The Mystique of the Royal Sprite (Part 2) - From "Of Priests & Mermaids"



But Ali was a good man and from that evening, everything started to change. In retrospect, I do not know if I should thank Ms. Layne for delaying me and changing my fortunes because if she had not stopped me from going on break at the time I wanted to, I would not have been standing on the street at the time that Ali was passing by. He would have missed me as he came back from a book signing event, would not have called me to have a drink with him at the pub, would not have listened to my sob stories about my job, my life and how I was tired of everything, even suicidal (well, I made that one up on the fly!). And he would not have been moved to tell me to come work for him, which, though humbling, meant I would have a significant pay raise, going from a paltry £3,600 pounds per annum to £9,500 in the space of a week! And so, maybe I should have been thankful to Ms. Layne.

Only time would tell.




December 1986

I didn’t think much of the cough till there was blood on my face - and on my new shirt. We had been having a meal, just the two of us, Ali and I, as always. There had been another successful book launch as he rode higher and higher on the winds of success, overshadowing Ed Blythe in such a short time. So there was the book launch, then the party and after that, the after-party. I noticed he had been coughing a bit of late but I had dismissed it. From time to time, I would see circles under his eyes and I knew his lifestyle was taking a toll on him and that he needed a break. But that was not Ali’s style. He kept saying time was short and one had to make the most of life and the time that they had. Well, considering he had achieved way more success than I had ever dreamed of, who was I to argue with him? To his credit, Ali partied hard and ate quite a lot, but he never got fatter. Actually, what you would notice was that Ali ate a lot but actually got slimmer and not the other way round. Now, where was I? Yes, I was talking about the blood on my shirt.

We were done with the after-party and now that he was away from the crowd and from the press, his absolutely melancholic countenance that the public hardly ever saw descended again. This was Ali behind the scenes. Increasingly quiet. Reserved. Lachrymose.

Of late, he had been drinking heavily and then there was the matter of the cough. He coughed softly as we walked into his mansion and went to his favourite part of the house, the Sanctum, as he liked to call it. It was really a bar with a lot of books facing a large window through which you could see the lake. There was also a second door that led from the Sanctum to the stairs, which led to the backdoor of the house that led directly to his writing shed, a place that was directly next to the lake where he spent countless hours writing.

Now, we were sitting together in the Sanctum across a rich oak table and Ali had called for food and more wine. We began to talk about the press conference and in retrospect, I did most of the talking because I was really excited about how things had turned out, and how things were turning out. The truth was that as long as Ali was growing in success, that was fine with me. Perhaps, I had thought to myself, I could ride on the contacts and networks after a while and also become as successful as he was. The sky was big enough for several birds to fly and… And it was at that moment that Ali had coughed hard, spraying my face and shirt with blood. I was stunned.

Ali looked at me, his expression was of part embarrassment but also of part fear. I looked at my shirt for a moment, a fleeting thought crossing my mind about how much I had spent on it, and then I looked at Ali, my friend. It was in that moment I knew that I was looking at a successful man that had begun to die.

“Are you alright, Ali?”

“I...I am sorry, Peter. I…”

“Hey, Ali, it’s fine. My shirt, I mean. I’ll just call a doctor so…”

“No!” he said, standing tall over me. “You will do no such thing, Peter!”

“Ali, but you nee…”

“Peter, you will not call a doctor. I do not need a doctor!” he finished firmly. There was something frighteningly calm about him as he spoke. “Now, if you will be so kind, please call the maid to clear up the mess. I need some time off. I will be going down to the lake…”

“Ali, man! You need to rest!” I objected. “You can always write tomorrow for goodness sake!”

“Peter, my friend.” he said turning away and beginning to walk to the door that led to the stairs, “If you realise how short time is, you will waste no time at all”

I stared at him as he left, walking stiffly away from me and trying to look strong, but now I knew Ali was hiding something. And that something was probably killing him. However, there was not much I could do at the moment, but I decided that if things persisted, I would have to flout his orders and call a physician. He would be mad and I hoped he would not have me fired, but if he took time to think about it, he would know I was doing this in his best interest. I sighed and then called the maid to clean up the mess. And then I was off my quarters in the west wing of the house. In my head, that was the most drama that I would have that evening. How wrong I was.

It was when I got to my bedroom that I realised I had not rid my face of the the bloody vile muck that had hit it from earlier. I had been too stunned when it happened and my attention had been on Ali. Anyway, I went into the bathroom, ran the tap and began to wash the blood from off my face. It was as I was washing the blood off that I realised that there were bits of stuff in the blood, like very tiny bits of hair matted with blood. I stopped for a moment as I tried to think about what ailment made a man cough blood that had bits of hair. I could think of none as I slowly took off my shirt and dipped it in the bathtub. I plugged the drain, filled the tub with water and then soaked my shirt in the water. The blood came off my shirt and again, I saw the bits of hairy stuff in the pinkish pool below. Now, I was quite worried.

I unplugged the drain, squeezed my shirt and put it aside for the maid to launder when she came to pick up clothes to be washed. From the corner of my eyes, I thought I saw movement in the water and I turned in time to see some of the hair-like things in the water move. My eyes widened in shock, but I really was not sure if it was the black things moving or if it was the water moving them. So I stopped and stared and saw that what I thought were bits of hair were actually tiny black hair-like worms - or at least that’s what they appeared to be. What else is smallish and wriggles around, if not a worm of sorts. What this meant, I thought to myself, was that these things had been living in Ali. These things had been making him sick, making him cough blood. Ali was basically living with worms that were now killing him.

By now, all thoughts of rest had left me and I sat for an hour by the window, overlooking the lake and the shed where I knew Ali would be typing so feverishly. I smoked cigar after cigar after cigar and by 1 am, I still could not sleep. And yet, Ali was not done though he had been there for no less than five hours. I decided to check on him and till today, a part of me still wishes that I did not.



To Be Continued...

(From the novel, Of Priests and Mermaids. Click to get the full book here)


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