A few years ago Betty and Jack had a friend, Vera, who had been living in a hostel for the aged for many years. They were good years for Vera, having been able to keep away from her domineering husband. But in the last few months her health had deteriorated to the point where her doctor decided, she should be in a hospital.
Betty and Jack were visiting on the day the ambulance came. As the ambulance men lifted her into the ambulance several people had gathered around to farewell her; nursing staff, a couple of friends and Daniel her elderly male friend.
Daniel had struck up a friendship with Vera during the last few years and they had become very close. So much so, that Daniel very often invited her to his room in the afternoons, where he would prepare a cup of tea or offer Vera a glass of sherry. She liked that very much. They would listen to some music and talked about things past, like the war years and before that. He knew what pleased her and she appreciated it, that he knew.
As Daniel saw Vera being lifted into the ambulance, he knew that this could be her final outing from the home. He shuffled his feet nervously, observing everything.
‘Cheerio, girl,’ he called out, ‘don’t stay too long and look after yourself. You know what those doctors are like.’
His voice started to crack and he took out a handkerchief to wipe his nose and a tear or two. Vera did not see that any more as the ambulance man shut the rear door suddenly with a bang.
As the ambulance headed out the drive way and the people dispersed, Betty and Jack overheard a couple of nurses. One was saying,
‘I wonder who will go first, Vera, the Pope or Prince Rainier?’
‘Perhaps we should take bets,’ the other answered, well aware, that the last two mentioned were in the news at the time and were not expected to live much longer.
A few days later, on a Thursday, Betty and Jack visited Vera in the hospital. She was not very well, would neither eat nor drink. She was sitting in an armchair to help her breathe and a drip was attached to the back of her left hand. Vera could barely speak. Betty told her husband to go and fetch Daniel to see Vera.
Jack drove to the nursing home and was wondering how he could ask Daniel to come
to the hospital. When he arrived at Daniel’s room, he saw the door was open and Daniel was sitting at his table. As soon as he noticed the visitor, he jumped up, walked towards the door and asked, ‘Mate, could you take me to see Vera, please.’
‘Yes, Danny, that is what I came for,’ Jack told him relieved that he did not need to explain the situation.
‘I’m missing Vera,’ Daniel said when they were driving to the hospital.
‘She is not very well,’ Jack told him. ‘She seems to be much weaker today.’
On arrival at the hospital they went straight to Vera’s room. Jack and Betty left the room to leave Daniel and Vera in private. As they left, they could hear Daniel say,
‘How are you girl?’ She did not answer his question but said to him very softly,
‘Where were you? I was lonely….’
The couple heard no more and felt they had been eavesdropping. It took only two minutes when Daniel came out of the room and said, visibly upset,
‘Take me back. I can’t see her this way.’
Nothing more was said in the car on the way back to the nursing home. Daniel was in deep thought. Even though he was ninety-seven, he still jumped out of the car quickly when they arrived at the home and said,
‘Thanks, I’m all right,’ and he disappeared into the building.
Jack went back to the hospital and picked up his wife. They decided that they would visit Vera the next day again. Next day, after lunch, they were preparing to drive to the hospital when they received a phone call from the hostel. Betty took the call. It was a lady from the staff,
‘Hello, Betty, as friends of Vera, you should know, that she passed away today, around lunch time.’
‘Oh no, how sad,’ Betty said with a sigh and then asked, ‘that must have been upsetting for Daniel?’
‘No, no, he passed away suddenly here in the hostel, two hours before Vera did.’
Jack and Betty were very sad, but were musing that Daniel must have died of a broken heart, feeling after his last visit that he was not able to do anything any more for Vera: No sherry, no tea, no music ― nothing at all. His life would be empty.
A couple of days later, a Sunday morning, the couple heard on the morning news that the Pope had died on Saturday. Jack remembered the nurse’s conversation at the hostel regarding who would die first and he said to his wife,
‘So, a rank outsider won the race to the finishing line, he came from nowhere through the field. Daniel must have been waiting for Vera on the way to heaven. He probably called out to her, “what are you hanging around for, girl?” One to go,’ Jack finished the analogy, thinking of the Prince of Monaco.
A few days later, Prince Rainier too, came to his finish line.