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8: Storm

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One night we had a terrible storm raging outside. As we had here and there a tile missing, the rain came into our cell. It was the worst experience of my life up to then. My mother was ill with a high temperature, all around me people were sick. Betty and I were the only two who were not ill. People were groaning and all we could do was to go up to them, say a few comforting words and help to turn them to another positions. One can not imagine the conditions. We had various cases of bacillaire and amrebe dysentrie, which meant diarrhoea. We had no water, a few bars of soap from Samson which we could only use in dry-time when we had water flowing in from outside in a stone water-trench on one court-strip. We had no towels and no change of clothing, so what nursing could we do? But when you heard pleas and groanings; "Come to me! Please come to me..." you had to go and stroke the hair of the sufferer, move their position or rub their arms or legs if they suffered cramps.

Suddenly the wind blew off a few tiles above my mother's head and water came down on her and me. I was frantic while looking down at my feverish mother soaked in water and I thought at that moment that I was going mad. My head reeled and I could not think nor feel anything and a great fear overcame me; "Please God", I whispered, "don't let me go mad, let we die, don't let me go mad..." I was crying loudly, maybe howling; I don't know. There was so much noise with the raging storm above us, the rain pouring in all over the cell. From exhaustion I dropped down and fell in a sort of dazed sleep. Then I was woken up by a prodding from my mother and I know what that meant. People wee groaning and they wanted me to come and comfort them. I whispered to my mother; "I am too worn out! I can't do anything!" My mother, although very weak, said in a stern voice; "get up and go." For a moment astonishment and indignation overwhelmed me. How could my mother expect this from me? Then an inner conviction that she was right (although I judged her to be harsh) made me stumble up. I swayed, half-drunk from tiredness and despair and went over to one of the voices to do my feeble best. Then I went to another one and another one and another one. At last it was still again in the cell; I slumped down next to my mother and fell asleep. In the morning we went out to our court-strip to dry up. The sick we dragged along the floor to lay them down outside. The warden came with some numbers and brooms to sweep away the water and the P.A. visited us for his daily call. I can't remember how many of us were still alive by that time. This storm happened after Christmas in January sometime.

Now and again I think back of that incredible, terrible night and I an thankful to my mother, because she saved me from the shame I would have felt if I had not forced myself to comfort the sick.

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