… one fateful day, something happened in the lives of Oscar, his wife Luna and their beloved, if rather bookish, child Marissa that changed the way they saw the nature of companionship forever. It happened on a dark and stormy night; the kind of night when wickedness can creep into a kingdom unawares and unseen, despite the benevolent rule of the wise king and the charms woven by his mesmerising queen.
Envious eyes had been watching the plump fruit of the kingdom in the desert for a while now and an army had been amassing secretly within its borders; hidden in the marketplace, secreted in the inns and taverns and, day by day, gaining strength by sucking on the very tit that the king had thought to be protected and invulnerable. It is not always goodness that prevails when greed outweighs contentment.
I’ll tell the tale in short brushstrokes so that you can return to your busy lives quickly. Oscar and Luna were called away on a matter of great importance. The teenage girl they sent for to look after Marissa was waylaid by her boyfriend en-route to the house and pulled into a corner to peck and giggle as teenagers do and so she had not arrived by the time Marissa’s parents, desperate and despairing though they were, had to leave Marissa alone at home with only her favourite book, a warm house and the promise of a quick return. They cried, they left. Marissa settled down into her favourite chair to read a tale of derring-do and wild adventure, for she was quite boyish in her bookishness. Time passed.
I’ll not tell you of the knives, of the blood, of the women and children dragged screaming from their houses. I’ll spare you the detail of the wild and tumultuous scenes in the street as fighting ebbed and flowed like a red tide leaving severed limbs, broken bones and wounds that yawned as if begging for a sleep that was never to come. Best not to tell you that many a face at a window, aghast and horrified, was the reason for a house to be invaded and ransacked and emptied of all life and love. Only the quiet houses were left untouched. Only those that didn’t provoke the appetites of the invaders who coveted, above all else, trouble and the kind of bloodletting that meant that what was left was theirs alone.
Despite those covetous eyes, evil plans and terrible warmongering, goodness won in the end. The king had not been as complacent as we thought. His men and women fought courageously without rest until every wicked shoot, every invasive weed was wrenched out from the fertile soil of their garden and utterly destroyed. The loss of life was great but, having fought through the night, the last squealing invader was put to the sword and triumph gained just as the sun flecked the battle-torn streets with its first rays.
Luna spent the night alternately shrieking, scratching at her breast and beating futilely at the door that Oscar had securely bolted before he’d left to fight alongside his countrymen. All night she raved. All night she heard nothing but screaming and great crashing noises from the other side of the door. Oscar returned at dawn, unrecognisable but for his eyes that gazed steadily at her from a face so covered with blood and gore that she could scarce make out whether he was cut or not. He had followed the fighting but without once being able to make any approach to the child he knew was alone in their house. Alone and unprotected. Many times he made as if to charge madly towards his house, but always the fighting was fiercest in that direction and he was unable to go.
Oscar hastily sluiced away the worst of the blood, changed into fresh clothes before he and the hysterically impatient Luna made their way home, striding, sometimes running through streets filled with wreckage and death, walls splashed with blood that was now drying to brown in the heat of the newly risen sun. They looked neither left nor right and so did not see the sad pile in a corner that was their erstwhile babysitter and her nevermore amorous boyfriend. They marched on, fearing the worst and yet hoping, without reason, for the best.
When they burst into Marissa’s room, the fire had burned out and her book was finished, laid to one side, closed and done. Marissa was laid on the floor, arm flung out as if to say ‘come’. She was profoundly beautiful and yet utterly quiet, her eyes closed as if … as if she …
Luna tried to let out a cry of piteous despair but it died on her lips. She made as if to run to her only child, but her husband, stoic and stone-faced held her back.
‘Look,’ he said and pointed to her body and the way that her chest was, slowly and comfortably, rising and falling. ‘She is asleep. Let her remain so. There will be time enough later for her education into the horrors of the night gone by. Let her slumber in innocence for now.’
Luna caught herself and embraced her husband, feeling his strong arms go around her body; both of them giving and taking strength from each other at the same time. They gave thanks silently and then Luna nodded towards the book closed by Marissa’s side. ‘It’s true what the poet Abu Al-Tayyib Al-Mutanabbi said,’ she intoned calmly with more than a little awe in her voice, “the best sitter, over time, is a book”‘.