note cranium

When my brother phoned me, his opening words were ‘Do you want the good news or the bad news?’ Lesley had been killed in a motor accident outside Nelspruit. For him, Lesley had transcended the world of suffering. His joke was bad news, for me.

She had gone to Swaziland to deliver a talk at the fledgling Swaziland sangat and coming back, right outside the Nelspruit provincial hospital, a bakkie had pulled in front of the car. Lesley had been a passenger, and it was the passenger’s side that took the impact. The driver, a satsangi friend, told me later that Lesley, fatally damaged, had said ‘Oh shit.’ She had said ‘Simran, Lesley,’ reminding her of the mantra, and Lesley had, she said, taken her attention into simran before becoming comatose. Within five hours she was dead.

I flew at once to the Lowveld. Lesley’s cottage was immaculate when I got there, tidy and filled with the reminders and attainments of her life, as if awaiting only her arrival to make it complete. What in fact remained was the breaking up and disas-sembly of that life and the material objects that had accreted about it, the tying up of financial matters, the disposal of papers and goods, and the handing back of the property to the owners.

418 desk closedRaymond’s work commitments meant that he had to return to Pretoria, so the harrowing task of identifying the deceased fell to me. In the morgue at Nelspruit, I was taken to a room where a body lay with its face exposed. There were cuts, abrasions and clots of blood. The mouth hung open, the skin sagged to reveal the lines of the cranium. A single glance was enough. This had indeed been Lesley, and at the same time there was nothing about it which was in any way my mother, who had never worn the face of death.

Lesley’s cylinder-top desk had once belonged to the magistrate at Barberton, during the short-lived days of the Lowveld gold rush in the 1870s, and she had bought it from a second-hand dealer in Nelspruit for four hundred rands, a sum of money equivalent at the time to about two months’ rent. Made in England the 1840s, it exhibits an early-Victorian style of joinery. What its joiners had also brought together in its construction was Oriental mahogany, bird’s-eye maple from North America, British labour and pearl glue boiled up from the hoofs of English horses consigned to the knacker’s yard. When it was shipped to South Africa I cannot tell, nor how it made its tortuous way on ox-carts to Barberton, but it must surely stand as an early emblem of the global world, bringing together four continents, and playing its part in the laying down of the Rule of Law in what had formerly been the wilderness.

When I opened Lesley’s desk, the contents were tidy and there were two piles of paper. On the top of the left-hand heap was a blank envelope. Under it was a strip of paper as wide as an A4 page, but only an inch or two deep. On it was written, in Lesley’s hand, in felt-tip capitals half an inch high, the following note:


The desk where I now write is that same desk, and rolling its lid back never fails to remind me of Lesley.

420 desk openThe Elder Pliny was of the opinion that no knowledge can help us when it comes to matters of happiness, luck, the distribution of good and evil, or the final values of existence. Individuals, when they die, are gone; they take their secrets with them. Lesley did not share this view, believing rather that happiness is attainable in this life, and that nothing is secret from the Logos of the inner Master.


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1 comment
  1. Barbara Harmel said:

    I knew your parents – but in the way a child knows grown-ups they meet several times. I remember visiting their cottage at Clifton, with my parents who were friends of theirs. I loved the paintings I saw of your mother’, Lesley. In their cottage, and I think at the home of Sonia and Brian Bunting. And now, nowhere on the internet – or in a gallery! – can I find pictures of any of them. Sad about this. Sad too to read in your blog of how she died.

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