Alone in the study, he’d put the books back on the shelf, dropped on a chair like he was all skin half full of disjointed bones, hid his face in his hands and once again relived how he’d hit his wife in seconds of blind fury and complete blackout.
Dr Derek Mills had come into the room in Salt Lick Lodge to find him going berserk and still reading Loyana’s diary where the child had noted down every bit of procedure she had gone through in the “initiation into womanhood” out in Luoland by (as he believed at the time) a bunch of female occultists that Mamma had convinced Loyana was for the child’s own good.
He remembered in real time, third person. As if he was cringing away from it all, distancing his sane self from the beast that had attacked his Gudinna.
"Derek, hurry up! The bloody savages have poisoned her!"
And when Dr Mills, whom Erik now strongly believed to be no more than a vet for the hippos, asked what poison it was, Erik screamed, "How the bloody hell would I know? The Stone Age savages filled her up with it out in the fucking bush! Just save my precious baby for me, will you? They even made her drink her own blood!" The way he said this last sentence, one could not blame Dr Mills for conjuring up a scene where the savages tapped a whole mug-full of the child's blood by sucking it out with reed straws stuck in her jugular vein, and then making her drink it back again. And perhaps that's how Erik envisaged it as well.
Erik had known Dr Mills over years, for the man often used Lindqvist-Wilkinson Charters’ light aircraft to get to patients out in the far reaches of the country where there were neither roads nor rail. Or getting a tourist who had fallen seriously ill at the lodges out to Mombasa or Nairobi for treatment. The L-W Charters also operated regular tourist safari flights to game reserves as far down as the Victoria Falls or up to the Egyptian and Sudanese pyramids.
The doctor was taking Loyana's temperature and pulse and measuring her blood pressure with the usual cool calm of doctors in any crises. He said, "To save her, Erik, I have to know what she took and when. I’m not God, my dear chap, I’m a...”
"Then get the son of a bitch in here to save her!"
Erik looked at Loyana who had turned a greenish-white, as if somebody had rubbed her with fresh crushed spinach, her naturally dark scarlet lips turning bluish-purple. "What's Hilton running here as lodges, for God's sake, a temporary camp for Livingstone and his fucking porters?" He took a swig straight from the neck of the bottle of whisky… pacing like a caged angry lion. "And why is my baby vomiting all that blood, Derek? What does that imply, for God’s sake? What the hell is going on here?"
The doctor explained something about the possible corrosion of the stomach lining.
"Then do something about it, Derek! Where the hell did you study medicine?"
Khira twined her hands at the back of her head, her arms pressed over her ears tightly, trying to block out Erik’s demented voice, going out of her mind herself for having driven her own beloved one completely insane. And she was helpless in knowing how to soothe him, save him from insanity. Some deity she was!
Mills said with the patience of a saint, "Erik, at the moment there's nothing I can do for her, really. I don't know how the properties of a chemical drug would react to the properties of the barks, roots and herbs that the girl was given. We need proper medical analysis, equipment and team. It isn’t as if she took some liquid detergent ten minutes ago so that all I have to do is give her a stomach pump, Erik. It’s all in her bloodstream now. I’m desperately sorry, old lad, but...” Mills ended with a shrug. He then proceeded to suggest they should not waste any more time and should get the vehicles ready and drive back to Taita Hills Lodge, seven miles away, where the airstrip was, and wait for help to arrive.
Erik nodded, putting his bottle on the dressing table. "And what poison did those savage witches feed my baby?"
The doctor looked first at Khira who was glued to her spot as if she had taken root, her tears coursing steadily down her face. She looked like a crying statue, her arms now hanging straight down her sides. Mills turned back to Erik and said, "I'm afraid I can't answer that, Erik. Until proper tests have been made. Mrs Lindqvist knows the names of the herbs, barks and roots from which the potions were made. But only in her vernacular language which I don't speak. And she assures me that you too don't speak the vernacular well enough to know the...”
That’s when the forester's forest turned ugly in the blink of an eye. He no longer remembered striking the fresh earth, planting the saplings or praying for the rain. He saw monstrous ugliness. The erect tree trunks were twisted and warped, the leaves curled, the branches became grotesquely knurled and without beauty, and the gentle morning sunlight snuffed out.
It all happened so quickly it was like a lightning rod to Mills and a blur to Erik himself. Darkness fell with not even a shadowed moonlight, and Erik’s labyrinthine gem and himself were hurtled into a black, fathomless chasm, when Erik heard this additional sin in Khira's list of inconceivable sins.
Erik covered his eyes with both his hands and roared.
Like a dozen injured lions in chorus, he roared again. And then again, long and protracted.
The feline he had become leapt to Khira and attacked her - in rage, pain and self-defence.
"ISN'T THERE A SINGLE ONE OF YOU IN THIS WORLD WHOM A MAN CAN TRUST AND LIVE WITH?”
The blow lifted Khira off her feet and sent her sailing back into the wall behind her.
"Get a hold of yourself, man!” cried Dr Mills, shoving Erik out of his way and advancing towards Khira. "You're not a polar bear attacking its female, you know!” He glanced at Khira and saw her sliding slowly down the wall onto the floor.
The back of her head left a scarlet trail on the wall.
"Good God Almighty!", said Dr Mills, now kneeling next to Khira, with her wrist in his hand.
Erik stood transfixed, his mouth wide open, his voice gone, his eyes crazed pools staring into the fathomless.
“Are you all right in there, Erik?”
He wasn’t. He was disoriented for a few more seconds. Then all that he had shut out came back slowly. Phillip leaning in on him, the hissing and bleeps of machines, the duty nurse quiet in her corner with a women’s magazine pretending not to be there as always; his hand holding his wife’s limp one. The angry aubergine of her cheek reminding him of his masterpiece. Her fragile beauty (even when she fleshed out in pregnancy she oozed this vulnerable fragility that screamed to him for protection) as always exotic and engaging – he’d marred that too.
He swallowed. Then croaked without knowing he had waterworks on his face, ruining the front of his shirt, “Phillip. I was… ages away…”
He puffed out air, cheeks ballooned. Then nodded, “Tja. Now I’m here. Yes, I’m all right in there, Phillip. It’s just that for a second or so I thought…” That her eyes quivered?
He shrugged instead, “I’m here.”
With my Gudinna, he thought, turning to her and bowing to kiss her limp hand held in his on the bedclothes.