American nurse Tory Bird, visiting Amsterdam with her sister Jane, meets Dr. Maximilan van den Nie whilst giving first aid to an injured English tourist. After a lovely weekend, Tory returns home to the United States, daydreaming of the handsome Dutchman. To her surprise, Max arrives in Tory's New Hampshire village a few weeks later! Their paths naturally cross in the small town, but his request that she accompany him to France and Namibia to care for an elderly friend throws them together more than either one had hoped.
Installment One - Installment Two - Installment Three - Installment Four - Installment Five - Installment Six - Installment Seven - Installment Eight - Installment Nine - Installment Ten - Installment Eleven - Installment Twelve - Installment Thirteen - Installment Fourteen - Installment Fifteen - Installment Sixteen - Installment Seventeen - Installment Eighteen - Installment Nineteen - Installment Twenty - Installment 21 - Installment 22 - Installment 23 - Installment 24 - Installment 25
THE HUGE ROSES (working title)
copyright 2014 by Betty van den Betsy; not for reprint or publication without permission
It was less than 20 minutes to the clinic, where she and Max would stay with Adela and Everard in a guest house behind the main facility. Dr. Mhuulu showed them to their rooms, and Tory, finally in a private space – her own bedroom for the night – could stretch out fully at last. She reached her arms toward the ceiling, touched her toes, bent left and right and backwards. She lifted her left foot onto the bureau top and did a few more stretches in that position, then repeated them all with her right foot elevated. She sat down on the floor and spread her legs wide, and bounced gently over each knee and then carefully dropped her forehead to the floor. Then she jumped up – and did a few more toe touches. Beginning to feel properly aligned once more, she staggered to the bathroom down the hall for a quick shower.
Back in her room, she would have loved to have collapsed onto the bed, where a bright-white quilt looked crisp and inviting. However, they had made no plans on arrival at the guest house, and she decided she had better make an appearance, since it was approaching dinner time. She pulled on slacks and a t-shirt, brushed her hair and headed down the hall. As she approached the sitting room, she heard a quiet humming sound. Two more steps convinced her that the noise was not the air conditioner, and she switched to stealth mode, peeping around the door jamb to see Max asleep in a large leather armchair, head back and snoring softly.
She tiptoed past him and found the kitchen, where a smiling woman was pushing potatoes through a ricer. “Good evening,” Tory said softly.
The cook whispered back, “Dr. Max is asleep, so I am quiet as a custard,” then introduced herself as Renna.
“I’m Tory. Are we all having dinner?”
“There’s a nice shepherd’s pie, with these potatoes for the top. Be ready in fifteen, twenty minutes, with a salad and some ice cream afterwards. You like ice cream?”
“Oh, yes,” Tory assured her.
“Good. This one my sister makes, from her goats. She makes cheese, too. I put some out when the pie goes back in the oven, with some rolls, before you have dinner. Dr. Everard and Ms. Adela, they go to the clinic. You like a drink?”
“Actually, I think I’ll step over to the clinic and join the others. Dr. Max can rest for a bit.”
“Dr. Max is feeling quite well rested now,” he announced from the doorway, startling Tory and drawing a laugh from Renna. “I’ll join you for the clinic visit, if I may. Renna, we’ll be back in fifteen minutes if that suits you.”
“That’s right, Dr. Max. You can look round everywhere and tell them what they got wrong.” Renna chuckled at her own comment, never pausing in her cookery.
Feeling ambushed, Tory fell in step with Max and walked the short distance to the clinic building. “Did you sleep at all?” he enquired.
“No, just stretched and took a shower. I feel pretty good,” she reported.
“How conscientious of you, Tory,” he replied. “I do not do much stretching in my routine, and I am certain I should benefit from it. Perhaps your good example will inspire me.”
“I don’t really do it to be conscientious. I just like stretching. It feels good.”
“Proof that something that feels good can be good for you.” They both chuckled lightly, but Tory felt the conversation was strained in a way their interactions rarely were. She put it down to the jet lag. Max tried to clear his brain of the image of Tory bending her nicely-rounded torso to reach along her slender legs. Her down-to-earth friendliness had helped him keep his resolution to maintain a platonic relationship so far on the trip, and he was determined that fatigue and exotic surroundings – and his own recalcitrant thoughts – not undermine that.
Adela’s ebullience acted as a tonic as she guided them around the clinic, pointing out almost state-of-the-art equipment for diagnosis and treatment. “They can take care of any routine matters here, including basic surgery. The more elaborate ops have to go to Windhoek, as do major emergencies. But they can patch people up here well enough that they’ll withstand the journey to the capital,” she reported with pride.
They fell into a conversation that none of them considered gruesome, though it encompassed diarrhea, malnutrition, diabetes, asthma, renal failure, AIDS and HIV, tuberculosis and cirrhosis, among other fascinating topics. Everard and Tyapa joined them, emerging from a session with their accountant in the office, and introduced the subject of emergency generators. Eventually, Everard exclaimed over the time, Tyapa grimaced comically and said he must get home – he was expected at his sister’s for dinner. The others walked back to the guest house, still immersed in their medical talk.
Once at the table, however, digging into the superb pie prepared for them, the conversation flowed naturally to gardening. Adela confessed to a brown thumb, Everard praised the roses at Max’s family home, and Max informed his friends that Tory kept a superb vegetable plot.
“Lots of compost,” Tory advised. “New Hampshire is not great farming territory, though of course we still have a lot of farmers around. Tough, tough people, who can contend with rocky soil and a four-month growing season. Gosh, do they make lousy patients.”
The others laughed at her comment, nodding knowingly. “Do you get this, too?” Tory asked. “Old farmer comes into the office, and you ask why he’s there. He says, ‘The wife wanted me to come.’ So you ask why she wanted him to come. He says, ‘She’s a worrier.’ And after about twenty questions, he finally tells you he ‘fell asleep’ for a few minutes, after having pain in his chest and some trouble breathing, and that he can’t expect to feel like a teenager after all at 73. So he’s had a heart attack, but he didn’t like to fuss about it.”
“I was working in Yorkshire for a couple of years, and had a woman come in who’d been walking on a fracture for two months, and finally decided to get it looked at because it would be a nuisance to be limping so much in calving season,” Adela confirmed.
“As a student, I attributed that quality to the tough nature of the Fries people,” Everard added. “But now I’ve seen it around the world.”
“Hardy Yankees, I thought,” said Tory, and Adela added, “Hard Geordies and Tykes.”
“And I once thought it was the province of rural people,” Max continued, “but there’s a strain of that foolhardy toughness in some of my urban patients, too. Shortly before I left Amsterdam, I had to operate on a man – a housepainter – who had tried to re-set a dislocated shoulder himself. I will say, as much as I deprecate the results, I admire the spirit. Like anything else, though, self-reliance, even strength, is a flaw when taken to the extreme.”
Everard raised his glass. “To moderation in all things,” he declaimed.
They adjourned shortly afterwards to the living room, where Renna had left an urn of hot water, with instant coffee crystals and tea bags, and a plate of sugar cookies. Tory, eschewing caffeine, chose the red-bush tea at Adela’s suggestion, then sat next to the other woman in a comfortable, albeit somewhat shabby, armchair. Max and Everard had sunk into a discussion of orthopedic treatment.
“Everard’s so pleased to have Max here,” Adela commented. “We all have to be generalists in this environment, but picking a specialist’s brain can be invaluable.”
“How did you come to be in Namibia?” Tory asked.
“We’re both essentially homebodies, you’d think. I’d think, anyway; but I grew up in west England, trained in London, worked in Yorkshire for two years, and then decided to take a job in Leeuwarden, in the north of the Netherlands. So I guess, despite my protests, that I’ve got a bit of restlessness in me. I met Everard at the hospital there. He’d always stuck much closer to home, but loved his volunteer work, and wanted to do more. He grew up with money, you see, plus he didn’t want his skills to get stale. He specializes in infectious diseases, and this is a great place for I.D. experience! We’d been married three or four years, with our second just born – or maybe just about to be born – when a colleague told Everard about this opportunity, and we decided it would be great for all of us. And I’m thrilled with it. So is he. The kids are probably too young to understand how different this is, but we’ll go home in another year or two, and then plan to return here for a month or two every summer. So they’ll really get to experience a radically different way of life.”
“This,” Tory gestured around the comfortable room, “doesn’t seem all that different.”
“Wait until you come in and find a baboon’s torn a hole in the roof,” Adela remarked dryly. “Anyway, our bungalow outside Windhoek is, in every way, a very long way from Everard’s ten-bedroomed family home in Sneek, with servants’ quarters and a music room and library and just a very small ballroom. That they actually call a drawing room. And silver at every meal.”
Tory laughed at her newfound friend’s wry tone.
“And even though we’re very comfortable here,” Adela continued, “and have a nanny five days a week, blessings be on her, and a cleaner and cook and a man who keeps the car running and fixes broken windows and mends the fence and things, we have to be very aware of how much water we’re using, and the electricity sometimes goes out, and we have lots of friends with dramatically less material wealth than we have. And the kids will get to see all of that as they get bigger.” At a questioning look from Tory, she clarified, “Everard the younger is almost five, Elisabeth is two and a half, and baby Max just turned one. Yes, named for your Max, with Japik as the middle name for my mother, Jacobina. We’ve had a terrible time with naming them.”
“Not my Max.” Tory’s protest was almost a whisper.
“This is our first night away from the baby,” Adela confided, and Tory leapt at the chance to talk babies and child-rearing for 30 minutes or so. The men joined them after a few minutes, and the conversation began to wind down naturally.
“I’m so excited to be going on safari tomorrow,” Tory announced as she rose from her chair. “I really hope I’ll sleep well.”
“You understand we’re planning to accompany you?” Everard asked. “I am not certain we had explained that.”
“I wasn’t sure, but I’d hoped so,” Tory assured him. “More people to poke me if I fall asleep just as we come across a pride of lions.” Laughing, they dispersed to their bedrooms.
Tory slept surprisingly well, but was up earlier than needed the next morning, enjoying the sounds of many unfamiliar bird calls. Since the sun was up, and predators were unlikely in this built-up area, she elected to go for a walk. After all, the safari would entail many hours of sitting in a car or truck, and there would be limited opportunities for exercise in a national park full of lions and jackals. So she stepped outside, greeted the morning with a big stretch, and then strode briskly toward the street – where Max was peering into the branches of one of the trees flanking the guest-house gate.
He saw her, and turned around, greeting her with a smile. “Good morning,” she offered.
“A lovely day. I hope you appreciate the birdsong. It’s one of the things I like most, and remember best, about my visits here.”
“It was fantastic. And I even recognized one: the roosters.”
Max laughed, and gestured to the tree. “And I have recognized this tree, though I don’t recall its name. Shepherd’s tree, maybe? But I know these little orange fruits, and recommend them. You squeeze out the insides and drop the skin – they have a texture like jelly, and a mild flavor.”
Tory plucked, squeezed and swallowed. “Yum,” she reported. “They’re very moist, aren’t they? I like seeing all the ways desert plants develop to conserve water. Like tiny leaves.”
“Shallow roots,” Max added.
“And this one has a kind of waxy coating on the leaves, like cacti often do.”
They smiled in pleased accord. “You’re off on a walk?” Max asked. She confirmed it with a nod. “Well... I had planned one, too. May I join you?”
Of course she agreed, but wondered about his hesitation. Was he reluctant to spend more time with her? They’d been together for most of their waking hours for several days now; of course he’d be getting sick of her. She resolved not to chatter, and to let him choose their course through the small city.
“Were you headed anywhere in particular?” Max asked. “I am not familiar with Otjiwarongo.”
“Just a walk – anywhere’s fine. I don’t mind getting a little lost, and seeing what I find.”
“Wonderful,” Max said, and they moved briskly. After about a mile along the broad street, they were beginning to emerge from the commercial district, and tried turning onto a new road. Max had added the ability to be comfortable with silence to the list of attributes he would seek in the ideal woman he had begun fantasizing in Paris, and congratulated himself on resisting the urge to take Tory’s hand.
Her words broke into his thoughts. “I thought you were a runner.”
“I do enjoy running, usually two or three times a week. I got a couple of good runs in in Paris. But recreational running still isn’t done much here, so I stick to walking, unless there’s a track or a treadmill.”
“Ah,” Tory signified her understanding.
“I hate treadmills.”
She chuckled. “I can’t even use them right. Even Emma despaired of teaching me. But we can walk here, and wear shorts.”
“Probably best not to run anywhere there are cheetahs and leopards and lions, anyway,” Max added.
She had begun to giggle at their game of non-sequitors. “There was a sign for a crocodile farm. You could swim.”
“Swimming in a desert definitely appeals. And we could wear swimsuits.”
“No, that’s real,” Tory protested. “Mother worked on an archeological dig in Saudi Arabia one summer, and took me along. I was 15, and spent two weeks in the sweltering heat in long sleeves and trousers and a head scarf, and an abaya over everything. They are not cooler than a cotton sundress!”
Max laughed deeply.
“At the dig I could take off the abaya, but not roll up my sleeves. I’d love to go back, but only in the winter.”
“I spend time in Indonesia every year or two,” he said, still laughing, “and I’m always a bit relieved that I needn’t wear a necktie and jacket to the hospital, as I do at home.”
Tory was laughing too hard to stick to their brisk pace. “Oh, no, oh, no. None of our doctors wear suits anymore. Sometimes they look really junky. Too informal. And nurses in smiley-face scrubs. I almost yearn for a blue-and-white dress and a little cupcake frill on my head.”
Max had stopped, and looked a bit puzzled. “Do you know, I never thought about this before. But your nurse’s uniform has changed dramatically in recent decades, while my colleagues and I still wear charcoal gray suits and discreet ties, with our white coats and a stethoscope ’round the neck. Not all the time, of course, but find me a nurse who even owns a great navy wool cloak with red lining, or whatever that was.”
“Well, nurses were in full uniforms. Doctors just wore the uniform coat over their regular clothes.”
“And women’s lives in general changed dramatically in the latter part of the last century,” Max noted. “Shall we turn down here, and see if we wind up back at the clinic?’
They walked on in silence again for ten minutes. “I may get you a cupcake frill for your head at Christmas,” Max said, and Tory broke into uncontrollable giggles again.
The morning had warmed up considerably by the time they got back to the guest house, just 45 minutes after they had left. Tory was glad of a quick shower – she remembered Adela’s comment about staying conscious of water use – then packed the bare necessities into her knapsack for the two-night safari. Heavy winter coats and pretty dresses would stay in Otjiwarongo until they got back.
They were a merry group over a breakfast of oatmeal with raisins and fresh grapes. Everard reported that baby Max had survived a night without his parents, and Adela added the information that Everard, Jr. had begun a mining operation in the yard, and achieved three sizeable holes before nanny and gardener had found and stopped him. In the time it took him to fill them back up, under strict supervision, his young sister had created a fourth.
“I love having grown-up time,” she said with deep sincerity.
Over Renna’s protests, they did their own washing up, and when that was done, Tory peeked out the window. “I think the safari people are here,” she exclaimed.
Indeed it was they, and the four friends hurried outside to meet Joshua, their guide, and his assistant, Elijah. Elijah was quiet and seemed shy, with limited English. Joshua was just the reverse, promising them a three-day party. “With animals. We must hope for some good sightings, right?”