The Stranger: continuation
Two weeks later, the man walked across a neat lawn, sidestepping elaborate tombstones and stopped by a huge iroko tree. He stood silently there and watched the couple standing together by the open grave.
They were the only ones there. They held each other and mourned a child they had lost long ago. In their grief they were wondering what they had done wrong as parents as they watched their daughter being laid to rest.
They hoped Mary Katherine had now found the something she spent her life searching for. The elusive something that made her turn her back on the mother and father who loved her and would have given her the world if only she had asked.
So lost were they in their painful thoughts that they didn’t see the man leaning against the tree till they got to the waiting limousine parked close by. But as the old gentleman helped his wife into the car, he caught sight of the man. His first thought was that it was someone, a friend of Mary Katherine’s but as he straightened and looked closely, he saw the eyes and experienced a dizzying case of déjà vu.
He was sure he had met the man before. And he was equally sure he didn’t want to meet him again.
Almost against his will, he took a step towards the man, then another and another till he drew up to the man. Behind him, his wife called his name questioningly but he heard it only dimly as if from a distance. His whole attention was focused on the man in front of him. “I know you”, he said in his cultured gravelly voice.
“Hello, Howard” the man responded and stretched out his hands.
Fear coursed down Howard’s back, making his body shiver but it was followed almost immediately with calm acceptance. He raised his hand and allowed it to be swallowed up by the man’s cold ones. His last thought was of his wife who would now be alone.
Behind him, his wife saw only her husband. She saw him shiver slightly; she saw him raise his hand as if to touch the tree. Something, a sixth sense maybe, suddenly screamed in her and despite her age she started running, at the same time her husband’s knees buckled and he pitched forward on his face. She got to him.
She was too late.
Howard Adekolu-Cole was laid to rest beside his daughter. There were more people at his funeral than had been at his daughter’s. A whole lot more. Howard was the immediate past vice-president and before that an ambassador and before that a minister and before that . . .
He was an important man. The number of important and wealthy men who took time off their busy schedules to come pay their last respects attested to that. But there was also a whole lot of not so important and not so wealthy people there. For Howard was also a good and kind man.
They all came to mourn the seventy nine year old man who had died of a heart attack brought on by the death of a child he had not seen in more than twenty years.
Their sympathy and attention was also on the widow he left behind. A good woman, who at the eve of her life was now totally without any family. With such somber thoughts it was no wonder no one noticed the unremarkable man standing off to one side and watching the proceedings with intense eyes.
His eyes roved over each and every one there but did not single anyone out. They would all still meet him one day but that day was not today. So he left them there and walked away as silently as he had come.
He had another appointment.
The Stranger (2)* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
In a small town thousands of miles away in another country, a young teenage girl walked slowly out of her house. Her father followed her to the porch. He opened his mouth to say something then closed it again. He didn’t know what to say.
He knew she needed time to absorb what he had just told her. Seeing the papers that morning had made him decide it was time to finally tell her the truth. And he had. But now he knew he had to give her space to assimilate and understand it all.
Megan moved down the stairs and started walking down the road. Her eyes didn’t lift up from the paper in her hand. The mother she thought died when she was born had actually just died weeks ago and she was the granddaughter of a Howard and Folashade Adekolu-Cole! It was too much to comprehend. Her whole life had been a lie! She shook her head and tried to understand it.
She stared harder at the paper in her hand. It was the picture of Howard’s (she still couldn’t think of him as her grandfather) funeral, with his and Mary Katherine’s pictures inset. She was trying to see these people who her father said were her family.
As she looked, it was as if the picture altered subtly. She blinked and the picture became clearer. But not the whole picture. A man, in the background by the left side suddenly stood out in stark relief. Megan stopped in the middle of the street and bent over the paper. The man was becoming clearer and clearer, till she could see his eyes. They gripped hers.
Megan looked up and saw the same eyes looking into hers. She was suddenly scared. She opened her mouth to ask who he was but she was afraid she already knew.
At the corner of the street, tires screeched as a vehicle lost control and came hurtling towards them.
Megan did not hear. She was lost in those dark eyes and could only raise her hand up mutely.
The cold hands met hers halfway and enfolded hers . . .
The Stranger (2)