Chapter 1Her once vibrant, blonde curls lay flaccid around her head like a scarf of despair. Her once lovely face was now the portrait of the all-consuming pain she had endured for the past several months. Looking at the North Shore Mountains from the terrace of her apartment, Talya Kartz was lost in thought, almost absent. She was revisiting the places of her youth, the places where she had found solace amid the tiresome memories of days filled with anger and regret. She spared some thoughts for the man responsible for her misery, a man she had loved, a man who had become an assassin. He could have killed her, but he didn’t. Why, had been the question that had superseded every other since the shooting. She couldn’t get him out of her mind. She loathed the sight of him now. Yet, she wanted to see him again. She wanted to unreel her vengeful torment upon him. The rage she felt was oddly intertwined with the memory of the times they spent together—the beaches, the sunshine, the warmth of the day...
The winter had dragged on forever and she was happy to be outside without a coat or a blanket wrapped around her legs. Confined to a wheelchair, her main pleasure appeared centred on being alone outside. Unable to get out of bed at night, she would roll herself onto the carpet in the early hours of the morning to drag her body to the terrace door. The nurse would find her on the floor, staring at the ocean or asleep, her head leaning against the windowpane.
Her apartment had become her cage. She had concentrated mainly on learning to move about without the use of her legs as much as was allowed or possible. Ultimately, she had given up on the idea and got used to her wheelchair, although she still preferred sitting on the ground when she was alone. It was as if the floor or the barren ground gave her a sense of vitality, absorbing her pain and restoring her will to live.
“I’m home! What’s for dinner?” Aziz erupted jokingly, as he came through the door late that evening. Hearing no response, he rushed to the terrace. There, Talya was again; sitting on the ground, her back against the stone wall, watching the ocean. “What are you doing here? I thought you had gone out. Come on, let’s get you inside. It’s getting cold.”
Talya looked up at him but didn’t reply.
“Come on, Milady, I’ve got your favourite pizza for dinner...”
Returning her gaze to the ocean, “Is swimming good for me?” Talya asked.
“I’d say so. It’s a muscle stimulant, but you know that. They’ve put you in the pool at the hospital many times.”
“Yeah, but that’s not the same as really swimming, is it?”
“No, it isn’t. I’m sure by the summer; you’ll be able to go swimming.”
“Can we go now?”
“Now? I don’t think so. You need to get a little stronger before you venture in open waters, matey. Remember your legs won’t help you anymore.”
“I know, I know, but I thought we could go to Second Beach in the Kiddies Pool. I just want the feel of the water around my body. Can you understand what I’m saying, Aziz?”
Talya extended her left arm, grabbed the cushion of the wheelchair, lugged herself to where she could hold onto the armrest, and heaved her body into the seat. Beads of sweat pearled on her forehead while Aziz turned her hips into the chair.
“I need to be somewhere where having legs doesn’t matter. Somewhere I could move without having to manoeuvre a stupid wheelchair and somewhere no one needs to help me lie down, get up, or roll around.”
“Okay, let’s plan something for next weekend, okay?” Aziz suggested.
One of her rare smiles appeared on her face. Aziz could have lifted her to the sky for one of those smiles. He waited every hour of every day now to see a smidgen of pleasure light up her face.
“What kind of pizza did you get?” Talya asked, wheeling herself to the kitchen.
“Mushroom and cheese, and I bought a tin of anchovies.”
Talya looked up at him in surprise. She loved anchovies but he hated them.
“I know, I know, I don’t like them, but I thought I could put some on half of the pizza and I’ll eat the other half...”
“You didn’t have to do that! I love pizza anyway.” She shrugged and turned her chair around. “Whatever...”
The smile had disappeared. The joy or the promise of better times had dissipated once again. Aziz shook his head and watched her roll her chair back in the direction of the terrace.
Of course, Talya was an invalid, but it did not mean she was a vegetable either. Aziz was reaching a point where he did not know what to do to please her anymore. Yet nothing displeased her; the neutrality, the idleness, the irresponsiveness, the inertia were the most unnerving to him.
Strictly speaking, Talya was not Dr. Aziz Hendrix’s patient. She had been his lover, friend and companion for some three years. He had seen her reduced to a mangled and frail invalid, literally shrivelling in size, while her mind focused only on mastering the art of indifference.
Talya used to be a fighter. She used to argue and debate her points of view. She used to battle her way through life, but this battle she was not fighting it. The surgeons, physiotherapists, nurses, and medication were fighting it for her. If her treating psychologist had asked him if Talya was suicidal, Aziz would have said no. To him, she had no desire to kill herself, but would she eat or drink if no one was there to feed her? He didn’t think so. Now that she was able to go out, drive her ‘racing wheels’—the nickname she had given to her motorized chair—to the shops and stores, or even take a bus, Aziz had yet to see her pass through the front door of her apartment of her own accord. It was as if she had decided to shut the world out.
After dinner, Aziz went home as usual, once he had put Talya to bed. The nurse would be there in the morning to take care of her for a few hours and leave her after lunch. He would come back at night. That routine had been going on for months, and Aziz was getting tired of it. As much as he loved Talya, he didn’t think he could continue looking after her now that she was well on her way to becoming independent if she wanted to be.