I’m comin’, Honey. Don’t cry no more, Chil’. Your mama’s comin’.” Marjani muttered in her sleep. “Don’t cry. Ain’t gonna be no pain no more.”
She awoke with a start and looked around the room with wild eyes. “Where am I? Where’s Columbia?”
Naasir smiled at the woman. “You’re in New Orleans, Marjani. Columbia’s quite safe. She’s with Mrs. Halifax, playing with Fuller and Mr. Punch. You collapsed. Dr. and Mr. Halifax brought you back to the servants’ hall. You’ve got your own room and everything. They figured that you’d have argued if they brought you upstairs.”
Marjani tried to get up from the narrow bed. “They was right.”
“What are you doing?” Naasir asked.
“I gotta go get my girl. Ain’t no way I’m stayin’ here and puttin’ those nice gentlefolk out like this.”
“No, you’re not.” Naasir responded gently. “You’re under strict orders from Dr. Halifax to stay right where you are. The doctor says you’re quite exhausted and need to rest. Meridian will bring you your supper shortly.”
“Supper?” Marjani asked. “How long I been sleepin’ here?”
“Several hours.” Naasir said softly.
“You been here the whole time?” Marjani asked.
“I have.” Naasir nodded. “Dr. Halifax asked me to watch over you.”
“I don’t need watchin’,” Marjani frowned. “But, I thank you for doin’ it.”
“You’re quite exhausted. You’ve been through a terrible ordeal. Now, you’ve got to rest. If not for you, then for your granddaughter. What good would it be to her for you to get yourself sick from exhaustion?”
“She needs me.” Marjani said.
“She needs you to be well.” Naasir grinned. “Besides, she’s perfectly content in the parlor. Mr. Punch and Toby are entertaining the children with a little puppet show.”
Marjani chuckled. “Strange, beautiful man.”
“He’s the Great Man.” Naasir nodded. “Which reminds me…you’ve got to rest so you can fulfill your destiny. You’re as much of a part of this battle as I am.”
“I know.” Marjani sighed. “But, I done fought so many battles.”
“And, you’ll fight so many more.” Naasir answered seriously.
“You’re a strange man, too, Naasir.” Marjani said, leaning back on the pillow—resolved to the fact that she needed rest.
“I am.” Naasir smiled.
“Tell me about yourself,” Marjani said. “You’re so different from your brother. Cephas ain’t a thing like you. He’s rough—kind, but rough.”
“Cephas was taken from my family when he was small. Even then he had a strong back and shoulders. I was weaker. It was both a blessing and a curse. It meant that I wouldn’t make good trade, so, it protected me from being taken—nameless—on a ship to a strange land. I was put in service when I was quite young. My mother had no choice. But, I was free and the English were kind to me. I had the freedom to learn. Cephas never got that chance. The great tragedy of it haunts me. He could have been a fine gentleman, my brother. Instead, he’s a pair of hands and a sweating brow
“He’s happy enough. Hannah’s made him a fine wife. He don’t want for nothin’.” Marjani shook her head.
“He doesn’t want because he doesn’t know what he’s lost.” Naasir sighed. “That, at least, is something of a kindness.”
“You’ve been all over the world?” Marjani asked.
“I have.” Naasir nodded. “I’ve seen many beautiful things. People and colors…”
“Colors.” Marjani smiled slightly. “That’s my great love. I done get lost in colors. I make them, you know—colors from the earth and I put them on cloth so that those fine white ladies can swaddle themselves in all of God’s colors. It’s my way of making the world for myself. Makin’ the world come alive and move all around us.”
“Then, that’s what you must do.” Naasir said firmly. “You must deal in life and not dwell in death.”
“But, I gotta dwell in death. Someone’s gotta nurse poor sick folk like…like my baby…”
“Can’t you do both?” Naasir smiled. “Can’t you achieve what so many of us seek? Balance—a perfect balance.”
“I done never thought like that.” Marjani yawned.
“You must rest now.” Naasir patted Marjani’s hand. “I will leave you to sleep. I’ll return with Meridian soon to check on you.”
“I don’t like lyin’ ‘round like this.” Marjani said quickly. “It ain’t my nature to be idle.”
“Idleness and tiredness are vastly different things. You must allow your body to repair itself so you can carry out your important work.”
Marjani yawned again. “I reckon you’re correct.”
“Rest well,” Naasir said.
“Thank you,” Marjani curled up on the bed.
Naasir left and walked across the yard to the main house. As he did, he heard a voice from the street. A truly homely woman limped along, crying in pain. Naasir recognized her immediately. How could anyone forget such a tragic face? She was Mala—the woman who had ushered him into Iolanthe Evangeline’s house so many days before.
“Oh…oh…I can’t walk no more.” Mala cried.
Naasir walked to her and gently addressed her. “Are you in pain?”
“Terrible awful,” Mala grunted.
Naasir narrowed his eyes. “And, so, it has come to pass—as it was written.”
“What?” Mala croaked.
“I shall escort you home, Miss.” Naasir sighed.
Meanwhile, in the house, Mr. Punch whooped with glee as he performed a puppet show for Columbia and Fuller—as well as Robert, Cecil and Adrienne.
“Now, now, Mr. Toby,” Punch exclaimed, whipping the puppet upward in a quick motion. “You can’t have me sausages.”
Toby wagged his tail and barked—unaware that he was performing in a show and, rather, thinking he was playing a game with Mr. Punch.
“Try as you might,” Mr. Punch continued. “Those sausages are mine! What say you, little girl?” He looked to Columbia. “Should I share me sausages with this little dog?”
“Yes!” Columbia said—her shyness gone—as she clapped her hands.
“Oh, I don’t know.” Mr. Punch grinned. “I’m going to need me sausages. Awful hungry, I am!”
“You should share them, Mr. Punch!” Columbia called out.
“Should I, then!” Mr. Punch said shaking the puppet’s head. “But, what if this little dog doesn’t share? What if he wants to eat all me sausages?”
“Then you should let him.” Columbia said. “If he wants the sausages, you should let him have them. You can always get more, but he can’t.”
“That’s the way to do it!” Mr. Punch cooed.
Columbia clapped her hands as did baby Fuller.
“And, so,” Mr. Punch smiled, letting the puppet rest in his lap, “The wooden-headed Mr. Punch shared his sausages with the little dog because a smart young lady told him he ought to. And, the dog was happy and Mr. Punch was happy because he did somethin’ good for a change. The end.”
Columbia rushed toward Mr. Punch and looked with fascination at his puppet. “Can I see him?”
“Dunno,” Mr. Punch frowned. He raised Julian’s eyebrows. “You’ll be kind to him, will ya? Talk to him nice and treat him gentle?”
“I will.” Columbia said innocently.
“Fine, then,” Mr. Punch handed the puppet to Columbia. “But, he’s mine. I’ll want him back.”
Robert chuckled to himself.
“I’ll be good to him, Mr. Punch.” Columbia smiled.
“You got only a few minutes.” Mr. Punch winked.
Columbia sat cross-legged on the floor with Toby and the puppet. She muttered softly to the wooden figure.
Mr. Punch grinned. “I say, that is the way to do it. She’s a fine young lady, that one.”
“What a brilliant show, dear Punch,” Robert slapped his friend on the back.
“Here, I ‘spose that’s one thing I know how to do well—being a Mr. Punch meself.”
“You do many things well.” Robert smiled.
Meridian entered the parlor and announced, “Your supper will be ready in just a few ticks of the clock.”
“Here!” Mr. Punch rubbed Julian’s stomach. “And not a minute too soon.” He looked seriously at Meridian for a moment. “How’s Marjani?”
“She’s resting.” Meridian answered. “I just brought her a tray. Poor thing.”
“Naasir, too?” Mr. Punch asked. “Though I’ve not seen him eat never, don’t mean that he don’t. Did you bring him a tray, too?”
“I did.” Meridian nodded. “But, he’s not there. Don’t know where he went.”
“He must be somewhere in the house.” Cecil said, tilting his head.
“I done looked everywhere, Mr. Halifax. Prob’ly went out for a walk.” Meridian said, wiping her hands on her apron. “Now, I gotta go make sure everythin’s nice and hot for ya.”
“It’s not like Naasir to leave without telling us.” Cecil grumbled.
“No,” Robert shook his head. “It isn’t.”
Adrienne began to look worried. “Perhaps the three of you should go look for him.”
Mr. Punch closed his eyes. “I got a feelin’ I know where he is.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-115? If so, you can read them here.