Let them eat cake
‘Yes, speaking,’ I said.
‘Does Patience work for you?’ she asked.
‘Um, yes,’ I replied.
‘Sorry to bother you, I’m Dr de Wet at the Claremont Medical Centre. Patience came here about half an hour ago feeling ill. We’ve examined her and decided to send her to Groote Schuur hospital for tests as she is very light-headed and her heart beat seems unstable. She wanted us to contact you as she’s left your house open.’
This completely unexpected call gave me quite a shock. There had never been any signs of ill health with Patience in the three years that she'd been working for my wife and me.
‘Is she alright? Do you know what’s wrong with her?’ I asked.
‘We’re not sure,’ she explained patiently, ‘that’s why we’re sending her to Groote Schuur. This is a private clinic, unfortunately, so we can't check her up properly here. We’ve sent for an ambulance so she should get collected soon.’
After I’d put the phone down, I told my boss that I had to go home then left the office.
On the way there I wondered what could be the matter with her and whether she’d managed to contact her family to let them know what was going on. She didn’t have a telephone at home but I had her neighbour’s number so thought I’d ring her when I got home to let her know what was going on.
It wasn’t a long journey; I was driving up the cul-de-sac fifteen minutes later.
The front door of our little cottage opened on to a tiny patch of lawn that separated it from the pavement. It was wide open! Patience must have been in a very distressed state to have left it open like that. The cottage was not far from Harfield Station and the area was well known for robberies, something that we’d emphasised to Patience many times. My concern for her deepened just as I started to worry about whether anyone had entered the house since she’d left.
I rushed in, looking to see if there was any sign of intrusion but there was none.
The place was looking very clean and tidy so Patience must have been close to finishing by the time she’d had to leave. Her basket was in the spare bedroom as was the bag of old clothes that E had given her in the morning. I tried to contact her neighbour but there was no reply. She, like Patience, was a domestic servant, so was probably still working.
Before I returned to the office, I thought that I’d make myself some coffee.
I loved going into the kitchen after Patience had been. Everything gleamed and sparkled; the quarry tiles on the floor looked rich and smooth. At that time of day, during summer, the sun streamed in and the place glowed. Looking out the window, you could see Devil’s Peak shimmering in the distance, framed by the rampant, pink-flowering bougainvillea.
It was while making my coffee that I noticed Patience’s teacup and a plate in the sink. A piece of scrunched up tinfoil lay on the plate which was sprinkled with brown crumbs. I opened it. More brown crumbs inside.
It had to be what I thought it was. My heart was thumping loudly as I opened the fridge’s freezer compartment.
As usual, after Patience had been, the freezer had been defrosted. It was an ancient fridge that iced up with a vengeance and needed to be defrosted at least once every two weeks if not more regularly. So, finding what I was looking for was easy. I got it out and immediately saw that there was a lot less of it than I expected.
Patience was stoned! And, by the amount of dope cake missing, she was VERY stoned!
We’d always told her to help herself to whatever was in the kitchen for her breakfast and lunch. Usually, she’d eat leftovers from the fridge or fry herself some eggs and eat them with toast. The dope cake had been in the fridge for months so she’d have seen it before without trying it. Although it was heavily laden with cocoa and chocolate, the taste of it was unmistakeable to an aficionado. To an unsuspecting innocent like Patience, it would have tasted like lucerne heavily laced with chocolate.
My anxiety for her well-being was immediately replaced by relief, guilt and embarrassment. At least I knew that there was nothing seriously wrong with her but I felt horribly guilty and embarrassed about having caused her health scare.
Back at the office, I rang E and told her what had happened. She was just as guilty and embarrassed as I was about it. More so, in fact. I rang the hospital and found out that she was still there so we decided to visit her after work.
It took a while to find out which ward she was in. A nurse showed us to her bed in a dormitory full of loud people surrounded by their loud relatives. Patience lay quiet and alone in her bed. She looked very frightened but smiled happily when she saw us. Both E and I looked into her eyes. Yep, there was no mistaking it, she was very stoned!
‘How are you feeling?’ I asked.
‘Not so good, Master Alan, but I feel better now,‘ she replied. I hated her calling me that but she insisted no matter how many times I asked her to just call me Alan. At least she didn’t call me ‘baas’.
Hesitantly, I asked if she’d eaten anything from the freezer. She nodded her head, looking mildly guilty as if she’d eaten something she shouldn’t have.
‘Oh no, you know you can eat whatever's in the kitchen. I just think that cake was very old. It could have been off and made you sick.’
I could see that she didn’t believe me so I left it at that.
A doctor walked up just then and in the same breath, cheerily greeted us and asked Patience how she was feeling. We thought he must know that she was stoned and shuffled our feet like guilty school children. He felt her pulse and checked her heart with his stethoscope.
‘You’re much better now,' he said reassuringly. 'It's ok for you to go home now.’
We offered to drive her home but she wanted to be dropped off at the station. The rest of the cake got thrown away when we got home.