"No Problem, I'll take the call." said Mrs.Abena Kosey to Mr.Kosey.
"Is it done for this Quarter?" said the other end.
"No. In a Couple of days" said Mrs.Abena.
"Thank you Mrs.Abena. I'd appreciate that" That was a reply from the other end and the call ended.
One week later
MANHATTAN, NEW YORK
Jeff Stevens rushed to the kitchen in search of his mother, Mrs. Christie Stevens
"Mommy, See what you have got. M-O-M-M-Y…… M-O-M-M-Y" Cried Jeff.
"Come in here sweetheart. I'm in the garden" Mrs. Christie responded.
She was happy to see the letter again. She took it to her husband, Mr. Brian Stevens. They read the mail and exchanged look of content with a smile.
FOUR YEARS BACK
It was twenty to twelve at night.
"I don't understand Brian. She is a mystery. I am very much vexed to say this for I'm her mother" Christie said leaning on Brian's shoulder.
"In a way, it's simple to understand, Christie. Caroline compares herself with her sisters. She feels inferior to herself on seeing Amy and Sarah." Brian sighed.
Brian continued, "We have to stand with her so that she overcomes her dejection. You got me?"
Christie couldn't stop the tears running down her cheeks and her throat got stuck from telling anything.
"Darling?" called Brian.
He held her face up to wipe the tears and said, "Everything is going to be okay"
Stevens stood high up in the society. Mr. Brian Stevens was the sole proprietor of 'Stevens Builders'. He was in his late fifties with a heavy set figure and fatherly face. He saw his reflection in his wife, Mrs. Christie Stevens. She is an attractive woman in her late forties. She had a perfect figure which made her look a decade younger. Her eyes were a mystique which probably would have made Brian fall in love with her.
Amy sneaked into the bedroom for her father and whispered in to his ears,
"Papa, Sebastian has invited me for lunch and I've promised to come. Mom said no. Tell her about this and make her say yes. Please daddy."
Amy Stevens, as the first child, was her father's pet. Christie often chided her because she felt that Amy might take things for granted if she is patted by both her parents.
"Oh! Yes dear. I'll manage her. You go ahead. But don't be too long. Come back as soon as possible. Okay?" Brian said with a smile.
"Yes, of course. I'm sure daddy." Amy made a solemn oath.
Brian kissed her and left for his work.
Amy was the most beautiful child of all the four. She took after her mother for ninety nine percent. Her inquisitive eyes and aquiline nose gave her a genius look. Her tall figure with long slender legs reflected her mother.
"Jeff…. Jeff…. Hey what's happening here? Where is Amy?" Christie asked to her last child, Jeff Stevens.
"I don't know mommy. She was talking to papa and just left"
So saying he was fighting with his elder sister Sarah Stevens.
"Mama, stop him. He starts always. Tell him to stay away." Sarah complained to her mother.
"Stop fighting. Lunch is ready and Jeff, if you don't stop quarrelling now, I shall let daddy know over phone. Shall I?" Christie warned.
"No…. no….. Please mom. We are ready for lunch. Aren't we Sarah?" Jeff hugged his sister and smiled. Christie kissed them and smiled back.
Sarah was the third daughter and she was in the age of twenty. She was as beautiful as Amy yet her little flabby arms made her less attractive than her sister. However Sarah had many admirers in her college and wherever she went. Amy, Sarah and Jeff all the three excelled in their studies. Their grades were always high and the graph went up and up. Caroline watched everything from her room and Christie saw her face filled with hopelessness. As Christie started to her room, she turned her back to her mother and shut the door.
"Caroline…." Christie opened the door and called her.
"What now?" It was a hollow question.
"What's the problem with you sweetheart? Don't you think I'm your comforter?" Christie asked sincerely.
"Leave me alone, ma" said Caroline.
"Allright. Now I want you to collect the books that I've ordered in the 'pick up and read'. Will you leave now?" asked Christie to engage her with some work or the other.
"Why me? Let Jeff go. I won't. I said leave me alone" said Caroline sharply.
"Please Caroline. Do me this favor" that was a plea from Christie.
"Alright…. Okay…. I'm going" Caroline left.
"Everything is going to be okay" said Christie to herself.
But everything is not going to be okay
Caroline had plain features and she said to herself that she was incompetent but she was a girl of a kindly disposition. She was so attached to her sisters and brother but the very thought of her beauty and appearance made her feel reluctant in showing her love towards her family. When her sisters went for dating with their boyfriends she remained single all the time. It crushed her a lot. She saw herself as an ugly duckling amidst a fowl of beautiful ones.
"Hi! Caroline. It's been a long time. You don't look fine. Do you?" asked the book keeper, Mr. James Taft.
"No. I'm fine James. Mom has given the list" she handed the list to the book keeper.
Caroline could notice a figure at one of the corners of the shop who was constantly looking at her. But she didn't want to take a second look at him. Her instinct said that no one could enjoy looking at her and he might be seeing someone else for many pretty girls were there in the shop. She collected the books and left for the home.
Two days later when she was in the book store, she saw the boy again noticing her and realized that he was her class mate, Louis parker. So they just exchanged a friendly nod.
As the days went Caroline could see Louis everywhere she went. She was a little thrilled for she thought that such moments would never happen in her life. However she remained silent and she just wanted to see how far it goes.
One day Caroline was enjoying the pleasant evening in the Central park. Louis parker came from nowhere and joined her
"Hi! You look wonderful today" said Louis.
Though it was a great compliment for Caroline she showed no expression.
"What are you doing here?" asked Caroline.
"I've come to visit my friend. You know! She is a great time keeper. She always come before I do." Louis smiled.
"I see. But where is she now?" she asked curiously.
Louis took her hands and said caringly, "It is you Caroline. Are you not my friend?"
"You must be joking." She gave a flat smile.
"Caroline, I've seen you enough. I know why you remain detached from your friends. You know! You have an angelic face but its glow becomes dull by your very own attitude." He said.
"That is not any of your jobs." She said sharply.
"It's my prime job, my friend. You see I'm a cripple. I do not walk majestic. Girls do not prefer me obviously. Do I remain stagnant? No. Not forever." He patted on her shoulders.
He then continued, "You are beautiful. You are lovely. You have an extra-ordinary voice. All you should do is to come out of the fetters that you have laid to yourself."
Caroline was held spell-bound. She saw herself fall in love with him the very moment he started to comfort her.
"Okay I'm done. It's tomorrow at Eight'o clock at bridge café for dinner. We are meeting. Bye." He left.
It all happened just like that for Caroline. She got ready to do anything for him. She knew that Louis was her life and everything. She didn't sleep the night she met him. Louis was the first to talk to her that way. The next morning she was not the Caroline of the previous day. She was happy, humming her favorite tunes, chatting with Jeff, kissing her mom. Everything was new to the whole family. Brian and Christie were extremely satisfied and a little puzzled on seeing their lovable daughter.
Caroline asked, "Mommy, I'm meeting my friend tonight. So can you…"
Christie interrupted, "Go ahead baby. I'll take care of everything. Enjoy to your maximum." She kissed her daughter on her forehead.
"Thank you, mom." Caroline smiled.
Caroline opened her closet. She had never seen her closet in such an enjoyable mood. She took out all her favorite outfits. After an hour of preview she decided to wear a white evening dress which was very elegant for her. Her blonde hair curled smoothly on her face. She loved herself for the first time.
"Can I have your order, Sir?" asked the waiter to Louis.
"I'm waiting for my friend." Louis said.
Caroline entered the cafe. She was beautiful. Louis could not resist himself neither did Caroline. They sat opposite to each other. Though they were parted by their bodies they felt one by their souls. There arose a sense of belongingness in both of their minds. When Louis was about to tell something they were intervened by the waiter with the dish.
"You look great Caroline. I know you would come." Louis said.
She felt like flying high. She smiled back. After they were finished,
Caroline said, "Thank you for the dinner. It was so nice of your company." She started to leave.
"Why don't you drop in by my place?" asked Louis.
Though she was instantly ready, she pretended to ponder.
"Oh! Come on Caroline. I'll leave you back at your home." He stressed.
"Okay, let's go." Caroline agreed.
It was a celebration for Caroline. She had lived her fullest life for the first time. Louis' place was as lovely as she imagined. It reflected Louis' taste in all the possible aspects.
"How do you like here?" asked Louis.
"Like…? No, I love here." she walked along the living room.
Neither Caroline nor Louis did know who made the first move. They were finished in an hour. They shared their deep-lying grief and the disgusting moments of the lives. They were absolutely transparent and the minutes glided so exquisitely and they lived a short life of unbearable ecstasy.
It was half past one. Caroline was lying on her bed at her home cherishing the unforgettable part of her life she spent with Louis. She did not know when she fell asleep. From that day, there were together almost every night.
"Caroline, my father has arranged for a surgery to perfect my deformation. I may not be meeting you for the next two weeks. After the surgery is over, I'll walk majestic. Girls will prefer me, too." Louis grinned.
Caroline was very happy to hear it from Louis.
"That's great honey. I can't wait to see my majestic Louis back. Come soon. Very soon back to me. Will you?" they kissed passionately.
Caroline was happily waiting to see Louis back. Louis' deformation was never a matter of concern for Caroline. Every moment she lived was whole-heartedly dedicated to the memories of her beloved lover. It brought an untold happiness to her and she made the whole family jubilant and merry.
Three weeks later
"You are wonderful Louis. It was a light year, darling. But there is a thrill in waiting to see our loved ones. You know!" she moved near him to kiss him.
Louis stood up avoiding her.
"Caroline I'd like to talk to you." He said reluctantly.
"I'm waiting sweet heart." Caroline said.
"Where will our love end in?" asked Louis being very choosy in his words.
"We will get married. What is your problem Louis?" Caroline smiled.
"I'm afraid it won't happen, Caroline" he said bluntly.
Caroline was taken aback. She felt like the roof falling on top of her. Her words got stuck and she could not even breathe.
"You are joking. Aren't you darling? Stop kidding Louis. Please" she said shakily.
"No Caroline. I've never been so serious. I know how much it is difficult for you. So it is for me dear." Louis said with a great strain.
"Why is it happening Louis? I wish it were a dream." Tears started to run down her cheeks.
"I do not understand Caroline. When I told our love to my father, i.e a long time back he was happy and never showed his discontent. But he is not ready to listen to any of my words now. He wants me to marry the girl he chooses. I don't know why he is so stubborn." Louis explained.
"What do you say?" asked Caroline with a broken heart.
"I…. I…. Cant…" Louis struggled to answer.
"Stop it Louis. Please stop it. I don't want to hear any more from you. I know…. I exactly know why this is happening Louis. My darling, it is because you are majestic now. Girls prefer you. Your father wants you to prefer the best girl out of the girls who prefer you. You want it, too. Can you say NO? No you cannot….."
She cried till her tears got dried up. Louis could not see Caroline that way. He tried to stop her but in vain.
Caroline left his place. Caroline left Louis.
Caroline found very hard to digest the reality. She wanted to escape from the very moment. She went back to her dejected state, in fact, worse than the past. Christie and Brian tried a lot to bring back her to normalcy. But they couldn't figure out the cause for her mental instability.
Two months had gone with no air of hope in the family.
"Mamma…." Caroline came near her mother.
"Yes dear" Christie made her daughter sit near her. Brian joined them, too.
Caroline started to talk.
"Daddy, I've decided my life. I've chosen my path. I've planned to pursue my higher studies. Paige, my friend who lives in London has got an idea regarding this. I'll leave for London now. After getting settled, ill contact you from there. I cannot assure anything at this moment, mom. Hope you understand me." She finished. She did not wait for her parents' response but left to her room.
"What do you say, Brian?" Christy asked.
"We did not know the reason neither for her happiness nor for her grief. But the idea of the change of place will work out. It may bring confidence in her. Let us not stop her." Brian assured his wife.
"Where is she about to settle?" Christie asked.
"Let us ask her to keep us informed. She is not clear with it. Once she gets settled, be it in any place, she will be in touch with us. Do not worry darling. Everything is going to be okay. Time heals anything." Brian consoled Christie.
Caroline left for London. As she promised to her parents, she mailed her whereabouts and studies regularly. They were proud to have borne such a matured girl for she herself perfected her life which was in a bad condition.
ONE YEAR LATER Caroline left for London,
"Do you see any change in mom?" asked Sarah worriedly.
"Yes, Sarah. She looks deceased. Why? What is happening?" said Jeff.
"Caroline has stopped mailing us Jeff. We have lost touch with her so, mom is very upset and she wants to see her." Amy explained.
"Brian, I desperately want to see Caroline. It's nearly one year since we heard from her. I don't know what was wrong with her." Christie expressed her agony.
"Do not get fed up sweetheart. We have been receiving letters from her. We know her place. Tanzania is within our reach Christie. We will move in a week to her." He hugged his wife.
Ten days later
Tanzania was a beautiful country with all its natural resources witnessing the greatness of the Almighty. Ebony carvings were displayed at the stalls all over the streets. The streets were spotlessly clean and the buildings stood high up in the cities. Brian and Christie were eagerly waiting to see their beloved daughter while their cab carried them to the Kitongo Street, Dodoma, the capital city of Tanzania.
Christie rang the bell and saw a woman in her early sixties with a serious face opening the door.
"I'm Christie from new york. Is this Caroline's house?" asked Christie.
"Caroline….? I think you are at the wrong place. There is no Caroline here."
The old lady said.
"Honey….. Who is that?" that was a voice of an old man from the house.
"Christie from New York in search of a Caroline. I'm coming dear." replied the old woman.
She continued to Christie, "You please check for your address. This is not the place you came for."
"But this is the address from which we got the letters mailed in our daughter's name. We are absolutely sure. Might have she got migrated to somewhere else or something like that? Do you have any idea?" asked Brian.
"We are here for more than six years, Mrs. Christie. There is no such possibility of getting mails from this address in the name of your daughter, Caroline. I know you have come from very far but I stand helpless. I'm sorry."
The woman said sincerely.
Christie and Brian were puzzled to hear from the old lady. Christie couldn't stand the disappointment. She started to cry.
"Where are we going to go? How are we going to proceed? What is this Brian?" Christie cried.
"I don't know dear. I don't understand and I cannot believe my ears." Brian said helplessly.
When they were about to get in to the taxi, they heard the old woman calling them again, "Mrs. Christie…"
Christie came near her. "Come in… come in please"
They were called in to the house.
"Sit down please. I'm Abena Kosey. He is my husband Kosey." She introduced themselves to the couple.
"You are Christie Stevens. He is your husband Mr. Brian Stevens. You have four children and you have come in search of your second daughter, Caroline." said Abena calmly.
Christie breathed a sense of relief however she was puzzled and so did Brian.
"Do not ask any more regarding this Mr.Brian. We know everything and we will be of help to you to our best level. We will get you to a place and you will come to know everything clear over there." said Mr.kosey.
A piece of paper which read an address in the name of Franca was handed over to them. They started to move after thanking the old couple whole heartedly.
Sicily is the largest island in the central Mediterranean Sea. The cathedrals and the museums welcomed them with their splendid structure. Trapani is one of the prominent cities of Sicily. Trapani was held under Arabs' control for a very long period. The cathedrals reflected the craftsmanship of Arabs and Normans.
That was not a typical Sicilian house. It was more American and moreover it was commercial rather than residential.
"How may I help you sir?" asked a young blonde who was in the reception.
"I'm Brian from new york. We are here to meet Ms.Franca." replied Brian.
"Is Ms.Franca expecting you?" asked the blonde.
"No. but we won't be too long. It's all about just a piece of information." replied Brian.
"Allright. Please wait and I'll be back in five minutes." said the receptionist.
"We will wait." Christie said.
Ten minutes later, the lady came back and said, "Ms.Franca will see you in a minute or two." She said and gave a warm smile.
"Thank you" said Brian.
Five minutes later, a figure with a serene face and a constant smile stood in front of the couple.
"My sweetie…" Christie ran for Caroline to kiss her.
"How are you, mother?" Franca asked with no expression.
"Darling, who is Franca here?" Brian asked immediately to Caroline.
"I'm a Sicilian. Am I not? papa. I'm Franca and there is no Caroline here." Said Caroline and it meant a lot.
"What are you doing here? Why didn't you keep us informed for more than one year? Are you under any problem and you don't look bright?" Christie asked a series of questions for she is her mother.
"Come daddy. Come on mom. I'll show you something." She ushered them to a room.
The room had several beds each occupied by a leper. The room accommodated nearly fifteen to twenty beds. It obviously showed that the patients were given the best care as it was absolutely clean and hygienic.
"What is this Caroline?" Brian asked confused.
"They are lepers dad. They need care and I give it to them. They are treated for free and they are mine" Caroline explained.
"How did this happen? What do you do for your living here" asked Brian.
"This is my life daddy. I've gone too far. I cannot explain everything and there is no use in it either." said Caroline casually.
"No problem sweetheart. Hand this over to someone who you trust here. Come back. Come back to me Caroline. Come back to our home." Christie begged.
"This is my place. This is my home. They are my people mama. You are not supposed to be here. I beg you to leave me alone here please. I cannot go with you dad. Try to understand me. You may leave now. I'll stay with you in words in future." Caroline couldn't proceed anymore so she ran to her room and shut the door.
Brian and Christie stood totally perplexed. Brian couldn't see his daughter in such a state. He started to shed tears.
The young blonde at the front office was watching everything and she came near the couple.
"Are you Ms. Franca's parents?" she asked to Christie.
"Yes… what is happening here?" Christie asked her in a total dejection.
"I'm Nancy, Ms. Franca's personal assistant. I'll tell you what you want but please don't turn me down to Ms.Franca." she said on seeing the plight of the couple.
"Go ahead, please." Said Brian
She said, "She earns for her living as a whore. This is a place of medication and a whore house as well."
Brian and Christie were shattered and broken onto pieces. They were suicidal at the very moment. Their hearts raced very fast that they could clearly hear it.
Nancy continued, "Ms.Franca is a wonderful lady. She never did it for her pleasure or for money either. Time has the power of doing anything. She had gone very far Mr. Brian. Some part of our lives cannot be explained or neither justified. But I can assure you that Ms. Franca is the lady of pure heart and she is a trust worthy woman."
Brian and Christie didn't stay there to hear anymore. They walked out of the place like corpses.
Franca stood dumbfounded, staring at the board which was hanging at her room and it read,
THE UNTOLD DARKNESS LEADS TO THE ETERNAL SUNSHINE
THROUGH THE PATH OF RENUNCIATION