Today is the 50th birthday of one of my most treasured friends, the motherboard of an earth angel, Henda Moolman. We met a couple of days after I’d moved into my new place after my divorce in 1999 and she carried me through some of the lowest periods of my life. Naturally I’ve written a lot about her in my memoir and in honour of her birthday, I thought I would share a short extract…
It was hard in the beginning, but I persevered in my stubborn campaign to show everybody that I could live on my own. The days dragged. When Chad was with his dad, the loneliness and silence wore on my nerves. My mind became my worst enemy and time was its ally. There are too many hours in a day to think. If it wasn’t for a few faithful friends, besides my parents who visited often, I would probably have driven myself over the edge.
“What can I do to help?” The question was asked by friends and strangers eager to make a difference, but didn’t know how.
“I don’t know. Pop in for coffee,” was all I could come up with.
That was until an angel walked into my life.
Henda stood barefoot on the top rung of the stepladder, balancing confidently, in a cute pair of denim shorts and a T-shirt. Her spiky dark hair barely moved as she executed textbook ‘W’ motions with the paint roller. The yellow paint gave an instant lift to my sparsely furnished lounge.
I watched in awe of her skill with a touch of envy. She’d also been a gymnast in her teens and I knew what commitment that took. Muscles are earned.
When the roller started making a peeling, sticky sound, she turned to apply more paint and caught me staring at her toned legs. Our eyes met. My cheeks flushed and I quickly lowered my head. The truth glared back at me. I’d grown thin and my muscles sagged. I hardly wore shorts anymore.
“Can I offer you something to drink,” I asked Henda to avoid becoming emotional.
“No, thank you.” Her bright orange lips parted in a smile of perfectly straight, white teeth. She dipped the roller into the paint tray and rolled it back and forth.
The floral curtains framing the extra big window had been altered by a friend we both knew, which is how we met. Henda used to be an interior decorator, I was told by our mutual friend, and she’d offered to paint the inside of my house. After years of tenants, the house was in need of attention, so I gladly accepted. She’d admitted to being nervous about meeting me. I remember being taken aback. It always surprised me when people told me that. Was I really that scary?
I asked Betty for some Rooibos tea, even though I craved coffee. I’d learned the hard way that caffeine stimulated the bladder, which increased the risk of bladder infections. I’d had enough of those to deal with to last a lifetime. I felt self-conscious as Betty held the cup to my mouth so I asked Henda about her family.
“I have two daughters, Monet and Cézanne, aged six and four, born on the same day, two years apart.” My jaw dropped. “I planned it that way.” She smiled.
Her eyes welled up several times as I told her how my life had changed and she shared a bit of her life with me. In time, it became clear that this talented woman wasn’t only passionate about her art, but her compassion for others ran deep.
“I wish I could fix you,” she said months later, lip quivering and eyes brimming with tears.
“Me too,” I sniffed. She squeezed my hand and tugged at her outfit.
“Maar ek kan jou huis mooi maak.” She always reverted to Afrikaans when she was emotional. She grabbed a tissue from her handbag and disappeared outside. By the time I’d manoeuvred my wheelchair to follow her out the door she’d taken the spade from my gardener. His face was a stunned mixture of confusion and amusement. Despite her long manicured nails and stiletto heels, she dug the last hole for the standard roses he’d been instructed to plant. He wiped the sweat from his brow and glanced my way. I grinned. He shook his head and busied himself with adding compost to the holes. Even with the hot, humid weather, Henda looked as if she’d stepped off the pages of a fashion magazine.
She found projects in my home and garden that she said had to be done. Then she campaigned tirelessly to raise the funds to do them. I soon learned that it didn’t help to argue once she’d made up her mind. Besides, it felt good to see my house being transformed into a wheelchair accessible haven with all her practical ideas. Her gregarious nature and sophisticated sense of humour were like a tonic for my troubled soul. She came back, day after day. The more time we spent together, the closer we became. She was the first real friend I’d made since the accident, one who never knew me to be anything different than paralysed from the neck down and still chose to spend time with me…
She often held me close until we were both all cried out.
Henda was that kind of friend, the one who is always honest with you, the one who stands up for what is right, the one who tries to take your pain upon herself, the one who wants to fix everything and make things right.
Henda had greater wisdom than anybody I’d ever known. She knew that the responsibility of providing for me was too great a burden for my parents alone. She gathered a community of volunteers to give of their money, time and talents to make my life bearable. I call them my earth angels. Henda became such an integral part of my existence that whenever anybody asked, “What can I do to help,” my standard answer was, “Ask Henda.” I hated to be the one to ask for anything.
Thanks to Henda, angels came in their droves.
It wasn’t long before I was back in a manageable routine and life was running a lot more smoothly.
Happy, happy birthday to my dearest Henda. You’re beautiful, inside and out, and I am privileged to be able to call you my friend. Wishing you another half-century of love, joy, peace and happiness.