A man has just been wheeled onto the ward and takes the vacant spot by my bed. A nurse arrives and writes his name on a whiteboard before taking down details. He is 46, single, with no next of kin. At 6 feet, 8 inches tall, I notice his legs sticking out over the bottom of the mattress and he isn’t even lying down. Huge feet. Massive shoulders. A hairy chest that reaches all the way up to his chin. I think he maybe Dutch. Mr. Van der Neel is clearly poorly, but incredibly handsome. If he were well, he’d be pretty as a picture.


A very stately address transpires to be a nursing home rather than a personal residence. The nurse enquires if he can ‘self-care’, which is a polite way of asking if he can get to the lavatory and wash himself. He says he can manage bits and pieces if Sarah Stedy is with him and winks at the nurse. She fails to smile. I imagine this Sarah Stedy to be a woman possessing the muscles of a gymnast with the composure of a holy sister. And a lucky one at that; Mr. Van der Neel must be extremely statuesque when viewed naked under a hot shower.


“We don’t have a Sarah Stedy here,” snaps the nurse, “they had one on ward three but it broke. You’ll have to use the commode and a bowl and flannel instead.” It is rather disappointing that Sarah Stedy turns out to be a mobility appliance rather than flesh and blood, though her demise has certain advantages. I quickly take her place in the shower with Mr. Van der Neel and imagine the joy of helping him bathe.


On this ward, patients are asked what they did, rather than what they do. It seems to indicate a certain proximity to the grave, or at best, the impossibility of returning to life as it once was. Mr. Van der Neel seems in no mood to give a serious reply to the question. “I look after my cats,” he says. The nurse sits poised with her biro, sighs deeply and announces that she will record his answer under ‘any dependents’, though it would be helpful to know how many. “Hundreds,” he replies. Snapping her questionnaire firmly onto a clipboard, she tells him that she will come back later, when he is more settled; in the meantime, she hopes that all these cats are being well looked after. “They are,” he says solemnly. Raising her eyebrows, she walks away, shaking her head as she goes.


Mr. Van der Neel has been turned on his side, had his bottom inspected for potential sores and some socks provided to warm feet. The socks are size XL apparently but only manage to cover his toes; they are also bright yellow. He looks over to my bed and admires my laptop. “Would it be possible to look at my cats?” he asks. I nod enthusiastically and take the computer to his bedside. I watch as he slowly types and then hits the return key excitedly. “Come and see, come and see,” he insists; beaming. On the screen is a photograph of Kariega Game Reserve on the Eastern Cape of South Africa, and soon, many pictures of the handsome man lying next to me with his cats. He shows me leopards, tigers, lions and a cute looking cub asleep on his enormous chest. Standing on top of a jeep he throws haunches of bloody meat to waiting mouths, and later, silhouetted against a dying sun, surveys the land of his charges. I see his eyes fill with tears and tell myself that this is not the time to fall in love.



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