…October 1976, Cape Town.
The mug shattered as it hit the tiles. Hot coffee drops splattered over her toes and she turned up the volume to hear the rest of the 7 o’clock news. Her heart hammered frantically.
“…Ongeluk. Meneer Christopher Jarvis … kritiese toestand …Pretoria Noord hospitaal. Geen ander passesiers …”
“Debs… you look like you’ve seen a ghost. Are you okay?”
Julia grabbed her arm and Deborah slid onto a bar stool. She was aware of Bob’s wet nose on her leg, and of Julia pushing him away.
“You’re shivering. Tell me for God’s sake!”
“Chris has been in an…”
‘What’s happened?” Julia was leaning over her, rubbing her arm.
“Pretoria Noord hospital. I need to phone…”
The wooden floors groaned as Julia ran. She had the ward matron on the line in what seemed like a second.
“Come quickly Debs.”
Her hand trembled as she grabbed the receiver. “Mr Christopher Jarvis…Yes.”
She held the phone so that Julia could hear too. “Is it possible to speak to him? “
Her hand went up to her mouth as she tried to absorb the Matron’s words. “Mr Jarvis is not conscious…critical condition…ICU.”
The phone clanged against the wall and she slid to the floor. She couldn’t collapse. She didn’t have the luxury. She had to fight for him, for both of them. She turned on to her hands and knees and pushed herself upright before dashing to her bedroom. Her legs staggered beneath her as she dragged her suitcase from under her bed and began to throw clothes into it frantically.
“I must go to him. I have to get to Pretoria.”
Julia’s hand was reaching out to her and she pushed it away as she ran past her. The retching didn’t stop, even when her stomach was completely empty. She could hear Julia’s voice, as she splashed water on her clammy face.
“…on standby for the next available flight? Perfect.”
Her hand shook as she lit a cigarette and took the steaming mug from Julia. She choked on the first sip.
“Pack. I’ll take you as soon as you’re ready.”
The doorbell rang insistently and she listened to Julia struggling with the brass knob.
The door was slightly ajar now. “I’m Katie, Chris’s assistant. I need to speak to Deborah…it’s very important.”
“This is not a good time.”
As the door creaked open, Deborah took another deep drag of her cigarette and turned to face the woman.