A war-time Romance
In the spring of 1942 Rita was helping her father Ganni run his bar in Valletta. She was off from school that day and enjoyed the hustle, bustle and excitement of the many British servicemen – sailors, soldiers and airmen stationed on the Island – who frequented her father’s bar when they were not on duty.
When war had broken out in 1939, Ganni had volunteered for the Army and was posted with the Royal Malta Artillery. After a brief training period, he was stationed at Fort St. Elmo, not far from his own house in the City, manning the Bofor guns facing the Grand Harbour. This is from where the German air-raiders usually came and where enemy naval vessels would try to penetrate the harbour defences.
Rita and her father were born and bred in the City built by the Knights of St. John in 1571 on the orders of Grand Master Jean De la Valette following the Great Siege of 1565 when the Turkish armada of 153 galleys with 39,500 men assaulted the Island but were repulsed.
Ganni and his teenage daughter loved Valletta and, even against the advice of the authorities, chose to remain within the city walls. Most of the other residents preferred to evacuate to towns and villages in the north of the Island. These localities were far from the harbour and the dockyard which were often the targets of the enemy. Holes dug in the high bastion walls offered safety to the stubborn citizens during the air raids.
Rita was an intelligent child. Her teacher, who also hailed from the capital, had told Ganni several times that his daughter was an intelligent person, has an exceptional memory and the potential to achieve something in life. She advised him to encourage her in her studies.
You could always find her with a book and pencil during the long hours spent in the shelter awaiting the ‘all clear’ siren to sound. But her father also insisted that it was equally important to have a character built on love, values and integrity. He used to tell her – “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt within the heart!”
During her hours at the bar, Rita noticed a young airman looking at her while he drank his beer alone in the corner. He seemed to be a shy sort of person as he did not mix much with the other servicemen. One day she went to his table and asked – “Hello! How are you? If you need anything just call me OK?” He smiled at her. “Thanks Rita”, he replied. “You remind me of my sister in Harrogate, she’s the same age as you and has the same sparkling eyes.”
Rita and Jack Andrews became friends. He told her about his family, about his pals with whom he flew to combat the German bombers. They began to look forward towards seeing each other during which both would pour out their thoughts about life and how they see it. They were two of a kind.
One evening when the bar was full of servicemen and Rita was near Jack, the singer on the little make-shift stage was singing Anne Shelton’s war song – ‘Silver Wings in the Moonlight’. She and Jack often sang it together when they were alone. It was a truly emotional song.
A thousand voices joined the singer, as her melodious plea to the Spitfire aircraft to take care of her lover, echoed around the bar.
“Silver Wings in the moonlight,
Flying high up above.
While I‘m patiently waiting,
Please take care of my love.
If you love him like I do,
Take him safely, and then
Silver Wings in the moonlight,
Bring him homeward again.”
A few days later Jack gave her a small wrapped gift. She opened it anxiously. It was a chain to which was attached a pendant – a small shining silver spitfire. He undid the clasp and hung it around Rita’s neck. “It’s lovely darling,” she said. “I’ll always keep it close to my heart to remind me of you.”
He held her in his arms and kissed her. “Life is short Rita,” he whispered. “We have to grasp it with both hands and make the best of it”. He showed her photos of his mother and sister, described the lovely English countryside of North Yorkshire and the spa town of Harrogate, his birthplace, which is famous for its award-winning flowers. He also told her of his dreams and his expectations from life.
Rita took him to interesting places around the little island – to Mosta to see the famous Rotunda church; to Rabat to roam at Chadwick Lakes, abounding with frogs and tadpoles; to Sliema to walk along the busy strand and then take the ferry back to Valletta.
On the afternoon of the 7th of April 1942, the shrill sound of the air-raid siren warned the citizens that an aerial attack was on the way. Immediately, the people remaining in Valletta took to their nearest shelters within the bastions.
Rita clutched her books and found a corner place where she could read and study. All around her the shelter was alive with movement. Most people were saying the rosary, praying for their safekeeping. Others were talking and shouting, while children ran about and played games. Here, in this rock-hewn place, it was a different world.
When the ‘all clear’ sounded in the evening, they all came out of the shelter wanting to smell the fresh air of that April evening. But a terrible scene awaited them. There was devastation everywhere.
In upper Kingsway, the majestic building of the Royal Opera House, built on the designs of the renowned English architect Edward M. Barry in 1866, was in ruins. It had received a direct hit from the German bombers and was totally destroyed. Heaps of broken stone and twisted iron girders were strewn about. All that remained of that beautiful building were the terrace and parts of the columns.
The Opera House was considered to be one of the most beautiful and iconic buildings in Valletta and had established a famous reputation all over Europe. It gave an invaluable boost to the artistic and cultural lives of all Maltese. It was the launching pad for many singers and conductors who later became world famous.
On that fateful day Ganni, with his RMA colleagues, was manning the guns at Fort St. Elmo, firing furiously at the German invaders as they dropped their bombs over the city. Also on that day, Jack Andrews was on his Spitfire fighter plane which battled bravely, though heavily outnumbered, the German fighters escorting the deadly enemy bombers.
Ganni had previously played an important part as a gunner in two separate episodes from this same post at Fort St. Elmo. In January of 1941 when hordes of German bombers and fighter bombers attached ferociously the aircraft carrier ‘Illustrious’ which had sought shelter beneath the bastion walls of the Grand Harbour, and in July of the same year, when a number of Italian E-Boats attacked the defense lines of the harbour entrance, destroying the breakwater structure.
During the numerous air-raids, when Rita was deep in the shelters, Ganni was exposed to enemy fire at St. Elmo and Jack was up in his Spitfire, she would clutch the pendent tightly in her hands and pray. “Please God; please keep my father and my Jack safe!”
The years passed. The war had long ended. The people started to build their shattered lives again. The destroyed buildings started to rise again, the suffering and heartache of the population was slowly being forgotten, but the thousands casualties of the war – civilians and servicemen – remained buried below ground.
Rita walked slowly along the much trodden gravel path, holding little Johnnie by the hand. The sun’s rays on her pendant made the silver spitfire sparkle on her neck. She looked on both sides of her. There were beautiful marble monuments all the way. And it was quiet, so quiet that the sound of her footsteps and those of Johnnie seemed as if they were trespassing the sacred ground.
Up on the hill, the gothic church looked down on the vast silent population stretching many generations. She lived in England with her Jack now and she was a teacher at St. Alban’s in Harrogate. When Rita came to the place she was seeking – her dear father’s resting place – she stopped, said a prayer and placed a posy of flowers on his grave, remembering his wise words of many years ago – “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt within the heart!”
Debbie had been the maid of Lady Douglas for the last two years. She was recommended to her Ladyship by her socialite friend, Mrs. Jones Armitage while sipping cocktails at the Dorchester lounge.
It happened that, for some reason or other, Mrs. Jones Armitage got tired of Debbie and wanted to find an excuse to get rid of her. The request by Lady Douglas came exactly at the right moment. Debbie proved to be a very efficient worker and she kept the Douglas mansion spic and span, the envy of the other socialites who came to lunch or cocktails at her Ladyship’s.
Not only that, but Debbie, as Lady Douglas’s confidante, was sometimes entrusted with taking any of her broken jewelry to her Ladyship’s Bond Street jeweler for repairs. She was trusted and familiar so much, that she knew the hiding place of the key to the drawer where the lovely necklace and other jewelry, used by her Ladyship on special occasions, were stored. One day, while on such a mission in Bond Street, looking at similar jewelry, she discovered that the necklace was worth about 20,000 pounds. She was astonished by such a valuable piece of jewelry. Her own were just cosmetic jewelry, costing only a few pounds.
She told her husband about this. He just could not believe it. “It would take you a lifetime to earn its worth,” he told her. As the days passed, his mind was working overtime on how this new knowledge could work to their own advantage. He hatched a plot, discussed it with his wife and then both agreed to carry it out.
The chance came when Lady Douglas was away for three days in Scotland attending to her nephew’s wedding. Debbie brought the key down from its hiding place, opened the drawer, wrapped the priceless necklace, took it to the jeweler’s – not her Ladyship’s jeweler at Bond Street of course – and asked him if he could do a cheap imitation exactly like it.
“I can make an exact replica, which no one would be able to tell the difference. The cost would be 1,000 pounds. You realize that such a task would need craftsmanship and time,” he said. “I want it done by tomorrow,” she said. “In that case I will have to leave everything and work on it, but that would cost you another 500 pounds,” he said. “OK. I’ll call tomorrow evening before you close the shop,” said Debbie.
Her husband was waiting for her when she arrived home. “He’ll do it. I have to call for both necklaces tomorrow,” she told him as soon as she stepped inside their house.
“But where shall we get 1,500 pounds? We cannot afford that amount of money,” she told him. “Don’t worry,” he replied. “I’ve already thought of everything; I’ve secured a loan for that amount; with interest of course; but it would be worth it; what’s 1,500 pounds against 20,000 pounds?”
So on the morrow’s evening, as agreed with the jeweler, she called on him before closing time. He showed her the necklaces, the original one and the replica. They were so alike that she could not distinguish between them.
“This is the original one and this is the replica,” he said. “Only an experienced jeweler’s eye can detect the difference,” he continued. Debbie was impressed. She paid him the agreed 1,500 pounds, put both necklaces in her handbag and then went to her Ladyship’s mansion to finalize the plot she and her husband had hatched.
She opened the drawer, put the replica one exactly in the original’s place, closed the drawer and went home with the original in her handbag. Her husband was ecstatic. It was a perfect exchange. Her Ladyship would not know anything.
Lady Douglas did not have any occasion to use the necklace for some weeks. It remained in the drawer, in its own jewel box as if nobody had touched it since its last use.
But on the third week, the unexpected happened. Thieves had broken into her Ladyship’s mansion, ransacked the bedroom, broke the drawers and stole the priceless necklace. After checking the other areas of the place thoroughly, Lady Douglas confirmed that no other thing was missing. The thief or thieves were purposely after the necklace.
“Let’s call the Police,” a visibly agitated Debbie told her employer. Lady Douglas did not reply immediately. She was thinking. “Could it have been Debbie?’ she thought. “But if it was Debbie, she would have used the key not break the drawer.” “Yes, yes. Call the Police. Ask them to come here so that we can explain what happened,” she instructed her.
When Inspector Johnson and two constables called, they took statements from both Lady Douglas and Debbie. “Do you have any suspicions on who might have wanted the necklace?” asked the inspector. “No, none that we know of,” both replied.
After the inspector and the two constables left, Lady Douglas sat in the sitting room taking tea and biscuits as was her custom every afternoon. It appeared to Debbie that her Ladyship seemed calm and was not too much perturbed by the theft.
“Aren’t you worried that the police might not find it, your Ladyship?” asked Debbie when her employer did not mention the theft again. “Not much really,” replied Lady Douglas. “That necklace was only a replica and therefore a fake; very good imitation I must say; my friends adored it; the real one is in the bank’s safe and I seldom use it!”
The Olympic Runner
Duncan, now 77 years old, was in hospital desperately fighting for his life. His breathing was becoming weak and erratic. He was slowly losing his fighting spirit.
The pretty young nurse by his side was whispering encouragements and willing him to continue to fight this important battle. She took his wrinkled hand in hers and whispered softly in his ear – “Don’t give up Duncan. I’m here with you. Let’s fight this together!”
He heard her and, while slowly opening his eyes, he recalled that many, many years ago a man had also told him these same encouraging words when he was in another difficult situation. Many, many years ago ………………….
At the age of 20 he was representing Britain in the Olympic Games. It was one of the proudest moments of his career. Duncan Foster was considered by many as the favourite to win the 400 metre sprint. He had trained very hard for the event as it was his dream to one day win the gold medal for his country.
Training was very hard. He knew that things don’t always work out the way you plan them, nor the way you would like them to be. However sometimes he was on the brink of losing heart. Yet he did not give up. He wanted to finish what he had started. He finally made it as Britain’s No. 1 hope for the gold medal in this sprint race. On that fateful day, he lined up against the best sprinters from many countries across the world. But he was confident that he could beat them all.
As the Umpire’s starting shot rang out, he was out of the blocks as fast as an arrow. For over half the distance he held the lead in front of all the other big-named sprinters. He felt like he was galloping along the inner track like a fast unstoppable train. He was on course to win the race.
Then suddenly he fell down in severe pain. His hands felt his right foot. He had torn a hamstring. But he was not going to give up. He wanted to finish what he had started. He raised himself up and hobbled to continue the race. Suddenly a man broke out from the crowd, escaped the security and came to Duncan’s side. It was his father who could not stand and watch while his son was down. “Don’t give up son. I’m here with you. Let’s finish this together!”
The anxious father and the injured son continued slowly together. But shortly before the finishing line, Duncan’s father let him continue to finish the race alone. Hobbling and in pain, unaided to the finishing line, Duncan breasted the tape and immediately fell to the ground. A crowd of 65,000 people gave him a standing ovation. It was a sight for sore eyes. He did not win the race, but he had finished it.
The identical words of the young nurse now in hospital by his side and of his long-dead father at the Olympic stadium, made him alert to the present situation. He would not let them down. He would not give up. He would struggle with all the strength that God had given him to overcome his illness.
Duncan Foster, with the help of his nurse and doctors, recovered. Some days later he went home. He died five years later, serenely of old age.
The Sin of Hate
Peter Davies hated Johnny Hopkins bitterly. For one thing, he envied Johnny’s steady relationship with the beautiful Marcia. He had tried several times to entice her from Johnny’s grasp. But she had eyes only for Johnny.
Secondly, he envied Johnny’s small, but successful taxi business. It was only one car, however his services were in great demand, as he was a warm-hearted and genial person. Peter had earlier tried at a similar business, but failed. Who wanted a morose and quarrelsome person as his taxi driver? He was always thinking of ways to hurt Johnny, to convert his envy and hatred into action, which would bring Johnny down to earth – something which would not be traced back to him. He felt that while life was unfair to him, it was generous with Johnny.
He had gone through, in his mind, plans to eliminate Johnny. For one reason or other, they were all cast aside. He finally decided on a plan which would utilize his knowledge of car mechanics. So one cold, rainy January night, after Johnny had closed his garage, Peter managed to prize open the door lock, entered the garage and looked around. How he envied this set-up! He saw the black shining car which Johnny used as a taxi. He got under it and started filing off the front wheel shaft, not cutting it off altogether, however leaving it thinly and dangerously on hold. His job done, he went back to his apartment to sleep.
The following morning, before Johnny entered his garage, Peter positioned himself behind the sharp corner from the garage, hiding himself behind the red letter box. This was the only way Johnny would take to go with his taxi to go pick up clients. When Johnny received a call to pick up a passenger from the train station, he got inside the car, started the engine and brought the car outside the garage. He stopped, went out of the car, closed the garage door, re-entered the car and drove off to pick up his client whistling a happy tune.
Thinking of his beloved Marcia, he decided that tonight he would ask her to marry him and start a life together. He knew that they were made for each other. They agreed on almost everything! He was looking forward to the end of the day.
Meanwhile, Peter waited anxiously behind the letter box just after the turning. If things worked out according to his plan, Johnny would be eliminated and he would try his luck again with Marcia. He might even start operating a taxi service himself. As the adrenalin pumped though his veins, he was filled with excitement. His throat was dry, his eyes burned and his heart pounded.
Johnny turned the steering wheel to the left, turning the corner, and as usual, keeping up the speed of the car. It was at this moment, when the front wheels made pressure whilst sharply turning, that the shaft broke. Johnny saw people before him who, on seeing the car heading towards them, started running in all directions. The car, now beyond control, kept careering at full speed. There was a load crunch of metal – a moment’s silence – screams! People around the incident heard the load impact and came to help. They found two men with injuries – one slightly, whilst the other with very serious head wounds. An ambulance was immediately called to the scene of the accident.
The ambulance arrived on site after a few minutes. Medics rushed out of the ambulance and assessed the situation. Lying beside the smashed car, they found a man very badly injured. He was in critical condition. Another man, with some bruises was in shock. Both were immediately put on stretchers by the medics and rushed to hospital.
The man suffering from shock and bruises – Johnny Perkins – was given the necessary treatment, rested awhile and then discharged falling into the waiting arms of Marcia. The man found in a critical condition – Peter Davies – died a few hours later from multiple internal injuries.
The First Air-Raid
Ċetta and Ġużi were married on 15 August 1939 at the Immaculate Conception Parish church of Bormla. They took their vows ‘to love and honour, in sickness and in death, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer until death do us part’, clearly and reverently. They had never broken a promise and both were determined to fulfill those vows come what may. They set up house in the narrow stepped Strada Buongiorno. Ċetta received many presents from her family and neighbours, but her favourite present was the white pearl necklace from her Ġużi. It was not only very beautiful but, for her, it also had great sentimental value.
When war broke out between the Allies and the Axis in September 1939, the Maltese feared the worst. But six months since the start of the war, the Maltese were lulled into a false sense of security. The war in northern Europe seemed a million miles away. However, when Dictator Benito Mussolini appeared from his balcony in Palazzo Venezia in Rome at 7 o’clock on the evening of 10 June 1940 ordering the Italians to ‘take up arms and fight’, the war came to Malta’s front door. Italy, just 60 nautical miles away, felt that this little island was theirs for the taking. Just twelve hours later, exactly at 7 am on Tuesday June 11, the ‘air raid’ siren sounded the warning that enemy aircraft were approaching towards Malta. Near the Dockyard, employees were still arriving in buses to go to work and in the Grand Harbour, the ferries and the small traditional boats – the dghajsas – were ferrying workers and shoppers from the Three Cities to Valletta.
Ċetta heard the siren, then the drones of the oncoming aircraft, then the noise of the ack ack guns firing from the ground. As the bombs were raining down on the surprised and bewildered people, Ċetta crawled under the table for protection and prayed to the ‘Kunċizzjoni’ for her survival. As the barrage of the ground gunners pounded the sky, the house rocked to its very foundations. “Oh Mother of God help us!!” exclaimed Ċetta. The words had hardly been completed when there was a sudden, deafening explosion, followed by a blinding blue flash. In one horrifying moment of unreality, as if in slow motion, the entire house came tumbling down – stones, glass, furniture and personal possessions. The thick black smoke was dense; nothing could be seen but a pile of rubble.
During this attack 25 Italian aircraft, flying in formations of 5, approached the Island from various directions, dropping heavy bombs on the Three Cities with Bormla suffering heavy losses – 200 houses were destroyed or were heavily damaged; 22 persons were killed and about 40 were taken to hospital; many others were treated by doctors and nurses on the streets. There was chaos and confusion everywhere. It was Malta’s baptism of fire and Bormla felt the brunt of it all.
As soon as there was a lull during this ferocious attack, Ġużi got permission to leave the Dockyard. He went straight to Strada Buongiorno. The sight that met his eyes was devastating. The house was a pile of rubble. “Where is Ċetta?” he agitatedly asked the neighbours, nurses and helpers who were all giving assistance. At the end of the street, ambulances were racing to the hospital with the injured. Hurriedly, he made his way to the emergency wing of the hospital. The place was jam-packed with ambulances bringing casualties from bombed-out buildings all over the Three Cities. In the waiting area itself, there were so many seriously-injured patients waiting to be attended that there was hardly enough room to move. He made enquires about Ċetta. She was located by a helpful nurse. “Come straight in” said the nurse “I’m afraid there may not be much time left.” Ġużi had to steel himself to go in, but when he did, he was horrified to see the state his young wife was in. Ċetta, lying helplessly on a bed, was behind a screen. Swathed in bandages that were blotched with leaking blood, and with tubes coming out from all parts of her body, it was obvious that his Ċetta was fighting for her life.
“We had to operate to try to save her lung,” said the nurse softly. “There was so much debris on her; it just crushed her entire body”. “Will she survive?” he asked the nurse. She responded by lowering her eyes. After the nurse was gone to see to another emergency patient, Ġużi went to his wife’s bedside and searched for her hand beneath the bedclothes. As she felt his fingers closing on her hand, she took hold of it and gently squeezed it. When she slightly opened her eyes, Ġużi whispered, “I‘m here love, I will always be with you.” Ċetta tried to smile. Then she tried to open her starched lips. She was very thirsty. He immediately found a glass of water on her cabinet and, using a spoon, eased a few drops of water between her lips. “Is that better love?’ he asked. Ċetta’s head nodded just enough to be noticed. Then she tried, unsuccessfully, to open her mouth and say something.
For a moment he thought that she was gone. But he was relieved when Ċetta half opened her eyes again. “l love you”, she whispered softly. Tears were now welling hard and fast in Ġużi’s tired eyes as he looked down at the frail figure of his young wife. At that moment her hand quivered and went limp, letting go of his hand. She was gone.
Three days after Ċetta’s funeral at the same church where they were married, only one year before, Ġużi approached the utter devastation that had once been his home. The numb feeling in his stomach almost made him turn back. But something made him go on. As he was standing there, he paused just long enough to contemplate what had really happened on the night of the bomb direct hit. Then he moved on, climbing over the mass of broken stones. He had gone only a short way when something caught his eye, gleaming in the bright glow of the hot June sun. He crouched down and started to retrieve the object from the pile of rubble that had once been their bedroom on the first floor. It was the pearl necklace he had given Ċetta on her wedding day. He hugged it to his chest, cried like a small child, climbed down the debris and went his weary way.
A never-ending Love Story
Tom and Emma met and courted in the mid-Fifties when they were still in their teens. Both were, what were called ‘war babies’ – born during the terrible years of the Second World War. There was no better time to be young than in that era. People were happy, kind and families lived close together. Even many decades later, historians view the Fifties as ‘the good old days’. And to those who lived through them, they were ‘a time to remember’ and ‘the best of times’.
They loved to court holding hands on a solitary wooden bench overlooking the harbour. One day Emma looked at the evening sky above and said “Don’t you think that it is magical and extraordinary here, just you and me and no one else?” Tom took her hand in his and with a pang in his heart replied, “The trouble is Emma, that this is an ordinary world, nothing magical about it. It’s a real world. You cannot live in fairyland. Fairyland is for kids!”
Emma was surprised by Tom’s reaction. She looked again at the twinkling stars and exclaimed, “But it does look like fairyland out there.” Tom grinned, “Those stars are a million miles away Emma. It’s a long long way to fairyland.” They were married two years later in a little church on the hill which, according to tradition, was built on the same site from where St. Paul had departed Malta for Rome in AD 61. As he waited for her on the altar steps he felt pride bursting from his chest and love shining from his eyes seeing her coming in on her father’s arm, in her white wedding dress and a long train after her. That was the first memorable day in their life!
They were blessed with a son two years after they were married. Both their hearts were filled with joy and they were so happy. It was their second memorable day! And then life moved on like a fast train. As it did for so many others, it had its ups and downs, its laughter and tears, its joy and heartaches.
They liked to travel abroad – to London, to Rome and to other big cities. They enjoyed each other’s company and that of their fast-growing son. They cried as they suffered the death of loved ones along the way. Life has a funny way of rising and falling, dipping and diving, and they just had to sit tight for the ride.
“Do you think that love will last forever Tom?” she had asked all of a sudden one fine summer day while on their bench. “I think so Emma. As we have been taught to believe since childhood, our body is expendable, but our soul is ever-lasting. So I do believe that through our soul, true love will never end.” he replied rather philosophically.
They were alone again in the Eighties when their son married and they missed him terribly. They were overjoyed and immensely proud when they were grandparents a year later. That was the third memorable day of their life! The years rolled by as they waited for no one and they grew old together. Life was not always a bed of roses but it had its good times and moments of joy.
They walked a lot during their elderly years. It was their doctor’s advice to keep fit and healthy. Often they went to their old site, facing the harbour where they used to court so many years ago. They rested their tired limbs on the new bench and as they looked out towards the open sea in front of them, their life flashed before them like a newsreel in the cinema.
They spent the winter months huddled together on their sofa in the living room. All the while they exchanged repeated recollections of events that changed their life in the past – “Do you remember the time when………………?” He or she would ask.
The room decorations characterized their past. Two Minton China plates hung on the walls; framed family photos sat on tables and other furniture. Most of these decorations tell stories of their life together. They reminded them of various celebrations and of countries they visited abroad. And then there were the photo albums. Oh how many memories! How many stories!
“You know something Emma? I wouldn’t change anything we’ve done together all those years ago.” He said pulling her to him and kissing her affectionately on the tip of her nose. “I wouldn’t either. It’s such a beautiful world. Is it not wonderful to watch it go by together!” she replied.
For one fleeting moment they were young lovers all over again and the whole world belonged to them. Then they leaned back, he with his arm around her shoulders and, as they had done so many times in the past, they started to hum softly together the song that both of them loved so much in the Fifties – Doris Day’s “The Black Hills of Dakota”. They stood there all afternoon, soothed by the glorious sunshine, reliving the past and dreaming of the future.
Tom died when he had reached the ripe old age of 82. He had been given the last rites and Emma stayed with him throughout the ordeal. She sat down near his bed, still holding on to his hand, praying silently, until, at a quarter to four on that April morning, Tom slipped out of life. She put her cheeks against his still-warm hand and sobbed as the priest intoned the ‘De Profundis’ to speed the soul of this gentle man towards the Maker.
Emma lived for four more years, yearning for the day when she would meet her beloved Tom once again. She died serenely in her sleep while around her stood the loved ones, saddened by the loss they had suffered.
But that is not the end of the story. Tom was waiting for his Emma at the Heavenly Gates with open arms and a broad smile on his face. He welcomed her to him as she came up from the mist. “I’ve missed you Emma. I told you so many years ago that true love will never die! It’s up to us now to look down on our loved ones and watch over them as they pursue their own lives”.
The good Lord and the angels looked approvingly on this little scene, then they moved back and closed the Gates.
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
Richard and Joyce had now been married for three years. They had a son, Peter, who was a darling, a sweet little boy with a lovely character that attracts you immediately to him. But both parents craved for another baby, especially if it were to be a daughter. So when one day, just after their third anniversary, Joyce told Richard that she was pregnant, they were ecstatic with joy.
They made it a point to tell Peter that he would soon have a brother or a sister. As the months passed by, Joyce would tell him to touch her tummy, telling him that is where his baby sister or brother was, just waiting to come to them and be part of their happy family. Peter would often ask his mother how the baby was. She would tell him – “A few days more Peter, just a few days more.” The boy was as happy as could be; he was waiting eagerly to see his baby sister because he was sure that it would be a sister. It was as if he already knew the new arrival. “Sister, sister’, he would reply and his mother smiled – “If only that was true!”
He used to put the palm of his hand on his mother’s tummy, feel the movement there and sing to his not-yet-born sister. It was always the same lullaby day after day but he sung it with so much love and devotion that his mother felt that a strong bond had grown between them before he had even seen her. The pregnancy progressed normally. In time the labour pains came. Soon it was every five minutes, then every three minutes, then every minute. But there were serious complications during the delivery and Joyce found herself in a long-labour ordeal.
Finally, after a long struggle, Peter’s little sister was born. But she was in a very serious condition. The baby was rushed to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of the hospital. The days passed but the little girl grew worse. After the necessary tests, the pediatrician found that there was little hope of the baby surviving beyond a few days. He had to tell the parents to be prepared for the worst. When he told them, they were devastated. It was like they were struck by a thunderbolt. How could this be? They had prepared so much for their daughter; they looked forward to her coming. They cried and cried. But they could not believe it; they did not accept what the pediatrician had told them. Their daughter would live.
When they told Peter that the doctor had told them that his sister was dying, he felt as if his heart would break into a hundred pieces. Like his parents, he did not believe that his little sister would die. He asked his parents to take him with them to the hospital as he wanted so much to see her. But the hospital staff refused because, they said, hospital regulations do not allow for small children to enter the wards of a dying person even if he’s a family member. But Peter begged his parents to insist with the hospital as, he said, he wanted to sing to her.
When Richard and Joyce took Peter with them and tried to smuggle him into the room, the nurse bellowed “Get that child out of here now. No children are allowed!!” But his mother stood firm. Glaring at her with eyes of steel, she told the nurse “He is not leaving here until he sings to his sister!” Then she towed the little boy toward his sister’s bedside.
Peter gazed at the tiny infant fighting for her life. He took hold of her feeble hand and spoke softly in her ears. “It’s me Peter, your brother. I’m here with you now”. Then he began to sing, softly softly in her ear.
“Twinkle twinkle little star.
How I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high.
Like a diamond in the sky.”
It was a soothing voice, trying to communicate with his sister as he always did when she was still in his mother’s tummy. He put life, love and prayer in his voice.
Suddenly his sister batted her eyes; she gripped his hand as though it was her only link with life. Peter continued to sing – “Twinkle twinkle little star ………………….”
All through the nightmare he never let go of her small hand and she not once did relax her hold. All the while he continued to sing softly in her ear. She continued to respond. The pulse rate began to calm down and become steady. His parents noticed the scene before their eyes. “Keep on singing Peter,” they encouraged him. The little girl moved, life seemed to get into her. She gripped her brother’s hand even tighter. Peter stopped momentarily, tears flowing down his face. “Keep on singing Peter”, encouraged again his mother.
The baby’s recovery was amazing. Tears now conquered the face of the bossy nurse. Joyce and Richard glowed with hope and pride. The pediatrician could not believe his eyes. The next day she was out of the IT Unit. A week later Richard, Joyce and Peter took the little girl home. The doctors felt that she was now healthy enough to leave the hospital. Peter’s singing had brought his little sister back to life.
Matters of the Heart
Richard Watkins, known as ‘Watty’, worked hard and was a successful businessman. For many years his construction business flourished and expanded to include turn-key operations, real estate and furniture manufacture.
Although he loved life, he lived quietly in a lovely countryside cottage just outside rural Rotterham. He was divorced from his first wife from whom he had a daughter Lucy, now fifteen, who lived with him. As it often happens with successful people in mid-age, he fell in love again and married Jennifer who was thirty years his junior. He loved to be seen with his young, vivacious and beautiful wife at parties. He was sure that his friends and colleagues envied him. He drove his staff hard, as he also did himself, but he was fair with them, compensating them with above-average wages and bonuses when a project was completed and proved successful.
One day while digging the garden on Sunday, he felt a sharp pain in his chest. As it passed immediately he did not think more about it. A week later, however, he felt the same sharp pain again while arguing with his foreman because of delays in delivering an important contract.
He recounted this to his wife when he got home and she advised him that he must see his long-time friend and trusted medical consultant Dr Rennie Martin as early as possible. “It’s nothing extraordinary”, he scoffed, “I’m as healthy as a bull, it’s probably indigestion, no need to worry.” But Jennifer insisted that she accompanies him to Dr Martin on the morrow.
When Richard visited Dr Martin at his surgery, it was more like a meeting between friends than a medical check-up. He introduced him proudly to his wife saying that she was the woman who had finally stabilized his life.
Dr Martin could not but admire his friend’s attractive young wife. She was wearing a tightly fitted white mini dress, accentuating her best body features. She was, undeniably, a beautiful and sexy woman. His friend had made a nice capture. After he had carried out a thorough check-up, his stetiscope dangling freely from his neck, he said “You must have been over doing it Richard.”
“No, I haven’t”, replied Richard. “I live a quiet life really; I don’t jump up and down, or climb lamp-posts or play rugby.” “What about the demands of the business?” retorted Dr Martin. “My job is no more a strain than it’s always been”, replied Richard, now buttoning up his shirt.
Dr Martin sat down behind his desk facing his long-time friend and his wife. “But keep in mind that when one gets older, stress is something to bear in mind”, warned the doctor. “I mean any kind of stress brought about by excessive personal activity which makes your heart beat faster”, he continued. He wanted to say excessive sexual activity but refrained from being explicit hoping that his friend, but not his wife, understood what he wanted to imply.
“I’ll admit that I felt tightness in my chest on both occasions. I presumed that it was indigestion. I think that you are now telling me that it wasn’t.” said Richard while holding on to Jennifer’s hand.
The doctor knew that his friend was fifty five, but with his grey thinning hair and lines around his eyes, he looked older. He suggested that the stress, business or otherwise, could have been largely responsible for the friend’s chest pains.
“You’ve managed to develop a slight hardening of the arteries and the pain was caused by your blood struggling to reach your heart. The pains were not indigestion but warning signals from your body. I’m going to prescribe an aspirin a day to help your blood thin and flow freely,” explained Dr Martin.
“What does it all mean Rennie?” asked Richard although he had no doubt what his friend’s message was. “It means that stress has to be avoided. If you take the daily aspirin and follow a salt-less and fat-less diet, you should keep your condition stable.” replied the doctor. “Come and see me any time you want. It’s advisable to keep your blood pressure in check”, he continued. “I will, I will Rennie”, said Richard.
Two months passed but the doctor did not see his friend again and he wondered how he was faring. “Probably too much immersed in his work,” thought the doctor. One day, just before closing his surgery after a hectic afternoon seeing his patients, the telephone rang.
Nevertheless, he picked up the receiver and said “Dr Martin here”. The young female voice at the other end, evidently agitated, said, “Lucy here doctor, Richard’s daughter, can you please come, its urgent. I think it’s a heart attack, seems heart’s stopped beating, I’m terrified!”
“I’ll phone emergency for an ambulance immediately. I’ll be there in a few minutes Lucy. Just don’t move him OK?” he urged. “It’s not Dad doctor, he’s abroad this weekend, it’s Mum Jennifer, I think she’s dead!!”
Murder in mind
This short story has four protagonists – Beatrice and Ophelia, two elderly spinsters who live in a lonely cottage on the outskirts of town; Amadeo, their brother, now widowed, who had been living with them for the last five years and ‘Butcher Billy’, a local bully, who was known to prowl the night for stealing, beatings and other types of crime. He was also suspected by the Police of the murder of the local postmaster, but they did not have firm evidence in order to proceed against him in Court. There was no doubt that Billy was capable of killing anybody who stood in his way.
‘Butcher Billy’ had passed by the cottage many times, making plans how to enter and rob the three elderly siblings living there. He first wanted to deal with Amadeo who slept in the bedroom near the pathway. During his observation visits, Billy could hear his coughing and movement. Once he had dealt with Amadeo, then his sisters would be no problem.
He noticed that the front door was well boarded up. Then he glanced anxiously at the window. Not a sound disturbed the night as he reached into his back pocket. He grinned as he moved silently to the window. The catch offered little resistance as he opened it and silently slid inside.
He could now hear heavy breathing. A floor board creaked as Billy crept towards the bed and the sleeping figure turned on his back and grunted. ‘Butcher Billy’ paused over the bed and withdrew a long-edged knife from his coat sleeve, raising it slowly over his head with both hands clasped firmly around the hilt. His wild eyes flared as he looked up at the knife which he brought down with force.
Beatrice twisted and turned in her bed, unable to sleep and fearful of every sound. Her imagination began to play tricks with her and shadows, cast by the street lamp outside her bedroom, made her recoil and cover her face with the bed sheet. The sudden clutter of the dustbin lid made Beatrice jump out of bed and she quickly slid her feet into her slippers and reached for her dressing gown. The passage was dark and she shivered as she eased her way along. She tapped gently on Ophelia’s bedroom door. “Are you awake?” she called out softly.
A few seconds later the bolts were drawn and the door creaked open. Ophelia was awake. “What are you doing here? What’s happened?” she exclaimed. “I heard sounds coming from inside the house, there must be an intruder,” Beatrice said obviously in a state of fear. “I’d better wake Amadeo to have a look around,” said Ophelia sighing.
Beatrice’s face took on a frightening look. “Don’t leave me on my own, I’m terrified”, she pleaded. “Well, you’ll have to come with me then,” replied her sister. Both sisters made their way to Amadeo’s bedroom in slow measured steps, one after the other. Both took courage from being together.
The women, still in their nightclothes, slowly went into the corridor. Coming to Amadeo’s bedroom, they knocked on his door. “Are you Ok Amadeo?,” called Ophelia. There was no reply. It was chilly in the semi-dark corridor. There was no sound now. The sisters knocked on the door again, but there was still no answer. Even a third knock did not provide a response. The two sisters waited but their brother’s room remained quiet. Then they began to get extremely worried.
“He could be ill or something”, said Ophelia. She slowly turned the doorknob, took two paces forward with caution and peered inside into the bedroom. Her sister was following close behind. “Oh my God! Oh my God!” she gasped, her hand going to her mouth.
Beatrice peered from behind her sister. Her piercing scream rang through the cottage, sheer horror etched in her ashen face. There on the bed, with a knife embedded in his chest, blood oozing all over, was the body of ‘Butcher Billy’.
His Last Court Case
Peter Wilson – of no fixed address, unemployed for many years, with no family in the city, living on handouts from passing compassionate people, sleeping under arches and tunnels, practically always drunk – had been roaming the streets of London in all kinds of weather these last ten years.
He was arrested by the Police on the evening of the 27th January when a man was found stabbed to death in an alley near the tunnel of the Cheswick By-Pass. Wilson was apprehended by the Police near the scene of the crime with his clothes and shoes smeared with blood and in a state of drunkenness.
He was immediately arrested, imprisoned and eventually the Police built up a case against him accusing him of the murder. His case was to come up in Court in a month’s time. He had no money to engage a defending lawyer and no one to help him during this ordeal. The Court, as per procedure, would have to assign a Crown lawyer commonly known as the ‘lawyer of the poor’.
Marcus Scott-Brown QC, a prominent criminal lawyer, now in his late sixties, was just about to retire for good from the hectic Court scene. He was relaxing by the fireside sipping a cognac in his drawing room with his wife Juliette by his side. He said “You know Juliette; I will be taking my last case and finally retire, no more hustle and bustle in Court, no more long nights preparing for the defense.” His wife shifted her feet and replied, “That would be the day Marcus. We’ll go for a long holiday in Italy, enjoy the sun, the food and the atmosphere.”
Juliette looked at her husband, still handsome despite his age, “Why don’t you make your last case a compassionate one? We don’t need the money. We do so many charities. Think about it.” Marcus laid his cognac glass on the coffee table in front of him. “You mean take up the case of defending Wilson as a ‘lawyer for the poor?”, he replied. “Why not? That would be an admirable act of charity indeed. You would end your career on a high, something to be proud of.” replied his wife.
So Marcus prepared to take up the case for Peter Wilson. He made all the necessary preparatory work – met Peter several times to get the facts straight and true from his own client; he carried out his own investigation, calling on and interviewing the people who knew Peter; making himself very familiar with the scene of the crime; getting all the information on the victim; looking up similar court cases from the archives; and drawing up his own notes and line of defense. When the day of the trial arrived he was ready for his last case, for the first time on a ‘no fee’ basis – defending a poor man accused of murder.
Marcus Scott-Brown QC sat passively in court, his fingers drumming a tune on the table as he listened intently to the Prosecutor making his address. Occasionally he glanced up towards the sunlight in the high windows and thought of ………… Then as the Prosecutor sat down, Marcus rose slowly from his seat.
A hush came over the Court as he swept his arm up from under his gown to grip the collar in a professional pose. He approached the Jury, four men and three women, taking a deep breath and swallowing hard. A man’s life was hanging in the balance and he reproached himself for allowing his mind to wander. For God’s sake concentrate, he told himself.
“Members of the Jury”, he began in a measured tone of voice, “Above this famous building is the figure of Justice, blind to prejudice and appearances, holding the scales of judgment in her hands. It is a fitting symbol. Justice must be done, not be seen to be done. It is solid evidence as opposed to airy supposition that should tip the scales. This morning, I am going to remind you of the facts of this case, so that you may weigh the evidence fairly and impartially.”
The silence inside the Court was broken by a stifled cough as Marcus leaned on the polished rail of the Jury box, his dark eyes moving along the line of the jurors. “My client is no paragon of virtue,” he continued, “But he is not a violent man. Unfortunately he found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was drunk and stepped into an alley to relieve himself – an innocent act that finally brought him here into the dock to face a charge of murder. What unfortunate luck!”
“You have heard the evidence by the Prosecution that my client‘s hands, clothes and shoes were found to be smeared with the blood of the victim when he was stopped by the Police. Of course they were. He had knelt beside him, held his head in his hands, in an attempt to help him.” Marcus paused for a moment to let that sink in, and then he continued. “You have heard the Police report stating that when stopped by them, the accused was staggering drunkenly and his speech was slurred. I ask you, would a drunk, not capable of speech, be in a state to commit murder, hide his weapon and escape the scene?” Again he paused, looked around the audience, then back to the Jury. “You have also heard that the fatal stab was inflicted by a long thin instrument which was never found. Are we to believe that my client, in a drunken state as confirmed by the Police, could manage to conceal it so ingeniously as to defy discovery despite a thorough search of the area? But in any case, a murder cannot be proved unless the murder weapon is brought as evidence.”
Marcus stood up straight and walked slowly past the intent faces of the attentive jurors. “You have also heard my client, under oath, confirming how he went into the alley to relieve himself and stumbled over the victim, falling beside him. Even in his drunken state, he could see that the victim was in his death throes. His hands were clasping his chest and blood was pumping out from his wound. You heard my client say that the man’s eyes were staring at him, pleading help and even though in a drunken state, my client tried to stop the bleeding with his scarf. Then when he realized that the man had died, he panicked and staggered out of the alley, only to be detained by the two passing policemen.”
Another pause, then he continued, “The act committed by my client that night was not one of murder but one of compassion, of mercy, as he saw the pleading eyes of the dying man.” Marcus cast his eyes along the stern face of the jurors. “Members of the Jury, you have a great responsibility today. What you heard from the Prosecution were mere suppositions, not facts. My client does not expect your compassion, nor your pity. He expects your sensible appraisal of the facts of this case and then expects a fair and rational judgment. I exhort you, ladies and gentlemen of the Jury, to bring in the only verdict possible. Not Guilty.”
A buzz of voices rose up and was silenced by the load knock of the gravel as Marcus Scott-Brown QC slowly returned to his seat. “Case adjourned for tomorrow”, intoned the Judge and the Court was dismissed.
The case was widely reported in the morning papers. The victim’s blood on the accused’s clothes – as confirmed by the DNA – gave the Prosecution a strong case. But Scott-Brown’s argument that his client helped the victim not killed him, cast doubts on the Prosecution’s case. The Court met on the morrow. After hearing the Judge’s summing up address, the audience waited anxiously for the Jury’s verdict. It came after only four hours. When the foreman entered the box, followed by the other six members, he stood up and confirmed that the Jury has arrived at a decision. What is your decision?” demanded the Judge. “Not Guilty” replied the foreman.
Marcus immediately embraced Wilson and accompanied him to his room in the court building where they conferred for a long time. When the Court emptied and the journalists were gone, Marcus booked Wilson a hotel room, gave him some money to start a new life and went home to Juliette.
They again sat by the fireside sipping cognac. He had recounted to her all the details of the proceedings of the case. “What’s Wilson going to do now?” she asked. “This experience has convinced him to change his life, find a job and settle down. I’ve introduced him to Father Martin of the Salesians who will guide him through.” replied Marcus, putting the cognac glass to his lips and savoring slowly the fiery liquid.
“Do you remember the house burglary and the stolen jewelry we experienced last year when we were on a weekend break in Brighton?” asked Marcus. “It was Wilson!” he continued. “Good Lord, No!” exclaimed Juliette in surprise. “How do you know?” “Because he was wearing my watch on his wrist and your necklace around his neck!” replied Marcus in an amusement tone.