Franklin Mohan is a retired physician living in Belle River, Ontario. He enjoys his retirement time with his wife of forty-nine years. He is a wanna-be golfer, traveler, photographer, woodworker and writer. Frank was born in Trinidad and moved to Canada at age sixteen, in 1963. He attended the University of Saskatchewan, taught high school Chemistry and Biology in Saskatchewan and in British Columbia, thence to Medical School, UWI, Jamaica. Even
after fifty-eight years, he still identifies himself as a Trini. He enjoys learning Trini cooking—roti, dhal, curry, etc.— from his wife, a Canadian. This is his second book, the first being The Peripatetic Skylark.
Shari paced the floor, sweating, fraught with anxiety.
She was not usually given to perspiring like this, at least as profusely—something I hadn’t seen in all the eleven years we’ve been together. Tiny droplets like the morning mist on waxen leaves, condensed above her upper lip. I have always admired her coolness in tense situations, but today was different, vastly different.
I was, too, filled with trepidation about Lloyd Kaminski’s visit, since he was prone to violent outbursts, but I wanted to calm her down. “Shari,” I said, “it’s going to be okay. Your aunt Annie said so; after all she knew him as a boy.”
Lloyd was known to be impulsive and so, in my heart, I didn’t believe that the visit was going to be uneventful. His mood could change with little provocation.
Shari’s pacing and sweating bothered me. Pupils dilated. She was wringing her hands, peering through the curtains at the road in front, and then at the city’s skyline through the picture window at the back. Mentally, I ran down the list of differential diagnoses to explain her behavior and wondered: was she having a psychotic break? I became even more concerned when Shari did not respond. I imagined her being taken to the Emergency Room with a diagnosis of an acute anxiety attack with psychotic features.
She finally spoke to me in a rational, controlled manner, “I can’t help it, Lincoln. I feel so worried; how is he going to behave towards little Laura?”
I must admit, I was also guilty of alarm and dread.
“I share your concern too, Shari, but sit down, rest a little, let’s talk,” I implored, then making light of the situation I said, “come, sit by me, or you’ll wear out the carpet.”
She parted the blinds just enough to accommodate only one eye, then, after looking out at the road, she smoothed the fabric with her fingers, confirmed that the blinds were back together and then joined me on the couch. We held hands and consoled each other. We sent reassuring messages back and forth with our eyes. Shari’s aunt Annie—we called her just Annie—sat quietly in the living room watching us settle down. Annie, unlike the councillor she was, allowed us to achieve a certain degree of easement by ourselves.
Laura, our eight-year-old, not being privy to what had passed between Lloyd and me and him and Shari ten years ago, was kneeling on the daybed looking through the front window, excited that she was soon to see the grandfather she’d never met. It was her birthday after all, and it was a beautiful summer’s day, sunny and warm. Her friends were all coming to the party, but her excitement was heightened knowing that Jean and Lloyd Kaminski, both grandparents, would arrive any moment.
Shari’s father, Lloyd, was finally going to visit us after a lapse of ten years, during which he’d considered Shari dead and buried and I his bete noir.
Every few minutes, Laura would stretch her neck, and look expectantly left and right through the glass pane, mumbling words of frustration at having to peer to either side of the dogwood bush in the front yard.
Ten years prior, Shari and I were in the car heading to Kamsack, Saskatchewan. Shari was driving. I was shifting restlessly in the passenger seat.
“Don’t be so fidgety, Lincoln Kumar,” Shari tried to reassure me. “You’re going to be just fine. Dad and my mom liked the 1940’s documentary Wheels Across India, so I don’t see a problem.”
She was taking me to rural Saskatchewan to a farm that had been in several generations of the Kaminskis, where I was to meet her parents, Jean and Lloyd for the first time. Shari hadn’t been home since we got engaged, six months prior. It was 1964. I was sure the Kaminskis had never met a brown-skinned East Indian born in the Island of Trinidad, and of course, I had every reason to be apprehensive. Somehow this comparison between me and a twenty-five-year-old documentary, wasn’t a fix for my anticipatory anxiousness. I was going to meet a farmer and his wife in the 1960’s rural Canadian prairie, people who had not interacted with races other than Caucasian. Their experience was limited to naked natives in the National Geographic magazine and slide shows by returning missionaries. At that time, also, the segregation riots in America were prominent in the news. And as it’s said in the Trinidadian vernacular, Boy, once you non-white, you Black.
My mind was racing with paranoid thoughts about Shari, a Lilly-white daughter bringing a Black-guy to her home to meet the parents, as it were. My day-to-day experiences with ignorant, xenophobic Whites back in Regina telegraphed what I might have expected. As the car sped along the countryside which was filled with fields of canola and wheat stretching from horizon to horizon, I asked myself, how was I to present myself? Should I just be myself as my parents taught me? But then, I thought I might have been worrying for nothing, because they, like Shari, must be loving and broadminded. I envisioned the Kaminskis welcoming Shari and me with smiles, and goodies Jean might have prepared.
We arrived and drove up a long gravel laneway. Shari circled the front yard and parked facing the road. She pulled up the handbrake and the ratcheting grate of the mechanism broke the quietness within the car.
Just before she opened her door, Shari said, rather casually, “You’re going to be somewhat of a novelty, you know.”
“Novelty? Can you elaborate?”
“Well, I have never described you to mom and dad.”
“What do you mean, described me?” I said, in an amused tone. “Your choice of the word, described, sounded as if I was a new species of animal that was to be biologically classified and given a binomial Latin name, genus and species.”
We both chuckled.
She blushed and said sheepishly as she held my hand reassuringly, “Well, you know….?”
“You know what?” I didn’t think I wanted to hear what might come next.
“I didn’t tell them that my finance was not white and not Canadian born.”
“Why?” I said with trepidation, “We have been going out for a year now and got engaged six months ago.”
She said, naively, “Why not? What difference would it make? We’re to be married in just four weeks. We’re both adults, both professionals.”
“What?” I cried out, and I slouched as I twisted and peeked through the back window from the passenger side, to survey the front yard of the Kaminskis for any untoward reception.
Although a twenty-four-year-old confident teacher, my knees buckled, my heart palpitated, lifting my thoracic frame with each beat, lub dub, lub dub. Mouth dry. My chest musculature concurred with a fit of spasm.
The sound of a car door closing brought out a reception committee comprising Lloyd and Jean Kaminski, and Jean’s sister, Annie—I recognized them all from photographs. The three of them stood on the verandah waiting to greet us. We were on time—they were expecting us at eleven that morning.
Shari ran ahead of me, up the front steps, arms spread widely, cheery, “Hi Daddy, Hi Mom, we’re here,” she screamed in a sing-song cadence. She hugged them both.
Lloyd hugged his daughter, but his attention was transfixed on me. I could see through the wide frown on his face, he was wondering: Who is this darkie coming up the walkway? His eyes were ice-cold as he stared at me.
Puzzled, he pointed at me and demanded, “Who’s he?”
The corners of his mouth curved downwards. Face flushed. Eyes squinting. Nostrils flaring like an agitated bull in Pamplona. He seemed to assume that his little girl had been wooed by this dangerous immigrant to whom she was to marry in a month’s time.
Lloyd’s voice approaching that of a military tone, commanded, “Hold it right there!”
An order I abruptly followed in a servile manner, looking down at the ground, avoiding eye contact.
Shari had filled me in about her family over the last twelve months and I felt that I knew them as well as any man could know his prospective in-laws. What I had heard from Shari over that time, though, did not fully prepare me with a sense of confidence for our first encounter.
Lloyd was a disciplinarian, moralist and fundamentalist Christian who believed that Jesus was blonde and blue-eyed, while Shari’s mother played the role of an obedient wife. He made no bones about who wore the pants in the house even though Jean managed occasionally to manipulate him and get her way through passive, but effective persuasion.
Jean, still staring, suddenly broke into a smile which didn’t appear to be genuine. That smile, I felt, invited me up the stairs. I advanced in spite of Lloyd’s injunction, leery and watchful.
Aunt Annie, on the other hand, was truly open minded. Like Mark Twain, she knew that travel was fatal to prejudice; she was a missionary and had lived among the Indian indentured labourers in Fiji. Her experiences taught her that humans of different races had more in common than differences.
Lloyd and Jean abruptly let go of Shari, Lloyd still staring and Jean now with a practiced smile, appeared to measure me, the unexpected intruder into their daughter’s life. I stared back, not defiantly but with trepidation, like a novice actor overcome with stage fright. My facies mimicked that of being caught red-handed stealing something. Annie shuffled between the parents and Shari and me, as if breaking up a fight. Annie edged Lloyd and Jean to the back, blocking their consternation and holding Shari and me in an amorous embrace. I felt the unfeigned warmth oozing out of her welcoming gesture.
Annie whispered to me, softly, reassuringly, “Welcome to the family.”
Lloyd was obviously shocked and angered at this potential pollutant to his family line. He disappeared back inside while Annie tried to mitigate an awkward assembly.
Suddenly, Lloyd burst onto the verandah armed with a rifle, wielding the weapon with what looked like homicidal intent. He pointed the gun at me. “Get out! Get the hell off of my property.”
I could see the bore of the barrel, a tunnel of a dark aperture of death—my death, though there was no light at the end of that tunnel.
“Daddy! Dad, what are you doing?” Shari’s voice cracked; tears flowed. She was clearly in shock. Lloyd’s theatrics had hit her like a bolt out of the blue.
“I love Lincoln, Dad, Mom; and he loves me,” She said. “We are going to be married whether we get your blessings or not. You are not going to be living with Lincoln, I am.”
She seemed to realize that her parents were inflicted with the pot likker of racial prejudice, a tenet fostered by conspiracy theories imposed by right wing groups on the media at that time.
But then, Lloyd interjected, his voice raised above the hungry oinking hogs in the nearby pigsty, “No Golliwog is going to pollute my heritage; you get married and you will bring a bunch of half-breeds to my home. My honour will have gone to the dogs.” And with that he uttered a call towards Annie, Jean and Shari to get behind him and, “Leave this Wog alone on the steps.”
All but Shari complied and both she and I were left in the range of fire. He raised the gun to his shoulder—his finger actually on the trigger. As frightened as I was, I put my hand around Shari’s waist and held on tightly. Lloyd’s words became bullets. I wasn’t about to stick around and watch this metaphor morph into real bullets.
Lloyd minced no words. He barked, “Shari, get in here.”
She didn’t budge but held on to me so firmly that we became like conjoined twins. The verandah was a stage and Lloyd, Jean and Annie merely actors. I felt weak-kneed. Terrorised. I tugged my arm away from Shari’s grip and implored her to go to her parents and forget about us. I envisioned myself driving alone on the three-hour trip back to Regina. I thought, who am I to get between a woman and her family. At that time, I felt it was the honorable thing to do, a gesture I reasoned, virtuous in any culture.
But then, Lloyd bellowed, “Shari, you walk out of here with this man, and the family will disown you. You’ll be considered deceased.”
Jean, the ever-subservient wife, looked on like one hypnotised. Masked face. Expressionless. Annie covered her face in disbelief at this ultimatum and burst into tears because she knew how pig-headed Lloyd can be. She realised that he meant what he said, though. His authoritative rule, as bigoted as it seemed, was unyielding.
Shari and I weren’t about to rebuff nor protest Lloyd’s action. Not when he was pointing a gun. Frightened and traumatized, we headed down the driveway to the safety of the vehicle. I got behind the wheel, accelerated towards the road, and with spinning tires kicking up dust and gravel, I turned the car into wind and made it back to Regina in under three hours.
Both Shari and I were emotionally savaged by this incident. We counselled each other long afterwards. At first, I tried to encourage Shari to forget about our relationship and reconnect with her family. I urged her to repair her familial ties of blood, undone by my intrusion. My lack of selfishness strengthened the respect Shari had for me and we shared as intense a grief reaction as one would experience by the death of a loved one. We cried together and consoled each other for weeks afterward. The experience didn’t tear us asunder, but it intensified the love we had nurtured over the preceding year.
Annie eventually became our link to the Kaminski family. She called frequently, affording us counselling and empathy and support. She had completed a degree in Clinical Psychology as an undergraduate and majored in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). She had spent a ten-week clerkship with Dr. Aaron Beck at the University of Pennsylvania, where Beck pioneered the concept of CBT. Her guidance was effective and it helped us through a period that could have seen us either go our separate ways or become more attached to each other. The latter prevailed.
Shari and I discovered, through Annie, that Lloyd and Jean—Jean reluctantly so, had advertised in the local newspaper, announcing Shari’s death. Everyone in Kamsack though, knew the real story. Close friends and family of the Kaminskis stayed away, though a few attended the funeral and mock burial. The next day, Lloyd consulted his lawyer and wrote off Shari, his only child, from his will. All articles reminding them of Shari were thrown out of the house. A large bonfire that evening wiped out the state of parenthood which both Lloyd and Jean had enjoyed for the last twenty-one years.
Jean, confused, quietly cried every night in her bathroom. She relied on Annie to keep her abreast of news of Shari and me. She dared not let on to Lloyd though, that she kept tabs on their daughter and son-in-law.
Two weeks before our wedding day, both Shari and I wrote a heartfelt letter of reconciliation to Lloyd and Jean asking that we become a family, full of happiness and free of hate. We enclosed a wedding invitation in that letter. We waited expectantly in the ensuing two weeks for an acknowledgement, but to no avail.
However, an incident occurred that set me aquiver.
Two days before the wedding, Lloyd accosted me as I was leaving the grocery. He had obviously been stalking me. I immediately looked around the parking lot for witnesses, scanning the area for the quickest route of escape. After all, Lloyd had me at gunpoint at our last encounter.
This time, however, he assumed a peaceful but business-like attitude with a passive habitus: arms outstretched at his sides, his palms opened, facing frontwards. Although I was confused, I felt reassured. I presented my hand to shake. Lloyd looked at the pigmented skin of the dorsum of my hand and the depigmented palms as if my hand was a lab specimen. He didn’t respond in kind. There was no handshake.
“I want to talk to you,” Lloyd said.
His tone wasn’t conciliatory, but he seemed to encourage discussion. I was intrigued at his brazenness. I thought, Lloyd wasn’t anywhere near the enraged ogre he was at our last meeting. I felt eerily reassured. We headed for a shade tree at the periphery of the parking lot where there was a park bench. There wasn’t anyone within fifty feet. We sat on a six-foot bench, each at the extreme end.
“I will come straight to the point,” Lloyd said. “You know how I feel about you two getting married. You are taking away my little girl. She is but dead to me. There is a way, I think, I can bring her back.”
I became slack jawed. I wasn’t sure what to make of Lloyd’s words. Then, he produced a certified cheque. I looked at it. The amount was an incredible twenty thousand dollars, a princely sum in 1964. A three-bedroom home was worth fifteen thousand dollars. It could have meant using up his life’s savings, so ingrained was his urge to get his daughter back from the dead, away from this Hindu heathen.
He continued, “I want you to have this. In return you would promise to pack up and leave town tonight. You must agree never to contact nor communicate with Shari again. You must leave Canada and go back to Trinidad. Here, take it.”
He slid across four feet of bench, reached over and stuffed the cheque in my shirt pocket. I recoiled with disgust. How obscene, I thought. I quickly retrieved the paper from my pocket, held the edge with the tips of my thumb and forefinger as if it was a soiled piece of toilet paper and flung it back to where he was sitting.
I said, “Look, I love Shari. We plan to make a good life for ourselves and we have agreed to support one another through thick and thin. I am a high-school teacher and Shari an accountant, a Registered Industrial Accountant. Our kids shall have the best. They’ll be loved and taken care of and showered with affection. And most importantly, we would respect their choices in life.”
Lloyd’s demeanour immediately morphed into an aggressive, irrational mental attitude; he was intent on creating an unpleasant scene. He shouted, “Fuck you, you black son of a bitch; Go to her, fill the world with a bunch of black-assed half-breeds; and both of you be damned!”
He sprang to his feet and waved his arms wildly. His was such loud shouting, that heads turned among those shoppers some fifty feet away. I knew of his reputation of having a short fuse, so I jumped to my feet, turned and hurriedly headed towards the crowd that started to gather. Then I broke into a jog without looking back. I found my car and drove away in botheration, reminiscent of the gun pointing incident four weeks ago. I was amazed that Lloyd would sacrifice his life savings to extricate his daughter from a biracial bond. That meeting was so offensively disconcerting, that I decided not to tell Shari about the encounter.
Our wedding was a civil ceremony attended by four close friends. The room at city hall only allowed for about ten souls. Surprisingly, Annie appeared just as the ceremony was about to start. Excitedly we welcomed her with smiles and nodded at her to take a seat. As Trinidadians do, I pointed with puckered lips and raised eyebrows to an empty chair.
When the ceremony was over and the I do’s proclaimed, relevant papers signed, rings exchanged, all seven of the wedding party attended a restaurant, having rented a private room there. We had a small party filled with intense joy. Puccini’s Nessun Dorma from Turandot, the melody of which is a favorite of ours, was played over and over. It became everyone’s love by the time desert rolled around. We were all humming the melody as we left the establishment.
Annie joined Shari and me as we walked to our car. She muscled herself between us and put her arms on each of our shoulders. “Hey you two, congratulations to you. I just know that you will be successful in whichever direction life takes you.”
Shari, smiling broadly, said, “We love you too, Aunt Annie.”
Annie said, with a chuckle, “So, Mr. and Mrs. Kumar, is there anything you’d want me to say to Jean and Lloyd?”
Shari thought for a moment, then replied, “Well, please reiterate what we said in the letter which they should have read a couple of weeks ago, that our door is always open to them, no matter what. Lincoln and I have agreed to welcome them as cherished family; its all up to them.”
Annie said, “You know, they never read your letter. When it arrived and Lloyd read the return address, he immediately tore the unopened envelope in half and flung it in the trash can. I was there. I immediately retrieved it, put the two pieces together and read both the letter and the invitation. Lloyd had left the room in a huff and I related the contents to Jean. She started to cry. I imagine though, she later told Lloyd of the contents.”
I felt so sorry for Shari. I spoke up, “Thanks so much, Annie, for all you’ve done to make us feel welcomed. Thank you too, for your counselling; it got us through the unpleasantries of the last month.”
Annie added, “You know, though, Jean is secretly expecting a call from me to report every detail about the ceremony. So, I think there’s hope for the family.”
And so, the Kaminskis disappeared from our lives, and them from ours.
In the succeeding years, Annie became our go between, keeping Shari and I updated about the Kaminskis and Jean informed about us. Once, Annie reported that Jean, on a few occasions, had mustered up the courage to talk about us to Lloyd. At first, he’d show fleeting interest, but he’d quickly admonish Jean, “Why are you bringing up the dead?”
I excelled in my teaching job and Shari in her accounting practice. I felt a lack of fulfilment in my academic life and although I enjoyed teaching, I craved new challenges. I was encouraged to apply for admission to medical school in the West Indies. Friends and classmates from high school in Trinidad, who were already in the medical program urged me to apply. I did and was accepted. I was still a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago and this enhanced my chances of being admitted amongst the two thousand candidates vying for one hundred seats.
Two years after our wedding, our daughter, Laura was born. She was a cute blonde, blue-eyed half-breed, as Lloyd might label her. With baby in hand and having sold all our possessions, we headed for Jamaica to start a new adventure. Annie said Jean isolated herself in her room for a week, grieving, thinking the worst was to befall Shari in a foreign country.
Medical school was a test of my academic mettle, but I prevailed and graduated five years later. Shari, as the spouse of a medical student, was granted a work permit. She was employed by The First Citi Bank of New York in New Kingston, Jamaica. She, in effect put me through medical school. We made a successful team though she suffered periods of situational depression because she missed her parents. She craved their input helping her solve day to day challenges. She especially needed them for babysitting. Grandparents go Ga-Ga over their grand toddlers. Shari wished they could once again give her advice like they did when she was a child. Although Lloyd and Jean must have suffered likewise, we were sure they hid their sadness from Annie even though they must have known that Annie sent frequent reports to Shari.
After returning to Canada, I started my residency at The University of Saskatchewan teaching hospital in Saskatoon. Surprisingly, Lloyd started to show more interest in not just Shari, but in my accomplishments as well. Word gossiped over to Annie that Lloyd was overheard on occasion, relating the story of Shari and his son-in-law, the doctor, while getting his hair cut. Those in the barber shop listened and snickered privately. It was well known in Kamsack that Lloyd had buried Shari years ago. He was obviously proud of our accomplishments, but he never did let on to these sentiments at home.
Nine years elapsed, but we, Shari more so, still had regrets that our family was incomplete without the Kaminskis. Nine years is a long time, but one day I caught a glimpse of Lloyd parked kitty-corner from our house in Saskatoon. Annie later told us that he had been missing Shari. He had hoped to catch sight of her and even his half-breed granddaughter.
One year later, on his seventieth birthday, Lloyd’s lab results were reviewed by his doctor with both him and Jean present. Annie made a special visit to us in Saskatoon to break the news about Lloyd’s medical problem.
She sat us down and related the details: “Lloyd has been diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia—AML.”
“Gosh,” Shari said, and she looked at me for details about such a diagnosis.
“It’s manageable if caught early,” I said, trying to downplay the seriousness of the disease. I was more concerned because I knew it was an aggressive tumour especially in the over sixty-five age group.
Anne continued, “Lloyd has become sicker, and bed ridden.”
On hearing such alarming details, Shari immediately got to the phone and dialed the Kaminskis. “Hi, Mom? Shari. Glad to hear your voice too. I just heard about Daddy. Please, let me talk to him.”
Jean was happy that Shari had called. She put the phone down, went to the bedroom, picked up the bedroom extension and attempted to hand it to Lloyd. Shari waited expectantly, nervous and teary eyed. She could hear muffled sounds coming through in spite of the covered end of the receiver as Jean cradled the phone in her palms. Jean apparently, was arguing with Lloyd to swallow his spit, as it were, and talk to Shari.
“No,” and then a more emphatic No was heard, “I can’t speak with the dead. I have no daughter; she’s dead to me. Hang up please,” he said, defiantly.
Jean didn’t have to relay what Lloyd had said. Shari made out enough to confirm that the bull-headed Lloyd refused to speak to her. She hung up and said to Annie and me, “In spite of the ten years that have elapsed, can you blame me for trying to rebuild bridges with my estranged parents?”
It was obviously a rhetorical question, and Annie and I just nodded in support. I hugged Shari and allowed her to sob with her head on my chest.
Later that day, we heard from Jean that Lloyd had softened and agreed to allow her to visit Shari, and Laura and me once a month whenever business beckoned her to the city.
Annie added, “Lloyd’s only hope of survival is to seek a match for a bone marrow transplant.”
I recalled hearing about an update of AML in Grand Rounds. I explained to Shari and Annie, “This technique is currently an experimental one and last year in nineteen seventy-four, it was tried on subjects who were considered moribund.” I dared to use the word moribund, but I felt by being frank, it would shield Shari from any subsequent shocking surprises. I added, “The stem cells thus harvested would replace his unhealthy blood forming cells with healthy ones from the donor.”
Lloyd’s history of being an unaffable fiend to family and acquaintances eliminated donors who would go through the discomfort of having their bone marrow harvested. His only hope was to have an anonymous donor, a stranger come forward. Later that week, Jean, Annie and secretly, Shari, were the only family who stepped forward for testing. No one was a match.
There were no matches from a national bank of donors, either. With his genetic profile being unique it was going to be a miracle to find a match. The family and the doctors were at an end of their options for finding a compatible donor.
Then, that same week, Shari said to me, “Lincoln, why don’t you, as a long shot, get tested for immunological compatibility with my dad?”
I laughed. I thought it was a rather morbid joke she was making.
“No Lincoln, I’m serious.”
“What!” I said. I realised she had put a lot of thought into this request. I stopped laughing. And said, “Firstly, I am of a completely different genetic origin from a Kaminski and secondly, would an extremely racist Lloyd have my Paki blood coursing through his body?”
Then on considering, what’s there to lose, I acquiesced and presented myself to the lab for testing. The hematologist was bowled over by the results. He never expected a perfect match between such dissimilar phenotypes. When the news reached the Kaminski family, there was pandemonium amongst the immediate family that a match was found. All rejoicing was abruptly set at rest because of Lloyd’s scornful historical attitude towards me.
I mentioned to the girls—Jean, Annie and Shari, “Can Lloyd really put aside his false pride and accept my bone marrow? After all, our first meeting saw Lloyd pointing a gun, finger on the trigger, towards me. And secondly, he tried to bribe me to disappear and leave Shari forever.”
They were both shocked when I let slip about the bribe, and I had to explain what happened that day in the grocery parking lot and the twenty-thousand-dollar cheque.
As a physician, I had no issues about being the donor. If Lloyd’s life was to be saved, it had to be by this gesture of mine. However, I suggested that my involvement be kept secret from Lloyd who, in his ignorance was elated that a compatible donor was found. And so, the die was cast. Lloyd was to be brought into hospital and prepped for the transplant. The staff in the clinic were briefed about not letting Lloyd know that his son-in-law was to be the donor.
I overheard the nurses commenting about Kaminski being bigoted and rude in the waiting room. Apparently, Lloyd, as sick as he was, was being ornery about some spook doctor—a Nigerian hematologist—messing with his body. On the day of the procedure, both Lloyd and I were on wheeled gurneys; we caught a glimpse of each other as we were wheeled along the corridor. Lloyd looked away. He made no attempt to acknowledge me. I guess he assumed I was there as a patient for something else.
After the operation, I was told by a staff member that Lloyd overheard a nurse’s aid who innocently talked out aloud that Dr. Lincoln Kumar, Mr. Kaminski’s son-in-law, was the donor. I was flabbergasted.
“Wow,” I exclaimed, “how did he react?”
My colleague, not privy to the dynamics of the discordance within our family, shrugged his shoulders and indicated that there was no observable reaction ether way.
But after some thought, he added, “Well now that you’ve brought it up, for a man with no prior donor options, he reacted in a rather unconcerned manner. I now recall, he simply looked away and stared blankly at the ceiling. I thought, at the time, that it was an odd reaction given the unique circumstances.”
Now that Lloyd knew my gesture saved his life and the fact that we were a genetic match, it showed the racist, that humans of all geographical sets were in fact the same.
Later, he lamented and complained to Jean as she sat at his bedside, “I am now a half-breed; I am no different than Lincoln. We are intimately related. Lincoln’s blood is literally my blood now. I am more related to him than I am to Shari.” His facial expression showed a confused man, harboring two conflicting thoughts at the same time. He confided in Jean, “On one hand I am grateful my life has been saved, and on the other, I can’t stand the thought that I am bathed in the blood of a racial type I have despised all my life.” Then he, like a philosopher, added, “Huh, when you dig a hole for a man, invariably, you yourself, will end up falling in it.”
At first, Lloyd’s diabolical disposition prevailed and he lapsed into a mindset of denial. Denial about my sacrifice for him. For me, it was a humanistic gesture where I wanted nor expected anything in return. He quietly admitted to Jean that having many hours on a hospital bed to think, he came around and acknowledged my generosity. He stayed up late three nights after the transplant. At three on the fourth morning, he had an epiphany. A veil of tender feelings enveloped him. His hidden softness of heart exploded from within his being. This tender-heartedness leaked from a place in his fiber that was previously inaccessible even from Lloyd. He burst out crying and sobbing uncontrollably. He shook Jean awake, from the recliner beside his bed, told her what he was feeling, and she cried with him. She had never heard such benevolence coming from him. He admitted through sobs that he wouldn’t mind seeing Shari.
Nevertheless, it appeared that Lloyd was too proud a man to go crawling to folks he had wronged for the last ten years. He kept his feelings to himself. Was it due to pride or rank stubbornness? Secretly, he always had the urge to see his granddaughter, half-breed or not. But he wasn’t going to make the first move.
When he was stable, the hospital discharged him in care of Jean and Annie.
He admitted to Jean in the car, “I am trying to come to terms about how my future relationship with Shari and Lincoln would playout. What would be the modus vivendi—what arrangement would allow these conflicts between us to allow living in happy harmony?” He used a Latin phrase he had remembered from high school. He was otherwise quiet and introspective during the three-hour drive home. He peered out of the car window, looking at nothing in particular.
Three months later, Lloyd was feeling better. He was ambulatory. His physical state was almost back to normal. My stem cells were producing Lincoln-cells, so to speak, which would be coursing through Lloyd’s circulation for the rest of his life. Lloyd had to come into town for his monthly check-up by the spook, the Nigerian hematologist. It was a hot, dry July and coincidentally Laura’s eight birthday party was on that day. Shari had a hunch that Lloyd was ready to reconnect with her and her family. Annie encouraged her to invite the Kaminskis to the birthday party. To her surprise, they accepted the invitation.
They were due to arrive an hour before the other guests.
Shari intimated to me what she was thinking: How would the meeting go? Would Lloyd be amenable to hugging? Would he be disrespectful? Insulting to me? Would he breakup the party? How would he acknowledge Laura? Shari was unable to relax.
I was caught up in the tension of the moment, but I encouraged Shari to calm down, and I said, “Pull yourself together honey, I’ll be at your side for the whole time.”
“Yes, but they’ll be here in fifteen minutes,” Shari replied, and she went about checking that the house was neat and everything was in its proper place.
The 1969 Chev Impala station wagon, sleek, long and wide, a car fit for a farmer, pulled up in front of our walkway.
Annie, who had been at our home since the day before, looked out of the front door and said, “They’re here!”
Her tone wasn’t one of expectancy or elation, but of alarm. She broadcasted the event as that of a wild-life commentator announcing the appearance of a lion. No one knew what to expect, not even Annie the psychologist.
The three of us adults crowded the door from inside. The glass pane fogged up with exhalations. Annie was in front, Shari behind Annie, her hands on her aunt’s shoulders and I, trying to be even-tempered, stood behind the two. Little Laura, influenced by the adults’ excitement, kneeled on the back of the daybed and peered through the window.
Jean exited the front passenger seat first and proceeded up the walkway. Lloyd, however, stayed in the driver’s seat, looking straight ahead, and appeared to be concentrating, as if he was still driving.
When Jean entered the house, there were hugs all around; she was no stranger to our home. She had visited on a monthly basis over the last year, visits sanctioned by Lloyd, who now sat glued to the car seat. It was as if he couldn’t bring himself to reconcile with Shari and most of all come face to face with me, whose blood was coursing throughout his body. He seemed filled with the shame of wrongdoing, procrastinating, waiting perhaps for another time for a reunion.
Jean was ushered into the living room and after tears were shed and the hugging completed, attention was shifted to Lloyd, still sitting in the car like constipated stool unable to disimpact. The situation was akin to an impasse. I thought, was he going to sit there for the duration of the birthday party? Just then, while there was debate among the adults inside as to how to handle the situation, little Laura slipped out and walked briskly down the walkway. I ran over to the opened front door and kept an eye on her, being concerned for her safety, I wanted to see what she was going to do.
Laura was decked out in her lovely, pink, frilly birthday dress and was made up ever so immaculately. Her long blonde hair was held back by a one-piece headwear hairpin studded with pearls. Her blue-grey eyes reflected bluer in the bright sunshine.
“Hi Sir,” she addressed Lloyd through the passenger window, “are you my Grampa?”
Lloyd seemed to be taken aback by this pretty cutie, and her sweet, melodic voice. His hardened heart seemed to melt and become pulpy. Fighting tears, he looked straight ahead and grasped the steering wheel tight knuckled. He pursed his lips, locking in his true emotions. He didn’t respond.
“Sir? Mister Kaminski! Grampa? Please say something,” Laura said.
Just then Laura, to my consternation, decided to leave the sidewalk and go around to the traffic side of the car close to the driver’s window with oncoming cars zooming past.
Lloyd was startled. He shouted, “Laura, honey, stay. Don’t come to this side. Stay there. Get back!”
He swiftly exited over the passenger seat to the right but when he jumped out onto the sidewalk to go after Laura his right foot set down unevenly on the concrete edge of the sidewalk and he twisted his ankle, fell down and abraded his knee. Seen below the short pants, the rent in the skin was superficial but because he was on blood thinners, it bled profusely.
Laura, startled by the bleeding knee, ran to him, grabbed his arms and attempted to help him up.
Lloyd stood up and Laura knelt down and administered the only treatment she knew: kiss the bleeding skin better. She looked up, her pink lips covered with blood, and crying, she said, “Does that feel better Mr. Kaminski?”
Lloyd dissolved into tears. “Don’t call me mister, its Grampa, call me Grampa,” and with that he lifted her off the ground and hugged her tightly with his eyes wrinkled closed, his eyelids drawn and puckered like a purse string, as he tried to hold back more tears.
Inside, we were struck speechless. Astonished. Annie, who knew Lloyd since grade school, couldn’t fathom Lloyd’s display of sentiment. It was an incongruous act of a known intolerant fool.
Jean, muttered, “An old dog can learn new tricks after all. What a calming effect a grandchild can have on a grandparent.”
Lloyd wrapped and tied his handkerchief around the abrasion and proceeded up the walkway with a slight limp. He held on to Laura and Laura hugged his waist with her petit arms. The two mounted the steps and entered our home—for him it was the first time. I composed myself and rushed to clear furniture from the hallway leading to the living room so that everyone could enter freely. Shari retreated to the living room ahead of everyone.
When Lloyd and Laura entered the hallway, Jean held Laura’s arm and Lloyd the other. As they emerged in the living room, Lloyd opened his arms, facial muscles contorted as if weeping was imminent.
He addressed both Shari and me: “Can you ever forgive an old jack-ass. I’ve wasted my life fostering hate and intolerance.”
He beckoned both Shari and me to come towards him. At first, I was skeptical. But his teary eyes painted a picture of genuine remorse. We both approached and he hugged us, tightly, for the longest time.
“Can I have my daughter back again?” Lloyd said.
He released me and embraced Shari. Light entering the picture window, silhouetted father and daughter in consort rendering them a single shadow. They were locked this way for a lengthy period of time.
Afterwards, still holding on to Shari at the waist, he looked me straight in the eye: “Isn’t it ironic, that the first time we met, I shooed you off my property at gun point? Now, I love you. Not because you saved my life, but even a fool can see that you have treated my daughter and granddaughter with honour. You’ve led them through life with dignity. Shari and you have made a great team. Neither of you outrank the other. Your love and respect are mutual. Your home is a stable and enriched environment in which to nurture Laura. What a cutie she is. I am proud to call you my son-in-law.”
Everyone looked at each other in disbelief.
Then, Lloyd let go of Shari, opened his muscled farmer’s arms and approached me. He gave me a bear hug and pointed out: “You and I are one. Race, creed and colour are but superficial differences. God has made us from the same cloth. But not only that, I do have part of you in me. I harbour your stem-cells and they make your blood my blood now.”
And to my surprise, he planted a kiss on my cheek. There was spontaneous clapping by all and laughter ensued.
ONE OF THE STORIES IN FRANKLIN MOHAN’S NEW BOOK
LOVE HAS TWO MOONS AND OTHER STORIES