This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
December 1993 London
London was a dark and dismal place tonight.
Night had descended on day and it had been raining hard for hours. It was relentless, falling in huge droplets swiftly but steadily and made infinitely worse by the buffeting wind which one minute assaulted your front, quite taking your breath away and the next roughly nudging your back trying to unbalance you.
If you’d been an artist trying to paint the scene, then colour would have been no use on your pallet. All that was required were shades of black and grey as everything was playing at being mere shadow.There was no conversation between individuals as heads down they desperately just kept moving forward, to get home or at least reach their destination and escape from the appalling weather.
One of the figures being battered, gripping tightly onto the neck of her coat to prevent its hood from being torn from her head, didn’t appear any different to the rest. She was just one of the steady stream of weary travellers trying to keep their balance as they walked haphazardly along the pavement.
However, for some unfathomable reason, this individual started slowing their pace and even more puzzling appeared to be searching for something, despite it being nigh impossible to see anything through the gloom of darkness intensified by the foul weather lashing viciously around. Nonetheless, her step slowed as she appeared to be trying to determine her whereabouts and it seemed she was totally oblivious to the inconvenience she was causing behind her.
The inevitable happened of course, as the line of people following, who had kept their original pace, were crumpled together in collision and the culprit of the pile up was knocked roughly from behind. She stumbled but got her balance though there were irritable growls from trekkers who just wanted to keep on moving and more mutterings from further behind of others, now caught up in the queue.
Why would anyone be mad enough to want to stop in this tempest.
The hooded figure obliged their protests by moving to her right, out of the nightmare highway before backing up against the side of a building and flattening herself against it in exhaustion.She watched forlornly as the traffic slowly started to progress again.
However the wind hadn’t quite finished with the lone trekker and in one final assault swooped down violently, hurling off the hood to reveal a face. The drama of the situation took another twist, as at that exact moment a flash of lightening lit up the sky, for mere seconds only, but the figure’s posture; their back to the wall and shock at the gale’s ferocity, made them fling their arms out wide and gasp loudly in fright.
The scene was captured like a snapshot on a camera, and one was reminded of a scarecrow fixed on its pole. However instead of the dead look of a man made creation, this person had haunted eyes and smudged red lips displaying so much desperation and yet clearly so alive.
Marie McKenzie recovered immediately and dragged the hood back over her head but then in anguish she turned towards the wall before sinking her face into her saturated hands and groaning in anguish.
Any onlooker might well be puzzled as to the level of suffering which could cause such terrible despair. It was miserable weather and that was a damned nuisance but surely it didn’t warrant tears.
After a few minutes the woman seemed to compose herself. She sniffed loudly and slid her hand down into one of the pockets of her drenched coat before pulling out a soggy flyer.Trying to iron out the creases with her wet hands, she read the words once again.“Presentation and Exhibition, Natural History Museum”.It was due to start this evening and was the place she had been trying to find.It had to be close, ‘Cromwell Road, SW7’.It was all she had in her head.
At the Gloucester Road tube a man had said, “head South towards Cromwell Road and then turn left and walk for 10 minutes”. It had seemed so simple then,but in these impossible climate conditions she hadn’t even got a sighting –she neither knew the area well enough nor had had any chance to ask a passer by.The road seemed full of railings and steps and 10 minutes had longsince passed.She reflected that if her head wasn’t in such a mess she might have got off at the right station, which would have helped and that thought brought on her tears again.All she really wanted to do was sink to the floor and give in to her emotions.
Instead she begin to take deep breaths to calm her nerves, before leaning sideways against the wall as she closed her eyes. The slight overhand from the above balcony and the ninety degree angle of the building wall she lent on, with its steps leading up to the front door, actually gave her some respite from the weather and conversely she felt briefly revived.
She was still wet and felt desperately cold but temporarily she was protected a little from the wind and rain and this gave her time to think once more about what to do next. However, her tranquility didn’t last because her thoughts drifted and spurred on her tears again.Though she gulped, trying to recapture that brief composure, she found herself powerless to stop the flow from spilling down, over her cheeks before running relentlessly down her already saturated face.She began to sob despairingly.
“Whatever happened to you Tommy!”
Her body ached to hold him in her arms, to tell him how much she loved him and missed him, and say how sorry she was to have allowed him to slip so carelessly from her grasp and then to lose him so casually. “Stupid; Stupid!”And worse still, she had no-one to blame but herself and her sheer arrogance.If he had miraculously been put into her arms this very second, she would squeeze him tight and never let him out of her sight again.
She moaned deeply at the futility of her torment but still a heartaching yearning engulfed her as she pictured him in her mind with his beautiful green eyes when he looked up at her, his chubby hand playing with her lips and laughing. She stuffed her own fist into her mouth imagining it was his before an anguished howl escaped from her throat as she relived the torment of her loss once more. At last she quietened and whispered to herself.
“Oh Tommy you were always laughing.”
She took a deep breath. Well he was lost to her now but she did have the opportunity finally to discover just what had happened after they’d got separated but the only person who could tell her was at the museum.
With a sudden steely resolve she stood straighter and used her wet hands to wipe her face of the useless tears. Then she reached in her pocket again and finding a soggy handkerchief she wiped it round her face before blowing hard into it.She really must keep moving.
At the Natural History Museum an event was scheduled to run over two days and due to start at 7pm in the Flett Theatre.Professor Robert Williams, eminent anthropologist, was in attendance.
Preparations for his talk and presentation, including sight of some choice and rare exhibts, had been ongoing throughout the afternoon. He’d had a distinguished career, which had spanned over sixty years, starting back in the early 30’s when he’d first been to asked to join a team put together by Louis Leakey which had been scheduled to go out to Africa.Louis and later his wife Mary had gone on to scour the exposures in the Olduvai Gorge, located within what was now the famous Serengeti Park in Tanzania, determined that they would discover evidence of our African genesis.
Louis and Robert had been friends at University and discovered that they had a common passion and when Louis had decided to return to Africa, he’d invited Robert along. That had been the beginning of a lifelong mission for them both but for Robert it had led to this very moment here, in this theatre on a wet December night in London.
Tommy Williams, his grandson, was in charge of setting up some of the exhibits to be displayed and as was often the case they were running late. He was decidedly irritable and snappy.
“For goodness sake man, be careful with that box. I know we’rerunning late but everything needs to be in one piece!”
They all looked across at him and their silence said everything.
He growled under his breath. The foul weather conditions couldn’t help even though they suited his mood perfectly but he was disgusted that it was such a filthy night.
To break the silence he snapped out another comment.
“… and whenever is this damned rain going to stop. Marvellous … bloody marvellous.Who’ll want to come out on a night like this.
Tommy ran his fingers through his untidy brown hair and made up his mind as impulsively he turned and left the madness behind, walking through the building until he got to one of the outer doors at the back of the building. Pulling it open he caught his breath as a vicious gust assaulted him.He tucked himself away, into one corner under the overhang and the arches and away from its brutal sting, before taking out his cigarettes from the top pocket of his shirt.He slid one out carefully and, coaxing his lighter into retaining its flame, inhaled deeply, feeling the heady mix of nicotine calming his nerves immediately.
As he blew out the smoke he smiled wryly thinking about his Grandad, who he knew, even now, would already be searching for him and feeling just as irritable as he himself felt at the delay in setting up. Tommy knew he mustn’t be too long or Pops would likely get himself worked up again, but he just needed this minute to escape from it all or he was likely to explode.
He turned and took a couple of steps forward, holding his face up to the rain as he closed his eyes and let its coolness run freely over it. It was coming straight down at this point because he was still sheltered and he used his free hand to wipe a circle of water aroundhis face and through his hair.It felt good and he stayed there letting the falling rain cool his hot temper.
How long had it taken to get this presentation with all its exhibits set up? It seemed like a lifetime. Though this had not originally been his dream, but the ambition of his Grandad’s, he’d got caught up with his enthusiasm and ultimately it had become a family affair consuming both their lives now for so long.
Given Pop’s age and his increasingly failing physical strength, Tommy knew that it had become an urgent matter to ensure that this Exhibition even took place.God only knew but he suspected that it might actually be the old man’s last great effort and once over, though he hoped he was wrong, he was likely to give it all up and pass the baton on to Tommy, but this first step wasn’t his to take.His Grandad had actually lived the tale and it was his story that needed to be told and recorded for the masses.All Tommy could do was make sure that it actually happened.
Finishing his cigarette, he extinguished the stub between finger and thumb and popped it into the carton, conscious of the CCTV camera above fully focused on his body. He smiled charmingly up at it in an exaggerated grin.‘No point asking for trouble’.As he turned to go back inside however he saw something that made him pause.A scrap of humanity was fighting with the weather on the path leading up to the steps and entrance.It wasn’t funny at all, yet there was something comical about the battle going on between wind and human, pushing this way and that, which made him smile and the tension eased out of him just a little more.He was compelled to wait and watch.
The individual had one hand clutched to their throat gripping on to a hood as if their life depended on it. Below the coat, the legs were covered by what looked like completely sodden trousers and flat slip on shoes, totally inappropriate for this weather he thought.He squinted.It was difficult to say whether it was male or female from this vantage point but something about the image was very definitely female – maybe it was the effort made to keep the hood up, which he thought any man could never be bothered with.
He grinned grimly but then couldn’t resist. “Come on lady, just run and let your hair be damned!”
He felt sure she’d heard as there was a momentary pause in her step, but pointedly she never even looked up. She continued the struggle and eventually started the slow walk up the steps, panting with the exertion but her head remained bowed.At the top she leant on the rail and he heard a muffled question.
“Robert Williams ……. Presentation! This way?”It was all he heard as whatever else was said was snatched away by the wind.
Well well, interesting he thought.
“NOT STRICTLY SPEAKING ….. MISS?”. He lowered his head to see if he could take a peek at the face hiding in the folds of the hood.“It is a Miss isn’t it?”
The individual had moved closer now and he could hear her next words quite clearly.
“Look I’m wet, cold, tired and just need to know if this is where the Presentation is being held. Do you know or don’t you.I can do without your stupid questions.”
Marie was mortified by her tone but was simply too exhausted to try and be more polite. Besides what a ridiculous thing to ask!
“Aah, clearly the fairer sex. I thought so, especially with your efforts to protect the hair.Mind you, one always has to ….”
“For God’s sake man, just tell me if this is the right way! What is your problem, you moron ….”
There was a second of deathly silence, apart from the relentless din made by the rain and wind, still howling all about them and then he answered her curtly.
“It’s not this way. Go back down the steps, turn left and around the corner.You can use the Exhibition Road entrance!”
With that Tommy turned, opened the door and slammed it shut behind him walking swiftly back in search of Jim who he’d left managing the movement of the exhibits. As he stormed back through his earlier black mood returned in full as he muttered angrily under his breath,“I hate women without a sense of humour”.
He continued on without a backwards glance though despite his anger he did feel a twinge of guilt given he was part of the very Presentation that she wanted to attend, and could quite easily have directed her through the dry building, saving her having to stay out in the vile weather any longer but with a wave of his hand he thought ‘what the hell’.He had more important things to worry about than one ill-mannered women.
Turning his thoughts back to Jim now he hoped that he was coping. He knew he could trust him to do what was necessary, which at this point was only moving the last of the exhibits to the Red Zone, but he also knew that it needed his personal touch to actually arrange them correctly.Today, though there weren’t that many, given this evening was more of an introduction to the subject, there were some significant and important artifacts that needed careful handling and displaying.
He walked on swiftly now, impatient to get back to the Theatre.
In the Flett Theatre, Robert Williams didn’t really know how he was feeling; old, feeble, of no physical use at all? Yes all those things certainly, given he couldn’t even take the weight of his own body anymore.He banged his hand down on the arm of his wheelchair to demonstrate his frustration.How he hated the contraption.Yet today of all days he should be content.Today was truly a triumph.After all the fruitless searching of the last sixty years, he had at last found his treasure.
Deep within his soul today there was a seed growing of pure exultation, though it was tainted with a nervousness that was unexpected and quite unlike him. He had been moody now for days with his emotions swinging from anxiety to joy like a pendulum.
Where on earth had all the years gone to. He found it almost unbearable to considerthat his life was almost over and that he should have to endure the indignity of a body so old and useless, especially given his mind was racing with the knowledge of all that he had discovered, culminating in finding the elusive relic he had searched for so relentlessly.It had taken him decades to actually put together all the pieces and solve the puzzle that had eluded him for so long.
He considered his methodical dedication to painstakingly cataloging every bit of evidence he had found and then the time it had taken to interpret the findings so he could continue convincing the University to keep sponsoring him throughout the long years … and here he was vindicated at last.
At one point he had feared he would run out of time, especially when he’d learnt that his life was now measured. He didn’t have long left but he had managed to cover up his failing health and since deciding to organise this Exhibition, the urgency of getting it set up had so absorbed and distracted Tommy that he was quite sure the boy had no idea.Tommy put his shortness of breath and tiredness down to mere age, which of course was a factor, but he was quite sure his Grandson didn’t suspect anything more about an old opponent preparing to reclaim him.
Sir Professor Robert Williams, OBE. He snorted.What a title!His degree had been in paleo-osteology and eight years after graduating he’d done a paper on the early forensic evidence gathered from his original excavations inTanzania, of an ancient tribe barely remembered.After its publication his University had backed him fully and he’d also managed to secure some private sponsorship which had helped but though he had used his time wisely to discover and identify the ancient humans, he knew that without properly assessed evidence, the University would have been unable to capitalise on his findings and the funding would have ceased.
He sighed deeply and closed his eyes allowing the memories to wash over him.
Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru with their volcanic formations, that led on to the great Ngorongoro crater and the Olduvai Gorge were areas where he had first come into contact with some of the most interesting tribes that had ever inhabited Africa and each had had their own unique customs, their histories and of course with one tribe in particular, the puzzle of whether or not they had ever really existed or merely been a myth.
That particular project had always been close to his heart. However, whilst he’d been in Africa something else quite extraordinary had happened, which had propelled him on a journey into completely unknown territory and the experience of it had quite taken his breath away.He had never really recovered from the wonder of it.He had found something there that ultimately had gone on to define his whole life.
Although finally discovering the truth about the Biddy Biddys had been very satisfying, that particular project had conveniently served another purpose too.
Louis had originally asked him to go to Africa to ensure that any excavation finds would be given the proper care and attention they required. He shook his head in disbelief.How long ago it all seemed now.Their journey had started in 1932 and they had spent months scouring the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. He smiled grimly as the memories came flooding back easily despite his good intentions.
Though some of Louis’ vision had been shared by Robert, and he would forever be grateful by what he’d learnt on those early excavations, once they had parted company their lives had been destined to follow different paths. The road he had followed had been inconceivable at the time.
He’d always had a passion for discovering more about the period before Homo Sapien became dominant in the world and had been intent on searching to see if he could find further evidence regarding the life and times of Homo Erectus, who he’d always believed had once lived within the ‘cradle of mankind’ … he chuckled suddenly. That was the phrase she had used – life and times.Fancy him remembering that now.He became solemn for a moment, thinking how ironic it was that even after all this time he could still miss her unique way of expressing herself.
He paused for a second contemplating whether he could use it in his talk tomorrow before his memories overtook him again.
What he had eventually learnt about Erectus had been astonishing.
Despite his obsession with the subject though, he had come close to abandoning the Erectus excavations countless times over the years, simply because of the personal pain it continued to cause him, but each time something had always driven him on. No, not something.Someone.The despair returned again and filled his whole mind for a moment but then he shrugged it off angrily, growling under his breath and dismissing it with a wave of his hand as he had learnt to do throughout the decades.
Resolutely he put those thoughts away. It did no good dwelling on all that again.What he had spent his lifetime doing was testimony to his love for what he’d lost and that was why it it had always been so much more than valuable to him, it had been priceless.
Getting the invitation from Louis had been a gift but really only the beginning of the journey that had changed his life. However, from the moment of his return from that life defining adventure, to the reality of his old existence, he had known that nothing would ever be the same again, not only because of what he had lost, but also because everything afterwards had seemed so much a pale shadow of that which had gone before.
How could anything in life ever compete with the happiness of those two astounding years. He thought he’d had it all but then it had been snatched away from him cruelly and he’d paid a high price because the trauma he’d had to endure, once it was done, had almost sent him insane.What had ultimately saved his sanity had been his work.His steady devotion to it and his continuing excavations in search of some remnant of what he’d lost had given him hope that he could salvage something from the tragedy.
Well he had his prize now, though the pain of the lonely road he’d had to follow had often been unbearable. There was no doubt however that over the years Arusha, Mount Meru and the Olduvai Gorge had become more like home to him than England itself.
Robert closed his eyes and smiled grimly as he took some deep calming breaths before gathering his thoughts together again. He had a talk to give and just now it simply wouldn’t do to dwell on any more memories.
He saw his Grandson return and prepared himself.
Legend tells us that in that area of Africa commonly called the cradle of mankind, there lived a tribe of people who in size were no more than two feet tall. They had lived simply in the shadow of the rainbow volcano for thousands ofyears.However over time it became increasingly apparent to the other tribes in the areathat these people were becoming more and more wealthy.No-one knew how this could be and it became a source of gossip about just where they weregathering the riches from which must be somewhere quiteunknown to anyone else.
Their show of wealth started slowly to begin with and no-one really noticed at first but then gradually over a period of time it became more and more obvious.Also the attitude of the tribesmen began to change as well as they started to become arrogant, boasting about this newly found wealth and flaunting their good fortune by lavishly adourning their bodies in the precious metals that they had acquired, without ever offering to share it with the rest of the population.
People tried desperately to find out where the source of these riches was located but to no avail, so instead they continued gossiping about it with the stories growingever more bizarre.The most popular tale was that because of their small stature, the Biddy Biddy were able to get below ground, through the smallest of cracks that were continually created by the rumbling and spitting volcano, to a treasure that was denied anyone else because they were too large.
It was well known that when the volcano got angry it would start thundering and roaring just before great chasms would appear along its slopes, where belching gas would explode into the air, releasing white hot ash that blew in the wind and covered the whole of the land.No-one dared go near it then because the surrounding ground was far too hot, even to stand on.
Over time the Biddy Biddy’s behaviour became more eratic and this lead to them becoming more secretive until eventually they stopped trading and socialising with everyone else altogether.The very mystery of it all convinced the population that indeed the treasure had to be somewhere so totally inaccessible to anyone else and the belief grew that it could be no-where else but deep below the surface of the volcano which could indeed be mined covertly by the Biddy Biddy as the mountain had always watched over and protected them.
The rumours seemed confirmed when it became commonly acknowledged that the Biddy Biddy’s very appearance really had started to alter. The skin on their bodies began to change colour, quite imperceptibly at first, but eventually there was no doubt that each of the tribesmen appeared to be changing to a different shade than that of his brother.The volcano was already well renowned for its magic as it too had always had this same ability to change its colour from one day to the next and this was another reason why the the tribes had always been in awe of it.
As the people became more riled about the situation, a myth slowly began to grow about the sorcery being used. It was even suggested that this was why the magic of the mountain changed its own colour;it was a trick to prevent anyone else from searching and finding the treasure for themselves because the Biddy Biddy were favoured above all others.
The years went by and the jealousy became greater and more bitter amongst the tribes and the rumours became ever more vicious affirming that these people were indeed enchanters who actively created magic to prevent themselves from getting burnt. The question was always ‘why weren’t they being punished for their avarice’?The community by now despised them and wished for them nothing but ill fortune for their selfishness.
However, the people were also fearful of them. Ever so slowly though, what did become more clear was that the Biddy Biddy were actually getting smaller and smaller in size until eventually there was no doubt at all that they were no more than just one foot tall.By now the people lived in real fear of them andthis fearmanifested itself as hatred.The hatred within their hearts compelled them to exaggerate the story of the treasure which became ever more outrageous as the myth grew more scandalous.
Then came the day of judgement when at last they received their just punishment. It was the volcano itself which took the ultimate revenge and the people nodded their heads in great satisfaction as at lasteven the sacred mountain could see just how greedy the tribe had become.
The very volcano that had for so long rewarded and protected them, one day exploded in a fit of rage and in its wrath swallowed up the entire village of the Biddy Biddy and they and all their riches disappeared completely for ever without a trace ever being found again, even though the people desperately searched long and hard.
Only the myth itself has remained as a lesson to anyone else who might just think that they too can fool the volcano and possess its riches by stealing them away for themselves. It is said that perhaps one day soon it will reveal them again to the world at large, as really it had always intended sharing the treasure anyway but whoever it trusts with its secret, this time that person will have to prove that it is capable of sharing it and not keeping it for themselves.
Until that day arrives however, it will continue to keep its secret and wait patiently, occasionally spitting its hot ash and changing its colour to fool people, content for now that its secret is safe from the greed of any living being.
As he finished speaking and the last of his words faded away, there was a moment’s silence before the applause started. Robert sat in the wheelchair looking around at the audience and smiled wryly wondering what they were all really thinking.Here were intellects, media, academia, members of the public and invited dignitaries.Some were people who had been with him for years and even spent time in Africa on some of his excavations, sothey were already on board, but what about the rest?
The myth about the Biddy Biddys had always been contentious but it had been important to him to tell their story, and they were the focus of this evening’s event leaving aside his talk about Erectus until tomorrow.
The few exhibits that had been introduced tonight were evidence enough of what he had found but sometimes, even so, it had been difficult to continue convincing people about the authenticity of them, which though couldn’t be denied, were not conclusive in themselves. He knew the population would always be more interested in buried treasure than old bones and this was largely what had brought many of them here this evening.
For him the long lonely years spent gathering more valuable, but perhaps dull data, of climate, culture, time span and so much more before he’d even started on the bones themselves had taken time but whether they would be convinced about what they had heard and seen this evening, that remained to be seen.
As he waited for the applause to finish his memories swept in easily returning him to the past once more. He had spent his whole lifetime learning how to keep them at bay, as impossible as it had always been, but why the hell it mattered anymore, he didn’t know.His mission was all but accomplished now and tonight of all nights, he wanted to dwell on them and indulge himself.
He thought about Margaret all of a sudden and felt again the guilt at his neglect of her and the devastating consequence of his actions all those years ago. It had been ill-considered of him to marry her and almost immediately he had realised his mistake.He had been like a man possessed back then but simply hadn’t realised just how badly he was behaving in his single minded dedication to seeking answers from the past.From the very beginning of their relationship and throughout the following years he had searched for a treasure so rare that nothing else had mattered to him but finding it and she too had paid the price.
If only he had had the courage to talk to her about what had happened to him. However, he knew that it was an impossible story to tell, despite his leading role in it.Nobody in their right mind would have believed anything quite so far fetched.In any case he really had been a little insane when he’d first returned from Africa and he had no doubt that they would have had him sectioned had he told his story and that would have put paid completely to him ever again getting the opportunity to go back to Tanzania and continuing his search.
How disheartened he had been, yet probably more than that; he’d been bereft. How could he ever have predicted how it would all end and the devastating effect it would have had on the rest of his life.Trying to rediscover some remnant of it had consumed him and ruined any chance he might have had of having a normal life again.Before the episode he had been whole but afterwards he’d always known he was broken and would never be able to look at the world in the same way again.It had been sixty years ago and yet that period was more real to him, even now, than any time since.
For so long he had been empty and the hurt inside had been like a sore that wouldn’t heal. Yet here he was at last, with what he’d searched for in his very possession.It was a bitter sweet moment indeed because he was exultant yet, even so, his heart was still heavy with the guilt of how he had hurt so many people along the way following his quest.
He sighed sadly but then forced his mind back to the present and continued smiling at his audience, though conversely he realised that some people here might well feel cheated tonight and perhaps they had good reason to feel so, but tomorrow, well tomorrow he might yet surprise them all, especially if he decided to share the ultimate treasure with them. He wondered if he’d make the front pages in the morning … anthropologist genius professor or deluded lunatic crackpot!”
He smiled inwardly. He wasn’t sure he cared much either way.He had what he wanted and that was all that mattered to him now … and then he turned his head to look at Tommy, waiting devotedly as ever on the edge of the platform and a rare smile came to his lips.Maybe not everything that mattered.His wonderful Grandson.Now that was one blessing that he would never regret.How lucky he had been to have found him, despite the circumstances being so tragic.Tommy had been his salvation.He’d had his love and friendship for the last 27 years and it was he who had really saved him from ultimate bitterness.
He would not have made it this far without him. Not usually prone to giving in to his emotions, unexpectedly he felt the prickle of tears well in his eyes as his love for the boy overcame him, making his vision blur.He turned his head quickly as he quietly continued to scan the room, trying to compose himself.The boy would think he’d gone soft in his old age.
However, his gaze stopped momentarily at the face of a lone woman who sat at the back of the Hall. She stared straight at him but was as still as stone.It was a haunted face and a jolt went through his body, along with a strange feeling of disbelief as his still moist eyes lingered on her.He felt in his pocket and pulled out his handkerchief, wiping the moisture away and squinting, trying to focus on her image.She was still there but seemed unreal somehow.
Surely he must be dreaming and perhaps it was just wishful thinking on his part, given his earlier thoughts about the past and the talk that he’d just given. He had long given up the idea that he might see that face again, yet though she sat so very still and could indeed have been a figment of his imagination, there was a despair about her pose that quite clearly marked her as being real and very much alive.
Then it hit him and he felt the pain like a hammer blow to his soul. It was her!My God what a stupid old fool he’d become. Of course she must have got the flyer!He’d posted it in a vague hope that she just might return to their place but he’d never really had any confidence that she actually would.He wanted to shout out, “YOU GOT THE FLYER”.Then his mind raced on in sudden panic because he realisedthat of course she could as yet have no idea of what had happened once they’d got separated.
Dear God, she’d come looking for answers. That was why she was here.When he’d sent the damned thing he couldn’t be sure she’d ever receive it but in all honesty, he simply hadn’t thought it through to its conclusion.It had been a selfish impulse that had decided he should post it, simply because all he’d really wanted was to see her one last time.
His eyes closed in sorrow as his mind became chaotic and then his body began to tremble with the turmoil of his emotions. He found he couldn’t focus properly on anything now and bent his head gripping both knees with his hands as a sudden dread descended on him at what he could possibly say to her.So many years had passed and he was no longer the man he had been.
He could feel his heart thumping loudly in his chest with the sheer enormity of it all, yet conversely, deep within him also there was a tiny spark of pure joy coursing through his veins that he could hardly contain, simply because she was here and he had missed her so much.
He took some steadying breaths, gulping them down before lifting his head again and trying to focus his weak eyes on her image and ease the dizziness that had come over him. In any case, he might have got it completely wrong and it would turn out to be someone else entirely, but in his heart he knew; it was her.
A despair, he remembered so vividly now returned and his chest grew tight with a fear that he couldn’t shake off, because instinctively, despite his own bubbling joy at the sight of her, he knew she emanated in that face the same anguish which he had already lived through.
“Oh my darling girl, what have I done!”
His wretchedness was complete when, as if in slow motion, she lent forward in her chair, putting her elbows on her lap and her head in her hands and a howl of utter torment emanated from her, filling his whole soul with an agony he could hardly bear, because he knew then, there was no way that he would ever be able to console her. At best all he could do was offer comfort but then of course, even the very sight of him so changed would be devastating too.What a mess he’d made of it.
He made his mind up suddenly, firmly grabbing hold of the arms of the wheelchair and on unsteady legs he pushed himself up and stood before an astonished audience, who gasped out loud at the miracle before their very eyes. Then a hush filled the hall as they waited to see what would happen next.
He shouted out her name, but within seconds his legs collapsed from under him as they were unable to hold his weight, and he knew that he would fall but didn’t care. He’d crawl to her if necessary but reach her he must, or he’d die trying.
As he had started to drop the audience buzz, which had been so low, altered and became a high pitched din. They heard the wailing behind and turned around en masse to look at the sobbing woman before then swinging back round to see the Professor slump to the floor of the platform;like meercats they peered curiously at this strange behaviour, especially as from the platform floor they proceeded to watch him raise his head once and call out again, lifting a hand weakly before dropping back to the floor and laying completely still.
Tommy had watched the whole scene from the edge of the platform. He’d been standing with his arms folded listening to the applause and winked as he saw his Grandad look across at him with what looked like tears in his eyes which was unusual in itself as the old man was never emotional.He smiled to himself smugly but then the smile froze on his face and his blood ran cold when he saw his Grandad stand.As if under a spell he found himself rooted to the spot quite unable to move a muscle.
He whispered ‘NO’ in shocked denial of what was happening in front of him but it was only when the old man started to fall that the spell was broken and he jumped forward in alarm shouting ‘Pops’ but he was too late to catch him.
He scrambled across to the prostrate figure on the ground and now there was real fear in his eyes as he turned him over gently, laying him on his back, talking to him all the while.
“What on earth are you doing old man. Pops, look at me, it’s Tommy, concentrate – look at me!”
He heard him say something, repeating it over and over and so quietly that Tommy had to bend his head to hear the words – it sounded like ocean. What the hell was so important about the sea and what on earth was that incessant noise at the back of the hall.He’d had enough.
“OUT, get everyone out.” and then he roared, “NOW!”
His desperation must have been understood as John the Manager took charge immediately, smiling and talking soothingly to everyone in the Theatre but firm in his conviction that they would do his bidding. He gently herded them towards the Exhibition Hall door.Everyone except the wailing woman in the corner who largely he tried to ignore as it would take extra hands to deal with her.
There were a few rogue reporters taking photographs and John could do nothing about what they had already snapped but he insisted they now stop and move out as well, which reluctantly they did eventually.
Once the Theatre was empty and the door into the Hall closed, an eerie silence hung over the room except the rhythmic sobbing still sounding from the back. Tommy ignored it completely and concentrated on his Grandad.His eyes were closed and he was barely breathing and yet he continued repeating the word, still a whisper but quite clear, ‘ocean, ocean, ocean’.
Tommy didn’t understand at all but it seemed someone else did because the sobbing woman suddenly stood and ran forward and though still struggling to compose herself she stumbled clumsily towards the stage.
Two pairs of hands stopped her and she shouted out as she struggled against their strength.
“Let me go, get off. Let me go NOW!You have to let me go to him.Get your hands off me you great morons!”
She shouted out “Robert!” and amazingly the old man, barely conscious, lying horizontal on the stage, opened his eyes wide for a moment before chuckling weakly and saying,“Ocean, you always did have a temper” and then his eyes closed again but not before Tommy had seen in them the light of life burning brightly.
As if in a dream, Tommy turned around to look at her. The bitch in the rain!He was immediately contrite but the words had come unbidden to his mind. However, he gestured to the two men to let her come forward and they released her, but it was unexpected and caused her to lose her balance and fall to the floor.Despite this, on hands and knees he watched as she crawled forward, still weeping and gasping for breath, up the stairs and across to the old man.Tommy stood and took a step back.He watched the scene in morbid fascination.
As soon as she reached Pops she picked up his hand and kissed the top fiercely before hugging it close to her face. Then laying it back on the floor gently, she leaned over the old man and stroked his face before placing both palms on each side of his aged face and leaning in to hug his body tightly.
At last she raised herself and then gently she lifted Pop’s head up and placed it on her lap as she stroked his hair and made comforting sounds. Her tears were still evident but also now a fierce look of determination which Tommy couldn’t interpret.
Robert sensing her there opened his eyes and looked up into her face, so close now and exquisitely familiar. He breathed in her fragrance and felt dizzy with intoxication.His doubts about her identify now completely swept away but the emotion of their reunion bringing unexpected pain and joy to him.
He screwed his eyes shut for a second and sighed with the emotional relief of first contact after so many years, but then he regained control of himself and looked at her face again, barely able to believe it really was her. He couldn’t resist.Gripping his teeth down onto his bottom lip to give him strength he lifted a trembling hand, raising it and cupping her cheek and chin lovingly and then with a strength he didn’t really have he moved it to the back of her neck and upwards, through her wet and straggly hair, sighing in contentment.
She smiled down at him through her tears and remained still, allowing him to caress her. However, her heart was truly broken at this first proper sight of him.What had she done.Impulsively again she lent down and put her cheek against his and his hand lost its grip on her and fell but swiftly she clasped it back holding it possessively in her own as the silence around them was complete.
Eventually she spoke though her voice was hoarse with emotion.
“My God Rob. Look at the state of you.I leave you alone for two minutes and just see how you let yourself go.You’re a wreck man.”
His mouth widened and he chuckled weakly before shaking his head and closing his eyes. He wanted to laugh out loud with the absurdity of the whole situation but didn’t have the energy.Oh how he’d missed her sense of fun, more than anything else.In his mind he was young again, remembering everything, yet he didn’t even have the breath left to give her the response she deserved nor even the strength to take her in his arms.
He knew what had happened. It was suddenly all so clear.How could he have been so witless not to anticipate this.The question was though, did she?The earlier fear returned momentarily and his body jolted as he remembered suddenly that he didn’t want to have to tell her the truth nor remind himself of the anguish.How could he console her.However, he knew deep down that here was the one person in the whole world who must know the truth regardless.He owed it to her.
As if she read his thoughts she spoke again.
“Rob”. It was said so quietly and she paused but he knew intuitively what she would say next.
“Darling Rob … Please ….I really need to know what happened to Tommy?”
His eyes filled with tears easily as he relived the sorrow immediately and he found he couldn’t see her clearly anymore but instinctively he turned his head to look at his Grandson.
Tommy still watching the scene in utter disbelief and completely bewildered by what was happening was shocked to his very core by the conversation. However, when she mentioned his name his eyes suddenly become hard and then he positively scowled before answering curtly.
“What’s it to you!”
Robert, heard the resentment and tried to stay calm. He must try to explain and at last he found his voice, though it was hardly more than a whisper
“Tommy, this is … Ocean”.
“Ocean meet Tommy, my …. Grandson”
He stopped speaking as he felt her stiffen beside him and he turned his head back to look at her. He could barely see her at all now but he gripped her hand tighter knowing he needed to explain further, but suddenly he felt so very tired and he closed his eyes taking some deep breaths to try and regain some strength again.
Marie forced herself to take her eyes off Robert and wiping the tears from her face with her free hand she looked up at the man towering above her but appeared puzzled by what Robert had just said.
“Tommy? You’re Tommy?No that’s not possible.You can’t be Tommy?”
Tommy Williams was suddenly furious. He folded his arms and snarled out a response.
“He said it sweetheart. My name is Tommy and I’m his kid’s son and heir.Anyway what part do you play in this theatre of fun?”
Marie was speechless. His tone was insulting but in any case what Robert had said made no sense.She had so many questions but she didn’t know where to begin.
She repeated as if to herself, “Tommy. Grandson of Robert.”
“You’re not paying attention lady, I think we’ve been over that already.”
Marie’s eyes hardened then as her own fury bubbled over. She was just about to spit out a response when the worst happened.Robert cried out in obvious pain and his hands started pawing his clothes.It was clear he was in distress and this was confirmed when he emitted a long drawn out groan and it appeared he was going into some sort of seizure.Then he groaned a second time. His back arched and he began writhing from side to side in clear agony before his body then went completely stiff.
Everything else forgotten immediately, Tommy shouted to the men, watching in complete silence from the floor of the Hall, to call an ambulance urgently. He knew he was shouting again but suddenly he was filled with a deep sense of fear.It took a few seconds for the significance of his words to sink in but then Bill ran and disappeared through the back door.
Marie continued to hold tightly onto one of Robert’s hands and at last Tommy moved, bending down to take hold of his Grandad’s body in an effort to steady him. Then to the dismay of both,he went limp as he gasped once and then appeared to stop breathing.The two people at his side did the same as they looked on in horror.
Neither of them saw straight away a figure run through from the entrance at the back of the hall but she was by their side in seconds. She insisted that they move away and as if in a trance they obeyed, standing up and moving backwards without taking their eyes off him.
She felt for a pulse and immediately placed the palm of her hand flat on Robert’s chest and pressed it in a pumping motion once, then twice. Seconds passed and then she tilted back his head and lifted his chin, pinching the nostrils shut with two fingers.She took a deep breath and bent over her patient to cover his mouth with hers and then began to breath slowly into it.She did this twice and checked to see if his chest rose as she breathed into him again.Then she waited a moment and the world seemed to stop turning.
At last Robert let out a gargling sound and though still not conscious it appeared as if he was at least breathing again. The angel brought out a stethoscopeand started listening to his chest.
“He might have had a heart attack but I’m not sure just yet. The ambulance is on its way but I have to give him something straight away.”
She went into the case that she had with her and brought out a bottle and ever so gently gave him a spoonful soothing and coaxing him to swallow. Perhaps three minutes passed but to the watching it seemed so much longer.
Tommy saw Marie suddenly come alive at his side and she moved back to Robert’s where she aided the angel in her ministrations and then they quietly spoke together, all sign of hysterics and tears now gone from her. Tommy didn’t have a clue what was being said, but he heard the woman agreeing with Marie and the pair of them started turning Robert on to his side.
He heard the siren now in the background and then there was more activity as two people came into the room and spoke to the angel. He watched the scene feeling completely helpless and a sick dread hovered over him.A thought went through his mind at just who the angel was and where she had come from, as if this was in any way important.Whatever the story, he knew for now she had saved Pop’s life.
Tommy found his voice at last and asked the impossible question, “Will he be okay?”
Instead of answering she asked a question of her own.
“How old is he?”
Tommy replied. “He’s 88 years old.”
He saw Marie flinch and watched as her face blanched but she seemed to have found her composure, yet continued looking down on the prostrate figure of his Grandad, the desolation clear on her face, as she shook her head in denial of the statement. Then she started rocking gently, wrapping her arms around and hugging her body.
Tommy heard her quietly but heartbreakingly say something quite unexpected.
“Robert sweetheart please don’t leave me. I need you truly, more now than I’ve ever done in my life before.”
Tommy looked at his Grandad but he didn’t stir and she continued more urgently, the desperation in her voice quite apparent.
“Please, please don’t go. Are you listening Indie!I need to talk with you.Oh dear Lord please don’t take him from me yet.”
The silence was complete and it was the angel who spoke next.
“What on earth happened here. Did he have a shock of some sort?”
Marie made no response and it was Tommy who answered.
“I think that this female might be the key to that question.”
He turned his hard eyes on her.
“Well, Miss Ocean, spill the beans, just who the hell are you. It was the sight of you that caused him to stand up and then collapse.”
He turned to the angel again and repeated more loudly, “Go on, ask her; what did happen here!”
They both looked at Marie now but strangely she remained quiet.
Marie contemplated his words and knew of course that he was right; it was her fault but just how much guilt was she supposed to endure. Certainly she did have an answer but this wasn’t the time or the place and in any case who on earth would ever believe her story anyway.
All was calm now in the private room on a ward of the Chelsea and Westminster Public Hospital. Tommy was seated at one side of the bed and Marie on the other.Neither spoke as they gazed on the prostrate, sleeping figure in the bed and their minds were filled with their own thoughts.
Tommy was devastated. He simply couldn’t come to terms with what the Doctor had said.His beloved Grandad was dying and there wasn’t anything he could do about it.Despite Pop’s great age and his obvious failing health he just wasn’t ready to be told that Pop’s life was at a virtual end and he had never felt this terrified for a long time.
And as if that wasn’t enough, he was agitated by the continued presence of the female on the other side of the bed. He shifted in his seat as he leant forward to to gaze at his trembling hands but kept his eyes averted from her.
To compound his misery, like a volcano ready to erupt, he simmered as he considered that what had happened with Pops was all her fault anyhow. As far as he was concerned she had no right to still be here.
Why couldn’t she just have disappeared, back to wherever she’d come from, once they’d left the museum. He reflected bitterly that she’d been nothing but trouble from the minute he’d laid eyes on her and the last thing he needed now was meddling strangers.
He simply wanted to be alone with his memories, remembering the life he and Pop had shared together and this stranger … this outsider was imposing.
Who the hell was she anyway? It was inconceivable his Grandad even knew her, yet he had to grudgingly admit that there was something between them.Illogically, though he wished rid of her, given she was still here, he was determined to get to the bottom of it.
He swiftly appraised her, moodily under hooded lids, and considered her age; most likely in her twenties he thought but then with a flash of unkindness he contemplated possibly much older.Whatever the truth he had to admit she looked to have the weight of the world on her shoulders but one thing he was sure of; he had never before met her in his life,so how had she come to be so close to the old man?How could these two have ever met?
It was outrageous, yet there were only two people who knew the truth and one was lying unconscious on the bed in front of him and the other he had no desire to converse with – yet!
Marie sat quietly in her chair, upright with her hands clasped in her lap. She was in a state of shock.She looked desolately at the sleeping figure of Robert Williams, who she knew so well, yet barely recognised.He was so old and it was impossible to come to terms with.The last time they’d been together he’d been young and vibrant and she knew that she was responsible for this calamity and the pain of remorse was unbearable.
She had hated him when they’d first met but he’d turned out to be her rock; unwavering and steady and she wouldn’t be alive now if he hadn’t been so relentless in his pursuit of her survival. He could always be relied upon and yes, even thoughtful sometimes though perhaps she’d not acknowledged this before, given his arrogance had, on many occasions caused such sparks between them.
She had come to learn though, that below the surface of his stubborn nature lived a kind man and an amusing man whose presence had always caused her heart to beat that bit faster.
She closed her eyes to her shame but when they opened they fell on the man who sat on the other side of the bed, who was Robert’s absolute double, both in looks and, as she’d already discovered, in temperament too. It was quite disconcerting.He was a stranger to her yet he behaved so much like Robert always did and it felt like time was playing tricks on her and it really was him sitting there and not the poor soul at the end of his life, who lay so very still on the bed.
Robert had said that this was his Grandson, which was an even more alarming prospect and left her not only in a state of confusion but with more questions now that she urgently needed answers to.
Clearly this Grandson resented her presence here and even now she could feel his animosity reaching across to her. She shivered in grief, not only at this tragedy but also in genuine fear at her own feelings, because astonishingly she was fighting the urge to go over to him and hide her head in his shoulder, where he just might stroke her hair and soothe her, just like Rob had always done.Every fibre in her body was fighting the impulse but she knew that if she didn’t take heed, it would be absolutely disastrous.
It was obvious he had no idea who she was and this was even more puzzling but there was no doubt about his hostility, which wasn’t helped she conceded ruefully, by the fact she’d barely acknowledged him since they’d first met. She could see now he was the man she’d snapped at when she’d first arrived at the museum.She blushed as she thought how rude she’d been responding to his enquiries.
However, despite the antagonism between them, her emotional response to his presence was unsettling. She really must be a shallow creature to be even thinking about seeking comfort for herself, especially with Robert being so desperately unwell.
A jolt of fear ran through body as out of the blue she properly considered the man’s identity. If she was right, she should be even more ashamed by her thoughts.The trouble was she didn’t know anything for sure.She closed her eyes again and rocked trying to calm her soul, already so damaged, and regain some semblance of sanity as to what she would do next.
She breathed deeply and tried to focus her mind on why she’d come here in the first place. Only one word was needed … Tommy… though alarmingly, the face of the man opposite imprinted itself there instead and she gritted her teeth and squeezed her eyes tight to shake that image away and reform the face of her baby in its place.However this picture brought a different type of pain, as his face watched her solemnly but in his eyes she could see quite clearly the question, ‘Mummy, why did you leave me’.
The prick of tears at the back of her eyes started and she whispered his name quietly. She sniffed, trying to stem the fact she suddenly felt so choked again.She needed her hanky but didn’t want to search for it; besides if she did then ‘he’ was bound to notice and she wanted to remain invisible.
Just what had happened to Tommy after they got separated? The only person who knew was lying, barely conscious, on the bed in front of her.She felt as if her head would explode with the tension of it all.She felt wretched and was exhausted,yet she had to find the courage to stay and be here when Robert woke because she desperately needed some answers off him.
The dread within her was that he would not recover and that she would never discover the truth. A finger of fear ran through her as she thought of this outcome but she fought hard to maintain her composure.The last thing that was required was for her to get hysterical again.Instead she bent her head and quietly prayed as quite simply, she didn’t know what else to do.
Suddenly Tommy spoke and so immersed was she in her own misery that his words made her jump. She lifted her head and heard immediately that his tone was just as insulting as it had been earlier.
Despite her resolve to try and stay calm, in her stricken emotional state, her eyes, when they opened and turned towards him, were steely in reciprocated anger and she gritted her teeth and waited for him to finish. Nonetheless as he spoke she knew she was in danger of going over and smacking him – hard – because he clearly had no manners.Besides doing that would leave her very satisfied and would definitely release some of her own pent up emotion.
“You’re obviously intimate with my Grandad sweetheart and yet we’ve never met. How is that I wonder?It is possible of course that you could have had some surreptitious little liaison with him recently and then decided to seek him out again?Perhaps to try and secure the relationship and put it on a more permanent footing, or something like that?”
Marie scowled in real anger and bit down hard on her lip, trying desperately not to lose her temper. She would not stoop down to his level, yet the irony of his words was not lost on her.However, her overriding emotion was outrage that he should speak to her with such disrespect, yet even so she was determined to respond reasonably and show him that she at least had some manners.
At last he stopped talking and they glared across the bed at each other. She pursed her lips, pausing for some seconds more to hold the silence.Then, hardening her still glistening eyes and looking him square in the face, she responded, speaking quietly and measured.
“All I can tell you is that it was a long time ago….”
Despite her best efforts, she couldn’t maintain it and her rage suddenly bubbled over to douse the calm facade which had surfaced so very briefly.
“… and would you please stop calling me sweetheart … you moron. My name is Ocean.”
She shivered suddenly, as if a ghost had walked over her grave.
Tommy was livid.
“Now you look here ‘Great Lake’, ‘Pond’ ’Lagoon’or whatever other ridiculous name you want you call yourself, frankly I don’t give a damn, but what I do care about is him. You can’t be any more than 25, unless you’ve got very exceptional skin …”
And with this comment he gave her a withering stare, glowering as he looked her up and down.
“… and he’s 88 years old! How the hell can you and he even know each other when you’ve not been alive for most of his life!Are you trying to blackmail him or something!”
She opened her mouth to answer, but he cut her off.
“I’ve been with him virtually since I was born and the only passion he’s ever had was for Africa and let me tell you lady there aint no money in that, whatever you might have heard. I’m 33 years old and you and I have never met and I sure as hell don’t think he’s been meeting you in secret– sweetheart!”
He stopped now, out of breath with the exertion of his rage. Though the figure on the bed didn’t wake, he stirred restlessly and moved from side to side groaning intermittently.The warring pair stopped breathing for a few seconds as they anxiously watched and waited, fretting that something awful was about to happen next but he became quiet again and natural breathing at last resumed.
She answered now in an angry urgent whisper. “I cannot answer your questions.”She found it impossible to use his name.“I’m praying he recovers because until he does I simply cannot explain.”
They glared at each other bitterly across the bedcovers and then without warning, the door swung open unexpectedly and a nurse strode purposely into the room.Her eyes were on fire.She was clearly used to being in charge but despite her own obvious anger, her voice was hardly more than a whisper when she spoke, though it went through them both like an icy blast.
“Whatever is all this shouting about. I can hear you all the way down the corridor.It’s the middle of the night and we have other patients trying to sleep”.
Neither said a word.
She glared at them both but then came over to the bed and made some adjustments to Robert’s sheets, before checking the machine that he was hooked up to. Still there was no response from the visitors.
At last she turned and looked at them both but still the frosty atmosphere was obvious. Trying again she spoke once more, though more warmly, making an effort to smile.
“Look we have some rooms at the hospital that you can both make use of. Why don’t we try and get you booked in?You can stop there all night if you wish.As the Doctor explained earlier Mr Williams, your Grandad’s condition is serious but stable and given what he’s suffering with, well I really don’t believe anything more will happen in the next few hours.So … what do you think?”
As she smiled down at them both, Marie didn’t know which was worse, the earlier cold fury or that smile, which would cut ice cubes. She decided that ‘he’ should respond and lent back in her chair, folding her arms and looking across at him, waiting.
However, he said nothing and the atmosphere in the room grew unnerving, but then Matron tried again, more firmly this time, “So, am I going to get a reply?” She waited once more, her own arms now folded across her chest clearly expecting a response.
Marie could stand it no longer and lent forward to answer.
“You’re right of course Matron. I am sorry.We’re both sorry aren’t we … Tommy.”
The last was said in almost a whisper. He shrugged and then stood totally ignoring her.
“I’ve got a pager on me Matron. I will leave but you have to promise me faithfully that you’ll get in touch the minute he wakes?”
“Of course Mr. Williams, of course. Now off you go the pair of you and make friends –no more tiffs tonight.”
This final comment was said much more cheerily but the look of thunder on the faces of the two people in front of her was disconcerting and she turned around flustered for the first time and started fussing again with her patient’s bedclothes, realising that she had clearly said the wrong thing.
Tommy and Marie
There was a stony silence between the two people as they walked out of the room and down the corridor. However, as they walked, for some unfathomable reason Tommy suddenly felt completely remorseful about his behaviour.God knew, he’d not been gracious all evening.It had been a trying day but he wasn’t usually this boorish.
Besides he really did need to find out more regarding this mystery woman and he realised he wouldn’t be able to do so unless he changed his attitude and stopped being so antagonistic. Despite the anxiety and tension of the evening’s events he could have tried to be a bit less confrontational.
He contemplated that he had enough to deal with already, making sure all the exhibits, still at the Museum, were stored away safely, dealing with the press, University, Museum staff … the list was endless. He really must get this sorted out tonight.For a second he was still unsure how to proceed but then made up his mind decisively.
She was already walking away from him and he called her name once, quietly but clearly. She slowed her pace immediately but kept walking and he ran the short distance between them before placing his hand lightly on top of her shoulder before bringing it back and waiting.
Marie had heard him call but found it impossible to turn and look at him because all of a sudden she was afraid. How strange that it had been so easy to argue yet now so difficult to consider having a normal conversation with this particular man.
At first Tommy thought she was going to ignore him completely and continue walking on but finally she turned and they stood facing each other at last, the awkwardness between them now like a wall seperating them both.
Tommy cleared his throat and looked down at his feet for a moment but then he looked bashfully across at her and tried to smile. He’d never felt so uncomfortable in all his life.
“Look … I’m sorry. I’ve not really been very sociable this eveninghave I?Can we start again do you think?”
She watched him through veiled lashes and realised just how hard it had been for him to make the first move and for the first time she warmed a little to him. However for a second she couldn’t answer because her eyes brimmed with tears again.She knew if she tried to speak, this time she really would start crying and the compulsion to go over to him and wrap her arms around his waist and bury her face in his chest would be too great.
Instead she lowered her own head and closing her eyes, she massaged her neck. A memory from the past flashed up inside her mind and suddenly seemed so real.Despite him still waiting she remonstrated with herself.She really must try harder to get a grip on this reality and forget about yesterday’s.Time seemed to be playing a game with her, transporting her into a different place altogether, not a corridor on a London hospital.
Her tears remained close to the surface as she lingered on that memory but she had to smile too as that had been the turning point. It had taken ‘him’ slightly less time to acknowledge his boorish behaviour but how strange that he had said something so very similar to her when they’d first met.How very cruel life sometimes was she thought ruefully.
She lifted her head at last, more composed now, and looked up at him, scanning the face so like Robert’s. Smiling sheepishly and in little more than a whisper she answered his question.
The change in him was amazing and he looked suddenly like a schoolboy as the relieved grin across his face confirmed his pleasure. She smiled more genuinely then, raising her eyebrows in reciprocated happiness and then they both laughed a little abashed.
“Look let’s go and have something to eat. Nothingfancy but somewhere quiet where we can talk properly.I’m famished anyway.I’ve hardly had chance to eat anything since first thing this morning?”
Once again, she simply smiled and nodded her head. She reflected she really didn’t want to be alone just now.Besides she had no-where else to go and she just might get some answers of her own from him.
They continued silently along the corridor and got into the lift which took them down to the ground floor. The silence remained a little awkward but Marie was relieved that at least it wasn’t as hostile as it had been earlier.She let him take charge and followed his lead.Once they got outside, he called over a taxi from the front of the hospital and when settled they continued the journey in relative silence until at last they arrived at a small restaurant just off the Fulham Road.
He jumped out and kept the door open as she followed him out onto the pavement but still she remained silent, just smiling her thanks before he gestured her forward and they went inside.
She looked around through the gloom of the dimmed lights noting its modern decor though it was relatively cosy too, simply because of the private booths that were located down one wall. They were ideal because it would give them some privacy and a waiter quickly ushered them into one near the end before he went to fetch some menus.She was the first to break the silence at last trying to keep it light.
“So, have you been here before?”
“Occasionally.” He smiled across at her and then continued.
“They do a fairly simple menu, which is probably ideal for what we want just now – stream-lined, fast …” and then, with a huge grin, that completely disarmed her and changed the whole of his face, he added, “….and you get something decent for less than 10 quid!”
Marie couldn’t help it and laughed out loud realising quite genuinely she was delighted and her eyes sparkled with sudden mischief.For the first time in ages she felt her spirits rise and her mood lighten.
She found herself responding to him playfully, “Last of the big spenders eh”.
Her smile was wide too and she enjoyed the look of amusement in his eyes and was struck again with how much he looked like Robert. However, his humour was different and more in tune with her own, because Robert had always been so much more conventional.
Despite that however she felt a little disorientated. It was uncanny she should be in this modern restaurant with someone who so resembled Robert.She could almost forget just how truly awful the last few months had been and what a strain she had been living under.It would be so easy to imagine that those memories had all been a horrible nightmare and now she’d woken up.
Tommy still chuckling at her remark, at last cleared his throat. He couldn’t believe how nervous he felt and to distract himself he picked up the menu and tried to concentrate on the food choices.
Marie still watching him rested her elbows on the table in a relaxed mode and then couldn’t resist. She wanted to continue this game.
“Can you order something for me please?”
He glanced up and nodded absentmindedly.
“Do they do fish?”
His head snapped up at that. He looked across at her incredulously, his eyes widening in disbelief before his earlier amusement spluttered out a response.He felt his tension starting to slip right away.
“So, let me get this straight! Madam Ocean wants to try the fish!”
She grinned impishly at him and felt a delicious joy run through her entire body as she was transported back to another time and place. Oh boy, that line going to haunt her forever!
She kept his gaze but when she answered her face became serious.
“Only if it’s been flown down fresh today from Victoria.”
The warm smile playing on his lips, indicating his jovial mood, froze in stunned shock, as his eyes hardened for a second, contemplating what an interesting revelation that was, and though he struggled briefly, he decided to let it go – for now.
She saw the change in his face and spoke again, trying to recapture his cheerfulness.
“Just joking of course. Seriously though, for a minute there I really thought you’d guessed my secret.Isn’t that what all good mermaids eat!”
Tommy kept her gaze but remained silent, unsure how to react, but then suddenly he laughed out loud, looking up at the ceiling as he whistled long and hard. At last he looked across at her again and grinned, before throwing his serviette playfully towards her.She caught it deftly and primly placed it back by the side of his cutlery before beaming cheekily across at him.
Immediately however, the awkwardness returned. Their grins froze as if time hesitated but their eyes darted in separate directions, inanely, suddenly shy, with neither knowing how next to proceed.
Tommy for his part realised he was genuinely beginning to enjoy this encounter. His previous annoyance at this woman was completely forgotten.A warmth was spreading throughout his body and he recognised startlingly that he was attracted to her.
However the awkwardness between them was disconcerting and to divert his thoughts he picked up the menu again and tried to focus his mind on what they had on offer to eat, a little afraid now, that if he spoke, somehow he might say the wrong thing and quite spoil the moment. Once he’d decided and checked her choice of fish, he called the waiter back over and ordered their food.
Marie knew he had relaxed, feeling intensely the tentacles of his sunnier mood reach out to caress her and she bathed in them luxuriously. Truly, she really was beginning to enjoy herself, despite a tiny knot of tension still gnawing in the pit of her stomach, as if being genuinely content, even for the briefest of moments, was something she should be ashamed of.
Leaning back against the bench seat, she turned her head from him conscious that her cheeks were suddenly hot and strangely she was embarrassed by her thoughts. Could she really be flirting with this man?What must he think of her?She knew he had questions and as she thought through what answers she might give, she tormented herself again with the past.
Despite her enthusiasm to continue this charade, she knew she really should be trying to regain some control of the situation. It was so hard though, because she felt so much brighter.
Her thoughts drifted. Did responding to this unexpected attraction really make her such a bad person?As soon as she’d asked herself the question, she acknowledged that she wasn’t fit to make the judgement.Though deep down she knew that her feelings were quite likely due to the fact he so resembled Robert, this attraction was tainted.There was no doubt he and Rob were related but here then really lay the problem.Just whose son was he?
Marie contemplated what a bizarre situation this was and then sighed as the darkness, which for a fleeting moment she had managed to keep at bay, started to descend again. Her mind became clouded yet even so she knew – this was a mistake.
Looking across at Marie under hooded lids, Tommy gave her a proper appraisal now that he had the chance. She had left the coat he’d first seen her in at the hospital hanging on a peg.The wind and rain had blown over and though still chilly the sodden coat needed to dry out and would not have kept her warm.She was better off without it.
Certainly she was a small creature, petite infact. She was wearing a white, sleeveless blouse with a mandarin collar.As angry as he had been earlier he couldn’t help but notice it in the hospital because though plain it was cut stylishly.However, over the top she wore a very tatty black cardigan which was far too big for her and constantly slid down one shoulder to reveal the top of an arm.
She wore no make up at all, though he could still see the remnants of the red lipstick that had been so vivid earlier on. Her hair was nearly black and straggly down the back of her neck.It curled around her face and though no longer wet needed a good brush.He noticed also that despite her obvious charms, she looked dishevelled and if he was honest, quite exhausted.
It was obvious that she was dressed for summer and with the exception of the coat it was as if she had come from a more sunny climate and had only thought to throw on a coat over her light clothes as a last minute gesture. She was well tanned too and didn’t have the washed out complexion so many others had in the middle of a British winter.The remark about Victoria was teasing but he felt afraid of pushing her too quickly, though he wondered just when would be the best time to probe her again.
He sighed, and noted it had really been one of the most nerve racking days of his life and he knew he hadn’t really been paying attention to anything apart from Pops and the Exhibition. She really was a mysterious creature and he was surprised at himself because he felt so genuinely stirred by her.
Marie turned her eyes to see him gazing at her and her cheeks flushed involuntarily again. Tommy was startled for a second as he suddenly realised that she had the most beautiful green eyes he’d ever seen in anyone and he wondered how one earth he had missed those too.
Marie for her part continued to ponder her reaction to this man. They were complete strangers and yet she felt as if she had always known him.It was strange and yet perhaps not so, given who his grandfather was.She wished Robert was here and she could speak with him and get the truth of his life after they’d got separated.She needed desperately to find out the proper facts, not only about this man but so much more and given his likeness to Robert and even his very name, this could not be a coincidence.Just how did he fit in to the story?
The despondancy of her dark thoughts made her more sombre. If her suspicions were right, how unnatural it was that she could look upon him and feel her heart miss a beat.How could such passion be running through her veins.She tried to focus her mind on Robert but all she could see was the old man he had become and she was ashamed.
Nonetheless, the compulsion to forget the past was irresistable. Though back in the hospital lay the answer to all her questions, right here was hope for something new.She could start again and make it right this time.She had for months put off discovering the indisputable and instead buried herself in the past, hoping and praying for salvation from the pain of truth.
Every instinct in her wanted to reach out, take his hand and bring it to her lips, and the impulse to do so was so overwhelming that it hurt. She closed her eyes and imagined that the events of the last months had not really happened and instead Robert had come back to find her.She could recapture their lives and relive it and everything would be as it was.
Then her terror returned to stalk her once more and she berated herself, knowing that whatever else she did tonight she should not, under any circumstance, be tempted to give in to the emotion growing within her. She had to find the courage from somewhere to resist.
She battled the conflict raging within her head which countered against this friendship ever working but despite this she knew that if she stayed here with him for much longer, the atmosphere between them would become electric. Suddenly she felt physically sick with the effort of keeping her emotions in check.
In truth, she wasn’t well and needed proper counselling but she’d denied it now for so long. Besides who would ever believe such a crazy story as she had to tell.And here she was, in this predicament that was quite wonderful and yet so terrible at the same time.Gritting her teeth together and pursing her lips, she tried to regain her anger of earlier.
How unfair it really was that they should both look so much alike, especially as weak as she felt at the moment and so in need of human comfort.
The food arrived and distracted her temporarily which was a relief. They ate in relative silence, both deep in their own thoughts.Besides it was good and needed appropriate attention.
Despite her anxieties, Marie really was hungry and ate with abandon and the fish was lovely. As she finished and wiped her mouth she thought back to the last time she’d seen Robert.What a fool she’d been as he’d known the worse would happen but she had been so convinced she was right she had ignored all his warnings with devastating consequences.
The loss of Rob’s presence sat heavily on her shoulders. It was still raw and she had found it impossible to live with.She had lost everything that she’d loved in life but had no-one to blame but herself.Since her return she had barely been able to function with the guilt of it all.She just couldn’t get her head round it, so how on earth was she ever going to explain it all to the man sitting opposite.
Tommy startled her when he spoke at last.
“What are you thinking about?” There was no need to lie.
“You’re the absolute image of your Grandad …”, then couldn’t resist, “… even down to his stubbornness and short temper,” and then she showed her teeth in an exaggerated attempt to show he shouldn’t be offended.
Largely Tommy ignored her description because he knew she was right about him and Pops and yet the fact that she even knew this was baffling. What he needed off her now were answers and perhaps at last it was time.
“What is your real name lady?” and he put his hand up to prevent her immediate answer ”… and don’t try to tell me that you were Christened Ocean!”
Marie hesitated, unsure for a minute how to answer. She barely registered her proper name to anyone but for some reason she told him the truth.
“No, I wasn’t. My name’s Marie.”
“Marie ….” He lent forward to reduce the distance between them. As he spoke her name his voice was barely more than a whisper and she had to sit up too to hear him.“Marie”, he repeated her name, finding it almost impossible to voice the question he wanted to ask.
“Nothing about you makes any sense at all. Clearly you and Pops know each other and it’s obvious that there’s some attachment between you, but you’re from different generations … Yet you appear to know as much about him and his habits as I do yet that’s impossible.How could you and he have ever shared anything together?”
She thought back to a previous conversation with Robert when they’d first met and she had had to tell him the truth about where she had come from. Even now she could remember his initial scathing incredulity at her answer when she’d given it.There was no doubt whatsoever that this man in front of her would react in much the same way and she wasn’t going to risk that, not without Robert being with her.
She sighed and tried to find the words.
“I have an incredible story to tell Tommy. I’ve had the most bizarre of adventures, beyond anyone’s imagination, but to tell it now, in this place, without your Grandad beside me, is impossible.I don’t mean to be evasive but I promise truly, we will tell you.I can’t believe that Robert hasn’t told you himself already?”
Tommy shook his head.
“I thought I knew everything about him. I’ve lived with him since my parents were killed in a road accident when I was about ….. Marie, for God’s sake whatever’s the matter now … Look stop! Where are you going!”
Her face was suddenly stricken and she stood trying desperately to disentangle herself from the fixed table and he rose swiftly too. As she tried to run he grabbed her wrist firmly and brought her round to face him.However she struggled furiously, her arms thrashing and one of the empty plates on the table, sitting perilously close to the edge, got knocked and fell crashing to the ground, shattering into pieces.
Tommy ignored it, only noticing that the anguish, so recently departed, had returned to her face. She struggled, trying urgently to wriggle free but he kept a secure grip on her and held on.
“Let me go! Get – off – me … now!”
“Marie. Calm down.What the hell are you so frightened of?”
She was strong and he had to tighten his hold to prevent her escape. He was not only fearful she might hurt herself but also that he might lose her to the night.What he’d said had frightened her and he needed to know why.
He tried to reason with her but she paid no attention to his words and continued struggling. Finally, without any hesitation, he firmly wrapped his arms around her, hugging her firmly to his body, making soothing noises. Her arms were pinned to her side and he rocked her gently, trying to patiently quieten her.
However his gentleness seemed to inflame her further and still she resisted, bellowing at him in growing rage, which seemed to have come from nowhere. He pulled his head back and viewed her face, so terribly distressed and yet amazingly to him, still so incredibly beautiful and he swallowed for a fraction of a second before dipping his head and gently but firmly planting his lips on hers and it stopped the tirade instantly.
He should have let her go the minute she stopped fighting him but then he sensed a change of mood within the room and opened his eyes fleetingly to see her watching him, her glorious eyes wide in disbelief. He realised she too had felt it and within them now he saw his own growing passion reflected there as she began responding to his embrace, before he had to close his eyes in an agony of joy.
Time stood still.
They were stationery yet around them now, the world began to spin. The air held its breath and stillness filled the room, capturing them within a bubble that confined them so totally, that nothing else seemed to penetrate.
One of his hands rose steadily up her back, caressing her neck briefly until finally his fingers were tangled in her hair. He firmly drew her head closer yet still aware of the walls around them spinning, gaining momentum, and now plainly he heard the rhythmical sound of his own heartbeat, thumping in his chest.
One of her arms went round his back as the other clasped the nape of his neck possessively, before her mouth opened slightly and he groaned in bliss as his eyes opened fleetingly and their embrace deepened. Contact was more electrifying than he could ever have anticipated and within seconds, his embrace became urgent.
He heard the beat of her heart begin to synchronise in song with his own and the rhythm quickened, as he felt his soul begin to tumble, falling resolutely into an exquisite hole, which set his body on fire. It was painful, yet he had never felt so alive in all his life as he sensed his soul being drawn out of his earhly body; slowly; inexorably downwards yet still she stayed with him.
The song rose in crescendo as they continued to fall, faster and faster, until at last he felt his very soul touch hers and he groaned again in ecstasy.
It was she who broke the spell, escaping his embrace by pulling her head far enough back to look up at him. Her voice was husky with emotion when she spoke.
“Tommy … please let me go.”
His eyes opened, still cloudy with passion but there was no more shouting and he let his hands fall immediately to his side, taking a step back reluctantly but his eyes remained locked into hers.
Someone spoke and it was only when the waiter touched his shoulder that Tommy jerked his head to the right and immediately felt the pain of his loss, so much so that he was incapable of saying anything to the man at all.
“Ah Monsieur, Mademoiselle, please, your little ‘dispute’, it is now terminated, n’est pas?You are ready for dessert?”
Marie was the first to speak and couldn’t believe how calm her voice sounded.
“Non Monsieur, merci.We really have to leave now.I’m so sorry about the plate.”
She bent down to start picking up the pieces whilst at the same time, smiling up at him and asking him to bring the bill.
“Bien sur Mademoiselle”, and he turned and went back to the bar. Once he’d gone the pair of them sat back down and Marie put the pieces of the plate on the table and then her head in her hands.
Tommy ran one of his hands over his face before running it through his hair. He could still smell her fragrance on his skin.Then he looked across at her once more, now completely overcome by his feelings and suddenly in awe of the woman in front of him.Nothing had prepared him for this.
Marie too was shocked at the strength of feeling emanating from him which quite unbelievably she knew was replicated in herself but then she had known all along that this could happen. However now that it had she was mortified, despite the contradiction of her own reaction to his advance.
She should have been stronger. What a fool she was.What was it he’d said about his parents?That had been the catalyst and the news couldn’t have been more devastating. For now though she had to deal with this.Clearly nothing must ever come of this relationship.It was an impossible situation and she was caught up in this horrible web of her own making.She could not explain to him why their coupling was so wrong without telling him her story and that was impossible until she could first speak with Robert.Eventually she had to speak.
“Tommy…” She paused as she licked her lips.“Tommy, I might just be jumping the gun here but this has got to be said.I’m really so sorry about what just happened but you’ve got to understand that nothing can come of this … this unexpected feelingbetween us – No! … “ She waved him to stay quiet and he obeyed suddenly timid.
“ I simply can’t explain it all now but you will come to understand that you and I can never go down that road. This must stop immediately.”
Still he couldn’t speak. Instead he put his elbows on the table, covering his mouth with his fingers and tried to find the words to respond.At first they simply eluded him so instead he leaned forward and tried to take her hand but she pulled it away sharply unable to look at him at all now.
He felt bereft at her reaction but taking a further breath he tried again to find the words.
“Marie, I can’t think of any reason in the world that would prevent you and I from getting to know each other better. ‘Feelings between us!’.It was more than just affection and you know it.”
Still her head remained bent and he tried again.
“Marie, I defy you to deny what just happened now … well come on, are you going to deny it!”
His voice had got louder as he’d spoken and Marie was distraught. She just wanted to lay her head down on the table and cry.She simply didn’t have the strength for all this nor the words to comfort him.This was an impossible situation.
Tommy spoke once more.
“Look … For God’s sake, I’m not asking you to marry me, but what just happened was … well it was genuine and I’ve never felt anything like it before with anyone … and I know you felt it too. Yet you sit there and tell me that us having any relationship is impossible as if it was something I should be ashamed of!What on earth’s the matter with you Marie.What is it you’re not telling me?”
He knew that he was raising his voice again, so lent back in the chair and took some steadying breaths, trying to think how he could get through to her more calmly, though in truth his heart was racing and his head a mess now. She had remained silent in front of him, looking down at the table so he tried once more.
“Look, let’s just pay the bill and go somewhere quieter, so we can talk this through. It’s impossible here and we need somewhere where we won’t be interrupted?What do you say?”
As he’d spoken Marie’s mind had been working, wondering how to get out of this situation. At last she raised her head and through narrowed eyes, at last, she nodded wearily at him.In truth all she really wanted was to do just that or physically hurt him but she knew that that would be adding fuel to the fire.Either way it was more than likely they’d end up in bed together.He was right because there was a spark between them that was ready to ignite.He would never listen to her and clearly she realised that being on her own with him was far too dangerous.She didn’t trust herself.
“Go and get the bill now Tommy.” She had barely used his name previously but doing so now filled her with a certain resolve.
She continued assertively. “I don’t want to wait forthe Monsieur to return as he’s obviously a romantic and will be trying to sweet talk us into a dessert!”.She tried to laugh and Tommy bought it.
He went in search of him immediately.Marie’s gut instinct, that the waiter would want to keep him talking was right, but politely and as quickly as he respectively could, he paid the bill and went back to the booth to find her.At first he was confused because he couldn’t see her, but then confusion turned to panic as he realised that he was in the right place but that Marie was no longer there.
“Oh Marie, don’t do this to me, for God’s sake where are you!”
He ran outside looking right and left and then moved, running one way and then the other, trying to see if he could see her in the shadows but he couldn’t and in despair he stood still at last and ran his hands through his hair, angrily growling up at the sky, as if somehow it could do something for him, and then he swore.He’d frightened her unintentionally and now he’d driven her away.
“You fool! You damned, damned fool”. He shook his head in anger at himself.
Suddenly it came to him – the hospital!She would never leave without seeing Robert and there was a promise of a bed there as he remembered.He went swiftly back into the restaurant and used the phone to call a taxi but it seemed to take forever to arrive.How had she got one so quickly?When it turned up he jumped in and barked his destination, which probably didn’t enamour him to the driver at all as the journey seemed to take ages but at last he arrived and paid his fare, giving the man a generous tip before running into the hospital entrance.
He went straight to reception hoping she had gone there first. There wasn’t any sign and he couldn’t believe there was a queue.He mumbled under his breath about, ‘people who hadn’t got homes to go to’.Still he waited impatiently pacing and quite unable to stand still.
At last it was his turn and immediately he asked if anyone calling themselves Ocean had been there in the last 20 minutes. The answer was no and he was just giving the porter a description of her when he noticed another man in a white coat staring at him to his right.He seemed interested in the conversation so Tommy turned his attention to him and asked him the same question.
“You’re looking for Ocean, Ocean McKenzie?”
Tommy was struck dumb for a minute. McKenzie.He didn’t know that was her surname but the irony of it struck him.Just what had happened between those two was still a puzzle but now he knew just where the name had come from.He spoke to the Doctor.
“I wasn’t aware of her surname but there can’t be many people calling themselves Ocean. You’ve seen her then?”
There was some relief in his voice now until the Doctor continued.
“I know Ocean McKenzie but I didn’t know she was back in Britain?”
“Then you haven’t seen her tonight?”
“No not at all. What on earth is she doing here of all places? Is she working?”
“Look, it really is too complicated a story to tell you just now, but how on earth do you know her then if you haven’t seen her today?”
“I lived with Ocean for awhile.”
“Lived with her, you mean you and she …” He couldn’t finish the sentence. Suddenly he hated the man.
“Good grief no. Not like that.We both went on a work placement with Medical Work Abroad, to Arusha in Tanzania.I worked as a Doctor and she as a Nurse, principly at Mount Meru hospital.I was there two weeks before she arrived and volunteered to meet her at the airport one Saturday in August, earlier this year, and that was the beginning of it.She was always such good fun and we became great friends.We shared a house in Arusha with a large group of other medical staff.It was always mad but entertaining.How do you know her?”
Tommy hesitated. Relief that this man wasn’t a rival flooded his whole body but what he had said about Marie was very compelling and given he knew next to nothing about her himself, it did answer some questions though perhaps posed a few more.
“Look, like I said it is complicated. My Grandad is in this hospital and it turns out she knows him too.We got separated but I really need to find her because she is quite upset about the old man?By the way, what is your name?”
The Doctor held out his hand and smiled warmly, shaking Tommy’s before introducing himself.
“It’s Joe, Joe Dickens. I work at this hospital now but the time I spent in Arusha, including my time with Ocean, was one of the best times of my life really, as hard as the work was sometimes on so many levels.I haven’t seen her tonight and I’m really sorry to have missed her, but if you do find her, please pass on my regards and get her to contact me.Reception has my rota details so if I’m not here, they’ll know when I’m next in.Tell her I’d love to meet up with her again and … and find out just why she never stayed around to say goodbye … “
Joe looked grave for a moment and Tommy noticed a faraway look appear briefly in his eyes but at last he smiled at him again before turning away. However he paused as he turned and then came back round to face him.
“By the way, when you do find her, will you tell her something from me …”
Tommy smiled grimly as he thought ‘if I do’ but nodded.
“Tell her that I’ve seen Ned and have a cracking new joke about the lion and the zebra!”
Then he laughed out loud at the obvious joke and Tommy continued smiling tightly hoping it didn’t look too contrived. He needed to get off.However, he tried to look amused and promised he would remember to pass it on.Joe nodded his head and then turned and walked away in the opposite direction.
“The lion and the zebra! Now what was that all about?”
He shook his head. He didn’t have time for any of this.His thoughts returned to Marie and he wondered if she was still behind him and hadn’t arrived yet and his heart soared a little.He ran one hand and then the other through his hair and then simply stood clasping his hands on his head as he turned round and round, hoping that this was all a mistake and she would come running in and apologise for worrying him.
Where is Tommy?
However, Marie had been back at the hospital 40 minutes. She had been lucky and got a taxi immediately though it would have been a different story if the driver hadn’t been clear headed enough to brake so swiftly.She had rushed out of the restaurant, straight into the road and directly into his path.He’d been angry at first but she had won him over, talking about just discovering that a loved one was in hospital and how upset she was.He’d got her to the hospital in double quick time.
Also given experience in the procedures of hospitals, getting access had been relatively easy. She had avoided reception completely and sneaked through to find the staff area.It was already late and there were very few people about.Once inside the staff room she managed to find a white coat, which she’d pulled on, covering her own clothes.
Having adjusted the , she’d gazed in the mirror and then rolled up her trousers, looking down to inspect her bare legs and flat black shoes. It would have to do.Still posing and adjusting, suddenly she froze, hearing distinct footsteps outside the door.Someone was speaking and it gave her seconds to hide behind the lockers lined up back to back in the middle of the room.
The door opened and leaning, with her back on the lockers, she took long steadying breaths but was thankful that it only appeared to be someone doing the same as she’d done minutes ago and collecting their white coat. Swiftly she sneaked a brief look round the lockers and saw the back of a man buttoning up the garment.However, then she nearly gave herself away when, despite his face being half turned from her, she recognised him instantly and a figure from the past stood there, organising himself for work.
Joe! My God of all people to see tonight.Marie closed her eyes and bit her lip in regret.She just didn’t have time now to speak with him now but she would have to try and remember he was working here and make enquiries when she got the chance.She felt so guilty about Joe.They had never got the chance to say goodbye and he had never known why.
Thankfully Joe didn’t linger and moved promptly to the door and left. Once she was sure the coast was clear, she walked back to the mirror, adjusting her clothing quickly once more and then opened the door, timidly, looking both right and left, before walking confidently out into the corridor.She hoped Joe wasn’t lurking somewhere around a corner but despite her concerns, walked forward, purposefully, only her eyes darting keenly, right and left.
The tricky bit she knew would be getting through the ward. However she was lucky because Robert was in the room closest to the ward entrance and she was able to slip in unobserved.
Once inside she lent on the door, listening for a moment to her heart beating so loudly she thought the whole world must hear it; then she looked across at the prostrate figure still lying so motionless on the bed and she sobbed as her eyes lingered on the sleeping form. Swiftly she found her hanky and blew her nose, using it to dab her eyes and face, wiping away the unwanted tears.
She steeled herself knowing time was short and walked steadily over to the bed, quickly picking up Robert’s hand and squeezing it gently. She steadily looked down at him and though she knew already what to expect, still she couldn’t help but cover her eyes in sorrow as the tears came unbidden again.
“Oh Robert what have I done. This is truly too awful and it’s all my fault.”
The figure stirred but nothing more.
She placed his hand back to the bed and clenched her hands into fists before bringing them to her trembling lips and whispering.
“Come on Marie, you’ve got to get a grip!”
Despite her compassion she couldn’t help thinking …
“How could this old and frail man on the bed be her Robert?” She wanted to scream out loud with the unfairness of it all but there’d been enough tears forone night.She had to be strong now.She’d come here on a mission and though every instinct in her just wanted to lie down next to him and cry, it just wouldn’t do any more.
She looked around and dragged up a chair before picking his hand up again and bringing it to her lips, kissing the palm tenderly and caressing it as if it was the most precious thing in the world to her.Then still keeping hold of it tightly, she brought her forehead down onto the bed clothes, savouring the closeness of him for a minute and stayed there, trying to gather her strength.
At last, feeling more calm, she lifted her head and looked at his face before quietly but urgently whispering into his ear.
“Wake up Robert. It’s Ocean … Come on Professor; I’ve travelled a long way to see you.”
Gently and firmly she began coaxing him out of his slumber, murmuring to him gently and stroking his face and hair. He’d obviously been sedated but she hoped this would not be so strong in his body now.When his eyes opened at last, she smiled and spoke impishly to him.
“Come on Rob. Really, what are you like!I come all this way to find you and all you want to do is sleep!”
She could see his eyes were still clouded and he looked at her in puzzled drowsiness as if he thought he was dreaming so she continued.
“Oh Rob, do wake up dear. It’s Ocean, remember?I really am here.I’ve come back.”
She knew he’d heard her as suddenly she was rewarded by a smile playing on his lips.
He opened his mouth in an effort to speak but she put her fingers over his lips to stop him.
“Listen Robert, this is very important, you mustn’t make any noise or they’ll hear and turf me out,”
He seemed to understand as his widening grin confirmed his understanding. However stillhe couldn’t keep his eyes open and they blinked sleepily as he tried to come awake.
Marie continued speaking.
“Listen Rob. I know you can hear me and I’ve got something to confess.I simply mustget this off my chest before I lose my nerve … “
She paused a second to lick her own dry lips.
“Rob darling … I’m so sorry. You were so right and I was so foolish and arrogant.I’m entirely to blame for all this.I should have listened to you and you did try so hard to get through to me didn’t you?”
She saw his mouth tweak and then an eyebrow raised though still he didn’t speak. However, the expression on his face spoke volumes and despite her tears starting to surface again she laughed and had to cover her mouth to stop the manic sound she would have made from being released.
Despite her distress she knew exactly what he was thinking and if he’d been well enough he would have told her so. There was some relief within her though that she had had the chance to tell him how sorry she was, though it changed nothing.
However, the next part would be even harder, but she had to know the truth.
“I need something off you now Robert. You do know what it is I want don’t you?Can you hear me Indie?Do you understand what I’m asking?”
She waited to see if he would respond and then watched as his face, both happy and comical for a few minutes, change to one of desperate sadness and as it did so she thought her heart would stop beating so great was her fear.
She continued. “Tell me Robert please.I have to know.I can see this is hard for you but I need to know the truth about Tommy.Please try darling.”
His brow furrowed but he nodded his head though his face remained sad and then he opened his mouth to speak but struggled to get the words out and she realised that his mouth must be parched.
She lent over and picked up the water from the side of his bed and gently rubbed his lips with the liquid and could see the relief in his face immediately, but she knew that she didn’t dare let him have a drink. As she gently tended to him she chatted quietly because she knew he could hear her and told him what she’d been doing, leading up to finding out about his Presentation and Exhibition that evening.
“You posted the flyer for me Robert didn’t you?”
His eyes opened briefly for a moment then and there was a piercing sparkle of mischief in them as he looked up at her, capturing her own glance and acknowledging that it was his doing and she bent and kissed him on the lips keeping eye contact but brushing his hair back off his face with her hand tenderly. Her eyes were still glistening but all remnant of her earlier hysterics was now gone.
She remained silent as she wet his lips a little again and using a cloth she squeezed a tiny amount into his mouth to allow it to trickle and dampen his tongue.
Then she asked the question again, more urgently as she became aware of the passing of time. However, this time she gently but firmly took his aged face in both her hands saying simply, “Robert, what happened to Tommy?”
Robert licked his lips again knowing she wasn’t referring to his Grandson, and then in a mere croak at last he summoned his strength and whispered, “Oh my darling girl, I am so sorry, but you must know that he’s dead.”
Even though she had been steeling herself to hear it, she couldn’t prevent the sob emitting from her mouth and her head came down on the bed clothes again. She had known the truth of it all along, because there was no other explanation of why he wasn’t here, though in all honesty, his Grandson had confirmed it earlier, but in her heart of hearts she hoped that she had jumped to the wrong conclusion.
He lifted his hand now and stroked her hair tenderly. His darling Ocean had come back to him.He had felt elated with the joy of it for a few precious minutes but he knew that his words had broken her heart.He was so weary and he closed his eyes again because he knew he needed to gather his strength one more time.He had something else to say that just might bring her some comfort.
He allowed her to cry and kept his grip on her. How long he had waited to caress her like this again but now he felt the tears gather at the back of his eyes too.Finally she lifted her face to look at him.His eyes had closed again so he couldn’t see how red and swollen hers were but he knew and didn’t have to see it to know how heartbroken she truly was.
She stood suddenly and he lost his grip of her and in a panic he tried to call her back but his voice was little more than a whisper.
”Ocean, there’s something more you need to know.”
She barely heard him or even realised his meaning. She had gone to the wall at the foot of the bed and was leaning her head on it, trying to take some calming breaths but at last she turned around and looked at him, before going back over to the bed where she stroked his hair, agreeing she would listen to him.However, she could tell already that she’d worn him out and knew he really did need to return to sleep.
On impulse she sat down again and stayed there until he did so, stroking his brow and whispering quiet words to calm him. Finally he seemed asleep again and she stood up and looked down on him still gripping his hand tightly.Her poor Robert, so old and worn out but she thanked God that at least she had had this last opportunity to say goodbye one last time.
She must leave now. Putting his hand gently down on the bedcovers she kissed her fingers and put them gently on his lips as she said goodbye and then turned and walked away.At the door however, she turned round to look at him one more time.He looked so peaceful again
She though was a picture of desolation but within her eyes now there was a steely determination to leave him with a message.
“Hey Indie, it was one hell of a ride though wasn’t it. Thank you darling for everything you did for me.I love you and always will.Have a safe passage and please give Tommy a hug from me.”
And with that she was gone.
Tommy arrived at Robert’s room soon afterwards. He quietly slipped in and found his Grandad asleep and there was still no sign of Marie.Standing wearily with his back to the door he rubbed a hand over the stubble beginning to show itself on his face and scratched his chin irritably, before moving his hand up and through his hair and doing the same there.
He was exhausted and conscious that tomorrow was destined to be another long day.
The doctor had told him, Pops hadn’t actually had a heart attack but had suffered a great shock, which had put his body under too much strain and that it had temporarily shut down. He knew that it was the sight of Marie and her apparent anguish which had probably done the damage but he couldn’t blame her now because she wasn’t to know how weak he had become.
However there was no doubt that the angel had saved his life on that platform tonight. He still didn’t know her name and it was something else he needed to find out.
The doctor had also told him that Pops was on borrowed time. His beloved Grandad was suffering with Cancer and there would be no miracle cure.The treatment was too aggressive and given his heart wasn’t strong, he’d be unlikely to survive it but at least, thought Tommy, they still had some time left yet, to spend together.
Additionally he’d been told that Robert knew about his condition and was already a patient at the Royal Marsden Hospital close by. He was being transferred there tomorrow to be cared for. Tommy had been heartbroken at the news and wondered just how Pops had kept it such a closely guarded secret. The old man had had a long and eventful life but now it seemed apparent that he was preparing himself to let go of life completely.
“Thank God”, he said softly, “at least you were able to open the Presentation tonight”.
He wondered again just what the outcome might have been if Marie hadn’t turned up but then shook his head at that. It would have made no difference given Pop’s illness.Besides he was pleased she had and grudgingly he knew Robert had been too.
Tommy then turned around and gently pulled open the door and quietly closed it on the sleeping form before going to find out if the room offered earlier was still available. He’d have to deal with everything else tomorrow.Somehow he knew that Marie was gone, though the thought surprised him, as he really had thought she would return here.He knew that he must find her but for now he had to stay here with Pops.
It was turned 8 0’Clock when he woke but he didn’t feel refreshed. He was no longer dead tired but still he felt drained.He put one of his arms behind his head and laid awhile longer, thinking about the events of the previous evening, especially with what had happened between him and Marie.Just contemplating how he’d reacted to her embrace still made his senses swim wildly.
He was shaken, if he was honest, about his feelings for her which had grown out of nothing. His mind lingered on the memory.
At last he got up impatiently. He just didn’t have time for all this now.After a quick wash he went in search of someone who could give him details of the day’s events.
When he went back to the ward he was told that the Doctor had already been to see his Grandad but had gone now. However, when he opened the door of Pops’ room, he was delighted to see the old man sitting up in bed and went swiftly over to him, placing both his hands at the side of Pop’s head and in an exaggerated movement, kissed his forehead expansively.He was rewarded with a growl from the old devil, who waved his hands dismissively.
Tommy ignored his irritation completely and pulling up a chair he then took hold of one of the hands and grinned boyishly at him.
He wouldn’t talk to him yet about his illness because he simply couldn’t. He adored this man and it looked like the next few weeks were going to be an emotional rollercoaster but for now, he had him back and for that he was truly relieved.
Robert couldn’t maintain his black mood, which had really all been a sham in any case and smiled back at his Grandson teasingly.
“Well son, certainly a night to remember but at least we got it started, though somehow I think you’ll have to manage on your own tonight.”
Tommy snorted scornfully.
“Yes Pops, thanks for that; just what I needed. Mind you was it worth it?Just look at the state of you.You started this ball rolling and now you’ve left me with a proper headache tonight.Of course, I’ll do what I can but this story is yours and you should be there to tell it.”
He tried to look cross but the mischief in his Grandad’s eyes and the fact the old man pulled a face, prevented him for continuing and then the pair of them laughed loudly. However, Tommy continued.
“Look the main thing is for you to just stop worrying about it once and for all and get yourself well again. You gave me such a scare you know.”
“I know and I’m sorry. It’s not helped that I’ve been like a demon about everything lately haven’t I but I’ve no longer got any worries left Tommy.You know I trust you completely and I know my beloved Homo Erectus and his story is safe in your hands.You do know don’t you, that I couldn’t have done any of it without you.”
Tommy snorted again and waved his hand.
“Now don’t start getting sloppy on me old man. You’ve left me with a with one hell of a problem tonight and I’m not sure I can do it justice.Of course I’ll do my best but you should be delivering it.”
“Yes well they can’t have me anymore.” He replied sulkily, before continuing.
“Anyway, let’s wait until we see what the papers say today. I’m not convinced they don’t all think I’m off my head anyway.You can tell them you’ve had to get me sectioned if you like!”
“Stop it. You’re wicked!”
The laughter relieved the tension and Tommy squeezed his Grandad’s hand affectionately again and then let it go. Robert lent over and impulsively ruffled Tommy’s hair, just as if he was five years old before Tommy whinged in response.After they had both calmed down, Tommy felt relief flooding through him.The old man might be poorly but there most definitely was still life left in him yet.
Therefore, he was surprised at the change of tone as his Grandad spoke again.
Robert had been scrutinising his Grandson and his face seemed to be contemplating something. Then he seemed to make up his mind and said sadly, “I think Ocean’s gone Tommy.”
The words shook Tommy.
“What do you mean she’s gone. How can you know that?Have you seen her?”
“Yes I’ve seen her. She came last night.At first I thought I was dreaming but this morning I found this …” and he pulled a handkerchief from inside the bedclothes which clearly had the letter O embroided into it.He brought it to his nose and smelled its fragrance.There was no mistaking that scent.Tommy was about to speak but his Grandad stopped him.
“I have no idea what time it was Tommy so don’t ask but I just know that she was here and I think she came to say goodbye.”
A silence which was unusual grew between them and Tommy brought the chair closer to the bed. He was stuck for words suddenly.
Robert continued, “You must have some questions Tommy and everything is probably very confusing for you. Did she say anything to you at all?”
Ruefully Tommy shook his head.
“No, nothing at all Pops. She said she had a story to tell but didn’t want to say anything about it until she had spoken with you because she didn’t think I would believe her unless you were both present.”
Robert nodded his head.
“She was right son You couldn’t possibly begin to believe what happened to us.Even now I can hardly believe it myself.It’s been sixty years Tommy, sixty long and lonely years.I missed her so much afterwards, more than you can ever imagine, and losing her virtually destroyed my life and you know a little of the consequence of all that now don’t you.”
Tommy gazed at his Grandad and nodded solemnly. However, still he was completely baffled about how Marie fitted into the story.This had always been the mystery.How could these two ever have met and even have a story to tell.He kept quiet, not daring to speak and wondering just what Robert was going to say next.
Robert remained silent until eventually he sighed and spoke again.
“I need your help with Ocean Tommy.”
Tommy looked up startled and held his Grandad’s eye, a puzzled look on his face now.
“There’s one part of our story that even she doesn’t know about Tommy and its imperative that she does. I really don’t think she’ll ever be able to continue her life with any measure of happiness until she knows the truth.I tried to tell her last night but I was too drowsy and just didn’t have the strength.”
Tommy could hear his heart thumping in his chest and was almost too afraid to speak.
“Pops, I do need to know the story. Something significant and obviously quite life changing happened to you both and it has to be connected with your time in Africa.I think I’ve always known you were holding something back from me about your past but until this moment, I really didn’t care, but now Pops I do and I want you to tell me the story, how ever incredible it is.”
“It is an incredible story son but I’m not sure even you would believe it – except for one thing …”
He paused and licked his lips as he contemplated how he was going to explain it all.
“… except for one thing Tommy; exhibit mot1. You’ve never seen that exhibit have you?”
Tommy shook his head but remained silent. His Grandad had had all his exhibits and samples stored in one of the University’s store rooms until recently but he’d never heard of that one.
“Well Tommy I’m going to share my story with you now, with one final chapter but before I start, you have to promise me one thing.”
Robert stopped to cough and then had to get his breath back again. Once he had recovered he took a sip of water from the glass on the locker, at the side of his bed, before looking sidelong at this Grandson of his, who had patiently watched him, knowing how independent he had always been.
The boy had to know regardless of what he thought but Robert knew him well enough to know he could trust him.
“Tommy listen to me son. I’m going to tell you things you’ll hardly believe but you have to trust me.You know me; I don’t tell wild stories.I’ve only ever dealt with facts and you’re the same.However, this isn’t just about me, this is about her too.
You have to find Ocean Tommy and tell her about that exhibit. It’s absolutely vital.I’ll tell you the story not just for her benefit but for your own too.It will give you a better understanding in any case about Erectus and will help with your talk tonight but it’s also the story of how I came to meet Ocean Mckenzie.Obviously she knows that part too but last night she came here looking for the answer to a question from me and the information I have may well save her life and her sanity.
I’m just not strong enough now and I’m not holding out any hope she’ll come back to see me again so I have to leave this burden in your hands Tommy. I am sorry but if you won’t do this then I believe she will spend the rest of her life in a twilight zone, never being able to move on and stuck with a terrible sense of loss and guilt that so far you cannot even imagine.I have lived through that myself Tommy and I don’t want it for her.”
Tommy knew there was no question he wouldn’t obey this man and no need to make the promise, but he did so anyway. There was also a fear within him now because of the seriousness of his Grandad’s tone.What really was he going to say next that could be so imperative to Marie living!He went cold thinking about her dying.
So Robert started to tell the tale and what Tommy heard next changed his life forever. As the story unfolded he listened, transfixed by his Grandad’s words, and slowly he came to realise the terrible burden that his Grandad had carried throughout his whole life and which now Marie carried too and why tonight she could have done nothing else but run away.
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