Letter Reveals Evidence of Opa’s Character
Letter sure shows Opa’s probable treatment of Alida, Sophie mused as she tidied up after lunch, while Bea had a little afternoon nap. She remembered how Bea had said many times over the years that Alida had said she needed to work cleaning the shops below the family apartment to feed her six children and husband and to pay the rent. The part of the letter from his sister, which her aunt Bea had translated the previous afternoon, confirmed Sophie’s suspicions about how a husband could commit his wife to an institution for the mentally ill. Her hunches were activated by the fact that he apparently refused to try to work at anything other than as a merchant seaman, which he was unable to do because he had failed an eyesight test. Sophie had known this since she was a teenager; her opa’s wife had told her this many times. It was portrayed as a tragedy that Opa apparently couldn’t overcome.
She sat in a chair next to Bea, who had begun reading the newspaper. ‘Would you like a cup of tea?
Bea looked at her watch. ‘Oh! Yes, that would be lovely, dank u wel.’
‘And would you mind translating some more of Tante Angelique’s letter, please?’
‘No problem. Now, where did I put it?’
‘It’s over there.’ Sophie smiled. She got up and retrieved it from under her tablet carrycase on the sideboard, where she’d put it before lunch after taking photos of each page, to ensure it didn’t get lost.
‘Oh, thank you. That was wise of you to keep it safe. I can’t tell you how stressful it has been trying to find everything after moving here five weeks ago.’ Bea peered at the writing on the page, while Sophie set up the video camera to record their conversation.
Sophie sat on the sofa next to Bea. ‘I do understand the stress you are experiencing. Although at your age, after so many years in one place, I marvel at how well you are doing. But remember I moved ten times in three-and-a-half years when my ex-partner made me homeless. I stayed in all those places with only some boxes of mainly my study and family court files and clothes.’
‘Now I have some experience of what you went through, I shouldn’t grumble. But I’m worried about getting my tax return completed before the deadline this month. Since leaving Belgium, the bank there have been difficult to deal with because I’ve taken my savings away from it.’
‘Oh dear! What a shock after the special treatment they gave you in previous years, when the manager drove to your house to discuss the best way to invest it.’ Sophie pulled her left foot up under her right thigh, turning to face Bea. ‘Maybe your children can help?’
‘Anna has done so much. She has already driven me about 150 kilometres each way to the bank in Belgium, because they insisted that I come in person to sign the documents at their office.’
‘As if it was their money! Don’t worry. Nobody will put a woman of your age in prison for your tax return being a little late. I’m sure Anna will write a letter explaining the difficulties that the bank is causing, then it can be sent to the Tax Department.’
‘Yes, I agree. But, as you know, I like to be on top of the paperwork, so with everything in a new place it has kept me awake at night. However, I can do just a bit of unpacking each day, and then enjoy life here which has been surprisingly good, better than I ever expected, to tell you the truth.’ Bea smiled and then picked up the letter, pausing to read it before translating into English aloud.
He was so angry that people in the street stopped to look at him. I said not a word, and felt as though I would change into a pillar of salt… A week later, I went back but after six minutes there, they did everything that they had to do with two friends and a priest.
Sophie’s eyes widened, ‘A priest?’ She leaned forward, peering at the page.
Bea looked back at the page and reread the sentence:
With two very good friends and the father. In the meantime, I was declared crazy…
Sophie recoiled, gasping loudly.
Bea gave one nod, ‘insane…’
‘Not again!’ Sophie flopped back into the chair.
‘Yes, you recognize…?’ Bea swung her foot up high from her crossed-over leg in the low couch.
‘Oh, my God! Do I recognize? Oh, wow, the pattern repeats. It’s exactly what he did to Alida. Go on…’ She waved her hand, as she shook her head, her mouth gaping.
Bea watched Sophie’s face contorting, eyes flicking from side to side. ‘Are you alright if I go on?’
Sophie leaned forward, trying to peer at the page, ‘Yes. So that was in the company of a psychiatrist, or a doctor?’
Bea continued reading:
Two good friends, and the priest. So my brother had declared me insane and he wrote a rotten letter and gave it to me, and he sent a copy of that letter to friends here in Canada, and a priest, Oom Paul.
The two women communicated without words as they had previously discussed this priest friend who had been involved in the family life when Opa and Alida were in Canada.
‘Ooo, I see.’ Sophie spoke as if she were just waking up. She leaned back, waiting quietly as Bea read silently, then translated aloud:
My Uniting Church minister here in Edmonton asked me why I hadn’t gone to another lawyer in Australia when I was there. But I said, “He is my brother, he has six children who are carrying his name,” and for these children, I wouldn’t talk. And my brother had said, I could help him, and I thought he could end up in prison.
Sophie’s brow furrowed as she nodded, ‘Which is right.’
So, I didn’t want that to happen, as the family name has never had something bad against it. I didn’t want to bring it into bad repute as long as I live.
‘Yes, I see. Yeh. Yeh.’ Sophie looked stern, her head supported by the heel of her hand.
My brother, he will receive his punishment by God, who has always helped me with all my difficulties. My brother will have to tell God about all his wrongs. That will be worse than a few years in prison.
Sophie managed a little laugh. Bea’s smile returned too as she moved her pointing finger along the line twice.
…and not bring shame on you both, Therese and Emmanuelle, who are the ones I love most.
Bea’s voiced croaked and she blew her nose.
‘Mmm, mmm.’ Sophie’s tone was gentle and supportive.
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