I wasn’t exactly sure how to ask Rosemary more questions without her reading more meaning to things. Already, I could see her walls being raised and fortified again. She was secretive, and a little crotchety, but she had let her guard down. I could say that this was the first time she was telling anyone about the secrets she kept in this room. But wasn’t this the virtue Sally had entrusted her son’s life to?
“What are you to do with these?” I waved my hands in the direction of the pile of boxes. “I thought by now you should have given all these old clothes to the needy.”
“The needy don’t wear old clothes. Not these days. Maybe in the past, beggars didn’t have a choice, but these days, even the authorities have to examine everything, before they deem them worthy of giving out. By the time, maybe only one or two would make it to the needy.” I nodded my head, and made a sheepish face. I knew what were in those boxes weren’t all old, shabby clothes collections, but I only chose to indulge her.
“Hmm, but don’t you think the biggest legacy you could pass down to Sloane is tell him who his real mother was?”
She looked down at me with the sharp stare of a teenage elder sister. Then she relaxed again. She was no doubt a tight-lip who had had it up to the brim with the secrets she kept. I laughed a little at the thought.
“What is it?” she scowled at me, her eyebrows knitting together.
“Nothing.” I pressed my lips together, attempting to stop my smile from teetering on the verge of breaking out into a cackle. “Just that… nothing.”
“Better speak, or you will have to explain to the police how an old woman trapped down a thief by simply sitting on his head.”
“Oh —,” I let out a sincere unexpected laughter. “Really, can you do that?” I wondered for a second myself. I had seen Rosemary walk across her house as if heavily laden; I had also seen her toddle in a prickly manner in other times, but I thought it crass to have her sit on my head. Ahhhghg.
“Didn’t you read the news five years ago of how an old woman chased two night marauders down the street with my shakabula?”
“Woow,” that was incredulous. But really, when last did I hear the word shakabula even in my original life? A shakabula in these times would have made the thieves more intrigued than scared. “You actually did?”
“Hmm. So son, speak up,” she had that matter-of-fact look.
I thought she had forgotten the matter on ground. I scratched my scalp. “I… I don’t think I remember what I was saying.”
“I’ll remind you.” Rosemary was pointing her unsteady index finger at me. “I was asking you to speak. Speak, or I yank off your throat.”
I instinctively and dramatically covered my throat with my hands. “You speak so brutally, like you were once in the KJB?”
“I wish I was, son.” She too chuckled a little before she decided to inhale a lungful of air. It was obvious she had a million and one thoughts going through her mind. A few seconds passed and I watched Rosemary slowly slip into a melancholy state of wondering at the whereabouts of Sloane. I hope I read her thoughts right, though. I eased up as well, trying to shuffle the questions that still lingered at the tips of my lips.
“We returned to the country when Sloane was twenty four.” Rosemary looked at me with heavy eyes.
“You guys left the country?”
She nodded her head as she filled her lungs with air. After a satisfied exhale, and a worthy observation of me she spoke again. “The way you speak, sometimes, I think you must have lived with your grandmother. … Yes, Madam Sally made sure we left to a place even she couldn’t reach us. The only thing she told me was that she didn’t want anyone to reach her son. She told me exactly when to return.”
“Did you ever get to find out the reasons behind all her decisions?”
“A few things were obvious; there was a lot of squabbling in the family that she didn’t want her son to be a part of.”
I thought, and imagined what could have happened to Sally’s family, and whether I might have been partly responsible for some if not all the ensuing trouble. “This Cooper husband of hers, what was he like?”
Rosemary thought of her words before she spoke. “The reason she trusted me, was because I knew so little. And I wasn’t so inquisitive. I saw what curiosity did to some of the staff in Madam Sally’s house.” She paused, knowing I still waited for the answer to my question. “It was more of a marriage of convenience, than of commitment. But they played it so perfectly. Madam Sally did it to preserve her future. The future of her son.”
I shook my head, trying not to drown in this truly convoluted situation. “Everything is mixed up right now. It’s no longer clear.”
“Young man, you wouldn’t have made it out alive if you lived in that house. You are too inquisitive. There are some questions better left unanswered.”
My breath was still under control, but my heart was beating off rhythm. It was as offbeat as my thoughts were strewn. “But what about the man in that picture, you have any idea who he is, or was?” I pulled out the picture of Sally and me that I had seen earlier, and slid it before Rosemary. I watched her swallow a lump; her eyelashes unwilling to come up again.
“Madam Sally, told me he was going to come looking for me one day. She left a message for him with me… but he never came for it. He never knocked on my door… He is late now.”
Goosebumps covered the length of my arms like an irritable skin disease. I felt cold to the marrow in my bones. It was as though my soul wanted to break free from the fleshy cage it was presently trapped in. I felt I needed to speak to Sally right away. “What happened, why didn’t you go look for him? Did he know about you? What was the message about?”
“Just after his death, they came for it?”
“They?” This woman wasn’t exactly answering my questions, instead she said whatever she felt like saying. My eyes literarily bulged out of their sockets as though my mind had finally decided what to focus on. “What do you mean? Who were ‘they’?” My voice peaked like that of a scolding father, the lines on my forehead folding irregularly like poorly ploughed piece of farmland.
Rosemary stared at me, looking into my eyes in search for perhaps an answer so obvious yet so infuriatingly eluding. I wanted to tell her right there and then, the truth about my identity, but I was sure we would drown from the farrago of emotions that would ensue. No, we both won’t make it out if I told her now.
Rosemary had no words to answer my barrage of questions. She looked away, her eyes suddenly misty with tears. Her face had turned pale; her skin suddenly shrunk like sun-dried hide. Her lips trembled in an effort to form words… She failed in her desperate attempts to find the right words, and only after she had swallowed yet another lump did she brace up and utter a word.
“They… They weighed more than a ton of bricks, the burden of keeping the message, but Madam Sally warned me never to go looking for him. So when he died, I thought I was free. I had decided to burn the box that contained the message. But just the next day, his family came for it.”
“His family.” I set my head back. “How did they know about you? And who told them your mistress had left a message for him.”
Rosemary resumed her staring at me in a drilling manner. I sat back, trying to refrain from asking suspicious questions.
“I feel lighter. As I talk, I feel the burden of regret lift from my shoulders. That’s why I am compelled to keep talking.”
“And that’s why I keep asking. Maybe if you let it all out, you’ll be free.” I put more emphasis in my body language than in my words, but was careful not to push again.
Rosemary kept silent still, but it was obvious her mind drifted. I watched her nervously fiddle with the thick blanket on her bed. Her breath sounded disturbed by the wet mucus that now clogged up her nostril. I held myself from asking more questions – I had to allow her speak.
“I have a feeling Sloane knows.” Rosemary’s lips hardly moved as she spoke those words. If I hadn’t heard her clearly, I would have felt I had thought aloud, because that was the exact same thing that went through my mind.
I was considering her words and my own thoughts before I ventured to ask the pressing question, when the silence was abruptly disrupted by the unmistakable dingdong sound of the front doorbell. Rosemary looked at me, startled. I watched her eyes dart in random directions as she wondered who could possibly be at her front pouch. I thought to myself: could it be Sloane who was back again? Or maybe this time, it was one of those JWs?
Rosemary steadied her shaky hands by gripping on to the bed frame. Her movements definitely weren’t those of a food vendor dropping off the week’s cereal, or of an uninvited preacher. She seemed scared as if the doorbell sounded differently when danger lurked at the door.
“Wait here. Okay?” There was a stern warning in her eyes when she said the words. I nodded my head more than twice. She slowly made her way to the leaving room, not succeeding at properly shutting the door of the room. I heard as her feet dragged on the floor as she moved towards the main door.
I considered peering from the window, but thought against it. Instead I managed to peep through the slit behind the door. I got only a tiny view of the living room, not even close to the main door. I didn’t hear Rosemary ask who was by the door. I had to imagine her peep through the pinhole on the door, and then, relied on the source of sound that came from unlatching the door of its multiple locks. I could swear that Rosemary had stopped breathing at that instant. Or I could say she held her breath.
I heard the hinges squeak only lightly as Rosemary opened the door. I couldn’t imagine who it was on the pouch, but from Rosemary’s extended silence, it wasn’t someone she wanted to see.
“Wouldn’t you invite us in, Rosemary?”
I was startled myself when I heard the unfamiliar voice of a stereotypical rich woman. My vulnerability only became more obvious as it was revealed again and again that my knowledge of people in this place and time was so limited. Truth was, I knew no one. Not even this old lady named Rosemary. It was apparent she had more ties than was expected from someone who lived in this part of the city that remained stuck in the past.
The door opened wider as I heard Rosemary reluctantly step aside for her visitors to come into the house. Of the number of footsteps that made their way into the house, one footstep stood out. It was the nouveau gait, the sort of sluggish elegance suggestive only of a wealthy person. I realized I was holding my breath. Who were these people Rosemary let into her home?
“It’s been a while, Rosemary.” That was the voice again. The echoey sound of her heels moved around the living room as though observing the changes around the house. It stopped abruptly but didn’t depict if it was impressed.
Rosemary in her customary manner didn’t reply to the comment. I heard her own footsteps settling by the base of the wall at the door side, apparently revealing that her visitors weren’t exactly welcomed. One of the visitor’s figure came into my view. It was the side face of a man, thoroughly shaved of any form of facial hair. He must have even dug into his skin to scour out all the hair roots. His face almost looked synthetic. His eyes darted around the room like a cricket’s. I had a slight chance to see his full face when he turned his head to the right.
“I’m sure you know why we are here, hmm.” The unfamiliar woman whose face I was yet to see spoke again. She didn’t seem to wait for answers. In the real sense, Rosemary’s silence was enough answer for her. “I’m sorry the only times we have to come around these parts are when we need something from you. I can promise we will change.”
I could smell the sarcasm in her voice. It filled the air.
Suddenly her figure came into view when she sat down on one of the single chairs in the room. I adjusted my eyes to have a better view from my concealed position. What I saw threw me off balance; I almost knocked my head on the door. I pressed my eye into the slit totally mesmerized by the unexpected beauty than sat on the lean sofa. Her eyes shone like two beryl-green gemstones placed gracefully on snow. She had pouting crimson lips that reminded me of Joyce Meyer, only that these had an alluring youthfulness. A set of sparkling angel-white teeth were revealed as she showed a sardonic smile. I didn’t care, I wished it was me she smiled at. Her skin, saffron in complexion, delicately laid from her forehead down her neck, then followed the chamber of her huge cleavage, which was enunciated by the low cut black gown she wore. It escaped just below the tip of the black gown, where it continued down the fleshy knees that were irresistibly closed together. She sat like the Queen of the Coast on her illustrious throne, her hips pronounced provocatively. She reminded me of Waje.
“Apparently, Sloane isn’t here,” the lady who must be somewhere around her late thirties was now facing Rosemary, who I couldn’t see from the available angle. Rosemary didn’t answer. “I thought as much. It was only going to be stupid of him to be here.”
Who were these people? Were these the people Sloane had warned Rosemary against? Were they some kind of police?
“What exactly can I help you with this time?” Rosemary’s voice was bereft of fear yet, it connoted a beleaguered pitch.
“Hmm,” the lady feigned a thoughtful face. “Maybe…” She looked around the room at the others who took standing positions. I guessed they were four in all. “Maybe the right question is ‘where’. Where… can you help us with this time? Right?” She looked again at her small army who had also immediately acknowledged her precise question.
Rosemary was beginning to think hard of where this question led. No, that was my thought. I was thinking of what the lady said.
“I don’t understand you.” Rosemary’s voice wasn’t one in a mood for games either. She stood by the door, folded her arms across her weary chest, and rested her weight on the wall rather than help herself to a seat in her own home. She was visibly feeling the tiredness from the past two hours.
“It was an oversight on my path. I should have come to you long before now. I mean, on this same matter that has brought me here today. To tell you the truth, I thought I had everything I needed. But I was wrong.” She looked around again. This time, her gaze settled on the door which led to Rosemary’s room. I froze. I held my breath. Could she have sensed the presence of someone behind the door? I could clearly hear the veins in my ears pulsate.
Who was this lady? She was young, drop-dead beautiful, and definitely wielded a sceptre of authority. But there was something about her that gave me the shivers. What would happen if these people discovered my presence here? I watched her contemplate, deciding what to say or ask the old woman. Her elegant slim fingers played around the helm of her dress as she pondered playfully.
I scanned my memory if I had seen her sometime before, maybe the first time I had come to the future. No face matched. Rosemary had said that my family had come after my death for the message Sally had left for me. But this wasn’t my family? If I was sure, then Rosemary must have mistaken them for my family, and given them the box. But, I wasn’t sure.
Attending to the lingering thoughts that still reared its head: what could Sally possibly have left in that message? What could have been in that box? Was it another time piece? Or perhaps the book?… The strange, mystical book Sally’s grandmother had made me hurriedly read in that room in my original life.
“I believe Sloane has something that is mine. Well, sort of. We had an agreement, but he suddenly went out of radar.” The lady’s voice had gone so low. She modulated her voice from a steady clear pitch to a murmur as though exhaling delightful moans that made the listener draw closer. I leaned forward, endeared by her prowess. “At first I thought I needed what he had, but now, I think he needs what I have.” She smiled at Rosemary now. “Actually, the truth is that we both need each other.”
“And what could that be?”
“What could that be?” This lady was a bunch of talent. “He didn’t tell you? I thought he told his mother everything. Or, are you not his mother?” The lady pushed her irritating tone a little further, deliberately making Rosemary squirm.
“What. Could. That. Be?” Rosemary’s eyebrows knitted again for this lady. She desperately wanted to be done with this lady; I desperately wanted to know who this lady was.
“Old woman, let’s cut to the chase. You know where he is hiding. And that’s why we are here. We have to join him wherever he is.”
Rosemary wanted to argue, but on a second thought, she retrieved her words before they made any sense to the people in the room.
“You know you have no choice, right?”
“You think so?”
“Do you?” The lady made eye contact with one of the people that had come into the house with him. She wasted no time. Her smile had varnished, leaving her face with only a shade of maleficence.
A man that I hadn’t seen or heard a word from had immediately heeded her command, and crossed the room towards Rosemary. The only shriek that erupted from Rosemary’s throat was immediately snuffed out. No passerby would be able to make sense of it. I heard the weighed of something drop, but I restrained my emotions from letting loose.
As I wondered what they could have done to Rosemary, the man crossed my vision again, this time half dragging, half carrying Rosemary towards the lady. Rosemary’s body was dropped like a sack of potatoes into the chair beside the lady. In less than two seconds, I heard Rosemary’s voice again, only that this time, her speech was incoherent. She slobbered, as her head refused to stay in place.
“Now speak,” the man commanded. Once again, Rosemary’s attempt to speak came out slurred.
“Rosemary, I will like to know a few things, if you don’t mind to tell me.” The lady started, switching her accent to something a bit Eastern European. She adjusted in her seat, absent-mindedly fiddling with the helm of her dress as she faced Rosemary. “Was Sloane here within the past few days?” She waited for a question to sink in.
The lady smiled. She planned to go on. There didn’t seem to be time to be thrilled. It was obvious this wasn’t the first time they had used this method for extracting information from someone.
My heart raced as I thought of what they had done to Rosemary. If she could easily tell them about the state of her son, then it was only a matter of time before they got all that they needed from her. Perhaps all that she ever knew.
“Rosemary. Do you love your son?”
“Do…d… ” It was as if she had been drained of her strength.
“Rosemary, you love your son, right?”
“I don’t have a son.”
The lady in black dress smiled.
“You are right. You don’t have a son. For years you made me believe he was your son. There will be repercussions. There will be consequences.”
“So, tell me Rosemary, where is Sloane as this very moment?” She waited for almost a minute before a response came from Rosemary.
“I don’t know.”
“But if he would be safe- where can I find him.”
“You can find him anywhere.”
I prayed. I don’t know why I did, but I prayed the woman didn’t get a suitable answer from Rosemary.
The lady rephrased her question. “Sloane knows where the secret location is, right?”
“I’m not sure.
“So does Sloane know that you aren’t his mother?”
“I think so.”
The lady showed a slight hint of irritation on her face, but it was enough to evoke an unexpected backhanded slap across the old woman’s face. Rosemary spewed a mixture of blood and saliva across the floor, leaving a trail of saliva across her cheek.
I wondered if this technique was as effective as they had expected. Maybe Rosemary had some inherent resistance they weren’t aware of. I thought they probably would have got the information they needed from her were she in her right senses.
This nameless lady wasn’t giving up. “Rosemary, forgive me. But I’ve still got questions to ask. If I am to find Sloane, where will I find him?”
“In his mother’s house.”
My eyes popped. The lady’s smile creased across her face, revealing the set of teeth that has earlier charmed me. She heaved a heavy sigh of relief afterwards.
“Can you take me to his mother’s house?”
“I don’t know.”
“You will take me to his mother’s house.”
“Yes.” Rosemary stood to her feet and immediately headed towards the door.
“Thomas, walk by her side. Lead her into the car.”
The lady stood up gracefully as if she just had a holy conversation with the Pope. She walked out to the outside pouch, and the rest followed her. I heard the door gently close. My knees knocked against themselves now, and when I looked down at the wetness than soaked my pant, I realized I had…
I wanted to go out and have a peep at the car they drove in. But the fear that clamped my muscles was yet to let go.
I finally slipped to the ground, and sat down on the floor, right there in the puddle of my own urine.
Sally was in my past. Suss couldn’t be reached. Ethel was in intensive care. Now Rosemary: abducted.
If only I knew where they were headed to; if only I knew where Sally’s house was. Didn’t I know where Sally’s place was? Wasn’t it the same place I was in my original present? Sally, her grandmother and I were presently in that room. That room filled with precious artifacts and gemstones, and time pieces of unimaginable value. Was that where this lady wanted to be? Was that the place Sloane was hiding?
I began to think even harder now. This was certainly not my family. It was apparent that not just someone, but a set of people were interested in the treasure in that house. But I thought in another direction: why was finding the house a difficult thing? Did the house still hold the treasures, fifty years after? How come only Rosemary knew the location? The answer to the last question came in immediately- Sloane also knew. But how had he known? Who had told him?
That was what Rosemary was trying to say when we were interrupted by the knock on the door.
Sloane also knew. And from the way Rosemary had said it, it was obvious she wasn’t the one who revealed the location to him.
I thought about the beautiful, yet hateful lady who had struck Rosemary in the face. She had mentioned the name Thomas. One of them was Thomas. That was certain. I attempted to think even harder. Something wasn’t exactly making sense. It was as though I had a completed puzzle before, yet the picture wasn’t making sense. I had to find a way; I had to find answers. I had to get to Sally’s house to find out what all this was about. Maybe it was why I had made it back to this future. I remember Sally’s grandma’s words… I trust you will make the right choice… You must go now.
I must go now, but where, and by what means, I didn’t know.