Dr St Germain helped Joyce into a hospital gown and then left.
Erik, Joyce assumed, must still be with Dr Dumas or Dr Ziegler somewhere. To get the latest report on Khira’s condition, he’d said. Khira had apparently cried yesterday, poor darling, while her husband tried to talk to her.
Joyce sat in the chair she pulled closer to the bed, staring at the familiar face whose eyes were closed. Khira looked so serene it unsettled her. She really looked like she was peacefully gone. Joyce’s throat expanded, dripping something salty from the roof of her mouth to her taste buds.
The bars that would be up to protect her were now down. They were probably the most significant reminder that she was alive and could suddenly spring out of her coma like a jack-in-the-box and crash on the floor. Then there was the medical personnel – apparently Khira was never left alone even for a second right around the clock, had to be turned this way and that every few hours to avoid bedsores – reading in a corner. In the near silence of the room, the only sounds were either being muted or whispered, plus the constant beeping of these life support or monitoring machines that St Germain had talked to her about. Holy Family Cathedral. Bruised cheek. Bandaged head with the ICP monitor attached to her skull, arterial line, nasogastric tube, respirator, electro…
“Did your lids quiver for a second or was that just my dotty imagination, sweetie?” were the first word Joyce spoke. “Did…” Joyce raised her head to scan the heart rate and rhythm machine. It didn’t tell her much because she didn’t speak the machine’s language.
“Sweetie, it’s me, your Candy. Sorry, I should say hello first. But…” She fought with the tears. This was neither the time nor the place for them.
My Candy? No, I don’t remember you. Sorry about that. But I remember the smell of you. Perhaps that’s what made my eyelids quiver. Or maybe I’m just dreaming in this dark valley of mine. I have tons of dreams… drift in and out of them…
“How do you feel, my sweet darling? But what a silly question to ask.”
Bless your precious soul, you’re the first one to realise how stupid this standard question is, Candy. They all ask it. But good that you asked. Now I know I’m not dreaming… I never dream of this monotonous quest…
“I had a long heart to heart with your doctor. You know, Monique St Germain. She said you probably can hear me. Perhaps you also understand me.”
Martine. Her name is Martine not Monique. Ancestors and the Gods, aren’t you wonderful, Candy. Yes! Yes, I hear and understand you! Tell me more!
“Sorry I went quiet for a second, Candy. I was…”
I’m Candy, too? Are we sisters? Or friends?
“… watching your lids to see if they’d move again. If you hear me, can you move your lids again for me, sweetie?” Joyce stopped and fixed an intense gaze on Khira. “Okay, sweetie. I’m going to assume you hear and understand me.”
I do, I do!
“Do you know why you’re in this hospital? Silly me, another question.”
I don’t. Please, tell me. And don’t cry, Candy. Are you crying?
“Silly you, too. Jupiter and Apollo, sweetie, I told you to leave Lo out of your stupid traditionalist initiations. I don’t know why you bothered to ask me. Now see what that’s brought you. And the kids. I haven’t seen them yet. I came here straight from the airport in Geneva. That giant of a husband of yours picked me up and brought me here.”
Something beeped. Joyce snapped her neck back to stare at the foreign speaking machines, couldn’t tell which one had talked. “I simply packed up and left Kenya. Left my own batch in the hands of Jimmy, my mum and the domestics. I was worried sick about you when Aunt Nyowuor told me what had happened to you. I mean, even she didn’t know that you’d been bashed by your own husband out at the Hilton lodge. Erik was such a coward, hitting you and then not telling me…”
You’re crying. Please don’t cry. You’re the first person talking some sense to me… my Candy. So I have children? And a husband? Is his name Erik? Stop crying and tell me everything, please. I hear you. Do you hear me? I’m screa…
Now I don’t understand a thing. Geneva. Kenya. What did I…
“Erik told me the whole story and in a way I’m as mad at you as I ever could be. But anyway, just in case you’ve forgotten – Dr St Germain said you may be suffering from amnesia on top of your coma – I’ll go over the story…
” I’m in a coma… suffering from amnesia… initiation… ancestors!
“… for you. I’m now holding your hand. Try to feel me holding your hand, sweetheart, because you’re going to feel as guilty as hell.” Khira’s hand remained lifeless. “Remember the last time we talked on the phone? You told me you and the family were going for a weekend safari at the Hilton Lodges. I invited you to drop by since Mombasa was only a couple of hours’ drive or half an hour’s flight away.”
Khira concentrated. She listened and listened. She tried so hard to feel the hand that was supposedly holding hers yet she couldn’t feel a thing. But she could hear and understand. Only she couldn’t remember a thing. She knew this was what had been scratching on her memory for what seemed like ages. That something significant and sinister that had happened, that had been quivering on her memory. The Significant must be the initiation. Attached, somehow, to the initiation, was the sinister bit. Was it the bit about Erik – ancestors and the Gods, she had a husband called Erik! – hitting her?
“I’d have slapped you myself had I been there, seen Lo’s suffering, Candy. What on earth got into you? And he’s right – you should have at least retained the aircraft at Taita Hills airstrip under whatever pretext...”
The medic in the corner stopped her reading and hurried over to Khira’s bed. “Madame Leendqeest seems to be having some kind of distress, Madame,” she told Joyce in French. She scanned the life support. “Her heart rate is going up.”
“I’m afraid I don’t parler Francais or whatever, beyond merci and silver plait,” pronounced Joyce, dead serious, brows knitted. “I didn’t understand you. English by any chance?” But even before Joyce could smooth her brows, St Germain burst into the room. The younger medic must have pressed some button to summon the doctor. “Is anything wrong, Dr St Germain? The dear young lady only speaks French, I presume.”
“She’s a little excited.” St Germain meant Khira. She was examining her breathing, heartbeat, eye movements, pupil reactions with a tiny torch. “Her heart rate slightly rose. Perhaps she’s in pain. I’ll give her something to…”
“Or perhaps she’s remembering something. Her lids moved a while ago, even before I said a word, I think. Hey, sweetie. Calm down. We need to talk. Okay, I need to talk to you so I don’t want Doc here sending you to sleep or something. Calm down, darling, please calm down if you’re not in pain. Please…”
Yes, we do! We need to talk, ancestors, we need to talk! I’ll calm down, promise! Don’t let them send me to sleep!
St Germain hesitated, dropped the IV tube, looked at Joyce, smiling. Then she looked back at the monitors. “You really seem to be twins, Madame. Her heart rate is stabilising again.”
“That’s the girl, my Candy. Remember your first night – or rather the morning after – back at St Mary’s when you woke up in a dormitory full of…”
Joyce stopped herself and looked at St Germain.
“I’m her doctor, Madame. Just pretend I’m not here. Ignore us.”
She nodded. “Remember that oath of yours, Dr St Germain, the hyocri-thingy.”
The doctor repaired with the medic back to the corner of the room, eyes steady on the life support machines and monitors.
“Okay, sweetie. Remember that morning? I took care of the mess. You were twelve and I was pushing hard on fifteen, I think. I believe it was the first time I told you that I love you. Remember? And stay calm, darling.” Joyce continued talking about the morning in detail. Once or twice she saw Khira’s lids tremble for a second. Not wanting St Germain to pump Khira full of drugs and get her all woozy and sleepy, Joyce kept the information to herself. She kept on talking, stroking her girlfriend’s cheek and kissing her forehead.
Until Khira began to remember.
In her sinister dark valley she floated over her memories like an apparition. Memories like shooting stars traversing the dark valley below her in a helter-skelter fashion, some snuffing out, new ones lighting up to take their place.
Joyce, some three years older than her, had approached her on the steamer on Lake Victoria and made friends. Joyce was going in as a Second Former and had therefore travelled back and forth between Kisumu and Homa Bay on Lake Victoria a dozen times before. Khira was on the steamer for the first time, heading to a missionary boarding school worlds away from her humble traditional Luo home. She had never even travelled in anything more sophisticated than her bare feet, apart from the once-a-week flip-flops to Sunday School. The next morning at St Mary’s Girls’ Boarding School following her first night in the narrow spring bed with a thin sisal mattress, it happened. She’d wet her bed, at age twelve, and the urine had seeped through and made a puddle on the cement floor. Her first night in a boarding school full of one hundred and twenty odd strangers. She’d never been away from her family. When she woke up with her wet nightdress clinging to her skin, all she could think of was flight. She grabbed a pail and run to the outdoor bathroom block…
Still blinded with tears, she bumped into Joyce coming in… Joyce put her pail down and embraced her. "It's all right, my sweet, I've cleaned it up. It's all right, sweetie, it's all right..."
Nobody heard her now screaming in her room, louder than ever before.
Joyce! That’s your name, love of my girlhood. We became… only, what, months or a year after that? Lovers! Yes! Candy was our pet name for each other. Oh, ancestors and the Gods, I remember. I remember you, my beautiful chocolate. But… Erik?
In a whisper, “Calm down, sweetie, or Doc will send you off to sleep.”
Yes. I’ll remain calm if it kills me. Tell me more. Tell me about Erik and…
“That’s my sweetheart. Can I continue? Okay. Then Uncle Gideon died and nobody in the family could afford to pay your school fees. So Miss Churchill – remember old ‘Spinster Ochillo’, our principal at St Mary’s? The missionary lady, who now lives in Cornwall and writes books about her missionary work in Africa?”
Yes, yes, I do! She… became my benefactress… paid for my…
“She suggested you take up secretarial training in Nairobi and she paid for your tuition. Your first time to see the City. You were fifteen then, and I was around eighteen, doing my O Level exams. And you were an ace, as always, even in the City. Before anybody knew anything, you’d passed your Pitman’s 120/65 words a minute shorthand and typing speeds respectively. You got employed as a steno typist in the PR Department typing pool of the Lindqvist Group, sweetie. Do you remember? I was at the Duchess for my Upper Six, still swotting while you’d become a member of the employed class, remember? Sweetie? Candy? Calm… What the hell… Jupiter and Apollo!”
Lindqvist Group… Lindqvist Group… PR Department typing pool…
… he stepped out of the lift with me on the thirteenth floor. I wondered whether I’d done something wrong. I’d answered his greeting politely as usual. "Do you work for The Group?" he asked towering over me as the lift closed behind us. Not a very intelligent question, I thought. What else would I be doing each morning on the thirteenth floor of the Lindqvist Building? Or do I look like a diseased office messenger to him? "Yes, sir." I adorned the fiercest of my ancestral pride and dignity without haughtiness and started walking along the corridor. He fell into step beside me. Great ancestors. I decided to talk in order to counter my mounting unease. "I work in the typing pool for the Public Relations Department, sir," I said looking straight ahead as I tried not to run along the corridor which had suddenly made up its mind to be ten times longer than usual. "I shall complete my probationary period in three weeks’ time, sir, and look forward to being confirmed." "I see." The corridor walked away from me. I felt sweat-beads between my breasts. "I hope I get the job, sir," I said to dispel my anxiety. "I adore working for The Group and my colleagues are super." And I wish you would stop walking beside me, big man, making me say silly things...
Ancestors and all you bony ancients, I’m a married woman! I have children… Lindqvist Group… the Boss, alias the Viking! But, when did I get married? Whom did I marry? How? When did we have children? Why did he beat me? Lo… the initiation… ANCESTORS AND THE BONY ANCIENTS, WHAT HAPPENED? SOMETHING SIGNIFICANT HAPPENED, BUT WHAT?
“Dr St Germain!” The doctor was already next to Joyce. “Is she all right?”
“She’s either very excited or in great pain, Madame. I think this time I have to give her some medication. Her blood pressure’s spiked – one seventy-five over a hundred. Brain activity up. She needs to rest now, I’m afraid.”
“But…” Joyce began and stopped, began again. “Isn’t that a good sign? I mean, she probably remembers something that’s distressing… or exciting her…”
“Pas du tout,” said the young medic, shaking her head, brows furrowed.
“Let’s say it’s not a bad sign,” Dr St Germain told Joyce. “There, Madame Lindqvist. Now you’ll feel better. Rest your mind and body for a while.”
Joyce bobbed her head as if St Germain had given the directives to her. “I’ll just sit here and wait, sweetie. You go ahead and sleep. I’ll be right here when you wake up, still holding your hand like now.”
Thank you, love of my girlhood. You were… always… my… bulwark… alw…
“That’s the girl. Sweet dreams, darling.”
* “What’s that, then, Dr Ziegler?”
“Fabian. We’re Madame Lindqvist’s family here, non, Phillip?”
Erik nodded. “Whatever you want. Erik. So what the hell is a BSAEP?”
Phillip answered Erik. “Brain stem auditory evoked potential. After her excitement the other day, Fabian and I decided to do the BSAEP test on her.”
Erik waited for more, uncrossing and crossing the other ankle on the other thigh. Dr Fabian Ziegler took over the explanation. “We placed earphones over her ears, then sent a series of sounds – mostly click tones given at varying frequency rates and levels of intensity. Response of the brain is then recorded with electrodes which send results into a computer.”
Erik still waited, feeling like Laurel and Hardy sandwiched.
“The waveforms responding to stimuli can be seen then, Erik,” said Phillip.
While he was still trying to digest that, Fabian muscled in.
“But, Erik, my friend…”
Won’t be unless you start making some fucking sense to me, Fabian.
“… the slightly problematic side is that we have to be extremely careful in discerning which microvolts…”
For God’s bloody sake!
“… are produced by the stimuli and which ones are the result of the simultaneous responses from the heart,” Fabian held up a hand, palm up, and used the index finger of the other hand to depress the fingers of the held up palm, “the digestive tract, lungs and so on. The computer removes the external noises and only registers the ones from the brain.”
Fabian eyed Erik meaningfully with brown eyes almost swallowed in the folds of his plump face. Erik nodded and began rolling his lower lip between thumb and forefinger.
“Should the screen,” Phillip took over, “show a flat picture, we’d know the brain cell is dead. Should there be waves, we’d know she can hear.”
“One more thing,” from Fabian. “The fact that she hears does not mean she actually understands what she hears. But being able to hear means her condition is improving, possibly marching on to recovery, Erik.”
Erik left his lip in peace, released a trembling breath of air. Herregud. “So what was the result of the BSAEP, then? I mean her lashes were wet and…”
“We’re not certain yet, my friend. As I said, a great deal of care has to be…”
“Yeah, yeah. Microvolts from heart and lungs and all that.”
Phillip soothed, “We plan another test in a day or two.”
Erik commanded, “Tomorrow. Do the test tomorrow, Phillip.”
The two specialists turned to each other and nodded in chorus before Phillip spoke. “The subdural haemorrhage is completely contained after Martine drilled the burr hole into her skull and sucked out the blood beneath the skull. Your wife is young and physically in great shape, so the subdural haemorrhage is dissolving and clearing up extremely well.”
“Jesus, you’ve already said that, de Sade. So why doesn’t she wake up?”
Phillip examined his manicured nails. Fabian came to the rescue. “That has to do with the shock to her shaken brain. But as already said, if she can hear, then she’s getting well.”
“Getting well all wired up, for God’s sake. You call that getting well?”
“Erik, my friend…”
“Could we just cut if off at Erik? Thank you.”
“Okay. Erik. She needs her life support. So far we haven’t performed a tracheotomy because…”
“What the hell is that?” A right pair of de Sades. “You about to split her skull open to pull out her brain and drop it in a bucket of ice or what?”
“Calm down. She isn’t having any respiratory problems at the moment. But if she stays on the trach tube for weeks, the tube would begin to erode the trachea. That’s when we need to perform a tracheotomy, which simply means doing an incision in her neck – an ostium, is the medical term – where we insert the trach directly instead of through her mouth. If…”
Erik shot off his chair. “Odin in Valhalla, you drill holes in her head and now you’re rearing up to slit her throat for a miserly million dollars?”
“We understand how you feel, Erik.” That’s the trouble with bloated donations, thought Phillip. The moneyed don’t realise that money is no protection to the vagaries of life.
“No, you bloody don’t.” Erik paced with fingers raked into his hair.
“If, and I repeat if, she’s able to breath without the ventilator, we’ll remove the trach tube. The trach will close up by itself. Erik, this may never be necessary. Madame Lindqvist is as healthy as a filly. Her heartbeats are as strong as a horse’s.” Phillip stopped to see how Erik took that. The man was in bad shape, mentally. He knew that from Danielle Hoffman.
“Another thing,” Fabian held up his hands – with remarkably slender fingers for a man who was more than a tad overweight – in the air. “It is possible that, if she remains in coma for a couple of weeks, we’d have to remove the nasogastric tube feeding her and replace that with a PEG tube.”
Erik wheeled around to face him, his fingers glued to his scalp under his hair. It was amazing, he thought, how Fabian switched into medical mode. “For God’s sake, Fabian. I have a filthy enough conscious as it is. Yeah, all right.” He dropped back on his chair like a hawker’s half-filled potato sack.
“So what the bloody hell is a PEG?” He hated how Fabian managed to underscore all his sore spots.
“Short for percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy. Does the same job as the nasogastric tube. Only that the tube goes directly through the stomach wall. It’s the most suitable method for long term tube feeding, Erik.”
Who was the first dearly loved woman who so emotionally hurt you, Erik?
Does the same job… only the tube goes through the stomach wall…
A pack of Marquis de Sades, for God’s sake. He knew what he’d done. Did they all have to keep rubbing it in?
“I’ll go to my wife. She’ll do me a lot more good than you two.”
And he was gone, leaving the door open.
“What,” said Fabian with shoulders pinning his neck to his earlobes, “does he think we are, a couple of the Athenaeum Club members whetting our appetites with apéritifs before we usher him in to dinner?”