Sitting alone in Khira’s office following the children’s goodnight call from their father, Joyce planned fast. And meticulously. She was so mad at Erik it charged her entire body all the way to a breath short of radioactive. Now she was going to teach the man a lesson or two. The children, too, were shrinking away from him. Not consciously, perhaps, but their instincts told them not to put all their eggs in their father’s basket. Good.
For otherwise, why didn’t any of them mention to him that Joyce had invited Danielle Hoffman for Sunday lunch? And about what happened afterwards with the four women – Joyce, Danielle, Norska and Patricia?
The women had also been on Joyce’s side – after a little persuasion of course. They took the children to the villa’s park, sat around pretty white benches and tables and flower beds boasting fat-headed hydrangeas, lush roses in more colours than nature intended, with the warm breeze rustling through the assorted trees Joyce had no names for.
She’d wanted the kids to understand what a coma was and needed Danielle just in case something went wrong when they saw all the “life support” stuff sticking out all over their “sleeping” mother in Joyce’s Polaroids. Four women to deal with the action of one cowardly man who abandoned his suffering children after he bashed their mother into a coma. No wonder God saw Adam alone in Eden and though it was not good, there had to be an Eve to keep things on an even keel.
Joyce was armed with the prospectuses, pamphlets, medical journals and Polaroids she’d taken of Khira and her life support gadgets.
“I have the gut feelings of a mother, Danielle. And believe me they couldn’t be more my children than the ones I personally brought into the world. But you have the professional training and I want my kids on the safe side. Mentally protected. Here, I’m venturing into the unknown with them.”
Those were the words Joyce had used to persuade Danielle to do her two favours, as it turned out. The first was to come to lunch and afterwards continue gauging the children while Joyce told them about the phenomenon called coma. Secondly, to allow and accompany Joyce with the children to their mother’s bedside the following day, Monday, depending on what Danielle judged would be well removed from the borders of another emotional and psychological traumatisation.
Danielle had initially argued with the usual administrative (to Joyce) rules about children under a certain age gaining access into a psychiatric establishment as visitors. But Joyce had argued back with facts, not rules.
“A million dollars says the rules don’t apply to my kids. Besides, they’re Luo kids even if their father happens to be a Swede.” She said this as if Erik was a mere prize stud. “If we successfully explain to them what a coma is, if the Polaroids I took of their mother doesn’t send them fainting or screaming like banshees, then they’re ready to at least see their mother, touch her, talk to her. See that she is alive and breathing. For heaven’s sake, Danielle, Mrs Lindqvist has an entire clinic wing to herself. The kids are not going to wade their way past straight jacketed sopranos, frothing preachers or people laughing like hyenas, are they?”
“Still, Joyce. This is not something I can decide on my own. I’m okay with the lunch and explanations about a coma. But the rest lies with administration and Mrs Lindqvist’s doctors.”
“Right. And I’ll sort that out with them.”
Within a couple of hours she’d sorted it out. With the help of Khira’s lawyer in Montreux, who, together with Khira years ago, Joyce had visited a couple of times. As if Khira had known then that the time would come when her kids needed Joyce more than they needed their father.
The explaining after lunch went on smoothly. Better than she or any of the other three women had expected. Of course Loyana had been distraught – she knew what had happened, had seen it with her own eyes, and now had to listen to the truth being bent and circumvented in explaining to her fellow siblings what had caused Mamma’s “very deep sleep”. A slip, and she’d hurt her head against the wall, as if Mamma had been a blind person who’d tripped on a banana peel. Lars-Jan and Thor were still in their tortoise shells but craned their necks out at the prospect of seeing their mother at last, even in her deep slumber. It would slough off some of their anxieties, maintained Joyce. You never know what’s in a child’s imagination when all he hears are words from grownups. There comes a point when grownups, especially parents, became by definition liars.
The twins eyed the diagrams, glossy pamphlets and Polaroids with a mixture of curiosity, anxiety and some desire to simply have a kind of abracadabra that would magic the mysterious misery away. They soon broke off to play with Juba, their Dalmatian, throwing balls, sticks and doing tugs-of-war around beds of myriad-coloured geraniums, petunias and hortensia.
My brave little men at arms, Joyce thought to herself as she watched the twin soldiers, … had like many another been born in full sunlight and lived to see night fall… she finished by quoting Evelyn Waugh in her head.
Somehow, the twins’ breaking away had forced the Coma Clarification Conference to an end as some of the balls came back to the conference table via Juba or by being thrown. “What maketh a man?” Joyce mattered under her breath as she caught a ball in the air, that had flown past Juba’s rearing head.
“How right,” Patricia got up, took the ball from Joyce and past the twins who promptly fell and struggled under Juba on the manicured grass. “To the rescue – Juba’s about a ton and a bit in tare weight.”
Norska, who said little (the little said in Swedish to her grandchildren) but touched, stroked, hugged and kissed much, got up to follow Patricia. Joyce watched her waving and wondered, not for the first time, whether she also thought her son a coward. She’d tried bringing up the subject several times privately, urging Norska to call her son and ask him to get his aggressive taut arse (not in those words exactly) back here to his children. But Norska had only shaken her head, the tears welling up in her large brilliant blue eyes.
“It’s not easy for him, Joyce. Not easy to leave and not easy to be with them. With their mother in her condition because of him.”
“So he runs away and leaves the hard tasks to us, huh?”
“That’s his nature. We all have our own different ways of dealing with grief, Joyce. He needs to face tasks he can accomplish successfully in order to cope with this tragedy. Especially because he caused it. Believe me, he’s hurting more than you’ll ever know.”
Joyce had wanted to counter that but simply nodded instead. She thought Norska was probably giving the same excuses Khira would give her husband – not his nature, against his character, blah blah blah. And a mother is a mother. Whatever sins the child of your own womb commits, these always remain off the mother’s radar of moral code. Excuses are fast, numerous and easy to come by.
When Danielle finally left after tea, she agreed with Joyce that her girlfriend’s children were possibly better off visiting their mother. Even in their grief and confusion, they had a solid base of strong characters. Medical science is not always perfect. And the look she’d seen in her patient’s eyes, in Loyana’s eyes, convinced her. The girl had been distraught, for her psychological battles that she was determined to spare her fellow siblings. She’ been to the ugly place, was still not completely out of it and wished none of her brothers would ever come near that ugly and dangerous place. But her beautiful face lit up at the prospect of finally being allowed to see her mother with her own eyes. Touch her. Talk to her whether she answered back or not. Feel her warm skin. Smell her. Be her baby again, not her betrayer.
“We all want this, Danielle. Please. We’re her children,” she’d said.
And this from a child who only last week was twitching helplessly in the throes of her emotional and psychological trauma. Joyce seemed the better psychotherapist here. Maybe the West leaned too much on the crutches of “professionals” and “experts” ever since they came up with toilette training babies. She looked (studied more like it) at these children and saw their moment of happiness, enjoying having their Aunt Joyce steady them, make them forget they were wobbling only moments ago.
Joyce hadn’t only been a brick, she’d brought their sun out.
Danielle physically felt their happiness as they laughed and smiled. It took her back to a particular thought last week as she talked to their father. If these had been her children, she too would consider taking up the issue with the United Nations. They were so hopelessly beautiful they indeed required environments monitored by a special human heritage squad.
“That you really are, my angel,” Danielle had smoothed Loyana’s hair. “That you really are, all of you.”
You’re all miraculously out of the mill you’d been through, especially you, Loyana. And you’re your father’s children too, the Priest Warrior. The Dragon Slayer with a lot buried too deep in him, which has to be excavated. Pulled out like a rotten tooth our of a savage three hundred years ago. He might get back to her, Danielle, with an answer, but hope was not synonymous with reason. Metaphors were not memories. Yet, like his children, specifically his daughter here, he was simply amazing in how he pulled others into his orbit.
Now Joyce was sitting in Khira’s office after she executed a series of telexes to lawyers in Nairobi and Mombasa. After she talked to her lawyer husband and told him her plans. Jimmy knew about these plans, had known about them for years, right from the time Khira had hatched them up and involved Joyce. Her own children, Jimmy assured her, were doing just fine being spoilt by Mummy, their grandmother. But of course they’d be fine, they knew their mother was well, and only visiting their Auntie Kiki in Europe because Auntie was feeling poorly and was in hospital.
“You know our children, Jahera,” Jimmy had soothed her on the phone. “They know you and Grandma are often off to assist other people in the extended family. We brought them up to know that duty to family and friends is a commitment but nothing to interfere with how much we worship them with all our hearts.”
I wonder if little Elizabeth understands duty and commitment yet, Joyce thought. She’s only two and still negotiating difficulties such as spooning your food and finding where your mouth is to empty the spoon into, still frustrated when she couldn’t tie that bow with her shoelaces yet everybody including the ayah could, until her first Velcro shoes, however crookedly she put the strips on. She beamed so triumphantly then that nobody had had the heart to correct the crookedness. That was done surreptitiously later.
Leaning back into the chair, her fingers steepled with elbows supported on the armrests, Joyce looked out the window. It was after ten in the evening and yet twilight was only starting to make a statement in summer Europe. In rural Kenya it would be pitch dark, a darkness as thick as the walls of a fort, with only the diamond-like stars and milky galaxies to indicate in which direction heaven was. She watched the moon swaying pale over the trees in the park, its back shadowed while the front formed a flat disc. In Kenya it would be a spherical orb shining bright in the pitch black firmament. Was Erik also watching this same moon now, worrying about his children like she was?
Joyce couldn’t envisage that. She was still too angry with him. How had she described them to Jimmy? Beauty and the Rich Dirt. Inasmuch as she was convinced that her plans were correct and necessary, doubt kept on waylaying her. One minute she was completely certain, the next she felt like she was walking on air like a cartoon figure who’d run off the cliff but kept on running until a glance to the ground revealed that there was ground no more – and panic set in but she was already in midair and miles away from the cliff. Would Khira really approve? Was Norska right about her son’s suffering being greater than Joyce imagined? Would Khira, a fool for her man, feel the same way as her mother-in-law?
That Erik just needed time and space to lick his wounds in privacy?
Heavens above, hadn’t Khira picked her out, Joyce The Chosen One, confident that she’d make the right decisions, do the right thing when called for and then some more? Or did she still believe in Father Christmas sliding down the chimney? After all, she only needed to say “go” to the lawyers, that’s all.
For the umpteenth time, something was tearing at her insides, burning tears to her throat. She leaned across the desk and rested her head on the smooth cherry wood, holding the tears back. Not now, not in here. She blocked them, locked them up as always, ignoring her aching head and throat. There was only one place she allowed herself to cry – on Khira’s bedside, holding that limp hand in hers and talking to the still life body about old memories from their girlhood. She was certain Khira heard her. And maybe understood her. Understood enough to be upset or shocked or so excited that her life support stuff rocketed to bright old Jupiter. Up until this midday, she was still somewhere that Dr St Germain described as “the twilight between land and water”. She was not drowning, but she was not safely on dry ground either.
“Whatever that means, Dr St—“
“Whatever what means, Auntie Joy?”
“Loyana!” She was so startled she almost fell off the chair as she shot up, forgetting that the chair rolled on tiny balled wheels. “Precious sweetie, you should be asleep. It’s almost midnight!”
“You too, Auntie. I went to your room but…” Loyana raised her pyjama-ed shoulders. “So I knew you’d be in Mamma’s office.”
Joyce lifted her to her breast, squeezed. “Want to cuddle away with me tonight?” She put her down and took her hand to lead her out of the room.
“I wanted to ask whether it’d be okay to sleep in Mamma’s bed, Auntie.”
Whoa. Loyana Erika Lindqvist asking? Like her father, she normally informed. When not demanding or commanding.
“And,” the girl added, “we can get cuddly there together if you like.”
Joyce dropped on a knee and gathered the girl to her bosom again. She recognised this. The girl needed someone to talk to. Someone who was not a specialist talking to her because she was supposedly “traumatised”. She should have really recognised this a lot earlier. Loyana was not “sick”, she was a young girl with new hormones charting their routes in her.
“Nothing I’d love better, sweetheart. Come, let’s get my toothbrush and the gooey night cream and all that, shall we?”
Loyana beamed. “You’re the best, Auntie. After Mamma.”
“And Pappa, right?” The look on the girl’s face made her say, “Sorry, love.”