Distracting herself from her apprehension about the visit to Alida’s grave, Sophie absorbed the scenery outside the window during the train trip to Maastricht. This was where she felt most at home outside of her Australian birth region. Now Bea no longer lived seven kilometres from the city centre, Sophie headed to her favourite souvenir shop at the town square to buy Bea and her daughter, Anna some thank-you presents. When she saw a super-soft white cotton hand-towel with a panoramic photo of a sunset over Maastricht’s oldest bridges printed on a smooth band, she knew her aunt would love it. She’d noticed Bea’s new home had brilliant white hand-towels in the guest toilet, in contrast to decades-old linen at the old home. Sophie bought her cousin a big ceramic mug with a photo of Maastricht.
It was a mild, sunny day so she sat on the Maas canal wall surrounded by locals who dined at outside terrace cafes. She ate her home-prepared lunch and watched people’s activity. When she could no longer stand waiting for time to pass, she walked toward the station, but stopped to sample cheeses at the small outdoor market in the cobbled street’s middle area bounded by single car and bike lanes. She bought a variety of the local regional cheeses, including Bea’s and her favourite stinky cheese.
On the train she wrote about the previous days’ developments while distracting herself from the unknown future. After the change to a small train, Sophie described the scenery outside on her tablet computer. She arrived two hours before the scheduled meeting and decided a long walk to the graveyard was perfect to work off the nervous energy and distracting herself from full-blown anxiety.
The church towers lured Sophie in a direction almost opposite to where Alida’s grave was located. The first heavy square tower boasting 47 bells turned out to be a protestant church. Bricks of different colours were alternated every three rows. She continued to explore the well-kept historic village, and lost track of time while photographing palatial buildings and spacious gardens, until she looked at her watch – only forty minutes to walk about four kilometres. The brisk walk burned off the metallic taste on her dry tongue.
It was five minutes to seven, when Sophie turned into the main driveway. She began to trot. She knew that the graveyard was quite a distance from where she was and chastised herself for being late for such an important date. Her pace increased as she took a shortcut along a tiny canal. When the graveyard hedge was in sight, she slowed to catch her breath then stopped at the main entrance to the cemetery by an ancient willow tree. She listened and turned full circle, trying to spot the man who was going to meet her. Distracting herself with her favourite hobby, she photographed her trolley and backpack in front of the gnarled tree.
Anxiety drove her to walk along the drive scanning full circle.
At last Sophie spotted an old olive green classic Dutch bike, parked in the corner of the dark green hedges bordering the plot. There was nobody to be seen in the silent graveyard. As she neared the bike, the gap in the hedge revealed a small line and a half of simple grey headstones. Indecisive, she stood still. She stared at the graves wondering if she was going to find Alida’s headstone on her own after all.
Sophie turned. A man a few years her senior stood next to an old dark-green bike smiling, with hand outstretched. ‘Jan?’
‘Yes, pleased to meet you.’ He shook her hand.
Sophie’s tense face relaxed. ‘Bedankt for helping me find where my Oma Alida lies.’
‘I was interested to meet a granddaughter who has come all the way from Australia to find Alida’s grave.’ He pointed to a spot a short distance away, ‘She is buried there. It’s just past the end of the hedge … you can see the Protestant section?’
As they walked, he said, ‘You know her name is on it? You would have found it easily with the map.’
‘Oh goodness! I’m so sorry to have taken up your time.’ Sophie blushed.
‘Not at all. I’m happy to meet you.’ His warm voice reassured her. ‘It’s only easy if you know that this tiny separate Protestant section exists.’
Once around the hedge, she saw the short line-and-a-half of plain, old grey cement headstones.
‘We never knew Oma Alida was Protestant,’ Sophie blurted. ‘When we searched the main cemetery ten days ago, we didn’t notice the gap in the tall hedge, either.’ Her heart began pounding as she noticed that most of the headstones were nameless – like the many rows she’d searched in the Catholic section.
‘Her grave has been well looked after.’ Jan pointed. ‘Here it is.’
Sophie stepped closer, tried to smile and reply, but tears caught her, choked her. Her hand went to her mouth as she turned away.
He moved a discreet distance behind.
Kneeling on the grave, Sophie appreciated the man allowing her privacy as she fought back tears. I never imagined that I’d be so overcome, she thought, trying to compose herself. Tonight, I would’ve found Oma’s grave without even looking at the map.
She looked around. It was the only grave with flowers planted on it.
She caressed a daffodil plant, sprouting strongly beside a piece of tin with ‘MOEDER’ etched across the top of two columns. The daffodils would have been lovely in full bloom a few weeks ago. The flowers and home-made plaque in the warm summer evening made her feel at peace.
Indents punched in the metal formed the letters of the names. On the left column they indicated Alida’s eldest child, Nico, then below, the two oldest girls, Therese and Emmanuelle. On the right, in order of age; Marie, Aggie and Ans were listed. Sophie leaned forward on the fine, soft mown lawn and brushed aside some leaves to reveal the last name.
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