“How do I ignore the fact that I love her?” said Ernest to his friend John.
“I believe your state does oblige you to do just that,” returned John. “Men like you have to take away a feeling of desire from their minds first, before the body could abandon it. You, my friend, need to look some places else for pleasure and pain.”
They sat staring at each other in John’s bedroom and on his chairs. On the table there were two half full glasses of brandy and a brandy bottle half way through. Ernest had drank a lot and John had stayed his hand and ignored the glass more often than his friend. It was an easy thing to do for John, who did less talking about the subject Ernest had brought in the morning, but gave more specific inputs here and there when needed.
And they were straight forward, though painful to Ernest. But his situation required neither the doubt nor the hope, but facts, such as the one that he was hopelessly in love with nurse Bettina. He’d met her when he was being treated for an unfortunate wound.
He has been in and out of the Durban hospital of late and Ernest had been sick day after day. And when the doctor would check him he would find nothing, but Ernest would insist he needed a nurse. Some days he was fortunate to be attended by Bettina, but that was rare as Bettina’s shifts were not known to him. He’d rue for coming to the hospital and be helped by a fat, ugly and impatient nurse and that made him want to see more of Bettina.
He had developed a character for Bettina; a character that makes her a super nurse whom is better than all the ones working with her. To him she was patient; she had an opposite mind-set than that of her work mates. And she was the kindest of women and the most who gave smiles for no reason at all. Her hands were soft and her voice was enchanting… all that was about her was a closest thing that would make a mortal resemble a goddess. Had Ernest been a whole man he would get aroused every time he saw her.
“The hospital is where I find my pleasures,” said Ernest. “It has an atmosphere of therapy for me. Not that I enjoy seeing people dying in their beds, but because of her I find a sense of pure compassion towards others. And she teaches me how to live with what I am, though not how to accept it. Being eunuch restrains me from having affection for another when I know fully well how they’d take it.”
“You are right. Most women dream of having babies once they feel ready. And those who have them by mistake are glad all the same. For it is very much important to them as it important to us men to have a family and extend our family name. But look on the other side, friend John, there are women who are barren and they adopt. You could do the same.”
Ernest managed a little chuckle from that, remembering one occasion with his former girlfriend Susan.
“Susan did not have what you have stored in mind,” he said at length. “We had been drinking some brandy in the night and I invited her into my room, tipsy and forgetting myself for a while after a good night at the bar. I kissed her, she returned with the slowest kiss that drowns my sorrows. I then took off her clothes and had my hand all over her. She wanted me too and I her. Her hands were running all over me and as they reached my trousers, I withdrew. But I was too late, she has already touched and found nothing there. What a laugh she had at first while I stared at the floor in embarrassment. She said to me, ‘Why did you not tell me about this… this missing part when you said you missed me’? I look away, at the door, and she laughed heartily, as if she had found some amusement that surpasses the one we had at the bar.
“I said to her, ‘Forget about all this, forget about me.’ She said to me, ‘Oh no, never. How could I ever forget that I’ve been in a relationship with a eunuch? You know I’ve never seen a eunuch before. Do you mind if I might have a look? Would you please let down your trousers?’ I refused and she laughed more loudly than before and said things that are quite insulting to me but I tried my best to ignore her. She told me she didn’t want to see me again in her life and so I obliged.”
“I am sorry things didn’t go well with you and Susan,” said John. “But what did you expect from her reaction? Did you want her to be surprised and angry at you that you did not mention it to her that you had no manhood?”
“I knew I would never get that from a drunk like her,” said Ernest solemnly. The incident still burned him inside and it was not an easy flame to put out.
“Do you think Bettina could be any different?” asked John politely and earnestly.
“How am I supposed to know that? But judging from her character she might be willing to accept me the way I am. Though I think it might startle her a bit once I tell her and she would have to decide her future: have her own children or adopt.”
“Whoa there, dreamer! She’s not your girlfriend just yet. And she might never be if you don’t tell her how you feel about her by putting it into right words that might convince her.”
“Oh yes,” he said with a little laugh. “I’ve forgotten about that hard part. It’s funny how I tend to forget things while they are on thin ice. Tomorrow I’m going to the hospital to collect my prescription drugs.”
“Is the pain still bothering you?”
“Yes, especially when it’s cold… and when I’m sitting on one of these hard chairs of yours. I must get going and have a nap at home. Perhaps I’ll write a letter to her telling her about how I feel before telling her in words.”
“Well, good luck with that, and for everything you are about to do.”
When he returned back home all he had in mind was how he could ask Bettina in a most courteous way to go out with him for dinner. Words were something Ernest found difficult to create these days after what Susan did to him, and he being with Susan was not worth the while. He knew he had wasted three months of his time dating that woman. All he hoped for was to find something unique in Bettina and or the nurse to find some good in him and see their future together.
In the morning he dressed to impress. He wore a light grey blazer with a white shirt, blue jeans and brown leather boots. He had to leave home early before the waiting line could be long and before Bettina could be too busy to attend to his desires.
He got to the hospital and found that the line was not very long. He came to collect his painkillers amongst other many drugs he had to drink before going to sleep. Doctors had talked to him about implanting an artificial penis but he had refused, because the reverend of his church had told him to do just so. The reverend had told him he needs to accept the way he is. It was hard to consent to it but he found an adjustable reason not to go on with the doctors’ wish.
Down the passage he spied Bettina helping an old, bent woman into a wheelchair. She was whispering something into an elderly’s ear, with her most guaranteed smile to make his heart skip a beat. But there was something wrong; she seemed to have said something to the gran. The old woman flung her hands and started screaming insults at her vexed and without a care in her words.
Bettina tried to calm her down but it seemed to make the old woman angrier. She shouted threats in Xhosa and made a fist in front of Bettina’s face. Her last desperate effort to hit Bettina was a complete failure and she was about to fall but Ernest was there to hold her from hitting the floor. She demanded him to let her go and spat on the nurse’s face. Ernest quickly put her on the wheelchair and gave her to two nurses who came to restrain her. They took her away. There was a moment of silence and a bit of hurt written on Bettina’s face.
Ernest had his handkerchief in his pocket and took it out to wipe the spit on the woman he was in love with. It was for the first time he would lay his something closer to his hand on her face but she lifted her hand in a signal to stop him from trying to show his pity.
“Thank you, I’ll manage,” she said, pulling her own cloth from her breast pocket and wipping her face.
“Are you alright? Don’t you want to sit down? I could get you some water to drink,” he offered.
“No thank you,” she said. “I’m a nurse and I’m used to people like her.”
“Did you say something to her to make her angry?”
She chuckled and said, “Yes, I said something. I said, ‘Mam, you will get through this and live to be a hundred.’ She’s seventy one and she takes positive as negative. Foolish me I’ve forgotten that and it had almost ruin my day.”
“You are no fool, Bettina,” said Ernest. “You are a good person and those who know you know that, but may not acknowledge you about it. In your good heart you are the wealthiest person of human compassion and empathy and I hope many could be inspired by you.”
“Well, well, I’m glad I have a fan,” she said. “I’ve seen you around though I’ve forgotten your name. Pardon me, I help many people and their names are not so easy to remember.”
“Ernest is my name, Madame. And not only have I come here to collect my prescription drugs but to talk to you and to see you, Bettina. I hope beyond hope that you will listen to what I say and, should you be offended, know that I had no intention of doing so.”
“I’m all ears, and if you make it quick I shall not be offended,” she said.
“Bettina, would you care to go out for dinner with me this evening? I am so drawn to you that I want to know how women like you are created by raising them. Knowing you gave me hope that there are some people who could make this world a place of comfort for those who are yet to live in it.”
“You’re a brave man,” she said with a chuckle, “and I am deeply moved by your words enough to say yes. Though I hardly know you, I could have your side of the story about how you…” she stepped closer and her mouth went by his ear. “I’d like to know how you became eunuch.”
Ernest almost jumped out of his skin.
“How did you know?”
“I am the one who takes the prescribed medicine from the doctor and your file was entirely my duty to attend to. Do you not remember it was me who showed you to the doctor when you were on a wheelchair?”
“You’d tell me all about it?”
“See you in the evening then,” she said.