That evening, I returned to explore Romanoff’s library once again. He warmly welcomed me into his home, embracing me in his large arms and after pointing out the way to the library, disappeared into the kitchen to prepare a drink for me. I insisted that this was hardly necessary, but he would not hear it.
As I took in all the copiously stocked shelves, I realised his collection was more extensive than I had imagined. A rough count indicated thousands of books. More than once I came across books in a foreign language.
Now, where do I start? Digressors? The Dawn of Romantic Writing? Makers of their History on Paper?
Eventually, I became much too engrossed in scanning the book shelves to realise that I had deviated far off from my intended field of interest. It was only when I began to severely doubt the credibility of a book titled A Study of Children Raised in the Wild prophesizing that eventually such children will bridge the gap between man and animal by inventing a new language understood by both, that I realised Romanoff had still not returned. I set A Study of Children Raised in the Wild on the desk and went to the kitchen. Two large cups of now cold coffee sat on the marble counter top but no Romanoff was to be found in the kitchen. I went to the pantry. It was fully stocked with spices, jams, breads, vegetables and other food stuff. I frowned as I stared at the pots of cream.
I called out, “Romanoff?”
There was no answer.
I approached the stairs, momentarily stopping to stare at the grotesques on either side of the bannisters. They were in the shape of identical dogs. They looked a bit out of place, for some reason, though I knew the meaningful symbolism they held- of loyalty and friendship- and they might even have seemed comical- if their eerie, haunting eyes did not stare back at me with indifference.
Hallways once again ran to either side of the house. A veranda commanded a view of the eastern edge of Gratia. It was just after night had fallen, allowing me to faintly trace out dark forests and more distant hills. I disengaged my eyes from the arresting view and proceeded towards the right wing of the house which lodged the master bedroom.
“Romanoff?” I called out once again, my voice echoing across the hallway, hitting the vaulted ceiling in a haunting manner. The house suddenly looked very eerie and foreboding. I hastened my steps as a slow, dreadful affliction crept over me. I knocked, but then hastily opened the arched door. The opulent room looked as it had always been in my memories. It had dark, solid wood floor, stone walls with gold-red tapestry, and tall, stained glass windows. Behind the un-drawn windows, plain darkness stretched out. A large king-sized, dark wood bed occupied the middle space, a sweeping dark, royal red, fur rug under it. The bed’s red velvet drapes were not drawn back but instead messily thrown around dark wood canopy. A large cupboard stood on the right side of the room, along with a mahogany dressing bureau. On the south of the room, the stone wall was carved inwards to make room for a compact library. A large, warmly-coloured, gracefully carved couch sat near by, complete with a black wrought iron, metalwork chandelier hanging above for light. When asked about his own, peculiar, un-matching couch in the otherwise almost singularly-coloured room, Romanoff had responded that it was “ a stark reminder of warmth in the dreariest of times.” The carved wall was such that it partially obstructed the view of the west of the room so that that side of the room almost had its own entryway. “A wilful and ill-considered attempt on the part of a previous resident and ancestor to afford the west side more privacy,” Romanoff had given a length definition. I shook my head and sighed- I had a strange ability to remember entire sentences and forget entire experiences.
This western side of the room- which was further away from me- had an imposing, stone fireplace surrounded by more, dark wood, heavily carved furniture. I walked towards the fireplace. There was something different at that side of the room. A new painting, of a man and woman, that I had never seen before hung above the mantlepiece. It had replaced the the custom-made embroidered heraldic emblem of Romanoff’s family. I turned my head to see if it had been placed on the western wall which had been previously partially obstructed from my view, when I noticed, on the corner my godfather, lying on the floor, breathing faintly and sweating profusely, silently imploring for my attention, a look of horror I had never before seen in his eyes.
I sat by his bed for as long as I could at any given time. My memory of that time is muddy and my thoughts disoriented. Alas, everything lost importance when the one thing which was the most important hung in the balance. He could not be lost.
During those dark days, when Romanoff lay on the bed, breathing but never responding to my tearful attempts and gentle nudges to force him to somehow wake up, people visited. Lanvin came every evening with warm food. Marcus visited as well and told me I could take off the week, which was very generous of him. Officer Leonardt and his father visited as well, the latter staying for a very long time, but saying nothing. Other residents of Gratia, many who I did not know very well came and offered their support to me.
My clearest memories are the exchanges with the Medens. I had never before placed so much trust on a single group of people who knew of medicine in a studied, concentrated manner. I found myself wishing I understood, like them, what exactly had happened to my god father. But even if I did, I could not grasp his physical suffering.
“Monsieur, the only thing to be done now is wait.”
“Sir, why is he not responding to any of what I say?”
“I am afraid, we do not know yet. He is now breathing in a more orderly manner which is a good sign. The medicine will take its own time now.”
“Monsieur, please, I insist you go home. You need some rest.”
“I can’t leave him, Madame. Please, I am the only family he has.”
After some more similar exchanges, they never disturbed me whenever I stayed at the Hospitium past permitted hours.
One particular afternoon, a few days later, when I returned from home after a change of clothing and a meal, a Meden informed me that a group of men and women had visited my godfather earlier that morning.
“Did they leave a name?” I asked her.
“No, they did not, ” She replied with a now-confused expression on her face. I looked properly then for the first time at the woman who had been attending to Romanoff all these past days. She was as young as me, with dark-red hair, warm, brown eyes, and dark skin. She was a bit shorter than me, and her face had a maturity that placed her beyond her own years. “They just came in, asked where his bed was, and left just under an hour later. We assumed you knew them,”
“No, but maybe he does. Can you describe what they looked like?”
“They did not have any striking features. I noticed, though, that they were all dressed in similarly-cut clothes,”
“Can you describe them?”
“I can try. I have to get back to my patients right now, but let me see if I can give you a proper description later.”
“Robin, wake up.” A distant voice called out, interrupting my slumber. “Robin.”
I jerked awake. “Romanoff?” I said, excitedly. Disappointment crashed over me once again when I saw he still lay as he was the past few days, almost motionless except for when his chest moved as he drew breath. Instead, I turned around to see Aniko staring at me.
“Robin, I heard. I’m so sorry.”
I gave her a weak smile. “Thank you. Did Marcus tell you?”
“Yes. This past week, I just assumed you were sick with a cold, but when you still did not show up to work today, I enquired with my uncle and he told me. I came over as soon as I could.”
“Oh. Thank you for your concern. I am just.. waiting.”
Aniko drew up a chair facing me. I continued to face towards Romanoff. She asked, “What have the Medens said? I’m sorry, I do not know. But, if you feel like not talking about it, I will not ask,”
“No, it is okay,” I sighed, and turned towards her. “After I discovered him then, I immediately sought help. He is a solid-built man so I could not gather him up by myself,” I could feel moisture build up in my eyes.
“I ran out, screaming for help. Luckily, there were some people on the street. They came in with me, and one of them ran to the Hospitium-here- to alert them.
He has not opened his eyes since. The Medens think it is a state of unconsciousness purposefully induced by his brain to protect itself and the other organs.”
“Do we know why?”
“A strong link to his diet has been suggested as the perpetrator. They say it was more suitable for a weak person who needed to gain weight very quickly, rather than an old man in his seventies.”
“Have you blamed yourself for this?”
Her question caught me off-guard and some resentment pervaded my spirit. If what she had asked was not so true, my pride would have been quite insulted. She is a stranger!
I chose not to reply. I had noticed that her expression had barely changed the entire time I related my story. The only exception was that her grey eyes had become darker.
“All I can do now is wait,” I muttered, in a low, withdrawn voice. I turned back towards Romanoff.
Her expression widened. “Oh! I am so sorry! That was inappropriate. My sincere apologies. I cannot imagine what you are going through,”
“You cannot!” I spoke, scornfully. “Nobody can.”
At that strange moment, an alien voice inside my head, murmured: Her intentions are well. I froze. That thought was certainly not what was running through my mind.
I closed my eyes, and sighed inwardly. No, I mustn’t be like this. I turned around to face her once again, my expression now softened. “I am sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. It wasn’t fair. I am just quite distraught,”
“I understand. It is okay.”
I do not know when I fell asleep again. When I woke, it was late afternoon. I felt rested, as I had not in a long time. Aniko’s chair was empty. She must have left after I dozed off. I noticed a bowl, covered with paper, on the stand next to Romanoff’s bed. It was the same bowl that Lanvin brought me some food in, every evening. Gratefulness spread through me. I walked towards the long windows at the edge of the corridor. It opened to the first-floor’s main hallway. Various hospitium staff were on the move, as the night-staff began their shift. Some of them nodded warmly at me, and I returned a weak nod.
I gazed out the windows and let the cool breeze hit me. Unlike the usual popular, stained-glass variety that was to be found in most of Gratia’s houses and buildings, the hospitium was very different. It did not follow the strict gothic designs that other buildings did, choosing to instead command simplicity in design. It was large and airy and had three floors and numerous hallways. There were strict rules regarding entry to particular parts of the building which held babies, young children, or very serious or infectious persons. The hospitium grew as the population of Gratia grew, in the past requiring demolishing of some buildings around it. This had led to one of the most serious disputes in Gratia’s history.
Since we were on the first floor, the windows had a modest view of the sky. Phenomenal shades of red and gold spread out in the cloudy sky. They scenery brought colour to my mind which had otherwise began to dull, surrounded by the white, plain furniture of the hospitium. Nature is stunning, I thought to myself. And despite my existing misery, at that moment, I smiled.