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Second Death of Husband
Second Death of Husband
Copyright 2015 Safari Ohumay
Published by Safari Ohumay at Smashwords
Smashwords Edition License Notes
This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Smashwords.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Table of Contents
Bearers of Bad News
Kalahari Desert Crash
A Heart Attack
Burning from Inside
Newly Found Love
Rodney’s Health Scare
Manta Ray Chase
Komodo National Park Adventure
A Meager Wedding
About the Author
Other Books by this Author
Connect With Safari Ohumay
Joyce Malley, a grumpy housewife and her husband, Nick, are the principal characters in the story. Nick as the breadwinner in the household has been working himself almost to the exclusion of all else. He would wake up very early in the morning and leave for work by six a.m., only to return frequently late, often after eight p.m. This pattern of their life has been going on for the entire period of their five-year marriage.
As a homemaker, Joyce seems to have plenty of time on her hands and in need of intimacy and more time with her husband. But, their social skills were at their lowest ebb after five long years of marriage; none of them would dare initiate a conversation to share their respective challenges.
Their concealed challenges reached a tipping point one day when, Nick who was supposed to have told Joyce details of his expected travel to Europe, ignored her, called a taxi early in the morning, and took off for the airport. Joyce took that act as the lowest point in their relationship, and brought her to the brink of questioning the value of her married life. She sulked as usual as she would whenever they had any of their conversations, which were few and far between. Nonetheless she assumed that Nick would call her later after his arrival in Europe.
When Nick got to the airport, he received a call from his boss who was supposed to be going with him. A major piece of operating equipment at work had stalled; their trip had to be canceled. Nick and his boss worked on the equipment the whole day until after seven in the evening. Nick and his boss were not aware of the reports of a plane hijacking that day, which ended up in a crash in the Kalahari Desert. But that news of a plane hijacking would reach his wife, Joyce through her sister, Tina and Nick’s best friend, Rodney.
It was against those inconceivable odds that Joyce received news that would for a fleeting moment shock, but relieve her plaint, some how.
Her sister Tina and Nick’s close friend, Rodney, came home around noon that day with a somber message. News had quickly raced through the media and in small communities that a plane for Europe had crashed just before noon, and among the passengers reported dead was Nick Malley. Little did she know that her day would be turned upside down, not only by the sad news, but also by what would happen to her as she grieved?
Shocked but gracefully in control, Joyce took the grief with courage, and for a short while she came to terms with the widowhood, that fortuitously ushered in her new freedom. She confided to her sister what her next move to fill the void might be, which would not exclude a discreet contact with a high school boy friend from Brazil. By the end of that day Joyce’s story would take a near fatal twist that landed her in an intensive care unit of the town's cardiac center, being comforted by none other than her husband Nick.
Joyce and Nick eventually triumphed over their life-threatening crisis that required the precision of the medical professionals to turn it around, even as Joyce’s life was hanging by a thread. The couple would go on to plan a getaway vacation to Indonesia for a well deserved time to away from home. Their adventures on their vacation would take them to snorkeling expeditions for a close encounter with the abundant marine life, and eventually to the world famous Komodo National Park to see the giant lizards known as komodo dragons. Something terrible would happen, and for a while Joyce becomes a widow who ends up colleting a handsome insurance policy benefit. But Joyce troubles do not completely go away before she solves the mystery of a dramatic rescue by local people who saved the life of her husband who was presumed to have fallen prey to the komodo dragons.
On that unforgettable early morning of an otherwise humdrum day, Joyce Malley was awakened by the shuffling noises of her husband Nick who was packing in a rush to dash for the airport. She had just heard Nick make a phone call for a taxi to take him to the airport. Nick had made only a passing remark the night before, about his boss’ trip to a European city for an expected import of a new piece of equipment they need at their job. The boss had asked Nick to stand by in case he might need his company on the trip. But it was not until late in the night when Nick’s boss confirmed the trip. Nick went to bed that night without telling Joyce about the trip. Joyce was not the least amazed with Nick’s attitude after she found out later, and to make matters worse, Nick did not even leave behind the details of the information about the flight he was taking. Nick said, albeit in passing as he was getting in a taxi, “ I will tell you later once I arrive in Europe”. However, grudgingly Joyce trusted that once he reached his destination, Nick would communicate. Joyce never received a call from Nick that day.
Later on that day just before noon while Joyce was relaxing in her porch, she saw a couple in a car that was backing up for a parking space a few steps away from her house front. It was her sister Tina and Rodney. Rodney was a long time friend of Nick’s. Joyce noticed something in their walk that was reminiscent of a somber mood. They were unusually slow as they walked towards the house, their eyes glued to the ground; she wondered if they were going to stop by. “How and why did they meet at this time of the day when each would be on the job?” she wondered.
What Joyce did not know was their poignant discussion of the somber message they were bearing and how to deliver it to her. Troubled deeply by their genuine concern that Joyce was afflicted with an intermittent heart trouble, Rodney and Tina were going to great lengths to break the sad news of her husband’s death to her.
It all began when Rodney called her sister, Tina, to tell her the sad news of the death of her brother-in-law. Rodney knew he had the unenviable task of delivering to Joyce alone, the news of the death of his longtime friend. The gravitas of the news forced him to think through his next move carefully. Rodney, who had been dating Tina on- and off, asked her if she could join him on that somber mission. Tina was shocked, but more than ready to be the first to meet her sister. Moments after the call, Rodney picked Tina up from her job at a real estate agency, and both of them agreed that Tina would deliver the message artfully while Rodney would be close by. On arrival at the Malley’s house, they saw Joyce sitting in her porch, and joined her; without spending much time, they asked her if they could go inside in the living room. As a sneaky aura of foreboding was engulfing the room, Joyce’s ears were ringing with silent sounds. Once they arrived in the living room, Tina took the courage to face her sister with the news in a rather convoluted way.
But before long, Joyce concluded that something terrible had happened and her sister was attempting not to tell it directly. After much speculation as to what might have brought this couple at that time of the day, it ultimately dawned on Joyce that something had happened to Nick who had left for an overseas trip that morning. Tina continued to describe the news report; all the while Joyce and Rodney remained ostensibly silent, listening attentively. Joyce noticed that husband’s friend Rodney, was by her side as though to ready him for her support in the event the weight of the sad news caused her to lose posture.
It all began in a newsroom of a media company that shared office space with Rodney. Rodney was talking with a maintenance manager when he saw press news reeling out, headlining an airline plane crash that had over 200 passengers on board on a route to a European city. He saw the news flash as it came on a small flat screen, which showed Nick Malley’s name was leading the list of “killed” passengers. Rodney was in utter disbelief and frantically tried to while away time by taking refuge in faith and hope; for a while he was wishing it was a misprint or some error on the part of a reporter who would soon make corrections.
Moments later, a second news reel flashed in a stream of fast moving words that only corroborated the previous release and thus hastened to overcome Rodney’s nascent temptation to forestall his unenviable job of being the bearer of the sad news to his friend’s spouse. To Rodney Nick Malley was more than an ordinary friend: He was a classmate in high school, but he was also his best buddy who had shared the same hometown with him in the longest time.
“ It is about Nick isn’t it?” Joyce opened her mouth and asked as her eyes were glued on Tina’s face, while still standing in the living room. When Joyce heard the sad news in its full scope, she took it in her own unique way which was contrary to the expectations of the bearers. She did not react when she heard the story unlike many women would regress into a paralyzing inability to accept its reality and significance. Moments later, she took a posture of a person, frozen stiff with eyes in a blank stare on a plain wall of her three bedroom rambler. She then eased out herself and made a sudden uncontrolled move, her legs wobbly, and leaned on her sister’s shoulder. Her sister Tina turned gently towards her, giving her room to quickly bury her face between her sister’s arms looking down. Tina was holding her ground, but personally shaken for fear of what damage this news might inflict on Joyce’s weak heart.
Joyce Malley sobbed in an eerie moan that could have invoked tears from anyone one near who could see and hear. In time, the tempo of the sobbing noise began to descend at a steady speed until it stopped completely after about five minutes, which seemed like eternity for Tina. For Rodney and Tina who had braced them for the worst reaction, the storm of grief appeared to have spent itself. Not long after a much welcome calm, Joyce went to her room alone in a swift walk, and shut the door behind her, letting no one to follow her, not even her sister. There, in the room stood, facing an open window, a comfortable roomy armchair. Into this she plumped her tall body frame, showing unmistakable signs of a physical exhaustion that taunted her body outwardly and seemed to reach into her very soul.
Torture Chamber Memories:
She was in the only room where she could be alone, the only place in the house where she learned how to overcome her loneliness and the constant pain arising from within her. In that room she watched days come and go, often pondering how she might end her loneliness. It is one of the two rooms right next to the master bed room which she dreaded as her emotional torture chamber where she would spend her mostly sleepless nights with her husband Nick whom she married five years prior. For now, she might have thought she needed that quiet moment, in spite of the company of people who surrounded- two most loving people she could hope to have around in times like this.
Joyce lifted her head gently up and looked out of her window in a southwesterly direction into the woods. It was the beginning of the Fall season and tree canopies were gradually disappearing; most leaves still up on trees were parading their color patterns day by day at the same time allowing gravity to assemble them on the ground below. As Joyce sat in her chair, there in the middle of the room, the rays of sunlight pierced through partially opened window curtains, and warmed the bare pine floor. She gently took off her flat-heeled shoes and placed her long toenailed feet on the warm pine floor in utter oblivion. She gazed out the window at the spectacular transformation of the autumn colors. It seemed she had weathered the torrent of emotional trauma that the news of the tragic death of her husband could have unleashed.
The scene was seemingly 'perfect', but there was something long suppressed inside of her which she dared not speak out to anyone. It was beginning to find space in the streams of her unchained thoughts. A feeling so profoundly deep in the inner core of her heart, it still managed to flood her mind every second and dominated her mind on every thought.
Everyday Joyce would reach her absolute limit of rationality, but was determined to not act on her feelings. And it was truly overpowering her, but now the weight of the tragic news seemed to have stirred up that feeling in a way she never thought possible. It is the whole feeling about their relationship as husband and wife, rooted in her from the day they were married. It had kept taunting her for almost every day of her life.
She would recall the routine of every day of their life for the last five years. The clock alarm would go off at twenty past seven every morning of a weekday. And it would be another day that she would face by herself all alone the whole day. “May be I should speak out and share my pain with my loved ones”, she would occasionally say to herself. Then again, it really didn't make a difference to her whether they chose to believe it or not, she found no problem convincing herself that way. Her friend Rachel who lived half an hour away from her home would occasionally come by, to collect her for a ride and shopping of some sort women do when they are together and just gossiping. But she had to put on an act to avoid offending Rachel, for deep in her heart, secret pain was trumping any joy she could derive in the company of her friend. Inside her, she felt abused and stripped of her dignity, but on the outside, in front of her friend, she would act calm and would wear a face that said, "We had a fantastic day, and what more could I ask of it!”
Eight years ago when she was a senior at high school, usually, just as almost everyone her age would do, she would come home from school, drop her school bags and sit down in front of the television to watch her favorite programs that all her friends also watched. She and her school friends then all felt watching a favorite television program after school reinvigorated their energies after a long day before turning to the dreaded homework humdrums. Back then; she loved the television stories they shared because they easily became points of conversation, especially for girls her age who were looking for opportunities to break into a relationship with boys. She was satisfied her life was exciting and full of great expectations for the future. But all that bliss of school years seemed to have vanished since she got married to Nick. She reckoned her life had become an unspoken misery that rolled with passing time. She had never been able to solve this misery until that day. Once she was alone in the house after Nick was long gone to work, she would go straight to the master bedroom, take a good glance at her face in the mirror. She would convince her eyes that she was no longer good looking. She would see lines of wrinkles streaking across her forehead and below her eyelids like those of a woman past her menopause. She would immediately burst out of the room crying. When that happened, she would enter the next bedroom that had a nice armchair, and would sit smack in it in the middle of the bedroom; salty tears would flow down her egg-shaped cheeks; as she would wipe her tearing eyes, she would ingest her saliva which made her cough hard occasionally causing an awkward constriction in her throat, taking her on the brink of choking. She was frequented occasionally by the realization, that years of sulking at her own life unmistakably were taking their toll on her once pretty face. She wondered how so fast the marriage had stolen away her radiant face.
As Joyce steadfastly stared outside her window, the ambrosial breath of rain -soaked air was quietly whispering in her face. On the opposite side of the woods she could hear a peddler in the street hollering out his merchandise as she would expect at this time of the day when women, mostly house wives, are at home attending to sundry chores of the home. The humming of a distant song note of someone in the neighborhood singing reached her faintly; the occasional swarming of birds in synchronized twitters would claim her view as the birds perched on the tree branches, which were baring their leaves, covering fallen acorns as they reached the ground. She would see four legged creatures like squirrels and raccoons busy burrowing through the fallen leaves as they searched for acorns.
Up in the skies, she could see patches of blue sky showing here and there, through the clouds, dominated by overpowering cumulonimbus which towered over occasional stratus and scattered altocumulus that would meet and pile one above the other before they cruised away in the west past her window. There she was, seated with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair quite motionless as she was slowly sinking into a sense of comfort on the inside, except when an uncontrolled sob came occasionally up into her throat as a child before bed time who has cried itself out to sleep, continues to sob in its dreams. For a while she was oblivious to the presence of her two guests out in the living room- her sister and Rodney, only separated by her bedroom door. She was beginning to be transformed from within her soul in a tranquil way for the first time in a long, long time.
Putting her repulsive look in the mirror aside, she said to herself: “I am young with a fair looking, calm face albeit saggy and a little more than my age would warrant; those lines bespoke a wear and tear of a silent repression, but now amazingly a certain spark of strength is coming my way”. Then she had a burst of an awakening in her mind as though a heaven-sent emissary spoke into her ears. The dull stare outside her window which fixed her mind away off yonder on one of those patches of blue sky, was not a mere glance of reflection, but rather a much needed profound suspension of intelligent thought which had been trapped in the depth of what she described as irreversible misery for a long time.
Joyce began to sense the gentle coming of something unthreatening into the depth of her soul, and even though she couldn't figure it out right away exactly what it was, she was waiting for it to perk up any way any how. What could it be? Though a few competing scenarios were racing in her mind, she could not put a finger on a particular one for sure, she mused. But her heart knew it though, in its inner depths; yet it was too subtle and elusive to start crying it out. There was no speckle of doubt that her mind was filled with imagery of something creeping out of the sky, and through that long gaze it was reaching towards her via the invisible waves of the sounds, the evocative scents, the shapes and movements of the clouds and colors that filled the air and its surrounding. Now she gasped and took in a deep breath of air and her bosom raised her shoulders up gently; then it fell tumultuously like a deflated balloon. She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her, but she was not yet sure she was ready for it as part of her still strived to beat it back as she had been doing in the past.
When she finally succumbed to this irresistible force, a little whisper word escaped with curious ease through her slightly parted lips. Powered by pure instincts, she said it over and over under her breath: “Free, free, free! Free at last!” The vacant stare and the look of terror, the sobbing and near choking trances that had followed the news of Nick’s death went away with the clouds; instead she felt a wind of fresh air blowing in her way revealing in her the glimpse of what should have been, what could be, and what has to be for her life- for the first time, a free and happy future for her.
The tempo of her pulse rate, which overworked her heart started to calm down, and seemed to warm and relax every inch of her body. She began to pinch herself just to be dead sure it was not a dream. She put her eyes to test so as to assert to herself that she could read, and also to clear any lingering doubt of the reality of what seemed to her as a long awaited time of her life- to be free and look to the future full of promise. She was filled with uncontrollable urge to write down the order of execution of her newly found vision of life. Then she looked in the corner of her left eye, and saw a greeting card that Nick had put on the dressing table. It came during one of the past holiday seasons, “It is about dreams and I have to read it aloud to myself!” she mused with excitement. The card read:
“A dream written down with a date becomes a goal. A goal broken down into steps becomes a plan. A plan backed by action makes your dreams come true. “Mm. huh! More than ever I need dreams, and dreams I have plenty. I can’t begin to write them down. But wait, first things first. My husband is dead, and there are solemn rituals we have to go through before we give him our final goodbye”, she said to counsel herself.
Even so, she pondered the moments that she would weep again when Nick’s motionless body would be lying inside a decorated coffin; the face that had never looked her in the eyes with an intimate sense of romance would finally be fixed facing up, and the skin would look pale and dead. But, then she might only be able to see the gruesome imagery of a plane crash, filled with mangled bodies of victims beyond recognition on impact on the ground! “There would hardly be a body to recognize in the end. God forbid!” She said to herself as her pulse rate perked up momentarily.
By now Joyce looked beyond those bitter moments of the past, and would enter a long procession of years to come that would belong absolutely to her with someone or alone, whichever happens to be the case. She opened and spread her arms out as if she was finally welcoming the world to her heart. There would be no one to live for her during those coming years for she would be there to witness the joy of freedom, which seemed so much in hand for her now. There would not be that powerful domineering will of a man any more, bending hers with that overshadowing male persistence, which men and women have both come to accept as providence; it demands the obedience of the holy books, for in it the voice of the Almighty is indelibly embedded. As a woman, she finds that providence imposes a private will of men upon women in exchange for obedience even without consent, she mused. A kind intention or a cruel intention, what ever the case may be, as far as she was concerned, it made the act seem no less a crime as she pondered in reflection upon it, in that moment of illumination.
And yet at the very depth of her heart it is not too hard to recall moments she had loved her husband Nick- sometimes, even as rare as it was for him to reciprocate in kind. Her mind was full of countless memories of that love, as often Nick would reciprocate with material gifts, which normally would have been a source of excitement and renewal of their romance. But it didn’t.
What Joyce needed most from her husband was more subtle and hard for her to insist on, and was sort of “embarrassing” she reckoned. She would wonder: “ Am I suffering from what her friend called paraphilia — erotic desires that fall far outside the norm? Why did it matter as it did, to me in our relationship?” She asked herself. Then she asked herself the same question from another angle of logic: “If I am under the influence of what Rachel called episodes of paraphilia, then with whom should I go to share my idiosyncrasy, other than my husband?” Of course she could not ask Nick that question so directly as she was sure he would have been so hurt on the inside no matter what answer he would give. She succumbed to the burden of dealing with it alone very discreetly; yes she made sure it was very discreet. No one would have guessed remotely that she would have an intimate relation with Fabrizio Simao every once in long awaited whiles. No one knew, not even her own sister Tina or Rodney ever caught a sight of Fabrizio in her vicinity in a public place. Deep inside she felt terrible, but she saw no way out of it.
Now, free at last. There would be no feeling of guilt in her relationship with a man, and quite possibly that man could be Fabrizio. Joyce wondered: “What could a desire for love become in my new self assertion, which is the strongest impulse of my being right now? Spring days, and summer days and all sorts of days would be my own!” She breathed a quick prayer to God for forgiveness for her past transgressions, and asked that life might be long. This prayer was the least she could petition for now, she reckoned; for it was only last week that she was confronted with the prospect of a sobering reality that this life might be too long for her under the weight of rolling episodes of emotions.
“Free! Body and soul, free!” She kept whispering for a while. Then she heard a knock at the door. It was Tina kneeling behind the closed door of her bedroom. Joyce from her room could see her sister’s lips close to the keyhole, imploring her for admission. “Joyce, open the door! I beg you! Open the door! You will make yourself ill. What are you doing there alone Joyce? For heaven’s sake, open the door!” she cried out frantically.
Joyce braced herself up and gathered her emotional strength, an act that was no longer too hard, and then readied herself to respond with a firm voice to dispel her sister’s fears. Before she could respond, she whispered to herself; “ I am not making myself ill sister, I am allowing time for my feelings to embrace reality and come to terms with how fleeting life is, and how untimely the moment of death always is.” Tina knocked the door again inflicting a palpable toll on her knuckles, and tried to peep through the keyhole with her eyes rolling and wide open. Her imagination was running amok, fearing Joyce might have done or is about to do something unthinkable at the height of her emotional vulnerability. Then Joyce arose and stood up from the armchair and opened the door on her sister’s insistence. There was a feverish radiance in Tina’s eyes clearly signaling a big sense of triumph that her sister was alive and well and even composed. Joyce pulled forward towards her for a hug, clasped her around the waist and hugged, rubbing her chicks against hers and they held each other tight for a moment. Then together, they sat side by side on the bed. They began a conversation that would open a premier window of opportunity into the secrets of what had been Joyce’s miserable life that she had kept to herself without telling any one living or dead until now:
Tina: I am glad you look pretty relaxed now. Keep in mind Joyce; we are here to be with you in this difficult time you have just entered.
Joyce: Thanks sister; I need you now and together I am sure I will get over this. After all I have come to terms with the human mortality; every one has to die, whether it happens now or in some future date. And guess what, I have just learned something from this grief!
Tina: Tell me, perhaps we can together find ways to pass past these tough days of mourning, and gracefully transition into a new life which will be enriched and full of purpose.
Joyce: After recovering from the shock of the news I began to come to my senses and found solace in maintaining a positive attitude about life with a fresh look. And by putting behind the sad memories of this tragedy, and even of my sad life that until today, remained to be my most closely guarded secret I have told no one living or dead!
Tina: We can help each other in times like this; I too have my own sad secret memories which I have also kept to myself for fear that they would be embarrassing to tell friends or even relatives like you my sister. You see, I have to think that every tragedy that strikes is pointing us to a destiny, and may offer an opportunity to renew life and remind ourselves that life is fleeting, and we must take one day at a time to find or make joy out of it. So it is ok to dream and act on our dreams rather than spend precious time lamenting and feeling sorry for us
Joyce: Tina, you read my lips. It is as if those words came right out of my mouth. Let me tell you how I walked into this room so heart broken. For a while my legs were barely standing, until I sat down in this armchair and looked outside my window, and just stared at the sky. For a few good count of minutes I was stilled by the shock, watching clouds slide one over the other moving west and occasionally the sun coming in through my window curtain, slowly warming the flow as I sat in that armchair.
Tina: I have to tell you I got really nervous when you entered the room and immediately closed the door almost right on my face. I figured you were in a rush to commit something totally irrational, and harm or even kill yourself. I worried there might be a rope or a chord that would tempt you to commit a suicide attempt. Then I sort of calmed myself as Rodney was nervously watching me standing right there by the door. But we were keenly listening for any strange noise from the room.
That was the nature of an honest conversation between Joyce and her sister. They felt as normal as it could be under the circumstances and Joyce felt the urge to be the first to reveal the dark past of her married life which took her soul down to the bottoms of misery for so long until an awakening was triggered, ironically, by the very tragedy on her hands. This was the moment of grief on the death of her husband of five years; yet she felt free and now very ironically, she felt freer than ever to tell her secret to her own sister.
While Joyce was a senior at high school Nick and her became acquainted by coincidence. They both belonged to the same parish youth organization that had an annual tradition of arranging youth work camp activities for the summer. They always looked forward and were excited to participate in the one-week event. Both the youth organizers and the participants felt very proud about the once-in a year event, as it was a demonstration of charity and their way of helping poor families, especially the elderly and the disabled, who typically live in homes in need of basic repair jobs they can not afford to pay for.
The participants were organized in groups of six to work on one home for one 5-day week to complete a project. A typical project would be to build a new ramp to the door for a wheel chair bound resident. In one of the work camps, Nick and Joyce were assigned randomly in one of the project groups. They worked together on an old lady’s replacement ramp for her wheelchair. Day in day out for five days, they were members of a team on a very rewarding job. That was how they became acquainted, and by the end of the work camp project, Joyce explained, Nick had made his intention clear about the future of their relationship: He hoped she would say yes when he proposed as he intended to.
In the same camp there was Fabrizio Simao, a Brazilian national from a high school in Joyce’s neighborhood. He was a member of the same church. Fabrizio’s path had crossed with Joyce’s on a number of occasions. Though he was a citizen of Brazil, Fabrizio was planning to reside permanently in the US. But because he came in on a student visa his US residence was limited to the duration he remained in school. Joyce took a strong liking to Fabrizio as a friend even as they were taking their relationship in strides without any visible inclination for a long-term plan. The idea of a relationship with a person from Brazil was a curious fancy for Joyce. She felt free and protected whenever she was in the company of Fabrizio. She deeply enjoyed just being with him for no specific reason. Fabrizio was a soft-spoken guy who had a profound sense of humor, and never showed to anger at any one. Joyce would make a confession by telling her sister one secret about Fabrizio that could account for a relationship that she characterized as a magnetic force between them that was squandered. They had gone on a few but memorable dates during which she could have said “I do” to a slight suggestion by Fabrizio. But their liaison never came that close. These few occasions would leave Joyce with indelible memories about this man.
One night before the work camp experience, Joyce and Fabrizio went to a party that was organized by a mutual friend. They danced and drank refreshments, not excluding alcoholic beverages during most of that night, and at the climax of it all the revelers including Joyce and Fabrizio, were tipsy in varying degrees by the close of it, a little before 2 o’clock in the morning. And in spite of the shroud of vagueness over how that night ended, Joyce admitted it was and still remained as the most memorable social event of her life as a teenage girl. Since their graduation from high school, the frequency of meetings diminished, and they drifted apart. A few years passed during which Nick had made good on his desire to get married to Joyce. She accepted him, as it was the only offer on the table when she seriously was considering a lifetime partner. Joyce and Nick got married in a catholic church, and they learned that the vows they took were for life, unless death intervened, in which case the surviving partner becomes freed from the vow.
At that point there was a soft knock at the door; it was Rodney who all the while had been sitting in the living room.
Tina: Sorry Rodney, we got carried away.
Rodney: That’s ok Tina. I hope you guys are settling down emotionally and I am sure you do not need me to come into the room; I was wondering if you could permit me to step out for a while to bring some food for lunch and drinks. Joyce, would you say the Magoo Chinese restaurant on Pride Street is the closest from here?
Joyce: Honestly I can’t tell you right now. As a matter of fact I think there is a restaurant closer to here than that; but some how I can’t see it in my mind’s eye. It has better menus including your favorite baby barbecue ribs.
Rodney: Thanks Joyce; I will drive in the direction of Magoo and hope I will see it along the road. I will see you in a while.
The sisters still in the bed room, continued with their invigorating conversation, as each seemed to have secrets to tell the other to while away time. Joyce continued: “My husband, Nick, was a generous man, helpful, grateful, respectful, tender and attentive. But there was a missing aspect of him that seemed to be all that mattered to me; he rarely showed to possess it. This may sound peculiar to people and may be even to you my sister. That is why it remained my most guarded secret, that is until now”. In her explanations Joyce was very deliberative and forceful. She told Tina that Nick was not in the least bit interested in romance with her, nor did he show any such inclination with anyone else for that matter, right from day one in their marriage - their wedding night. Admittedly on that night both of them were surely exhausted, and each took the convenience of rest for the whole night. But since then little had changed over their intimacy, and according to her it was very normal for them to enjoy everything else that married couple do except romance.
Nick would come home almost always late from work. By the time dinner is served whatever energy was left in him was only good enough for rest and sleep. Joyce noticed that spending time together was the hardest aspect of their marriage, and that Nick was only grudgingly coping with it. Joyce confessed to her sister that their marriage environment had been very hard for her to encounter every night after night. She did not know what to make of it, even though she concluded that the culprits were two fold- her notion she was not as attractive anymore, and the reality that her husband, Nick was overworked and underpaid at his job. With regard to the stressful job, she realized she did not have a viable solution. But she wondered whether Nick could some how find ways to stick to the eight-hour workday. When it came to her looks, she could do little to reverse her aging. Even then she asked herself: “But then why did he choose to marry me? It was not different from living with someone who is a roommate, for all intents and purposes, except that we still had to share a bedroom, and a marital bond”.
Joyce resigned to the notion that it may not be easy for someone else to understand how she felt unless one is immersed in the frustration, shame and hurt that a marriage lacking in intimacy can inflict on a partner in a relationship that is otherwise in harmony. It can and does affect self-esteem, bring on depression, self-loathing and anxiety, and worse, devaluation of one’s future life.
Joyce continued the conversation with more vigor: “Not surprisingly differences in sexual wants, needs and desires within a long-term relationship are a confusing topic. “It is not that we were in a total abstinence. No I can’t say that. For whenever we were on vacation, away from home, Nick would become a different person who poured his heart out for me. But those vacations were few and far between, occurring only a few times in a year. A couple of questions which have haunted me arise out of this curious inquiry: How much sex is normal?" Tina perked her head up and looked Joyce in the eyes, and said: “Good question, I do not think I have an answer. What do you think?” Joyce responded nonchalantly: “ Honestly, I do not have a clear cut answer, my sister; but I do believe people really want to know if what they are experiencing in their own relationship is "abnormal." I certainly ask myself this question, and while we are at it what do you honestly think about my story thus far? Do you believe "sexual incompatibility" is often the catchall excuse many couples use because they don't know how to work through their outside-the-bedroom issues?
Tina: I am so profoundly touched by your revelation regarding your marriage; I am not sure how to respond objectively. On the one hand I personally feel a sense of guilt as your sister, for failing to detect the frustration in your marriage to give you support of some sort; but on the other, I sense that I would equally be frustrated in giving you my support. Had I known about your marital frustrations before, I could have suggested to you the unthinkable for a Catholic couple such as Nick and you- a divorce. Be that as it may, with this tragedy on hands, I believe God purposed your life for an entirely new life; the kind of life that we will walk together to make up for the joy you missed.
Joyce: Thank you sister for your support. But now this whole story has become my dark past, and I surely hope my future will be different. From now on, I need to focus on my dreams for the future and share them with you; it could be about a man who could possibly share his life with me and together make up for what I missed in the entire 5 years of my marriage. I have read many articles about issues of this nature, which some experts have called incompatible marriages and their causes. I want to share with you the information I have gathered. Could we go down to the basement in a small office room while we wait for Rodney? I have a whole electronic folder full of information about this subject in my desktop computer. It was part of my effort to understand whether this issue is unique to me as a woman or a wife, or could there be something we were not paying attention to that was a key ingredient in a healthy intimacy in our marriage? What I found out is hardly surprising; there is no such thing as normal occasions of romantic interaction between a couple; so called experts say that no research has thus far been found to validate that there is an appropriate frequency of specific social interactions for an average couple.
However here is a newspaper article published last year, and the following is from that article which sheds some interesting light on the topic of sexual interactions:
“ In the United States 15 to 20 per cent of couples have sex less than 10 times a year which is defined as a "sexless" marriage. It is estimated that the 15 per cent of marriages that become sexless is the norm for some who are content. However, there are some people who are not sure whether to give credence to this finding or not. But, unfortunately, fueled by media passion for all things sexual, it is now held as a truth to reckon with in such relationships. There is a creeping love/hate relationship with the "sexless marriage" moniker between sex couples. It makes those who are trying their best but not having normal sex to feel inadequate; it also gives ammunition to a spouse who doesn't think they are getting enough sex to consider an exit from the relationship. And yet it is a starting ground for a couple to evaluate whether they are mutually satisfied with the spectrum of their whole life.
The question remains, if you are in a "sexless marriage" or you feel sexual incompatibility in your life, is it worth the trouble of getting a divorce? Here are some thoughts drawn from the findings of this study:
First, there is no concrete definition to what sexual incompatibility means. It is impossible to give concrete parameters, as it is a couple by couple situation. For some people sex is extremely important and integral part of the relationship; for other couples it is not so much. Most people assume sexual incompatibility means there's a disparity in preferred sexual frequency -- i.e. one partner wants sex once per month while the other wants it every day. However, contrary to this notion, the study shows that frequency discrepancy is superficial. Sexual incompatibility tends to fall more in line of, for example, one partner wanting to enter a sexual "lifestyle" or habits that the other partner is completely against. Some people have used sexual incompatibility as an easy camouflage for triggering a power struggle within a domain of one couple. A fight over something unrelated could trigger a fight-loop over the lack of sex.
When a couple has fought too much about sex -- for years -- it can be extremely challenging to get their sex life back on track. First it may very well require them to get a third party -- like a counselor -- to help sort out issues specific to them as a couple. Once a couple’s issues are sorted, they can then work on their sexual compatibility.
Is sex incompatibility the most common complaint among couples? Surprisingly the answer is no: By far the most common sexual conundrum couple's get trapped in is sex boredom. This accounts for instances even where sex was once effortless and satisfying for a considerable period; it gradually drifts away, feelings become numb, more and more energy is needed to set up a conducive environment- pushing a couple towards a lifestyle often they might not afford. Over time, a couple’s intimacy is reduced to repetitive routines of styles and social events, setting a stage for acts that become mechanical and boring for the sake of compliance and appearances from the outside as a cohesive family unit”.
Well sister, for the most part I agree with this article, and in a way it helps me understand that I am not necessarily the problem in the relationship nor am I alone in our society. What is your reaction? You seem pensive and rather overwhelmed!
Tina: No, not at all. On the contrary, I am finding this exposition very relevant to me as well. I have to tell you my story that you probably do not know just as I didn’t know about the frustrations you have gone through in the 5 years of your marriage. I guess you know a few of my early thrills for finding that ideal man who would settle with me to enjoy a life long marriage. You won’t believe up to this day I am pretty much a single middle-aged woman, not for lacking the desire for intimacy, but rather for making a wrong decision early that would haunt me. You see, I had the audacity to predetermine the profile of that lifetime partner to be- it is he or none if I do not meet that ideal man. Until now, starting from the moment I placed myself on the block, so to speak, for that ideal intimate relationship, it has been two long mediocre years of narrowing my choices- too specific and quite discriminating in the beginning. But as years waned with passing tantalizing opportunities, inexplicable circumstances prevailing during that time did not deliver the desired results; as a consequence I have to change my strategy and be less discriminating, and even aggressive. You see, I believe in the unique bond of love that romance brings in a marriage, but of course only with the right guy. Indeed, I did find a man who measured up. But there has been a recurring problem with myself in that relationship. After I found a man who met the bar, I would still fall victim to the charm of other equally qualified man. It seemed once I found one good relationship, it became much easier for me to connect with other men. The problem is, every man who passed that bar for my selection, seemed to swirl up my heart in ways that prevent me from settling down with only one. I am well aware, and as you will no doubt agree with me, this behavior over which I seem to have no effective control, is incompatible with the notion of the intimacy with that one special lifetime partner. It just wouldn’t be fair to my partner, and is a manifestation of out right selfishness. So I remained single and socially in flux, indecisive, and rudderless you might rightly say. This strange behavior, contrary to conventional wisdom or even for that matter to your own wisdom, has become part of my personality.
Joyce looked at her sister, placed her hand on Tina’s left shoulder and said, “No way, Sister! Until now I have lived in blissful ignorance of your romantic life, thinking quite on the contrary you were having the best time of your life, free and still young!”
At this point there was a knock at the door forcing the sisters to abruptly postpone their intimate conversation as Joyce quickly dashed up the stairs to open the door for Rodney.
From the Grapevine:
As Joyce opened the door, there in front of her, Rodney stood humped with his arms wrapped around three brown bags of appetizing food. He looked up straight into Joyce’s eyes as though he was looking for something. Then he smiled as he passed one of the brown bags to her and walked into the living room. Joyce sensed that Rodney had not expected her to be as relaxed, as he breathed a sigh of relief with no signs of deep grief on Joyce’s face.
Rodney: Sorry guys, it took me such long time to come back; the order took long because the customer line was longer than I ever imagined. It was lunch hour. And then there were other people whose orders were ahead of mine. However, in that time I got fresh news about the plane crash from some people who were able to share it with me. It was a Virtue airline flight headed for Amsterdam, and the plane’s disappearance was reported about five hours after the take off from JFK. All passengers and crew of 9 are believed to have perished. The airline is not disclosing names of the victims except to their close relatives. So I was hoping the airline personnel might have contacted you Joyce.
Joyce: No, during all the time you were away, Tina and I were chatting, and my phone has been by my side all the time. I have not received any call from any one during that time. I guess in this tragic moment the staff of the airline is probably overwhelmed by calls from relatives, and the press; God knows from whom else. It is unfortunate that Nick did not leave behind information about his flight schedule, or even about the airline of his flight. But the only thing I know about airlines, is that Virtue airline normally operates three scheduled flights between JFK and three cities in Europe every week. Sometimes they share services with partner airlines within the airline alliance of services. It thus makes it hard to pin down the specific flight information about a passenger, the situation we now face.
Rodney: I do not know if it will help us, but I met some people who were talking about this tragic accident, and about a voice recording that was transmitted by a passenger to a friend. I decided to record the voice message in my smart phone so that I could share it with you. Here is the recording of the purported voice of a passenger. It was the voice of a passenger by the name of Jake in that flight who was from Denver, Colorado. Just before take off he set up his smart phone and downloaded a chat application called whatsapp, which is used by most smart phone users outside the United States. Here are his recorded text messages, which he dispatched just before the crash. This was the text message:
“The sound of the loud jet engine suddenly woke me up, I looked at the time, then glanced at the map on the back of the seat in front of me. I then realized we had only been flying for two hours, I took a deep sigh, and said to myself, "Only five more hours to go." I had never been out of the country before, but loved to travel. I had been to every state in the United States, except Delaware. I never cared very much to go there, "there's nothing to see there in that tiny state hugging the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. To my knowledge, no one has ever told stories I could recall about Delaware other than its historical connection with the Mason-Dixie Line, which separates it from Maryland and Pennsylvania.
When I visited North Carolina, I was a casual tourist; but that's when I bought my dog, Buster, a now two-year old black lab. I took Buster everywhere with me since then, no matter where I went including this trip I am on right now. For the first time in my life, I am heading out of the country to go to East Africa. I have always wanted to go see Mt. Kilimanjaro, the zenith of our earth towering over the continent. On my way back, I will make stops in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and Great Britain, before I return home to Denver. Now I am going to doze with the humming noise of the plane in the background.
Ding! I hear the pilot has just turned on the seatbelt sign. I have a window seat and next to me is a couple, male and female from New Jersey. A nice couple for company, but not much talk going on for now. The plane is now in a perfect location for the sun to cast a long shadow over the glimmering waters of the Atlantic Ocean, as it began to set in the distance on the left side of the plane. Moments after sunset, seeing there isn't much to see I pull down the blind over my window.
I am having hard time to get back to sleep. So I decide to listen to the people around me. One older couple keeps talking about how they couldn't wait to get to Tanzania, and it sounds like they are going to climb some mountains. Another group sounds like they were from East Africa. They are returning from the United States, after taking a vacation there for three weeks. Now I am trying to listen to two middle-aged men talk, but the flight attendant interrupted by asking me if I wanted anything to drink? She speaks in a soft voice and I couldn’t refuse this offer! “Yes please, can I get some water?” I said, after waiting for a few seconds to think about what I wanted. A little while later she is back with my drink. Now after finishing my drink I need to go to the bathroom. I come back to my row and plump down in my chair, fasten my seat belt as usual, and try to relax. By now we have been in the air for about three hours I guess. Now it is time to put on my headphones and begin to watch the movie playing in front of me. Just for curiosity, I reopen my window blind, for the sun had gone down.
No movie seems to excite me. I am beginning to doze off as I am looking out the window into the darkness that surrounds the plane outside. Other passengers, including the couple next to me seem to be finally falling asleep along with countless other passengers I could see in row after row. The lights in the cabin are now completely dimmed down; the flight attendants have gone back to the designated area in their seats, and the only noise I can hear is the humming sound of the airplane. My Eyes are closing, and it will be at least hours before I need to look out of the window.
What is going on? After a lapse of time in sleep, I am waking up and every one is screaming and the flight attendants are frantically pushing every one down on the floor of the aircraft. I try to compose myself and took a second to calm down and start to look around. Mm! I look at two twenty-some years old guys with guns. They are shouting at the flight attendants to open the pilot door. One is forcing the attendant to open the cockpit door but no response. Oh my. A loud bang echoes through the airplane, then a human body hits the floor with an eerie thud; it is one attendant shot. It is getting freaky and frantic I find hard to record my voice with my phone. I put my head under the seat and I continue to record. Now the gunman is turning to the other flight attendant, yelling at a woman in her twenties with blonde hair. The man with the gun hesitates as he sees tears running down her cheeks; they were powerful enough to stall the trigger, and the assailant takes a somewhat sympathetic stance and makes a swift turn to the next attendant. It is a man in his thirties; he wastes no time, and fully occupied himself with the task of opening the door using a secret number combination. The door is now wide open to the cockpit, and, bang! The sound of three loud shots of the gun reverberates and every one bursts into uncontrolled screams.
What do we do? My brain is frozen so is every one else’s. Minutes are passing and we are all helpless for eternity of time. I hear a subdued chatter of starting an attack of the attackers. But I wonder how; assailants are armed and we are not.
By my count there are only two attackers in the whole plane, they have not announced their intentions yet even as they are now in control of the plane. I figure out these are suicide killers and dying for them is the goal of their mission, but not for us. Better we do something, and then die if we have to, than die without doing anything. “ Folks, there has to be at least more than forty times as many of us as the attackers in this plane. So what do we have to lose? Come on guys." a young boy in his twenties lobes a question at us who are at the back of the plane, very loudly and clearly. He looks like he is just out of college.
"You’re right," several of us respond; then a few more started to agree and pass the word around not unlike the “Underground Railroad” system of the Abolitionists. We talk over a plan of action as precious minutes were flying. Now we have a plan of action: gather slowly as many tools and weapons- knives, spoons, forks, fire extinguishers, any object that could inflict harm. The gunmen seemed clueless of our clandestine, under-armed counter plan. Now just about every one in the cabin has some kind of weapon, we hoped; it is time to put the plan to action.
An old man makes an innocuous call for attention of attackers to allow him to use the bathroom. Then one of the attackers stands by the old man’s seat, and lifts him up by the collar of his shirt and leads him to the bathroom. Now I have the attacker’s back side to me, a do-or- die chance, I said to myself. I quietly pull out my knife- yes act! With a sharp edged pocketknife I slit his throat with enough force to sever the head, almost! I just cut his throat I could hardly believe!
Blood is squirting everywhere I look; he drops down letting two shots off randomly missing hits as other passengers start to attack as well, to be dead sure he is surely dead. The other terrorist at the cockpit hears the shots, and quickly he locks the cockpit door. Now we have only one attacker in the cockpit. We have to break that door and face him head on….”
Rodney: That is as much as I was able to record as my turn to pay and pick up the food was called. But I do have a phone contact of the person who received that whatsapp message, and I will try to call him to find out the full details about the accident and its terminal location and whether there were any cases of survivors.
Joyce and Tina were fully confounded by the recordings. They wondered whether that was the same plane Nick was in. They concluded that was about a hijacked plane, and more information was needed to make a sense out of it. They sat down for their meal with some reflections on the voice recordings. But all were trying hard to go past the grief. The meal was delicious, and Tina and Rodney felt relieved from their earlier worries about Joyce’s heart condition before their arrival. Not long after the meal, Rodney asked to leave, for he had some chores he had to run before the end of the day. He also needed to follow up on the voice recordings before the crash. And so he left Joyce and her sister Tina alone. Joyce could hardly wait to go back to the conversation she and Tina had just before Rodney returned from his trip from the restaurant. So she quickly turned to Tina and put a straight question to prompt her to continue with her startling story of her social adventure:
Joyce turned to her sister, face on while sitting and said, “ I am curious to follow on the incredible story of your romantic life. Your last word, if I remember correctly was to the effect that you seek romance, but not with any man, and yet you are having multiple relationships, is that right? Tina responded, “Not exactly, but you are on the right train of thinking. You see, what I was saying and is still my stance is, yes I love romance as part of my life, but with important qualification: only with a guy who fits the ideal profile I have set up for my personality. Nearly all men I had relation with, with the exception of few, left me with sweet memories that weakened my moral will power to eschew an encore. You know what I mean. Admittedly, I fell into relationships; but none of them attained that ideal character to justify exclusiveness. But if you recall, I also hastened to concede that this kind of behavior- a woman having multiple romantic relationships- is incompatible with the notion of cherishing an intimacy with that one special lifetime partner. There is a moral question, and there is that of fairness to my partner too. So in a way this bothers me as though a finger is pointing at me for my behavior that qualifies as out right selfishness. So I have remained single and socially in flux. I guess some people could call me a loose Sheila as Aussies would call. But now, I have a new outlook and this kind of social liaison will be a thing of the past. I am narrowing my choice to one special man and that will be it.”
“Good for you sister”, Joyce commented. Then she told her sister, “I am glad you are settling down in a serious relationship. Now in looking beyond this tragedy of the passing of Nick, my life is going to be very different, and though I am not quite sure which direction it will head, one thing is sure: I will be able to put behind those difficult years of my marriage, and as I do that, I will carefully reflect on what kind of new relationship I will enter into. Yet I feel I could rely on people like you for guidance. As I mentioned earlier I had some really memorable relationship, way back in my school days, with a guy called Fabrizio, a native of Brazil. Before this tragedy, Fabrizio and I continued on and off with our friendship, while at the same time keeping a respectful distance in our romance. From the very beginning of our friendship, my heart felt that it was in the right place whenever we were together in those long, on and off intervals of our separate lives. Last time we were together he mentioned in a subdued voice, that his two year marriage was falling apart and he and his estranged wife were in the process of divorce, and reminded me of how he continued to regret not having proposed to me before Nick did. I was elated inwardly of course, but brushed aside those sentiments externally, even though deep in my heart, I was saying silently, “what took you so long to ask me while I was ostensibly showing you every sign of how eager I was to hear the magic words from you?” Now the more I think of our past with Fabrizio the more my heart beats with anxiety. So he might be the first person I will call, once we have transitioned out of this tragedy on our hands.”
Tina was elated that her sister was already putting behind worries about the death of her husband and focusing on her future. She gave her encouragement and said. “Mm! Sister, if this man is so special to you nothing should stop you from making that crucial contact with him to make sure your feelings for him even now are open to him, for there is a saying, “ time and tide wait for no woman/man, or strike the iron while it is hot”. It seems clear to me you are hot with this guy, and nothing should stand in your way in going for him. I am getting very curious now about this guy, would you care to tell me more about the history and background that has stirred your bosom?”
Joyce hastily responded, “I am glad you asked. I do not know if you have enough time to listen to the full story that will give a picture of this amazing guy. As I said Fabrizio is from Brazil, and I do not know how much you know of this exotic country called Brazil”. Tina shook her head and said, “I know it is the largest country in South America, home to the Amazon River known for its anacondas, and people there speak Portuguese”.
Joyce began talking about Brazil as a big country whose history, and the incredible people of an amazing cultural blend are less known. She began by saying that Fabrizio, a native of Brazil, is the embodiment of that exotic blend of history and geographic terrain, that one can see through his sparkling eyes, radiating from the middle of a face that never ceases to smile. He is also a mulatto:
“In the Brazilian social identity system, a mulatto or a mulatta, is a person born out of a couple, one of European and the other of African descents. The social class system originated from Europe. In the early period of European expansion, Brazil was the principal destination for the majority of the African people who were sold to European settlers as slaves. Most of those Europeans were from Portugal and Spain who were sent there as agents of their ruling monarchs. After landing on the Atlantic coast of the African continent, the Portuguese started to come to South America since the beginning of the 15th century, not long after they had sailed and found settlements along the African coastline. That was even before the first European set foot on the North American continent.
Today, slavery as we know it is no more in South America and elsewhere in the world, thanks to God. However, the consequences of slavery have been far reaching, and still reverberate in the Americas, but perhaps more so in the country of Brazil. Fabrizio is one of the many residents in the United States who are proud of their heritage. He hails from the city of Belo Horizonte in the state of Minas Gerais, bordering in the south, the state whose city of Rio de Janeiro is the most popular tourist destination in the country”.
As Joyce was telling her story, she wanted to draw the attention of her sister to a particular part, which she thought was crucial to understanding her great admiration for Fabrizio. “There is a credible legend about why so many more people from Africa than from elsewhere in the world, were brought to Brazil. I have to tell you this because it is so important to understand not only the fascinating history of this great nation in the western hemisphere, but also to know the character of a man who can overpower any woman’s heart with doses of charm, humor and yes, humility too”.
Joyce continued with her story fervently as Tina was fully immersed in it:
“In the northeast of Minas Gerais, the city of Diamantina is the birth place of Fabrizio and home to a long generation of his family members tracing almost all the way back to Africa and Portugal. Even though he no longer lives there, Fabrizio is strongly connected to his relatives most of whom still live in Diamantina. There, long time ago, diamond was discovered, and with it a city sprawled out very quickly. With the discovery of diamonds that could be collected by simply panning and sieving the river sands in Minas Gerais early in the 18th century, an unending influx of people supplied the much needed cheap labor in the renowned center of mineral production in colonial Brazil”.
Joyce noticed how keenly her sister was paying attention to her story. She fervently continued, “In the society of Minas Gerais of that century, concubinage became a common form of union between white men and black women; this was the case not only due to the social inequality between the partners, which was the norm, but also due to the fact that far fewer Portuguese women than men had settled in Brazil. The shortage of white women created the common practice of informal unions between white men and black women, a practice viewed as scandalous by the catholic church that had established missionary centers; nonetheless the church was unable to prevent it, and even learned to live with it. But there was another factor that contributed to the practice of concubinage. According to one of countless legends, even the white men who had their own white wives practiced concubinage. It was believed that the perfect white teeth and pitch black skin of the slave women were the irresistible sensations to the Portuguese men as well as the principal reasons for jealousies and rivalries on the part of the (Portuguese) ladies, in spite of their smaller numbers. Some black women took advantage of their relationships with the nobility, which was exclusively male. Therefore the success of slave women such as the enigmatic Xica da Silva in the city of Diamantina, who owned substantial fortune as companions of Portuguese men of nobility, was not a great surprise in that cultural setting.
In this colonial context, characterized by the mixing of various cultures, a steep racial hierarchy and the oppression of women in the form of concubinage was a common system of social relations. It was built upon ideas that emerged from prevailing social conditions, in a period when the binary categories -husband/wife, man/concubine, and lord/slave- permeated all social contexts. Concubinage between free men and slave women did not give these women any of the legal protection that marriage would have permitted of course. Worse still, concubinage with slaves rarely led to their freedom. On the other hand, as female illegitimacy disturbed the traditional pattern of patriarchy in that, an elite man married to an illegitimate woman could not be certain that his descendants could hold political office or honorific occupations, given the stain inherited from their mother.
However, in the specific case of Minas Gerais, not only was there a high incidence of manumission- release from slavery- but also unprecedented levels of miscegenation- sexual encounters between races- giving rise to the unique demographics mentioned above, in which a portion of the freed blacks and mulattoes found their space among the local elites, with whom they both identified and mixed. Another parcel, no less significant, was communities of whites mostly men who lived on the fringes of the system not rich enough to own farmland or slaves. In this sense, the society of Minas Gerais presented far greater diversity and miscegenation than the slave societies of the Brazilian coast, the Caribbean or the southern United States, and saw a growing layer of freed blacks and mulattoes emerge into village society”.
This was the backdrop of the story of Fabrizio Simao’s African and Portuguese genealogy as was narrated down the family lineage from the colonial era to this day.
Fabrizio starts the fascinating story of his family genealogy with an overview of the history of the diamond district where the events in the lives of Xica da Silva, his widely known African ancestral connection and her owner/husband unfolded. Francisca da Silva, as she was known, a mulatta, was the daughter of Maria da Costa, an African slave woman believed to be a great great-grand daughter of Queen Nzinga of the Ndongo region, which is part of the modern day nation of Angola on the Atlantic south west coast of Africa. Queen Nzinga had cordial relations with the Portuguese during her reign, and many years after her death Maria was taken to Brazil as a concubine to a Portuguese by the name of Caetano da Silva. Their liaison produced a daughter by the name of Francisca, whose date of birth was in the early years of the 18th century, in the diamond-mining region of Minas Gerais, Brazil.
In retracing his genealogy Fabrizio began with the records of a community church of the 18th century. In those records he found that in July 1753 in the city of Diamantina, Francisca, a mulatta slave woman, belonging to master Pires Sardinha, appeared in front of church tribunal for adultery. Francisca was admonished and forbidden to continue the illicit liaison she had with her master. In accordance with the catholic tradition she was expected to confess her sin, promise to sin no more in order to be able to participate in the church Communion. Her master with whom she committed adultery paid a tribute in kind to the church as his repentance and, because she was unable to sign, the master signed on her behalf. As was the tradition the church blamed women, not men for their illicit contacts and reflected how the colonial men and the church, saw themselves as seduced into conducting improper acts by women.
It was in this oppressive social context that Joao de Oliveira arrived in Diamantina in early 1750s as the caretaker of the mine for the Crown in Portugal. Some time in the later half of the century, Francisca da Silva ended up as a slave in the household of João de Oliveira. It is said that although he was engaged before his arrival in Diamantina, he was so enamored with Francisca that he renounced his engagement to another woman and actually married Francisca. But of course the church did not recognize their marriage. Contrary to the social traditions of the class and race relations Joao publicly and officially acknowledged their relationship, instead of just taking her as a concubine, which was the norm.
During the fifteen or so years of their relationship they had 13 children. During that unusually lasting relationship, they endured strong prejudices that went against their relationship to great lengths, even refusing her to enter the normal church. Both Joao and Francisca were upset and he decided to build her a private cathedral to worship in. This cathedral stands erect to this day in the city of Diamantina.
Francisca, who was later famously known by the name of Xica, was a slave of master Pires Sardinha, an owner of a mine with whom she had a son named Simao Sardinha. Simao was said to be about three or four years old at the time of Xica’s letter of release to freedom from her former owner. Although the church record of baptism of this child did not declare paternity of the child, Pires Sardinha named him, as one of his heirs in his will any way. Simao was later sent to Europe to be educated and he returned to Diamantina to occupy important positions in the colonial government. Fabrizio is a direct descendent of Simao Sardinha who settled in the city of Belo Horizonte.
The mythical story of Xica is engrained even in today’s Brazilian social attitudes as depicted in this exalting poetic song:
A lady of Diamantina
She lived in her court
Amidst fine mucamas
In a castle in the Country
Land of Straw built solidly and refined
Where she even had a man-made lake
And a luxurious galley
That her lover, João Ordered
Done simply for her
Xica da Xica da Silva
Very rich and envied
Kalahari Desert Crash:
Immediately after Joyce finished Fabrizio’s story, a knock at the door interrupted. Joyce leaned away to look out through the window and saw Rodney at the door. She opened the door and before she could say a word he was holding his cell phone in his left hand trying to show the text messages in it:
Rodney: I found the guys who were monitoring the news of the plane accident and one of them had whatsapp message from one of the passengers several hours after the report of the plane disappearance. Read this text message sent by one of the passengers apparently after they got the Internet through a roaming service of a phone carrier:
Message: One, two, three, yelled Jake, as he and other passengers ran forward and hit the door with small table. The first attempt was unsuccessful; they got ready to go at it again. This time a huge crack formed in the door and the hinges bent. Boom! They hit the door for the third time and blew right through it, but it was too late. The terrorist in control of the plane was headed straight for the ground. Everybody started running to the back of the plane looking for cover, but as they were lying on the floor everything blacked out. The plane crashed into the earth, sending metal fragments from it flying in every direction, blasting a gaping hole in the front section.
Everything was blurry; Jake wasn't sure what had happened. His head felt like it was going to explode, as he sat in the crashed plane and observed his injuries. There wasn't anything too serious for him; he had just a cut on his left leg, and a broken index finger on his right hand. He considered himself lucky, as he was looking around seeing other people's injuries. The man next to him had his face covered in blood, and the lady in front of him looked like she had several broken bones in every limb of her body.
Slowly, people started to get up out of the plane wreck and find out where they were. Unfortunately not everyone was getting up; actually, most of the passengers weren't moving. After about an hour, there were about twenty people sitting outside the plane, and the rest were dead, still lying inside it. Those that were alive could do nothing as the wreck was smoldering, emitting dark smoke.
We have landed somewhere in the Kalahari Desert, and have to consider ourselves very lucky. If we had crashed in a city or in mountains, or even on dry hard land, and not on the soft sands of the desert, everybody probably would have died. But this was puzzling to us for our flight was supposed to have headed for Amsterdam, and how it veered its course widely across more than half of the African continent is a mystery we didn't want to speculate right away. We have more urgent needs- to survive as we were quickly running out of food and water.
"What should we do?" A sixty-year-old woman traveler wearing a fully dazed countenance asked staring at Jake and me.
"I don't know, right now, but we have to figure it out soon or else," Said Jake pensively. "I think we should look through the wreck and find anything we can use like water and food, and then start walking until we find help."
"So are you saying that we should travel into this desert, in what direction do we head?" asked someone who calls himself Frizz. "I mean we don't even know where we are. We probably have a better chance of living if we stay here than, if we travel into the middle of this desert of unknowns.”
"You might be right, but we just don't know," said Jake. "I'm going to take the chance and head into the desert. If anybody wants to join me you can, and if you don't, then you can stay here or head in a different direction."
After taking fifteen minutes to gather supplies, Jake and twelve of us that decided to go with him had found seven backpacks from the pockets that had enough food and water to fill all seven of us. During our search for water, Jake found an unexpected surprise, his dog Buster. The only thing that saved Buster’s life was his plastic cage. It protected him from things hitting, and killing him.
After saying good bye to those passengers staying behind with the plane wreck, the thirteen of us including my friend from Boulder, Colorado Nicodemus Malloury, who like me was also going to climb the East African mountain for the first time, and Jake who brought his dog, buster, set off into the desert, heading east, away from the setting sun. We got to the top of the huge sand dune that was overlooking the plane, and what we saw wasn't very encouraging. All we could see was miles and miles of sandy desert and majestically undulating but endless dunes. But there was one silver lining at that point, which towered over every sand dune in the desert: I got connected to my roaming service for my phone that was still intact except the battery inside the phone had run out. Fortunately I had a spare battery stuck in the pocket of my jacket, and I replaced it as soon as we started walking towards the high point of the sand dune. Now I could communicate with family and friends. And for a while we were all busy trying to contact someone whose contact we could remember.
Our lives in the wild desert were under threat from animals, snakes and insects, but also from the hot sun. With that danger in mind, the group decided it would be better to travel at night and sleep during the day so we would get less dehydrated. Most animals hunt in the night, but because it is mostly open field of sand and a few shrubs it is less risky than day time dehydration. Since the sun was setting, we weren't going to get very much rest before the twilight. We kept walking, walking, and walking, taking a ten-minute break every two hours. When the sun approached the horizon at the dawn of our first day, we beheld a crater on the side of a sand drift and settled in to try to get some rest and sleep for the day.
"We probably walked at least ten miles that first night, probably even more, and there wasn't any sign of finding help anytime soon”, Nicodemus said to Jake, as everyone else was sleeping.
"I know, I know," said Jake. "We still have enough water to make it another five nights, may be even more, let us hope we can find something by then."
"You better believe that we do," whispered Nicodemus. "Or we are all going to die out here."
"Hey, you are lucky not to be among the already dead. We could have easily died in the crash," Jake said. "I know, I know," said Nicodemus, musingly.
After sleeping through the day, the group continued to travel by night. Night after night we traveled, but still we found nothing. The water reserve was starting to get lower and lower.
On the fourth night of traveling, buster stared out barking all of a sudden and took off, running up on a sand hill. The rest of the group followed suit running after him, wondering whether it was safe, but we kept following. What we saw when we got to the top was nothing short of splendor. There was a huge river running in a valley below, probably about a mile away. We figured Buster must have sniffed out the water, or creatures in the water. Wow! It was an awesome sight to behold. One of the large tributaries of the Okavango delta was laid before our eyes. We were energized by the majestic panorama of the river as we looked over from our vantage point and hurried towards what looked like a village, about two or so miles from the riverbank. When we arrived at the village, a special ritual was under way for the village boys. In the customs of the Kalahari Desert people, attaining the age of manhood for boys is a pivotal milestone in the society. Boys undergo a process that involves ceremonial passage on a hunting expedition when they can showcase their prowess by hunting down a prey, most preferably an eland. When the boys return with a bounty of a large male eland, the ceremony is escalated to a different level as a final test. The ceremony, centered around the hunted prey, usually a male eland, calls for training the boys in the art of flaying the animal and carefully separating each and every limb and organ, and giving it to the right members of the family. A boy becomes an adult when he kills his first large antelope, preferably an eland. The eland is flayed and the fat from the eland's throat and collarbone is made into a broth. This broth is believed to have great aphrodisiacal potency; for that reason it is always served to the older men in the clan.
After watching the boys’ ceremony, we became more curious about the Bushmen- the people of the Kalahari Desert- and their culture. We asked if they have similar ceremonies performed for the girls. An elder of the village who spoke some English, pointed at several girls in their puberty, seated apart from the company of boys. He went on to say that those girls would shortly be isolated, each in her individual hut when each of them enters the time of her first monthly. The women of the tribe perform the Eland Bull Dance in front of the girls. The dance involves imitating the mating behavior of the eland cows. A man will be called to play the part of the eland bull as needed, usually with horns on his head. During the dance the girls are expected to take cues from the performances, and translate the gestures into her actions, as she would perform at the first instance of meeting with her future male mate. The villagers believe that this ritual will keep the girl beautiful, free from hunger and thirst and remain peaceful.
As part of the marriage ritual, the man gives the fat from the eland's' heart to the girls' parents. At a later stage the girl is anointed with eland fat, which renders her skin shimmering in the bloom of the sun. In order to attain the full potency of the eland’s aphrodisiacal powers, a trance dance is sometimes performed. Magicians administer the trance dance during which time they too aspire to possess eland potency for themselves.
We wanted to move on to the nearest town, as it was clear that the ceremony was going to take precious time we needed for our survival. We noted that the men started to make fire using wooden matchboxes as others were spitting the eland meat. We figured out that they must have obtained the matches from a store not too far from their village. We began to think that the presence of the matchboxes was our clue that a supply store was within a walking distance from the village. So we asked how far the store was from the village. A stout man with a well-rounded butt, wearing a bow and a neatly covered leather quiver full of arrows hanging from his shoulder, motioned and pointed in a westward direction. We hurriedly excused ourselves and moved on swiftly; a few minutes later we heard and then saw a helicopter coming from the direction we were heading. We waved and signaled whichever manner we could to show we were desperate and in need of immediate help. The helicopter approached us and circled over an area by the riverside that had a relatively flat tuft of grass, and landed. We sighed relief and dashed in a hurry fearing our best chance might leave us. A grey bearded man stepped out with his automatic rifle strapped on his shoulder.
It was a Namibian Game reserve ranger on a surveillance duty spotting game poachers. As things turned out, before we could relax and hope for help, we were subjected to what amounted to interrogations. The ranger commanded us to explain our presence in the desert, which was not far from the game reserve area. After a long grilling by the ranger with all kinds of questions, we finally were cleared of poaching suspicion. We were desperately dehydrated and asked for water to drink. He looked at our faces and whatever was left as belongings for any sign to label us as game poachers, but we barely had anything with us, let alone hunting weapons he suspected. After offering a few bottles of water to share, he quickly made a phone call and ordered an additional helicopter; we figured the ranger was convinced we were not game poachers as he had suspected, but desperate survivors of a plane crash. The ranger who was also the pilot split us into two groups to fit us all in the two helicopters. The first helicopter left and the rest of us had to wait for a second round. Fifteen minutes later another helicopter arrived and landed on the other side of the river. To get to it we had to climb a fallen tree trunk that lay over a narrow section of a river to cross. I was in the second helicopter.
The two helicopters took us to a destination we did not cared to ask. Once we were airborne and heading towards a city we could see from the sky, we asked where he was taking us. He quickly answered: “To join the other seven at a much safer place and where you will have a chance to gather your thoughts about how to get you the help you need to return to your home countries”.
A heart Attack
After reading the text message, they were all confused; there was an eerie silence. Moments later they heard a cranking of keys in the direction of the door. “Can you hear someone opening the front door lock?” Rodney asked, seemingly surprised.
“That door is latched, let me go and find who it could be”. Joyce reacted as she jumped up to her feet. Moments later Rodney and Tina heard Joyce’s voice, “Oh! Oh! Oh! It is Nick, it is Nick, oh my gosh it is Nick!” Rodney and Tina could hear Joyce frantically shouting. In a heart beat Rodney was up running for the door. The door opened before Rodney could get there. Joyce, seemingly stunned, hugged Nick awkwardly around his waist as he was entering. She continued crying out a piercing noise, “It is Nick, it is Nick it is Nick”! Nick entered, looking exhausted, but dazed by what was going on and remained speechless for a moment. Rodney and Tina were equally dazed by the mystery of Nick’s unexpected appearance.
Contrary to the news reports about the plane crash, Nick had been far from the scene of the accident, as the planned trip to Europe was cancelled at the eleventh hour. Nick spent his day on an urgent maintenance job of broken down equipment. Not surprisingly, he did not know there was a plane crash that day. He stood amazed at Rodney’s quick motion to screen him while Joyce was still holding on.
But something terrible was about to happen and none of them was forewarned until it happened. While her arms were firmly girding around Nick’s waist, Joyce remained eerily silent and her knees seemed to be slowly bending; suddenly her arms dropped loose from Nick’s waist; then her whole body dropped on the floor with her neck wedged on the edge of a coffee table.
‘What is going on here, are you all alright Joyce?” Tina frantically asked as she rushed out towards the coffee table and stretched her arms to lift Joyce’s head and lay her down on the carpet floor. Nick was speechless and dumfounded by the scene, but he quickly realized that his wife might have just experienced a heart attack. He recalled a similar experience, albeit very mild, about a year before. Nick quickly got hold of a phone and called 911.
Operator: 911 Emergency, what is your emergency?
Nick: My wife just dropped down, I think she is having a heart attack
Operator: What is your location?
Nick: 5903 Camp Creek road, Springfield Oregon
Operator: What is the major cross or junction to your street?
Nick: Mam she has stopped breathing, my wife will die!
Operator: Please calm down so I can send the fire station squad quickly. Could you tell me the nearest junction to your street?
Nick: Yes mam; Bramble lane I think. I am not sure.
Operator: Okay. Never mind, I will find it. Help is on the way; please do not hang up your phone.
Nick: Thank you mam.
All the while Tina had laid Joyce down on the floor and put both her hands on Joyce’s shoulders. “Joyce, are you alright?” She waited for a while as she massaged Joyce’s shoulders, anxious for a response. In no time, showing nervousness, she asked again, “Can you here me Joyce?” Rodney who was standing by anxiously interrupted also showing sense of near panic, said as he looked worriedly at Nick, “She needs a CPR right away, don't you think? Let’s get on with it hurry!” Nick looked at Joyce on the floor with terrified eyes and immediately told the operator, “My wife has stopped responding, and I am going to administer a CPR to her”.
Operator: If you know what you are doing, go ahead; please pass on the phone to someone else; it is important we remain on the line while I try to get you help.
Nick: Yes mam.
Then Nick shouted, “Rodney, please take the phone and stay on the line with the operator.” Then Rodney took the phone as Nick turned Joyce on her back, her nose straight up, legs stretched as well as arms along her sides. He then put his ear close to Joyce’s mouth and nose for sign of breathing.
“My gosh, she is not breathing; let her lie down as flat as possible, her legs and arms stretched”. Nick said. Next he placed the heel of his left hand on the chest bones right between the nipples, his fingers pointing to the left side; he placed the palm of his right hand on top of his left hand, fingers between fingers. With his knees firmly on the floor between Joyce’s hip and neck base, his body directly over his hands, and his arms in a straight position and fairly rigid, Nick started to press down with both hands directly over the breastbone to perform a compression, in the hope of jump-starting the heart which appeared to have stopped. He started counting compressions hard enough to depress the chest cavity by about the length of a thumb at intervals of about 2 seconds. Tina could not help but watch Nick with inquisitive eyes: he was pressing with a strange sense of humor, singing in the compression intervals with the song “Staying alive, staying alive staying alive! Tina didn’t quite know what to make of it, whether to laugh or just keep praying as she was holding the Rosary in her hands, her head bent towards Joyce’s face.
After several compressions, Tina was getting a sinking feeling that her sister might never be resuscitated; as she was increasingly getting restless she rushed out to a nearby school for the AED (automated external defibrillator) device. A few minutes later, she returned with a school nurse who was holding the AED device in her hand. They arrived as Nick was beginning his second half of 30 compressions. “Is the patient breathing”, the nurse hurriedly asked. “No mam, I am doing second round of fifteen CPR compressions”, Nick answered, as he took a deep breath.
The nurse quickly pulled the AED out of a bag and opened it. “It is a lightweight compact rectangular portable device that delivers an electric shock through the chest to the heart.” The nurse rumbled out in a hurry. “The computer analyzes the heart rhythm to find out whether an electric shock is needed. The nurse went on to explain what she was doing with the AED device as she scanned the anxious faces of her despondent hosts around a dying loved one. “The electrodes send information about her heart’s rhythm to a computer in the AED. The computer will give a voice prompt if a shock is needed”, she added as she struggled to wear gloves on her fingers. She took a pulse, fully exposed Joyce’s chest, removed all metal necklaces and carefully placed sticky pads with electrodes on the chest. Then she pressed the on- button of the device for electric current, and waited a few seconds. “Yes, she needs a shock”, the nurse said.
At this point the sound of siren was blowing in the wind and quickly approaching, and in a minute or so the paramedics were down. “We are giving her an electric shock”, the nurse shouted as the paramedics were surrounding the area. “One shock, but she has no breath”. The paramedic did not waste any time as they helped Joyce gently onto a gurney and wheeled her to an ambulance. Off they took her to a medical center that was about 10 minutes away.
Nick, Rodney and Tina, all went hurriedly in one car to join Joyce who would by then be at the hospital. Their car took 30 long minutes to get to the hospital, as the streets were jammed with traffic on route to the hospital due to a truck that overturned and blocked lanes, necessitating police to direct traffic. There was also some kind of a world- series game in town they didn't care to ask. Finally they were at the hospital reception and asked for Joyce’s registration. To their surprise, no patient by that name had been registered as of that time. They were in shock. And for a moment not one of them had a clue where the paramedics took Joyce. “Call the 911 operator again and find out what hospital the paramedics took her to”, Tina motions to Nick with a desperate look on her face. Nick called the operator who responded:
Operator: 911 operator service, what is your emergency?
Nick: This is Nick Malley, I called for help about an hour ago for my wife Joyce, and thanks for the help; an ambulance came with paramedics and rushed her to a hospital, and I am at the city hospital right now; they do not have her records in their daily registry. Would you know to which hospital they might have taken her?
Operator: You should be going to the cardiac center on the other side of the city. The address is 4500 Marlow Street.
The District Cardiac Center was about 20 minutes away. They all rushed to their car and drove off. Eventually they got to the reception and asked for Joyce Malley.
“Yes Joyce L. Malley. She is still in the emergency room, and there is a small lobby outside on the left”, the reception said, in a nonchalant manner. “Is she responding mam?” Nick asked the reception. “I am sorry I do not have that information”, the receptionist responded hurriedly as she was attending to another customer. They all walked towards the emergency room area and there in the small lobby, sat three people whom they quietly joined. A nurse coming from the direction of the ICU stopped by, and asked for Joyce’s family; Rodney quickly signaled to her and she came to meet them. News from the nurse was that Joyce was responding, and had been hooked up with ECG, to measure the electrical activity in her heart. A sample of her blood was also taken and the result would be evaluated later, said the nurse. The nurse explained that doctors could measure the levels of the heart muscle enzymes in her blood to determine if she had a heart attack and if so how extensive it was. Joyce would also undergo heart ultra sound tests to determine how well her heart is able to pump blood throughout the body after the heart attack. These procedures would be followed by a sampling of stress tests, which combine the ECG and the Ultra sound to observe how the heart responds under selected sample of those tests for the purpose of evaluating its performance against such induced and controlled tests. For Rodney, Tina and Nick, it was much needed education on the anatomy and the vital life support role of the heart.
Later on Joyce was wheeled out of the emergency room after one and half hours from the time she fell unconscious in the house, seemingly disoriented but in good spirits. She did not remember having a severe heart attack, but looked puzzled by her new environment. A nurse took her to a recovery ward as the doctor turned to Joyce’s family, greeted them and began what was a typical post emergency counseling.
The doctor began talking, “She went into a complete cardiac arrest and at that time she didn’t have a functioning heartbeat”, said the doctor. “We immediately became fully aware, the moment she was rolled into the ER, that she needed everything to fall into place, not only from her side but also from our team as well; in her case, amazingly they did.” Doctor Merrill, a 20 year practicing cardiologist said, exuding a face full of confidence in what he and his team had achieved.
For the next 4 days Nick, Tina and Rodney would be visiting Joyce at the hospital. The first day she was mostly confined to her hospital bed, but was able to take food without the use of the IV. The next morning Nick picked up a local newspaper that had a headline caption which read, “Thirteen passengers survive from a plane crash in the Kalahari Desert”. Nick read the entire article, which went on to list some names among the survivors who were rescued by the Namibian game rangers and flown to Johannesburg, South Africa. Among the names there was a passenger by the name of Nicodemus Malloury that struck Nick’s curious nerve. It reminded him of the name on his Canadian birth certificate, Nicholas Malleaury, which was later changed by his parents when they moved to the US. In reflection, he was thankful that his flight was canceled even thought it was on a different airline.
By the third day Joyce was able to sustain a few words in a conversation, but often her eyes would close showing clear signs of exhaustion. She did manage to sit up independently, and she even attempted to walk; nonetheless, her legs were still not strong and the nurses encouraged her to stay in bed. By the fifth day she was ready to go home even though the doctor wanted her to stay two more days for observations and some tests. During those recovery days in the hospital, Joyce received help and support from a range of healthcare professionals, whose introductions were carefully orchestrated, signaling to her that she would need these medical professionals for the initial days of her long recovery from home: nurses, physiotherapists, dietitians, pharmacists, and exercise specialists. These healthcare professionals would support her physically, emotionally and mentally, to ensure her recovery was conducted safely and appropriately.
Nick and Joyce were told that the recovery process would usually take place in stages, starting in hospital, where the condition can be closely monitored and individual needs for the future can be assessed. That part of the recovery was completed while she was in the hospital. After her discharge from the hospital, Joyce would continue her recovery at home. As Nick and Joyce were ready to check out from the hospital the doctor took both of them to the side for a partying conversation. He began by emphasizing the importance of continuing the schedule of therapies that she had begun during her stay in the hospital. He emphasized that the two most important aims of the recovery process are, to gradually restore her physical fitness so that she could resume normal activities, and to reduce the risk of another cardiac arrest. Since her treatment and the subsequent recovery program were both very successful, the doctor was very upbeat about her full recovery. The immediately need for Joyce was to rest for most of the time, and occasionally take light steps up and down the stairs, may be twice or three times a day for the first week. Depending on how comfortable she felt she should gradually increase the amount of activity to do each day over several weeks. How quickly she can do this would depend on the condition of her heart and her general health, which was deemed to be good. Also he talked about her health care team, emphasizing that each specialist would provide more detailed advice about a recommended plan to increase her levels of activity.
He talked about the likelihood of Joyce’s invitation to a cardiac rehabilitation program at a local hospital, four to eight weeks after leaving hospital. The program consists of one to two hour exercise sessions, once or twice a week.
The doctor clarified that the type of exercise could vary depending on the program, but should mainly be aerobic. “What is involved in such an exercise, if I may ask?” Joyce quizzed the doctor.
“Good question” the doctor remarked. “These are exercises that raise your breathing rate to take in more oxygen. They are designed to strengthen the heart, improve circulation and lower blood pressure”, he said. Then he gave them specific examples of the kind of aerobic exercises, which include riding an exercise bike, jogging on a treadmill and swimming. Lastly he talked briefly about the possibility of sex and how they should treat it. He assured them that generally having sex would remain neutral at worst to the over all risk of having another heart attack. However it would not be advisable in the first four to six weeks of post-hospital recovery from a major cardiac arrest the like of what Joyce suffered. Also he explained that a variety of factors might contribute to the risks, including side effects of drugs she would be taking and those fears about triggering a new heart attack or dying. Since sexual activity is a type of physical activity, prior assessment of the exercise may be advisable to determine if she is clear of the sex related risk of a heart problem.
In clarifying the benefits of sex the doctor referred to a recent research finding that concluded sex has the same health benefits as a regular exercise. He explained that during a healthy sexual activity the flow of certain chemicals that naturally boost and strengthen the immune system, stimulate circulation and diminish the intensity of body pain, are noticeably increased.
With that assuring send-off from her doctor, Joyce, accompanied by her husband Nick, left the hospital and headed home; when they arrived home they were all alone. Rodney and Tina, each left earlier on at different times and said, they would check on them later in the night.
It was not long after Rodney and Tina parted each taking a different way from the hospital, and Tina was about half an hour away to her home, when she began to muse about the unusual episodes of the past days since that day, which began with that shocking call from Rodney about a plane crash somewhere over the oceans. All of a sudden Tina was struck by a stark irony of having witnessed her sister’s life as it hung on the balance, while her husband who was reported dead was by her side. Now after five days, her sister was finally out of the hospital alive, and on a promising recovery. All of this seemed too much for her to digest alone. So no sooner did she arrive at her home than she quickly got on the phone to call Rodney.
“Hey Rodney, are you home yet?” She asked. Rodney was already home, and by a coincidence, he surprisingly had the same feelings as Tina’s about the unusual turn of events. Rodney had since followed up on the plane crash story, and had stumbled into a startling mystery. What he was grappling with at that time was how to break the story to Nick and Joyce in this very delicate period when Joyce was still in the recovery from that tragic heart attack. For the sake of Joyce’s emotional considerations, Rodney asked Tina if she could go over to his place to allow adequate time for them to discuss a carefully crafted approach to this news that he had obtained about the plane crash. Without hesitation Tina obliged and asked Rodney to give her some time she would need to run a few house errands in her apartment.
Tina drove off from her apartment to meet Rodney. She reckoned it would be a quarter to nine when she arrives at Rodney’s apartment. About twenty or so minutes later, she was in Rodney’s neighborhood. She parked her car in front of a seven- story apartment complex where Rodney lived, and looked up to the 5th floor to see light from Rodney’s apartment. It looked slightly dark lit from the outside, and without any clue, all of a sudden her pulse rate was going up. Not that she feared any danger or anything of that nature. But the thought that this was her first time to visit Rodney in his apartment environment was stirring her instincts inexplicably. She took an elevator to the 5th floor, stepped out and headed to apartment # 554; Rodney was already at the door looking at her as she walked in the hallway. He ushered her in and offered her a drink. They would sit down on the couch over a glass of red wine for each. Then Rodney pulled out a newspaper he had stashed away on the shelf, opened a middle page, and at the corner of it was a small article that described a Virtue Airline plane crash that was traced and found out to have happened in the Kalahari Desert in Southern Africa. It talked about thirteen survivors who were rescued and picked up by game rangers in a country called Namibia. Among them was a man called Nicodemus Malloury from Boulder, Colorado. Apparently the newspaper report assumed there were no survivors in the crash and misspelled the name as Nick Malley, instead of Nicodemus Malloury as one among the dead.
Below that article heading there was a correction, and an apology from the newspaper. For Rodney, telling Nick the story of the plane crash did not seem like a big deal. Rodney thought Nick would probably just say that he was not scheduled on that flight, but also something might have happened to his flight too, because his return home from Europe was not for that day; according to Joyce, Nick left early that morning for a flight to a European city, and it would not be possible to return the same day. But Tina was not so sanguine telling Nick, remembering the sensitive conversation that she and her sister Joyce had while they were in Joyce’s bedroom; Rodney was not privy to that conversation about Joyce’s sense of new freedom. Due to Tina’s reluctance to tell Nick about the plane crash news, and the their presumption that Nick might have found the newspaper article on his own, they decided that they would not tell Nick the erroneous story of the newspaper article about a Nicodemus Marlloury. In the final newspaper article about the plane crash in the Kalahari Desert, Nicodemus Malloury was one of the thirteen survivors who were rescued by the Namibian game rangers.
Nick and Joyce began what would become their new life with domestic challenges they had never faced before. Joyce was very lucky in many ways, because her general physician happened to be very familiar with her condition before the cardiac arrest. In the days that immediately followed her discharge, the GP explained all the risks and benefits of her medication, and did as much as he could to give Joyce all the facts about her condition. At home Joyce shared the advice she received fully with Nick who was shaken but kind, and caring, in spite of his tough job as a maintenance supervisor in a residential service company. In the first few months, Joyce’s heart medication was changed regularly, in the tireless effort to find the combination that worked best for her.
Like many patients, Joyce had suffered a huge loss of confidence, and started to show signs of the burden of grief over her poor health. The day-to-day reality of living with a chronic condition surrounded by alternating presence of medical specialists, further distanced her emotionally from Nick. On the other hand, the pressures of the job and the frustration that he was unable to spend more time supporting his ailing wife stressed out Nick to the limits. Some times he would contemplate quitting his job; yet he knew that would only make their situation worse. Quitting his job would cut off the only source of income the couple have. He resigned to looking forward to the annual leave he regularly took, which would be in a few months. He started planning for a vacation which he knew would inspire Joyce, something she had been nagging him about often, to which he never responded. Nick remembered that before this tragedy, he and Joyce had discussed the possibility of going to the Bahamas for Christmas the following year. But now he realized the need would be more urgent and the time he had would give him ample opportunity to save money.
By the third month of therapy with the help of three different health specialists, Joyce was beginning to radiate clear signs of recovery. She was now able to walk couple of times inside and around their split- level rambler home, standing on a third of an acre lot. Emotionally she was showing appreciation for all the attention Nick was giving her whenever he was home after work, and during the short weekend days. He no longer went to work on weekends and also came home soon after work hours. This adjustment on Nick’s work schedule inspired Joyce and made her feel closer whenever they were together.
Burning from Inside:
However, as days passed by, Joyce noticed something disturbing in Nick that tempered her enthusiasm somewhat. He seemed stressed out whenever he picked up the bills for the mortgage, the car loan and other household needs. It was customary for Nick to sit at his desk in the corner of the living room close to a window overlooking the backwoods. With a smidgen of an interruption, he would become irritable in a sudden change of mood, quietly talking to himself. Whenever Joyce asked if there was anything bothering him that she should know, he would abruptly look at her hurriedly dismissing the issue, and would follow that with statements hyperbolizing Joyce’s recovery and how excited he was about that.
Joyce did not want to spend too much time worrying about anything else other than her own health, which was recovering at the speed she never imagined. So she put aside her concerns about Nick’s rather erratic moods. Inspired by her amazing recovery, she concluded that her discipline in following the competent advice of her doctor and the medical specialists who were with her on a daily basis from the day she returned from the hospital, have been responsible for her miraculous recovery. She was fully cognizant that victims of heart conditions who have had a heart attack need to follow a structured cardiac rehabilitation program. Joyce’s GP recommended three main activities in the rehabilitation program, with emphasis on doing all three of them for best outcomes.
She was placed on a medical rehabilitation program, consisting of three or four main components that were carefully supervised by a team of medical specialists. She would take aspirin that helps prevent future blood clots and decreases the risk of death after a heart attack. There were standard medications called Plavix and similar ones called Brilinta or Effient that are given to people who have had a stent placed or received clot-busting drugs to open a blocked artery. The medications are given with aspirin to prevent platelets from clumping inside arteries that feed the heart and can prevent re-blockage. Fortunately for her these were not necessary, for she did not need stents to open her arteries. However she needed protection from likely occurrence of stress, and for that she was given medication called Ternomin to also forestall future heart attacks. These were the only medications the doctor prescribed for patients regularly after the second month from the hospital.
Exercises are known to improve heart health. Although nearly everyone can exercise safely after a heart attack, the intensity and duration of an exercise depends upon the severity of heart disease. For Joyce, the first step in identifying her exercise program was to determine her risk of complications from exercise. Performing a supervised exercise test on a treadmill usually does this.
During the exercise, a trained clinician worked with Joyce to develop a series of exercises that are safe and scalable to allow adjustments that may be needed; this program was targeted for her fitness level, heart health, intensity level, and duration of exercise to improve her overall heart health and muscle health, all of this under close supervision. The exercise focuses on the use of large muscle groups and includes aerobic exercise, which should cause substantial sweating. Walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, rowing, and stair climbing were on the menu of Joyce’s exercises. Joyce would be expected to be able to build these exercises into her daily routine by taking a brisk walk or any other activities that engage her main muscles in her limbs and body. Over time, Joyce can gradually increase the intensity of exercises in her workout.
The health specialists continued fervently as Joyce’s recovery accelerated. Because Joyce had smoked in the past, they hammered to her regularly, the importance of keeping away from it. The specialists reminded her that one-year after stopping smoking, the risk of dying from coronary heart disease is reduced by about one-half, and the risk continues to decline with time. In some studies, the risk of heart attack was reduced to the rate of nonsmokers within two years of quitting smoking.
The health specialists also talked emphatically about the importance of the choice of diet. During the rehab program, a registered dietician who helped formulate an ideal menu for Joyce’s condition during the recovery and after the recovery, provided meticulous diet counseling. Joyce was asked to continue using a registered dietician even in the period past her recovery. Most cardiac rehab programs have a dietician who is knowledgeable and experienced in advising people who are recovering from a heart attack.
Joyce was well advised that during the recovery period emotional instability is to be expected, and therefore must be dealt with professionally. Feelings of depression, anxiety, and denial are common after a heart attack, occurring in up to 20 percent of people, she was told. The worse thing about depression is, it can make it hard to exercise because it decreases energy levels, causes fatigue, and reduces quality of life and sense of well being generally. Joyce was told that women, and in particular younger women like her, are at an especially high risk for depression after a heart attack. Joyce absorbed the advice she received from her doctors and health specialists with utmost attention, and took a solemn resolution to treat the advice as sacrosanct.
By the fourth month, Nick and Joyce were invigorated by her amazing recovery, which allowed her to return to normal chores and routines at her house. However, Joyce continued to notice that Nick had changed. Every day that passed seemed to inch him towards isolation and erratic mood swings. In spite of all the effort Joyce had put in showing a positive attitude every day and remaining upbeat about their planned vacation, Nick never stopped worrying genuinely about her health, as no day would pass without him asking his wife how she felt and whatever she needed he would provide.
Nick was trying to live a life of love that he chose by marrying Joyce. For he was trained early to take love very seriously, and he tried to follow the letter of those teachings he received from his parents and his church. He was trained to think of married life as if there was no other, or nothing else having without it. In other words in Nick’s mind, there was no life worth having, if it could not bring love in a marriage. After all love is taught, as he learned, not by words alone, but by those deeds which are not only deemed beneficial, but are also appreciated by the partner; he believed that if hate ever came in the way of a marriage, it came on its own, and must be banished.
So, when he began subconsciously developing repugnance to Joyce, an unwanted force whose origin he could not quite explain, his soul was constantly swirling up with worries; he would sit alone pensively. As he contemplated some evil spell might be besetting him, he associated it with his family financial strain. He thought his financial stress might contribute to his unhappy state of affairs, causing him unwanted mood swings. But he could not figure out the connection and the timing of it, when his wife was just recovering from a near fatal heart attack. Was he feeling in his subconscious mind that Joyce was not thrifty enough with their meager finances, or was it the notion that his paycheck was often a penny too short to provide ordinary needs of their two-member household? Nick pondered deeply. He knew surely he was not expecting Joyce to look for a job to supplement their income, for he was quite content with all the nice things she had been doing in and around their rambler house. Could it be the looks in her face, or her occasional tongue- tripper- the way she greets him in the morning and the good night kiss before going to bed. Could something unspoken by her be wrong with him? To banish his unwanted feelings, Nick began to focus on going on a vacation- not to a nearby destination, such as the Bahamas as they had been considering before, but rather to an exotic place with lots of strangers from around the world, than a typical destination in the Caribbean which is generally overcrowded by Americans. He would propose this new idea to Joyce who surely would need it after such an unprecedented turn of events surrounding her life and her health.
“Joyce”, Nick asked fervently his now fully recovered wife. “I have an exciting idea about a dream destination for the vacation we have been looking for; are you ready for it?”
“I am hundred percent ready with my full heart. What do you have in mind; would it be the Bahamas?” Joyce asked attentively.
“I surely hope so, but it is going to be your call”, Nick responded clearly showing he was expecting Joyce to have a better alternative destination. “I was thinking of a more international destination where we would be among very few Americans, and an ocean or two away!” He added.
“Wow! That sounds exciting”, said Joyce. “You mean a destination like… like Africa where we would be surrounded by…wild animals? Or an enchanting island resort somewhere in the East Indies? I would love that. But wouldn't it be too expensive for our budget?” Joyce asked as she struggled to conceal her excitement.
“Joyce, if that is your fancy, we can be creative about our budget, just so we spend these precious days of my leave to ourselves in the most deserving destination for your recovery”, Nick replied. “By the way, I know where Africa is, but where in the world is the East Indies; do you mean the east side of the Caribbean West Indies?” Nick asked a seemingly honest question. Joyce smiled and excused herself to go to the bathroom.
As Joyce was ruminating over her choice of an idyllic vacation destination, Nick turned his mind back to his internal conflicts, and realized that marriage after all is not the end, but rather the true beginnings of good things yet to come. Yet marriage needs nurturing just like a baby until its maturity when it becomes a man or a woman capable of independent life. He intimately aware that they had only been married for five years, and for the most part they were a happy couple, so he thought. He wanted her to feel absolutely confident that he loves her, for he knew deeply in his heart, that is the real truth, no matter how much skepticism she might nurture, and no matter how his own feelings might betray that confidence and the truth at times. Nick had no speck of doubt in the fact that his emotional balance relied recklessly on her love. For this reason, he knew he had to keep his nose to the grindstone, nothing less. But then, a thought crossed his mind, “while I am having a downbeat feeling against her, what if she too is feeling as much or even more against me”, he wondered. “Yeah, this would serve me right, or would it? It is fighting fire with fire!” Deep in his heart Nick felt that what he really wanted was to be loved, and if he trespassed against her, he would readily ask for her forgiveness, just as in the Our Father prayer we routinely say. This is very much in keeping with the teachings they both received throughout their lives, growing up in the Catholic Church tradition. How could he go against it in his conscious mind? But above all he would like their life to recognize the importance of forgiveness when a transgression occurs. He was not referring to their quarrels for there were none to speak of. Yet Nick noticed that occasionally, Joyce seemed to sulk, often before bedtime, but it did not seem like a big deal to her; so he thought. Nor did it occur to him nighttime was their only time to show true affection and bonding. He knew when he would come home often late and tired, and once they dinner consumed their dinner, he would pass out on the couch; almost habitually Joyce would wake him up so that he reached his bedroom for a deep sleepy night, night in night out. He recalled that occasionally Joyce felt romantic just when he was passing out. It bothered him just a little, and that was not enough reason why he should have the uncomfortable feeling against her.
While in the throes of his internal turmoil, Nick revisited the issue of the budget for their planned trip to a destination not quite decided yet. He was facing a realization that he had been wishing away something crucial for their dream vacation. His fears were becoming a reality he wished he would not face: their budget situation could barely afford air tickets for two to a European or Caribbean destination, not to speak of accommodation, local transportation, meals, entertainment, and all the good things that vacationers might want to do in that short time. But a voice from within told him he would have to face it not only alone but to treat it as his guarded secret that Joyce should never have to know. He reckoned that he could borrow from his bank, the amount of money they needed. After all, his credit union had offers of unsecured lines of credit of up to two times his annual net pay. Nick put his math skills to task, and determined that he could borrow slightly over $ 9000 on the basis of his credit union offer. But there was a catch to this generous credit, apart from the modest interest charge of 8.9 percent fixed: the installment payment, which begins after three months from the date of withdrawal, is calculated on the basis of full repayment of the total loan amount in two years, or twenty-four months. Now the amount of money they needed could result in an addition of $400 to their monthly bills, which they could barely afford. He looked around the house to find something they could sell to raise money, but the only thing of real value they had, apart from their home was the car; selling either was not a practical option.
All the while Joyce was wondering what was going in her husband’s mind that would not let him be open enough to tell her his internal troubles. She was somewhat upset, but she had learned not to expect any genuine spark of humor and excitement from Nick any way. Then she thought she should probe him a little and who knows, she reasoned, he might speak out his heart when he makes his response.
As she returned from the bathroom, she had convinced herself that the urge to know the evil spell her husband was going through was too strong for inaction, and cleared her throat with a sure intent of drawing his attention to her: “Nick, I meant to ask you a question yesterday before bed, but I didn't think it was appropriate”, she said. “You were tired and the next day being Friday, I thought I would save my question for the weekend. It is kind of a stupid question but it has been on my mind for some time now, actually since the first few weeks after my heart attack.”
Nick, looking unprepared to change the train of his thoughts, turned to her, clearly making all the necessary gestures to show he was giving her his full attention and replied; “Joyce, I want you to know that between two of us there are no right or wrong questions or wrong times or anything for that matter. We are a couple not just in marriage but we are genuinely in love, the promise of our vows. We have been living together for 5 years of blessings, and there is nothing between us that love cannot heal”.
As he was talking Nick was passionate and looking directly at her with caring eyes. With that emotional appeal expressed with vigor, Joyce felt unchained in her heart, hugged Nick with a big smile. She began by praising him for the love and tender care he poured out to her during her most difficult time after the heart attack. For that she affirmed she would remain grateful to him all the days of her life as long as she lived.
But those feelings were being dampened by Nick’s apparent worries about their finances, she said; she wanted to persuade him that it was ok to have a vacation only if their budget situation can support one. More importantly, she wanted to tell him of her desire to work at home to earn income to supplement their earnings. Then she asked directly, “Nick correct me if I am wrong; I have been observing you, and I see that you are going through some pain on the inside, which you have not shared with me thus far. Seeing you in that situation worries me. I want to tell you that I am here to share your burdens. I would do whatever it takes to get those burdens off your shoulders, for I want to be part of the solution, and not leave you grappling with them on your own. If I may ask, does it have to do with our bills? I say so purely on the basis of my observation: Every time you are working on the bills, you appear uneasy, very irritable, and tend to be abrupt in your communication with me.”
“ Really?” Nick responded in a resigned posture. Moments later, after taking a good breathe, he turned to Joyce from his desk chair and said, and “I have got to do what I have got to do. It is a man’s responsibility to meet the needs of the home. That is what my parents taught me, and every one seems to expect it”.
Joyce looked on nonchalantly, as Nick was reeling out his sentence as though he was reading it from a boilerplate; she had heard familiar statements many times before. They were so stereotypical that she was hardly ready to listen to the end. At the end of Nick’s statements, Joyce seemed edgy and countered with a blunt question, looking straight into Nick’s eyes with a stern face, “ Let me ask you this candidly: do you love me?” Stunned and clearly showing all signs of unpreparedness, Nick sat upright in his chair, turned towards Joyce, and said in a hoarse voice, “That is a loaded question Joyce; we need to sit down and talk about it, no matter what and how long it takes. It is about the core of our marriage, and if any one of us has the slightest doubt what marriage is about – which I know to be love- there is no greater urgency than to restore it quickly.” At that point Nick chose to remind Joyce that they should both be mindful of the fact that love can and should be learned, relearned again and again. That if in the course of their marriage there should be issues about love; they jointly have a moral obligation to resolve them without procrastination.
Then rather than responding to Joyce’s question, Nick fired out one of his own which would put Joyce off the balance of her mind set: “ You know since love as a social quality has so many branches and ramifications in our relationship, do you mind if I ask you to hone in a little bit on the meaning of love you want me to respond to?” Nick asked.
“Sure, I am glad you asked, I have been brooding over this whole issue for quite some time even before my heart attack.” Joyce responded as she scooted her chair forward in the direction of Nick, as though to make sure he can hear her loud and clear.
Joyce decided to use a metaphor of a company to make her point. She likened Nick as the head of a company who has many departments under him. Before she could continue with her proposition, Nick interjected, “Don't you think that is a little too mechanical and extreme, as an example?” Nick asked looking Joyce in the eyes ruminatively. “I assure you it will make it much easier for you to appreciate my feelings right now”; Joyce looked down as she finished saying this and gasped. Then, Joyce began by comparing their relationship with that of a man who heads a company with several departments under him; department supervisors who have to meet with the boss periodically wait for their turns. While the boss is with one, the other supervisors would each be preparing for their turn so that when the boss came they would spend quality time together to go over the plans, and celebrate their achievements together. As for the boss, once he steps out of one department, his mind will be preoccupied with the issues of the next supervisor, switching his attention completely. In this metaphor each department in the company represents one of her husband's roles in life as Joyce saw it. There is a department for his job as the bread winner, with all its challenges and stresses chipping away the better part of his energy; there is another department as a husband, in a home setting, usually late in the day when the need for rest competes with the desire to show affection to his wife. At the back of his mind, the husband may be dealing with personal issues of his own life that he may not wish to share with his wife. In all this complex chain of responsibility his energy is fully consumed by the end of the day. Of course he would do his best when he's not faced with distractions, and would resolve to deal with each problem with whatever energy and creativity is left so that he does the best he can in each role he plays. But being human, his best often fell too short to accomplish all the tasks of the day.
After a long silence, it was time for Nick to respond. “Joyce, you have been so successful in your illustration that I feel like jumping out of my skin.” Nick remarked, as he clearly looked shaken by the story. Joyce continued to add pain on Nick by comparing her role as a wife to that of one of many department supervisors who have to compete for the boss’s attention in a company.
That revelation shook Nick to the core, and forced him to make promises that from then on he would be listening to her and spending more time together. He realized that the principal culprit was his tendency to accept over-time work from his work place often, and to also to allow himself to go to work some of the weekends. With his arms over Joyce’s shoulders, Nick hugged her as he massaged her back with the palm of his left hand. Joyce looked elated and turned her head up, looked right over her shoulder and kissed Nick on the cheeks, and said, “You know Nick there can be no emotional bonding, no uniting of the spirit, no feeling of intimacy, and in many cases, no desire for romance if we do not devote quality time to ourselves”.
Nick was profoundly affected by the fact that his wife has all this time been in this state of social deprivation while he remained blissfully ignorant. What Joyce did not know on the other hand was the fact that her husband could be dealing with wounds just as deep as her own. While she longed for affection and affirmation, he yearned to be a competent husband; her husband's sense of wellbeing and confidence was tied to his ability to perform in all areas, including their intimate relations.
From the time he was a young adolescent, Nick was programmed to believe that masculinity equals sexual conquest, and that real man is routinely expected to perform his part in the art of romance. Although he may not be able to articulate it, or be exhausted by the aspirations and challenges of his job environment, he likely felt deep shame and inadequacy rooted in his inability to perform on demand, even when his attention is blatantly drawn to it as in the case of his wife Joyce. So, here he is, feeling incredible shame and inadequacy. For Joyce, it was a bitter-sweet feeling towards her husband: On the one hand she felt that she had been heard and well understood and no longer does she have to harbor those mixed feelings of fear and anger. But on the other hand, she felt truly sorry for being the source of Nick’s unmistakable embarrassment she inflicted on him diminishing his self-sense of manhood. How can she reassure him he is going to be ok when she is the one reeling from the aftermath of their problems? Joyce wondered.
Joyce and Nick turned their minds to an uplifting subject that would banish their transient tension, they unanimously agreed upon a vacation of a lifetime, which seemed to energize both. But Nick knew there was still one important question to discuss honestly- the budget. “So in four weeks of my paid vacation we should be headed to that destination we still have to decide,” Nick said. “Yes of course. Let us first find out from you, how many paid vacation days you have accrued Nick”? Asked Joyce.
“You know, normally I would have three weeks of paid leave according to my longevity in the company; I asked my boss for an additional week so we will have a total of 4 weeks; I hope you are ready for it Joyce! Nick teased. “Wow! That would be fantastic, all days to us. That means we better decide right now where we should be going”, Joyce said as she moved her head forward to read from a globe map of the world on top of a bookshelf. “I assume that our budget will allow that”, wondered Joyce.
In response Nick took the opportunity to share his plans for financing the vacation. He had arranged to borrow from his line of credit which had a balance of $6,500, and that combined with the cash balance in the checking account, would be more than adequate to cover their expenses for the four weeks. At this point Joyce wanted to lessen any prospect of a recurrence of Nick’s financial stress by revealing that she had decided to join the Amway IBO affiliate team through a friend. With this program, while she would not be on a regular employment, she would however be buying and selling products through the independent Business Owner program for Amway. A friend of hers who was in her third year of the IBO program was making a minimum of $700 a month. As a beginner, Joyce reckoned that by the end of her first year as an IBO she would be netting at least $350 a month, which she figured would ease any budgetary burden Nick might face after their vacation due to the loan servicing.
“So are you ready for that enchanting island resort in the East Indies?” Joyce asked with a broad smile on her face, as she looked Nick right in the eyes.
Nick looked with a blank face showing he had no clue where Joyce would take the vacation to; “This may sound damn Joyce, but where is the East Indies? I know the West Indies, which is an archaic moniker for the Caribbean Islands. Let me take a guess- eh, an island country on the east side of the Caribbean?”
For the next one long minute Joyce cackled almost uncontrollably at Nick’s response especially because he said it with confidence; then she twittered and said: “A brilliant guess, mm guess what, you are about ten thousand miles off mark; it is closer to Australia than it is to the US. So are you ready for it?”
“This time I will boldly guess, it is Bali, Indonesia; is it not?” Nick asked as he exuded full-bodied confidence.
“In golf language, it is called a hole- in- one; it is the case of a golfer who hits the first stroke and lands the ball into the hole cup, and scores a point. Bali is my dream vacation destination”, Joyce said. “Wow! When did you learn golf language, Joyce, did you play golf at your school?” Joyce smiled, as she shook her head sideways, and murmured, “Uh, uh; we learned that in the senior math class”.
It seemed Joyce and Nick had breathed new life into their relationship causing Nick to jump up to quickly start surfing the web for the lowest vacation package that night. But Joyce had a different plan for that night.
“How about a nice dinner at a restaurant tonight, and leave the web surfing to me? I will do that tomorrow for both the airline tickets and the hotel accommodation.” Joyce asked Nick in an irresistible voice, to which he obliged without hesitation. It would be a night of anticipation for Joyce, for she had never seen Nick in such a relaxed mood for a long time. Since that day was a Saturday, Joyce reckoned they would make the best of their time that night without the worry of having to wake up early the next morning. Nick’s job was a Monday to Friday gig, and from then on she resolved never to let her husband go to work on weekends.
They were off for dinner at an Asian restaurant in town. At the restaurant the waiter welcomed them, and offered a menu that was three pages long. Since it was an Asian restaurant, they asked if the hotel had Balinese dishes on the menu. The restaurant waitress had body features of a Chinese woman, and was very charming with a good command of English. Remarkably she knew about Balinese cuisine, and confirmed that their restaurant had some tasty Balinese meals on the menu.
Without wasting time she asked; “Are you planning to go to Bali?” Joyce answered with an unmistakably animated body language; “Yes we are planning to go there for a couple of weeks vacation in about three weeks”. Moments later, the waitress who had a story of her own about Bali said, “waitresses in Bali are well trained not only to serve meals but also to educate any curious tourist about the Balinese culture and cuisine”. She went on to say that Balinese foods include lawar, which is pork or chicken cooked in chopped coconut, garlic, and chili; Bebek betutu which is duck meat stuffed with lots of spices all wrapped in banana leaves and coconut husks cooked in a pit of wood; Balinese sate known as sate lilit made from spiced minced meat pressed onto skewers often from lemon grass sticks; Babi guling also known as celeng guling, which is a spit-roasted pig or fish stuffed with chili, turmeric, garlic and ginger.
Not all of the meals she mentioned were included in the restaurant menu. She then showed some of the food items that were included in their menu. Finally she mentioned that rice, which has the local name of nasi is a staple food of most people in Indonesia, and in most restaurants it accompanies every meal. Nick selected Bebek Betutu and Joyce went for Babi Guling, all available from the menu of that restaurant.
While they were waiting for their main dishes, the waitress asked if they needed some drinks. Joyce was quick, and before Nick could open his mouth, Joyce had already decided that they would order a bottle of cabernet sauvignon red wine. She needed to extend the good mood of the day with a glass of good wine. Although Nick had not taken alcohol for as long as he remembered since he was hired, he was amenable and assumed it was a good idea as long as it pleased Joyce. Joyce had mused that perhaps by relaxing their minds over a glass or two of good wine, they would end their day romantically and Nick would be relieved of whatever stress still lingered on him. Joyce recalled vividly her doctor’s advice that red wine is good for the heart, and may also subdue stress. It was a good intentioned plan to lure her husband into drinking wine, and the events of the day seemed to have set the stage for what she expected could be their best night.
By the time their main dishes came, both of them were on their second glass of wine busy pouring their hearts out to each other with reckless abandon. The next thing they realized was the waitress in front of them with trays for the main dishes hoisted above their heads. By then Nick and Joyce were sitting close to each other reminiscent of their dating days long before they were married. Joyce had her spitted pork now nicely sliced in a plate garnished with herbs and raw onions. Nick had his stuffed duck covered with banana leaves and well spiced. They each relished their dinner while they carried on with random conversations, mostly about their coming trip to Bali. By the time eating was over, they were both ready to go home, and a little tipsy. They paid their bill and wow! It all came to a total of $75 for both of them. They figured that could be a good estimate of how much they would expect meals and tips in Bali to cost them when they get there in three weeks.
The time was after midnight when the couple got home, and they were in no mood to spend time elsewhere other than in their bedroom. While already in her night garb, Joyce looked at Nick as he changed into his nightclothes. She quickly jumped into their king size bed, unlike most of the times in the past when she would find Nick in bed first, dead asleep. That was also unlike other nights for Nick when he would have long been in bed. Joyce was sure that night would be different, and she would add a romantic ambience by bringing in a small candle to watch them for the rest of the night. That was the best night Nick and Joyce ever had.
Nick woke up the next morning fresh and without that unexplained dislike he had harbored for some time against Joyce, and was no more worried about their finances. Joyce reflected and realized that Nick was truly stressed out by the combined effects of his job and the unexpected heart attack that took her to the brink of death or becoming permanently disabled; it was too much for him to remain normal, she admitted.
As Nick returned to his normal job routine, Joyce now had the new task of surfing the net to shop for the best vacation deals. It turned out that the airfares were not so expensive. A return trip for both of them would cost just under $2,000. That left them with enough money to cover other expenses on their vacation. The airline, China air, would put them up in a five-star hotel including dinner and breakfast, in Taipei where they would have their first stop over after 15 hours of non-stop flight from Los Angeles. From Taipei, they would take a five-hour flight to Denpasar International airport in Bali. Joyce had reserved accommodation at a beach side hotel on the exotic island of Nusa Lembongan.
She looked at profiles of several beach hotels on the island on the southeast side of Kuta peninsular, and that is where Nusa Lembongan Island is located, north west of Nusa Penida, which is a larger island. Spectacular sea views overlooking aquamarine sea teeming with pristine waters, romantic beaches with white sand and serene atmosphere awaited them. And of all the resorts on the island, the best is Lembongan Beach Club & Resort with its 26 units of fabulous private villas; it has it all. It is just what Joyce and Nick needed at this moment in their relationship- a combination of chic, peace and quiet. After all, they really do not recall what their honeymoon days were like. This is the right place and the right moment. The boat ride to Bali where the airport and the city are located is only a thirty-minute ride in the comfort of a cruising boat shuttle. Only thirty-minute boat ride from the main Bali beach, this elegant resort Island would be their home, which is a true piece of paradise on earth.
In her quest for knowing more about the island, Joyce looked at another information section on the website, which read: Lembongan Beach Club & Resort is the ultimate place to relax and enjoy beautiful sunsets. The generous spaces of the villas offer retreat-seeking holidaymakers a wonderful blend of the Balinese way of life combined with every modern comfort. Add culture, nature and surroundings, which inspire and delight into the mix and the result is a harmonious whole, which will ensure your time spent here is simply perfect. Guests are sure to be more than impressed by the wide range of first-class facilities and services that the resort has to offer. Paradise is closer than you think, and it awaits you with the natural beauty at Lembongan Beach Club & Resort.
“Eureka!, this is it”. Joyce blurted out to herself, and quickly finalized the booking from February 5 to February 16, 2011. That was a total of 11 nights at a cost of $ 1,375 inclusive of all taxes. Not bad, she reckoned. By then the key components of their budget-the air tickets and hotel accommodation have topped $3,375. There was a special offer for immediate confirmation of a booking at a rate of $125 per night. Joyce ran a quick arithmetic of the other expenses, and concluded that whatever the case may be, the remaining expenses are more discretionary and they can manage them. She confirmed the booking for a room for 11 nights. So their vacation was for all intents and purposes, sealed, so she thought.
At this point Joyce wised up and needed to hear from the US embassy in Indonesia if there are other vital prerequisites for American citizens to travel to Indonesia. From the embassy in Jakarta, Joyce learned that in addition to confirmed air tickets and hotel reservation, each person has to have a valid passport with at least 6 months remaining for the validity. The Indonesian immigration apparently allows tourists who visit the country for a very limited period to obtain their visas on arrival at the airport of entry. While Nick obtained his passport a few months earlier when his boss had arranged for him to travel to a European destination, Joyce who had never been out side the United States apart from the neighboring country of Canada, did not have a US passport. She called the American embassy again and asked if they could issue a passport for her; and the short answer was no, they couldn't, but instead she could obtain her passport from one of the several passport agencies in the US. But she would have to pay for expedited services since she had only three weeks to her departure. After finding a local passport agent and paying the required fees, Joyce was set and her passport would be delivered in two weeks.
Just as Joyce was thinking about calling her sister Tina to tell her about their vacation plans, there was a knock at the door. It was Tina. “Come in, what a coincidence, I was just about to call you and Rodney to tell you about our vacation plans”, Joyce said as she was rushing to open the door for Tina. “I was in the neighborhood and I just thought I should stop by to check how you are doing. Also Rodney and I have been wondering what you guys have been up in the days following your triumph out of that brush with death”. Tina said. But deep in her heart Tina had some exciting news she wanted to share with her sister.
Since the day Rodney and Tina came to Joyce’s home with that erroneous report of a plane crash, they have been dating more often. Tina wanted to tell her sister about her emerging new relation with Rodney. Tina and Rodney intensified their relationship literally from that night when Joyce was admitted in the hospital. In an effort to go over the events of that hectic day, they decided to meet at Rodney’s home. It was Tina’s first time to visit Rodney at his home, an event that would build a solid foundation of a relationship that now Tina wished to intimate to her sister. Tina explained that it was a typical case of two people, a man and a woman coming together each with a desire to seek out a spouse. She was looking for a steady companion for the security of her emotional support and that feeling of being cherished by one man. She wanted to see someone who gave her the self worth to feel that she is the one and only one woman to such a man. That was her strongest craving in a relationship with a man. In Rodney, Tina saw a man who was, like most men, looking for his growing physical and emotional desires, as he spent most of his social time with Tina. Further more, Rodney openly expressed his delight in Tina’s companionship as well, and even though he was slower to succumb to his natural urges than a typical man, Tina was assured by his actions as she gleaned over his body language.
There was a point in the relationship when all the signs and gestures between them were converging on mutual acceptance of their courtship while firmly adhering to their Christian values; yet there was an imminent threat of breaching their noble goal of remaining pure and chaste. As days passed by, Tina found herself emotionally vulnerable to Rodney’s struggles to remain chaste. On her part, Tina had a sneaky suspicion that, if faced with the temptation, she might not have the courage or desire to oppose him for the fear that she might risk repulsing him. Emotional tensions were mounting every time they were together, and this drained them even to the point of running dry in their conversations.
It was not hard for Tina to discern the struggle Rodney was facing to resist the temptation, but there was little she could say or do; they both knew they were sliding down a slippery slope toward pre-marital sex, to which neither was new. Tina went on to tell Joyce the story of her newly found relationship with Rodney with fervor:
“Then one day, I observed something rather unusual about Rodney: there was a recurring behavior that resonated some discomfort in Rodney - having to go to the bathroom more often than usual. When I noticed this change of behavior I was quick to ask him if he was ok, and if something was worrying him. Rodney gasped; then he said hesitantly, he was ok. Before long, he expressed nonchalantly, a complaint about his urinary bladder, which he categorized as refusing to hold any amount of urine. We remained silent for a few counts of minutes before either of us could say a word”. At that point, Joyce interjected, “What was going through your minds?” Tina quickly responded, “I am not quite sure, but a sudden sense of concern descended on me unexpectedly. We were sitting quite close to each other, and Rodney looked me in the eyes as though he was setting me up for a kiss, and said gently: “ I think I need to see my doctor, whom I have not seen for quite a while”. Then he put his hand on my shoulders and asked: “Would you excuse me; I have to call my doctor to seek an appointment as soon as she can make it?”
The mention of a female doctor jolted Tina internally in a jealous mood and steered her to ask, “Is it ok if I accompany you when you go for your doctor’s appointment Rodney? I feel like you shouldn’t bear this burden on your own”. He had already reached for his cell phone and had just completed the call, and said hurriedly: “Excuse me Tina”, raising his left hand in her face as if to muzzle her. “Hi, is that doctor Jane’s Office? My name is Rodney, and I would like to have an appointment with Doctor Jane as soon as it is possible. Yes my first name is Rodney, and my last name is Robertson. Yes mam, Wednesday 13 at 3:pm would be fine, thank you so much.” That was the dialogue between the doctor’s receptionist and Rodney.
It was now past six o’clock in the evening, an hour since Tina arrived at her sister’s home. Joyce was beginning to assemble food items she would prepare for the dinner on the kitchen table; shortly after Nick arrived from work.
“ I am home honey,” Nick was opening the door as he was talking, and as he entered, he saw Tina in the living room and greeted her: Hey, Tina how have you been?”. Tina stood up and leaned forward for a hug: “Couldn't be better, and how are you?” She responded looking excited. At that point Joyce interjected and said: “Nick, Tina”; then she gasped, and slowly breathed out and said; “I have great news for you! I have booked and locked in our vacation packages- our round trip air travel and hotel accommodation in Bali for 11 nights is done!” Tina looked at Joyce with eyes begging for details as Nick responded with excitement; Wow! I knew you would not have much trouble, but I didn't expect you would be able to lock in a deal in one day of Internet shopping.”
Joyce proceeded to tell the entire plan of their vacation in Bali and the specific dates of their departure from Los Angeles, arrival in Bali, and to their ultimate destination at Lembongan Beach Club and Resort, a true island resort on Bali’s Penida islands. “Wow! When are you guys leaving and for how long?” asked Tina. “It is all Joyce’s dream I had never imagined, and here we are only three weeks away from our departure. We will be on the island resort for twelve days and nights of adventure and relaxation. We will spare some of our vacation days immediately following the trip for rest time around the home, and may be at that time we will be able to do some recreational activities domestically”; Nick explained to Tina as she was listening very keenly. After the dinner that evening, on her way out that evening, Tina promised she was going to tell Rodney about the Bali vacation, and on that note she said good night to both Nick and Joyce.
Wednesday 13th of February was Rodney’s appointment day with Doctor Jane. Rodney recalled that Tina would give him company on the way to his doctor’s appointment. On the day before, the doctor’s office had called to say that he could go as early as 2 pm if he wished to, but his 3 pm appointment would still be available. “Hi sweetie, good morning, its Rodney.” He called Tina and asked whether she would prefer an earlier appointment at 2 p.m. or would rather stick with the 3 p.m. schedule. But Tina had a previous plan for one hour of visiting her hairdresser. “ I hope you don't mind; lets meet at the doctor’s office; I will arrive their a few minutes before the hour”. Tina responded.
Since the day Rodney got an appointment with his doctor, he did not want to just wait for the doctor to tell him his ailment. Instead he went with full steam of energy on research to find out as much about his illness as he could before meeting the doctor. He recalled men talking about prostate problems, which are similar to his own. A male friend once humored Rodney with these words: “There are generally two things that are inevitable in one’s life- death and taxes. For men however, there is a third inevitability- enlarged prostate”. Rodney wanted to know as much about the prostate health issues as he could. He also had not been comfortable with the idea of seeing doctors often. He would rather take any preventive measures, no matter how difficult, to reduce or altogether eliminate his visits to a doctor for illness. He came across an article about prostate health from a medical journal, and delved into the subject. It discusses issues of enlarged prostate, with a medical name of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), which is said to affect more than 80 percent of men who are over the age of 50. Yet Rodney is only in his early 40s and became even more concerned about his premature condition.
The prostate is a vital gland of the male reproductive system providing secretions, which are components of semen. It is delicately located at the base of the urinary tract below and connected to the urinary bladder. It is round in shape approximately the size of a small kiwi fruit or a large walnut through which the urethra passes. A normal prostate weighs between ¾ to one ounce. However, an enlarged one can weigh up to 3 ½ ounces or the size of a grapefruit. Rodney wished he could actually see it, but he had to be content with 3-D color pictures he found on the Internet. This relatively small organ in the male body performs the vital function of not only providing lubrication during sexual performance, but the same secretion acts as a protective shield for the sperms that are exposed to the internal environment of the female organ before entering a female egg. The prostate also has muscles that help to expel the semen during ejaculation.
Rodney learned that prostate disorders are commonly characterized by an inflammation or enlargement that can be a simple inflammation and discomfort in the functioning of the urinary tract, or cancer of the prostate. Common symptoms of prostate disorders are associated with the functioning of the urinary system in a man. When the prostate is inflamed or enlarged it presses on the urethra, thereby constricting the passage of urine from the bladder, causing incomplete emptying of the bladder, weakening the urine stream, increasing the need to urinate frequently and urgently, and most notably, requiring frequent bathroom breaks. Rodney realizes that this is exactly what he is experiencing daily, especially during the nights. He was excited but anxious at the same time.
Tina was at the doctor’s office ten minutes before the time, while Rodney had to contend with a traffic jam caused by an accident activity along the way. At 3 p.m. on the mark, they were at the reception desk registering. “ How was your trip to the hair dresser?” Rodney asked Tina, as they were sitting down in the lobby couch. “ It was ok, I came out earlier than I thought and it was all a smooth drive to here”, Tina replied. “You know I have done some reading about my condition and I tell you I feel much less scared. I think what I have is an inflammation of the prostate gland which interferes with the passage of urine and exerts pressure on the urinary bladder” he said, and continued, “I read about it in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine which is authoritative on health matters”.
Doctor Jane, a tall female with a broad smile and piercing eyes came and greeted them. Then she and Rodney walked away into a room. And for the next 20 minutes Tina was in the lobby thinking she might have to sit there for the rest of the afternoon. After a while, she looked down on the floor to pick up a pen that had dropped out from her purse. As she was about to lift her head up, she felt some one was touching her on the shoulders; she jerked her head, turning it to the right; and there was Rodney. “Oomph! You scared me, I thought a pick-pocket was about to snatch my purse”, Tina blurted as she looked at Rodney with relief. Rodney had been with the doctor for no more than twenty minutes.
“Once I described my complaint, Doctor Jane asked me to lower my pants while standing, bend forward and put my hands firmly on a short table in front of me. The next thing I could hear was the doctor wearing latex gloves; then I saw her dipping her finger in a jelly like substance”. At that point Doctor Jane was standing right behind me and said: “Just relax Rodney, I will probe with my finger to examine the prostate, which is up your rectal passage by about the full length of my index finger”. Rodney cringed and braced himself and remained breathless for the duration of the procedure. Once it was done, he was relieved, but felt a strange sense of embarrassment he could not explain.
“So what is her diagnosis after all that you went through”, Tina asked as she noticed Rodney was deliberately avoiding her eye contact; they were getting ready to leave the doctor’s office. “Well, she said that my prostate is substantially enlarged, and it is causing a constriction in the urinary tract and exerting pressure on the urinary bladder”, while looking away from eye contact with Tina. He continued, “That is why I have frequent urges to go to the bath room; the doctor said that the bladder has to apply extra pressure to push urine through the constriction”.
“ So did she prescribe medication or would further tests be required?” Tina asked with a look of concern on her face. Rodney looked her in the eyes and smiled. “ Actually Doctor Jane’s prognosis was quite upbeat about my recovery; she gave me two choices for the plan of action: either, she could prescribe some medication, supplemented by a hot bath massage, to help bring down the inflammation; or she could schedule an appointment with a urologist to rule out the possibility of any trace of cancer cells in the prostate. I decided that I would go with the prescription and the hot bath therapy, and monitor the progress for about a month; after that period, Doctor Jane would repeat the finger procedure to determine if the inflammation has subsided at all”, Rodney carefully explained as Tina nodded her head with approval.
As they were walking towards the parking lot Rodney said; “ Guess what Doctor Jane told me about the possible causes of prostate inflammation when I asked her!” Rodney leaned his body towards Tina as though he was going to reveal something Tina had to know. “The whole medical profession has not until this date been able to say definitively what causes prostate inflammation! Isn’t this remarkable?” he asked. “Well let me be fair”, he continued, “Depending on which doctor you talk to, possible causes could be, it is a natural male phenomenon associated with the balancing of the male hormones as men go through life. The balance deteriorates as the age progresses”. He went on to say some doctors claim that infrequent flow of semen, which happens during ejaculation, may trigger the hormonal imbalance, caused by lack of certain antibody, which is released during the ejaculation. In all of this information, he learned that there is some good news: A growing body of research suggests that while no definitive causes of prostate enlargement are scientifically documented, people can prevent the disease by following a diet and exercises that support a healthy prostate, and learn about remedies when symptoms occur.
The anticipated departure for Nick and Joyce’s vacation was fast approaching. They decided to invite Rodney and Tina for dinner at their home on the eve of their departure day; so Nick made a phone call: “ Hi Rodney, how are you?” Nick asked, “I am fine thanks, I know you must be excited about your vacation; when are you guys leaving? Rodney asked. “ Can you believe this! It is tomorrow night; Joyce and I would like you and Tina to come over tomorrow for an early dinner; our flight is at midnight”, Nick explained.
“That would be great”, Rodney answered and hurried to confirm that he would come with Tina. “Five o’clock would be perfect; and I might as well ask you for a ride to the airport; is that ok for both of you?” Nick asked. “Of course; it would be our pleasure to see you off”, Rodney, responded.
Rodney went to pick up Tina from her house, and both of them came in one car about half an hour early. While on their way, and before their arrival at Nick’s and Joyce’s house, Rodney and Tina had agreed that this would be the right time to tell Nick and Joyce about their intentions to get engaged and start making arrangements for the wedding at their local parish.
That evening, Nick had purchased barbecue ribs from a grocery together with plenty of vegetable salads, and put some baked potatoes in their oven for their dinner. Before serving dinner, Joyce offered a drink; Tina took a glass of red wine, while Rodney settled for a nonalcoholic drink because he was the designated driver for the night.
Dinner was served shortly after, but with limited time on their hands, Rodney was quick to say that he and Tina had some parting words immediately after the dinner, “Nick, and Joyce,” Rodney paused, looked at Tina, smiled and said: “ We have exciting news to share with you for your send off”. “Wow? What could that be, please go ahead, and make our day, or should I say our night!” responded Nick as he looked at Joyce and Tina discharging his suspicion that the sisters already knew what Rodney was going to say.:
Rodney started to speak:
“ It has taken quite some time before Tina and I each realized that we are meant for each other. My special thanks to you Nick for introducing me to your beautiful wife, and then to her equally beautiful sister, Tina.” Rodney quickly looked at Tina as if he was seeking her endorsement of what he was going to say, and then he looked straight at Nick and said: “ I had always assumed that Tina was in a relationship, and it would seem inappropriate for me to make any gestures of diverting her attention. But social events that persisted occurring between us allowed me to breach Tina’s personal space. Only then did I realize that Tina could be open to a more intimate relationship with me”.
Then Tina interjected and said: “ You know it is amazing how our destinies converged; but suffice to say that, I was resigned to the notion that a man like Rodney was too good to remain without a relationship with a woman; deep on my heart though, I wondered a little as to why he was still single.” Then she asked: “ As we will be planning for our wedding while you are on vacation in Bali, Rodney and I wondered whether you guys could be our best man and maid of honor respectively?” She looked at her sister first and then at Nick. Nick and Joyce looked at each other as if they were gathering a joint response; then Nick said: “That would be wonderful, it would be the wedding of the year; what do you think Joyce?” he asked with confidence. “Pure delight; we will have a pleasant event to piggyback on our two weeks vacation on an exotic island in Bali.”
Joyce and Nick collected their limited luggage for their trip and put them in Nick’s car and readied themselves to head for the local airport at about 6:30 p.m. Rodney and Tina decided to fly with them to LA. Their nonstop flight to Taipei was at 11:50p.m. from LA. In about one hour they were at the LA international airport queuing up for the airline check in. It was a Garuda airline, the flagship airline of Indonesia. At the airport before their departure, Nick and Joyce asked Tina and Rodney, if they could leave their house and car keys with them so that whenever they have time, they could warm up their car from time to time and leave behind an appearance of the presence of the occupants, for security reasons. Without hesitation Rodney and Tina took the keys and waited as Nick and Joyce were checking in at the airline counter.
The airline attendant looked at their tickets as well as their passports; then she had a question: “ You do not have entry visas to Indonesia, did you know that?” the airline attendant asked both Nick and Joyce . For a moment there was a pin-drop silence; both Nick and Joyce were speechless, staring at each other as though their plans were about to unravel at the critical moment. Then Joyce remembered that when she was doing the booking, she had called the US embassy in Jakarta for advice. She quickly recalled that the embassy had told her that the Indonesian visa could be obtained at the point of entry if the stay in the country is for not more than a month. They were relieved, and just when Joyce was about to tell the airline attendant, the supervisor arrived and told them not to worry, the airport authorities in Denpasar would give them automatic one month visas, and if they have valid reasons for an extension of their stay, that too could be arranged at the ministry of the Interior in Jakarta. Finally they were good to go as they lined up for security at the TSA checkpoints, at which point they exchanged goodbyes with Rodney and Tina.
As Joyce and Nick boarded the plane, they headed for their seats, which were located next to a window in a three-seat row on the left side of the aircraft. Then as they completed fastening their belts, a six-foot-seven man stood next to Joyce, apparently preparing to take up the third seat. Joyce was imagining how on earth such a colossal man could fit into that seat which seemed barely enough for half of his butt. Nick inadvertently gave the man a jaw-dropping look and quickly turned his head toward Joyce to ask her if she could move farther to the window seat. He was attempting to sit in the middle seat. Joyce quickly obliged and moved as far as she could in the window seat. By the time Nick was ready to seat the man had sat in his aisle seat, and was struggling to fasten his seat belt. Considering Nick was visibly under duress, he was looking out to catch the attention of the cabin crew; but they all seemed to be looking away, intentionally avoiding being asked. This idea was racing through Nick’s mind, even though it was possible entirely that none of them actually saw him. In the mean time, Joyce discreetly took the photo of what space was left of Nick’s seat after the man had completed fitted himself with the seat belt as his arms spilled over on Nick’s seat. Nick burrowed himself under the man’s arms and tried to fasten his seat belt.
When the seating was all done and the plane was airborne, Nick was pinned to his seat by the fleshy man next to the man’s right arm with no hope for relief; the takeoff for a thirteen –hour flight was in progress. Thankfully though, the man moved slightly to his right, his body taking half of the aisle soon after the plane reached its cruising altitude, and the seat belt off sound gently jingled.
But of course that was not to be a permanent move as already the man was effectively barricading the aisle, while giving some wiggle room for Nick to stand up. Nick walked to the back of the plane and politely ask the cabin crew for a different seat elsewhere. But his hopes were dashed when a flight attendant said the only unoccupied seats were for the crew. However Nick, seemingly incredulous, took a calculated walk in the aisle looking on both sides to see if there were any unoccupied seats. He saw a couple of seats towards the back of the plane and set his heart on sitting in one of them next to the emergency window. Nick took a seat quietly with no apparent complaint from the crew.
For a while it seemed their problem was solved; the fat man would now have more space to himself with two seats, a foot or so from the window seat where Joyce sat. While Nick was in a seat at the back of the aircraft, he saw Joyce stand up from her seat, and maneuvered her self past the fat guy out of the row and headed to the back; he could guess she was looking for the rest room as he beckoned to her with his index finger; the rest rooms were right behind him. But Joyce had something else more bizarre in her mind: She walked straight towards him, looked back over her shoulder as if she was afraid of something, and bent forward to Nick’s ear and whispered: “Nick, I am sorry, I feel nauseated by the smell that is coming out of that man’s body; I feel bad, but……, can we swap places again?” With a look of concern, Nick stood up and let Joyce ease herself into his seat, and looked in the front towards the seat Joyce left, and said: “I am going to sit at the window seat and find out for myself just how bad the odor is”. He uttered one or two more words, and gently walked towards the man, stood before him and asked, “Excuse me sir, could I pass to the window seat?” The man had to stand up into the aisle to give way; Nick was seated next to the window and one seat apart from the man. “Yes, there is an unusual smell in the air but nothing bad enough to cause me nausea”, Nick said to himself. As Nick sat there the fat man was comfortably seated with his left arm completely covering the middle seat. Nick felt sympathy in his bones and thought he should socialize by striking a conversation with the guy, but was not quite sure what topic he should use to break the ice of silence between them.
He waited until it was time for refreshments; an attendant came to their row and asked what drinks each would take starting with Nick. “Could I have red wine please?” Nick asked, thinking that if he drowned his sanity in wine, the odor would drown with it as well. Then she asked the man, “How about you sir?” “Well I think I would start with a glass of water”. In a short while, the flight attendant came with the drinks, and Nick started drinking his red wine, which came in a twelve ounce bottle of cabernet Sauvignon, his favorite. He motioned to lift the plastic cup and ingested the wine in haste. A few minutes later, the wine bottle and the plastic cup were empty; he called for the flight attendant for another bottle of wine. At that point the attendant was already aware of the situation Nick was enduring. She was quick and in no time, Nick had another bottle of wine. This time Nick took time, and sipped like a gentleman. Then the fat guy put aside his cup of water, watched as Nick sipped his wine and asked: “ How is your wine; my name is Josh”. Nick was quick to respond and said: “Oh, this wine is great; I first tasted it at a local Asian restaurant in my home town of Springfield OR, try it. My name is Nick, where are you from Josh?”
“I am from Santa Barbara, California, but I was raised in Hawaii”, said Josh.
Next time the flight attendant was passing, Josh asked if he could have cabernet Sauvignon, red. Nick was beginning to feel less tense but he had his heart set on using a freshener- the same flight attendants attached to their coat hanger in the closet. Earlier on, when Nick was in the back seat he had smelt strong coffee and asked the flight attendant where that smell was coming from. In response and to his surprise, the flight attendant told him it was coming from the coat hanger; the reason for the bag of coffee in the coat hanger is that nice aroma, which the crew believed keeps the coats fresh. Nick could not help but ask for a bag of coffee to remain with him throughout the flight. He even put the blanket over his head with the bag of coffee next to his nose when he fell asleep.
After more than thirteen long hours the flight was finally approaching Taipei international airport. Novotel Taipei is located within 5 minutes driving distance from Taipei Airport. The airline had put them up at this particular hotel presumably to conveniently provide a free shuttle bus from both airport Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 for them. Novotel is the only 4 star international hotel located near the airport. That was where Nick and Joyce would spend their stop over rest, for one day before the final leg of their outward-bound trip to Bali.
The flight from Taipei to Denpasar was otherwise uneventful, except for a minor but yet not too unusual quirk: Nick and Joyce got a three-seat row to themselves in the 27th row of the cabin. The row behind them also had only two passengers in them. The takeoff was humdrum, and after about two hours into the flight at cruising altitude most passengers were relaxing, and so were Joyce and Nick. The sun was coming from the east, as it was a southerly flight on a clear-sky day. It was all-smooth sailing at the cruising altitude of the flight, and the seat belt sign had long been switched off.
Joyce felt the need to stretch the back of her seat for a nap. As she released the latch, the seat suddenly jerked backwards, causing a whole glass of red wine to pour into the laps of the passenger right behind her. It was a young man who was all dolled up in a white nicely ironed shirt and black pants. Embarrassed, Joyce quickly stood up, pulled back the seat, and girded up her loins, frantically wanting to help: “I am terribly sorry, are you ok?” The young man was recovering from a temporary shock, and for a moment he remained speechless as he stared down on his now thoroughly stained shirt and pants. Then he looked up in the front and saw Joyce right there in his face offering a napkin. The young man took the napkin and tried to wipe away the wine stain from his body. But of course it was not going away. Then he said to Joyce: “ Thank you for the napkin, I think I am alright now; I will have to soak my shirt for a long time for the stain to go away”. Joyce introduced herself as well as Nick. The young man reciprocated by introducing himself as Alex Brady from Fairfax, from the Washington DC area, as he shook Joyce’s hand first and then Nick’s. “ I guess it is an expedient way to introduce myself. Have you guys been to Bali before”, he asked. “ For me it is going to be a new experience in this region of the world”, he added. Joyce and Nick looked at each other and almost simultaneously said: “ We haven’t even been to a foreign country, let alone to Bali, a world known tourist destination”, Nick said. As they continued with their conversation, it turned out, Alex had booked himself on the same island at a resort served by the same shuttle bus as Nick and Joyce’s. He confided that coming to Bali for him was his gravy train as he was officially on a business trip for his company that was looking into the prospect of building a resort on that island. He could not help but cloak his mood with the irresistible ambience of vacation.
Moments after the flight landed at Denpasar airport, landing passengers who did not have entry visas, including Nick, Joyce and Alex lined up to fill in visa forms at the immigration checkpoints. After paying the fees, their visas, valid for thirty days were stamped in the passport pages, and then they were off to the exits. There at the exits, tour operators and hotel representatives were clamoring and calling for names showing placards hoisted for the guests to see. They saw one placard with the names of Nick, Joyce and Alex. No surprise to them, as they had expected to be met on arrival. For Joyce and Nick, Alex was, up to that moment, the lone person they had met in the flight that was booked on a small island off the Sanur beach, where they too were going. The three were then taken on a twenty-minute bus ride to a hotel in Sanur beach for the night. It was well after five p.m. when they arrived at their hotel; this is the call time for the last cruise boat for Nusa Lembongan island- their ultimate destination- to leave for a thirty minute ride to the Hotel Club and Resort. As expected, they were late to go to their final destination that night. The three guests would spend the night there in a nice four-star hotel on Sanur beach.
The next morning all three and other tourists took the early boat at 9 a.m. By 10 a.m., the boat arrived in Nusa Lembongan Beach Club and Resort, and Nick and Joyce were ready to relax in their hotel room. The air was slightly hotter inside the room so they turned on the fan. Alex proceeded to his resort, which was a few minutes away by shuttle. The room Nick and Joyce were assigned was appealing with a private living room, an lcd 40” flat screen TV, a wall mounted air-conditioner, free Wi-Fi Internet in their room and in the lobby, in-room mini bar, hair dryer, a bath room with both hot and cold shower, coffee and tea making facilities- really impressive set of self help appliances. “ What more could we ask for!” Joyce exclaimed as she was baring her top changing into fresh clothing. “ A perfect place for our honeymoon encore eh?” Nick pried with a broad grin on his lips. Joyce looked back with a seductive expression all over her face that Nick did not fail to notice, leaving him speechless in a curious stare on Joyce’s bare chest. But all their romantic inclinations were overridden by the lure of much that was going on outside at the swimming pool, which was only a few yards away from the beach line. They needed something to drink, and so they made themselves coffee in the room, and began to open their suitcases in the mean time.
There was an ambience of inexplicable joy, a Camelot of their own: “ It is going to be pure joy in the sun and sea, and well our money’s worth”, remarked Nick. It was past noon and looking outside the window, the swimming pool was teeming with guests in their bikinis and swimsuits. It wasn’t the right time to stay in-door while the sun was still shining. While Joyce was opening her suitcases, Nick was already in the showers getting ready for the swimming pool. As soon as he came out of the showers, Joyce jumped in, and took a quick shower, dressed up in her bikini and they were off to the swimming pool.
Overlooking the swimming pool is a sandy beach a few steps away. But they were both hungry and needed a lunch; they would be confined by the poolside restaurant as long as the lunch lasted. “Let’s sit on that table with a broad umbrella, and call the waiter for the menu. No sooner were they seated in their chairs than the waiter who was already walking in their direction arrived with the menus. They each got a menu book and waded through four pages of sumptuous dishes of seafood, poultry, beef and everything else one can think of, even pork. “I am going to order a seafood satay”, said Joyce as her eyes briskly perused, while Nick was sipping his fresh coconut juice perched on each table as a traditional welcome gesture. “ How about you sir, for your dish?” the waiter asked Nick. “ It is so hard to choose, I think I will go for duck satay and nasi goreng”, responded Nick, as he looked the waiter in the eyes as though he was waiting for a recommendation. “ How about you madam; what would you like to take with your main dish: we have nasi goreng which is Indonesian fried rice, or Nasi Guning , our yellow rice with some spices?” the waiter asked Joyce. “May I ask, do the dishes come with any vegetables, or do they come as a separate order?” asked Joyce. “Yes madam, your choice of vegetables and bread are all included”, responded the waiter. “Then I will try the yellow rice and that would be all for me”, said Joyce.
While they were waiting for their lunch they looked around the pool and noticed that, apart from the locals, other people from Asian countries such as Japan, Korea, and Malaysia spotted the area. Nick and Joyce could not distinguish between the guests who did not speak English; but they were able to tell Australians and New Zealanders by the kind of English accents they were speaking in. The beach was virtually basking in the sun with a few people wading into and out of the gentle waves, or just walking along the sandy beach. Nick and Joyce could hardly wait to finish their lunch, and take a walk on the sandy beach. The waiter was back with lunch orders for each and said: “Bon appetite”, and left.
As they were relishing the fresh taste of their lunch meals, an ominous thought raced through Joyce’s mind. She was having a flashback of the day when her sister Tina and Rodney came to their home with that shocking news of a plane crash. She had been increasingly curious about what she saw as new life in their marriage. She wanted to find out if Nick ever talked with either Rodney or Tina about the events of that horrible day. But fully aware of the conversation she and her sister had while she was in the grip of that short-lived grief, her greatest fear was for Nick to know about it. Those sentiments she conveyed to her sister about the shaky conditions of her married life with Nick were gone. But she was a little apprehensive, and wondered whether it would affect the mood of their vacation, if Nick ever knew.
Joyce decided to probe by posing a soft-peddled question: “Nick, I know I can’t thank you enough for the way you took care of me following my heart attack. I feel so fit now that it feels like it never happened to me. Isn’t that amazing? This is all due to the support and love you have shown for me during that difficult moment of my life”. Then she paused for a moment, and said: “I am curious though, about something, and I do not know how to put it. By the way, did you happen to talk to Rodney or Tina about the events of that day prior to your arrival home?” She asked while looking in the middle of her lunch plate. “ No, I just assumed that they had come to visit us; why do you ask?” Nick responded by posing a question of his own. “ No important reason to ask really, and yes your guess is right- they came to visit us”, Joyce feeling relieved, steered Nick away from pursuing the reason for Rodney and Tina’s visit to their house that came the day of her heart attack, and added, “They came to pay us a visit, and I kind of sensed that they might be in a budding relationship, which they wanted to share with us. May be the emergency triggered by my heart attack caused them to defer their intention of telling us. But now we know they are indeed engaged.
As soon as they finished their lunch, they were off to the beach. Now as they were walking they saw Alex from a distance gently striding in their direction; Joyce was the first one to notice and recognize him. “Wow, your memory of strangers is really amazing; I would not have recognized him easily from that distance had you not reminded me”. Said Nick as he peered into the distance, and finally recognized Alex. “ You know, Alex has this familiar look that reminds me of someone I have known before- the way he walks reminds me of a guy I once knew from my school days, only that that guy was black. He is just as tall and well built on the shoulders, and he has that typically African American “stroll and stride” walk style. It is a deliberately swaggered or bent posture when walking, the head held slightly tilted to the side, one foot dragging, and an exaggerated knee bend. You get what I mean?” Joyce asked with a grin on her face. But Nick did not seem to appreciate those characterizations of a stranger, and so did not respond, but stared intensely as Alex sauntered towards them.
“Hi guys, do you feel the same as I do about this island- a paradise on earth!” Alex exclaimed. “I have no words to describe it, but I can say this: it is by far the most beautiful vacation destination I have ever known in my whole life” said Joyce. Nick seemed to change the subject a little, as he saw no need to add to what Joyce had said. “How is your hotel Alex?” Alex looked out in the direction of the Beach Club and Resort, and then nonchalantly said: “It is great; I guess my place is not up to the standard of your hotel. The room is not facing the beach, something I had asked for, but they said those rooms were all occupied for the next three days. Other amenities with the exception of a poolside restaurant are similar. I really marvel the poolside restaurant. But I really have nothing else to complain about”.
The three spent the rest of the evening by the beach until it was that awaited magical time of sunsets in Bali just after six p.m. It was a sight to behold. The glow of the sunset seemed to have changed the mood, each of them quiet, looking out in awe, seemingly in peace, serenity, and unmitigated contentment.
Nothing seemed to disturb them as they all quietly sat down on the sand, gazing at the dimming light in the westerly direction. All they could hear was the sound of the waves as they crashed against the shore not too distant from them. The wind whispered in their ears as if it was about to tell them the untold mysteries of the island that separate night from day and land from sea.
The sun, a fiery orbit, looked like it’s gradually receding into the waters below the glimmering horizon. The sky appeared as though it was stroked with a broad brush of assorted shades- a blend of reds, oranges and yellows. The waters below gave a subdued reflection of the clouds above. The waves were tinted bright red, with underlying streaks of blue that clashed with it. The contrast created between the water that was turning dark and the fading luminosity of the sky in the horizon formed a thin but visible boundary between two exotic worlds.
“ It’s breathtakingly beautiful, and I’m speechless as I stand before this magnificent sight.” Joyce remarked as Alex was busying himself with his wide angled special camera he brought for this rare trip. “ May I take a picture of you guys against this unforgettable nature’s wonder?” Alex asked. “Sure, by all means, Nick come closer”, said Joyce stretching out her arm as she grabbed Nick by the neck. “Ok, I think we are ready”, said Nick. “Would you share those pictures with us- I can give you my email”, asked Joyce. “Sure, may be we can do that at dinner. Speaking of dinner, would you guys join me for dinner, at your hotel if that's ok?” Joyce looked at Nick as if to prompt him. Nick signaled his approval and said, “That would be wonderful, and since it is getting dark, should we head for the hotel now?” They turned their backs to the darkening sea over which the evening breeze whispered, and gently walked towards the hotel. Before dinner, Joyce and Nick had to go into their room for a change of clothes while Alex roamed around the lobby in his beach side pants for a while to locate a table for three in the restaurant.
By the time Nick and Joyce came out, Alex had found a table in a lighted poolside area, where a local entertainment group was going to perform. Before long the waiter arrived. “Good evening, my name is Jojoyo, and I will be your waiter; how may I serve you?” A young tall and slim waiter in uniform asked. “Could we have the menu please”, asked Joyce. The waiter went inside the restaurant quickly, and came out with three copies of a five-page menu. First it was a round for drinks and refreshments. For drinks all three, Nick, Alex and Joyce had decided they would order a whole carafe of cabernet red wine. As the waiter returned he was carrying a bell-bottomed crystal glass carafe with a narrow neck hoisted in a tray. While the waiter was perching the wine carafe on the table, Nick burst into a controlled chuckle as he jokingly attempted to distance the carafe from Alex, in a subtle allusion to the incident during the flight when Joyce inadvertently poured a glass of red wine on Alex’s shirt. Joyce giggled, looked at Alex and said, “ I formally confess my sins Alex, and I promise that I shall not pour this wine, or any wine on you again!” Alex was beside himself cackling almost unstoppably, and finally said with an unstable voice, “ Your sins are forgiven, and you may now drink the new wine!”
“May I have the privilege of serving the wine, starting with you Alex?” asked Nick as he motioned to pick up the carafe, and carefully poured wine in a glass in front of Alex. “ Thank you”, said Alex. Nick then poured wine into a glass for Joyce before filling up his own glass. “Cheers, for a lovely evening”, said Alex. They all toasted their glasses and as they settled down, a group of men and women in traditional dresses assembled a temporary stage by the lighted poolside. They were getting ready for a uniquely Indonesian puppet show for the night, a three times per week event at that resort motivated Alex to come for dinner .
The waiter came back and seemed ready to take orders for the main courses. “ I can take your orders whenever you are ready”, said the waiter.
“Did you guys find your selections; I am hungry for seafood. I will go for Ikan Bumbu Bali, crispy cod fish smothered with tasty red and green pepper sauce”, said Joyce. The waiter assured her that it came with her choice of nasi goreng or nasi gunning- fried rice with egg, or yellow spicy rice. Nick and Alex each ordered sate Bali- grilled pieces of beef on bamboo skewers marinated with tamarind juice, turmeric and smothered with peanut sauce. After about ten minutes the waiter was back with a big tray, intricately balanced in his hand with the three orders. As they were enjoying their dinner a group of cultural dancers was on stage readying the puppet show.
Puppet show, an ancient art of shadow play, locally known as Wayang Kulit or Gamelan, is a unique combination of ritual, lessons and entertainment. Lacy shadow images of puppets are projected on a translucent linen screen, backed by an oil lamp or a dim light bulb. The Dalang or shadow artist, manipulates the dangling figures, which are carved out of leather, to bring the shadows to life. He will narrate the story, accompanied by an orchestra, and occasional chanting or singing. The traditional ensemble music of Java and Bali in Indonesia is made up of a dazzling array of predominantly percussive instruments that are played by artists. Joyce got very inspired and curious about the ritual, especially the story that the Dalang was telling by the movements of the puppets, and his body language. She asked the waiter: “What story is the Dalang telling?” As though he had been eagerly waiting for that question, the waiter went on to tell the story:
The Dalang juggles many roles - actor, teacher, historian, and often, a priest. Normally these performances are part of temple celebrations or religious events to bless the occasion by inviting ancestral spirits to visit the temple. Here at the resort though, it is shown for the purpose of entertainment for the guests, but also for show casing a religious and cultural aspect of Balinese to the guests. The stories played are commonly based on the legends of Mahabarata and Ramayana.
“Who are the Ramayana and Mahabarata, if I may ask?” Alex posed a question to the waiter, as both Joyce and Nick were eagerly waiting for the response:
“Ramayana and Mahabarata are two greatest epics, or tall tales of the past about Hinduism that span the entire Hindu literature”, said the waiter, and went on: “Ramayana is a story that teaches the moral lessons that are part of both Hindu and Buddhist cultures. The primary moral lesson concerns what is often called "The Wheel of Life," or Dharma, and relates to the importance of living in ethical harmony with the "flow" of nature- “you know what I mean!”, the waiter stared at Joyce with a smile and said; “I mean your whole life and the entire environment, including other people”. While the three guests were musing about the “Wheel of Life”, the waiter asked them, “Did you know that Balinese are different from the rest of Indonesia”? Alex quickly responded: “Yes, I know; Balinese follow the Hindu faith, while the rest of Indonesia follow Muslim, is that right?”. The waiter nodded his head with admiration suggesting that Alex was not only correct, but he was also interested in Balinese culture by the impressive knowledge he showed.
“The Mahabharata is the second important epic, which is the source of information on the development of Hinduism between the 4th century BC and 2nd century AD. Even today it is regarded by Hindus as both a text about Hindu moral law, or The Wheel of Life, and a history of the people”.
Some of these shadow puppets have extremely flexible joints, which make the play even more entertaining. People could be seen rising on their feet, and walking to the stage giving away their offerings, which continued throughout and even after the performance. “The Gamelan, the puppet show, usually takes three to four hours, typically commencing some time between nine p.m. and 11 p.m. As you can see Gamelans like this are orchestras performed for nearly every event and occasion; they fulfill special purposes in the society and are indeed what you will remember as unique music of Indonesia. The musical instruments used are generally percussion oriented, but many feature flutes as well.” remarked the waiter.
At that point Joyce, Alex and Nick had all finished their dinner. Nick was ready to call it a day while Alex and Joyce were still in the throes of excitement, their eyes keenly glued to the Gamelan. Before Nick could motion to leave, the waiter asked if he should bring Java coffee: “ It is home brewed from fresh Javanese coffee beans”, he quipped. In unison they all said yes. As the Gamelan sounds increased in intensity more and more people were walking on stage to drop their gifts and instinctively, Joyce and Alex joined the line, dropped their money gifts and smiled at the performers who were in utter oblivion to what was going on around them.
With a dark kettle in a tray in his hand, the waiter came back and brought special dark cups locally known as Kopi tubruk. The Java coffee is very dark, and strong with an herbal aroma that could hold captive the olfactory senses of coffee lovers anywhere. The coffee is traditionally poured in the Kopi tubruk.
There was an interlude and most of the performers left the stage. Alex got a moment to ask: “What are you guys planning for tomorrow for site visits?” Joyce, looked at Nick who was almost closing his eyes ostensibly looking very sleepy; “Well, Nick, you are mentally half way to the room, so I am going to speak for you as well: how about we talk about it tomorrow at breakfast when everyone will have been fully rested?. After all, we have eleven days of vacation just on this island”. Nick was fully awake at this point, listening to Joyce as he was nodding his head to signal his approval. “Great, that works for me, so should we take an early breakfast then like, seven-ish?” asked Alex. “By the way, just to clarify something I didn't tell you- I am only here until next week, just about five more days from today”, remarked Alex alluding to the eleven days time frame that Joyce and Nick had for the vacation.
Nick and Joyce said good night to Alex who had to walk a short distance to his resort. It was already 12:45 a.m. when Nick and Joyce got to their room, and each was ready for sleep. It turned out to be a night Alex had not prepared for when he got to his resort. To his surprise, the excitement of the Gamelan performance, and music was not without a price- it would cost him precious sleep time to go back to the site of the Gamelan.
Alex had left his room keys at the table he was seated while watching the Gamelan. The night guard at his hotel was nowhere to be seen when he returned after the show. It seemed he was not likely to get any help from the resort. Alex panicked, and resorted to holler in anger, as he leaned on his back against a door. But the whole place was eerily silent. He dropped on his butt at the threshold of the front door, wondering whether he should go back to the hotel next door where he had his dinner, for it was a good five to ten minutes walk. The un-breaking silence convinced him he did not have a choice. He got up, and walked back all the way to the resort club. Fortunately the guard there was expecting someone to pick up the keys, which he found right under a dining table.
But it was a different story for Joyce and Nick who eased into their room, the first night of a full rest since they left their home in Oregon. Romance was in the air, and the room was perfectly located as it was facing the beach, air conditioned and moonlit. The sea waves were billowing outside and the moon was half full enough to cause flashing glitters of light over the ocean water.:
In spite of the minor glitches in the night, Alex got up early, and joined Nick and Joyce at their hotel. He was the first to get to the restaurant for breakfast, and no sooner did he find a table by the window overlooking the beach than Joyce and Nick came, chatting with a waiter at the door. They saw Alex, and walked to his table to join him.
“ Alex stood up and greeted, “Hi guys, good morning; join me and take your seats. Did you have a good night rest?” “ You bet, how about you; did you have a good night sleep?”, greeted Nick. “Eh, you don't want to know; but to cut the long story short, I had to come back here to the restaurant before I was finally able to go to sleep- you see, I dropped my room keys, unawares right where we dined.”, said Alex as he was looking Nick straight in the eyes, giving the appearance that he was looking for some kind of comforting words. Nick unwittingly obliged, “Sorry to hear that; did you have a chance to come up with what we might be doing for site seeing today?” asked Nick.
As Alex was reflecting on the question, Joyce had been thinking about an adventure of Bali’s famous under water marine life. “ I do not know about you guys, but I have always wondered what it is like to go under water to see the marine life. What about snorkeling or is it scuba diving; I am clueless as to the difference between them.” Remarked Joyce, while carefully going through a three-page breakfast menu.
“Wow, I like the idea Joyce; I feel you were reading my mind”, reacted Alex in an animated way and went on to elaborate. “The ocean is a very serene environment, and it is extremely relaxing. It is not only the sand and the sun that make it relaxing; it goes beyond the surf into the deep blue sea. Exploration of the sea life is usually by two approaches depending on how deep one wants to go. Scuba or, “Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus” diving and snorkeling. “Wow, is that how the word was invented?” remarked Joyce. Alex went on with his explanations. “ Yes, you are right. Scuba diving nowadays consists of gas cylinders and an air hose that provides the divers with great mobility and safety underwater. It is a complete diving gear we will need if we choose scuba diving. It will definitely provide a real adventure to an unknown world of marine life. However, I have to warn you that this is a very sophisticated apparatus that may require prior safety training and detailed instructions for its proper use. This explains why its use originated from the military. It was used during the world war the Second World War if I am not mistaken; it was codenamed SCUBA. Apart from the military application, people scuba dive for many reasons; they either want to explore the under water world for recreation or carry out scientific research in marine life and its eco-system. You are probably wondering how I came to know all this about scuba diving”. Alex wondered.
“That is amazing Alex; how did you know all this about scuba diving? Have you been in the military before? Queried Nick clearly, showing interest in the adventure. “ I have a brother who was once a Navy SEAL in the US military; he used to tell me fascinating stories about scuba diving and how so exciting it is”. Responded Alex, as if to persuade Nick and Joyce. “What exactly do the SEALs do if I may ask; did you ever ask your brother this kind of question Alex?” queried Joyce, seeming clueless, but excited. “Yes, actually I asked my brother a lot of questions about the SEALs, and he loved that. Let me tell you how the US Navy describes the job. SEALs conduct small-unit maritime military operations that normally originate from, and return to a water based location such a river, ocean, swamp, delta or coastline.” Alex responded authoritatively demonstrating that he knows scuba diving pretty well. “Just to give you a recent example of Special Operations, do you recall who killed Osama Bin Laden and how they killed him?” quizzed Alex as he looked Nick in the face. “Who would forget that; in the early morning hours on May1 in the United States time, a group of 25 Navy SEALs raided the compound in Abbottabad, a town in Pakistan. They arrived outside the compound in two Black Hawk helicopters spitting hell fire. In less than an hour the whole operation was over with Osama Bin Laden’s body identified and taken on board a helicopter for later DNA identification. And the world, including the President of the United States was celebrating”. Responded Nick without taking a breath.
“So much so for the SEALs and Special Operations, and scuba diving. I love the sea adventure, but I am not confident about my ability to operate this sophisticated diving apparatus. So what about snorkeling?” Queried Joyce as she gasped, pondering about scuba diving. “ I think I can answer that question, for I have once been to Hawaii, where I saw people snorkeling”; said Nick. He continued to explain: “Snorkeling is swimming with flexible rubber fins, a mask, and a tube called a snorkel that allows you to have your face down as you float in the water and still breathe. Snorkeling doesn't require carry-on apparatus such as tanks or regulators. On the other end of the spectrum, scuba diving allows you to breathe underwater with the help of the carry on apparatus; snorkeling allows you to breathe while you are on the surface of the water with your face down. By the way I know for sure snorkeling doesn't require any certification, but I am not sure if we can go scuba diving without a certification”. Alex did not know much about the certification for scuba diving, but had a good idea, “That is a good point Nick, I am not sure either. Why don't we go to the tour operators and find out from them?”.
Manta Ray Chase:
Off they went to look for an experienced marine tour operator, and not too distant from the resort is an L- shaped boat-mooring jetty where several boat owners and operators make tour deals for the day. They approached the wharf for Bali Hai Cruises; it claims to be Indonesia’s leading Marine Tourism Company operating exciting day cruises covering Kuta on the west side, and Sanur beach, Lembongan and Nusa Penida Islands on the east side, with fun-filled activities for the whole family. This operator claims to offer a range of activities to cater for those tourists with an adventurous spirit, as well as those who seek a relaxing day in paradise. Their services are rounded out with the unique two separate evening dinner cruises. They claim that their company truly has something for everyone.
Nick, Joyce and Alex, were all impressed by the operator’s sales pitch, and now they want to decide. “ What do you guys think; as for me his offerings go under the hammer”, commented Alex. Joyce looked at Nick presumably for a sign of a social cue to confirm what Alex just said, and remarked: “ The only thing I would like to know is whether we shall or not have an opportunity to visit famous sites for either glass bottom boat viewing of sea life or snorkeling. Personally, I am not comfortable with scuba diving even though it is the best means of seeing sea life”. Nick looked at Joyce with signs of relief all over his face because of Joyce’s decision to rule out scuba adventure, but before he could say a word, the tour operator in charge of the boat interjected, and said that their boat is well suited for observing under water life because its bottom is fitted with crystal clear glass base, which allows on-boat viewing; for snorkeling, they have head gear and flexible rubber fins to assist floatation during viewing. But he also cautioned that if any one wanted scuba diving, prior offshore training would be required unless they are certified divers. The training is primarily for the safety of the tourists, and giving helpful tips for minimizing panic and accidents in the event of equipment malfunction. They all decided that for the day, the tour of the marine sites and time for snorkeling would be enough, while the possibility of scuba diving for the next day would be considered later.
“ The snorkeling equipment will be twenty US dollars for each for the whole day, and we will also serve snacks on board as the trip will take several hours before we return to your hotels”, explained the operator as he collected the payments from the group.
“Our first stop on this route will be Padang Bai, one of the more popular spots for snorkeling around here. As you can see we are heading in the northeasterly direction; that is because Padang Bai is located on the southeastern coast of the Bali Island; it offers easy access to a number of great snorkeling spots that we will see shortly. From there the timetable will be entirely at your discretion. Following Padang we will head to Nusa Penida island area just south of your hotel. From there, you will have a chance for seeing coral and the popular Manta rays. Many of the locations around Nusa Penida are a bit deeper though; that makes the area ideal for scuba divers. But as for snorkeling in Bali, the best spots are found around the 3 islands that make up Nusa Penida, which include Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan”. Seemingly concluding his introductory remarks. All the while Joyce, Nick and Alex were awe-struck by the beauty of the pristine waters and the smooth slide of the boat as it sped in a northerly direction carrying on board two other passengers who were tour guides. “If I may ask,” Joyce said: “Just what are Manta rays, and why are they so famous?” One of the guides reached out for a side pocket of the boat and pulled out a thick brochure showing pictures of all kinds of fish and sea creatures whose home is the Bali Sea. Manta ray was prominently shown on the pages containing the species of ray fish. “Wow, this looks huge, how big are they?” asked Alex as he was riffling through the pages of the brochure.
One of the guides responded nonchalantly and said: “Yeah it is large; it has the classic Manta ray body shape featuring a broad head with an enormous wide mouth flanked by two broad, flexible, fleshy fins. I do not want to spoil your curiosity, as I am almost sure you will see at least one, if not at Padang, but surely at our next spot which is near Nusa Penida not too far from your hotel resort”. If you jump in your snorkeling gear, I will lead to the spot where they are normally found”.
Finally the boat slowed down and the skipper veered to the right as though he was going to a mooring. But he wasn't; other boats were also closing in. The boat stopped and every one on board except the skipper, jumped into their snorkeling gear. That spot was the destination where most tourists come for easy viewing.
The water was relatively calm and fairly clear. Led by a guide, they jumped into the water. What they saw was pure splendor. It was the site of a shipwreck, and all kinds of creatures were swirling in and out of it. “What is the story behind this shipwreck?” asked Alex as they were approaching the location of the shipwreck. “I am not sure, but I think it was an American ship which was sunk, during the Second World War”; one of the guides responded nonchalantly with an answer that left every one wanting to hear more.
It was turning out to be a truly unique snorkeling experience. The guide told them waters surrounding the area are famous for the site of the USAT Liberty shipwreck. The oceans are full of many shipwrecks all around the world, but they typically require scuba diving gear to really explore them. But this particular wreck is markedly different: “ Royono, I am curious about this US shipwreck; what do you tell people who ask the story behind its sinking?”, Joyce asked seemingly fascinated by the fact that it was a US ship. “Yes mam, but I can only tell you what I have been told, and I have no way of confirming to you if it is the truth or an exaggerated story”; Royono was one of the guides who took the question and spoke softly to Joyce. “ It is widely known as the USAT Liberty transport ship which reportedly was sunk by the Japanese in 1942 during the battle of Japan against the Allied nations over the control of south and south-east Asia which includes the region that formed the borders of Indonesia. People who saw some of its records say that it was built in 1918 in the US with a carrying capacity of more than 13,000 tons of supplies to support the fighting forces in the region. The unique attraction of the Liberty lies in its very shallow location in the seawater, a rare phenomenon in the history of maritime warfare; so many species of sea creatures swirl in and around it. It allows humans to snorkel to get in on the fun watching amazing sea life even without scuba diving. What's more, they were able to see stingrays, but the big Manta ray they were really eager to see was nowhere to be seen that day. The area was noticeably crowded with tourists for obvious reasons due to its close proximity to the major towns.
It was already time to go, before they realized they had spent most of the day snorkeling, oblivious to the remainder of their schedule for the day. There was only enough time before dark, for their hotel island of Lembongan was nearly an hour away from there.
Having spent their first day of vacation on the north east coast of Bali, they were keen to explore different parts of the island, much closer to their hotel. They had read fantastic reviews about the Nusa Penida island exotic spots and weren't disappointed; on the contrary, they were satisfied with the first tour beyond their imaginations. The three of them all agreed to wake up before dawn next day to catch up with the surf waves as well as the sunrise. The sky was as blue as the sea below the whole day when they were snorkeling that first day.
On the second morning of their stay on Lembongan Island, the three headed out for surf before breakfast. The waves were perfect for a chilled out early morning session – clean, long right-handers at 3ft – 4ft in height that morning. The only downside was the water. Whilst it was warm there was this funny question at the back of Joyce’s mind. She ran through her old memories, and back in her high school days she had learned that the country of Indonesia is home to rare specie of giant lizard called komodo. She also learned that komodos are very venomous and therefore deadly. Could there be komodos in the surf waters? Alex chuckled with a poker face, and as he looked at Nick and Joyce, he seemed to be searching for a proper response; then he said: “The komodo dragon is the largest lizard in the world, with its picturesque lizard-like ancient and evocative name. I am not sure if it likes being in cold water at this time of the day. I once watched a video of komodos prowling on an island. It conjured up the stuff of legends and of course it evokes fear. That long heavy-set body of the komodo dragon with stocky legs is spine chilling when you encounter one. But I don't think it would want to be riding the surfs. Besides, their habitats are far away from Bali, as far as the islands of Nusa Tengara and Flores, hundreds of miles east of here”. Deep in Alex’s mind though, a thought registered that this might not be the safest place to surf, not for fear of the dragons, but because none of them really was a good surfer even though they all wanted to watch waves while other people surf.
Not long after they got to beach, the morning darkness eased out, giving way to a spectacular sunrise. As though it was proclaimed by the cosmos, the sun broke forth triumphantly, warning the earth of its advent, spreading mighty wide, its gleaming tendrils north, south and west, fully trumping the night to oblivion. They all watched in awe in an unspoken silence. “Wow! It truly is a symbol of the heralding of a new day!”, Joyce exclaimed.
In about twenty minutes the magic of the sunrise meshed into the silvery streaks of clouds, and it was time to go back to the hotel for breakfast. The place was teeming with all kinds and shapes of tourists, most walking almost half naked, and ladies in their bikinis and men in shorts with bare tops. Most were sitting outside by the swimming pool baking in the sun already.
As the three walked through by the buffet style lay out, before even looking at the menu, nothing looked familiar, even as it was mouth-watering. Not knowing where to begin or what to taste, Alex greeted a waiter who was just standing by and asked for guidance. “This is a traditional Balinese breakfast; I suggest you try every item on the buffet table and also not to forget our Java coffee on the opposite table”, the waiter spoke enthusiastically as he was motioning his hands in the direction of the coffee table. “This pot is teeming with a savory porridge-like stuff”, remarked Joyce hesitating whether to take it or not. Then, in almost an instant, the waiter realized that Joyce needed some encouragement; he chuckled while looking at her and said: “Madam, that is Burbur Ayam , a rice porridge garnished with shredded free range chicken, roasted fresh coconut kernel, wild ginger, and scallions; you can smell it and it is as tasty as it smells”. Then Joyce grabbed a bowl; Nick and Alex followed suit, as she thanked the waiter. Not far from the pot, there was the Java coffee whose piercing aroma could be sensed hundred yards away. They each got themselves two cups and settled for their breakfast. The day before that, the three were to go to two more snorkeling sites but their energies were consumed almost entirely at the USAT Liberty shipwreck. This morning they are ready and eager to catch up with their tour operators hoping to see the Manta ray- if they are lucky. In ten minutes the breakfast was over, and they went off to the boat mooring area to meet with skipper Royono and his two guides.
“Good morning, we have got your snorkeling gear on board, and if you are ready, we will go straight to an area called Manta Point in the south westerly direction of Nusa Penida Island:” advised Royono as Joyce, Nick and Alex were maneuvering their ways into the boat. “ It is going to take us may be twenty to thirty minutes to get there, so just relax and enjoy the morning sea breeze”, said Royono as he was stashing three twenty dollar bills he received for the snorkeling gear into his hind pant pockets.
The seawaters were pristine and the sky was blue, as the wind was gently blowing from behind. For the tourists, this is going to be a unique and unforgettable experience in and around the famous three islands off the southeastern coast of Bali. “This is just amazing; simply snorkeling here is enough to bring you up close and personal with these graceful giants”, remarked Nick. “So if we are lucky, we will be able to see Manta rays, is that right?,’ asked Joyce, as she turned to the east with her camera in her left hand. “I am absolutely sure we will see them. Manta rays are amongst the most majestic creatures that inhabit the waters surrounding these beautiful islands. You need not take my word for this for shortly you will see for yourself to behold the majesty of this creature. They have the largest brains of all fish, and they are curious when they encounter humans normally behaving in a friendly way even in close encounters”, explained Royono, as he encircled a spot near a place called Manta Point South west of Nusa Penida Island. “Around here Manta rays are affectionately known as the "puppies of the sea". Royono said as he dropped the anchor.
Manta Point consists of uniquely shaped high limestone cliffs, which are often frequented by pods of dolphins as a rich feeding environment. The tour operators gave out the snorkeling gear as they reached the spot where they could sight corals and colorful fish species. The guides gave assurance that, no place compares remotely with Manta Point and the nearby spots even though there are other spots for snorkeling and scuba diving in the waters. Before jumping into the water for snorkeling, the tour operators gave a typical warning of dangers of being in the water.
“We all need to be flexible because as you can see this whole area is an exposed location in the middle of seemingly calm waters. Conditions could change and usually that happens pretty fast; for example the waters can turn too rough for the boat to make it down to the shore, or any condition of possible giant swells can make diving impossible. When we give the signal we will have to leave immediately”, Royono sternly scanned the faces of Alex, Joyce and Nick as he spoke. “ We heard you loud and clear. All you need is, make out the signal; no fun can trump our safety in any way, shape or form”, said Joyce.
The waters near the Manta Point are well known for their occasional tempestuous currents. For this reason tour operators have programmed themselves to give this kind of warning, even though that particular day the sea was exceptionally calm and the sky was as blue as the waters below it.
Royono led the way as he snorkeled towards what looked like mountains under water. He instructed the group to get into the water to claim an area before other diving boats arrived. With no hesitation they all stepped off the boat and plunged into the sparkling waters.
The crew brought out some special surfboards with handholds. Joyce felt she needed one, and she grasped it and let her legs float effortlessly as she fixed eyes on the reef where a Manta ray was spotted flipping. For a while they were all awe-struck by the sight of the Manta rays; but reflexively each inched forward, angling to go closer. Just as they were doing that, the rays seemed to be turning sideways in the opposite direction; then suddenly, they all started to move in circles, gently closing the distance between. Three of them with wingspans ranging from may be 15-feet up to 20 feet were spotted. Then in what seemed like a synchronized gymnastics, they dove down in waves to the bottom, but quickly turned around and rushed toward the surface. It was getting a little too scary for the tourists: there was a possibility of mistaking Stingray for the Manta, and risk a potentially deadly sting. Instinctively the swimmers peddled away even as the guides were still inching closer. Guides signaled assurances that it was safe to get closer; and closer they moved. As they beheld the gigantic fish, Joyce seemed frozen in place, her eyes glued at the gaping mouth of a Manta ray with its rib-like gills open on the side. Then the ray effortlessly arched its back, straightened its wings and took a nosedive again, its tail gently touching Joyce’s stomach. She was ecstatic, showing a thumb up.
Then three Mantas joined; two came from the left, and one rose from the bottom in a graceful dance. Joyce floated transfixed by the strange ancient ritual that these peaceful giants partake in, every day as they forage for food. The rays made sweeping circles – an efficient way of eating while displaying a spectacular sight.
The hour-long dive felt like minutes, and before they realized it, the boat captain was calling them out of the water.
Wrapped in towels, they all watched the sea with a fleeting passion as the boat sped back to the harbor, wondering what other mysteries the waves were hiding.
“Those reefs looking blue are teeming with a dazzling array of sea creatures” the boat captain shouted as they were approaching steep reefs. The boat stopped; then Royono led the guests to another snorkeling spot. Alex, Joyce and Nick thumbed up as a pod of Manta rays- three or five- was hovering over the valley below; they began somersaulting completely, flipping themselves in a 360 degrees revolution as they exposed their white under-side and black backs.
Alex was so fascinated by the shape of the Manta, and said “ Of all the ocean activities available in the waters, few of them offer more excitement and enchantment than snorkeling with Manta rays in these Indonesian islands”, Joyce interjected, “I agree with you 100 percent Alex; this is truly a paradise vacation destination for marine adventures”. Alex was not finished with his fascination about the shape of the Manta: “The world’s largest species of ray, the Manta rays here have enormous wingspans, did you guys notice? Curiously their overall body outline closely resembles that of the US aircraft fighter, the B-2 stealth bomber, which is curiously named the bad bird of the sky”.
The tour guide, Royono went out of his way to give his fascinated tourist a lecture about the beauty of the Manta rays:
The Manta rays’ wingspan reaches 20 feet when fully grown and measures upwards of 16 feet in length. In comparison the B-2 stealth bomber has a wingspan of up to 162 feet and over 60 feet in length. Swimming alongside a fully-grown Manta is akin to flying along a massive, underwater giant bird.
Unlike other global species of stingrays, Manta rays do not have any barbs or teeth and their main defense mechanism is simply the speed with which they can literally fly underwater. The Manta utilizes its gills when it feeds. As it sucks water in, the gills open and allow massive amount of water to be pumped out, while the tiny sea creatures in the water is restrained inside the ray's mouth. The gill arches, and then siphons the plankton to the Manta ray's stomach for natural processing.
Many hours are dedicated each day to the feeding process. A full grown adult can consume up to 60 pounds of food every single day. The Manta Ray moves along the water extremely slowly. This allows them to take in a great deal of water and food that is filtered properly. The water goes back out through the slits in the sides of their heads called gills. The food is then pushed down into the stomach.
On the head there are lobes on each side. These cephalic lobes help direct food into the mouth. The mouth is located on the top of the head instead of the bottom. It is believed that the Manta Ray remembers the best feeding spots, and so they will return to them on a regular basis.
They have very distinct movements during feeding. They tend to move forward in a straight line. This seems weird to observers, especially if there is food supplies to the right or left of them. However, this slow but meticulous pattern works well for them, and allows them to get the daily fill of food that their bodies require.
Generally the Manta Ray will feed at night when they have the best chance of finding enough food. However, they have been seen feeding during the day in some areas. They are very intelligent animals, so they are able to adapt their feeding habits to what is readily available. Some may be hunting day and night and this is a common indicator that they are struggling to find enough food to survive on.
The tour operator explained all this detailed description of the Manta to please his customers who were obviously delighted and satisfied with their adventure. Local people in Bali have observed that Mantas seem to be able to remember the best feeding grounds around them. The unique feeding habit of the Manta ray allows these animals to continue to evolve and to survive despite changes to their natural environment. One of the conservation efforts in place is to make sure they have enough food to survive on. They generally do well but with humans polluting both the air and the water, it can be difficult at times for them to find adequate food supplies.
Hours passed without notice and by the time the group went back to the boat it was already past three o’clock. “If you want to take a break, we can go onshore for a lunch snack”, suggested Royono. At this point everyone seemed enchanted with the expedition, but hunger had set in. By the time they got onshore, their energies were well spent and none of the group members had any desire left to go back. They had set their minds on returning to their hotel for an evening by the poolside.
Komodo National Park Visit
“I think we call it a day for today, and we will think of tomorrow’s plans later”, said Nick. At this point Joyce had a flashback of a moment of time back in her high school class when she read mythical stories about an enchanted island in the East Indies with dragons prowling and devouring any animal there, including humans. “Since we are in the East Indies, what about a day of sight-seeing on this enchanted island, it could be an experience of a life time”, said Joyce looking rather pensive on her face. “Oh, are you talking about the popular komodo dragons?” queried Royono in a characteristically polite and mirthful face. “That's right; how far away are these mythical creatures from Bali?” Joyce asked as she scanned the sea horizon behind Royono’s back as if she might see the Komodo Island nearby. Royono picked up one of the many brochures from a box next to the captain’s seat and opened a page, and said to Joyce: “You see these group of islands, and here is where we are in Bali”. Nick and Alex both leaned towards Joyce to look at the page, which showed a group of small islands on the eastern part of the Indonesian 17,000 island archipelago. “Most of the komodo dragons are on the island of Komodo, and the rest of the estimated 5,000 dragons are on the nearby islands of Rinca, Flores, and Gil Motang”, explained Royono. Alex quickly sat back, scratched his head as if he was doing a mental calculation, and asked Royono: “Would you be able to arrange for us to visit these creatures for one day, and if possible tomorrow?” He continued by telling Royono that one of his mission is to locate a possible hotel site in Indonesia. Alex asked Royono whether in fact he could use this time to talk to local officials about a possible hotel project that would require an acquisition of a suitable site. Admitting that he was not familiar with the procedures on the island, Royono assured Alex that he would be able to introduce the Bupati- the head of a district- responsible for the area to him once they are on the island.
“Our company has special arrangements with the tour operators in Flores who work closely with the the Komodo National Park rangers. I suggest that our company’s special boat pick you up early in the morning tomorrow to catch the 8:30 a.m. flight from Denpasar, and schedule your return flight by the last flight from Flores at 7:50 p.m. for Bali; it is a one and half hour sky adventure offering a uniquely commanding bird’s eye view of myriads of small islands strewn in the ocean”, said Royono, with an animated voice. He then looked at Nick and Alex and said; “ We would even be able to negotiate your charges for the tour of the Komodo National Park, because you have been our valued customers for two tours here in Bali”. All three were keenly listening to Royono’s sales pitch. “ That is great; I think we are all set for tomorrow, which means we have to forego any evening entertainment at the hotel so we can go to bed early tonight,” said Nick, as Alex was nodding his head to signal his confirmation of his wish. But the two men noticed Joyce was pensive and seemingly deep in thoughts. “ Joyce, your wish for seeing the mythical komodos will be a reality now; all we have to do is to wake up early tomorrow for the boat to Kuta beach from where a bus will take us to the airport for the 8:30 a.m. flight departure”, said Nick with a gleeful expression on his face.
Joyce wheezed as she lowered her head, looked at Nick and then at Alex, and gently said: “I hope this won’t dampen your enthusiasm, but remain assured that deep in my heart, I wish I could be with you guys; I really wanted to see the giant lizards at close quarters. But, I am afraid I have to take a break tomorrow, and stay here at the beach near the hotel. You probably did not notice anything in the excitement of swimming with the Mantas, but my adrenalin was able to suppress strange discomfort I have been enduring in the last two days because of the sheer excitement we have had with the snorkeling experience up north in Padang yesterday, and today at Manta Point. Beneath the surface of my body and somewhere in my belly, I have been grappling with sustained moments of dull pain and nausea since the day before. But what is disconcerting is that passage of time seems to increase the frequency of such episodes of pain, and the intensity of the onset. I am sure it has to do with the motions on board the boat, since my body is not used to the bumpiness of motorized vessel on high waters But, I will ask you to do me a favor: Go ahead without any reservations or any guilty sentiments for me, and take great videos and photos of the beasts from as close points as you can safely get. I know that the komodos have ferocious appetite for meat. So be forewarned not to be carried away by the mythical dragon and end up being at its dinner table”.
With that stern warning of danger about the giant lizards, Royono burst in a loud laughter, holding his hand against his mouth as if to prevent his spit from flying in the face of Joyce. Then he said: “Let me assure you, it is very rare for komodos to go after humans. Apart from humans who make their dwellings on stilted houses, many wild animals, such as deer, monkeys, wild water buffalos, small wild horses, wart hogs, and so forth, inhabit those islands. These animals are the staple food of the komodos. And reports by game rangers are also comforting: only four people have been killed in the last 35 years, and no more than ten have been injured in the course of the past decade. But, park officials point out that these numbers should be viewed in the right context: There have been a steady stream of tourists coming to the islands, and add to their number, 5,000 plus, humans have co-existed throughout the ages. In the deadly cases of human encounters with the komodos, it was often fishermen who had gutted out their fish onshore, causing the komodos to smell blood. It is the smell of blood that triggers ferocious behavior in komodos”.
After daybreak, and immediately following breakfast, Nick and Alex were taken from Lembongan Island to Kuta beach from where they were boarded in a shuttle bus to Denpasar airport, arriving just in time for the 8:30 a.m. flight to Labuan Bajo on the island of Flores. From there they would be taken for a two-hour boat ride to the famous Komodo Island.
Joyce woke up long after 7: a.m., and headed for the poolside restaurant for breakfast. Now that she had all the time to herself, she would not let loneliness interfere with her vacation, which had been terrific thus far. With a couple of more days left in their vacation, she was sure other fun filled opportunities would come, once the guys come back from Komodo that evening. She realized that since she and Nick left home, she had not been in touch with anyone, not even her sister Tina. “It is time to touch bases and share the fun”, she said to herself. In her smart phone she had already downloaded the most popular application known to almost every one in the third world- whatsapp, but had yet to use it. This was the right time and right place, she surmised, for it is all-free. She can send instant text as well as pictures and even video clips. But she had not taken any- that is until now. Now she starts text conversation with her sister:
Joyce: Hi sis its me, Joyce. Sorry for staying incommunicado for so long. No excuses but, it has been hectic here in Bali, and our days and nights have all been fun-filled thus far.
Tina: Wow, good for you! I am glad you are enjoying your vacation. Here we are bracing for an unprecedented weather chill; the weather people are calling it polar vortex, and it will linger for a couple of days according to their projections.
Joyce: Sorry to here that. I know it is some kind of extreme cold weather; but what exactly is polar vortex?
Tina: I have no clue of who coined the name, but I can describe it to you what it is like to experience it. It is characterized by a relentless stretch of bitter cold coming from the northwest, with record snow falling in gusting winds of up to 60 mph, and forming heaps of mountains of ice. That is what we have been bracing for in the last 48 hours.
Joyce: Send me some pictures of you and Rodney in the snow! By the way how is he? And the wedding plans, tell me about it?
Tina: I will be meeting him this evening to iron out some pending issues in the wedding plans we still have not quite resolved, and I will take some selfies, as well as pictures of the mess this polar vortex is inflicting on the whole region. Candidly, planning for the wedding has been a double-edged sword: daunting and sometimes stressful on the one hand, but the sheer anticipation of that day instills a sense of drive that fills you up with energy. One thing we learned early is, the importance of setting priorities and following through on plans that are booked. So the first task we quickly agreed on, was the date itself. Once we fixed the date the next critical task was the venue, because we kind of knew that most banquet halls require advance notice. We ran around familiar places such as the big hotels, and other conference halls in town. You can’t believe this: all those venues were booked, and the next earliest availability was two months away after our planned wedding date! We had to go back to the drawing table quickly; thank heavens we did not print the invitation cards at that point.
Joyce: That is fantastic, I am curious so what is the date? As soon as we return in about a week you can bet your bottom dollar, I will be with you to assist in any way you wish. Nick and I are really bonding very well on this vacation. Right now, he and a nice guy we met on our flight to Bali, Alex, have gone to visit the famous Komodo Island in the north east of here. They will be back in the evening, hopefully with lots of pictures and video clips that I would be glad to send to you via this amazing free service called whatsapp!
Tina: Joyce, I got to go now, I will get back to you as soon as I can, and I know you are curious about the wedding plans. I will fill you in even though it is still a work in progress!
Joyce: ok sis
Three hours later after she finished exchanging messages with Tina, Joyce was wondering whether Nick and Alex managed to arrive on the Komodo Island; she decided to send a message from her smart phone:
Joyce: I hope your flight was safe and exciting. Are you on the Komodo Island yet?
Nick: We are just about half an hour away to the island itself, but we are cruising through aquamarine blue waters all around us and bypassing island cliffs above which stand majestic hills covered by emerald green canopy of tropical trees. I am taking pictures- plenty of them, and will be sending them once we land on the Komodo Island. How have you occupied your day, and how is the condition of your nausea?
Joyce: Thanks for asking; I drank only fruit juices and coconut water this morning, refrained from heavy food, and limited my movement to short walks along the beach.
Time passed, and in the mean time Joyce was by the beach enjoying a quiet late morning breeze.
Nick: We have just landed on the island, and one of the local guides will accompany us to the sites where we can view the dragons. He is now giving us preliminary instructions, and the necessary precautions to stay safe on the island. As I write, we are taking our snacks and drinks while he is talking to us, and in ten to fifteen minutes, we will hike off the beach and explore the island’s fauna and flora.
Time lapsed before Nick was able to up date his location:
Nick: The tour guide started by admitting that Komodo dragons are unpredictable predators that have attacked and killed humans in the past. Not quite what we wanted to hear, but I guess he has to do his job of warning the tourists. And he went on: A simple bite can be fatal, because the slimy looking dragon’s saliva contains venom, and some people believe it also contains bacteria. So, it is a double whammy- poisoning and instant infection. As if to prove his point he reminded us -a group of 6 adults all male -about a fabled story of a Dutch prince in the 19th century who came in his own boat to witness and film the mythical dragon of Indonesia. The prince and his group moored their boat not too far from a location that was believed to be the site of the komodos burrows. After a short distance into the bush, the prince and his group saw two komodos, seemingly a mating pair. The prince was so excited, and moved closer to get the best pictures. For about good five minutes, it all felt quiet except the movements of the two mating creatures, and the aim-and shoot movements of the prince.
While the prince was busy taking pictures from meticulously selected angles a little distance away from the side of the beach, his group members walked along the nearby beach line to keep an eye on the boat, lest village people should be curious to go to it, and possibly cause damage or take away objects from it. What they did not see was another male komodo that had been chased away by its stronger peer from the female. It lay low and quietly behind a small shrub as the group was arriving. But, it turned its focus on the prince who was closer to the mating creatures so engrossed in the filming of the mating act. Then as the group left the prince at a noticeable distance, something dropped down from the prince’s hands. As he bent down to pick it up a sharp object from a shrub scratched his hand, letting out blood trickles drop as he was focused on the mating komodos. Suddenly the lone komodo moved very stealthily from the rear side of the prince, and by the time the group saw what was going to happen, all they could do was to shout desperately, which unfortunately came too late. The prince was bitten on the legs, started to bleed; then the three dragons went into a feeding frenzy, and it did not take long before the body of the prince was hauled away and all consumed.
Joyce: Nick, It sounds scary. You be very careful when you encounter those creatures. It is ok even if you do not get good pictures. Just make sure that you do not risk your life for anything.
Nick: I know that this story is told to tourists for good intentions. Irrespective of its veracity, the warning is well taken. But he also said that these creatures live in harmony with the human inhabitants of the island. There is a widely known legend among the citizens of the island that the komodos originated from humans. Can you believe this? lol. The locals genuinely believe that to be the reason why komodos usually do not pose a threat to humans, unless they are provoked, are hungry or they sense a smell of blood within their sphere of influence. Here is the legend:
Once upon a time a man fell in love with a dragon princess. This man and his dragon princess were blessed with twins- a dragon girl and a human boy. The two were split up between their parents; the girl went away with the mother and the boy went away with his human father. Each grew up separately without the knowledge of the other.
One day, the human boy went out hunting in the forest and came across a powerful dragon. He was about to take it out with his spear when his dragon princess mother appeared and warned him he was about to kill his own twin sister. He spared the life of his lizard sibling, and they lived happily ever after!.
Just before Joyce finished reading the last message, a new message pinged, and it was from Tina. Three pictures of the snow taken from a street snow heap, snow freezing into ice on tree branches, and a selfy showing both Rodney and Tina, came in a lightning succession. Then there was a video clip showing a huge truck careening off the roadside, and in the background the wind was howling.
Joyce: Wow! That is bone chilling! But I know you will all come through safely. Do not be adventurous in this chilly weather especially in icy conditions. Tell me more about the wedding plans.
Tina: Sister, I need you here. I think we are getting consumed with so many things on the to-do list. So far we have only agreed that the date must be fixed. But before we did that we both concluded we are going to need help from a professional wedding planner. We went to see Rodney’s friend after we encountered almost an insurmountable problem of finding a reception hall within our budget. Rodney and I have combed through all the usual suspects in this category- brand name hotels in and out of town, church halls, and even community centers. None of them was either available or within the range of our budget. Then, we met John, Rodney’s friend who suggested we should hire a professional planner. The professional planner would find a suitable place within budget and would assist us all the way through the gamut of wedding events, he said. So, that is what we have done now, and guess what, it all looks good, and his service charge is quite affordable.
By then it was two p.m. and Joyce was beginning to get the urge to find out what Nick and Alex were up to- hopefully on the Komodo Island and taking pictures.
Joyce: I will write to you later; right now I need to find out fresh news from the Komodo Island. As soon as I receive any exciting pictures or video clips from Nick, I will share them with you.
Joyce: Hi Nick. It has been a while, are you there yet?
Nick: Yes, we are on the island, dry and mountainous. Our guide is leading us away from the beach where we moored the boat. The land terrain is rugged covered with grey boulders. We are headed for isolated burrows hidden behind some trees where we hope to find komodos. They are usually solitary, but with the simmering heat from more than 90 degrees temperatures, we are told there is a chance they may congregate under a tree shade. Stay tuned, I will apprise of our encounter with the dragons!
Joyce: Thanks and take care honey. Do not forget the video camera; just in case your smart phone battery dies, you will have an option.
Nick: Thanks for reminding me.
Joyce noticed the low-battery signal of her phone was warning intermittently; she decided that it was time to go into her room for a short snooze while her phone is charging. She entered her room, which was much cooler than the out side - sun had warmed up to the point of causing sweat beads on her skin.
As she lay across her bed facing a dressing table, she noticed a bunch of papers, which raised her curiosity. She stood up and took all of them in her hand. They were Nick’s assortment of past bills and receipts, and a rather aged birth certificate bearing a name that raised her curiosity to an even higher level. She took a closer look at the somewhat faded writings, and was able to read: Nicholas Malleury; date of birth: July 26, 1968: Place of Birth, Windsor, Ontario. Joyce had never known any person by that name, and so she dismissed it quickly as belonging to Nick’s childhood friend or some relative of his whom he did not care to disclose to her. But, then the date of birth reminded her of Nick’s own date of birth. It is the same date. On reflection, she reckoned that the age kind of confirmed her suspicion why this person would be a close childhood friend of Nick’s- they are namesakes. Also, she was curious for a moment about the birthplace, Ontario, Canada. But then she quickly dismissed it: it is not a stretch of imagination for Nick to have childhood friends from our neighbors in the north, she mused.
In the same pile of papers she was also struck by what appeared to be a travel related document with letterheads of an insurance company. On closer examination, she reckoned that Nick’s company might have offered an assortment of insurance policies as a part of company wide compensation package. Her curiosity was quenched, and she decided she needed to snooze and put the paper work back in its original place on the dressing table.
While Joyce was taking a nap, messages had been streaming in as her phone was charging. Two and half hours later she woke up, looked at her phone, which by then was adequately charged, and she went with it in the bathroom. Her phone rang, and it was an anonymous number; she decided to put away the phone for a while. Once she was finished in the bathroom, she opened her whatsapp application. First, came a picture of rugged hills viewed from the beach. She reckoned that must be the view of the Komodo Island from the beach. Then, a picture of five people walking through shrubs surrounded by scattered trees in the distance, and grey boulders were visible in the horizon. Alex walked next to a person in in the lead with local garbs, most likely the guide. She opened a video clip in which she could see the same five people walking towards a small hill behind which tall trees towered majestically. There was the voice of the guide: “We are nearing some of the burrows where the komodos take shelter when the sun is very hot outside. Stop, look in front to the left. Those are komodos”. The tape ended. There was an ominous message that came about 15 minutes from the time the video was dispatched.
Nick: Honey, dragons have surrounded us, and we have to fend for ourselves. Do not worry; we will be ok. Love you.
Joyce: Are you ok Nick?
But there was no response message. Joyce anxiously waited for Nick’s response as she was already beginning to fear the worst. She waited, and waited, and waited for another five minutes, ten minutes, but no message came. Her anxiety was getting the upper hand of her fear. She needed to talk to someone, but whom could she talk to? Yes of course Alex who was with Nick. But, she instantly realized she did not have his phone contact.
Moments later, she decided to go to Alex’s hotel which is about a five minutes walk from her resort. Hyperventilating as she threw her hands on the reception desk abruptly, she rattled out a plea to the receptionist: “ I need your help please. Could you let me into your guest Alex’s room? There is an emergency, and I need his phone contact”. The girl at the reception who was stunned, turned to her left, and in a rush picked up what seemed like a guest ledger book and said: “Yes madam, let me check his name. What is his last name, if I may ask?” Joyce was jolted for a moment, realizing all she knew about Alex was his first name, and the fact that he came from the US; wasting no time, she responded: “Alex is his first name, and I am afraid I do not have his last name. But he is from Virginia, in the United States; he arrived three or four days ago”.
“Yes madam, we have Alex Brady from Fairfax, Virginia, and his phone number is 7034510704”, answered the receptionist as she too was getting anxious to find out what the emergency was about. “Thanks so much, and if you could excuse, let me send a really urgent text message quickly”. Said Joyce as she dug her hand into her purse to reach for her phone. To her surprise, she could not find her phone in her purse, and with quick thinking, she rushed off, running back to her hotel. Once she entered her room she found the phone lying on the side of a 54-inch flat screen TV opposite her bed. She quickly called Alex. But, Alex’s phone number was a US number that could not be accessed from Bali. Realizing she had limited options for making contacts, she looked up in the contact list of her phone. Alex phone number showed the whatsapp icon next to it. Joyce sighed, releasing air in rapid vibration through her lips. Now she could at least use her whatsapp to communicate with Alex using his US phone number. She sent a text message to Alex:
Joyce: Alex, this is Joyce in Bali. Please call me as soon as you can. I am very worried because of a confusing message I received from Nick, may be two hours ago.
It was about seven p.m. and according to their original flight schedule from Flores, Alex and Nick should be at the airport for their scheduled 7:50 p.m. return flight to Denpasar. Something serious must have caused the change in their flight schedule, she mused. It was taking long and Joyce was understandably high-strung and obviously despondent. Not having a clue about what her next move would be or who else to contact, she stormed towards the hotel reception, generating enough commotion to cause hotel staff to temporarily suspend work, and asked: “Do you need help Madam?”
Joyce hastily replied: “Yes please help me get in touch with this guy who was with my husband visiting the Komodo Island. Something terrible has happened there and I can’t get to talk to anyone. All I have is these two US phone numbers of two men on that tour, and one of them is my husband, Nick. The other guy stays in the hotel next door. None of these numbers is responding, even with the whatsapp messaging that had worked for a while as they were touring, until I got this disturbing message. Since I received this message, neither of the two numbers has responded to my calls or messages”. Then just as she finished speaking to the hotel staff her phone rang.
Joyce: High Alex, are you guys ok?
Alex: Joyce, I am truly sorry, but I have to tell you it has been a long terrible day. The return trip has been rescheduled for tomorrow morning from here on the island of Flores. Instead, the flight will be tomorrow morning. I am told the plane arrival in Denpasar is at 10:15 a.m. Right now I am afraid I can’t give you details; as I have said something terrible happened and our hands are full”.
Joyce: What do you mean Alex by that?, Why, and is Nick with you now?
Alex: No he is not, and I am just going to leave it at that. Is any one with you right now? If there is, may I speak to him or her just to be sure you are not alone, and in safe hands in the mean time.
Joyce: Here is the hotel assistant manager.
Manager: Hello, I am the assistant manager at Joyce’s hotel.
Alex: We have a tragic situation here during our visit to the Komodo National Park, and I wont be able to give you the details now, I am afraid. But, could you please do me a favor? I am talking to you from Labuan Bajo; something terrible has happened to us, and Joyce’s husband is not with me. Tell Joyce that, I will come to be with her tomorrow to give her the full account of this tragedy that unfortunately has taken the life of Nick, her husband, and left two other people seriously injured. I ask you- please, please, do not tell Joyce about the death of her husband. I will do that appropriately when I return to the hotel tomorrow. My plea to you is, to comfort Joyce for this most difficult moment of her life until I come, but without fully disclosing the death of her husband, and the circumstances that we had grappled with, unsuccessfully.
Manager: Yes sir. I will do the best I can to follow your instructions.
The manager, with his face casting a profoundly somber look, turned to face Joyce, and handed over the phone device to her while Alex was still on the line. Alex tried to explain to Joyce that he had given more information to the manager who would pass it on to her, and pleaded with her to stay calm.
The hotel manager realized that was a heavy burden on him, but also discerned the gravitas of the role he had to play in such tragic situations. For Joyce, this must have been particularly ominous: it was only months ago when she was faced with remarkably similar heart-wrenching news about her husband Nick. Suddenly, her heart entered an intense yearning for her husband more than ever before, perhaps because she was now in a foreign country, and not in her own home when she received the bearers of the death of her husband from her sister and Rodney.
For Joyce the message from Alex felt spooky and surreal, compounding her fears about the whole mystery of death, especially when eventually that news of first death of her husband was nothing but a classic case of a mistaken identity that resulted from a typo error by the media in reporting a passenger plane crash which was later found to have ended in the Kalahari desert.
That night Joyce sank into unmitigated desperation, and found nothing but emptiness in the whole idea of life. She tried to come to terms with the reality that no human power could reverse what she feared happened to Nick. So she resorted to her faith, and found solace in the invisible power of the Creator. She reckoned even though she does not see him, he is the ultimate future, if there is such a thing. She turned to prayers. Realizing that whatever news Alex would bring the next day- a serious accident, or even death- must have happened on that island of mythical creatures. She found herself totally helpless and even numb to the point of becoming speechless.
She quickly walked way from the hotel reception area and headed straight into her room. There she reached for a Rosary that she remembered she stashed deep inside her purse before coming to Indonesia. She needed to talk to an authority that transcended the realm of human mortality and emotional frailty. Her heart was leaning to embrace the Blessed Mother to whom she used to pray regularly years back during her membership in her parish’s Young Christian Youth Organization in high school days. Just as she was about to begin the ritual of the prayer, there was a knock at her door.
It was the hotel general manager accompanied by his assistant- the very one who talked with Alex on the phone. She noticed his hands were wrapped around a bouquet of gladioli flowers in a bell-shaped glass vase. The manager took a gentle bow in front of Joyce, and quietly stretched his arms, handing over the vase. Joyce was touched by the gesture, and thanked the manager profusely. As she would later find out, the gladioli embody strength of character, sincerity, moral integrity and courage, according to the Balinese tradition. The flowers came in a wide range of colors, professionally arranged including white, pink, red, purple, yellow, orange, salmon pink, and green. Joyce was overjoyed with that charitable gesture at what was probably the most emotionally insecure moment of her life. She showed her courage with a smile and assured him that she was going to be ok, and they should have no worries about her at all.
As her mindset was already bent on entering a prayer mode, the two gentlemen left and she closed her door and immediately began praying the Rosary- ten decades in succession. Then, while still holding her Rosary in the hands, she switched to a more personal prayer:
Dear Father, I pray for my husband today, that you may surround him with favor as a shield. I am as of now not privy to his fate. Yet I compel myself to accept the reality that whatever happened to him, you were watching when it happened, and therefore it is my total conviction that it is for his good and my good. The only thing I seek is your peace. Take away my fear and give me rest for the night until I have the complete story of his fate tomorrow. And if he is still here in this life may you open his ears to hear your voice and open his eyes to see your guidance and your purpose in his life. And if he is no longer here in this life, grant him the bounty of your mercy, so that he may see you face to face according to your divine plan. Amen; Amen, and Amen for your love and mercy.
After her prayer, Joyce was ready to go to bed. But, soon after, her mind was still wandering away from sleep. She decided she was not going to allow herself to lapse into a deeper grief; instead she would find calming music from her familiar church songs. She plugged her earphones in her ears firmly and hooked them to her smart phone. After clicking through a list of really sweet songs from a YouTube web site she settled for this song:
Yahweh I know you are near;
Standing always at my side;
You guard me from the foe;
And you lead me in ways everlasting.
Lord you have searched my heart;
And you know that when I sit and when I stand;
Your hand is upon me protecting me from death;
Keeping me from harm,
Where can I run from your love?
If I try to the heavens you are there;
If I fly to the sunrise, or sail beyond the sea;
Still I find you there;
Marvelous to me are your works;
How profound are your thoughts my Lord!
Even if I could count them;
They number as the stars;
You would still be there.
When it was over, Joyce prepared herself to sleep and lay on her back and switched off the lights.
Joyce had a peaceful sleep in the night. The next morning the main event for her was to meet Alex at the airport, as he would return to Bali with full details of the tragedy on the Komodo National Park.
Having secured his seat in an early flight to Denpasar that morning, Alex was beginning to feel the emotional weight of how he could handle Joyce’s grief, in which he presumed he was going to find her. He would be in Bali in a matter of an hour or two. Never before in his whole life had he felt so overwhelmed by the inevitable encounter with a grief-stricken Joyce, reeling from the loss of her husband. How would he explain the circumstances that she still had not been fully told? He knew that the last seconds of the violent death at the hideous claws and serrated teeth of the komodo dragons were captured in a video footage that was in his possession. It was too gruesome, yet vivid as it captured the savagery of the tragic ending of a human life. He decided in his heart that would be the last thing he would show to her, fearing it could only intensify the grief, at least for now.
In preparing himself for this encounter with the bereaved Joyce, Alex imagined stepping out of his person and placing himself into Joyce’s situation, at least hypothetically. He thought this way he would be in a better position to empathize. He began reflecting on his situation. The initial reaction to a bearer of sad news of this magnitude is typically immutable shock and psychological numbing- he deeply felt that. This would probably be followed by more intense feelings of grief - such as, panic, anger and loneliness, and a burst of crying; it may become overwhelming. At this point the bereaved probably needs help, and rallying around her with a gentle touch by possibly laying an arm around the shoulders might encourage her to speak out or say something; he felt he needed her to express herself one way or the other, so he could respond to politely express his sympathy verbally.
Then there is the whole question of arranging the return trip back home in the US. How should he help her with that, knowing that she would be alone the whole journey? Yet Alex felt reluctant to initiate any help that she would not ask. He honestly feared he was in a delicate dilemma: Joyce was a young and attractive lady who was now widowed, and in grief. He worried of the possibility of being seen as too intimate at the most vulnerable moment for Joyce. So he resolved to make it very clear to Joyce that, if she wished, he would be there for her all the way until she is back in her home in the company of her close relatives. He could not imagine Joyce being on her own for the whole flight that would take more than twenty-four hours and a long stop over, to get home from Bali. As a small consolation, there was a connecting flight from Shanghai instead of the one from Taipei, that would take slightly more than seven hours to San Francisco, albeit more expensive by a smidgeon, which would avoid an over night lay over; but even then it would still take more than twenty-four hours to arrive at her home town of Springfield.
Alex had only three days left to the end of his vacation, and change of return date in his itinerary would not be necessary. But he recalled that Joyce’s ticket would probably need a change- Joyce had mentioned earlier that she and Nick were on a two-week vacation.
As the plane approached Denpasar, Alex could see Lembongan Island where they were staying, and pretty soon he would be in a boat to get there to be with Joyce. A few minutes later the plane landed, he picked up his personal belongings along with one duffel bag Nick had left behind on the boat before the fateful expedition on the Rinca Island.
To his surprise, three people including, Joyce were at the airport waving at him. He did not need the airport shuttle bus as he had expected after all. Instead he and the three would go by a private car. The two gentlemen with Joyce were the hotel manager and his assistant to whom Alex had briefly disclosed Nick’s demise. To Alex’s fortuitous delight, Joyce was calm and collected, looking good in spirit, her head covered with a black scarf and her eyes radiantly piercing under a sun visor. The time was ten a.m.; it was a beautiful sunny day as usual.
As Alex walked out of the airport, Joyce and the three men were standing about hundred yards away when Joyce noticed him, waved and started walking towards him, leaving behind the two men. Alex had two pieces of luggage, and as soon as they were close enough, he put down the luggage, stretched his arms to Joyce who was about half a foot shorter in height. Alex placed his arms on her shoulders as she folded both her hands in a prayer stance, looked Alex up in the face; then she dropped her head lower on Alex’s chest area. Without a word, Alex was convinced she was crying, and all he could do was simply to maintain his posture as long as it would take. In about a minute later, Joyce gently raised her head, and looked Alex up in the eyes, and said, “I am ok, Alex, how are you?” Alex responded softly, “I am fine Joyce, and I want to assure you I am with you through this most difficult moment of your life. I want you to know that you are not alone in this tragedy”, said Alex.
“Thank you Alex; these two gentlemen are from the hotel. I want to introduce them to you: This is Sogianto, the hotel manager, and this gentleman is Santoro, whom you talked to yesterday over the phone”; Joyce said as she was introducing the two men in her company. “These men have been so kind to me the whole time as you can see. I do not have words to thank them for the emotional support they offered me; It is beyond the call of their responsibilities. They kept my loneliness and sorrow at bay, allowing me to pray and seek understanding of this mystery of death in the midst of God’s abundant love for me. Even though at the back of my mind I still dream that Nick is not gone, and that some how he will come back, I know deep in my heart this won’t happen; yet with God, nothing is impossible. I have very strong reasons to feel this way in my short life.” Alex was so impressed by Joyce’s courage and prayerful attitude. She had soldiered on brilliantly thus far. He wondered though, what made Joyce so strong and confident in trusting God.
The four walked towards a parking lot where a car with the hotel name written on it was parked. The drive from the airport to the general boat mooring was about 20 minutes, from where a nice speedboat was waiting exclusively for them. The hotel car remained behind with a local driver who was at the mooring. Once they were on board a boat, it was all silence- perhaps it was what Joyce needed in the streaming noise coming out of the boat speed in a slightly breezy wind.
Joyce’s eyes appeared to be spotlighting on the captain of the boat, or at a distant object in the direction of the boat speed, but deep in her heart the reality of the logistics of returning home without Nick was undoubtedly starting to sink in. What is the full story of Nick’s death that Alex was going to tell her when they get to the hotel? She asked herself quietly, ostensibly appearing to be holding back her voice. Perhaps it was the humming noise of the boat, but she was contented simply sitting there and holding back whatever questions were burning within her.
Twenty-five minutes later, they were on the island and only a ten-minute car ride to the hotel. Once they got to the hotel, Joyce asked Sagianto, the hotel manager if he could arrange for a private corner of the hotel where they could all sit and allow Alex to give a full account of the tragedy. Sagianto walked in front towards the hotel reception, and right on top of the reception counter a pile of the day’s newspapers was stacked. The headline leading article read: “Four komodo dragons mauled a European tourist to death at twilight”. In an instant, each of them grabbed a copy, and for a while the whole place was in a spellbound silence, intensely reading the news. There was a picture on the front page, showing the silhouette of six people on the island who could have been Alex and his company, but the paper did not say who they were. Here is the text of the article:
Six people who were returning to their boat from Rinca Island were attacked on their way by several komodo dragons as they heading back to their burrows; one man who was said to have fallen in the stampede, was attacked and presumed dead and consumed. The other five, including the guard managed to return to their boat safely under the falling darkness of the evening. The tourist had one guard among them who was believed to be from another island, and may not have been aware that their foot trail back was right past the burrows. Efforts to recover the victim were doomed in their core because the twilight darkness had already blanketed the area with a background teeming with scattered tall trees and what appeared as impenetrable thickets.
These carnivorous rare creatures which live for up to 50 years, are very strong, can grow to 10ft in length and weigh up to 200 lbs. They rarely attack human residents. Their diet usually consists of smaller animals, including other members of their own species. However whenever they are hungry, they can eat any creature in their path. They can move at up to 12mph in pursuit of a prey. They can climb trees if they have to, but their sheer size discourages them. So they mainly lurk in scrubland waiting for passing potential victims, and have been known to eat up to 80% of their own body weight in a single meal. Their saliva, which drools frequently, is particularly poisonous, and is also believed to contain strains of bacteria. When they are chasing a prey they tend to aim at the legs of victims; and with passage of time the victim bleeds profusely and eventually succumbs to loss of blood and trauma from the venom. They possess a strong sniffing sense in a wide range.
After he finished reading the first article in the paper, Alex looked discreetly using the corner of his right eye, to see if Joyce was still reading, and to gauge how she was reacting to the news. She was still reading, very intensely as though she was interpreting the meaning of each word in her mind; a few minutes later, she seemed to have stopped reading, lifted her head up, and looked straight on the wall of the hotel lobby in front of her that had a map of Indonesia, showing the group of islands where the komodos have their habitat. Alex moved towards the map, and put his finger on the map area that is commonly known as East Nusa Tengara province of Indonesia, where the three islands of Flores, Komodo, and Rinca, home to a combined komodo population of about 5,000, are located in eastern Indonesia. He moved his finger over the island of Rinca where the accident took place. Apparently the group had been to Komodo Island on the west for the early part of the day. Following that, the guard suggested the island of Rinca, which also has many komodo dragons; the island is on their return path to the Labuan Bajo airport on the island of Flores.
“Alex, were you able to see when he was attacked?” Asked Joyce. Alex took a long and deep breath as he looked down on the floor, Joyce standing by his right side, was equally holding her breath and looking at Alex. Then Alex took an uncharacteristic detour from the question: Instead of giving a straight answer, he began to offer the narrative of the chain of activities that had preceded the fateful event:
“We were returning from Komodo Island, west of Rinca. On Komodo Island, we had seen only a handful of the dragons from a remote commanding view, because most of them were taking shelter from the scorching sun of the day. On the suggestion of our guide, we decided that we would head for the Rinca Island that was on our way to Flores, from which we had a scheduled return flight that night. When we got to the island, we left our boat on shore and took a nearby foot trail into the hinterland, passing through grey boulders and thickets. We could see scattered tall trees from a distance, projecting long shadows eastwards as we approached. Then suddenly we came between two sets of boulders on each side of the track. We were all behind the guide, and Nick was a short distance at the back of the line presumably taking pictures. As we passed the boulders, shrubby bushes and tall trees with shadows were fully in our view. We were expecting that near those tree shadows, we might be able to find the dragons resting under.
Then suddenly, Nick stumbled on a rock, and in his struggle to save his camera and get back on his feet, a jagged edged rock cut his lower arm, causing blood to gush from it. Not long after, we saw several animals suddenly surrounding us, with two between Nick and us. We all ran in separate directions as the creatures were fast closing in on us. Nick was closer to a side where tall trees were standing, and the rest of us were near a trail leading to the shore where the boat was moored. We all ran in a stampede for our lives with our minds frozen in fear.
As I looked back, I saw all the creatures turning in one direction leaving their chase after us. But we could see Nick running toward a tree and about 3 or 4 dragons at his heels in hot pursuit. I could not overcome my fears to try a rescue; but instead I took my smart phone and recorded the whole gruesome scene of the chase. He appeared to be widening the distance between him and the dragons as he approached the trees. We all hoped he was going to make it to a tree before they catch him. Then he suddenly turned in one direction and jumped over what looked like a brown rock; he must have missed his step because we could see him going down. In no time, those creatures caught up with him. All we could see were his legs kicking over the bodies and heads of the creatures that must have been very hungry, or had their hunger aroused by the smell of blood from Nick’s arm. It was heart wrenching, we felt hopeless as the darkness was also setting in, and going back to face the dragons would have risked another fateful encounter. I am very sorry Joyce; I wished we could do something to rescue him, but couldn't.” After saying this Alex appeared shaken, suddenly sat down in a chair, and burst into tears.
He must have had a vivid flash back of the event that completely overcame him. Joyce gently moved close to him, and sighed pensively as she lifted her left arm, and gently lowered it over Alex’s shoulders, and said. “Alex I know how you feel; but there was nothing you could have done in that grisly environment you just so graphically described. Our lives are frail and fleeting. What happened to Nick is God’s will; we can only pray for him that God may take him to his final resting place.” Alex seemed consoled, looked Joyce straight in the eyes and gave her a gentle hug, and nodded his head couple of times as if to endorse what Joyce had just said, and asked her if he could go to his hotel- about five minutes walk from the resort- to change clothes and return shortly, so that they could go for lunch together.
While Alex was away, Joyce turned to Sagianto and told him that she was going to her hotel room to take a short rest while waiting for Alex. “Yes madam”, said Sagianto. “I will be here in the lobby if you need anything; and when Alex returns I will knock at your door. Joyce picked up her room keys from the hotel reception desk and headed to her room.
Joyce was in her room when she got the urge to check her text messages for the first time since the day before when she received what would be her last message from Nick. Five messages were in, all from her sister Tina. Three pictures in succession all showing types of wedding gown designs that were curiously branded names of popular fruits and geometric shapes: Apple, Pear, Triangle and Rectangle. At first glance Joyce didn't get the meaning. Then she quickly realized that Tina was shopping for a wedding gown after all. That was when she scrolled to the next message:
Tina: Sis, you have been quiet. I am trying to decide on my wedding gown and I think my shape, with the few pounds I added on, I will go for a pear shape to give room for my rather broad butt.
Joyce knew exactly what shape was best for her sister, and quickly sent a response:
Joyce: Pear definitely suits you. But Tina, I do not wish to distract you from the excitement about your coming wedding; yet I have shocking news that I have to tell you. Nick was fatally attacked, and the giant lizards consumed his remains.
Tina: What are you saying Joyce? Is that a prank? What are you talking about? You mean Nick is not with you?
Joyce: Yes. It is unbelievable; I am awe-struck, totally incredulous and find it hard to accept. Worse still I was not there when this happened. He and another guy from Virginia whom we traveled with were together visiting the Komodo National Park of Indonesia, an area where this rare specie of giant lizards are protected and allowed to freely roam the whole island with human contacts only allowed for tourists who are typically guided by experienced game rangers and tour guides.
Tina: I am devastated by this news; and I am so, so sorry I am out of words to express enough my deep sympathy for you. Is there anything you need right away? Rodney is with me here; may be we should join you there to help you out of that country to return home. We can’t let you be alone the whole way while you are grieving.
Joyce: Thank you for your understanding; I really appreciate your concern. Let me process all this in my mind and I will get back to you shortly.
At this time, as she was finishing typing the message there was a knock on her door. Santoro, the assistant manager came to inform her that Alex was back from his hotel, and was out waiting for her at the poolside restaurant facing the beach. Immediately she opened the door of her room and headed straight for the poolside restaurant and started discussing her immediately plans.
“It is nice you are back. I just checked my messages and found out my sister Tina has been sending me pictures and messages. They are all about her planned wedding in a few weeks from now. But I took that time to break the sad news to her. She was pretty well shocked, and gave me her support. What is on my mind right now is how soon I can get out of here to return to the US, and.”.
At this point Alex stretched his hand and put it over Joyce’s wrist as he looked directly at her: “ It is no longer you returning alone to the US Joyce, but rather we, together all the way to your home town. Of course this is entirely up to you to decide whether we should do it this way. I am going to call my employer in Virginia to give me a one-week emergency leave of absence from work. This will enable me to make sure that you will not only not travel alone to your home town in Oregon, but also you will have me by your side until you are fully settled with your close relatives. This is the least I can do for you. You handled this tragedy with courage and faith I had never before seen. Yet I feel part of your grief in the sense that you and Nick became close friends with me in the shortest time. I miss him, and for me to do this is therapeutic for as well”.
At this point Joyce was so touched, and turned to Alex with an unmistakable radiance on her face that earned her a big hug from him. They turned their minds quickly to flight arrangements from Denpasar. Joyce briskly ran into her room to bring a laptop with the intention of going on the Internet to search the for next day flights. The WI-FI Internet at the hotel was state of the art, and allowed easy and fast surfing. After a few clicks and examining their options from a modest variety, it became clear that the best and quickest flight to the US west coast includes at least one stop over for more than 7 hours, and that almost all of them depart between midnight and three o’clock in the morning. That would mean either they packed right away and moved out of the their hotels on Lembongan Island to a hotel on Kuta beach, in order to be able to catch a midnight flight; or they would have to stay more than thirty hours for the next flight. They agreed they needed to get out as soon as possible.
That decision meant that they had not only to quickly pack their belongings that after noon, but they also had to move out of Lembongan by boat, and stay a few hours on Kuta beach so as to be able to catch that night’s flight. They settled for a Korean airline flight that leaves Denpasar at 1:30 a.m. with only a refueling stop over in in Seol. They would spend nearly 8 hours at the airport in Seol before finally connecting on their final flight to San Francisco. That flight arrives in San Francisco the same day they left Bali at just after 11 a.m., leaving them some time to arrange their final flight to Springfield. They booked two seats for themselves, each with two pieces of luggage, which is typically allowed by most airlines.
Their journey out of the island and to the airport was otherwise uneventful, except for the fact that Joyce had inadvertently left behind one suitcase belonging to Nick that had mostly his personal clothes and shoes. She instantly knew what to do with it, and arranged a phone call from the airport to the hotel manager Sagianto. She asked him to donate the clothes to a charity cause to help needy children, or to sell them for cash that would help the same cause. The hotel manager was very pleased with Joyce’s generosity, and promised he would auction the items in a fund raising campaign they had been working on for a while. Joyce was consoled, and boarded the aircraft in good spirits with Alex right by her side.
By the time they were all seated in the aircraft they were both exhausted and sleepy. As soon as dinner was served they finished eating quickly, and each snoozed without much talk. It was seven hours later when they were awakened by the captain’s announcement of the approach to the airport in Seol, their first and last stop before their arrival in the US. In the announcement the captain also mentioned that passengers who were transiting to their next flight for the US only needed to take their personal belongings in the cabin, since their checked in luggage would be retagged to San Francisco without the need for rechecking by the passengers.
They would be at the airport lounges for the next 8 hours before boarding announcement for their US bound flight is called. Just as they were disembarking the aircraft Joyce saw stacks of Indonesian newspapers they did not bother to collect when they were boarding. She grabbed a copy as they were heading for the waiting lounge. Joyce opened the inside pages of the news paper and saw an article about a fatal attack by komodo dragons on the island of Rinca. She still was curious about the accident and began reading it. The article said that the tourist who was fatally attacked was from Canada, and was among a group of tourists who went on the island in the late hours of the day. She was a little confused and asked Alex to read the article to make a sense of it if it was referring to the same incident that had taken away the life of her husband. Alex carefully examined the article, noting that the date was certainly the same; but he found a discrepancy in the time the incident took place. The article talked about an incident that had happened way before they arrived on the island, but the location described was remarkably similar: a narrow foot track between boulders. He wondered if such an incident happened only hours before they arrived, why nobody among the few locals they found there knew anything about it. But they both allowed a possibility of it being the incident that took away Nick’s life, and generated news through the grapevine of the island community, and later on to the media networks. In both stories there was a death of one of the tourists and the notion that, in either case, the giant lizards consumed the body of the victim. Joyce then stopped reading further and stashed the paper in her bag.
As they were sitting in the passenger lounge, for a while they were engaged in a mundane conversation about what the weather would be like when they return to Oregon, and that by the time they get there they would be exhausted and jet-lagged, possibly for couple of days before their bodies synchronized their clocks.
Three hours since landing in Seol, the casual conversation gradually dried up, and each seemed to engage in personal reflections quietly. Alex was constantly on guard to make sure that Joyce did not regress into grief; so when an extended period of silence passed, he felt an urge to distract Joyce’s increasingly fixed and worrisome stares. He asked her, “Joyce would you share what is on your mind in these moments of silence? I would hate to see your good composure dissipate while I am here to support you”.
“Well Alex, as I have said, I think I am past that critical moment of shock. I have been very lucky because of the people like you and the Bali hotel managers for giving me company, making me feel I am not alone. If there is something now on my mind, and to be honest there is, it is how I am going to face my new life after Nick: He was the sole bread winner, and I was a home maker since we got married. I do not know where to start, for I have really lost contact with the conditions in the job market; you know the bills do not stop coming- the mortgage for the house we have owned for three years, the electricity, the car loan, and yes, the money we borrowed specifically for this vacation trip of our life time which has ended up this way”.
Joyce reeled out her predicaments effortlessly yet without showing undue emotions. On his part, Alex was quite relieved by that calm attitude Joyce displayed in explaining her dilemma, and appreciated her daring and quick thinking for sharing her concerns. “Guess what, I am very optimistic; things will work out for you no matter what. Let me begin by asking you this: Are you aware of any insurance policies that Nick’s employer might be offering to its employees? Typically, companies have some kind of insurance that might cover catastrophic life events such as this one you face. So it would be worthwhile to begin there”.
“ Surely that would go a long way in allowing me time to reconstitute my life. As a matter of fact, I did see some insurance documents among his paperwork that he brought on the trip. I took only a casual look at them; so I did not bother to ask because that was when he was already on the trip to Komodo Island. But I have stashed all Nick’s paperwork in one of the bags that I checked in as accompanied luggage”, remarked Joyce.
“ Well, I definitely would suggest that those papers and any other papers in the house that may be connected with his employment be examined,” Alex said emphatically, and added: “Also I know from my own employer that the federal pension law, code-named ERISA, requires private pension plans to provide a pension to a worker’s surviving spouse if the employee earned a benefit”, Alex explained. Then he went on: “For many companies the benefits begin to accrue in the sixth year of employee service. Do you know if Nick had been working for his employer for at least five years?”.
Before responding, Joyce opened her brown leather purse and pulled out a piece of paper that looked like an old hand written letter kept for a memento of her romance with Nick, years before they were wedded. “ I know that Nick and I had been dating for at least two years before we were married. During all that time, he was always talking of the same work and work place. So I would say that he has worked with the same company for at least six years and possibly more”.
Joyce realized she forgot to get back to her sister Tina about her travel itinerary and arrival details, which this time would not be Los Angeles as the previous itinerary showed; but they would fly from San Francisco.
Joyce: Hi Tina; we are on our way out of Bali and at the airport in Seol. We will be connecting by another Korean airline scheduled for San Francisco. Here are the details:
Flight # Korean air 23: Flight time: 10 hour, 30 minutes.
Arrival_ San Francisco: 10:40 am, San Francisco time.
Then we will take a local flight to Springfield airport. Arrival in Springfield airport is now 12:15 pm.
I will ask you a favor to come pick us up from the airport. I suppose you have the keys to our car and also to the house.
Tina: That is wonderful; just relax on your flight- Rodney and I will be there for you. I can’t wait to see you. Yes I do have both your keys. By the way, will there be some one else beside you that we will be taking for a ride from the airport?
Joyce: A very kind gentleman from Virginia has gone out of his way to accompany me, and he will be our guest here in Springfield for some days.
Tina: That is wonderful; tell him we really appreciate his kindness for taking care of you.
Joyce: Thanks sister; we will see you in a while.
It was a quarter to ten by then- time for boarding the flight, and passengers were already lining up at the counter for checks on passports and boarding passes. Joyce and Alex were assigned adjacent seats on the left side of the aircraft about the mid section of the fuselage in row 28 next to the window. After a compulsory pass through a metal detector, they were off to the aircraft. Joyce took the window seat and Alex the middle; the aisle seat remained empty, until the plane took off.
Between takeoff from Seol and landing in San Francisco, there would be a parody of in-flight service activities: snacks- typically roasted nuts or pretzels followed by a drink of choice ranging from hot beverages, juices, wines and hard liquor; dinner would be served immediately after the drinks. Moments after the dinner trays are cleared, supplemental drinks or hot beverages would be offered before lights are switched off.
Many passengers prepare for bed by stretching back their seats as far as they can go, while others line up outside the bathroom, some holding toothbrushes, some dressed in slippers or loose-fitting pajama-type outfits. Joyce was fascinated by the endless movements of slow-footed padding on the floor that instilled the cabin with the aura of a hospital ward: the aisles were eerily dark like hospital corridors, and the flight attendants in uniform looked like nurses. As she stood up from her seat to stretch her legs she could see up front the business-class section passengers frequently pressing the light button with a jingle to draw the attention of a flight attendant for service. When they were not demanding service, passengers in the business-class were in their reclined seats almost as flat as beds, lying under their blankets snoring, or complaining to a snoring passenger. One male airline attendant whispered to Joyce with a soft voice as he was going to serve a whining business-class passenger: “This section is like a busy intensive care unit, you know- ICU of a hospital for psychosomatic patients”. It was not hard for Joyce to understand what the airline staff meant.
As the attendant saw sympathy in Joyce’s eyes, he whispered another comment on his way to the back of the aircraft: “They want what their superiors are getting in the first class; so they complain incessantly, hoping to get bumped up whenever there are empty seats in first class, you understand what I am saying?”.
There were three classes in the airline cabin, and Joyce who was in the economy class had been in neither of the other classes. But it became clear to her those classes are for the business elite for whom high fares are not an obstacle. The first time she flew in an aircraft was the outbound segment of her vacation trip to tourist sites in Indonesia.
About two hours or so on the approach to the landing airport, flight attendants would briskly land a tray of breakfast on the foldable table in front of each passenger. Passengers who slept for the most part, with occasional trips to the bathroom would be awakened to make sure their seat belts were securely fastened..
The flight arrived in San Francisco at 10:10 a.m., twenty minutes ahead of the schedule. The unscheduled early arrival helped Joyce and Alex to disembark and move through the immigration and customs check points quickly to catch their connecting flight to Springfield. It was as expected to be, a much smaller aircraft with only one flight attendant to serve passengers. There wasn't much serving of anything in the cabin, except for a tray that came with a sandwich, and a choice of soft drinks or hot beverage.
For Joyce the reality of returning home without Nick was slowly creeping into her imagery of home. So it was not a surprise to Alex, that there was little talking in the one and quarter hour flight to Springfield. Once at the airport they were sure Tina would be waiting for them. They disembarked from the small aircraft and walked across a short distance to the waiting lounge. Joyce could see two hands waving from the bay area. It was her sister Tina and her fiancée Rodney, both of whom were at the Los Angeles airport about two weeks ago when Nick and her were on their way to Bali for their dream vacation.
As they walked towards the lounge, Joyce recognized her sister who was waving her hand. Tina walked briskly towards her sister, looking very anxious and uncertain about the emotional conditions of her sister. As soon as they were close, they hugged tightly and held on to each other for a noticeably extended embrace while Alex was looking on. Then Joyce turned to Alex and said: “This is my sister Tina and her fiancée, Rodney”. At that moment Alex moved forward and stretched his arms to gently give a hug to Tina, and then shook Rodney’s hand.
“May I help you with your luggage?” asked Rodney as he motioned towards Alex who had two pieces of luggage in both his hands. In the mean time Tina and Joyce had split between them the two pieces Joyce had carried, and they were off to a parking lot where Rodney’s car was parked. They drove straight to Joyce’s house that was a half hour ride from the airport.
Finally Joyce was in her home, surrounded by friends. Joyce introduced Alex to their house and showed him into one of the spare bedrooms in the house. While Joyce and Alex were unpacking, Rodney and Tina took that time to go out and procure some provisions for the house. They had planned to stay overnight to remain in the company of Joyce and Alex. In the mean time Joyce and Alex, each decided to take a warm shower and change into loose clothes for the evening. But it was not long after their arrival home that both Joyce and Alex were already feeling drowsy- the jetlag was no doubt setting in. But they had to hold on and stay awake until Rodney and Tina returned. It took three hours before Rodney and Tina could return because apparently, Rodney had made an illegal U-turn just when a road trooper was right behind their car.
There was a little conversation with the officer that took more than usual time because, Rodney had argued that there was no road sign at that spot to warn the driver. But since by then the officer had written the citation, Rodney insisted that the officer witness the pictures he Rodney would be taking because, as it turned out no clear sign was standing up to warn drivers. However, the officer moved on to the median of the road and picked up a signpost with a “no U-turn” tagged on it. Rodney had made his point, but since the officer had already issued the ticket, he refused to rescind the citation. That was the reason why Rodney needed to take the pictures with the officer standing where the sign was supposed to stand, and not lie on the median.
Rodney and Tina brought a few groceries and bottles of Joyce’s favorite wine, red cabernet and a large pizza. Alex slouched on the couch half asleep while Joyce was lying on the love seat also looking sluggish, but the spicy smell of the pizza was enough to arouse her palates. As they set down sharing the pizza, wine was served. Then Tina tossed up a question that seemed a little unexpected: “ So what really happened; it is so hard for me to imagine this whole tragic episode, since all I know now is to locate this paradise island Bali on the world map, just because you were there”. Alex looked at Joyce as if to signal to her that she could handle that question. Joyce took a deep breath, seemingly animated: “Let me set up the stage for what I know would be a long answer; and then I will ask Alex to fill in and perhaps take us through the gruesome imagery as he witnessed it; as you know, I was not there when it happened. Remarkably, Alex and us became one family from the time we first met. He is one of a kind person. Such people with charity of the heart are few and far between in the whole world; and for us it happened on the last leg of our flight to Bali.
A freak in-flight accident, admittedly caused by me, led me to introduce both Nick and myself to him, as I was profusely apologizing to him. Alex was really cool in the wake of that in-flight mishap, and after cleaning up himself as much as he could, he charmingly introduced himself. He was the victim of the accident I caused: he was on the receiving end of a wine glass, perched on a table in front that tumbled upside down thoroughly wetting the front of his neatly ironed aquamarine shirt and dark grey woolen pants. We found out that Alex and us were the only tourists on that flight going on to a remote island resort, away from the beaten paths of Kuta beach in Bali. Our hotels on the smaller island were located almost side by side, commanding a resplendent view of the beach front, separated only by a five minutes walk through a palm lined narrow road. From day one, Alex and us scheduled our tours together; we were really having the happiest moments of our vacation.
After two consecutive snorkeling adventures, there was an urge to make the most out of this trip. And we all felt that a tour of Indonesia- the only home to a unique lizard-like giant creature in the world, the komodo dragon- would not be complete without a visit to the sites of these creatures which are found only on three islands on the eastern region of this 17 thousand island archipelago. For the reason that I was somewhat affected by motion sickness, I excused myself from that trip. So Alex and Nick took a flight and were joined by other tourists when they arrived at the destination. Since Alex and other people who are not here with us were the only people to witness the tragic scene, I would let Alex fill you in with the rest of the story”, concluding her account, her mood seemingly dampened but still in control of her emotions.
All eyes turned to Alex who took a sip of wine as if he was clearing his throat; he then perched the wine glass on the side coffee table and said: “Ok; our flight to Flores into Labuan Bajo airport was slightly more than an hour of a jaw-dropping blue sea, randomly spotted by countless islands. At the airport we were met by a tour guide who together with three other tourists, were waiting for us to get on a boat ride to Komodo Island where most of the dragons live under the protection of the National Park authority. We got to the island of Komodo about noon. After mooring our boat we took a hike on a foot trail that passed through bushes and grey boulders on each side.
It was a very hot day, and for the first quarter of a mile it seemed we might have to go farther towards some scattered tree shades where the komodo dragons might be taking cover from the scorching sun. As we walked in a single file on the narrow trail, we saw some komodos from a distance, but we did not have a good view for pictures. The creatures were under a tree shade, lying on their bellies, seemingly unimpressed by our presence. After taking some pictures, the guide suggested that the other island, Rinca, which is closer to the airport also has a sizeable population, and that by the time we get back, the sun would be less severe, allowing the dragons to come out of the shades and forage for food before the night fall. The guide advised that normally the komodo dragons spend the nights in their burrows until early morning after sunrise. So we headed for Rinca, which was about two hours by boat ride from Komodo Island on the west side of a region locally known as East Nusa Tengara.
These islands have similar topography. When we arrived in Rinca, the sun was nicely cooling down, and in a while it would be setting west behind the mountains. Led by our guide, we took a narrow path that was very similar to the one on Komodo Island, only that there were more large trees and shrubs that are interrupted by convex-shaped boulders. Nick was at the end of our single file taking pictures, and I was right next to the guide in the front, all of us looking on both sides of the trail in the bushes, peering into distant trees, and eagerly spotlighting on any creature that came in our sight. Then suddenly the guide stopped and signaled behind for us to do the same. He whispered that behind the boulders on the right he saw a number of the creatures gently walking towards what seemed like their burrows. Nick concentrated on taking close-up video clips on his camera, the moment he turned his head in that direction. Then, unexpectedly he stumbled on what looked like a tree stump, and as he was falling down, his left arm was sliced by a jagged-edged stone. He quickly stood up, but blood was streaming down his hand and dripping through his fingers. All of a sudden, the guide was shouting: “Run, the creatures are coming our way, they have smelled blood and they are very ferocious”! I saw three komodos heading our way right in the middle of the line. We split and ran in different directions. The komodos were heading towards Nick, and we kept shouting: “Nick run, run get up on the tree they can’t climb”! Nick seemed quick to respond, and from our vantage point he was outrunning the creatures; for a moment we held our breaths praying he would make it to the tree. It seemed he was ahead by a good distance to safely climb a tree. Suddenly, we saw Nick jump over a hump that seemed like a rock. But he did not clear well and fell down.
The sun was beginning to settle, and as our eyes were all glued watching this drama unfold we saw three or four komodos gaining fast on Nick who was still down. We could do nothing but record that gruesome incident. The next thing we saw was the three dragons descending over him, and his legs seeming to kick up in the air over the creatures’ bodies. It was the worst day of my life. Two other tourists some how managed to fend the creatures because they held on to each other and used some wooden poles to poke them. They escaped with no injuries, and joined us on he boat. At that point it was getting dark and extremely dangerous. We sped away and returned to a guest house not far from the airport in Labuan Bajo.”
After Alex finished his jaw-dropping narration, silence ruled for a while. Moments after, Alex excused himself, and went to the bathroom clearly disoriented, but did not want to show his emotions.
There wasn't much talking after Alex returned from his short sojourn to the bathroom. They finished their pizza and wine, at which point Joyce showed Rodney and Tina their room for the night, and then she looked at every one and said: “good night guys, let’s hope for a better tomorrow”.
Just before heading for the bed room, Rodney who was still digesting the gruesome story asked Alex: Did you say that you have some recording of the incident Alex?” To which Alex replied: Yes, I do, and Joyce and I had gown through the horrific experience of watching it; it is a full three minutes video clip that will surely rekindle our pain. If you do not mind, could we watch it some other time, may be tomorrow morning?” In the blink of an eye Rodney replied, ”Yes of course”. And every one said good night, one after another.
So Joyce went into her bedroom alone for the first time since her wedding to Nick. She knew the exhaustion from the long flight would be more than enough to knock out her worries at least for this first night.
The next morning when every one was up and had breakfast, it was time to watch the video footage that Alex had brought. They all sat around an oval table, with Alex seated at one of the long ends of the table. He set up his laptop and placed it in front of him. There was a pin-drop silence for the entire minutes of the video. Then Rodney, looking utterly horrified, commented: “ you have been very courageous Alex, and we thank you for this. It helps us in the awful catharsis each of us has to go through. It would have been very hard to come to terms with such an abrupt disappearance of a friend so dear. The pictures have answered so many questions that we would have asked because of sheer disbelief. Now perhaps it would be appropriate for us to have some sort of commemoration of Nick’s life, since we really do not have a funeral; it is weird, but that is the situation we have been dealt with by the Supreme Power”.
Tina: I am wondering whether on that note we should consult with our parish pastor; he might have some church rituals that may have to be undertaken to commemorate the end of Nick’s journey here on earth.
Joyce: You are absolutely right Tina. Too bad we did not tell the pastor about our vacation. But I believe in this situation he will do the right thing irrespective of any failings on our part.
Alex: We all know how this death has completely scrambled Joyce’s life, and so she and I had started a conversation about what steps we might take to help her with, to enable her to fully decompress and recast her future. I asked her if we could start with an employer-sponsored compensation, alluding to survivor’s benefits and severance allowances.
Rodney: I know for sure Nick’s employer has some employee survivor benefits that must accrue to a spouse. Joyce, were you able to find out from Nick about this?
Joyce: I have really not been keen enough to know what was going on at Nick’s job. But I have some documents from his employer that to the trip in his brief case. While he was out visiting Komodo Island, I came across papers in a large envelope in his bag. Let me get the envelope so that we can all look at what it has, and find out what to do with it.
It turned out that among the stacks of papers Joyce brought, one specifically described a contributory plan that received regular payments from him. This plan has many options. But the most relevant option for Joyce as the beneficiary survivor was under immediate annuity. Through this plan, Joyce could start receiving a fixed monthly income as a part of what is commonly known as an annuity. With an immediate fixed annuity, the company plan would determine amount of money Joyce as the surviving beneficiary, would be entitled. In exchange the company would invest that chunk of money known as the premium in conservative financial securities, and immediately start paying Joyce a set monthly income based on her life expectancy and the interest rate at the time of purchase.
Once the chunk money is converted into an income stream, it is typically irrevocable, meaning that Joyce will not have access to it any more, but would continue to receive a steady stipend for the rest of her life. Unlike earned income, generally the IRS will tax only a small portion of each annuity payment that represents interest on that premium money. But also it is instructive to understand that in the event of Joyce’s death, no one will benefit the stipend; it will simply terminate. The insurance company that accepts the premium only guarantees the fixed annuity as long as Joyce lives. But the insurance company may offer another option that of course will undoubtedly pare the amount of the annuity.
Rodney: Joyce, I believe that is part of the conversation you want to have with the insurance company. Keep in mind, however, that the problem you are solving with an annuity is not that you might die young, which would be beneficial to a life insurer, but rather you might outlive your savings, which would potentially be problematic to you. The insurance company determines your life expectancy on the basis of the predictions computed in their actuarial tables. They are quite comfortable with their profit if you live according to their predictions. If you do not die according to the actual predictions, you will have protected yourself with the monthly checks which keep coming to your bank account, and the insurance company will still be there if it is a financial power house. If however, enough people outlive their actuarial life expectancies, and the insurer is not a financial powerhouse, then it might go belly up, and those people holding guarantees could conceivably lose their income.
Joyce: Now I get the picture, thanks Rodney for the detail. I suggest Alex and I will go to the employer this morning. But I found another insurance documents with New York Life. This is the document I saw while we were in Bali, but I did not care to read it.
Joyce passed the document to Alex as they were walking out of the door towards the car in the garage. Alex stopped, and looked at Joyce and said.” This is a term life insurance policy that has your name as the sole surviving beneficiary. It is for $1.5 million!
Joyce: Are you kidding me! What does that amount translate to when Uncle Sam and all the barracudas have taken their share”? At any rate, let me call the New York Life Agent, and find out what this policy is worth.
Joyce pulled out her smart phone from her purse and hurriedly made a call to an agent by the name of Jimmy. She did not have any prior knowledge of this guy.
Joyce: Hi, Jimmy; good morning. I am calling regarding a life policy for which my husband was paying a monthly premium of $ 105. His name is Nick Malley, and I am his wife.
Jimmy: Hello Mrs. Malley, yes I have the records of his policy with me, and I can see that you are the sole beneficiary according to our records. And how may I help you today mam?
Joyce: Can you hold on please, I have someone who would like to speak with you, Thanks.
Joyce quickly passed the smart phone to Alex, who grabbed the phone, itching to tell the story quickly.
Alex: Hello Jimmy, this is Alex, a friend of the Malleys. I have sad news to report to your company. Mr. Nick Malley passed away a few days ago in a foreign country. I was there as an eyewitness when Mr., Malley met his death. The Malleys and I were on a vacation in Indonesia, and while we were touring, Nick Malley met his fate during one of our visits on the island of Rinca in the eastern region of Indonesia.
Jimmy: I am very sorry to hear that Alex. Where are you now?
Alex: We are here at the Malleys’ house, and were planning to discuss the next steps with regard to this tragic event. When would you be available for us? I have some exhibits to present because of the gruesome manner in which Nick’s life ended; we did not manage to recover his remains at all.
Jimmy: That must have been a horrible experience. And I will surely treat that as a matter of emergency. So please feel free to come whatever time is convenient for you, and I will make myself available to assist you.
Alex: Thank you Jimmy, we appreciate your kind gesture. Allow us a few minutes to consult and we will be right back momentarily.
Alex turned to Joyce, seemingly perked up, and told Joyce: “We are lucky; Jimmy has made himself available to us at a time of our choosing. Personally, I feel that we should take advantage of his goodwill and go to his office right away; what do you think?” Without saying a word Joyce thumbed up, and grabbed Alex by the elbow as he was calling back Jimmy to say that he should expect them shortly. They both headed to the car and quickly drove away.
Jimmy’s office was about twenty minutes away from the Malleys’ house, and the time was just after 9 a.m.; they reckoned the traffic had eased, and to their advantage it turned out to be unusually light. In fifteen minutes they arrived at Jimmy’s office, just as he was seeing out a client.
Alex and Joyce were invited into a mid-sized conference room furnished with an oval- shaped redwood table in the middle, surrounded by six swivel arm-chairs nicely covered with brown leather. Jimmy sat at the head of the table comfortably in front of a laptop. After offering coffee to his guests, he opened the laptop, and went briskly through a login protocol, and with a few keystrokes, he pulled up Nick Malley’s records file on the laptop screen. He then asked if Joyce was ready to provide as much detail about the circumstances of the death of Nick Malley to enable him to take the necessary procedures under the policy. Jimmy briefly explained that the key procedures are straightforward in establishing the facts of the death: evidence of the death and the circumstances, evidence of her spousal connection and that she is mentioned specifically in the policy as a beneficiary. He quickly discounted the issue of her name as beneficiary since he could see it in the policy in front of him. But he needed to see their marriage certificate along with her photo ID. More important to him was the evidence and the circumstances of the death.
Alex: Let me help in this regard if it is ok with you, because Joyce was actually not at the scene of the accident, but I was one of the eyewitnesses. The other people in the group of tourists were from other countries, I think from Australia or/and Canada, if I am not mistaken. To ease you into the tragic story, let me begin by taking you to the time immediately prior to the accident.
We were all on a small island near Bali known as Lembongan. It is off the famous Bali beach area of Kuta. We had been there for a couple of days making tours to some of the most attractive spots in the country. Then we all expressed a desire to visit the unique giant lizard- like dragons on islands in the eastern side of the country. Joyce was not feeling prepared for the trip due to a persistent motion sickness; so Nick and I, without Joyce, made a decision to visit the sites of the famous komodo dragons in the east. We left by plane for Flores and the island of Komodo in the eastern part of Indonesia about an hour’s flight from Bali for only a day’s tour, and had already arranged our return trip back to Bali in the evening of the same day.
Our plan was to visit Komodo Island, and take some pictures of the unique lizard-like creatures. We knew that they were dangerous; so we thought our safety was not in question as we were in the company of an experienced tour guide, who was recommended to us by the same tour company that had worked with us in Bali only a few days earlier.
Once we got on the island of Flores from our flight, a tour guide who had arranged for us to travel to Komodo Island met us. At about two p.m., we were on the Komodo Island, walking on foot being led by our tour guide. It was a blisteringly hot day, and it was not a surprise we were not seeing the creatures as closely as we had hoped. The tour guide, wanting to please us with more exciting close encounter with the dragons, suggested that we leave Komodo Island early for a small island closer to Flores, where we would have better chance of seeing more creatures, because by then the heat from the sun would have subsided as sunset time approached. So we left for Rinca Island that is also home to a sizeable population of these endangered species of giant lizards. That unfortunately was the place where Nick was fatally attacked, as his life was taken right in front of our eyes by the komodo dragons. I do not need to explain how gruesome it was for us to watch, for nothing can better describe it than the three minutes of a video footage that tells the story in so graphic a way; no human emotions could express it better. I recorded the video in utter desperation from a viewpoint of relative safety as the sun was setting on the island. So if you do not mind, I will just play this video clip from my smart phone, and if you have a question after that, we can pick it up from there. I warn you it is intensely graphic.
Jimmy: Wow! That was creepy, may he rest in peace. Since you already have the video, I guess we go with the cliché that, a picture is worth a thousand words. If you do not mind, rather than watching on your smart phone, we can put the video footage through the projector on to the large screen in front of us. That is a smart board that is connected to my laptop; that way we can all watch from the comfort of our swivel chairs. Now, using the Bluetooth application on your smart phone try to scan if you can find my laptop and transfer the whole video to it. We will definitely need it for our records any way.
Alex took out his smart phone, switched on the Bluetooth, and its scan command picked up the laptop information, looking ready for a transfer command. With his index finger, he touched a button and transferred the video file and some pictures, wirelessly on to the laptop screen. Jimmy opened the video file and projected it on to the large screen. As they were watching, they stilled themselves for the entire 3 minutes without a word.
As soon as the video clip was over, Jimmy appeared to know exactly what he needed to do, and said to Joyce: “You have done the right thing by immediately contacting us and bringing this graphic video that I call a vital exhibit. Now I am going to give you a beneficiary form that you will fill and sign, in order to launch your benefit claim. Then, we need to work on the death certificate that is essential for concluding your claim. This video clip and the eyewitness whom you so wisely arranged to come with you, will be needed to appear at the Vital Records Division of the county where you will, I hope obtain a Certified copy of a death certificate. At the Vital Records Division, they will probably probe you modestly on the circumstances of the death. I wouldn't worry about that. Just state the facts that will be consistent with the video, and you should be fine with that. The Certified copy of a death certificate will satisfy our company’s requirement for the approval of the benefits, and your decision on their ultimate disposition”.
Alex, and Joyce, left the insurance agent’s office after about two hours and headed to the county office with their video. Unfortunately when they got to the county office, the personnel responsible was out of office, reportedly to attend to her 95-year old mother who had just fractured her arm after falling from the upstairs rail lift of her home due to a jerky jolt. They didn't want to wait for an unspecified time; instead they sought an appointment with her for early hours of the following morning, and said they would be there at around eight a.m.
The two decided to use the afternoon time following a lunch snack at a nearby restaurant, for a visit to the Benefits department of Nick’s employer that was on the opposite side of the Malleys’ home, coming from the insurance agent’s office. When they arrived, they were received by friends of Nick’s and accorded very warm condolences by employees most of whom worked in Nick’s department. Joyce introduced Alex, and every one showered him with praise and admiration for the rare kindness he demonstrated by sacrificing his job in order to give Joyce the delicate care of a grieving spouse, and for coming all the way to her home town.
After about half an hour they went to the Benefits office where Katy, the Chief of the Benefits Division received them warmly. Katy had been notified earlier, and she decided to personally handle the case. Rather than the verbal explanation of the circumstances of the death, from Joyce and Nick, Katy was eager to watch the video clip right away. As a side note, Alex explained that he was the only eyewitness from the US in their tour group when the fatal attack happened, as Joyce did not travel with them on that tour. Katy quickly passed benefit claim forms for Joyce to fill and sign. She also needed the death certificate; but realizing the circumstances of the death, she asked Alex and Joyce if they were aware of how to obtain a certified copy of a death certificate.
Joyce: Yes, when we were at the insurance agent’s office we were advised the certified copy of the death certificate can be processed at the county office. Unfortunately, when we went there this morning the person responsible for this kind of service was out on an emergency. But, we made an appointment to see her tomorrow early in the morning.
Katy: That is great. So what I can do for you after you finish filling the forms is to proceed with the sign-off of approval for the release of your benefits. I do not know if you are aware of the particular program of your benefits; it does mean that you will not receive lump sum cash. Instead the cash amount would be invested with an annuity company, which will be sending you regular payments. Our job now is to go through the claim procedures and determine the benefits you are entitled at the end of this claim process.
Joyce: It sounds similar to the annuity program the insurance company is preparing for the life insurance claim. I am wondering whether the annuities from your firm can be consolidated into one account?
Katy: That is a good question. I am not sure of the answer right now. But my hunch is that, our company invests the funds with a particular insurer, so the question is whether an arrangement can be worked out between your insurance company and our Benefits office. Guess what: if you have the contact of the person handling your case at the insurance company, we can find out from them by posing the same question.
Alex: His name is, Jimmy and his number is, 18552348181, extension 25. He seemed to be a very helpful person. Let me call him.
Jimmy: New Haley Life, Jimmy speaking; how may I help you?
Alex: Hi Jimmy; this is Alex. Joyce and I, are at Nick’s Benefits department with Katy, the division chief. Apparently the benefits will be converted into an annuity, just like what you had told us. Katy has a question or two to clarify a point, here she is.
Katy: Hello Jimmy, My name is Katy Rodman, and I am with Joyce and Alex in my office. I have a question for you: Who will be the annuity company that will be paying Joyce for her life insurance benefits?
Jimmy: Our firm works with Diamond Fidelity that has a guaranteed lifetime income for Joyce, but once the annuity begins she will have no access to the lump sum. Fidelity invests the lump sum in the market and manages it for its own account. Any risk associated with the market investment is borne 100 percent by it. On the other hand, regardless of the market outcomes, Joyce payments are guaranteed for life. This is what we are going to propose to Joyce.
Katy: That is wonderful. Our company too works with Fidelity, so I think Joyce can get her wish of consolidating her annuity income. If you have contact with Fidelity, we might be able to wrap up this claim, so that Joyce can begin receiving her income.
Jimmy: Absolutely; I will find that out and will keep you posted.
Katy assured Joyce and Alex that the whole process would be completed by the end of the week. The only remaining vital document they need is that certified copy of death certificate from the county. Joyce and Alex left Katy for home and promised her they would be back in her office the next day, hopefully with the county document.
It was late in the afternoon, and Alex and Joyce had a very busy day; they were feeling exhausted after what turned out to be a very productive day. It was time to drive home. It seemed they had made great progress in helping Joyce settle down, both reckoned. Alex began to feel at ease to leave Joyce and return to his home state of Virginia. But he went to great lengths to ask this question, all in the effort to preserve Joyce’s emotional recovery from the shock after the death of her husband.
Alex: It seems to me we have been fortunate with the people that have helped us today. Within this week, as Katy said your benefit issues will all be settled, once your payment plans are completed. I was wondering if it is ok for you, if I start planning for my return to Virginia, may be tomorrow later in the evening; by then we would be in a position to know if the document from the county is issued, and Jimmy and Katy will have completed the remaining documentation they need to finalize your annuity plan.
Joyce: Alex, of course. You have gone so far out of your way to help, and it would be unfair for me to delay you any longer. As I have said before, I do not have words to thank you, and all I can say is, I wouldn’t be where I am now emotionally without your unflinching support. I just want to tell you something that we did not get time to discuss: It is my sister’s wedding; but let us find out from them.
Later on that evening, Rodney and Tina arrived, and after both couples settled in the living room over glasses of red wine, Joyce asked a question about their wedding plans. Spurred by the question, Rodney looked at Tina with eyes that ostensibly said he had the answer.
Rodney: Obviously we could not even think of the wedding plan in the wake of the sad news. We had fixed the wedding date and venue, couple of days before that. That date happens to be in three weeks from today. But even then, we are flexible to change it, depending on how long settling you down will take. Speaking of the tasks on hand, how was your day?
Joyce: It was really productive beyond what we expected. We met some amazing people who were very helpful, both at the insurance company, and also at Nick’s Benefits office. The only issue now remaining that we believe will be resolved tomorrow is, obtaining a certified copy of the death certificate. So I think we can agree with Katy at the Benefits department, and Jimmy at the insurance company, who said that a consolidated annuity account for payments could be finalized by the end of the week.
That night it seemed both couples felt a sense of accomplishments, yet justifiably tired.
The morning of Wednesday came, and Tina was animated, as she was already singing in the bathroom, making enough noise to wake up Rodney who was easing himself out of bed. Alex too had already risen not only out of the bedroom, but was in the living room watching the weather on television. The first thing he accomplished was to get an online ticket reservation for his flight. He had booked himself on a 12 noon flight to San Francisco, and a connecting flight to Ronald Reagan airport in Washington DC. Joyce was the last to wake up, but by then she had resolved one vital task for the day: Katy from the Benefits department had called her early in the morning to tell her that the county official was going to send the certified copy of the death certificate to her directly. So Joyce did not need to go to the county.
Inspired by Katy’s helpful approach about the death certificate, Joyce was excited and thought she just might also nudge Jimmy to obtain his copy from the county as well. She called Jimmy on the phone.
Joyce: Hi Jimmy. Good morning! I know it is a little early, but I wanted to share with you some helpful information I got from Katy this morning. She has been able to obtain a provisional certified copy of the death certificate from the county through an email attachment. I was wondering whether you too could get in touch with Katy so that she may direct you to the county official in charge.
Jimmy: Hello Joyce, good morning. It is not too early at all, and you did the right thing to call me. In fact I should apologize for failing to give you the name of the county official in the records office; I have worked with her in the past. So thanks for reminding me; you do not need to go to the county, since Katy and I are meeting at 10 a.m. this morning. You should expect an interim resolution of your benefits by mid-day today!.
Joyce walked out of her master bedroom through the kitchen, and into the living room where by then Rodney, Alex and her sister Tina were waiting for her over a cup of coffee that Tina had prepared in a coffee maker.
Joyce: Hi every one; I apologize for keeping you waiting, but I have got a good excuse: I have been over the phone since last night and this morning. The good news coming from my phone conversation is that, the claims procedures are all but done! And Alex and I no longer need to go to the county for both Katy and Jimmy will have access to the county document for their respective needs. I am so happy Alex; you have been able to get your flights, so I should be able to see you off at the airport.
Alex and Joyce left for the airport after Rodney and Tina formally invited him to return to Springfield for their wedding in three weeks. Before boarding the plane, Alex and Joyce hugged each other in a passionate way and the world around took notice. They did not realize that in the short time they had been together since their first encounter on a Bali-bound flight from Taipei, each of them separately experienced a strong liking to each other without either accepting it openly; it seemed inappropriate- for Joyce because then she was in the company of her husband, and for Alex, who had just established a new relationship with a Virginia girl. Alex boarded the plane and left Springfield at around noon that Wednesday.
On Thursday of that week, Joyce received a call from Jimmy who told her that her claims have been finalized and she would be receiving paperwork to confirm her benefits. The vital take out for her was as follows:
1) She would receive a modest lump sum money from the insurance company, and the rest of the benefits would be consolidated as one premium payment in exchange for a life long fixed recurring payment; and
2) Effective next month at the beginning, and the subsequent beginnings of each month, as long as she lives, a check or a money transfer to her bank account in the amount of $7850 would be deposited. There would be a small withholding but that will only apply to the portion of the amount that represents interest income in the annuity. These deductions will be clearly listed showing the net amount.
When Joyce received that information, she was speechless, and alone, as Tina and Rodney were away at their respective businesses. She went back inside her bedroom and sat on that rocking chair that stands in the middle of the room, facing a window that overlooked sparsely scattered trees. The trees were still without their green leaves as spring was not quite upon the land. She remembered days when she would sit there miserable while Nick was at work. He had been working so hard, and now he was not there to enjoy this windfall money with her. She felt a strong sense of emptiness and wished Nick was alive. But she realized that was the contradiction in the life insurance benefits: to receive them someone dear must die. The fact that he is dead is the sole reason she is receiving an income that secures her financial future beyond her imagination.
Two weeks later, Alex called Joyce to confirm that he had managed to make arrangements to join them on the wedding day. Alex would stay for only two nights, for he had to return to his work where they were awaiting the report of his visit to Indonesia. Earlier on, Alex had expressed a desire to recommend a hotel investment in a tourist resort to his company on the island of Flores. Now he is left with mixed feelings, between the unique opportunities for investment he saw there, and the haunting fears after the fatal experience that point at the risks. But for now his mind is still struggling with the flashback of his parting moments with Joyce at the Springfield airport.
Since he returned from the trip he had not made contact with Jenny, his Virginia girlfriend who knew about his trip to Indonesia. He intended to call her couple of times since he returned, but with the imminence of the wedding in Springfield and another opportunity of seeing Joyce again, he decided he would remain in communicado until after the wedding. He wasn’t dead sure why he had such ambivalent feeling towards Jenny; he had dated her two or three times in the short period of five months since a friend at a wedding party introduced them. He certainly did not want any one from Virginia to accompany him on the wedding in Springfield.
On the other end of the continental US, coming to a home without Nick was causing Joyce some sleepless nights especially on those days when her sister Tina and her fiancée, Rodney were not able to spend a good part of their evenings together. She knew that her life would have to change some how, but she was not sure how, except that the house was too lonely for her as Rodney and Tina were spending more time on their own than with her. A few days before the wedding, she felt the need to know when Alex was coming; she texted him on whatsapp with this message just before going to bed at around 11 p.m.:
Joyce: Hi Alex; when you get this message please let me know when you will be arriving here. That will help me come to the airport to pick you up.
Joyce waited for the response for a few minutes. But it was taking time and approaching the 11 p.m. hour; in an instant, she realized that Alex might have gone to bed already. She switched off her bedside light and just when she was ready to snooze, she heard jingles in succession from her phone, and quickly picked it up ; she started reading several messages from Alex:
Alex: Sorry Joyce for the delay. I was taking a shower. I should have told you earlier about my arrival, but was delayed because things did work out as I planned. Now coming Friday night, and will spend Saturday there, and leave Sunday morning. I had to choose between coming too early on Friday, and coming too early on Saturday. I decided that it might be hectic on the morning of the wedding on Saturday; so I have booked myself for a flight that arrives in Springfield at around 8: a.m. on Friday.
Joyce: No problem at all, and thanks for the information. I will be at the airport to meet you. Good night.
Alex: Good night Joyce and stay safe.
Joyce went to bed that night with her mind not quite settled to sneak into a deep sleep. She could hear only nature’s forbearance for the intense silence in the darkness of the night. The house seemed to echo from the silence as if it was reminding her that, henceforth she would be alone in that hollow space. The few months before Nick’s demise seemed to her like so many years of fun together that effectively erased the memories of the difficult years that immediately followed their wedding. She came to terms with the inevitable realization that losing a loved one changes a person’s entire life, especially when the loved one was also your spouse whom your entire life almost depended on. She was beginning to be engulfed by the specter of facing her future alone, even with a solidly secured financial situation.
She needed a glass of wine to numb her senses, so she thought. So she woke up, and went into the kitchen for a glass of wine. She looked at the clock on the gas cooker cum oven, and the time was 11: 30 p.m. Next morning Alex was coming and she had to be at the airport to meet him. She ingested the wine in only a few mouthfuls and jumped in bed. It seemed the wine did the trick for that night.
When Joyce woke up Friday morning, she quickly sent a message to her sister to tell her that she would be a little late to join her to a beauty shop. Tina had planned to go for both manicure and hair dressing with Joyce. As Joyce was fixing a coffee, a text message came on her phone, and it was Tina.
Tina: Hi Joyce, I would like to talk with you if you are free. By the way what is the news about Alex, is he able to join us?
Joyce read the message and quickly phoned Tina as she was taking her mini breakfast of coffee and two slices of egg sandwich she fixed in a rush.
Joyce: Tina, I know you guys have been very busy with your wedding preparation, and I didn’t get back to you earlier. Alex is coming today this morning, and I promised to be at the airport to pick him up. So that is why I asked you and I am hoping that would not disrupt your plans.
Tina: That is great; you go ahead and bring Alex to your house, and I will meet you there. We can go with Alex to Rodney’s office and leave him there while we go to the salon. Mary at the salon had her own incident that would delay her arrival at the shop by two hours. So we are fine.
After running a few chores around the house, Joyce left her house for the airport at 7:25 a.m. and for the next twenty minutes she was on her way to the airport. Springfield is a small airport and parking space for her car was not a problem. At exactly 8:10 a.m. a plane landed and Alex came out first ; he must have been seated in the first row of the aircraft. After a rather hurried greeting, they rushed to the car as Joyce sensed that they might be late for her sister’s appointment at the beauty shop.
Alex took a good look at Joyce as she was maneuvering the car out of the parking lot: “So how is the wedding couple coping with the preparation anxiety? Well, I shouldn’t say so really, for what do I know about wedding anxiety, since I have not been in that situation in my whole life”. Joyce glanced at Alex with the corner of her right eye. The radiating elusive mirth on her face was more telling than the words she would say about the wedding anxiety: “I have been in their situation, and I know the anxiety. You are absolutely right to ask about how they are coping with it. I can tell you, since you left, I have rarely seen them, and when they came, it was mostly in the late hours of the evening. I kind of missed you, but you know being alone after the death of Nick is a reality I have to face alone. I know that it is not possible for you to stay here indefinitely attending to my problems, but thank you so much for coming”.
Alex looked down on the floor of the car as though he was picking up an object, and as he was raising back his head he turned to Joyce, remained silent for a few seconds and took a deep breath. Then he said: “Joyce, I do not know if it is appropriate to say what I am about to say. I am kind of ambivalent saying it now, for there might be a more appropriate time for it later”. To this Joyce replied: “Alex we are all adults; nothing you are going to say to me will be earth shaking, and we are human and our thoughts come and go just as our emotions do”.
Suddenly Joyce noticed Rodney’s car coming towards the same junction on her right hand side, and she shouted: “Oh there is Rodney approaching, we should call his attention”. At that point Rodney looked to his left, and recognized both Joyce and Alex as he was nodding his head to Joyce’s signal to follow them to her home. A few minutes later they all arrived almost simultaneously and greeted in a rush. Joyce was concerned about her sister’s appointment, and immediately called Tina on the phone to tell her that all three of them were waiting for her at her house. Then she turned to Rodney and said; “meeting with you is a lucky coincidence because Tina and I have an appointment at the beauty shop, and now Alex does not have to be left alone in the house”.
When Tina arrived at Joyce’s house, Alex and Rodney had just left and they would be together while Tina and Joyce went to the beauty shop.
Later, on the eve of the wedding, the two couples assembled at Joyce’s house for the night. They did not spend much time socializing that night. After the dinner Rodney took Alex to his house for the night while Tina stayed with her sister. Joyce and Tina had a few chores to wrap up before going to bed. Tina reckoned that precious time for two of them alone- sister to sister- was the only time to unfold the whole wedding program and bring her sister up to date. After all they scarcely got an opportune moment to discuss the wedding plans, since Joyce’s return from her trip.
Tina began by disclosing a closely held secret between her and Rodney. She and Rodney were actually married at the county office in a legal ceremony that took place just one week after Joyce and Nick left for Indonesia. All it took was for her and Rodney, accompanied by one witness who knows both of them, to fill up a marriage application form, sign and take that signed form to a legal celebrant whose office was within the county building. The marriage certificate arrived in the mail two weeks from that date. She went on to say that what would happen on the day of the wedding was a very simple ceremony that they had arranged at a church to fulfill the Catholic rituals administered by a priest, to bless their marriage as a sacrament. It would be a very brief ceremony at 10:00 a.m. that would take no more than an hour. After the church service, the plan was to drive two cars to a resort that they had booked for the celebration, and an overnight party. They did not plan a grandiose ceremony for obvious reasons she said- budgetary constraints and the need to take only a few friends to an exotic location for the wedding night. That syphoned out all the money they had for the wedding.
Then in an emotional way, Tina turned to Joyce seemingly crying: “ Joyce, I take this marriage very seriously because, to be honest, in the time that I have known Rodney, since the day we brought you the news of a plane crash, my love for Rodney has kept growing day by day until it got to this point today when it is as strong as death; love no amount of water could quench. So this wedding tomorrow has been my dream; I can’t believe it has come true!
When Rodney proposed, I wasted no time to tell him his timing couldn’t have been better. Honestly my love for this man was not only true to the core, but it also overwhelmed me. I was mentally and emotionally ready. I firmly believe a marriage to be a commitment between two people leaving behind all conditionality. This commitment is one of unconditional love, support, loyalty, and friendship, bound by a legal as well as, after tomorrow, spiritual union”.
“Unconditional love for one another is an absolute, complete love with an intense feeling of deep affection or fondness for each other”. By now Joyce’s attention span was wearing thin as Tina was pouring her emotions out. But Joyce spoke no word as Tina continued to verbalize, anyway.
“This unconditional love should last forever and even grow stronger in time. This love should be more than “I love you”, but “I do”, and want to be with you and love you forever”. At this point with an expression of impatience, Joyce interjected, sensing that her sister was getting overwhelmed by a “wedding eve” syndrome, and said:
“Tina, I know how you feel about this day and I am absolutely on the same page with you on that. But, at the same time, I think it is important for you to get a good rest tonight. With all that is rightly stirring you up now, it may take a good part of your precious time in the night before you actually fall asleep. And that could affect your mood on the best day of your life. So I suggest we take a quick snack and top it with a glass of wine to ready ourselves for bed for a good night sleep”. Tina looked at her sister seeming comforted, and said. “You are absolutely right. My emotions are running way ahead of the main event. We can have tuna salad, with wine, and just before bed, we can finish with chamomile tea to calm our nerves as we sleep.”
Early on Saturday, Rodney called to tell Joyce the plan for the morning. He and Alex would proceed to the church that was virtually a stone’s throw from his home. He asked Joyce and Tina to rendezvous with them at about 9:30 a.m. to consult with the officiating priest before the service itself. By 9:00 a.m. Joyce and Tina left the house wearing elegant but regular clothes as the actual wedding was going to be at the resort where guests would arrive later in the evening.
The church ceremony was at a Catholic church, for the simple reason that Tina, a Catholic, preferred it that way to fulfill her church requirement. Rodney, who was a Presbyterian, went along, and that was ok in the church as long as he was a Christian. Tina and Rodney together, had been at the church earlier in the week to rehearse the order of the church service.
Catholic weddings begin with an opening prayer by the priest, naming the couple and asking for God's blessings on their wedding day. The Scripture readers were arranged with the help of the priest to read biblical passages that were selected by Tina and Rodney, and preapproved by the priest. The readings would be followed by a short sermon about marriage, given by the priest usually emphasizing the two most important nature of matrimony: It is an exchange of vows between a man and a woman to be united as one. The role of the priest is to bring the couple into union with Jesus in the Sacramental matrimony of their choice. It is also an expression of mutual wills to love each other unconditionally, and to be ready if God so chooses them, to be co-creators of their children.
After the homily all present would stand as Rodney and Tina take their vows, declaring their commitment to each other. The wordings of the actual vows are a boiler- plate in the Catholic rites of marriage: "I (groom’s name), take you (bride's name) to be my wife. I promise to be true to you in good times, in sickness and in health. I will love and honor you all the days of my life." The priest then blesses the couple, joins their hands together, looks at the bride and asks, "Do you take (groom's name) as your lawful husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and cherish until death do you part?” to which the bride responds, “I do”.
After the couple’s responses to the vows, the best man gives the bride's ring to the priest, who blesses it and hands it to the groom to place on the bride's finger. Then, the maid of honor hands the groom's ring to the priest, who blesses it and hands it to the bride to place on the groom's finger. Each may say, "I take this ring as a sign of my love and faithfulness in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." The priest may say, “ You may now exchange a kiss.”
After a brief period of bringing offerings to the altar, the priest then proceeds with the liturgy of the Eucharist, the core of the Catholic faith, and the religious rite that transforms the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. In preparation for the Rite of the Communion with Christ, the priest asks the couple and their friends to recite the Lord’s Prayer which every Christian is familiar with from the moment they were baptized. After a brief recital of prayer following the Lord’s Prayer the priest asks for the "sign of peace," in which everyone shakes hands with their neighbors. Holy Communion follows. Finally, the priest recites a concluding prayer and nuptial blessing asking for strength and protection for the couple.
The service at the church was very low-key; there were no more than 17 people who attended the service. After the church they drove away to the rented country resort to set up the place for the evening ceremony where about 50 guests including family members would arrive and spend a night and a good part of Sunday until check out time. The celebrations included free place to sleep for every one invited, freeing guests from the worry about hotel accommodation and getting lost.
Because it was a remote country resort, the entire event turned out to be way cheaper than renting a hall for the big night in an urban setting; that tremendously eased the couple’s worries about their wedding expenses. Much of the preparation was “do it yourself” kind of affair with some help from a small catering restaurant from a nearby township.
They got down to work setting up tables outside near a large oak tree, overlooking a green grass nine- hole golf course. The panorama was a splendor to behold, even though it was blanketed by the night darkness shortly after sunset. The sky was clear and the moonlight gradually took command of the sky casting a wavy line that separated the star-spotted sky from the tree silhouettes in the horizon.
The high table for the newlyweds was set up at the curved end of a horseshoe formation made up of rectangular tables after they were firmly grounded. The area enclosed by the settings of the tables was covered with raised and easy-to assemble interlocking wooden tiles for the dancing space. Farther opposite the high table, connected to the dance floor was a sizable raised platform for a small live-band to perform for one night, and also as a dais for their favorite prankster they call Shorttie. Shorttie is well known for his jokes at wedding celebrations, and he would be given special time to do his act in the course of the night. Some modest decorations of flowers festooned the area around the resort. Colorful table clothes and balloons were artfully located sparsely around the compound.
For Tina and Rodney, this was also to be the beginning of a combined honeymoon and vacation away from their nascent real estate agency business, a chance to reconnect with the most important people in their lives who were carefully selected with utmost attention. On the list of guests, apart from married couples from family members and friends who numbered in the ballpark figure of a dozen, the rest were singles. There was a pent up expectation for carousing for the better part of the night hours.
As guests started to arrive at the resort it was time for the newlywed couple to dress up formally if only for a short part of the night. Joyce followed Tina and Rodney to their room to help Tina with her wedding dress. Their suite consisted of two rooms with a communicating door; one room was set up as a spacious living room.
Before darkness set in, most people had arrived; Shorttie was already in charge of the event. The daylight was still in the sky as people were serving themselves drinks and snacks outside, eagerly waiting for the anticipated alighting of the bride and the groom. The music band had arrived, busily arranging their musical wares and fine-tuning sound arrangements.
Moments later, everyone looked in the direction of the resort entrance as the newlywed couple, accompanied by Joyce, emerged from their suite walking towards the high table. As they approached every one was on their feet, swaying sideways, clapping their hands, and singing Tina’s favorite song along with the band: Frozen in time for eternity by James Collins, until the newlyweds were seated. The members of the marriage party were garlanded, the cameras clicked, and many photographs were taken.
Shorttie took the floor to welcome all the guests who, by then had been shown their respective rooms for the night. It turned out, many of the rooms had two single beds, and a few had even three beds in the room. It was a deliberate plan of that special night. Shorttie would allude to this remarkable rooming arrangement. In his welcoming introductions, Shorttie also mentioned that this special night for Rodney and Tina would be marked by special tribute, and that the rooming arrangements were made with this special tribute in mind.
Shorttie was not quite ready to explain that subject. As every one became curious, he would only say that he would explain when time is right in the course of the night. He then asked guests to take turns to go to the tables laid out with a variety of food and drinks. Once every one had their food and drinks, it was time for Shorttie to introduce formally, the bride and groom, and to ask them to open the dance floor with music played by the live band.
But before the bride and the groom could take the floor, Shorttie wanted to remind them of the importance of love when you find one. He began by telling a biblical story that he suspected many were not aware of, but it was important to understand for the sake of the married couple, as well as for those who might find love of their life that night.
Shorttie began his story by giving a short narrative of his visit to a small country in Europe called Montenegro, which lies opposite Italy on the east side of the Adriatic sea. He was invited to a wedding that was unlike what he had ever seen before. He described what he saw was awesome splendor deserving of genteel respect for what marriage represents. What was remarkable to him was what happened at the end of that wedding party: the bride was taken into her room; then lights were all switched off. Five men, randomly selected, were brought into her room, with her groom among them. The expectation was that she should have known her groom well enough to separate him from other men. But what happens if she failed to identify the right man for the night? It turns out, it really did not matter, for a wedding night in that culture is known as Tobias night.
“So what happens on the Tobias night?” some guests asked Shorttie. At that point, Shorttie began to tell the biblical story of Tobias:
The story opens with Tobias, the elder, a God-fearing Jew who was taken into captivity by the Assyrians in the time of King Shalmaneser, and carried to the city of Nineveh together with a number of his countrymen. Tobias was upright from his youth, and so he quickly won the honor and respect of the people and became wealthy. Because of his wealth and his upright character, he was able to help his fellow countrymen and bury the dead even though this angered the King.
Even with the knowledge that the King was prosecuting him he often avoided going home for the night and hid himself in the woods. One night when he was sleeping under a tree, birds’ droppings fell on his eyes and permanently blinded him. In time, he lost his wealth, and his own wife often upbraided him for his firm confidence in God, in spite of his affliction as he would not blame God for sufferings, nor lose hope against his wife’s prod. In his distress he prayed to God to be allowed to die if God so willed. Tobias had a son who had reached the age of marriage. Both Tobias and his wife had been praying for their son to marry a good wife, as it was expected in the Jewish tradition.
Shorttie continued: In another place far away from Tobias’s city, a young beautiful and upright girl called Sarah, was also praying for the same thing, since she was unjustly accused of murdering seven men that had entered into marriage with her, who all died before the marriage could be consummated
God however in his providence answers both their prayers in the person of junior Tobias, who would be asked by his father to journey to a place in Media to collect some money that was owed to his father. Junior Tobias was reluctant initially because he was afraid to set out on so long a journey to Media without any real knowledge of the surrounding regions. However, a person by the name of Azarias offered to help him as his guide to get to his destination.
And so both Tobias and his guide set out together to Media to collect the money that was owed to his father. During an exhausting journey, a large fish attacked junior Tobias. The guide persuaded him to kill the fish and take the fish’s gall with him. As their destination was still far from there, they lodged at the house of Ragual, a relative of Tobias who was also the father of the young afflicted girl, Sarah. Azarias took a good look at the girl and turned to junior Tobias and asked him to take Sarah’s hand in marriage.
But junior Tobias was reluctant since he had already heard that Sarah had taken several husbands all of whom were killed by a devil. He wasn’t willing to try his luck. However, Azarias reassured him to have confidence in God and told him, he Azarias had a plan to overcome the devil. When Tobias was finally convinced, they went to Sarah’s parents to ask for her hand in marriage. They too at first were reluctant to accept, since they feared that Tobias who was their relative, would also meet the fate of the preceding suitors. After some reflections, eventually like Tobias, they made an act of faith and consent.
On their marriage night both Tobias and his new bride Sarah received a solemn advice from Azarias who told them to spend that night and the two subsequent nights together without consummating the marriage. He told them that would be their prayer and a show of trust in their God. While Tobias remained at the house of Ragual, Azarias went ahead alone, on the final distance to collect the money from Gabelus, the debtor.
In the mean time in Nineveh, senior Tobias and his wife were getting worried about the delay in the return of junior Tobias, since he was their only son. Once again, Anna, junior Tobias’s mother began to scold senior Tobias for sending out her son into a distant land. Eventually however, Tobias returned back home with his new bride in the company of his guide, Azarias safely and all the money and abundance of gifts that he had received from Sarah's parents. When they arrived home, his parents greeted them and again at Azarias’s nudging, junior Tobias went into his father’s room and anointed the eyes of his father with the fish’s gall that he had obtained on his journey as directed. His father's sight was instantly restored.
There was excitement, but when junior Tobias came out quickly in thanksgiving for the help that he received from his companion to repay this stranger with some money, the stranger reveals his identity as St. Raphael "one of the seven angels who stand before the throne of God. The angel tells them that their afflictions were permitted by God to try them, "Because you were acceptable to God, it was necessary that temptation should prove thee”. At hearing this they were filled with fear and admiration and remained prostrate on their faces for three hours giving glory to God, while St. Raphael disappeared from their presence.
After completing his story, Shorttie asked the guests if there was any one among them who did not understand this night being “Tobias’ night”. There was a loud laughter, but there were no questions from the audience. Then he turned to the bride and the groom, bent his head down and smiled, and said: “ I have an announcement to make; the bride and the groom have just confirmed to me that for them this is going to be a Tobias night, and they would share their suite with Joyce and her guest friend Alex Brady from Virginia. Then he asked Alex to stand up. Shorttie thanked Alex on behalf of Joyce and the newlywed couple for sacrificing his time to be at the wedding. Then he reminded the audience most of who were aware of the death of Nick, Joyce’s husband and the circumstances of that death. There was a moment of silence in memory of Nick and Shorttie asked Alex to join the high table next to Joyce and the newlywed.
After the bride and groom opened the dance floor, the remainder of the night was spent on dancing and drinking. The party ended by about three in the morning. Sunday morning was another sunny day. Some of the guests drove away for a church in the vicinity; others who came from distant places parked and left for good.
Alex had a flight to return to Virginia at around noon. So the newlywed couple and Joyce drove back to Springfield and took Alex to the airport. They all thanked him, and he in return invited Joyce and the couple to visit the National Capital, which is a short commuting distance from Alex’s home in Fairfax.
On the Monday following the wedding weekend Joyce received mail from the insurance company containing the details of her benefits in monthly annuity payments to her bank account. She also was credited with cash in the amount of $450,000 that was part of the life insurance benefits, the rest of which was rolled into an annuity. She was very consoled and immediately began thinking about her sister, Tina and her newlywed husband Rodney. One of the decisions Joyce wanted to make about her future was to sell the house so that she could be free to decide where she spends her life and with whom. Since Rodney and Tina were realtors, she asked them if they would like to sell the house for her. Rodney and Tina had their own ideas. They would gladly help her sell the house. But they have a proposal to Joyce. They really wanted to move out of an apartment into a house of their own. But they knew that financing would be an insurmountable problem for them because, mortgage lenders require a down payment of twenty-five percent before approving their mortgage. Rodney estimated that Joyce’s house could fetch about $250,000. So the bank would finance only $ 180,000. That means Rodney and Tina would need to raise at least $ 75,000 as down payment and settlement costs, which they did not have. In trying to help, Joyce revealed the current balance on her mortgage was around $100,000. Then Rodney came up with a brilliant idea he called “second trust”. He Figured that, based on her current mortgage balance, Joyce had equity of nearly $ 150,000 after the mortgage balance is paid off. Joyce interjected and said: “Alright, I think we can work out a deal with your mortgage lender. If they can pay off the balance of $100,000 to my mortgage company and bring up their total financing to say $120,000, I will take up the so-called “second trust”, which I suppose is an IOU note from you guys. I can do that, and guess what I may not even need you to pay interest on it; just loan amortization. It will be my wedding gift for you”. Rodney and Tina being real estate experts knew exactly what that meant to them- a priceless gift. They looked at each other, simultaneously jumped up, and moved to hug Joyce for enabling them to have their next best dream of their lives- a home. But Joyce was not finished. As a condition of sale and financing, she put a clause in the settlement papers to the effect that, at any time in her life one bed room would be open to her and to whoever would be in her company. To the new homeowners, that was a pittance to pay for the price of their dream home. In the days that followed the deal with a new mortgage lender was concluded and in that same week Rodney and Tina formally moved into what would become their home after all the transactions and transfer arrangements were concluded.
Rodney and Tina had moved to Joyce place that was now their own home. They had delayed their honeymoon vacation, primarily because of the deal too good to pass, which Joyce put on their laps right after their first day as husband and wife. Soon after, they decided that they could not leave Joyce behind alone, while they leave for their vacation. They had been thinking of going to Long Beach, California but when Joyce mentioned Washington DC was on her mind because she, like them, has never seen the National Capital, the White House and all the rich historical sites there, plus an invitation extended to all of them by Alex, they all agreed to have their vacation in the Washington DC area..
A few days after Alex returned to Virginia he sent a text message to Joyce to tell her that he was going to be out of town for about a week. In the mean time he sent some information with pictures of Washington by email to Joyce, and suggested that he would be sending them a short list of iconic sites and places that should be interesting to visit when Rodney, Tina and Joyce arrive. With that information on hand the three drew up a short list of must-visit sites that included, the White House, the National Capitol, the War memorials, and the Washington Monument. They also included a boat ride on the Potomac River that offers the best views of some of the attractive landmarks in the city, such as the Kennedy Center, and the Georgetown waterfront in DC, and the Pentagon, Crystal City and Arlington skylines on the Virginia side. They were all fired up, wasting no time to write back to Alex. They also asked him to help secure a convenient hotel accommodation. Alex sent back an email to confirm that their hotel would be at the Carrollton Metro station in the Washington suburb on the Maryland side, about 20 minutes ride to down town Washington DC by metro rail commuter. They all arranged their departure for a once in a lifetime visit to the nation’s capital, and packed for the visit.
It was a sunny spring day when they landed in Washington DC. On the approach to Reagan National airport from the air, they could see the aura of the beauty from the sky as the plane meandered along the Potomac River over the skylines of Crystal City and Arlington on the western side of the capital. They were awe-struck by the beauty and the colorful splendor of the cherry blossoms. The cherry blossoms were a fleeting beauty that even to the people who spend most of their lives in the area, was sheer attraction too good to miss. They were far from surprised though, to see the place teeming with swarms of visitors milling around everywhere most of them walking on foot and some cycling.
Tourists come here anticipating an educational experience, not an aesthetic one that subtly fills up the ambience. Alex was there at the airport waiting for his guests coming from a small town in Oregon. He took them on the metro rail system from the National Airport station on the blue line to the Metro Center station in down town Washington DC. There, they would transfer to the yellow line that goes all the way to their hotel near the New Carrollton station. On the way from the airport they could see spectacular panorama of the airport and the surrounding landmarks including a view of the Potomac River, beyond which stands the majestic Washington Monument towering over the city. On the left side, they could see the Crystal City skyline and on the northwesterly side was the view of Roselyn skyline, all on the Virginia side. One remarkable phenomenon of Washington DC that quickly dawned on them is, there are no skyline buildings towering over the iconic Washington Monument.
The new tourists from Oregon have heard of the Washington beltway myths and stories, and here they were, beholding it with all their senses. In the familiar company of their host Alex, they would explore the historic landscapes and landmarks for the next five days they had planned for their vacation.
That night, after some rest at their hotel, Alex took them around for the familiarization of the metro transport system for ease of commuting from their hotel. They took the Orange Line from the New Carrollton station, a short walk from their Marriott Court Yard hotel. In less than an hour, they arrived in Washington DC, at the Metro Center station where they stepped out; they eyed one of Washington’s exquisite restaurants, and settled down for dinner and drinks. At the back of his mind, Alex was acutely aware his guests needed a good night rest after the dinner, considering their long hours in flight. Additionally, he did not forget that Rodney and Tina were only beginning their honeymoon vacation.
After the dinner, Alex took the guests by the metro station and left. The guests went back to their hotel on their own without a problem. Rodney and Tina had a suite, nicely furnished with a kitchen, small dining table and chairs, and an area for sofas and recliners. For herself, Joyce took a regular room with a full size bed and basic furnishings without the kitchen.
The rooms and the hotel surrounding were well wired with Wi-Fi Internet almost everywhere. So with a smart phone guests are in constant communications with their loved ones, wherever they may be on the planet earth! Joyce’s room was only two doors away from Rodney and Tina’s room. They exchanged good night wishes and Joyce went to her room.
Mysterious Text Messages
Sometime in the dead of the night Joyce needed to go to the bathroom. As she was returning to her bed, she looked at her smart phone perched on the bedside table; she noticed six messages in her text message icon. She hesitated to open the messages, as she was feeling sleepy; then curiosity gained the upper hand over her will power, and nudged her to read the messages. As she was reading, she went into a mental shock of a kind; at that moment, the messages did not make sense at all. Not because they were illegible or in a language she could not comprehend; rather what shocked her was, whom they displayed to have come from- the most improbable person, her dead husband. All six messages claimed to have come from Nick, her dead husband who was mauled by the Indonesian komodo dragons. She vividly recalled the words of Alex who was not only a standby eyewitness, but also he recorded the fatal ordeal in a video footage that he took and later shared with other people. Joyce incisively screened the dates and time on the messages to rule out a possibility of them turning out to be information exchanges prior to the death. But her hopes were quickly dashed when she found out the messages were sent barely an hour ago.
Then she wrestled with the suspicion that it was a prank by a highly insensitive person close to her; she also ventured to speculate it could be an innocent error in a mistaken identity by a stranger who, some how got access to her phone number. She deliberately restrained herself from responding in any way. She put away her phone and tried to go back to bed. But by then her emotions had already been stirred up, and getting back to sleep was becoming harder. She considered calling her sister two doors away from hers, but she quickly counseled herself against that thought; the time was not right for calling a newly wed couple in an odd hour of the night for something as confusing to her as that, she reasoned; it was just not right, she mused. She was tempted to speculate if Alex would do such a thing to her. But she convinced herself that his character as she had observed him all along was not compatible with that kind of an act.
Joyce could not go back to sleep that night. When the morning came, she had already decided that she would not mention anything about those strange messages to any one, feeling it was too early to be of concern to her. As considerable time lapsed without new messages, Joyce began to let her guard down and went about her vacation routines. She got out of bed, took a shower, and dressed appropriately for the day. The plan was, after breakfast they would board the metro rail to down town Washington DC and meet Alex at a location. To her surprise, as she was alighting from the elevator, she saw Alex sitting in the lobby with bundles of maps in his hands. Joyce joined him and greeted as she approached him from the back: “Hey Alex, good morning, what a surprise! We were expecting to meet you at a location in town, but thanks for coming”. They hugged briefly and Alex started to explain: “ I wanted to see you early to give you a small orientation of Washington DC with maps. I am afraid I will not be able to stay with you today, because my company has sent me on a business trip to New York, and then Boston for the next three days. I know with this brief orientation, you will be alright with your tour”. Joyce, responded: “ Thanks so much Alex. You did not have to do this, for you have already shown us how to move around. Can we move to the restaurant for breakfast while we go over the maps?” “Thanks Joyce”, said Alex.
While Joyce and Alex were at breakfast, Tina called Joyce, wondering whether it was time for breakfast. Joyce responded, ”Good morning, I am already at the breakfast restaurant, and guess who is here?” Tina wondered and asked, “Let me guess, you mean Alex is here?” Joyce replied, “You bet, and he has brought maps of DC to help us navigate alone, because he has to leave for an out of town business trip. So, Join us as soon as you can because he has only limited time before he leaves for his flight ”.
While Joyce and Alex were taking breakfast, Alex unfolded a large map of Washington showing to Joyce, the important landmarks in color and in 3-D. Then he gave exquisite background information to the city’s spatial design in a very eloquent description:
Washington map can best be described as a coordinate plane, just like in the textbook case of the ninth grade coordinate geometry. You have a coordinate plane with two perpendicular lines (x- horizontal, and y- vertical) intersecting at the center of the plane, dividing it into four quadrants. In the case of the Washington map where the two lines intersect is the site of the National Capitol with its commanding view of the city, bearing a huge cast-iron dome at the top. In conventional coordinate geometry, the point of the intersection of the y and the x- axes is the ordered pair of coordinates (0,0) where the value of x is zero and the value of y is zero. These two lines that intersect at the center of a coordinate plane are North-South and East-West on the. By the same token, Washington streets that run parallel to the North-South line are numbered in an ascending order going west and east respectively. The streets that run parallel to the East-West line are lettered with alphabets in an A_Z order going north and south of the Capitol respectively.
With this mapping set up of the Washington area, every location in the District of Columbia bears an ordered pair represented by a number and an alphabetical letter. It also ends with the designation of the quadrant it is in, whether it is NE, NW, SW or SE. For example the most famous address in Washington DC is the White House, which is located in the NW quadrant. There are also other street names in the District that use the names of the 50 states. These streets or avenues tend to radiate out from the Capitol and lead to areas in the four quadrants and even to the neighboring areas of the Maryland and Virginia suburbs. The White House address is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. It is at the junction of 16th street going west of the Capitol and Pennsylvania avenue, which radiates through the National Capitol through the SE quadrant on the east side and NW quadrant on the west side of the Capitol building.
By the time Alex finished his orientation of the Washington map with Joyce, Tina and Rodney were on their way coming down for breakfast. But it was too late for them to spend time with Alex because he had to leave to go to the airport for his flight. So he left in a hurry and wished Joyce and the honeymooners the best of times during their tour.
While they were having their meal, Joyce took the time to teach them what she had just learnt from Alex’s orientation on how to read the maps of Washington. They then took the metro rail to Washington DC. On the way they viewed a changing panorama of the city’s landscape and its iconic structures from their seats inside the metro car. Their stop was at the Metro Center from where they walked straight to the Capitol Hill first.
Once they were at the location, they would be like other first-time visitors who would assume that the Capitol Hill, the geographic and legislative heart of the nation, is all about the majestic icon that sits atop its hill. They would surprise themselves, for they would find a lot more that the pictures and descriptions could not depict..
The Capitol Grounds is a lush landscape of sweeping lawns and more than 4,000 trees. At the base of the hill, the Capitol Reflecting Pool echoes the larger, rectangular pool at the other end of the National Mall, where the Washington Monument stand tall, commanding the entire span of the city and the suburbs around it. House and Senate office buildings surround the Capitol Dome, while the Supreme Court, the three Library of Congress buildings, and the Folgers Shakespeare Library & Theatre lie east.
But as they headed east from the storied steps of the Capitol dome, the neighborhood turned into a lovely tangle of residential brown stone or brick row houses, shaded by big, elderly trees teeming with cute animals such gray squirrels.
Capitol Hill is an area that stretches north, south, and east from the Capitol building and the National Mall. East Capitol Street is the main street in the neighborhood, running east through Lincoln Park and terminating at the Armory and RFK Stadium. Pennsylvania Avenue juts out to the southeast on a diagonal and heads across the Anacostia River, crossing the Maryland state line.
The neighborhood is accessible by all forms of transportation. Bars and restaurants are sprinkled throughout, especially in the Atlas District, along H Street NE.
Before they took stock of time, they had walked around the Capitol Hill for over two hours, and their energies were beginning to run low. The three decided to sit for a well-deserved drink and even lunch at a restaurant in the Ronald Reagan building on Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
But not every one was having the fun around them. As they were having their drinks, and lunch, Tina noticed a grim face on Joyce. She appeared uncharacteristically quiet as she cast a piercing stare on the floor. At first observation, Tina resisted the need to ask if something was wrong with Joyce. Moments later, Joyce abandoned her unsettling stare and walked away without saying where she was going, but she was headed in the direction of the restrooms. In the mean time, as Tina was still watching Joyce’s moves, Rodney wondered asked Tina: “ Is Joyce ok, I noticed she has not said a word since we left the Capitol Hill area”. Tina responded, “That is what I am wondering about too; I am going to follow her in the restroom if you please excuse me”.
Tina entered the bathroom shortly after, but by then Joyce had read several text messages on her phone, all coming from an unknown source, claiming to be Nick from the island of Rinca in Indonesia. The strange man described his whereabouts as a village on the island; he claimed was reaching out to Joyce his wife to help him. Joyce was uneasy in the presence of her sister and did not want to share any information regarding the strange messages. She only said she needed to urgently attend to an important matter, back in Springfield. That was the reason she gave why she had to leave as early as the next day. That afternoon, their buoyant mood about their vacation took a thorough beating; they returned to their hotel and all the while Tina and Rodney had tried everything they could to know what had happened to Joyce. But Joyce adamantly remained mum, asking to remain alone for the rest of that day. Joyce took that time to secure herself a ticket for her flight back the next morning. Once she confirmed her flight with an airline, she went to her sister’s room, telling them they need not worry about her: “Something has come up, and I am not prepared to share it with you now. Be assured that it is nothing for you to worry about. Once I get back home I will be able to take care of it. I encourage you to enjoy your time hear in the nation’s capital as you had planned. I have already paid for your stay for another 5 days. So please do not worry. I will tell you later when I have fully understood the whole extent of this issue”.
Joyce left early on the third day from their arrival in Washington D.C. After a five-hour flight to San Francisco, she transferred to a local flight for the final leg of her home coming to Springfield. She took a taxi from the airport to her home and relaxed for sometime, putting aside those strange messages. It was late in the evening, and she had all the time to herself. Some time during the night she could no longer procrastinate to deal with those strange messages. She picked up her phone and started responding to those messages:
Joyce: If you were Nick, it would be easier for me to believe if you give me a call so that we can talk. That way I can hear your live voice. By the account of a video clip from Alex, in addition to his own eyewitness account, Nick was mauled and consumed by the komodo dragons.
Stranger: Joyce it is I. I do not have a paid phone to call you from. Believe me, it is a long unbelievable, but true story I have to tell you. I can only send you text message now because I do not have the money to pay for a call. I am in the care of local people on this island, and no one here has a smart phone that I could use to send you a video clip or a voice message. I have been working with the villagers, joining them on their regular night fishing expeditions. They have been so generous to allow me to earn money whenever I joined them. This is a very isolated island, and the nearest town with an airport is on the island of Flores, about an hour by boat from here.
Joyce: I am not sure what to believe; I need some concrete proof that the messages are coming from Nick, my husband who is supposed to be dead. That is why I want you to send me a video of yourself, rather than simple text. If you cannot find a smart phone where you are, then go to the next location where you can find one.
Stranger: That is what I am going to do after I get enough money from fishing; I will go to Labuan Bajo, and it is a town in which I am sure a smart phone and Internet will be available.
Joyce: Tell me if there is a way I can send you money so that you can send me your video clip or call me.
The messages stopped for a while, and Joyce started wondering whether an impostor was attempting to con her by extorting money. After a while, a text message came from the same number again.
Stranger: I have asked the locals here if there is a Western Union agent on the island. Unfortunately, they are not aware of any agent on Rinca Island. But they know of several agents in the town of Labuan Bajo, on another island.
Joyce: If you can give me the name of one agent, I can send some money for you to go there to claim. But you will need to give your identity. Do you have any personal ID with you?
Stranger: No I don’t. Everything I had, except the camera, was left in my bag, which was on the boat just before our visit to the island. But I can go with witnesses from among the local people here who have inducted me as one of them, and they have given me the name Orang Putih. So you can use that name as the person you are sending the money to; when I get there the witnesses will be with me.
All alone and wary of the stranger, the name Orang Putih raised a suspicion alarm on Joyce’s mind. She wondered whether this stranger, Orang Putih is in fact a con guy who is trying to extort money from her by taking advantage of the little information he might have gathered about her and her dead husband Nick. But the excitement of taking the mystery to the end was much stronger, than the fear of being conned a few dollars. She decided, she would send only $ 50 to a Western Union agent in Labuan Bajo, and then she would wait to see if the stranger continued with his tricks, or he would respond to her demand of sending a current video clip of him.
Joyce: So Orang Putih, I am sending $50 dollars. You will collect it at Pagadaian 12560A, a Western Union agent on Jalan Ruteng (I think the name of the street), in the town of Labuan Bajo. As soon as you receive the money, find someone with a smart phone immediately, take a short video of yourself while talking and send it to my whatsapp phone number. If I do not receive any video or a message from you, then I will take appropriate action to report you to authorities in your country, and you could be arrested for fraud by misrepresenting yourself.
Stranger: I guarantee you will not be disappointed. It is going to take, may be an hour to get to Labuan Bajo, but at any rate, expect my message within two hours.
Five weeks had passed since Joyce and Alex left the island of Bali for the US, and since that fateful day on Rinca Island, Joyce had been trying hard to adjust to her new life as a widow. Now this strange twist in the faith-wrenching episode of her husband Nick being alive transcended the comprehension of a normal human being, let alone that of a new widow. She could not bring her senses to discern how a human being mauled by dragons in the glare of a camera and an eyewitness could somehow resurrect. Her thoughts turned pretty quickly and firmly towards extortion by an impostor. Yet her curiosity would lure her far enough to send $ 50 to the strange person. “If Orang Putih ever takes that money and vanishes, that would be the limit of my loss to this extortion, and that chapter would be closed”, she counseled herself. But she also asked: “ What if he calls back, delays the video clip I have asked as a quid pro quo for the money, and instead asks for more money for the video; should I or should I not allow myself to take additional risk?” She quickly wised up after an intense muse and said, “Well, I will cross that bridge when we get there”. At this point her phone rang, and she hastily connected:
Joyce: Hello this is Joyce.
Stranger: How are you madam, I am a Western Union agent number 12560A in Labuan Bajo. I want to ask you a few questions.
Joyce: Yes please go ahead; is that about the money I sent?
Stranger: Yes madam. To whom are you sending the money, and how much is that in US dollars?
Joyce: It was $50 dollars, and the Western Union agent in my town told me that would be equivalent of 647,000 Rupiah, the local currency there. Can you confirm that please?
Stranger: Yes madam, your $ 50 dollars converts to 747500 Rupiah and I will give it out to Orang Putih as you have directed.
Joyce: Thank you. But before you do that could you please let Orang Putih himself speak to me; I will really appreciate if you could lend him your phone.
Then the agent asked Joyce to hang on. A minute or two passed as her nerves stood on pins and needles. She could hear some voices in the background. Although she could not decipher what was being said, she heard someone calling Orang Putih. Later she would find out that Orang Putih had been experiencing abnormal and frequent intestinal evacuations since that morning after drinking Octopus soup, a standard breakfast soup for the local fishermen.
While she was still on the phone, Joyce reevaluated where this conversation was heading, and her mistrust was gaining stronger and stronger. But she convinced herself she had come too far not to see through to the final end of this weird situation. Then she suddenly realized that, the fact that she had talked to the Western Union agent could be a blessing in disguise- she would tell him not to release the money to Orang Putih if he turns out to be an impostor. If he does, she can claim a refund from her Western Union agent right in her own town. She never felt so emboldened now to probe this person to the very end, whatever that end might be. Moments after, the voice came from the phone and she heard: “Here speak to your money sender before I hand out your money”.
Orang Putih: Hi Joyce, this is Nick with my new name Orang Putih; I hope you recognize my voice.
There was a pin-drop silence on both ends of the phone for a long moment. Then Joyce asked:” Nick I know your voice, but is it really you? You got to send me your video, please! I want to prove to myself I am not hallucinating”. Then Orang Putih said: “ I will do that right away if you hang up and give me a moment”.
Joyce was put on tenterhooks for a long moment of waiting for that response on her phone. To keep a level head she turned to prayer asking for an improbable miracle of having Nick with her again. Yet she felt deep in her mind that was not realistic, for it would amount to unheard of mystery of resurrection. She recalled only couple of months ago Nick was supposed to have died in a plane crash, which caused her intense grief and a heart attack, only to find out that he was not in that fateful flight after all. Then her phone jingled. She knew it was a new whatsapp message, hopefully from Orang Putih, the local name for Nick. She tapped the video picture for it to run. This was the video message absolutely clearly from Nick: Garbed in a traditional checkered red and white Indonesian sarong covering his body from the waist to just above the ankles, and a round neck shirt made from checkered batik loosely hanging over the sarong at loins. For about two minutes of watching the video, Joyce was frozen in an inexplicable trance filled with joy beyond what she ever imagined. She then quickly called Nick on the phone and spoke to him at the same time as she was crying with almost uncontrollable joy. Nick told her he was, alive and well thanks to the brave and kind people of the island. He had tons of stories to tell when they meet; but for now he needed to thank the people of the island who risked their own lives to save him from the serrated fangs of the komodo dragons, and get out of the island to come home to the US.
With the reality of going home in their grasp, it dawned on Joyce that they no longer have a home of their own to return to. She told Nick that in her effort to reconstitute her life as a new widow without a job, she decided to sell their house. However, the house was still available for them to share with her sister and Rodney to whom her sister was recently married. Nick was puzzled momentarily for that radical decision, but he quickly came to terms with his wife’s decisions. All he needed was to go home to be with his wife and friends. Joyce was not quite finished revealing her decisions. “ Nick, there is something else you have to know of our new situation. People here including your employer and the insurance, have been very compassionate with me as a widow. They paid all the insurance benefits that are very generous, in cash and also in what they called annuity- a monthly paycheck for as long as I live. Now, I would think that your mysterious resurrection- a joy beyond anything I could humanly imagine- will mean that all those benefits will have to be returned and we have to start our new life from scratch. I am confused”.
The mention of insurance benefits blew away Nick’s mind, and quickly made him rack his brain for innovative strategies that would help them keep the benefits without becoming outlaws. Moments after he jogged his mind, Nick seemed to have found the solution in his place of birth, which was in the outskirts of the city of Windsor in Canada. He recalled that his parents, who have long passed away, lived in Windsor before they moved to the US. He remembered seeing his Canadian birth certificate with the name of Nicholas Malleury, without attaching any significance to it. Apparently his parents changed their last name from Malleury to Malley and his name from Nicholas to Nick. Emboldened by this fortuitous reality of his past, Nick responded with excitement: “Joyce, that is nothing to worry about; I think I have found the solution. I never told you part of my history that I think would be very handy in this situation: I believe I have my Canadian birth certificate in the house. It may be old and possibly torn, but the important thing is it is the original that I have not bothered to show you. It has the following bio-data: Name Nicholas Malleury; place of birth: Windsor, Ontario, Canada: Date of birth: July 26, 1968. Now I am going to ask you to search this document in the brief case that I brought with me to Bali. I am sure you will find it”.
Joyce interjected snappily: “ Wow! Now things are beginning to make sense. While you were away after your departure for Komodo Island, I curiously saw the paper work you had left on the TV table. I saw a slightly worn out birth certificate with a name I did not know, and initially did not notice any importance for it.. But at some point after that, I asked myself why you had not mentioned something to me about it even if it were one of your boyhood friends”.
Nick carefully explained how he could use the birth certificate with conviction: “ Here is what I propose we do, and keep the benefits that you have already received: find out this worn-out birth certificate, and send it to me by email as an attachment. I will then take that copy to the Canadian embassy in Jakarta. Before I do that, I will need some money for my heart-felt tribute to the island people who saved my life. After their blessing, I will go to the Canadian embassy to apply for a Canadian passport using the birth certificate. Once I obtain my Canadian passport, I will ask you to come over to Bali at the very hotel where we stayed. From there we will chart our new life, which will have to remain out side of the US for a long time. What do you think of this plan Joyce?”
In a heartbeat Joyce was quick to respond: “ Well, it sounds like an air-tight solution to our puzzle. In that case why don’t I send you sufficient money, say $10,000 to settle your debts or pay tributes to the island people, and also allow you the financial flexibility you need as you go to Jakarta. Once you obtain your Canadian passport, you will inform me so that I can join you there; I know my visitor visa to come to Indonesia is still valid”.
Joyce went into her room straight to the bedside table on top of which she had placed Nick’s briefcase containing all his vital documents including the US passport and his Canadian birth certificate. The next day Joyce woke up early to prepare her email to Nick that was accompanied by a copy of the birth certificate and a scanned copy of Nick’s US passport. As soon as she finished her email she went off to town to a nearby Western Union agent to transfer $10,000; this time not to Orang Putih, but to Nick Malley who would have his valid documents in the email for his ID. As soon as she completed the email and the money transfer, Joyce called Nick on the phone, ”Honey, I just sent you an email with important attachments. Those will be your ID’s, so you need to print them out because you will need both of them- the birth certificate as you have asked for the Canadian embassy, and the US passport copy for clearing your funds from the Western Union agent. This time I did not use your Indonesian name, Orang Putih, but rather your own name”. Nick was so overjoyed and swiftly responded, “I am going to do that right now as the Western Union agent has an Internet cafe to do all that I need to do, thank you so much, I love you”. Joyce forgot an important instruction for collecting the money from Western Union agent. When she was sending the money, she had to break it up into two separate transfers. Apparently a foreign transfer of US$10,000 or more at once requires government reporting procedures Joyce did not want to go through. So instead of one $10,000 transfer, Joyce sent two transfers of $5,000 each. She needed to advise Nick to avoid any confusion by a text message:
Joyce: Nick, I forgot to tell an important fact about the money transfer. Instead of one $10,000 transfer, you will receive two separate ones, each with a separate MTN.
Here are the two money transfer numbers: MTN# 9031234, and MTN # 9031235.
All the best.
Nick: Thanks for the information. I am on my way to the Western Union agent.
After collecting his money and printing out copies of the attachments, Nick went to the village right away and paid a handsome tribute in cash to the village people; he told them that he was going to Jakarta for a while, but planned to return soon. The village head asked him to stay a while, for the women were preparing the day’s meal. The youth garbed in their traditional sarong, dashed into the backwoods, and in a short while returned with a garland of colorful flowers and leaves. The village head placed the garland around Nick’s neck, and told him it is given to him as a symbol that he is always welcome in that village community. Together they enjoyed a meal that was, as usual, preceded by a warm soup of octopus and a bowl of sticky rice.
When Nick arrived in Jakarta at the Canadian embassy, he applied for a Canadian passport as he presented a copy of his Canadian birth certificate and a copy of his US passport. It seemed all was going well, except for two problems: First, the Canadian embassy would accept only the original of the birth certificate as a vital document for eligibility; second, the name on the copy of his US passport was different from the name on the birth certificate.
At the Canadian consular office Nick was told that unless he produced a copy of the document showing the legal change of name, and a document of his legal union as a husband, it would be difficult for him to obtain a Canadian passport. It seemed for a moment Nick’s master plan for reuniting with his wife Joyce and retaining all the death benefits already booked in Joyce’s bank account for the rest of her life, was taking him to an uncharted territory of uncertainty while still in a foreign country. For the next three days Nick did not sleep, thinking hard and long, and also praying silently; all the while Joyce was wondering what had happened to him, as his responses to Joyce’s calls signaled worries on Joyce’s mind. Joyce made a phone call rather than the cost free whatsapp text messaging, to calibrate from Nick’s voice if there was a problem he was encountering along the way. “ Yes honey, I would not call it a problem about which I lose my sleep; rather a challenge that I know we will overcome. I am racking my brain for it, and as soon as I discover something while I am in Jakarta, I will give you a call”.
After two days Nick had an awakening. He asked himself: What would happen to the benefits if we simply do nothing and stay outside the borders of the Unite States? Before he could look for the ramifications, he called Joyce immediately: “Honey, you would not believe what thoughts I had gone through in the thirty six hours or so that passed!. First, accept my apologies; I did not mean to frustrate you in any way by withholding from you, the challenges that I was grappling with. I was just trying not to cause unnecessary anguish for you; you have already gone through a lot of it.
The Canadian embassy, which was our hope for obtaining my new identity, would not give me a passport in spite of the documents I presented. Can you believe this? They have two demands that put me off the track completely, because I could not figure out how on earth we can provide that information. The problem seems to be triggered by the stark difference between the name on my US passport, and that in the Canadian birth certificate. You see, my US passport has my name as Nick Malley, and the old Canadian birth certificate has Nicholas Malleury. One of their demands is to produce a legal document showing the change of name. The problem is, my parents probably made the name change when they moved to the US; I have no clue of either the existence of such a document or how to go about finding it”.
Joyce interjected anxiously, “So are you at the end of the rope, or is there a plan B we could take to save these huge life time benefits?” To which Nick responded firmly, “Not on the Canadian passport option, because I believe this would be the wrong time for us to be looking for a name change document in the US government bureaucracy; we risk exposing ourselves too much just when we are trying to keep the fact of my existence strictly under cover”. Nick wanted to convince Joyce against that option. “At the end of the conversation with the consular officer, she seemed very sympathetic with my application, and suggested that if I could produce a legal document, showing a union between myself and a spouse, such as a marriage certificate showing one of the two names as an alternative, she would talk to her boss, and it may be possible to issue a passport.” Joyce interjected, and asked: “ What about our marriage certificate? I could send a copy by email, or if need be I could bring all these original documents myself. We do not know what else they might ask”. Nick thought for a moment, and responded: “The best thing is for you to come here to Jakarta to give me support, and when we are together, we will find out our future”.
Joyce was ecstatic with the prospect of traveling back to Indonesia, but more importantly because she would reunite with her husband, Nick who the world counts among those poor souls, RIP! From there on, she focused on her second travel to Indonesia, this time alone but excited beyond description and looking forward to meet her husband who must remain resting in peace in the public eye for a long while. She brought with her every important document pertaining to their life- birth certificates, marriage certificates, death benefit documents, US passports, but very little else by way of personal belongings. Why would she? She reckoned. She had money in her bank account which is accessible to her from anywhere in the world by a visa card. In addition there would be a regular monthly deposit to her bank account of more than $7800.
By the time Joyce arrived in Jakarta, Nick had a second awakening of a better master plan for retaining their lavish death benefits. In a month, Joyce was going to receive over $7800 a month, in addition to the $450,000 to death for making sure they stay with the death benefits. With this abundance of cash on hand, Nick’s novel solution was to turn their backs to the whole idea of pursuing risky and cumbersome procedures of the path to a Canadian passport that might involve the government to scrutinize their sensitive personal information and documents. Instead Nick’s creative idea drew on his short, but vital experience with the local people who saved his life in the first place, and introduced him to their fishing-for- livelihood activities. Now with their help, he thought, he could build a case to the Indonesian government to apply for a residential permit as investors who are helping local communities. While he was in Jakarta, Nick learned that foreign investors are welcome to stay in Indonesia for business. Foreigners come up with projects that directly support local communities through technical or financial assistance were routinely given a fast rack pathway to obtaining a residency permit to live or do business in Indonesia.
During his stay in the island communities of Rinca, Nick was fascinated by what he learned about the hard life of the islanders, most of who are fishermen for life. In the several fishing expeditions that took Nick to sea in the night, he realized how hard those people work the whole night to fish just to scrape a livelihood, using outdated human-powered boats with occasional help of wind sails. If only those boats could be motorized or fitted with engines, the fishermen could increase their fish catch by more than five fold, Nick mused excitedly. That could pull the whole communities out of their poverty, as the demand for fish from both local and regional consumers, was very high. Joyce quietly listened, ready to accept whatever Nick suggested. She was simply overwhelmed by the presence of her husband, yet very curious to find out the mystery of how the island people saved his life. But the time for the long story was not quite ripe, for uppermost on Nick’s mind, was the lucrative business of protecting those death benefits.
Nick needed to go with Joyce back to Labuan Bajo, and onwards to the island community on Rinca Island who saved his life. They took a flight from Jakarta to Labuan Bajo, from where they were taken on a boat to the village on the Rinca Island. The island did not expect what he was about to ask, even after he had left behind a handsome amount of money before his departure for Jakarta.
From the boat Nick and Joyce went straight to the village. He started by introducing his wife Joyce, telling them, she had come all the way from the US to thank them for saving his life. Then he made an evocative statement, instead of asking a question: “My wife and I would like to stay here and remain as fishermen like you; but we do not know if you will accept us and for how long”. The leader of the community who had been responsible for organizing the youth who organized Nick’s rescue spoke with passion in their local language that was interpreted by a young girl of twenty or so who spoke excellent English. He said: “ We have been very impressed by your hard work on the fishing expeditions, working along with our youth. If you and your wife wish to stay in our community, we feel that it is a blessing. Almost all the people who visit our island are interested in the komodos, but not in our people. We do not mind that, because when they spend money in our communities, we can get income to provide services for our people.” Then Nick asked a specific question: Would you support our application for residency before your government? In return my wife and I will help the community by purchasing twenty new modern fishing boats mounted with engines?”.
With that incredible offer that would exponentially increase the fish catch capacity of the community, not only would the villagers endorse the couple’s application for residency, but they would also help in obtaining the necessary licenses for doing business in the country and securing a five acre lot for the couple to build a home.
Joyce and Nick were now together in their new world and beginning to settle down. Within weeks, they procured 20 fishing boats and trained local youth to operate them. Nick went on all premier fishing trips for each boat with the newly trained youth. The youth and the whole community were overwhelmed by the abundance of the fish catch- seven to ten times what the villagers were used to catch per boat. In the mean time Joyce had been busy with the assistance of local youth, building their modest home not too far from the boat mooring jetty.
The Dramatic Rescue
It was time for Joyce to unravel the mystery of the gruesome video of the komodos mauling Nick, and his miraculous return to life. By this time Nick had watched the video himself several times. He was not the least surprised by the compelling evidence of those voracious creatures that were at his heels on hot pursuit just before he stumbled on an object that looked like a boulder.
Nick became emotional and was almost in tears, when he looked at Joyce and said: “ Honey we can never thank God enough for the favors he has bestowed on me. There are a number of scenes which do not show up in this video because, I was at the end of the line headed by the tour guide, taking pictures, some of which I sent to your whatsapp before we were split. I stumbled on a rugged-edged rock, and on my way down my lower arm hit those edges of the stone and caused blood to gush out profusely. As Alex and the rest of the party became aware of my fall, we noticed the dragons coming our way forcing us to split, every one running for his life. On my side out in the woods I could see a couple of tall trees at a short distance, and my instinct told me those trees were my best chance for survival. The shuffling of the thickens was reaching my ears from behind me, and I had no speck of doubt, several creatures were in hot pursuit on my heels. Just couple of yards to the tree, I saw a brown deer on my path, almost with no forward motion, but careening on its way to the ground. I made a quick decision to turn and head in its direction, and when I got to it, I took a jump over it as it was falling on the ground. However, because I could not completely clear its height, my left leg dragged over it, causing me to fall down on the ground, just past it, landing on my hands and knees. I quickly managed to regain my posture, and as soon as both my feet were firmly on the ground I made a dash for the nearest tree safely. The komodo dragons that were chasing me quickly descended on the deer, and their attention was completely focused on the motionless deer prey. Apparently, after a hot chase of their prey, these creatures get exhausted very quickly. In less than a minute, I was up on a tree watching the komodos tearing the deer apart in turns, as they were exhausted after the chase.
From my vantage view of the treetop, it was beginning to get dark and one by one, I could hear the komodos leave the scene of their dinner. I thanked God for the dying deer, for without it I would have been that dinner. Even then, I was too frightened to make any move that whole night. The next day komodos did not return until about 7 a.m. in the morning, seemingly coming from different directions. But what was left over of the deer carrion did not last long, and they started walking away one after another. There were those komodos that came to the party a little late. These lingered around in the immediate area under my tree, sometimes walking away about a hundred yards. But I did not have any courage in me to even begin to think of how long I would remain on the tree, and if I would ever get out alive. Besides, I began to fill hungry by the middle of my first day on the tree. Fortunately, that tree had wild fruits, olive green in color, sweet on the inside with a round kernel, and the size of cherry tomatoes. They were not very many, but in the wake of my bleak future as I clang up on the tree, I knew I had no choice but to economize on the fruits by eating no more than two per day along with leaves that were abundant, but others hard to reach.
When the sunset came and darkness began to blanket the area, komodos gently and reluctantly walked away and disappeared for the whole night. Sometimes in the early morning between five and seven a.m., I could hear the sound of sea waves splashing, and in the background people chanting in a chorus. The sound of human voice reincarnated my hope for survival, even though I could not imagine any human being venturing to challenge these dragons that continuously smell my presence, giving them a strong incentive to hang around my tree. Scientists who researched their life concluded that komodos are able to smell a prey from a long distance using their long two- pronged tongue. With this knowledge in mind, and out of desperation, I started to make my own chant: “Ooh help me, ooh help me, ooh help me”. But I had no way of knowing if my chants were ever heard by any one other than the randomly prowling dragons, occasionally encircling the area under my tree.
The next morning as soon as I heard the fishermen’s chant, I would start my own. But again there was no feedback. By the end of the first week I was beginning to run short of fruits and leaves in easy reach. I considered the possibility of descending from my treetop home down to the ground in the morning before seven a.m. and risking a runaway while most of the komodos were still coming out of their night burrows. I would run towards the location where the fishermen’s chant was coming from, I speculated. But I chickened out knowing that the komodos could smell my movement and catch up with me before I get to the fishermen. I continued with my morning chant any way, and mentally prepared myself to reach that ultimate decision of taking the risk of making an escape.
One morning as I was chanting, I heard a sound as though there was an echo of my chant. I fine-tuned my ears, and yes, in fact the echo chant was getting more and more audible over and above the background of the splashing of the sea waves. This set me up on a feeding frenzy of chanting: “ Ooh help me, ooh help me, ooh help me”. The echo got closer and I looked beyond the trees and thickets. Straight ahead and about 500 yards away, I saw five men each wielding a two-forked wooden pole, walking towards my tree meticulously in a concave arc formation appearing to engulf my tree on approach. I could not believe my eyes. The next thing I recall was, both my hands letting their grip loose and my body dropping from the tree. As I hit the ground, I almost instantly lost my consciousness.
Three hours later, I found myself in a small room of a clinic house perched on stilts. My left arm was in pain and wrapped around it were wood splinters over broad tree leaves. Apparently I had a fractured lower left arm and the splinters were tightly tied in place to stabilize my fracture. The interpreter, a girl in her early twenties, was watching me as I lay down in a bed. The nurse could not speak English, but I understood she wanted to tell me why I was there and how I got there. The five men who came to my tree picked me up from the ground; that is when they noticed that my left arm was bent. It had started to show a swelling. The men quickly lifted me and took me to the only nurse in that community of about 500 people. The nurse quickly attended to my arm, and in the mean time the men went out and prepared octopus soup. In that culture they believe that the octopus soup is very nutritious and accelerates the healing of wounds”.
Even though he would have preferred something else, Nick was not at liberty to even suggest anything else for his food. He was so hungry anyway he could have eaten the octopus alive. In the days that followed his recuperation, Nick quickly recovered from his injuries and felt so indebted to the people who saved his life. So he joined the youth who go on fishing expeditions almost every night. They would return from the fishing to a long jetty to moor their boats and unload the fish at the nearby village fish market.
When Nick asked how the fishermen managed to fend off the komodo dragons, they told him that, once they suspected the voice of a human being was coming from the hunting territory of the komodos, they made a determination to follow the chant. They knew that early in the morning the dragons would start coming out from their night burrows to look for prey. In their fish catch that morning, there was a large shark they used as a bait to lure the giant lizards away from the source of the chant. They opened the guts of the shark fish, slashed its body several times and hung it firmly on a tree with blood and the guts reaching the ground. The smell of the blood would send out the signal to the komodos. The young men then quickly moved away from the bait, wielding their forked wooden poles and headed towards Nick’s tree. When they saw Nick fall from the tree, they rushed and quickly carried him away to the clinic, and called the nurse immediately. By then Nick was still unconscious, probably due to a combination of hunger and anxiety, causing him to fall after seeing the fishermen.
Nick and his wife Joyce became members of the local community. Their fishing operation that was based on shared catch prospered very rapidly. Six months after the start of their fishing operation, they were making more money monthly than the insurance annuity payments Joyce was receiving. They decided to build up a fund that would be shared between their own needs and community programs such as clean water supply, the expansion of an elementary school and economic facilities at the jetty for processing fish for export to Jakarta and other regional markets. One year later, Nick and his wife moved to the city of Labuan Bajo on the island of Flores that has the only airport in the region. Three more years of living in Indonesia were enough to bring Nick’s passport to its expiration date. The need to obtain a new passport was motivated by their desire to visit the US and openly show up to friends, telling the mystery of Nick’s reincarnation story without the fear of paying back the death benefits. By then, the money they were saving in a fund had topped $8 million. They also wanted to clear their conscience by paying back all the money the insurance company and the employer had been paying to Joyce’s account.
Nick and his wife, Joyce, had a tumultuous welcome home in their local town. Their dramatic story of how Nick was saved by the young fishermen of Rinca Island spread through the town like wild fire, inspiring many people to visit the unique komodo dragons of Indonesia. They happily paid back all the death money Joyce had been receiving. In a grand party to welcome them back, a speaker said these words of wisdom: The truth is relative, but it tends to become factual when it is supported by a visual footage recorded by an eyewitness. Nick who is here today with us, was dead in the eyes of those who witnessed the Rinca Island komodo drama. The drama was so credible that a video footage of it convinced both the eyewitness who recorded it and all those who subsequently watched it”
Safari Ohumay is a US citizen who was born in a rural village of Tanzania. He first came to the US for a Masters degree in Business Management and returned home after graduating in 1976. Earlier on he studied Math and Economics and graduated with a BS degree from the university of Dares Salaam in early 1972. After a two year stint in senior management in two Tanzanian industrial processing firms he received a job offer from the World Bank Group in Washington DC through its Young Professionals Program.
For the next 18 years he travelled extensively from Washington to many parts of Asia and Africa as the World Bank’s Program manager focusing in Infrastructure and Urban development under the theme of poverty alleviation. He spent most of his career in the World Bank working with countries such as Bangladesh, Burma, Indonesia, Pakistan and Silence in Asia, and Kenya, Malawi, Swaziland and Tanzania in Africa. Recently he joined the US Agency for International Development team in Afghanistan for one year as a Field Program officer at the height of the US campaign against Al-Kaida. Safari lives in the Washington suburbs of Maryland and works as a freelance consultant.
Safari Ohumay is a US citizen who was born in a rural village of Tanzania. He first came to the US for a Masters degree in Business Management and returned home after graduating in 1976. Earlier on he studied Math and Economics and graduated with a BS degree from the university of Dares Salaam in early 1972. After a two year stint in senior management in two Tanzanian industrial processing firms he received a job offer from the World Bank Group in Washington DC through its Young Professionals Program.
For the next 18 years he travelled extensively from Washington to many parts of Asia and Africa as the World Bank’s Program manager focusing in Infrastructure and Urban development under the theme of poverty alleviation. He spent most of his career in the World Bank working with countries such as Bangladesh, Burma, Indonesia, Pakistan and Silence in Asia, and Kenya, Malawi, Swaziland and Tanzania in Africa. Recently he joined the US Agency for International Development team in Afghanistan for one year as a Field Program officer at the height of the US campaign against Al-Kaida. Safari lives in the Washington suburbs of Maryland and works as a freelance consultant.
Read Safari’s Smashwords Interview at https://www.smashwords.com/interview
Other books by this author
1) The Footsteps of Barack Obama in A Changing America
2) Nyayo za Obama
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S and openly show up to friends, telling the mystery of Nick’s reincarnation story