Loyana was both Erik’s comfort and his pain. His second emotional pain. Once he had been very good in dealing with pain, emotional and physical. The physical he’d handled in kind, tenfold. The emotional he’d turned into extracurricular energy for expanding his empire. Now all that felt like it had been somebody else in another life. But he had to keep his thumb on both the pulse of his empire as well as that of his wife and daughter. Yet he was scoring 8 minuses in both, with not a glimmer at the end of the tunnel.
Worst of all, he was underwear-full scared. The last time fear had presented an obstacle to him he’d been possibly still in nappies. He thought he’d turned all and any fears that hazarded his way into solid aggression. Stalking the world, capable of a lot for his own benefit, convinced that there were only two of humankind: ruler and the ruled; actor or the acted upon; predator or prey. A leviathan, he’d been, whose self-preservation lacked the fright-flight factors. He’d developed an internal engineering that effectively converted fear into an efficient and comprehensive aggression. On impulse.
Which was how he’d rendered his precious wife a living dead.
A regular loup de mer, Francois, the father of his first wife, the only father-in-law he ever knew and still loved, called him. The wolf of the sea. Should see him now. He had traded space for time in order to save two of the only humane side of him but now he felt like a broken man, walking in the corridors of a special clinic in Glion-sur-Montreux with a bunch of doctors who told him horror stories that made him wonder whether he’d placed his loved ones in some déclassé establishment. These doctors (who now often made him feel like a rube, a country bumpkin) provided the highest competencies in the best possible setting for the patient in a clinic that had been a pioneer in neurological treatment since its origin over a century ago. From poly-traumatised patients and patients with degenerative diseases to victims of cardiovascular events or stroke – any patient requiring rehabilitative follow-up found the optimal opportunity for recovery at this clinic. He’d meticulously informed himself of all this in order to get back to the place where he trusted in the power of his will to make things possible.
But he was no longer confident that fate was still on his side.
Now he didn’t even feel like flight. The fear crowded in on him, jeered at him, battered him, tormented him. He wanted to crawl into a tiny dark place where he could curl up and simply get it over with.
Pull yourself together, for God’s sake. He had to concentrate. Drive away the fear. Walk to his second pain. One foot at a time. Left, right, left, right, step by step. As if learning to walk all over again. He brought his feet up and dropped them on the shiny linoleum again in movements that were no longer fluid. His knees threatened to buckle, his mind approached a dark blank he could not afford at the moment. Needs must be. His vision blurred and then he felt the warmth creeping down his cheek. Couldn’t care less.
He felt a gentle hand fall on his shoulder. “She’s all right, Erik. It’s simply normal distress for a child her age, nothing to worry about, really.”
“Tell me all about it, Phillip.” Erik wished the doctor would simply shut up.
Erik had heard and read enough in the last four days. To begin with, tests and analyses had revealed that what had nearly killed his daughter – not even twelve yet – was an evergreen succulent shrub found in the tropics that exuded a highly toxic sap. It had the botanical name of Adenium obesum, but in Africa and Arabia it went by the various names of Kudu, Sabi Star, or Desert Rose. The toxic sap was so poisonous that some folks in Tanzania used it to coat their arrow-tips before they break out to go hunting. Of course, like all poisons, the shrub had medicinal properties – painkiller, sleep-inducing, anaesthesia, and so on – but only under strictly controlled measurements from medical professionals. Not some rule-of-thumb Luo women out in the African jungle engaging in some fossilled ancient feminine ritual. He didn’t want to think of how many children these women might have inadvertently killed through the centuries.
Loyana had not really been in danger of dying, her system would have got rid of the poison in a couple of days. But accompanied by great discomfort and “tummy aches”. But still… A fraction of a droplet more and… Thor and Odin.
Death excluded, the problem with his daughter right now was probably the worst. The doctors and medical journals he’d gone through called it emotional and psychological trauma. From all the information he now had, he knew that in all likelihood his wife would go through the same – if she ever left the living dead. Heavens, wasn’t he just the best of fathers and husbands? Loyana had gone through the traumatic experience of seeing her father hit her mother – because of her, Loyana – and was still even more traumatised that Mamma was in such a bad state Loyana was not allowed to see her. According to the psychotherapist, Loyana now felt like the world’s Number One Evil Child: first she had connived with her mother behind her father’s back at going ahead with the initiation in Luoland, then she had betrayed her mother and the trusting womenfolk of her mother’s people and revealed the secrets of the initiation to her father. In that she had then turned her father into a monster who hit Mamma so badly Mamma was almost like a dead person, only breathing. She couldn’t talk, couldn’t move, couldn’t eat, couldn’t feel. Mamma probably couldn’t hear too, the blonde psychotherapist had explained.
Loyana was convinced that her mother would never get out of the coma. And if she did one day, would she ever forgive her daughter? Loyana was struggling with all these frightening memories, upsetting emotions and was in a state of constant sensory danger she was unable to shrug off. She bounced between the feelings of disconnectedness and numbness, and had trust in nobody but her father and fellow siblings. She had no trust in the doctors or the strange surroundings of the clinic in Glion-sur-Montreux. She suffered periodic panic attacks when she was alone in the company of strangers without any familiar family face around. The psychotherapist had told Erik that it could take some time before the child got over her emotional pain and felt safe again.
This was why he brought Loyana daily as an outpatient to the clinic since last Monday. When they had arrived at the clinic on Sunday late afternoon, Loyana had got rid of most of the poison in her system and was suffering more from the famous emotional and psychological trauma. The world had turned extremely dangerous to her overnight and she felt helpless and vulnerable in it.
“How long will my child suffer from this, Phillip?” Erik’s hand was on the doorknob to the room where Loyana and the psychotherapist were. He was almost terrified of going in. Helpless, helpless, bloody blithering helpless.
It was now he realised that all the other doctors, even the nurse who had summoned him from his wife’s suite, had slipped off and silently disappeared in the many long clinical mosaic corridors of this place that held his last hopes. In reply to his question which was almost like a recorded one by now – whether about his daughter or his wife – Phillip merely raised his palms in the air and lifted his shoulders. Erik turned the knob and walked in alone.
The room was a cross between a large comfortable sitting room and a nursery, with sofas, armchairs, huge cushions, building blocks, dolls, giant teddies and picture books. An unfinished game of chess was on the low wooden coffee table. On and around another low corner table, at the nursery side of the room, surrounded with four children’s chairs, were scattered piles of drawing paper and a tiny pail of spilt crayons. Loyana must have been doing her furious painting that could go to some museum’s gallery of contemporary art, arriving via an auction at Christie’s or Sotheby’s – after being praised by an art critic who’d find a plethora of marvellous meanings even in a raw egg dropped on a piece of wood. On the coffee table, next to the chessboard, was a glass with a bit of some milky liquid left in it. If the horrors in her mind don’t kill his baby, the “pacifier” drugs will do that soon enough.
Dr Danielle Hoffman, the psychotherapist, was sitting on the sofa rocking a mewling Loyana balled on her lap as if seeking to avoid fatal blows from all over the room. The child’s arms were wrapped and twitching around her head and face as if she was back in her mother’s womb but fending off a legion of demons in there. Her feet twitched and kicked even as her knees drew up closer to her body and further up towards her clavicles.
Herregud! He leapt to the sofa and took her off Danielle Hoffman’s lap with nods, his voice constricted for the moment, clotted by an alien organism. Loyana seemed to take forever fighting her demons before realising that she was in his arms. Then the demons vaporised and she wrapped her own arms and legs around him.
“Pappa.” With audible relief. She buried her face in the hollow between his neck and shoulder while he rocked her, swaying with little steps in every which direction back and forwards and around as if she was truly a troubled infant.
“Shush,” he croaked, unsuccessfully fighting off the alien organism. “I’m here, my Celestial Holiness… You’re all right now. You’re all right…” He now paced and rocked from one end of the room to the other, from window to window to door and back again. Round and round.
Danielle Hoffman remained silent on the sofa, smiling with professional encouragement every time Erik turned his helpless gaze at her. She was in her late forties, reddish blonde hair cut in a short bob framing a pleasant face. Her grey skirt suit had the French – as opposed to the Italian – chic and must have been acquired from a well stocked wallet. Her plump figure was compact and exuded feminine comfort.
“Can Mamma talk again now?”
För Guds skull! His knees wobbled and he stopped pacing.
Bloody marvellous, he thought to himself with every shade of self-anger and remorse. The huge, dry husk in his voice cut off his speech and he swallowed painfully, tasting something bitter, something part of his biological system’s functions. He resumed pounding the floor – mark time! – while administering the sways he’d done on Loyana the infant, debating with himself on what to say for an answer. Oh, want a quick word, my precious soul, do you? Well, Mamma could probably manage to squeeze you in sometime after her brain is nice and frozen. Trouble was that until up to now he’d kept descriptions of Mamma’s precise condition carbon neutral to the children. The doctors insist that we let her sleep without any disturbances so she can get better soonest. Pappa, is Mamma now also having breakfast like we are? Oh yes, the doctors feed her well…
With fucking tubes, ventilators and bloody needles. Plus she does all her other business too, nicely wrapped in adult nappies – better than a catheter, beloved children, which could cause her bad urinary infections and high fevers.
When Patricia – bless her unflagging common sense and unflappable maternal instincts – had flown down to Mombasa with the jet and crew early Sunday following the catastrophe on Saturday night at Salt Lick Lodge in Tsavo Park, Erik squeezed the nurse to breathlessness. Patricia Porter had been the Lindqvists’ children’s nursemaid ever since just before Loyana was born. Prior to that she’d worked at Dr Bernado’s Children’s Home in Nairobi. Patricia still remained ageless, strong-willed, selfless, decisive and devoted. And she still unwaveringly applied herself to the care of the helpless and needy – in whatever form they should be helpless or needy. Since arriving in Montreux, she visited at the clinic daily, accompanying Loyana and Erik. Back from seeing Khira at the clinic each time, she always cheerfully comforts the children with embellished stories of Mamma’s sacrosanct recuperation sleep.
Now all routes to an answer for his daughter mysteriously failed Erik. He couldn’t even find the routes.
“No, she still isn’t talking or waking up.” Loyana, forever ingenuous beyond belief, answered herself in the face of her father’s illiterate silence.
Clots, husks, organisms and all much later, Erik managed, “A very informed conclusion, my precious Celestial Holiness.”
But Loyana had finally succumbed to the “pacifier” and drifted off to sleep.
Patricia Porter was summoned from the waiting room back in to watch over the sleeping Loyana, who had been placed on the sofa and covered with a light blanket. Erik and Danielle Hoffman went to the psychotherapist’s office at Erik’s request. The office adjoined the nursery/sitting room. With the door closed, Patricia couldn’t hear what was going on. She didn’t even want to know anyway. A look at Erik and Patricia wasn’t sure who in this tragic family needed her support most.
“I need to talk to you, Danielle.” Erik sat down in the psychologist’s chintzy office. He wiped the back of his wrist across his mouth and puffed out his breath. His legendary arrogant superiority was under fire, so best try for dignity. No good. The man in him who loved challenges – the higher they’re stacked the better – for the great pleasure of overcoming them, now felt completely barking. His strength had always been in a league of its own but now his head dropped forward. He clasped his hands between his knees, arms and elbows on thighs.
“Could it be that you want to talk about your daughter again, Erik?”
Another puffed hiss. “Yes and no, Danielle. I want to talk about all of us.”
Danielle gave him all the time in the world to start his “talk about all of us”. The pause stretched out till it became uncomfortable.
Erik changed his mind. “Well perhaps not just yet.”
“What you’re saying is that you’d prefer to talk to me later?”
Erik nodded, getting up. He stood with his hands in his pockets, watching the floor. He was undecided again because he’d never had to depend on strangers to help him solve his personal problems. His mind kept on going back to what he’d gathered from the doctors in the last four days – or read from his piles of medical journals. He was, had always been good with words, but now he remembered that in communication the nonverbal make up fifty-five percent, vocal tone and inflection – professionally referred to as paralanguage – thirty-eight percent and words themselves a mere seven percent. Psychotherapists were specially good at all these aspects of communication and, besides, they were particularly adept at hearing “between the lines.” What had he told Grandfather Solomon over a decade ago?
And we have these great fellows – a more decadent breed than your witchdoctor of a few minutes ago – who simply lend you a good ear while you talk your heart out. Then they charge you the earth for the number of hours you were there wasting your time and convinced you’re talking to a bosom chum.
Ho! So to talk you have to have money in your pocket first and not say more words than you can pay for? had been Solomon’s reaction.
Now he had a professional he trusted to an extent that was unusual for him, and the money to pay for all the words in the world but was scared of uttering every single one of them. Some, yes. But not every single one.
“I’ll go see my wife for a while, Danielle.” Anger. Numbness. Withdrawal.
“You feel you should talk to her first. That’s understandable, Erik. I’ll get Dr Phillip Dumas to come with you, if you don’t mind.”
Erik nodded. “Good idea. I’m probably going to finally kill her with my words.”