Saturday, March 23, 2024





As twilight neared, I found myself at 14 Wardlane, the home of the Kuijpers family.

“So, Marie,” I began, “what seems to be the matter?”

“It’s Father, Pastor,” she replied. “You know that Aunt Gretel was laid to rest last week, and now we’re at a loss.”

To those unfamiliar with old Brother Kuijpers, Marie’s response might seem enigmatic. However, the situation was thus: Mr. Kuijpers had been mentally unsteady for many years. Fortunately, he was not at all troublesome. He spent his days at home, often sitting quietly in the sunroom, gazing at the garden, the chickens, and the clouds. He was a man of few words, responding briefly but kindly when spoken to: “How are you faring, Brother Kuijpers?” “Fine, yes. Lovely weather, isn’t it?” That is how our conversations would usually play out.  

His wife tended to him with love and patience, and his unmarried daughter, Marie, doted on him. However, he had one peculiar habit. Upon hearing of a death in the family or among his former acquaintances, he would ascend the stairs, don a stiff white shirt, and dress in his black three-piece suit. He would then retrieve the Bible from the cupboard and lay it open on his lap. He would sit like this all day, silent, not reading but merely gazing out. Only when the family sat down for dinner would Marie take the Bible from him, and then, according to his wish, read the 23rd Psalm.

This ritual had been enacted many times before, most recently upon Aunt Gretel’s passing the previous week. His wife and daughter had grown accustomed to it. 

But now, something inexplicable had occurred. Marie explained, “This afternoon, after lunch, Father took his usual nap. But then he went upstairs without a word, and sure enough, he came back down wearing his white shirt and black suit, and now he’s sitting in the room with the Bible opened on his lap.”  

I took in all this information in the hallway.  

“Has there been a death in the family, or perhaps among the neighbors?” I asked.  

“No, Pastor, that’s what’s so peculiar. We can’t think of anyone, and we haven’t even discussed death this morning,” Marie replied. 

We entered the room to find the old man seated there, his small, thin, and pale figure a stark contrast to the whispered, though lively, discussion taking place between the two ladies and me.  

“Well, Brother Kuijpers, how are you?” I asked.  

But I received no response. On his days of mourning, he remained silent. His trembling hand moved over the pages of the Book.  

Marie and her mother had sat at the table to eat, but Father had no appetite. I suggested that the mother and daughter carry on with their routine. Marie rose and gently took the Bible from her father’s knees.  

“Shall we read Psalm 23, Father?” she asked, but he remained silent.  

Marie began to read. As dusk fell, reading became challenging, but it didn’t matter, for she knew the words by heart.  

Afterward, the two women bowed their heads and gave thanks for the meal. As we sat around the table, we continued to discuss Father’s peculiar behaviour, our whispers filling the quiet evening. We couldn’t comprehend what death Father had been contemplating.  

“Marie, please light the lamp,” Mother asked. 

As the room was suddenly bathed in light, our eyes were drawn to where old Brother Kuijpers was seated. 

No one uttered a word, but we all saw it. His hands lay motionless on his knees, his head slightly tilted against the high edge of his armchair.  

He sat as still and as silent as only death can render.


From “Zonderling” in Peper en Zout, Ds M. E. Voilà. Kok: Kampen, n.d. Trans., George van Popta, 2024.