just stay calm and remember what Ive told you. Im on my way now and Ill be with you very shortly
The confidence in Marias voice concealed her mounting anxiety. Outside a late autumn
fog was gathering. And it was almost dark. Hardly ideal conditions to be setting out in a
itself didnt pose any anxieties for Maria. She was experienced and confident in her
role, used to making quick decisions on her own. And she knew that this particular client
was unlikely to pose any problems though getting to her in time might not be so
straightforward. Things werent made any easier by the fact that Jean Simmonds had
delayed telephoning Maria. She hadnt wanted to appear to be making an unnecessary
fuss, calling you out unnecessarily as she put it. Maria hadnt liked to
say that well-intentioned determination not to be a nuisance could, just
occasionally, lead to disaster.
She closed the
door of her apartment behind her, heaved up her bag, and stepped out in to the gloom. A
sulphurous taint in the air and occasional stuttering detonation reminded her that it was
nearly November it would soon be Bonfire night. Where did the people of this
supposedly deprived area of the east end of
streets, normally busy at that time of the evening, were eerily quiet. From time to time,
the headlights of a car loomed out of the mist, the drivers keeping to a crawl. It seemed
to be getting worse, and once Maria missed a turning and had to retrace her steps. She
forced herself to slow down a little, for a first time feeling a pang of anxiety. What if
she were not to get to Jean in time? And there was no way that her husband was going to
get back any time soon. Shed told her that he was working on a site in
seemed to be getting heavier, and she swung it round to her left hand. A few yards further
on she nearly collided with two young men coming from the opposite direction. Watch
it, darling! one called out, In a hurry, arent you? Youll have
not answer. At least they hadnt said anything
well, personal. At any other time she would have smiled
and apologised, but just now her overwhelming urge was to put some distance between
herself and the men. She hurried on.
stagnant air was tainted with the stink of decay. A strange silence was falling the
street din and hubbub of traffic were subdued, distant. Even the noise of fireworks had
reduced to just the occasional thud and crackle. The world seemed to be retreating before
a sense of menace. She paused to peer at a sign under the dim glow of a street lamp. And
then disaster struck: quite suddenly all the lights went out. Oh no! she murmured, Not a power cut! Not
now! Please, lights, come on!
thirty seconds went by
nothing happened. Maria found herself in total darkness.
Tentatively she moved to one side, in the direction, she guessed, of the street sign. She
misjudged, and her foot slipped off the curb of the pavement. In the distance she heard
the crunch of a vehicle connecting with something solid, followed by a mans voice
cursing. Painfully slowly, she made her way back across the pavement, coming into contact
at last with a brick wall. She shivered, and hugged her bag to herself, seeking comfort
and protection from it in her mounting desperation. A deathly silence had fallen, broken
only by the drip of moisture falling from the leaves of a nearby tree.
another sound, a regular tapping noise, drawing near to her. It was as if someone,
something, was seeking her out, bearing down on her My God
murmured, what is that? And now
there were soft footsteps accompanying the staccato rapping, heading towards her. A sob
broke from her lips.
there? called out a mans voice.
touch me! was the only response the terrified woman could summon up. She raised her
bag higher against her body, clutching it to herself.
wont harm you! Whats happened? Where is everyone? Why is it so quiet?
She gauged him to be just a foot or two in front of her. And suddenly she realised that
the man was blind, guiding himself with his stick.
a dense fog
and all the lights have gone out. I cant see anything!
the same to me said the man. Dont I know your voice? Arent you the
overcome with relief, recognised in turn who it was who had found her. You
you live in my block of flats, dont you? It was the Asian man whose apartment
was on the floor above hers. Im Maria McPherson. And you, youre
She stopped, realising that she didnt actually know his real name.
Im Blind Ali. Not my real name, of course. But its, well,
and I daresay it has a certain appeal for some. And less of a mouthful.
Maria knew too well that the man was the target of
name calling on a regular basis. She knew how he must feel. Or did she? And to her shame,
she realised that the words had been just about to come to her own lips. Did Blind
did this man know?
sorry, but I never heard your real name
Chandra Jayasuria. Its Sri Lankan
Chandra, you cant guess how glad I am that its you. Are you able to find your
way about in this?
of course! I knew there was a fog, but not that there was a power cut too. And you
youre lost, arent you?
nodded. Yes. And Im desperately worried. Im on my way to a woman whos
in labour. God knows what must be happening to her. Shell be so frightened.
she live nearby?
Ive no idea. I have no idea where I
am, for a start. Do you know?
course. We are by the factory in
him the address. OK. Well be there in about twenty minutes
not immediately grasp what it was he intended. But how
all the streets within a couple of miles are imprinted here. He raised his hand to his forehead.
Just put your hand on my shoulder and well set off. No need to be afraid.
Yet she was afraid. Not of the gentle man who had come to
her rescue, but of the menacing silence about her. And desperately anxious for the young
mother who was waiting for her. As if sensing her fear, her guide began talking quietly.
understand, Ive been walking these streets every day for more than twenty years,
since I first came to this country. Safer, I think, than where I lived in
curiosity was roused. Because of the troubles there?
no. We lived in a rural part of the island, nowhere near the fighting. My family ran a tea
plantation. But even living in such a quiet spot carried its own risks
from her anxiety Maria remarked I cant imagine anything much frightening about
chuckled again. Well, you are right, of course. But alarming things did happen, even if not very often. I used to be
sent out to work when I was a boy. Would you believe it, a herd of elephants once strayed
on to the plantation and did terrible damage. Trampled everything and very nearly trampled
Really. But I think Pa and Ma were less upset of what could have become of their beloved
son, than the devastation caused by those elephants! He went on talking about his
past, his coming to
And so she
told him about her own life and how she came to be where she now worked. She told him that
she had been raised in
How did he know?
But enough for now. We are here at the front door of your patient.
How did he know that I am black?
moment, the street lights came on. With a gasp of relief, Maria could see that the fog was
thinning. She saw the lights flickering in the windows of the surrounding houses. Yes,
this was Jeans house. Chandra bless you for being such a wonderful
guide to me. And for being so kind and reassuring. You must have thought me very silly.
Not at all, Miss Maria. It was my pleasure,
and a privilege.
her and later she wondered why he did it he removed his heavy dark glasses.
She stared at this face. It was horribly scarred. She realised at once that at some time
in the past he had been burned dreadfully. She had to force herself not to recoil in
shock, not doubting for a moment that he would sense her horror.
what happened to you?
smile flickered across his lips. Fawkes wasnt the only guy they set light to,
Maria. And your parents were not the only ones denied the pride of having a child become a
doctor. That much we have in common.
her head. No
Maria took his hand and squeezed it.
you must go in said the blind man. You are needed. And again he
hesitated before saying: They are just ignorant, you know. So perverse, isnt
it, when we all should be grateful to people like you who come to live and work among us.
So you must know must have heard
they have a name for me as well.
and walked towards the door. Another wave of anxiety gripped her. What might have become
of her patient? Alone, progressing rapidly in
labour, and in total darkness. The thought appalled her.
knocked on the door. She listened intently for a response from within. She heard nothing.
She knocked again, harder.
twenty seconds passed. Still silence. Her anxiety quickly turned to dread. She turned,
hoping that Chandra might have waited. He could go to the nearest telephone
the police, an ambulance. But there was no sign of him.
she saw a light come on through the frosted glass panels. Oh, thank God
footsteps approached the door from within. A hesitant voice called out Whos
Maria, Jean. Im so sorry
I got delayed.
opened. Jean, dishevelled and wearing a towelling dressing gown stood in front of her. Her
hand rested on her swollen abdomen. For a moment she seemed to struggle to get her breath.
are you OK? Maria interrupted, has it been terrible
not really. The contractions are regular and getting stronger. But I did just as you told
me. I took some paracetamol and went and lay down. And I dropped of to sleep!
slept all through
I was out for the count. Your knocking brought me to my senses. But come in out of the
cold. It looks miserable out there. Did you have trouble getting here?
a bit. But my guardian angel came to my rescue. Now, lets get you sorted
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