“I was cuckolded by my first wife with God only knows how many men.”
Bon Dieu! But Hoffman kept an unperturbed posture.
After the now traditional matured silences, Erik continued to narrate how his late wife, Claudette de Jonghes, had slipped into wanton promiscuity back in Zanzibar where Erik had been her father’s clove plantation manager. It was back in the beginning of the 1950s. They lived in the sprawling family mansion of impeccable Franco-Arab architecture, still there as was the clove plantation too, with Francois and Veronique de Jonghes. The two young people fell in love just about instantly, both twenty-four. When they couldn’t have children despite two years of every possible medical advice and help money could buy around the world, Claudette was crushed. Demoralised. She wouldn’t even entertain an adoption. She took to the bottle and sleeping around. He took to building his empire, starting with antiques from all over the planet.
He had for months, even years as far as he was aware, rejected the grapevine in Zanzibar as nothing but just that. Until an unfortunate afternoon when he returned home earlier than expected form a diving excursion. And there was Claudette in their bedroom with a domestic.
Erik now stopped a beat to reign his emotions in. Check. He then continued when sure that his voice and feelings were back on his preferred keel.
He talked about how he beat the slate-coloured Arab major domo to within an inch of his death, left him bleeding and unconscious on the floor next to their bed while he dealt backhands and forehands on Claudette as he raped her as brutally as he could for—he couldn’t remember how long. Hours. Until he couldn’t anymore even if he’d have wanted to continue. He’d been insane with rage.
Erik cleared his voice and sat back, crossing one ankle over the other thigh. He placed his palms on the armrests, fixed his white lashes gaze on the space in the middle of the room.
“The family had to leave Zanzibar after the scandal, of course. We all migrated to Madagascar a few months later. The de Jonghes had always planned to retire to Madagascar. But I still managed the plantation in Zanzibar more or less long distance. We never got divorced, maybe because her sobriety moments were nonexistent, maybe because I was almost permanently away building my business. I’d loved her and after my rage was over I probably understood how overwhelming her grief over childlessness must have been. I didn’t want to pour more grief over her by demanding a divorce. She eventually killed herself with alcohol. And I felt like a bird who’d escaped the cage, free, soaring beneath a cloudless sky.”
He stopped again, his face ambiguous with both anger and sadness.
Danielle wanted to bet that he didn’t hurry to the divorce courts for reasons very much non-humanitarian, if but perhaps very much subconscious at the time. Claudette was a wealthy heiress, after all.
“So how did you cope with your own grief and rage?”
Danielle had by now mapped out all those male chains that society kept all over men. Erik was no exception. He was conditioned to get to the top of the ladder, come home with the wild boar draped over his shoulder for the pot, and squat by the cave entrance all night to fend off any intruders who might harm his weak loved ones. Now a fire breathing dragon was firmly positioned before his cave, cutting him off from his loved ones and challenging him. And he had not a single weapon to fight with but his bare hands. His blue-grey-green eyes that tended to be warm and submissive when concerned for or comforting his daughter were now expressionless, the pale brows flattened with horizontal ridges.
“I turned into granite, Danielle. As far as women were concerned. I swore to myself that I’d never waste any love on any of them, let alone marry one ever again. To me they all became a bunch of whores to scr… sleep with.”
He turned from gazing into space to look at Danielle. She smiled at him with head slightly tilted to one side and lips parted. The whites of her eyes showed above the irises. He answered her unasked question.
“Apart from the usual culprits, of course. Mother, Mother, and Mother again. Yes, I grew up firmly entrenched in my masculine role in the community. Until I met my Gudinna and I was suddenly aware of the world around me.”
He became the hawk moth following her, his eternal light. He was forty at the time and Khira just turned sixteen and working at the Lindqvist Group of Companies as a steno typist for the PR department. When his moral qualms barred him from touching her he quickly saw the best way to have her. To have a daughter – Khira – would fulfil part of the missing achievement in his list. It had taken him a week or so to know all about her and he’d discovered that she’d been born after her father died. Erik’s initial wish was to adopt her in order to legitimately engulf her in the cocoon of his care and protection.
But, at sixteen and Luo, she already had her own priorities.
He couldn’t resist them for too long, no matter how much he fought with his psyche and physique. She was a very septuagenarian sixteen. He realised that she was all that had been missing in his life: A passionate, mysterious and wise woman. A child-woman in so many ways smarter than he was. Within two months they had a sensational wedding in the African jungle where all he’d given serious thoughts about was what he’d do if asked to leap over fires in the nude. But he finally could have both wife and daughter-substitute, the two-in-one unsophisticated enough for him to form to his ideal, his personal creation.
They got married as the African sun blazed mercilessly overhead in the bush, in one of the wedding ceremony tents his hired caterers had pitched a day earlier. Kenyan police officers of both African and British descent kept away unwelcome hoards – villagers or the media. His fifty-odd guests sweated in suits or uniforms and pith helmets, and the bride’s whole village and family spat out their first sips of champagne or bites of cheese, smoked salmon and lobster salad, then rinsed their mouths as if they’d just brushed their teeth. The bridegroom’s entourage, however, were prepared to taste pieces of whole two-days-roasted lambs baked on banana leaves buried under dug out holes in the ground.
On his wedding night, Friday the 11th of February 1966, the ardent child-seductress turned out to be a virgin, terrified at her first sight of an erect penis. Never thought the godforsaken thing stretched out and upwards, but rather straight down, and with the stiffness of a raw filet steak. Pappa’s heart nearly gave up with the revelation. He didn’t know what to do – except she wasn’t to be hurt in the slightest way. She was his and his alone to love and protect. To form. To create. So finally he did cope, deifying his child-bride like a terrified pagan convert. A first, in a wedding night full of them.
“My husband, I’m your wife,” she whispered, “I’m your wife at last…” In a voice that ever since then, she only uses in the bedroom. This had been after her sharp gasp, following his calculated testing, his judging of how much force to apply, his debating on whether to warn her that now, unlike his digital and tongue before all this, he will hurt her. Then deciding against the warning, deciding it would only make her anxious with anticipation, then storming through the barrier. Husband and wife at last, traditionally, not just a married couple.
“And I’m home, my Gudinna… my Goddess. I’m home at last…” he whispered back, home, shivering almost violently but still not moving in her.
Only to be shocked the following morning with her news that, according to tradition, she and the messy bed sheets were travelling back to Luoland for what was called the Purity Healing Period. They were preparing for their first bath together, her dried blood caked on his thighs. He argued with her against it until she begged him, in tears, to honour this important stage in her life. A full week back in the jungle without him. He finally succumbed and ran their bath.
In the bathroom he stepped with her into the “pool-sized bath of Italian marble” (her words). She drew in air sharply between her teeth as the bath salts made her raw flesh sting.
"Is the water too hot or too cold?" he asked, buoying her on his lap, worsening the sting.
"Simply lovely, my heart.” Then, “Listen, my life. I haven't mentioned this, I think, but you have to come for me."
He smiled crookedly, "That's easy. I'll do it in no time at all right here and now, Gudinna, just by looking at you." He saw her turn that subtle mauve down to her breasts.
"I wouldn't see it in all this water," she said covering her face with both of her hands.
"Oh, you would, my Gudinna. You see, it's a bit milky and has..."
"Honestly?" she asked taking her hands off her face and looking at him with genuine disbelief. "But what I saw last night was crystal clear, my life, if somewhat... syrupy..."
He felt like going down on his knees and kissing her feet. Instead he laughed hard. "Oh, that. Your Innocence, what you saw was a kind of presidential motorcade. Sort of runners to prepare the way for His Excellency. All right, I won't embarrass you further, Gudinna - you're blushing down to your navel."
"No, I'm not, it's the hot bath!"
"No, it's not, it's my autumn-coloured Gudinna. But tell me, my precious soul, why did you so desperately want us to make love on the lawn that Monday evening when your aunt interrupted us?"
"Silly question. I was simply curious. I wanted to know what the whole business’s all about."
"Silly virgin. And you've just told your first outright lie to me, Supreme Innocence. You weren't simply curious, your exquisite little body was giving you a bad time, hmm?" He winked at her.
"Ancestors. Is this what husbands are like - pests?"
"No," he laughed splashing water on her. "But your husband is willing to indulge your curiosity on the lawn at sunset. He'll teach you all the naughty things, my curious virgin."
She splashed water back. "Virgin no more."
"I worship you, Gudinna. Okay, what's the protocol for coming for you, hmm?"
Khira outlined the protocol. "And you can now afford to be rude by the way, heart, because despite your dallying with the dark arts, you've paid a colossal bride price. But best of all, you‘re an honourable man who didn’t deflower his bride behind a bush before his wedding night."
And before all this, before they could be wedded he had been forbidden to see her for two whole insane weeks as the womenfolk in Luoland prepared her in the far recesses of her mother’s hut for a wedding night that would be a sure-fire night for impregnation. Those Luo occultist deities left nothing to chance. Babies were a serious divine duty, best conceived on a deity’s exhilarating first union with a mortal seed-bearer.
“That’s the night I made my daughter, Danielle. She’s that pure.” He was back to now, dully slapped the armrest in a tattoo. “I mean, before this time I already had everything—the proverbial house, car, boat and horse. I was still working night and day to expand the Lindqvist Group, which had become my one and only love. My kingdom. But before I met her, the king had still been remotely dissatisfied that there was no queen, princes and princesses. Because all women were chattels. Untrustworthy. Liars. Backstabbers. Whores.
“Until I met my Gudinna, a little slip of a girl ten times wiser than I am.”
Met the queen he’d given up on since Claudette branded his heart with the being of womanhood he hated. He’d had feral sex with them. If they were cuckolding their husbands, all the better because this only confirmed his degrading view of them. He was never out to physically or psychologically injure them but somehow got tripped up in his intentions. He showed them little, if any, feelings, but where he judged it due, he made it up to them in his own way.
Flashback, not for Danielle’s ears: After golf at their Hillcrest Country Club in Nairobi, he and Nick McDougall, seven years older than him but his best friend, confidant, threesome – or more – gang banging and orgies partner. Sitting at the bar for a spot of drink when Nick gives him yet another lecture.
“You chauvinistic rogue, when will you stop hating women? You touch anybody’s wife, mistress or daughter and they’re ruined for any other men. You shag them till they’re one quarter alive then send them off to Hawaii to cool off. And perhaps you’re right that you’re fond of them. You love them so much you hate what you do to them with old Brutal Brutus. That’s why you spend a fortune on their silk drawers which you only rip again. They come back from Hawaii or wherever and you commence your execution afresh. When they yell Oh! from your backhands you go What? When they go Ouch! you chortle Fantastic! and give them more reason to Ouch! Until you eventually suck in air through clenched teeth like the hiss of a train in a Wild Western, make a ball of them and mess them up all over, bleating like a demented elephant in the bloody bush. Then off to Harrods for new silk drawers and a cruise on the QE II to recuperate. You’re bonkers, my lad!”
Yeah, but he wasn’t letting any of them back into his scarred, wounded and still tender parts.
Back to Danielle.
He was the quintessential wife-beater who afterwards gives her a bunch of roses draped with a pearl necklace. Playing head games with people was always exhilarating. Control, competition, the big picture, no middle grounds. All his emotions were channelled to the Lindqvist Group, to competing with other men for power and wealth and being one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful. For other societal male conditioning, he had – before his Gudinna too – responsibility towards his extended family: his parents, brother and sister-in-law and their daughters. And the grandparents in Norway and Denmark. He had everything under control.
Everything under control, ipsissima verba, thought Danielle when Erik lapsed back into silence. The man had massive trouble with the fact that he now needed help not only from another person but also from one who was neither a member of the conventional family nor the male bonding fraternity. That he needed tools, weapons from outside his sphere to help him protect and restore his turf, save his wife and daughter. But to fight the dragon St George the Dragon Slayer, soldier, priest and military saint with the devil crouching in his innards, had to give a bit more reins on control, learn to toe the line, surrender a bit of himself. He had to acquire Ascalon, his lance, with which to slay the dragon before he could save his princess and finally convert the pagans.
In other words, Erik himself had to accept being in need of therapy.
“Would you like to hear an opinion from me?” she asked before realising it was possibly a badly formulated question. Luckily, Erik nodded.
“How would you feel about getting the same assistance from me as I’m giving Loyana and would also give your wife – when the time comes?”
Erik’s thick skin was nevertheless sensitive to comments he interpreted as attacks on his self-sufficiency. A huge section of him was still a work in progress at the knee-trembler-against-the-wall stage. He was still the one to be allowed to cop a feel at least once – target being a dozen feels – a day to the roar of his spectator mates. He was oblivious to which stage of development he’d not reached.
“Are you turning this whole dilemma into some equal rights number?”
Still very much in progress. It took him Danielle’s pregnant silence to know his words had slithered out stillborn. Protector took over.
Okay. Loyana needs this woman’s assistance, sport, and that has priority at the moment. The hand that feeds you and all that.
And there was Gudinna who’d given him all sorts of mysterious firsts in his entire life each day of the week in all the nearly thirteen years of marriage. His Eos. Each moment he had shared with her was full of even more of the mysteries: regaining his soul and discovering the divine within him in the unique Baltic-Nilotes angels, the boost to his maleness, knowing he had in her what no other man had, the complete contrast – influenced by their cultural backgrounds where her world had so many more surprises for him than volumes in natural history – in their philosophy of life, the discovery of their own brand of husband and wife. He now heard Nick again, from that afternoon eras ago when his feelings for Khira had been tearing him up: incestuous adoptive Pappa or marrying an adolescent with exit hormones out of control. Nick had tried to encourage him to send Khira off to a boarding school overseas before the adoption was completed, adding: And, for the millionth time, Erik, get bloody hitched and raise a family. They aren’t all rattlesnakes, my lad. Not a chance. Once bitten… Until this little slip of a girl crossed his path.
His pale eyebrows now quirked up as he said, “Impossible, Danielle. We boys get our cues externally. It’s go, laddie, go, go, go. Come rain or shine.”
Ah, but mortal man can only endure so much, you’re realising, mon cher.
“Relax, Erik. Then tell me how you’re supposed to help me assist Loyana. I think Claudette is not your only demon, am I right?”
Erik’s gaze was now fixed in some vacant spot a foot away from Danielle’s rounded facial features. As if he hadn’t heard her.
She continued, “After all, the pagan did finally find his goddess and converted. The cause and effect nature was thus neutralised. If it was your rage against women that fuelled your unorthodox prowess and gave you power, how did this resurface to make you hurt your healer-goddess?”
Because I slipped into fight mode in the blink of an eye, when I discovered Gudinna too had abused the trust I had in her. Because after watching my suffering daughter go still, absolutely still on that bed, her head resting in her own sick on the pillow, the me who worshipped her mother was instantly slaughtered. Because I thought she was dead, that they’d killed my Celestial Holiness in that bloody initiation ceremony. Because a woman capable of killing my child behind my back was a lot worse than one who screwed my friends, neighbours and house servants. Because past injuries had been burnt too deep and too near the automatic high alert trigger centres.
He shook his head as if to clear it after the protracted silence.
Finally he answered her. “The monster rose from the deep where he’d been taking a snooze, Danielle.”
She waited for more until she realised none was coming.
“Then drive the monster away and tell him he can take his snoozes whenever and wherever he chooses to. But nowhere, absolutely NOWHERE near you, Erik.”
The puzzled look on his face seemed to ask: You think? And that, thought Danielle, was a significant step for him.
But Danielle Hoffman had the wrong interpretation of Erik’s puzzled look.
He rose, pocketed his hands and did the subconscious thigh wiggle – similar to his lip rolling – that Danielle was now familiar with. As she was with the I’m-looking-at-you-over-the-rim-of-my-specs under look with grooved brows that he now gave her. He wore no specs, though.
“Look, dearest Dr Hoffman. You have two patients. They happen to be the most important part of me. I’m ready to offer whatever amount is needed to have them restored to their perfect health and back into my life whole. No, don’t interrupt me here, Danielle. As already discussed, you, Martine St Germain, Fabian Ziegler and Phillip Dumas are at liberty to assemble the best specialists from all over the globe to assist you. As many as you deem necessary. I’ve already transferred a million dollars to the Clinique’s account. Yes, I know – donation. You need more, say it.”
He managed to make a question out of the last sentence. Danielle didn’t even bother to nod, left her expression blank although she had a huge desire to shoot the man down in flames. “Right. Time to take my baby home,” he headed for the door leading to the room where Loyana and Patricia waited, his hands now out of his pockets.
“Who was the first dearly loved woman who so emotionally hurt you, Erik? Or, as you would put it, betrayed your love and trust?” Turned you to granite? Made every other woman (even before Claudette) a chattel? Whore? Backstabber? Liar? Untrustworthy – above all else?
Danielle relaxed back in her seat with fingers laced, elbows on armrests.
“What?” Like, blame the mountain and not the bloody climbers?
She held a polite hand, palms up, towards the door as she rose and joined the suddenly rooted man. She’d shot him down the only way soldiers in her kind of special forces are licensed to shoot.
She opened the door for him. Then gave him another salvo, just for good measure. A Bonjour M. le Patron:
“Take your time, Erik, you don’t need to answer me today.”