‘My father is downstairs,’ she says. Her voice is soft, her eyes are pained. ‘I won’t be long with him, will you wait for me here in Sorab’s room?’
‘Of course,’ I say, and slide off the stool.
‘Are you all right?’
‘Yes, yes, I’m fine.’ She appears distracted. The phone rings again. She looks at it and picks it up eagerly.
‘It’s OK,’ she says into the phone. ‘No, please don’t come, my darling. I’m fine… Really. It will be fine… I promise… I love you too…so, so much… I’ll see you later tonight.’
The doorbell rings. She jumps. We look at each other. There is an odd expression of pain and longing in her eyes, which suddenly makes her seem a child again. I hate her. Why then do I want to hold her and comfort her? I take a step in her direction. She shakes her head and disappears in the direction of the front door. I stand for a minute in the kitchen, follow her down the corridor and enter Sorab’s room. I stand at the door uncertainly. The boy is sleeping soundly. If I leave the door a quarter of an inch ajar I can see nothing, but I can hear everything.
‘Hello, Dad.’ Her voice is distant and strange. So different from what it has been all afternoon.
I don’t recognize her father’s voice. It has been so long. ‘Look at you all grown up. You’re so beautiful. Just like your mother.’
‘Mum died last year.’ Her voice is flat.
‘I’m sorry to hear that, Lana.’
‘Why are you here, Dad?’
‘I read about your wedding in the paper.’
‘I believe I even have a grandson.’
‘We won’t disturb him then.’
‘Do you have other grandchildren?’
‘That’s nice. I suppose they get to see you all the time.’
There is a slight pause.
‘Yes,’ her father confesses softly. ‘But I’m here now. Sorab—that’s the little one’s name, isn’t it—will get to see his grandfather just as much.’
Lana says nothing.
‘I’d like to give my daughter away at her wedding.’
‘You can’t. Billie’s dad is giving me away.’
‘That’s a shame. That should be my privilege.’
‘Dad, did you ever think what would happen to me if Mum had died after you left?’
He doesn’t squirm, I’ll give him that. Even though I cannot see his face the words that come out of him are smooth and well-oiled. ‘If your mother had died then Social Services would have contacted me, and you would have come to live with me.’
‘How would Social Services have contacted you, Dad? Did you leave a contact number with anyone?’
‘Let bygones be bygones, Lana. I’m here now.’
‘They would have taken me into care, Dad. Do you know what happens to kids in care? They get shunted around and abused! You simply didn’t care either way, did you? You just went on and started a brand new family. Not once did you try to contact me. I am nothing to you.’
‘I’m here now.’
‘Why are you really here, Dad?’
‘Look, I took care of you for years. That counts for something. We are blood.’
‘How much, Dad?’ Her voice is cold.
‘I don’t want your money.’
‘Dad, you will never have a relationship with me. Your best bet is to name your price now or be forever silent.’
‘All right. A hundred thousand.’
My eyes widen with shock, but Lana’s answer is immediate. ‘Done. I will have it transferred into your account by tomorrow.’
‘Now that I think about it, you are rich beyond anything I can ever imagine. Can you make it two hundred thousand?’
Lana must have nodded because he thanks her.
‘I won’t say goodbye to my own flesh and blood. You’ll see me around, girl.’
I hear the door close and quickly come out. Lana is walking towards me. When we are about five feet apart she stops. Her shoulders are hunched, her face pale, but she is trying to be brave.
‘What did he want?’ I ask.
‘What do you think?’
I say nothing.
‘Come on, let’s have some tea,’ she says, but her mood is changed irreparably. She pours out the water that is already in the kettle into the sink and refills it. The kitchen is full of that noise. Suddenly she stops and puts the kettle down. Takes a deep breath.
‘He never loved us,’ she whispers. Her eyes are full of unshed tears. I was about to tell her to sit down while I make the tea when we hear the front door open. Before either of us can move Blake is standing in the kitchen doorway. For a moment they simply stare at each other.
‘How did you get here so fast?’ she gasps.
‘I was closer than you thought,’ he says simply.
With a great sob she rushes into his arms. I am invisible to either of them. He holds her in the tight circle of his arms.
‘I’m so sorry, my darling. So sorry,’ he whispers into the top of her head. She presses her cheek into his chest and squeezes her eyes shut. Forgotten by both of them I watch them with avid curiosity. So this is what the great man is like when he is with her. Tender. Gentle. As if she is irreplaceably precious. It makes me long for that sort of a love.
Lana lifts her head slowly and looks up into his face. There is something sad about the way he gazes into her eyes. It is as if it is he who has been wounded and not her. Billie is right, he truly, truly does love her. No yachts, no expensive toys, no helicopters. This was the real thing. They didn’t need anything or anyone else. They were quite simply blissfully happy with each other.
‘He came for money,’ she says so softly I almost don’t hear it.
‘I know,’ he soothes gently.
‘I gave it to him.’
He raises his hand to her face, and with the back of his hand brushes her cheek. He does not ask how much Lana has given away, but says, ‘You do know, he’ll be back for more.’
‘When I was very young he used to carry me on his shoulder. And he would make my mother laugh and laugh and laugh. In the end, does it matter that he didn’t love me? Does that mean I should love him less?’
‘Shall I arrange for him to receive an allowance?’
Lana nods. ‘Yes, let him have his money. Let him be happy. I have you and Sorab. Why should I wish ill on anyone else? My mother forgave him. I didn’t. I let it eat me up all these years. Let him be well.’