THE WELL KNOWN STRANGER

Some have questioned how it is that I have arrived at the place I am now. I hope this story helps to answer that. It is one of the first stories I wrote so long ago when the best we could offer was a death with some dignity.

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He comes and goes as he pleases and works behind the scenes. Most times we are not even aware of his presence until he is ready to steal another from us. The children may become restless or the dogs bark more than usual in the night… but we choose to ignore these things… for to acknowledge them, is to acknowledge him. 

Some say he comes for the souls of three, which of course is superstition, but than more oft than not, that is the way it goes. He came last week and took one by surprise. I think he is still here, I can feel him just around the corner at times, appearing briefly in the corner of my eyes, but when I turn to look he is not there. Two have taken a turn for the worse and tonight the children are wild. I brace myself for another sleepless night and wonder which one it will be, or maybe both.

It is not always obvious and those you think will be taken sometimes get left behind and I wonder if it is just the roll of the dice or is there something to their number being up.

I don’t think he is a bad guy, just someone doing his job. At times I am even grateful to him for taking some out of their misery… and mine. Not that I want or like to see people die but when they are in the last stages of life they can become rather messy and well… gross. Not every one can die like in the soap operas with clean sheets and satin pillows.

Sitho has been dying for the past six months; she’s 38 and has two wonderful kids who have been her primary care givers all this time. She has large draining abscesses on both of her buttocks, a broken leg bone from a fall a month or so ago, diarrhea, vomiting, and high fevers. Something keeps her going but I am not sure what it is… guess her number isn’t up or perhaps she never learned to play dice. She screams with pain if you touch her and shouts at her kids if they don’t. They often just sit and cry because they don’t know what else to do. Sopaul went to get his grandmother yesterday because his mother told him to and because… well he is just so very tired. She hadn’t been here for over 3 months. She stayed in the room all of 20 minutes and than had to go out side. She left early this morning but not before having bitter words with Sitho. Guess they never did have much of a relationship. She said not to bother her for the funeral but to send the kids back home when it was over because she needed them to care for her. Some would call her cruel but she is really only trying to survive. Life can be difficult for old people in a country where there is no Welfare or Social Security and the only source of income is in planting and harvesting rice for the rich, who own the land.

Chea is the other one waiting to be called, a man of 37 who once had it all but lost it on a gamble when he bought a girl for pleasure and got the losing draw. It took his wife three years ago and now it’s taking him… but slowly and painfully. He suffered a stroke before he came and lost the use of his left side, but he did not loss his dignity. A few weeks back he had another, which left him helpless and incontinent, yet he still wants to get out everyday and he tries… he tries so very hard to be dignified but it’s difficult to do when your sitting in a smelly diaper, saliva dribbling from your mouth.

I wish for death for nobody but would not be telling the truth if I didn’t add that I long to have a good night sleep and I know that will not come until the children laugh and sing again… and the dogs are silent in the night… and the stranger we know so well, leaves us alone for a time.

 Wayne Dale Matthysse

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