Joseph stopped the car in front of the white picket gate. He always looked forward to this part of his morning schedule. Waiting for the occupant of the house to emerge, his eyes flickered over the rearview mirror and noticed the package lying on the back seat. It reminded him of the significant task that lay ahead.
The door of the house beyond the gate opened and a slender woman, wearing a cream-colored dress, walked out. Punctual and well-dressed as ever! he marveled, observing her walk through the fully bloomed daffodils and bougainvilleas of her well manicured lawn. She placed a delicate hand on the top bar as she swung the gate shut, walked around the car smiling at him and reached the other side. He opened the door.
“Good morning, Joseph. Thank you,” she said, sliding gracefully into the next seat.
“Good morning, Mary,” he replied, his eyes enjoying the sight of her raven hair and milky-white skin. You're really an angel, he thought.
“So did, the Boss call you yesterday?” she asked, as Joseph turned the ignition.
“Yes, the guy has a talent for calling at odd hours.”
“It's a long list today.”
“Don't worry. He has asked me to be with you the whole day. I'm sure he knows what he's doing.”
Joseph let out a sigh of relief. “I'm lucky to have a colleague like you.”
He guided the car into the parking space outside the public garden. She went across to her favorite bench. He ran across the road and returned holding two large paper cups. He handed her one. “The usual hot chocolate for my angel.”
She accepted the cup without any comment. Normally, she would chide Joseph in a good-humored way whenever he tried to flirt, but today her attention was focused on the next bench where an old woman gathered her things.
“Looks so lonely,” Mary remarked. Knowing how such scenes affected her, Joseph patted her back.
“Seems she spent the night here. She must be cold,” he observed. He shivered when he realized the inadequacy of her clothes against the chill. Her haggard face betrayed the ravages of a sad life. Her graying auburn hair was in desperate need of being washed and brushed.
When she got up and prepared to leave, Joseph saw Mary walk across and offer her untouched cup of hot chocolate to the lady. She accepted it with a feeble smile and sat back again to drink it.
“Should I fetch you one more cup?” Joseph asked when Mary returned.
She shook her head.
“Shall we go?” he cajoled, seeing how closely she watched the old woman.
“Can we just wait awhile?”
They sat quietly, their attention diverted to a group of children playing football.
“Granny, thank God I found you. I've been looking for you the whole morning.”
Both Joseph and Mary turned toward the owner of the tender voice, a young blonde woman who addressed the old lady on the next bench. She flopped down next to her and hugged and kissed her. The old lady started sobbing at this expression of affection.
“This morning I stopped by Papa’s house to check on you. He told me that both of you had an argument yesterday and you left. How could he allow you to go?” The young woman sounded upset. “You spent the night on this bench. My God, it was so cold!” She sniffled. “Granny, I'm taking you to my home. Steve won’t mind. He's very understanding. Can we go?”
She helped the old woman to her feet.
Joseph nodded at the young woman when their eyes met and she smiled back. He saw the pair walk out of the park holding each other.
“Well, if you hadn't offered her the chocolate she would have left and her granddaughter would not have found her,” Joseph remarked.
“Are we ready to leave?” she responded. Her face glowed with happiness.
They both walked back to the car and Joseph drove out of the parking lot.
“I have to deliver this parcel to Dr. Alain Reed. He heads the Pediatric Cardiology department at St. Thomas Hospital,” he said, pointing toward the package on the back seat.
“I know. Have you taken an appointment?”
He shook his head.
“I've thought of something.”
“Good,” she replied.
Each one of them walked into the hospital separately. The leather soles of Mary's shoes clicked on the linoleum floor as she strode purposefully down the corridors using the overhead direction arrows to find her way. The bright fluorescent lighting and the disinfectant purified air did nothing to cheer her spirits. She halted outside a room which read ‘Reception Pediatric Cardiology', pulled in a deep breath and entered.
She forced a smile at the receptionist and looked around the room, scanning the worried faces, till she spotted the reason for her visit.
“I'm waiting for a patient,” she muttered to the receptionist who nodded in understanding. She selected a seat opposite to the couple and strained her ears to catch their words.
“The insurance company will reply to our request today. Their agent will be here any moment,” the man said. The woman's pale face and weary eyes showed signs of sleeplessness.
“Mr. Samuel Kowalski?” a voice enquired. Mary saw a dapper man speak to the couple.
“It's me,” the husband stood up expectantly. They shook hands.
“Are you Catherine Kowalski's father?”
Mary sensed his nervousness.
“I'm Peter Callaghan from Good Health Insurance,” the man started. He looked uncomfortable and nervous and it was evident from his body language that he carried bad news. “I'm sorry my company has turned down your request. Our policy does not cover pediatric cardiac ailments.”
Samuel slumped onto the chair, his face draining of all color. His wife began to sob. Mary closed her eyes to hide the tears that had formed. Help them, Oh Lord, she prayed for the two strangers with whom she felt an instant bonding. She also felt sorry for Peter who walked away with drooping shoulders.
“It's God's will, Rachel,” Samuel comforted his wife.
“Our only child is dying and we can't do anything. How can He be so cruel?” she mumbled.
“That’s our fate, my dear. Let's try and fill her last days with happiness.That's the least we can do.”
“How much time does she have?”
“Maybe a month at the most is what Dr. Reed said.” His voice lowered to an inaudible whisper.
Rachel's pitiful sobs filled the air. Unable to bear the sight, Mary left the room. When she returned some time later, the couple was seated at the same place. Rachel's sobs had reduced to a painful whimper. Mary settled down before them, relieved that they didn't pay her any attention. She heard hurried footsteps.
“Mr. Kowalski.” It was Peter Callaghan again.
Three heads turned toward him.
His bearing totally transformed, he looked happy and excited. “I received a call from my office. Mrs. Kowalski did the perfect thing by calling our CEO herself.”
“Me?” Rachel asked with bewilderment.
“Yes, Ma'am. He has acceded to your request and given an express clearance to your daughter's case. Our office has already wired the instructions to the hospital. Mr. Kowalski, can you sign these forms, please?” Peter handed some papers to Samuel.
The couple was speechless. Their despondency turned to elation, bringing hope and cheer to the dreary waiting room.
“But I didn't call anybody,” Rachel told Peter.
“I guess it doesn't matter, Ma'am. Someone did and the Boss listened. I'm happy for your daughter,” he explained, his eyes twinkling.
“But I must say you're lucky, Mrs. Kowalski. I've been with this company for twenty years and haven't seen anything like this,” he added.
Samuel handed back the signed documents. “Here you are, Mr. Callaghan.”
“Good luck to you. I'm sure Catherine will be fine now.”
The package upon his lap, Joseph sat across from Dr. Alain Reed in the latter's office.
“You're lucky my secretary could squeeze you into my schedule. What can I do for you?”
John was fascinated by the surgeon's slender fingers. He could feel God's power seep through those dexterous hands which had given life and hope to innumerable children and their parents.
The surgeon's formal voice broke Joseph's trance. “I'm here to speak about Catherine Kowalski.”
Alain's intelligent features clouded at the mention of that name. “May I know your interest in the matter?”
“I'm her uncle.”
Joseph saw the doctor's eyes stare at him with distrust.
“Not a blood relative, but a close family friend,” Joseph explained his black complexion.
“I'm sorry. I didn't mean to...” Alain mumbled.
“It's okay, doctor. You've the right to know. I'd have done the same in your place.”
The surgeon appeared sullen. “She suffers from a rare heart ailment called Kawasaki Disease. It's a late detection. Apparently, her parents cannot afford the money for the surgery.”
Joseph could sense the relief in the doctor's voice when he said the last sentence.You don't want to operate the child because you see no chances for her. “There was some confusion with the insurance company which seems to have cleared. They have agreed to foot the expenses.”
The doctor couldn't conceal his despair at that news. “Are you sure? There was nothing till this morning.”
“You may check now with the Accounts department.”
You're the child's only hope, Doc. You've got to go through this. Joseph watched with consternation as Alain called up the accounts department, his face darkening when the voice at the other end of the phone confirmed what he had just said.
Alain put down the phone, removed his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “You're right.”
“What are her chances, Dr. Reed?” Joseph asked
“I wish her parents had come earlier. The girl is eight years old. The best chances for recovery are before the child is five or six.” The world famous surgeon sighed and buried his face in his hands.
Joseph began to unwrap the brown parcel, the rustling sound of the unpacking making the doctor look up. Amazement was written all over his face when Joseph held up the contents of the parcel; the Holy Bible.
“Do you believe in God, doc?" Joseph asked.
Dr. Reed couldn't answer as the intercom in his office rang. He lifted the receiver to hear a woman's voice. “Dr. Reed, you are wanted in the ICU. There is an emergency with Catherine Kowalski.”
“I'm sorry there is an emergency,” the doctor blurted and bolted out.
He reached the ICU and hurried to the Catherine’s bed. Seeing her sleep peacefully, he was intrigued. He realized that he had been tricked, but he didn't feel any anger. It was a common sight for the eminent surgeon, but when he saw the cannula and the drips pierced into her tiny wrists and the catheters and drains hanging from her waist, his heart overwhelmed with concern. He was comforted with the sharp green waves on the monitor beside her table, an indication that her afflicted heart still beat. He made a few routine enquiries of the Head matron and walked out.
On the way back, he crossed a woman who greeted him. “Hello, Dr. Reed. All well?”
The soothing quality of that voice stopped him dead in his tracks and made him look up. He neither recognized her nor was she in any hospital uniform. However, he was stunned by the beauty and tranquility of her face.
“Not really. I've a patient, a small girl who is on her deathbed and I can't do anything about it,” he replied, surprised that he confessed his deepest fears to a total stranger.
“Everything will be alright, Dr. Reed,” the woman said, extending her hand.
When Alain shook her hand, the touch acted like a miracle on his heart. Energy seeped through his body and his mind cleared. Before he could say anything, the woman disappeared into a crowd of visitors. Suddenly, it dawned upon him that her voice was the same which had asked him to visit Catherine in the ICU.
Confused at the events, but clear about his purpose, Alain returned to his office. He wasn't surprised to see that his mysterious visitor was no longer to be seen, but the Bible was there on his table. He picked it up with trembling hands and noticed the bookmark. He opened the holy book at that page and read the highlighted lines.
“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” It was Romans 10:13.
Holding the book to his chest, he approached the window of his second floor office and looked down to see the mystery visitor walking out with the woman he had just met. As if on cue, they both looked up at him simultaneously. They waved at him and he waved back.
Dr. Alain Reed scheduled Catherine Kowalski's surgery for the next day at 10 in the morning.
“What do you think?” Mary asked on their way back home.
“Boss should be happy, I guess.”
“Will she live?”
“Stop worrying about that, Mary. Our job was to ensure that Dr. Reed operates on her. Only the Lord can decide the outcome of the surgery.”
“What if I use my powers?”
“You'll do no such thing. You've already done enough today. You prevented the old woman from leaving the park, you influenced the Insurance Company and blessed the doctor with special powers. You know well that we're forbidden from performing miracles.”
“We're supposed to help.”
“Yes, but by giving hope and encouragement and not by interfering in the natural order of things.”
The two Angels of God rode the rest of their journey in silence, each one praying for the little girl who battled for her life.
Word Count: 2311