ANNE NNENNA EZEKANNAGHA
What happened to Jay was horrible. He was drugged and kidnapped. He was injected with “super hormones” which created and accentuated feminine attributes in his body. He was then pimped out to perverted and often cruel men who acted out all manners of perversion on him.
He was frustrated, he was out of patience and he had long lost his humaneness. As he looked around at the devastation which had been wrought by the detonated device in the airport’s departure lounge, he did not feel any iota of misery or shock at the bodies littered along with the debris of concrete blocks, plaster and iron rods. All his thoughts were on how to get out of there.
He clutched the briefcase in his hands close to his chest as he made his way out of the nearest exit. His entire body was out of sorts. It was like he was on fire and at the same time some parts were like on ice, painfully cold ice. He guessed this was what was called the Hot/Cold flushes. His head was pounding and his joints all ached. He knew he was experiencing withdrawal symptoms. He was hours overdue for his hormone shot and his pimp kept a tight leash on when and how much of the hormones he got.
He stumbled towards the spot where a car was supposed to have picked him up over twelve hours ago. He did not hold out any hope that it would still be there waiting for him but he did not know what else to do and in the state that he was in, he really couldn’t think past the pain all over his body.
Suddenly, he heard a shout behind him. Looking over his shoulder, he saw that a group of guards were running in his direction, baton, guns and whatever weapons they had pointing towards him. He didn’t stop to reason. He ran. With pounding head, roiling stomach and all, he ran like his life depended on it. And it did.
Fortunately for him, the airport complex had no fencing on the side where the pick-up point had been. Scanning the area, he realized there was no car waiting for him. Figured! He hadn’t really expected them to wait him out. If he had been thinking clearly, this mission should have been aborted once things had begun to go off schedule.
He ran past the pick-up point right into the bush that started where the airport grounds ended. The shouting still went on behind him but so focused was he on getting away that he did not bother to look back. Each stamp of his feet on the ground made his head pound so loudly that he could hear nothing else. Cold dread filled his heart. He had no means of escape. He was unwell. He was going to be caught. He would be killed horribly. He was a freak. It was not his fault, but it was what he was. What was he? Was he male, female, what?
There was a word for him.
What did that even mean? His breathe hitched as a sharp pain pierced his side. He felt the burn of hot, salty tears on his face. He sniffled out a laugh as he kept hacking his way through the bush. His body would eventually give up on him. Maybe he could have some peace again. Oh, how he wanted peace.
Suddenly, he burst out from the bush into a street. It was fortunate that it was rather late in the day. He could not imagine what a fright he must look like. His breast ached, especially at his nipples. It was an aching biting pain that was driving him to the edge of madness. He took a quick survey of the street. There seemed to be very little activity on the street as most residents were indoors. He tried to control his breathing and walked as casually as he could along the street, avoiding looking up into any faces. His head roiled, his stomach churned on and his body ached with hot and cold flushes all over but he could not stop. He couldn’t afford to stop.
He heard the sound of a car driving up behind him. His heart began its pounding dance again. As the car drove by him, it slowed down. Jay quickly swerved into the next available open gate. It seemed to be an open air events centre of sort. There was very little activity going on as only a few people lingered around shops and kiosks.
He heard a car door slam behind him and picked up his pace. He needed to loose these people if they were after him but he was all out of options. He walked as fast as he could towards the building at the far end of the compound.
“…it seems impossible but I just need to check. Get closer…” he heard the person who had stepped out of the car saying. His limbs began shaking as full blown panic took a hold of him. As he geared up to break into a run again, a hand grabbed him and turned him around. He kicked out at the person in desperation, fighting to break away from what seemed like an iron hold on him.
“Jay.” He was blinded by his panic and continued to struggle to get away, kicking and scratching at the person.
“Jay, it’s okay. Hey! Jay!” the person whispered fiercely at him. “Don’t create a scene.” “You’re drawing attention to us. Calm down!”
The haze on Jay’s brain cleared momentarily and he was able to process the words being spoken to him. He peered into the face of the man holding him by both his arms.
He looked vaguely familiar and Jay wondered which he was. Was he a previous handler or a cheat? Neither was a good option.
The man, sensing that Jay was not about to bolt on him, loosened his grip on his arms.
“We’ve got you men.” Jay tensed as he heard these words. The man hurried on, “Look, there are guards and security people crawling all over the place looking for you.” “You need to get out of here.”
Jay remained in his grip, considering his options. His body was one mass of pain and hurt. Even thinking hurt. He felt like crying. He wanted to just lie down and die. It would be easier than this…living. Was he even living?
“There isn’t any time to waste. Let’s get moving.” He propelled Jay towards the car, which had pulled up a few feet away from them without Jay’s realization.
The man pushed him into the back seat of the sedan, got in after him and shut the door. He gave some instructions to the driver of the car and the car surged forward with purpose. Jay reclined on the soft leather seat, his precious briefcase dropping to the floor of the car at his feet and his mind giving way to the suffocating pain. He just wanted to die, he thought, as his vision fled. It seemed to him that it had gotten very dark very quickly. He felt the man beside him watching him. Jay had all sorts of questions to ask but hardly the energy to ask them. It was too much. It was all too much. He needed to die. He needed for his life, such as it was, to end. Those were his very last thoughts as exhaustion claimed him and he blacked out.
It was a bright day. Sunny and bright. Jay lay on the metal cot he had been assigned to when he first arrived at the Centre.
He breathed in deeply, very deeply as a small smile flitted across his lips. He let out his breathe in a loud whoosh and felt the smile surround him.
He could see the birds flitting from tree to tree, flying off into the skies. There was even an airplane, flying off to someplace.
It felt good to just lie down. No drugs pumping through his system. His head and heart clear. It was early yet though. He had hope that before the day ran its course, he would have reason to loose this feeling of content. It was great to savour for now though.
The door to the room opened and a few people came in through it. One of them came in ahead of the others a small smile across his face.
“How do you feel Jay?” he asked. Jay smiled, remembering his feeling of panic the first time he had heard this voice.
“Good. But it’s early yet. I have great hopes that…it won’t last all day.” He responded chirpily.
Jay had found out that his name was Mahmoud.
He smiled as he responded, “You’ve been on a very long journey Jay. It’s been a long journey for you to get here,” thumping Jay lightly on the back.
“I brought a few friends to review your stats.” He continued as he sat down at the edge of the bed. “We need to know what next and if we’ve overlooked anything in the course of your treatment.” The look on his face was questioning, as if seeking permission from him. Jay laughed inside of him. Permission indeed! He was a guinea pig and a grateful one at that.
If Mahmoud had not got a hold of him that fateful evening about a year ago, Jay was convinced that he would have killed himself one way or another. He had reached the end of his tether that day. For the first six months, he kept waiting for his reprieve to come to an end but it was almost a year to that day, and he beginning to dare to believe that his ordeal…was over? At least, it was over in part.
The other people came forward and surrounded his cot. It was a testament to how far he had come that he did not flinch. If this had happened in his former life, he would have been tensing up by now, expecting some hideous thing to happen to him. In fact, he had thought nothing of it when five men, in various shapes and sizes surrounded him.
“Good morning Jay. I’m Doctor Greene. We will just ask you a few questions, perform some test that are routine and see what happens as we go along.” The tall man closest to his head said.
Jay looked up at him, really looked at him in the face. “What are you hoping to find Doctor?”
“We aren’t sure.” He responded after a slight pause. “You are the first person we would be examining with your peculiar… issues?” he said ending his comment on a questioning note.
Jay starred back at Dr. Greene, unsure of what response was expected of him.
The younger looking man at the far end of the bed, closer to his feet, continued the thread of conversation.
“We had heard of some concoction…some drug that was being used for genetic alterations but had no physical evidence it was even real until you.” He looked up from Jay’s feet which he had been studying keenly and the full impact of his gaze hit Jay like an electric shock. The man had fascinating eyes. It was a strange, bright shade of brown. Jay wondered if he had contacts on. They were arresting eyes, almost pretty but for the intensity in them.
“We suspect that there have been others like you who have either been killed or have died because their bodies did not handle these drugs as well as yours seem to have.”
Jay felt a cold shiver go down his spine. It was like someone had just walked over his grave.
If someone had told him a story based on the past few years of his life, he would have imagined that he was being told a sci-fi tale or thriller, but he had lived it, every terrifying moment of it.
“Is it permanent do you think? He asked nobody in particular.
“There have been some minor changes in your enhanced physiology since we successfully weaned you off the drugs.” Mahmoud responded, “Nothing too significant. We are not sure if there will be a reversal, complete or otherwise. We’ve never been confronted with such a case as yours.”
“In order words, no one knows if I’ll survive and if my life will be worth living after all.” Jay intoned, an aching longing invading his heart as he allowed his mind dwell briefly on the possibility of a normal life.
“We have no way of knowing Jay. Don’t give up on us yet though.” Mahmoud seemed like he might have wanted to say more but held himself. He got up from the bed and it seemed like it was a signal for the others to leave the room. As they left, Mahmoud said “Someone will be in to take your samples. Try not to overdo things this morning. We will be hitting the labs later today.”
“Oh happy!” Jay said sarcastically. Mahmoud smiled, a teasing smile, a scolding smile.
“You should be grateful you oaf.” He said. As he made to shut the door behind him, he turned to Jay again, “I believe there is a reason why I was the first person to find you that day Jay. There was a reason why the bomb explosion did not kill you. I believe you should stick around to find out what it might be.”
Jay turned away and looked steadily out of the window. He heard the door shut as Mahmoud left.
He sighed deeply.
He had known his feeling of contentment wouldn’t last all day.
The handsome young man was dressed in a very dapper, if a bit oversized suit. He had a portmanteau beside him as he stood at the front stoop of the tall building. The building itself had no distinguishing features to make it seem out of place in the business district where it stood. No one would have guessed what Jay had just been through within the walls of the building.
He walked a short distance from the building and turned back to look up at it. So engrossed was he in studying the features of the building that he did not see the car coming slowing towards him until it was almost upon him. When he finally noticed the car, he took his attention away from the building and peered at the driver of the car.
He realized it was Mahmoud. Obviously, his ride had arrived. Jay studied the sedan car as he walked back to pick his portmanteau and join Mahmoud in the front passenger seat.
After strapping on his seat belt, he turned to his friend. Yes, after many long and lonely years, he finally had a friend. He felt a rush of warmth and gratitude towards this man who had fought so hard and so fiercely to restore his sanity, his sense of worth, and his willingness to rejoin the human race.
Mahmoud put the car in gear and joined the flow of traffic. He too then turned to glance at Jay. He took a deep breath as he asked, “So…how do you feel? Ready to take on the world?”
Jay turned from him to look out of the wind shield in front of him. “We will see.” He responded dread, trepidation and anxiety tangling in confusion within him.
Mahmoud tapped him lightly on his thigh, “You’ll be brilliant!” he insisted.
They drove in silence, each man keeping company with his own thoughts. After nearly an hour’s drive, they arrived at their destination. The address was in the suburbs. As the gates were opened, it was revealed to be a smallish duplex with a small compound. There were pots of plants placed in various spots on the front porch of the house. Jay took in the ambience of the place. It seemed like a well appointed family home. However, he had learned not to always trust what a place looked like. David’s house to a casual observer would have looked something like this house did. He hoped that that was as far as the similarities went.
He had heard over the radio that Mahmoud had brought into his room at the Centre one day that David’s factory had been raided and closed down by the food and drugs regulatory agency for producing contaminated food supplements. That news bulletin also went on to say he was in court over various charges of endangerment of public health which if he was convicted of could put him away for a very long time.
He had eventually told Mahmoud the connection between David and him. David had supplied the ‘super hormones’ which he had been regularly injected with while he was with his pimp. He shuddered as memories of those first shots raced through his mind. The pain, the disorientation, the bewilderment and the fear as he began to realize what was happening to him, what had happened to him.
“They are a nice enough family.” Mahmoud voice intruded on his morbid thoughts.
“I wasn’t worrying about that.” Jay replied. Now, he was worried about that too. “What do they know about me?” he asked.
“Hey! They are safe Jay. We didn’t tell them a lot. Just that you had been kidnapped by a gang a few years ago and had to survive in that sort of environment until you were rescued by some security personnel. We are trying to trace your family as your memories of them are not so sharp due to the trauma.”
“And they believed that?” he huffed. “For all they know…I could murder all of them in their sleep!” “Why would they open up themselves to that sort of risk?”
“They did.” Mahmoud snapped. When he spoke again, his voice had gentled. “You need to learn that not everyone is out to get you Jay. It’s been a rough few years, I know. It’s turning a bend now Jay. Are you ready to take that curve or are you too hampered by fear to reach out? Grow? Experience new and better things….”
“I get it.” Jay interrupted as he opened the car door and got out. Mahmoud sometimes drove him up the wall. He was like a brother he was not sure he ever had, a psychiatrist and a mother hen all rolled up together. ‘Jay you should… Jay you need to…Jay you shouldn’t….’ If he were not so grateful to the guy, he’d probably had gone off on him by now. He turned to look at the house again. What if he did not like it there? What if he went ballistics on someone in that house?
One of the side effects of the weaning from his ‘super hormones’ was that he had ‘developed’ a fierce temper. Over the months since he started working with the Team as he liked to call the group of doctors that Mahmoud had rallied around him, he had developed ways of controlling it. It still terrified him though, this newly acquired capacity for major violence. He felt a tingle of concern for the residents of this house. The Team had said he was ready. He did not feel remotely ready for anything.
He couldn’t dwell longer on his concern because just as Mahmoud got out of the car, his mouth opening to probably scold him, the front door burst open and a pretty girl of average height burst out of it as well. She stumbled to a stop a few feet from Jay, looking him over like he was some exotic plant. An older, gentler version of the young girl came out more sedately from the front door accompanied by a fine and distinguished looking man.
“Hello Mahmoud. It wasn’t difficult to locate us was it?” the woman greeted with her warm voice. Her voice brought to mind hearth and warmth and all the things Jay imagined home should be.
He felt the sting of tears behind his eyes and sighed inwardly. These drugs had really messed him up. His emotions were all over the place. He could be happy and smiling one minute and burst into tears the next minute with minimum provocation. He could just as easily explode inexplicably into a mother of all temper tantrums. He eyes caught movement and he turned to look at the girl again. She seemed to be hopping from one foot to the other. Jay’s amused glance took all of her in. She looked like she could be eighteen or so. Pretty, intelligence and curiousity clearly stamped on her face. She wasn’t slim per say, she just had the slenderness of youth, her curves as yet untried. He felt a thrill of masculine appreciation go through him. It shocked him enough that he snapped his eyes away from her as if she was a very bright light and it hurt to look at her.
“So, this is Jay.” Her father said. If he had noticed the exchanged looks between Jay and his daughter, he said nothing about it and to Jay, nothing in his demeanour suggested that he had seen anything.
“Good day Sir. Ma’am.” He greeted.
“Good evening Jay.” The father responded. “You are welcome to our home.” “Come in.” he said as he turned to lead them into the house. Jay noticed that Mahmoud had opened the trunk of the car and stood by it. He went up to him and made to carry his portmanteau but Mahmoud grabbed his hand.
“Were you just attracted by Angela?” He asked Jay.
“Is that her name?” Jay asked in return. He had forgotten that a year and half of studying him had been deeply ingrained in Mahmoud. HE would have noticed, even if no one else had.
“Try not to cause too much trouble Jay. There is no rush okay. Go easy on yourself.” He stopped abruptly as he was sometimes wont to do. Jay had learned that he did that when he had something more to say but was weighing his words.
Jay looked at his friend. “Are you w….” he started.
“No. You are as ready as you need to be. Go live Jay.” he said as she slammed the trunk shut and followed him into house to embrace his new life.
Angela had finally driven him insane! She had succeeded where ‘super hormone’ had failed. And here he thought his life after David and his pimp could only get easier.
In the three months since he had come to stay with the Achas’, he had rediscovered what family was.
Mrs. Acha had proven to be all that he had imagined she would be that first day outside her home. She was lovingly firm with him. It was as if life was intent on handing him back a slice of the youth that had been stolen from him. Mr. Acha was an enigma. Jay could not get a handle on him.
He remembered the morning after he first arrived. He had been awoken by someone knocking on the door of his room at what had seemed to him an ungodly hour of the day.
“Prayer time Jay. Downstairs in the living room.” Mrs. Acha had called through his closed door.
Prayer time? What was that? Jay had wondered as he struggled against the sleep that had wanted to reclaim him. He did not imagine he would score any brownies points by breaking house rules on his first day in so he had hopped out of bed and dragged his way down to the living room.
What had happened after that was something he still could not exactly explain or comprehend. Mr. Acha had led the family in worship. It was not so much that Jay did not believe in God as much as it was that he had never had Him brought so closely to his consciousness. At least, he could not remember if he had had any notion of Him from his earlier years as his memories from that time were still very vague.
That experience had been repeated every morning and evening in the Acha household.
As Jay sat stirring his cup of tea in the kitchen, he tried to sort through his feelings about prayer and the God concept. Jay was not sure he wanted to believe in a God. Because if He really did exist, Jay had some tough questions he really would love to ask Him.
Just then, Mr. Acha walked into the kitchen. If he had not seen other members of his family jump in surprise when he quietly walked in on them, he would have long imagined that Mr. Acha purposely liked to catch him unawares. It was not that he was doing anything wrong, he had tried to be so careful not to cause any offence, it was more like…jittery. Jay was jittery. He kept waiting for the gig to be up. This family was so wholesome, he felt like a contaminant around them. Resentment roiled in him as his mind gave voice to this thought. He did not know how to be whole.
“Good morning Sir.” He greeted Mr. Acha again, even though they had earlier seen each other during prayer time, as he tried to control his fidgeting on his seat.
“Good morning Jay.” Mr. Acha replied as he set out the makings of his morning beverage. “I trust you slept better tonight.” He said as he went about the kitchen.
Jay tried to decide if he had indeed slept any better than usual as he set his tea spoon down. “No. I believe I slept just as usual.” He responded.
“Hmph.” Was the response from Mr. Acha. “The girls aren’t down yet?”
Mr. Acha brought his beverage to the table and joined Jay in sipping it.
“How are things progressing at the Centre? He asked Jay.
Jay turned to him in surprise. In his three months of staying at his house, Mr. Acha had never tried to engage him in any conversation beyond the mundane. In fact, if it had not been a part of the discussion that first day that Mahmoud brought him to the house, he would have imagined that Mr. Acha had no knowledge of where he had been before coming to his house.
“So far so good.” Jay responded. “They assure me I’m responding as well as they hoped to my treatments.” He shrugged and continued to sip his now cool tea.
“What exactly are you being treated for?” Mr. Acha asked.
Jay paused in the act of raising his mug to his lips. He carefully dropped the mug back to the table and turned to face Mr. Acha.
“I imagined Mahmoud mentioned it.”
“No. He never has. I did not ask.” He continued sipping his beverage while watching Jay closely. Jay drew a lungful of air and pushed it out on a breath. He considered answering blithely, but changed his mind. After all, the man had housed and fed him for three months. He had opened up his home and family to him. The least he could do was try to answer him as honestly as he was able and ready to.
“Depression amongst other things.” He responded. His last evaluation had said he was no longer maniacally depressed. He believed them. He actually could feel the madness receding each day.
“What brought about your feelings of depression?” he asked.
Jay sniggered. He almost clamped his hand over his mouth but restrained himself at the last minute. He stared at his tea cup wondering what tack to follow.
“Can I ask you a question Sir?” Mr. Acha inclined his head to indicate that he could. “Why now? You’ve never been curious before, why now?”
Mr. Acha placed his cup back on the table and readjusted his weight around the chair. “Because…” he began.
“Goood mooorrning!!!!” the greeting rang out as Angela bounced into the kitchen.
It seemed to Jay that Mr. Acha deflated a bit. He could not help the relief that coursed through him. That was a bullet missed. He was not ready for this conversation. Not yet.
“Good morning Princess.” Mr. Acha replied. “How was your night?”
“Good. “ said Princess responded as she leaned against the counter top. “Good morning Jay” she greeted as she pierced him with her gaze.
“Good morning Angela.” Jay responded as he got up to rinse out his mug at the sink. He needed to get out of here fast.
“I’ve said most people call me Angie. I’m going to wonder if I’ve offended you in some way if you keep calling me ‘Angela’.” She mimed his voice.
Jay smiled as he carefully placed his rinsed mug on the drain. That was something else to be grateful for. His voice had started deepening in the last few weeks. His voice was no longer that ambivalent neither-feminine-nor-masculine timbre that it had been. It was definitely shifting towards masculine.
“Angie.” He said as he turned around. He caught the speculation that had appeared in her father’s eye as they had bandied words and fled towards the door. He was not sure what exactly it was he was fleeing from, and he had a feeling he was not quite ready to find out.
“Jay.” Replied in like tones. “Isn’t it your check up at the Centre today?” she asked. “I can drop you off on my way to school if you like.” She offered.
“Ah…thanks but you don’t…”
“Ah phish!” she exclaimed. “Learn how to receive help! It won’t kill you, I promise. I should be leaving by a quarter to eight.” She said as she looked at her watch.
Jay noticed for the first time that she was fully dressed to go out. He glanced at the clock hanging on the wall. He had some twenty minutes if he wanted to catch up. It briefly crossed his mind that he could delay until she had to leave without him but quickly discarded the thought. It would not gain him anything. He looked back at Angela. She stood waiting for his response to her offer. He snuck a glance at her father. He was stirring his cup of beverage with what seemed like intense concentration. Intense and unnecessary in Jay’s estimation.
“I’ll be down in a jiffy.” He responded as he walked out of the kitchen.
He heard the rumble of Mr. Acha’s voice as he began climbing the stairs and the tinkle of Angela’s response. He wondered if the conversation was about him.
As the car skidded to a stop in front of the Centre, Jay released his tight grip on his seat. He has just been convinced in his belief that Angela was out to drive him insane. She drove like a fiend!
“So here we are.” She glanced at his hand, “Good to see you are no longer squeezing my chair like you expect something to pop out if you squeeze hard enough.” She chided.
Jay released the breath he had not realized he was holding. “Thank you.” He said his voice came up a bit squeaky.
“What exactly do they do in there?” she asked squinting up at the building through her window.
What was this? Forty questions day?
“You want to come in and find out for yourself?” his tone came out harsh in exasperation.
Her eyes widened a bit as she turned back to him. Jay opened the door on his side and began to get out of the car only to be struck motionless by Angie’s grip on his lower arm.
“I don’t know what the deal is with you, I sense there is a lot more than you are letting on, but I will take you up on that offer someday soon.” She said.
“Why do you sound like you are throwing down a gauntlet there?” Jay asked.
“Because you threw down one. I will pick it up. One day soon. Now, please get out of my car so I can zoom off to school!” she ended teasingly.
“You are sassy.” Jay said contemplatively. “Don’t pick this gauntlet.” He said as he got out of the car. He slammed the door and waited for her to ‘zoom’ off. She considered him just as contemplatively for a few moments and shifted her gear. “Sorry Maestro.” She said with a small smile as she zoomed off.
What? What did she mean by that? Jay wondered as he turned to climb the steps into the building.
“You both seem to be getting along.” Mahmoud drawled from the top of the stairs.
Jay looked up at him. “Ho! Didn’t see you there.” He said as he jogged up the remaining stairs.
“What? You guys sneaking around on her parents?” Mahmoud countered.
“What?!” Jay exclaimed, flabbergasted at the idea.
“Never mind!” Mahmoud shrugged as he turned around and stalked into the building leaving Jay open mouthed at the top of the stairs.
Angie watched as Jay watered the plants around the compound. He had taken to doing it every evening. She suspected he did it to get away from everyone for a little while. There were not so many plants that it would take him a couple of hours to water them.
She reclined on the chaise lounge and watched through the glass sliding door. If Jay realized someone was watching him, he did not act like it mattered.
“What are you thinking?” She jerked at the voice and then on recognizing it relaxed.
“You and dad both know how to…scare people!” she exclaimed at her mother. “I didn’t hear you walk in.”
Mrs. Acha walked over to deep cushioned chair opposite her. “That’s because you were so engrossed with…” she inclined her head in the direction of Jay, still outside, still supposedly watering this one plant. Angie thought that if the plant could speak, it would have yelled that it had had enough for one day.
“Those plants may not survive this onslaught of care.” She joked.
Mrs. Acha sighed and turned to watch Jay as well. They sat in silence watching for a few more minutes together.
“Do you know what’s wrong with him?” Angie asked.
“I know what we were told.” Her mother replied. “I suspect…there’s a lot more. The boy’s been traumatized.”
Angie turned from watching Jay to study her mum. Mrs. Acha continued, still looking at Jay, “It’s just an intuition.” She responded to her daughter’s unasked question.
‘Why do you and dad do this thing?” Angie asked.
Mrs. Acha smiled. That smile acknowledged that her child was truly on the threshold of adulthood. Her baby was becoming grown.
“Because someone should.” She replied simply. She turned to look at her daughter. “It is always scary opening up your home to strangers, but people have been known to entertain angels this way.”
Angie scoffed and turned back to watching Jay. Mercifully, he had moved on to another plant.
“What happens at the Centre? I tried to use the search engines to find out. There’s nothing at all about it. How come a place that big has nothing, nothing at all said about it?”
For awhile, it seemed like Angie would not get any response.
“We’ll know what it is when he’s ready.” Mrs. Acha replied. “Meanwhile, you need to go rescue my flowers. I’m particular about that set he’s getting to.” She smiled widely as she took her eyes off Jay and looked at her daughter momentarily. “I doubt that will survive that much care.”
Angie huffed as she stood from the chaise lounge. Jay. He was becoming an enigma she ‘needed’ to figure out. Her brow wrinkled at the thought.
Jay listened with a sinking heart as the Team reviewed his ‘progress’ so far.
“The regression seems to have stalled.” Doctor Greene was saying. “We’ve tried all we can reasonably do. It’s not happening.” He sounded like he was about to start bawling.
“What about the unreasonable?” Doctor Umar of the arresting eyes asked.
There was a gasp from the only female in the room. Doctor Sarah Jane Kwesi. She did not say much. Jay thought that he would be hard placed to pick out her voice from a cacophony. He had so seldom heard it.
“That is a risk we are not prepared to take at this point.” The abrupt response came from Mahmoud.
Umar scoffed mildly. “Attempting what we did was crazy enough as it was! If pushing the envelope a little further can get us results, why not?”
“There’s no guarantee. The risks are enormous.” Greene postulated.
“There was none when we decided to see if we could ‘treat’ him!” Umar argued.
Jay’s eyes followed the word ping-pong all around the room. He was exhausted. Emotionally, physically, mentally!
There was a tense silence as everyone seemed to weigh the options available in their minds.
They were right. Things had been going so well. He had begun to hope…but it had been premature. Jay scanned the room, his eyes taking in all the apparatus set up all around the room. He wished fervently that he had never begun to hope. At the same time, what else did he have?
“What have we determined my condition to be for now?” he asked the room in general.
There was no immediate response. Then Sarah Jane spoke up.
“The physiological effects of the drug have been largely reversed.” She began, “…but…the…your hormonal chart is still all over the place.” She sighed. “The easiest way I can think to explain it is, your body doesn’t seem to ‘know’ which hormones it ought to be producing or in what quantities.” She took a deep breath and continued. “So it’s producing hormones randomly in stupendous quantities in some instances. We are concerned that…your body can’t handle this strain for too long.” Her voice quieted out as she rounded up her speech.
The silence intensified.
“I…am I…dying?” Jay asked as his heart stuttered.
“We are all dying Jay.” Umar replied. “It’s a matter of how and when.”
Everyone but Jay seemed unable to stay still. Jay was perfectly still, held motionless by the thoughts racing through his head.
“The odds are a lot worse for me though.” He finally said.
Umar scoffed. “I could walk out of here and slip on my way down the stairs. Crack my head against some of our fancy paneling and split my skull open.” He smirked, leaning against the wall as he folded his hand across his chest.
“I…” Jay lapsed into silence.
He looked at Mahmoud. Ever since the day Angela dropped him off for his session, he had sensed a distance between them. He did not know how to breach it. His relational skills did not extend so far.
“There are some radical suggestions coming from Umar here.” Mahmoud indicated Umar with his hand as he got off the wall against which he had been lounging. “We’ve done all we can dare without resorting to some pretty invasive procedures.”
“How invasive?” Jay asked.
“How old are you Jay?” Mahmoud countered.
“What has that got to do with anything?”Jay snapped. When Mahmoud did not continue, he mumbled, “Twenty five.”
“These toxins were pumped into your system for six years from when you were eighteen. With all you’ve come to learn, how invasive do you imagine we would have to go?” Mahmoud asked.
His words sounded like the knelling of a massive gong in Jay’s head.
“What would be the…outcome? What’s the odds…can… is it possible that I survive it?
“That’s the risk we are reluctant to take.”
The room lapsed into silence.
“What are the odds I survive the crazy hormones?” Jay asked.
Again Sarah Jane responded. “In the amounts and combinations, very bad odds. Massive organ failures, possible dementia and all the attendant issues…not good odds.” She sounded apologetic. What was she apologizing for? She didn’t do this to him.
“What?!” Mahmoud exploded.
“Jay, the risk…” Greene began.
“It’s like Umar says, we are all dying anyway. I’ll rather choose than… there’s no reason why I shouldn’t . The alternative…if I have to go out, then let me choose this way. At least I would seem to have tried.” The despondency in Jay’s voice was heart wrenching. Sarah Jane sniffled as she tried to fight back her tears.
When Jay made to look at her, his gaze was snagged by Umar’s.
“Everything. We’ll give it everything.” He said, his tone so solemn, it sounded like he was vowing.
Jay looked round at the occupants of the room. These were so much more than his Team. These people here were his friends. His burden sharers.
The voice seemed extraordinarily loud. Jay winced as he tried to open his eyes. There seemed to be…glue on his eyes? Why would he have glue on his eyes? There was a very loud explosion of sound in his ear. He made to move his hands over his ears and discovered his hands were held bound to…a bed? Where was he?
“I’m telling you. He moved!” the voice came again. Jay gritted his teeth. The voice was being way too loud.
“Jay?” another voice asked its cadence easier on his ears than the first one, pitched lower too.
“Jay can you hear me?” it asked again. Jay struggled to respond. His throat was working, but no discernable sound was coming out of his mouth.
“I think he’s trying to say something.” Voice One said. The voices tickled his memory and he tried to scratch at that tickle.
“Water on a straw!” The second voice said. He felt someone take his hand. He could feel that the person had been extremely cautious while picking up his hand but it did nothing to stop the sharp pain that seemed to emanate from that contact point all the way to his head.
“You’ll pull through Jay. You’re a living, breathing miracle. We…we’re waiting Jay. It’s going to be some party when you wake up.”
It was a male voice. Voice two was male while Voice One was female. Jay smiled. ‘That’s sorted out’ he thought to himself as he let sleep, blessed sleep claim him.
Jay held on to the railings in a death grip. He was using the treadmill today for the first time since he began his physiotherapy.
“Easy does it.” His therapist encouraged.
He supposed he ought to be glad. He had lived through a horrific lot these past few years and had survived to tell the tale. It wasn’t gratitude he was feeling right now. He was just exhausted! He needed, really needed to lie down but his therapist was a slave-driver. She didn’t let up!
It was like she sensed that he had reached the end of his rope because she said, “Ok Bozo! It’s a wrap for today.”
Yeah! She had jokes. He slipped down onto the floor mat. His limbs were literally shaking as sweat poured out of his pores.
“Looking good.” She commented as she made some notes on her pad. Jay just closed his eyes. He really didn’t want to see her right now. If he was up to it, he’d be thinking up ways to torture her right now. “At this rate, we may actually exceed our expected rate of progress.” She looked down at him and smiled. “You are one very determined young man.”
“Hahaha!” he grunted in response.
“Need a hand?” she asked ignoring his sarcasm, as she held out her hand to him. Jay looked at it with all the loathing he felt for her slave-driving ways and she burst into mirthful laughter.
“Come on. Let’s help you up and into your room.” She tucked her pad under her armpit and helped him to his feet. They began to make their way to his room, slowly. “Really,” she continued, “I’m impressed with how fast and how well you’re doing. I wish all my patients were as determined to heal and get better as you are.”
“That’s not how my body feels right now. I’m beat!” Jay said tiredly.
“I know. You’re doing great though.” Janet cooed. “Just thought you should know. Keep your head up ok?” she ended as a question.
The phone by his bedside was ringing as they got into his room. Janet helped him to his bed and then straightened to leave. “I’ll leave you to your phone call.” She smiled as she turned and smartly worked out of the door. The phone stopped ringing as Jay made to pick it up. He sighed as he fell back on his bed. He hadn’t really wanted to pick it up anyway. He wondered who would be calling him. Mahmoud was out of town. The rest of the team had scattered temporarily, they assured him, to attend to other matters that had been left hanging as they had struggled to pull him through his surgeries.
The phone began ringing again and he picked it up reflexively. “Hello”. He grunted into the phone.
“Hello” was the cautious response. “Is this..? Jay?”
“Hello? Who’s this?”
There was a relieved breath released. “It’s Angie. How are you?”
Surprise made Jay unresponsive for a few seconds. “Hello? Jay? Are you…”
“I’m fine Angie” he said quickly. “Just surprised.” “How did you get…”
“Your number?” She thrilled. “I ran into Mahmoud awhile back and he gave it to me. Said I could call you when… well he said to give you a little bit of time and then I could call to find out how you are.” She was quiet for awhile. “Is this a good time?”
“It’s as good as any.” He replied. “How are you doing?”
“Fine!” She thrilled. “What’s…how’s your recovery coming up?” “When can we come see you?”
Jay winced at that. “Not for now Angie.” He tried to soften his tone so as not to reveal how panicked her questions made him feel. He couldn’t imagine facing the Acha family in the condition he was in.
“Oh!” she said on a low tone. There were few moments of uncomfortable silence and then she cleared her throat nosily. “I didn’t mean to be forward or anything…”
“Angie, you weren’t forward at all. I just…I don’t feel up to seeing any one for now. It’s been tough Angie. Really tough!” Jay said as he tried to make his rebuff less hurtful.
Her sigh was really loud across the line. “How are you doing? Really?” she asked. “We couldn’t give enough praises to God when you made it out of surgery alive.” She stumbled on. “I was so scared Jay.” Her voice went small again like she was reliving her fear for him.
Jay felt his lips stretch in a smile. “Do I get to answer any of those questions or were they entirely rhetorical?” his laughter bled into his voice.
He could feel the smile in her answer when she said, “You may begin attempting the questions, now.”
And the conversation turned easy from then on. Jay realized he had missed the Achas. Somewhere along this crazy road he had been set upon, they had become the Oasis.
Jay shut up from the bed in a cold sweat, a scream held up just behind his lips. His face was contorted in a grimace. Sweat poured out from him like he had just gotten dunked in water. He slowly put a hand to his chest and clutched it like he was in the throes of a heart attack. He dragged in a lungful of air and lay back, gingerly, against the pillows.
He tried to remember the dream that had him shooting up from his sleep in terror but try as he might, he could not. Sleep was out of it. He was wide awake with adrenaline pumping through him like he had just…run a race, jumped off a plane… whatever!
He swung his feet over the side of his bed and walked into the en-suite bathroom. He used some water to wash his face hoping to clear the last vestige of terror from his mind. His pulse was still going strong and he took deep, long breathes to try to calm it down.
He heard his alarm go off in the bedroom as he stood looking at himself in the bathroom mirror. A rap sounded on his door.
“Jay. Time to go man!” Mahmoud called out
He was leaving The Centre today.
“Jay!” he called out again and this time opened the door to his room.
“In here.” Jay mumbled.
Mahmoud followed his mumbling to the bathroom door. He began to say something and then caught sight of Jay’s face and the sweat pouring out of him. Immediately, he went into his ‘doctor mode’.
“Are you feverish?” he asked as he felt up his forehead, his face wrinkled in concern.
Jay swatted his hand away, albeit weakly. “Just didn’t sleep well was all.”
“Why?” Mahmoud asked, his stance subtly changing to a more militant one. Jay’s brow furrowed at the thought.
He shrugged. “Nightmare. But I can’t seem to remember what it was about now.” The furrows on his brows deepened as he struggled to recapture the threads of his nightmare.
Mahmoud’s stance didn’t exactly change. Jay sensed, rather than saw him relax. He pushed off the door against which had been leaning and walked back into the bedroom.
“Well, you had better get ready. Daylight is a-wasting.” He said as he opened the door to continue out of the room. Just before it closed, he turned back to say, “Except you’ve changed your mind and have decided to take up permanent residency with us.” He quirked
Jay snorted as he slammed the bathroom door on a wince and began to prepare for his big break. A smile touched his face as he contemplated rejoining ‘life’. The smile widened. He did not reckon it would be smooth sailing, but heck after the last decade he had had…it would work out. He felt optimism bloom in his chest. It would all work out somehow.
***** ***** *****
They had been driving awhile now. Jay glanced at his wristwatch. It had been some six hours or so. He glanced at Mahmoud sitting beside him at the steering wheel of the car. The scenery and the hustle and bustle of the occasional town, city had kept him fascinated at first but even that was losing its attraction.
“We’ll be stopping for food soon.” Mahmoud said as Jay swung to face him. “Don’t get so antsy yet.”
Jay sighed and slung lower on his seat. “I was getting antsy.” He agreed. They continued in silence for a short while.
“So…any luck remembering what you dreamt about?” Mahmoud asked, suddenly, or not. That was a leading question if Jay had ever heard one, and he had heard plenty.
“Snippets. They’ve been coming at me all day but I can barely make sense of them. I’m not even convinced if I’m not making some of it up.” He said his exasperation evident in his voice.
“Care to share any of it?” Mahmoud probed.
Jay turned to him. “If I can’t make sense of it, what hope do I have of making it make any kind of sense to you?’ He asked.
Mahmoud turned on the indicator light and made a right into the parking lot of what seemed to be a roadside bukka. “Let’s continue this over lunch shall we?” he said as he turned off the engine. He got out of the car as he indicated to Jay to do the same. Jay felt the first shiver of apprehension go through him as he gingerly got out of the car. He had gotten used to the doctors and medical staff at The Centre. Even the occasional strange face at the hospital grounds hadn’t bothered him. He supposed he had become inured by his surroundings at The Centre.
But now…now, he had to face strangers in a strange place. His shiver of apprehension steadily grew until he felt his stomach roiling with it. Lunch…hah! He doubted he could keep anything down. He felt the sweat rolling down the sides of his face and pooling in his armpits.
“Jay?” Mahmoud’s voice seemed to come from very far away. Jay turned to look at him over the top of the car. It seemed that time had morphed into some slow motioned film.
“Are you okay?” he asked and just like that, time readjusted itself to real-time.
“Yeah, Yes, I am.” He replied as he drew in a deep breath, tucked in his stomach and moved around the car to join Mahmoud at the front.
As they came into the bukka, Jay was assaulted by the smell of different savory stews and soups and the noise…oh the noise! There were servers moving between tables and kitchen, patrons calling out one last addition to their orders, children whining and mothers soothing. It was a cacophony! It filled Jay with a strange mix of anticipation and dread. He eyes were like saucers as he looked around him. It wasn’t that he had never seen this scene before, he had, but it felt different. He wondered if he looked different to the people around him. Suddenly, he felt strange in his own skin. It was like the various parts of his body were mismatched. He expected someone, perhaps a more precocious child to walk up to him any moment now and begin to inspect him like he was some foreign object. But no, no one seemed to pay him any particular attention… except the pretty lady at the far corner closest to the kitchen door.
The moment Jay’s eye connected with hers, the feeling of dread coalesced in him. The room swam before him and he felt his body lose its balance as it dropped slowly to the floor in a faint. He heard Mahmoud rush at him, felt his arms come around him and then darkness.
‘How are feeling now?’
Jay looked up at the person who just spoke to him and his eyes locked on her!
He struggled to remember why he had this feeling of unease creeping along his nerves as she stood by him. He mumbled a response of some sort and went back to staring at the floor. His head felt like a swirling whirlwind of jumbled thoughts. He could hardly latch onto one before it was yanked forcefully from his hands and floated away like debris caught up in the upsurge of a violent storm.
‘That was a quite the scare you gave everyone.’ She continued. Jay continued to look at the ground. He sensed and then saw her feet move her closer to him. Finally, when she stood so close to him that the fabric of her dress brushed against him, he looked up at her again.
‘They know you survived you know.’ She said conversationally. Jay felt again a surge of unease prickle along his spine. He saw the subtle menace, and was that pity, weariness in her eyes?
He continued to look at her uncomprehendingly while she continued starring at him in expectation. Of what? Jay wondered
‘You had better…have a plan in place. They can be relentless and unforgiving. It cost them a lot…that stunt you pulled.’ She continued.
The unease increased exponentially with each word out of the woman’s mouth. The thoughts which he could not gather began to flutter and settle in scattered areas around his mind.
‘Are you trying to say something?’ he asked. ‘Because I have to tell you that I…I’m confused at what you’re saying.’
She smiled. It started as a tiny upturn of her lips on one side and bloomed in to a wildly amused smile. Jay could have sworn that that smile actually chuckled. ‘Little boy, don’t try these games.’ She turned to leave and hesitated at the last moment. ‘I wasn’t the only one here today. Even if I weren’t inclined to tell them, the others will.’ She pierced Jay with a long, sharp look. ‘Watch your back Jemima. You may think looking more like a boy will save you. It won’t. They will…they want what they want.’ With that, she swept out of the small room where Jay had been taken to recover from his faint.
Jay held a hand to his forehead, his eyes shut tight against the blinding flash of light in his head. He chanted silently to himself, ‘You are not going to faint!’
‘How’s the head?’ another voice asked. This one he recognized. Mahmoud had come for him.
‘Can we leave? Now?’ Jay asked as he stood wobbly to his feet.
‘What’s the rush?’ Mahmoud frowningly asked.
‘Let’s just leave.’ Jay answered as he walked past him into the main area of the bukka. ‘We’ll talk in the car.’
‘I thought you were ready to eat earlier.’ Mahmoud questioned as he caught up with him.
‘Can’t we get something to go? I don’t want to stay here any longer than I have to.’ Jay responsed as his squinted eyes scrutinized all the faces around as if searching for something or someone. Mahmoud followed the track of his eyes as it perched from face to face.
‘Jay, do you mind telling me what’s going on?’ he asked.
‘In the car Mahmoud! Let’s leave! This place is creeping me out!’ he snapped as he stalked out of the building. In his haste, he slammed into a man who was walking in the building causing the man to stagger. Jay looked up at him and saw he was a middle aged man. Dark skinned with some grey in his hair over a well preserved face.
‘I’m sorry Sir.’ He apologized as he side stepped from the man and continued on his rush towards the car.
‘You want to watch where you are going son!’ the man called out. ‘You should take it slow so you see where you are going.’ He continued cryptically. ‘It isn’t everyone you should bump into.’ He turned abruptly and went on into the building.
Jay walked on, indeed his steps slower, to the car. The fresh air had taken the edge away from his migraine but he still felt slightly nauseous and antsy. He wondered what was taking Mahmoud so long. This was one of those times when he wished his friend wasn’t such a scientist. He was like a dog with a bone once he set his mind on a course of action. They could have gotten food somewhere further down the road couldn’t they? He gripped as he paced beside the car.
‘Hold your horses.’ Mahmoud intoned as he unlocked the car doors remotely and got in the driver’s seat.
Jay jerked in surprise. He hadn’t seen him come up to the car. ‘Was wondering where you had gotten to?’ he said as he slid into the passenger’s seat.
Mahmoud turned from placing the paper bags he had come in with at the back of the car and turned the ignition, backing out of the car park. He did all of these without looking directly at Jay. Jay looked at him in profile while he fidgeted on his seat.
‘Are you angry at me?’ he asked, suddenly feeling like a reprimanded child.
Mahmoud sighed as he turned to him, finally. ‘Not really.’ He answered. ‘Worried, disappointed…a bit uneasy.’ He shot a look at Jay. ‘What went on in there?’ he queried. ‘Did you see something that…reminded you of things? Stressed you out? What?’
Jay sighed as he slumped further into his seat. ‘That lady…she called me….Jemima.’ he whispered the name like it was, scary.
‘Jemima.’ Mahmoud intoned while Jay winced and nodded.
Mahmoud lapsed into silence for awhile. Suddenly, Jay noticed that he was pulling to the side of the road.
‘Why are we stopping?’ he asked in a slightly panicky voice.
Mahmoud pulled on the brakes and shifted the gears too neutral. ‘Do we need to go back and find her?’ he asked Jay. ‘Perhaps, she could fill in some blank spaces for us.’
Jay chewed on his bottom lips as he stared out of the car. Suddenly, his voice very introspective, he asked. ‘Tell me again about that night you found me.’
Mahmoud sighed and made to launch into an oft repeated story.
‘Tell me…every detail, every nuance. Tell me again like you are just telling it for the first time.’ Jay requested, turning to face Mahmoud. Mahmoud paused as he looked intently at Jay, asif trying to decipher deeper into this request. Whatever it was he saw as he looked Jay couldn’t tell but launch into the tale he did, as per Jay’s specifications. And Jay listened very intently.
Mahmoud placed both his hands flat against his desk as he looked at the woman seating across from him in his office.
‘How did you know where to look for me?’ he asked, exasperated.
‘We trailed you.’ She answered simply. ‘Once we got a good feel for your routine, we knew how and when to contact you.’ She continued, picking off imaginary lint off her well made dress.
Mahmoud slumped down back into his seat. Then shot forward to lean his elbows on his desk and steeple his hands against his forehead. He closed his eyes as he fought down a surge of panic and inexplicable sorrow. Then he breathed out noisily.
‘And now that you’ve made contact?’ he asked, still maintaining his position.
There was no immediate response from his ‘visitor’ and he almost looked up to see if she had left as suddenly as she had appeared.
‘Heads up Doctor Kabir!’ She said in a sharp tone. Mahmoud’s head shot up by reflex.
‘Your boy is in danger.’ She said. ‘He seems to have suffered some damage…mentally.’ She leaned forward as if to emphasize her next words. ‘He had a briefcase on him that night. Who has it now?’
‘I’m not sure what you mean…’
‘STOP this silly game!’ she said forcefully. ‘It’s important that that briefcase be retrieved. If it’s not, Jem is walking dead.’
‘Is he safer once this briefcase is retrieved?’ Mahmoud asked sacarstically. ‘From all you have NOT said, I know that his life is forfeit anyway.’
She sighed. ‘Why must you prove so difficult?’ she mumbled.
‘What if that briefcase was not retrieved on that day?’ Mahmoud asked.
‘It was retrieved.’ She answered assuredly. ‘If it weren’t… let’s just say, news should have filtered out by now.’
‘What was in that briefcase?’ Mahmoud asked.
Her smile became snide, ‘You mean you haven’t taken a peek?’ she answered.
“Doctor Kabir, how did Jem recover from the effects of his earlier treatments at all?” she asked in a silky voice. When Mahmoud made no response, she continued.
“9.00pm. Today. At the place where you picked him up. Do not fail!” she stood up to leave and leveled him a look. “If you care at all about that boy, then you will show up because if you don’t, it would have all been for nothing.” She turned and stalked towards the door calling over her shoulders, “9.00pm.” and the door shut behind her.
***** ****** ***** ***** *****
Mahmoud paced his office at the Centre. His forehead was wrinkled in worry. The door to his office opened slowly and he froze in place, staring at it like a deer caught in the headlights of a car bearing down on him. A head popped into his office with a cherry smile on her face.
Doctor Sarah Jane. Mahmoud felt a smile tugging at his lips in spite of his worries. He had not seen her in so long. Had it been six months already?
“Hey!” he greeted. “There’s a face I’ve not seen in so long!” he smiled as he happily went around the desk to grab her in a hug.
“Hello stranger!” she greeted good naturedly. “Got back a week ago actually. Had to sort a few things out before heading up this way if not…you should have seen me earlier.”
He led her to the seats for guest arranged comfortably to the side of his desk. As they sat together, Sarah Jane asked,“I hear Jay’s been sprung from this joint? How’s he adjusting?”
Mahmoud sighed and released a noisy breathe. “I’m in a dilemma.” He said.
“Why?” Sarah Jane asked. “Isn’t he doing well?”
“As well as can be expected.” Mahmoud replied. He sighed again. “We never did say…Umar and I. You know what Jay was when we brought him here. You are one of the team that saw him from the earliest stages.”
“You’re scaring me M. Is he…relapsing? Has there been some unexpected side effects?” Sarah Jane sat forward.
The anxiety in her tone made Mahmoud look sharply at her. “You always were sweet on him.” He remarked, causing Sarah Jane to blush.
“He’s a sweet young man.” She retorted. “Why are you worried if he’s doing okay?”
“The drugs we administered as we tried to reverse the effects of those crazy hormones?” Mahmoud continued as Sarah Jane nodded. “Umar and I…there was a briefcase with Jay that day we found him. The drugs we used were from that briefcase.”
Sarah Jane stared blankly at him for a moment and then understanding dawned in her eyes. “So, whoever was producing the hormones also produced an antidote?”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to make sense of. You see, Jay isn’t the only victim of this…craziness out there. There are more!”
Sarah Jane gasped in alarm.
“Jay was just the first that Umar and I met alive. Someone has been killing these boys…girls for years. Roughly ten years. Sometimes when their mutilated bodies where found, they would be dumped at the morgue of the public health centre where Umar worked. Their peculiar physiology caught Umar’s interest. At first, he thought there was just a preponderance of abnormal births in that locality. But every investigation, questions showed there were no such known cases in that area.” Mahmoud rubbed his hand over his face agitatedly.
“Just by chance, one day he saw a body tossed out of a speeding van in the bush.” He chuckled. “Umar is quite a hunter you know. He used to set traps all over the place…he was checking on one of those when this happened. Thank goodness they didn’t see him.” Mahmoud shook his head. “He saw that they body was just like the others he had had brought to his morgue. Just the same sort of abnormalities. So he went to a friend of his who knew of his quest and told him what had happened. His friend has been trying to get a tap on these guys since then but couldn’t. And those bodies kept showing up. He came to me when a crazy notion occurred to him. He asked me if it was possible, knowing my work with gynecological disorders, if such a thing were possible, a child of one sex being hormonally induced to be of the opposite sex. It seemed incredible but based on his autopsy reports on each of those dead bodies, he was beginning to reach a startling conclusion. Someone was playing at being God.
Then that night of the explosion, Umar had gone to airport with me. I was supposed to board a flight.” Mahmoud squeezed his eyes shut as if in agony. “It was like a nightmare! I had never in my life seen so many dead people in one place! We couldn’t go in. There were security personnel everywhere. We asked what had happened and as they tried to shoo us away, we noticed him. Something about him must have jarred Umar because he pulled me away from that scene back to the car. He just started the car and began to drive in a different direction from where we came. I asked him where we were going and he said “I have a hunch.”
“He was almost caught that night. If it weren’t for Umar’s hunch, he would have been caught. We got to him first. When he passed out and Umar said to check his genitals, that was the first inkling I had what really was going on. I asked him how he knew to call him Jay and he said, “The last one had ‘K’ behind her ear.” He told me that he had put about the surrounding community that those bodies, where found be deposited at the morgue and so he was fairly certain, when he saw the sequence that he was ‘J’.
He looked up abruptly at the clock. It was 7.13pm.
“Sarah Jane, what would you do if those guys asked you to give back that briefcase?”
Sarah Jane jolted in surprise. “They…they asked? They know you?” she stuttered her question.
“Yes. And I’m frightened for Jay and…those other boys.”
“But it stands to reason that if they wanted, they could get more where that stuff came from.” Sarah Jane countered. She was quiet for only a moment before she said, with great resolution, “This is…it has to stop.” She jumped up from the seat in agitation and started pacing. “Can…have you contacted Umar?” she asked.
“No.” Mahmoud answered simply.
“Then, let’s do that immediately. He has a longer history with this and has proven that his instincts on this are good.” She flipped open her phone and made that call.
Jay came awake behind his closed eyelids. Some long ago instinct, kept him from opening his eyes suddenly. He listened to ascertain if anyone was nearby. He was just about drawing in a much needed deep breath of relief when he heard both the turn of keys in a door and the scrap of furniture against the floor. Cemented floor? Where was he?
“He has been out for too long. Are you sure that….?” The sound of footsteps coming closer almost sent Jay into a whirl of panic but he instead found himself counting down his breathes. Where had he learnt these things? What was he actually in his former life apart from being a science project?
“When are we expecting the doctor?” the voice asked again. Male.
“9.00pm. He didn’t make a firm commitment.” Another voice responded. Indeterminate.
“Oh, he’ll be here. We just sent him a little encouragement on line.” There was a sinister undertone to that comment and its delivery.
“Pictures, are such effective means of communication.”
The duo relapsed back into silence.
‘Fifty, fifty one, fifty two …’ Jay kept the countdown going in his head, all the while wondering what was going on and what his fate was. He had a sickening feeling that his largely forgotten past had just come home to roost all over him. However, he did not feel the victim that he had always supposed that he had been. Rather, it seemed like adrenaline was pumping furiously through his vein, his body priming for some action he could not fully understand.
“Come. We need to prepare…” the male speaker began to say as the shuffling of feet indicated that they had probably turned to leave the room. They however stopped short at the sound of loud, angry voices coming from behind closed doors. There was the sound of doors being violently opened and then a loud sickeningly familiar voice saying rather forcefully.
“What is this I hear about a rendezvous Bismarck? And I wasn’t even invited?” this voice drawled, its cadence sneering, scornful even.
Jay couldn’t help himself. He gasped as the voice clicked into the right slot in his brain’s memory, his eyes shot open involuntarily as if it just had to see it to believe what the other bodily parts had deduced. As his eyes locked with Doctor Greene’s, it all came rushing back. Every sickening, soul-wrenching detail.
Just as the stout man with his back to him took an aggressive step towards toward Doctor Greene, Jay felt the coolness of a gloved hand and the hot prick of a needle on his arm and blackness immediately swallowed him.
**** **** **** ****
He couldn’t remember where or when last he had prayed but today he prayed that the car would move faster, somehow, through the maddening evening traffic.
Umar was at the steering wheel of the car trying his best to maneuver between vehicles and pedestrians. It was crazy on the streets that evening.
“Do you think we will make it in time?” Sarah Jane asked for the fifth time since they turned into the avenue where the meeting was to hold.
There was no response from either man. After a few more minutes, the car turned into the gates leading to the meeting point.
Mahmoud tapped Umar’s shoulder from the back seat which he was occupying with Sarah Jane.
“I think I better get out here.” He said and Umar pulled the car to a halt. Mahmoud did not need to say more. The understanding of all the possible reasons it was good sense that he got off at that point was a tense cloud over the inhabitants of the car.
‘What if…?’ was the hanging question which no one dared ask even as it weighed heavily on their minds.
**** **** **** **** ****
They had had to borrow a taxi from a neighbor of one of the security personnel at the Centre. Both Umar and Sarah Jane had insisted that he was not going to the meeting point alone. After an explosive deliberation, the fantastic idea to borrow a cab was made and here they were.
Umar circled back out of the gates and rejoined the slow moving traffic on the avenue.
“I can hear my heart beating all over my body.” Sarah Jane commented from the back seat. “I feel as if I am coming out of my skin…” she chewed at her nails ferociously as Umar watched her through the rear view mirror and at the same time watched Mahmoud walking like he wasn’t worried towards the building set quite a distance from the gates.
What was going on in that building? Why this place? Was it a trap? They were so many questions going through his head that it felt like a train station in there.
“Do you think…” Sarah Jane began.
“Sarah, I can’t think!” Umar snapped.
Sarah fell silent again at the back. She was still chewing at her nails apprehensively but otherwise, she was quiet.
The jangle of a mobile phone ringtone interrupted the silence in the car.
Umar swiftly picked the call via his hands free device.
“Hello?” he said into the ear piece.
“Umar?” he heard his detective friend’s voice and sighing out breathe he had not even realized he had been holding in relief.
“He is in. We are out of the place. He was walking into the building directly facing the gate as we pulled away.”
“There was a package brought in after you guys left.” Obinna continued. “The receptionist brought it over, which was a good thing.” He said.
Umar could feel the tension seeping through the line. It felt like a living entity to him. “What was it?” he asked wondering if he really wanted an answer to that question.
“Pictures. Of Jay. They are messing with him again.” Came the response and Umar’s heart sank like a weight of lead to the bottom of his feet. Something must have shown in his expression because he heard Sarah Jane’s gasp.
“What…how bad is it?” he asked struggling to maintain his composure for Sarah Jane’s sake. The lady looked like she was at the tail end of her meter.
“It looks…bad.” Obi replied. “My officers are in position. We will move in as soon as we get a clearer picture. Right now, the chip on Mahmoud is working well and we are getting a feed from him. Are on your way to the station?” he asked
“I am wondering if we might not head back to the Centre…?” Umar replied. Just in case…
“Okay. Will keep you posted.” Obi said and cut the connection.
Umar noticed that he was breathing loudly. Really loudly.
“Umar is he dead?” Sarah Jane asked.
Umar shook his head. He wasn’t sure what it was he was responding. No? Maybe? I hope so? What did ‘messing with him’ mean? He realized his hands were trembling and that his face was wet.
Sarah Jane scooted closer to his seat. “Umar, talk to me.” She said, her hand hovering over him like she might need to shake him.
“They are messing with him.” he choked out on a sob. “After everything…O God!”
His tears came faster. Another sob was stifled from the back seat, her hand finally resting on his shoulder.
“What can happen now? She asked wearily.
Umar concentrated on breathing in and out as he gathered his calm like a cloak around him.
“We pray he makes it. Then we do it again if need be.” He stated emphatically. He was calm once again.
They would too. Sarah Jane withdrew as she sat back on the seat. They would too.
“Talk about an anti-climax.” Obinna gripped. “I was hoping for more action than this!” he complained as he huffed and puffed at his cigarette.
Umar leaned back against the wall his eyes closed, his head tipped backwards so that it rested more comfortably on the wall as he let his mind roam.
“But Greene though!” Obinna continued. “How on earth did he slip under our radar?!”
And that, Umar believed was the crux of the matter for Obinna. No one, not any one of them had suspected that Dr. Greene, as respected as he was professionally, could have been involved in this horror. And to think of it, that should have made him a top suspect. He had all the qualification necessary to be able to conduct the kind of extensive ‘research’ that had been uncovered. Umar shuddered to think of the details that had been unraveling ever since the show down three weeks ago.
He could not, even if he lived to be two hundred years old, forget the terror that clutched his innards as they wheeled out what had seemed to be a lifeless, bloodied Jay from that building. He suspected he would have stood there unable to move if it had not been for Sarah Jane who had run past him, uncaring of the sporadic gunfire that was still ringing around them. How had they not gotten themselves killed?
They had driven almost to the centre that fateful day when Sarah Jane had an attack of…conscience, a premonition? He was just grateful that she made him turn around and drive all the way back to that avenue. Jay could not have made it otherwise. The police squad had been too busy trying to return the gunfire that had been released at them to successfully retrieve Jay AND evacuate him as they had planned. In the end, He and Sarah Jane had to haul Jay into that ill-equipped car and then drive off. Ah! That drive! How fortunate they hadn’t killed anyone, themselves included. He and Sarah Jane both had prayed like he was certain they had never prayed in their lives and amazingly, Jay made it back to the centre. Barely alive, barely breathing.
“How’s Sarah Jane?” Obinna asked suddenly.
Umar smiled wryly. “She’s stable now.” He replied. He cocked open one eyelid to see Obinna looking at him doubtfully. He burst out laughing at that. “She was exhausted.” “She pushed herself beyond her limits and cracked.” Umar shrugged as he readjusted himself against the wall. Obi absorbed that information and then asked.
“Do you think she is emotionally involved, attached to him?”
Umar purposely kept his eyes closed and his smile off his lips as he countered “Him? Who?”
“Mahmoud.” Obi answered and Umar’s eyes shut open and his head jerked off the wall.
Obi chuckled. “That got you right? Didn’t see that one coming.” He threw down his cigarette stub and extinguished it under his shoe.
“Why would you imagine that Mahmoud and Sarah Jane would be emotionally involved?” Umar queried.
Obinna laughed out loud. “I don’t even know why I’m amused.” He said as he simmered down. “I guess you could say it was easy for me to see because…I—I kind of like her myself.” He concluded self depreciatingly.
“You kind of like her yourself? What am I in? Some kind of time warp?”
“You don’t think she’s cute too?” Obinna smiled slyly
“She is but goodness! She’s our professional colleague!” Umar burst out.
“YOUR professional colleague.” Obi stressed. “It doesn’t seem to be stopping Mahmoud though.” He said.
“What’s not stopping Mahmoud?” Mahmoud asked as he came to join them.
“We might as well order drinks.” Umar bit out sarcastically.
Mahmoud cocked his eye brows questioningly at Obinna. “What’s eating him?” he asked.
Obinna just shook his head as he straightened off the wall. “Gotta go guys. Need to get back to the station.” He said as he did one of those arm clasps that only friends seemed to understand amongst themselves and left.
Mahmoud took his position against the wall and asked. “What was that about?” he asked Umar.
“If we’re both out here, what’s going on with our patients?” Umar responded testily.
“They are both stable.” Mahmoud responded as he looked Umar over in mild consternation. “What’s eating you up?” He asked again.
“Do you think that we’ve really gotten him stable?” Umar asked.
“Why do you think we’ve not? Forget I asked that.” Mahmoud sagged against the wall wearily. They both stared at the parking lot reserved for staff members behind the hospital building. Sometime during their interlude, it began to rain lightly.
“I doff my hat to his courage you know.” Umar began, “If I were in his shoes, I would have killed myself and be done with it.”
“Why?” Mahmoud asked sleepily.
“He…What is ‘he’?” Umar burst out. His anger at the injustice of it all colouring his voice.
“Jay.” Mahmoud answered simply and quietly. “He is Jay. Who or what Jay is? He’ll figure that out as he goes along I guess.”
“That’s a long, hard and lonely road he has ahead of him.”
Mahmoud began chuckling almost hysterically.
“What’s so funny?” Umar asked.
“The thought just popped into my head that ‘at least he gets hard’.” He hiccupped.
Umar smiled and shrug his back trying to find a more comfortable position.
“I worried that he wouldn’t. I worry about a lot of things. I have to trust God that he’ll be fine. Somehow.” Mahmoud continued.
“The weight God carries on His shoulders.” Umar opined.
“Guess that’s why He’s God.”
“Yeah! What prime example we now have of man playing God on our hands.”
Mahmoud shuddered involuntarily as his mind flashed through the journey that bringing Jay into their lives had taken them through. They both watched as a pretty nurse in her white uniform dashed through the rain to get into her car.
“That’s Nurse Sumbo. Probably the shift has changed.” Mahmoud said as he stretched up off the wall making to go back indoors.
“Yep.” Umar quipped as he joined him. “By the way, Obinna says he likes Sarah-J.”
“Oh?” Mahmoud asked testily stopping at the doorway and turning to Umar.
Umar buried his hands in the deep pockets and walked into the building while Mahmoud stood ponderingly for a few moments and then stalked in after him.
Jay opened his eyes gently as he woke that morning. He smiled. It felt good to wake up these days. He had lived under that dark cloud for so long that he had forgotten what the light felt like. He caught a movement in the corner of his eyes and jerked towards it reflectively. It would seem that darkness could still threaten him then. He peered at the group seated by the door of his hospital room as he waited for his blurry eyesight to focus. He wondered if he would ever regain his full vision.
When he had first opened his eyes at the hospital after that horrible night, he had not seen anything but shadows, like the world had turned black and white and then been inverted so that white seemed black and black seemed white. It had been such a confusing time for him. Mercifully, his eyesight had improved in the last two weeks. Now, it took awhile whenever he opened it for focus to come, but it always came.
“How are you doing Jay?”
The voice almost broke Jay. “Mrs. Acha?” he asked, his vision still blurry but clearer than before.
“Can you not see us?” The second voice finally had the tears leaking from his eyes, his vision clearing even more.
“Angie? And Mr. Acha?” he asked excitement ringing through his voice.
“Yes dear boy. It’s us.” It was the dear voice of Mrs. Acha. “We came as soon as they said we could. How are you doing? Can you not see?”
At that moment, his vision sharpened into focus and he could see their dear faces.
“I can now. It takes awhile whenever I close my eyes for too long.”
“How are you doing my boy?” Mr. Acha asked, concern and pride waging a war on his face.
Jay could only smile, speechless as he looked at this amazing family that had welcomed him, such an unknown entity into their hearts and homes.
“Much better for having you all here.” He sighed in mingled joy and relief.
“So…” Angie piped up, irrepressible as ever, “this is what this place looks like inside.” She beamed.
Jay chuckled. Trust Angie to bring that up. It had peeved her no end when she would drop him at the steps, those times he would hitch a ride with her for his check-ups at the Centre, and Mahmoud would ‘scowl’ her away before she had had a chance to peek.
“Yes.” He smiled. “This is it! Not quite as spectacular as you thought.”
“Oh! It’s spectacular enough! They perform miracles here.” She said. And just like that, a silence descended on them as each of them thought how grateful they were for miracles.
“That they do Angela. That they do.” Mr. Acha said. “Dr. Faizan isn’t sure when you’ll be let out but…we thought that if you would like it, we would like you to come home with us…”
“Even if it’s for awhile only!” Mrs. Acha put in when she saw the confused frown gathering on his brow.
“Don’t you want to come with us?” Angie asked her disappointment vivid on her face.
“Actually, I would love that so much.” Jay responded with a wry smile. “I was just wondering who… Oh! Mahmoud!” He tittered as he sat up on the bed and waited for gravity to settle before standing up.
“He’s so seldom called ‘Dr Faizan’ here I had forgotten that was his name.”
It was like the entire family heaved a collective sigh of relief. Jay smiled again.
“Seriously Ma, I’m fine.” He reiterated addressing Mrs. Acha. If he could convince the dear woman that he was not about to drop dead at her feet this instant, he was certain the other members of her household would soon follow suit.
Just then, ‘Dr. Faizan’ and ‘Dr. Ahmed’ bustled into the room.
“Ah! He’s awake.” Mahmoud said. “They refused to leave until they had seen you and since you are looking better than dead meat these days, I decided it was okay if they did.” He joked.
“Hahaha!” scoffed Jay as Umar came around and clapped a hand, hard, on his shoulder.
“What?” Jay challenged. “You’re expecting me to squeal like a girl right?” he took Umar’s hand in a deliberate motion and set it away from his shoulder.
“Look at him man up!” Umar teased.
Mahmoud put a hand to his chest, laughing silently as he said. “It’s really great that you guys can be so blasé about this. I can’t just yet. So can we stop with the boy jokes?”
Mr. Acha stood and clapped his hand on Mahmoud’s shoulder. “Me neither. Girls come on. We’ll come visit on another day.” He patted Jay on his shoulder. “I’m so glad you’ve come this far. We’ll be by to see you more often.”
“Get well real soon so we can come get you okay?” Mrs. Acha opined as she stood up to join her husband her face wreathed in smiles at their antics.
“Okay.” Jay nodded smiling in return.
“I don’t know about them, but I’ll be here tomorrow bright and early.” Angie said as she came to stand at the only empty space around his bed, smiling brightly at him.
“Don’t you have to be at school?” he asked, his hand itching to touch her. How ironic it was that it often took a brush with death to bring what is important to the fore in one’s mind.
“No!” she quipped. “I graduated a month ago!” She announced.
Jay squinted as he tried to calculate the timing. He gave up after a few moments. His brain wasn’t quite ready for that work out.
“Wow! Congrats Angie!” he said, genuinely excited for her. “I must have been ‘asleep’ for longer than I thought.” Jay joked.
Angie smile and let her hand stroke his shoulder as she walked away with her parents.
“Till tomorrow Sleeping Beauty.” She teased as the door shot behind them.
“She likes the heck out of you.” Mahmoud stated as soon as the door closed. Jay smiled as he made to undress for his morning round of exams.
“Hm! Indeed he likes her too.” Umar quipped as he turned to set up the equipments they would need.
Jay felt a blush come on. These guys!
“So…What are you going to do about it? Mahmoud asked as he went to assist Umar.
“Could ask the same of you?” Umar mumbled as he continued with his task.
“Spit it out.”Mahmoud said testily.
“She’s different.” Umar said.
“Can we not have this conversation here?” Umar responded sharply.
Mahmoud fell silent and continued with his task.
“You guys will have this conversation though?” Jay asked as he watched his friends grapple with whatever had them at odds. Jay had a good idea that Dr. Sarah Jane was somewhere in the middle of it but chose to let them sort it out.
Umar snorted. “This ‘incident’ has been good for you Jay.” He said.
Mahmoud looked up sharply at him while Jay watched him more languidly.
“Why would you think so?” He asked.
“You found your voice.” Umar snapped. “I like it!” He smiled brightly too.
Mahmoud stared hard at the young lady lying so still in the bed. If his stares could will the subconscious mind to move, Sarah Jane would have since been leaping about. Alas, his stares had not yet gotten her off the bed talk less of leaping.
“I can’t understand it!” He sighed. “Everything checks out. All her vitals, everything! Why won’t she just wake up?
“I have been thinking….” Umar said.
“What?” Mahmoud asked exasperatedly. “What? She’s different? I know.”
Umar looked up at him from his seat farther behind the bed and sighed.
“Okay. Let’s talk about that before we get to it shall we?” He said snarkily. Then he sighed. “This isn’t us Mahmoud. We don’t argue like this. Why her? Why not Farida? She’s been after you since we were in college. SHE fits! This girl doesn’t!”
Mahmoud couldn’t argue with that logic so he decided to remain quiet and see where it would go.
“I am not trying to be a bigot, believe me, I’m not. Just…” he raised his hand in a wondering gesture. “Why her?” he finished.
“I don’t know.” Mahmoud finally answered. “I surely did not expect this. I…logically Fari makes sense. She’s a great person. Pleasant, lovable, great to be around…yes! She makes sense! But…” he shook his head helplessly.
“You know what?” Umar said, “I think you’re letting yourself get carried away with the emotion of this whole situation.”
“So…I think I’m in love with Sarah Jane because we are caught up in Jay’s issues?” Mahmoud questioned carefully.
Umar shrugged his response. Mahmoud barked out a sharp laugh and turned to continue watching Sarah Jane.
“I just don’t want us to argue about this. Can you think about it? Will you?” Umar pleaded.
“Fine. I will. When I get over feeling a bit insulted.” Mahmoud acquiesced.
They both turned to watch Sarah Jane as she lay on the bed, breathing evenly but otherwise unmoving.
“What happened? We are missing something apparently.” Umar said after some time had passed.
“We’ve checked everything.” Mahmoud said woodenly.
“Well, apparently not.” Umar interjected. Mahmoud started to make a sharp retort but shut up.
“There has to be something we are missing.” Umar continued.
“Sometimes the mind…it’s a strange thing the mind.” Mahmoud said.
“Hm! I read those books too.” Umar got up to walk closer to the bed where Sarah Jane lay. “Did something odd happen that day? Something that would not be so, so obvious?”
“What do you mean?” Mahmoud asked. “You were the one with her. Should be you asking yourself that question.”
Umar turned to look at his friend who he held closer than a brother. “I AM talking to myself.” He said and turned back to watch Sarah Jane. He took a hold of her limp hand and turned it this way and that. He mumbled something to himself that Mahmoud did not quite hear. Then he took the other hand and did the same thing.
“Umar?” Mahmoud called out questioningly. Umar went right on studying other parts of her body and mumbling.
“What is it Umar? You know I can’t stand it when you do this!”Mahmoud exclaimed in exasperation.
Umar turned to look at him, a look of confused horror dawning on his face.
“She was bleeding when we came back!” He exclaimed. “She had a cut! We thought that perhaps some projectile had grazed her or some such thing.”
Mahmoud sprang from his seat and turned her arm over, looking for the cut that he himself had cleaned and dressed that day. It had been a nasty gash. He remembered being upset by it. It had seemed like a little cut until he had tried to clean it and realized that it had run really deep. He had been amazed that Sarah Jane had not felt the pain on the ride over to the hospital but Umar had said she had been so focused on Jay making it to the hospital alive that it might have dulled the pain for a period.
Not seeing any wound on that arm, he made to pick up the other arm to check it out when Umar’s voice stopped him.
“There’s no wound there too.” He said.
Mahmoud went ahead and checked that arm too. Indeed there was no wound.
“How can that be?” He asked, just as confused as Umar seemed. He checked her pulse rate, felt for her temperature, put his head to her chest to hear her breathing.
“I never saw what might have injured her.” Umar contemplated. “What if..?” he turned to look at Mahmoud a look of contemplative wonder slipping over his face. He touched Sarah Jane, feeling her up as he went.
“Umar?” Mahmoud questioned as he watched his friend’s hand feel up Sarah Jane.
Umar abruptly dropped his hand. “Get Jay here.” He said in an awful tight voice. “We need to do some blood work.”
“What is it Umar?” Mahmoud asked worriedly. “What is it?”
“It’s been nagging at me but I wasn’t sure what it was. I’m still not sure what it is.” Umar started. Suddenly, he grabbed Mahmoud’s hands and ran it carefully along Sarah Jane’s arm. “What is your impression?” he asked Mahmoud?
“Impression?” Mahmoud asked at a loss to his friend’s line of questioning.
“What do you think about her skin?” Umar urged.
“Smooth? Soft. A bit warm maybe?” Mahmoud said as Umar continued to carefully and slowly run his hand up and down Sarah Jane’s arm. “What should I be seeing? Feeling?” Mahmoud asked in confusion, his heart hammering away as he saw the intense look on his friend’s face.
“Mahmoud…this….” He abruptly dropped Mahmoud’s hand and exhaled noisily. “Let’s do that blood work. Get Jay back in stat. I think something bad must have happened to Sarah-J that day. A lot worse that a cut. Perhaps it became an infected cut? But I need those samples and I need them now!” He said as he hustled Mahmoud out into the corridor.
“What Umar? What are your suspicions?” Mahmoud grabbed his friend’s arm and jerked him to a stop. “TELL ME!” he yelled.
“I think she’s dying…or maybe dead.” Umar intoned looking at the floor not wanting to see the effect of his suspicions on his friend.
Mahmoud burst out laughing. He laughed hysterically for a few minutes while Umar watched him carefully, wavering between alarm and relief. Finally, he stopped laughing so hard and he could speak.
“Come on Umar! I know you would rather Fari but…this is just too much!” he shouted, anger colouring his voice.
“You think I would wish her dead just so you could wed Fari?” Umar asked in amazement. “Guy, did you feel anything at all when you felt up her skin?” Umar questioned in amazement.
Mahmoud felt the anger that had been surging in him spluttering to a stop. “What are you saying? We just left her breathing, alive!”
“I know you haven’t worked with bodies as extensively as I have but there’s something off about that…Sarah-J’s …there’s something off. And there’s no sign of that wound. None at all! A wound that deep! Think Mahmoud! Think!”
Mahmoud looked steadily at his friend, his mind churning with fully formed thoughts and half sketched ones. Suddenly, his mind emptied of all other thoughts and only one, a black smoke of impressions and half-formed thoughts remained. He felt the horror he had seen earlier on Umar’s face dawning on him.
“Oh my God!” he whispered.
“Get Jay!” Umar instructed as he headed towards the back of the building where the labs were.
She could sense their fear and worry like it was a living, breathing presence. She really would that they took it away with them. Anywhere but around here!
Finally, they did leave. She knew those people. She was sure of that. What she wasn’t sure of was how she got to be here and where ‘here’ was. She tried opening her eyes again and the brightness of the light had here snapping it close once more. This was the fifth time she had tired in the last hour.
Umar. Mahmoud. She smiled fondly as memories floated lazily into her mind. Jay. He made it then. It seemed like ages ago since those events occurred but that couldn’t be right. They had been discussing it like it had been fairly recent. What was wrong with her? Why couldn’t she see beyond the bright light? Was she dead? Stuck in a limbo of some sort? What? She tried flexing her hand and discovered that she could so she tried with various body parts. Toes next, elbows, knees, holding her breathe and releasing it, tucking in her stomach and releasing it. That’s right! A doctor! That’s what she was. She was a doctor. All seemed well but yet, she felt uneasy.
There was a surge in her ear, like some electrical charge pumped suddenly through her system. Then the caterwauling began. There were so many sounds in her head. It seemed like some ear plug was suddenly removed from her ears in a market place and all the sounds came at her at once.
She slapped her hand to her ears and in the process, pulled off the intravenous syringe that she had been hooked to. The noise seemed to go on unabated. She squirmed and turned on the bed looking for escape from the agony in her head but there was no escape. She jumped from the bed and rushed to the connecting bathroom, slamming the door shut. It sounded like a thunderbolt. She leaned against the closed door, the sounds in her head muting only a little.
Her breathes came in huge gasps. She felt like she was choking. Like she couldn’t take in enough air on a normal breathe. She looked down on her chest as it expanded and contracted abnormally. It looked and felt like her heart was about to burst out of her chest.
Only when Sarah Jane slapped at her tears and did she realize that she was crying and then she began to sob in earnest.
She did not understand what was happening to her but the unease trotting up and down her spine told her that whatever was going on with her was bad. Really bad! She wasn’t sure how long she sat in the corner of the bathroom alternately crying and staring blankly into space, trying to make sense of the unreasonable when she heard the door to the main room open and then shut.
‘Have they moved her?’ she heard the nurse on duty mumble to herself as she exited the room.
Instinct took over. She had to get out of here! She would not, could not become a lab rat. She needed to understand what was happening to her. Make sense of what was happening to her. Until then, she would lie low. She opened the door and stepped into the room. She walked swiftly to the outer door and opened it. She peeped out into the corridor and looked up and down it. It was empty. Good! She snuck out of the room and walked down the hallway into the laundry room. As she changed into some clothes she found that might fit, she tried to rationalize that it was an emergency and that she would return the clothes once she could. She walked back out into the hallway and made for the nearest side exit.
As the door shut behind her, she heard the blast of sounds of rushing feet and heightened emotions and the voices…oh the voices. It was a cacophony. She stumbled to the gates just as an ambulance screamed into the premises. In the resulting chaos, she was able to walk on to the street without much notice. She breathed easier for having escaped from the hospital but her heart still raced with apprehension. Something bad was happening to her. She could feel the urgency of it pumping through her veins.
As she turned the corner of the hospital fence, she bumped into someone on the sidewalk. The young, well built man fell down flat on his rear like he had been violently pushed.
“Ah! Sister wetin I do you nah?” the young man exclaimed.
Sarah Jane starred at him in consternation and mumbled an apology of sorts as she side-stepped him and practically ran off as the sound of his voice ranting followed her. When she got to a bus stop, she stopped running and bent over double, her head buzzing. What had just happened? Then she realized that she wasn’t even winded by her almost 200 meters dash to the bus stop. She stood up abruptly and looked around her. She needed help. She was convinced of that, but who to turn to? She had never imagined that such a thing would happen to her. What was it that was happening to her? She saw a taxi cab making its way down the street towards the bus stop and flagged it down. Where to go to? Who to go to?
The taxi came to a stop beside her. “Aunty, where?” the cab driver called. Sarah Jane made a snap decision. “Area C Police headquarters.” She responded.
“Ah! That na two thousand naira o!” he responded.
“I will pay one thousand five.” Sarah Jane bantered.
“Join small monie for me Aunty. This is hold-up period.”
“Okay. One six.” She said “And that’s my last o!” she said and stepped away from the cab.
“Oya enter!” the cab driver said as he released the locks on the car.
Sarah Jane got in on a sigh of relief. She hoped that her gamble was going to pay off. She couldn’t think of anyone else to turn to. No one else.
Jay watched the images of news broadcast fly past on the television screen. He was oblivious to the worried looks that Angela kept sending his way as the news caster delved into the details of the story with what seemed like unholy glee.
It was official. His life was the latest ratings-busting reality show. It should have been funny but he wasn’t laughing. Wasn’t it ironic that just when it seemed he was getting his life back on track, the sordid details of his life as some group’s favourite ‘toy’ would begin making the headlines on all the news channels? They even reported on the airport blast. It was fortunate that they apparently had no concrete evidence if not he had no doubt in his mind the police would be beating down the door to arrest him at this point.
He couldn’t blame them. It all sounded fantastic, even to his ears and he had lived it! This was his life they were drawling on about. The television snapped off and Jay looked up wondering if there had been a power failure. No, all the other electrical appliances were humming in the background.
“You shouldn’t watch it. You’ve come a long way from that person.” Angela said remote in hand, still pointing at the television.
Jay starred at that remote wondering if he should just snatch it from her hand and continue with the self immolation he had been indulging in.
“It wasn’t even you. Not the real you. There was so much stuff in you how could you know what was you and what wasn’t?” she continued, her voice seemingly pleading for understanding.
Jay sighed. He was dragging this precious girl into his sordidness. Funny how when he had been fighting to live post surgery, he hadn’t felt sordid. No, it had to wait till now, till the trial of Doctor Greene and his cohorts, for the sordidness of it all to overwhelm him.
“It was me.” Jay responded in a whisper like he was scared what admitting it out loud would do. Wipe away almost two years of trying? He shuddered. He never wanted any of it. He never asked for it. If only he could remember where or when it had all began but he couldn’t. What had he not tried? Even hypnotism but that too hadn’t worked!
“It may have looked like you, sounded and walked like you but THAT wasn’t you Jay! I know you! You wouldn’t have hurt a fly if you knew which way was up and you didn’t Jay! You didn’t.” she railed.
Jay slouched into himself. Her words coming at him like so much stinging wasps. Perhaps he should just let go. What was the use? What use was he in a world full of normal people, competent people, unaltered people?
The sofa dipped as she came to seat by him. He felt her arms go around him, slim, firm, strong, just right and drew a deep breath. In spite of himself, he felt his body react to her closeness. He was in love with this girl. It was more than he could ever have imagined happening to him but here he was, in love and more worried about how involved with his mess she was letting herself become than with what would actually become his fate now that the story was out.
He shrugged himself loose from her grip and she scooted closer to embrace him again.
“No Angie.” She ignored him and made to put her arms back around him. “Angie stop.” he directed.
“Why?” she challenged. “Am I not allowed to comfort you?”She asked. “Must you stand alone? Must you go it alone?”
“Angie.” He groaned. “Angie…I don’t even know where I’m going.” He shifted further away from her.
“Now. You don’t know it now but you’ll figure it out.” She smiled. “You are frighteningly brilliant.” She continued. “Once you’ve had time to think through it, I have no doubts you’ll make it all work.” Somehow she had scooted close enough to put her head on his shoulder.
His shoulder. Jay smiled. That was something else. It seemed he was going through a delayed puberty and his shoulders were broadening at an alarming rate. He had had to replace some of his shirts when they had stopped fitting.
“See!” she teased. “It will be alright once you think on it!” Angie said, completely mistaking the reason for his smile. Jay patted her hand that she had placed on his lap and stood up. He held out his hand to help her to her feet. She put her hand in his and stood facing him.
“Thanks Angie.” He smiled at her. “Your faith in me leaves me humbled. I will try to live up to it.” He patted her hand once again and turned saying over his shoulder.
“I’m off to the Centre. I would like to speak to Mahmoud and Umar.”
“Yes. How about the whole Dr. Sarah Jane thing? Has anything new come up?” Angela asked as she walked him to the door.
“I’ll find out when I get there.”Jay said. “I just hope that wherever she is, she’s okay somewhat.”
“Hmm! Poor woman. Can’t imagine what she must be thinking. I pray whatever it is isn’t as bad as…” she trailed off.
“I hope so too.” Jay said in earnest. “I really hope so.”
He shut the door behind him as he made his way into the streets.
Angela turned from the front door to see both her parents sitting on a step in the stair well. She stared at them in surprise for a moment.
“Oh.” She said as she walked towards the sofa adopting a nonchalant gait. “I did not see you there.” When there was no response, she turned to look again at them. Her father had an eyebrow cocked up in question.
Angie made a nonplussed face at him and he shook his head in bemusement.
“I am almost afraid to ask you what that was about.” He commented.
Mrs. Acha grunted and clapped her hand together in a sign of consternation.
“Angela? Are you..? Hey! Are you ‘liking’ Jay or was I confusing things just now?”
Angela sat up on the sofa. “Mummy I don’t understand what you are hinting at? I’ve always liked Jay. We’ve always gotten along well enough.” She said belligerently.
“See her! Oh! You are ‘liking’ him!” she turned to her husband, “Of all the people that she could have like…!”
“DON’T!” Angela screamed. “Mummy please don’t say it!” she slunk back on the sofa, her eyes brimming with as yet unshed tears.
There was an uncomfortable silence amongst them. After awhile Mr. Acha took a deep breath.
“How? When did you realize your feelings for him?” he asked his daughter.
Angela stared at the ceiling as she tried to collect her thoughts. “Probably since the first day.” She replied. “I wouldn’t say I…fell in love with him at first sight.” She rushed on as her mother clapped her hands in part derision and consternation. “He was such a mess that first time. But he was brilliant and gentle. A little lost but he had been so brave.” She sighed. “I’m not sure when it happened.” She continued. “I just know that I love him. With all my heart and soul I love him.” At her mother’s snort she continued, “I love him Mummy! I did not ask to. I wasn’t even expecting to…love was not something on the radar for me! It came as a surprise.” She ended on a whisper as if she was surprised all over again. She looked up into her father’s eyes.
“Does he love you too?” he asked.
“I don’t know. I like to think so…I’ve never told him.”
“Jackson?” Mrs. Acha asked a look of frowning surprise on her face.
Mr. Acha drew a deep breath and stood up from the step. “Perhaps you should and let’s…have this conversation again.” He turned and walked back up the stairs feeling every creak in his bones. His wife followed after him mumbling complaints and dire warnings. Angela stared up after her parents alternating between relief that she had it all out in the open and terror that she had to come clean with Jay.
She lay back down on the sofa, her mind in turmoil and in all that whirling and churning, she heard a clear voice speak in her head. She needed direction and in this her peculiar situation, she knew just the Person to turn to. She went to Him in prayer.
There were rain showers and warm sunlight in his heart! He felt like the sun had had just come out from behind the clouds in the rain. Angela loved him too!
Jay chuckled at his fanciful thoughts. ‘Really Jay! That’s the best you could come up with in horrible poetry?’
His hazy, dreamy vision cleared as he was brought back to earth by Angie’s single-worded question.
“I’m a truly selfish person.” He said.
“Wash your mouth!” Angie hissed as she continued arranging the flowers she had just brought in from the garden.
“I am.” Jay insisted. “Your mum is horrified and I can’t blame her. I keep saying to myself, ‘Jay, do the right thing and let this go’, but I can’t.”
Angie stilled in the act of doing her task waiting for him to continue.
“What kind of life could I possibly offer you?” he queried. “How long will we have to wait until I can put things together, make something of myself and offer you…”
“Are we harping on about that again?” Angie interrupted as she turned her attention once again to her task.
“Angie be serious! Maybe your mum is right. Maybe…”
“Jay don’t …do you really mean it? When you say you love me too? Or is that just some overflow of emotions…? She stopped at the wounded look that came to Jay’s eyes. She sighed and dropped her flowers once again.
“Jay, I’m not a fool and despite popular perception, I wasn’t born yesterday. Of course I know it’s not going to be easy. I KNOW that it will be particularly challenging. The labs, the test, the not knowing what to expect, the uncertainty of the future! I KNOW!!!” she put an arm on his shoulder and rubbed at the tension she felt coiling under it.
“We’ll do this together Jay. No one should ever have to walk this road alone. No, it’s not pity. You’re strong Jay. You would go it alone if you had to, I know it. And you would come out ahead too! But I want to be a part of this, Jay. I really want to be standing with you on the other side.”
“I should say no.” Jay lamented.
“But you won’t.” Angie interjected with a smile. “I won’t let go. I’m certain that this is where I was meant to be.”
“Do you…what are you letting yourself in for Angie?”
“All of it. Let me.”
Jay looked away from her and tried to master his emotions. He wondered satirically if the super hormones had made him more ‘feminine’ than had been anticipated. He felt her nudge and turned back to her.
“Can I even say no?” he tried for a teasing tone to a half serious question.
“No. You can’t. You already know I won’t let you so don’t bother.” She smiled as she gathered up her flowers and made to go indoors.
“Aren’t you going to finish that?” he asked.
“When you’ve destroyed my mood with all your talk?” she queried and hissed, walking away saucily. When she got to the kitchen door, she turned to look at him over her shoulder. He was still sitting on the garden bench looking bemusedly at her.
“Why are you still there?” she asked imperiously. “Can’t you see my hands are occupied and you need to get the door for me?”
“Already ma’am?” Jay asked saucily as he jumped up to get the door for her. “You can’t even put a lid on it till after…” he trailed off in part alarm and part elation.
Angie put a sway to her hips as she walked saucily past him into the house.
“Oh, but this is just a tiny part of my repertoire. You just wait.” She pouted and burst out laughing. It was the precious sound of optimistic youth.
**** **** ****
Doctor Greene looked thoroughly unkempt.
The thought flitted through Sarah Jane’s mind as she sat there looking blankly at what had once been her respected colleague and dare she believe it, friend.
“You’re looking well Sarah Jane. Come to gloat at me?” he asked, his voice a cadence some between a sneer and what sounded like shame.
Sarah Jane sat quietly, staring at him for a brief moment and wondering at the best way to proceed.
“Why would I come to gloat? Shouldn’t you be the one gloating? What have you done to me?” she asked as calmly as she could.
There was a look of confusion on Doctor Greene’s face as he tried to make sense of her questions.
“What do you mean what I’ve done to you? He asked.
“Are you going to pretend with me?” Sarah Jane snapped. “Have you no humanity left at all in you? Would you pretend that you know nothing and let me…us flounder like you did with Jay?” and then as she felt her anger rise at the unfairness, the injustice of it all, “What sort of monster are you that you would do this to people? Without their knowledge! Without their consent!” she fairly screamed.
“Madam, if you don’t keep your voice down, we’ll have to escort you out!” came the sharp reprimand from the guard.
Sarah Jane quieted down, her eyes blazing at Greene.
“Sarah Jane, I assure you, I have no idea what you are talking about. Has something happened with Jay? Did the …? He cut off abruptly.
“Did what Doctor?” Sarah Jane pounced. “What did you do?”
Greene looked at the guard and then back at Sarah Jane. He apparently had something to say but was assessing, calculating things in his mind.
“Please say it!” Sarah Jane said, a pleading note colouring her voice albeit reluctantly. She had come too far to leave without some answers. She would not survive the torment Jay had. She never wanted to walk in Jay’s shoes.
“There were some… antibodies we were developing.” Greene said pitching his voice so low that both he and Sarah Jane had to lean into each other across the table in order to hear.
“Antibodies?” Sarah Jane queried, matching Greene’s pitch.
“Yes, antibodies. They were supposed to bolster him.” Greene rubbed his forehead as if to scramble his thoughts into some semblance of sense and then he continued. “The cartel wanted to continue with the experiments on Jay. They would have attempted to reverse everything that we had done and even go further. I couldn’t…Jay…had been through too much already. The thought of him going through all of that again was unpalatable to me. So I was going to give him a bolster, the antibodies, to make it easier maybe.” He finished.
“Maybe?” Sarah Jane shrieked. She reduced her voice again to a whisper when she received a sharp glance from the guard. “You were willing to put him through it all again? Use untested ‘god-knows-what’ on him?” Sarah Jane lost her words for a moment, unable to communicate her rumble of emotions through mere words. “Well, you know what? ‘I’ got that shot it seems.” Her words like bullets shooting from her mouth and hitting target dead on. “And I’m changing!” she flapped her arms in frustration.
Greene’s eyes narrowed as he looked at her as if trying to access the truth of her tirade in his mind.
“What do you mean changing?” he questioned, the scientist in him coming to the fore.
“You mean you have no idea what I might be changing into? What monster do you think I’ll eventually develop into? Will I become horned? Beaked? Oh no! Three-legged? What?” she yelled sarcasm dripping from her voice.
“Madam, your time is up.” The prison guard interrupted.
“Please, can I just have a minute, just one more minute with her.” Greene commanded. The guard acquiesced and Sarah Jane remembered how ‘in-charge’ she always thought Greene was. Even when the rest of them were floundering with Jay, he always seemed to know what he wanted to do and how.
“Sarah Jane, get a hold of yourself. This is no time for you to lose that legendary focus I’ve always admired. Sarah Jane found herself trying to swallow air as she fought for calm.
“There may be an antidote.” Greene said his voice dropping even lower.
“What?” Sarah Jane jerked in surprise and hope.
“There’s no time. Go to this address; 6, Luckman Way, Masha Estate. It shouldn’t be too hard to find. There is a key in the fifth flowerpot by your right on the porch once you climb up the front stairs.”
“Sir, your one minute is up.” The guard interrupted as he came forward and pulled roughly at Doctor Greene. He shuffled him towards the door leading back into the inner recesses of the prison.
As they went, Doctor Greene turned round to Sarah Jane, who still sat, immobile with shock, on her seat. “I’m sorry Sarah Jane. Believe me, I wish…good luck.” He said and turned back around, leaving the room quietly with the guard.
“A male prostitute!” the voice blasted in his head. “You’d have my niece wed a male prostitute! Worse, a freak show!”
Jackson Acha put his hands over his ears and gripped his head as if hoping that it will free his brother’s voice from his head. The conversation he had had with Simeon had been replaying ceaselessly in his head. With it came questions, doubts…
“God my Father.” He whispered, his agony robbing him of words to pray. As he sat bent over, with his head held in his hands, his wife’s feet came within his line of vision.
He looked up to see her face was a composed mask of worry. For the first time since they had met each other some twenty six years before, they both stared at each other at loss for words to say that could express their deepest emotions and thoughts.
Agnes sighed as she took a seat next to her husband on the bench.
“Why are you being adamant?” she asked. “Angie is a beautiful girl. A precious soul, a loving, giving heart…” she broke off her impassioned speech, not knowing how to reach her husband, to convince him to withdraw his tacit consent.
Jackson was silent for awhile and then he released a sigh.
“Is Jay not worthy of her?” he asked. “You love that boy. You know him. Is he less? I could ask you the same question Agnes, why?”
Agnes looked away from him, her slippers-shod feet slapping on the ground pensively. They were both quiet for a long moment.
“Do you regret it?” Jackson asked. “Do you regret everything? Jay, letting him into our home? Our lives?
Agnes stared blankly at the shrubs and flowers in her back garden for another long moment.
“Do you know…”she started, “I’m so confused.” She exhaled deeply.
“He’s such a loving, sensitive young man.” Jackson said. “Yes, some of it is out of the past that he has had but has his past reduced his humanity?” He turned to look at his wife. “What scares you so much?” he asked.
“Aren’t you scared for her?”Agnes countered. “Think! It was all over the news! It’s not even fully out of people’s consciousness. He’s become some kind of poster boy for everything bad about…science! Genetics! Gender… and all that sort of thing! How are they going to live with that? How?”
“Is that it? Or is this just because it’s Angie?” Mr. Acha asked calmly.
“How can it not be because of Angie? She’s our only daughter!” she flared. “Our only child!” she whispered brokenly. She was silent for a moment and then she continued, “I want grandkids! Can that happen? Will that happen? I want Angie to be happy, settled, cared for. Now she wants to be a care giver for the rest of her life! This is not…my dream for her. This is not what we prepared her for!” she railed.
“Maybe so.” Jackson said while an inner glow lighted his eyes as some gem of understanding began blossoming in his spirit.
“Maybe so Agnes but it doesn’t mean that God wasn’t… hasn’t brought her up for such a time as this.” He said and turned to look at his wife with a smile. Agnes looked at him in consternation, wondering what he was talking about, seeing the look on his face and seeking, in her despair, to come to the same understanding that he seemed to have attained.
Jackson grabbed his wife’s hand and patted it gently, stroked it lovingly. “Trust God with me?” he asked in his most entreating voice. “Has HE ever let us down?” he asked.
Agnes shook her head in response. Jackson smiled and patted her hand in encouragement. Agnes gaped at him in confusion and then sighed towards Heaven.
“Okay.” she said.
**** **** **** **** ****
Mahmoud spun the car into parking position and jumped out, barely avoiding the door slam against his fingers in his haste. His head had been spinning since he got the text from Umar.
Meet me at Obinna’s. We’ve found her.
He didn’t need any further explanation. Sarah Jane was in Obinna’s house. How? Had he snuck her out of the hospital that day? He had been worried out of his mind. If the sucker had kept her all the while they had worried, he’d probably punch him. He took the stairs in twos and threes, trepidation pumping adrenaline through his veins. When he got to the front door to the apartment, he pounded on it. The door opened silently on its hinges to reveal Obinna with Umar standing behind him.
“Where is she?” Mahmoud asked as he stalked into the apartment looking around agitatedly.
Umar responded by corking his thumb towards a shut door. Mahmoud made for the door only to be arm-checked by Obinna.
“That’s the rest room bozo. She’ll be out soon enough.” He said.
Mahmoud flung his hand away from him and walked to a sofa to sit and wait.
“How did you find her?” he asked Obinna.
“She came looking for me at the station.” He responded. After a short pause and no further question from Mahmoud, he continued, “She wanted me to help her speak with Doctor Greene.”
Mahmoud flung himself back on the sofa in agony. Up till that moment, he had not realized that he had been hoping that the whole incident had been a mistake, a figment of their hyper-active imagination, everything explainable in some other way.
“What…has she spoken with him?” He asked
“About a week ago.”Obinna nodded.
“You’ve known where she was for more than a week? And you’re just letting us know?” Mahmoud railed. “Did you know as well?” he turned to Umar. Umar turned away in a huff, not bothering to answer him and sat on an armchair opposite him.
The door to rest room opened and Sarah Jane came out through it.
“I asked him not to tell you guys. How are you doing Mahmoud?” she asked, her face strangely blank and unreadable.
Mahmoud stood up and walked towards her stretching out his arms to envelope her in a hug. A few paces from her, he came to an abrupt halt. Her skin seemed to shine with some inner glow, like she was iridescent. It had not been apparent to him while he had been sitting on the sofa but it was pretty obvious this close to her. He stared at her as she stood there watching him calmly while he came to terms with the reality that something was really different about Sarah Jane.
“Why is your skin glowing?” he asked. Umar snorted but Mahmoud paid him no mind.
Sarah Jane took a deep breath. “Apparently, I somehow got injected with some antibodies that Greene originally intended for Jay.” She said as she made her way to the remaining armchair in the room. As she took her seat, she continued. “He says he had a moment of…compassion. So, he intended to give him a shot of something he called a bolster hoping to make it easier for him the second time around. He hadn’t been able to administer it before the raid happened and somehow, it got into me instead.” She took a sip from the glass of water that had been on a stool beside her chair.
“Why are you so calm about this?” Mahmoud queried in consternation.
“I guess I’ve cried myself out.” She shrugged. “I have had time to digest the news.” She placed the glass back down on the stool. “At first, I was devastated. The thought of going through what Jay had was so…more than I could possibly stand. But then, I saw Greene. He says there is a possible antidote.”
“Where?” Mahmoud asked even as he backtracked to his seat.
“He gave an address. Obi and I have been there but somehow, we’ve been unable to gain access to the building. The keys were not where he said it would be. We’re beginning to think it’s a hoax.”
“So? Let’s go back and get better directions from him. He owes Sarah Jane this much!” Mahmoud exclaimed.
“We can’t. It’s going to cost me some major favours already for the visit we managed. I don’t see how we can pull off a second one.” Obinna said from where he lounged against a door frame.
“Besides, if he was lying the first time, what stops him from sending us on a wild goose chase a second time?” Umar queried rhetorically.
“Guys, slow down.” Sarah Jane interrupted. “I don’t need you guys to come with me on this quest. I’ll do this on my own.” She said.
“Sarah Jane, don’t be stubborn about this.” Obinna pleaded.
Sarah Jane smiled faintly. “It’s better this way.”
“Why is that?” Umar asked.
“It’s safer. We can’t risk anyone else being exposed to whatever crazy stuff these guys were playing with. So it’s safer I go. Alone.”
There was silence after that as each man tried to find an argument that could overturn her point. None of them could think of one.
“How would you go about it?” Umar asked.
Sarah Jane drew another deep breath. “I don’t think Greene was lying. There is something in that house that I need to get. It is either his directions weren’t entirely correct or someone else has those keys. I need to get into that house and hope that if someone else has access, they are either not savvy enough or did not know Greene well enough to find it.” She leaned forward. “I will find it. Whatever that antidote is, I will find it.”
“And then?” Mahmoud asked.
“What if the antidote doesn’t work? It may not work you know.” Obinna opined.
“It must work. I won’t live like this.” Sarah Jane remarked.
And they had nothing else to add to that.
The court room was buzzing. For some reason, Jay had expected it to be gravely silent instead. He walked in and was guided straight to the dock to the right side of the judge. He hazarded a look at the judge who it seemed was looking at him like he was an oddity being studied at an exhibition. Jay turned to look at the rest of the court room and finally, at the other side of the room where his eyes came to mind-jarring contact with Doctor Greene’s.
Jay rapidly turned away from him. He wondered again why he did not take the option of giving a deposition at the force headquarters. They had actually offered him that option concerned about the media storm that the case had generated. His ‘stubborn gene’ had chosen an inopportune time to assert its self and he had insisted on showing up at court.
May be he had wanted to look in the face of his tormentors and …resolve his fears? Bring some sort of closure to his nightmare?
He realized that the court clerk had asked him a question to which he had not responded.
“Christian, Muslim or Traditional practitioner?” the man repeated.
Jay paused for a moment. He couldn’t remember ever being asked this question before and he was uncertain what he believed.
“Christian.” He responded after the pause. The Achas were christian and if he was something of a surrogate son to them, then perhaps he should be christian even if he was not exactly sure what that meant.
His oath was taken. He would tell the truth, so help him God. What was true and what wasn’t? His life as he remembered it was so unbelievable he was never sure where reality stopped and paranoia began. If he were being truthful, he had to admit that there were large holes in his memory of some of the more critical events of those days. What was real and what was paranoia?
When the defense lawyer began his questioning, Jay tried to pay particular attention. The lawyer for the prosecution and his team had tried to prepare him for this. Prepare him for the nuances that he should be wary of. Jay wasn’t sure he could do this without tripping himself up.
“Mr. Jay please answer the question.” He heard the judge address him.
“I’m sorry. Can you repeat it?” he requested.
“Why did you never attempt to escape, even when you had opportunity to do so?” the lawyer repeated his question. “You had ample opportunity for escape. You met with people who could have facilitated your escape. Why did you not?
Jay was thoughtful for a moment. “There was nowhere to go.” He finally admitted.
“Not even home?” the lawyer persisted.
Jay felt the press of the bated breathes in the court room as it seemed that everyone leaned forward to hear his response. He looked at the lawyer for the prosecution. His eyes searched for his small cluster of friends, Obinna, Umar, Mahmoud and Oscar, the guy he had met in the group therapy class that he was attending.
“Mr. Jay?” the lawyer prodded the gleam in his eyes revealing his excitement. It seemed his body was
“Not even home.” Jay responded in a quiet voice.
“And why not Mr. Jay? I would think that if you had wanted to escape, home, would be the logical place to go to.
Jay looked directly at the man. Looked straight into his eyes as if to see his soul and understand how he could stand against the humanity of another person.
“I can’t remember. I can’t remember my life before the…research.”
He saw the lawyer’s eyes steady as he focused his point for the kill.
“Amnesia, Mr. Jay?” his voice had a sing-song quality to it.
“It would seem so.”
“How extensive is your amnesia Mr. Jay?” he thrust.
“I…am awaiting a result on my medical evaluation on that.” Jay parried.
“You mean to tell this honourable court that you have never had a mental evaluation since your rescue from this…ordeal.” His tone was clearly indicative of his cynicism.
“I had one immediately upon my release. But I have been regaining my memory. There’s been a lot that I’ve remembered…”
“How credible are these memories?”
“How do you mean?” Jay asked getting upset. The lawyer raised an eyebrow but continued with his questioning.
“Is it not possible that these memories are figments of your imagination?”
“Objection my lord!” the cry of the prosecuting lawyer rang out.
“Sustained! Counsel kindly restrain yourself and do not make conjectures before this honourable court that cannot be proven competently at this time.
“My Lord!” the lawyer bowed his compliance. “That will be all from me for this witness for now. May I crave the court’s indulgence to recall this witness as may be required at a later date?”
“Counsel, we will discuss that at a later time. Your witness, prosecution.” The judge said crisply.
And it began all over again.
**** **** **** **** **** **** ****
His head was pounding by the time he was finally let out of the dock. As he passed by on his way out of the court room his eyes were drawn to the bench where Doctor Greene and his fellow mad scientist sat. There was nothing in their expressions to indicate what they were thinking. It was as if a one-size-fits-all mask had been drawn over their faces. None of them looked at him as he left. Not one of them.
Conversely, it seemed that everyone else couldn’t stop staring at him. He could feel the whispers of their curiosity on his skin as he walked by. The questions he had been asked and had been made to answer reverberating in his head as he struggled to put one foot in front of the other on his way out. Jay had never felt more the specimen and less the human than he felt in that moment.
‘And to think that I have to come back for more of this.’ That was his last viable thought before he was blinded by the lights of several dozen cameras going off in his face.
He raised his hand to shield his eyes and felt someone grab a hold of his hand from behind him. He turned on the person reflexively only to see that it was Obinna.
“Just keep moving.” He said as he shoved through the crowd of reporters while keeping a firm grip on Jay. Jay marveled at the number of journalist and cameramen trying to get his attention.
“Jay! Turn this way!”
“Jay what does it feel like?”
“Are you going to bring a personal suite of action against Doctor Greene?”
“Mr. Jay I represent Our Society Magazine and we would be interested in doing a cover story.”
“What are you plans now Mr. Jay?”
That stopped Jay on his track. He felt Obinna tug harder. ‘What are my plans now?’
Obinna shoved him hurriedly into a police car and hurried to the other side of the vehicle to get in even as the car had begun moving out of the court premises, scattering the last of the lingering journalist as it sped off.
“Good morning Mr. Jay. You may go in now. First door to your right on that corridor.” The smartly dressed lady pointed in the direction he needed to go.
Jay thanked her as he stood to keep his appointment. From the corner of his eyes, he noticed the lady eye him appreciatively. He never knew what to make of it when he got those looks. The last time he had been conscious of them, he had not been sure of what he was.
He stopped at the door that had been described and read the name boldly emblazoned on the tag, ‘Mara Adeolu, Editor-in-chief.’
Mentally adjusting his appearance, he knocked and on hearing a muffled come in, opened the door. It was a really bright space and it took him a short moment to adjust to it after the more dimly lit waiting room and corridor. As his vision focused, he could more clearly see the lady sitting at the desk directly across from him. It seemed to be a rather large, well appointed office. But how would he know how these things went? His experiences of offices were sadly limited.
“Good morning Madam.” He greeted in his most ‘professional’ voice.
“Take a seat Mr. Jay.” The forthrightness of her tone had him scrambling to do her bidding.
“Good morning Mr. Jay. What can we do for you?” she asked with a beaming smile after he had sat.
Perhaps, it was a combination of her manner and her smile which had surprisingly lit up her face with an inner glow that rendered it beautiful though not classically so that rendered Jay at a loss for how to begin. He had had it all clear in his mind but something about her ‘welcome’ had thrown him off course.
“I…wo…Would you by any chance be interested in me writing for your magazine?”
Mara seemed taken aback by his request and Jay felt the compulsive need to allay her…concerns?
There must have been a telling frown on his face because she opened her mouth as if to speak and then shut it again with a nonplussed expression on her face.
“Jay, can I call you Jay?” she asked and continued at his nod. “That was unexpected.” Her voice slurred like she was struggling to get her words out.
“I imagined you wanted us to do a story on your experiences…journey, but to want to write? What…have you ever done some w… scratch that!” she snorted out a laugh more to herself than at Jay.
“I suppose what I’m trying so unsuccessfully to say is that we are…I am honoured that you would bring this offer to us. What would you want to write about though? We are a women’s monthly magazine and the demographic that subscribes…I’m not sure whether…” she trailed off looking thoughtful. She tilted her head to the side as she looked at him, accessing.
“Ma’am I would think that the demographic would work in my favour. I could do a blogging thing. Talk about my experiences living as I am now, what I missed before, anything.”
She still didn’t look convinced. She folded her hands on her desk and leaned forward.
“Why would that interest me or my readers? She asked him.
Jay shrugged. “It just seems that an inordinate number of people want to get into my head. Understand the inexplicable perhaps. So why not explain it all to them on my own terms?”
She made a hand gesture of ‘and so?’ as she leaned back on her chair.
Jay’s folded hands replaced hers on the desk as he leaned desperately forward.
“I have a few things I have written. You can go through them and if you feel that…” he put his hand into his satchel and began to bring out a file but was stopped by the scraping sound of Mara’s chair being pushed back. He looked up at her as she stood.
“Why do you want to write? Why do you want to tell this story? And why my audience?” she asked her voice coloured by an anger that Jay could not understand.
Jay felt the slow leak of a deflation in his heart.
“Compassion perhaps.” He answered. He went on at her raised eyebrow. “Perhaps, they would understand and finally welcome me to humanity.”
He saw the air whoosh out of Mara’s body in the same slow leak as it had from his heart. She sat back on her seat looking straight at him. She stared at him in silence for a few long minutes.
“Write me something that makes me want to slap myself silly for forgetting about your humanity.” She reached into a drawer on her desk and pulled out a complimentary card giving it to him. “Have it ready in a week for me to review. If it’s any good, I want to hear what else you have to say.”
“Does that mean I have a job?” Jay asked excitedly.
“Not…quite.” Mara doused his hope. “Let’s say, I am very interested. Now sell me the idea.”
Angela looked up from the sheaf of papers in her hand.
“Wow Jay! There’s no way that this would not impress!” she exclaimed as she handed the papers back to him. “I would never have guessed you would write like that.” She said wonderingly.
Jay glanced apprehensively at the papers he had taken from her. “You think it is good enough?” he asked on a sigh. “I’ve lost sleep over this.” He said as he carefully put the papers back in the satchel from which they had emerged.
“It’s awe-inspiring Jay!” Angela thrilled. “I saw a lot of what you went through to get ‘here’ but it was like re-living it all over again. Only this time, more fully! It’s like I’ve eaten egusi soup all my life but then I eat this one plate that makes me appreciate all the egusi soups I had eaten in the past.”
She smiled sheepishly at his astonished look. “I’m not as eloquent as you are.” She scolded in mock indignation.
“You aren’t doing badly at all. Not that eloquent. I just have a tale to tell.” His shoulder slumped forward dejectedly.
Angela shifted from her perch opposite him to seat beside him. “What is the matter Jay-boy?” she asked in a sing-song.
“What if… it’s bad enough! The stares, the whispers, the snubs…will it get worse? Would I…do I want to put it all out there? It may read like a sci-fi but this is my life. Can I take the heat? Do I want to? Is it necessary?” he sighed loudly again.
Angela put a hand to his forehead and the side of his neck as she asked “So many questions and you haven’t given yourself a migraine?”
Jay cut her a quelling look and buried his face in his hands with a groan.
“You know what?” Angela quipped, “I’m going to get us both a drink of water?” she paused but got no further response from Jay. “And I’ll be right back so we can talk this thing through. Heads up though! I think you should do it.” She backed away as Jay made to counter what she just said. “Let me go get the water! Talking with you is thirsty business!” she went towards the kitchen, shutting the door behind her as she went.
Jay flung himself back on the sofa and shut his eyes. Perhaps it was the change in the way the air hit his body or the shadow of a body blocking the light from the window, he was not sure what it was but he realized that someone had come to a stop in front of him. He opened his eyes expecting to see Angela and chide her for trying to sneak up on him only to see that it was Mrs. Acha. He felt a jolt of shock run through his spine.
“Good afternoon Ma.” He greeted as he bolted upright from the sofa. Agnes Acha took her seat opposite him.
“Can I read it too?” she asked.
Jay’s confusion barely lasted a moment before he understood that she was asking for his write-up. He hesitated for another moment before he brought it out of the satchel and gave it to her. ‘Might as well hear what a real skeptical reader would say.’ He thought.
Mrs. Acha took it from him and began to read. Jay watched her as intently as a hawk, noting any nuance of expression on her face, trying to judge what she was feeling and thinking from it. So intent were both of them that they did not notice Angela come in with a tray and back out when she saw what was happening. After a long while, Agnes Acha looked up at Jay and quietly handed his papers back to him. She leaned back on the sofa and stared off into space.
“I never asked because I wasn’t sure how to broach the subject before. What are your earliest memories? Do you remember anything, no matter how vaguely?” she asked him, still not looking directly at him.
It was like a cold place in Jay’s heart shook with the first stirring of a defrosting.
“Do you find my questions offensive?” she asked when he did not immediately respond.
“No!” Jay fair shouted. “Not at all! It’s what I hope. What I want.” He made to get up from the sofa and then sat back down. He formed his fingers into a steeple as he tried to decide on what he wanted to say and how to say it.
“I don’t still remember a lot. I’m remembering a lot of things, but I’m never sure what’s real and what is not or even if I’m remembering correctly or in context. I won’t lie to you and say I’m even on the way to figuring it all out. There are days when I’m almost convinced that it’s hopeless. But I’ve come so far. I can acknowledge that now. It’s been a long road. I want to see what…lies at the end.” He fell silent. “I’m not so sure I made sense just now.” He made a self depreciating huff.
Agnes remained silent, contemplative for a moment. “I guess…we’re all trying to figure it out.” When Jay looked up at her, she turned to look at him and continued. “Life. It does throw you one when you least expect or want it. Sometimes, even what we think we want doesn’t quite work out…come in the package we think it should come in.” She shifted in her seat as if she was trying to be comfortable.
“I thought I had it all figured out where you were concerned you know.” She smiled wryly. “You were…ministry.” She made a ‘voila’ gesture with her hands still smiling wryly. “Fix you up somewhat and move you on to the next stage of your journey wherever that was.” She pierced Jay with a direct look into his eyes as if she was trying to decipher his soul. “How was I to know that God had a different road laid out?” she sighed. “I’m…I really would rather not take this road Jay. I really would rather not. And it wasn’t because I thought you less, I never have.” She shook her head. “It’s a hard road. I judged you based on my assessment of your strength alone. I didn’t think you’d…cope. I forgot. We all are made of more. I forgot that God is available to anyone and everyone. I never gave a thought to what HE could do in your life. I forgot.” She said wonderingly as if this was a puzzle she had tried to put together in her head and failed to.
She got up and made to go towards the stairs. At the foot of the stairs she turned back to him. “HE has used you to remind me.” She smiled that small wry smile again. “Find HIM Jay. HE holds the key. To everything.”
And she walked up the stairs, leaving Jay there with his thoughts.
Jay sat in front of the mirror starring at his face and lost in thoughts. He had a scruffy beard these days. That always brought a smile to his face. He had no idea how long he sat, his thoughts going on and on until a figure joined him in the mirror. He jerked back to reality when a hand palmed his shoulder softly. He looked up, through the mirror into the beautiful eyes staring at him, through the mirror and felt a smile tugging at his lips, fighting to be released.
Jay looked steadily at her face and noticed the lines and other signs of the strain and stress she had been through as she travelled this road with him.
“I thought you would be almost delirious with joy.” She said. “It’s about the best news we’ve had in all of this.”
Jay sighed and placed his hand over hers, rubbing it, whether to comfort her or him, he wasn’t sure. He sighed again, a smaller one.
“I would have imagined so too.” He smiled wryly at her. “I guess…it’s been so much, too much maybe. It’s been one thing after the other, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I can scarcely believe that it could all work out you know.”
Angie placed her other hand on his other shoulder and rubbed it in a massage intended to soothe the tension she could still feel coiled underneath.
“What…the baby could be deformed or challenged in some way” Jay said in a quiet voice, as if he was testing the weight of his words as he spoke.
Angie was quiet for a while. Then she responded, she knew he needed to hear her answer. “True, but why borrow trouble?” she asked. “A couple of years ago, no one would have imagined this day would come and here we are now.” She stilled her movements across his shoulder stopping abruptly as a smile lit her face. Jay was transfixed by that smile. It had been a while since he had last seen it as the strain of fertility treatments had taken its toll.
“We are going to be parents!” She exclaimed breathily.
“God willing.” Jay added and watched the enthralling beauty of Angie’s smile growing even wider across the mirror.
By Human Experiment ‘Jay’
Yeah, Yeah! I read like a really poorly made sci-fi movie.
It’s life imitating art I guess.
What did I ever do? What did my now unknown and forgotten parents ever do to deserve this? I don’t know. I can’t remember.
Who was I before Jay? What was my name? Was I good at school? Did I go to school? How old am I?
I can’t remember?
That’s the simple truth of it. I don’t remember a lot.
Perhaps if I did, it would relieve everyone’s mind. I would fit nicely into a slot somewhere… I would be human.
I am flesh and bones. It has been mutilated, modified, annihilated…but still flesh and bones.
I have a brain and though it doesn’t always seem to know what it should be doing, it’s functional.
I am male.
I didn’t always know that. I wasn’t always accepting of that. I didn’t always know. Some days I still wonder.
In all of this though, I am human. I just can’t prove it. I do not come with the right provenance, any provenance at all.
I come from a laboratory. I am an experiment gone wrong. Or gone right? But I am who I am. JAY.
I don’t always understand what that means, but then we none of us always understand ourselves. We just go on and live and make each day count hoping that in the living of it, it would all make sense.
That it would all come together in a dazzling picture of clarity.
I am Jay. And even though I don’t have the provenance to prove it, I am human.
Will you let me in?
The first chapter of this book actually came to me in a dream.
Since that time, the transgender debate has heated up, a lot.
I have had a lot of people give their opinions on what they feel about transgenderism but no one seemed to know how exactly to address it or even understand it.
This is my own contribution to that conversation.
I hope you enjoyed reading and that while you read, you thought about what your reaction would be to a ‘Jay’ and how that reaction would affect a life.
I ask the Divine for inspiration for you as you read.
- ISBN: 9781370676569
- Author: Nia Eze
- Published: 2016-08-26 21:05:33
- Words: 26040