Instead of an explanation, Rosemary slowly stood up from her seat and shuffled in that broken gait of old age that had suddenly endued her. Since the past few days, or rather, since I met her, she’d been more of the brisk, energetic type… until this morning.
I followed her into her room, deciding not to carry along the still hot cup of herb tea. The room was musty, with a lot of old boxes stocked in piles from floor to ceiling; perhaps filled with artifacts that would be enough to betroth down four generations. The cotton drapes were intentionally thick enough to stop sunlight from permeating through, and images from creating silhouettes. The space left beside her bed was barely enough to allow two average sized ten year olds to walk side by side without rubbing shoulders.
Rosemary sat down on an old wooden chair before she turned on the lamp by the bedside. Somehow I was grateful the home appliances and furniture in this old woman’s house wasn’t like the super techi ones I had seen around at the hospital and at Theo’s house. I tried not to rest my body on the wedge of dusty iron boxes, but I was certain a sneeze was fast on the way up my nostrils.
“I haven’t opened these boxes in a long time,” she chuckled softly as she pulled open a drawer to her right. I figured out that the feeling I instantly felt wasn’t one of déjàvu, rather, I simply recalled experiencing this same thing in my original life where I was in a much larger room with Sally and her grandmother. Now this old woman, Rosemary, was Sally’s handmaid, and she was yet again opening a chest that held maybe secrets of the past generations, locked away for years. I realized I was so curious to know of what happened to Sally, but I couldn’t understand why a sense of guilt overshadowed me.
Rosemary opened the box and brought out a bundle of photographs. She closed her eyes and exhaled deeply before she unknotted the ribbon that held the pictures together. “It was just like yesterday, you know?”
I nodded in the affirmative, but she didn’t know that it was truly only a few days ago I was with Sally. Madam Sally.
“This is Madam Sally, before she married.” Rosemary handed me a picture card of Sally. I stared at the image in the picture, and felt my throat tighten. “Before she married?”
“Yes. She was beautiful, wasn’t she?”
I swallowed a knot in my throat. I was sure I was choking. I nodded a few times before I could manage a “yes. Yes. But who did she get married to? What happened to her?”
There was a slight frown on Rosemary’s face. She stared at me with a curious look. “Young man, you’ve suddenly grown green. That picture in your hand is over fifty years old. If she were alive she would be dead now.”
I wanted to laugh at the slight humour.
“But I understand. She was a beauty to behold. Well, before things began to fall apart.”
“What happened to her? Who did she get married to?” I asked the questions again, this time with as little emphasis in my voice as possible. I stared closer at the picture, spotting the little changes from the Sally I saw a few days ago. Her face looked a little rounded here; she wasn’t smiling, but the crow feet by the sides of her eyes showed she was happy.
“Here.” Instead of explaining to the best of her knowledge, Rosemary seemed to prefer the pictures spoke for themselves. She handed me another picture. “That’s him, Mr. Cooper.”
“Mr. Cooper?” Who the hell was Mr. Cooper?
“Yeah. They were married only four months when I became Madam Sally’s cook. When eventually Sloane was born, which was years, years later, I was immediately reassigned to take care of him. Sally trusted very few people, hence the few number of domestic staff.”
“Hmm.” I sighed, mentally working on my memory of Sally’s personality, and of any Cooper guy I heard around Sally. Truth was that I was just getting to know Sally in my original life, so maybe her boyfriend who I hadn’t yet met was this thin-copper faced Cooper. I was sure not to let my fury bear on the surface.
“I had known her family for a while though, before I was given a job in the house.”
The house… The house. Would that have been the house Sally had taken me to meet her granny, Mama Bendel?
“Let me check for a picture of all of us. Hold on.” Rosemary was certainly having her emotions mixed up right now. As she slowly shuffled through the pictures, a few slipped out of her hands unto the floor. I immediately bent to pick them up. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go past the first one I picked. I stared at the picture in my hand, and was immediately drained of strength. I sat on the floor, attempting to will my shaking hand to be still. It was a picture of Sally and I.
I stared at myself. I saw my ever so familiar single stroke facial marks on both sides of my cheek. I focused on Sally’s image. She smiled like a lady head over heels. In the picture we held hands… Yes, we held hands like lovers.
I looked up at Rosemary who had watched me display a fleeting dramatic session. Her eyes were almost popped out of their sockets. “Young man,” were the only words she was able to utter.
I flipped the photograph over, as if I knew I’d find something; and there it was almost inconspicuous from years of bright ink turned matte. The same mysterious, undecipherable sentence that had plagued my life to this present day stared back at me: Aoys fun umendikayt ir gekumen, fun umendikayt ir vet tsurikkumen. Only this time, there was another sentence just at the bottom of the paper: You will always find a way… I will be here, waiting.
I read the words again and again, maybe a thousand times more. I looked up at Rosemary again, her eyes were stayed on me. The frown on her face had grown bigger. I managed to breathe when I realized I had been holding my breath for a while. I had never been in much of a quandary, whether to reveal who I am, or not. It wasn’t a matter of trust. It was more of a case of whether I could handle the unthinkable consequences.
Sussan Akinfe stood before the translucent glass door to the private ward of the ICU. The security legi that stood a few metres from her was patient enough to allow her try to look through the almost transparent door. As much as she tried, it was becoming frustrating to hang on to the forlorn hope that she was going to get through this barrier to her desired destination. She knew how things worked here, and there was no other way about it, except the order changed, no unauthorized personnel was granted permission into these parts of the wing.
Suss decided to sit down at the wing’s lobby, just so she could rest her aching knees, before she sought real human beings to assist her gain entrance. She had come into the hospital just a few minutes after the visiting hours, and no preference could be given to her, at least, not by the legis.
How she wished Theo was here, it would have been like Peter walking through the prison gates. She allowed her mind wonder a little to the circumstances bearing to this event. There was no doubt that there was a link, between the attempted murder of this young female scientist, and her son’s death. From the time they signed the agreement for Sam’s vital organs to be used for research, she had spent the few days pondering, trying so hard to find the last few pieces in this puzzle that will make eventual sense. And lo, this happened. This definitely got the entirety of Theo’s attention. At least, he wasn’t just relying on results from investigations that came to him. He was now more evidently concerned, as against the past dismissive demeanor to the death of his first son. To him, it was all an accident. And time was sure to heal the wounds, just as it had done in the past.
Suss was tapped on the shoulder before she realized she had sunk into one of her sad states again. She had jerked up from her seat to see a slim graceful lady in white overalls standing by her side. The lady had apparently asked a question she was sure to have missed, because for a second, the two women stared at each other.
“Sorry, I must have been absent minded. What did you say?” the older one said to the uniformed one.
“Just wanted to know how I could help you.” The younger lady said with a warm smile.
“Hello,” another voice spoke out from Suss’ blind spot. She instinctively jerked again and turned around to face the bearer, surprised that another person was there.
“Hello,” Suss responded, trying to give attention to the two ladies that now stood before her. She sat up, observing the faces closer.
“Yes, sorry, I came late. I guess.” Suss fumbled with her thoughts and the handle of the seat she tried to lean on. “I am here to see Miss Islo.” For a second she wasn’t sure who to direct her request to. The other lady was a much older woman, about her own age, and not clad in a hospital garb.
“I’m afraid you would have to—” the lady in white overall was cut short midsentence by the other lady.
“Don’t worry. She family.”
“She is?” the presumed doctor was surprised at how slow it was for the lady that accompanied her to decide if Suss was family. Of course, she knew very well who the visitor was, but it was only standard procedure to assist.
“She is a friend of the family. Don’t worry. You go ahead. I will attend to her here. I’ll be here if you need me.” The older woman waited till the doctor felt it was okay to leave her with the presumed ‘family member’. With a nod, she straightened her shoulder and went on into the ward, the translucent barrier automatically parting ways for her.
Suss watched as the doctor stepped through the two fold doors, before she finally looked up the face of the woman that now stood before her. She stood to make better eye contact, and acquaintance with the woman who apparently recognized her.
“Hello,” the lady stretched her hand for a handshake. “I am Phil. Mrs Philo Islo.”
“Certainly. How do you do?” They shook hands warmly.
“How do you do?”
Both ladies had smiles on their faces, although it was apparently from much effort to keep a pleasant face. They stared at each other, not sure of what to say next. Phil spoke up first. “Oh, what brings you here, my lady.” She spoke with a pinch of reverence in her voice, which made Suss humble that she was surely recognized as the Potentate’s wife.
“Please, call me Suss. Everyone calls me that.” They both decided to sit down after all. It was as if a heavy burden lifted from Phil’s shoulder as she breathed deeply.
“It’s amazing, rather than sad, that this is what brought me before you.”
“Well, I’m sure we all have tough questions to ask life when it eventually gets to sit in the witness box.”
“Hmm. True. Questions mostly about why it was notorious for its unfairness to humans.” They both laughed a little, which revealed they hadn’t been doing much of it in the past days.
“You don’t look different from what we see on TV. You are really beautiful for age.”
“Oh, don’t make me feel old. I must say there are these two ladies in my house that are quickly looking more ravishing with every passing day. So I guess my time would be over soon.”
“Not until we your admirers say so.” They laughed heartily again.
“I’m glad to make acquaintance. It’s a privilege to meet you, Mrs Islo.”
“My bad. Sorry.”
There seemed to have been an immediate connection between the two ladies. They talked about trivial things like sisters would, obviously bonded by their similar suffering as mothers.
“I had time in my hands and I decided to come see your daughter.”
“I’m so sorry for the loss of your son too.”
Suss pressed a lean smile on her lips. “I’m not sure I will ever get over it. And the sadder thing is that the events in the last three months have taken a big toll on the entire family. Sometimes, I wonder how his other siblings manage. The therapy we got for them seems to be helping, but I am certain they are all still living in denial. Especially Theo.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“You know, sometimes I wonder if we had made different choices, perhaps things wouldn’t have turned out this way.”
“We are humans.”
“True,” Suss sighed. “Unfortunately true.”
“You know, I keep trying to weave my head around the past months, and one thing keeps eluding me.” Suss figured out what a good listener Philo was. Her body language showed she was patient and eager to know. “The accident happened a few days after Sam proposed to his girlfriend, just before he clocked twenty-one. That day, he was coming in later than scheduled from one of his club meetings. His father and I were supposed to leave for a function. True, the only reason we needed to attend the function was to meet with the prospective partners the family would be doing business with in the future. And Theo so wanted his son to be in that meeting. Sam didn’t really want to.”
“Father and son tussle.” Philo knew that feeling.
“We expected him home that home, instead, news came of his accident. The last conversation he had with me on the phone that day was that there was a dire situation he needed to talk to me about. He said he just learnt of something he couldn’t talk about on the phone.” Suss paused a little to catch her breath. “I thought lightly of what he said, until days after when I began to process the information in my head. When he eventually made it out of the months of coma he was in, he couldn’t remember anything. He didn’t even know who we were.”
A long silence settled between the two ladies who had been sitting, facing each other in the tiny lobby of the private wing on the sixteenth floor.
“How is she doing?” Suss spoke first after only one minute that had seemed like a lifetime. Philo sat up, wiping the slight giddiness off her face with her hands. She had hardly slept since her daughter was admitted here.
“She’s great. She’s a fighter. I guess her job had come to her rescue. Some of her connecting tissues where ruptured. And only a transplant could have saved her life. It was a wonder that the organs were got from the bank she had preserved months ago in her laboratory.”
“Aint you lucky.”
“Truth be told, I’m scared of losing my daughter. I read about your son, Sam, and wasn’t sure I could bear losing a child twice.”
“You know. No one ever thought he would slip off again as soon as he came out of the hospital. Had I known, I would have preferred he stayed in the hospital as long as possible.”
Another session of silence descended on the lobby, the two ladies settled in for a moment of private thoughts. This time, it was Philo who broke the silence. “Would you mind we go in to see her?”
“Oh, sure. I’d be glad.” Suss was already on her feet, her handbag drawn ready in her arm. The two ladies walked towards the electronic barrier, and as they came closer, the legi stood aside and extended a warm greeting as it recognized Philo Islo. “Thank you, Andric.” Philo sad, slightly slowing her steps a little for the door to part before them.
It was a much bigger ward behind the doors, Suss observed. Almost double the size Sam had stayed in for the period he was in this same hospital. That was a few floors above.
As they slowed their pace towards the end of a corridor, Suss could feel goosebumps spread over her exposed skin. Memories of her last four months flickered before her eyes in flashing speed. Her head seemed to spin as though she was trapped in a whirlwind. All she had to do was stop in her tracks, and shut the visions away. She was sure she hadn’t made any sound, because when she opened her eyes, Philo still walked in her slow gait.
She quickly covered the distance, as Philo stopped by a door and quietly turned the knob. When she looked behind her, Suss had a warm, assuring smile waiting.
Inside, the room, another legi was standing by the far wall, definitely hibernated. At the head of the dimly lighted space was Ethel, lying peacefully on a rigma bed, oblivious of her environment. The back of her head up to the beginning of her forehead was softly clasped in electroclad, and her entire torso was covered with a hefty machine that hung from a clamp. It was almost as though she was another legi lying in state to be assembled.
“She’s doing great.” Philo was watching the brain activity plot over a graph screen. It was steady and waiting to pick signals of communication.
“Aint you a lucky woman,” Suss meant it, but she wished she could say this of her son: that he was doing great. “You know, I didn’t want to sign the agreement in letting him off support. I believed if Sam did make it the first time, he was going to make it the second time. But the doctors ruled out the chance. They showed me things that didn’t work with my faith. They said it was no use suffering for so long, without the certitude of my son pulling out of the coma. Theo couldn’t bear to see me in pain. It caused the family a lot of emotional turmoil.”
Philo didn’t say a word. Her eyes were beginning to gather tears even as she felt the pain that Suss was bearing from the loss her first child.
“After all, all this so called advancement in medicine can’t save a life if it wasn’t meant to be.”
The words were certainly having its effect on Philo, dampening her own hope for her child. She was at the verge of letting out a wail, when Suss must have realized what was happening, and quickly came over to her side to embrace her. They clung on to each other like sisters reuniting. It took only a few seconds for the tears to start pouring down their faces. Suss encouraged Philo, and Philo comforted Suss.
“Hi.” Neither of them realized they had company. And no, it wasn’t the stationed legi or any of the doctors assigned to Ethel. He was a tall, almost lanky, slightly familiar face to Suss, but certainly well known to Philo. Perhaps he was family. Most definitely, she thought, recalling her situation she had with the legi at the entrance to the ward.
Both ladies disengaged but still held hands. “Oh you are here, Thomas.”
Thomas looked drained of morale, perhaps the whole situation was taking its fair toll on him. “You welcome, Mrs. Islo. I just came by to check on Ethel, before going off to make a lousy attempt on the day’s business.”
“Oh, that’s so thoughtful of you.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Islo,” Thomas face was a bit ashen, and he kept staring down at his feet, and at Ethel without maintaining eye contact with Ethel’s mother.
“This is, …” Philo wasn’t even sure how to introduce Suss, whether as Suss or the Potentate’s wife, which everyone would definitely relate with.
“Sussan. A long lost friend.” Suss said, extending her hands to greet the man who must be in his mid thirties. The handshake was limp, and was perhaps too quick. He had a detached body language, and didn’t maintain eye contact. Maybe he was one of those shy types, Suss thought.
“Thomas.” He said only his name and returned his bland look at the exposed body of Ethel.
Suss must have sensed it was the right time to take her leave. Right then, she gave a discreet cough and rubbed Philo on the shoulder. “I have to be on my way now, Philo. We’ll keep Ethel in our prayer. Stay strong.”
The two ladies’ eyes connected in the way bosom friends would have easily communicated, but Suss exited the ward with more thoughts running through her mind than when she had first climbed up these many floors.
As she made her way down the lift, her gadget buzzed in her ear, and she immediately spoke into it. “I’m on my way home, hunnie. Just leaving the hospital.”
Thomas was seated on the right side of Ethel’s bed facing Philo, his soon-to-be mother-in-law. He had a very solemn yet reassuring smile on his face. Much conversation hadn’t transpired between both of them. Apart from the humming and the beeping from the machines in the room, they had both taken solace in their separate thoughts. Apart from that the silence was good for healing, for reflection, and definitely for prayers.
Thomas was thankful that the news of their romance that day had been well dispersed by their publicist, and the sympathy and well wishes that had poured in since then for both him and Ethel was massive. If only this kind of energy could be used to drive a bigger political agenda, rather than this superficial, even fake thing going on between himself and Ethel.
He had made sure nothing was left to chance after that stupid error he had by communicating plans over the phone in Ethel’s place. He had covered all his tracks since then, and even made a statement to the police to see that whoever was behind the attack on his fiancée was brought to book.
McDen had been shot. Or however way his death had come, he was somehow glad that at least he wasn’t alive to be questioned. He had also made sure that his super IT guy who had cracked into the security system of the DaVivo research facility had also cleared his contact from all connections possible to the assassination attempt on Ethel. Now, he was as clean as a whistle. Except… except that the whereabouts of Sloane, McDen’s partner was not known. They knew Sloane was more than a partner to McDen. He was in fact a big stakeholder who preferred to trade his possessions for money. He was greedy and didn’t have the kind of patience to delay gratification. He wanted his pleasures, and he wanted them now.
But his vulnerability had proved to be his strength; Sloane had proved to be smarter than anyone of them had predicted, because not only did he disappear into thin air, he had also covered all his tracks linking to McDen. Now, Thomas had been left with no other choice than to prompt his mole in the Police Force to reveal a half-doctored incriminating conversation, and video footage between Sloane and McDen. Now, it was only a matter of time before the sharks came circling, following the scent of blood.
An immediate and maybe bigger concern for him, and invariably for them now, was the fact that Theo Akinfe’s wife, Sussan, the one known to a few as the indefatigable backbone of the Theo Akinfe family, just visited Ethel Islo at the hospital. It was general information that Sam’s organs had been donated to the research institute; and the ash after cremation, would have been sent to the family. However, Thomas thought hard for any subtle link- was Sussan Akinfe’s visit here just one of condolence, or was it a preconceived idea to scout for information. His answer leaned towards the former, because people like Sussan didn’t do investigative works themselves. They used people like him.
Thomas had thought of the way Sussan had introduced herself- casually, beguiling a woman of her social status. That was no qualm to trouble him, though. What made him still squirm underneath his very amiable, courteous demeanor was the fact that there was a huge possibility that Sussan could have placed his face in association with his boss, Imelda. It was only a slim chance though.
He was tempted to discard the worrying information, but he couldn’t afford to let go of anything that might be pivotal to reaching or even short-circuiting their mission. In that same fiddling manner, he sent a message from an untraceable cyber base to another untraceable recipient: ***She just left the hospital. Sussan Akinfe was here to see Ethel*** … He thought for a second as he pressed his lips together in a solemn prayerful gesture by Ethel’s limp figure on the bed. He added a few words … ***and her mother***… before he pressed the S button.
“It’s going to be alright, my love.” Thomas reached out and pulled lightly on the satin bed sheet of the rigma bed.
Philo on the other hand, had also been thinking about poor Thomas for a while, and couldn’t have wished for a better fiancé for her daughter.
The news of his early morning romance on that day at the lab where he had given her daughter another ring, was proof that they were meant to be. Marriage truly was no walk in the park; it was a daily decision for anyone to want to spend and share their lives with their spouse. And this young man, despite his little forgivable flaws had proved it that he and her daughter were meant to be.
Even this situation of Ethel’s hospitalization that should have caused a dent in the course of things seemed to more than ever bring the would-be couple closer. Philo remembered her late husband, and she could see how Thomas was gradually becoming the kind of man she had always prayed for her daughter.