Elisant had never felt this strange. A black and white flashing backward C interfered with her vision along with several mat gray blobs as her visual field dropped out. A loud metallic clicking like a mantel clock chinked in her ears, but the most disturbing was the burning and tingling in her fingers.
Phyllis Blaise, her mother, late for everything, had arrived in a rush a few minutes earlier. They met in St. Anne’s Hospital waiting room, where her Granny, Anna Elizabeth Yates, lay suffering from double pneumonia. In her hurry, Phyllis fumbled her handbag, spilling the contents. Elisant bent to retrieve the items; did she bend over too fast and cause her symptoms?
Still reeling from her experience, mother’s bony fingers lifted something from her grip, followed by the click of a metal box closing. Elisant shook her head and wiped her eyes. She then waggled a finger in her ear—the mind fog lifting.
“You look pale,” Phyllis said. “Have you been taking care of yourself?”
Elisant stared at her mother.
She had accepted her mental weirdness about a lack of connection with others. People always were a mystery, but this peculiar physical state was new. In high school, she sat at the back of the class with no friends, studiously ignoring the teacher’s droning. Bored, the dictionary appeared as a fine restaurant’s menu of delicacies, to add to her word list. Doodles passed the time. Ignoring tiresome homework assignments, she aced the term exams. She wished to help others learn to read and write since she first learned how. Letter-shaped corpuscles ran in her veins. Now, she had her teaching certificate in English.
Her close friend, Chidinma Olawale, Chi for short, couldn’t come with her tonight as she was visiting with her uncle about her trip home to Nigeria after completing the same English course as Elisant.
“Your telegram said Granny was very ill,” Phyllis said with a grimace. Her face pale with no make-up, and her rufous cheeks bearing witness to long walks on the wind-swept Yorkshire Moors.
“Yes, the specialist said it was a severe case of double pneumonia, and given her age…”
“That’s why I came. After years of anger, my feelings have softened, but I didn’t make any move toward a truce, which I now regret. Give her this gift. She’ll understand.”
“You won’t see her? Why come to the hospital?” Elisant’s head swam briefly with exhaustion. “You two really are too much.” Elisant snatched the box from her mother.
“This metal box is returning something I took twenty years ago.”
“From your time together in Nigeria?”
Her mother nodded.
The two hadn’t spoken since then, not even an exchange of birthday or Christmas cards. The two were opposites; Phyllis, introverted, and Anna extroverted, always ready for a hug.
Elisant had hoped for reconciliation or the start of one. She wanted the three as a family. “Please, Mum, come and see Granny.” Elisant chewed on her lip and grabbed her hand to pull her into the ward.
“Let go of me, you silly girl.” Phyllis resisted wresting her hand free.
Elisant hated being called a girl. “Mother, I’m twenty-one years old, going on twenty-two. You’re the one acting like a schoolgirl.” Elisant flung her arms up briefly and glared.
Phyllis sat down and turned away.
“Be like that then.” Elisant realized the public setting, grateful for no witnesses.
Outside the waiting area, signs pointed to Men’s Medical on the right and Women’s to the left with posted visiting hours. A pair of doors stood chocked open.
Granny, eyes closed in a doze, sat up in bed half-way down the Nightingale ward. Both sides of the massive room had fourteen beds lined up, each made with military-style precision, ready for a sergeant major’s inspection. Privacy curtains shielded one patient.
“Hi,” Elisant said, approaching with arms outstretched.
“Hello,” Granny said as her eyes popped open, and a smile spread across her creased face. “You look sickly. Do you have a fever?”
Elisant smiled back. “Don’t worry, you’re the one who needs to get better, but it’s good to have you smiling again. What has the doctor said?”
“They never tell you a thing. The Ward Sister tells me it will take a few days for the penicillin to work. I’ve had four doses,” Granny lifted her arm to display a tubing ending under a two-inch square gauze dressing. A liter bag of liquid hung from the top of a pole with a chamber counting out the drops.
“Run home and stop worrying.” Granny scrutinized Elisant. “I need you fit and well when I get home, so let me rest.”
“I’m not going anywhere.” Elisant crossed her arms.
“If you insist on staying, you may hold my hand.” Granny pointed to the hard-back chair.
“Before I do, Mum sent this box.”
“Phyllis did? That’s odd.” Granny frowned, doubling her wrinkles. She attempted to access the palm-sized container. “It’s my arthritis. Can you open it?”
Both thumbs prized the lid free. Two clear stones of an unusual shape pointed at both ends, sat on a wad of cotton. She tipped them onto the bed, recognizing them as having spilled out of Mum’s handbag earlier.
“Herkimer diamonds,” Anna said. “Phyllis is sending me a message.”
“She’s in the visitors’ lounge but refused to see you.”
The older lady shrugged. “It’s up to her. She’ll do what she wants.”
“Are they expensive diamonds?” Elisant asked.
“Not diamonds, quartz. More useful than valuable.”
“What’s your experience with them?”
“Very little, but I did witness a life saved by a faith healer in Nigeria while holding them. They lit up in her hands, as she grasped the patient’s hand, who sat up and started talking after a doctor had certified her dead.”
“That’s difficult to believe.”
“If I hadn’t seen it for myself…”
“You’ve never talked about Africa with Mum. Why is that?”
“Phyllis has sent this signal, so perhaps it’s time. We worked for a Catholic Mission and helped at the local hospital in Port Harcourt, where she met your father. He was handsome and charming; he had everyone eating out of his hand. They took off on a wild romance, and you were the result. I told her how worthless a person he was, but she refused to listen. He disappeared when she fell pregnant, and we came home separately. After that, we’ve never spoken.”
“So, I’m the reason for your estrangement? What about that army officer thing?”
“Army officer? Is that the story she told you?”
Elisant nodded slowly.
“He was a liar, a cheat, and a thief.”
“Stop. You’re making this up.”
“No, trust me, I’m telling the truth. We became estranged, with months becoming years between any meaningful contact. And it got increasingly difficult to make amends. I received a letter from Mum asking about a room for you at my house while attending college out of the blue. Naturally, I jumped at the chance to meet my granddaughter.”
Granny stopped talking. She squeezed one hand with the other and interlaced her fingers. Then released them and rubbed her chin.
“These are the actual crystals in question,” she said, eyeing the stones on the bed.
“What do you mean?”
“These are the ones I saw the faith healer use.”
Elisant took Granny’s hand in hers and hoped silently for her recovery. The Herkimers glowed red, and that strange sensation returned. Her hands tingled, and her vision became unreliable, and she could hear ticking. A movie formed in her mind about the time she’d broken her arm and her mother held her close. Her ideal image of Dad, she’d conjured up while not knowing anything about who he was, came to mind. A warmth spread through her body and out into Granny. This new experience of serenity and peace was unfamiliar to her, and she wanted it to continue. Her mother sat near, and yet she wasn’t present. Elisant was clueless about how long the warm stream washed over her.
“Are you all right?” It was Granny, sounding far away, then closer.
“Fine,” Elisant said. She glanced at the crystals as they faded from pink to clear.
“You seemed so distant.”
“Just ringing in my ears.” She poked in her left ear.
“It’s called tinnitus.”
Elisant was familiar with the word. “That’s better. I love you so much,” she said and gave her another hug.
“I’m tired.” Granny yawned and stretched her arms upwards. “My neighbor snored so loud after dark; we threw wadded up envelopes from our get-well cards to rouse her.” Granny’s face cracked a smile, and she looked ten years younger. “Night nurse handed out the Chloral Hydrate, which didn’t help.”
Granny started a series of coughs, then attempted to take a breath. Wide-eyed, her grip tightened, digging in her fingernails. She tried to speak, but her lips only mouthed, “I can’t breathe.” Elisant cried out as she released Granny’s hand. She stood and pulled the patient forwards, giving her two heavy slaps on her back with her hand, resulting in a thick plug of phlegm.
A red belted nurse came from the kitchen, fixing her cap to her hair. “Is everything all right?” She gave Granny a visual assessment.
“She got short of breath and coughed up that spit in the Kleenex. It’s streaked with blood.”
“As the penicillin works on the germs causing the infection, she’ll improve.”
The nurse walked away. Then Granny said, “I’m not planning on it, but I’m ready to go, so I asked them not to prolong my life. If my heart stops, then so be it. Pneumonia used to be the old woman’s friend, avoiding a lingering death.”
“Don’t talk that way. You keep us cheered up with your optimism. I got scared you were choking.” She noticed a newspaper and book on the over-bed table. “What are you reading?” she said, changing the subject. The Daily Telegraph sub-headline read: U.S. 500th nuclear bomb test underground in Nevada. “When are they going to stop that obsession with getting the biggest explosion?”
“I feel sorry for your generation, growing older with the ever-present threat of a nuclear war.”
Elisant didn’t like to think of such carnage. She changed the subject again. “What’s your book about?”
“It’s on my passion, archeology; did you know that in medieval times people hid their old boots behind walls as they built the house? An old building at Ightham in Kent is one example.”
“Why did they do that?”
“The shoes contained nails securing the sole to the uppers. Iron protected those living there from magic and harm.”
“That sounds interesting.”
“Elisant, are you okay?” Granny asked.
The nursing Sister, wearing a navy-blue dress, white sleeve ruffles, and cap, stopped by Granny’s bed. “Doctor has ordered another chest X-Ray for in the morning. She’s tolerating the antibiotic, and we are having her hydrated with the saline infusion.” The senior nurse studied Elisant’s face. “Take care, young lady; our patient will need your help when she returns home.”
“Sister!” a nurse shouted.
They both turned toward a commotion in front of the office. Nurses hurried out of the department.
Elisant scooped the crystals back into their metal container without handling them. The latent heat transferred through to the iron.
“Something’s going on. These people don’t run for nothing. Go and see.” Granny craned her head for a better view.
Elisant walked toward the noise and asked a nurse’s aide what was happening.
“A visitor has collapsed.”
Elisant arrived breathless to look at a mound of clothing laid out on the floor, surrounded by white uniforms. There was no mistaking Mum’s coat.
Elisant’s mind raced as the staff carried the new patient into the Female Medical Ward. The film in her head repeatedly ran with Mum on one side, Granny on the other; had they connected through her? What about those brilliant diamonds?
“Your mother had a seizure, and she remains unconscious. She is stable now. We’re keeping her under close observation with blood tests and an X-Ray of her head. She may have injured it in the fall,” a doctor said.
“Thank you, doctor,” Elisant heard blood and X-Ray; the rest didn’t register.
Sister approached Elisant. “You poor girl, we’ll relax visiting for your mother, as she’ll be in the sideward with a nurse to watch her. But some good news too; Mrs. Yates got up out of bed. The doctor can’t understand it. They may discharge her tomorrow if her X-ray shows improvement.”
“What?” Elisant woke up to the fact that Granny had left her sickbed. “What are you doing out of bed?”
She pushed her IV pole on wheels and looked like a shepherd with his crook. The very pinnacle of health. “It was Phyllis, then?”
They sat in the spartan waiting room. “Has she caught the flu?” Granny asked. “Young people can shrug off a virus, but as we get older…”
“But it’s May, end of flu season.”
Granny shrugged. “The doctors here will sort it out. Look at me.”
“Sister said the amazed doctor couldn’t understand your recovery.”
“Finest healthcare in the world, our National Health Service. They’ll fix Phyllis, too. I’m much better after seeing you and that penicillin has worked.”
Antibiotic? Pneumonia? My visit? What happened? No discussing this. She needed processing time. She’d hang onto it like many other of her experiences.
Elisant rang the bell for the second-floor apartment. A sleepy face blinked through the crack that followed the clicking of a lock.
“What on Earth has happened?” The entrance opened wider.
Elisant pushed past her friend Chi without a word, sat on the couch, folded her arms, and crossed her legs.
“What’s got into you?” Chi asked, pressing her lips together and clenching her fists. Then she relaxed and sighed. “Is Granny worse?”
Elisant avoided eye contact and stared at the old Victorian fireplace along the wall of the living area. Embers of an earlier coal fire crackled and settled in a warm glow.
Chi went to the kitchenette, and a cupboard door clacked, and glass chinked. She reappeared, holding a dark green bottle and two glasses.
“You’ve had a shock. Is it Granny? A midnight wake-up calls for a touch of the hard stuff.” Chi sounded more English than Elisant, speaking without a Nigerian accent. “This qualifies for emergency medicinal use.” Her tentative smile showed her bright, even white teeth. Glenfiddich whiskey trickled into a tumbler, and she pushed it into Elisant’s hand.
“Drink it,” Chi said.
Elisant upended the glass of single malt so smooth and warming. An empty stomach helped the scotch on its way as another jigger glugged out of the bottle.
“Oh, I hate myself.” Elisant slapped her thigh. She rustled into her handbag and produced the rusted box.
Chi parked herself at the opposite end of the couch and waited. She poured herself a small one and studied Elisant’s taut face.
“I’ve spent the entire day at the hospital.” Elisant was barely audible.
“Granny is well?”
“Discharge in the morning.”
Chi returned the bottle into its cubby-hole, taking a sip of her drink on the way. “So, why are you so upset?”
“Oh, nothing. I hate it when I don’t understand something. These crystals, for instance.” She prized open the lid and held the stones in her palm. They glowed a bright red in the dim light.
Chi leaned forward with her elbows on her knees. “Interesting. When I was a kid in the orphanage back home, a wise woman, Mrs. Adebayo, came to talk to us about natural healing and things spiritual. Well respected in the state, most Nigerians visit a traditional healer instead of a medical doctor. She spoke of crystals that could heal in the hands of a particular person, a person with The Gift.”
“Why do they glow on my touch?” Elisant stared at her palm and told of her encounter that day. “Mum stayed outside, but when I wished Granny to get well soon, she paraded past in flashbacks in my mind’s eye as if she entered my free hand and passed through into Granny. Did I transfer her health to Granny?”
“I don’t know enough to say. I suppose it’s possible.”
Elisant jumped up and tottered on the carpet. “What have I done?” She stumbled into her seat. “I’m worn out. May I flop on your couch?”
“Make yourself at home.” Chi extended her arms toward Elisant. “There’s a Nigerian proverb that says, ‘Hold a genuine friend with both hands.’”
“My dear friend,” Elisant pulled to involve her in a hug. Chi had a Ph.D. in hugging. The alcohol had reached its destination, and the walls began spinning, Elisant leaned into her for support, and her head lolled onto her friend’s shoulder before she came back to her seat.
“This morning, I was an ordinary woman. Now I’m a witch?” Elisant finished her whiskey. The room abruptly moved a half turn. “Whoa!”
“You’re such a light-weight, Ellie.” Chi stood. “Lie here and kick off those shoes.” They clumped to the floor with the ceiling spinning into darkness.