‘Stay here. I’ll go get something—’
‘No, no, you won’t come back. Don’t leave me, please.’
‘It’s OK, OK. I’m not going anywhere.’
There is a sound from below. We both turn to look at him. He gazes back at us with large, curious eyes and for an instant, for a disconcerting instant, it is as if he can see through us, right through to our tormented souls. Blake releases me and goes to his son. Sorab makes a shrill sound of delight as he picks him up. The child lays both his hands flat on his father’s cheeks as if he is trying to get all his attention. And when his father nods, he laughs. His father throws him up into the air and catches him while he laughs uproariously.
Oh God, oh God. If only he was just a normal person, if we could just live a normal life, but here he is. Trying to be normal. Trying his best to give us all he can. Yes, I do not know him. There is much left to be done, but this, this can be the prelude to our life. For I am determined to be there each morning when his eyes flutter open.
Sorab and I leave after breakfast with Tom. Blake kisses us goodbye. He will not be coming with us. He will be going the way he came, in a black hawk. I tell Tom to stop by Billie’s. Then I call her.
‘Are you all right?’ she asks me urgently.
‘We’re fine. We’re on our way to you.’
‘Sorab and me.’
‘How long before you get here?’
‘I’ll be waiting for you,’ she says, and ends the call abruptly. I look at the phone in my hand with surprise. Strange. I thought she might want to chat, find out more. Oh well.
I knock on her door and it is suddenly flung open. Billie snatches Sorab out of my startled hands and runs with him towards the room Billie and I have together decorated as Sorab’s. Slightly bewildered, I close the front door and follow them. I walk into the blue and yellow room in time to see her deposit Sorab in his cot, shove a toy into his hands, and turn towards me with a contorted face.
‘What?’ I ask and she launches herself at me. She hugs me so tight I can hardly breathe.
‘Hey,’ I say. ‘It’s going to be OK.’
That only makes her go stiff in my arms. She pulls away from me. ‘Don’t lie to me, please.’
I stare at her. I am speechless with shock. Even though her voice is utterly normal, tears are escaping from her eyes and running quickly down her face.
‘It’s never going to be OK, is it?’
‘Of course it is.’
‘No, it’s not,’ she mutters darkly.
I open and close my mouth without having said anything. I have never seen Billie like this before. It shocks me. She’s always so cool, so sarcastic.
‘The old rat’s dead. You’re not going to tell me that was an accident.’
I shake my head slowly.
‘See,’ she says, fresh tears slipping down her cheeks.
‘Yes, but it is over now.’
‘Over? Can’t you see that it will never be “over”? I wish to God you had never gone into that f**ked up family of reptiles.’
I grip her by her arms. ‘But I did, Bill. I’m in it. I love Blake with all my heart. And he is Sorab’s father.’ I turn and look at my son. He is gazing at us again with those big, innocent eyes; not crying, not upset, but aware that something is not right.
‘Have you chosen wisely?’
For a moment the words are like thorns in my heart. I close my eyes. Then I open them and face Billie. ‘I cannot be without him, Bill. I simply can’t.’
Billie wipes her nose on the sleeve of her oversized T-shirt.
‘Let me go get you some tissue.’
‘You can’t. I ran out yesterday.’
‘Oh, Bill! Wait here.’
I go into her bathroom and tear off some toilet paper. When I go back to the room she is standing exactly where I left her. I fold the toilet paper, clip it around her nose, and say, ‘Blow.’
She cracks a smile, takes the toilet paper from me, and blows her nose noisily. ‘I’ve been so frightened and confused these last few days.’
‘Come on, let’s discuss this over a cup of tea,’ I cajole.
‘All right,’ she agrees and reaching into the cot picks Sorab up. Together we go to the kitchen. She closes the door and puts Sorab on the ground. Immediately he starts crawling very fast across the floor.
‘My God look at him go,’ Billie exclaims, for the moment her earlier worries forgotten.
I laugh. ‘He changes from day to day. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I swear he has grown in the night.’
I fill the kettle with water while Billie lays a plastic mat on the floor and throws some toys on it. Sorab squeals and moves quickly towards them. While Billie sets about preparing Sorab’s milk, I drop tea bags into two mugs and three-quarter fill them with boiling water. I look into the cupboard where the biscuits are usually kept and it is empty. I open the fridge and peer into its impressive bareness.
‘Want some milkie, banker baby?’ I hear Billie ask Sorab.
Sorab lifts both hands and waves them in the air.
‘Good baby,’ she praises, and, gently pushing him down to the plastic mat, puts the teat into his mouth. She holds the bottle in place with one finger until he grasps it with both hands.
‘Don’t you have any food at all in this house?’
Billie gets off the floor and turns towards me. ‘Nope,’ she replies, totally unconcerned.
‘Want some of Sorab’s grape biscuits?’
I shake out a couple and we sit next to each other.
I watch her put six spoons of sugar into her tea and stir it morosely. She takes a sip. ‘Well?’
I tell her everything I know.
She frowns. ‘It’s all a bit hard to believe, isn’t it?’
‘I’m sure it was far more difficult for the people who thought the world was flat to accept that it was actually round. Wouldn’t people on the bottom half be falling off? But the world is round. From young we have been trained to unquestionably accept what we are told from our parents and teachers. They taught it to us just as they had learned it. What if they, too, had been deliberately taught the wrong thing?’
‘OK, I get that they want to cull the ‘useless eaters’. I even get that they start wars not because they are promoting democracy and freedom, but because they want the country’s oil or gold or whatever. But why are they poisoning the land, water and air? Don’t they have to breathe the same air and live on the same land as us?’