Previously on THE RETURN…
22 Years Ago
She was on her knees, a downcast image, pleading desperately in the presence of her husband. Her eyes were moist, reddened, wounded with tears.
“I’m so, so sorry…” she repeated for what would be the umpteenth time that night. She pleaded even though she was aware that her pleas were falling on deaf ears.
Her husband was a detached figure as he sat silently on the couch, staring vacantly into the atmosphere, not sending as much as a look in her direction, as though he couldn’t quite bear the sight of her.
Yet Cynthia pleaded, only able to bring herself to repeat her words to him. “I’m so sorry, Dike. I’m so very sorry…”
There was no forthcoming response, and after an extended period of intense silence between the couple, broken only with her sniffles, Cynthia placed her two hands tentatively on his left foot. He didn’t flinch at her touch. Emboldened, she left her hands there, grasping the fabric of his trousers slightly as she said another line of plea she’d said several times before.
“Dike, I don’t know what got into me… I don’t know why or how I let it happen, but you have to believe me, I’m really sorry I ever let it –”
“Get your hands off me,” he interrupted her in a low, cold tone, finally breaking his silence.
She felt his rage brimming in his words, and she hated herself even more now for what she did, for hurting him the way she had done. It didn’t matter that those were the first words he had said to her in two weeks, since he got home the other evening so long ago, ignored her when she greeted him welcome, recoiled even when she had advanced towards him to give him a kiss, before thrusting the envelope he held in his hand into hers and wordlessly walking away. Right there in the living room, she’d opened the envelope and its content had shattered her world.
Dike’s rigid silence on the issue had made her quite uncertain about what to feel. She felt guilt, of course, but she wanted to feel more. She wanted him to rant at her – hit her even, anything to show that he was really hurt. She would be deserving of it. Dike wasn’t a very forgiving individual, he wasn’t one to forget things easily either, so she had no delusions in her mind that he had simply forgiven her even though he told no one about it, didn’t speak about it; even though he had acted all along as if it never happened. And now that he had at least said something to her, she felt a strange sense of relief even as she berated herself
You stupid, stupid woman! Look how you ruined everything. Everything!
Dike rose from the couch and walked towards the door, then stopped just as he was about to place a hand on the knob. With his back still turned to her, he asked in a low tone, “Why?”
Cynthia stood from her kneeling position, and moved towards him. If he was finally willing to speak to her, perhaps it was a sign that he was beginning to soften a bit.
“Why?” his voice came from the front of the door again. He didn’t even turn to know whether she was inclined to answer. “All our years together, I’ve done nothing but love you. I’ve been nothing but loyal and faithful to you. So, why? Why, Cynthia?”
She was now standing exactly behind him. “I can’t say anything to justify… I can’t explain…” – she put a hand on his back – “I just –”
He whirled around, smacking her hand off him with a force and anger that shocked her and sent her reeling with a yelp away from him.
“Don’t you dare lay your hands on me.” He was seething as he advanced, to stand right in front of her. Eyes reddened with a storm of emotions stared belligerently at her, daring her to touch him again, if only to find out what he’d do to her, the threat in his eyes sending a cold chill down Cynthia’s spine.
”Why! Why!” he barked the words repeatedly.
She slowly backed off as he inched closer to her. She had wanted a reaction from him, and now that it seemed one was coming, she realized just how unwilling she was to face it, how it scared her so. Her heart pounded furiously. She realized now that she had never seen him this angry. She came to a halt when her back touched the wall. Dike grabbed her forcefully by the arms.
“Why?” he asked again in a pained voice.
She saw his eyes. She saw the beads of tears that had slipped through and down his cheeks. When he let go of her arms, she felt assaulted by a mix of shame, guilt and disgust. The emotions overtook her, overwhelming her until she crumbled to the floor under their combined weight and began to cry again.
She felt him hover above her, but did not dare look up at him. He was unmoved by her show of remorse, and she heard a loud hiss from him before he finally turned and walked out of the living room, slamming the door as he exited.
“I remember going to a bar. I had a few too many bottles to drink. I thought, maybe if I could drink enough, I could forget everything. But I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. I kept seeing Michael’s smirk as he explained everything to me. He was enjoying it, you know?”
Francesca listened patiently as James slowly and painfully painted a picture of the night before to her. She sat there, calm, her natural sangfroid concealing whatever angst she may be feeling at the unfolding story. She nodded attentively as James spoke. Her palm was placed gently on his shoulder, which she rubbed intermittently.
“Go on,” she urged gently when he didn’t say anything for a while.
“I can’t remember how I got to my father’s place.” He stopped there, wondering if it was still appropriate to refer to the man he’d murdered as ‘father’.
“Yes, okay?” came Francesca’s voice.
“I was there, you know? And I think I asked him if he was my dad. And then he went on this tirade.” James paused and inhaled deeply. “I can still hear his voice in my head. It’s just there. It won’t go away…” He stopped to rub his palm over his face and his head. When he brought his hand to his face again, he began to sob once more.
Francesca hushed him, lovingly patting his shoulder before bringing him close into an embrace.
“I killed him!” he sobbed into the swell of her bosom. “I killed him. He was just there on the floor, Francie. I was watching him die. There was blood everywhere… Oh God. I killed him!” He was distraught, and it showed in the way that the words came rapidly, jerkily out of his mouth. He began another round of seemingly uncontrollable sobs.
Francesca shushed him gently, showing no outward reaction to the revelation that she had spent the night before with a murderer. “It’s okay, my darling. It’s okay.”
James soon calmed. And for the next seconds that followed, he fixed his gaze to the floor, apparently fixated on some point in the wreckage that must be his thoughts.
“I find it really strange though…” he finally said as he raised his head up to meet his girlfriend’s gaze.
“What do you find strange?” Francesca asked with raised eyebrows that reflected curiosity.
“I know I killed him but I have no memory of actually doing it.”
Written by Toby