Joyce was ready to lobotomise Erik without anaesthesia when he came back to Khira’s suite. But they’d both agreed to leave their sharp edges at the gates of the clinic. Be civil to each other at least for the sake of the family.
“Villa Stjärnblomma,“ Joyce read aloud as the gold tipped spear spikes of the wrought iron gates automatically slid away to let Erik slide his toy Bugatti through the driveway canopied with pines at regular intervals. “As lovely as ever. Choking with blooms, although the Mansion still atrophies this.”
A sigh, like someone who had arrived at last. “On the other hand the Mansion is a colonial relic from the days when settler neighbours in Kenya were at least half of England away from each other. And the Mansion is a museum piece compared to Stjärnblomma. Sometimes I wonder what it looks like here in the middle of winter. Never been.”
But she remembered Villa Baccarat in Gothenburg both in spring, summer and winter. That was another out of sight place. A Jacobean monster with turrets and battlements and ornate red brick, marble and ancient carvings of saints in curious places. The wine cellar at Baccarat was like something out of a film about monasteries complete with labyrinthine arched bays, columns and flagstone floors.
“Hmm. Snowy,” said Erik. He hadn’t been very talkative since they left the clinic. Not that Joyce had more to say.
He’d burst into the room from his consultation with Drs Dumas and Ziegler to find Joyce sitting by Khira’s bed, holding her girlfriend’s hand. She was in deep sleep, Martine had announced, and told them Khira wasn’t going to wake up any time soon. She had to be kept asleep to keep the intermittently spiking blood pressure and pulse down. The best thing would be to check in on her the next day. So Erik and Joyce had left the clinic.
Now, at Joyce’s words, his mind went back to when he’d bought this villa for his wife, a Christmas present. Loyana was hardly two months old then. He hadn’t even known that he’d one day have five children and tuck three of them away in a private boarding school in this country.
“Heart, how did you manage to make Lord Townsbridge capitulate?"
"Gudinna," he’d said rocking Loyana on his lap, "when I want to tie a Lindqvist ribbon around something, I can be very persuasive. Especially when I take a year over the matter.” Lord Townsbridge, former owner, had been more than reluctant to sell the villa. But Erik had found a way to make him do so.
"I know, warlord. It took you about two months to tie one around me."
"Assisted by a lion and a stray snake. But it probably would’ve taken me a lot longer, had you been nice to me instead of bringing me near heart failure with that letter opener.” He’d stopped for a moment to delight in her blushing. “I'm inclined to be in a damned hurry for things I don't already have. Anyway Bellevue is now yours, and renamed Villa Stjärnblomma - literally translated, Villa Star Flower. I always buy you what my daughter and I can share with you. Right smart of me, what?" He’d also just bought their first private jet not only to thank her for giving him Loyana but also because he was now Methuselah and he didn’t want his family travelling on commercial flights. The age of aircraft hijacking had began in earnest for him ever since the PLO hijacked the French airbus and landed at Entebbe Airport in Uganda, holding hostages until the daring Israeli commandoes rescued them.
"But what will two people and a baby do with all these palaces strewn all over." It was January 1967 and Gudinna had just turned a pristine sweet seventeen the previous September. A few years later, her sail would catch the full wind of Big Money & Power. She’d become almost as addicted as he was.
"Oh, the idea that nobody’ll be sure where we sleep every night of the year appeals to me,” he’d answered her. In his business battlefield, most wars were filthy, very filthy. But – at least in the beginning – he’d enjoyed being her mentor, making a formidable Lindqvist Warrior Queen out of her. His creation.
“Joyce,” he now turned to her, “do you remember how Suave and a stray black mamba who slithered into my daughter-to-be’s sitting room in the bungalow helped us to convince her family to approve of our marriage?”
The memories actually made her laugh. “Plus the illustrious Witchdoctor Wach in full regalia. Aren’t Luos amazing?”
The snake had suddenly materialised on Khira’s carpeted floor in Nairobi of an evening. She was lying on the ground before the fireplace. Suave, Erik’s pet lion that he’d rescued as a cub on the wilder parts of the estate during his morning horse rides and raised, dozed beside Khira. When she noticed the snake she screamed, waking up the lion, and urged Suave to kill it. The snake had trouble crawling on the carpet, but it managed to strike Suave once before the lion killed it. Aunt Nyowuor had tried in vain to dissuade Khira not to urge Suave to kill the snake because, in Luoland, it is forbidden. A snake that enters an abode is led straight out of it unharmed because it was an ancestor come to warn that the abode was unsafe and needed renovations or should be abandoned altogether. Khira not only let Auntie’s ancestor messenger be killed, she also sucked on Suave’s snakebite and bandaged it before the vet finally took over. The next day Auntie spied on Erik and Khira kissing; this was the bad news that the ancestor had come to the bungalow to deliver. Khira was behaving inappropriately, and that with a scorched-skinned half-human creature. She should be removed from the man’s vicinity.
When the two finally went to the family so Erik could ask Grandfather Solomon for her granddaughter’s hand – and his approval of the marriage because Khira was still a minor – Auntie mentioned the killing of the black mamba ancestor. Khira had an ancestor’s blood on her hands. She had behaved inappropriately with a scorch-skinned jamwa, was possibly no longer chaste or even with child from the skinless one. A hurried consultation with the witchdoctor resulted in Wach’s decision that Khira had evil in her and to avoid the evil spreading to the rest of the family she should be allowed to marry the skinless one and take her evil away with her. Et voilà!
When Auntie, as the Guardian of Pride and Honour, came to collect The Evidence on the morning after the wedding night and found the sheets covered in blood, and Khira teetering, she’d remarked: So how come the man had so fooled around with you before without touching you, my precious Grandmother, for judging by The Evidence, the man's no lame serpent.
He now agreed with Joyce. “Amazing, yes. But nowhere as amazing as my Gudinna, my girl,” he said as he handed over the car keys to a manservant.
They were hardly out of the car as the children came from the northern back side of the villa and butted into them. They’d been swimming and therefore almost bare skinned and gooey with sun lotion. Patricia watched with arms crossed as her charges charged forth.
“And here comes the tribal troop,” Erik chuckled, squatting with arms wide open.
“Auntie Joyce! Auntie Joyce!”
The Big Three, as their parents called them, bounded for Joyce while the twins used their father’s broad chest as a crash barrier.
“My beautiful darlings,” Joyce kissed and wrapped the Big Three to her. “God, it’s heaven to see you, clansvolk. Lovely Lo… Oh, Thor-Sol-Bert, my precious Roman god… Lars-Jan… Oh, God. I’ve missed you all like…” And once again she banned the tears. “… I can’t say…”
Erik stood with his Admiral Leif and Generalissimo Davin in each arm, his heart racing as he watched the Big Three clamouring to be all over Joyce. As he watched his traumatised daughter change from an anxious child to a wildly happy one in the blink of an eye. As he watched Machinery Lord thaw and become an emotional nine-year-old still attached to a mother’s love and care.
Who was the first dearly loved woman who so emotionally hurt you, Erik?
If Patricia had been an angel, Joyce was a legion of them.
“Mor-mor,” the twins said almost in unison, pointing at their grandmother. “There’s Auntie Joyce. Auntie Joyce. Mamma’s väninna. Mamma’s gitlfriend.”
The Big Three already a part of her anatomy, Joyce raised a hand to wave at Erik’s mother, who was clad in an African print silk caftan flowing to her ankles. A book in her hand, she waved back with it. She had materialised next to a sarong-clad Patricia. Patricia too, who’d known Joyce for as long as she’d been in the employ of the Lindqvists since the birth of Loyana, waved back. Norska, thought Joyce, didn’t look like a right royal Norwegian wrath, more the unrelenting love. This reminded Joyce of her own under-a-bushel wrath against Erik which was still commuting between hot and cold. Should she beam with her own munificence?
Everybody was touched by Joyce’s magic wand. The bond of friendship was more tightly knit than that of blood.
The weather was brilliant; a pale blue sky with patches of white clouds and a gentle warm breeze whispering in passage from Lake Geneva.
Even Erik’s dry well, the desert sojourner filled with guilt, anger and helplessness, was just as suddenly turned into one that was filled with the familiar sweet, scented drinking water of the oriental fairy tales. The entire Villa became alive. Pulsing with the kind of love, warmth and security only Gudinna brought with her. Or that atmosphere charged with the sort of energy the family only ever experienced at those special moments when he himself came back home to Gudinna and the children from his numerous weeks-long business trips.
He floated around like a fool suddenly besotted with his family and home. But, things being this glorious here now, he thought it was time to get out to the battlefields and personally watch over his empire.