Chapter 9 – Alive
Christine stared at Nadir as if she thought he was insane, or maybe she was, since she had just imagined him telling her that her dear angel was alive. That could not be true, though, or could it?
"Alive?" she whispered, begging for yet another confirmation of this unexpected revelation. "But how? Where…?"
Nadir smiled. "It is true. He did get injured and trapped when the corridor collapsed, but he survived. He is alive, I give you my word on that. He is not too far away, …"
Christine closed her eyes. Slowly the truth of Nadir's words began to sink in and a wave of relief washed through her and filled her entire being with joy. Her angel was alive! He was close by, she might soon get a chance to see him again, talk to him. Ask for his forgiveness and try to explain everything to him. She glanced down at her rose. There was no doubt in her heart anymore as to who had put the rose in her window, but in that case… She did not quite dare hope, but if he still offered her the symbol of love after all she had done to him, could it possibly mean that he… that he still loved her, despite everything?
Nadir noticed how her red and swollen, tear-stained face suddenly seemed to radiate with happiness. He was deeply touched by the look of utter tenderness in her beautiful eyes, but he realized that now she knew the good part of his news, he also needed to learn the rest. He cleared his throat and began to speak. "There is something I must tell you," he said, when he was interrupted.
From inside the little cottage came a call. "Christine! Christine, where are you? Are you home?" Mme. Giry's voice sounded frightened. It was not like Christine to leave the house on her own.
Christine called back. "I am coming, Mme. Giry, I just stepped out to explore the neighborhood!" Then she took Nadir's arm and urged him to follow her. "Come," she said, "I will introduce you to my foster mother, who is a good friend of Erik's as well. Then you can tell us all you know about Erik."
Nadir agreed. "There are a few things you both need to know," he stated, "and I suppose it is best if I tell the two of you everything right away."
Mme. Giry was more than a little surprised, when Christine came in through the back door, an olive-skinned, elderly stranger in tow. Christine had obviously cried, her eyes were red and swollen, her face puffy, but she was brimming with excitement and positively glowing, as if something wonderful had happened to her. She threw herself into Mme. Giry's arms, laughing and crying at the same time.
"You won't believe what I just learned," she cried, clinging to her foster mother.
Mme. Giry put a comforting arm around her, then asked, concerned, "what is the matter, Christine? You seem terribly agitated, and pray tell me, who is this gentleman?"
Christine immediately left her foster mother's embrace, turned to Nadir, took his hand and presented him to Mme. Giry. "This is Monsieur Nadir Khan," she introduced him. "Erik's friend. He lives in our neighborhood. And he says that …" She could not continue, overwhelmed by her emotions.
Mme. Giry stared from Christine to Nadir and back to Christine, unsure of what to believe. Nadir Khan here, the red rose in Christine's window, Christine's current state of emotional turmoil – there was only one explanation how all these pieces of the puzzle could fit together, but how could this be?
"Erik?" she finally gasped. "Is Erik alive?"
Nadir nodded. "Yes, Mme. Giry. He is alive."
Mme. Giry was every bit as shaken as Christine. "But how?" she asked. "Why has he not contacted me in all these years?" She suddenly remembered her manners. "I am sorry Monsieur Khan," she addressed her visitor. "I am glad to finally meet you, Erik has mentioned you a few times. But please, come this way, let's all sit down in our parlor. We are still getting organized, so it is a bit of a mess, which I hope you will not hold against us, and then you must tell us all you know about Erik."
The three of them proceeded to the parlor, Mme. Giry made some hot tea and then they settled down and Nadir began to tell his story. He started with the fire at the Opera Populaire, how he had heard the news that the famous Opera Ghost had perished, how he had been worried since Erik had not shown up at his place and how he and his servant Darius had gone to look for Erik as soon as it was dark enough.
The two ladies were worried, when they heard about Erik's injuries and his slow recovery. "It was touch and go for a few days," Nadir told them, "he was running a high fever and he was unconscious for days, but eventually he did pull through. It took a while for him to recover, but you need not worry, Erik is quite healthy now, and not as pale anymore as he used to be, since he is now living in a house, not in a subterranean cavern. His arm has healed nicely, too, he has full use of it again." Nadir hesitated for a moment.
"There is something else," Mme. Giry stated. "Something is wrong with Erik. Something that kept him from contacting us. Maybe he thought it would be better for us to think him dead than to learn about his new handicap. What is it?"
Nadir smiled at her encouragingly and squeezed Christine's hand to calm her. "He is fine, really," he said. "You must believe me. There is a reason, though, why he did not contact you," he added cautiously. Then he decided that there was not really a point in delaying the inevitable. It was obvious that both ladies cared deeply for his fried and were probably right now assaulted by horror-visions of what kind of long-term or permanent damage Erik might have sustained in that accident. It was for the best to tell them quickly, so he blurted it out.
"He does not remember," he told them. "Nothing from his life before the accident. He did not remember either of you, or even me. When he finally came to, he did not know my name or where he was."
The two ladies were shocked. "Oh my God," Mme. Giry whispered. Tears were welling in Christine's eyes again. "My poor angel," she sobbed, "does he… is he..?"
Nadir shook his head. "Next to no improvement," he stated flatly. "I brought him here soon afterwards, under the pretext that it would be best to start anew elsewhere, where nobody knew him and would expect him to remember people or situations, since I did not think it was safe for him to stay in Paris. I need not have worried," he added. "He has no desire of going out and meeting people, he only leaves the house for a ride every now and then, but only when it is dark enough that his features are impossible to discern." He sighed. "He took it very hard, when I had to remind him of his deformity."
Christine gasped. "You had to remind him…?" she asked.
Nadir nodded sadly. "Yes," he confirmed, "he did not even remember that, or his own name for that matter. But he remembers everything he's learned," he added quickly, trying to comfort the two ladies, who were obviously worried about Erik's condition. "He can read and write, he speaks Persian, and he is one of the best-paid architects here in London." Nadir smiled. "Erik is making a decent amount of money," he informed Christine and Mme. Giry. "And it is all legal."
Christine looked at him. "But the rose," she asked. "If he does not remember me… us… how come he gave me that rose last night?"
Nadir sighed. "I am not quite sure," he finally admitted. "It may be a first sign of a slight improvement, or it may have been on an instinctive level. He did not recognize you," he explained, "of that I am certain. He had no idea who you were and that he had once known you. But when he saw you in your front garden, it must have triggered something. He told me that he suddenly had this compulsory urge to give you a rose tied with a black ribbon. It seemed like the right thing to do, he said. He did not know why, just that he had to do it."
Christine had turned a deathly pale. "He has forgotten me," she whispered desolately.
Nadir patted her arm. "No, he has not," he told her. "He does not remember you right now, which is not quite the same. But even if his mind does not remember, his heart certainly recognized you. You should have heard him talk about the angelic apparition he had seen in the front yard of number twelve. Totally smitten. You don't have to worry about his feelings for you."
Christine nodded bravely. It would be hard for her to deal with Erik's memory loss. There were so many happy memories of the time when he had still been her angel, which she wanted him to be able to remember one day, and there was of course the question of her betrayal. It somehow did not feel right to resume their relationship as if all that had not happened. She needed him to understand and to forgive her. "At least he is alive," she finally mumbled, "everything else we'll learn to manage."
She turned to Nadir abruptly. "When can I see him?" she asked.
Nadir thought about it for a while. "I don't know," he uttered at last, "I have to talk to Erik first. You see, even though he described you pretty accurately, I was not sure it really was you. So I did not mention the possibility that his former voice student might have moved here. I also did not know about the divorce and whether or not your presence here might cause him harm. Now, of course, I will tell him your name and then we'll see if that triggers another memory. Whether or not he remembers you may be totally insignificant, though, if he does not feel comfortable showing you his face."
Nadir paused for emphasis. "He is not wearing a mask now," he explained. "He did not remember having worn one before, he did not have one with him, when I found him after his accident, and frankly, now, with an additional rather nasty scar in that sensitive area, I do not think he should ever wear one again. It can't be healthy for him to get the scar infected from chafing. So, if you want to meet him, be prepared that he will be bare-faced."
Christine smiled dreamily. She was not afraid of Erik's face, not anymore. Oh yes, it was ugly, and with the new scar it probably looked even worse, but it was the face of the man she loved. He had been bare-faced when she had kissed him, and it had been the most amazing experience, much, much better than anything she had ever felt when Raoul had kissed her. "I don't mind his face," she whispered tenderly. "As long as I can see him at all. I have missed him so."
Nadir was touched by the depth of her feelings for his deformed friend. "I'll do my best to convince Erik that he needs to see you soon," he promised, then turned to Mme. Giry. "I am afraid, I will have to ask you to be a bit more patient," he said. "But I don't think I can make Erik agree to meet two people at the same time. If anything, he is even more reclusive now than he was at the Opéra Populaire, which is understandable, since now he does not have the comfort of the mask to hide behind. I know you want to meet him as well, but let's try and make him accept Christine back into his life first. Once he is used to her seeing him unmasked, we can hopefully convince him to meet you as well."
Mme. Giry sighed resignedly. "Of course I want to see Erik as soon as possible, but I can understand that confronting him with both of us at the same time might be a bit much for him. I will wait till he has adjusted to Christine and is ready to be reintroduced to me."
Erik was nervously waiting for Nadir's return. The more he thought about it the more he was convinced that offering the rose to that beautiful girl had been a fatal mistake. What if these new neighbors now thought that a dangerous stalker was haunting the little community? He had probably scared the young lady out of her wits.
Erik was about to curse himself for having been so irresponsible the night before, when he heard the front door opening. He hurried down to meet Nadir, hoping that the latter might have been able to repair at least part of the damage, he, the freak Erik, had caused to the psyche of a sensitive young lady.
To Erik's great surprise, Nadir was grinning broadly. "Erik, you need not worry," he said. "She is not angry, nor scared. She is happy to have found you again!"
Erik stared at him, uncomprehendingly. "What are you talking about? How can she be happy…?"
Nadir smiled at him. "Don't give me this incredulous look," he chided his friend. "It is true. She knows you. She thought you had died in that fire, and was overjoyed to hear that you are alive. It also seems that you used to offer her red roses tied with a black ribbon before, that's why she got so agitated over your gift. She hoped against hope that it might be a lifesign from you."
Erik looked at Nadir as if he thought the latter had lost his mind. "How can an angel like her have known a monster like me?" he asked. "And you say I have given her red roses before?" He shook his head. "No, that cannot be. There must be a mistake. If somebody like me offered a beauty like her a red rose, she would run as far away as possible and never come back. She might have tolerated my presence before out of compassion, but missing me? I don't think so."
Nadir chuckled. "She wants to tell you everything about your previous relationship. I said I had to check with you, since you are not really seeing anybody, but that surely you would make an exception for her, since she is such an old acquaintance…"
Erik was downright terrified. "You did not invite her over, or did you? She cannot come here, she cannot see me, I would die with embarrassment, I do not want to scare her with my hideous face.."
Nadir put a comforting hand on Erik's shoulder. "Stop worrying, Erik. She has already seen your face. She knows what you look like. It does not matter to her. She wants you back in her life. Apparently the two of you were quite close at some point. She knows that you don't remember her, I told her as much. But I thought, maybe meeting her… it might help you regain some of your memories," Nadir said slyly. "At the very least she can tell you a few things about your shared past."
Erik hesitated. "You think, she might be able to help me regain my memories?" he asked.
Nadir nodded. "It is possible," he admitted. "After all, you seem to have sort of remembered that you used to give her red roses tied with a black ribbon. Maybe she will be able to awaken more similar memories that are now buried deep within your mind."
Erik was beginning to see some appeal in meeting this angelic beauty. It was true that seeing her had made him give her the rose. Since he had apparently done so before her presence must have triggered something within him. Of course, meeting her would also mean exposing her to his hideous features. That thought made him very uncomfortable. It was one thing to show his face to Nadir and Darius. They were men, they were not easily scared, and had probably seen all sorts of horrors in their lives. But a delicate young woman like her? She should not have to endure the ugliness that was his poor excuse of a face. Somebody like her should only be surrounded by pleasant things. But maybe if he wore his wide-brimmed hat and pulled it into his face to hide the abomination that were his features? He could also avoid looking at her directly, thus showing her only his normal-looking left profile. Yes, he decided, that way he might be able to face the young lady.
"When would she be available to meet with me?" he asked cautiously.
"The sooner the better," Nadir informed him. "She would have preferred coming over with me right away, but I could convince her that I needed to prepare you first. If you have decided you won't mind showing her your face, which she has seen already anyway…" For a brief moment Nadir tried to imagine what Erik's reaction would be if he told him that the young lady in question had not only seen his deformed face, but also kissed it. He had a feeling, though, that Christine would want to be the one to tell Erik this detail.
Erik nodded nervously. "I suppose I will have to if I want to learn more about my past," he mumbled. "I only wish I knew more about my previous relationship with her, like how we met and such. I do not even know her name!"
Nadir smiled. "I can help you with that," he said. "Her name is Christine. Christine Daaé."
Erik stared at him. "Christine," he whispered. "Of course. That is her name. How could I have forgotten?" Erik shivered, having to fight off a sudden feeling of dread, as if this Christine was meant to break his heart, betray his love and hurt him terribly.