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©2017 BY THÉRÈSE DOWN. PROUDLY CREATED WITH WIX.COM

The Apologist

CHAPTER TWO

The current President of OWN, Sanwer Al Mahoudi, had been born in 1990 in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the seven United Emirates. His mother was an Indian Muslim and Ophthalmic surgeon in an Abu Dhabi City hospital. His father was an Arab and successful property lawyer.  Aadita Al Mahoudi had graduated from the Institute of Medical science, Indore, specialised in Ophthalmic medicine then moved to a Consultancy Post in Abu Dhabi, lured by a generous salary and relocation package. She had met Sanwer’s father when he was referred to her for laser eye surgery to correct myopia. 

Sanwer, named after his mother’s hometown in Indore, in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, was their only child. He was brought up in bespoke privilege by sophisticated and indulgent parents. When he showed an interest in the law, his father, Madeh Al Mahoudi, encouraged him to aim for Harvard. Sanwer, easily the brightest student his exclusive private school had ever seen, had no trouble being accepted at Harvard. He graduated cum laude with a Masters degree in Public International Law by the time his freshman peers were graduating with their Bachelors’ degrees. Encouraged and financially sponsored by Madeh, Sanwer applied to Oxford University, England, where he completed a DPhil in Law in two years.

He returned to Abu Dhabi, qualified as a lawyer and then applied for a job as a Legal Advisor on the National Executive Council. Within six months of his appointment, he was personally advising the President, Sheikh Omar bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in all matters of domestic and foreign policy. By 2018, aged just twenty-eight, Sanwer Al Mahoudi was one of the most powerful legal and political minds in the seven united Arab Emirates.  Charismatic, charming, fluent in four languages, Al Mahoudi was central in the political and nuclear maelstrom which had reached full force throughout the Arab world by 2024, and threatened to lay waste the world. From the very eye of the storm, he ministered balm and the soothing oil of his rhetoric so that the storm ceased to whorl so violently.

When the global political stage was set for World War III, it had been most expedient for the three Kings of Oman, The United Arab Emirates  and Abu Dhabi, to join forces first with each other and then with the Presidential governments of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Kuwait, Egypt, Lebanon and Yemen.  A nervous and ill Jordanian King had, a decade earlier, ceded full military and civil power to the Prime Minister. Indispensable to talks, treaty drafting, negotiations and solutions to many terrible quarrels along the way, was the soothing genius of Sanwer Al Mahoudi.  And so it came to be that it was Al Mahoudi who was elected Leader of the African Arab Alliance when it was formed in 2025.


America at first watched the Olympian exercise of this political intellect with great scepticism and not a little begrudging hubris. There had to be a catch; no one was this good. And yet, there was the evidence in Al Mahoudi’s unprecedented brilliance at Harvard. And when the President, Daniel Holt, himself an honours Law graduate from Princeton, finally agreed to meet Al Mahoudi to discuss a possible peace accord in May of 2026, he too was entranced. Following a night of intensive talks and a day of ratification of seemingly obvious agreements regarding the future conduct of world affairs, Holt slept well for the first time in years. He awoke after twelve hours of uninterrupted slumber to don a pure white shirt and sunglasses and took iced tea on the balcony of his sumptuous penthouse apartment at a secret location on an Egyptian Wadi. He surveyed the startling blue lake expanse, the nodding palms, heard the exotic chirps and trills of many coloured birds as if he himself were a new creation. Then, he took Eden back to his people. There would be no war, no nuclear attacks from angry Islamists. In fact, Americans could walk their streets in absolute security for the first time in decades because he, Daniel Holt, had negotiated peace for them with Sanwer Al Mahoudi.


In October of 2029, following three and a half years of extraordinarily convincing International peace, Sanwer Al Mahoudi was unanimously elected first President of OWN, with a five year tenure. His first presidential international act, staged to usher in a new era of peace, was to effect ‘Operation Humming Bird’.

“The Humming Bird, loved by people throughout the world for its charm and beauty,” he announced from the nations’ televisions, in immaculate English, French, Arabic and Spanish, “is a native only of what, until now, has been called ‘The New World’, that is, Northernmost, Central and Southern Americas, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, taking in the Caribbean on the way. This little bird, in various guises, delights and graces our Southern and Northern American brothers and sisters. Well, I can see no more fitting act to usher in a New, One World Nation, than the liberation of the Humming Bird across the globe. And when this tiny ambassador of unity, novelty and peace alights in the gardens of France, Egypt, Norway, England - we shall all be reminded of the pact we made and to which we are fiercely dedicated - to maintain peace between nations. When we behold the humming bird, we shall recall the fragility and beauty of such a precious thing and honour it anew.”

Responsibly, Al Mahoudi met with ecologists and biologists from around the world, who presented to conferences the likely impact of relocation on the birds and their new environments. The benefits, it seemed, would outweigh the need for caution. In many African countries where more exotic species would be introduced, they would feed on the mosquito population to such an extent that, after five years, malaria would be in decline. After fifteen years an effective vaccine would be on wholesale distribution throughout the African continent and malarial cases would be completely eradicated. Humming birds were pollinators, working with declining numbers of bees to fertilise flora and so, might well help to re-establish many plant and crop species in areas of the world where they were endangered.  


The world rejoiced in and welcomed its Humming Bird immigrants. New posters of Sanwer Al Mahoudi were churned out from which his perfectly handsome face smiled at a dazzling and tiny Humming Bird, hovering in the cup of an outstretched hand. ‘Harbinger of Peace’ was a slogan to accompany such posters, translated into every known language on Earth.  And America smiled in gracious magnanimity as the world expressed its gratitude for the gift of Humming Birds.    

                                             

Sunday, mid September 2033, fell on a warm, breezy day on which small puff clouds swam the sky like flotillas of snowy birds. The Pentecostal church building just outside Birmingham City centre, which Jonathan Graham and his wife attended, welcomed all comers with open doors. The sound of singers and musicians praising God greeted the Grahams as they hurried up the last few steps to the interior.

Smiling left and right at friendly faces, Jonathan and Sybil made their way to vacant chairs in the nearest row. Jonathan closed his eyes as a worship song reached its crescendo: 

“...Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave he rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me...”

By the time the congregation had concluded the final, triumphant verse, Jonathan was communing with God and already bathed in a peace that surpassed understanding.

Sanwer Al Mahoudi was standing in a sumptuous office in one of his magnificent residences in Amman, Jordan, his hands clasped behind his back. With the air of one critiquing a work of art, he contemplated two huge digital screens hung end to end on one wall. On one, a map of the world resonated in vivid colours and parts of it were lit every few seconds by red icons, accompanied by a digital representation of the flag of the country in which the icon had appeared. At the bottom right hand corner of the screen was a digital counter that displayed an incrementally changing number each time an icon flashed.

He looked across at the sister screen. Here was a representation of the world once more but this time, by time zones and, within and across them, sped lines of bright green digital hyphens, tracking progress in time and space like footprints. The number that flashed in the bottom right hand corner of this screen was modest and, unlike its correlate on the first screen, remained stable for long periods then suddenly decreased.


It was Sunday throughout the world. In Jordan, it was 12.30 pm, in Wellington, New Zealand, 9.30pm. In New York, 5.30 pm. In the UK, 10.30 am. Sanwer Al Mahoudi had been getting up from his desk all morning to observe the screens. In particular, he had watched the little green lights track and weave their way around the geographical foci of the lives they represented. Some, he observed, with particular interest, did not remain in their own zones but reappeared after intervals in others; the flight paths, shipping lanes or overland routes taken indicated clearly in red.

By pressing a very few keys on a remote console, the President could identify the person whose life and mind were represented by each digitised path. His or her name, biographical data and exact whereabouts would flash up on the screen, accompanied by a photograph. Another key depression and he could watch that person in live time. He could see the cars that passed them or the children with whom they played, the meal they were eating. One more key and he eavesdropped on even their most intimate conversations. If he were interested but too busy to listen, he could have transcripts of the conversations sent to a computer and printed off.

This morning, he had watched scores of Christian men and women throughout the world follow routes to places of worship. He had tracked them through ornate Catholic orthodox portals in Alexandria, into Protestant meetings in London school halls and huge auditoria in Texas. His jaw worked in irritation as thousands of people squashed patiently into enormous new churches in Hong Kong and Beijing. Until the Religious Freedom Act, Chinese Christians were forced to meet clandestinely in caves, on remote farms and in empty office buildings. Now they were erecting churches  which were more like stadia and which could accommodate people in their tens of thousands. And how these Chinese people worshipped!  Faces covered in rapturous adoration, tears of joy running from their closed eyes, hands raised in exultation.

Presently, Al Mahoudi was watching Jonathan Graham, neurosurgeon and Christian Apologist, in Birmingham, England. Graham was singing praises to a God whom Sanwer regarded as his most dangerous political adversary.  In sudden fury, the President of the World Federation tapped a few keys, stabbed with a rigid forefinger the final one in a sequence, and Professor Jonathan Graham clasped his head and doubled forward in apparent agony. 

“Now, my friend, praise your almighty God,” muttered the World President. His attention was momentarily distracted however by a change in the numerical display at the bottom of the screen. It was smaller by three than it had been two hours ago. Three more prominent Christian targets of the implant pilot had ceased to exist - whether of natural or accidental causes, suicide or murder, Sanwer would not discover until the Field Agents’ reports were filed.

The Pentecostal service in Birmingham came to a halt. The musicians stopped playing. A crowd of concerned worshippers gathered around Jonathan Graham where he lay on the ground, inert. Sybil knelt at his head, repeating his name through sobs. Someone had called an ambulance. The pastor was trying to clear a space around Jonathan and knelt beside Sybil to put a comforting arm around her shoulders.  

“Can we just go home for today, folks?” he requested to any who would listen. “Guys, worship team, can you help clear the building, please? Cheers.” Slowly, the people left, expressing their concern in low voices, some touching Sybil’s shoulder and promising to pray for Jonathan before taking their leave. She barely noticed.

“He’s been having headaches and ...well, I don’t know – visions and ...and nightmares, for ages now,” she confided quietly to the Pastor, who bowed his head lower to hers in sympathy. “He just won’t get help!” she turned to look into the minister’s eyes through the film of her copious tears. “You know what he’s like.”

Mike Spicer did know. He had been a close friend of the Grahams for several years. He nodded, squeezed Sybil’s shoulders. “He’s so afraid they’ll discover something wrong with his brain - stop him working.” Sybil could not control the resurgence of sobs. Added to her desperate concern for her husband was the guilt she felt on divulging this confidence. What was worse, at any moment, paramedics would take Jonathan to a hospital – maybe even the Federation Hospital where he worked – and his secret malady would be revealed, his worst fears realised. More potent by far though than her guilt, was the sudden influx of terror to her heart as she faced her own worst fears; her husband was seriously ill.

Mike Spicer had been the Pastor of The Elim Pentecostal City Church in Selly Oak for four years. He had a First Class Systematic Theology degree from Kings College, London and was thirty-eight years old. He was married to Helen, a violinist with a music degree, also from Kings. They had two small daughters.  He had become very fond of Jonathan and Sybil Graham since he had begun to pastor their church and relied increasingly on Jonathan’s Apologetic skills and shining faith, as well as his abundant spiritual gifting. It was with enormous distress that Mike regarded the prostrate body of his friend and Sybil’s anguish. He closed his eyes in fervent prayer and was instantly washed with an unaccountable peace and a conviction that all would be well. He opened his eyes and smiled.

“Sybil,” Sybil looked at him, tried her best to stop crying. “Sybil, He is going to be fine.” The confidence and love in Mike’s eyes were utterly convincing. Sybil laughed in relief, grasped one of his hands in both of hers and squeezed her appreciation, “God has begun a great work in Jonathan  - He’ll finish it.”

When the paramedics arrived, Jonathan began to regain consciousness. They checked his vital signs, asked the necessary questions of Mike and Sybil, gently lifted the patient onto the stretcher. Sybil followed the paramedics and sat with her husband in the ambulance. She held his hand as he opened his eyes and tried to make sense of what was happening.


Back in Amman, Sanwer Al Mahoudi’s irritation had become fury. He forgot Jonathan Graham and turned his attention once more to the other screen on which the world’s territory was lighting up each second with vexillological enthusiasm. It told him that, in the hours it had taken for the number of evangelists to drop by three, the number of people throughout the world expressing on line in some way, their interest in Christ, had increased by almost six thousand. Al Mahoudi fought the urge to hit the screen and reasoned that the digital readout was merely doing its job.  He would do his.

                                          ***                                         

Justin Kovacs was only twenty but had been severely depressed for nearly three years. When he was almost eighteen, he had started having violent dreams from which he woke sweating and terrified. They were always similar; he was either running from a location in which he knew there would be a devastating bomb detonation at any second, or else he was planting the bomb and estimating the number of minutes he had to get clear before it exploded.  In the dream, nothing was more important than planting the bomb; not the people he passed or the cars jostling each other like clots through the roundabout system close by. The location was definitely Birmingham. But until recently, Justin had been unaware of the target.

The dreams became a constant accompaniment to his life. Like a cello drone in a minor key, the fear and horror wove themselves into a bass line against which happiness or peace were increasingly thin counterpoints. He began to drink heavily and smoke copious amounts of marijuana in an attempt to dull his fear. If he could not drink or get stoned, he was irascible and fractious.  Even his oldest mates lost interest in him. Justin was dismissed as an embarrassing loser. 

He took to missing school, seeking instead isolated locations where he could simply crash and escape consciousness. He feared he was mad. The heavy secrets of his inner life became too weighty to drag around, so he sank with them into the depths of a depression from which he was unable to rise.

Justin had achieved very decent GCSE grades but any prospect of attaining A Levels was out of the question. His inability to attend in class, complete homework or turn up to school on time, ensured he was asked to leave after one term of year twelve. He shrugged and walked away. He was too tired to do anything but get from one day to the next. How each day was passed became less and less his decision. He lost weight, smoked constantly, stealing from his parents’ and his sibling’s pockets, purses and wallets to fund his addiction.

It was a very short journey from dope-filled indolence to crime. Justin lurched through the days and streets of his Birmingham suburban home as though they were pages of a narrative. It was as if he were a monster unable to articulate its pain or second-guess the plot twists; he just moved and survived as he was written. Justin’s mother was close to some sort of breakdown. His younger sister was terrified of him.  Finally, after too many violent rows, vomitous nights and obvious thefts, his father kicked him out of their semi in Harborne. Justin slept rough and begged from shop fronts, spending what small change was thrown at him on reduced price sandwiches and packets of crisps. It became necessary for survival that he smashed car windows and stole SatNavs, radios, mobile phones and sold them for whatever drug dealers or kids on corners could give him.

He got to know the streets and the personalities who ran them; who to please and who to avoid if he were to remain alive. It wasn’t long before he was approached by gang leaders and commissioned for increasingly daring and risky crimes, rewarded with smack or amphetamines. Drugs, unlike alcohol, dulled the fear quickly and allowed him to live above the bass line for fairly long periods. Only when he was high did Justin experience anything like peace.

The problem was of course that the highs got shorter and the lows more terrifying. There was never enough money. He lost his temper with a particularly nasty drug dealer who short changed him one night and Justin ended up in A&E with a stab wound to his upper arm that needed forty stitches. A warning. The next time would be less easy to patch and mend. As he left the hospital, Justin wondered if that was his destiny; to be found dead from stab wounds in a skip full of rubbish. As long as it was quick.  If it were quick, the fear music would stop abruptly, for good. More than the pain of being stabbed, Justin feared being left to die slowly as the fear music gathered tempo and exploded in some terrifying, all-consuming climax. Hell couldn’t be worse than that.

By twenty, Justin Kovacs was sullen and savage and barely recognisable as human some days. He bore no resemblance to the handsome, good- natured, clever kid who had made his mum laugh, right up to the Christmas of his seventeenth year.  And the dreams were worse than ever. They did not stay in the darkness of his unconscious mind any more. He actually had hallucinations that stopped him in his tracks in the middle of the afternoon. He had visions of people moving and talking around him that were so real, it was as if he were the ghost. He wove through the dream people on Birmingham streets in broad daylight, banging into real commuters and shoppers. Mercifully for them, Justin was too distracted from their indignant protests or abuse to respond. And then there were the voices. Calm, sinister voices that told him he had to do exactly as he was instructed and then he would be set free forever. The voices were the newest. They escalated to unprecedented heights his terror that he was insane, but they also promised him salvation from the fear if he just obeyed them ‘when the time came’. After three years of losing his life to fear, darkness and grief, Justin was ready to do anything to salvage even a few days of mundanity from the wreck of his existence.

                                           ***

“Well, Mr. Graham,” a young female doctor on the Admissions ward of the King James Hospital, Birmingham was smiling warmly at Jonathan, a clip board hugged to her breast. “The good news is the blood tests were all clear – no infection or haemorrhaging that we can detect, though we’ll do a lumbar puncture test – that’s when we draw off a little fluid - from your spine –“ she half turned and indicated with one hand a region of her own lower back, “It’s a way of double checking the blood tests are accurate...”

“I have to tell you, doctor,” Professor Graham smiled back at her, “I’m a neurosurgeon. Seems only fair.”

“Oh!” Dr. Jenkins coloured slightly, removed the clipboard from her bosom and took a pen from her white coat pocket, wrote something on it. “Then you’ll know the drill.”

“Indeed.”

“Where do you work?” It was Jonathan’s turn to blush. This was far too close to his worst nightmare. He felt Sybil intensify her grip on his right hand. “Federation Hospital.”

“What, here? In Birmingham?” Dr. Jenkins was clearly intrigued. Mr. Graham closed his eyes and nodded. “Well, we’ll get on with the lumbar puncture test and then it’s a CT scan. I’ll stop there, shall I?” Jonathan didn’t answer, just pursed his lips in acknowledgement of what she had said. Sybil interjected,

“Thank you,” she said. “When will that be?”

“Well,” Dr. Jenkins looked at her watch, seemed to calculate something, “around three? That’s if it all remains equal. No need to tell you how busy things can get when they’re not straightforward – when things crop up.” Sybil smiled and thanked her again. Jonathan smiled at her. “How long have you been having these headaches, er...what shall I call you?”

“I’m just a patient, doctor,” answered Jonathan, “Jonathan will do.”

“OK,” Dr. Jenkins carried on, “so, can you give me an estimate of how long the headaches have been happening and an indication of the severity – a possible diagnosis would be great, Jonathan.” She smiled again warmly, a slightly apologetic expression on her face for the joke. Sybil was about to speak but Jonathan squeezed her hand to prevent her. The last thing he wanted was Sybil’s anxiety to propel this into some special treatment situation. So far, he was intensely grateful for the clear blood tests. He was in no hurry to face his suspicion that he was suffering from an inoperable brain stem lesion. Three o’clock, two hours away, would give him time to prepare himself – and Sybil – for the worst possible news. He answered for himself.

“I couldn’t say with great accuracy. They’re mainly manageable. They have been getting more intense. No confident diagnosis, I’m afraid. This morning’s episode was the first of its kind. It may not be related, in fact. I have been very tired lately and the church…” He looked straight at Dr. Jenkins, elaborated by way of explanation, “We were in church when it happened, well it was very warm. I may just have fainted.” He squeezed Sybil’s hand again and ignored her incredulous expression. Dr. Jenkins however missed nothing. She caught Sybil’s eye and smiled in a sympathetic way.

“Well, let’s hope so.” She said breezily. “Someone will be along in the next ten minutes to do the lumbar test. See you in CT.” And then she was gone.

“Jonathan,” began Sybil as soon as Dr. Jenkins was out of earshot, “why are you playing this down so much? And what’s the point of slaving away as a neurosurgeon to the city for twenty odd years if you have to wait around for hours for treatment yourself? There aren’t many perks to this job, darling, but priority treatment in a sister hospital has to be one of them. And you’re going to have to mention the Cairo thing.”

“No, Sybil,” Jonathan answered, cradling her hand in both of his own. “I don’t want fuss, or, or curious medical staff whispering about me, thank you. And as for playing it down, it may well be nothing to worry about – severe migraine, or something. “ Sybil rolled her eyes, shook her head in exasperation. “In any case, there’s no escaping the dreaded CT, is there? We shall have our answer. He lay back on his pillow, closed his eyes once more. “I’m incredibly tired.”

                                         ***

Justin’s dreams and the voices that accompanied them had been getting increasingly specific for weeks. By the beginning of September 2033, he had a pretty clear idea of what his targets were. It seemed he needed to kill lots of religious people by blowing up their churches. He was developing an unreasonable anger with Christians. Unreasonable because he had never given Christians or God in any specific sense any thought before.

His Hungarian born parents had a Roman Catholic heritage but they didn’t practise. His mother used to tell him stories from the Bible when he was small but that was it. Now, he felt compelled to stand and gaze at St. Philip’s cathedral in the City centre, study its sweeping architectural curves, the striking symmetry of its long arched windows, the modest dome of its clock tower. Sometimes, he jumped on a train from Moor Street to the Jewellery Quarter and stared at St. Chad’s Cathedral.  Often, he would sit in either building, hood up, listening to choir practices or the rain drumming against the stained glass windows. Brothers, clerics or visitors who passed him assumed he was seeking sanctuary from the busy world without, offered occasional prayers for his comfort. None could have imagined that Justin’s silence belied an internal chaos of hissing, violent voices and incendiary visions in which the stone and flying buttresses, the stained glass windows, marbled pillars and altars exploded into thousands of rocks and splinters.


The lawns of the central city cathedral, St. Philip’s, had always struck Justin as an oasis of beauty. As a boy, he and his friends had often lounged around on them, laughing and mocking each other good naturedly about girls and sporting prowess or just squinting at peerless summer skies. It was easy to forget you were in the heart of the city; that you lived in a row of terraced houses in a grubby, paper-strewn suburb just a few miles from this immaculately-mown haven. Now, though, in spite of the warm September sunshine, St. Philip’s modestly baroque facade only inspired Justin to loathing. He sat on one of the black metal benches that lined the walkway to the main entrance and chain smoked, listening to the invective of hatred in his head.

To tourists and local people taking a lunchtime stroll through the grounds of the cathedral, short cutting to and from offices on Temple Row, Church Street or Colmore Row, Justin was a dark and unwelcome contrast with the blues and greens of the landscape, the sand coloured Warwickshire stone of the church. He was clearly homeless. In spite of the warmth, he wore a dark hoodie. Its rolled up sleeves were the only observable deference to the temperature. His hair was long and straggly and his features indistinguishable beneath a beard. When he stood up, his filthy jeans hung precariously from his hips, revealing an unsightly expanse of grey underpants.

In fact, the only time Justin changed his clothes was if he made the effort to get across the city to St. Basil’s homeless centre, where he was well known and only cautiously welcomed. There, about once a month, Justin silently received any food on offer, took a shower and dumped his filthy clothes in a laundry bin. Then, he picked up spare clothes from a volunteer worker and wordlessly made his way back onto the streets. Lately, even the benevolent facade of St. Basil’s church, refuge for the poor and homeless in Birmingham for decades, filled Justin with a nameless revulsion and a destructive urge he could barely control. The kindly smiles and soothing voices of St. Basil’s volunteer workers were offensive to him. Christians, do-gooding cult members; brain washed patronising idiots trying to pretend they knew what suffering was, getting off on how frigging good they were. They, began to reason Justin, were the real threat. They were the brain twisters, the deceivers. They wanted him to be like them – to think like them. The world was in the grip of their sinister, covert plans to control it. The voices told him so. He began to understand what he had to do. But he needed money, supplies and knowledge. 

On the September Sunday morning on which Jonathan Graham was admitted to the KJ Hospital, Justin Kovacs made for the Library of Birmingham in a bid to get informed about explosives.

                                               ***

“Professor Graham – Jonathan - I am so sorry, but if there’s one thing we can predict on Admission Ward, it’s the unpredictable. I’m afraid your three o’clock CT slot has been bumped. Emergency admission. I’m very sorry.” Dr. Jenkins was as brusque as she could be but she hadn’t yet got used to delivering disappointing or tragic news to patients. However, although Sybil was irritated by the delay, Dr. Jenkins need not have worried on Jonathan’s part. He just nodded and smiled. For him, it was a stay of execution.

“Sybil,” he said quietly, once Dr. Jenkins had gone, “why don’t you go home, darling? Realistically, they’re not going to scan me today. Not now.”

“But you were an emergency too, Jonathan!” Sybil was indignant and tired. The stress of worrying about Jonathan and of having to remain by a sick bed for hours on end was taking its toll.

 “Well, not according to the blood tests, I’m not. They’re monitoring me, Sybil. You know how it is. At present, I’m more peaceful and comfortable than I’ve been in a long time. I may even sleep well. Please, darling, go home and rest. I promise, I shall get them to call you the moment there is any news or I have a new CT slot. I promise. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I shall rest easier knowing you are not here, fretting. “

“OK. But you’d better get them to call me, Jonathan!” Sybil’s eyes were filling anew with tears. “I can be here in under half an hour – by train or car, any time. Even if it’s small hours – ok?”

“OK. Deal. Give your mobile number to the nurses in the office and instruct them as only you can.” He turned to her and smiled, “I love you.” Blowing her nose and fighting tears, Sybil nodded and replied through her tissue,

“I love you, too.” She kissed him lingeringly on his forehead, touched him once more, lightly, on his right arm and left.

Jonathan closed his eyes and smiled to himself as Sybil’s determined heels tapped a path directly to the nurses’ station.  There would be no doubt in the minds of the nursing staff regarding the importance of contacting Sybil the moment they had anything like news. And, as the tattoo of his wife’s heels renewed, receded down the ward and was lost beyond the swing doors to the corridor, Jonathan reflected that she would, in any case, ring them at least half hourly. Smiling, he fell into a deep sleep.

                                                         ***   


                     



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