She walked home from the hospital where she worked as a nurse, late at night. The streets of the slum where she resided were as abandoned as she felt at this hour, the only detectable signs of life being an occasional grunt of a cab’s engine in the distance, a hoot of an owl, and the barking of stray dogs. Under a canopy of stars, she trudged along casting long shadows on the road. The crickets and moths ceased jumping from the street lights as she took a turn at a particularly narrow and dingy alley where it was pitch dark. She clicked on a pen torch from her pocket to cast the light on a small rickety door and turned the rusty lock open with a small key. As she jerked the door open into a narrow stair case, a rather unusual scent blew into her nose. The sweet fragrance of Egyptian musk and she knew exactly what it meant! She stood rooted to the spot in awe whiffing more of the scent in to make sure it wasn’t her mind’s conjecture or nature’s mischief. A new life pumped into her as she whiffed more and more. This time it was for real, she mused. All of a sudden, memories from long ago began to flash before her eyes and impulsively she started running up the stairs. As soon as she got upstairs and found the small lounge empty, an extreme fear gripped her and she began to shake uncontrollably. “Frank!” she called out and then as instantly as all the energy had infused in, she felt extracted of it like someone had siphoned it out of her. She dropped on her knees and sobbed her heart out wrenchingly.
Thirteen long years. She had waited this long, hoping to see him just one more time.
It was then that she heard him.
“Liz!” A grave, low voice came from the dark kitchen in the corner that startled her. Her heart raced and she stared across at the figure in disbelief.
“Oh, Frank!” she shouted and ran towards him. “I knew, but then it’s been so long that I thought I was imagining again,” she clung to him and cried even harder.
After a while, she whispered: “You still have that cologne. It was your 18th birthday present. Look, I have got the ring, too,” as she held up her ring finger for him. “It was gold, after all, and I had thought then you had lied to me,” she sniffed and began to laugh. Next instant, both of them were laughing - a teary laughter, reminiscing the past and cherishing this unforeseen reunion after all they had gone through. It was hard controlling the amalgamation of the resurfaced emotions and neither did they try to halt them.
She steered him to the kitchen and lighted up a small candle. It was a very crammed place with room only for two people.
“Things don’t look good with you. This used to be a very comfy little cottage back then. And, oh dear, you look old for your age. What have you done to yourself?” he spoke with pain, “Liz, you should live on, happily married and make a family.”
She smiled and held the candle up close to him. “Let me have a good look at you. You aren’t my handsome Frank, anymore, either. But now that we are complete, we will be beautiful again. I already feel switched to your Liz this moment that I behold you,” she said visibly brightening up.
There was a pause as she groped for the milk can to make some tea. It had very little left, but she didn’t mind. It was enough for one cup of tea.
“This is so embarrassing, Frank won’t have it without me,” she thought. So she turned her back to him as she placed the kettle on the stove. Then, as the tea was made, she pretended to pour it for herself, and then poured it for him. She stood at a safe distance from him and pretended to take sips from her empty mug as she watched Frank have his tea.
“After the war,” she began, “I asked about your whereabouts for years, from people related to you and the soldiers of your unit, the influential officers, people in the hospital, and so many more that could lead me to you … I believed you were alive but among the prisoners. Yet, no one knew for sure.” She continued, “Hard times were upon us all. It was loot and plunder post-war. We lost jobs and property. Many acquaintances migrated to safer places. In that chaos and tumult, we were left to the mercy of our fates ... and then nanny died. I was left all by myself.
“Frank, I lived only in the hope of finding you one day and dedicated myself to nursing the injured soldiers from the war and questioning each and every one about you, but to no avail. Thus, the years have gone by…”
Frank pulled her closer and put his arm around her. “This is my stubborn girl!” He smiled and kissed her forehead. They sat down talked till dawn began to break.
“Liz, my love,” Frank frowned and spoke as if he was being suffocated. “I detest breaking it to you, but it’s important, nonetheless. Promise me you will understand and be brave like you have been all your life.” He held her hands in his and continued slowly. “I wasn’t released from the prison. I escaped and if I stay here, they would go hard on you as well. Their spies are all around me. I know too much about their secrets to be left free like this. I have to leave before daybreak.”
She stared at Frank wide eyed at what she had just heard. She felt like someone had just stabbed her, pleading him with her eyes without saying a word. Words weren’t needed anymore. Tears streamed down her face as she tried to swallow the painful lump in her throat. It wouldn’t budge. She felt suffocated too and began breathing heavily.
“Liz!” said Frank as he embraced her and began to weep like a child. “I am so sorry, Liz, I am failing you again. God will not part us in eternity, have faith. Who knows, I may be lucky enough to come to you again!” She closed her eyes as Frank bid her adieu.
Once on the road, he boarded a van from a terminal nearby and sat low in the corner. He got off at a village, and tiredly started walking towards the inn where he had been living as David Webster since he had escaped from his prison. Just as he was about to enter his room, a bullet struck his head killing him instantly. His pursuers had finally succeeded. The villagers assembled around the corpse and reported the murder to the police.
The next day, Liz read a small piece of news about the death of David Webster, who was killed by an unknown thief, and did not give a second thought to the news. She was sure her Frank would return to her. Eventually.