On the Deathbed

By PEN AVRAM | Published: June 28, 2010

My name is Babette Wills. I am 37 years old and I'm told I'm not bad looking. I am becoming pleasingly plump; I'm neither too short nor too tall; and I'm good natured. I have been working at Freibergs’ for over 18 years, first as house help and an occasional cook, then later as a nanny of the two Freiberg children. Julian was 12 years old and Julia was 8. Both were lovely carrot tops; bright and nice to each other. I would like to think that I had a hand in their upbringing, although Mrs Freiberg was the decision maker and judge, whenever punishment was necessary. And I must say that king Solomon would have been proud of her!

I would not be telling you all this if George hadn't reminded me of a particular occasion this morning. You see, he'd read in the papers, that a young teenager by the name of Julian Freiberg, an heir to the Freiberg Industries Group, had been detained by the police, allegedly for breaking and entry to a wealthy businessman’ s house. So please bear with me while I’ll try to remember exactly how it all started.

It all happened just over two years ago:

There were eight eight of us there, standing around Mr John Henry Freiberg's death bed. Dr Allan Foster, wearing his daggy brown suite, was holding Mr Freiberg’s hand as he checked his pulse. Nor far away was Father Johannes in his gabardine and brown shoes - that was as close as he could get to the Pope’s image. He administered the last rights and after finishing his anointments and prayers, he too waited for the inevitable end so that he could go home. Julia and Julian were trying to seek comfort from their mother, by reaching for her hands, but Mrs Rosa Freiberg, who was crying so loudly and whose sobbing was interrupted by frequent hiccups, needed her right hand to wipe her tears with her handkerchief and unsuccessfully attempt to silence her hiccups. In the corner of the room stood George, the oldest man in the household, a stubby hoary old man, wearing a perfectly ironed white shirt (he'd ironed far too many shirts in his life), an ill-fitting grey-black coat – too small for his grown paunch - and black trousers. His spotlessly polished shoes reflected the dim glitter of the only light in the room which emanated from a silver candelabra with three candles. The flickering candles gave the room an even more sinister look. Everyone was tense; the old man was not moving, his breathing was shallow, but his eyes were bright.

John Henry Freiberg had been a successful and fortunate man. He had a loving family, although his children feared him at times, and his wife never argued with him. She had been aware of his temper since the early days when they had begun courting. Perhaps it was his temper that had drawn her to him. She had enormous respect for him, as did his employees. He never had to repeat a request. The fear of his temper was constant.

The room was quiet, the silence only interrupted by the occasional sputtering of the candles.

The main doorbell rang and a short while later the cleaner quietly entered the room. “There is a lady wanting to see the Master,” she muttered to Mrs Freiberg.

“Who is she?”

“I don’t know, she doesn’t want to say.”

“Send her away,” Mrs Freiberg ordered quietly, but Mr Freiberg overheard, lifted his hand and waved it in an inviting manner. “Let her in,” he seemed to be whispering.

An old woman entered hunched over with her dishevelled wild unkempt dark yellow hair falling in oily streaks over a sallow shrivelled face and hooked nose; an ugly face which in the dim light looked rather swarthy. Or was it just dirt? She smelled. Her shoes dragged on the carpet as her slouched body shuffled to the bed until she was leaning over Mr Freiberg. He turned his head away with disgust and painfully covered it with his hand, as if afraid that her drool would dribble on his face.

“So you are finally departing. What a relief! I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time…,” hissed the hag. “I saw the coffin being delivered, I saw the Father arriving to administer the last rite, I saw the curtains being drawn, but you can't die yet. Oh no. Not yet, not until I have finished telling you what you must know. Else your whole life would be meaningless, wasted on collecting money, drinking rare wines, giving parties for no other reason than to be envied and put on a show, and being feared by everyone who depended on you. Think carefully; trace your life back! What have you got to be proud of? I don’t take pleasure in your demise; don’t get me wrong … quite the contrary. Now at the end of your life, I want you to finally see what you’ve done and who you really are.”

“Please, George, get her out,” Mrs Freiberg pleaded with George seeing that her children were afraid of this woman, but Mr Freiberg again moved his hand – objecting the only way he knew how. The respect he commanded from his family was as strong as ever and nobody dared move. His tired eyes moved slowly towards the hag.

He didn’t seem to know her; he'd never seen her before, that was certain. However she knew of him. His hand moved again, as if asking me to come closer to him. However the harridan didn’t move and since there was no room for me, neither did I. She was already too close to him; close enough to touch him, but she didn’t dare.

“You don’t need to know me, just listen to what I have to say.” She hissed vehemently.

“George, get her out! Please!” Mrs Freiberg finally screamed. She looked much younger and stronger than Mr Freiberg, with undulating hair and a determined gaze. I fact, she looked quite frightening. But still nobody moved. George had disappeared the moment the old hag had begun talking. Mr Freiberg listened to her fricative mumble.

“How is your conscience? Can you honestly say ‘I have done something really worthwhile; my life has had value and wasn't wasted on simply hoarding wealth?’

They say that at the end of one’s life, one gains a higher level of consciousness, can understand more than the average living person. That’s why I chose to talk to you now, when you are near the end. I want you to understand things that escape the common man. I want to give you the understanding that will add to the universal knowledge so that others will benefit from it in the future. It may be the only benefit you ever bestow – to enhance knowledge that is not accessible to living mortals. The priest here knows what I'm talking about, but he won't divulge it to anybody. He is afraid, perhaps bound by silence. What he tells you is that there is a God. No more, no less… just that. But to scare you he frightens you with a place called Hell, where you could burn and suffer if you sin, but you can redeem yourself by repentance and penitence. And then there is Paradise! But nobody tells you what you really are, whether there is a purpose in your life. Nobody tells you about the Great Design and how you should fit into it. The truth is: you are rich, true, you’ve supported some people when you wanted something in return, and exploited more. Now you are going to die and before long, there’ll be nobody to remember you. Even those who hate you will forget you.”

“Get her out, please!” shrieked Mrs Freiberg at the top of her voice, scared of this old woman, but still nobody listened to her. The entire room was trained on this ridiculous creature and she felt encouraged. Now her voice became calm, she spoke like a teacher in a primary school… quiet and determined to pass on her message.

“You spent your life not thinking about anyone else but yourself, how to be admired, feared, a callous man enjoying the fawning people who carried favour with you; you were a cad. I am sorry if it hurts you, but it's the truth. If it is of any comfort to you, let me tell you - you are not alone. The world is littered with myriad people like you. But now listen to me! What you really are is just a few miniscule specs of intelligence, messages, energy, matter and transformation in the Perpetual Absolute Flux. All in timeless spacelessness. I’ll tell you things that only you can understand. One must be at the end of one’s life, with their consciousness at its highest, the third level, not given to the countless distractions outside, or the living here around you. Listen carefully, as you must wake up from your sleep to understand and analyse your dreams, in the same way you must wake up from your every day consciousness and enter the next level to understand your life, the level of super-consciousness. Only now, when you’re dying, decrepit and defenceless, may you achieve this. That is the benefit of death. You must wake up and enter the realm of real consciousness, the super-consciousness. Only a few people have that privilege… the dying.

I want you to know something, before you die.

What do you think you are? I ask you not ‘who’ you, but ‘what’? You are the same as everything else, a mixture of matter, intelligence, energy, messages and transformation in the Perpetual Absolute Flux. I’ll tell you what that Flux is in a moment, but let me first tell you what is God, as the Church keeps quiet about it.

If you can imagine all these five elements: the matter, intelligence, energy, messages and transformation all in one infinite absolute, then you have God. He occupies the timeless spacelessness, where there is no beginning, end, size, volume, dimensions; just a timeless void. When the Absolute – think of God – emitted these five elements into the spaceless void and created the Perpetual Absolute Flux, of which our Universe is a part - in a big bang - he did so without diminishing himself at all. Do you understand?

It was not a distribution; I am talking about emanation without attrition. It’s like knowledge; you tell someone about something and she knows it then, she tells someone else, you tell another one, he tells more people, the story is somehow distorted on the way to each recipient, and before you know it is sent across the world, and millions of people have various versions of it, all of the same intensity; and you have not lost it in your head, except that you may now be in doubt as to whether you retained the original story in your head, after coming across so many variations.

The Absolute God - prior the emanation - had designed this Perpetual Absolute Flux, and this design of an infinite expansion of Flux holds for ever, timelessly, without limit. There are no boundaries either in time or space. Absolute doesn’t err. Can you imagine expansion without time or space? Now when you are dying, you should be able to.

What we see is our perception of various combinations of the five elements, and you are one instance of such a combination. When you die, the elements of which you are made will dissolve back into the Flux, and eventually new formations will be created and some of your elements will become part of them. That is what’s called eternal life. You will enter no Hell, no Paradise; you will be just another thing in the Flux until you dissolve again into another formation and so on and so forth, timelessly for ever, in a Flux where there is no attrition, but only continuous expansion because we all contribute to it through our momentary existence. So, you see, whatever we do, it triggers adjustments so that the primeval design stays unchanged. That is evolution. The Father here knows this, but never tells. He talks to you about the Holy Trinity, something very few people understand.

There is no attrition or equilibrium in Flux. There is no equilibrium, only a prime designed harmony of a never-ending symphony, composed by the Absolute. It started in nothing, the void, with an absolute fortissimo – you’ve heard about the Big Bang? – which immediately died away and the following pianissimo became dissonant. Since then, more instruments are being added and new harmonies have been developing in a timeless crescendo. We all contribute to the dissonance, but are powerless to permanently destroy the underlying primal designed harmony of the Design.

Before the initial emanation, there was only the Absolute. In the void, our own little world, as we know it, had all the elements at nothing-level. Then the emanation occurred, according to the Absolute Design that is never changing; it allows expansion while staying unchanged. The Flux is timeless and spaceless. In timelessness there is no beginning or end, in spacelessness there are no limits. But there is the perpetual expansion.

The five evolving elements in the crescendo emanated from the Absolute, without ever loosing their original intensity by their emanation.

Here you are surrounded by your children. They stand here, in this room. You created them not because of love; you just wanted someone to carry on your genes. You didn’t want to die. It was your vanity, your love for yourself, not for others, that brought your children into this world. You didn’t have to worry. When you close your eyes forever, the five elements that make you will disperse into the Flux; will be dismembered and become a part of its expansion, moulded into other combinations, and continue throughout eternity.

Why am I telling you all this? Because now, when you are departing, you may understand. Because what you’ve done created the need for adjustment of some elements in the Flux, the actions of the miniscule elements that were you. Everything is made of these five elements. But be aware; there is no equilibrium. Through what you’ve done you could have started more events and changes, as you yourself are a consequence of others. Your sleeping with your housemaid Babette, that would have made quite a disturbance.”

Mrs Freiberg screamed.

“This is not true, Henry, say it is not true! This woman is lying! Please say so!” she pleaded.

Mr Freiberg knew that it would be a sin to deceive anyone while on his death bed and nodded his head.

There was a loud cry, “Oh no! No!” and Mrs Freiberg collapsed to the floor. Her children ran to her, but I quickly took them away; they cried but obeyed. They still didn’t grasp what had been said. They still didn’t hate me.

All eyes turned to me. I looked away, so that nobody could see that my face had become flushed with a deep shade of purple.

The memory brought back the one evening I'd hoped to forget; the event I'd never wanted to remember, but was permanently reminded of every time I was near Sir Henry.

It had happened many years prior, or so it seemed.

It had been late at night when I was awakened by a noise somewhere downstairs in the house. I am a strong woman and had never been scared of anyone, least of all an intruder. People who steal don’t harm others; they are cold-footed chicken-asses if you know what I mean. They run away as soon they think they might be caught.

So I put on my dressing gown, just over my nightshirt, and descended the stairs barefoot, holding firmly on the balustrade with one hand and holding a candelabra in the other. I trod lightly, hoping to catch the intruder red-handed. And I did; Sir Henry was behind the open fridge, pouring himself a glass of something. I didn’t see him at first, as was standing behind the open door. I, as a good housekeeper, closed the door first. That startled him. He jumped, dropped the glass as he turned and then embraced me, standing as I was with the candelabra above my head, God knows why. This in turn startled me and I shook as he tried to calm me down. Then he kissed me and wouldn’t let me go. I tried to shake him off, but he started to kiss me more and then whispered into my ear, like in some old movie. Okay, I had been a bit frivolous; my skirt hadn't always remained below my knees, and I hadn't always buttoned my blouse right up to the neck, which annoyed Mrs Freiberg.

He now insisted that I go back to my room and leave the door unlocked. Being an obedient housekeeper I obeyed. As I expected, he soon came to my room and was unfaithful to his wife. After that he sinned with me on several further occasions. But it was a long time ago. Many years had passed since then and he must have realised that it wasn't right and moreover, very unfair to his wife – the poor soul - who thought very highly of her successful husband. And what about the poor children?

And once, not long after the first incident, George asked me for some money. He said it was for a poor soul he knew who was desperate and needed the money for medications that she couldn’t afford. As he was hard up himself, or so he claimed, and since I am a very gentle soul, I gave him a bit of my savings. Not much, mind you, but enough for a few pills at the pharmacy. But a few days later he came again and wanted more. I told him I wasn’t a cash cow, but he said, “Maybe you would like me to ask Sir Henry to give me some for keeping silent? You remember the fridge that night? Sir Henry drinking his white? And what happened after? Anything you'd like to say?”

He took all my savings and at the end I began giving him the small change Sir Henry had been giving me for the housekeeping, the groceries and the bills. I don’t think he noticed, or at least he never asked.

And now, this wretched harridan, this awful hag, had the wicked iniquity to ruin my life! What a crime! I was going to throw the beldam out, but I couldn’t. Sir Henry wouldn’t let me, not even on his deathbed.

After all the money I had given George to keep quiet, I was still going to be thrown out, my name defiled, without any money or place to go, that was all that was banging in my head.

And the hag just kept on going…like a broken record, repeating herself, only increasing the volume of her palaver.

When Mrs Freiberg passed out, George, who unexpectedly appeared again as if he'd been hiding and watching unseen, ran to her lifeless body. He took her under her arms and dragged her to the drawing room, her shoes sliding off her feet as he did so. He laid her on a couch. Father Johannes followed, as did Dr Foster, slowly and uncertain as to whether he should attend to her or stay with the dying man.

George left Mrs Freiberg with the two professionals and immediately went to the front room looking down at the floor, as if found out. I thought that he must have told the old witch. Then I could hear him on the phone, giving the Freibergs’ address to someone.

Neither the doctor nor the priest returned to Mr Freiberg and the old woman continued her abusing gabble.

“You are not senile enough not to remember the times when you were a young handsome student, boarding with two other students just two streets away from the college. There was a young woman, a pretty housemaid, and at the time you lusted after pretty young women. You thought that you were irresistible to any gal that laid her eyes on you. Most of the time you were right. This poor young soul fell in love with you and as a result carried your child. When it became known, you left the boarding house and she had to leave alone and without any support. You have never tried to find out what happened to them, you just kept living in other places, making other young gals miserable. God knows what kept you with your wife for so long.

We women are sometime hapless victims of men’s cruelty. And then we depend even more on men. Look at me - I couldn’t have survived without George’s help. I knew about him, why he lost his previous job because of some missing silverware. He both feared and pitied me. Such a good soul! He'd seen me slouched under a bridge, begging. He gave me some money. He told me it was dirty money like me, so I oughtn't worry. One day he told me that it was his pay off to keep silent.

So today I came to make YOU sorry.”

Her voice became louder and more hateful.

“Now let me tell you something, you brute. I am the housemaid with whom you had the affair, and I am the one who had to give our child up for adoption, because you didn’t give a damn about either of us. You just went about chasing other poor women who were unfortunate enough to come your way. You thought you would never hear from us, me or my child, did you? You were wrong.”

The penetrating sound of a siren and the subsequent screeching of breaks could be heard nearby. There was a commotion at our entrance and two strange men in white coats entered. All at once, the old woman gesticulated with her arms, raising them high above her head and looking to the ceiling. The two men came behind her, grabbed her hands and quickly forced her into a straight-jacket. As they dragged her from the room, she screamed at Mr Freiberg:

“See what you’ve done? Babette is our child. You slept with our child, your own daughter!”

At that moment I passed out. When I came back to my senses, I saw the priest opposite Mr Freiberg, who was now standing up. He stared with mad eyes at his dead wife who now lay in the coffin which had been prepared for him. Then his hateful gaze turned to me as if to say that it was I who had killed his wife. I was the guilty one.

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