Sometimes it is so bad Rog, that it makes me pray and cry at the same time. I just wish it could just stop, but it gets worse, it always gets worse.” Leora asked to see me. She visited Sharon every morning. They had become good friends and I knew Sharon told her as much as she told me. When I went and saw her she was with one of the Hospice doctors. They told me, “Sharon has asked us to help her bring the whole business to an end.” I sat there and wandered how do deal with the statement. They were professionals and we all knew it could not be. Would they be shocked if I told them that if I could, I would do it for her and accept whatever consequences there were? I said, “I know. She has spoken to me too, she has complete faith in what awaits her after it is all over and yet cannot bear to see her presence here slowly undermined and demeaned. She wants to stop it all before she becomes something pitiful. She is frightened that God will take from her what she is so desperately proud of, the image she has of herself.” I paused, “I would do anything to give her that last gift. I am sorry, but I do not care if it cost everything I have in this world.... or the next. If I could preserve the most important aspect of her very being for her, I would do it.” The doctor understood and gently told me, “Sharon might look to us for this kind of help but we are bound by convention and law. We cannot help her or you in such a thing, as a person I can understand how you feel and know that you will be seen by Sharon as her only hope of release. That is to say if nature does not intervene beforehand.” “How long does she have in your opinion?” I asked. The doctor was hesitant, “I cannot say, once a patient decides that they have had enough then it can be very quick. In Sharon‟s case perhaps a few days. But maybe there is still a spark of hope there, and then it could be longer.” “Perhaps we could talk to her,” I suggested. We walked into the ward and Sharon looked at the three of us, “Have you talked to him?” she asked Leora. Leora sat down on the bed, taking Sharon‟s hand and nodded. I touched Sharon‟s shoulder and said quietly, “There is nothing they can do love. You know that they are here to treat you. We must work through this ourselves.” Leora said, “Sharon I realize how truly disappointing this is for you. It must be difficult for you to hear that we cannot do what you are asking. Your heart has reached a different place to your body which is not ready just yet. You must be strong and patient for a while. I promise you we will do anything that we can to make sure that you are comfortable but beyond that we cannot go.” Sharon‟s eyes filled with tears, “I can‟t, I just can‟t take it anymore.”
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After Leora and the doctor had left she turned to me, “There is no one else Roger, there is nobody that can do this for me and I can‟t deal with it the way they want me to. You don‟t just lie back and die because you tell yourself you have had enough. My body just goes on and on, it keeps me here but I want to be free.” She lay looking at me for a long time. I could not look away and neither could I deny her, and eventually I said it, “All right my love I will do whatever I have to.” I paused and then continued…“I promise you that I will not let it get too bad. But you have to let me decide when. It is dangerous and I must be sure that if I do it for you it must work properly. You have to trust me to know when.” She lay back and closed her eyes. Her relief was obvious, “I do trust you more than anyone or anything in this world,” she whispered. Then, out of the blue she suddenly asked me, “Are you still going to do the walk?” I nodded, “Yes I will walk, as soon as I am happy about Diana and the kids, I will walk.” We sat holding hands for a while and then she fell asleep. The subject was closed. What now? I had always decried TV soaps and dramas that depicted this very situation. I had repeated many times. “It is no one‟s right to end a life, only God can know when the lesson is over, when the time has come. How can we assume such a responsibility?” Here I sat with this woman, whom I had come to know and love in the last months of her life more than I had ever known or loved her in the years before. She was everything I believed a woman should be. She was a gift beyond measure and to preserve what she and I both saw her as, I was prepared to play God. Where was my faith, my belief? While she lay there sleeping I reached out and touched her cheek, so fine, so beautiful. “For her sake.” I told myself, but was it? Perhaps I could not bear to see her deteriorate either. Perhaps I was also frightened of what was to come? Perhaps I could not face it anymore? Was I looking for a way out? I left her and walked into the gardens, “Please God don‟t let me do this, take her before I cannot bear it anymore.” The tears did not help ease the fear or bring sudden faith. I braced myself and looked up at the sky, “I have no choice.” I said to it, “I can only continue as I began. I only know her as she is and has always been; a beautiful human being, a material entity and it is for her humanity, for Sharon as she has always been known to me, for the person that she is so proud of, that I must do whatever she needs me to do. I cannot turn away from her now, I am all that she has.” There was no choice for me, I was as much a victim of her disease as she was.

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Now that I am in an area where water is abundant, the insect life is prolific. There are flies, bugs, spiders and creepy crawlies everywhere. When I shake out my sleeping bag a large spider is ejected. He scurries a few feet into the grass and turns to watch me roll up the sleeping bag and pack it away. If he feels about that sleeping bag the way I feel about it, he must be a very sad spider indeed. While I eat my breakfast I accidentally kick over a rock and expose a large pale green scorpion. He does not move but just sits there for a long time. Later, when I look again, he has gone. I have a lovely walk through the pass and come out onto the plain at about 10.00 am. A little later, John and Jenny B.... find me on the road and they are the first people from the life I had left behind to welcome me back to Cape Town. John and Jenny are actively promoting a drive to start a Hospice to serve the Milnerton area. They have been very supportive of the walk and are pleased to see me. After they leave I hardly walk another kilometer when Barbara and her husband Joey arrive. With them, in another car, are Leonard and his wife Sharon. Ellen an old friend of mine and the two children that Barbara and Joey are raising make up a large party. We all retire to the banks of a river and picnic there. I have strong ties to this family, especially to Barbara. In some of the darkest months that have passed, her loyalty and concern have gone beyond that of any of our friends. She has a place in my heart that Sharon understood well. She is a coloured person and very dark. I am glad that the future of this country will no longer restrict our friendship. Joey is a strong practical man who has been there, not only for me but also for my children. Always available to assist whenever his particular skills were needed. I eat well and listen to the ordinary things they talk about. I look around and I am very glad to be home. When lunch is over, Barbara and I and the two girls, Sharon and Charlene, walk the last 10km into Worcester together. Despite all the promises that have been made in this regard they are the first to really share my walk in nearly 2000km. Melinda of the Cancer Association meets us at the first set of traffic lights before Worcester. She is surprised to find that I have company but having established that Barbara and the girls have transport and will be safe, loads me into her car and drives me to the home of Lynne and Eras who are my hosts for the night. Eras is a genuine and sincere person whose calling is as minister for the Congregational Church of Worcester. He has a great deal of experience with Hospice and enjoys the value of his work. Sometimes it seems that the human race is not deteriorating after all. The evidence quite often indicates that we are in fact gentler and nobler than we have ever been. Before I leave on Sunday I attend Mass with Melinda. She belongs to the Dutch Reformed Church and it is a new experience for her. Unfortunately the service is dry. There are no hymns, the ritual is mumbled through without life and at the end I want to cry out “No, not good enough!” If I could go again I would as I feel that I have been short changed this time.

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I would have liked Melinda to hear the joy and glory in the singing and to have been caught up in the symbolism of the last supper as I so often am. Melinda tells me that she has organized for me to be welcomed to Worcester by the mayor. Although I am already in town he will be waiting for me officially at the N1 so that photographs will show the road. After mass I find myself on the road in his august presence. The local press is there and the Mayor welcomes me very graciously to his friendly town. Before I set off along the road Melinda arranges to pick me up at the end of the day and drop me off again tomorrow. I explain to her that I am to meet my parents today. My sister has flown down from Johannesburg and a family reunion has been planned. My mother knows nothing about it as it is a birthday surprise. Melinda has no problem with this and we agree to meet that afternoon about 4.30 pm 20km out of town. Later in the morning a car pulls up in front of me and it is Pat C..... of St. Luke‟s Hospice. He is really pleased to see me. For the first time I discuss my ideas about a book. I have a need to express myself about the strength and goodwill I have found in the country. I tell Pat that I would like to see it published before the elections in April 1994. People should know the hope that there is in our ability adapt and change. Throughout the walk I have become aware of a growth in the country in maturity and style. The South Africa I have walked through is not the country that I knew fifteen or even ten years ago. There are signs everywhere of a slow steady movement towards reconciliation and integration. Black people that I talk to at garages have more responsibility, work more closely with the owners in the running and control of the business. Black and coloured people stop on the road and we discuss as equals the walk and its implications. Provincial police of all colours carry out the supervision of the freeways regardless of their colour or the colour of the motorists they deal with. Stations of the South African Police force manned by black people deal with me with the same compassion and efficiency as those stations manned by white people or by a mix. In one case a black policewoman instructing a white policeman to give me a lift to the place I need to be. Farmers in the Free State and Karoo discussing the impending arrival of black unionization without bitterness or rancor, but openly and positively. Black and Indian truck drivers who stop and tell me that they are making a point of carrying water for me in their trucks. Two black youths still at school who wanted my telephone number so that they could find out if I completed my walk safely. Everywhere a greater acceptance of each other‟s place in life and a greater and realistic evaluation of their own. It seems to me that the political parties in this country all have a hand on the lip of the barrel and are pulling it this way and that. The public inside of the barrel, the everyday man on the street is being shaken from one side to the other. Our leaders need to stop crying out that this is right and that wrong. They need to peek into the barrel and see what it is that they have in there and in what state it is. In the barrel there is a public that is concerned and productive and it is not necessarily all political.

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A major part of the public‟s life is in fact spent in ordinary and amicable dealings with each other. To misrepresent this as being run through with racial hate and distrust is not only untrue but destructive. It would be nice for the public to made aware of just how much goodwill and strength they represent. We need to realize how far this goodwill and strength has brought us. We have more than enough of it to bring the country through the time ahead despite, and I must say this, the rather suspect electioneering and propagandering of our leaders. At 12.40 pm the first of my family arrive. My uncle and aunt, Dereck and Joan pull over to greet me. Joan has a hug for me and Dereck a beer. Within a short space of time everyone is there; My Mum and Dad, my two sisters and a niece, my three daughters and two grandchildren. We have a braai which is not a frequent occurrence in the Russell family but turns out to be really nice. The grandchildren act as if I had never left. The rest of the family are surprised at my loss of weight and outdoor trim. I am very brown and very relaxed. The peace I have made with myself and my life draws a great deal of comment and I can see that my mother is especially satisfied with what I have become. It is a habit of mine at such occasions to withdraw from the conversation sometimes and just listen to what is going on around me. Today is no exception. I come to the conclusion that life has still so much to offer. There is much rebuilding to be done. My father looks well but I know that he felt Sharon‟s death deeply. My mother looks tired. She is the administrative manager of a sanctuary for retarded children. The job is very rewarding but demands a great deal of spiritual energy. The two little ones are causing mayhem with plenty of support from some of the adults. Annelee is trying hard to ignore them but keeps casting sidelong glances at the chaos, ready to intervene if required. It all comes to an end too quickly and at 4.40 pm I am picked up by Melinda. Melinda is an extremely attractive woman and there are comments made as to why it is that I am so relaxed and happy. Mercifully she hears nothing of this and my family remains reasonably civilized as I say good-bye to them and leave with her. Melinda takes me to her house to change and meet her husband John. He is a gentle and intelligent man who is obviously happy with his life. I learn that he is going to cook the evening meal whilst Melinda takes me to attend the evening service at the Worcester Congregational Church where Eras is minister. Eras has asked me to address his congregation and I am honoured to do so. The service is simple and meaningful and I am touched by its sincerity. When I have finished speaking Eras asks me to be seated at the front of the church for a few minutes before returning to my seat. He brings the choir forward and they sing „Amazing Grace‟ in my honor. They are not to know that this too is a hymn that Sharon loved and insisted should be sung at her funeral. My heart breaks but I manage to keep some sort of control on the outside. In the morning Melinda takes me to a hall where there is to be a seminar on death counseling for volunteer care givers. Eras is to give the lecture but I am also given an opportunity to say something. I try very hard to explain what it means to a
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husband to have people like themselves assisting when his world seems to be coming apart. I wish that I could somehow tear open my heart and lay it before them so that they could see just how great a gift it was, this concern and love at a time when many were staying well out of our way. Afterwards Melinda shows me her office and tells me about her work and the difficulties that she must deal with. The talk has an effect on me because later in the morning, along the road I write into my notes the following; ......Melinda, lovely Melinda, whose vitality and concern over just about everything is so sincere; you are trying so hard to provide love through an organization that wants to be financially professional. Do not lose too much of yourself! I start walking at 10.00 am. When I am 21km out of Worcester I stop and turn to look across the valley. I have just started to climb the mountain pass and I can see the Breede River Valley spread out below me. It is a beautiful place and it seems fitting that it is the center of so much caring. Here there is love and time for the people amongst us who struggle with one or other physical and therefore spiritual difficulty. It seems almost impossible that I have only four days left. This has been an experience that I will treasure for the rest of my life. The country I now walk through is magnificent and humbling in its grandeur. The mountains stand like mythological heroes and I could name them easily. I would use ancient names such as Alexander, Hercules and Ulysses. They are invincible and secure in the knowledge of their own might. I have always wanted to be part of nature, to throw aside other people and the trappings of civilization, to become one with the trees and the sky. I am a romantic and when I was younger devoured stories of Tarzan, King Arthur and other men who remained noble in the face of darkness. I believe that such a destiny is possible for all of us. That it is not a specific person that brings nobility to a situation but that nobility is impressed upon him by his surroundings. I find a fast running mountain stream and strip naked to swim in a deep clear pool. It is almost a sacrilegious act and I feel small in the immensity of God‟s creation. This water flows with such power and bounty. What do I contribute to life that I am justified in partaking of what it has to offer. I will come back to this river one day and I will swim in it again. I will do it again to force myself to understand that the purity and nobility around me is free. All I have to do to make it my own is to see it.

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CHAPTER 27

I stayed with her through the night. At about 9.00 pm I gave her two sleeping pills that she had received from Groote Schuur to help her rest. She swallowed them and was soon asleep. Sometime later, during the night I woke up to find her looking down at me from the bed, which was higher than the chair in which I was dozing. Her eyes were bright and intense. “Use the pills. The pills! Give me the pills.” I got up sleepily and asked, “What pills, love?” “My sleeping pills,” She hissed, “Give me my sleeping pills.” I was suddenly so frightened I could hardly speak. I reached out and took hold of her shoulders, “Shar, wake up,” I shook her, “Wake up.” She looked sharply around the ward and then relaxed. “It is not time, is it Rog?” I shook my head, “Oh my darling I thought you were going crazy.” “I dream so, I get funny ideas, they seem so real, yet so easy.” I gave her two more pills and she went back to sleep satisfied. I sat awake for a long time. In the morning I stretched and walked out into the garden. When I returned I walked up to the bed just in time to see Leora approach from the other side. Sharon woke up with a start. She looked around and then from Leora to myself. “Oh God,” she said, “I‟m still here, I am still here!” and burst into tears. Leora put her hand out to her but Sharon turned away. Leora tried hard to control her feelings but had to leave the ward and go out into the garden. Sharon was crying and sobbed, “I thought, I really thought that......, the pills, I dreamed you gave me pills.” “No my love, I just gave you pills to sleep, that‟s all.” My heart sank. There was no escaping what was coming. She required from me that which I was not sure I would be strong enough to give. Later that morning I went to the duty doctor, “I want to take Sharon home. She has not got long left to live and I want her at home.” This was not a problem. The Hospice encourages people to be at home at the end. Home is where the patients often feel their most comfortable. Sharon was visibly deteriorating. She was falling asleep most of the time and often did not respond to questions even if her eyes were open. That night I spent by her bedside again but aside from her heavy breathing she did not stir until she was woken for breakfast. The next day it was Tuesday the 23rd February and by lunchtime she was at home. I settled her in as best I could and we all helped to set up as efficient a sickroom as we could. We put her in the room next to the main bedroom where she could be left alone or be visited privately if necessary. I set up the syringes and put one at each corner of the pillow behind her. I asked to be left alone with her for a few minutes and everybody left the room. When they were gone I took each syringe and adjusted the flow to double the required amount. I knew she would never fully regain consciousness again. I got on my knees beside her, not to pray to God, but to
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say good bye. It was somehow all so unreal, what was I doing? How could this be? What had brought us both to this terrible place? We had been so good together, had loved so much. Why had all that led so inexorably to this moment, to this tiny room where nothing existed except the two of us and the brutal reality of what I was busy doing? We had shared so much and now it was over. No matter what happened in the future it would be this decision that had ended it. Where and how she would have to deal with it I could not say, but I knew that I was destroying a part of myself and how I would find it in myself to forgive, I did not know. As the day progressed she reacted less and less to what went on around her. Winifred came and sat with her for a while in the evening but although Sharon opened her eyes, it was hard to say whether or not she was aware of Winifred‟s presence. I was concerned that underneath it all she was still able to discern some things and so I allowed nobody to clean her or change the sheets but did it all myself. That night at 11.00 pm I fitted new syringes to the syringe drivers and adjusted the rate of input up to three times the proper dosage. Her breathing was heavy and occasionally she moaned or muttered something. The next morning I increased the dosage again. It was taking a long time and I was becoming really worried that the system I had decided on was not going to work as well as I had hoped. On the contrary it looked as if it might make her life even more uncomfortable. I had believed that the morphine would help her quickly and easily; If it did not I would be lost, I did not know enough to do it any other way. Brian came and sat alone with her for some time. I left him and later he came out of the room more at peace than I had seen him in a long while. At about 12.30 pm she was having periods when it seemed that she had stopped breathing but then would draw in a long shuddering gasp and carry on. I too sat with her for a while and then again adjusted the dosage higher. I left her and went into the lounge. I said, “I think I had better get Diana from school.” I went back down the passage to put on some shoes. Sharon‟s Dad came to me as I was busy doing the laces. He said quietly, “Roger you had better come, I think she has gone.” I walked into her room and looked down at her; she was lying with her head to one side, her lips slightly parted. She was very quiet. I waited for the breath to come but it did not. I turned to the rest of the family and said, “Please leave me now I have to clean her,” and closed the door on them. I carefully removed the syringe drivers and their tubes. I took out the catheter and put everything in a plastic rubbish bag. I stripped all the sheets from the bed and cleaned her. I dressed her in clean pajamas and brushed her hair. I washed her face and folded her hands and then covered her up with clean bedding. It was not easy, she was heavy and I was crying all the time. I loved her so much and I had not been able to do enough. I wanted to do more, I wanted to touch her and clean her and brush her hair for the rest of my life but I could not. It was over.

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There remained only one thing still to do, the walk. The last thing I would do for her was walk. She was not just another cancer patient, she was my wife and I would make sure that everyone knew that I honored her as someone worthy of tribute. I was to say that I walked to say thanks, to spread awareness of cancer support groups, but it was more than just that; Deep in my heart it was to say thank you to the most wonderful woman I had ever known. And it was to run away for a while, to get lost in a project that would keep me involved with her. It was to deny that she had gone. It was to keep the job going for a little bit longer as if somehow that would enable me to believe that she was still just as much a part of my life as she had always been.

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Much refreshed I continue. The days walk is very physical. It is all uphill with no tar edge to the road for easy walking. The verge of the road consists mostly of loose gravel and small rocks. The surface often slips causing my feet to turn under me. My calves and back have taken strain and I will be glad to reach the Protea Hotel where I am to stay for the night, courtesy of the management. The hotel is where it is supposed to be and I am warmly welcomed by the staff. I eat well and spend a comfortable night. In the morning I meet the owner of the hotel and hear of the cancer in his family. They have had more than their fair share. I leave just after 8.00 am and walk up to the top of the pass. I avoid the tunnel as I wish to see the Cape from the top. I doubt whether I would have been allowed to walk through the new tunnel anyway. On the way up I help to push a bakkie out of the old Du Toits Kloof tunnel where it had run out of petrol. It is loaded with groceries and is very heavy. I also call on and talk to a young farmer who has a throat cancer. He does not seem to be too concerned about it and is obviously anxious to get on with his work so our conversation is short. At the top of the pass I stop to rest and survey the view. I take out some biltong, a piece of chocolate and a tin of coke that I had purchased at the hotel in the morning. Laid out below me as far as the eye can see is my precious Cape. Here at my feet are all the facets of my life and people that I love so much. I am saddened because I know that down there the walk will be different. Today I have two functions to attend in Paarl. Tomorrow I will be taken to Somerset West and on Thursday I must be at the Pick „n Pay in Brackenfell. On Friday the walk will end at Groote Schuur. Suddenly I realize that for Sharon and myself the walk ends now. In the early stages, the image of the walk was enhanced by saying, `Beit Bridge to Cape Town‟ and that is what the image will remain. However, here, before I drop down into the publicity and pomp that awaits me, my personal tribute to Sharon and her courage ends. What comes next is for cancer and its treatment. I am content and
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feel a peace within me that permeates my whole being. I know then, that this has been enough and that the past can be laid to rest. What I was and what I have done has been balanced. I will never be able to change any part of it but I have been able to add to it. I cannot breathe life back into her but I have been able to extend that life so that others could share a little of it. That which I have done has been done in sincerity and has, I know, been accepted by whatever power it is that weighs and issues the stuff of life. I put away my things and shoulder the pack. I turn my face to the road and start down the hill into the rest of my life.

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