Simon Caspers – Destiny
Everything looks just like it did last time, and the time before, and all those other, infrequent times I slid my SEAT under the carport and walked up the gravel path, while at the same time nothing is the same anymore. My sister is dead. Sabine. Sabine. Sabine. The whole drive over her name was the only thing going through my mind.
I get out and carefully close the door. Please let them not come out, I need a minute, a moment before it all kicks off. The lights are on inside, up in the attic too, behind the double dormer windows where our rooms used to be, mine on the left, hers on the right. At first, I slept there on my own, but then one day a plaster wall was put up, and Sabine moved upstairs and placed her bed directly on the other side of the wall. I remember I would sometimes lean out of my dormer to throw a cup of water through her open window, and then hear her cheerful shrieking, and that we would both be in bed on our respective sides while Mum and Dad were having a go at each other and that I would use a kind of code language of taps to try and get across to her that this was normal, that she need not worry. I don’t know if she was any more convinced than I was.
Just a minute, take a deep breath and don’t think about anything. If I were to get back in my car and drive off, it would be as if nothing ever happened. How long could I keep that up? An hour, a day? I could drive to her flat and sit and wait out on the gallery and who knows, maybe she will suddenly turn up, smiling, in that leather jacket she always wore. I look up at the façade again, and back down, and see a shadow stir behind the kitchen window blinds. A moment later the figure appears in the hallway, the front door opens and my mother comes out. She hops barefoot on the gravel and before I get a chance to take a step in her direction she throws her arms around my neck, holds on tight and digs her head into my shoulder. She makes no sound, but I feel that she is crying.
‘Come on in, you’ll catch a cold on your bare feet.’
With each step I feel as if I’m about to fall, but my legs seem to know what to do and carry me through the hallway, after my mother.
Inside, my dad is sitting at the kitchen table, behind a collection of plastic trays from which steam rises and a kind of a high-rise of prawn crackers. Destiny sits next to him, very different from how I remember her, but I’m not sure exactly in which way.
My mother disappears into the kitchen, turns on a tap and tinkers with some glasses. ‘He got a Chinese takeaway,’ I hear from the kitchen. My dad gets up from behind his wall of food.
‘Uncle Diederik. Come here, my boy.’ He spreads his arms, takes two big steps and grabs hold of me, pressing hard against me, so I feel the warmth of his stomach through his shirt. He slaps me on the back.
‘Damn. Our Bine. Gone. Bam. Just like that.’
‘Yes,’ I say. ‘I can’t get my head round it either.’
I carefully extricate myself from his arms, sit down on the chair next to Destiny and hug her too.
‘Sweetie,’ I say.
She looks at the plate of rice and meat in front of her. I missed her last birthday, she is six now, I believe. I remember when she was born. I was not around then either, I was in Romania, where I was competing in a few clay tournaments, unsuccessfully.
‘I was thinking,’ my dad says, ‘I was thinking, we need to be together. Particularly now.’
‘There’s food, by the way. For you too, obviously.’ He gestures towards the array of plastic containers.
‘Who can think about food at a time like this?’ My mother has crept around our backs into the living room and is now sitting on the sofa, her chin on her chest and her eyes closed, very slowly shaking her head.
‘Margreet …’ My father looks at me and shrugs his shoulders. Then he kneels down by Destiny’s side. ‘Your mother,’ he says. ‘Your mother, she was the happiest girl I’ve ever seen. Don’t you ever forget that, okay?’
Destiny says nothing. She looks first at him, and then at me. Maybe she has no idea who I am. Her mother is dead. Her granddad has spread a week’s supply of Chinese food out on the table and her grandma is sitting the way she has done her whole life, dead quiet on the sofa.
‘Hi Destiny, I’m Uncle Diederik, remember?’ My voice breaks twice.
I swallow. ‘Are you hungry?’ I ask. It is all I can think of to keep from bursting into tears.
My father has sat down again and is shuffling some trays back and forth. Destiny and I follow his hands. Without looking up from the table, he says: ‘We’ll bleed him dry, the jerk who did this…’
‘Evert.’ I hear my mother cry and I think of Sabine, both of us under the blankets behind our wall, and how reassuring it was to know the other was there.
‘I keep seeing it. Imagine, you’re walking down the street, you cross and then you get a geezer, stoned out of his mind of course, because that’s what they’re like in that neighbourhood, I still don’t understand why she had to go and live there –’
‘Dad, please.’ I cover Destiny’s ears with my hands.
‘No, hear me out – you get a geezer knocking your legs from under you.’ He slaps his thigh with one hand. ‘So we’re going to bleed him dry, whether you two want to hear it or not.’
‘The girl’s an orphan,’ my mother says.
Destiny’s eyes keep falling shut, she should have been in bed ages ago. I take my hands off her ears. As soon as I carefully lift her, she wraps her arms round my neck; her body goes limp instantly. She is warm, her breath wafts against my wrist. I feel the sadness rise up again from my stomach, as if I have eaten something bad.
I head out into the hallway with the girl in my arms, climb the two flights of stairs up to the attic. When I step into my room, I trip over the rowing machine that’s evidently parked here these days.
‘God damn it,’ I say. And again, ‘God damn it.’ I feel like picking the contraption up and hurling it down the stairs, throwing the whole bloody thing out of the window, and the bed after it and then getting back into my SEAT and speeding home along the A1.
‘You’re not supposed to say God damn it.’
‘Tonight it’s okay. God damn it.’
She giggles. I lower her onto the bed, which is unmade, but she is not bothered about that. She curls up like a prawn and falls asleep right away by the looks of it. There’s a duvet at the foot of the bed, without a cover, which I sort of drape over her. I take off her shoes and leave them under the bed.
Without looking, I find the bedside lamp switch, and sit down next to Destiny on the edge of the bed. There are two posters on the wall. One of Andre Agassi, long flowing mane and fluorescent clothing, and one of a cheetah hunting on the savannah, four legs off the ground, top speed, unprecedented athletic prowess. In front of it is a cabinet with all my trophies; I can see the dust from where I’m sitting. I remember having to get rid of all the second prizes at one point because there wasn’t enough space.
I listen to her breathing.
Downstairs music comes on, a few chords of an electric guitar.
‘Please, no music, not right now, Evert. Please, can we have a bit of quiet?’
The music continues, the drums join in. Then silence again.
‘Jesus, Margreet, that’s my song. That’s Bine’s and my song.’
‘I can’t handle this,’ I hear my mother say. ‘I can’t handle this, it’s too much.’
I get up to close the bedroom door.
‘Uncle Diederik?’ Destiny is lying curled up under her duvet, but her eyes are open. ‘What’s faster, a cheetah or a tennis ball?’
‘A tennis ball.’
‘Yes. If you hit it well, it will be much faster.’
‘You hit the hardest in the world, right?’
She does not say anything more. Her eyes are shut. I sit down on the edge of the bed again and scroll through my mobile searching for messages from Sabine. The last one is four months old. Thanks for the carrying, it says. She had a new fridge and could not get the bloody thing up the stairs. She got the salesman to lift it into the back of the car for her, but could not get it out at home and was afraid to ask her neighbours because ‘it’s all perverts round here, who’ll think I’m after something’. That’s how she talked.
I had lifted it straight out of the car and into the elevator and then put it in the kitchen. Piece of cake. We had stood on the balcony for a bit, while she smoked a cigarette, and then she had to go pick Destiny up from school. I had forgotten that she was already in school. Bine showed me a photo of her. I suspect I didn’t even give her a kiss when I left. My last message to her said No problem.
They roll the coffin across the gravel path on a kind of stewardess trolley. My mother walks right behind it, her head down, supported by some of Sabine’s friends. Behind me my father has struck up a conversation with one of the friends who just gave a speech. I don’t know her; to be honest, I don’t know any of Sabine’s friends. They wear big earrings and tight shirts. More football than tennis, let’s say. Sabine looked like this too, but when it’s your own sister you clearly don’t realise how tough and sexy it is.
The speech was mostly about wild adventures. Holidays, going out, getting tattoos. Sabine was pretty wild. I probably knew that – when you get pregnant at the age of 20 after a one-night stand, you’re wild – but I’d never really given it any thought. How much I’ve missed. Of Sabine, of life. Where was I when she and her friends went round all the parties in the region from Thursday through to Sunday? In America, I guess, training hard, working on my baseline game, for two years. And getting into arguments with trainers who did not understand my way of working. In the last few months on that campus in Georgetown, before I joined the tour, she called me to say she was pregnant. She was super cheery about it, as if it were something trivial. As if she had bought a cat.
Now Destiny is walking beside me. Sabine was her mother, she looked after this little girl. A few of her friends are walking arm in arm. I would like to talk to them. Would they know who I am? No idea what Sabine told those girls about her big brother, no idea what female friends talk to one another about.
My father must have said something funny just now, because he and Sabine’s friend are chuckling. All around me, people are talking in low voices. Reminiscing. When we were making arrangements with the woman from the funeral parlour the day after the accident, she asked which of us wanted to say a few words during the service. We did not look at one another. My father was the first to speak, saying that he was afraid he might be overcome by emotions. Then he disappeared in the direction of the toilets. My mother just shook her head, muttering ‘it’s too much’ over and over. The woman from the funeral parlour nodded her understanding. And I kind of kept my head down, staring at the floor, thinking of all those times when I should have called her, to arrange to meet up. And that I never did. That most of my memories of her went back to before I was ten, to shortly before I joined the federation, and that Sabine would be asleep when I returned home late at night after yet another training session. ‘If you prefer, I can say a few words about Sabine on your behalf,’ the woman then said. ‘It’s not uncommon.’ Just then my father walked back in, and as he stuffed his shirt into his trousers, he growled that that was a perfect idea.
Destiny is clinging to my leg.
A few people laugh, clearly moved, but no one says anything.
‘Can I go and play somewhere?’
I take her hand and at the slowest pace imaginable we walk behind the coffin.
In the end, the woman said a few words. Where Sabine had gone to school, that she had been a happy child and that she had unexpectedly become a proud mother. That was it.
‘Uncle Diederik, I want to do something fu-hun.’ Destiny all but pulls my trousers down.
‘We’re not done yet.’
‘When are we done then?’
‘When’s after this?’
‘When the coffin’s in the ground.’
Suddenly she stops in her tracks.
‘I don’t want to put the coffin in the ground.’
The entire procession halts, except for the men with the coffin, who shuffle on.
‘I want to take the coffin home.’
My father has found a spot on his shirt which he is trying to brush away with some spit; it requires all of his attention. My mother is staring into the distance.
‘I want to go home with mummy.’
‘That’s not possible, Destiny.’
‘Yes it is.’
‘No, we’re going to bury mummy.’
‘Then I want to be buried too.’
The tears are stinging behind my eyes, but I don’t want to go to pieces in front of her.
‘That’s not possible, Destiny.’
‘You would die.’
‘Then I want to die.’
‘That’s not possible either.’
Yes, why not? The entire funeral procession is looking at us sheepishly. You’d have thought they could help me out. There must be someone here with kids of their own?
‘We have to bury mummy, nobody likes it, but we have no choice. That’s how it goes. That’s just how it goes.’
‘What would you like then?’
The woman from the funeral parlour walks up to us.
‘Is there anything I can do?’
‘I don’t know … She doesn’t want to go.’
The woman looks at Destiny. ‘Would you like to give your mother some pretty petals in a bit?’
‘If you come with me to the front, we’ll lead the procession and then you’ll get to be the first to send your mother off with a flower. And after that we’ll have a glass of lemonade. Do you like lemonade?’
Destiny nods again. The woman from the funeral parlour holds out a hand, Destiny grabs it and walks towards the coffin with a very solemn face.
Everybody gets going again. I walk by myself. I should have invited someone. The woman from the funeral parlour had suggested it, but I could not think of anyone.
At the end of the avenue of graves, or whatever you call it, is a hole in the ground. Then another strip of green, with room for a further twenty folks or so in the near future. There’s a mound of earth at an appropriate distance, behind which they have tried to hide the excavator. When we are gone, that thing will fill the hole with sand in five minutes. And then Sabine will be really dead.
Translation: Laura Vroomen