239 Things

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Studium Generale 1000things lectures, The Hague

239 Things

I am looking for a small frame for a postcard with some deer on it. I find exactly the right size, somewhere in a box. In the frame is Ms. De Boer. Or at least: an image of her, of course. I don’t know Ms. De Boer that well, so I flip her face out of the frame. Another Photo falls out. On it, a young woman and man with white Dianthus flowers on their blazers. Seems like an engagement photo, not one of resistance, considering the smiles on their faces (although the gentleman grimaces rather sarcastically).

An indistinct sense of guilt creeps up on me. I remember Ms. De Boer. For hours I have sat next to her, in her service apartment, in the middle of busy Schilderswijk.* It smelled musty, of old perfume and fabric softener. The sound of the oxygen machine constantly in the background. On the TV a soap series.

She did not tell me all that much about her life. She had drunk and smoked much, as a result of which she now had COPD. Her ex-husband was in a home for the elderly. She didn’t take kindly to that. Or to people generally. All the more to her little children, though. They were displayed on the upper ridge on the walls of her small sitting room. The dogs. Different German shepherds, of which one was the sweetest of them all, but I have forgotten any names. I also forgot the name of that epileptic Keeshond that (volunteering for the animal foundation) I came to walk for her. And in spite of the fact that it was everything to her.

In general, Ms. De Boer complained most of the time, but when her little dog was concerned, she would radiate. When things were going worse and worse, her anxiety over her dog took the upper hand. “For me, I’m done here, but who will take care of my little dog?” The dog wagged its tail, rain tapped against the window, Moroccans threw stones at the tram. The sound of the oxygen machine. The tears of Ms. De Boer.

After having been lying in hospital once again, she told me she had seen Death. A large black man had stood at her bed. She was afraid to die, and cried softly.

A while later was her cremation. It was by far the most depressing service I have ever witnessed. Besides me, there were four other service workers. And there was the church. Ms. De Boer was afraid and lonely in her last couple of days and for some reason or other, that attracts the church like a lamp does flies. All of a sudden there was talk of God and some conversion, whereas Ms. De Boer was the least religious person I knew. For a finish, they placed a large wreath with a religious text onto the ribbon beside the coffin. I can remember that this considerably obstructed my attempts at serious morning, especially for the bad spelling mistake they had made. I don’t remember for certain, but I think it was: “The Lord leeds me.” A grave matter.

So now I flip her face out of a frame and realise that the chance exists that I am the only one who still thinks of her. That is sad. She might not have been the most pleasant person to be around, but how much she cared for her little dog shows that she could feel love. And loneliness, pain and fear. She has given me the picture when she knew she would die. It was one of the few photos she had of herself. I will look for another frame for those deer.

* A neighbourhood of poor alloy in The Hague.

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