Sunday, June 3, 2012
17) Gentlemen and Scholars
One knows one when one sees one. A true gentlemen. Such is Simon's old younger brother, Anthony Brink. He wears grief not like a shield nor wields a sword but is like a man treading the path of spiritual acceptance. He hugs long in the welcome. He kisses me, as men beyond silly-boy icky-ness. Inside the rented guest-cottage he has a fire going. We sit and in the round share our renewed connection. It is not only the demise Simon is facing but a commitment to the love we feel for each other, as mature men, that now bonds us. We learn of Simon. We learn of ourselves. Boys have become men. Anthony leaves to get provisions and Justin, the Great Gentleman too, gets us set up for the afternoon. The cottage is comfortable country style, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. The centerpiece of the main room, on the corner of the kitchen counter, is a large bronze Elephant, protecting its baby. The tusks are a gleaming copper. Africa is with us as we six battle-scarred old boys, Justin, Anthony, Mike, Rob, me, and Simon too are about to meet in a reunion of experiences stemming from the late 60's. Sculpted ourselves by the common bond of Pretoria Boys High, yet much more so by our 2010 reunion, for the friendship we offer and receive we are about to be grateful. Then again, gratitude and appreciation pervades much of our lives. As we wait for developments, Justin works quietly on his iPad; I begin this essay. We can comfortably spend long moments in silence together. Peace be with you too. Deus ex Machina awaits. Anthony returns to await Mike and Rob's arrival. He tells of his life as a teacher at the local college of ceramics and pottery. He tells us more of his beloved brother. He tells of their lives. We answer his questions about ours. We three feel a sympathy of soul. The elephant is in the room. It watches. But we have acknowledged its presence. We have addressed its import. We are men facing into the future, revisiting the past, but very much aware of the present. Gentlemen all. It was a common exhortation of us back when just school boys. We are the children of Africa. But we are products of ourselves. Mike and Rob arrive. Anthony arises into action. He sets up tea, builds up the fire, makes the cell-phone calls to establish Simon's readiness to see us, and then so kindly repeats the same information about Simon's rapidly deteriorating health that he had just earlier spent his energy relating to Justin and me. "I can't seem to find him in there, you know. He's not the same Simon." The emotional strain on Anthony has him now having to perform bravely. Even as a boy he was the proverbial shy and quiet one. Now his words are greater than his preference to be in the background, his actions of generosity and consideration greater than his preference for working behind the scenes. Here and now Anthony is forced by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune to be full stage and centre. Simon has liver cancer. Aggressive. Unfightable. Rob, who knew the brothers not back at school, gently asks most of the questions; we listen with rapt compassion. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee. To one side, on the corner of the kitchen counter, the elephant is very evidently in the room. The plan was to have Simon brought by his wife, Paulin, to meet the four of us for tea. But as it turned out, it was not to be.