When Albert awoke sometime later, he almost felt surprised that he immediately knew where he was: his grandpa’s spare bedroom where he had been sleeping just a few weeks ago. The familiarity of the room felt comforting and Albert was relieved that it wasn’t his own bedroom back at his apartment. He became aware of a soft rustle, and tried to turn and find the origin thereof.
“You’re awake! We were getting worried.” Aunt Bea’s voice was a mixture of concern and relief.
“Why am I here?”
“You fainted, dear. You came by again in the dining room, but you were so exhausted, you only drank a few sips of sweet tea before we brought you here and you went right back to sleep.”
“What time is it?”
Albert startled. “The concert! We have to leave!” He tried to sit up, but his aunt gave him a stern look.
“You’re not going anywhere, sweetheart. Even if we can get your strengths up within the next half an hour or so, you’ll never make the drive in time. It’s too far, and it’s Friday afternoon traffic.
“But we have tickets. And Tania really wants to go.” He tried to pull the duvet off him, but found his hand was tangled somewhere in a sheet beneath it. His vision was blurry, but he blamed it on the dusk hanging in the room.
“Unless it is to go to the bathroom, you are not getting out of that bed, Albert. Or do you want me to call that motherly girlfriend of yours to tell you that?”
His aunt didn’t need to. The sound of voices had gotten Tania’s attention. Albert wondered in a fleeting thought why Tania was not the one sitting waiting for him to wake up, when the bedroom door creaked open.
“Al! You’re awake, thank goodness! Are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” Albert finally managed to get his hand freed from the covers, giving him the mobility needed to sit up. “We can leave now, then we should still catch the second half of the show.”
“Oh Albert, don’t be absurd! You need to rest!” Tania moved closer to him at an alarming speed, and seconds later she was sitting next to him on the bed, stroking his arm.
“No!” Albert groaned as his headache responded angrily to his vertical position. “We came here for the concert. And our things are still at the guest house.”
“That’s brave of you, but it’s already too late. And your well-being is more important. If you get in the car now the only place you’re going is back to the hospital.”
“I’m so sorry, Tania.”
“Don’t worry about it. All I want for you is to get better. Can I get you anything?”
“I’m going to make you some tea. You should try to eat something before you go back to sleep.” Tania pulled the covers back over Albert’s chest.
With her fussing and the slight pressure she put on his through the blankets, Albert involuntarily lied back down. He didn’t want to, but when he did he felt so much better than sitting up that he decided to stay like that.
=====[I’ll fill in some parts here of the rest of the day]======
Aunt Bea poured them each a shot of Three Ship’s and they sat down on the couch.
“So tell me, dear, how are things really going?”
“Frustrating. I thought when things started changing for me, when I made progress, I would feel more content. But my promotion at work has just made me more miserable than before. And grandpa’s challenge…”
“The challenge, yes. How is that going?”
“Not great. I’ve already missed quite a few hours and I’ve only been doing it for a month. I want to do it. It just feels as if the harder I try, the less I get out of it. It is so satisfying ticking off the hours that I study, but looking at what I’ve done with those hours doesn’t. The past two weeks back at work with the longer hours, I sometimes read an hour of photography history and technique and the next day I would hardly remember anything.”
Aunt Bea took a few more unhurried sips of her whiskey before she spoke. “I want to tell you a little secret.” She chuckled. “If you ever run into Gavin, you must promise not to tell him.”
Albert groaned. “I hope I don’t.”
“Don’t say that too soon. He’s made quite a name for himself on local radio. He can be good publicity, should you maybe need it in the future,” she winked.
Oh, that. He had another big decision to make. “What is the secret?”
“Your grandpa never finished the challenge.”
He processed his aunt’s words while waiting for her to continue. She didn’t. “What? You mean his seven-year challenge?”
“That’s the one. He quit six months before the seven years would have been over.”
“Seriously? What about his entire theory? Was it based on something he didn’t even test out?”
“Of course not. He just learned that learning is not a set of boxes to tick off. Learning is about growing, dreaming, enjoying, and of course, balance.”
“Do you know what is the highest achievement of learning?”
“Being able to apply what you’ve learned?” Albert said this grimly. He had heard more than he wanted to about OBE at college.
“Beyond that. You should know – just think of your new promotion.”
He thought. “Teaching others what you’ve learned?”
“Exactly. Do you know why your grandpa stopped pursuing his seven-year challenge?”
Aunt Bea pursed her lips for a fraction of a second, as if she was tempted to roll her eyes. “Tina.”
“Yes. Tina. When your grandpa met her, she had just lost her son in a tragic car accident in which she herself had gotten badly injured and lost a kidney. Paired with her gout, she had not been in good health. After your grandpa had suggested some herbal remedies to her, she decided she wanted to learn the art herself.”
“I never realised that. I knew she knew her herbs, but…I thought they had just found each other.”
“They did. Your grandpa started teaching Tina what he had been learning himself for many years. And, he came to the realisation that teaching is the highest form of learning.”
“Well, that’s encouraging,” said Albert somewhat sarcastically, thinking of his new teaching duties back home.
“Albert, teaching is never easy, but it is rewarding. If you feel you are getting nothing out of it, perhaps it is time to change course. There is nothing wrong with starting over. Or leaving something behind that you are not destined for. Do you know why your grandpa got into herbal medicines in the first place?”
“To treat disorders under the cattle?”
“Well, that too. But one year he had accidentally cured a fungal infection under his pigs that had been spreading through the area like wildfire – with one of his herbal concoctions that he had been using primarily as feed. That season he had the biggest lot of healthy piglets for miles around. To him, they were like the sunshine after the storm. He was so overjoyed with them that he refused to sell them for months – he even hid them in one of the sheds from your Grandpa Pearl who was reminding him every day that they needed the money.” Aunt Bea smiled warmly as she remembered her brother’s farming days. “He wasn’t the best farmer, especially when it came to selling the most pigs, fitting the most hens into a coop and tapping the most milk out of tired cows. But it led him to his love for healing.”
“I still don’t understand why he couldn’t just have finished his challenge. He must have had the time, didn’t he?”
“I don’t know, dear. But what I feel sure of, is that he got more joy from sharing what he had learned than from ticking boxes. Challenges can be a lot of fun and very enriching – you’ve heard your grandpa’s talk on the radio, and I believe he was sincere. But the focus should always remain on what you gain from it – and what you can pass on to others.”
Albert closed his eyes and gave a small sigh. “Why does life have to be so hard to figure out?”
“Because we focus on finding answers. Remember what he’s taught you. We should focus on finding balance. On growing. Changing. On being happy.”
“My head hurts.”
“Get some more rest dear.”
=====[I’ve run out of word count for this scene, but Albert and his cousins spend most of the following day arguing some more and finally making peace. Willem – who’s had some business deals in the past with people who arranged writing retreats – casually comes up with the idea of hosting photography retreats at their grandpa’s house. The idea of staying in Fouriesburg was growing on him too and the tourism in the area could make it an ideal spot to promote his contacts’ craft gins. Willem and Andries agree that their mother should be allowed to do with their farm whatever she wishes – even if she wishes to sell it. She is aging too and is not enjoying staying long periods by herself anymore in the farm house. There are still quite a few other loose ends to tie up, but I have room in my word count for that in the rewrite.]=====
That [Saturday] evening, Willem poured them all a round of Amarula, and they sat down in the livingroom. Albert was holding his glass in his left hand, and on his other side was Tania, pressed close to him.
“Shall I light our fireplace?” he asked his cousins.
“Now you’re talking,” said Willem, and grinned.
On his right arm, Albert felt a little squeeze, and he knew that – for the moment at least – everybody was at peace.
- : Contemporary
- : I was far from ready for an ending. Image from Pixabay