Strange things are often dismissed as a coincidence
Strange thing to happen, Sophie thought as she tried to open the front door with her key, but it wouldn’t budge. She tried the garage door, but equally had no success. Bea must’ve locked it after helping untangle the bike’s baggage strap from the back wheel when I was leaving, she concluded.
Sophie was wet from the persistent rain during her trip to visit a castle in Groensveld, a village due east of Bea’s home, which required cycling a few kilometres to the bus and waiting for others during several route changes.
Shivering, she looked in and saw Bea lying on lounge. Desperate to get inside, Sophie gently tapped on the lounge window with her fingernails. To her relief, Bea started as she opened her eyes, then jumped up and opened the front door.
‘My day has taken a turn for the better!’ Sophie’s voice was joyous. ‘Thank goodness you were awake and could hear me.’
Bea laughed, ‘It’s very lucky that I still had one hearing aid in and wasn’t yet asleep. In fact, I was just thinking how awful the weather was and you being out in it.’
‘Silly me! I didn’t remember my motto: Always listen to your little voice and heed the numerous strong signs from the universe when deciding whether to adjust your plans!’ Sophie’s eyes widened. ‘Remember, even the bike tried to stop me with the baggage strap winding around the back wheel, then I nearly missed the bus, and all this was after the rain had already settled in.’
‘You were very lucky that it happened when you were wheeling the bike backwards and it stopped you before you were cycling quickly down the hill.’ Bea grimaced as she recalled her own bike accident five months earlier.
‘Without a helmet, I might have been seriously injured.’
‘So, did you succeed in seeing the castle?’ Bea took Sophie’s lunch bag.
‘Hah! Before I knew it, we were in the next village, St Gertruid, because as I found out later, the road didn’t pass through Groensveld’s main street. I asked the driver how soon another bus would go back the way we’d come. Fortunately, he said there would be one in ten minutes. It was in fact a bit longer before one arrived, but at least there was a roof over the bus stop. The seat was too cold to sit on, and even my plastic rain cape with a hood failed to keep me warm from the wind.’ Sophie put on the kettle to prepare a cup of tea and hot porridge.
‘I think your Oma Alida’s angel might have been trying to tell you something.’ Bea’s eyes twinkled.
‘So many strange things happened that I think it is probably the most likely explanation.’ Sophie poured boiling water onto her porridge and into the teapot. ‘When I got to Groensveld, nobody in the tiny village seemed to know where the castle was, even though it is marked on the map as being in the centre. Finally, somebody asked the chef in the hotel, where I’d used the toilet located conveniently outside the main door. The maître de went outside into the street and pointed to the church steeple towering above the roofs.’
‘And you were able to go inside?’ Bea poured two mugs of tea.
‘Hahah, ‘Verboden Togang’ was written on the locked gate, of course. As I said, the universe, or perhaps Oma Alida, gave me enough warnings to stay at home and write the story in comfort and warmth.’
Sophie began to eat the hot porridge and drink her tea while tidying her belongings, preparing for her departure train trip on the following day. Bea resumed her place on the couch snuggled under a blanket. Sophie then went upstairs to change out of her wet trousers, do physiotherapy exercises; and pack for her return trip home to Australia. Her spirit was heavy as she couldn’t shake away the thought that this would be the last time she would spend a holiday at her aunt’s house in this beautiful border region of Holland and Belgium.
When she returned to the living area, Bea was sound asleep, so she snuggled into a comfortable chair to process emails, Facebook password changes, and write some more of the story.
Bea had a long sleep and appeared to bounce up singing.
‘Do you think I could please have a Cointreau, to relax my neck which is causing a headache… and generally lift my spirits – ha-ha.’
Bea laughed. ‘Of course. But I need to put on more clothes. It is so cold.’ She hurried to get a blazer from the coatrack, and Cointreau from the cellar shelf. The women enjoyed the spirit-warming drink, with much laughter as they reflected on the fickle Dutch summer weather’s impact on Sophie’s expeditions to Holland’s various beaches. Bea placed the bottle and glasses carefully on the marble mantelpiece.
Sophie grinned, ‘The drink is working! Thankfully as I’m trying to avoid paracetamol.’
‘Tonight, I will give you some more to ensure you have a good sleep.’
‘Well actually tonight is our last night at your home together.’
‘Then we have to drink a lot,’ chortled Bea.
Strange things happened to Bea and Sophie
By the time Sophie awoke, Bea was packing for her trip to Lourdes.
‘Did you pack all the medicine you got replaced yesterday?’
‘Yes, but a strange thing happened.’ Bea looked mischievous.
Sophie began to say, ‘You found…’
…and Bea asserted, ‘I decided to put them all in the right places, and there I found the other missing boxes and the script.’
‘Well at least you won’t have to cycle seventeen kilometres to the doctor for a very long time now.’ Sophie beamed, while thinking that this had to be one of those moments an older person didn’t want to tell their family about. ‘Of course, you were so used to seeing all those boxes there, you must have dismissed them as the ones in use.’
‘So, you see strange things happen.’ Bea laughed it off, while Sophie silently reassured herself with the thought that although it was a significant matter to have a senior moment about, basically in the month she’d stayed, her ninety-three-and-a-half-year-old aunt had not shown any other signs of memory loss.
Bea went to read the paper and have her morning fix of coffee. After the customary half hour, she returned to the kitchen, ‘There will be 245 soldiers, and special bomb squads, police – all at Lourdes as it is a special event on the 15th – the Assumption of Mary.’ Bea exclaimed. ‘Oh well, if I die, I die.’
Sophie put out her bottom lip to indicate pseudo crying, covering a deep inner sadness. The thought had already crossed her mind at the beginning of her stay, when Bea announced that she was going this year.
‘Of all the years to go. What a pity you didn’t go last year,’ Sophie said glumly.
‘There’s no point crying about it now, but it would have been better, especially with my leg still not being very strong after my bike accident.’ Bea frowned. ‘While resting for over three months after the fall, I decided that I had to do what I can, while I can.’
‘Yes, watching Mum dying slowly without having enjoyed life much makes your choice seem like the wisest thing to do. I hope you have a really great time, and that the experience lives up to its reputation for you.’
‘I hope all goes as smoothly as possible with your mother’s health. It really emphasises how lucky I am to be so well, even though I’m so much older than her.’
‘Yes, nearly a decade. That is all we can hope for. A smooth passing from this life, without too much suffering.’ Sophie sighed. ‘Reading my sister’s emails, it sounds as though Mum’s health has stabilised – although it’s awful for her struggling to breathe.’
‘Give her a big hug from me, and you know I’ll be sending you strength along with all the angels.’
‘Thank you so much for having me and telling me everything you could remember about my Oma Alida.’
‘I hope it is helpful for you and your family.’
‘Well, I hope I can share it in a good way. At least her life won’t be such a secret anymore, because you have given Alida a voice from the perspective of a family member who visited her.’
Bea lifted her hand with index finger raised, ‘Remember that it’s only my perspective, within the limitations of my old memory. Also, it has been over thirty-five years since I last saw Alida alive.’
Sophie nodded, ‘You’ve been amazing. I really appreciate it. With your social worker skills and experience, you would’ve helped her express the bit that she did say. Your calmness would also have helped her to feel safe to speak with you. It sounds as though she would have been glad of your visits.
‘It was all I could do in such a difficult situation.’
Sophie smiled and took a big breath in, ‘You know Tante Bea, a very strange thing happened to me thiry-one years ago, soon after Tante Emmanuelle shared the news about my Oma Alida. A few mornings later, just as I got up. It was as though Oma Alida’s spirit entered my being. It was a weird experience, which I’ve never forgotten, and I’ve only ever told friends who I trust very much and those I thought would understand.’
Bea was speechless.
Sophie added. ‘I was only twenty-three years old at that time, and it meant nothing to me then. But in recent years, I’ve felt I was the means for Alida’s spirit to fly free.
By one o’clock, both women were travelling by taxi and train to a family birthday dinner party which was really a farewell gathering for Bea. ‘I really prefer to have stayed home to be ready for my trip when they will pick me up at 4am.’ Bea grumbled.
‘I guess your children are anxious about the safety and security at Lourdes after all the terrorist disasters in France this year.’ Sophie could barely allow the thought to enter her mind.
‘Oh, they are certainly afraid that I might not come back.’ Bea managed a grin, ‘I might just stay there because it’s too nice to leave. You know, we got a letter from the tour company, that we shouldn’t bring a suitcase because it takes too much room on the train, and corridors!’ She smiled, ‘But do you think I will keep my clothes in a plastic bag for the whole week?’
‘Goodness!! I hope they give you a bedroom bigger than the little room I use upstairs!’
‘I’ll just do my poor little old lady act, which comes in useful from time to time, and say that I didn’t know.’ Bea’s eyes twinkled.
Sophie laughed with her.
Outside the restaurant after the party, Sophie said farewell to her beloved aunt, and then, with heavy feet, accompanied Bea’s daughter to her car. She would stay the night at Anna’s house before flying home to Australia from Schipol airport, which was only an hour-and-a-half train trip away. Bea went in her son’s car so he could drive her more than a hundred kilometres to her home to be picked up by the Lourdes tour bus at 4am the next morning. In the car, Anna and Sophie discussed the risks of Bea going to France with the recent escalation of terrorism there. Eventually Sophie asked, ‘Does your mum have a loud enough alarm clock to wake her up at 3am?’
Anna gave her mobile to her daughter in the back seat. ‘Please phone your uncle so he can ask mother about this.’
On arrival at her place, Anna dashed upstairs. In a moment, she was back in the living area, holding aloft her beautiful old-fashioned white alarm clock with brass bells on either side of a big handle, ‘Look! It’s loud, and so easy to use.’ She phoned her brother to ask him to come via her house.
Sophie said, ‘I hope your mum keeps one hearing aid in her ear so she can be sure to hear it, although it is possible she would hear the loud clock if it’s right next to her. I’m glad you have it, otherwise I think she would have stayed up all night to be sure she was awake at 4 am.’
Bea arrived with her son in five minutes. Sophie said to Bea, ‘My goodness, you could have slept right through, and missed your trip.’
Bea shrugged, ‘I always wake up before you. I would have woken.’
‘Yes, but you could have been waking up countless times all night worrying. Now you can sleep well until the alarm clock goes off.’
Bea said nothing. She looked tired as she hugged Anna and Sophie goodbye again.
End of Part 1
Strange things continue to happen to Sophie as she continues to search in other places for more insight into how what happened to Alida could have occurred. Part 2 describes how it occurs to her to find the grave, the strange things which led her to persevere through initial failure and disappointment.
A letter written in 1962 suddenly surfaces in the year following Bea and Sophie’s conversation. It’s a strange thing that 1962 is the year that Sophie was born, but maybe that’s just a coincidence. In Part 3, Sophie researches whether what happened to Alida was just a strange thing which didn’t happen often, or was it a widespread occurrence? Join Alida’s Facebook to stay in touch if you’ve not subscribed yet. If you subscribe, you will receive a personal email whenever another chapter is released – monthly is the aim. However, there may be a little delay in Part 2’s publication.