Beep. Beep. Beep. The sound of the machine was relentless in his ears. His head was fuzzy as he awakened, somewhere in the background he could hear soft heels walking down a corridor. The door to his room swung open and a white-coated doctor walked in. Matthew sat up in bed, gasping at the pain in his side. He'd been diagnosed with chronic liver failure and his nerve endings were making damn sure that he was aware it was reaching its climax. The doctor peered over gold-framed glasses at a clipboard.
"Mr Malach, I'm afraid that your liver has almost completely shut down. There is nothing we can do to prevent it failing."
"Can't I get a transplant?" Matthew asked, he'd been expecting it but the news was still a shock.
"I'm afraid not. It was your heavy drinking that caused this, and your lack of concern and failure to reduce your alcohol intake when you were diagnosed means that you will not be considered for a transplant," the doctor spoke with a total lack of emotion.
"I'm only 35! I have two daughters. Can you really allow them to grow up without a father? Can you allow them to be orphaned?" Matthew said, deliberately trying to guilt the doctor.
"I'm afraid I have no control over the system, Mr Malach. My apologies. We will see to it that your final days are as comfortable as they can be. I'm sorry." The doctor's pager beeped, he gave Matthew one last look of half-hearted sympathy and hurried out.
Matthew sat there staring into space. The beeping of his heart monitor served as a backdrop to his thoughts. The enormous finality of the situation was hitting him. He was going to die. His little girls were going to be orphaned, just like he had been, and this was his own fault. When his wife passed, he'd turned to drink. It was the only thing that could comfort him. Everything seemed like one long, awful dream. He'd just never really put much thought into how he was going to have to wake up.
He'd never known his parents, never met them, never known of any other family. He'd grown up in a home. 'Home'. What a meaningless word. It had never been a home to him, or to any of the other boys. They were society's waste, scavengers, simply forgotten about. The other boys were always in trouble with the police - theft, arson, vandalism, these were never uncommon. But Matthew had been determined that he would not turn out like them. At 18 he'd left school fully qualified to go to university. His friend Oliver died of a drug overdose. At 28 he'd married his long-term girlfriend. His friend Gareth went to prison for multiple homicide. Matthew was a fully qualified lawyer, his acquaintances from his early life were junkies, inmates, or dead. He had been that one in a million, and when his wife had passed he squandered it.
His thoughts were interrupted by the clip-clop of solid heels on the hospital tiles. With the morphine that he was on, he could have believed it was hooves on rock. But with this dose of morphine, he could believe a lot. A man entered his bedroom, although this one was clearly not a doctor. He was wearing a sharp black suit and a white shirt that contrasted with his dark skin. He had big, soft blue eyes and his head was shaved. He was the complete opposite of Matthew, whose usual olive skin was a sickly yellow, and whose eyes were small and brown.
"I think you have the wrong room," Matthew coughed out to the man.
"Not at all Mr Malach, it is you I'm here to see." Curiosity washed over Matthew, along with pain that was swiftly followed by anaelgesia.
"Do I know you?" Matthew queried.
"I'm something of a family friend, you could say." The man's mouth certainly moved, but his words seemed to go directly to Matthew's brain. Matthew turned down his morphine drip.
"I highly doubt that, I've been an orphan for as long as I can remember."
"Yes, I'm aware of this. But I knew your parents. After you were born, they left you with a nanny. They had arranged to go on a holiday, an exploration of the great outdoors, and it was such a distance away that a baby would have been rather inconvenient. Nobody ever knew why they didn't come back until recently. I only just discovered, the French mountain rescue services found a car with two corpses inside, a man and a woman. They were killed and eaten by a pack of wolves."
Matthew was lost, confused, adrift, simply speechless. Who was this man? How did he know about his parents? Even the idea that his parents hadn't meant for him to be an orphan was hard to grasp.
"You look shocked," the man said, "This is understandable. However we both know you have more pressing issues. The doctors have told me that your liver is close to total failure, and that you will leave behind two young girls."
"If you think I'm going to give custody of my daughters to a man I've only just met who has come in here spinning a half-baked story about my parents, you have another thing coming," Matthew tried to sound aggressive but his drowsiness dampened the effect.
"You misunderstand me, Matthew, I do not want custody of your spawn. In fact, I want to save your life. I'm a very important person you see, and I'm sure I could arrange a for a liver to be donated to you."
"You could do that?" Matthew asked in shock, his whole world reeling. If this man could save him, he could watch his daughters grow up, he could save them from his own curse. The man licked his lips, "I'm sure I could pull something out for you."
A thought suddenly crossed Matthew's mind.
"Why would you do this for me? What's in it for you?"
The man chuckled at this. "Oh my dear boy, do I need a selfish motive? Is the chance to help out a close friend's dying son, and by doing so, his daughters, not a good enough reason? Is there no such thing as human kindness?"
"I'm not a fool. I know well enough that the only reason anyone does anything in this world is for personal gain. Everyone is selfish," Matthew spat.
"What about your wife? Did you never do anything just for her, just to see her smile?" The man said, his face stuck with an imploring look.
"That's different," Matthew muttered.
"Different situation, same principle. Think of your daughters, Matthew, do you want them to go into a home? Do you want them to be orphans like you? The only thing I want in return is a favour. In ten years time, I'm going to need something from you."
Matthew didn't like the sound of that. "What is it that you want?"
"Your parents gave you something when you were born that I could really use. It's nothing important, don't worry yourself about it. And in return, you get to watch your little girls grow up, you get to be a father. You get to give them everything that you were denied. What do you say?"
Matthew's head was spinning, he could barely take in what was happening. But the man seemed nice enough, and he didn't want for much. Matthew hadn't been given anything by his parents as far as he knew, so the man was going to get short-changed if he was being truthful. Maybe he was just trying to do a good deed. Some weird people believe in karma, after all. And if Matthew didn't accept the man's offer, he would be dead within a matter of days anyway.
"Okay," said Matthew. The man grinned and put forth his hand, in his weakened state Matthew put forth his and shook, his palms cold and clammy. He felt like he'd been electrically shocked when he touched the man's skin. The man pulled out a phone and rapidly stabbed at the screen.
"It's all been arranged, Matthew. Your operation will be tomorrow, I wish you the best of luck." He turned to leave the room.
"Thank you," Matthew whispered, "Thank you so much."
The man turned and looked at him, his perfect white teeth gleamed in the light as he ran his tongue along the top row. "Not at all Matthew, thank you. I'll see you in ten years." He winked, turned, and left. The last thing Matthew remembered before he drifted off into the heaven of morphine was the hard clip-clop of the man's soles on the hospital floor.