It was a very different place that we returned to. Much of the city had been rebuilt in our absence so we did not recognise the capital when we stepped off the train. It was a throbbing place. A stampede of ideas and art and people that overthrew the mind upon contact. The smells and the sights around the capital were many. There were traders there similar to those in the Gulf and the Bay of Ferns, they were strange people I had never seen before – they were like painted people. And they spoke with such power in their voices that I concluded upon meeting one of them that they would make the finest politicians – even if for nothing other than their ability to speak. All the fashions had changed too, not that I had paid attention to them before, now they were more vivid, even ostentatious. Luke and I marvelled at the many shades of life that walked the streets, it had become a city of the world. There were even men in long white robes from the Gulf who we had to avoid, just in case. And, although it felt different, because it was different, it was still our homeland. We still felt the pull of our kin call us from beneath our feet.
We had not forgotten.
Once we had dressed ourselves in the new fashions we made our way to the Sabine estate. I could feel hesitance and anticipation seething under my skin as we neared the Madam’s residence. But when we arrived a haggard looking Peters opened the door and led us straight to the gardens at the rear of the property. There we could see her wandering the overgrown bedraggled hedgerows. I bayed Luke stay with Peters and walked to her.
She startled and turned and stunned me with her frail and yet still feminine form. Her cheekbones had returned though her skin was ashen. As her hands rose and covered her gaping mouth I saw their slender beauty anew. And though she didn’t speak, I could hear her. I knew her pain and knew then that she had longed as I had. She wept and clung to me and as she did I felt her soul drain the life from me which she needed to survive. I was able and glad to give her that, at least. And, despite the long recovery she was still enduring, in that moment there was only us and the flowers and the grass beneath our feet. With my arms around her, shielding her, she looked up at me from within my grasp and poured out her heart through her reddened eyes. It was perfect pain.
That evening Peters and Luke left the Madam and I to sit by a window in her bedroom. She had had no appetite in months and had had to force herself to consumed enough food so sustain herself. I didn’t push her to eat that first night, instead I sat across from her and told her of my travels. I told her about Christof and the Imam. I told her about the farm and the herders in the desert. I explained the beauty of the Bay of Ferns and Massoud and his people. I told the Madam everything except the truth. I couldn’t do that, for her sake and, to my shame, for mine. For not only might she expose me and then, of course, have me arrested or killed, or both, but worse still she would have barred me from her presence.
That night I don’t think Zarinah said more than ten words. She didn’t need to. We understood each other and I knew that she wanted to know what had happened to me. She seemed as though she wasn’t real. As if she was a wisp of night air that at any moment could waft out through the window at which we sat. But she was real. She sat there, curled up in a blanket with her knees against her chest and her chin on her hands on top of her knees. I could see her smile as I regaled her, sometimes when she had her mouth covered with her hands she would fall to her side and lean against the window. She was a joy. A pure thing.
To be continued…
© Stephen Fahey