Imaginary Numbers

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Famillia Borgiac

“I was born to Sara Halloway and Iacobo Borgiac, an unlikely pair. My mother was 17 when she left England to study Italian literature in Ravenna. She was a terribly independent woman and a brilliant linguist.

“My father comes from an old Swiss family. They were oligarchs of the urban Canton of Geneva. He lived a charmed life. His destiny was chauffeured by his family’s money, but he was a lazy man. He had no need to work really, and never saw merit in fighting for anything until he met my mother.

“On a trip to Ravenna, their paths crossed at a formal ball, and my father strode over to her and asked her to dance. He took her by the gloved hand, and they waltzed across the Great Hall to the middle of the floor, where he whispered confidently into her ear: “If we are not married in a year, this world holds no value, and God himself will have abandoned the cosmos.”

“My mother, so strongly independent, told him that she had not left her family, travelled to foreign lands to study at the university in order to wash his dirty underwear. And perhaps for the first time in his happy-go-lucky life, Iacobo had to fight for something.

“He charmed her by enrolling in an Italian class. He would later tell me that he faked a Spanish accent when he talked to the registrar, and signed up under Carlos di Basquez. Every day, he brought her a single red rose until she agreed to have a drink with him.

“He was twelve years older than her, and his family had promised a betrothal to a homely girl from a forest canton, so when he told his father about Sara, they stopped speaking for many years. Finally, on his deathbed, Iacobo’s father gave his long overdue blessing, and left his youngest son a property on Lake Geneva.

“My childhood was generally happy. My mother was a wonderful person, and my father had a carefree style.”

The styrofoam bowl of soup lay empty on the hospital bed’s fold-out table, the croissants uneaten. The girl was listening intently, a serene look on her face. There was a pause, and she reached out and placed her hand on the professor’s knee.

“That’s beautiful.”

Dr. Borgiac looked into her eyes, and couldn’t help wondering whether someone was indeed looking for the girl. He imagined that her parents were alive, yet knew there is no reason to believe this except for an irrational emotional desire to do so. Perhaps her parents were also an odd pair—an Iranian and an American, or a Japanese woman and an Indian man, or some other unlikely mix of concerned people, desperate to find their daughter.

“You should eat the croissant,” he said. “It is very good.” She picked it up and examined it, tore off a little piece and put it gently into her mouth.

“Do you have a family of your own?” She asked the question carefully and deliberately, as if circumlocuting a deep social taboo.

“No.” He looked down, at the shiny reflections in his polished shoes. “No, I don’t. I am divorced.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine. These things happen.”

“Professor, I wonder if you could do me a favour?”

“More water?” They both laughed.

“Actually, I was wondering about the girl who used to be in the bed beside me, Christine. She never came to see me after the birth. She promised she would come show me the baby.”

“Oh.” The professor examined the empty bed on the other side of the girl. “I’ll see what I can find out.”

“Thank you. I mean, thank you for everything. It’s good to have someone to talk to.” The professor filled the plastic cup with water.

“It’s a pleasure, my dear.”

Then from inside his tailored suit, a mobile phone rang. Dr. Borgiac stood up and excused himself by holding an index finger in the air before answering.

Pronto.” The girl drank the water, reached for the bottle and poured herself another glass. She left the croissant uneaten.

“Marius! Good to hear from you. All is well in the lab?”

On the other side of the connection, in a distant laboratory, Marius van Niekerk was sitting in the professor’s chair, feet on the desk. His solid arms were folded behind his head as he spoke into the speakerphone.

“Ja. All is good over here. Just wondering when you coming back. It’s a little boring here without a mission.”

“Well, the girl can’t remember anything. I suppose I will remain here until she regains enough of her memory to clarify some of the details of her fall.”

“Prof, do you really think she fell from the heavens? Like some sort of star child?”

“I’m a scientist, Marius. I make no assumptions until there is evidence.” The professor looked at the girl, lying in the bed and walked with klik-klacking shoes out of the arcade housing the pre-natal unit. “So far, there is no evidence at all. Just a poor girl with no one to help her.”

“Ha! She must be one fit bird, if you are going gaga! Maybe I should come visit.”

“Listen, I will come back shortly. Please do me a favour and run the abiogenesis experiments again. All you have to do is give the staff their instructions. It’s all there in the files on my desk. You probably have your feet on them, don’t you?”

“Now, what kind of a man do you think I am? A bushman?” He laughed at his own joke. “Ok. I’ll talk to your staff. They think I’m you anyway.”

“Good. I’ll contact you next week. Good bye, Marius.”

“Ta ta.”

As soon as he hung up, a nurse walked by.


Oui, monsieur. Est-ce il-y-a’n problème?

“No, no. I was just wondering about the pregnant woman named Christine. She was in the last bed until yesterday.” The nurse sighed deeply, and stared at him for a moment.

Monsieur, there were complications during the birth.”

“Is she alright?” The nurse shook her head.

“No. I’m afraid she didn’t make it.”

“And the baby?”

“The baby is fine.” She shut her eyes hard, so that a web of wrinkles formed at the corner of her face. “Please excuse me, I have to go. Au’voir.

Merci, madam.” The professor remained on his spot until the nurse completely left his sight. Momentarily he considered his responsibility. He hated being the bearer of bad news.

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