She whimpered in her sleep, a weak moan escaping her dry lips. No! Not again! Just not again! Her head turned wearily from side to side on her damp pillow. The room looked familiar but sure wasn’t hers. Although, this was the constant nightmare she always had and it was happening again but just in a different room and this time it seemed very real to her.
The flame of the lone candle in the room flickered twice then was suddenly extinguished leaving a wisp of thin smoke trailing up in the air. Slowly, her door opened and she heard somebody approached her bed. She slowly fluttered her eyes open to see who had dared come into her chambers in the middle of the night and without permission.
The tall silhouette of the intruder stunned her, it looked oddly familiar but she couldn’t really pick up who the person was. The way he walked indicated that he had no good intentions, she opened her mouth to speak or maybe cry out for help but her lips were dry and her throat felt sore.
The intruder glared down at her for a while. Although she couldn’t see his face, the air of his presence was unfriendly and cold. Suddenly, he yanked the pillow from beneath her head. Sensing what he was about to do, she began to slowly shake her head in disagreement and speechless plea, unable to utter a word.
The intruder didn’t seem to be swayed by her silent pleas, neither was he going to change his mind from doing what he came there to do. He acted suddenly and what she saw next was total darkness as the pillow was shoved down on her face. He pressed hard, trying to smoulder the life out of her, choking her, suffocating her.
She gasped desperately for the little air she could get but it was not the slightest bit enough. She struggled for life, trying to grab for anything with her straining hands, trying to hang on to something and breathe or push the pillow away. She thrashed violently on the bed, spilling the well-arranged bed sheets on the floor, arms flaying, legs kicking in agony as the pillow pressed harder on her face not sparing her the slightest bit of breath anymore.
She struggled the more but she felt too weak to fight back for the fight was gradually dying in her leaving her too weak to defend herself. The air in her lungs ceased and she lunged with her hands forward but it only came in contact with the end of the intruder’s shirt. In her desperate struggle, she lost hold of that and her hand caught something round, cold, metal and she pulled as she struggled for life.
The metal seemed as if it was attached to a string of chain. Her last weak jerk snapped the round metal off its chain but the intruder didn’t bulge, neither did he notice. The air left her lungs, darkness, total darkness encased her, wrapping its eerie cold fingers around her. She was sinking fast and deep into oblivion where there was nothing but void endless space.
Her hands fell helplessly at her sides in total surrender. The round metal slowly crawled out of her lifeless fingers, bounced on the floor and rolled away to wherever it wished to seek refuge. She was leaving, leaving the world, fast leaving the light of the world and being pushed into scary darkness that enclosed her in a tight cubicle.
Emilia gasped out of bed, panting and sucking in air as rapidly as she could. With a hand placed on her heaving chest, she coughed and sucked in more air, inhaling deeply. It had felt so real…so so real. Someone wanted to smother her to death. She glanced around the room and her gaze stopped at the candle beside her bed, a wisp of smoke was just floating into the air.
Perspiration covered her forehead and her chest. Her eyes wandered to the closed door as if dreading that the handle would turn and her murderer would come in, but no one did. Throwing the covers off her legs, she slipped down the bed, knelt down beside the bed, fixing her elbows into the soft edge, she placed her palm together in front of her face and inhaled deeply as tears began to gather in her eyes.
She leaned her forehead against the side of her closed hands, closed her eyes and went into a quiet prayer.
The cough worsened. It violently shook her thin frame as it tumbled out of her mouth, almost making her double up in pain. The doctor placed a hand on her chest rubbing it gently to steady the cough and also gently pressed a handkerchief against her mouth. Robert who had been helping the doctor fetch some things from the surroundings that would ease his mother’s cough came into the room, panicking then went out again after the doctor asked him to get some things.
When the doctor withdrew the handkerchief, thinking that the coughing and wheezing had subsided, she suddenly doubled over again, coughing and tiny droplets of blood sputtered on the white handkerchief. Robert who was returning with a bowl of water, halted at the doorway.
“She’s bleeding?” he asked as he stared at his mother in despair. Blood began to trickle down his mother’s nostrils. Quickly, the doctor helped her lay back on the bed, dabbing her nose with his already stained handkerchief.
“What’s wrong with her?” Robert placed the bowl down, crouching beside his mother whose eyes seemed to be drooping from exhaustion. “You said she will be fine.” He looked up at the doctor.
“Of course I did!” Said the tired Doctor as he began to wipe his hands clean with a piece of cloth. “It is just not going like I expected. It is more than what I thought it was.”
“What do you mean?” Robert asked, confused.
“This bleeding symptom is not a good sign. It’s rather life-threatening. I didn’t expect I would see them but it is obvious the drugs you bought aren’t competent enough to finally cure her, it only tames the ailment.” He hesitated. “If you don’t find enough money for the right drugs soon, I am afraid your mother is going to die.”
Robert’s eyes widened as the realization hit him. “What!”
“Yes, young man.” Continued the doctor. “The Bacteria is already eating too deep into her system and if care is not taken, it might spread to other parts of her system. If not treated in time, she will lose her life and mind you, it is a slow painful death. However, patients who have suffered her predicament have no other choice than plead for euthanasia.”
“Hell no!” Robert leapt to his feet. “I forbid it! I forbid to carry out such on my mother!”
The doctor straightened up. “You can’t help it. The best thing to do is to let her have a mercy killing if she asks for one and wants to end her pain. That should save you from more expenses and save her the pain of rotting away while still alive.”
“Don’t talk like that sir.” Robert said, eyes glassy with tears. “There must be something we can do, anything!”
“Of course there is, but only the rich can afford the drug, it is imported from a neighbouring country. I’m sure you have nothing as such to order for it or purchase it yourself. I would have asked you to sell every property you can to raise the money for it but judging by your pitiful state…” the Doctor looked around the poor empty room with a degrading frown. “You have nothing of worth to sell in order to raise the money.” He picked up his brief case. “Spend the last days you can by her side, for her days on this earth are already numbered, my condolences, lad!”
He patted Robert’s shoulder as he passed by and was gone while a tear slipped down the boy’s face.
The Family Doctor looked from Vera’s face to Lord William’s with sorrow written all over his face as he gently closed the Duchess’ blank opened eyes with his old wrinkled hands.
Vera gasped, her hands flying over her opened mouth and she began to sob in pretence. “No! no no no… this can’t be true…”
Lord William hung his head in grief, his hands behind him. “Maybe you should check her again.” He suggested, feigned hope in his eyes. “She can’t be dead; she might just be unconscious.”
The doctor pulled his stethoscope from his ears and hung it around his neck. “I found no pulse. She is cold already, so it’s obvious she died hours ago. According to what her lady-in-waiting testified, she found lady Catherine this way when she came in to clean the room up. Milord, there’s nothing I can do.” Stated the old doctor who had been the family Doctor ever since the Duchess’ marriage to the late Duke. “Apparently, I’m not God and there’s nothing I can do to bring her back to life. My job is to cure and try to nurse my patients back to good health, God’s job is to heal and resurrect.”
“Save the sermon for later, Doctor!” Lord William impatiently stated. “This is my Aunt we are talking about here!”
“…And an old bosom friend of mine too!” replied the doctor. “I have lost someone special today. I’m sure many hearts will grieve for her. She was so kind-hearted and generous, what a drastic end befell her.”
Lord William raked his hand through his hair, sorrow clouding his face. “Of course, she was the most kind-hearted woman I have ever known. All will indeed grieve our loss. I will inform the guards to put it in the papers about Lady Catherine’s unfortunate passing away, that she died in her beauty sleep.” He mentioned the end with a bit of unnoticed sarcasm.
The doctor turned to look at the Duchess still-pale face before Vera finished covering her up with a white sheet. “May I ask you few questions, Milord?”
“Yes you may…” he answered hesitantly.
“Was the duchess ill before she passed away?”
Lord William hid the shock the question gave and exchanged quick glances with Vera who was beside the bed but behind the Doctor’s back, she looked white with fright already.
“Of course…so I heard.” He replied uneasily.
“And why wasn’t I informed?” continued the Doctor.
“It was just a minor ailment.” Lord William nervously cleared his throat. “I didn’t see any need for your services then, and besides, she was recovering before this suddenly happened.”
“Hmmm…” the doctor thought for a while then said. “I would like to perform an autopsy on her corpse if you don’t mind milord?”
“Why?” Lord William irritably asked “Because…” the Doctor raised a finger as he approached the Duchess’ bed. “I don’t believe the Duchess died in her sleep or of a natural cause.”
“What!” Lord William’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean, Doctor? Are you insinuating that she was murdered?”
“Apparently yes!” he answered. He took the Duchess hands and with the tip of his pen, he indicated. “…Look at the tips of her nails, they have a shade of black in them and I didn’t fail to notice that they have light strands of clothing in them.”
“So?” Lord William inquired with a frown.”
“I’m implying that she must have been involved in a kind of unexpected struggle before she breathed her last.”
Lord William coughed into his fist, trying so hard to conceal his shock and fear of being discovered. “Doctor! Thank you very much, I appreciate all what you are doing to make this look like a murder case but I assure you that the Duchess died under natural causes. She is dead and like you said, there’s nothing that can be done about it. Right now, my heart is grieving and I will like to spend some last minutes with her body before it is prepared for burial. I believe now you are through with your job, I will like to be excused.”
The doctor regarded him for a while. “I understand how you feel milord but I still-”
Lord William impatiently interrupted, the presence and nosiness of the doctor was beginning to get on his nerves. “Doctor…” he offered a warning smile intended to be a genuine one. “I will not hesitate to send for you if your services are required.”
The doctor hesitated, then picked up his box, sensing that he had overstayed his welcome with the shrewd lord. “Very well then!” he placed his brown hat on his grey head. “I take my leave now. My condolences once again, milord.” He gave a low bow and exited the room.
“You too Vera!” Lord William uttered as he approached the bed.
“But we are in this together.” She looked down at the duchess’ still face in wonder. “It baffles me how she died in her sleep and so soon. The poison wouldn’t have worked so fast…the dose I gave her last night is not potent enough to kill her this soon.”
“Not now Vera!” he snapped without looking at her. “Leave!”
She hesitated. “Milord.” she curtsied and left.
When the double doors had been shut after her, he swung the sheet off the Duchess’ face and smiled wickedly. “So long, Auntie! He muttered “so long!”
Aidan gently fixed the wheel onto the cart while Robert hammered in some nails to stick some woods together for the cart. Aidan screwed in the wheel until it was firmly secured. With a swipe of his hand, he rolled the wheel energetically. It rolled for a long while and gradually came to a stop. While he worked, he kept glancing over at Robert who had been gloomy all day.
He watched Robert hit the nails too hard and carelessly with the hammer until a yowl of pain made him drop the hammer and stick his hurting thumb in his mouth.
Aidan stood to his full height. “Let me finish it!” he made to reach for the hammer but Robert reached it first.
“No! I’m almost through!” he said, still sucking his red thumb.
Aidan regarded him for a while and folded his arms. “Robert?”
Robert ignored him and went back to his task of hitting the stubborn nail which was yet to sink into the wood.
“Robert?” he called again but got no reply. “Robert!” this time he snatched the hammer from him.
“Hey!” cried out Robert. “Give that back!” he lunged for the hammer but Aidan stopped him with a firm hand on his chest.
“What’s wrong? Aidan asked.
Robert blinked, confused.
“You have not been yourself for the past few days, what’s bothering you?”
“Nothing…” he grumbled and looked away.
Aidan grabbed his shoulder and yanked him to face him. “Answer me lad, will you!”
“Nothing!” Robert almost yelled.
Aidan frowned, displeased. “There’s something you aren’t telling me and you know it. Did I in anyway offend or wrong you?”
Robert looked up at him. “No!” he blurted. Then his eyes turned glassy with tears. “My mother is going to die.”
Aidan’s jaw flexed. “Who the hell said that?”
“The doctor.” Robert began to cry. “He said her days are numbered and I can’t afford the drugs to cure her. She is slowly dying each day and the best solution he said that can be offered is euthanasia.”
Aidan’s grip tightened on the hammer. “That old idiot said that?”
Robert nodded. “I’m so scared.” more tears slipped down his face. “she is all I have left in this world; I don’t want her to leave at least not this soon.”
Aidan gave Robert’s shoulder a gentle squeeze. “She will be alright, Robert.”
Robert slowly shook his head. “No she won’t. she bleeds all the time.”
Aidan sniffed. “Look at me!” Robert hesitated. “Look at me, lad! He ordered. Robert’s gaze locked with his. “I don’t care what I have to do to raise the money to buy the damn drug. I don’t mind going illegal to raise the money but I promise you this, your mother is not going to die not as long as I still breathe this very air of life.”
Robert looked at him in surprise. Aidan didn’t see the hug coming. He gasped as Robert clasped his arms tightly around his mid-section. He hesitated for a while before he lamely patted the boy’s hair who muttered a thank-you against his chest.
The wind blew around them, toying with their clothes, spiralling dirt and dead leaves in the air as dark clouds began to gather from the distance. Aidan broke the hug and observed the sky which was turning dark. “Come, let’s go in. there’s going to be a storm.”
“But what about the cart?” Robert sniffled, wiping the streaks of tears off his face with his sleeve.
“Leave that, we will finish it up later, come along.” He turned leading the way to the house with Robert behind him, the wind ruffling their hair and wildly pulling at their shirts as they jogged towards the house when the first drops of rain hit the earth.
To be continued…
© Angela Okoduwa