Chapter 7: First Steps
It had been over a month since the accident that would send my world spiraling from the brink of Hades to the realm of the living. For the first time, I was truly grateful to be alive and grew a stronger desire by the day to not only live, but thrive. As the weeks rolled by, many of my wounds had healed nicely from my chest to the bruises on my legs. However a remnant of my scar, the faint curve disc remained just above my brow. Even that was healing except…my memories.
Grandfather and Apollus would take turns filling me in on what happened the past year. They explained how my dog Shabby was sent to the villa to be trained as a guard dog. But my memory loss – as selective as it was—affected years of memories. The two reflected back on my past interests with fondness like how I liked to ride horses; an animal I now was weary of, or my interest with the bow. For the most part, Apollus tried to keep the tone positive as he would recount fun blissful moments of our shared childhood. I tried to put a face to the names of the many political figures of the island, friends, and about my mother. I learned she had died in an earthquake about eleven years, when I was only four and half years old. I tried to absorb it all like a sponge, trying to see if these shared memories could implant the ones lost. But it was not the same. It was just what they said happened. I just had to trust them. The pieces were slowly coming together, but I was still a long way off from gaining closure to my life.
One day as I lay in my bed lifting my legs up and down, I heard a knock at the doorway. The slave girl materialized under the arched doorway. But there was someone else hovering beside her. It was Romeos. What was he doing here?
"Greetings Troy." His jovial tone was noticeably subdued this time.
"Greetings. What brings you here again? I thought you would not want to come see some rude invalid who complains about his lot in life."
"I know you can play the pity card, but you have been through a lot of pains. I cannot blame you. If it was me, I would want someone to be understanding. I thought about just sending a letter," he said, shrugging. "But…it looks like you need a friend. Badly," he said trying to suppress a grin. I never realized how lonely I have been this past month. Apollus would occasionally visit me in my room but it was not the same.
"How long were we friends?" I inquired.
"You forgot that too, eh?" he said trying to hold back a chuckle. "It was at the public baths a year ago."
I nodded. "I did not want to tell you that I forgot," I said, looking down at the sheets that hung over the bed.
"Oh I see. You did not want me to feel sorry for you," Romeos said. The sight of his toothy grin, made me breathe a sigh of relief.
"Yes, that and the fact that I did not want to offend you," I admitted.
"It takes a lot to offend me. You my friend are sensitive."
"I know. I am reminded of it often. You probably know my weaknesses better than I do right now."
"True; but I know your strengths too." I smiled up at him. "By the way, you look better from last time. You look less feeble."
I flexed my arm muscles.
"The training sessions with the physician staff and Cornelius, my old trainer has helped tremendously. I have gained some of my mobility back."
He nodded. "Can you stand?"
"A little but not without wobbling. But my legs are healing though. In a few days they might remove the bandages. You were right Romeos. Thanks."
"Right about what?" he said, scrunching his face into a befuddled grin.
"Everything you said to me about the power of the mind. You told me what I needed to hear. For that I am grateful you gave me the will to endure."
"My pleasure. That is what friends do for each other right?" he said, shrugging his shoulders. "I knew there was a fighter in there," he said jabbing my arm muscle. I flinched, while trying not to giggle. "Pretty soon you will be walking. Imagine that." I stared out the window to see myself walking freely about, romping across the grassy pastures; feeling the breeze blow on my face.
"Troy, that was some daydream you were entertaining. Are you still there?" he laughed, waving a hand in front of my face.
I nodded. "I am. It just feels so real sometimes. Some days I get lost in the dreams. Is that wrong?"
He shrugged. "No, as long as you wake up to reality and can perceive the difference between the two." I nodded my head in agreement.
"When did you learn to be so wise?"
"I am not that wise," he said, waving me off. "I just learn these things through experience and from wise instructors at the Grammaticus. And anything I missed from my lessons I learned from my father. I hope to get "wise" at the School of Rhetoric. There I can decide if I want to pursue a career in politics or law. I have not made a decision yet, but I still have a few weeks before I start. I really hope we can attend together. You were such a gifted student…so much promise," he said. His babble slowed with nostalgia. According to him I was an excellent student with a promising future. A future I was almost robbed of.
"I wish so too," I said with a sigh. "But I have started getting tutored by Anias. I hope I can catch up with the rest of my pupils," I added, trying to match his usual upbeat voice.
"Well whatever happens, I support you all the way."
"Romeos, father was waiting for you. Are you coming?" I looked up to find the face behind the voice only to find a young lad who shared the same aquiline nose, bright brown eyes, and stature. My eyes widened. They were twins!
"Yes, I am coming," Romeos said. His twin tapped his foot at the doorway. "You should at least say a greeting to our good friend."
The lad waved at me, flashing a grin my way before it disappeared.
"So long Troy. My brother Julius is growing impatient. We will see you soon," Romeos said.
The road to recovery was a long one. Things were steadily improving. My upper body strength was gradually increasing. I was able to lift myself from the bed to a chair nearby with some assistance; taking a few wobbly steps in between. I still needed the slaves' assistance for bathing, changing my undergarments, and strapping on my sandals when it was time for me to stand. I knew it was their duty but I was growing increasingly restless.
The dreams continued to linger. They were the ones where anything seemed possible. Where I truly felt free until I woke up and realized how far I had left to go. In an attempt to not feel depressed over my current condition, I tried to imagine that everything would go back to before the fall and I would be truly living and not just existing as a shadow of my former self. During the tutor sessions with Anias I tried to concentrate on learning how to read Greek again, since I lost most of my ability to read it. However at times, my mind was not all the way there. It was drifting somewhere in the daydream for the dream had become more interesting than reality. One day in my tutor sessions held in my room, we were going over one of the Greek plays, but I was having a hard time concentrating on the words that seemed to flow to a different rhythmic scheme.
"Troy!" he said waving a hand in my face. "You are not reading the way it is written."
"Sorry. I will do better the second time around."
"Hopefully you will. Lately you seem to be a little distant. Is there anything else going on up there?" he asked, pointing to my crown.
"I am just distracted," I replied, dropping my gaze.
"You cannot afford to be distracted. You need to learn this material. You are so far behind, that at this rate you will not be ready for the rhetoric school this year," he said briskly. My heart sank. I had heard how important it was through father that boys of privilege be sent there. While Romeos and Julius prepared to fulfill the wishes of their parents I would just be stuck; struggling to catch up.
"He will rise once more lest the gods forbid. Like the phoenix the mortal will rise again. From the ashes to the heavens above, it will soar without height. He will always succeed."
I had memorized the line, the same line I had trouble with earlier. It was my favorite verse which I chanted softly to myself when I imagined I could be like the phoenix and feel free. After two months confined in a bed, I began to take my first steps. I was holding onto the bedpost, while walking beside the edge of the bed. As I neared the far end of the bed, I knew I would have to let go of the draping sheets. The slave girl was by my side matching my steps with hers.
"I think I am ready," I said softly.
"Very well." I slowly let go of the bed as I planted my feet on the cold mosaic tiles.
"Are you sure you do not need me to hold your hand?" she asked. I nodded.
I took turns planting one foot in front of the other. My feet seemed to glide across the smooth tiles.
"I am doing it," I said, beaming. I tried to pick up the pace, lifting my shuffling feet as I felt the doorway within my grasp. Then my knees buckled.
"Troy!" Before she could react, my hands and knees collided with the hard marble. With my legs tucked under me, I managed to shift my weight on all four limbs.
"Are you all right?" She asked, crouching down beside me. Her light brown eyes were even bigger than usual this time. For a moment I held her intense gaze. She offered her slender hand.
I merely nodded before answering, "I just fell, nothing more." I grabbed her hand, holding on tight. My weight slowly rose before my legs trembled beneath me. Before I realized it my other hand was clapped on her waist.
"Sorry," I gushed, feeling my cheeks flushing.
"No worries." Now she was blushing. I cleared my throat to relieve the awkward tension.
"Did you still want to give it another try? I completely understand if—"
"I will try again," I said. My voice was more fervent this time. She held my hand as we walked to the door together and back.
"You have come a long way. You made it to the door and back."
"Thanks so much for your assistance but…" She looked on for me to continue.
"I need to do this on my own now." She merely nodded as she gradually loosened her grip. With a few steps together she let me go to glide across the tiles. I took my time, remembering to keep to the pattern while balancing the weight from foot to foot. Eventually I touched the wooden doorframe. It may have taken a long time to cover such a short distance but for me I did the impossible. I defied the order of the doctor who once echoed the words, 'You may never walk again' let alone be still alive after a horrible horse accident.
Slowly, I pivoted on my heels and staggered back to the bed. As I got close to the bed, I got a little unsteady in my feet. The slave girl swooped to my side.
"I know you want to do it on your own, but I did not want to see you fall again." Then she let go as I plopped onto the bed. I did it. I pinched myself thinking it was just another dream and that I would wake up. I closed my eyes and opened them again to find myself lying back on my bed. It was the same room adorned with lively frescoes of Greek mythology. I shared the space with the slave girl who grinning from ear to ear.
"How do you feel?" she asked in a rueful voice. What was the word for it? I wanted to pick the right word to describe the flood of emotions I was experiencing. Honestly I did not think one word could some up everything I was feeling right now.
So I picked one. "I feel…free. I know now that nothing is impossible unless you tell yourself that."
The rest of the day I could not stop smiling. I had to share this oozing joy that was bubbling inside me. I decided to surprise Apollus and Grandfather with the news. I made my way slowly to the atrium where they were sitting around the pool. They were so occupied drinking wine, and conversing that I managed to sneak into the room without them noticing.
"Greetings," I said before breaking into a bashful smile. Their jaws dropped. Then their faced ignited into gaping grins.
Grandfather jumped from the couch and scooped me in his arms. "I wish your father was here to see your early steps. He regretted the first time he missed your steps. You have come such a long way," grandfather whispered in my ear. Father. That was who was missing from this scene. The more I thought about it, he had been absent these past several days. I wanted him home. I wanted his eyes light up when he walked into the room. As grandfather released me from his tight grip, he gazed intently in my eyes. I think he knew me too well.
"Is everything going well with you?"
"You should be overjoyed that you can finally walk," Apollus added, who was reclining on the couch.
"I am more than happy. I just wish father could be here to see it." I bit my lip, hoping to contain the disappointment from registering on my face.
"Do not worry. He shall be returning this evening. This event calls for a celebration!" Grandfather said picking up his goblet from the small table next to the couch. I was escorted to rest up on the couch next to Apollus. My brother clapped his hand and immediately a slave materialized by the curtains, screening the atrium from the annex leading to the garden. A single goblet balanced on his tray. These slaves seemed to be ready at the clap of the hand I thought. The slave handed me a silver goblet filled to the brim with red wine. Apollus picked up his goblet.
"To a new start," grandfather said signaling us to raise our cups together for a toast.
"A new start," I said softly.