Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Romeo and Juliet


Romeo and Juliet

One evening, the tranquility of the parsonage, and my peaceful sermon preparations, were abruptly disrupted by the urgent knock of a twelve-year-old boy. The lad, with a furrowed brow and a sense of urgency that matched his rapid knocks, breathlessly informed me that the pastor was desperately needed at Miss De Zwart’s home. Assuming a dire emergency, I left my books and quickly made my way to her address, anticipating the worst.

Sister De Zwart, an octogenarian spinster, lived alone on a quiet street of our Dutch village. The dimly lit road, adorned with a feeble streetlight fighting against the encroaching darkness, presented an eerily quiet scene. Convinced she had fallen gravely ill, I braced myself for bad news.

As I approached Miss De Zwart’s house, I noticed a faint figure leaning against a house directly across the narrow street. The atmosphere was shrouded in mystery, with an unsettling calm that hinted at something being amiss. Upon ringing the doorbell, the door immediately, though cautiously, opened a few inches, revealing the familiar face of Sister De Zwart, and alleviating my initial concerns.   

I accompanied her into the front room. A lone lamp shone down upon a newspaper and a pair of glasses. Miss De Zwart, with her sunken mouth, wrinkles, and hair resembling faded yarn, looked nervous and out of sorts. Although typically timid, her demeanor had shifted to one of palpable fear.

The cause of her distress? A man had been loitering in front of her house for an unnerving hour. Recounting recent tales of robbery and murder, she feared for her safety. Her desperate call for the pastor’s help had been relayed through the neighbor boy, whom she had seen riding his bike down the street. She had rapped on the window to catch his attention. Miss De Zwart did not dare to venture outside.

The situation required a display of masculine heroism, and I, recognizing the need to uphold her trust, stepped into the role. Despite my aversion to unknown, burly men lurking in dark streets, I ventured outside, with Miss De Zwart abruptly closing the door behind me, an action I did not appreciate. 

Coughing and stamping my feet to announce my approach, I carefully surveyed the empty street, hoping for a potential witness. A few strategic moves brought me closer to the mysterious figure. To my surprise, I recognized him as Dirk van Egmond, a catechism student. “Dirk, what are you doing here?” I asked.

Dirk bashfully revealed that he had fallen for a girl he had seen in the neighborhood and had followed to this house. He had been hoping to catch another glimpse of her. The truth was beginning to unravel before me. Dirk was an impressionable young man who had a reputation for falling lovestruck. Miss De Zwart’s niece, the object of Dirk’s affection, had been visiting her old aunt, but had recently returned to her home. However, I withheld this information from Dirk.

“Oh, is that all, Dirk? I’ve just come from there, and that lady wants to know who you are. Come along.”

After a moment’s hesitation “Romeo” followed my lead. I introduced Dirk to Miss De Zwart: “This is Dirk van Egmond; he wanted to get to know you,” said I, before ushering him inside and promptly closing the door behind him.

Then I snuck away quietly, because budding romance has no use for a third person.



From Peper en Zout; tr. George van Popta, 2024