Wednesday 14 October 2015

Tales from Virdua: Mary's Papa

Mary squeezed her father’s hand. It was hot and clammy, despite the cold cloth that had been placed over his head.

He was unconscious, lost to the fever that had held him captive through the night. Mary looked down at his pale face, and tears welled in her eyes for the umpteenth time. She looked to her mother, who was standing next to her.

“Mama,” she spoke softly. “Do you think he’ll make it?”

Her mother didn’t respond. She just looked into Mary’s eyes, and a single tear rolled down her cheek.

On her other side, her love Richard took her free hand and held it tightly.

“Don’t worry, Mary,” he said. “Your da’ will be all right. I know it.”

“Thank you, my love.”

Richard was a little slow, sometimes. But his heart was in the right place, and Mary loved him dearly.
The previous day, during their afternoon meal, Mary’s father had inexplicably got up from the table and announced that he wasn’t feeling well.

He turned, and was about to go and lie down, when he suddenly clutched his chest. His eyes went wide, and he keeled over.

Mary’s mother screamed and rushed to his side. She crouched down next to him and began to shake him. 

“Wake up! Wake up!” she yelled. 

Mary had the presence of mind to rush up to him and hold her hand above his mouth and nose. Feeling for breath. It was there, but it was faint. She then pressed her palm against his forehead; he was burning up.

“Mama, we need to get the healer…”

“Jonatan, please, come quickly!” said Mary, as she banged furiously on the door to the healer’s.
In a few moments, the door opened.

“What’s wrong, child?”

Mary quickly explained to Jonatan everything that had happened, but it was difficult for him to follow was she was saying, so hysterical she was. He had to keep telling her to calm down and repeat herself.

When she had finally finished, Jonatan grabbed his pack.

“Let’s go.”

“Please go ahead,” said Mary, who by this time was gasping for air. “I need to fetch Richard. I need him near me right now. I’m sorry. I’ll meet you there.”
When Mary returned with Richard, her father was in bed. He lay on his back, with his arms beside him, outside the covers, and he had a cloth on his head.

Jonatan approached Mary.

“I’m not sure what’s wrong,” he said. “From what you and your mother describe, something has gone awry with his heart. But he has a terrible fever. I have instructed your mother to put a cold cloth over his head, to try and break it, and I’ve given him a herb tea as well. That’s all I can do for now. We’ll just have to see if he makes it through the night.”

With that, Jonatan packed up his things and walked out the door.
Mary’s eyes burned with tears as she remembered the callousness of that conversation. She heaved and sobbed inconsolably.

Richard wrapped his arm around her, and pulled her close.

The three stared down at her father’s pale face, and watched his chest slowly rise and fall, rise and fall.

Suddenly, the man on the bed heaved. His eyes shot open, and he exhaled a long sharp breath, as though waking from the nightmare.


The man finished his breath, and looked up at the panic-stricken faces. He smiled.

Mary and her mother were upon him at once, hugging him and kissing him, and saying how glad they were that he was all right.

Richard looked down at him and smiled. “I told you,” he said to Mary. “I told you he’d be okay.”

Once all the excitement was over, Mary’s father cleared his throat.

“My daughter,” he said. “There is something that I need to say to you.”

“Of course, papa. Anything.”

Her father nodded towards Richard and his wife.


Mary’s mother put her arms around Richard. “Come, Richard,” she said. “I know what he needs to discuss with her, and we shouldn’t be here for it.”

Richard looked at Mary quizzically. She smiled and squeezed his hand.

“It’ll be all right, my love.”

Richard shrugged, and reluctantly followed Mary’s mother out of the room.
“What is it, father?” asked Mary when they were alone. “It sounds serious.”

Her father sighed. “It is.”

He gave a cough, before continuing, “What happened to me yesterday reminded me of how short life is. Of how little time we are given with the ones we love.

“I fear that I have little time left on this earth, and what I have to tell you can no longer wait.

“Buried in fields, under our grain crops, is a chest. When I am gone, I want you to go and dig it up.”

Mary interrupted with tears in her eyes. “No! Don’t talk like this papa. Please. You’re…”

Her father held out a hand.

“Please, my daughter, this is important. In the chest, you will find five thousand gold pieces. It should be enough for you to see to your mother, and to build a life for yourself.”

By this time, tears were streaming down Mary’s face. She could hardly believe what she was hearing.

“But papa,” she whispered. “I don’t want any money. I just want you.”

Her father smiled, and started to say something. But before he could speak a word, his eyes rolled back in his head and he fell silent.

Mary screamed. She leaned forward and pressed her ear to her father’s mouth. She felt no breath.
By the time her mother came rushing in, with Richard in tow, Mary was lying on her father’s chest, weeping inconsolably.

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