The Burden of Truth.


We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thought.

With our thought, we make the world.

The Buddha.


 
Prologue

January 1932. Buddhist Monastery of Ayratara, India



Diakana heaved a massive sigh when he slowly removed his dark red Buddhist robe from his shoulders. Always mindful, he folded it carefully, before laying it onto an old wooden chair at the bottom of his bed the same bed that hardly moved a millimetre, as he sat his slight frame on the mattress.

Tired, he rubbed his thumb and index finger of his right hand along the top of his nose, massaging it gently, trying unsuccessfully to free the migraine now forming in his brain. He gently moved his hands backwards towards the temples of his freshly shaven head, pressing the tips of his fingers ever so gently into his skin, moving them in small circular motions, trying his hardest to smooth away his pain. 

Hiten, his boy servant, had just taken away the bowl of hot soapy water Diakana almost wondered if he had noticed the redness caused by the cuts on his forehead, or the everyday shaking of his hands, which had become a common occurrence.

‘Master, is there anything else you require?’

‘No, thank you,’ Diakana answered in his customary slow soft voice, which, tonight, was no more than a whisper.

‘You have done more than your duty for today. Please, let me rest.’

‘Then, I will wish you goodnight.’ With that, Hiten closed the heavy oak door of the bedroom behind him, quite fearful of his master’s health.

Diakana waited patiently until the soft sheen of light at the bottom of his door extinguished, telling him Hiten had at last blown out the remaining candles in the annex to his quarters. Now safe in the knowledge he was alone, he reached for his fire lighter, and after many attempts to calm his mind, and his hand, he managed to light the solitary candle on his bedside cabinet.

He turned once more towards the door of his bedroom; he sensed and heard nothing. Only now had he the confidence to move towards his personal shrine set in the corner of the room.

He stared, with little expression on his face, as he always did, and commenced reflecting on the events of the day. He thought deeply, as he reached behind a brass figure of the Buddha and retrieved a small but very ornate wooden box.

His vision, like his health, were failing him in his ageing years. He held the box close to his squinting eyes, then closer still, trying hard to focus, struggling to find some sort of clarity; it was useless in the dim light of the single candle.

Slowly, he walked to his window, pushed open the wooden shutters, and gazed towards the starry night sky. Many nights, over many years, he had stood on this very spot, looking towards the cosmos, reflecting on its many secrets.

He thought long and hard when he looked out towards the night sky, but tonight, it was different. Tonight, there were no thoughts about the universe, or anything similar. Tonight, he had only one thought on his mind—about one of the wisest men he was ever likely to meet. The same wise man he had met that very morning.

However, as wise as he may have been, one would not have been criticised for calling him mad. Mad, because, for approximately the last fifty years or so, he had worn nothing but white clay and ash to cover his skin. He’d never washed or put a comb to his hair; he had never needed to. And, if this man ever had a name, the sound of it would not have been uttered in decades.

No words were said when the Holy Yogi handed Diakana the box. It was more his demeanour and expression in his eyes that told him what he was holding in his hands was of great importance.

This troubled Diakana. Over many years, he had travelled to many corners of India and beyond, just as the Buddha did all those years ago, to teach the lessons of the Dharma. He had seen many of these so-called wise men. He knew from his look he was a Yogi from Northern India, perhaps even Nepal. This, itself, had puzzled the old monk. Why, why had this man travelled over half of India, and taken many years to search for me? Why am I so important to this man?  

Diakana was indeed mystified, as once again, he tried to study the small ornate box. Something was not right, but he did not know what it was that made him think this way. Everything should be clear in his mind. He had solved the puzzle of the box, and its contents, that very afternoon. But, there it was again—doubt. Something was still not right; something was still missing.

He lit two more candles on his shrine, bringing an extra glow to the dimness of the sanctuary of his bedroom. Once again, he tried to focus on the complex box, bringing it again close to his eyes. The extra glow of candlelight helped, as he tried to reconstruct what he had achieved earlier in the day.

His mind, peaceful, focussed on the job in hand. He succeeded in slowing it to a point where he could calm his hands. Over seventy years of meditation practise proved to be his greatest of allies, as, not for the first time in his life, mind over matter played its part.

He gripped the box gently, and slowly steadied his fingers around the base of the box. His thumb moved exactly the way it did earlier in the day, feeling the indentations of the carvings on its sides.

His hands again started to shake. He tried another time to calm his mind, but there they were, once more, thoughts, puzzling thoughts, nagging in his head.

There is more, I am sure of it. I am sure, there must be more. 

 
Diakana slowly moved again towards the window. This time, his eyes did not fail him. This time he was sure he saw him. The Holy Yogi he met this very day was standing like a statue in the centre of the courtyard below, staring upwards at him, his piercing eyes looking straight at his.

Diakana turned away from his fearful stare, and slowly walked back to his shrine in the corner of the room. He placed the ornate box very gently at the feet of the Buddha figure, then sat back on his meditation cushions. Carefully, he pulled his legs towards his body in such a way as not to cause pain to his aching limbs. He winced, as he tried to manipulate his body into the lotus position, the same position he had used longer than he could remember to sit and meditate.

This time, he did not meditate; he only wanted to get right in his head his thoughts of today. He carried on thinking about the Holy Yogi.

What was he telling me? he said to himself repeatedly.

 And then, it hit him, it hit him hard.

‘That is it!’ He opened his eyes wide. ‘That’s what’s missing!’

He gasped to take a breath of air as he reached out again to the small wooden box sitting majestically at the feet of his shrine.

His hand never reached the box as the shock of his findings reverberated around his body. His body went tight, as the fear hit him—the fear he had not done enough in this life. The tightness of his chest gripped tighter, and never let go, as slowly, his failing sight turned to blackness. He knew, at this very moment, what was happening.




Chapter 1      

March 6th 1987.

He didn’t know if he was going to make it, but he was going to give it a hell of a try.

Brent Sandler rammed the gear stick of his brand-new BMW into first gear, then swiftly into second. He watched excitedly, as the needle of the rev counter tipped into the red, making the engine roar. Brent loved this; it brought a sense of excitement into his life, especially as the power of the beast in the car pushed the back of his head against the headrest. He liked the feeling of speed. After all, this was how he lived his life; always fast, and often tinged with a sense of danger.

Now, if you ever had the chance to meet Brent Sandler, and let’s face it, many people had over the thirty-two years he had been on this planet, you might well have formed an opinion of the man.

Many of those who had, especially the ladies, might well have been of the opinion he was a good looking, handsome type of character. Something like a more muscular Al Pacino would be a fair description. Many would also say they actually liked the man, even if they wouldn’t hesitate to call him an arrogant egocentric. The thing was, no matter what description was thrown his way, positive or negative, everyone seemed to have a soft spot for the charismatic individual.

John Conway, on the other hand, was quite the opposite from Brent. He was not a good-looking man, not bad looking either. Some, might even say he was a typical Mr. Average—average height, average build, with short fair hair. He always dresses smart but never chic, and certainly not a lady’s man. He had only ever had one real girlfriend, Sammy; the same Sammy who he had met on the day he left the army, almost three years prior.

However, he had different ideas from Brent on how to live life. He liked his calm and hassle free, not like today though. Still, he wasn’t complaining; he never did, and despite the toing and froing of the swerving car, he tried his best to study an old battered map of Europe, and, God knows how, managed to do a quick calculation.

‘Right, at a guess, we have about fifty miles to Zeebrugge, so if we keep up a steady seventy, we can make it easy. So you can slow down a bit.’

‘Slow down! You’re joking,’ Brent replied, laughing at his friend. ‘If we slow down now, we’ll never make it.’

‘No, listen,’ John replied, anxiously tugging on his seat belt. ‘All you have to do is keep it steady, and we’ll get there in bags of time, so please, slow down.’

But, Brent didn’t slow down—quite the opposite. For the next twenty minutes, the needle on his speedometer never went below a hundred, much to the displeasure of his passenger.

‘Christ!’ John pleaded. ‘Remember, if you get stopped again, you’ll fail the breathalyser, and that’s you waving bye-bye to your license. You’re just being stupid now.’

‘Don’t worry, we’re nearly there,’ Brent answered, but spoke too soon, as he looked in his rear-view mirror to see the blue flashing lights of a police car.

‘No...that’s all I need,’ Brent moaned, as he started to pull the car over to the side of the road. However, lady luck smiled today, just as he smiled, when the blue flashing light disappeared from his mirror and hurtled forwards, as the police car, for one reason or another, sped past him.

‘Brent! You’re mad. You’re a lucky son of a bitch, but you’re still mad,’ John said, watching the blue light disappearing into the distance.

‘God shines on the righteous,’ Brent replied, again laughing, as he started to put his foot down. But, God wasn’t shining much, when two minutes later, they came across the same police car blocking the road at the site of a traffic accident.

‘Well, that’s just about blown it. There’s not a hope we’ll catch the ferry now,’ Brent grumbled, resigning himself to the fact they would have to wait a good few hours before the next one. 

‘Perhaps, perhaps not,’ John replied optimistically, as he noticed the policeman almost at once pull his car to the side of the road, letting some of the traffic trickle through past two crumpled cars.

‘You’ll end up like that one day, if you carry on driving the way you do.’

‘Who me? Nah,’ Brent replied dismissively, again letting the car rip. He hammered the accelerator pedal to the floor, and let the powerful engine kick them back into their seats. Once again, the car blasted down the road, leaving the accident and the blue flashing light behind them.

Brent didn’t care, he had only one thing on his mind, and that was to reach his local pub in London, before last orders.

 

Ten minutes later, Brent looked at his watch, and punched the air in victory, as he turned off the main carriageway and headed towards the entrance of the Zeebrugge Ferry Terminal.

‘See! Told you we would do it,’ he said excitedly, as he handed the tickets to an extremely attractive attendant, before passing on a few boyish comments, which were quickly returned by a half smile and a bored look to tell him she had heard all this before. However, he still laughed, and made his way towards the ship.

‘You’re still mad,’ John remarked, catching his breath.

‘We’re on the boat, aren’t we, what more do you want?’ his friend joked, looking in the mirror, noticing the young girl closing the barrier for the last time, just in front of some unlucky passengers, who never quite made it.

 

It was March, and the air in the car deck was freezing, as the two men made their way swiftly up to the warmth of the upper decks, not even noticing the sign.

WELCOME ON BOARD THE HERALD OF FREE ENTERPRISE.

The first thing Brent always did, when taking the ferry, was to head to the bar; today was no exception.

Brent paid for the two pints of lager, as John quickly nipped to the duty free to buy some cheap fags.

After having a little complaint to the barman about the expensive prices, Brent turned to see if he could find any spare tables. He started to move through a large pack of teenagers laughing and joking to themselves. Out of the blue, he heard a bellowing voice he hadn’t heard in a long time.

‘OY, THAT MAN, SANDLER. WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU’RE OFF TO?’

Brent stopped in his tracks, turned, and started to smile.

‘Sergeant Harris! How the devil are you?’

‘I’m very well, and how are you?’ he replied in his thunderous voice, the type once you heard, you would never forget.

‘Good, I’m good,’ Brent answered. ‘I’ve just had a week skiing in France with some of the boys we were stationed with in Menden. We were talking a lot about you.’

‘All good, I hope.’

‘Yeah, most of it. So, what have you been doing since you left the army?’ Brent asked.

‘Not a great deal,’ Sergeant Harris replied, now with a much quieter, solemn voice. ‘There doesn’t seem to be much call for old sergeants in the real world, so I got a job as a security guard, like everyone else who leaves the army. And you, what are you up to?’

‘I was lucky. I landed a job buying and selling diamonds, of all things.’

‘Selling diamonds!’ Sergeant Harris said, raising his eyebrows. ‘Sounds like a pretty good number to me. Is the money good?’

‘Good enough, I suppose, I do alright, but not great.’

‘Good enough!’ the Sergeant replied, not quite believing what he had just heard. ‘I’d bet you’re making a mint. I always thought you would do well, especially as a salesman. “He can charm the birds out of the trees!” That’s what they all said about you.’

‘Who on earth said that?’ Brent replied with a cheeky grin, before asking his old Sergeant where he had been.

‘Just had a day trip to Ostend, doing a bit of a beer run. There was a special deal in the Sun newspaper a few weeks back, so a few of my mates and myself got together, and made good use of it.’

‘Good. Listen, I’ll catch up with you later. I need to find a table to put these drinks down,’ Brent said, before moving towards the back of the bar to find a free table. He was just about to sit down, when he noticed John shaking hands with Sergeant Harris.

The group of teenagers was just starting to get a little too loud for Brent. All in all, the atmosphere was good humoured. One boy, aged about fifteen, was pathetically sticking his tongue out to see if he could touch the tip of his nose, much to the amusement of his friends. However, not to Brent, who decided to look for a quieter table.

 

Just then, Brent wasn’t sure what happened. All at once, his balance was shifted by a strange sudden movement, as the boat started to jolt forward, at the same time, sending most of his pint of lager upwards and out of the glass, drenching his shirt and trousers.

‘Damn! That’s the last fucking thing I wanted.’

Instantly, he looked up very aware the group of teenagers he had just walked through were all looking at him, quite shocked at his outburst. Not only that, they were also puzzled, and worried themselves by the sudden jolt.

Quickly, a strange feeling of dizziness started to overcome Brent, as he was sure the boat was tipping, but his brain was telling him, No! How can this be? The next feeling was stranger still—the feeling of weightlessness. Now, his brain was telling him the boat was indeed tipping. Yet he still couldn’t comprehend what was happening.

‘Wh…Wh…What’s going on?’ he tried to shout, as he started to fall along the floor towards the windows. This can’t be. What’s happening?

Quickly, he threw an arm out to grab a table to stop his fall, but to his horror, the table followed him down towards a large window. He landed heavily on the glass, sending a pain shooting up his leg.

It was all happening so fast; there was no time to think. Reactively, Brent looked upwards to fathom out what was going on, but a big blue flash shot into his eye as a chair leg hit him, and milliseconds after, more chairs, tables, glasses, everything was burying him, pinning him hard against the window. The next thing he saw was the comical teenager crashing into the debris around him, blood gushing from his mouth.    

‘CHRIST,’ he shouted, and then, the fear hit him hard. The sound of grating metal, the fearful screams, and now, the sheer weight of everything on top of him trapping him for what seemed to be an eternity, but in reality, was only seconds.

Instinctively, he looked to where he had last seen John, but couldn’t spot him. Instead, he did see Sergeant Harris also fall to a window, quickly followed by the cash register from the bar, crushing his chest at the same time as what looked like hundreds of beer glasses and whisky bottles raining on top of him.

In quick succession, two women smashed through a plate glass window of what he thought was the duty free, and then hammered into one of the windows on the side of the ferry.

Then, it came! The water seemed to come from every door, porthole, and window and then, total blackness, as the lights went out. He could now sense the panic. And then it hit him, the sudden blast of the icy water.

The force of the water was tremendous; he had never in his life felt such a body blow, even though the pressure of the water was softened by the body of the comical teenager pushed against his face.

Brent just had enough time to take a deep breath, but the freezing water pounding at him made him want to open his mouth to breathe. Again, his brain told him, No!

Brent knew he was under the water, trapped in the mess of the wooden tables, chairs, and God knows what else. His first reaction was to get rid of this body he was entangled up with, but could not, because of the sheer disorder piled on top of him.

Think, Brent, think. What’s happening? How do you get out? Think. Swim, swim your hardest. It was no good; only one of his arms was free, and both feet were trapped. The alarming realisation set in at once.

Brent Sandler. You are just about to die. You are underwater, trapped, and you can’t hold your breath forever.

But, I’m not going to give up. Instinct told him, pull, pull with all your might. He managed to free his second arm, as the tables and chairs seemed to float away from him like a miracle from God. But, that is exactly what they are doing, simply floating away. The tables are made from wood and that’s what wood does, float! The body of the young teenager floated with them. Brent, free because of this miracle, now had hope, but his cheeks were at bursting point, as he tried frantically to reach the surface of the water.

There’s just too much debris to swim through. The tables and chairs, that were only a few seconds ago trapping him to the bottom, were now stopping him from reaching the surface. Come on, quicker, push your way through. I can’t hold my breath. Brent pushed and pulled at anything above his head. I can’t hold my breath any longer. One more push.

It was too late; that final push was too much, and he had no option. His brain told him he had to breathe, and that’s what he did, as he opened his mouth to let in some air. The taste of the salty water hit the back of his throat, making him cough and splutter violently. But, how? I’m underwater; I shouldn’t be able to breathe, shouldn’t I? He was confused.

Then, it hit him; that final push had been enough! Suddenly, an immense amount of freedom, achievement, and confusion came over him, as he realised his head was above the surface of the water. He didn’t know what to think. Again, he spluttered, before he took a breath of air he would never forget!

‘Yes! I’ve done it!’ he shouted punching the air, now realising what he had done.

Then, at once, it hit him again! He was far, far from safety.

He tried to get his bearings, but he could not think. The noise, this time seemed to be just as loud as before, but different. The sounds of the grating metal had stopped. It was now only the noise of the screams of panic.

Think, Brent Think! Get out of the water; you can’t last long in this temperature. Brent looked around, but there was only blackness; nothing! He tried to move around, but in every direction, there was something stopping him from doing so. His body was rapidly getting weaker. Hypothermia had already started to set in. His brain was becoming numb, and his teeth were starting to chatter.

Think Brent, Think! How long have you been in the water, five minutes, ten?

Brent didn’t know, but he knew he was drifting in and out of consciousness, as he was suspended in the water. He was now in a battle to survive, and the cold was winning.

But, he had at least one thing in his favour. The debris he was cursing a while ago was now starting to give him some ballast. It was still dark, and all he could see was the faint glow of some emergency lighting somehow still in operation. Brent wasn’t sure how long he had been in the water, twenty minutes, perhaps longer, perhaps less, but he knew he didn’t have long. He tried to kick again with his feet and move his arms, but the debris and the cold prevented him from doing so. The noise and the screaming had died down, or was it he was slowly losing consciousness?

What, what’s that? What’s that on my face? A hand, but what hand, whose hand? Brent grabbed at it as best as he could, but was too weak. He was even too weak to shout out at whoever was pulling his hair.

‘Up you come, bonny lad.’

The pain in Brent’s head turned to hell, and it hardly rescinded when whoever was pulling him up had let go. He fell back into the water, but was at once hauled out again by what he could only make out as a giant of a man.

Brent couldn’t see him in the dark, but as he fell on him, he knew instantly of his size. He tried to say something, but the numbness in his face made this impossible. The Giant moved Brent to one side, and laid him on his back on what was, before the ship’s ninety-degree roll to the seabed, the back of a long bar sofa. Now, looking up, he could just about see out of a large rectangular window, two meters above him. He was now very aware the pain in his face was a direct result of the initial fall and a certain chair leg. He was also aware he could not see out of his left eye, and the shaking of his body was uncontrollable. But, in spite of it all, Brent’s mind was whirring. I have got hope. Pull yourself together. Think, he told himself once again. Think!

Brent looked again out of the rectangular window, and thought he could see lights outside but he wasn’t sure. Just then, he heard some heavy thumping noises, strangely mixed with what he thought might have been muffled voices. He saw the light again, then the shape of a man’s face illuminated only for a split second, then once more the thumping noises, two in quick succession, and immediately the window turned to white, just as he felt the pain in his face sting as the shattered glass fell. Instinct told him, close your eyes. He did so as the small fragments of glass cut into his face. He didn’t care.

Again, he heard the sound of voices; this time, the tone was clear. Slowly, he tried to open his eyes, finding it impossible. He tried again and again, only succeeding in making a small slit between his eyelids of his right eye. But, it was enough to see the waving of a flashlight from the now-open window above him.

The beam of light rested on his face sending pain into his half open eye. He was relieved when the light went away. He tried to follow the strand of light, but it was moving too quick, darting from one direction, and then to another, then back again. He could hear voices, someone shouting, he did not know what. They were loud at first, but after a time, they were gradually becoming quieter and quieter. Brent knew what was happening; he was losing the battle, and the cold was still winning.


Chapter 2

           

The next thing Brent remembered, he was waking up in a strange room—or at least he thought he was. Nothing was in focus, but he sensed something was happening around him, but not sure what. Slowly, his vision was becoming clearer, and he could just about make out what he thought was a television news crew huddled around something of interest opposite him.

His eyes wandered further along the room looking for clues. He could see a poster or some sort of sign in French. Not being able to speak the language didn’t help. He looked for further clues. He could see to the side of where he was lying, a light grey metal bed, and alongside that, something that looked like a stand holding some sort of a small plastic bag and tubes. He had seen all this before, but still wasn’t sure where.

‘Monsieur Sandler, Monsieur Sandler.’ Brent slowly turned his head to look where these softly spoken words were coming from. As he moved his head, the television crew abruptly turned from the point of interest on the other side of the room, and like a flash, they were pointing their cameras and lights at him.

‘Gentlemen. Gentlemen. Please, please, stop this at once. You have all been explained the conditions that allow you to work here.’

Whoever had spoken those soft words a moment ago had now taken on the sound of someone obviously stressed and very tired.

‘Please, gentlemen, I am sure you have enough material for this evening’s bulletin. Would it be possible to leave now?’

With that, the men lowered their cameras and other equipment to their sides, and apologised to who Brent had now worked out was a nurse. As they left, one of the men could not resist one last snap. The blitz from the camera shook Brent. Once again, the pain in his eye returned.

‘What’s going on?’

‘We have been waiting for you Mr. Sandler,’ the soft voice returned, introducing her self as Nurse Cuvelle.

‘Where am I?’

‘You are in the Koningin Fabiola Hospital in Blankenberg. Just outside Zeebrugge.’

‘Why, what’s happened?’

‘There has been a terrible accident, while you were on the ferry to England.’

‘Accident?’

‘Yes. The Herald of Free Enterprise capsized just outside the port. There were many deaths. You are very lucky to be alive.’

‘Deaths, how many? I have a friend. Where is he? I can remember cold; it was cold, pain. Sergeant Harris was there.’

‘Easy, easy, slow down. You are not well, and you have just woken up. Everything here is strange to you,’ the nurse said, as Brent tried once again to work out what was going on.

‘When did this happen?’

‘Two days ago. You were winched off the ship, and brought here, unconscious. We found your name and details from your passport and wallet. I’m sorry we had to go through your personal things.’

Brent wasn’t bothered.

‘Can you remember anything about it?’

‘Yes, I can. Well, bits of it.’

‘What bits?’

‘I’m not really sure, just bits. I have a friend, John Conway, he was with me. Is he okay?’

‘I will try to find out, after the doctor has examined you.’

Nurse Cuvelle left Brent alone. He now had time to look around to see if he could make any sense of his new surroundings. The room was quite similar to that of an English hospital—four beds, three occupied and one empty. He found out later when the nurse told him, a young boy of twelve had occupied the empty bed. The poor lad had passed away only half an hour before Brent regained consciousness. This news saddened Brent. The full horror of what had happened two days before was starting to hit him. Nevertheless, he was somewhat comforted when the boy did pass away, he did so peacefully in the arms of his father, who had just arrived at the hospital ten minutes before he died. 

Brent continued to study his new surroundings. In the corner of the ward, he could see an old portable black and white television set. The picture was on, but the sound muted. His eyesight was still blurred, however he could make out that there was some sort of talk show, or a lot of people being interviewed. He wasn’t sure, so he simply left it.

He started to think back over what had happened, and slowly his memory was returning.

He remembered the young teenager, who only a few moments before his death, was the clown of the bar. He remembered Sergeant Harris falling, just as he did, but felt sure he did not survive. He remembered the giant of a man who pulled him out of the water by nothing but the hair on his head. He desperately wanted to thank that man, but did not know what had become of him. Slowly, but surely, the jigsaw of his recollections was starting to come together to form a picture of what had happened on that terrible night.

He was still gathering his thoughts, when the doctor entered the ward. Dr. Günter, a German from Hamburg.

His main concern was his eye. Dr. Günter was reasonably sure the eye itself was not damaged, but he would have to wait until the massive amount of swelling went down to make sure all was in order. So, with that bit of news, it was sorted. Brent was to stay in hospital for a few more days.

A few seconds after the doctor left, Nurse Cuvelle returned with a very broad, infectious smile on her face.

‘I have some news,’ she said excitedly. ‘Your friend, John Conway, has survived the disaster, and has already returned to England. I also know he has been trying to find you. We can contact him to let him know about your situation. Shall I do that?’

‘Yes please, that would be kind. Thank you. Thank you very much for helping me. I don’t deserve this.’

‘What do you mean? You don’t deserve this?’ she cast a very disagreeing look back at Brent.

Brent, for the first time in many years, felt waves of emotions building up inside him. It was a feeling he had not experienced since the death of his mother, twenty-three years ago, at the age of nine. He did try to stop the tears now, as he did all those years ago, when he had heard the news that, “The good Lord has taken her away.”

Tears welled up in his eyes, and the sobbing came soon after. When it had all died down, and composure was regained, Brent said to Nurse Cuvelle, in a quiet, broken voice, ‘I’m not a good man. Other, better people, good people should be lying here, and not me.’ He was thinking of the young boy and the comical teenager. ‘Why am I here? Why have I survived, and not them? All the other people on the boat who died they all…’

Nurse Cuvelle put her finger gently on the lips of Brent, and in her now quite familiar, soft voice simply said, ‘That’s just the way it is. No one really knows why.’ Taking her finger slowly away, she carried on, ‘I only know everything happens for a reason. Perhaps we will never know what that reason is,’ she said, shrugging her shoulders. ‘But, what I do know is, you shouldn’t feel guilty you have survived, and others have not. There’s a reason for it Brent. And I think deep down, you’re a good man. Perhaps that’s the reason, or perhaps it’s just a simple fact actions have consequences, or even simple karma.’

Brent was not fully sure if he agreed with what this beautiful, charismatic lady was trying to tell him. Maybe she was right, and there was a reason, but whatever the reason was, Brent didn’t know it, and he still felt very, very guilty.

A few days later, Brent could just about make out the picture on the portable television set in the corner of his room. He could see the news a lot clearer, now the swelling in his eye had subsided. Dr. Günter was pleased that no great physical damage was done, and seemed to be generally relieved about his returning eyesight.

‘In a few days, you’ll be able to return to England,’ he said, with a smile on his face.

Of course, Brent was happy with this news, and those few days went over quite quickly.

He talked a great deal more with Nurse Cuvelle during these few days, and when she was able to, she translated many of the news broadcasts shown on the old portable television. Many of these broadcasts told stories of great acts of bravery on the ship. Some told the stories of men making human bridges, so others could crawl on their backs to safety. Others of a man who had spinal problems; he crawled around, and carried his new-born baby with his teeth to safety.

There were many other stories too. Like the news of a mother had been told her daughter had been found alive. This was captured live on TV. Patients and nurses alike wiped away tears in their eyes, and all agreed this was possibly one the most moving things anyone could remember witnessing in their lives.

It was an emotional time. Everyone on that ward had survived a major maritime disaster, and of course, those memories would stay with them forever. Not only memories of the disaster would remain, but possibly the time afterwards, the time in hospital, when many philosophies of life would be reshaped.

Brent certainly did a lot of thinking in the days before Dr. Günter was satisfied he was well enough to be repatriated back to England.

It all happened very quickly, after he said he could go home. Within an hour, he said his goodbyes to all at the hospital, before the officials whisked him off back to England. 

He was sorry, when he had to leave, Nurse Cuvelle wasn’t on-duty. He very much wanted to say thank you, not just for all the care but also for the love he had received.

However, he did manage to say goodbye and a big thank you to Dr. Günter. Brent was slightly taken aback when the big German give him a big hug and a pat on the back, as they parted company. He would, of course, pass on the letter Brent had just about managed to write to Nurse Cuvelle.

Brent was also very grateful to the young man who escorted him from the hospital in Belgium to his flat, not far away from Russell Square, London. On arrival, he made sure everything was in order, even to the point as to go shopping, to get some of life’s essentials.

After he’d left, promising to call again, Brent telephoned John.

John, being the good friend he was, came around at once. As Brent opened the door to let him in, the look on John’s expression told no lies. He was simply shocked to see the state of Brent’s face. It was less than two weeks since the disaster—not nearly enough time for the cuts and bruises to fully calm down.

‘Don’t suppose we’ll be going out for a beer tonight,’ John said, rather stupidly.

Brent looked at him, wanting to whack him, but instead, he started laughing at his comment, and simply picked up his jacket. ‘Of course we are. Life’s for living, isn’t it?’

About two hours, and six pints later, Brent and John sat talking about what had happened. They talked about many things—their feelings, their thoughts. They talked about John’s frustration, when he found out Brent was still alive, and his frustration afterwards, as he tried to get in contact with him, but somehow found it impossible. John also passed on the grave news that Sergeant Harris, along with many other soldiers, had, indeed, perished on that fateful night.

This saddened Brent a great deal. Slowly, he sat back in his seat, putting his hands behind his head. ‘You know, we say this all the time, and still do nothing about it.’ He paused, as he looked forlornly up at the ceiling.

‘We never know when our time is up, do we?’

John looked back at his friend, knowing exactly what he meant, but still asked the question anyhow. ‘What do you mean?’

‘Well, we could be hit by a bus tomorrow. Might die of a heart attack soon. I guess we all say things like that.’ He paused again, pensive, before he continued, ‘I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately. I nearly died on that ferry, and if I had done, my whole life would have been wasted.’

‘Oh, I don’t know,’ John replied. ‘You’ve joined the army, seen a bit of the world, done a bit of skiing.’

‘I saw a bit of Germany, Northern Ireland, and the Falklands, that’s all. No, what I’m trying to say is... umm, I’ve never really lived my life to its full potential.’

‘Well, how many people do?’

‘I’ve got a feeling not many,’ Brent answered. ‘I would take it as a guess most of us would want to. But, what puzzles me is, some people may leave it to the last minute to do something about it.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I’ll give you an example. If a doctor tells someone they have only a few months to live, I bet you that person would go all out and try to fit as much as possible in those last few months, to try to make their lives worthwhile. Like going to America, climbing a mountain, or doing whatever it is they have always wanted to do.’

Brent gathered his thoughts, after taking another sip of beer, he carried on, this time, perking up a little, ‘What I’m trying to say is, why wait to go and climb a mountain?’

John looked back at his friend, before Brent, now with his tone picking up with enthusiasm continued, ‘You know what! When my time comes, I don’t want to lie on my deathbed, all solemn and regretful, and say, “I wish I had lived it differently.” I don’t want to wait right at the end, to suddenly realise what’s important in life, and then find it’s too late to act on it. From now on, I’m going to live life to the full. I’m going to cram everything I possibly can into this short life of mine, starting now, today. Not sometime, when the doctor tells me I’ve only a year to go. And you know what?’ Brent said, looking at his friend excitedly. ‘I know exactly how I’m going to do it!’






The Burden of Truth © Peter Best 2014.

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